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. DS

    CNN needs to put the whole interview on, please! Dont let these angry, testosterone overdosed airheads latch on to the dog-human comparison, its not doing justice the plethora of research out there that clearly links this dangerous sport to long-term physical and mental injuries.

    July 21, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
  2. Greg Kiger

    Gladwell makes a sound case, one I had not thought of. It is morally indefensible to hurt so many kids in the name of huge corporate profits.Thanks Fareed.

    July 21, 2013 at 11:18 pm |
  3. Carole

    We lament about animal cruelty, inhumane treatment to prisoners, human rights inequality ...what about those young men playing football that comes with the high risk of neurological damage, while the rest of the world gets entertained (or rich)?

    Games like football, rugby, boxing and the likes (head-trauma proned games), should be reviewed.

    But maybe, we can still keep the game (football); and all we need is to refine the game. Instead of banning it, change how the game is played, thus eliminating head traumas.

    It could mean changing a "culture" (with lucrative gains). But cultures are man-made anyway. As we advance, cultures should too.

    July 21, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
  4. vistar hornbill

    As a foreign observer, I tend to agree that Americans are big showoffs even in their sports – of any kind. I have watched and seen many ridiculously childish fights in the sports ground like Ice Hockey. While it may appear to be machoistic to bash up your playing opponents – it unfortunately also say to the rest of the world that American sportsmen are acutely short of brain matters in their heads.

    July 22, 2013 at 12:56 am |
    • vistar hornbill

      ..... and explains America's machoisitc mentality by their military debacles in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Latin America states, the wasteful Korean War .And even the nuclear bombing of Tokyo which many later quietly regard as just an American military experiment the bomb with live targets. In all these cases, there was very little regards to the lives of civilians. 4 million innocent civilians were killed by American bombs in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia
      .

      July 22, 2013 at 1:40 am |
  5. J

    Has Gladwell played a day of football in his life? He sounds like he's suffering from brain trauma.

    July 22, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  6. jake1969

    Absurd, 2 fundamental differences - humans voluntarily choose to play football, dogs aren't making conscious choices to fight; and, humans rarely die from football (well, there is at least a lag effect) while dogs in dog fighting rings die all the time. Very different. The author is only right in that there is physical contact in both...but using that weak link you could pretty much compare anything.

    July 22, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Patto

      Most people couldn't care less what adults choose to do. My fear is for the little kids in Pop Warner and similar programs who are suffering concussions at very young ages, spurred on by their idiot parents. I know kids who are not yet 13 and have suffered multiple concussions. Anyone with half a brain should be concerned.

      July 22, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  7. JC

    Cut that hair. It's ridiculous.

    July 22, 2013 at 10:56 am |
  8. Art Vandelay

    I played furtball all me life and I still thinkin and written pretty good. Let em play I sey.

    July 22, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  9. Patricia Moloney Dugas

    As a USC Trojan, I love the drama of NCAAFB and their entry into the NFL. I wrote an article about these health dangers to football players. Here is that article on my website: http://bit.ly/Ut6z82 Pat Dugas

    July 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  10. Patricia Moloney Dugas

    As a USC Trojan, I love the drama of NCAAFB and their entry into the NFL. I wrote an article about these dangers to football players. Here is that article on my website: http://bit.ly/Ut6z82 Pat Dugas

    July 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  11. JAG

    Football pales compared to what can happen in boxing (rum-dummies and cauliflower ears, broken noses) or the potential harm of cage fighting. It's a vicarious engagement for the viewers at the expense of a few gladiators. Makes football look tame so this guy may be having the wrong discussion.

    July 23, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
  12. JNN

    The next step in the sissification of America. I really can't stand the New Castrati.

    July 23, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  13. GozieBoy

    Ol' Malcolm there looks like he got the worse end of a vicious assault from a kitten...

    July 24, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  14. Tyrone Buckshank

    Eyez gotz da anser!!! mak dog fightin legul!!!!!!!!

    July 24, 2013 at 9:38 am |
    • Racquel

      Education and proper grammar usage is legal. Take advantage of that please. Thank you.

      August 4, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  15. lanwan

    I can fix a lot of things but stupid isn't one of them, Malcolm. Please keep your stupid to yourself.

    July 24, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  16. funktavious

    What a joke. This guy doesn't realize the value of the education and for many the riches of playing professional sports.

    July 24, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
  17. Count Istvan Telekey

    Mr. Gladwell is in desperate need of a life.

    July 24, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  18. David Kohner Zuckerman

    Great writer who's totally jumped the shark with the helmet stuff. Feels a bit like a nerdy kid in high school trying to finally get back at the jocks. Too bad. This guy WAS one of the best out there b

    July 25, 2013 at 12:24 am |
  19. David Kohner Zuckerman

    Great writer who's totally jumped the shark with the helmet stuff. Feels a bit like a nerdy kid in high school trying to finally get back at the jocks. Too bad. This guy WAS one of the best out there.

    July 25, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  20. Lloyd Bierstaker

    So, brain damage is worth it for the money and the entertainment value. Are you listening to what you're saying!? Here's a modest proposal, let's crank up the coliseum again, think of all the financial gain and good old fashioned fun we've been missing all these years!

    July 28, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
  21. sandrita m

    Gladwell's analogy of sports to dogfighting is deeply flawed. First, football players have free will, which they exercise in choosing to play that game. They are motivated to play for various reasons, including possible fame and fortune. Dogs don't choose to be part of a dogfighting ring. And, they can't defend themselves when, as in the case of Michael Vick, they are abused and even electrocuted by their "master".

    July 29, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
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