Drew Reviews: Is the NFL too violent?

Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in the United States. More specifically, the National Football League (NFL) has become a staple of American culture, to the point where Sundays are synonymous with watching the NFL. However, recently there has been a lot of discussion about football and the dangers of playing long term. And recently with Damar Hamlin and Tua Tagovailoa suffering scary injuries during the 2022 regular season, as well as studies from neurologists showing the dangers of playing professional football, a lot of people are asking the question. 

Is the NFL too violent? 

In 2021, the NFL reported revenue of 17.19 billion dollars, compared to the Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Basketball Association (NBA) which each reported a revenue of around 6.4 billion dollars. The average NFL game in 2022 had about 16.7 million viewers, while Sunday Night Football on NBC averaged just a hair under 20 million viewers. For context, the 2022 World Series and NBA finals averaged around 12 million viewers per game. 82 of the top 100 most watched TV broadcasts in 2022 were NFL games.

Now while these numbers are down 3 percent from 2021, they are still nearly three times greater than those of the NBA and MLB. Despite the backlash the NFL has received in recent years due to the connection between playing football and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, the NFL still remains incredibly popular among Americans. 

Out of 202 former football players studied by a team of neuropathologists from Boston University, 87 percent were found to suffer from CTE, and among former NFL players, 99 percent suffered from CTE. Furthermore, the researchers found that whether it was mild or severe CTE, all of the subjects suffered from symptoms such as impulsivity, depression, anxiety, explosive rages, memory loss, and difficulty paying attention. 

Continually, 96 percent of men in the study suffered from progression of their symptoms throughout life. The researchers also found indications of brain diseases like Alzeimers and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in 45 percent of them. Only 14 of the men in the study were players who only played in high school, three of which were found with very mild symptoms of CTE.

These scary studies uncovering the dangerous nature of playing football could be the reason for recent declines in the number of kids playing football. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), from 2008 to 2019, the number of 6 to 18 year olds playing football fell by more than 600,000, from 2.5 million to 1.9 million. 

Furthermore, the viewership of the Super Bowl, the biggest sports event every year in America, fell by 12.5 million viewers from 2011 to 2019. In 2015, when the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks in epic fashion, 114.4 million people, or 35.7 percent of the U.S population, watched, while in 2019, 98.2 million people, or 29.7 percent of the population tuned in, which is the lowest percentage of the population since 1976. 

However, even with this clear decline in viewership and participation, football is still very much America’s sport. About a million kids play high school football, and about 30,000 kids play Division 1 football. So, the pipeline for the NFL is still very ripe with talent.

Evidence also suggests football is becoming more of a regional sport, with the northern part of the country starting to step away from the sport, while the southern part is still very much involved. Numbers from the NFHS show that in states like Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and New York, participation in high school football has dropped by more than 20 percent since 2008. In states like Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, high school football participation has decreased by less than 10 percent. In states like Mississippi, Texas, and California, participation has increased by up to 10 percent, and in Alabama and Louisiana, the participation in high school football has increased by over 40 percent in the last decade.

This leaves Americans with a very difficult decision to make. Football is arguably the most dangerous sport that someone can play professionally, with studies showing that NFL players’ life expectancy decreases to 59.6 years, with 73.5 percent of NFL players dying before they reach 70 years old, according to a group of researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. With this information, there is clear data to show that parents are starting to question whether football is the sport for their children. However, it is one of the most entertaining sports to watch. The viewership numbers previously mentioned have stayed relatively stable over the last 15 years, and there isn’t much evidence to show that it will be stopping anytime soon. With no obvious replacement for football if it were to fall out of favorship by the American public, only time will tell what is in store for the future of the NFL.