NFL Safety Ad Hopes To Remind Fans Of History

Host Audie Cornish talks with Stefan Fatsis about the Super Bowl — including the NFL player safety ad that aims to remind fans about the history of the game amid all the concussion scandals.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For more on the Super Bowl, we're joined once again by sportswriter Stefan Fatsis. We'll get to the game itself in a minute, Stefan, but you wrote a piece for the online magazine Slate this week about a commercial from the NFL itself that's going to air during the game. Tell us more about it.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Yeah. It's a 60 second house ad about player safety. The NFL told the New York Times about it earlier this week. They haven't released the commercial yet in advance of the game.

The ad itself is going to be this moving timeline of NFL history told through a single kick return. One era morphs into another and you see changes in the rules and equipment. It's directed by Peter Berg, the creator of the TV series "Friday Night Lights," and the NFL is nothing if not smart and sophisticated in marketing and this is a way for the league to demonstrate that it's concerned and always has been about the health and safety of its players.

CORNISH: Of course, the league is facing lawsuits and this is timely because of the increased attention on concussions and brain injuries in football, so I mean, what do they really hope to gain here?

FATSIS: Well, it depends on how cynical you want to be about this. A league official told the Times that player safety is probably one of the most important topics for fans, particularly mothers. And you don't have to read too far into that to see where they're going. If parents see football as too dangerous for kids, football, long term, has got a problem in terms of participation and popularity.

Then there's the second consideration, the legal one. You said lawsuits. There have been about 20 of them filed by scores of retired players accusing the NFL and other parties of, among other things, concealing knowledge about the dangers of concussions, about the use of painkillers like Toradol, so you can look at this Super Bowl commercial as a way for the NFL to build a defense in the court of public opinion.

CORNISH: Now, of course, injuries are a big part of the game and looking into the game this Sunday, there is definitely a lot of talk about who's hurt and who's not looking at the two teams in the match-up this week.

FATSIS: Yeah. And, you know, we want to know whether the Patriots' tight end Rob Gronkowski is going to play on Sunday, and if he is, how much is this sprained ankle going to inhibit his performance? He's going to play. He'll probably be injected with something to help him mask that pain. Should he play? Well, his agent said if it wasn't the Super Bowl he wouldn't.

The AP wrote a story this week that glamorizes the Giants' running back Ahmad Bradshaw because he's played the last eight games with a broken bone in his foot. The AP wrote that Bradshaw is playing in pain and loving every second of it and I assure you that he is not loving every second of it.

And at the same time, the AP this week did a story in which it interviewed a dozen plaintiffs in those lawsuits describing a culture of indifference at best or willful disregard at worst toward player health.

So the hype of Super Bowl week really has helped expose some of the realities of the NFL. It doesn't mean that you can't like football. Just that fans are becoming more and more conscious of what actually is going on.

CORNISH: Well, Stefan, let's move on a little to the game itself. Other than a few years in high school marching band, I don't know all that much, so give me a sense of how the Giants and the Patriots are going to do this weekend.

FATSIS: You know, I was in the marching band, too, but I dropped out.

CORNISH: OK. It's a public radio thing, I think.

FATSIS: All right. So the betting line in the game is close, a three point or so differential. Bettors seem to be favoring the Giants. The quantitative analysis for the season says the Patriots are better, but both teams have improved on offense and on defense in recent weeks, especially the Giants on defense.

The teams do have tactical holes on both sides of the ball that the video grunts for both teams have spent hundreds of hours trying to deconstruct in the last two weeks. Analysts have spent thousands of hours offering their own analyses that will make your head explode if you listen to too many of them, all of which will lead to this eminently non-scientific conclusion.

This should or could or we hope will be a very close, low to medium scoring game that will be decided in the final minutes, kind of like when the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl four years ago.

CORNISH: All right. Stefan Fatsis. He's the author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL." He joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

Stefan, thanks so much.

FATSIS: Thank you, Audie. Enjoy the game.

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