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Writing and reading American
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John Nauright

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Review Article

Writing and Reading American
Football: Culture, Identities and

Sports Studies1

John Nauright
Department of Human Movement Studies

The University of Queensland

While many historians of sport have lamented the apparentpreoccupation
with baseball in American sports history, a number ofrecent studies
focusing on football are welcome additions to the literature on the
history of modern sport in the USA. As recently as 1988, historians of
sport were hard pressed to find detailed academic analysis of what had
become the USA’s most popular spectator sport. In a 1995 bibliographic
essay on the historical writing on American sport dealing with the 1850-
1920 period, Steven Riess identifies only one PhD thesis, one journal
article and the National Football League’s (NFL) official history as
material dealing with professional football and only two books and a
handful of articles on college football.2 While this only covers the period
to 1920, it is representative of the dearth of material on American
football when compared with the hundreds of studies on baseball’s
history. As Michael Oriard points out in Reading Football, in searching
for academic analyses of football, ‘even the sport historians had little to
say about football. It seemed to me that televised football played a role
for men today comparable to the role of romance novels for women, yet
while romance fiction had become a conspicuous topic in cultural
studies, football was ignored.’3 Although focusing on the emergence of
intercollegiate sport in general, Ronald Smith’s Sports and Freedom
(1988)4 heralded a new focus in the 1990s by American historians of
sport on the development of sport at American universities, of which
football has been of overwhelming significance in terms of spectator
appeal and revenue generated. While professional football assumes a
prominent role in the weekend lives of millions of Americans, along
with college football,5 the bulk of academic work on American football
focuses on the formative years of football as a mass spectator sport in the

110 Sporting Traditions • vol. 13 no. 1 • Nov. 1996

late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the 1920s, college
football had become a mass public spectacle across the nation followed
by millions. And, as Oriard rightly suggests, discussion of football’s
cultural role has been virtually non-existent.

While the study of football by sports scholars in the USA is
relatively underdeveloped in comparison with baseball and other topics,
it is worthwhile examining the themes highlighted in a series of recent
books that attempt to place football in the context of American history
and society. Academic studies by Lester, Oriard, Sperber and Umphlett
all concentrate on the pre-World War II history of college football while
more popular, but nevertheless well-constructed, books by journalists
such as Bissinger and Gildea focus on high school and professional
football in more recent times. This essay seeks to draw these books
together with the previous scant literature in an analysis of the main
themes that have emerged in the study of American football in the 1990s
and links them to broader questions about the role of sport in identity
formation and in popular culture. Additionally, suggestions for further
areas of focus and comparative possibilities are discussed.

The ‘Founding Fathers’ and the Rise of Intercollegiate Football

Most academic studies in recent years have focused on one or more of
the ‘founding fathers’ of college football, those handful of men who
played crucial roles in the shaping of American football as a distinct
sport and mass spectacle. Walter Camp, the acknowledged ‘father’ of
American football is omnipresent in most of these works, while other
key figures such as Amos Alonzo Stagg, who coached at the University
of Chicago from 1892 to 1932; John Heisman, who coached at several
universities in the midwest, south and east and after whom the Heisman
Trophy for the top collegiate player is named; and Knute Rockne, great
player and coach at Notre Dame, appear almost larger than life in
several accounts.

American football emerged in the second half of the nineteenth
century and resembled rugby, also developing in the same period. A
form of football was played at elite east coast universities such as
Harvard by the 1840s. Initially used for the hazing, or initiation, of
freshmen by upperclassmen, administrators attacked the game in the
1860s for its brutality. Students soon turned their attention to the
possibility of intercollegiate contests. The first of these games took place
between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. Teams were quickly formed at

Review Article 111

east coast universities and contests between nearby universities began to
occur in the early 1870s. Yale, Princeton and Columbia agreed in 1873 to
follow Yale’s rules of association football. Harvard refused to agree and
was forced to play against McGill University from Montreal, Quebec, in
1874. McGill followed the English rugby rules of the newly formed
Rugby Football Union (1871)6 and Harvard’s rules were similar enough
that the two agreed to play a game under each set of rules. The Harvard
men were attracted to rugby and ultimately won over men from Yale,
Princeton and Columbia who all came together to form the Intercollegiate
Football Association in 1876.

It is from this background that several academic historical studies
have proceeded to discuss how football spread from its exclusive
beginnings. Oriard, a former player in the professional NPL and a
professor of English, takes the broadest view and goes further than other
historians of American football in attempting to understand the cultural
meanings and centrality of football. Additionally, Oriard shows how
this cultural significance was created by the early 1900s in the media and
through the self-promotion of leading football coaches, in particular
Walter Camp. Oriard’s Reading Football is the best historical work on the
meaning of sport in American culture and society since Donald Mrozek’s
Sport and the American Mentality 1880-1920. 7 Oriard’s book is not a
conventional history of sport, but rather concentrates on the creation of
meaning in his reading of football as a cultural text. Through analyses of
newspaper reports and writings by leading figures in football’s early
history, Oriard successfully reconstructs how football became one of the
dominant forms of public culture and mass spectacle in American
society by the early 1900s. Oriard concentrates on the period from the
founding of the Intercollegiate Association in 1876 to the advent of the
forward pass as a major offensive strategy in 1913. Oriard’s approach
offers much for the historian and cultural analyst of any sport and
merits a close reading by any scholar interested in the history and
cultural meaning of sport. Although we do not know enough about the
history of football in general, Oriard both supplies excellent detail and
superb analysis, thus blending history and theory in a manner that
would satisfy both the general reader and academic specialists.

While Oriard examines football as a cultural text, he does not seek
to ascribe any one meaning to a single text. Rather, as with much
cultural studies work over the past several years, Oriard agrees that a

112 Sporting Traditions • vol. 13 no. 1 • Nov. 1996

multiplicity of meanings existed that were not merely created by authors
and absorbed by a mass, undifferentiated audience. Oriard argues that
football is more of a social cultural activity than many other forms of
popular culture that has been examined in cultural studies. The central
point about football, he argues, is that it is a social activity, watched and
experienced vocally in groups compared with novels read in private or
movies watched in public, but experienced silently. Oriard argues that
football’s function is ‘to tell stories, and in such a way that no movie or
novel can be, the stories football tells are “real”. Here, ultimately is the
source of sport’s cultural power.’8 Oriard further argues for a special
intensified narrativity for football (and baseball) compared with the
European sports of soccer and cricket. Baseball has many permutations,
as does cricket, but its shorter duration often heightens its dramatic
qualities. American football, Oriard argues, has greater narrative qualities
than soccer or rugby due to its greater number of stops in play and set
plays. He goes on to state that ‘more important, the granting of the ball
to one team until it scores or is stopped creates a kind of narrative
intention absent from soccer and rugby’9 This comment may be unfair
to rugby and rugby league, both of which could also claim a heightened
sense of narrativity based on Oriard’s proposition about American
football. The assertion of one sport’s relative narrativity over another
may be hard to determine, but is another area ripe for comparative
analysis if we are to more fully understand why particular sports become
more widely popular than others. A sport’s cultural centrality is only
partly influenced by existing power structures, rather, a wide range of
cultural, social, economic and political dynamics impact upon the
development of any sport’s broader place in society. Narrativity and
aesthetics in sport are worthy avenues for research, especially when
situated within a cultural studies approach such as that used by Oriard.

Two rule changes in the period between 1876 and 1882 identified
by Oriard were crucial in making American football unique and distinct
from rugby union. American football had more officials and, most
crucially developed the line of scrimmage from where the ball was put
into play after a stoppage. Other than the absence of off-side rules in
Australian football and Gaelic football, the scrimmage line was the most
distinctive early innovation in the hybridisation of football codes from
rugby or Association rules .10 The lack of any great sense of tradition,
Oriard contends, led to a celebration of the national genius for

Review Article 113

circumventing the rules which was expressed in an American democratic
ethos, a dialectical sense of ‘fair play embracing both ‘sportsmanship’
and ‘gamesmanship’, quite different from the British model.11 As I have
argued elsewhere, in the adoption of rugby union in colonial settings,
locals were not shackled with the same sense of traditionalism with
many early innovations in the game coming from New Zealand and
South Africa.12

Academic studies of football history are largely representative of
most sports history that has been written in the United States and
present problems in analysis caused by a narrow focus, or an
‘Amerocentrism’. A repeated assertion of the uniqueness of the USA
and American experience appears in most studies while little reference
to other settler societies appear. While American university sport operates
n a level that is truly unique (in September 1996 over

107 000 fans packed into Nieland Stadium at the University of
Tennessee to see Tennessee’s game against the University of Florida),
historians of American sport must look beyond their borders to other
settler societies to gain a broader perspective on the development of
moden organised sport. Too frequently, historians working on sport in
settler societies such as the USA, Australia, New Zealand or South
Africa have ignored the international and comparative context.

Transnational migration was quite common in the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries and such migration had significant influence
on the development of sport. In Argentina, British sailors, miners,
businessmen and labourers established the games of soccer and rugby
union in the late-nineteenth century. In the American context migrants
played important roles in American-invented sports. Sperber, in his
study of the rise of Notre Dame football, discusses that Irish migrants
helped establish baseball as dominant over cricket and football over
rugby and soccer through their hatred of things British, particularly
after the Fenian revolts of the 1860s. Many early football stars, such as
James Hogan of Yale University were of Irish descent. Besides their
dislike of British sports, many Irish-Americans held little regard for the
British upper-class generated cult of amateurism and saw nothing wrong
with receiving payment for play.13 Additionally, migration between
settler societies was common in the late nineteenth and early-twentieth
centuries. Umphlett briefly discusses the career of Patrick O’Dea who
grew laying Australian football in Melbourne and who excelled

114 Sporting Traditions • vol. 13 no. 1 • Nov. 1996

punting and kicking goals for the University of Wisconsin between 1896
and 1899.14 In one game against the University of Minnesota, he is
reported to have punted a ball 110 yards. O’Dea went on to coach Notre
Dame for two seasons after his playing career at Wisconsin finished.
While many soccer players, some rugby players and Darren Bennett
from Australian football have played for universities or in the NFL in
the USA in recent years, O’Dea’s case shows that international sporting
migration began in a much earlier period when migration in general
between and amongst European and settler societies was much more
fluid than today. Australian soldiers and miners took Australian football
to South Africa where records exist of games being played during the
1890s and early 1900s. Cricket and baseball were harder games than
football codes to promote cross-culturally and some form of football
was played virtually all over the world by the 1920s. We need many
more studies to help us understand how football codes were globalised
and how local variations emerged.

A further example of Amerocentrism in the books comes in
discussions of reactions to the violence in football, particularly the crisis
of 1905 over the number of deaths in the game. Similar concerns were
voiced about rugby union in New Zealand, Britain, South Africa and
Australia in the 1890s and following decade. Comparative analyses may
show that there was an overall concern in Western societies with violent
sports in the immediate years after 1900. While many critics complained
about violence in sport, this period was also one of promoting masculinity
through sports. President Roosevelt in the USA argued for the ‘strenuous
life’ and English critics worried about the decline of English manhood
through increased numbers of sporting defeats by colonials. English
critics urged a renewed focus on sports, especially rugby union, amongst
elite boys.15

Another limitation in the writing of football history and some
other sports history studies in the USA is the misuse, and, in the case of
Wiley Umphlett’s book on John Heisman, the overuse, of the terms,
such as ‘democracy’ and ‘democratisation’, in describing the expansion
of football to universities outside the original eastern elite colleges.
While the game spread to virtually every American university by the
early 1900s, it did not develop into a democratic institution. On the
contrary, control of the game became further and further removed from
those who played it, a process that has accelerated in Australia in the

Review Article 115

1980s and 1990s. Oriard does not fall into this trap as he rightly points
out, ‘fewer than a dozen young men, all representing elite universities
and relatively privileged classes, controlled the game during these crucial
early years of its development’.16 Smith makes a similar point arguing
that ‘the push for excellence and winning had evolved at an extremely
early time’. He also points out, though less forcefully, that in no period
did intercollegiate sport possess the virtues that have been attributed to

Walter Camp, more than any other figure, shaped the early history
of intercollegiate football. Camp played at Yale from 1876 to 1882 then
served for thirty years as Yale’s unofficial coach. From 1878 until he died
in 1925, Camp was on football’s rule committees, mostly serving as
secretary. He brought in the scrimmage rule in 1880 and the 1882 rule
that a team must advance the ball five yards in three plays or ‘downs’.
He argued for the reduction of player numbers from fifteen to eleven.
He also advocated low tackling in 1888 but resisted the proposal to
legalise the forward pass in 1906. Camp wanted to control the
development of the game and he opposed any radical changes once his
early rules were adopted. Camp also selected his personal All-American
teams from 1889 onwards. Camp’s All-America team became an annual
feature in Collier’s Weekly magazine from 1898. Camp’s influence on
American footballmerits comparativeanalysiswith the role of other
administrators and officials who played key roles in the early
development and organisation of a particular sport. Perhaps no other
figure in the USA had such a profound effect on one sport, though
Albert Spalding played a crucial role in the expansion of baseball and
attempts to market it internationally at about the same time as Camp
exerted his influence over football.18

Football as Play and Work
While the American version of football became highly commercialised
and developed into a mass spectator sport, it retained nearly all the
vestiges of amateurism, at least in theory and rhetoric. Professional
coaches appeared by the 1890s, though their influence on game day was
controlled. In 1892 coaches were barred from coaching from the sideline
and a 1900 rule forbade coaching during a game by anyone not playing
on the field. In 1914 all persons were banned from walking along the
sidelines and it was only in 1967 that the sideline coaching we recognise

Sporting Traditions • vol. 13 no. 1 • Nov. 1996116

today was officially sanctioned. Oriard argues that Camp viewed English
rugby as chaotic play and thought of American football as purposeful
work with the game moving from primitive physicality toward reason
and order.19 Hard training developed in the 1890s and one University of
Chicago player stated in 1897 that ‘I have no more fun in practice games.
It isn’t amusement or recreation any more. It is nothing less than hard
work.’20 Despite such evidence, American historians of sport have failed
to apply Marxist theory and discussions of sport as work in any
sophisticated manner. Many commentators, coaches and administrators
believed that football emulated the development of capitalism in the
USA and, as it emerged as a commercial enterprise, it seemed impossible
to ignore the links between the game and capitalism. It is from notions of
football as hard and purposeful work that several authors characterise
football’s role in a rapidly industrialising America of the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. Oriard shows that Camp generated a
narrative of football with a distinct plot:

the rationalisation and tactical development of the game’s
action, driven by the object of winning, developed in young
men the character and experiences essential for success in
America. Camp’s master metaphor for football in all of his
writings was the hierarchically structured, efficiently run
industrial corporation.21

Camp interpreted football meaning in essentially managerial and
technocratic terms. Umphlett and Lester show that Heisman and Stagg
respectively viewed football in the same terms as Camp. Thus football’s
early leading coaches linked football’s narrative to that of industrialising
America arguing that football represented the drive for success in wider
society. It was not difficult to point out the links between competitive
sort and competitive capitalism as the basic structures were very
similar. Modern sport, despite some idealistic assertions to the contrary,
has from the beginning been about winning and losing, often at virtually
any cost. Sperber argues that:

One of the enduring myths about intercollegiate athletics is
that they were originally innocent and pure. In reality,
because they began during the highly corrupt era in American
sports that culminated in the Black Sox scandal of 1919, and
because they were connected to the brawling and gambling
sports subculture, dishonesty and unethical practices marked

Review Article 117

their first period. The large football schools of the East and
in the Western Conference were particularly adept at
pioneering new forms of fraud and hypocrisy.22

Players shifted regularly between universities, some professional players
appeared in big games and eligibility rules were initially very flexible.
As coaches were paid for success, they frequently manipulated the rules
to win games against nearby rivals and top schools from other regions.
As spectator interest increased, emphasis on success also advanced.

In the 1880s and 1890s football went from a game to a spectacle.
Large stadia began to appear by the early 1900s. In 1903 Harvard’s
stadium could hold up to 50 000 and in 1914 the Yale Bowl opened with
a capacity of 78 000. Other grand facilities soon appeared all over the
country. In 1924 over 90 000 people witnessed the game between Stanford
and the University of California. In 1937 the annual championship game
between public and Catholic high schools in Chicago attracted 120 000
fans. Steven Riess suggests that this game constituted ‘the largest crowd
for a team sports event in American history’.23 Sperber’s account,
however, shows that the 1927 Notre Dame versus Southern California
game at Soldier Field in Chicago attracted over

120 000. The demand for tickets to the Notre Dame-Army game of
the same year was so great that a reported 100 000 ticket requests had to
be rejected.24 Despite a decline in attendances during the 1930s due to the
Great Depression, college football’s place as a mass spectator sport was
secured by the end of the 1920s.

Nowhere was the transformation of football from game to spectacle
more dramatic than at the University of Chicago. Established by an
endowment from John D Rockefeller in the early 1890s, Chicago’s first
president, William Rainey Harper, identified football as crucial in
establishing a wider reputation for the new university. Harper hired
Amos Alonzo Stagg in 1891 as a tenured Associate Professor of Physical
Culture and Football for the unprecedented salary of $2500. Stagg’s
appointment was the first of its kind both in physical education and in
coaching. Robin Lester charts the rise of football at the University of
Chicago and its later demise in a well-researched study of the internal
politics of the university, inter-university relations, alumni interests and
the local media in Stagg’s University. Stagg, with Harper’s full support,
created a successful program which rapidly sparked wide spectator
interest. In 1893, Chicago’s second season, the university initiated an

Sporting Traditions • vol. 13 no. 1 • Nov. 1996118

annual Thanksgiving Day game against the University of Michigan.
About 3000 spectators were present for the inaugural game, but for the
1905 match, 27 000 people attended, tickets were being scalped for the
unheard of sum of $20 and an estimated

$50 000 had been wagered on the outcome.25 For the 1922 game
against eastern power Princeton, Chicago received over 100 000 requests
for tickets. The game soon became the leading football game in the
midwest, often for the regional championship until the 1920s. In 1905,
Chicago became the first midwestern university to win the ‘national
championship’. Notre Dame matched this feat in 1924 and became so
successfull that its 1926 season generated a profit of $251 000.26 Ironically,
in a society obsessed with winners and losers, college football still lacks
a playoff system to determine the national champion, but rather
journalists or coaches vote in polls and the team with the most votes
wins the mythicalchampionship.

Spectacle, Passion and the Media in the Making of American

By 1900 most universities had football programs and rivalries with
nearby institutions. In many areas, the two leading universities within
the same state developed vicious rivalries not only on the field but off it
as well. In South Carolina, the University of South Carolina and Clemson
University played at the State Fairgrounds in Columbia, home of South
Carolina during the State Fair each year from the 1890s until the 1960s
except for six years in the early 1900s. In 1902, South Carolina defeated
Clemson for the first time in five years. Clemson cadets, offended by
some of the Carolina celebrations tried to march to the edge of Carolina’s
campus. Carolina students erectedbarricadesand armed themselves
with pistols. Violence was narrowly averted and, in the aftermath,
Carolina officials broke off football contact with Clemson until 1909.27

Such confrontation was rare, however, the incident illustrates the
importance of football by the early 1900s in other parts of the country
and not just in the northeast. While not attributable to local rivalries,
Notre Dame games periodically drew hostile reactions from opposing
team’s fans, as Sperber demonstrates. Several games against the
University of Nebraska were marred by anti-Catholic incidents with
local fans antagonising Notre Dame players and fans. Newspaper
headlines in Lincoln, Nebraska such as ‘Horrible Hibernians Invade
Today fomented these feelings. A 1925 half-time show by Nebraska

Review Article 119

students officially mocked Notre Dame’s famed Four Horsemen backfield
of the early 1920s. Soon after this event Notre Dame ended the series.
Sperber argues that such behaviour was not normal in the 1920s, but
Notre Dame was linked directly to the anti-Catholic sentiments promoted
by the Ku Klux Klan amongst other groups.28

The Thanksgiving Day game became the major feature of most
college football programs in the 1890s and early 1900s. The annual
Thanksgiving Day game in New York City, emulated elsewhere, has
been referred to by numerous authors as crucial to the emergence of
football as a national spectacle. Oriard points out, though, that the game
in New York took place only eleven times and it was only at the end of
the 1880s that it became a major social event.29 The game was a catalyst
for generating a popular audience for college football as much more
than just a sporting contest. The elevation of football in popular
consciousness through the Thanksgiving Day games, however, was
largely produced by the sensationalist reporting that
American newspapers by the late nineteenth century.


It is quite well known that Henry Chadwick was the first sports
reporter in the USA. He was hired in 1862 to cover baseball for the New
York Herald. Chadwick played a crucial role in the promotion of baseball.
It was not until 1883, however, that Joseph Pulitzer created the first
sports department at a major newspaper after he bought the New York
World. Oriard points out that the World’s circulation went from 15 000 in
1883 to 60 000 by 1884, 150 000 by 1885 and 250 000 in 1887. By 1892 the
World claimed to have two million readers. The World and the Evening
World begun in 1887 used illustrations and began sensationalised
reporting Sensational journalism increased after William Randolph
Hearst bought the New York Journal, thus creating a sensationalist
competition. Oriard argues that the mass audience for college football
that spanned the range of social classes was generated primarily by the
daily press. The majority of football’s mass audience discovered it
through the newspapers and not through attendance at games.30 By the
1920s every major daily newspaper devoted four or five pages to sport
during the week with even greater coverage in the Sunday editions. The
1920s, however, saw the rise of ‘gee whiz’ journalism whereby
sportswriters uncritically spun fantastic stories about coaches and players.
Many reporters were paid by coaches and officials to serve as promoters
and even as referees. Knute Rockne at Notre Dame frequently hired

120 Sporting Traditions • vol. 13 no. 1 • Nov. 1996

Walter Eckersoll31 of the Chicago Tribune to referee Notre Dame football
matches in the 1920s.32 Oriard points out that while Camp and his
colleagues from Harvard and Princeton gave football its narrative
structure, ‘the daily press then taught the public how to interpret the
game, how to read it asa cultural text’33 One of the crucial narratives of
football which coaches, administrators and politicians constantly used,
and continue to recite today through a largely uncritical media has been
that of football’s role as a manly game. While numerous analyses of
constructions of masculinity have been undertaken by sociologists of
sport, Oriard’s discussion of manliness is one of the few on masculinities
that has appeared in a historical study.34 Jim McKay and Iain Middlemiss
demonstrate in the Australian context how the media actively shape
constructions of hegemonic masculinity in the presentation of violence
and mythical depictions of events surrounding State of Origin rugby
league matches, though we know little of how such presentations have
evolved over time.35

Masculinity and Violence in the Early History of Football

Oriard examines how football and concepts of masculinity interacted in
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Coaches, journalists,
university officials and President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09) spoke
frequently about football’s role in making tough men who could face the
hard challenges of life. Oriard explains that ‘a preoccupation with the
male body and a shift toward a more muscular ideal arose toward the
close of the century when physical prowess ironically had become
largely irrelevant to real economic power’.36 Coaches such as Stagg and
Heisman believed that individual success in sports measured a man’s
worth both on and off the field.37 The promotion of football as developing
masculine qualities was not without difficulties in the late 1890s and
early 1900s. Many critics spoke out about the violent nature of the game,
particularly the large number of injuries and deaths caused by new
formations such as the ‘flying wedge’. In 1905, the debates about football’s
role in society came to a head as a record number of players died. A
significant number of men called for the game to be banned completely.
University of Chicago Divinity Professor Shailor Mathews argued that
‘football today is a social obsession—a boy-killing, education prostituting,
gladiatorial sport’.38 Many shared the sentiments of Mathews, but football
had a powerful ally in President Roosevelt, a vocal advocate for the
‘strenuous life’. Roosevelt condemned the violence in the game during

Review Article 121

1905 until he realised that many officials were moving towards banning
the game. Roosevelt summoned a member of the University of
Pennsylvania’s Board of Athletic Control to the White House for a
meeting on the issue and used him to pronounce the ultimate value of
football in making men who were strong and able to compete in a
dynamic society arguing that brutality in the game should be treated as
it was in boxing. Roosevelt stated that ‘it would be a real misfortune to
lose so manly and vigorous a game as football’.39 The sport survived as
rules were changed and the numbers of deaths began to decline.

Recently, some young women have been allowed to play high
school football. Any injury, however, leads to hysterical reactions about
football being ‘too rough for girls to play. In an excellent analysis of
sport, gender, society and the role of sports in the United States, Mariah
Burton Nelson, in The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football’,
persuasively argues that men are too weak to play football, the game
itself is too violent. On average eight boys die from football-related
injuries each year, the average life expectancy of former NFL players is
fifty-six years and 78 per cent of former NFL players have some
permanent physical disability from football-related injuries.40 While the
game may not be as violent as those of the flying wedge formation of the
early 1900s, football is still a violent sport in which severe injuries and
death remain risks for players. More historical research into violence
and football is needed and on the responses of various groups to issues
of death and injury in the game to generate a more complete sense of
football’s role in ‘making men’, indeed in ‘making violent men’, Finally,
as Burton Nelson shows, football is now one of the very few cultural and
social activities whereby men still try to separate themselves from women
either as players or spectators.

Nostalgia, Identity, Masculinity and Football in America

Football’s role in national consciousness was cemented by Hollywood
in 1940 in the film Knute Rockne: All-American. While the film drew on
the life of Rockne and his Notre Dame football teams, it glossed over
many actual events, perpetuated several myths and idealised the game
of football through a nostalgic recollection of Rockne’s life as coach of
Notre Dame. The film remained in popular consciousness particularly
in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan, who co-starred in the film,
repeatedly referred to the film and the values it supposedly portrayed.
Sperber discusses in detail how the film came into being and the series of

122 Sporting Traditions • vol. 13 no. 1 • Nov. 1996

myths about Rockne and Notre Dame that the film invented or

William Gildea’s book, When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore, focuses
on a later time from the histories of college football’s development and
concentrates on the role of a professional football team in one
community.42 Gildea, a sports journalist with the Washington Post, returns
to the Baltimore of his youth when the Baltimore Colts NFL team were
the most popular celebrities in town and succeeds in portraying a sense
of what Baltimore life was like in the 1950s. As the book’s overtly
nostalgic blurb states, ‘Gildea evokes the spirit of 1950s America, when
professional athletes were workaday neighbors and community was
more than a political slogan … This is a story, too, about the geographies
of the heart: why something so simple as a team can arouse such
emotional attachments.’ Gildea’s book is an important contribution to
the understanding of football’s meaning, at least in 1950s American east
coast cities. Gildea’s book reads very much like Warwick Roger’s 1991
recollection of the 1956 Springbok tour of New Zealand, Old Heroes,43

and is nostalgic in nature, yet also vividly recaptures the feelings
generated by the Baltimore Colts and its leading players.

While college football is more widespread and evokes emotional
responses from fans, professional football has done the same particularly
in its heartland of northern and midwestem industrial cities. The loss of
the Baltimore Colts to Indianapolis in 1984 and the relocation of the
Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996 were traumatic to fans and to the
cities, though the city of Cleveland had won the right to keep the name
and history of the Browns. Gildea’s book is not only a discussion of a
time, but of a particular kind of spectating, when players were closer to
the communities in which they played and working-class people could
afford to attend games on a regular basis. Memorial Stadium in Baltimore
had a particular ‘feel’ and atmosphere which will be quite different in
the new $200 million-plus stadium with large numbers of corporate
boxes. Indeed supporters of the Baltimore Stallions who played briefly
in the Canadian Football League competition in 1993-95 winning the
Grey Cup championship in 1995, remarked that watching the Stallions
at Memorial Stadium in $12 seats reminded them of the ‘good old days’
of watching the Colts before corporate boxes and televisual football took
over. The Save Our Stallions group fought against the move of the
Stallions after the owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, Art Modell,

Review Article 123

decided to move his team to Baltimore for the 1996 season. Though
ultimately unsuccessful, the Save Our Stallions group provide active
evidence of the arguments made by Gildea in his discussion of the
feeling of community in Baltimore in the 1950s and 1960s that gelled
around the Colts. The Baltimore Sun reported on the Stallions last game
as a scene out of 1955 not 1995: ‘It evoked the community’s long, lost
relationship with the Colts … It’s football in a time warp, No luxury
boxes. No club seating. No permanent seat licenses. No guilt. You can
reach out and touch the Stallions. The same won’t be true of the NFL
Browns … this team was a reflection of one Baltimore.’44

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion in sport studies and deserves
greaterattention, perhaps in the context of exploring geographies of the
heart.45 Australian footballsupporters in Melbourne are certainly familiar
with such emotions as Fitzroy Football Club disappeared from the
Australian Football League competition after the 1996 season,
amalgamated with Brisbane over 2000 kilometres away, while there
have been doubts about the future of Footscray, Richmond, St Kilda,
Hawthorn and Melbourne in recent years. The possible collapse of
individual clubs or merger proposals have evoked widespread emotional
responses based on deep senses of community and identity based largely
on nostalgic recollection. The concept of ‘geographies of the heart’
allows us to think of nostalgia as place — as well as temporally-based. All
temporal activities occur spatially and studies of sport and local identities
need to take this into careful consideration.46

While many people may be nostalgic for the forms of spectating
dominant in the 1950s in North America, Britain and in Australia, we
need more insights such asthose in Gildea’s book and Roger’s onNew
Zealand, and the 1950sin generalneed much greater attention from
sports historians, The 1950s seem to have been largely lost between the
history of sport which too often stops at 1914 or 1945 and the sociology
of sport which picks up somewhere around 1968. While the two
disciplines certainly overlap and have much to offer each other, present
debates notwithstanding, scholars in both areas would do well to take a
more thorough look at the 1950s.

American football is not only significant at professional and
university levels. High school football is just as important and in some
smaller communities, even more significant in the maintenance of local
identity. Harold Bissinger, an investigative reporter with the Chicago

124 Sporting Traditions • vol. 13 no. 1 • Nov. 1996

Tribune, spent the 1988 football season in Odessa, Texas with the Permian
High School Panthers football team who regularly drew 20 000 fans to
their games. Odessa is a small city in the West Texas desert and oil fields
region with periodic bouts of high unemployment, racial tensions, but
these largely disappear, at least for about three months of Friday nights
between September and December. Bissinger paints a vivid picture of
Odessa and the football team, drawing attention to the emphasis on the
team and how this affects the players, their families, the fans and young
women in the school who are relegated to cheerleading roles on the
cheerleading squad or as Pepettes, senior year girls who form the school
spirit squad and are responsible for making signs for senior year players
and wear white jerseys with the number of their player on it. They make
food, bring beer and other gifts to the players which often develops into
a stressful competition between Pepettes.47 Bissinger also follows the
trials faced by the players and how devastating an injury can be to a
player hoping to win a college scholarship and perhaps to make it to the
NFL one day. Bissinger’s book, along with Darcy Preys study of inter-
city basketball and the documentary movie Hoop Dreams and the
accompanying book by Ben Joravsky, powerfully point out the ways
that thousands of high schools athletes have their dreams of receiving a
college scholarship or making the pros shattered each year in an annual
version of the ‘survival of the fittest and luckiest’.48


The history and sociology of American football, while not being written
as fervently as baseball, is now receiving serious attention by academics
interested in the historical development and meaning of sport in American
society. High quality popular books such as Gildea’s nostalgic recollection
of the Baltimore Colts and Baltimore society in the 1950s and Bissinger’s
Friday Night Lights also add to our understanding of football in American
society. Sports studies’ scholars working on other sports and in other
national contexts would be well served by following the approach taken
by Oriard. We know much about the specific history of various sports,
but little sophisticated analysis of the meanings of particular sports as
Oriard has provided for the early history of American football or as
Richard Gruneau and David Whitson did for Canadian hockey in their
Hockey Night in Canada. 49 Local studies of sport and community as well
as textual analyses of writing about sport in particular periods of time
are both needed in much greater number in Australia and many more of

Review Article 125

these studies should also be undertaken in North America.50 Both the
books by Lester on the University of Chicago and Sperber on Notre
Dame provide excellent examples of the rewards possible from thorough
research and localised studies. Comparative studies of the early
development of football codes in the late nineteenth century in settler
societies of North America, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and
South Africa will also provide valuable insight into the ways that
sporting cultures and practices changed in specific contexts and what
influences these societies may have had on each other.

1 Major books discussed in this review are: Harold Bissinger, Friday Night Lights: A

Town, A Team, and a Dream, HarperCollins, New York, 1991; William Gildea,
When the Colts Belonged to Baltimore: A Father and a Son, a Team and a Time,
Tickner and Fields, New York, 1994; Robin Lester, Stagg’s University: The Rise,
Decline and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago, University of Illinois Press,
Urbana and Chicago, 1995; Michael Oriard, Reading Football; How the Popular
Press Created an American Sporting Spectacle, University of North Carolina Press,
Chapel Hill, 1993; Murray Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder: The Creation of Notre
Dame Football, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1993; Wiley Lee Umphlett,
Creating the Big Game, John W Heisman and the Invention of American Football,
Greenwood Press, Westport, Ct, 1992.

2 Steven A Riess, Sport in Industrial America 1850-1920, Harlan Davidson, Wheeling,
II, 1995, pp. 198-9, 201.

3 Oriard, Reading Football, p. xvii.
4 Ronald Smith, Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time College Athletics, OUP,

New York, 1988.
5 In the USA, college and university are often used interchangeably, thus ‘college

football’ refers to football played at institutions of higher learning called university or
college, such as Notre Dame University and Dartmouth College.

6 For an understanding of the rugby union ethos on which football developed, see
Timothy J L Chandler, ‘The Structuring of Manliness in the English Public Schools
and Oxbridge 1830 – 1880’, in John Nauright and Timothy J L Chandler, eds., Making
Men: Rugby and Masculine Identity, Frank Cass, London, 1996; and J A Mangan,
Athleticism in the Victorian and Edwardian Public School, CUP, Cambridge, 1981.

7 Donald Mrozek, Sport and the American Mentality 1880-1920, University of
Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1983.

8 Oriard, Reading Football, p. 9.
9 Oriard, Reading Football, p. 23.
10 It is worth investigating how virtually every football code in the world was codified

with an emerging pattern of distinct rules between 1859 and 1884 (with the hybrid
games of rugby league and Canadian football being much altered later from roots in
rugby union).

11 See Chandler, ‘The Structuring of Manliness’, for concepts of ‘fair play’ and
‘sportsmanship in the English context.

12 John Nauright, ‘Sport, Manhood and Empire: British Responses to the New Zealand
Rugby Tour of 1905’, International Journal of the History of Sport, vol. 8, no. 2, May
1991, pp. 239-55; ‘Colonial Manhood and Imperial Race Virility: British Responses
to Post-Boer War Colonial Rugby Tours’, in Nauright and Chandler, eds., Making
Men, pp. 121-39.

126 Sporting Traditions • vol. 13 no. 1 • Nov. 1996










Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder, p. 10, though Sperber wrongly attributes the
founding of the Gaelic Athletic Association (in 1884) to the failure of the Fenian
revolts. He argues that ‘in Ireland after the abortive 1860s Fenian revolts against
British rule the nationalists created the Gaelic Athletic Association’. Again an
example of an American scholar not utilising the now quite well-developed literature
on the early development of the GAA.
Umphlett, Creating the Big Game, p. 61.
For a discussion of this in the American context, see Mrozek, Sport and the
American Mentality, for the British and colonial context, see Nauright and Chandler,
Making Men.
Oriard, Reading Football, p. 30.
Smith, Sports and Freedom, pp. ix-x.
For information on Spalding, see Peter Levine, A G Spalding and the Rise of
Baseball: The Promise of American Sport, OUP, New York, 1985.
Oriard, Reading Football, pp. 41-2.
Lester, Stagg’s University, p. 32.
Oriard, Reading Football, p. 37.
Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder, p. 11.
Steven Riess, City Games: The Evolution of American Urban Society and the Rise
of Sports, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1989, pp. 155-6.
Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder, pp. 264, 267.
Lester, Stagg’s University, p. 68.
Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder, p. 222.
Lester, Stagg’s University, p. 32.
Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder, pp. 200-203.
Oriard, Reading Football, p. 92.
Oriard, Reading Football, p. 61.
Eckersoll, who died in 1930, was a former great quarterback at the University of
Chicago, though his academic performance was so poor that he eventually was
excluded from the University, though his coach, Amos Alonzo Stagg tried everything
he could to keep him eligible. For more on this, see Lester, Stagg’s University‚
pp. 55-63.
Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder, p. 192.
Oriard, Reading Football, p. 85.
Nauright and Chandler, Making Men, is the first book to examine masculine identity
in one sport from an historical perspective.
Jim McKay and lain Middlemiss, “‘Mate Against Mate, State Against State”: A Case
Study of Media Constructions of Hegemonic Masculinity in Australian Sport’,
Masculinities, vol. 3, no. 3, Fall 1995, pp. 28-45. Also, see Nick Trujillo,
‘Hegemonic Masculinity on the Mound: Media Representations of Nolan Ryan and
American Sports Culture’, Critical Studies in Mass Communication, vol. 8, 1991‚
pp. 290-308, for an analysis of how the American media represented one particular
player as a masculine hero.
Oriard, Reading Football, p. 190.
Umphlett, Creating the Big Game, p. 71.
Lester, Stagg’s University, p. 65.
Quoted in Lester, Stagg’s University, p. 75.
Mariah Burton Nelson, The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football:
Sexism and the American Culture of Sports, Harcourt Brace and Company, New
York, 1994, pp. 77-8.
Sperber, Shake Down the Thunder, pp. 464-83.
There are virtually no academic studies of professional football history, though
some good local histories exist. There is a good two volume history of the early

Review Article 127







Green Bay Packers, the USA’s only publicly-owned professional sports franchise,
see Larry Names, The History of the Green Bay Packers: The Lambeau Years, Part
One, Angel Press of Wisconsin, Wautoma, Wi, 1987; and The History of the Green
Bay Packers: The Lambeau Years, Part Two, Angel Press of Wisconsin, Wautoma,
Wi, 1989.
Wawick Roger, Old Heroes: The 1956 Springbok Tour and the Lives Beyond,
Hodder and Stoughton, Auckland, 1991. For a discussion of the book and the role
of nostalgia see, John Nauright, ‘Reclaiming Old and Forgotten Heroes: Nostalgia,
Rugby and Identity in New Zealand’, Sporting Traditions, vol. 10, no. 2, May 1994,
pp. 131-9.
Baltimore Sun, 13 Nov. 1995.
For examples, see John Nauright, ‘Reclaiming Old and Forgotten Heroes’; John
Nauright, ‘Rugby and the Nostalgia of Masculinity’, in Nauright and Chandler, eds.,
Making Men, pp. 229-52; John Nauright, ‘“A Besieged Tribe”: Nostalgia, White
Cultural Identity and the Role of Rugby in a Changing South Africa’, International
Review for the Sociology of Sport, vol. 31, no. 1, Feb. 1996, pp. 69-89; John
Nauright and Philip White, ‘Sport, Nostalgia, Nation and Community in Canada’,
AVANTE, in press; and Joseph Maguire, ‘Sport, Identity Politics and Globalization’,
Sociology of Sport Journal, vol. 11, no. 4, 1994, pp. 398-427.
The work of John Bale is useful here, but few geographical studies of sport exist.
See John Bate, Landscapes of Modern Sport, Leicester University Press, Leicester,
Bissinger, Friday Night Lights, pp. 45-6.
Darcy Frey, The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams, Touchstone, New
York, 1996; Ben Joravsky, Hoop Dreams: A True Story, HarperCollins, New York,
1996; see also Rick Telander, The Hundred Yard Lie: The Corruption of College
Football and What We Can’ Do to Stop It, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1990; and
Ken Denlinger, For the Glory: College Football Dreams and Realities Inside
Paterno’s Program, St Martin’s, New York, 1994.
Richard Gruneau and David Whitson, Hockey Night in Canada: Sport, Identities and
Cultural Politics, Garamond, Toronto, 1993. Also see Nauright and White, ‘Sport,
Nostalgia, Nation and Community in Canada’.
A good popular account that captures a sense of meaning in Australian football,
though more from the inside of a specific club is Martin Flanagan, Southern
Skies, Western Oval, McPhee and Gribble, Melbourne, 1994. The first real
examination of the social history of one football club in a community has just been
published and is reviewed elsewhere in this journal, Andrew Moore, The Mighty
Bears! A Social History of North Sydney Rugby League, North Sydney Rugby
Leagues Club, North Ryde, NSW, 1996.

What is a nation?

The prototypes for the modern nation emerged in Western Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Ethnic communities came together – frequently they were forced together into nations through

· the construction of state bureaucracies

· the formation of market economies

· the establishment of secular institutions.

European colonization and its aftermath led to the expansion of the idea of the nation to the colonized world. During colonialism the colonial countries carved up geographic spaces in Asia, Africa and Latin America into colony nations frequently they disregarded the histories and cultural connections that had existed long before colonialism. After colonialism, the same colonial powers often insisted that they only way formerly colonized countries could get independence was if they continued to use the borders established during colonialism.

One definition of a nation states that it is “a concept that pulls together a named human population that shares an historical territory, common myths and historical memories, a mass public culture, a common economy and common legal rights and duties for all its members.” This definition focuses on a unified body of people within a unified geographical space. However, this definition, though often referenced, contains some contradictions. For example, let’s take England. There was a time when people thought of the English as a culturally homogenous place and all English people had the said to look the same and have the same culture.

This photo of Olympic gold medal winner Linford Christie was seen as controversial in 1992 because some people at the time questioned whether a Black man could be English. Similarly, Mesut Ozil (pictured below) who used to play football (soccer to you ) for the German national team, “I am German when we win, but I
am an immigrant when we lose.” However, even if one could magically rid the England of all its immigrants – and that would be impossible – England was created out of the forced erasure or forced unity of diverse populations Specifically the Saxons, Celts, and Normans. Other things that often happen to create the idea of a united nation include:

· The glossing over of differences of class, gender, and ethnicity.

· In specific national cases, how the sense of national identity and wealth is built on colonization of those ‘outside’

Although political and economic forces were fundamentally important to shaping the modern nation, it is within
culture and
communication that most people experience the nation on a day-to-day basis. Nations create national identities which give people a sense of collective identification and reassure them that they shared something in common with a set of people. Political Scientist, Benedict Anderson defined the nation as an
imagined community: a collective mythos that is “imagined because members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson, 1983:6)

Cultural Studies scholar Stuart Hall says that nations are created through the stories we are told. Narratives told and retold in national histories, literatures, the media, popular culture stand in for shared experiences and give us a sense of belonging.

Here are some examples of places where we are told national narratives:

· Public ceremonies which give us a sense of origins, continuity, tradition, and timelessness

· The inventions of tradition. For example, the British Monarchy seems timeless, but the Windsor family who are currently on the throne are quite recent to the monarchy and…they’re not strictly English by heritage. Their heritage is very German.

· The creation of foundational myths that take all the complexity of the past and repackage it into a simple story. Take, for example, the Mayflower or the Thanksgiving story you might have been told at school.

· Televised sport gives us a sense of sharing cultural with our imagined communities. And when we watch international sporting events like the Olympics we are asked to ‘believe’ in the concept of ‘the nation’ and cheer for our national team because they
are our national team.

· News stories often construct ideas about ‘us’ and ‘them,’ ‘threats to national security,’ and reaffirm confidence in national institutions.

So, although we live and behave as if the development of nations and national identities is natural, they are actively constructed. The cultural practices that we assume are ageless traditions are selected, consciously and unconsciously.



Excerpt 2 Offensive Lines: Sport State Synergy in an Era of Perpetual War

Samantha King

Capitalizing on War

Following the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the NFL had made a multimillion-dollar commitment to encourage tourism in New York City by providing free promotional time on radio and television networks, donating money to the city’s September 11 commemoration, and establishing the NFL Disaster Relief Fund. The relationship between the league and the city culminated, in September 2002, in the inaugural Kickoff Live, a glitzy, star-studded music and football festival held in Times Square to celebrate the launch of the new season.

NFL executives had been thinking about ways to make the season launch a more prominent event in the sports calendar for some time prior to the fall of 2001 and the Kickoff (billed in publicity materials as a “tribute to the American spirit, the resiliency of New Yorkers, and the fact that post-9/11, New York City remains one of the premier tourist destinations in the world” []) provided a perfect forum to test this idea. Although the NFL enjoys the healthiest television ratings of any major sport in the United States, the league is trying to prevent its audience figures from suffering the intense erosion experienced by its competitors in recent years by broadening its overall brand recognition to win new fans, especially among women, teenagers, and children. The NFL’s target demographic groups were made clear in the choice of performers who took to the stage in Times Square: Jon Bon Jovi, Eve, Alicia Keys, Enrique Iglesias, and ‘N SYNC’s Joey Fatone who appeared with his fellow cast members from the Broadway musical Rent. The event drew approximately 500,000 attendees and was covered by 120 media outlets worldwide. Moreover, according to NFL figures, television ratings for the opening slate of games increased by 11% following the broadcast of the Kickoff and helped produce a 5.5% improvement in average per-game viewership for the season.

The Kickoff event and the philanthropic projects it was used to promote fit perfectly within the framework of the dominant national response to the terrorist attacks. Although the Bush administration pursued military retaliation over- seas, ordinary Americans were told that they could best help the nation to recover from this tragedy by doing two things: consuming and volunteering. In this context, the Kickoff offered an accessible and efficient vehicle through which citizens could fulfill both expectations at once, either as consumers of football who donated money to the NFL fund (giving money was a frequently cited example of the types of volunteerism in which Americans could engage) or as tourists to New York City. Like so many recently created cogs in the machinery of philanthropic production in the United States, the NFL campaigns encouraged people to do good for others at the same time that they went about their everyday practices of consumption, as well as providing the league with an opportunity to market itself as a properly patriotic corporate citizen.

After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the NFL shifted the emphasis of its post- 9/11 community outreach activities away from disaster relief and tourist promotion to more explicitly patriotic and militaristic projects carried out in collaboration with the Bush administration: NFL players have made numerous trips to visit injured soldiers; the league pledged to donate football equipment to all teams associated with the military; and it has also worked in partnership with the government on Operation Tribute to Freedom, a program designed to “reinforce the bond between the citizen and the military” and to “help Americans express their support for the troops who are returning from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who continue to fight in the ongoing effort toward victory in the global war on terrorism” (

It was under the auspices of the Tribute to Freedom program that the league staged the second Kickoff Live (presented by Pepsi Vanilla, the “Not-Too-Vanilla Vanilla”) in September 2003. This time the Kickoff took place on the National Mall in Washington D.C. and included performances by Britney Spears, Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige, and Aretha Franklin, who sang the national anthem. The 300,000- strong crowd included 25,000 troops and their families shipped in for the event by the Department of Defense with the promise of a free t-shirt and prime concert viewing. Publicity materials noted that the purpose of this “new tradition” was to “celebrate the resilient and indomitable spirit of America” ( through a focus on veterans of the “Global War on Terrorism.” Following the concert, the season opener between the Washington Redskins and the New York Jets was televised on a series of jumbotrons erected especially for the occasion.

With the help of US$2.5 million dollars from cosponsors Pepsi, the NFL paid US$10 million dollars to stage this peculiar, though oddly synchronistic, mixture of patriotic, hypermasculine, family friendly entertainment. As a series of articles in
The Washington Post and
The Washington Times pointed out, this was the first time in history that a private business had been permitted to take over most of the land between the Monument and the Capitol grounds, and for 11 days to boot (Barker, 2003; Fisher, 2003; Montgomery, 2003). Although the event was framed as a philanthropic public service, most likely in order to comply with rules about commercial activities on the Mall, the NFL was clearly the financial and creative driving force behind the event: Paul Tagliabue apparently proposed the idea to General Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in May of that year. Moreover, the extent to which the military presence was micromanaged is evidenced in the claim made by David Montgomery of The Washington Post that “at the request of the NFL, the Pentagon encouraged service people to wear their short-sleeve, open-collar uniforms, to make a good impression on TV” (2003, p. C1). Although the Pentagon is officially prohibited from participating in corporate promotions, by folding the Kickoff into the Tribute to Freedom program, it was able to promote the event quite freely on its Web site and in communications with service personnel.

Defending your sponsorship: the outlawing of ‘paid patriotism’

By Todd C. Koesters, Matthew T. Brown and Mark S. Nagel


The intersection of sports and politics is not new. Championship winning teams in the United States have been taking pictures with the President at the White House since Calvin Coolidge hosted the Washington Senators following their World Series championship win in 1924 (Neumann, 2016). Famous athletes have voiced their support for presidential candidates, and presidential candidates have discussed the importance of reaching particular voting demographics like the “NASCAR dad” or the “soccer mom” (Drehs, 2004). Politicians have thrown out first pitches, flipped coins before games, and even commanded the Navy band to play the University of Michigan fight song (Leslie, 2008). However, this intersection of sports and politics hasn’t always been amicable. Congressional investigations and/or hearings have been held or called over the use of performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball (MLB), the prevalence of head injuries/concussions in the National Football League (NFL), the handling of abuse allegations directed at a former Penn State assistant football coach, and whether or not the United States Postal Service is entitled to a sponsorship refund following Lance Armstrong’s doping admission (Ezell, 2013; Newman, 2005; Red; 2012; Thompson, 2015).

Background of Paid Patriotism

On November 4, 2015, the intersection of sports and politics arose again when Senators John McCain (R-Arizona), Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), and Richard Blumenthal (D- Connecticut) called into question 122 advertising and marketing contracts totaling millions of dollars between Department of Defense (DOD) entities (i.e., Army, Navy, National Guard, etc.) and professional sport teams and leagues. The Senators released the details of the DOD contracts in a report titled Tackling Paid Patriotism Oversight Report (2015). Examples of these marketing contracts included the National Guard spending $49.1 million on sports sponsorships with the NFL, MLB, National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), Major League Soccer (MLS), and a Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) Tour event. Though payments were made to a variety of sport organizations, much of the money (more than $6.1 million) and criticism went to the NFL and its individual franchises. The most highly scrutinized contracts involved events that included enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies, family reunions with returning service members, tickets, player appearances, and the highly popular full-field exhibition of the American flag. Senator McCain was outspoken in his concern that these types of paid activities were uncalled for acts of “paid patriotism,” particularly in a fiscal environment in which the national debt was projected to grow from $10.6 trillion to nearly $20 trillion by the end of President Barack Obama’s administration in early 2017.

The report received extensive attention and many pundits discussed the topic fervently, with the vast majority expressing their concern that the government should not misuse taxpayer money to pay sport organizations for patriotic events. Specific instances in the report were noted as inappropriate, including the New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, and Buffalo Bills each receiving more than $600,000 while numerous other NFL teams were garnering six figure checks. In total, the report uncovered $53 million in military payments to professional sports teams for “marketing and advertising contracts” between 2012 and 2015 (McCain & Flake, 2015).

Legal History

Though the
Tackling Paid Patriotism Oversight Report was perceived by many as the main focus of the senators, it was actually researched, compiled, and published to support an amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Act was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama in November 2015 and became Public Law No: 114-92 (National Defense Authorization Act, 2016). The NDAA includes two provisions, Section 341 and 345, which specifically address military spending on sporting events. Section 341 addresses the idea of “paid patriotism” with benefits considered to be personal in nature. It states: “The Department of Defense may not enter into any contract or other agreement under which payments are to be made in exchange for activities by the contractor intended to honor, or giving the appearance of honoring, members of the armed forces … at any form of sporting event” unless those activities are provided on a “pro bono basis or otherwise funded with non-Federal funds” and are compliant with military rules limiting the acceptance of gifts deemed to be personal in nature (National Defense Authorization Act, 2016, SEC. 341). The legal standard is clear. Professional sports teams can continue to honor military members and their families. They can continue to wave flags, salute heroes, and conduct tearful reunions. However, taxpayer dollars cannot be used to do it.

Excerpt Sport and National Anthem

Richard C. Crepeau

Crepeau, Richard C., “Sport and National Anthem” (1996). On Sport and Society. 257.

First, it is important to note that there was no official National Anthem until 1931 when The Star-Spangled Banner was declared so by an Act of Congress. However during World War I President Wilson had declared The Star-Spangled Banner the unofficial national anthem….

It is generally accepted that The Star-Spangled Banner. was first played at a baseball game during the first game of the 1918 World Series. It was played under the shadow of an atmosphere that saw considerable public discussion of the patriotism of baseball players who had failed to go off to Europe and Defeat the Dreaded Hun. The charge of “slacker” was heard across the land and the baseball establishment was most sensitive to this charge.

To demonstrate major league patriotism baseball teams had the players march in formation during pre-game military drills while carrying bats on their shoulders. During the seventh inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series when the band spontaneously began to play The Star-Spangled Banner, the Cubs and Red Sox players stood at attention facing the center field flag pole. The crowd sang along, even without Harry Cary, and when the singing ended there was applause. Given this reaction in Chicago The Star-Spangled Banner was played during the seventh-inning stretch for the next two games.

When the Series moved to Boston the great theatrical Red Sox owner Harry Frazee pumped up the show biz, brought in a band, and The Star-Spangled Banner was played before the start of each game.

When the war ended the practice did not, and on those occasions when a band was present such as opening day, special holidays, or the World Series, the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner became common practice. Opening day in Washington saw it played in the presence of the President of the United States, and in other cities local politicians participated in the events. The Seventh Regiment Band under the direction of John Philip Sousa played the Star-Spangled Banner as part of the pregame festivities at the opening of Yankee Stadium in 1923 before the largest crowd to ever see a baseball game. But it was not done every day because the lack of sound systems and the expense of having a band present on a daily basis made it impossible.

Although the Star-Spangled Banner was played on these special days, it did not become a daily practice, even after the song was declared the official National Anthem in 1931, and even though by 1934 some ballparks had public address systems.

The coming of war in the late thirties changed all of that.

During the 1939-40 National Hockey League season the Canadian Anthem was played at games in Canadian cities as Canada was already at war. Then the practice spread to Madison Square Garden and from there it was transferred from hockey to baseball.

In 1940 with the fighting underway in earnest and America becoming more conscious of the possibility of war there was increased talk of a need for the national anthem before baseball games. This was suggested by The Sporting News in June, while at the same time the President of the International League called for the anthem in league cities in the U.S., as was already being done in Canadian cities. By 1941 the practice of playing the anthem before sporting events had achieved nearly universal status. At some games the pledge of allegiance was added on, and by 1941 “I Am an American Day” became a feature at major league parks.

It would be nice to say that all of this was pure patriotic expression, but of course much of it was PR conscious owners making sure that in World War II there would be no questioning of the patriotism of athletes who played games while others went off to serve their country. Four years of war, followed by the Cold War and the emergence of the American Empire solidified the practice and made it into a national ritual.

Excerpt Offensive Lines: Sport State Synergy in an Era of Perpetual War

Samantha King

Sport and War in American Culture

Sport represents a surrogate for war—even as this relationship is repeatedly disavowed in public discourse—that has allowed sport culture in general, and the NFL in particular, to be incorporated into Bush administration policy and public relations efforts and, concomitantly, for the NFL to seek out a marketing partnership with a war-consumed state.

We need to only think of the everyday practice of describing sporting competitions, rivalries, strategies, and plays in the language of military force to understand how sport in the United States, especially football, generates many of the same emotions and investments as war (Jansen & Sabo, 1994): Quarterback heroes throw bombs under the orders of generals who devise game strategies in war rooms; defensive warriors seek to blitz the offensive line; a series of completed passes constitutes an aerial attack; and tied games result in sudden death over- times. For a few weeks following the events of September 11, 2001, however, sport pundits placed a voluntary moratorium on the use of such terminology. Although their decision had the potential to prompt some reflection on the nature of commercial sport culture in the United States, it was articulated very quickly to the narrative of lost innocence and harsh new realities that framed the popular response to the attacks. Prior to the fall of 2001, such words and images had seemed naïve, harmless, and even pure, wrote the numerous commentators who rushed to make note of this shift in newspaper columns across the country. But not any more, they claimed with characteristic historical amnesia. Injury, violence, death, and war were now an authentic part of the American experience and for this reason, if no other, they deserved to be taken seriously

By midseason, military metaphors were back with a vengeance, however, as coaches and journalists blithely peppered their pregame talks and postgame commentaries with liberal sprinklings of death and destruction (Yockey, 2003). This practice continued with the start of the occupation of Iraq, although something of a double standard arose in terms of who could legitimately deploy the language of war. In November 2003, Kellen Winslow, a tight end for the University of Miami, and favorite pick for this year’s NFL draft, had lost his cool in a press conference after a loss to Tennessee, telling a room full of reporters: “It’s war. They’re out to kill you, so I’m out there to kill them. I’m a fucking soldier. Now get away from me or I’ll go off” (Mumper, 2003). Winslow was roundly criticized in the media for his remarks and benched by his coach for the subsequent game. The player apologized the next day in a statement released by the university.

Shortly thereafter, in May 2004, Minnesota Timberwolf Kevin Garnett was castigated for his use of a series of military metaphors to describe an upcoming play-off game with the Sacramento Kings. The series up to that point was marked by trash talking and hard fouls and when asked about the importance of the deciding game. Garnett told reporters:

This is it. It’s all for the marbles. I’m sitting in the house loading up the pump, I’m loading up the Uzis, I’ve got a couple of M-16s, couple of nines, couple of joints with some silencers on them, couple of grenades, got a missile launcher. I’m ready for war. (Lupica, 2004, p. 68)

In an apology the next day that was remarkably similar in content to the statement issued by Winslow a few months earlier, Garnett said:

Sincerely, I apologize for my comments earlier. I didn’t mean to offend anybody. I’m a young man, and I understand when I’m appropriate, and this is totally inappropriate. I was totally thinking about basketball, not reality. I was just metaphorically trying to come up with a way to talk about the enormity of the game. (Murillo, 2004, p. 20)

Although, in both instances, there were a handful of commentators who noted that the American public should probably be more worried about the use of inappropriate sports metaphors among politicians and army generals (Caple, 2004), the overwhelming response was to lambaste Winslow and Garnett as ignorant, spoiled celebrities who play games for a living and who thus have no concept of the harsh reality of war.

The apologies released by the players reinforced this position, in both cases concluding with reference to the fiction of basketball and the reality of war and the players’ respective inability to comprehend a world outside the comfort of professional sport.

The fact that all the major sport institutions in the United States, including the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the National Basketball Association, have, to varying extents, harnessed their brand image to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq somehow escapes the same level of scrutiny. This erasure is particularly remarkable given that their marketing campaigns encourage fans to identify with a whitewashed image of military service and of war itself from the comfort of the bleachers or the couch. Perhaps what was ultimately so damaging about Winslow’s and Garnett’s outbursts, then, was that their words—unlike the slightly more abstract language usually deployed by commentators—made so explicit and visceral the conflict, violence, and destruction on which these promotional campaigns ultimately depend.

As numerous researchers have noted, there is also a racial logic that structures the American public’s love–hate relationship with professional Black male athletes and its often self-righteous and duplicitous critique of their supposedly brattish behavior and outlandish lifestyles (Andrews, 1996; Boyd, 2003; Cole & Andrews, 1996; Leonard, 2004; McDonald, 1996). In other words, Winslow and Garnett, who are both Black, were quickly admonished by a predominantly White media whose adoration for celebrity athletes coexists alongside a thinly veiled discourse that constructs these stars as overpaid thugs who are unable to handle the rewards of middle- or upper-class existence and whose lives off the field thus comprise an endless cycle of bar brawls, drug stings, attempted sexual assaults, paternity suits, and domestic violence charges. In this context, it is difficult for this same audience to recognize the key commonalities between professional athletes as a social group and an ideological category and military service personnel as a social group and an ideological category.

Gamal Abdel-Shehid (2002) argues that athletes and soldiers of color (mostly male) play a key role in the reproduction of U.S. hegemony and dominant ideolog- ical values at home and abroad. Black men, in particular, are overrepresented in both the military and professional sport—institutions that are crucial to the assertion and maintenance of the political, cultural, and economic supremacy of the United States. They fight wars on behalf of their leaders, literally in the case of soldiers, and figuratively in the case of athletes whose labor in both domestic and international competition is central to the reproduction of U.S. national identity. Although a select few athletes reap huge financial rewards for their efforts, in both sporting and military institutions, the economic security offered to workers in exchange for their labor is more often than not short term. At the same time, the prominence of men of color in these fields masquerades as evidence of the egalitarian character of U.S. society rather than as an effect of highly limited opportunities for upward mobility in a racialized, capitalist social formation. Any suggestion of figurative equivalence between war and sport, especially when voiced by those whose labor is crucial to the reproduction of these systems of exploitation through statements that make their position as workers explicit, must therefore be swiftly recuperated.

Elements of Magazine Cover Design

Masthead: the name of the magazine


Main image including the background

Anchoring: Because images are open to interpretation like all forms of language, words are often used to anchor the image to in a particular meaning. On a magazine cover the Lead article lines often seek to anchor the image

Lead article line: headline for the main story

Coverlines: Headlines that indicate the content


What does the name of the magazine connote? For example, what changes about this magazine if, rather than calling it Vogue we call it Lookin Goooood! Or Extremely Fashionable Accoutrements? Would it have a different impact on the reader?

How well-known is the name of the magazine you are analyzing? What is its reputation?

What do the font choices seem to convey and why? If you download Find my Font or What the font on your phone you will be able to see which font the magazine is using, or least the family of fonts to which it belongs – that can give you background on the font (
whenever I suggest that students download an app on their phone, I like to remind them that most apps are monitoring you and selling your data. So, you should make the decision which apps you want to download to your device carefully). Note, you can also look at the font, describe it and ask yourself what is it trying to convey. Where is it placed on the page? Where have you seen this pattern


What stories are in magazine? What does this convey about the magazine? What does it convey about how they see their audience? What words have been selected to convey this information. For example, on this cover: why might a fashion magazine emphasize ‘new’? How else might you say “coming of age”? why choose coming of age versus other words? Where else do you hear these types of phrases used? What type of energy and imagery do the word choices convey? Note that two of these stories (the Kaia Gerber story and the Rihanna story) are about growing up – why do you think that is?

Look at the font choices here too. Which words are emphasized? Why?

Lead article line:

What is the main story about? What does this convey about the magazine? For example, this Lead article is about Rihanna. What narrative are they conveying about her? What types of people are usually in this magazine. Which celebrities or other people is this magazine unlikely to feature in its lead article? Why not?

What words have been selected to communicate ideas about the lead article. For example, with this example, what is the impact of using alliteration:
Fenty, and
Finding Love? What do we know about the Rihanna brand that makes the word choice make sense? Look at the font choices here too. Which words are emphasized? Why?

Main image:

Ask yourself questions such as

Why this image? Why this particular person?

What does the lighting convey?

Where is the camera positioned, what does it convey? What if we lowered the camera so that it was looking up at Rihanna? Or what if we placed the camera above here so that it was looking down on her?

What are some of the cultural conventions of posing that are being used?

How is the person dressed? What colors are being used How is make up used?

What is going on in the background

How are codes of gender being used?

Your generation is probably the most informed generation ever about how images are modified with Photoshop and with filters. Use that knowledge in when examining the magazine you are analyzing too.


Because images are open to interpretation like all forms of language, words are often used to anchor the image to in a particular meaning. On a magazine cover the Lead article lines often seek to anchor the image

How has the main image been anchored? What types of readings are they seeking to emphasize? If those words were not there, how else might you read the image? What is the impact of the anchoring? How is it inviting the reader to read the image?


When is this published? Does that have an impact upon the content that is included in the magazine?