How does he feel about criticism of the NFL's choice of a former British sex offender as its halftime act?
Townshend, co-founder of The Who, seemed prepared for it. He barely skipped a beat when he answered that the criticism saddened him, largely because he's misunderstood.
"I feel like we're on the same side…. I've been working as an advocate and agent of this kind of area of research and fundraising for over 40 years."
He and the NFL have been skewered by groups like Protect Our Children and Child AbuseWatch, which have sent letters to the NFL saying, "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."
The organizations distributed 1,500 leaflets describing Townshend as a sex offender.
In 2003, the 64-year-old rocker was reprimanded by British police and placed on the country's sex offenders' register for five years after he admitted that he paid to view images on a child-porn Web site in 1999.
According to Townshend, it was all in the name of research: in a 2003 statement, he said that while it was wrong for him to visit the site, he did so because he needed information for a campaign he was launching against Internet child porn and for his autobiography. (In the past, he has said he believes he was sexually abused as a child.)
Townshend insisted the criticism was misplaced. He said, "common sense vigilance is the most important thing, not vigilantism."
He added, "I have my own story that some of you know, and anybody that has any doubts about whether I should be here or not should investigate a little further. Everything you need to know, funnily enough, is on the Internet."
Moments before that comment, he and frontman Roger Daltry performed "Pinball Wizard," from the 1972 rock opera, "Tommy." The title character is sexually abused by his Uncle Ernie. Townshend and Daltry performed before a crowd of 500 journalists and NFL officials.
Townshend has struggled to distance himself from child pornography. In 2002, he wrote a report about child porn and posted it on his Web site. He compared the path to free "pedophilic imagery" to a "free line of cocaine at a decadent cocktail party: only the strong willed or terminally uncurious can resist." Townshend subsequently removed the report from his site; it still lives on TheSmokingGun.com.
After a four-month-long investigation in 2003, in which police examined more than a dozen computers Townshend used, officials decided neither motive served as a defense to access the images. As part of an official cautioning procedure, Townshend's fingerprints, photograph, and a DNA sample were taken and he was placed on Britain's sex offender registry for five years.
His listing on the registry expired in 2008. That was the same year Townshend and The Who were lauded by President George W. Bush at the Kennedy Center Honors. But for Kevin Gillick, president of Protect Our Children, Inc., a child protective charity in Brevard county, Fla., Townshend's penance and the NFL's endorsement aren't enough.