Recent events endanger my status as “the sports curmudgeon”; I can foresee lots of perfectly normal folks adopting that attitude if things keep breaking as they have. How can one be merely a fan – or even just an open-minded observer – of the sports world given the bizarre events of the last week or so? Consider…
The NFL made such a mess of their disciplinary action in the Ray Rice case that normally logical and rational voices in the national media have called for Roger Goodell to step down. Keith Olbermann – never to be part of any middle-of-the-road thinking – said that Goodell should be fired because Goodell had forfeited his privilege of resigning. Five months ago – before Ray and Janay Rice stepped into that elevator in Atlantic City – few if any folks thought that Roger Goodell was a liability to the league.
In an attempt to find a somewhat protected harbor in the maelstrom, the NFL announced that an independent investigator would find the underlying cause of all this and that the investigator would be the former FBI Director, Robert Mueller. For those who may have forgotten, Mueller’s stepping into the middle of the NFL mess should be child’s play for him. This man took over the job as FBI Director seven days before the attack on the World Trade towers in NYC orchestrated by Osama bin Laden. He served under President Bush and under President Obama indicating to me that he had to have been very competent in his position to merit the trust of two men who probably agree on very little. Now, if that were the end of the story, it would seem as if the ship of the NFL had made it to port and the storm had cleared. Except…
For those who have worked in government positions, the following concept is almost mundane. One must avoid any “conflict of interest” and, simultaneously, one must also avoid any “appearance of a conflict of interest” even in circumstances where an actual conflict does not exist. Why is that an issue here?
Robert Muller is a partner in a law firm. That firm represented the NFL in its recent negotiations with Direct TV – provider of the NFL Season Ticket. That contract brought a nice chunk of change to the NFL and also provided the law firm with substantial fees. Conflict of interest? Probably not. Appearance of a conflict of interest…
That same law firm represents one of the team executives for the Baltimore Ravens. Anyone who follows the NFL for more than an hour a month ought to recognize the connection between the Ravens and the NFL and Ray Rice. Conflict of interest? Probably not. Appearance of a conflict of interest…
I am more than willing to ignore the cries of “conflict of interest” that are out there until some of the “criers” produce evidence comparable to the evidence we saw in the infamous elevator incident indicating a real conflict of interest. I have three reservations about the investigation before it begins that have nothing to do with conflict of interest or with the competence of the folks who do the investigation. These three concerns are endemic to these kinds of independent investigations; that does not mean the investigations cannot uncover truth; it means the investigations have to be subject to critical reading and critical thinking. The final report here is not likely to be accurately summed up in a simple sound bite.
Concern #1: The investigators do not have subpoena power. They cannot demand evidence and have it delivered under the auspices of a court order. The NFL says they will have access to “everything”. In fact, they will have access to what NFL employees give them and to what they have enough insight to ask for.
Concern #2: None of the folks to whom the investigators speak will be under oath.
Concern #3: None of the folks to whom the investigators speak will undergo a cross-examination. If anyone on the “interview list” has an axe to grind, that person might slant his/her interviews to hone that axe edge. Without hearing responses of a thoughtful and prepared cross-examination, the possibility exists for less than full evidence in the hands of the investigators.
Lest you think Concern #3 is a trivial matter, consider the role of cross-examination in a trial. Hell, without cross-examination, Perry Mason would never have won a case…
My concerns are out there for folks to examine. When the final investigative report is out, I will read it in the original form – to the extent that it is released to the public – and draw my conclusions there. I would suggest everyone else do the same.
In a related matter, there have been several members of the US Congress who had expressed their concerns about the NFL’s behavior in this matter and have called upon the NFL for transparency in this investigation and in future matters of discipline. When the US Congress calls for “transparency” in anything, that represents the ultimate level of chutzpah in the known universe. Please note that when the US Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act back in the 1970s, it specifically exempted the Congress from each and every provision of that act.
The Congress wants transparency from the NFL? Pot, meet the kettle…
NFL owners have expressed their support for Roger Goodell, as I would have expected. However, Danny Boy Snyder announced that he and the Redskins’ organization “strongly endorse” Roger Goodell as the NFL Commish. I can only imagine this thought-bubble over Goodell’s head when he read about that:
“At least Jeffrey Dahmer is not around to ‘strongly endorse’ me…”
On top of that mess, the NFL had to deal with Adrian Peterson’s indictment in a case that involves alleged child abuse in the way he disciplined his son. Pictures allegedly of Peterson’s son bearing disturbing bruises/welts appeared on the Internet. Obviously, this matter is not yet resolved; but for the moment, I cannot see how it might end in a positive place for Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings and/or the NFL.
The NBA has its own discombobulation going. After the owner of the Atlanta Hawks complained that too many Black fans and too much hip-hop “atmosphere” kept White fans away from Hawks’ games. After admitting he said that, he said that he would sell the team. Despite the eccentricity of that comment, this has been my reaction to this matter since the story broke:
1. This guy is really a junior varsity version of Donald Sterling when it comes to saying improper stuff.
2. He seems a bit too eager to sell the team if that statement is what pushed him over the top.
After that matter had percolated/festered for a week or so, we learned that Hawks’ GM, Danny Ferry, made some equally eccentric remarks about Luol Deng in a conference call that was recorded. More than a few folks label those remarks as “racist”. Absent context, they do indeed sound racist – but in fact the full context is absent at this moment. Here is something that does not fit well in this picture:
Danny Ferry played in the NBA for more than a decade with and against rosters that were predominantly Black. For that entire career, no one noticed that he was a “racist”?
Danny Ferry has held front office/management positions with at least two teams in the NBA for more than a decade. In all of that time, no one noticed that he was a “racist”?
In light of all of the above, is there any “good news” out there? Believe it or not, the good news comes from the NCAA and good news from the NCAA is about as rare as the following statement:
I am going to play hooky from school so I can watch a WNBA game.
The NCAA quietly in the midst of all these adrenaline producing stories lifted the bowl ban on Penn State and gave the school back its football scholarships a couple of years early. In making that move at this time, the NCAA avoided lots of questioning about the basis for its original sanctions. I argued at the time and continue to believe that the horrific events of child molestation that happened at Penn State had nothing whatsoever to do with NCAA rules and that the NCAA had no reason to do anything other than deplore what happened. However, that is water over the bridge and the football program of today is not suffering based on the actions of someone not associated with the program for about 15 years.
In addition, the NCAA also rid itself of an ongoing legal action; given their recent batterings in legal system, that was probably a smart move. Recall that the NCAA “fined” Penn State $60M and that the NCAA was going to target that money to child abuse prevention programs. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania sued the NCAA over that fine and won a preliminary round in the matter. As an add-on to lifting Penn State’s bowl ban, the NCAA also told the Commonwealth that it would give the $60M back to Pennsylvania for them to oversee.
Hey, at least something seems to be going right out there in the sports world…
Finally, perhaps these words attributed to Vince Lombardi have a particular value and meaning for the folks mentioned above:
“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………