Friday, December 05, 2014

Steve Almond: Against Football

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Some of these "manifesto" books are really annoying- like, 5 pages in, you're like, "we GET it already!" But Steve Almond (who, it turns out, is Barbara Almond's son) has written a "reluctant manifesto" for a football fan. Football is in the news: concussions, sexual assault, etc. Almond deals with all of these things without (watch it) beating readers over the head with it.

Football a huge sport in the United States: according to Almond, the NFL will get "$5 billion from TV rights alone," which is 3 times more than MLB (who knew?). He argues that this makes us not just fans but consumers: "Our money and attention are what subsidize the game." So even if we are sitting on our couches watching the game, we're not innocent: this TV money is almost half of the league's revenue. We're bystanders, but we're also the consumers that the League is trying to please. Football is a TV game: if consumers want to see violent hits and slow motion replays of the hits, that's what football is going to be. Why change?

Almond is good on a lot of fronts, including masculinity: "We worship players for bravery and excoriate them for vulnerability because we wish to see masculine ideals on display. But I think here also of Cicero, who speculated that the loathing for timid gladiators wasn't a function of their diminished entertainment value but the fact that they forced spectators to confront the profound heartlessness of the game." He's good on money: apparently the salary of a quarterback could pay 474 elementary school teachers, 440 paramedics or 661 police officers in Minnesota. That's a new twist on the stadium conversation, huh? He's good on class: who are these people who end up playing football, and what do we do with them when we're "done" with them (read: when they're no longer good on the field)? He points out that this is just another way that football is similar to war: think of young poor soldiers getting shipped out to fight and then tossed away when they return (or don't) from war. He's even good on my favorite thing: sports and religion!

Basically, I really like this book. It's a fast read, and you don't even have to know football to enjoy it. It doesn't hurt that Almond beats himself up repeatedly for being a Raiders fan. I mean, a RAIDERS fan! Try it.