Digital DNA - Chapter 1: The Fumble

(This is Chapter 1 of a seven-part short story by David Grant)

The largest conference room at Miami’s Grand Hotel was packed. Chairs and tables were neatly organized in rows, as reporters from around the world--including bloggers, staffers, owners, distinguished guests, security and other selected attendees--were seated, or in some cases, standing, waiting on the commissioner to take center stage. As was the custom, Commissioner Roger Blackmon would engage the crowd during the IFL’s championship week to provide what was essentially a "State of the League" address. In past years, the crowds had been smaller, less formal and certainly less celebratory. But in the 10 years since Commissioner Blackmon had taken the reins of the International Football League, revenues had tripled, television exposure and ratings were at an all-time high and sales of league memorabilia had also doubled, as had retail sales. It was no surprise that the Texas Ranchers had once again led all teams in total sales. So this year’s speech by Roger, as he insisted everyone call him, was expected to be about his vision for the future. As he had outlined in last year’s State of the League, which was still fresh in the minds of some, under his watch the IFL had increased attendance and signed a new seven-year collective bargaining agreement, or CBA, with the players union. Now, everyone was left to wonder: “What will Roger do next?”

There were loud “SHHH” sounds, as league press spokesman Lew Brouder made his way to the podium. The large red, white and blue IFL banner behind him was flanked by large 62” high definition LCD televisions for the benefit of those at the back of the room: “Ladies and gentlemen, league officials, owners and distinguished guests; it is my pleasure to introduce to you, the commissioner of the IFL, Roger Blackmon.” The crowed erupted with applause, only dying down as a smiling Roger uttered a heartfelt “thank you” into the microphone. Roger was in his usual pinstriped blue suit, white shirt, red tie, and at 6’5” and 215 pounds, he not only looked good but was in good enough shape some thought he could play the game, even if he was 47 years old. Despite the heavy makeup on his face, for the benefit of the television audience who would see parts of the State of the League address later that day on popular sports channels and the Internet, you could see some reflection off of his forehead from the lights attached to scaffolds around the stage. His hair was neatly combed and parted on the side, with just a small but distinguished amount of grey on the left side. The briefcase that Roger always carried with him and never allowed to leave his side was put next to the podium. The running joke was that it contained the launch codes for the next war. But Roger made little of the flack he received about the briefcase, indicating he was doing what the commissioner before him had done and that it was always near him so he could conduct league business at any time if needed.

“Good morning, everyone, and thank you for attending today’s State of the League address. I am honored to be your commissioner. Today, the International Football League is the highest rated sports league in the world, thanks to many of you and the hard work all of us have put in to make this a great league. We have enjoyed unprecedented growth, particularly over the last five years. We have labor peace, larger television revenues and our future looks bright.”

“Well, no new news there,” chided Bill Stimes from The Bulletin, the local paper. Bill was sent at the last minute, because regular IFL beat reporter Molly Williams had been rushed to MedCenter Community Hospital to have her second baby delivered. Bill was a hard news guy from way back. He was a local icon, well versed in politics and the economy, as well as issues facing local government. He liked sports but had some disdain for what he considered as the pompous entertainment aspect of all sports, and football in particular. “No value to the real world,” he would bicker. He knew, however, that the economic impact to the city for hosting the championship game was huge and that fans wanted the latest storylines, and being a reporter at heart, he felt a duty to report the news, even if this story would not be on the front page.

Bill’s ‘no news’ sentiment seemed to reflect the overall mood in the room, as the clicking sound of fingers on laptops had nearly fallen silent after the commissioner’s last words. Sensing the need for the crowd in the room to become inspired again, Roger stated somewhat half-heartedly: ”I’ll take any questions you have at this time.”

Suddenly, the room came to life, the crowd raised their hands and shouted, “Mr. Commissioner! Mr. Commissioner!” as the flashes from cameras seemed to pop from everywhere. As was the custom, started by his predecessor, Roger first pointed to Mike Anderson from the NY Metropolitan, who asked the first question. “Commissioner Blackmon” . . . ”Please, call me Roger.“ “Yes, Roger,” Mike continued. “We are all aware of your accomplishments over the past 10 years or so, but could you give us a sense of what the future holds for the league please.”

“Certainly Mike, I’ll be glad to.” Bill rolled his eyes. He had seen this stunt many times as a political reporter. He knew Mike had been planted in just the right spot, in a chair just off to the right side of the podium on the front row, and that the question to Roger had been planned ahead of time. “I think we will look toward increasing revenues as one part of our strategy. That strategy could include playing games in non-traditional sites and moving the championship game around on a rotational schedule. Doing that would allow city planners the lead-time they need to make necessary arrangements. We are also looking at technology and how best to leverage new technology developments to make us more efficient, lower operating costs and increase fan involvement. These will all be exciting agenda items that we will be working on and that I will be putting to the owners in our spring meeting.”

“You have got to be kidding,” Bill grumbled from way in the back, his recorder off by now and his pencil behind his ear. He was just about out the door when the next question stopped him cold. “Mr. Commissioner!” someone yelled from the area in the back of the room known by league insiders as the “dead zone.” The dead zone was a place reporters were put whose questions were not wanted. “Mr. Commissioner, could you enlighten us on the new technology center going in at the Hall of Fame?”

Bill turned back toward the room. What technology center? Although he knew he was not as plugged in as Molly, information about this new center was not on the agenda, it was not on the league’s radar at all as far as he knew. His quick research to replace Molly had not turned up any mention of this information. As a front-page reporter who had covered the White House, congressional hearings, all kinds of scandals and the like, he was naturally intrigued. Was it oversight on the league’s part not to mention this? What could be the reason for not wanting anyone to know, if that was the intent? He wanted to hear Roger’s response but stepped outside to use his cell phone. He dialed Molly’s mobile phone. “Hello?” came the male voice on the other end. “Uh, who is this?” Bill asked. “It’s Andy, I am Molly’s husband,” came the reply. “I need to talk to Molly,” Bill stammered. “Well, she’s kind of busy, who is this?” “It’s Bill from the paper. I am covering the IFL league meeting for her, can you get her for me?” “Oh, hello Bill. I am sure she would talk to you, but as you might know, she is in labor right now.” “Well can you just ask her a question for me?” “Umm . . . I could try what is it?” “I need to know if she has any knowledge of the IFL’s new technology center at the Hall of Fame. Could you ask her that please?” “Uh, ok sure . . . just a minute.” Bill waited for what seemed like an hour, tried to peek his head in to the conference room to hear Roger’s answer and then a crackle noise came over the phone. “Uh, Bill, Molly says that she has some information on that and will contact you.” Then, all Bill could hear in the background was crying and confusion, and then the phone was silent.

Bill returned to the conference room, where time had seemed to stand still during his brief call to Andy. There was a discussion at the podium. Roger was huddled with two owners, a senior staff member and one security guard. Roger’s hand was over the microphone, in an attempt to shield the conversations from the audience. The group seemed to be in a hurry. The beep from Chip Coleter’s PDA could be heard, even in the back of the room. Coleter, the owner of the Texas Ranchers, carried most of the weight at the owner’s meetings. The beep dispersed the group, and Roger returned to the podium.

Clearing his throat, Roger attempted to respond to the question about the Hall’s new technology center. “Well, you have certainly beaten us to the bell,” Roger half joked. “We wanted to wait until just the right moment, but since it is out there now, I might as well tell you that the IFL embarked on a project about mid-season last year to design, develop and build a new digital video technology center at the Hall of Fame. This center will advance the fan’s experience and enable us to have real-time game footage onsite. We think this will be the latest and greatest technology available, and we hope it adds value to the fans that visit the Hall of Fame, as well as service fans at home with the latest information, regarding all games during any given week. All game footage from our film division will be sent to the Hall and available right away. We hope you have a chance to see this in action at our meeting next year, when it will be ready at that time.” Thank you all for coming, and we’ll see you at the game on Sunday.”

Roger quickly left the podium and was escorted off stage by security. Several people in the audience began to discuss this latest announcement, and some started to leave. Some clickity-clacking could be heard on laptops, as beat reporters worked to get their stories out to their home locations. Bill was left wondering several things. First, it was apparent that the explanation regarding the new technology center was glazed over and hurried. And although it might have been a small thing, why had Roger referred to the IFL’s video department as the film division? The league had abandoned film years ago and had one of the most sophisticated video, editing and graphics departments that could be found anywhere.

It had always been rumored that several secret organizations, including the CIA, had tasked the IFL’s video department to analyze classified military video and other videos relating to national security issues. Bill decided to gather his things and would talk with Molly in the next day or so. He realized that his article on today’s events would not be a Pulitzer Prize winning story, that was for sure. Bill knew that if the league hadn’t wanted the information out there about the new technology center, someone leaked it and was a giant sized fumble by the league.

The phone rang in Roger’s office almost immediately after the press conference. The league’s secretary, nearly always left behind to cover the office, picked up the call. “Commissioner Blackmon’s office, this is Louise, how can I help you?” “I need to talk to RB,” came the response. “Mr. Blackmon is out of the office, can I take a message?” Louise responded. “Tell RB that he had better call me right away.” “I will give him the message,” Louise stated. Louise knew the caller, and for some strange reason she was curious as to why the caller had not used Roger’s cell phone. The caller knew Roger was in Miami. But nonetheless, she sent an email to the commissioner. “Roger, please contact Zebra1 asap,” the email said. It was short and to the point. It was 11:45 a.m., and she hoped Roger would read it before noon.

David Grant is a former NCAA official and currently resides in southern California. He is the site's NFL Briefs writer.

1 comment:

  1. "Commissioner Roger" reminds me of someone. Also, where can I get Texas Ranchers merchandise? They seem to be more successful as of late than the Cowboys.


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