This is terribly oversimplifying what was a long, thoughtful rumination, but M's main point is that the joy of being a football fan is that it's fun (and maybe therapeutic?) to be a part of a big crowd all enjoying the same thing. She also made the point -- and this was new to me and illuminating -- that a big part of the fun of being a fan is enjoying one's own performance. It's fun to scream at the TV, to celebrate or commiserate with co-workers the day after a big game, etc. It's a thrill to work yourself up into hysterics, to scream and cry. I get that. It's like fainting at an Elvis concert.
My friend C says she loves football for all the theater that goes on around the game, and she sent me these amazing clips. I love this stuff -- and you don't need any specialized knowledge to get what's going on here. I would've been much more into football if they'd had stuff like this at my high school, but I would probably have left after halftime:
So what is football? It's not just theater, not just spectacle, entertainment. American Idol is hugely popular but still doesn't inspire the fervor that football does. It's not an athletic contest. The Olympics is an athletic contest, and, though people get passionate about it for a week every year, there's not the kind of communal frothing at the mouth you see at a football game. People get passionate for sure about some Olympic events and athletes, but it doesn't even come close to the mass scale of the craziness of football fans.
The only thing I can think of that sets football apart, or above, is the risk of injury, the physical abuse that is tolerated (encouraged? expected? demanded?) by the spectators. As M points out:
Training your body to run really hard into another human being has no athletic benefit whatsover. Players get really hurt and except for the small percentage of them who can make a career out of it (and even those guys, but that involves a longer explanation) are totally exploited (even if they do so willingly and are convinced, at the time, that they are having the greatest time of their lives). Athletic departments, TV networks, and advertisers make billions of dollars off the backs (and shoulders and knees and legs)of teenagers who, if you were to really tally it up, receive very little compensation.It will take a much more knowledgeable scholar of theater and sports to follow the threads from gladiator games to American football, but it seems to me that the human sacrifice element of the game is essential. Without it, nobody would be interested, right?