The American game

Malcolm Gladwell:

Yes, football has kind of been ruined for me, I’m afraid. Understand that I live for the game. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that it is screwed up — on a moral level — in a way that no other professional sport is.

Think about it. The league has a salary cap (which limits players’ pay), minimal health insurance for retirees and no guaranteed contracts. In other words, the owners reserve the right to limit the pool of money available to players, to walk away from contracts whenever they please and then hold no long-term responsibility for the health of the players whose contracts they have limited and declined to honor. Coal miners aren’t treated this badly. And now we strongly suspect a fourth fact: that some significant percentage of ex-players, as a direct result of playing professional football, will suffer from dementia in their 40s and 50s, in addition to all the known and significant other health risks of the game (severe arthritis, substantially elevated risk of heart disease, etc.).

At some point, doesn’t it become immoral to watch a sport that treats its players so badly? Most people don’t go to boxing matches or dogfights on ethical grounds. So how is football different?

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4 Responses to “The American game”

  1. Tyler Says:

    They get paid millions and live a life of luxury. This guy is an idiot. I’ll take on all the health risks and lack of insurance they get to live the life of an NFL player. Also, 4-1 sloan. look out

  2. Kenny Says:

    I’d recommend reading his entire piece on concussions in the NFL here:

    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/19/091019fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all

    I understand what Tyler is saying. NFL players are very well compensated. And they should know the risks of the profession they are getting into.

    It’s tough to feel sympathy for them because all we see are them at their height, young, healthy, wealthy, and entertaining us. Especially for the “Stars”. But the shelf life of an average NFL player is not very long, and the NFL’s salary and benefits system are the most skewed in favor of the owners, for the sport in which the players careers are the shortest and whose post career lives are most impacted by their sports.

    I don’t think Malcolm Gladwell is trying to convince us that we shouldn’t watch football, although he implies that he has a hard time watching it. I think his point is that most people aren’t remotely aware of it. We all just think they “Live the life of luxury” in perpetuity. That’s because all we see are the current players and the former ones who are healthy enough to be analysts on TV. For some guys that’s the case, but I wouldn’t trade 5 or even 10 years in my 20s of being an average NFL player for having to spend the last 30 years of my life living with dementia, especially when my former employer wasn’t going to cover most of the costs of my medical care. Especially when the care is needed because of injuries which are directly related to my former line of work.

  3. indeedindeed Says:

    he’s not saying that it’s immoral to be a football player; he’s asking if at some point it becomes immoral to watch football, which is something i’ve been asking people a lot less articulately for a long time.

    we all accept that automobiles have been good for society, despite the fact that some huge number of people die in car accidents every year. but if our entertainment (which of course features willing, reasonably rational adults) ends up destroying the minds and bodies of the people who are involved, maybe our society needs to do something about it (forcing the franchises or union to pay for adequate health care is the obvious first baby step.)

  4. Pat Says:

    One question, where is all the outrage at the college level? These kids aren’t even paid to put their bodies on the line for billions of dollars for schools.

    I honestly think the blame in how bad the situation is in football should be rested squarely on the nfl player’s association. they negotiated and agreed to a deal which doesn’t properly take care of former players.

    The NFLPA could also step up and push a leaguwide proposal, among players, where a small portion of their contracts (say .25%) goes into a health care fund. I’m not sure what the total payroll is in the NFL but i think a quarter of a percent of that # is a lot of loot.

    Is it morally wrong for the owner’s to take a bigger piece of the pie in football than in other sports? I mean, they may have had the foresight to buy an nfl team and not an nba team, they negotiate tv contracts, promote the league, create, market and sell merchandise. Is the success of the NFL simply because people like football or do people like football because of an amazing business plan set forth by guys who should rightly see a greater reward?

    One thing is for certain, people do love football and they like it on all levels. There will always be people willing to play and take the risks for the great rewards.

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