American Masculinity and the Gridiron: The Development of the Football Narrative

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Institution Granting Degree

University of Rhode Island

Cedarville University School or Department

English, Literature, and Modern Languages

First Advisor

Greta Cohen

Second Advisor

Dorothy Jacobs

Third Advisor

John Leo


Football, sports, Gridiron, narrative, literature, masculinity


Football remains a highly visible, influential part of the lives of millions of American men. This dissertation traces the development of the football narrative in order to determine the relationship between football and American masculinity as it has evolved over the last century.

To conduct the study, sixty football narratives (novels and films) from 1900 to the present were analyzed in order to explore how artists have used football as a medium by which to display dominant forms of manhood in order to reinforce, satirize or otherwise comment on them. Four texts were chosen for further analysis, including Gilbert Patten's Frank Merriwell Returns To Yale, North Dallas Forty (film), Everybody's All-American (film) and Don DeLillo's End Zone, each of which represents one of three distinct stages in the development of the football narrative.

This dissertation concludes that the early development of both the juvenile and adult football narrative hinged upon "crises" in men's lives which caused many of them to question what it means to be a man. These watershed periods include the late nineteenth century when football's popularization was strongly influenced by a "crisis" in masculinity on the part of many American men, who saw the game as a virile, ideal masculine sphere in which to cultivate traditional gender roles and preserve patriarchal power. In the 1960's, war, political upheaval and social revolution caused some men to reevalute masculine standards, and football was depicted by some writers as a scourge which trapped men in a destructive masculine template. In the 1970's and 1980's a handful of novels have signaled the maturation of the genre by using the game to explain both the importance of football's heroic models to contemporary standards of manliness and the importance of games of conquest as fundamental agents in American masculine construction.