From a New Yorker article about Kirk Varnedoe, the art historian:
The appeal of football wasn’t that it “built character”—he knew just how cruddy a character a football player could have. It was that it allowed you to make a self. You were one kind of person with one kind of body and one set of possibilities, and then you worked at it and you were another. This model was so simple and so powerful that you could apply it to anything. It was ordinary magic: you worked harder than the next guy, and you were better than the next guy. It put your fate in your own hands.