NFL players give two thumbs down to 'Playmakers'

Saturday, September 13, 2003

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It's 30 minutes before kickoff and star running back Demetrius Harris is in the 'hood getting a quick fix. He makes it to the stadium on time, high on cocaine, and rushes for 147 yards while leading the Cougars to a victory.

Reality? Nope, a scene from ESPN's new series "Playmakers," about a fictional professional football team.

The owner is a ruthless tyrant, the coach has a serious illness and the team doctor will lie when pressured by management.

Harris is on drugs and his veteran backup dabbled with andro to try to get his job back. He's also got serious marital problems, no thanks to the female TV reporter relentlessly pursuing him.

The linebacker has emotional problems after paralyzing another player with a hard hit, and the quarterback pops anti-inflammatory pills like candy to keep playing through his pain.

And that's all in just the first three episodes.

Drama, not reality

ESPN insists it's only a drama, but players around the NFL are calling it stereotypical garbage.

"That's the worst show on TV," Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "If you were in our locker room and did what we did day in and day out, that's a slap in your face.

"You put this TV show on like this is reality. This is my profession ... It's not a joke."

Players are so outraged over the way a professional team is portrayed that the NFL Players Association said it has complained to ESPN and asked the network not to air any more episodes.

"Every character in the show is relentlessly compromised and corrupt," said Doug Allen, a former player and assistant executive director of the NFLPA. "If that's not bad enough, it's clear that it is not a satire, that it is intended to the viewer to be real."

Created by former player

The show, ESPN's first original drama, is created by John Eisendrath, a former college football player and a writer-producer of "Alias."

ESPN said Eisendrath has talked to former players to get a grasp on football jargon and how an athlete thinks. The rest is imagination.

"It is total fiction, dramatic entertainment," said Ron Semiao, senior vice president of ESPN Original Entertainment. "Being that ESPN covers so many sports with all our news and information, what people expect from us is documentary -- but this is 180 degrees from that."

Semiao is disappointed that players across the league don't recognize that the show is drama, not reality.

"It's a little frustrating because I don't hear doctors saying about 'ER' that that could never happen," he said. "Those people happen to take it for what it is, which is entertainment."

Eleven episodes are planned for this season; three have already aired.

If there was one franchise that could relate to the Cougars' dysfunction, it would probably be Carolina.

After all, former player Rae Carruth was convicted of plotting his pregnant girlfriend's murder, Fred Lane was shot dead by his wife and Kerry Collins was punched in the face for using a racial slur. A player once attacked a coach on the sideline, and star receiver Steve Smith beat up a teammate in a film session last year.

But not even the Panthers, who have desperately tried to clean up their image, find "Playmakers" plausible.

"The show makes people think all this must go on, but it's really just Hollywood," receiver Muhsin Muhammad. "Most of the scenarios could not take place in the NFL."

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