Football in the South isn’t just a sport, it’s part of our culture

Kids grow up playing, cheering or watching the games

My family is from all over the US, but being raised in Georgia, I grew out of and into Southern football culture. When I bring up football to my best friend from Boston, she laughs because to her, football is a funny pastime and a form of entertainment.

When I asked what she thought about when I said the word “football,” she said, “Tailgating, crowds, beer, cowboy boots, dresses, cheerleading, popularity, family tradition and dads.” I laugh because the stereotypes she listed all have a lot of truth to them – to me, they seem like everyday facts.

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Once upon a time, in a town in Georgia, there was a boy who grew up on football. Football put his dad through college, and football was the reason he got to school early and left late all throughout high school. His picture was on the football banner in front of the school. Football is like his religion. Football is like his whole school’s religion.

Maybe this story sounds unreal, like it’s straight from a movie. But the boy in this story is my neighbor, and football is like the religion of my state. While football is not the South’s only story, and it surely isn’t everyone’s story, it is more than just a sport.

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My neighbors, the Ramaekers after Cole’s North Fulton All Star game

People rally around sports teams everywhere. Like my Boston friend rallied around her high school’s soccer team or hockey team, we rallied around my football team, but the rallying was different. Football isn’t something monopolized by the South, but football is unique here in the way that it is seamlessly embedded in the culture. It’s a stereotype, but it’s true.

Kids grow up on football

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My brother reppin’ his Jr. Hornets team in the city parade

Everyone knows college football is all-encompassing and so important in the South, but football here doesn’t start in college. Football begins with the little kids who are swallowed by their pads and helmets, their tiny limbs dangling from underneath their oversized jerseys. Football begins with the sideline cheerleaders in size two shoes and the overbearing parents screaming from the sidelines.

I remember watching my brother play football when we were both in elementary school, but more so, I remember the stadium seats and climbing in and out of the stands. When I was seven years old, football games just meant wearing hats in the sun and meeting new kids my age. Football wasn’t just for the players, it was for all of us.

High school rivalries and Friday night lights are serious

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After tailgating, we always make it for the flour toss that happened every kickoff

When my high school played our rival team, the faculty denied students access to pass back and forth between the home and away stands, just so there wouldn’t be fights. There was enough trash talk on social media to cause fights anyway, but they made it as hard as possible for us to mingle. Our rival school used to mock our senior traditions as we would slander them for not having their own, and I still do not have a valid explanation for why we despised them so much.

Cheerleading was a big deal

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My mom back when she cheered for her high school

My mom was a cheerleader in high school. Some of my best friends did cheerleading. I even did cheerleading for a year in sixth grade. That being said, I hated cheerleading. I would much rather be cheered for, if I’m being honest. I teased my friends about the bows they wore and the stereotypical gender roles they fit into, but that was just me being obnoxious.

It is, in fact, not uncommon to be a cheerleader and also be brilliant, feminist and athletic. And dare I hint that cheerleading is a sport, a time commitment and a major work out. My friend from up North laughs at the idea of cheerleading being serious because it wasn’t at her high school.

But those cheerleaders’ parents were at every game handing out green, white and black shakers so we could make as much noise as possible. It was no laughing matter. And yes, it is true cheerleaders sometimes dated football players, but a lot of people dated football players.

‘Football is a religion’

My extended football family.

My extended football family.

My neighbor, Cole, said football has brought him “a sense of community that [he has] found nowhere except in [his] church and football brings values and morals.”

I believe him when he talks about the sense of family he has found in his football team, because I see it grow in my brother with all of his football experience. My brother is playing in college, and each Thanksgiving he comes home with a handful of his football friends who feel like brothers to me.

Three generations of football players my grandpap, my dad, and my brother.

Three generations of football players: my grandpap, my dad and my brother

Football keeps working like gravity, pulling us together in the South. Whether it feels like religion, family, or some indescribable form of togetherness, football has built a community in the South. It’s stereotypical, but we love it.

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