I am not a football fan. In fact I am not a fan of any sports, a result of having come from a country that does not value athleticism very much. (That’s why China is only proficient in gymnastics and ping-pong.) In fact after spending so many years in the United States I still find the worship of athletes in America odd and incomprehensible. What is even more incomprehensible is that the most popular sport in our country is “football”.
The reason is that American football is a Byzantine maze of rules that make little sense. While I seldom watched football, I picked up from television here and there the basic mechanics of the game, such as the ideas of “downs”, “touchdown”, and “field goal”. But it wasn’t until high school when my P.E. teacher explained to me the intricate details of the game that my head began to spin. The rules of other sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball and tennis, are quite straightforward, even though there are a few “gotchas” here and there.
American football is a completely different beast altogether. There’s the basic mechanics of getting points through touchdowns, which are fairly complex in themselves. (I won’t explain them here, but in case you don’t know you may want to ask someone to explain it, because the Wikipedia explanation can be confusing for a complete novice.) But then there are many other methods of scoring, and those completely baffle me. What I found strange is that while during most of a game the players are not allowed to kick the ball, it is mandatory for attempting a field goal. You don’t see a basketball player dribbling the ball and suddenly start to kick the ball into the basket.
Not only are the rules complicated, but also are the strategies used during the game. Afficionados are famous for drawing complex diagrams explaining plays as though they are military commanders explaining a battle. Few other sports and human activities are so obsessed with tactics at such a detailed level.
I can only imagine that when a person outside of the United States watch our version of football they would be completely baffled by what is happening. They would be too frustrated just trying to understand the basic rules of the game to find the game engaging. So it is baffling why Americans, who the rest of the world do not regard as the most sophisticated people in the world, would be fans of this complicated sport.
The only other comparison I can give to football is American tax law. American tax law is also notoriously complex and difficult to understand. Every year many people would go to professionals to get their taxes sorted out because they can’t figure out how to do it themselves. But considering that most Americans can master the rules of football, it’s hard to understand why filing taxes is so difficult for them.