More NFL Improvements

I have done this type of thing multiple times in the past where I make suggestions as to how the NFL could make itself or its product even better than it is. The reason I pick on the NFL here is that it is the best of the US professional leagues in terms of marketing its product and presenting it to its fans. That means finding “areas of improvement” is a tad more difficult that it would be – say – than for Team Tennis or synchronized swimming.

I harbor no illusions that someone on Roger Goodell’s staff is going to print a copy of this rant, make marginal annotations and go running into the Commish’s office to show it to “The Big Guy”. Nonetheless, I think these suggestions would improve the product.

Let me start with a really trivial suggestion. The NFL no longer needs any coin tossing. In baseball, they do not have a coin toss to see who bats first and who does not. All the NFL has to do is decide if the home team or the visiting team will get the choice at the beginning of a game and then give the option to the other team at halftime. The coin toss is a waste of time and energy.

I have anticipated the first objection one might have to that suggestion:

    Yeah, but what about the coin tosses for overtime games. How would you decide who gets to choose what they want to do at the start of overtime?

Actually, the answer to that question is pretty simple and it leads directly to my second suggested improvement:

    Get rid of overtime games. The world does not need overtime games. Having a game end in a tie is not a tragedy or an abomination in the sight of the Lord.

The only time the NFL should play an overtime game is in the playoffs where indeed there needs to be a winner and a loser simply because someone has to figure out which team will be playing the following week and which team will be starting their off-season. So, for those few times when playoff games have to go to OT, you could have established the protocol that the visiting team will get the choice and move on from there.

    [Aside: Phil Luckett might read this suggestion and wonder why it had not been in place for that infamous Thanksgiving Day game where as a ref he flubbed the coin toss in OT.]

The third suggestion is a scheduling suggestion. The NFL needs to stretch out the regular season to 18 weeks – not to increase the number of games in the regular season but to give each team 2 Bye Weeks. Here is how the Bye Weeks would work:

    Any team playing a game on a Thursday will have a Bye Week on the Sunday before that game. That way, no team will be asked to play a game on 3 days’ rest.

    If a team plays twice on Thursdays, that is how they will get their 2 Bye Weeks. If a team plays only once on Thursday, then it will get its Bye Week randomly between Weeks 4 and 12.

That change might be complicated just a tad if the NFL is serious about continuing to play multiple games each year in London – or anywhere else where 5-8 time zones might be interspersed between a team’s home venue and the game venue. There ought to be some kind of “Bye Week Relief” for teams that make that kind of journey – particularly if the game is in London and the team is a West Coast team.

The fourth suggestion is also about scheduling. When teams play on Monday night, they face a shorter week of preparation than their next opponent who had to have played on Sunday – or even on the previous Thursday. There is nothing that can be done to change that but there is something that happens now that can be avoided.

    Teams that play on Monday night will play at home the following week.

If a Monday night team has to go on the road for the next game, it means that their shortened preparation time is shortened even more. Just schedule them at home for the next week…

For “in-game” changes that will improve the product, please consider disallowing any “icing the kicker” calls. This adds exactly nothing to the game; the NFL markets competition and not gamesmanship. Here is a pretty simple rule:

    When a team is lining up for a place kick of any kind (field goal or PAT), the defensive team may not call time out once the play clock is down to 12 seconds.

    If a coach wants a time out to map out some stratagem for the imminent kick, make him choose to do that in the first 28 seconds that the play clock runs. This is not difficult…

Another “in game change” that might help – but it should be tested out in the pre-season before it is implemented – would be to clarify what is pass interference and on whom should it be called. How about this rule:

    The receiver and the defender can push, hit, shove, block, elbow each other – not hold but any of the above is OK – until the ball is released from the QBs hand. At that point, no one touches anyone. The first player to initiate contact after that point is guilty of pass interference.

One benefit of this rule would be that when the QB throws the ball on a deep sideline pass down the right side, there will be no need to call “illegal contact” between a defender and a receiver in the right flat 45 yards distant from where the pass was intended.

The final suggestion for an in-game change is a two-pronged suggestion that has to do with penalties marked off as “half-the-distance to the goal line”. The problem with those penalties is that they do not punish the offender to the extent that was intended. Therefore, consider these cases:

    Team in possession of the ball – or the team receiving a punt or kickoff – commits a holding penalty at the ten yardline. Instead of walking off only 5 yards, keep the ball at the ten yardline and move the first down marker an extra 10 yards downfield. In my example here, the offensive team would need to get to the 30 yardline to get the first first-down in its drive. If offensive holding is indeed worthy of a 10-yard penalty, then it should cost the offensive team 10 yards.

    Team on defense jumps offside when the offense has the ball on the 2 yardline. That needs to cost the defensive team 5 yards and not the 1 yard that it is going to cost them now. In this case, you give the offensive team the following choice:

      a. Accept the 1-yard penalty and move on. The team may do this because that 1 yard could give them a first down. Or, they just may do this for some other reason that makes sense to the coach at that moment.

      b. Wait until the next time the team committing the penalty has the ball on offense. In that first possession, position the ball on first down such that it is first-and-fifteen for the offense to start its drive.

One more suggestion here and it has to do with use of the replay cameras. Every once in a while, there is some kind of confrontation on the field that involves pushing/shoving and that sometimes escalates into a melee. Fans do not tune in to watch a melee; this is not pro ‘rassling. Moreover, it is an indictment of the integrity of the game when the announcers can clearly say that the instigator of the situation is not the one being punished because they only “catch” they guy who retaliates. Thus, whenever there is such an incident, the replay cameras should be used to determine the instigator of the situation and to punish him to a greater extent than others who are involved subsequent to the instigation.

I do not expect any of these suggestions to happen any time soon. In fact, I do not expect any of these suggestions to get serious consideration for implementation. Nonetheless, I think each of them would represent a small positive increment in the NFL product. Before anyone asks, no, I have no idea whatsoever how one could improve the synchronized swimming product…

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

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………

    Bud Selig – – An Excellent Commissioner Of Baseball

    After spending yesterday talking about baseball, my mind focused on the playoffs and the new “play-in game” feature of the MLB playoffs.  To say that this novelty has created some controversy would be a huge understatement, so I thought that I would get in my two cents in favor of that added wild-card team.  However, thinking about the expanded playoffs led me to a larger point that I want to make today;

    • Bud Selig is – on balance – an excellent Commissioner of Baseball.

    It is fashionable to mock Bud Selig and to characterize him as a bumbling old guy who would take forever to figure out that it is raining outside.  Lord knows; there are plenty of nationally recognized sports columnists who do that at least once a month.  I choose to take a contrarian view.

    In the first place, the most appropriate way to judge a person in the role of Commissioner of Baseball is to compare his accomplishments and his failures with those of his predecessors.  It is irrelevant that that one might consider Bill Gates a more effective CEO at Microsoft than one might consider Bud Selig an effective Commissioner of Baseball.  The jobs are only the same in a “theory of management” sort of way.  A comparison of that ilk is the same as comparing the President of Harvard University with the Chairman of the International Olympic Committee.  Once you get beyond the fact that each gentleman is the “guy in charge”, the similarities fade quickly.

    So let me tell you how I rank Bud Selig as compared to his predecessors in the same job:

    1. Bart Giamatti/Faye Vincent:  I lump these two folks together because Giamatti was not in the job very long and Vincent spent his tenure continuing down the same path(s) that Giamatti trod.  The shining moment of that tenure was the “Pete Rose banishment”.  The downside was the absolute lack of any progress toward labor peace with the MLB Players Union setting the stage for the 1994 World Series cancellation.
    2. Peter Uberroth:  No matter what his accomplishments might have been during his time in office – and there were not a myriad of accomplishments –, there is one word that demeans his reputation in that job.  That word is “collusion”…
    3. Bowie Kuhn:  For 15 years, he was routinely mocked as an ineffective leader much the way Bud Selig is today.  During his time, there were multiple labor strikes and he set a silliness standard for the game by demanding that Jim Bouton take back all the things he said about baseball in Ball Four because he as The Commish deemed the book to be “detrimental to baseball”.  Really…
    4. William Eckert:  General Eckert made his career in the US Air Force.  Supposedly, when he took the job as Commissioner, he had not even seen a baseball game for the past decade or so.  His tenure was not marked with great leaps forward…
    5. Ford Frick:  The thing from his administration that has lasted the longest was that Frick was the guy who decided to put an asterisk on Roger Maris’ home run record in 1961.
    6. Happy Chandler:  As commissioner in the late 1940s, Chandler was a positive force in helping Branch Rickey integrate baseball in 1947 and he was the motive force in establishing the players’ pension fund back then.
    7. Kennesaw Mountain Landis:  A man highly mythologized by the baseball poets for “saving baseball” after the Black Sox scandal.  What he did was to use his personal judgments to decide who would and would not be banned from baseball.  Even players acquitted in court of wrongdoing were banned by Landis.  However, when push came to shove, Landis allowed star players Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb to remain in baseball’s good graces after it became clear that both of them had bet on a fixed baseball game.  Moreover – and make no mistake about this – Landis perpetuated the color barrier for MLB; Landis blocked the ability of Black players to participate in MLB.  Rather than saying he “saved baseball”, I prefer to think that baseball “survived Landis”.

                Now consider the successes in the Bud Selig years:

    1. In 1994, the players walked out in the middle of the season (August); that is why there was no World Series in 1994.  Bud Selig canceled the World Series because the players did not finish the season and there were no teams available to stage playoffs and the World Series.
    2. If anyone wants to argue that the teams could have used “replacement players”, then that person would have to take exception with another great sporting myth that now Supreme Court Justice, Sonya Sotamayor, also “saved baseball” with her ruling that barred teams from using replacement players starting in Spring Training in 1995.  The fact is that “replacement players” was never the answer to the labor problems in baseball in the 1990s.
    3. Since that time, there have been no strikes/lockouts/work stoppages/whatever in MLB.  When the current CBA expires in 2016, MLB will have had 21 consecutive years of labor peace.
    4. In Bud Selig’s regime, baseball has flourished economically and expanded.  In 1992, baseball revenue was reportedly $1.6B; in 2011, revenue topped $7.2B.  That is a 450% increase in 20 years.  It is certainly not all of Bud Selig’s doing, but he must be doing something right…
    5. In 2011, nine teams drew 3 million fans or more and only one team drew less than 1.5 million fans.
    6. The wild card team in the playoffs came into being.
    7. Revenue sharing among teams increased – – it is not where revenue sharing has gone in the NFL, but it is better than it was in 1992 when Bud Selig took the job.
    8. Interleague play began – and was mightily successful and well received by fans.
    9. The World Baseball Classic is the single largest international baseball event in the world; twenty-eight countries now participate.  Assuming that next year’s tournament goes off as planned, it will be the third of its kind. Spain and Canada have already qualified.  Bud Selig made that happen.
    10. Drug testing regimes expanded.  Recall that it was Bud Selig who first began the call for steroid testing in baseball and that progress along that line was blocked by Donald Fehr of the MLB Players’ Union on the basis that drug testing was an invasion of the players’ privacy.  It took a direct threat from the US Congress and a public tongue-lashing by Congressthings to get Fehr to begin to agree that testing regimes for PEDs would be permissible.  [Aside:  At the time of that controversy, it was a crime to possess let alone use certain of those steroid drugs without a prescription.  Fehr was “defending” lawbreaking by asserting a privacy right.]
    11. Even the idea of the All-Star Game determining the home field advantage for the World Series is not nearly as bad as the Bud-Bashers would make it out to be.  Prior to his edict that the team representing the league that won the All-Star Game would have home field advantage in the World Series, that same determination was made in an arbitrary way.  Since the inception of the World Series, the rules for home field advantage had the two leagues take turns with the advantage.  Just because that rule was put in place in 1905 does not make it sacrosanct; in fact, it often allowed a team with an inferior record in one league to hold that advantage over a team with a better record in the other league simply because of the calendar.  Let me be clear; there is no logical thread that connects the winner of the All-Star Game to the home field advantage in the World Series just as there is no logical thread that connects the calendar to that home field advantage.  I would argue that Bud Selig’s criterion is infinitesimally better than the previous criterion because it has something to do with baseball instead of the calendar.

    Now, if you are tempted to demean Bud Selig because he does not “measure up” to commissioners in other sports, I would urge you to take a deep breath and think about your position there:

    • David Stern:  I think David Stern is a man trying to hold together a league that can only survive with its superstar players.  If those players ever realized their power in the game, David Stern’s authority would not extend beyond his office suite.  Moreover, that situation is of David Stern’s making; he created the situation where the NBA markets its players instead of its teams.  Remember, David Stern himself said during the last lockout that 23 of the NBA’s 30 teams are losing money; that is not much of a recommendation for his leadership.
    • Roger Goodell:  He has done plenty of good things for the NFL and avoiding a player/management impasse last season was critically important.  However, his handling of “Bountygate” has been ham-handed and the use of replacement referees in the 2012 NFL regular season is a stain on his record that will take at least a decade to fade.
    • Gary Bettman:  You cannot be serious…  [/John McEnroe]

    Even if you want to go to the “minor sports” in the US to look for someone light-years more effective and successful than Bud Selig, you will have a difficult time.  Would you like to make a case for the greatness of Tim Finchem of the PGA and all of the sponsors and corporate partners that the PGA Tour has lost?  How about the France Family that runs NASCAR?  Do you believe that more than 5% of US sports fans could even name the guy who heads up ATP – let alone assess his effectiveness in that position?  I don’t.

    The closest I can come to naming a commissioner on the US sporting scene who has been as effective as Bud Selig has would be MLS Commissioner, Don Garber.  In his dozen years at the helm of MLS, the league has expanded – after Garber contracted a couple of teams early in his tenure that were just not viable; MLS no longer has one owner holding half the teams in the league; many teams play in newly constructed “soccer-only venues”; there have been national TV deals with ESPN, FOX and now NBC for MLS games.  That résumé is comparable to Bud Selig’s and there is another similarity.  Both Bud Selig and Don Garber do their work behind the scenes and without a lot of publicity and panache.

    Baseball is better off today than it was when Fay Vincent went noisily into the night as he was relieved of his job as Commissioner in 1992.  If you want to argue that it would have been better off no matter who had replaced Fay Vincent, I would be tempted to agree with you but even in that circumstance you have to credit Bud Selig for following the first tenet of the Hippocratic oath:

    • He did no harm.

    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………