Tackle football remains one of the most popular sports in America, but participation in high school football in South Dakota and across the United States is falling steadily as the risk of brain injuries from the sport becomes clearer.
Participation in 11-player boys football in South Dakota fell by 5.2% over the past three years, and dropped by 16.6% over the past decade, according to national survey data. Enrollment in high school grades stayed the same during that period.
Recent studies have shown that from 5% to 10% of youth football players will suffer a concussion — defined as a “mild traumatic brain injury” — at some point during a full season. With about 1 million athletes playing high school football in the U.S. annually, that means between 50,000 and 100,000 teens will suffer a concussion each year, not including those at the youth and junior high levels.
Supporters of football — including players, parents, coaches and association officials — see the sport as one that builds character, focuses on teamwork and is outright fun to play and watch. They also note that fear of injury is only one element of a complex decision that high school athletes make in terms of whether to play football or any sport.