Why I Still Watch NFL Football

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Nothing screams “America!” like huge stadiums, big bombers, and giant flags 

W.J. Astore

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me a fair question: Why do I continue to watch football, given my comments on violence in the sport and the militarization of the game, including camouflage uniforms (even for coaches and cheerleaders!).  I could have hedged and said I don’t watch much football.  I don’t watch college games, and the only NFL game I regularly watch features my home team.  In short, I watch about three hours a week, and a little more during the playoffs.  Nevertheless, I still watch, so why do I do it?

I wrote back and identified four reasons: Because I’ve watched football since I was a kid (habit) and I enjoy the sport.  Because I put my mind in neutral during the game and just enjoy the action (a form of denial, I suppose).  Because, like so many Americans, I get caught up in the spectacle of it all, its ritualistic nature.  Because it’s often unpredictable and real in a way that “reality” shows are not.

After sending that answer along, another reader noted how my reasons could be made to serve as partial justification for supporting America’s wars, and to be honest the thought had occurred to me before I sent my answer.  So, you could say I’ve watched wars since I was a kid and on some level “enjoyed” them (the action, the drama, the spectacle of it all, the way things are “played for keeps”).  Perhaps I put my mind in neutral as well (TV trance) while enjoying the “reality” and rooting for the home team (America!).  Sports and war are connected in complex ways, and I’m only scratching the surface here.

I’d like to add two more reasons why I watch football.  I enjoy rooting for “my” team, and when they win, I’m pleased.  When they don’t, I’m bummed.  I get over it quickly (after all, it’s just a game, right?), but on some level the games have meaning to me.  I identify with “my” team, simple as that.

One more reason: nostalgia.  These games recall a simpler time, when we threw a ball around with friends or our dad, then quit for the day to watch a game and scream and shout at the stadium or in our living rooms.  (Such nostalgia is not unknown among combat veterans, who look back on war with mixed feelings of horror but also of love, or at least attraction in the sense of a powerful camaraderie and sense of belonging shared by those who were there.  It’s one reason for war’s peculiar attraction and perhaps its endurance as well.)

What say you, readers?  Do you watch football and, if so, why?

25 thoughts on “Why I Still Watch NFL Football

  1. I haven’t watched a football game since before the turn of the century because what happens on the field, the game itself, has become secondary. Far more important to the viewer are choreographed celebrations for routine plays, individual statistics (who wins or loses doesn’t matter in fantasy football), and the point spread (by which a team can lose on the field but win at the sports book). Constant rule changes aimed at increasing scoring at the expense of the defense didn’t help.
    Peter Gent (author, former Dallas Cowboy & New York Giant) described football as “a limited war of territorial imperatives waged in front of crowds who believe knowing players’ names, numbers and statistics gives them an understanding of the game.”
    They’re welcome to it. I haven’t missed it.

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    1. It’s big business, of course, driven by profit and commercialism as well as faux patriotism. But there are still moments of athletic grace in the game. But they do come at a cost …

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  2. There several reasons why I do not watch a whole NFL Game. I understand there will be play stoppages: Incomplete Pass, running out of bounds, two minute warning, team time outs and now play reviews. It is the “Officials Time Outs” that are necessary to slip in Commercials that are noxious. A team may have momentum and is marching down the field, the defender is on the back foot – Then we have an “Officials Time Out”. Momentum is broken and so is my focus. It would be like a prize fight and the referee stops the fight mid-round so TV can air a commercial.

    The NFL covered up the damage being done to the athletes by concussions. The Corporate Sports Establishment still ignores this.

    It was the Book Field of Schemes that brought out the whole fallacy of the Professional Sports Model. The creation and diversion of tax dollars to build stadiums for Billionaires or Mega-Billionaires. Cities, counties and states had to prove their love, by financing bigger and better stadiums. The Houston Astro Dome was billed as the Eighth Wonder of the World is abandoned. The Pontiac Silverdome suffered a similar fate only it was demolished. http://www.fieldofschemes.com/

    What is rather evident, the Democrats and Republicans can have their differences. However, they become the Republicrat Party when stadiums need to built or subsidies are needed for “Our Team”.

    When is last time you heard a politician object to this Corporate Welfare???

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    1. True, ML. I often DVR the game so I can fast-forward through the commercials and stoppages in play. When I do that, a 3-hour game becomes about 2-hours of decent action.

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  3. It is also interesting to note that the proliferation of team sports in America and Europe parallels the development of mass, organized, urbanized, industrialized nations, in pitched competition with each other. Organized team sports contributed to the societal regimentation deemed necessary to compete, hold order and provide workers for the factories and soldiers for the military.

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      1. Love that movie. And now let’s listen to our corporate anthems …

        A nice sub-theme in “Rollerball” is how history disappears. If I recall correctly, they have a computer system that “loses” an entire century!

        And there’s another scene, a party I recall, when trees are destroyed with some kind of flare gun, all for fun, naturally.

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    1. Interesting point. I think that the current educational model, with students grouped by year and with a standardized curriculum emphasizing rote memory, came about at the same time. Perhaps with the same goals?

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  4. I have not watched football since over 40 years ago (when I left home). While I do have a lot of moral reasons for that, my aversion may have something to do with my personality and I will describe those aspects first so I don’t come off as “holier than thou.” Not watching football is probably far easier for me than for the average person.

    One trait of mine is that I get very restless sitting in front of a screen unless I am able to influence what appears on the screen. So I very rarely watch TV or movies (except BBC Planet Earth type videos which I find relaxing and help me zone out). Another reason is that I would much rather train to be in excellent shape than watch people who are in excellent shape. Since I have always had very little free time, I would rather spend that time training.

    I do have a lot of moral issues with professional sports and the culture of sports as a whole, not just in the US. First, commercialized sports make us feel good but do little to help us with problems that we face as a species. Commercialized sports are a huge time, energy and money sink that take resources away from problems like disease, hunger, poverty, education etc. This is true all the way down to the high school level where school districts will skimp on educational materials in order to have a successful team or grandiose stadium, or resources will be taken (stolen) from other club activities in the school that generate income to fund the football team.

    Second, college and professional sports are exploitative of the athletes. I have treated some college athletes in my medical practice. it was clear that they were being treated as serfs and little care or concern was being shown for their long-term benefit. If the “athletic scholarship” aid they received were converted into dollars and compared with the time they needed to spend in the sport, the hourly wage was often quite low, not to mention the negative effect such long training hours had on their studies and their health. This is not to mention the over-inflated costs of a college education in the US. If we funded education like a civilized country then no one would need an athletic scholarship. But that is a whole different issue.

    Third, many aspects of the culture surrounding football glorify violence, physical domination, and the sexualization, submission and abuse of women. I have had patients who have had to suffer this and who experienced the school administration as reluctant to protect them because they valued the success of the football team more than the safety of the female students.

    Note that my issue is not with sports themselves, as participation in a team or striving for excellence in an activity can have benefits on physical, cognitive and emotional health as well as improve social skills. My issue is the focus on winning as the most important goal, or even worse, the only goal, and then the commercialization of that focus.

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  5. Two mercifully brief observations: 1.) Bill Astore, there IS hope! Difficult as it may be, old habits CAN be broken!!; 2.) I simply don’t understand why any Plain Old Joe should pledge loyalty to a professional sports franchise, in any league. Most of the players DON’T come from your home turf; they are bought on the market for skills that will hopefully lead to winning seasons. The owners of the franchise are likely revolting, overly-privileged swine. (Sorry if I sound uncharitable here in the Holiday Season!) And yes, as alluded to above, your tax dollars probably went into construction of the team’s new facility. Does that give you a feeling you “own” a piece of the franchise? Let me know if the owners invite you to any of their caviar and champagne (and scantily-clad-cheerleaders) parties!! Hell, you might get to rub elbows with Donald Trump!

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  6. I very rarely catch five minutes of a football/baseball/basketball game because those athletes don’t watch me when I’m working, so I respect their privacy and don’t watch them while they’re working! 🙂 But seriously, the true reason is undoubtedly because I was not raised in a sports-oriented household, so I don’t have the father-son/daughter bonding nostalgia that a lot of people have surrounding sports. And I can’t really develop any feelings of allegiance to pro teams because the players are rarely even from this locale and many don’t even live here off-season, so it’s hard to think of them as ‘my’ team in any real sense of the word. I admire the athleticism of many of the players, but just can’t get excited about watching 2 or 3 hrs of the same sort of activities being repeated over and over, the in-your-face melding with strident nationalism/militarism (that this site explains so well) plus I’d just be sitting on my butt getting overweight, and I can do that at work!

    My own hunch about the popularity of pro-sports in many countries is —- in addition to several of the reasons previously listed by others here —- is that it taps-into our primordial social-pack behaviors, which are probably in the next brain layer surrounding our so-called reptile brain. While we humans like to believe we’re relatively rational/logical, too often our basic mammalian drives (aggression, sex, pack cohesiveness, territoriality, etc) often surface in direct or indirect ways….

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    1. I recently “cut the cord” after latest outrageous price hike from cable TV provider. I admit that I’ve been known to shout out loud with enthusiasm upon seeing a spectacular reception, running play, runback of a kick, interception, etc. However, that had nothing to do with which team executed the play. It was just exuberance over someone’s athletic ability.

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  7. Absolutely not! Broke my nose playing sandlot football at age 15, doctor pounded it back (almost) with a hammer. Since then I have learned that professionals incur brain damage with their first game and worsen it with every subsequent game. No amount of money is worth that. Besides, its the same old, same old; every play, every game. What’s the point? In class reunions I meet increasingly as years go by “football heroes” of their time who now use canes or other support to walk around or get wheeled around). In my opinion it’s a savage sport. Better to go out for track or cross-country – much better exercise, and much safer.

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  8. True, you don’t see much of the ol’ razzle-dazzle, “trick” plays anymore. Play has gotten conservative to try to secure the win with least risk. As for Track & Field, the great unwashed American public barely is aware of its existence. (Olympic years are somewhat an exception, as USA traditionally scores well in the sport.) The public has been thoroughly conditioned to only care about the big-money pro sports leagues. (And don’t get me started on Golf! I genuinely detest all the attention paid to that game and its practitioners.) They’re somehow not impressed at a guy able to leap, unaided, over a horizontal bar almost 8 feet off the ground or throw a javelin over 300 feet. Trust me on this, I’m a T&F fanatic, been to 3 World Championships. Can’t afford a ticket to Olympic Games, though.

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    1. Here, Here for “Track & Field” Fans from an Old Track Letterman! Greg I concur I genuinely loved throwing the Discus, Running Sprints & Relays yes w/ baton in hand, and doing the Long Jump! Even 2 of my fave Movie are on and feature Track & Field as well “Unbroken” & “Chariots of Fire.”

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  9. Thanks for all the interesting comments. Football is a tough sport in which the players often pay a high price. I remember the film “North Dallas Forty” (1979), which did a good job of pointing out the physical price of football.

    The NFL has made some strides in improving safety, but much more needs to be done. But the bottom line is, as usual, the bottom line — money. Making the sport safer is seen by many as “ruining” the hard-hitting action. Recall that Our Great Leader Trump complained that football was getting too soft. This from a guy whose idea of action and exercise is playing golf while riding a cart around.

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    1. Doubtless Trump’s personal physicians have ordered he must not walk the golf course for fear of aggravating his “bone spurs”!!

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      1. Oh, SNAP!
        But yeah, isn’t it so often that the conservative politicians who talk all tough and macho when it comes to committing OTHER people’s lives to ‘military solutions’ around the world, have ‘other priorities’ like Dick Cheney, or other weak excuses, when it comes to THEMSELVES engaging in military service. The worst case of this political hypocrisy that I recall was when a bunch of these chicken-hawk Republicans derided John Kerry’s Purple Heart because he was running against ‘W’ who finagled his way into a safe National Guard post and then had trouble fulfilling that commitment. (Note: I don’t agree with Kery’s decision to voluntarily fight in that war, but by conventional standards, it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t militarily ‘brave’).

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  10. I watch two college teams and one pro team. The college from which I graduated some 45 years ago, the college where I was a professor for 30 years, and the pro team closest to where I grew up and learned as a child to cheer for that team. I can’t help it. As a professor I know well the corrupting influence of big time football (and basketball), but nothing I do is going to change it. In fact, when my large public university does well in football, applications go up. They go up across the board from marginal students to truly outstanding students. I didn’t pick my undergraduate school because of it’s athletic prowess (none) but its academic reputation, but some kids do. My wife knows I’ll be a little grumpy if my college teams lose, not so much the pro team. I can’t really justify it.

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  11. This really off subject – It is what thinking people have known for a long time.

    Afghanistan papers reveal US public were misled about unwinnable war. Side Bar – Wow.

    In one scathing assessment Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who served as the White House Afghan war tsar during the George W Bush and Barack Obama administrations, told interviewers in 2015: “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan – we didn’t know what we were doing.”

    Speaking frankly, like other interviewees, on the understanding that what he was saying at the time was confidential, he added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.

    “If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction … 2,400 lives lost.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/09/afghan-papers-reveal-us-public-were-misled-about-unwinnable-war

    Staying with the football theme – Will any of our Presidential Candidates run with this ball, i.e., we cannot win the game??? Most likely they will dodge it and head into to the locker room for half time.

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    1. Afghanistan was labeled long ago “The burying ground of empires.” The Russkies couldn’t conquer it in close to a decade of effort, undone in part by the CIA-sponsored terrorist Osama bin-Laden (remember him?). What is the real origin of the Taliban? I’ve never seen a report answering that question. All I know is, suddenly these bearded “students” or “scholars” (the translation of Taliban, we were told) appeared, walking across the border from Pakistan. By Sep. 2001 the US claimed the group constituted the government of Afghanistan and demanded they hand over bin-Laden, who was allegedly holed up in a complex of caves at a place called Tora Bora. Failing to gain Taliban cooperation, the Cheney Gang seized upon this as an excuse to invade and try to conquer Afghanistan. Only a nation so stupidly steeped in imperial hubris as the USA could think it will be “the exceptional nation” that will finally conquer that tribal society, that wild, ungovernable expanse of territory. The idea is absurd on the face of it. And so, US personnel remain mired in this unwinnable conflict (and the opium poppies conveniently keep growing) and “We can’t withdraw because no POTUS wants to be seen as suffering a military defeat.” Mr. Trump’s expressed (alleged!) desire to wind down the endless wars has come to absolute naught in his almost-three years in office. My, what a surprise!

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  12. I don’t watch NFL football… but I’m Canadian. But I don’t watch hockey either so I think I’m just an oddball. My wife and my mother are the hockey fans (and curling for my Mum) in the house. My Dad wasn’t a sports fan either, though he did enjoy the odd Grey Cup party – back when he used to drink. I used to watch Formula 1 racing in the late 80s until I discovered Grand Prix motorcycle racing around 1990 and found it vastly more interesting. Then GP racing got more big time and television influenced, the 80cc class got dropped, the sidecars got dropped, newer tracks got more and more boring (and designed primarily for F1 cars) and by the time it got rebranded as MotoGP I had lost all interest. My favorite sport would be flying sailplanes but there’s not much chance to do it competitively in western Canada and it makes an even worse spectator sport than transoceanic yacht racing! After many years the best way to see what soaring competition is like is the 1969 Robert Drew film “The Sunship Game” (he’s best known for making an award winning documentary called “Primary” about the 1960 Humphrey/JFK Wisconsin primary)

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