A chapter on the NFL’s business practices should make even the most ardent pigskin fan bristle. Thanks to crony capitalism—the unholy alliance between business and government, in which the taxpayer gets bilked—the NFL has “created what amounts to a risk-free business environment.” Almond provides plenty of blood-boiling examples, like the NFL’s tax-exempt status—unique among major sports leagues—and the now commonplace arrangement that sees taxpayers fund NFL stadiums while team owners reap the economic rewards. The New Orleans Saints even receive an “inducement payment” of up to $6 million a year just to keep the franchise in the city. That’s on top of the $200 million that taxpayers forked over for renovating the Mercedes-Benz Superdome—they will see none of $50 million to $60 million the team received in naming rights from the car maker.
Other chapters aren’t as strong. A chapter on race doesn’t seem fully fleshed out and lists uncomfortable questions about race and football rather than going into detail. And the connection between football and violence against women only gets four pages at the end of a chapter focusing on homophobia. The sorry history of sexual and domestic violence in high school, college, and professional football programs deserves more attention.
The thought of any large-scale exodus of fans is unlikely. TV ratings are up again this season from already astronomical levels. The continued popularity, as Almond points out, is due in part to the way the sports media promote rather than cover the game. “Sports represent one of the few growth sectors for the corporate media,” he observes. “It’s far more profitable to cover football as a glorious diversion than a sobering news story.”