It’s just about time for more football. Color me disinterested. In my view, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is the greatest threat to public health since opioids. Think I’m kidding? Check out Goodell’s public record on CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). It is a textbook case of rapacious capitalism—denial masquerading willingness to grind up athletes to protect a multi-billion dollar investment. There’s little that differentiates NFL owners from Gilded Age coal barons. If you’re a parent and you let you kids play football, you might as well accelerate time, take a baseball bat, and repeatedly smack your kids over their heads, because that’s what a few years worth of football will do their brains.Oh yeah, it also makes them grow up to be jerks.
If it were only the refusal to take CTE seriously…. Let’s call the NFL the National Fraud League. With the possible exception of FIFA and the IOOC, there is no sports federation on the planet that extorts like the NFL. These guys make Mafia shakedown artists seem like public servants by comparison. At a time in which cities are struggling to keep schools open, build homeless shelters, fix bridges, fill potholes, and provide basic social services, the NFL seeks to bilk them for the one-time frivolous experience of hosting a Super Bowl. The rock bottom fee just to apply is a new stadium.
This would be risible, were it not for the sad truth that cities are biting like hungry trout approaching a fat worm on a baited hook. Atlanta has the perfectly functional Georgia Dome, but is about to shell out $1.4 billion to replace it. The Dome was built in 1992 and a 25-year-old facility won’t satisfy King Roger. For the record, my home was built in 1993, is still in great shape, and has nearly tripled in value rather than depreciating by $56 million per year. Maybe Atlanta needs to hire better builders.
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Atlanta’s new stadium will be named Mercedes Benz Stadium. Like the car, the new venue will cater more to the 1% than to the 99%, who get pick up the bulk of the tab. The minions of the rich known as the Chamber of Commerce shamelessly support the project. The C of C claims a Super Bowl generates $400 million in income. Leaving aside the basic stupidity of gambling a billion more than one can win, there are numerous studies that show that the Super Bowl (and the NFL in general) generates far less than boosters claim. There’s also the matter that the stadium cost is the tip of the pigskin; infrastructure upgrades, tax abatements, and construction delays inflate costs like Tom Brady’s worst nightmare.
The NFL excels at graft. According to the Associated Press, six of the past nine Super Bowls have been awarded to cities with spanking new facilities. In all cases, local taxpayers subsidized most of the associated costs and, almost always without the consent of voters. The AP also reports there is seldom solid math behind the claims of NFL boosters. Why, it’s as if they just made up numbers—which precisely what they did. The NFL won’t tell you about the studies that show zero percent difference in tourist dollars between cities that host a Super Bowl and those that don’t. As in the case of the Olympics, normal tourism is disrupted by the event—often for much longer than just the day of the Super Bowl, and there is no long-term “bounce” from being a host.
Why do cities continue to fall for this? Beats me, but if you think Las Vegas is the city of gamblers, it’s a piker compared to Los Angeles, whose leaders want to spin the roulette wheel on both the NFL and the Olympics. The Rams and Raiders left LA in 1994 and, you probably noticed that tourism ceased, the city was vacated, and most Americans came to believe that Los Angeles was a suburb of Terre Haute. Oh wait, that didn’t happen. What does LA think it’s going to gain from the Rams returning in 2016? It had better be plenty, because the current estimate for a facility to open in 2019 is $2.6 billion. Good grief! Remember: As Atlanta teaches us, this baby will be an antique in 25 years—at an annual loss in value of $100 million. In case you care, the average homeless shelter costs about $17,500 per person per year. Do we want to contemplate what the Olympics will cost if LA wins its bid for 2024? But at least Los Angeles will get a Super Bowl, right? Not necessarily! A new park only puts one in the running for consideration.
Let’s return to CTE, shall we? Today’s NFL is a shell game run by billionaires to dupe the masses. Several economic prognosticators claim that though the NFL is presently at the height of its popularity, it has maxed out its potential and is a poor long-term investment. Some have ventured to compare football to boxing circa 1968—about to take a cross to the chin and go splat on the mat. It won’t disappear, but football might become another niche sport. Unless some dramatic (read: miracle) leap in technology occurs, CTE will play a big part in that. Would you really take a bat to your kids’ skulls? If parents simply take away the pigskin and toss their kids a soccer ball, it will rob the NFL of what it needs most: a new generation of sanguinary warriors. If you think I overstate, visit your local playground and count the number of kids kicking the round ball compared to those tossing the prolate spheroid. If production value collpases, it won’t be easy for elected officials to write welfare checks for billionaires, and kudzu will grow in the cracks of the rotting edifices of greed.