American football—from here on referred to as football; sorry UK readers—is not only the most famous sport in the United States, it is also a major cornerstone of American cultural identity. Football is an ineludible part of life in the United States. Growing up in Texas, football was—and still is—a de facto civil religion. On any given Sunday, TVs in every restaurant would blare football Spectacle. Indeed, the local citizenry revered the varsity football team, and people from all sorts of ages and backgrounds would pack into the stands of high school football games. The people donned football livery everywhere, even to formal events. Football dominated over all, especially education. At my high school, the dilapidated trailer classrooms contrasted starkly against both the over-sized football field and the state-of-the-art facilities built solely for football players. America is obsessed with football to a gross extent—despite the fact that it’s a terrible sport to spectate. But that just might be the point.

Let’s first analyze the details of television viewing; the self-evident most popular form of watching football. Televised football games have a standard camera angle. The camera is centered on the scrimmage line, which is where the ball is placed before play. The camera is zoomed in as to only capture ten to fifteen yards beyond the scrimmage line. Once play begins (i.e, when the quarterback “hikes” the ball), the camera follows the ball carrier; usually either the quarterback or the running back. If the play is a passing play, the camera pans to capture the trajectory of the football. Now, this camera system is fundamentally flawed. Primarily, the zoomed-in camera angle does not allow one to see how a play develops over time, especially for passing plays. It is extremely difficult to see critical components of the overall play, such as what routes the receivers are running, how the defense is covering the receivers, and what chances arise as the play goes on. To put it in another way, it is impossible to accurately analyze a play with the incomplete picture that the standard television camera angle provides. Is it any wonder that, more often than not, football commentators will digest a play using non-standard television angles that are not shown to the general public? A better camera angle than the standard layout would be an angle that captures a much wider portion of the field. However, from a practical viewpoint, it may not be feasible to make this camera angle the default, as the aspect ratio of the typical television would compress the game to a level undesirable for most football viewers. Furthermore, even the implementation of an upgraded camera angle would not obviate the deficiencies of football as a spectator sport.

Continuing, advertisements and football have a symbiotic relationship. Namely, a typical football game is rife with such an ample amount of downtime during which advertisements fill a natural role. To highlight how deep the relationship between advertising and football is, we can look at football events that typically lead to advertisements, which include: timeouts, change of possessions, scores, kicking plays (e.g., kickoffs, punts, field goal attempts), challenges, injuries, ends of quarters, halftime, and so forth. Even when there is action on the field, the play is usually over in a matter of seconds. To make matters worse, network providers have been brazen enough to show ads during minor events, such as penalty announcements. Football has evolved into a capitalist Spectacle, wherein the demarcation between a football game and an extended advertisement reel is at best tenuous.

To get empirical, research conducted by FiveThirtyEight shows that “NFL broadcasts are among the most interrupted and least action-packed broadcasts of any sport." FiveThirtyEight substantiates this claim with data that uncovers the startling fact that “an average NFL broadcast lasts well over three hours, yet it delivers a total of only 18 minutes of football action …. [and includes] 50 minutes of commercial breaks .” That is, a football game comprises around 27% advertisement time and only 1% of actual football action! Put in these terms, it is plainly illogical to watch a football game if the goal is to watch football.

Now, if watching a TV broadcast is so bad, then what about watching in-person? Unfortunately, the in-person experience has its own deficiencies. For instance, spectating from a fixed angle for the length of an entire game makes for a suboptimal viewing experience. Bereft of the plurality of angles that a host of TV cameras provide, the spectator is forced to watch the entire game from a static viewpoint that cannot conceivably provide the best view for a large portion of the game. For example, even spectators in the “best” seats overlooking the 50-yard line will struggle to watch kicking plays and plays near the end-zone. In contrast, the TV Spectacle delivers a comparatively much more gripping and engaging experience with its close-ups, replays, camera movement, announcers, and so forth. These dizzying diversions put the viewer into a simulacrum of manufactured drama and entertainment. Simply put, real-life can’t help but pale in comparison to the Spectacle.

Continuing, the inherent shortcomings of the sport become all the more apparent when watching in-person. For example, the absence of advertisements during downtime underscores just how little action a football game has. Large swaths of the spectator’s time will be wasted watching players standing around, huddling, and doing other activities that aren’t part of active game time. While sitting around quietly is much preferable to being blasted by advertisements, there are other places that are cheaper and more suitable for doing nothing.

Continuing, the violence of football sours the viewing experience. While the research is still budding, there is a clear association between football and brain injuries such as concussions, abnormal brain development, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This should come to no surprise to anyone who’s familiar with the sport, as hard hits at high velocities are common to the game. Furthermore, brains aren’t just at risk from football; bodily injury is pervasive throughout the sport. Injuries are a common sight at any level of the game, and it is usual for a large amount of stoppage time to arise due to injuries in a given professional game. In-person, assuming you aren’t a sociopath, seeing a player suffer from an injury is unpleasant to watch. On TV, injuries serve as convenient windows to show you even more advertisements. Personally, I cannot reconcile watching a sport where the players are subjected to such violence and destruction all for naught. A sport should be about skill and outsmarting the opponent, not about murdering the opponent

Now, it is important to stress how all these factors—the ridiculous amount of downtime, the poor viewing angles, the heavy subjection to advertisements, and etc., all of which are present in both TV and in-person viewing—all makes for poor spectating. It is practically impossible to fully immerse oneself into a game due to the incessant interruptions. That is, achieving a flow state of concentration is out of reach. Furthermore, as explained above, it is onerous to fully comprehend what is going on in a game given the poor viewing angles associated with either TV or in-person viewing. Therefore, all of this makes for difficult “intellectual” watching; i.e, watching to analyze tactics, strategies, and other facets of the game that require critical thinking—in other words, watching the game for enjoyment outside dopamine hits from big plays and touchdowns. Hence, it is not a stretch to conclude that spectating football is a deleterious activity that brings little to no value—such as intellectual, emotional, or physical development—to the spectator. Additionally, our morals are comprised when we indirectly support the debilitating injuries that are part and parcel of playing this reprehensible sport. Worst of all, the intense exposure to advertisements—worst while watching TV but unavoidable even in-person—rots the spectator’s brain to mush. The Spectacle of football creates the perfect peon to sacrifice to the Capitalist Moloch. It is our duty as free-thinking individuals to resist the Moloch and fight back, even if involves something as simple as turning off the TV.



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