The game of football is facing a potential crisis point, but not where most people think. No, it’s not about the NFL and their ratings and who is standing and who is kneeling and all of that nonsense. I’m talking about at the ground level. I’m talking about kids.
Fewer kids are playing in peewee leagues than in the past, and that has come at least in part as a result of parental fear over the potential long-term complications of playing football. The more we learn about the risks that playing football for a long period of time has on long-term cognitive health, the better-informed the public is, it seems, fewer children are participating.
It’s not actually at a crisis point yet, but it’s not inconceivable that we get there someday. Will we one day see the NFL itself eroded so far in terms of talent because there just isn’t enough interest in the sport to develop the stock necessary to produce rosters year after year? Will the quality of competition be the victim?
The best way to address this may well be to actually, you know, address it. Talk openly about the risks with parents, and limit contact for younger children.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is one parent who would like to see tackling limited for younger children. The 36-year-old said that he himself did not begin participating in tackle football until he was in fifth grade, and he believes that is right around the age in which it should be introduced.
That was the sentiment that he expressed earlier this week while carrying out his annual youth football camp. “Too many times I think the game of football is played too early in terms of full contact hitting. I’ve heard of second and third graders playing full contact football, that’s too early”, he said.
A popular sentiment that people express on this topic is the fact that they believe football is actually a safer game when it is played the way it is meant to be played, using the proper technique and things of that nature. Roethlisberger agreed.
“I think early on, you need to teach the fundamentals of football — how to properly tackle, how to properly hit, throw and catch, all those things”, he said. “When you learn those things early, then when football becomes what football is supposed to be, the kids are better prepared for it”.
While Roethlisberger has not said that he would ban his sons from taking up football—his oldest is six—he did express the sentiment that he hopes that they take an interest in golf instead. Many professional football players have expressed a desire to see their sons not follow them into the game, though several current Steelers such as Anthony Chickillo and Terrell Edmunds have done just that.