But football’s appeal is more than demographics. The numbers reflect the values of white conservative males. No professional sport looks more overtly macho than the NFL, and none appears to take greater delight in violence — not even the National Hockey League, which has gone to great lengths to curb fisticuffs. The Michael Sam draft story revealed that none may be more homophobic. Where the National Basketball Association enthusiastically embraced Jason Collins when he announced he was gay, former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has claimed that that he was released for advocating gay marriage and that his position coach made homophobic slurs. Then are the numerous player tweets against gays, as well as Miami Dolphin lineman and team captain Richie Incognito’s gay taunts against former teammate Jonathan Martin.
But the league’s appeal to entrenched conservative values goes deeper still — to the heart of the relationship between labor and capital. No other professional league seems to exhibit the indifference, even contempt, to its own players that the NFL does to its athletes — which is why the former players have filed their suit. The record of concussions and the use of painkillers demonstrate that to the NFL — and many of its fans — players are essentially expendable, interchangeable, to be used up and then discarded. The fact that football players have never established a powerful union, as baseball and basketball players have, only shows how much those players have drunk the league’s Kool Aid. The career of the average NFL player lasts scarcely three years, yet it is the only professional league that doesn’t have guaranteed contracts.