NFL 2011

Why Are Ray Lewis and Friday Night Lights' Peter Berg Shilling for the NFL on Player Safety?
The stadium scene.
Jan. 31 2012 2:02 PM

NFL 2011

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Why are Ray Lewis and Friday Night Lights' Peter Berg shilling for the NFL on player safety?

Ray Lewis
Ray Lewis warms up prior to their AFC Championship Game.

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

The NFL, we learned Tuesday in the New York Times, will air a 60-second Super Bowl commercial about player safety. As with most NFL-produced moving images, the house ad will no doubt be slick and compelling. It’s directed by Friday Night Lights creator Peter Berg, and sounds highish in concept: a moving timeline of NFL history in which one era digitally morphs into the next during the course of a single kick return, projecting a seamless advance in player safety from the days of the flying wedge to the leather helmet to the single-bar facemask to the horse-collar tackle. Actors portraying NFL greats like Gale Sayers and Ollie Matson make appearances. No word on whether Kevin Everett does too.

The plans for the commercial (the NFL gets two-and-a-half minutes of ad time during the game) were given to the Times on the slowest pre-Super Bowl news day, when the teams arrive in town but before practice begins. That guaranteed good placement (atop the sports section in my edition) and a heavy flow of media attention. The NFL hasn’t put the commercial online. The Times said the league will unveil a website about its history and rules on Sunday, presumably something like this with lots of photos and video. 

Ads are spin, of course, and the NFL’s spin here is unambiguous: that it has for decades done and continues to do everything possible to protect the health and welfare of its players. Facing a wave of lawsuits by retired players over concussions and related brain injuries that question what the NFL knew and when it knew it—some of which were consolidated in federal court in Philadelphia on Tuesday—the league is combating the perception it has callously sent its players to slaughter. It also needs to protect its brand and the future of the sport. In that regard, the most telling quotation in the Times story comes from the NFL’s chief marketing officer, Mark Waller, who says player safety is “probably one of the most important topics for casual fans, particularly mothers.” I added the italics, because if mom thinks football is crazy dangerous, she’s not going to let her son play, and if enough sons don’t play, football loses popularity, and if football loses popularity—you get the picture. Mom may not be reading websites that track catastrophic football injuries, but she will be watching the Super Bowl.

Advertisement

Also quoted in the story is Michael Hausfeld, a lawyer for some of the former players suing the league, who says the ad (as described to him by the Times’ Judy Battista) “seeks to portray a position of concern when they really had none.” The point being: The evolution of football safety is as much a function of technological advances, game strategy, and common sense as it is a directed effort by the NFL to protect its employees. Whether Peter Berg considered (or cared) that he was joining a legal and public-relations battle, we have no idea, nor does it really matter. But Baltimore Ravens linebacker/camera-lover Ray Lewis should have thought twice, or sought some advice, before agreeing to deliver the commercial’s closing lines: “Here’s to making the next century safer and more exciting. Forever forward. Forever football.”

NFL players have a schizoid relationship with their jobs. While Lewis’ current and past declarations of love for football represent an extreme, most players are passionate about the sport, including (if not especially) its inherent violence. Love to hit and be hit, part of the game, worry about the consequences later. But not a single NFL player is unaware of the lasting damage he is inflicting upon himself. So before joining the league’s PR campaign, Lewis might have considered the linebackers who came before him, as well as his own, to-be-determined post-retirement health. Because for players like Ray Lewis, football isn’t forever—it’s temporary. The only forever is the pain.

Stefan Fatsis is the author of Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic, a regular guest on NPR's All Things Considered, and a panelist on Hang Up and Listen

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.