NFL Play 60: Stay Off Our Bus!

 The National Football League's Gambit to Commercialize School Children 

The National Football League has been sponsoring a program for several years now called NFL Play 60, a campaign that encourages kids to be physically active for 60 minutes every day in order to prevent childhood obesity. On the surface this sounds like a very positive message. However, I would like to offer an alternative view based upon my family’s experience when our children’s school was awarded an NFL Play 60 health and fitness grant. I can only conclude that NFL Play 60 is not so much a program that promotes health and fitness to children, but that its primary purpose is to promote the NFL.

First, our children were not allowed to attend their school’s NFL Play 60 celebration assembly (with the Seattle Seahawks) because I would not sign away the rights of my children so the NFL could use them for promotional purposes. You see, like the event at my children’s school, the NFL has been videotaping these events and posting them on the websites of their respective franchise clubs. While the vast majority of parents either didn’t read the NFL’s paperwork, didn’t care or felt pressured to sign, we did not. While this may seem minor, I am (obviously) taking a different view.

What bothered me was the language of the NFL’s Waiver of Liability and Release, primarily the following sentence: “I consent to such photography, videotaping and/or recording and to use, in any and all media formats, including, without limitation, television and digital media formats, whether now known or hereafter devised, throughout the universe in perpetuity, of my child’s name, nickname, image, likeness, voice, photograph, signature facsimile, and biographical information for any purpose whatsoever, without any further action required or any consideration owing to me or my child from the releases.” Say what? “… throughout the universe in perpetuity… for any purpose whatsoever?!” Yikes! Feel like being owned! No way!

NFL Play 60 is supposed to be a charity. So let me ask, what kind of charity demands promotional materials, especially on such a grand scale? The NFL didn’t stop at asking for representatives from just the parents and school officials who entered their contest; they demanded access to an entire school of children. If the NFL wants to be hypocritical that’s their business. To ask me to not only turn a blind eye, but to participate in their hypocrisy is another thing altogether. Besides, what just happened to my freedom to choose which private enterprises I choose to or not to promote? Since when does this choice even belong in a public school setting?

One must consider that this event received quite a bit of hype and I believe it is pretty easy to envision the scene. With heads full of euphoria and shouts of, “Yea, we’re winners,” staff members began wearing their Seahawk jerseys, the posters were painted, the banners unfurled and the balloons inflated. Everybody was excited about the upcoming celebration assembly and visit by a real Seattle Seahawk football player. But as that day approached and the excitement reached its climax, my children were delivered the letdown. While virtually all of their classmates were headed to the celebration assembly, my children were led away. Unwanted. The message they received, “Yea, we’re winners, except for you!” Like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, my children were sent to the land of misfit toys and essentially told that they weren’t good enough to play in their reindeer games.

However, what bothers me the most about what transpired was the impact to my children’s education during the event, which I classify as a total loss. My children were segregated from their peers and placed in a classroom totaling four children. One teacher and four children, what a wonderful teaching opportunity, right? Not so. The best this teacher could do was plug a video into the machine to keep them quiet. This wasn’t a teacher, this was a glorified babysitter. And once you consider that our children had already seen the video (we own a copy) and they were mentally wondering why they weren’t allowed to attend, then you can see why I classify this “accommodated education” as a total loss. They had mentally checked out.

Once school district administrators agreed to the NFL’s demand to use these students for promotional purposes they expose themselves to many ethical and legal questions. The primary issues I would like to address are:

  1. Just who assumed to possess the authority to enter a contest on behalf of all of these children?
  2. What educational purpose was served by filming this event?
  3. If this was an educational program as claimed by the NFL, then why exclude some of the children?
  4. What do we owe to the NFL or any other private enterprise for our children’s education?
  5. Perhaps the most basic - and important - question is what happened to our freedom to choose? How can I, as a parent, be in a position to question the quality of my children’s education based solely upon which private enterprise I chose to or chose not to promote?
  6. If school districts are using school children to promote a social program - no matter how honorable that may be - then doesn’t this become a case of state-sponsored social activism? However, the question then becomes, what happens to those children whose parents refuse to cooperate? Should such a decision cost them their child’s education?
  7. This leads to the issue of freedom of speech, where Justice Robert Jackson wrote regarding a U S Supreme Court decision some seventy years ago, “If there is a fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” While we weren’t required to speak on behalf of the school or NFL, why did this activity result in the removal of my children from their regular classroom and a degradation (or loss) of their education?
  8. If public school administrators are accepting money from a private enterprise to act in the interest of that entity, then doesn’t this activity not only present school officials with a conflict of interest, but becomes an act of corruption? I’m not sure about federal law (I couldn’t fine the applicable law), but according to the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, which was signed by President Clinton and ratified by the U S Senate, I believe this does meet the definition of corruption because the activity resulted in “an act (by the public official) or omission in the performance of his public functions.”
  9. If the award grants were shared with other schools - with other people with no skin in the game - then isn’t this a case of inequitable taxation? The U S Supreme court decision regarding Obamacare indicates it is as my children suffered a penalty for somebody else’s gain.
  10. Is the NFL violating tax laws by claiming this program as a charity?
  11. If school districts allow the NFL’s cameras into their schools, then how about mine or those of any other private enterprise for that matter?
  12. If school officials can rent out their students for fundraising, then why do we need a tax base to support our public schools?

These are just some of the questions I am raising. The bottom line is if our public schools are spending their time producing publicity materials for our sports entertainment businesses, then it’s no wonder why America is falling behind the rest of the world regarding public education.

The NFL had other options available if they wanted promotional materials, but they are entering these schools during regular class hours and displacing a minority of students out of their classrooms so they can show the whole world how they pat themselves on the back. We can have public debates about the use cameras at traffic intersections, about camera equipped drone aircraft, cameras on police patrol cars and even on the officers themselves, but nobody is saying a word about how the NFL is working their way into public schools to use children to promote their business. This is wrong and the public needs to be aware about what the NFL is really doing.

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 Copyright 2014 Mark McChesney