Out Of Their League Out of Their League In the book entitled Out of Their League, David Meggyesy describes his life as a football player from high school through his days with the St. Louis Cardinals of the National Football League (NFL). Born in 1941, Meggyesy was raised in a low-income household in Solon, Ohio. Like many athletes from impoverished backgrounds, he was able to use the game of football to better himself though both a full scholarship to Syracuse University and financial stability with the Cardinals. During his career, however, Meggyesy became increasingly disillusioned with the game of football and how its athletes were subject to tremendous physical and psychological turmoil from those in power – namely the coaches and the NFL team owners. He began to see the game of football from a conflict theorist point of view.
This is the belief that sport is an opiate used to benefit those in power through the exploitation of athletes which enables those such as coaches and team owners to maintain their power and privilege in society. (Coakley, 1998) Meggyesy’s growing disenchantment with football and adoption of a conflict theorist point of view led him to retire from the Cardinals in 1969. Research guided by conflict theory generally falls into the following categories: 1) studies of how athletes become alienated from their own bodies; 2) studies of how sports can be used to coerce and control people; 3) studies of sports and the development of commercialism in society; 4) studies of sports and various forms of nationalism and militarism; and 5) studies of sports and racism and sexism. (Coakley, 1998) In the book, Meggyesy provided examples of each of these categories which occurred during his football career. These examples will be presented in the following paragraphs.
As previously mentioned, one category that conflict theorists study is how athletes become alienated from their own bodies. Such studies examine whether sports lead athletes to define and experience their bodies as machines designed to produce entertainment and profits for others rather than feelings of pleasure for themselves. (Coakley, 1998) Meggyesy described this phenomenon when he said: I also realized, paradoxically, how cut off and removed I was from my body. I knew my body more thoroughly than most men are ever able to, but I had used it and thought of it as a machine, a thing that had to be well-oiled, well-fed, and well-taken-care of, to do a specific job. (Meggyesy, 1970, p. 231) Unfortunately, maintaining this “machine” often meant that athletes would use drugs such as amphetamines, barbiturates, steroids, or cortisone injections not for the purpose of treatment and cure, but for the purpose of stimulating the mind and body in order to perform more violently as a professional. (Meggyesy, 1970) The prevalence of these drugs in the NFL could be seen in Meggyesy’s words, “Most NFL trainers do more dealing in these drugs than the average junky.” (Meggyesy, 1970, p.
83) Meggyesy’s coaches also treated athletes as machines because their concern for the well-being of athletes was only to the extent that they could contribute to their primary concern of winning games. For example, while Meggyesy was at Syracuse University, the primary concern of the coaches was to win a national championship by any means possible. This meant that they usually enrolled the athletes in remedial courses to help keep them academically eligible. It also meant providing them with answers to test questions, giving them credit for courses never taken, and getting others to take finals or write term papers for them. In doing this, the athletes were left in a real predicament when their eligibility was complete. Since they could no longer contribute to winning, they were no longer supported by the coaches and were faced with a tough schedule of classes because of all the remedial courses taken.
This abandonment by the coaches caused most of the athletes to drop out of school without receiving a degree. In fact, of the twenty-six players in Meggyesy’s class, only he and two others received degrees. (Meggyesy, 1970) Meggyesy also observed the treatment of athletes as machines whenever they sustained an injury. In such an instance, he contended that the coaches and the team medical staff were more concerned about getting the athlete back on the playing field at the expense of the mental and physical well-being of the athlete. When Meggyesy once hurt his ankle, the team trainer told him it would take time for the injury to heal.
However, when the coach confronted the trainer and asked if Meggyesy would be ready to play the next game, the trainer gave his assurances that he would be ready to go. This put Meggyesy in a difficult position since the burden would now be on him if he did not play. It would be a question of his courage and whether or not he had the guts to play. If he decided to play, he would likely re-aggravate the injury and spend more time in rehabilitation. However, if he decided not to play, he would be cut off and ignored by the coaching staff since he could no longer contribute to winning.
(Meggyesy, 1970) Conflict theorists also study how sports can be used by those in power to coerce and control people. (Coakley, 1998) Meggyesy acknowledged this power when he broke team curfew in high school and was suspended by the coach for one game. (Meggyesy, 1970) He said, ” .. I recognized the unlimited power those in control had, and I wanted to make sure they didn’t get me again.” (Meggyesy, 1970, p. 14) Meggyesy also tells of how a teammate of his with the Cardinals, who had suffered a series of knee injuries during the season, was unexpectedly called in by the coach to receive a punt, which was something he almost never had to do. (Meggyesy, 1970) Because of this demonstration of control by the coach, Meggyesy’s teammate needlessly suffered a career-ending knee injury on the resulting play.
(Meggyesy, 1970). Coaches can also coerce and control an athlete’s life outside the playing field. When Meggyesy began dating a girl in high school, his coach told him that a football player could not simultaneously sustain a relationship with a girl, adequately complete schoolwork, and be fully dedicated to football. He coerced Meggyesy into ending the relationship and then demonstrated his power by promising him a football scholarship to Syracuse University for complying with his wishes. (Meggyesy, 1970) The power of coercion and control possessed by coaches was also seen as Meggyesy was trying to decide on where to attend college.
After verbally committing to Syracuse University, Meggyesy reconsidered his decision and opted for Louisiana State University. Upon hearing his decision, the outraged Syracuse coaching staff flew him to campus for a meeting. By pressuring the teenage Meggyesy with feelings of guilt, the coaching staff coerced him into attending Syracuse University. (Meggyesy, 1970) The third category conflict theorists study is the development of commercialism in society through sports. Such studies can focus on whether athletes are exploited to promote capitalistic expansion by crating profits for large corporations and wealthy people. (Coakley, 1998) Meggyesy provided an example of this in examining the operations of NFL team owners. During Meggyesy’s p …