Every year, I want to watch football. I try. I understand the mechanics of the game and the rules1. I try to follow a team, but I have a confession.
I am not a football fan. I do not have a team. I don’t know when the games are2. I don’t know the players. All of this is evident in the fact that my kids don’t have no understanding of the game. They are concerned about that the players are hitting each other during a play, and how that is a violation of our family’s rules. They also think that the NFL franchise in Wisconsin are the “Green Bean Packers”. Football is not important in my life.
Over the past few weeks, I have found more and more concerning evidence that informs me that I should stop trying to watch the sport.
- From The Atlantic’s How the NFL Fleeces Taxpayers
In Minnesota, the Vikings wanted a new stadium, and were vaguely threatening to decamp to another state if they didn’t get it. The Minnesota legislature, facing a $1.1 billion budget deficit, extracted $506 million from taxpayers as a gift to the team, covering roughly half the cost of the new facility. Some legislators argued that the Vikings should reveal their finances: privately held, the team is not required to disclose operating data, despite the public subsidies it receives. In the end, the Minnesota legislature folded, giving away public money without the Vikings’ disclosing information in return. The team’s principal owner, Zygmunt Wilf, had a 2011 net worth estimated at $322 million; with the new stadium deal, the Vikings’ value rose about $200 million, by Forbes’s estimate, further enriching Wilf and his family. They will make a token annual payment of $13 million to use the stadium, keeping the lion’s share of all NFL ticket, concession, parking, and, most important, television revenues.
After approving the $506 million handout, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said, “I’m not one to defend the economics of professional sports … Any deal you make in that world doesn’t make sense from the way the rest of us look at it.” Even by the standards of political pandering, Dayton’s irresponsibility was breathtaking.
In California, the City of Santa Clara broke ground on a $1.3 billion stadium for the 49ers. Officially, the deal includes $116 million in public funding, with private capital making up the rest. At least, that’s the way the deal was announced. A new government entity, the Santa Clara Stadium Authority, is borrowing $950 million, largely from a consortium led by Goldman Sachs, to provide the majority of the “private” financing. Who are the board members of the Santa Clara Stadium Authority? The members of the Santa Clara City Council. In effect, the city of Santa Clara is providing most of the “private” funding. Should something go wrong, taxpayers will likely take the hit.
The 49ers will pay Santa Clara $24.5 million annually in rent for four decades, which makes the deal, from the team’s standpoint, a 40-year loan amortized at less than 1 percent interest. At the time of the agreement, 30-year Treasury bonds were selling for 3 percent, meaning the Santa Clara contract values the NFL as a better risk than the United States government.
Public Law 89–800 had no name — unlike, say, the catchy USA Patriot Act or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Congress presumably wanted the bill to be low-profile, given that its effect was to increase NFL owners’ wealth at the expense of average people.
While Public Law 89–800 was being negotiated with congressional leaders, NFL lobbyists tossed in the sort of obscure provision that is the essence of the lobbyist’s art. The phrase or professional football leagues was added to Section 501©6 of 26 U.S.C., the Internal Revenue Code. Previously, a sentence in Section 501©6 had granted not-for-profit status to “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, or boards of trade.” Since 1966, the code has read: “business leagues, chambers of commerce, real-estate boards, boards of trade, or professional football leagues.”
This bothers me. I pay my taxes to get services for me and people who are less fortunate. I know that there is already massive amounts of waste in government, the fact that they are giving away my money to a profitable sports franchise, this is unacceptable.
- Frontline’s documentary on the upcoming book “League of Denial” was eye opening as to the systemic and calculating nature of the league to downplay and hide the correlation between playing football, getting concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The parts that I cringed at most were:
With regard to sub-concussive hits:
“Just playing the game can be dangerous”
“The human body was not designed or created to play football … from a neurological standpoint you are going to have some brain trauma.”
Dr. Ann McKee, after examining the brain of an 18 year old football player, who had died 10 days after recieving his fourth concussion:
“I had an 18 year old at that time. You know that that brain is supposed to be pristine. The fact that it was there and he was only playing high school level sports, I mean I think that is a cause for concern.“
Harry Carson, on youth football:
“From a physical risk standpoint, you know what you are doing when you sign your kid up, that he can hurt his knee, OK? But what you should know now is your child could develop a brain injury as a result of playing football. It’s not just on the pro level, it’s on every level of football. The question is, do you want it to be your child?”
…no one under 14 should play tackle football.
“With what we know about the youth brain compared with the adult brain, that it’s more easily disrupted than the adult brain — the youth brain is lighter in weight, so it has less inertia to put it in motion, so you tap a youth head, and his brain moves much quicker than an adult brain that’s heavier and therefore has more inertia. So I think we should be treating youths differently.”
This was an extremely interesting documentary, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
If you can’t carve out the time to watch the documentary, you can spend a few minutes watching this video of Tony Dorsett and his diagnosis of CTE
It also left me struggling with the question of if my kids wanted to play football would I let them. I’m sure if they watch it with me and see it as something that I like, I would inadvertently influence them into wanting to watch and wanting to play a sport that I cannot stomach the repercussions of.
- From the New Yorker’s Is it O.K. to watch football?
When [Nate] Jackson travels out of the country, his passport is stamped as “entertainer.” The N.F.L., he writes, has become a “pageant.” The reality of the thing gets lost on most viewers, watching in their living rooms or at their local bar:
Consuming the product through a television screen, at a safe distance, dehumanizes the athlete and makes his pain unreal. The more you watch it, the less real it becomes, until the players are nothing more than pixelated video game characters to be bartered and traded.
Jackson details all his injuries — he was hampered throughout his career by various problems with his legs — and the pain meds he and his fellow players were injected with each week: “every game a needle,” he writes.
An apt analogy of how we as a country have become obsessed with the sport.
It appears that every fall, when a crisp chill fills the air, I will no longer try to watch football, it is a private empire, publicly funded and dangerous for those who participate.
- for the most part. ↩
- Monday, Saturday and Sunday, right? ↩