Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto by Steve Almond

ben_miller's review

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This treatise pulled off a neat double trick: articulating why I once loved American football and why I don't anymore. Almond's description of solitary afternoons watching his favorite team at a cheesy bar, in the company of—but also depressingly isolated from—other fans, made my blood run cold in its familiarity.

For me, football is no longer a temptation. It's not just that the sport is morally and culturally bankrupt—I now find it unbearably tedious, a stuttering and bloated carnival of ads, replays, and penalty reviews punctuated by occasional fits of mostly dull action. So it's been easy to give up a sport that I no longer have any interest in, while feeling conveniently righteous for having done so.

But other big-business sports are still central to my life, and they're not as different as I might like to pretend from the hideous cesspool that is the NFL...still an unconscionable waste of money and resources, a bonanza of greed and corruption, and a system of exploitation of labor at all levels. I still have to believe they have redeeming qualities, too—but the veil of innocence with which I enjoyed sports as a child has been further lifted by this little book.

greebytime's review against another edition

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Being Against “Against Football”

I just finished Steve Almond’s “Against Football” and have spent the last few days trying to consolidate my thoughts about it. The premise of the book appears to be similar to the wonderful Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemna -- in that book, Pollan tried to find a way to eat everything but still make mindful decisions that were both healthy, humane and environmentally aware. He didn’t want to write a polemic about how awful meat is, because he likes meat.

Similarly, Almond’s book seems to be about a football fan coming to grips with the many negative things with football – primarily, though not exclusively, NFL football.

This appealed to me because I’m in a similar situation. I love professional football. While reading this book, I’ve also been leafing through an NFL Draft magazine, going onto reddit to see news about my favorite team, the 49ers, and so on. I’m an obsessive, and yet because of that obsession it’s impossible to ignore the true problems the league has.

So, I was a perfect audience for the book, and yet I’m incredibly disappointed in it. Why? It’s probably easier to break this down into sections.

What the book gets right

The chapters about the physical trauma the sport brings – and how it’s inherent to the sport, and how little the NFL does to protect its players – is sharp and fully accurate. The violence in the sport is, admittedly, part of its charm. I say this knowing that it’s barbaric, but the huge hits in football are amazing, and part of why fans like it. Some of my absolute favorite players – Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, Frank Gore – are offensive players who look for contact, who play with VIOLENCE. That’s just me being honest. And I know that so many of these guys are going to have problems later in life, and that the NFL isn’t doing what it should to help them.

That’s another thing the book gets right – in the epilogue, when he finally stops complaining and offers suggestions, he states that the team should absolutely use technology to help identify players on the field who have received a concussive hit, etc. That said, most of the good material here is attributed to League of Denial which was both converted into a great Frontline episode and is its own book, so I’d have to recommend either or both of them instead.

He also states that the NFL should be stripped of its tax-exempt status, to which I heartily agree (in fact, I can’t think of a good argument to maintain this preposterous status.)

The book didn’t really get into the huge domestic abuse issues that have erupted recently – it was published before the Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy issues came to light – but those are also atrocities and embarrassments to the league.

What the book gets wrong

Almond weakens his arguments by bringing so many things into it – at one point, he talks about Pat Tillman, the Arizona Cardinal DB who quit the NFL to join the military and fight against terrorists after 9/11. That things went horribly wrong for Tillman in Iraq is well-trodden ground, but somehow Almond seems to point the failures of the war, the way the government tried to cover it up, etc., on the NFL. (Seriously.) That’s preposterous, obviously. He also talks about how sports stadiums are publicly funded by taxpayers being held hostage – so true, but not remotely confined to the NFL. This is also a failure of politics, not the NFL – if these guys can get others to pay for it, they can and should.

The suggestions in the back are also so silly and high-minded – unsurprisingly, one by Gregg Easterbrook is elitist, potentially racist and wildly impossible to make work. Another, by Almond himself, is that President Obama should make a public statement against football – even after pointing out that Obama said he wouldn’t let his son play football (for which he was eviscerated in the media). This would lead to … something. It’s not clear…and it’s so tone deaf as to be preposterous.


It may speak positively or negatively about me, but I didn’t learn one thing new about football – and I’m still a fan. For those casual fans, there is probably something to learn here and for that and the fact that more people talking about CTE is a good thing, is why I’m giving this two stars instead of one. But for me, the goal of the book failed for me. I’m not against football any more than I was before I read it.

Go 49ers!

shayneh's review against another edition

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I'm not particularly a fan of football, and this book both intrigued and repulsed me. Worth a read: even though it is somewhat deliberate pot-stirring, it raises important questions of civic responsibility and our obligations as consumers of entertainment.

karibaumann's review against another edition

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I quit watching football a couple of years ago after hearing and reading podcasts and articles that talked about the brain injuries. The NFL was a regular part of our lives for the entire time we have been married, and watching on Sundays together was something we enjoyed. But I started to feel squeamish about it, about people being hurt for my enjoyment, so I stopped. I didn’t make some big pronouncement, just quietly decided I couldn’t do it anymore. The news that has come out of the NFL since has not changed my mind. (I do still watch the Super Bowl. I can’t really justify that either, but I watch it.)

All that to say, I was already on the side of the author when it came to this book, but I still appreciated how he articulated his arguments. My position has been less clearly stated, so it was helpful to read in detail about not just the brain injuries but also the financial problems and the racial problems and the culture of violence problems that I felt I was endorsing when I watched the NFL. Do I think that this book will change anyone’s mind? Not really. Do I think it might help sway someone who is feeling iffy about watching the NFL? Yes. Do I think that stuff like this will make a difference in the long run? I doubt it. The NFL is going to roll on without my support but at least I can better explain why. Recommended for: anyone who has ever had a twinge of concern about watching the NFL.

thomcat's review against another edition

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This short book details, chapter by chapter, the several problems with football as a sport and as a business. Most are well argued, and though the author doesn't provide a solution, he is quite clear on that in the conclusion. He sees his role as provoking discussion.

Like a previous work, the autobiographical parts don't add much for me, and in many cases detract. No actual studies are cited, and there probably are several mentioned in the concussion chapter alone. It would be interesting to count the number of times "I believe" is used in the text.

I found the chapter on military connections most surprising, and the chapter on concussions most depressing. As a late-comer to the game and fandom, it is probably easier for me to step back - but I feel driven to make a bigger difference. This book only makes the arguments. Perhaps the associated website and forum have more suggestions for change.

jbeacham's review against another edition

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I kind of hoped this book was more than it was. It really is a manifesto, and reads like a long HuffPost or Slate article. It poses some interesting questions, and even provides a few possible answers. However, it does preach a bit to the choir, and I'm not sure how effective this book would be to someone on the fence about football or even a diehard fan. I also don't like how the book refers to recent events with "Last year.." or "A few months ago...", as I feel this will make the book pretty hard to follow for readers in the future. Maybe this really is a book for the here and now, and isn't meant to be a definitive statement on football. I'd probably recommend this book as a starter, but for those that really want to explore the harm football causes, at least on the brain, League Of Denial is still my definitive choice.

tjlcody's review against another edition

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You know, it's not often that I get so pissed off that I can't finish a book that's just short of 200 pages.

Let me clarify my position:

I am a woman. I am not a football fan. Not now, not never. I am at best tolerant of the game, and at worst I deeply resent the annoying, die-hard fans and the NFL's glossing over of the concussion issue. If I ever have a son, it will be a cold day in hell before I sign a permission slip for him to play football whilst still a minor, knowing what I do about how injuries are handled in football culture.

Not a fan.

So this book- I should love this, right?

For a bit I did: When the author was talking about the facts, about the medical realities of CTE and the men that are suffering from depression, memory lapses, paralysis, and all sorts of things related to the injuries they received while playing football, that was all great. The money bit threw me for a bit of a loop because math isn't my strong point, but I got the gist of it: The NFL is obscenely rich.

It was when we started getting to the issue of homophobia and women that I started to take issue.

First, the remark that was made about women and football: Namely that football is still firmly in the "pre-Suffrage" era and that women are either cheerleaders or football wives. In football, we're either "sex objects" or passively cheering on "our men".

Well excuse you, but that's bullshit. The author spends the whole first half of the fucking book railing about the evils of the NFL, concussions and major injuries that leave players paralyzed, but then suggests that it's "sexism" that women aren't... IDK, on the field with the male players getting the shit knocked out of them?? He also, interestingly, neglected to mention that adult female football teams and leagues exist in their own capacity, outside of the NFL.

Second, the author does way, W A Y too much projection and assumption when it comes to homophobia. In addition to being a woman, I'm also bisexual and I am repelled by the notion that homophobes are all just secretly closeted gays that need to come to term with their feelings, struggling with their own homoerotic confusion. I don't doubt that some are, but it's a gross simplification of an attitude that could have a lot of different roots: Some people grow up in religions that teach them that gay people are evil; some people have been molested by adults of the same sex as children, and haven't dealt with the trauma.

Homophobia is wrong regardless of motive, but reducing it all to "lawl you've just thought about fucking men and you don't want to admit it" is idiotic.

It's the author projecting his understanding, his view onto a wider and nuanced subject, and consequently oversimplifying it to the point of making a mockery of it. It's especially idiotic when speaking in reference to a man that the author does not know (Richie Incognito) and suggesting that he's participating in pig-tail pulling: He suggests that Incognito is harassing this other player because he secretly has feelings for him. Don't even fucking ask me to start on the stupidity of the "he's only picking on you because he likes you" argument; we don't have time for that here and I will get 100% more heated than I already am.

(BTW, If someone was sitting next to me and trying to point out how homoerotic football is- like the author's old girlfriend at the beginning of this chapter- I would be just as irritated and tell them to stop viewing everything through sex-tinted glasses. I get doing it as a joke, but there are people who see sex Literally Everywhere and will demand that you see it too.)

I had to stop around the part the author started talking about rape, because I'm already getting that Feeling that I get when I read books and the author is handling sociopolitical topics with all the delicacy of a fucking sledgehammer. If he couldn't talk about homophobia (and sexism, from that bit I mentioned above) without obnoxiously and obliviously projecting his own biases onto it, I am terrified of how he's gonna talk about rape and racism.

I'm out. If the author had stuck to reporting the facts- accounts from football players who have faced homophobia, the support and backlash they've faced in coming out, how it's affected their careers- I would have a totally different view of this, because it would be first-hand accounts from the people themselves.

But instead he decided to start lapsing into tired, biased, outdated understandings of what homophobia is and why people feel it, and as a result I have just got zero faith in his ability to discuss the other topics remaining in this book with even a semblance of grace.

whitneyborup's review against another edition

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I can't wait to talk to Heather about this one for book club!

lukeisthename34's review against another edition

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Not saying anything we don't now already know and yet still compelling. However, as Sean said, please don't take this from me.

mugren's review against another edition

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Honest and eye-opening