Football is America’s game. It is a uniquely American sport, but in recent months it has been knocked on its heels. Liberals have been attacking everything that is good about America all of my life. Over the years, liberals have targeted the family, traditional marriage, the military, merit in school, the work ethic, the sanctity of life, and the Constitution; particularly the Second Amendment. Now they are attacking football. In fact, if liberals have their way the NFL will become nothing more than a touch football league for co-eds. For the moment those of us who defend football are fighting an uphill battle because players and teams at all levels have been unwisely giving ammunition to those who attack our sport.

Football has had its share of black eyes lately. For example, wife beating, child abuse, brain injuries, criminal behavior, and player deaths have dominated the coverage of football in recent months. In fact, the cover of the September 29, 2014 issue of Time featured the photograph of a high school player who had collapsed and died during a football game. The cover caption read: “He died playing this game. Is football worth it?” This statement captures accurately the attitude of liberals toward football. It also asks the question and projects the fear liberals want to plant in the subconscious of American mothers and fathers.

Although some liberals attack football directly claiming it is a brutal and violent sport that should be banned, smarter liberals have chosen a more subtle approach. Their approach involves manipulating the public’s perception of football. Advocates of this approach understand that a direct frontal assault on football would generate too much pushback from football fans. Consequently, naysayers are attempting to change the public’s perception of the game so that American mothers and fathers will no longer allow their sons to play the game. Unfortunately, this approach is working. For example, participation in youth football programs is down 26 percent over the past ten years while participation in youth soccer has skyrocketed during this same period. The declining participation rate for football means that liberal naysayers are succeeding in manipulating the perceptions of mothers, fathers, and the public in general.

I fully understand that football can be dangerous. I played the game from the pee-wee leagues up through high school and then in the military, so I know all about the potential for injuries. In addition to injuries I suffered myself—all minor—I witnessed friends who broke noses, arms, legs, jaws, and teeth. I also knew a few who suffered concussions. I have a good friend who watched from the stands as his only son was killed playing in a JV game. So, yes football can be dangerous, but so can driving a car. However, when people are injured in an automobile accident, we blame the driver not the concept of driving.

Unfortunately, football can be its own worst enemy. Over the years it has done much to darken its own image in the minds of the American public. There was a time when good sportsmanship was the norm in football. Now it seems to be the exception. In addition to a lack of sportsmanship, we seem to be experiencing a spate of thuggish behavior on the part of college and professional football players (e.g. wife beating, child abuse, sex abuse, shootings, drug abuse, stabbings, murder, and stealing—this last by a Heisman Trophy winner). Finally, there is the brain-damage issue that is only now being taken as seriously as it should have been all along. There are certainly problems with football, but there is nothing wrong with the sport that cannot be fixed. Unfortunately, the naysayers don’t want football fixed, they want it eliminated.

As to sportsmanship, people are not born good sports; they have to learn the concept. With good coaching, most can. Good sportsmanship is missing from football to the extent it is because it is no longer being taught or emphasized as much as it once was. Watch little boys playing pee-wee football. They imitate the worst behavior of college and professional players—just the opposite of good sportsmanship. But rather than correct them, their parents, coaches, and other adults condone and even applaud their boorish behavior. This has to stop. Football parents and coaches at all levels need to return to teaching good sportsmanship. One of the toughest coaches ever to walk the sidelines of the NFL—Vince Lombardi—demanded good sportsmanship of his players, and he got it. He also won so ,many games and set such a positive example of what football is about that the Superbowl trophy is named after hm.

As to the thuggish behavior of some college and professional football players, this too can be fixed. Teams can tighten up their rules of behavior and administer appropriate discipline when players run afoul of the law, team rules, or professional ethics. When college football players are held accountable for their thuggish behavior rather than being given a slap on the wrist, they will think twice before behaving like they are back in the hood gangbanging. When professional football players are held accountable for their behavior in ways that actually threaten their highly-paid careers in football, they will think twice before doing anything that might derail their gravy train.

Some of my readers think colleges and the NFL should simply butt out situations such as the wife-beating episode in a hotel elevator and the child-abuse case and let law enforcement officials handle them. People with this perspective believe that football players who are indicted for a crime should be allowed to continue playing until they are convicted. I buy the innocent until proven guilty argument, but the issue here is public perception, not guilt or innocence. Allowing criminally indicted players to continue suiting up until they are convicted plays right into the hands of naysayers. Remember, anti-football liberals want the American public to believe that all football players are thugs who should be wearing orange jumpsuits instead of football uniforms.

Football at the college and professional levels is a business. Most businesses in America have rules their employees are expected to follow, rules designed to protect the image of the business. With any kind of business, including football, image is critical in attracting and keeping customers. College and NFL teams are, in essence, businesses whose bottom lines will suffer if their images are allowed to deteriorate in the eyes of fans (customers). Changing the public’s perception of football and football teams in ways that damage their image is just what anti-football liberals are trying to do. Consequently, those of us who defend the game should encourage the teams we love to get take the initiative in establishing high expectations of their players and acting quickly and decisively when players fail to meet these expectations. For example, what kind of statement would it make to other players at Florida State University if coach Jimbo Fisher stopped shilly-shallying around with Jameis Winston and really disciplined him. Until good team discipline means more to college coaches than the national championship, the Jameis Winston’s of the world will continue to run afoul of the law and team rules.

Finally, there is the issue of concussions and the consequent brain damage. Although this is the potentially most damaging problem facing football at all levels, it should be the easiest to solve. I mentioned earlier in this column that a good friend saw his son killed during a JV football game. While fully extended to catch a high pass he was hit on both sides simultaneously by members of the opposing team. The subsequent damage to internal organs proved fatal. Rather than attack football, my friend and his wife attacked the problem that contributed to their son’s death: a lack of side pads for high school football players. They established a foundation in their son’s name and have now provided more than 1,000 high school football players with side-padded under-jerseys of the kind that might have prevented their own son’s death. The equipment is provided free-of-charge by their foundation.

This is the same approach football as an institution needs to take in solving the concussion problem. The answer to the concussion problem is not what the naysayers claim: New rules that would turn the sport into a powder-puff game one level above touch football. If we can put a man on the moon, we can develop a football helmet that will prevent concussions. Providing such a helmet needs to be the number one priority of athletic equipment manufacturers, colleges, and the NFL. In addition, those of us who love the sport need to beat anti-football liberals at their own game. We need to reinforce the positive aspects of football in the minds of the American public so that mothers and fathers will encourage their sons to play the game rather than directing them to non-contact sports. Life itself is a contact sport; one that football teaches young boys and men how to play successfully. The game is too important to allow anti-football liberals to turn it into the equivalent of bowling or curling.