The National Football League: America’s Cultural Mirror
The 2017-2018 season has shifted the NFL into a whole new spotlight. In light of the NFL protests, many have become vocal about their stances on subjects ranging from African American rights, to police brutality, and even the culture within the business, that just so happens to be Americas most profitable and watched sport. The NFL has seen its ups and down since its birth in 1920 as a college recreational activity however,
and with respect to the climate, NFL has become a mirror of America over the past decade, this is because of the diversity and the platform that it has given its players. The most watched single televised show in history, the Super Bowl, was projected to have a “49.0 rating, meaning that 49% of American homes with TV sets had the game turned on”, just to put its cultural reach into perspective. The NFL is full of cultures but the organization itself is one embed in diversity, human rights, and bringing people together.
Organizational Culture – Includes what is visible. Yet, organizational culture also includes what we cannot “see,” including, as we alluded to earlier, convictions, priorities, among other things. One must understand that the United States as a whole has gone through some extreme changes since the 1920’s, multiple wars, a depression, and a number of civil rights movements. These have had all had direct impacts on Americans cultural mirror that is the NFL. Having the opportunity to speak to multiple professional NFL athletes who have played at Pro-Bowl, even Super Bowl winning caliber level, it is safe to say that within the organization, race doesn’t hold the same kind of adversity between team mates as it does in the real world. Your team mates are considered your brothers, your home field is thousands of fans whom support you whether you win or lose, they are there, cheering you on.
In 2016 the NFL suffered a “culture shock” in the form of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaeperncik, when he decided to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. Although one man started the protests, they became evident throughout national anthems in weeks to come, this was the very stone that was cast creating a ripple effect throughout the nation. The kneeling protests suffered backlash from many fans as well as some of the sponsors, but seeing team mates come together for a cause showed just how deep the locker room bond really was. The power structure within the organization allowed NFL players to protest the anthem, which exemplifies the free speech offered to its American citizens. In fact, before a Cowboys – Cardinals game, owner Jerry Jones took a knee in solidarity with the players to show his support for their peaceful protest.
Oddly enough in the weeks to come the owners began to band together in opposing views of the protests. This was also followed by NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell reiterating many fans views on the need to stand for Americas Nation Anthem . The power that the NFL players players had seized had overflowed into the outside opinion of its fans who outnumber the NFL players 100,000 to 1. This shows an interesting change of power, especially in an industry that is fueled by revenue. Although players (workers) were standing up for American rights, another majority was able to control what, and where they protested. Whether it was because of the lack of viewership and money that the NFL was bringing in because of the people upset with the protests, or an owners actual pride in the National Anthem itself is up to personal interpretation. The NFL owners and commissioner had become influenced by the American fans through Structuration Theory. The theory itself is explained as follow “interpersonal communication is viewed as the ability to influence others, these resources, rules, and structure allow a person to execute power within a group or organization”. The communication channel however was between the fans and the owners superseding the players.
While the players used television to showcase their disapproval of the police force, American’s showed their disdain for the protests by turning off their televisions and not showing up to games all together. The multiple levels of structure, and duality of structure within this battle are a testament to the levels of Organization Culture that are interwoven throughout the United States.
This however was not the first time that a cultural discussion was sparked in the National football association. Due to “Lack of Impartial leadership; group members are led by people who have a personal interest in the outcome”. In 2013 the Washington Redskins faced backlash over the team’s name which shows cultural an insensitive approach to Native Americans in the United States. The symbolism depicted within the Redskins logo is one of a native American skin painted red. Although the owner of the team ended up continuing forward with the logo after fans showed concern, the reason for continuing came down to a few specific factors. “Redskin” is a slang term used to describe Native Americans, and is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a term “usually offensive” – except when in reference to Washington’s NFL franchise. Although many teams spanning across the NCAA, NHL, and other organizations made the change to different logos and other team names, many of these franchises were successful. Generating revenue regardless of the name of the team. The Redskins however not being a team that generates a lot of revenue would find it in their best interest to not have to spend money on changing merchandise if it isn’t going to help them generate wealth. This is what it looked like from the outside looking in, after the team owner decided to continue without so much as looking into the cultural implications that came from using a derogatory term, as a professional sports name.
Race has always been a cultural topic that has held weight amongst the NFL community of the fans, as well as the players themselves. In 2017 Former New York Giants Kicker Josh Brown was suspended 6 games after a domestic violence dispute. While the topic of domestic violence has been more than frowned upon in recent years with the NFL handing out suspensions, this case seemed to be one of a kind. Josh Brown was allowed to play and the suspension only came after backlash from fans and players fueled the discussion. “We reopened the investigation based on new info,” the league texted to ESPN. “Concluded there was a violation of our personal conduct policy and imposed 6 game suspension which he accepted without appeal”. The interesting part about this suspension was what happened when comparing it to previous cases. In 2014 a video surfaced of Ravens running back assaulting his then fiancé in an elevator. The case immediately became a cultural focal point as to the direction the NFL would take in defend women from abuse. Ray Rice was suspended indefinably and ultimately, his career was ended because no team would take the chance at the backlash surrounding the Super Bowl running back. “The NFL commissioner received significant criticism for his handling of the situation and there have been calls for him to resign. According to a source, Goodell has no such plans and the source went as far as saying Goodell will “never” resign. Additional backlash was suffered when evidence of the video being in the possession of the NFL before the suspension came out, leading many to assume they were trying to cover for their player. We see Owners in the NFL siding with its players again until the outside fans hold them both accountable. The amount of power the people hold in influencing the culture of the organization is extensive and shows that “we the people” expands far beyond the political spectrum but also into businesses that need to be held accountable for their actions.
Organizational communication within the NFL seems to be working well although many problems with the management seem to keep playing like a broken record. This can only be attributed to the owners and the front office the National Football League itself. Minorities make up a large portion of Players, fewer make up secondary coaching positions and even fewer than that make up head coaching positions. We have also seen the first woman hold a professional coaching position which is monumental is a game that is completely male. While the NFL works towards the basic rules of its sport, the political and social justice atmosphere of the NFL will continue to be a talking point for years to come. Using the political/social climate of the NFL as a mirror to America is a great way to adjust the thinking and positioning on an array of topics, luckily the NFL board made up of players that have seniority have their best interest in mind.
Another talking point that has a direct reflection many don’t connect to the American culture is the NFL’s concussion protocol. Over the past decade mental health has become an evident political talking point. Understanding the sensitivity of the human brain has lead to extensive studies as well as procedure advancements in treatment. With the death of legend Jr. Seau, the vail had finally been pulled on NFL’s negligence to the injuries that the players suffer in the name of the all mighty dollar. While there have been advancements in the equipment that the players use, and funds offered to players post NFL that show brain damage, there is still plenty of discussion to be had. Many players will still play with a concussion because the “next man up” philosophy is one that has flourished in the NFL. There is always a man that can take your job so hiding your injuries has become excessive. In fact we’ve even seen a recent super star in Calvin Johnson retire early from the game, for the sake of his health.
“It happens. I don’t tell the coach sometimes cause I know I got a job to do. The team needs me out there on the field. And sometimes you allow that to jeopardize yourself, but that’s just the nature of the world.”
Like much of the mental health discussion, it is still frowned upon or looked down upon when talking about the mental health issues people suffer in America.
The cultural climate of the NFL is one of unity, is one of togetherness, and has become the mirror America has needed to see its cultural problems within Americas political climate.