Kids heart football because of Madden?

Continuing on a sports theme, the Washington Post has an interesting article today about the effect of Madden video games on kids’ knowledge of and interest in actual football.

The story says the video game’s detail and authenticity have helped a generation learn the arcane and complex formations and strategies of football. “How else would I ever know what Cover-2 was?” a college junior says. (Slate had a similar column in August, headlined “All I really needed to know about football, I learned by playing Madden 07.”)

Are they exaggerating maybe just a little? I did learn the basics of football formations from video games. From the Commodore 64 game 4th and Inches, I learned that 4-3 defense is the one to use against the run and 3-4 against the pass (or is it the other way around? I can never remember), and nickel and dime are even better against the pass. Madden definitely made me more familiar with offensive sets and routes. But I’ve always found the game worthless about educating me on defensive schemes. Once I’ve picked 3-4 or nickel, I pretty much randomly choose a Cover 3 or Mad Dog or Tiger Blitz or whatever. And now the defensive playbooks are so much bigger, there are 5-2 and 4-4 formations and others I can’t figure out. Does everyone else play a tutorial that I don’t? Also I learned plenty watching and listening to Redskins games growing up. It seemed like every game the announcers would give their obligatory explanation of Joe Gibbs’ then-classic play, the counter-trey run. And I learned what the prevent defense was good for (um, losing games in the final minutes) thanks to the Skins, not Madden.

Anyway, maybe that’s just me. I can see that Madden fanatics will pick up a lot. But the article’s other claim seems much more interesting.

The story cites an NFL poll from last year that found 22 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds (boys and girls) said football was their favorite sport, versus 13 percent for the next most popular sport. And the sales of video games bear that out: 6.2-million football video games sold in 2005 versus 3.3-million of the next most popular sport.

Here’s what I find intriguing: The second most popular sport is … baseball! Wha???

Since the 1994 strike, we’ve been told that baseball is a has-been — no longer America’s pastime and certainly no longer in the minds of young people. Also since that time, the NBA has made a huge push to become the unofficial alternative to football as America’s sport, and especially the unofficial sport of choice for the younger set. As the Post says, “Professional sports leagues — concerned that young people were turning to pro wrestling or action sports such as skateboarding or motocross — have spent millions trying to find the soul of the 15-to-25 year-old fan. They have invested in youth programs, TV shows and even cartoons, figuring one would be the magic elixir that will make their game the next hot thing.” No sport has done that more than basketball. That’s why the NBA unofficially adopted and became so associated with hip-hop culture — that’s what the kids like, so maybe they would like pro basketball by association.

But according to the NFL’s survey, not only is the NBA far less popular among 12- to 17-year-olds than football, it’s also less popular than baseball — and tied with figure skating! And extreme sports is close behind. Does David Stern know about this?

Of course, the PGA has even more reason to worry: Only 1 percent of the teens surveyed said golf was their favorite sport. So much for the Tiger Woods effect.

— December 5, 2006

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