Paul Henne is not remotely interested in football, but he has a plan to still get invited to Sunday afternoon parties with his friends.
I am from Connecticut, a state with superfluous history and with traditional season changes. Connecticut, however, lacks a lot of things that other states have. It, for instance, does not have highway tolls, liquor sales on Sunday, a ban on gay marriage, or logical driving routes. Most uniquely, Connecticut also lacks a major sports team. Yes—we mooch off of those contiguous states, which are wealthy in sports franchises: New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
Nonetheless, we Nutmeggers do not ignore sports altogether. One thing, for instance, that Connecticut does right is women’s college basketball. The UConn Huskies had a 90-game winning streak this year, and rarely during the time that I have been alive, have they missed the championship game. Honestly, watching the UConn women is more entertaining for me than watching any professional sports.
Living in Connecticut, with its dearth of professional sports, and growing up with just my mother, I never integrated sports entertainment into my life. In the past, I subscribed to arguments against sports like football. I, for instance, thought of sports as the opiate of the masses, inebriating people with mindless junk to distract them from matters of greater importance. Or I demeaned sports by suggesting that football is a bunch of brutes butting heads, surrounded by dopier brutes who drink too much and write large letters on their chests.
I even found ways to build football into an elaborate conspiracy theory. For instance, I watched the New England Patriots win the Super Bowl as the War on Terror got going, just before the Iraq War. Not only did the patriotic Patriots win, but when they won, red-white-and-blue confetti and fireworks filled the stadium. I, of course, thought that this was a planned act of nationalism—the hyperbolic form of military jets flying over football and baseball games. Shortly after, I rejected a lot of these in college.
All of these arguments were just obscure ways for me to deal with the fact that I know nothing about sports and that I feel left out when everyone watches football on Sunday and I have to watch a bad movie on TBS. The problem is that when I came to college, I realized that football is a huge part of basically everyone’s life. On Sundays, I noticed that most of the campus put on bright jerseys before watching games. Even the people that I thought were too cool, unique, or intellectual engaged in the ritual. From about noon until five on a Sunday, I am either bored or really productive with my logic homework.
Surely, I have tried watching football to fit in, but the problem I have is that I cannot immerse myself in it. Since I’m from Connecticut, I’m not invested in any major team. If I just arbitrarily chose some random team, will I really feel any passion? I guess I could just choose my favorite color of jersey—but even that is sort of ridiculous.
The truth is I feel left out, and I’m trying to find a way to take part in the whole sports thing so that I have: 1) something to do on Sunday, 2) alternative ways for trashing-talking my friends, and 3) some new material for small talk (because rarely do people want to small talk about paradoxes).
I know that a few people reading this article are probably from Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, Alaska, or some other state or country without a major sports team. And I just want you to know that I have a solution to our problem. That’s right. I think I know how we—those of us not naturally inclined to enjoy sports—can enjoy a football game so that we get invited to viewing parties and can eat chips and salsa.
It starts with a story. One night, when I was ragging on football and sports-loving brutes, my friend started drunkenly mocking my pretentious denial of athletic competitions. In doing so, he actually said some really interesting stuff. He started comparing football to a play—a brilliant tragedy—with Brett Favre as the tragic hero and with the announcers acting as the Chorus. I was stunned. Of course, I did not believe all of that nonsense—but he made a good point. Football and other sports do not have to be seen as brutish contests. An audience member can view sports, very loosely, as a form of art.
By this understanding, football is what Nietzsche would call a “Dionysian experience,” in which a person is immersed in the crowd, or in the other. While of course, the football fans are not completely a part of the game itself, they—as a whole—are enraptured by the action in a state of exstasis. They often cheer drunkenly for extended periods of time and are brought into a community by contemporaneously drawing letters on themselves and eating greasy food. They are most obviously a part of a type of Dionysian experience.
But Nietzsche would not categorize American football with the Greek tragedies, for football is a heroic tragedy for the brutes and has hardly any Apollonian components—save the massive amount of technical rules (that I don’t understand) and the simple aesthetics. This is sort of funny that football should be considered more brutish than Greek tragedy, since in most Greek tragedies, someone murders a child, a character tears another to pieces, or the hero commits incestuous acts.
Nonetheless, I think that by viewing the spectacular game of American football as a Dionysian tragedy, in which you are passively enraptured and entertained with the technical aspects of the tragedy, you—my snooty friend—can eat salsa on Sunday, too.