This year, there are 31,000 fewer youths playing football than there were last year. 31,000 is not an insignificant number.

Why is this?  Is it the Colin Kaepernick effect? Is it the cost? Is it the fear of concussions and other injuries? Is it soccer, lacrosse and other sports? I contend it’s all the above.

OK, I’d say the kneeling would-be quarterback may have a minimal effect.

 While there may be a small cadre of fans who have sworn off the sport because of kneeling, they are mostly old geezers closer to my age, and most of them last played on real grass with Riddell kangaroo skin shoes and suspension helmets.

So, maybe the answer is more like B., C., and D.

The fear of injury is real. The NFL has a good reason to worry about concussions and their lingering effects. More and more retired NFL players are showing the long term effects of brain injuries.

The league is taking steps to minimize the risk, but it hasn’t disappeared.

Helmets are constantly being upgraded. The science behind these developments is amazing, and more and more researchers are lending a hand at improving them.

Of course, you always have people with non-football brain abnormalities like Antonio Brown of the Raiders.

Brown is suing the league because they won’t let him wear his old helmet. I’m trying to decide if his brain is too large to fit into the new hats, or if his brain is already so damaged that protecting it is a waste of time. I’m leaning toward the latter.

The concussion protocol is carved in stone. If there is a hint of a concussion, the player is closely evaluated. Any hint of injury, and they get to trade their helmet for a baseball cap for a while. The National Football League is caring…..about current and future lawsuits.

I mention this because what happens in the NFL filters down to every level of football.

If professional players wear Bermuda length football pants that stop above the knee, little eight year old Johnny will wear football pants above the knee.

If concussions are taken seriously by the big boys, then college, high school, middle school and Pop Warner will take them seriously.

Maybe that’s a topic of conversation this week because of Andrew Luck’s sudden and surprising announcement of his retirement at age 29. It shouldn’t be.

His jersey has spent most of the past few seasons in the Colt’s cedar chest. How did they hurt thee? Let me count the ways.

 Oh, there was a kidney laceration, cartilage separated from his ribs and most recently, an ankle and calf injury.

They could have made a long running reality TV series just on his rehab.

If you recall, the Colts drafted Luck with the first pick in the draft because they had released Peyton Manning who had missed an entire season with a neck injury, and there was no guarantee he could come back.

Cost? Well, not if you’re an Andrew Luck, a Baker Mayfield, a Dak Prescott or a Zeke Who. It’s the same with college and high school players.

When I first played football, my only (rather my parent’s only) expense was for a pair of high top Wilson football shoes that weighed about three lbs. each and a jock strap.

I knew how to put on shoes. The jock strap, however, didn’t come with instructions. That took a little trial and error.

Youth football is not a poor man’s sport. If your eight year old wants to follow in Dad’s footsteps, you can begin with buying a helmet. Youth football helmets start at about $80 and can go up to $300. Mom is listed as ICE on junior’s IPhone.

 She’s not going after the bargain basement brain shield. Unlike my $8.00 Wilsons, Nike, Adidas and Underarmor have to make enough to pay out multi-million dollar endorsements.

Figure another $50 to $100 for shoulder pads, a cool $100 for a uniform and you’re set. Well, almost. That jock strap is still less than ten bucks, and hopefully they come with instructions.

And, this is hard to understand in Texas, but sports like soccer and lacrosse have made huge inroads among the youth.

 I know nothing about lacrosse other than they have funny looking helmets and rackets with little baskets on the end. But, soccer I’ve been tortured with.

The late great Randy Green used to say, “Soccer and digital watches are a communist plot.” He may have had something there. Tackle football starts at about age 8 or 9.

Soccer, and I think this came from Saul Alinsky, starts to indoctrinate them before they get out of diapers.

In fact, I swear I’ve seen youth soccer games where, in place of Gatorade, they had soy milk in sippee cups and pureed strawberries on the sideline.

I may be an old basketball coach, but I love football. I may watch a basketball game every other year, but I watch football a lot.

Heck, I’ve already watched three preseason games aka survival of the fittest for the bottom ¾ of the roster. 31,000 may be a drop in the bucket, but I’m afraid the bucket is no longer a #5 washtub.

Fear of injuries, cost, competition for time (Fortnight could be a bigger distraction than cheerleaders today.), and disillusionment, not only with kneelers but holdouts like Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon and Zeke Who.

I worry about a game I love. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not the things I’ve listed. Maybe it’s something else. Hmmm….Just in case, keep your kids away from digital watches.

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