by Mark McChesney
I would like to bring to your attention an issue that involves the Seattle Seahawks, the Snohomish School District and my family. To get to the point, I want to ask if you believe children in public schools should be segregated from their peers and given an “alternative education” (exact phrasing by the Snohomish School District) just because a person refuses to allow their children to be used by outside parties for promotional materials? The reason I am addressing you is because this is what happened to my children when we refused to sign away our rights and those of our children so the Seattle Seahawks and National Football League could use our children for promotional materials during an NFL Play 60 event. As you read through this I want to emphasize that we were minding our own business and did nothing to invite the Seattle Seahawks and NFL into our lives. I have made repeated written requests to school district administrators, state and federal officials, Seattle Seahawks and NFL management, NFL owners, NFL Players Association representatives and Seahawks players in pursuit of corrective action and to ask this same question: What do we owe to the Seattle Seahawks and NFL for our children’s education? I have never received a response from anybody regarding this question. I now ask this of you: Is this what it means to be a Seahawks fan? Is this the type behavior you would expect from an organization that asks for your loyalty and support?
Show your loyalty, or else! This is the basic message our family received via the actions of the NFL, Seattle Seahawks management and players and Snohomish School District administrators and teachers. The message our children received was that they weren’t good enough to be included in the NFL Play 60 event when the Seattle Seahawks came to their school.
The incident in question happened nearly seven years ago and I will address why this much time has passed a bit later. What happened is that some parents in our community entered our children’s school into an NFL Play 60 contest. When our children’s school was declared winners of an NFL Play 60 health and fitness grant, it came with strings attached. Normally, when anyone enters into a contest the party providing the prize requires some kind of promotional materials. However, this is limited to only those who entered into the contest. But this is not what happened. The NFL leveraged their popularity and the declaration that it was the school which won the prize, not just the contest entrants, to take liberty by demanding that any child who wanted to be included in their celebration assembly needed a signed waiver from their parents. Due to the popularity of the Seattle Seahawks the vast majority of parents signed away their rights and those of their children. We were part of a small handful (about ten children total) who refused to sign the NFL’s Waiver of Liability and Release which would have granted the NFL and Seattle Seahawks unrestricted rights of our children’s images, likeness, nickname, biographical information, etc., which could be used “for any purpose whatsoever” and “throughout the universe in perpetuity”. When the time came for the NFL Play 60 event, my children were ushered into the back room - out of sight and out of mind - and given an “alternative education” that was worthless. While most of the school’s children were headed to their celebration assembly feeling like winners, my children felt like anything but winners. In fact the message they received was more like, “Yea, we’re winners, except for you!”
My children were only five and seven years old at the time and failed to understand why they were not allowed to attend the highly anticipated celebration assembly. They were angry that day and they let me know it. It was abundantly clear to me that they did not feel like winners. NFL Play 60 is advertised as a charity program, but I must ask, what kind of charity demands access to entire schools full of children for promotional materials? This doesn’t sound like charity to me. NFL Play 60 is also advertised as an educational program, but I must also ask, if this was an educational program, then why weren’t all of the school’s students invited to attend? The simple answer is that NFL Play 60 was neither a charity nor an educational program, but an advertising scheme to promote the NFL and its franchise football clubs. And the motive? Money! And from what I have been able to determine, NFL Play 60 had the potential to yield millions.
To provide you with some perspective regarding the profit potential to the NFL and its franchise football clubs, I would like to turn your attention to former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong. When the United States Postal Service sued Lance Armstrong and Tailwind Sports for breach of contract after it was revealed that Lance Armstrong had engaged in prohibited performance enhancing methods, United States Postal Service documents revealed that the benefit (after costs) to the USPS for their sponsorship was in excess of $100 million dollars. The USPS contract with Lance Armstrong spanned approximately the same length of time as the NFL ran their Super School contests. Now, when one considers how many people watch football as opposed to cycling, I believe it is easy to say that NFL Play 60 promotional materials were of far greater value to the NFL than the Tailwind Sports endorsement was to the USPS. Additionally, when one considers that NFL Play 60 was targeting these young impressionable minds (think about the banners they left behind in these school cafeterias/gymnasiums) and that the return on their investment is intended to be realized over the lifetime of these future football fans, then I believe it is fair to say that the value of the NFL’s Play 60 program can easily exceed $100 million; and they were utilizing taxpayer resources to engage in this activity.
While the school district may think otherwise, I want to ask how any parent can even question the quality of their child’s education based upon whom they are willing or unwilling to promote. The conflict of interest should have been obvious. There should not even be a gray area here. The NFL and Seattle Seahawks were served, but can you really say that about all of the children who were sent to the back room? I want the public to understand what happens to your child’s education when you do not show your appreciation and support of the corporate sponsors of that education. Our children did not receive their regular education, nor did they qualify for their second-class corporate controlled education, but received a third-class education that was both an after-thought and worthless.
School districts have policies that restrict the rights of children, such as restrictions on the display of religious symbols and even on free speech. School districts have dress codes that restrict or prohibit attire with images or slogans that are sexually suggestive, promote prohibited substances like alcohol or tobacco, weapons, gang affiliations, or anything that even implies intimidation, discrimination or the ridicule of others. Then there’s the highly subjective catch-all straight from Snohomish School District policy, “Other items as deemed inappropriate or unsafe by staff and administrators.” School districts across the nation have policies that restrict the rights of children and I believe most people would agree that school district administrators need reasonable restrictive policies in place to maintain order. But now they’re playing the other side of the fence by telling students and families what to promote. If school districts want my support on their restrictions, then they have absolutely no business even suggesting any third parties who they believe we should support. Additionally, given the violent nature of football and some of the violent behavioral examples displayed by NFL players, I really have to wonder why anybody would want to promote the NFL or football to children as young as five years old at all, let alone inside public schools.
Now I know you may be rolling your eyes and thinking this crazy guy has gotten bent out of shape over an insignificant issue, so let me be clear. I am not necessarily objecting to school districts utilizing outside parties to provide educational programs. Some of them have value while some of them are questionable. That is not my argument, at least not now. My focus is on the use of public schools students - where you have a captive audience of children who are required to be present by state law - and using their images, likeness, biographical information, etc., to promote a business or organization. This kind of activity falls outside of the purpose of a public school, or any public institution for that matter. In my opinion, this kind of activity is simply unethical. Public school students should not be monetized or politicized and they definitely should not be segregated and given an alternative education because a parent refuses to let an outside party attempt to exploit their children.
As I pointed out in my letters to Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen and to NFL Player Association Representatives like Richard Sherman, Michael Bennett and Russell Wilson, this event has not only had an impact upon my children, but on our family life and on me in particular. It should be obvious this has had an impact, otherwise why would I still be pursuing this after so much time has passed? Again, I want to remind you that we never invited the Seattle Seahawks or NFL into our lives. No, somebody else did that on our behalf. For the sake of our privacy and especially for that of our children, I hope you will understand why I will not delve into the details here. However, for a short explanation, this activity was a play upon people’s emotions and in this case an emotion known as loyalty. As soon as our children brought the announcement home from school a conflict arose between my wife and me. This conflict continued as I chose to pursue corrective action. Now throw our children into the equation and I hope you can understand how an attempt to maintain a balance between keeping the peace at home while pursuing avenues of corrective action has taken so long. Along the way I believe I have faced acts of hostility from school district officials and from the community at large as recently as within the past year because I have challenged those in positions of authority and voiced my opinions. Also, while difficult, if not impossible to prove, I believe I have lost employment opportunities as a result of the website I launched to document and write about the issues surrounding this type of activity. After all, who wants to hire a complainer, especially one who can be viewed as disloyal? In essence, I feel I am facing a type of social isolationism because I chose to write about the incident and the issues. While this may not have been the most effective method for pursing corrective action, I still have options available. But before I get into that, it’s time to drop the other shoe.
The NFL and Seattle Seahawks are not alone in this type of activity. Over the years I have noticed that the Seattle Mariners have been engaged in a similar activity. For several years now the Seattle Mariners have gained access into elementary schools throughout the region (primarily in Seattle) to deliver their DREAM presentation, an acronym that stands for Drug-free, Respect (yourself and others), Education (through reading), Attitude and Motivation. Like the NFL, the Seattle Mariners claim that their Education Day program is a community service. But I must ask, how much respect are the Seattle Mariners showing these children when they post their images and videos on their website alongside buttons that read, “Shop” and “Tickets”? Furthermore, this year the Seattle Mariners took the next step and used video clips of these elementary school children in televised commercials which were aired on the ROOT Sports Network and possibly others. Again, I must ask, how much are the images of these children worth? Obviously they are worth something, otherwise why else would the Seattle Mariners be using them?
If you are going to engage in community service, there should be no questions regarding the legitimacy of that service. While the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners may claim that they were not taking advantage of their community service activities, I am questioning the legitimacy of any such claims. I believe that the images of these children have value and my research indicates that the value is considerable.
So where do we go from here? So far I have avoided the legal system for reasons I will not delve into, but that may end. However, before I pursue that option I believe it is time to petition the Snohomish, Seattle, and other school districts as well for access of my own. That’s right, I have an educational program of my own and I believe that I am at least as qualified to teach - if not more so - than any football player, any baseball player, or even many of the professional teachers. Call it a rebuttal program to NFL Play 60 and Mariner’s Education Day. All I want is an equal opportunity. However, my target audience will be those students in high school who may have been a target of these activities in the past and who can better understand the complexity of the issues I intend to present. Some of these kids have skin in the game and I believe it is more than fair that they be allowed to hear any alternative views as to why the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Mariners were really at their school.
My program will draw upon my research while writing my website articles to discuss issues such as freedom of speech versus commercial speech, fake news and propaganda, degradation of education, discrimination, bullying and hate, hypocrisy, scope of authority, conflict of interest (and even corruption), coercion, deception, groupthink, and indoctrination. I will also discuss how an omission of the truth is a form of lying and how school administrators won’t answer any questions while demanding that students take responsibility for their actions. But most of all we will be following the money and after I am finished I believe these kids will feel used.
I am sure no school administrators will want me inside their schools, nor will any teacher, but it’s time to face the music. If these school districts are going to help promote the Seahawks and the Mariners, then they can promote me or anybody else as well. For instance, what if somebody decided to invite the National Rifle Association into our public schools to teach a course on gun safety or Planned Parenthood to discuss family planning? Of course, we can expect the cameras to be there and school children to be used for promotional materials. I was not the one to open this door, but I believe it is well past the time to close it. This could get interesting. By the way, I am not suggesting that either the NRA or Planned Parenthood would have the audacity to even attempt to do this.
One of the purposes of writing this article is to address the fans directly. Again, I ask, is this what it means to be a Seahawks (or Mariners) fan? Is this the new model for public education? Is this how you want your tax dollars used? Do we really need another lawsuit over education? This may be avoidable, but not without your help.
There are many ways the public can help. One would be to leave a message on the Seattle Seahawks website via their Fan Feedback form located at the bottom of their contact page. You may also contact the Seattle Mariners via email at FanCare@Mariners.com. You can also contact your local, state and federal politicians and express your outrage (hopefully that’s what you feel). If enough people scream loud enough our politicians will take action. Yes, they actually do that from time-to-time.
You can penalize the NFL and their franchise football clubs directly by not patronizing them; to stop going to their games and to stop purchasing their merchandise. I am not asking you to abandon the Seahawks altogether or to stop being a fan as I know this may be asking a bit too much. While I think it would be appropriate and supportive to stop going to Seahawks games, I know that is not plausible. But you can back off a bit and every bit counts. If you’re a season ticket holder I won’t blame you for going to the games, but please skip the beer or that hot dog while attending the games. Make their concessionaires feel the impact. Eventually we may see a domino effect as they apply the pressure to the franchises and the sporting venues. Another method would be to patronize the local dining establishments before going to the game so you may be less apt to spend your money inside the stadiums. I’m sure the local businesses would appreciate your patronage. If you are not a season ticket holder, then please consider skipping that game or two where you may purchase seats at the venue or via a ticketing agent. You can then watch the game - if you must - on television at home or at your local pub where you can obtain that feeling of comradery.
Perhaps the most effective way to help would be to boycott the NFL’s sponsors. Stop purchasing their products or services and seek out their competitors. It would also be helpful to let their existing sponsors know that you will no longer support their business and the reason why. Once NFL sponsors feel the impact then you can bet they will scream loudly and it may not take too much to set them off. These sponsors have contracts with the NFL, the franchise football clubs and the media networks and if they even think they are adversely impacted by a loss of revenue due to the actions of the NFL they will arm themselves with lawyers. Maybe I won’t need any lawyers of my own after all. Maybe I can sit back and watch as armies of lawyers file a multitude of lawsuits claiming the NFL damaged their business and breached their contracts. After all, when I was researching the issue of discrimination and I realized that my children probably weren’t a member of any of the protected classes as defined under the law, the final word was, “For all other forms of discrimination the marketplace will set the penalty.” So please support all of the children situated like my own and help penalize the NFL and their franchise football clubs by at least reducing your patronage of the sponsors of their entertainment product. In the end, perhaps this will become the most effective form of corrective action possible.
You can also take action against all of the NFL Play 60 partners. You can stop patronizing partnering businesses and stop donating to partnering charities and organizations. A partial list of NFL Play 60 partners may be found here. After all, there are many other fine charities out there to choose from. You may try visiting the Charity Navigator website for help in finding charities more deserving of your support.
Assuming my message gains traction with the general public, I am hopeful that entertainers will consider suspending or renegotiating their existing contracts with the NFL, their franchise football clubs, NFL Play 60 partners and NFL sponsors. Many standard contracts contain a morals clause that should allow such action. If you are not already under a contract with the NFL or any of their associates, then please consider turning away this business if such an opportunity should present itself.
What you allow you teach. In other words, by saying and doing nothing to stop such behaviors is the same as approving of them. After all, just look at how our professional sports teams always seem to get the public to pony up and provide funding for their stadiums. They have become accustomed to utilizing public resources for their own gain and now they are coming after our children. But really, who needs entire schools of children to promote their business, especially the business of professional sports entertainment and especially a sport with elements of violence? And just what lessons are really being delivered to our children as we engage in these activities? Words are cheap when the examples these children observe are contrary to those words.
My experience and research of the issues surrounding NFL Play 60 lead me to this conclusion; that NFL Play 60 was an exercise in coercive psychology for the financial gain of the NFL and its franchise owners. The NFL Play 60 Super School contests were traps that preyed upon human psychological weaknesses to win a prize. Once the trap was sprung the NFL took liberty by demanding access to all of the school’s children; something that was never specified in the contest rules and beyond the norm of any contest. The NFL made their demands after the prize was awarded to ply a different psychological component; that nobody wanted to be the person to speak up and potentially jeopardize the prestige of being the contest winner and especially the $10,000 prize (the actual total prize awarded was in excess of $11,000). Once the NFL gained acceptance by school administrators, another coercive psychological element was introduced; the stamp of approval by people in positions of authority. Now, even if a parent refused the NFL’s paperwork which resulted not only in their child’s exclusion from the event but an alternative education that was garbage, the NFL was (almost) assured that nobody would challenge them, the community of parents and school officials. After all, who wants to be identified as the person who would not just be the spoiler and jeopardize the award, but someone who could be labeled as disloyal to their children’s school, their community and the Seahawks? But there’s more - and this is perhaps the most coercive psychological element of all - what parent wants their child to be personally exposed in an environment I refer to as a peer pressure cooker where they would likely be singled out and targeted with scorn and ridicule because it is their parent creating such a fuss? With all of these coercive psychological elements in play, silence is virtually guaranteed. And I don’t believe this was accidental. The NFL employs may people who understand human psychology - especially the psychology of crowds - to market their product. This was just an application of the understanding of those psychological components by these marketing professionals in exchange for a paycheck, and maybe a hefty bonus as well.
In my opinion, NFL Play 60 is neither a charity nor an educational program, but a feel-good advertising scheme that exploits public school children for financial gain. NFL Play 60 was simply a program born out of arrogance (that NFL players were so popular that they could do no wrong) and driven by greed.
So, once again I ask, is this what it means to be a Seahawks fan? Does being a fan mean that everybody else needs to be one as well? Show your loyalty and support or else? Remove your brain from your head and just go along with the crowd? Is this the way you would want your five-year-old child treated? Is this the kind of organization that really deserves your support? As the old adage goes, you can’t force someone to love you. There was a time when I considered myself a Seahawks fan, but no more. The Seattle Seahawks and NFL have clearly demonstrated to me that they don’t care about their community, but only about their image. I believe when viewing any of the NFL Play 60 Super School award presentation videos that the image anyone would perceive is that all of the school’s children are present. You now know this is not true and that I consider NFL Play 60 to be fraudulent. And by their silence and inaction, I consider NFL management, franchise owners and players complicit in this fraud. We, as a community, can do better than this.
I welcome you to read my original article, NFL Play 60: Stay Off Our Bus! and to visit the website StayOffOurBus.org for additional information.
Thank you for your attention and consideration.
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