How American Football Became A Racket

The game of American football has played a large role in my life. It shaped most of my youth, the effort I exerted to remain competitive in it having governed the way I ate, the way I behaved, and, to some extent, even the way I studied. The game gave me quite a bit, and I’m thankful for it.

Having been away from it for a couple of years now, however, I’ve come to adopt a more critical view of the game. American Football is one of the most difficult and exploitative games you can play. Almost no sport asks more of you and gives you less in return.

The recent case of Johnny “Football” Manziel has highlighted this reality for me.


For those unaware of his identity, Johnny Manziel (nickname “Johnny Football”) is a quarterback who plays for Texas A&M University. He has only played for one full season, but it was a good one. He broke a number of records and became the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most coveted award. At the age of 20 he is arguably college football’s biggest star right now, and is certainly one of the most recognizable athletes across the country.


Now, Manziel has created his share of controversy. His persona comes across as that of the cocky alpha-male athlete. He’s good at what he does and he also comes from an affluent family. He has regularly sparred with twitter followers critical of his celebrity and he has not been afraid to share his more controversial opinions.


He was arrested in 2012 for disorderly conduct.

He’s been known to crash frat parties at rival schools and has been thrown out unceremoniously:


And he’s been caught with a bong:

None of these incidents, however, carry the potential to do him in quite like this one:

The NCAA is investigating whether Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs on photos and sports memorabilia in January, “Outside the Lines” has learned. Two sources tell “Outside the Lines” that the Texas A&M quarterback agreed to sign memorabilia in exchange for a five-figure flat fee during his trip to Miami for the Discover BCS National Championship. Both sources said they witnessed the signing, though neither saw the actual exchange of money.
If the NCAA investigation finds that Manziel has violated NCAA Bylaw — accepting money for promoting or advertising the commercial sale of a product or service — he could be ruled ineligible.

Here is where the exploitative nature of American football’s college game becomes quite evident.
Johnny Manziel is under threat of suspension now for allegedly profiting from his notoriety and image. The odd thing, however, is that the NCAA and his own university have profited extensively from his notoriety and image.

How much profit, you ask? Try $37 million as far as Texas A&M University is concerned:

If it’s true that athletics is the window to the world from which a university is seen, Texas A&M University is providing a great view.
The university recently retained the services of a renowned sports and sponsorship evaluation company to measure the media exposure generated by the football team’s historic finish and quarterback Johnny Manziel winning the 2012 Heisman Trophy. Research conducted by Joyce Julius & Associates shows that the redshirt freshman winning the prestigious trophy produced more than 1.8 million media impressions, which translates into $37 million in media exposure for Texas A&M.
Media impressions, the company officials explain, include news mentions from print, television and internet sources. The figures do not reflect increases from merchandise sales, ticket requests or donations to the school, all of which historically have risen dramatically at schools that have produced a Heisman Trophy winner. The Collegiate Licensing Company has calculated a five-year average growth in sales and royalties of 27.5 percent based on the past five Heisman winners.

Johnny Football is making a lot of money for a lot of people. His university is raking in the cash. The NCAA is raking in the cash. Networks that broadcast the games he plays in (which draw viewers in large part because of him) are raking in the cash. Manufacturers and retailers of Manziel merchandise are raking in the cash. Advertisers are raking in the cash.

In short: Johnny Football’s ability is making a lot of people rich, and he’s bringing that money in the hard way.


American Football is the most dangerous major team sport out there. American football players at the professional level have shorter careers, lower earnings and higher rates of violent injury than those in any other major team sport. Unlike other sports where one can go pro as a teen, American Football players are forced into three years of competition at the “amateur” collegiate level, where violent injury is more common than in any other NCAA sport:

In 1982, the NCAA began collecting standardized injury and exposure data for collegiate sports through its Injury Surveillance System (ISS). This special issue reviews 182 000 injuries and slightly more than 1 million exposure records captured over a 16-year time period (1988–1989 through 2003–2004). Game and practice injuries that required medical attention and resulted in at least 1 day of time loss were included. An exposure was defined as 1 athlete participating in 1 practice or game and is expressed as an athlete-exposure (A-E).
…Football had the highest injury rates for both practices (9.6 injuries per 1000 A-Es) and games (35.9 injuries per 1000 A-Es)

From regular head injuries/concussions to busted knees, annihilated shoulders and everything in between, college football demands a very high price from those who seek to compete. Any player like Johnny Manziel, who sees the field extensively and is exposed to violent collisions on a regular basis, is putting a lot on the line.

Johnny Manziel, Chuka Ndulue, R.J. Washington

Given the risk he’s taking and the money he’s making for everyone else while doing it, you’d figure that he could perhaps earn a little money for his troubles. You’d think wrong.

The light that shines on many college football stars often blinds us to the true nature of their reality. Yes, they get full scholarships. Yes, their facilities are often quite nice. Yes, they get a lot of notoriety and plenty of female attention. But at the end of the day, they’re not coming out on top. At the end of the day, even the greatest college football star is nothing more than a pack mule designed to be ridden into the ground for profit.


He will make far more for the NCAA, his school and other interested parties than he will ever see in scholarship aid or in the equipment gifted to him, he will take a very significant risk to his own wellbeing (involving plenty of violent injury and a lot of pain) in order to generate that cash and he will not be allowed to benefit himself. If he’s lucky, he’ll manage to make it to the NFL where he will in all likelihood have a very short career in which he won’t make nearly enough to cover the many health issues that decades spent playing football at a high level will create for him. He will then be rewarded for his excellence (having made it to the NFL) with an early grave:

Of all the football statistics you’ll read in your time on Earth, none will be as shocking as this one: According to a 2006 report in the St. Petersburg Times, for every season a player spends on an NFL roster, his life expectancy decreases by almost three years.
Read that again.
The average American male lives to be almost 75. According to the Times report, an NFL player, whose career lasts roughly four years on average, lives to be 55. The more years a player spends in the NFL, the more games and practices he survives, the quicker he dies.

Johnny Football, for all of the celebrity now surrounding him and the despite all of the accolades he’s received, is just another pack mule. He broke the rules by attempting to do what everyone else was doing: make money off of his notoriety, image and ability. That isn’t an American football player’s place. His mission is to make money for everyone else, regardless of the physical cost of doing so. That’s the reality.

Texas A&M v Mississippi

The NCAA and its supporters should quit sugarcoating the one-sided nature of this system and this game with bullshit about “student athletes,” “amateurism,” and “passion for the game,” and simply call it as it is.

Read Next: Stop Watching Sports

54 thoughts on “How American Football Became A Racket”

  1. My favorite quote from a movie I recently watched 2 Guns- CIA guy says to drug lord from whom the CIA gets a cut of money, “It ain’t a free world – it’s a free market.”.

  2. Yeah I’m suprised that this does not get more attention from the mainstream. I think the NCAA does about 6 Billion a year in profit. It isnt just that American Football happen to be so brutal, but its also that no other country in the world has For Profit College athletics in any Sport.

  3. Consider me to have been as big an American sports fan as you could’ve found ten years ago. Then I started to get older than the players. I started to care less. When I look around at my age group when in America it is clear I am in the minority here.
    Nothing will change as long as overgrown children are spending oodles of money to cheer on a bunch of kids play a sport. Not to mention old men wearing the jerseys of 20 year olds. Maybe it’s maturity, maybe it is perspective or maybe it’s just the fact sports has gotten too big in America, but would be nice if millions of adults could find a lot more to focus on than pouring money into the networks and various conferences every Saturday afternoon.

    1. You’re way in the minority, dude. The NFL is bigger than Jesus and the Beatles combined.
      And you know what the funny part is? The stadiums don’t even sell out. I love going to watch a game in person. I hate watching one on TV.
      Just for kicks, here’s the six highest rated television broadcasts of all time:
      Super Bowl XLVI (Giants-Patriots), 2/5/12 166.8 million
      Super Bowl XLVII (Ravens-49ers), 2/3/13 164.1 million
      Super Bowl XLV (Packers-Steelers), 2/6/11 162.9 million
      Super Bowl XLIV (Colts-Saints), 2/7/10 153.4 million
      Super Bowl XLIII (Cardinals-Steelers), 2/1/09 151.6 million
      Super Bowl XLII (Giants-Patriots), 2/3/08 148.3 million
      More than half the country tuned in (keep in mind all the people who are working during the broadcast, infirm, in jail, foreigners — now you’re talking damn near everyone in front of the television set). The Super Bowl is like America’s orgiastic pagan holiday, with super-obese manboobs and hambeasts stuffing themselves at the vomitorium.
      later, gotta go watch the Browns.

      1. High ratings doesn’t mean the game is better. It’s just that everything else sucks. TV and the NFL itself was way better in the 80s and 90s. As well as MLB, NBA, and NHL were huge then. Less choice but much better quality then and infinite choice with horrid quality now. And the dink and dunk, hands off nature of the game today coupled with free agency gone awry and commercials every 5 minutes, makes for a near unwatchable game. I was fortunate to be able to watch it when it was a great game.

      2. I think you got it. Football (and sports in general) have become a substitute for religion to many Americans. Going to see the Giants at AT&T Park is more of a spiritual experience than visiting the Sistine Chapel or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for many.
        I don’t think the answer is to pay college players. Universities were founded for education, not as entertainment factories for overgrown adolescents. I doubt it’ll ever happen, since the NCAA probably rakes in millions from universities (and vice versa), but NFL teams should give players “minor league” contracts and develop a farm system like they have in baseball. Most college football players with scholarships are too dumb to get into the schools they play for. It lowers the quality of education for everyone.

        1. Heh. If AT&T Park is Golgotha, does that make the 72″ flatscreen from Wal-Mart an icon?

      3. Yet, nobody gives a shit about it outside of the USA. Jesus and the Beatles aren’t that small.

    2. I’ve heard variations of this argument many times, and while I respect those who don’t follow sports (including yourself), to me it’s just another form of entertainment to take or leave. Spectators also pour money into Hollywood movies and television, as well as popular music, and many of those enriched celebrities get away with a lot more b.s. than your average footballer. Reducing it to just “kids” playing a “sport” is the same as calling the movies “kids play acting on camera.” Women (for example) love to belittle spectator sports, while they themselves throw Oscar parties.
      Football is entertainment, pure and simple, but I respect that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. I just wish people who don’t watch it would stop shouting so loud about how immature it is. I will add that most people can focus on many things at once; just because they watch a ball game doesn’t mean their lives are empty.
      However I agree that a grown man wearing a jersey (especially with another man’s name on it) is embarrassing.

      1. i bought older jersys of players like Barry Sanders .. I also have 1 calvin Johnson Authentic because it will be worth some money later on but i agree jereys look stupid on grown men

      2. I never said I don’t follow it, you don’t go from being a major fan and a guy who played (and still plays) sports his entire life to completely ignoring it. I’ve just lost interest to the point I’m not a fan boy.
        It would be nice if everyone took it as you did – seeing it for what it is, entertainment. However, the guys I know don’t. They debate meaningless subjects and are too distracted to have an opinion on subjects that actually effect them.
        The NFL is peaking. The amount of coverage is over the top nowadays. When everyone climbs in, it’s usually a time to take stock of what’s going on. Peter King gets an entire section devoted to MMQB despite SI already having a section on its site for the NFL? Gossip about where players are going is no different than who Katy Perry is dating. This is what a lot of guys spend sad amounts of time focusing on.
        Im not saying its stupid to watch sports, much like movies – i take your point and agree. It’s entertainment to a point. After that it becomes embarrassing.

    3. “. . .old men wearing the jerseys of 20 year olds.”
      The practice of wearing another man’s jersey is, in itself, problematic.

  4. Johnny Football may not be making money off of college football but he’s been richly rewarded in other ways.

  5. The Catholic reading for Sunday was “to whom much is given, more is demanded.” And “those who have more, even more is demanded.”
    The bible was pretty explicit about this. Now Johnny football, even for being a good ole boy, clearly doesn’t read the bible.

    1. So true. Johnny football should start demanding more from the NCAA and TX A&M instead of being a slave.

  6. In relation to this post and the “Stop Watching Sports” post, is the word “sport” comes from the word “disport” which means “diversion from work or serious matters; recreation or amusement.”

  7. Guys , I suggest you come to Ireland and watch some of this. THIS is the most dangerous and most brutal sport in the world, not American football. Have a look..

    Btw, helmets only became mandatory a few years ago..

      1. Couldn’t agree more Carson.
        The oldest, toughest, fastest, most noble and skillful game on the planet is in actual fact, ‘gay as fuck’ .
        Of course it is.

      2. wow way to be ignorant. just because you are not from the country does not mean you need to critize it. For fuck sake American Football is probably one of the gayest if you consider that sport to be gay

  8. I don’t watch college football because of the exploitation. The NCAA should be required to make lifetime injury settlements in the hundreds of thousands if not millions to college athletes that get injured.

  9. “American Football is the most dangerous major team sport out there. American football players at the professional level have shorter careers, lower earnings and higher rates of violent injury than those in any other major team sport. Unlike other sports where one can go pro as a teen,”
    Not to mention that players who push themselves so hard in their prime end up with chronic pain and shit later on — sometimes hip replacement in their 40’s.

  10. Dean Howland: A what? Send him in. [the doors open and in walks Cartman, dressed as a Southern gentleman]
    Cartman: [speaking like a Georgia plantation owner] Helloo thear! The name is Eric P Cartman. I’m a well-respected owner in the slave trade.
    Dean Howland: In the what?
    Cartman: My peaches, what a wonderful office you got yourself heah. Certainly got yourself a luuucrative bidness, don’t ye. Well let me get right down to it theyen. Like yourself, [opens a humidor and takes out a cigar] I am also in the slave trade. [takes a long whiff of the sealed cigar, then puts it into his inside coat pocket and pats it down] But at the moment I find myself in a little quandary with ligal issues. Was wonderin’ if you could share some secrets.
    Dean Howland: I have… no idea what you’re talkin’ about.
    Cartman: [walks over to a picture of the UCB basketball team] You have some might strong-lookin’ workers heah, sahr. I’d be willin’ to offer you forty dollars for two of the white ones and fifty for the blacks.
    Dean Howland: Are you referring to our student athletes?
    Cartman: Student atholetes. Hoho, that is brilliant sahr. Now, when we sell their likeness for video games, how do we get around payin’ for our slaves uh- “student atheletes” then?
    Dean Howland: Look, there are [catches his breath] good reasons why our student athletes cannot be paid, young man.
    Cartman: I ain’t arguin’. If they got paid, then how did we make all owr money, right?
    Dean Howland: We do [slams his fist on his desk] not own slaves, and we have no desire to own slaves.
    Cartman: But of course you own slaves, because, oh… riiight. [clears his throat] Of couse you don’t have desire to own slaves, son, neither do I. And if there was any government agency listenin’ in on this heah conversation, they should know that we’er not talkin’ ’bout slave ownership. Gaauu. [waits a few seconds, then takes off his hat and softly says] Alright, so now, how do you get around not paying your slaves.
    Dean Howland: Get out! This is a prestigious university and I am not saying one more word to you!
    Cartman: You think you can do whatever you want ’cause your corporation is a university?! [walks towards the entrance and opens the door] This country was founded on the idea that one corporation couldn’t hog all the slaves, while the rest of us wallow in poverteh! Screw you sahr, I’m goin’ home! [walks out and closes the door]

  11. The NCAA should just admit that the athletes are employees of the schools, not students. End the farce that they are regular students just like the others. Then you get rid of all the stupidity about them making money, or the ridiculous academic standards.

    1. There are 4,500 colleges in the US. Probably every Division I school, the Ivy League, all the premiere liberal arts, will survive largely untouched.

      1. Haha, you think universities won’t employ cost-cutting methods when they become available? California is already in their pilot program. Both education suppliers and consumers want this to happen so it will happen.

        1. You seem to feel that if you can MOOC there will be zero interest in the on campus experience. People still need to be there for hands on training, skills labs, and to be research assistants. There will still be the need to generate content and facilitate the growth of knowledge. And of course the rich will use it as prestige, and in fact probably use it to informally discriminate.
          Since there will be a market for college campuses even with universally available MOOC, the question is which schools are going to survive? The ones that people want to go to because they have the most prestige.

        2. No, it will not completely eliminate physical classrooms. But it will dramatically reduce the number of students needing physical classroom instruction. I believe your argument that all top-flight institutions, and especially state-funded Division I schools, will remain unaffected is going to prove very innaccurate.

    2. Don’t forget that a lot of people do not respond well to online classes. Some need face-to-face time with professors, or group study, or they plain don’t log in, or the material is better handled in a hands-on format (chemistry, physics, a lot of fine arts, tons of engineering courses, many trades, etc.)

      1. I personally despise online education because it removes the human interaction component. That being said, half my graduate coursework is being done online and it does closely correspond to how I will be performing my duties in my profession. The younger generation is much more comfortable with this form of education. While it won’t be sensible to eliminate all classroom instruction, much of it can be reduced. If not all of it in some departments.

  12. Love to bet on college football, nothing more fun than having action on several games on a Saturday afternoon. Too many schools have teams, while the teams that have schools (i.e. Alabama, Nebraska-N for knowledge) should basically be a second tier NFL. Reorg it like BPL, make it so a good college team can enter the pros, while a shitty pro team gets reduced to second tier.

  13. While I believe the NCAA should allow student-athletes to be able to work a job to earn some spending money, I don’t agree that student athletes should be paid to play sports for their school. These kids are given a free ride to have the opportunity to earn a degree from a major university. They choose to play football (or another
    sport) using their own freewill. No one forces them to play. The NCAA and the
    universities have their rules. If you don’t like the rules, don’t play and/or don’t whine. It’s the same as if you don’t like what compensation an employer offers you, go work someplace else or work for yourself. It’s as simple as that.
    While I’m at it, I am dumbfounded that current and former NFL players are suing the league over concussions. Are you telling me these players (and their parents) were too freakin’ dumb to realize that football is a dangerous sport? Again, no one forced them to play. So what is next? Soldiers suing the government because they didn’t know they could get seriously wounded or killed in the defense of our country?
    Also, a lot of gifted athletes have a lot in common with beautiful women. They have been pampered by others all their lives because of their talents and have never built any sort of character nor have they ever had to learn to do anything on their
    own. We all know that we shouldn’t put women on a high pedestal just because they are 8+ on the looks scale, so why should we put athletes on a high pedestal because they can run a sub 4.4 40-yard dash or throw a football 70 yards???
    I will continue to watch football because I love the game despite all of the BS that comes with it these days.

    1. The yearly cost of tuition at Texas A&M for an in-state resident is $9,006. His “employer” has to pay minimum wage, so says the law in the US.
      Also of note: the NCAA is officially a non-profit organization! They also enjoy an anti-trust exemption (the NAIA not withstanding).

  14. The days of tackle football in the US are numbered. It’s just too hazardous to its participants.

  15. “American Football is the most dangerous major team sport out there”
    You know that there are several nations where they have similar, much older sports, which don’t allow the padding and helmets of American Football, right?

    1. Those sports actually have smaller concussion rates. The pads and helmets football players wear give them a false sense of security, leading them to hit each other harder. Rugby, for example, uses very little protection (only on the ears) and ends up having smaller serious injury rates. Yes, they bleed and bruise a bit more, but serious injuries in American Football (broken bones, torn ligaments, concussions, etc.) are much more common than in any other sport simply because people are running around wearing plastic battering rams.

    2. I know all about them. Their existence doesn’t impact my argument at all.
      It is a very common misconception overseas that pads/helmets = safer/softer game. The reality, of course, is actually the reverse: the game is more dangerous, necessitating the pads/helmets.
      Josh already addressed this quite well: major injuries are more common in American football than they are in Aussie Rules/Rugby/Gaelic Football, despite the presence of pads and helmets. Part of this is due to the false sense of security Josh mentioned, but the other part is due to the nature of the two games. The way American Football is organized lends itself to more frequent and more violent head-on collisions.

  16. I would say that Manziel is not alpha at all. The fact that he constantly feels compelled to lash back at people on Twitter shows it. Alphas don’t give a fuck. Manziel is too concerned with showing off how superior he is to other people.

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