Political Animal


September 10, 2012 10:49 AM Gridiron’s Slave-Drivers of Collectivism

By Ed Kilgore

I often miss George Will’s columns, so it’s no surprise I initially missed his bizarre rant the other day attacking college football as a devious manifestation of political progressivism.

This is actually an old meme for Will, who thinks baseball is the only appropriate sport for Americans. But this column carries his argument into the depths of the fever swaps.

I don’t know if he picked up his “aha” tidbit about Woodrow Wilson being the student manager for one of the earliest college teams from Glenn Beck, or from the Middle Tennessee State University professor who seems to provide inspiration for Will’s latest outburst of pigskin hate. But I’m reasonably sure we can blame howlers like this on the Great American Tory himself:

Football taught the progressive virtue of subordinating the individual to the collectivity. Inevitably, this led to the cult of one individual, the coach. Today, in almost every state, at least one public university football coach is paid more than the governor.

Yeah, it should have been pretty obvious that once the New Deal and Great Society legislation placed Americans in chains, they’d soon look up from their bondage in search of their very own Stalin, and find one on the sidelines.

Now much as I suspect that Nick Saban may have taken a page or two from the Stalinist leadership handbook, this idea of college football as tutelage for leftist totalitarianism is, in a word, crazy. As Jon Chait pointed out, hotbeds of college football mania do not much overlap with progressive political strongholds. Those highly paid coaches are much more often than not very conservative folk, often outspoken Republicans who spend much of their offseason time with big Republican donors to their programs.

Chait suggests that Will should spend some time touring the Deep South this autumn instructing college football fans that they are being duped by the Left. It creates a truly hilarious image: the bow-tied elitist roaming around the RV lots of a Saturday morning tailgate in Auburn or Tuscaloosa or Athens or Clemson or Knoxville, railing against the Collectivist Game. I’m pretty sure he’d get his butt kicked.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on September 10, 2012 10:59 AM:

    The only thing I don't LOVE about baseball, is that someone like George Will loves baseball.

    Some people just never got over the fall of the USSR.

    At least then, they could focus their hatreds OUTwards, instead of INwards.

    Now, they've got nothing better to do than to feck this country up as bad as the Soviet's did theirs.

    I hope one day, Will decides to take on the sport of basketball.
    Now THAT might be an interesting column!
    How many different ways can he not say the "N-word?"

  • Robert from upstate on September 10, 2012 11:00 AM:

    Honestly Ed, who cares? I come here to find analysis of important public affairs in a Presidential year and you give me Will's view of college football? Back to work.

  • emjayay on September 10, 2012 11:02 AM:

    Paying college football coaches ridicuous sums of money of course does not have anything to do with the ridiculous sums of money paid today to corporate executives and CEO's in this country, much unlike the still current norms in evil more socialist European countries.

    Neither one is the inevitable result of the dynamics of free enterprise capitalism.

  • Mudge on September 10, 2012 11:04 AM:

    Seems more consistent with their erstwhile presidential candidate's modern views, not old-timey Stalinism. As Charlie Pierce notes, there is Mitt and his family and there is the help. College football is even more extreme, there is the coach and there is the help. Romney's help probably earns a (low) wage, college football players do not.

  • danimal on September 10, 2012 11:05 AM:

    Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose except your chinstraps!

    -Coach Karl Marx, undefeated season, 1881

  • Tigershark on September 10, 2012 11:10 AM:

    Three points:

    George seems to perceive baseball as an individual sport; the batter against the pitcher. The other 8 fielders don't matter.

    What does he have against the capitalist, free market system? If a school, and its funders are willing to pay stupid amounts of money for a coach, so be it. Free market at work.

    Finally. Cue George Carlin:


  • Grumpy on September 10, 2012 11:14 AM:

    ...tutelage for leftist totalitarianism...

    Or totalitutelage as, let's say, Noam Chomsky called it.

  • stormskies on September 10, 2012 11:19 AM:

    what emjayay said plus the fact that corporate pigs like Brian "I am not a corporate/ Repiglican cum slut" Williams 15 million a year. And for fucking what ? Reading for 20 minutes what is prepared for him to read by General Electric ?

    The amount of money paid this corporate cum slut would equal roughly 440 teachers per year for our kids. Now add to this what the others like David "I am not a used corporate condom" Gregory is paid, or Wolf Blizter, and all the rest of them .........

    Yep, football is certainly the problem here .. and let's remember ABC has this cretin called George Will on every fucking Sunday. How much is Will paid ? And for what ?

  • Chris on September 10, 2012 11:24 AM:

    before you so nonchalantly dismiss this idea, revisit it a bit. as a progressive leftist, with a conservative fiscal education, I, too, find America's fascination with and subordination of life to team sports odd, given our individualistic background.

  • Basilisc on September 10, 2012 11:25 AM:

    Knute Rockne, All-Soviet.

  • Josef K on September 10, 2012 11:27 AM:

    I’m pretty sure he’d get his butt kicked.

    Don't tease with such images, please. Its mean.

    Plus which bow-ties are making a comeback, thanks to British actor Matt Smith and the BBC costume department. My 11 year-old has already mastered them thanks to this.

  • Gov't Mule on September 10, 2012 11:29 AM:

    This is just more proof that George Will is the Paul Ryan of Punditry. Like Ryan, Will is often presented as a Very Serious Person that upon closer inspection is shockingly ignorant about numerous subjects.

    A second grader could have substituted ANY team sport for that fifth rate analogy that the bow-tied Bozo used. Moreover, if any sport epitomizes collectivism, it is the "socialist" NFL and not college football.

  • MuddyLee on September 10, 2012 11:40 AM:

    ANY opinion of George Will is fair game for discussion since his love of Ronald Reagan and crazy conservatism has been a negative influence on American life and politics. Time to retire, George. And of course he should come do some tailgating in Columbia SC - that would give him a chance to see the confederate flag at the statehouse grounds to see what voting for crazy conservatives gets you.

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on September 10, 2012 11:41 AM:

    Surprised no one yet posted.... George F Will's Sports Machine!


    Throw the ball, George! Throw the ball!

  • Lethar on September 10, 2012 11:44 AM:

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  • beejeez on September 10, 2012 11:50 AM:

    Holy cow, y'all should see the comments on Will's column. I haven't seen such a one-sided tsunami of mockery in the history of mainstream punditry.

  • matt w on September 10, 2012 11:52 AM:

    That was an impressively incoherent George Will column, up to the point when he apparently fell asleep in the middle and his forehead impacted the "send" button (because that can't really be the conclusion, can it?) But this was particularly priceless:

    'Progressives saw football as training managers for the modern regulatory state. Ingrassia says that a Yale professor, the social Darwinist William Graham Sumner... produced one academic acolyte who thought the “English race” was establishing hegemony because it played the “sturdiest” sports.'

    George, let me explain something: When you want to illustrate a sentence that begins "Progressives did this," you should probably try to come up with a guy who isn't a Social Darwinist. It's like illustrating what Red Sox fans do by talking about George Steinbrenner.

  • Lucia on September 10, 2012 11:53 AM:

    Um, aren't major-league baseball managers also paid more than governors?

  • DisgustedWithItAll on September 10, 2012 12:25 PM:

    I despise both football and Will simultaneously.

  • boatboy_srq on September 10, 2012 12:36 PM:

    Given the opportunity, Will is likely to find soshulism lurking in either a) earning a paycheck or b) taking 15 hours every day away from what it takes to earn that paycheck.

  • boatboy_srq on September 10, 2012 12:46 PM:

    @Lucia: that's the free employment market at work: compensation rises in relation to skills and performance (although how that explains the Cincinnati Reds outside of Pete Rose - who made his money the old fashioned way by winning it gambling - I have no idea). Oh, wait...

  • RMcD on September 10, 2012 12:47 PM:

    Yes, George Will, we lefties will take the credit for inventing football. Also, Social Security, Medicare, the minimum wage, the end of the Great Depression, Obamacare, the 40-hour work week, women's suffrage, the defeat of Hitler and the Japanese, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the freeing of the slaves, the end of Jim Crow, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Constitution, and the Bible.

    Did I forget something? Who invented the steak? ice cream? puppies? Bet it was us.

  • scott_m on September 10, 2012 1:20 PM:

    Regarding Will's theory of baseball as standing for individualism: Robert DeNiro's speech in the Untouchables as Al Capone should be the final word on that subject.

  • Doug on September 10, 2012 2:17 PM:

    Will's article is a mess of sloppy thinking and an even worse cherry-picking of sources in order to provide - well, I'm not sure what, except that George Will DOESN'T LIKE college football OR progressivism. And this is news?
    Best comment was the one tell Will to keep on "Speaking blather to power!"

  • dj spellchecka on September 10, 2012 2:51 PM:

    "Our military taught the progressive virtue of subordinating the individual to the collectivity. Inevitably, this led to the cult of one individual, the General."

  • howie on September 10, 2012 3:08 PM:

    I've met George Will and he isn't the muscular hunk you see on TV.

    He could get himself beaten up at the library.

  • San_Luis_Obispo on September 10, 2012 3:15 PM:

    "Progressivism" at Alabama, LSU and the rest of the SEC is when two players on the same team know the location of the university library. Note that I didn't say been inside it or know what it's for.

  • boatboy_srq on September 10, 2012 3:17 PM:


    Apparently all Will's baseball players are batters, then. Maybe he thinks it's golf.

  • DG on September 10, 2012 6:00 PM:

    I guess George Will forgot that ALL major professional sports are unionized, so his commentary makes even less sense in light of that fact. As we all know, preserving labor unions is a major goal of conservatives /sarcasm off.

  • Peter C on September 10, 2012 6:04 PM:

    George Will is even battier than Clint Eastwood. He's arguing with a whole empty stadium and not just a single chair.

  • DG on September 10, 2012 6:07 PM:

    And I mean viewing his commentary in light of his well-established beliefs...

  • N.Wells on September 10, 2012 6:12 PM:

    Sports in general, and football in particular, are training for warfare. (As is scouting, in a different way.) They increase physical fitness in recruit-age males. Football teaches acting as a team member, subjection to the authority of an older male leader, coordinated manoeuvers, devising and following complex strategies against an opponent, physical strength and brutality, and soldiering on despite injury.

  • David Wolff on September 10, 2012 7:55 PM:

    Maybe old GW is just on to something and trying to smack it down before the Prez succeeds.

  • ThoughtCriminal on September 10, 2012 8:47 PM:

    With very few exceptions, "Big Time" college football coaches lean Right-Wing Republican (Paterno, Holtz, Bowden, Osborne, the list goes on). And Republicans worship them the same way they do for CEOs.