James Leroy Wilson's blog

Monday, November 18, 2013

Who needs football?

Two items from football over the past few weeks seem related:

  • Enrollment in Pop Warner football is down 10%.
  • The Joe Incognito-Jonathan Martin "bullying" scandal in the Miami Dolphins.
Is the drop in football participation due to the fear of concussions? Or of injuries in general? That's probably the most sensible explanation.

I submit, however, that it's not the fear of injury that's the issue, but the risk-reward equation has changed.

Today, there are more things for children and teens to do, and more ways in which to excel. Let's say that there are two otherwise equally-good options for fun and development, but one carries a small risk of injuries ranging from a broken arm to long-term brain damage. Doesn't it make sense to go with the other option?

Maybe in earlier days football was a way to build social capital in one's school and community. Today, many of our communities are online, and many children and young adults find satisfaction and development in niche sports or hobbies rather than in central community events like football games.

In other words, life is better because we have more choices.   

Which leads us to the bullying scandal. The Incognito-Martin situation is unique for a variety of reason, but in essence Martin's action conveyed the message of "I don't need to put up with this." Probably every day, some young person playing in a team sport somewhere in America does the same thing. 

While many kids stay miserable and "suck it up" because they'd feel ashamed if they didn't "stick with the program," some kids quit precisely because they won't tolerate the abuse of their coaches or peers. They recognize they have other options, and, again, they don't need the favor of their school or community to develop social capital.

While I enjoy watching football, the more young people realize, "I don't need football [or some other sport]," the better. That will create incentives to develop healthier locker room cultures and safer games.

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