Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name



Exercise and Sport Science

First Advisor

Nathan McCaughtry


Football is one of the most popular sports in the United States, despite a high risk of injury associated with the game. The issue of sports-related concussion (SRC) in football has garnered widespread attention in both the media and in scholarly literature as a result of documentaries, movies, and popular journal articles highlighting the connection between former professional football players and the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE (McKee et al., 2013; Mez, Daneshvar, Kiernan, et al., 2017). Although some studies have identified extremely few concussions in youth football, others have reported rates of concussion (Kontos, Elbin, Fazio-Sumrock, et al., 2013) and impacts comparable to the highest-force collisions in high school and collegiate football players (Daniel, et al., 2012).

Despite medical experts’ warnings that youth under the age of 18 should not participate in tackle football (Findler, 2015; Omalu, 2017), children between the ages of six and 13 comprise 70 percent of more than five million participants in the United States (USA Football, 2018). However, participation numbers in youth football have steadily declined over the last decade; Pop Warner, the nation’s largest youth football organization saw a participation decrease of 9.5 percent between 2010-12 (Fainaru, S. & Fainaru-Wada, M., 2013), and 6.5% fewer high schoolers in the US played football in 2017-2018 than they did a decade ago. This study aimed to understand why parents promoted football for their children, despite the known risks, by examining parental attitudes regarding youth football participation and their perceptions of the safety of the game. Using Bevan’s (2014) semi-structured approach to phenomenology, 32 youth football parents in middle- to upper-middle class suburban neighborhoods were interviewed and observed over the course of a year. Data were analyzed using the framework of Bourdieu’s theories of habitus, capital, and field to consider the class-based implications of suburban youth football participation. The main findings of this study suggest that that the decision to allow tackle football participation for their sons involved a complex interplay of parents’ desires to portray “good” parenting, their attempt to cultivate the “right” skills for their children, the value they placed on social status and comparison, and their evaluation of how the rewards of youth football outweighed the risk of participation.