Monday, September 10, 2007

9-10-07: America’s Game

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of football. I’m more of a soccer follower, personally, but that’s only recent. I’ve always enjoyed football, but I’ve never been obsessed with it. Now, with an opening day victory by the mighty Patriots, I’m back watching “America’s game.”

America certainly has its share of “America’s games.” Most say it’s baseball, which I tend to agree with. Others insist that it’s football. The problem is the definition of the term “America’s game.” I see two possible ways to define it. One favors baseball, whereas the other favors football.

The first definition, which would favor baseball, is the age and popularity of an American-born sport. Professional baseball is older than professional football by almost 50 years (difference in age between the NFL and the National League). And one could easily argue that baseball is much more popular worldwide, with leagues in Asia, South America, and Malaysia. Football is big in America and parts of Europe and Canada, but the CFL has different rules (though the game is essentially the same). So, if one were to say “America’s game” should be something that was invented in the United States and then transplanted around the world, as a sort of empire, then baseball fits right in there over football.

The second definition can be seen as more of a pride issue. Though baseball is more popular in the United States than in any other country (with the possible exceptions of Japan and Venezuela), it is not the most popular sport in its home country. Football is more popular (if one uses straight TV ratings). And football in the United States is far, far better than football in any other country. On top of that, most of the players in the NFL are Americans. You can’t say that about baseball. So, in this school of thought, football is, at its core, more American in its demographic than baseball.

Personally, I think the second definition is far too limited in scope to make a good argument. It’s one thing to say a sport is chemically American, but it’s another to say it’s spiritually American. Here’s what I mean: football is played by mostly Americans, so it is therefore quite American in nature. Baseball (professionally) is played by a far more representative group of people as far as the true American culture. I’m not saying football is racist, it’s just a bit more limited in its diversity. The American perspective goes beyond simple terms. It’s what makes us America. I read a piece the other day about how this writer from London wants more Englishmen in the English Premier League. Have you ever heard of something like that in baseball? Not very often.

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