Monday, August 23, 2010

What's so special about football, anyway?

The New York State Sportswriters Association blogged recently about the amount of media coverage being devoted to high school football this season. Click here to read that post.

Although the NYSSWA did not mention the 48-page preview section The Record will publish on Sept. 2, I did find it an interesting topic.

I'm planning on having a column in the preview section on why we pay more attention to football than the other sports, especially since the rates of state championship-caliber teams and scholarship-caliber athletes are perhaps lower in football than in any other sport in Section II.

What do you think? Am I off-base or did I miss the point? Feel free to sound off in the comments or via email.

Team-by-team training camp reports will resume tomorrow.

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TROY — Some of the finest young athletes in the Capital Region play the quaint old game of rounders, but the area’s most important high school baseball games, even those with perfect weather and free admission, often draw just a few dozen fans at most.

Wrestlers, volleyball players, swimmers and cross country and track and field athletes, to name just a few, must also lament the lack of spectators at their events.

Yet on Friday nights in the fall, our local gladiators go forth onto the gridiron under the lights in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of high school football fans that brave cold temperatures and ever-rising ticket prices.

How has a sport that is so violent and expensive for school districts to maintain (equipment, field maintenance and athletic trainers are a few of the costs) come to dominate the public landscape in such a way that the three or four high school football games played in [insert name of small town here] every fall are the biggest events of the year?

Football played catch-up to baseball through most of the late nineteenth century and nearly fizzled out around 1905, when 18 players died on the field in accidents. One of those players was Union College’s Harold D. Moore, who died in a game against New York University when his unprotected head was struck by the knee of a teammate. A few weeks later, Union’s Athletic Advisory Board “abolished football as now played,” according to a report in the New York Times on January 16, 1906.

(For more on how concussions are affecting today’s game, see pages 23 and 24 in the Kickoff: 2010 section on Thurs., Sept. 2).

Sitting President Theodore Roosevelt publicly called for stricter safety rules for the game and the American Football Rules Committee formed in 1906 allowed the forward pass, changed the distance needed for first downs from five yards to ten and banned gang tackling.

Still, baseball remained in prominence for decades following football’s rule changes. Perhaps it was the untimed nature of the sport, where no deficit is insurmountable if a team can minimize its mistakes and take advantage of opportunities - scoring runs without making outs - that so appealed to an American ideal of infinite possibilities in the era of Manifest Destiny.

These days, football seems a perfect fit for a spectator base with attention deficit disorder. Players wage in five-second bursts of fury before jogging back to the huddle for a 30-second reprieve so the fans can check their cellphones for a text message before consuming another five seconds of carnage.

Is that the reason why the NFL’s Sunday Night and Monday Night Football telecasts are often the most-watched network and cable shows each and every week during the fall months? Is that why sports radio shows dedicate hours of programming to professional and college football talk year-round? And why do people paint their chests and faces and, shirtless, howl at the sight of a touchdown pass, even in sub-zero temperatures?

Furthermore, why is The Record publishing a 48-page section dedicated solely to high school football and not mentioning any of the other fall sports inside the covers? (Part of the reason is that our publisher shot down the idea of expanding the coverage or turning this tabloid into a fall sports preview section. Another is that one reporter only has so many hours to report, write and meet a deadline).

The societal shift toward a culture in which power, cunning and a black and white sense of right-and-wrong are the defining norms on the field of play – thank you, instant replay – has made football more appealing than baseball’s wishy-washy dependence on ever-fallible umpires.

Even so, why are thousands routinely turning out for high school football games at Hoosick Falls High School when barely a dozen watched some of the team’s home games this spring? Start times undoubtedly have something to do with that. More people can open 7 p.m. on a Friday night on their calendars than they can 4 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon.

While their counterparts in other sports work just as hard and strive for the same glory of winning a single game, a league title, a sectional crown and ultimately, a state championship, football players take a gigantic risk every time they pop the buckles on their helmets.

Common football helmet safety warning:

DO NOT USE FACE MASKS/HELMET SYSTEMS TO BUTT, RAM OR SPEAR AN OPPOSING PLAYER. THIS IS IN VIOLATION OF THE FOOTBALL RULES AND CAN RESULT IN SEVERE HEAD, BRAIN, OR NECK INJURY, PARALYSIS OR DEATH TO YOU, AND POSSIBLE INJURY TO YOUR OPPONENT. THERE IS THE RISK THAT THESE INJURIES MAY ALSO OCCUR AS A RESULT OF ACCIDENTAL CONTACT WITHOUT INTENT TO BUTT, RAM OR SPEAR. NO FACE MASK/HELMET SYSTEM CAN PREVENT ALL SUCH INJURIES.

Baseball pitchers are at the mercy of screaming line drives coming back at them at over 100 miles per hour off the barrel of an aluminum bat. Hockey players certainly take a risk each and every time they step onto the ice.

Still, the biggest crowds flock to football games. They’re not there in the hopes of witnessing an injury, but the risk at every position on every play makes people take notice. There is a sense of danger at a football game that makes it so fascinating, so thrilling, so hard to turn away from, especially as the players get bigger, stronger and faster every offseason.

Witnessing risk makes the fans feel like they’re a part of the game - even if they’re just spectators at the neighborhood coliseum – and that’s why football is unlike any of the other high school sports.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous class C fan said...

Football attracts the most fans. It should warrant the most coverage. Why would the media spend their limited dollars and manpower on sports that aren't as popular.

August 24, 2010 at 6:22 PM 

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