There has been a lot of talk in recent months about the future of football as the lawsuits and the high-profile suicides continue to mount.
President Barack Obama lent his voice to the debate in The New Republic, telling the magazine that while he is a fan of the game, he’s not sure he’d let his son play it, if Obama, in fact, had a son.
It’s one of those discussions that, while thoughtful, loses something when it’s translated into the abstract. I played football. I have a thumb that hasn’t worked quite right since high school and, like many men of a certain age I find it easier to move some mornings than I do on others.
And I only played at the amateur level of the sport. I never got out there with the elite, the biggest of the big, the baddest of the bad.
My sons chose not to play football, but it was their choice. I didn’t advocate it, I didn’t speak out against it.
But football will survive, despite the dark talk of Baltimore Ravens safety Bernard Pollard—who told CBSSports.com that he doesn’t think the NFL will still be around in 2043 because the changes being made to make the game safer will prove to be unpopular with fans.
Unpopular? According to the Nielsen ratings, 31 of the 32 most-watched programs on television this fall were NFL games.
The 32nd show was the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which leads up to—what else?—an NFL game.
The television ratings for this year’s playoffs are almost twice what the NBA Finals drew and absolutely demolish the ratings for the World Series and the Daytona 500.
A recent Harris Poll determined that the NFL is more popular in this country than baseball, the NBA and auto racing … combined. Attendance at games is up. The number of television blackouts in the NFL is down. More women are watching than have ever done so before.
So don’t try to tell me this game is going anywhere anytime soon, certainly not within three decades.
That’s not to say that decision makers at all levels of the sport shouldn’t continue to try to make the game safer. At the earliest stages of their development, players need to learn that the hard plastic battering ram they have on their head is dangerous, both to their opponents and to themselves.
To me, that’s where it starts. We have had at least two generations of football players who learned to lead with the helmet. The newest generation of players seems to equate rocking a ballcarrier with tackling.
A nice, form tackle may be less exciting than a big hit, but guy with the ball isn’t nearly as likely to bounce off and keep running, either. And you might just keep your marbles intact at the end of the day.
That seems like as good a place as any to start.