Sunday, November 26, 2017
So how did you spend your Thanksgiving?
If it was like the homes we were at, it wasn’t watching professional football.
That’s not to say football wasn’t on TV. It was.
And people passed by those TVs all day and even sat well within viewing range.
But only Uncle Scott was watching it at one home.
And at another home, it was just Cousin Nate.
It was unlike the Thanksgiving I grew into some 30 years ago, when my dad and uncles were in their prime. Then, all the men gathered around the games – kids not far away.
The smaller size of the TVs then drew us in more closely – intensifying the yelling and cheering at last names such as Staubach, Landry, Sims and Sanders.
I did see Thursday the Minnesota Vikings celebrated a touchdown by simulating a Thanksgiving dinner scene with eight players seated in a circle moving their hands like eating and slicing.
They are pretty good at this new NFL end zone celebration freedom, having played leapfrog and “duck, duck, goose” in other recent games.
Those antics are part of a new NFL rule for players to have more fun.
Yes, they made a rule last spring – to have fun.
It’s a desperate act from atop the American kingdom of football.
The chinks in football’s armor are present around many corners of the sport.
You could hear it recently in the voice of Bo Pelini, Youngstown State University’s football coach, when he expressed disappointment in the poor home attendance.
This issue for football – from the NFL to YSU to high-school football to little league – is not concussions and worried parents.
It’s not Colin Kaepernick and the subsequent protests; it’s not President Trump’s tweets; it’s not the NFL’s superiority complex; and it’s not the futility of the Cleveland Browns or my hometown Buffalo Bills.
It’s not any one of these.
It is all of these.
It is also something a lot more basic, simple and ever present:
We change. We evolve.
YSU’s Paul McFadden reminded Poland students last week in a speech the human species has existed and evolved for thousands and thousands of years. And through that filter, he offered, the past 50 years of progression have been unfathomable.
And the past 10 years? Breathless.
As we evolve, things move to the sidelines for other things to take the main field.
Ask the guys in Austintown about the heydays of horse racing.
Ask Jack Loew about boxing’s glory days. In our Vindicator’s hallway of historic front pages, there is a 1919 front page dominated by Jack Dempsey winning the heavyweight boxing title.
A more recent sidelining example could be NASCAR, which has been on a 10-year-plus decline, and this year loses its biggest name and its title sponsor. Like the NFL’s new end-zone fun time rule, NASCAR, too, has tried many adjustments to restore its 1990s rage. But it’s headed to average pretty quickly.
Locally, we’ve seen high-school football slide for decades due to population decline.
But high-school football in general is just sliding, and it’s everywhere.
The National Federation of High School Athletic Associations came out with a report in September with this great headline:
“High school sports participation increases for 28th straight year; nears 8 million mark.”
Its numbers – based on the 2016-17 academic year – showed 7.9 millions Americans played high-school sports last year. That was an increase of 94,000 from the previous year – the largest single-year increase in seven years.
So high-school sports is booming.
The same report showed 25,000 fewer students played high-school football in 2016 versus 2015 – a year in which 1.1 million players suited up nationally.
Of all the things that football is in 2017 – whether in the tradition-laden trenches here in the Mahoning Valley or the politically stained ranks of the NFL – it is a year of no return.
This is the year people will look to years from now and say the sport – tossed about in a stew of local and national issues – forever changed as an American staple.
What football looks like in 2020 and 2025 is anyone’s guess.
My guess is that it will be way, way less.
The bigger TVs at Thanksgiving will be turned to special editions of “The Voice,” “Shark Tank” or some other reality show finely crafted for the day’s captive audience.
And Uncle Scott and Cousin Nate will be off in a quiet corner watching the NFL on their phone.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.