LOS ANGELES, December 17, 2012 — Only two days after a tragic massacre of schoolchilden in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama spoke to the nation at a funeral procession.
As with anything involving any President, there was disagreement and controversy before he even spoke.
One issue that never should have occurred was a scheduling blunder. President Obama’s remarks were given at the same time as Sunday Night Football. Many will roll their eyes at the thought of “sports” superseding a national tragedy. This was not that simple.
First, this was a big game. The San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots are both strong Super Bowl contenders. Scheduled months in advance, around 70,000 people were inside the stadium. Secondly, the game was in New England.
While television viewers could choose who to watch, people in the stadium could not.
There is a precedent for this situation. On September 20th, 2001, President George W. Bush addressed America. On 9/11, three of four hijacked airplanes murdered people in New York and Pennsylvania.
Nine days later, at the same time as his speech, the National Hockey League (NHL) had a game between bitter rivals. The New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers were playing, and decisions had to be made.
President Bush began speaking just as the second period had ended, so there was an intermission. President Bush’s remarks were carried on the jumbotron. When the third period was set to begin in a game tied 2-2, the jumbotron went back to sports. The fans in the stadium demanded President Bush be put back on the jumbotron as players from both teams just stood, cried, and listened to him.
The NHL made a split-second decision. The third period was canceled, the game declared a tie. Everybody involved accepted this decision as proper.
Several factors made this the right call. This was a “preseason” game, not counting toward the rankings. Fans demanded to hear President Bush. Most importantly, this was not just a campaign speech or even a heartfelt eulogy. There were policy recommendations.
President Bush announced the creation of the Department of Homeland Security with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as the first head of it. This was news, meriting media coverage.
With President Obama, one bit of guessing would be whether he would offer soothing words alone, or policy recommendations. Arguments for this can go either way. Some believe a funeral procession is no place for advancing policy proposals. Others say that words with no “beef,” means no news or justification for interrupting the game.
Those claiming insensitivity do not grasp the NFL. There was a stirring pregame tribute to the deceased victims that moved the crowd, with a moment of silence followed by twenty flares, one for each lost child. Yet President Obama began speaking after the first quarter started. This lacked sense.
My decision was easy, because of multiple living room televisions. Such is life for an NFL addict on Sundays. The small television gave President Obama full sound. The big screen offered the football game but muted.
Most people did not have that luxury. Both the White House and NFL are massive operations with logistics departments specifically designed to prevent these situations. If President Obama was just offering a eulogy, then the game should not have been interrupted. If he was making serious news, then the game should have been stopped, at least temporarily. Postponing the game entirely was inappropriate.
Many who deeply care about the tragedy would rather turn away and watch escapist television, including football. Thousands of fans should not have to sit for hours doing nothing, especially with hard rain coming down.
Public safety issues leading to games being rescheduled did not apply here.
Somebody messed up. Whether it was someone involved in politics or sports, we may never know. Yet fans in the stadium saw the 49ers take a 7-0 lead and had no idea what President Obama was saying. Fans on television watching the game saw it interrupted.
They were instructed to turn from NBC to NBC Sports or CNBC to turn off Obama and continue watching football. Specific channel numbers were not named. After Obama spoke, the fans were instructed to turn back to NBC, a simpler task.
This is not life and death. Murdered children are far more important. Nobody disputes this. Yet thousands of people in New England, the very general area of the carnage, had decisions made for them.
Fans inside the stadium did not demand to hear President Obama, opting for the game.
Armchair quarterbacking goes beyond football. Yet several things could have been done. President Obama could have spoken on the jumbotron at an extended halftime so his remarks would not be cut off. Since he was speaking early in the first quarter, the NFL could have delayed the start of the game.
At a minimum, the jumbotron could have shown President Obama live and muted, with subtitles. That way the game could continue and fans inside the stadium could choose what to see. A split screen was another option. I can do this at home, so a billion dollar stadium with wider screens can as well.
Any number of things should have been done, and none were. For NFL junkies, missing the slightest action is troublesome. As citizens, any American President deserves our attention when making news.
Some saw one of the great Sunday Night Football games of all time. The 49ers took a 31-3 lead in the third quarter, and the Patriots came all the way back to tie it 31-31. The outcome was in doubt until the final seconds. So who won? Read it here.
President Obama gave a good speech, but not one for the ages. His words were poignant, and sometimes uneven. Yet was there actual news? The video is above. Watch it. Make a comment. Decide for yourselves, and let’s hope that these glitches on the biggest stages become a thing of the past.
Life is too important to miss even a second of what we care most about.
Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a columnist, blogger, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian who is obsessed with the National Football League. There is no offseason. Every February he pretends to care about other sports while sobbing uncontrollably each Sunday until September. Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.” When not watching football, his only other hobby is Republican, Jewish women. Republican, Jewish women, you may contact Eric above.
Follow Eric on Twitter @TYGRRRREXPRESS Eric Golub is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog.
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