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The NFL: Critical and Cultural Perspectives

Thomas P. Oates
Zack Furness
Foreword by Michael Oriard
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    The NFL
    Book Description:

    The National Football League is one of the most significant cultural engines in contemporary American life. Yet despite intense and near ubiquitous media coverage, commentators rarely turn a critical lens on the league to ask what material and social forces have contributed to its success, and how the NFL has influenced public life in the United States.

    The editors of and contributors toThe NFLexamine the league as a culturally, economically, and politically powerful presence in American life. The essays, by established and up-and-coming scholars, explore how the NFL is packaged for commercial consumption, the league's influence on American identity, and its relationship to state and cultural militarism.

    The NFLis the first collection of critical essays to focus attention on the NFL as a cultural force. It boldly moves beyond popular celebrations of the sport and toward a fuller understanding of football's role in shaping contemporary sport, media, and everyday life.

    Contributors include: David L. Andrews, Aaron Baker, Michael Butterworth, Jacob Dittmer, Dan Grano, Samantha King, Kyle Kusz, Toby Miller, Ronald L. Mower, Dylan Mulvin, Oliver J.C. Rick, Katie Rodgers, and the editors.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0959-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword: Football as Mediated Spectacle
    (pp. vii-x)
    Michael Oriard

    It has become a commonplace, among informed fans as well as sports scholars, that professional football was effectively “created” by television. The championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts, decided in sudden-death overtime before a national television audience, is routinely cited as the National Football League’s “origin moment,” as Dan Grano terms it in the first chapter in this collection. From its beginnings in athletic clubs and midwestern mill towns in the 1890s, professional football was a ragtag affair deeply in the shadow of college football. With the founding in 1920 of what became the National...

  4. Introduction: The Political Football: Culture, Critique, and the NFL
    (pp. 1-10)
    Thomas P. Oates and Zack Furness

    The editors of this book met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a former steel town transformed by deindustrialization that has recently been hailed as America’s “most livable” city by theEconomistandForbes.¹ As the steel mills on the river that sustained past generations of “Yinzers” (as many Pittsburghers self-identify) lie abandoned or are demolished to make way for shopping malls or housing developments, the city has rebranded itself around the so-called knowledge economy, with health care, insurance, and education at its center. But the city’s industrial past is still symbolically very much alive and finds public expression in a passion for...

  5. I Production, Promotion, and Control

    • 1 The Greatest Game Ever Played: An NFL Origin Story
      (pp. 13-39)
      Daniel A. Grano

      Journalist Phil Patton begins his bookRazzle-Dazzle: The Curious Marriage of Television and Professional Footballwith a representative vision of the modern NFL being born on television:

      John Unitas dropped back quickly with the ball, held it poised at his ear for a brief, scanning moment, and then, with the quick flicking motion so familiar to his watchers, released the pass. Unitas’s hand turned over in his characteristic sweeping follow-through and Raymond Berry took the pass twenty yards downfield.

      This was the moment when pro football began its reign as the country’s favorite television sport; it can be defined that...

    • 2 Game Time: A History of the Managerial Authority of the Instant Replay
      (pp. 40-59)
      Dylan Mulvin

      The open secret of football broadcasting is its lack of football. It is now a trope of January press coverage to dissect the formulaic broadcast and to note, helplessly, that the average three-to-four-hour televised NFL game contains somewhere between nine minutes and sixteen minutes of live action.¹ The remainder of the broadcast is composed of advertisements, shots of people standing around, and replays. It is this last feature, the instant, slow-motion, and freeze-frame replay, that I interrogate here. The replay performs an obvious, if underappreciated, role in constructing the conventional flow of images in a sports broadcast by joining together...

    • 3 The Ochocinco Brand: Social Media’s Impact on the NFL’s Institutional Control
      (pp. 60-79)
      Jacob Dittmer

      This message, posted on February 23, 2010, at 10:06 A.M., is one of the many tweets posted on the Twitter feed of NFL wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (as Chad Johnson was then known). What is particularly significant about this message is that Ochocinco—as I refer to him throughout—actuallybrokethe news of Westbrook’s release.¹ Ochocinco scooped the traditional media with this story, and his OCNN (OchoCinco News Network) was cited as the source for the news item on ESPN. This was not Ochocinco’s first foray into reporting on the NFL and his fellow players. In fact, the OCNN...

    • 4 New Media and the Repackaging of NFL Fandom
      (pp. 80-100)
      Thomas P. Oates

      In the past decade, football fandom has undergone a remarkable and widespread transformation. This transformation has been influenced by a number of forces and is found in a number of specific products, but it is marked by a single distinctive feature: the presentation of athletes as commodities to be consumed selectively and self-consciously by sports fans. I call this feature vicarious management, and while it is more widespread, in this chapter I locate it in three football-related entertainments that invite fans to imagine themselves examining and assessing the potential productivity of NFL players.

      The media spectacle of the NFL draft,...

  6. II Identities, Social Hierarchies, and Cultural Power

    • 5 NFL Sex
      (pp. 103-118)
      Toby Miller

      Sporting heroes and heroines function as models of desire. Why? Sport and celebrity jumble together. They live cheek by cheek, torso by torso, boot by boot. The paradox at the heart of sport, its simultaneously transcendent and imprisoning qualities that derive from its astonishing capacity to allegorize, is most obvious—perhaps most transformative—in the field of celebrity culture. For with the advent of consumer capitalism and the New International Division of Cultural Labor, the body has become an increasingly visible and powerful locus of passionate investment. The manipulation of appearance through fashion, adornment, nutrition, and conditioning has changed the...

    • 6 Football and “Ghettocentric” Logics? The NFL’s Essentialist Mobilization of Black Bodies
      (pp. 119-141)
      Ronald L. Mower, David L. Andrews and Oliver J. C. Rick

      The intertextually rendered spectacles of professional sport culture in the United States illuminate the specificities of contemporary American society in compelling ways. Given the complexities of sport’s racial economies, professional sport is an important window into the contemporaneous state of play in the American racial formation. Thus, the commercialized, spectacularized, and celebritized worlds of the NFL, National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), and National Hockey League (NHL), constitute instructive sites for examining the politics of market-inspired practices and expressions of popular racial representation. While the NBA has long been in the business of “making Black men safe for...

    • 7 “I Was a Gladiator”: Pain, Injury, and Masculinity in the NFL
      (pp. 142-159)
      Katie Rodgers

      In February 2011, fifty-year-old NFL alumnus Dave Duerson was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. He left a note asking his family to donate his brain to research on football-related head trauma. Duerson knew something was not right with his brain and was proved correct in May 2011, when researchers at Boston University confirmed his suspicions. Duerson was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease that has been found in the brains of over forty deceased NFL retirees.¹ For some, this tragedy served as a wake-up call to the dangers of playing football. For others,...

    • 8 Masculinity, Race, and Violence in Any Given Sunday
      (pp. 160-168)
      Aaron Baker

      Like Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball (MLB) in 1947, the return of African Americans to play in the NFL took place just after the end of World War II. A few blacks had played in the NFL from its founding in 1920 until a ban on their participation was imposed in 1933. Prompted by moral pressure generated by the significant contributions blacks had made to the war effort and the incentive of the untapped consumer market they represented, the league began allowing African American players to participate again in 1946. In that year, Kenny...

    • 9 Spignesi, Sinatra, and the Pittsburgh Steelers: Franco’s Italian Army as an Expression of Ethnic Identity, 1972–1977
      (pp. 169-188)
      Nicholas P. Ciotola

      Scholars have long demonstrated an interest in the relationships between sports and ethnicity, and the questions they seek to answer are both compelling and long overdue.¹ What, for instance, were the contributions of specific ethnic groups to the history of sport? To what extent did sport affect ethnic culture? How did sport function to build group identity? Did the particular conditions of time and place affect the ethnic sporting experience? In an attempt to ponder these and other questions, scholars have explored subjects ranging from the African American sporting experience in Pennsylvania to football and religious acculturation in Chicago, to...

  7. III Gridirons and Battlefields

    • 10 Offensive Lines: Sport-State Synergy in an Era of Perpetual War
      (pp. 191-204)
      Samantha King

      My interest in the relationship between sport and militarism in the context of the war on terror and the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan grew out of a long-term project on a rather different subject: the racialization of philanthropy and civic responsibility in the United States. I had submitted an essay based on this work for inclusion in an edited collection on race and identity that was accepted with the suggestion that I update my analysis of the community service programming of the NFL to include a consideration of the impact of the events of September 11, 2001.¹...

    • 11 NFL Films and the Militarization of Professional Football
      (pp. 205-225)
      Michael L. Butterworth

      In 2008, NFL Films produced a short film calledSalute the Sky, created “in honor of American servicemen around the world.” Early in the production, President Steve Sabol declares, “Perhaps the most impressive moment of the NFL pregame pageantry is the shock and awe of the flyover.”¹ Sabol’s words neatly summarize the prevailing ethos of contemporary sport as war metaphor. Rather than reflect on the purpose of U.S. Air Force fighter planes or consider the appropriateness of invoking the military’s (in) famous terminology of “shock and awe,” viewers are invited to think only in terms of pageantry. And why should...

    • 12 For the Love of National Manhood: Excavating the Cultural Politics and Media Memorializations of Pat Tillman
      (pp. 226-248)
      Kyle W. Kusz

      First airing exactly a year to the day after his tragic death by friendly fire on April 22, 2004, ESPN’sSportsCenturydevoted an episode to former NFL player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman that begins with a montage of close-up shots, gridiron action footage, and clips of speakers extolling Tillman over a militaristic musical score:

      Pat was a guy who appealed to the tough guy because he was a tough guy, he was the type who appealed to the intellectual because he was that [an intellectual], and he was the type who appealed to the free spirit because he was...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 249-250)
  9. Index
    (pp. 251-257)