Jason Witten Used As NFL’s Smokescreen

Who could complain about watching football? Inside The Pylon editor-in-chief David R. McCullough, that’s who. This time, it is about how the NFL and NBC used Jason Witten as a smokescreen for sidestepping the domestic violence issue.

Like many football fans, I watch multiple games simultaneously (OK, as many as humanly possible) at 1 PM EST and 4:25 PM EST, a feat made possible by the RedZone channel and NFL Sunday Ticket. When I do settle in to watch one game, it is invariably the NBC Sunday Night game, both because it is the only game on in that time slot, and because it is presented by the best play-by-play announcer in the business, Al Michaels, and his partner, the knowledgeable Cris Collinsworth.

If you watched the DallasPhiladelphia game last night, you will surely have noticed the near-constant discussion of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who was a focus of the broadcast commentary. As noted by Matt Waldman on Twitter:

Most football fans have come to terms with the moral repugnancy displayed at times by our favorite sport and the evil people who run it. The NFL and its owners have had no compunction denying and covering up the effects of traumatic brain injuries to ex-players, so it isn’t a stretch to think they’d like the national TV broadcast to focus on something other than Greg Hardy and the moral quandary of rooting for the Cowboys these days.

But I think most viewers grew tired – or at least confused – by the constant lauding of Witten, who caught six passes on eight targets, for a piddling forty three yards and very little impact on the game. As Waldman (and Collinsworth) noted, Witten is a terrific person on and off the field. If you needed to talk positively about the Cowboys, then Witten is the choice with the best Q rating. There’s other good guys on the Dallas roster, but no doubt that, with Tony Romo on the sidelines, the big white tight end is the guy to focus America’s attention upon.Dallas-Cowboys-Greg-Hardy-Jerseys-For-Sale

NBC certainly didn’t ignore the Cowboys’ other media star, the monkey-owning, back-from-injury Dez Bryant. In his return to action, Bryant made several spectacular plays, including a highlight-reel snag of a Matt Cassel heave into the end zone. Of course, Bryant is no stranger to off-field controversy either – except that his shenanigans, like the aforementioned monkey, tend to be cheeky and fun.

Which is to say, there’s a bunch of good reasons for NBC to avoid the cruel and tragic off-field behavior of Greg Hardy, who was back in the news this week because Deadspin released the evidence photographs used in Hardy’s bench-trial conviction for assault of his then-girlfriend. This, from the appropriately-named Ken Tremendous, sums up the Hardy situation:

After Hardy shoved the assistant coach during the game, the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones gave a press conference in which he praised Hardy’s “leadership,” while one of the best football writers in the business, MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas, attempted to not laugh, or cry, or scream in frustration:


So, back to Sunday night, where the Hall of Fame announcing talents of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth were deployed on yet another damage-control mission, this time trying to spin a positive narrative about the Cowboys – losers of six straight games, employers of Greg Hardy – by force-feeding America anecdotes and praise for a man – Witten – who has spoken at length about how destructive and awful life can be when a family is afflicted with a guy like his “teammate,” Hardy.

Witten grew up in a home with an abusive parent and learned first hand how domestic violence destroys families. He learned at an early age what it is like to live under the threat of a man like Greg Hardy “losing his cool.” He watched his mother suffer beatings like the one Hardy was convicted for delivering to his then-girlfriend. He has spoken out about the horrors of abuse and has made a priority of being a positive role model.

Witten’s reward for being one of the NFL’s staunchest anti-abuse spokespeople is to be teammates with Greg Hardy. It’s also to be the NFL’s prop – used by the broadcast partners to pretend the NFL (and the Dallas Cowboys) care at all about this issue. NBC blatantly used Jason Witten as a shield for the NFL last night, with Michaels and Collinsworth putting the best possible face on a game where Greg Hardy took the field, again, to be a “leader” for the Dallas Cowboys.

If it weren’t so sad and typical, it might be funny – in a rueful sort of way. As it is, this is just another reason for football fans of all rooting interests, including Cowboy fans, to feel like the game is the only thing right about the sport.

Follow David on Twitter @ITP_davemc.

David R. McCullough is the Editor in chief of Inside the Pylon. He also writes about the topics shaping the sport, examines the coaches and players, ruminates on football’s past, and explores the controversial issues facing the game.

2 thoughts on “Jason Witten Used As NFL’s Smokescreen

  1. Interesting insight and well stated. I didn’t connect the dots during the broadcast but it does seem fairly obvious in retrospect. All you have to is ask yourself before every game featuring a troubled player, ‘What greasy smokescreen will the NFL put send up to obscure the issue?’ (Heck, it would make a good drinking game). Oh well, as long as we keep watching it will remain business as usual.

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