George Will: “Progressives saw football as training managers for the modern regulatory state.”

I wish I were shitting you here, but sadly, I’m not.

College football became a national phenomenon because it supposedly served the values of progressivism, in two ways. It exemplified specialization, expertise and scientific management. And it would reconcile the public to the transformation of universities, especially public universities, into something progressivism desired but the public found alien. Replicating industrialism’s division of labor, universities introduced the fragmentation of the old curriculum of moral instruction into increasingly specialized and arcane disciplines. These included the recently founded social sciences — economics, sociology, political science — that were supposed to supply progressive governments with the expertise to manage the complexities of the modern economy and the simplicities of the uninstructed masses.

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.

And Babe Ruth was famously paid more than the President of the United States, George.

This is some bizarre stuff.  For one thing, as Jonathan Chait notes, it’s not exactly like college football thrives in progressive hot beds.  In fact, the reality is pretty much the opposite of that.  For another, if you want to talk about sports and the modern regulatory state, you would find a better example of that with Will’s beloved professional baseball, which is chock full of examples such as public financial support of stadiums, a sweeping antitrust exemption and the Supreme Court-supported reserve clause (now discarded).  Not to mention that whole Red Sox-Yankees thing.

Face it, George Will thinks you’re all a bunch of pinkos for reading this blog.

(h/t Ed Kilgore)

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62 Comments

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62 responses to “George Will: “Progressives saw football as training managers for the modern regulatory state.”

  1. Scorpio Jones, III

    Oh Shit….you mean we are NOT a buncha pinkos? Who knew?

  2. WH

    George Will doesn’t think we’re pinkos for reading this blog anymore than he thinks children are pinkos for attending public schools.

    I disagree with his premise here, though. And it’s not unusual for a self-avowed conservative to disagree with George Will. He’s a smart guy, but he and I don’t have that much in common. The man is completely aghast that people wear jeans to work in offices, for crying out loud. Of course he’s got a bone to pick with something so lowbrow as football.

    • Hackerdog

      What I fail to understand is how football, with all its complexities, is seen as a lowbrow sport, while baseball, where the most complex thing is batting the pitcher 8th, or making a late double switch, is supposedly the sport for intellectuals.

      • Heathbar09

        Fair enough, but I find it hard to believe that multiple MLB players would score a 4 on the Wonderlic. Unless it’s due to a language barrier, which eliminates 40% of players.

        Maybe I am just being naive, but on my college baseball team we consistently had players on the honor roll, etc. While half the football team was always in the doghouse.

      • No One Knows You're a Dawg

        +1. Baseball is the sport for intellectuals precisely because it is a much simpler game.This makes it easy to understand and follow for those who only want to devote a limited amount of time to such diversions. It’s the sport for people who don’t particularly like sports. To me, baseball is an individual skills competition masquerading as a team game.

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          That sir is why I like golf. It is a clear “individual skills competition” as you put it without any masquerade–except the masquerade that it is an athletic competition in the first place.

    • Doug

      If you could even decipher a premise to disagree with in the first place, you’re a better reader/smarter man than I am.

  3. AusDawg85

    Was wondering if you saw this….

    Hey, what’s happening with Hoppy in Montana?

  4. Derek

    George is right. College football is progressivism run amok. Really it’s basic communism. First, it gives the exact same benefit to every player. So you have to each according to their need and from each according to their abilities. Karl Marx is celebrating from the grave. Second, no one expects performance to be credited or lack thereof to be punished by the university. A kicker misses a field goal? Take his physics class away! A qb throws for 400 yards? He should get another free class from the university, starting immediately. That way you punish failure and incentivize success in the only way an institute of higher learning can.

    I mean this is how the real world works! What don’t these commie’s understand about the real world? Also I don’t understand why students get cheap seats in the lower level. What are we teaching the youth? That there is a benefit from being a dependent, living off your parents and attending a taxpayer subsidized school on taxpayer subsidized loans. I say make them pay a market rate or don’t come at all. Maybe if these kids had to earn something before so much was handed to them we would be where we are in this country.

    • Cojones

      I know it’s all snarkey and all, but you might have missed an expression in the last sentence. I’m getting tired of some of you emulating my method of nonexpression. :)

  5. Irishdawg

    George Will and Bob Costas are the two most prominent baseball bores in all the land. They drone endlessly about the joys of watching men stand around and spit sunflower seeds, while haughtily looking down their noses (as if that was even possible with a midget like Costas) at the base savagery of football.

    • Cojones

      We spit in football too. Professionally.

    • Derek

      That may be true, but that’s not what he is saying here.  What he is attempting to do is exhalt the theory that man’s natural state is to act is his own financial interest while diminishing any collectivist instinct as destructive.  The problem of course is that while people do tend to act in their own best interests, people more often than not, do so in quite unpredictable and often inefficient ways.  Moreover, people also have a great deal of interest in being part of something greater than themselves whether it be a nation, a university, a church, etc… as the list is endless.  The main problem with will and other conservative “thinkers” is that their initial premise breaks down almost immediately under the weight of any actual critique.  This is true in much the same way that the application of a Marxist theory to a society breaks down almost immediately as any theory that relies on the premise that people will consistently act in each others interest is laughable.  The truth, as it often is, is in the middle where both individual and collective interests are accounted for concurrently and one is exalted over the other depending upon the circumstance, an understanding of history and common sense.

  6. X-Dawg

    It takes far to much effort to actually read any of Will’s stuff for me to bother with it.

  7. Biggus Rickus

    I haven’t read enough early progressives to know what they thought about football, but it is possible Will is right to the extent that they thought it embodied some of the societal traits they thought important. But the idea that it became a national phenomenon because of progressive beliefs is just weird. It became a phenomenon for the same reasons pretty much every other sport ever has become a phenomenon.

  8. The Babe did have a better year…right. To Will’s point ,this does help to explain,at least partially, why the NCAA is the minor league of the NFL and the baseball people support their own minor leagues. And what we have today did start in up east schools so I’m willing to accept that there is a string of historical truth in his premise but I doubt I or many people will find time to read the acedemic treatise that is the source of Mr Will’s opinion peice. It is amazing what will get you your doctorate and maybe tenure.

  9. Dog in Fla

    “Inevitably, this led to the cult of one individual, the coach.”

    Nick doesn’t have time for this shit.

    Other recent George Will proclamations include : “If the Republican Party cannot win in this environment, it has to get out of politics and find another business.” No word on if that would also include George Will

  10. Irishdawg

    Football rewards aggression, toughness, and physical prowess; all things Americans find admirable. That’s one reason it’s such a phenomenon. That, and the booze and babes thing. Baseball rewards being able to do something with either hand.

  11. Macon Dawg

    Is this his roundabout way of attacking public education?

  12. Always Someone Else's Fault

    The “collectivist” response has become so knee-jerk that this actually made sense to a normally reasonable writer. I did like his line a few years ago about football combining committee meetings and violence. I think that was his.

    My totally anecdotal, non-scientific read on things: people want community right now. Figuring out the line that separates community from collectivism isn’t easy, but that distinction increasingly looks like the key to winning the White House this go-around. I’m betting more Americans are going to bed tonight worried about falling through the cracks than being held back from getting ahead.

    Will and Co. can try to conjure “collectivist” bogeymen every day between now and the election, but he’s barking up the wrong tree with this one.

    • Dog in Fla

      In yesterday’s lesson on collectivism, Allen asks, “Where is the Soviet Union today?” because Mitt’s looking for it too and reminds the believers that there needs to be a synergy of effort because are only 57 days left, one for each state :)

  13. Gravidy

    Two caveats, Senator: First, you and I rarely agree on politics. Second, George Will and I don’t agree as often as you probably think. I find him to be boring and stuffy about 85% of the time, and this is one of those times.

    Having said all of that, however, you’re reaching a tad far on this one, sir..

    • Meaning you find him accurate, although boring and stuffy?

      • Gravidy

        I don’t read his columns often enough to give you my opinion of his accuracy percentage, But when I do, I disagree with him almost as much as I agree. The 85% stuffy comment is not to be taken as the result of a labored statistical analysis on my part, either, obviously. But let’s just say if I were going to pick conservative pundits as flag-bearers for my point of view, his name wouldn’t cross my mind at all.

        This column you’ve linked is a perfect example of him at his stuffiest. He is really stretching to cobble together a column which denigrates football (the athletic foe of his beloved baseball) and his political foes as well. He was haphazardly conflating the 19th century definition of “progressive” with its 21st century one – all in the name of churning out a column before deadline.

        So, no, I’m no defender of George Will. But that doesn’t change my opinion that you are stretching a bit on this one.

        • Mayor of Dawgtown

          George Will is an educated fool. He finds the boogyman in commonplace things and happenings all the time when, in reality, it does not exist there. How this clown continues to be given a national forum for his drivel by the Post is beyond comprehension. He must have had naked pictures of Katherine Graham.

  14. Ah George Will…I actually don’t mind the guy. Sometimes has some good points, but a quote by Benjamin Franklin about John Adams comes to mind when referring to ol’ George:

    “He means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes and in some things absolutely out of his mind.”

  15. Ed Kilgore

    Two thoughts: (1) I like Chait’s suggestion that Will barnstorm the Deep South this fall trying to convince fans they are being duped by the Left. Can you imagine him roaming around an RV lot in Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge making this rap? (2) I will allow as how Saban may have taken a page or two from Uncle Joe Stalin’s leadership manual.

  16. The Lone Stranger

    “It’s like Lenin said: ‘You look for the person who will benefit’… and … you will, uh, you know … you’ll, uh, you know what I’m trying to say.. “

  17. I generally prefer conservatism over the alternatives. I like baseball more than most organized sports. I also usually like George Will. However, over the last several years reading George Will has too often felt like getting browbeaten for not liking conservatism or baseball ENOUGH. I am trying to decide whether Mr. Will’s tortured analogy is a function of his fealty to conservatism or baseball. But it is a tortured analogy, that much I’m sure of. I also think that I don’t like when my sports self and my idealogical self meet. Worlds colliding. – G. Costanza

  18. theresa

    Football on college campuses was advocated in the late 1800s as a way to make sure our educated men weren’t getting soft: it had been many years since a serious war, and the nation was generally prospering. Doughy elites was a concern, and football was seen as the remedy. One of the game’s greatest advocates was Teddy Roosevelt, who said in 1906: “I believe in rough games and in rough, manly sports. I do not feel any particular sympathy for the person who gets battered about a good deal so long as it is not fatal.”

    Many felt football was too violent; Roosevelt managed to negotiate rules changes that kept players a little safer (forward pass, 3 downs to move 10 yards), and kept the game from being banned in most states.

    More here, in the liberal rag known as the Wall Street Journal op-ed page:
    How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football

    and that other bastion of communism, the National Review:
    The Progressives Who Tried to Ban Football.

    All from a book that came out just a year ago. Will is one of the laziest hacks out there.

  19. Doug

    I think George Will was getting mad that people were treating David Brooks as America’s stuffiest, most irrelevant columnist and decided it was time to put the whippersnapper in his place and reclaim his throne.

    • theresa

      As if Will’s column about how riding trains was a collectivist plot didn’t seal the deal. Besides, Brooks is more unctous than stuffy.

  20. W Cobb Dawg

    Maybe Mark Bradley and Jeff Shultz aren’t so bad.

  21. Brandon

    I think the Will article is pretty silly and bizarre I am a conservative, I agree with the earlier commenter that this stems from an elitist streak George has more than ideology. Most of these big time columnists and media types of all political persuasions are elitists, and don’t have much in common with those of us who live in “flyover country” which is all that land between nyc, dc, la, and well to do vacation spots.

  22. WarD Eagle

    “Rather than parse the whole seriously demented business, I would offer space-alien George Will a challenge: Go down to Oxford, Mississippi, on next Saturday afternoon, stand in the middle of the Grove before the Rebels play Texas, and explain to the assembled tailgaters how they are actually there for the purposes of “training managers for the modern regulatory state.” I have never seen a man beaten with turkey legs before.”

    Read more: http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/george-will-college-football-progressivism-12572469#ixzz269cQJUHx

  23. PatinDC

    George Will is a bore. I wish there had been like buttons on the comments here. I enjoyed them all.