So today is the big day. Super Bowl Sunday! From the frozen, Nor’easter-spawning, fishing-trawler-killing seas of the Atlantic seaboard to the plastic- and radiation-infested shores of the Pacific (and all points in between) Americans and their diaspora the world over will be engaging in a ritual now a half-century old! Meeting up with friends and family, consuming copious amounts of beer and fried, cholesterol-rich and heart-attack-inducing goodies and arguing pointlessly over which team most deserves to win some rings (and a silver trophy that, unfortunately, is fraught with its own Freudian symbolism.)
I mean, it is a stiff shaft with a ball on it – even if the placement is not anatomically correct. (Source: wnyc.org)
I’m well aware that sportsball is not everyone’s cup of tea. Many of you reading this are probably bemoaning what all the hub-bub is about. “Why are you talking about football again?!? Can’t you guys go back to shooting electronics with other electronics, or whatever?” All I can say in this regard is to repeat the words of the great comedian Doug Stanhope – “if you think football is stupid, you’re right. But it’s my stupid.”
I believe the word he was actually looking for is ‘escapism.’ (via YouTube)
That being said, there are some people – a lot of people, in fact, that are just looking to watch a game, poke fun at the merits of zany, overpriced and over-the-top commercials and quibble amongst themselves about which defense is making a stronger showing (or which quarterback ‘deserves’ a win) before all going home, passing out for the night and showing up back to work the following Monday to get on with their lives. Is it really all that bad?
How exactly is their choice of entertainment wrong? And besides, Supposed Internet Straw Man, who the fuck are you to judge what forms of pointless diversion other people decide to engage in? No one’s saying you have to go along with it, so quit bitching about folks that just want to have a good time on some Sunday in the winter!
RG-three, I’m sure, would be standing on his soapbox too if he hadn’t blown his ACL. Talk about hitting a raw nerve. (from sportsmasher.com)
Having whined all that out like I just did, there are certainly many valid complaints to be made about this cultural institution of ours and the influence it has over our society and politics, particularly where it comes to the governing body of this sport, the National Football League. If bullshit is indeed to be called, let’s not hate the players – let’s hate the game (or at least those who get to dictate the rules of the game – on and off the field.) So while I will be enjoying a good sportsball match with friends later today, permit me now to highlight a few reasons why the NFL itself is actually an evil, money-sucking cancer on the ass of our country and needs to be stopped at all costs.
(TL;DR Warning: This article is a long one, even for me, but it’s going to take a bit to fully flesh out. There’s a lot of heinous shit the NFL is up to and I want to really make my case on it.)
The NFL (And Their Teams) Are Among the Worst Corporate Welfare Queens Out There
The teams of the NFL alone split $7.2 billion in revenues last year, mostly from their television deals. To put that in perspective, that’s about .4% of the total size of the American economy – not bad for one professional sports league! There’s obviously big money in pro-football. So much so that the owners aren’t willing to let any of it get out of the family.
The family? Yeah, about that…
The NFL bylaws are written to keep ownership of teams in the families that already own them and to make it very hard to change that arrangement. They state that any group owners must have a single individual, corporation or trust with a 30% ownership stake, so it’s fair to characterize the owners as basically 31 families. The only recent change in this decades-old arrangement was made simply to shore up the tax implications in favor of the current aging dynasties. No team can ever be wholly publicly-owned (as with companies listed on the stock market) and are thus never accountable to anyone but the owners and the league itself.
The lone exception are the Green Bay Packers who do issue (non-voting, non-equity and non-dividend-paying) stock. But the Packers are an anamoly from before the modern NFL who, let’s be honest, do everything weirdly. (Pic from Hubpages.com)
“But so what?” I hear you cry. “Why does it matter if the teams are owned by a few individuals?” Because when it comes to actually paying for their operations, the NFL is quite content to scam the public with regard to building and operating stadiums, securing exclusive broadcast rights and writing their own rules to make sure they keep as much money for themselves as possible. The rabbit hole goes quite deep here, so I’ll stick to public financing of stadiums for now. Consider this article from The Atlantic from 2013, discussing the stadium where Super Bowl 50 will be played today:
“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.”
Deals like this are the norm, rather than the exception. 29 of the 31 professional football stadiums have had some kind of public backing. Decades of brand-building and cultivating a loyal local fanbase have made it such that any, ANY inkling of a locality not putting up tax money when a team wants a new stadium means the team will threaten to move – which is so politically devestating that politicans have usually cried uncle.
The NFL has cities, counties and even state governments by the balls – so much so that they are perfectly content to play local politicians off one another in order to get the best deals for themselves. The St. Louis Rams’ recent move back to Los Angeles shows this dynamic perfectly – it didn’t matter that, in this case, the city was willing to finance a $1.1 billion new home for the Rams. The owners shafted their St. Louis fanbase because they wanted to be in Los Angeles just a little bit more.
Oh well; at least the worst team in the NFC West will finally actually be back in the west. So long screwy, see you not in Saint Louie! (from CBSSports)
And oftentimes, when these deals go sour, it’s the people left on the hook. The city of Oakland and Alameda County are still paying off the cost of the Oakland Raiders’ last stadium as the team is threatening to move if the city and county don’t build them a new one. In a rare show of political solidarity, Oakland has put their foot down and called bullshit, so don’t expect them to be hanging around there much longer. Again, fanbase be damned.
With the Rams and the Raiders (maybe) back in Los Angeles, will we go back to even more riots in L.A. too? Ah, the good old days… (Image hosted at Sodahead.com)
Even where a team has secured a good, taxpayer-financed home, keeping an NFL stadium isn’t a winning financial proposition. Take my home of metropolitan Phoenix, host to last year’s Super Bowl. The city of Glendale, home to University of Pink Taco Stadium was unable to spread the costs of hosting the Super Bowl around to the other Valley cities, so the fiscal hole they were in after the fact became a bit of a local political sore spot. As the costs of hosting and securing events like the Super Bowl will surely continue to rise, I wouldn’t hold my breath on the NFL willingly kicking in more of its own cash to help out.
At least one good thing came out of that marketing fiasco. #neverforget #leftshark. (via Twitter)
The NFL Is Exceedingly Zealous In Protecting Their IP and Broadcast Rules
Any regular viewer of pro football will recognize this clip sprinkled the game broadcast. Playing with triumphant fanfare, it shows the mighty NFL logo emblazoned in city lights over the breadth of the North American continent. A nice visual to be sure. What might not be as easily remembered is the voice-over reminding the viewer that the telecast is owned by the NFL and also that “any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL’s consent is prohibited.”
(Here’s the slightly older one with different visuals, but the announcement is the same. Again, YouTube)
Listen to that second line again.
“Any other use of this telecast … is prohibited.” Okay yeah fine; boilerplate copyright notice.
“… or any pictures, descriptions or accounts of the game, without the NFL’s consent is prohibited.”
So I am far from an IP lawyer, but if I am understanding this correctly, the National Football League is actually claiming that even describing or talking about the game requires their express consent? Strictly speaking, even me talking about how badly Carson Palmer performed and how efficiently the Carolina Panthers thoroughly ass-raped the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game two weeks ago requires consent from the NFL?
I’m calling shenanigans. So too are others.
I’m sure the NFL’s lawyers know about fair-use, but maybe they just don’t want us knowing about it. Maybe it’s better if some people didn’t know. (Source: cloudfront.net)
“But surely it can’t be that bad! It’s not like the NFL is, like, going after churches that want to show the Super Bowl or something! They aren’t that evil, are they?”
Ah, if only this pretend straw man that’s arguing with me in this article didn’t have a knack for calling it exactly as it is:
NFL Pulls Plug On Big-Screen Church Parties For Super Bowl (from The Washington Post.)
(Warning – I’m about to go off-track for the next paragraph.)
Now I’m no big fan of IP law as it exists currently. I think that it’s an economic rent whose original good intention of securing the returns for taking the risk on creative innovation has long been trampled by a twisted modern interpretation that allows arbitrary, restrictive enforcement and harassment against people that wouldn’t be permitted outside the context of IP law. It keeps copyrights from entering the public domain (particularly in some egregious cases where “original works” are based on older works that were already in the public domain – I’m looking at you Disney!) In it’s worst form, it stifles further innovation, provides protection for wealthy interests and acts as an avenue to enforce contracts that were never agreed to in the first place – it’s the most perverted and pernicious form of property right out there and the rules governing IP seem only to be written by the parties who will benefit from it most.
Pretend IP Lawyer: “Yeah, I wish he would stay on point, too. Shit’s already long enough as it is.” (via blackenterprise.com)
Back to the point at hand: I can understand the NFL needing to protect its interests in this regard. It would seem that leaving public showings of their copyrighted material completely unregulated would indeed cause a financial loss to them, regardless of how minimal or vanishing. But where the hell is that line drawn? I mean, seriously; going after a fucking church for showing the Super Bowl? We aren’t talking about Joe Nutsack’s Sports Bar (Home of the All-You-Can-Stomach Bottomless Pretzel Bowl) down the road here; we’re talking about a God-damned church, for Sagan’s sake! Going after a church for showing the Super Bowl is pretty skeevy, particularly for an organization that until only very recently, claimed non-profit status itself.
Rumor has it, Goodell will start moving in on home Super Bowl parties even where clearly no one’s even watching the game. Because, y’know, money! (via Sportspickle.com)
How far is the NFL’s obstinance willing to go, though? What about an issue that represents the founding history of the modern league itself? How would the NFL be willing to treat coming across a recording of its early days that was once thought to be lost forever and could prove to be one of the most lucrative finds for lifelong football fans and sports historians the world over? If it could stand to make the league even more dump trucks full of money, how precisely do you think they would handle the issue?
Just go ahead and imagine the worst, most screw-the-people-that-aren’t-us way of going about it, and I’ll guarantee that with what I’m about to tell you, you won’t be too far off. (via TVTropes.org)
Today is Super Bowl 50. This means that some forty-odd years ago, there was a Super Bowl I. Since the Super Bowl is such a large and eminent presence in sports and our society at large, surely some complete record of the game exists out there. Surprisingly, no. Tapes of the original broadcast, which were aired on both NBC and CBS in 1967, were recorded over because apparently magnetic tape was much more valuable back then than keeping an archive for posterity. Evidently, no one back then thought this might actually matter someday.
To be fair, not every moment in sports history needs to be archived for posterity. (from Megadeluxe.com)
But wait – it turns out that a Pennsylvania man named Martin Haupt had the forethought to actually record the game and hang onto this moment in sports history. And it was nearly lost to the ravages of time and entropy as the tapes sat in his attic for decades until eventually, his son Troy was able to recover these tapes and bring them to a media company for a proper restoration! A windfall and a hell of a lucky break to be sure! For his part, Troy asked for a million dollars from the NFL for the tapes – surely a once-in-a-lifetime find like this was worth such a price. The NFL counteroffered $30,000. And then after some back and forth, eventually decided not to pay him anything at all. What’s worse, the NFL issued a statement against anyone else buying his tapes under the umbrella of the aforementioned shitty copyright law. Haupt owns the tapes, but the league owns the footage on them. So now the guy can’t do anything with the tapes other than give them away, and the complete restoration of the original Super Bowl can’t be seen by anybody unless Haupt or the NFL caves.
Aguably, Haupt didn’t “deserve” any more than the NFL was willing to offer initially, however we all know that the league would have easily recouped their investment. They could’ve given him the million bones. Easily. They even could’ve made a less insulting counteroffer, for less money but one that Haupt would’ve been more likely to accept. That’s a value judgement up to each observer to decide for him or herself. But since the league didn’t immediately get their way on it, they instead opted for the same treatment the team owners give to localities not willing to play by the league’s rules. And because of it, all football fans lose out.
They don’t need to break kneecaps – the way this Evil Board of Shadowy Figures operate is totally legit. Reports of photos showing Roger Goodell eating babies are totally unsubstantiated and without merit.
As if to save face, the NFL Network did crap out what they were able to otherwise piece together of Super Bowl I footage. But it was pretty much regarded as a failure. Insult to injury, eh?
One last point to make regarding broadcast rules before I close this section out – remember the insidious blackout rule? It’s the rule that says if not enough tickets are sold for a home game, the game can’t be shown in its home television market. Y’know how it was codified into law that way to supposedly protect local network affiliates from cable/satellite providers (or something?) Yeah, in 2014, the FCC actually repealed those regulations because they were stupid, monopolistic and obsolete. But the NFL decided they were going to keep doing it anyways. Why? Because at this point, “fuck you,” that’s why.
The Real Risk to Players (And What The NFL Has Done To Ignore It or Cover It Up)
Gridiron football is a dangerous sport (obviously.) Injury to players is all too common and, for better and for worse, is one of the risks of the job. All it takes is a bad hit to tear some defensive back’s leg ligament or shred the shoulder muscles of the quarterback’s throwing arm and his career is over before the ball even hits the ground. The players hit hard and fast – it’s surely one of the appeals of the game because it appeals to our primal, monkey-like urges for ferocious competition.
Appealing to our primal urges is always the breast! I mean, best! But seriously, God bless these ladies! (hosted at BusinessInsider)
But when it comes to the recent discovery of different, more pernicious health issues players are dealing with, the NFL has been slow to change their ways – essentially being forcefully dragged kicking and screaming into acknowledging these risks and lawsuited to change their ways. Perhaps you’ve heard of the NFL concussion problem, even just in passing?
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a mouthful of medical jargon that describes basically being made a stupid and miserable mess by repeated rough hits to the head over a career of playing football. Symptoms run the gamut from wild mood swings to depression to good ol’ fashioned dementia with the occasional side of girlfriend-murder. Basically the worst imaginable scenarios possible.
Frontline, from PBS, is excellent at investigative journalism and covers the concussion issue better than I ever could! (Image via eyesteve.com)
For it’s part, the NFL has finally committed to tweaking the rules and changing policies to reduce risk in the past few years. But not before years of denying the problem even existed. It took conclusive data, lawsuits from sick players (many of whom were long retired) and finally getting enough bad press that the league was forced to do something.
And about that bad press, don’t think the NFL sat on its hands while the investigations were ongoing. The aforementioned Frontline, in collaboration with ESPN, was working on a documentary about the issue back in 2013. Seven weeks before the air date, however, ESPN caved to pressure from the NFL and pulled their name and formal association with the documentary, despite being instrumental in helping the investigation. Why? Because, um, I’m going again with “money.” The league didn’t want do actually do anything to help their sick players and so took the approach of “let’s just stick our fingers in our ears and go ‘la-la-la!'” As is typically the case with these things, however, ESPN pulling out had the opposite intended effect as far as promoting the documentary.
Clearly someone in the NFL has never heard of the Streisand effect. (Image via Wikimedia)
Some good came of it – I suppose. The league finally agreed to a settlement for the class of injured players – after years of stringing them along in the courts. And as mentioned previously, certain rules were put in place to penalize offensive and defensive players from making the worst hits in-game and to properly deal with diagnosing concussions when they do happen. Concussions have indeed dropped with these changes. So there – the NFL can claim victory on a problem it never admitted fault on and spent decades trying to cover up. And I’m sure, I’m SURE that with regard to addressing issues of player safety, nothing like this will ever, ever happen again.
Seriously though, check out the Frontline documentary. It’s called League of Denial and can be found here. If nothing else of what I mentioned didn’t convince you the NFL is evil, surely this will. And if this doesn’t, you might just be a great fit for their management! Submit your curriculum vitae to the League today!
So in the end, what does all this really mean? I feel that, as a fan of football, the organization that operates it should be the best that it can. And it certainly can’t be said the league is bad at their job – putting on a great spectacle (for better) and making the team owners huge piles of money (for worse.) The message I’m ultimately trying to get across is that bullshit needs to be called out where it is. And if the league has shown a willingness to throw its weight around and step all over everyone to get what it wants, football fans need to put pressure themselves. Boycott, if necessary. Even start angling for some of those wicked government regulations – at least to the extent the League itself writes its own favorable regulations. It takes knowledge first and willful action second.
Given their history and track record, reform is not going to come from within. Only without. Football is indeed “my stupid,” but I certainly don’t want it to be “my evil” anymore.
Oh yeah, and enjoy this Superb Owl! (Thanks, Andy!)