Football is America’s sport. Not only because it is the most watched sport in America. Not because it is the top grossing sport in America. Football is America’s sport because it represents the morals that we as Americans value. There is little doubt about it after this past year.
In a year when every major sport was making headlines, football reaffirmed its top role. 2011 was a year filled with dualities, allowing us to analyze each sport side by side. Two sports were entrenched in lockouts, two teams battled through crippling sex abuse cases, and two sports are dealing very differently with the health and safety of its players. Through it all we can look at how each major sport dealt with similar situations, and why we should gladly embrace football as America’s sport.
The biggest headline of 2011 was the NFL and NBA lockouts. The fans saw both as a ridiculous debate between billionaires and millionaires, and in the time of economic crises these lockouts fell on deaf ears. The main problem was revenue sharing — how much of the absurd pool of money each sport brings in would go to either the player or the owners? The NFL lockout received more publicity, probably owing to the novelty of the first major work stoppage of a major sport since the NHL lockout. But it also showed the dedication of NFL fans.
When all seemed lost in the lockout negotiations, the players and owners finally agreed on a deal to prevent any lost games — but the lockout created 17 weeks of sloppy football. Even with sloppy play, however, fans had the same fervor. Our short attention span speaks to our enthusiasm for football.
In contrast to the effects of the NFL lockout, the NBA’s lockout did have an impact on the fans. The NFL preserved most fans and the lack of coordinated team play created close, interesting games that might have even increased the fan base. Analysts and fans took the NBA lockout less kindly — after a while we just stopped paying attention. There was no side that was inherently right, and as such, we came to despise both. Fans claimed they would stop watching NBA altogether — and even though they quickly forgot the pain of an extended lockout — damage had been done.
The biggest indication that fans cared more about football than basketball came with the near catastrophic response of fans on the eve of a work stoppage. The NBA missed games with very little frustration, instead a quiet resentment and eventual acceptance. If the NFL lost games there would have been a significant outcry.
Another aspect of football and basketball came to light at the end of 2011, this time at the college level. Both Pennsylvania State football and Syracuse basketball were mired in sex abuse scandals. Jerry Sandusky was accused of sexually abusing kids when he was a coordinator at Penn State and even after he retired. In 2002, assistant coach Mike McQueary witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a child in the locker rooms in the college athletics facility. He reported it to Joe Paterno, the head coach, who in turn advanced this information to his superiors, but not the police.
The fallout of this case led to the firing of everyone who “covered up” this event, including the legendary Paterno. This was an important moment in collegiate sports. Even in the midst of a successful season, Penn State looked past Paterno. They looked past the legacy of a man and realized that 10 children were raped and that was more important than a single coach and more important than football.
Syracuse had a different response to its own sexual abuse case. Assistant coach Bernie Fine was accused of raping at least two children, confirmed by a voice recording by his wife. Instead of firing head coach Jim Boeheim, who released insensitive comments on the sexually abused, Syracuse kept him as head coach in the midst of their most successful season. This came even after reports stating that Boeheim witnessed a child on Fine’s bed in a hotel room.
This was clear example where success outweighed the morality of the situation. Football was able to accept that there are things more important than a game, whereas basketball has been unable to understand that. Football understands that the fans need the game to be played, whereas basketball will pettily shorten a season to get a little more money.
Safety and integrity
Football also shared similarities with other sports. Both football and hockey players are struggling with frequent concussions. Football has gone to extraordinary lengths to decrease the helmet-to-helmet hits and for the first time ever, a player (James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers) was suspended for such a hit. Hockey, on the other hand, has seen one of its biggest superstars, Sidney Crosby, with two concussions that led him to miss almost every game since January 2011. There have been numerous other players with significant time lost due to concussions, but NHL officials have refused to take steps to prevent such dangerous hits. Without the safety of its players the game will continue to see its biggest players end their careers with terrifying injuries. But football understands the need for player safety.
Integrity was also an issue in 2011. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers won the MVP last season. Shortly after that, he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Instead of the immediate retraction of the award, officials allowed him to keep the award. This showed a lack of dedication to the drug policy put in place by the MLB.
In 2005, Reggie Bush accepted illegal incentives to play for USC. When this came to light, he retroactively gave back his Heisman award, even though that was five years prior. Braun wouldn’t even give up the award he won weeks prior.
2011 was an interesting year of similarities between America’s most popular sports. These lessons extend into 2012 as well. The NFL and NBA have resolved their labor disputes but created numerous free agents and sloppy plays, making the 2011 season seem like a farce to appease fans. The real rebuilding of the two sports will happen in the off-season. NHL has started to consider enacting rules for player safety, and hopefully in a year’s time they will be moving towards protecting their players. The media also spent substantial time on the Sandusky case without focusing on the great tragedy of Syracuse’s failure to follow the same moral code. As a culture, we should demand more from the games that represent us. They should follow the values that we agree with. The failure of MLB and NBA has shown why football should be crowned America’s sport.