For the second straight year, the NFL aired a commercial during the Super Bowl that emphasized the evolution of the game and the safety measures put in place during the past century.
The spot, called "NFL Evolution: Protecting the game," is set as a long kickoff return, spanning from the game's early days in Canton, Ohio, to a seemingly recent game set in Chicago. The players and scenes change, but the message remains: The league has continually worked to make its product safer. A narrator describes all the safety measures put in place (the addition of referees, face masks, penalties) as the scene changes with the era.
The NFL has been embroiled in several high-profile lawsuits recently regarding the safety of the game, so this spot was seen as particularly touchy.
"[T]he possibility that we could actually address the issue in a constructive, engaging way with that audience makes it definitely worth the challenge," Mark Waller, the N.F.L.'s chief marketing officer, told the New York Times last year. "It's a risk, without a doubt."
As Chris Chase of USA Today Sports points out, there is a sad irony throughout the commercial: Several of the players featured in the spot are actually suing the league.
The commercial is obviously fiction and no player names are revealed, but certain actors are used to portray some of the league's greatest kickoff returners. Among the players depicted in the commercial are three men who have joined lawsuits against the NFL: Mel Gray of the Detroit Lions, Rick Upchurch of the Denver Broncos and Ollie Matson of the Los Angeles Rams.
So just as the NFL is attempting to showcase its advancements in the game's safety, it spotlights several players who are suing the league for a lack thereof.