The number of children playing football has increased within the past year according to data collected by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. A total of 1.23 million youth ages 6-12 played tackle football in 2015 (an increase of 1.15% from 2014). Although these numbers sound promising for NFL general managers, there is evidence of declining interest once children reach older ages. Reports have shown that younger teens aged 13-17 have experienced a 4% drop in football participation over the same time period.
This decline may be in part due to continued medical discoveries stemming from 2002 research. Since being brought to light by Bennet Omalu, cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) have increased drastically in football players. Recently deceased, living former NFL players, and even college athletes are receiving positive tests for CTE. According to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, 91% of football players who were examined and played football in college have been diagnosed with CTE.
Roger Goodell has consistently taken a defensive stance for football’s overall safety. He has publicly stated that he would even still encourage his own son to play football amidst the new information. Goodell collected a salary of $34.1 million last season and only has two children, both being daughters. His defense is plausible because he has a rather large vested interest in the NFL’s continued success and no sons to test the value of his word.
The NFL cites programs such as Heads Up and other similar programs that are designed to teach player safety to coaches for younger age groups. However, only 43.8% who coached youth football within the past five years say they were trained in concussion management according to the ESPN report.
These programs are a step in the right direction toward football safety, but as more medical information is presented, the supply of youth football players will continue to fall. As players get older, faster, and stronger, the risk for concussion and head trauma increases and parents are forced to intervene. The NFL earned around $7 billion last year, but that number may take a hit once medical research advances and former players are given restitution for their medical expenses. Football as we know it may be facing drastic changes in the near future. Only time will tell if demand to watch the sport remains while player safety becomes more prevalent.