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. Primal 4 Life

    I have never heard a dumber contention in my life. That really is not easy these days.

    July 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  2. Nunya

    Look at Gladwell, he would not survive a day without a grocery store and modern conveniences. These kind of people are useless.

    July 20, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  3. thegoodhealthguy

    It can be supposed that, like a lot of intellectuals, Gladwell is anti-athletics–but his message is diluted by not clearly staying on a point. Is it the violence in the sport that has him in high dudgeon? His perception of colleges "owning" their athletes? Yes, the long term physiological damage football players endure is a salient issue, but it's disingenuous for him to claim that nothing is being done about it (see the several changes made at the high school level). Yes, the "big business" aspect of college football is distasteful, but when state legislatures are reneging on their financial commitments to universities and colleges, major college sports remain a reliable revenue stream that university presidents are reluctant to part with. Gladwell might be trying to raise some good points, but he does so very badly here.

    July 20, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  4. Steve

    If Obama had a son, he'd look like Gladwell.

    July 20, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  5. Ed

    He conveniently omits the fact that this is done voluntarily by the participants, and they are well-paid... Some are extraordinarily well-paid.

    July 20, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • Fat Sean

      How much do college football players get paid again? Stay in school kid.

      July 20, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
      • Nick

        Depending on the school scholarship student athletes make about $30k a year.

        Not to mention room and board and a whole slew of other various perks.

        People act like the NCAA//Schools are taking full advantage of these kids thanks to that one failed college basketball player. But let's get real here. STUDENT ATHLETES KNOW WHAT THEY ARE GETTING INTO.

        They sign with this school based upon the scholarship agreement that they will play for said school in exchange for the scholarship.

        Let's be real again one more time. I'd be willing to venture if polled 75%+ of said players in the major revenue sports didn't sign and take their scholarship for the scholastic benefits it gave them. Instead they would probably say they wanted access to a place to prepare them for the next level via facilities, coaching, and a general platform to show their game.

        July 20, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
      • suck it

        How about a free education that the general public would pay tens of thousands of dollars for? People spend a large portion of their adult life getting out from under their student loans. That education is extremely valuable.

        I'd go with what you said, "stay in school, kid"... but that would imply you've ever been. Clearly you have not.

        July 20, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
      • Brandon

        they get paid with a scholarship some worth 50,000 a year ask the students how they feel when finishing school owing a 100,000 or more

        July 21, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
  6. J

    well not exactly the same. Dogs are forced into fighting. Humans make a choice. Big dif.

    July 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
  7. Ed

    Good point above... To quote The Program,"When was the last time 80,000 people showed up to watch a kid do a d*mn chemistry experiment?" Athletics are a key part of the cash flow of higher education...

    July 20, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
  8. Sunshiner

    Gladwell is an idiot! Football, like all sports, a person can make the decision to quit. They play the sport mostly because they enjoy it. Dogs are not people and they don't just tell their owner that they want to quit. In dog fighting, the animals have no say, it's the dog owners that make the decisions. Gladwell must of got too many wedgies from jocks throughout his life.

    July 20, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
  9. theoreticalking

    Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
    I am surprised that there is someone out there who 'thinks' like me. Before this piece, I always compared football to modern slavery. In a way, black players are brought against each other such that their white owners can make big money! That's it, the world of football.

    July 20, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • IndianaGreg

      I really hope you're just trolling with your equating Football to Slavery. Last time I checked my history, Slaves weren't give a choice...nor were they lavished with millions of dollars and treating like royalty.

      July 20, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
    • beantown256

      You realize its not just blacks that compete in athletics and make money? Up here in the Hockey East, colleges makes big money off white hockey players, and baseball is almost exclusively white and hispanic now, plus football offensive lines seem to all be big country farm boys.

      July 20, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • Rick Anderson

      What utter baloney. People like you have no sense of history and no sense of perspective. You're self-satirizing.

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

      WHAT a race comment! Get the chip off your shoulder. Dogs get ripped to pieces ,literaly torn apart and not by choice .They cry and endure horrific pain , they have no say about it they are just trying to stop the attact and pain being put on them by very ignorant people . ATHLETES HAVE A CHOICE . they want the public attention and the classroom advantages given to them because they can play a childs game and also get special treatment. Many of them can't hardly spell there name but get a free ride through college cheating a derserving student a spot in the college who really wants to learn and could contribute to society. your Q must match your age

      July 20, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
      • Stephanie Stutts

        How insulting to the athletes who are also great students.

        July 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  10. Keith Davis, Jr

    I feel where he's coming from about the dogs and fighting. but that's not the same as football. football is a sport, players don't purposely hammer one another in the head, and it doesn't even happen ever play. Football is a contact sport anyway and the players know what risk their in when they're out in the field. Dogs are LITERALLY fighting and ripping flesh off themselves and that's not football so you can't compare the two. I'm done.

    July 20, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • IhateSports

      Of course the purposely hit eachother,dumb-dumb

      July 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  11. J

    @ Theoreticalking
    Football is like slavery? Yes a lot of players are black but that doesn't make it like slavery. These players have a choice. Slaves didn't. This and Gladwells logic is flawed.

    July 20, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
  12. dogfighter

    For those of you who think dogs don't have a choice, they could choose to attack their owners, but instead they pledge allegiance to them just like the football players MG is describing. If a a dog did not want to fight, it could lie down, whimper, and try and avoid the confrontation. They are bred to have hate in them, just like football players are bred to hate their opponents. The fact is they are praying on the ignorance of people to want to play football who don't understand the greater neurological consequences.

    July 20, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • Rick Anderson

      College football players aren't bred, Dr. Mengele.

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

        you're right, I meant to say trained.

        July 20, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • Mary Desmond

      First, i have to say how appalling the comments comparing dogfighting to football were to me. No, i did not see the entire broadcast but i did hear the man's incredibly ignorant comments regarding dogfighting. They were cruel and stupid comments too. I'm angry about them and that's why i am commenting. Second, the dogfghter comments are very sick and pathetic. Dogs love their owners or they fear them. They do what they are told. A wimply pitbull in a dogfight is bait. There is no understand or concern for the living creatures: dogs. Dogfighting is killed or be killed, not what a dog was created for nor is it legal. Football is a HUMAN'S choice! They get paid an obscene amount of money for it too.

      July 21, 2013 at 11:11 am |
      • Jeff

        You can't take ten minutes to watch the interview but yet you comment??

        July 21, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  13. Rich Byers

    Gladwell never played football. He never broke a tackle and scored. He never caught a pass and picked up a first down. He never punted a football over the head of a receiver. He never ran up the middle on a fullback trap to extend a drive. All of these things are a blast and that's why kids play football in grade school, high school, and in college. It's a choice. You only play if you want to and if you're gifted enough to earn a spot on the team through hard work. His perspective is that of a blind man describing a masterful work of art. Go drink a power shake and knock out 5 sets of ten with just plates and then we can talk about sumo wrestling or a tipping point.

    July 20, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
    • usa john

      Well Said Rich, him never beng in the game has no idea of the game. I still remember my first tackle in the PAL, also remember the lick another player did on me, And playing for a championship weather it is a city, Pop Warner or Div 1A, we choose to play, nobody puts a gun to our heads to play

      July 20, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  14. Sunshiner

    Theoreatrdical, you're as dumb as Gladwell. Slaves didn't earn a dime as opposed to these "modern slaves" who earn millions. Millions more than most white folks and when these modern slaves slow down or get tired of the game, they can just quit and live off the interest. Earn millions for 3 to 10+ years and retire....tough life!

    July 20, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
  15. vad

    There are some things guys like Gladwell are not capable of understanding. It is what makes football tough that makes it great. Anyone who loves the game gets it. If football goes away then what's next on the ban list? I watched his interview and question his ability to suppress his own personal prejudice from rational thought. I've no respect for his opinion.

    July 20, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  16. dogfighter

    All of you who talk about the greatness of football, are just like jihadists, you are condoning violence for greatness. The only reason you don't like jihadists is because they are on the other team. But you have to respect them for playing.

    July 20, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
    • Rick Anderson

      You must be intentionally trolling, right? Pardon me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe that the victims of jihadist violence volunteered to be their targets, trained for years to oppose them, do so aware of when the confrontation will happen and wear protective gear?
      Do you need some help finding a clue? It appears you've lost your last one.

      July 20, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
      • dogfighter

        its called the game of life, you don't have a choice, you have to play. They feel their culture is being destroyed, so you are playing with them by destroying their culture. They didn't choose to have their culture destroyed, it just is. However when I was thinking back, before this reply, I did see how it could be perceived as trolling. But I'm not. You're the one who doesn't have a clue,at how this whole survival of the fittest thing works. When you say survival of the fittest it impleis game whether you choose to play or not. Luckily you are rooting for the winning team of the moment.

        July 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • Goaty McCheese

      Lighten up, Francis.

      July 20, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  17. HenryMiller

    No matter how dumb the football players, they're brighter than dogs. It's their decision.

    July 20, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  18. Jim

    Dear Mr. Gladwell,

    You're an idiot.

    The End

    July 20, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
  19. Keksi

    Funny,American football was invented and financed by Skulls and Bones from Yale and Fareed Zakaria is member of Scroll and Key secret society which is sister society to Skulls and Bones.

    They created it and now they want to ban it.

    July 20, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
  20. logicman30

    This guy is stupid.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
  21. Chuckles

    It's called a job. Whether as a college player preparing for his next career or as a professional player, they trade the physical pain and suffering for a potential paycheck to provide for their families.

    Physical ailment is not exclusive to professional football players. Hockey, basketball, soccer players all go through the same thing, albeit less violent. Not to mention MMA and boxing. Regular Joes like construction workers and landscapers we see everyday suffer through something different. Even white collar jobs are not immune from it. My cousin is a dentist and has horrible back problems from hunching over all day. Look at Mr. Gladwell himself, probably sit in front of a computer all day writing, with receding hairline, suffering from carpel tunnel syndrome, bad eyesight, and probably has to visit a chiropractor often.

    The bottom line: it's a job; most jobs are hazardous to our bodies one way or another; and we do our jobs voluntarily for the $ so we can survive with dignity.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:10 pm |
    • Goaty McCheese

      Well said. Apparently Mr. Gladwell doesn't yet see fit to say "enough is enough" about coal miners or factory workers. Of course, attacking coal mining and factory conditions doesn't sell books.

      July 20, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  22. logicman30

    College football players are not adequately compensated for what they do. Yes they do get a free education. Well they get one free year of education for participating in an activity that can kill them at any second. Players get four one year scholarships. Not one four year free ride. And those scholarships don't cover the amount of food an active athlete needs to consume to maintain top physical condition. It also doesn't cover materials like paper and pens, laptops. Gas for the cars they drive. And in some cases if the player is hurt he has to pay for the bills out of his own pocket.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
  23. Levi

    No, it's not the same thing. At all. I recognize that there are issues with the NCAA and student athletes, but comparing them to dogs is not right. They do this on their own will and get a free education. While there are issues with Colleges making money off of student athletes, the students are not dogs. And this is from a liberal.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
  24. Conor McCartney

    He isn't saying they are the same, but they are analogous.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Goaty McCheese

      Malcolm Gladwell's hair and Bozo the Clown's hair also are analogous.

      July 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • Mary Desmond

      It's not analagous at all. Humans are different from animals to some degree! Most of these comments seem to miss the point of the cruelty to dogs. Animals are not cruel to humans unless they are endangered. I know nothing about football but i do know it's a choice. Domestic animals have little choices, just hope that humans will be kind.

      July 21, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  25. Tom Paine

    We largely do not watch profession boxing like we used to watch it (it used to be a prime time sport). I am sure that football will eventually go that way and that in a couple of centuries humanity will look back and shake their heads at us. But it is hard to get people to change and this is a sport we all grew up with. But I think there is a reason why the rest of the world plays what we call soccer en lieu of football. And there is a reason why we let many football players fade into obscurity instead of seeing what they face in their 50s and 60s. I know I am one of the problems. I watch football every year and enjoy it. But I am not blind to the shadow of the sport and don't think calling this guy names refutes his argument.

    July 20, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
    • dogfighter

      Thank you sir. Well said.

      July 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  26. rie matsumoto

    Hello,GDPwatch program.
    China:トップが 対策 認識しているとの事で,安心しました.
    Mexico:国民とのハネムーンは終わったのか? 早いですが,
    book:美術館・博物館bookは 興味最大です
    Have a nice day
    rie matsumoto.

    July 20, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  27. Goaty McCheese

    Malcolm Gladwell is a walking Nature v. Nurture exhibit – a sort of dual testament to the impressive but finite power of education to transform a mediocre mind. He's clearly very learned, but doesn't possess the common sense most people use to pick out socks.

    July 20, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • dogfighter

      really don't understand how you have any common sense, to say that bashing a guy with a helmet makes sense, And you condone it, how does that make sense? you condone it in the name of entertainment, when it is a true assault.

      July 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
      • Goaty McCheese

        I said nothing at all about football.

        July 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  28. jon ragan

    what an idiot. Football taught me leadership, discipline, winning, losing, and prepared me for a tough world. I wouldn't be successful without the lessons it taught me.

    July 20, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
    • Jeff

      And those lessons can only be learned through football? Those qualities could probably be imparted from other ways without the damage to the bodies and to the mind..

      July 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  29. jake

    i don’t understand how this guy can completely blind himself to a social standard that if they love to do it and it is there choice then it is ok but a dog fight, really??? c’mon you look so intelligent but talk as if you have a serious deficit, understand that we have no right to force anyone or anybody to injure each other in football these people want to do it so are you saying that they should not have the right to take their own health into their hands and play a game they love? Thought this was a free country. I have no clue where you find in your head that dog fights are like football you would have to be quite delusional to think that.

    July 21, 2013 at 10:45 am |
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