The Super Bowl could not come at a better time for the NFL. This past week we have seen attacks on the NFL from all sides, from the President of the United States, to the media, to the very players that will be playing in the showcase game Sunday evening. I know this is supposed to be a Dallas Cowboys blog space, but this weekend is a time for all but two teams to put localized biases on hold and celebrate the game that we all love and just be football fans for one last Sunday before we go back to the situations involving our own teams. In a time that is supposed to be celebrating our nation’s most popular sport, it seems this week the most important news stories were trying to take down the popularity of football and drag it into the mud. This week attacks on the safety of the players, use of performance enhancing drugs and the plight of homosexual athletes were all thrust into the forefront of the coverage of the NFL. It is time for the NFL to stand up to its criticisms and give us an undeniable statement of why this game is so great. There is no better stage to make that statement than the Super Bowl on Sunday night.
The week began with President Barak Obama saying “If I had a son, I would have to think long and hard about allowing him to play football due to the safety concerns.” This comment created a firestorm of media reports about the plight of former players. There were also discussions about how the NFL is going the way of boxing and people will turn away from the sport because of the barbaric nature that the sport has cultivated. This sentiment was echoed by Kristin Cavallari, the fiance of Chicago Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler, when she said she would push her son in the direction of other sports like baseball and soccer to avoid injuries in football. The safety debate even reached the Super Bowl when Baltimore Ravens safety released a statement saying “If the league keeps up with these safety measures, people will turn away from football and in 30 years the game we play now will not even be recognizable.” People in the media used Pollard’s quotes to spin a story that the NFL will be phased out in 30 years.
On Tuesday the NFL was hit with another scandal when the star of Super Bowl XLVII, Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, was blindsided when a Sports Illustrated article claimed he used “Deer Antler Spray” to recover from his bicep injury earlier this season. “Deer Antler Spray” is a new medicinal agent that helps tissue development and helps regenerate the tissue from an injury. The spray is on the NFL list of banned substances, but there is no true test to detect the use of such a spray. Lewis first tried to shrug off the issue, but after a weak denial on Tuesday, the media jumped with the story digging into the specifics and trying to uncover a scandal for the NFL. On Wednesday, Lewis came out with a much stronger statement and denied any wrong doing, but that has not stopped people from going crazy about performance enhancing drugs.
The last story to harm the NFL this week was self imposed by a player himself and came from the other team in Super Bowl XLVII, the San Francisco 49ers, Chris Culliver, when he slandered gay people with homophobic remarks made during NFL Media Day. I know what you all are thinking, who is Chris Culliver? He is a back up defensive back for the 49ers and if not for the Super Bowl media day would never be asked anything by any reporter. The truth is that he was asked a question by comedian Arte Lang and responded with a rant about how gay players were not welcome in an NFL locker room. The next day Culliver issued an apology and a very measured response, but the cat was already out of the bag. The discussions began as to whether athletes in locker rooms were fearful of disclosing their lifestyles and gay athletes would be mistreated by fellow players if their secrets were revealed.
As you can see from the examples above the NFL has taken body blows all week. The relevance of this is that this is the week when the NFL is supposed to be celebrated and the greatest spectacle in American sports and maybe the world is supposed to inspire the masses. The negative stories seemed to swarm and engulf all the stories of triumph and greatness that are involved in football and the Super Bowl. It is time for the NFL to stand up and push back against this negative media culture and put on a display that leaves people forgetting the trespasses and focusing on the future of the NFL.
In response to President Obama and the player safety issue, the NFL needs to come out with a strong statement. Everyone knows that in the past injuries have been neglected and the NFL has taken steps to improve player safety. The media has liked to attack the NFL for the treatment of players, but they very rarely discuss the benefits of that the NFL and football in general bring to so many. The media likes to present popular people that are “banning” their kids from participating in football, but what downside is that for the people they present. Barak Obama and Kristin Cavellari both have the resources financially and otherwise to keep their child away from football. I would like to see the parent that lives in moderate income to poverty levels that cannot send their child to a prestigious universities without a scholarship that is provided through football. The media was quick to mention Cutler’s fiance, and neglected to mention how Cutler benefited from football by attending Vanderbilt University on a football scholarship. They were quick to point out his concussions, but failed to mention the millions of dollars that Cutler makes from the NFL and the other organizations that pay Cutler due to his fame in the game of football. The last argument against this attack on the game of football is a tongue and cheek one, but last week the media destroyed Notre Dame linebacker for an imaginary girlfriend, but now this week they hold up the President’s comments about an imaginary son that he does not want to play football. For those of you that plan on holding your kid out of the sport, that is fine, I am in no way telling anyone to force their child to play any sport, but the choice is of the family, and the point is the NFL needs to do a better job of getting the word out about the benefits that football provides to children of all ages and how the NFL can help you after your playing career as well.
The second story of the week is a consequence of the “new media.” Performance enhancing drugs are becoming a huge media market and the accusations and stories are coming out almost every month about athletes and supplements that they can take to increase their performance. The date of this Ray Lewis story breaking is the provocative part. Ray Lewis is reported to have asked for these supplements in October, yet the story breaks after Lewis announces his retirement, leads the Ravens to the Super Bowl and gets ready to ride off into the sunset. There are phone conversations that were recorded and given to the media, but the source of these documents has been widely over looked. Lewis in his denial said the person that provided this information has been sued for this type of action before, and is not reputable in the least. Lewis has never failed a test or been suspected of anything before this report hit the media on Tuesday, and a dark cloud has come over Lewis and his final game.
The final story in indefensible because it was a stupid comment by a guy that is not used to talking to the media. The NFL could be at fault here for allowing basically anyone that wants a press pass to ask questions to the NFL players during Super Bowl Media Day. The comments themselves about gay athletes has been a long felt belief of many that have been players, fans and reporters for generations. The thinking of this one player should not be overlooked, but it should be used in a greater context to institute tolerance among all communities not just the sporting world. The NFL could use this as a springboard to bring an olive branch to not just the homosexual community, but other minority groups to educate the players, fans and reporters about how to handle these situations. In theory, a player’s private life should remain just that private. In reality it would be naive to believe that that is ever going to happen. In my humble opinion the player has been rightfully scorned for his comments, but the fact that the question was asked and the person who asked such a question of a player has been completely glossed over. When the people at media day ask stupid and insensitive questions to players that are not used to handling being in front of a microphone you are going to get stupid and insensitive answers.
It has been a rough week for the NFL in the media build up to the big game. This should be a week where we celebrate the NFL and football for the how great it is and for being the sport that we love. Everyone wants to make the game better, but this is not the week to point out the flaws, it is the week to celebrate the game. Football does a great number of things for an overwhelming number of people in very different ways, and those success stories should be the headlines, not the headlines we saw this week. The biggest thing the NFL can do is be forceful in their defense against the attacks against their brand and put on a great show Sunday night that reminds us why we all love football, even if our Cowboys are not playing in the big game. Enjoy the Super Bowl and stay tuned to Landry Hat for all your offseason news.