Football Is a Bad Religion by Barbara Ardinger

As soon as I read Carol Christ’s comments on football, I said, “Yeah! She’s totally right.” I keep asking people I know who watch football games what is enjoyable about watching large millionaires giving each other concussions. I understand that some sports demand skills I don’t possess, but football? What skills? It’s a mystery to me.

The characters in my new novel, Secret Lives, agree with Carol and me about the Super Bowl. The following excerpt comes from Chapter 21, “A World at War.” The Norns, in disguise as the Wintergreen Sisters, have come to town with the intention of taking power over the heras of the novel, the grandmothers who live in Long Beach, CA, and do magic. Our crones, however, have no intention of being taken over, or even seduced by promises of power, but when they meet on Super Bowl Sunday, 1990, they don’t yet know that the war on TV will be only a tiny fragment of the larger war that the Norns will soon wage against them using gigantic ravens and thunderstorms as their weapons.

Let’s listen in on “the girls.” (Madame Blavatsky is the circle’s familiar, a talking cat.)

On the last Sunday in January, 1990, the circle gathered, Madame Blavatsky mooching every little goodie she could get paws or whiskers on, at Emma Clare’s house for a quiet Sunday potluck. The women there not only to plan the celebration of Imbolc, the true beginning of spring according to their old religion’s lunar calendar, but also to take refuge from the dreaded Super Bowl.

“It’s turned into a national holiday,” Cairo ranted, as she had every year for the past twenty. “It’s a national disgrace. Why would anyone establish a holiday to celebrate violence and commercialism?” This was a topic on which her friends were in full agreement. “There’s more domestic violence today than any other day of the year,” she went on. “The newspapers report it every year. And does anyone care? Sport? Hah! It’s vicarious warfare supported by Big Business. Blocking and kicking. And scoring. And those disgusting little victory dances. It’s testosterone poisoning, that’s what it is. A day for couch potatoes to act out their macho fantasies. Complete with sexy little cheerleader bimbettes to help them get it up.”

“Well,” said Sophie, as Cairo took a breath, “I don’t know why I’m surprised, but Warren’s watching the game with the rest of the boys back at the Towers. I told him he’d better not even think about bringing a cigar into our apartment. And he’d better change his clothes, too.”

“He’ll stink like a saloon,” Julia agreed. “Cigars and beer.” She made gagging sounds and Janie, whose father and brothers were home watching the game, said, “And they leave their mess all over the place, too. And Mom and I are supposed to clean up after them. Yuck-o.”

Up the street at the Towers, the men had commandeered the big-screen television and banished the women from the lounge. They had ordered four dozen pizzas with everything and a dozen buckets of hot wings. They’d made a big run to the 7-Eleven and brought back chips and condiments and spicy foods none of them dared to eat on any day but this one. They’d borrowed the key to the Towers’ kitchen, stocked the big refrigerator with six-packs of beer and malt liquor, and set out boxes of cigars. “We may be senior citizens the rest of the year,” one seventy-eight-year-old fan proclaimed, “but, by God, today we’re young studs again.” “Party down!” “Go, Niners!” “Go, Broncos!”

“Them old coots’ll pay for it tomorrow.” Emma Clare made an easy prediction. “They’ll pay dear.” As the women nodded self-righteously, Bertha smiled, secretly planning how she’d spend the hundred dollars or so she’d win again this year from the little bets she made with the gardeners, the kitchen staff, and one or two of the residents.

I know what the solution for football and testosterone poisoning is. I first read it in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (1996) by Sheri S. Tepper. Put something in the water to reduce the level of testosterone in every living being on the planet. I think it should be reduced to about 25 percent of what it is now. Sure, we’ll have some repercussions at first as the guys (and the macho girls) wonder where their get-it-up-and-go has got up and went, and we may even see more Viagra, Cialis, and “low T” commercials for a while. (Every time I see one start, I immediately hit the mute button on my remote.) But the Dark Side of the Force will eventually recede and people will begin to see that we are all kin. We are all, every one of us, children of the Goddess, and She wants us to play nice together. With balls, maybe, but not football.

Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (, is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic.  Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations.  When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.

Categories: Fiction, General, Goddess

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11 replies

  1. I must say having watched part of and read the rest of Obama’s speech to the prayer breakfast, I felt slapped into the face when he “ran up to the potium” in drag as a male athlete, and slapped again when he invoked the power of God He at the end of his speech. This is not presidency for the other 50% of us who if we flaunted playng basketball (did Michelle play? did I play even though we are both tall enough to have done so?) would be mocked for not being feminine enough (taller than most guys)–and at the end when evoked the power of God-He. Symbolically he was sending the same message with both “gestures” — I am guy and I believe in a Guy on the top religion.


  2. I have never played football, do not watch football or the Super Bowl, am not attending a Super Party, and, for personal reasons, believe that domestic violence is an affront to God. Having said that, regarding the claim that “There’s more domestic violence today than any other day of the year,” I would direct the character in your novel to the following information:
    Politifact summarizes, “ has charted the history of this claim, going back to its origins in a news conference held by a coalition of advocacy groups in Pasadena, Calif., before the 1993 game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills… According to a Washington Post story that debunked the claim a few days later, the groups relied on a small study of football fans and domestic violence that was carried out in northern Virginia. But, it turned out, they misquoted the study’s findings, wildly overstating the results.
    Still, the claim won’t go away. Locally, in 1997, in response to it circulating anew through the University of Rhode Island, the head of the school’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Intimate Violence sent out a campus-wide email that said that new research actually found “no relationship at all” between the game and violence against women, according to a story in The Journal.
    Since then, no other studies have shown a direct link between the game and an increase in domestic violence, said Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She also hasn’t heard anecdotal evidence of any connection in Rhode Island.”
    Janet Katz, professor of sociology and criminal justice was an author of one of the studies cited, and she told the Washington Post, “that’s not what we found at all.”
    Esta Soler of Family Violence Prevention Fund writes of the harm that the false statistics create for those empowering women affected by domestic violence:
    “There’s no reliable evidence to support that claim and most of us who work in the field say that – over and over again. Instead, we make the point that domestic, dating and sexual violence are serious problems every day of the year. The movement has spent the past 18 years saying that these claims aren’t true, at every opportunity. We urge reporters not to write that story, and the responsible ones don’t.
    But opponents won’t let it go. They use it as a way to bash feminists, “bleeding heart liberals,” women, and what they call the “domestic violence industry”…
    So let me say this one more time, on behalf of the Family Violence Prevention Fund and our colleagues across this field: There is NO conclusive, national research to validate claims that domestic violence escalates on Super Bowl Sunday. But domestic, dating and sexual violence are serious problems every day, in every community.”



    • Please remember that the excerpt is from a novel and is a statement of opinion. I share the opinion of my character (which is why I put it in her mouth). I have seen some violence happening on Super Bowl Sunday, but not recently. My primary objection is the objectification of women–cute little cheerleaders, etc.–and the behavior of fans at home and presumably in the stadium. I don’t watch football because some of the fans act like soccer hoodlums. Yes, some fans don’t act that way. Food for them!


  3. You might want to check out Dave Meggyesy’s book (probably out of print), Out of Their League. Dave was an NFL Linebacker who dropped out at the height of his career and wrote a serious analysis of professional football in America. Also Gary Shaw’s Meat on the Hoof about playing the game at football factory Texas. Both of these men wrote their books with the help of my husband, Jack Scott and me at a non-profit we ran call Institute for the Study of Sport and Society. Jack also wrote a book worth ready – Athletics for Athletes (self-published and later published by McMillan as The Athletic Revolution).


  4. Was it the same Jack Scott who gave a ride to SLA members in the 1970s?


  5. Brava!!! You and I are in agreement. Many thanks for your comment.


  6. Dear Barbara,
    I just read your post per your invitation from my post “Feminism and Football.” I certainly understand your distaste and even disdain for football. There is a lot that is disturbing about it. As the wife of a football coach and the mother of a son (who actually play rugby–the only sport he could have possibly found that is more rough than football), I don’t have the luxury of distancing myself from the realities of this sport like some do. While that has created some difficulties for me, it has also forced me to take a closer look at several things about this sport. I hope you’ll take a look at my Calling Audibles series at
    But there are a few things I will say here. The first is that, while football is violent, it is a product of American culture. What does it tell us about ourselves and our tendencies toward violence. It holds up an interesting mirror to be sure. Also while it is violent, it is also the quintessential team sport. One of the great gifts of this sport is how intricately people learn how to function as a community.
    It is also a space that is more diverse racially than almost any other cultural space we have in America. For our family, it has been a gift to have friendships across so many lines that culture draws between groups (based on race, class, religion, geography, etc). Also, I have learned to look more deeply at what the potent affection that people have toward football is all about. Even though there are lots and lots of reasons to not like the sport you can’t deny that many, many more people love it. It is the most popular sport in America in many ways. That may well be shifting, but right now there is much to learn from the why and the whence of that affection that interests me as a theologian and a feminist.
    All this is to honor the fact that you do not appreciate football at the same time that I want to leave space for some aspects of it that may be redeeming for some that are worth honoring, too.
    Marcia Mount Shoop


  7. Marcia, you’re right, of course, when you assert that football is a product of the American culture. Maybe it’s a product of the Wild West. I don’t understand its popularity at all. Maybe I just don’t get out enough. But I do like your blog. Thanks for writing it.


    • Thank you, Barbara. Thanks for yours, too. I am actually writing a book about all of this sport stuff right now. There is much to explore.


    • My husband, Jack Scott, and Dave Meggyesy, a line-backer for the St. Louis Cardinals pro football team, wrote a book entitled OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE in the early 70s. It was the first book to examine the role of football in American society from a socio-political viewpoint. A good read.


  8. So what do you think of the “big news” yesterday about the gay athlete? A commentator I heard on MSNBC and a column I read in the morning paper both said that his coming out has more to do with us (society) than about him as an individual. They compared it to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and said it’s turning out not to be a big deal. This might be a topic you can explore in your book. Machismo in the locker room? I’m sure your book is going to be fascinating. Good luck with it.


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