Thursday, November 19, 2015

The National Football League Reflects the Addictions of Our Culture

Some of us have struggled with addictions in our life. Typically we think of addictions related to some substance abuse. The drug, though, isn’t the problem; it’s the symptom. The problem lies behind what we are using the drug to mask.

As much as substance abuse is a troubling issue in our society—I think the most troublesome addictions in our society are greed, violence, racism, sexism, and homophobia.

What’s strange about addictions is that the drug of choice is usually starts out innocent enough. Then it creeps up on us. It starts out as something recreational and then before we know it, what was so innocent now consumes us.

Let me give you an example. The National Football League was born in 1920 as a fledging entity that struggled to exist until games started appearing on national television. It wasn’t until the first Super Bowl in 1967 did the NFL really exploded as a reflection of our national psyche. Today, it seems that the NFL reflects the addictions our American culture.

First, the NFL reflects the greed that permeates American culture. The NFL reported last week that 106 million people, one third of the U.S. population, watch the NFL each week. The average NFL game lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes, of which the ball is in play only 11 minutes. During those three hours you are exposed to 100 commercials.

Of course, the NFL is a big business. In 2014, the NFL had revenues of $10 billion. Their stated goal is $25 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money to be spread between 32 teams.

Ah, you say, what about all the money the players make? There are 1,696 players in the NFL. The average salary is $1.9 million a year per player. The total payroll burden for the NFL players is $3.2 billion. That leaves about $7 billion for the owners to operate their businesses. All sounds cool, doesn’t it?

Except for one thing, 78% of NFL players are bankrupt or in financial distress within two years after their career is over. Surely with all that money, there must be a safety net? An NFL player can collect retirement at age 55. For each season they played the player collects $470/month. The average career of an NFL player is 3 years. That nets the player $1,400 a month in retirement.

Second, the NFL reflects the aggrandizement of violence in America. In last week’s NFL games, 2 players suffered neck injuries from legal hits that required surgery. In addition to the legal contact, 3 players were fined $20,000 for illegal hits to the head and 3 other players were fined nearly $10,000 for other types of illegal hits. The players continue to get bigger, stronger, and faster each year. No amount of rules or fines will control violent nature of an NFL game. The NFL is a violent game.

In the NFL, 30% of the players will suffer from long-term cognitive ailments and are 4 times at greater risk for Alzheimer’s than the average American. The average life span of an NFL player is 55 years. Oddly enough, the players can start taking retirement at age 55. So the average player never lives long enough to collect the meager retirement.
Third, the NFL reflects the ugly nature of racism that permeates our culture. 70% of NFL players are African-American. Yet, of the 32 teams, only 5 of the head coaches and 7 of the general managers are black. No owner of an NFL team is a person of color. In fact, of the 122 teams between the NFL, MLB, NBA, and the NHL there is only one majority owner of color. There is something really wrong with the color of that picture because it looks like racism.

Sexism? That’s easy. Here’s what an NFL game looks like: the men are in the middle of the field engaged in highly technical, very physical, and financially lucrative maneuvers; while the women are on the sidelines happily cheering them on dressed in very skimpy costumes. Ever wonder why there aren’t any women announcers in the booth?

Is there homophobia in the NFL? That’s even easier to point out than sexism. How many players in the NFL are openly gay? Zero. Does that mean there aren’t any gay men playing NFL football? No. Given that 4% of the male population is gay, there are probably sixty plus closeted men playing in the NFL. Yes, last year the NFL drafted the first openly gay man. But he was cut early in training camp. Yes, the NFL is homophobic.

The problem is not the game of football. The real problem is that the NFL reflects the addictions of our American society.

I’ve have wondered, though, how the league would look differently if Oprah owned a team and Condoleezza Rice was the commissioner. I’d start watching the NFL again if that happened.

I guess I could say that the good news is this: the NFL, like every other institution, including the church, will come to an end one day. That’s what Jesus was trying to explain to his disciples in the Gospel of Mark (13:1-8). As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” Every institution has a life cycle—the institution is born, matures, gets old, and then dies. History has proved that over and over again. Jesus was just pointing out the obvious.

What Jesus and our new PB Michael Curry are calling us to do is give up our addictions and get on board with the Jesus Movement. To follow Jesus’s teaching: Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are the pure in heart…Blessed are the peacemakers…Jesus said to Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus came to show us that real power is in powerlessness. Jesus came to show us that love heals fear.

I know it might be really weird not to watch the NFL this weekend. But being a follower of Jesus will affect what you eat, what you buy, how you treat other people, what you watch, and how you vote. Amen.

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