This Super Bowl Sunday morning while watching NBC Meet the Press a segment devoted to the future of football caught my attention, particularly how viable the sport will be as increasingly more people view football as dangerous to participants (especially kids). Of course, opinions will vary on how safe football is today, as well as the potential dangers that lie ahead that could impact the number of kids in the future who choose (or are permitted) to play. As with most things in life, there are a number of moving pieces when examining the future for football, including the following:
- NFL damage control. The NFL is the biggest and most visible football league on the planet, and they are also the league that just awarded former NFL players hundreds of millions of dollars for concussions they experienced while playing. Needless to say, this settlement has been a black eye for the NFL and quite eye-opening to the genral public — perhaps evidenced most by the decreasing numbers of kids playing youth football today that seems to be linked to the dangers of the game. The NFL will need to work hard to prove that football is no more dangerous than other contact sports, and that efforts are continuously being made to make the game even safer in the future.
- Safety & equipment. Since it’s impossible to limit the size, speed, and strength of the players playing the game of football, the sport must respond to these changes by continuously addressing on-field rules and the equipment used to protect players. While some of these changes have been welcomed by players and fans alike (i.e. more durable equipment), other recent changes have brought criticism (i.e. protecting the QB to extreme measures, unavoidable hits above the shoulders).
- Maintaining the perfect balance between safety & excitement. Defining the exact balancing point in which players are as safe as can be and fans are still given the most exciting product possible is an extremely daunting task. If football tips too far in either direction there are serious consequences to consider. For example, if the game becomes too “soft” by continuing to minimize hitting and contact, fans will likely lose interest and the game may lose its appeal to the next generation of would-be youth football players. Similarly, if football doesn’t stay up with the latest on head injuries and allows for an even more aggressive game on the field, fans might love it but the NFL might be in store for an even bigger future lawsuit than the one they just settled.
It’s anyone’s guess right now what football will look like ten years from now, just like how few people could have predicted in the early 2000’s that football would be this much under the microscope today for head injuries and concussions. About the only thing we know for sure based on data from the last 50 years is that players will almost certainly continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger, making the issue of football, safety, and excitement being one that most certainly will be front and center for many years to come.
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