Kane: The prevalence of socialism in ‘American’ football


Noah Kane, Columnist

The Super Bowl is a quintessentially American event. Collectively, we will eat 1.25 billion chicken wings during this year’s contest. With wing prices at their current levels and estimating 12 wings per pound, this feat of feasting will cost around $180 million, greater than the daily cost of the 2013 U.S. government shutdown, according to USA Today. This Sunday, the most powerful government in the world could take a day off for the amount of money it would take to fill the distended stomachs of its constituents.

According to many of our politicians, the only thing more American than football is capitalism. Government officials are often tentative to reach across the aisle, but their love of capitalism is a bipartisan affair. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a man so unabashedly patriotic he has advocated cutting off foreign aid to countries in which demonstrators burn U.S. flags, said at the 2012 Republic National Convention, “The great and abiding lesson of American history … is that the engine of capitalism, the individual, is mightier than any collective.” In a 2011 speech in Kansas, President Obama proudly declared, “The free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history.”

This relationship among America, football and capitalism, however, is not transitive. Few American organizations are more socialist than the National Football League. For one, NFL players are unionized and negotiate their contracts through collective bargaining. Furthermore, the league’s salary cap is a binding wage ceiling that prevents teams from pooling too much talent, ensuring competitiveness but certainly not capitalist competition. The Jacksonville Jaguars still exist, despite years of conspicuous failure. If the team were a person, I suspect many American politicians would have long ago decried the Jaguars’ reliance on the NFL’s welfare.

Perhaps the most Marxian aspect of America’s beloved game is its draft procedure. Each year, the worst-performing teams get the first pick of the litter of promising college players. It is difficult to imagine an American institution that more closely echoes Marx’s famous adage: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” The NFL draft is socialism at work in a country struggling to find politically palatable reasons to give poor people health insurance.

In the United Kingdom, however, health care is just as free as the market for soccer players. Every single Barclays Premier League team has a corporate sponsor prominently displayed on the front of its uniform. Player salaries have only just begun to be restricted. League rules instituted in 2013 mandate that no team that doles out more than £52 million ($79 million) to its players in a given year can increase that amount by more than £4 million ($6 million) in the following year. These so-called “Financial Fair Play” regulations aren’t designed to cap salaries so much as to prevent teams from spending themselves into debt in order to monopolize talent.

Premier League footballers, who are not unionized, are treated much more like commodities than their NFL counterparts. Soccer players cannot only be bought and sold on the open market, they can also be loaned. In September of last year, Chelsea was renting more players to other teams than it had on its active roster. As a Massachusetts native, I am well aware that sports fans often value players’ loyalty to their teams. I can hardly fathom the number of cups of Sam Adams that Patriots fans would throw at Tom Brady upon his return from a brief stint with the Jets, even if the loan had been in the Patriots’ financial best interest.

So, as you gnaw on fried chicken, watch corporate advertisements that cost $4 million each and inexplicably chant “USA!” when your conversations stagnate, don’t forget about the socialist legacy you are upholding. Our politicians might enthusiastically praise capitalism, but in all likelihood they, too, will be munching on wings this Sunday.

Noah Kane is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].