The NFL's "Real World" Experience

Taking fans where they want to go

Take us to places we never get to see has long fed the desires of sports fan.

The NFL Network and NFL Films take great pride in showing the public a behind-the-scenes look at plays, off-the-field-life, and sideline banter. The League's teams now do the same and social media has only ramped up efforts on every front to take you to what was once a forbidden zone. 

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As the Chiefs former PR director for 25 years this is nothing new to me. What is new, however, is the league's coaches' reaction.

With so many requests and intrusions from inside and outside their offices, coaches are reluctantly coming around. Some have happily embraced it, according to the Wall Street Journal, which last year revealed that Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley has gone so far as to allow his scouts to put personnel reports on the team's un-drafted free agents on the team's web site. 

It would appear that Whaley is taken with all these cyber conveniences, according to the *Journal, *and he encourages his staff to study message boards and other social media outlets to dig up inside information on potential draft picks and free agents. NFL types have always been rabid in their attempts to compile information, but pursuing these new avenues is out of character, or at least it used to be for the NFL's older coaches. New coaches to include Chip Kelly eagerly share their offensive thinking with anyone who will listen. 

This is all so new.

Coaches used to routinely protest cameras shooting plays at practice or revealing offensive formations, or just about anything having to do with preparations for next week's opponent. It was very common to hear from the head coach every time he saw a camera pointing in the direction of the field during a weekly practice session, and the Chiefs had stiff rules that nothing more could be videoed once individual drills ceased and teamwork began. 

How many opposing coaches learned what a team planned to do come Sunday from a few seconds of what TV calls "B-roll" is unknown, but I daresay it was more a case of better safe than sorry, to hear coaches tell it. Talking to coaches in private, I never heard from one that he had learned anything from watching a few seconds of a televised videotape on a nightly newscast

But if it's been tougher for coaches to come around to this peek into their world, the NFL office is all for it.

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The NFL Network carpet-bombs viewers day after day with inside looks at offenses and defenses as does ESPN and Grantland, and it is now official NFL policy that each team must take its turn on HBO's highly popular "Hard Knocks" series. The story lines of camp life can have a boring similarity year after year, but still the fans come back for more – something akin to the lure of reality TV I suppose.

The Chiefs took their turn before the edict came down, largely because Steve Sabol, the head of NFL Films, was a close friend of Kansas City GM Carl Peterson. Peterson had such trust in Sabol and his crew – a gaggle approaching more than 50 assigned to the River Falls, Wisconsin's training camp that year --  that he had no fear that any deep dark secrets would be revealed, and that he and his people would have editing and censorship privileges to quash anything they didn't feel appropriate for public viewing.

With apologies to NFL Films which toes a fine line in protecting its teams from embarrassment, we know that to the rest of the television world everything is appropriate, from language to hijinks in the locker room, to family life.  Cable is, after all, where most of the televised world is going today.    

Where it will eventually lead is not hard to guess, since so little remains outside public view now. And if the cameras miss it, a web site, a tweet or some obscure posting will expose it.  Any remark from the sideline or the locker room today makes for instant pundit catnip and cyber-skeptics need not apply.      

The great T.S. Eliott was to have said that "humankind cannot bear very much reality." But then Eliot passed away before television enveloped our lives to the extent it does today, especially in its appetite for American football in all its forms. 

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