Reading Football: How the Popular Press Created an American Spectacle


The first contemporary book about football's formative years. Oriard, a former professional football player, examines how American football changed from a game to be played to a game to be watched.
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The first contemporary book about football's formative years. Oriard, a former professional football player, examines how American football changed from a game to be played to a game to be watched.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Oriard's thesis is refreshingly original.


A well-researched, fascinating ride through football history that will be enjoyed by scholars and fans alike.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Michael Oriard's important book is a welcome, extremely insightful cultural history of football's early decades.

American Historical Review

[A] careful, fascinating study of football's emerging importance at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth.

Journal of Southern History

Reading Football is a playbook to understanding America.

Robert Lipsyte, sports columnist for The New York Times

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A former player in the National Football League and now a professor of English at Oregon State, Oriard advances the thesis that football is a cultural text, complete with metaphoric content and social context, read differently by people whose interpretations vary over time. He considers the formative years of the sport from the 1870s to the early years of this century, arguing that a reading of the popular press of that era helps us understand how actual audiences ``read'' the sport, based on the narrative structure established first by Walter Camp, who at the turn of the century was the Yale football team's ``unofficial, unpaid, unquestioned chief mentor and arbiter,'' and subsequently expanded by other interpreters. An added attraction of this book is the three dozen-plus excellent illustrations, most from magazines like Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly . Because it is about football as a cultural and even a literary phenomenon, this study is unlikely to appeal to a general sports audience. (Sept.)
Library Journal
The hype surrounding modern football is not new. The sport and popular newspapers and magazines grew up together in the late 19th century. Football, with its play-by-play format, was seemingly made for journalism. In this account by a former player, the game's early era (1876-1914) is reconstructed with original narratives and illustrations from the popular press. Oriard shows football's early evolution as a sport, pastime, science, and ``definition of male identity.'' His is a scholarly book on a topic often ignored by the scholarly press. It can be recommended for libraries with collections in sports history and popular culture.-- Donald W. Maxwell, Stone Hills Lib. Network, Bloomington, Ind.
Oriard (English, Oregon State U.) played professional football for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1970 to 1973. His study traces football from its beginnings in the 1870s as a game to be played, not watched, and its evolution within a brief ten years into a public spectacle. He shows as significant that the same decade also saw a substantially increased audience for newspapers and periodicals; and he details some of the heated issues played out in the media concerning football--its "manly" virtues and its violence. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807847510
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 8/31/1998
  • Series: Cultural Studies of the United States Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Oriard, who played professional football for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1970 to 1973, is Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at Oregon State University. He is author of Dreaming of Heroes: American Sports Fiction, 1868-1980, The End of Autumn: Reflections on My Life in Football, and Sporting with the Gods: The Rhetoric of Play and Game in American Culture.
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