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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
It's football season. What's more American than watching a favorite high school team rule the gridiron on a crisp, fall evening or spending Sundays cheering on NFL teams?
Football is America's No. 1 high school sport. More than a million boys play the game. With about 600,000 participants, the next most popular sport, track and field, isn't even close. But that may be changing.
Participation in the traditional game of football is dropping. A recently released survey from the National Federation of High School Sports shows the number of participants dropped by 25,503 between the 2015-2016 and the 2016-2017 seasons. Youth football clubs around the country have seen even more significant drops.
It's been a tough summer for professional football, too. A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association last month suggests that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated hits to the head, is far more prevalent than previously thought. CTE was found in 110 of the 111 brains donated to research by deceased NFL football players.
NFL players are noticing. Last month, Baltimore Ravens' lineman John Urschel announced he is leaving football to become a doctoral candidate at MIT. Other current and former players, including Ben Roethlisberger, Terrell Davis, and Boomer Esiason have expressed concerns about what may be happening to their brains. Former player and coach Mike Ditka has publicly said he would not let a child of his participate in the sport.
He's not alone. A 2016 University of Massachusetts Lowell survey of 1,000 adults shows that 94 percent of parents oppose tackle football for children before the age of 10 and 84 percent oppose it before age 14.
In fairness, youth football clubs like Pop Warner have done much to address the concerns, such as eliminating kick-offs and purchasing state-of-the-art helmets. But is it enough? Many parents are beginning to ask themselves that question and deciding that no, it isn't. But if youth football goes away, does that mean high school football will cease? And would that mean, in turn, the end of college and NFL games?
Is this the beginning of the end of the American tradition of Friday night lights? Unless someway can be figured out to prevent concussions, football could become a thing of the past. We would miss the game. With our apologies to "Gone With the Wind," we offer this salute to a great sport:
There was a land of gridirons and bleachers called football. Here in this exciting world, tackling took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of quarterbacks and cheerleaders fair, of coaches and fans. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. It's an American sport gone with the wind.
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