Misplaced Anger

I have said that the NFL was tone deaf in the way it dealt with the Ray Rice discipline matter from the time the announcement of the 2-game suspension hit the streets. I have said that the prosecutor(s) in Atlantic City, NJ should be ashamed of themselves for their leniency in that case. I said that the folks in NFL Security were either incompetent or complicit in a cover-up in this whole matter. I have chided Ravens’ fans who gave Ray Rice a standing ovation when he hit the field at training camp. I pointed out the apparent – if not real – conflict of interest in naming Robert Mueller to head the investigation into what the Hell happened here. I have a whole list of folks with whom I am angry here but I have to go waaay down on that list before I come to Roger Goodell.

He has been ham-handed, tone-deaf, out to sea and befuddled throughout this mess. However, he has also become the guy whose face is on the dartboard for everyone to take shots at. And I do not think that is either fair or appropriate. Too much anger is misplaced.

Before you accuse me of being a shill for Roger Goodell, please consider:

    Roger Goodell did not hit Janay Parker Rice in that elevator. For all of the activists out there who are carrying signs demanding that Goodell lose his job, why are you mad at him? He got the initial punishment wrong; he admitted that he got it wrong; he then upped the ante. What would you have had him do? His mistake was the original 2-game suspension decision and it has been corrected to a degree. If you want him fired for that, no one would be safe in a management position anywhere in the US; managers and leaders make mistakes all the time. The key element is whether or not they correct their errors and find ways not to repeat them.

    Roger Goodell did not give Ray Rice a pass on criminal charges putting him into a “court-supervised counseling” program. The original charges offered up by the grand jury could have gotten him 3-5 years in jail plus a fine of $10K. Pleading that down to “counseling” seems to me to shrug at the seriousness of what happened in that elevator on that evening. If you believe that violence against women is too commonplace in US society – which I do – and if you have any belief that punishment has any effect at all – which I do -, then you should be mad at the prosecutors in Atlantic City a lot more than Roger Goodell.

I do not say any of the above with the intention of exonerating Roger Goodell; he handled this matter about as poorly as possible but I do not think his fumbling the ball here comes close to a “firing offense”. Based on what I know now – and presumably there will be more info coming from the “Mueller Investigation” – I have an opinion on who ought to lose his/her job:

    Everyone in NFL Security who was involved in the league’s investigation of this matter leading up to the decision to issue that original 2-game suspension should be in “employment jeopardy”.

    Far too little information that was “out there to be had” never found its way to NFL Security. Boiled down to a single word, that performance was “Incompetent”.

    Alternatively, more information than has been acknowledged did come into the hands of NFL Security but it never made its way to decision makers. Boiled down to two words, that performance was a “cover up”.

    Where I come from, both “incompetence” and “covering up” are causes for termination.

    The “middle management structure” within the NFL that oversees NFL Security and its performance and its role in keeping senior leadership apprised of the facts of matters of this kind also should be in “employment jeopardy”.

    If the problem was “incompetence”, it is unlikely that said incompetence came forth in full bloom for the first time in this matter. Yes, people make mistakes but if you are a professional in the security/investigation game, these mistakes were way below the level of “junior varsity”. How was that kind of performance allowed to continue to exist? Middle managers should be made to “splain that.” [/Ricky Ricardo]

    If the problem was a cover-up, middle managers could have played a variety of roles:

      Middle managers actually buried germane information and kept it from senior decision makers.

      NFL Security folks did the covering up and the middle managers did not ask enough questions to prevent those folks from being successful in the cover up.

        Again, the choices here seem to be “incompetence” or “covering up” and I think I said above what I think of those situations.

    One other actor in this affair is the NFLPA which is now filing an appeal on behalf of Ray Rice based on technicalities in the process here. They are going to argue in favor of a man who unquestionably cold-cocked his fiancée in an elevator to the point where she was unconscious as a result of a single blow. They are going to use “procedural niceties” to seek his reinstatement as an NFL player. Boiled down to a single word, that action is “disgusting”.

    I would ask DeMaruice Smith the following question. Suppose someone in the NFLPA office who answers to you unequivocally did what Ray Rice did in that elevator – or what Adrian Peterson allegedly did to his 4-year-old son – and that person made your organization look like a bunch of troglodytes. Then, if you terminated his employment with the NFLPA for any of variety of reasons, how would you react to someone outside your organization appealing his termination based on ‘procedures”?

    People like Roger Goodell and DeMaruice Smith – and politicians too – never deal with those kinds of questions. They hide behind the arm-waving statement that hypothetical questions are somehow inappropriate. Well, in this case, absent the kind of answers needed from the NFLPA, I can only draw conclusions based on actions:

    Procedural matters are far more important than violence against women. Those procedures need more vigorous protection than do victims.

    I am part of a book club; we had a meeting earlier this week. At that meeting, I had the opportunity to tell one of my book club colleagues – who also reads these rants once in a while – that I would be happy to resolve this matter for the NFL in the following way.

    I would be happy to put these rants on hiatus for however long in order to undertake to lead the investigation into what happened for the NFL. I have no conflict of interest in the matter nor do I have any apparent conflict of interest.
    I would do the investigation for no fee; the only charges would be to cover documented out-of-pocket costs.

    The only “wrinkle” I would add to the mix here is this:

      No one other than me and whomever I might solicit to join me in doing the investigation would see a single word of the final report until it was ready for release.

      Moreover, the release of the final report would happen electronically to the NFL, the NFLPA and 50 press outlets simultaneously. There would be no redactions and it would not be copyrighted.

    So, when it comes to pass that there is criticism of the Mueller Investigation – for valid or for invalid reasons – I am on record here providing them a way out of the mess. The caveat is that I spent 37 years of my life as a basketball referee and what I learned from that avocation was to “blow the whistle and call what I see.” This whole mess needs a lot more of that and a lot less misplaced anger.

    But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

    Turmoil In The Sports World

    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………

    The Disciplinarian

    More than a few folks have written – and sports talk radio is all over this idea – that Roger Goodell has to be fired in the wake of the goat rodeo involving Ray Rice and his fiancée/wife. I do not think that is necessary or justified and I believe that those who are calling for his dismissal are missing the point about what a Commissioner for a major sport is supposed to do. The problem is history.

    The first sports Comish in the US was Kennesaw Mountain Landis; he got the job to be the capo di tutti capi in MLB after the Black Sox scandal in 1919. He was supposed to rule with an iron fist and make sure everyone in the game toed the line. Most people think he did that; I happen to think that Landis was a lot more bluster than tough guy but I am probably in the minority there. People have come to think that Job Duty #1 for a sports commissioner is to be a disciplinarian. Not so…

    The job of the commissioner is to grow the league and the measures of league growth are things like revenue, attendance, public awareness, TV ratings etc. All of those are intertwined but when you take them as a package and add to them the responsibility to deal constructively with the players’ union, you have the modern set of responsibilities for a league commissioner. Unfortunately, they also seem to carry the burden of history with them and they are also expected to be “The Disciplinarian”. That role does not mesh well with “grow the league” and “deal constructively with the union”.

    Flip this issue on its head for a moment as a gedanken experiment. Imagine that Roger Goodell was not “The Disciplinarian” and we gave that job to DeMaurice Smith with the same level of authority and acceptance bestowed on Roger Goodell. Regardless of Smith’s good will and positive intentions, his main job – to represent the players on labor issues – would be in conflict with this new role as “The Disciplinarian”. My point is that neither Goodell nor Smith has a position that allows them to blend in any meaningful way their “main job” with the job of disciplinarian.

    I think the best solution to the angst and anger that exists at the moment over the Ray Rice matter is to look for ways to evolve the system to a point where “The Disciplinarian” is a job separate and distinct from the NFL front office and from the NFLPA. Like the US, these folks need a “third branch of governance”.

    There will be a bazillion details in the creation of the position of “The Disciplinarian” and each of them will represent a hurdle to be crossed. I will not even begin to try to flesh out all those details here except for the sine qua non in this idea:

      “The Disciplinarian” and whatever staff he/she needs will cost money. Everyone in every position is beholden to whoever pays his/her salary. Therefore, the costs for “The Disciplinarian” and his/her staff need to be borne by the NFL and the NFLPA in equal measure.

    If there were indeed a person who was “The Disciplinarian”, no one would be thinking that Roger Goodell should be fired about now because he is doing his main job (grow the league) quite well.

    According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, Johnny Manziel – through his company, JMan2 Enterprises LLC – has applied for trademark rights to a bunch of names including:

      Johnny Football
      Johnny Cleveland
      JMan
      JMan2
      ManzIIiel

    Why stop there?

      The first time he leads a team to a last second win on a TD pass, he could call himself “Johnny on the Spot”.

      When he gets in the news for partying hard in Vegas he could call himself “Johnny Be Bad”.

      If he wins a game on a quarterback sneak, he could be “John Doe”.

      If he finishes second in the MVP voting, he could claim to be “John Adams”.

      If he ended all his press conferences by saying, “I have to go to the john,” he could try to trademark that phrase too.

    The name on Manziel’s list – not my frivolous list – that I find most interesting is “JMan”. I really wonder if in the sporting cosmos of the Cleveland area Johnny Manziel’s name would be associated with “JMan”. After all, there is this other guy playing in Cleveland who might also be their JMan – LeBron James…

      [Aside: I wonder if Don Imus ever tried to trademark the name “I-Man”?]

    Manziel’s publicity grabs speak to the possibility of an ego run amok. That is not exactly a newsworthy item in the world of sports as evidenced by this terse – yet accurate – summation by Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot of another sporting situation involving ego:

    “Idle thought: Tiger Woods fired his swing coach because the golfer couldn’t fire himself.”

    Finally, in the wake of the furor over the video tape of Ray Rice in that elevator, here is an item from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald on the blessing of a missing video tape:

    “ESPN apologized for airing a report that discussed the locker room showering habits of openly gay NFL player Michael Sam. On the bright side, the report did not include video.”

    But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

    Quo Vadis Keith Olbermann

    I try to keep politics out of these rants – – other than my obvious total disregard for the Congress of the United States as a body that looks out for the people it represents. However, since my discussion today will focus on a man who went from sports coverage to political commentary on television, politics will creep in despite my intentions. Therefore, let me reveal in general terms where I am politically.

      I am an independent centrist. I am convinced that neither the liberals nor the conservatives have a monopoly on wisdom, insight and solutions to society’s ills. I think that both the extreme liberals and the extreme conservatives actually do damage to our society.

    That positioning places me in a spot where I can have bricks lobbed at me from both the right and the left. C’est la vie…

    The folks who run Current TV – – a cable “news” network founded by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt – – recently fired Keith Olbermann. After Olbermann had been dismissed by MSNBC a little more than a year ago, Current TV hired him – – reportedly for $50M over 5 years plus an equity stake in the network itself! – – to reprise his Countdown program on Current TV. Countdown had been the most watched of the commentary programs on MSNBC; Current TV was having difficulty getting more than a handful of folks to watch anything they had on the air; Olbermann’s political leanings were in line with Al Gore’s; so, the hiring seemed to make a ton of sense. That marriage lasted from February 2011 until March 2012.

    The statements issued by Current TV and by Olbermann in the days following the firing have been less than congenial to say the least. However, a similar lack of amiability accompanied Olbermann into unemployment in the past.

    Keith Olbermann became a recognizable TV figure on ESPN in the 1990s. He and Dan Patrick co-hosted SportsCenter at 11:00 PM ET. That remains the pinnacle of ESPN’s SportsCenter as news/entertainment even though Olbermann left ESPN in 1997. To give you an idea of the stature of SportsCenter at the time of Olbermann’s firing at ESPN, consider this remark taken from Michael Freeman’s book ESPN: The Uncensored History:

    “The overall intelligence of ‘SportsCenter’ was lowered an octave. So was its mirth and edginess. Olbermann helped take ‘SportsCenter’ to a place no other sports information show had been and probably never would go again.”

    Now juxtapose that praise with comments from co-workers at ESPN when news of Olbermann’s departure became known. (Also taken from ESPN: The Uncensored History)

    “Our long national nightmare is over!” [Attributed to Bob Ley]

    “Keith is one of those tortured geniuses. That is one of the things that makes him good. But as an employee, he has a pretty short shelf life. He became bitter about ESPN after he left , which is insane because ESPN was as good to him as he was to it.” [Attributed to Charlie Steiner]

    “If he’s on your team, he’s a great person to have by your side. If he isn’t, you had better bring help. Bring the infantry.” [Attributed to Dan Patrick]

    “… [Olbermann is] a baby who would quit, literally quit, at least twice a week, whenever he didn’t get his way.” [Attributed to Suzy Kolber]

    All of this means to say that news of Keith Olbermann getting fired is really not news – – any more than Billy Martin getting fired was news or any more than Bob Knight losing his temper was news. The problem now is that he has been fired from ESPN and FOX Sports and he has been fired from two networks that live on political commentary both of which fit with his political preferences. Agree with him or not – – and I tend not to agree with the majority of his political essays – – Keith Olbermann does indeed have the seeds of genius in him. Some folks compare him to Howard Cosell. I can see similarities but my preferred comparison would be to Ernie Kovacs as a guy who had a ton of talent with an equal measure of self-destruction.

    Keith Olbermann is a natural as a TV host and or as an anchor. He makes you think and he makes you laugh. Sometimes he also makes you angry. As a host or an anchor, that is precisely what every one of them ought to be able to do. Nevertheless, few of them come anywhere near that mark. If he does not find another gig on radio or TV, those media will be the worse for that – – and I am not referring here in any way to whatever positions he may espouse should he get another TV or radio gig.

    Because I believe that Keith Olbermann belongs on TV, I have a suggestion as to how he might begin to reconstruct himself and his career.

      Keith Olbermann belongs on MLB Network.

    I am not a seamhead; Keith Olbermann is a “seamhead-squared”. He has the ability to keep me interested in discussions of baseball history and statistics for long periods of time – – even though I really do not care nor do I often agree with the conclusions he seems to draw. If he can do that, then giving him a time slot on MLB Network to replace the seemingly endless and assuredly tedious studio shows on that network is a no-brainer.

    Of course, there is no guarantee that Keith Olbermann would not find a way to get cross-wise with management at MLB Network. After all, he has done that just about everywhere he has been over the last 20 years. However, at least MLB Network is a place that would allow him to immerse himself in a field he has always found fascinating. [Aside: I have heard him say that he is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. No one belongs to that organization who does not love baseball stats…]

    When people leave jobs under duress, many of them burn bridges behind them. If you consider how Michael Freeman described Keith Olbermann’s behaviors at ESPN and in the days following his departure there in the book, ESPN: The Uncensored History, you might think “burning bridges” is a middling kind of action.

    “He [Olbermann] was a human SCUD missile.”

    But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

    Burdens Of Free Speech

    Sportswriters and commentators like to say that sports are a microcosm of life and that they teach us some of the essential lessons of life. Such statements are usually self-serving. However, I do believe that the current hootdoodle created by Rashard Mendenhall’s tweets on the subject of Osama bin Laden’s death might be instructive about one of the foundation pieces of American society.

    Let me do a quick reset here in case anyone has not heard about “The Mendenhall Tweets”. After President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in an exchange of fire with US military forces, much of the country erupted with shows of patriotism and flag-waving. Rashard Mendenhall took to Twitter to say:

    “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side.”

    Subsequently, with regard to Osama bin Laden’s involvement with the incidents of 9/11/2001 and the destruction of the NY Trade Center, Mendenhall expanded on his thinking by posting on Twitter the following:

    “We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.”

    These expressions can serve as an example of what it means to value freedom of speech in the US and what burdens said freedom of speech bring to bear on speakers.

    Before I go off on a rant of my own here, let me state again that I am not an attorney nor have I spent a day of my life in law school. My opinions are not steeped in any scholarly consideration of the law; my opinions are simply those of an educated person who has accompanied the earth on 67 journeys around the sun.

    There is no “First Amendment” issue here. The First Amendment only prohibits the Congress – – and other legislative bodies – – from enacting laws that would inhibit free speech. Even though I hold the Congress of the United States in as low a regard as I can, I have not been able to determine even a single Congressthing who has suggested that Rashard Mendenhall’s tweets should be banned or should subject him to punishment by law. Therefore, please ignore any discussion of the First Amendment and as it might relate to what Mendenhall said or meant; it truly would be irrelevant.

    Outside of the legal context, however, the existence and the defense of the First Amendment place some burdens on Rashard Mendenhall when he chooses to speak out – – or in this case “tweet out”. He can tweet whatever he wants to tweet; in fact, the more offensive and outrageous the content of his tweets, the more important it is for people who appreciate “freedom of speech” to defend his right to tweet as he wants. The burdens borne by Rashard Mendenhall are societal and not legal.

    He has the right to say what he did. I have an equal right to say he is uninformed, out to lunch, off the reservation and downright whacko. When he exercises his “right to tweet”, he is encumbered by the reactions that will come to him as a result of his tweets. I am sure he does not give a fig about my opinions; he might care a whole lot more if certain other people decide to take personal actions – – not legal actions – – that could be inimical to his interests because of his tweets. For example:

      He is an employee of the Pittsburgh Steelers – – owned by the Rooney family. The eldest living Rooney is a member of the US Diplomatic Corps at the moment serving as US Ambassador to Ireland. If he or his scions decide that they no longer want Rashard Mendenhall in their employ based on his tweets, they can exercise their Freedom of Association and decide not to associate with him. He has a right to free speech; he does not have a right to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers – – or any other NFL team.

      He is an athlete whose agent(s) are always on the lookout for advantageous endorsement deals. If the decision makers at various corporations decide that they do not want their companies aligned with someone who would tweet such twaddle, they can take their endorsement searches in different directions.

      He is a public figure. His tweets attract far more attention than any of my tweets would – – if I ever decided to tweet. Because his tweets attract more attention, he bears the burden of being called a meathead by LOTS of folks for any of his expressed views that might be a bit outré.

    I have no idea if the Pittsburgh Steelers will seek to have him ply his trade elsewhere. The fact that Mendenhall is a recidivist when it comes to stupid tweets – – he also said that Adrian Peterson’s comments on NFL players being modern day slaves was on target and expounded to say that the business practices of the NFL and the slave trade 200 years ago were directly comparable – – might factor into a Steelers’ decision to find a new running back.

    I will be shocked beyond belief if his agent can land him a new endorsement deal with any business entity in the near future. I never studied marketing either, but it just seems logical to me that most businesses do not want to associate themselves with people who call legitimate business entities part of a modern day slave trade or people who think that Osama bin Laden never got to “state his side of the case” with regard to the happenings on 9/11/2001.

      [Aside: Does Rashard Mendenhall know that Osama bin Laden issued a fatwa in his name about 20 years ago that advocated and sanctioned the killing of Jews and Americans? If so, might that not be an opportunity that he took to “state his side of the case”?]

    With regard to public scorn, Mendenhall will be a catcher and not a pitcher for a long time to come. To be sure, there are folks out there whose firm beliefs will make Rashard Mendenhall’s seem to be “measured” and “worthy of discussion”. Make no mistake; there are conspiracy theorists who are going to take this incident in directions that have not been charted so far. After all, Osama bin Laden’s body was buried at sea so there will never be any corpus dilicti.

    Someone will surely point out that since there is no body, there is no way to prove that the person of Osama bin Laden is dead since no one had been able to produce his body for the last ten years. What is different now – – other than the “convenient story” that he was killed and buried at sea? We lived through the “birthers”; be prepared for the rise of the “deathers”.

    I am sure that someone somewhere will “conclude” that bin Laden’s death really happened a year or so ago and that his body has been “kept on ice” for a while until this propitious moment politically for the Administration to declare that he was killed in a daring raid in a foreign country. Maybe they “kept him on ice” in the same place that they have kept the bodies of the aliens that landed at Roswell, NM in the 1940s…?

    I mention all this because the fact that other people will certainly come up with even more outrageous positions that did Rashard Mendenhall, that does not excuse his ignorance. In fact, just because his tweets will be filed mentally alongside the commentaries of folks who dined at the “All You Can Eat Stupidity Buffet”, that makes his commentary and world view even more repugnant. Moreover, because it is repugnant, we must protect vigorously his freedom to express his repugnant ignorance.

    But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

    British Commentators On ESPN World Cup Games

    It is fashionable to take potshots at ESPN – – the self-proclaimed “World Wide Leader in Sports” – – when they do excessive self-promotion or when their on air personalities take things over the top. When ESPN “gets one right”, they usually do not get kudos. Allow me to offer kudos to whomever at ESPN that decided to get British commentators for the World Cup matches.

    These announcers did not chatter and talk over the game; they did not talk down to their audience when they explained a rule or why a player tried to do what he tried to do; they did not “dumb it down”. All these folks did was to provide entertaining commentary around their explanation of the action within the game. Would that we could infuse all of those stylistic traits into certain US sportscasters…

    Three of the commentators that I particularly enjoyed were:

      Derek Rae
      Ally McCoist
      Martin Tyler

    My favorite of all the commentators was:

      Ian Darke

    I enjoy listening to and reading the words of people who can use language to create a picture in my mind. I also appreciate the ability of commentators on sporting events to find new and different ways to create those pictures. John Madden has his place with his exclamations of “Boom!” and the like; I assert there is another school of sports commentary out there that is equally if not more enjoyable. I think the four gentlemen named above demonstrated that such a school of broadcast journalism is alive and well in the United Kingdom.

    I first realized that these guys were “different” when the camera focused on the Spanish coach, Vincente del Bosque, sitting passively on his bench looking at the action in front of him. The commentator described del Bosque as “lugubrious”. I promise you that you will not hear that word on SportsCenter twice in a decade. But Google yourself an image of del Bosque and look at it and ask yourself if “lugubrious” is not an excellent adjective here.

    So, I started listening for interesting and different turns of phrase and started keeping a list…

    About 40 minutes into one of Spain’s early games, the announcer said:

    “Spain, so far, is strangely subdued.”

    Forget the alliterative value here. In the US, we would probably have been treated to some nonsensical comment that required mind-reading skills on the part of the commentator to the effect that “Spain was content to play within themselves…” Feh!

    These British commentators pulled no punches with many of their comments. Regarding a foul by the Ghanaian team, they said:

    “No need for that. Very ridiculous.”

    After the goalkeeper for Argentina had a ball hit the post and bounce out, they said matter-of-factly:

    He is “the luckiest goalkeeper on Earth.”

    [Do not hold your breath waiting until the next time you hear anything like that on the telecast of an ESPN football or basketball game…]

    When the Mexican team was hosed by the referee missing an offside call by about 6 feet leading to a goal against the Mexican team, the call was direct and pointed:

    “Mexico is right to be indignant. A huge injustice…”

    Describing Diego Maradona and his behavior on the sidelines – – as opposed to those of Spain’s Vincente del Bosque – – one of the commentators noted that Maradona

    “…is not one of the great shy introverts of football.”

    When the camera lingered on a team’s substitute players watching the action from the bench, we heard:

    “They also serve who only sit and watch.”

    When a player made a nice pass to a teammate who had open field to run in, the description was not over the top. They merely said – with a hint of excitement in the voice:

    “That was a very tidy ball…”

    When players’ attempts at a score were way off target or trivially stopped by the goalkeeper, here were some of the descriptive phrases:

    “That was a crazily optimistic try…”

    And…

    “Frankly, a defender’s attempt [to score]…

    When a recognized player had not done much in a particular game, they simply acknowledged that fact without trying to go all Sigmund Freud on the audience:

    [He] “has not fully expressed himself in this match.”

    A team down by a goal with ten minutes to play was

    “… forced into urgent action.”

    When a team was down two goals with about ten minutes left to play, the description was:

    “The nails are in the coffin.”

    As time was running out on Slovakia’s last game in the tournament, the commentary was direct and expressive:

    “The last flickering flame of Slovak ambition has been extinguished.”

    Paraguay advanced to the quarterfinals having scored only three goals in the tournament. Instead of saying that they “rode their defense” to that status or something like that, the description of the Paraguayan defense was:

    “…a miserly, obdurate defense.”

    When teams continued to try the same kind of offensive attack that had produced nothing for the entire game, these announcers told us that

    “They just keep running down a cul-de-sac…”

    Moreover, when a game was tied with only a few minutes left to play and both teams were looking to get one more good scoring chance, the description was:

    “And this one [the game] is on the knife’s edge now…”

    I do not mean to pick on John Harkes as the US person involved in these ESPN commentaries, but let me use one of his contributions as a contrast here. When the US played Ghana in the elimination round, Harkes said of Clint Dempsey:

    “He knows what it feels like to score against this team.”

    The reference here is to Dempsey’s goal against the Ghanaian team in the 2006 World Cup game between the US and Ghana. The irrelevance of that fact to the game between those National Teams in the 2010 World Cup tournament is stark. Please note that Harkes did not offer this analytical gem after Ghana beat the US in 2010 as it did in 2006:

    “Many of the US players knew coming in what it felt like to lose to the Ghanaian team.”

    If you know what it feels like to score against a team you last played 4 years ago, why would one not know what it feels like to lose to that same team? The British play-by-play guy working with Harkes on that day had the grace not to point out the silliness of that kind of commentary.

    Over and above all of these entertaining turns of phrases, the British announcers contributed to my enjoyment of the matches with what they did not do. They did not go into long stories about the hardships that players and their families had to overcome in order for the players to make their National Teams and for those National Teams to make it to the World Cup tournament. The only “up close and personal” feelgood moment I can recall came with a single mention of Uruguay’s Diego Forlan committing himself to soccer with the objective of earning enough money playing the game to pay for all of his sister’s medical bills after she was paralyzed in a car accident when he was 12 years old. That mention lasted no more than 20 seconds – – probably no more than 10 seconds but I am leaving myself some wiggle room here lest someone take the time to find that moment on YouTube and time it out at 12 seconds.

    Imagine if an American announcing crew had several days to prepare for that tidbit. Instead of a single 20-second mention, there would have been multiple references to this fact tied to every time Forlan had a chance to score. Surely, at halftime, there would have been a 3 to 5 minute feature on Forlan’s sister and the hardships of her life and those molded the character of the young Diego. It would have been a lengthy interruption of the game to tell a story that was summed up succinctly and completely by our British announcers.

    Good show, gentlemen. Thank you for good works.

    But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

    Athletes Gone Bad

    One of the regular readers of these rants is also a long-time friend. We went to high school together – – back when I had hair on my head and the Huns were at the gates of Rome. This otherwise gentle soul has an intense and visceral dislike for Terrell Owens and has sent me missives in the past none of which had anything flattering to say about T.O. None of those communiqués in the past even came close to the vitriol in last week’s note as reports of the “love triangle” among T.O., Tony Romo and Jason Whitten flew. It was filled with superlatives the most flattering of which included “dumbest”, “worst” and “most heinous”.

    He concluded with the assertion that Terrell Owens had to be the athlete who had squandered the most good will that he once enjoyed with his fans. [Trust me; I have sanitized the actual comment to make it presentable for family reading.] And that got me to thinking… It would be way to difficult to name the single athlete who had gone from the highest esteem to the lowest but if I were to develop a pantheon of such folks, who would be in there?

    Let me organize it by sport – – and I’ll start with football since my friend’s “Terrell Owens spewing” is what got this started in the first place.

    Of course, T.O. is in the pantheon. He has had difficulties with three different QBs now and he has run afoul of three coaches – Steve Mariucci, Andy Reid and Wade Phillips – all of whom have coached teams to the Super Bowl. [I know Phillips was defensive coordinator with the Bills in the early 90s and I believe he was also defensive coordinator for the Broncos in one of their earlier Super Bowl appearances.] Owens’ apparent narcissism is indeed annoying and seemingly boundless.

    One of T.O.’s current running buddies, “Pacman” Jones has to go into the pantheon too. Once viewed as an exciting playmaker, “Pacman” seems now to have descended to the level where people expect him to sign with the Raiders on his way down to an unpleasant existence for the rest of his natural life.

    Let me not omit OJ Simpson here. Moreover, perhaps we can put OJ’s memorabilia in the pantheon right next to Rae Carruth’s. Carruth is not nearly as famous as Simpson – because he was not nearly as good a football player – but Carruth must be included here for one single act. He hired someone to kill his pregnant girlfriend; he was at the scene of the “hit”; he watched it go down and then left. How swell. In addition, he gets bonus nincompoop points for hiring someone who didn’t actually succeed in killing the pregnant woman allowing her to call the police and file charges.

    Lawrence Phillips has to be here too. In addition to a less-than-laudable history of assaulting women and girlfriends, Phillips assaulted some kids playing pick-up football because he participated in a game and did not win. Problem is that he assaulted them with his automobile – – intentionally. Tom Osborne and Dick Vermeil tried to turn this man-child into a functional adult; neither succeeded.

    Even though I am not a dog lover and have never owned a dog in my life, Michael Vick is a despicable person. He is in the pantheon.

    Don’t forget the magnificent duo of college QBs who had a ton of hype and less than a shred of personal fortitude to go along with the hype – – Art Schlichter and Todd Marinovich. While we are at it, if I put statuettes of these two over to the side of the pantheon, why not put one of Ryan Leaf right there too?

    The last person I want to put in the football grouping would be Maurice Clarett who started off his descent from fame and adoration with the filing of a false insurance claim and got caught doing so. His descent continued to the point of showing up at the Denver Broncos training camp with a bottle of vodka as his training aid. He used to live in a dorm room at Ohio State; now he has a room at the Ohio State Pen. I do not remember what he is in there for, but as I recall carrying a concealed weapon was part of the deal.

    I will leave Plaxico Burress out of the pantheon for now – – only to pay a modicum of deference to the concept of due process in the legal system. However, this pantheon is not part of the US legal system and Plaxico can be added at any time should he decide to do something socially offensive like start to go on a PR tour of the morning TV talk shows or schedule an interview with Barbara Walters.

    I will also leave out Brett Favre – although I will nominate him for Diva of the Decade if anyone will second that motion. Also on the doorstep but not allowed in are Nate Newton (not famous enough in the first place), Joe Namath (merely a pathetic sot and not an evil person), Ricky Williams (more of a flake than a miscreant) and the duo of Ben Roethlisberger and Kellen Winslow II (who were obviously auditioning for roles in the sequel to the movie Wild Hogs.)

    Moving over to baseball, I will restrict myself to recent ne’er-do-wells and not try to dredge up memories of bad folks from the past such as Ty Cobb. Suffice it to say that Cobb was not a wonderful human being and one of his many lowlife achievements was to go into the stands to assault a heckler – – who was handicapped and only had one hand. There are plenty of “modern day” baseball players to populate the pantheon.

    How about Roger Clemens and his fall from grace? Not only is he implicated in the steroid controversy, he explained away some of the “evidence against him” by saying it was his wife that was on ‘roids. Then came the Mindy McCready mess. Anyone want to invite Roger to speak at a local high school commencement any time soon?

    Barry Bonds is in my pantheon for a couple of reasons. The most important reason is that I am the one who makes the decision regarding who is in and who is out. The second most important reason is that I personally believe that Barry Bonds has been a steroid user and that his use of those substances has caused him to break a bunch of records he would not have broken without them.

    Now, since I am thinking about steroids, let me make room for Rafael Palmiero in the pantheon for his finger waving denial to the Congress that he had ever used steroids. As Big Daddy Pollitt says in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,

    “There is a whole lot of mendacity out there.”

    I need to make room for John Rocker in here. Even though he has a guaranteed right to say the things he said about Mets’ fans, it is so incredibly low-rent to say them that he belongs in this pantheon.

    Denny McLain has to have a prominent place in the pantheon. He was the last 30-game winner in MLB back in the late 60s; his career took a detour when it was reported that he and a friend had been part of setting up a bookmaking operation. Post-baseball he has been in and out of jail for things like racketeering, drugs and embezzlement.

    Pete Rose is in the pantheon. Anyone who saw Charlie Hustle play baseball from about 1965 to 1985 had to appreciate his grit and his fire and his ability to hit a baseball. Since that time, Pete Rose’s life has not only circled the drain, it has become covered in the sludge at the bottom of the septic tank. If you want an example of “penthouse-to-outhouse” go read a good biography of Peter Edward Rose.

    Over to the side of the baseball cluster, we need a separate grouping to commemorate the drug users – not steroids – who squandered talent and myriad chances for rehabilitation. No one could possibly argue that Steve Howe, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry belong side by side by side there.

    Donnie Moore would not have been in the pantheon if all he had done were to commit suicide because he never got over blowing the final game of the ALCS against Boston in the mid-80s. However, Moore in the process of killing himself also shot his wife – who survived the incident – and did all of this in the presence of his teenage kids. Enjoy your stay here in the pantheon, Mr. Moore.

    On the doorstep but not allowed inside would be Steve Garvey (philandering is not admirable but not nearly as bad as murder/suicide for example) and Steve Carlton (buying into weird world domination conspiracy theories isn’t good but since he’s a hermit that makes him harmless),

    In basketball, I have to set a place for Latrell Sprewell. He choked out his coach – who may or may not be a royal pain in the ass but that does not justify the choking – and then haughtily dismissed a contract offer of $7M a year saying he could not feed his family on that. Since turning down that contract, he has had a boat repossessed, defaulted on a mortgage and has at least one tax lien going for him. Good thing I’m not charging rent on the space in the pantheon; Sprewell probably cannot afford to pay and that might make him choke me out.

    Josh Howard will also have a prominent display area. Let me see; Howard admitted to using illegal drugs on a radio show, defied his coach’s order not to go partying during a playoff series that the Mavericks ultimately lost and then disrespected the national anthem. That is behavior that might lead some to believe that Josh Howard is really “The Fourth Stooge”.

    Jayson Williams also has to be present here. Even in the most positive light of all, what happened was that he was having a party at his house and was then “playing around” with a shotgun that went off and killed his limo driver. Allegedly, Williams and others there then set about trying to destroy evidence and cover up the circumstances that surrounded the shooting. Nice…

    Maybe I need an “Isiah Island” here to make a space for Isiah Thomas and Isiah (JR) Rider. Thomas has been a failure at every venture he has been involved in since retiring as a player; Rider has been accused of domestic violence, kidnapping, drug use and evading arrest amongst other things that I could probably find if I went looking and was not doing this from memory.

    Dave Bliss was so heinous in his behavior that he will be the only basketball coach I permit in the pantheon. When one of his players was killed by another of his players, Bliss set out to get his assistants and the rest of the team to paint the dead player as a drug dealer and the shooting as being drug related. He is an evil human being.

    On the cusp of getting in – but not quite making it – are Kobe Bryant (see comment on Steve Garvey above), Wilt Chamberlain (sexual promiscuity is not admirable but it is also not heinous), Len Bias (more of a tragic figure than a bad guy) and Billy Packer (who started out as a very good basketball commentator and became an pimple on the ass of basketball viewers every March).

    In the “other sports” category, I probably need not explain to you why John Daly, Mike Tyson and Tonya Harding will have places to call their own in the pantheon.

    But all this started with that note I got which said in part that Terrell Owens was “the dumbest” player on the planet [phraseology cleaned up once again for family consumption]. I do not think that is right; I do not even think he is the dumbest football player out there. Recall an incident when Gus Frerotte scored a TD for the Redskins and then head-butted a concrete wall, sprained his neck and had to go to the hospital instead of finishing the game. Head butting a concrete wall is dumb anywhere in this universe – – and the next one too.

    Finally, I will let an item from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle explain why Marion Jones – and the other track stars like her – belong in the pantheon:

    “Marion Jones didn’t know there was something fishy in the “flaxseed oil” coach Trevor Graham gave her? That’s like Bonnie saying she thought Clyde was using his ATM card to make all those bank withdrawals.”

    But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

    Time For The Olympics To Go Away

    When I was a kid, I read about the Olympics in the sports sections of the local papers. The first ones I remember on TV were from Rome; I think that was 1960. I eagerly watched some of the events like swimming and track and field even though the pictures were less than clear. The Olympics were a big deal to me; I liked them and I looked forward to them and I watched and followed many of the events that led up to the selection processes for the US team in the major sports.

    Those days are gone, long gone. And I don’t see any way that they will be coming back in whatever time I have left on the planet. The Olympics are no longer fresh. Maybe the best thing that can happen is to put them on a hiatus for about another century and then try to start over when these memories have faded.

    What is wrong? Lots of stuff is wrong. And in no particular order, here are a few of them.

    First of all, the Olympics have added sports and competitions that are just stupid. Remember the motto of “Faster, Higher, Longer”? Now think about ballroom dancing and synchronized diving and trampoline tumbling and rhythmic gymnastics and all that crap. These events do not belong in the Olympics and need to be exorcized. Here is a first cut that the Olympic gurus can make if they care:

      If the sport requires background music as an integral part of the competition, then it is not a sport. Get rid of it. That applies to the Winter Games too which are even more densely packed with stupid events than the Summer Games.

    Secondly, emphasis needs to be placed on events where the winner is objectively determined. It is not a mystery whose javelin went the farthest; it is not a mystery which wrestler accumulated the greatest number of points in a bout; it is not a mystery whose score in a shooting competition is the highest. But if you have to have a panel of judges make subjective judgments about form and style and then you average the scores and multiply by a degree of difficulty except when someone in the 3rd row of the stands emits projectile vomit onto the venue floor, then this is not a sport and you should get rid of it. Notice that boxing falls into this category.

    Next, lots of people argue that the end of the Cold War has diminished the Olympics and the Olympic Committees need only to find some new important thing to build the Games around. Really; the diminished threat of planetary nuclear destruction is what reduced the stature of the Olympics? Then I guess the 1980 Olympics in Moscow and the subsequent 1984 games in Los Angeles must have been the pinnacle of the “Olympic Movement” (which by the way can probably be cured by a large dose of Immodium AD). The Games in 80 and 84 were both key elements in the foreign policies of both of the super powers that engaged in the Cold War. This kind of analysis is just plain silly and it attaches a level of importance and stature to games that is horribly inappropriate.

    In addition, the Olympic athletes are no longer interesting. They are just a bunch of self-absorbed egomaniacal twits who spend their lives training when they are not preening. There is no longer even the pretense of “amateurism”. Remember in those “good old Cold War days” when people could and would wax philosophical about all that nonsense. Who cares if they are amateurs? Who cares if they are professionals? What I care about is that they perform and then either take the accolades for success with equal measures of jubilation and modesty or hit the road and keep quiet in the case of failure. But what no one needs to worry about is what the next level of self-indulgent display may be from these folks. Trust me on this, you don’t need to hear much of anything from any of them as is proven conclusively every time someone sticks a microphone in any of their faces. The only thing they know in depth is running or lifting or whatever. Now, just how long will it take you to plumb the depths of your interest to hear about the cosmological implications of lifting weights?

    Add to all the above the issue of drugs. Moralists see the Olympics as a metaphor in the struggle against drugs. Politicians see this as a way to align themselves with all that is good and proper. The fact is that athletes have been using drugs for years and it ain’t gonna stop. Testing for real performance enhancers is costly and difficult so we emphasize testing for cold medicines and caffeine. Just look at the people walking down the street drinking something from Starbucks. Does that make them an athlete capable of great feats? But you can be DQ’ed from the Olympics for a double espresso. The drug question is ongoing and not going to stop because we’ve allowed it to dominate news coverage. But we don’t demand that there be sanity in any of the policies or the reporting and so it just becomes annoying and insulting to our intelligence.

    Some people get caught up in the high falutin’ self-importance of the Olympics and assert that this whole drug testing business and the drug usage “scandals” are some kind of class warfare. Athletes from rich countries or ones with rich sponsors get to use the “big time drugs” but athletes from the small and poor countries are deprived. The playing field is uneven. Balderdash! Just remember the plight of the Jamaican bobsled team. It had nothing to do with rich or poor or anything other than latitude and altitude in Jamaica. Latitude and altitude – not economics or ethnic origins – conspire to make snow a rarity in Jamaica! If you want to find injustice, you can root around in anything and find a shred of something that you can use as the shaky foundation of some nonsensical thesis. This is not about class warfare.

    There are people in the US who are in the business of setting America on the right course and eliminating the scourge of drugs from our society. Good luck to them. But they use the Olympics as a way to get their mugs on TV and they do that in the time-honored way of doing/saying something that is sufficiently outrageous as to be newsworthy. (Definition of “newsworthy”: a TV camera and mike are present and it goes on the 11 o’clock news to fill time.) This go-round it was General Barry McCaffrey and Donna Shalala who were out front and beating the drums about the evils of drugs and how they would be detected in these Olympics if anyone even thought about cheating. The rest of the world rightfully takes offense at all this preening – just like the preening of some of the athletes, by the way – and looks askance at the US drug testing protocols which are done anonymously for privacy reasons. And so when they have a chance, they take pleasure in poking their fingers in the eyes of these “public posers”. Why do you think CJ Hunter’s test results got leaked? He was not even an athlete in these games. It was just a way of telling the pompous and self-pumpulated spokesgoons in the US to shut up already about the drug evil.

    Want to know one of the major steps that is heralded by the IOC as a reform measure aimed as reducing drug usage? They are putting athletes on the executive board of the IOC and that is the key to this reform measure. Not a chance that you have the fox watching the henhouse here, right? These athletes might not be bribed to tell what the new testing will be and how/when it will happen, would they? If not on the first day, they will learn the benefits of bribery from rubbing elbows with the other IOC moguls pretty quickly. These athletes may not be well mannered, but they are not too stupid to recognize a way to get an advantage.

    Next, there is the TV coverage. First of all, there is far too much of it and that is mandated by the billions of dollars that NBC shelled out to have the rights to all the games until whenever. In order to come even close to breaking even, NBC has to do several things. It has to put multiple hundreds of hours on TV and cable TV to be able to fit in enough commercials to generate big time revenues. And they need to reach out for viewers beyond sports fans – like me – because we won’t watch some of the stuff they put on the air just because they say it is a sport. I’d rather listen to a Bach fugue farted in harmony by two monkeys than watch team dressage; you’d have to shackle me to the TV and prop my eyes open to get me to watch over half the events. So NBC reaches out to women and to people who appreciate the “softer aspects of sporting events.”

    How do they get these viewers? They get them with stupid events (these viewers love women’s gymnastics or “the Pixies” as they are called); they get them with the “up close and personal and in depth stories” about each athlete and the hardships that befell them on their quest to get here. There are way too many of these sob stories and way too many that are concocted. Every life does not have poignancy in it; every problem encountered by an athlete is not the result of a malevolent universe. Muffy Lardbottom did not have great burdens to overcome on her way to the equestrian team unless she had an accident that broke a minimum of 15 bones in her body at one time. Athlete’s foot is not a disaster; being born without any feet is a disaster. Halitosis is not a burden; asthma is a burden to be overcome; not breathing at all is a real problem.

    So NBC loses sports fans with the “soft side” and then loses the other viewers when it puts on things like basketball or ice hockey or pole vaulting or things like that. And here is a little factoid that seems to have escaped many of the people who have yearned for more involvement on the part of the public when it comes to these noble games. Back in the 60s and 70s and 80s, there was little if any choice in what to watch. The summer Olympics went up against Ozzie and Harriet re-runs or The Ed Sullivan Show. Now viewership is fragmented because of the various outlets. You have cable channels that are devoted 24 hours a day to all manner of pastimes from shopping to golf to jock-itch. So with those choices, why stay and watch the Olympic silliness?

    Finally, we can deal with the wonderful people that run the Olympics and the international governing bodies of the sports themselves. The IOC folks are clearly open to bribes – and don’t think that lots of those folks will be happy to stick it to the USOC specifically for letting that little secret come out into the open. They condone cheating as evidenced by the written records of the East German Olympic Committee who knowingly put men into women’s events. They posture themselves as wretchedly as our politicians do or as egotistically as many athletes do. The gymnastics overseers had four years to get the height of the vaulting horse right in the Sydney Olympics and they blew it. Then just like a modern politician, they accepted responsibility by declaring so and then moved on to the next event. You want to point your kids to a role model? How much bourbon do I have to pour in you until you come to Juan Antonio Samaranch on your list of people to consider? If you want to try this experiment, can you wait until I go and buy stock in the Jack Daniels distillery?

    So let me get to the bottom line here. The games have been turned into a medley of events where most of the events don’t belong there in the first place; the athletes are merely a bunch of self-indulgent employees of some sponsor; the people organizing the games are about as noble as gun-runners; the television coverage is overdone and cloyingly sweet and pseudo-poignant. And they wonder why the TV ratings were lower this year when these events were on an 18 hour tape delay than they were in Atlanta when they were live. If you can’t see why, then you are suffering from rectal blindness.

    But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

    Shut Down The Olympics

    Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come to shut down the Olympics. I’m not talking about anything that is partial or temporizing. I men it is time to cancel, negate, nullify, stop, cease and desist any, all, each and every activity that has to do with the Olympics. And the time to do it is now.

    They were shut down for a couple thousand years and civilization managed to march forward somehow. Then the Olympics were resuscitated and civilization continued to move forward. No big difference here. Therefore, since the Olympics have become nothing more than a scandal ridden set of events run by a bunch of preening snobs whose only interest is self-interest, I say it is time to call another halt in the Olympics for another 2000 years.

    I’m doing most of this from memory because – frankly – it is not worth the time and trouble it would take to go and look up all the recent articles on Olympics shenanigans and cheating and wastes of time and money. So there could be a name wrong in here or a date or something like that, but the idea here is to look at the overview. And the overview is that the Olympics are a giant mess of a scandal that costs billions of dollars to put on and provides nothing useful in return. So get rid of it entirely.

    What are the Olympics good for? The glorification of amateur athletics? Spare me! There hasn’t been an amateur athlete competing in the Olympics since the 20s – and I may be very generous in calling those athletes in the 1920s “amateurs”.

    Are the games good for international good will? Horse hockey!! In 1972 we had athletes murdered in the Olympic village. In 1980, the US would not send a team to Moscow to protest a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan – which continued to go on until 1989 so you can see how effective that boycott was. In 1984, the Soviets refused to send a team to Los Angeles to protest something the US did in terms of its foreign policy that they did not like. (It may have been our support for the Contras in Nicaragua; I don’t remember; I’m not a historian.) Since the Soviet Union does not even exist any more, you can see how effective their protest was and how useful the Olympic games are in terms of bringing the family of nations together.

    Many of the events are rigged. Please don’t tell me that you believe that the skating scandal of last year was the first time that the outcome of an Olympic event had been pre-cooked. Far too many of the events are not sports; they are athletic exhibitions where the subjective opinions of people who represent national organizations vote on who should win. Let me be clear about this. These judges and representatives of national sporting organizations have a cushy job and the thing that they want to assure more is that they continue to be in a position of influence. The “integrity of the competition” is so far down on their list of personal priorities that it is in danger of falling below “rearrange my sock drawer”.

    In the events that aren’t rigged – and in some of them that are rigged too – lots of the athletes are juiced. And the reason they are juiced is that they see it as a way to get an edge in the competition; that is the way they put it. Where I grew up, it was referred to as cheating.

    The Olympics will spend somewhere in the vicinity of $1B (yes, that is one billion dollars) for security at the games in Athens. Why is that a good idea? If these games are so dangerous and are such a magnet for kooks and terrorists, why not just stop doing them? Even with that kind of expenditure, the US State Department is not certain that the Greek government has the will or the resources to provide a secure environment for the games. Remember, the State Department is in the business of never saying bad things about anyone and so this kind of negativism from them equates to someone else saying that the security at the next Olympics game will be as impenetrable as a screen door. The US State Department is providing the Greek government with “policy workshops” and “security training”. Nothing like a good “policy workshop” to put the fear of The Almighty into some kooks/terroists.

    Remember, some folks will still cash $1B in checks for all of that. And that money comes out of your pockets because it is the US TV contract and the advertising on US TV that fuels all of this. Cancel the NBC contract for televising Olympic games and the IOC might be able to hold a ping-pong tournament in a low cost of living area of the world such as Mali. They probably have enough money left in “savings” that have not been paid out to consultants and officials and international conferences to afford hotel space in Bamako.

    The people who monitor the games and seek to keep up the façade that they are trying to keep the games “honest” are so mired in processes that they make themselves look dumb. They need no one else’s assistance. According to a Washington Post story about a month ago, the IOC has just now begun to hold disciplinary proceedings against US Olympian, Jerome Young, for a positive drug test that they had on him in 1999. It has taken 4 years to get here; that is something that should take 4 weeks. Forget about all the “explanations” and all the justification that procedures need to be followed for the protection of the athletes and the games and all that crap. If it takes 4 years to figure out what to do about an athlete who failed a drug test, what is the incentive for athletes not to use the “banned substances”?

    What you have is a bunch of people – organizers and sports federation officials – who are living a luxurious life off your money without doing anything that gives anything back to you. To a lesser extent, so are the athletes. Remember, your taxes fund the USOC and the training center and somehow provide enough support to athletes that they find a way to “acquire” some of these banned substances.

    It’s time to call a halt to all of this and just pull the plug. The patient looks healthy, but he is rotting inside. If you want to see some good sporting events, just hold some world championships and let all the athletes come as drugged up as they want and you’ll get to see new records in track and field and gymnasts doing push-ups with their tongues. At least there would be no patina of propriety here; you could announce from the outset that these would be the real world championships and that the Olympics would be for the wusses who want to pretend to follow rules – but don’t really.

    And to all of those people who moan that the poor athletes will destroy their bodies with all these drugs and steroids, I say, “So What?” Take out the nationalistic nonsense and they will be choosing to take those things; no one will force them. They are adults; adults make choices; choices have consequences.

    The US Congress is considering several bills dealing with the restructuring of the USOC based on all the scandals and thievery that went on there. I’ll bet that none of those guys will come up with the solution of just shutting the whole thing down. Could it be that they have some vested interest in these games too? Makes you stop and think…

    But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

    Nostalgic Football

    About a month ago, my long-suffering wife was on a business trip to Europe and I decided to spend an evening at the local high school football game. My #1 son played football at the school and we used to attend all of his games, but I had only gone sporadically since he graduated. I had a really good time at the game and when I saw the coach after the game; he recognized me and we exchanged very brief pleasantries.

    Later, on another evening with nothing better to do, I went to one more game. The season is over now since the high school football season here in Northern Virginia ends relatively early except for a series of playoff games to determine various flavors of state champions. Once again, I had a really good time. And that got me to feeling nostalgic about attending high school football games and it started me thinking about why I enjoy high school football.

    Obviously, the caliber of play and the athletic talents on display cannot come close to matching Division 1-A college football or Arena Football or the NFL. No one with a shred of analytical skills and a pretense of candor would even try to make that case. But as a spectator, the games are great fun and represent one of the great entertainment values in the community. But as I got to thinking about why that was the case, I came to some realizations about high school sports in general. Here are the results of my ruminations…

    By definition, a local high school football game gives you an immediate reason to associate with a team. Call it a “tribal bonding” or a “roots experience” or some other feelgood phrase if you must, but that local high school is part of where you live. Maybe you went to that school; maybe your kids went there, or maybe they are still going there, or perhaps some will go there in a few years; in any case, that school has a connection to you simply on a geographical basis. There is a bond there. That’s why homecoming is a big deal for colleges; alums come from far away to rekindle the bond with the school they went to. When I go to a football game at a local college, I feel exactly nothing in terms of “bonding” or “connectedness”; both of my alma maters are 150 miles from here; these local colleges stir no visceral feelings in me. Pro teams give me none of those feelings either; I can root for one team over another one; but in the end, I know these are mercenaries and little else.

    But for high school football, there is a feeling of intimacy in terms of a relationship between you and the institution and/or the team. That is one part of the experience from which I derive pleasure.

    Here’s something else that makes me enjoy high school football. It’s the players themselves. Maybe some of them act like prima donnas in school and strut around as BMOCs, but to the fans, these are not like many of the “preening schmoes” in the professional ranks. And none of them would even dare score a TD and strike the “Heisman pose” in the end zone. These players go out and play football and that’s about it. None of them leaves school after their sophomore year to go and make money as a football player; praise to the Heavens, not a one of them has an agent or publicist. They play football because they like it and because they are good enough at it to make the local team.

    And the players play hard because they have something to play for that seems to have gotten “very lost” at the top rung of NCAA football and at the NFL level. These guys are playing to win because if they win then they have pride in their accomplishments and can revel in the adulation of others. That pride and the adulation of others are sufficient for them; they need not try for global exposure. Maybe they can even derive some “bragging rights” from some of their victories if the victories come at the expense of a neighboring high school where players on both teams know each other in settings other than across a line of scrimmage. Such situations happen most infrequently at higher levels of football.

    Just an aside here, but the bands that perform at high school games are also enjoyable for the same reasons. Forget their musical genius – most high school bands have little if any at all – the kids are out there performing for the same reason the players are out there playing. Pride and a feeling of accomplishment is what the band members derive from their participation – and no one leaves the band at the end of their sophomore year either to go to Julliard… So even with those few trumpet blares that are two notes off and which stand out like a prune in a sugar bowl, it’s fun to watch and listen to the bands.

    The fact that there are bands at the games also means that there are no “deejays” in the stadium playing loud music that I really don’t want to hear nor are they shouting into the PA microphone trying to make a clever remark. Only in the rarest of circumstances are any such remarks made in the arenas and stadiums of higher levels of athletics even remotely clever. But that does not dissuade these loudmouths from continuously demonstrating their lack of creativity and comedic talent. May perennial laryngitis befall each and every one of those folks starting this moment!

    The fans at a high school football game are fun too – except for the occasional parent whose ego needs to be stroked by the accomplishments of his/her kid. Yes, those people are officious jerks and most of them could use a quart of prune juice so that they’d be “otherwise occupied” for the second half of games, but it is very possible to ignore them and enjoy the others at the game who are there to cheer and sigh and have a good time. Go to an NFL game in a “state-of-the-art” stadium and you won’t have fan experiences like that. In fact, you’ll find some fans who aren’t even at the game to see the game; they are there to “be seen” at the game because such “sighting” anoints them as one of the privileged folk who has access to tickets. Those people are even more officious jerks than the high school parent who is living life vicariously through his/her kid.

    How do you avoid these officious jerks at a high school game? It’s trivially simple. You move to another seat. You can do that because there are no reserved seats or special sections or PSLs or Club Levels. You pay your money and you go and sit wherever the hell you damned well please. If the people around you annoy you, you can just get up and go sit somewhere else. Is that great, or what? If you feel like it, you can be like Greta Garbo and go sit somewhere where you will be left alone.

    Now let me tell you why all of this adds up to an evening of enjoyment that qualifies as the top entertainment value in my community. For a game, a ticket costs five dollars; a hot dog and a soda and a bag of chips gets me back change from another five; and parking is – hold your breath here – free. Try to get into a Division 1-A college game for that kind of price or park free a short walk from the gate. Yeah, that’ll happen sometime this year. In this part of the world, we suffer under the pro football ownership of Danny Boy Snyder who has connived with the local politicians to assure that no one can park conveniently at a Redskins’ game for less than a monthly mortgage payment over the course of a season.

    I remember seeing a movie in my younger days – yes, it was a “talkie” and it was even in color! – called Support Your Local Sheriff. I think it’s a good idea to support your local high school sporting endeavors. I hadn’t been doing that often enough, but I’ll increase the frequency of my attendance in the future.

    Now, before I get any snarky notes from people saying that curmudgeons are not allowed to be sappy in their commentaries, I merely want to say that I felt a moment of nostalgia at these games as I reflected on watching my son play football and on my attendance at high school football games when I was of that certain age. And if you don’t think that nostalgia is appropriate for curmudgeons either, then let me simply point out to you that nostalgia is not what it used to be…

    But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………