Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Does the Superbowl encourages Socialism?

Conservatives & Liberals Pictures, Images and PhotosAfter World War II, during the Eisenhower years America's national past time was shifting from pro baseball to pro football. George Carlin famously characterizes the differences between the two games in his iconic comedy routine Football and Baseball, and in doing so he accurately sketched out the reasons that football has become a much better representative of our modern national psyche than baseball.  Today, pro football's holiest of days, Superbowl Sunday is as important as any other national holiday (with the exception of Christmas). During football season, millions of fans chuck church each Sunday to religiously study the scriptures of fantasy football internet pages and bow at the alter of the large screen plasma game of the week. Other devotees make pilgrimages to the stadium/shrines in painted face while sporting their team's tribal colors and logos, screaming, crying and celebrating like pagans at a sacrifical offering of a goat to the benevelent Gods of pigskin. Multi-national corporations invest multi-millions of dollars in the NFL, pimping out players and teams to promote their products. The NFL has become a symbol of America: our celebration of the competitive spirit where the strongest, smartest, most poised, sneakiest, strongest willed and at times luckiest violent bad ass triumphs.

In many ways America's obsession with the NFL is rooted in our nation's political system. Beyond the obvious similiarities that political elections and NFL contests feed America's hunger for competition (as well as the primitive need for real life heroes and villians) there is a more subtle undercurrent of tension that exists when thinking of the NFL as a representative of the American Way. The NFL really began to come into its own after World War II, when millions of returning soliders were using the G.I. bill to obtain college educations. College football at that time was much more popular than the NFL.  But as this influx in college-educated American males hit the work force four years of college, they took their love for football with them--which eventually began to translate into an interest in the NFL. Many of the conservative stigmas associated with pro football derive from that Eisenhower era of crew cuts and white bucks. The NFL was the sport of the 1950s Conservative American man--a relationship that wouldn't be challenged until the late 1960s (when the brash, long haired Joe Namath guaranteed a victory in Superbowl III and subsequently upset the crew-cut topped Johnny Unitas). But in many ways, the American Conservatism that seemed to permeate from every oriface of the NFL had just been a front. In many ways the NFL had been actually promoting socialism since the New Deal era of FDR.

In 1933, the Philadelphia Eagles, who incidently were named after the logo on FDR's National Recovery Administration's emblem, were owned by Bert Bell (who became commissioner of the NFL in January of 1946). As the owner of the Eagles, Bert Bell was getting tired of watching the same 2 or 3 teams always winning the league championship year after year, so at a league meeting in 1935 he addressed the other team owners, saying this:

 "I've always had the theory that pro football is like a chain. The league is no stronger than its weakest link...Every year the rich get richer and the poor get poorer...I propose, at the end of each football season...that we pool the names of all eligible college seniors. Then we make our selections in the reverse order of the standings--that is, the lowest-ranked team picks first. We do this round after round until we have exhausted the supply of college players." 

The idea of the wieghted draft, in which the weakest teams would get the better pick of the college talent was a direct shot at free market capitalism if there ever was one.  I mean substitute the words "pro football" and "college players" with "the auto industry" and "electric cars" and you have the makings of Barack Obama stump speech.

In 1947, (now Commissioner) Bell was foreshadowing Obama campaign rhetoric once again when, after a gambling scandal threatened the NFL, he put forth a measure to insure that the league conveyed the utmost transparency in terms of reporting the playing condition of each player by requiring that the league "publish in advance of each game a list of players who were injured and would be unable or unlikely to play." This laid the groundwork for the detailed weekly injury lists that have become such a large part of the NFL experience. Bell stated that "Professional football cannot continue to exist unless it is based on absolute honesty...the game and its players must be kept free from corruption." Once again, a far cry from Romenyesque Deregulation ideology.

By the 1980s as the NFL evolved, it digested other Socialistic mechanisms. Revenue sharing for instance, which allows each team in the league an equal share of all TV revenue that the league brings in--thereby "spreading the wealth around". We have also seen the NFL adopt salary minimums and salary maximums (Those Marxist bastards!!!). We have seen the league adopt regulations that protect the health and safety and working conditions of its players (too bad we can't just fire the players and replace them with half-clothed children in China, Romney must be thinking).  And we have seen the NFL take a pro-union stance.  In short, the longest-lasting, most successful Industry in America right now has a socialistic business model. Which beckons the question that "If socialism worked for the NFL then why not try it on other U.S. industries?"

                         For a more indepth study of the history of the NFL I suggest the thoroughly researched
America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a NationAmerica's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation by Michael MacCambridge--which was suggested to me by Victor Harris, the superb author of
http://smokingmule.blogspot.comAmerica's Game is a very enjoyable account of the history of the NFL.  I therefore give it a coveted 5 out of 5 WagemannHeads.

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