In the inevitable frenzy to piggyback on Super Bowl XLVIII, there are stories from every conceivable angle about the ins and outs of the game. But most of the serious topics – the ones that don’t fall under the headline of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell-sanctioned fluff on behalf of the world’s most powerful sports league – go ignored.
Super Bowl fever, however, shouldn’t mean a free pass on some of the issues that are plaguing the sport.
The media have already given ample attention to Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman’s postgame outburst after the NFC championship game, as well as the reaction to it. But a continuation of that conversation – regarding some of the racial animus the interview unleashed, and the sometimes not-so-veiled hostility toward wealthy African-American athletes – is only one aspect of pro football that merits more attention.
Here are five other potential storylines that deserve more coverage than they are apt to receive during Super Bowl week:
The NFL’s concussion crisis. The thorny nature of this particular issue was neatly summed up when ESPN backed out of its participation in a probing “Frontline” documentary, “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,” apparently due to concern about alienating a league in which the network has billions invested. Even former players — like outspoken punter Chris Kluwe — have been trying to call attention to the issue in the midst of the playoff coverage.
The reality of football is it's a violent sport that leads to brain injury and serious bodily harm. That's not a value judgement. It's fact.— Chris Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) January 20, 2014
The decision by a court to vacate a $765-million settlement as potentially insufficient suggests how serious the problem could be, and how desperately the NFL wants this bit of bad publicity to go away.
Moreover, there’s a necessary discussion to be had about whether parents want to let their kids embark down the path of playing competitive football — including President Obama’s comments on the matter, which yielded the predictable counter-offensive — or if such service is going to essentially become even more like the U.S.’ volunteer military, where the poor disproportionately entertain the risk because of the potential rewards.
Pete Carroll’s history at USC. Before joining the Seahawks and doing a masterful job of guiding them to this brink-of-a-championship position, the team’s head coach enjoyed similar success at USC. But he had the good timing to exit that gig right before the NCAA brought the hammer down on the university with recruiting sanctions for transgressions that took place during Carroll’s watch.
As is so often the case, the coach thus walked away scot-free – and kept earning millions – while his former university and players who had nothing to do with the rule-breaking pay the price. And if that’s a very old story, the Super Bowl stage and attention provides a good opportunity to point out the inequities built into the system.
Marijuana/drug use in professional sports. HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” recently explored the widespread use of pot among pro players. But with states decriminalizing weed around the country – including the two states featured in the game, Washington and Colorado — and commentators like David Brooks grappling with its impact, albeit with unintentional hilarity, isn’t it worth having a better understanding of what athletes playing the world’s most physically demanding sport feel comfortable consuming?
Education and sports. A recent CNN report focused on woeful reading proficiency levels among college athletes in the major revenue-generating sports. This raises the damning question about whether elite universities are genuinely educating athletes or merely doing what they can to keep them eligible long enough to profit from them. And since those top players wind up in the NFL, it’s as good a time as any to ask them about the quality of the education they received, and whether the term “student-athlete” is a convenient fabrication.
The class-action lawsuits against the NCAA. Former college football and basketball players have been pressing forward with litigation saying they deserve to be compensated for the billions they generate to NCAA member institutions, who have fought to maintain amateurism in part to secure a steady stream of inexpensive labor.
The NFL is hardly an uninvolved party in this conversation, since college football essentially serves as its farm league. So what do the cream of the crop of pro players have to say about it? And what do they have to say about college teammates who played for elite universities but weren’t good enough to reap the benefits in the pros?
Will these stories receive the attention they deserve from the host network and entities that are partnered, directly or by extension, with the NFL? Fingers crossed, but with rare exceptions, most don’t have the balls.