On a day when President Obama said he wouldn’t let a son play football, about 60 million viewers saw a horrific piece of evidence. Late in the vice grip of a predictably compelling NFC championship game, San Francisco’s NaVorro Bowman, one of the sport’s elite linebackers, forced a fumble when he wrestled the ball from Seattle receiver Jermaine Kearse at the 49ers’ 1-yard line. It appeared to be a huge turnover.
Instead, it only turned our stomachs.
In one of those unsightly, Lawrence Taylor-destroys-Joe-Theismann’s-leg plays that make you not want to watch football, much less play it, Bowman’s knee was hideously scrunched beneath the rear end and legs of the falling Kearse. As players prayed, he was helped off the field, which was a difficult enough sight for coach Jim Harbaugh. Then, things got worse.
Every official on the field missed the fumble.
You saw it. I saw it. Harbaugh saw it. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman saw it. More than 60 million people saw it.
The officials missed it.
And because the fumble and recovery occurred in the field of play, not in the end zone, it was not reviewable. Said Fox’s officiating analyst, Mike Pereira: “This is the second time this has happened this year, and I’ve been told that (the league) will look to make this reviewable.” Why isn’t it now?
Turns out the missed call didn’t hurt the 49ers when Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch fumbled a bad handoff from Russell Wilson, turning the ball over on 4th-and-1. But a league that has been haunted by inept officiating in big moments this season had yet another gaffe, something that frightens us with the Super Bowl just ahead. Previously, the 49ers were hurt by another questionable call when what appeared to be a roughing-the-punter penalty instead was called running into the kicker, which was only a five-yard markoff when a 15-yarder would have kept alive a San Francisco drive.
The rules are correctable. The officiating, perhaps, is fixable. But what about Bowman’s leg? “Preliminary, it looks like an ACL,” Harbaugh said after the 23-17 loss to the Seahawks. “Tough break for NaVorro.”
Said teammate Patrick Willis, per the Associated Press: “I look up, and NaVorro has the ball, and I’m thinking, ‘That’s a heck of a play, he got the ball.’ Then all of a sudden, I don’t know what happened, I was looking at him and he didn’t have the ball anymore, he was holding his knee and was yelling. That’s when, I don’t know, I kind of lost track of where the ball was and more so just worried about him. I never heard him yell like that, or even stay down for a moment.”
Obama, in a New Yorker profile published Sunday and written by David Remnick, said he is horrified by a sport that continues to draw blockbuster TV ratings and made $10 billion in revenues in 2013. He is referring primarily to brain trauma, but he surely was among those who turned away in pain after seeing Bowman’s leg twist.
“I would not let my son play pro football,” Obama said. “But, I mean, you wrote a lot about boxing, right? We’re sort of in the same realm. At this point, there’s a little bit of caveat emptor. These guys, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re buying into. It is no longer a secret. It’s sort of the feeling I have about smokers, you know?”
And we know what happened to Big Tobacco.