Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
It's hard to relate America's love for the NFL to the broader national temperament — but the league now dominates all sports. Here, a young Oakland Raiders fan watches his team on a recent Sunday.
It's hard to relate America's love for the NFL to the broader national temperament — but the league now dominates all sports. Here, a young Oakland Raiders fan watches his team on a recent Sunday. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Football is real big. Everybody knows that. But it is getting bigger. Football is now gigantic, monstrous, humongous. Sure, it was years ago that it passed baseball as our most popular sport, but by now it simply looms alone above the American sportscape.
I would rank the U.S. sports entities this way:
- The NFL
- College football
- Fantasy football
- Major League Baseball
- High school football
- The NBA
Oh, the first two weeks of NBA season have been canceled because of a labor dispute — and maybe the whole season is in jeopardy? But have you heard much weeping and wailing about that? No! Hey, we got our football.
Any run-of-the-mill NFL game scores ratings numbers above what baseball, the erstwhile national pastime, does with its championships.
We can't get enough football. Why, I think you can make the argument now that the NFL draft –– a bunch of guys reading off names in a ballroom –– is the premier American sporting event of the spring.
No, American football never will be as dominant as soccer, which stands supreme in so many countries. Baseball, basketball and ice hockey, too, maintain large and passionate fandoms here.
But what has changed is that now we don't have four major team sports. We have football uber alles — and three other subsidiary popular games.
Football's hegemony was established because it plays so well on TV, and is, with the point spread, such a perfect game to bet. Its recent upsurge, I believe, can be accounted for by the fantastic popularity of fantasy football and by the fact that football's bang-bang moving violence meshes so perfectly with the video games that young men love.
Baseball is a game of hand-eye coordination, an exercise in craft, and when it reigned, we were a nation that built things. In movies then, heroes nimbly rode horses, and sophisticated private eyes figured stuff out. Football is, by comparison, a muscle-leg game. In concert, today, on movie screens, speed and car crashes rule.
We must always be very careful in trying to relate any country's taste in sport to its national temperament. After all, the most varied of cultures all prefer soccer. But still, America's increased devotion to football must mean something.
Unlike our two other home-bred sports, baseball and basketball, which have developed appeal in many other countries, American football is just that –– American. Except for a bit over our northern border, in all the world it is played seriously only in the United States. That we alone love this sport so much and love it more and more — that must tell us something about ourselves.