Booze, babes, Viagra, and football.
If you ask me, that sounds like a heck of a party.
Concerned parents want to keep sexed-up advertisements for beer away from their kids. Concerned congressmen want to relegate promotions for little blue "life enhancement" pills to nighttime programming.
Concerned league officials want to—well, they probably want to keep selling ads to the highest bidder, salacious or otherwise. But one imagines they'll at least pretend to listen.
I can sympathize a bit with Mom and Pop here. If I were in their shoes, I wouldn't want to tear myself away from The Drive to give little Jimmy The Talk. And I certainly wouldn't want my sons and daughters growing up with the impression that it's cool to drink anything that tastes like Bud Light Lime.
But if you're looking to the NFL as a source of good old-fashioned family values, you're probably looking in the wrong place.
Sure, plopping down in front of the plasma with the kids on Sunday afternoon can be a great way to teach a few life lessons. You can point out Drew Brees and talk about overcoming adversity and labels. You can give a nod to Tony Dungy and talk about living a life of service.
But if your children are keen on following professional football, they're going to learn more than that.
They're going to learn why Michael Vick was taking a break from football. They’re going to see Albert Haynesworth’s foot getting cozy with Andre Gurode’s face. They’re going to wonder why Mark Chmura was so fond of hot-tub parties.
Whether those kids read ESPN.com, watch SportsCenter, or talk about football with their friends at school, they're going to hear about substance abuse. And domestic violence. And sex scandals.
The league is just like any other collection of people: There are really good guys, and there are really, really bad ones. If your kids are into football, they're going to learn about both.
You can explain that advertisers are willing to say and show absurd things to sell a product, that commercials depict a fantasy world. But you're also going to have to explain the absurd (and sometimes terrible) things NFL players do in the real world.
You're going to have to explain how Travis Henry actually fathered 11 children. You're going to have to explain how Pacman Jones actually incited a strip-club shooting. You're going to have to explain how Donte Stallworth actually killed a man.
In a few years, you might have to explain how football is on hold for a while because a collection of the world's richest men can't agree on how to get richer.
It's enough to make an awkward question or two about erectile dysfunction seem like a breeze.
This doesn't mean you should block the NFL Network and bar your children from fan-dom until they turn 18. Growing up with a team to cheer for is one of the joys of the American experience, and I'm not suggesting you pull the plug on it.
If your kids can grasp the concept of a fair catch, they can grasp the idea that some products aren't appropriate for them. With a bit of guidance, they can handle the fact that some people do bad things.
If you can convince them they shouldn't follow in the footsteps of Jared Allen and sack their buddies on the playground, you can convince them that they shouldn't follow in the footsteps on the game's less savory stars—and if you want them to have a positive experience following football, you're going to need to do just that.
You might still squirm a bit when that Viagra commercial rolls around. Just remember: If you're hoping the NFL will send a wholesome message to your kids, that commercial is the least of your concerns.
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