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Markwalter 1
Hodges Markwalter
Doctor McLaughlin
WR 13300
Football and Social Media, and The Future of America’s Sport
In 2013, a week prior to Super Bowl XLVII, President Barack Obama addressed
his opinions on the dangers of football, saying, “If I had a son, I would have to think long
and hard before I let him play football” (Qtd in Hull & Schmittel 78-79). The Super Bowl
has been treated as a national holiday in contemporary United States history. The worldrenowned event is preluded by weeks of festivities, advertisement, and celebration of
America’s sport. Usually, this holiday invokes feelings of happiness, excitement, and
appreciation of the game. However, Obama’s comments, in addition to other negative
media, sparked questioning and dismay about the dangerous sport. Rather than having
traditional celebrations that prelude the Super Bowl, off the field discussion was
dominated by concussion talk and the health concerns of the football players. Negative
media attention has left NFL fans at a standstill, curious as to how concussions and
changes in the game will affect their love for the sport.
Football is the most popular spectator sport in America. The National Football
League (NFL), America’s wealthiest professional sports organization, has built its
foundation on the physicality and toughness that accompanies the game. Kenneth Jost
explains that there is “an ethos prevalent in the NFL for decades: playing while hurt”
(77). Due to recent heightened medical attention and media exposure, the underbelly of

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professional football – concussions and the detrimental health concerns that accompany
head trauma – has been exposed, posing a potential threat to the foundations on which
professional football stands. Facing lawsuits from former players and heavy media
resentment, the NFL made a series of rule changes, hoping to promote a safer game and
limit concussions (Jost 78). As this move had to be made, professional football now sits
on a breaking point; the spectator sport awaits a response from those who make football
America’s most popular sport. Football has grown in popularity because of big hits and
its physical nature. Are fans willing to compensate this for a safer, alternative brand to the
game? NFL executives and those who rely on professional football as a source for
income anxiously wait for this answer.
Social media and social networking sites – rather than traditional forms of media
such as television news, newspapers, and sports magazines – will be a large determinate
to football fans’ response to recent changes in the game. Following President Obama’s
2013 public address and the heated media attention, fans resorted to social media and
social networking sites in order to connect, understand, and eventually formulate their
own opinions about the changes professional football has made to protect players from
concussion (Hull & Schmittel 83). Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other sites have been
utilized in recent history as a news source and a voice for football fans that are either
favor or disfavor the changes that the league has made. In addition, social media, whether
it is coming from a credible source or not, has exposed individuals to concussion
education and the affects of head trauma that have resulted from football injures. Rather
than traditional means of public news and awareness, social media will be one of the
largest factors in determining football fans’ adaptation to or dis-interest in an evolved

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game of football. In making this point, I will first discuss the transition from traditional
news sources to social media. I will then examine the multiple uses of web media today,
showing how they can persuade the opinions of football fans. Lastly, I will explain a case
study involving high school football in Texas to show how football fans have changed on
a smaller scale.
Football Fans’ Transition to Digital Media
When it comes to player protection and media representation, the NFL historically
has been hard to trust. Before the public had an idea of the dangers of concussions and
the prevalence of brain injury during football events, doctors and outsiders had no say in
protecting the players. 1996 Steelers team doctor explained that “[I] was essentially
powerless to bench a player … Only a coach could pull a player off” (Qtd in Fainaru 64).
The league was unregulated, uneducated, and ruthless. As for NFL public media, this
nature followed. Addressing its players and the public, the league has been accused of
concealing medical evidence about the affects of head trauma and concussions (Mitnick).
Evidence of these NFL wrongdoings has lead fans to distrust the league and NFL
sponsored news sources. Fans are in search for the truth from sources that are
independent of NFL ties and have not historically been correlated with the traditional
forms of media that the NFL has utilized. Amidst the confusion and angst, social media
has emerged as a platform for individuals, professionals and sports medicine specialists,
and others to relay their expertise on the topic of concussions to inform people of the
dangers of concussions and necessity for change (Hull & Schmittel 90). Because of the
antitrust and the absence of palpable news sources connected to the NFL, social media

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and other web sources including blogs, wikis, and podcasts are independent web sources
that have emerged as a primary source for news for NFL fans.
The Affects of Online Media
Social media and other web sources including blogs, wikis and podcasts media
are means in which doctors and therapists can educate the general public about the effects
of concussions and the dangers of traditional football. If anything, education regarding
the detrimental effects of concussions will lead to a fan base that is more understanding
of the changes implemented both on the collegiate and professional level. During the
2013 Super Bowl, 24.1 million tweets were delivered to over 200 million active twitter
users (Hull & Schmittel 84). Utilizing this new form of conversation, “Twitter gave
[concussion advocates] a platform to speak to millions of people they may not have been
able to reach before” (Hull & Schmittel 86). The nature of Twitter invites these specialists
to share their knowledge and information to their followers and the general public in
ways traditional media cannot offer. Apart from the engagement with their audience,
concussion advocates can use hash tags to “trend” positive or negative live news, have
conversations with other renown specialists, retweet articles that will offer a specific
rhetorical response, and directly interact with their audience. The NFL alone could not be
trusted to relay these health messages “because they have an implicit conflict of interest”
(Woodward 20). With Twitter as their tool, sports medicine professionals can be the
dependable messengers to the general public involving the truths of the sport. The rule
alterations made to promote safety in both professional and collegiate football initially
may be seen solely as downsides to fans of the sport; the physical nature on the gridiron
to an extent may never be the same. Nevertheless, the use of twitter can help fans to see

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the positives that the safer, precautious alterations have made, perhaps allowing them to
adapt to an evolved game of football.
Personal media sites are common source that individuals use in order to seek a
wide variety of facts or figures. More specifically, when fans of football and beyond want
to understand what exactly a concussion is and what the physical factors of concussions
are, social media is a common source for having these questions answered. YouTube,
among many other sites, is a video sharing website that is used by both individuals and
corporations to post videos and clips of all sorts. YouTube can be very useful,
entertaining, and practical. However, this video sharing site does not strictly regulate the
videos posted daily by its millions of users. If someone is using YouTube to search the
side effects and treatment of concussions, this is where the loosely configured social
networking site can run into issues. Although a vast amount of concussion videos can
readily be identified using YouTube, individuals that are not affiliated with any
professional or academic organizations post a majority of these videos. Social networking
sites like YouTube are indirectly empowering people who likely do not have an expertise
in the realm of concussions. David Williams concluded that of all the videos on YouTube
that meet the criteria of concussion search, “… over 70% of the videos were uploaded by
individuals from their personal account” and that “11% of the videos were categorized as
educational” (3-4). Without properly understanding concussions and their long term
affects, it is even harder to understand the rule changes that the NFL has made and why
the league is willing to compensate its traditional ways. In order for fans to understand
and to appreciate professional football’s recent implementations to protect their players,

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they must have proper knowledge of concussions, and sites like YouTube do not
explicitly offer this.
YouTube is a consumer-generated site that is designed to link searches to general
topics that follow a particular user’s search. Upon a search request, thousands of videos
load based on search relevance and popularity. In David Williams’s case study of the
content of concussion related videos on YouTube, he found that videos containing clips of
sports related injuries were among the most popular videos that were viewed (2). The
constant exposure to videos containing the worst of injuries and the hardest of football
hits has an effect on people. It is the reality of these videos and the relativity that speaks
in numbers. Football players and fans of the sport can relate because these injuries are
ones that take place on a playing field that is so commonly seen. General knowledge of
the traumatic effects of these injuries is a reminder to individuals of the danger of the
game and the reasons for the changes that were made to protect players.
Using personal media as a primary source for football news, league followers are
bound to be influenced by the opinions of prestigious individuals. Regardless of whether
famous people are experts in the realm of football and concussions, they have the ability
to directly speak to crowds and to impact the thought process of those hearing their
message. In his Facebook post, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and star on
TV series, Shark Tank, gives his opinion on the NFL and how he thinks the league will
change in popularity in the next ten years. Because of the discovered dangers of football,
Cuban predicts that people will resort to playing more safe, alternative sports now and in
the future (Cuban). This is certainly a valid claim and an understandable assumption.
Nevertheless, there may be personal incentives that give Cuban the audacity to make such

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radical claim to the 933 thousand Facebook users that follow his page. Being the owner
of Dallas Mavericks (National Basketball Association team), Cuban may be trying to
attract an unsure crowd of football fans to basketball, a safer sport for his own benefit.
Aside from the bias, his voice could potentially invoke a response from his viewers that
could alter the NFL in the future.
In hearing the opinions of famous individuals, it is common for NFL fans to
follow NFL players on social media and hear their opinions as well. Along with many of
the rule changes the NFL has made, the crown-of-the-helmet rule states that a player may
not lead his contact with the crown of the helmet. Depending on the severity and “intent”
of the hit, the player may be fined if flagged for such a penalty (NFL Players New
Helmet Rule). In 2014, this rule was ramped further, stating that ball carries could be
fined for leading with the crown of their helmet as well. This change infuriated running
backs across the league. In response, numerous NFL players angrily posted tweets
voicing their opinions on the new restrictions. Linebacker Tank Carder tweeted, “These
rules are getting out of hand. I wonder when they [NFL] realize they are going to have to
change the name of the sport” (Carder). Followers of these players rallied behind the
players’ expressions by favoriting, retweeting, and responding in large numbers to the
players’ posts. Players’ resentment towards the NFL could further persuade fans away
from the “changed” game. Social Media’s ability to amplify personal opinions gives
individuals the power to instill similar opinions to large crowds and create massive
Adaptation to Change on a Smaller Scale: Texas High School Football

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After less than a decade of new rule changes, it is hard to say where NFL fans
have adapted to the new brand of football. TV ratings have gone up, yet fans continue to
boo and frustration continues to grow when the referee throws the yellow flag for head to
head contact (Jost 75). Looking the progression made on a smaller scale can perhaps can
speak for how the NFL may adapt years down the road.
In 2008, the death of high school football player Juan Waller that resulted two
days after he was cleared to play following a concussion alarmed high school programs
around the nation (Jost 86). Immediately, programs took initiative to attack the issue of
concussions and approach the sport more cautiously. The state of Texas is renown for its
competitive and popular high school football. The sport is treated as a business and
players are treated like celebrities. Today, coaches, fans, and players have successfully
adapted to the changes to the sport and understand why there are certain rules to help
players. An unnamed high school who has been involved with high school football for
forty years expressed his opinion, saying, “I like to sit here and tell you that I haven’t
changed one bit or that the game hasn’t changed, but I would be lying … I think if you
would have asked me all these questions [about concussion symptoms] ten or fifteen
years ago, you [would] have gotten completely different answers. I believe it is all for the
best” (Woodward 62). Coaches, players, and parents look at the changes as positives and
as ways the game has improved for the future.
The high school level has been able to evolve at a rate far faster than the NFL.
The largest differing factor in comparing these two levels of play is the relation that the
“fans” have to the players. In high school, the starting quarterback is scene as someone’s
school mate, son, neighbor, or any other close relation whereas on the professional level,

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the starting quarterback is scene as a distant, iconic figure. Because the players are
idolized NFL fans look past the emotional side of injury and individual suffering that
accompanies concussions. Social media is a way of combatting the division between
professional players and the fans. In his research relating athletes and social media,
Garrett Bireline helps to explain how an athlete’s usage of social media humanizes the
athlete and can depict them as any other human being (21). If an athlete is seen as a
parent, family member, or friend, then the depicted audience (football fans) may
potentially change what they want in the sport. The protection and stability of these
player’s lives may become more prioritized through athletes’ use of social media, and the
desire for a safer game.
The gaining popularity of social media and other media sharing sites has allowed
for opportunities that have changed news delivery. Hull and Schmittel explain how
“Websites, blogs, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, wikis, and podcasts
are instruments implemented for those advocating for mass mobilization” (Hull &
Schmittel 81). As of now, it is too early to determine whether this form of media
influence has dominantly turned fans toward the NFL or pushed fans away. TV ratings
have held steady, yet fans continue to boo when the safety rules are enforced. Regardless,
the direction of the NFL’s future is in the hands of the public, and no longer can be
controlled and protected by the league itself. If one thing is clear, the NFL is vulnerable
and the influence of social media.

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Work Cited
Bireline, Garrett M. Social Media in Sports: A Phenomenological Study of Athletes and
Online Communication. Order No. 1554074 Liberty University, 2014 Ann
ArborProQuest. 23 Mar. 2015.
Cuban, Mark. “So Lets Talk NFL Football, since my comments about the NFL imploding
in TEN YEARS seem to have caught everyone’s attention.” Facebook. March 24,
Fainaru Wada, Mark. League of Denial. Crown Publishing Group, 2013.
Hull, Kevin. Schmittel, Annelie. "A Fumbled Opportunity? A Case Study of Twitter’s
Role in Concussion Awareness Opportunities during the Super Bowl." Journal of
Sport and Social Issues 39.1 (2015): 78. Print.
Jost, Kenneth. "Professional Football." CQ Researcher 20.4 Print. Robinson, Alan.
Mitnick, Craig. The NFL Mislead and Will Be Held Accountable., 2012.
"NFL Players Take to Twitter to Blast New Helmet Rule." 20 Mar. 2013. Web.
Tank Carder (tankcarder). “These rules are getting out of hand, I wonder when they
realize they are going to have to change the name of the sport.” 20 Mar 2013,
2:26.PM. Tweet.
Williams, David, et al. "Big Hits on the Small Screen: An Evaluation of ConcussionRelated Videos on YouTube." British journal of sports medicine 48.2 (2014): 10711. Print.
Woodard, Raymond Lee, Jr. Concussions in Football: A Study of the Influence of
Publicity and Information on the Attitudes and Opinions of Texas High School

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Coaches. Order No. 3670863 Lamar University - Beaumont, 2014 Ann
ArborProQuest. 23 Mar. 2015.

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