Burl Ives, playing Big Daddy, told Paul Newman, playing his son Brick Pollitt, “Life ain’t no football game, boy” in the movie adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which I saw in 1958.
Big Daddy pretty much owned the town in Mississippi and much of the surrounding farmland, and Brick was a depressed ex-professional football player who was washed up as a sports hero, who had done little but drink for several years, who was back in Big Daddy’s big house with his beautiful wife, played by Elizabeth Taylor, for a family visit. He had undergone a serious demotion from the life of a high school, college, and pro football hero back to life in the banal boring unfair world owned, controlled, and lorded over by his father, Big Daddy; and Brick saw no way out, other than alcoholic spirits. Perhaps Big Daddy should have cut him out of his will and withdrawn his support, forcing him to get a real job; but the story ended with Brick commiserating in a sympathetic conversation with Big Daddy, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Would Big Daddy dying and willing most of his wealth and power to Brick cure Brick’s psychological depression and his lack of sexual desire for his beautiful wife, the cat on a hot tin roof? Would he forget the sexual complications he and his wife had with his football teammate and longtime friend, who had died? Nobody knows. Neither Tennessee Williams nor a screenwriter wrote an answer for this problem in the fictional movie.
Having been a high school quarterback, it seems to me the game of football is similar in some respects to competitive economics and international politics, but it’s not a form of war.
Both war and football are physically grueling and entail opponents trying to defeat one another. There are various plays quarterbacks can call running an offense, even changing plays sometimes at the line of scrimmage, mixing up plays trying to fake the defense out of their jock straps. Calling and running plays was satisfying to me. I got a real high being in control of the team during games and making things happen, when we were moving the ball down the field and winning. I can imagine generals fighting wars sometimes had somewhat the same feeling. We won eleven out of eleven games in 1952.
On the other hand, most of the time football produced emotional lows rather than highs. It’s interesting why boys and young men like to play football as much as they do considering how tiresome, grueling, miserable, and painful it can get. Most football players probably play the game for the satisfaction of playing on a team to win, trying to be better at it than somebody else, and proving it before cheering fans in the stands. They get some applause, admiration, appreciation, fame, however little and fleeting, and a little glory, sexier girl friends maybe, maybe a university football scholarship, and serious money if they are good enough to make it big in the pros, a long shot.
Most people have no idea how hard football players had to physically work and how much misery they had to endure to earn the rewards they got back in the 1950s. I have no idea whether it’s still that way today, with new training and practice methods, but I would bet most football players are a lot more miserable most of the time than most people realize. I dreaded workouts and games, thinking about what could happen, which was most of the time during football season.
On the other hand, it seems to me football is in general fairer and more humane psychologically than competitive business and political organizations competing against organizations within countries and against countries internationally. People rarely get killed playing football. Football games are refereed to make sure players play by the rules, and the best and fastest, smartest, biggest, toughest, meanest, and hardest-working players almost always win, which is not true in economic competition and politics, in which the game is generally rigged and contaminated by money, script messages, and family connections, especially money and resources one legally inherits to start with to play the game. In war, the end result of international economic competition, when diplomacy fails, players are not only supposed to beat their opponents on fields of battle, but kill them, with few rules.
Why is it almost all football games entail playing the national anthem and focusing attention on the US flag before the game starts, with fans standing at attention with their hands over their hearts, some with tears in their eyes, with people in military uniforms marching about carrying flags, sometimes with military aircraft flying overhead? What is the message here? Are they trying to say the purpose of football games is to glorify war? Are they trying to say football games are like war? Are they trying to say football players are like soldiers?
Almost all people in the stands participate in these rituals with alacrity. Almost all stand at attention. Most put their hands over their hearts, and stare with awe and admiration at the “American” flag. Colin Kaepernick, a pro football quarterback, disagrees, and he has paid a heavy price for courageously exercising his US right of free speech, by not only not standing at reverent attention when the national anthem was played, but by going down on one knee. Back when I was playing football the only time players went down on one knee on the field was because the coach told them to, generally because they were physically exhausted, and the coach wanted them to do some serious thinking about what they had been doing wrong. Kaepernick went down on one knee because he was tired of what Big Daddy and US citizens had been doing to African Americans, and he wanted them to do some serious thinking about what they had been doing wrong.
Wars have become increasingly effective doing what wars do. During the 20th century humans took warfare to new levels in WWI in 1917, WWII in 1940, the Korean War in the 1950s, and the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Not only did the grunt players, the soldiers, airmen, and sailors, become more effective doing their jobs, the generals with better weapons at their disposal invented new plays to call, new ways of killing that could kill thousands of people in short order, including thousands of passive non-combatant civilians sitting in their homes, killed by bombs dropped on them from airplanes, including two nuclear bombs dropped on civilians in two cities.
The United States, being physically separated by two large oceans from the battlefields of older civilizations, so far has not had any of its cities bombed by enemy nations in international wars, however much the US has done it to others, including North Koreans and Vietnamese, whose military teams were almost helpless competing against the powerful and accomplished US Air Force, having gained experience in WWII.
Some civilians were probably killed in towns in states of what is now the US in the so-called US Civil War of the 1860s, but mass civilian casualties in real cities in the US have not yet been caused by foreign enemies, not counting the civilian deaths in wars between the native original people of North America and the invasive European people starting in the 1600s, as Europeans took over and inexorably migrated west in the US, up to the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890 in South Dakota, the last battle of these wars.
There is now loose hubristic jingoistic talk between the born rich narcissistic grandiose supreme leaders of the US and North Korea—who never worked a day in their lives for a boss in a competitive real job—using Internet tweets to broadcast scurrilous infantilized macho threats to one another, and messages about their right and power to use their immense power to shoot nuclear bombs into US and North Korean cities using intercontinental rockets, as if both see themselves as playing some sort of video game.
Hopefully these two jokers, having no experience playing football, having no experience doing hard physical work of any kind, or fighting in a real war, or even knowing what it’s like to belong to a military unit, really are joking about shooting off their nuclear bombs with rockets, as if the rockets loaded with nuclear bombs were giant roman candles to play with celebrating a holiday.
What is the probability of nuclear bombs being shot into US and North Korean cities by these so-called leaders? It had better be zero, since it could cause millions of civilian casualties if it happened, and possibly lead to the extinction of the human race.
It seems these bombastic immature tweets threatening nuclear war in international politics would cause an increased level of fear and anxiety among US citizens, and the citizens and subjects of all countries.
Adding to the consternation, anxiety, and worry caused by Trump’s and Kim Jong-un’s immature irrational behavior is irritation and agitation caused by the way the US domestic economy has evolved since the 1950s, caused by US politicians, their campaign donors, the voters who voted for them, and lobbyists for vested interests.
While the US economy today is based on stock market indexes, the official unemployment rate, car sales, and construction appears to be in good shape, relevant facts paint a different picture. Yes, the official unemployment rate is low but the labor force participation rate is also low, caused by discouraged workers giving up on finding real jobs and ceasing to look for them, and thus not being counted as being unemployed. While the incomes and wealth of the elite rich have increased dramatically in recent decades, since the Republican Reagan administration of the 1980s, the wages, salaries, and wealth of middle and working classes have stagnated or declined, resulting in an aggravating ever-widening unfair unequal income and wealth distribution. The prices of corporate stocks in stock markets have been inflated by the quantitative easing and low interest rate policies of the Federal Reserve System that enabled corporations to borrow money at low interest and use the proceeds to buy back shares of their own stock, causing the prices of their stock to go up, enriching their top executives with stock options, which encouraged small retail investors and large institutional investors with pension money to buy stock, thus inflating stock prices even more to irrational levels. Thus there is now serious risk of another crash similar to the crash of 2008.
The 2017 Christmas-gift-for-the-rich tax reduction bill passed in December by the Republican Congress and signed into law by our billionaire President Trump, if history repeats itself, will not benefit middle and working classes but will enrich the rich even more, who do not have to work for a living, thereby increasing even more the gulf between the comfortable elite rich and everyone else in the US, while it dangerously increases both the US budget deficit and the total debt. It saved Trump’s heirs and Sam Walton’s heirs billions of dollars in estate taxes alone, money they did not need, more money than they can ever spend on rational and ethical human needs and wants.
The US now spends over fifty percent of its discretionary spending in the federal budget on military hardware, munitions, ammunition, bombs, and personnel, some 650 billion dollars per year, more than is spent on military budgets by the next eight largest military spending nations on Earth combined. How the US can justify this level of military spending in the absence of serious enemies and wars to fight is amazing. After several years of trying to find or create some serious enemies, so far the US military-industrial-intelligence complex has not found any, just puny national governments and military forces to tear up with bombs and bands of so-called terrorists to kill with drones and boots on the ground, in the Middle East and in North Africa, none of whom ever threatened US security.
How long these policies and ethical lapses can be continued without bringing on serious dislocations and losses remains to be seen. Chickens, after all, even in international politics, probably will come home to roost.
If interested take a look at my FreeFairProgressParty for some recommendations for the US government to enhance its functioning for all its stakeholders—as if it could operate like a good football team with a good quarterback, which for sure it can’t. It operates more like a bunch of hollering frenetic kids jumping and bouncing around in a Bounce House at a birthday party.
Richard John Stapleton is an emeritus professor of entrepreneurship and business ethics who writes on business and politics at www.efffectivelearning.net. He is also editor and publisher of the Effective Learning Report.