Thursday, February 04, 2016

As If I Needed Another Reason to Despise the NFL

I will admit it: I’m a sports fan.

Not a rabid, crazed, live-or-die, obsessional nut case, mind you.

But, yes, I’m a bona fide sports fan. Largely a professional sports fan.
Mostly, I follow baseball. The Red Sox in particular, but baseball in general. I look forward to the opening day, and am especially happy that, for the first time in years (i.e., for the first time since the Red Sox got good, before they became bad again), I was able to score tickets to the game on Patriots Day. Much one of the best local sports event: a rare morning game so that the fans can stream out and catch some of the Marathon.

Although baseball’s my first sports love, I can get interested in basketball or hockey around the playoffs, if the Celtics or the Bruins are in. And I’m enough of a band-wagoner to admit that, once the Patriots started winning Super Bowls, I began more or less following them.

But I also have to admit that, when it comes to professional football, I’m a bit of a hypocrite.

There is much about it that I just flat-out don’t like, starting – but not ending with – the violence, the aura of militarism, the rigid authoritarian nature of it, the fighter jet flyover spectacle at the Super Bowl. Yet still I watch. Not all the time, and not religiously. But enough.

If I had to pick the one thing I most ardently dislike about the NFL, however, it would be the NFL itself.

Turning a blind eye to the brain damage that so many players endure. Their collusion with colleges and universities to exploit – chew up and spit out – so many largely poor and minority athletes. Their selective tolerance for bad behavior off the field. Their arbitrary prosecution of on-the-field infractions, real or perceived.

To this litany – and, trust me, I could go on  I will add NFL’s treatment of one Troy Haupt.

Just who is Troy Haupt?

No, he’s not a brain-shot former Heisman Trophy winner. There’s no reason you’d recognize his name.

But Troy Haupt has something that the NFL doesn’t, and that’s near-complete video tapes of the first Super Bowl game, which was played 49 years ago.

Super Bowl wasn’t such a big deal back in 1967. Fans weren’t yet as obsessional about it, and football wasn’t quite the lucrative sport it has become. The networks that broadcast the first Super Bowl didn’t bother to save the tapes. (Both CBS and NBC broadcast the game. I’m guessing there were two because, at that point in time, there were two separate leagues: the granddaddy NFL and the parvenu AFL. Each league no doubt had its own broadcasting agreement.)

Anyway, there’s a long and fairly interesting story about how Haupt came into possession of the tapes. (They were made by his father, whom Haupt never knew, but who gave the tapes to Haupt’s mother, suggesting she might be able to sell them for money for his kids’ education; they were long-forgotten and rotting in an attic). At some point about a decade or so ago, Haupt realized that he might have something that was worth something.

The figure that he had in mind was $1 million (which was the estimate of the sports press.)

Which seems reasonable, given that the NFL would have packaged them out and sold them fast and furious to the millions of fans who care about such things. What with Super Bowl 50 soon upon us, there would have been ample opportunities to market full collections. And/or onesies of the long lost first game. It’s easy enough to imagine that the NFL would have made tens – even hundreds – of millions of dollars merchandising this find.

But the NFL offered Haupt a measly $30K, which he turned down. (The league was able to piece together a video of Super Bowl 1, but it apparently lacks the authenticity and vintage quality – or lack thereof – of the Haupt tapes.)

Unfortunately for Haupt, he may own the tapes, but the NFL owns the content. So Haupt, who would like to sell his tapes to a collector, can’t do so. And as a sweetener, he’d like to donate some of the sale proceeds to charities. Here’s the shot that the NFL fired across his bow in a letter sent to Haupt’s lawyers:

“Since you have already indicated that your client is exploring opportunities for exploitation of the N.F.L.’s Super Bowl I copyrighted footage with yet ­unidentified third parties,” Dolores DiBella, a league counsel, wrote, “please be aware that any resulting copyright infringement will be considered intentional, subjecting your client and those parties to injunctive relief and special damages, among other remedies.” (Source: NY Times)

Haupt had an opportunity to make a little money - $25K, plus a couple of tickets – from CBS to appear in a pregame segment o talk about his story. The bully boys (and, I guess, girls) got wind of it and put the kibosh on it.
What could have been a feel good story – the lost tapes found, the “common man” lucking into a bit of money, a tremendous Super Bowl story, an opportunity for a fan lovefest – becomes another example of the NFL’s crap and crushing attitude toward everything and everyone who’s not them.

Sure, they need to protect their assets, their vaunted brand. But it’s not as if all kinds of other folks are going to come out of the woodwork with something of this value. This doesn’t set much of a dangerous precedent as far as I can tell.

Anyway, I didn’t really need another reason to despise the NFL, and here they went and dropkicked one right into my lap.

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