Just what type of "laissez-faire liberal" is Ted Cox (The Sports Section, November 24)? Why can't he identify a single lesson laissez-faire liberalism teaches us about the National Football League? Even a "namby-pamby Great Society" sympathizer like myself can see them.
First, NFL teams have faced and continue to face actual and threatened competition. The most notable examples were the All American Football Conference in the late 1940s and the American Football League of the 1960s. Both the AAFC and the AFL showed the salutary effects of competition. Their innovations may have been more responsible for the NFL's current entertainment value than any other similar factors. The NFL has withstood similar challenges from the World Football League and the United States Football League as fans--as is their economic right--stuck with the NFL. If Mr. Cox does not like the current NFL monopoly, he should support creation of another league then work to ensure it is not slaughtered in the press as the USFL was. Outside football, the NFL continually faces competition for the entertainment dollar from a wide variety of amusements. I personally tired of giving my money to blackmailing sports owners and now find other ways to spend my entertainment dollar, preferring entertainers who will not also whine for my tax dollar.
Second, a "laissez-faire liberal" ought to realize that it is precisely government interference which has given us the predicament for whose solution Mr. Cox proposes "a national sports commission." This interference comes in two forms--direct government subsidies for stadia, and indirect government subsidies for corporate ticket purchases, particularly luxury suites. Eliminate these and pro sports will have to act more as if they were indeed in a truly laissez-faire economy. If teams could not find public subsidies, they would have to go where there is a market for their product. Having already developed a local market, many would stay put. If Michael McCaskey could not figure out how to take advantage of the third largest and perhaps the most rabid sports market in the nation, somebody would make it worth his while to sell the Bears. That purchaser in turn would fully exploit the market.
Third, why might Mr. Cox contest the notion that pro sports are not essential to life? More to the point, exactly what makes sports so deserving of a national commission and worthy of political consideration? Far more area households visit museums, attend classical music concerts, or see professional theater performances each year as attend professional sports events. (If you do not believe me, check the annual household surveys of the Metro Chicago Information Center.) The last thing anybody would propose in these times is a "national commission" to defend the interests of these ventures and their patrons. After decades when cities like Chicago and Cleveland have lost jobs to nonunion areas offering massive tax subsidies, what is it about the NFL that makes a "laissez-faire liberal" like Mr. Cox finally desire national action to "emphasize fair dealings in labor negotiations" and enterprise location? Such battles were lost long ago for many Chicago area workers.
The answer may be that to Mr. Cox football is a religion. I have long thought if Emile Durkheim were to write today about The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life he would do well to visit Soldier Field on autumn Sundays, which is the focus of massive communal rites, where the elite disciples (i.e., season ticket holders) of the religion adorn themselves with the Bears' totem and come to identify themselves through this totem (as in the fan's first person plural; e.g., "We lost to Green Bay"). I am not going to ridicule this religion, for, among other reasons, it likely has more adherents and inspires more devotion than my religion or any other religion in the Chicago area. What I do not understand is why this religion is worthy of an exception to the First Amendment. Religion in the United States is not supposed to be a governmental matter. In fact, because religion has generally had to support itself here, it flourishes more than it does in many nations which have a history of established religion. Governmental interest usually spells a slow death for religions and other social movements.
If Mr. Cox is half as devoted to the NFL and sports as I think he is, he ought to ponder this before having them sip slowly the social hemlock.
Clifford A. Grammich Jr.