Nation on Football’s Back


In this image, the largest and most prominent object is a football with a golden NFL golden logo in the center. The writing on the left side of the football says “The Duke” and the right side contains the NFL Commissioner’s signature, Rodger Goodell. At the top of the football is a white stitching. There are eight objects that are situated on top of the football: a round pepperoni pizza, a mostly naked woman, a blue Bud Light can, a red truck, a triple cheeseburger, a chainsaw tool, a gecko, and a person in a camouflage uniform who is holding a gun with both hands (in order from left to right).

These images fit neatly on top of the stitching of the football as if they are completely balanced. The Bud Light can gives reference to the hegemonic representation of football culture, as it is the “official beer sponsor of the NFL” and has many commercials during football games. A great portion of the commercials during NFL games demonstrate what Michael Messner notes is a “male preserve,” a space specifically gendered for the male audience (Messner).  By incorporating Messner’s analysis to this image, these objects illustrate the dominant symbols of the male gaze in NFL sports media and culture. The woman who sits with her upper body facing the viewer represents the penetration of the male gaze onto female bodies. The projection of the male gaze onto her female body represents the masculine dominance over femininity, a trait that is worshiped among players.  The heterosexual masculine gaze is assumed as natural for male NFL fans, consumers, and players; therefore is heavily glorified in football culture.

The red truck is a symbol for the popularity of truck commercials that are advertised as competitively masculine in relation to other trucks. These truck commercials reflect the competition narrative that is promoted in the culture of football. More importantly, the object that is directly above the Commissioner’s name is the man in camouflage uniform. Based on American military culture,  he symbolizes an American soldier in combat. Commissioner Goodell was a previous NFL player and has been quoted saying that his duty to the game is to sustain it’s integrity by “protecting the shield.” By placing an American military soldier on top of a Commissioner’s name with this ideology, this makes a reference to football as a metaphor for military culture. This is evident in the war like physical combat between teams, and the violence/dominance that follows.  In his article “Football and the Nation: Producing American Culture” O. Hugo Benavides writes about the role of football to the nation, he writes, “Far from being only a simple entertainment (which at some level it also always is) professional sport fulfills important identity functions for the nation and its varied constitutive communities.” Here, he highlights the role of football as a form of identity creation through which individuals, communities, and a nation can understand themselves in relations to “others.” The others are depicted as invisible due to the presence of an American soldier, a “protector of the nation-state” who fights off enemies in competitive war. Thus, as an object on top of the football, this demonstrates that football as a sport has a war-like structure that is used to provide a competition narrative for the audience to internalize as American.  Benavides also notes that “the historical rise of American football illustrates the central role of the mass sports media, especially television, in the post–World War II construction of the White male citizen.” Therefore, these objects, situated on the grip of the football, illustrate the ideologies that hold football together: masculinity, heteronormativity, and nationalism. These ideals are not only promoted, but expected of players and consumers, and contribute to the building of the American nation-state.

Benavides, O. Hugo. “Football and the Nation: Producing American Culture.”

Messner, Michael. “Reflections on communication and sport on men and masculinities.” Communication & Sport 1.1-2 (2013): 113-124.

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2 Responses to Nation on Football’s Back

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    Great job connecting the collage on the football to dominant ideologies of the game. One aspect of this image I’d like to think more about is its very collage-like nature. Everything is pulled out of its original context, and yet as fragmented objects they still make immense “sense” to us. What do you make of the fact that this image uses fragmentation to actually make more clear the pervasiveness of ideologies that might be more obscured in each individual ad? There’s something really interesting about the pastiche nature of this image.

  2. gtvaldiv says:

    I did make note of that observation, I guess I forgot to include it in my analysis. The image looks like all the objects were cut out of a magazine and glued on top of the football, literally as if the picture was constructed. I believe that this illustrates how, within the culture of football, all of these ideologies are constructed and related to one another in subtle, but powerful ways. These objects as a group demonstrate how cultural politics in football like hypermasculinity, misogyny, and violence are apart of an overall building process that draws on the ideologies of each object in this image order to normalize a specific culture.

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