Bread, Circuses and the Over-Inflated Image of the NFL

In my office this morning, as in every other office and work place in the country, if not the world, the main focus of conversation was, not surprisingly, the Super Bowl.


Conversations could be heard throughout the cubicle farm, in every room and at both water coolers (a little cliché, but true). Every aspect of the game, from the commercials to the final score – and everything in-between – was analyzed and discussed ad nauseam.

Since my team was not involved, and since I really hate The New England Patriots…and since my love of football and the NFL in general has deteriorated greatly in the past 10 years, I tried to avoid engaging in any of the chit-chat.

I was doing fine until a friend of mine came to my desk and pretty much forced me into a conversation about the game. Eventually I made a wise-ass comment (big surprise) about how I couldn’t care less about football these days. This led to a discussion about my preference for baseball over football.

My friend told me that baseball was boring.

sleeping fan

This is where I would usually tell him that if he felt that way, he didn’t truly understand the game, but since he used to be quite a talented baseball player I couldn’t use that argument, so I changed tack. I told him that football was equally as boring, but the NFL disguises it with absurd amounts of meaningless hype, overly-enthusiastic announcers, hot women patrolling the sidelines with microphones and 12 replays of each play.

He argued that football players take a physical pounding.

Big deal!

They take a pounding one day a week, for 16 weeks – baseball players play practically every single day from April to October…162 games, travelling more in one season than the average American travels in a lifetime.

Tell me that isn’t grueling.

He tried to rephrase his argument by saying with football’s faster pace it is much more exciting to watch.


stop watch I felt it was my duty to inform him that if you were to run a stop watch during a football game and let it run only when the ball was in play…your “exciting” 3 hour spectacle would be reduced to about 12 minutes of “action” (it’s true, look it up). Which means, theoretically, that any given player is only involved in actual play for about 6 minutes (half on offense and half on defense – theoretically).

My opinion is that if you pay attention during a football game, you’d realize that once it was stripped down and sanitized to its pure form, it, too, is pretty friggin’ boring.

Also, in my opinion, football is nothing more than (warning: conspiracy theory coming at you) a cleverly orchestrated means of keeping the American people fat, dumb and happy.

In his classic novel 1984, (published in 1949 – long before football was a national distraction) George Orwell said…

“…heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”

I’m not saying that the U.S. Government is using football to control us…but I’m also not saying they aren’t.

fat dumb happy

Back in the day – we’re talking waayy back, like 100 B.C. – a Roman guy named Juvenal (Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis to be more specific) coined the phrase Bread and Circuses (or, in the vernacular of the day panem et circenses).

In Juvenal’s day, Bread and Circuses was another way of saying “public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion; distraction; or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace” which pretty much jives with Orwell’s sentiment.

Nowadays Bread and Circuses has little more significance than the name of a whole-food store in Boston, but when you take a step back and observe the endless hype leading up to the Super Bowl, the hysteria during the game and the endless Monday morning quarterbacking it’s pretty obvious that Juvenal and Orwell were pretty much spot-on.

The NFL has grown into a multi-billion dollar enterprise in the past 10 or 15 years, and they did it, not by making the game itself better, but by convincing the public that they (the public) needed to be watching.

bread and circuses

They took an existing product that was doing fairly well and marketed the living daylights out of it until it was, in the minds of the people who swallowed the bait, the new national pastime.

Ironically, they used a philosophy coined in a baseball movie to do it…if you build it they will come.

Football has been played since 1869…but it wasn’t until recently (the past 15 years or so) that the league began blitzing us with the hype…and we were plowed over by it like a rookie quarterback. They capitalized on the wing-eating, short-attention-span, sound-byte mentality of the average American, and they did it so masterfully that Joe Fan never saw it happening.

As I watched Super Bowl XLIX, anxiously awaiting the end of the game, not because I had any interest in the outcome, but because it meant we were that much closer to the beginning of baseball season, I came to the conclusion that, compared to the superfluous pomp and circumstance of football…baseball is like a warm summer’s day.

Baseball doesn’t have the most recent country-music tomato singing an opening song, nor is there an entire day devoted to it each week…Yes, it’s slow moving and no, there isn’t a risk of serious injury or hospitalization on every play (although I’m sure that every player who faces a 95 mph fastball would disagree), but, if you understand the nuances of the game…it’s a beautiful thing.

It’s the difference between a keg party and a black-tie affair, heavy metal and smooth jazz, a muscle head and a muscle car.

I know I’m probably in the minority, but I really don’t care… spring training starts later this month and soon all will be right with the world.

Play ball!

play ball

As always – thank you for reading


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17 responses to “Bread, Circuses and the Over-Inflated Image of the NFL

  1. I am sooooo with you here! Great post.

  2. I, too, couldn’t wait until the NFL season was over. Bring on pitchers & catchers!!!

  3. Reblogged this on Have You Had Your Tiki Today? and commented:
    My friend Tim Baker and I share a love of baseball and general disdain for the NFL.

  4. Tim, I went years watching every game with most of the Baker family – GO PATS!

    Over the years, I watched commercials become more and more the focal point and the hype between week to week.

    After attending a World Cup and playing soccer my whole life, it is almost a crime to think watching 12 minutes of running around compare to 90min+ of pure athleticism, passion, and pure history!

    I love the article Tim, right on!

  5. I’m going to step out a little further and tell you I have never followed any professional sports, because they’re all just money-making schemes as far as I’m concerned, and like television, a way to keep the masses entertained and focused on less-important matters while Rome burns. Why is it that professional sports players can command ridiculous salaries just for ensuring a bunch of suits make a lot of insane money when there are some fabulous writers who struggle through most of their lives receiving little-to-no recognition for the great work they do, let alone eke out a decent living from their books. Most die in obscurity. (I bet you don’t know who the author is that wrote the book that baseball movie was based on … I met him, long before the book was turned into a movie. He lived in Calgary at the time and came into the bookstore where I worked – turned all his books face-out on the shelf, which used to drive me batty, but that’s another story. My point is that, until he got that movie deal, he was a struggling author. Since that time, he’s lived on the royalties, I’m sure, but not many people outside of the Canadian book biz realize he’s still writing and still publishing.) Anyway, that’s why we made pizza in the pizza oven and swam in the pool and talked and had a fun evening with our friends while everyone else on Bequia was glued to TVs. Then I readi a book, while everyone else was busy analyzing the game, agonizing over the results, and rating the commercials. Give me a good book any day!

    (Dennis just said, “Who wants to watch a TV program of commercials, interspersed with clips of professional sports?”)

  6. Joe Baker

    I agree with one thing — it is about bread, but the green kind. The hype is all about driving up profits — and is done with the clear knowledge of how people think, act and respond to stimuli. That science actually began in the 60s with Marshall McLuhen’s “The Medium is the Message” and has been developed into pure science by those who want to make money. So it isn’t the government at all but,like most things, is engineered by those with big money to make bigger money.

    • Which is pretty much what I said in the second half of the piece. When Cuba Gooding Jr shouted “show me the money” he was echoing the NFL’s Mission Statement.
      Not that I am so naive to think that baseball, and all the other sports for that martter, aren’t about money first and foremost…but the NFL has taken it to a level that the other 3 sports can only admire from afar.

      • Joe Baker

        I guess my only thought is that I wanted to emphasize it’s not some government conspiracy. And it’s not peculiar to the NFL, although they have, as you say, perfected it. But the idea that government could organize itself to do something as complex as distracting its citizenry with sports gives, I believe, a little too much credit to government. But, one last thought, not everybody who likes/loves/lives for professional sports (take your pick) are compliant sheep. Some of us do enjoy the games. (And, bro, you know where my sports heart lies!)

  7. I’d say that the NFL and the NBA is pretty much one in the same. Can’t wait until opening day!

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