Nearly three dozen NFL players are in Las Vegas this weekend for a competition that classically captures the macho spirit of football: Arm wrestling.
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Dubbed the inaugural “Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship” — with heavyweight and light heavyweight crowns in play — it’s a made-for-TV deal, to air on CBS over two weekends later this spring.
But arm wrestlers beware. Roger Goodell and Co, lurk for a strong-arm takedown.
That the event is being staged at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino has captured the attention of the suits at NFL headquarters on Park Avenue. The NFL’s gambling policy, of course, prohibits players from appearing at casinos as part of promotional events.
According to the NFL, players participating in this specific event — without pre-approval — are in violation of the gambling policy and subject to discipline.
“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, the NFL’s executive vice president for communications and public affairs, told USA TODAY Sports. “No one sought pre-approval.”
With discipline perhaps coming in the form of a fine, the stage may be set for another skirmish between flamboyant Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and his friends in New York.
Harrison, a vocal critic of Goodell who has had a series of differences with the NFL over a range of issues, is coaching one of the teams in the event. His counterpart is Marshawn Lynch, the free-spirited running back who received permission from the Seattle Seahawks this week to visit the Oakland Raiders as he contemplates coming out of retirement.
Other notable participants: Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, Raiders punter Marquette King and defensive end Mario Edwards, and New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung.
And what event at a casino would be complete without the presence of a guy nicknamed, “Lucky,” as in Dallas Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead.
“This is great exposure for all involved,” said Alan Brickman, co-owner of the California-based company, Encinal Entertainment, that is putting on the show.
In addition to funneling half of the $100,000 in first-place prize money to charity, with the Give Back Foundation charged to support foundations in the players’ names, Brickman sells the TV package as a chance “to get to know the players behind the scenes.”
Interestingly, Brickman disputes the contention that pre-approval wasn’t sought from the NFL. He told USA TODAY Sports that, beginning in January, he engaged with two different departments within the league and tried to strike a deal to include the NFL as a partner with the event.
Obviously, the NFL didn’t sign up. Yet Brickman maintains that during communication with the league, guidelines were suggested that included showing no images during the broadcast of any gambling-related activities or any alcohol. He said the power was turned off on gambling machines in the vicinity of the events being taped.
“With a team coming here, I’m sure they’re branding it as a family destination,” Brickman said from Las Vegas on Friday night.
In the big picture, the arm wrestling event is a fresh test of the mettle of the NFL’s gambling policy.