YOU WOULD think the National Football League and the wage gap have nothing in common. But if the nation shared its resources like the NFL, we would be in a much better place. For instance, even though their world has momentarily crumbled around them, Republicans keep saying that any attempt to close the American wealth gap is "class warfare."
In a January interview on Fox television, White House spokesman Tony Snow was asked about the 2008 Democratic candidates for president making an issue of the split between the haves and have-nots. Snow responded: "Well, look, people have tried to use class warfare in the past, and it hasn't worked." Later he added, "More power to people who try to play the class warfare argument. The fact is, it doesn't match up with our experience."
Within the Republican Party, one long-shot presidential hopeful, former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, recently made some headlines by saying that top-tier contender John McCain "has fought conservatives time after time, even invoking the rhetoric of class warfare to oppose the Bush tax cuts."
Never mind that the Republicans, largely because of Iraq, but partially because of their inattentiveness to growing inequalities (so graphically captured by Hurricane Katrina), were thrown out of power in the House and Senate. Snow keeps hanging onto his deck chair on the tilting ship, saying illogical things like, "When one tries to play class warfare, sooner or later it touches upon every class."
Enter the National Football League. This week, it agreed to revamp what is arguably the most successful form of socialism in the United States. It made some adjustments to its revenue sharing plan. The league's teams, which currently number 32, have shared equally in national television revenues going back to the early 1960s. The Mara family of the New York Giants and George Halas of the Chicago Bears realized that it had to be done to give tiny cities like Green Bay a chance to field competitive teams. Halas even once advocated a new stadium for the arch-rival Packers.
Four and a half decades later, the Chicago Tribune wrote that the decision to share revenues was "the single most important reason the NFL enjoys unmatched prosperity" today and has become the nation's top spectator sport. Shared prosperity means more teams with a legitimate chance to win the title. More competitive teams mean more fans.
In the last 11 baseball World Series, for instance, only one team has come from a metropolitan area ranked 20th or lower, as compiled by the US Census. The lowest-ranked city to celebrate a World Series champion in the last 11 seasons is 18th-ranked St. Louis.
In the last 11 Super Bowls, seven teams, including 154th-ranked Green Bay, 39th-ranked Nashville, 36th-ranked Charlotte, and 34th-ranked Indianapolis, have seen their teams go to the Super Bowl. Green Bay won in 1997 and Indianapolis won this year.
For the lay person, the details of the latest agreement are not important, except to understand that roughly the top half of the league in revenues (big-city and otherwise popular teams can make additional money through luxury seats and skyboxes), will pool money to give to the lower half. The plan passed by a 30-2 vote. Patriots owner Robert Kraft proclaimed to the Globe, "I think there was a feeling from a number of us that we appreciate what a great league we have and how special it is. We're partners inside."
Outside the NFL, too many Americans wait for a partner. Study after study details how the wealth gap is growing in the United States. The Economic Policy Institute last year found that the average wealth of the 20 percent of American households has grown from 15 times the national median in the early 1960s to 23 times the median today. While household debt for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans grew 10.6 percent during the first term of President Bush, it rose 28.2 percent for people in the 61-80 percentile.
Middle America is waiting for its Mara family and George Halas. Class warfare already is happening. Democrats claim they are willing to wage it, but even when Bill Clinton was in office, the gap kept growing. In Buffalo, the 47th-ranked metropolitan area, Buffalo Bills treasurer Jeffrey Littmann said the revised NFL revenue sharing plan "allows us to be part of that move forward to solutions instead of just trying to figure out how to survive."
It would be a better day if a little bit of that socialism rubbed off on lower-ranked Americans who are figuring out how to survive.
Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2007 The Boston Globe