Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Dying Sport?

Chicago tribune columnist John Kass predicts that football is a dying sport and that within ten years it will cease to be played. This sounds preposterous given all the money it brings in, especially at the college and pro levels, but Kass believes that lawsuits will force high schools to drop programs and without the scholastic feeder systems the upper levels of the sport will wither and die:
With all that college beef on parade this week, the NFL draft is a wonder of sports marketing, a televised pageant for the multibillion-dollar American football industry.

But there's something football fans should know:

Football is dead in America.

Even through all the chatter and cheerleading and media hype, football as an American cultural institution lies in final spasm. It's as dead as the Marlboro Man.

And if the professional game survives at all, it will be relegated to the pile of trash sports, like mixed martial arts or whatever is done in third-rate arenas with monster trucks and mud. It won't be as American as apple pie. Instead, football will become the province of people with face tattoos.

Lawyers are circling football now. For years they've had their wings locked, cruising overhead, but lately they've swooped in low, landing and hopping over to take chunks out of the great billion-dollar beast. But it's not the lawyers who are the death of football. Blaming lawyers misses the point. Like their counterparts in nature, lawyers are merely the cleanup crew. What finishes football are the parents of future football players.

The NFL desperately needs American parents. Not as fans, but as suppliers of young flesh.

The NFL needs parents to send their little boys into the football feeder system. And without that supply of meat for the NFL grinder — first youth teams, then high school and college — there can be no professional football. And yet every day, more American parents decide they're finished with football. Why? Because parents can no longer avoid the fact that football scrambles the human brain.
Kass may well be right about this. Athletes today are so much bigger, stronger, and faster than they were thirty or forty years ago, the speed of the game and the violence of the collisions at every level of play is so far beyond what it once was that it well may be that football has literally outgrown itself.

But here's an irony. For all the concern about concussions and head trauma among football players I have personally seen more athletes diagnosed with concussion in the last five years watching my grandchildren play soccer than I saw in two decades of coaching high school football, and yet no one seems to be demanding that youth and high school soccer players be required to wear some sort of protective head gear. Why is that?

If we're so concerned about head trauma why do we allow kids to participate in a sport in which they use their heads to redirect the ball, in which they often bang their heads on the turf during a hard fall, or, in the case of goalies, get kicked in the head by opposing players, all without requiring them to wear any kind of protective equipment? It makes no sense to me.

Kass goes on in his column to explain that he played football and loves the game but he and his wife decided not to let their sons play it, and that a lot of parents are making the same decision. This parental veto, he argues, will bring about the demise of the game.

He may be right. Parental concern may reduce the number of kids playing, but if so, I think the effect will be seen mostly among the more affluent. At the elite level, however, football is largely played by kids that don't come from wealth. Many of those kids are poor and their parents may not be as likely as more educated parents to force them when they're young into an alternative like soccer.

We'll see. Here's Kass (after the ad):