- - Monday, April 10, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Only the NFL is obtuse enough to celebrate putting a franchise in Las Vegas and criticize players for attending an arm-wrestling tournament there.

That’s like your company setting up shop in a new town and complaining that the locale has a negative influence on employees and the product.

In case you missed it, the league isn’t pleased with the Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship that was held at the MGM Grand last week. More than 30 current and former players reportedly attended, including Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and retired halfback Marshawn Lynch. NFL Network reported Monday that fines are forthcoming.

The made-for-TV event concluded on Sunday and is scheduled to air May 27-28 on CBS, with the championship round broadcast the following weekend. A portion of the prize money is supposed to be donated to charities of the players’ choice.

Star players. Major network. Prime Vegas venue. Sounds like a winning combination that would be hard to miss. But the league officials said they were clueless until the event began. And they weren’t happy.

“Had we been asked in advance if this was acceptable, we would have indicated that it was in direct violation of the gambling policy,” Joe Lockhart, NFL vice president of communications told USA Today. “No one sought pre-approval.”

Promoter Alan Brickman told USA Today that he engaged with the league starting in January and received suggested guidelines, including not showing gambling-related activities or any alcohol on the broadcast. He said nearby gambling machines were turned off during taping.

“This is great exposure for all involved,” Brickman said. “With (the Raiders) coming here, I’m sure they’re branding it as a family destination.”

If the league was going to be this skittish about doing business in the nation’s gambling capital, the Raiders’ relocation should’ve been blocked.

Then again, the NFL doesn’t let marks off the hook when it draws a winning hand; public officials offered $750 million for stadium funding and team owners couldn’t cash those chips fast enough.

But the league loves its image as much as money. So commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t want us to think anything has changed with the Raiders’ move to Sin City. The NFL gambling policy is still in place. Players are still prohibited from appearing at casinos as part of promotional events.

Right, because it’s a bad look to be inside, even if you’re nowhere near the gaming floor.

How about in front of the casino? Across the street? Around the corner? Are restraining orders necessary, mandating that a player doesn’t come within 100 yards of a gambling establishment?

The NFL gets a little crazy about perceptions and proximity when Vegas is involved.

Then-Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo planned a fantasy football convention in Las Vegas two years ago; it was canceled after the league threatened fines and/or suspensions for the 100-plus players scheduled to appear. The event was being held at a site that wasn’t a casino and didn’t have any gambling.

But a casino company owned the venue. Run!

The Raiders ran to the desert for three-quarters of a billion dollars. The team logo and NFL shield will be plastered all over as the league beckons residents and visitors to another spectacular palace. Everything is brand new with a franchise in Vegas but the league’s public stance remains the same.

“We did not change any of our gambling policies in the context of the Raiders’ relocation,” Goodell said last month at the owners’ meeting after the move was approved. “It wasn’t necessary. The Raiders didn’t ask us to do that. We don’t see that — changing our current policies.

” … I think we have to make sure that we continue to stay focused on making sure that everyone has full confidence that what you see on the field is not influenced by any outside factors. That’s our No. 1 concern. That goes to what I consider the integrity of the game. And we will not relent on that.”

Forget about what we see on the field. Our only full confidence is that the NFL will never stop being duplicitous, hypocritical and imperceptive.

It’s a league concerned with appearances, socks and celebrations more than reality pharmaceuticals and concussions. A league that has climbed in bed with fantasy football and daily fantasy operators while simultaneously fighting against New Jersey’s push to offer legalized sports betting.

The NFL is expected to host the Super Bowl in Las Vegas next decade. League personnel — including coaches, front office officials and players — will swarm to the Strip, rubbing elbows with workers, tourists and wise guys. Team employees might even find themselves in a casino.

But arm-wrestling tournaments are problematic? OK.

Goodell & Co. must think we’re a bunch of suckers.

Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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