The NFL Funding Gap

‘Sports in America have separated into sports-haves and have-nots’

This recent quote from Tom Farrey, director of the Sport and Society Program at Aspen Institute serves as a poignant reminder of the current state of the US sporting system — and nowhere is this more prominent than in the country’s most popular sport.

Football players from disadvantaged communities struggle with poor nutrition, inadequate equipment, and a lack of education. It’s all part of a wider funding problem. A CNN study finds that schools in wealthier communities receive $23 billion more in funding per year – that’s $2,226 per student.

The above seems bewildering when you consider that the NFL draws 70% of its players from poor communities – surely it’s in the league’s interest to reduce this funding gap?

This article is going to explore ways as to how this glaring disparity can be narrowed, as well as assessing what role the NFL could play in this.

Reform Government Sports Funding

Quite simply, the US Government can ensure that it doesn’t have to be this way. A system that directly penalises young athletes because of where they were born, or what race they are, can be reformed or even replaced – just look outside the USA.

The Sport England programme in the UK is funded directly by the British government and the country’s National Lottery. Since its formation, it has pumped hundreds of millions of pounds into disadvantaged communities, directing youngsters away from social issues such as drug-taking and problem gambling, and producing a flux of talented athletes from these areas. The result? Unprecedented Olympic success for the country.

Similarly, Norway follows a tried-and-tested model that is based on the inclusion of ALL children in sports, regardless of socio-economic background. In an NY Times article, Tom Farrey describes how every child is given safe training environments, resulting in numerous social benefits. He also contrasts it to the American model of ‘money follows money’ and the inevitable problems this causes.

It should not be beyond the realms for the USA to follow a model such as these. The benefits would be considerable; a higher talent pool of athletes and significant societal benefits, such as reduced crime and improved juvenile health.

Equipment and facilities

In terms of the infrastructure of the sport, the solution doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. With High School Football, for example, a little can go a long way.

Simply ensuring that footballers are given basic equipment, such as protective helmets and good quality boots, and simple, healthy nutrition is not something that will break the bank.

For the same reason, having certified coaches ensuring that athletes follow specific training programs is something that is easily accessible with a modest investment. Indeed, it could be useful training experience for up-and-coming coaches who wouldn’t demand the world in wages.

Furthermore, the above equipment and knowledge will significantly reduce the risk of serious injury among youngsters. The sport’s concussion scandal doesn’t just affect the pros; kids are at grave risk, too with high school football having the highest concussion rate among all sports.

NFL’s responsibility

If the government refuses to address the situation, then it falls to the leading national sports bodies to do something about it. And what better place to start than the most successful American Sports League in history?
As mentioned, the majority of the league’s athletes come from a poor background. This is backed up by recent evidence that shows that the trend is growing, rather than reversing.

So, if the League is procuring players from such communities, surely it’s in their best interests to give more back?

Just imagine if, rather than having to overcome fearsome obstacles to make their own ‘rags-to-riches’ story (a fairy-tale that is just that to most poor kids), disadvantaged footballers were fed correctly, given adequate protection, and told that there IS an alternative to sport, should they fail.

Not only would poor children be better protected, but there would also be a higher standard in athleticism — something the NFL would directly benefit from.

An embarrassment of riches

The NFL can hardly plead poverty. Despite fund-raising initiatives and awareness campaigns, their spending is a drop in the ocean compared to the gargantuan wealth they accrue. Bloomberg estimated this to be around $15 billion for the 2018 season alone, with Commissioner Roger Goodell targeting $25 billion by 2027.

Compare this to the League’s own declared investment in youth programs and charities, a mere $370 million since 1973, and it doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that much more can be done.

Sooner rather than later

Time is of the essence here. As the funding gaps continue and even increase, so does the number of poor athletes at direct risk of serious injury.

The current initiatives in place by the government and the NFL are simply not sufficient. If we are serious about giving disadvantaged youngsters every opportunity to make it, for society’s benefit as much as their own, then drastic action needs to be taken.

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