The Artful Scribbler

A Sports Diatribe

Posted in Football, sports by The Artful Scribbler on November 12, 2012

I started a discussion on Linkedin when I asked the question “Is anyone else tired of hearing about the greatness of Michigan football?” I went on to add a few sentences saying that sports have a place in our society, but that football is a dumb expensive sport. Sure, considering my additional remarks on Linkedin my intent was larger than strictly Michigan football. That said, given the enormity of the Wolverine program, I was not surprised to get comments. Some people disagreed and provided well thought out responses, some agreed at least in part, and some responded with a desperate grasp of logic.

Let me provide some background. I am a Michigan graduate and for the first few years at school went to the football games. Michigan Stadium is very big and seats many people, as the school will proudly inform you again, again and again. However, the seating is almost all bleachers; tightly packed simple hard flat aluminum strips from top to bottom. On the last game I attended, I was getting crammed in from all sides, my butt hurt and it ceased being enjoyable. I have no problem with people being loud and drunk in public (I go to the Indy 500), but just not in my face while being shoved from all sides. I finally got up at the start of one game and walked out, and as I said, never looked back. One commenter said I must be looking back because I am writing about it. Truth is, Michigan football will not leave me alone. Whenever U of M begs for money, there is the football team. When the Alumni association comes to my mailbox, there is the football team. When I go to work with other Big Ten graduates, I am badgered about the football team. Michigan is an excellent school, but it makes me wonder if people recognize it for academics or a big football program.

To be fair, my non-interest in football is not specific to Michigan alone. I distribute my lack of interest from Pop Warner all the way to the Pros (though I will admit to watching the last five minutes of the Superbowl last year.) Football is an expensive sport that often requires funds from taxpayers who do not follow the games. It needs a large infrastructure, expensive equipment and a huge staff compared to other sports. Although I have not seen the numbers, I would imagine that Michigan football pays for itself through TV contracts and other revenue streams. If this is true, this is the exception to the rule, especially at the high school level. It is not unusual for high schools to spend upwards of $10 million on building football facilities with the most extreme example of Allen, Texas building a stadium costing almost $60 million. According to the Chicago Tribune, expenses for a season of high school football conservatively top $100,000. That is a huge public tax burden passed to the entire population for a few people to enjoy. Indianapolis has a new stadium that is a wonder of architecture and engineering which cost $720 million. Put another way, three quarters of a billion dollars. Somewhere around $500 million remained after Lucas Oil acquired the naming rights. Much of this is being paid through a variety of hotel, car rental, restaurant and entertainment taxes by people in the 10 county area. Indianapolis ended up with this because the owners threatened to move the team if they did not get a new stadium. To compete with other cities, they had to build it. It is a terribly expensive spiral that cities think they have to participate in. But, I have to ask where our priorities are? I’m not advocating raising taxes, but how hard would it be for Indianapolis or any city to raise half a billion in taxes to improve our roads and schools? How far would $500 million go towards other improvements around the state? Other countries are way ahead of us in education, and yet we keep plowing more money into building sports arenas.

Many of the comments voiced a general objection of my calling football a dumb sport. I have always believed that sport, like music, math, science, etc. is important to education. One commenter asked, “What is the alternative, let us sit around and get fat?” This argument falls flat when one considers the obesity problem, especially in adolescences. Sport is not having an impact so just give up on that line of reasoning. What do sports teach? Many things; the importance of teamwork, competition, working towards a goal, how to win and how to lose. Winning and losing are important concepts for people to learn. There is a trend of structuring sports for children where there is no winner or loser because this might hurt the child’s feelings. What nonsense. That is part of life. Kids have to learn to handle both triumphs and defeats; losing teaches as many valuable lessons as winning. Regardless, my problem with football in particular is that, besides the expense, especially at the professional level it routinely leaves the participants with life long debilities. There are multitudes of retired football players with joint and head trauma injuries. The brain impact forces even in youth leagues are incredibly high, in some cases approaching levels seen in adult football leagues. Studies are starting to come forward about the possible long-term consequences of football related brain traumas even at an early age. See the following for more information.
Youth football head impact study
Brain Injury in Youth Sports

Football as entertainment is 5 seconds of violence followed by several minutes of large men walking around and maybe a beer commercial. Basketball, soccer or hockey are much better as entertainment since the action is constant. Even golf on TV has an ongoing stream of action. These sports work at a continuing pace rather than filling time with important shots of grim faced coaches making profound decisions. One of my favorite viewing sports is auto racing. Is racing a dumb sport? Sure. It is just people driving around at high speed. Like football, racing is terribly expensive and yes, tragedy happens. However, the vast majority of participants leave the sport without life altering injuries. Racing has taken upon itself to advance safety to where drivers now walk away from crashes that would have been fatal a few decades ago. In addition, if you don’t pay your own way, you don’t race. How many professional athletes in other sports would participate if they had to pay to play?

Many comments went on about Michigan football being a tradition. The implication is that, how could I, a Michigan alumni, not be in love with Michigan football since it is a tradition? I am required to love Michigan Football because I am supposed to; I am just supposed to. Just because I went to school there does not mean I am required to get nutty every time the Wolverines are playing. Doing something simply because it is a “Tradition” makes no sense. If a tradition has no redeeming quality, impedes progress, or is just plain unnecessary and annoying, why do it? For these reasons, traditions die out as their importance diminishes and mores change. We used to celebrate Columbus Day in this country, but less so now for various reasons I will leave out of this discussion. The Amish are strict followers of traditions many Americans have long abandoned. It works for them, but not the majority of others. Football tradition? Not for me.

Sports have an important place, but have grown out of proportion to other needs. In the end though, I have to be brutally honest with myself. None of what I have said will make one bit of difference with the rabid or even casual fan. In fact, it will probably have the opposite effect and embolden them more. So if you want to spend your time watching football, please go ahead. I realize my few comments will not change a thing and I know I am in a miniscule minority. Throngs of people around the country will continue to gather and scream their heads off for men being paid millions of dollars to run into things while chasing balls in a taxpayer-funded sportsplex. It makes perfect sense now that I think about it that way! Who am I to complain?


3 Responses

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  1. Brittany Eaton said, on May 20, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    On his comments about Notre Dame ‘chickening out’ of the football series against U-M: ‘It is what it is. It’s such a great rivalry and, for college football, such a great game. You get 115,000 people in Michigan Stadium at night for that football game, and I think that speaks volumes. Believe me, it wasn’t any kind of swat at their players. They’ve got kids who are working hard like ours are. I just think it was such a good series for college football, and we started in 1887.

  2. Janalie Robeson said, on November 26, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    YOU ARE RIGHT ON TARGET!!!!!!!!!!!! TOUCHDOWN!!!!!!!!!!!!! I agree with Mark, too!

  3. Mark Murray said, on November 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Well said! I agree completely. You didn’t mention the financing on the $500M, yet another taxpayer expense. If any other business was run by this model – 40-50 guys making multi-million dollar salaries, dependent on public support, threatening to leave town if demands are not met – a billion dollar business, no less – most people would say it was unrealistic and an unnecessary burden on taxpayers. But few people blink an eye. You are right that schools and other public goods ought to benefit from this kind of major support, especially in times of budget pressures. Sports are now the official “state religion” of the USA, even the real “religion” of many who would call themselves Christian. Meanwhile orchestras struggle and arts programs are cut from schools. Meanwhile STEM education in the US suffers. Meanwhile we pay for this whether or not we even like football.

    There is a myth that “private enterprise” can support itself without government help. Pro sports pretty much busts that myth. If football is really “all that,” the sport would be 100% supported by “the market.” It would also be subject to fiscal discipline that would enable salaries to be kept under control and arenas to be built without taxpayer support.

    I have seen how the Colts players are pampered and protected. Of course they are expensive “assets,” and it would be stupid not to make sure they are healthy and happy, however it all seems a bit much for guys that play with a ball. Now, if they designed and built something useful, like say, engineers, then they might deserve this kind of TLC!

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