The Art of the NFL

Sports get a bad rap in the arts world. The most generous arts professionals feign indifference or ironic amusement: Sports are quaint. At worst, they roll their eyes and rant: Sports are an evil corporate conspiracy aimed to dumb down the population.  

I take a less extreme view. I'm a dance writer. When I meet new people, I don't expect them to have seen any ballet other than the Nutcracker or to be able to name today's "it" ballet choreographer. The performing arts is a rarefied world for a rarefied audience. I love it, but it can be nice to take a break. For instance, the last time I was helping my former boss squeeze into a corset for the Miss Fire Island Pageant, did I think to myself, "Why don't more Americans go to drag shows?" No. I laced him up and cashed my paycheck, then went home to watch Sunday Night Football. 

Football, more than any other sport, enrages balletomanes. The new Cowboys Stadium provides a good example. The field, the television screen, the party zone, the presumptive lines at the parking lot -- the good taxpayers of Arlington, Texas have built Jerry Jones his Taj Mahal. He didn't forget the harem. Ensconced within the stands are platforms accommodating clusters of pole-dancers, a kind of J.V. Cowboys Cheerleaders squad. No one would say Jones isn't fair. Attendees want a show, and if they're away from the field, then they need to be consoled with another form of action. Dance will do the trick. The dancers are suspended up there, condemned to rock this vertical circus in a kind of twenty-first century ballet blanc. The main event will always be on the field. 

It's too bad artists obsess on this second-class status. There is a lot in football a balletomane can like. For starters, the bodies on display are most impressive. Fast and strong, like ballerinas on steroids, players do some rather technical stuff. Strategy, not musicality, propels the action. In this regard, football might be more intellectual than ballet...but let's not go there.

Thanks to my football tutor, Ed, I know how to read plays. So what? Just give me passing, falling, running, and kicking on television in slow motion, preferably narrated by Chris Collinsworth, and I'll be happy. Ed thinks I'm a chauvinist. He's okay with that, as long as I remember the players wear football pants, not tights. I try. 

How many times have I heard that football players don't deserve to be making large salaries? To these critics, the explanation of skill is not enough; an economics lesson is required. Suffice it to say that no one getting paid a pole-dancer's salary is willing to crush into a guy named D'Brickashaw at twelve miles an hour. The National Football League is a $6B-a-year sports cartel. When there's real money on the line, you have things like licensing and legal teams, Bob Costas, and personal conduct policies. 

There's a reason Peyton Manning sells H.D. TVs. Thanks to Peyton and company, I've learned that I'm highly susceptible to advertising. I don't know what a Sprint 4G network is, but you can bet I'm on it. For investing advice, I turn to the eTrade baby. I live in New York, so I don't drive. If I ever learn, it'll be in my gorgeous new Ford F150. In the meantime, I recreate at home, and the bottle service at the bar in my apartment means I always, always wait for the Rockies to turn blue. 

Women, and/or the feminine, are the NFL's growth market. We've noticed some changes. The pink-toned merchandise is nice, and no, we don't miss John Madden's borderline scatological commentary. But the NFL can do better. Now that the season concludes Sunday, and with sixteen regular season games fresh in my mind, allow me to tell you what the NFL and its presenters can do for us, the ladies in the room.

No black pants. They distort the body's proportions on the field, making players for those teams look like Spongebob Squarepants. Worse, Spongebob Pencilpants. Black football pants are the ones that come closest to looking like tights, and haven't we agreed that this a sore point?

Enough with the replays of the players' injuries. I know the male audience enjoys this, but it's obnoxious. 

Lady Kickers. Why not? I, for one, am quite limber.

Cool it with the breast cancer month. I get it, but your biggest concession to women insists that we're primarily victims of a disease. Thanks, guys. Hey, pass me another dose of chemo. 

Get the chicks off the sidelines. It's tokenism, pure and simple. Give Pam Oliver a shot in the booth. If she's good -- and she can't be any worse than Keith Olberman -- we might just watch the pre-game. 

And lastly, Give the cheerleaders more coverage -- and I don't mean air-time. Witty combinations of bra tops with vests, chaps, and other accessories are one thing, but the shorty-shorts some of the cheerleaders wear during warmer months cross the line into trashy. NFL is a family organization. Women don't like, nor do they want their children to watch, trashy. Why do you think we stopped watching golf?     

Incidentally, Ed and I agree that a team that cheats its fans out of a perfect season doesn't deserve to win the Superbowl. I said, "Who dat?!"

Natalie Axton is a writer in New York.  She blogs at