As an American father I'm required by law to nap on the couch on
Sundays. I was complying when something woke me up that I
Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon was on the ground,
writhing in pain, when New York Giants defensive end Michael
Strahan took a flying leap onto Gannon's chest! And Gannon was
out-of-bounds at the time! Then Strahan kicked him--and no flag!
Finally I realized it wasn't a live game on the TV. My 15year-old
son, Jake, was playing NFL Blitz 2003, a wildly popular video
game with amazingly realistic graphics.
Now Gannon was being jumped on by five Giants. I winced.
"Jake," I scolded. "How can you do that?"
"You just press this little X button," he explained.
I picked up the game's box. It said this was an NFL approved and
licensed product. The players are NFL stars, wear NFL uniforms
and play in NFL stadiums. Jake said NFL Blitz 2003 is his
favorite game, partly because you can spear Brian Griese, kick
Jerry Rice in the jewels and body-slam Marshall Faulk. And
without even pressing a button you can watch NFL players taunt
one another, preen after a first down, and stand over a player
writhing in pain and point. "It's so realistic," Jake said.
That's true. In fact, the biggest difference that I could see is
that in a real game, when Denver Broncos safety Kenoy Kennedy
lays out a guy over the middle, the NFL fines Kennedy $42,794. In
NFL Blitz 2003 there's no flag, no fine, only more sales. Either
way, the NFL gets the money!
When I explained to Jake that studies have shown that watching
violence makes the viewer more violent, he said, "You mean like
those?" and pointed to my shelf of videos. What, you don't have
the three-volume set of The NFL's Greatest Decapitations?
Do you think it's hypocritical for the NFL to fine its players
for violent hits, taunting and unnecessary roughness with one
hand and cash in on the very same thing with the other? Dallas
Cowboys safety Darren Woodson does. He was fined $75,000 last
week for a helmet-to-helmet hit.
"Darren did bring that up with me, yes," says NFL discipline czar
Gene Washington. "He said, 'You're fining me on one hand for
something you promote with the other.' So, yes, from my side of
things I'd like to see some consistency there."
Oops. Somebody's going to get a memo from Paul Tagliabue.
"It's marketing in 2002," says former New England Patriots
receiver Darryl Stingley, who in 1978 was left a quadriplegic by
a hit delivered by the Oakland Raiders' Jack (the Assassin)
Tatum. "Guys I see playing today think they're in a video game.
Everybody wants to make it onto a greatest-hits tape."
"It's like the celebrations," says Philadelphia Eagles safety
Brian Dawkins, who last week got dinged $50,000 for a late hit.
"They'll flag a guy for it, and then you'll see that same move in
a video game the next year."
But the NFL doesn't fret about that. After team apparel, the
league's second largest source of licensing income is video games
like Blitz, in which players lay semiconscious after every hit
and the announcers think it's hilarious. "That was criminal!" one
of them says with glee.
"Oh, what the heck," says his virtual partner, "he seems to be
A Green Bay Packer does a front flip, landing with a two-handed
punch on Ricky Williams's gut. "I'm not a psychologist," says the
announcer, "but this guy needs one! He's out of control!"
And it's not just Blitz. NFL 2K3, another NFL-licensed video
game, wallows in the violence too. You can set the game so that
no penalties are called for roughing the passer, roughing the
kicker, clipping and chop-blocking. Maybe next year: Leg whip
your opponent getting off the team bus!
And it's not just football. The ghouls at Midway, which brought
you NFL Blitz 2003 and the soaked-in-blood Mortal Kombat, are now
out with NHL Hitz, in which you can cream your opponent upside
the head with your stick to win a face-off. Now that's family
I turned back to the TV and watched some more. There was taunting
and pummeling. There were late hits and cheap blindside shots and
lots of other wholesale and unpenalized mayhem.
"Jake," I finally said. "This is too violent. Let's turn on the
real game now."
"Uh, Dad," he said. "We are watching the real game."
B/W PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
The NFL fines players for violent hits, then cashes in on the
very same thing with licensed video games.