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Religion

Football as American Civic Religion by John Kitch.

From political protests, to debates about player safety, to attempts to project the future of the sport, football has been the subject of unending controversy over the past few years. In addition to political controversies and safety arguments there have also been public debates about whether college athletes deserve to be paid, and scandals involving systematic sexual predation at prominent programs like Penn State and Baylor have many questioning whether football is on its way out as America’s favorite pastime. Recently there have been reports of declining NFL television ratings and a drop in the numbers of young boys playing football around the country.

And yet, from tiny high school fields in Texas, to packed sports bars across the northeast, to 100,000-plus seat stadiums across the deep south, football draws the communal attention of Americans in a way that nothing else does these days.

While these questions are important, they do not address the fundamental question of what is at stake for American culture as football’s future hangs in the balance. Football has become a key ritual in the nation’s civic religion and both the best and worst aspects of its impact on the country’s cultural landscape flow from this point.

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