The following is a special wild-card weekend editorial.
Ask any citizen of the United States and their answer will be the same: our country is in big trouble. Whether it’s white nationalists raising holy hell based on their latest conspiracy theories, billionaire technocrats deciding where to draw the line on free speech, or the gaping inequality between rich and poor growing more grotesque by the paycheck, our current situation looks grim indeed.
Nowhere is this disintegration of humanity more in evidence than in our nation’s capitol, stoked by a professional class of elected leaders too fearful of losing office to protect our democracy (recent post-riot speeches excepted). Given the lack of willingness to compromise displayed by party leaders and the ideological rift between the two dominant parties, some experts say America is heading towards a second civil war — quite possibly before the next presidential election.
So is there a more positive way for Washington to govern, for red and blue states to agree on the fundamentals, and for the populace to rally around their leaders for the good of all? We say yes! And it involves the most American of objects, an oblong leather-bound ball with laces that unites the nation every Sunday (and in the case of wild card playoffs, Saturday as well).
Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green… whatever their party affiliation, Americans can’t get enough of football. We sacrifice things like better schools and public libraries to build massive stadiums to honor our local teams, and the high price of NFL game attendance — tickets average around $150 — doesn’t stop all classes of people from rubbing shoulders as they fill these fishbowls to near capacity each Sunday (not counting Covid season).
So how can we marry the much-adored game of football with the unwieldy, uncooperative workings of Washington? Simple. Form teams from the three branches of government along party lines. The winner of a game of football between D.C. Democrats and Republicans could decide if a bill winds up in the trash can or enshrined as a law. It could determine if the Supreme Court hears an argument against Arctic Drilling, or leaves it in the lower courts. Even allowing for a few hours for the losing side to complain about the refereeing, the fate of any important issue could be decided in just a day or two!
If laws were decided through football, the American people would be more engaged in civic processes than ever. For one thing, it would make the process of governing fun to follow. As much as we talk, text and tweet our opinions about politics, the day-to-day activities of each branch are extremely boring and nearly unwatchable. It feels like divine intervention when CSPAN leaves a poorly-attended House debate to cover a Presidential motorcade, but that’s not saying much. Now consider the audience for a show that combines sports talk with political commentary. Through the roof!
Right now, fans act like game day is a matter of life or death when all that’s at stake is their parlay bet on DraftKings. Think of how much they’ll care when their actual lives are on the line. “TOUCHDOWN! THAT MEANS MORE IMMIGRANTS, BABY! TAKE THAT, REPUBLICANS!” They’ll be cheering for teams representing their city or state with an even greater passion, and with football as the focus, the American people would write and call their representatives more readily with complaints about their play-calling and performance, and show up en masse on election days to ensure their team has the best possible players.
Football would also be a healthier outlet for our heightened aggression, the gridiron providing the perfect location to settle simmering feuds among our elected officials. Imagine Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the trenches against Ted Yoho, the Republican who called her a “f***ing bitch,” ready to unleash a pancake block when the ball is snapped. Or “Mean Mitch” McConnell responding to Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon’s smear of the right with an open-field tackle to prevent a certain score. Just because the play has been whistled dead doesn’t mean the vendetta is settled. Who could resist watching Rashida Tlaib lay a late, cheap hit on Texas Republican Bill Flores, incurring a penalty of lower taxes and increased defense spending in the process?
As more and more Congressional leaders age into dementia while holding on to their seats, football would also nudge the country to send younger, fresher talent to D.C. While the jobs of any of the three branches of government are demanding, they tend to exercise the brain a lot more than the body. With legislative business determined by playing smashmouth football, there would be need for field generals to exhibit strength in their quads and hamstrings, not just their ability to raise piles of PAC cash. So if players from the greatest generation can’t shape up, they’d quickly lose re-election to new blood that could ram their party’s legislative agenda into the end zone. Meanwhile, the power players throwing, catching and running the ball would be freshmen representatives or baby-faced SCOTUS clerks.
Given America’s insatiable appetite for the sport, football can bring the country together at a crucial time, fusing our love of scrambling quarterbacks and defensive schemes with the process of governing that will be embraced by conservatives and liberals alike. And then? We export our pigskin politics to the rest of the world — so our conflicts in the Middle East and our stalemates with Russia and China can all be solved peacefully on the gridiron, rather than the battlefield.
Governance through football: May it lead us forward as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and slant patterns for all!
Special thanks to University of Michigan sports writer Jack Whitten for co-authoring this editorial.