“You don’t feel good.”

Warning signs?

Quantity is another story. In the fall of 2017, University of Colorado professor Roger Pielke Jr received an email from his son’s junior high announcing that there wasn’t enough interest from students at three nearby middle schools to form a single eighth-grade tackle football team.

That got Pielke – who blogs about sports and previously wrote a book on doping –wondering: was America experiencing what he calls “Peak Football”, the moment of maximum participation in the sport? Examining NHFS data, he saw that high school football participation increased every year from 1998 to 2008, peaking at roughly 1.14m players. Since then, however, the number of athletes has dropped every year except 2014.

Comparing those numbers to US Census Bureau population data for 2010 to 2016, Pielke found a similar pattern: the percentage of American boys ages 14-17 playing high school football peaked at 13.2% in 2013 and fell to 12.7% in 2016. Over the last decade, Pielke saw, participation was up in a handful of football hotbeds, including Alabama, Florida and Louisiana. But it had dropped in 40 states, sometimes by surprisingly large margins: 9.5% in California, 11.6% in New Jersey, 21.6% in Michigan, 23% in Ohio and 55% in Vermont.

Since 2014 alone, high school football has lost more than 45,000 participants – roughly 600 teams’ worth of players. “Demographically, it seems pretty convincing that we are in the early part of a process that started a decade ago where football is just not was popular as it used to be among youth,” Pielke said. “Exactly why it is happening is a tricky question.”

That may be so, but a lot of parents seem to be centering on a particular answer these days.

In 2016, a University of Massachusetts survey found that 65% of the public considers sports concussions and head injuries to be a major problem; that 87% believe that CTE is a serious public health issue; and that 48% think the statement that “tackle football is a safe activity for children during high school” is either certainly or probably false.

Pielke said that the two steepest high school football participation drops this decade came in 2012 – when Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, later diagnosed with CTE, committed suicide – and 2015, when the Will Smith feature film Concussion, detailing the NFL’s alleged denial and dismissal of CTE research, was released in theaters.

“Was that causal?” Pielke said. “I don’t know. That’s a tricky social science question. But the notion that the more people talk about head injury risk in football, the more parents and kids making decisions to play are aware of that risk isn’t outlandish.”

It’s sinking in.  Don’t take my word for that, either.  Here’s somebody with a large social media following expressing concern.

College football, you have a problem.


Filed under College Football, The Body Is A Temple

58 responses to ““You don’t feel good.”

  1. Walt

    Only one thing is certain in this situation: If Baron did play football, he’d be the bestest,most fantastic, winningest, football player in the history of the sport with the possible exception of his father.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mayor

    Last week I posted that there a lot of anti-football people out there that are basically silent right now. If some Senator introduced a bill to ban tackle/full contact football they would come out of the woodwork and they would be very vocal.


  3. sniffer

    With a ticket out of poverty, there will still be big, athletic kids wanting to play the game, imo. And maybe the game suffers a slight drop in over all talent, the schools that put kids in the League will still field teams that the networks can market to viewers. That said, I will be long gone as an interested person..


  4. Ant123

    You have to wonder if those involved in other sports are fanning these flame for their own benefit?


    • Walt

      I believe that it’s the more public knowledge of the link between head trauma and CTE that’s primarily driving the narrative. Plus, parents seem to be more protective of their kids than in the past.


  5. 69Dawg

    I noticed that one of the big sponsored 7 on 7 groups has the guys wearing padded helmets somewhat like the boxers use in the amateurs. These sponsors are not crazy, if one of these kids get concussed the way things are Morgan & Morgan would build a new wing on their HQ. There soon will be Youth tackle football only in the South. It will go to 7 or 11 man flag like we played when 50 years ago I was in college and playing Intramural. The big problem will be with the Big Uglies, they are not getting the same pub as the Superstars but I bet they suffer way more CTE due to the constant hits to the head. It will be pretty hard to get lineman who have never blocked in high school. I’ll not live to see it buy tackle football will be Gone with the Wind in 20 years.


  6. Bright Idea

    Forget concussions. High School football is now year round and the monotony ain’t fun, can’t compete with the cell phone and girls both. No wonder numbers are down.


    • stoopnagle

      This is a good observation. I’d say it’s not just awareness of the serious health risks, but also the tendency of families to push single-sport participation like you point out. It’s so much easier to burn-out these days, on top of the injury risks associated with repetitive motion and developing bodies in a lot of sports – baseball seems to be particularly bad.

      We’ll soon see a trend back towards kids playing multiple sports and eschewing over-specialization at such a young age. Football is a bit different because of the clear risk to mental health and intellectual development. I think kids will still play because of the perceived financial potential (scholarships, mostly).


  7. Bulldog Joe

    If you get an opportunity to go to the college football hall of fame, take some time to see the displays on evolution on football equipment throughout the years. You may be surprised by how much it has changed through even the past 20 years.

    If parents did research, they would also be surprised by how common head injuries are in the sports with less protection. Soccer, lacrosse, hockey, and even cheerleading carry similar injury risks.

    You will never completely remove injury risks in any sport, but the lessons it teaches about teamwork, leadership, character, and taking care of your body are essential for young people.

    The sensible answer can be found in further equipment development, technique, teaching, and practical rule enforcement in all of these sports.


  8. TimberRidgeDawg

    Baseball was the American Pastime until the NFL overtook it in the 60’s some 40 years after it was founded. There is no reason to think that it can’t be overtaken by a sport iike soccer over time as older generations of adults age out and are replaced by generations with different preferences for entertainment.

    CTE’s and the fickleness of youth with more choices for their attention may do to football what football did to baseball. It doesn’t help that the cost of attending a game in person becomes increasingly painful with television money controlling the time and agenda and the live fan experience taking a back seat. When a viewer can watch any sport or game from the comfort of their home on an 85 inch flat screen and be perfectly fine with avoiding the stadium then it’s only a matter of changing the channel to find something besides football.

    Then NFL has become oversaturated, synthetic and corporate as cardboard. The spontaneity of the game has slowly been rung out and sanitized to the point people will look for something new to replace the sameness that has been created.


    • Just Chuck (The Other One)

      If you are my age, you will remember when boxing was the biggest thing going, especially on weekends. When I was a kid, you always had a series of bouts broadcast on the radio and, when more folks had TV, you watched boxing on Saturday nights. Some of the biggest sports stars were boxers. Anybody remember Joe Louis? You certainly remember Ali. Kids were willing to get into the sport because, at the time, it was regarded as the best way out of poverty. Then people started noticing all the old, punch drunk fighters staggering around and people began to lose interest. Now, you mostly see big, championship fights if you see boxing at all. Same thing could happen to football.


      • Tony Barnfart

        Hey ! What about Rocky Marciano ?!?!


        • Morris Day

          compared to Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano ain’t shit!


          • Mayor

            Excuse me, but Marciano was undefeated at 49-0. I also happen to think Joe Louis was the better fighter, but Marciano was one of the greatest of all time, too. A guy who doesn’t get the respect he deserves IMHO is Joe Frazier who was a terrific fighter who suffered by comparison to Ali.


  9. TN Dawg

    The percentage of foreign born citizens is increasing, about 1 in 6.5 at this point.

    Football is an almost exclusively American sport. As the percentage of our population that is foreign born continues to rise, the percentage of overall kids participating will fall.

    Soccer, however, will continue to grow in this country as football diminishes.


    • TN Dawg

      Soccer participation in high school for boys has grown by roughly 65,000 during the same time frame, despite having the second most concussion instances among team sports.



      • Walt

        The book, League of Denial, which is about the NFL CTE situation, suggests that repeated mild head trauma may be the primary cause of CTE rather than concussions. I think that football players suffer more repeated mild head trauma than soccer players, but that’s just my assumption.


        • Dawgoholic

          You ever headed a soccer ball?


        • Russ

          Exactly right. It’s not concussions, it’s the regular, repeated blows to the head. No other mainstream sport features this.


          • Anonymous

            Those regular repeated bows to the hear ARE concussions. They just happen to be grade 1 concussions. It isn’t until you get diagnosed with a grade 2 concussion that you realized that you have probably had 20+ grade 1 concussions without knowing that is what it is.


        • Bitter Clinger

          I don’t disagree with your assessment on the medical aspects of CTE, I just don’t believe it’s the primary driver for the decline in participation.

          I think cultural drivers are further up the hierarchy. Participation in cricket, rugby and Australian rules football is insignificant in the United States because those aren’t “American” sports, but I imagine if you go Sri Lanka, South Africa or Sydney, you are likely to find those sports being played in large numbers.

          As the American cultural demographics change, you are more likely to see kids participating in sports that their parents played because parents tend to be the force behind why a kid participates to begin with.

          Take a sport like tennis or golf. While you may, as a child, chose to play because you see the sport on television, but the likelihood of receiving parental support for those activities to be somewhat limited.

          However if your parent plays tennis or golf themselves, the likelihood of them introducing you to the sport multiples by a large factor that I can’t really cite here without digging into studies on it, but I’m sure it’s palpable.

          I think we are seeing a similar paradigm with football. As the percentage of non-Native born adults grows inside our populous, the likelihood that the parent played football drops significantly and with it the odds that they will drive their kids into the sport.

          It’s easily identifiable on the field. At this point, Latinos comprise about 25% of school aged population and yet we have not seen a corresponding rise in participation rates inside the demographics of football. The Latino on the football field is still the rare exception.

          What accounts for this? I mean I guess we could posit some sort of Jimmy The Greek type of hypothesis. Personally, I think it has more to do with the fact that most foreign born Americans never played football, and thus are less likely to sign their own kids up to play, opting instead for a sport they have knowledge of.

          The NFL sees this and has gone to great lengths to try to internationalize the game with some, but very limited, success.

          The long term prognosis for football is not good for multiple reasons. Do medical concerns play a part? I’m sure they do, but mama being afraid you’ll get hurt has always been a part of the limitations of participation, if not for CTE when you are in your 50’s, for fear of a broken arm, a torn up knee or whatever else.

          But cultural drivers are also a significant portion of football’s decline.

          Add to that the proliferation of e-sports, the rise of single-sport atheletes, the prohibitive relative expense of attending games, the at-times political and social turmoil inside the sport, and general fatigue from overstauration of the sport as well as other contributing factors and I think the long term outlook points to a continued downward trend.

          Liked by 2 people

      • stoopnagle

        The Sport of the Future since 1972.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Got Cowdog

          With multiple high schools in our district we can see distinct differences in sports as related to the demographic. Rural schools are predominantly white, typically have A to AAA ratings and have good participation in all sports.
          Suburban schools are predominantly white, have AAA to AAAAA ratings, high levels of participation in all sports, and start selecting athletes at the middle school level through tryouts.
          Our one “urban” high school is predominantly Hispanic, rated AAAAA, and can barely field a baseball, softball, football, or basketball team. The Soccer team OTOH, is a perennial state championship contender both male and female. Their soccer matches draw bigger crowds than any of the football or baseball games in the district. These kids play club level year round from the time they can walk and continue on to an informal semi pro league after they are no longer eligible for school play.


  10. The Dawg abides

    I’ve been saying for years that soccer is just a socialist plot to destroy the country from within by killing football! Kidding aside, in addition to the concussion issue, the number of sports options kids have now are one reason for the decline. When I played high school football 30 years ago the only major team sport options were football, basketball, and baseball. And most of the really good athletes played all three sports. Now kids specialize in just one sport more and more often. Add in the explosion in soccer across the region the past 25 years plus sports like lacrosse gaining popularity, and a decline in football is a result.


  11. seattle Times has an interesting article on the decline of football participation in California and how that is affecting recruiting on the West Coast.
    Give it a read.


  12. Squatchdawg

    Interesting to see how this compares with baseball and basketball.


  13. ASEF

    Watching high school football up here, the sidelines continue to shrink every year. Most schools now have more cheerleaders than players out there. And by mid-season, the number of kids on the sidelines in jerseys and jeans, often with crutches, emphasizes the point how dangerous the sport can be before the CTE conversation even starts.

    Youth basketball can be really dangerous – a ton of full speed contact, no pads, much less awareness. But by the time the games get on TV, the athletes and the officials have smoothed things out considerably, so you don’t see constant stoppages in play to attend to players who aren’t getting up.

    CTE seems to be the final straw for a lot of parents.


  14. FlyingPeakDawg

    Let’s set the record straight on soccer. It is a highly dangerous sport as evidenced by all of those crippling falls the players take. If not for the miracles of modern soccer sideline medicine that gets those players to recover immediately I think most would agree the sport should be banned.