“The Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times”

Author and journalist Mark Leibovich writes for the New York Times and often appears on NPR and MSNBC. He usually focuses on politics and is based in Washington DC. He took time out from his usual writing about politics, some of it because of the wildly emotional 2016 Presidential election, to write about his love of professional football and the New England Patriots. The book c0vers the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and the National Football League (NFL) has moved on from some of the controversies that were prominent then. I know a lot about the NFL, having followed it since I was a child starting with the 1974 season.

Leibovich opened my eyes to the life of the owners. Much media attention is devoted to the players and coaches/general managers, so I liked the inside view of the lifestyles and dynamics of the owners. What a life they have! I would certainly try to buy a professional sports franchise if I was a billionaire. I wouldn’t devote my entire life to it, like Jerry Jones, but it would be entertaining to own a team. The NFL owners are predominantly white, Republican, old men, and it shows in the way the NFL runs its business. They treat it like a club that meets several times a year for the Super Bowl, off-season meeting, and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Many have the trappings of wealth, including much younger beautiful girlfriends, stadium luxury suites, mega-yachts, etc. The value of professional sports teams has skyrocketed in recent years. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson started the team with an investment of $193 million in 1993 and sold it for $2.2 billion in 2018.

Oliver, Owen and my Uncle Jack at a Philadelphia Eagles game in 2012.

I forgot how much Donald Trump talked about professional football and politicized Colin Kapernick’s protests for his own gain. Trump was also friends with some owners, especially Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Typical Trump to seize upon an incident for his own political gain. He is loathsome to me, and I am not looking forward to the 2024 elections when he will have a giant platform to spread his negativity and further divide Americans. As Douglas Murray says, Republicans look over inciting the Capital riot, Trump’s false claims of election fraud, and his immorality and corruption because he is a candidate who could win the next election. It frustrates me, but I understand the election game. Below are some other tidbits from the book I noted while reading.

  • “The NFL loves anything that evokes Rome – e.g., Roman numerals for Super Bowls, coliseums, etc.”
  • The NFL is a perfect TV sport, both in productions and ratings…only 7% of NFL fans have ever attended a game live.
  • “…tailgating is one of the truly great remnants of American unity, creativity and appetite…”
  • Leibovich described former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle “his mix of personal charm, toughness, business foresight, and political touch steered the league through a remarkable period of growth, prosperity, and turmoil in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.”
  • The NFL is a big business with current commissioner Roger Goodell aspiring to $25 billion dollars by 2027. In 2019, the league collected $15.6 billion, an all-time high. COVID brought it down to $12 billion in 2020.
  • 83% of NFL fans are white (Reuters, 2007) while 70% of the players are black.
  • Jim Harbaugh, former coach of San Francisco 49ers and current U of Michigan coach said the game is “the last bastion of hope for toughness in America in men.”
  • I liked the use of the word glib, which means insincere or shallow.

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