by Clark Groome
“The NFL owns a day of the week, one the church used to own. Now it’s theirs.”
That’s what Allegheny County coroner Cyril Wecht tells forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu in the revelatory and troubling film “Concussion.”
If you have been following the coverage of the Eagles’ firing of head coach Chip Kelly that seems like an understatement.
Nothing on the planet – not the floods in Missouri or the terrorist threats for New Year’s Eve or the increasingly nasty political campaign – has been given the kind of attention locally that the firing of a coach has received. Last week the NFL owned it all, not just Sunday.
Think about that. This is a story about the firing of a football coach, an event that certainly deserves attention and complete coverage, but isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.
As I write this I already hear people murmuring unprintable things and saying, “well, he really doesn’t understand.”
Perhaps because the world is so screwed up and dangerous and because people are so scared of what’s going on, sports have taken on an increased importance, an escape from the unpleasantness we’re dealing with elsewhere.
Whatever the reason, football seems to be the most important thing in this town right now. We need to put things in perspective.
Sports are important. There’s that escape thing and there’s the joy that having something to root for gives to a fan. But it isn’t life and death.
As a lover of hockey, baseball, college basketball and tennis as well as football, I guess I’m not fully in tune with the extraordinary import football, more than any other sport, plays to so many in our city.
The local media – who are probably in the aggregate the best in the country – do, however, recognize the fact that football is a major Philly passion and thus cover it in minute detail, often to the exclusion of other more timely sports stories.
A recent example: On Monday, Dec. 21, a week before the Eagles blew their chance for the playoffs and Kelly’s firing, the Flyers came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the powerful St. Louis Blues 4-3. The last two periods of the game were arguably the best hockey they’ve played all season.
CSN’s morning half-hour sports show, “SportsNet Central,” led on Tuesday with something about the Eagles. I don’t remember what it was but it wasn’t as immediate or significant as the Flyers comeback the night before.
The Flyers should have led the broadcast and then the Eagles attended to. CSN isn’t the only outlet to weight their coverage in favor of the Birds. When nothing else is going on, that’s fine. When there is another story about another team it would be nice to have a little balance.
Starting at about 7:15 p.m. last Tuesday, CSN began non-stop coverage of Kelly’s firing. Smart people with good insights helped viewers understand what had happened and why.
What got to me was when one of the anchors said, “This is one of those stories that we will always remember where we were when we heard it.” Huh?
I remember where I was when I heard President Kennedy was shot. I remember where I was when Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. I remember where I was when my parents died. I remember where I was when the planes flew into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Those are indelible, life-changing memories.
The firing of a coach, even a football coach, isn’t even close to being that important. It’s news. It’s important. But it isn’t life changing for anyone but the coach and the team.
I’m glad Kelly was fired. I hope that the team can repair the damage he’s done by engaging a coach who not only knows football but also can deal supportively and humanely with the players, with people in the office and in the media, and with the fans.
We are finally learning from the players and others close to the story what many suspected: Kelly is arrogant and autocratic, not a great combo for a leader. So his departure is good for the Eagles and good for the local sports scene.
What it isn’t is the most important news story of the year or even the week in which it occurred.