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NFL: Really 'Sports' or Just a TV Series?

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In case you haven't noticed, the NFL football season is once again upon us.

I can understand someone being a fan of high school football. Students know the players sitting with them in class. Parents come to the games. It's a community thing; a neighborly thing. Sometimes fans' enthusiasm gets a little out of hand, but mostly it falls short of physical violence and destruction of property.

Even small college football retains some of these qualities. Big money college sports? Not so much.

But NFL football? What is that all about?

Big money college football promotes its pretense that players are "student-athletes." There's less hypocrisy in the NFL. It's a big moneymaking commercial enterprise pure and simple. It doesn't even pretend to be anything else.

Think about it. With the exception of the community-owned Green Bay Packers, NFL teams are "owned" by someone, just like a local Ford dealership is owned. Local citizens' ties to the team are primarily the contribution taxpayers made to building the multi-hundred-million-dollar stadium where a billionaire owner of a football team of millionaires stages some of the TV industry's most profitable programs.

Many NFL team owners, and most of the players, have no prior ties to the community. Unlike the local high school players, few citizens grew up with the local NFL players. Indeed, given the prices for even nose-bleed section tickets, let alone skyboxes, few citizens can afford to see those owners and players anywhere other than on a television screen.

Now don't get me wrong. I've been observed watching the occasional televised NFL game -- among the highest rated TV programs ever. It's good television. In fact, as an FCC commissioner, ABC TV's early football coverage struck me at the time as programming that optimizes television's technological potential.

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Nicholas Johnson is best known for his tumultuous seven-year term as a Federal Communications Commission commissioner (1966-1973), while publishing How to Talk Back to Your Television Set, 400 separate FCC opinions, and appearing on a Rolling (more...)

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