In honor of yesterday’s game, we’re re-posting two of our favorite football-related posts. This one and one about how much of a three-hour televised NFL games actually involves the game itself.
MontClair SocioBlog’s Jay Livingston posted the wickedly creative football play embedded below.  The play, pulled off by Driscoll Middle School’s football team (Corpus Christi, TX), is a wonderful example of the importance of a shared understanding of context.  Watch the clip:

Understanding the context of interaction heavily influences what you say and do and how you interpret others’ speech and actions. The behavior that you exhibit on a first date, for example, is very different than the behavior you exhibit in your professor’s office hours, or at Thanksgiving, or at a sports bar with your buddies. The situation shapes whether or not you can get away with bragging, farting, or being withdrawn, drunk, or loquacious.  And it shapes what we expect from others too.  In other words, we often think we know who we are, but who we are actually changes quite dramatically from situation to situation.

In this case, the offense did something entirely unexpected given the understanding of the context.  He isn’t supposed to just get up and walk through the defensive line.  And, so, when he did, the defense took several seconds to figure out what to do.  It’d be like your Grandma getting drunk at Thanksgiving (maybe) or your partner farting on the first date; such behaviors are confounding because it involves deviating from the script determined by the situation.  In Livingston’s words:

In this middle-school football play, the quarterback and center do something unusual for someone in those roles. They don’t violate the official rulebook, but their behavior is outside the norms of the game everyone knows. What’s going on? The defense looks around to the others for their cue as to what to do. They see the offensive line motionless in their stances, and they see their own teammates too looking uncertain rather than trying to make a tackle. So nobody defines the play as having started. But it has. Only when the quarterback, having walked past eight definitionless players, starts running do they arrive at an accurate definition, and by then, it’s too late. Touchdown.

See also our post about virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell in the subway.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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