A Facebook friend posted the following status earlier today: “Dave wishes the socialist workers’ collective of Green Bay victory in its struggle against the capitalist industrialist running dog lackeys of Pittsburgh.” And of course the Green Bay Packers are community-owned, the only professional sports team with that ownership structure (and, of course, the sole reason a town the size of Green Bay, whose population just barely tops 100,000, still has a professional franchise).
But maybe, just maybe, there’s a little more to Dave’s tongue-in-cheek salute. Bill Maher, who probably is considering legally appending “Irreverent” to his name, makes a larger argument about the success of professional football: it’s due, he says, to socialism. As my brother-in-law (who made me aware of this article) points out, Maher tries way too hard to be funny and at least injure as many sacred cows as he can…but he is essentially correct in his arguments about the benefits and working of the NFL’s television revenue sharing plan.
Arguably, the belief that if some resources are distributed more equitably, the league as a whole is better off, predates the television contract. In fact, in some respects none other than St. Vince Lombardi himself concurs. In a passage in his book Run to Daylight (co-written with W.C. Heinz and published in 1963), Lombardi describes the intensive work he and his coaches would put in studying game films to learn opponents’ preferred strategies and formations. In an era before digital video and near-instantaneous transmissibility of data, the means by which game films were distributed from team to team was considerably complicated:
For each game we exchange the films of our last two games. At the end of last week a print of our game with the Cardinals two weeks ago went from the Bears to the Lions, who are studying it right now, and today a print of our Bears game of yesterday was shipped out to them by priority air express. We got this film of their Forty-Niner game from the Colts, who played them last week, and after we are finished with the film of that game with the Colts, we will send it on Friday to the Rams….
Such a network depends upon all the teams cooperating, even though any team that did not make its films available might conceivably gain a competitive advantage. But the team, and the league, were farsighted enough to recognize that a more competitive league was a more appealing league, and that the less predictable the outcome of any given game, the more likely it was that fans would want to pay attention to each game.
And what’s curious is that for all the right-wing political emphasis upon competition, in the most prominent realm of competition, the structure and strength of those competitors is generally a cooperative one: the corporation, in which the knowledge, skills, and potential of many people are pooled and subordinated to a collective effort. The libertarian fantasy of every man for himself is a fantasy even in the economic system many libertarians feel is closest to their ideal, capitalism.