The New York Times covered USA Football's recent annual conference in Orlando and the main issue on the docket was, unsurprisingly, the severe drop in youth football participation. "Severe" is not an overstatement: membership in tackle football teams among boys ages six to 12 has dropped by 20 percent since 2009. The organization has been trying to combat this trend in a variety of ways, and even began testing a new of youth football that features a smaller field, fewer players, no punts or kickoffs, and no three-point stances. It'll be a while before this gets implemented, but they are at least trying to respond to the fears of parents across the county.
And then there is Jon Gruden. The former NFL coach and current ESPN personality, now known mostly for co-starring in Hooters commercials and scrunching his face up like a cat giving birth, went on a wild, George S. Patton-esque rant in front of the assembled crowd of football coaches and administrators. Gruden attacked the true danger facing this great game: geniuses.
"There are a lot of geniuses out there that are diminishing football right now," said Jon Gruden, a former coach of the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who now works as an analyst for ESPN. "There are a lot of geniuses that are trying to damage the game, and ruin the game. Do you feel it? There are a lot of geniuses that want to eliminate all sports, including recess."
"Not on my watch, and clap your hands if you're with me on that," he added, to loud applause.
Assuming Gruden is not specifically targeting the Cleveland Browns—they were in ruins long before Paul DePodesta got there—it's unclear whether he is trying to be facetious with his use of the term "geniuses." Many of the people who have been warning us about the long-term dangers of football are in fact neurologists, many of whom are actual brain surgeons—the profession literally used to describe genius in the English language.
Particularly impressive is Gruden interjecting "Do you feel it?"—a technique more often used to fire up audiences at rock concerts. Next time he should use the Peter Frampton talk box and effects pedal to make it extra groovy.
Other sports don't seem to be suffering the same precipitous drop in youth participation, despite the nefarious work of this shadowy cabal of geniuses. Meanwhile, as of this writing, recess remains a thing in schools throughout the country.