What could be more American than football and the Superbowl? Ironically football — as practiced in the US — is socialist.
Now, this doesn’t mean I’m promoting socialism. I’m a hard core capitalist and I believe in free enterprise. But I’m also pragmatic enough to realize that there are situations where free market capitalism doesn’t work, and even when it does work, there must be rules and regulations.
So how is football socialist?
Sports leagues (not just football) realized a long time ago that there had to be rules limiting the “free market” of sports teams. If big or rich cities were allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money then they could hire the best players and the best coaches, do the most training, and they would most likely win most (if not all) of the time. What a dull sport that would be, with the same teams winning game after game, year after year. The losing teams would become even less popular, would lose money, which would make them get even worse, and they would lose even more. Games would be completely boring. The sport would likely die.
So in America, where we believe in free markets, each year the losing teams are given first draft picks for the new players. What kind of system rewards the worst teams and penalizes the winners? Isn’t that socialism? Not only that, but each team has a salary cap, which limits how much they can pay for players. All teams (win or lose) have the same limit on the amount of money they can spend. Oppressive regulations!!! And all television revenue is shared equally with all teams, regardless of how much that team generates (“each according to their need”). Even more socialism!!!
Why do they do that? Because as any sports fan knows, the whole point of a vibrant sport is good competition. That means that every team has to have the same inherent chances, an equal opportunity to succeed. It isn’t survival of the strongest that makes the game strong, it is having good competition.
Even more ironic, one of the best teams in football are the Green Bay Packers, who have won more NFL championships than any other team. How do they do this? Do they pay their players more? No! In fact, they have the lowest median salary in the NFL. Do they represent a big city? No! Green Bay (population 100,000) is the smallest city to have a major league football team. Their games always fill their stadium (which can hold 70% of the entire city population) and they have a waiting list for season tickets that could more than fill another stadium just as large.
So how do they do it? Most people don’t realize this, but the Green Bay Packers are a non-profit community-owned organization. You can buy stock in them, but it does not pay dividends, and it never increases in value. It is a worthless investment, and yet they have 112,000 shareholders (more than the population of Green Bay).
In other words, the Green Bay Packers are socialists (maybe even communists). As conservatives keep telling us, socialism never works and will destroy our economy. And yet the Green Bay Packers are consistently one of the top ten revenue generating teams in the NFL (so the socialists are supporting the capitalist teams!). According to the conservatives, taxing the successful and supporting the unsuccessful will destroy the incentive to win.
And yet the Green Bay Packers keep on winning.
If it is so clear to us that a level playing field is important in sports, why is it so difficult for us to realize that the same thing is just as important, if not more important, in our economy? That’s why we have laws against monopolies (monopolies are where companies control markets instead of competing against other companies). It is no accident that sports leagues are exempt from anti-trust laws.
The founding fathers realized this, and wrote free public education into the constitution, promoted equal rights under the law, and gave you the the dream that with drive, hard work, and a little luck, you can achieve anything. They knew that the more people who can compete, the better we will do as a country.
Think about this the next time someone claims that we have to keep cutting taxes for the rich or get rid of inheritance taxes. Or that poor people don’t deserve health care or access to universities. We need to give everyone a sporting chance.
UPDATE: I hadn’t seen this, but a reader pointed out that Bill Maher just did a similar segment: