Magazine October 2019

Government and Football: Rules Matter


Kelly Sublett

Kelly Sublett, Arkansas Money & Politics

As the offspring of educators — a football coach and a government/economics teacher, specifically — the analogy I am about to propose may not seem so far fetched. 

I argue that the politics of a situation do not matter as much as the rules. The rules make it fair, and politics make it fun. This is as true in football as it is in American government. 

The future of our nation depends on understanding and not even each other. We have to, first, understand the rules.

The framers of the Constitution worked with the excitement of building a new government. They committed to just a few basic concepts, developed a structure for amending rules and provided a checks and balances system. That foundation would be upheld throughout time and technology, war and peace.

For the purpose of illustration, consider the U.S. two-party system and Congress like college football. 

There are two teams that have the same parameters by which to organize. Each team has an athletic director, a head coach, a slough of assistant coaches, trainers, support staff, etc. (party leadership). Each team is approached by vendors like sports drinks and gear (lobbyists).

Each team has spirit representatives, from the cheerleaders to the band to student sections (state parties, whips, local groups, etc.).

Players, theoretically, all have the same basic skills and can be better suited for different aspects of the game. Overall, they know how to take direction, do the jobs their positions require and read a playbook. They develop pride for their team and commit themselves to the rigors of practice and playing. But they also keep grades up, learn new things and develop relationships outside of the fieldhouse (U.S. senators and representatives). 

If those players are not playing well, breaking rules outlined by the team’s “constitution” or fail at their jobs, they are benched. If a coach is wayward in the same fashion, he also is rotated out. This also should be true for elected officials through the voting process. 

Although a football game requires taking sides a flag on the field causes a collective groan from the grandstand, the call is respected and play moves on. When there is a challenge to the flag, there is a protocol to review the call. The U.S. government has that, too. 

There also is a necessary community/character definition of a team. Do they give back to the community? Do they reach across the gridiron to extend support and respect when another team is suffering? 

The University of Georgia Bulldog fans, in the recent game against Arkansas State, created a #WearPinkforWendy campaign. They didn’t have to. It was the right thing to do. 

When Sen. John McCain was in his last days, were there politicians doing the same? Can you say your team has heart?

So the last word from this coach’s kid, this student of American civics — play the game, follow the rules and know there will always be next season … a sentiment Razorback fans know all too well.

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