The Role of Football in Our Society

While I was doing my research on American football, I wanted to focus on how its origins helped shape the face of the sport and its role in our culture today. First, I explored some of the early rules and gameplay of football. The first intercollegiate football game was played between Rutgers University and Princeton University in 1869, and since then Princeton played an important role in the progression of football (Bernstein, 9). Because of Princeton’s involvement in the earliest form of American football, Princeton Football provided an excellent account of the sport’s origins. Bernstein describes how shockingly violent early football was, citing former player Luther Price who called it “near butchery”. This lead to Theodore Roosevelt’s eventual call to reform the game and make it less violent (34). The first chapter of the book outlines the progression of early football including the major players who set records and developed techniques in the game. As the book progresses, it tells the stories of Princeton’s most prolific and iconic players. These highlights frame football players as heroes. Even as the book explores Princeton football in the last few decades, it does not delve very deep into issues of sexuality or race. There is brief mention of the first African American player, who was from Harvard, to play against a white student (74). However, on the whole Bernstein doesn’t go extensively into the desegregation of college football. Instead, he focuses on the athletic heroes which helped establish college football as we know it today. His framing of the history of football reveals his implicit ideology about the sport. His lack of information on the “others” that exist in the realm of football reflects the hegemonic views surrounding football in our culture today.

In Out of Bounds, former pro football player Roy Simmons details his struggles as a closeted homosexual player in the NFL. Simmons tells of how alone he felt, often thinking that he was the only gay man in pro football (Simmons and DiMarco, 222). However, as he later goes on to reveal, there have been several other players who came out as gay once they left the NFL. He also asserts that there may currently be closeted players in the league as well (221). This testimony reveals just one account of the struggles of a homosexual man in the NFL, but it speaks volumes about the shortcomings of the NFL and our society in dealing with these issues. Reviewing the history of the rise of football displayed that a certain type of male has been favored in the realm of the sport. These ideas of the ideal “macho” man who braved the brutality of the game have carried over into modern-day football. As Simmons’ account shows, male players feel that there is a certain image of masculinity expected of players in the NFL. Simmons and the closeted players before him essentially hid their true selves in fear of failing to live up to that image of heterosexual masculinity. The text also describes Simmons’ experience with coming out on national television, and some of the reactions that he received. Many people struggled with the idea of one of their football heroes being gay, others claimed that it was okay just as long as he promised to “keep away from…our children” (228). This reaction to homosexuality can be found in all walks of life. As Simmons states, the NFL is a subsection of the US thus it reflects the trends of homosexuality found in the population (222). This source shows the struggles of homosexual players in the NFL and why many of them opt to keep their sexuality a secret. The world of football implicitly carries homophobic ways of thinking that originated during its establishment and festered over time.

My final source examines the role of race in football. Advancing the Ball explores how coaching in the NFL was a white-dominated business for most of its history (Duru, 2). Duru outlines the adversity that African Americans faced in the NFL and how they went on to overcome those adversities. He likens this to an untold civil rights story of its own (7). The racial oppression that is brought to light in this book can also be connected to the findings, or rather the lack thereof, in Princeton Football. While Bernstein’s book went through the history of football at Princeton, it neglected to make much mention of the racial relations in the progress of the sport. The attitude of disregarding this portion of football history is not exclusive to this one source. The NFL has by and large maintained a network of primarily-white coaches until recent history, as evidenced by Duru’s work. The struggles that African Americans in the NFL faced can be seen as a result of the origins of football. The history of football and its progression over the years can be viewed as the source of the continuing issues of sexuality and race in the sport even today.


Bernstein, Mark F. Princeton Football. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2009. Print.

Duru, N. Jeremi. Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.;

Simmons, Roy, and Damon DiMarco. Out of Bounds: Coming out of Sexual Abuse, Addiction, and My Life of Lies in the NFL Closet. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006. Print.

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1 Response to The Role of Football in Our Society

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    I like that you found three sources that tell very different stories of the origins/dynamics of football. Technically, Out of Bounds is not a scholarly source (not peer-reviewed), but still a good one for the project. What do you see as being most useful coming out on the other side of reading these three sources? Where do you see yourself taking the project from here?

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