Elegy for An Old Life Gone: A Feminist Says Goodbye to Football by Marcia Mount Shoop

MMS Headshot 2015

I married into your strange cadence
A drumbeat that never felt natural
All consuming was your intention
But I protected pieces of myself from your designs
And more pieces retrieved me
As you showed me your true colors
You were a ruthless, untrustworthy friend
You were a harsh, seductive suitor
You gave me just enough of what
I never dreamed of
To capture my attention
My intentions, all these years
You, an adored brother of the one I love
You, a superlative dissembler
And people love you for the mythic way you tell
A story
Yours, ours, theirs
I gave into parts of you, I found some contorted freedom there istock-football
Some iteration of voice
Some impulse to make the best of you
Laying you to rest is cumbersome,
Your death was long in coming
Your end was startling
I am grateful for the faces and places
You introduced me to
You have been a teacher
You have been a life-sized allegory
You have been one big absurd metaphor
For the wily ways of human distortion
Thank you for all the bills you paid
Damn you for all the time you stole
Bless you for lessons learned
Curse you for diminished returns

I was never really suited for life in your grip
“Football wife” a strange moniker
On my 21-year-hi-my-name-is-name-tag
I gave it my best shot
And in your death
I can see we left each other better
I do not regret you
I will not miss you
My life goes on without you
In fact, my life begins again from here.
After all, redemption is the name of the game.


Marcia Mount Shoop is an author, theologian, and minister. She is the new Pastor/Head of Staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, Asheville, NC. Her newest book, released from Cascade Books in October 2015, is A Body Broken, A Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches, co-authored with Mary McClintock Fulkerson. Marcia is also the author of Let the Bones Dance: Embodiment and the Body of Christ (WJKP, 2010) and Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports (Cascade, 2014).  Find out more at www.marciamountshoop.com

26 thoughts on “Elegy for An Old Life Gone: A Feminist Says Goodbye to Football by Marcia Mount Shoop”

  1. Hi Marcia, I was wondering about the context of the poem. Is it about your new job taking precedence over your husband’s? I wasn’t clear if it was football or being a football wife that your are saying goodbye too.


    1. Dear Carol,
      Thanks for the question. My husband, John, and I made a choice to step away from football. He is no longer coaching. My new job is what the Spirit brought our way in this new chapter in our lives. Our leave-taking of football has been very public so I never know what people know and don’t know. This article in the NYT fills in just a little bit of the “why” we made this choice. But needless to say there is a lot more to the story! http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/05/sports/ncaafootball/purdue-fires-a-champion-of-athletes-rights.html?_r=0


      1. Thanks Carol for the question, and Marcia for the link to the article. It helps put your post into context. I’m not a football fan, but do understand fairness and integrity and commitment.


  2. Oh what timing. I have two sons who currently connect with my ex-husband/ their father through their love of the game … the older is a Junior in highschool. Not ‘built’ for football – mentally or psychologically IMHO. The younger, 8th grade quarterback … determining games of whether or not he’ll have a ‘shot’ at high school quarterback. The older upset at his lack of playing time. Me, fervently praying to support them in whatever ‘path’ God has in store for them. My heart is in my hands as I watch these kids pound each other on the field, but yet at the same time, growing up in Plano, Texas under the ‘Friday night lights’, I also get the tribal, excitement of the game. My prayer is that they evolve to something else, but I’m not thinking it will be an easy journey. Football is deep in the American pysche. And yes, I mean that metaphorically.. Thank you for the poem.


    1. Thanks, Karen. And blessings to you and your sons as they navigate the complicated world of football. You may be interested in Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports . It is my book about football from a theological perspective.


  3. Hi Marcia, I’m glad to see you blogging on FAR again, but saddened by your difficult journey in the last few months. I know from my experience teaching Women’s Studies that some feminists enjoy football. I never understood that, because like you (eventually) I saw football as “ruthless, untrustworthy.” Thanks for trying to improve the lives of the young men in your husband’s care. But “your life begins again from here.” Let us know what happens.


    1. Just to add, African-American males are only six percent of the United States population, but comprise nearly 70 percent of the players in the National Football League. So they take on most of the head injuries, etc.


      1. Dear Sarah,
        Thanks for your comment. You are right about the racialized realities of who bears the brunt of the inequities and injustices of football both on the college level and in the NFL. I talk a lot about this dynamic in Touchdowns for Jesus. I hope you’ll check it out!


    2. Thanks, Nancy. We cherish the players we have known these last 20+ years. I can’t say I enjoyed much about football in the last several years –it’s a very stressful way of life. As a football wife, I differentiated myself from a “fan.” I wasn’t really a fan. It was a way of life in which a lot was at stake for us with every snap of the ball. I don’t miss that kind of relentless stress.


  4. Cool poem! And good for you and your husband. Thanks for writing it and sharing it with us.

    A century ago, sports heroes were more or less heroic….or at least they weren’t batterers and abusers and crooks and cheats. Too many of them are those things today. I have always thought football is a violent “sport” (actually a business) “played” by large, mean animals. America needs to get that cruelty out of its psyche and save young men from brain injuries and injuries all over their bodies. I wish everybody would say goodbye to football.


    1. Thanks for your comments, Barbara. I see the players differently than you describe after spending over twenty years with them. They are not mean animals in my experience, but for the most part they are good soldiers. They play the game like they play it because they is what gets rewarded and that is one of very few pathways that black male bodies have had to “make it” in this country. Football didn’t create the cruelty you describe , but it certainly reflects it back to us very clearly. Football is a child of American culture, of the hyper masculinity that defines that same culture. We can kill football, but that won’t slay the culture that gave birth to it. Football will disappear when our culture no longer needs a stage for the performance of so many of the things this culture holds up as “good”–dominance, violence, commodified bodies, hyper-masculinity, distorted femininity, hegemonic heterosexuality, etc. I don’t lay blame at the feet of the players, but I instead want to interrogate the culture and systems that create the conditions for football to flourish at the expense of the players.


      1. Marcia, thanks for the correction. In theory, I understand what you’re saying that the sport echoes the American culture of hyper-masculinity. I was once at the Oakland Airport after the Raiders won a game. A bunch of their fans got on the plane to Los Angeles with me. They were very….er…cheerful. I sure was glad when the plane landed! Yes, I can understand why there are so many football fans. But I really just don’t get it. I’m not a fan of violence. Good wishes for your new life!


    2. “A century ago, sports heroes were more or less heroic….or at least they weren’t batterers and abusers and crooks and cheats”

      We don’t know the extent to which athletes were batterers, abusers, crooks and cheats. Surely some must have been as recent biographies of Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin (baseball) evince.

      Jim Brown is one football player who obviously had problems with women.

      Was Wilt Chamberlain credible when he claimed to have sex with more than 1,000 women?

      If the number is to be believed, he likely had intimacy issues.

      Todays football players are bigger and faster than in years past.

      It is not natural to slam one’s body against another’s daily.

      The post football injuries linger on painfully.

      Sam Huff, late of the New York Giants and Washington Redskins, is another example: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/redskins/todays-nfl-players-should-look-hard-at-sam-huffs-case-they-could-be-next/2016/09/15/d04c0654-7b70-11e6-bd86-b7bbd53d2b5d_story.html


  5. I am not a sports fan so I had no idea college athletes are treated so poorly until I read your blog. Shame on the universities for taking advantage of them and good for you and your husband for standing up for the players! I am very sorry it cost him his job, though. Blessings on you both as you deal with the changes in your lives.


    1. Thank you, Linda. I appreciate your comments. I agree with you about the shame that we should direct to our university system. It is a profound conflict of interest for our institutions of higher learning to also be in the business of exploiting black and brown bodies as a business plan for how to generate billions of dollars from their unpaid labor.
      I know we will be fine. And perhaps we can put more pressure on the system from the outside. We shall see!


  6. Beautiful poem Marcia. I know you gave the teams the schools and the players your all! It’s who you are.

    I’m confident someday a lot of your wishes will be granted regarding due process, Likeness, the abilities to transfer and even Pay…. your voice matters. You’ve always been wise beyond your years….


  7. Dont watch much football anymore. I hope making the break brings you both peace. Soccer is popular, but many find it boring. Recently I have been watching rugby, and wonder if it stands any chance of replacing football. Less concussions, more sportsmanship could be healing to our society. Old ways die hard.


    1. Thank you, Bill. Our 16 year old has been playing rugby since he was about 8 years old. Our family agrees with you that there is a lot to commend the game over football. No line of scrimmage, no yardage, no blocking. And everyone handles the ball. And the concussion rate is lower, perhaps because they don’t wear helmets and don’t mistaken their heads for weapons. We have also been impressed with the sportsmanship and community of rugby all over the world!


    2. Had season tickets to the Washington Redskins.

      HATED going out to Fed (Up) Field – very unpleasant experience and now I only go out there when paid (I am a CDL driver of party buses on weekends) to do so.

      Was one of the pioneers who went from “Hail to” to “Hell with” the Redskins.


  8. Dont watch much football anymore. I hope making the break brings you both peace. Soccer is popular, but many find it boring. Recently I have been watching rugby, and wonder if it stands any chance of replacing football. Less concussions, more sportsmanship could be healing to our society. Old ways die hard.


  9. Marcia, thank you for using poetry and its cadence and freedom of form to express your sacrifice to football and your goodbye to it. Jay


  10. Hi Marcia,

    Thank you for sharing this poem, publicly. I wonder how long it took to write it – I mean to say, how long the process of goodbye took / will take. The things with which we become entangled leave our bodies de/re/formed.

    So, I give thanks to God for the ways football shapes you and John as Christians, and as human beings. And I bless the wounds that are still healing, and I bless the tendrils of new life emerging.


  11. Love the poem, Marcia. So now, where are you in the fight? Never been a big football fan, but I know from your writings that my beloved basketball has not been immune from the same problems!


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