Monday, October 5, 2009


I’m back home in New York, with Armenia happily curled up on my bed and my apartment newly cleaned and ready for the week ahead. I haven’t seen Dave yet -- I’ll go visit him after work today.

As I was sitting on the plane yesterday, having just taken off, the pilot came on the PA system and read the day’s football scores. It got me marveling once again at the way football dominates our culture.

I’ve never understood the appeal of football, and in fact I have a pathological, unreasonable hatred of it. For one thing, I wasn’t athletic as a kid and I never identified much with team sports. I hated being responsible for other people’s enjoyment of a game -- like, if I didn’t catch a ball, their day would be ruined, and they’d yell at me. It seemed crazy. Be responsible for your own happiness, and catch your own damn ball.

I also was forced to attend football games from time to time, which meant sitting in a miserably hot stadium under a blistering sun, surrounded by men screaming at the top of their lungs -- including my father, periodically yelling “DEFENSE!” It was kind of embarrassing, frankly.

These days, even the sound of football on television makes me break out into a cold sweat. The whistles, the referees, the crowds, the music, the announcers. Ugh! I usually prefer to leave the room. There are few things I dislike more.

During my more reasonable moments, I can understand how some people might find it fun to watch. I went to a college game a couple of years ago and, I admit, I had some fun. (I also had some beer.)

But what I don’t get is why it is SO significant. These teams have so much power, so many fans and viewers, and so much money. Particularly in the South, football is probably the defining cultural force.

New York, on the other hand, is not a football city. Yeah, we have the Giants and the Jets, but I seldom hear people talking about them here in Manhattan. Which is part of the reason it feels like home.

(Photo: Dragonfly on wild potato vines, Land O' Lakes, Fla.)


  1. To show you how I feel about football -- My husband keeps trying to get me to watch a TV show called Friday Night Lights. The one time I watched it, I concluded it was about a high school football team in a small southern town. Brought back memories of my childhood that I moved north to shed. As much as I loved the hoopla of college football (or maybe it was the beer), I have come to hate the violence of the game. I'm with you totally on this one!

  2. LOL -- I've heard "Friday Night Lights" is a great TV show, but I'm sure I could NEVER watch it!

  3. You are my brother, Steve.

    Though not pathological about it, I am completely clueless as to why anyone enjoys watching it. But ... whatever!

  4. In her book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, Barbara Ehrenreich suggests that college & professional sports are really the only surviving example of carnival-culture in mainstream modern America. I think she has a point. Other cultures have festivals like Mardi Gras where everyone comes together for parades and parties, but Americans idealize individual pursuits, not communal ones. Sports fanaticism offers one corrective to that.

    In a culture where men in particular are encouraged to keep their emotions to themselves, sports also provide one place where it's acceptable for grown men to scream, cry, hug, and even pat one another on the butt. (Just this weekend, before the BC football game Jim & I went to, the players participating in the pre-game coin toss approached the referees at midfield holding hands. I can't think of any other context where straight American men would hold hands in public.) If such open expressions of masculine emotion were acceptable in other contexts, maybe football wouldn't have the power it does.

  5. If you're not aware of the Giants then you're trapped under something heavy!

  6. Lorianne: Thank you SO MUCH for that response. That's really interesting! I think Ehrenreich may indeed be onto something...there certainly are few other opportunities for communal bonding in our society, especially ones that are men-friendly.

    Utahdog: I'm aware of the Giants only because of Eli Manning, whose name pops up quite a bit in the popular culture. But I couldn't tell you a thing about how well they're doing as a team!

  7. Oh, the Giants won the Super Bowl last year. Who knew?! LOL

  8. Steve. I enjoy watching football, but it is just entertainment. I know people who are very involved with the politics and drama that surround the teams and are very invested in who wins or loses. That part I don't get.