Monday, February 06, 2006

Much Ado About Nothing | by Mike

In the aftermath of the Super Bowl, a surprising amount of attention has been devoted to Joe Montana’s absence from pre-game festivities that included most former Super Bowl MVPs. While Montana’s reasons for electing not to participate are not of public concern, several sources in the NFL have seen fit to leak their side of the story to media outlets.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

[S]ources close to the league said Montana refused to attend over money. One of the sources said Montana asked for a guarantee of at least $100,000 for appearances if he came here, and the league said it would not make that guarantee.
Unfortunately, some have taken these limited details from unidentified individuals and used them to level charges of arrogance and selfishness at Montana. Such conclusions are unsupportable by the public record.

Montana is a very private individual. Though perhaps the most confident field general the game has ever seen (before leading the game-winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII, he asked his teammates in the huddle if anyone else had noticed John Candy in the stands), Montana has never been completely comfortable with the public scrutiny brought on by celebrity. He has largely avoided public speaking engagements, and he does not enjoy being swamped by crowds of people seeking to bask in reflected glory.

Given the crowds Montana has had to deal with in the ostensibly friendly environment of Notre Dame, it should be unsurprising that he would not want to deal with the frenzy that is the Super Bowl. Consider the reports that Montana was accosted by autograph hounds while attempting to help his daughter move into her dorm. If Montana cannot count on people to respect his privacy at Notre Dame when (a) he is clearly acting in his parental capacity, and (b) he should be treated with the respect members of the Notre Dame community should afford each other, why should he expect people to respect his privacy at the Super Bowl? Those subjecting Montana to criticism are completely unfamiliar with the wattage of the spotlight focused on the game’s greatest quarterback.

Despite his aversion to public appearances, Montana has made them when he believes in the organization on whose behalf he is appearing. Montana has endured the discomfort such appearances cause him to speak out on the health risks posed by high blood pressure. Notre Dame fans should not forget his willingness to do a favor for college buddy Charlie Weis and serve as a coach for the Blue & Gold Game. The members of the NFL, however, are for-profit enterprises. Why should nominal consideration allow the NFL to dictate how Montana spends a weekend? I can’t call up the Chicago Bears Presented By Bank One and order them to sell me two tickets for a pack of gum, a CTA card, and the change in my couch.

Worst of all is the argument to the effect that, “The NFL made Montana a star, he owed it to them.” At the outset, one can quarrel with the notion that the NFL made Montana a star. (Recall the adidas commercial with Fr. Riehle.) However, even assuming arguendo that the NFL made Montana popular, the NFL and popularity is a two-way street. Sure, the NFL made guys like Montana and Joe Namath more famous. Yet the NFL owes much of its current popularity to past stars like Montana and Namath. When it comes to the stars of past generations, there are several important considerations to keep in mind. NFL salaries were far lower before luxury boxes in taxpayer-funded stadiums, corporate branding, and premium packages on satellite TV, among other innovations, drove up NFL revenues. However, the players who created the audience for such products have not shared in these funds. The NFL has, for the most part, dismissed the needs of retired players. For a concrete example involving one of ND’s own, recall the situation of John Mazur. And Montana himself has experienced the NFL’s disinterest in the medical problems facing former players. Consider these excerpts from Dave Newhouse’s recent Oroville Mercury-Register article (worth reading in its entirety):
Today's heroes are tomorrow's infirmities. It's the nature of the beast, or beasts, 300-pound bodies striking with incredible force, very often after a running start. The most vulnerable target in sports is an unsuspecting, stationary quarterback who's about to be steamrolled from behind by a full-speed-ahead, licking-his-chops pass rusher.

At least a batter in baseball can see a beanball coming.

However, today's football players, as a rule, won't suffer nearly as greatly as their predecessors from 30 years ago. That's because the field of medicine has advanced, and so have salaries. This means current players are cared for much better any way you examine their working conditions.
The subject of whether retired players are taken care of properly in terms of their ailments raises as many doubts as assurances.

Joe Montana first became aware of NFL afterlife at a 49ers alumni function.

"I was watching some of the older guys go up three steps to get onto a platform," he said. "It was almost embarrassing that we can't do something about that."

Montana then discovered for himself how the NFL treats its retirees.

"You want to know how bad they are?" he said of the league. "I'll give you a perfect example. I've been getting my knee done, and my neck. I won a judgment against whoever it is — the 49ers or workman's comp — and the NFL sued me. They fought my case, and all I wanted was medical coverage.

"So I won medical coverage for life. I get a call from my doctor, because I'm working on my knee right now, that (the NFL) has been refusing my claims. They've decided they're not going to pay — after I won my case! I blame it as much on the players association as the teams. ... We have the worst medical coverage, the worst retirement plan of any of the major sports."
It appears that Montana has perfectly valid reasons for resisting the NFL’s overtures. However, even if such stories had not appeared in the media, Montana should not have to justify his decision to abstain from the ceremonies to the public at large. Certainly not to Notre Dame fans.