#SB49, or how football stumbles while fútbol grows

This year’s Super Bowl couldn’t come soon enough for an NFL that took blows from all angles, while fútbol in the United States showed promise from a coming of age fan base

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I am rooting for the Seahawks to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XIL. But whatever the outcome of the game is, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will certainly have his head busy on what to do as he leads American football through the ominous road that lays ahead.

I bet you Goodell, pizzerias and I are all hoping this is a close game. I want the entertainment. Pizzerias want the money (pizza sales are higher if it’s a tight game). And Goodell will want to have some distraction, something that keeps him from thinking of the unfinished business this season brought to his desk.

The scandals have not stopped pouring down on the office on Park Avenue. Many now question Goodell’s leadership after witnessing his office’s appalling decisions in the Ray Rice domestic violence case, perhaps the loudest headline of the many that hit the behemoth in 2014.Forget #deflagate and the poor refereeing.

The NFL is bracing itself as cheeleaders demand fair wages; Native Americans fight to change the racist Washington team name and mascot; players, including legend Dan Marino, sue the league over concussions and their aftermath, and—perhaps more critically—a dwindling young talent pool.

The last two issues are related. Polls show that the majority of parents doesn’t want their children to play tackle football because of the risks it presents to them. Here’s where the NFL did the right thing.

As The New York Times reports, 12 years ago the league created USA Football, a nonprofit attempting to clean the sports image in matters of head concussions. To do that, they had the brilliant idea of teaching moms how to tackle safely. It’s just as in the old saying, “safe tackling begins with mom“.

The favorite sport of the United States is in such a bad shape, that even legendary coaches are speaking against it. In an interview with Bryant Gumbel for the HBO show Real Sports, Hall of Fame coach Mike Ditka said outright that he wouldn’t let an eight-year-old play football.

“Nope. That’s sad. I wouldn’t. And my whole life was football. I think the risk is worse than the reward. I really do,” Ditka said.

And while Fútbol Americano tries to dodge the bullets, Fútbol Soccer has quietly taken advantage of its cousin’s misfortune. El Fútbol en Estados Unidos is growing, but that’s not the biggest news.

Last summer’s World Cup showed many that fútbol has grown all right, but it also demonstrated that the sport has a promising future. Young women and men, teenagers, and children with their parents thronged public spaces to follow Team USA in el Mundial.

Of course businesses have taken notice of this. The MLS will see two new teams debut this year (New York City FC and Orlando City), with strong investments from abroad. Stars like former Real Madrid captain Raúl or brazilian legend Ronaldo (O Fenômeno) have joined forces with NASL teams.

Both have said it clear: fútbol is growing and this country has the most fútbol soccer youth players in the world, a talent pool that will only keep on growing.

Today’s kids are more likely to grow up playing fútbol than football, according to recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, self described as nonpartisan organization dedicated to research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.

“Youth soccer has grown dramatically over the last four decades, with participation rates increasing by roughly 300 percent from 1974 to 2014. Reflecting this growth, the 2015 PRRI/Religion News Survey shows that participation in youth sports varies dramatically by age. Young adults (age 18 to 29) are 10 times more likely than seniors (age 65+) to have grown up playing soccer (22 percent vs. 2 percent). Young people are also more than twice as likely to have played youth soccer than peewee football (22 percent vs. 8 percent). Moreover, the advantage that youth soccer has over football remains sizable even when limiting the comparison to men. One-in-four (25 percent) young men grew up going to soccer practice, compared to 16 percent who played football.”

A nice chart by  PRRI/Religion News Survey

A nice chart by PRRI/Religion News Survey

PRRI’s research director, Daniel Cox, has argued that there are a number of reasons for fútbol soccer’s growth:

“Demographic trends, including the growth of the Latino population, the increasing competitiveness of U.S. Soccer in international play, and the growing popularity of Major League Soccer (MLS) all pointed to greater success for sport. But soccer’s growing fandom stateside may actually be most closely related to a fact that I mentioned mostly in passing: the rise of youth soccer leagues.”

It should be also noted that despite USA Football’s safe tackling efforts, more moms are keeping their children away from American football and opting to have them kick some balls in a fútbol soccer field. And it is safe to say that a majority of these little futbolistas are no longer white.

The prediction is that by 2044 there won’t be a white majority any more in the United States, but many classrooms across the country are already living in a 2044 world.

Of course football still dominates the sports landscape in this country, but the engine of imagination affords us some scenarios in which kicking a ball becomes as normal as banging your head against somebody else’s.

So, while the NFL has some crucial challenges to address in the near future, talking long-term could prove a more daunting task as the league, with or without Goodell, will have to deal with the aftermath of all these concussions.

About Gustavo Martínez Contreras

was born in Texas, brewed in Mexico City, seasoned in the Mexico-United States border, aged walking the streets of Philadelphia. He had a short-lived stint eating grits, fried chicken, and peaches in Atlanta. He later became a béisbol writer for El Diario de Nueva York. He has written about immigrant communities in English, Spanish, and some Spanglish. Although he does not have a shelf full of awards, Gustavo has received thank you notes and hugs from people who have trusted him with their stories. His work has appeared in Voices of New York, El Diario/La Prensa, Dallas’ Al Día, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Philadelphia Weekly, Radio Bilingüe, Latina Lista, Spot.us, among others. He is currently pursuing a master's degree at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
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