At Super Bowl, The Who's Townshend dogged by child-porn arrest

Child-advocacy groups in Florida are protesting Sunday's Super Bowl, saying the NFL was wrong to invite rocker Pete Townshend of The Who to perform at halftime. They cite his 2003 arrest for accessing child porn online. He urges critics to 'look at bit further' at his case.

By , Staff writer

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    Pete Townsend, of The Who, performs at a news conference before their appearance in the half-time show of the NFL Super Bowl XLIV football game in Fort Lauderdale, Thursday. Child advocacy groups are speaking out against the NFL's decision to invite Townsend after his 2003 child-porn arrest.
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Pete Townshend’s 2003 arrest for accessing child pornography online is causing some child-protection advocates to protest this Sunday’s Super Bowl and to call for the resignation of NFL Chief Operating Officer Roger Goodell.

Mr. Townshend is the British rock guitarist and songwriter in The Who, which is headlining the halftime entertainment show at Land Shark Stadium in Miami. Two groups in south Florida, Child AbuseWatch and Protect Our Children, are asking the NFL to ban the band from playing Sunday and for Mr. Goodell to resign. The latter group also sent out 1,500 “sex offender advisory” postcards to homes and schools in the Miami area, warning of Townshend’s presence there.

On his organization’s website, Child AbuseWatch founder Evin Daly wrote that “even someone looking for a job as a groundskeeper at Land Shark stadium wouldn't get hired with a sex offender status in his past; why then does Townshend?” Mr. Daly did not respond to requests for a comment Friday.

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The controversy comes from Townshend’s arrest in 2003, when the FBI discovered he was one of 6,000 Britons who accessed and used a credit card on a child-pornography site in Texas. He pleaded guilty following his arrest and, while he was cleared by a subsequent police investigation, his name was placed on a sex offender’s watch list in his home country for five years.

Townshend later explained he was sexually abused as a child and, in preparation of a possible autobiography, he was researching how easily child pornography can be accessed online, in order to argue that Internet service providers need to become more vigilant. “It must be time to do something more concrete to stop the proliferation of questionable pornography that seems so readily and openly facilitated by the Internet,” he later wrote about the experience.

After a media preview of the halftime show Thursday, Townshend told the Associated Press he was “really saddened” by the Florida protests. “It’s an issue that’s very difficult to deal with in sound bites.… I kind of feel like we’re all on the same side,” he said.

"For a family that has suffered the issue of childhood abuse or anything of that sort," he continued, "… common sense vigilance is the most important thing, not vigilantism. Anybody that has any doubts about whether I should be here or not should investigate a little bit further.”

NFL spokesman Joe Browne said in a written statement to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the league has “worked hard in recent years to ensure the presentation is suitable for this mass audience” and that Townshend has a “long history of involvement with charity work as well as being a champion of children’s charities.”

The Who will perform for 12 minutes Sunday. The NFL does not pay an appearance fee, but entertainers jump at the chance for the invitation because reaching the 100 million viewers who traditionally watch the broadcast guarantees a big increase in music and video sales and other revenue opportunities.

The Who features Townsend and singer Roger Daltrey as the only remaining original members. The band announced it would release a downloadable version of its performance after the Super Bowl for use in "Rock Band," the popular videogame.

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