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Football’s Hazy Future

Despite baseball claiming the moniker, football truly is America’s pastime. The NFL owns Sundays, and every season they find ways to rake in even more revenue than the season prior. Whether through new TV deals or licensing contracts, the NFL is always on the hunt to turn a profit. However, no matter how you decide to look at it, the players are at the epicenter of the NFL’s profits. Obviously, without the on-field product, the NFL would be nothing more than a marketing company (albeit, probably a very good one). This is why player safety is of utmost concern to the people in charge, because without the players, there is no game. As a result, there is growing concern over the future of the game now that awareness of traumatic brain injuries is being brought to the forefront.

Throughout all levels of the sport there seems to be increased trepidation revolving around whether or not football is truly safe to play. The game, while incredibly entertaining, is inherently violent. And it seems that now, even when looking at young athletes participating in pop-warner leagues, you can see parents trying to weigh whether or not the risk to their children is worth the minor chance they are able to make a career out of the game.

The numbers don’t lie: of the million-plus high school football players in the U.S., less than seven percent make the jump to college football. And, of that, a measly 1.8% are able to transition from college to the pros. To make matters worse, even if they were able to beat the odds – the average pro football player’s career is not even a handful of years. So, against this significantly stacked deck, many parents are opting to avoid the sport altogether as it could result in their child ultimately suffering long-term brain damage. These savvy moms and dads need look no further than the recent NFL concussion settlement to see that the long term threats to their children’s health are very real.

The NFL is well aware of the challenges posed by the increase in concussions. They have implemented rule changes and have sought to eliminate unnecessary or dangerous contact to players by imposing harsh fines and suspensions on players who are either careless or show little regard for the safety of their colleagues. However, there is no guarantee that these changes will prove to be enough. In fact, after three consecutive seasons of seeing the number of diagnosed concussions decrease, the 2015 season saw a significant increase in the number of head trauma related injuries. Ex-professional ball players’ bone chilling tales of their own experiences with concussions, in conjunction with young players being forced into early retirement due to their exposure to the same type of trauma, cast a serious cloud over the future of the game.

These issues clearly extend past the NFL and into football on a broader scale. The future of the game that America loves is in grave jeopardy unless something can be done to improve the safety and well-being of the very athletes that make the sport fun to watch. Football coaches across the country seem to be focused on doing whatever they can to reduce the possibility of these serious injuries, some even going so far as to remove tackling from practice altogether. The idea is simple: fewer hits over the course of the season will result in fewer chances to get injured. This practice, once reserved for key skill position players, especially quarterbacks, may lessen some of the wear and tear that players endure throughout the course of a year. Some players even claim that tackling is instinctual and that having to practice bringing people down on a regular basis was a waste of time and energy anyway.

While the efficacy of these implementations remains to be seen, it is promising to note the seriousness with which player safety is being taken. Because without a concerted effort across all levels of the game, there runs the risk of having no football at all.

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