Sports Biz with Darren Rovell

Concussion Talk Could Affect Football Participation

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For 12 straight years, football in high schools in America has been so popular that the number of boys playing the sport has been greater than the second and third most played sports, track and field and basketball.

But with the dangers of concussions being thrust out into the open is a participation decline around the corner?

Former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner has said it has made it harder to recommend that his young sons play the game. Tom Brady Sr. says he'd still let his son Tom, the New England Patriots quarterback, play the game, but maybe not as young as 7 years old.

If fewer kids played football, it would be seen at the ground floor with organizations like Pop Warner, the most popular early entry football league that has 285,000 players. Registration for the fall season is currently being done across the country, making it hard to determine if there has been an impact.

But a Twitter poll I took (with 260 respondents) shows that the constant concussion chatter has affected how parents think about their children playing the sport. Nearly 46 percent (45.7%) of people said that hearing about the affects of concussions had resulted in them changing their opinion about letting their son or future son play football.

"We've seen declines twice," said Jon Butler, who has been executive director of Pop Warner for the last 21 seasons. "There's been a lot of focus on us declining last year, but we don't think the sport lost any players. Some of it had to do with other youth football organizations poaching from us."

USA Football spokesman Steve Alic said the organization did not record a drop last year, as 3 million kids have played organized tackle football for each of the last five years.

Butler says he gets frustrated when football is singled out, mentioning the data that shows a significant amount of concussions kids get by bicycling, skateboarding or rollerblading without a helmet. That becomes a harder battle to fight when concussions are being talked about every day in the media. More than 2,000 former NFL players are currently suing the league for concussion-related injuries in more than 80 lawsuits.

"As a kid, my whole life revolved around playing football," said Chris Villasenor (@cdvillasenor). "For my kid, no chance of him playing."

Because concussions are severely underreported, it's impossible for Butler and Pop Warner to fire back with data contrary to the opinion that football is uniquely more dangerous that other sports. Butler says in 2010, Pop Warner was only able to verify that there were 11 total concussions in the previous season.

"We take that with a grain of salt because we know that there were some concussions that we never heard about," Butler said.

He says that the sport has done its part to preach helmet safety, change concussion diagnosis protocol and to limit contact in practice, and for some that is enough.

"We've been talking about it for three years," said Allen Jones (@jajonesy3). "New chatter has made no difference. We're going to let him play at nine."

Patrick Ollinger (@patrickollinger), who said he played football himself, says concussions have always been talked about as part of the game.

"Any one who claims they didn't know is kidding themselves," Ollinger said. "Football hurts."

Dustin Smale (@ThePhoenix145) says he doesn't have any say what his son does.

Said Smale: "My son plays soccer, baseball, football and Ju Jitsu. Accidents happen in sports. It's his decision to play or not to (play)."

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