▶ Watch Video: New Yorker’s Louisa Thomas on why we watch football

New Yorker writer Louisa Thomas (whose husband, John Urschel, played for the Baltimore Ravens) offers her thoughts on the love for the game:

Only a month ago, the N.F.L. seemed to be in crisis. A young man was resuscitated on a football field, as millions watched on national television. While the life of Damar Hamlin was in the balance, the future of football seemed to depend on his survival.

But the reckoning, if there ever really was a reckoning, did not last a week.

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, #3, suffered a cardiac arrest after tackling Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, at Paycor Stadium on January 2, 2023 in Cincinnati. 

Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

To the relief of everyone, Hamlin woke up, and asked if the Bills had won!

Instead of turning away from football, people tuned in.

In the Bills’ first game afterward, nearly 23 million people saw the Bills’ Nyheim Hines receive the opening kickoff, dodge a diving defender, and find an open lane to the end zone – a 96-yard return for touchdown.

After the game, the Bills’ quarterback, Josh Allen, called the moment “spiritual.”  Allen was not alone in feeling moved.

Tonight, around a hundred million viewers in the United States will watch the Super Bowl.

The Bills won’t be in it – they were knocked out of the playoffs by the Bengals. Football, after all, is a game, not an inspirational morality play.

And it is a violent game, one in which the outcome often turns on injuries.

But still we watch. We watch because others will be watching; because football, for all its obvious flaws, remains as important a pageant and ritual in American life as anything else.

And we watch because football, with its long moments of anticipation and short bouts of frenzied action, its awesome athleticism and spectacular frustrations, creates intense feelings.

It’s important to remember the sport’s risks and high costs, and to think of the people who pay them.

But people want to share the surprise, the joy, the awe, and the devastation, to share the sense of something exciting unfolding.

The snacks are pretty good, too!

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Story produced by Robert Marston. Editor: Mike Levine.

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