By Andrew D. Linden and Lindsay Parks Pieper
There is much to criticize in the National Football League (NFL). From the deplorable off-field antics of the players to the inherent brain-damaging violence of the sport, the NFL stands as a powerful bastion of immorality. Despite the apparent and much-discussed transgressions of the league, many scholars are reluctant to give up the spectacle entirely. Sport historians, in particular, oftentimes remain devoted to the NFL, regularly tuning in to cheer for specific teams and athletes. One of us (ADL) remains a loyal (and frequently heartbroken) fan of the Cleveland Browns. Throughout my graduate school tenure at Penn State, I frequently made the three-hour-trek to FirstEnergy Stadium to support the squad. The other (LPP) continues to stand with the New York Giants, even as I live in a sea of Washington football fans. My 2014 fantasy team, Pierre Paul and Mary, took home the first place prize, defeating Linden in the process.
We are both home-town supporters. As academics, however, our fandom leaves us uneasy. Should our feminist leanings automatically push us into a policy of strict non-engagement? Should our concerns about the prevalence of classism, racism, sexism, and homophobia in the NFL lead us to avoid the league entirely?
What are we to do?
Perhaps our struggle to give up the NFL, to simply move on to greener (and more morally permissible) pastures reflects stubbornness. Perhaps we are hypocrites, unable to shed our social privilege. Maybe it points to our inability, as David Zang writes during similar grappling with his Penn State football fandom, to “entertain the possibility that we’ve lived a foolish life.” In any scenario, the NFL, at least for now, is not going away. Perhaps, then, it is wiser to call for change within the system. As Time columnist Eliana Dockterman writes, rather than shutting down and tuning out, it’s best “to scream at the top of [our] lungs.”
Tonight, the Pittsburgh Steelers will run onto the field at New England’s Gillette Stadium to take on the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. In doing so, these two teams will kick off the 2015 professional football season. With peewee, high school, and college varieties of the gridiron game already in motion, the NFL’s Thursday night pageantry adds to American football’s fall launch and ends seven months of pro-football-less weekends.
The beginning of the season also ushers in a (perhaps temporary) conclusion to months of off-the-field drama, highlighted by ongoing front-page news material provided by the Patriots’ deflation of balls. While Tom Brady, Robert Kraft, and Roger Goodell instigated TMZ-like entertainment (and continue to do so) over “Deflategate,” other, more important, instances continue to cast the NFL in poor light.
Domestic violence remains a harbinger of a league run amok. Many teams fail in their attempts to market themselves to female fans, as represented by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ recent launch of “Red: The Buccaneers’ Women’s Movement.” People from far and wide have castigated Daniel Snyder for refusing to change the racist name of the Washington football team. And players frequently retire earlier and earlier because of the always expanding, and devastating, realization of the dangers of the sport. Unfortunately, the loud and raucous roar of fans at stadia and saloons across the country will likely quiet these damning narratives.
Most prominently over the past few weeks have been stories of the new Sony Pictures Entertainment film, Concussion. Based on the developments that led to public awareness of the effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in former NFL players, the movie’s trailer led to discussions of the upcoming film’s potential for social change. However, soon after the launch of the trailer, online hackers released private emails that showed how Sony executives altered the film in a marketing effort to avoid antagonizing the NFL. “We’ll develop messaging with the help of [an] N.F.L. consultant,” read one email, “to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet’s nest.” Another email noted that Sony wanted to avoid “unflattering moments” for the league.
It is not surprising that some business partners comply with NFL desires. Many of the league’s economic associates have their own profits in mind. For example, viewers of HBO’s Hard Knocks often leave the show with warm feelings toward the NFL; the show rarely follows the serious transgressions of players, or focuses on head injuries. Sony, however, has no serious affiliation with professional football. Nonetheless, it bowed down to the Goliath that is the National Football League.
Do we need to continually kowtow to the NFL? Literature on consumer behavior that large corporate institutions (like the NFL) take seriously suggests that we should not.
As marketing scholar Craig A. Martin explains in his study of the NFL: “Socially motivated consumers make purchase decisions based on the social ramifications that they perceive are related to their purchases, and will purchase products that are expected to have positive social implications.” Further, multiple scholars, such as Matthew Walker and Aubrey Kent, find that fans care about the corporate social responsibility of their chosen teams, and they proclaim that NFL teams, in particular, should make such practices an “integral part of their mission.”
Yet, spectators have also detached their fandom from their social views while watching football. As sports agent Leigh Steinberg wrote in 2014, during the midst of the Ray Rice controversy: “Fans appear to distinguish between their abhorrence of domestic violence and condemnation of the perpetrators and league handling them on the one hand, and enjoyment of the sport on the other.” This is beginning to change, however. As Jezebel writer Erin Gloria Ryan explains:
When you pay for an officially-licensed product, or a ticket to an event, or contribute to the audience of a game so that the entity behind the game can charge advertisers more money to advertise products during the game, you are contributing to the entity behind the event or license in a monetary way, even if you feel kind of bad about it when you’re doing it.
Increasingly, fans are beginning to agree with Ryan. Furthermore, writers such as Keith Olberman, Michael Tracey, and Ta-Nehisi Coates have made public calls for NFL boycotts.
While ridding the country of all the problems that football causes may, for some, be a viable (and preferable) option, the amount of money in the game today engenders a different approach. Big-time football listens to its customers. And scholars continue to suggest that team commitment and the fostering of lifelong fans remains of the utmost importance to the economic sustainability of the sport.
And, perhaps most importantly, there are historical examples of football changing its ways because of public pressures regarding social concerns.
Violence and Institutional Change
The NFL is undoubtedly a dominate force today; however, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, college football garnered the most fans. Because both the larger public and sport practitioners lauded amateurism as ideal, many frowned upon the pro game. Widespread belief held that “gentlemen” should not profit from their sporting prowess. Hence, the public celebrated the college game while they spurned professional football as lowbrow and disorganized. Yet, although increasingly popular in the early 1900s, college football also faced social misgivings. The sport’s leaders adjusted the parameters of the game when social outcry demanded reform.
The crisis of public confidence reached a head during the 1905 season. Newspaper accounts suggested that football caused numerous deaths, thereby sparking social panic. For example, the Washington Post claimed that, between 1900 and 1905, at least forty players died from broken backs, broken necks, concussions, and internal injuries. A particular incident that occurred in a match in October 1905 between Swarthmore College and the University of Pennsylvania further fanned public concern. In the game, Robert “Tiny” Maxwell suffered a broken nose, but continued to play despite blood streaming down his face and his eyes swelling shut. Popular mythology suggests that a newspaper published an image of Maxwell’s maligned face, increasing fans’ angst about the violence of the sport. Although many historians dispute the validity of this anecdote because of the impossibility of locating the supposed photograph, the story is in line with newspaper accounts of the era.
Along with the reports of bloodshed, President Teddy Roosevelt, an ardent football supporter, joined the chorus of pleas for reform. In the midst of the bloody 1905 season, he invited delegates from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale to discuss the status and future of the sport. The president called for a reduction of violence; however, his actual influence on changes was limited and has since been overstated.
More influentially, on November 21, 1905, Union College halfback Harold Moore died of cerebral hemorrhaging caused by a football injury. When he attempted to tackle the New York University ball carrier, his teammate accidentally kneed Moore in the head. More so than the image of Maxwell or the White House Conference, Moore’s death sparked mass public outcry. The Chicago Tribune labeled the 1905 season a “death harvest,” while the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune published a political cartoon titled “The Grim Reaper Smiles on the Goal Posts.” Although these accounts greatly over-exaggerated the number of fatalities, the fuel for the public fire had been added.
University faculty and presidents joined the opposition. For example, the dean of the divinity school at the University of Chicago told the New York Times that football was a “social obsession, a boy killing, education-prostituting, gladiatorial sport.” Historian Frederick Jackson Turner, most famous for his “Frontier Thesis,” became caught up in the clamor and called upon the University of Michigan president to reform the sport.
The demands for change, in line with Progressive Era thinking, eventually succeeded. At the end of the brutal 1905 season, representatives from sixty-two academic institutions met to appoint a rules committee. Furthermore, in March of the following year, the sixty-two schools formed the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS), the predecessor to the NCAA. According to historian Ronald A. Smith, while the IAAUS wrestled with other issues, such as commercialization, eligibility, and professionalism, the organization importantly implemented rule changes to curb violence in football. The resultant “Revolution of 1906” added significant regulations to the sport, from doubling the first-down distance to ten yards, to abolishing mass momentum plays, such as the dangerous “flying wedge.” Most significantly, the new stipulations legalized the forward pass, opening the style of play and decreasing collisions.
Yet, much to the public’s chagrin, the 1906 “revolution” actually did little to quash the violence. Following the 1909 season, reports of football deaths again reverberated. And again, public objection emerged. “The criticism that followed that season showed that the participants wanted mainly to solve the injury crisis and preserve the college game,” explains historian John S. Watterson. Football authorities heeded the concern and instituted additional changes to reduce the brutality of the sport. Over the next few years, they further opened the passing game, and even introduced a “roughing the passer” rule. These changes, it seems, occurred because of social anxieties. The adjustments rendered that stemmed from social fears eventually extended into pro football as well.
A “Respectable” Pastime
Throughout the first few decades of professional football’s existence, the American public did not consider it a viable or respectable option for men of a certain status. As historian Richard Crepeau writes, the “upper and middle classes objected to the concept itself.” Many white American males who attended college and played on intercollegiate football teams did not turn pro, as most top-flight prospects attempt to do today. After the NFL formed in 1920, the game still lacked mainstream respectability. It was not until University of Illinois star running back Harold “Red” Grange took to the field with the Chicago Bears in 1925, according to historian John Carroll, that the tide began to shift. For Grange, though, playing professional football remained about money, which continued to frustrate the masses of Americans who preferred the lily-white “amateur” version of the sport be played campuses; public opinion looked down on the sport-commercial nexus. That Grange partnered with the well-known theater and sports owner CC “Cash and Carry” Pyle only exacerbated this view of pro football with many Americans.
One way that many still saw football as representational of professional vice was through gambling and racketeering. Many NFL owners, for instance, came from the world of gambling, crime, and urban politics. Tim Mara, the owner of New York’s Giants, was a member of political machine Tammany Hall. Art Rooney made a fortune at the Saratoga Race Tracks before purchasing the Steelers in 1927. And Charles Bidwell, owner of the Chicago Cardinals, also worked for the Sportsman Park racetrack. Some football fans were aware of these “vices” in the game. But in the 1940s, football’s gambling problem became mainstream.
While gambling and supposed fixes were always tethered to the sport, in 1946 the commissioner Elmer Layden woke to news that players on the New York Giants supposedly had been offered money to throw the league’s championship game versus the Chicago Bears. As historian Michael Lomax documents, a year later, commissioner Bert Bell suspended the two players indefinitely. Importantly, writes Lomax “Press reaction reinforced Bell’s suspension.” Bell also implemented new procedures such as hiring an FBI investigator to monitor gambling in the league, and to improve procedures that would make it harder for gamblers to associate with NFL players. The demand of the press, and consequently the public, it seems, began to change the institutional structure of the league.
The drive for respectability remained for the next few decades. New commissioner Pete Rozelle found gambling still an issue in the early 1960s. In response, he famously suspended star players Alex Karras of the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers’ Paul Hornung for an entire season because of their associations with gambling. Most historians now agree that Rozelle used the players as a scapegoat in order to protect Baltimore Colts’ owner Carroll Rosenbloom, who had a known affinity for the race tracks. Some also argue that the public did not generally care about gambling. In any case, however, Rozelle and the NFL acted on the presupposition that public demand dictate they rid the league of social vice; social sentiment, yet again, led to institutional action. As Crepeau writes: “As the quintessential public relations man, Rozelle placed image at the top of his priority list for the league, and he saw himself as the defender of the “American One Way.” This American one way, throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and even the early 1960s, still held dominant sway in the minds of many Americans.
Drugs and Steroids
By the 1970s, doping emerged as another vice that threatened the league’s respectability. According to writer Jack Scott, drugs and sport were “becoming as common among athletes as the wearing of socks.” For example, in 1963, the San Diego Chargers hired strength coach Alvin Roy who distributed Dianabol, a steroid, to his athletes. The Chargers won the AFL championship that year and became the league’s first “steroid team.” Yet, the Chargers were not the only squad making use of chemical enhancement. According to Sports Illustrated writer Bil Gilbert, there were “some players on almost every NFL and AFL team that have taken drugs.” College player Ken Ferguson agreed. “Anybody who has graduated from college to professional football in the last four years has used them,” he told Gilbert. Although the widespread nature of drug use was well known, explains physical culture scholar Terry Todd, the NFL initially chose “the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ approach to the problem.” Yet, when fans demanded clean sport, the league took notice.
With Reagan’s “War on Drugs” spreading stories of widespread drug use, public concerns bled into sport. In 1984, the NFL reluctantly addressed the issue, focusing solely on the users and abusers of illicit drugs. With no concrete plan in place, the 1983 Collective Bargaining Agreement encouraged players to step forward with personal issues and promised confidentiality for those who did. This half-hearted attempt did little to lessen fan concerns.
The public desire for drug-free sport increased in 1986. On June 19, All-American University of Maryland basketball player Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose, two days after the Boston Celtics selected him as the second overall pick in the NBA draft. Then, just over a week later, Cleveland Brown safety Don Rogers died of a heart attack caused by cocaine use, one day before his wedding. The public and dramatic nature of Bias’ and Rogers’ deaths increased the calls for stricter controls of drug use in sport. As Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post explained, “Rozelle feels the enormous pressure of public outrage. The NFL should have addressed the issue of amphetamines 20 years ago, of steroids 15 years ago, of pain killers 10 years ago and cocaine five years ago. But it didn’t.” Swayed by negative publicity, Rozelle finally instituted changes.
In 1986, the NFL commissioner implemented a new drug policy. The plan required three checks for all players: one at training camp and two unscheduled during the season. Amphetamines, angel dust, cocaine, marijuana, and Quaaludes appeared on the banned substance list; steroids did not. While the initial, tepid policy focused on self-identified drug users, the 1986 plan extended to include those injured by enhanced athletes. “Our concern,” said Rozelle , “is the health and welfare of the players–those taking drugs and those injured by those taking drugs.” However, the NFL commissioner outlined this plan without the permission of the NFL Players Association. It was not until the following year when the two sides reached an agreement and added steroids to the list. In 1987, the NFL instituted an official drug testing policy that permitted year-round testing.
Public outcry prompted Rozelle’s response. As Crepeau explains, “The notion that Rozelle was genuine in these statements defies all credulity. For the commissioner the primary concern was always public perception.” His attention to the fans “took precedence over concern for the players, the integrity of the game, the views of the medical profession, or concerns of the law.” This power of public perception held sway into the next decade.
The “New NFL” and the “Common Fan”
By the 1990s, the NFL became a multi-billion dollar enterprise. The league reached this level, in part, because of its success in three areas: labor, TV contracts, and stadium revenue. Oriard (and others) refers to these successes as the “new NFL.” This “new NFL,” however, generated public debate on the economics of the game, particularly in relation to the socio-economic breakdown of the league’s fan bases. In the 1990s, an era after the zenith of “greed is good” culture that overtook the country, fans began to see the NFL as an exemplar of hyper-corporate capitalism. They despised business decisions, especially when many led to teams relocating (or threatening such action) from one city to another. The newly required payment of Personal Seat Licenses (PSLs) also produced consumer scorn. As Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bud Shaw explained, “PSLs are a lesser evil than taxpayer money, but barely.” In general, fans across the country grew weary of owners consistently working to improve the bottom line.
The growing cost of NFL football didn’t help.
During this time period, the Fan Cost Index of going to an NFL game exploded. In the early 1990s, a family of four could attend a game for $150; by the end of the decade, the number reached $250, and by 2005, it escalated to $600 for the league’s top teams. Some saw the high prices and concern with owner profits as representational of an NFL that catered to the elite. This new business model created a market that only affluent consumers could purchase. Journalist Dave Zirin referred to the league as a “blue-collar game at white-collar prices.” Ohio Senator John Glenn pushed Congress to pass a “Fans’ Rights” bill. Even former NFL Commissioner Rozelle believed that the “new NFL” “may be the biggest problem the league has ever faced.” Many fans, particularly those not sitting in the suites at games, felt more and more disenfranchised from the corporate environment of NFL football.
Just as it did throughout the earlier twentieth century, football adjusted to cater to social demands. And, ultimately, fans and consumers did not turn away from the sport. Over the last twenty years, the league did not fall victim to 1990s critiques of its ignoring of the “common fan.” Instead, the NFL adopted practices that broadened the fan base. Fantasy football, for example, became a staple of the league’s marketing approach. The NFL also made efforts to expand its web and digital presences, now offering fans myriad ways to engage with NFL product, other than paying the exorbitant prices to sit in stadiums such as the billion-dollar coliseum in Dallas, or “Jerry’s World.” And the league also recently reinvigorated its efforts to market to women fans. (Unfortunately, many of these approaches are laden with hetero-sexisim.)
These efforts led to a stronger and more diverse fan base. Sadly, what they did not do, and as most decisions spurred by the capitalist market fail to do, was to remedy any social ills in society. Yet, the NFL’s reactions to working-class consumer angst in the 1990s suggests the league’s ability to take seriously the demands of large and vocal social collectives.
What Are We To Do?
At different moments throughout history, football adapted to the social and cultural milieu. Yet, new issues continuously arrive, adding fuel to the fire of dismantling the sport for the greater good. Many of the changes football institutes (re)produces new or old issues. From adapting the game in the early twentieth century, to listening to public outcry over the loss of the “common fan” in the 1990s, football attempted to appease social sentiment; yet, it never turned away from its capitalist enterprise. In fact, since Roger Goodell has taken his oath to control the NFL, the league reportedly has raised its annual profit to nearly $10 billion. In this instance, like many others, even while (in at least one way) succumbing to social pressure, power has continued to reproduce power.
In that vein, the NFL cannot and should not be a barometer of social good, nor a staple of moral fortitude. Maybe the NFL, like other conglomerates thinking they are “too big to fail,” will succumb in future years. Maybe fans will say “enough is enough.” Maybe corporations will pull sufficient advertising dollars, or maybe enough parents will bar their children from playing the sport, that the league will cease to exist.
For the time being, though, we can and should continually call out the league for its injustices. Fans are more than just passive spectators; we are constituents to the product on the field. In a time where NFL owners rely on public money to build and renovate billion-dollar cathedrals, we have a stake in shaping the future of the sport. How we do this can differ. We can hold owners, players, and coaches accountable for their transgressions. We can refuse to buy into the corporate welfare mentality of NFL business. We can refuse to ignore classism, racism, sexisim, and homophobia in the sport. We can make demands for a safer brand of football.
When it comes down to it, football needs fans to survive. And that, we should never forget.
Andrew D. Linden is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Adrian College. He is the co-editor of Sport in American History. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be followed on Twitter @AndrewDLinden. He also maintains his own website at www.andrewdlinden.com.
Lindsay Parks Pieper is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Lynchburg College and the Book Review Editor of Sport in American History. She can be reached at email@example.com and can be followed on Twitter @LindsayPieper. Check out her website at www.lindsayparkspieper.com.
13 thoughts on “What Are We To Do About Football?”
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After reading your blog, I am thinking if NFL teams are community owned is something that could be done. Your comment about we having a stake in shaping the future of the sport due to NFL owners relying on public money to build and renovate their billion-dollar cathedrals causes me to ponder. If we as a community are stakeholders, then why isn’t there more community owned teams? The only team I can think of that is community owned is the Green Bay Packers. This team seems to be doing an okay job with their social responsibility to the Packer fans in my opinion.
Thanks for the reply! The idea of community-owned teams is certainly enticing, isn’t it? The issue, of course, would be getting owners to approve a community buying a team. The owners must approve a new owner. My guess is that they would be hesitant to allow a community to own a team in fears of starting a precedent. The current league owners have little to gain from allowing new people into the owners circle, in general. It’s the same reason why expansion is so difficult. Owners want to supply to stay low as the demand remains so high!
Interestingly, some people in Cleveland are trying to do just this (publicly buy a team)! See this link: http://uproxx.com/sports/2015/09/browns-fans-crowdfunding/
Let me know if you have any other questions!
Your post about the social issues throughout the history of football is very informative and covers a lot of ground. It seems to be that football always has been a game that is quite polarizing. From the start, there have been the die-hard supporters and those that look to the popularity of the game as a means for social change. At the end of the 19th century the focus was on maintaining amateurism and protecting the players, the beginning of the 20th century saw the rise of gambling and its influence, later on we see the effect of drugs and steroids and finally by the end of the 20th century the sport has had to deal with the rise of consumerism. All these issues in the last 120 or so years and that doesn’t even include the recent focus on changing the players’ off field behaviors (as well as the continued focus on safety).
Certainly as time goes on and technology evolves the players (and NFL) are more and more responsible to the public for their actions. The league itself is constantly under fire to make the game safer while not taking away any excitement. At least in my lifetime, I cannot remember a time that the NFL and football have been under more scrutiny. How is it that the sport continues to face as many issues as it does while continuing to build fandom and profits? As many cries for change as there are, football continues to gain popularity. Will this ever come to a halt? Will there ever be too many holes in the dam for the powers that be to plug? What is it about this game that keeps bringing people back? Is it simply the supply and demand of the season? Or is it the soap-opera like drama that comes with every week and every off-season?
Thank you for the well-written history of America’s conflicted relationship with the sport of football. It is interesting that each decade or so a new big story emerges that captivate the publics attention and has sparked some level of reform within the game. I have been a fan of the game since the 1980’s and I have had a difficult time in recent years justifying my enjoyment of the competition with the increasing awareness of how much the violent nature of the sport affects its participants years after they have walked away from the game through the emergence of evidence of head trauma’s widespread impact on the game. Recently this has become more of an issue for me, as off the field violence seems to indicate something rotten at the center of the sport of footballs culture that is not present in other sports.
Your writing illustrates the change that has been affected by the public’s demands for changes in the game throughout the twentieth century. Do you have any thoughts on whether the twenty-four hour news cycle and the rapidity with which people in today’s culture move on from stories will have a detrimental effect on the public’s ability to bring about the changes that need to happen in today’s game to address head injuries, domestic violence and other issues you point out in your piece? It seems todays media consumer is too easily distracted to stay focused on the topic long enough to bring about real change as they did in earlier times.
I appreciated your post, but I am not sure that I concretely see you conclusion. Frankly, all sports need fans to survive. But in the world of finance in the NFL, there is a great deal of money to be made on all sides. You are correct that NFL owners rely on public money to build and renovate billion-dollar cathedrals. But the adverse side is that the city is relying on the revenue from the events that take place at those billion-dollar cathedrals. Using the Indianapolis Colts, as an example, we can see the strings are just as much in the fans and city’s hands as they are in Jim Irsay’s hands.
Jim Irsay, in order to build Lucas Oil Stadium, talked about threatening to move the Colts to another city. The city’s desire to collect sports revenue, in relation to economic impact of at least $150 annually, ended up being the catalyst towards building. But more than that, It was the desire to keep the Colts and stay relevant in the constant update of football stadiums which prompted Indianapolis to build Lucas Oil Stadium. So, my question is whether monetary dependency has gone for the NFL to be held accountable for their corporate welfare mentality? There are many cities without football teams who would agree to pay for another billion-dollar cathedral, if that meant their city was in the NFL.
Great reading and great coverage on many different aspects of inside the NFL world. It seems pretty clear that the NFL has and probably will always be a growing industry. As you stated, “By the 1990s, the NFL became a multi-billion dollar enterprise. The league reached this level, in part, because of its success in three areas: labor, TV contracts, and stadium revenue”. As far as finances and the money flow of this industry, it is a never-ending circle. Yes, the NFL definitely relies on the public’s cash to keep the league as remarkable as it is today. However, the industry gives back to the people and communities of each team in a significant way. Much of the money revenue in Pittsburg, Miami, Seattle, ect. is made possible because of the National Football League. Do you think many of the businesses in these NFL cities thrive because of the people and revenue this industry brings, or do you think many could live without?
Pro- football has become such a powerful and dominant sport throughout the United States. Every piece of football that makes it what it is today flourishes; media coverage, ESPN, sports shops, concessions, hotels, restaurants airfare, paid parking, ect. Because this sport is so significant and loyal to it’s fans, I truly believe no matter what new rules or regulations are put into place to prevent some of the issues you had discussed, this sport will never die. Where do you see pro- football in the next decade? Do you think the industry will just keep growing and expanding, if so, how are these cities going to accommodate for the growth? For example, I am a Steelers fan and I am constantly getting updates on my NFL app about streets being backed up do to traffic on game days, parking being full, and expected 30 delays. To please the fans, where are these “little” problems going? The NFL would be nothing without it’s fan base.
I greatly appreciated this post and your account of the history and culture of American Football. I have had a few conversations with friends lately on the NFL and the social, economic, and cultural factors that surround it, which your post shed a lot of light on. On the subject of drug and steroid use in the NFL, you quote Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post saying, “The NFL should have addressed the issue of amphetamines 20 years ago, of steroids 15 years ago, of pain killers 10 years ago and cocaine five years ago. But it didn’t.” I feel that this sentence is still so prominent and relevant today. The NFL’s private and public avoidance of a problematic issue within the sport and players has clearly existed since its earliest days. From gambling to serious injuries, it was until the NFL was facing serious backlash from public opinion that it would be addressed.
The current state of the NFL within the American social, cultural, economic landscape is really quite something. Although I am not a football fan myself, I grew up in a home where game days, especially for the New England Patriots, were as holy as the sermon on those Sundays. The passion and dedication among fans of NFL teams is not an emotion I can relate to, so from that outside perspective, such emotion amazes me. Yet it is such passion from the fan that keeps the NFL afloat. I have often wondered when the tides will change. You write, “the NFL cannot and should not be a barometer of social good, nor a staple of moral fortitude. Maybe the NFL, like other conglomerates thinking they are too big to fail, will succumb in future years.” The multi-million dollar stadiums begin to fill up less often, merchandise sales plummet, and the corporate world moves on to the next social phenomenon. I really appreciate your last paragraph, to call out the NFL on its “injustices.” In foreseeable future, do you think that the NFL will loose its stamina due to the handling of severe injuries and personal actions among its players?
This was an excellent read on all of the issues surrounding the game right now. I was especially interested in how you talked about the mini-scandal behind Sony. This is so mind-boggling to me. Why would a big motion picture company bow down to the league when they are clearly trying to relay a message to the young-adults interested in the game to be safe? Why would they almost entirely forget the purpose of the movie and essentially make the NFL seem like it is flattering and that concussions are just no big deal?
Another point you bring up is the “New NFL”. I was very interested in learning about what was going on around the league in 1990. However, I’m still curious as to why the league was so against these business decisions and why it led to so many relocations.
As a student of sport in American society, I was pleased to read the section about profiting off of the athletes “sporting prowess,” as it echoed what I have read in a few documents from this time period about football. I find it fascinating that professional football was looked down upon, while college football, although it had its own problems, was celebrated. To be a “gentleman,” why couldn’t you profit off of your athletic ability? I find it fascinating how differently society views athletes in only a span of 100 years.
Also, I found the incident with Sony very interesting. Why would a corporation as large as Sony bow down and try and protect the NFL? Especially when they are making a movie trying to raise awareness for some of the serious injuries that occur to football players. Why would they alter information in their film to protect the NFL if the whole point of the film is to protect players of football from these injuries?
The NFL is currently in an interesting place. The popularity of fantasy football has grown exponentially due to the creation of the very popular draft kings and fan duel websites. It seems like the NFL had tried to eliminate social vices such as gambling in the past, but they are now sponsoring websites which promote gambling like the two mentioned. Do you think that these websites should be promoted by the league? Also should individual players be promoting this social vice because the law says it is technically not gambling? Getting away from the gambling aspect, the NFL also seems to be on a repeating cycle of not punishing players or turning a blind eye until pressured by the fans. The only reason rules have changed is because of pressure by the only people who make the league money. When you look at the Ray Rice incident, the only reason he was punished is because the fans saw the video and wanted him gone. Do you believe the NFL only cares about profit above anything else?
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