The week leading up to the kickoff of the NFL season is traditionally a time of prognostications. According to a CBS Sports report, author Malcolm Gladwell offers quite a prediction in a film released today on football-related head injuries: he claims once the health risks of the sport are fully understood, it will become “ghettoized” among groups “for whom the risk is acceptable.”
That particular word choice is loaded but correct; in the context of the his argument, “ghettoized” means culturally segregated. Still, Gladwell, a contributor to The New Yorker and known for books like “The Tipping Point” and “Outliers,” surely understands the flamboyance of the term, and he further supported his case by comparing football players who choose to accept the dangers of a violent sport with those who enlist in the military.
“We will go to a middle position where we will disclose the risks and essentially dare people to play …That’s what the Army does. So we leave the Army for kids who have other options, for whom the risks are acceptable…. That’s what football is going to become. It’s going to become the Army. That’s a very, very different situation. That’s a ghettoized sport, not a mainstream American sport.”
Gladwell has been critical of football’s safety measures in the past and last year teamed with fellow author Buzz Bissinger in a debate arguing in favor of a ban on college football.
Sean Pamphilon, the director of the film “United States of Football,” was asked by CBS Sports for his interpretation on Gladwell’s comments. “I think his implication is pretty clear,” Pamphilon said. “Suburban white kids or their parents are going to opt out … More affluent people are going to decide they don’t want to put their kids in that position.”
Participation in youth football has already begun to decrease as more has become known about the correlation between the sport and head trauma. According to a recent story in USA Today, participation in youth leagues dropped last year to 2.82 million players, down from 3 million players in 2011. And Tommy Thompson, chairman of a youth football league in Fairfax County, Virginia — the third highest-income county in the U.S. according to a 2012 census report — told USA today that the 6,000 players in his 22 clubs is down from 7,200 players just three years ago.
“Our league grew for 12 straight years until three years ago, and when the concussion controversy started, our numbers started to drop,” Thompson said. “We believe that has been the main driver of the decline in our enrollment.”
“United States of Football” opens just a day after the NFL announced a $765 million settlement with 4,500 former players who were suing the league over brain injuries incurred during their playing years.