The Kansas City Chiefs may be off the grid for the rest of the season, but football fans aren’t, including those who want to discuss why people should not be a fans of football.
FYI Book Club readers gathered this week to discuss Steve Almond’s “Against Football” amid the sports memorabilia at Chappell’s Restaurant in North Kansas City.
Almond’s slim book questions a national addiction to a sport he says fosters a tolerance for violence, greed, racism and homophobia, a sport he has adored for more than 40 years.
Book club readers agreed the book offers insightful commentary on America’s most popular and lucrative sport, but no one thought football was going away anytime soon. All admired Almond’s ability to resist the siren call of the Sunday gridiron.
“Almond’s book reinforced my preference for other sports,” said Alan Perry of Kansas City. “With some exceptions I agree with the author’s points, but I don’t think there’s a chance that football will ever be de-emphasized in American culture.”
Bill Kalahurka of Kansas City said he understood Almond’s situation.
“I’m a huge football fan and a season ticket holder for the Kansas City Chiefs,” he said. “I played ‘bonecrush’ football when I was a kid. I was intrigued by this book and it reminded me of the struggle I have with smoking. I know smoking is bad for you, and I find myself the same way with football. I agree with Almond, but I’m still looking forward to the playoffs this weekend.”
The topic of injuries took centerstage at the discussion.
“Wouldn’t it be interesting to learn, maybe 20 years from now, that contact sports do more damage to a body than drugs or alcohol?” said John Shelton of Prairie Village.
Restaurant owner Jim Chappell pointed to the extensive collection of football helmets hanging from the ceiling and noted the differences between a contemporary football helmet and an antique one made of leather.
“I’m trying to collect all the helmets in the world,” Chappell said, grinning. “This hard football helmet is a projectile. I don’t want football to end, but there has to be some changes. There are so many people getting hurt. Getting bruised is one thing, long-term damage is another.”
Steve Wieberg of Lawson, Mo., was fascinated that the author was a football fan.
“He still appreciates the game and that carries resonance,” Wieberg said. “This is not an academic viewpoint. It’s a fan’s viewpoint.”
Almond then joined the conversation by phone, and Kalahurka asked the question on everyone’s mind: “Have you watched any football since you’ve written this book?”
“The answer is no,” Almond said with a laugh. “I have not watched a game or highlight this season. But I have wanted to. It’s a lot like being an alcoholic. That’s the way I feel about football.
“It’s thrilling and communal and not being part of the subculture really leaves me out in the cold. I don’t get to hang out with my friends. Football was a reason we’d get together on a regular basis.”
Betti Kalahurka asked Almond, “What replaced football for you?”
“I have three children, and I know my wife is pleased I’m spending more time at home,” Almond said. “In a weird way, writing this book allowed me to prolong my involvement with football before giving it up completely.”
“A lot of what we admire in this sport is beautiful and heroic,” the author said. “But the same can be said of fifth-grade teachers, social workers, doctors and librarians. Those are the people I’m focused on when I use the word ‘hero.’ Football is a game. A beautiful game but a savage one. I don’t want our priorities to be out of whack.”
Kaite Stover is director of readers’ services for the Kansas City Public Library.
FYI Book Club
The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a “book of the moment” selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. To participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email email@example.com. Watch for the next selection, “Data, A Love Story: How I Cracked the Online Dating Code to Meet My Match” by Amy Webb, to be introduced in FYI.
Meet the author
Kansas City sportscaster Frank Boal and writer Steve Almond will discuss Almond’s book, “Against Football,” at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 20 at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. The event is free, but you can reserve a seat at kclibrary.org.