Even before those reports surfaced, youth leagues have been taking unprecedented steps to combat the sport's escalating image problem. It's at the youth level, observers say, upon which the future of the sport hinges.
"If they don't get this right, there's a very real possibility that football could go the way of boxing, where the sport is only there for those who need a way out, who have no other choice," said Von DuBose, one of the attorneys who is suing the NFL on behalf of former players who suffered concussions during their careers.
"I could see Friday nights across the country changing. Parents are going to be more tuned in with the long-term ramifications of playing football. If the NFL doesn't get this right, those parents are going to make an informed decision to keep their kids out."
Players and coaches are looking for a way to balance physical and safe play.
In Rockville, the pint-sized Wolverines arrived two hours before a recent night-time kickoff and ran through their drills with military-like precision. They sprinted full-speed from Point A to Point B. They never talked out of turn and they were attentive the entire time.
The sun had set by time their game was to start. The group of 11-year-olds huddled around their coaches for some final words.
"Did you guys study your plays last night?" asked James Wilson.
"You gonna have fun?"
An assistant coach approached the group.
"Real quick guys," he told the players. "I need you to do one thing for me. Are those guys over there your friends?"
"We can't go out here and be nice. We got to go out and do what?"