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Group examines NFL in America

| Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Annie Gilbert Coleman, associate professor of American Studies, led a group discussion titled “America and the NFL: A Couple’s Therapy Session” on Tuesday evening to explore the institution of professional football. The conversation, sponsored by the American Studies Club, focused on the division between the longtime success and fame of the sport and the recent controversies brought to light by the media.

AmericaNFLEmily Danaher | The Observer
“I see an increasing fundamental disconnect between the values we traditionally associate with professional football and these issues we’re hearing about on the news nowadays,” Coleman said. “These two parts of the NFL seem to be polar opposites.”

Ben Zelmer, a 2013 Notre Dame graduate, said he associates the NFL with physical excellence and community.

“I heard a football coach once describe American football as a modern day gladiator sport,” Zelmer said. “Everyone gets together and watches people in their peak physical ability compete in a very physical way. Our society unites to watch our best athletes.”

Coleman said football has maintained a huge influence on modern American society and cultural attitudes toward the sport have changed over time.

“I searched ‘America’s game’ and the NFL came up,” Coleman said. “Baseball used to be America’s game.”

According to Coleman, recent concerns surrounding the NFL in the media include concussions, domestic violence and bullying.

“The NFL is a trade association,” Meg Handelman, senior president of the American Studies Club, said. “The owners want to protect their players and create rules and regulations that keep their players’ best interests. However, the NFL is also like a giant marketing business that could very well compromise the players’ interests in the pursuit of profits.”

Interest groups such as television networks, social media sites and fantasy football groups have increased the impact and publicity of problems in the NFL.

“Domestic violence, for example, isn’t new,” said Handelman. “The Ray Rice incident has become such a big deal because there’s a video. It brings more attention to domestic violence in a new way.”

Coleman said the increasing worry surrounding concussions could possibly lead to a change in the football industry in the future.

“At the turn of the century, the rules of football were changed to be less violent,” Coleman said. “There was resistance, but eventually people accepted the changes. It’s not impossible for this to happen again.”

According to Handelman, the ultimate goal of the discussion was to help stimulate football fans to think critically and thoughtfully.

“There’s an entirely different side to football than the one we see on TV,” Coleman said. “It’s more than just entertainment.  The football industry can play a part in some important societal issues.”

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, the Observer's current Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's a former Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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