An Untimely Injury …

DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins tore his Achilles tendon in a game last week; it will require surgery and his season is surely done.  History is not on Cousins’ side here; NBA players coming back from Achilles tendon surgery tend not to return to their pre-surgery levels of play.  I recall back in the Dark Ages that the Sixers had a power forward, Luscious Jackson.  He was about 6’ 8” tall and could jump as if he were on a pogo stick.  He tore his Achilles tendon and when he tried to come back the next season, he could barely dunk a basketball.

Therein lies the challenge for Cousins.  The Achilles tendon is integral to the process of jumping and – no shocker here – jumping is integral to basket all.  You can read the above and say to yourself that surgical procedures have advanced since the Dark Ages and so have rehab training methods and you would be absolutely correct.  Nevertheless, if you look at the play of Elton Brand before his Achilles tendon injury and after his rehab, you might not recognize the fact that it was the same person.

I really hope Cousins can make it back; he seemed this year to have put behind him his on-court melt-downs; moreover, he and Anthony Davis seemed to have worked out a way for the two of them to play together constructively at the same time.  When Cousins first arrived in New Orleans, he and Davis were on the court together, but it took them time to figure out how to add to one another’s game.  That seemed to be coming together for Cousins, Davis and the Pelicans this year; at the moment, they are 7th in the West standings with a record of 27-22.  The Pelicans have only made the playoffs once in the last six years; they have a 2-game cushion as of this morning to be in the playoffs this year; making it there without “Boogie” Cousins will be a challenge.

Adding insult to injury – so to speak – Cousins’ contract with the Pelicans is up at the end of this season.  He will be an unrestricted free agent at age 27 having made $18M this year.  Absent this injury, teams would surely be offering maximum contracts for his services; when free agency for the NBA is at its peak, Cousins will not be anywhere near the point where he can show what his future play might look like.

XFL 2.0 continues to have a simmering presence in sports news.  Given the fact that this will be owned and operated by Vince McMahon who made his money promoting pro ‘rassling, I guess it should not be a shock to see him finding ways to keep his new operation in the public eye.  McMahon answered questions at his formal announcement of XFL 2.0 and it led me to continue to think about what things XFL 2.0 might do to build a following.  Earlier this month, I have made some suggestions along that line here and again here.  So, let me now continue that discussion.

In his remarks at the unveiling of XFL 2.0, McMahon went out of his way to say that players in the new league would be high character folks and that anyone with a criminal record need not apply.  He seemed to say – although I did not hear him say it directly – that even an arrest for something like a DWI might be disqualifying.  I prefer to think of myself as a person who supports and upholds the principle of abiding by the law, but I wonder why the emphasis on that subject at this point in the league’s incubation.  In addition, I have to wonder where the “crime line” is drawn:

  • On the assumption that a DWI conviction would be disqualifying, how about a conviction – or a guilty plea – to reckless driving with no impairment?
  • How about a speeding ticket?
  • How about a parking ticket scofflaw with a hundred outstanding violations?

McMahon is right to a large extent to set standards of behavior for his new league and let me offer praise for his setting a positive standard.  However, I hope he does not have to walk that back too publicly or very quickly because that would cast a negative aura on the league as a whole.

The NFL’s competitors have been incubators of innovation; the NFL itself has tended to be a “buttoned-up entity” where there is a standard way to do things and almost everyone sorta knows what that is and behaves accordingly.  This comes off the top of my head with exactly no research but:

  • Teams in the AFL “invented” the 3-4 defense.
  • The AFL was the league that put player names on the backs of uniforms.
  • The USFL introduced the concept of a salary cap and a coach’s challenge.
  • The USFL adopted the 2-point conversion into pro football.

Not all innovation is good.  I have often described certain changes as the Great Leap Sideways or even the Great Leap Backwards as was the case when the XFL decided to jettison the coin toss at the beginning of a game in favor of a “mad scramble” for a loose football on the field.  I do hope that XFL 2.0 comes up with positive changes – – like the Sky Cam that came from the old XFL – – and that the NFL keeps an open mind toward adopting positive changes.

McMahon said there would be no cheerleaders in XFL 2.0.  Congratulations to him for that.  Let me be clear; I am not saying that because of the changes society is undergoing as a result of #MeToo.  I do not say this because I am newly aware of the malevolence associated with objectifying women; to be sure, I enjoy seeing attractive young women on my TV screen.  My reason for applauding the lack of cheerleaders is far less noble; it is based in pragmatism:

  • Cheerleaders at pro football games serve exactly NO purpose.  They do not now, and they never have led the spectators in cheers.  Get them outta here!

Another point made during the announcement of XFL 2.0 was that McMahon wanted to package the game such that it could fit into a 2-hour TV time window.  That will be challenging but he did offer the idea that there might not be a halftime break in XFL 2.0 games.  That is an idea worth considering.  I am pretty sure that football halftime breaks were not mandated in the footnotes to the Ten Commandments on the backs of the tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai.

It will be interesting to see how XFL 2.0 approaches the question of taking players who are not 3-years removed from their high school graduation.  Currently, the NFL does not make them eligible for the draft or for signing as free agents.  That feature of the current CBA “consigns” those players to college football.  That helps college football; that helps many of the players too because it gives them time to build up their bodies to the point that they will be able to compete against adult men at the NFL level.  It also means that under current circumstances, those players do not earn anything for playing football for their first three years out of high school.  XFL 2.0 might provide an economic alternative for some players and that economic competition with collegiate programs – not the NFL – might restructure college football as we know it.

I think it is too easy to look back on the failure of the XFL and to view Vince McMahon as a huckster because of his link to pro ‘rassling, but that is simplistic.  There is the potential for XFL 2.0 to succeed and for XFL 2.0 to make mark on the sporting landscape of the US.  It might also crash and burn like the Hindenburg.  I am going to try to be open-minded and analytical about the evolution of XFL 2.0.

Finally, here is a comment from Brad Dickson of the Omaha-World-Herald about the potential of a college football player:

“Nebraska got a commitment from junior college wide receiver Mike Williams. With hard work, he has a chance to become one of the top 25 all-time football wide receivers named ‘Mike Williams’.”

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