February 6, 2004

Sex, Drugs, Football

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Over the past year, there have only been three television shows that I’ve watched on a regular basis — Smallville for the gorgeous Kristin Kreuk and to a lesser extent the story of the adolescent Clark Kent, The Newlyweds for the beautiful yet hilariously stupid Jessica Simpson, and ESPN’s “critically acclaimed” Playmakers.

Now, I’m down to two.

Earlier this week, ESPN decided not to re-up Playmakers for a second season despite the show’s surprising success. In spite of poor plot lines and bad acting, the primetime drama was pulling in a 1.6 share, equating to over two million viewers every week. I was one of those drones, watching each and every second of every episode not once, not twice, but three times over. Really, there isn’t much on the tube at three o’clock in the morning.

The show was so bad it was perversely good. Heck, I was even ready to pre-order season one on DVD. Anything and everything that could happen to a professional sports franchise happened to those Cougars. There was the star player hooked on crack, the aging veteran dethroned from center stage, an owner-coach conflict, the token homosexual, infidelity and steroid abuse. Sex, violence, and drugs were all taken to an extreme in just one hour of programming each week. It was great.

Unfortunately for The Sports Leader, the NFL didn’t agree with me. Right after the show began airing, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other officials denounced the show for stereotyping minorities and, more importantly, professional football players. The image-conscious league argued that the majority of its players were law-abiding, generous, charity-giving Mother Theresa’s. But the show portrayed them as juiced up, doped up, promiscuous, homophobic meatheads.

Gee, I wonder what gave the show’s writers that ammunition?

Guys on the powdery white stuff? Well, there’s L.T., Michael Irvin, Darrell Russell …

The juice? How about the human test tube Bill Romanowski?

And honestly, how many of these guys stay true to their girlfriends and wives when they’re on the road? There is a reason for those team curfews.

Apparently, the NFL thought that these isolated incidents shouldn’t overshadow the league as a whole. I guess Playmakers was taking away from the “Duce Staley can’t spell chrysanthemum” United Way ad.

Well, maybe the NFL should have taken a look at one of this year’s Super Bowl participants, the Carolina Panthers. Two members of the team, an assistant coach Sam Mills and linebacker Mark Fields, were both diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year. Former wide receiver Rae Carruth is in jail for life after hiring henchmen to gun down his pregnant girlfriend, while running back Fred Lane was shot and murdered by his wife, Deidra Lane.

And we thought the made-for-television Cougars had problems?

There are two serious issues at work here. First, my favorite network, ESPN, proved to be as spineless as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. ESPN currently has a multi-billion dollar contract with the NFL that gives it broadcast rights to Sunday Night games through 2005. With the deal up for renewal in just two football seasons, it’s clear that the network succumbed to pressure from Tagliabue and the NFL, canceling the show to keep up relations.

I’m sure some will argue that ESPN had to cut loose Playmakers to keep football … that the league held all the cards. But come on. Who’s bigger? The NFL or Disney? Besides, ESPN pays the NFL, not the other way around.

The other group to blame for canceling my show, of course, is the NFL. Only Major League Baseball saves the NFL from being the most poorly managed enterprise in America. Since I can remember, the league has prohibited any and all fun. If a guy is good or fortunate enough to score a touchdown, shouldn’t he have the right to rip his helmet off, sign a football, pose on a star, or pull out a celly?

Would young stud D.H. get off the crack? Where would veteran Leon Taylor and the gay, ostracized Thad Guerwitcz end up?

Thanks to ESPN and the NFL, my two million friends and I will never find out.

Archived article by Alex Ip