No Game for Boys to Play

The History of Youth Football and the Origins of a Public Health Crisis

By Kathleen Bachynski

296 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 halftones, 1 graph, 6 tables

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5370-9
    Published: November 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5369-3
    Published: November 2019
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-5371-6
    Published: November 2019
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5838-2
    Published: November 2019

Studies in Social Medicine

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Awards & distinctions

2020 North American Society for Sport History Book Award

From the untimely deaths of young athletes to chronic disease among retired players, roiling debates over tackle football have profound implications for more than one million American boys—some as young as five years old—who play the sport every year. In this book, Kathleen Bachynski offers the first history of youth tackle football and debates over its safety. In the postwar United States, high school football was celebrated as a “moral” sport for young boys, one that promised and celebrated the creation of the honorable male citizen. Even so, Bachynski shows that throughout the twentieth century, coaches, sports equipment manufacturers, and even doctors were more concerned with “saving the game” than young boys’ safety—even though injuries ranged from concussions and broken bones to paralysis and death.

By exploring sport, masculinity, and citizenship, Bachynski uncovers the cultural priorities other than child health that made a collision sport the most popular high school game for American boys. These deep-rooted beliefs continue to shape the safety debate and the possible future of youth tackle football.

About the Author

Kathleen Bachynski is assistant professor of public health at Muhlenberg College.

For more information about Kathleen Bachynski, visit the Author Page.


“In this important and timely book, Bachynski . . . traces the evolution of social, cultural, and medical attitudes toward football, and how notions of masculinity, national identity, and boyhood historically have shaped debates on player safety. . . . The result is an accessible study . . . with great appeal for those with an interest in public health, sociology of sport, or men's studies.”—CHOICE

“…a thought-provoking monograph that should hold out interest to anyone concerned about the health of children and the educational value of adult-directed youth sport programs.”—Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

“Groundbreaking, badly needed history. With so much ink spilled on college and professional football, there are surprisingly few publications on the history of youth football, and this is by far the best I have come across.”—Journal of American History

“The way in which Bachynski describes the cultural and communal construction of safety, personal responsibility, and masculinity does much to explain the way we value particular forms of masculine identity in American society. Smart, salient, timely, eminently readable, and socially important.”—Stephen Casper, Clarkson University

“The future of American football will not be determined by a handful of NFL owners or a few hundred college presidents but by millions of parents deciding whether the game is too dangerous for their sons in the era of CTE.  Kathleen Bachynski’s groundbreaking history of a century-long medical and cultural debate about youth football, its obvious risks and assumed benefits, could not be more timely.”–Michael Oriard, author of Bowled Over, Brand NFL, and King Football