Here’s today’s xkcd:
It’s true that not knowing much about sports is culturally isolating, far more so than not knowing much about meteorology or space probes. In the USA, where xkcd creator Randall Munroe and I both live, ignorance of American football* is more isolating than ignorance of meteorology and space probes even among faculty and students of universities with departments of meteorology and aerospace, as witness the relative pay scales and promotion schedules of football coaches and professors of those subjects.
Considering how much money and power are put into promoting football in the USA, it is simply absurd to claim that football fans are vulnerable to some kind of power that an individual acquires by not caring about the sport. Whether or not you care about football, if you live in the USA you have no choice but to pay taxes that subsidize football, to seek employment in businesses managed by people whose small talk consists largely of discussions of football, to receive news and entertainment through media outlets that are saturated with football, and to be educated in schools where football is enshrined as the supreme collective experience.
Indeed, Americans are so heavily incentivized to like football, and football games are so intensively covered by US media, that I find it hard to believe that there are a great many people in the USA who haven’t tried to like football. I suspect most Americans who dislike football simply find it impossible to overcome the stupefying tedium of watching a bunch of costumed men standing around doing nothing for hours at a time, and that most who complain about football or mock football fans resent the power that football has in American social life.
I would hasten to add that the experience of playing football isn’t dominated by the 90% of the time that players spend standing around doing nothing. I have far more vivid memories from my high school days of the 9% of the time that players spend striking and holding poses in formation. I remember the many times I was called off-sides, which in football means that a player is posing incorrectly. While from the spectator’s perspective football is like staring at people milling about at a bus station, from the player’s perspective it is much more like being a fashion model.
There is so little action of any kind in an American football game that I cannot help but be suspicious of the reports one hears about the rates at which players suffer head injuries. I find it particularly incredible that the almost perfectly immobile players of the National Football League can all suffer concussions during their games. Perhaps they all sustain heavy blows to the head before coming onto the field, and that’s why they do so little during the game.
A blog post today by Rod Dreher reminds me of a hypothesis of mine about how football became so popular in the USA in the twentieth century. Dreher quotes and comments on a conversation between Jon Ronson and Adam Curtis about how financial institutions and financial markets are able to exercise enormous power without much public scrutiny simply because their operations strike most people, including most reporters and certainly most politicians, as intolerably dull. I suspect that the average American is aware of the fact that a high threshold for boredom is key to gaining wealth, power, and high status in our society, and that as this awareness grew in the last century football, the most boring of sports, crowded out boxing, horse racing, and ultimately even baseball to become not only the king of American sports, but the lingua franca of social interaction in corporate America.
*Hereinafter referred to simply as “football,” because this post is all about conditions within the USA.