EXODUS: Kids Flee Football Over NFL Violence

Published on December 1, 2013

For Eddie Mason, the decision wasn’t difficult.

The NFL veteran’s 10-year-old son, Tyler, won’t play tackle football until high school.

Mr. Mason’s decision wasn’t a result of the burgeoning national discussion about football’s role in brain injuries. Instead, he believes children should learn the game’s fundamentals without tackling. Mr. Mason, who played three seasons at linebacker for the Redskins before retiring in 2003, sees a problematic culture infecting football’s lowest levels that’s inextricably connected to the safety concerns.

“This brash kind of mindset, the underdog mindset,” Mr. Mason said, “this hard-core attitude kind of deal about who hits the hardest [is part of the issue]. If you look back over the last eight to 10 years, players showing up in the NFL are technically unsound. We’re eight to 10 years behind developing fundamentals for how to play the sport.

“Compound all these factors into one lump and it’s just a bomb about to explode.”

That’s already started. As mild traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy have become household phrases, participation in the country’s most popular sport has slumped.

During the 2012-13 season, boys’ participation in 11-player high school football declined to the lowest level since 2005-06, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Football, however, remained the most popular high school sport.