Skin in the Game: From the Slaughterhouse to the Stadium
Then someone read this question: “How many cows does it take to supply the NFL with enough leather for a year’s supply of footballs?”
“Three?” someone guessed. Nope. “Eighteen?” Nope. “One hundred?” Nope. We were stumped. The answer? 3,000. I was shocked and horrified. I had no idea.
I began feeling rather confused. I thought that footballs were made from a pig’s skin, and that this is why, in order to be law-abiding, people of The Book really shouldn’t play with footballs. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes you unclean, according to the eleventh chapter of Leviticus. (You might be surprised to know that most leather-covered Bibles are actually made with pig skin… I’m just saying.)
So, here are my modern day questions: why are footballs called “pigskins” if they are really made from cows? Can vegans play football? And can anyone, in good conscience, watch NFL football, including the Super Bowl, knowing full well that 3,000 cows have lost their skin each season?
Animal Skin and Sports Equipment
I’ve done a bit of research on animal skin and footballs and here is what I’ve found. Footballs are sometimes called “pigskins” because in olden days the balls were made with whatever crude materials were at hand, which often included a pig’s bladder. Modern footballs are now made exclusively with cow skin (a.k.a. “leather”). Professional and collegiate football teams are required to use the regulation real leather balls, but recreational and kids’ teams mostly use synthetic balls. I could not find any confirmation of the “3,000 cow skins per NFL season” claim made by Precious® Stringsters®, but if anything, the number appears a bit low. Data collected by David Gassko and Ian Stanczyk for the website Book of Odds sheds a bit of light. They estimate that one cow hide can produce approximately 20 footballs. Wilson Sporting Goods®, official supplier to the NFL, manufactures about 700,000 regulation footballs a year, requiring about 35,000 cow hides. NFL teams use about 11,520 footballs every regular season, just for games (not practices). 450 balls are used during the playoffs, and 76 balls are provided for each Super Bowl. Sounds like a lot more than 3,000 cows.
Click photo for full story and cruelty free options …