Millennial generation could kill the NFL
Many protective mothers and fathers of Millennials aren't allowing their kids to play tackle football because of health risks. These attitudes could close the NFL’s pipeline to many talented players. But these concerns also have the potential to change the violent NFL culture for the better.
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But there are some who doubt the effectiveness of those efforts, or even feel that they are incompatible with the brand of a sport that is based on vigorous contact. Still, the NFL Players’ Association has strongly endorsed them.Skip to next paragraph
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These changes to improve player safety need to be made quickly if the NFL is to avoid another potentially more serious challenge to its future – the unwillingness of the parents of Millennials to allow their sons to play football.
Most shocking, a number of current and former NFL players – among them quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw, Kurt Warner, Drew Brees, and Troy Aikman and linebacker Bart Scott, famed for his hard-hitting style – say that, due to its dangers, they would bar their sons from playing the game in which they earned fame and fortune.
Perspectives like this have the potential to hamper or even halt participation in the programs that develop future NFL players. Because, other than a Canadian variation, American-style football is only played in the United States, there are no replacement athletes in the pipeline for football from foreign countries as there are for other professional sports.
Millennials were reared by their parents to be an egalitarian, group-oriented cohort, one that believes the welfare and success of individuals is best assured by maximizing the welfare and success of the entire group. It’s no coincidence, then, that high schools and colleges prohibited the taunting of opponents and exaggerated celebration of individual achievements on the gridiron just as Millennials were beginning to play football at those levels.
Perhaps Millennials will bring their group-oriented values to the NFL, producing a kinder, gentler version of pro football just in time to save the league from its boomer-dominated approach.
If so, the version of football that Steve Sabol’s films made so popular a half century ago will become a thing of the past. But, if the NFL doesn’t take the steps necessary to convince Millennials and their parents that their game is safe to play, it will take much more than brilliant films to enable the league to maintain its sports leadership position in the decades to come.
Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais are co-authors of the newly published “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America” and “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics” and fellows of the progressive think-tank NDN and the New Policy Institute.