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Are You Ready For Some Britney?

By Yong-yi Zhu

I am a football fan. I’m a baseball fan, a basketball fan, a hockey, golf, horse racing, and even billiards fan. I guess saying I’m a sports fan would be like saying Tiger Woods is an average golfer. I’m one of those guys that would sit around all day watching Sportscenter and reruns of Sportscenter. But lately, the sports have not always been the main focus of sporting events. Just look at some of the biggest sporting events of the year.

Take the baseball All Star game this summer. What did all the commercials say? “This time it counts.”

I then wondered to myself. What have the athletes been doing in the past? Were they just horsing around in previous years? It felt as if the game had to seem more important so that people would actually watch it, instead of watching reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond” or “Sex in the City.” Why don’t we just take the game for what it is? I guess that doesn’t really make sense anymore. There also was the basketball playoff this past year. All I heard on the radio was how boring the finals were because of the excess of defense. The fact that people were playing basketball to win a championship no longer mattered. The audience wanted to see the Iversons and the Kobes in the NBA, not the Tim Duncans and the Jason Kidds. Flashiness sells; hard work doesn’t. So the ratings suffered.

And that brings us to opening night of the NFL. There was a large concert on the National Mall that evening an hour before the kickoff. I had known about the event for quite some time, but the game itself was never fully advertised. Being from Maryland, I went to DC a couple of weeks ago. All over the walls at the Metro stations were posters for Britney Spears, Aerosmith, Mary J. Blige, and Aretha Franklin. It seemed that they would be the focus of that evening, not the football game. It was so hyped up that I didn’t even have a clear idea who was playing the Redskins for the opening game. It didn’t seem that important to the sponsors of the event. As long as the music stars were represented, the crowds would turn up. And so they did, in excess of 50,000 people went to the concert, despite there being various weather concerns that evening.

But what did Paul Tagliabue really want them to show up for? He had said that the tribute to the military forces was the main reason for the concert. Sure, he let some of the people representing different branches of the armed forces introduce the performing artists. He even got George W. Bush to insincerely acknowledge the feats of the brave men and women who are fighting for this country right before attempting to seriously ask “Are you ready for some football?” Sure, Paul, the millions that Pepsi, Coors and all those other companies are paying you for doing something like this has absolutely nothing to do with this concert; your intentions are clearly genuine. As a matter of fact, the game wasn’t even advertised as a football game, but a grudge match between the current Jets and the Jets that have left New York for Washington. What matters is not the athleticism of the players, not the extreme pain they go through in training, and not the effort that they put into the game, but the potential for money, money, and more money. How the heck am I supposed to swallow that as a fan?

Sure, the Redskins played a great game running the football and defending the run. Sure, John Hall had a great day as the Redskins’ kicker. Sure, Lamont Jordan had a nice homecoming back to Maryland where he went to college. But did anyone besides the true football fans really notice? Most people must have just watched the concert and turned off their TVs or went home. The game no longer matters. Hey, what’s the point of watching it when you’ve already seen Britney Spears perform her new song and Aerosmith rock the crowd? Football used to sell, but now sex appeal and celebrity status does. As long as you go out later and buy some Pepsi, the industry remains happy. In this day and age, football has ceased to be a sport, and is now a business. And I guess I am no longer a fan, but merely a customer.