This week, I’m going to use my academic background to tie together disparate elements of society into one idea. As a PhD student I had to combine multiple, often contradictory, sources to form one coherent thesis. I’m harnessing this training into a short talk about sports, television, politics, power and money. It sounds like an awful lot to cover, but in my mind they work together.
So I start with sport. Specifically, American football. I’m a big fan of NFL football. I’ve been watching the sport since I was a child and have been to a few games in person. It’s a sport that has elegance, creativity, wits and battles of the mind/coaching. Yes, it’s also an extremely violent, sometimes sickening sport, where grown men (some of whom have admittedly used Performance Enhancing Drugs — PEDs) crash into each other for money and fun. Some might think pro football players are over-paid, since they get hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) to run around passing, catching or blocking for an oval-shaped ball. Yet there have been numerous (1, 2, 3, 4) recent articles to increased health risks for playing the sport, ranging from concussions to Alzheimer’s and dementia or more. So I have no problem when players try to maximize their contracts, such as San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is trying to do.
Next, I want to discuss the Panama Papers and two HBO shows. If you’re not aware, the ‘Panama Papers‘ area lot of data from a Panama-based legal company which got released to an international consortium of journalists. The papers detail a global network of tax avoidance by the super-elite. The two HBO shows I refer to are The Wire and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. The most recent episode of John Oliver (3 April 2016) dealt with US Congressional fundraising and the insane requirements of it (in a link below, which may not work outside of the US); and season 4 of The Wire deals, in part, with that on a smaller, city scale.
Now, to draw the links between between TV, potential political corruption, tax avoidance and sport. In all of the things I’ve mentioned, there’s a bit of a David vs Goliath phenomenon going on. For Kaepernick, he’s the David, the individual player, against the Goliath of an NFL team or teams. In both The Wire and the John Oliver piece, the politicians are calling wealthy (potential) donors for contributions, leaving the average citizen without a voice. Another storyline during season 4 of The Wire is the lengths those in power will go to in order to maintain that power. This is very clear in the Panama Papers, where it shows that there’s a clear divide between those who have the wealth and power to set up tax havens and those who don’t.
What seems clear, to me at least, is that in all of these instances, is the immense, uphill battle individuals face to better themselves in the face of institutional obstacles. If you’re poor (or even middling middle-class, honestly), let alone a minority of any sort, politicians won’t listen to you because you’re not a donor. Corporations have the power and will try to exploit you. Those in power will do everything in their power to make sure you remain powerless, moneyless and ignorant of the truth.
Life is a struggle. But there are good things, too. Friends, family, the potential for fun. Don’t forget about those things. For me, those fun things (in addition to television and movies) mean music and boardgames. For others it could be sport, religion, writing, raising animals or almost anything else. Those are important things. But it shouldn’t stop you (or me) from fighting for a slice of the power, too. I keep hoping, probably due to the Trekkie inside me, that some day we can overcome these petty struggles and unite as a worldwide, perhaps galactic-wide race, intent on actually betting ourselves and those around us.