Though I played football in both high school and college, truth is, I haven't remained much of a fan. Today's Super Bowl will only be the third game I've watched this season, and I can't really claim to have much interest in who wins. Nonetheless, like millions of people the world over, there are a lot of things about this day that I enjoy.
Three Super Bowls ago, my son, who was nearing eight, had begun playing flag football and was getting to the point where the game could hold his interest, asked that we skip the usual Super Bowl parties we'd typically attend.
“Every time we go someplace to watch the game, people talk to you the whole time,” he lamented. “I want just us to watch it, so I can ask you questions and stuff.”
What father could resist a plea like that? So that year, he and I watched his favorite team – the New York Giants – win Super Bowl XLVI in the comfort of our own home. A tradition was born. Each year, the two of us sit on a small couch and watch the big game. We make a friendly bet – usually involving one doing the other's chores – rank our favorite commercials and fill up on some delicious food.
Like I said, I'm not much of a fan these days, whether it's football or pro sports in general for that matter. It makes me feel old to say this, but I hear my father's voice too often, as I complain to my son that today's athletes aren't people I'd like him to heroify or emulate.
In fact, during the AFC championship game two weeks ago, I found a teachable moment in telling him how disappointing I would find it as a parent, had my child earned a moment in the spotlight and then humiliated himself with an outburst like the one made by Seahawk's defensive back Richard Sherman (a Stanford grad no less!), after doing nothing more than batting down an under-thrown pass to a receiver who'd already beaten him on the final play of the game.
Because of the concussion issue, I've also made the decision that my son will not be playing contact football at any level. All of that being said, I do have a certain level of admiration for the way the NFL has policed their players and protected their product. It's often been lampooned as the No Fun League, but compared to other sports, it has done a commendable job of reining in athletes whose behavior would tarnish its product's image or make game day experiences less palatable for family viewing – which benefits the players immensely in terms of earnings potential.
The NFL has created a platform on which talented athletes (who, for the most part, must at least attempt to earn an education) can exploit their talents on very favorable terms. We can complain about the cost of going to the game, but at the end of the day, prices are set to meet the demand, not unlike movie theaters, theme parks or other entertainment venues.
Yes, players are usually trading their bodies for that fame and fortune, but again, anyone who is a good enough football player to get into the NFL is also pretty much guaranteed the opportunity to earn a free college degree, so it's not like they face the same set of options that other professions which require such physical deterioration – like working in a coal mine or rock quarry for example.
The NFL league minimum for a rookie is $420,000 per season. Even career bench-warmers are guaranteed close to a million dollars a year by a certain point, so it's also not like someone needs to play a 13 year-career to achieve financial stability, and the league even has an excellent pension as well. Its top three paid players this year made $20 million or more, just for this season. None of them need to risk their health on the field ever again, though I'm certain they will. As an ex-pro athlete, when people ask me what I think of NFL players, the word exploited never comes to mind.
As this column typically deals with politics and economics, I'm certain that someone will write me to point out the massive subsidies and public incentives that pro sports like the NFL and its teams receive, and I'll point out that I've been one of the biggest critics of such deals, which rarely create anything approaching a fair return on investment for taxpayers. That being said, they are a business and have every right to lobby for or exercise the systemic perks that other corporations enjoy.
So tonight, Sullivan and I will once again be sitting on that small couch, tuned in to the big screen along with more than 100 million other people around the world. It won't matter who wins or whether it proves too cold to put on a proper halftime show. By the time the final tick runs off the clock, I'm certain we will have forged another chapter in what has become one of my favorite memories.
Predictions? I'm a data guy and I don't like Manning's dismal history in low-temperature games. I'll take the Seahawks by five.
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