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Where will football be in 50 years?

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Attendance at 49ers games, ratings in the NFL and participation in high school are all down. Football has never been weaker in America. (Stan Olszewski/Special to S.F. Examiner)
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We talked to John Madden during Tuesday’s Greg Papa show. The legendary former coach of the Oakland Raiders spoke well and sounded awesome, but there was one question from the interview that stuck with me: Where will the game of football be in 40-50 years?

Who better to ask than Madden, a guy I’ve idolized and whose insight I’ve trusted my entire life? (Listen to the full interview at 957thegame.com: Shameless plug, I know).

Madden was speechless for a moment before diving into his concern about where the game will be heading in the long term. Point is, professional football — heck, high school, college — is trending in the wrong direction.

If you would’ve asked me the same question 10-15 years ago, I’d say football would be better than ever.

There’s been a decrease in participation in high schools as parents keep their kids away from tackle football due to the physical beatdown — with lasting consequences — that comes with playing the game. Naturally, parents aren’t excited to have their children play a vicious, brutal sport.

The National Federation of State High School Associations released its annual sports survey tracking participation in all sports in August. Numbers were up across the board — but in 11-man football, 25,901 fewer students played in 2016-17.

Here in San Francisco, some public schools struggle to field teams as others can barely get 25 players on their rosters.

So again, where will the sport be in 40-50 years?

Madden suggested that kids shouldn’t play tackle football until they’re in high school. To learn the fundamentals, players should participate in flag football until then. Tackling would be the last part of the game that kids learn.

And that’s when Madden talked about this past Sunday. With all the fighting, taunting and terrible offensive line play — it’s clear the product is lackluster. There are more bad football games than good. There are more bad football teams than good.

Players kneeling for the national anthem has kept some folks away. But, the main reason why the NFL’s ratings are down is because of poor execution on the field every given Sunday.

Teams aren’t tackling during the week due to the new rules in the collective bargaining agreement and that has had an effect on the gameplay. Also, look at the evolution of the spread offense: Linemen are always lined up in a two-point stance instead of with their hand on the ground. Also, quarterbacks mostly line up in the shotgun instead of taking snaps under center.

The game has changed and with more information — more data on CTE, injuries and the inherent risks of playing football — expect participation to wane even more in the future.

Madden taught us the game of football through his analysis and video game. It’s hard to envision he’s off base in his long-term assessment of where it’s headed.

Bonta Hill of 95.7 The Game can be heard from 12-3 on the Greg Papa Show. Born and bred in San Francisco, he is a sports junkie who loves to sit in the lab (home), eats breakfast food for dinner, and has a newfound love for tequila. Follow at your own risk on Twitter @BontaHill.

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