Why Football Matters

Why Football Matters

My Education in the Game

Additional Formats
  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781594205750
  • 240  Pages
  • Penguin Press
  • Adult


Acclaimed essayist Mark Edmundson reflects on his own rite of passage as a high school football player to get to larger truths about the ways America’s Game shapes its men

Football teaches young men self-discipline and teamwork. But football celebrates violence. Football is a showcase for athletic beauty and physical excellence. But football damages young bodies and minds, sometimes permanently. Football inspires confidence and direction. But football instills cockiness, a false sense of superiority. The athlete is a noble figure with a proud lineage. The jock is America at its worst.

When Mark Edmundson’s son began to play organized football, and proved to be very good at it, Edmundson had to come to terms with just what he thought about the game. Doing so took him back to his own childhood, when as a shy, soft boy growing up in a blue-collar Boston suburb in the sixties, he went out for the high school football team. Why Football Matters is the story of what happened to Edmundson when he tried to make himself into a football player.

What does it mean to be a football player? At first Edmundson was hapless on the field. He was an inept player and a bad teammate. But over time, he got over his fears and he got tougher. He learned to be a better player and came to feel a part of the team, during games but also on all sorts of escapades, not all of them savory. By playing football, Edmundson became what he and his father hoped he’d be, a tougher, stronger young man, better prepared for life.

But is football-instilled toughness always a good thing?  Do the character, courage, and loyalty football instills have a dark side?  Football, Edmundson found, can be full of bounties.  But it can also lead you into brutality and thoughtlessness.  So how do you get what’s best from the game and leave the worst behind?

Why Football Matters is moving, funny, vivid, and filled with the authentic anxiety and exhilaration of youth. Edmundson doesn’t regret playing football for a minute, and cherishes the experience. His triumph is to be able to see it in full, as something to celebrate, but also something to handle with care. For anyone who has ever played on a football team, is the parent of a player, or simply is reflective about its outsized influence on America, Why Football Matters is both a mirror and a lamp.


Library Journal (starred):
“Beautifully written and impressively thought out, this smart memoir should appeal to a wide audience.”

Booklist (starred):
“A remarkable memoir that can only elevate its readers’ response to the game.”

Publishers Weekly:
“Unafraid to challenge common assumptions about what football does and does not teach us, Edmundson’s book is uncommonly probing and insightful and should have wide-ranging appeal.”

Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller: A New American Life:
“Mark Edmundson’s first spell-binding memoir Teacher told how one inspiring high school philosophy class in the blue-collar suburb of Medford, Massachusetts, lured him into a life of the mind. Why Football Matters takes us back to Medford High and to harder, darker lessons learned on the turf of Hormel Field. I grew up in Pasadena, California, spent high school Friday nights cheering at home games in the Rose Bowl; few American lives are untouched by this supremely emblematic game that Edmundson examines with equal measures of sympathy and skepticism in a book sure to become its own American classic.”

Michael Sokolove, author of Drama High:
“Mark Edmundson’s book is a great gift for those of us who love football but can’t easily explain or justify our passion, as well as a superbly entertaining read.”

Mark Slouka:
“An essential (I’m tempted to say ‘indispensable’) guide to the guts and the glory—and, yes, the grief—of maleness in America. Edmundson has written one of those rare memoirs that dares to make the personal political, that paints the picture even as it questions it. Perceptive, passionate, intolerant of platitudes (whatever their political stripe), Why Football Matters asks what makes boys, and the men they sometimes grow into, tick. What drives us, frustrates and frightens us. What’s admirable about us, what ain’t—and why. You don’t have to know football, much less have played it—hell, even like it—to appreciate Why Football Matters; you only need to be a man, or to know one. Which covers pretty much everybody.”

David Shields:
“I’ve long admired Mark Edmundson’s work and I especially admire his new book: its understated balance, lucid prose, elegant logic, and above all for his complicity—his insistence upon acknowledging that he himself is part of the problem. (As are you, dear reader, as are you.)”

Gary Smith:
“Finally. Somebody with the required head, heart and soul skill set delivers us the game, our game, from within and without. Somebody takes us inside the helmet of a teenage boy who has offered himself to our rite of passage and makes us see-smell-hear-taste-touch it . . . while simultaneously floating above it, a psycho-spiritual scorekeeper tallying up everything that’s gained and lost in the magnificent transaction. Finally. Somebody uses Nietzsche to render Nitschke. Somebody: Mark Edmundson. Thank you!”