If there’s a “War on Football,” at least one prominent coach believes football is winning.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, whose brother John offered up a passionate defense of the sport in March, tells Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com that, basically, no defense is needed.
“[T]he game is so much stronger than it was five years ago, when I was at Stanford,” Jim Harbaugh said. “Now, I’m out traveling the country, seeing the love these guys have for the game of football. They really like football. And they’re so much better.”
The love cuts through a broad swath of America’s youth, in Jim Harbaugh’s assessment.
“We’ve coached and taught Grade Four up to Grade Twelve,” Jim Harbaugh said. “These youngsters like football! They’re not scared. There’s been some element out there — football’s too rough, too tough. Being unaggressive and afraid is not a good template to take out into the world. Football will teach you to be aggressive, and it will teach you not to be scared. The youth of America, young boys get it, and like it, and want more of it.”
One specific subset of “young boys” wants it the most.
“Football has always been for the biggest, strongest, fastest, smartest, most athletic kids,” Jim Harbaugh said. “There’s a game out there for them, and it’s football and they see it, and they enjoy it and they love it. The game is not weakening, the game is strengthening, from what I’ve observed the last two summers.”
Those experiences need to be reconciled with the fact that, unlike at the NFL level, kids sometimes die playing football. And while plenty of activities present the potential for life-ending accidents, NFL players very rarely die while playing. It last happened nearly 15 years ago, when Vikings tackle Korey Stringer succumbed to heat stroke.
In September 2009, less than two months before Congress forced the NFL to take seriously the issue of head injuries, quarterback Carson Palmer made a morbid prediction.
“The truth of the matter is . . . somebody is going to die here in the NFL,” Palmer told Peter King. “It’s going to happen. . . . Guys are getting so big, so fast, so explosive. The game’s so violent. Now that they’re cutting out the wedge deal on kickoff returns, those guys [are] coming free, and at some point somebody is going to die in football. And I hope it’s not anyone at this table, and I hope it doesn’t happen, obviously. Everyone talks about the good old days, when guys were tough and quarterbacks got crushed all the time, but back in the day, there weren’t defensive ends that were Mario Williams — 6-7, 300 pounds, 10 percent body fat, running a 4.7 40.”
It hasn’t happened yet, and it may not happen for a long time based on the ongoing efforts to make the game safer. But it is happening at the lower levels. Although the percentage is very small in light of the total participants, one is too many. And that’s why the stewards of the sport who promote and defend and revel in the sport, also need to advocate for efforts to ensure that no young boy will love football so much that he gives up his life for it.