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When economics meets the spiritual journey, economics wins–at least as far as the NFL and its lawyers are concerned. And that’s a shame.

The Bears-Colts match-up included a wonderful and historic storyline, as the first Super Bowl ever to have even one African-American head coach, let alone two. Coach Smith and Coach Dungy have risen to the top of their profession and both credit their faith as being foundational to their success.

But when a church in Indianapolis wanted to invite its members and friends together to celebrate the occasion and also see a short video highlighting the faith journeys of both coaches, the NFL acted quickly to shut them down. Even when the church agreed not to charge fees for snacks and not to use the words “Super Bowl” in their promotion, the NFL still did not back down.

“While this may be a noble message,” NFL assistant counsel Rachel L. Margolies wrote in a follow-up e-mail, “we are consistent in refusing the use of our game broadcasts in connection with events that promote a message, no matter the content.”

That stance is ridiculous. The entire game was filled with commercials that promote cultural stereotypes while pitching products as solutions for just about every problem of the human condition, and the NFL has no problem using game broadcasts to promote messages. The issue–really–is money. The NFL’s stance is that somehow these church parties would somehow have a trickle effect on Nielson ratings, which drive advertising rates, which the networks charge, to support what they pay the NFL for the rights to the game. Advertisers will pay an average of $2.5 million for a 30-second spot this year, which works out to $83,333 per second! That’s a lot of moo-lah, and doesn’t even include all of the other business and industry that’s driven by the game and the various pre- and post-game shows on other networks. (Advertising companies also do well on this day—a special effects ad can cost as much as $1 million to make.)

I agree with the pastor’s well-stated position: “It just frustrates me that most of the places where crowds are going to gather to watch this game are going to be places that are filled with alcohol and other things that are inappropriate for children,” Newland said. “We tried to provide an alternative to that and were shut down.”

The NFL licenses bars and restaurants to make money off of the game, because they call it “part of their everyday operations.” I commend a community church which seeks to gather people together to celebrate a cultural event as well as the faith message of the coaches, and believe there’ve got to be some lawyers who could go to court argueing that that is as much “normal operations” as a bar selling alcohol. But it’s doubtful a church has the money or the desire to fight the Big Brother that is the NFL. We should have risen up and protested… but then we’d have missed our own Super Bowl parties, and I need to get the apps and dip made in time to get there early.

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