Authors at Google: John Fox, "The Ball"


Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 29.11.2012

Transcript:

EDDIE KAY: I'd like to introduce John Fox, who is a
Harvard Ph.D. anthropologist, who has excavated ancient ball
courts in Central America, traced Marco Polo's route
across China, and bicycled Africa's Rift Valley in search
of human origins.
He has contributed commentary to Vermont Public Radio, has
written for "Smithsonian," "Outside," and "Salon," among
other publications, and in 2010 was awarded a MacDowell
Colony Fellowship.
He is also the author of "Around the World With a
Million Kids: Adventures of an Online Explorer," a collection
of essays written while co-leading the groundbreaking
Quest Interactive Educational Expeditions.
Please join me in giving a warm welcome to John Fox.
[APPLAUSE]
JOHN FOX: All right, thanks very much, Eddie.
And thank you all for coming today.
And anybody that is remote, hopefully you can hear me and
see me as long as I stay in my box over here.
So, great to come here and talk.
I have to say thanks, first of all, to Google, because I used
Google extensively in researching this book--
particularly Google Books, which I never realized until I
actually had a book project myself to write what an
extraordinary resource that is.
So kudos to all you guys do.
It's definitely a huge help.

So first a little background on how this book came to be.
It started, interestingly, with a question that my son
asked me when he was 7.
He is now 12, and he's still as fanatic
about sports as ever.
I was living in Vermont at the time--
had not moved to Boston yet--
and it was a spring day.
It was Red Sox season.
It was one of the seasons where they were actually
winning from the get-go, which was good.
It was a good spring.
And we were playing catch in the backyard--
really sort of typical father-son scene--
and my precocious son stops, and he says, hey Dad, why do
we play ball, anyway?
It was one of these kind of existential questions that
kids tend to ask at that particular age-- sometimes
maddening, but always intriguing.
And it kind of stuck with me.
As the play went on, the moment passed, he got
distracted by other things, and that was that.
But for me it kind of stuck.
And the reason it stuck was years before, as a graduate
student in anthropology, I had done research on an ancient
game played by the Maya and the Aztec in Central America.
And I'd written a dissertation that
probably five people read--
maybe six.
And I'd spent time in the wilds of Honduras excavating
these ancient stadiums that I'll talk a little bit more
about and became captivated by that subject.
But I had set it aside, done other writing and other work,
and the years had moved on.
But his question sparked a new interest in the topic.
And it kind of broke it open in the way that kids can do
that, because it took it from a kind of esoteric, academic
subject to something much bigger and philosophical.
Why do we play ball?
Why do we play the games we play?
How did we get to the games we play today in terms of the
history of these games?
And ultimately, why do they mean so much to us?
Why are we so unbelievably obsessed and
captivated with them?
So that set me off on a journey-- literally--
around the world and through time exploring a lot of the
games we're familiar with and some that we're not.
So today I'm going to whip you through the centuries and
across some continents to give you an overview of where the
book and the story took me.
And then I'll open it up for questions, and we can talk a
little bit more.
So this is an image that I love--
really, really, really love.
It was photographed by a woman named Jessica Hilltout in a
book called "Amen," and it was during the last World Cup in
South Africa.
And she decided to look at the other side
of the game of soccer.
So while all the fanfare was happening in Johannesburg, she
went off into all these villages in Africa.
And she gave out soccer balls--
like nice, shiny Adidas balls-- in return for
photographing the balls that kids were
using in these villages.
And this is one of them made from rags and twine.
The photos in this book are just incredible.
One of the things that they convey is this kind of desire
to play, the desire and the passion around these objects--
the ball--
that whether you have the technology, and you have the
money to purchase the latest and greatest, you
figure out a way.
And it says a lot about the spirit of the game.
I had to throw this in.
I realize 1,000,360,000 results for "ball" is actually
a pretty good number.
I googled "God" right after this, and it was only a few
hundred billion more than ball.
So it clearly is a pretty dominant theme
globally, I would say.
I would love your help in moving my book up
the rankings here.
As you can see, they're not close to the top.
So first of all, I decided to start at the beginning, or
even before the beginning.
In other words, "why do we play ball" starts with "why do
we play at all?" And what is play?
And I found in my research there's a lot of incredibly
interesting research going on now--
scientific research--
around the importance of play, not just socially, but also
psychologically, developmentally,
especially for kids.
And a lot of this research is focused on animals, because as
this great scholar Johan Huizinga who wrote this
treatise on play in the early 20th century commented,
"Animals haven't waited for man to teach them how to
play." So anybody who has a dog, goes out and plays ball
with them, or has seen other animals play knows that this
is really true, that play is not
something that we invented.
It's something much deeper and much more ancient than that.
So I went to Florida to a place called Gulf World--
pretty quirky, old, kind of falling apart marine park--
where I met a scientist named Stan Kuczaj, who's originally
a psychologist and is now a dolphin researcher.
And he's been studying, for years, play among dolphins.
And he's found some really interesting things.
One is that dolphins are extremely playful,
particularly this one type that he studied called
rough-toothed dolphins.
They use play as a way of learning about the world and
testing their physical limits, understanding the boundaries--
both the social boundaries of their pod and their
relationship with other dolphins--
but their physical boundaries in terms of how to swim in the
wild and be safe and dodge predators and be on the alert.
So he's done all these studies that really indicate that play
for dolphins is a fundamental part of their survival.
And this is interesting, and this research is interesting,
because for years play was seen as the opposite of what's
serious or work.
It was seen as something frivolous, and scientists had
really struggled to find any biological reason why any
animal should play.
In fact, if you really boil it down, play often exposes
animals to danger.
It depletes their energy.
It puts them in precarious situations, oftentimes, where
they're distracted.
So in many respects, play should be the opposite of
something that selected for, and yet it's selected for
again and again.
There's been some other really interesting studies done with
rats where one group of rats is separated from another.
One group is allowed to play and encouraged to play with
frenzy, and the other is shut out and apart from each other,
and they're not allowed to play.
And over time, the ones that are
playing develop a protein--
a neurotrophic factor-- that actually stimulates the
prefrontal cortex, which is where emotional intelligence
and decision making originates.
So a lot of these studies are showing that play actually
makes you smarter--
makes animals smarter and most likely humans in the way it
helps us actually develop our brains, our social skills, our
emotional intelligence.
So that was where the book started, was what is play, and
where does it come from?
And there's a lot more on that.
Sweeping through time--
so there's not much evidence for ball play or sports,
obviously, among hunter-gatherers in the
Paleolithic.
There's not much evidence for much of anything in that
period except for some cave paintings and stones and such.
But it's also not a stretch to think that play and sports
probably originated in the hunt.
When you think of the skills that are involved in the hunt,
they're not that far from the skills that ultimately are
involved in sports.
And even the tool kits of the Paleolithic hunter-- the
spear, the rock, the net, the throwing stone-- these are
things that you might find in a sort of prehistoric sporting
goods store.
So there's not a stretch to think that sports
evolved as a way of--
like the dolphins--
testing boundaries, of using play as a way of honing skills
that would have more application in real life, in
the hunt, in protecting yourself and your
family, and so on.
But that's mostly speculation.
It's really not until the growth of civilizations--
Mesopotamia and Egypt--
we actually start to see evidence that they were
playing ball.
They were playing sports.
They had already begun to worship this sacred orb, as I
often call it.
This is a depiction from a tomb in Egypt, 1500 BC,
showing King Tuthmosis with a ball in his left hand and a
stick the right and these little servants
offering him new balls.
This particular scene is shown again and again and again in
this period of ancient Egypt.
And it seems that there was an actual ceremonial game played
by the pharaoh called seker-hemat in which the ball
was struck into the four directions.
It was seen as defeating the serpent enemy of the gods.
There was a lot of mythology around it and a lot of
ceremony around it.
It's the first time we find archaeological balls in some
of these tombs.
Some of them are made from papyrus.
Some of them are skin stuffed with all kinds of materials.
There's even a kind of primitive bowling set that was
found in a tomb of a young boy during this time.
So we know that these games had already started, already
had meaning in these cultures.

Of course, in ancient Greece and
Rome these games continued.
The ancient Greeks played a game called episkyros, which
was kind of like rugby.
There were anywhere from 12 to 15 people on a side.
It's hard to understand all of the rules from the text, but
it's clear that they played these sports.
They weren't part of the Olympics, ever.
The Olympics were seen as serious games for serious
warriors and athletes, whereas ball games were seen as fun,
frivolous play, like child's play.
So they were in two different categories.
But they did play a lot of ball sports.

Real organized sports in the Old World really kick off in
around the 10th century in England.
And that's when football, broadly
speaking, hits the scene.
And when I talk about football, I mean,
like, all of football--
American football, soccer, rugby.
The root of all those games goes back at least to
10th-century England.
And there's wonderful accounts from the earliest periods of
the medieval era of these huge mob games being played between
one village and another.
This is a depiction from the early 19th century in the
Normandy region of France.
And it's hard to tell here, but there's just basically an
enormous scrum going on of hundreds of men
tousling over a ball.
And so for hundreds of years through the medieval period,
this was happening in villages all over Europe, where one
town or one parish would compete against another.
They were, kind of as a holdover to earlier times,
highly symbolic affairs with religious connotations.
This game la soule, played in France, the name is believed
to come from sol, or the sun.
And some of the beliefs were that whichever side managed to
capture the ball in these contests would ensure a good
harvest for their town or their particular area.
Or in some cases, it was the fisherman versus the farmers,
and if the fishermen won, there would be
good fish that year.
So these were symbolic affairs.
They were usually played around feast
days like Mardi Gras--
so right before Lent--
kind of crazy affairs-- lots drinking, lots
of playing and carousing.
And that's really how football started, which is not that far
from where it's ended up.

So this book that I wrote was way more than history.
I've always liked to use whatever I do as
an excuse to travel.
That's the only way I became an archaeologist or have done
anything exciting in my life is just
very, very into traveling.
So for this particular chapter on football, I learned about a
holdover of this mob football game that's played twice a
year on the island of Orkney, north of Scotland, which is a
very cold, very remote, kind of rocky place.
And on Christmas and New Year's Day, the two sides of
town face off against each other, just as they did in
medieval times.
The sides are known as the uppies and the doonies,
because there's one street in town called Post Office Lane,
which is probably from here to that wall.
And if you're born on the upper side of that, then
you're an uppie for your whole life.
It's like being a Celtics fan or Red Sox fan for life.
And if you're born on the other side, you're a doonie,
because you're on the downward side.
And there's no choice.
You don't put on a uniform.
You don't get to decide.
It's just that's the way you're born, and that's your
side for life.
On these two days, all of the men from town who are on one
side or another get out in front of the
church at 1:00 PM.
An incredible handcrafted ball made by the local shoemaker is
thrown from the front of the church into this pack of men--
literally a sea of men.
And for the next six hours, they struggle over this ball.
There's really no rules to speak of.
There's unspoken rules of etiquette.
But pretty much, it's just a brutal affair.
And the objective is the uppies have to take the ball
uptown and touch it to this ancient wall at Mackinson's
Corner, and the doonies have to go the other direction and
submerge it in the sea on the downward side of town.
And other than that, it's all hell breaks loose.
And it's one of the most incredible affairs.
I'll hopefully show you at the end a little clip so you can
get a better sense of it.
But this is how football got started--
was really a kind of tribal affair.
And this sense of belonging that these men have and this
ritual that they go through every year, it's not only a
game, but it literally is kind of the
cornerstone of their culture.
If you took this game out of it, they wouldn't
know what to do.
And that's how they speak of it, is that kind of passion.
So it was really incredible to be able to see that and it
does give you a sense of why we play these games.
This is another scene.
You can see the church.
This is right after the ball gets swallowed into the mouth
of the pack, as I like to call it.
And you won't see that ball, maybe, for
another couple of hours.
You'll see the scrum bouncing off alleyways and making its
way through town, but it's rare you see the ball.
All the shops and the streets are barricaded very heavily,
because this pack will go right
through the windows otherwise.
The year I was there, there was a guy who was a
flat-lander from London or someplace who
came up to watch it.
And the poor guy left his BMW on the street.
Like, he didn't know.
And the pack literally went up and over this thing and just
squashed it.
And then they were fighting over who was
going to pay for it.
And they were like, (SCOTTISH ACCENT), oh,
it's an act of God.

So on from there.
So football began as this mob sport.
It was the people's game from the very beginning,
and it still is.
We think of the global expanse of soccer, football, there's a
reason for that.
It has roots where everybody's involved.
It brings everyone in.
Tennis developed in a completely different way,
although in a similar time frame.
So tennis has its roots in 13th-century France, and it
started in the monasteries, interestingly.
The monks, who were busy wearing hair shirts and
prostrating themselves, did occasionally have fun.
And they invented this game of tennis, which they called jeu
de paume because it was played with the palm of the hand,
originally.
And for the first 200 years of the game, there was no racket,
and there was no net.
It was basically a kind of hand ball game.
But they played it in the cloisters.
And the depiction on the left is actually from the 1600s in
Paris of one of these jeu de paume courts.
And you can see if you think of your history books and what
a medieval courtyard would look like.
It's got these sloping penthouses and these galleys
on the side and a kind of courtyard.
So the court, as it's evolved through time and as it's still
played today, reflects this.
On the right is one of these jeu de paume courts.
In the US it's called court tennis, and in England it's
called real tennis.
And you can see it hasn't changed much.
Still got the penthouses, still got these galleys and
these unusual lines for how you score points.
So tennis began as a monastic sport, but then the princes of
the neighboring area were, of course, being educated in the
monasteries.
So it quickly became the sport of kings.
It was an elite sport.
Shakespeare wrote about it many, many times.
Through the 1500's and 1600's, it was the absolute rage on
the royal circuit to the extent where there were 250 of
these rather enormous, substantial courts in Paris
alone in that time period.
Today, there is exactly one in Paris, which I went to, and
one on the outskirts of Paris.
This one on the right is at the Chateau de Fontainebleau,
which is one of the palaces of the French kings.
And I got a lesson in how to play this ancient form of
tennis and come to appreciate it at the same time.
One of the cool things about this game-- there are are many
cool things about it--
first of all, that it's even still surviving.
There's, I think, 45 courts left in the world where you
can actually play this game.
One of them is in Boston on Boylston Street,
and I played there.
This is from the 1600s, showing there was an actual
person called a paumier who was responsible for making the
balls and the racquets, kind of a court pro.
And they still exist.
And this guy [? Mattie, ?] who I spent time with in
Fontainebleau still makes the balls by hand.
You can see, essentially, the same technique, the same
technology--
very simple, very primitive, you can say.
But that's part of the art of the game is the fact that you
go to a court where somebody can make the balls just the
way you like them.
And that's a real skill that is, frankly,
dying and dying fast.
OK, you're going to have some travel whiplash here, but at
the same time tennis was exploding in Europe, of
course, Europeans were heading to the New World to conquer
and create mayhem, among other things.
And they arrived full of their game, and they had other balls
that were filled with wind.
And they brought those with them.
Columbus, on his second voyage, brought
some of these balls.
And they arrived in the New World and
in the Yucatan region.
And they encountered the Maya Indians and
the Aztecs, of course.
And they were shocked to find that there was a sport being
played there that was quite sophisticated, and even more
shocked to find that they were playing with this substance
that they'd never seen before, that they thought was
possessed by demons.
Because the substance would bounce 12 feet in the air,
ricochet off walls, and had this life in it which was
perplexing to them.
They had never seen anything like it-- of
course, it was rubber--
because they never encountered rubber before.
It was indigenous to Mexico and Central America.
The Maya, and the Olmec before them, had been playing this
sophisticated sport with this solid rubber ball for, at that
point, almost 2,000 years.
The earliest ball courts that look like this date
to about 1200 BC.
So at the same time those Egyptians were playing their
games, which were kind of ceremonial, the Maya, the
Aztecs, and their predecessors were playing what was actually
a much more sophisticated and complex and
very athletic game.
The game today is called ulama.
So that's the name that I usually use to talk about it.
It was played in a court like this--
lots of different shapes, but usually an alleyway where the
actual play happened between two teams.
There is a lot of different kinds of markers, but here you
can see rings fairly high up.
The object to the game was to knock this rubber ball usually
with your hips, sometimes with your forearm padded, through
one of these rings and otherwise score points.
This is a depiction, from a Maya polychrome vase that's
been rolled out by a photographer, that shows one
of these games in action.
So you see these players in motion.
You see them against a temple behind them with musicians,
and it's this big ceremony.
And so a lot of the depictions of this game that we see are
highly ceremonial.
And in fact, we see enough of these to come to understand
that there was life and death consequences associated with
this game, and that at least in some of these rituals, most
likely the losers lost their heads, quite literally.
So this is a depiction from a site called Chichen Itza in
the Yucatan Peninsula.
I don't know if anyone's ever been there.
Yeah.
It's a pretty widely touristed site, and they have this
enormous ball court there, which is kind of Madison
Square Garden-scale ball court.
And on the side in stone is this carving
that shows two players.
One of them is standing on the left with a knife in his hand
made of stone and a head in his left hand.
And on the right is a player whose head has been
decapitated, and out of it sprouts
serpents and squash plants.
And in between is the ball, but the ball
is shown as a skull.
So there's this symbolism.
And we see these kinds of depictions again and again.
And clearly, there was a very symbolic connection between
playing this game, the sacrifice of the loser-- or
the captive, if there was warfare leading up to this--
and the offering to the gods.
And it was believed that--
with these squash plants you'll see--
through this act, you regenerated the cosmos.
This was part of this ritual cycle of the
Maya and the Aztecs.
And it was just a fundamental part of their religion--
a lot more than just a ball game.
I spent time in this small village in West Mexico.
There's only about 100 people who still play this game.
It's the oldest continuous sport in the world.
And they still make these rubber balls.
You can see a player there leaping to
connect with a ball.
But this game is dying, in part because with development,
it's really hard to get the rubber.
And a lot of the rubber plantations are located in
areas that are dominated by narcotraficos.
So if you want a ball, you might pay for it with your
head or other body parts.
So unfortunately, this game is dying--
dying quickly.

So then I looked from there at lacrosse, which was a chapter
which I won't talk about.
But I got into baseball, because it has been our
national pastime.
And I wanted to understand, how does a game become a
national pastime, and what does that actually mean?
Some form of hitting a ball with a bat goes way back.
This is a French medieval document from 1301 that shows
a pretty good line drive happening in
the lower left there.
So clearly, hitting a ball with a bat is not that
sophisticated a thing to do.
There were probably cavemen doing that.
Doesn't necessarily make the game baseball,
but it has deep roots.
But the game really emerged in England, again, much to the
chagrin of nationalist Americans.
This is one of the first depictions of a game described
as baseball, with two words, from 1744.
And this is actually a woodcut from a children's book by John
Newbery, for whom the Newbery Medal is named after.
And it was just a silly little story about little kids, but
they're playing an early version of baseball.
Again, in this case, they're using their hand, because back
then it was like, if you had a bat, you had a bat.
If you didn't, you hit it with your hand.
But you can see the three stones that were used as bases
and this guy on the left who's pitching it.
And they describe in there that the idea of the game is
to strike the ball and then run the bases in the circuit.
And the way you got somebody out was to soak them, which
means you hit them with the ball.
And baseball's rules, originally, were all about
getting soaked by the ball.
It was only in the late 1850s that they changed that rule,
because it was becoming more of a grown up game, and people
didn't want to get hit by the ball every time they ran to
first base.
But the interesting thing about baseball is that it
really started as a children's game.
It was not taken seriously until some local businessmen
in New York in the 1840s started playing it on their
breaks from work and started putting rules around it and
turning it into a real sport.

And one of the interesting stories in baseball that I
researched is around this man.
I don't know if anybody knows who this is.
AUDIENCE: Cartwright.
JOHN FOX: This is Doubleday.
Yeah, Abner Doubleday, Cartwright is the real father
of baseball.
So Abner Doubleday, who's long been held up as the father of
baseball, invented in a cow pasture in Cooperstown in
1839, the whole story is essentially made up.
And the story of how this story came to be is pretty
interesting and speaks to the desire for a national game.
The brief version is that Albert Spalding--
AG Spalding--
of Spalding Sporting Goods now was a great pitcher--
pitched with the Red Stockings, pitched with the
White Stockings, and was manager, was one of the stars
of his age, basically, in the mid-19th
century, late 19th century.
But he had bigger aspirations.
He started to see that this baseball thing had traction,
and he had the instincts of a businessman.
So he started Spalding Sporting Goods and very
rapidly became incredibly successful business.
He just monopolized the sporting goods industry.
And so he became kind of the father of the game, like,
marshaling it along, and turning it into a real sport,
and evangelizing it.
And around that time, this controversy had been swirling
about, where did baseball originate?
It's the ultimate American game.
It's the era of Manifest Destiny, and
America needed a game.

Unfortunately, the reality was that a lot of the experts of
the time knew that this game had English roots.
And so there was a lot of controversy around, well, was
it really from England, or was that a
separate, different game?
And was it really an American invention,
like all good things?
So Albert Spalding, in 1905, actually formed a national
committee to research baseball's origins.
And he put out ads in newspapers far and wide.
And a letter came into a newspaper in Ohio from this
guy named Abner Graves--
just random guy-- saying, basically, I was there when
baseball was invented.
And it was by the Civil War hero Abner Doubleday.
We were playing marbles in a cow pasture, and Doubleday
came up, and he scratched out the diamond in the sand, and
he showed us how to play it.
And that was that.
And that was good enough for Spalding.
There was no other evidence, and he essentially declared
that the game was invented in Cooperstown in 1839.
And most people were fine with that, because it fit the time
period-- that idea of invention and Manifest Destiny
around sport.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence to
support that at all.
In fact, Doubleday, when he was supposed to be inventing
baseball, was at West Point, which is more
than 100 miles away.
And all the records show that he never left
during that time period.
He left behind like 67 diaries--
never mentions baseball once in all of his diaries.
And this guy, Abner Graves, who concocted this story,
ended up being a complete nut job.
He claimed to have been on the Pony Express like 10 years
before the Pony Express had started.
He ended up killing his wife and spending his final years
in an insane asylum.
But even as recently as four years ago, I think, Bud Selig,
who is the Major League Baseball commissioner, said
that he still believed that Abner Doubleday
had invented baseball.
So it just shows you these nationalist myths die hard.

American football--
so where we left football was in the alleyways of Orkney and
this mob game, the medieval game that was being played.
That went on for some years, but football was a
troublemaker sport from day one.
People were getting mauled and killed, and property was being
broken in these big mob scrums.
In the 15th century alone, the game was banned like nine
times by the English kings.
You couldn't play it within London,
because it was too dangerous.
So this game, from the very beginning, was kind of marked.
People had an issue with it, so much so that with all these
bannings, there was a period in the 1600s to the early
1800s where the game was dying off.
It just wasn't played that widely.
And where it was kept alive was in the public schools of
England-- what we think of as private schools--
these little schools like Eton and Rugby where these elite
kids were educated.
And one writer described these places as the "ludic zoos of
the age," because this is where these games that would
have died otherwise were preserved by these scrappy
kids, basically.
And what happened in those schools is different versions
of football developed.
So at Eton, they developed a game that was focused more
around kicking and keeping the ball low.
And at Rugby, where they had this huge expanse of green,
they developed a running and carrying game,
which involved tackling.
So you had these different kinds of games.
Some of them allowed tackling and holding and running with
ball, and others didn't.
And there was just kind of a mishmash of sports.
And it was really here in the late 19th century that these
sports started to get codified.
So soccer--
association football--
in the 1860s got its rules.
And it looked like America was going down the path of more of
a soccer type of sport.
And it was actually Harvard that intervened, because all
of the local Ivy League schools had banded together
and said, we're going to codify rules.
You can't tackle.
You can't carry the ball.
And Harvard said, we're out.
We're not playing by those rules, because we've been
playing for years by these Boston rules.
And the Boston rules allow ball handling and tackling
under certain circumstances.
And they eventually had their way.
They eventually imposed their will over this commission, and
American football evolved as the physical
game that it is today.
But what I always find interesting is people talk
about Americans as rejecting the global game of soccer,
which I don't think is the case, because soccer didn't
really exist at all until the 1860s as a game
with its own rules.
By that time, we were already incubating other
versions of the game.
So it was really more a case that we had a form of the game
that we liked, and that by the time soccer became anywhere
near a global game, we were already doing our own thing.
And Americans do have that independent streak, so we
weren't about to reverse history and go back.
To cover football, I went out to Ohio to the one factory in
this place called Ada where they produce every football
that's used in the NFL and have since the 1950s.
So basically, 150 workers in this old-school factory that
hand make these footballs with, again, pretty basic
machinery, which was pretty cool.
I learned that it takes five cows to service a single NFL
game, if you add up the leather involved and where the
leather comes from.
So I always found that a fun little fact.
So I got to see how this was produced and learn about the
whole way that football took this rough game of soccer or
rugby and created this incredibly disciplined game
with incredibly sophisticated rules over a pretty brief
period of time.
But unfortunately--
or fortunately, depending on how you roll--
it never shook off the violence at its core.
[SNEEZE]
JOHN FOX: Bless you.
And in fact, with every rule that was laid down to control
the violence early on, the game got more violent.
So early on, there were these massive scrums
and these mass plays--
flying wedges and other plays designed to essentially mow
down the other team with full brute force so badly that
early on, one year there was something like 14 college
players who died on the field playing football.
There were no helmets.
So it was a brutal game.
Teddy Roosevelt formed a commission around it, because
there were schools who were banning it.
So this was a theme that goes back centuries for football.

And of course, the theme is still with us today.
In fact, I think it comes in cycles.
And in recent years, of course, there's been a lot of
talk about brain damage from concussions.
This is actually from--
some of you guys, I'm sure, played "Madden," or still do.
But this is from an earlier version where, when there was
an injury, the ambulance would come out and run over all the
players, which was kind of funny.
But this violence is still with the game and in recent
years has become, of course, really controversial.
This is a suicide note from Dave Duerson, who was a
Pro-Bowl Chicago Bears, then New York Giants, two-time
Super Bowl winner who is believed to have suffered from
this disease--
chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is
caused by repeated concussions.
Science is still not 100%, but it's believed
to cause this condition.
And he was severely depressed and abusive to his family and
ended up killing himself.
But he didn't shoot himself in the head.
He shot himself in the chest and left a note to say, please
see that my brain is given to the NFL bank, because he
believed that it was because of football that he was not
feeling like himself.
And of course, now there's 200 lawsuits in the NFL, and a lot
of parents aren't letting their kids
play high school ball.
There's some terrible stories from Western Mass recently
about concussions in games.
So it's become more and more of an issue.
And finally--
and I'll drop off here--
I looked at basketball, which is my favorite game,
personally.
And I love this story just because it is the one sport
that we play today that was invented from whole cloth in
Springfield, Mass by this guy James Naismith.
And all these other games evolved over centuries, and
this one was really, truly invented and in a matter of a
few years had spread globally through the YMCA, which is
where the game originally was invented.
And one of the things I talk about in the book--
because unfortunately, a lot of history of sports is about
men, like a lot of history--
this game very quickly--
like literally within a year--
got completely taken over by women, who realized that it
was a game they could play.
It wasn't highly physical.
It was skill based.
It was good exercise.
And this is a wonderful image from Smith College from about
1894 showing women trying to play the game in these long
petticoats.

So that's the whirl of this book.
And you'd have to read the book to find out if I ever got
an answer to my son's question of why we play ball.
It's one of those questions that there's certainly not a
single answer to.
But I think over the course of these trips and these chapters
that I hopefully was able to distill some of the things
that make these games so important to us.
And part of it for me was being able to convey that to
my son, to be focused on the things that matter, rather
than all the other stuff that doesn't matter that we read
about in the papers.

I do want to mention--
and then I'll take questions-- that we're making a
documentary about this right now--
I've got a clip, but I'd rather open it up for
questions if there are any--
which hopefully will be out in the fall.
And it's called "Bounce: How the Ball Taught the World to
Play."
And we've been shooting in different locations.
We're going to Mexico next month to film ulama.
We're working with two great filmmaker friends of mine who
are using this incredible camera, and so far, the
footage looks wonderful.
And it's basically a cinematic exploration of the ball and
global passions for sports.
So look for that hopefully next year.
That's it.
I'll take questions, thoughts, whatever you got.

Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Who won, the uppies or the doonies?
JOHN FOX: Oh, good question.
So when I got there, I found that if you're born there, it
depends which side of Post Office Lane you're born.
But of course, there's a lot of people who come from
outside who watch this game.
And you, as visitor, also have to be an uppie or a doonie.
So they devise these very elaborate rules.
It's wherever you set foot in town first--
which side you first set foot on--
determines, again, whether you're an uppie or
a doonie for life.
So I ended up setting foot on the doonie side.
That's where I got out of the taxi in front of my B&B.
And I was psyched, and I was talking to all these doonies
and feeling like one of them, and then I found out that they
hadn't won in like 12 years.
So I was instantly a member of a losing franchise.
But they won for the first time in 12 years.
And it wasn't because I did anything, unless I have some
great luck.
But it made it all the more exciting, because I was
literally hanging out with these losers for two days and
interviewing them.
And I'm like, yeah, but they're going to lose, and
that's no good.
And then they won, I was like, oh, this is a great story.
So now I'm a doonie for life.
AUDIENCE: I was just going to ask if you know why it's
called pigskin.
JOHN FOX: Yeah, so it's called pigskin because the early
balls used for football and other games were basically
inflated pig bladders.
They didn't have rubber until--
well, the Mayans had invented it years before, but we didn't
figure it out until Goodyear created vulcanization.
So they actually were made of pig skin, and that's where
that term "pigskin" comes from.
So the outside has pretty much always been cow skin, but it's
still got that name stuck with it.
Yes?
AUDIENCE: Did you see any trends over time in the
rewards for the games?
Like all this competitiveness goes towards [? a cause ?]
like winning, and you get credibility or pride.
But over time, in your study, did you find that--
with the Mayans, you were talking about it was literally
life or death.
The gladiator games, and now we've moved towards a little
more mediated version of that.
JOHN FOX: Yeah, well, it's an interesting question.
One of the things that I found interesting is that very early
on in these ancient games, the object of most of the games
seemed to be to capture a ball and bring it back
to your home territory.
And it seemed to have, again, this symbolism around the
capture of the hunt, of the prey, or agriculturally, of
the Sun and the symbolism around that.
And then it shifted at some point from capturing something
to essentially invading enemy territory, which is what a lot
of our games are.
It's about penetrating the defense and scoring a goal.
So there's that, and somewhere I think there's an interesting
thing that happened, and we moved toward the invasion of
enemy territory.
I think in terms of the actual bounty, obviously, one of the
biggest ones was the idea of getting paid to play the game.
And that was a huge controversy in most of these
sports in the 19th century.
Lacrosse was an interesting example because lacrosse, of
course, was originally a Native American game.
And it was in Montreal where the Native Americans, who were
on reservations there, introduced this game to some
of the Westerners there who thought it was a pretty cool
game, and they started playing it, too.
But of course, the Indians in the surrounding communities
were way better than the white guys who were
playing this game.
There was no contest.
But the Indians were dirt poor.
They had no money, and so these white clubs would start
paying these Indians to play.
But then they were considered ringers.
So then they established rules, effectively, that no
Indian could play lacrosse in any of these circuits and any
of these clubs.
So the Indians were literally, during that period, banned
from playing their own game.
And it was largely because they were seen as violating
this kind of amateur code and getting paid for it, even
though they were just trying to survive.
And there's a lot of stories like that--
that period of time where the people were really grappling
with this idea of sports being gentlemen's games played for
love of nation or amateur ideals versus getting paid.
And obviously, that all kind of got blown up along the way.
But I think it's still with us when you see debates around
NCAA and college football.
There's still a lot of that around.
Like, what's right?
What's wrong?
What's too much?
What are the right reasons to play and the
wrong reasons to play?
Yeah.
AUDIENCE: So now we see all these games as competition.
But you talked about, originally, some of them were
played in monasteries and stuff.
Was it still a competition, or was there some higher goal?
Can you talk about what's the purpose, somehow?
JOHN FOX: Yeah, that's a good question, because
I think it's true.
I think competition's been probably part of it all along,
but there was much more of an emphasis on shared outcomes.

I would say in my view, even with the Kirkwall Ba'--
the crazy game in Orkney--
even though there's ferocious competition and there's a
winner and a loser, the object of that game is the game.
The object of that game is to perpetuate this tradition and
the rules around it, which are the founding rules of that
social order.
To me, that's like the goal of that game.
And the fact that there are winners and losers is
essential to creating the dynamic of a good sport.
But it's not what it's all about.
And at the end of the day, these guys are like--
and I interviewed lots of people-- they were like, it's
how you play the game.
And they don't say it like your kid's coach does, which
is kind of a truism.
But they say it with complete conviction.
This is what it's all about.
It's about keeping this thing alive.
So I think those two things can co-exist.
I think it's more like a sliding scale.
I would say we've kind of slid off maybe one end of that
scale these days with a lot of sports.
Yes.
AUDIENCE: Sort of curious--
how did the spectator, who observes without
participating, come about?
How long has that been around?
JOHN FOX: That's a good question.
I mean, if you look at football, it really was-- at
least for men--
it was pretty much all in.
When you see these scrums, and you see these big games,
everybody played a role.
And even in Orkney, you'd see these 80-year-old men who
wouldn't be the guy in the middle of the scrum--
because their wives would kill them, even though
they want to be there.
But they'd be the guys on the outside of the pack calling
the moves and strategizing--
not coaches, but very much players.
And I think that goes back to medieval times.
I think tennis actually started to break that down a
little bit.
And part of it is you have these galleys, and it was this
kind of elite, royal game.
So ladies would sit on the edges, and people would
gather, and it would be kind of a society affair.
And then getting into the 19th century, then, of course,
people started to figure out that you could
pay for these things.
So I think it started probably pretty early on, but it
started in some sports and not in other sports,
interestingly.

Yeah.
AUDIENCE: It seems like what happens in the [? arcades ?]
is very much something that binds a town together.
And what strikes me as odd is that that's not more common--
that you don't see that in more-- especially small--
communities.

Why is that?
Why are there not more of these kind of examples of
community games that bring towns together?
JOHN FOX: Yeah, I don't know.
I know what you mean.
I'm not sure I agree 100%.
I think there are obviously a lot of communities that are
really brought together by their home team.
I mean, especially college football--
it's crazy.
There was a study down in Tennessee--
a sociological study.

After family, football came before church in Tennessee as
the most important thing to people there.
But of course, there, it's very much my
team versus your team.
But I think those things still exist in some communities.
I just think in a place like Orkney, they've literally
worked really hard at this.
First of all, it's like a tiny rock out in the ocean.
So it's been kind of protected from the ways of the rest of
the world for some time.
So I guess it's been able to sort of live in its bubble,
whereas in other places, people are coming and going.
People are transient.
People are trying to make money off things.
It just changes the dynamic through time.
I don't know.
That's what I'm guessing.
You had a question, sir.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, just a small terminology correction.
Sorry.
The Smith College women's basketball team
were wearing bloomers--
JOHN FOX: Oh, bloomers, OK.
AUDIENCE: --which were a late 19th-century invention for
women's athletics.
JOHN FOX: They were, indeed.
Good call.
They were not wearing Spandex or other useful
materials for play.
Good.
All right, well thank you guys very much.
[APPLAUSE]