July 20th, 2013
01:24 AM ET

Gladwell: Why college football is like dog fighting

Fareed speaks with Malcolm Gladwell, longtime ‘New Yorker’ staff writer and best-selling author of ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Outliers’ about American college football – and whether it’s time to stop it altogether. Watch the full interview this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

You compare football to dog fighting. Why?

Yes, I did a piece for The New Yorker a couple of years ago where I said it. This was at the time when, remember, Michael Vick, was convicted of dog fighting. And to me, that was such a kind of, and the whole world got up in arms about this. How could he use dogs in a violent manner, in a way that compromised their health and integrity?

And I was just struck at the time by the unbelievable hypocrisy of people in football, for goodness sake, getting up in arms about someone who chose to fight dogs, to pit one dog against each other.

In what way is dog fighting any different from football on a certain level, right? I mean you take a young, vulnerable dog who was made vulnerable because of his allegiance to the owner and you ask him to engage in serious sustained physical combat with another dog under the control of another owner, right?

Well, what's football? We take young boys, essentially, and we have them repeatedly, over the course of the season, smash each other in the head, with known neurological consequences.

And why do they do that? Out of an allegiance to their owners and their coaches and a feeling they're participating in some grand American spectacle.

They're the same thing. And the idea that as a culture we would be absolutely quick and sure about coming to the moral boiling point over the notion that you would do this to dogs and yet completely blind to the notion you would do this to young men is, to my mind, astonishing.

I mean there's a certain point where I just said, you know, we have to say enough is enough.

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Topics: Sports

soundoff (190 Responses)
  1. JAL

    Gambling is the cornerstone of pro football for adults. If it is taken away, people will be very, very upset. Heck, they have to week people off the pro football season by putting a bye week before the super bowl game.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • Tony Antin

      I don't think the egg head (look at the photo) has the remotest idea of what are sports. The objective is to win a game, the banging of heads is a by-product. Any sports fan knows that so well he (like me) would be astounded that anyone else would not.

      July 20, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
      • jlm

        Oh, well if the idea is to WIN A GAME, then fine! Why didn't you say so in the first place!

        July 20, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • JAL

      *wean people

      July 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
      • JAL

        In String Theory and in Spherical Harmonics there are positive and negative solutions/outcomes.
        Further characterization leads to something called the Uncertainty Principle. Gambling
        is a way to make this uncertainty more interesting, and even raises awareness of uncertainty.
        Trouble is, gambling can create large vestment in a negative solution, where the positive solution
        should be the winner based on its incidence and impact.

        July 21, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
      • JAL

        A realistic solution is to sustain an effective weaning process. The pro Football season is 4-5 months and during that time, games are on Sundays and Mondays only. Oh wait, they added Thursday games. Looks like the weaning path is going in reverse. Stop the Thursday games and then re-evaluate.

        July 21, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
      • JAL

        Consider essential amino acid Isomer metabolism.

        July 21, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
      • JAL

        Enantiomers instead of term Isomers.

        July 21, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
      • JAL

        As a note: Enantiomers typically have significant organic sensitivity and almost negligible inorganic sensitivity.

        July 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  2. JAL


    July 20, 2013 at 9:49 am |
  3. Everett

    A dog has no say in the matter. This is the most idiotic argument ever. A dog can't say I don't want to fight I'd rather chase a tennis ball. I really hope you didn't waste a lot of time coming up with this hypothesis.

    July 20, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Jerrod

      I completely agree with this statement

      July 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • kacaliendo

      Good point. This author insults the intelligence of the players who choose to play the game.

      July 20, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
      • Rick Anderson

        And the intelligence of people who he expects to buy into his nonsense.

        July 20, 2013 at 9:05 pm |
    • Ken78

      Bingo! We have a winner.

      July 20, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
  4. MSK

    When Mike Vick loses a football game, do they take him out behind a shed and strangle him to death? People play football because its fun. They enjoy it. Its a SPORT. Forcing unwilling and terrified animals to tear each others flesh off in a fight to the death is pretty much the same thing.

    July 20, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      Another execution method for the poorly-performing dogs is to douse them with water and electrocute them. I've never heard of a football player suffering that after blowing a game.

      July 20, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
    • Nat Turner

      Spoken like a true white person, in love with stupid dogs, but hates every other living thing. Tomorrow you'll chow down on a poor cow, or put on camo and kill every living creature in the forest. Now that it legal to kill black people your probably stocking up for the slaughter right now.

      July 20, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
      • Jarrod

        Thank you for wasting my time with your racist rant way to set people back a hundred years...

        July 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
      • Tre

        Spoken like a hyperbolic teenage girl.

        July 20, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
      • Paula Deeb

        tell me, since it now legal to hunt and kill black people, whats the best way to cook them? And I will not lower the sophistication of your racist commect by saying BARBARQUE them......y'all.

        July 20, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
  5. MashaSobaka

    Until football involves these poor innocent wee little naive boys literally ripping each other's throats out for the pleasure of the audience, comparing football to dogfighting is just...well, there is no word to describe how asinine that comparison is. A lot of things are dangerous. "Dangerous" and "bloodsport" are not, never have been, and never will be interchangeable. Way to parade those logical fallacies, though.

    July 20, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  6. Dan

    Gladwell has clearly never played football, neither have I. I do coach football at the youth level, have for many years, and can attest to this based on that bias: What's wrong with America today is not youth, high school or college football. Safety is, rightfully so, a priority and is becoming more so every day. That's a good thing. We need to do everything in our power to make the play safer. That goes for any sport.

    Football played well and in a good environment brings so many positives to the lives of young men in this country. It can be the foundation for growth, team, understanding and so many other foundational traits that are required to be someone who contributes positively to society.

    I always find it interesting that it's the intellectuals that trash the game. TR would shrug and offer that they have never been in the arena.

    If you want to find a 'sport" that offers nothing to society except violence and endangers the lives of those playing it, take on the mixed martial arts cage fighting.

    July 20, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
    • larswald

      I agree with you about MMA but football is almost as bad.

      July 20, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
  7. Emmett O'Riley

    Come to Texas and talk that shiite and see how long you last.

    July 20, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  8. amniculi

    The difference is, you moron, that playing football is completely voluntary and it doesn't generally end in the death of one of the teams. The dogs don't have a say in the matter. How can you be so ignorant?

    July 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
  9. Chris Hubbard

    Come to the great state of Texas and see if you dont come out with some neurological consequences. its almost as important as GOD is here. Its not just a sport its a way of life.

    July 20, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  10. Brian Wier

    What a stupid piece. Pretty sure these "DOGS" either go on to make tons of money in the NFL or head to the work force with a college degree and no student loans to pay back. Others transition from college into sporting media like espn, fox and NBC just because of their name and interpersonal skills. CNN needs to stay away from sports because they clearly don't have anyone qualified to write about it

    July 20, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
  11. larswald

    His book Tipping Points was a bunch of pseudo intellectual babbling about nothing. He doesn't seem to me to be particularly intelligent. He doesn't look like somebody who has ever played the game and he was probably always the last kid picked when choosing up sides, so it may be easy to dismiss his opinion. That being said, his views on football are not that far off base. I played for only two years in high school and live every day day with back and knee problems and I also had two concussions that, hopefully, haven't caused me too much long term damage. And I am pretty much no longer a fan of college or pro football. It's too violent and somebody's going to die one of these days. It is our modern version of the gladiators. I find it interesting that some of the biggest football fans are people who never played organized football (a lot of women and "girlie men") that have never hit anyone or have been hit, yet every weekend they sit around to applaud the "big hit". It's probably time to just put an end to it.

    July 20, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • amniculi


      July 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
      • larswald

        Yeah, right.
        You're probably one of the girlie men I was referring to. Never had the balls to play, only to watch guys do what you never had the courage or talent to do yourself.

        July 20, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
    • George

      Ah, the obvious signs of dementia! Probably brought about from years of playing football and being tackled repeatedly. To even suggest Gladwell is not intelligent is a sad comment on the state of your IQ level. You couldn't understand his book? It's not rocket science!

      July 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
      • larswald

        It's because my IQ is somewhere above 130 (even after the concussions) that I found his book to be drivel. Tell me one original thought he had in that waste of a tree? Now be a good boy and go buy yourself some Hush Puppies.

        July 20, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • Ryan Gruver

      Seriously, football is more violent now? Are you crazy? These guys used to destroy each other and play with all kinds of injuries and concussions. The defenses back in the 60's and 70's were beasts. They pulled the videos of the biggest hits from the NFL store and don't even make them anymore. They say it's not stop encouraging violence but with all the new rules they don't have the same type of dramatic hits anymore.

      July 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  12. Johnny

    this is outrageous because football is a sport, parents decision or not, the kid has a choice to play. Dog fighting is something that cruel, selfish people do for fun. And, the kids arent bashing each others heads, is a damn sport! Football is physical! ignorant people i swear..

    July 20, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  13. Mike

    Nobody drowned Brett Favre when he threw an interception, that's 1 difference. Football players have a choice..they're not forced to do it. That's another difference. They don't handcuff people in order to make them defenseless while they train people to attack them. That's a 3rd reason. Dog fighters don't invest millions in safety equipment, there's another reason for you. I think I read somewhere once that opinions can't be wrong...I think this guy is the exception to the rule.

    July 20, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  14. George

    I sit on a committee that provides information to our school board. I brought up the need for us to think about the new studies showing the increase of proteins that cause dementia that derive from tackles. The President of our School Board agreed with me, I told him we as a district could be liable at some point if it was shown we knew but did nothing about informing parents. As a lawyer he was quick to agree and told me a letter was being drafted for parents. That's what's going to happen. Enlightened school districts will inform parents. Most parents while chose another sport and the numbers of high school football players will decrease, the gifted athletes will be in other sports and football, as we know it today will fade away.

    July 20, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  15. DJ

    This is dumb. Not even close to a comparison. Football is more than people hitting each other. Dogs have no choice, kids do. As far as consequences, yeah you can get hurt but thats a risk worth taking for doing something you like. I Played football for 10 years and I have no health problems because of it. Maybe an occasional sore ankle, but thats it.

    July 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  16. Charles

    What an idiot! As I have grown older I have lost my interest in football because of how violent it is. However, you cannot compare it to forcing dogs to fight to the death.

    July 20, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
  17. Ryan Gruver

    This is ridiculous,the participants choose to play of their own free will and they aren't made "vulnerable" to coerce theme to play. Secondly this view reduces the game of football to a two dimensional game of hitting each other. When in fact the game is rich with strategy and often speed, agility, mental quickness and physical memory are all focused on avoiding contact. Like when someone scores a point in the game this means that in some way they avoided contact with the opposition.

    July 20, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  18. Wizard1234

    A perfect doofus compares football with dog-fighting. Remind me to never again read anything this doofus writes.

    July 20, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  19. asdf

    At first I thought they were exaggerating but the pussification of America continues. Come on this has been our national support for a century (baseball is a joke). People use to die much more often. Yes there is a risk but that is why most people on the field are a millionaire at least in the NFL.

    July 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • asdf

      National sport. Bah no edit sucks.

      July 20, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  20. crappygovernment

    I'd like to see footage of that sissy Gladwell throwing a football!

    July 20, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  21. max

    If college football had only students who were academically qualified to attend the university playing and earning degrees then the comparison would never have been made.

    July 20, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • kacaliendo

      The majority are academically qualified. Athletes graduate at a higher rate than non-athletes. You could argue that athletes have access to better resources but nevertheless your generalization is BS not supported by evidence.

      July 20, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
      • max

        The key words were "only" and "earning"

        July 20, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  22. Mek2

    Unlike dogs, people make the CHOICE to play in particular sports. And unlike people, I've yet to see a dog benefit financially for its sport. What a ridiculously stupid article!

    July 20, 2013 at 5:12 pm |
  23. cj

    As soon as we start drowning failed football players this comparison can something other than idiocy...but for now its nothing more.

    July 20, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
  24. Tim

    How can an article like this get by the editor?

    July 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  25. Vince

    May the football gods smite this ignorant fool for his blasphemy.

    I shall pray for him.

    Our fathers who art in Canton,
    Hallowed be thy names.
    Thy first downs gained,
    Thy touchdowns earned,
    In the Playoffs as it is in the Regular Season.
    Give us this day, our Sunday victory,
    And forgive our penalties,
    As we forgive those who take penalties against us.
    And lead us into the postseason,
    and deliver us a Super Bowl!


    July 20, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
  26. AtlJack

    Mr. Gladwell, I am one of your biggest fans but I am VERY disappointed that you – like very black person on the planet- try to downplay what Michael Vick did.

    Michael Vick did FAR worse than merely fight dogs. Dog fighting is sick enough but the part you gloss over is where Michael Vick electrocuted, drowned, threw his dogs against walls to crush their spines and hung them... and he and his buddies LAUGHED while these dogs died.

    The only thing I can conclude is that you and other black people simply can't accept that a black person can do something so heinous so you subconsciously change the discussion.

    For you to say that college football is the same as what Michael Vick did is absurd.

    Do coaches kill players and then laugh while they are dying? No.

    Michael Vick is a sociopath. I truly wish that Michael Vick was white. Had he been white he would have had ZERO defenders because white people do not rush to defend a white person simply because they are white.

    But you have gotten to the heart of the race problem in America. As long as black people rally around the Michael Vicks, and O.J. Simpsons, Tawana Brawley's and the young black woman who falsely accused the white Duke lacrosse team we will never solve racial problems.

    Charles Barkley pointed out that there are plenty of racists BOTH WHITE AND BLACK. He rightly points out that blacks and liberals are unwilling to admit there are black racists but clearly there are.

    And whenever ANY group of people rally around someone only because they are the same color – THAT is racism.

    Mr. Gladwell, I'm very disappointed in you.

    We need to have meetings like AA where both black and whites go and start out with:

    My name is Malcomb Gladwell and I'm a racist. I did not realize it but I defend ANY black person no matter what.

    July 20, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  27. fancyfree

    This guy hasn't watched a football game in his life. I bet I can make him a fantasy football addict.

    July 20, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  28. Primal 4 Life

    Days some skinny loser who could not play the game to save his life. Total waste of a human being.,

    July 20, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  29. Michael Neavear

    Foolish foolish analogy. You cannot be serious with this comparison. Comparing one class of people who make the conscience choice to participate in football without coercion, to an animal who is not there by choice. He has been either purchased out bred like a slave to do his master's bidding without a choice of his own. Really?! Pathetic argument

    July 20, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
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