Friday, May 11, 2012

"The Un-American Pastime"

“Football is a Socialist sport.” 


Okay, this is simple.  And hopefully persuasive.

First, what is Socialism?  Socialism is sharing.  Everyone gets an equal portion of the pot.  (I was going to look up “Socialism” in the dictionary, but my arms feel particularly spindly today, and my dictionary is heavy.  But I think I’m pretty close on this.)

Unlike any other major sporting enterprises, which pays “lip service” to equalizing the purchasing power (for players) among the large and small market teams, making franchises from all venues more equally competitive, promoting a level playing field if you will, NFL Football actually has a level playing field. 

How so?  The “pot” – in the NFL’s case, the multi-billion dollar television contract – is split equally among all 32 National Football League teams.

Sounds kind of Socialist, doesn’t it? 

Sharing the pot equally?  That’s more than the All-American idea of “equal opportunity” – “Everybody’s got a field; everybody’s got two goal posts.”  That’s edging towards “equal outcome” among the teams, or at least the greater chance at an equal outcome.

As a result of the NFL’s “everyone gets the same” split of the money, unlike in other sports, where Kansas City will always stink (except once) and the Yankees will always have a shot at the playoffs (baseball), where the Lakers will always be contenders and Sacramento may have to move (basketball), small market NFL teams like the Green Bay Packers can compete on an equal footing with the New York Giants

The evidence?  Who won the Super Bowl last season?  The Giants.  Who won it the year before?  The Packers.  


Sometimes, Socialism is the way to go. 

(And it doesn’t bring down the Republic.)

Parity of this nature would never occur in a capitalist free market environment.  The NFL “got” that.  So they “went Socialist” in the money splitting.  It is true that such an arrangement is easier to pull off when the revenue – as in the case of the NFL – emanates from a single source – the TV deal – but still.  They didn’t have to do it, and they did.

They chose Socialism.

Pure and simple.


Not only is the NFL’s financial arrangement Socialist, but, I would submit, the fundamental nature of football itself is Socialist.

(I can feel Texans getting really angry at me.  And those guys have weapons.)

What do I mean by saying football is fundamentally Socialist?  I mean this.  If Socialism – as opposed to the defining American value of individualism – means putting the collective group ahead of the interests of the individual…

Football and Socialism are one and the same.  

(I can feel steam coming out of people’s ears.  Though I may be exaggerating my powers to inflame.) 

It’s true, there is passing and “assists” in basketball and hockey, but there is no other major sport in which personal sacrifice for the “greater good” is a more integral to the game than they are in football.

And not just sometimes.  On every.  Single.  Play.

The ball is hiked.  The linemen execute their assignments.  For personal advantage?  Not at all.  They are making a hole for the running back to break through.  The quarterback pretends he still has the ball – potentially sacrificing his body – to decoy the defense from identifying the hand-off. 

Or, on a “play-action” pass, the running back is the decoy – and he sacrifices his body – buying time for the intended receiver to complete his route. 

The wide receiver catches the ball, and a teammate blocks an opposing player – sacrificing his body – so that the receiver can gain yardage after the catch, and possibly even score.

A couple of examples.  There are certainly others; I claim minimal expertise in my understanding of football.  But even a novice can see that nothing happens in football without the entire team coordinating their efforts and abilities, placing “us” before “me”, “giving themselves up” play after play, to achieve the ultimate, collective objective.

Socialism, anyone?

Baseball, on the other hand, is truly American.  Yes, there’s the double play, there’s “moving the runner along”, there’s hitting the cutoff man and the relay.  But beyond those, can you identify any other “team” elements in baseball, which is, I would argue, an individual game played within the constructs of a team game?

Think about it. 

You pitch alone.  You bat alone.  You field alone (as any substandard right fielder feels in the pit of his stomach when a fly ball is lofted in his direction).   

You steal a base or get thrown out alone.  You hit or miss the cut-off man alone.  And if you’re the catcher holding the ball as the baserunner comes barreling towards the plate,

You break your collarbone alone.

Baseball is a game wherein successful individual efforts lead to victory for the team.  Isn’t that the essence of capitalism?  If every individual does great, the country as a whole does great?  “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA”?  (If you forget about the bailout?)

Maybe that’s why I identity more with baseball than I do with football.  As a writer, I am undeniably one component of a team, all of us working to produce a successful show.  But when I’m writing, in the process of delivering my contribution to the overall team effort…

I am entirely alone.

I am quintessentially American.

Baseball is quintessentially American.


I don’t know.  Do they throw a Red Flag?

I can’t remember.


pumpkinhead said...

for the spindly.

Verification words: orketiti lisurap

...for obvious reasons.

Canda said...

Earl, impressed that you are familiar with the character of "Fibber McGee". I occasionally listen to his radio show on CD. One man with a unique voice, Don Quinn, wrote them all. Not much plot. Just an excuse to let some fun characters walk into the house and make observations on whatever Fibber McGee and his wife, Molly, were dealing with. Once you develop a taste for the show, it has its pleasures. Same is true of The Fred Allen Show. Oh, I'm afraid I agree more with Ken Levine on the Tracy Morgan line, but "30 Rock" is not strictly a character comedy, and usually eschews real emotion of any kind. More of a mockumentary.