The Problem of America's Team

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The Cowboys just can't seem to get it together.

Cowboys-TNC-HDR.jpg

Mahanga / Wikimedia Commons

The Dallas Cowboys are not very good. They have not been very good in some time. It's true that they aren't dreadful, and have not been "dreadful" in some time. But they are the worst kind of team for any fan--highly unpredictable, capable of both brilliance and stupidity. I was with the Cowboys during 1-15 and 3-13. There was some serenity in sucking so badly, some security in being not simply the worst team in football, but one of the worst in history. You knew what you were. There would be no nail-biters. You hoped to beat the Redskins and then you moved on with your life.

This team is not bad enough to fail to keep making money for Jerry Jones, but not good enough to ever win anything significant. Worse, they're not bad enough to be taken off national TV. A Cowboys game still means incredible ratings--no matter how poorly they play. A substantial number of people will tune in to watch them win. A perhaps even more substantial number of people will tune to watch them get killed. The actual quality of Cowboys play is beside the point. 

These guys really are something beyond a sports team. I first really understood this, a few years back, when the new stadium was unveiled. The Cowboys suffered a humiliating loss, at home, on their inaugural night. But all anyone talked about was the scoreboard, the seating, the positioning of the cheerleaders. People were making money. The game was irrelevant.

I don't really mind my team sucking, or even being cardiac kids. Obviously, I'd prefer that not to be the case, but that's part of being a sports fan. But rarely have I seen a football team whose prominence is so disconnected from its performance. People claim to hate the Cowboys for this exact reason, without realizing that their hatred is precisely what makes the scheme so brilliant. No one cares that you tune in to watch the Cowgirls get there just deserts--it only matters that you tuned in.

I don't blame you. I would too. I don't want to engage in any telepathy. I imagine Jerry Jones really does want to win. But the fact of the thing is that he wins either way. It's rather amazing to see a brand so far exceed a team.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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