For seventeen years, I had absolutely no interest in football. My average Sunday was always dull and uneventful. Since 2019, I have been keeping track of the score of the Philadelphia Eagles games to gauge whether or not my boyfriend would be in a good or bad mood the rest of the day. Most of the time, he was not in a good mood. However, in the fall of 2022, I decided to watch National Football League (NFL) games to understand what all the hype was about.
This season, I have not only fallen in love with my team, but with the sport itself. I now find myself cheering when a touchdown is scored and screaming at the TV when the referee misses a facemask penalty or makes a bad call. Every Monday, Thursday, Sunday, and some Saturdays, I found myself on the edge of my seat, watching how the game would unfold.
I watched the Minnesota Vikings come back from 33-0 at halftime and win; the Detroit Lions, with nothing left to lose in their final game of the season, snuff the Green Bay Packers of their playoff spot. I saw the Buffalo Bills safety, Demar Hamlin, carted into an ambulance and the support from family, friends, teammates, and fans he received while recovering in the hospital. An appreciation and an understanding of football and the community developed within me.
Each time I sat and watched a game, I felt an overwhelming sense that I was a part of something bigger than just a girl in her living room. I was part of a fanbase of millions. For a while, I wondered if I was the only person who felt like this, but there is actually a term for this sensation.
Benedict Anderson, a political scientist, developed the concept of imagined communities. This concept comes about when people begin to imagine themselves as part of a group or community. In his book, Anderson discusses that the media creates shared experiences of a myriad of people at a time and aids in cultivating these imagined communities within people’s heads.
Before streaming services became the dominant form of entertainment, watching an episode of a show at the same time as the rest of the nation helped form imagined communities through their shared experiences at the exact same moment. Millions watching felt the heartbreak when one character died, or the shock when another came back. This feeling dwindles as many shifts to streaming services and individual experiences take over.
However, sporting events continue the sense of creating something more as millions tune in to watch the game. According to the NFL, based on a survey determining approximately how many people watch each TV, last year’s Super Bowl accumulated over 208 million viewers. Every viewer watches the same experience and a sense of community builds during this event.
Football is so much more than just a game. It provides an experience and fosters communities between fans. American football brings people together in a way few things can.