This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Jan. 30, 2004.

NFL drops ball on important social issue

By Ed Odeven

Super Bowl Sunday is a glorious day for the NFL and its commissioner, Paul Tagliabue.

This year is no different. An estimated one billion people (or one-sixth of the world’s population) will watch Super Bowl XXXVIII between the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots from Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

Indeed, it’s a special day. Special not only for the players, coaches and fans of both teams, but for all the rest of us who enjoy watching this annual extravaganza.

And let’s not forget about the blockbuster business side of things. According to a wire story by The Associated Press, CBS president Sean McManus said the network will make $160 million in TV advertisement revenue on Sunday, which includes the outrageous sum of $2.3 million now spent for a 30-second commercial.

Those are the facts. Smile for a minute.

OK, time’s up. I didn’t plan on writing a rosy, long-winded story praising the sheer brilliance of capitalistic opportunities on Super Bowl Sunday. Let Wall Street Journal’s economic journalists do that.

I’m here to say that Tagliabue and his cronies have made an abysmal mistake.

What is it?

Chew on this as you will all that comfort food come tomorrow afternoon:

Bono, the lead singer of U2, asked the NFL if he and Jennifer Lopez could sing a duet at halftime of this year’s Super Bowl. The song is entitled “American Prayer,” and is dedicated to raising awareness about AIDS in Africa, the single biggest humanitarian issue of our time.

The NFL decided to not allow Bono and Lopez to sing the song.


“We don’t believe it’s appropriate to focus on a single issue,” an NFL spokesman told Sports Illustrated.

Shame on you, Tagliabue, you cold-hearted soul.

If there ever were an appropriate time to focus on a single issue and remind people of the unbelievable suffering Africa has dealt with and continues to deal with because of AIDS, tomorrow is that time.

Consider the facts:

* Eight thousand people die every day in Africa from AIDS.

* Seventy percent of the world’s 42 million people with AIDS live in Africa.

* Over 13 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, which include over 12 million in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

Think about those numbers for a minute. Then think again about the ignorant, downright idiotic statement one of Tagliabue’s employees made.

Am I the only one ticked off beyond belief by the NFL’s decision?

Silence, or not allowing a song to be sung, an awareness to be unfurled, is certainly not going to help matters. Sure there is no easy solution, but education is a huge key to slowing down this devastating disease.

And certainly America can do more to help Africa combat this killer — for instance, greedy pharmaceutical companies should offer prescription drugs at much lower prices.

Recently, Los Angeles resident Matt Hausle, a good friend of my co-worker Steve Rom, visited Ethiopia to document on video the shocking images that many of us don’t often see on the nightly news: AIDS, up close and personal.

Hausle is helping the Rainbow Humanitarian Caretaker Foundation raise money and awareness for this volunteer organization to help Ethiopians.

“The more I study the subject of AIDS and Africa, the more outrageous and frightening it appears,” Hausle said.

How frightening?

During his nine-day stay in Ethiopia, Hausle and the Rainbow Foundation saw firsthand the utter despair in two sections of Addis Ababa. In those parts of the nation’s capital, 80 percent of the population is infected by HIV. On many occasions, orphans of those killed from AIDS begged Hausle to take them home with him.

Sadly, this is a common scene in many locations around Africa.

As for Tagliabue, he could have used the grand stage of the Super Bowl to raise awareness, offer some hope, shed light on the plight of millions of people. Instead, he chose the easy way out, avoiding the chance to help in order to risk the chance of making some people uncomfortable.

While we enjoy this year’s Super Bowl between two top-caliber teams, at halftime think about what could have been: a highly important, and, knowing Bono, terrifically entertaining, song and public-service announcement.

What a wasted opportunity!