What politicians can learn from the Super Bowl

Why do we care about the Super Bowl? After all, it is a bunch of individuals earning, six, seven, or eight figures a year, playing a game on behalf of owners worth nine or ten figures. Even more, there is literal price fixing, an industry-wide agreement to limit overall wages for a certain type of employee. It’s a “1-percenter” spectacle.

Of course, there is much more to the players, the owners, and the teams than their income levels. That is why millions of people across the world will turn on their televisions Sunday night to watch the game.

Now, the NFL is far from a perfect organization. Taking public subsidies for economically-viable, self-sustaining stadiums raises plenty of questions. The lack of attention to concussions over the years is a stain. Violence — domestic and otherwise — committed by players is unacceptable.

And those are just the off-the-field issues. The officiating debacle that put the Rams in the Super Bowl was ludicrous. Inconsistent and arbitrary penalties from the league office undermine a general sense of fairness. There are undoubtedly others.

But people are still going to turn into the game.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady warms up during practice on Thursday in Atlanta, as the team prepares for Super Bowl 53 against the Los Angeles Rams. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Politics is similar. Elected officials may be mostly “Democrats” or “Republicans” — they play on a team to win elections and advance their preferred policies. There are plenty of gripes that can be levied against them and the “league” in which they “play.”

But the results of that “game” will have a much bigger impact on us than who receives the Lombardi Trophy.

One of the great things about sports is watching individuals compete at the highest levels of human endeavor. Competition sparks something inside of us to strive to achieve. The sense of community and belonging that comes from a shared goal offers an identity. That holds true whether you are on the field or simply cheering along “your” side.

But when the final whistle blows, the adversarial relationship generally melts away. The victors are elevated and the vanquished deflated, but they hug and shake hands and demonstrate the respect they hold for each other.

That is where politics is different.

There is no “end” to the competition. Legislatures continually pass new laws. The election cycle continually springs anew; less than three months removed from the last election, seven prominent Democrats have already filed to run for president in 2020.

Instead of emulating the highest angels, politicians often appeal to our basest instincts. Fear is certainly one of them, as is jealousy. So if we don’t like it, it is up to us to stop it.

If football players want to continue to earn millions of dollars and team owners want to run organizations worth billions, they need us. No one is forced to watch a game or buy a jersey. The NFL and its teams have to deliver something worth consuming. Americans get to vote with their wallets.

Elected officials are no different. We get to vote with our votes, and it is up to the candidates to earn them.  As we, yet again, begin the ramp up to another presidential election, demand the candidates put forward a positive vision for what they want to accomplish. Give us a message worth buying.

Competition is healthy. Steel sharpens steel. But, like football, there is a time when it needs to end and take a backseat to mutual respect.

So, when the Super Bowl is over and the Lombardi Trophy awarded, the NFL will need to get to work addressing some of its ongoing problems if it wants to remain relevant and worth our time.

Hopefully officials can do the same. Put the game aside and realize, at the end of the day, we’re all Patriots.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.