NFL Play 60: Stay Off Our Bus!

 The National Football League's Gambit to Commercialize School Children 

Part 5 - The Adventure Continues


Present Day

So where do we go from here? We aren’t sure about our legal status; whether statutes of limitations have expired or what laws may be applicable. However, we always retained the right to free speech, which I am now exercising. Consequently, I have reached the point where I have decided to launch my own website - simple as it may be - and publish my story. We still have a few things remaining, like explaining how we got to where we are and the timing of everything. We also have some open messages we need to send to various groups and we need to ponder how we are to proceed.

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Why This Website

Timeline

While we have mentioned some of the school district personnel and government agencies we have engaged, it may be helpful to provide you with a timeline of events. Each of these communications are available as separate documents so I will not cover the content of those messages.

2011 November 04
Children bring home announcement, dated 2011 Nov 03, informing us that Cathcart Elementary had been named as an NFL Play 60 Super School. The NFL’s Waiver of Liability and Release was on the reverse.

2011 November 14
I email our children’s teachers explaining why we refused to sign the NFL’s waiver.

2011 November 15
The NFL and Seattle Seahawks held the celebration assembly at Cathcart Elementary.

2011 November 17
I email Casey Bowers, the principal at Cathcart Elementary to air my grievance. We exchange several messages on that day.

2011 November 18
After feeling snubbed by Casey Bowers and Matthew Shapiro (NFL Play 60 program coordinator), I sent an email to William Mester, Superintendent of the Snohomish School District. I copied Jay Hagen, Snohomish School Board President on this message.

2011 December 24
After receiving no response from either William Mester or Jay Hagen, I sent a letter to Jenny Durkan, United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington (Department of Justice).

2012 February 28
I received a reply from Robert Westinghouse, Assistant United States Attorney and Criminal Chief for the Western District of Washington. It was determined that our children did not suffer from an act of discrimination as defined under federal law.

2012 March 24
I send a letter to Rob McKenna, Washington State Attorney General.

2012 March 24
I send a follow-up letter to Robert Westinghouse inquiring about the validity of the agreement between Cathcart Elementary and the NFL.

2012 April 05
I receive a reply from Robert Westinghouse informing us that he was unable to render an opinion because our issue fell outside the scope of his duties as a federal prosecutor.

2012 April 20
I receive a reply from Dierk Meierbachtol, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Washington informing me that the Attorney General’s office doesn’t have the power to look into these types of matters.

2012 April 26
I send a letter to Rick Bonner, Audit Manager, School Programs, Washington State Auditor’s Office.

2012 May 02
I send a letter to the Washington State Human Rights Commission.

2012 May 04
I receive a reply from Becky Moore, Civil Rights Investigator, Washington State Human Rights Commission, stating that our children were reasonably accommodated during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly.

2012 May 29
I receive a reply from Rick Bonner stating that they were not going to look into this matter. I also had a phone conversation with Rick Bonner prior to this date.

2012 June 11
I call and then send an email message to Brian Rosenthal, Education Reporter with the Seattle Times.

2012 June 18
I receive a reply from Brian Rosenthal stating that he was not interested in my story.

While I considered other options, I decided to let things rest until after the Presidential election. At this point my options seemed limited and I was unwilling to contact the more conservative elements of our media establishment because I realized that my grievance could be used to serve political interests that weren’t aligned with my own. Plus I didn’t want to become a part of what I felt would become a media circus.

After the Presidential election I began to seek out legal help from several non-profit organizations; all unsuccessfully. For the most part the same reasoning was offered by each organization in that they have limited resources to allocate to the hundreds of requests they receive seeking legal assistance. After these options failed to bear fruit I began to seek assistance from private practice attorneys. While the private practice attorneys were much quicker to respond and did offer some friendly advice, in the end we received the same basic reason for not wanting to take us on as a client; that any potential injury suffered by our children was not significant enough to justify taking any action. Basically it was a business decision on their part.

I am now at the present time where I am going to pursue a more political track. I am undaunted by the lack of attention by government officials and The Seattle Times as I believe I have an important story to tell. I rejected other media options for reasons I have already discussed, including publishing a book for profit as this would violate one of my primary arguments against the NFL: You can’t be effective in promoting your cause when you’re more concerned about promoting yourself. I am lobbying for corrective action and it would be hypocritical to place profits ahead of this objective.

The success of any political solution lies on how much support I can gather from the public. Therefore, I will bear the expense of publishing my own materials with the hope I can enlist the support of others to spread the message. I am hopeful that once I am able to open enough eyes and everyone pauses long enough to shake off their attachment to our sports stars that they will see the problem this situation poses to the quality of our public education system and the threat it poses to our personal freedoms. I am essentially that lone voice calling out, “The emperor is wearing no clothes.”

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The Seattle Times

As long as we are on the subject of the media, I would like to comment more about my experience (or lack thereof) with The Seattle Times.

I was really taken aback when Brian Rosenthal declined to take my story, especially after the woman who answered the phone seemed genuinely interested. I thought I had included enough information in my email to at least warrant additional questioning. What I didn’t expect was the cold shoulder. I kept wondering what had happened and how to proceed. Things just didn’t add up. First, while Mr Rosenthal said he was at a conference on the east coast, it seemed odd that it would take so long for somebody who works in the media industry to respond. I mean, isn’t it a part of a reporter’s job to remain connected and always looking for new material? The second oddity is his response, “I don’t think we have time to cover this right now given all that is going on, but please keep me posted.” Say what? Am I supposed to believe that The Seattle Times is a one person operation? Certainly Mr Rosenthal could have asked for assistance or forwarded my story on to another reporter if he was too busy. If this wasn’t a story then why not just say so, but to say he was too busy is an excuse that ranks up there with, “My dog ate my homework.”

I was still pondering what had happened when the third oddity strikes. On 2012 June 21, just a few days after Brian Rosenthal turns down my story, I read the following headline in the Northwest section of The Seattle Times: High School Athletic Fields Could Soon Sport Advertising.” The article went on to say, “The unanimous vote (by the Seattle School Board) came amid protests from parents and teachers holding signs proclaiming, ‘School is for learning, not for marketing,’ and other messages.” Say what? I presented a story about using students to produce advertising and The Seattle Times is covering a story about placing advertisements on athletic fields? This doesn’t make any sense. And get this… the story is written by Brian Rosenthal. Here he is writing about billboards that will be placed on scoreboards and the fences of athletic fields, but he turns down my story about the billboard (they will call it a banner) that hangs prominently in the Cathcart Elementary school cafeteria/gym.

Now my mind was working overtime. How could this be? What was going on? I tried to think of all of the possible reasons why my story was turned down. One of the possibilities that crossed my mind was that Brian Rosenthal was just a lazy reporter, or what I would refer to as a trough feeder. He has his appointed rounds and covering Seattle School Board meetings is one of his appointed duties (his feeding trough); he just reports on whatever happens to be the primary focus of that meeting and as coincidence would have it, it was about billboard advertising. Maybe Mr Rosenthal just has a short memory and didn’t see the connection between my story and what he just wrote. But probably not. Again, citing the laziness factor, maybe 24 miles is just too far for Mr Rosenthal to travel for a story. However, I find that difficult to believe as well.

It finally came to mind. I seemed to recall an article and luckily I hadn’t placed my newspapers into the recycle bin yet. It took a bit of digging and then I found it. Yes, there it was… on the front page of the Northwest section back on 2012 May 09 was the photo of Felix Hernandez and several other Seattle Mariners at Gatewood Elementary in Seattle to pitch their DREAM (Drug-free, Respect yourself and others, Education through reading, Attitude and Motivation) program. , I went to the Seattle Mariners website and verified the existence of the video. So the Seattle Mariners were doing this too and The Seattle Times was right there with them. Additionally I found an earlier video where the Seattle Mariners were at Beacon Hill Elementary on 2011 May 06 (although I have not been able to determine if The Seattle Times was present at that event… yet). If you have read any of my correspondences with the various government agencies I contacted you will notice that I asked the question, “Who would be next?” Well, maybe the real question should be, “Who was first?” However, what matters is that The Seattle Times was already aware that the Seattle Mariners were videotaping their events. So I must ask, did the Seattle Mariners require signed waivers from all of the parents so their children could attend their DREAM event? If the Seattle Mariners did not obtain signed waivers, then they could be looking at a legal claim similar to the one Facebook settled over their Sponsored Stories. If the Seattle Mariners did require signed waivers, then were there any students excluded from the event because their parents refused to sign a waiver? If so, how were these students “accommodated.” Were there any students safely tucked away only to have their dreams crushed? Further, was anyone from The Seattle Times aware of this situation? I would have to think they were. I mean, who else besides a newspaper would understand the difference between free speech and commercial speech more than themselves? So now that I was openly criticizing this kind of activity, covering this story would have to include The Seattle Times as well, at least in some capacity. Would this be enough to kill a potential story? Well, you have to decide that for yourself, but I think you at least have to wonder about the possibility. And their motive? Money, of course. This kind of coverage helps to sell newspapers and that is their business. So now The Seattle Times had a financial reason to turn a blind eye.

Not convinced? That’s okay because I don’t have any hard evidence to support my theory as it is built entirely on circumstantial evidence. However, I would like to present some additional evidence. On 2013 June 12, Felix Hernandez was in the news again. This time on the front page! Again, The Seattle Times was covering another DREAM event, this time at Cedarhurst Elementary. Like the previous story this one consisted of only a photo and a caption contained within a frame, but that’s all it takes to grab a reader’s attention. However, this time The Seattle Times knew - or should have known, based on my email to Mr Rosenthal - that some of the students may not have been present and that their absence was based upon dubious circumstances. What this should indicate to you is the value these kinds of photographs and associated videos can have. So just ask yourself, why else would The Seattle Times place these photos on their front page? The answer is simple; it helps to sell newspapers.

So now I ask again, why did it take Brian Rosenthal a week to respond to my email? Was he really at a conference on the east coast or was he sitting in a conference room with his superiors figuring out what to do about me? One of the oldest and most effective strategies in dealing with confrontational situations is to ignore it and hope the complainant goes away. I suspect this was the strategy employed by William Mester and the Snohomish School District.

Back in March of 2001, The Seattle Times wrote a series of articles called “Uninformed Consent.” The series was about patients who were dying at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (“The Hutch”) during two failed clinical trials in which doctors had a financial interest. The point of the series was that the patients and their families were never informed about the connection between the doctors and the pharmaceutical companies, that other patients had died during the trials, or that there was evidence that the experimental drugs were known to be either ineffective or even harmful. This series earned the reporters and The Seattle Times a Pulitzer Prize while the reputations of several doctors became tarnished. So The Seattle Times wins a Pulitzer for publishing an article about the lack of ethics at The Hutch, but won’t cover a story when their own financial interests can be questioned. Sounds kind of hypocritical to me. I’m sure that The Seattle Times will point out that they are an “independent newspaper” which gives their reporters great latitude in making their own decisions regarding which stories they choose to cover. In this case senior managers and editors at The Seattle Times can simply claim that they were never informed and leave Mr Rosenthal hanging out to dry. Okay, it is possible that this was entirely Mr Rosenthal’s decision to kill my story and that nobody else at The Seattle Times was aware of the possibility that some children could be hidden in the back rooms during the Mariner’s DREAM events. However, this would seem woefully naive. Maybe Mr Rosenthal never shared my concerns or never saw any similarities between the NFL Play 60 and Seattle Mariner’s DREAM events. And maybe Mr Rosenthal did not share the concerns that I raised in my message and never saw any problem with these events at all. However, that would seem to paint a picture that Brian Rosenthal was woefully ignorant of what was going on in his local community, unaware of what was happening within his own news organization, was either uninquisitive and/or just plain lazy, or just lacked a moral compass. Does this sound like the qualities of a professional reporter to you? Me neither. No, I’m willing to bet that the decision to kill my story wasn’t his alone; that Mr Rosenthal consulted with his editors or other superiors and he obediently followed the instructions of those superiors. Here again we may have somebody who has fallen victim to the psychological phenomenon known as obedience to authority, especially if he felt that this paycheck was threatened.

There may be yet another reason The Seattle Times willfully turned a blind eye to the concerns I raised and that is the possibility that to publish such a negative story about their local sports clubs would damage their access to these clubs and their athletes. So now we’re no longer talking just about the potential financial considerations of just a couple of stories, but a long-term financial impact due to an inability to access athletes and team managers. To illustrate this, Lisa Finnegan points out in her book No Questions Asked, that the Bush administration effectively labeled the media as “dangerous” after the 9-11 attacks. Finnegan states, “After the September 11 attacks, President Bush and his administration reinforced the need for cooperation from the media at every opportunity. Journalists were constantly reminded that the war was, as Bush put it, ‘a black-and-white choice with no grays,’ and that there was a right and a wrong side of the line. Those on the wrong side of the line included journalists who asked too many difficult questions or who broadcast bin Laden’s messages. These journalists were labeled as dangerous and unpatriotic because they refused to obey and purportedly caused divisions that left the country venerable to another attack.” Finnegan continues to say, “While most journalists succumbed to groupthink, a handful remained skeptical. These reporters with ‘prolific pens’ were locked out of the White House or had their access minimized.” There have been several articles published about the lack of access to Obama administration officials and it has been duly noted by many that the Obama administration is very carefully managing the media. Of course, these officials will tell you that they are just utilizing modern day tools to post their own media clips and stories, but others are claiming what is really happening is that reporters have lost access to administration officials which is impacting the public’s right to know what their government is doing. This kind of media management can be seen in another incident which involved veteran reporter Bob Woodward who claimed that he received veiled threats from a senior Obama administration official after he wrote an article that was critical of the administrations role during the sequester. Woodward told CNN that this senior official him, “you will regret doing this.” Some interpreted this as a threat to Woodward’s access to the White House. So nowadays the message seems to be that if you want to be a part of the press corps at the White House you had better play friendly or you may find yourself on the outside. This can bear immense pressure on reporters to comply. Likewise, if The Seattle Times feels that any negative story pertaining to the local sports clubs could adversely affect their future access to those clubs, then the editors and managers at The Seattle Times may have succumbed to that pressure - whether expressed or felt otherwise - which caused them to turn away a critical story. So again, this is just additional circumstantial evidence that The Seattle Times exercised a business decision to not publish my story.

I recall reading an article a while back by Leonard Pitts Jr titled, Recognizing the Critical Value of a Daily Newspaper’s Journalism, in which Mr Pitts addresses the situation where a major city may eventually have no daily newspaper and the potential impact to the local community. In his article Mr Pitts was addressing the comments made by former Governor Sara Palin (who apparently was quoting Matt Drudge) when she said, “Every citizen can be a reporter, can take on the powers that be.” Mr Pitts does a fine job of explaining the qualities that professional reporters provide to their local communities and that citizen reporters cannot provide the in-depth coverage that professional reporters can. Mr Pitts uses the professional coverage of events such as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Haitian and Japanese earthquakes and others as examples to prove his point. However, it seems that Mr Pitts focuses most of his attention on the first part of Sara Palin’s statement as opposed to the latter. “'Every citizen can be a reporter,' she says.” Yes, Mr Pitts does poke holes in this statement and I won’t pretend that professional journalist ignore the latter part of Palin’s statement. They don’t. At least not always. But what Mr Pitts doesn’t adequately address is the number of issues that many people feel are not covered by mainstream media. I realize that bloggers often do not provide the in-depth coverage that professional journalists provide, but what happens when the professional reporters and publishers simply ignores or refuses to cover the concerns of its citizens? This seems to be where I am at. Yes, I realize that bloggers are giving their product away, which is one of the reasons I refused to engage media options such as the Drudge Report or the Huffington Post. Most of the writers receive nothing for their work while the owners reap all of the rewards. No, thank you. However, I am now at the point where I am not just giving my journalism away, but I am bearing the expense of developing a website to publish it myself. Why? Because I am taking on those “powers that be” to protect my freedoms and rights and those my children. This issue isn’t about making money; it’s about ethics and proper conduct and generating the public support necessary to bring about change. Right now I simply seek to reach as many people as possible and I don’t want the price of buying a book, magazine or newspaper to become a barrier. It may not be good business, but as the saying goes, the price of freedom is not free. So I ask you Mr Pitts, what is the value of my daily newspaper’s journalism when they refuse to cover what seems to be a legitimate citizen concern? Unless, of course, you don’t think I have a legitimate concern. In either case, I would like to ask you to address these issues I raise. I understand enough about your background to trust that you will provide valuable insight. So let me ask that you comment on what happened not only to my children, but the reception I received by The Seattle Times as well.

Returning to The Seattle Times, they have been running an occasional advertisement that shows a child about to board a school bus. The advertisement is titled, “First Time” and the caption reads, “We care about education, and it shows. The Seattle Times acts as a community watchdog and education advocate, with in-depth coverage at the state and national levels, impassioned editorials and our public service effort, The Greater good Campaign. Our education coverage will keep you thinking. Because it’s the little things that matter.” The NFL Play 60 celebration assembly at Cathcart Elementary was held on our youngest child’s 49th day of kindergarten. Not quite the first day, but pretty darned close. So The Seattle Times claims to care about education. No, they do not. The Seattle Times claims to be a community watchdog. No, the watchdog is unresponsive because he is fed by friends of the owner. Instead, the watchdog is behaving like a lap dog and I think we know whose laps they find comfortable. The Seattle Times claims to be an advocate on the state and national levels, but apparently 24 miles is too far to travel to pick up a story. The Seattle Times wants you to believe they are providing a public service. Perhaps sometimes, but not always. To me it seems clear that The Seattle Times cares more about maintaining their relationships with the local sports stars and their bottom line than they care about ethics, children, education or their local community. I find this entire advertisement to be blatantly false and rather insulting considering my family’s experience.

Additionally, The Seattle Times will occasionally provide their mission statement. This appears in their editorial pages, but it seems to be applicable to the newspaper’s purported mission overall. That statement reads, “To be independent and influential advocates for children, schools, safe and clean communities, a dynamic economy, and ethical leadership in public and private sectors.” Really? Advocates for children? Not mine. Advocates for schools? Nope. Advocates for ethical leadership? They can’t recognize it. Advocates for a dynamic economy? Only as long as they can make a profit.

In my opinion, The Seattle Times not only failed me and all of the children that have been affected by these sports teams that seek out children for publicity purposes, but the entire community as well. Like school administrators have shown, they lack the ethical standards to be classified as professionals. I feel that they have placed financial gain ahead of ethical conduct and have failed to provide the leadership example they claim to embrace. At the very least, I believe that The Seattle Times owes our family a better explanation as to why Brian Rosenthal was “too busy” to cover my story. In effect, I feel that The Seattle Times engaged in a form of censorship which is dangerous to any civilized society.

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Our Timing - Why Now

First, the public needs to know what is happening and I can no longer keep quiet. I have pursued every option that I can think of prior to reaching this point. The NFL continues their behavior without any regards for the educational quality and emotional wellbeing of a small minority of children at these schools.

I am mindful of the emotional attachment between the fans and their teams and that I have strong attachments of loyalty to overcome. Perhaps this goal will be better accomplished when the fans aren’t so emotionally involved. Perhaps NFL fans will be better prepared to listen to a voice of reason and actually help during the off-season.

One of the ways the public can help is to apply pressure to the sponsors of the NFL. While you may think I have lost an opportunity to impact those endorsements, I don’t believe this is the case. As I understand the business cycle for the NFL, they negotiate new contracts with the networks and sponsors in the months after the Super Bowl. Therefore, this may actually be the best time to publish my grievance and reasoning.

However, as the football season began to wind down and I was attempting to rush this through I took a step back as my primary concern turned towards those kids who entered NFL Play 60 contests as individuals. This is the one aspect of the NFL Play 60 program that the NFL seems to be operating correctly, or at least without anything objectionable as far as I can tell. Each of these kids and their parents knows full well (or should know) what they are getting into. If these kids and their parents want to promote the NFL then that is their choice. These kids - and I assume with ample support from their parents - put forth a considerable effort to win one of these awards and I do not want to diminish those accomplishments. I effect, I didn’t want to grab sensational headlines and ruin the moment for these kids. They deserve the recognition and should be congratulated. I am not sure how each of those individual award winners will feel after they hear about our experience with NFL Play 60, but I do not blame these kids. These kids knew nothing of what was transpiring at any of these Super Schools and I feel that the burden is the NFL’s, the franchise clubs and the participating schools to bear.

Hopefully the NFL will see the folly of their methods and correct the situation before any additional damage is done.

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Open Messages - A Message To...

Cathcart Elementary Parents

So your mouths are still agape and you can’t believe what you’re reading (or hearing from others). I’m willing to bet that many of you simply had no idea that any Cathcart student wasn’t present at the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly that day. And why would you? I never said anything to any Cathcart parent and I’m sure that neither Casey Bowers nor anybody else from the school district said anything either. Well, now you know. I am also willing to bet that some of you are displeased with my actions and are saying something like, “That dirty rat. That dirty stinkin’ rat. How ungrateful! What a traitor!” And that’s probably putting it very mildly. However, once you get over the shock and actually look at the big picture maybe my point will begin to sink in.

When each of you signed the NFL’s waiver you relinquished your rights. I have no problem with that. That is your choice. However, because so many of you were willing to sign away your rights you effectively signed away our rights as well. This is not right. Not in this case. In effect, you became a mob that validated what Casey Bowers requested from you; that you comply with the demands of the NFL.

You may assume that we are not football or Seahawk fans. That would be incorrect. Although I have become rather indifferent over the years, my wife is a big Seahawk fan. This hurts and what you don’t realize is the impact the decisions we faced have had on our family. What it boiled down to is that I am simply no fan of hypocrisy and the culture of privilege that surrounds organizations like the NFL. I chose to stand up for our values; those same values I want to teach to our children.

So now I ask you to consider how our children felt as they were led away when the time came to go to the celebration assembly. I can tell you because I felt their frustration, confusion and anger. They struggled to understand why they were singled out from their classmates. And for what reason, because their parents wouldn’t relinquish their rights to the NFL? They didn’t understand any of that. It made no sense, yet here they were placed in a room in virtual isolation. They felt punished and for reasons they could not comprehend. When my children returned home that afternoon they were angry and they let me know it. It took several days before they settled down enough to where I could extract any useful information at all. My children were hurt and I was going to defend them. After all, isn’t this what parents are supposed to do? Sure, I could have let it go, but what bothered me the most was not just the impact this event had on just their emotional well being and self esteem, but the impact it had on their education.

Because of this I initiated contact with Casey Bowers. At the time I don’t think Casey fully realized just how important this issue had become to me. If you read my message to Casey Bowers in the days that followed the event I think you will find that she knew I was displeased. Casey Bowers had enough experience to indicate that she was dealing with an emotionally charged situation. When I felt brushed aside by both Casey Bowers and Matthew Shapiro (from the NFL) emotions got the better of me and I took a step further. It was also at this time that I made a promise to myself and on behalf of my children that I was not going to let this go.

I understand that Casey Bowers, the teachers and school district administrators may try to defend themselves on the issues, but the fact is that our children were treated unfairly and received no real education during this time. A video. Really? It didn’t matter if it was of the educational variety because I can tell you that they had mentally checked out. Time lost. The video wasn’t on their minds. No, they were wondering what they had done to deserve being placed into detention. Remember, you’re not explaining this to me; you need to explain this to 5- and 7-year-old children.

The fact is that the NFL overstepped the bounds of decency by demanding access to the entire student body for promotional materials. It doesn’t matter that they would be a face lost in the crowd because it takes a very significant level of participation for the NFL to project the image they desired; that they had the entire student body present. It’s a very hypocritical image and I wanted no part of it. From my perspective, if you support hypocrisy then you become one of the hypocrites. I know you don’t want to hear that lecture and I don’t claim to be a perfect person who is free from mistakes. I’m sure I will make more in my lifetime. But in this case I did recognize what the NFL was up to and I simply said, “No.” As a result, our children were treated like second class citizens. So now I ask you to please explain to our family just what it is we owe to the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL for our children’s education. The short answer is, “Nothing.” So now I risk being labeled as ungrateful for the efforts of the CPO and for the grant money provided by the NFL? Don’t be ridiculous. That’s great, but not at the cost the NFL demanded.

In a civilized society we all agree to abide by the rules. Some rules aren’t defined so clearly, but I don’t think it takes much effort to see that the NFL had no justification is demanding promotional materials within a public school during class time, especially when they had other options available to them. This was a contest which we did not enter, yet the contest rules were applied to our children. This is absurd.

I see many of you at the school, often during musical events that include all of our children. Ironically, the subject matter of one of those musicals last year was about tolerance of those who were different from others. I find it interesting that the school teaches lessons about tolerance, but the actions taken in regards to my children by Casey Bowers and the teachers involved were the exact opposite.

I invite you to read more about what I’ve learned along the way and how emotion played such a significant role in all of this. You may not agree with my assessments, but I am of the opinion that the NFL knew exactly what they were doing and chose to take advantage of the situation they created. This was not charity. No, NFL Play 60 contest entrants and winners are being used and their motive is profit driven.

Simply put, I strongly feel that providing private enterprises with publicity materials, whether they are a for-profit business or nonprofit organization, is not the proper function of a public school. It shouldn’t matter how applicable their educational program is, how generous the donation is, or how honorable their intentions seem to be. The conflict of interest should be obvious and a bad precedent was set that day. It takes more to be a super school than to win a contest, especially a contest that places restrictions on participation. I don’t think Cathcart Elementary earned the privilege to be called a super school. We can do better than this. We need to do better than this.

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Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States of America

Dear President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama:

This message is directed primarily at our Nation’s First Lady because of the partnership between her Let’s Move campaign and NFL Play 60. I assume that through this partnership you are aware and approve of the methods that the NFL is using to obtain promotional materials. It’s okay if this has caught you unaware as I will give you the benefit of the doubt. However, since you are both the parents of two school-aged children, the questions I pose do concern you both.

Let’s assume that your children’s school (I believe that is Sidwell Friends School) has won an NFL Play 60 contest and is now recognized as an NFL Play 60 Super School. I realize you may not recall entering any contest, but please keep in mind that we didn’t enter any contest either. So now your children bring home the school’s announcement that they have won this contest along with the NFL’s Waiver of Liability and Release. Would you sign this waiver, giving the NFL permission to use your children for promotional purposes; to use their likeness and biographical information for any purpose whatsoever, throughout the universe and in perpetuity? If not, then why not? Are your reasons similar to our own or do you have other concerns? If you chose to not sign the NFL’s waiver then you may skip the next paragraph as your disapproval pretty much proves my point.

If you would choose to sign the NFL’s waiver, then in the name of fairness and equality would you please sign mine? Would you please give me access to your children for promotional purposes that can be used by my business or nonprofit for any purpose whatsoever? You see, we believe we can provide a fine educational presentation to the school. Our presentation will be about the principles of fairness and equality, personal rights and responsibility, bullying, discrimination and even corruption. Our presentation will also teach the difference between a democracy and a republic where representatives create rules that protect the rights of minority groups from majorities (or in this instance, a mob). Our presentation will also focus on psychological elements such as peer pressure, coercion, group thinking, diffusion of responsibility, and obedience to authority. And we can accomplish all of this by using our experience with the NFL’s Play 60 program as an example. If the award grant is the issue, then I’m pretty sure I can quickly gather all of the necessary funds to cover this aspect. So how about it? If you should decline to sign my waiver, then would you please specify why you would refuse and why I am to be treated differently from the NFL?

I have accepted the idea that my children did not suffer an act of discrimination as defined by federal statutes as they do not seem belong to one of the protected classes. However, there are acts of discrimination that do fall outside of these defined classes. So my question is, in your opinion - not as lawyers, but as parents - do you believe our children suffered form an act of discrimination? As I have described the classroom setting to which our children were assigned during this NFL Play 60 celebration assembly, do you believe they were appropriately accommodated and received an adequate education? Finally, do you believe that using students to provide private enterprises with promotional materials is a legitimate function of a public school?

Thank you for your attention to this matter and addressing our concerns.

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Paul Allen, Owner of the Seattle Seahawks

Dear Mr Paul Allen:

As you should understand by now, I believe that our children were treated unfairly by the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks, and Snohomish School District administrators and staff during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly that was held at Cathcart Elementary. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I will assume you were not personally aware about the logistics surrounding the implementation of this program.

However, since the recipient of those promotional materials was your franchise club, I hold you - not some faceless corporate entity in New York - primarily responsible for these actions. In essence, you are the captain of the ship that sails our local waters as it is your organization benefits from the materials collected. Now that you are aware of our concerns, I have a couple of questions for you.

Would you please explain to our family what we owe to you, your Seattle Seahawks and the NFL for the education of our children? Do you consider this type of activity to conform to your concept of charity? Finally, do you believe that this kind of activity is how you want NFL management to represent your interests and those of the Seattle Seahawks?

I will leave it at that for now as I would like to give you the opportunity to respond to these concerns before I raise any additional questions for you.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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John Carlson and Other NFL Players

Dear Mr John Carlson:

I have to wonder whether or not you were aware that the NFL required parents to sign a waiver so their children could attend the NFL Play 60 celebration at Cathcart Elementary or if you were aware that some of the children were hidden in a back room during that event because the parents of those children refused to sign that waiver. Did you really think all parents would sign this waiver? If you were unaware of this situation, then do you think any business or nonprofit can bring their cameras and collect promotional videos within a public school any time they like? If you were not aware of this situation then I must say that I find this a bit disheartening. Have you and all of the NFL athletes become so desensitized by the presence of cameras that you let down your guard and failed to consider that your location was a public school during regular class hours; in essence to lack this situational awareness?

I found it rather refreshing to learn that Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks is media shy. In fact, Marshawn Lynch avoided the media to the point where the NFL levied fines against him for refusing to talk to reporters (although these fines may have been vacated). As you may surmise, I don’t particularly want to be in front of the camera either. I guess some of us are funny that way, yet it is our choice. However, what I learned from Marshawn Lynch’s situation is that a standard NFL contract stipulates, “(that a) player will cooperate with the news media and will participate upon request in reasonable activities to promote the club and the league.” So now I must ask, was your participation at the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly completely voluntary and initiated by you or were you asked by team management to participate? Come on, be honest now, and that goes for all of you players that participate in similar events at all of these schools. I know that you may want to say that you volunteered your time on your own accord for the sake of shielding the children from a potential ugly truth, but I think the public deserves to hear the truth. Were you asked to participate at this event?

I also noticed while reviewing the video of the event that Tony Ventrella pointed out that you had been selected to receive the Seahawk’s Man of the Year award. Included in your response you said, “… I’m not sure if I’m deserving of the award, but I humbly accept it …” Okay Mr Carlson, I’m not sure I get it. While you claim to be humble, please explain to me what part of humility you possess that causes you to participate in alleged acts of charity in front of the camera so the whole world can see? You also comment, “It’s special to give back in this way … I think it’s really important to do these things, the community outreach stuff … it’s (football is) a platform through which we can make a difference in our communities. I know that I’ve had a lot of help along the way so I like to give back.” Give back? Okay, but did you ever consider what you were taking from the community? Not only did you help the NFL walk away with promotional materials, but you helped them take part of our children’s education as well. This doesn’t seem very humble or generous to me at all.

I also discovered that you receive a workout bonus as a part of your contract with the Minnesota Vikings. May I assume your contract with the Seattle Seahawks contained a workout bonus as well? I must assume that many NFL contracts contain such provisions and incentives. So my question is, if you were receiving a workout bonus at the time while you were at Cathcart Elementary and at the same time encouraging these kids to give up their time to exercise for free, doesn’t it seem hypocritical that you get paid do perform a function that is essential to performance of your job while these kid do not? I bet you could get a better response from these kids if you would share your workout bonus with them as an incentive.

So you may be wondering why I am railing on you and your fellow athletes. The answer is to make it personal. You see, this is personal. This isn’t a business activity like we believe the NFL is treating it. No, you have encountered a parent who is protecting the rights of his children and is standing up to those who would treat them with disrespect for no good reason. It doesn’t get much more personal than that. And who takes the blame? To a very large extent, it is you, Casey Bowers and a handful of teachers and school administrators. Not Matt Schapiro or some faceless corporate entity occupying an office in New York. You! You were the faces present that day. It is your face on the photographs and video of the event. It is you who my children associate with this event. Yours is one of the faces we see when we think of the hypocrites and the bullies and even the discriminators. Do you understand this?

So now I must ask, is this how you want to be remembered by me and my children and now the public at large? I kind of doubt it which brings me to this. Who was representing your interests during this event? The Seattle Seahawks? The NFL? If the Seattle Seahawks and/or the NFL didn’t make you aware that they would require signed waivers and that the result might be the exclusion of some of the school’s students, do you really think this was a cool thing to do? I would hope not. So please do something about it. You have that power, especially if all of you athletes act in unison. I believe that somebody higher up in the NFL is responsible for what is going on here and you athletes can push back and tell the NFL and your franchise clubs that this is not a “reasonable activity” as specified in your NFL contracts; that this is not the public image you want to project. Apologies won’t earn you forgiveness, but actions will. Please tell your team’s management, your union officials and NFL corporate management that NFL Play 60 is an unacceptable program in its current form.

Your cooperation and efforts for corrective action would be greatly appreciated.

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William Mester, Superintendent, Snohomish School District

To Mr William Mester:

We contacted you via email on 2011 November 18 to voice our complaints, just three days after the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly, yet you did not respond. Why did you not even acknowledge our concerns? Additionally, we copied you on the letter we sent to Jenny Durkan on 2011 December 28. Again, you did not respond. So now, in addition to our original concerns, we have the following questions for you:

  1. Do you believe it was appropriate for our children to be segregated from their peers and placed in virtual isolation during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly?
  2. Do you believe that our children’s academic needs were met during the NFL’s Play 60 celebration assembly?
  3. Do you believe that we need to surrender our rights to the NFL or any other private enterprise in consideration for our children’s education?
  4. Do you believe that we can maintain or raise academic standards by exchanging core curriculum to provide promotional materials to private enterprises and especially for sports entertainment?
  5. Do you believe that using students to promote private enterprises is an appropriate method for funding our public schools?
  6. Do you believe that Casey Bowers and Cathcart Elementary staff members demonstrated an appropriate citizenship standard for the students to follow during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly?
  7. Do you believe your failure to respond to our concerns demonstrates an appropriate leadership example for all Snohomish School District students and staff to follow?
  8. How does your lack of response demonstrate your commitment towards academic excellence?

Most importantly, we would like you to provide us with a legitimate reason why our children were removed from their regular classroom during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly.

We are still waiting for you to respond to our mail. I must say, it distresses me to think some of our tax dollars are being used to pay your salary.

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Jay Hagen, Snohomish School Board President

To Mr Jay Hagen:

You were copied on the message we sent to William Mester on 2011 November 18. You also failed to respond. Why?

Did you inform the other members of the school board regarding the issues we raised? If not, why not? If so, what was their response?

During this past election cycle, you made the following statements in our local voters’ pamphlet:

When first elected to the School Board, my goal was to get and keep the School District on track. Entering my 17th year on the board, many of my goals have been accomplished. I was elected on my promise of accountability, fiscal responsibility, and academic excellence.

It’s time for my report card: Let’s review: Accountability- School board members must be approachable and responsive to their constituents. Over the past sixteen years, I have had thousand of contacts with my constituents through all forms of communications. I have always been accessible, whatever the concern.

Fiscal responsibility - Currently the districts general fund is in sound financial condition, despite the state’s refusal to fully fund education. We are currently under construction of the new Snohomish Aquatic Center. Therefore, we need to maintain experience on the board to stay within the allotted budget.

Academic excellence - Schools should provide a solid academic foundation. The academic level of the School District has continued to improve in recent years, but much remains to be done.

Having experience and caring guidance on the school board is crucial.

Your vote for Jay Hagen is a vote for a guiding, experienced voice on the Snohomish School Board.”

We are still waiting for you to respond to our original message. Now you can respond to these additional concerns as well. So please explain to our family and especially to our children the following:

  1. Do you believe it was appropriate for our children to be segregated from their peers and placed in virtual isolation during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly?
  2. Do you believe that our children’s academic needs were met during the NFL’s Play 60 celebration assembly?
  3. Do you believe that we need to surrender our rights to the NFL or any other private enterprise in consideration for our children’s education?
  4. Do you believe that we can maintain or raise academic standards by exchanging core curriculum to provide promotional materials to private enterprises and especially for sports entertainment?
  5. Do you believe that using students to promote private enterprises is an appropriate method for funding our public schools?
  6. Do you believe that Casey Bowers and Cathcart Elementary staff members demonstrated an appropriate citizenship standard for the students to follow during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly?
  7. Do you believe your failure to respond to our concerns demonstrates an appropriate leadership example for all Snohomish School District students and staff to follow?
  8. How does your lack of response demonstrate your commitment towards academic excellence?
  9. You claim to be accessible and responsive to your constituents, so would you please explain why you chose not to respond to our message?
  10. How does ignoring your mail regarding the issues we raised demonstrates your commitment to be accountable?

Most importantly, we would like you to provide us with a legitimate reason why our children were removed from their regular classroom during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly.

You claim to be a voice for caring guidance. We see no caring or guidance. You claim to be approachable, accessible and responsive. Our experience demonstrates otherwise.

You ran unopposed during this past election cycle. Hopefully this won’t be the case next time around. It’s time for the public to hold you accountable.

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Randy Dorn, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction

To Mr Randy Dorn:

While we can understand why the Snohomish School District has refused to respond to our complaint (fear of a lawsuit is keeping them quiet, or they are just employing the “ignore them and they will go away” strategy), why did your office fail to respond to either of the letters you received? While your office was only copied on the letters we sent to the United States Attorney’s office and the Washington State Attorney General’s office, certainly you should have felt obligated to respond to the issues we raised. Saying that you should have received your own letter directly is a cop-out. If anybody in a private business used that excuse and failed to address a problem that fell into their realm of responsibility, then they should expect to be fired. A significant set of problems was present to you and you failed to address these issues. Why?

We are still waiting for you to respond to our mail. Now you can respond to these additional concerns as well.

  1. Do you believe it was appropriate for our children to be segregated from their peers and placed in virtual isolation during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly?
  2. Do you believe that our children’s academic needs were met during the NFL’s Play 60 celebration assembly?
  3. Do you believe that we need to surrender our rights to the NFL or any other private enterprise in consideration for our children’s education?
  4. Do you believe that we can maintain or raise academic standards by exchanging core curriculum to provide promotional materials to private enterprises and especially for sports entertainment?
  5. Do you believe that using students to promote private enterprises is an appropriate method for funding our public schools?
  6. Do you believe that Casey Bowers and Cathcart Elementary staff members demonstrated an appropriate citizenship standard for the students to follow during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly?
  7. Do you believe your failure to respond to our concerns demonstrates an appropriate leadership example for students and employees in the State of Washington to follow?

Most importantly, we would like you to provide us with a legitimate reason why our children were removed from their regular classroom during the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly.

I must say, it distresses me to think some of our tax dollars are being used to pay your salary.

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NFL Play 60 Partners

To All NFL Play 60 Partners:

There’s not much else to say here that hasn’t already been said. Each of you has the power to apply pressure to the NFL to correct this situation. As such, I am asking that each of the NFL Play 60 partners suspend (not terminate - not yet at least) your partnership with the NFL and their franchise clubs until this matter is resolved.

Your cooperation would be appreciated.

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William Gates III, Director and Former Chairman of the Board, Microsoft Corporation

Dear Mr Bill Gates:

You may know by now I have requested that all NFL Play 60 partners suspend their partnerships with the National Football League and their franchise clubs. So why have I singled you out? Well, you have been perhaps the most prominent business leader who has voiced their concerns that our educational institutions are not providing the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skills that our students need to meet the demands of the future for our businesses. I believe that is a correct assessment and I see that the Gates Foundation is leading some of the efforts to correct this situation. This is good. In the mean time, to meet the current demand for highly skilled engineers, Microsoft, along with many other businesses, are seeking talent from overseas.

To make my point, I would like to deviate a bit and share a story. You see, I am a former Microsoft employee and I was present during the period spanning the late 80’s and early 90’s when the company was experiencing rapid growth. One day I was called by my manager to his office. Upon arrival he turned his computer monitor towards me and shared an email he had just received. That message was from you. The message was in regards to a chain letter (chain email in this case) that had been sent to several people, including a member of my team and I assume by accident, to you. You were steamed and rightfully so. To make the story short, you summed up your displeasure by stating, “If your people have time to waste like this, then don’t ask for any more headcount.” Perhaps that’s not an exact quote, but I believe I’m pretty close.

With that in mind, I see a similar situation here so please allow me to say this. If your company is going to partner with programs that displace students from their basic education - which includes or supplements STEM education - then stop asking for any more H-1B visas. Certainly our educational institutions can spend their time more wisely than providing media clips for the sports entertainment industry. Please help to correct this situation by suspending Microsoft’s partnership with the NFL.

Your cooperation would be appreciated.

Update:
As I have read in the news recently, you have stepped down as the Chairman of the Board of Directors at Microsoft Corporation, with John Thompson named as your successor. At the same time, the Board of Directors named Satya Nadella to succeed Steve Ballmer as CEO. While the leadership at Microsoft may be in transition, you retain considerable influence at Microsoft as a member of the Board of Directors, its co-founder, and largest individual shareholder. You are also recognized as a leader in your local community so I will leave this message as it was written. I hope you will still support all of these children by wielding your influence over those in charge at Microsoft - and through the Gates Foundation - to apply pressure to the NFL to take corrective action. I am also hopeful that any director or executive at Microsoft will not need your encouragement to take corrective action on their own.

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How to Proceed

How we proceed may now rest largely upon the public reaction to the materials I have published. We are hopeful that once you see that the emperor is not wearing any clothing that the collective gasp will occur and people will realize that corrective action is needed.

If the public reaction to Paula Dean is any indication then we are hopeful, even though the popularity of the NFL is high. We are hopeful that people will recognize the success that market forces applied towards Paula Dean to punish her for making inappropriate racial remarks. We are hopeful that people will recognize that the actions of the NFL and their franchise clubs went beyond verbal remarks and actually treated young children with unwarranted disrespect - even discriminatory behavior - and punish them in kind. A strong public reaction will guarantee swift corrective action. Please open your eyes and see how the NFL is making use of your taxpayer resources and what the NFL is actually doing in the name of charity.

Legal Options

Depending on public reaction, we may obtain a better understanding of where we stand legally. I’m not sure if the statutes of limitations have expired, but I am thinking we retain standing for legal action. If those statutes have expired, then perhaps my writings will prompt another party to take action.

I am also hopeful that the public will respond and demand that the Department of Justice take another look at what is transpiring between the NFL and all of these schools. At the time of our correspondence with the Department of Justice we never broached the possibility that this activity may constitute an act of corruption. While I never found any applicable laws, the remarks made by President Clinton when he signed the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption leads me to believe those laws do exist and may be applicable to our situation.

Regardless of any legal standing, I will soon be filing a Form 211 with the Internal Revenue Service asking that they review the tax status of the NFL Play 60 program as a charity. And why I am at it I may as well file another Form 211 asking the IRS to investigate the tax status of Major League Baseball. It could be that they are also violating the provisions of the tax code by claiming their DREAM program as charity. Perhaps the outcome of this may have bearing on their status as nonprofit organizations as well.

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Political Options

The next obvious option is to seek political remedies. Congress and state legislatures have the authority to regulate commerce and I hope I have convinced enough people to close the door that the NFL has opened. Schools are about providing children with the opportunity and tools to learn, not a venue for private businesses to create reality TV type media clips. It may be that existing laws are adequate to remedy the problem. It may be that I should have contacted private practice attorneys in the first place or made a stronger effort to seek legal action. However, with that aside, I will be contacting our elected representatives on both the state and federal levels to see if they can tighten up the laws to keep our public schools free from commercial exploitation.

As Mark Twain once said, “Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater one.” Apparently our sports entertainment businesses and public school officials need the laws.

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Abusive Options

You read that right. If no other options work we can abuse the system. This is a highly undesirable option because two wrongs don’t make things right. On the other hand, it seems like there needs to be several accidents - even fatalities - at a traffic intersection before politicians can justify the budget to have traffic lights installed. How often do we witness this type of thinking? It’s not forward looking, but backwards looking. Nothing will be done until we absolutely have to. So what will it take to keep commercial activity like this out of our public schools? More incursions? Access demands by businesses that don’t meet the popularity threshold? By their actions and under the principle of equal access, all of these school districts have opened themselves up to this type of activity.

One avenue I can pursue is to use the open public records laws available to residents of many states, including Washington residents. The thing I believe I will do first is to request all of the documents surrounding the NFL Play 60 event held at Cathcart Elementary. This includes all email from school administrators, school board members and members from the parent organization. Interestingly, I have noticed that school board members do not use school district mailboxes for their electronic communications. So get ready for me to request access to your personal email. Oh, perhaps you can restrict my access by performing your own searches and providing only those messages you believe are relevant, but if I discover that messages are missing you can bet I will be seeking judicial action and ask that you be fined. This can add up. I hope this is opening up the eyes of the members of the parent organization because your email becomes public records as well. How would you like to see your email posted on my website? I didn’t think so.

Then there are the videos and photographs. I noticed that the NFL has claimed ownership of all collected materials via their contest rules. You remember those rules where you signed away your rights to the NFL? No so. Those materials were collected at a public school during regular school hours and I don’t think I would have a very difficult time convincing a court of law that those are public records. Now it will become the responsibility of the school district(s) to wrestle those materials from the NFL and if you fail to provide them in a time manner you may be fined. Again, these fines can add up.

Keep in mind that my requests are no longer limited to just Cathcart Elementary, but to Pioneer Elementary and Black Diamond Elementary as well, and maybe more schools. Plus I’m willing to bet I can recruit a few like-minded parents from other schools from states with similar laws to play the same game.

But the biggest abuse will be requesting access to the schools for promotional materials and if I am unable to achieve similar participation rates I can cry foul and pursue legal action. Perhaps I won’t be successful, but I can eat up school district resources engaging is such pursuits.

Will this become necessary? I certainly hope not. I hope that I have opened enough eyes to achieve my goals before it reaches this point. What you need to realize is that it can reach this point.

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How You Can Help

There are many ways the public can help. You can 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 punish the NFL and their franchise clubs directly by not patronizing them. Stop buying their merchandise and stop attending their games. Of course I know that won’t happen entirely, but you can back off a bit and every bit helps. If you’re a season ticket holder it’s okay to go to the game, but please skip a beer or that hot dog. Make their concessionaires feel the pinch. Eventually we will see a domino effect as they apply the pressure to the franchise clubs and the sporting venues. Another method is to patronize the local dining establishments before going to the game so you will be less apt to spend your money inside the stadiums. I’m sure the local businesses will 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 (e.g. Ticketmaster). You can then watch the game on television at home or at your local pub where you can get that crowd feeling. And perhaps the best way of all is to punish the sponsors of NFL games. Stop buying their products and services and seek out their competitors. It would also help to let the existing sponsors know that you will no longer support their business. Once the sponsors feel the pinch then you can bet they will scream loudly and it may not take too much to set them off. You see, these sponsors have contracts with the NFL, the franchise clubs and the media networks and if they even think they are 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 after all. Maybe I can sit back and watch as an army of lawyers file hundreds of lawsuits claiming the NFL breached their contracts. After all, when I was researching the definitions of discrimination and I realized that I probably wasn’t a member of any of the protected classes 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 punish the NFL and their franchise clubs by at least reducing your patronage of their entertainment product. In the end, perhaps this will become the most effective form of corrective action possible.

There is one NFL team - the Green Bay Packers - that is publicly owned, although their shares are not traded on an exchange. However, that doesn’t mean that these shares are not traded. According to their own website, the Green Bay Packers is a publically owned nonprofit corporation (since 1923) and that there are currently 364,122 people who own just over 5 million shares. I know that Packers fans are amongst the most loyal fans that exist and that this may be a difficult thing to do, but please consider selling your shares.

You can also take action towards all of the NFL Play 60 partners. You can stop patronizing partnering businesses and stop donating to partnering charities and organizations. If you recall my one experience I described earlier then you know I wouldn’t mind if you stopped donating to the United Way. After all, there are many fine other fine charities to choose from. I suggest visiting the Charity Navigator website for help in finding a new charity.

I am hopeful that entertainers will consider suspending or renegotiating existing contracts with the NFL, their franchise clubs, NFL Play 60 partners and NFL sponsors. Many standard contracts contain a morals clause that should allow such an 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.

Finally, I still believe we still have standing to pursue legal options. I believe that few, if any statutes of limitations have expired which would prevent us from pursuing legal remedies. Depending on the public response, I will renew my search for legal counsel. Perhaps my search will become easier. However, if there is an applicable nonprofit organization (e.g., education or freedom advocates) that would like to become involved, then please contact me at assist@stayoffourbus.org. Private practice attorneys are welcome to contact me as well, but please consider that I would prefer local representation with federal court experience.

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Loose Ends

We are entering the home stretch, but before we wrap things up there are a few miscellaneous topics I would like to cover.

The Department of Justice Joins the Lance Armstrong Lawsuit

As I have already stated, we didn’t really expect a favorable determination form the Department of Justice that our children were subject to discrimination as defined under federal law. I sent a second letter to the Department of Justice because I was hoping that they would at least investigate the possibility that school districts across the country were engaging in invalid contracts because the NFL’s contest rules were too broad in their scope. I was also wondering about the applicability of the NFL’s contest rules to those people who never entered the contest. It still seems obvious to me that no court would uphold that aspect of the NFL’s contest rules. In that event, the end result - the removal of my children from their regular classroom and/or their exclusion from the celebration assembly - should never have happened. The education of our children does have value and like everything else in a capitalistic society and it can be monetized. This is especially true of our youngest child because we were paying for half of that kindergarten program. That monetary value had already been determined.

When we received our second from Robert Westinghouse he made the comments, “You are correct that my response only addressed the possible discrimination as a federal criminal offense issue. My response was so limited, because I am precluded from offering you legal advice on other issues. My duties as a federal prosecutor are narrowly shaped; I may only opine on questions involving the applicability of federal criminal statutes.” Okay, that was fine… at first. I understood that the duties of our justice officials may be limited in their scope. But then it came to me. Why does the Department of Justice have a civil division? The Department of Justice regularly brings civil action and it’s not like I was specifically inquiring about criminal activity, especially when one considers the questions I raised regarding the validity of the agreement between the NFL and the Snohomish School District in my follow-up letter. I hadn’t given this any additional thought until the Department of Justice decided to join in the lawsuit against Lance Armstrong. Then I encountered the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and really had second thoughts.

Perhaps the most significant difference between our situation and that of Lance Armstrong is that the Department of Justice is defending a government agency. In this case, the United States Postal Service (“USPS”). The basis of the Armstrong lawsuit is the claim that Armstrong defrauded his sponsor (USPS) by concealing his use of performance-enhancing drugs. Armstrong’s contract with the United States Postal Service stipulated that he promised to play fair and abide by the rules of the sport. This seems to be a pretty solid claim to me. Acts of fraud are a criminal offense and the breach of contract is a civil offense.

At the time of my second letter to the Department of Justice I specified that we hadn’t received an actual copy of the contest rules and that the set of rules we did obtain read, “Attendees may be required to execute and return a liability and publicity release…” I went on the say that this seemed like a bait-and-switch tactic, something that could possibly be construed as fraudulent. Also, since that time I have conducted additional research into the idea that this activity actually could be construed as acts of official corruption, which is a criminal offense. Additionally, since we paid for half of our youngest child’s kindergarten program, we do feel robbed. Now this may not be anywhere near the scale of Lance Armstrong’s contract with the USPS, but we’re no longer just talking about taxpayer dollars anymore. While it’s not on a large scale, this could also be construed as a criminal offense and since it involved NFL officials located in New York, the jurisdiction falls upon the Department of Justice.

Then what about the taxpayers? Are taxpayer resources being used unlawfully? I’m not sure, but don’t the taxpayers deserve legal representation if an entity is improperly using taxpayer resources? I do know that school districts can enter into valid contracts, but one of my primary questions regarding this entire affair is whether or not the contracts were valid. When I discussed the concept of value earlier, this may not matter as I learned long ago that even if the schools wind up on the short end of the deal that bad business is not a crime or even a civil offense. So I am not sure if the Department of Justice could have intervened on this point alone. Yet Robert Westinghouse acknowledged in his response to our initial inquiry that, “Your letter raises intriguing questions about the mixing of commercial interests with public education…” Intriguing questions, but apparently not intriguing enough. If our questions were intriguing, then why didn’t our letter get passed on to the civil division for review?

What really muddies the waters for me is that the Department of Justice is seeking damages when the USPS benefited in excess of $100 million by sponsoring Armstrong’s Tailwind Sports team. Yes, Lance Armstrong broke the rules of his sport which resulted in a breach of his contract with the USPS. But how do you determine damages when the benefits to the USPS were far greater than what they paid for the sponsorship. Additionally, it can be argued that the USPS actually benefited from Lance Armstrong’s performance-enhancing shenanigans. So if the Department of Justice can join a lawsuit under such dubious circumstances, then what would prevent them from filing a lawsuit against the NFL when it should be clear that they are benefiting from having children displaced from their regular, taxpayer funded education? Sure the schools are making some money, but I believe that the NFL is taking something of far greater value than the “grants” they are providing. So now the financial picture swings the other way. Additionally, since the federal government provides (nearly) every public school some taxpayer funding, then this provides them with the ultimate backstage pass to take action. So why no action?

One last thing as we mentioned the value of the promotional materials that the NFL collected. Over the past three years the NFL has awarded $10,000 to 102 schools (34 schools per year), which totals $1,020,000. I am sure there are other costs for running the NFL Play 60 program, but the cost of the grants isn’t all that much when you consider that the NFL and its franchise teams generate over $9 billion in revenue each year. Now, looking back at Lance Armstrong’s deal with the United States Postal Service and the revelation that the USPS benefited in excess of $100 million, I must ask again what the benefit of these promotional materials are to the NFL? If it’s anything on par with Lance Armstrong’s sponsorship deal, then it looks like the NFL is making a very good business investment. So are you still not convinced that the NFL didn’t know or plan what they were doing? Perhaps this is one of those instances where the public needs to scream before any action is taken.

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The Response From the Washington State Auditor's Office

After we received our reply from Dierk Meierbachtol, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Washington, I was hopeful that we were finally getting somewhere since Mr Meierbachtol stated, “While the Office of the Attorney General doesn’t have any legal power to look into these kinds of specific questions of legal compliance, the Washington State Auditor’s Office does.”

Then came the response from Rick Bonner with the Washington State Auditor’s Office, which stated,

You asked who had the right to negotiate this contract, whether the language in the contest rules place a burden on District schools, and if the contract violates the rights of the parents to choose what activities their children participate in at the District. The School Board or their designee has the authority to obligate the District in a valid contract. Our Office lacks authority to examine your remaining two concerns.”

What a generic and rather lame response. “The School Board or their designee has the authority to obligate the District in a valid contract.” No kidding. I never would have figured that one out unless you told me. Ok, I should drop the sarcasm, but please Mr Bonner, tell me something I don’t already know. I never asked if the school district could enter into a contract, rather I asked if the agreement between the NFL and Snohomish School District constituted a valid contract. I can only assume by his dismissal that he believes the agreement was valid.

What I took away from this was the same thing I took away from the response I received from Becky Moore with the Washington State Human Rights Commission and that was that no career-level civil servant was going to stick their neck out on behalf of a private citizen and challenge an organization as powerful and popular as the NFL and Seattle Seahawks. We received a blanket dismissal that basically said, “Now please go away.”

I do understand that there gray areas in the law and that there appears to be no state laws for guidance regarding our situation. So in the absence of applicable law our complaint gets dismissed. However, from what I’ve been able to determine is that there is one applicable set of state laws that can be applied and those laws pertain to the removal of students from their classroom. From what I can determine when I read through Title 28A, Chapter 600 of the Revised Code of Washington, the only reason a student can be removed from their regular classroom setting is for disciplinary reasons. So now my question for Mr Bonner and the Washington State Auditor’s Office is, why were our children removed from their regular classroom? From our children’s perspective, they felt like they were being disciplined. So just what did they do to warrant the removal from their classroom?

You must remember, we never said we didn’t want our children to attend the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly. No, we chose not to let the NFL use our children for promotional purposes. This was a package deal and there was no separating the two. So please, we are still waiting for anybody to provide us with a legitimate reason why our children were removed from their regular classroom. Just what do we owe to the Seattle Seahawks and NFL for our children’s education?

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Mad Men

Maybe they’re not “Mad Men” in the limited sense that concerns just the world of advertising, but there are a couple of key people in the NFL that I would like to focus on.

According to 2011 tax filings, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell received compensation totaling almost $29.5 million in 2012, with $22.3 million of that total received as a bonus. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank was quoted as saying, “The NFL is the most successful and best managed sports league in the world. This is no small part due to Roger’s leadership and the value he brings to the table in every facet of the sport and business of the league. His compensation reflects that.” The article continues to state that the second highest paid NFL official was general counsel Jeff Pash, who earned $8.8 million in 2012 which included a $5.9 million bonus. Wow. That’s a lot of money. So let me ask, how much of Roger Goodell’s compensation can be attributed to the NFL’s ability to exploit the educational opportunities of children? How much of Jeff Pash’s compensation can be attributed to approving and peddling paper that results in such questionable legal and ethical business practices? I would like to encourage Arthur Blank and the rest of the NFL franchise owners to take a closer at “every facet of the sport and business of the league,” or at least at this facet of the NFL’s business. It is not just the NFL at large who is making use of the promotional materials collected under the NFL Play 60 program, but it is the franchise clubs. The ultimate responsibility of this then falls directly into the laps of the NFL owners. Is this how all of you owners choose to be represented; as the bullies and discriminators of children as young as 5-years-old?

Again, Mr Blank comments that, “The NFL is the most successful and best managed sports league in the world.” Really? When you consider the NFL’s handling of player injuries and long-term health issues, the bounty scandal, the replacement referees, all of the misbehaviors by many of their players, and now NFL Play 60, is this really what can be classified as not just well run, but the best managed sports league in the world? And all under the watchful eye of Roger Goodell. If this is really the case, then I would sure hate to see what the worst run business looks like.

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Risk Versus Reward

It was interesting to read that one of the Seattle Seahawk players was retiring due to health concerns. John Moffitt walked away from about a million dollars in salary and said, “I don’t want to risk health for money.” Moffitt went on to say, “I’m happy, and I don’t need the NFL.” However, it was Moffitt’s comment a bit later in the article that I found the most interesting when he said (of the NFL), “They are merchandising human beings, let’s be honest.” That pretty much sums it up. Just about everything the NFL does is based upon the exploitation of people. Athletes are treated as livestock as they are weighed, measured, and tested in every fashion. With a few exceptions, players are treated as disposable because replacements eagerly wait for their chance to show their talents. Football games are based on points and statistics, but it not just the game and the players subject to this analysis. The business itself is just a numbers game and we have seen plenty of examples where that is all that matters. Otherwise, just how do you explain the NFL’s lack of concern regarding player safety, their slow response when bounty systems are exposed and their stubbornness to negotiate with the unions representing players and referees? After all of this, do you really think they care about children? No, it’s just another numbers game. A business decision. Simple as that.

Our grievance to the NFL fell upon deaf ears. Obviously, the NFL didn’t care about our concerns because they never changed their conduct. They stuck with their gambit, figuring that nobody would really challenge them. The risk seems minimal and the rewards too great. Even if they are called out, it may still end up being profitable.

The NFL is arguably one of the best positioned organizations that could attempt this sort of behavior. Players from the NFL represent the best of a very large cross-section of our population. The athletic abilities from NFL players are envious. NFL coaches have risen to the top ranks of motivators and strategic thinkers. All of the recognition and prestige showered down upon these people becomes magnetic. It then becomes easier to recruit top professional support, from trainers to facilities engineers, accountants and media managers. Yet, with all of the magnetism the NFL has accumulated, we can’t see where they even attempted to gain their publicity from any other method aside from bulling their way into a school during regular class hours. I believe they underestimated their ability to draw large numbers due to their popularity. Then again, maybe I’m wrong, and just maybe the NFL knew this. Maybe they thought it was worth the gamble to capture videos and pictures of as many kids as they could. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words and video clips are even better.

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Hypocrisy Hat-Trick

Before we go I thought I would summarize the hypocrisy of NFL in its attempts to manipulate the media to project a more positive image of themselves; an image I obviously don’t think they deserve. So let’s congratulate them on achieving, at a minimum, a hypocrisy hat-trick.

  1. All in the name of charity
    By now you have read that NFL Play 60 is claiming to be a charity. But I ask you, what kind of charity demands publicity materials to show their acts of generosity, let alone entering public schools and demanding access to entire student bodies for such publicity? This is simply hypocrisy on a massive scale.
  2. We set a good example for physical fitness
    One thing I have noticed as I have viewed the rosters of visiting players that the NFL has published in conjunction with awarding these health and fitness grants and while viewing well over 50 video clips of these celebration assemblies over the years is that there are virtually no linemen who visit these schools. In fact, I have seen only one defensive lineman on those lists. Yet linemen comprise some 40% of an NFL team’s roster. So I ask, where are all of the linemen? I think the answer is obvious in that sending obese linemen to provide presentations about physical fitness simply won’t work. Yes, even young children would see through this one.
  3. We provide presentations against bullying
    As I was searching NFL franchise club websites for media of all of the NFL Play 60 celebration assemblies, I ran across an interesting article on the San Diego Chargers website that was titled, “Nwagbuo Tackles Bulling” and displays a photo of defensive end Ogemdi Nwagbuo with a significantly large group of students (but doubtful that this represents the entire school). So I have to wonder if any of the parents of these kids felt pressured (or bullied) into signing a waiver so the San Diego chargers and NFL could show how they are against bulling? How ironic! (by the way, the San Diego Chargers website contains multiple links to NFL Play 60 events which include many children).

So there you have it, the NFL’s hypocrisy hat-trick. However, I may have identified a couple of other behaviors that I will place on the dishonorable mention list. The first dishonorable mention is that that the players may not be really volunteering their time, but may actually be present at the NFL Play 60 celebration assemblies at the request of management from their franchise club because their contract requires them to do so. However, that needs to be verified and we may need to rely on the honesty of the players to confirm this. The second dishonorable mention is that many players have contracts that provide them with workout bonuses. So please explain to these kids how they are supposed to give up their time to exercise for free while you athletes get paid to do so. Isn’t exercising a basic requirement for being an NFL player just like continuing education in required for doctors, engineers, teachers and many other professions? The only difference is that these professionals don’t get paid bonuses for their continuing education. Something doesn’t seem quite right here. It looks like money and privilege go hand-in-hand again.

Update:
I saw a commercial on television during the playoffs that featured J J Watt of the Houston Texans. The same J J Watt who made the latest version of the NFL Play 60 commercial using the tag line, “Hop on the bus.” The same J J Watt who was present at Briarmeadow Charter School in Houston on 2012 November 13 in front of those cameras and with all of those children (well, most of them anyways). And now, the same J J Watt is featured in a “Characters Unite” commercial that was aired on the USA Network (if I recall correctly) with a message to “stop hate, bullying, and discrimination.” I think this rises above just a dishonorable mention to be included in the hypocrisy hat-trick. So now what would we call this, a dishonorable score-four?

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Final Thoughts

NFL Play 60 … “Hop on the bus.” Nice slogan. But the only message conveyed by the NFL to me and my children was, “Either give up your rights (and promote our business), or stay off our bus!” Well, the time has come (overdue actually) to shine the light on what is really happening and expose the hypocrisy that surrounds NFL Play 60. The ugly truth about NFL Play 60 is that a few students are being sacrificed while school administrators choose to cater to their paying guests. As long as nobody is the wiser, all is well, right?

The NFL had other options available to gain promotional materials, but that might mean that they couldn’t provide the image that they want to project; that they were being so generous to all of these kids. The simple solution to all of this is that if you want to practice charity, then I suggest that you leave your cameras at home. If you want to promote your business, then please do it at your own facilities and on your own time. The bottom line is that you can’t be effective in promoting your cause when you’re more concerned about promoting yourself. As that old saying goes, you can’t force someone to love you.

While I support the NFL Play 60 physical fitness message, I am offended by the implementation of their award assembly and their demands to exploit my children. I also question their true motives. It’s obvious to me that the NFL has been running a trick play aimed at securing access to a very powerful media source; school children. NFL Play 60 is being operated like a project that never went through a permit process and the NFL made many strategy decisions aimed at bypassing any processes already in place. The NFL is simply exploiting their popularity and financial strength to get what they want and they don’t care about a few kids that needed to be cast aside in the process. This is just being mean and isn’t this characteristic of meanness what a person first thinks of when describing a bully? Not only is the NFL is behaving like a bully, but they are exploiting their position to get somebody else to do the dirty work for them. They are, in effect, behaving like a super bully.

You must remember that I contacted NFL representatives shortly after the NFL Play 60 celebration assembly was held at Cathcart Elementary and if you review my messages I believe I made the nature of the problem very clear. In fact, in my last message to Casey Bowers and Matthew Shapiro I said, “I feel that my children suffered from an act of discrimination.” Now consider that two more seasons have passed since then. So now I ask, did the NFL change their behaviors? No, the NFL Play 60 contests and celebration assemblies continued as if nothing ever happened. The associated videos of all of those children (well, most of them) continued to be collected and posted for public consumption. No, the NFL clearly didn’t care about what happened to my children and they obviously weren’t concerned or even worried about what would happen to a minority of children in the future.

Media management is all a part of the business of the NFL. In fact it is a major component of the NFL’s business. So now, considering all of the professionals involved, from Commissioner Goodell to his legal counselors, from the corporate officers to the professional media managers, from the franchise club owners, general managers, vice presidents and all of their media managers - probably hundreds of them - are you still not convinced that the NFL didn’t know or plan what they were doing? I don’t believe this was accidental and I hope you don’t either.

After considering everything I have described, does this sound like charity to you? Me neither. I recognized the hypocrisy of NFL Play 60 and I wanted no part of it. What it comes down to is that I care far more about my children’s welfare and education than promoting the Seattle Seahawks and the NFL. Further, after analyzing some of the numbers, doesn’t it sound like these “Super Schools” received the short end of the deal? Perhaps all of those parents shouldn’t have been so willing to sign away the rights of their children.

The NFL may claim that they operated under the best of intentions, but they operated way outside the bounds of decency by demanding access to entire schools full of students to promote themselves. The NFL Play 60 bus may have been on that road paved with good intentions, but I think we all know where that road leads.

As for all of those NFL players, mascots and cheerleaders who are posing as role models and even as heroes to these very impressionable children, I must ask, what kind of hero needs to have a camera present to show the whole world their alleged good deeds? False heroes, that’s who. It’s just another media opportunity in their quest to show their (faux) humility or to show that their life is more eventful and has more meaning than it really does. This is comparable to what some people have become to recognize as the Facebook conundrum; the omnipresent media portal for people to show the world that one’s life is more interesting than it really may be. Quite simply, these NFL players are not real heroes; rather they are make-believe heroes who are projecting a public image of benevolence which doesn’t match reality.

As for the administrators at Cathcart Elementary and all of the other participating schools, the conflict of interest should be obvious. As soon as you accepted the NFL’s money and agreed to cooperate with their demands for promotional materials you chose to serve the NFL. Pointing to all of the parents who were willing to sign away their rights is no justification for infringing upon our rights and those of other children whose parents would not give in to the demands of the NFL. This simply resulted in a mob that ruled the day. It takes more to be a super school than to win a contest, especially a contest that placed limitations on participation. So let’s be honest about it, Snohomish School District (and other school) administrators and teachers sold out the principles of fairness and equality so they could engage in a fundraising activity. To think that this is the example our educators are setting for our students, then it’s no wonder America’s public education system is falling behind the rest of the world. Our children attend school to receive an education, not to be somebody’s groupie.

Teaching is a complex job, but it must remain in the context of ethical conduct. Proper citizenship is a part of Cathcart Elementary’s AIM statement, but I must ask, what kind of citizenship example did the school administrators and teachers just demonstrate to my children? How can these citizenship lessons be taught when our teaching professionals have difficulty recognizing what these are? My experience tells me that children learn more by example than they do by what they’re told and the example set by the NFL and school officials just lowered the ethical bar significantly.

I would like to offer a final analogy. If somebody breaks into your home and leaves without taking anything do you say there was no harm done? No, not only was your sense of security violated, but you can also point to the broken window where the perpetrators gained entry. Our children’s trust in the adults who are responsible for providing them with not just their education, but also responsible for demonstrating integrity and fostering a trust relationship violated that trust. School district personnel can argue all they want that they provided for the education of our children, but the shards of glass remained behind for them to walk through.

While the Auditor’s office determined that the grant money provided to the school could not be considered as a bribe since no individual benefited from the payment, do you really believe that the NFL’s award grant didn’t have an influence over a public official? Then at what point does this become corruption? Have we entered a gray area here? I don’t believe the area is very gray at all, but even so, when you are a public official whose responsibilities are to teach our children to become responsible citizens, then it becomes your responsibility to not only be free from corruption, but to be free from any appearance of corruption. For you, there should be no gray area.

What Casey Bowers, the teachers, and even the parents demonstrated was a character flaw known as gullibility. Haven’t any of you heard the phrase, “There’s no free lunch?” The NFL’s health and fitness grant was not free. No, what the NFL is engaged in can be classified as a feel-good advertising scheme. Somewhere out there is a man by the name of P T Barnum who just isn’t smiling when he sees NFL Play 60 in action, he’s blushing.

From my perspective, the NFL created a bright shiny object and cast it into the waters. Those blinded by the award and the opportunity to be graced by the presence of our modern day gladiators took the bait. With heads full of euphoria, school district personnel never challenged the NFL’s demand for access to their students for publicity purposes. Justification quickly followed by assuring themselves that this was good publicity for the school too. But this justification fails because only the NFL holds the rights to the publicity materials. No, school district administrators held their eye firmly on the prize and proceeded to throw my children under the NFL Play 60 bus.

Oh sure, the NFL’s Play 60 campaign does present a positive message, but this campaign’s message provides no additional information that isn’t already communicated by the school’s physical education teacher. The NFL’s educational program was a façade. If the NFL is truly interested in promoting physical fitness to children, then why exclude some of them?

As school officials try to justify their actions they need to keep in mind that they don’t need to justify their actions to me. No, they need to explain and justify their actions to my children. 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. As my children watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer over the holiday seasons, even they - like most kids - understood that Rudolph was not treated fairly, and he was in a class by himself.

We can publically debate the use red light cameras at traffic intersections, debate the use of cameras mounted on police patrol cars and even on the officers themselves, and we can debate the use of camera equipped drone aircraft, but nobody has said a word about using cameras inside public schools to promote a private enterprise. I find it simply bewildering that any person who is in a position to make decisions regarding a child’s education can honestly think that it’s acceptable to even consider altering a child’s education based upon who they or their parents choose to or choose not to promote, whether it is a private enterprise, non-profit organization, or even the school itself. Quite simply, these types of personal choices should never even enter into the education setting.

We need to keep our public school students free from commercial exploitation. A door has been opened that I feel needs to be closed. Commercial cameras simply have no place within our public schools, at least not during regular class hours.

One last thing… you want publicity? You can’t have my children, but you will get me.

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 Copyright 2014 Mark McChesney