By Robert A. Vella
This Sunday, the 49th edition of the National Football Leagues’s Super Bowl extravaganza will be played in Glendale, Arizona. It is expected to attract some 120 million viewers worldwide and generate at least $330 million in network ad revenue alone. Even though I’ve been a lifelong fan, I won’t be watching this year.
My one-man boycott is not likely to gain any support. The NFL is hugely popular. It’s so huge, in fact, that it has become a cultural institution which has transcended the normal realm of sports; and, this is precisely the reason for my boycott. Historian, politician, and writer Sir John Dalberg-Acton (a.k.a. Lord Acton) once wrote:
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Like many other social institutions in the 21st century – such as those in business, government, and religion – the NFL has gotten too big and is corrupting itself. One of the participant teams in this year’s contest, the New England Patriots, is embroiled in yet another high-profile scandal. The latest one is being called “Deflategate.” A previous scandal known as “Spygate” called into question the legitimacy of the franchise’s successful run since the early 2000s. Both involve allegations of, and documented proof of, cheating to gain competitive advantage.
The latest revelations have come at an inopportune time for the league, during the publicity-rich interlude between the AFC/NFC championship games and the Super Bowl, and after a season marred by domestic violence scandals involving Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, as well as several other players. Furthermore, this season comes on the heels of other recent scandals such as “Bountygate” and attempts by the NFL to cover up the serious health consequences of high-speed impacts and concussions.
The NFL’s public relations problem has gotten so bad that its former commissioner Paul Tagliabue criticized the current commissioner Roger Goodell for prioritizing profits above all else (see: http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl/story/2015-01-27/paul-tagliabue-roger-goodell-for-nfl-controversies), the legendary former head coach of the Miami Dolphins Don Shula derided the current Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick as “Beli-cheat” (see: http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/eye-on-football/24945025/don-shula-refers-to-bill-belichick-as-beli-cheat), and the Hall of Fame former Chicago Bears player and coach Mike Ditka said that football is now too dangerous and that he wouldn’t want his son to play it (see: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/chi-mike-ditka-football-dangerous-son-20150121-story.html).
Coincidentally or not, the NFL’s (i.e. Goodell’s) statement that its Deflategate investigation won’t be concluded until some weeks after the Super Bowl seems to lend credibility to Mr. Tagliabue’s accusation of single-minded greed. The league has also stated that it is focusing on a single locker-room attendant or ball-boy as being responsible for deflating the balls used by Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady in violation of NFL rules. How convenient scapegoating a low-level employee would be for a multi-billion dollar business, for one of its top franchises having a questionable record of fair-play, and for the owner of that franchise (Robert Kraft) who enjoys a close personal relationship with the business’s highest officer (Goodell)?
This is what happens when institutions become too big. They corrupt themselves not because its leaders are bad people, but because there is simply too much money and livelihoods at stake. Greed becomes all-consuming, and the lust for power becomes insatiable.
So, I’m urging you to load up on beer and salty snacks. Sit back and spend this Sunday watching Beli-cheat’s Patriots battle it out with those arrogant and unsavory Seahawks from Seattle. It will be a titanic duel between proud warriors in a great stadium. At the end, you can callously gesture thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the loser just like the Romans did in their coliseums two millennia ago. Besides, who really cares about institutional corruption?