How Many Cows Does It Take to Make a Football?

How Many Cows Does It Take to Make a Football?

A worker installs laces on a football at the Wilson Sporting Goods Co. factory in Ada, Ohio.

Why you should care

Because it’s time cows got their due recognition. 

People have a lot of gripes with the NFL. Player misconduct. Sexism. The concussion debate. Here’s another one: animals. And no, it’s not because Tom Brady tortures puppies (although we have our suspicions).

It takes the hides of

22

cows to supply the footballs for a single NFL Super Bowl.

Let’s assume that every other regular season game requires even half that amount of footballs — that’s still close to 3,000 cows headed to the slaughterhouse this season. Many might argue that if we’re gonna murder Moo Moo, bringing joy to the otherwise hollow lives of millions of sports fans is a more honorable reason than, say, serving up only a few dozen, if mouthwatering, steaks. You decide — these are just the facts.

Every cowhide makes about 10 balls, according to Kevin Murphy, the general manager of Wilson Football, official NFL ball-maker since 1941. Wilson wouldn’t say exactly how many balls it produces in a season, but the Chicago company did share that the Super Bowl alone requires 216 footballs — each team gets 54 for practice and 54 for game day (the Pats and Hawks had theirs within 24 hours of winning the AFC and NFC championships last year). Wilson, true to its roots, favors cattle from the Midwest — Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska — but all the leather eventually makes its way to a factory in Ada, Ohio. There, the workers handcraft each and every one of the thousands of pigskins used in a season (nope, no pigs involved). To work your way up to forging an NFL game ball, plan on putting in a good 20-plus years, Murphy says. Only two employees on the 120-person assembly staff make game-day footballs. “It’s a craftsman’s operation,” Murphy says.

Or, depending on how you look at it, a cruel violation of animal rights, all while destroying the environment one football at a time, since the raising and slaughtering of cows is a well-documented contributor to climate change. “It’s the 21st century. We have so much technology, every fabric can be replicated,” says Edita Birnkrant, campaigns director of Friends of Animals, an activist group in New York City. Murphy, for his part, argues that’s not exactly true. He says that leather mimics skin, so it adapts to weather changes by contracting and expanding depending on the conditions. For a sport like basketball, which is played inside, synthetics are viable, but not for outdoor sports. He follows that up, though, by saying, “Leather is it today, but it doesn’t mean it is tomorrow.”

After all, if David Carter, the 300-pound defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears, can come out as vegan, a vegan football doesn’t seem so far out of reach.

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