My Love-Hate Relationship With Football

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having a hard time getting out of my usual post-holiday slump.  New Year’s Day found me on the couch, channel surfing as I could not bring myself to do much else.  I decided to binge-watch a television show (I’ve been informed that this is what people do now – sitting down for hours at a time, watching multiple seasons of a TV show, so I decided to give it a try).  I’ve had many friends recommend the show, Friday Night Lights, to me.  So I gave it a try.  For those not in the know, this TV show centers around a small Texas town and their high school football team.   Four episodes in, I felt a slight connection to a few of the characters but could not wrap my mind around the importance being placed on the game of football.  I remember high school football games and cross-town rivalries, but nothing like this.  Businesses sponsoring the sports teams with obscene amounts of money, quarterbacks being idolized, parents hell-bent on seeing their kid make it to the big leagues at any cost.  I just couldn’t understand the appeal, so I stopped watching.

Then a few days later, I found myself getting caught up in the playoffs.  It’s easy to say I don’t care, but when it comes down to the final month of football and both of my state’s teams are in the running for the championship, I can’t help but get a bit excited.  So, I watch.  And a huge part of me dies inside because I hate almost everything about it – the violent nature of the sport, the idolization of the players (in my case: on one team, an alleged rapist and on the other, a convicted dog-killer), the obscene amount of money from corporate sponsors, the huge salaries of the players, the sexist and misogynistic messaging and advertising – the list goes on and on.  But something pulls me in, and I keep watching. And all the sudden I start seeing the connections.  This is our culture (or at least the culture that media, corporations, and advertisers want us to buy into).  This is what is important to us.  This is what we choose to invest in.  This is what it means to be a “real man”.  It starts early – all of the hoopla around high-school football (and pee-wee football, as seen in this preview for a new show called Friday Night Tykes – appalling, to say the least) filters down from our society’s idolization of sports teams, athletes, and support of “jock culture”.  And I’m conflicted.  Sports aren’t bad, but the way we put so much emphasis and importance on the game and the players is.  One only need look at recent cases like those in Steubenville, at Florida State University, and Vanderbilt to see the connection between jock culture and rape culture.  Dave Zirin points this out in an article he wrote for The Nation following the Steubenville rape trial verdict:

“We need to ask whether there’s something inherent in the men’s sports of the twenty-first century, which so many lionize as a force for good, that can also create a rape culture of violent entitlement. I am not asking if playing sports propels young men to rape. I am asking if the central features of men’s sports—hero worship, entitlement and machismo—make incidents like Steubenville more likely to be replicated.”

So, there’s a little gem to think about as we head into the final few weekends of playoffs, culminating in the all-important Super Bowl.   Will you be watching the Super Bowl?  I’m on the fence about attending a Super Bowl party.  Perhaps I’ll just go for the food.  Maybe I’ll stay home and watch a Downton Abbey marathon in protest.  Care to share your thoughts?  Feel free to comment below.