A funny thing happened during the unwatchable 2011 NFL Draft television extravaganza, which of course I watched several hours of on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Right in the middle of the festivities, while America was learning about the cellphone habits and wardrobe styles of its huge hulking college football stars, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 2-1 issued what it called "an administrative stay" of a key ruling in the League's labor dispute.
The federal appeals court decision, which came down late Friday during Day 2 of the League's annual "selection meeting," halted for the moment the legal effect of a trial judge's ruling late last month which had enjoined the owners' lockout. There was a lockout. Then for a day or so there was no lockout. And now there is a lockout again pending another ruling that should come any day now from the same 8th Circuit judges who just issued the stay. Give me your playbook. Here's your playbook. Give me back your playbook. Got all that? I'll keep you posted.
In case you missed the arch of these Millionaire v. Billionaire developments in real time-- say, because you were watching the Royal Wedding or preparing yourself for the red carpet of the White House Correspondents' Dinner-- let me share with you two quick things I noticed. One was disappointing. One was a little bit inspiring.
For as long as I can remember, televised draft coverage has included the "reaction" shot (wherein a potential draft choice learns that he has been drafted onto a professional team). It's a very cool thing. For once on television, you get to see people-- usually a family-- at one of the happiest moments of their lives and it doesn't matter really at all that you have no idea who they are and will never seen them again. It's the least guilty form of voyeurism I can think of at the moment.
Now, however, in the age of cellphones and reality shows, the good folks at ESPN have taken this genre one step further. The zealous network now features a pre-action shot where the viewer learns the big news-- i.e. who was picked-- not from the Commissioner at the fancy podium but from a live view of the cellphone call that has just reached the lucky player or his mom or dad. From a screen shot of analysts talking, all of a sudden, you see a big kid talking into a tiny cellphone and you know as a viewer that he's just received The Call from a pro team. This happens now before the NFL or anyone else has made a formal announcement of the selection.
So, essentially, ESPN's cameras are scooping the League and maybe its NFL Network and certainly the Draft itself by broadcasting the information first. This "pre-action shot" happened so often during Thursday's first round, in fact, that the only apparent point to Commissioner Roger Goodell's presence at Radio City Music Hall was so that he could be lustily booed by football fans (even, for example, when he was introducing legendary former players like Barry Sanders) for his role in the lockout.