American football – maybe it’s actually not the coolest sport there is? Some heretic called Steve Almond is suggesting as much.
Every Sunday (and Monday, and some Saturdays and Thursdays) for the next five months, millions of Americans – and plenty of Brits, thanks to three regular-season games in London – will feast on a bacchanalia of gridiron pageantry.
Best-selling author Steve Almond, however, won’t be watching.
The self-professed long-time American football fan writes in the Los Angeles Times that he feels guilty about watching a sport whose participants risk traumatic brain injury.
More than that, however, he says he objects to “the cynical commercialisation of the sport, its cultish celebration of violence and the more subtle ways in which football warps our societal attitudes about race, gender and sexual orientation.”
Yes to all of that, and it also warps our societal attitudes about education and secondary and tertiary education.
The game is getting safer? Hardly, he says. Tackling and violent collisions are still an integral part of the game. Injuries still abound. And even the most state-of the art gear can’t prevent possibly debilitating concussions.
The players know what they’re getting into and are paid millions? It’s only because the fans create the market. Players perform for our amusement. And the “Football Industrial Complex”, as he calls it, grinds up and spits out the tens of thousands of others who play but don’t get the golden lottery ticket of a career in the NFL.
It’s like Hollywood that way. Lots of people have a fantasy of being a football star or a movie star, and almost none of them succeed.
According to University of Virginia Prof Mark Edmundson, it’s because football represents what the US has become.
“Football is a warlike game, and we are now a warlike nation,” he writes in the Los Angeles Times. “Our love for football is a love, however self-aware, of ourselves as a fighting and (we hope) victorious people.”
Back when the US was more pacifistic – when it had to be dragged, kicking and screaming into world wars – baseball was the national pastime.
“That game is skill-based, nonviolent and leisurely,” he writes.
Football, however, “is urban, tough and based to a large degree on the capacity to overwhelm the other team with sheer force. Football is a tank attack, a sky-borne assault, a charge into the trenches for hand-to-hand fighting.”
Whereas in proper football – soccer – you get a penalty for bashing people. There’s still bashing but it’s not central to the game.
I’m with Almond, but I know it’s absolutely futile. I’m just hoping the team local to me loses every game so that people will stop yapping about it.