At first, there were the Big Four: football, basketball, ice hockey and baseball. They were the team sports that grabbed 99 percent of the public’s attention and cash.
The field has now widened to soccer (what the rest of the world calls football) and women’s professional basketball. The abundance of television sports operations and the money they can provide has injected vigor – and bigger audiences – into athletic activities that once barely made it onto page six of newspaper sports sections (back when there used to be newspapers).
Another factor is “sportsbooks,” another word for gambling. These days you can bet on almost anything, and there are millions of Americans – and others (which I sometimes classify as “People Who Wish They Were Americans”) who are addicted to games of chance.
To figure that out, let’s look at the grass roots of sports, which is youth involvement. The fastest-growing are lacrosse and – don’t laugh – flag football. Lacrosse – derived from a Native American game that preceded life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – used to be confined to the prep schools of the Northeast. It’s the kind of fast, rugged game that’s not quite as violent as football, has more scoring than soccer and more room for growth than baseball.
Flag football is being heavily promoted by the NFL as a gateway to “real” football as well as an alternative to a future in which the rising number of injuries – especially concussions – renders its modern model unsupportable.
A growing number of high schools are adopting “flag” and not just for girls, either.
Waiting just behind are rugby – faster and slightly less painful than football – and esports, which has the virtue of being able to compete sitting down.
As the sage said, “The only constant is change.” In today’s fast-moving sports scene, you can bet on it.
Jim Tortolano is considering taking up pickleball as soon as they change the name.