At times it amazes me that the biggest annual sporting event in our country involves two teams of 11 men donning helmets and plastic armor. Dressed as colorful gladiators each team attempts to move by force and wits an odd-shaped leather ball one way down a large rectangular field. The growing popularity of soccer over the decades makes intuitive sense to me. I can appreciate the history and emergence of baseball as “America’s Pastime.” But football? It is an unusual and unique American phenomena. It’s also one that that didn’t happen by accident.
Football as a sport played only a peripheral role at best in American society before the 1950’s. Things began to change with the widespread adoption of a new technology: television. Very quickly TV producers and directors were frantically searching for content that would: 1) appeal to adult men with major buying power, and 2) fit into a predetermined time-slot, unlike baseball which doesn’t have a clock or time limit and is therefore difficult to fit into a broadcast schedule. That’s when the newly formed television networks hit upon football as the ideal sport for the television age. And the rest they say is history.
Interestingly enough, football was so successful in attracting highly sought-after male viewers that the networks found themselves having to create new teams and leagues just so they could broadcast their games. ABC, for example, founded the American Football League in 1960 since NBC and CBS had locked up the rights to broadcast the games that did exist. It was then, once there were now two separate professional football leagues that someone proposed merging the two leagues and hosting a “super bowl.” Even better for ratings! American has never been the same since.
I share this with you as someone who begrudgingly enjoys the sport. I’ve never played football but I love a good game, although like many of you I increasingly realize the toll it can take on its players. Even so, I will be watching with the rest of you on Sunday night. (I like the Chiefs by 8 by the way.) However, even as I analyze the pass formations and defensive plays, I am keenly aware of what a culturally constructed phenomenon all of this really is; complete with its own secular rituals and pageantry. Maybe most things in our life are “human constructs,” but the Super Bowl really is. Then again, so are Doritos, and I enjoy them too!
This Sunday we host our 322nd Annual Meeting as a congregation. We will elect new officers and committee members and (hopefully) approve a budget for this new year. We will also take at least a moment to celebrate our community and the values that inspire us. Churches, like Super Bowls, don’t happen by accident. They require the contributions of lots of good people looking to make a difference. See you in church,