I have written numerous times here that I believe tackle football is facing a crisis. Parents are asking themselves whether their son should play football given the risks that are highlighted by the reports about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in the news. I found George Will’s column in this weekend’s paper. In the Dayton Daily News the title was “As CTE evidence mounts, pleasure of football fades”, but I actually prefer the Washington Post’s title, “Football’s enjoyment is on a fade pattern” (mostly because it is clever word play on a football play). In any event, Will makes a bold statement; football “will never die but it will never again be, as it was until recently, the subject of uncomplicated national enthusiasm”. I wanted to disagree and suggest that the risk is real that the sport could possibly die – if an entire generation of parents decide that football isn’t for their sons. However, Will goes on to make the point that what might happen is the risk will only shift demographics. “But because today’s risk-averse middle class parents put crash helmets on their tykes riding tricycles, football participation will skew to the uninformed and economically desperate”.
Why share this? I recently auditioned to give a TEDxDayton talk on this subject. When asked who my audience was and what my purpose in giving the talk was, I told them that I was trying to start a national conversation about the future of tackle football; when young people should start playing tackle football, and what reforms ought to me made to the game to keep it alive. Will’s column is yet another indication of the need for a national discussion about the future of football.
I wasn’t picked for the TEDxDayton line-up, but later had a very intelligent debate with a friend of mine who is adamant that his sons won’t play tackle football. I was put in the position of defending the sport – which I believe provides athletic and life lesson opportunities that aren’t readily available in other sports. However, my friend’s concerns are legitimate and he likely represents a good portion of parents in America. I agree with another Post column that I found as a link off the Will article, that “football must change”.
Let’s start talking about ideas like modified tackle football for children, emphasizing flag football before high school, ensuring quality coaches and athletic trainers are available for all tackle football games at every level, enforcing rules that emphasize player safety, de-glamorizing the types of head-to-head and leading with the helmet hits that we too often see on ESPN and the NFL Network, improving the equipment players wear and use, and dedicating some of the billions of NFL dollars to hard core research to truly understand the risks to players at all ages and levels of play. These are just some of the ideas that I am aware of – I am sure there are others.