I played and coached high school football. I love the game and consider myself a huge fan. Even so, I won’t let my 12-year-old son play tackle football today or when he gets older. I’ve decided the risk of head trauma is way too great.
And while my tiny decision won’t even make a ripple in the mega-corporation that is the NFL today — it really could in the future.
And how, you may ask, could the action of a no-name father in Tucson make any difference to league executives in New York?
Because in our hyperconnected world, trends matter. Trends start small like tiny currents, but eventually they snowball into raging torrents.
The trend of regular kids who could and probably should play football but won’t is the big problem for the NFL.
See, the business model of pro football is not unlike that of a gold or diamond mine in which billions of tons of rocks must be sifted and crushed and moved to unearth a few precious metals or stones.
According to the NCAA, there are 1,108,441 high school football players in America today. Those high school football rocks are extracted and divided and dumped into the college football mining cars until that raw ore is reduced down to the final beautiful shining treasures that are the 1,696 NFL players we root for on Sundays.
And yes, my boy would be a minuscule speck among a million high schoolers. But his absence would still matter because without him and other minuscule specks, the precious metals like Peyton Manning or Adrian Peterson would never exist. They wouldn’t exist because the NFL requires a huge number of rocks to assemble the teams that eventually feed a pro league.
What if more and more like-minded parents start making the same decision as my wife and I have?
As stated above, it takes about 1.1 million high school kids to produce about 1,700 NFL players today. What would happen if 5 percent of parents decided next year to keep their boys from playing high school football? It would mean that the 1.1 million player pool would turn into a 1 million player pool. Hardly a big deal on the face of it, but as that 5 percent reduction radiates into the NFL, it reduces the number of pro players down from about 1,700 to 1,615, or 85 fewer players. That would be like removing an entire team and a significant portion of a second one from the NFL.
Look, Tom Brady isn’t a great quarterback because he can read defenses and throw a tight spiral — he’s great because he can read defenses and throw a tight spiral BETTER than anyone else. Tom Brady is great because his greatness was greater than the million-plus kids and young adults he surpassed. But he couldn’t surpass them if they weren’t on the lower fields of competition filling out the defenses that his passes would shred.
Not this year, but in the near future, the NFL will look down into that theoretical mine shaft and see a lot fewer rocks — rocks that will be filling up the soccer and lacrosse fields, basketball courts, rock climbing gyms, cross-fit studios and more.
Boxing today is a shell of its former glory because people don’t want to bash their heads in for a living. Could the NFL be headed for the same fate? I really think it might. I can see someday in the future, when my son invites me over to his house on a Sunday to hang out with the grandchildren and watch the big game. I feel pretty confident that big game won’t be NFL football.