Monday, January 19, 2015

Against Football: A Fan's Manifesto

I've always had a love/hate relationship with football. Growing up I didn't pay too much attention, besides the fact that I was in the marching band (and I wasn't there for the football). And I always "liked" the team my current crush liked, cause we needed something in common, duh. Otherwise, whatever.

And then I married a football fanatic. To be fair, I knew he was a fanatic when I married him. And also, he's become less fanatical in behavior over the past fifteen years, although not less in his love of the sport. I'm a good, supportive wife. He supports my book love and I return in kind. I own Denver Broncos gear, he gets all kinds of Broncos trinkets, I (attempt to) watch games, I can talk football when I need to, etc, etc...but I can't say I'd be sorry if the apocalypse was the collapse of the NFL and football in general.

So, I couldn't pass up a book called Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto, by Steve Almond, which I found through Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. Almond states that, "This little book is a manifesto. Its job is to be full of obnoxious opinions. For example, I happen to believe that our allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia" (6). He takes football down through each of these points and while I thought some were a little stretch or not confined to football only, for the most part Almond's points are undoubtedly spot on. NOTE: If you are a footbal fanatic, keep reading...the point of the book is not to change your mind, but to make football better than what it currently is.

To highlight a few points (direct quotes in italics):

- "Medical research has confirmed that football can cause traumatic injury to the brain, not as a rare and unintended consequence, but as a routine byproduct of how the game is played. The central concern among doctors is no longer catastrophic injuries— concussions that result from big collisions— but the incremental (and therefore largely invisible) damage done by numerous sub concussive hits" (38).

- The NFL is a non profit organization, which means they don't pay taxes.

- "The traditional line put forward by boosters is that a sports franchise generates prestige and jobs and economic growth for a particular city. It would be more accurate to characterize teams as parasites on the local economy. They suck money from local tax bases then send the gigantic profits generated by these expenditures back to the league office for disbursement to the owners. Think about how insane our cultural priorities are that we’re allowing so much money to be siphoned from he public till and funneled directly into the...nation’s wealthiest families" (76). For example, taxpayer money pays for a hefty percentage of stadium building.

- "Fun fact: 45 percent of Division I football players never graduate....It’s a fraud that degrades the essential educational mission. It suggests that what really matters, what makes a college worth attending and supporting, isn’t scholarship or research or intellectual transmission, but athletics (125).

These facts, and the numerous others within this book, speak for themselves. When you stop hiding behind the entertainment factor, you can't deny the absolute BS on which the NFL, and like football leagues, run. The cool thing is that Almond admits to having loved football and still loving it, even as he writes his "manifesto." Also, he doesn't expect everyone to up and change their minds or quit football: "I have no right to tell anyone what to do, especially when it comes to football. I’ve supported the game for four decades. No overnight conversion is going to undo that. But I do have a right, like all Americans, to speak about what I see" (156). Especially when what you see is more harmful than needed. Corruption is found everywhere and people are always going to take interest in dangerous or exciting activities, so Almond ends his book with a list of ways to make the game better  and more respectable in the aspects he has discussed:

- Revoke the NFL’s non- profit status.
- Require that allocation of public funds for sports facilities be approved by public referendum.
- Institute a parental discretion warning before football games
- Enforce a weight limit on players and/or teams
- Create a helmet that records every sub-concussive hit
- Include graduation rates in a college team’s national ranking
- Prohibit tackle football for high schoolers younger than sixteen
- Require a 3.0 GPA to play varsity football

One last word from Steve Almond: "The point of this book isn’t to shit on your happiness. It isn’t to win some cultural argument. Let’s make it larger than that. Let’s make it an honest conversation between ourselves, and within ourselves, about why we come to football, about why we need a beautiful savage game to feel fully alive, to feel united, and to love the people we love" (172).

What is football to you? Both sides of the football stance will benefit from this book. At 177 pages, it is completely readable for anyone.

And what do I do when I get bored during games? I interpret my hubby's feelings of important plays via selfies. See below, taken during a Denver Broncos game in 2014, which they lost. He didn't know I was taking them at the time! Haha! (Sorry Steelers fans. No hard feelings, you're just the most fun to harass since I live so close to Pittsburgh!)


  1. I totally don't get the football thing (that's probably because I'm married to a hockey fanatic), but part of that has always been because it seemed like such a corrupt organization. I like that you point out Almond's position on wanting to change the game, not see it eliminated. It sounds like this is one that needs to be read pretty widely (and could even be good to use for persuasive essays in the classroom)!

    1. Yes! I think it's an excellent resource. (The corruption of the NFL is what bothers me most about it. College football bothers me because it puts academics second to sports. High school football bothers me because of how it harms young brains - see my Teenage Brain post.)

  2. My feelings about football are pretty similar to yours. I'm willing to get into it a bit when my SO wants to watch, but even when I was in marching band, I really didn't care about the sport myself. However, I HATE the things that football players and teams get away with and I hate how much people venerate the sport. The system definitely needs an overhaul!

    1. Yes, that's my problem exactly. The sport itself, eh, and of grown men want to damage their brains, it's not my problem. But the veneration of something so corrupt bugs me to no end.