As Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh passionately talked with reporters about the importance of football at last week’s owners meetings, long-time Sports Illustrated scribe Peter King jokingly asked him, “What are you running for, the president of football?”
If that position were really up for grabs, Harbaugh might throw his name in the ring.
He’s a staunch defender of the game, and he has no problem carrying that flag.
“I see a lot of people out there that are pretty passionate about attacking football, and I think it’s about time people get pretty passionate about defending football,” Harbaugh said. “And all of us that know what football is all about, we should stand up and do that. It’s a great sport, and I’m willing to do that. I’m not afraid to do that.”
Harbaugh has become a vocal advocate for football at a time when there are questions about the sport’s long-term future. High school participation has declined in recent years, and there has been plenty of media attention paid to the concussions associated with football.
But Harbaugh has said many times that the benefits of playing far outweigh the negatives.
He wrote an essay last year entitled, “Why Football Matters,” and he has spoken at his brother Jim’s coaching clinics the last two years about the importance of getting high schoolers on the football field.
“Football is a sport that every young man in high school can play,” Harbaugh said. “He can be part of a team. He can learn the values. He can be influenced by a great coach, a high school coach that cares about him, that’s going to teach him the values that instill discipline and hard work and the importance of teamwork and getting along with others, and a little bit of physical courage.
“Has there ever been a high school football player – I’ve never heard of one – that looks back and says ‘Man, I’m really disappointed that I played high school football. That was a big mistake.’ No. They all look back and say, ‘I was a football player. I played football. And it made me, to a big degree, the man that I am today.’ You can get those values in other ways, but football is doing the job all across America.”
The NFL has found itself in the crosshairs of negative attention associated with the game, mostly related to concussions. Harbaugh has said the “concussion issue is real, and we have to face it,” and believes the league can “figure out how to how to protect our players in an ever-better way, all the time.”
Rules will change and equipment will continue to evolve, Harbaugh said, but the game is not going anywhere. Football has grown to become the most popular sport in the country, and Harbaugh expects that to be true decades down the road.
“It is America’s game,” Harbaugh said. “It is a game that reflects our values and what we’re about. It’s a courageous game and noble game. It’s an honorable game, and I’m proud to be a part of that. It’s going to still be that 25 years from now.”