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Volume 70, Issue 64, Friday, November 19, 2004


'Monday Night Football' ventures into obscenity

Pro Sports Fan

Arrica Jefferson

This may be a step away from my normal sports-talk rhetoric, but there is something that's concerning me. On Monday night, ABC ran a hot and steamy intro to Monday Night Football that the NFL is calling "inappropriate and unsuitable for our Monday Night Football audience," and I agree.

The intro to the Philadelphia Eagles/Dallas Cowboys game went like this: Terrell Owens and Desperate Housewives star Nicollette Sheridan, who is dressed in nothing but a towel, are in an empty locker room. She provocatively asks Owens to skip the game for her and drops her towel. Owens smiles and agrees to be late for the game, and she leaps into his arms.

This cannot be considered acceptable. It isn't anything but an erotic fantasy put in visual form by the programmers at ABC. In addition, the spot featured two more of the stars from the show, Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman, who watch the scene on a television and comment on desperate women. ABC's intention for the spot was clearly to promote the new show.

Desperate women? Is this what television has come to -- having a naked woman jump into a football player's arms? On Tuesday, ABC Sports apologized for the segment, and Wednesday Federal Communication Commission chairman Michael Powell expressed his disappointment in the piece and ABC. But apologies and expressions of disappointment do not change the fact that vulgarity keeps resurfacing in primetime television. And it is going to keep happening unless there is a big change in who controls the programming of these shows and who regulates the broadcast stations in the FCC. 

Even though the spot was shown the day before, it surprises me that no one who deals with programming or who works for ABC or Disney, which owns ABC, saw it and said, "I don't think this is a good idea."

This happened only nine months after the incident during the Super Bowl Halftime Show in which Justin Timberlake ripped off a piece of Janet Jackson's outfit exposing her right breast to a national audience of 90 million viewers. This, too, was during primetime television -- not on ABC, but on CBS.

The thing that confuses me is that this is broadcast television, not cable or satellite. How can the laws against obscenity become so lax that a naked woman can be shown jumping into a man's arms in a locker room? This kind of thing plays into all sorts of stereotypes and prejudices.

There are usually anywhere up to 50 million viewers watching Monday Night Football during any given broadcast. And for there to be such recklessness on the part of Disney and the FCC just shows how nonchalant we, as Americans, are becoming toward sexual intimacy, vulgarity and adult situations that wouldn't have been considered acceptable 10 or 20 years ago. 

I hope to see some consistency in the discipline of ABC. The FCC handed CBS a $550,000 fine for the exhibitionism of Jackson, but has reported that the maximum indecency fine is $32,500 per incident. I already see one inconsistency. 

Because of the Jackson incident, most live shows have implemented a three- to five-second delay, but if the indecency is not live, then what do you do? It isn't fair for the FCC to fine CBS more for a mistake just because it was live. Planned indecency is much worse.

Apologies and disappointment are good, but obviously someone didn't learn from the Jackson incident during the Super Bowl. Maybe the FCC should rethink to whom, how much and under what circumstances they should fine broadcast stations. Maybe the bigger corporations that own the stations should do better in regulating themselves. If not, one day we might see full frontal nudity and be able to say the "big four" curse words on public airwaves.

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