With Regard to the Footballs

One of the top comments on yesterday's post about a picture of Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen all geared up for the Super Bowl came from NGEFAN, who wrote: "I've never understood the dislike/indifference towards American football and sports in general that people have on here." On that point, I'd like to clarify something.

Top image via Badass Digest

When I wrote that my attitudes towards NFL matchups tend to fall somewhere on the spectrum between "indifferent and aggressively indifferent," it was only to say just that: I'm indifferent about football – when I say I am "aggressively" so, I mean to say that I remain indifferent, in spite of an aggressive attempt at not being indifferent about it.

I have put serious effort into getting excited about football. I've read up on player stats, pored over team and player backstories, investigated the technical aspects of the game, and even participated in a couple of fantasy leagues. As a result, I possess what I think could best be described as a bookish appreciation for the allure of the game. What I'm clearly missing is something more visceral – an ineffable spark of fandom, an experience rooted in tradition, or perhaps a sense of devotion to what communications professor Michael Serazio so keenly identifies in this piece for The Atlantic as "the civic religion" that sports have come to embody in modern culture:

In fandom, as in religious worship, our social connections are brought to life, in the stands as in the pews. It serves as a reminder of our interconnectedness and dependency; it materially indexes belonging. Like others, I indulge the royal "we" when speaking of my team, though there is little evidence they need me much beyond ticket sales, merchandise, and advertising impressions. Nonetheless, as [French sociologist Émile Durkheim] long ago noticed, "Members of each clan try to give themselves the external appearance of their totem [Ed. Note: The "totem" concept, conceived of by Durkheim, is encapsulated by Serazio elsewhere in his essay as something that "gives believers a physical representation of that need for identity and unity"]... When the totem is a bird, the individuals wear feathers on their heads." Ravens fans surely understand this.

Whatever I'm missing, its absence is conspicuous. It's why you'll find me in front of my laptop writing stiff, alien-in-a-human-suit statements like "I have put serious effort into getting excited about football" and not in front of my television watching pre-game coverage through the eye-slits of a Broncos mask, or worrying about tonight's kickoff time.

This, to belabor the point, is not to say that I dislike football, or people who take pleasure in watching or playing it – and it's certainly not to say that I am in some way above enjoying it. One of the things NGEFAN raises is the possibility that "media coverage and the people who support the sports, in addition to some of the more outspoken and less intelligent athletes, have given many sports a bad rep among more intelligent communities such as this one." That may be true in some circles, but I'm inclined to believe that, for the most part, even stereotypically intelligent, nerdy and geeky communities are positively rife with rabid sports fans. This is certainly the case in my own social spheres, and my spheres can intellectualize, geek and nerd with the best of them. If anything, I wish I cared MORE about football, or sports in general. I just don't.

And before someone brings this up, let me admit that I can and do enjoy drawing attention to my lack of interest in sports, if only to alert others to the fact that, if you invite me over to watch a game at your house, I will spend most of my time not on the couch, but making friends with the nearest bowl of guacamole. Or talking your ear off about an interesting, football-themed map. There's also a very real possibility that I will at some point compliment the zone defense of the rival team, and you need to understand why I'm inclined to say things like that, even when your home team is getting utterly trounced.

There is, of course, a difference between indifference or disinterest and the caustic, even resentful tone that people can take when counter-signaling they do not belong to the ranks of football enthusiasts, or sports-lovers in general. I have zero patience for this brand of anti-membership. Jesse Galef – the former Communications Director for the Secular Student Alliance and co-creator of Measure of Doubt, a fantastic blog dedicated to rationality, science and philosophy – gave a great opposition to this line of thinking in a recent Facebook status update:

...yes, upon reflection, it seems silly to glorify a person for shoving an egg-shaped ball across an arbitrary plane. Or to glorify a person for vibrating their vocal chords in a particular way. Or a person blowing air through hammered metal tubes and reeds.

If you want make a case against getting excited about football, make it about the risk of concussions or the exploitation of college athletes. Don't do it by making fun of your fellow citizens for enjoying contests of athleticism and strategy.

Go Broncos.

That's all for now, sportsfans. I'm glad we had this talk. Let's continue it in the comments, shall we?