What Is It About Football That Men Love So Much?
Football is back, baby, and let’s be completely honest for a moment. Men LOVE football! It’s not just a pastime. It’s crucially important to most of us, and it’s a downright obsession for others. What is it about the male psyche that makes men love football so much? What is it that glues us to the television sets from late August to early February, and what is it that leaves us feeling somewhat unfulfilled for the other half of the year?
Like most other guys in Texas, I was raised on a steady diet of gridiron. From Friday Night Lights to Monday Night Football, no other activity was more actively celebrated. Dad told me stories about his high school glory days and the exploits of his childhood NFL heroes. When I was old enough to suit up and take the field for the first time, he beamed with pride and reveled in my every success. And when my playing days were over, I felt deep pangs of regret, wishing that I could have another opportunity to do it again and to do it better. Sometimes I still have dreams that high school football season is about to start, and it’s going to be my second chance to excel.
Why? Why do I still dream about playing football? Why has this game captured our attention so?
Yeah . . . Guys Like Violence, But It’s More Than That
The fact that guys are enticed by violence is not much of a secret. The rise in popularity of the UFC, first-person-shooter video games, and over-the-top action movies should be enough to prove that. Football is a sport of brute strength and high-speed collisions, so it meets the same psychological need for men. It taps into our warrior spirits as few other sports are able to do. The martial arts are about the only other activities that involve such domination through physical contact, but they’re individual sports. Football steps it up a notch because it’s my guys’ collective strength against your guys’.
You see, most men have never had an opportunity to participate directly in this kind of tribal warfare, and it burns us up inside. We are built for physicality. We are especially suited for battle. We are shaped into brutes by a force beyond our own control, and we must have outlets for that undeniable aggression. And above all that, we really value brotherhood and loyalty.
The team component makes football even more attractive to men because it creates a band of brothers who are ready to fight and die (metaphorically, of course) for each other. This loyalty extends into the stands, and across small towns, and throughout metropolitan areas, and probably most apparently, among school alumni. The same camaraderie that ties players together on the field unites former students of universities and loyal ex-citizens across the globe.
“My school has a better team than your school!”
“The Broncos are going to kill the Ravens in the opener!”
“I don’t care if Johnny Manziel is acting like a punk kid! He can still run circles around any other QB in the country!”
So Why Do So Many Men Love Football More Than Other Team Sports?
I think that can be answered by reviewing a quick history of the game’s evolution. Football didn’t begin in its current state. Over hundreds of years, this sport changed from a highly restrictive game of finesse into an adrenaline-driven smash fest. How, and why, did that happen?
Football is the most popular sport in the world. Guys in Mexico, Brazil, and England go absolutely gaga for it. Didn’t you know? Oh no, not the kind of football you’ve been reading about. I’m talking about what we now call soccer here in the States. Why did we change the name to soccer? Because we had to differentiate it somehow from it’s more violent grandson, American Football.
English football of course has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years and is played primarily with the feet (hence the name). The rules explicitly prohibit handling the ball. Well, one day back in the early 1800s, a guy playing the age-old game of football at a boarding school in the little town of Rugby, England decided to break the rules, pick up the ball, and run with it. I can practically hear the thoughts running through his head: “Yeah, I know it’s against the rules, but who’s gonna stop me?” Rugby football was born of rebellion, another concept with which we guys are quite familiar.
Along the way several other people got hold of the game that would ultimately be known as American football, adding pads, the forward pass, and pauses between plays which make every down a testosterone-charged whirlwind of chaos. By the early 20th century, the game had become so violent that President Theodore Roosevelt demanded reforms to the game in which his son was then participating at Harvard University. Rules had to be added for the safety of the players.
Interestingly enough, it’s the ever-widening rule book and the restriction of play that peeves most guys to the core nowadays. When you get right down to it, right or wrong, it’s the uncivilized brutality that attracts us to the game. Men love football so much because no other team sport (not rugby, not hockey, not lacrosse) can guarantee that somebody is going to get plowed over in a shocking and awe-inspiring fashion on just about every play. This year, as in most years in recent memory, controversial new rules have been added to make an inherently unsafe game slightly safer. But even though it’s no longer the game that I played, and it’s certainly not the game that my father played, I’m still glad that it’s back for another season.
Here’s to manliness! Here’s to football!