A New Season Beckons, but Has Football Lost its Magical Hold?

A matchup between Tower Hill and Conrad Red Wolves, October 2017, flickr

Even as we speak, hundreds of kids, from Brandywine Hundred to Delmar, are sweating under the hot sun as they prepare to play the fall sport of their choosing. It’s an annual ritual that is highly anticipated, even though it’s not always fun.

That is especially true of football, simply because of all the equipment a football player carries around and the beating he takes while wearing it. And that’s an inescapable part of the game — there are times when football hurts.

There are times when you get your bell rung and your clock cleaned and your butt kicked.

There are also times when you have to take a verbal beating from a coach because football coaches tend to be animated and loud and sometimes they even use bad language. 

Some players love that violent aspect of football and some players loathe it. Some players want to pound the enemy and some guys simply want to catch touchdown passes and wave to the girls – and let’s not forget, you have to be a football hero to get a date with a beautiful girl…

That last line is from a popular song written and recorded in 1933.

Now, many parents don’t even want their sons to play football — in recent years, reports and studies that link potential brain damage and the violence of football have become irrefutable.

But those studies weren’t around back in the day when football coaches wouldn’t let players drink water because they wanted to toughen them up, and nutcracker drills were a part of every practice.

Practices were longer and harder back then, when nobody really thought about the toll all that contact could have on the human body, especially the brain. Nowadays, administrators, coaches and parents are much more aware of the dangers of that violent contact, and practices are more focused on skill development than on seeing who can hit the hardest.

Those qualities are still important, of course, because this is, after all, football. But you can’t deal with a situation unless you understand it and we finally do as we discover the frailties of the human body.

Still, fewer kids are playing football than they used to. According to a report by JAMA Pediatrics, peak participation in high school football was in 2008, when 1.11 million kids played the game. But a couple years later, reports started coming out about the possible long-term damage that constant head trauma can create. Then those reports were confirmed and there has been constant media scrutiny on that subject ever since.

Mom and Dad saw those reports, and it’s not a coincidence that participation in high school football dropped five percent, to 1.06 million, by 2017.


In recent years, all football organizations have taken strong measures to prevent head trauma, and the strongest has been to limit contact during practice and to be much more aware of possible concussion symptoms. In the past, if a player was concussed he and his coaches would say he simply got his bell rung and he would be sent back onto the field as soon as the cobwebs cleared, or maybe even before then. It was no big deal.

Now we know better and high school football is much safer. It will never be completely safe, but the dangers are not nearly as bad in high school as they are in the NFL, where the players are a lot bigger and a lot faster and their collisions are a lot more violent.

And even though summer football practices aren’t as physical as they used to be, that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Today’s players work just as hard and sweat just as much as they did 25 years ago – they just do it in a different way.

Plus, it’s hotter now for summer practices than it used to be – kids of my generation had to worry about getting hit in the face during practice, but nobody worried about global warming.

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About the Contributor

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan

Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.