With Super Bowl telecast, CBS sidesteps NFL's labor and concussion issues

By Leonard Shapiro
Special to washingtonpost.com
Sunday, February 7, 2010; 11:44 PM

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla -- Questions about looming labor discord, a possible uncapped salary season in 2010 and the alarming long-term effects of football concussions dominated Commissioner Roger Goodell's annual state-of-the-NFL news conference two days before the Super Bowl. Sadly, not a discouraging word on any of those critical subjects found its way into the four-hour CBS pregame show or the four-hour game telecast on Sunday night.

Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, had been asked specifically earlier in the week why the concussion issue would not be included in one of countless pregame features (some stunning, some silly, some soooooo sappy). He said quite matter-of-factly that the network had already spent considerable time discussing that issue during NFL telecasts during the season. Anyway, he added, "60 Minutes" also had done a recent segment on the subject and that "while it's obviously a very important topic, I'm not sure there's anything new to report. We certainly haven't avoided it."

And so, like your faithful correspondent, if you began your day of saturation CBS Super Bowl coverage at 10:30 a.m. by watching "Face The Nation" live from Sun Life Stadium, that show hosted by Bob Schieffer provided the only information you'd get about three of the most important issues facing the NFL in the coming months.

Goodell was Schieffer's guest for the first half of the 30-minute show, and the veteran Washington newsman asked all the right questions, even if the commissioner repeated almost word for word everything he'd said at his news conference two days before. Still, give "Face The Nation" an A for effort, though it would have been a good idea to also include DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, in the discussion, either from the stadium or wherever he might have been.

Schieffer also kept the concussion discussion going after the Goodell segment, asking CBS Sports broadcasters Jim Nantz, Phil Simms and Shannon Sharpe, "Can you have football if it's not rough?"

Much to his credit, Nantz admitted that media coverage of the game itself, particularly the on-air celebration of big hits during games and on highlight shows, contributed to some of those safety issues, not to mention that "players are faster and stronger and collisions create more damage."

"We have celebrated and over-celebrated the big collisions," Nantz said. "We've had them sponsored on the highlights, the hit of the week and other variations that really promote players to go out there and viciously lay someone out."

Once "Face The Nation" signed off, CBS was finally able to mostly emphasize the positive, though other newsworthy, real life-and-death issues did find their way into the build-up to the big game. They included an impassioned appeal for Haitian relief funds from former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and CBS also added several compelling features in between musical interludes; the obligatory celebrity chef concocting bizarre nibbles on a Ritz cracker (a pregame show sponsor); and more than enough football to satisfy the X's and O's crowd, as well.

James Brown's visit to the poverty-stricken Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, devastated by Hurricane Katrina and still a major disaster,reminded viewers that four years later, so much more has to be done.

The Saints' success bringing some temporary solace to flooded-out residents was a major theme in the piece, but more striking was the abject misery still a major part of everyday life in the Big-Not-So-Easy.

Former Pittsburgh head coach Bill Cowher, now a studio analyst on the pregame show, also went to a New York state prison for an emotional reunion with one of his former players. He did a jailhouse interview with former Steelers and New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress, now incarcerated for carrying a loaded gun into a Manhattan night club during the 2008 season.

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