Football mania

At the beginning of football season, here’s my rant.

Since I’m always one to take a 180 degree position—just to stir things up—why don’t we consider putting less emphasis on sports in this country?

It’s not like we don’t have a lot of things that are much more interesting and certainly more important to discuss over our morning coffee.

In New Orleans, which used to be a ho-hum sports market pre-Saints Super Bowl win (and I admit, that was a great thing for New Orleans), we had the usual enthusiasm for our football team. It took a lot of marketing dollars and PR for us to say “I’m in” to keep the Hornets from leaving the city. But now, football mania rules in New Orleans.

Football frenzy is now almost similar to the total bonkers insanity you see in cities like Baton Rouge for the LSU Tigers, or in all those little towns spread across the country whose only  form of entertainment is Friday night football. I mean, really: if the highlight of your life revolves around football games, all I have to say is maybe you live in a town where there are no good restaurants, no music or nightclubs, no cultural activities, no bars, no  theaters, nothing else to do.

Duh

It’s not that I don’t like sports; I did enjoy playing sports as a kid.  When I got out of grammar school, I was more interested in intellectual pursuits. Don’t get me wrong: I think involvement in sports gives one an appreciation for team spirit and working together as a team. I think that sports also is instructive in the nature of competition and strategy. But that’s kind of where it ends for me.

Sports now is the major form of entertainment, much more than it was when I was younger. It’s an industry that generates huge bucks for its participants, mainly because there are people who have been lulled over the years into spending a lot of money on buying tickets for the events, team merch and revenue from sponsors and advertisers who will pay huge amounts of money to air sports events on major media, specifically television.

The thing that really bothers me about big sports is that we seem to be paying more attention to it (all the while enriching sports franchises) than to the impact this focus on sports has on other types of entertainment. I don’t have any statistics to prove this, but with the way the music industry’s revenues have imploded over the last 15 years, I’d venture to say that the sports industry’s revenues far exceed music’s.

The bigger issue, though, is how our sports-crazy populace, and the effort it takes to keep them focused on sports, is affecting education. I suppose this is related in large part to the undue emphasis that schools and universities place on sports. For the most part, universities with high-profile sports teams generate a lot more revenue from alumni than those without; this is particularly true for public universities. I think it’s shameful for universities to bolster their sports presence at the expense of having to cut faculty and staff and programming. What does this say about where our priorities are?

It’s just crazy. Sports is, in effect, dumbing us all down.

I listen to NPR ‘s Frank DeFord’s opinion on sports and he said something interesting this morning that made me think my thinking might not be so contrary after all:

“All of this is being done for the big networks, who will pay big for the rights to air football games. This, at a time when studies continue to show that headball, uh, football, is dangerous to your mind, and that boys are falling behind girls in almost every academic measure, and that the United States is plummeting in college rankings around the world. Maybe what we should do is not try to export democracy, but, instead, export college football conferences, thereby diverting other nations’ interest in higher education to higher football, like here in the United States — or, as I call it in football season: the Big United States.”

Read the entire column here.

At minimum, why don’t we require that a minimum amount of revenue and taxes be returned to our educational system (not the athletics departments, not into programs that are going to produce more sports fanatics), so that we can produce some more well-rounded citizens of this planet?

 

  • jd

    could not agree more. i’m as much as a sports nut as the next guy. but, i’d rather spend my discretionary $$$ listening 2 kermit @ vaughns, glen [praying 4 him] @ dba, dr john @ tipitina’s. or, stuffing my pie hole @ liuzzas by the track, sammys [or any number of similar eateries]; and, 4 that ocassional treat, commanders, rest august, et al. oh, and drink a good local bottle of hops. recently moved away from nola, but it is these things that will kepp me coming back. and back. and ba …
    jd

  • kendali

    Your observations are right on the money. Back in Austin, where I used to live, the UT football coach makes $5 million bucks a year plus bonuses and, relatively speaking, that’s not even considered outrageous. It is, of course, but our society has been going out of whack for a while now and this is just another symptom of decline. If you go to nola.com you will see the sheer number of comments on articles about the Saints outnumbers everything else by quite a margin. It’s just a game, folks!

  • cdosh

    I certainly agree with the focus of this editorial but I have to say how ironic I found it when i glanced at the right advertisement column to see an ad by My Locker. There it was, a bright yellow “Harrington High School” football hoodie being promoted. So, does this mean that even “OffBeat” benefits from the football craze?

    • janramsey

      I hear you on that one, but we don’t have control over what Google puts on our website. I’d be surprised if we made 2 cents on that ad, if that.

  • cdosh

    I certainly agree with the focus of this editorial but I have to say how ironic I found it when i glanced at the right advertisement column to see an ad by My Locker. There it was, a bright yellow “Harrington High School” football hoodie being promoted. So, does this mean that even “OffBeat” benefits from the football craze?

  • Also bewildered

    Jan, Agreed, agreed, agreed. I’ve also never gotten or believed the whole meme of “The Saints brought the city together.” There’s so much wonderfully going on in NOLA that we don’t need a sports team (one that wouldn’t even be here if not for Arnie Fielkow and Commissioner Goodell) as our connectivity. It’s just good marketing by Tom Benson and the NFL.
    There’s nothing more “high school” than seeing grown men and women walking around wearing sports jerseys. Truth be told, not just music is affected, but the Saints & LSU games kill everyone’s business, except for bars with big-screen tvs. The only good thing is that it’s easy to get a table at many restaurants. I thought New Orleans was always about NOT trying to be the rest of America, but we’ve had/or are about to have more major sporting events in a certain period than anyone in the country. Do we have the CVB to “thank” for this?

  • Bill Malchow

    Sports vs Music here are some thoughts:

    A sports team is a proxy for a community. You get to have flags and logos and t-shirts to identify people in your community. Then it allows a community (off all ages) to gather at a predetermined time, socialize, cheer and share emotions together, You get to focus on a (mostly) non controversial event, and say unarguably (if the score is in your favor) “Our Community is Better Then Yours”. Who doesn’t want to say that our country/state/city/college/high school is better then yours? It’s primal.
    Music has become more of an individual statement then a communities. You listen with headphones and have your own playlists. It also a more fragmented community. There are many more concerts/gigs and bands then sporting events so a band’s community is divided into smaller groups. It’s easy and cheap to make a CD. so there are lot of CD’s. More fragmentation. Ever since the Beatles there is an emphasis on “originals” over “covers” so people don’t get to have as much of common shared experience (as they don’t know or understand the words being sung). Music usually appeals to a specific age group. Often you have to be at least 21 to see it.
    Music is subjective. Sports isn’t. Is a Band from New Orleans better then one from Austin? There are no rules or scoreboards to make this claim and no day/event when it’s decided. So its just opinion.
    The Media loves sports because its an event that is only important in the moment. All eyes are on the Television, It has little value 4 years or 2 hours from when it happened. So you can sell Advertising for more money. So they emphasize it.
    Music can be recorded, played later, traded. so the media has trouble making money.

    Anyone else have thoughts?

    • janramsey

      Excellent comments. One always wants to cheer for the home team. It’s human nature to want to “beat” the other tribe because then you “win.” I just think that it’s been taken way too far, and there’s so much money in it. Sports should put money back into non-sports education. If I were a university president, that’s what I’d do. I’d be very curious to know how much university money derived from sports goes back into the educational process. If sports raises the most $$, shouldn’t that faction be obligated to put s significant portion back into the university’s educational funds. Ditto high schools. Intellectual education is more important than sports in my brain.

      • Bill Malchow

        I think many schools use the funds from money making Basketball/Football to cover non money making sports like swimming, lacross, field hockey etc. Here is a recent article on what LSU does. Seems they are giving 7.2 million back to academics, but they also claim it’s unusual arrangment.
        http://theadvocate.com/home/3820021-125/lsu-athletics-to-annually-contribute

        • Bill Malchow

          Can Music take any lessons from sports? A band like Wide spread panic has created a community with “Events” and T-shirts. Although there is no “battle”. Battle of the Bands don’t work so well unless you are a marching band.

          Then again there use to be “cutting contests” and it kept everyone sharp. Fans/promotors like to make “Fantasy Bands” kinda like Fantasy Football. “Let’s take Warren Haynes, George Porter, the Dirty Dozen and Vidacovich”. I wouldn’t mind being traded to the Tin Men for Matt Perrine and a sousaphone player to be named later.

          • Mike B

            In New Orleans that trading thing might work. It would be fun to have an event where maybe 25 players were in a draft and had to make up 4-6 bands. Almost sounds like Jazz Fest.

            At lunch ESPN was on the tv with no sound. I must’ve seen a replay maybe 8x in 30 minutes of whoever was playing the NY Giants rush NY on the last play when they game was decided. Apparently it was controversial. They looked like they were opining on health care or something significant.

            I don’t have an answer. I went to some sporting events as a kid and have been to a few as an adult, but an average game live doesn’t come close to seeing George Porter on any Thursday for me and the $ is ridiculous.

            I think the analysis based on splintered markets in music these days has merit.

    • janramsey

      Excellent comments. One always wants to cheer for the home team. It’s human nature to want to “beat” the other tribe because then you “win.” I just think that it’s been taken way too far, and there’s so much money in it. Sports should put money back into non-sports education. If I were a university president, that’s what I’d do. I’d be very curious to know how much university money derived from sports goes back into the educational process. If sports raises the most $$, shouldn’t that faction be obligated to put s significant portion back into the university’s educational funds. Ditto high schools. Intellectual education is more important than sports in my brain.

  • Mike

    Athletics is part of the educational system, coaches are teachers. Like it or not, athletics is its just about the only thing that will bring publicity (granted not always positive) to a school on a weekly if not daily basis. I can’t recall the last time I read an article about something happening in the English Department. In a few cases, LSU being one of them, the athletic departments actually make money for the university. There was a recent article in the TP that mentioned that the athletic department at LSU had recently given $7,000,000 to the university’s general fund. I admit that this is the exception rather than the rule and funding for athletics must come from the university in most cases, but I think you would be hard pressed to find a significant number of students who would rather see the athletic programs dropped than have them supported by univeristy funds. Also, I would much rather see TV networks spend their money on airing sporting events than yet another “reality” show piece of crap ….. talk about dumbing down !

    • Janramsey

      So if a university doesn’t have a stellar sports program, then it doesn’t have a shot at improving its educational offering because it doesn’t draw financial support. There’s something really wrong about that, iMHO.

  • dk in pa

    Talk about a personal journey. My husband puts all his extra penneys to the Eagles (yes, we’re from PA!) He goes to a game or two, goes to pre-season practice, and on the weekend is dressed head to toe in green. He would give his left nut to see the Saints play in the dome! After 31 years of marriage, I still don’t get it. Me..I put my penneys toward a trip to hear Kermit, Irvin, Shamarr…or see Soul Rebels or any Neville in Philly. (This is why we have no penneys left!)

  • hilarious!

    where can i get that hat in the photo?

  • gumbo1963

    I have to disagree wholeheartedly. As much as I love music, I have to say that sports brings a sense of community more than any other event. Is that a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. The revenue local establishments profit from games is beneficial. The revenue teams’ fans bring into New Orleans when their team is here visiting is a boom economically.
    I also disagree that the Saints did not bind the community. When Steve Gleason blocked that punt in the first post-federal flood game in the dome, although I was in Massachusetts at the time I heard WhoDats relocated all over the country cheer for not only for the Saints but for NEW ORLEANS!
    In regard to the colleges giving revenue they garnered from their efforts to other departments, many athletic programs do grant funds to the college’s general fund. The issue is that these other programs do not generate income, they are a cost center not a profit center like athletics are.

    • Janramsey

      If they’re a profit center, all of them should give back to the university. Is a university a place of learning and education, or is it another entertainment option? Let’s have some balance. That’s what I see: too much emphasis on sports and their entertainment value. If they generate a ton of money, then the money generated should go back to the university. I hate to break this to you, but Steve Gleason’s punt didn’t rock everybody’s world.

  • Mike

    Just to clarify, the collegiate athletic program that is actually profitable is a rarity. I work for an organization that is involved in collegiate athletics (the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Assn.) A couple of years ago the President of the NCAA spoke at our convention and he said that only about a dozen college athletic departments our the several hundred that exist earned a profit. That’s on paper. There is an enormous amount of anecdotal information that supports the contention that while an athletic department may not show a profit on paper, the impact that it has on the enrollment numbers is huge. Certainly students attend college to earn their degree and hopefully prepare themselves for the future. How they go about choosing that college is (in many, many cases) greatly influenced by what they know about that university because of the athletic programs. Of course students want to attend a good school, but they also want to enjoy the “college life” and for most that is inseparable from athletics. Not to beat up on any academic department, but when is the last time 90,000 people got together to watch someone solve a physics problem? I’d venture to guess that many music programs would suffer if there weren’t football and basketball games for the bands to play at. Athletics aren’t for everyone and that’s ok, but I think it’s short sighted to look at athletics and only see a handful of athletes running around and question the wisdom of spending money on those programs. I think gumbo1963 made a great point as well when he/she mentioned the revenue generated in local establishments (some of them music clubs not doubt) by sporting events. As I said earlier, athletics are part of the educational experience. Think BIGGER picture.

  • Tom Jacobsen

    Jan, I regret that my initial remarks to your statement didn’t make it to this listing. I would merely note, at this point, that I see the “obsession” with football as but one manifestation of the increasing taste for violence and brutality in our society. As a healthy (but aging) male, I participated in sports from a very early age and still follow the college and professional games–though much less enthusiastically than before. I wish that the same enthusiasm for football could be directed to quality education in America. I would recommend the writings of Buzz Bissinger and Murray Sperber, among others, to the naysayers among us.