Understanding American football helps us understand America


Radiolab can always be depended on for an interesting take on questions you never even knew you had. Their story on American Football is no exception.

But there was one part of the story they don't tell much of at all.

The first half of the episode begins brilliantly with college football's racially charged past. I had never heard the story of the Carlisle School for Native Americans, nor had I never heard of their football team, which battled privileged Yalies for the right to play. But the question of the role of race in the sport disappears from the piece once it leaves the historical context.

They make the excellent point that understanding American football helps us understand America, and extend it to questions about what modern kids prioritize, as Pop Warner attendance dwindles. While that's also an interesting question, it didn't seem like the natural extension from the historical perspective they provide in the first half of the episode, in which race and privilege are pivotal.

For an examination of a sport which had, until very recently, a disproportionately small number of African American quarterbacks leading teams, it seems unfathomable not to at least ask the question of what this means about us, as a nation, as well. To leave out a discussion of race in America today seems like a major omission.