It appears parents are having a harder time ignoring the mounting medical evidence that suggests football can lead to serious health problems including depression, dementia and suicide.
According to a June 2015 poll conducted by YouGov and Huffington Post that asked 1,000 Americans what sports they would want their kids to play, 24 percent picked soccer, 4 percent picked football, and only 1 percent picked hockey.
Parents' growing fears about football appear to be justified. Each year between 2001 and 2009, the most recent years of Center of Disease Control data, more than 25,300 kids under age 19 had to go to the emergency room for traumatic brain injury because of football. That number was second only to biking injuries. The National Federation of State High School Associations also said in a 2013-2014 report that participation in high school football had dropped below 1.1 million for the first time since 2006. According to an Outside The Lines investigation last year, participation in Pop Warner youth football leagues—which is considered the best organized football program for kids between 5 to 15—dropped 9.5 percent from 2010 to 2012.
Both Pop Warner and the NFL obviously discount the impact and gravity of the injuries. In the FAQ section on their site, Pop Warner says that football is safer than soccer. It also adds that "Pop Warner football has 12% fewer injuries per capita among 5-15 year olds than organized soccer in the same age range!" without giving any reference or source to this data.
The NFL has consistently said that brain damage and degenerative diseases like CTE don't have any direct correlation with playing football. In a health report released before the 2015 Super Bowl, the NFL pointed out that concussions in regular season games had dropped 25 percent in 2014 from what they were in 2013. Concussions caused by helmet-to-helmet hits were down 28 percent during the same time period, according to the report. And the concussion rate was .43 percent per game. But the sub-concussed condition—the repeated blows to the head that accumulate over time but never register as a concussion—isn't tracked.
Parents might not be buying NFL's science anymore. For what it's worth, even LeBron James, who's called football his first love, has said his two sons won't be allowed to play hockey or football.
"We all love collisions and hard hits and things like that," parent Chris Vacarella told an Alabama newspaper last year. "Until it happens to your boy."