Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Sports as propaganda. A long history of social control.

Welfare for the sports billionaires
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Sports are a natural and important part of life as individuals and communities engage each other in healthy competition. It is a crucial part of our leisure time and social interaction. The British love track, or did. I remember watching it on a weekend when it was all amateur. When things began to change my mum complained about it, “We’ll be like the Yanks the way things are going” she used to say about all the product advertising that has now become the norm.

If I see a football game (soccer) on TV I can’t tell who the teams are; it’s Vodaphone playing Siemens.  In a tennis match, the player has to be sure she or he takes a sip of the Gatorade or bottled water or whatever product whose investors have control of her time. Athletes today are walking billboards, pimps for corporations really. For the famous ones, whose fickle notoriety can disappear as quickly as it arises, they make more money selling products.

The US capitalist class, the most ruthless of all of them, has mastered this social control, taken it to levels never before seen, although I was not around at the time and am not a scholar in ancient Roman History. 

Here in the US, the capitalists that own and control the sports industry and mass media have it well mapped out with the year being carved up in to allotted times for the dominant sports, Baseball, Basketball, American Football (a game played primarily with the hands) and to a lesser extent Ice Hockey, Boxing and Golf. Even before one frenetic season ends with a series of money-making ad soaked championship games until a grand finale crowns the rulers of the world in that sport, another begins. In the US we even have a “World Series” in Baseball, a game that practically no other nation plays, an example of the extreme arrogance of the US bourgeois. It’s not difficult for a US team to be world champions in a sport in which there's practically no competition from the other few hundred nations of the world.

Last weekend’s Super Bowl, a game that is technically one hour in length lasts about four hours. A 30 second ad for the previous Super Bowl, which was seen by more than 100 million people, cost about $4.5 million. The World Cup final by comparison, has over one billion viewers.

As witnessed by the corruption and goings on in FIFA, the global body that governs football, the National Football League, American Football’s non profit equivalent, is also mired in corruption and until recently, paid no taxes despite paying its chief officer more than $44 million in 2012 and $29 million the year before that. As the universities are also pools from which professional teams pull their players, there have also been incidents of corruption and extreme sexual abuse and cover up there.

The longer the Super Bowl goes on of course, the better it is for those that profit from it. Super Bowl 50 opened up with the singing of the national anthem and weapons of mass destruction in the form of jets flying over the stadium, There is always a military presence and usually ads enticing young working class men and women to join up. It is a massive spectacle of excess as the public is subject to propaganda on a scale not unlike the huge rallies and events put on by the National Socialists, their propaganda machine would make Leni Riefenstahl proud.

The owners of the American Football teams are nearly all billionaires with Paul Allen, the owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers worth some $17.5 billion. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is worth $6.5 billion; Rams owner Stan Kroenke “who also owns parts of the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and Arsenal Football Club” is worth $6.3 billion; Jaguars owner Shad Khan who also owns Fulham Football Club is worth $4.8 billion; Patriots owner Bob Kraft who also owns the New England Revolution is worth $4.3 billion; and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones $4.2 billion. (Source: CBS Sports)

As far as it goes, the stadiums built for the teams to play in are mostly built at taxpayer’s expense; so much for the efficiency of their so-called free market.  The Patriots stadium was built with $72 million of taxpayer money meanwhile Robert Kraft, who owns the team has a net worth of $4.8 billion, taxpayer handouts to him will allow him to support Israeli causes no doubt, Jewish Israeli’s that is as he is a supporter of Zionism. More here and here on taxpayer funded stadiums.

Sport, like anything in the capitalist mode of production, is an opportunity to be exploited, it is a business. Instead of us enjoying the healthy interaction and competition that team sports can be, we are enticed to watch others play, people who prostitute themselves for one business or another, many of them become millionaires, treated like gods. But the fall can be as swift as the rise. In American Football, the health impact is considerable and there has been an ongoing struggle to get the concussion’s connected to the sport recognized and dealt with. A similar situation occurs in boxing where brain damage is a common side effect, boxers have very little power in the industry and no union to represent them. For many poor youth and youth of color, sports is an opportunity to get a university education and hopefully a better future.

The players sell everything especially to children and poor children whose dream it is to become one of them and escape the world of poverty. To become like them is success but for most it is an impossible dream. The phony, charitable episodes and visits to areas of extreme poverty by the players at the behest of the investors that own their time is a sham.

But most important to the owners of the sport industry and the media that promotes it is its propaganda potential.  For the 1% it is their “God”. It is money well spent. As an earlier post pointed out, all sports should be amateur. Sport, like art should be state funded. But, as is the case with all things, this activity cannot be separated form other social issues. A healthy artistic and athletic culture cannot exist without increased leisure time that requires the allocation of capital and society's wealth in a different way, in a collective way. Capitalism destroys creativity as it destroys the environment and will destroy life as we know it if it is not ended.

Prior to the English Revolution and the demise of Charles 1st, the soon to be headless monarch, there was much resistance to curbing organized sports of the day because, “..if men had no sports to occupy them on Sundays, they might meet for illegal religious discussion. “, wrote, Christopher Hill, the British historian, adding that,  “The government feared that unoccupied men would talk sedition…”.*

Later, with the restoration of Charles 11 in 1660,  the Duke of Newcastle assured the monarch that traditional sports “will amuse the people’s thoughts and keep them in harmless action, which will free your Majesty from faction and rebellion.” 

State organized sports as a form of social control and clutter for the mind has a long history.

* The Century of Revolution 1603-1714 by Christopher Hill

No comments: