Thursday, September 19, 2019


LeBron James wants to humanize football players through a project he has called the “Glass Helmet” — the idea being that fans and the media have the opportunity to connect with these players as people, rather than as gladiators whose faces are obscured on the football field.

The Glass Helmet Project, of course, is a symbol, a visual aid for the videos produced by James and his media company, Uninterrupted. I mean, they are not real glass helmets.

Then again, given the scrambled brains of so many football players reduced to invalids as they grow older, a real glass helmet would have more meaning than this latest exercise in trying to reveal the misunderstood, misperceived, misquoted NFL player of today.

QUIZ: Can you match the nickname to the National Football League player?

James, whose lofty ambitions as a budding media mogul are at a good chunk of the reason he wanted to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, said the project is aimed at getting fans to reconsider how they view NFL players. “The meaning behind it is: All these great athletes that play our wonderful sport of football, will be heard and will be seen,” James said. “Because they are, at the end of the day, they are people as well.”

The initiative started off with a film project starring New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, wearing the aforementioned “glass helmet,” who looks into the camera and says, “I am more than stats. I am more than exciting plays. I am a father. I am a leader. I am here to make an impact. I am Saquon. And I will be seen.”

Nothing like starting with a layup, eh James? Barkley, after all, isn’t exactly one of the NFL’s bad boys.

Google Saquon Barkley and many entries come up describing in-depth Barkley and his humanity, his good deeds, his personality. There has been a line of reporters around the block waiting to tell those stories about Barkley since his days at Penn State, all hoping to reveal that Barkley is “more than stats, more than exciting plays.”

If James really wants to make an impact — I mean, really get inside the complicated minds behind the facemasks — he needs to raise the bar. He needs Antonio Brown.

It might be tough to find a helmet that fits — or one that Brown likes. But if the Glass Helmet Project is designed, as the promotional materials claim it is, “to reinforce the fundamental humanity of … football players,” well, Brown is James’ biggest challenge. Sort of like trying to lead a roster of Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA title.

Show us where the humanity is within this NFL player, accused of rape and sexual assault, under investigation by the NFL, resulting from a civil suit filed by his trainer, Britany Taylor; or the latest allegation in Sports Illustrated made by a second women who claimed Brown committed sexual misconduct while he commissioned her to paint a mural at his house for a charity auction; or the list of domestic disturbance calls to his homes in Pittsburgh and Hollywood, Florida.

Add in the on-the-field antics — quitting on his teammates in Pittsburgh last year, creating such a stench that the Steelers were willing to eat $21 million in cap money to get rid of him; his brief, strange tenure after signing with the Oakland Raiders and then crazying his way out by refusing to report.

Looking for the humanity there would be a true test of the Glass Helmet Project, if that is truly the goal of your project.

What I suspect, though, is the Glass Helmet Project is part of a growing movement within the business in which athletes decide not that they want to reveal their humanity, but that they want to quash critical stories and narratives, using Hollywood production values and carefully crafted scripts to steamroll over any unflattering truth.

There was a glimpse of that Sunday in the Washington Redskins’ locker room after the loss to Dallas when Josh Norman went off on the media for comments he made earlier in the week about Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, when he said following Prescott’s impressive performance in Week 1 against the Giants,

“You stand back there in the pocket all day and go through your first, second and third reads and come back to your first one, OK, cool. Anybody can do that. At the end of the day, he’s been playing well. As you can see, he’s evolved. He’s growing in the system. He’s just taking his keys and picking his targets and throwing the ball on time.”

Norman said he was a victim of the dreaded “being taken out of context.”

“It’s sad, it really is, man,” Norman, casting himself as a victim. “They pin us against each other. They pin one brother against another. It’s horrible how everything gets switched around. But I’m going to take control of my own narrative.”

The headline, of course, was “anybody can do that.” But in nearly every account I read, Norman’s full comments were included. It was a foolish thing to say.

But there it was — “take control of my own narrative.”

Ironically, Norman usually benefits from stories that reveal him as a person, from his summer adventure of running with the bulls in Spain to his donations to the Humanitarian Respite Center and his work on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Norman’s problem isn’t that people don’t know about his humanity. His problem is people want to know when he will play like a $75 million cornerback.

Maybe he needs a glass helmet to help everyone focus on the person — and forget about the player.


⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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