There are several high schools near where I live. Over the years, I've noticed a decline in the number of youngsters out on the field for football practice. Soccer practice full. Football, not. That was just my personal observation.
Well now there's a real, scientific study that shows I'm on the right track. The National Federation of State High School Associations found 31,000 fewer high school football players in the 2018 to 2019 season. It’s the first decline in 30 years. Is the culture shifting away from injury-prone contact sports?
I don't want to read too much into this. It’s only a small decline, and other tough sports like lacrosse are growing rapidly. But there seems to be something about football that’s turning kids, and their parents, off.
I can't help but think of Andrew Luck, the brilliant quarterback who dramatically announced his very early retirement. He couldn't take the pain that injuries and surgeries inflicted on him. He turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in future income, because he didn't want to hobble around for the rest of his life. There's a message there: It ain't worth it.
The concussion story rolls on: a sport that is defined by hard contact causes angst with parents: brain injuries? Who needs that?! Ain't worth it.
Maybe there's an image problem, too: At this moment in our culture, ultra-masculinity is not exactly promoted as something to aspire to.
And maybe, Colin Kaepernick and the kneelers are turning some people away from the sport.
Football has a problem, and I don't see what can be done. It’s a contact sport and always will be. It’s aggressive, and as I define it, very masculine, and always will be. The cheerleaders and the pom-poms will remain a part of the sport, whether they are in favor with youngsters or not.
A week from Thursday night, I'll be watching my team, the Packers, play the Bears. But I'll bet, on Saturday morning, there'll be as many kids watching English soccer as high schoolers playing football.