As more people learn about how football’s hard hits to the head can lead to brain trauma, fewer parents are willing to let their kids out on the field. That’s according to a new poll released Wednesday by HBO Real Sports and Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
One in three Americans say knowing about the damage that concussions can cause would make them less likely to allow their sons to play football, the poll found.
Keith Strudler, director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication, who helped oversee the phone survey of more than 1,200 adults in July, said this could be alarming news for the future of football. “Historically, youth football has fueled the NFL,” said Strudler. “Parents’ concern about the safety of the game could jeopardize the future of the sport.”
Strudler added: “You know, what we are measuring are attitudes. Attitudes towards football. The interesting thing is how much these attitudes will turn into behaviors. We found that 14% of people feel less comfortable watching football because of this knowledge. What’s going to be interesting is to watch in the future…if that 14% will shut off their televisions.”
Strudler is also curious if these attitudes will continue to change over the next few years.
The poll also found that 86% of adults in the United States have at least heard of the connection between concussions and long-term brain injury. While about 40% of Americans said this information didn’t really change their concern about the game, another 32% said they were more concerned about the game. Another 30% Americans polled were less concerned because they felt coaches and parents were more informed and can take greater precautions.
Still, 70% of respondents thought the benefits of playing football outweighed the risks. Yet, nearly 1 in 4 Americans believe the risk is too high.
Josh Pruce, National Director of Scholastics and Media Relations for Pop Warner, says there hasn’t been a drop in numbers in the youth football league. Over the past decade, numbers had been steadily increasing about 1 percent, and holding steady in 2011 and 2012. Numbers for 2013 aren’t available yet.
Pop Warner is the largest football league in the country, with over 250,000 kids between the ages of 5 to 15 participating in its games.
“Safety is Pop Warner’s number one priority. We’ve implemented a number of rules to make the game safer,” said Pruce. “We follow the ‘when in doubt, sit it out,’ rule . We also have lowered our contact rules, where you can only make contact 1/3 of the time in practice.”
He also added that there is a no head-to-head hitting rule, when players are more than 3 yards apart.