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Follow The NFL Model For Solving Flint’s Water Crisis


ESPN columnist Thomas Neumann recently predicted the next 25 Super Bowl champions. The article was a welcome distraction from news that tends to vacillate between sensationalizing world catastrophes and encouraging the basest political discourse by reporting on every minute personal insult uttered by a candidate for public office.

Neumann’s predictions begin blandly enough: San Francisco 49ers beat the Patriots next year; Seattle Seahawks beat the Texans the next. But over the course of 25 seasons, the team names become unfamiliar and exotic: Super Bowl 61 sees Los Jaguares del Mundo beating the Las Vegas Scorpions; Super Bowl 65 sees the Portland Sasquatches beat the Mexico City Diablos. Teams from Cape Town, Australia, and Tokyo join the league as it continues to expand worldwide. By Super Bowl 75, there are 128 teams in the league.

The central joke is, of course, the NFL’s voracious appetite for expansion, its ambition to market the sport worldwide. Like all jokes, there is a kernel of truth: The NFL has slowly been expanding into international markets, even playing a number of games in London to cultivate a European fan base. Serious thought has been given to playing games in Germany and Mexico too.

Football Is Growing Like Crazy

What would have been an outrageous question a generation ago seems perfectly appropriate today: Is the NFL more popular than worship on Sunday? I am not sure a broad, scientific survey has been done to answer this question—maybe because we are afraid of the potential results.

In Alabama, football is not just an entertaining game. Football rouses deep, sometimes violent passions.

I did not grow up in a “football house,” but my wife did. She grew up in Mobile, Alabama, where young kids are taught to pledge allegiance to either Auburn or Alabama by the time they can utter the words “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.” In Alabama, football is not just an entertaining game. Football rouses deep, sometimes violent passions.

I married my beautiful bride more than 10 years ago, but everyone in my wife’s family remembers that the Saturday I got married Alabama played Georgia. It is not unusual to plan important life events like weddings around the SEC schedule. The Sporting News even puts out a planner that helps one choose dates based on the SEC games that are of little consequence to your favorite team.

I must be a true Yankee, because I just do not understand the ardor. But I know that it is true: For some people football is truly one of the great passions in life.

Given the cultural phenomenon of planning important events around football schedules, I think we can establish, with some degree of certainty, that football is very important to many people in this country. So the Neumann article must seem like a wonderful aspiration. Imagine NFL football as a sport that rivals soccer in international fandom!

Football Thrives Because of the Free Market

Of course, for the NFL to continue to thrive in the USA and abroad, the assumption would need to be that the free market would continue to incentivize expansion. Putting aside the argument that the NFL is actually just a cronyist cabal of rich men who rely on public funds to finance their stadium projects, the only context in which the NFL continues to thrive is in capitalist economies.

Anything that is truly important, anything that is broadly desired, it has been proven time and again, is best delivered free and fair market economy.

Could European socialism ruin NFL’s expansion plans? Could Bernie diminish American football? Those questions are not asked tongue-in-cheek. Just look at what Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said this week: If lawmakers do not pass tax hikes, the governor has threatened Louisiana State University’s 2016-17 season.

As much as it might rankle my Alabama in-laws to write it, I know none of hand-wringing over the future of American football really matters. The NFL might be more popular than church, but that does not mean it is a better way to spend our time. In fact, the world might be a better place (and many athletes might not have lifelong, debilitating head injuries) if it were not for football.

Still, the point about capitalism being the only context where football thrives is a fair one. In fact, anything that is truly important, anything that is broadly desired, it has been proven time and again, is best delivered free and fair market economy. No governor ought to be able to hold a college football season hostage any more than a governor ought to be able to withhold clean drinking water.

Contrast that with Flint’s Government-Managed Debacle

In the state where I now live, the water crisis in Flint has attracted the attention of the nation—and, as a result, the attention of candidates for public office. If Hillary or Bernie were in power, the narrative goes, the Flint crisis would not have happened. The Flint water crisis, Acton Institute scholar and Flint native Kishore Jayabalan pointed out, was brought about by government leaders (exclusively Democrats) who plunged the city into bankruptcy, which necessitated an emergency manager (also a Democrat).

If government was the problem, the private sector seems like the logical solution.

So why does no one suggest that the private sector might be a solution for the Flint crisis? If government was the problem, the private sector seems like the logical solution. Progressives have already anticipated this argument, issuing a pithy 10-point rebuttal for anyone who dares to argue that the private sector might solve a public problem.

Listed among the reasons are the long-since-debunked myths about the private sector: “quality diminishes,” “privatization fosters corruption,” and the most obviously false, “privatization leads to rate increases.” It is almost as if they listed the problems of the Flint water crisis—caused by government corruption and ineptitude—and, without evidence, blamed them on the private sector.

The Left has long propagated the fallacy that “water is a right,” which I need not debunk again in this article (but read more on why the Vatican agrees if you would like to learn more). That is not to say that water is not of vital importance; it is, of course. Food and shelter are, too. Why there is no campaign to make those human necessities a public obligation, I think, can be attributed to the fact that the Soviet Union’s bread lines are a fact of fairly recent history.

Is football as important as water? Depends on who you ask, I suppose. No matter what you think about the relative importance of football and water, history and science have proven that the important things in life are best delivered through a robust, competitive private sector.

Republican political candidates tend to enjoy a good football metaphor, but perhaps it is time to look at football as more than a metaphor. Maybe the NFL’s success in the competitive market can show us how to take advantage of an economic system that can deliver not only modern luxuries like beer and football, but also the things we need to survive, like water, food, shelter, and health care.