Football and character

What makes Americans special, and better than those unfortunate foreigners?  So many things, but a few stand out as core values.  Lots of guns? Maybe.  Fox News and talk radio, a blessed deluge of ignorance and spite that makes Iranian mullahs and Berlusconi tear their hair in envy?  And don’t forget our God-given right to drive anywhere alone with gas cheaper than whatever it’s selling for now, without stoplights along the way, and to park free when we get there: salvation by lane-miles!

All good, but the queen of American values is the character, decency, teamwork, and sportsmanship package that only football can encompass.   I am so proud that my school is part of the big-time college sports system  where these fine young men and their moral guides and mentors learned their values. Eat your heart out, world soccer fans, game after game all season long without a single decent hit: we have football and you don’t deserve it; deal with it.

[Update 3/III: I’m trying to remember, what was it, besides apple pie, that’s as American as apple pie? ]

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

12 thoughts on “Football and character”

  1. I suppose we should feel fortunate the Saints players and coaching staff didn’t take a page from the playbook of the Tonya Harding entourage, such as arranging a brusing physical attack on their opponent and a getaway car? I wouldn’t be too surprised. Most of the Saints, like coach Gregg Williams and those players (did any have the fortitude to resist)? who went along with the scheme, were and are probably just as wanton and venal as Tonya.

  2. what was it, besides apple pie, that’s as American as apple pie?

    A good question. I never set foot in the United States until I was forty years old, but by that time I’d eaten a great deal of apple pie elsewhere.

  3. Update 3/III: I’m trying to remember, what was it, besides apple pie, that’s as American as apple pie?


    (I’m just thrilled to have a legitimate reason to post that in a comment for once.)

  4. I’ll stand up for football here: this is a shot against the entire sport, when really just the Saints should be criticized. I don’t know anyone sentient who thinks that football alone is capable of instilling decency, discipline, teamwork and the like. Any team sport will do. Lots of Americans complain about soccer, but I wouldn’t say its common to see American football fans arguing a moral superiority to their game. Usually it focuses on issues like lack of scoring, fairness (i.e. the table versus the playoff system), and simplicity (no simultaneous tournaments in Am. football, nor relegation). I’m a big soccer fan and I’ve listened to diatribes from American non-fans for years, and I don’t remember hearing anyone arguing that it doesn’t teach virtue the way American sports do. And with good reason: that’s idiotic!

    With regard to the Saints, there’s no defense for it, but I think the fact that it’s been roundly condemned is worth mentioning. And while violence is built into the game, a cash-based incentive system for causing injuries is not, which is why I imagine we’ll see some serious penalties. At the same time, all sports are capable of creating monstrous behavior that puts other players’ health at risk. Maybe I’m misreading you, but it seems like you are not only pushing back against the notion that football is inherently superior to other nations’ favorite sports, but you are also arguing that soccer is by its nature superior to football. If that’s a correct reading, the problem is that there’s no shortage of thugs who go after more athletic players with intentionally dirty play. (Pepe? De Jong? Scholes?) And I can understand chafing at your university’s participation in big-time sports, but that seems not particularly relevant to your point about morality of football’s participants. Again, if the comparison is to world soccer, how do you account for all the immoral on and off-field behavior among soccer players? Of course, there are also many classy individuals in soccer, but there are in football too. And there’s also some complete degenerates.

  5. Oh, bollocks. For character, decency, teamwork, sportsmanship and moral education generally, there is rugby union. For an education in aesthetics and art appreciation, there is FC Barcelona. And for education in how to think and act like a banker or Republican, there is the Italian national football squad, the Azzurri.

    Nothing wrong with American football, beyond the fact that it takes three or four hours to play a 60 minute match. It can be a beautiful game, but it needs… it needs… it needs an editor.

    1. Actually, what it needs is to stop being made for television. The game flows pretty well except that it’s stopped for commercial breaks virtually every time the ball changes hands.

      Soccer got it right: we’ll play the game, you run the cameras. Cut away for commercials (if you must), but we aren’t stopping the game.

      1. One of the few times George Will got anything right was when he pointed out that football combines two of the worst American traits. It’s violence interrupted by committee meetings.

        Of course, I’m an ice hockey fan, albeit primarily of the nominally checking free women’s game, so I will admit that the violence, per se, isn’t what turns me off of football. If the team wants to huddle, stop running the damned clock.

  6. I believe it is “Motherhood, baseball and apple pie.” [By the way, I date the beginning of America’s decline to whenever it was that football replaced baseball as America’s Game. For best ever comparison of baseball and football, see George Carlin.]

    1. TV caused the replacement of baseball by football. It’s the same thing that has elected our Presidents and most of our Senators and Congress-turkeys since 1960.

      Along with those attacks on America, TV together with corn syrup and high carbohydrate cheap meals has brought America the curse of obesity. TV is the great curse of America, and the last decade of incompetent shows (Reality TV?? God forbid that it continues!!) continues the devastation.

  7. I guess that reference was too old. My high school classmate Stokely Carmichael, in the 60s: “Violence is as American as apple pie.”

  8. Well, if you want the private-sector approach to what’s as American as apple pie, you can always go for the old GM commercial: “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet…”

  9. Let’s not forget the American way of litigation. Someone must have torted somebody in this mess! Deliberately hurting people would not seem to be in the normal way of assumed risk. But, I don’t specialize in this area. I hear chickens flapping.

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