American football, the game we love in spite of our better selves

January 22, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: journalism.

Americans’ love of football remains undiminished despite the spectacle of Damar Hamlin collapsing on the field during the Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals nationally-televised game a couple of weeks ago. Hamlin had just taken a normal hit to the chest on the previous play, but this hit sent him into cardiac arrest. He nearly died.

It was all there, right in front of us for anyone to see.

The nation was shocked, outraged. As Reid Forgrave writes in Plough magazine:

We chastise the NFL for its checkered record with player safety. We pledge we’ll stop watching football. We claim to truly care for the human being wearing that uniform. We tweet about how horrified we are at football’s violence and the NFL’s money-at-all-costs machine.

But we aren’t being fully authentic in our outrage, are we? The next weekend, players play, fans watch, commercials air, and reform ends up only happening at the margins – tweaks to the rules, improved equipment, better concussion protocols, but nothing that ruins the sanctity of our brutal, beautiful national sport.

Football’s violence always stays. Because that violence is what we love about football.

Forgrave is the author of Love, Zac: Small-Town Football and the Life and Death of an American Boy.  His article examines the affection that Americans have for the game and why, no matter what, we can’t give it up. We spend time and money on the game, and despite the moral ambiguities that it creates, we will continue to do so.

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