The NFL season begins tonight when the New England Patriots — they won the Super Bowl, you know — meet the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Opening day of the football season has a recent tradition to it: former fans who will proudly declare that they’ve given up watching or supporting football because of its risk to the health of players in exchange for our entertainment. TV ratings and sold-out stadiums, on the other hand, will suggest that a fair number of them are lying.
Which is why Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse’s column today carries a bold prediction: The new Vikings stadium will outlive the sport itself.
The Vikings zealots will do all of this, but if they are like many of their neighbors across Minnesota, what they won’t do is allow their sons to play football.
Even a place such as Eden Prairie, where winning is a rite of passage for all those lads who commit to playing football, numbers have fallen recently in the lower ages. It is a contest between a fantastic tradition and concern from parents and their young men, and concern has been winning in Eden Prairie and elsewhere in the suburbs.
We have been hearing about the decline in numbers of young baseball players for 15 years, maybe more. The No. 1 knock against baseball is boredom for American’s new age of high-tech youth.
If I was selling participation in a game, boredom is an issue I would prefer to deal with over the No. 1 knock against football: potential brain injury.
Reusse reports the number of kids playing high school football in Minnesota has declined significantly, a true fact which also parallels the rise in soccer’s popularity as much as a rejection of the hazards of getting your bell rung in football.
Reusse rejects that notion based on … well… not much.
This is anecdotal, but I had conversations with numerous such Vikings zealots (during my nine-day nightmare of radio work at the State Fair) and eventually would ask if they had a son who played football.
Eight or nine of a dozen people in their 30s, 40s and 50s gave me one of these answers:
“He didn’t want to play football.’’ “We didn’t want him to play football.’’ “I don’t have a son, but if I do, I’m going to have a hard time letting him play football.’
So there you have it. Football is in trouble because people without sons won’t let the sons they don’t have play football, in some cases.
Over at the field down the street, as long as we’re talking anecdotal evidence, they’re making quite a racket. The parking lot is full of cars, the parents are screaming, the little kids in their pads and helmets are whacking into each other to the delight of their parents.
They should be ready for the NFL by the time the Vikings ask for another new stadium.
Related: So Many Sports, So Little Time: Texas High School Athletes Opt Of Out Football (NPR)