One of the dumbest ideas proposed during the 2016 election was that of “accelerationism.” This quasi-Marxist theory, which has been bouncing around left-wing message boards for a decade or so with varying levels of sincerity, says that the only way to bring about a revolution is to allow capitalism to reach its logical endpoint. That endpoint — gilded-age inequality, the dissolution of the social safety net, the collapse of traditional institutions — is personified in Donald Trump, which is why some crank leftists backed him as a stepping stone to global communism. If conditions get bad enough, they said, the working classes will have to revolt. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that allowing plutocrats to loot our country unabated would lead anywhere positive. Besides, people’s lives are in the balance, and no outcome could ever justify the destruction and human suffering it would take to get there.
But what if accelerationism was applied to a non-essential institution, like the National Football League? American football is a negative asset, even if you disregard the racist team names and (alleged) rapist quarterbacks. A good two-thirds of any NFL broadcast is devoted to timeouts and car commercials. The remaining third is a competition to see which player can sustain the most brain damage during the five-second bursts in which the game actually takes place. A 2017 study found that chronic traumatic encephalopathy, an untreatable neurodegenerative condition that leads to behavioral issues, depression and dementia, was found in 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players’ brains. Symptoms of CTE typically appear later in life, but not always — Aaron Hernandez, the ex-New England Patriot who hanged himself in prison at the age of 27 after being convicted of first-degree murder, had “the most severe case [doctors] had ever seen” in someone of his age. Newly designed helmets aren’t helping much, and the fiercely competitive nature of the sport often leads players to hide concussions and continue playing. The league has paid lip service to player safety and donated pittances to CTE research, but the unspoken truth is that the sport itself cannot be reformed. Football without the risk of CTE wouldn’t be football.
What an amazing comeback and win by the Patriots. Tom Brady, Bob Kraft and Coach B are total winners. Wow!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 6, 2017
The key to accelerating the NFL’s demise lies with its most notoriously corrupt team, the New England Patriots, who are the favorite to win this year’s Super Bowl against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Patriots have a close relationship with Donald Trump, and the team shares some of his worst qualities. Like our esteemed president, it hogs the spotlight, having appeared in more Super Bowls (ten) than any other team. Also like Trump, it frequently finds itself accused of misconduct in the wake of victory. In 2007, the Patriots were fined by the NFL for covertly videotaping their opponents’ coaches during a game. In 2015, the NFL suspended Brady for four games and fined the team $1 million after it was caught deliberately under-inflating its own footballs (hence the scandal’s nickname “Deflategate”) in order to gain an advantage during playoffs. Before the 2015 season began, Brady had his suspension thrown out in federal court due to lack of evidence. The next year, a higher court overturned the ruling and ordered Brady to sit out the first four games of the 2016 season — which, despite all the drama, ended with the Patriots winning yet another Super Bowl.
The team’s ability to violate norms and cheat with impunity is distinctly Trumpian, and it inspires a familiar impotent reaction in our nation’s pundits. This week, CNN’s Jake Tapper ended a segment by bravely asserting that “The Patriots cheat. This is just a fact as established by investigations. They’re a cheating team … The facts speak for themselves.” New York Times columnist Frank Bruni was more direct: “The Patriots perfectly embody our income-inequality era and the tax reform that President Trump recently signed,” he wrote in an op-ed on Tuesday. Public opinion concurs. A 2017 ESPN poll found that the Patriots were the most disliked NFL team, and they were second only to the Dallas Cowboys in a poll of the most hated teams by FiveThirtyEight. Coupled with the Patriots’ virulent unlikability is Boston’s status as one of America’s most unfashionable metropolises. The accent is repulsive, the driving is impossible, and the city’s 400-year cultural heritage has been virtually forgotten in favor of Irish-American kitsch, terrible movies (The Departed, Good Will Hunting, Boondock Saints), and Mark Wahlberg. Its sports fans are notoriously rowdy and prone to shouting racial slurs at black players, to the extent that Barry Bonds, who holds the record for most career home runs, once remarked “Boston is too racist for me. I couldn’t play there.”
Rooting for the Pats!— Richard 🐉 Spencer (@RichardBSpencer) February 6, 2017
1/ Belichick & Brady support Trump
2/ Three White widereceivers
3/ Consistently NFL's whitest team
4/ ATL is dreadful
All of this creates a perfect storm, one unique to our time in history. The most hated football team, from the worst sports city, endorsed by the dumbest president, is predicted to handily win its sixth Super Bowl against an underdog team. For most people outside metro Boston, seeing the Patriots win two championships in a row in the aftermath of a cheating scandal will be an unpleasant affair. Only the core Patriots fanbase — seventh-generation Irish-Americans with shamrock tattoos and Richard Spencer — is rooting for Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, both Trump supporters, to break their own record. Perhaps the NFL’s declining ratings aren’t the result of hip-hop touchdown celebrations or players kneeling to protest police brutality, as Trump would have us believe. Could it be that audiences are sick of seeing the bad guys — the cheaters who bump elbows with racists — skirt the rules and win over and over? Eventually, football fans outside Boston will get tired of the NFL’s monotony and move on to marginally more interesting sports like baseball or basketball, the latter of which is set to eclipse football in TV ratings.
In a capitalist economy, “letting the bad guys win” means allowing a tiny handful of oligarchs to control enough wealth that they can effectively rewrite laws for their exclusive benefit. The consequences for the rest of us are dire. The U.S. has the most unequal distribution of wealth in the world — and, predictably, given the ties between inequality and mortality — the most opioid usage and overdose deaths per capita. When people perceive that the system is rigged, they tune out, hence the U.S. being 28th in voter turnout among developed countries.
But the American ruling class actually benefits from low voter turnout, which typically favors Republican candidates and no doubt contributed to Trump’s election. For the NFL, apathy has the opposite effect; it needs to keep fans engaged across the country to maintain its $63 billion empire. If the most contemptible coach-quarterback combo in league history continues to dominate the NFL, the whole sport might just lose its luster for enough fans that football goes the way of polo and horse racing. Let us pray that the Patriots win this Super Bowl, and the next, and the next. After that, there may not be another.