Archive | March, 2015

Second City Spring Madness

19 Mar

Second City Spring Madness

Those of you who do not follow the zigs and zags of life in Chicago might be interested in the May madness that is about to descend on our fair city. I am referring to the National Football League Draft Day event that is coming up in a few weeks. Even those of you who are avid–or should I say obsessive – professional football fans may not be aware of the magnitude of the Draft Day comings and goings–April, 24-May, 6. Today’s (March 17) Chicago Tribune will give you a blow-by-blow account. The city fathers consider hosting the Draft a real coup. Previous Draft Days have been held at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

For two weeks, one of our major thoroughfares, Congress Parkway, will be closed from Lake Michigan to Wabash. The point is to clear the way so that the Gladiators-in-waiting can parade in unobstructed columns from Grant Park to Louis Sullivan’s historic Auditorium Theater, where the the first three rounds of the draft will take place. Chicagoans, as well as the thousands of visitors, will be awed by the sight of red carpet covering Michigan Avenue. The shapely Adonises will approach the actual proceedings like the Hollywood Stars gliding into the Oscar ceremonies. The athletes will not be in designer gowns, but they are mandated to don expensive dark power suits with designer ties. Since most of them, in the course of the Draft Days doings will become certified multi-millionaires, they can well afford the coifs, the suits, and the neckties. Some few may be worried that in their retirement a good deal of their largesse will eaten up by the care they will need for the broken bones and concussions that go along with service to the National Football League. But the click of the cameras as they pass and the adoration of the crowds lining the street may banish their worries.

Since theater space is limited, intermissions are scheduled to allow devotees to pose with the candidates for photos and autographs. The plan is to attract at least two thousand school boys to the Draft Days, and whose heart would not be warmed at least a few degrees by those boys (and their parents) asking for autographs? Come fall, will those boys and moms and dads be partying at the bacchanalian tailgate parties preceding every Bears’ home game? Someone somewhere–perhaps backstage at the Auditorium–is betting on it.

The remaining rounds will be outside across Michigan Avenue in what Chicagoans know as Congress Plaza. For two weeks in April and May, that plaza becomes Selection Square. Bleacher seats will accommodate those fans lucky enough to get reservations.

The pot will be sweetened for the school boys and their families. Large areas of Grant Park have been “reserved” for football clinics. The boys can get tips from local coaches and NFL players on how to rock ’em and sock ’em. In case you’ve forgotten, that’s old fashioned language for what goes on in football. That’s what Knute Rockne enjoined upon his troops at Notre Dame in the good old days of the Gipper and what Ronnie Reagan in 1940 simulated in his movie rendition of the Gipper. Rockne and Reagan didn’t know about football concussions in their day, and the football families in Grant Park this May will be urged to forget what they have heard about the natural consequences of football violence.

The area in which the clinics are held in Grant Park is christened “Draft Town”–portioned out in fifteen football fields, NFL players will be available for autographs in this area, alongside a Super Bowl museum.

High culture will play its role, too. The Art Institute lions will be appropriately festooned, with helmets rotated so as to represent all the NFL teams. As each team makes a choice, its colors will flow in Buckingham fountain.

Why this Madness? Because the NFL draft will bring big money into the city treasury–and we do need money–thousands of tourists who will spend in our restaurants and hotels. The League makes demands: its bid to hold the schoolboys clinics in Soldier Field was refused, but there are also requests for such perks as free meeting space and police escorts. The city officers say that Chicago has wooed the NFL in the same manner as a big convention, and many perks will be funded from private sources, at no cost to taxpayers. There is no way to verify these statements, since the department of tourism which handles these matters has been spun off as a non-profit organization that is exempt from public records laws.

Reading about the NFL Draft Days is like stepping into a cartoon, or perhaps more a comic book. Fifteen football fields? Red carpet on Michigan Avenue? Twenty-four different color combinations spiraling in the air from Buckingham Fountain? There are those who say that the NFL is all show, all image–and no constructive substance. In recent years, the League has nurtured abuse of women, extra pay for injuring opposing players, ignoring the problem of concussions, and cutting adrift retired players whose earnings don’t cover the medical costs incurred by injuries they received in their playing days. In every one of these situations, the NFL stonewalled until pressures forced action. At least two star players have been suspended for domestic brutality, and a commissioner was hounded from office. A coach who encouraged rewards for injuring opposing players was suspended for a year. It took the public outrage of “da coach,” Mike Ditka, to give attention to mistreatment of retired players.

The focus on concussions is still blurred. Chris Borland, a stellar linebacker for the San Francisco Niners, has just announced his retirement, at age 24, saying the risk of concussion was not worth the millions of dollars he would earn. An NFL concussion doctor said that Borland’s “proactive” decision is unusual, “merely because of a concern for injury.” The NFL issued a statement that “the game has never been safer, and there were 25 per cent fewer concussions last year.” See http://blog.sfgate.com/49ers/2015/03/17/concussion-expert-on-borlands-retirement-you-have-to-ask-yourself-is-this-the-new-norm/

The NFL wants its brand to be number one in the world, up there with Apple, Face Book, Michael Jordan, and Madonna. As of this date, none of those brand names have earned red carpet treatment on Michigan Avenue or closing down a major thoroughfare for two weeks. In his playing days, Michael did bring tourists and millions of dollars to our city, but he didn’t have our municipal necks in a vise in the way the Bears & friends do.

I will not indulge in extensive commentary–I think you readers will supply that. I won’t even promise to update you on the Second City’s Spring Madness, and I won’t be interviewing people on the red carpet. But I have alerted you to it.

Phil Hefner March 18, 2015