A major interstate highway runs right next to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. On any given day, if you stand in the parking lot next to the museum and facility, you don’t hear football fans, or recorded promotional information about the Hall of Fame, or any of the typical sounds of a football game. You hear the incessant sounds of the interstate highway: the roar of cars and trucks, tires on cement and asphalt, overwhelming the sounds of the wind, birds, and people walking by. The Hall of Fame sits right next to Interstate 77, a major highway stretching from Cleveland, Ohio to South Carolina. Thus, when visitors go to the Hall of Fame, they are greeted with the incessant, repetitive, brooding sounds of automotive and industrial modernity. The contrast between the Hall of Fame and the interstate is striking and makes for provoking soundscape. So, one day we recorded the sounds of the interstate highway next to the Hall of Fame. In this episode, we play the recordings, hoping the haunting, repetitive, industrial sounds provides listeners with an opportunity to critically reflect on the sport and its place in society.
How fitting that the institution that uncritically celebrates NFL football, a sporting spectacle premised on profiting off of the labor and dehumanization of athletes, is surrounded each day by the loud, relentless sounds of machines. There are numerous social problems associated with sports entertainment spectacle of professional football and the National Football League (NFL). Pro football glorifies violence, toxic masculinity, and militant nationalism, all while promoting the corrosive values of neoliberal capitalism through its consumer entertainment form. Players destroy their bodies and minds for the benefit of the wealthy, largely White male owners. Though the NFL recently advertises its support of Black Lives Matter and other social justice movements, this only serves to obscure the leagues previous ill treatment of activist athletes (see Colin Kaepernick) and the ways in which predominantly White owners profit from the athletic labor and exploitation of players, a majority of which are African American. Though women have played gridiron football since at least the nineteenth century, the NFL presents football through the celebration of violent masculinity and male dominance. Gridiron football was historically a tool of colonialism and cultural imperialism: the U.S. government forcibly removed Indigenous youth from reservations, placed them on government boarding schools, stripped of their Native customs and traditions, and imposed a curriculum of cultural assimilation that included learning Western sports like football. As arguably the most lucrative and popular sporting spectacle in the United States, and The NFL exhibits the plethora of social issues that plague broader American society: sexual assault, homophobia, racial and gender inequality, overt militarism. By focusing on the brooding sounds of the interstate highway next to the Hall of Fame rather than the Hall of Fame itself, the soundscape reminds listeners that there is and always has been a dark side to modern sports.
In this episode, we play the sounds outside the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the sounds that you would hear if you stood in the parking lot outside the building on a given day. We have designed the episode as a kind of amateur “sound art,” in which the point is an artistic, creative expression of an idea. The sounds are presented in the episode without commentary or interpretation. For some of the critical scholarship on the spectacle of football and the sport’s history. Through episodes like this one, we hope to explore podcasting as sound art and the listening experience as something that is affective, embodied, and actively tied to the meaning of the podcast itself: the podcast as a vehicle for art and affect. We also are fascinating with affective utility of the podcast, and the ways in which it can be of some use for embodied practices such as sleep, working, thinking, etc. We may not accomplish this objective, and that’s ok. There is much to learn from the creative process.
For those interested in some of the critical scholarship on the NFL and the modern sport of football, here are just a few helpful links:
- Historian Katie Taylor recently explained that between 1890 and 1912, “women from all classes” played the “physical and dangerous sport” of football in the United States, contradicting conventional wisdom regarding the sporting activities of middle- and upper-class women. In fact, Taylor argues that “some cases women played against male opposition, something noted football historian Michael Oriard stated was ‘potentially more disruptive’ to the masculine narrative of football.”
- Scholar Michael Butterworth writes that museum exhibits like those at the Pro Football Hall of Fame “work in concert with the US armed forces in the rhetorical production of militarism.” He analyzed one particular exhibit at the Hall of Fame, arguing that the exhibit “reveals sport’s capacity to normalize war and reduce the available models of citizenship in the United States.”
- Scholar Brett Siegel has recently studied the concussion crisis in the NFL and the ways in which the NFL has tried to mitigate the violence and harmful health outcomes of football while trying to maintain its brand identity as “as a bastion for militarized and nationalized masculinity.”
- Historian Michael Oriard’s 2010 book Brand NFL looks at the historical development of what is now a multi-billion-dollar sports entertainment industry.
- For more information about the experiences of African American athletes in professional football, see scholar Michael Lomax’s 1999 Journal of Social History piece on the subject.
Sound Acknowledgements: The music on this episode was created and recorded by Somatic Podcast co-founder Sam Clevenger. The episode also includes a sound clip of trees rustling in the wind. The sound clip was taken from Freesound.org and was created by the user le_abbaye_Noirlac.
Photo Acknowledge: The photo above is of the Pro Football Hall of Fame museum and complex in Canton, Ohio. U.S. Interstate 77 is to the left. Photo by Somatic co-founder Sam Clevenger.