The NFL Draft: USA! USA!

Being drafted in the first round is like winning the lottery

W.J. Astore

Nothing screams “USA!” like the NFL draft held yearly at the end of April, and I managed to watch a few minutes here and there across the three days of blanket coverage offered by ESPN and the NFL network (I also noticed the draft was in prime time on the Fox network).  The National Football League (NFL) puts on an extravaganza for the draft.  This year I caught a ceremony featuring the family of dead soldier; they “helped” to make a pick in the draft for the Dallas Cowboys.  The huge video screen featured the soldier (Captain Ellery Ray Wallace) who’d been killed, and the fans in the dome started chanting “USA! USA!” in homage to a man who must have loved the Cowboys when he was alive.  The spectacle of it all just made me sad, no matter how much the NFL tried to sell this and similar photo ops as exercises in helping grieving families to recover from the tragedy of losing a loved one in war.

As I wrote about last year’s draft, “I’m always dazed and amazed by the sheer work that goes into the NFL draft: the thoroughness of it all, the expertise on display, the active and informed involvement of the fans. Imagine if ESPN (or any media outlet, for that matter) covered America’s wars with the same commitment to detail and facts as is displayed yearly for American football!”

And as I wrote about the NFL draft two years ago:

If you’re not familiar with NFL football or ESPN coverage of the same in the USA, you should be, because it says much about the American moment.  The first round of the draft kicks off on Thursday night in prime time, followed by the second and third rounds on Friday night in prime time.  The draft concludes on Saturday with rounds four through seven, roughly 250 total picks …

Yet this quick summary vastly understates the coverage devoted to the draft.  From the end of the Super Bowl early in February to the draft itself at the end of April, coverage of the draft on ESPN is virtually non-stop, with innumerable “mock” drafts for each team and a parade of “experts” speculating about the prospects of each player and team. Exhaustive (and exhausting) is the word to describe this coverage.  Interminable is another one.

When Round One finally kicks off, it’s essentially a parade of soon-to-be millionaires. These players, selected from various college football teams, can count on multi-year contracts and signing bonuses in the millions of dollars.  ESPN and the NFL stage manages the selection process, turning it into an extravaganza complete with musicians, cheering (or booing) fans, and plenty of past NFL greats, along with the draftees and their families and friends. Coverage also includes shots of the “war rooms” of the various NFL teams as they decide which players to pick, which draft picks to trade, and so on.

The war room — isn’t that a telling phrase?

Indeed, let’s push that further.  Most red-blooded NFL fans would be hard-pressed to find Iraq or Afghanistan on a map, but they can tell you all about their team’s draft picks, rattling off statistics such as times in the 40-yard dash, vertical leap, even the size of a player’s hands (considered especially pertinent if he’s a quarterback or wide receiver). What always astonishes me is the sheer wealth of detail gathered about each player, the human intelligence (or HUMINT in military terms).  Players, especially those projected to go in the first few rounds, are scrutinized from every angle: physical, mental, emotional, you name it.

With millions of dollars at stake, such an exhaustive approach is not terribly surprising. Yet even with a wealth of data, each year there are major draft busts (e.g. Ryan Leaf, selected #2 overall in the first round and a flop) and major surprises (e.g. Tom Brady, selected late in the 6th round as the 199th pick, meaning that not much was expected from him, after which he won four [now five] Super Bowls).  Results from the NFL draft should teach us something about the limits of data-driven “intelligence” in “wars,” yet our various military intelligence agencies continue to believe they can quantify, predict, and control events.

But again what wows me is the extent as well as the slickness of ESPN’s coverage of the draft.  As soon as a player is selected, ESPN instantly has video of that player’s college highlights, together with his vital statistics (height, weight, performance at the draft combine in various drills, and so on).  Video and stats are backed up by interviews with a draftee’s previous coaches, who extol his virtues, along with interviews with those “war rooms” again as to why they decided to draft that particular player and not another.  Once the draft is completed, teams are then awarded “grades” by various commentators, even though these players have yet to play a snap in the NFL.  (Imagine if your kid received an instant grade in college — before he attended a single class or completed a single assignment — based upon his performance in high school.)

But you have to hand it to ESPN: their coverage of the draft is an exercise in total information awareness.  It’s blanket coverage, an exercise in full-spectrum dominance. It’s slick, professional, and driven by a relentless pursuit of victory by each team (and a relentless pursuit of ratings by ESPN).

In 2016, I made the following proposal, in jest of course, but I repeat it here because I still think it’s telling:

Let’s put ESPN in charge of intelligence gathering and coverage [of America’s wars].  Just imagine if your average red-blooded American devoted as much attention to foreign wars as they do to their favorite NFL team!  Just imagine if America’s leaders were held accountable for poor results as NFL coaches and staffs are! America still might not win its wars, but at least we’d squarely face the fact that we’re continuing to lose at incredibly high cost.  Indeed, someone high-up in the government might actually be held accountable for these losses.

I know: It’s a frivolous suggestion to treat war like a sport.  But is it?  After all, America currently treats the NFL draft with all the seriousness of a life-and-death struggle, even as it treats wars with comparative frivolity.

Our wars are games and our games are wars.  Small wonder America continues to lose its wars while fielding some winning NFL teams.

15 thoughts on “The NFL Draft: USA! USA!

  1. Had a sick feeling in my stomach when I saw that pick also. I tried to explain to my father and received the blank stare back, in his defense I did not express anything as elegant as you. Thanks WJ.


    1. Thank you. I’m glad the NFL is supporting veterans with charitable work. Nothing wrong with that. But using a dead veteran’s family to celebrate a 2nd-round pick in the draft is self-serving and wrong. War widows and families shouldn’t be used as props.

      There are many ways we can and should mark the contributions of those who die in battle. There are many ways we can and should help their families. Turning them into props on what is essentially a stage for the signing of future gladiators in violent games is neither fit nor proper.


  2. There are some excellent Web Sites that provide honest news and commentary.

    Yesterday, we had a very public display of the degradation of our McMega-Media Press, that is the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, attended by (per the Guardian) 3,000-strong audience at the Hilton hotel. It was all a display to re-assure the American Public of the commitment by Korporate AmeriKa to a Free Press, with some laughs thrown in. The narrators on FOX, CNN and MSDNC could never be bothered or permitted to investigate the physical and psychological conditions of the working class in these our modern day sweat shops.

    Will the McMega-Media cover the Teachers Strikes across America with the same zealous devotion of air time and assets as they do to Stormy Daniels, or Michael Cohen?? The answer is not only No – It is hell No.


  3. Had an even sicker feeling when I saw a now Former NFL young Player who narrowly averted ever being able to feel his legs again pain, or texture sensation feeling anything below the paralyzed zone
    only due to some miraculous Dr’s. Herculean skills he’s not totally paralyzed. He barely walked onto the Football Field the other day, and some of those other Kids just selected had to see that, and I was wondering what could’ve been going through their young minds for this Sport is a brutal one not totally unlike a War in its potential for injuries and premature death. One has to only remember our New England Patriots Daryl Stingley…!


  4. “… using a dead veteran’s family to celebrate a 2nd-round pick in the draft is self-serving and wrong. War widows and families shouldn’t be used as props.”

    Agreed, but for some reason, I associate the above comment with the Democratic Party’s nominating convention in 2016 which selected a decidedly second-rank (if that) candidate in You-Know-Her while trotting out an enthusiastic “Muslim” husband and wife to use their own son’s death in Iraq as a weapon to attack the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, who — whatever his many and obvious shortcomings in other areas — had nothing whatsoever to do with sending their son to his death. On the other hand, You-Know-Her most assuredly did help make possible their son’s death by cravenly and stupidly endorsing Deputy Dubya Bush’s stud-hamster vendetta agaisnt the toothless tin-pot Saddam Hussein who had no WMD, no ties to Al-Qaeda, and absolutely nothing to do with the fifteen unarmed Sordid Arabian hijackers who brought down three U.S. buildings with four civilian jet aircraft that they learned to operate at a flight simulator school in Florida, U.S.A.

    Apparently, some “props” have no problem with cynical and opportunistic political and military frauds using them. The usury works both ways. If and when such props just say “no” to the obvious exploitation, then I’ll have some respect for them. Otherwise, I would ask the “grieving” “Muslim” parents championing the Once and Future Goldwater Girl (“Bomber John” McCain in a pantsuit): “What did you think would happen to your son if he put on an American military uniform, armed himself, and went off to join a bunch of psychotic Christian invaders of another Muslim country? Do you know anything at all about the history of the murderous, land-grabbing European Crusades in the Middle East of the twelfth and thirteenth centures? Or the latest and current one: Zionist-Jewish this time, which began in 1948? Did you actually think that the intended Muslim victims would welcome these English/Hebrew-shouting barbarians as ‘liberators’? What ‘Muslim’ in his or her right mind would contemplate such an absurd suggestion for even a moment?” I call “bullshit” on the exploiters and exploited alike. It takes two to tango.

    Cheap Military Idolatry, all of it. I have no use for anyone who would willingly take part in the casually credulous charade.


    1. In other words, something that I wrote on Saturday, April 07, 2012,
      when the Chief Commanding Pimp in the White House had a somewhat darker skin color — along with a better command of euphemistic rhetorical tropes — than the ones who came before and after him.

      Leading from Behind

      Expatriate ex-patriots expectorate
      When REMFs proceed to hide behind the troops
      Invoking memories of those who met their fate
      In service to a penis pride that droops
      Each time some petty presidential potentate
      Ignites a war — and in his panties poops.

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2012

      When the late, great Gore Vidal called Americans “among the most easily frightened people on earth,” he certainly knew from whence he spoke. Not only easily frightened, but even more easily led to their own fleecing. As the Ruling Corporate Oligarchy proudly proclaims its purpose and program:

      “Buy the Republicans. They’ll shout ‘GAWD Bless!
      Rent a few Democrats. They’ll lose for less.”


      1. Oh, well. Why not? While on the subject of U.S. presidents pimping out their personal Imperial Military Streetwalkers in the service of transnational corporate capital accumulation and venal vassal vendettas, something from twelve years ago, when Deputy Dubya and The Dick did the pimping:

        Pimpin’ with the Prezident

        It ain’t so hard to be a pimp
        Just ask George Bush, the wailin’ wimp

        He’ll eat your hamburger today
        Then Tuesday promise to repay

        On Monday, though, he plans to skip
        And leave your kids with bill and tip

        He’s pimped the troops out walkin’ beats
        In Baghdad’s mean and lethal streets

        While he stays safe at home in bed
        A nightlight shinin’ by his head

        He flies into Iraq at night
        Then splits before the mornin’ light

        He takes some promo picture groups
        Him feedin’ turkey to the troops

        Another ersatz plastic bird:
        A photo of a smilin’ turd

        In his big plane he flies around
        While troops get hammered on the ground

        He pimps out both the girls and boys
        To bring in money for his joys

        Too bad his need to be reborn
        Too good the war bucks kiddie porn

        The fanboy fascists jerkin’ off
        Would never think to bitch or scoff

        It ain’t their sisters takin’ slap
        It ain’t their brothers catchin’ clap

        They loved that tale of Monica
        Why do they hate America?

        It ain’t so hard to be a pimp
        Just ask George Bush, the smirkin’ chimp

        He learned about the crime that pays
        In voodoo Reaganomics days

        With Laffer drawin’ fancy curves
        On napkins that the waitress serves

        Old Ron and Dick and Don saw quick
        That deficits would do the trick

        Just rob the future; hide the stash
        Then cover up by talkin’ trash

        The sacred military scam
        Would kill the ghost of’Vietnam

        “Let’s coin an urban myth,” they thought
        “To unlearn all the lessons taught”

        “We’ll say they had it ‘won’ for naught,
        We expert ones who never fought”

        “Their deaths and maimings we can choose
        To call a ‘syndrome’ — we can’t lose!”

        “Americans are so damn thick
        They think of wise as somethin’ sick”

        But, anyway, this pimpin’ pays
        You cannot even count the ways

        This pimpin’, George the Shrub thought fine
        As long as he could jump the line

        Let better men go off to die
        He’d get ahead and learn to fly

        He got his picture took in planes
        Then disappeared to make some gains

        But now, though, he gets custom threads
        And public funding for his meds

        “It troubles me,” he sometimes blurts
        When he gets wind of how war hurts

        “It must be like that ‘poverty’
        That mom made sure I’d never see”

        Like most stud hampsters, don’t you know?
        He swaggers like they’re hangin’ low

        With Haliburton writin’ checks
        Dick don’t care how much world George wrecks

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006


  5. There are right and proper times to remember our veterans. Memorial Day and Veterans Day, of course. But having widows appear on TV, or retired generals for that matter, in support of various political parties is just wrong. We need to get the military out of politics and politics out of the military.

    Veterans and their families shouldn’t be exploited, even if they agree or acquiesce to it.


    1. True that.

      Anecdote, for what it’s worth: Back in the day, during a short stint on active duty, I was “fortunate” enough to be ordered to go to a speech delivered by Dick Cheney on an Army base. I’ll always remember how disgusted I felt watching a classic Vietnam-era chickenhawk stand in front of thousands of women and men in uniform and use us for political gain, with their minders in the crowd starting up rounds of applause at the end of every sentence. A televised scene worthy of Goebbels.

      To me, the most epic bit of irony in the whole thing was that we were all sent through metal detectors and patted down, there were Secret Service snipers on nearby rooftops, and the entire base’s training was shut down for hours before and after he flew in. And this in the midst of two brigades trying desperately to find the equipment (which was eventually taken from the National Guard) and time needed to train a bunch of recent basic training grads on the actual skills they’d need to survive south of Baghdad during the upcoming surge. Couple of my friends, didn’t. Thanks, Dick.

      It told me a lot about how the D.C. establishment and our political elites in general view the rest of us (military and civilian alike). Tools, subjects, threats. We’re all little more than colonial subjects in their eyes.


  6. Regarding American wars, human sacrifice (the word origin relates to holy) sanctifies the effort to send America’s youth off to kill and possibly be killed, er, “fallen.” Makes it all worthwhile. It was so important that people were willing to die for it! Or become crippled! It helps when there’s a religious angle.
    Now football players are similar but different. They are paid millions of dollars to get their brains injured, and possibly other parts, which draws millions of fans to donate the necessary funds to witness their sacrifice. Taxes aren’t needed in this case.


    1. Yes. With regards to football, the bone-jarring — and brain-jarring — hits take their toll. Broken bodies and damaged minds are a high price to pay for “entertainment.” Despite greater attention now being paid to concussions and other injuries, the NFL still sugarcoats the dangerous, often crippling, nature of the game.

      Perhaps it would be more obvious if a player wielded a shield and gladius as in the original Roman Forum. Maybe the Detroit Lions might bring in some real lions? Ratings would surely improve.


  7. I would suspect our esteemed Blog Host W.J. Astore has no shortage of subject matter to write about.
    I came across an article, which maybe food for thought:
    by Henry Wallace one of FDR’s VP’s.

    The Danger of American Fascism By Henry A. Wallace
    Sunday 09 April 1944
    Excerpts follow:
    What is a fascist?
    How many fascists have we?
    How dangerous are they?

    A fascist is one whose lust for money or power is combined with such an intensity of intolerance toward those of other races, parties, classes, religions, cultures, regions or nations as to make him ruthless in his use of deceit or violence to attain his ends. The supreme god of a fascist, to which his ends are directed, may be money or power; may be a race or a class; may be a military, clique or an economic group; or may be a culture, religion, or a political party.

    The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.

    If we define an American fascist as one who in case of conflict puts money and power ahead of human beings, then there are undoubtedly several million fascists in the United States. There are probably several hundred thousand if we narrow the definition to include only those who in their search for money and power are ruthless and deceitful.

    American fascism will not be really dangerous until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.

    The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity, every crack in the common front against fascism. They use every opportunity to impugn democracy.

    They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.

    Still another danger is represented by those who, paying lip service to democracy and the common welfare, in their insatiable greed for money and the power which money gives, do not hesitate surreptitiously to evade the laws designed to safeguard the public from monopolistic extortion. American fascists of this stamp were clandestinely aligned with their German counterparts before the war, and are even now preparing to resume where they left off, after ‘the present unpleasantness’ ceases.–the-danger-of-american-fascism
    You know as I read this article – I thought WOW. The American fascists, Wallace warned about in 1944 have emerged. Others have sounded the bell concerning American Fascism, Imperialism and steroid Nationalism, like Marine Corp General Smedley Butler in the 1930’s. Ike warned about the influence of the Military-Industrial Complex.

    Henry Wallace with out a doubt was wise enough to see this template for Fascism in America in 1944, even at the same time we were fighting against it in WW 2.

    It would seem self evident today the Fascists, and Corporatists look for those cracks in our society to exploit. Nothing is beneath them in their quest for more power.

    Some of the cracks are papered over with mindless allegiance to the Warrior Cult as exemplified in Professional Sports showboating of veterans and their families.


    1. One of the bigger ironies of the present political crisis is how many people over the years predicted exactly how it would go. From Sinclair’s view that fascism would come to America “draped in a flag and carrying a cross” to a science fiction book my wife is reading, written in the ’90s, where the Christian nationalist president literally has a line asking Americans to help him “make America great again.”

      There is a desperate need for a national debate and movement to reform our political system, but the powers-that-be (media, major parties, and lobbyists alike) have too much invested so much in securing their interests that they are incapable of making the necessary adjustments. And now the system has been captured by a group of power-hungry twits. Who have no allegiance to any of the norms that kept the unwieldy US system barely functional the past 20 years. Who are perfectly happy to redefine ‘American’ as ‘white christian’, with male > female when push comes to shove.


  8. I just caught this at Russia Insider: part of a review by Gilbert Doctorow of French President Macron’s recent speech before a joint session of the U.S. “clapping hands” chorus, as the Chinese would call such effusions of enthusiastic emptiness:

    I note [President Macron’s] use of maudlin exemplars of heroism and guest appearances, features that have become the stock in trade of US politics [emphasis added]. See his reference to the American poet who volunteered for the Foreign Legion in 1916, before the country was engaged in the World War, to fight for liberty and France, who died on Independence Day and whose memory is revered in the town near Amiens, close to Macron’s own home town, in France. Then note Macron’s hand on heart gesture of respect for the veteran of the D-Day landing in Normandy who was in the gallery of the chamber. This is a page straight out of the playbook that Trump himself used in his State of the Nation address at the start of the year [emphasis added].

    Shit. Now we’ve even got the French aping our American political/military monkeys.


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