A provocative, thoughtful examination of an “astonishingly brutal” sport.
Almond's (God Bless America: Stories, 2011, etc.) lifelong devotion to football has never wavered, but he calls for its overhaul because he can no longer in good conscience ignore the cumulative and catastrophic results of repetitive injuries to players' bodies or the prevalence of cognitive brain damage among NFL retirees. The author is not a scold or curmudgeon; he honors the sport and writes expressively that football is “a faithful reenactment of our fundamental athletic impulses…to run, leap [and] catch.” Football is astoundingly popular—“Americans now give football more attention than any other cultural endeavor”—and Almond quotes critic William Phillips regarding its popularity, much of which is “due to the fact that it makes respectable the most primitive feelings about violence, patriotism, manhood.” Almond shares comical recollections of football's role in his life and anecdotes of how fandom brings people (particularly parents and children) together. Two of his proposed remedies to the current merciless state of football are a mandatory parental discretion warning before games and the revoking of the NFL’s nonprofit status, which soaks taxpayers for as much as 70 percent of the costs of new arenas while the multimillionaire (and some billionaire) team owners often pay little. The author posits that fans are ethically obligated to push for change because “We’re consumers. Our money and attention are what subsidize the game,” and he presents a compelling argument that Americans' “allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia.” Almond rightfully anticipates significant push back for this book, which raises difficult, uncomfortable questions about fandom—e.g., “What does it mean that millions of white fans cheer wildly for African-American men in the context of a football game when, if they encountered these same men on a darkened street, they would reach for a cellphone?”
Comic, compassionate and thought-provoking.