Image via Wikipedia

“Gentlemen, this is a football.”  Thus did the famous coach Vince Lombardi supposedly begin every first team meeting of the season, while holding up same.   The point being, you always start off with the basics. However, I don’t know about the AIFA; some of their players might be seeing a football for the first time.

The other day, somebody got to this blog by searching for the terms “how would max weber view american football”. I don’t know if he was even thinking of the same Max Weber I’m so fond of, but regardless, I thought to myself: “Heck, I would like to read that article.”  So, here is a cursory attempt at writing it.

Of course, it’s hard to figure out the answer without a Ouija board and some arcane black magic.  And even then, it would probably only be something simplistic like “the competitiveness reflects the Protestant ethic” or “the Browns are 6 and 10 this year, best case.”

I’m not too familiar with his most famous writings about religion; I’ve mostly studied Weber’s contributions to political thought. Long-time readers probably remember his three types of authority:

  1. Charismatic authority
  2. Traditional authority
  3. Legal authority

Well, I suppose he’d think that coaches like Rex Ryan and players like Tim Tebow have charismatic authority, whereas coaches like Belichick and players like Ray Lewis rely on a sort of traditional authority–they have enjoyed a lot of success, so people are supposed to automatically respect them.  The equivalent to Legal authority is, well, the referees and the commissioner. (As the Saints are discovering.)

But this doesn’t tell us anything about the broader social phenomenon of football. Maybe Weber would note the similarity of the sport to religion.  After all, some fans follow it with the same zeal that people follow religions. They even collect artifacts and relics relating to the heroes of the sport.  And then, of course, there’s the ubiquitous Mr. Tebow. (I know I’m breaking my vow here. I’m sorry. But I promise you one thing: you will never see another blogger try as hard not to mention him as I will try the rest of the off-season.)

I once saw an NFL Films show about the Pittsburgh Steelers championship run in 2005.  It started off with this quasi-hymn or chant-like music that sounded religious and very eerie all at once. Imagine “Duel of the Fates“, only way creepier.  It seemed pretty serious for a bunch of football highlights.  But there are people who definitely see football as nearly as important. (Another Lombardi line, of which there are some variations: “All that matters is your God, your family and the Green Bay Packers”.)

Still, Weber studied religions as a way of highlighting differences in cultures and people’s philosophies.  The superficial resemblance of sports fanatics to religious fanatics is obviously more about the features of fanaticism than religion.  So we’re still at a dead end.

Let’s approach this from a different direction: we know that American football, though wildly popular in the United States, is not the number one sport in any other country. Perhaps the reasons for this are tied to “American exceptionalism”.  But this is more Tocqueville than it is Weber. (Where is that Ouija board?) And unfortunately, I cannot find much that Weber had to say about America.

So once again, I am frustrated.  I leave it to you, blogosphere and distinguished commenters, to sort this problem out.  What would Max Weber think of American football?