By Ken Reed
The number of boys playing high school football continues to decline across America. In some states, the decline has been significant.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of boys playing high school football has fallen 15 percent over the last six years in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. In Colorado, the decline has been 14 percent. Football participation has declined 8 percent in Massachusetts and Maryland, 7 percent in New York and 4 percent in California.
Interestingly, this could be one more partisan issue in America. The states with the biggest declines have been those that have voted Democratic the past two presidential elections. That’s true of the states highlighted above.
Blue America is deciding it doesn’t want its sons playing football at a faster rate than Red America.
Another interesting statistical note is that each of the states noted above are also among the most highly educated states in the nation, based on the share of the population with at least a bachelor’s degree.
On another front, a growing number of high school football games and seasons have been cancelled this year due to injury problems and safety concerns.
“Rosters, already thinned by declining interest in football at some schools, were further reduced by injuries to the point that coaches and administrators opted to pull teams off the field,” wrote John Branch and Billy Witz in a recent New York Times article.
“I never thought in a million years that I’d have trouble finding kids to play,” said Cherry High School (MN) football coach Justin Bakkethun in the Times piece. Cherry High cancelled the remainder of its season when injuries and low numbers became a serious concern.
Examples of schools having to forfeit games or seasons have been noted in recent years but the steady report of forfeitures this season has made this year stand out.
One school has been shellshocked by the death of a football player last season.
At Arlington High School in Riverside, Calif. Tyler Lewellen, a 16-year-old defensive back, died after sustaining a brain injury in a scrimmage at the start of last season.
“This season was supposed to be a step toward normalcy,” wrote Branch and Witz, regarding Arlington High. “But participation plummeted so sharply that the junior varsity team was dropped, while the aversion to contact in a sport that demands it has remained, as has a heightened awareness of injuries. The Lions are 0-8, and none of their games have been close.”
One mistake that writers, coaches and parents continue make is assuming that youth football is safer than high school football because the players don’t hit as hard. That’s a dangerous assumption, one rebutted by research.
“Brain trauma in youth sports, especially football, is both a scientific and moral issue,” according to Patrick Hruby, a journalist who has made the made the concussion issue a focus area. “A recent study showed that the impact of hits in youth football have the same impact as hits in college football.
“I believe the most important issue by far is brain trauma, especially when you consider the huge number of children participating in sports. Children’s brains are still developing. Brain trauma at young ages can have lasting negative effects.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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