Before we go any further, let’s agree on this: football is the greatest sport invented by man. There is simply nothing like it on earth — or at least there’s nothing like it accessible to your typical American adolescent. Surely this is a positioning statement we can all agree with, yes?
In an interview with Peter King, Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians made his case for football.
“It’s the greatest game in the world,” Arians said. “I think it teaches more values than any other game that you play: toughness, get up and fight. When you have things that happen in your life that aren’t going to be good, if you play football you know how to handle them. It doesn’t necessarily equate in track and other things… individual sports and some other team sports that aren’t the same because they’re not as physical and you don’t grow as a man — or woman, if you play the game — like you should in other sports.
“We have this fear of concussions that is real but not all of those, I think, statistics can prove anything. We’ve got new helmets coming out. We’ve got new safety issues. There are more concussions in girl’s soccer than in football at that age. The number two sport with concussions is women’s soccer but no one says we’ve got to stop playing soccer, alright? It’s the same thing with knee injuries. There are more knee injuries at 8 to 12 in soccer than football. You can find all the statistics you want if you want to crucify something. Our game is great. People that say, ‘I wouldn’t let my son play it,’ are fools. There are DNA tests now I could give your kid and tell you the chances of your child having a concussion or should they play a contact sport of any kind. It’s only 400 bucks, go get one.”
Something I don’t think football’s stakeholders spend enough time emphasizing is the sport’s inclusiveness.
Imagine for a moment you come into the custody of a 12-year-old boy with zero previous athletic experience. What sport are you going to push him toward? Football takes players of all shapes, sizes and skill levels. Basketball lets five players on the floor at a time. Football can offer contributing roles to upwards of 40 players. It’s not cost prohibitive; most schools supply everything but cleats and socks. Football teams don’t cut players. It’s not skill intensive; you don’t have to hit a curve ball to have a role on a football team.
All that’s required, really, is the internal will to sacrifice your body for the good of the team. Running and throwing and catching and tackling are skills that football rewards, but so is the simple ability to not let other people move you around. Do that, and you can play. No other sport offers that.
And while other sports may offer similar character development as football, nothing teaches the metaphorical ability to pick yourself up off the ground and dust your self off quite like physically picking yourself off the ground and dusting yourself off. Over and over and over again.
Anyway, instead of downplaying football’s risks or pointing out the risks in other sports, that’s the pitch I’d like to see football coaches start making.