As of today, more Americans can tell you the NFL’s rule for the inflation of footballs than know how many Congressmen are in the House of Representatives. And which was more eagerly awaited, this year’s State of the Union speech or Bill Belichick’s press conference this morning? It isn’t even close. The extent to which Americans’ interest in sports exceeds their interest in politics is extraordinary.
Over the years, some have argued that not having to care about politics is a luxury that Americans are able to enjoy because of our stable democracy and effectively guaranteed freedoms. There is some truth to that. Still, it is hard to believe it is a good thing that sports arouse more passion, attract more attention, and are more often the subject of intelligent discussion than politics. If Americans knew as much about Republicans and Democrats as they do about Seahawks and Patriots, wouldn’t the country better off? One would think so.
In his press conference this afternoon, Tom Brady–note that there is no need to identify him (QB-NE) the way we do with politicians (R-TX)–said of the football inflation controversy, “This isn’t ISIS, you know, no one’s dying.” To me that seems like a voice of sanity, but football fans were unconvinced. At the moment, at least, “Who deflated the footballs?” is a more compelling question than “Will ISIS take Baghdad?” And eight years after the event, there are still more people who consider Bill Belichick a villain for taping opposing coaches than who consider Barack Obama a villain for violating the Constitution.
If America is a land characterized by great athletes and mediocre politicians–think Lebron James and Harry Reid–it is no wonder. We are getting what we care about enough to want.