Some Thoughts on Football

Over the years I have written a lot about my long and varied relationship to football on this blog. I even posted a short story based on my experience of coaching junior high football with my dad in the mid 80s.

I played football, sandlot and organized; I coached it; I covered high school football for a Tillamook newspaper; I’ve watched college and pro football on television my entire life; I am a historian of the game. I love the ancient football phrases like paydirt and gridiron. As a kid, I owned thousands of football cards and once selected an ALL-NAME TEAM (e.g. Sonny Sixkiller, Dick Butkus, Ed Podolack, Fair Hooker!)

Of course, I loathe almost every aspect of the current game, particularly at the highest level; the violence, the narcissism of the players, brain damage, martinet coaches, jock cliches on every broadcast, greed, racism, the obsession with gambling, the rabid and immature fandom, etc.

But it simply wasn’t like that playing in my youth, or coaching it. It was fun and nobody got hurt.

Thus, it was with considerable interest reading a recent in-depth Washington Post series on the declining rate of youth participation in organized football. It’s happening all over the country except for the poorest states in the Deep South. Participation has declined 15-percent in the past 15 years and nobody interviewed for the series thought it was ever going back up.

Reasons for the decline were: parental concern over concussions, high profile cases of CTE, expense, shifting athletic tastes, (soccer, lacrosse, etc) and the fact that many young males simply don’t connect to the game like previous generations did and have other things to do (video games?).

Put another way: during the snowstorms of the last two winters, I didn’t see a single kid playing football in the snow. In the past, the parks would have been full of them.

The only increase in participation was the burgeoning flag football leagues across the country, many that include females. (For the record, the best time I ever had playing football was my fifth and sixth grade years in Oregon City where I played flag football. It’s so much more fun than tackle and requires way more athletic ability.)

In other words, at some point in the upcoming cultural history of the United States, there won’t be enough top players to maintain quality college or professional leagues and the sport will die out in a vast majority of high schools.

Imagine that development.

It’s inevitable, but I probably won’t live to see it. What an interesting day it will be when the NFL goes the way of professional boxing in the 80s and becomes relegated as a pop culture phenomenon. Then one day it will vanish like circuses and pool halls.

I wonder what will take football’s place in our culture. I have a feeling it will be something digital.