Jason Whitlock’s Ideal America?
by David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
One of the common arguments offered during the NBA lockout was that David Stern and the owners had to initiate the lockout in an effort to make the league better. Citing the success of the NFL, these advocates predicted that the NBA would be more successful economically, more important culturally, and just a better game if it adopted the rules and policies of the NFL. Such arguments have not died down with the end of the lockout or with the start of the NBA season.
Embodying this logic is Jason Whitlock’s recent column, “NFL is model for American success.” Whitlock argues that NFL is a model of success not just for the NBA, but the nation. With a salary cap, revenue sharing, a requirement that players attend at least three years of colleges, its amateur draft design, its “emphasis on teams over individuals while making room for superstars” and “a free-agent system that allows franchises to retain their marquee players”, the NFL offers “the perfect blend of capitalism and socialism.” He remarks further:
One hundred years from now, when scholars analyze the rise and fall of our dynasty, the NFL might be considered America’s greatest invention, the cultural and economic force that should’ve been our guide to 200 more years of global domination.
If only Pete Rozelle had been our president rather than the architect of the modern-day national pastime, Americans would understand the value of restraints on capitalism, revenue sharing and a system that strengthens the poor.
There is so much wrong with the argument and the analysis that it is hard to know where to start. The idea that the NFL’s age restriction leads to a better or more successful system, even in absence of any sort of evidence, is reflective of Whitlock’s propensity to sell myths as fact. The ample success of NBA players, whether those who skipped college or those who were “one-and-done” ballers, runs counter to the rhetoric offered by Whitlock.
Likewise, the premise that NFL is superior because it emphasizes teams over individuals, which has led to increased fan interest, erases the overall popularity of NBA stars throughout the world. Whereas LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan are transnational icons, whose talents generated profits for the NBA and its corporate partners, the same cannot be said for the NFL. Think about it, can you name an NFL player that captures the global imagination?
When Michael Jordan was playing, he was one of the most recognizable people in the world; Kobe Bryant’s visits to Asia lead to mass hysteria. Would any NFL player – past or present – elicit such reactions? Despite the fact that the NBA erases these global realities from its economic picture, the NBA global success is very much a result of its emphasis on individual stars over teams.
Likewise, the ascendance of dynasties within the NBA – Bulls, Lakers, Spurs, Celtics –, which has certainly enhanced the NBA’s brand, is reflective of the structure of the NBA. In many regards, the NBA system is superior even though David Stern and the owners seem intent on slowly undermining what has been successful for the league in so many ways.
What is most striking, however, is Whitlock’s celebration of the NFL as an ideal model for the entire nation. Should the NBA and the nation at large emulate the model provided by the NFL given that: 21 former NFL players recently sued the NFL for not protecting players against the harms of concussions. In the lawsuit, they “accuse the NFL of deliberately omitting or concealing years of evidence linking concussions to long-term neurological problems.”
Is the NFL the ideal business and social model, given that: according to a 2006 Study in the St. Petersburg Times, for every year an NFL player spends it the league, it takes 3 years off his life expectancy. In other words, given that the average career of an NFL player is 4 years, his life expectancy will be 55 (as opposed to 75, the national average for American males). Put succinctly by Greg Doyle, “The NFL is killing its players, literally leading them to an early grave — and now the NFL is trying to kill them even faster. That’s a fact, people.” While some may call this rhetoric incendiary and hyperbolic, consider that in 2010, almost 280 players spent time on injured reserve, with 14 suffering head injuries, 13 experiencing neck injuries, and one dealing with spine injury.
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