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The Meaning of Football Violence (Part I)

It’s a time of reckoning for football, as well as soul searching for its fans. Scientific studies have made it abundantly clear that the game exacts a terrible price on the health of its players. Playing football is risky business. Our national obsession has a dark side.

Yet despite the health hazards, football is more popular than ever. Why does football have such a powerful hold on us?

I’m not an anthropologist, nor a social scientist. Playing football in high school, even winning the Homecoming Day game with a 65-yard touchdown, doesn’t give me any special expertise. But writing a sci-fi novel about an NFL team that’s “time-napped” 100 years into a future where robots instead of humans play the game, has given me some insight into why football, despite its dark side, has such a hold on us.


There are many reasons we love football. Here are just a few:

Since most men no longer serve in the military, football is a form of symbolic war (with terminology like blitz, aerial attack, trenches) that evokes the warrior in men.

Anthropologists will tell you that football embodies men’s most primal life-sustaining and death-defying activity—chasing game during a hunt and being chased by predators.

Football also reinforces gender stereotypes. On the (battle) field, armored men fight over territory while scantily clad women cheer from the sideline. As the necessity and social importance of men’s strength and physicality has been eroded by technology, men have had to confront an existential dilemma—What is a man’s role? Football restores men to the center of the action.

None of these reasons truly explain why football, despite its violent dark side, is more popular than ever. To understand, we need a larger context.


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