Another season of American football, the most popular and most wealth creating sport in our country, is underway all across our country. Professional football’s Super Bowl game, watched by 100 million people has become the premier American Holiday, surpassing Christmas and Thanksgiving in participation. Football is an industry run by billionaires who own the professional teams and billionaires who lend their support to the football programs at their Alma Maters. While billionaires could be said to derive the most financial benefit from the sport’s popularity, tens of millions of Americans take this sport so seriously that it has become a major part of their lives. What does all of this mean in the context of our country?
America is neither a republic, nor a democracy, it is an oligarchy that lacks central leadership and is governed by the constant maneuvering of its constituent oligarchs. This maneuvering is never really about the needs of the American people, but only uses those needs as “chess-pieces” on the game board of power and commerce, played for the benefit of the oligarchs alone. We are an empire like Rome, currently without a Caesar, though it seems Trump aspires to the title. America is roughly equivalent to the “Republican” era of the Roman Republic, which lasted for almost 500 years. I’ve written about the American oligarchy and aspirations of empire here. Now where this intersects with the professionals in the National Football League and the supposed” college amateurs of the NCAA is a major component of how our American system manages to hold together, backed by a majority of its people. That component can be called “Americanism“. This is the meme and the mythology that to a great extent holds our country together and keeps its people supporting the direction of this country, even though the people have long lost the blinders that the government of their country acts in their best interests.
“Americanism” holds as a central tenet that this is a Nation forged upon constantly expanding and conquering its “frontiers”. From 13 colonies on the East Coast of the continent, this country conquered all the way to the Pacific Ocean and beyond. The myth has been reinforced through the meme of the “cowboy”. The “Cowboy” represents rugged individualism and most of all macho toughness. The “frontier” though has been long conquered. We are the most powerful nation in the world and yet have rudely discovered there are limits to our power as illustrated by our recent, futile wars. Yet the myth of strength and power must be maintained in order for the people to support America’s imperialistic role as the World’s policeman. The populace must also be distracted from the decline in the middle class of the country; our numbing poverty; and our decaying infrastructure. It is an economy that rewards those on top as they cut pay, cut jobs and send their money overseas. American football fits the bill and it has become a national obsession, far outdistancing our former “national pastime” baseball.
American football is a primal battle for territory. Huge men, of incredible athletic ability, literally battle up and down a 100 yard field to reach the goal at the end. Violence is the theme, as opposing lines of 300 pound behemoths collide at the line of scrimmage to battle for yardage. The game is probably the sport most perfectly suited to the television screen, to the point that one sees much more of the game on TV, than in person. Plethora’s of sports announcers, many former players, extol the skill and power of the players as extraordinary human specimens. Before the game we see U.S. Air Force planes flying over the stadiums, as a military color guard unfurls the flag and a celebrity sings the national anthem.
Very often there are ceremonies “honoring the troops” as medal garlanded people in uniform, many maimed by war, are paraded before cheering crowds. Before “big games” we are shown remotes from military bases in Afghanistan where a direct game feed has been arranged to allow the troops to watch the game before they return to battle. Constant among the many car and beer commercials are recruiting adds for various branches of the military promising great future careers. A subtext of all of this hoopla, is a celebration of the oligarchs who run this country and their prominence in football grants them the cachet that they sit as “Gods” among those magnificent physical specimens, the players, that play the “Demi-Gods”. Pro Football players, are like Achilles and Hector in the Iliad, “Demi-Gods” to be maneuvered, manipulated and often destroyed, by the whims of the “Gods” in the form of billionaire franchise owners.
I’ve mentioned the two symbiotic components that promote and take advantage of the macho aura created by this sport. Both represent multi-billion dollar entities, fanatically supported by huge swaths of the population. In both of these entities the players themselves are exploited and remain on the bottom of the totem pole of this sport. The first component, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), was supposedly organized to be the governing body of collegiate athletics. The NCAA has grown into a multi-billion dollar enterprise, whose sponsors are some of the largest corporations in America like Coca-Cola, AT&T and Hershey’s. In almost all of our fifty states, the highest salaried civil servant is the State University Football coach and the merchandising of team products like jerseys are gold mines. The NCAA lives by the myth of the “student athlete”, whose roots go back to the idea of amateurism. The celebration of the amateur athlete, actually had its birth in medieval aristocracy, just as college football was born in the aristocracy of the Ivy League, with the first Harvard vs. Yale game in 1875. American oligarchs generously donate to their Alma Maters and with these donations they can identify themselves with the success of the institution’s football teams. Because of the money from television, there exists a close interrelationship between the NCAA and major U.S commercial entities. The NCAA works closely with the other component of the football synergy, the NFL.
As professional football has evolved today, each and every team is owned by one or more billionaires. The owners are prominently showed during games and they are discussed reverently by the announcers. These billionaire oligarchs gain stature simply because they completely control these superstar players, who represent the apotheosis of virile male-hood. If these oligarchs can so control the lives of their players, how virile does that make the owners? That “virility” was proven when in 2011 the owners instituted a “lockout” of of their players, which ended in total victory and crushing the player’s union. That this “lockout” was a matter of ego was obvious, since they were billionaires to begin with and each team is guaranteed a profit each year from television revenue. A full discussion of the financial structure of the NFL can be found here .
In the end American Football, an opiate of the masses, promotes all of the values necessary to maintain the male dominated American Oligarchy and convince a majority of the citizens of our country that they live in in the most exceptional nation in history. Football is undoubtedly a war in microcosm. It is lauded in warlike, macho terms, the players are called warriors. It promotes a jingoistic, militaristic attitude of patriotism and it makes it easy for the wool to be pulled over our eyes, while we are consumed by the doings of our team and the agony and ecstasy of the competition. Incidentally, I write this not as some effete observer decrying a sport I feel is too violent, nor as an intellectual elitist making fun of the masses and their amusements. I too am a football fan, though only of the professional variety. I will root for my team during the season and I will feel discouraged at their failures. However, just because I’m caught up in this nonsense, doesn’t mean I don’t ruefully understand what it is all about.