"American Football" analyzes the game at a watershed moment: standing atop the pyramid of popular sports, with health risks too significant to deny. Football might be fated for a fall from grace, but Radiolab delves through history to understand why the sport means so much in America. There are stories of cultural assimilation, force recruitment, and brotherhood. Whether you're a diehard fan or a football agnostic, you'll think differently about the game after this episode.
If the game of football is just a sport, then talk radio elevates it into a culture. And, Scene on Radio host and producer John Biewen argues, that culture is about a lot more than what happens on the field. The medium has a tendency to bring out the very worst in men, underscoring the elements of football that detractors point to as sexist and violent and neanderthal. But things are slowly shifting. By tracing the gradual progression of famed sports radio host Jim Rome, Biewen makes a case for an evolving standard of what it means to be a man in American culture. Under the guise of sports talk, Rome and his colleagues have articulated a set of rules for today's men. Gone are the celebrations of homophobia and fist bumps and frat guys. In their place stands a new kind of fan: smart, thoughtful, and refined.
The Cleveland Browns gave the host of Brownscast, Max Linsky, rare access to players to create a podcast series about its 2015 season. Even though the Ohio franchise suffers through yet another losing season, the podcast never grumbles over losses (or rah-rahs over wins). Where most football podcasts obsess over stats and records, Brownscast contemplates the personalities hidden underneath the helmets. Linksy came aboard as an outsider -- he's far from a Browns fanatic. The highlights of the series include a candid talk with charismatic cornerback Joe Haden, before and after a pair of season-ending concussions, and a sit-down with with Browns' legend and NFL G.O.A.T. Jim Brown, who tells Linsky five minutes into their conversation, "What I'd prefer you to do is not to be cute," just before they launch into a discussion of race. Brownscast showcases the singular intimacy of podcast interviews. Sitting down with someone in a studio for a conversation beats a postgame podium speech every time.
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Eric McQuade, Laura Standley, and Devon Taylor run The Timbre, a site dedicated to the emerging art of podcasts. Follow the site on Twitter @timbretweet.