X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story)

X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story)

X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story)

By KJ Sanchez with Jenny Mercein
Directed by Tony Taccone
Main Season · Thrust Stage
January 16–March 1, 2015
World Premiere

Running time: 85 minutes, no intermission

Are you ready for some football? American identity and our love of the game meet head-on in this world premiere commissioned by Berkeley Rep and directed by Michael Leibert Artistic Director Tony Taccone. Our singularly American sport is intricately woven into our culture and rituals, yet its traumatic effect on players and their families has us reexamining its place in our country’s story. Playwright and football superfan KJ Sanchez, along with Jenny Mercein, brings us a fascinating and hard-hitting docudrama—based on interviews with players, their families, and their fans—that examines our country’s passion for a sport that is both generous and dangerous, life-giving yet lethal. X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story) is as visceral, emotional, and as highly theatrical as the game itself.

X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story) was originally commissioned by Berkeley Rep and Center Stage, and developed in The Ground Floor, Berkeley Rep’s Center for the Creation and Development of New Work.

Creative team

KJ Sanchez · Playwright
Jenny Mercein · Co-Creator
Tony Taccone · Director
Todd Rosenthal · Scenic Design
Meg Neville · Costume Design
Alexander V. Nichols · Lighting & Video Design
Jake Rodriguez · Sound Design
John Sipes · Movement Director
Madeleine Oldham · Dramaturg
Amy Potozkin · Casting
Calleri Casting · Casting
Kimberly Mark Webb · Stage Manager
Marissa Joy Ganz · Assistant Movement Director
Lynne Soffer · Dialect Coach


Bill Geisslinger · Frank / Rocky / Tough Guy / Chorus
Dwight Hicks · George Coleman / Ramon / Chorus
Anthony Holiday · Addicott / Ben / Chorus
Eddie Ray Jackson · Eric / BJ / Anthony / Chorus
Jenny Mercein · Kelli / Martha / Roberta / Chorus
Marilee Talkington · Caroline / Team Physician / Laura / Chorus

“Judging by the standing ovation at Friday’s opening, anyone who loves football might want to rush to see Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s world premiere of X’s and O’s…Handsomely and smoothly directed by Tony Taccone, X’s unfolds on a round stage that looks like a sports-talk TV set, with multiple small and large screens…In the most dramatically effective scene, [Jenny] Mercein—a strong presence in several roles—and [Marilee] Talkington play two very different widows of former players, their fond memories of the early years of their marriages gradually giving way to the deep pain of their spouses’ rapid declines, increasing mental instability and early deaths. Their monologues are movingly interwoven with another by Eddie Ray Jackson as BJ, a son remembering his once-carefree late father go through the same process.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Eye-opening, unnerving yet entertaining…Even if you are not a football fan, it’s hard not to be moved…X’s and O’s is like the game itself: Some of the hits are so hard, they’ll make you uncomfortable, but you won’t want to stop watching! Taccone keeps the testimony moving at the speed of a two-minute drill, and the mix of wide-ranging interviews also touches on NFL history, popular culture and some colorful players’ anecdotes…[Former 49er Dwight Hicks] proves a nimble, empathetic and knowing story teller. When he recounts the sometimes violent experiences of a former player (interview subjects are identified by fictitious names), you can sense his attachment to the story.”—San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group

“For all the zippy fun in the play—and there’s plenty—this is a play that says loving something blindly or madly is ultimately irresponsible if you’re not also considering the bigger picture. That X’s and O’s asks us to seriously consider the duality of football—its value, its cost, its cultural relevance—is a significant matter. It is a play that makes you think…A deep, rich topic…Credit director Tony Taccone with providing just enough flash with the stadium lights and the near-constant video projections to balance with the generally strong performances from his energetic cast of six.”—Theater Dogs

“These x’s and o’s will have you blowing kisses…From the very first moments, the balletic slow motion accompanied by the soundtrack of cheers and electric visuals ropes you in for what will be an entrancing 85 minute ride…Every lighting cue and every sound cue work to heighten this realism and transform the Berkeley Rep’s thrust stage.”—Stark Insider

X’s and O’s certainly deserves to be seen. Whether you’re a rabid fan or someone who watches the Super Bowl just for the commercials, there’s enough pathos, humor, and humanity here to engage and delight! Six actors play a multitude of roles, and all give sincere, empathic performances…Special note is due ex-49er Dwight Hicks, whose portrayal of a fellow former player is hysterically funny and delightfully honest, and Eddie Ray Jackson, who steals the show with a vibrantly energetic turn as an 11th-grade high school player.”—Talkin’ Broadway

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director

I’m a baseball fan. My father took me to the ballpark when I could barely walk and I became forever enamored of the game. But during the course of my now long life, I watched, sometimes in horror, as football took over as America’s favorite sport. The reasons for this have been endlessly discussed by sociologists, sports writers, and fans: football is better suited for television, is more of a team game, is more entertainingly violent, is better marketed, has more parity, is more suited to the mythology of American culture. Whichever reason(s) you prefer, the undeniable fact is that football is king.

But after decades of ascending popularity, the sport is suffering the worst attack on its legitimacy since the early 20th century. Everywhere you look there’s negative press ranging from the devastating effects of head concussions to domestic violence. Commissioner Roger Goodell has come under intense fire for every manner of obfuscation, threatening his tenure and his yearly salary of $44,000,000. Owners are worried about their golden goose; players are divided about their relationship with the League; parents are increasingly fearful about letting their children play the game; and fans are, well…arguing. Fans have always been arguing, but the content of many conversations has shifted to the discomfort they feel or should feel while watching really, really big guys who run really, really fast take really, really big hits. Life has suddenly gotten very complicated for the NFL.

Enter KJ Sanchez and Jenny Mercein, two passionate football aficionados and dynamic theatre makers. Since discovering their mutual love for the game a few years ago, they set out to get the full story. They started interviewing former players (Jenny’s dad used to play for the Packers), and gradually widened the parameters of their investigation to include coaches, family members of football vets, physicians, academics, and parents. By the time they came to The Ground Floor (our new play development program) last summer, KJ and Jenny had sculpted a compelling docudrama of powerful, intersecting stories. Since then we’ve worked on expanding the scope and theatricality of the play.

It’s been a blast, working on a subject that’s such an entertaining and powerful part of our culture. The design team (even those who couldn’t give a damn about sports) has gone all out to realize the vision of the play, and we’ve assembled a first-rate ensemble that has an impressive level of skill as actors, fans, and former players. As they say in the big leagues, welcome to the show.


Tony Taccone

Prologue: from the Managing Director

Okay, I’ll be entirely honest with you. I couldn’t tell a touchdown from a touchback. My husband Greg can get mighty riled up over a dropped pass or a fumble, and can transform before my very eyes from a perfectly civilized human being into a grunting and wailing embodiment of abject pain and disappointment when the 49ers are in the throes. But it is, I hate to say it, all Greek to me. What I do get, though, is the extraordinary power that our athletes exert over our lives. They inform our sense of what is fair; they contribute to our affection for our alma mater; they brighten or darken our day. I guess what fans experience is a truly epic battle in every game, always between the forces of good and evil. A game is not just a game. It is a life-and-death battle. In my household, every game results in exultation or profound despair—there is no middle ground.

That said, things are inexorably changing in the NFL. The price that our athletes have paid for this much-loved game has begun to be understood in a new way. The price has proven to be too high. With X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story) we ask ourselves, while we ask you: When is enough really enough? Where do we as caring fans and friends draw a line in the sand? How do we love a sport but not love what it does to people?

Earlier this year Meow Meow asked us, “When I’m gone, will you remember me?” UNIVERSES and their Party People asked their own fundamental questions: Do you remember? Do you remember our complexity? In Red Hot Patriot, Molly Ivins advises us that we’d better remember…or forget at our own risk.

In X’s and O’s, KJ Sanchez demands that we remember, and not just that we remember, but that we specifically remember that football players are not mannequins who are there for our entertainment. These are human beings. They carry an awful lot of our aspirations on their backs, and we have some obligation to them.

Sports…theatre…for some people, both are just different forms of entertainment, quickly enjoyed and quickly forgotten. But for some fans these are where our epic battles play out. The Greeks understood that, thousands of years ago, when Olympic events celebrated both athleticism and art. Those old Greeks understood that there is a connection between mind and body, between physical prowess and creative endeavor. And they understood that a special bond exists between the doer and the watcher, a bond that we enjoy in this Theatre more than 350 times a season.

Tonight, as you delve with us into the world of professional football, on a stage in Berkeley where you are sitting with hundreds of other people, you are participating in an epic experience that is thousands of years old. We challenge you to enter the fray, listen, take sides, and then take action.


Susan Medak

The NFL in the news

Head trauma, litigation, and a changing game

By Madeleine Oldham

While baseball still holds the reputation of being America’s national pastime, football eclipsed it 50 years ago as the most popular sport in America and never looked back. Today, football is viewed in over 70 percent of American households, and more than 111 million people watched the 2014 Super Bowl. The league generates around $10 billion in annual revenue, and still manages to maintain its status as a nonprofit organization (though individual teams do pay taxes). NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to grow that number to $25 billion by 2027. Football has become a new American religion complete with Sunday rituals, fierce devotion, and the faith of a true fan. However, football now finds itself facing something of a dark night of the soul, as new information emerges almost daily regarding the effects of the game on the people who play it.

Questions began to arise during the 1990s about why some former NFL players seemed to be exhibiting things like memory loss at relatively young ages, mood swings, or personality changes. In 1994, the NFL launched an initiative to fund research on the effects of repeated blows to the head in the game of football. Some held this up as an example of the league’s commitment to its players and its willingness to put some real money toward addressing the issue—taking action instead of merely paying lip service. Others criticized the step for being insincere, pointing to the choice of a rheumatologist with no training in the study of the brain to lead the investigation. The NFL research team conducted studies that found no extraordinary risk connected with playing football, and announced that no line could be drawn between concussions and any long-term effects. This contradicted a growing body of information gathered by outside doctors and scientists, which pointed toward high rates of cognitive impairment among former football players, particularly those who had suffered multiple concussions.

Evidence of a link between football and brain injury reached a tipping point after Dr. Bennet Omalu published his findings in 2005 from the autopsy he performed on legendary Pittsburgh Steeler “Iron Mike” Webster. Webster was only 50 years old when he died, and yet the inside of his brain mirrored that of a much older man. Omalu subsequently autopsied the brains of other former NFL players, and identified them all as having signs of a degenerative disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The NFL tried to discredit Omalu, and attempted to have his article retracted. It did not succeed.

2006 saw the beginnings of former players seeking legal counsel to build a case against the NFL. Many of these men couldn’t hold down jobs, or in some cases even follow a conversation. They were often dealing with headaches, depression, the inability to remember simple things, lack of focus, substance abuse, or thoughts of suicide. The first major lawsuit was filed in 2011 on behalf of 75 players, asserting that the league deliberately withheld information regarding the potential brain damage the game can cause. This ballooned quickly, and today upward of 4,500 players are awaiting decisions, many in a massive class-action suit that will likely be settled by the time of this printing.

As of October 2014, 76 of 79 brains of deceased former NFL players displayed signs of CTE. The research is now incontrovertible.

Though the league was slow to respond to the evidence, once it finally conceded that significant risk of cognitive damage is inherent to the game, the NFL has taken a number of significant steps to address the issue. Rule changes designed to reduce the potential for punishing hits to the head continue to be put in place. Neurologists are more commonly seen as part of a team’s medical staff at games. Trainers now regularly occupy press boxes to look for signs of head trauma that the field-level trainers might miss because they are easier to see from above. Players who suffer a concussion during a game must obey strict guidelines about when they can return to play.

The response to what has been learned about CTE extends to the college, high school, and even youth levels. At the collegiate level, the NCAA faces similar issues to those in the NFL. The state of California recently passed a law that limits tackling practice for high school teams, and barred it altogether from taking place during the off-season. Similar legislation is expected to follow in other states. Enrollment in youth programs has dropped, and the future of football seems an open question. It’s a national struggle to celebrate our fierce love of the game alongside the knowledge that it causes irreversible harm to its participants. How, and whether, America can reconcile those two things remains to be seen.

A conversation with KJ Sanchez and Jenny Mercein

By Julie McCormick

KJ Sanchez and Jenny Mercein are women of many talents: KJ as a playwright, director, actor, and CEO of American Records; and Jenny as an actress, writer, teacher, and NFL aficionado. They bring their considerable experience and insight to the complex, far-reaching questions surrounding our national passion for football. Their keen dramaturgical eyes are guided by big hearts that carry incredible love for the game and the people it touches. Before going into rehearsal for X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story) with director Tony Taccone at Berkeley Rep, KJ and Jenny gave us a glimpse into their process of creating the play.

Julie: Tell us a little bit about why you decided to collaborate on this piece.

KJ: Jenny and I had worked together a long time ago—in 2002 at the University of Washington. That was actually the very first play that I made on my own; before that point I was with the SITI Company. So I went to the University of Washington, where Jenny was in the MFA program, to make a play called Too Much Water, which was a dance-theatre meditation on madness and suicide.

We really enjoyed working with each other, and once in a while we would run into each other at parties. We were at a friend’s Cinco de Mayo party in 2012; this was right after Junior Seau’s suicide. We were talking about football and how it seems like the game’s not going to be the same after this. And then Jenny said, “You know that my dad was a professional football player?” Which I don’t think I had known up to that point. We started to talk about it, and then a lightbulb went off: since American Records’ mission is to chronicle our time and serve as a bridge between people, it seemed like a moment in time that we got excited about capturing theatrically. So I called Tony and pitched it to him, and he said yes, and then I called Jenny. Our first conversations were really about how I thought she could bring so much because of her personal investment, but also how we should work together, how this whole thing would go.

Jenny: In the same way that KJ didn’t know that my dad played football, I had no idea that KJ was a big football fan. And so it was this moment of—not to play gender stereotypes or artist stereotypes, but there just aren’t that many women in the theatre who really sincerely love football in my experience. And I’d always wanted to work with KJ again—Too Much Water was a huge game-changer for me—and I have also aspired to do documentary theatre. So it made total sense, but it was the kind of thing where you leave the party and you don’t really know if anything is going to come of it. But a month later, in what I have come to see as typical KJ fashion, she calls and says, “Hey, I got us a commission!” It was kind of amazing. She just makes it happen.

Can you talk about what your process has been like since that point? Some of the big milestones you’ve hit?

KJ: Jenny did a good bulk of the interviewing herself. Because it was easier for her to call up folks and say, “Hey this is Jenny Mercein,” and everybody knows “Mercein.” So they immediately trusted her. Then she connected with the wives, and we split those interviews up between us.

We transcribed the interviews and started to chat about them. And then we did a short workshop at Center Stage in Baltimore. We had a couple of days with some actors, and after every rehearsal, Jenny and I would go back to our apartment and we literally chopped up the script that I had at that time and laid it out on the floor and moved things around and talked about structure. That workshop was incredibly helpful; we left with a sort of pre-first draft with a general idea of what the frame would be. It was in that phase that we knew it was going to be about love.

Then the next phase was The Ground Floor workshop, which was huge. I really need the exquisite pressure of time—to know that there will be people coming to hear a reading in a week. Tony was a big part of this process because before Tony’s first responses to the play, it was a smaller play. It was a play mostly about the players and their families. He kept encouraging us to widen our lens and to look at this as a chance to reflect on other cultural issues.

Jenny: We also made one other early trip to Berkeley the summer of 2013. We got some great interviews, held a public panel discussion, and it was just wonderful for KJ and I to have that time together and to start processing.

How much of the dialogue ended up being verbatim, and how much of it has been fictionalized?

KJ: Right now, I would say…90 percent is from the transcriptions and 10 percent is adjustments for clarification.

The previous draft had a lot more of my free writing. There was a time when the fans were really just fictionalized representations of a lot of conversations that we’d had, but they were sounding like writing to me. So we went back and did more interviews, and now we’re pulling from direct transcriptions.

Jenny: There are one or two characters that are compilations of several players. The language—yeah, 90 percent is verbatim from real people’s mouths.

Did you get any pushback when you were speaking with people?

Jenny: Yeah, I certainly got pushback, and some of that you can hear in the play. Some of the people when I first approached them didn’t want to talk. But for the most part, people were pretty open, and I think because I really reassured them that our goal was to hear as many voices as possible. And as KJ said, being the child of an NFL player and totally loving the game, I could speak from an honest place. I didn’t have an agenda. I was a person who was sincerely interested in discussing football from all angles.

KJ: It’s not really pushback, but there were a whole battery of people who just didn’t return phone calls. We got a lot of help from a venerable journalist, who gave us a lot of direct phone numbers from his personal contact list. Some of those guys called me back; others just didn’t want to have anything to do with it because people are pretty nervous about the ramifications of who they talk to.

Jenny: We had contact information for NFL coaches: current coaches, former coaches, who didn’t call us back. Really anyone still entrenched in the NFL was very difficult for us to reach.

KJ: And then we decided to exploit that as an asset, because we knew pretty early on that this wasn’t going to be a journalistic exposé. So we ended up embracing the people who would talk to us, who were the guys who were retired. By the way, a lot of these older players who played before the ‘80s didn’t make big money like the guys today. Back when they played, many of them had summer jobs, jobs during the off-season to make a living.

Lots of the guys we talked to were not big, famous players. They’re not household names, and yet they’re still vital stakeholders, and the game means as much to them as to the Brett Favres and the Hall of Famers and the millionaires. And that to me was the more compelling story and a part of the community that I didn’t really understand existed until working on this piece.

Why do you think that football is such beloved sport in America specifically?

KJ: It’s great storytelling. It’s a sport that was made for the medium of television: instant replays and the way the game gets repackaged and talked about have all of the things Joseph Campbell wrote about with the hero myths. There are some basic principles to all of the stories we’ve told throughout history, and all of those principles and narrative structural points appear in one single game of football.

Jenny: It’s really interesting because there’s something in our mythology about being an American: this stick-to-it-ness, that we don’t give up—that myth is embodied in football. And there’s also an instant gratification about it. Baseball is America’s favorite pastime, but there’s something about the four downs in football—it’s so compact. And there’s something that is, for me, deeply embedded in who I am as an American, going back to colonial times: that we were a scrappy people who got knocked down, built ourselves back up, and became this giant empire. I think that there’s something in the idea of the superhuman feats that football players can do and the action and adventure of a football game that really appeals to the American psyche.

How has your relationship to the game changed over the course of working on this play?

Jenny: It’s definitely changed for me. I do still watch the game and I do enjoy the game very much, but once you’ve invested in the human side of these stories, it’s hard to shut that part of your brain off when you watch. It’s complicated.

KJ: Yeah and it has changed for me too. I can’t watch it with the same glee I used to, but also at the same time, I watch it with more appreciation. I really had no idea how hard it is to train to be a professional football player. I knew it was hard, but I like to live in a fantasy world where people are born with gifts and all they have to do is use the gifts they are given. But that’s so not true. The number of hours they take to study the game plans, the amount of training, the level of practice, and the need to commit to that level—I mean, I look at my own life, and I’m pretty much a workaholic; I would consider myself a hard worker—but now that I really understand what it takes to prepare and play at that level, I don’t know if I have the tenacity to work as hard as they do. So I have a newfound respect for the players, and I can’t watch the game in the same way, and I can’t see big hits without worrying who that person’s going to be in 20 years.

Jenny: You know by the same token, I’m suffering heartbreak today because almost all of my family is together at the Yale-Princeton game and they’re honoring my dad, and I would give anything right now to be at that football game. Whether it’s in front of a TV watching as a family or going to a Friday-night high school game or tailgating before a big game—I think that sense of being part of a community I will always love and I will always want to participate in.

In light of all of the research that’s being done right now about traumatic brain injuries, and given that love we have for the game, what do you think is going to happen to it in the next 10, 15 years?

KJ: That’s a big question. I don’t think anyone really knows, but there are some camps that say it is not going to be as exciting of a game; there are some camps that say that the demographics will change, and its cultural impact will change. There are some people who say it’s not going to change at all, though it’s definitely already changing just because the basic rules and equipment are changing. But that’s the million-dollar question. And there are some fans that have just stopped watching. It’s not a million-dollar question, it’s a nine-billion-dollar question. If football as an industry is going to continue to be as large as it is.

Jenny: I would say a goal of this piece is for our audience to leave the play asking those questions and thinking deeply about those questions, but we don’t have a crystal ball. We can’t prognosticate, and we don’t know. I can speak personally and say that I can’t imagine a world without football. I can’t imagine fall weather without football; I can’t imagine a time when there wouldn’t be that background hum on a Sunday of the TV playing the game. But it’s changing. It’s already changed, and it will continue to change and evolve. Historically football has evolved. And so I think that it’s a big question.

KJ: I think it’s something that we have to decide as a community. As a society we need to decide what happens to football. Because even if you don’t watch it on TV anymore, everyone is tied to football, whether it’s the fact that cities pay for stadiums and stadiums bring jobs to a city or whether it’s workers’ compensation issues when players have injuries. You can pick any person in America and you can play the seven degrees of separation game and see how a big portion of our society is in some way connected to this issue.

But we don’t intend to say in any way that the stories the audience hears are everyone’s experience. It was more important to us to focus on fewer people and go deeper with the characters than try to cover everything that this issue involves. There are certain issues that are really hot topics right now in the newspaper that we felt just couldn’t fit in one play. A lot of these subjects deserve their own plays, so hopefully, X’s and O’s will encourage more playwrights to tell more stories about the issue—I feel like ours can be one of a constellation of plays about football. Our job is to take photographs of a moment in time and frame them in a way that hopefully ignites more conversation and thought after the play.

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Additional resources

Learn more about the history of football and dive into the controversy surrounding concussions with this list of in-depth resources courtesy of our literary department.

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Football history

NFL timeline

  • The NFL has compiled this comprehensive list of major events in its history, beginning with the first college football game between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. Though the timeline only goes as far as 2006, this list gives a particularly detailed look at the early evolution of the game and of the league.

100 Best Super Bowl photos

  • This photo collection from Sports Illustrated captures nearly 50 years’ worth of incredible athleticism, elation, and despair at the most important game of the season.


“NFL’s craziest fans”

  • SportingNews.com has compiled a slideshow of photographs depicting game watchers going to some pretty impressive lengths to show their team spirit.

“NCAA Fan Map” by David Leonhardt

  • This interactive map from the New York Times shows how the country’s loyalty to college football teams is divided based on Facebook “likes.”

Head injuries in football

“NFL Concussion Fast Facts”

  • CNN has compiled a timeline of major events in the NFL’s recent history with the issue of concussions that shows the chronology of lawsuits, medical discoveries, CTE-related suicides by NFL players, and the actions taken by the league in the midst of this controversy.

“Offensive Play” by Malcolm Gladwell

  • In this seminal 2009 article published a few years after Michael Vick’s involvement with dog fighting surfaced, Malcolm Gladwell compared the NFL’s treatment of players to the inhumane use of canines in horrific dogfighting rings. It’s a brutal analysis, but one that has served as a touchstone in the conversation of head injuries in the NFL.

“Concussions, by the New Book” by Bill Pennington

  • Pennington elucidates today’s NFL protocol for assessing and addressing head injuries during a game.

“Brain Injuries Haunt Football Players Years Later” NPR podcast

  • This 2011 Fresh Air broadcast includes an interview with Chris Nowinski, a former football player and wrestler and founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, a nonprofit that raises awareness of concussions in sports. As the author of Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis from the NFL to Youth Leagues and an athlete whose own head injuries cut his career short, Nowinski has vast insight that he shares on this program.

“The NFL Dodges on Brain Injuries” by Patrick Hruby

  • This article from September 2014 reviews the NFL’s response to the class-action brain damage lawsuit filed against the league. Hruby brings readers through a quick and simple history of the lawsuits, then zooms in on the proposed settlement that the NFL has agreed to today.

Controversy and opinions

Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game by Mark Edmundson

  • Spurred by his son’s involvement and success in high school football, author Mark Edmundson meditates on the values that the sport instills as well as its costs. Edmundson reflects on the lessons he learned as a high school football player and examines his hesitance to let his own son play the game.

Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto by Steve Almond

  • After 40 years as a football fan, author Steve Almond has found himself unable to watch the game. He provides a cultural critique of the U.S.’s obsession with football, questioning the practices supported not only by the NFL but also by fans.

League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru

  • This book’s back cover says it best: In a fast-paced narrative that moves between the NFL trenches, America’s research labs and the boardrooms where the NFL went to war against science, League of Denial examines how the league used its power and resources to attack independent scientists and elevate its own flawed research.
  • Listen to an NPR interview with the authors.

“An Intellectual’s Defense of Football” by Hampton Stevens

  • Frustrated by academic dissections of football, self-identified intellectual Hampton Stevens meditates on the beauty of violence in football that makes the game so viscerally satisfying.

“Women are pro football’s most important demographic. Will they forgive the NFL?” by Drew Harwell

  • In recent years, female fans have been one of the NFL’s most rapidly growing demographics, and women now make up 45 percent of the NFL’s fanbase. After the NFL’s handling of Ray Rice’s domestic violence crimes this year, however, many female football fans are finding their loyalty to the game deeply challenged.

Bloomberg Politics poll: “Half of Americans Don’t Want Their Sons Playing Football”

  • A poll taken in December 2014 revealed that 50 percent of subjects polled would not let their sons play the game. This piece expounds upon that statistic, exploring some of the recent controversies that may have pushed public opinion in this direction.