A couple of weeks ago, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius suggested that the National Football League and other pro leagues might work with the US government to help spread the word that health coverage for the uninsured will expand on October 1st. Before the week was over, Senate Republicans were warning the NFL against taking sides “in such a highly polarized public debate.”
“Given the divisiveness and persistent unpopularity of this bill, it is difficult to understand why an organization like yours would risk damaging its inclusive and apolitical brand by lending its name to its promotion,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas wrote NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

In the most amusing part of the letter, the senators encourage the NFL to turn to them if the Obama administration decides to play rough. “Should the administration or its allies suggest that there will be any policy consequence for your decision not to participate in their outreach efforts, we urge you to resist any such pressure and to contact us immediately so that we may conduct appropriate oversight.”

This, of course, is the message that mobsters deliver to small shopkeepers when they want to convince the businessmen to pay protection. “Those kids on the street corner are up to no good. Without us looking out for you, some of your inventory could be easily damaged. Ooops!’’

Not surprisingly, the rough tough guys of the NFL caved. “We have responded to the letters we received from members of Congress to inform them we currently have no plans to engage in this area and have had no substantive contact with the administration about [the health-care law’s] implementation,” said spokesman Greg Aiello in an e-mail. Looks like the NFL is saving every chit it’s ever earned for that rainy day when the brain damage suits start rolling in and they’re going to need a bailout.

Well, fine. But two can play at that game. No businessman has taken more of a stand against health care reform than John Schnatter, the CEO of the Papa John’s pizza chain. Schnatter has since tried to say that his criticisms were actually just concerns, and now his position is vague, except on the matter of selling pizza. He hired the legendary quarterback Peyton Manning to pitch his pies. Peyton was so happy with the association that he bought 22 Papa John’s franchises in the Denver area.
Perhaps everyone who favors health care reform should write a letter to Peyton Manning. Maybe it could say something like, “Given the divisiveness and persistent unpopularity of the people who oppose this bill, it is difficult to understand why a person like you would risk damaging his inclusive and apolitical brand by lending its name to promoting the products of its most outspoken opponents.”

And we won’t even mention Peyton’s poor 9-11 record in post-season games, or the costly interception he threw late in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIV, the backbreaking interception he threw last year in overtime in the playoff game against the Ravens, or that his baby brother Eli has won more Super Bowls with the mighty New York Giants!

It would be unsportsmanlikel.

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Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.