Bob Goodwin: Why Deflated Footballs are a Big Problem for America

We thought we’d take advantage of this being a snow day for many readers and feature a post that looks off topic but actually relates to Naked Capitalism themes.

Sports, particularly professional sports, evokes Pavlovian responses in most people. Former top-level athletes, if they haven’t been mired in scandal, can usually find a good second career if nothing else in sales (as a retail broker or a car dealer) because they the status of local or national celebrities and are seen as hardworking, disciplined, and that is generally assumed to mean trustworthy as well. This is a classic example of a cognitive bias called “halo effect” in which people who are seen as good on one attribute are seen similarly accomplished on others. The classic example is that pretty individuals are assumed to be smarter than the ordinary-looking. That’s why the reactions to personal scandals by sports figures seem to evoke even more consternation than among other public figures, like actors and politicians. Neither of them are seen as role models.

And of course, there is also the belief that sporting events are fair and the best side or performer really does win.

But we all know that behind the veneer, the reality is often different. Games are sometimes fixed. Doping, both illegal, and the legal search for advantage via dietary supplements, are pervasive. My trainer, with roughly half his clientele being pro athletes and Olympic contenders, tells me it is rampant in some events, like track and field. And most people take at face value the notion that robust-looking contenders are healthy. In some endeavors, like ballet and gymnastics, top performers push their bodies to the verge of injury on a routine basis, and typically pay a huge cost later in life, in terms of compromised backs and other joints, for the achievements of their youth. And I’m waiting for college football programs to be shut down as head-injury-related litigation hits in a few years. It is now well known that three concussions or more results in later life cognitive impairment. How many programs keep tabs on how many concussions a performer has had and require someone who has had two to stop playing?

In other words, taking elite sports at face value requires a suspension of disbelief, and even ignoring cheating and the cost imposed on the performers themselves. And even though you can argue that the top players are well compensated for the toll on their bodies, sports, like the entertainment industry, has a steep payoff curve. There are many with just a hair less talent or luck who don’t make the cut. Yet they often wreck their bodies in the same way as the top players in their effort to break into those ranks.

Bob Goodwin uses the New England Patriots deflated footballs scandal to look at sports as a microcosm of American culture.

By Bob Goodwin, an investor and medical device entrepreneur who lives in Mercer Island, Washington

If you have been living under a rock, you might not know that there is a national crisis underway that could threaten the future of our nation. You see, during the first half of a football team, it appears that (horrors) the most winning team in recent memory was caught using footballs that were 10% under-inflated for half a game! That team won, and is about to be playing in the Super Bowl, which is the most-watched television broadcast in the US. As a disclaimer I live in Seattle, and so am rooting for the other team playing in the Super Bowl, so maybe I am taking a bit of pleasure in the event, in the spirit of great entertainment, where I am personally invested in a character in a play, and the drama that leads up to a critical conflict, and where the outcome is truly unknowable.

If I were the NFL, the director of such a story, I would want simultaneously to amplify the intrigue, while not pulling back the veil, and destroying the necessary suspension of disbelief required for all entertainment. If we think these entertainers were cheating, and we felt that, like professional wrestling in years past, that the battle was actually scripted, and much of the violence was faked, then maybe we would not be able to imagine ourselves engaged on this battlefield. (Or our brothers, sons, fathers, or lovers). Without this conceit we could no longer be entertained.

Perhaps if we imagined that it was good clean fun to remove air from balls, or pretend to smash chairs onto peoples head, then we could root for the villain, and laugh – or cry yourself to sleep after the highs and lows of the unfolding drama. But when we cease to relate to the offender, it becomes hard to be entertained by the carnage of large, athletic and well trained men throwing their bodies at each other with as much force as they can manage.

It turns out that professional wrestlers, and I mean the obviously phony ones, have a surprisingly short life span. 25% of the participants of Wrestle-mania 7 are dead 20 years later. All but one of them died in their 30s or 40s. And the rest are likely living with significant pain. Football is actually significantly safer than pretend wrestling, but that does not really mean it is safe. Each NFL team has an injury or two in every game they play. And it is an open secret that NFL players often age with both chronic pain, and cognitive and emotional decline.

But yet I am glued to my TV, and I reserve certain hours of my life during football season, and these scheduled events take precedence over almost any other priority. I never played football growing up. I never played sports at all. I don’t understand the plays very well, I am not aware of the significant strategy that goes into winning a football game. But I am absolutely certain that they are men. Do you remember the old word “men”? It was such an important word once, like chastity and honor. These men are the same type of men who would be doing war in a big way if our society were under duress. They would be killing their enemies, and pushing back opposing armies, and opening supply lines, and they would be putting their lives on the line, with the romantic compulsion to prefer death to defeat.

Success at any cost is the game. And the cost – and the reason we watch – is the assault on the bodies of men. Success at any cost is not believable without a cost. For me to suspend disbelief I must believe in the willingness of the protagonists to pay a high cost. And they do.

Sports, I would argue, are susceptible to scandal. But cheating scandals always were the most corrosive. We don’t like our imaginary warrior heroes punching their wives in casino elevators, but it does nothing to break suspension of disbelief. Football players are thugs, no?

Even steroid scandals do not break the trance. I can imagine myself wanting a large body if I aspired to be a warrior, isn’t taking steroids to be a serious athlete kind of like taking amphetamines to be a serious student, or cocaine to be a serious model?

But filming your opponent’s secret codes, and tampering with equipment is along the spectrum of betting against your own team. Sure there are spies and traitors in real wars, but I don’t imagine my father, brother, son, or lover being one of them.

The use of dangerous sport as entertainment is not an American invention. The Super Bowl is the largest mass human event that occurs in America. The top cable network is not Fox News, it is ESPN – the sports network. Rome had the Coliseum. What an extravagance it was! The more insecure Roman history was, the more active the Coliseum was. Suspension of disbelief is critical to those in power.

Do you believe that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction? Do you believe terrorists are a threat to your safety? Or that it was necessary to bail out big banks to save the world from another depression? Hadn’t you better confess your sins, so that you will have an eternal life in heaven?

The worst thing that can happen in politics is when voters start paying attention. Before a trillion tax dollars was spent to save the economy in 2007, an unprecedented flood of letters were written to Congressman in opposition to bank bailouts. Unlike orchestrated outrage, these letters were not garden variety form letters and petitions. These were thousands of personally crafted arguments by former sheep from the electorate. It all went ahead anyway, with power committed to its course, and the ramifications to be managed later. Most of the time, you see, scandals subside, and people return to watching sports.

The NFL too, thinks that scandals subside, and people will return. The Catholic Church treated child abuse and corrupt money laundering at the Vatican bank as a public relations problem. The first rule of having power is to protect your power. The NFL does not mind the drama of a team or player being a villain character in a play, but it cannot allow the drama to go on for weeks, when the story starts to turn on the NFL. No compassionate church can remain credible if they are colluding with pedophiles and drug dealers. The more people see of the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain in the name of Roger Goodell palling up with the owner of the Evil Cheating Football Team… The more the NFL stalls and denies in the hope this will pass, the more foundational expectations of football fans will be disrupted. If the NFL puts on a show trial of the Popes butler, then you will know that we are at peak NFL.

But can you image back just one week ago? How ridiculous this whole thing must have felt? The evil team had just won their last game by a zillion to nothing. The balls were 2 pounds softer, whatever that means, for 30 minutes of football. There are advocates flooding the internet with the physics of air pressure, and the trail of possession of the balls from manufacturer to the playfield. If I were to have to convict a man for murder based on the evidence presented, I would take pause. But this is not a jury trial, this is all pretend. It is entertainment. So I allow myself to use common sense.

Trusted people in this make-believe world of football (like Madden and Aiken) say that the quarterback takes complete control of the management of footballs, not the NFL. These same priests tell us that cheating occurred, and that it no more possible for the quarterback to be unaware of the deceit, than it is for a rapist to be unaware of penetration.

So what should the NFL do? If the Catholic Church is any guide, expect the NFL to wait and hope that nobody is paying attention. This is what I expect any Wizard behind the curtain to do. But there are powerful people that are undoubtedly pressuring the NFL – hoping against hope – that the spectacle of sport will rise to the occasion and slay the evil team and keep the dream alive. But they won’t.

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  1. 6th-generation Texan

    Words fail to describe how much I loathe and detest the New England Cheaters for their contemptible actions — the so-called “Patriot Way” (and is this just a hugely ironic metaphor for the modern “American Way” of banksters and other U.S. “elites”? Spy on everyone and rig the games?).

    Having watched pro football games for almost a half century, I cannot recall anything remotely close to a team being caught not once, but now twice, for blatant cheating that was obviously condoned and orchestrated by team officials. And just like the banksters and TARP, the perpetrators get off with a slap on the wrist and an official cover-up by those in charge of enforcing the rules of the game.

    When baseball has been faced with major scandals, the penalties were severe for the perpetrators: lifetime bans from the sport for the “Black Sox 8” in 1919 and Pete Rose in 1989 by the MLB commissioners. In stark contrast, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell destroys the evidence of “Spygate” and then sanctions the cheaters with only a fine and loss of a draft pick. Big whoopee….

    If the NFL fails again this time to impose serious sanctions on the cheaters — and by “serious” I mean banning Belicheat for life and suspending Brady for a year — then I am done with them. How could Goodell justify suspending Sean Payton for a year for “Bountygate” and not ban a two-time cheater like Belichek? The blatant hypocrisy and cronysim would be waaay too much to swallow.

    It will be interesting to see how Goodell and the arrogant 1% owners react to this latest stain on their empire. Given their track record (and the obvious contempt for their customers, the fans), I expect another “business as usual” attempt at a cover-up. I hope such hubris marks the beginning of the end for their Golden Goose….

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Do you not understand the difference between paying players to injure other players with crippling hits and violating the rule book? If not Sean Payton, members of his staff should have faced criminal charges.

    2. Danny

      From the outsider’s perspective – i haven’t paid any attention to this scandal – it seems to me the real issue is that the NFL gives its teams perverse incentives to cheat. Why should any team have access or control over game balls before they are used? Why shouldn’t the officials take control over all balls before and during play? There is so much money at stake, it’s expected teams cheat just as athletes take and hide performance enhancing drugs.
      I also don’t think this comes close to the bounty case against the Saints, even if a second instance of cheating. The most appropriate punishment is forfeiture. No team would consider cheating if the win, and all the work that went into it, goes poof. And at this stage, the punishment takes on greater weight. There go those fat bonuses and dreams of glory, not to mention the champion label.

  2. Moneta

    Lots of hot air wasted promoting life balance when it’s always the successful extremists we put on a pedestal.

    1. Garrett Pace

      True! Reminds me of this David Foster Wallace article about Tracy Austin and sports memoirs.

      …downright creepy are some of the details Austin chooses in order to evince “how nonintense my tennis background really was”:

      “Everyone thinks every young tennis player is very one-dimensional, which just wasn’t true in my case. Until I was fourteen, I never played tennis on Mondays. My mother made sure I never put in seven straight days on the court.”

  3. LAS

    At some point players/team leaders conclude there is no other pathway to success than cynical manipulation. Which makes them no different from operators in other fields or industry. Probably we could argue this is just a predictable outcome from neoliberal culture.

  4. Gerry Cyr

    As soon as I got to the first “evil team” reference you lost me. Perhaps we can wait for evidence? Madden & Aikman aren’t enough for me. Enjoy the game.

    1. bob goodwin

      Just for the record, I grew up in New England, and am a fan of Brady and company, even though I am a greater fan of Seattle. I don’t think this screed was anti-New England, as much as it was about the nature of sports in our society. But of course I chose New England as the object of my irony, so I can understand why you would be unable to see past that. Does 2 pounds matter? Not to the game, but yes when it comes to keeping the sheep pacified.

        1. savedbyirony

          This demonstrates the “insanely low number of fumbles” by the Patriots since 2007:

          It’s an easy enough experiment to do. Just grip a properly infated football and then one which is under-inflated by two pounds (better yet, have someone hand you two or more balls of various infaltions). The difference is appearent even to non-pro hands. And the notion that a pro like Tom Brady (and the running backs for the Patriots) could not tell the difference and/or would not care is ludicrous.

            1. JoeK

              It’s a little disconcerting that the author doesn’t know the meaning of “2 pounds softer.” PSI is only one google-stop away so that would seem to be his limit.
              One would have to know to what PSI footballs are inflated to know how much they were deflated, but if one assumes this was intentional then it stands to reason 2psi is sufficient; and according to the above it’s palpable even to non-pros. That really thickens the plot.

  5. ep3

    I want to disagree with your conclusion that the NFL will hope these things will pass. This is not about covering up; this is about more media attention. The NFL runs from mid july to first sunday in february, with 3 days in april for the draft. For the NFL to grow larger, it needs to stay in the public spotlight. Roger Goodell has said he wants to grow from being a $10b business to a $25b business. So by having these petty scandals in the media everyday, people pay attention to the NFL. They listen to the sports talk programs, they click on the links on online sports pages, they justify the advertisers paying the NFL more money to run Chevy Truck pickup ads. Historically, February and some of March are low points in sports viewership. The more the NFL has these so called “controversies”, the more people will sheepishly pay attention. Now, obviously, beating up your ex wife in an elevator is not good news. But it created a buzz and pulled people’s attention from other goings on tune in to the latest in the Ray Rice saga!
    It falls back to that old adage; there’s no such thing as bad PR.

  6. NotTimothyGeithner

    There are obvious bread and circus issues, but I think “Friday Night Lights” is at play here. Full disclaimer, my biggest question is whether Bill Belichick is a great American or the greatest American.

    If I hated Bill and the Pats, I would point out stories from former players about injuries being denied as preexisting, Aaron Hernandez (those NFL draft stories go on and on about how scrutinized every player is; it’s like a slave market; were there any red flags? How did Bill miss the Tebow* story), the general concussion issue, the violent nature of the game, the imprint of useless stadiums (baseball, basketball, hockey arenas are occupied much of the year, so they are pretty different), and any other issue raised by Friday Night Lights (one day I will watch the show and movie**, the book is just wonderful.

    Instead the Internet is a ablaze with Bill’s 3 strikes the Tuck rule scandal (seriously do people not know what this is), spygate ( largely stupid in reality), and Ballghazi. I think since so much time, money, and emotion is invested in a game, an extremely violent game, society has concocted an array of stories to justify the game such as honor and dignity. Pointing out the character of certain nfl luminaries as Ray Lewis, Mike Ditka, and Jim Irsay would undercut the vision of the hallowed nfl and remind us all of the true situation.

    *I use to hate the guy, but anyone who fights Aaron Hernandez and lives must be pretty cool.
    **True story, I’ve lied to Connie Britton about watching the show.

    1. McMike

      Don’t forget the fast eligibility tactic they used against the Panthers. Legal, but shady. And not very sporting.

      Just like banking.

      Across the spectrum there are people who try and compete by being the best, and others who compete by being the cleverest. Or some combination of both.

      Yet there is simply something distasteful and unamerican seeming about someone who spends their time combing the rule book looking for loopholes that no one thought to exploit. Loopholes that are generally closed as soon as they are brought to light. That’s the dividing line: if the rule is tightened after it’s been brought to light or if it is acknowledged and brought into general use.

      The Pats are those guys, like bankers, who do the stuff that is technically legal, but sheesh. Really?

      The Pats are the off-balance-sheet offshore entity of sports. And they would not hesitate to sell their fans a product and then turn around and secretly short it. Hey, we’re just trying to compete, it’s all legal.

      And of course it is no surprise when the people who are always looking for rules to bend or loopholes to exploit are the same one who occasional outright cheat against clear rules. And then swear up and down to the cameras that they have no idea what everyone’s so upset about.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Huh? The Pats are no different than the other teams. If they upset you, shield your eyes from the Steelers. The Colts are the most heavily penalized team in the league. The Saints are disgusting. The team from Washington…yuck. Also, they have a racist nickname. The Bears. Wow, I don’t even where to begin, but the super bowl shuffle was the classiest thing ever undertaken by that organization. Denver and Dallas try to cheat the salary cap every yeear. The primary difference is Bill doesn’t shoot himself in the foot by sacrificing for a player in the draft. He can afford bad picks Other teams fall in love and sacrifice their roster for one guy. The Seahawks hired Pete Carroll. He has actually been stripped of a national championship for cheating.

        The Giants and Green Bay might be tolerable.

        1. McMike

          Didn’t say they were the only ones. Just like Goldman Sachs isn’t the only one.

          And you forgot Detroit.

          1. NotTimothyGeithner

            I was just going through successful teams. I forgot Dallas, but I just assumed Chris Christie was the final word on that.

            1. McMike

              I have a serious question. Since you are smart enough to hang out at NC….

              Do you feel you have a loyalty to the Pats, and if so why?

              Is is the owner? The coach? Their current geographic location? Will you change alliances if the team changes composition, and find other teams you enjoy and respect at that moment, or does your loyalty stay with the franchise regardless of any changes?

              Do you view the Patriots as a sentient entity with an emotional being an personality, or a merely a business, or some combination? Do teams have personalities, or corporate cultures?

              I suppose a lot of people chose to suspend disbelief in order to cheer for their “home” team, and invest in them loyalty and a certain personification because hey why not, it’s fun and gets you invited to parties. I guess that’s what I do.

              That probably comes in handy in some cities – as in with wrestling when a particular character does a “heel turn,” or a soap opera kills off and then revises a character – when a team up and changes cities to seek a better stadium subsidy.

              But sometimes people seem to blur into imbuing fixed human personalities and reciprocated loyalty from a team. Or get into fistfights with opposing fans.

              So I am genuinely curious. Not really just about you, but about the concept.

              1. NotTimothyGeithner

                NFL football is dreadfully boring. The Pats and now the Eagles innovate within the field of play. These are the only entertaining teams. They also aren’t penalized unlike say a Colts team or holding on every play operating under the assumption

                The cut blocks of the Ravens might be fun except it’s dangerous and likely to be banned anyway.

                Also, the Pats know how to talk trash. Sherman’s rant about Brady being mean on the field is hysterical. Brady only acknowledges good players. Half these NFL players are so such whiners they couldn’t sit in a room with a Barkley, Bird, or a Jordan without crying. Once Barkley was asked the difference between McHale and a flash in the pan power forward. Barkley who is never at a loss for words just said one is good, one’s not. He then proceeded to stomp on the other guy. Barkley didn’t even give the non-mchale player the dignity of trash talk.

                1. McMike

                  Okay, so you are describing the attributes of a particular coach/QB/etc combo. Fair enough.

                  That’s not a team though, in terms of some lasting institution that spreads across the horizons like the British Empire – or maybe better like the royalty or papacy – which outlasts any particular placeholder.

                  Really the only institution I can think of is the Packers. Owing I suppose to their public ownership. Which also kept them in place in a small market.

                  I agree about professional sports whiners; really, grow the hell up. Again a parallel to the 1%. Spent their entire lives having people carry their bags and hold doors for them and do their homework and take their tests and buy them drugs and cars and bail them out of jail. Then whine when the lights are turned on.

                  That’s why I like Hockey’s winter classic. Let’s see who can play the game in tough conditions, and have it count in the record books.

                  Have you ever read any of those pieces comparing football to socialism? Revenue sharing, etc. Kind of funny.

              2. NotTimothyGeithner

                I should also point out I did note much more serious problems with Bill and the Pats far beyond Spygate or what kind balls Tom likes. My chief quibble is the outrage over an easily explainable issue when hideous issues go unnoticed by so many at a loss to explain cheating.

                As for cheering on teams, it’s better than movies and most television.

                1. McMike

                  Yes, it’s easily explainable: they cheated, and they got caught.

                  Other teams cheat with ball pressure maybe, but other teams didn’t get caught.

                  This particular episode reminds me very much of scruffing baseballs.

                2. McMike

                  In my mind there are at least three kinds of cheating.

                  – Cheating on the field, under the lights, in view of the refs, fans and cameras. This doesn’t bother me that much. There’s favoritism and poor reffing and just plain fallible human reffing. (Speaking of favoritism, the NBA refs used to routinely let Jordan walk the entire length of the key). But overall the karma tends to come around sooner or later. And yes, there’s holding on every play.

                  The parallel here to finance I suppose is they’ve thrown away the rule book, and bought the refs, at which point cheating on the field becomes more problematic. Since the public is one of the teams, but not in on the fix.

                  – Performance enhancing drugs. This is the one I think we may need to just let go of, or else assume it will be an endless snipe hunt. The rules lines seem arbitrary and always behind the curve. But then, on the other hand, there’s Mark McGuire’s face.

                  Interesting, I seem to be making the same argument Wall Street libertarians make.

                  – The third type is the technicality fudging and the behind the scenes cheating. Which was the point of my OP above. I like this the least; I suspect others feel the same way, which is why this is a big deal that won’t go away (not the only reason mind you).

                  This too is what drives people batsh*t about finance. These creeps lecturing us about how smart and innovative they are, when all they really are is willing to smear lines and find loopholes more than most people have the stomach for.

                  – There’s also garbage like the monetary bounties placed on stuff like creating injuries, but that’s just plain wrong, and pathological.

                  1. Jerry Denim

                    ” Performance enhancing drugs. This is the one I think we may need to just let go of, or else assume it will be an endless snipe hunt. The rules lines seem arbitrary and always behind the curve. But then, on the other hand, there’s Mark McGuire’s face.

                    Interesting, I seem to be making the same argument Wall Street libertarians make.”

                    Ha! Mark McGuire’s face! The world’s shortest lived home-run champ. I’ve had the exact same idea regarding drugs, who cares really? Its just a bunch of grown men chasing balls in tights. I can think of only one way to stop cheating in a very high paying field with a razor-thin margin separating the winners from the losers: cap the pay at a hard 110% of public school teacher pay in the sports team’s locality. Nobody is ever going to risk getting into legal trouble, being shamed AND destroying their health for short career that pays poorly. Some would say this would destroy the game; NO! On the contrary, it would ensure integrity and if teacher pay plus 10% isn’t good enough for a frivolous activity like chasing balls in brightly covered spandex tights why is 10% less OK for a very important activity like educating our next generation? I believe this same pay-cap concept could do wonders for Wall Street as well.

                    An even more interesting idea would be to run a “purity league” with a strict pay-cap side by side with an unlimited pay “freak’s league” with no drug or body enhancement policy. Players could inject themselves with horse speed and graft an extra arm on their sides and have it equipped with a Ray Lewis prison shiv for all I care. Better yet graft on a genetically engineered Rainbow Mantis shrimp hyper-sonic, shiv-action goring arm. I’m pretty sure I already know which version the home viewer would find more entertaining. The more interesting question is which league would the most talented players prefer?

        2. CapeCodSkeptic

          Thank you. Your and Gerry Cyr’s comments are notable instances of rational thought in response to the article’s rambling, failed attempt to relate this ‘tempest in a teapot’ to the hucksterism that is the American economy. If the NFL wants to investigate something, they would be well served to start with their own lousy officiating.

  7. Alan

    I would say this is bad PR. Brady does not want his reputation tarnished.
    The next move might be to place the blame on a low ranked inconsequential player, someone who works with the footballs in the locker room, and say that they did it without knowledge of any higher up.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      1988-1996 -the NFL sought to establish it’s legacy in a period of baseball upheaval and afterwards it’s own strike by having established winners win consistently. I suspect Rooney was the source of this as he was left out of the arrangement for the sake of appearances.
      1997 – Favre and Green Bay
      1998/9 – no repeats of Dan Marino. Elway won twice just to cleanse the stench of his early failures. After all, they sell jerseys.
      2000 – Kurt Warner’s story combined without a great Cardinals team made it a perfect opportunity for St. Louis to win. Even Doug Flutie was benched after saving Buffalo.
      2001 – Complaints about expansion and relocation so eloquently made in the movie Baseketball need to be silenced with a relocated team’s win to an old NFL city.
      2002 – The Patriots after 9/11
      2003 – Jon Gruden for playing his part the previous year.
      2004/5 -Having made the Raiders the victim of the tuck rule, the NFL needed a new villain. Enter a large regional team with a recent win, the Pats.
      2006 -Steelers fans were getting antsy about Co where’s legacy
      2007 -Manning bowl featuring Manning related receiving changes.
      2008 -The dopey Eli slays the dragon…like that catch wasn’t cgi.
      2009 – a flag ship franchise can’t have an alleged rapist as its qb unless he wins
      2010 -Katrina clean up winding to a close, and the NFL needed a smaller market win without a Manning. Brees’ status as a wash up in San Diego helped the narrative.
      2011- Aaron Rodgers is a rising star on a flagship franchise, and the NFL needed to get rid of the stain of Favre’s final days.
      2012 – David vs Goliath 2 this practically writes itself and adds fuel to the narrative that Peyton can’t win with rule changes.
      2013 – Seattle fans are crazy, and the recent loss of the beloved Sonics presented a chance for the NFL to put a tight hold on a region before an NBA team moved there or the Portland Trail Blazers broke through.

      1. Vince in MN

        Bread and circuses as you say, but I’m not sure the Masters of Disinformation need to go that far. The Sheeple suck up the propaganda without much pause, and sports are a big area of willful distraction. The fair play meme tracks well with The Folks. I was thinking more along the lines of the effect of gambling on sports. Lots of profits to be made there, especially with football because of the rabidness of the following, and it must be the easiest game to fix, with one or two “play” results or officiating “decisions” enough to significantly alter the payout on the point spread. Not much difference from the FED’s fiddling. Banksters and Gangsters.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Basketball is the easiest game to fix. Point shaving is easy enough because you can chuck up bricks or give up points in garbage time easily enough, and there are enough games to create confusion as everyone moves on to the next game. It’s what Goodfellas was about.

  8. MikeW

    Two comments: first, I too have had the privilege to be around elite trainers (USTOC). Their view is that at least 50% of athletes are using PEDs with the highest rate of use being professional golf. Yes, golf. The issue is always matching the drug to the sport/game. In golf they abuse Ritalan, beta blockers and HGH. The changes and now breakdown in Tiger’s body is fully consistent with high level of HGH use. While circumstantial it is consistent with the expected pattern.

    What strikes me as more important is the abject failure of the media. Instead of reporting, questioning, analyzing they live in a bubble of preconceived notions, lack of any actual facts, talking at each other, having a conclusion first, etc. This is/was consistent with how we ended up invading Iraq, the financial scandals of 2008, etc. etc. etc.

    Add this to our modern oligarchs, the Kochs being just one example who say they will independently spend $900 million in the 2016 election cycle, and it is no wonder the citizens realize that our almost all our institutions are pre corrupted.

    1. Vince in MN

      The media (MSM) is not failing. In fact it is performing quite successfully in its role, which is to obfuscate, disinform and misinform a gullible public, creating and propagating the various myths that have gotten us into the giant scheisshole we are in – and it has been going on for a long time (egregiously since Reagan, but the national myths, e.g “exceptionalism”, “manifest destiny”, etc. were in place long before) . There is no bubble, neoliberalism is their belief, their religion. MSM is the oligarchs – we’re talking giant corporations here; the 1% (.01%) who continue to do very well with the managed society which they have been allowed to manipulate into existence.

      As far as the citizens go, only a minority (although hopefully growing, but I am pessimistic) are really aware of or concerned about the corruption (i.e. rigged system). Both Dems and GOP still have relatively large bases, and both groups seem content to go to the polls every two years to vote against the interest of society at large.

      The old saw “Keep ’em barefoot and pregnant” in relation to the American public seems to apply well here. As far as the Master Class is concerned the rule is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

  9. McMike

    I have never had much use for professional wrestling. The industry has evolved a bit, and pierced the fourth wall with a wink – so everyone just escapes into the characters and doesn’t care if its fixed or not. Okay, but the story lines don’t do much for me; I have never been one for over the top contrived drama. It’s like fingers on a chalkboard. And that includes chick flicks.

    But one day I was passing by a channel and watched someone do a Swanton Bomb. Holy Jeepers H that is a seriously risky, athletic maneuver, require timing, execution, and coordination with your opponent. And one that is definitely going to leave long term impacts, if not immediate paralysis should he miss.

    So, there’s that.

    Football, meanwhile, is not long for this planet. Once the parents send their kids though the system because they have fond memories of playing when they were in school; it’s over. It won’t be just the college systems getting sued though, it will be the feeder youth and high school programs that get shut down by risk averse administrators. So enjoy the show while you can.

    I posted just the other day in comments here on NC about this. No way the quarterback is unaware of ball condition. So we are left with yet another crapified system where its leaders chose bald and bold faced lies as the path of least resistance.

    1. Vince in MN

      I grew up watching “professional” wrestling. Great theatre. And the only honest sport! (they used to emphasize this on the tv broadcasts back in the 60’s, so it must be true). But not to be belittled. Those guys and gals are real athletes and have to be in good shape to perform those “feats” without getting injured, no matter how staged the “matches” may be. Remember Andy Kaufmann’s experience getting his collarbone(?) broken years ago after making fun of pro wrestling and getting tossed around in the ring like a rag doll in an “exhibition” match? I consider pro wrestling serious fun, something one takes in with tongue-in-cheek. Kind of like A Gilbert and Sullivan musical (which, by the way, I think are still quite funny). And who says you can’ take pro wrestling even a bit more seriously – we had Jesse Ventura as governor here in MN for crying out loud. And he wasn’t any more of a clown than a card carrying Dem or Rep.

    2. JerryDenim

      Followed your You Tube link, awesome stuff. You Tube has become a nerd’s encyclopedia of forgotten sub-cultures of the video age. I’ve never been a big fan of professional wrestling but I have paused at times to admire the spectacle. I remember in the mid-ninities some college buddies of mine enjoyed watching this incredibly low-rent but spectacularly dangerous and bloody wrestling league known as “Extreme Champion Wrestling or the ECW”. Haggard, old, beat-up aging wrestlers like Terry Funk who was then in his early fifties (!) would routinely perform such craziness as wrapping himself in barbed wire and scaling eighteen foot ladders to back-flip and land on opponents (moon-dive?) who were often laying out of the ring on solid concrete. The the athleticism was amazing but the sheer masochism of it all was unbelievable. Those guys were something.

  10. Vatch

    Cheating at football is a lot like cheating in finance, examples of which are the vast robo-signing scandal and high frequency trading. But which gets more attention from the general public, the football cheating or the financial cheating? Quelle surprise, it’s football.

  11. Rosario

    The assumption that it is a problem begging analysis in the first place is strange enough. That being said, why is anyone “troubled” by this? Is American Football not a metaphor for the vicious, imperialistic society we have created for ourselves. Deflating footballs and spying on other teams at practice shares much in common with our military using modern weapons and covert international espionage to gain an “edge”. I suppose, unlike the US military, we have to have at least one institution that has an ethical compass, thus the knee-jerk reactions to dirty laundry aired. Watch soccer (real football), less militaristic overtones, less head injuries, and less commercials.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      All your points are right, but the Pats are being accused of violating abstract ideas of sportsmanship which the justification for the NFL and football in general. There is method to the madness. Right now, animal cruelty, police corruption, drugs, Ray Lewis still being on ESPN, and the team from Washington aren’t being discussed. Applauding kids for wailing on each other isn’t being discussed.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Look at how much is spent by colleges on football programs, which lose the schools money. Or the way admission and graduation rules are effectively bent to admit and graduate top athletes in football and basketball at schools that consider them to be important. From what I can tell on a quick Google, the professional sports industry has roughly 2X the revenues of the movie industry, so it has considerable cultural impact.

      1. Vince in MN

        I seriously doubt college football programs lose money. I have been out of college for quite some time, but back in the day, sports programs were funded (at least partially) by student services fees, which were part of tuition costs – need more money for the football team, raise tuition. Plus, a robust athletic program tended to bring in donations from alumni and corporate sponsors and the like (football and men’s basketball were the most supported here at U of Mn in those days (70’s-80’s)). Of course with the corporatization of public educational institutions, maybe the funding guidelines have changed since then. I’d be curious to know.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, they do, this is actually a big dirty secret, even with the way they use the football programs to solicit donations from alums. For instance, coaches routinely get paid more than the college president, in the millions, and the junior coaches are really well paid too. Plant and infrastructure maintenance is also not cheap. I don’t have time to track down links but I’ve read that football programs are money losers repeatedly. The University of Alabama at Birmingham shut down its football team for this reason. At schools where the teams are more often contenders, that’s just impossible to do, the alums would revolt and get the president canned, but these teams are money losing brand builders that drain from the educational mission (if you think that is what higher education should be about).

          1. moneta

            Mantra of the last few decades:
            To fund good programs, let’s work on our sports team.
            To fund health care, let’s work on our insurance offerings.
            To fund our food and health care in retirement, let’s buy a big depreciating, expensive pile of bricks.

            The number of indirect ways of funding what should be our priorities is mind boggling. Why not just invest directly in what is needed? Because necessities are boring?
            All these roundabout ways of funding are wealth destroying over the long term.

            1. Vince in MN

              Although I do find it hard to believe that buying a “Go Gophers” jersey/baseball cap has a direct relationship to the English department

    3. bmeisen

      Goodwin rambles a lot in this post and it’s too bad. The NFL has been a slam dunk for armchair critical theorists since at least Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. Deflated footballs in fact compare favorably to the epic subversion and alienation perpetrated on labor by the rentier class, a mutation that devolves to consumption. The NFL provides a peerless window on this process, and the Super Bowl is the premier cultural artifact of late-Empire America. The veneer of concern for the athletes, the vulgar territoriality at the heart of the contest, the de-skilling portrayed as specialization, the complete submission of actors and narrative to the commercial demands of television, the constant pretense that personalities are motivated by American values. Decadence pure. Agree – watch soccer.

        1. Quintus25

          As a native Bostonian and 20-something-year-old, I prefer watching football than American football. American football is boring and only 12 minutes of football is actually played. Cheating is rampant in many sports whether it is PEDs, match fixing, etc. As incompetent as Godell appears, he looks like a saint compared to Sepp Blatter of FIFA. Who may or may not be a real life bond villain. Despite the corruption allegations towards FIFA and the shadiness of the 2018 & 2022 WC bids, I really do enjoy watching soccer. I love the dynamics of the game, how aesthetically pleasing it is to watch and, more importantly, how fun it is to play.

          Regarding the latest Patriots scandal, I agree with much of what NotTimothyGeithner wrote. I’m not surprised but really not bothered by it. Many teams including the Pats use questionable to duplicitous methods to win. Bill Cowher admitted that many coaches filmed other times during the Spygate scandal. Doesn’t make it right or absolves the Pats from accountability. In this life to me, cheaters are rewarded with success and only suckers and naifs follow the rules. It’s enough to make your blood boil.

          The sport I love to watch has huge problems with racism and match fixing that are not being addressed properly and systemically by authorities. However, this does not prevent me from enjoying El Clasico or supporting Arsenal. I’m resigned to the depressing reality that the sport I enjoy is run by corrupt and morally flawed individuals. I think it will take a large protest movement initiated by supporters to reform FIFA.

          1. Vince in MN

            I agree about watching sports. I only pay attention to baseball anymore myself. The game itself really can be “poetry in motion”, but this is only from a narrow idealistic perspective. When it comes to the money aspects (7 yrs/200M contracts, $10 beer at the stadium, etc), I start getting ill. I have rationalized all the unfairness by saying that there is still “purity” in the game itself, and as long as they aren’t getting any of my money it is ok (I tend to keep an armchair’s distance). Somehow this is seeming more and more of a fascade, and I’m taking a hard look at whether or not this stance is tenable. The game is owned and operated by the elites and the for all intents and purposes the players are elites as well. At one time we could look at professional athletes as members of the working class, occasionally well paid, but that is certainly not the case any longer.

        2. bmeisen

          Granted soccer has some serious downsides – FIFA corruption, doping, insane pricing at the top, which arguably promotes inequality. However, unlike American football, soccer has multiple upsides.

          American football’s only redeeming quality is that in fans and players alike, it channels mob violence away from the street. Even this is problematic as the energy should be channeled into informed political action, but that’s inexcusable pie-in-the-sky. Otherwise American football has no redeeming value. Even its questionable promotion of physical fitness among players does not sufficiently justify the activity – aside from the concussion issue, many professionals appear shockingly unfit, with flabby bellies, arms and legs. With regard to athletic skills, the profile for football players is either minimally trainable – speed and size tend to be genetically determined – or primarily cognitive. Players have to be efficient, aware and subservient in their rigidly hierarchical organizations. The sport showcases in fact only one truly impressive athletic feat: the forward pass. Successful quarterbacks are indeed remarkable athletes. And everybody else should happily serve that handsome jock who can really throw a football? No thank you.

          Soccer provides many more opportunities to celebrate the human condition. First, it is as close to a universal sport as it gets: everyone can try to play it, without pads, and those who can earn money playing it are indeed remarkable examples of what talented people with dedication and training can accomplish. At the professional level all players are remarkable athletes able to overcome organizational challenges in stressful environments. Furthermore the sport has not prostituted itself completely to the media – there are no explicitly commercial time-outs and no rule changes to increase scoring. Scoring remains in fact exceedingly difficult – it’s a game in which to succeed you must learn how to fail. And teams do not compromise educational systems, as football and other sports do in the US, and it’s club-based evolution has, especially in Europe, dulled the glamour of nationalism by promoting alternative paths to identity. While these can mutate into hooliganism, they do not mutate into militarism.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Every time the ball is headed, it is a sub-concussion. I know experts who are in the process of putting together the data on long-term consequences, but it looks pretty clear that heading repeatedly leads to cognitive impairment years later. And the rapid direction changes make it easy to blow out knees (ACL and meniscus tears), particularly in women.

        3. savedbyirony

          The real sports alternative to watch is women’s college basketball. Excellent athletes not plagued by body issue problems and gifted coaching in a game not yet too corrupted by drugs and money (but recruiting problems are increasing).

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Huh? The Iraq had wmds was a conspiracy theory. The whole Gulf War run up was fiction besides the invasion of Kuwait. Right now Russia has 11ty Kajillion soldiers in Paris.

      1. Vince in MN

        Unfortunately, if you poll the, uh citizenship, the wmds, Sadam = Osama, Charlie Hebo = free speech, Sandanistas invading Texas, and so on, are considered facts. Theories are left to scientific debates of non-absolutist character, such as evolution and climate change. Facts are what you want to believe, with the force of the argument for what is “true” being the ultimate “decider”. If you offer the most forceful argument (and if there is no pushback this is easy) then you control the facts as well. The Right has done a masterful job of co-opting the debate and have been hard at it since Nixon, with nary a challenge from the so-called liberals. Thus, Iraq, Afghanistan, (and soon to be Putin Khan) etc., are now an easy sell to the pre-programmed, pre-primed public. The neoliberal claque that runs the show (including Obama) is the real conspiracy, the elephant in the room that nobody wants to see.

  12. fresno dan

    “It turns out that professional wrestlers, and I mean the obviously phony ones, have a surprisingly short life span. 25% of the participants of Wrestle-mania 7 are dead 20 years later. All but one of them died in their 30s or 40s. And the rest are likely living with significant pain. Football is actually significantly safer than pretend wrestling, but that does not really mean it is safe. Each NFL team has an injury or two in every game they play. And it is an open secret that NFL players often age with both chronic pain, and cognitive and emotional decline.”
    I’m glad he expounded on the trope that wrestling is fixed. It is fixed, but too often that is taken to mean that it is not dangerous, or that it is not skilled. Those wrestlers put in a lot of effort, and pay a great price.
    In that respect, football is exactly the same.

    Football is carefully crafted entertainment. And just like our banking system, despite the incessant gibberish about capitalism, just as banks got bailed out, the NFL is one of the most socialistic enterprises around – what with the draft, rules tweaked to help scoring, contrived scheduling to maintain parity (contrived competition to maintain high ratings and high profits), and subsidized stadiums.

    Now the fact that the NFL manipulates the game in so many ways to assure that any team can “win on any given Sunday” is fine (they are just running their business to maximize profits) – I just object that it is so often given as an example of free market meritocracy, when it is 180 degrees of the opposite. Success in the NFL does NOT equate with virtue, courage, merit, or really any particular characteristic other than fast, large, and dexterous.
    To the extent I watch football, I watch it as I watch a movie – to be entertained. I feel no more loyalty, or admiration for any of those people, than I do to any Hollywood star. Most of the players are not even from the city the team plays in – and why should that even have any bearing anyway???

  13. Antifa

    The modern sports fan, if given the chance to attend a real fight to the death amid a screaming throng at the old Roman Coliseum, might be sickened at first. Might be.

    Might be thrilled by it. It’s a mob, and it’s hard to not run with a mob when the lust is upon them.

    Once you’ve seen the real thing, mere football will never again hold the same attraction it once did.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      We still have, with us, those ancient Roman fight-to-the-death contests.

      Only we play it in slow motion…so slow, everyday-grind-slow, the old unemployed workers never die like the gladiators, but just fade away….

      The victors, though, are visible and celebrated.

      ‘A billionaire hard at work, to save humanity!!!!’

    2. Jack

      Real fights to the death, at least between trained gladiators, were actually quite rare. It was expensive and time-consuming to train a good combatant, no one wanted to just throw that asset away on a routine fight. A well seasoned, successful gladiator could be the pride and hallmark of a Ludos. What usually mattered most was putting on a good show, the goal was seldom to actually kill. Dance around, make a lot of noise, slash each other up a few times, make it look exciting, and then one of you goes down and you wait for the crowd or games sponsor to decide whether to defeated lives or dies (the verdict was never given via a thumbs up or down). If it was suitably entertaining chances are you live.

      I should also add that the commonly invoked example of the Arena as a sign of moral decadence and decay (often as part of a sentence such as “Reality TV is our modern day Colosseum”) doesn’t hold up to historical reality. The institution of gladiatorial games existed for a significant portion of Roman history, from well into the era of the Republic straight through the peak of the Empire. Far from being a sign of decline it was the decline that put a stop to the games, as money dried up and social stability fractured.

  14. ewmayer

    I find it interesting that in the above article and the lengthy resultant reader comments section – both of which I enjoyed – there is no mention of how the NFL has, ever since the 2-leagure merger that birthed it over 50 years ago, enjoyed a huge “tax cheat” boost to its bottom line by way of its zealously guarded trade association nonprofit status.

    I realize, nowhere near as ‘sexy’ as a juicy on-the-field cheating scandal, but as with most organizational-corruption issues, the rot starts at the head.

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