Bob Franken: A bad NFL habit

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, September 23, 2014 5:00pm
  • Opinion

It’s become quite the thing for celebrities, or even semi-celeb journalists, to let us in on the dark secrets of their lives. Whether it’s coming out as gay, confessing past drug use, revealing they’ve battled severe anxiety, you name it, it’s become trendy to reveal something or other that’s deeply personal. A big one currently is that he or she was abused. Frankly, my response usually is a big “Thank you for sharing,” by which I mean, “Who cares?” You’d never see me dishing about my private shame.

Until now. I can’t go on any longer without bearing my soul. You ready for it? I’m an addict. There it is. No, it’s not a drug thing. I’m not a user, never have been — I don’t even drink. This is far more insidious. I watch NFL games … can’t shake the habit. Even though the National Football League has proven to be a disgusting institution that, in spite of its sanctimony, puts profits over what’s right, I have not been able to boycott the games. Even though the Washington franchise identifies itself with a hateful slur, there I am every Sunday, or Monday night, or Thursday night, or even Saturday sometimes, watching each and every play, ignoring all the injuries.

I should be ignoring the games, but I can’t. I did give up my season tickets a few years ago, refusing to pay the exorbitant prices to watch live at the stadium, but I can’t tear myself away from the TV with all its instant replays, graphics, slow-mo and bizarre camera shots accompanying the chatter of the play-by-play announcers, sideline reporters and sometimes helpful color commentators, the ones who survived the violent concussions from collisions.

I watch even though the league executives denied for the longest time that head injuries were a serious problem, suppressing information to the contrary, and grudgingly admitting they were ravaging players and former players only after bad PR about shocking studies. Forced to acknowledge the scourge, the NFL’s own actuaries have submitted a court document that shows that one in three former athletes can expect cognitive difficulties. Behold suddenly, the league is trumpeting its concerns about brain trauma.

So it is with domestic abuse by some of its most prominent athletes. It was only after an uproar that commissioner Roger Goodell began to treat harshly those accused of battering their wives and children. He acted only after several advertisers started pulling back as fast as their sponsorship deals allowed, threatening the mother’s milk of this cash cow. Now Goodell and his owners have decided they’d better get serious about abuse, at least as serious as they were about their jocks using various pharmaceuticals. So they’re appointing a commission to study a new code of conduct.

Those of us who follow politics know that’s a smarmy way to conduct crisis management. By the time the commission completes its study, the story will have petered out and the harsh spotlight will be shining on the newest scandal du jour. Goodell will still get his $40 million a year, and the league will make its billions of dollars, some of it tax-exempt.

And there I’ll be, watching the excesses of Super Bowl Sunday, America’s highest holiday, like all the millions of other addicts, consumed by the rush of commercialism.

Is there rehab for my condition? Is there a 12-step program for those of us who love football but know how objectionable its purveyors are? We need something. We need some sort of resolve to personally recover to the point that we can participate in a boycott and find something else to do on Sunday. Maybe then, the NFL executives can get their commission to study a code of conduct for themselves. But first, they must admit they have a problem.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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