From Newsday…wouldn’t this be nice!

Shaun Powell
NFL Needs to Get Its Act Together
February 3, 2004

Suppose, while being interviewed on live TV, an NFL player saw a woman and made a crass remark about her anatomy. Or after scoring a touchdown, he screamed, “It’s getting hot in here!” and removed his jersey and pants.

What would happen? I’ll tell you what. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue would draw up a steep fine and hit the player harder than Ray Lewis. Tags then would say such nonsense won’t be tolerated again.

The league would tighten the rules regarding decorum and celebration antics and professionalism. These two incidents would be Exhibits A and B regarding what not to do in the NFL.

But did you catch halftime at the Super Bowl? Yes, there was Nelly, platinum-selling rapper, singing “Hot in Herre,” the smash hit containing the anatomy remark and in which Nelly asks women to “take off all your clothes.” Four decades after Ed Sullivan told Mick Jagger and the Stones to tone it down for national TV, the NFL put no limit on the cutting-edge halftime entertainment presented by MTV.

It made you wonder what Tags and the honchos at the NFL watch in their spare time, Nickelodeon? When Nelly lip-synched his R-rated lyrics Sunday and Justin Timberlake showed more of Janet Jackson than we expected, the NFL got what it deserved.

The NFL got the Grammys, the Source Rap Awards and the MTV Video Music Awards all at once. By giving freedom to a handful of pop stars known for their naughty lyrics and skimpy wardrobes while slapping limits on the behavior of players, something else revealed itself Sunday besides Jackson’s nipple: the hip-hopcracy of the NFL.

The league can’t have it both ways. The league can’t muzzle its own while trying to cater to a younger, flavorful audience. But that’s what the NFL was guilty of when it commissioned an envelope-pushing music network to handle family entertainment. As a result, little Jimmy, sitting at home, got more boob tube than he thought.

Tagliabue said he was “disappointed” Monday, but he couldn’t say he was surprised, unless he never watches music videos or listens to top-40 these days. Quite honestly, Sunday was tame compared with what happens on stage on the award shows and what’s playing at the nearest Virgin Records. Anything raunchy will sell. That’s what pop artists do.

They outrage parents and yesterday’s generation by being as shocking as possible, and they pulled it off before the biggest audience TV will get this year. Therefore, the timing and setting couldn’t have been any better for Timberlake, Jackson, Nelly and the others who filled the time between football. They knew what they were doing.

Many of Jackson’s dancers were half-dressed, and the choreography included some crotch-grabbing. Kid Rock sang about getting drunk and had references to hookers and pimps. Two dancers standing next to Nelly removed their costumes and gave the rapper what he wanted by showing their underwear. And then there was P. Diddy, eagerly hired by the NFL despite making a fortune from using the N-word in his records. Can you imagine a coach talking to his players the way Diddy does to the people who buy his music? What would Tags do about that?

This makes for an uncomfortable situation for the NFL and other leagues. A good number of their own players are part of the culture that makes them cringe.

The NBA was in a bind a few years ago when wannabe rapper Allen Iverson released a CD filled with vulgar lyrics and the N-word. Commissioner David Stern raised a fuss about it. But at the All-Star Weekend, hip-hop stars and rappers with far nastier images and lyrics are routinely booked by the NBA. This is the same league that asks kids to stay in school yet is filled with college dropouts.

Also, the NFL, while giving out wrist slaps for end-zone dancing, lends its name to video games in which players primp and pose and dance themselves silly after making a big play. Where’s the consistency there?

Perhaps the Super Bowl striptease will teach the big leagues a lesson. Somehow, somewhere, sports started being less about sports and more about entertainment. That’s too bad. We don’t go to Nelly concerts to see football; why should we turn on the NFL and get rump-shaking?

The league is correct to clamp down on egotistical celebrations, because sportsmanship still is supposed to matter, and because there must be a limit. If it’s OK for a player to grab a cell phone after scoring a touchdown, what will you allow next? Someone to strip naked?

Well, at least we know what’s coming next Super Bowl at halftime.

Or is Neil Diamond already booked?

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.

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