You're 100 Percent Wrong About Football

Andrew DeGraff

Those who love football—who really love it, who will actually watch every down of Super Bowl 50 and only dare to restock on nachos during the commercials—will defend it to their deaths. Yes, they will acknowledge, there's that pesky public health concern about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And yes, the league's labor structure forces most of the players to risk their lives on the field without guaranteed contracts. But those are problems that can be ironed out, with, perhaps, a stronger players' union or rule changes to better protect the brain cases of receivers going over the middle. They are worth solving, these guardians of the shield will say, because of the beauty of the game.

They will point to the intricacy and military precision of American football: the 500-page playbooks, the chess matches of the offensive and defensive coordinators, the precision of the route running by the wide receivers and the strategic aptitude of the quarterbacks and middle linebackers.

But, really, football is an overwrought hodgepodge of rules, rituals and rationalizations for barely contained mayhem. Subjectivity and second-guessing are rampant: Referees have to pick out the spot of the ball—down to the inch—by untangling 2,000 pounds of human meat. Pass interference calls often require referees to be mind readers—was the defensive back looking at the ball in the air or was he watching the receiver's eyes? Until this past season, ruling on a completed pass necessitated determining whether a player made something called "a football move" before dropping the ball. That was so vague the NFL changed the rule to state that a player must "clearly establish himself as a runner"—which pundits ripped apart this season as equally inadequate and further proof that football doesn't actually have rules: It has a mostly ambiguous set of guidelines open to the fickle interpretations of a few middle-aged men.

Like most patriotic Americans, I will spend Super Bowl Sunday watching the game, and there is no denying the pleasures of all that pomp. But I've already begun to move on to spectator sports that are not endless exercises in dreary caprice. There's a reason the rules that govern international cricket are barely different from the original version written in 1787; there's a reason that basketball has in the past few years become the second-most-popular sport in the world, and that the first, soccer, is called "the beautiful game."

Technology may yet save football from itself. Perhaps a concussion-free helmet will lower the health risks faced by players, and tracking devices embedded in the ball will end the absurd ritual of "bringing out the chains." But there's another possibility that fanatics might need to consider: Football is fatally, and inherently, flawed, and it's time for fans to punt.