Biz Blitz: John F. Kennedy and the NFL, the league’s delayed reaction to tragedy

John F. Kennedy enjoyed playing family football

Bottom Line: Sports heals most when people hurt worse.

The ghost of Jack Kennedy haunts electronic America this week with the 50th Anniversary of his death this Friday, November 22.

The bubble in the Bell Curve of blog readers is about 35 years old, so most networked Americans have no first-hand memory of the president. Those of us of a certain age recall our every moment on Friday, November 22, 1963, especially where we were when we learned that Kennedy had been shot.

Jack Kennedy was the most photogenic, charismatic, virile, vigorous and inspiring president of the 20th Century. Reagan was his equal in oratory. Clinton approached him in his playboy chops, but there was only one John F. Kennedy. The shock of his death was keenly felt, even by his rivals. (Times were different then.)

The assassination put the NFL in a quandary. Should they keep or cancel Sunday's game schedule? 

Commissioner Pete Rozelle kept to the schedule after speaking with presidential press secretary Pierre Salinger who encouraged him to do so. Rozelle regretted the decision. He did the country a favor, however.

Coverage of Kennedy's death, funeral and burial was continuous between November 22 and the 25th. Broadcasters pre-empted game coverage  for repeated updates of the story that was more 24-7 repetition than update. The pre-merger  American Football League canceled their games that weekend.

There was no escape. NFL games were a respite, if only a temporary one, for a world fixated on tragedy.  Live attendance was normal. Everyone else read about them in newspapers the next day.

Sports networks will air look backs at Rozelle's decision that still stands as the NFL's  guide post on whether to play after tragedy.

The league defaults to cancel. The NFL postponed games after 9/11. The New York Giants were celebrated at every 2001 away game. Players feel they are playing for something more than a win when national tragedy strikes. it's what we needed to see as the NFL reminds us around the 11th of every September.

Pro football so infuses the American spirit that postponing games is not always called for. It's a tough call for the NFL who would face criticism whatever they decide.


About Anthony Brown

Lifelong Redskins fan and blogger about football and life since 2004. Joined MVN's Hog Heaven blog in 2005 and then moved Redskins Hog Heaven to Bolguin Network. Believes that the course of a season is pre-ordained by management decisions made during the offseason. Can occasionally be found on the This Given Sunday blog and he does guest posts.