The NFL co-opted a nation's pain Sunday and we couldn't have been more relieved.
Before last Sunday's Vikings/Chargers game, Jim Mora (the younger) called the NFL "the common denominator" on that emotional day of remembrance. If you crawled deeply into the first weekend of football in front of your television, you'd be forgiven if you felt more like you were attending Mass instead.
Just on Fox, we received a polished bland sermon from Pastor Howie Long on the true heroes and then a few words from visiting Pastor Robert De Niro before cutting across the country to Chicago.
There at Soldier Field, the hundred-yard flag was unfurled by military personnel joined by NFL players, granting them the same standing as our armed forces. All of them knelt before the giant emblem of our nation in a moment of prayer before rising to hear our National Hymn from Jim Cornelison describe our faith in country symbolized by staring up at that flag during bombardment.
As Cornelison lingered over the "brave", the crowd at Soldier Field cheered, waved their smaller flags, and shouted, "U.S.A.!" in an affirmative "Amen!" to the prayer. Then we heard Tony Siragusa's voice, which may be its own venial sin.
This happened at the Church of the NFL repeatedly Sunday. Washington, D.C. had two Osprey bombers and a bald eagle join the flag, the singer (Colbie Caillat), and the "U.S.A.!" chants at the late afternoon games. In the evening, a New York-adjacent team hosted a group of singers (Lady Antebellum), a returning De Niro, and President George W. Bush. You know, in case you missed an earlier service.
The notion of the Church of the NFL isn't new, of course. Hell, it's even tax-exempt in a similar fashion to churches but still gets to demand the state pays in part for its places of worship. Still, we rarely indulge the trappings so transparently. Nor have we as a nation turned so nakedly to the Church of the NFL to be our shared faith-based experience.
Nor has the NFL been so forward about its commercial intentions. It allowed patriotic gestures to be worn by their players so long as an NFL licensee made it. Gear worn Sunday will be auctioned off so the NFL can "make contributions and help raise funds for non-profit organizations that pay tribute to this significant event in American History (sic)". That's not exactly "all proceeds" when it comes to clarity about charitable funding.
Oh, and the commercials. There actually was one small bit between the "U.S.A.!" chants and Siragusa: a Verizon commercial commemorating 9/11 by using children, uplifting music, and the Statue of Liberty. Did you notice how Sprint seemed to care less about sharing your pain Sunday opposed to Verizon, the official wireless provider of the NFL? (You know, the one that has exclusive wireless rights to NFL games?) Did you also notice the children singing to the firemen in New York City came from State Farm, an exclusive marketing partner of the NFL, while Allstate just didn't have the same compassion?
The Church of the NFL hasn't just become our de facto place to mourn and celebrate; it approves those who may speak to the congregation, even on days like last Sunday. It's not clear that it's expressly negotiated that way with those special partners, but history now tells the next corporate partner-to-be that 9/11 comes with the deal. This isn't the Memorial Day weekend sales circulars, but it's a cautious step in that direction.
We've given ourselves over willingly to this arrangement, of course. It's not like the NFL has been forcing conversions on the masses. We want this. After all, the NFL has a wonderful plan for our wallets. Remember that lockout? Well, stop. We're Back to Football. Didn't you see the commercial? The NFL still loves us as long as we love it back unconditionally.
On the other hand, you might be forgiven if you asked the NFL to take a step back in future years and perhaps settle for a moment of silence or a poem read aloud by Terry Bradshaw to avoid commercializing our nation's collective anguish.
For now, though, some of us may joke snidely about the Supreme Court decision to consider corporations people for certain Constitutional purposes, but it's not properly true. Some corporations are much more important than all that.