Football: “America’s Game” and The New Imperial Playbook

Sports writers dub football “America’s Game.” This moniker suggests that the game’s player attributes, administration and semantics epitomize those of the wider American culture. Unfortunately, while some of football’s characteristics intend to foster sportsmanship and fair play, others resonate America’s deeply violent and hypermasculine national persona. Physical strength, aggression and the ability to ruggedly endure pain are revered. Play pits offenses against defenses, which Knute Rockne in his book Coaching: The Way of the Winner compares to “warfare.” Offenses employ power dives and blast blocking, while defenses run 4-4 attacks and blitzes. Playbooks diagram shotguns, pistols and rocket sweeps. Players are guards, tackles and “strong” safeties.

Blitzers running “up the gut” to sack defenseless quarterbacks provide a powerful metaphor for the ruthless foreign policy of the American Empire and its increasingly militaristic domestic law enforcement. Viewers who don’t get that, are indoctrinated through American-flag lapel pins, “Salute to Service Moments,” American-Idol versions of the Stars and Stripes and F-16 fly-overs. Images of pretty player wives and their perfectly manicured children, player’s multi-million-dollar salaries and hefty commercial endorsements seductively merge into a Norman Rockwell portrait of the American Dream.

In order to maintain football’s American identity, rules and terminology should remain current. Terms such as “blitz” are becoming archaic in an age of remote, digital warfare. And surely “blasts” are deadlier now than in Knute Rockne’s day. With this in mind, let us imagine a game that introduces four new plays that capture the ruthless nature of America’s prevailing golden imperial age.

The Drone Pass

Football is a game of individual confrontation. Quarterbacks battle with blitzers; receivers attempt to outmaneuver safeties. However, today “man-to-man” competition during which contenders are equally at risk of failure and injury is no longer sufficiently shocking, awesome or brutal. This is because football mirrors the playbook of America’s dominating neo-conservative ideology. Its credo is best captured by professional wrestler and Minnesota ex-Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s famous adage, “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat.”

To remain culturally relevant, football needs to reflect the Empire’s increasing use of overpowering and incommensurate force to bushwhack perceived threats. It should emulate militarized SWAT teams that execute ferocious no-knock raids that terrorize and injure innocents. Football’s “heroes” should enjoy the same protection as drone pilots who, far from harm’s way in Nevada, safely pilot drones to defend America from wedding parties in Yemen.

The drone pass provides the required mercilessness, while protecting the quarterback from injury. With the drone pass, the quarterback can throw the football at any defensive player. Once the quarterback informs the back judge that a drone pass will be thrown, play proceeds normally. If the ball strikes a defensive player, the “neutralized” player is ejected from the game. In addition any defensive players within 5 yards of the neutralized player are also ejected. Finally, fans in the first two rows of the stands, and 10 yards on either side of the yard line of the “strike,” are escorted from the stadium for the remainder of the game. (There are no refunds to ejected fans.) The defense must then run the next two plays without the ejected players. However, emulating the manifest results of America’s decade-long military misadventures in the Middle East, the defense, after the two plays are completed, can bring fifteen players onto the field for the remainder of the game. This is referred to as the “ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) Rule.”

The “No Boots” Offense

The “No Boots” offense was developed at Harvard in order to keep uniforms from becoming untidy and, taking a phase from Churchill, presently unpleasant. This play is inspired by Barack Obama’s wishful military strategy to defeat the forces of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. This strategy is a muddled concoction of exclusively aerial attacks, logistic and training support of an incompetent and fractured Iraqi military, and the fantasy that the coalition governments will endure. The inherent ineffectiveness of the exclusive use air power to achieve favorable political outcomes is demonstrated by the ongoing political chaos and fighting in Libya. When properly packaged in Administration talking points, this unimaginative reprise of failed policies will presumably remove much of the unpleasantness from the prospect that Obama is leading America into another decade of its endless war.

In the “No Boots” offense, only the center sets at the line of scrimmage. The quarterback is the only back, and stands twenty yards behind the center. The remainder of the offense is comprised of only four wide receivers. This is known as the “Shock and Awe” formation, following the George W. Bush Administration’s hypermasculine lingo during the American attack on Iraq in 2003. Once the ball is snapped, receivers run their routes. If the pass is incomplete, the same set is used, but now two additional offensive linemen are brought into play. Upon a second incompletion, the remaining three offensive players not yet on the field are added. This brings the entire eleven-man offensive team back into play. At this point, a backup quarterback must replace the current quarterback for the remainder of the season. In honor of our 43rd President, starting quarterbacks thus replaced are required by rule to learn to paint amateurish portraits during the off-season.

The 4-103 Defense

The massive police rampages during Occupy Wall Street and the protests in Ferguson inspire the 4-103 Defense. This defense is only used against teams that are publicly owned, and only while player-union contract negotiations are underway. Today, the only team against which the 4-103 Defense may be run is the Green Bay Packers. If Green Bay players do not vote in favor of a contract that privately owned teams support, this defense may be used at any point in a game.

The 4-103 Defense allows teams supporting the contract to introduce an additional one hundred defensive backs onto the field. Each of these additional players is allowed to bring onto the field such items as flash-bang grenades and militarized tear gas. Safeties are provided small armored vehicles to expedite blitzes.

It is possible that owners might become concerned about broadcasting these plays to a family audience. We imagine owners and major sports networks going to court over any proposed blackout of these plays. As a negotiating point, the owners might agree to pay for medical expenses due to injuries incurred by camerapersons and sideline commentators during encounters with event personnel attempting to enforce blackouts.

The Abu Ghraib 2

Nothing is more American than spiriting off a suspected terrorist to a black site where he is tortured into admitting anything. Noncompliant detainees provide entertainment for American heroes like the unapologetic Lynndie England, who apparently enjoys humiliating helpless dog-leashed prisoners, and having that memorialized in the social media. The hard-fought advances toward women’s political and economic empowerment are thus suitably honored in the Abu Ghraib 2. As the Virginia Slim cigarette commercials during the late nineteen-sixties celebrate, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

The Abu Ghraib 2 is a variation of Tony Dungy’s Tampa 2. Like the Tampa 2, once the ball is snapped, the defensive middle linebacker begins to move into zone coverage to protect against the pass. But this is only a clever ruse. After faking the drop back, the middle linebacker and all rushing linemen penetrate the defensive line. Then they “Abu-grab” the quarter back and “render” him into their locker room. There the QB is placed in a refrigerator-packaging box and his helmet replaced with an unwashed laundry bag.

At this point, the defense’s entire cheerleading squad blitzes the locker room and tickles the quarterback until he pees in his pants. YouTube videos of the ritual are taken and posted on social media. Following this, the suitably disgraced quarterback is loaded into a limousine and flown on a private Halliburton jet (“…the official Black-Ops provider for the NFL.”) to an all expense paid, 3-day vacation in the Turks and Caicos Islands, a mere stones throw from Guantanamo Bay. The League would need to decide if burning a copy the Football Coaching Bible in front of the quarterback represents unsportsmanlike conduct.

Given the secrecy surrounding Obama’s legal determinations that conveniently justify non-judicial executions of suspected terrorists, it seems fitting to add a new official: the FISA Judge. This new judge honors the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that rubber stamps Administration death penalties and sustains America’s ongoing program of extra-judicial assassination around the world. “FISA” stands for “Football Insurgency and Sanction Authority.” The FISA judge rules only on complaints by owners concerning player, coaching staff or officiating behavior on the field. Because Green Bay is not privately owned, the hapless Packers cannot appeal to the FISA judge. This judge does not officiate on the field. Rather, he sits in a corporate luxury box watching a 90-inch LED HD TV. The FISA judge doesn’t have to abide by NFL rules. Also, he does not hear direct statements from players, coaches or officials. Instead, a designated Hall of Fame quarterback provides brief summaries to the FISA judge, and announces the decision from the 50-yard line.

Having thus modernized football, we can rest comfortably knowing that America’s game continues to embody the high moral values manifest in America’s golden imperial age. We should raise our collective Bud Light’s and cheer the next time we see a Drone Pass thrown against a 4-103 Defense that utilizes an Abu Ghraib 2 in the last seconds of a closely fought contest. But the drama doesn’t end there. An appeal will certainly go to the FISA Judge. After the obligatory “Guts-and-Glory” spit-shined, muscle-truck commercial, and as the tear gas clears from the playing field, the ruling is announced. Spectators and the few players remaining on the field who can still walk and breathe, wheeze and cough as a boilerplate ruling is read. “The owners must be right because they hear and see EVERYTHING that happens on the field. They are “job creators” dedicated to the enterprise of football and have its best interests in mind. All personnel cited in the complaint are banned from the game.”

Are you ready for some football?


J. Richard Marra

lives in Connecticut. He received his Doctoral degree from Cornell University in 1977, majoring in Musical Composition and the History of Music Theory. While on the Faculty of the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, he completed graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, majoring in the Philosophy of Science. He is a member of the Socialist Party USA, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Philosophy of Science Association. His articles have also appeared on the websites of the Secular Buddhist Association and The Hampton Institute. He is a 2014 recipient of the SPUSA's Eugene V. Debs Award. To read other essays by J. Richard Marra, please visit

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