The NFL's ever-increasing popularity illustrates several reasons why the United Sates will continue to be the world's leading country. This is because only football (and not baseball) is in tune with the times, instilling invaluable lessons that contribute to both personal and national greatness.
Of course, naysayers, declinists, elitists and baseball-only fanatics (whose ranks are rapidly dwindling), will eagerly point out that football is a dangerous, violent game (of which more later); they will certainly remind anyone who cares to listen of the late Professor Jacques Barzun's dictum (made in the culturally distant 1950's) that "Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball"; and they will insist that, for good reason, it is baseball that is called America's pastime.
Well, if baseball is America's pastime, football is America's passion; and it is a passion that works in favor of national greatness because it is firmly rooted in the realities and necessities of the 21st century. Consider the following lessons embedded in the sport of football:
1. Time Matters.
Uniquely, baseball games have no time limitations, an idiosyncrasy that fans actually brag about. Such pastoral rhythms were surely ideal for a 19th century nation seeking psychological solace and soothing from the wounds of the bloody Civil War. In baseball, a game is done when a game is done--there is simply no hurry. Well, good luck with that in the actual world. Real life has real deadlines (and there is a reason why they are called thus). Daily tasks have to be accomplished within specific timeframes, and the same goes for great national challenges such as dealing with the debt. The response time is simply never eternity. Time management is nothing short of an art and football instructs in it well.
2. Only Team Work Succeeds.
So much in baseball revolves around the contest between pitcher and batter, in essence a contest of individuals with a supporting cast. However, success in real life demands finely tuned and well orchestrated team work. In football, even a candidate for GOAT QB cannot win a game alone; the Brazilian super model Gisele Bündchen is instructive on this point. Following yet another Patriots SB defeat to the NY Giants, she blurted that her husband Tom Brady "cannot both throw and catch the ball." She was absolutely right. Football requires team work on all fronts: offense, defense and special teams. Sure, there will always be stars and individuals of superb personal ability, but this is the team sport par excellance where everybody puts at risk his body and health to protect teammates; if only Congress had a similar team spirit (in this case the team being America), then long-standing problems could have been resolved almost overnight.
3. Mind-Body Harmony Is Key.
The ancient Greeks said it best when they admonished "a healthy mind within a healthy body." Now, don't get me wrong. Of course MLB players can be terrific athletes (often steroid-enhanced); and baseball does demand a considerable degree of strategy and thinking, But can it really be compared to football? Football players are almost immediately recognizably by their impressive physical characteristics; and the game of football is immensely intellectual requiring near genius strategists. It is akin to a chess game (albeit with real individuals willing to smother opponents). Football demands the highest combination of intellectual and physical prowess. Any country that is inspired by this example will end up having a great and healthy population. In this sense, the popularity of the game and its role-model players can produce a lot of good for America.
4. Civic Pride and Socialization Unite.
Baseball has an unparalleled glorious history but let's face it, today it is really more of a regional game. But football is truly national; and as the focus of national attention and passions it matters greatly. The United States aspires to be a melting pot for citizens who are divided by ethnicity, race, religion, class and politics. In such a setting, sports play an immense role as a societal socializing force. In Europe, sports divide largely homogeneous populations. In America, they unite a heterogeneous citizenry. But don't NY Jets fans hate the NY Giants while both hate the New England Patriots' evil empire and so on ad infinitum? True, but this line of argument misses the point that by disagreeing about sports Americans avoid far more pernicious quarrels while at the same time they affirm their cultural commonalities and exclusivities (that football is not popular abroad works as a plus on this front).
There are also additional factors that help football bring this nation together. Consider city pride that comes with a great team (just ask anyone in Green Bay about the Packers); and then there is football-related ethnic pride (by way of illustration I offer the following example: a high-flying professional who hailed from Lithuania once tried to explain her ethnic background by asking me: "Do you know Dick Butkus?"
Football has now become the major national glue that helps hold together a diverse and divided population--a crucial precondition for international pre-eminence.
5. Acknowledge But Limit Violence.
Football is an inherently violent sport. Recent studies about the possible harmful effects of concussions are truly alarming. Compared to football, baseball (soccer and basketball also) are rather tame. Without any doubt, the concussion situation is serious and the NFL is now taking actions to confront it. But there is a larger lesson in accepting (and even rooting) for a violent sport. Although not particularly politically correct to say so, violence is an unfortunate fact of life and a constant, historically, in international relations. Nations are of course not served well by citizens who are bloodthirsty warmongers. But they are served best by vigilant citizens who on occasion are willing to entertain violent reactions such as war (with due justification--think WW II, not Iraq), but who at the same time also actively work to reduce and limit this most unfortunate manifestation of human activity.
So there you have it. Football's status augurs well for the future international standing of America. This is because football teaches the significance of time management, the importance of teamwork and the imperative to cultivate mind and body. It unites a diverse citizenry, helps instill civic pride and provides insight into the often violent nature of our world.
Dr Aristotle Tziampiris will be this Fall Visiting Fellow at New York University's Remarque Institute. He is an avid fan of both football and baseball.