Two curious recent articles, “Twilight of Entitlement” by Robert
Samuleson and “Are You Ready For the Death Of Football?” by
John Kass, each in major U.S. establishment newspapers, suggest
the ominous end to two of the most beloved institutions in
American life. I don’t know much about Mr. Kass, but Mr.
Samuelson is my favorite popular writer about economics, and
someone I usually find far more insightful and correct than certain
other pompous and mostly wrongheaded self-styled economists.
I juxtapose these two articles about seemingly very different subjects
because I think sports and economics are often intrinsically connected
in human behavior, something I learned from my favorite 20th
century philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset who wrote brilliantly about
the role and history of sport in European civilization a century ago.
Mr. Kass argues that recent medical revelations of the physical risk
and cost of football as an inherently dangerous contact sport will now
cause parents of young boys to forbid them from playing football in
school, be it secondary school or college. Although professional
football has been played in the U.S. for a century (and originally with
far less protection now provided to each player), it is only recently
that documentation about the frequency of concussions and other
serious injuries on the field is showing how serious these long-term
consequences can be. A number of high profile deaths and critical
injuries of young players in high school, and a massive lawsuit by
former pros against organized football have heightened the controversy.
Professional sports are very big business in the U.S. Tickets to baseball,
basketball, football, hockey, and now soccer games command premium
prices, and these sports involve many billions of dollars. Mr. Kass is not
predicting the end of baseball, basketball and hockey, although each of
them is a contact sport, nor of professional tennis, golf or other
non-contact sports. He is, however, zeroing in on football, both amateur
and professional, and is basing his argument on the role of parents in
permitting and encouraging their sons to play football. I suspect he
genuinely reflects the concern of many affluent and other middle class
mothers and fathers, but I’m not sure his concern is yet felt by many less
affluent and/or minority parents who might perceive success on the football
field as a sure ticket to wealth and fame for their child. I also think that
most of the young men who seek a career in pro football, or as a way to
pay their way through college, come from the latter backgrounds. That is
not to say that low income or minority parents are less caring about their
sons, but it does say they might have a different awareness or perspective
on the medical consequences, especially in light of the fabled salaries and
other benefits from achieving professional status in football. Mr. Kass has
made a prediction, I believe, out of genuine alarm and true facts, but I
don’t think the demise of professional football is quite as imminent as he
Mr. Samuelson likewise predicts the end of an American institution. In
this case, it is the whole sweep of entitlements which have grown so fast
and to such immense dimensions in the past fifty years. He suggest that
our whole contemporary economic society is based on assumptions of
these entitlements which were created more than 50 years ago to
counteract or fix poverty, lack of education, economic instability,
unexpected disability and the challenges of old age.
In four categories, jobs, benefits, productivity and lifestyle, Mr.
Samuelson argues that the welfare state, the safety net, income equality,
and the preservation of the family, all through government intervention,
are clearly failing in fact, and will bring about dramatic new public
attitudes about lifetime expectations, aspirations, and the role of
government. This is a very big subject, and Mr. Samuelson’s argument, and
my comments here, cannot cover the ominous and profound consequences
of where we as a society and a nation go from here. But with the imminent
crises in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, (not to mention
Obamacare); the obvious failure of the welfare system; the breakdown of
U.S. public secondary and higher education; the rise of divorce,
out-of-wedlock children, the general breakdown of the American family,
and chronic high unemployment, is there any reasonable doubt that the
entitlement expectations of the past fifty years are coming to an end?
Finally, the current vogue of applying penalty taxation, and excessive
government regulation, Mr. Samuelson further suggests, will make
economic conditions only worse not better.
There has always been an American optimism that life will inevitably get
better, and that the institutions we hold dearest will endure forever. This
optimism has been an American characteristic since the nation was founded,
and has persisted through frontier challenges, a civil war, numerous economic
depressions and panics, two world wars, and a “Cold” war. Since 9/11,
however, this indomitable optimism seems to be being tempered and altered by
results. The suggestions that America might have to do without football and
entitlements, not to mention other cherished institutions, is another set of
troubling awarenesses being fired across the American bow.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.