History of Football

History of Football Courses

The History of Football series is a fascinating and moving look back on the birth and evolution of the American game as it played out against the changing sociopolitical and cultural context of America from the 1930s until today. You'll learn the real history of the game and its players while you relive some of football's greatest moments through highest-quality documentary films, lectures, and podcasts.




The Birth and Growth of Football in America

Why is football so popular? Explore football’s early years and how it changed American culture as it expanded its appeal to audiences in every region of the country. Examine the intersection of football and social trends, and learn what challenges football faces as it continues to evolve.

  • Describe the position of football in American culture as it began to expand its appeal to different geographic areas of the country, as well as establish a professional level, while also understanding the challenges it continued to face as it grew 
  • Describe the ways that college football players of color have experienced racial discrimination, how these instances reflect broader trends in American society, and how these players have navigated this challenging environment over time 
  • Give examples of how significant developments in college football are inextricably linked to trends in American society more broadly 




The Social and Racial Dimensions of Football in America

What does football have to do with social justice? Examine the history of racial discrimination in college and professional football, and how opportunities for players of color have grown over time. Look at the relationship between Native American symbols and the sport, and consider the ways in which football has served as a platform for players to engage in social protest.

  • Discuss how African American players have experienced racial discrimination in professional football and why these challenges endure, even as opportunities for these players have grown dramatically over time  
  • Give examples of how Native Americans have engaged with football over time and how football retains Native American nomenclature and symbols even as the number of Native American players is much smaller than it once was  
  • Explain the ways in which football has served as a useful platform for players to engage in social protest and pursue social justice




The Financial Dimensions of Football in America

Football is big business at both the professional and college level. How do stadiums and television fuel the consumption of football? Should college players be paid, and what about the power of professional player unions? And why have other leagues never successfully challenged the NFL?

  • Explain the importance of the business dimensions of the game, including television and stadiums, and understand how these aspects impact and shape the consumption of football 
  • Describe why colleges, universities, and later the NCAA have all insisted that football players should not be paid, while players have persistently fought against this perceived injustice  
  • Discuss why the players unionized, how they have operated as a unionized entity, and how successful they have been during periodic labor disputes




The Reach and Impact of Football in America and Around the World

Not only is football a booming American export, it has fueled the popularity of cheerleading and youth football. Is there a shadow side to football or these related organizations? Explore also the risk of brain injuries for players, and the measures currently being taken to minimize the physical toll of football.

  • Explain why cheerleading has grown in popularity over time, and why it has remained problematic  
  • Discuss youth football's rise in popularity and the current challenges faced by the sport  
  • Explain the NFL's and NCAA's historic attempt to downplay the seriousness posed by brain injuries, and the measures currently being taken to manage and minimize the human physical toll of football 

$25 / course

Required: ESPN+ subscription ($6.99 / month, cancel anytime)

Recommended Book: Season of Saturdays: A History of College Football in 14 Games
(ISBN 978-1451627824)

Contact Hours:
4 - 6 hours per course

Access / Completion Time:
3 Months Per Course

Photo of Todd Cleveland

Todd Cleveland

Professor, University of Arkansas

Dr. Todd Cleveland is a professor in the UA Department of History and is a trained historian of Africa. He is deeply 
interested in sports history, and has published two books on sports in Africa and Europe. He has also written books 
on the history of tourism and the history of diamonds in Africa. He is a huge football fan.