Football can be enjoyable, exciting, and even addictive to watch. The grace, the power, the speed, the complexity, and the suspense of watching 22 armored men battling over a leather ball for 60 minutes can trigger, and vicariously fulfill, basic biological human tendencies: physical competition, winning at all costs (the official rule book is 224 pages), gambling/ irrational financial decision-making, carnal urges with cheerleaders, and massive amounts of team/region-based confirmation bias. Ask most of the country what they think of Patriot’s fans.
Similar to whatever blood and death sports were popular 2,000 years ago, football cleanly unlocks the testosterone linked to the researched expressions above in both sexes, though men have nine times the baseline. Testosterone has been identified by some as the primary driver of the patriarchal order under which the world currently operates. By extension, football is a glittering and gilded icon of this control.
Let’s break this down.
The obvious starting point is that most women, even if they wanted to play, aren’t physically strong enough or built to handle the abuse. Maybe a kicker at some point, however, she would have a hard time bringing down a 200-pound returner, who had evaded the front lines, on her own. He wouldn’t even need to dodge.
Why is this so important? Because we must move away from the notion that physical size and strength, one of testosterone’s signature features, implicitly bestows control. This is a difficult task no doubt. Our social norms and roles are heavily influenced by this dynamic. Between sexes, and within them, though dramatically more pronounced (maybe nine times?) in most of those with Y chromosomes; XXers have survived by using their brains. Boys will be boys, if allowed, and the downstream impacts are both tragic and profound.
One out of three women, approximately 52 million fellow humans in the US, will experience some form of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) during their lifetime. Just let that percolate a bit. The odds are impregnable that more than few women in your yearbooks, at your workplace, in your Facebook and/or Linked In networks, in your family, have been victims of this life-altering loss of control. From personal experience, having been raped in college by a woman, all physical implications aside, this relatively brief loss of power–– and security––is terrifying. It is something that most men, unless they have been imprisoned, have an extraordinarily difficult time imagining.
The economic effects of the physical, work-related, and long-lasting psychological detritus of GBV are significant. The Criterion Institute has estimated the global, all in costs of GBV total $1.5 trillion per year. An extraordinarily well-researched study by the European Institute for Gender Equality on the United Kingdom concluded GBV’s costs to be $48 billion per year, roughly two percent of UK GDP. To put things in a scaled perspective, the UK has roughly 20% of the U.S. population, and 5% of India’s. Please extrapolate.
Perhaps most importantly, survivors’ lives have become irrevocably and fundamentally marred by an experience that simply should not happen in today’s “civilized” societies, where the tipping point from physical to mental labor as the prime economic driver was reached decades ago. Idealistically, GBV should never have happened at all.
There are some promising signs our society is improving. By 2021, for every 100 men who graduate with a degree of some level, 148 women will earn similar distinctions. To think this won’t translate to more and higher earnings––and degrees of control––for women would seem to be folly. In the same time frame, over half of the nation’s wealth, $13 trillion, will be managed by women, due to parental and spousal deaths, and divorce. Think directing alumni development dollars away from athletic programs to science and choosing not to invest in bonds to build stadiums. And Congress, as an icon of state and municipal governments, is on a promising arc, at least for Democrats, to finally be representational on a gender basis. The patriarchy is being dented.
From August 2017 to June 2018, the NFL’s favorability ratings plunged from 57% to 35%. There are a few factors behind this decline. Colin Kaepernick’s stand (against the white patriarchy) and the NFL’s bungled response are obvious factors however they overshadow some longer-term trends running beneath the surface. For a variety of reasons, Millennials aren’t all that interested in football. The NCAA has seen declines in attendance, and viewership from this demographic, six out of the last seven years. Both, though particularly attendance, hit bottom lines hard.
Of particular note is the fact that roughly three-quarters of Millennial men wish to be perceived as funny, smart, and conscientious rather than “traditional” male qualities such as being strong and competitive. This more than likely reflects evolved child-rearing and educational philosophies, both heavily influenced by women, that are by default, less rooted in the testosterone of prior paradigms.
The growing awareness of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), its long-term effects that include severe neurological impairments, depression, and suicide, and its potential early onset, are also having effects on the pipeline of players (which is down 22% over the last 5 years) and, some believe, attendance and viewership. It has been found in 110 of 111 deceased NFL players brains. Many viewers, with a lean toward women, simply no longer consider seeing a very predictable shortened and painful death as entertainment, particularly knowing that Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, is profiting handsomely (to the tune of a $200 million contract that includes free health care for his family until they die).
The NFL is the most lucrative sports franchise in the world. 2018 revenues are predicted to exceed $14 billion. It has a firm grasp on the minds of millions and, while many metrics––ad rates, attendance, viewership, etc.–– are declining, pundits say it will take some time, perhaps even a generation, for it to really realize an existential crisis.
And it could require an older generation’s dwindling influence to tip the scales. This said, there are some accelerants, many mentioned in this piece, that analysts may not be aware of or aren’t including with appropriate weightings into their forecasts. The recent, and brilliant, Gillette ad that essentially brings an evolved concept of masculinity into the 21st century is a great example of a social trajectory, with a host of rocket boosters behind it, that shows no signs of slowing.
There are two central thrusters of note here. One is emblazoned, in rainbow-colored script against a purple background, with one simple word: “Equality”. The other, in massive black block letters, reads “Freedom”. For we all have the power to best our biology, to train our brains to react differently, to break from past precedents––especially those we internally know aren’t cool––and to define our societal and gender norms and roles on our terms.
In fact, men have always had this power. It is finally time for us to step up and use it for our own mental and physical health and happiness, and for the love and respect of those around us. And it is only by relinquishing the power of the palm that this freedom can be gained.
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