All-Star charade produces results it beckons

Snubs? The Pro Bowl doesn't produce "snubs" – not in the arbitrary balloting that is, by definition, a popularity contest, writes Len Pasquarelli.

Not being a semanticist, or as many readers would contend, anything resembling a wordsmith, I'm hard-pressed and arguably unqualified to suggest a replacement for the term which annually accompanies the failure of a good player to be chosen for the NFL's annual all-star charade.

But "snubbed?" C'mon, folks.

According to Webster -- that's Noah, the lexicographer who published the first compendium of the tortured English language, not the late, Hall of Fame center, Mike, who occasionally did torture it -- "snubbed" is defined as treating a person "with disdain or contempt," or "an affront, slight or rebuff." Most of the players whose exclusion from the exhibition all-star contest, which is pretty much an exercise in glorified flag football, save for the an-expenses paid freebie to Hawaii, were hardly treated with disdain or contempt.

Many simply failed to garner enough votes to make the cut for the assigned quota of spots that were available at their given positions, that's all. Snubbed really doesn't apply here, not in most cases. It's kind of like saying that, despite having received nearly 60 million votes in the 2008 presidential election, John McCain was snubbed.

Hey, there was one spot open, and he didn't get it.

But the guy, at least according to 60 million people who opted for him over Barack Obama, wasn't exactly snubbed.

Same as the several deserving players who merited consideration for Pro Bowl slots but won't be ogling hula dancers in a little more than a month.

There are no qualification prerequisites for the Pro Bowl, and so that pretty much makes it a popularity contest, almost by definition.

Some critics might argue that the Hall of Fame vote -- again, no defined guidelines -- is essentially the same. But at least with the Hall of Fame vote, there is debate (some of it animated and most of it well-reasoned and meticulously researched) among the 44 selectors. You think the guy next door, who comes home from work and slips on a T-shirt featuring the colors of the home team, actually discusses the Pro Bowl menu with a bunch of observers who watch most games before stuffing the ballot box?

When the NFL cleverly provided the fans a voice in the Pro Bowl balloting it guaranteed itself an additional source of interest and debate. And all publicity, good or bad, as the saying goes, is good publicity.

No one in the league's Park Avenue offices today is gnashing their teeth over the debates, written and verbal, that have raged since Tuesday night, when the league-owned network first revealed the Pro Bowl squads. In fact, to the contrary. The Pro Bowl voting by the fans ginned up the level of interest for which the NFL's marketing lieutenants had planned and it gave The NFL Network a proprietary bloc of programming that draws nice ratings.

Mission accomplished.

Just the level of Pro Bowl conversation today among the fans and the number of print and on-line columns written about it, many of the pieces by respected friends who realize the bosses mandate the stuff, is probably enough to send the league's image-makers into euphoria. The evening of the Pro Bowl announcement, and the day after, are golden times in the NFL's office suite. It's kind of like the extra holiday that comes between Christmas and New Year's.

Of course, not all of the Pro Bowl fallout should settle on the fans, because the game was a popularity contest long before they got one-third of the vote. Having the fans involved simply added another level of skewing, that's all.

More years ago than this correspondent cares to remember, when I was covering the Colts as a beat reporter, I wandered into the home-team locker room after a Vikings' victory at the Metrodome. Standing in the middle of a group of Vikings players was a veteran Indianapolis lineman, first glad-handing some members of the victorious opposition, then engaging them in dialogue. The conversation lasted so long that an exasperated member of the Colts' equipment crew had to come fetch the player, so that the club's charter bus convoy could depart for the airport.

I asked a longtime friend from the Minnesota roster if the Indianapolis player had just stopped by for some usual, innocent post-game fraternization. The answer: "No, he was lobbying for our Pro Bowl votes."

The pumping for Pro Bowl votes isn't quite as overt anymore, but it definitely exists, much of it franchise-driven. That certainly doesn't make it wrong, or make it right, it just identifies the game for what it really is: One more excuse for the league to sell itself and to retain another revenue stream.

Again, being linguistically challenged, we're hardly smart enough to conjure up a word to take the place of the overused "snub" term so frivolously thrown around the past 24 hours. But we will make this suggestion: If you were one of the players who were "snubbed," don't take it so personally. Instead, spend a few bucks and take the family to Hawaii.

You can strike up a game of flag football on Waikiki beach, and pretty much get the same results.


Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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