Sunday, September 9, 2007

Still ticked at the NFL

Sunday night football is on as I write this. I am a big football fan, but I am not really paying any attention to this evening match up between the Cowboys and the Giants. I confess that my TV is tuned in to the game, but the sound is turned down and I am staring at my computer screen rather than the television screen. Last year if this game were on Sunday night, the sound would be up and my eyes would be glued to the TV and there would be a bowl of popcorn in my lap and I would be commenting on the game and yelling at the screen every now and again. Not tonight.

I live in North Carolina and earlier today the Carolina Panthers won. I know this not because I watched the game which was televised here, but because I saw the score posted online somewhere. I would have cheered them on last year and celebrated the victory. Not today.

Why this coolness toward pro football? I'm still ticked off with the NFL.

I have not forgotten their crackdown on church Super Bowl parties earlier this year. We, at our church, like thousands of other churches, were forced to cancel our Super Bowl party at the last minute because the NFL began sending threatening letters to churches in various parts of the country claming that such gatherings violate copyright laws. For the first time in years our fellowship hall was dark on the evening of Super Bowl Sunday.

Certainly it is not a devastating blow to our church to discontinue Super Bowl parties. There is no verse in the Bible commanding us to hold such an event. But the scriptures do indicate that koinonia--fellowship--is very important. Our Super Bowl Party was an opportunity for members of the congregration and their friends to spend some time together and get to know each other a little better. Our church Super Bowl Party was not required by the scriptures but it was in keeping with scriptural teachings.

We had enlisted one of our deacons who is a sports lover to deliver a devotional during halftime at our 2007 Super Bowl party. It is precisely such a proclamation of a biblical message that the NFL claimed was a violation of applicable copyright law. Oh there were other features of church Super Bowl parties toward which the league cast penalty flags. The broadcast had to be shown on screens of not more than 55-inches and there could be no admission charge. But the NFL also barred the proclamation of a message in conjunction with church Super Bowl parties.

We never have charged an admission to our church Super Bowl gathering, however, our TV screen is 60-inches. We investigated borrowing or renting a smaller television, but decided not to. We were unwilling to cancel our halftime devotional to otherwise comply with the NFL's rules.

I have tried to relate to the concerns of the NFL. If I understand correctly the TV ratings system is built on in-home viewing. Church Super Bowl parties, it is claimed, reduce in-home viewing which in turn reduces ratings which could adversely impact ad revenues generated by the game. This NFL argument against church Super Bowl parties might work better for me if the league did not grant an exception to sports bars broadcasting the game. It seems discriminatory to allow viewings of the Super Bowl outside of the home at places where alcohol consumption is at least as central to the gathering as the game but to disallow viewings outside of the home in churches where alcohol is probably not on the menu.

Apparently the NFL does not want messages proclaimed in conjunction with the Super Bowl in order to protect the integrity of their product. I guess the league was concerned that some messages in church Super Bowl parties might somehow hurt pro football. However, it appears drunken epithets shouted in sports bars pass muster with the NFL.

In the end it is the abridgment of freedom that bugs me most in the league's crackdown on church Super Bowl parties. It just does not sit well with me that a football league can tell us that we can't go to our church fellowship hall together and watch a football game if we want to. I don't like it a bit.

I don't know how much I might end up watching pro football this year. I do know that I am not really excited about watching anything the NFL produces right now.

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