Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Glass House of the NFL

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review

 

The league’s national significance is rapidly diminishing, due to hypocrisy and hyper-politicization in a once-loved American establishment.

 

The National Football League is a glass house that was cracking well before Donald Trump’s criticism of players who refuse to stand during the national anthem.

 

The NFL earned an estimated $14 billion last year. But 500-channel television, Internet live streaming, video games, and all sorts of other televised sports have combined to threaten the league’s monopoly on weekend entertainment — even before recent controversies.

 

It has become a fad for many players not to stand for the anthem. But it is also becoming a trend for irate fans not to watch the NFL at all.

 

Multimillionaire young players, mostly in their 20s, often cannot quite explain why they have become so furious at emblems of the country in which they are doing so well.

 

Their gripes at best seem episodic and are often without supporting data. Are they mad at supposedly inordinate police brutality toward black citizens, or racial disparity caused by bias, or the perceived vulgarity of President Donald Trump?

 

The result, fairly or not, is that a lot of viewers do not understand why so many young, rich players show such disrespect for their country — and, by extension, insult their far poorer fans, whose loyal support has helped pay their salaries.

 

ESPN talking heads and network TV analysts do not help. They often pose as social-justice warriors, but they are ill-equipped to offer sermons to fans on their ethical shortcomings that have nothing to do with football.

 

In truth, the NFL’s hard-core fan base is not composed of bicoastal hipsters. Rather, the league’s fan base is formed mostly by red-state Americans — and many of them are becoming increasingly turned off by the culture of professional football.

 

Professional athletes are frequently viewed as role models. Yet since 2000, more than 850 NFL players have been arrested, some of them convicted of heinous crimes and abuse against women.

 

The old idea of quiet sportsmanship — downplaying one’s own achievements while crediting the accomplishments of others — is being overshadowed by individual showboating.

 

Players are now bigger, faster, and harder-hitting than in the past. Research has revealed a possible epidemic of traumatic brain injuries and other crippling injuries among NFL players. Such harm threatens to reduce the pool of future NFL players.

 

There is a growing public perception that the NFL is less a reflection of the kind of athleticism seen in basketball or baseball, and more a reflection of the violence of Mixed Martial Arts — or of gladiators in the ancient Roman Colosseum.

 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has received more than $212 million in compensation since 2006, has been a big moneymaker for the owners. Yet otherwise, he has been a public-relations disaster, largely because of his incompetent efforts to sound politically correct. Goodell often insists that trivial rules be observed to the letter. For instance, the league denied a request by Dallas Cowboys players to wear small decals honoring Dallas police officers killed in a 2016 shooting.

 

At other times, Goodell deliberately ignores widespread violations of important NFL regulations — like the requirement that all players show respect for the American flag by solemnly standing during the national anthem. The average value of an NFL franchise is estimated at $2.5 billion.

 

The average player salary is nearly $2 million a year. Some of the league’s superstars are making more than $20 million a year. Given such wealth, local governments are understandingly becoming miffed that they have to pony up public money to support new NFL stadiums. Over the last two decades, the American public has shelled out more than $7 billion to build or renovate NFL stadiums. Billionaire owners are able to blackmail the public to pay to keep a franchise or else lose it to a city that offers bigger stadium subsidies.

 

Meanwhile, the NFL has successfully lobbied for exemption from federal antitrust regulations. NFL owners are crony capitalists who want the state both to subsidize them and leave them alone.

 

Racial politics in the NFL have become increasingly problematic. The mega-wealthy franchise owners are almost all white businesspeople. Their multimillionaire players are about 70 percent African-American. So there is little diversity among the players, but even less among the owners.

 

Politically correct orthodoxy dictates that even quasi-public entities like the NFL should “look like America.” But instead, the NFL apparently sees itself as an old-fashioned meritocracy where athletic skills and corporate success alone determine who plays and who owns.

 

The progressive notions of “proportional representation” and “disparate impact” that sometime govern universities and government mysteriously do not apply to the NFL, where few Latinos or Asians are included.

 

But most importantly, the league has entirely forgotten the fundamental rule of business: Never ignore, insult, or talk down to the loyal consumers who provide the leagues’ support and income.

 

The NFL will not disappear, but its national significance is rapidly diminishing.

 

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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