Why NFL Football Will Never Be Popular in Europe
Autumn is nearly here, and it is my favorite season. Not just because of the crisp smell in the air, the unpacking of forgotten snuggly sweaters, nor that it’s my birthday season and Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. It also heralds the arrival of the NFL season of football. I was raised in a sporty family. My brother in particular was a stellar athlete and stand-out football star through college days. I come from a small American town where the high school football game was the place to be on a fall Friday night. I was moved to tears when my college team made the regional play-offs.
I followed professional football after college graduation, though still keeping tabs on my alumni team. One of the last places I went before I left my US metro home was a sports bar where they literally had at least 12 games playing simultaneously on a wall of tv screens. I could tell you who the hot quarterbacks, rookies, and coaches were each season. I’m surprised I never got into a fantasy football league.
However upon arrival to Europe, I learned it’s a different ball game here. Actually in comparison to NFL football, it’s mostly two different games here; rugby or European football or what we Yanks would call soccer. I had been here just a couple months when the NFL season started. After asking around, I was directed to Jama, an excellent expat bar I’ve mentioned before, which still shows 2 simultaneous games starting between 8pm and 10pm depending on where in the US they’re played. Before I left the States my friends presented me with an official jersey from our favorite team, “To ‘represent’ in Prague,” they said.
I proudly wore this oversized stiff football jersey still with fold wrinkles like a men’s dress shirt fresh out of packaging to the crowded bar where I knew no one. I immediately felt like a big dork, especially since my team wasn’t even playing that day. Perched at the last available seat at the edge of the bar, I tapped the shoulder of one of the two men standing and blocking my view of the screen. He turned out to be Max, the American owner of Jama, who was as gracious as I continue to know him to be. He found me a seat in the midst of the room of those I later came to know as the regular weekly fans. I even eventually got to have my name at the table as they all did reserving their seats each week.
Side Note: One of the group of regulars, a usually drunken idiot (there’s always one in the crowd), would loudly wonder if I was a lesbian because I was one of the only women each week and one who came alone. But it is actually the perfect place for a single woman who knows the rules and can follow the game: in the midst of a group of men. After a week or two of wariness I was accepted as a sister protectively by the older ones and got some flirting in and made good friends with the others.
However when the second NFL season rolled around, my employment had changed, and I couldn’t afford to stay up late on a Sunday night and be able to be fresh for early work on Monday morning. So my NFL attention began to wane. And I came to experience my first FIFA world cup. I worked in an office that had a big screen tv. We had an international staff so the rule was if your country was playing, you could take the hour or so off and sit up close and watch the game. My desk was close to the tv, so though ‘working’ I got to watch a lot of the games and began to learn the sport.
I figured that while living in Europe and being sporty minded, I should at least try to learn this popular soccer. And here’s the debate: NFL football vs. European football (backed by big brother rugby).
And here are the arguments:
Pro-Euro Football: NFL football is a women’s sport.
And they don’t mean the athletic though eye-popping Lingerie League. They say it’s because there are too many breaks. I tend to agree that the game is parsed by the abundant ads that make the sport such a money-maker. They also say it’s because the NFL outfit is so heavily padded as compared to the mere shorts and shirts worn by soccer or rugby players. (Note here the banner photo of this post. It’s a revealing look at the new Nike design for the league this year, perhaps a men’s line inspired by the Lingerie League.)
I say the NFL guys need the protection. Unlike rugby where they do tackle and get into some intense clutches or scrums, they don’t hit each other head-on like NFL locomotives. I do like rugby – their outfits are much sexier than NFL. But they also do that silly looking (though yes athletic) cheerleader lift or line-out. And I appreciate that they only stop rugby for blood penalties.
Pro-NFL: Soccer is for mama’s boys.
Some Euro football fans will agree with me here. I suspect it’s a ploy for some up close camera time, but every foul has a player writhing in pain grasping an ankle that in play-back is proven to be barely nicked. After their close-up they somehow bound back up and into action.
The players are also slighter built than NFL players. Not that I prefer the gorilla-like proportions of NFL players, and not that Euro football players aren’t top form athletes for their sport. It just looks to me like the boys (Euro football) against the men (NFL players). I’m sorry, but I think even yummy David Beckham would be trampled on the NFL grid (football field or pitch in soccer).
I understood the argument, at least here in the Czech Republic, regarding the lighter athleticism of NFL football once I watched my first Czech Association of American Football League game. It made me nostalgic for those high school games, as the players’ skill was on that par. They ran onto the field between a row of tall sparklers and teenaged cheerleaders. I’m not judging. They just didn’t grow up with the sport as we do in the States.
Pro-Euro Football: How can you call NFL football when you mostly carry and throw the ball?
Pro-NFL: Soccer players look paralyzed from the neck down because they only use their feet.
There is no winner in this argument. It’s simply a case of how we’ve been socialized. Even though there is a generation of so-called soccer moms in the US, I don’t think the sport will ever attain the religious devotion and even greater cash flow that NFL commands stateside. And I may never fully grasp the same religious fervor European football commands. But the last time I wore my official NFL jersey here was for Halloween when I dressed as a tranvestite football player replete with fishnet stockings and high heels. What was I really trying to say…?