Sport, like mythology, subconsciously structures our mind to interpret the world in certain ways. Sunday is the de facto national holiday of Super Bowl Sunday, and football, more than any other sport, organizes social reality.
Football philosophers would have us to believe that football mirrors war. Not really. Football mirrors corporatism. From Pop Warner to high school, college and the pros, football creates a world view.
The head coach is the CEO of the metaphorical football corporation. David Biderman, writing in the Wall Street Journal (2010), found there are about 11 minutes of action in an NFL game -- lots of time for commercials. On TV, about five to six additional minutes are shots of the head coach talking into his headset, yelling at the referee or standing with arms folded in stern consternation. Geoff Foster, also writing in the Wall Street Journal, states the average coach is shown 28 times per game, more than some quarterbacks. Coach veneration mirrors CEO veneration.
The assistant coaches round out the management hierarchy. Some wear a headset like the coach, the equivalent of a corner office. Some, like the coach of the guy who snaps the ball on punts, don't get a headset and have to wear a beanie. They have an inside office.
The employees, of course, are the players. Here, as it is in industry, all is not equal. Quarterbacks are generally the most skilled and highest paid and are the most critical part of the workforce. The rest of the workers are more expendable. The average career length of an NFL player is 3.3 years. Career-ending injuries, including concussions, are a primary reason for the high employee turnover.
In the "football as corporation" model, the primary aim of the game is market share as reflected in yards gained and earnings measured by points scored. Winning teams make the owners happy and the owners are, of course, the equivalent of shareholders.
Consumers are the fans in the stands or those watching on television. Fans become attracted to a team through techniques of branding. Therein lies the key to understanding modern football.
Team colors are an important part of branding. In Sunday's Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers' team colors are not just blue and silver but very specific hexadecimally defined shades of blue (Hex Color: #0088CE) and silver (Hex Color: #A5ACAF). And the Denver Broncos are specifically orange (Hex Color: #FB4F14) and blue (Hex Color: #002244).
The logos are valuable trademarks owned by the NFL and can't be used without a license. The 1920s Chicago Bears star Bronko Nagurski would be rolling in his grave if he knew how much his old team made on team branding in one year: $138 million.
Fan paraphernalia emblazoned with team logos and colors is available at the team store. You can get ball hats, T-shirts, jackets and underwear. Why anyone would want to wear say, Seattle Seahawks briefs or thongs, is a mystery to me, but brand identity is a powerful thing.
Then, of course, there is the greatest marketing tool of all: sex. Cheerleaders, whether they be Dallas Cowgirls or high school teens, wear team colors and short skirts and perform provocative routines to foster a more visceral type of brand identification run through the fantasy lobe of the male neocortex. By subsuming their identity to the accomplishments of men, cheerleaders becomes the definition of women in the corporate world.
High school football is an unrecognized aspect of the modern public school curriculum. Its role is to teach students to be good fans identifying with the school in preparation to be good consumers. As adults that mindset is transferred to consumerism wherein individuals define themselves by their identity with products and institutions.
In the mid-20th century a group of sociologists and anthropologists wrestled with the construction of social reality as America turned from a largely rural to largely urban society (Park, Redfield, Douglas all building on Emile Durkheim). They coined the term "moral order" to describe rural or folk societies in which meaning in life centered on family and landscape. Rural Alaska is still a moral order society as are pockets of rural and urban America. What emerged was the rise of the "technical order" in which social order was shaped by often rabid identification with political, religious or educational institutions and specific brands. (I'm a Ford man myself.) Place and family are less meaningful in the technical order.
Super Bowl Sunday is the end of the football year and is the semi-religious ecstatic ritual of corporatism.
Alan Boraas is a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College.
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