Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The (Football) Bucs, Throwback Uniforms, and a Soapbox

Many of you have probably seen the story already, but the Tampa Bay Bucs are scrapping a planned throwback night due to a new uniform policy that apparently teams had missed the memo on until now.

I love throwback uniforms, but the questions at hand here have much less to do with football or uniforms.

We live in a revisionist culture.  The tide of public opinion shifts rapidly, and so do the views those to stand to lose or gain from their stances on those issues.  And when there are billions of dollars at stake, those positions become even more meticulously crafted.

It does not and should not come to a shock to the NFL that football is a dangerous game, and that concussions probably aren't as good for the body as a hefty pile of spinach.  But it wasn't a shock to baseball that players who saw there home run total jump by 40 from one year to the next may have had some added assistance, or to tobacco companies that perhaps smoking wasn't the best way to extend your life.  It's about plausible deniability, and assessing the cost/benefit ration of those choices should it all come crumbling down.

And let us make no mistake about it: the economic empire of the NFL was built upon detrimental health risks to its players.  But $765 million dollars is a nearly inconsequential amount to a league that has nurtured multi-billion dollar revenue streams through marketing and developing a game that is inherently violent.  Any changes to the game are again coming as a calculated move, and while their outcomes may indeed improve player safety and minimize longterm risk, it would be foolish to believe these are wholly unselfish actions.

But perhaps we should give credit where credit is due.  The NFL is implementing these helmet restrictions recognizing that its member clubs will be losing out on significant revenue from the jersey sales and marketing that these uniforms offer.  Some teams, like the Bucs, simply have no other throwback alternatives, and will be forced to sell and market their primary jerseys only.  But how do we weigh that concession?   Could a few million dollars in jersey sales outweigh the positive publicity the league will generate from this newfound commitment to player safety? 

Won't little Joey be just as likely to have mommy simply buy him a different jersey for Christmas?  Meanwhile, the added media attention, not just on sports media outlets but also in stories on your local and national news for the next couple days, make Mommy feel far more at ease signing Joey up for PeeWee football next year?  He plays the game, he follows the game, and he buys the merchandise.  Not just this Christmas, or next year, but for the rest of his life.

So yes, I'm thrilled that athletes may have a small layer of added safety while playing the game at the relatively inconsequential cost of fans not getting to see some throwback uniforms this year.  But it would be foolish not to think about the larger implications of why this is happening.  And if wearing a secondary helmet during the season was so inherently dangerous, why didn't teams put an immediate moratorium on throwback uniforms in the middle of last season.  Or two years ago.  Or five.

The idea that getting hit in the head repeatedly is dangerous is not a novel concept.  But neither is the idea that a business would make decisions based upon what makes it the most money, rather than what makes people safe.

1 comment:

  1. Throwback uniforms should equal throwback pads and helmets too. Oh...nobody wants to play anymore?