Dr. Bennet Omalu, known as the “Concussion Doctor,” recently stated that letting kids play football is child abuse, citing a “100% chance of brain damage.” The NFL doesn’t care. Neither do the citizens of Mathis, Texas in Madden 18’s ‘Longshot’ story mode.
In the previous census, Mathis’ population came in under 5,000 people. Small city, with what looks like a single factory pouring pollutants from a lonely smokestack and a downtown area of single floor glass storefronts. It’s as if the ‘50s never left and Omalu’s research never dripped down into local media. The city is frozen in pure Americana, guitars strumming country tracks like Ed Bruce’s “Last Cowboy” over local radio – probably the only local radio too.
At Mathis’ center, high school football star Devin Wade, a college sports dropout shoveling rocks in a quarry. He’s representing America’s hard work ethic, bored into a city undoubtedly red leaning if without any of the after effects. This is football and America as the NFL sees it, dishonest in its avoidance of truth and reality, pandering to the worst sensibilities of star-struck children hoping for their chance at multi-million contracts. Meanwhile, those who don’t make it wrecked their brains for nothing.
‘Longshot’ is almost comical, were it not so earnest. While NBA 2K 16 approached issues of racial prejudice – however sloppy it was in doing so – Madden 18’s Wade never comes under fire. A black teen in a small Texas town who disgraced the city by walking off the Longhorns squad? Only in fantasy does he not receive bias and hate, the NFL fantasy in particular.
It’s the Manhattan Project of storytelling, where those involved stay tight-lipped, in this case locked behind contracts or threats. EA Sports’ exclusivity is far too valuable to risk anything not seen as amiable to the billion dollar sports league. ‘Longshot’ isn’t without drama. Wade lost both of his parents and gave up football in a flurry of emotion. He stares down an implausible, caricatured TV producer while trying to maintain his ties to close friend Colt Cruise.
The crux is that of a reality TV show, appropriately titled ‘Longshot.’ Failed NFL prospects, Wade included, come together in a competition to potentially earn a place in the NFL draft, doing so in a series of ludicrous challenges that no true NFL scout would consider candidate worthy. Most are quicktime challenges or with limited gameplay systems. This leaves room for drama, muddily edited and often incomplete. Those relying on subtitles need to know how wrong these often are.
At its worst, Madden 18 suggests Wade isn’t draft material, but not for his attitude or playing skill. No, ‘Longshot’ ruined his chance because no NFL team wants to associate with a reality TV star. This from the same league offering roster positions to chronic abusers like Ray Rice who punched his girlfriend in an elevator. Greg Hardy came under fire when images of his bruised girlfriend surfaced. In the 2017 NFL Draft, a half-dozen players with sexual/physical assault histories were chosen. Tom Brady earns the cover spot and even he is not without controversy, accused of cheating and later acquitted. But sure, starring on a reality show voids any chance at the Draft.
Wade faces none of these real world pressures. He’s a perfect American dreamer, hoping for a shot through hardwork. It’s a contemporary sports fable at best, disingenuous idealism at worst. Primarily, it’s at worst.
Madden as a whole feels stagnant and stymied. As the console generation moves on, Madden seems content to stay where it is, thumbing through dollars earned in an exploitative Ultimate Team mode while barely redressing the same presentation elements year-to-year. A lot rode on ‘Longshot.’ It’s a chance to compete with Visual Concepts’ basketball sim while EA’s own NBA title flounders. But this is the NFL; its marketing budget and glossy exterior slices through to millions of fans, more than some African-born doctor’s facts or even the truth. The NFL is a corporation even corporations seems afraid of. They like it that way, so it makes sense the NFL sees their problems under the lens of a phony reality show.