Paying the NFL

By Bob Hiller


Last week, in an interview with Senator John McCain, Dan Patrick asked the Senator about an issue I have been meaning to address for some time. I am embarrassed to say, I forgot all about until the interview. Sen. McCain is one of the leading voices in a campaign to stop the US Defense Department from paying tax-payer’s money to the NFL.  Now, you may be wondering why the military is spending your tax dollars (a phrase designed to make you angry) on professional football. Well, have you ever seen those pre-game events where the NFL…ahem…nobly honors the troops for their service to our country? Yeah, the military pays for those. In fact, it has been reported that the US Defense Department paid out $5.4 million to fourteen different teams in order to have their troops honored before games. The Department claims it is a good recruiting tool. If you ask me, it is disgusting.

It is one thing for the military to pay for commercial spots. It is another thing for the NFL to exploit our nation’s heroes for commercial gain. I am under no illusion that the NFL is interested in anything besides money. That is disturbingly obvious. However, it does take a special kind of greed to extract payment from those who put their lives on the line for our country. It was one thing when they said the Super Bowl half-time show could go to the highest bidder. But, Katy Perry isn’t laying her life on the line for our nation. The only thing she’s ever sacrificed is her respectability.

Truth be told, though I am shocked to hear the depth to which the NFL goes to make a few million (Do they even need this money? Some players make this in a weekend!), it is not a shocking story. Disturbing, but not shocking. The NFL will exploit anyone so long as it is good for the brand. I hate to say it, but one now has to wonder if something similar isn’t happening with the work they do for breast cancer awareness. I shutter to think they’d be taking money from life-saving medical research. I just wouldn’t be shocked by it. Taking money from people who save lives apparently isn’t beneath “the Shield.”


But, as disturbing as this story is, even more troublesome is how this story won’t have a negative impact on Sunday’s ratings at all.  It is an older story by news standards (it came out in May), and yet I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first you’ve heard of it. Even if you had, even if there was a great uproar from the media, it still wouldn’t change the fact that the NFL juggernaut will post insane ratings on every game played in the next week. The product on the field is just too good, too entertaining, and too consuming to allow morality to get in the way of our enjoyment.

I don’t think anything could take the NFL down at this point. Fans assume the use of performance enhancing drugs, so a drug scandal like Major League Baseball saw in the late 1990s wouldn’t bother anyone. As we learned from Ray Rice, the abuse of women by men who are molded to be aggressive and violent won’t change a thing in terms of our viewership. Not even the suicide of a great player like Junior Seau, who had mental health issues after numerous concussions, will stem our desire for hard hits and dangerous plays. The only thing that seems to make any football fan angry is Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck cheating with the amount of air in footballs. And, honestly, that is only because we all hate losing to the Patriots. If it were, say, the San Diego Chargers, we’d all shake our heads and move on. (By the way, that little deflated football scandal only makes the Patriots a more attractive product for us to consume. Villains make for a good plot and even better ratings.)

So, we’ll all complain about this money-hungry, violent culture that is ruining the brains of human beings and taking military funds to do it. To honor our troops, we’ll spit on the ground if commissioner Roger Goddell walks by. We’ll be sufficiently outraged at the next scandal to come from this massive commercial powerhouse. And then on Sunday, we’ll grab a beer, put on our favorite player’s jersey, and cheer for our favorite team – no questions asked.


The reason the culture in the NFL won’t change is because you and I are far too entertained by the sport to stop watching. We’re addicted to football. At least I know I am. Judging from the ratings, I’m not the only one.  NFL football is not just a sport we watch for a few hours on Sunday; it is a significant part of the American cultural landscape. It has a tremendous amount of commercial and social influence. Plus, it is just plain fun to watch. The entertainment value is so good that I’m not going to let a few “indiscretions” get in the way of my pleasure. Who cares if the corporation is so powerful that they can manipulate the government into giving them money from the defense fund? At least the game is going to be entertaining!

I guess I don’t really have much constructive to offer by way of a solution to the NFL’s disturbing behavior. Though, I do wonder if the attitude of many fans doesn’t reflect the larger issues with morality in our culture. That is, our actions are shaped more by what we value (entertainment, pleasure, leisure) than by what is actually virtuous. Sure, we may be outraged at all the right things. But, we also won’t change the channel so long as the show makes me laugh. The sad reality is that you can write your Senator to complain about the NFL taking defense dollars, you can file complaints to your local NFL team, you can even sell your season tickets, but so long as the culture is driven by its lust for entertainment, nothing is going to change.

Sound depressing? Don’t worry; the game will be on soon. Brought to you by Draft Kings and the US Military.