The Politics of Playing Football

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From New York Times , and

Who plays and doesn't play football is an increasingly partisan issue, according to the latest column by The New York Times' David Leonhardt, the editor of "The Upshot."

A recent poll by the RAND Corporation, conducted on behalf of The Upshot, asked parents to share their views about their children playing several sports. Only 55 percent of respondents said they would be comfortable with their sons playing football. The numbers for baseball, basketball, soccer, and track, however, were all above 90 percent.

"There isn’t a divide about watching football—blue America and red America are both watching football in enormous numbers,” says Leonhardt. “But it’s clear that blue America, and particularly college educated blue America in many of the big metropolitan areas across the country, is getting much less comfortable with the idea of letting their kids play.”

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of boys playing football at the high school level is on the decline. Over the last six years, the number of high school football participants has fallen 15 percent in both Minnesota and Wisconsin—states that President Obama carried in 2008 and 2012.

There has also been a decline in other blue states like Colorado (down 14 percent), in Massachusetts and Maryland (both down 8 percent), in New York (down 7 percent), and in California (down 4 percent).

On the whole, Leonhardt says that when examining all 50 states, a clear pattern emerges: High school participation in football is falling more in blue states than in red states. The poll conducted by the RAND Corporation, however, found that not all liberal voters feel the same way.

“There’s only one group that is notably less comfortable—Obama voters, which is to say Democratic voters with college degrees,” he says. “Democratic voters without college degrees look a lot like Republican voters with or without college degrees in terms of their level of comfort with football.”

Leonhardt says that the issue of high school football may undergo a massive shift sometime in the future, at least if past trends are to be believed.

“There’s a classic pattern here,” he says. “There are a lot of public safety issues—whether it’s smoking or whether it’s seat belts—that start in a more educated and more liberal corner of society. If the science continues to show that this is a real public health issue, it’ll go mainstream.”

Leonhardt argues that American culture may collectively reject high school football if science continues to show that the sport is dangerous. Based on the most current data about high school football participation, it appears that millions of families have already abandoned the sport.

“They represent change,” he says. “We’re seeing a change in which more liberal and more educated areas are saying, ‘We don’t want our sons playing football—even if we still watch it on Saturdays and Sundays.’”