Politics and Football


This is a summary, provided in the News Hour daily newsletter, of an article titled “College Football and Presidential Politics,” written by Lisa Desjardins for PBS:

Last night’s college football championship sparked a nerdy late-night question: If a handful of states can dominate a particular sport, is the same true for presidential politics?

Yes, it turns out. Some states are good at college football. Others excel at presidential politics.  Rarely is a state successful at both. We looked back at the last 20 years of NCAA championships (the modern time period for head-to-head championship), and the past 229 years of presidential elections.

Read our full story here. A quick summary: The southeast owns college football. Just six of its states claimed over half of the spots in playoff or championship games.  But all that power on the gridiron vanishes in presidential politics.

We reviewed the home state of every major party nominee for president and found a different set of dominant states, led by New York. A full 28 major party conventions have named a native of the Empire State as their presidential nominee. That’s more than 20 percent of all presidential nominations. No other state is close.

Here we must insert an important note about our method. We counted each nominee, each year. Thus New York benefits from four nominations for Franklin D. Roosevelt, two for Theodore Roosevelt and three for Grover Cleveland. (This was the same approach we took with football; a single team, such as Alabama, was counted each time it made  the playoffs or championship.)

While six southeastern states dominate football, four states dominate in politics: New York, Virginia, Massachusetts and Illinois combined have a majority of all presidential nominations in U.S. history.

One state and one state alone—Ohio—achieved the holy grail of both political and football dominance. The Buckeye State has been home to some 8 percent of presidential nominees, and it saw one of its teams take the field in about 10 percent of college football playoff games. Well done, Ohio.

Desjardins complete article can be found at: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/your-state-may-be-good-at-football-or-politics-but-probably-not-both.


A more pointedly critical view of the place of football in the American political psyche was provided in the 1970s by Sam Smith in an essay titled “Football and the rise of the American Empire.” Written originally for the DC Gazette but republished by the Progressive Review with which Smith has long been associated, the essay opens:


I treat football season like February. I avoid it whenever possible. But, like February, one must leave town or face it at some point. It looms nightly as a desert to cross in

order to learn both the evening news and the weather. It turns up on television sets incongruously propped in strange locations so we can follow the game as well as do whatever else we had planned for that afternoon. It speaks to us with Orwellian omnipotence from screens in bars, behind store counters and perched on stools in parking lot shacks. My bank, in a singular departure from its normal practice of applying service charges to every transaction, offers me a free guide to it each year. It is the male thing of which to speak during the darkening months and if one wishes more than a cursory conversation with other males then more than a cursory glance at the sports pages is required. For while it is all right to be indifferent to baseball, soccer, or hockey – if one is discreet about it – indifference to football verges on androgyny or worse. Skip the totems if you like – the bumper stickers and the logo festooned wool cap – but avoid the issue completely? Never.

Smith’s complete essay is available at: http://prorev.com/football.htm.


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