EDIT: Alright guys, I'm taking off. Thanks for your questions. If you'd like to keep up with my reporting, follow me at: https://twitter.com/georgedohrmann

I'm George Dohrmann, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and the author of Play Their Hearts Out, which won the 2011 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. For nearly 15 years, I was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated.

This week, I published a piece with The Huffington Post's Highline team about the NFL's big tobacco-style pursuit of your children: http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/nfl-football-moms-kids/. The NFL has initiated a campaign to secure the next generation of fans. It has infiltrated the school system. It has produced a football-themed animated television show, a fantasy game for kids, a virtual world and more. It has executed a multi-dimensional plan to convince concerned moms to let their kids play. The NFL is in the midst of an effort to save the game unprecedented in the history of professional athletics. Ask me anything about this campaign, starting at 12PM EST.

Proof: http://huff.to/2fX4wP7

Comments: 186 • Responses: 47  • Date: 

Hhwtmwakfs44 karma

Based on a lot of the comments in this thread, it seems people care more about football than our children's brains. Why do you think that is?

georgedohrmann47 karma

Football is part of the fabric of America. A lot of us grew up with it and want to keep it as part of our lives. Hard to imagine giving it up. So, we make excuses and ignore what is happening. Probably true of a lot of things, not just football.

malzob25 karma

In a serious note, how do you feel NFL compares to English rugby in terms of danger? Particularly the aspects of body armor in NFL and non being worn in Rugby?

georgedohrmann43 karma

rugby way less dangerous. You talk to NFL players and over and over they talk about how the helmet and pads allow them to use their body as a weapon. Doesn't happen as much in rugby.

Sleggefett20 karma

Just to chime in as an amateur football player; rugby doesn't tackle with the same speed and ferocity. Having the helmet and pads makes injury from tackling/being tackled something you rarely think about, even if someone is injured.

Granted, some rugby players tackle hard, and Australian football(rugby?) is just batshit crazy, the majority of tackles in Rugby isn't one dude going full speed hitting another dude also going full speed. While in American football, it often is.

georgedohrmann8 karma

Well said.

pedrodeldiablo21 karma

With products that are harmfully addictive, I get the need to regulate marketing to kids. How is this different from NASCAR targeting children with cartoons and advertisements or the fashion industry targeting young girls through encouraging makeup, ideal body types, etc? If you limit the ability to attract the youth of America simply because it has the potential to be harmful, that opens up a floodgate of people who can distort figures to suit any agenda.

georgedohrmann41 karma

First, no kids are jumping in a race car at age 6 (or younger). That is happening with football. And makeup and the rest are bad, but do they have the potential to kill kids or damage their brain? Companies can market to kids but that doesn't mean we shouldn't shed light on the ones who are aggressively marketing a product that is dangerous and doing so with misinformation and emotional manipulation.

100shadesofcrazy7 karma

Kids do start racing at a young age. Sometimes younger than 6.

There are a variety of forms, the most common being karting.

georgedohrmann19 karma

Yes, but I think you'll agree the number of kids doing karting is far less than those playing pee wee football. I also think there is an understanding by parents that racing is risky. Whereas football has been selling the idea the game is pretty safe.

pedrodeldiablo7 karma

I don't disagree with the notion that football is dangerous. I played JFL through high school and I'm only marginally brain damaged. I just don't see this being a huge issue, but you've got more research than I do. I think that a bigger offender is the US Military. (I'm former Air Force, so don't freak out, patriots. I'm not against anything here.) Before every movie in a theater, there's a commercial for the National Guard. They advertise on NASCAR and at sporting events. It's ingrained in our national fabric that military service is heroic and something to celebrate. Something I agree with. But. At it's core, the goal is to hook the youth on patriotism to encourage service in a job to protect and defend. Protect and defend ultimately means, when it comes down to it, IF NECESSARY, to kill or injure, or be killed or injured. And everyday, kids absorb this message everywhere. Again, if you open the floodgates to identifying any potential hazard and twisting it to suit an agenda, you can villainize it. Just my opinion.

georgedohrmann9 karma

the military does a ton of advertising with the NFL too. I get your overall point but I think if you read the article and see what they are doing you might see it differently. Maybe not though. Either way, you make a good point.

stonecoldbobsaget21 karma

Do you think that you're sensationalizing the issue by comparing something harmless (being a fan of football) with something terrible (smoking)?

georgedohrmann30 karma

The NFL is selling a dangerous product, just like big tobacco. There are parallels in how they are doing it. So, no, I do't think the comparison is wrong.

whodeeya4 karma

Tons of products are 'dangerous.' Cars are extremely dangerous. The question isn't whether the product is dangerous, it's the degree to which it is dangerous versus any benefits the product has. It's possible to argue that at the level that the vast majority of kids will play, severe head trauma is very rare, and there are health benefits to playing a sport. Compare that with tobacco, where a large percentage of young adult users will use tobacco forever, the likelihood of harm with tobacco is far greater, and tobacco has no benefits. So comparing the two as simply 'dangerous' is an oversimplification, and possibly sensationalistic.

Of course, journalism needs sensationalism to be heard, but that doesn't mean the comparison isn't sensationalistic.

georgedohrmann15 karma

Question: Is football the only sport they can play to get those benefits? And we are learning severe head trauma is not as rare as once thought.

RyPhi-3 karma

Both can kill you

georgedohrmann11 karma

The story is about the methods the NFL is using. Like getting bad educational materials into school that ask kids to pick a winner of a game and some such. A fantasy game with cash prizes. I think how the NFL is selling the game is what is important to look at it and to evaluate what that tells us about the league.

chewy111918 karma

Is the NFL more concerned about losing its future crop of players, or future crop of fans? Or both?

georgedohrmann34 karma

Both, but I would guess that fans come first. It is in the suburbs where they appear to be losing numbers and those are the kind of fans (with disposal income) they cannot lose.

[deleted]-11 karma


georgedohrmann9 karma

Good catch. Trying to type fast and answer as many as I can.

TooShiftyForYou17 karma

Would you (have you) allow your children to play football?

georgedohrmann22 karma

No way. If my son REALLY REALLY wanted to play I might let him play once he was like 16 but probably not. It is simply too dangerous. I played four yrs in high school and another four in college (full-pad intramural football at Notre Dame) and I worry about the damage i did that has yet to reveal itself

juggilinjnuggala12 karma

So what's the big deal with them doing this?

georgedohrmann23 karma

If you read the story you'll see that they are using misinformation and emotion to sell moms and kids on the idea that the game is safer. They also have used devices like a fantasy football game with cash prices to lure kids in. I think that is a big deal.

knifeman201612 karma

Why did you feel the reason to compare what the NFL is doing to Big Tobacco? No offense but I feel that is a bit sensationalist.

georgedohrmann11 karma

I answered this a little earlier, but the methods both have/are using to sell a dangerous product are the same. And again and again people I interviewed for the story made that comparison. I didn't pull it out of the air.

TooShiftyForYou12 karma

Does the NFL still stand behind the Heads Up program even though it was discovered to be pretty ineffective in regards to preventing injuries?

georgedohrmann20 karma

They do. They point to a much smaller study that showed some improvement. Nate Jackson, among others, described Heads Up Football as a marketing device more than a real program to make the game safer.

PrincessSnowy_10 karma

What's your favourite word?

georgedohrmann21 karma

In this story, I think I used blunderbuss, which was fun. It may have been lost in the editing process but it was still a favorite.

VexedMackerel10 karma

Is there an anti-marketing (like the one for the tobacco industry, which came too late) being planned? Or is what you're doing the nascent steps?

georgedohrmann8 karma

The CCFC has tried to draw attention to what the NFL is doing and actually got the league to change the way it gives out prizes in its fantasy games. I'm not aware of others who are going after the NFL for what it is doing.

m-sanchez10 karma

Read your book, Play Their Hearts Out ... do you see any similarities between the concerns in youth (tackle) football and the troubles in AAU youth basketball?

georgedohrmann12 karma

Thanks for reading my book! The troubles are different. in AAU basketball, the issue is corrupt people using kids. With the NFL, it is that it is a corporation selling a dangerous product to kids, claiming it isn't as dangerous as it is. Both are troubling for sure.

Ryltarr9 karma

I can definitely see why many commenters are asking you if you feel it's sensationalist to make this comparison between the NFL and Big Tobacco, and I would agree to an extent that it's mildly alarmist... However, the gross manipulation of the masses for sake of profit is one of the worst things that seems to be acceptable in today's world, and I'm glad to see someone calling the advertising industry (hopefully this will open people's eyes to more of these practices) on this shady practice.

Given those points, I have a couple of questions:

  • What kind of resistance (if any) did you find when trying to research and interview on this topic?
  • Also, what kinds of fruit do you hope will come of this story?
  • And what kind of follow do you have planned (if any), to deal with the backlash and marketing ramp-up from NFL?

georgedohrmann7 karma

  1. Not a ton of resistance, though it is hard to get people inside the NFL to talk.
  2. I hope more parents will be aware of what the NFL is doing and make a judgement about football and kids that isn't clouded by misinformation and emotional manipulation.
  3. Will have to see how this all plays out.


Has your work connected with that of medical researchers currently studying the long-term effects of concussions? In a world where I'm always hearing about parents being arrested because they let their kids walk home from school or play at the park alone, how has the NFL managed to evade health concerns about brain damage in school sports?

georgedohrmann11 karma

Many reasons, but a big one is that it is very popular and so politicians are hesitant to take it on.

workingtimeaccount7 karma

What would you prefer kids get into?

georgedohrmann6 karma

Maybe a safer sport.

pfeifits7 karma

Big tobacco suppressed strong evidence of cancer associated with use of their products and the NFL suppressed evidence of the link between playing football and CTE in their players. I see the parralel there. However, big tobacco also used to give free products to kids in third world countries (in arcades) to get them addicted to the products that harmed them. What is the equivalent behavior that the NFL is doing, and is it really the equivalent?

georgedohrmann12 karma

NFL is getting football kits into schools, getting educational materials into schools that teach the game/rules of football (all for free).

KingHenrik_5 karma

Somewhat off topic, I played football as a kid and sustained maybe 2 concussions I still have problems with today...

With the recent studies of how dangerous it is to play how long do you foresee football being a thing?

georgedohrmann5 karma

I think the first big change we will see may be that no longer do kids play contact football before high school. Hard to see high school or college or NFL going away anytime soon, but in some areas of country youth tackle football and even high school will decline and then go away.

liquidmoon4 karma

In recent time this issue along with safety have been brought to the forefront via things like the PBS documentary League of Denial, the documentary Head Games, and the Will Smith movie Concussion.

During your research, have you seen any progress in regards to the NFL actually addressing this issue?

Thanks for doing the AMA and the story.

Edit: correcting auto-correct

georgedohrmann7 karma

The former players I spoke with would say anything the NFL has done is cursory at best.

BillsMafia6074 karma

Are you a fan of the NFL or football in general? If so what do you want to see, a dedication to reducing concussions or removing contact until high school or higher level? Or is it simply that the NFL is not being honest about safety?

georgedohrmann16 karma

I am a fan. Two fantasy leagues, etc. I don't think there should be any contact football for kids before high school. None. Flag football only until then. The NFL not being honest and the methods it uses to go after kids is a big issue though and I hope people take not of it.

malzob4 karma

What was it like working with Ray Barone when you were a sports writer?

georgedohrmann7 karma

he was a hack :)

_tx4 karma

Are there any real studies on youth football and permanent brain trama?

georgedohrmann5 karma

People are just digging into this but there is some data available. There was a great HBO Real Sports recently about it.

Noopley4 karma

Our family enjoys watching football, but we don't let our own kids play. We feel like jerks benefiting from the exploitation of young kids in some cases, who didn't have a better path to success, and we would love to watch a game that was less harmful to the player's brains in particular.

My question is: How do you foresee football changing in a way that it is still a full-contact sport, but less dangerous to the players and their physical and mental health? Do you see the pastime changing a lot, a little bit, or not at all (presumably in that case you'd rather it die out)?

And how do you see it changing?

georgedohrmann6 karma

First, kids will stop playing contact football. After that, I don't know how you take the violence out of football. Neither do the former players I spoke with. It is not just part of the game, it IS the game. Maybe at some point we get weight limits on players or something like that but that would likely only come if the NFL was on its last legs.

drenalyn89993 karma

Did you reiterate how fucked college football is, and how dangerous it is to be a liable student athlete?

georgedohrmann7 karma

I did not hit on that in this article. It is certainly a worthy topic (that I have written about in the past).

Spacefairytoad2 karma

With parents being the main push for children to start sports and the new generation of children born to health conscious liberal millennials, do you really think what they're trying to do will matter in the long run? I also really enjoyed the imaging style for this article. The lighting looks really cool.

georgedohrmann6 karma

I think there methods will/are working with a certain group of parents and so it can matter. I saw that with Chris Golic, the way parents reacted to her. So it does work on some people.

amonthwithoutcoffee2 karma

What do you think about teams pitting cities against each other for stadiums and tax breaks?

georgedohrmann7 karma

Hate it.

amonthwithoutcoffee3 karma

Is there anything that can be done about it?

georgedohrmann9 karma

Some cities, like SF, have said no way. More cities need to do that.

imminent_cum2 karma

How do you think Redzone effects the TV rating/earnings?

georgedohrmann3 karma

Some but not a ton. It is expensive to subscribe too.

croatcroatcroat2 karma

I'm Canadian and football's a pretty small sport here, but hockey's huge-- Is the concussion dangers of hockey worse or equal to football? A postivive side of hockey contact is that it's a limited part of the game that is only allowed at 13+ years old.

I'm a parent of 3 kids and have chosen to not allow and actively discourage them from playing contact sports or sports that lead to potential damaging head contact at higher levels. These include Rugby, Football, Hockey, Boxing, MMA (Soccer- repeatedly heading the ball).

Will these sports survive as they are? Will the head injury risks be limited by rules, science, or the sports dying?

Are other risky sports doing a better job facing the dangers of head injuries?

georgedohrmann10 karma

One of the things the NFL has done is tell parents that the risks of CONCUSSIONS is the same in hockey, LAX, soccer, etc. That may be true but kids take FAR LESS hits to the head in those sports overall and that should be the issue for parents. The NFL wants to make it about concussions but the focus needs to be on all the hits kids take, even those that don't cause a concussion. By limiting contact until 13+ hockey is WAY ahead of football on this. I think all of these sports have to change to some degree to survive, but football has the biggest hill to climb because a big part of the sports appeal is the violence. That's no true of soccer and LAX for example.

PhillipBrandon2 karma

Do the similarities between NFL's strategy and Big Tobacco's extend any further than promoting something considered dangerous? Are there tactics or movements that you think qualifies it as specifically "big tobacco style"?

"Over and over, I heard comparisons between the league’s marketing work and that done by the coal industry or Big Tobacco..."

Like what?

georgedohrmann15 karma

In the story I talk about them muddying the medical info, getting into schools, using TV, etc., all tactics Big Tobacco used.

cranial_cybernaut1 karma

Hi. Thanks for doing this AMA and enlightening people. Cricket is big in Asian Countries, like India and Pakistan. Many leagues are into various similar tactics as explained by you. How do you suggest we go ahead and as a person, maybe try and reduce the harm caused by these infiltration schemes by big sports?

georgedohrmann3 karma

The only way to impact a giant corporation like the NFL is turn off the TV, stop buying tickets, etc. If that isn't practical, be on alert, particularly with how these corporations are getting to your kids when you are not around, like in their schools. If my kid came home with sponsored educational material from the NFL I would go straight to the office of the superintendent of the district and raise hell.

wiz450 karma

Why exactly is it bad for kids to like football? What do you think they should like instead?

georgedohrmann21 karma

I don't know that it is bad if they like football, but if they play football at a young age that is very dangerous and the NFL is trying to convince people it is safer for kids.

nmgoh20 karma

So help me justify the sensationalism of the title. How specifically is junior league football as dangerous as cigarettes?

The parallels are pretty close, as both are likely to be started in high school. Cigarettes have been shown to cause and be addictive at pretty high rates.

Football we're learning can give Concussions, but at what rate for kids that never played past high school? Does it really compare to cigaretttes, or are you blowing this out of proportion?

What real health risks are associated with playing football up to a high school level?

georgedohrmann7 karma

The marketing tactics the NFL is using are similar to what Big Tobacco used. That is what we say in the article, not that football is as dangerous as smoking. Also, it is not just concussions that are a concern by overall heads to the head that can lead to lasting brain damage.

nmgoh2-6 karma

Sure, there's concern for smallpox too, but the odds on that are pretty low. Did you do any research into the statistics of lasting brain damage due to high school football?

I really don't care about the marketing so long as the product is good. Assuming the rates of injury are nominally low, I'd actually call the NFL's marketing a good thing, as more kids going out for football means more kids playing sports and being generally active.

So what actual damage do you say the NFL is doing to the kids they're marketing to?

georgedohrmann1 karma

Read the article my friend.

CaptCurmudgeon-1 karma

knowledgeable about the sport, including me—a former high school player who’s in two fantasy leagues and still watches NFL games every Sunday (and Monday and Thursday)

Are these your qualifications for being knowledgeable about the sport? It sounds like you've qualified millions of Americans to sound off about football’s impact on children.

georgedohrmann17 karma

I am sportswriter who has worked for over 20 years and spent six months investigating that very issue. That was in the article to give some context, not as a resume.

mikedmann-1 karma

What kind of cigarettes do you smoke?

georgedohrmann5 karma

No tobacco.

Lie-_-Detector-3 karma


georgedohrmann9 karma

An editor (Greg Veis) for Highline, the HuffPost's longform vertical, approached me about doing the story. Highline does great work and Greg is a respected editor and so I jumped at the chance.

truthserum23-4 karma

Many sports carry a higher risk of injury than not playing at all, especially at a professional level. Gymnastics, race car driving, baseball, the list goes on. Why are you demonizing football for attempted to garner some fans?

georgedohrmann5 karma

In the story I show how the NFL is using misinformation and marketing tactics like dubious educational materials and playing on people's emotions to get kids into the game. Those other sports aren't doing that.

gusmoreno15-5 karma

What are the dangers of the NFL, what would be bad if they actually did hook kids?

georgedohrmann6 karma

Playing the sport, particularly if you start at a young age, increases the chances a person will have CTE or experience other cognitive problems. The article spells it out pretty clearly, I think.

harleyeaston-6 karma

The NFL also gives a lot back to the community. In fact, I think that when you factor in charity, employment and revenue, they do far more for the communities they're present in than anyone could argue they damage it.

Did you consider that when researching this topic?

georgedohrmann7 karma

I did. I also know that the NFL has benefitted from a tax exemption for decades and owners/teams get huge tax breaks and are gifted tax dollars to build stadiums.

scottyshouldknow-10 karma

It's an industry. What else do you expect? To NOT do it?

georgedohrmann5 karma

Of course you expect them to do it, but does that make it less important to bring attention to how they are doing it?

icansupportthat-17 karma

Why do you hate America?

georgedohrmann11 karma

I love America Ferrera!