Sure, I was born almost exactly nine months after Super Bowl XXX – which, of all the Super Bowls, clearly has the best initials for baby-making – but my dad hates the Cowboys, who won that game 27-17 over the Steelers.
So I’m not a Super Bowl baby, but that didn’t stop me from thinking about the commercial the NFL aired during Sunday’s game.
1. The commercial starts by citing data.
“Data suggests 9 months after a Super Bowl victory, winning cities see a rise in births.”
What data? Is this the same data that suggested the “Deflategate” measurements couldn’t have resulted from environmental conditions? The same data that led NFL doctors to claim “professional football players do not sustain frequent repetitive blows to the brain on a regular basis?”
2. NFL chief marketing officer Dawn Hudson’s explanation of the commercial is awesome.
“We hope after the ad, that there’s a conversation that we generate,” Hudson said. “We think there will be some people who will say, ‘Wait, I was born in the October or November after my parents’ team won. Am I a Super Bowl baby?’”
Usually, when multi-billion-dollar entities use the phrase “generate a conversation,” they’re focused on getting people to talk about topics that are typically taboo but important to discuss: Think race, sexuality or equality.
Take Starbucks, for example. The coffee company tried its hand at generating conversation in 2015, when Baristas scrawled the words “Race Together” on coffee cups to encourage customers to discuss race relations with employees.
The campaign was widely panned, and the company eventually instructed workers to stop writing the phrase, but it was a noble cause, at least. Whether or not Starbucks went about it in the right way, race is a topic that merits discussion.
The NFL, on the other hand, chose to generate conversation between kids and parents about when and why mommy and daddy decided to make a baby.
3. The commercial ends with the phrase “Football is Family.”
It’s part of an ongoing NFL ad campaign and, in some way, I can vouch – like the average American boy, I’ve certainly connected with my dad over the sport. Now that I’m in college, it still feels weird to hole up and watch Wild Card Weekend and the Divisional Round without him. So, yeah, maybe “Football is Family.”
But “family” is probably not in the top 10 words I would use to finish the sentence “Football is …”
There are positive words: discipline, empowerment, drama. But before I get to “family,” there are a few negative words I would use.
Violence. Danger. Brain-crushing.
In so many ways, the campaign is a tone-deaf marketing ploy. This is a league that’s faced countless domestic violence issues throughout the past few years and allowed many of the abusers to keep playing, so long as they’re good enough at football. And as fun as the game is to watch – I love football, don’t get me wrong – it’s basically 60 minutes of grown men ruining each other’s futures, leaving each other hit-after-hit closer to not being able to enjoy their families once they retire.
The NFL needs its message to get across, though. It’s relying on the approval of families to keep the sport alive.
No matter how football-fanatic those mommies and daddies are – they sure enjoyed the Super Bowl victory – it’s becoming increasingly likely that they won’t let their babies play the sport.
It’s quite possible none of those Seahawks (2014) or Giants (2008) or Colts (2007) or Buccaneers (2003) babies from the commercial ever put on the pads.
High school football participation is still extremely high – 1.08 million athletes played this fall, almost twice as many as any other sport – but it’s slowly decreasing, with 2.4 percent fewer players than five years ago.
At lower levels, the decline is more evident. From 2010 to 2012, Pop Warner experienced a 9.5 percent drop in participation. The organization, the largest in youth football, was sued recently by the family of a former youth player who committed suicide at age 25 after suffering with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The threat of brain damage may not be the culprit – there’s evidence kids are moving away from all of the major sports in favor of more specialized ones in which they have better opportunities for success.
But the concussion issue is problematic.
Player after player – from Terry Bradshaw to Adrian Peterson – has said he wouldn’t let his son play football because of the brain trauma baked into the game.
Football might be family, but family doesn’t let family play football.