NFL FOOTBALL: A History of America's New National Pastime

By Barrett, Dawson | American Studies, October 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

NFL FOOTBALL: A History of America's New National Pastime


Barrett, Dawson, American Studies


NFL FOOTBALL: A History of America's New National Pastime. By Richard C. Crepeau. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 2014.

The rise of the National Football League-from a ragtag group of often fly-by-night teams in the industrial towns of the Midwest to a global operation with nine billion dollars in annual revenue-is an incredible story. The NFL's many recent scandals, including player suicides, the racist mascot of the Washington team, and numerous domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, drunk driving, animal cruelty, and child abuse cases against both players and owners, have drawn additional interest and scrutiny. Among the recent wave of critical approaches to the league are Steve Almond's divorce from fandom Against Football, Thomas P. Oates and Zack Furness' edited volume The NFL: Critical and Cultural Perspectives, and Dave Zirin's many works on the subject, including Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love.

Richard C. Crepeau's history is well-timed and provides an important backstory on the spectator sport that has become as much a national pastime as a political lightning rod. At times, Crepeau is overly colloquial, and he provides very little in terms of argument or original research. As the author acknowledges, the book is primarily a summary of secondary works, and it is organized as a straightforward narrative history with only minor thematic threads to guide chapters.

That said, NFL Football offers a fascinating lens through which to view some of the major themes of twentieth-century US history. For example, the league's early inclusion of African-American players (including Paul Robeson), its ban on black players in the 1930s at the behest of the Boston club (which then moved to Washington DC), and their re-introduction after World War II (with the exception of Washington, which remained all-white into the 1960s) show some of the lesser-known dynamics of the Jim Crow era from the perspective of the league, team owners, and players. …

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