This week’s scrimmages between the Raiders and the Detroit Lions was a success that went very well for both teams, but it was also notable in that the Raiders had a few local high school football teams at the practice field to take in the action and meet the players.
Jon Gruden feels strongly about the future of the game of football and believes involving the youth in what the Raiders do is important in preserving its future.
“We love high school football and you know I think it’s smart for everybody at this level, pro football, NFL, to give back to youth football. We’ve got a problem I think in this country. The game is under siege by a lot of people who don’t think it’s a safe game. They don’t think it’s a good game anymore and I think that’s hogwash. We’ve got to encourage kids to play, get the benefits of being on a team, and try to support these programs because they’re not getting much support anymore. We want these kids to come out, see some of the guys they look up to, get some autographs and get excited about their season,” said Gruden.
Gruden was then asked if he believed the pro game was affected by attitudes toward youth football, and if he felt fewer young people were getting into football.
“I don’t know. I got a strong opinion on that. I just drive around the streets and I don’t see kids playing in the yards like they used to. So, that’s for another day. I just want to encourage kids, if they do play football, you’re going to learn about mental and physical toughness and teamwork and sportsmanship and accountability and all the qualities that make a young man a man,” he said.
There are few people in this world who love the game of football with the kind of passion Jon Gruden has for it. He eats, breathes, and sleeps football, and he likely considers sleep an unwelcome necessity that keeps him from being able to study film at all hours of the night. He as much as anyone else wants to ensure that this game, which has been around relatively in its current form since 1880, survives into the next century.
But is football really under siege? Or will it, much like Steven Seagal, fight back against those who would oppose it and win in the end? There was a time in American history when football was without question under siege and in danger of being outlawed altogether. That time was 1905, and it was well-deserved.
Football was incredibly dangerous in those days and the Chicago Tribune reported that in 1904 alone there were 18 football-related deaths, mostly among high school students, and no less than 159 serious football-related injuries. One especially heinous example of football’s brutality occured in 1896 in a game between Harvard and Yale which featured broken bones, concussions, broken noses, a broken collarbone and some five players were hospitalized following the game. Oh, and the Yale fans rioted in the streets after their team won, 12-4. The two schools suspended their football series for three years in response to the violent nature of that game.
But the sport had a major advocate in President Teddy Roosevelt, who in 1905 brought the heads of some of the major football powers at the time such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Columbia to make the sport less fatal. Roosevelt did not much care if payers got beat up or hurt, he simply cared that they did not die. 19 players died during the 1905 season and Roosevelt’s own son had his nose broken by Yale, likely in a deliberate act.
Roosevelt helped set up the first intercollegiate athletic association of schools, a forerunner to the NCAA, and together with the true father of the sport, Walter Camp, he adopted new standardized rules for football including the line of scrimmage, legalization of the forward pass, the neutral zone, the ten yards for a first down and the four downs themselves, and the abolition of dangerous mass formations. The new rules did indeed have the intended effect of lessening the number of deaths and serious injuries.
It took a long time for football to truly resemble the sport we have today, but as technology advanced, so did the game. Helmets with facemasks were introduced in the 1950s, and safety itself was invented in 1973 as soon as the public stopped playing with Lawn Darts.
Although it seems as if football today is under attack, it’s simply a normal reaction of parents to want to keep your children from harm, just as it was over 100 years ago. But rules change, and technology changes. We now know far more about the long-term impact of head injuries. We’ve seen it in players like Kenny Stabler, Junior Seau, and even Aaron Hernandez. It’s not a pretty thing. But those who love football and are in charge of keeping it will do what they must do to see that it remains alive. People in 1906 probably complained that football wasn’t football anymore. Perhaps they were right, but the death toll spoke for itself, and the powers that be did what they had to do. Today, we will also do what we have to do,
The appeal of football and the savage beauty of football are two things which will never go away, no matter how stringently the game is legislated. There really is no sport quite like it, as simple and yet so absurdly complex in every detail. Football will live forever, so long as there are men who love it the way Jon Gruden does.