Thankfully, many states are beginning to open up, rejoining the world of the living in a phased and proactive approach. Good for them.
Some politicians, however, like Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, are still saying they’re not ready to open, and group activities will not be permitted for quite some time (until there is a vaccine or a cure, presumably). This includes “non-essential” business gatherings like eating at restaurants and getting your hair cut at salons; but, this tragically includes all outdoor summer activities like concerts and fairs as well.
But what happens when these controversial, draconian lockdowns in certain states collide head-on with America’s favorite outdoor activity of all: college and professional football?
Baseball is called America’s pastime. Now I realize this might be controversial to some, but what it should be called is America’s way to pass the time until football season. There is no question that the NFL is in a category of its own when it comes to sports and entertainment in the United States.
More than 17 million fans attended NFL games last season, and five of last year’s top 10-viewed programs were NFL games, (including the Super Bowl, which was No. 1). College football doesn’t do so badly either with 2019 attendance pegged at nearly 37 million for Division I schools while the National Championship game was the sixth most-viewed program of the year.
As of right now, neither the NFL nor the NCAA have announced any plans to cancel their seasons, which start in the late summer. This is refreshing in the sense that so many other events were cancelled far into the future without even waiting to see the lay of the virus landscape. Right now, football is taking a ready-set-wait position.
The same can’t be said for politicians.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has made it clear not to expect the NFL to be playing in front of filled stadiums in the fall. Why? Because as she says, we “have to measure (our) expectations and say, ‘life is going to be different.’” Setting aside the fun fan debate as to whether or not Detroit actually has an NFL team capable of filling an entire stadium (sorry, I’m a life-long Bears fan), the fact is, Michigan’s totalitarian governor is laying claim to extraordinary extra-constitutional powers and wet-blanket authorities. This should make us all take serious pause at the state of our republic.
Not to be left out in the race for the Midwest’s most draconian governor, Illinois Gov. Pritzker went on record earlier this month to state that no large public events would take place in the state until either a vaccine or a cure is available. Given the unlikelihood of either of these things happening prior to Labor Day, it seems like the governor is sentencing “Da Bears” to a fall and winter in sports purgatory.
Up to this point, protests in Michigan against the governor’s orders have been well-publicized but relatively lightly attended. In Illinois, a state where a large majority of the people are Democrats, the population has been relatively docile, to my home state’s shame.
The NFL is an $8 billion-plus enterprise with the largest television contract of any major American sports league. It is America’s game with a fan base comprised of every single demographic group imaginable. College football is often played in larger stadiums than the NFL (eight stadiums have capacity levels in excess of 100,000 fans). It has been likened to a religion in the South, where the SEC produces national championships like the left produces spending bills.
Considering that “fan” is a derivative of the word “fanatic,” it’s hard to imagine people having their football taken from them is going to be taken lightly or passively.
I can’t really believe I am suggesting that being deprived of football could be the rallying cry for Americans to protest having their actual liberty being taken away. That is, however, exactly what I am suggesting.
Perhaps in an America as polarized and divided by practically every other idea, policy, value system and immutable physical characteristic imaginable, it is left to football to unite us sufficiently to reopen. Perhaps that is the necessary spark of the Revolutionary Spirit of 2020. Perhaps, it’s America’s real redline and I would caution any governor from crossing it. At this point, I think millions of Americans would agree: Give me football or give me death.
• Charlie Kirk is founder and president of Turning Point USA, the author of “The MAGA Doctrine: The Only Ideas That Will Win the Future,” and host of “The Charlie Kirk Show.”