CHICAGO — No doubt, the NFL is in the midst of a turbulent time. A growing body of science has documented the alarming health consequences of football’s hardest hits, while incidents of domestic violence have given the league a public black eye.
Yet the NFL’s popularity shows no signs of waning — and certainly not here in Chicago, host of this year’s draft.
The mere fact that the NFL chose Chicago to host its 2015 draft, uprooting the proceedings from New York for the first time in 51 years, was cause for a temporary civic re-branding. What many are calling the “City of Big Shoulder Pads” has embraced the festivities, turning its Grant Park into Draft Town for the duration, with flag-football games for children, autograph sessions, a beer garden and a Super Bowl museum featuring the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
NFL prospects such as Florida’s Dante Fowler and offensive tackle D.J. Humphries were among the players who visited patients at Shriners Hospitals for Children.
The NFL Players Association teamed up with Animal Planet to stage an even encouraging dog adoptions, known as the Road to the Puppy Bowl draft.
And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conducted a goodwill tour, joining in the fun at Grant Park Wednesday morning and holding an invitation-only Q&A at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism with USA Today columnist and alum Christine Brennan.
According to an account in The Daily Northwestern, Goodall enumerated ways in which the league is dealing with instances of domestic violence and defended the Washington Redskins’ name.
“It’s the name of a football team,” Goodell was quoted as saying. “I grew up as a Washington Redskins fan. I always looked at that as something we were proud of. In that context, it’s not being used as a racial slur.”
The first and second days of the draft are being held at the ornate Auditorium Theatre, a 4,000-seat former opera house built in 1889. Saturday’s proceedings will be held outdoors, at Selection Square in Congress Plaza, where fans can watch team-by-team selections Thursday and Friday on over-sized TV screens.
Thursday night, the city’s Buckingham Fountain will light up in colors of each NFL team that is on the clock.