Week In Football Reviewed
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block in Washington.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And I'm Madeleine Brand in California.
National Football League training camps are open for business, and there have been a couple of interesting football stories recently. Quarterback Brett Favre retired again. Quarterback Michael Vick was released from prison. He's looking to play football again, so far without much success, but the top story, well, we're going with Twitter.
Joining me now is our regular sports commentator Stefan Fatsis. Hi, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Madeleine.
BRAND: All right. So let's talk about this Twitter story. NFL teams, I guess, are having some issues with these tweets?
FATSIS: Yeah. One player's already been fined, actually, for tweeting from training camp. That's Antonio Cromartie of the San Diego Chargers. God bless him, he tweeted that the food at the team's training camp was bad: Man, we have to have the most nasty food of any team. And he implied, that might be why the Chargers haven't been in the Super Bowl lately. The team fined him $2,500.
The Green Bay Packers said they would fine any player who tweets from a team meeting or a team function the maximum allowed: $1,701. And then the Miami Dolphins coach, Tony Sparano, said he didn't know much about Twitter, but he banned players from using it at camp anyway.
BRAND: Oh, my gosh. Well, it seems pretty innocent to just say, oh, I don't like the food. Why such a heavy hand here?
FATSIS: Well, because this is how NFL teams operate. It's all about control. I saw it when I spent a summer on a national team, the Denver Broncos, writing a book about the sport.
Coaches worry that players will divulge proprietary information about injuries or tactics or that they'll give the media something to write about, creating what teams hate the most - distractions. But that's not really what it's about. NFL teams are about control.
Access to players is limited. Players are told to hold back with reporters. There is needless concern that players will look bad, and as a result, players come off looking blander than they need to.
Many players just hate that. And social media like Twitter allow them to be themselves, to humanize themselves and their sport and to portray the reality of life in the NFL in ways that the daily media just can't do. And that's a good thing, but teams instead see this loss of control, which in turn is interpreted as a threat to the success of the team.
BRAND: But you get to the point where you realize, or you have to realize, that it's really hard to exert total control over something like the Internet, right?
FATSIS: It is, and the NFL is a league. To its credit, the headquarters in New York, they've embraced Twitter. They're encouraging players to tweet. They've recommended that teams allow reporters to tweet from training-camp fields, but about a dozen of the league's 32 teams have banned or restricted media from tweeting, and that's absurd.
Reporters, yes, can and do misinterpret what happens on the playing field, but these practice are open to the public. And that some of them, fans can tweet and blog, but reporters can't.
The bottom line is that, yes, there are business and image reasons to try to control this information flow. Now, though, that control is being eroded, and teams just don't know what to do.
BRAND: Okay, so let's actually talk about the game itself, football, and the NFL is thriving, but what about the Arena Football League? I hear it is going out of business. What happened?
FATSIS: It is done. And most casual sports fans probably aren't aware that the Arena League was around for 22 years. It was a pretty stable business. It had good attendance. It was on TV. It had marquis team owners, including the rock star Jon Bon Jovi.
But the league was undermined by the fragile economics of smaller sports leagues. The costs were too high. Revenue from TV and sponsorships was just too low. The economy obviously hasn't helped. The league had called off the 2009 season in hopes of restructuring and coming back in 2010. It couldn't pull it off.
BRAND: Okay, so that one dies, another one is born to take its place: the United Football League.
FATSIS: Yeah, they're going to start playing in October. And I think this league has a chance. It's outdoor football. The idea is to be a feeder league for the NFL.
The UFL is being run by ex-NFL executives. The coaches are NFL veterans. They've got a modest business plan with just four teams in Las Vegas, Orlando, New York and San Francisco. They're just going to play six games this season.
A lot of players in this league are going to have meaningful NFL experience. Player contracts are non-binding, so if the NFL wants one of these guys, they can take him, and he'll be in game condition because they're playing during the NFL season.
Now, does that mean this league is going to succeed? The odds are against it in the long run. A lot is going to depend on whether the NFL decides that it wants to have what would amount to a minor league.
BRAND: Okay, Stefan, thank you very much.
FATSIS: Thanks, Madeleine.
BRAND: That's Stefan Fatsis. He's the author of the book "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.
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