|Thursday, November 21
NFL reviewing excessive violence in video games
By Darren Rovell
After weeks of reviewing hard hits that have resulted in a bevy of fines, the NFL has decided to review the video game industry.
In hopes of sending a more consistent message about the importance of on-field safety, the league is talking with game makers in an attempt to ensure that violence isn't being advocated in the virtual stadium.
In many of the video games endorsed by both the league and the NFL Players Association, gamers can choose to play without penalties and allow its virtual players to levy devastating hits. This comes at a time when the league has fined players on 19 occasions for helmet-hit infractions this season, compared to 20 for all of last season.
"What is happening on the field and what is happening in the video games is different right now," said Mark Holtzman, the NFL's senior vice president of consumer products. "We're taking a very close look at this since we have to walk the fine line. We know what sells, but we also want to do our best to maintain the integrity of the game."
One of the most flagrant games is "NFL Blitz 2003," a cross between football and wrestling, produced by Midway Games. In "Blitz," gamers can end every play by body slamming or kicking the groin of their already-tackled opponents. The NFL is in on-going discussions with the game maker, Holtzman said.
"We are going to be specifically responding to the issues that the league has brought up with us," said Miguel Iribarren, Midway's vice president of corporate communications. "Their concern is with the type of hits in our game, which means we're going to have to make a few changes to be consistent with what really goes on on the field."
Even players who have been fined have criticized the league for cracking down on the field, while allowing its video game partners free reign. The onus might also fall on the Players Association. The NFLPA reportedly raked in $12 million from video game licensing fees last year.
"On the one hand, the NFL is trying to increase the safety in the actual game," Jacksonville Jaguars safety Donovin Darius told the Florida Times-Union last week. "But on the other hand, they're doing all these things with video games and stuff to promote and glorify the violence of the game. It doesn't make a lot of sense."
Last season, Darius was fined $7,500 for his hard hit on Kansas City Chiefs running back Priest Holmes. Darren Woodson, the Dallas Cowboys safety who was fined $75,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Seattle receiver Darrell Jackson earlier this season, also discussed the apparent hypocrisy with NFL discipline czar Gene Washington.
"I think it's pretty odd that the players are saying that the video game industry is a standard for reality," Iribarren said.
Holtzman says that games like Electronic Arts' "Madden NFL 2003" are more true-to-life simulation games, while Midway's NFL Blitz -- complete with fire coming out of the football -- is meant to be a fantasy game.
Said Holtzman: "There's a middle ground here and we will be trying to achieve thatů in the very near future."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.