Football: Protestant, Catholic, or Other?

An interesting discussion at dotCommonweal about American football. To the question, I’d have to say that if anything, football is to Christianity as Christianity is to Judaism. Check that, football is sort of like one particular rite (like the Ambrosian or the Sarum) in the context of the larger Church, which in this instance, is the Culture of the West. Maybe it arose from Christian values, but the rite has taken on a life of its own, complete with its own set of Sunday cathedrals, its own orthodoxy, its radical adherents, converts, and true believers.

Football can be an enjoyable experience. I really loved playing. My own memorable moment was in my Scout troop’s annual football game one blustery September Saturday afternoon. It was a 7-7 game and we were likely to get called in soon to make dinner at our camp. A friend of mine and I penetrated the offensive line on one of the last plays: he caused a fumble and I picked up the loose ball and scored the deciding touchdown. I can still see that experience in my mind more than thirty years later.

I’ve watched tv football since I was about thirteen. I can remember my dad commenting about George Blanda slinging the pigskin into his forties. And placekicking. These two bits steered me to being a Raiders’ fan through most of the 70’s. After high school, I tended to watch less–no more six-hour marathons in front of the tv with my dad and brother.

My family enjoyed last night’s game. My wife rooted for Pittsburgh, and I went for the underdog as usual. The young miss sided with me, and by halftime, her mom was a convert. We enjoyed a nice ritual meal in front of the tube: cheese in lumps and nut logs, summer sausage, crackers, salsa and chips, snack mix, big glasses of milk and soda, and to celebrate in style, a whole box of petits fours. (Most of the food was courtesy of late Christmas gifts from my mom and sister–finally arrived on Friday.)

In football, admirable things happen, especially the triumph over adversity and the unity (but not uniformity!) of a team effort. There were many admirable people and events in last night’s game. And there was a whole lot of crass commercialism and shilling going on, and I don’t just mean the ads. The horse spots were cute, the Star Trek trailer new, and the sexism just there enough to remind every non-man this is a man’s game; women and children are at the Supe as guests. Occasionally awkward guests at that.

I’ve lived in two NFL cities (Chicago and Kansas City) and in the exclusive fandom territory of two others (Lions and Bills). I can attest to the ritual behavior that’s connected with American football. It supercedes family commitments, church events, and sometimes work. Reportedly, the quietest time for the internet is not 4AM, but during the Super Bowl. It is also the day in which the most women report abuse from the man in their life. There is that undercurrent of rich folks scamming the best they can get from communities in terms of cushy stadium perks and all. As with religion, there’s a lot of injustice against which to protest. And clearly, many Christians have forsaken the old Sunday wineskins for a new Master.

What do I say to the question in the title? Football shares many of the attributes of a faith–good and bad. It seems like a newfangled religion, a post-Christian exercise that buys into the best of human expression (unity, struggle, sacrifice) while hyping the worst (lust, greed, manipulation, and addiction).


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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One Response to Football: Protestant, Catholic, or Other?

  1. Liam says:

    A correction:

    The abuse thing is urban myth – though I’ve read the myth-busting in a number of different pieces over the years, Snopes is the handy universal (if not always quite as accurate as people think) solvent:

    I am mystified at the love for professional American football. So much inaction, such an altar to advertising. Watch high-school football and untelevised college football if you want to actually see something resembling a real game.

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