Daniel Flynn is the former Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia and Editor of the weblog FlynnFiles. He’s the author of the new book, “The War on Football: Saving America’s Game.”
In this interview, Flynn responds to Malcolm Gladwell’s thesis that football should be banned because players have a greater risk of dying young. Flynn’s research leads him to believe that football is safer than skateboarding and theme parks.
Flynn also gives us some insight into the lawsuits in youth football and whether football or baseball is really America’s game.
The topics then switch gears to how low Obama’s approval ratings have gone down this summer. Flynn thinks the left hates America and actually has a conservative history.
Find out more about Dan Flynn at www.flynnfiles.com.
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Start of Interview with Daniel Flynn
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Daniel Flynn to the show. He is the former executive director of Accuracy and Academia and the editor of weblog Flynn Files and the author of a new book, The War on Football: Saving America’s Game. Now, lest you think this is a sports segment, and it will be a little bit, let me just tell you about some of Daniel’s other books titled Blue Collar Intellectuals: A Conservative History of the American Left, Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall Into Stupid Ideals, and a few more including why the left hates America. So, glad to have him on the show to talk about this rather important topic, maybe surprisingly to some of you. Daniel welcome. How are you?
Daniel Flynn: Outstanding. Thank you for having me.
Jason Hartman: Great. Hey, I always like to give our listeners a sense of geography. Where are you located today?
Daniel Flynn: I am in western Massachusetts.
Jason Hartman: Well, what prompted you to write a book? Is it fair to say that this is not exactly a book about football, per say, or no?
Daniel Flynn: Well, football tells us a lot about America. If they polled America, I’d say about two-thirds of the American people cop to watching football, so there’s not too many issues out there that you can get two-thirds of the American people to agree on, but football’s one of them. And I think that at a time when we’re divided by race, we’re divided by religion, we’re divided by what cable news network that we watch at night, the one thing that really brings us together is football. And people may think that’s silly, they may wish that it was something more highbrow than an athletic contest that brings us together, but the fact of the matter is that it’s football more than anything else that brings us together in America.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, well very good point. And our president ran on the platform of being the great uniter and he said all this class division and racial division was going to heal, and it’s gotten worse. It’s worse than ever, at least in my lifetime. It’s just crazy. Malcolm Gladwell, he has a thesis that football should be banned because players are at a greater risk of dying now. We saw that big NFL lawsuit about the concussions recently settled for an astronomical amount of money. What are your thoughts on this?
Daniel Flynn: I think first of all, Malcolm Gladwell is just wrong. And Malcolm Gladwell and George Will, LZ Granderson and some other critics of the game have repeatedly made the point that football players die young. They die in their 50s. The reality is that science has rebutted this. The NFL Players Association a number of years ago, because this rumor was so rampant, they petitioned the federal government to conduct a study on retired football players.
So the federal government looked at every player that played in the NFL from 1959 to 1988 who played for five or more years, pension vested players. And what they found rebutted what Malcolm Gladwell says. Football players actually live longer than their peers in society. The scientists were expecting to find a death rate of 18% amongst these NFL players – instead they found a 10% death rate, there was dramatically reduced levels of heart disease and all types of cancer and repertory illness.
Even suicide, which is something that the media has really run with since the deaths of Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and other star players. They’ve run with this myth that NFL players are prone to killing themselves. The reality is that with NFL players, the suicide rate is dramatically lower than the societal suicide rate. If you read some of the accounts in the New York Times and elsewhere, they’ll say that the NFL suicide rate is 6 times the national average. The truth is that the average amongst comparable males is 2 ½ times what it is in the NFL.
So a lot of this anti-football stuff that we’ve seen the last few years in the media, it’s kind of like the Y2K bug or the shark attacks that happen every August or the killer bee story that was around when I was a kid. These are sort of stories that the media loves to run with, but they don’t really bare out in reality. And it’s the same thing with the NFL suicide story. It’s something that the media is all over, and every time an NFL player kills themselves, there will be endless amounts of articles and news coverage of it, but it doesn’t really happen that often.
Jason Hartman: Well, what’s interesting about that is that there are so many other issues. And there’s been a decent amount of writing about how NFL players have higher bankruptcy rates or get into financial trouble after they’ve earned all this money and they just kind of blow it or mismanage it, or maybe they get ripped off by their managers too. But more than any other major sport where players are getting highly compensated when they’re working, it seems like NFL players do have some financial problems. So if you want to look at suicide rate, or even death rate in general because of maybe cost of health care and accessibility to it, if you have financial problems, there’s going to be maybe another contributing factor. I don’t know, you may say well the financial thing isn’t true either Jason, but that’s what I read.
Daniel Flynn: Well, yeah. A lot of that typical too. But just leaving that aside, a guy like Junior Seau who’s probably the most inspected case of NFL suicides. When the San Diego Tribune looked at him, he was drinking 5 or 6 nights a week, he’d been divorced, he drove his car off a cliff about a year before his suicide, his restaurant was going out of business, it actually went out of business a couple weeks after he died. So these guys had all sorts of problems that had nothing to do with football.
Dave Duerson for the Chicago bears, he killed himself and he had filed for bankruptcy and that’s one of the issues that you alluded to. So your point stands that these guys have all sorts of issues going on in their lives just like everyone else does that never played football, so I think because we watch what they do in the field so intensely, we forget that they have private lives off the field and some of these guys’ private lives are really screwed up and it has nothing to do with football.
Jason Hartman: Right. So compare it to skate boarding or theme parks. Is football safer than either of those?
Daniel Flynn: Yeah, that’s one of the things that I do in the books. There are all sorts of dangerous activities that kids engage in that parents don’t really care about so much. They don’t really think of them as dangerous. So last year, skateboarding killed 30 skateboarders in America. Football killed two players from football hits. So collision hits in skateboarding were 15 times the number there were in football. There were more kids last year that died by getting struck by lightning on football fields than died by getting struck by players. That should put into perspective how safe football has become. And I think the odd thing is, the safer football becomes for players, the more dangerous it becomes for the game. Because it’s not that the game has become more rough, it’s that society has grown very soft. Because that’s a culture clash with a kind of passive indoor society that we all live in.
Jason Hartman: Right, but in quoting the statistics, I just have to take issue with you, and maybe it’s not an issue, but I just want to make sure it’s considered in those statistics. Don’t we have to look at it as a percentage, as a per capita based system? More people skateboard than play football?
Daniel Flynn: I don’t think so, but it’s possible. There are 4 million people that play tackle football every year. I have no idea how many people skateboard. But you can look at other activities like skiing or bicycling or swimming. And certainly, more people bicycle or swim than play football. But you’re talking about thousands of people that die from drowning swimming every year, you’re talking about 7 or 800 that die from bicycling, 25 or so that die from skiing collisions, and 2 that die from football. So I think we really have to put this into perspective and that we’ve really lost perspective when it comes to football.
And I think the reason we’ve lost perspective is because the intent of football is very different than all those other activities. The intent of football often is to do violence and harm to your opponent. But I think we get too caught up in intent and we don’t get caught up in outcomes. I know that the street doesn’t intend to harm a skateboarder or an oncoming car doesn’t intend to harm a skateboarder, but the reality is, the outcome is that that street can be a lot more unforgiving than a linebacker.
Jason Hartman: You know, when it comes to the Americana sort of aspect of professional sports, or even nonprofessional, what is America’s game? I think most people think of it as baseball. Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. That’s a pretty good ad campaign. Is it football or baseball?
Daniel Flynn: Well, the last time that the Harris Poll surveyed Americans, football beat baseball by about 4 times to 1. And if you just look at professional football it would be 3 times to 1, but when you add college in there it’s about 4 times to 1. 4 times as many Americans say their favorite sport is football as they say baseball. So I think the concept of baseball being America’s game, that’s maybe a 1950s mindset of looking at that. When you look at the ratings right now, the ratings of just Sunday afternoon NFL games often beat the ratings of World Series games. So as far as a spectator sport, I think football easily beats baseball. It easily beats it in the revenue, it easily beats it in the ratings. So I don’t know that people can say that baseball is America’s sport anymore. But certainly that once was the case.
Jason Hartman: How come football doesn’t really happen around the world? They call soccer football, but why doesn’t football translate into other countries? Why is their game soccer and ours is football?
Daniel Flynn: I think it does in the sense that rugby… football is a rugby derived game. So you’ll see like Celtic football or Australian football or Canadian football league, but all of these games derived from rugby and kind of went their own direction, and the direction that we went in the United States is American football. One of the weird things about football, I think you touch on an important point, every year the ratings for the Super Bowl rivals the ratings for the final championship that they have in that premier soccer league. And the difference between the two is that people watch that championship soccer game in just about every country around the world they’re watching, on every continent, everywhere they’re watching that game.
With regard to football, they’re really watching it only in North America, and it tells you two things there: that unlike say, Coca Cola or say Disney World, football is not for export. It’s a made in America, only in America game. But beyond that it tells you something about America, how intensely our devotion to football is. Because if the Super Bowl is getting ratings on par with the soccer championship game and the only people watching it are here in North America, it demonstrates to you how devotional, how intense, how religious, how this has become our national religion in America, that you have that many people watching the game.
Jason Hartman: Yeah. I think that’s a very valid point that you make. It really is. Just to talk about a couple other quick things before you go, and I think they relate, but maybe a good Segway to it is, is this whole attack on football just part of this kind of nanny state mentality that we’ve got? Or is it not related to the nanny state mentality? It’s just sort of a private thing. I guess, what is the government’s role in this, is probably the right question.
Daniel Flynn: Well, there has been some government activity. Obviously earlier this year the president of the United States commented that if he had a son, he would hesitate to have him play football.
Jason Hartman: I thought he was going to say if he had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin. But…it’s ridiculous.
Daniel Flynn: There have been some other government officials who have been trying to take action. People on school boards trying to ban football at high schools, or state legislators in Illinois, in New York and in Texas tried to restrict the game in various ways. In New York, the assemblymen introduced a bill trying to ban football for kids under 11. And people don’t understand, but of the 4 million people playing tackle football, about 95% of them can’t even legally buy alcohol. So it gives you a sense of who’s playing the game – it’s kids. Football is a kid’s game. The league that we watch the most is a league composed of giant behemoth men, the leagues that most people participate in are leagues of little boys. And these restrictions that are trying to cut off football at 14 or at 18, these are just sort of back-end ways to ban the game of football because almost everyone who plays the game of football is a kid. It’s a kid’s game.
So I think as far as the war on football is concerned, there are government officials who are trying to prevent kids from playing, and they’re not having a huge deal of success legally, but from sort of a guilt tripping perspective they’re having an amazing amount of success. Youth football was down 6% in player population last year, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that the portrayal of football in the media is that if you sign your kid up for football, you’re signing your kid up for organized child abuse. And to me, football is the greatest game that there is. Nothing could be further from the truth. You’re teaching your kid a lot of life lessons, and just to point out one, on about every single play in football, some kid gets knocked on his butt. And then he either gets up and he fights, or he stays on his butt. And to me, that’s a lot like life. That is a metaphor for life right there.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, that is a metaphor for life. No question about it. Those two deaths that you mentioned earlier, those weren’t professional were they? Those were youth football?
Daniel Flynn: No. the two deaths that happened last year were both in adult leagues, and one was an occasion of a guy’s heart stopping after he got hit. He just got hit at the wrong time in the chest. And the other was from a helmet to helmet collision I believe. It was from a head injury. They both were adult leagues and there’s very few people playing in adult leagues that aren’t professional leagues, but as chance would have it there were no youth league players, no high school players, no college players that died from a football hit last year. So it was an extremely safe year as far as players were concerned but obviously as far as the game itself was concerned, the game was facing an existential crisis.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, well very good point. Hey, before you go Dan, tell us about some of your other books. You’ve got such great titles: A Conservative History of the American Left, just give us a couple quick points of interest if you would.
Daniel Flynn: Yeah, sure. My first few books were on the American left essentially, and more political in scope. And just the last few years I’ve gravitated more towards just cultural issues in general. I wrote a book a few years ago called Blue Collar Intellectuals about some of my heroes, people like Ray Bradbury and Eric Hoffer, The Longshoreman Philosopher, Milton Friedman, Will and Ariel Durant and some other folks came from very humble backgrounds but were able because of those backgrounds to speak to a mass audience with their intellectual message.
And I wrote a book a number of years ago called Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas. And I looked at both right and left in that book and just how people get wrapped up in abstract thinking and they don’t really see reality because they’re so wrapped up in the abstract thinking. And there’s a lot of people like Peter Singer in there, W.E.B. Dubois, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and a number of other thinkers that I profile in that book. And then of course I wrote A Conservative History of the American Left, which is just a history of the American left from a conservative perspective. So the left is always writing its own history, it’s always writing the history of conservatives…
Jason Hartman: Yeah, the left is revising history all the time.
Daniel Flynn: Yeah so I thought it would be neat to look at the left using the same kind of perspective that they use on just about everyone else.
Jason Hartman: Very interesting. Tell us about in the Intellectual Morons book: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas – it seems as though when you talk to these very intelligent leftist people, especially professors at colleges for god’s sake, they’re just so wrapped up in details, like the details obscure the story. It’s almost like they should be looking at backing up from the painting and looking at the big picture.
It seems like the left, more than any other group is just very guilty of not understanding cause and effect and the bigger picture on things. They see this just one little part of it and they think, oh let’s fix that. And usually the fix is, let’s either print more fake money, let’s tax people more, or create some more regulations and burdens to fix the problem. But then it creates a whole host of other problems but they never understand why.
Daniel Flynn: Yeah I think that’s an intellectual kind of disease that you’re describing. What I do in the book, it’s almost the opposite of what you said in a way, but I think some of these guys get so wrapped up in big picture ideology that they don’t look at the truth of the falsehood of individual events. And just to give you one example of this, in the late 1970s when Cambodia was undergoing it’s genocide under Pol Pot, Naom Chomsky wrote an article for the Nation Magazine where he described this as just a big hoax. It was almost like Holocaust denial in real time. You had over a million people being killed by their government, and he was saying it was just a thousand people at most and this is just a New York Times created media hoax, is the way he described it.
So to me, he looked at the big picture thing, his big picture, which was communism good, United States capitalism bad. And he went with the side of the people who were opposing the United States rather than look at the individual details. And the individual details there were just horrific. They were killing people for not wearing the right clothes, they were killing people who were wearing glasses because they were considered vain. Young kids were being given guns and were killing their parents.
Probably if you said hey man, I have a time machine. Where do you want to go least on all of planet earth for all of human history, I’d probably say Cambodia in the late 1970s. But Naom Chomsky was denying everything that was happening. And that’s one of among many examples that I use to sort of illustrate the point in Intellectual Morons.
Jason Hartman: Very good point. It’s interesting – I was watching a YouTube video with Naom Chomsky and Julian Assange the other day and it was kind of fascinating. One of the things he said that really interested me and I’ve been trying to think about this for the past few days. He claimed, and I don’t know if this is true, it’s certainly his view, but he claimed that the concept of democracy and capitalism were never historically intertwined. He said that the US created that fallacy basically to combat the rise of communism during the Cold War. And I thought, really? How could you have democracy without private property rights, and capitalism? The concept of freedom stems from property rights in my view.
Daniel Flynn: That was the point of one of the writers that I profiled in Blue Collar Intellectual. Milton Friedman, who wrote in his book Capitalism and Freedom that the two were intertwined. You couldn’t really have freedom if you just had economic freedom or if you just had political freedom. At a certain point, not having political freedom would erode on economic freedom or vice versa.
And I think there are a lot of people out there, Chomsky included, who think well we can get away with confiscating people’s money and that sort of thing, all sorts of intrusions on their economic freedom, but we can still maintain political freedom. I think the lesson through history is that that’s a very rare condition that they’re describing. It’s something maybe that they had in some of the northern parts of Europe for a time in the late 20th century. But beyond that, it’s not something you see very often.
Jason Hartman: Whenever you have central planning, danger ahead. That’s the bottom line.
Daniel Flynn: And that’s what this War on Football book is about. It’s about giving people the freedom to do what they want. Not every choice that we make is good for us. I happen to think that playing football is healthy for you. But we should be free to make choices that other people wouldn’t make. And I think that part of the reason I wrote The War on Football is to educate people that they can make the decisions for their kids, whether they want them to play football or not, based on facts rather than fear. And I think for too long these decisions have been done based on fear mongering surrounding the game of football.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, last time I checked, no one was forcing anybody to play football.
Daniel Flynn: That’s right.
Jason Hartman: Dan, give out your website.
Daniel Flynn: Sure. It’s flynnfiles.com and I blog there once a day or once every couple a days. And I write every Friday for the American Spectator, mostly on pop culture. And the big thing I have right now is The War on Football, and if anyone is interested in the book you can pretty much get it at any bookstore. Or go to Amazon and just type in Daniel Flynn The War on Football: Saving America’s Game. It’s pretty easy enough to get.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Daniel Flynn, thank you so much for joining us today.
Daniel Flynn: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.
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Transcribed by Ralph
Guest: Daniel Flynn
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