American Football. The longtime, manly sport that has taken the best of age-old, competitive games and combined them into one bone-crunching sport that we all have come to love. It is Chess, rugby, soccer(European football), handball, hockey, and war all rolled into one. But will it survive?
Since the first recorded American football game was played in 1869 between Rutgers vs Princeton, it has not only evolved, but become the number one sport in the United States. However, this tidal wave of popularity is rapidly changing as of late. Between a rise of fandom in world established sports, such as soccer and rugby, the calls for new rules to curb the TBI's (Traumatic Brain Injuries) common in this beautiful collision sport, and a generation of young people who would rather play the game using their thumbs rather than their whole bodies, the game itself seems to be on the decline.
Let’s take the rise in international sports for instance. They have always been around us, American and Canadian football themselves taking the majority of their game from the aspects of the others. But why are they making big gains now? I say you can correlate it to the rise of social media, and video blogging. When I was growing up, soccer was considered weak by those in my area, and rugby was nonexistent. This wasn't the case as we all know now, but when you have nothing to reference, and no way to see for yourself, then you blissfully go along with the crowd in your ignorance. I didn't get a taste for either sport until I was in college, and after my first intramural soccer game, I found a healthy respect for the #1 rated international sport. It wasn't long after that I found myself on the collegiate rugby team, representing our university as a Wing, against teams like Alabama and Auburn's varsity squads (JSU RUGBY- GO COCKS!!!). It was in that time, that I really started taking an interest in other sports and learning the ropes, so to speak, on what the rest of world already knew. That was in the early 2000s just as social media platforms like Facebook were just getting their start, and YouTube was making the transition from a video dating site to a multimillion dollar video-sharing platform. Fast forward to today, and ask most any high school and college student and they will tell you the latest news on any of the sports, not just the American big three (football, baseball, basketball).
Ok, so that can contribute to some of the decline in viewers, but what about the changes the sport itself is seeing in the name of “safety?” Let me first say that I am all about keeping players as safe as we can. As a high school varsity coach, I love my boys as if they were my own, and it hurts me to the core if one of them gets hurt. With that said, this is a "collision" sport, not just a “contact” sport. Basketball is a contact sport, to put things into perspective. Football players for a hundred years have frothed at the mouth at the chance to knock snot bubbles out of their opponents, but that mentality is growing more and more scarce. Not just in football, but in the nation itself. I saw a meme not long ago that stated it pretty accurately: "Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times," a quote by G. Michael Hopf. I think if we look at it realistically we are truly at a point of raising weak-minded people. So-called beta males are the new trend in most of pop culture, and if something is too tough, it is ok to change the standards to accommodate the weak. Yes, our “good times” have endured the longest war in US history, but that is my generation’s war; this new generation would rather throw unicorns and pixie dust at the enemy rather than hot lead. This mindset is playing a large role in killing the sport of American Football. Rule changes are basically "targeting" the most common collisions of the game. Hits that could potentially change the momentum of the game, that many players made a living being so good at, have all but vanished. Now you may watch multiple games, without even the notion of what we used to call a "de-cleater" hit, no matter which level of football you are watching. And if you do see one, odds are it will be penalized in some fashion. I remember even in my senior year, having a penalty for unnecessary roughness, due to hitting the quarterback too hard....yeah that happened, and that was twenty years ago nearly, and only a precursor to what was to become. This all has come about in the name of safety, such as reducing brain injuries, and knowing that no one wants to look as if they don't care about such an important aspect. But the only way to truly be safe is to not play, and that does seem to be the route we are rapidly heading.
Another growing aspect of this nation as whole and one I feel is leading to the decline of the game, is the virtual player, one who would rather play on a gaming console rather than put in the physical work. Even kids we consider active by today's standards would be considered lazy by those of yesteryear. Only a handful really want to put in the physical effort to better themselves and their team. The majority of the downfall, however, has to rest on the shoulders of the atmosphere of instant gratification and quest to find an easier path that we all live in now. This atmosphere makes the virtual football game a much more suitable game to play and one that is chosen by the larger mass of young people. And let’s not forget, on the surface it seems safer, thus playing into the previously stated sentiment.
All in all, there is no doubt that the game and viewership is on the decline, and these have been just a few of the possible reasons that I see contributing to that decline. But the question still remains, Will the game of American Football survive? Will I as a retired old man be able to still watch and enjoy the game I love so much? I guess only time will tell.