Youth football on decline

Football is often referred to as the American sport. Families gather on Saturday and Sunday afternoons to watch their favorite college and professional teams compete. It is easily considered the best sport to watch on television, evident by the fact thatthe Super Bowl continues to be the highest rated sports championship every February. So why is it that fewer kids are playing the sport every year?

A few weeks ago I visited an East Syracuse-Minoa Pop-Warner football practice. For 10 years of my life I played football for this youth organization, and I recall how at one point there were too many kids playing, so the organization was forced to split us into two teams. Every year I played there were plenty of kids for each level of play, but during my recent visit I noticed a significantly less amount of kids practicing on the field. There were only three different age groups on the field, compared to the six I had growing up. I wondered why this was, because professional football’s ratings are rising and more people watch it every year. If more people are watching, then it would make sense that more kids would be playing, but for one reason or another that’s not the case.

I soon realized the reason for this inconsistency after watching an “Outside the Lines” report on ESPN. The report showed a teenage kid, Donnovan Hill, who had two concussions in a span of one year of playing football. The second concussion partially paralyzed him, and he is now forced to go through horribly painful and expensive physical therapy that may or may not recover him back to his normal state. I also remembered how the NFL struggled with players suffering from more recorded concussions this year than in the past years and was forced to contain the negative media coverage surrounding the injuries from their sport. The media produced similar stories to the one about Hill showing current and former players who have admitted to suffering five or more concussions during their career, as well as former players suffering from brain trauma due to the violent nature of the game. The NFL was forced to penalize and fine players for violent hits to subdue the negative reports surrounding the game.

These negative media messages are the reason less kids play football as a sport. The media has done its duty in reaching the parents of children everywhere, who in turn do not let their kids play because they are worried about safety. The concern from the parents is understandable, but in my opinion parents who do this are overcautious. Kids in Pop-Warner do not travel nearly fast enough or hit nearly hard enough to give themselves or each other concussions. Also, the amount of padding in the helmets and the tightness of the helmets are much safer than the ones used in the higher levels of play. Sports like soccer, lacrosse and basketball can be just as dangerous for kids, but since they are not as popular, their injuries do not receive as much media attention. Parents can be cautious, but they should understand that football teaches mental and physical toughness and other values that no other sport can teach. If parents aren’t going to let kids play football because of safety reasons, then in theory, they should not allow their kids play other sports either.