NFL Play 60: Stay Off Our Bus!

 The National Football League's Gambit to Commercialize School Children 

Open Messages

What follows are open messages to many of the stakeholders involved or to a select number of people who may be in a position to help provide corrective action. These messages have not been delivered to the recipients, but are published in an open forum to generate discussion. For those messages that are directed to individuals, hopefully the intended recipients will feel compelled to respond in some fashion.

I’m going to start with the largest group affected; the parents of all these school children, and not just those from Cathcart Elementary. However, from a personal standpoint, the parents of Cathcart students are my neighbors and I have come to know more than just a few personally. What I have said so far is going to be a shock and we need to come to terms with what has happened.


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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 Copyright 2014 Mark McChesney