“Two things only the people anxiously desire -- bread and circuses.”
Look no further than NFL football and its myriad machismo delights.
Fierce armor-clad gladiators applying wicked hits, battering each other relentlessly, engaging in bone-jarring collisions, and performing feats of near super-human athleticism.
Provocatively undressed cheerleaders manifesting our culture's ideal of feminine perfection.
Rivers of ice cold beer gushing forth to satiate our desire to numb the mind and lower inhibitions.
And lest we forget, the NFL provides us with "Man Law" to shield us from our long repressed anima, which is constantly poised to assail our grossly exaggerated masculinity.
For about six precious months of the year, the National Football League delivers heavy doses of testosterone, blood, adrenaline, and alcohol. Man fuel for its addicted minions. Through the grace of our corporate gods, a host of media innovations (including a network devoted to the NFL and painstakingly detailed year round analyses) have significantly diminished the agony of off-season withdrawal.
What could better reflect the collective psychosis of the American Empire than our mass obsession with the NFL? Born through violent revolution, expanded by genocide, enriched by slavery, and elevated to hegemony through imperialism, militarism, and economic tyranny, the United States, like NFL football, embodies avaricious savagery masked by a fastidiously maintained illusion of benevolent civility.
Arising from the same fetid bogs of spiritual decay that spawned the American Way, the NFL reeks with the stench of corporate tyranny, patriarchy, racism, superficiality, greed, competitiveness, and materialism.
Like the Roman Emperors, our corporate overlords provide their loyal subjects, with panem et circenses. While hundreds of thousands of human beings (including US Americans) are dying to advance United States geopolitical interests in Central Asia and the Middle East, many US Americans are more concerned with Peyton Manning's prowess under center, LaDainian Tomlinson's bushel basketfuls of touchdowns, or T.O.'s latest outrageous escapade.
In a 1992 speaking engagement concerning his book, Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky observed:
Take, say, sports -- that's another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it -- you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that's of no importance. [audience laughs] That keeps them from worrying about -- [applause] keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it's striking to see the intelligence that's used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in -- they have the most exotic information [more laughter] and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.
It is worth noting that in a few weeks, about 125 million of the Empire's citizens will settle in for a day of hedonistic pleasure. Hallmark Cards calculated that the Super Bowl surpasses New Year's Eve as the biggest party day of the year. US Americans consume more food on "Super Sunday" than any day except Thanksgiving. Super Bowl celebrants will engorge themselves with about 15,000 tons of chips and 4,000 tons of popcorn. (1) Meanwhile, 35,000 human beings will die of starvation. (2) and our government will continue pouring half of our tax dollars into the murder machine they euphemistically refer to as the Department of "Defense".
In exchange for diverting the attention of the masses from our ruling elites' horrendous misdeeds, the obscenely opulent owners of NFL teams receive generous helpings of *corporate welfare, an exemption from anti-trust laws, and the freedom to extort the public.
It Taxes the Imagination
It may seem unbelievable, but the Daniel Snyder's of this world are entitled to tax benefits for a portion of the salaries they pay to players. US tax laws actually enable NFL owners to depreciate their employees, thus classifying football players as business capital rather than human beings.
When an owner sells their team, their profits are taxed as capital gains. Hence these bloated plutocrats pay a lesser tax rate than we do on our wages or salaries.
And remember those exorbitant skybox seats that average Joes can only afford in their dreams? Since 50% of the money businesses spend on NFL outings is tax deductible, corporate elites luxuriate from "on high" for half price. (3)
What Happened to Welfare Reform?
In the late 20th Century, the public spent $20 billion to subsidize the construction of new sports stadiums. [Who knows how much higher that figure would be were we to include the many interest free loans and tax free bonds lavished upon professional sports team owners]? (4)
Logically, one wonders what the working people got in return for such "investments".
Here is what the Cato Institute concluded:
The professional sports environment in the 37 metropolitan areas in our sample had no measurable impact on the growth rate of real per capita income in those areas.
The professional sports environment has a statistically significant impact on the level of real per capita income in our sample of metropolitan areas, and the overall impact is negative.
For example, the arrival of a new basketball franchise in a metropolitan area increases real per capita income by about $67. But building a new arena for that basketball team reduces real per capita income by almost $73 in each of the 10 years following the construction of the new arena, leading to a net loss of about $6 per person.
Want more evidence of the fatuous groupthink plaguing the United States? Take note of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. He owns the Seattle Seahawks and is on the public dole with the rest of the NFL "billionaires club." In 2000, Allen demanded that the state of Washington pony up 75% of the $425 million "necessary" to build a new stadium for his team. His net worth at that time? $40 billion. Despite his nearly unlimited financial means, the state feared Allen's threats to move the Seahawks and met his demand. (5)
Who Has Boardwalk and Park Place?
Operating as a "legal" monopoly enables NFL owners to manipulate their market and keep the demand for professional football teams artificially higher than the supply. Refusing to accommodate cities that desire (and are capable of sustaining) pro football organizations allows the monopolists to inflate the values of their teams. For example, from 1997 to 1998 the average value of a professional sports team rose from $146 million to $196 million.
The NFL cartel further empowers these moneyed elites to successfully insist upon insane television revenues. Who picks up the tab? The cost is ultimately recouped from the fans in the form of increased cable TV rates and higher prices (to offset retailers' higher advertising costs during NFL games).
The Football Trust also endows men like Paul Allen with the power to extort money from taxpayers. (6)
According to economist and author Andrew Zimbalist, the Justice Department could take action against the NFL, but it is "susceptible to political pressure not to upset sports." (7) What a shocking revelation!
Hey, Coaches, Leave Our Kids Alone!
Lamentably, the NFL also reflects the covert, and sometimes overt, racism which still pervades our society. In a March 2006 interview with former NFL player Anthony Prior (about Prior's book, The Slave Side of Sunday) James Harris noted that:
"In the NFL, 65% of the player force, as you know and well document in the text, are Black. Six percent of the general managers are Black. No, as you noted, no owners in the NFL are Black." (8)
Later in the interview, Prior commented:
This is what I call "mental slavery." Slavery is not limited to bondage and chains. You got parents, preachers, teachers, coaches, fundamentally imposing these characteristics on these young Black children in America, that without sports, you're going to amount to nothing. Every Black athlete we see on a professional level, he is one in 12,000. There are two things that can't lie: That's God and mathematics.
Prior's quote underscores what is perhaps the NFL's greatest sin. Mirroring the deeply duplicitous Horatio Alger portrayal of upward mobility in the US socioeconomic hierarchy, the NFL, its loyalists, and a multitude of college and high school coaches perpetuate pernicious myths. Myths that motivate our children, particularly those who are Black and impoverished, to pursue pipe dreams, embrace vacuous values, and severely skew their priorities.
Contrary to the fallacious belief that football is a viable route to a free college education, only 20% of college athletes receive full scholarships. At least 55% play with zero financial assistance. A 1996 study determined that a mere 45% of Black college football players attained their degrees.
Another study revealed that 66% of Black teenagers believe that they will become professional athletes. 33% of White teenagers share the same misconception.
Here are some sobering statistics which reveal the virtual impossibility of their dream:
The US population is 300 million. In 2000 the US Census indicated there were 10 million males of typical NFL draft age. Each individual's odds of experiencing life as an NFL player drop precipitously when one considers that there are only 15,000 football players eligible for the draft each spring. Of those 15,000, 160 young men secure NFL roster spots. 160 out of 10 million!
While it is understandable that many Black teens facing significant structural barriers to escaping a life of poverty aspire to be the next Michael Vick, Harry Edwards, a Black sports sociologist, put their false hopes and vain efforts into perspective:
"Statistically, you have a better chance of getting hit by a meteorite in the next ten years than getting work as an athlete." (9)
Imagine what our youth (and the rest of us) could accomplish if we focused more of our time, energy, resources, and efforts on attainable goals and socially redeeming activities.
Right here in the United States over a million people are homeless at any given moment. Tens of millions lack proper nutrition and access to health care. Our infant mortality rate is the highest amongst industrialized nations. Untold numbers caught in Katrina's Diaspora are still scattered to the four corners of the Earth. One in seven US Americans live below poverty level.
And if enough of us amongst the poor and working class united, it would be within our collective power to alleviate the suffering of those in need.
Yet we choose to subsidize billionaires like Paul Allen and to immerse ourselves in NFL football, the product of an entity that embodies nearly all the reprehensible traits of predatory American Capitalism.
Our unitary executive has run roughshod over our Constitution, caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents, and blatantly violated the Nuremberg Principles. In his recent television address, the Decider informed us that he will defy the will of the American people by sacrificing more of our own and escalating the genocide against the Iraqi people.
And it would not be beyond our capacity to end these horrendous crimes against humanity. Without the complicity of the masses, Bush, Cheney, et al would be rendered impotent.
Yet we choose to remain transfixed by the alluring seductions of the NFL and its corporate partners.
Regrettably, it appears that many of us in the United States suffer from the delusion that the rest of the world exists to provide for our comfort, pleasure, and prosperity.
Pity we're too busy "living NFL and drinking Diet Pepsi" to notice the staggering numbers of emaciated, mutilated, and obliterated human beings we are leaving in our wake as we "protect our way of life."
is a wage slave of the American Empire who has freed himself
intellectually and spiritually. He writes prolifically; his essays
have appeared widely on the Internet, and he volunteers at a homeless
shelter. He welcomes constructive correspondence at:
or via his blog:
Thomas Paine's Corner.
* Author's Note: Tragically ironic, isn't it, that a nation obsessed with cutting "entitlement programs" to uplift the poor is so eager to dole out freebies to those wallowing in excess wealth?
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