American Football: A Community Sport

A classic American past time, now multi-billion dollar mega industry, is football. I flew into Atlanta last Sunday and waiting for my connecting flight the football was on. As a result the boarding gate was full of people sitting, standing and sighing over the incoming results. The people, who did not know each other, were discussing the ins and outs of the game. This scene to me illustrates a unique characteristic of football in America, it is a sport built through communities, culturally embed and not simply a product or choice. This is an aim of most sports, and envied if attained as it grows and sustains the popularity. This to me is a cultural phenomenon, not to do with the actual sport, especially as American Football on paper looks very disengaging: it lasts over three or four hours, with constant pauses and is reasonably elitist in structure with the need for expensive facilities, equipment and supporter costs.

Here I am leaning on my several years of experience of working, studying and living in American. For me American Football has cracked a modern cultural sport barrier of connecting and making closer already established communities. For example, a person born in America will have their identity connected to the football team that is in their state, at their high school and in their college amongst others. There will be stickers on your car, colour themed outfits, community organised and attended events around football- such as homecoming. But, this identity and lifestyle is not chosen or voluntary but the norm within the community that the person grows up.

I witnessed this first hand on my current trip to the states as I attended the final Carolina Panthers game of the season, with a great pal of mine Shelby. We were two of over 70,000 supporters, all decked out in blue and black. Speaking to a few supporters they had tailgated (a pregame gathering from the back of a parked vehicle) with their friends and family beforehand, and were going to a bar afterwards. They had supported Carolina since birth, but proudly pointed out some players that had attended their college and now played for the Panthers. In asking them about their lifelong connection to football they described it through their educational experiences and life events. Football was not simply coming to watch those players on that particular day for these people, but a speck on the collage of experiences they had weaved into their life through the sport. It is not simply an additional activity or hobby but an embedded cultural part of their life- that they shared and related to their friends, family, education communities and places where they had lived.

The identity and a commonality with others that football instils within the lifestyle of the person is fascinating and something I personally cannot compare to any sport on such a scale in England. Granted like any other sport or culture there are people that actively stay away or do not engage. Plus there are other popular sports in America, such as basketball, so it does not encompass the whole population.   However, statistically football captivates a hefty audience- America has 318.9 million people and in 2015 the viewership of the Super Bowl (final championship game) was 114.4 million, over a third of the population watching the spectacle.  I would love to find the time to do more or read more research on American Football’s abilities to cultivate such a successful base and growing industry- plus the inevitable dark sides of such a sizeable sporting movement.

VPos- Happy 2016 everyone!

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