Taking a break after participating a live Jan. 5 broadcast of “GameDay Morning” at his current home, NFL Network, at its studios in Culver City, Calif., sports journalist Rich Eisen repeats the oft-heard assertion that pro football is “the greatest reality show on television.”
“It is, with the drama, sometimes the family feuds, that go on, the storylines that constantly change and surprise us,” Eisen says. “It’s a narrative-generating machine.”
But as “Duck Dynasty” fans recently learned, there is such a thing as too much reality in a reality-TV show. When duck-call manufacturer and evangelical Christian Phil Robertson had a frank and occasionally crude discussion with a GQ reporter about his unsurprising views on sin and the mechanics of gay sex, it set off a firestorm that saw A&E (temporarily) suspending Robertson from the show (which it never stopped airing), and anger erupting across the press and social media.
In the end, reality TV is not news, it’s entertainment, and lots of industry types don’t like it when hot-button issues get in the way of keeping an audience happy.
In a lot of ways, the NFL is no different. With astronomic ratings, massive followings across all kinds of social media, and a global marketing machine pushing merchandise in every category, the NFL wants to keep the focus on the field.
Discussions that don’t involve passes, catches, touchdowns and trades exist in a world that the NFL would rather keep outside the stadium doors.
Recently, former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe claimed he was released from the team last May because he was an outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage.
That issue remains under investigation, but during an appearance on ESPN’s “Olbermann” on Jan. 9, Kluwe compared himself to quarterback Tim Tebow (who was just signed as a college-football analyst for ESPN’s new SEC Network), saying that while he doesn’t align with the openly Christian Tebow on a lot of issues, both are not in the NFL because they are public about their beliefs.
Said Kluwe, “As much as we are opposites on the things we stand for, Tebow is the exact same way. There are backup quarterbacks in the NFL right now that Tebow is certainly better than — he could fill a role with a team. But because he brings this other stuff with him, just like I bring my other stuff with me, teams look at it like, ‘We don’t want it. We don’t want players speaking out. We don’t want players doing anything other than football.'”
In the case of Tebow, Eisen doesn’t think the NFL passed him over for the reasons Kluwe cites.
“His style of play does not fit a professional, sustainable model,” Eisen tells Zap2it. “The way he plays football vs. the way everyone else plays football — he comes into the game, you have to change your personnel and your style. That’s not the way it normally works in the NFL.
“If your quarterback goes down, you’re going to need somebody who can come in and operate the offense as you’re doing it. He’s unique — he can be successful if it’s just him and a team commits to him. I don’t think people are afraid he’s a bad guy or something. I think it’s professional.
“Plus, I don’t think that a backup quarterback for a team wants to have that much attention. It’s not like he calls attention to himself, he just garners it.”
Asked about Kluwe’s situation, Eisen says, “Listen, I think Chris Kluwe has every right to speak his mind. If he was, in fact, cut because he was speaking his mind, that’s horrible. I’m sure everyone’s going to be looking into that.”
But Eisen does see Kluwe’s point about the NFL shying away from people who air their views on controversial subjects.
“A lot of people think the sports world is a place to escape from the real world on politics or topics,” Eisen says. “I don’t believe that’s a political issue, but that’s my own personal belief. That said, if it worked against him in that regard, it’s horrible.
“Some people find it intrusive, because they watch this stuff to escape from discussions of the real world, real-life issues.”