Football’s True Believers Circle the Wagons and Insist the Sport Is Just Fine


ORLANDO, Fla. — One by one, former N.F.L. coaches and players, the director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and even a United States Senator came to the lectern last weekend to deliver the same stern warning: Football is under attack and your job is to change the narrative.

The game, they insisted at the annual conference of USA Football, the N.F.L.-funded national governing body for the sport, is vital to the American experience, essential for its survival, and it doesn’t have a health and safety problem as much as it has a messaging problem.

“If we lose football, we lose a lot in America,” said David Baker, the president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, who was one of the keynote speakers. “I don’t know if America can survive. That’s why you’re so important to what we’re doing. That’s why America needs to huddle up.”

These were the true believers in just about everything about the gridiron, from its leather-helmeted roots to the high-tech 21st century edition of the game. Preaching largely to the choir, the speakers urged about a thousand youth and high school football coaches and administrators to assure parents the game is not as dangerous as the neurologists and naysayers claim, and that the lessons about discipline and teamwork playing football provides far outweigh the risks.

“It does come with some risk,” said Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, who noted that he played football and has coached his sons’ youth teams. “You know what else comes with some risk? Life.”

Source: The New York Times