Is the NFL a cult? This episode of ‘Sounds Like A Cult’ makes a pretty convincing argument

Sports January 11, 2022
Listen to ‘The Cult of the NFL’

Ahh, just in time for the playoffs. This episode of “Sounds Like A Cult” was recorded as a Thanksgiving Special, arguably the second biggest day of the year for the National Football League, and it definitely confirms what non-die-hard football fans know to be true. The NFL fandom is a cult.

This extra special episode is just 50 minutes long and includes ESPN sports anchor Elle Duncan as their guest. But before they get to Elle, our hosts, comedian Isa Medina and author of Cultish Amanda Montell, have a lot to say about the NFL.

The idea of the NFL fandom being culty probably comes to no surprise. Most people are basically born into their fandom: if you’re born in Maryland, you’re a Baltimore Ravens fan, if you’re from Boston, there’s no doubt you’re rooting for the New England Patriots, even after Brady left. You essentially take on the team that’s been passed onto you by your family.

But, recently, things have started to become uglier in the stands, especially post-COVID lockdowns. It was noticeable during the NBA season, when players were spit at and had water bottles thrown at them from the stands. And aggression in the crowd towards players and other fans has been increasing, as Duncan tells us. In addition to the copious amounts of alcohol being drank throughout the game, things can take a nosedive fast. But when it comes to rivalries, like Packers-Vikings or Cowboys-Giants, that’s when it begins to really be felt.

Duncan recalls seeing a pregnant woman get beer dumped on her and children who had sent supplies to New Orleans post-Katrina get booed at an Atlanta Falcons-New Orleans Saints game years ago all because they were wearing their red and black jerseys of Atlanta. She also mentions how the NFL is now becoming somewhat of an enabler for gambling addictions, with fantasy football and betting becoming more mainstream.

What really got us about this episode, though, was the known NFL-player-recruiting cult called the Straitway Truth Ministry. This isn’t just “cultish;” Straitway is straight up a cult. It preys upon recently retired NFL players who are looking for a new group to belong to, and they are attracted to the cult due to its leader taking on many aspects of a coach. Pastor Charles Dowell uses language and practices that are eerily similar to that of many football coaches, drawing the ex-players to his church.

The group sticks strongly to the words of the Old Testament, and there are numerous allegations of mistreatment of women and children, denial of access to health care, hatred toward the LGBTQ+ community, and much more. On top of all that, they make egregious financial demands of their members, making it nearly impossible for the more vulnerable members to leave. Medina and Montell reference this Sports Illustrated article about this group and their famed member, former Green Bay Packer Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.

In this episode of “Sounds Like A Cult,” they also discuss the cult-ish aspects of the NFL’s corporate hierarchy, from the league’s recent decision to not release their findings in an investigation into racism and misogyny allegations in the Washington Football Team, to players being pumped with painkillers so they can continue to play and make the owners money. It’s a fascinating look at the not-quite-a-cult-but-keep-your-eyes-peeled institution that is the NFL.

Listen to ‘The Cult of the NFL’

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