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Sport

American Football Through the Magnum Archive

To mark the occasion of the 2020 Super Bowl we look at the Magnum archive's coverage of the most popular sport in America

Martin Parr Abilene Christian University Wildcats at Oklahoma, join in pre-match prayer. USA. 1995. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn The head cheerleader and the football captain embrace after a game. Their team had just won a game for the first time in three years. USA. Seattle, Washington. 1955. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn Instant of the winning goal by the New York Cosmos at Giants Stadium. Meadowlands. New Jersey. 1978 © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson American football. Ann Arbor University. Michigan. USA. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos
Eli Reed Football practice at Martin Luther King High School on the side of the road. The football field is scheduled for completion in 2000. Chicago. Illinois. USA. 1998. © Eli Reed | Magnum Photos
Alex Webb Football practice. Florida City, FL. USA. 1989. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos
Bruce Davidson Yale football. New Haven, Connecticut. USA. 1954. © Bruce Davidson | Magnum Photos
Alec Soth Rosebud-Lott vs. Waskom. Class 2A-Division II high school football playoffs. South Lake, Texas. USA. 2013. © Alec Soth | Magnum Photos
Constantine Manos Harvard students play football on campus. Cambridge, Massachusetts. USA. 1965. © Constantine Manos | Magnum Photos
Bruce Davidson Yale football. New Haven, Connecticut. USA. 1954. © Bruce Davidson | Magnum Photos
Constantine Manos High school football game, White Stadium. Boston, Massachusetts. USA. 1974. © Constantine Manos | Magnum Photos
During a game of American football. USA. Circa 1938. © The Heirs of W. Eugene Smith | Magnum Photos.
Leonard Freed Football team. South Carolina. USA. 1963. © Leonard Freed | Magnum Photos
Burt Glinn High school football and cheerleaders. USA. 1955. © Burt Glinn | Magnum Photos
Wayne Miller High school football players. Chicago. Illinois. USA. 1946. © Wayne Miller | Magnum Photos
Martin Parr On the sidelines before a football game at the University of Central Oklahoma. USA. 1995. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Thomas Hoepker Football practice in evening light. Butte, Montana. USA, 1963. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos
Gregory Halpern Lewis at football practice. Omaha, Nebraska. USA. 2005-2018. © Gregory Halpern | Magnum Photos
Hiroji Kubota Aerial view of football stadium. San Diego. California, USA. 1989. © Hiroji Kubota | Magnum Photos
Leonard Freed Football game. Brooklyn. New York City. USA. 1963. © Leonard Freed | Magnum Photos
Richard Kalvar West Point cadets at the Army-Navy football game. Philadelphia. USA. 1976 © Richard Kalvar | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Pre-match warm-up for a college football game. Even the half walking wounded attend. Marcos de Niza High School, Tempe, Arizona. USA. © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
Constantine Manos From "American Color" Dallas. Texas. USA. 1989. © Constantine Manos | Magnum Photos
Leonard Freed Bedford Stuyvesant Area. Brooklyn, USA. 1963. © Leonard Freed | Magnum Photos
Philippe Halsman French actor and film director Jacques Tati. © Philippe Halsman | Magnum Photos
Constantine Manos Team mascot and player, Boston, Massachusetts. USA. 1974. © Constantine Manos | Magnum Photos
David Hurn Student football run-around on the campus grounds of ASU. Tempe. Arizona. USA. 1979 © David Hurn | Magnum Photos
Eli Reed Football practice at Martin Luther King High School on the side of the road. The football field is scheduled for completion in 2000. Chicago. Illinois. USA. 1998. © Eli Reed | Magnum Photos
Eli Reed A young football player in the locker room at Martin Luther High School. Chicago. Illinois. USA. 1998. © Eli Reed | Magnum Photos
Eli Reed A Coral Gables High School football player flirts with a girl standing in the bleachers. The Death of Football. Coral Gables. Florida. USA. 1998. © Eli Reed | Magnum Photos
Alex Majoli American soldiers playing football. Iraq. April 8, 2003. © Alex Majoli | Magnum Photos
Bruce Davidson Yale football. New Haven, Connecticut. USA. 1954. © Bruce Davidson | Magnum Photos
Paolo Pellegrin New York Giants headquarters. East Rutherford, New Jersey. USA. January 25, 2008. © Paolo Pellegrin | Magnum Photos
Alex Webb High school football team. Mound Bayou. Mississippi. USA. 1976. © Alex Webb | Magnum Photos
Richard Kalvar American sculpteur Duane Hanson at O.K. Harris, his Soho gallery. New York. USA. 1969. © Richard Kalvar | Magnum Photos
Eli Reed Former Coral Gables High School football player Rafael Burgos sits as a lone fan on the bleachers. Florida. Coral Gables. USA. 1998. © Eli Reed | Magnum Photos

Once a year the world of (American) football expands beyond its typical parameters, metamorphosing from a national obsession to an international distraction. The focus for this change is the Super Bowl: the annual championship match of the National Football League (NFL). The match has, since 1967, been played between January and February – and the day of the game has over time become an unofficial holiday in the United States. The Super Bowl is second only to the UEFA Champion’s League final in terms of global audience. In the States alone the event is watched by a TV audience that exceeds an average of 100 million viewers at any given time over the (usually) more than three and a half hours that the game takes to be played.

It is perhaps hard for non-Americans to grasp the outsize place that football holds in many aspects of American life, where its focal position in the education system – as a route for institutional funding and as a means by which players can secure education opportunities beyond their financial means – makes it a keystone in many communities, not least rural or disadvantaged ones. For high schools and universities football is holy and leaves the other American sports – baseball (‘America’s pastime’) and basketball – in runners-up positions. While national audiences can be split along the college versus pro divide within football, the Super Bowl tends to grab the attention of all, with the day of the event now famously the date upon which Americans consume more food than any other, bar Thanksgiving. The day after the Super Bowl has also famously become the day on which the most Americans call in sick from work – presumably attributable to the match’s longevity in conjunction with the aforementioned issues around over-consumption.

Over recent years the sport has fallen under increased scrutiny in terms of safety, with growing concerns over brain damage leading to debate, calls for reform, self-scrutiny, and strenuous denial of the dangers from various quarters. In the 2016 season football player Colin Kaepernick started refusing to stand for the National Anthem while it was performed before games, in protest over the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police – brought at the time to widespread scrutiny through the Black Lives Matter movement. By the end of the season Kaepernick had started to kneel and has been followed in his protest by other footballers and sports personalities since.

Magnum’s photographers have, over more than seven decades, photographed football culture in America. From the famed Army versus Navy game – played before ranks of recruits, to high school teams training in city parks, soldiers playing in the dust of Iraq, the accompanying cheer leaders, crowds, and pageantry; the archive hints at the place the sport holds in American life and society. Here we share a selection of those images held in the Magnum archive.