The fate of American football: An uncertain future

When you type in ‘concussions’ in the google search bar, ‘concussions in youth football’ is the first suggestion

          There has been a slurry of negative
press enshrouding the sport of football for the better part of the past decade. The Ray Rice domestic violence incident, preceded and followed by innumerable other occurrences of player misconduct. Not to mention the often unsubstantiated claims of shady dealings within the NFLs leadership. This, of course, all overshadowed by the coming to light of just how widespread and unavoidable head injuries are in the sport.

          Numerous players are and have been dying at young ages after retirement, or living with debilitating brain damage. We are just beginning to learn where this damage happens, and it’s not what the NFL would like you to believe. It’s not huge hits that are causing these injuries, it’s repetitive relatively low impact collisions over the course of years. As a result, enrollment in youth football is in steady decline. The NFL has poured incredible amounts of capital into reigning in all of these controversies, but do leave something to be desired.

Players after retiring from professional and college football are often faced with early deaths and uncomfortable lives. Very few people who play collegiate football ever make it to the NFL and go completely uncompensated for their sacrifice. The recent retirement of the vocal Chris Borland has called some attention to the issue. He told ESPN

I just want to live a long, healthy life, and I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise”  (1)

         We are just beginning to understand the nature of these injuries. While the NFL has passed rule adjustments to decrease the incidence of hard impacts, the source of these injuries is often repetitive low impact collisions that happen over the course of a career. These can’t be avoided as repetitive low impact collisions are the entire game of football. However, the more people believe that the only source of concussive damage is high impact, the more comfortable they will be allowing their children to play football with rules adjusted to prevent said impacts.

          The NFL is right to worry. Both enrollment in youth leagues (2), and youth viewership (3) are on steady decline. At a rate that makes it not unreasonable to say that our generation could see the end of the sport of football. Brain injury studies at all levels of football keep pouring out, and are beginning to enter the national dialogue.

          The current leadership has done a bang-up job (pun intended) of keeping this all under wraps. There has been a decline in viewership in some demographics, but it is just scratching the surface. The NFL still holds a huge market share of American media. While they have handled most controversy deftly, many professionals feel as though they are not doing enough (4).

          Professional football games still draw huge numbers and a sharp decline is not like likely in the next few years. But it is something that we might very well see over the course of our lifetime. So will the slew of bad press, relentless head-injury studies, and decline of youth players and viewership spell the doom of the NFL? Or will they adapt to a changing world and remain in power.

Will the NFL fall? What will america choose as its successor if it does? weigh-in with your comments below!

The NFL’s Biggest Challenge? Keeping Younger Viewers