Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why Office Laborers Love Football

George Will once wrote about football: "It combines two of the worst things about American lives. It is violence punctuated by committee meetings." But perhaps you could make a case that it is these two things that also account for its popular success. The popularity of violence as entertainment in our society is self-evident, but maybe the appeal of committee meetings as entertainment needs some explanation.

The "committee meetings" that Will is referencing in football are the huddles, the division of labor into offense, defense, and special teams, and the even further divisions into smaller units (such as linemen, linebackers, and secondary within a defense). But there is nothing about specialization itself that causes people to recoil. Most of our occupations involve a high degree of specialization. The stigma that surrounds committee meetings is the assumption that they are inefficient and nonproductive. (Another quote, this one from Milton Berle: "A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours").

But what it is remarkable about the sport of football is that there is an entire committee devoted to the preservation of time. The key position in football is the quarterback, and I wouldn't be the first to compare him to a CEO. Just as every business needs a head decision maker, a football team needs one as well. And aside from pure physical differences, the factor that most separates good and bad quarterbacks (and possibly CEOs) is the ability to make good reads, quick decisions, and crisp throws without the luxury of time. But given enough time to throw the football, even a mediocre quarterback can be deadly for a defense.

And I suspect that most people in most jobs, given the luxury of a leisurely amount of time, can deliver results. But most people in most jobs would probably list lack of time as one of the biggest obstacles to their ability to do their job well. And for most of us, it is all up to us to manage our time, to deal with all of the distractions and annoyances that come our way. But the most privileged among us have a line of protection against these distractions and annoyances--in the form of administrative assistants and other staff who have the specific job of deflecting pressure from the central managers and enabling them to perform at their highest possible level.

So with the American business model represented on the gridiron, it really should be no surprise that football is America's favorite sport. Perhaps offensive linemen aren't given the recognition and glory that is given to the so-called "skill position" players, but the fact that they play a vital role and are afforded some recognition is more than not only any other sport, but any other type of entertainment may claim. Football may not be the only form of entertainment that allows spectators the opportunity to revel in violence, but it probably is the only form of entertainment where pretty much a full cross-section of American workers can see their specific roles played out on a grander scale...provided they have the time.


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