SARANAC LAKE - When rapper M.I.A. flipped the bird during the halftime show at Super Bowl XLVI, it was a Saranac Lake native who took the lead on the National Football League's response.
"The obscene gesture in the performance was completely inappropriate, very disappointing and we apologize to our fans," Brian McCarthy said, as quoted in national media.
But McCarthy, son of Ed and Mary McCarthy, says his work goes well beyond to responding to controversy.
McCarthy, 43, is vice president of communications for the NFL. He lives in northern New Jersey with his wife, Tammy, and his two children, Brendan and Emily.
McCarthy graduated from Saranac Lake High School in 1986 and went on to receive an English degree from St. Lawrence University. He worked for several newspapers before getting into communications. In his youth, McCarthy interned at the Enterprise and dug graves at the Pine Ridge Cemetery.
He spoke with the Enterprise on Friday.
CM: Tell me what it is you do in your capacity as vice president of communications for the NFL.
BM: We help promote the practices and policies of the NFL. We help keep it in the public's mind as the most valuable sports and entertainment property in the world. And you see that, coming off Super Bowl Sunday. I deal with publicizing many of our initiatives, if it relates to player health and safety, rules changes, some of our marketing and business initiatives - so I'm on a daily basis talking to the media, ranging from ESPN to the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times, every media outlet in the world.
CM: How much do you get to interact with players and coaches?
BM: We usually see players and coaches more during the off-season. Once we get into the season, we get into a routine where, yes, we'll go to games, but we look at it from a different perspective. But we will, in the off-season, have meetings with the coaches, the general managers, team owners, presidents and also periodic meetings with players: current, former and incoming, as the draft is a major priority here at the league office.
CM: When it comes to yourself as a fan, does the nature of your work detach you from rooting for a particular team?
BM: Everyone here is a fan of football. You really see that from every single department. We all have a love of the game and what it means to the country and what it means to players, coaches and teams. And we see the effect it has on youth football. My father was a junior high coach for a number of years, and he would say that what his players saw on Sunday, they would emulate on Monday. So we use that as a basis for everything that we do here at the league office. How would what our players do on a national level translate to the next generation of players and fans? We're very much aligned to youth football.
A couple years ago, when Saranac Lake played in the state semifinals in Kingston, the team that we - and I can say Saranac Lake as we - ended up losing to was Bronxville. Now, the commissioner of the National Football League (Roger Goodell), he went to Bronxville High. He still lives in that town, and he drove up with his wife and young daughters to that game. He was on the Bronxville side. I was able to go up with my son and sat on the Saranac Lake side. Unfortunately the wrong team won, but later on the commissioner and I had a good chat about the game. It just goes to show the level of commitment we all have to the game of football.
CM: So you've been with the NFL for a long time. Is there a particular memory that stands out to you?
BM: Super Bowl Sunday. On game day, part of my role is during the pre-game festivities is to escort photographers out onto the field for protocol moments: "America the Beautiful," the national anthem, the coin toss. And with the coin toss, there's about a three-minute lag from the singing of the national anthem to the coin toss. You know you're alive when you're standing there, about to kick off the Super Bowl. It does hit you at that moment.
CM: The last four or five Super Bowls, every year, the ratings get better, viewership goes up, and it seems like the product gets better and better every year. Is that sustainable?
BM: I hope so. But we never take anything for granted. Our commissioner is relentless; he's never satisfied. He's asking us to accelerate. We took an hour yesterday afternoon to celebrate, and then it was back to work. We're already having meetings about next year's Super Bowl in New Orleans. The motto here is "Believe in Better" - just because we're America's favorite sport does mean we will always be.
CM: With the middle-finger flap with M.I.A. during halftime, when something like that happens, what's your thought process?
BM: In this instance, we believed we were putting on a show that would be appropriate for a massive, diverse audience. We'd been to the rehearsals where they ran through the shows multiple times. There was no indication something like this was going to happen. When we concluded the halftime show on Super Bowl Sunday, many of us had no idea that there was a small incident that took place. It was the third quarter when we realized we had an issue on our hands. We got with NBC, looked at what happened, and we knew we had to take responsibility.
CM: How important is it for the NFL to take the lead on safety and concussions issues?
BM: We have assumed a leadership role. This goes back to the early '90s. But we look at it as an opportunity to help improve safety, for not just football but a wide variety of sports. We're working with the military as they serve overseas and have members concussed. This is an area we take very seriously; player health and safety is a major priority of the NFL. We, too, have sons and daughters who play sports. I have a seventh-grade son who plays football.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.