It was Super Bowl Sunday last week, America’s great secular holiday where the nation’s top two football teams go to battle to prove who is the ultimate champion. All the attention and hoopla do not, however, hide the fact that football’s popularity is waning in American culture. Attendance has been down steadily (yesterday’s Super Bowl continued an eight-year decline in viewership), as has participation in football programs in communities, schools and colleges across the country. .
The main reason? The awareness of the effects of head trauma caused by the violent contact that is central to the game. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 110 of 111 brains of NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Hundreds of personal stories are also being told, exemplified by a major article in yesterday’s New York Times describing the sad decline of 43 year old Rob Kelly, who left major league football 15 years ago and whose mind, as described by his wife, Emily, is now “destroyed.”
Sports represent healthy “” developmental energy in our culture, the progressive civilization of blood sports that seeks to express physical aggression and competition in ever more benign forms. Football is still with us, but its popularity is undermined with every new case of the tragic personal price paid by so many of our heroes who play it.