American Football

Why isn’t it popular world-wide? I promise, this will be my last sports entry for a while…

Takunishi and Capstew have provided some opinions–see comments to yesterday’s post–but I will talk a bit about my own as well… And remember, this is just an opinion, you are always welcome to provide your side as well…

CultofDizzo asked this question: While I have never followed it closely, I have also never seen a football game that didn’t thoroughly entertain me. I would wonder what Onigiriman’s thoughts were on why American Football is not so popular world-wide….
First, I’m not really sure what world-wide means. If you mean like soccer, then there is probably no sport that is as world-wide as that. Soccer is popular in virtually every country in the world, with the exception of the US and, I think, the former USSR. Soccer is gaining popularity in the US as an “non-violent” sport for girls/women and boys who have little interested in traditionally “male” US sports–I know, this is a generalization, but this seems to be the case when i was young. And, I have never heard of Latvia, Georgia, Ukraine, Turkistan or Khazakistan mentioned in the same breath as England, Mexico, or Ghana let alone soccer powers such as Brazil or Italy. But then, it’s probably my own ignorance of soccer, because that is perhaps the one sport I do not follow. I have yet to understand a sport that uses a tool (ball, puck, baton, broom) but its participants–except the goalie–cannot use their hands to display their strength/ability… (Will the defenders of soccer please set me straight?) Of course, this fetish for using hands may have deeper, more disturbing connotations…

With regard to world-wide appeal, another sport that is not very popular is baseball. The major countries beside the US and Canada include Latin American countries–most notably Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela. Interestingly, these are all Spanish speaking countries, and in countries that don’t speak a lot of Spanish, baseball is not as popular, such as Haiti (French) and Brazil (Portuguese). East Asian countries also play baseball: Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Other countries are now fielding teams but this seems directly related to baseball becoming an Olympic sport.

American Football–as opposedd to regular football, which is actually soccer around the world–actually compares fairly well with baseball in terms of world-wide appeal. The European League has become a sort of minor league for the NFL, where many current stars (Kurt Warner: Amsterdam Admirals) honed their ability after college. Canada also plays a brand of American football–although most refer to it as Canadian FB since it has its own rules. It is surprisingly popular as a college sport in Japan. Nihon University fields a pretty decent team and I think at least two players have move up to the European league. Indeed, FB teams from Ivy Leagues schools play annually in the Rice Bowl (I did not make this up) and play a Japanese college all-star team. And the NFL plays one pre-season game a year in the Egg, Tokyo Dome. If it became an Olympic sport, you can be sure countries like Russia, Autralia and Samoa would field monster teams.

Now, both of these games are quintessentially American. Does this have anything to do with its relative lack of popularity? Some have argued so. But I’m not so sure. I think it might be the opposite. Baseball became popular in Japan during the early 20th century when Japan was trying to emulate the West. With Korea and Taiwan as Japanese colonies, baseball moved there as well. And of course, the Monroe Doctrine just might have something to do with the spread of the sport south of the border, as many Americans headed in that direction in the late 19th/early20th century taking their pop culture with them. The NFL began planning European football during the Reagan years, when the US was seen as an important ally to England specifically and Western Europe generally, had its inaugural season in 1991, flourished throughout the 90s, after the fall of the USSR. Is it a coincidence that a US sport that glorifies brute strength gained popularity when the US “won” the Cold War through its “brute” economic and military strength? Hmm. Something to think about.

Anyway, while these American sports have enjoyed a limited world-wide popularity, the NBA has shown that it can do better. Basketball, another American sport has become wildly popular. Olympic teams from Russia and Yugoslavia are legend. But professional leagues from Latin America to Italy to China have shown that it is sustainable as a for-profit enterprise, a reflection of its popularity as a sport among the general population, like soccer.

So what is the difference between basketball and the other two American team sports? I am tempted to say that as a non-contact sport, it is viewed as less violent, much as soccer is viewed, I think. Of course, tempers flare and violence can rear its ugly head in soccer or basketball, but the lack of contact does not make violence an inherent part of the game, like football or old-time baseball–brush-back/knock-down pitches, sliding spikes high, etc.

So the “relative” lack of world-wide popularity of American Football is likely not in the fact that it is American, but because of its violent “nature”…. But this is only my opinion…

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