Confessions Of An Early Non-Football Guy | How Madden Made Me Love The Sport

Image Credit: Twitter @BSSportsbook screen shot

Growing up, I was not a heavy football guy.

As a resident of the Bronx, born and raised in Harlem, my sports world lay strictly in basketball and boxing.

Concrete Jungle

There wasn’t enough grass for football in General Grant Housing Projects, where my family was forged, and my grandmother watched over me while my parents tirelessly worked.

Concrete, hoops, and handball; the New York City way.

However, as I aged and began to pick up the video game sticks instead, the world of sports was never the same. From FIFA to NHL, sports that I would typically never entertain in real life became accessible and understandable to me through the television screen.

The Madden Factor

However, when Madden hit the scene, it eternally changed my perspective on the pigskin. Not only did I now sit behind the digital clipboard of Coach John Madden, the man responsible for the indomitable early reputation of the Oakland Raiders, but I could understand the finesse behind the game better as well.

I also saw myself in the players.

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When the late ’80s and early ’90s video game console wars were in full effect, Sega executed a five-prong strategy for beating Nintendo. In part, they introduced more sports games to the market, so not surprisingly, Madden NFL, known as John Madden Football until 1993, was introduced.

“It’s In The Game”

Once EA Sports began to dominate the football video game genre, video game executive Gordon Bellamy triggered an innovation to change mine and millions of other Black people’s perspectives on digital inclusion.

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In a sport that at the time and still has Black player majority, Bellamy suggested something radical: make the in-game athletes reflect the actual game.

As an executive at EA Sports, Bellamy suggested adding African-American players to the game.

The Audacity of Hope

“I’m Black, and I’m gay,” said Bellamy in Netflix’s “High Score” episode 4, “This Is War.” “When you grow up African-American and gay, you’re taught there’s a different set of rules that you’re going to always have to play by,” Bellamy said.

“For me, games were a place where the rules were the same. Where I could be my best me because we’re all playing by the same set of rules.”

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Madden NFL ’95 is the first Madden title to feature Black players. Archaically, video game technology had all the players in the game as one race. It was also the first time Black people were on a major sports game cover.

Finally Famous

Like Bellamy, Madden NFL was one of the first times I felt a part of something larger, that the contributions of players that look like me mattered.

The whole world would ingest the content and desire to be Black players who could achieve fantastical feats on this digital playing field with characters who looked like us. This was incredibly impactful for white America, which was not used to a gaming complexion change.

However, Madden signaled we were here now, and the way the game actually looked was heralded.

The Revolution Is Digital

The revolution would be digitized, and Madden led that charge for late football bloomers like me.

“For marginalized people, a lot of energy is devoted to justifying your existence in spaces, so when you see yourself placed as default, it has real meaning. It matters,” Bellamy explained in High Score.

With John Madden transitioning to the ancestors, we can all be thankful for his legacy and his brand’s foray into the diversity that changed the game for people like me.


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Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.