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February 2, 2015

The Football Afflatus

Harry M. Covert

I could not wait for the end of the Arizona festivities. Sports fans, bettors, political operatives and assorted other civilians can rest a bit now and get ready for other events. There are plenty more to come.


The real question today is this: will someone please identity the public relations guy – or girl – who pulled off the greatest gag of years: the bull-shooting about air pressures and balls.


Let us now forget all prognosticators, the “experts” who don’t play on sporting fields and all of the befuddled political aficionados, who have never actually run for elective offices.


No kidding. It was rather slick to catch the sports writers of all sorts and the radio-television types, who fell for the deflative joke. Yep, they took it hook, line and sinker. The $44 million commissioner played along with it. The wimpy reporters enjoyed making a molehill out of nothing. That’s what is called making a story and promotion. The pro-league’s 32 owners, especially the two money-baggers (owners) of the Super Bowl teams, are extremely happy with their league and non-profit status.


The commissioner who works for the owners knows which side of his gourmet bread is buttered. Lots of people are looking for that person in the clubhouse with the air hose. It’s the PR wizard who’s the genius, and I hope he’s well compensated for putting the con on the free press. They all fell for it.


Can anybody remember the days when the Black Panthers were getting all the attention for lawlessness, race-baiting, scaring the daylights out of good people starting on the left coast – California? I remember. They were far more to be feared than the out-of-control characters in the news from Ferguson, MO, New York City and other places. I’ll go easy and not compare them with the raging terrorists facing the world now.


The late Eldridge Cleaver was a writer, political activist and convicted rapist, who became an early leader in the Black Panther Party. After a religious conversion, he began making the rounds of national evangelical churches and television shows.


The opportunity arose to assist in his Virginia appearance. Cleaver and I became acquainted for his Central Virginia visit. He was a big man and smart. We got along, but he was somewhat apprehensive about coming to the Old Dominion. Okay, he was scared and seriously thought lynchings were an everyday occurrence. I did my duty and explained the community was far more sophisticated and uptown than he had been told.


Managing to assuage his fears, although he was still a bit jumpy, we drove to the Sunday morning church services in good spirits. Admittedly I got a bit uneasy. No television cameras greeted us. Even the print reporters seem to have ignored or forgot invitations. It was a big event, over three thousand members and visitors packed Thomas Road Baptist Church. My job was to introduce him to staff and others, make sure he’d get lunch and then to the airport. All went well; everyone was pleasant as we knew it would be.


Out to the platform Eldridge walked with the pastor and was given a choice chair. The opening music was magnificent. Suddenly, the nationally known pastor grabbed the sides of the pulpit and in a serious demeanor said: “Folks, we’ve just had a bomb threat. You can leave if you want but I’m staying. I want to hear Brother Cleaver.”


Gasps, heavy breathing and suddenly, the unseen media scrambled out side doors and while the music was heavenly the wire service reports began to hit everywhere. At least two other television outlets and print reporters descended just as Eldridge Cleaver thanked Dr. Jerry Falwell for the invitation. Naturally the news guys missed the offerings and closing prayers. But, they got their stories and interviews with the good reverend and the political activist born in Wabbaseka, AR, who died in Pomona, CA, in1998


Dr. Falwell knew a thing or two about public relations and how to deal with the press, even when they were hard to deal with. The big news that evening and a few more days was Cleaver’s message and Jerry’s day with the former Black Panther.


There was no bomb threat. Neither the fire nor police departments had any records of any 911 emergency calls.


For this reason, and many others, all the hugger mugger from the alleged football skullduggery had to be the work of a good on PR man. No matter what is ever decided, the media and football fans were fooled. I didn’t waste time trying to get a comment from the millionaire northwest millionaire running back who doesn’t talk. It has been suggested, probably from a PR type, “if you can’t dazzle ‘em with your diligence, baffle ‘em with your bull.”


And, there’s always a difference between the pros and amateurs.


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