How the NFL reflects American culture

The league is a microcosm. It is everyone on the same field, pounding and propelling each other, the most mixed workplace we’ve got, the only private industry where people from all economic and ethnic backgrounds compete on an even plain—literally—in the most intense circumstances. Football is teamwork in the way of no other sport. Basketball is five guys, which is a commando unit; baseball is a scattering, each player closed in his own solitude. But football is 11 players acting as one, each having to execute perfectly to win.

And football is violent—nothing but violence, controlled fury. This too is America. We live in a violent country, have violent impulses, love a violent game. Players must work themselves into a rage to succeed. Is it any wonder that some can’t turn it off? They’ve keyed themselves up with Dexedrine and greenies from the start.

Football has never been more popular, but certain circles say the game is too brutal for modern America—that we’ve evolved away from it, or should have. Such people hold out soccer as an alternative, much the same way that, on cold days, my mom used to hold out a more sensible coat instead of the one with all the zippers. But America is still what it has always been: a tough country, made by violence, which the game compresses and presents in the course of an afternoon.