If you take a few steps off Bourbon Street on a Saturday night you can find the quiet parts of the French Quarter, the parts that sit still in the darkness. There are high iron gates and creeping vines and stately old houses, some in need of repair; it is where people live, rather than just visit. It's a city where voodoo and ghosts are implied and accepted; one writer living in New Orleans told me his house was haunted, and he said the way to deal with it is to talk to the ghost, introduce yourself, try to make it work. He says he hasn't had any problems, yet.
This week the Super Bowl came to New Orleans, and it brought all of the National Football League's ghosts and voodoo with it. As Randy Moss put it, while complaining about the game being overly commercialized, "Take the good with the good, and the bad with the bad."
There was plenty of both. Last year in Indianapolis the week was about the rematch of the Patriots and the Giants; there was talk of legacies, but more than anything, it was about a football game. This year, if you had never heard of the NFL and were plunked down in the middle of this Super Bowl, you would see all the parts that exist away from the blinding shiny excess of the main drag, all the dark places and ghosts and voodoo, because they had all been dragged into the light.
The week began when President Barack Obama went on television and said that he would have to think long and hard before any son of his played football, and from there, the league's issues were all invited to the feast. Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, a punishing missile of a man, said "Thirty years from now, I don't think [the NFL] will be in existence."
But he was also the only player to say he did not want his son to play football, which 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said meant less competition for his son Jack, who is four months old. What football does to its players is the darkest part of this game, and it hangs over the NFL at all times.
But it wasn't just safety: it was the fullness of the NFL. Did you want to talk about the power of family? There were John and Jim Harbaugh, meeting at midfield in what John called the most difficult moment of his life. Did you want to talk about the evolution of the game? There was Colin Kaepernick running the read-only offence, which is the latest leap forward. Did you want to talk about the Rooney Rule failing minority coaches, or drinking and driving after one Dallas Cowboy killed another, or Bountygate? They were all questions directed at commissioner Roger Goodell, as surely as there were pictures of Goodell in certain restaurants saying, "Do not serve this man."
Social issues? There was 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver spouting off some garden-variety homophobia, but there were guys like Moss and Terrell Suggs and several others saying they would accept a gay teammate, while Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo continued to campaign for gay equality. Of course, the It Gets Better project also pulled its San Francisco 49ers video — the only one created by an NFL team, so far — after it was revealed the players involved were not told it was anything more than a simple anti-bullying PSA, so it's still complicated. Oh, and there was the Ravens cheerleader who said she was left off the Super Bowl roster because she was 1.6 pounds overweight.
Super Bowl brings NFL's issues into the light
National Post | Feb 4