I have long wondered about the “why” regarding the differences between American Football and what the rest of the world calls football (i.e. soccer). American football: so completely regimented and precise; fútbol: very free-flowing and quite uncontrolled.
This in contrast to what appears on the surface the opposite regarding the political and bureaucratic regimes. The United States: relatively free-market; Europe and Latin America (where fútbol is most popular): bureaucratic and stifling.
I have never felt satisfied with any answer I have come up with to explain this seeming contradiction; I have never found anything on point upon which I could develop a reasonable hypothesis. Well, maybe that day has arrived.
Total State/Total Sports, by Dr. Gregory C. Dilsaver.
In this essay, Dilsaver examines the role that organized youth sports indoctrinates people toward being an obedient citizen to a controlling state. It is a worthwhile read, but I want to focus on one gem that turned a light bulb on for me regarding my quest:
So too, sports inculcate the belief that life is a level playing field, where rules are made up by decree. This is legal positivism, which is the life blood of the Total State, as opposed to God-given natural law, which is the nemesis of the Total State. (Emphasis added; the light bulb.)
Football vs Fútbol
Before I dive into the history and political theory, I offer a brief examination regarding the differences in the two sports – one very regimented and controlled, the other very free-flowing. For a mental picture: take someone unfamiliar with either game and plant them in a stadium, one game at a time. In less than five minutes, he will understand fútbol; in five years, he still may not understand football.
A little detail:
Football: if it means anything, the rule book is 92 pages long. But this is the simple part. Why do they call it football? Rarely does anyone play the ball with his feet. The play stops and starts; why? A new set of players come in when the team changes from offense to defense to special teams (what’s that?).
Different players come in and out; the formations must follow a prescribed formula; the offense gets four chances to advance the ball ten yards – measured precisely by a chain of ten-yards’ length; when the play goes out of bounds, a precise placement is made of the position; the clock stops and starts with precision – the referee can review and reset the clock; the team has a specific amount of time by which they must begin the next play; there are fouls for dozens of offenses beyond dangerous plays.
Football might be the most regimented popular sport played on the planet; perhaps baseball can be included (another popular American sport) in this category.
Fútbol: there are seventeen Laws of the Game; yes, just seventeen. Only one of these would offer any confusion to the new fan, the rule of offside: basically, an offensive player must be behind the midfield line or the second-last opponent when the ball is played forward – and then, he is only offside if he is engaged in the play.
As to fouls, basically fouls are called only for dangerous plays. As to marking the ball for a throw-in, free kick, etc., let’s just say somewhere in the neighborhood is good enough.
Regarding the clock – it is there merely for general reference. It is never stopped during the half – if play stops for an extended time (an injured player, for example), the referee just adds on however many minutes he feels appropriate to the end of the half. Even this added time isn’t set in stone – when the added time expires, the referee will often let a developing play come to some conclusion before blowing the whistle.
There may not be a less regimented popular sport in the world.
The History of Fútbol
Dilsaver’s statement about natural law sent me to the history of fútbol:
The modern rules of association football [fútbol] are based on the mid-19th century efforts to standardise the widely varying forms of football played in the public schools of England. The history of football in England dates back to at least the eighth century AD.
Medieval law offers the most extended period of governance by natural law in the west. This relationship can be seen in the earliest rules (and I use the term loosely) of the sport:
By some accounts, in some such events any means could be used to move the ball towards the goal, as long as it did not lead to manslaughter or murder.
Which is pretty much the same rule today – fouls are called for dangerous play, and that’s about it.
None of the legal positivism that defines American football; none of the regimentation, precision, call it bureaucracy and regulation. Just natural law: get the ball in the goal, don’t initiate aggression against another player.
In one simple sentence, Dilsaver opened this window for me. American football conforms perfectly to a society that is indoctrinated in legal positivism – indoctrinated almost from the birth of the nation and the birth of each citizen.
Fútbol conforms to natural law – natural law that was the basis for the medieval law in the lands of fútbol’s birth; natural law that began to shift to legal positivism with the Renaissance and Enlightenment.
I was looking in the wrong place. I was looking for an explanation of this seeming contradiction in today’s bureaucratic Europe; instead, I should have looked to Europe’s roots, in natural, medieval law.
Until I come across a better explanation, this is the one I will stick with.
A big change in US football came when Teddy Roosevelt and others stepped in because lots of student athletes were being kill and injured playing the game. This was the beginning of the NCAA. This was the start of any rules and the padding that players now use.ReplyDelete
Though it does not seem to protect their brains if some stories are true
I played Rugby for Kent State and prior to that a lot of football(American) in my youth. I can tell you that many more injuries are created by helmets/pads than without by my experience.Delete
Generally speaking, people don't spear when wearing helmets, and while the practice is "outlawed" in general today- it was common practice 30 plus years ago. Tacklers definitely still use their shoulder pads as "weapons" in football today as well.
When you tackle someone without gear, you focus on technique that doesn't hurt you(and usually not the tacklee as well) and accomplishing the goal of tackling. Wearing "protective" gear creates an entirely different mentality when in the heat of the "battle".
Nick, you have just offered a further comparison / differentiation:Delete
The US has all the big toys, making the USG feel invincible everywhere it wants to crush those without the big toys. Yet, instead of invincibility, it makes the US weak, prone to more injuries.
On the other hand, "the other" plays a much simpler and far less expensive game - and even if they don't win, they certainly never lose.
Thank you BM.Delete
I also just noticed an important typo when I re-read my anecdote:
"Generally speaking, people don't spear when NOT wearing helmets"
Obviously it looks like you got the jist of my comment regardless, my apologies to those who might have been confused by it.
An interesting write-up. No matter the language or culture one comes from, futbol is the same game worldwide. An American can be dropped in Nepal and with minimal instruction in some basics (what team you are on, which uniform you will wear, what your role will be, etc.), they can be off and running, literally.ReplyDelete
That said, what say you, bm, about FIFA/IFAB in relation to futbol? Are they elitist, the bureaucracy that places undue and excessive regulations upon the simple game itself? We are starting to see more of their recent proclamations and additions to the basic framework of the game itself:
Not to mention the increase of corruption as of late:
I have no problem with some kind of organizing body.Delete
Given the money involved, some level of corruption comes with the territory, I suppose. But if the constituents (clubs, national teams, sponsors, etc.) don't care to deal with it, it isn't my concern - it's their money.
You hit the nail on the head, BM. Football mirrors the legal positivism of modern statism (with all it's bloody rule changes), whereas feetball (soccer) remains--and will remain, thanks to purists worldwide--the most libertarian of sports, more elegant than any other.ReplyDelete
Somewhat unrelated, feetball clubs, given that they're independent and not franchisees, actually compete against one another in the marketplace. Football teams on the other hand, compete against the MLB and NBA on behalf of the NFL on any given Sunday.
I also like the idea of relegation - something that would do wonders for both the competitiveness of the teams in the US as well as the long term value of the club if the don't remain competitive.Delete
The original football was something of a reenactment of 19C pre-Blitzkreig battle. During the American War Between the States the form of combat was mostly two opposing lines firing at each other until one side left the field. At a psychological/emotional level battle of that day was an our-line-versus-the-other-line, sort of like tug-of-war. I think it was called football to equate it with infantry as opposed to equestrian skills that most officers (college level warriors) would participate in.ReplyDelete
Unlike baseball which developed as a layman sport, football began as a college sport, so it was connected directly to the establishment.
As I recall (the limit of my personal media experience) the war-as-football meme started after Vietnam in the 1970's, when war as a means of economic profit, in and of itself, was obsolete. Maybe that meme started in the 1950's
Anyway, American Football was created by the American elite class after the elites had eviscerated the COTUS by might makes right war.
The great French philosopher Michel Foucault said that the most diabolical moment in human history was the invention of the public prosecutor in 12th century Europe. Tradition in Europe had conceived justice as a kind of right held by the two parties involved in a dispute to publicly seek peaceful resolution. The two disputants had the right to make their case before a learned disinterested third party (think Merlin ). This neutral third party by virtue of his great stature and knowledge had the obligation (noblesse oblige) to help peaceably find an equitable settlement. Up until the 12th century invention of the public prosecutor, justice meant this kind of public conflict resolution in place of the private settlement it had replaced, the physical combat of the joust, the origin of the term justice. After the public prosecutor was invented roles were reversed. Justice became the OBLIGATION of the accused to submit to the authority of the judge. The judge and prosecutor had the RIGHT to accuse an individual, replacing the 'agency' of either of the disputing parties. In this way justice was fundamentally transformed from a system serving to help people peacefully resolve conflict into a weapon by which political authority could subjugate people. This is the origin of modern state justice. The mechanism of natural law was seized by the political class and reworked into 'positivist' law, into a strategy of domination. Where natural law was discovered by trial and error as that least set of rules best serving to resolve and prevent conflict, positivist law is imposed law, is deployed law which ceaselessly incites conflict and one need only think of the centerpiece of modern state law, the drug warfare project.ReplyDelete
The date of your memorable event corresponds to the initial taxation of the Champagne Fairs, which set precedent for governmental regulation of the private sector, according to Chapter 1 of Murray Rothbard's book "Conceived in Liberty".Delete
In Rothbard's "Power versus Liberty" theory of history, prosperity always precedes power's subsequent growth.
Interesting take, BM.ReplyDelete
Nevertheless, I submit that American football is far more compelling, dramatic, exciting, and theatrical than soccer. American football is also infinitely more complex AND creative.
I would also submit that there have been far more innovations in the way football is played than soccer. To wit, by way of illustration, and not exhaustion:
(1) The forward pass;
(2) The umbrella zone;
(3) The 65 toss power trap;
(4) The 53 defense;
(5) The 46 defense;
(6) The Flex defense;
(7) The Power I;
(8) The empty set;
(9) The hook and ladder;
(10) The Tampa Two;
(11) The single high safety;
(12) The flea-flicker;
(13) The double reverse;
(14) The West Coast offense;
(15) Five wide;
(16) Jumbo formations;
(17) The Wishbone;
(18) Student body left (favored by Nick Gillespie and Reason writers);
(19) Student body right (favored by Hans Herman Hoppe);
(20) Skinny post;
(21) Button hook;
(22) Triple Option;
(23) Corner blitzes;
(24) Onside kicks;
(25) Hail Mary;
(27) Fake punts;
(28) Screen passes;
(29) Safety blitzes;
(30) Coffin corner;
Put another way, American football is high powered chess whereas soccer is lightweight checkers.
IMO, American football requires far more intelligence than soccer. It requires far more split second decision making and requires a far greater diversity of skills.
Could soccer ever be depicted as so beautiful, ballet like and visually appealing like NFL Films has done for soccer?
I am afraid you would lose in an election!Delete
Mike, I have been thinking about the following:Delete
"...American football is high powered chess whereas soccer is lightweight checkers."
I think you are right about football, but it isn't a complementary comparison; I think you are wrong about soccer, as it is far more complex.
Chess / football: each piece / player is limited in the moves available to him; each piece / player is instructed by an outside force to make the moves: the chess player / the offensive and defensive coordinator; each piece / player cannot make a different play without penalty or consequence: in chess, impossible, in football either a penalty flag or the coach’s wrath.
I recognize that there are a few players in football – very few – who are given some leeway: Ray Lewis, Junior Seau, a handful of quarterbacks. But in the end, they are forced to play in a system, a specific method.
Soccer – the player is much freer to create – as it must be. The player on the pitch has to take into account the movement of 21 other players and the ball; the situation changes continuously and decisions must be made in split seconds. No one gets the play sent in from the sideline; the players on the field must decide and create.
Much more complicated than chess and football – nothing is defined beforehand; perhaps it can be described as a combination of physics and art on an ever-changing canvas – with 22 players each taking the role of physicist and creator.
I think your analogy is right for football – and damning; it may be chess for the coordinators, it isn’t chess at all for the automatons / players. I think you are on the wrong end when considering the soccer player.
This is one of the most thought compelling comments you have ever penned (please take this as a compliment).
Chess for the coordinators but not for the players, unfortunately, is too often the case with football. The best coordinators, i.e., the offensive and defensive coordinators along with the head coaches, are said to be best at "putting the players in the best position to win". This phenomenon would appear to support your position.
Football head coaches and coordinators are generally viewed by the sports intelligentsia as more important to a team's success than baseball, basketball, or hockey coaches. Most of the best of them have or had a reputation for being total control freak workaholics. Witness Lombardi, Landry, Shula and Belichick. Regarding Shula, in particular, coach Bum Phillips once quipped, "he can take his'n and beat you'rn and then he can turn around and take you'rn and beat his'n."
BM, that quote, which I have always loved (because (1) I loved the late Bum Phillips, who was the closest thing to Yogi Berra the NFL ever had, and (2) the quote had the benefit of being true - sorry Pats fans), succinctly distills your point.
Nevertheless, as you acknowledged, there are the quarterbacks: the amount of information that a Tom Brady, Petyon Manning, and Drew Breeze must process during their pre-snap reads and once the ball is snapped, in a split second, is staggering. The amount of film study required to be able to do the processing is also staggering. Consequently, the quarterbacks tend to develop an encyclopedic knowledge of the other teams' defenses, defensive schemes, and tendencies, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of individual defenders.
Speaking of the Patriots, just last night on MNF, Steve Young made the point that coach Belichick and the Patriots' coaching staff expected their players to approach the game with intellectual rigor and if a player lacked the same, they were apt to be cut from the team or never make the team in the first place.
Additionally, some of the offensive skill positions, such as the tight ends, the receivers and the running backs are sometimes not only permitted, but expected, to improvise.
On another note, yes, it may seem odd that a Rotbardian hater of legal positivism would love football. Chalk it up to.....wait.......
Well, culture does include NFL Films, yes?
Hey, watching live sports - to include American football and listening to sports talk radio - are perhaps my favorite vice.Delete
My earliest sports memories are of watching a specific, well-known college running back on TV.
Thanks for an excellent presentation. Some time back ? Reismann published 'The Lonely Crowd'. Think in there he compares American Football with Football (ie soccer). Reismann suggests that Americans are so obsessed with formal rules that the free flowing game of foot ball evolved into a game of bite sized pieces. Otherwise the Americans could not proceed with the game as it would be continually be interrupted to stop and argue about what rule had been broken. Note that the case is more to the point in comparing Rugby football (not soccer) with American football. The two games much more similar than US football and soccer. Rugby invented at the elite rugby school and is intertwined with the British class system, where the elite follow Rugby ( a game for cads played by gentlemen) and the masses follow soccer (a game for gentlemen played by cads). Rugby has rules, but cannot proceed unless the players subscribe to a host of unwritten rules. Which is one the systems by which that class system works. I could go on at length. Thanks for opening up a very interesting and wide ranging topic.ReplyDelete
Great response Barry!Delete
I note this interesting point via wiki regarding Rugby that I think adds to your point:
"The games played at Rugby were organised by the pupils and not the masters, the rules being a matter of custom and not written down. They were frequently changed and modified with each new intake of students."
To me this is an interesting tidbit, especially in context with BM's whole series on the Middle Ages and cultural/natural law.
US football evolved from English rugby. Rugby was a version of futbol played in Rugby, England. The rules flow down from most complex to least.ReplyDelete
Keep up the good work!
BP, I think you're over-thinking this one. Once you've played football, everything else is just exercise. No other sport offers the same level of challenge to a gifted athlete on all three levels: physically, intellectually and spiritually. It is truly a "man's game" with no room for the effeminate. As for soccer, using your hands and arms is illegal which purposely negates obvious male upper-body strength/coordination advantages and any idiot can play it; thus, soccer is a girly game for simpletons.ReplyDelete
Of course football is an elitist game as it requires a minimum level of athleticism (the combination of physical ability, intelligence and desire) to play (well); when this minimum level is not met, then one is immediately exposed on the first play. There is nowhere to hide on a football field and failure is dealt with in a swift, brutal manner. The violence inherent in the game enhances "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat". This is why football is popular to elite young athletes who thrive on competition. It is also why so many people who never have and never could play the game love it so much; the desire to identify with and live precariously through superior athletes. Football is the closest thing we have to gladiators.
As for the rules thing, the complexity of the game does become an entertaining aspect on an intellectual level as one matures in understanding the nuances of the game, but it is the physicality that first grips one's fascination. In Florida, the kid's in my neighborhood (15-20 kids at a time) had an on-going game with no rules affectionately called "Smear the Queer". This game consisted of one person running around a yard/field with a football and everybody else tackling him and then everybody else piling on when tackled to the ground. Early tests of manhood developing a pecking order in the neighborhood social hierarchy. Just having the courage to pick up the ball and take the eventual, mandatory beat-down and crushing pile-on elevated your status as it toughened-up all involved. The rules start with borders, eh, a boundary, followed by choosing sides (teams) and then more rules are slowly added from there as we grew older until old enough to "try-out" for organized teams. The rest is history.
"I think you're over-thinking this one."Delete
And instead of explaining why, you raise counterpoints that have nothing to do with what I have written.
"As for soccer, using your hands and arms is illegal which purposely negates obvious male upper-body strength/coordination advantages..."
And this statement disqualifies you from being considered knowledgeable about THIS sport.
Asking "why" football and soccer are different while trying to apply "history and political theory" to the question seemed a bridge too far, but you seemed sincere in wanting to know the answer. So, I had no counterpoints, just an explanation of how someone (like many other Americans) had come to like football more than soccer. I (perhaps unfairly, so I apologize) originally interpreted the article as another attack on football (that mostly come from feminists) which is one of the last bastions of masculinity left in Western Civilization. After rereading it, this appears to be an emotional reaction on my part as you don’t really make a value judgement as to which is a superior game though I saw comparing soccer to football as an insult to football. Still, the obvious answer to your question of why they are different is that they just are; as all sports have differences. The differing levels of popularity in different locations is due to children in most of the world growing up playing soccer while in the USA football is an available alternative for children; this isn’t rocket science.Delete
My wtf moment came when I got to the line “For a mental picture: take someone unfamiliar with either game and plant them in a stadium, one game at a time. In less than five minutes, he will understand fútbol; in five years, he still may not understand football.” Change the comparison to Checkers vs. Chess and see if you think being easy to figure out the rules is some kind of meaningful quality distinction (even in the context of legal positivism vs. natural law). This would be an insult to chess and reveal a seeming misunderstanding, if not antagonism, toward chess.
Moving on, I see the Dr. Dilsaver “gem” as an observation applicable to organized sports and their development, while most sports are played on a local level in “pick-up games” (un-organized) where kids get together and make up the rules before playing, though usually based on rough adaptions and interpretations of what they think the general rules are from observing organized league games. These negotiations before playing are an important process for children to learn how to determine, apply and enforce rules of behavior. Organized sports of all types take this process to the next level such that there is a bigger difference within each sport (organized vs. unorganized) as to the influence that historical social trends of legal positivism vs. natural law occur than between organized football vs. organized soccer or between un-organized football and un-organized soccer; ditto for every other sport. This reveals how natural law evolves into written law which is, IMHO, the primary social construct to analyze in this context rather than differences between, or preferences for and against, individual sports. The trend towards having more organized sports and less un-organized sports is more concerning as it reveals how legal positivism is replacing natural law tendencies. The conditions that allow natural law to manifest in society are going away.
I am curious as to your knowledgeable opinion of the purpose of not allowing soccer players (other than goalies) to use their hands if not to "level the playing field" among those with various levels of upper body strength and coordination? Soccer would be much more fun (challenging and interesting) if one could use their hands.
“…as you don’t really make a value judgement as to which is a superior game…”Delete
I tried to avoid this. And I think you are right, it was this initial impression that perhaps caused our dialogue to get off on a bad foot.
“…though I saw comparing soccer to football as an insult to football.”
Value is subjective; there are others who feel otherwise and they would be equally insulted the other way – and they would be equally justified.
“Still, the obvious answer to your question of why they are different is that they just are; as all sports have differences.”
This is obviously true, but all sports also have roots – where, how, why did they develop? This is what I explored with soccer; perhaps one shortcoming in my post was that I did not explore the same regarding American football.
In a comment above, semicollegiate December 4, 2017 at 8:55 AM offers some history; I cannot vouch for it either way, but to the extent this is true it, perhaps, supports my view.
Regarding your “wtf moment”: “see if you think being easy to figure out the rules is some kind of meaningful quality distinction (even in the context of legal positivism vs. natural law).”
You made my point for me, with the following:
“…kids get together and make up the rules before playing, though usually based on rough adaptions and interpretations of what they think the general rules are from observing organized league games. These negotiations before playing are an important process for children to learn how to determine, apply and enforce rules of behavior.”
Call this something akin to natural law – and think about the games kids play that aren’t modeled on anything they see in adults. This is my only point: soccer is consistent with natural law; football is consistent with a regulatory state. The roots of soccer also support this idea (again, I haven’t personally checked the roots of football).
You help me even more:
“The trend towards having more organized sports and less un-organized sports is more concerning as it reveals how legal positivism is replacing natural law tendencies.”
And the more rules in the game, the more it conforms to legal positivism. Hence…football!
And I agree with this in every way – children’s activities are more and more supervised and adjudicated by adults. They don’t learn how to resolve conflict without an authority present; they don’t learn how to make things up as they go along. This may not be the worst problem in the world, but it sure isn’t good.
“I am curious as to your knowledgeable opinion of the purpose of not allowing soccer players (other than goalies) to use their hands if not to "level the playing field" among those with various levels of upper body strength and coordination?”
You are wrong about the upper body strength part. Soccer players get rather physical, they use their upper body to body an opponent off the ball, out of position, etc. Ask any player even at the high school level and certainly higher if upper body strength is irrelevant. They will laugh at the thought.
In any case, you answered your own question:
“…the obvious answer to your question of why they are different is that they just are; as all sports have differences.”
They already have a game that is soccer with hands (and a couple of other features): it is called rugby. They have another game that is soccer with sticks, it is called lacrosse. They have soccer on ice and with sticks – hockey.
You get the point – actually, you made the point!
Clearly you know nothing about the nature of feetball.Delete
Keeping the ball is rather important, and you might be surprised to know that upper body strength, especially arms, are very useful to that end. Upper body strength is in fact a necessary attribute for central defenders and holding midfield players, and a prized attribute in attacking players.
Furthermore, that players can't put hands on the ball is exactly the limitation which makes great players/teams so much fun to watch. Each player on the pitch must be an accurate quarterback when the ball is at their feet and a sure-handed wide receiver when the ball is heading their way, only they can't use their hands. For this reason, there is no question as to which sport requires a higher level of athleticism: soccer.
Back to work for me.
"This in contrast to what appears on the surface the opposite regarding the political and bureaucratic regimes. The United States: relatively free-market; Europe and Latin America (where fútbol is most popular): bureaucratic and stifling."ReplyDelete
I think you're on to something when it comes to American football and statism. (Full disclosure: I'm a big American college football fan.) But I see it more in warfare-state than welfare-state terms.
Football, as George F. Will (yeah, I know) has noted, combines the worst of American society: violence punctuated by committee meetings. Is there a more apt metaphor for "our" foreign-policy elites?
Americans scoff at their supervisors' welfare-state excesses: Obamacare, equal pay for unequal work, bankster bailouts, Bridges to Nowhere, bridge cards to welfare queens, etc.. But when those same supervisors solemnly intone against the threat posed by Outer Albania in Moldova, the nincompoops transmogrify into statesmen.
Yes, this seems clearly so. Many of the terms used in football are terms of war: blitz, bomb, bullet, field position. Many of the players refers to their teammates as brothers in arms; "we are fighting a war."Delete
I've live in L. America about half my life. It is far, far less "stifling" than life in the US, or for that matter in the northern European countries.ReplyDelete
I find your presuppositions typically American in their naivety and their unconscious superiority complex. In reality, to an onlooker, the difference in the two sports is their degree of violence, and there is no country on earth more violent than the US. I'd even go so far as to say that the knee-jerk reaction to a problem for an American is to solve with a degree of violence of one sort or another.