Because I don’t feel safe bringing my family to NFL stadiums, I, like many parents, have found ways to be a fan from my couch. I’ve played (and won) in fantasy leagues and been the commissioner of a NFL survivor league for the past few years. But online activities don’t satisfy me as much, and my sidelined status isn’t good for the NFL since I’m no longer buying game tickets or shopping in all those fancy new pop-up boutiques.
Designated entrances and sections where sippy cup-schlepping parents and kids aren’t subject to over-the-top terrorist screenings seem like an obvious solution. Even the TSA has adopted similar exceptions and accommodations at airports: Toddlers no longer have to take off their shoes at security checkpoints; milk, formula, and anything in a sippy cup or bottle are allowed while other beverages are not. If the NFL were to adopt rules like these, families like mine could still come, spend money, and groom the next generation of NFL fans without putting a damper on the experience of fun-loving folks who started tailgating at 6 a.m.
Another way I’d like to be a football fan as a parent is by encouraging my kids to play to the sport. But whether I will steer my kids towards the game depends on how the NFL decides to handle issues regarding youth and player safety. As of now, as Daniel Engber recently wrote in a Slate article, there have been no long-term studies on cognitive impairment related to football, and, as he puts it, “You can’t promote ‘safety’ in football, youth or otherwise, until you understand—scientifically—how dangerous it really is.”
Obviously, not all female fans are moms, but this issue resonates with many women, regardless of their childbearing status. Women are proven to care more about safety than men when it comes to activities like buying a car, and when I spoke to five lifelong female football fans while putting this piece together (two were moms, three were not), they all mentioned that if the NFL were to make more effort to increase player safety, they'd enjoy the game more.
The good news, though, is that some teams are already taking steps to help women and families plan less stressful trips to the stadium. The San Diego Chargers, for example, offer a family-friendly tailgating section of their parking lot that’s sold out every time I’ve been to a game. The Green Bay Packers helped pass laws aimed at preventing youth concussions, and the 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium will benefit from an ingenious app that allows patrons to monitor bathroom lines (which could be especially helpful for women) as well as beer lines from their seats. The app could also help women and parents with kids to map out their snack runs and bathroom breaks strategically, missing as little on-field action as possible while avoiding the kinds of beer-line brawls I encountered the last time I went to a game.