FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Football: An American Social Construction

by ANDREW SMOLSKI

It was a Monday night. In America, during the right time of year, football is on the television. I sit on a couch next to a few friends. The game hasn’t started yet, but ESPN has rolling commentary until it does. Five men sit on an immaculate set, each with a crisp suit and an idiosyncratic tie. They begin discussing who will win, how the teams operate, and which players they see as really “showing out” this season. My friends respond in kind to the commentators, to each other, and typically I have no clue what is being said. The jargon is complex. The amount of information necessary to even be “in” the conversation is overwhelming. But, I realize this is what a historically constructed social institution and subsequent organization is.

Football begins in 1869 as an adaptation of rugby. From there a whole social system is built around human created rules to a human created game. A whole culture operates around it; fans form collectives to support teams, they have rituals and traditions, myths are built up, and even heroes are chosen. A political economy operates as well; tax laws and leases for stadiums, a professional football players union, funding to universities, and tourism dollars from grand tournaments. Football has become a part of society, operating as an inextricable sub-part of our American social system. This historical social construction is amazing for how far it reaches into the American psyche.

I sit on that couch thinking of all this, of how football became an institution with a powerful organization, and I think about politics. Politics is a word seldom heard from those people who know the outcome of the World Table Tennis Championship. For these people an intellectual is one of those men who sit on the immaculate set, with the crisp suit and idiosyncratic tie, who talk all day and all night about sports.  They set the contours of the debate, oddly manufacturing consent for their opinions and what the debate can even be, as if reminiscent of Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model. They dictate what information about sports the viewers have or will have. And politics is quite out of the question.

Football is removed from the rest of the world. It sits on a shelf above society. It’s only a game. Entertainment others would say. The game’s intellectuals treat it as such, except for the occasional break in the ranks to make a point; singular, of course. So, a whole system of knowledge exists as if outside of our society, a place unto itself. My friends discuss it as if it is absent a context. Football for them creates its own context. So, would it be wrong to say it is a social system unto itself? I think not. Football for many is society. It peppers every conversation, each day devoted to it, and family and friends gather to enjoy it.

So, I sit on the couch and do not know what to do. Should I break protocol and offer these insights about football’s social construction? Highly unlikely they would care. Do I state that the commentators create boundaries to their conversations? They would never see this as nefarious, stating that of course the commentators focus only on the game. “That is what they are paid for, Andy.” As if they are no longer a part of society, as if they can abdicate ethical duty, because that is what they are paid for by Disney. Yet, maybe that is how people want it. A sport disconnected from society, but playing a crucial in society, is all the people ever wanted. An escape, a way to be “smart” without doing science and be on par with your intellectuals who concur with your sentiments on player such and such and team A, B, or C.

And this all shows at bottom how little social scientific knowledge has penetrated into the public mind. For most, this is all a matter of opinion. Sport, as a societal question, is considered to be just a question of whether or not you can enjoy it as entertainment; not a serious intellectual question. But, is it an opinion to say football is a social construction? This seems clearly to be a fact, at least a social fact. I personally blame the social scientists. They ceded their glory to the new intellectuals, the sports commentator. Or maybe they just lost out, because we want to be entertained. No matter, we must find a way to reconnect sports to society, to break down sport’s pedestal. Otherwise, I fear, their intellectuals will beat out ours for deciding the debate. Schaub or Keenum anyone? What dreary questions we have to look forward to. At least there is Dave Zirin.

Andrew Smolski is building his own micro-politics of desire little by little and brick by brick doing his part to rebuild the dreams of the oppressed, such as himself, for multiple better worlds. He can be reached at andrew.smolski@gmail.com

Andrew Smolski is a writer and sociologist.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail