Is high school football a Republican thing?

In his New York Times column today, David Leonhardt theorizes that Democratic-leaning states are the ones in which high school football is struggling. And he zeroes in on Minnesota as an example where schools are canceling football seasons because there aren’t enough players.

“We’re just looking out for their safety,” said Justin Bakkethun, the coach of the Cherry High School team, in Democratic-leaning northeast Minnesota, which ended its season early.

This column is not meant to be another one heralding the death of football. I don’t have any idea what will happen to football playing and watching over the next few decades. It’s easy to imagine any number of outcomes.

On the one hand, football is akin to a secular religion for many Americans. It’s a tribal way of organizing life, complete with special garments, a sense of identity and weekly rituals. Football has its own annual holidays: the Iron Bowl in late November for Alabama, the Michigan-Ohio State game for the industrial Midwest and the Thanksgiving games and Super Bowl for the entire country.

At a time when audiences for nearly every other form of entertainment are splintering, football’s shows no sign of shrinking. For more than 30 years, I have been part of that audience, watching football, and lots of it, with every close friend or relative I have.

Yet culture can change. As your grandparents can tell you, horse racing, boxing and weekly moviegoing were all once leading forms of entertainment. And when mass culture meets public health, change that once seemed unfathomable can occur pretty rapidly.

He cites a recent poll suggesting that concerns about kids playing football were the most intense among Democratic voters who had graduated from college.