Tradition Keeps Us Going

Here are 10 reasons why NFL football is a horrible product that shouldn’t be selling.

  1. A constant flood of  injuries makes the game a war of attrition.
  2. The longterm effects of injuries on ex-players are horrific and tragic.
  3. The quality of officiating stinks.
  4. The rules are complicated and change frequently.
  5. Penalties are called too frequently, and too frequently determine the outcome of the game.
  6. Games take forever, with countless interruptions for timeouts and reviews.
  7. The sport has become intensely politicized, managing to be pandering and controversial at the same time.
  8. The on-field behavior of some players is appalling.
  9. The off-field behavior of some players and ex-players is more appalling.
  10. Football just takes itself too damn seriously. George Carlin made the point convincingly years ago:

Yet with all this working against it, NFL football continues to be popular. Even though there are more entertaining sports with far fewer negatives, it’s football that Americans crave. Ratings are up despite the problems. Why?


The only reason I can think of is tradition. NFL football is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. It’s been around long enough to get in our blood. If you live in Chicago, being a Bears fan goes with the territory. It’s part of who you are. Walter Payton was Sweetness, but Dick Butkus and Mike Ditka were ferocious: We love them all.

All around the country, kids grow up playing football, watching football, hearing their parents talk about football,  going to Super Bowl parties and all the rest. It doesn’t matter if football looks bad on paper or in theory. We’re attracted to it, perhaps even without realizing the source of the attraction.

If this is true for football, which is only a game, think how our natural attraction to tradition works with respect to art, music, literature, religion and philosophy — traditions that go back not a hundred years but more than three thousand years. Traditional ideas persist — and evolve — because are, like football, things that make life enjoyable and meaningful. An attachment to tradition is what makes humans human; there is no getting around it.

2 Replies to “Tradition Keeps Us Going”

  1. Well, yes ….. and.
    Change is slow, but inevitable.
    Pop Warner football and high school football is on the decline. These kids will adults before you and I recognize it. They will have a different set of youth stories.
    Bishop Robert Barron (LA) is concerned about the rise in “nones.” That is, the increase among young Americans who declare “none” when asked about religious affiliation.
    Tradition is powerful, but not all-powerful.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Bill. You can hardly blame parents for steering their children away from football, given the potential for injury. As for your other example, I’d have to admit that leadership in organized religion has done much to drive people from the pews – at the very time when, with such uncertainty and fear looming in the world, people ought to be flocking to them.

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