Sports for Dummies: Men in tights

Everyone is getting excited for the home game tomorrow, and I’m standing by, rolling my eyes. The obsession with football is one of those cultural phenomena that continue to elude me.

I don’t get it. Obviously, baseball, America’s actual pastime, is the superior sport, yet our sports fans want to talk about football all the time. As soon as I started attending WSU, my extended family rather misguidedly assumed that this would turn me into a football fan – but I’ve only been to one game.

I’ve only been to one game because I just don’t see what so many other people must see in this sport. I look at the field of a football game and I see a bunch of buff guys wearing tights, fighting over a ball. It’s like a really aggressive form of ballet.

In my quest to uncover the truth about our cultural obsession with football, I interviewed the best cross-section of this sportsing subculture I could find: A bachelor party.

Football, the bachelor party unanimously agreed, was their favorite sport because of the strategy involved in every movement of every player.

I have to say, this wasn’t what I expected. When I see the footballers wrestling and piling on each other, ‘strategy’ isn’t what I see. But I trust this focus group. Just because I don’t see a strategy when I look at it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

To support this reasoning, I did a little research and found that football actually is a highly strategic sport. I won’t dwell on this point, though, since it’s probably only surprising to me.

My research revealed other findings as well for football’s overtaking of baseball as America’s favorite sport. A study in the Wall Street Journal illustrated how football became really popular in the mid-1960s – just as television was becoming ubiquitous and sports became a multimillion dollar industry.

Now, football’s per-game attendance is more than double that of baseball. It’s overwhelmingly the preferred sport. But why?

There are a few theories on this. My personal favorite refers back to a statistic quoted in my column last week – that the American attention span is shorter than a goldfish, and football is a jerky sport. Football movements tend to take only a few seconds, which is why, bafflingly to me, when there are only a few seconds left on the clock, a total-game turnaround can still happen. It caters to a short attention span.

That does not mean football is slow-paced. It’s the opposite. While a lot can happen in a football second, the game itself is extremely quick. It’s loud, fast, and exciting. It caters to our desire to be entertained, according to the Wall Street Journal article.

According to an article in Quora, football has simply done a better job televising and broadcasting than baseball. This seems true to me; even I have watched the Super Bowl, and that is dramatized sports at its finest. If you recall from my first Sports for Dummies column, making a spectacle out of sports is one major reason people love it so much. Football, a more violent, aggressive and fast-paced sport, is easier to televise dramatically than slower-moving, non-aggressive baseball.

Additionally, it’s easier to be a football fan than a baseball fan. There are 162 games per team in a usual MLB season, and only 16 per team in a usual football season. That’s ten times more games in baseball than football. It’s difficult to follow 162 games and keep track of the team’s standings; it takes a lot of time and energy to invest in baseball. Football, with only 16 games, is very easy to follow for the relatively short time of the football season.

According to a Pew Research Center poll, 23 percent of respondents said they followed the Super Bowl very closely, while only 16 percent said they followed the World Series very closely. This makes sense, since following every single baseball game is much harder than following every football game.

So I suppose the popularity of football over baseball does indeed make some sort of sense; the strategy involved, the aggression, visual appeal and fast-paced nature of the sport are easier to televise and appeal directly to our goldfish-like attention spans.

Maybe this football season I’ll go to a game. But it’ll never take my heart from baseball.