Ethical Fumbles: NFL Football Has Become Better Known for Scandal Than Spectacle. Is It Time for Catholic Fans to Rethink Their Love of the Game?

By Wenner, Lawrence A. | U.S. Catholic, November 2015 | Go to article overview

Ethical Fumbles: NFL Football Has Become Better Known for Scandal Than Spectacle. Is It Time for Catholic Fans to Rethink Their Love of the Game?


Wenner, Lawrence A., U.S. Catholic


Baseball may be America's pastime, but football is America's game. And NFL football, with its Super Bowl, super-sized players, and super-sized profits, captivates our attention like no other sport. Many young males dream of the chance (against very poor odds) to shine on the NFL gridiron. Die-hard fans hope (also against poor odds) that "their" team will take it all and, in the process, make them "winners," allowing them to bask in the reflected glory of being champions.

Passionate fans ultimately float the NFL boat. Their fervor, in part, allows tarnished heroes, fallen by felony and bad behavior, to crawl their way back onto the field and into our hearts. Indeed, passionate fandom can blind moral judgment.

Without fans and their membership in imagined communities with shared values about football, fascination and celebration of NFL contests--which are ultimately meaningless in the context of our everyday lives--would economically and culturally shrivel and die. With the recent parade of bad press, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the NFL has fostered a culture seemingly agnostic to domestic violence and sexual assault. It is a culture where endemic brain trauma seems to be seen as the cost of doing business in programming spectacle for the masses. And moral compasses, in the pursuit of gaining competitive advantage at all costs, are disabled with the ease of deflating a football.

This mounting bad press has created a perfect storm, making this as good a time as any to rethink our allegiance to football in general and to the NFL brand in particular. Some surprising people already are: Even "Iron Mike" Ditka, an iconic hero known for playing with and through injury, has said he wouldn't let his own son play the game today because "the risk is worse than the reward."

Football has seemingly become a NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) issue as 50 percent of Americans in a recent Bloomberg Politics Poll say they wouldn't let their son play football. And this may be the very sharp tip of a very cold iceberg for the NFL.

Bloomberg notes that the long-term trends don't look rosy for football, with polls showing that only 17 percent of Americans believe football will grow in popularity in the next 20 years. Bloomberg soberly concludes, "These are grim numbers for a sport that's seeing an onslaught of negative reaction, including a parade of National Football League players accused of abusing their wives or children; a team name so offensive that some news organizations refuse to print it; and, perhaps most troubling to parents, the growing body of evidence that repeated blows to the head can cause long-lasting brain damage."

Still, fan fervor and seductive, faulty logic and economics are pervasive, clouding the ability of many to think straight about the merits of pro football. In Los Angeles, where I live, advocates would have us believe that we've been suffering without an NFL team. And the push is on, yet again, to "save" us, with three teams currently threatening to leave their present homes for LA's larger market.

But there is little evidence that we've been suffering, and just as in many cities that have seen pro sports arrive with a parade and then blow town, we risk being hijacked by boosters who seek to advance their own economic or political interests over ours. There are lots of reasons to not support inflating today's flat football in Los Angeles and for other cities to reconsider the bargain that has been made.

First of all, who thinks it is right to support welfare for billionaire team owners? Doling out welfare troubles many people. Yet economists agree that by enabling professional sports in cities, we provide entitlements for billionaires. These come as preferential tax rates, sweetheart deals to avoid property taxes, and capital gains tax rates that make taxpayers codependents, enabling problematic owners. Cities lose millions while NFL teams turn huge profits. …

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