Friday, February 03, 2017

Political Football

For whatever else Donald Trump has accomplished in his first few weeks in office, he has done something nobody thought was possible.

He has made the Super Bowl irrelevant.

This year the game and its considerable hoopla is being blown off the front page by a president who has arrived in Washington the way Hitler arrived in Poland.  It’s hard to avert your eyes.

Social media, print and electronic news, even conversations over the backyard fence are about presidential decrees, cabinet appointments, bullying of allies, saber rattling.

Politics is supplanting the forward pass. The only thing being blitzed is the American psyche.

And it couldn’t come at a worse time for the National Football League.

It is still reeling from a concussion scandal, in which team officials and owners stand accused of ignoring the fact that the game they oversaw was maiming its participants, leaving many hobbled and brain damaged.

Its players continue to make headlines for violent crimes, many of which involve gut-wrenching allegations of domestic violence that result in slap-on-the-wrist punishment. One player accused of assaulting his wife nearly two dozen times was suspended for one game.

TV ratings are down.  Teams are on the move.  Residents of Our Fair City wept with joy when the Rams, gone these many years, returned to Los Angeles. Now they just weep, their heroes of yore replaced with a bunch of bad actors.

Then, when we weren’t watching, the San Diego Chargers snuck into town on a midnight freight to the cheers and applause of no one. They should change their name to the Uninvited. They may turn out to be the Unwatched.

 Los Angeles, landing pad for losers.

Talk about an image problem. It has gotten so bad that the NFL hired Joe Lockhart, a key strategist for President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the resulting impeachment, to right the ship.

Check the imminently qualified box on his resume.

In the past, the league could count on the Super Bowl to put a fresh scrubbed image on its product. Now in its 51st year, it has gained the stature of a national holiday and grabs more media attention than a papal coronation.

But this year the hype is strangely muted.

For the record, the game with be played in Houston and feature the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.  North versus South, grits versus chowder, an iconic old champion versus an upstart.

It’s a promoter’s dream. And nobody seems to care.

The NFL better hope that Trump, in the middle of the game, doesn’t announce he’s building a moat around the continental United States, barring Lutherans from entering the country and declaring war on Switzerland.

One Trump Tweet and CNN will win the ratings for Sunday.

There is a certain amount of irony here. Two of Trump’s most ardent supporters are Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft and the team’s star quarterback Tom Brady.

That should give the President a rooting interest in the game. And give lots of other people someone to root against.

Let’s face it.  The Super Bowl isn’t going to disappear. By the time Sunday kickoff rolls around, we can anticipate a viewing audience larger than Trump’s inauguration, if you can imagine.

Because the game is really about two things:  gluttony and gambling.

If you were to add up the calories per serving for every food item a household purchased during the week of the Super Bowl, it would equal more than 6,000 calories, according to a Washington Post story. That's the largest number of calories for any week through the year — more even than during Thanksgiving — and it's not even all that close. 

And when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is, American Gaming Association President Geoff Freeman said that his organization expects the Super Bowl to elicit $3.8 billion in illegal wagers.

The bets know no bounds. For example, you can bet on what color Gatorade will be dumped on the winning coach. Or the jersey number of the first player to score a touchdown. 

You can also put your hard earned cash on who the Super Bowl MVP will mention first in his speech:  Teammates are at 2/1, followed by God (5/2), Fans (5/1), other team (7/1), coach or family (12/1), owner (25/1) and none of the above at 4/1.

Of course, you can develop your own bets right at home. Who will be the first to take a bathroom break, who will be the first to dump a plate of nachos cheese-side down on your new couch, who will be the first to say "I don't get it" after a multimillion dollar commercials screens, who will be the first to doze off in the middle of the game after consuming hot wings, chili, pizza and beer.

Note to gamblers: 26 percent of people say that God plays a role in determining the outcome of a game, the Public Religion Research Institute found.

Let the game begin.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. His columns can be found at Robert-Rector@Blogspot.Com. Follow him on Twitter at @robertrector1.

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