Why I won't be watching the Super Bowl: Football is un-American
I love sports, but with its media-managed commercialism, defined roles and story lines, and aristocratic sports analysis, American football is just plain un-American. The faux-drama of the Steelers-Packers contest doesn't actually uphold the 'everyman' American ideals.
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It's not an everyman game
This is where football comes up short of even a first down. The facade of team cohesiveness is there, of course. How else could they march up the field? But the individuals have long ago given up their dynamic individuality to scripted roles that they are supposed to play.Skip to next paragraph
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If there is anything that defines us Americans, it’s that we tend to be iconoclasts. We have a legacy of tearing down the class structure. It’s how this country was founded. That’s even truer for those of us who have only been here one or two generations, because we have direct and personal interaction with parents or grandparents who made the ground-breaking decision to reject the old structure and embrace the unbound possibilities of the new. That’s one reason why a healthy infusion of immigration has always been essential. It keeps the American spirit alive.
Baseball, basketball, and soccer are more everyman in nature and, thus, more in line with the American experience of rugged individualism. Anyone on the field or court can (and often does) hit the winning home run or score the winning basket. Shaquille O’Neal, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson all led their teams to championships from different positions – center, small forward, shooting guard, point guard. In baseball, The World Series MVP could be the second baseman.
Classist, defined roles
Football, on the other hand, with its more defined roles of officers (ball handlers) and linemen, is more classist and essentialist. It’s a horrible sport for kids, not because of the significant chance of injury, but because of how it will most certainly affect their personality, as they unconsciously conform to the perceptions that others have projected on to them according to the position that they’ve been conscripted to play.
How many after-school TV specials involved a high school football team with a handsome ego-driven quarterback; a wide receiver who was somewhat deceptive; a defensive lineman who will stop at nothing to get what he wants; and an offensive lineman who is naively overprotective of those around him or just plain dumb?
It’s true that the critically acclaimed show “Friday Night Lights” has attempted to break down those stereotypes. But “Friday Night Lights” is in many ways the “exception that proves the rule” (and a good example of the proper use of the expression). The show’s contrasting story lines, such as the fallen quarterback, or the sensitive lineman, wouldn’t carry as much weight without our own preconceived notions to challenge – that how individuals are supposed to act is based on the position they play, not on who they are.
The illusion of fan involvement
So why has football ascended to the pinnacle of American culture, given its restrictive, clichéd story line? The answer may be exactly that. Many Americans simply buy into the soap opera. It’s reassuring to some to know that the quarterback is married to a supermodel (like Tom Brady) or that he’s the son of another quarterback (like the Peytons).
Football also gives many the illusion of control. With its segmented action of downs, it’s tailor-made for media analysis and commercial breaks. Now, everyone can be a Monday morning quarterback after each and every play. It also allows us to watch each other watch the game. It even allows us to watch the officials as they watch themselves on the instant replay to review the call we just saw them make. All this readily available content pretends to give us ownership and involvement, even connection. But does it really?
As for me, I’ll take a pass on the not-so quintessentially American touchdown pass this Sunday. Someone has to break the cycle.
Brian Fox is a freelance writer.