Football and politics :  when worlds collide

It is becoming increasingly hard to tell where professional football starts and politics end.

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Eugene McCarthy once said, “Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important.”

Eugene McCarthy is the perfect candidate to coach the Browns. Considering his five failed attempts at running for president, he would find equal success in Cleveland. Unfortunately, he cannot coach the Brown, because he chose a more fortuitous path when he died in 2005.

McCarthy brings up two of my guiltiest pleasures: professional football and politics. My wife has another term for these personal interests: “character flaws.”

What’s strange about these two personal vices is how they are both culturally pervasive *and* widely despised. Everybody likes to consume both, but they reeeeeeeaaaaaallllllyyyy hate admitting that they do. It’s like listening to Nickleback or eating at McDonalds: Nobody fesses up to doing either, but 40 million albums and cheeseburgers somehow magically sell themselves every year.

The commonalities between football and politics goes beyond that though. Actually, these two have become indistinguishable in recent years. This NFL-D.C. merger is ideal for me, because I am terrible at multitasking. (Ok, make that three character flaws.) This allows me to kill two birds (be it a Raven, Cardinal, Eagle, Falcon, or Seahawk) with one stone (probably not Roger Stone because he’s occupied up at the moment).

Both politics and football rely upon spectacle and using it to build an audience that wouldn’t normally give a crap about in the first place. Take the Super Bowl and a presidential election as examples. Arguably, these are both events that pit two wildly unpopular teams against one another in a winner-takes-all battle, bring in billions of dollars in corporate money, and — despite the fact that nobody really has skin in the game — everybody watches.

Unless you are of the minor percentage of registered fans of either side, you are likely a part of the disgruntled masses who has settled to participate and unenthusiastically choose between two lame options. You don’t really feel good doing it, but you do it anyway, because — you know — American traditions and stuff.

Oh, and the commercials too, amirite? Each year, the Super Bowl generates an audience who simply “watches it for the commercials.” On the other hand, if you enjoy the commercials that come out during election season, you probably are into some other sado-masochistic hobbies that I’m afraid to ask about.

And though this spectacle seems grandiose, they only serve as smoke and mirrors that mask the economic hollowness of both sides. In 2018, the NFL pulled in roughly $14 billion in revenue. For perspective, the cardboard box industry generated over $65 billion in the same year.

There might be some crossover in these numbers if you factor in how many boxes it took to move the Chargers and the Rams. Fortunately, the Raiders won’t skew the figure, because they will likely use garbage bags when they move to Las Vegas.

On the politics side, this comparison to the box industry is even more grim. The cardboard box industry not only beat out D.C. in economic output — where $1 trillion budget deficits are the “new normal” — but personality also. Americans are more likely to have a thoughtful conversation with a cardboard box than their elected representatives.

Considering our $21 trillion national debt, we are all too familiar with the costs associated with bombing the shit out of everybody and writing IOUs for ponzi schemes…er…entitlement programs. Not to be outdone, the NFL is certainly capable of wasting tax dollars too.

NFL owners regularly shakedown taxpayers — usually with the same “gimme money or I’ll will pack up the team and leave town!” threat — to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies every year. In fact, 12 NFL teams actually turned a profit building their stadiums after receiving public funding. If Bernie Madoff ever gets out of jail, he really should consider becoming a NFL owner.

The NFL even made a pretty penny from the military. The Department of Defense doled out close to $6 million to fund pregame and halftime shows that featured bomber jet flyovers, American flags bigger than Rwanda, and special events with unique door prizes like “Drone Night.”

And after all of those patriot bucks spent, those players still kneeled during the national anthem? Talk about a bad return on investment.

So the next time you pay $15 for a stadium or file your 1040, stop and ask yourself: Am I an enabler? Is my behavior contributing to this toxic pattern of behavior by these unsavory characters?

I freely admit that I am an enabler, which is why I probably should reevaluate my guilty pleasures. But I’ll probably be where everybody else is this Sunday: On the couch, watching with bated breath to see if the New England Patriots or the Los Angeles Rams will be invited to the White House for a fast-food smorgasbord.

To the victor belong the deep-fried spoils.