With the Super Bowl just a couple days away–and well over 100 million Americans expected to tune in–let us now pause to reflect on what makes football so great.
That’s Bill Maher’s take, anyway, and he almost has us convinced. Check out this nice little animation of Maher reading a short essay on the topic, from his forthcoming book The New New Rules: A Funny Look at How Everybody but Me Has Their Head Up Their Ass (Penguin, 2012). British motion graphics designer Fraser Davidson did the art direction and animation:
Let’s consider the evidence: The NFL takes money from the richest teams and redistributes it to the poorer ones. Profits from television, the league’s largest source of revenue, get dumped into a pot and divided evenly between the 32 teams. Whoever happens to win the Super Bowl gets the last pick in the draft. In other words, the NFL is rigged so that no single team can dominate year after year. As Maher says, that’s “what the Republicans would call punishing success.”
Maher’s basic point is that all this pinko sharing levels the playing field: Each team has just as much of a shot of making the Super Bowl as the next team, whether you play in the biggest, richest city in America or a “sleepy little town on the banks of the fuck-if-I-know river,” which is to say, Green Bay.
There’s something deeply, almost sentimentally satisfying about the argument, but it does overlook one or two things. Part of the NFL’s much-vaunted parity owes as much to chance as it does to wealth distribution. In a 16-game season, a good team can torpedo its season with a few bad plays. Likewise, a so-so team can score a couple unexpected touchdowns when they need them, sneak into the playoffs, and–who knows?–maybe even make the Super Bowl (see: this year’s New York Giants).
The bigger problem here is that Maher is giving us a weird version of socialism, one in which the workers, ultimately, get screwed. The upshot of the NFL’s efforts to supposedly level the playing field (a salary cap here, a wage scale there) is that the owners pay the players–the people who do the actual work–far less than they would earn on a more open market. Sure, the system has socialist tendencies. But really it’s just socialism for the mega-rich.