This Mother’s Day, Mom Has More Influence on Football Than Ever


The love of sports is deeply entrenched in American culture but for decades the key demographic that teams marketed to was singularly men and boys. Today the focus is increasingly on female fans. Some examples include the Alyssa Milano NFL wear collection featuring jerseys and team apparel and the proliferation of pink everything across the football landscape supporting breast cancer awareness in October.

Football’s outreach to women isn’t solely limited to merchandise. Negative headlines about player injuries and the concussion lawsuit settlement have a greater impact on moms, who generally possess more influence over whether their sons participate in youth football.

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Wayne Coffey of the New York Daily News is one of many who reported that youth participation in football leagues is dropping. Coffey quotes Jeff Brown, president of Keystone Oaks Youth Football in the Pittsburgh area, who explained, “Kids say, ‘I want to play but my parents won’t let me.’ I don’t think anything that involves the safety of children is an over-reaction, so I wouldn’t call it that. I do think it’s people making a decision based on one side of the story.”

The NFL reached out directly to moms in order to combat the perceived one-sidedness.

Both directly and through its non-profit partners such as USA Football and Pop Warner football, the NFL has been holding clinics and sessions across the country. Former players and coaches are brought into demonstrate safe playing techniques and answer questions. Although the atmosphere seems fun and positive, it’s also a high-pressure sales pitch to keep kids joining the youth pipeline.

As Ken Belson of the New York Times points out, “the N.F.L. needs vibrant youth leagues to ensure that it can continue to have a stream of talented players and grow the devoted fan base that has helped turn the league into a $10-billion-a-year business.” Belson cites a Bloomberg poll that shows half of Americans don’t want their children involved in playing football; paradoxically football is the most popular sport in the United States over thirty years running.

Jan 19, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (second from left) poses with the mothers of Seattle Seahawks players Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas (all not pictured) before the 2013 NFC Championship football game at CenturyLink Field. From left: Delisa Lynch and Goodell and Beverly Sherman and Debbie Thomas. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Thus the importance of making inroads into the minds of mothers who ultimately make the final decision in most households over enrolling their kids in youth sports. As much as the NFL might endorse the “Play 60” campaign encouraging kids to have at least an hour of physical exercise a day, the ultimate payoff is the benefit to the bottom line, the guarantee the gravy train keeps rolling.

And they’re not alone. Campbell’s soup has aired commercials featuring Clay Matthews and Richard Sherman and their moms for years. Febreeze became the “official air freshener of the NFL” – a move clearly directed more at the moms cleaning up their sons’ dirty laundry than guys freshening up their apartments.

The NFL Draft pulled at the heart strings too – the gold carpet was a smorgasboard of dapper would-be rookies escorting mom, who unanimously expressed their praise for their child and excitement to be there. What mother wouldn’t want to be in her shoes?

But despite the marketing and clinics, there are still many questions that parents don’t feel have been answered. Surprisingly there are actually more resources available for moms who care about football than I was aware of.

“We are light years ahead of where we were in 2000.” – Brooke de Lenche

Brooke de Lenche, author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers, was a guest on ESPN’s Outside the Lines when the network took a look at the issue of football safety and declining youth enrollment. She pointed out that there are numerous science-based resources available and, as John Brown said above, she felt only one side of the story was getting out.

“I am absolutely convinced that if more moms knew about MomsTEAM and “The Smartest Team,” a lot fewer of them (44% in one recent poll) would be saying they want to see football made safer because more would know that it is being made safer, that the sport is a lot safer than it was 14 years ago, not only because we are light years ahead of where we were in 2000, when we first started reporting about concussions in youth sports, in terms of concussion identification and management and ways to minimize risk of injury, but that there are more and football programs around the country adopting comprehensive head injury risk management programs similar to the Six Pillars program featured in “The Smartest Team” which are making the sport safer.”

At the professional level, there’s even a group for the moms of NFL players.

Will these resources and marketing have an impact? So far, despite the push, there hasn’t been a change in the number of children playing youth football annually. It’s hard to say what else the NFL could do.

Ultimately, the future of football is in our mothers’ hands.

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