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Why We Need Football

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There are many, many reasons why we can argue football is a horrible scourge on the nation. The terrible workplace conditions, the exploitation of unpaid college labor, the deification of violence–these are all really good reasons! I’m not going to defend any of them. But, as an American, I also have to at least acknowledge the social position football plays in American life. Football unites many of us. It’s what families can talk about at Thanksgiving instead of politics. It’s what different generations can bond over. It covers up other social ills that tear us apart. These are important things. There’s not worth it, but then that’s what Americans and maybe all humans do, create justifications for their actions even though they impact others in such a horrifyingly negative way. Jamil Smith wonders what this all says for the national character and why he enjoys football so much even though he knows all of these problems well.

I have no excuse, really. Every time I’ve thought about leaving the sport behind, I remember my favorite photograph: a black-and-white shot my mother took of me in my football uniform in the eighth grade, standing next to my father and smiling after a win. But nostalgia is a reason to love the game, not a reason to need it. Perhaps, then, this is where I should tell you why—even in the wake of Omalu’s revelations—I feel we still need football. Not to rescue the NFL’s largely black labor force from its humble origins, or to entertain the masses that refuse to let it go in the wake of mounting tragedies. We need it partially because football serves as a kind of fun-house mirror for our national character.

The reflection comes in various forms: social movements, national tragedy, political spectacle, and yes, our sports. And we are a dramatic country, so much so that the volume of theatrics we see in every corner of our lives dulls our senses. We need more, and we need it louder. And in spectator sports, we want to see the best versions of ourselves reflected back at us, or else why would we consider it entertainment? We want to believe that inside that arena, everything will be all right because our men are the strongest, and our fight is the hardest. This is why between 2012 and 2015 the Department of Defense paid 18 NFL teams a total of more than $5.6 million for marketing and advertising, including flying military bombers over stadiums at taxpayers’ expense. It’s also why we watch hit montages week after week, delighting in the crack of the pads or the punch of the music without wondering whether that player just got pushed a bit further toward CTE. Football marries artfulness to brutality, providing the most honest interpretation of American character that we have available, and I enjoy football despite its horrors because I have learned to do the same in my life in America.

Unlike Smith, I am not African-American so the horrors of my life in America are significantly fewer. But football does speak to us in very American ways. We don’t watch because we love exploiting people per se, but we do love to watch violent spectacles, whether in video games or boxing (back before the corruption doomed it to a second-tier sport) or MMA or professional wrestling or violent movies or our military kicking some ass overseas. None of these things are really good for society I suppose, but they are what they are.

When people on the left self-righteously talk about how they hate sports (although now you have the exception of “I hate sports except soccer and go USA!” which is a new twist on this), I wonder what then do they talk to working-class people and the conservatives in their families about. And I guess the answer is nothing. They don’t talk to working-class people or the conservatives in their families.

America is complicated. Even though every reader of this site knows the horrors of football, many of us will watch the Rose Bowl today or the NFL on Sunday. Or hopefully Oregon in the Alamo Bowl tomorrow. It’s also nice to know that college football still prioritizes the desires of a few rich men in bad looking blazers over the game itself, as in order to protect the traditional time slots of the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, the NCAA held the college football playoffs on New Year’s Eve. I haven’t compared ratings to last year, but ESPN was certainly concerned and they must have been lower. I couldn’t believe I was missing the playoffs, but it was New Year’s Eve, and I was going out with my wife. Why they couldn’t be held on January 2 is beyond me. But that’s college football for you.

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  • Amanda in the South Bay

    CTE is the reason I can’t stand anything about football anymore. Otherwise I think its people making excuses to keep liking something they grew up with, and don’t want to let go of yet.

    • LuigiDaMan

      Interesting.

      I would have argued as to why we need baseball. The strategy, the skill, the overall lethargy of the game. It truly is our American pastime. It is the mirror of our history, the poetic song of our life.

      Football? Not so much.

  • I couldn’t read this post because the smoke from the burning straw men got in my eyes.

    • Amanda in the South Bay

      When people on the left self-righteously talk about how they hate sports (although now you have the exception of “I hate sports except soccer and go USA!” which is a new twist on this),

      Sounds like something someone on NRO or Breitbart could’ve written.

      • fororagainst

        Erik contains multitudes… the multitudes contain the cocksure and self-justifying. No exceptions here. I don’t need football, do you? Do you deign to assume to know the mind or character of all or even a plurality of Americans?

      • MaureenDowdsLudes

        Maybe, but that doesn’t make his point false.

        • I was wondering when someone would note this point.

          • CD

            Sure but is there evidence or is this just ressentiment speaking? Most of the boy lefties I’ve known have been dedicated sports fans, though maybe with more emphasis on baseball and basketball, sports you ignore.

            I also know people who follow cricket and soccer because they have genuine lifelomg interests … What is up with you? You end up with a rather reduced vision of the nation here, no?

            And if you haven’t figured out how to have a pleasant noncontroversial conversation with a stranger *without* leaning on sports…

            • ThrottleJockey

              I’m going to start the New Year off with a ring out loud endorsement of what Erik wrote. I’ve probably never agreed with him more strongly. I don’t think you can generalize about political affiliation from taste in sports. (With the possible exception of NASCAR fans leaning hard right). That being said, he brings up very strong points about the role sports play in our national dialogue. Love her or hate her, Martha Coakley learned that the hard way. With many people they have to relate to you before they can vote for you. That may be short sighted of them but that’s the reality.

              • sharonT

                Shorter TJ:

                Girls. Cooties.

              • Barry Freed

                I’m going to start the New Year off with a ring out loud endorsement of what Erik wrote

                That’s ThrottleJockey writing, Erik. Better go check yourself.

            • Ormond

              Erik seems to be arguing a generality from his own perspective. He’s maybe not sure of the fact that sports are deeply popular in younger progressive circles – indeed, it’s one of the reasons that the NCAA is becoming a bigger and bigger political issue on campus. And he seems to imagine that all progressive soccer fans are, I guess white boys who watched the ’92 World Cup from Martha’s Vineyard? and not women (for whom soccer is probably the most popular participant sport of the last 20 years) or people with family ties to Latin America or Africa.

              • Gaudius the Clod

                There was no ’92 World Cup. There were tournaments in 1990 and 1994 (the latter of which was held in the United States), and the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991.

                That first WWC wasn’t televised. I remember because I read about the 1991 WWC matches in the newspaper, tried to find a way to watch the championship, and didn’t find one.

                • CrunchyFrog

                  A real pain. For the 1982 final we watched the local Spanish channel, which unlike ABC didn’t insert ads during the match, but we flipped back and forth to get the rudimentary english commentary. By 1986 they actually showed the match.

                  Better, though, than Rugby. That world cup final wasn’t broadcast live in the US until this year.

                • Ormond

                  My bad. I could have sworn that bad logo was 92.

          • cpinva

            “I was wondering when someone would note this point.”

            let me note a point as well:

            “Football unites many of us. It’s what families can talk about at Thanksgiving instead of politics. It’s what different generations can bond over.”

            however did we, as a nation and as individual families, ever survive Sunday and special holiday dinners with the family, in the 200 or so years, before football became a major business endeavor, after the revolution? whatever did we converse about, or did we all remain silent, wondering when we could be excused from the table?

            I’m guessing (from personal experience) that there were topics of conversation, aside from football and politics, that occupied family discussions. in fact, I’d guess that holds true today as well, for the majority of families in the US. I’m not going to list them, but I feel certain that everyone reading this thread can think of at least one, if not more.

            I played football in middle and high school, wasn’t good enough to play college ball. I love pro ball, and have been a fan since my youth. the only time I remember the subject coming up at the dinner table was in reference to practice/game schedules, and my school work, which always had priority. aside from that, nada. oh, I also have a few physical reminders, that I kept after I stopped playing: crunchy knees, two fingers pointing in opposite directions (broke them both in the same game, along with my facemask), and an ankle that hasn’t been the same since my senior year. oh, I also suffered two or three serious concussions, bad enough to send me to the hospital. what the long-term ramifications of those might be is a guess.

            I love the game, but recognize the damage it can cause, and if I had it all to do over again, guess what? I’d still do it. but it hardly resulted in “bonding generations”, at least not in my family, or most of the families we know.

            football could disappear tomorrow, and in a month or two, it would be “the past”, and we’d move on.

            • Jadzia

              No kidding. I grew up in a working class family in a working class community, and we had all kinds of things to talk about that didn’t involve football (the rules to which I am still a bit unclear on). Who are these people to whom football is so very important, and are more than a handful of them ladies?

        • brewmn

          It doesn’t make it true either.

        • Ronan

          Indeed, the idea that there might be some self righteous leftists out there ruining christmas dinners through an inability to make small talk about sports is definitely plausible, at an extraordinarily trivial level.

          • Thirtyish

            And here I thought we lefties only ruined family holidays by talking about how Bernie Sanders is *not* actually a socialist, but I half-wish he was (after which a dialogue pertaining to a workable definition of socialism ensues). My bad.

          • ThrottleJockey

            Happy New Year, Ronan! I don’t think its trivial, and I don’t think he’s making the case that most liberals disapprove of football. At my undergrad there was a longtime movement to eliminate football. That would’ve eliminated 10% of all black students (I went to a smaller uni). While there was no right/left cleavage in this (conservatives and liberals occupied both sides of the debate) the elimination effort was viewed as highly elitist. And ever since its colored my judgment of my people who complain about football. There’s no reason you have to like it, but you if you go around complaining that it “exists” or “is popular” then rightly or wrongly I’ll typically think of you as being some sort of ‘elitist’ and that’s based on how the debate raged on my college campus.

            • Ronan

              If the post was about attempts to eliminate football in colleges and what that could mean for minority representation, then I agree that *could* be non trivial (I say ‘could be’ because I know nothing about the topic)
              But it’s not ablout that, it seems to be about someone who said they hated sports (except for soccer) on Facebook.

    • Thirtyish

      Indeed. The line about those of us who “don’t talk to our working-class or conservative relatives” was particularly precious. Speaking as someone with zero interest in sports who happens to have one side of the family very into sports, I actually converse with them by trying to find common ground–believe it or not, they have interests outside of sports, and I try to talk to them about those. It doesn’t always work great, but I do what I can.

      • alex284

        The bourgeois condescension in such statements is breath-taking. “Oh, we simply must attend the local ball game! It would be simply so much fun to mingle with the masses! Perhaps we should have a champagne and blinis apperitif next to the Mercedes, like the commoners do!”

        Remember: the real snobs are the liberals (who are all rich elitists, haw haw, latte liberals!) who have hobbies that they enjoy, not those who make the time to slum once in a while.

        But maybe that’s because my dad’s side of the family, which is mostly working class people, was never really into sports at all. My mother’s side mostly went to college but they all prefer soccer. And the women on both sides (who exist! it’s strange!) were never really into sports either. And somehow we find things to talk about.

        • ThrottleJockey

          I don’t think sports fandom tells you much about politics. People from both sides of the political aisle love sports, and people from both sides hate sports. Is Chris Berman a conservative or a liberal? What about John Saunders? Hell if I know. What about Obama? Didn’t he have Stuart Scott on speed dial? Didn’t he sink a 3 pointer on his 1st try? And, yeah, I know plenty of working class people (like my father) who aren’t all that into sports.

          • Berman describes himself as a New England liberal. Al Michaels is of course a right-winger. Don’t know about Saunders.

  • Phil Perspective

    Why they couldn’t be held on January 2 is beyond me. But that’s college football for you.

    Because they don’t want to cut in on the other bowl’s TV ratings? The same reason, basically, that bowl games are never on Sundays. It’s all about the TV ratings!!

    • But it’s not about the TV ratings. That’s the point. The TV ratings would huge for those playoff games if they were held today or tomorrow. Much higher than for last night. Instead, less important games are given priority.

      • EliHawk

        The Rose and the Sugar (Actually the Big 12 and the SEC, who came up with the idea of having a bowl where their conference winners faced off, then signed the Sugar up for it–essentially trying to create their own Rose Bowl–and then the playoff more or less guaranteed that such a game would never actually have their conference champions in it again, leading to matchups like #16 OK St vs #12 Ole Miss) signed their TV contracts that locked in those time slots before there was even a playoff, so unless the Rose and the Sugar are the semis, the playoff semifinals are on New Years Eve, which comes with less ratings. And since the people in charge of the playoff are the same people in charge of the four conferences who get to cash ESPN’s $$$ for the Rose/Sugar, they have no incentive to change, and the people getting hurt are just ESPN, so I don’t really care that much about that.

        Of course, the bigger problem is ESPN’s insistence on making New Year’s Eve a big deal in the first place. Until the playoff set up, big bowls had ditched NYE at least since the 90s. The bowl game you got in prime time was a Peach Bowl matchup between the 2nd or 3rd best ACC team and the 5th or 6th best SEC team. You’d have lower tier games like the Sun Bowl and Liberty Bowl in the afternoon.

        In the late BCS, they played every one of the BCS bowls but the Rose in prime time from Jan. 1-3/4 (depending on the NFL) giving them all exclusive time slots with no competition from other games or work. (The Cotton, which was then broadcast by Fox, moved to that schedule too in the last few years). ESPN and the playoff people could have chosen to keep that schedule, at least for the Semis, but instead want to have three ‘big games’ each on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s day, even if it means that the now marquee Peach is played when everyone’s at work on the 31st and today’s Fiesta has to go up against a Michigan-Florida matchup in the Citrus. Playoff or no, the NYE ratings have been terrible for two years now, no matter what ESPN tries.

    • Old No.38

      Bowl Games are never on Sundays because The NFL. College and NFL have generally agreed to not compete with each other on the big gamedays.

      • CrunchyFrog

        It was actually embedded in law. I’m not sure what the current legal status is on NFL playing on Saturday, but here’s the law:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_Broadcasting_Act_of_1961

        Now, you’re right that the NFL and colleges agreed to this arrangement as mutually beneficial, and had been following it by convention before that Act (which was passed after lobbying by the NFL).

        • The NFL had a Saturday game last week. But then, the college football season is effectively over.

          • CrunchyFrog

            As I understand it, the act prevents (or possibly prevented – past tense) broadcast games in areas where local games were being held at the same time. It doesn’t actually say they can’t broadcast on Saturday (but does allow them to do so on Sunday). For decades the NFL has thus been able to schedule late-season Saturday games because the high school and college seasons are basically over.

      • erick

        Right but tomorrow is Saturday.

        They decided to have the playoffs on NY eve and then a couple lesser bowls on the 2nd. Doesn’t make sense. I usually figure the bowls that happen after NY are lame, but the playoffs would be the exception to that.

  • Warren Terra

    While it’s important to pay attention to the terrible effects of physical injuries on professional football players, I really think this is the tip of the iceberg when we’re considering social harm from football. Those injuries, after all, most seriously affect the vanishingly small number of players successful enough to have extended playing careers – but football (and basketball) have a far more pernicious effect in the far greater number of lives they lead astray, the young people they lie to with promises not just of great wealth for the few but of a meaningful college education for far more. How many middle- and high- schoolers are tempted to throw their futures into doubt by the valorization of professional athletics and the faint hope of getting an athletic scholarship – an athletic scholarship that even if achieved will come with an athletic workload and an athletics-friendly class load almost certain to prevent them from getting a meaningful education?

    • Ormond

      It’s also a pretty effective tool for the organization and enforcement of heteronormative, violent, patriarchy in smaller communities at the high school and middle school level. Not always, of course, and it’s not the sine qua non of patriarchy, but it’s certainly a help.

      • Bruce B.

        Yup, this. I was able to un-tense and start learning to appreciate more sports once I was out of that kind of environment. But football continues to resonate with that junk for me, as well as simply not seeming very interesting to me. I’m comfortable admitting to a bias against things involving big bulky dudes smacking into each other, and all the sports I enjoy involve minimal to no contact against opposing players.

    • CrunchyFrog

      I’m now experiencing the college scholarship recruiting thing with our youngest – different sport, but the systems are similar. I wouldn’t defend the system by any means, but there are some benefits and I think the answer to this below question is probably “very few”:

      How many middle- and high- schoolers are tempted to throw their futures into doubt by the valorization of professional athletics and the faint hope of getting an athletic scholarship – an athletic scholarship that even if achieved will come with an athletic workload and an athletics-friendly class load almost certain to prevent them from getting a meaningful education?

      In 2016, things are very different than they were just a few years ago. For one, very few high school athletes who are up for scholarships are unaware of what is ahead of them if they get one. That doesn’t mean some of them don’t like it when they get there, but it’s not a surprise. For another, while there are of course a few players who have so much raw talent that they can coast their way to a full ride, the vast majority are already working their butts off in high school, year-round, to stay competitive – and this is surprisingly true even in the lowest income high schools. And for a third, with college costs having skyrocketed those same kids realize that getting a half scholarship (which is what the vast majority of athletes get – and in Division III it’s sort of an approximation as they are usually able to get non-athletic scholarships for the athletes they recruit) is a boon, something to work for, and something not to waste once you get it.

      I know that when we watch games between big college powers we often see, when they do a quick screen profile for a player, majors of questionable value like Communications, Public Relations, Physical Education, etc. But those are the stars, on full ride. For the large majority of college athletes on a half scholarship the degrees are more practical: Nursing, Pharmacy, Accounting, Business.

      Keep in mind that division 1 football and basketball, while they get 99% of the media attention, are a small portion of all of the college athletic scholarships awarded. And even within those sports most of the scholarship go to non-top tier athletes who know full well there is no professional contract awaiting them after college.

      • Warren Terra

        I certainly can’t speak to what it’s like these days, nor perhaps with tremendous authority to what it was like back in my day, but I certainly saw enormous amounts of misplaced effort as people scrapped for an athletics scholarship they weren’t going to get and that would be of no benefit if they got it, to the detriment of their studies or other pursuits.

        And in football the life of a professional “student athlete” is absurd, at least at many division I schools. The football players live in segregated housing, they often dine apart, they’re up at the crack of dawn and engaged in hard physical effort or in other official activities for eight or more hours a day, plus other unofficial activities. They are traveling a half-dozen weekends in the fall term, and are discouraged from taking real courses. Your tales of lower profile schools and lower profile sports do not actually diminish the horror of televised “college” football.

        Also: I am very suspicious of your claim that most athletics scholarships aren’t for participants in revenue sports like football and basketball. If true, how much of this is Title IX, which combined with the massive expense of male-only football generates a huge number of athletic scholarships for women in low- and no-profile sports, where the athletes actually are serious students?

        • CrunchyFrog

          Agree with most of what you wrote. First, I’m talking about all athletic scholarships as a whole, not just men’s football/basketball division 1 top tier schools. So yes, Title IX is part of that. Women benefit more than men in this area because so many men’s scholarships are for the big two (football/basketball) but there are still a lot of scholarships across many sports for both genders. But Title IX is only part. Even in Division III we see a lot of recruiting in which they cannot offer an athletic scholarship but the coach can arrange for non-athletic scholarships if the student meets certain criteria (which is why keeping GPA up for those athletes is often a priority).

          For all levels, though, the school definitely expects a lot back from the athlete in exchange for the scholarship, and you provided some examples. In talking to many, many people about their experiences I heard one example of a half-scholarship track athlete at one of the top 5 division 1 schools in the nation in that sport having courses changed by the coach due to conflicts with training. So you lose a lot of freedom, and in some cases students will choose to go their last 1-2 years without the scholarship because of it. However, my point here is that that reality is now generally well-communicated in advance and shouldn’t be a surprise.

          but I certainly saw enormous amounts of misplaced effort as people scrapped for an athletics scholarship they weren’t going to get and that would be of no benefit if they got it, to the detriment of their studies or other pursuits.

          Upon reflection I can’t say for sure this isn’t happening anywhere. I could certainly see a overambitious high school coach misleading his players regarding their scholarship chances in order to get them to work harder. But everything I’ve seen in our state (Colorado – which admittedly is not a hot bed for recruiting for many sports) is that the students have a more realistic assessment of what is possible and – should they get the scholarship – what they’ll experience when they get there.

  • Roger Ailes

    I only talk about women’s tennis, the Gay Games and my support for the Al-Qaeda Buzkashi Club.

    Working class people I talk to about time management and my dry cleaning.

  • altofront

    When people on the left self-righteously talk about how they hate sports (although now you have the exception of “I hate sports except soccer and go USA!” which is a new twist on this), I wonder what then do they talk to working-class people and the conservatives in their families about. And I guess the answer is nothing. They don’t talk to working-class people or the conservatives in their families.

    What about working-class people on the left who don’t like sports? Or is it only arugula-eating, latte-drinking, limousine liberals who would feel that way?

    Since I know nothing about sports, I tend make small talk about people’s kids, or jobs, or cars, or homes–you know, stuff in their actual lives. It seems to work okay.

    If you still want to watch football despite knowing what it’s doing to the players, you need to make your peace with that, I guess. But dressing it up as a social necessity, and suggesting that those who don’t want to play along are antisocial (or even unpatriotic?) is pathetic.

    • This misses my point a bit–which is that there is a certain subset of the left that self-righteously hates sports and mocks those who like them. I could even name names here of people you’ve heard of that do this on the facebook pages, but I’m not going to do that. That’s different than people who just don’t like sports and don’t care either way.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        yeah, but even *those* people can figure out workarounds- maybe some of them genuinely don’t *have* to, but I suspect most do

      • altofront

        But why would the self-righteous lefty sports-haters (who, it would seem, can never be working-class) have any more difficulty making small talk than I do? And how does any of this speak to the social necessity of football?

      • CrunchyFrog

        It’s not just the left – although I think it’s more something you’ll see trumpeted more on the left. I know a number of right wingers who think sports are stupid. Now, from what I can tell, this the the strain of right winger that isn’t particularly into patriotism and war, either (but otherwise fully right wing).

      • CD

        Um, “certain subset” could be one person. Backward you are pedalling. Are we really making posts because somebody said something stupid on Facebook?

      • CP Norris

        I think a lot of lefty-sympathetic types were traumatized by sports and the patriarchal culture around sports as kids. Laughing at people who have assaulted you might border on classism but it’s also kind of understandable.

        • Ormond

          This is what I was thinking, too. If you were the victim of sports-based patriarchy at your high school in th form of mental or physical abuse and that turned you off participating in the culture surrounding, for example, football, then you probably aren’t doing it out of self righteous classism. But Erik often only seems to see what is already visible to his frame of reference rather than imagining other relationships to culture, capitalism, and identity.

          • Origami Isopod

            Excellent comment.

        • Thirtyish

          And for me personally, I grew up in a setting (school, community), in which success, participation, and even interest in sports (especially, natch, football) were valued over intellectual pursuits. As an intellectually inclined person, I absolutely could not understand that. I still don’t. We live in a society in which the top-earning individuals in nearly every state are college sports coaches. I’m not saying that sports have no value. Even though I find football in particular to be baffling and mindnumbingly boring to observe (and football fans have a tendency to be insufferable as a class), I recognize that it has strong appeal for a lot of people. But it’s incomprehensible to me the disproportional value we place on sports in this society, especially football.

          • Gaudius the Clod

            That sounds like my parents.

            I have three state championship trophies from academic competitions in high school. My brother has a participation trophy from seventh grade football (he injured his knee that year and couldn’t play again). My sister has two participation plaques from high school soccer (junior and senior years, the first two that her school had a team).

            Guess which three awards are displayed on the shelf, and which three are hidden away.

          • Pseudonym

            We live in a society in which the top-earning individuals in nearly every state are college sports coaches.

            Citation needed. (Among public employees, sure.)

        • Kalil

          This is certainly a factor – my background in public school was the foundation of my associating sports with bullying and cruelty. Learning about the exploitative nature of sports has only reinforced that.

          I think Erik’s post is pretty absurd – you can just as easily flip is around to insist that our “working-class conservative” straw man should learn about video games or knitting so they’d have something to talk to their geek straw man or female straw man relatives. It’s a nonsensical argument that grants undo privilege to one particular interest on the basis of poor stereotypes.

          Also, I find it hilarious how smoothly Erik moves from asserting that Football is core to the working class experience to complaining about how football caters to the whims of the upper crust of society.

          • KadeKo

            (Is it USA or English public school your background is in? I don’t remember one way or the other and on the internet knows where one is from. The two systems use the term very differently.

            I am an American but have watched Tomkinson’s Schooldays on Ripping Yarns.)

            • Kalil

              USA, yah. I considered PE and Recess to be unearned punishments. In middle school, I was able to escape the latter at least by volunteering at the library, but that wasn’t an option in High School. Pretty awful period of my life, and it left some lasting scars.

      • jamesepowell

        This misses my point a bit–which is that there is a certain subset of the left that self-righteously hates sports and mocks those who like them.

        I know people like this, but I don’t know that they are a subset of the left, i.e, I don’t see their very loud “for you see, I loathe sports” remarks as an extension of their politics. And I know a few who call themselves libertarian.

        Your post reminds me of Ann Coulter’s on the NY Times and Dale Earnhardt. You have an impression based on your experience and you extrapolate & apply it without really have an adequate data base.

        • You are right. I am totally like Ann Coulter.

          • sparks

            I cannot imagine how you’d look in a tight black cocktail dress. I don’t even want to imagine it.

          • Thirtyish

            James said you’re “totally” like Ann Coulter? Must have missed that.

        • CrunchyFrog

          Your post reminds me of Ann Coulter’s on the NY Times and Dale Earnhardt

          I appreciate the trouble a lot of people are having with Erik’s post, but this comparison is way over the top. Erik does seem to have overgeneralized – but comparing his comments to what Coulter does with every column is off by several orders of magnitude. In the Earnhardt example, she just made shit up that was 180 degrees opposite of reality (in other words, normal for her) and put it in an endnote and hoped no one would notice.

      • alex284

        Original post:

        “When people on the left self-righteously talk …”

        Comment made afterwards:

        “a certain subset of the left”

        Not quite the same thing.

        If you aren’t going to stand by the text of the original post, you could at least insert an update.

        • JL

          Are other people interpreting “people on the left” to mean that Erik was saying this is something most people on the left do? Because I interpreted it to mean a subset of the left, and I’ve met people in that subset, and while Erik likes his sweeping statements on cultural matters and he’s putting too much emphasis on football as THE subject that works for the purpose he’s talking about, I’ve been a little bit surprised at the level of pushback.

          • Ormond

            Lots of people don’t like sports, it does not follow from that that they do not communicate with people from working class backgrounds, or that they are incapable of solidarity more generally. The same is true of people who don’t like musicals, or video games. Erik’s post is either an absurdity or a banality.

          • Thirtyish

            I got the sense that Erik saw something written on Facebook that rankled him, and he wrote this post addressing “some on the left” who dislike sports (knowing that a number of blog readers fall into that category), especially when they dislike “self-righteously.” I’m not going to get into the irony of Erik complaining about others disliking something self-righteously. But he then took the discussion to the arena of class, strongly implying (hell, outright stating) that we on the left who don’t like sports do not communicate with our “conservative and/or working-class relatives.” If just one or two readers came away thinking that Erik accused those of us who don’t like or talk sports of “not talking” to relatives who do, then it’s fair to say that we read something into Erik’s words that he didn’t intend. Since quite a few more of us than one or two supposedly missed Erik’s point, I’m confident in stating that the miscommunication lies with the author, not the readers.

            • I got the sense that Erik saw something written on Facebook that rankled him, and he wrote this post addressing “some on the left” who dislike sports (knowing that a number of blog readers fall into that category), especially when they dislike “self-righteously.

              Incorrect on all fronts.

          • Pseudonym

            I assume the “self-righteously talk…” part is a qualifier rather than a descriptor of people on the left.

  • keta

    When people on the left self-righteously talk about how they hate sports (although now you have the exception of “I hate sports except soccer and go USA!” which is a new twist on this), I wonder what then do they talk to working-class people and the conservatives in their families about. And I guess the answer is nothing. They don’t talk to working-class people or the conservatives in their families.

    Ay-yi-yi. This is so off-the-wall crazy that I’m supposing the libations from last night are still roaring in your mind, Eric. (That’s my forgiving take, anyway.)

    • Redbeard

      Erik didn’t say that every lefty says that. His assertion stands because some lefties do say stuff like that.

      • keta

        Yeah, I read it just fine, thanks.

        The crazy bit is his contention that those people cannot find anything to talk about with working-class people or conservatives. Because they don’t like sports, which Eric is contending is the only thing these people can talk about. Which is fucking crazy, and about as hollow an endorsement of being a sports fan as I think I’ve ever heard expressed (although he does qualify it with an “I guess.” An utterly ridiculous guess, but still…)

        • brewmn

          “…as hollow an endorsement of being a sports fan as I think I’ve ever heard…”

          Should be the title of this post.

        • JL

          which Eric is contending is the only thing these people can talk about.

          No, he isn’t. He’s contending that it’s the only thing he can talk about with them where everyone involved will enjoy the conversation instead of wanting to smack each other.

          I think that’s taking things a bit far. I can think of plenty of other topics. And there are plenty of conservative and/or working-class people, especially those who are not men, who don’t give a crap about football and you’ll need different mutually enjoyable topics (someone elsewhere in the thread brought up family stuff, and I agree that that can be a good topic). But I relate strongly to the feeling that when I’m around many of my conservative relatives (regardless of class) I have to put a big part of myself behind a wall temporarily, because so much of my life involves thinking, talking about, and doing activism, and need some genuinely enjoyable bonding topics to talk about in place of that part of myself.

    • Amanda in the South Bay

      Working class people not into football are doing working class wrong, says the professor.

      • Citation omitted.

        • Ormond

          I wonder what then do they talk to working-class people and the conservatives in their families about. And I guess the answer is nothing. They don’t talk to working-class people or the conservatives in their families.

          This implies that absent sports, there is nothing to talk about with working class members of one’s family. Indeed, so much so that absent spots they must simply not talk to working class people, So, other things must not be of interest to working class members of one’s family or else we might speak to them on other subjects.

          • Thirtyish

            With my working-class and/or conservative family members, I talk with them about areas we have in common, chief among them our family and kin ties. “Did you hear that cousin so-and-so got back together with her ex-boyfriend,” or “Second cousin so-and-so is going to be 11 soon. What do you think she’d like for her birthday? Oh yes, she *is* a smart kid, I agree.” Things like that. It’s not that hard.

        • muddy

          I’ll cite the number of people posting here who took it that way, including myself. If so many got you wrong perhaps there was an issue with your delivery.

    • wengler

      Loomis went all Jack Kemp on soccer.

    • wjts

      And I guess the answer is nothing.

      Certainly not movies, TV shows, music, books, celebrity gossip, weather, cars, the activities of other family members and/or friends, general goings-on about town, or hobbies, I can tell you that!

  • Duvall

    It’s also nice to know that college football still prioritizes the desires of a few rich men in bad looking blazers over the game itself, as in order to protect the traditional time slots of the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, the NCAA held the college football playoffs on New Year’s Eve.

    The NCAA didn’t hold any playoff games yesterday. ESPN, the bowls and the major conferences held two games, but the NCAA had nothing to do with it.

  • CrunchyFrog

    I’m not sure that we *NEED* football, but you know, every nation has a sport that fills the same role as American football does in the US. Most nations follow what we call soccer. For Canada, hockey. Ireland has their own special sport (as I guess you could say the US does with American Football) called Gaelic football:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaelic_football

    I became acquainted with Gaelic football not long ago when I was riding a train from Dublin to Belfast and the cars were full of fans who had just attended a semi-final match. What impressed me was how much their reaction was just like US fans with American football, even though this is an amateur sport barely anyone has heard of outside of their island. I later learned it gets by far the largest attendance and TV ratings of any sport in Ireland. The fans were well represented by both genders, and they were talking in depth about the finer points of the game. Many were listening to radios for analysis of the game. When I got to Belfast I found a pub that was broadcasting replays and analysis of the game.

    It was clear that Gaelic football filled the exact niche in the Irish psyche as American football does in the US. Probably less of the negative stuff, in that players don’t destroy their bodies to the same extent.

    Again, I don’t know if humans *NEED* this kind of thing or not, but we seem to create something similar everywhere. And I do mean everywhere – decades ago, on vacation in the Maldives, I learned that every island has its own soccer team (using, at least then, makeshift balls and playing on sandy beaches) and that they had an annual competition between the islands.

    • CP Norris

      But Ireland has nerds who don’t like sports too.

      Soccer does not have CTE but it has the hilariously corrupt FIFA, so non-fans abroad get to make similarly righteous criticisms.

      • CrunchyFrog

        But Ireland has nerds who don’t like sports too.

        Of course. When I asked people about it at the office in Belfast I got the same sort of mix of responses you get in the US about American football: 1) huge fan, 2) sorta-fan mostly just when the local team does well, 3) don’t watch sports.

        Soccer does not have CTE

        Actually it does:

        http://www.newyorker.com/news/sporting-scene/cost-header

        I know several local high school kids who quit soccer and joined other sports due to concussions.

    • Lee Rudolph

      “Probably less of the negative stuff, in that players don’t destroy their bodies to the same extent.”

      That’s what the Irish have alcohol for.

    • Gaudius the Clod

      “It was clear that Gaelic football filled the exact niche in the Irish psyche as American football does in the US.” – Crunchy Frog

      I’m going to have to disagree, since Gaelic football serves a niche that American football doesn’t.

      Gaelic football and hurling are associated with the GAA, which formed during the British occupation of the island. In the early years, one could be kicked out of the GAA for attending matches of sports which were in conflict with the principles of the GAA. In practice, these sports were soccer, rugby, and cricket, which were the three big games of the English. Furthermore, teams could be forced to forfeit matches if they used players who had previously served in the British military.

      The choice to follow Gaelic football and hurling instead of the imported sports was thus one of national resistance. It said that we Irish are still here, and we reject your English ways.

      [The GAA has since rescinded the rule against attending soccer, cricket, and rugby matches, but that didn’t happen until 1971. The rule against letting members of the British military or police officers in Britain compete in the GAA wasn’t eliminated until 2001.]

      • CrunchyFrog

        Thanks for this, I didn’t know that. I’d read the Wiki article but only glanced at the history section.

        While acknowledging the history and hence the strong national identity tied in with the sport, I still think that in day-to-day terms the two versions of football serve very similar roles in the two countries.

        • Ronan

          Gaelic games in their current form were developed during the cultural revival of the late 19th century (although they drew on pastimes with deeper histories),and have often been politicised (particularly around nationalism) Depending what story you like, their history is either one of a national elite nation building, or a people opposing Britsh occupation (or something in between)

          I think youre right about the similarities youre drawing, with the caveat that since the organisation is still amateur, limited in nature and built into Ireland’s geography, it’s still very locally based (people come up through the systems and clubs of their counties,and most support is more or less county based.) I would guess that outside of the All Ireland (which is probably what you caught during the summer?)
          I would guess Soccer/football is still the most consistently watched and played sport in Ireland (though Ill stand corrected on that) One of the recurrent complaints by the major sports bodies is that there are so many sports drawing on such a small pool of players, that each ones existence undermines the others ability to compete (a real argument for monopoly over competitive markets)
          I guess that’s the way it used to be (and still is to some extent) with English football/soccer, when it used to be a game that served the (normally working class) community the clubs developed in. Is that still the case with American football? I dont really understand the franchise (?) system or how it all works.

          • CrunchyFrog

            No, that’s a key difference. The team you play for in college is the choice of the player/school, and while they tend to stay relatively local a lot of athletes play for schools far away from their home. In the NFL, where you play has nothing to do with where you are from. Occasionally a famous player manages to play for his home town team, but when that happens we all remember it, like Bernie Kosar for the Browns in the 1980s. More representative is that the starting QB for the Wisconsin Green Bay Packers is from the San Francisco Bay area and the (until recently) starting QB for the San Francisco team is from Wisconsin.

            I’m sure there are other differences if we dug into it more, but in terms of the mindspace it occupies with the population, there are a lot of similarities. I think every country will have something like that – in most cases soccer/football.

  • jeer9

    A bit OT but does anyone here think Lynch or Cook are first round QB talent based upon their bowl performances? Yeesh. (Granted, Auburn and especially Alabama were the best defenses they probably faced all year.)

    Goff looked impressive, and so did Prescott. I also like Hogan, though he’s considered no more than a 5th or 6th rounder.

    • Paul Campos

      It’s not a good idea to put much stock in one game, especially a game in which Cook got zero help from the running game and a great DL was just teeing off on his dubious OL on passing downs, which ended up being most of them.

      He was great this year before he got hurt late, and it’s also a weak year for draft-eligible QB talent. He’ll go in the first round.

  • brad

    Eh, to me the worst aspect of SPORTS is the journamalismizing that comes with it, which I still and will always blame for the rise of Limbaugh and his ilk. Sports talk radio and Limbaugh are the same format, just different topics, and the only difference between the NRO and the average major paper sports columnist is that the NRO still has a market.
    Football is the worst of the major sports in terms of enabling and allying with this kind of scum, maybe aside from basketball, which I don’t follow so I can’t really say. But from the concussion cover-up, which in decades to come I think will be comparable to oil companies and their advance awareness of climate change in terms of what the NFL already knows and won’t say, to the inherent authoritarianism which enables Goodell’s bs and the likes of Richie Incognito, to the warmongering as patriotism paid whoring which, while yes all sports are shitty and do it, the NFL always takes to the next level, I just don’t think that being a neutral topic at Thanksgiving, and the tribalism inherent in it makes that a contentious assertion, I doubt in a Jersey family split between Giants and Eagles fans football is a ‘safe’ topic, makes it worthwhile.
    We don’t “need” the NFL. (Or college football, which the NCAA makes even worse.)

    • CrunchyFrog

      Eh, to me the worst aspect of SPORTS is the journamalismizing that comes with it, which I still and will always blame for the rise of Limbaugh and his ilk.

      Actually it was the other way around. Until 1986 the Fairness Doctrine prevented political shows like Limbaugh’s, but sports radio was fair game. As with all talk radio, some shows did some good analysis, but some were basically the blueprint for hate radio today.

      For an illustration, consider the movie Friday Night Lights, set in 1988, and the radio talk involved – especially during the call-in segments. That came straight from the book, written at the time.

      • brad

        I think there’s some confusion, then, or at least I’m confused, because that’s basically what I meant. Sports talk radio provided Limbaugh with a format, once the gates were opened. It’s worth noting that he is, essentially, a failed sports broadcaster who monetized his resentment.

        • CrunchyFrog

          Oh, chicken and egg. Thought you were saying hate radio spawned sports journamalpractice, instead of copying it.

          Yes, we agree they are the same.

    • Amanda in the South Bay

      Long form online sports journalism has apparently been extremely popular with a lot of lefties?
      Its not a genre I care for, but I’ve noticed the paens to sites like Grantland.

      • CrunchyFrog

        It’s not long form, it’s detailed, thorough, analysis we like, with a touch of humor, and good editing that supports the writer without putting him/her into a box that cripples his/her style. Football fans were buying Sports Illustrated for Paul Zimmerman’s work long before there was an internet, and would still be making his the most visited site on the American football internet were it not for his stroke in 2008.

        Grantland was long form, but it had a number of very good sports writers. You can already see that with Bill Barnwell, who moved from Grantland to ESPN, the quality has gone down due to different editorial constraints at ESPN.

        Now, as it turns out, Paul Zimmerman was a New Deal Democrat and often would take pot shots at GWB during the last 7 years of the column, and that was fun. But his overall point of view was from the left – he identified with the linemen in the trenches, not the blow-dry quarterbacks, so provided a balance to the usual writing that was out there.

        He also was right far often than not. His column in 2007 predicting the Giants would upset the extremely heavily-favored Patriots, and explaining exactly why in detail, is an all-time classic.

  • Denverite

    I wonder what then do they talk to working-class people and the conservatives in their families about

    Anecdote. When my daughter called her grandfather this morning — Vietnam vet, serious PTSD issues, retired UAW worker, Kerry was the only Dem he’s voted for since Reagan — at least half the conversation was spent on the last Broncos game, the dysfunction of the Browns (he lives in NE Ohio), and today’s Stanford game featuring Colorado’s own Christian McCaffrey.

    If they couldn’t talk about dogs, football and the weather, I don’t know how they’d speak to one another.

    • At least according to the commenters on this site, your daughter isn’t trying hard enough.

      • brad

        I’m going to go out on a very thin limb and compare it to organized religion. It’s not a question of “trying hard enough”, it’s a question of whether they would find other topics if it weren’t there. Many religious folk act like there’s no morality without God. It’s a hyperbolic comp, to be sure, but many seem to manage without, and the very real question is whether it’s a net positive.
        I’m not saying football should be done away with, or religion, but if it withers and dies as fewer are willing to play it I don’t think it should be confused with a genuine loss.

      • Murc

        At least according to the commenters on this site, your daughter isn’t trying hard enough.

        Cites omitted.

        • You don’t understand. People are saying that they don’t like something Erik wrote, which means those people are bad and wrong and are motivated by all kinds of stupid, bad motivations. There is absolutely no chance that Erik wrote something that poorly communicated his thoughts, nor that those thoughts were in error in any way. Cites are unnecessary.

    • Ronan

      Sure. There are generational differences that make people dissimilar.
      The person I spoke most to about politics growing up was my grandmother, and we fought like cats and dogs. In America, do you really not debate politics outside of groups who agree with you? Sounds like a boring life. Though I doubt it’s true.
      What else could you talk about aside from sports? I dont know, current events, music, local issues, the persons life? I have plenty of friends who have no interest in sports (including conservatives and working class people!!) What do we talk about? Is this a real thing?

      • In America, do you really not debate politics outside of groups who agree with you? Sounds like a boring life

        I will go to extreme circumstances to avoid debating politics with conservative relatives. I can imagine nothing more horrible. All I ask is that they not throw their politics in my face and I will avoid talking of it with them.

        • CrunchyFrog

          From the question I’m going to guess Ronan is from outside the U.S.

          There was a time, through the 1970s, when we commonly discussed politics with anyone. Generally you could find more to agree on than disagree on if you worked on it.

          That no longer is true. Perhaps you’ve had an experience with talking to someone about politics then realizing you needed to end the conversation now, this person is crazy. Well, that’s what it is like in America today with the GOP base. Their beliefs are so divorced from reality that you can’t find anything to agree on.

          • djw

            From the question I’m going to guess Ronan is from outside the U.S.

            Yes, he is, and it’s showing. In this environment, for many people avoiding political discussion with family is a crucial part of preserving peaceful, amicable relations.

            • Ronan

              American politics *might*, at this moment in time, be more ideologically divided and vitriolic than the norm (might be, although it’s debatable considering a lot of the political movements rising throughout Europe), but it is far from exceptional. The extremity of opinion you find in US politics you find in pretty much all places, just with different local flavours, and we all have family and friends with either offensive or just plain nutty opinions.
              US politics might be structured in a way, at the moment,where these divisions fall along clear political party lines. But meaningful party affiliation divisions are not unique to the US.
              Up until very recently political affiliation was a much more important factor in ireland than it was (afaict) in the US, where (not to exaggerate, but in a meaningful way) political association (even outside of ideology) was something that caused serious consternation in families and was a deeply felt identity Or indeed the national question, or confessional divisions, could create serious divisions in families and (my grandmothers sister lived on the Northern border and was extremely sympathetic to the IRA, the rest of the family despised them.)
              Obviously a person can ignore these issues, or not talk to the opposition, or placate them with half truths, though in our family we tended to argue them. To each their own though.

              • djw

                The extremity of opinion you find in US politics you find in pretty much all places, just with different local flavours,

                It’s not a problem of extremity of differences in political views at all; if this is your perception you’re badly missing the point. (I’ve discussed politics with my Grandmother enough over the years to know her actual policy preferences are, while not identical to my own, fairly reasonable and humane on most issues, but that isn’t enough to make political discussion possible, given tribalist views about the traitorous perfidy of liberals.) It’s a problem of the particular ways partisan affiliation has been tribalized.

                Up until very recently political affiliation was a much more important factor in ireland than it was (afaict) in the US

                This seems accurate to me. Given the rest of your paragraph about family division resulting from this, I’d think you could see the practical wisdom of avoiding political argument with family, rather than dismiss it as a tactic for boring people.

                • Ronan

                  I understand it’s ‘about how political identity has been tribalised’. That’s explicit in my response. I didnt say it was a tactic of ‘boring people’, I said it could eventually become quite boring. And I understand the tactical reasons you might avoid talking politics.
                  However, that wasnt the point I was responding to.It was (1) in the context of a thread where people who cant talk football have nothing to talk about with conservative family (2) an anecdote about a granddaughter and grandfather (the grandfather having at least once voted Dem, so plausibly quite open minded)who if not for ‘dogs, football and the weather’ wouldnt have anything to speak to eachother about so (3) i wondered whether this was really a norm, that outside of extreme cases people didnt talk politics with family members who had different opinions.

              • CrunchyFrog

                Hey, Ronan. I love Ireland. Spent a lot of time there in the past 12 years, mostly in Belfast. Feels like a home away from home.

                I still wouldn’t call myself an expert about Ireland’s different social and political groups, and don’t have first-hand knowledge of the Troubles. But I can tell you that what is going on now in the US is different than what went on there.

                You see, with conflicts like in Ireland, or (another example) the former Yugoslavia, you are born into a group and that is a permanent part of your identity. In the US, the conflict is between the right – which we can basically summarize as the people who will vote in the GOP primary – and everyone else.

                As I live in a highly conservative area and am white and middle aged the locals basically assume I believe as they do and say things in front of me all the time that they never would if they knew my beliefs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that what has evolved is hatred for people who don’t agree with them. Moreover, it’s based on misunderstandings of reality that are shocking – such as firmly believing that inflation is rampant when we’re paying for groceries now about what we did in 2009, or believing taxes have gone up since Obama took office when in fact they went down for the people in our economic class.

                It has long since reached the point that the people on the right have lost empathy for people who don’t agree with them – they see non-right wing people as the enemy and really don’t shed tears when they hear about harm happening to someone outside their political group.

                That is why so many of us on the left have learned to avoid political discussions in the past 15 years. There is no common ground to find, there is nothing to be gained.

                • Ronan

                  I agree Belfast (or at least parts of it) and the North (or at least parts) would have a different dynamic, and these would be contexts where I could imagine tactical silence. And I understand in every day life why a person (me included) wouldnt like to debate politics endlessly with strangers.
                  But the context is family get togethers,not strangers, and Im just surprised that there would be such a widespread opposition to talking politics. Even on the examples you used (inflation and taxes) these are absolutely topics that are subject to the same misiniformation pretty much everywhere, and the same style of argument.

                  However, I do take yours and djw’s larger point that these topics and policies are all tied into larger tribal identities, and if you touch one you disturb them all, so it’s less a matter of shooting the breeze about policies, but something much deeper built into your relationships. (that was just the question I was asking earlier. I might have phrased it poorly, and I can imagine the answer differs person to person, context to context)

                • Pseudonym

                  But the context is family get togethers,not strangers, and Im just surprised that there would be such a widespread opposition to talking politics.

                  At this point most of my family is pretty liberal and I think everyone finds the GOP ridiculous. The reason we tend to avoid politics is more that there’s just so much hate involved in it. My mother was generally rather socially conservative, but she lived in Mexico for a bit and knows lots of immigrants (including a son-in-law) and has a nephew who got married to a man last year. Now the party of “family values” is attacking her (our) family.

                • JL

                  But the context is family get togethers,not strangers, and Im just surprised that there would be such a widespread opposition to talking politics.

                  At least for me, political arguments with family are far worse than with strangers. I care about my family members – about their well-being, about what they think of me, about family harmony, about our shared history, about our relationship in general. There’s none of that stake with strangers. I hardly ever read Facebook because a certain relative’s postings – not even at me, just seeing her real opinions on a few specific things – brought me to tears. The only time I got seriously upset on my recent trip to my mom and stepdad’s was when my stepdad showed me a (terrible) politically barbed movie and made comments about my activism throughout, until I finally walked out halfway through. Strangers, casual acquaintances, eh. Friends can run into the same problem, but with more casual relationships it takes more to bother me.

      • Origami Isopod

        In America, do you really not debate politics outside of groups who agree with you? Sounds like a boring life. Though I doubt it’s true.

        There is, or used to be, a very firm etiquette rule that you don’t talk about religion or politics with most people, because it could provoke an argument. We have never really had a culture in which people can debate politics without rancor or hard personal feelings, and the greater culture in the States values going along to get along. So either it’s suppressed or it’s vitriolic.

        • Ronan

          Im surprised by that. I always remember hearing from extended family members who emigrated to the US (mainly older, in the 1940s/50s) that when they left the culture shock was the other way, that US political culture was more open to debate and the opinions of the masses than at home. People went from rural communities and Christian Brothers schools where you were meant to know your place, and not venture an opinion if you werent from a ‘good family’, to a political culture thay encouraged them to have an opinion a lot more.
          Not talking politics definitely seems to be an English trait, to some degree, but I wouldnt have thought American. You all strike me as a rambunctious lot.

          • Amanda in the South Bay

            That not talking about politics thing strikes me as a very WASP-ish sentiment, perhaps distilled downwards in the first half of the 20th century to the middle class a bit.

            • Lee Rudolph

              I don’t think Origami Isopod is a WASP.

        • Gareth

          I heard it as a rule against discussing religion, politics or flying saucers.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            The flying saucer thing only applies in New Zealand.

            • Hogan

              Happy New Year, J. Otto.

              (Do they have New Year in Ghana?)

              • J. Otto Pohl

                Yes, they set off fireworks for days on end and many of us don’t go to work.

      • In my family you can occasionally rouse a pretty furious debate between leftists. There aren’t any conservatives around to argue with, though.

        • Ronan

          I always found it was the family nonsense that caused the biggest arguments. The politics was basically a glorified excercise in collective trolling.

  • Barry Freed

    I don’t self-righteously talk about hating sports at all. I just hate sports quietly and quite unself-righteously. Always have. I just keep it to myself and I don’t post on threads about sports here or elsewhere and I will in the interests of family bonding and comity watch important holiday games when I’m with family (and without any griping or snide remarks). Hell, I’m even keen about going on my annual golf outing with my dad. It’s a way to share something he cares about. But yeah I hate sports. They’re boring as hell to me. And besides there’s plenty of other stuff to talk about.

    Actually, hate is a really strong word. Dislike and complete indifference is better.

  • wengler

    I will address the weird soccer bash because it’s factually incorrect. The fans of soccer tend to be fans of other sports as well. The concept that they are ‘leftist’ is just a tired old artifact of the culture war when conservatives were clutching their pearls over the soccer ‘invasion’ of first the ’60s and then the ’90s.

    The people that hate soccer the most are the sports talk blowhards that don’t want to follow it because they are lazy and know nothing about it.

  • MAJeff

    I wonder what then do they talk to working-class people and the conservatives in their families about. And I guess the answer is nothing. They don’t talk to working-class people or the conservatives in their families.

    I don’t talk to conservative relatives because they’re anti-gay bigots; football ain’t gonna make a connection.

    • gusmpls

      Even the conservative gun nut types in my family aren’t anti-gay. Might be because they have a gay nephew that they love unconditionally. And his boyfriend is kind of awesome.

  • JL

    I wonder what then do they talk to working-class people and the conservatives in their families about.

    Based on my recent trip back to Kentucky, and depending on the relative: shooting/hunting, bourbon, movies, their dogs, how work is going, how weird the weather has been, my sister’s wedding planning and how cute she and her fiance are together, how my stepdad is going to make us all run screaming from the party eventually with his drunken hogging of the karaoke machine and someone really needs to get into the living room RIGHT NOW and take over the machine with a song of their own (people eventually did, intermittently). Also, once a certain relative got drunk enough, how yes, my husband and I are married and have been for more than five years now.

    This is not actually meant to be a refutation to Erik, especially as I don’t think I’m the sort of lefty he’s talking about, the post just got me thinking about my recent trip and how family bonding moments work in families full of very different people.

    I don’t hate football – I wanted to join a team as a kid and my mom wouldn’t let me because she was afraid I’d get seriously hurt – but I’m not conversant about how any given team is doing. I understand the gameplay well enough that if there’s a game on I can talk semi-intelligently about what we’re observing on the screen.

  • alex284

    I’m mostly wondering about the numbers here. Are most football fans actually working class? Are most working class people football fans? Is this something that cuts across lines of sexuality and gender and ethnicity and race?

    Not saying the answers are all no. But I wouldn’t assume they’re all yes either.

    I know, I know, facts have a way of ruining a good “My interests are shared by most people while all others are aberrant” dream. Would be interesting to know nonetheless.

    • CrunchyFrog

      It definitely cuts across lines of economic status and of race. It’s what the billionaire and the doorman talk about. There are still significant gender differences, but the NFL has reduced that with their major marketing push for women in the last 15 years.

  • Docrailgun

    We don’t need American football… what we need is more curling. Seriously.

    If we “need” a sport in which large people run fast and hit slam into each other, that would be rugby. Rugby is the sport whete yoy may tape your ears doen or wear a soft head covering so people dob’t tear your ears off in a scrum. Rugby Sevens would even satisfy people with short attention spans because the quarters only last seven minutes and everyone is constantly running.
    As what people on the left talk about to conservative kin, hopefully it’s what we all should be talking to each other about during the holidays – our families.

    • N__B

      We don’t need American football… what we need is more curling.

      We need football teams to dress like curling teams.

      • kg

        Looks like I’ve got some pants shopping to do.

      • Docrailgun

        We need football teams to dress like curling teams.

        Or at least make it possible for football teams to smoke, drink a beer and eat a doughnut while playing the game – just like people curling can.
        Maybe they do have time, though – football players stand around for thirty seconds in between each play.

  • Brett

    Loving complicated things is just a part of life. At least in the case of the NFL, the players are getting paid very well in exchange for having short careers and a job that will undoubtedly shorten their lives and possibly give them some lasting medical issues (which they seem very aware of in every interview I’ve read about).

    • brad

      Not to be too prickly, but let me fix that for you…

      At least in the case of the NFL,*a small number of* the players are getting paid *less than they would be without a salary cap* in exchange for having short careers *if they’re lucky* and a job that will undoubtedly shorten their lives and possibly give them some lasting medical issues (which they seem *growing* aware of in every interview I’ve read about), *after having survived a forced period of providing free labor which most did not move on from (but do still suffer the health consequences from)*.

  • Aaron Morrow

    I love that the following are all on topic:

    It should be noted that the tradition of the Rose Bowl being on Jan 1 except Sundays is over 50 years old, whereas the tradition of the Sugar Bowl being on Jan 1 is almost one year old. Until last year, the Sugar Bowl rotated in the evening slot of Dec 31-Jan 2 (Except Sundays) during the BCS, and was played on Sunday as late as 1995.

    Due to the Northeastern roots of the old WWF, professional wrestling as performed by the WWE is more popular with Democrats than Republicans.

    Doesn’t the new Star Wars movie, or any major popular cultural event serve the same purpose? That being said the NFL, the NBA and college football are significantly more popular than most other sports, and many pop culture events.

    Finally, tailgating with conservative college football fans gives me greater insight into the newest con media approved code phrases for them to express their bigotry. (Did you know that radio hosts express their contempt of liberals through old antisemitic terms? Before the liberal blogosphere picked up on this, I got an earful at a random mid western conference game.)

    • ColBatGuano

      The Sugar Bowl was played on New Year’s Day bowl for the majority of its history before the advent of the BCS.

      • EliHawk

        Of course, so were the rest of the ‘big’ bowls: Cotton, Sugar, Orange, Rose, and Fiesta were all on the same day. Because in the pre-BCS, pre-Bowl Coalition era, Jan. 1 (or Jan. 2 if New Years was Sunday) was just one last super-saturday of College Football, where you had a ton of top ten matchups that could result in any winner. with certain conference champions tied to certain bowls (Big 8: Orange, Southwest: Cotton, Big 10/Pac 10: Rose, SEC: Sugar). At the time there were a lot of independents, like Pitt, Penn State, Miami, Florida State, and Notre Dame, who could be recruited to go up against the locked in conference champions. Sometimes it worked out to be a title game, like in the 82-83 Sugar Bowl when UGA was #1 and Penn State (then an Independent) was #2, but usually it didn’t. In 1983 Miami entered Jan. 2, #5, beat #1 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, #2 Texas and #4 Illinois lost the Cotton and the Rose, and Miami leapfrogged #3 Auburn (who beat #8 Michigan in the Sugar Bowl 9-7) to be national champions. But by making the Bowl Coaltion and BCS have one ‘true national championship game’ it ruined having all the games on one day, and they moved them around for ratings / exclusivity reasons, Rose excepted (and even it moved in years it was the National title game.)

    • There are a lot of liberal wrestling fans. I know many of them. Sometimes they’re a little bit embarrassed because they think it’s a kind of trashy thing to admit — there’s definitely a bit of an inferiority complex with liberals who like things like wrestling, football, country music, etc. where they think people will think they’re a dumb hick.

      Erik made a lot of pretty ridiculous leaps in this post, but I do firmly agree that self-righteous anti-sports posturing is obnoxious. I was actually kind of disappointed to learn that “sportsball” is considered to be implicitly making fun of sports and sports fans, because I had previously used it as a joking overall term for “sports”. Similarly, I used to amuse myself when sports talk went over my head (which happens a lot) by making joking remarks about “which squadron slam dunked the most touchdowns”; I stopped doing that because I didn’t want people to think I was making fun of their interests. What I was making fun of was my own ignorance, akin to the “I clicked the doohickey to download the hard drive” faux-jargon that I hear a lot of from people expressing their mystification at some computer problem or another.

      People need to practice more empathy. It’s possible to not enjoy sports or even to think that various sports are harmful but also appreciate that other people enjoy them and are invested in them.

      I’m curious about some of those code phrases, by the way.

      • Nick056

        Yes, unfortunately there’s some lifestyle snobbery these days around a lot of things seen as masculine, but “sportsball” may actually be losing some of its negative connotation. If you use it in a neutral sense, you might find that by using it “wrong” you make it broader, better.

  • JMP

    While I don’t watch it anymore, I still understand the appeal of real football. But college football? That’s just the minor leagues where they don’t pay the players. Why the hell does anyone actually give a shit about college football? People watch it, so they must care. But why?

    • N__B

      Why the hell does anyone actually give a shit about college football?

      Sitting in my immigrant football-ignorant in-laws house in Ypsilanti, surrounded by GO BLUE lawn signs, I offer an answer: tribalism.

    • Murc

      There are two big reasons. The first is regionalism. A lot of people from ‘bama love them the Crimson Tide because they’re more or less the “state team.”

      The other is that the college game is played differently. It has a different tempo and feel to it than NFL games, and a lot of people enjoy that.

      I guess I’m not sure I understand the question, though. A lot of people care about minor league sports of all kinds. Minor league hockey is a thing; people here in Rochester have a ton of loyalty to the Amerks and if they look like they’re in contention for the Calder Cup there’ll be lot of news coverage. Minor league baseball doesn’t attract as much attention as major league baseball (largely because there’s just SO MUCH FUCKING BASEBALL) but minor league teams still habitually fill stadiums.

      • Warren Terra

        I grew up in Seattle when everyone supported the Huskies because they were the only professional football team in town – or for that matter seemingly anywhere north of Berkeley and west of the Rockies – worth supporting. You certainly weren’t going to waste any time following the Seahawks!

        • ColBatGuano

          The Seahawks have sold out home games for the majority of their history.

        • EliHawk

          See also, growing up in Atlanta. Miracle run to the Super Bowl in 1998 aside, the Falcons were an afterthought compared to whichever SEC or ACC team you (or your parents) rooted for. Until Blank bought the team, they were consistently and utterly useless–it wasn’t until the late 2000s they had back to back winning seasons for the first time.

        • My dad has been a frequently disappointed fan of the Sea Chickens since I was a little kid. I’m not sure he knows what to do now that they’re doing pretty well.

    • CrunchyFrog

      Why the hell does anyone actually give a shit about college football? People watch it, so they must care. But why?

      This gets to the fundamental question of why people are drawn to some sports and not others. Obviously it’s cultural, as there are vast differences by country.

      Clearly a lot of it is how much media is made available. Consider the College Basketball tournament in March. There is a small subset of dedicated fans who watch the College game, knew a lot of the players as top recruits in high school, etc. The vast majority who join the March bandwagon do so because it’s a happening. Made more so with things like tournament brackets and office pools. The games themselves are short, so watching is fun.

      There is a critical mass factor at play here. If “everybody” is following some sport then the non-follower is more likely to follow just to get into the action.

      So, while College football doesn’t have the same level of play – and has worse officiating – than the NFL, it’s entertaining enough to the casual fan. Just about every locality has a college team, and (not coincidentally) there is very little overlap between the locations of the top college programs and the top NFL teams. So it’s a happening – people follow it.

      At the same time, there’s a reason college football does much better than other happenings which may compete with it – even most pro sports. Because the NFL does so well casual fans have little trouble following the college game.

  • Jake Nelson

    In my (Midwestern) family, when there’s nothing else to talk about, we talk about the weather. Back when I was semi-interested in football, it was a politics-level Thing To Avoid, because I’m a Vikings fan, and the relatives in question are Packers fans. (Politics is less of an issue, actually.) Never any college football-watching in the family.

    Increasingly, I hate headlines with a “you” or an inclusive “we”. Unfortunately, those headlines have become so damn common…

    • Thirtyish

      Increasingly, I hate headlines with a “you” or an inclusive “we”. Unfortunately, those headlines have become so damn common…

      Same! I know it’s an attention-grabbing rhetorical flourish, but I hate it. Do not presume to speak for me.

  • Yankee

    Baseball used to be the “National Pastime”, now all football is what “Sport” is basically about, and I think that does say something about the National Character lately. Baseball is a physical game played by tough men surely but at least the pace is different. I mean, “pastime” vs. “sport”. We’re ever so much more existential that we used to be.

    • CrunchyFrog

      The “baseball fading as national pastime” discussions were a thing of the 70s, as football began drawing far more TV viewers for both regular season and playoffs. But football has so many inherent advantages over baseball in terms of building a following.

      First, games are played once per week and mostly on weekends, when people are available to watch. Second, for all of the commercial breaks its still much more fast-paced than baseball. Baseball, by the way, has gotten worse in this regard – in the 1970s 2 hours was the average game time. But then pitchers started to need half a minute and longer between pitches (sorta like pro golfers on the green), batters reacted by stepping out more, and the batting strategy of working a count became more common. Third, in the playoffs it’s over in 3 hours, instead of up to 7 games spread over 9 days.

      Baseball lost because it wasn’t as attractive to the casual fan. There are still lots of dedicated fans, and over 162 game seasons they generate a ton of revenue which is why baseball players are paid more than football. But most baseball fandom is regional – few care about the baseball playoffs when the local team isn’t participating.

      • EliHawk

        It’s also worth pointing out just how important gambling is to it. Betting on an NFL game has a simple line, and because the best teams usually beat the worst teams, compared to baseball where even the best teams lose 50-60 times a year, it’s a quickly understandable gambling decision. And like you say, it’s gambling that can happen once a week, so it’s casual to follow.

        The casual-ness of the schedule helps too. The NFL is very smart with its TV setup in terms of husbanding its product for the casual fan. The average NFL market gets three games on Sunday afternoon, and the Monday and Sunday night marquee games (now, also the Thursday one). So you get the local team, and then Fox, CBS, NBC, and ESPN’s national games of the week. By and large those are picked to be good teams in an interesting matchup, not, say, the Jaguars vs. the Browns, which unless you’re an obsessive, the casual fan won’t see.

        • CrunchyFrog

          Gambling and the once-per-week cadence go hand-in-hand. An office betting pool, for example, consists of people who chat about who to pick on Thursday, turn in their sheet, then get a list of everyone who picked what team for the weekend. Suddenly makes obscure games interesting.

          More recently, Fantasy football went from something that required a special dungeon master to manage for a group to something any group can sign up for for free at one of a number of on-line sites. Very simple. And again, it keeps people interested even in the games that normally wouldn’t interest them.

  • The Temporary Name

    Football folks, I wish you health and wealth and happiness in the new year.

  • Hogan

    I wonder what then do they talk to working-class people and the conservatives in their families about. And I guess the answer is nothing. They don’t talk to working-class people or the conservatives in their families.

    Have you tried asking them? I’m not a professional historian, but when you’re dealing with living people it seems like a sounder methodology than guessing.

    • Murc

      Hell, a lot of people right here in this thread are working class!

      I’m working-class. I work for hourly wages and take home less than 40k a year. If that doesn’t make me working class I’m not sure what does. I do have a fairly high level of educational attainment and I grew up middle-class, tho.

      Unless Erik is defining working class with purely cultural rather than economic signifiers.

      • Nick056

        Do you work in the field you studied?

  • kg

    Just the other day Loomis was saying that he can support the working class without adopting their aesthetic and now the deal is I cannot relate to my working class relatives except if it’s about football. They have no interests besides football and if I don’t talk to them about football we sit there in silence. Give me a fucking break.

    • Aaron Morrow

      The Rose Bowl Game Sponsored By n is the ketchup of the masses.

    • JL

      They have no interests besides football…

      A few people have characterized the OP this way and it is just not how I read the post at all. I read it as “Football is the one interest where 1) vast numbers of people in the US care about it and enjoy talking about it across class and political lines, and 2) talking about it with people who have very different politics or or cultural markers isn’t likely to lead to a bunch of vitriol and people ending up unhappy.” I think that statement goes too far, but that statement is not at all the same thing as “Working-class people have no interests besides football.”

      • Ormond

        IDK. I really think his zeal for hippie punching progressives who dislike sports led to a post which really did claim that people who disdain football have no contact with working class people. He also doesnt seem to imagine members of the working class who dissent from sports as a way of life or imagine a progressive left that successfully communicates with (or are themselves) members of the working class without sharing his aesthetic taste in sports. He doesn’t argue that sport has an important place in our culture as a nexus of social solidarity and cultural practice, or that the experiences of sports can be brought to class struggle, or that we should think of football in the context of the experience of people of color as a kind of common language of liberal achievement and cooperation. He certsinly doesnt want us to think through the ways football has become an organizing force for patriarchy, and the packaging and marketing of heteromasculinity as a way of life, or how football critique might be about both social critique and a personal experience of oppression. He argues that people who dislike football or think we shouldn’t play it or watch it anymore are dispicable (likely they are hypocritical soccer lovers, too) and and don’t understand or even speak to the working class because he cannot imagine what else they might talk about. This is really what he wrote and it’s why regular commenters are picking it apart. Me, I like football, (I am watching Iowa get steamrolled right now!) and I think sports absolutely have a place in building solidarity, but it was a bad piece of writing.

        • gusmpls

          A terrible piece of writing. I suspect he knows it though, because he left himself the out that he was only talking about people who are self righteous about it.

    • Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

      Just so I have this straight, trying to send your kids to decent schools is a “racist act” when you don’t have kids, but “as an American, I also have to at least acknowledge the social position football plays in American life. Football unites many of us,” because you like football.

  • When I was a kid, mother men mainly sat in the living room and watched football and the women mostly stayed in the dining room and talked about all sorts of stuff. I mostly stayed in the dining room. Most food/party prep was done by the women.

    This seems to have shifted in that the women have acquired more interest and acceptance of their interest in the games themselves. There might be rather more party prep by the menfolk. I don’t have a lot of samples to go by.

    I’m a fairly big outlier in my family, and we all figured out stuff to talk about. There are only a few that are impossible and they get the short shrift they deserve. Everyone else tries to find stuff to talk about, lives, trips, movies, jobs, kids, etc.

  • AMK

    The “traditional” violence and faux-“warrior” ethos is at the core of football’s popularity, but there are plenty of ways to appreciate skill in the face of physical danger without making lame excuses for the Roger Goodell/NCAA plantation. I personally like bullfighting and boxing, but there are a ton of other (better) blood sports that scratch the gladiator itch without doing football-scale social damage.

  • jpgray

    Erik’s quite right. If it were not football, it would be (and has been) something else. Even competing ballerino troops!

    What it comes down to is not just finding an entertaining spectacle (which football is!), or the comfort of tribalism (which football offers!).

    A community’s universal sports are a sturdy bridge to strangers (or relatives treated as such) that allows no traffic. It protects us from those we fear would despise us as effeminate, geeky, liberal, brutish, meatheaded, fascist, whatever, if we let escape too much personality in the revelation of our wasted hours.

    That it permits no meaningful exchange between individuals whatsoever, that you can have the same universal sports conversation verbatim with a saint and a serial killer, is its chief value.

    On this basis we are finally free to safely identify socially worthless violence, exploit and predation with honor, beauty, and nobility in public, openly express our vicarious pleasure in consuming it, in the most lurid terms, and share the feeling with others that some residue of those qualities is somehow conferred on us by way of our consuming the spectacle.

    These are powerful incentives exclusive to the universal sport, especially the more we are cut off from exploit and socially useless predation in our own lives/jobs.

    Typically, revealing our extended consumption of entertainment that satisfies such desires leaves us highly vulnerable, and is therefore never shared with strangers. You’d have to know a person to attempt to bond similarly over My Little Pony, fantasy/romance novels or soap operas, let alone something like bondage pornography. Consuming these can scarcely be described as less productive than watching football, however.

    Even if you somehow knew a stranger shared that interest, a noncommittal retreat would be the natural response to a casual bonding attempt on that basis. Communities of these interests tend to be insular and guarded, whereas with universal sport you can be quite free and expansive – your effusion will remain decorous within very wide limits!

    So yeah, we definitely need football or something like it as humans. If nothing like it existed, it would have to be invented.

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