How Thomas Hobbes Runs The NFL

In professional sports, contracts are the basis in which teams are held together. Whether it is players or coaches, everyone is held under a contract that keeps them on the team. When contracts are up, players have the option to switch teams and make more money. And conversely, if a player’s contract is up teams can offer them less money based on their performance.

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In my Poly-Sci class, contracts are something that have been spoken about at great length. There are many theories behind social contracts and contracts in general. In professional sports, Hobbes’s theory about contracts most perfectly mirrors the way players act. In his book, Leviathan, Hobbes states his theory about people in the state of nature. Hobbes believes that people are inherently selfish and will look out for themselves and their best interests before taking into account what is best for the group as a collective whole. This theory describes almost every professional athlete.

When a professional athlete feels that he is being underpaid, he will go through what is known as a “holdout”. A holdout is when a player sits out and refuses to play or participate in team activities until his contract is renegotiated. Most of the time it’s even the best player on the team who refuses to play.

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Now doesn’t that seem very Hobbes to you? What kind of “team-player” refuses to play for his team because he wants more money? That kind of player is someone who cares solely about himself. What about the 55 other teammates and countless coaches who work day in and day out for him and the team? Professional athletics have become more about the paycheck and less about the actual sport. Players want big time money or else they’ll refuse to play.

The problem with the Hobbesian standard that has been set by professional teams is that teams continue to play by it. When a player holds out for money, teams should refuse to pay. If all the teams came together and decided no one would pay the player, then they would be faced with the choice of ending their career or upholding the contract they signed.

Hobbes’s thinking and theory directly applies to this matter because when a player holds out, they are thinking about themselves rather than the community. Just as Hobbes states, humans are naturally going to do what is best for them. When a professional athlete holds out for more money, they are screwing over the rest of the team.

Professional sports are something that people all over the world idolize and follow passionately. It sends a really bad message to the people of society when a player decides to look out for himself and cost the team his production. It tells people that they should do what is best for them and not consider the effect it has on the people around them. Thanks to Hobbes and my Poly-Sci class, I can now see a gaping problem in professional sports and what should be done to fix it.

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5 thoughts on “How Thomas Hobbes Runs The NFL

  1. While I would agree with you that some players are solely on their own self-interests which does reflect Hobbes’ point of view, I would argue that this isn’t as big of a problem in professional sports as you think. Yes people like Kobe are taking huge contracts because they think they deserve it but their are also players out their like Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, and even Kevin Love who are willing to sacrifice money for the sake of winning (granted Tim and Dirk are both old but then again so is Kobe). I think that even though there are players out there that only want max contracts, I would say there are even more players who are willing to sacrifice those contracts to play on “all-star” teams nowadays (like the Spurs, Cavs, and even the Broncos in the NFL).

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    1. You know it’s interesting.. Professional athletes today seem to get more and more concerned and obsessed with the pay check rather than winning games. While this is definitely understandable, I don’t think it is our place to make judgements on this issue.

      We are all amateurs; none of us are getting paid for our services. I think it would be hard to play solely for the team when your livelihood is on the line.

      Bo Schembeclar said it best: “…This (Michigan football) is the last time you’ll play for a team…you may get drafted, but you’ll play for a contract. You’ll play for everything except the team.”

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  2. I think this was a very interesting connection between NFL contracts and Hobbes’ definition of social contracts. I can definitely see how the players often exhibit his law of nature which classifies people in their natural state as being innately selfish; obviously the players that decide to hold out are only thinking of themselves and their own possible gains, and definitely not the team or the fans. In fact I would say these kind of players would fall under Hobbes’ definition of “the fool” because they are willing to break covenants, made with team mates, coaches, and fans, in search of their own selfish benefits such as a higher paycheck each year (because apparently the millions they are making aren’t quite enough). Obviously, contracts are a very important and vital aspect of the NFL, even as they are described by Hobbes.

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  3. Your connection with Hobbes and the NFL is great. Most players in any league always seek more money. I guess that is a big issue because it shows that players are self interested and do not really care about their teammates. While some players do not merely try to receive more money, there are still a significant amount of players that want more money, which proves that there is a problem with players only being self interested. I am not sure what the solution is, but you bring up a great point how there is a problem with player contracts in sports.

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  4. I think this is an interesting connection to Hobbes view on human nature. You say, “What kind of “team-player” refuses to play for his team because he wants more money? That kind of player is someone who cares solely about himself.” This makes me think about Huizinga and the “Magic Circle.” Huizinga thinks that play and games must be free and autotelic, or have no purpose except for that in themselves. If a teammate refuses to play for his team, then he is suggesting he isn’t playing the game solely for the purpose of play. He has an ulterior monetary motive. In combination with your argument about Hobbes, does this suggest that play must also be unselfish to truly be play?

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