Among sports enthusiasts, nothing defines our culture more than American football. The sport holds a special place in society – beating even baseball or basketball in cultural significance. In fact, dissertations have been written on American football’s sway over our nation’s culture. But in order to fully understand the sport’s considerable import, one must first understand how it all began.
American football is named such because it had to differentiate itself from its English predecessor. When it was first introduced in the United States, the sport was fairly violent and there were no set rules. As it grew in popularity, so did the need for more formal and non-violent regulations. It was formally established in 1863, when the English proponents created the Football Association and incorporated various soccer rules. Since then, it has become a solid yet powerful background for a myriad of this country’s changing belief systems and values.
The sport was initially played by factory workers who needed a form of release. But the workers’ no holds barred style of playing led to the sport’s traditional violence, which would paint a dark and often dangerous picture of football.
In the early 1900s, as emphasis on civilized conduct was being promoted, the rules of the game changed as well. With such evolution followed values assovciated with the sport. In the 1920s, people were fascinated by the controlled fury the sport presented. Unlike soccer, baseball, or basketball, American football forced eleven people to perform as one – performing each task perfectly – in order to win.
The sport, however, remained naturally violent. The dissertations on American football qualify that the game can be likened to a representation of how we Americans view ourselves: tough, aggressive, and working together towards a single goal.
The authors of studies on the sport suggest that compared to other sports, American football’s structure and purpose are more relatable to citizens. Players’ personal lives strike a chord with the American society, largely the struggling working classes. There is also the fact that football attracts the most number of viewers; around eight million for a typical game and more than 100 million for the Super Bowl. It definitely has the power to convey metaphors about being American.
Will McHale played as a professional linebacker. His love for the game has never stopped and continues in this Twitter account.
American football fans who do not remember Frank Gifford on the football field know him for his running commentaries about the game. After a 12-year career as a running back and wide receiver for the New York Giants, his transition to television on ABC’s “Monday Night Football” gave credibility to sports reporters and commentators—he simply knew what he was talking about.
Inducted into the professional football Hall of Fame in 1977, Gifford was more than a star player and television personality. He played by heart and helped popularize American football, especially among the younger generation.
A legend in his own right, people described Gifford as “the Ultimate Giant.” He was the face of the Giants franchise during its glory years of the ‘50s and ‘60s, which saw the team bagging five Eastern Conference titles and one NFL championship.
Gifford excelled in sports because he grew competing with his older brother all the time, who was also his only constant friend during his itinerant childhood. Despite his parents’ disapproval over the “hazardous” sport that have injured him several times, he continued his education, armed with a football scholarship, at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
For much of his career, Gifford proved his passion for American football. The field was his home, and the sport was his life blood, a devotion that up to this day, has inspired many generations of athletes across the globe.
Get the latest updates on American football by subscribing to this Will McHale blog.
Out in the field, football players touch down with a veneer of invincibility, tackling each other like it’s nothing to them. In reality, they are in for more health hazards than other athletes. Even President BarackObama was famously tongue-in-cheek about his doubts on the safety of the sport: “I’m a big football fan, but I have to tell you if I had a son, I’d have to think long and hard before I let him play football. And I think that those of us who love the sport are going to have to wrestle with the fact that it will probably change gradually to try to reduce some of the violence,” he says.
Even mentioned in the same breath as Syria and gun violence, American football hasn’t helped its own image with what the public perceives as the NFL’s weak response to player Ray Rice’s domestic violence scandal. So it’s starting to look as if apart from exposing players to field violence, football also breeds violence at a personal level.
As a great tradition, Americans might be hard pressed to give up on its own version of football. However, the health risks associated with the sport are receiving due attention. It has been reported that football players suffer chronic pain and mental illness even long after their careers had wrapped up.
Harvard University even devoted a study slash intervention on the medical conditions suffered by former NFL players in a bid to improve their health and well-being. The conditions highlighted by the study are concussions, brain injury, and even myocardial dysfunction. The study also taps former professional players to lead surveys and discussions.
Football may be fun to watch, but it has to be accompanied by health interventions for players who may have been paid well during their careers, but give up so much in return.
Read this Will McHaleblog for more discussions on issues about professional football.
Early in March, the retirement of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland from the sport brought to the fore how much people do not know about the game’s effects on its athletes. Borland cited concerns about head injuries as his reason for retiring at age 24, saying that he wanted to live a longer life and that he doesn’t want any neurological disorders and increased risks of dying young.
Indeed, while hundreds of athletes bump heads when they play contact sports, the fact remains that medical science still does not know the full extent of the damage to the athletes. What is known right now is that some players have emerged from the sport with brain damage.
The topic of brain damage, however, remains a controversial one. Joseph Maroon, an NFL-affiliated doctor, has said that all the attention given to the dangers of football—especially youth football— may be an exaggeration. While there are areas where the sport can improve in terms of safety, Maroon asserted that young people are more likely to face more risks when riding a bike or a skateboard.
Critics say that Maroon may be downplaying the dangers of football. The questions raised by the public require answers. Has American football turned into a too dangerous sport for its players? Is there a need to rethink and change how the game is played? How should governing bodies step in and prevent further harm from befalling the athletes? Evidently, more research is needed in order to identify how exactly athletes sustain brain damage as they play the game, and the safety of all should be the primary concern of those governing the sport.
Will McHale played as quarterback for La Courneuve Flash in France. For more articles about American football, follow this Facebook page.
It’s a well-known fact that many people watch and enjoy football. This article from The Economist discusses the future of American Football and how long its popularity among people will last.
BY THE time it is over, more than half a billion chickens will have given their lives so that their wings might be dipped in barbecue sauce. Enough avocados will be eaten, mashed into guacamole, to lay a trail from Seattle to Boston and back, four times. Even those who think sport is silly must pause to acknowledge the Super Bowl. The ten most watched television broadcasts in American history have all been Super Bowls, as have the next ten. By a conservative estimate, 112m Americans watched it last year. The number who will see the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots on February 1st is slightly more than the number who say they attend church once a week. Many churches have given up competing and instead throw Super Bowl parties as a way of expanding the flock.
This year’s contest has many subplots that have required the intervention of politicians. Joe Biden, the vice-president, was asked to comment about the underinflated balls used in the semi-final by the Patriots (“Deflategate”). He revealed that he too prefers a softer ball. Serious people questioned whether it was good politics for Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey and aspiring candidate for the White House, to be photographed hugging the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. All this is frivolous, but it cuts through to voters in a way that budget maths does not.
The mingling of football and politics stretches back to the turn of the century, when Theodore Roosevelt, who worried that a fondness for billiards had made the country’s ruling class soft, brokered a deal to make football safer. The three most recent Republican presidents were all cheerleaders, before that activity came to be considered girlie. Hunter S. Thompson once spent most of an hour talking football with Richard Nixon. “Whatever else might be said about Nixon—and there is still serious doubt in my mind that he could pass for human,” wrote Thompson, “he is a goddam stone fanatic on every facet of pro football.”
Though it may not seem like it, the days of politicians using football to relate to ordinary Americans are numbered. This Super Bowl has an extra edge because it is the first since actuaries for the NFL, which runs the professional game, estimated that a third of ex-pros may eventually suffer brain damage. Put another way, 35 men on the pitch in Phoenix can be expected to endure early-onset Alzheimer’s ordementia pugilistica for the entertainment of everyone else. (The NFL agreed to set up a fund to compensate players with brain injuries in 2013.)
Because football is so widely followed, it is also a starting point for bigger arguments about America. When Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was filmed punching his girlfriend unconscious in a lift, the incident sparked debate about whether football rewards violence; about domestic abuse; about the rewards for inept executives (Roger Goodell, who bungled the NFL’s response, was paid $35m in 2013); and about the oddities of tort law (Mr Rice won millions for wrongful dismissal after the Ravens fired him). The discovery of a manual issued to cheerleaders for the Buffalo Bills, known as the Jills—filled with rules for everything from etiquette (“Do not be overly opinionated”) to advice on how to care for “intimate areas”—prompted a debate about whether cheerleading is demeaning and whether the pompom-wavers should be paid. Some, amazingly, are not.
Many of the charges thrown at football are bogus. The link between the sport and violence off the pitch is spurious: violent crime has been declining since the early 1990s, since when football has become even more popular. The notion that the sport is racist because the players risking injury are mostly black and the fans mostly white ignores the fact that the game is the only one followed with equal fanaticism by black and white America, or the possibility that adoring a player of a different race might be a more powerful force for good than any number of affirmative-action initiatives. As for the Jills, some of their manual is practical and, in parts—“never use words/ phrases such as: like, I seen it, you’s guys, dude, them guys, pee and ain’t”—interchangeable with The Economist’s rules for its journalists.
The maiming of so many of football’s professional players is different, because it is an objection to the game itself. The NFL players’ union says that the average length of a professional career is just under three and a half years. Watching a big hit on a player now comes with the same twinge of guilt as watching clips of Muhammad Ali being pummelled. Though high-school players are less likely to suffer brain damage, some school teams were forced to end their seasons early last year because so many children had been injured. Almost half of parents say they would not allow their sons to play the game, a feeling shared by Barack Obama. Nor is it easy to see how the rules could be changed to reduce the risk of brain damage in the professional game to an acceptable level.
Yet the sport will not continue to be both as popular as it is now and as dangerous. Those who dismiss football-bashers like Malcolm Gladwell, who compared the sport to dog-fighting in the New Yorker, as elitist east-coast types should remember that football began as a form of organised riot on the campuses of elitist east-coast colleges. Changes in taste can trickle down as well as bubble up. During the second half of the 20th century boxing went from being a sport watched together by fathers and sons to something that dwells among the hookers and slot machines of Nevada. Hollywood’s output of Westerns peaked in the late 1960s, after which the appeal of spending a couple of hours watching tight-lipped gunslingers in pursuit of an ethnic minority waned. Football will go the same way.
Check out more stories about football and baseball by following this Will McHale Google+ page.
As strange as it may sound, there are still people who do not know the difference between American football and Rugby. The similarities between the two sports are fairly obvious. Both are high contact sports, and many players are at an increased risk of injury because of the physical hazards of colliding with one another or falling down. Either sport also involves a group of individuals chasing and tossing a ball across a field.
But this is where the similarities end.
American football is a sport consisting of two teams; each composed of 11 players. The goal of each team is to advance the ball to the opponent’s end zone. Rugby, on the other hand, is a hybrid sport, and can be faithfully described as a fusion of American football, soccer, and basketball. There are two teams in Rugby, with each team composed of 15 players. While the end goal of Rugby is the same (to get the ball in the opponent’s goal line), players of Rugby typically do not wear protective gear and play against each other in standard sportswear. This means that Rugby players do not wear helmets, arm bands, or anything that may restrict their vision or movement.
The logic behind this seemingly irresponsible decision is that Rugby players need to be more agile than their American football counterparts. While many defensive (and offensive) systems require American footballers to crash against one another, Rugby strategies typically involve being faster than, and running away from, the opponent. However, this also means that Rugby players are more prone to injury.
Lastly, Rugby is a popular sport and is played worldwide, while American football, as the name suggests, is only played in America.
Will McHale lives, eats, and breathes football; having played for his college team. Learn more about him by subscribing to this blog.
As someone who has grown up watching America’s favorite pastime and who has been playing American football in his college days, Will McHale has a lot to share about American culture and the value of sportsmanship. This is why he has worked with the United States Embassy in France to promote some of the best that America has to offer.
He could regale people with his tales of the last baseball game played at Tiger Stadium 13 years ago and he can tell them about the time when Detroit’s Robert Fick belted a grand slam for the final home run, the final hit at the 87-year-old ballpark.
Coming from a family who worked in Major League Baseball for over a century also had its perks: there were times when he enjoyed hanging out in major league dugouts as a kid. Given these experiences, he was able to share some of the highlights of American culture, especially those that were related to how much Americans loved their sporting events and their great athletes.
While baseball has been a long-time passion of his, the sport that McHale excelled in turned out to be American Football. He played for the Ivy League in his college days and he now plays as linebacker and helps as the assistant coach for La Courneuve Flash in Paris.