Why you should watch American Football

by Doug Muir on January 24, 2024

No, I’m not kidding.  The US football season is wrapping up with its usual bang: two playoff games this weekend, then the Super Bowl two weeks later.  So if you’ve never checked it out, this might be a time.

So, in the spirit of philosophical discussion, let’s start with some reasons you might not want to watch American football.

— “I don’t consume media about team sports.  The exploitation and commodification of the players, the hysteria of the fans, the endless advertisements, the disgusting late-capitalist excess generally, all appall me.”

Okay so 1) this is a perfectly defensible and legitimate philosophical position, and 2) you can stop reading now.  I’m trying to explain to a bunch of white meat fans why beef is actually pretty great, and you’re a vegetarian.  Nothing wrong with being a vegetarian, it’s great, but this post isn’t for you.

— “It’s complicated.”

It really isn’t.  The basic concept is dirt simple.  You’re trying to move the ball up the field.  You get four tries to move the ball ten yards from where you started.  Fail and you lose the ball.  Bam.  Yes, the details get fractally complex, but that’s true of almost all sports. 

If you can understand the offsides rule in soccer, you can understand American football.  If you can understand cricket… come on.

— “It’s stop and go!  As soon as the action starts, it stops!”

Feature, not bug.  Sports like basketball, soccer or hockey are constant-action.  Baseball, cricket and football are interrupted-action.  But football is better, because football is deeply iterative in a way that baseball or cricket really aren’t.  Every play depends on every previous play.  Every play changes every future play.  The time between plays gives you, the watcher, time to curse, applaud, and then analyze or second guess what’s going to happen next.

— “It’s an American thing!”

This is not really football’s fault.  It’s kind of stuck in a bad equilibrium: it’s perceived as so very American that it’s quite difficult for it to break out of being American.  That said, there are a couple of German football leagues, and it looks like the sport is starting to catch on in Europe generally.

(I’ve said for years that if it weren’t so “American”, football would be a perfect fit for Russians: it combines strength and toughness with cool-headed chess-playing strategy.  Certainly the few Russians I’ve met who follow it, follow it hard.)   (Oddly, they’re mostly Eagles fans.  No idea.)

— “It’s a brutal sport that does lasting damage to bodies and brains!”

Okay, so this is a palpable hit.  Football /is/ very hard on the body, and it /does/ lead to an increased probability of long-term health problems and — most horribly — cognitive issues.  That’s no small thing.

Philosophically, this gets into some deep waters fast.  It’s statistical, most players are fine!  Yeah, so it’s okay to brain-damage players if it’s just a few?  The players are informed and accept the risks!  Oh?  Most players start between ages 12 and 16; you’re going to tell me a middle schooler can thoughtfully evaluate long-term risk?  Etc., etc., etcetera.  The arguments are fractal, and I won’t rehash them here.  I acknowledge their strength, and I respect people who decide they can’t watch football because of the health / injury issue.

That said, two points.  One, there’s lots of stuff that’s objectively as bad or worse than football.  Jai alai, boxing, calcio storico, MMA, BMX cycling and motocross are all significantly more dangerous.  Ice hockey and lacrosse are statistically just about as bad.  Dear old rugby is less bad, but not by much.

Two, pretty much all sports run a risk, and a lot of them are riskier than you’d think — i.e., skiing and (especially) snowboarding are much more dangerous than most people care to know.  And there’s increasing evidence that even the beautiful game of soccer can cause long-term cognitive damage, because — quelle surprise! — heading thousands of high-velocity soccer balls over a decade or two isn’t actually good for your brain.  If you only want to watch stuff where there’s little or no danger of injury to the athletes, well, you’re basically talking table tennis and golf.  

Okay, then… why should you watch American football?

1)  It’s an extremely intelligent game.

I am not remotely kidding.  Football is probably the most strategically deep game of any major sport.  The rules are designed to encourage it!  Meanwhile, teams are unusually equal in terms of quality of players — see below — so they must rely on cleverness to win.

Football is regularly compared to chess, and that’s fair.  But really it’s more of a high-speed physical game of rock-paper-scissors.  The core of it is correctly guessing the other side’s play.  If you can do that consistently, you’ll win.  If not — and if they guess your plays consistently — you will lose.  And like all guessing games, it immediately becomes recursive (if he knows I know he’ll call a blitz, he won’t call a blitz, except he’ll also know that I know he knows, which means he will) and involves bluffing and deceit.

And not only is it a very smart game, it’s smart on a sliding scale.  That is, once you have a basic familiarity you can grasp the big strategies and understand what’s happening.  But as you learn more, you’ll understand more, and you’ll see the little fractal side-strategies — the operational and tactical levels, if you like.  It rewards attention no matter how much or little you know.  

A big part of the fun of watching it is trying to outguess the guys on the field.  “Armchair quarterback” and “Monday morning quarterback” are American idioms for a reason.  It’s also why football fans are perhaps the most likely to yell at a screen.  “He knew you were going to call a blitz!  Why did you call a blitz?”

2)  It’s an unusually balanced game.

It’s not possible for a Saudi billionaire or Russian oligarch to buy victory by throwing money at it.  That’s because the NFL has a complex set of systems — everything from salary caps to the draft — to ensure that teams have roughly equal access to quality players.  So when teams win or lose, they do it because of draft choices, coaching, strategy, and intangibles like locker room culture and team spirit.

Dynasties are relatively rare in football, and it’s been 20 years since anyone repeated a Super Bowl victory.  There are teams that stay bad for years on end — ask a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan — but they’re relatively rare.  And upset wins and Cinderella stories are more common than in most sports.  As the saying goes, on any given day, any NFL team can beat any other NFL team.  It’s almost true.

3) There’s not a lot of garbage time.

Garbage time starts when one team is so far ahead that there’s not much point in watching the rest of the game.  This can happen in any sport, but it’s rarer in football, because surprise swings and fourth-quarter comebacks are more common.   A team down by 10 points still has about a 20% chance of winning.  A team down by 17 points (three scores, roughly comparable to being down 0-3 in soccer) still has about a 6% chance of winning.   It’s the rock-paper-scissors thing:  by the second half, a competent team has had a chance to spot the patterns, crack the code, and come up with a counter.

4) Every game counts.

There are 38 matches in a Premiere League season.  English First Class cricket, 36 matches. NBA basketball, 82 games; NHL hockey, same. Baseball, 162 games, basically about one a day.

NFL football has just 17 games per year.  

Each game is its own mini-campaign.  Each game has its own story.  And each game /matters/.  Losing a single game in football is like losing five basketball games or eight baseball games, all at once.  If you’ve ever wondered why a football fan in your life was so weirdly mopey some Monday mornings?  This is why.

5)  It’s so goddamn beautiful sometimes.

Yes, every sport has beautiful moments.  But football is a violent sport of sudden wild action. So when the seeming chaos on the field suddenly crystallizes into order, it’s just that much more striking.  The pass connects.  The defense swings two linemen like a door, and suddenly the quarterback falls.  The blockers move just so, and a lane is opened, and the runner is through, heading for daylight.  The defense guesses correctly, the cornerback picks the ball out the air, interception.  

If you aren’t interested in opera then it’s just a bunch of people in silly costumes singing in foreign languages.  If you do understand, it can break your heart.  Football is like that, except you don’t need to learn chord progressions or study Italian.  Once you understand what you’re seeing, watching Patrick Mahomes is like watching Mozart.  It’s like watching Mozart if Mozart had to finish his piece before three big guys threw him out of a window.

I could go on, but this is long enough already.  So, TLDR: American football is actually pretty great, and you should give it a chance.  Failing that, perhaps this gives at least some idea why some people in your life may love it so much.



Martin Holterman 01.24.24 at 5:55 pm

I don’t think you can call something an “intelligent game” if the players follow the instructions from the sidelines, telling them where to move and what to do.


NomadUK 01.24.24 at 6:55 pm

Everything in the first reason not to watch, plus it’s stupidly named, inasmuch as the foot connects with the ball only very infrequently, thus requiring a modifier to distinguish it from real football.


divelly 01.24.24 at 7:04 pm

It’s boring.
Kickoff-3 minutes of TV Ads.
No KO return-3 mins of TV Ads.
Huddle- 30 secs of guys bending over.
A fb play finally-5 secs of somebody throwing the ball.
More Huddle.
So a 60 min. game is lasts 2.5 hrs on TV, with 1.5 hrs. of Ads,
12 mins. of Football ,and 48 mins of standing around.Yuck!


SamChevre 01.24.24 at 8:28 pm

I like both on occasion, but this does really remind me of the dsquared classic In Praise of Budweiser.


hix 01.24.24 at 8:32 pm

Player health/exploitation is a much larger issue than usual, so to just address concerns with a generic anti competitive entertainment sport statement approach does not do it in this case.


Robert M. Farley 01.24.24 at 9:01 pm

Agree with everything in the OP… I’m just here anticipating a really entertaining trainwreck of a comment thread…


Chris 01.24.24 at 9:07 pm

Err, there are 14 matches in English first-class cricket, and surely both cricket and baseball are at least as iterative as football? Fielders will shift position, if only subtly, between almost every ball and as batters adjust (and, in baseball depending also on outs and players on base). Football honestly seems far less about play-by-play adaptation than either of those sports.


Robert Weston 01.24.24 at 9:09 pm

Excellent post. You’ve summarized it beautifully – it’s an ultra-violent game of chess. A couple of things, though:

Like it or not, American gridiron is a gladiator sport and it takes a terrible toll on those who play it. I get your point about boxing, for instance (talk about a gladiator sport), but the health impact of football is understood well enough nowadays that parents, including former players, won’t let their kids play it. I mean, we’re talking about retired pros losing feeling in their extremities in their thirties, to say nothing of dementia.
Then, there’s the game’s racial stratification. Those who own the pro teams, those who manage and coach pro and college teams, as well as those who can afford to go see games, are white, by and large. Most of those who play it are black. Of course, we know to what group the physical toll falls.

To be sure, coaching opportunities for African-Americans have significantly improved over the past three decades. Yet, only two black coaches have won a Super Bowl, once each (out of 57 played). In addition, blacks have a much narrower path to head coaching jobs: They’re usually defensive coordinators or defensive position coaches before ascending to the top.

By contrast, the up-and-coming generation of young, offensive-minded head coaches seen as whiz kids, often in their thirties, who credited with running imaginative offensive schemes – those are invariably white. Black offensive coordinators very seldom get these opportunities.

To be clear: The game itself is just brilliant on a number of levels, even as it reflects our societal messes.

Incidentally, your headline and opening sentence are very revealing in implying how many still believe it’s just a game of dumb jocks destroying each other.


??? 01.24.24 at 9:12 pm

@Martin Holterman

Even if we granted that players never switch the play on the field or switch their tactics mid-play (both of which happen), this is like saying that chess isn’t an intelligent game because the pieces just do whatever the person moving them makes them do.


D 01.24.24 at 9:15 pm

The players are amazing atheletes and perform remarkable feats all-game long.


Seekonk 01.24.24 at 9:21 pm

“It’s a brutal sport that does lasting damage to bodies and brains!”
I watch a fair amount of American football, but increasingly less because of the brutality. I find that as the players have gotten bigger and faster, the collisions and the resulting injuries are more and more unnerving.

”The exploitation and commodification of the players, the hysteria of the fans, the endless advertisements, the disgusting late-capitalist excess generally, all appall me.”
This. I’m a vestigial Packer fan, but most of my fandom is negative. Among the players, coaches, announcers, owners, networks, and markets, I can almost always find someone to root against. For example, I hate-watched the University of Colorado football games last year because I don’t like coach Deion Sanders.


mtmkvr 01.24.24 at 9:29 pm

Rather than requiring real stamina, actual eye/hand skills, and cohesive on-field decision-making by the players, all but a few participants simply use strength and/or speed to methodically execute/stymie the plans of a pair of super-authority figures on the sidelines. Most players are even prohibited from touching the ball except under very particular circumstances. With sixty or so subordinate participants each fulfilling very narrowly-defined roles in carefully-spaced 6 to 8-second bursts of action amounting to 11-12 minutes of activity over a period of three-plus hours, it is certainly a spectacle, but a sport it is not. “Violent outdoor bureaucratic contest” is a more accurate description.


Lynne 01.24.24 at 9:37 pm

I am old and know virtually nothing about football, but what I do know, I learned watching Netflix’s series, Quarterback. It was hugely enjoyable! In one episode (4, IIRC) you see these quarterbacks working out their plays and the calls they will use—unbelievably complicated! And then Patrick Mahomes watches a replay of part of a game and suddenly to see what he sees—so, so interesting. Really the series was a revelation. It didn’t lead me to actually watch football, but I am hoping for a Season 2 of Quarterback.


MPAVictoria 01.24.24 at 9:37 pm

I sometimes wish I had whatever gene or personality quirk that makes someone enjoy watching sports on TV. Having a team to cheer for seems fun and a good way to make friends but every time I try I lose interest. Going to a live game is fun but who has the money or the time to do that regularly?

Anyway I guess what I am saying is I am glad other people enjoy it and wish you all happy viewing!

/That said spending public money on things like stadiums is outrageous and should be opposed by everyone.


oldster 01.24.24 at 9:42 pm

I grew up playing football as a kid, never on organized teams, simply in the neighborhood, where pick-up games of football were as common as pick-up games of football (aliter dictum) are in most of the rest of the world. All it takes is a half-dozen kids, toss in a ball, and there’s your game.
But I have stopped watching it over the decades, because the occasional injuries are so horrendous that they take the joy out of it. I was even more horrified when I learned that some teams were paying their players bounties for injuring the members of the other team. That’s appalling.
Plus, the players have grown grotesquely large and heavy. Injuries are even more likely, and even more damaging, when players weigh 300 pounds.
I agree that it has moments of beauty, moments when the comparisons to Mozart are not utterly laughable. A Mahomes or a Barry Sanders can spark the same joy in humanity that a Pele or Ronaldinho can. I sometimes take a few minutes and watch highlight reels from the games. That way I can see all of the beauty in five minutes, instead of spending two or three hours on it. And the highlight reels cut out the horrible moments when someone’s joints are wrenched asunder, or when someone’s brain is permanently injured.
I agree with most of what you say in football’s favor. But if the sport were disbanded tomorrow, I think the world would not be a worse place.


Lee D Brimmicombe-Wood 01.24.24 at 9:49 pm

In the UK American Football came to our screens in 1982, soon after the launch of Channel 4. Enough folks caught on that amateur leagues started and in the mid-80s I doung myself helping run one of those teams. The early days of the UK leagues came at a time when football (soccer) was at a nadir. This was pre-Premier League, and violence at matches was still a problem. Heysel and Bradford had happened. Football was still the main sport but some people thought this American Football thing might catch on. And it kinda did, at an amateur to semi-pro level. I won’t go into the politics of the British leagues. I was involved and let’s say there were too many people trying to make money. I also saw Americans who’d never played past high school thrust into coaching positions because they had knowledge the British lacked. It was a shitshow. I was there. It nearly killed me. I’d do it all over again. And I love my offensive line boys. They are everything.


J-D 01.24.24 at 10:12 pm

Football is regularly compared to chess, and that’s fair. But really it’s more of a high-speed physical game of rock-paper-scissors.

Now explain why there’s such a tiny audience for rock-paper-scissors.


Michael 01.24.24 at 10:27 pm

For those who say football is boring I suppose that’s fair enough. As the stakes get higher (playoffs) I think that argument falls away. Much like the Stanley Cup playoffs…the intensity is ratcheted up a few notches and it’s palpable if not downright thrilling to watch moment to moment.

But sticking to football, if your issue is boredom, allow me to introduce you to what is perhaps the single greatest invention in sports television history: NFL Red Zone. Produced by the NFL, the show covers every game and jumps to contests based on the importance of the current situation (often a team getting into scoring position). And multiple games can be shown at once using split screen, quad box, what have you with switching happening at a relatively rapid clip.

Having ADHD the show is utter bliss for me. However, many people without the condition swear by it as well. And why? Because jumping from one highly leveraged moment to another across all games is amazingly entertaining.

While it takes way the flow on intricacies of watching a game unfold moment to moment, it does eliminate what some might see as too slow of a pacing (did I mention RZ doesn’t do advertisements?). Outside of the playoffs, I can’t watch the NFL any other way. You can’t unsee perfection.

Whether that’s your thing or not you definitely can’t call RZ boring.


deiseach 01.24.24 at 10:34 pm

“A team down by 17 points (three scores, roughly comparable to being down 0-3 in soccer) still has about a 6% chance of winning”

This stat feels off. How many gridiron games end 0-0? A touchdown is nowhere near as valuable as a goal is in soccer.

In general, I have become moderately more interested in American football as my horizons have shrunk in other sports – I follow a handful of teams passionately where before I followed the sport as many levels. Any-given-Sunday is definitely a thing, and it at its best it can be genuinely balletic. I saw a player – Julio Jones, I think? – catch a ball and plant two sets ot toes on the ground inside the line like a giant Nureyev, and my jaw just dropped. In the end though, I can only take it in small doses. Those hits are too much. Sorry.


Gino Herron 01.24.24 at 10:41 pm

Started at 12, stopped after age 19 (one year of college ball). Sure, watch it and enjoy. Nothing that happened on the field, though, makes up for damage to my c- and l-spine (plus a knee) that prevents a good night’s sleep and limits what I’ve tried to enjoy from my 20s on. Most of the coaches emphasized using the head/helmet as a weapon (I was a DL). I didn’t have sons, so I avoided THAT conversation.


craig fritch 01.24.24 at 10:55 pm

I disagree that the players are puppets played from the sidelines. The men on the field have to have an intellectual mastery of plays, and the QB has to make in-the-moment decisions on a play, which in turn is understood by his team.
Yes it’s gladiatorial. Only human to enjoy that sort of thing. The majority of players are Black. The race is physically gifted. At least they are paid! The real shame is that otherwise they would be denied the opportunity that White folks have.
I do not follow celebrities. Actors are just names one’s heard before. Football gives me that experience. Shout=out th Pete Caroll!!!!.


Tyler 01.24.24 at 11:42 pm

@mtmkvr I’m gonna assume you’re Dunning-Krugering rather than trolling.

“Rather than requiring real stamina, actual eye/hand skills, and cohesive on-field decision-making by the players, all but a few participants simply use strength and/or speed”

While your comments are patently false to even the casual observer when it comes to the “skill positions” (a term I hate, because it implies the other positions don’t require skill), they remain pure nonsense when applied to almost every other position in the game.

Offensive linemen are not the highest paid (non-QB group, though two OL positions on average make more than QBs in the NFL) players simply because they are big and strong. Big and strong are a dime a dozen, and anyone with a passing familiarity with the sport knows one of the most difficult things in professional football is finding good linemen… because the combination of strength and size and skill required to play the position at the professional level is so rare. The particularities of that last part—the skill required—is why the college –> pros pipeline for the OL is so difficult.

But, let’s look at it this way: your logic has a clear empirical implication. Go look at Combine data and build a toy model predicting when players are taken in the draft. If speed and size are not the most predictive (hint: they’re not), your claims fall apart.

Hey, there’s another empirical implication of your argument: no one but the handful of positions requiring skill have to practice, they just spend their days in the weight room/doing wind sprints!

You don’t have to like it. You can find it boring. But it’s a galaxy-brained take to think it doesn’t require skill.

The equivalent to your position is me saying “soccer (association football) is just 20 people running around making it up as they go along, hoping they get lucky and get something past the other 2 players.” That would be a really stupid thing to say, eh?


JPL 01.25.24 at 1:23 am

I had lost interest in American football and had developed negative beliefs about it, like the ones above, but, after returning to this country after many years overseas to Detroit, I had the opportunity of watching Barry Sanders every weekend. That’s when I understood about beauty in football, watching him evade all those monstrous tacklers, and I fell in love with the game. I’ve been so sad since he retired (at the top of his game), and I wish he had had a team like the current Lions. (The Lions have never been to a Super Bowl, but this year they finally have a chance.) Go Lions!


Alexander 01.25.24 at 1:39 am

Lord knows I have tried to turn my back on football. I’m a Cowboys fan and between thirty years of my team’s ineptitude and the league’s skinflintedness towards retired players battling health issues who didn’t make millions of dollars a year in their day I’ve given myself plenty of reason to just turn my back and fully embrace my other loves, soccer and basketball. But the game is just so incredibly complex and beautiful to watch, and I just haven’t found anything in any other sports that matches the intensity of the NFL playoffs (every game is a game 7 of an NBA playoff series!) And there’s always a story line, always multiple story lines every year, often more than one for some teams, at least one for every game, that there is just no end to the drama from the first hike of the season to the very last. I’ve been mad at football before, and I will be again, but I know now I’ll never stop watching.


Bob Smith 01.25.24 at 2:05 am

In reply to NomadUK.
Real football, by which I assume you mean soccer, is not called football in the UK because the players primarily use their foot to kick the ball. The term football was, and is, used for a number of different sports all played by people on foot, as opposed to the more aristocratic sports played on horseback. Association football, which in the Engish speaking world outside of the UK is called by its original UK nickname, soccer, is simply one of a number of current sports that are called football, i.e. Gridiron football, Rugby football, Gaelic football and Australian rules football. Given that soccer started as a variant of rugby, perhaps rugby fans should start complaining about soccer fans calling their sport football.


dexitroboper 01.25.24 at 2:26 am

It’s nowhere near as fun to watch as Australian Rules Football


Andre Kenji de Sousa 01.25.24 at 2:29 am

I think that this post would make more sense as a debate about American style leagues(With draft, sallary cap and other balancing mechanisms) versus the traditional confederation style with relegation used in the rest of the world. In this sense, there is a huge difference between the MLS and other leagues with similar level.

I love the NFL, but yes, it would be a different game(And maybe even unwatchable) with Real Madrid or MAnchester City style dominance of teams.


JakeB 01.25.24 at 2:41 am

I stopped watching football a few years ago because of the physical trauma issues, but I found I couldn’t stay away. There’s nothing else like it in terms of the complexity of the game, and the amazing variety of skills of the players.


Neville Morley 01.25.24 at 6:08 am

To quote Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “I just think it’s rather odd that a nation that prides itself on its virility should feel compelled to strap on forty pounds of protective gear just in order to play rugby.”


Ken_L 01.25.24 at 6:15 am

During a winter I once spent touring the US with a friend, we went to a crowded bar in Palm Springs where they had a big screen TV showing something I believe was called the “Super Bowl”. Nothing happened for several hours of commercials interrupted occasionally by armored athletes lumbering around a paddock. Finally we thought it was all over and we asked someone who won. They said it was only half time.

We left to visit the cactus garden, which was much more interesting.


Alan White 01.25.24 at 6:43 am

I’ve always enjoyed the game. As a child in the Southern USA I became a Packers fan during the 60s because, well, they were good. As an adult I moved to Wisconsin as a UW professor and became part of the regional fan base. In the interim I lived in California and was a Raiders fan as well, but that has waned over the years due to them moving from Oakland to LA and then back to Oakland and now Vegas, all away from near Oakland where I lived for 10 years.. All this taught me something–US football has become the secularized replacement for religion in a strongly regionalized way. It’s mostly played on Sunday, fans have a blind devotion that approaches worship, and just like what we see in even current religious wars, there is something akin to hatred for perceived direct rivals (think Packers and Bears). It fills some sort of need for such group identity, and MAGA politics has dipped into that well too. So it has a high degree of irrationality too–fans watch the exact same instant replays and divide almost exactly on the same evidence on who’s to blame. All pro sports discovered the profitability of fandom qua devotion first with baseball, but only football–both US and the first football–soccer–tapped into the fervor by dint of the increased pace of the games. It’s like the growth of evangelicalism and MAGA in its own way–the more generated emotion, the more overall profitability. The fact that my Fitbit shows a very increased heartrate near the end of many Packer games tells me something. I am invested in ways that are not really rational by something like Stoic standards of evaluation. Watching football–its display of skill, its tactical course, its chancy nature of play, its possession of some of my group identity–is something I now cannot not do.


H C Carey 01.25.24 at 8:22 am

I agree with article for the most part, but a couple things that kill it for me:

college football. massively expensive, massively exploitative.
ratio of action to non-action is horrible. Too many pauses to allow commercials


John Q 01.25.24 at 8:34 am

The implied comparator here is European Association Football (aka soccer). It’s the only important football code without some form of equalising mechanism (salary cap, draft etc) allowing an oligarch to buy a premiership, and ensuring that a handful of teams dominate for decades. And it’s the only football code where it makes sense to hold on grimly to a 1-0 lead (or maybe to 0-0 if the rankings are right).

As others have suggested , Australian Rules has all the advantages listed above, and doesn’t have absurdities like separate defensive and offensive teams, and no offside rule. It was even better when teams were only allowed two substitutions in the course of a 120 minute game, forcing lots of positional play. Now players are fitter and there are more substitutions so there are lots of long scrimmages.


Chris Bertram 01.25.24 at 10:53 am

It seems odd to judge association football by the fact that its top leagues are so skewed by money. Indeed they are, but the game is played by millions of people at all levels. We’re in the middle of the African Cup of Nations at the moment, and many of the people watching all over the continent will also have engagement with the sport in their neighbourhood. The world has voted with its feet (and with its tv remotes) and American football, Aussie Rules, Rugby League (which is basically American football without the pauses and padding) etc etc just aren’t taking off as mass sports anywhere outside their parochial bases.


Matt 01.25.24 at 11:18 am

Going to a live game is fun but who has the money or the time to do that regularly?

My older brother (and usually his wife) go to the local university football and basketball games very regularly. (It’s sort of a surprise to me that he’s such a fan these days, as he didn’t even go to university, but he seems to be really in to going to the games.) I’d guess he goes to 4-5 football games (that is, most of the home games) and maybe 10-15 or more basketball games per year. I don’t think they are especially expensive for the seats they get. It wouldn’t really interest me, but he seems to have a good time.

The last time I really enjoyed going to live sports was minor league baseball in NY City with colleagues after work. We went a few times to see that Staten Island Yankees – the “rookie league” team of the NY Yankees. The baseball itself isn’t great – it’s basically kids, from 17-19 years old, the youngest minor league players, and very few will make the major leagues. But, the tickets are cheap, you sit close to the action, they have specials on (okay) beer and hot dogs, and you chat and have fun w/ some people after work from time to time. I did enjoy that once in a while. I’ve never been to an NFL game, but I suspect it’s a different sort of atmosphere.

“… should feel compelled to strap on forty pounds of protective gear just in order to play rugby”

Interestingly, the protective gear probably makes the game more dangerous – w/o it, it would be impossible to take the sorts of hits, by mean of the size and speed of the NFL, and not be hurt instantly. But it doesn’t do enough to prevent a very large number of injuries (nor could it.) Rugby is safer because it’s not possible to hit each other so hard w/o the protective gear. It’s a bit paradoxical, but true.


NomadUK 01.25.24 at 3:28 pm

BobSmith@25: Interesting point about the origin of the ‘foot’ bit. I wasn’t aware of that.


Association football, which in the Engish speaking world outside of the UK is called by its original UK nickname, soccer

But is it, really?


Association football is known as “football” in the majority of countries where English is an official language, such as the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth Caribbean (including Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Belize, Barbados, and others), Nepal, Malta, India, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Cameroon, Pakistan, Liberia, Singapore, Hong Kong and others, stretching over many regions including parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Central America. In North America and Australia (where approximately 70 per cent of native English speakers reside), soccer is the primary term.

And the comments on this post — admittedly comprising a small sample — are entertaining:-



Salem 01.25.24 at 3:48 pm

Given that soccer started as a variant of rugby, perhaps rugby fans should start complaining about soccer fans calling their sport football.

It might be closer to the truth to say that rugby is a variant of “soccer.” In the 19th-century, as people began writing down the rules of football, it became clear that the rules differed substantially across the country. There were a succession of attempts to agree on a comprehensive universal codification, culminating in the Football Association rules of 1863 i.e. Association Football, or football.

Everyone agreed that the rules should be based on the Cambridge Rules, an earlier attempt at a unifying set of rules. However, the Cambridge rules banned hacking (i.e. kicking opponents in the shins), and carrying the ball. A number of clubs (“hackers”) felt strongly that these practices should be legalised in the new rules, but after much controversy, a majority (“non-hackers”) decided against. The hackers felt strongly enough about the issue that they broke away, and 8 years later drew up their own codification – i.e. Rugby Football, or rugby. Ironically, that codification also forbade hacking, but did allow for carrying the ball. Both sports have changed their rules somewhat since then, but that remains the major point of difference.


reason 01.25.24 at 3:51 pm

When I went on a holiday to the USA and Canada (only did it once) I accidently saw a Montreal football team training. I find the sport strange because only extraterrestrials play it. The players were so huge they looked like a different species. It made it hard to me (small but fond of sports) to identify with it. Other games are played by normal humans.


Winston 01.25.24 at 4:03 pm

In the largest study ever conducted, the brains of every NFL player submitted for autopsy showed signs of CTE. Every single one.

Watching football, and thereby perpetuating it, is a deeply immoral act.


Doug Muir 01.25.24 at 4:55 pm

“In the largest study ever conducted, the brains of every NFL player submitted for autopsy showed signs of CTE. Every single one.”

The largest study (yet) was in 2018; it showed signs of CTE in 93%. You’re probably thinking of the smaller 2017 study, which found it in 99% of NFL brains. Still plenty bad enough!

However, some details:

1) Both studies were looking for clumps of tau proteins. Buildup of tau proteins causes CTE, but you can have some level of clumps without showing any cognitive or health issues.

2) You can’t look for protein clumps in live brains, so both studies were done on donated brains. Both studies openly acknowledge that there’s a huge methodological issue there. As one author notes, “brain bank samples are subject to selection biases.” You’re much more likely to donate your brain to science if you think there’s something going on with your brain.

3) The median age at death was 66. Assuming the brains were fresh-ish, that means guys who had their careers in the 1970s and 1980s. That’s long before CTE was even recognized as an issue. Protective equipment generally, and helmets in particular, were far less advanced and less safe than what is used now, and there were no head injury protocols in place — players with no-kidding concussions were regularly told to “walk it off” or sent back into play.

It’s a very different situation today. The NFL had to pay over $1 billion in settlements to former players, and it’s made them a lot more attentive to the issue. So, for instance, there was a huge outcry last year when it turned out the protocols had been skimped or ignored in order to keep the Dolphins quarterback playing; people got fired. None of this is to say things are fine now, but the issue has been acknowledged and a lot of money and attention has been thrown at it in the last decade.

(By way of comparison, boxing and MMA are still in denial about CTE. That’s despite the symptoms having first been spotted in boxers, decades before football players — it’s where we get the words “punchy” and “punch-drunk” — along with a mountain of evidence since.)

I don’t want to downplay or handwave any of this. CTE is a big and horrible issue. And we won’t know how well the safety equipment and protocols are working until years have passed and the current generation of players are retired. But “every NFL player gets CTE!” is not even close to true.

Doug M.


Peter Dorman 01.25.24 at 5:53 pm

I expected someone else to make this point, but no one has, so I will. The NFL has one sort-of socialist team, the Green Bay Packers, owned not by a real estate or tech mogul but by the people (many of them) of Green Bay and the surrounding region. From what I understand, this makes the ownership structure somewhat similar to German soccer teams — maybe a more knowledgeable person can correct me.

From what I can see, the single positive consequence of this arrangement is that a smallish town with famously inhospitable weather gets to have a professional football team. If it were owned in any other way it would have been long gone by now, and the good people of Green Bay would just have to subsist on snowmobile sports and fish boils. In other respects, the team is like any other. Its labor relations are no different, nor its tiered seating, nor its recruiting/strategy/performance. I have always taken this as an indication that socialism in the form of public (or fan) ownership does not in itself resolve most of the issues that matter. It does limit the reach of the billionaire class, but everything else is politics and business as usual.


Republies 01.25.24 at 8:08 pm

The smartest football players in history were Kirk Gibson, Brian Jordan,and bo Jackson before he played football


Rob Chametzky 01.25.24 at 8:26 pm

Three reasons I do not watch football

It is better on television than in person. Having been, many years ago, to two professional football games, I know this from experience. Being there in person means you have essentially NO IDEA what is happening, or what has just happened, on any given play (other than large facts such as: pass was caught/not caught). Any game that is so, so dramatically better to “experience” on television is, to my mind, deeply flawed. Note this is not true for pretty much every other sport. A sort of metareason not to watch on TV, I suppose.
There is no such thing as a “good football player”, as the requirements for goodnes at the different positions essentially do not overlap. This, again, is pretty much not true for every other sport–there are, of course, some positional exceptions: pitchers in baseball and goalies, for example. For some, an irrelevance; for others, a feature not a bug, perhaps. But, again, to my mind a deep flaw.
I watched (on TV) Super Bowl 3 (or “III” as they style them). Since then, it has all been down hill, and not worth the time. Though, as JPL @23 suggests, Barry Sanders (seen on highlight clips) was, indeed, a wonder to behold.

–Rob Chametzky


Matt 01.25.24 at 9:50 pm

The players were so huge they looked like a different species. It made it hard to me (small but fond of sports) to identify with it. Other games are played by normal humans.

Have you heard of basketball? There, players who are 6’3″ (190.5cm) are “small”, and at the position that has the shortest players! Many of the top swimmers are also of…unusual proportions, with very long arms (this is also a big thing in basketball these days) and quite tall. If by “other games” you mean “some other games”, well, yes, that’s true. But football is hardly alone here, even among sports with very high visibility and popularity.


Doug Muir 01.25.24 at 10:04 pm

Peter Dorman @41,

I actually wanted to talk about the Packers! But this post was long enough already. Perhaps another post, some other time.

To be fair, the Pack is just one team out of 32 — and the NFL has set up its rules so that there can’t ever be another team like it. They /are/ different, and some of their differences are consequential, but they’re stuck with the system that the other 31 owners impose. So they don’t really tell us what a different system — one where many or most or all teams were publicly owned — might look like.

Doug M.


Bob Smith 01.25.24 at 11:27 pm

Huh. That’s on me then. Didn’t even think of the Caribbean countries or other countries that use English as an official language. Was basing my belief on that map you linked to which shows Canada, the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Ireland call it soccer- although I note in the comments that Ireland definitely seems to disagree that they call it soccer. I do think the point I was trying to make stands, which is there are many different sports that can be described as football, and in English speaking countries where Association football is not the most popular form, it will be called soccer.


Peter Dorman 01.26.24 at 12:36 am

You could be right, Doug, although we’re unlikely to get an experiment. But let’s take one aspect of this as an example, the luxury skyboxes above Lambeau field. I’m sure we agree this is a bit of gilded age ugliness we could do without. But why did the Packers install it? They have no impetus to be profit-maximizing, right? Just solvent and athletically competitive. What does a choice like that mean for Packer-style ownership?

In fairness, I think a movement for a more egalitarian team-fan relationship, if it were to materialize, would get a lot more traction in Green Bay than at any of the billionaire-owned franchises, but it still means we are dealing with politics in a more or less familiar form.

Of course, I think it’s great that the Pack’s popular ownership was grandfathered in. Wouldn’t it be nice if something like it were mandatory?


Adam Hammond 01.26.24 at 1:32 am

Loved it. Played it (lost a knee to it). Watched with my Dad. Went to all my college games. But … the damage!

To be clear, it is the damage to kids. We still don’t know the full toll on immature brains, but there is no reason to be hopeful. Probably only hockey comes anywhere close.


djw 01.26.24 at 4:28 am

Any game that is so, so dramatically better to “experience” on television is, to my mind, deeply flawed.

I’m fascinated that you take this as such an obvious point that it needs no further argument or explanation. I agree with the analysis but I find the conclusion baffling. It’s far more common and way more affordable to watch games on TV. The football games watched on TV to attended in person ratio is necessarily massively unbalanced in favor of the former. Why on earth wouldn’t “better enjoyed in the highly affordable and widely accessible format, which is employed by the vast majority of viewers” be a point in its favor?


Scott Lemieux 01.26.24 at 5:19 am

And watching live NFL and NCAA football is a very fun experience! The TV: live game ratio is better for the NFL than for MLB or the NHL — which is indeed more feature than bug — but that doesn’t mean football isn’t a good live sport.


John Q 01.26.24 at 5:21 am

None of the teams in the Australian Football League are owned by private individuals or for-profit corporations, although several have been in the past. 11 are clubs, and the other 7 are owned by either the AFL or WA Football Commission. Also true of rugby union, I think but not of rugby league or association football


Robert Weston 01.26.24 at 12:51 pm

“To be clear, it is the damage to kids. We still don’t know the full toll on immature brains, but there is no reason to be hopeful. Probably only hockey comes anywhere close.”

That’s why I hope the game, in time, transitions to flag.

Also: American (and Canadian) Gridiron are the most intelligent forms of football, for reasons outlined in this thread; Australian oval is the most fun to watch, though.


notGoodenough 01.26.24 at 1:46 pm

@ Peter Dorman

As a non-US, non-sportsball enthusiast I am hardly well positioned to comment on the specifics, but while I don’t think I would significantly disagree with what I infer to be your fundamental point I do think you may be slightly overstating things in this case. My understanding (and I am happy to be corrected if wrong on this) is that the Green Bay Packers are not strictly speaking publicly owned in what I would consider to be the more common socialist sense (i.e. generated surplus product accruing to all of society in the form of a social dividend), but rather closer to that of a more conventional shareholder-owned company. Thus, I would suggest that we need not call upon Bakunin’s metaphorical stick – perhaps we can consider that in such instances bounded rationality is still being constrained by the framework of the capitalist society in which it is occurring?


oldster 01.26.24 at 1:51 pm

So did you ever tell us whether you have encouraged/permitted your own children to play American football?


Trader Joe 01.26.24 at 1:54 pm

Thanks for the post and I fully agree.

Played for years (through University – which largely paid for my degree, there were no NIL deals back in the 80s). I was a safety (defense) and a punt returner.

The points about the physical damage are definitely real and are compounded by a “Bro” attitude that encourages both delivering hard hits and toughing it out when you take one. I’ve been on both ends. To my knowledge I’ve never been concussed from play, but perhaps one day my brain will say otherwise.

The only point I would make, which they naysayers should strongly consider, is I never ever, not once, met a player who didn’t want to be doing exactly what they were doing. We knew it was dangerous, we knew we could get hurt on both a short and long term basis but we all wanted to do was play. Everyone. Indeed we’d whine if we weren’t getting enough playing time. Each man had their own reasons, but worrying about “our” health shouldn’t be a reason not to watch. We know/knew the score and wanted to do it anyway.


oldster 01.26.24 at 2:19 pm

Trader Joe —

“We know/knew the score….”
In the ’80s? Not really. There was nowhere near as much evidence of the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy at that time. Inter alia, there were simply fewer generations of professional NFL players reaching ages at which the damaged showed. (As well as fewer autopsies and less knowledge of what to look for). I watched the first Super Bowl in 1967. Anyone who retired after that game was only 13 years post-career in 1980. And CTE damage does not always show up in 13 years.
Yes, you and your colleagues knew some of the risks, and you accepted the ones you knew about. The beliefs that you had reason to believe back then are relevant to justifying the choices you made back then (and the choices of audiences back then). What we know now is quite a lot different, and those differences affect the conclusions about what is justified and what is not.


Trader Joe 01.26.24 at 5:03 pm

@56 Oldster

I agree that in the 80s we didn’t know about CTE, but what we did know we accepted and we played. In my time it was the unknowns around steroids (I never took, but know many who did) and the likelihood that one bad hit would leave you walking with a cane or in a wheel-chair for life (ACL et al surgery was not a thing).

My inference is that current players, who 100% do know about CTE, are still making the same choices I did long ago….no one is forcing them to play. They want to do it and they are doing it with as much knowledge as they can gather using the best equipment they can find. They have chosen these risks – as a viewer you don’t need to feel bad about thier choice.


maxhgns 01.27.24 at 1:37 am

It’s boring. If it weren’t boring, it would be called ‘rugby’.

QED and tombstone, etc.


William Webster 01.27.24 at 8:04 pm

Rob Chametzky @43

“It is better on television than in person. . . Being there in person means you have essentially NO IDEA what is happening, or what has just happened, on any given play.”

I’ve only seen two professional games in person, and one of them was a home game of the Baltimore Colts, so my experience is neither recent nor extensive, but I had the same bewilderment.

On the other hand, I heard a story about Joe Namath. Somebody asked his opinion of a game, and he supposedly said something like, “I have no idea: I only saw it on television.” Afficionados may tag this as apocryphal; otherwise it may suggest that television viewing isn’t the best way to develop insight.


CJColucci 01.27.24 at 9:08 pm

I’m quite willing to believe that a professional football player, particularly at quarterback, actually on the field, has a better ability to see and understand the game than a fan in the stands or in front of a TV. As a mere fan, though, I find the game easier to follow on TV than live.


Barry 01.27.24 at 11:25 pm

Doug, it’s great to see you back!


Matt McKeon 01.28.24 at 12:04 am

I enjoyed watching football, and would sometimes see the Pats with my dad on TV. But the corruption and exploitation inherent the feeder system of college ball, the physical toll on the athletes, which I was sorry to see, is sort of handwaved away in post 40, make it impossible for me to enjoy it now.


Peter Erwin 01.28.24 at 9:44 am

I’m honestly kind of “meh” about football (the only game I watch semi-regularly is the Rose Bowl, but that’s just because I’m from Pasadena), but this

It’s like watching Mozart if Mozart had to finish his piece before three big guys threw him out of a window.

was quite fun (and it was an entertaining read in general, even if I’m metaphorically vegetarian).


mw 01.28.24 at 11:38 am

college football. massively expensive, massively exploitative.

Expensive? Yes Exploitative? Not really. College football is effectively minor league professional football (as is college basketball). Minor leagues do not enjoy highly lucrative TV deals or attract huge numbers of fans paying high ticket prices…EXCEPT when they have university affiliations. NCAA basketball brings in a lot of money while the ‘G League’ does not. Or look at Catlin Clark. She’s being paid much more playing for the university of Iowa now than she will be when she ages out and has to go to the WNBA. That’s because far more people are interested in watching women play basketball when they have university rooting interest than when they don’t. Even just with scholarships, most college athletes were receiving more value for their efforts than they have would in minor pro leagues. Now that there’s NIL money, the best college athletes earn much more than they would in minor pro leagues.


reason 01.28.24 at 2:51 pm

Matt @44
Maybe I didn’t express my point well. I can swim. I have played football (err.. soccer), cricket, squash competitively, tennis for fun, and even rugby and basketball (at school competitively), but I could never imagine playing that game.


Jake Gibson 01.28.24 at 6:48 pm

Very little mention of basketball. Internationally #2. Another quintessential American sport. At least teams score in basketball. I am an advocate that Soccer would be a much more fun sport if they eliminated the goalkeeper.
The worst thing about college sport is the stratification. There are only a few teams out of 362 that can reasonably expect to compete for a Championship and only a slightly larger percentage that can compete for a conference championship. Only 18.7 % of Division 1 make the tournament and only half a dozen have any chance to win it.


mw 01.28.24 at 7:17 pm

reason @65

The touch-football and flag-football variants that are played informally and in rec leagues are a lot of fun and don’t require (or favor) huge bodies. Ultimate frisbee and touch football are a lot alike (in fact there’s a ‘ultimate football’ which uses the same rules as ultimate frisbee but with a football). I assume ultimate frisbee is a thing outside the US, but I guess I don’t know for sure.


Seekonk 01.28.24 at 9:45 pm

The best part of futbol/soccer to me is the amazing things that world class players can do with the ball. But the way the game is played, you can watch a whole match and not see one good trick. It’s as if in basketball the defense was allowed to tackle LeBron or Steph Curry as soon as they touch the ball. Talk about throwing Mozart out a window!

My prescription: Open up the game. Reduce the number of players on a side from eleven to ten, and eliminate most “tackling” by prohibiting defenders from leaving their feet when they make contact with a player who has possession of the ball.


Anon21 01.29.24 at 2:41 am

You’d like to leach out the moral dimension of supporting this modern-day gladiatorial bloodsport, but it’s just not convincing.

You suggest that unless one sticks to golf, you can’t have moral objections to the NFL, since almost all sports carry injury risks. But NFL football is basically designed to produce concussions and other serious traumatic injuries. From what I gather, fans demand and the league delivers more violence, more trauma, and more player risk as fundamental aspects of what makes the sport fun to watch.

MLB, the only league I follow, does subject its players to greater risk of concussions and other traumatic injuries than golf. But traumatic injuries are an unintended consequence of play activities that are supposed to minimize contact between players, and the league actually legislates to try to reduce the worst injuries (e.g., the “Posey Rule”). Baseball fans generally accept that it’s part of the league’s job to try to prevent serious injuries, as opposed to NFL’s practice of paying lip service to player safety and using horrendous injuries like Damar Hamlin’s to actually drive more fan interest in the game.

And of course, all MLB free-agent and extension contracts are guaranteed, so if a player does suffer a career-altering injury, they generally walk away with their money. Given the physical risks of the NFL, it’s abhorrent that most players are on non-guaranteed deals and it’s an accepted part of the sport’s business model to cut players who suffer horrible injuries.


Suzanne 01.29.24 at 3:51 am

I watch football myself and follow it in a casual kind of way, but I would find it hard to defend or support the creation of such a violent game if it did not already exist. I suppose I would ask with oldster at #54 if those mounting positive defenses of the game as a Good Thing would allow/encourage their children to play and/or pursue it as a career and if they think they and others would continue to watch if the collisions were effectively eliminated for safety’s sake and it became a variant of flag football. The latter is becoming an Olympic competition in 2008, so it will be interesting to see how popular it is.


Matt 01.29.24 at 4:10 am

Reason @ 65 – I agree w/ what MW says here, but would also note that following the logic of your claim would mean that at least the vast majority of people couldn’t enjoy watching, say, gymnastics, or boxing, or, for many people, hockey or figure skating. I think people should feel free to enjoy whatever sports they want, so I’m not saying you should watch American football. There are too many things to enjoy to enjoy them all, after all. But the given reason is a very odd one – odd enough that I’m skeptical that is a real one, if you think it through.


TM 01.29.24 at 10:44 am

Bob 25: “The term football was, and is, used for a number of different sports all played by people on foot, as opposed to the more aristocratic sports played on horseback.”

That is fascinating but why is handball called handball?


Trader Joe 01.29.24 at 1:47 pm

Following the money would suggest that worries about the morality/injury risk are at best a minority view.

The NFL generates about $18-19B of annual revenues. This is roughly the same tally as is generated by the major European football leagues collectively (summing UK, France, German, Italian and Spanish leagues). However – on a per team basis, revenues are roughly 2x higher for NFL teams and on a per match basis roughly 5x higher. Its hard to know bottom line profitability since most all teams in all leagues are privately owned.

Clearly the public is willing to pay for these gladiator events and if a some choose not to watch its not as though the league or the players are really suffering for that choice.


chris 01.29.24 at 3:05 pm

That is fascinating but why is handball called handball?

Pace Bob, there’s no accepted etymology for “football,” because the evidence for different etymologies is scant at best, but one of the main pieces of evidence for the “games that involved kicking a ball” etymology is medieval distinctions between foot and handball games.


Salem 01.29.24 at 3:15 pm

Because you use your hands. It’s a modification that violates the word’s etymology, like cheeseburger, or quadcopter.


John Ford 01.30.24 at 5:10 pm

Don’t know if this will pass. The economists I know are not high on the unconscious. Still I’m amazed that no-one has pegged (ahem) football as a homo-erotic fantasyland. I read a critical but not pejorative essay or article somewhere and once having seen cannot unsee.
The jargon alone is telling: that the goal is to penetrate the opponent’s end zone,
with resulting touchdown, then conversion, kind of hilarious now I come to think of it, wide receivers, tight ends, shotgun formation, recovered fumble, the list goes on.
(As for me, I’m still a sometime watcher, and my grandsons watch and go to games but will not be allowed to play. I played touch and I’d have played tackle but was luckily too small for pads in High School. I’ve got some of the jargon down pat, enough to get away with it among women, but I wouldn’t open my mouth among men knowledgable of the game, just as I generally shut up here.)


Suzanne 01.31.24 at 4:26 am

@69: The average Major League Baseball career is about a decade, not too bad for a professional athlete. I had read that the average NFL career was about five years, but a quick search suggests that was optimistic – apparently it’s three to four years.

CTE is also appearing in young men who never played in the NFL:


“Josh and George Atkinson III were twins who played for the University of Notre Dame. Their father, George Atkinson, is a former Oakland Raiders defensive back known as the “Hit Man.” His sons died by suicide less than a year apart.”


reason 01.31.24 at 10:11 am

Maybe I’m odd that way, but I prefer watching sports I can identify with. I also dislike the degree of specialization in American football. To me it may as well be a video game.


Xerxes 01.31.24 at 3:03 pm

A word from our sponsor: football is the Cambridge name, soccer is the Oxford nickname.
Now, back to the game.


JimV 02.01.24 at 3:45 am

A couple comments related to previous comments:

When I first heard about CTE, it occurred to that Hemingway probably died with it.

Sparring boxers wear a sort of cushion, an inch or more thick, over and around their heads. In “Rocky II” (I think) the ones Creed wore had three shiny plastic patches on it, on the top and sides, which made it look more fashionable. I don’t see why (with a vizor and chin guard added) those wouldn’t prevent concussions due to the back of the quarterback’s head rapping the astroturf after a tackle, and mostly eliminate the use of the head as a weapon, by linebackers and running backs. If I ruled the game, that would be mandatory at all levels. I would also like to see more bracing for knees, but don’t have the specific design details.

The way to watch a game is to record it and then fast-forward over the commercials. Streaming services such as Amazon let you do that also–so far.

What we in the USA call soccer (my high school was too small to field a football team so I played soccer for four years there) needs to eliminate the off-sides rule, so as to have 10-9 games instead of 1-0 games. Just a friendly suggestion. Yes, an offensive player could hang back near the opposing goal for long passes, and you would have to defend that. In basketball it is called cherry-picking (I think) and happens occasionally, but not much. We always kept two fullbacks within the penalty area anyway on my teams, and halfbacks rarely crossed the mid line. (We called the positions left-wing, left forward, center forward, right forward, right wing, left halfback, center halfback, right halfback, left and right fullbacks, and goalie. The center halfback was an offensive player, the other two halfbacks rarely were, and the fullbacks never. I gather the correct names are now used in most USA schools.)


mtmkvr 02.03.24 at 3:55 pm


The degrading exercise that is “The Combine” and the binders (now presumably tablets) of plays that offensive linemen are required to memorize from high school onward simply confirm the inherent bureaucratic nature of the spectacle. For comparison, rugby union, the sport from which American football dysgenically evolved is more appropriate.


Seekonk 02.05.24 at 6:53 pm

Re: injuries. The NFL has switched its all-star game to a low-contact flag-football variation.

ESPN: “The flag format has been mocked in some corners, but the event has arguably been more competitive because playing flag football drastically reduces the chances of injury compared with the tackle-football version that was played until 2022.”


reason 02.06.24 at 12:44 pm

I ddn’t elaborate why I dislike the degree of specialization in American football. The game in some ways is a mirror of chess, with fairly obvious parallels (runnings backs and bishops & rooks, linebackers and pawns etc), and chess is obviously feudal in design and inspiration. By analogy, American football is feudal.


reason 02.06.24 at 12:45 pm

Oops – running backs and knights, wide receivers and bishops & rooks ….

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