Football is religion in Texas, and that's no exaggeration. If you've been through the state, you've seen the mania: the massive stadiums, the rampant slogans, banners, and bumper stickers, the airtime dedicated to high school football games, the endless conversations. In other words, Friday Night Lights pretty much got it right.
Texas is also one of the most infamous red states (though it's gradually bluing thanks to shifting demographics and continued immigration), and these days, that means a pervasive skepticism of climate science. Indeed, Texas is currently one of the most hostile environments for climate science -- the governor receives no backlash for calling global warming an outright conspiracy, and Texas government agencies recently worked to silence new climate research in their own backyard. Even raging record droughts have yet to register an impact on the state's climate politics.
So if there's one thing that could get skeptical Texans to start fighting climate change, perhaps it's this: Global warming could ruin football. The Txchnologist has put together an interesting overview of the myriad ways that football stands to be impacted by the warming world, especially in Texas.
Hotter days--and more of them--in Southern football states seem to be the biggest threat to the game. The higher temps (and importantly, the lower minimum temps, which mean little relief) pose a real danger to the players. From the Txchnologist:
Football players begin practicing in early August, the hottest part of the summer ... and football’s stoical culture discourages players from alerting coaches when they are dangerously hot (though safety practices have changed since the heat-related death of NFL player Korey Stringer in 2001). Practicing in the morning does not seem to help. A recent study of 58 hyperthermia deaths of football players from 1980-2009 found that players died even when heat and humidity were at lower levels and players were wearing shorts. After a particularly brutal first week of August, one medical expert on hyperthermia told CNN, “We think it was the worst week in the last 35 years in terms of athlete deaths.Of course, the football season could presumably be shifted to begin later, in cooler temps. But you'd still face a slew of other challenges, like the fact that droughts are killing the grass on football fields (as happened this summer) and rendering them unusable. Intense heat also makes synthetic fields too hot to play on. Furthermore, the extreme weather begat by climate change is taking a toll on stadiums themselves. Again, read the full piece in the Txchnologist for the gory details.
It isn’t necessarily high temperatures that are killing players. The increase in daily apparent minimum temperatures has a more significant effect. One study of football practice times in Alabama found there were “no suitable times for outdoor practices in full uniform in August.”
But the bottom line is that even if climate change doesn't ruin Texas football outright, it's damn well going to force some serious changes -- and spur players, coaches, and administrators to reexamine how and when the game is played.