RIP Dean Smith

Dean Smith passed away over the weekend at age 83. Dean Smith was a great basketball coach and from all reports a really good person. In the late 60s he offered Charlie Scott a scholarship at UNC making Scott the first Black scholarship basketball player in the ACC.

Rest in peace, Dean Smith…

On a happier note in college basketball, another coach reached the 1000-win milestone recently. Herb Magee and his team at Philadelphia University beat Post University 80-60 giving Magee 1000 wins for his career. Moreover, here is something Magee can claim that Mike Krzyzewski cannot:

    Magee has won all 1000 games at the same school – although it used to be known as Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science when he played there and then began his coaching career. Magee has been the coach there for the last 48 seasons.

A group of caddies has filed a class-action suit against the PGA. The suit asserts that the PGA makes the caddies wear bibs with sponsor logos on the bibs but the caddies do not get any share of the revenue generated from the sponsors. When I first read about this, my reaction was pretty close to indifference because I figured that the amount of money involved here could not be enough to make a difference to anyone. WRONG! The suit asserts that the PGA pulls in $50M for the “bib sponsor logos”. Seriously…

Scott Ostler had this comment in the SF Chronicle regarding Tiger Woods’ most recent failure to finish a tournament:

“Tiger Woods. He withdrew with a bad back, explaining that a long wait in the fog caused his glutes to deactivate. First recorded case of foggy bottom. You know you’re in trouble when your ass goes south on you. Now can we declare a moratorium on discussion of any Tiger Woods body part below his waist?”

Personally, I wonder if this was a case of his glutes deactivating or a situation where he realized he was getting his glutes kicked…

One more golf item – Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this in his column over the weekend and it has all you need to know about the subject:

“Some facts require no punch line. Example: An LPGA golfer named Brooke Pancake just signed an endorsement deal with Waffle House.”

Three weeks ago, the NFL faced “Deflategate”; last week, the Falcons’ owner admitted that the team had pumped in extra crowd noise for home games; this week, the Browns are under the microscope because they allegedly were caught texting with the sidelines during games this season. Supposedly, the Browns’ GM, Ray Farmer, was texting with quarterbacks’ coach, Dowell Loggains, about the way the Browns’ quarterbacks were playing and various personnel decisions. Before you ask, I have no idea why there is a rule against that but evidently there is.

I read one account that said that Farmer might suffer a suspension for all of this and that the Browns could potentially lose a draft pick over this matter. I understand – and support completely – a ban on texting while driving. I have to say that I do not understand why a GM and one of the coaches on his team cannot text back and forth during a game. I am confident however that if Roger Goodell holds a news conference to explain why this is an issue, I will come away knowing nothing more than I do now about the basis for the rule.

Leave it to the folks at The Onion to take all of the NFL “scandals” and put them in perspective with a simple headline:

“Puppy Bowl overshadowed by league’s rampant heartworm-pill abuse”

Greg Cote had this item regarding the Miami Dolphins in the Miami Herald:

“The Dolphins’ renovated stadium will offer 16 four-seat “living rooms” with personal TVs and unlimited food and drink including liquor. Cost will be $1,500 per seat and up, or some $70,000 per season per “living room.” For that money, accoutrements had better include a playoff team.”

My family room – where my TV is located – can comfortably seat 4 people to watch a football game. My long-suffering wife is an excellent cook. I have a decent wine cellar and can procure any hard liquor anyone might want to consume. If 4 people paid me $6K to come over and watch a game here and we had to provide the food and drink, I think I might come out just a tad ahead at the end of the day. By the way, if they wanted to stay for a second game, I could still feed and water those folks and still show a profit. I cannot understand why anyone would want to pay $1500 to watch a game on TV.

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

A Hodgepodge Today…

I received an e-mail from a former colleague and long-term reader of these rants asking why he no longer received e-mail notifications for posted rants. I explained the demise of my old computer and the loss of that mail list and that he could easily “return” to the notification list now that I had his e-mail address once again. However, there was another portion of his note to me that was pertinent:

“Knowing that you do not keep abreast of happenings in the celebrity world, you might not yet know that Bruce Jenner is in the process of becoming a woman. It has been a while since he was an ‘athlete in the news’ but surely this announcement is worthy of curmudgeonly note.”

Actually, I did know about Jenner’s gender-alteration decision prior to receiving that e-mail. I had not commented specifically because it has been almost 40 years since Bruce Jenner was “sports-world relevant”; and to be blunt, I really do not care one way or the other if he lives his life as a man or a woman or a Klingon. However, note that he voluntarily married into the quartet of Kardashian women and has remained in that social status for about 20 years. With that fact established, how can anyone be surprised by any decision he might make?

Atlanta Falcons’ owner, Arthur Blank announced that the Falcons had piped in artificial crowd noise during Falcons’ home games over the past several seasons. The NFL had an ongoing investigation into this matter and Blank announced that he had received new information from an “internal source” confirming to him that the team had done this in violation of league rules. Blank said he would put a stop to it and that this is not the kind of thing he wants his team to be known for and that he will accept whatever punishment the NFL hands down in this matter. Good for him…

I cannot, however, allow that situation to pass without noting that the extra noise piped into the home stadium did not do the Falcons a whole lot of good in 2013 or 2014. Over those 2 seasons, the Falcons’ cumulative record was 10-22.

As you surely realize, I did not watch all of the pre-game hype for the Super Bowl game last Sunday and so I cannot be sure this did not happen. However, I did not see any mention of this during the two-week “game analysis-fest” leading up to Sunday, and so I wonder how this comparison escaped scrutiny:

    In the conference championship games leading up to the Super Bowl, both the Seahawks and the Patriots completed passes to offensive tackles who had declared themselves as eligible receivers. So how come no one “broke down the film” to determine which offensive tackle had the better skills as a pass receiver in a trick play scenario? It would seem to me that ESPN could have devoted an entire segment to the different footwork and stride lengths of these two guys – not to mention their hands. Call it a missed opportunity…

One more Super Bowl related comment… Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this to say about the game winning interception by the Patriots:

“Great escape: Amazing that Russell Wilson is receiving virtually zero blame for the Interception Heard Round the World. I’m not making him out to be the goat, but had his pass been lower and not so far in front of Ricardo Lockette, it’s less likely the ball would have been picked off. Some guys get – maybe earn – special treatment after they make a crucial mistake. Fair enough. But if Tony Romo had turned the ball over at the goal line like that in the Super Bowl, he’d be assuming a false identity and moving to Latvia.”

FIFA will hold an election later this year; Sepp Blatter’s term is due to expire. Blatter will run for re-election and there have been a couple of folks who have said they will run against him but no one seems to have taken seriously the possibility that FIFA will have new leadership any time soon. Nevertheless, a super-star from the world of soccer has recently announced that he too will seek the FIFA Presidency. Luis Figo played for the Portuguese National Team and was the FIFA Player of the Year in 2001. He is well known in the world of soccer.

Figo has made no secret regarding the reason he is running for the office. He believes the image of FIFA – and by extension the image of futbol – is tarnished by the myriad scandals that always seem to encircle the sport. He says the sport needs major change in governance and transparency and those changes can only come by way of a change in leadership.

While I tend to agree with Sr. Figo regarding the need for improved governance and transparency in FIFA, I suspect that he will remain another dark-horse in a race that is Blatter’s to lose. The election is in late May of this year. Given FIFA proclivities in the past, I wonder if the total votes cast will exceed the number of eligible voters…

During a home loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, three Toronto Maple Leaf’s fans took off their Leaf’s jerseys and threw them on the ice. They were arrested (charged with engaging in some prohibited activity that is not clear to me) and banned from the arena for a year. I guess I do not understand the basis for all of this.

The Maple Leafs have not been a championship level team in quite a while; their last Stanley Cup championship happened in 1967. Obviously, if these fans had Maple Leaf’s jerseys to throw on the ice, they were hardcore fans and as hardcore fans if they were still allowed to come to games, they would likely buy themselves a new Leaf’s jersey. Seems to me like a marketing opportunity missed…

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

NBA Stuff Today…

A few days ago, the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves for the second time this year. I happened to catch the last 20 minutes of this game and I want to be sure that everyone here understands two important things:

    The Sixers are a bad team.

    The Timberwolves are even worse. Over the course of 20 minutes I watched, the Wolves are a bad shooting team; a bad defensive team and a team that played with no energy/passion. That, folks, is a disastrous trifecta.

NBA Commish, Adam Silver, told ESPN the Magazine that he has spoken with the “other commissioners” about his stance on legalized sports betting and that the other commissioners were interested in his views. He said that each of the other leagues had folks studying the pros and cons of legalized wagering on sporting events in those sports and that those leagues will arrive at their own conclusions.

I have to assume that he shared with the “other leagues’ how the NBA is now a part owner of one of those online fantasy betting sites and how that might turn into a new and important revenue stream. The one sure way to get the attention of the commissioners in MLB, the NFL and the NHL would be to mention the phrase “new revenue stream”.

My position on legalized sports betting is obvious to anyone who has been reading these rants for more than a few months. I found it interesting that Adam Silver also told ESPN the Magazine that the NBA would be better “protected” against something like the “Tim Donaghy Situation” with legalized gambling because then the leagues would be involved in the protocols regarding how betting takes place. I certainly agree with him on that point. Here is another important point:

    People are going to gamble on sports. The passage of PASPA (the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act) in the 1990s was ill-advised idealism that has not worked and never will work. The Congress needs to repeal it posthaste.

Kobe Bryant’s shoulder injury – the one requiring surgery that ended the 2015 season for Kobe – may have been a blessing in disguise for Bryant. Look, the Lakers are not any good with him on the floor and will be not any good with him off the floor. At the same time, Bryant has reached that state of his career where he has measurable level of energy left in his body and there is no pragmatic reason for him to expend another joule of that energy trying to make this current Lakers’ team anything other than miserable. I really wish that I could read the “thought-bubbles” running through Kobe Bryant’s mind as he sits back and watches this iteration of the LA Lakers try to play what has come to be known as “Laker basketball”. My guess is that the messages in those “thought-bubbles” would not be printable in a fine family newspaper…

The NCAA and CBS recently announced the broadcasting team for the Final Four this year. Jim Nantz will do the play-by-play and that should surprise exactly no one. However, Nantz will be joined by Bill Raftery and Grant Hill as the color commentators. That will be the first time for both of those guys on the national TV feed. Raftery has been doing college basketball games for CBS for more than 30 years how; Hill is a relative newcomer to the TV analysis business. I think this trio has the potential to be very good; we shall see if I am correct about seven weeks from now…

In other news involving the NCAA, two former athletes at UNC have filed a class-action or failure to provide the athletes with real academics and professional-grade instruction. In essence the suit says that UNC did what was necessary to keep these athletes eligible by NCAA standards without providing the athletes with a meaningful chance to receive a semblance of a college level education. As any long-term readers here know, I happen to believe that the scholarship an athlete receives is a significant opportunity for said athlete to set himself up in life just in case his pro sports dreams do not materialize. I tend to have little patience with athletes who squander that educational opportunity only to complain later. However, the assertions in this class-action suit are a bit different. These plaintiffs claim UNC gave them a scholarship but that their attendance at UNC did not give them an intersection with an opportunity to get a UNC-quality education. That is a markedly different circumstance from the knuckleheaded athlete who knows nothing of the inside of a classroom.

UNC will obviously defend this suit vigorously. I would suggest that the NCAA should do the same because if this suit is successful – and there could be a huge number of members of ”the class” – the verdict would strike at the heart of the NCAA’s contention that there is no reason to pay college athletes because they are students first and athletes only coincidentally. The stakes here are higher for UNC and for the NCAA than they are for the plaintiffs who have only a minimal risk in the matter.

It would seem to me that an important aspect of this case could be what UNC told the parents of the plaintiffs – who were likely minors at the time of their recruitment – regarding the educational aspects of the scholarship being offered to the prospective athletes. Of course, what the university “represented” as their educational value and what the parents might have heard could well have been two different things. Moreover, as time has passed and as the reality of the lack of a real pro sports career has materialized, it is very possible that the parents’ recollections may have had a different light on them.

The academic scandals at UNC are bad news for collegiate athletics everywhere. What I find as disconcerting as anything else about the whole thing is that there has been very little outrage expressed by the faculty at UNC regarding how some other faculty members participated in these academic shams. I would have thought that the stain on the academic reputation of UNC would be a bigger deal to the faculty at large there. I guess I was wrong. Maybe if UNC has to pay out a jillion dollars to these plaintiffs and all the members of their “class” and that outflow of dollars precludes faculty raises for a couple of years, the outrage will become more audible.

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

Kudos To Tom Brady

Now that my adrenaline levels regarding the super Bowl game have reverted to more normal levels, I must admit that I thought the game was over and that the Seahawks had the win in-hand early in the 4th quarter. With a ten point lead, they had just stopped the Pats and forced a punt; all they needed was a time consuming drive even if it came up dry to hold a two-score lead with only half a quarter to play. That was the drive where the Pats sacked Russell Wilson on third down to force a punt and from then on, it was Tom Brady who went into “Beast Mode”. The drive following that three-and-out stop by the Pats’ defense was eight plays and put the Pats only down 3 points with about 8 minutes left in the game.

Tom Brady is living proof that data and measurables only account for so much when it comes to measuring the potential of a prospective player. Recall please that Brady was not the #1 guy as the QB for the Michigan Wolverines. A guy named Drew Stanton who was a really good athlete and who played minor league baseball in the Yankees’ farm system was “The Guy”. Even at the combine, no one could possibly have been blown away with Brady’s speed, arm-strength or elusiveness. What Tom Brady has is “winning ability that arises from his approach to the game”. You can recognize that when you see it ex post facto; if any scout ever finds a way to detect it a priori, that scout will become the richest scout in NFL history by more than a mile.

Whether you love the Patriots or hate the Patriots, you should recognize that Tom Brady does not win games because of his immensely superior God-given physical skills. Tom Brady wins because:

    He prepares to win as thoroughly as any other great QB in the game today and perhaps just a smidgen better on some weekends.

    He commands a winning posture for himself on the field and that posture somehow becomes contagious within the offensive huddle. There is no ‘chemical formula” for what is going on here; nonetheless it surely seems to work and to be reproducible.

    He surely acts/behaves on the field as if he is smarter than most of his opponents. I have no idea if the Wonderlic test would coincide with that observation but it would only magnify my skepticism about the value of the Wonderlic test should the test not confirm what I observe every season.

Early this year, lots of folks thought Tom Brady was washed up and that his career was over. The last half of the 2014 season – and Sunday’s Super Bowl game – pretty much put that thinking to rest. I have no idea how much longer Tom Brady can play QB in the NFL; but barring a catastrophic injury, he will be back next year and he will be very successful next year.

At about the other end of the quarterbacking spectrum from Tom Brady and a few elite others, there is news regarding Johnny Manziel. Manziel’s publicist let it be known that Manziel would be entering rehab to learn how to become “a better family member, teammate and friend.” Personally, I think this could be the shortest rehab stint in recorded history if Manziel were ready to hear and act upon this simple and direct statement of his life objective:

    Stop being such a gigantamous [rhymes with “glass bowl”]

Seriously, Manziel’s behaviors from the end of his college career until the end of his rookie year in the NFL demonstrated that he was grossly immature, horribly under-prepared to be a starting QB in the NFL and severely lacking in self-awareness. Other than that, he showed the typical maturity of a 15-year old. Rehab works for some folks. I had a former colleague who was an alcoholic by any yardstick you might choose to apply. He went through rehab (AA was his “preferred provider”) and spent the final 20 years of his career completely sober and solidly proficient in his field. Rehab worked for him because he was committed to the objectives that rehab sought for him. My suspicion is that Johnny Manziel can too come out of a highly successful rehab session if he to makes himself committed to the objectives that rehab has for him.

Along that line, what I would want to know is how his entry to rehab came about. Was this his idea? That would be a very positive indicator… Was this his family’s idea? That would be a positive indicator – but not necessarily nearly as positive as if he made this decision on his own. Was this done at the urging/suggestion of his PR folks or other “handlers”? If so, this rehab will only come out as a long-term positive experience as a result of pure luck.

I am not going to pretend to know how this rehab idea and rehab event came about. Since I have no reason to wish for evil and/or failure to befall Johnny Manziel unless failure comes from his performance on a football field against NFL opponents, I hope this works. However, it should be clear from the tone here that I have my doubts…

The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that people bet almost $116M on the Super Bowl game in Nevada casinos and that the sportsbooks won a total of $3.2M on that handle. Look, a net win is a whole lot better than a net loss, but a win percentage of 2.8% is a small one for the sportsbooks here.

One other observation from the Super Bowl game if I may. The officials did not affect the outcome of the game nor did they insert themselves into the game in such a way that the average viewer came to recognize any of the officials. That last sentence, may sound like damning by faint praise, but I do not mean it that way at all. I think the officials did a very good job in the game by maintaining order – until the final moments when glandular thinking took over on the field – and they did so without making their penalty calls a focal point for the game.

Previous crews of officials in playoff games this year had not draped themselves in glory. I thought the crew here did a very good job.

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

Super Bowl Analysis

I have just returned from a wonderful Super Bowl party hosted by the same person who handles all of the logistics for our annual Autumnal Pilgrimage to Las Vegas. He has done this many times in the past; it is always a fun gathering; this year it was a fun gathering plus a great football game – until the final minute.

Let me be clear; I had no emotional, financial or psychological investment in the outcome. In such situations, the thing that I want from the Super Bowl – or any other game is for the game to be competitive where the outcome is in doubt until the latest stages of the game. The game between the Patriots and the Seahawks provided that level of drama down to the end and so I would normally have been thrilled by the game.

However, the events of the final minute of the game tarnished the entire experience for me because one of the tacit conditions that underlies my hope for what I consider a “great game” is that the outcome is decided by players on the field playing the game at the highest level of competence that they can. That is not what happened here.

    First, the catch by Jermaine Kearse to set up the ultimate drama was nothing but pure luck. There have been equally lucky pass receptions late in Super Bowl games in the past that have given me a sense that the “better team” did not win but the “luckier team” did. I expected the same thing to happen in this game with less than a minute to play.

    Second, the call for a pass play with three shots at the goal line – to win the game – from the 1-yardline was THE dumbest play call in the history of the Super Bowl.

      Cris Colinsworth said that he would never understand that play call. Colinsworth has to be a bit diplomatic in his pronouncements given his position as the analyst for NBC prime time NFL games. He cannot come out and say explicitly that Pete Carroll and the offensive coaches of the Seahawks came up dumber than soup when they sent that play in from the sidelines. I have no such motivation to protect a self-interest because I have exactly no self-interest associated with that game.

    Third, after the abjectly stupid call that led to the interception at the goal line, the Pats did not have enough room simply to kneel down in victory formation to end the game. They had to run a play and by running a play they too could have done something fatally flawed. Nonetheless, the Seahawks’ defense then proceeded to do the single thing that could give the Patriots the ability to kneel down and run the clock out. They jumped offside. I cannot hang that blockheadedness on the coaches without assuming that the coaches did not emphasize to the players during the change of possession how devastating such a penalty might be.

What was a great game for about 59 minutes was polluted first by coaching stupidity and secondly by players reacting to their glandular signals instead of their cranial signals. For someone with no investment in the outcome, that was a horrible way to end a great game.

Here is a paraphrase of something I said to the assembled folks watching the game at our party:

    Pete Carroll – as the head coach – bears the responsibility for the boneheaded pass call at the goal line even if he did not make it. He would have been crowned as a genius had it worked and no one would have asked him if he also called the purely lucky catch that set up that attempt for a TD. With that in mind – whether or not that is a righteous measuring stick – that call was so stupid that even if Pete Carroll wins 4 Super Bowls, he should not be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. I do not know if there is enough coaching “soap” in Seattle to wash away that stain.

A couple of other things from the game:

    The NFL made sure that all of the footballs in the game were properly inflated. [Kudos to the NFL for not listing the psi readings for every ball to be used in the game to demonstrate their compliance with the rules. It is not impossible for that thought to have come up sometime during the past week.] With properly inflated footballs, Tom Brady and the Pats’ receivers did sufficiently well to score 28 points on the Seattle defense that had been holding opponents to less than half of that total over the past 6 or 7 games. The stat sheet says Brady was 37-50 (74%) for 328 yards and 4 TDs and 2 INTs.

    The Pats lost the “turnover battle” 2-0 and still won the game. That tends not to be the way Super Bowl games come out.

    For everyone who KNOWS FOR SURE that the only reason the Patriots won all those Super Bowls a decade ago is because they used Spygate cheating techniques, you are officially precluded from any more in depth analysis of football matters as of today.

Lots of folks will make tons of comments about the ads on the Super Bowl this year. I found most of them to be “ho-hum” but there was one ad that hit a Bad Ads Exacta. A Bad Ad can be tasteless and a Bad Ad can be stupid; then there are ads that hit this exacta with ease. In case you missed it, go and Google for yourself the Loctite Glue ad from yesterday’s Super Bowl. The group that thought up this spot and the people at the client who agreed to it and then paid the millions of dollars needed to produce it and air it during the game should be taken out and flogged.

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

Three Souls From The Sports World Are Gone…

The sporting world lost three recognizable folks over the last week or so:

    Tommy Mason passed on. He was the first player drafted by the Minnesota Vikings back when they were an expansion team.

    Bill Monbouquette passed on. In addition to his own achievements as a major league pitcher, I recall in the late 60s when he spent some time late in his career in the National League that his name was a tongue-twister for By Saam who did the Phillies’ games then. Saam said his name as “Mon-cue-bet”.

    Ernie Banks passed on. Mr. Cub can now get ready to “play two” in the Celestial Baseball League.

RIP, Tommy Mason, Bill Monbouquette and Ernie Banks…

Given the monstrous weather conditions in the eastern parts of New England this week, here is a suggestion for the folks-in charge there to make chicken salad out of chicken … “you know what”:

    Why not try to pay off the good folks in Alaska and get the Iditarod moved from “Wherever, Alaska” to Wherever-Else Alaska” and have it start this year in Boston. Two laps around a route from Boston to Albany, NY to Portland, ME and back through Boston would come awfully close to the 1000 mile trek for the dogs and the mushers. Why might this be interesting?

      First, it might show the folks at the IOC the organizational skills of the folks in Boston. If those Beantowners can pull off this sporting event on short notice – even though there is no history of any such event in the same general area as is the case with the Olympics – think about what that might mean about those same folks doing something “grand” with almost a decade to prepare.

      Second, the grand prize for the winner of the Iditarod has been a mid-five figure payoff and a pick-up truck for the past several years. With two weeks’ notice, the Boston folks should be able to match that – or double it – without breaking a sweat.

No need to thank me here; win-win situations are my specialty…

If you can force yourselves to do this, I want you to take your sporting focus off of the Super Bowl for just a moment today and pay attention to what is going to happen tomorrow in the NFL. On Friday of this week, Commissioner Roger Goodell will give the annual “State of the League” address to the assembled scribes and talking-heads. Face the facts here; even Rudolf Nureyev could not dance around the embarrassments of the NFL over the last 12 months gracefully. Goodell is not Nureyev; he will be lucky to dance around them without winding up with his foot in his mouth – or in the orifice at the other end of his alimentary canal.

How has the NFL embarrassed itself in the last year? Let me count the ways [with apologies here to Elizabeth Barrett Browning]:

    Ray Rice
    Adrian Peterson
    Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald as a juxtaposition
    Robert Mueller’s report
    Jim Irsay
    Dean Blandino on the Cowboy’s “Party Bus”
    The Washington franchise name
    Concussion lawsuits
    Player safety juxtaposed with more Thursday Night Football
    Deflated/Underinflated footballs (note a fundamental difference here!)

Standing up there and giving a prepared speech with all that monstrous vomit in the background is not any better than being President and having to give a State of the Union address when times are bad and the “other guys” are in the majority in the audience. It would not surprise me a bit to know – if I could read minds – that what Goodell really wants to do is to build his address to a crescendo and then to drop his pants and moon everyone who is paying rapt attention to the speech. Then he can “leave the building” and live off the approximately $100M he has earned in his tenure as NFL Commish and at the same time, tell the rest of the world to “do this with your that”.

I will not be able to watch the speech live and in color; I will be assisting a family member in the events surrounding a change of venue for a business venture. However, you may be certain that I will watch whatever snippets of the speech are available in the mass media and will be sorry to see that the address did not end with the fullest moon that Arizona ever saw…

Just in case you think that Goodell’s ownership embarrassments end with folks like tone-deaf Danny Boy Snyder or rumblin’, bumblin’ stumblin’ Jim Irsay or two steps ahead of indictment Jimmy Hasalem, perhaps you have not yet heard about the fun and games surrounding Tom Benson, the Saints’ owner.

According to reports, Benson decided to cut his daughter and her two kids out of the ownership of the team when Benson goes to the great used car lot in the sky. Instead, reports say that the Saints’ ownership will pass to his third wife when Benson “assumes ground temperature” so to speak. This seems as if it should not be such a big deal – except for the fact that his daughter and two grandkids have sued him over this action. They claim that he is mentally incompetent, that he has only brief moments of lucidity and that he still thinks that Ronald Reagan is President – or perhaps it is Harry Truman. No matter how this proceeds from here, it will be a PR nightmare for the Saints, the Benson family and the NFL.

Roger Goodell may be looking for someone to introduce Tom Benson to V Stiviano before the year is out…

Finally, if Al Davis were still alive and wanted to poke a stick in Robert Kraft’s eye, Davis might invite Lance Armstrong to join him in an owner’s box at the game and put a bunch of deflated balls in plain view for the TV cameras to see. Sadly, Al Davis will be watching this game from the owner’s box in the cosmos…

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

Media Day…

Yesterday, I wrote about MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, being open to rules that would limit “extreme defensive shifts”. I said I knew such ploys existed back to the time of Ted Williams and left it to baseball historians to date it even earlier than that. It could not have been more than an hour and a half later when I received an e-mail from a regular reader in Houston who is a repository of sports stats and history. He reports:

    The shift was used by the Cardinals in the 1946 World Series against Williams who went 5 for 25 in that Series.

    It was used earlier in 1946 against Williams by Indians’ manager Lou Boudreau and when that happened it was known as the “Boudreau Shift”.

    The first use of an “extreme shift” goes back to 1924 when it was used by several teams against the Phillies as a counter to Cy Williams – a left-handed power hitter.

So, the shift was used against Cy Williams and then against Ted Williams… Is this an example of profiling?

Yesterday was Media Day in the march toward Super Bowl Sunday. As usual, it provided far more heat than light. If I may pretend for just a moment that the Super Bowl is mostly a football event around which a circus-like aura has developed – rather than vice-versa – I think the league and the folks who attend Media Day leave a lot to be desired.

Predictably, Marshawn Lynch was “uncooperative” with media questioning. His answer to every question put to him was “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” One report said that he repeated that answer to 29 questions. That behavior leads me to several conclusions:

    Marshawn Lynch is not going to say anything interesting in these sorts of settings and so it is sort of stupid for the folks at Media Day not to realize that asking more questions after four or five identical responses from Lynch.

    The NFLPA – and the NFLPA – negotiated into the CBA a provision that would mandate player appearances at various press events. It seems clear that both sides recognized the benefits to the “NFL brand” if players became better known to the public and so the CBA codified standard media/player/coach interactions wherein players and coaches had to attend. If not, there was a fine for I guess what you would call “breach of contract”. Marshawn Lynch has demonstrated the fecklessness of that mandate.

    The “NFL brand” is not advanced by Lynch’s behavior; and when the “NFL brand” is not advanced, there is likely a deficit to both the league and to the players. The current structured and legalistic framework surrounding media interaction(s) with players and coaches demonstrates the significant limitations of the existing rules.

There is a real challenge for the NFL and the NFLPA here; and frankly, I am not sure that either side is up to the challenge. They need to modify these rules and regulations using common sense and good will as the framework for the new – and badly needed – reworked regulations. These two sides have tried the “one-size-fits-all” model and it clearly does not work. Here we have Marshawn Lynch at one end of the spectrum and in the recent past we had players like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco who never saw a camera they did not like. One size does not fit all. Adults ought to be able to recognize that. And so, the challenge for the NFL and the NFLPA also represents a test to see if there is any real adult supervision in either organization.

One more question about Media Day if I may:

    Given the juvenile sort of “look-at-me” behaviors on display (a man wearing a barrel and a black cowboy hat for example) and given the stupid and irrelevant questions asked by the people in attendance (what is Bill Belichick’s favorite puppet?) and given the spectacle of players dancing with “reporters”, who asks for a press credential to this mess and is denied one?

Honestly, the ghost of King Henry VIII – who would not know a damned thing about the NFL or American football – would be hard pressed to pose the dumbest question of the day. Moreover, do not get me started on the folks who paid $28.50 a piece to sit in the stands and watch goofs interview players and coaches. Next thing you know, those folks will pony up cash money to sit in an amphitheater and watch players and coaches eat a team meal. It’s just sad…

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times did not attend Media Day to come up with this observation but it could have been a line of questioning had he chosen to attend:

“Super Bowl injury update: Patriots QB Tom Brady (hurt feelings), probable.”

According to a report in the SF Chronicle, after Boston was selected by the USOC as the US city to bid for the 2024 Summer Games, Boston mayor, Marty Walsh signed an agreement with the USOC that bans City of Boston employees from making negative comments about the Olympic Games, the USOC or the process(es) involved in securing the games for Boston. Negative comments here are ones that might “reflect unfavorably upon, denigrate or disparage” the Olympic Games, the USOC and/or the IOC. As you might imagine, there are folks involved with organizations such as the ACLU who do not think that agreement is a very good idea…

All I can say is that it is a good thing I do not work for the City of Boston…

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News looked upon this agreement between the Boston mayor and the USOC from a different perspective:

“The mayor of Boston has signed an agreement banning city employees from speaking negatively about the Olympics.

“However, … sources say the agreement indicates it’s just fine to say any horrible thing they want about the Celtics.”

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

“Deflategate” Is A Conspiracy Theory

I have a new computer but still none of my old documents and information. I would guess there is a 10% chance that I will ever see any of that old info. So, here I go, starting from scratch.

You cannot possibly be any more tired of hearing about “Deflategate” than I am. Since I do not know what happened, I am not going to pretend that I do. What I would like to say here is that there are lessons for all of us when we are faced with stories of this kind and I would like to use the current “debate” to illustrate.

    Here is one sure way to tell if a story is really about a conspiracy theory and not just the events that triggered the story. In a conspiracy theory, the absence of evidence about some aspect of the story becomes proof of the conspiracy itself. Because Tom Brady did not say some specific thing at his news conference or because the NFL has not made the referee and other officials publicly available becomes part of the “proof” of a conspiracy. Not exactly Aristotelian-level logic there.

When someone says – as a talking head on ESPN or as a caller to a sports radio show – that such-and-such MUST have happened, there is an immediate follow-up question that has to happen. The question is:

    OK, if you are CERTAIN that such-and-such happened, then how did the perpetrators effect it?

The answer to that question has to be just as certain as the first assertion plus there has to be good objective evidence for how it all came about. Certainty is a very robust stance and when someone claims to KNOW what HAD TO HAPPEN, that person had also be ready to provide some specifics when facing follow-up questions.

ESPN New York reports that the Yankees are “devising legal arguments so Alex Rodriguez won’t be able to collect any of the bonuses he is owed per the $30 million ‘milestone home run’ marketing agreement he signed in 2007”. As I understand the contract, A-Rod can collect $6M each time he gets to a milestone along the way to the all-time home run record. The nearest of those milestones comes if he hits 6 more and ties Willie Mays for #4 on the all-time list. You can read the entire report here. Frankly, I think this makes it look as if the Yankees are sinking to A-Rod’s level. He and they signed a contract; neither side coerced the other to agree to the terms.

The new Commissioner of Baseball said that he is open to ideas for rules changes that would prevent teams from using “extreme defensive shifts”. I am not trying to nit-pick here, but this is not enough of a big deal that it qualifies as something the new Commish should jump to as soon as he takes office. I have no idea when “extreme defensive shifts” started in baseball, but I recall seeing teams use what was called the “Ted Williams Shift” back in the 1950s. Perhaps that was the origin of shifting; perhaps it goes back a lot further than that; I will leave that to baseball historians. I guess one could argue that by limiting defensive shifts the amount of scoring would increase in baseball. The problem with that simplistic view is that if nothing else materially changes, increased scoring will necessarily have to increase the length of games and the games are already long enough thank you very much.

Personally, I think the best way to defeat an “extreme shift” is for left-handed hitters to learn to lay down a solid bunt that will end up in the vicinity of where a third baseman would normally play. It would not take a jillion of those events to convince managers to put players in more “normal defensive positions”. I do not want to jump all over the new Commish and draw any wide-ranging negative conclusions about him from this one early statement. So, I will chalk this one up to him trying to do something to keep MLB in the sports conversation while the majority of the focus in the US is on the impending Super Bowl game.

One other thing about MLB is interesting at this moment. The folks who are in charge of MLB have named a new Chairman of the MLB Finance Committee. Normally, that would be no big deal but in this case the new Chairman is Fred Wilpon – the owner of the NY Mets. Recall that Wilpon was a “major investor” with Bernie Madoff and basically lost his shirt in that Ponzi scheme. I recall reading one estimate that he might have been into the investment club to the tune of $300M. Assume that number is the right order of magnitude and then realize that this guy is now in charge of the MLB Finance Committee… What could possibly go wrong?

One last baseball item… The Nats’ acquisition of Max Scherzer took a starting rotation that was as good as any in baseball and made it clearly the best starting rotation in baseball. The Nats now have 6 quality starting pitchers; most teams do not have three. Nevertheless, I do not think this acquisition will scratch the itch for Nats’ fans. Consider:

    The Nats have had the best team in the NL East by a wide margin for the last two years. They waltzed into the playoffs.

    In the playoffs, they have laid eggs and they have been ostrich-sized eggs.

    Nats’ fans – many of whom are bandwagon-hopping front runners – want to see the team in the World Series.

    A six-man starting rotation is not of great use in a playoff scenario.

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

Finally, The Mueller Report

The NFL hired former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, to investigate what happened within the NFL such that the league botched the handling of the “Ray Rice Affair” so badly. That was about 4 months ago which seems to me to have been a supremely protracted length of time. Finally, The Mueller Report is finished and delivered.

Please recall when this story was fresh, I said that if Roger Goodell was telling the truth about never having seen or known about the “inside the elevator video” of the “Ray Rice Affair”, then the folks in charge of NFL Security and whoever was in charge of this specific investigative task needed to be fired immediately. According to The Mueller Report:

“We found no evidence that anyone at the NFL had or saw the in-elevator video before it was publicly shown. We also found no evidence that a woman at the NFL acknowledged receipt of that video in a voicemail message on April 9, 2014.”

Let me deconstruct that statement for a moment and assume that what it says is true because indeed no one at the NFL did have or did see the in-elevator video prior to TMZ springing it on the public consciousness.

    1. NFL Security – by reputation a paragon in its field – has more than just feet of clay. The reason no one in the NFL had or saw the in-elevator video is because the folks in NFL Security did not figure out how to get it. TMZ figured that out so it probably was not exactly equivalent to untying the Gordian Knot.

    2. There were stories of a reporter – or reporters, I really do not recall if it was singular or plural – hearing a voicemail message from a female who called from an NFL telephone number saying that they had received said video. If The Mueller Report is accurate, someone went to elaborate means to concoct a forgery of a message. The reporter(s) for that story need now to come forth to demonstrate the level of veracity of their report based on the credibility of their source(s). If this was a hoax, it was an elaborate one indeed.

The above deconstruction focuses specifically on the quotation taken from The Mueller Report. No one should generalize from my comments here to assume that I find Roger Goodell or any other NFL employees exonerated by the findings. In fact, no report can possibly be written by anyone on the planet that might explain away the following logic chain:

    Originally we all saw a video of an elevator door opening and Ray Rice standing over the unconscious body of a woman later identified as his then-fiancée with no other folks exiting the elevator. Immediately, I concluded one of three situations obtained:

      1. She was conscious getting on the elevator and passed out during the descent to the ground floor.
      2. She was conscious getting on the elevator and he rendered her unconscious during the descent to the ground floor.
      3. She was unconscious prior to getting on the elevator meaning she had been dragged/carried onto the elevator in that state and some kind of investigation as to how she found herself in that circumstance needed to be done.

It turns out that #2 is indeed the case now that we have seen the in-elevator video…

However, if someone with even a meager background in investigations at NFL Security saw only what I saw, the implications presented by #2 and #3 above would have to have sparked a sense of awareness that this situation might just turn out to be a steaming pile of equine ordure. Now, with that heightened sense of potential “problems” I would think that a trained, focused and savvy investigator would have made sure that the full expertise of the elite investigative unit that is NFL Security was brought to bear on this matter. Evidently, not…

Not only did the first person in NFL Security to run across the original reports seemingly shrug his shoulders and move on to the next issue; it would also seem that as the first few days of the awareness of Janay Palmer Rice exiting that elevator in a comatose state no one else in NFL Security or anyone else in a position of influence in the NFL thought this was any kind of big deal. They did not have much in front of them – other than a completely unconscious woman in the company of an NFL player – but they did not throw it into high gear to find out what had happened here.

The Mueller Report says that the NFL knew a little something soon after the outside video had hit the streets. The NFL had a copy of the summons written by the local police and that summons report said that Ray Rice had struck Janay Palmer with his hand and that led to her unconscious state. Still, no one at 345 Park Ave in NYC screamed something akin to:

“Holy domestic abuse, Batman, this could become a PR nightmare!!”

Not only did everyone in NFL HQs go about their business and ignore what everyone else saw, the league and the security folks who nominally keep the league safe from all manner of evil-doers did not do any of the following:

    Contact the local police who wrote that summons report
    Contact the local prosecutor’s office who might be handling this matter
    Contact the casino security folks who might have more info

Moreover, as time passed and as the local prosecutor was contemplating some kind of action against Ray Rice, Rice’s attorneys were given copies of the in-elevator video as part of the discovery proceedings. Seemingly, the league did not know that ever happened and it never asked either Rice or his attorneys anything about the existence of an in-elevator video let alone to see a copy of the video they had in their possession.

OK, so Rice and his attorneys could have stonewalled the league and conjured up reasons to keep that information from the league as a way to protect Rice’s future economic interests. However, The Mueller Report says that the Baltimore Ravens had been in contact with the local authorities and the Ravens were given:

“…a detailed description of the in-elevator video [by a local police official]… The Ravens did not volunteer that information to the league.”

Well, of course the Ravens did not divulge that information to the NFL. Ray Rice was the #1 RB on their depth chart and Roger Goodell was/is the league’s “Disciplinarian-in-Chief”; it was in the best interests of the Ravens’ brass to keep this under wraps as much as possible. But according to The Mueller Report, the NFL was less than dogged in asking the Ravens what all they might know about the incident.

What the NFL did was to conduct an investigation that you would praise if you called it “junior varsity”. I said this before and I will repeat it here:

    Heads must roll in NFL Security and heads must roll in any and all departments tangentially related to the incident where no one questioned the lack of information and insight coming from NFL Security.

What seems clear to me now is that someone – or some ones – along mahogany row in the NFL decided early on that the NFL did not want to know exactly what happened in that elevator and so there would be no impetus given to the folks in NFL Security to get to the bottom of this mess. If The Mueller Report is correct in saying that the NFL never had or saw that in-elevator video, it almost certainly has to be the case that the NFL never really wanted to see it and therefore never expended much effort to get it.

And speaking of not expending a lot of effort to get hold of some critical information, I can find no reference to any of the investigators involved in The Mueller Report busting their butts trying to get information from the guy who claims he sent that copy of the in-elevator video to the NFL. If the investigators can find no record of it ever reaching the NFL by examining the NFL’s records, would not a prudent next step be to find the guy who says he sent it to the NFL and report on what he has to say?

The Mueller Report as I read it does not exonerate Roger Goodell in this matter except to confirm his assertion that at the time he issued the 2-game suspension to Ray Rice for the Atlantic City assault, he had not seen the in-elevator video. The problem is that he had ample opportunity to have had more information at his disposal – to include the in-elevator video – if the folks who work for him had done their jobs efficiently and effectively. They did not and when that happens some of the fault for that nonfeasance has to reside with the guy in charge.

Roger Goodell has said more than once that the league made mistakes in its investigation of the Ray Rice Affair. The Mueller Report confirms that statement in spades. The question for the NFL now seems to take the league on two different paths:

    1. The league moves on to another Commissioner and the new guy/gal domes in with a mandate to change the foundations of NFL Security and to give it an entirely new structure, charge and leadership.

    2. The league sticks with Roger Goodell – mainly based on his demonstrated ability to increase league revenues for the owners and secondarily for the players – but it forces him to make significant personnel changes both in NFL Security and along NFL mahogany row.

Make no mistake; if major changes in personnel and in the way things are reported and tasked within the NFL do not happen as a result of The Mueller Report, this is going to happen again. If the Ray Rice Affair was uncomfortable and smarmy, it will look like a glimpse of Nirvana once the next issue of this kind breaks if the NFL reacts in the same way.
Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot had this terse but cogent summation of The Mueller Report and the events surrounding it:

“See no evil: To no one’s surprise, an independent investigator says there is no evidence that the NFL saw the elevator video of Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancée. I guess there’s no way to prove the NFL didn’t want to see it.”

In addition, here is how Greg Cote of the Miami Herald summarized The Mueller Report:

“An independent investigation found NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was not aware of the Ray Rice video when meting out his initial punishment. Which sort of means Goodell was both exonerated and called incompetent at the same time.”

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

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………