Bowled over

I’ve now heard that two of my current and former Baltimore Sun colleagues are not going to watch the Super Bowl today.

Not because they’ll be watching “Bob’s Burgers” or “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or whatever else might be on. (On a side note, I just found out that “AFHV” is still on, after more than a quarter-century. I thought it was canceled years ago.)

These two longtime journalists are not watching as a matter of principle. One of the them, TV critic David Zurawik, details his reasons in a column that ran in today’s print Sun. It’s the first time in my life I’ve seen the phrase “pimps and propaganda puppet dogs,” which he uses to describe TV personalities, and their networks, that have a relationship with the NFL.

Specifically, Zurawik is referring to Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth, and even more specifically, the party-line description that they gave during the New England-Baltimore game two weeks ago of the NFL’s investigation into the Ray Rice domestic abuse incident.

Zurawik said he watched the first Super Bowl in 1967 — and every one since then. But not tonight.

Which got me to thinking. Like Zurawik, I’ve been disappointed and disgusted with the NFL’s relationship with the media outlets that cover it, especially the one that has become, for all intents and purposes, its flagship: ESPN.

I’m not old enough (thankfully) to say that I’ve watched every Super Bowl, but my earliest memories of the game go back only to the Giants-Bills game in 1991. There was a Bills fan in my elementary school class, and some of our classmates taunted him for Scott Norwood’s “wide right” kick at the end of the game. Little did that kid know there would be much more taunting to come the next three years.

The first Super Bowl that I really watched came the following year, when the Redskins ran over Buffalo, and from then on I was hooked. Leon Lett, Steve Young, John Elway’s helicopter spin against Green Bay, “The Tackle,” Adam Vinatieri, the Gruden Bowl, David Tyree, Santonio Holmes.

No matter where I was or what I was doing in life, I always made sure I was in front of a TV on the Sunday in late January — and eventually February — for the Super Bowl. I watched on little screens, on big screens, at my parents’ house, in a dorm at Susquehanna University, alone in various sparsely furnished apartments and at workplaces.

I watched for two reasons. One, I knew that a champion would be decided, and when I was younger it gave me a chance to imagine the team that I grew up rooting for, the Eagles, on that stage holding up the trophy.

And two, the Super Bowl means there will be no more meaningful NFL games for the next seven months or so.

Which brings me back to that Bills-Giants game. Sometime in the year after that, I was in the reference section of the library at Lower Alloways Creek elementary, looking up, in an almanac, the result of that Super Bowl. Back then, the school didn’t have access to the Internet, and I had no concept of what it really was. My family didn’t have cable TV, so if I wanted to read about sports out of season, one of the few options I had was the library. It was a different era.

But now, all of that information is at our fingertips, and we have an increased ability to understand the serious health and societal effects of this sport/business called football.

This season has illustrated these problems more than any other, yet media coverage of it is dwarfed by the cheerleading and party-line regurgitation that fills daily programming. You expect that from the NFL’s in-house network. But it’s a whole other thing entirely when all of the top networks that have a relationship with the league — ESPN, Fox, CBS and NBC — have made promoting the NFL their first order of business (which is reflected in the money they are paying for broadcast rights) and criticism and coverage of serious issues (head injuries, long-term debilitation, domestic violence) an afterthought at best and nonexistent at worst.

So as some people turn away from the game on Super Sunday in protest, I too have to wonder whether those of us who keep watching are nothing better than enablers.

 

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