American Football

I’m certain that fans of the game will have differing opinions on what I write here, but I’m actually hoping to reach non-fans on this one. There is some compelling stuff toward the bottom of this – it’s worth a read (and a listen if you pop out to Radio Lab).

American football is the only “reality TV” I watch. No, I don’t watch chef kitchen whatever or survivor island race whatever. Do I know about them? Sure – how could you not in this day and age. Yes football is reality TV – complete with elimination matches and a massive soap opera attached to the players – it just happens to make over a billion dollars a year. It is the biggest, baddest reality TV show on the block and it doesn’t care much what the soap opera players it hires do – unless they can’t perform or they make the show itself look bad (and when I say bad, that’s a relative term). The only folks close to the same level? NASCAR. Believe it. NASCAR just doesn’t have the history that football does.

Football is and always has been a brutal game of aggressive ground acquisition. We are actually watching the fastest, hardest hitting yet safest version of the game ever. Don’t believe me? What if I told you there was a football season where 19 people playing died? Torn ACL doesn’t sound bad compared to dying. This tradition of brutal has carried forward. In recent past years there was a player that had a portion of his finger amputated rather than have surgery to save it so he could get back onto the field sooner rather than later. Who needs that part anyway, right? There are players every year that drive their bodies to a point that most of us would find ridiculous to consider.

The intense competition of football gives us genuinely compelling stories. It is fascinating to see the inspiration, the rage, the horror and the joy all generated by a group of men trying to push a ball in one direction or another, televised weekly but only a few short weeks out of each year.

A friend of mine pointed me to this really interesting article on Radio Lab about the history of football. They talk about some of the origins of the game (if you’ve heard of Pop Warner football leagues, did you know there was a man behind that name?) and the things those men did to push the game to become what it is today. They bent the rules or exploited the not yet a rule situations to win. Do you want to understand why it takes 15 minutes to play out the last 30 seconds of game time? It’s because we’ve had a hundred years of little boys standing in the grass yelling,


This is the heart of the game and now the results mean the difference between winning and losing on a multi-million dollar stage. Brutality and bending the rules to gain any possible advantage. Don’t believe me? Listen to that Radio Lab article. It tells about the little things that changed each year because of the things the men running the teams did in order to get any little advantage. Guess why you can’t paint the ball to match your uniform jersey – because somebody did it. Puts a little inflation argument in better perspective? The Radio Lab article also discusses the Carlisle Indian School and their influence on the game. History right in our area – close to my family actually. I hope to get down to see the historic marker soon. I also hope that when the film makers tell the story of the Carlisle Indian school they do it justice. There’s a lot of history there and I would love to see it done well.

There’s a local college that houses a lot of information about the Carlisle Indian School. It’s a story worth checking out.

Keep the picture in your head of two little kids on the playground arguing next time you see football being played, just put that attitude into grown men. It put a bit of a different spin on things for me once I figured it out. I’d love to hear what you think – do those never ending final seconds of the game make more sense in that light?


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