image: Mohamed Hozyen Ahmed, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
American football, a beloved sport deeply ingrained in the culture of the United States, holds an almost paradoxical grip on its athletes.
The National Football League (NFL) and the NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, oversee a system that leaves players vulnerable to predatory non-guaranteed contracts, an inability to explore professional options, and a culture of dependency that intentionally steers young talented athletes away from more lucrative and global opportunities that make American Football pale in comparison to the real Football aka Soccer.
The top 3 most popular high school sports for boys are football, basketball, and track & field showing how early America's obsession with football. Although the stigmas and stereotypes of soccer are lessening, the staggering riches of global footballers dwarf even the most successful American Football players.
NFL team valuations are higher, yet the athletes are paid substantially less.
NFL teams reigning supreme in global team valuation and revenue rankings while their athletes lag behind in economic rewards and endorsement opportunities is a stark testament to the unique dynamics of American football.
Despite the immense financial success of the league, NFL players find themselves in a predatory pipeline.
Unlike their soccer counterparts who enjoy international fame, abundant endorsements, massive social followings and many more economic opportunities, NFL athletes face a talent monopoly that restricts their options. The absence of global competition in American football prevents talented players from exploring potentially more lucrative opportunities elsewhere, leading to a sense of entrapment within the system.
Once committed to the sport, NFL players are compelled to navigate the intricate web of the predatory NCAA, waiting a minimum of 3 years before qualifying for a spot in the NFL, a feat that eludes the majority.
Safety is often cited as the reasoning behind these restrictions, but the reality is, this excuse is nearly impossible. If safety was such a concern, there'd be more efforts to care for retired players and prevent injuries like CTE.
A true threat to the NFL would be their personal oilfield being tapped into by someone with deeper pockets.
Global footballers make more, have larger audiences, longer careers, and multiple options, we have soccer players going pro at the age of 13 able to maximize their value on a global market while American youth's falsely believe the propaganda that the NFL's riches are their only option.
Predatory Contracts and the NCAA's Unpaid Athletes
The NFL's non-guaranteed contracts place players in a precarious position, subjecting them to the whims of team management and leaving them vulnerable to sudden dismissal without full compensation. Meanwhile, NCAA athletes, the backbone of college football, face a different kind of exploitation. These student-athletes generate massive revenue for their institutions and the NCAA, yet they are denied the right to be fairly compensated for their efforts.
The absence of guaranteed contracts and unpaid college athletes highlight a glaring disparity between the players' contributions and the benefits they reap. This dynamic perpetuates a cycle of vulnerability, where athletes are at the mercy of a system that often prioritizes profit over their well-being.
Limited Professional Pathways and Soccer's Missed Potential
American football's monopoly becomes even more evident when considering the lack of early professional options for athletes. Unlike other sports, such as soccer (or football, as it's known internationally), American football restricts players from entering the professional ranks before completing college eligibility.
Soccer, a globally celebrated sport, offers a stark contrast. Young talent can start their professional careers early, often in their late teens, allowing them to fully develop within a competitive global market. The absence of this pathway in American football stifles talent and restricts players' opportunities to explore their potential in a broader context.
The NFL has talents who possess speed and agility that likely surpasses that of any nation on the planet. Just imagine Tyreek Hill, Lamar Jackson, or DK Metcalf utilizing their talents on the pitch instead of the gridiron.
CTE and Health Risks
A dark cloud hangs over American football in the form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to repeated head trauma. High-impact collisions, inherent in the sport's design, place players at significant risk. Although soccer is not without its own injury concerns, studies suggest that the risk of CTE and severe head injuries in soccer is comparatively lower than in American football. This raises questions about the prioritization of player safety and well-being in American football, further highlighting the need for change.
Cultural Shift and the Way Forward
In the United States, American football enjoys a level of adoration and popularity that is unmatched. However, it is essential to challenge the status quo and consider the missed opportunities presented by soccer. While American football's appeal is undeniable, fostering a culture that embraces soccer alongside traditional sports could offer young athletes a wider range of professional opportunities.
That's right, the culture needs to code switch soccer to football.
A cultural shift towards soccer could bring about several benefits, but most importantly just like a pair of Jordan sneakers it would immediately begin the process of putting American Football on ice. The lack of information is the main reason, the culture cannot crave something they don't know exists. Soccer isn't on television, soccer fields aren't in our neighborhoods, and we don't play pickup games at every opportunity.
First, it would provide athletes with a chance to thrive in a sport with a global market, potentially leading to more sustainable and equitable contracts. Second, a shift to soccer could alleviate the stranglehold of the NFL, dispersing talent across different sports and reducing the dominance of one organization.
The monopoly of American football, characterized by predatory contracts, limited pathways to professionalism, and health risks, warrants a reevaluation of priorities and opportunities for athletes. While the cultural affinity for American football remains strong, adopting soccer as a parallel option could lead to a more diversified and prosperous future for young athletes.
The possibilities that lie beyond the confines of the current system are vast. Yes, convincing current talent to abandon their dream to pursue a stranger will be difficult, money talks and the NFL and NCAA are both giving athletes more than enough reasons to explore their options.