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The Fight Over Football’s Future Is Now a Battle for California’s Soul - The Ringer
"So what will happen next? It’s possible that flag football will eventually displace tackle football among youth, and the numbers will go back up as we come to terms with the risks involved for those in high school and beyond; in fact, the case for youth flag football is increasingly being made by coaches and NFL veterans like John Madden and Drew Brees, who has said he won’t allow his own children to play tackle football until middle school. But without knowing how science might advance, or whether equipment might evolve, it’s also possible to imagine football becoming an increasingly regional sport that’s centered even more in the Southeast and is slowly de-emphasized on the West Coast. Within the past three years, Georgia has nearly overtaken California as the third-largest college football recruiting state in the country.

It’s easy to imagine football being played primarily by wealthy private schools or well-subsidized public schools that can afford to invest in the most expensive safety measures (and weather the changes in the insurance market), or by athletes from underprivileged communities who are seeking a way out. A school like Lowell, for instance, doesn’t need football to survive.

On the practice field, Danny Chan tells me that one of his best players sat out most of the year while in concussion protocol, citing this as proof that things aren’t the same as they used to be when all those 1960s and ’70s-era NFL players—whose brains wound up at Boston University—were in their prime. When that parent of his star running back pulled her child from football in 2017, Chan questioned why she didn’t lobby the city’s public schools to ban the sport altogether. Or do you only care about your own kid? he asked her.

This is the crux of the philosophical disagreement, one that bleeds into our modern political debate about paternalistic government overreach and the perceived existence of the “nanny state.” During my conversation with Archie, she points to car seats for children as an example of how our safety standards have evolved over time. And during my conversation with Rafter, he brings up car seats as a way of pointing out that we’ve adapted to modern standards without outlawing driving altogether. So whose responsibility is it to mitigate that risk, and how far should we go in mandating these safety measures? And what do we lose in making these choices?

“Football, in particular, offers communities things of value,” Rafter says. “It’s hard to measure, except through stories and testimonials. I can’t put it in a medical or scientific document. Nobody’s allowing us to have that conversation. But that’s a piece that would be a huge loss, in the worst-case scenario, in the state of California.”

The question, then, is whether you believe that those stories and testimonials depend on the existence of football, or that you feel they’re merely an echo of the communities themselves. Maybe football will someday reinvent itself in a progressive manner, the way it did at the turn of the 20th century. Maybe our cultural and scientific progress as a society means that we should eventually leave it behind. All those years ago, when Stanford and Cal dropped football in favor of rugby, Roberta J. Park wrote that the school’s presidents presumed they were promoting a safer game. But Park also made another, more curious observation: The games we play don’t really influence our morality. They just reflect who we are."
california  sports  football  americanfootball  2019  children  youth  teens  brain  health  rugby  history  athletics  parenting  activism  sanfrancisco  georgia  texas  florida 
january 2019 by robertogreco

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