January 8, 2013
Watching the annual spectacle of the NFL playoffs, I once again find myself wondering: why is this sport so American? A few other countries have taken it up, but not with anything remotely approaching the fervor of the U.S. You won’t find many players from Italy, Nigeria, or Brazil on the NFL lists!
Why has this sport, which is so different from others, achieved such popularity in the U.S.? When I ask friends I usually hear answers such as “we like violence.” While Hollywood seems to confirm the validity of this statement in general, I’ve always thought there must be more to the football phenomenon than that.
Ah ha! I’ve got it!
Unlike almost every other team sport – basketball, baseball, soccer, hockey, lacrosse, and volleyball – many of the players on the gridiron do not get to touch the ball. Ever. They manhandle and tackle each other – bodies clash and pile on other bodies – but they don’t touch that pigskin. Of course one player always handles the ball. And that same player dictates the moves for everyone else on the team.
Unlike other sports, most of the players do not make decisions; they simply obey that one guy. Oh yes, on any given play, once the one or two guys who do touch the ball actually have it in their hands, they can choose to fake right and run left or fake left and run right… but that’s about it!
And the guy who always touches the ball and calls the shots generally makes more money and basks in the limelight more than anyone else. He is judged by statistics: completed passes, touchdowns, interceptions, tackles, those sorts of things, and also – naturally – his salary and bonuses.
The teams will do just about anything to beat the competition. Every year, they go all out to attain #1 status. The hype is mind-boggling. To a large degree, the future income of players, as well as owners, depends on the team’s annual rankings. Players follow the money. They may stay with one team for many years but only if it enables them to amass greater fortunes and increases their chances of reaching the #1 spot. They may profess loyalty to team or city, but that is just good PR.
So, does this remind you of any other type of organization?
It does me…
It seems to me that football is so popular in the U.S. because we are the capital of capitalism. The football team represents the corporation. The quarterback is the CEO. The backs and receivers are the VPs and those guys who keep piling up on each other (without touching the ball) are most of the rest of us, the workers.
When we watch the game, we get to anticipate what the quarterback will do next. Third down and eight… He will pass, but will he go long or just for the first down? Within moments, we get the answer. Immediate gratification. We can’t do that with CEOs. Will we get a raise this year? What about an early retirement? Wait and see, do not hold your breath!
So this weekend, snap on the TV, chug a beer, wolf down the pretzels, and pretend you can actually call the shots…
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