The short answer to the above question is probably forever. But the long answer is not in any form you can recognize, and that part has already begun.
It is because of this march towards whatever the game is now and what it eventually will become that prompted me to stop watching football with any interest four seasons ago. And this is no small feat. Pro Football, really any football, was my favorite sport. I played when I was a kid. Absolutely fell in love with the gorgeous artistic propaganda of NFL Films, so much so that the iconic music they used on those stuck in my brain as deeply as any pop song from my childhood. I even applied to work for NFL Films right out of college. I did not get the gig. Bummer.
Giving up football fandom was tough at first, but it made no sense to watch something called pro football that was fast becoming… I don’t know how to describe watching a sport in which you have no idea what it happening: What’s a catch? What’s a touchdown? What’s a tackle? What is cheating? Man, I loved football, especially pro football, and it went somewhere else and I did not follow.
The main reason the sport has changed into something I no longer find the least bit interesting – beyond the rise in fantasy sports craze, video games that effected how the game is played and covered, and technology (replay stuff is intolerable nonsense) – is valid. Playing football causes brain damage. It is simple as that. This is something we should have known forty years ago as we watched behemoths (many of them jacked on amphetamines and later a phalanx of human growth hormones and anabolic steroids) smash their skulls into each other. Sure, they wore helmets and we thought that was fine. It turned out not to be fine. Many of the players went insane or died of brain-related diseases. Some got violent with spouses, their children and the general public. Some committed suicide. Then came the inevitable lawsuits and the National Football Leagues’ shameless but understandable denials. Gotta keep those bucks flowing.
This “deny the science” for self-interest thing is very big with business types. You know the deal: Coal poured into poison and then into your water is fine. American Jobs! The NFL is a microcosm of this. But eventually the cat scan was out of the bag and now the rules include not being able to lay a hand on anyone, much less tackle them, and because the great unwashed love scoring and not anything resembling the original concept of the game – defense and ball control – they just let it fly. The game is a joke.
Oh, we should point out that the question in the headline above is proffered merely because late this summer statistics were released that illustrated a serious decline in competitive group sports among high schoolers across the country. The main culprit is football. Parents, especially moms, want no part of their children’s brains scrambled as teenagers. Science has also discovered that while the head (with the brain in it – kind of an important organ) should not be used as a battering ram, it is really bad mojo for developing brains. And since .00001 percent of those kids ever go to college for free or make a living smashing their brains into mush and then committing suicide, why risk it?
From Forbes magazine last month: “According to the National Federation of High School Association’s (NFHS) latest participation survey, released in late August, eleven-player tackle football, numerically speaking, is solely responsible for the first decline in boys’ high school sports participation since 1988-89, and mostly responsible for the first decline in overall high school participation since that same school year.”
Let that read a three-percent decline, which is not astronomical, but it’s a decline in a sport that has been on a steady, unhealthy incline for a century. In fact, according to the same report, 26 percent of boys participated in HS football prior to the early ought’s, but since it is down to one in five. And those numbers have steadily declined over the past 15 years, even when considering Texas that has some fifty thousand people show up to HS football games. The numbers are more or less stagnant there, but no increase. Almost everywhere else in America football is waning.
What am I getting at? Well, if youth football factories are fading then so is the treadmill of talent that will fill rosters that fill schedules and thus fill stadiums to make money for colleges and the NFL. Of course, this could take generations, but then again, with every retiree dying young from brain disease or with every violent act or anti-social behavior exhibited by current HS, college and pro players of the game, and man it is an alarming number, the public relations gets darker and more and more people will became aware and want to protect their children from any of it.
A few years ago a friend of a friend and now someone I know, author, Steve Almond wrote an eye-opening book on all of this from a similar perspective, obsessive fan to serious skeptic, Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifest in which he asks why do inner city kids or low-income country youth have to choose football as a route to a better life? Why couldn’t the 2009 film The Blind Side, which tells the true story of a poor Memphis black kid uses football to rise above his daunting circumstances, be about a kid excelling in math or science or becoming (gulp!) a writer?
As a result of all of this, football may go the way of the aforementioned steroids. Congressional investigation, more lawsuits, you name it. But as long as there is gambling and beer to be sold and huge network contracts and every sports media outlet sucks up to the mighty NFL, then let’s face it, football ain’t going anywhere soon.
But it may be going at some point. And to write that is quite remarkable. But, hell, if I can bag it, so can America. I doubt there was a more obsessive fan than me. Four years of no football and counting. Try it.