Commentary: Socialism and the NFL

Issac Bailey is a columnist for The Sun-News, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Issac Bailey is a columnist for The Sun-News, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. MCT

Once again on Thanksgiving Day, Americans of every political persuasion will gather around the dinner table and wax poetic about all sorts of topics, some silly, some serious.

They’ll debate the appropriateness of Uncle Johnny’s odd behavior and Aunt Sue’s crazy talk after she’s had a couple of wine coolers. Undoubtedly, talk eventuallly will turn to politics.

But as many Americans consume pieces of just-right sweet potato pie and slabs of fried turkey, tens of millions will be in front of television sets cheering on the most popular form of economic socialism the globe has ever known.

In laymen’s terms, it is called the National Football League, which will televise a triple-header on Thanksgiving Day.

It will be the latest iteration of America’s pastime, professional football, and a business model built upon all the things a growing number of Americans say they hate – except when they don’t.

The league that everyone fawns about redistributes wealth, taking from the rich and unapologetically giving it to the poor.

The NFL has grown into the most popular and profitable of the four major professional sports by relying upon special tax breaks, stadiums built by taxpayers and a restrictive pay structure. It caps how much teams can pay, makes sure all of the players have a living wage by enforcing league minimums, restricts player movement and says rookies can no longer be paid more than established veterans.

It rewards the biggest losers by giving them the best young players through the draft. The worse a team performs, the more help the league provides it, which is the reason the Carolina Panthers are led by phenom Cam Newton.

And it stacks the deck against the highest performers by making their schedules the most difficult.

The league believes its product is best served by leveling the playing field and reducing the natural advantages the big-market teams – rich ones like the Cowboys – have over the small-market teams – the poor, such as the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The NFL does not believe in the survival of the fittest. It believes in equality of outcome, something it affectionately refers to as parity.

And while many are convinced it works so well because of the business acumen of multi-billionaires such as Jerry Jones, the real funders of the league’s successful socialistic experiment are the people who will be gathered in front of those TVs – as well as the majority of Americans who don’t care about Tony Romo’s deft spin to his left that avoided the pass rush and his throw back across the field for a 59-yard touchdown pass to Jason Whitten against the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

While Americans have expressed white-hot anger about bank bailouts and billions of taxpayer dollars going to extremely profitable oil companies, the NFL has been spared that wrath even though it eats from the same public trough.

Industry profits in the NFL and other major American sports “all come from the taxpayers,” according to Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist David Cay Johnson, which he detailed in his book, “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You With The Bill).”

“In a market economy, the team owners would have to adjust or cover the losses out of their own deep pockets. Instead they rely on the kindness of taxpayers to enrich themselves at the expense of the vast majority who never attend these sporting events,” Johnson wrote.

Local, state and federal governments subsidize pro sports teams to the tune of $2 billion a year by one estimate – more than their combined operating profit.

“ [T]he entire operating profit of the commercial sports industry comes from the taxpayers,” Johnson wrote. “The subsidies, in fact, cover a third of a billion dollars in operating losses before this boost from the taxpayers pushes the industry into the black.”

So sports fan or not, you have a stake in the outcome of the Dallas-Miami Thanksgiving Day game. You may as well enjoy the touchdown celebrations.

You’re paying for them.

Related stories from McClatchy DC