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The Future of Football

02 February

If this is you

As a qualitative researcher I am interested in how people reconcile contrary ideas. In San Francisco a few blocks from Super Bowl City the movie “Concussion” is playing. I can’t help but wonder how people make sense of the opposing motives inherent in these two cultural events.

So I posted a query on my personal Facebook page (aka “convenience sample”) to see what I might find. Here are the themes that emerged:

The movie reflects how the sport may be moving in a positive evolutionary direction

“Since the beginning of human societies we have invented games and rites of passage. In football you have an organized sport with rules, coaches, physicians, and protective gear. Already the rules are changing to stop contact that is likely harmful.

During these last 20 years, the players are bigger, faster, and the stakes are higher. The players could quit hurting each other and perhaps we are evolving in that direction.

Certainly, there is a spotlight on the problem. Football is a complicated game with many skill sets. It isn’t going to stop so let’s increase player safety in every way possible.”

Ann, Austin

“Without the physicality & collisions, it just isn’t the same, but that part of the game is evolving too. They used to get away with a lot more.”

Tim, San Francisco Bay Area

“Ultimately it’s a top-down change that needs to happen. The NFL has it in its power to regulate the game play so it creates less injury and risk. Younger players will watch and have new perceptions about the “best” way to play the game.”

Carole, San Francisco

Football might become extinct

“So the sport is one thing, the business, and that way they lied about concussion research, well that and other issues slowly kill a little piece of my NFL love every year. The NFL is like the Roman Empire, its hubris & gluttony will be its downfall someday. Its greed & too-big-to fail attitude will eventually lead to trouble for the league, and doom the sport. As much as I love the sport of football, the game itself, the evil empire feel of the NFL — mixed with the public’s evolution in tastes away from a brutal game — will lead to it no longer being the big dog someday. Football is a toned-down version of Gladiators. We keep progressing as a civilization in that at least. But something new will come along and take over some day or maybe baseball gets its spot back.”

Tim F., San Francisco Bay Area

“I gave up football a couple of years ago for this reason and many others.”

Ken, San Francisco Bay Area

“A lot of Bay Areans see bans restricting concussion-causing behavior as a no-brainer. Some parents are in favor of an all-out high school football ban.”

Carole, San Francisco

It is a conflict – and I live with it

“I’m conflicted. I enjoy the “fantasy” of football. I cringe at its reality”.

Christopher, San Francisco

“I feel conflicted, especially because Will Smith deserved an Oscar nod, and the film was overlooked by the mainstream. Like Albert Brooks’ character in the film said: “they OWN (NFL) a day of the week. So while I detest their tobacco industry-like cover-up, (and who knows what role they may have played in helping that movie NOT go anywhere,) I also find the SPECTACLE of the STUPOR Bowl hard not to watch.”

Marilyn, San Francisco

“I see many issues with an all-out high school football ban. In many communities across the U.S., high school football is the thing that brings people together – the “Friday Night Lights” phenomenon. For some young men, football is their only ticket out – a scholarship means the difference between going to college and not going to college. If they want to play for a desirable school/team, they have to play hard, and that means putting themselves at risk.”

Carole, San Francisco

“I think this is one of those things we do without trying to resolve cognitive dissonance – the pleasures of watching are divorced from the violence. While I know it’s real, it just doesn’t factor into my experience of the games. The real answer of course is that my dad liked football, so I just can’t help it.”

Steve, Boston

I took the conversation offline with my friend, futurist Ken Hamik.  Over the last 36 years he has studied past/current/future trends to anticipate where the shifts will change where we will be. Culture, economics, technology, politics — all are part of sports. Ken sees dramatic changes in football’s place in American culture in the future we are trending.

“The NFL will either be radically safer or significantly diminished in 10 to 20 years,” says Ken.  “Sports will probably be segmented with a small portion of the population engaged in extremely violent games at one end of the bell curve, and soft sports on the other end with the Olympics, baseball and basketball and possibly soccer in the middle being the most popular sporting events in the US. Oh, and by the way, I still love throwing a football.” 

Contact SayWhat if you have questions about where things are headed in your industry, your start-up, your brand, or among the consumers about whom you care. We can help you explore the terrain and find answers.

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