Back in December 2018, there was a media firestorm and a lot of online debate after an ESPN College GameDay piece from Tom Rinaldi featured Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa talking about pressure from his father Galu, including beatings with a belt for poor play. Plenty of viewers took exception to that, and to GameDay analyst Desmond Howard’s attempt to laugh it off with “I saw that his dad was like the Hawaiian version of Joe Jackson.” Corporal punishment in general is a hotly-debated topic, something that gets even more hotly-debated if you throw in a belt, and there have since been plenty of arguments from Tagovailoa, his family, and others that this was an accepted approach at the time, but Tagovailoa’s father’s disciplinary practices are certainly controversial, to say the least.
Thus, it felt like a bit of an unusual choice for ESPN to run a NFL Draft ad Thursday that heavily focused on the Tagovailoa family:
Look, yes, there are absolutely people who have no problem with Galu Tagovailoa’s approach to disciplining his son, and this ad isn’t going to bother them one bit. Tua Tagovailoa himself also seems still close to his family and not troubled by his dad’s actions. But there are also a lot of people (including those who disagree with hitting a kid with a belt) who disagree with any form of corporal punishment (perhaps especially for athletic shortcomings), with quite a bit of research in support of that, and that became very clear in the discussion around that 2018 GameDay feature on Tagovailoa.
The family focus of this ad absolutely brings up memories of past discussions about Galu Tagovailoa’s physical discipline of his son, which makes it feel like a curious choice for an ad about ESPN’s NFL Draft coverage. Especially with the “Greatness is a choice” tagline; Tagovailoa certainly didn’t choose the discipline his father handed out. Also, that discipline came to light thanks to an ESPN feature, adding a further weird layer to this ad.
The big thing here is that there were so many ways to do this without any controversy whatsover. Tagovailoa is far from the only interesting player in this draft, and he isn’t even the top projected pick (that’s LSU’s Joe Burrow), so there are plenty of other players who could have been featured. Or if you’re determined to feature Tagovailoa (which makes some sense given the storylines about his return from injury and about which teams are interested in him), there are seemingly many ways to do that without controversy, from having him talk about his battle back from injury to having him just say that he wants to make his family and his culture proud.
Instead, ESPN went with something very much spotlighting Tagovailoa’s father, which brings back some memories for those who were concerned about his father’s disciplinary approach. That’s a storyline that really didn’t need further debate at this point. But some of the discussion’s now going to come back, and it’s strange to see that happen as the result of an ESPN ad that was supposedly just intended to promote their coverage of the draft. It appears that there would have been plenty of options for a draft ad that wouldn’t have annoyed anyone, but they didn’t choose those.
[Ben Koo on Clippit]