To the Editor:
I appreciated George Weigel’s tribute to the great Johnny Unitas in his review of Tom Callahan’s Johnny U [January]. But I found his aversion to today’s “bureaucratized” National Football League, with its offensive coordinators and their thick playbooks, a bit too reactionary for my tastes. Would that America’s bureaucracies functioned as efficiently as Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots!
Besides being a natural leader, Belichick is a brilliant organizer and strategist who has made good use of all the resources the culture has made available. His assimilation of things like videotape, data and statistics, and management tools is a model of craft. Surely such qualities are as “essential to a democracy” as are the football virtues of Unitas that Mr. Weigel enumerates.
Mr. Weigel also seems to begrudge the fact that today’s football players become millionaires “before they ever strap on an NFL helmet.” But what is wrong with being paid richly and in advance for one’s services? I would think that an author of (wonderful) books like Mr. Weigel should be the last one to register such a complaint. Does he miss the days before free agency when professional athletes were indentured servants?
San Antonio, Texas
To the Editor:
George Weigel laments how corporate and bureaucratic the National Football League has become since the days of Johnny Unitas. One could cite many more examples of this.
After Unitas died, the current quarterback of the Colts (now in Indianapolis), Peyton Manning, asked the NFL for permission to wear high-top black shoes for his next game as a tribute to his predecessor. The answer: no. The reason: none of the league’s sponsoring shoe companies made that kind of shoe.
Two years ago, the San Francisco 49ers hired Mike Nolan to be their head coach. Nolan’s father had been a head coach of the 49ers, and had always worn a suit and tie on the sideline during the games. When Nolan asked the NFL for permission to do the same, the answer was again no, because Reebok did not make suits and ties. Evidently, the NFL prefers its coaches to dress like logoed slobs (think Bill Belichick and his frumpy sweatshirts) than like gentlemen.
The irony of the corporatist, bureaucratic NFL is that it is structurally Marxist in a way that punishes excellence and rewards mediocrity. This starts with the draft, in which the team with the worst record the previous season gets the first choice of the players coming out of college. The same principle governs the schedule, and so teams with losing seasons are rewarded the next year with easier opponents.
George Weigel writes:
I thank Roger Ramsey and Reed Kimball for taking the trouble to write. But I cannot agree with Mr. Ramsey that the bureaucratization of the National Football League (neatly described in several ways by Mr. Kimball) is not a cause for concern. Yes, today’s successful NFL head coaches have mastered a difficult craft; and there is nothing wrong in itself with bringing the tools of modern technology to bear on winning football games, any more than there is in doing so while commanding a Marine expeditionary force or doing neurosurgery.
The trouble comes when the “system” is thought to be virtually self-sufficient (as in the instance I cited in my review), thus emptying athletic competition of its human drama. Or, to get up-close-and-personal: does Mr. Ramsey really think that Bill Belichick’s offense would work as well with Mark Brunell or Rex Grossman at the controls as it does with Tom Brady?
As for Mr. Ramsey’s subtle dig at authorial advances, he need not ask me to defend the insanities of the publishing industry, whose name is legion.
Mr. Kimball, on the other hand, may tilt a tad too much toward the Steinbrenner ethic (or perhaps, as a Washington-area resident, I should say the Snyder ethic) in his critique of the NFL’s longstanding draft procedures.
So, on balance, I find the score to be Kimball 14, Ramsey 7.