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OPINION: Neighbor Islands Lost Pro Bowl Before Honolulu Did

April 11, 2014, 6:13 AM HST
* Updated April 11, 9:30 AM
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Last year was a reminder that Honolulu, not the state of Hawai`i, hosts the National Football League’s Pro Bowl exhibition.

When the NFL and its player’s union agreed to change the rules format for the struggling exhibition game, it generated more television time for Oahu. A two-day Pro Bowl Draft was held on the Tuesday and Wednesday before the game, summoning all of the participants to Ko Olina for the live broadcasts on the NFL Network.

Those extra days had one unexpected consequence. NFL camps that were usually scheduled at Kea`au and Kealakehe High Schools didn’t take place, depriving youth football hopefuls the opportunity of learning from the sport’s best players and creating lifetime memories. All of the Pro Bowl players were waiting for their names to be called at a fancy resort instead of giving back to neighbor island kids.

Dollar signs talk louder than anything else for an event that the Hawai`i Tourism Authority dishes out over $4 million to hold. Mike McCartney, chief executive officer and president of the Hawai`i Tourism Authority, told me on my radio show that the league spent about $1.7 million in production costs for the two live days of television on its network.

In fairness, several players held a Punt, Pass, and Kick clinic on Oahu during Pro Bowl week, but its far-reaching impact was minimized in order to save a game that was on its last legs because of complaints of poor effort by the players on the field.

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Would these camps come back when the game returns in 2016? I hope so, and so does McCartney.

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“That’s something that we definitely want to work on so that we bring those programs back,” McCartney said Wednesday from the state Capitol. “The days when you were probably there, we had the Ohana Day and they (the players) went out there. Mayor Billy Kenoi was on that first committee that helped do that, and that was very powerful.”

It may take some creativity to make community events like these happen. Could several players hang around for another day in the islands and head to the Big Island to work the camps? Or could there be a heavier presence of former NFL greats from the islands?

Understandably, the HTA’s biggest issue is getting the NFL to once again view Honolulu as the permanent home of the Pro Bowl when it returns in two years. Selling out the stadium, for starters, could go a long way to pleasing the league’s owners.

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“I think, just from a community standpoint, what we’d like to do as we go forward into the future is build that (NFL Play) 360 program where we go out into the community, we touch the youth,” McCartney said. “Our local players, we have the NFL-Hawai`i bridge that we started dominating and recognized this year and last year. We want them to go out to the schools and be role models.”

No other island has the ability to host the Pro Bowl game. Every other island should have the chance to host the next best thing, clinics with the pros.

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