Hailed as the NFL’s most glamorous franchise, the Dallas Cowboys were nicknamed “America’s Team” in the 1970s. However, their recent struggles with only one playoff victory in the last 15 seasons have made many question whether they are still worthy of that title. The label is more fitting now than ever before, as the decline of “America’s Team” has mirrored the decline of America as a whole.
Unable to draft as well as the NFL’s elite teams, Dallas has had an extremely thin roster for years, relying on a handful of stars to win games. Of the 53 players on the Cowboys' opening day roster on Sunday night, five account for 47% of the team’s payroll.
Similarly, the amount of income inequality in American society has increased dramatically over the last generation. From 1980 to 2005, more than 80% of the total increase in income went to the top 1% of the population. By 2007, the top 10% of the population had over 45% of the total income in the U.S.
There’s no better example of the country’s growing wealth divide than Cowboys Stadium, a $1.15 billion palace finished in 2009. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones played the different suburbs of Dallas against each other to get the best deal, eventually receiving $325 million from the city of Arlington.
Despite promises that economic growth would follow, the city has gone through what it calls a “devastating” series of cuts in education and public spending in the last few years. All to pay for a stadium that has priced out the middle-class fan: There are 300 luxury suits, the most in the NFL, complete with eye-popping prices on parking, beer, and pizza. Attending games has become a luxury most can’t afford; only 7% of the NFL’s fans have ever been inside one of its stadiums.
Yet all the money the Cowboys generate has not translated into on-field success, causing a dizzying number of coaching changes. Since 1993, six different head coaches have shuffled through with an average tenure of only three seasons.
Interestingly, over the last six years, Washington D.C. has had even more turnovers than the Cowboys' coaching staff. “Wave elections,” when one political party dramatically increases their share of Congress, are supposed to occur once in a generation — FDR in 1932, Reagan in 1980. They’ve now occurred three straight times, making this the most politically unstable decade in the last century.
The American people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the status quo in the last three elections, empowering every possible combination of the two parties. There was a Republican House and a Republican president before 2006, a Democratic House and a Republican president from 2006-2008, a Democratic House and a Democratic president from 2008-2010 and now a Republican House and a Democratic president.
However, the constant turnover in both Dallas and Washington has been mostly skin-deep.
Jones, despite having no background in pro football before purchasing the team in 1989, has been the key decision-maker in the front-office for over a decade. All the different head coaches have insulated him from much of the blame for the Cowboys failure, even though as the man in charge of selecting the roster, he’s been the sole constant in that time.
Similarly, there’s been a remarkable continuity in public policy in recent years amidst all the political turnover. Despite explicitly running on a campaign repudiating the previous administration, Barack Obama kept George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the two most powerful executive appointees.
“America’s Team,” a highly stratified and poorly managed franchise that plays in an overpriced stadium which caters to the economic elite has become a depressing symbol for America itself.
No matter who the head coach is, as long as Jones is in charge of player personnel, things are unlikely to change in Dallas. The question becomes, when you consider how remarkably similar the Bush and Obama administrations have been on both economic and foreign policy despite their vastly different rhetoric, whether the situation is any different in Washington, D.C.?
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