Out Of Their League

.. rofessional career, the profits of the NFL increased 4,300 percent but player salaries increased by only 73.6 percent. (Meggyesy, 1970) Subtracting the rises in the cost of living brought the salary increases to only 48.4 percent. (Meggyesy, 1970) Another example that Meggyesy provided was when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Against the wishes of the players, the NFL decided not to postpone its games in the wake of one of the darkest tragedies in American history.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle justified the decision by saying, “It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy. Football was Mr. Kennedy’s game. He thrived on competition.” (Meggyesy, 1970, p. 145). Meggyesy viewed this justification as utter nonsense.

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He believed the actual reason for playing the games was because the various owners would have lost huge profits if they had postponed them. (Meggyesy, 1970) Conflict theorists also study sports and various forms of nationalism and militarism. These studies examine whether sports create superficial, irrational, and potentially harmful feelings of nationalistic pride, and whether sports might be used to justify violence in society. (Coakley, 1998) Meggyesy asserted that football was being used to justify violence in society, more specifically the United States’ involvement in Vietnam. (Meggyesy, 1970) He believed this justification could be seen by observing the similarities between football and war.

Meggyesy stated: .. there was this whole militaristic aura surrounding pro football, not only in obvious things like football stars visiting troops in Vietnam, but in the language of the game – ‘throwing the bomb’, being a ‘field general’, etc., and in the unthinking obligation to ‘duty’ required of the players. In short, the game has been wrapped in red, white, and blue. (Meggyesy, 1970, p. 147) The final category conflict theorists study is the sexism and racism found in sports. These studies examine whether sports divide people by race and gender, perpetuate racial stereotypes and distorted definitions of masculinity and femininity, and create racial and gender inequities in society. (Coakley, 1998) In terms of sexism, Meggyesy tells of his days at Syracuse University when it was ” ..

healthy and manly to go out and get drunk, pick up some girl, lay her and maybe even rough her up a bit.” (Meggyesy, 1970, p. 75) Another example of sexism occurred later in his career. During a game with the Cardinals, Meggyesy ducked a tackle. The coach responded to this perceived act of cowardice by saying he looked “almost feminine” in making the tackle. (Meggyesy, 1970, p.181) As Meggyesy said: This sort of attack on a player’s manhood is a coach’s doomsday weapon. And it almost always works, for the players have wrapped up their identity in their masculinity, which is eternally precarious for it not only depends on not exhibiting fear of any kind on the playing field, but is also something that can be given and withdrawn by a coach at his pleasure. (Meggyesy, 1970, p.

181) Because of the coach’s comments, he went back to his hotel room and began to seriously doubt his ability to play professional football. (Meggyesy, 1970) In fact, the missed tackle left such an impression of failure in his mind that he seriously considered jumping out of his twelfth story window. (Meggyesy, 1970) Meggyesy also described numerous instances of racism. During training camp with the Cardinals, Meggyesy noted that black and white players went their separate ways when practice was over. In addition, the team assigned rooms in the player dormitories on the basis of race, and blacks and whites were usually assigned to separate wings in the dorms. Such racism was also displayed by the players’ wives.

For example, Meggyesy’s wife, Stacy, discovered that no blacks were invited to the parties held each year by the players’ wives. (Meggyesy, 1970) Racism was also perpetuated when the Cardinals’ team roster was determined each season. Meggyesy revealed that: Black ball players are selected even more stringently on the basis of ‘correct attitude’ than whites. Blacks are in an especially difficult position; if they act like Toms, they will be completely dominated by the white ball players and lose respect for themselves and each other. But if they are too ‘militant’ and try to assert their basic manhood by attempting to break out of the whites’ stereotype of the shuffling, dumb, insensitive jock, they are ..

often cut from the squad. (Meggyesy, 1970, p. 195) In addition to these selection tactics, Meggyesy talked about the practice throughout the NFL of letting blacks play only certain positions. In fact, very few blacks held positions which were popularly thought to require a great deal of intelligence rather than a great deal of strength such as linebacker, offensive guard, and quarterback. (Meggyesy, 1970) In reading the aforementioned examples that David Meggyesy provided in Out of Their League, it is apparent that he viewed the treatment of football players from a conflict theorist point of view. Since over a quarter century has passed since his book was published, I wanted to find out if his feelings on the subject have changed since then. It turns out that Meggyesy has played an integral part in improving the working conditions of NFL athletes.

For the past eighteen years, he has served as the Western Director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). (David Meggyesy, Personal Communication, December 12, 2000) He believes that working conditions are much better today not only because of the NFLPA, but also because of the improved market conditions that have resulted from the national and international popularity of the league. (David Meggyesy, Personal Communication, December 12, 2000) As to what improvements still need to be made, his primary focus was on improving the treatment of collegiate athletes at institutions with “big-time” football and basketball programs. (David Meggyesy, Personal Communication, December 12, 2000) He believes these athletes are being exploited primarily because they do not receive a portion of the substantial revenues they help to generate for their respective institutions. (David Meggyesy, Personal Communication, December 12, 2000) Furthermore, because current NCAA rules make it difficult for these athletes to earn enough money to cover their normal living expenses, he believes they often have to turn to the “black market” (i.e.

boosters) for financial support. (David Meggyesy, Personal Communication, December 12, 2000) Like a conflict theorist, Meggyesy believes there are still improvements to be made in terms of the exploitation of athletes. Thus, it appears the five categories conflict theorists study will continue to be applicable to the game of football and to sports in general. References 1. Coakley, J.

(1998). Sport In Society: Issues and Controversies. Boston, Massachusetts. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. 2.

Meggyesy, D. (1970). Out of Their League. Berkeley, California. Ramparts Press, Inc. Bibliography Book Report for Out of Their League, which is a biography of former NFL player David Meggyesy. Gives a brief summary of the book and how conflict theory from the study of sociology can be applied to episodes in Meggyesy’s life.

Sports and Games.