Gridiron football is today synonymous with American culture, but the development of its hegemony was far from linear and riddled with socio-economic conflict. Kate Mara, actress and pro football enthusiast, recently joined forces with producer Michael Strahan, former Giants defensive end and Hall of Fame inductee, to launch "American Football" in partnership with The HISTORY Channel.
The six-episode podcast series details the trajectory of football in the United States from its emergence in Middle America to its dominance within the contemporary National Football League. Though the game has been colloquially played since the Ancient Greeks' reign, its warlike dimension and appeal to brutality first resonated with Americans during the Civil War.
In the years prior to World War I, football's appeal grew in the absence of war. "(Young men saw that) their fathers made their names on the battlefield, but the generations coming of age (had) no such options," narrator Kate Mara revealed in the podcast's inaugural episode.
As such, football was integrated into the university system at the Ivy League level and became linked to the country's elite.
At the same time, football gained prominence among working classes in Stark County, Ohio.
"Football, as it was being played outside the university system, was a vicious and lawless sport. But its fans were growing," Mara described.
Local businesses capitalized on opportunities to monetize the game, marking the true birth of professional football. The economic implications enabled football to transcend racial boundaries, but a gap still persisted between university-level amateurs and paid professionals.
Without a true governing body, questions about the game's precarious integrity hindered its growth.
"The single most important thing is protecting the integrity of the game," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell revealed. "It's our number one concern – how we protect the public competence of the game."
Mara and Strahan offer a platform for modern football figures like former Giants quarterback Eli Manning, former Giants head coach Bill Parcells and NFL Films' Head Archivist Chris Willis to offer insight into the implications of football's development.
Mara also dives deeper into the New York Giants' origins and draws on her familial ties to the franchise in episode six.
"American Football" is not just a football podcast, but a story about how sports shape society. Listen to full episodes where podcasts are available.