Character Issues/Maturity Issues

About a week ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Chin-Hui Tsao to a minor league contract. This is the kind of item one sees in the agate type section of the sports page every day; you read over it and figure that the odds are you will never hear anything from or about this guy again. However, Chin-Hui Tsao has a backstory…

He is Taiwanese and has been in MLB in the past. He is 32 years old and made his major league debut in 2003. After an undistinguished time in MLB with several teams, he went to play in the Chinese Professional Baseball League in Taiwan in 2009. That is where the backstory gets “verrry interesting” [/Arte Johnson]. The Taiwanese equivalent of a District Attorney’s office said in 2010 that Tsao had accepted “improper benefits” from gamblers and had agreed to throw two games for their benefit during the 2009 season. He never actually threw the games because they did not take place for various reasons. So, he was never tried and convicted but his Taiwanese team – the Brother Elephants – parted company with him.

Believe me; I do understand the precept of “innocent until proven guilty” and have a sense of what the concept of “due process” entails. However, I have to wonder what might have gone through the minds of the folks who run the LA Dodgers when it came time to make the decision to offer this guy a minor league contract. Over the course of 4 seasons between 2003 and 2007, Tsao threw a total of 88 innings with an ERA of 5.40 and a WHIP of 1.392. Those are not eye-popping stats; the guy is 32 years old; he has a whiff of “game-fixing” around him. What made the Dodgers’ front office think this was a good PR move?
Can you imagine the conversation in the Celestial Starbucks between Kennesaw Mountain Landis and A. Bartlett Giamatti if this guy makes it back to MLB?

TMZ Sports has a report from yesterday saying that some bar patrons threw drinks at Johnny Manziel in a Houston club earlier this week. According to TMZ, some fans were shouting at Manziel and “aggressively trying to take pics” which led to Manziel flipping off one of the patrons and then “drinks started to fly”. Some folks might be tempted to use this report to reinforce their thinking that Johnny Manziel has “character issues” and that the Browns never should have drafted him because of those “character issues”. I prefer to interpret this incident – in the context of other reports of Manziel’s behaviors – a bit differently.

I cannot recall any reports regarding Manziel that would lead me to believe he is an evil person; I do not think he is a nascent serial killer or a totally amoral sociopath. I am, however, convinced that he is very immature and has a heightened sense of entitlement. And it is for those reasons that I believe that the Browns never should have drafted him and it is for those reasons that I believe he is not going to achieve the level of success one would hope for from a first round quarterback selection. Like most team sports, football has a large mental component and for a quarterback, the mental component is as important as the physical component. There have been a few “quarterback prodigies” – guys who excelled at the position despite their neglect for things like preparation or conditioning. Bobby Layne, Joe Namath and Ken Stabler come to mind here. However, most of the guys who neglect preparation have brief and undistinguished careers.

I know that Johnny Manziel is only 22 years old and that he does have time to grow up and to behave like an adult. Nonetheless, I have not seen any reports that would lead me to believe that he recognizes that “maturation” is something he needs to put high on his list of “Things To Do”. Until someone realizes that importance, becoming a responsible adult does not happen; one becomes merely a chronological adult.

I mention this because teams talk about “character” when they draft players and I think in many cases that is not what they should focus on. Yes, if a potential draftee at the age of 21 already has 9 arrests for violent behaviors along with stories that he belongs to a Satanic Cult that sacrifices kittens weekly, a team should play the “character issues card” and pass on him. However, the more prevalent problem is “maturity” and not “character”. What teams need to figure out how to measure is the degree to which a potential draftee – actually a physically large and gifted man-child in most cases – has internalized concepts such as responsibility and/or logical consequences of one’s actions and/or self-control.

Johnny Manziel is an example in football of a young player who does not seem to have a great awareness of those sorts of characteristics of maturity. The NBA faces the same problem with its yearly influx of “one-and-dones”. Kids – and I use that term here very purposefully – come into the NBA after one gaudy year of college basketball and often fade into mediocrity. For some, it is because they are boys playing against men and need to catch up physically to players who have had years of physical training to build themselves up. Others fade into mediocrity because they do not recognize that what they have to do to continue to excel goes beyond merely showing up sufficiently before game time that the coach does not suspend you for being late.

Self-awareness leads to a dedication to one’s craft and that leads to development as a player and as a person. That is what teams need to focus on; maturity versus immaturity is a far more common issue than is the good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Maybe what teams need to do with potential draftees is to give them another test after the Wonderlic:

    Make the potential draftee watch the movie Bull Durham and then talk to the potential draftee about Nuke LaLoosh and what they think about his future in MLB.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this item in Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times recently dealing with a young player who might have “character issues” or “maturity issues” or perhaps both:

“Police in Buffalo arrested Ole Miss recruit Chad Kelly after Kelly allegedly punched a bar bouncer, fought with police and said he’d open fire on the club with an AK-47.
“Guess recruiting gurus weren’t kidding when they called him a triple-threat quarterback.”

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

Bad Football Teams 2014

Sometimes a team with a bad record is one that has a string of bad fortune and the bad fortune caused the bad record. More commonly, teams with bad records deserve each and every morsel of the humble pie they are forced to eat; they earned their bad record; they truly are what their record says they are. Let me give you two examples from NFL action yesterday regarding teams with dismal records that deserve those records:

    The NY Jets: Even nomadic yak herders living in yurts on the high plains of Kyrgyzstan know that the Jets have “QB issues” – which is to say the team does not have a fully competent NFL QB on the roster. A week ago, the Jets implemented a game plan against the Dolphins that had as its major theme:

      Under no circumstances will we allow Geno Smith to throw the football lest he lose the game for us with his arm.
      That game plan worked for a while but came up short in the end.

    Yesterday, the Jets must have thought that the Vikings’ defense would be primed to stop the run thereby ignoring to a degree the pass. So, on the first play from scrimmage, the Jets dropped Geno Smith back and had him throw a simple 8-yard slant over the middle. Naturally, a linebacker picked it off and returned it for a TD.

    The Washington Redskins: Forget for a moment all of the melodrama regarding the owner and the coach and the not-so-favorite-son QB and forget for a moment that the team’s “special teams” are really “teams with special needs”. With the exception of only a few players, this team is not out there playing as a team; each player seems to be playing for himself.

      In the first half of that game with the score still only 6-0 in favor of the Rams, Skins’ LB, Ryan Kerrigan sacked Rams’ QB, Shaun Hill and forced a fumble. The ball was just sitting there on the ground while Skins’ DL, Chris Baker, danced around with his arms in the air celebrating a sack he had nothing to do with. Of course, the Rams recovered the loose ball to keep possession…

As of this morning, the Jets are in a five-way tie for the worst record in the NFL at 2-11. Next week, the Jets go on the road to play the Titans – one of those other teams sitting at 2-11. The week after that, the Titans and Jags (both with 2-11 records as of this morning) play a “national game” on Thursday night; NFL Network execs probably wish they could televise the National Knitting Championships instead, but they cannot. With the Oakland Raiders inexplicably winning two of their last three games, the race to the bottom of the NFL has become interesting…

With the Jets’ record as bad as it is, you might not blame a few of the Jets’ fans who are old enough to remember the details for harkening back to the days of Richie Kotite as the on-field leader of the franchise. The year was 1996; the Jets came out of the gate losing their first 8 games; then they won a game in Arizona against the Cardinals and entered their “Bye Week”. Sorry, there is no heroic twist to the rest of the story here; when the Jets came back from their extra week of preparation, they proceeded to lose their last 7 games of the season and to finish with a 1-15 record. Richie Kotite announced his resignation as the head coach a couple of days before the last game of the year; notwithstanding that uplifting announcement, the team went out and lost the last game of the year at home to the Miami Dolphins.

Interestingly, the Jets’ final game this year is also against the Miami Dolphins – only this year the last game will take place in Miami. I doubt Rex Ryan will resign just prior to that game; resignation/surrender is just not in his DNA; however, the team might announce just prior to that game that Ryan will not be back in 2015 meaning he will be on the sidelines in the role of “Dead Coach Walking”. There might be some interest in in that final game of the year after all.

The “Big News” for college football is the announcement of the 4 teams in the college football playoff. While I would have wished for Ohio State to be left out and for the Selection Committee to say explicitly that the reason was their pathetic non-conference scheduling, I have to acknowledge that Ohio State’s 59-0 win over Wisconsin shows that they belong in the playoff. As to the fact that there are no Big 12 teams in the mix:

    1. With 5 “power conferences” and 4 playoff slots, it is a mathematical certainty that at least one of the “power conferences” would be left out.

    2. TCU’s out of conference schedule was not exactly “difficult” and Baylor’s out of conference schedule was easier than either Ohio State or TCU.

    3. Baylor coach Art Briles’ opinion that there were not enough “southerners” on the Selection Committee demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about what the Committee was there to do. They were not there to get 4 really good football teams from all the regions of the US; they were there to try to get the 4 BEST football teams into the bracket.

      Memo to Art Briles: Those “non-southerners’ on the Selection Committee had no difficulty in recognizing Alabama as “playoff-worthy”. Last time I checked, Alabama was in the South AND Alabama is significantly better than Baylor as a football team in 2014.

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News ran across two Tweets from José Canseco soon after the Rosetta spacecraft made its landing on a comet. I tell you, Canseco is the gift that keeps on giving:

“If Earth can control the comet transportation system, we will run the Milkyway [sic],” he wrote. “Think about that.”

“Galactic Beings have used comets as star taxis for eons.”

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

Not A First Amendment issue

Much has been made about the 5 St. Louis Rams wide receivers going onto the field last weekend with their hands in the air in support of Michael Brown and the statement in response to that act by Jeff Roorda, a spokesman for the St. Louis Police Officers Association. Of course, some people immediately tried to turn this into a First Amendment issue – which it is not – saying that the players were free to express themselves here. Roorda’s response was that police officers have First Amendment rights too – which is correct – and would that he had left it there. Roorda went on to say that it was the police who kept order at the stadium during games and around the team and that police officers may choose to exercise their own demonstration to show how they feel about the way they have been portrayed in the whole “Ferguson/Michael Brown matter”.

And that is where Mr. Roorda seems to have nudged his way right up to the edge of the limits on free speech if not stepped ever so slightly over that line. I am not a Constitutional scholar by any means, but the First Amendment forbids the government – whether that be State government or the Federal government – from restricting one’s ability to express any opinion at all regarding the government. The Founding Fathers sought to protect political speech; that was an important element of the times surrounding the American Revolution.

What the 5 Rams’ players did was to express an oblique form of political speech; their action allies them with other folks who do not approve of the grand jury decision (grand juries are part of the governance mechanisms of the country) not to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. That kind of expression by any citizen is protected speech if the person or entity that might seek to suppress that speech is part of the government. I can sit here and type words telling all those people to shut up and get on with their lives and I have not impinged on their free speech even a little bit. [For the record, I am not telling any of those folks to do that; I was simply using myself as a private citizen as an example here.]

Now Mr. Roorda is part of the St. Louis Police Officers Association and while that is not of itself a government entity, the police officers who nominally make up the membership of that Association are part of a government entity. Therefore, when Mr. Roorda asked the NFL to punish/sanction those five players for their act, I think he was edging up to the line where he may have started to infringe on their free expression rights.

Now if it were ever to happen that the police officers chose not to do their duty to maintain order in and around the stadium as a “punishment” or “payback” for the players’ gestures, I think they would then be over the line in terms of obstructing the free speech of the players.

The entire situation in Ferguson, MO is a sad mess. People who riot in the streets and burn cars and loot shops do not make the situation better. Spokespersons for police organizations who imply that police protection might perhaps be contingent on taking the police side in that situation do not make the situation better. Shouldn’t intelligent adults and people of good will have as their objective to “make the situation better”?

Oh by the way, with regard to the request to the NFL for the league to punish or sanction these 5 players somehow, I want to give the league the highest marks possible for saying – politely – that they are not going to do that. Employers can legally and justifiably punish employees for saying things detrimental to the employer’s business but the NFL adroitly decided to stay out of the middle of this situation – one that it cannot resolve and one that is not of their doing. In the current climate of “tough enforcement of the personal conduct policy” by the NFL, it could have chosen to weigh in here; that would have been a huge mistake and I commend the league for letting this one pass them by.

I mentioned above that employers can legally and justifiably punish employees for things they say. Consider the situation earlier this week when a Congressional staff member criticized the President’s daughters for the way they were dressed. The Congressman either accepted the staff member’s resignation or the Congressman fired her. The woman is out of a job. She was expressing her own opinion but the act of that expression was not in line with the way the Congressman wants his operation to be perceived. Hence, this woman is now looking for work.

She has the right to her opinion and has the right to express that opinion. However, the First Amendment does not protect her from any and all recriminations that may arise from her choosing to express that opinion. [For the record, I really do not care how the President’s daughters choose to adorn themselves. At the same time, I think firing someone for criticizing anyone else’s attire is a tad harsh. But what done was legal and justifiable…]

Demonstrating that I have an almost insatiable appetite for football, I tuned in to watch the second half of the Grey Cup game last weekend between the Calgary Stampeders and the Hamilton TigerCats. The Stampeders won the game 20-16 and their QB, Bo Levi Mitchell, was the player of the game. Mitchell threw for over 300 yards and completed more than 70% of his passes. Mitchell played college football at Eastern Washington. I enjoy Canadian football and I very much enjoyed watching the second half of the Grey Cup game but there was this thought running through my mind for the whole telecast after I saw the graphic with the name “Bo Levi Mitchell”.

Some NFL team needs to give this guy a tryout – because if he can start for an NFL team, think of the marketing possibilities:

    Picture of Mitchell with the caption “I Bo-Lieve in Bo Levi”. That can go on shirts, caps, drink cups etc.

    An area of the stadium can be designated for “The Bo-Lievers”

    When he runs out of the tunnel onto the field, the DJ can play the Hallelujah Chorus.

    I tell you; this has definite possibilities. Now, if he can only get a shot and make a team…

Finally, with regard to the Raiders’ future coaching situation, here is a comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“Jon Gruden is playing hard to get, but my sources tell me the Raiders believe they have a shot at landing Frank Caliendo.”

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

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………

A Soccer Match For The Ages?

A little more than a year ago, the San Marino international soccer team scored its first goal in international competition in more than a 5-year span. Notwithstanding that feat, San Marino failed to win the game; in fact, San Marino has never won an international soccer game. The international team has been in business since 1990 and its record stands at 0-61-1. That tie game happened about a week ago when San Marino and Estonia met in something called “European qualifying” and the game ended at “Nil-Nil”.

Question:

    Given the performance of San Marino over the last quarter of a century, what might they be qualifying for?

For the record, there are 208 international teams recognized by FIFA. San Marino and Bhutan are tied for last place in the FIFA World Rankings. Can you imagine how low on the pecking order at FIFA one would have to be such that one were assigned to go and watch San Marino play Estonia to see if – possibly – there might be a way to put San Marino ahead of or behind Bhutan in the rankings? How much coffee would one need to stay awake during that struggle?

On many occasions, I have demonstrated here my less-than-glowing competence in the field of advertising/promotion/marketing. Nevertheless, I understand the concept that a “promotion” is intended to associate a product with an event (e.g. a movie or a sporting event) in a way that gets patrons of the event to try the product/buy the product. In that sense, the product has to be relatively accessible to the patrons. It is that “accessibility” that was a problem in Philly…

Papa John’s pizza had a promotional deal with the Philadelphia 76ers such that when the Sixers won a game, people could enter some kind of promo code online and get discounted pizzas. It will not take any basketball fan more than about 10 minutes watching the Sixers to realize that they are just not going to win very many games this year; that made the product inaccessible to the patrons. So, Papa John modified the terms of the deal in mid-stream. Now, Sixers fans can get the discounted pizza whenever the Sixers score 90 points in a game. [Aside: If you watch the Sixers for even a single game, you will quickly realize that if they score only 90 points, they are not going to win many games because they play bad defense.]

Frankly, I think Papa John’s should have left the promotional terms alone and just let the whole thing go quietly into the night. Now, people can make the following association in their minds:

    BAD Sixers team – – – Bad pizza

Even I know that kind of association is not what Papa John was aiming for…

The Marlins’ new contract with Giancarlo Stanton (13 years for $325M) was shocking. Marlins’ owner, Jeffrey Loria, normally throws money around the same way he throws grand pianos around. [Recall that the Marlins were rebuked by MLB for pocketing their revenue-sharing dollars and not “reinvesting them” to improve the on-field product.] The Marlins also have a history of letting young players go to other teams as soon as their free agent eligibility kicks in.

After getting over the original shock, I started to think about this contract and it raises a few questions in my mind. Let me preface those questions by saying that Giancarlo Stanton is a young player who has the potential to be a superstar for the next decade or so. This is not a guy in his early 30s who is close to the point in his career when the vector heading is turning south. Nonetheless:

    The Marlins drew an average of 21,386 fans per game last year. That put them 27th in MLB. In 2013, the Marlins were 28th in MLB in attendance. In neither year did they come close to drawing 2 million fans. Question:

      Miami fans found ways to do something other than go out to see the team with Giancarlo Stanton playing for the past two years; what is going to convince lots more of them to go to games this year and next year to see the Marlins with Giancarlo Stanton?

    According to reports, the Marlins’ local TV/radio revenue is about 6% of what the top teams – such as the Dodgers and the Yankees – get from that source. Question:

      Is it likely that local radio and TV companies are going to fork over 10 times more money in the next couple of years to show the Marlins? Remember, they did not add players; they are merely paying one of their current players a whole lot more money.

Now, those two revenue related issues leads me to wonder about this very fundamental question:

    Absent significantly increased revenues, how will the Marlins field a team around Stanton?

I am not saying that the situation in Miami cannot work; I do think that there are other things that have to happen to make it work smoothly and it is not obvious how the team is going to change the “revenue situation” in Miami.

Finally, the college basketball season has begun and we are in the phase of the season where horrible mismatches dominate the scene. Here is an observation from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald to that point:

“Creighton opens its regular season Friday night vs. Central Arkansas, a team that was 8-21 last year and has only one player back and a new coach. In college basketball, this is what’s known as ‘the perfect opening opponent.’”

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

The DEA Meets The NFL

Last Sunday, agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency conducted some “surprise inspections” of NFL visiting teams looking for any irregularities with regard to the dispensing of controlled substances particularly painkillers. Several reports said that the inspections had their origins in allegations made in the “concussion lawsuit” regarding improprieties with these substances under the Controlled Substances Act. The Niners, Seahawks and Bucs confirmed that they underwent some kind of inspection; this report in the Washington Post indicates that the focus is not merely on those teams.

I think this is a very complicated issue. Obviously, there is an important social need for certain substances to be controlled and dispensed only by people certified as knowledgeable enough to do so properly. Highly addictive painkillers fall into that category and no one – not football fans, law enforcement officials or legislators – ought to be surprised to learn that professional football players suffer painful injuries in the course of their professional activities. The potential problem here is that a law and the regulations that flow from that law which was written with hospitals and pharmacies in mind will almost certainly have areas of recordkeeping and physical storage that are treated loosely by the physicians traveling with NFL teams.

A little cynical voice in the back of my head says that this is merely a grandstanding play by the Feds so that as the concussion lawsuits proceed their activities can be seen in a positive light. I want to be wrong about that but I cannot quiet that little voice completely.

With regard to the entire issue of players taking potent painkillers in order to “get back in the game” situations, I think an important distinction needs to be made with regard to three kinds of scenarios:

    Scenario 1: Player is injured; he does not know the extent of the injury but it does hurt a lot. Team physician – or other doctor involved somehow – says he does not think it is a debilitating injury and a painkiller will alleviate the suffering. He and the player agree that is a course of action; the player takes the pill(s) and can return to action.

    Scenario 2: Player is injured; extent of injury is not known; doctor suspects it is not debilitating and just gives the player a pill to take without the player knowing what the pill is or what the injury is all about.

    Scenario 3: Player is injured; he does not know the extent of the injury but the doctor does. There is a chance that continued play can make it worse but the doctor does not tell the player of those potential consequences as he gives the witting or unwitting player a painkiller to get him back in the game.

Would I be surprised to learn that at some time in the past and the present, each of these three scenarios has played itself out? Absolutely not… Importantly, I believe the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act have very different intersection with these kinds of scenarios. This is a complex issue; I hope this is not a grandstand play by the Feds; I hope the teams, the doctors and the players are all acting responsibly here…

Earlier this week, the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals threw some kerosene into the hot stove league. The Braves sent Jason Heyward and a pitcher to the Cards for Shelby Miller and another pitcher. Heyward and Miller are young players who have significant accomplishments already in their major league careers and still plenty of “upside”. The ideal trade is one that can help both teams; this one might fit into that category.

    The Cards need an outfielder to replace Oscar Taveras who was killed in a car accident recently. Heyward gives them that outfielder.

    The Braves need pitching. Miller is someone who could become a “top of the rotation” guy.

Two things surprised me just a bit about the trade. The Cards starting rotation has question marks. Adam Wainright has an elbow “issue”; Michael Wacha has a shoulder “issue”. The Cardinals traditionally rely on solid starting pitching as a foundation of team; so, trading a 24-year old starter with a career ERA of 3.33 is not something I thought they would be willing to do. Also, the Braves had “offensive problems” last year. I do not want to make Jason Heyward out to be a nascent Ted Williams or anything like that, but he was one of their better offensive players. I am surprised the Braves were willing to deal him.

When we bought our new car, we got a free 3-month subscription to SiriusXM Radio. At first, I liked the idea of all the different sports channels but soon came to realize that all of them struggled to fill 168 hours per week with any kind of programming let alone quality programming. I found myself turning off the radio far too often to make any consideration of extending that subscription for even a day. I mention this only to set the stage for the next “announcement” I ran across:

    John Daly – the sometimes golfer and full-time celebrity/personality – has signed on with SiriusXM Radio to do a show starting in December.

This event will be on the SiriusXM channel dedicated to PGATOUR Radio and the initial run for the program will be 6 shows. The program will be called Hit It Hard with John Daly and here is the brief description of what it will be about that supposedly would make me want to tune in:

“Daly will take calls from listeners around the country, talk about his experiences in and out of the sport, offer his thoughts on today’s game and players, share his love of music, and more.”

Maybe – I said MAYBE – I would listen to that at gunpoint…

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times summed up the situation regarding FIFA’s investigation into alleged shenanigans related to awarding the 2022 World Cup Tournament to Qatar:

“FIFA (wink, wink) found no irregularities in the way World Cups were awarded to Russia and Qatar, but bid-committee members weren’t available for comment.

“They’d just left on their surprise vacation junkets to Barbados.”

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

A Record For Futility

Last week in a game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Kobe Bryant set an all-time NBA record. Until last week, John Havlicek held the record for the most missed field goal attempts in a career at 13,417. In that game last week, Kobe missed attempt 13,418 and he continues to add to the record.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times had a perfect perspective on that record as it relates to Kobe and the Lakers:

“Kobe Bryant broke an unwelcome NBA career record with his 13,418th missed shot.
“Or as he prefers to call them, rebounding opportunities for teammates.”

The Lakers’ roster as of today is not a good one. Kobe Bryant is a bona fide star and a Hall of Fame player; beyond him the roster consists of role players and guys “with potential” which means they have not yet definitively shown if they are competent or incompetent. On that squad, Kobe Bryant is the guy who is going to have to take the most shots; and indeed, over the first ten games of the season, Bryant leads the NBA in field goal attempts with 244 shots fired up. Other teams in the league know already that Bryant is the only dangerous scorer on the Lakers and he draws sufficient defensive attention that his shooting percentage so far this year is .377, which is significantly down from previous years. In fact, for a full season the lowest field goal percentage in Bryant’s career since coming into the league in 1996 has been .417 in that rookie season.

At the current pace, Bryant will attempt 2000 shots this year and at the current rate of misfiring, he will miss a total of 1246 of them. I think this record is safe for a while just as John Havlicek’s record stood from 1978 until this year.

One player who hoped to join Kobe Bryant on the floor in a Lakers’ uniform this year is Steve Nash but a bad back has him out for the year – and has likely ended Nash’s career. Bob Molinaro had this item in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot a while back:

“Next chapter: It was reported as news that Steve Nash is injured. When did that become news? Now that the 40-year-old former two-time MVP has been ruled out for the season with a bad back, it’s time to find him a chair at ESPN or TNT. Preferably, one with excellent lumbar support.”

Whenever I have heard Steve Nash interviewed, I have come away from the experience thinking that this is a guy who has a future in broadcasting. He comes across as intelligent, articulate and analytical about the game of basketball. ESPN and/or TNT should indeed work with him to get him on the air. Lord knows, both networks have former basketball players under contract who are “less than wonderful” on the air.

Frank Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia Inquirer had this comment several months ago:

    Baseball’s instant replay is the worst baseball idea since John Felske.

I mention that not because I want to complain about baseball’s instant replay. John Felske is an example of a manager/coach who helped his teams underachieve; he was part of the problem. All too often, coaches/managers are fired after poor on-field results when they are no more to blame for those poor results than they are to blame for world hunger. A case in point right now would be the Oakland Raiders.

I was never one who thought Dennis Allen was a great hire in Oakland or that he was a nascent Hall of Fame coach about to burst onto the football landscape. Having said that, he was not responsible for the Raiders’ unmitigated suckitude over the past couple of years; no coach ever could have made that compilation of players into anything other than a losing team.

Back in late September when the Raiders were 0-4 and looking at their Bye Week, they fired Dennis Allen and replaced him with Tony Sparano whose first coaching act seems to have been the ceremonial burying of an NFL football to symbolize the death of that first quarter of the season and the start of something new. And what has changed…? Here we are in the middle of November and the Raiders’ record stands at 0-10 meaning they have continued to lose games since changing coaches.

I would like to see some kind of empirical evidence that changing the identity of the head coach in Oakland had any material on-field effect. By the way, that does not mean that the Raiders win a game that the oddsmakers thought they would lose; I mean that the team on the field actually shows that they are better than someone else more than “on any given Sunday…” Not only are the Raiders losing, they are always behind; the team has not been leading at halftime in any game this year.

Here are some reality checks for Mark Davis and Reggie McKenzie who are the folks responsible for assembling this cast of characters that a head coach is supposed to lead to victory.

    1. Your offensive line is awful. Some people cannot get out of their own way; in the case of the Raiders’ OL, what they need to figure out how to do is how to get in the way of opposing defenders as those defenders are making their way to the guy with the ball. Until you find 5 guys capable of that; you are doomed. In only 3 games this year have the Raiders had more than 200 yards passing; they have yet to have any RB go for more than 80 yards in a game.

    2. The 2014 Raiders are worse than the 2013 Raiders and/or the 2012 Raiders. That is important because both of those earlier iterations of the team stunk. Your job has been to make it work out there in Oakland and over the last three seasons, a bad team has been made into something significantly worse. This is on one or both of the two of you and not on any head coach, coordinator, assistant coach or trainer.

I will not be surprised in the least if the Raiders fire Tony Sparano at the end of this season. Raiders’ fans can look at the rest of the schedule and see the possibility of two wins in that mix. Somehow, I doubt that a 2-14 record will get Tony Sparano a contract extension. Moreover, just as it was futile and impotent for the Raiders to fire Dennis Allen, the same will be true when they fire Tony Sparano. He is not the problem; there are probably 30 players on the 53-man roster who do not belong there and that is the fault of either Mark Davis or Reggie McKenzie – or both.

Finally, one more item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times. He suggested this as a prop bet; I am not sure which way one should play it:

“The first to win a game will be the:

    a) 0-9 Oakland Raiders
    b) 0-7 Philadelphia 76ers
    c) 2015 Arizona Diamondbacks”

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

Puzzling Times At Sayreville High

I am sure that you have heard and/or read about the high school in New Jersey that canceled its football season after allegations of outrageous hazing activities on the football team came to light. The alleged activities are not like taping the new players to a goal post and pouring honey on their heads. Suffice it to say that some of the alleged activities were of a sexual nature that involved bodily penetration and the allegations are serious enough to have brought criminal charges in a half-dozen cases. This is not going to be any kind of rant about morality or the imminent demise of Western Civilization; there have been plenty of those presented already.

What caught my attention was a recent action taken by the school board in Sayreville, NJ. About a week ago, the school board had a public meeting and announced that the coaches of the football team would be suspended indefinitely – with pay – not as a punishment but as a means to uncover the truth in all of this.

No one should be opposed to finding the truth in all of this to determine if in fact punishments are in order. I certainly have no problem with that. Nonetheless, I have to pose a couple of questions here:

    The season is canceled; there will be no football games. What exactly is the difference between a suspended football coach and a football coach whose team will play no games?

    Perhaps I am just being obtuse here, but how does the act of suspending any or all of the coaches further the quest for “the truth” here?

Please do not read into those questions any sort of hint that I think the coaches are blameless here. Even if the legal processes determine that there were no criminal actions involved, there certainly existed an environment where upperclassmen bullied freshmen brazenly. Since the football coaches are employees of the School Board – or whatever that governing body happens to be called in New Jersey – they are de facto adults involved in educating the students in that community. Creating an environment where bullying is acceptable – or just as bad – being so out of touch that one does not know that bullying of this type is ongoing do not fit well in the job description of “educator”. In this case, malfeasance and nonfeasance should carry the same degree of opprobrium; the total mass of the opprobrium to be borne by the adults in charge here depend entirely on the revelation of truth that the police and the School Board seek.

    [Aside: I read one report that said the head coach at this school had 12 assistant coaches. Thirteen sets of eyes and ears had no clue… What are some of the adjectives that come to your mind to describe this situation?]

Taken as a whole, the situation in Sayreville is simply a mess. According to reports, one of the victims has met with an attorney and that attorney has characterized the events as “rape”. I am not an attorney but I am confident that introducing the word “rape” into the dialog here is not going to make the revelation of truth any easier that it might have been before.

Controversy is not associated only with high school football these days. Florida State’s football program has the various issues involving Jameis Winston floating around it and yesterday, reports said that the Tallahassee Police Department has an ongoing investigation regarding domestic abuse involving RB Karlos Williams. Here is what the school had to say about that:

“The athletics department is aware of an investigation by the Tallahassee Police Department involving football student-athlete Karlos Williams. Until we receive more information regarding the alleged incident his status with the team will be under review.”

Karlos Williams is the leading rusher on the #2 ranked college football team. Pardon me for being a cynic here but I just have a feeling that Williams’ status with the team will continue to be “under review” until at least 48 hours after Florida State plays its final game of the season. The pace at which the school and the authorities there are pursuing the various incidents in Jameis Winston’s life off the football field point me in that direction.

For those who are spring-loaded to chastise me for jumping to a conclusion here, let me offer the words of H. L. Mencken on the subject of cynics:

“The cynics are right nine times out of ten.”

That is a batting average that would get one into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot…

An old adage of the newspaper business says that it is not news if a dog bites a man but it is indeed news if a man bites a dog. That adage came to mind when I read a headline on the Baltimore Sun website recently:

“NFLPA investigator Richard Craig Smith complains about lack of cooperation from NFL, Ravens”

Back when the NFL hired former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, to do an independent investigation of the way the NFL handled the Ray Rice matter, the NFLPA reacted by hiring their own independent investigator. That would be Mr. Smith referenced in the headline above. So, is anyone surprised that the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens are cooperating with the guy they hired and not cooperating with the guy that the other guys hired? More importantly:

    Is Richard Craig Smith surprised?

    I certainly hope not…

Finally, here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald related to a “minor error” in a TV sports report:

“Seattle TV station KOMO, airing a report on Peyton Manning breaking the TD-pass record, mistakenly showed a photo of Gary Payton. Other than the football/basketball, black/white, first name/last name and spelling differences, the report was accurate.”

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

Academic Fraud At UNC – A Sordid Mess

The academic scandal at UNC continues to unfold and with every new investigation and revelation, the squalor of the situation gets worse. Obviously, I have no idea which if any of the members of the coaching staffs for any of the UNC teams had direct knowledge of the “shadow courses” and the ongoing fraud. Having said that, let me make a few observations from afar based on what has been reported:

    This business went on for about two decades. How this all managed to “stay under the radar” when students were obviously putting one over on “the system” is miraculous. Or maybe, people in the system actually knew it was going on and pretended not to notice…

    Those athletes who were on scholarship for 4 years and who took these shadow courses to major in a subject where they learned less than what might be reasonable were defrauded by the University of North Carolina. Their opportunity for an education was reduced almost to nothing.

    Where is the faculty outrage here? The stature of the university where their lot in academic life is cast has been tarnished.

    Where is the alumni outrage here? The value of UNC degrees has to be diminished given that thousands of students took these non-existent courses.

Now, we have something akin to a litmus test for the NCAA. For at least the last 50 years, the NCAA has presented itself as an organization dedicated to the concept of the “student athlete”. Recall all the self-congratulatory promos that the NCAA has done about its athletes who will be “going pro” in something other than sports. Here is a situation where one of its member schools – and one of its very successful athletic schools – has systematically undermined the concept of the “student athlete” for two decades. That situation is far more subversive to the concept of the “student athlete” than a booster hiring an athlete for a summer job and paying the kid more than he is worth. What UNC has been doing is to perpetuate a system that incentivizes athletes not to be students.

Please notice how quiet and private Mark Emmert has been over the last week or so as more information regarding the academic scandal hits the press. I doubt that he is in a coma so I wonder where he is and what he thinks about this and what the hell he is going to do about it.

On the assumption that what I have read about the investigative report is true – I have not read the investigative report itself – here is a baseline punishment:

    No UNC team in any sport will be allowed to participate in any game with any other NCAA school for a period of one year. Any athlete on any UNC team who chooses to transfer during that period can immediately be eligible at the school to which he/she transfers.

    That is the baseline; preferably, the period of time where UNC athletics would be “dark” would be two years and not just one year.

    If the NCAA limits punishment to “bowl bans” and “reductions in scholarships” for this 20-year violation of the rules, I will have to conclude two things:

      1. The NCAA is even more hypocritical than the IOC.

      2. The entire concept of a “student athlete” is a sham and no one in the NCAA can even pretend to believe it is real.

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot made a cogent point related to this mess:

“No-brainer: Could you find academic corruption like the kind that was uncovered at North Carolina going on at other football and basketball factories? Sure, if anyone looked hard enough. But following big-time college athletics has always required fans – fans in the media included – to resist the temptation to look behind the curtain.”

I agree that academic frauds exist in places other than UNC. My position is, however, that existence elsewhere does not exonerate UNC even a little bit. Moreover, my agreement points one more accusatory finger at the NCAA and prods me to ask the institution:

    Will you reveal to the public the extent of the NCAA’s efforts to root out academic fraud at member institutions beyond waiting for the next whistleblower to nail a set of theses on your door – so to speak?

I have been enjoying the World Series games despite the “in your face” nature of the FOX telecasts. Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle had this plea in a recent column and I would like to join him in his entreaty:

“World Series Telecasts: Dear Fox: On those in-game dugout interviews, pleeease put the interviewee in a box in the corner of the screen, for the benefit of those of us who want to watch the freaking baseball game!

“The dugout interview: Greatest innovation since the $12 beer.”

Finally, here is an interesting observation from Brad Rock of the Deseret News:

“Warner Bros. television is planning to release a Mike Tyson-inspired adult cartoon series.

“That’s kind of been the theme all along, hasn’t it?”

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

Odds And Ends…

In the middle of last weekend’s Keeping Score blog entry by Gregg Drinnan, I found the following tidbit:

“When the Kamloops Blazers gave goaltender Bolton Pouliot to the Portland Winterhawks the other day — call it an early Christmas present — it brought back memories of Jan. 19, 1983. That was the day the WHL’s Seattle Breakers traded forward Tom Martin to the Victoria Cougars for a used bus.”

To say that my knowledge of the comings and goings in the Western Hockey League is an eighth of an inch deep would be most generous; clearly, the memories he refers to here did not leap to mind. So, I asked Gregg Drinnan if indeed a player had actually been traded for a used bus. Here is “the rest of the story”…

    Tom Martin had been drafted by the Winnipeg Jets but in 1983 found himself on the roster of the Seattle Breakers of the WHL. Martin wanted to play some hockey and also to get a college education; he was a native of Victoria. The Breakers needed a new team bus because the engine on their bus had gone to the great grease pit in the sky on a road trip to Kelowna. The Victoria Cougars had a spare bus they picked up when the Spokane Flyers’ franchise went belly-up. Martin was not going to play for Seattle; Victoria had a bus in Spokane that would cost them money to transfer and register in Canada. The trade of player for bus was pretty simple.

In that link, there are a couple other references to players who were traded for things other than players:

    Keith Comstock – a relief pitcher who bounced around in MLB for a few years – was once traded for a box of used baseballs whilst he was still in the minor leagues. According to an old Sports Illustrated report, he was actually traded from the A’s to the Tigers for $100 and a box of used baseballs.

    John Odom played for the Calgary Vipers in the Golden Baseball League and was traded to the Laredo Broncos of the United Baseball League for ten maple baseball bats. The reason for the trade was that Odom had a minor criminal offense on his record that prevented him from going to Canada to work/live.

    Fred Roberts was an NBA journeyman who was traded from the Jazz to the Celtics in 1986. The NY Times reported that he was traded for a “future draft choice”. The link here says he was traded in exchange for “two preseason games in which Boston would play Utah.” The report in this link makes for a better story, so I choose to go with that report…

Bob Molinaro had this item in a recent column in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Numbers game: Media accounts of Kansas City’s undying love for its Royals go real easy on the inconvenient truth that the team ranked 25th out of 30 in attendance. The Royals were one of only six MLB clubs that didn’t break the 2 million mark this year. But don’t expect the facts to get in the way of a good story.”

Indeed, only 5 teams drew fewer fans than did the Royals in 2014; the Royals averaged 24,154 fans per game at home this year. Kauffman Stadium has a capacity of 37,903 so the Royals played to just under 64% of capacity. Granted, it had been 30 years since the Royals had been a playoff team; but this year’s team was “in the mix” all during the summer. Consider the five teams below the Royals in attendance this year:

    Houston Astros – 21,628 fans per game. The Astros took a big step forward this year losing only 92 games.

    Miami Marlins – 21,386 fans per game. The Marlins never draw well; the fans and the owner are not “best buddies”.

    Chicago White Sox – 20,381 fans per game. The Sox lost 89 games after starting slowly and never contending this year.

    Tampa Bay Rays – 17,858 fans per game. The Rays did not draw in years the team won the AL East; this year the Rays were 19 games out of first place there.

    Cleveland Indians – 17,746 fans per game. This is bad; the Indians were in the playoff picture much of the season.

Over the weekend, Danica Patrick led a NASCAR race – the Geico 500 at Talladega – with only 20 laps to go. She was not involved in a wreck and managed to finish 19th in the race. One report said that a caution flag in the late running took away her momentum and other racers finished ahead of her. I would point out ever so politely here that every driver in the race had to slow down and then restart when that caution flag was out so every driver similarly lost momentum for that time.
I am hardly an expert in searching out NASCAR stats but if I searched correctly, Danica Patrick has been a full-time NASCAR performer for two seasons and her best finish in a NASCAR race was 6th place in September of this year.

Finally, here is an interesting item from Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald:

“Olympic wrestler Dremiel Byers was cited for allegedly hunting deer at a Colorado Springs Lexus dealership … He was cited for hunting out of season. How about hunting out of place?”

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