Notes on: The Football Industrial Complex and NBC’s Rise’s Challenge

Football is supreme in the United States. As I (and others) have argued, football is racist. Football is at least also ableist, colonialist, and classist when doing an intersectional analysis. Criticisms of football, whether from your everyday friend or in your everyday cultural production, are almost unheard of in the land of the Football Industrial Complex.

One notable exception occurs in NBC’s drama Rise (2018). Consider the following quotations from Jason Katims’s Rise

Now, that explains a ton, doesn’t it? They just spent 40 grand to put new turf on that football field, but they threw their theater program out the window to save a lousy two grand. That should give you some insight into how much they think of this program.

Football is off-limits, okay?

Yeah, you’re probably right.

Is it true you threatened to quit football for the play?

You know, you fat cat district people need to get your heads out of the sand and stop sucking up to football. It’s just a dumb game that’s been blown astronomically out of proportion. The arts. The arts is what separates us from the apes. It makes us understand life and death and love and everything that’s important to us. What does football do but give these kids concussions?

It’s kind of come down to football or the show. I love football, Mr. Mazzu. Not just because I’m good at it. I love the game. I I love the way the field smells, the bright lights on game night. And it’s a chance for me to go to a good college. It’s it’s my future.

These selected quotations call into question football’s typically unquestioned power. If football needs money, money is always somehow available: Not so for the humanities. Rise specifically and bluntly acknowledges that football is dangerous and is often the only opportunity allowed for People of Color. Rise specifically depicts coaches, community members, parents, and principals as caring more about football than academics: Players equal money. Audiences should find this all-to-true, perhaps some will find it uncomfortably true.

Notably, Rise, in large part, revolves around Robbie (Damon J. Gillespie). He is a football player who grows to love theatre and who shows his coach and school and dad (and audiences) that a football player–a Black man–deserves encouragement and opportunity beyond football and will excel, if only given a chance.  

We need more cultural conversations about football.

(Unfortunately, NBC canceled Rise after just one season. Rise had so much to offer as it further developed!)

Dr. Andrew Joseph Pegoda