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Who Are You to Ban Townshend From Super Bowl?

Dec 29, 2009 – 2:39 PM
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David Whitley

David Whitley %BloggerTitle%

Pete Townshend
And now, from the people who brought you Michael Jackson surrounded by 3,500 children and Janet Jackson's right breast, we have the most controversial Super Bowl halftime performer of all.

Pete the Pervert.

That would be Pete Townshend of The Who, unless child advocacy groups have their way. They're raising a stink over the NFL giving the world's biggest stage to an ex-registered sex offender.

"Inviting Townshend to play is a blatant disregard to the values of American families and a slap in the face to victims of child sexual abuse," proclaims the release from Child Abuse Watch.

Actually, the advocacy groups are slapping the face of American values. In a fanatical quest to promote their cause they're willing to trash fairness and common sense.

Yikes, I just cringed while writing that. I mean, who besides Roman Polanski doesn't want to prevent child abuse?

It's also much more fashionable to rip the NFL, that soulless corporation that would employ a serial dog killer if he sold tickets.

I'm also a little tired of the league trotting out dinosaur rockers every Super Bowl halftime. But just because The Who's last hit came when Brett Favre was in high school is no reason to deny Townshend a fair hearing.

Don't tell that to groups like Child Abuse Watch and Protect Our Children. They've sent letters of protest to the NFL, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and immigration and law enforcement agencies.

Beware, a sicko with a guitar is coming to town!

Their campaign is starting to gain traction. I turned on the radio Tuesday morning and was greeted by a booming question.

"Should The Who be banned from the Super Bowl?"

If you're willing to be duped into a knee-jerk reaction, you'll probably say yes. If you bother to look into what The Who's legendary guitarist actually did, the answer is not nearly so cut-and-dried.

The undisputed fact is that Townshend checked out a child-porn Web site in 1999. In 2003, he was arrested for suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. He was cleared of that charge, but by simply visiting the site he spent five years on Britain's Sex Offenders Register.

To the critics, that alone makes Townshend a guitar-smashing Polanski. They scoff at his explanation that he accessed the site for "research" purposes.

Sure, that's what all pedophiles say. But in this case there's plenty of evidence to support that claim.

A year before being arrested, Townshend posted a six-page essay titled "A Different Bomb." It was about the suicide of a friend who was sexually abused as a child and how dangerously easy it is to access porn Web sites.

Townshend's interest goes way back. He said his mentally ill grandmother sexually abused him when was 6. That memory stayed buried for years, though it manifested itself when he wrote the landmark album "Tommy" in 1969.

It was about a "deaf, dumb and blind" pinball wizard who was sexually abused by an uncle.

All this means Townshend may be a weird dude. But a pervert who should be banished from our sight?

Pete TownshendHe was arrested as part of Operation Ore, a police sweep that named more than 7,000 supposed sexual predators. The operation was later largely discredited because many of the accused were only guilty of having their credit card numbers stolen and used by others to access porn sites.

Along the way more than 30 of the accused committed suicide. Some were undoubtedly guilty. Others were simply too humiliated to go on living.

There's not a worse label to live with than "Sexual Predator," but it's thrown around with disturbing ease. Thousands of people are registered in the U.S. for crimes like statutory rape (an 18-year-old having sex with a 17-year-old sweetheart) or indecent exposure (getting drunk and streaking across a lawn).

If that's the price of keeping track of the real perverts out there, fine by me. But would a real pervert have 14 computers seized from his home and inspected by police, who found no trace of pornographic activity?

Maybe Townshend is old-fashioned and kept his porn collection stashed under his mattress. Police said he fully cooperated with their investigation and readily admitted to accessing the one porn site.

"I accept that I was wrong to access this site," he said, "and that by doing so I broke the law. I have accepted the caution that the police have given me."

With that caution came the five-year stay on the Sexual Predator Registry. That makes him fair game for character assassination by people who prefer to remain deaf, dumb and blind to the extenuating facts and circumstances.

I won't even get into all the money Townshend has raised over the years for children's causes. If he shows up in Miami, the advocacy groups want him to be perp-walked to the nearest police station and registered as a sexual predator, preferably with a hoard of TV cameras and three dozen TMZ reporters in tow.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has contacted British officials about Townshend's status and is trying to determine what laws might apply. It's probably a moot point since a person must stay five nights in Florida during a calendar year before being required to register.

The advocacy groups are also set to go after Super Bowl advertisers. Beware, if you eat a Whopper you may soon be labeled a supporter of kiddie porn.

As I said, we're all for raising awareness of child abuse. But here has to be a better way to go about it than engaging in truth abuse.

Before this campaign, all I recalled was that Townshend was once busted for kiddie porn. After delving into the details, I have new admiration for this supposed sicko. And I have new suspicions about advocacy groups who seek justice and understanding but are unwilling to offer them.

So when The Who takes the stage Feb. 7, I'll cheer the old guy with the whirlwind guitar moves. I just hope to hear Roger Daltrey sing these lyrics:

"And I'll get on my knees and pray. We don't get fooled again."

They didn't write the song for Pete's sake, but it certainly applies.
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