The Future of Football

Payton Longo

Millions upon millions of people across the globe travel to and move to the United States every year. These people look forward to calling the “land of the free” their new home and for great reason. America has many constants and takes great pride in these millions of things: technological innovations, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and simply, freedom (just to name a few). However, one thing we must not forget, something that represents the country as a whole, something that brings together people of all ages, races, religions, and ethnicities is football. Football has been America’s #1 sport for over 100 years and it shows no signs of slowing down. Whether a fan or a player, the game of football brings out the best in us. The excitement, the sadness, the emotion, and the blood, sweat, and tears are all part of what makes football so great. Could anyone possibly imagine America without football? Well, start imagining it. Recent studies on the game have shown that the physical contact, most importantly contact to the head, is plaguing the sport with concussions. Concussions are seen so frequently in today’s game that they are pretty much categorized as another routine injury. If this “concussion era” can’t be fixed within the next few years, football can very well be on its way out the door. From football’s days of leather helmets and shoulder pads to today’s high-tech equipment, the future of football must address the safety of it’s players and how these injuries can be brought to a minimal.

Photo by Chris Chow on Unsplash

Concussions and head injuries have long been plaguing the game of football, however it was not until the last decade or so that this topic had been brought to center stage. Concussions had always been the least of football’s concerns; you take a hard hit, sit out a couple plays and get right back into the action. Your favorite NFL player, say Lawrence Taylor, takes a good lick to the head and appears to be a little slow to get up. Taylor walks over to the sideline to be evaluated. Nothing seems to be out of the ordinary so Taylor hops back into the game on the next play. Taylor might not have sustained a concussion on that hit, but that one brutal hit to the head, could lead him closer to permanent brain damage. The real danger behind football has seemed to be long ignored as the fan experience and money that comes from this dangerous game is top priority. Ingfei Chen, author of Exactly How Dangerous Is Football, provides his readers with statistics and information regarding the true danger lurking behind the game of football. Chen brings a neutral stance to the topic while also providing his readers with the pros and cons of the continuation of the sport. Chen explores the impact of football on the human brain, specifically CTE, and goes on to say “They were acutely aware of a type of dementia, called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., that was afflicting many players in the N.F.L. and N.H.L. The disease had been the subject of extensive media coverage. It could be caused by repeated blows to the head — exactly the kinds of blows they had suffered while playing professional sports.” Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE, has been traced to a large number of former football players, and even shows early signs in today’s youth football players.

There is nothing more exciting to a young boy, then running around, catching a ball, and tackling other people. Football has been so popular among America’s youth that nearly four million children participate in this sport annually. The game of football can be a building block for young children; teaches them discipline, allows them to work together as a team for one common goal (being to win the game), and allows them to create friendships and bonds that could potentially last a lifetime. Despite all the good coming out of youth football, many still question why we allow our children to play such a violent game? Andrew Lawrence, author of We Know Football Is Dangerous. So Why Are We Still Letting Our Sons Play It?, brings a one-sided perspective to this topic by providing accounts and statements from former football players as well as doctors and parents who are against the idea of children playing football. Lawrence directly quotes Dr. Julie Stamm in his article, ‘Around 3,000 hits,” says Julie Stamm, Ph.D., a former BU researcher and now an associate lecturer of kinesiology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “is the threshold where you start to see increased risk of having cognitive difficulties later in life.’ Lawrence then goes on to put this information into Laymen’s terms by saying “For a player who starts tackle football at age 7, that threshold can be reached by age 18 if he averages 250 hits a season — a number that research shows can be easily doubled by some players.” Football was already seen as a dangerous game for grown men, but after seeing these statistics and numbers, is football really going to last among America’s youth? Not to mention, since 2010 America’s youth football population has dropped drastically, averaging a mere three million kids as compared to over four million prior to 2010.

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

195 countries, over 6,500 languages, and the questions remains the same: Can football ever be safe? How is this new technology going to change the game for the better? Is football going to be extinct in the next 20 years? The answer is. Nobody knows. What we do know is that helmet safety is constantly being worked on around the clock, hoping to find a solution to the concussions plaguing the game of football. However, some strongly believe that despite all the time, effort, and money used towards improving player safety, in the end, it simply may not make a difference. Stephanie Pappas, writer of Can Football Ever be Safe?, explores the dangers behind the game of football, one of those dangers being CTE. Pappas collaborates with VICIS CEO, Dave Marver, who has just put out a new helmet to the market. This new helmet, known as the VICIS, offers a flexible outer shell that is believed to offer better support when taking blows to the head. However, Marver is still hesitant as to calling this new helmet design the cure to all head injuries. ‘As long as there are impact forces resulting from collisions, risk of concussion remains,’ Marver said. Different people have different thresholds for concussion, Marver said, and no helmet is foolproof enough to protect against all potential hits.” (Pappas).

On the other hand, there are those that strongly stand by the fact that football will never die. Football has ruled the sports world in America for over 100 years now, so it would be a bit difficult to see the game simply vanish over the next decade. Not only does football represent America, but most importantly it provides a way out for those looking to change their lives. In life, although it is sad to admit, its not usually what you know or how talented you may be, rather it is who you know that tends to leads to opportunities down the road. Football is different though. If you work hard and put your everything into the game, you can go as far as you are willing to take yourself. You here about it all the time in the NFL: Dallas Cowboys Star Running Back Shares What It Was Like To Grow Up Poor. “The thing all those players have in common, of course, is that their children will have options — or at least believe they have options — for another career, like all children of those making more than $100,000 a year. The thing is, of course, that not that many people make more than 100 grand.” Will Leitch, author of Why Football Will Never Die, believes there will always be a demand for the game of football. Leitch explains that the money that comes from professional football is simply too good for people to pass up, therefore always creating a demand for the game. It is hard to argue with Leitch’s reasoning. If you can make millions of dollars a year from playing a sport, that is a deal that sounds too good to pass up.

HBOMAX.com

The last decade brought many new inventions and trends to center stage: in 2010 the first ever iPad was released, 2012 introduced the Gangnam Style, and in 2016 the world went crazy over Pokémon Go. Despite all these worldwide trends and obsessions, one of the biggest takeaways from the decade was the rise of the eSport. ESports, also known as electronic sports, offer an alternative to your everyday sport and have seen a dramatic increase in popularity within the past few years. ESports have become so popular among America’s younger generation that some suggest that football can be heading down this path in the near future. Brando Starkey, writer of The Real Future of Football is as an eSport, strongly believes that the future of football may very realistically be on a computer. Starkey explains the safety issue plaguing the game and declares “This conundrum — the game is best when it includes its most dangerous elements, but when it includes its most dangerous elements, the game can’t survive — can only be solved by taking humans off the gridiron. The real future of football is as an esport.” The question everyone is wanting to know, will football move from the gridiron to the computer screen in the near future?

Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash

One thing for sure is that football safety is being worked on everyday, around the clock, 24/7, for the sole fear of losing the game forever. The number one safety concern in football are the traumatic blows to the head and repeatedly violent hits. There is only one solution to this problem: build a safer helmet. As much as the game tries to limit dangerous contact through fines, penalties, and shorter kickoffs, there is no solution to the sheer force and power delivered through a player’s hit. So what are we forced to do? Lose the game we love or craft the perfect helmet. Luckily, Riddell, football’s number one leading helmet brand for decades now, has recently pushed out the all new speed-flex. It isn’t the design or structure of the helmet, rather it is the technology implemented inside of the Speed-Flex that looks to change the safety of football forever. “Perhaps the biggest innovation is not in the helmet itself. Instead, the SpeedFlex was designed from the beginning to work with the InSite system, a sensor network that alerts the sideline when a big hit has happened. The control unit will get the alert and let medical personnel know that a certain player needs to be checked. There are a combination of factors that set off the piezoelectric sensor, so the system can be set to check for threshold impact or a series of lesser impacts.” Will Carroll, writer of How New Helmet Technology Will Make the NFL and NHL Safer, explains how this revolutionary sensor network will let the sideline know when a big hit occurs, allowing them to check the player for possible concussion or injury. Now, while the Riddell Speed-Flex may not be the long term solution, its technology and safety enhancements offer much potential when it comes to the safety of the game, for years to come.

YouTube, VICIS Pro

The future of football remains in question. If football wants to continue to dominate the American sports world for another century, it must first address the safety of its players and how this potential for injury can be brought to a minimal. Recent advancements in helmet technology have made it a realistic possibility that football can continue its domination across the country, all the way from youth, to high school, to professional levels.

Works Cited

Carrol, Will. “How New Helmet Technology Will Make the NFL and NHL Safer.” Bleacher Report, 2 Jun. 2014, bleacherreport.com/articles/2073748-how-new-helmet-technology-will-make-the-nfl-and-nhl-safer/. Accessed 6 April 2021.

Chen, Ingfei. “Exactly How Dangerous is Football?” New Yorker, 1 Feb. 2020, www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/exactly-how-dangerous-is-football/. Accessed 1 April 2021.

Lawrence, Andrew. “We Know Football Is Dangerous. So Why Are We Still Letting Our Sons Play It?” Men’s Health, 10 Jul. 2018, www.menshealth.com/health/a21346159/should-kids-play-football/. Accessed 7 April 2021.

Leitch, Will. “Why Football Will Never Die.” Bloomberg, 10 Dec. 2014, www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2014-12-10/why-football-will-never-die/. Accessed 8 April 2021.

Pappas, Stephanie. “Can Football Ever Be Safe?” Live Science, 6 Oct. 2017, www.livescience.com/60622-can-football-ever-be-safe/. Accessed 5 April 2021.

Starkey, Brando. “The Real Future of Football is as an eSport.” The Undefeated, 10 Aug. 2018, theundefeated.com/features/the-real-future-of-football-is-as-an-esport/. Accessed 31 March 2021.

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