With the Superbowl looming, I thought I’d leave the overinflated Deflate-gate behind and read something more interesting about, yes, football. I was listening to the latest Dear Sugar Radio where Cheryl and Steve shared criticism they’ve gotten after publishing their respective books. Apparently if you’re a woman writing about walking alone in the wilderness, you get “You should have been tied to a tree and raped on your Pacific Crest Trail hike” and if you’re a man trying to puzzle out what you love and loathe about football in America, you get hate mail accusing you of being “a big pussy.”
Given my issues with football — Ray Rice, Ray McDonald, Michael Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Adrian Peterson, Roger Goodell, Jameis Winston, and the list goes ridiculously on — it will come as no surprise that I’m reading this book where a lifelong football fan wrestles with some of my own questions. What does it mean, as a kid, to be picked or not picked for ‘the team’? How did a sport that causes brain damage become the leading signifier of our institutions of higher learning? Does our addiction to football foster a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia? The players are getting so huge, should there be a weight limit? What is our expectation of the student-athlete who spends 40-60 hours a week playing, practicing, recovering, working out (only 45% of Division I football players graduate)? Why do I have such mixed feelings about this sport?
On page 125 Almond writes: “I don’t mean to be flippant. I’m sure there are many college players who pursue their studies strenuously. My point is that the system doesn’t require them to. The notion that they’ve enrolled in college to learn more about the world of ideas is a fraud we all consent to so we can watch them compete on Saturday. And it’s a fraud that degrades the essential educational system… Which is why, when you hear the name of a large state school such as the University of Texas or Florida or Michigan you don’t think of a college at all. You think of a football team.”
I hear Michigan and immediately think Go Blue!; Notre Dame puts the team fight song in my head; Ohio State and I wonder, as always, why the players say The Ohio State University.
Will you be watching the Superbowl this weekend?