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CBS fails to tackle NFL’s biggest concerns in Super Bowl XLVII broadcast

The day after the most bizarre Super Bowl in recent memory, CBS News correspondent Armen Keteyian appeared on “CBS This Morning” with a savory scoop – footage of the reaction inside the control room when the lights went out for what would be a near-game-changing, 35-minute blackout.

Keteyian was inside the broadcast’s nerve center filming for a story airing Wednesday on a CBS sibling, premium cable channel Showtime’s “60 Minutes Sports.”

But, watching Keteyian on the network’s morning show Monday, I had a different question: Why didn’t we see this footage — or at least a live report from him – during the half hour that power was down?

As many commentators have already noted by now, the network’s own game time crew fumbled to fill time during the delay, unable to offer more than the vaguest explanations for why the electricity in half the stadium winked out or when it would return.

(Even after the game ended, commentator Boomer Esiason said on his CBS Sports Radio Network show Monday that halftime performer Beyonce blew the power in the stadium twice during rehearsals, requiring NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to emphasize that the R&B star had a separate generator for her splashy show.)

This seemed to me a graphic illustration of the stumbles media giants can trip over when bringing their entire suite of platforms to bear on an event as massive as a Super Bowl broadcast.

As the entertainment side of CBS was scrambling to make sense of what happened, keep some kind of compelling content on the most-watched telecast of the year and handle its own power issues, the news side of CBS was ever so delicately trying to find out, along with the rest of the sports journalists in North America, answers to those very same questions.

Such situations highlight the delicate balancing act required when a big sports event dominated by a major media company also makes big news.

For me, this tension was highlighted by a broadcast that occurred earlier than the game itself; when CBS’ “Face the Nation” brought on Goodell and its primary Super Bowl broadcast team to talk about the issues facing professional football.

Top of mind, outlined in feature stories aired leading up to the game, was the issue of concussions. “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer kicked off the discussion with a softball, asking the NFL commissioner if he would allow his children to play football, later pressing him on whether the league was admitting a link between brain injuries for former players and concussions sustained during games.

Unsurprisingly, CBS’ analysts supported the league’s handling of the issue, with analyst (and former Hall of Fame receiver) Shannon Sharpe declaring “I love what the commissioner is doing.” Phil Simms, a former quarterback for the New York Giants also startled no one by revealed he would let his kids play football and he was certain the league would endure for decades longer.

But it was play-by-play man Phil Simms who drew the ire of some sports blogs by noting “at the college level, a woman’s soccer player is two and a half times more likely to suffer a concussion than a college football player.”

The spots blog The Big Lead weighed in with a story Monday by writer Jason Lisk, who declared “I cannot find any reference” to such studies, noting a 2007 study which said the concussion rates between women’s soccer and men’s football were even and another study which said football was three times higher.

What bothered me, was this CBS News program didn’t feature one panelist in the segment other than the host whose career and livelihood wasn’t directly attached to the continued success of professional football. Even on the network hosting the game, allowing one skeptic to have a voice – perhaps someone connected to the players considering legal action against the NFL – would have upheld the show’s long history of quality journalism much better.

It fell to rival NBC analyst Bob Costas to offer the dissenting opinion across the dial on “Meet the Press” Sunday. In a conversation with substitute host Chuck Todd, Costas credited Goodell for having his heart in the right place and taking positive steps.

But Costas also recalled how his questions about whether parents would allow their kids to play football due to worries about concussions were dismissed three years ago. Now, as President Obama admits he would question letting a son play football, such notions were batted about time and again on Super Bowl Sunday.

Costas’ conclusion was blunter, saying, “The way football is played, even legal hits are frightening.” Later, he added, “for all the drama, the excitement, the strategy, all the appealing things about football, the way football is currently played in the NFL is fundamentally unsustainable.”

That’s not a message you’re going to hear for long on whatever network is hosting the Super Bowl. But, for the sake of retaining journalism credibility, perhaps it should.

Eric Deggans is TV and Media Critic for the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times and a 1990 graduate of the Indiana University School of Journalism. He also provides regular commentary for National Public Radio and has been published by the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Detroit Free Press, Chicago Sun-Times and many other publications. He also writes a blog on media, The Feed

Check out Deggans’ latest book, Race-Baiter, How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation, and you can also visit his website for more information.

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