Two weeks ago while grocery shopping at Woodman’s, the Employee Owned megastore with enough space to land a B-52 in the meat section, I turned the corner after picking up some La Croix water to find an entire aisle stacked near to the ceiling with Doritos and snack chips. The sign at the end of the aisle said, “See you on Sunday.”
The allusion was clear. Doritos are the Food of Choice for watching NFL football games. And what does watching football games involve? Mostly sitting on the couch. Eating. Drinking. Yelling at the screen. Watching powerful men mash into each other as if life itself depended on it.
Supposedly, this is America’s Game, a part of its traditions. And as such, the typical NFL game starts with a rendition of the National Anthem. But here’s a dirty little secret about those displays of patriotism. They have been long sponsored by the US Government.
Brought to you by the military-industrial complex
As documented on ThinkProgress,org, a progressive fact-finding website, “As recently as 2015, the Department of Defense was doling out millions to the NFL for such things as military flyovers, flag unfurlings, emotional color guard ceremonies, enlistment campaigns, and — interestingly enough — national anthem performances. Additionally, according to Vice, the NFL’s policy on players standing for the national anthem also changed in 2009, with athletes “encouraged” thereafter to participate. Prior to that, teams were not given any specific instructions on the matter; some chose to remain in the locker room until after opening ceremonies were completed. (It’s unclear whether the policy change was implemented as a direct result of any Defense Department contracts.)”
All those NFL pregame antics are part of a marketing scheme for the military-industrial complex. In that context, the playing of the National Anthem is no different than a blasting out a commercial for bags of Doritos. The NFL is the most commodified enterprise on earth. What else explains the fact that Super Bowl commercials are more popular to millions of viewers than the game itself?
We live in the age of Doritos Patriotism. The entire national dialogue about what matters has been commodified. People can’t tell real food from overprocessed junk any more than they can tell the practice of free speech from jingoistic patriotism.
But when NFL players “take a knee” during the opening game ceremonies, they are doing something real and honest. They are kneeling in protest of the brand of patriotism manufactured for American consumption with no more thought than plunging a hammy fist into a bag of Doritos.
NFL players are learning the hard way they are part of the consumable goods the league is all too happy to chew up and spit out when their usefulness to a team or a league is expended. Sure, there is wealth to be earned as a pro football player. Potential fame and glory to be gleaned from a stint in the NFL. But appearances are deceiving, and the price of participation can be massive. In fact, three out of four players who make it to the NFL do not profit from the experience. Instead, they wind up broke. The Doritos bag of pro sports is notoriously quick to empty.
“According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, 78% of National Football League (NFL) players are either bankrupt or are under financial stress within two years of retirement and an estimated 60% of National Basketball Association players go bankrupt within five years after leaving their sport.”
Not so fast
So it is absurd that people including the President of the United States are griping about “wealthy” pro football players kneeling during the national anthem in protest over cultural injustice. In fact player gripes may be far more legitimate than surface issues such as criticism of the protest movement started by Colin Kaepernick. When we consider the often ephemeral nature of football wealth and the physical and mental costs of the game to its participants, one could logically draw a line between NFL football and the original definition of indentured servitude:
An indentured servant or indentured labor is an employee (indenturee) within a system of unfree labor who is bound by a contract (indenture) to work for a particular employer for a fixed time period. The employer is often permitted to assign the labor of an indenturee to a third party.
Wow, that sounds a lot like the NFL Draft, where players are marched out like chattel on a slave-trading platform to be ogled by owners, coveted by team managers and tossed into hordes of chortling fans eager for the services of another young stud to push the ball up and down the gridiron.
Then, when the players are assessed by value, they are traded almost without approval from one team to another. That almost exactly mimics the assignment of labor of an indenturee to a third party.
“The consensus view among economic historians and economists is that indentured servitude occurred largely as “an institutional response to a capital market imperfection.”
Society further reflects the commodification of NFL players with its fixation on so-called Fantasy Football leagues, in which millions of ‘third-party’ owners trade upon the performance of pro athletes to compete with other “team owners” doing the same thing. The players themselves no longer matter, nor the teams. It’s all about numbers, statistics and the commodification of the NFL to raw impulses anchored in gambling. This is the junk food of the economy, the Doritos of ‘sin tax’ revenue from gambling and Internet-fueling fixes of porn. It’s all very addictive yet fills the American gut with a weird sense of guilt wrought by the bloated feeling that one can never be truly sated. Like bloated diners at a Roman vomitorium, the American populace keeps feeding itself on BaseballFootballHockeyBasketball in a never-ending bag of Sports Doritos that never empties yet never quite satisfies.
See You On Sunday. It is the religion of consumption. More important than family, God and country to some. And that’s why so many people can’t stand the idea of actual football players wrecking their Dorito House of Cards.
The corruption at the heart of all this is not just racial, it is the dehumanization of entire populations of individuals. That’s why Colin Kaepernick kneeled in the first place, because mistreatment of black Americans in American culture is deeply ingrained. It is bound together with America’s long (yet recent) arc of history that includes slavery, indentured servitude, Jim Crow laws, the KKK, lynchings, workplace discrimination and outright theft of black culture by whites determined to leverage ownership of black contributions for their own profit.
It was fifty years ago…
That’s why black track and field athletes Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest while the national anthem played during the Mexico City Olympic Games back in 1968. They were directly protesting an indentured servitude of black athletes to a largely white-dominated culture that did not accord equal rights to black citizens back home. They were pointing out the hypocrisy of a nation that calls itself the bed of freedom when for many who lived there, it was profoundly false.
A lot of Americans seem to want to forget the origins and outcomes of the civil rights movement. They want to go backwards instead of forward. These are the same people who blame President Obama for “dividing the nation” when it was nothing but stubborn racial prejudice that did so.
So when the President of the United States threatens NFL football players by calling them “son of a bitches” in a public threat claiming that they should be fired for their ‘lack of patriotism,’ he fans the flames of people who either choose to ignore, oppose or generally fear what true equality means in America. Trump is commodifying the NFL protests to make ugly political points with people unwilling to consider the idea that America is far from perfect. It has never been perfect from its inception, but the process of perfecting America often has required protests the likes of which see football players kneeling on the side of the gridiron while the national anthem plays.
Matters of respect
As for Donald Trump’s brand of patriotism, it is colorful perhaps, but fake. Tasty to his base, but poison to the system.
Of course none of this should come as a surprise from the man who once made his living bullying people on his Apprentice Plantation by whipping them into submission with the words, “You’re fired.” That’s about as un-American as you can get. But somehow half of America seems to think that this Dorito president knows something the rest of us don’t.