Narratively: A Strange Sport's Saddest Season

The Wednesday of the circle rules football season opener in May 2013 is blue and cloudless. The bright sunlight bouncing off the East River is almost blinding. Like most circle rules games, this one will be played at Bushwick Inlet Park in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The official start time is six p.m., but when I arrive a couple minutes early, there are only two guys and a girl hanging out, chatting. One of the men is Colin Weatherby, twenty-nine, the captain of Aristocracy/Flying Mordecais—a combination of what used to be two teams. Today, they face off against the Slow Polks.

Weatherby is sitting with the only female player here today, Mairin Lee, a small brunette, who is executing a deft switch from her work dress into athletic clothes. Circle Rules is a co-ed game, but it’s hard to recruit women. I ask Lee if the guys treat her nicely. “They do at first,” she says, grinning. She’s developed a reputation as a player to fear. “I played a lot of sports growing up – soccer, basketball and volleyball. I would say it’s about as much contact as, if not a little bit more than, soccer.”

Other players are quick to second how hard-core the sport is—especially in contrast to the lighthearted way it has been covered by most media outlets that have discovered it. ESPN’s video overlayed bouncy noises on the footage. The New York Times put its story in theFashion and Style section. It doesn’t help circle rules’ artsy, hipster image much that the game is played by mostly creative types, many of whom have beards, in Williamsburg. With a yoga ball.