Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Communication Studies

First Advisor

Havens, Timothy

First Committee Member

Zajacz, Rita

Second Committee Member

Oates, Thomas

Third Committee Member

Birrell, Susan

Fourth Committee Member

Hayes, Joy


The National Football League (NFL) stands as one of the most visible and dominant organizations within American popular culture. However, despite being at the pinnacle of its popularity and the precipice of its seemingly last obstacle of international expansion, the last decade has seen the league confronting a series of crises that have destabilized and challenged the previously coherent meanings of the sport put out by the league and broadly recirculated within popular discourses. Propelled by these crises, the previously accepted framing of the league as “America's game” has come under increased scrutiny as media, citizens, and public officials critically reevaluate the role and merits of the league in contemporary American society.

In this project I examine three cases situated in or around these crises: (1) the increased awareness of the medical dangers of playing the game, (2) the emergence of luxury stadiums, and (3) the league's philanthropic efforts. These case are an important heuristic lens for examining contemporary tensions between the NFL, identity, community, and commerce. As the league increasingly positions itself as a global media and sport corporation, it is upsetting and reshaping its historical localisms: the relationships to its fans, the cities that host its teams, and even the country which it calls home. Furthermore, the economic pressures of continual capitalist expansion as guided by neoliberal restructuring—favoring privatization, the primacy of unregulated markets, and ideologies of individual determination—require the incessant commodification of not only the NFL and its players, but also its constructed meanings. In examining these cases, this dissertation establishes and analyzes the often contradictory and contested motivations, aspirations, and meanings of the league in contemporary U.S. society.

Public Abstract

The NFL is currently the most dominant popular culture brand in U.S. popular culture. It It is, on a week-to-week basis, the most popular television program in country while its annual Super Bowl is one of the largest cultural events of the year. Yet, despite the NFL’s record breaking audiences and revenue, not all is as well as it seems. Controversies, scandals, and criticisms have increasingly piled up against the league across a wide breadth of issues, from brain damaged players to public subsidizations of stadiums to increased involvement in social issues. Much of this conflict reveals a mounting tension within the league’s role in contemporary U.S. society. This dissertation, then, examines these sites of conflicts in order to understand the current meanings, motivations, and aspirations of the NFL and its relationship to U.S. culture and society.


publicabstract, Football, Media, NFL, Sport, Stadiums


ix, 231 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 211-231).


Copyright 2016 Adam Rugg

Included in

Communication Commons