The League

David Aldridge
Sports Reporter

David Aldridge

A nationally recognized sports journalist.

Gambling, Violence, Beer


Among John Wooden's 15 pillars of his "Pyramid of Success": poise, confidence, self-control, friendship, loyalty.

The NFL's Pyramid: Gambling, Violence, Beer.

That's it. That's the list, as a friend of mine is wont to say on occasion.

No business in American history has so successfully camoflagued its true, pulsating core as well as the National Football League. Chuck Heston eventually found out what Soylent Green really was, but the NFL's hardcore fans either don't know or don't care what makes their sport truly tick.

I say this in shuddering admiration of the league's PR skills, so powerful that they have made millions of people believe they cannot live without the three hours of carnage brought to their living rooms (now in HD!), or that they witness in person, in billion-dollar coliseums for which, most of the time, they've happily paid; so vast that entire television networks are built upon the purchase of these precious games, and make newspapers devote thousands of man-hours and column inches to the sport (including, say, a dedicated daily webpage that brings in "experts" to discuss every minutial aspect of the game).

But the NFL is about processed, safe violence. Television violence, where the perps are apprehended in 42 minutes (the remaining 18 minutes left for bombardments of commercials; beer prominently among them) and you can go to sleep at night. No one is supposed to actually get hurt playing the game. And that's why Roger Goodell is cracking down on these helmet-to-helmet hits, that lead players down the road to Concussionville, or worse.

Don't show me your words, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you hold most dear. And as long as the NFL's propaganda wing, NFL Films, shows you every brutal takedown in super slo-mo, from nine different angles, and glorifies brutes like Chuck Bednarik, we'll know what this league is all about. (In such ways has Sammie White, a darn good receiver in his day, been reduced in history to caricature, the guy who got his helmet popped off by the Raiders' Jack Tatum in Super Bowl XII.)

The actuary tables for NFL players are horrifying. The men who play this game die much younger, on average, than most other groups of men. But out of sight, out of mind. Goodell knows that while the players are in full view, they have to be considered modern gladiators, impervious to normal levels of pain and fatigue.

Then there's gambling, but that's not today's topic. Suffice it to say, if the Roman Empire had had a morning line, we'd all still be wearing togas.

By David Aldridge  |  September 19, 2008; 10:01 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: An Indelicate Balance | Next: Violence Equals Success


Please email us to report offensive comments.

The NFL has successfully capitalized in tapping into an element of the American psyche. Our society is one that accepts (if not embraces) violence. "A well-armed militia", also known as the American citizenry, attests to this fact. Show me a candidate for office who promises to reduce violence by tightening firearm restrictions and I'll show you a loser. Kudos then, to the NFL for being able to exploit the cultural energy that brings it its billions in revenues.

Posted by: Greg | September 19, 2008 11:46 AM

I'd throw in a 4th...fantasy football. I'm not kidding, just look around your office or group of friends and I guarantee you find at least 1 league. Football is a part of the social fabric in America, there's no way around it. It starts in high school on Friday nights, really becomes big in college when the concept of tailgating is introduced, and the NFL takes over every Sunday/Monday and owns that first or second Sunday in February. Its short 16 game season that has all the action packed into 1 day of the week also is the perfect fit for todays short attention spans and busy schedules, especially compared to the long haul of the NBA/MLB seasons.

Posted by: Fuzzy | September 19, 2008 2:43 PM

I went from all-NFL to wondering why it takes 3+ hours to play a game that consists of 1.25 hours of 4 quarters and a halftime. It's nuts; more ED commercials, replays, and time outs than actual playing time? Not 3+ hours of my life, thank you. Not too mention the basically corrupt officiating, as witnessed during last week's Bronco-Charger game (I admit to watching the highlights). But enjoy, NFL fans.

Posted by: mensa duse | September 19, 2008 3:19 PM

George Will once wrote that football exemplifies two of the worst attributes of American life -- violence and committee meetings.

Personally, I see no reason to watch a game where 80 percent of the time nothing is happening, and on the rare occasions when something is happening, it's mostly two groups of large men making a big pile on the ground.

Give me a game with strategy, excitement and action -- like baseball, where there's rarely more than 15 to 20 seconds between pitches.

Posted by: I Find Football Boring | September 19, 2008 3:24 PM

The NFL is not only about violence, gambling and beer (and fantasy football). If that were the case, the most popular players wouldn't be the QBs (the most cerebral position), the most important position would be the coach and it wouldn't take 30 seconds to plan for a play that usually only last 7 seconds. Football is about strategy and speed. Beer and fantasy are only serendipitous by-products.

Posted by: bfulton | September 19, 2008 3:57 PM

Yeah, go from boring football to "exciting" baseball... that was a pretty stupid comment.

Anyway, football is fun to watch on tv, but boring as hell to watch live. It's really just a made for tv event. But, having said that, anyone who spends their day watching one game after another is just a complete loser with no life.

Posted by: Hacksaw | September 19, 2008 4:04 PM

Football sux anyway. UFC will soon surpass it as America's pastime.

Posted by: Iceman | September 19, 2008 4:24 PM

Did someone write the baseball is more exciting than football. Thats a joke right? Baseball is the slowest sport ever. 1 Step into the box, 2 take a couple practice swings,3 pitcher gets the sign, 4 waves it off, 5 waves off the next sign, 6 batter steps out of the box adjusts his batting gloves and helmet. Repeat steps 1-6. There is a reason they call it the national pass time.

Posted by: NWP | September 19, 2008 4:48 PM

Yeah, go from boring football to "exciting" baseball... that was a pretty stupid comment.

baseball can be very exciting. It's delayed gratification. You have to really understand the game to enjoy it. You can't just turn it on and watch people cream each other. It is full of strategy... not only within games but from one game to the next, week to week, month to month, and so on.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 19, 2008 4:53 PM

2 take a couple practice swings

This does not happen. Not in the batters box.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 19, 2008 4:54 PM

Baseball is both faster and more exciting than football. That's not a joke. That's a statement supported by scientific evidence.

A study at Syracuse University used video of hundreds of games played by Major League Baseball teams and by National Football League teams. The average time between pitches is about 13 seconds. The average time between snaps of the football is over a minute.

In other words, baseball is demonstrably faster than football. It's arguable the most challenging team game mentally as well.

Who says so? Michael Jordan.

MJ is not a football player but I think we can all agree he knows something about athletics. And he told people after his stint in the Chicago White Sox minor league system that basketball required better aerobic conditioning, but baseball was mentally the hardest thing he had ever tried to do.

It's not the sport's fault that someone fails to go deeply enough into the complexity of the strategy and the dozen things happening on the field before and with each pitch.

And, a note to "Hacksaw", the person who called what I wrote earlier "a pretty stupid comment". In my debating days I was taught that the use of an ad hominem argument (the Latin phrase means "attack the person") like calling a comment "stupid" means you're unable to argue your position on its merits or facts.

I'll help you out. I think football is boring and is demonstrably slower than football, hockey, egg twirling, a bunch of other things. You clearly think otherwise. That makes your opinion different than mine. Neither opinion is stupid, just different.

Posted by: I Find Football Boring | September 19, 2008 7:38 PM

Sorry -- typo; that last paragraph of mine should read:

"I'll help you out. I think football is boring and is demonstrably slower than baseball, hockey, egg twirling, a bunch of other things. You clearly think otherwise. That makes your opinion different than mine. Neither opinion is stupid, just different."

Posted by: I Find Football Boring | September 19, 2008 7:41 PM

I played football for many years. It was the primary way to meet young women. As the game has advanced over the years, it has come to seem like the complexity of the American psyche. The quarterback is still the most stylish position, and when good, the brilliant star among the behemoths. One thinks back to Van Brocklin, Namath, Starr, Montana and there is that wonderful spiraling ball and the outstretched arms of the great wide receivers like Elroy Hirsch or Jerry Rice. Something often transcendent transpires in that forward pass. The blocking and tackling, as pointed out, can be vicious and those of us with knee problems know that the game is probably too overwhelming for the weaker parts of the body. Still, it has a certain power and grace, and like they say, the great ones are clearly memorable.

Posted by: WD Pearlman | September 19, 2008 7:46 PM

I love pro football (except when time and time again the refs steal the game from the Chargers. Is there one other team out there that gets as ripped off by refs as the Chargers?).

Anyway, what sells the game for me is the passing game. I love a passing team.

In fact, I think the greatest plays on the highlight reels are always the long passes in which the receiver dives and catches the ball for a TD.

Other than that, fumbles are exciting, along with interceptions and run backs after a kick-off.

The running game might be the bread and butter of gaining the two or three extra yards, but it's not that exciting to watch.

The best teams in the NFL, the most memorable teams, and the most successful teams are the ones who throw the crap out of the ball.

And that ends this conversation.

Posted by: Mike of Atlanta | September 19, 2008 8:18 PM

I just read that baseball comment tied to George Will.

What a GAY joke that was.

Come on. The Mark Foley, Jeff Gannon, George Will baseball fans are not becomming of real men.

Yes, baseball is a great sport, but football is head and shoulder pads above it in excitement, skill, and power.


There's a reason they call it the Seventh Inning Stretch. You hardly ever stand up, and you're half-asleep by the middle of the seventh inning.

And besides, with football you don't have to watch a game five days a week. What's up with that?

No, baseball is a boys' sport.

Football is for men.

Professional soccer is for sissies.

Posted by: Mike of Atlanta again | September 19, 2008 8:25 PM

Violence is No. 1 in the panoply of NFL invitations -- TV ads -- to the public. Do you remember the explosions from the colliding helmets at the start of a televised game. And then Goodel has the audacity to threaten players who engage in the very conduct that the NFL League pushes!! I no lomger watch the NFL in action.

Posted by: Louis D'Amico | September 19, 2008 10:16 PM

Mike of Atlanta joins Hacksaw in resorting to ad hominem arguments; does that mean you can't support your statements with facts, either?

"Baseball is a boy's sport, football is for men"?

Do you mean boys like Ted Williams, who was enough of a man to take off his Red Sox uniform, put on his US Marine uniform and fight for this country in not one but two wars?

I'm sorry, but from the tenor of your comments it seems more like you should have said football is for insecure men.

(I'm straight, by the way, but not narrow, and I found it offensive -- but beyond that I won't raise the issue of the bigotry of your "what a GAY joke that was" remark.)

And, I don't "have" to watch baseball five days a week. I do it voluntarily as a Washington Nationals season ticket holder. When I enjoy something I have no problem doing it frequently.

Mike, perhaps you too find football boring if you can only endure it one day a week.

Posted by: I Find Football Boring | September 19, 2008 10:24 PM

What really blows my mind about the NFL is how many people simply cannot get enough of it. Seriously: if you have seen one last minute field goal, haven’t you seen them all? Can anyone tell me how much of a 60-minute game is spent in the huddle and in-between snaps. The longest play might last 10 seconds. There really is a lot of standing around. That down-time provides plenty of time for slow-mo and ad nauseum “analysis”.

I had a roommate once who would spend his ENTIRE Sunday in front of the tube. He’d make some coffee and watch two hours of pre-game stuff on ESPN. He’d order a pizza around 1 and another at 6. Between the 4 o’clock games and the national TV game at 8, he’d watch more “highlights”. I am not making this up, and it was EVERY Sunday all season. This dude spent 12 hours watching football every week, and Monday Night Football. I bet he watched some part of 90% of every game played in the entire league.

I just don’t get it.

Posted by: Andrew | September 20, 2008 6:32 AM

Andrew, I'd almost be willing to say your ex-roommate needed an intervention.

Like I wrote earlier, a study done at Syracuse University determined that on average more than a minute of nothing happens between each snap of an NFL game. There's a reason it takes three to four hours to play four 15-minute quarters. It's because they're spending most of their time not playing.

That's why I prefer faster paced sports.

Posted by: I Find Football Boring | September 20, 2008 7:38 AM

The usual comments. While there is a lot of dead time in football, when the ball is snapped, all the players are in action. Though there may be a relatively short time between pitches, most of the players don't do anything when the ball is hit, and when the batter doesn't make contact, what's everybody doing...not much.

Rugby is the sport.

Posted by: Football vs. Baseball | September 20, 2008 7:58 AM

The truth of the matter is that NFL football is just "made-for-tv" junk. Can it really be considered a real sport when few people actually play it?

Posted by: Anonymous | September 20, 2008 8:20 AM

I totally disagree that it's gambling, beer and violence. Isure there is a certain subset of...ok, men...that use the NFL as an outlet for that...but that says more about that subset than it does about football. That subset would choose, and probably do choose, any other number of activities from UFC to dog-fighting to NASCAR to do the same thing. It isn't the football. People buy season tickets because they want to be at the stadium to experience the game. If it were just about your list then nobody would waste the money to go to the game or care about who wins and there'd be no championships or playoffs. Fans still watch the game because they want their team to win. I personally don't watch much pro football because it lacks the excitement and passion of the college game. A pro coach's idea of a great game is one that is as predictable as possible.

Are you guys football fans, or even sports fans, or are you just feminist shrinks trying once again to turn all men into pu####s like Dan Fogelberg in the 70's.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 20, 2008 8:30 AM

>>>Can it really be considered a real sport when few people actually play it?

I don't know where you live pal but here in Florida there are adult football leagues (with pads), two seasons of club football for kids as young as 8, professional women's football, co-ed flag football, miiitary intra-unit flag football, and the parks have any number of pick-up games on the weekends. Don't tell me people don't love this game.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 20, 2008 8:35 AM

If David Aldridge is a nationally recognized sports come I've never heard of him?

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 20, 2008 8:37 AM

I disagree, Football vs. Baseball (and thanks for not resorting to namecalling in place of stating a fact or an opinion). You say "most of the players don't do anything when the ball is hit" at a baseball game.

If so, you're watching badly played baseball. Multiple defenders take action on every play; your focus may follow the ball on the bases-empty grounder hit to the second baseman, but if you broaden your view you'll see the outfielder running in to back up the infielder in case the ball gets through, the pitcher running toward first base to back up the first baseman in case he can't get to the bag in time to take the second sacker's throw, the catcher running up the first base line in foul ground in case the ball gets past the first baseman or pitcher, the shortstop moving to cover second base in case no play is made at first and the runner attempts to take an extra base.

And watch how the defenders shift their positions before each pitch based on what the pitcher is going to throw -- you didn't think the signs given by the catcher were only for the pitcher, did you?

There's a reason why baseball is called "the chess of field games".

Posted by: I Find Football Boring | September 20, 2008 8:53 AM

Panhandle Willy asked: "If David Aldridge is a nationally recognized sports come I've never heard of him?"

Perhaps you don't read the Philadelphia Inquirer or watch ESPN? Aldridge has a column in that newspaper and was a regular on ESPN before shifting over to Turner Network Television (TNT) where he covers the NBA. He's also a former Washington Postie, where his beats included the Redskins. (Ain't Wikipedia wonderful?)

And, I'm sorry, but the usual standard for "nationally recognized" doesn't require that every single person knows the name. Sometimes you have to do a little research.

Posted by: I Find Football Boring | September 20, 2008 9:02 AM

Could it be testosterone or machismo that explains the NFL's success? I've noticed that a lot of dudes resort to name calling (mostly gender-related insults) when someone dares question the superiority of the NFL. The high school tough-guy glory days syndrome gets really old. There are lots of sissy comments here. I love that - some dude that might have played football in high school (but probably did not) calls another dude a [insert sexually insulting epithet]. Very predictable.

Posted by: Andrew | September 20, 2008 9:43 AM

I apologize for the gay remarks.

I was just joking around, getting into the spirit.

Don't take it seriously.

Yes, real men play baseball, and not all pro soccer players are sissies, but a lot are drama queens.

Sport is healthy, and it's a good thing, regardless of what it is.

But let's be honest: Football is America's sport now, not baseball or badminton.


Posted by: Mike of Atlanta | September 20, 2008 10:09 AM

Agreed, Mike, sport is a good thing and which sport you call your favorite matters no more than whether your preference at the ice cream stand is for chocolate or vanilla.

Some may consider football to be "America's sport" but, as they used to say, I will continue to march to a different kettle of fish.

Posted by: I Find Football Boring | September 20, 2008 10:25 AM

What is this crap?

Posted by: Hurfson J. McBlurf | September 20, 2008 10:43 AM

To compare the activity levels of different sports to determine which is more exciting is incorrect. What determines the excitement level of the game is the emotional intensity you feel while watching it. Watching the Atlanta Braves play in May is almost painfully boring. Watching them play in October is a different story. That's when each and every pitch can mean the difference between eternal World Series glory and the pain of losing once again to those damn Yankees.

Posted by: will_ga | September 20, 2008 12:29 PM

Compared to boxing or car racing, football is much, much safer. I don't buy Aldridge's argument that football masks its violence... of course football's popularity is tied to violence. Is there anything wrong with that?

Not only is football VASTLY more exciting than baseball, it is also more interesting & complicated.

Baseball players are largely reactive... there is very little strategy beyond baserunning, substituting pitchers, and slight pre-pitch position adjustments.

Football is 10 percent violence, 90 percent strategy. Offenses have formations, plays, and options (or 'reads') within each play. Defenses counter with defensive formations, coverages (zone, man-to-man, both), blitzes, and gap techniques. Coordinators need to know when to call the plays for the appropriate situation, while avoiding predictability. Quarterbacks need to make the correct decisions while they're getting ambushed by linebackers. Coaches need to motivate players while maintaining their composure, and are responsible for managing the clock & taking risks. Misdirection and exploiting personnel mismatches are emphasized. The rules are incredibly nuanced, and, with a ball that moves with such unpredictability, the game is often decided by a matter of inches.

And that's just what happens on the field. Nothing beats the pageantry & passion of high school, college, & professional football (on this continent, anyway). Football is king, and rightly so.

Posted by: Stephen | September 20, 2008 2:27 PM

Football is now. Football is fast. Football is violent. Football is playing even thought the president was assassinated. Football hides the personalities of its players behind masks.

Baseball is gradual. Baseball is interpretation. Baseball is patience. Baseball is math. Baseball is a bond from generation to generation. Baseball is crossing the color barrier. Baseball is about inclusion.

When I think about what I feel like we have lost as a country over the years, and I think we can all agree that we have lost a lot, I always come back to the different ethos between baseball and football. I'm not casting blame on either one, I'm just pointing out that we are much more of a football mindset than a baseball mindset as a nation, and I think there's something profoundly troubling about that.

Posted by: Chad Capellman | September 20, 2008 4:48 PM


I watch ESPN...never seen him. I don't care about Philadelphia. I never watch the NBA until the last 7 games...too monotonous. I've been a loyal postie since 1989...still never heard of this guy. Not a good writer...didn't write anything worth reading.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | September 20, 2008 7:37 PM

Stephen wrote, "Not only is football VASTLY more exciting than baseball, it is also more interesting & complicated."

To which I can only reply, Stephen, that in YOUR OPINION football is more exciting. That's an opinion not a fact. In my opinion baseball is VASTLY more exciting than football. Like yours, that's an opinion not a fact.

Another opinion is your belief that football is more interesting and complicated. Again, expressing an opinion which is just as valid as yours, I disagree. I find football boring in part because of its slow pace, in part because of its simplicity. Football is a three-chord rock song, baseball is Mozart.

Posted by: I Find Football Boring | September 20, 2008 11:43 PM

I consider myself a hardcore NFL fan (baseball still beats it out, but I'm an Orioles fan so lets not talk about that), and I'm perfectly aware that gambling, violence, and beer are key components of the NFL. I don't gamble, but I love beer and if grown men want to participate in controlled violence for large amounts of money I'm more than happy to watch it.

I don't understand the outrage. It's not as if this is just guys wailing on each other completely unprotected. They're adults and they should know the risks. If they don't maybe their "union" should help clue them in. Not my problem.

Posted by: Grant | September 21, 2008 11:44 AM

NFL is on par with "professional" wrestling. Fans only watch to see the beatings.

Posted by: Jimbo | September 22, 2008 11:52 AM

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