I had to do it. I had to get sucked into this mess. I am a card-carrying global macroeconomist and here I am writing about the NFL. Does the NFL cause inflation or recessions? No, I think not. Does the NFL cause productivity or wages to rise? I doubt it. But here I am writing about it.
As one of my friends wrote me recently, why would anyone be interested in macro when there is all this other stuff to talk about? He told me that only the elites care about the usual macro policy issues. So, on to the NFL.
So what do I say? I thought long and hard and here is what I could come up with: The NFL is the canary in the mine shaft. The NFL is the beginning of a road that leads directly to chaos and eventually bloody revolution.
That’s a big statement, right? I just watched part of the Vietnam film on PBS, and it reminded me that we are not immune to violence and revolution in the USA. People my age participated in mistakes in Vietnam and were glad when the Cold War seemed to end. We also experienced the Civil Rights protests and were glad to see that situation improved. But it has been a while since all that transpired and it is not unbelievable that we have come full circle. It is quite possible that what we are seeing in the NFL is just the beginning of some very tough times ahead.
The end of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Revolution brought positive change. In the 1970s, one would have expected a great period of healing to follow – and maybe it did. It is one thing for whites and blacks and capitalists and communists to be ignorant of each other. It might follow that as we joined closer together, as in any marriage, many problems would be solved. But what we did not expect is that when we got to know each other a little better we would sometimes get on each other’s nerves. As we all became more equal, some got equal faster than others and some got less equal.
A half a century later we find that the world might be fairer than it was in 1960. But we also find as we become more familiar and equal, we have new and larger problems between capitalists and communists, blacks and whites, gays and heteros, JD and Scotch drinkers. (I had to get JD in somewhere!)
Conservatives can defend their records and describe how much minorities have gained in the last half-century. Liberals can point out the vast inequalities that remain. This is not an argument that can be resolved easily. Major progress on income distribution, job discrimination, crime, policing, immigration, national security and defense will not come easily. These are tough nuts to crack. Solutions won't reduce to ”my way or the highway.”
Reasoned approaches to our most difficult challenges are not to be had. And the NFL is the beautiful example of why. Our President said horrible things about our players and our players responded in kind. Is this stupid or what? We have proper forums to work through sensitive national issues. Why are those fleet of feet and marbled by muscle feeling the need to make their political desires known at NFL games? Why do actors do the same at award ceremonies? Why do college students wear masks and beat each other with sticks on campus?
I think this is because the answers to the questions are tougher than we are. We either want or don't want dramatic change. We want to be on the right side. We want to curse at those who disagree with us. But the truth is that the more we act in these ways, the less headway we make and the more entrenched our adversaries become.
That all this has come to the NFL shows how far we have come down a very bad road. Does it seem far-fetched that these behaviors will come to baseball? To college athletics? To Macy’s holiday parade? To a local music concert? To your next family gathering? It does not seem impossible that, in light of the lack of any real leadership in this country, we will keep playing out our demand for a better world outside of regular political/government frameworks. It also does not seem impossible that those who are the most frustrated will bring their impatience and hatred to situations that will give them notoriety. With all the sides hardening, it is not difficult to imagine even more violence in even more places.
Where is the national leader who will tell us that these behaviors are counter-productive and convince us of the following: First, our situation today in the USA is enviable compared to most places around the world. Second, we made a start to become the shining light on the hill. Third, some of the hardest challenges are ahead of us. And finally, we are good enough to meet those challenges. Can you think of one politician today who could pass this muster?