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Luke Furman

Amplified Observations: Sports references abundant in ‘emotional hardcore’ music

Could anyone picture that same cigarette-addicted, longhaired chump going long for the game-winning touchdown?

When one considers the subject matter of emo music, one might picture a dejected lead singer pouring his heart out about his former girlfriend, his broken ambitions or the social alienation he faces on a seemingly minute-by-minute basis. Yet, could anyone picture that same cigarette-addicted, longhaired chump going long for the game-winning touchdown?

As an avid fan of emo music — a genre originally founded in the late 1980s as a hardcore punk offshoot dubbed “emotional hardcore” — I have listened to my fair share of classic bands, including Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Rites of Spring, as well as the newer revival bands like Dads, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die and Snowing, to name a few.

During my exploration of this type of music, I never understood the numerous references to sports and sports terminology.

Several other genres are plentiful in their athletic allusions including hip-hop (“N*ggas In Paris,” “Sweet Serenade,” “Hard In Da Paint”) and some rock (“Centerfield,” “Glory Days,” “The Boxer”), but it appears to be an odd fit for a type of music based on heavy emotions, slower tempos and hauntingly shimmering guitars.

To back up my claim, I’ll first give mention to one of the most famous and critically acclaimed emo bands to ever record: American Football. The Illinois quartet released a lone, self-titled album in 1999, which critics and fans met with praise alike, cementing it as a staple of the genre all in the name of gridiron glory.

Other bands followed suit in naming themselves, such as Modern Baseball, whose first album is titled Sports, Ben Gibbard’s (Death Cab for Cutie) side project All-Time Quarterback and the Nashville-based group Free Throw.

Songs and in-song references are another sad story and far more plentiful.

Cap’n Jazz’s first song on their seminal 1998 compilation release Analphabetapolothology is called “Little League.”

Snowing’s acclaimed 2009 F*ck Your Emotional Bullshit EP features two song titles (out of five) referencing sports: “Pump Fake” and “Methuselah’s Rookie Card.”

The Houston-based band football.etc takes it to another level by naming nearly all of their songs after sports (“First Down,” “Away Game,” “Hut 1,” “Audible,” among many others) as an obvious satire of the practice, yet still maintain a solid emo sound with good production.

All of this begs the question: Why? Why do emo and sports go hand-in-hand unlike the lead singer’s ex-girlfriend?

One of two theories, or a combination of both, might explain this phenomenon that has stumped scientists, medical experts and kids hanging around Hot Topic for years.

The first hypothesis is that sports and their significance are ingrained in emo bands’ members. Since the majority of American emo bands originate from the Midwest, a conservative culture that emphasizes high school and collegiate athletics, it would not be a far stretch to assert that they are simply writing about what they know or what they perceive is culturally important. I mean, who doesn’t use a sports metaphor to knock an argument out of the park every now and again?

It isn’t hard to decipher why The Get Up Kids called their first album Four Minute Mile, since it was probably something their overweight physical education instructor yelled at them while wearing inappropriately short short-shorts.

The second hypothesis, and probably more plausible one, is that emo bands use sports in an ironic, spiteful sense. Although classic stereotypes have melted into each other in the 21st century, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t think that “jocks” and “emo enthusiasts/punkers” did not get along with each other at one point (the ’80s and ’90s, perhaps?).

One wouldn’t walk into a 1980s football locker room and hear The Cure playing through the loudspeakers as the linebackers talked about how they prefer two-hand-touch rather than actually tackling the halfbacks.

Therefore, clearly not jocks themselves, emo musicians took on sports terminology to spite their so-called “meat-head” foes in an ironic and passive-aggressive way. What are the football players going to do to stop them? Ask the bands to change their names and song titles?

These are two personal explanations I have for this strange correlation. Traditions must begin somewhere, but fans of the genre might never know the true origins of this one. But alas, I have a basketball game in an hour and I have to clean my Js, so I really don’t have any more time to think about any of this whiny, emo shit. I just hope the coach keeps all the scrubs on the bench while me and my boys run up the score.

Luke Furman is a freshman at Ohio University studying journalism. Email him at or find him on Twitter @LukeFurmanOU.

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