The Future Of The Philadelphia 76ers …

Today, I want to talk about the Sixers, James Harden and Joel Embiid.  Once again, the Sixers lost in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to the Miami Heat notwithstanding their acquisition of James Harden in February.  If you want to be a Sixers’ apologist, you can write this playoff exit off on an injury suffered by Embiid in the final game of the first round of the playoffs; he missed the first two games of series with the Heat and played after that with a “broken face”.  That discussion would not be particularly interesting to me because I think the more interesting point here is the future of the Sixers with or without James Harden.

You may recall that I was skeptical about the value of this trade from the Sixers’ point of view at the time of the transaction.  Here is the link to my rant at that time.  Much of what I wrote then has come to pass.

Now, comes the kicker – – Harden’s contract.  Technically, the contract will be up when the NBA playoffs end but Harden has a player option for one more year at $47M per year.  So, the NBA future for James Harden boils down to three possibilities:

  1. He exercises his player’s option and is part of the Sixers’ team next season making $47M.
  2. He and the Sixers agree to a long-term “super-max deal” which according to the terms of the current CBA would be something like 5 years and a total of $275M.
  3. He does not exercise his player’s option and puts himself out on the open free agent market seeking to find the best deal available to him.

I did not like the deal that brought Harden to the Sixers in the first place; the team is now in a situation where they can make it a lot worse if they choose to do so.  The way for the team to “make it a lot worse” is to achieve Option 2 above.  James Harden will be 33 years old before the next NBA season begins; he is not a “great athlete” and never was; his career arc is peaked at best if not already on the downslope.  If the Sixers sign him to anything like the “super-max deal” – or even any sort of lower priced 5-year deal – they will come to regret that choice.  In Wall Street terms, James Harden is a wasting asset.

Do not mistake what I have been saying here; James Harden is still a good player and potentially a significant contributor in the NBA.  He is not worth, however, $50M even for one year and he will not be worth even half of that number 5 years from now.

The optimal outcome for the Sixers would probably be for Harden to exercise that player’s option such that the team can try to get a full season of “the best of what is left of James Harden” and then part with him saying “Vaya con Dios” as he moves on to whatever future endeavors are there for him.  There is something standing in the way for that to happen because, for that to happen, Harden and the Sixers will have to have unproductive and potentially oppositional negotiations for a “super-max deal” and those sorts of talks do not usually play out well in the future.  To use a phrase from the old Laurel and Hardy films, this is “another fine mess” that needs to be sorted out.

And what of Joel Embiid in all of this?  As a viewer of NBA games, I see Joel Embiid at a very different place on the players’ spectrum than James Harden.  Harden is an offensive player; he can score, and he can assist others in their scoring; meanwhile, Harden is a liability on defense.  I do not read minds so I do not know if he cannot play defense or if he will not play defense.  That is a procedural distinction if you want to make it; the outcome after one determines which route is correct is the same; James Harden plays no defense and gives up points aplenty.

Joel Embiid can score too; he averaged 29.8 points per game this season.  Embiid also rebounds and is a good shot blocker on defense; he is not particularly adept at assisting teammates.  Last season was his best year in terms of assists where he averaged 4.2 assists per game.  Embiid is only 28 years old; barring injury, he has plenty of future in the NBA ahead of him; last season, he was a serious candidate for league MVP.  Joel Embiid is a “foundation piece” for an NBA franchise but to be in a serious position to play for a league championship, a single outstanding player is not enough.

On the surface, it would appear as if the Sixers tried to get Embiid a “star player” as his running buddy when they traded for Harden.  If you look only at Harden’s historical offensive numbers, that was a decent gamble.  But now there is reality to face, and the reality is that Joel Embiid is still in a “go-it-alone” situation in a league where teams seek to build a “Big Three” on their roster.

So, let me amend the three options above where I said that the worst Sixers option would be to sign James Harden to a “super-max deal”.  There is a happenstance that is worse:

  • The Sixers sign Harden to a “super-max deal” and then…
  • Joel Embiid realizes that he is not going to sniff a championship on a team that has assigned all that cap space to James Harden and Embiid finagles his way out of Philly.

Before any Sixers’ fans accuse me of being Chicken Little here, let me just say two words here:

  • Charles … Barkley.

Finally, let me close today with a comment from humorist Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World-News:

“The world’s oldest person has died at age 119. You know, I’m starting to feel like the title is cursed.”

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



Strange MLB Happening Yesterday…

I have a bunch of things on my  clipboard for this morning, but I choose to start with an unusual happening in MLB yesterday.  Two pitchers for the Cincinnati Reds combined to throw 8 no-hit innings – – and the Reds lost the game.  The score was 0 – 0 in the bottom of the 8th when the Pirates loaded the bases on 3 walks.  With one out, the Pirates’ hitter bounced a ball to second base that should have been an inning-ending double play, but the shortstop bobbled the toss from the second baseman and the batter beat the throw to first.  That 1-0 score held up in the top of the 9th inning – – so the Reds pitched a no-hitter and lost the game; that does not happen often…

Bad things happen to bad teams and – make no mistake – the 2022 Reds are a bad team.  They started the season 3-22 in their first 25 games.  That projects to a final record of 19-143 for a season.  That is the sort of record that smacks of the 1899 Cleveland Spiders who went 20-134 in MLB’s previous 154-game season.

The Reds have “gotten hot” after that start winning 6 of their last 10 games to post a record of 6-26 as of this morning.  For the record, that projects to a season-ending record of 30-132.  That is about halfway between the Spiders’ showing in 1899 and the “modern standard for futility” set by the 1962 NY Mets who finished the year at 40-120-1.

Fans in Cincy would be in the right if they got very mad with the team.  Last year, the Reds finished over .500; they did not seriously threaten to make the playoffs, but they finished with a better record than 9 of the teams in the National League; in fact, if the playoffs in the NL had been expanded to 6 teams, the Reds would have been the “last team in”.  So, what did the Reds do in the off-season?

  • They dumped salary; they let free agents walk; they acquired prospects and draft picks.
  • Then they put this current squad on the field from day to day.

Recall the problems and issues with game attendance last year for MLB with the COVID pandemic ebbing and flowing.  With that in mind, it is not surprising at all that MLB is looking at a surge in attendance at its games in 2022; in fact, as of this morning only one team in all of MLB  (the Rangers) shows a decline in home attendance year-over-year.  However, the Reds’ year-over-year comparison puts them down in the lower rungs of the MLB ladder along with the perennially attendance challenged teams such as the Marlins, Rays, A’s and Pirates.  In 14 home dates, the Reds are averaging 16,899 fans per game.

The Reds’ team president – coincidentally the son of the majority owner of the team – did an interview with one of the Reds’ local “broadcast partners” about the upcoming season and addressed the team’s off-season economic decisions this way:

“Well, where are you going to go?  Let’s start there.  I mean, sell the team to who?  That’s the other thing — you want to have this debate?  If you want to look at, what would you do with this team to have it be more profitable, make more money, compete more in the current economic system that this game exists?  It would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else.  And so be careful what you ask for.”

Cincy is not one of the “big-market teams”; that is for sure.  However, that statement could easily sound like noblesse oblige to Reds’ fans thinking about coming out to see the team play on any given Wednesday night.  Sounds to me as if he just said that no one is out there looking to buy the team even if it were for sale and then if someone bought it, they would probably want to move it.  I think the fans’ response to all that would be along the lines of:

  • “ … and the horse you rode in on.”

By the way, Reds’ fans are not the only ones who are “less that pleased” with the ownership/management of their local heroes.  A couple of years ago, more than 50,000 Pirates’ fans signed a petition urging the current owner there – Robert Nutting – to sell the team.  Through the first 18 home dates, the Pirates drew and average of only 11,851 fans to what I believe is the best baseball venue in MLB.  [Disclaimer:  I have not been to all 30 of the current MLB parks but I have been to more of them than not.]

Moving on…  reports surfaced over the weekend that there could be a players’ strike in the CFL.  The players union and the league engaged in 16 hours of bargaining last week but could not reach an agreement.  The union notified players not to participate in training camp activities that are about to begin for the CFL; players on 7 of the 9 teams are expected to follow that directive; the other two teams are located in Alberta where provincial labor laws require additional steps before workers can officially strike.  Reports say that the players for those two teams are expected to join the work stoppage as soon as those hurdles are crossed.

This is not good news for the CFL.  Reports over the weekend seemed to try to paint the situation in the best light saying that the two sides “are not that far apart.”  That may be true; I have no way to confirm or deny that  statement.  However, I can say with confidence that the two sides are sufficiently apart that the union is calling for a players’ strike.  So, what is left to be done is more than editing and proofreading the final agreement document.

The CFL has had financial stability problems ever since ethe onset of the pandemic.  The league lost an entire season of play and the league sought – but did not get – a hefty capital infusion from the national government in Canada.  So, for the moment things do not look rosy for the league.

As I understand it, the league proposed a 10-year agreement that would not have increased the team salary cap over the life of the agreement.  Knowing exactly nothing about the financials for the 9 CFL teams, that sounds like an outrageous proposal that could not be ceded to by the union.  On the other hand, the fact that it was deemed sufficiently defendable by some of the league negotiators could easily speak to the economic fragility of the league.

One other issue in the negotiations involves something I was unaware of until reading about it here.  The CFL has something called The Game Rule Ratio; notwithstanding the roster make-up of any team, that team may dress 46 players for each game with the following restrictions:

  • Minimum of 21 “national players”  (not exactly but closely translates to “Canadian players”)
  • Maximum of 20 American players
  • Maximum of 2 QBs of any designation
  • Minimum of 2 “Global players”.

The original proposal from the CFL would have removed this rule – – and given the numbers of US football players at the professional and collegiate levels as opposed to Canadian football players at similar levels, that would make the CFL potentially a lot less “Canadian”.

Finally, apropos of nothing, let me close today with a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Job:  Your punishment for not winning the lottery.”

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



Phoenix Rising From The Ashes …?

Take your mind back to the Fall of 2018.  Things were in place for a potentially heartwarming story to unfold – – maybe even as heartwarming as the old Jack Armstrong All-American Boy radio shows.  Screenplay writers at Disney were probably poised to immortalize all this in a biopic.  Let me summarize what was in place.

  • In 1997, Scott Frost was the QB for Nebraska and they won the national championship that year.
  • Frost had an uneventful NFL career and began a coaching career in 2007 as the linebackers coach at Northern Iowa.  It may indeed be a long way to Tipperary, but it is an even longer way from the college football national championship to linebackers coach at Northern Iowa.
  • Frost had success as an assistant and then as offensive coordinator at Oregon during and after the Chip Kelly years there.
  • Meanwhile, UCF Football had been doing well under George O’Leary, but the wheels came off the wagon in 2015.  The Golden Knights posted an 0-12 record and O’Leary was fired in mid-season.  Frost took over the UCF program in 2016.
  • In 2017 – just two years after going 0-12 – UCF had an undefeated season at 13-0.  Some folks thought they should be in the CFP and when they were not invited some folks simply declared UCF as the national champions.
  • Meanwhile about 1200 miles away in Lincoln, NE, the Husker’s program was no longer “in the mix” for conference championships let alone national championships.  Bo Pelini had won 9 or 10 games a year but then played in minor bowl games; he was replaced by Mike Riley who went 19-19 over three seasons.
  • Scott Frost – All-American Boy – got the call to come home to alma mater to “change the culture” and thereby restore glory to Nebraska football.  The screenwriters at Disney must have been salivating at the prospects.

I suspect any ardor that existed in the screenwriting community in 2018 has dissipated by now because the Scott Frost Era at Nebraska has been a step down from Mike Riley’s years with a break-even record.  Since taking over at Nebraska, Frost’s teams are 15-29 over 4 seasons and last year they had the worst record – – 3-9 – – for any Nebraska team since 1957.  That was 64 years ago for everyone keeping score at home.

That would a sufficiently sour ending to the story as a standalone.  But it gets worse.  The super sleuths at the NCAA have determined that Frost was violating NCAA rules and have slapped Nebraska with penalties for those violations.  At the bottom line, Frost and his team were breaking rules and still managed to lose about twice as many games as they won. 

            Here is a link to a report outlining what the violations were and what the penalties are.  If there is a screenwriter out there who is still hoping to score big on this story, I suspect that (s)he is now thinking along the lines of a story where Scott Frost is a living symbol of the Phoenix who rises from the catastrophe of the ashes to bring glory back to Saturday afternoons in Lincoln, NE.

Moving on …  There is an adage on Wall Street that when something happens for a first time, that is an event.  If it happens a second time, that is a coincidence.  If it happens a third time, that is a trend.  Please do not focus on counter-examples here because I want to argue that the Philadelphia Eagles, the Detroit Lions and the Houston Texans must hope that the following is not a trend:

  1. Henry Ruggs III played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Raiders.  He was released by the Raiders after a fatal car accident where he stands accused of being drunk and driving at over 100 mph in Las Vegas.
  2. Calvin Ridley played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Falcons.  He has been suspended from the NFL for at least all of the 2022 season for betting on NFL games in 2021 while he was injured and not playing.
  3. Jerry Jeudy played WR at Alabama and was drafted by the Broncos in the first round of the NFL Draft.  He was recently arrested and faces charges involving domestic violence.

So,  you ask why the Eagles, Lions and Texans hope that is not a trend?  Consider:

  • Devonta Smith played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round by the Eagles…
  • Jameson Williams played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the first round by the Lions…
  • John Mitchie III played WR at Alabama and was drafted in the second round by the Texans…

Finally, here are two observations from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times regarding sports memorabilia/collectables:

“Todd Brock, a private equity investor from Houston, sold Tiger Woods’ Titleist 681-T iron set from his Tiger Slam in 2000-01 for $5,156,162 at Golden Age Auctions, a record for golf memorabilia.

“That’s what’s known as reaching the green.”

And …

“The $518,000 sale of the football thrown for Tom Brady’s “final” NFL touchdown pass — whose value plummeted when Brady changed his mind about retiring — has been voided by mutual agreement between the parties.

“In short, it was ruled incomplete.”

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



Tom Brady’s Retirement Plans

I plan to take a break from the recent trend here – – commenting on either criminal or anti-social behaviors in the sports world – – because I was more than a bit surprised to read yesterday about Tom Brady’s retirement plan(s).  Brady will be back at QB for the Bucs this year and may indeed be plying his trade in the NFL beyond this season; there was no announcement as to when his retirement would begin.  However, when it does begin, Tom Brady’s new career will be with FOX as the lead NFL analyst.

Frankly, that alone surprised me,  Obviously, Brady knows NFL football and is as tuned into the “Xs and Os” of the game as anyone.  The reason I am surprised is that Brady never came across to me as being nearly as comfortable behind a microphone as he was behind a center on the field.  Even accounting for the wide range of emotional swings a player must feel after a win or a loss, I usually had the impression that Brady would rather have been almost anywhere else than fulfilling his obligation in a post-game Q&A.

Obviously, I was wrong about that.  If he indeed did not like press interactions, he surely would not have signed up to do that for a significant part of his eventual retirement years.

And that brings me to the part of the story that really shocked me.  According to reports, when Brady begins his work with FOX, his contract will extend for 10 years and has a total value of $375M.  It was only a couple of years ago that CBS paid Tony Romo the “outrageous sum” of $18M per year to be the CBS lead NFL analyst.  As various other people in similar roles had their existing contracts expire, all of them sought to get a deal that included what came to be called “Tony Romo Money”.  Some succeeded and some did not…

Now comes the announcement of a deal which is a little more than double the yearly salary of “Tony Romo Money”.  In economic terms, I think it is fair to say that the market has moved to a new level.

I am also surprised about this deal from the FOX perspective.  Granted, Tom Brady is a huge catch for any network that signs him; I need not recite his football bona fides here; if you have read this far, you already know them.  He has won more Super Bowls (seven) than any franchise has won in franchise history.  When a network has Brady and his credentials on their air, they set a standard.

Having said that, I keep coming back to something I have said about announcers and sideline reporters in the past:

  • I do not believe that anyone ever tuned into a game mainly because of who was on the microphone for that game.
  • Conversely, I do believe that some announcers/analysts can be sufficiently annoying that viewers may tune out – – or at least mute the telecast.

People will tune into see what is an important game – and/or one that is billed as a pivotal game in a season – – no matter who the announcing team might be.  I have announcing teams that I greatly prefer as comparted to others, but there is no network announcing team that is so bad that I would forego watching an important game.  I might mute the telecast if the announcers became sufficiently annoying, but that is about it.

[Aside:  I am trying to think of an imaginary announcing team that would make me hit the mute button early in the first quarter of an NFL game.  Best I can come up with now is Alan Alda on play-by-play with Rachel Maddow as the analyst.  Rambling play-by-play followed by being lectured to by the analyst would probably get me on the mute button quickly…]

Let me be clear; I do not think Tom Brady will be anywhere near “sufficiently annoying that viewers choose to tune out of games on FOX”.  At the same time, I cannot understand how he can possibly be so outstanding that he will increase the numbers of viewers for games on FOX nearly to the extent that those added viewers might allow FOX to recoup even 50% of the $375M they will pay him.

Perhaps, there is some commitment in this deal that Brady will also be doing some “studio work” for FOX in the off-season aligned with some programming on FS1 or FS2.  If that is the case, Brady’s presence could indeed add to the ratings for the program that has him there offering insights and opinions; but even in that circumstance, I find it hard to see how it might add anything close to $375M to the coffers at FOX.

Allow me to presume to give the suits at FOX a bit of advice.  Obviously, once Brady has retired for good, they will work with him and with his on-air partner to “develop chemistry” between the two.  I am sure they will call existing games to hone their skills as a team and that there will be analysis and critique during and after those “rehearsals”.  Here is the advice:

  • Please help Tom Brady recognize when the best thing he can do is to be quiet and let the events/happenings on the screen speak for themselves.

Tom Brady knows football as well as anyone.  Once he relaxes in his new position, he is likely to be a font of information for viewers – – as are his counterparts as lead analysts for various networks.  If he can develop what I call “The Art of Shutting Up” he might become the GOAT of TV analysts as well as the GOAT of NFL QBs.

Finally, since today has been about sports on television, let me close with this view of television by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith:

“There is an insistent tendency among serious social scientists to think of any institution which features rhymed and singing commercials, intense and lachrymose voices urging highly improbable enjoyment, caricatures of the human esophagus in normal or impaired operation, and which hints implausibly at opportunities for antiseptic seduction as inherently trivial.  This is a great mistake.  The industrial system is profoundly dependent on commercial television and could not exist in its present form without it.”

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



Bad Behavior – – Tennis Style

Today, I have the opportunity to bring together two themes for a rant.  In honor of a former colleague who has wondered why I do Football Friday in the Fall but never Tennis Tuesday, he should note that today’s rant comes on a Tuesday and will be exclusively about tennis.  In addition, I can continue the recent these of commenting on bad/criminal behavior by folks associated with the sports world.  So, this could be labeled Tennis Tuesday brought to you by some Tennis Bad Boys.

Let me start with a report I read last week that six players have received bans from tennis after a court in Spain found them guilty of match-fixing and convicted them on criminal charges.  The International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) made this announcement and proclaimed that these players represented “one of the most significant infiltrations of tennis by organized crime that we have seen.”

The bans from tennis for these players range from 7 years to 22 years.  Four of the six banned players were unranked but two held a minimal ranking:

  • Marc Fornel Mestres was ranked as high as 236th in the world
  • Jorge Marse Vidri was ranked as high as 562nd in the world.

Mestres received the 22-year ban; Vidri received a 15-year ban; three of the unranked players also received a 15-year ban and one of the unranked players received the 7-year ban.  The banishment means that these six players cannot  play in or even attend any “tennis event authorized or sanctioned by any international tennis governing body or national association for the length of their bans.”  Moreover, none of the six are allowed to coach any other professional players.  There are suspended prison sentences involved here also which could be enforced if any of these players runs afoul of the law into the future.

Based on remarks from senior officials in the ITIA, this investigation has been ongoing for about 5 years and more than one senior official referred to organized crime infiltrating the sport of tennis.  That being the case, it must mean that in some parts of the world there is a relatively large betting handle on very minor tennis matches.  It makes no sense to me that organized crime bosses are trying to fix matches involving unranked players for the fun of it, but it also makes little sense to me that lots of money could be wagered on such a tennis match making a so-called betting coup worth the time and effort.  I guess I must admit that I am dead wrong about that second part…

Here is a link to the ITIA website with the details of the convictions here.  These guys were very active – and somewhat creative – in their nefarious activities.

In other news about a “Tennis Bad Boy”, three-time Wimbledon champion, Boris Becker, has been sentenced to jail and has begun his incarceration.  Becker was convicted in the UK of four counts based on the British Insolvency Act.  Apparently, just before declaring bankruptcy about 5 years ago, Becker intentionally moved and attempted to hide “millions of pounds worth of assets to avoid playing them to his debtors.”  Becker is 54 years old; he attempted to hide two Wimbledon Trophies as assets in his possession from the court.  That indicates to me that Boris Becker is an unlikely MENSA candidate.

Becker had a very successful but tumultuous career.  In one tournament, he got so angry at the umpire that he spat at the umpire; he battled addictions to sleeping pills and alcohol.  At one point, he became a tabloid favorite when he supposedly had a tryst with a model in a broom closet at a London restaurant.  He has been married three times and divorced twice leading one to assume that a lot of his wealth was lost in those divorce actions.  He also has been convicted of tax evasion in Germany and now of trying to cheat the insolvency court.

Boris Becker led a “jet-set life”; he is now in a facility called HMP Wandsworth which is described as follows:

“… a crumbling, vermin-infested Victorian jail.”

HMP Wandsworth in in South West London and is described as one of the most overcrowded prisons in England.  A report in January 2022 about conditions there paints a picture that is the antithesis of a “jet-set life”.  Here is a link to that report.

Dwight Perry had a comment on the matter in the Seattle Times about a week ago:

“Tennis great Boris Becker was sentenced to 2½ years in an English prison for illicitly transferring large amounts of money and hiding assets after he was declared bankrupt.

“Sounds like Boris had quite a racket going.”

The last tennis item for today involves a decision by the folks who run Wimbledon to ban Russian players from this year’s tournament because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  That is virtue-signaling on steroids.  None of the Russian tennis players who might have qualified for Wimbledon is part of the Russian War Machine; punishing Vladimir Putin and his cronies and punishing Russian military folks who are part of the actual invasion makes perfect sense; punishing Daniil Medvedev makes little sense.

Maybe they are enforcing that Wimbledon banishment because they cannot put Vladimir Putin in that ”crumbling, vermin-infested Victorian jail”…

Finally, let me close today with a joke about tennis that my father used to enjoy telling:

  • Q:  Why should you never fall in love with a tennis player?
  • A:  Because “love” means nothing to them…

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



Bad Behavior – – NFL Style

Once again, my clipboard is populated with items related to allegations of crimes or sociopathic behaviors on the part of people in the sports world.  We are in the latter stages of the COVID pandemic, but it seems that there is an anti-social behavior pandemic raging in the sports world.  Let me begin today with the report that Dan Ventrelle and the Las Vegas Raiders have parted ways; Ventrelle had been the team president.

That seemingly benign happening was quickly turned sour when Ventrelle alleged that he was fired because he had reported a “toxic work environment” to the league complaints that involved Raiders’ owner, Mark Davis.  In the parlance of folks who specialize in HR stuff, I believe this is called “retaliation”.

Here is Ventrelle’s statement:

“Today, Mark Davis terminated my employment as President of the Las Vegas Raiders.  I have committed almost 18 years of my life to the success of the Raiders as General Counsel and President. I take that responsibility very seriously, which is why multiple written complaints from employees that Mark created a hostile work environment and engaged in other potential misconduct caused me grave concern.

“When Mark was confronted about these issues, he was dismissive and did not demonstrate the warranted level of concern. Given this, I informed the NFL of these issues and of Mark’s unacceptable response.

“Soon thereafter, I was fired in retaliation for raising these concerns. I firmly stand by my decision to elevate these issues to protect the organization and its female employees. I remain committed to doing everything in my power to support the Raiders and the Las Vegas community I now call home. I have retained counsel and will have no further comment at this time.”

Here is the NFL response:

“We recently became aware of these allegations and take them very seriously.  We will promptly look into the matter.”

When the NFL says “look into the matter”, what they will first “look into” is how to make it appear that there will be an “independent investigation” even though the NFL is paying for it and how the league will find a way not to reveal any of the facts that the “independent investigator” comes up with lest someone outside the NFL’s inner circle draw a conclusion that might differ from the inner circle’s.  Maybe there will be a coin toss to see if this investigation will be done by Beth Wilkinson (she of the Dan Snyder “toxic culture” investigation) or by Mary Jo White (she of the Ezekiel Elliott investigation and of the Dan Snyder “financial irregularities ongoing investigation”.)

Seems to me that it is time to cite an adage:

  • Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Let me do a cursory review here:

  • Jerry Richardson was accused of improper workplace comments and actions, and he chose to sell his team instead of forcing an “investigation”.
  • Dan Snyder and his front office employees stand accused by more than a dozen women of inappropriate behavior.  That “investigation” is complete, but the league will not release the findings because it never asked for a written report of those findings.
  • Jerry Jones faced a paternity suit earlier this year; that suit has been withdrawn by the plaintiff without prejudice meaning it could reappear at any time.
  • Dean Spanos is being sued by members of his family who claim he has screwed them over financially.
  • Stephen Ross and Jimmy Haslem were both accused by former coaches of offering bonuses for losing games to enhance draft status.
  • Now Mark Davis is in the crosshairs of a lawsuit involving improper behavior in the workplace.

[Aside:  These examples come off the top of my head; I do not know how to search legal archives where there would surely be other actions that slipped my attention.]

There is one aspect of this Raiders’ matter about which I am confident.  The NFL will do anything and everything possible to keep a lid on the “investigation” and its findings.  That has been its strategy and tactics regarding any such complaints of this type; I see no reason for a deviation here.

In another “legal issue” related to the NFL, a judge in Texas has issued an arrest warrant for former Ravens and Seahawks safety, Earl Thomas.  The judge in the matter determined that there was sufficient reason to believe that Thomas had violated a court restraining order when he sent threatening messages to a woman about her and her children.  According to reports, Thomas faces a “third degree felony” charge in the matter for violating that restraining order two or more times in the past 12 months.  Thomas has been out of the NFL for the last two seasons but has been trying to sign on as a free agent in this offseason; this action does not add positively to his résumé.

Thomas’ attorney has a totally benign explanation for this:

“They were consciously and collectively working together to see his kids;  I don’t really understand how he could be in violation by working together to visit with his children.”

This one is not over, either…

Finally, let me close today with a comment by Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times last weekend:

“The Cincinnati Reds are off to their worst 25-game start ever — 3-22.

“It’s gotten so bad even Pete Rose won’t bet on them.”

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



Mark Emmert’s Replacement?

After three days of “legal stuff” involving the sports world, I am tired of that refrain – even though there is more on my clipboard – and so, I am going to address something else today.  Recall about a week ago that Dr. Mark Emmert announced that he would be stepping down as the president of the NCAA in June 2023 or when a new president is named if that happens before June 2023.  Likely, many readers here did not read Sally Jenkins’ column on this subject.

Suffice it to say that Ms. Jenkins is not a fan of Dr. Emmert.  If you were to host a dinner party and invite the two of them, it would not be advisable to seat them adjacent to each other.  Here is a link to her column; I recommend you take about three minutes and read it in its entirety.

For those who did not read the column, Jenkins believes the NCAA is a salvageable institution despite its current condition.  She stakes out her position clearly:

“The job of NCAA president is not nearly as tough as Mark Emmert made it look, with his powdered wig arrogance and dull ducal lethargy. Emmert’s NCAA was a stagnant moated castle at a time of accelerating change, but the worst part of his legacy is the cynical loathing he bred for the institution. Emmert made the organization’s leaders seem like cake-eaters incapable of fixing their own tumbled walls while the mob gathered with torches.”

And …

“It’s difficult to summarize the combination of doziness and density with which Emmert led the NCAA on just about every front. But the main harm he did was to make the NCAA seem unfixable and its presidency undesirable. It’s not. It just has been led by an unqualified blockhead for so long that we came to think of it that way.”

Her solution to the problem is to find a new president for the NCAA who is a demonstrated leader, and her nominee is Dr. Robert Gates.  When you read Gates’ CV, you come away with the very certain impression that he has tackled jobs with far greater challenges and responsibilities than exist for the NCAA.  Here is a summary of Dr. Gates’ life:

  • CIA Intelligence Analyst
  • National Security Council Staff
  • Deputy Director for Intelligence (CIA)
  • Director of Central Intelligence
  • President of Texas A&M University
  • Secretary of Defense (under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama)
  • Chancellor, College of William and Mary

Dr. Gates is involved with the NCAA too.  He was the person in charge of getting a new constitution for the NCAA and he managed to do that with the support of more than 80% of the NCAA membership; he is a known quantity to many of the “power brokers” who exist in the world of intercollegiate athletics.  Jenkins’ nomination seems to be a powerful one with one caveat:

  • Dr. Gates is 78 years old.  The NCAA is wading into terra incognita on several fronts and those problems are not going to resolve themselves in the next several years.  So, is this a challenge that Dr, Gates wants to take on for what could be the balance of his professional life?

The biggest issue – I believe – for the NCAA and its new leader is how to keep even a semblance of a level playing field among the schools in these times of Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) payments to “student-athletes”.  Reports say that Texas A&M (Dr. Gates was President there, remember) boosters pooled money together in the amount of $25M to go and “recruit” a football team this year.

  • Assume that is true; tell me how teams in the MAC are supposed to compete with that.
  • Assume that is true, tell me again about how these are “student-athletes”.  Along this line, I read another report that a high school recruit will arrive as a freshman with a $7M NIL deal in place.
  • Assume that is true, tell me how an organization whose “investigators” seem unable to find their asses with either hand is going to maintain even a patina of control even if there are new rules put in place.

In case anyone misinterprets here, I am not opposed in any way to athletes being able to make money from the use of their name, image and likeness.  What I am opposed to is the credibility-stretching limits that this practice has gone to in just a year or so.  The idea of NIL rights is that the player would be compensated by a company for using him as an endorser or “influencer” of their product/service.  No problem there until you try to convince me that local businesses find that it makes legitimate business sense to pay a high school football recruit several million dollars in “endorsement money” even before he finds his way to the student union.

NIL deals have quickly morphed from endorsement deals into the creation of semi-pro teams at big schools.  The old NCAA model was outmoded and hypocritical; the current model is newfangled and hypocritical.  Somehow, I don’t count that as a great leap forward.

Finally, the NCAA member schools are educational institutions.  So let me close today with this view of education from the philosopher, Bertrand Russell:

“Men are born ignorant, not stupid; they are made stupid by education.”

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



Another Courtroom Event…

Sticking with the recent theme of lawsuits, trials and punishments, let me begin this morning with a trial in which a former offensive lineman at the University of Oregon is suing the NCAA, the University of Oregon former Oregon head coach, Willie Taggert, and former Oregon strength and conditioning coach, Irele Oderinde, for $125M claiming that he suffered “lifelong injuries during a series of controversial workouts in 2017 that led to the condition rhabdomyolysis.”  Doug Brenner claims the damage to his kidneys from this condition has shortened his life expectancy.

In the pleading, Brenner asserts negligence on the part of all defendants including the two coaches.  The suit says that Taggert failed to prohibit physical punishment meted out to players and that Taggert failed “to ensure that Oderinde had adequate training to do his job.”

If indeed the assertions against Taggert, Oderinde and the University of Oregon are valid, there is plenty of room for the assignment of guilt and punishment.  Even though I am not normally a defender of anything done or not done by the NCAA, I have to say that the allegations against the institution located in Indianapolis is pretty thin gruel.  Here is what Brenner asserts that the NCAA did wrong that led to his injury and thus to this lawsuit for $100M against the NCAA:

  • The NCAA failed to provide a specific rule or bylaw regarding over-exerting players during workouts and by failing to do so the NCAA acted with malice and showed reckless indifference to the existence of a highly reasonable chance of serious harm to players.

It seems to me that the harm here comes as a result of actions on a practice field in Eugene, Oregon and that if there were any malfeasance – or non-feasance – involved in those actions on the practice field, it would be the responsibility of the folks on site at the time.  Having an NCAA rule or bylaw which might or might not be enforceable from about 2000 miles away is not likely to have prevented whatever injuries did or did not occur on the days in question.

Here in Virginia, there are speed limit laws on the books enacted by legislative bodies at the State and Local levels; there are executive branch personnel who seek to enforce those laws.  That does not prevent injury – and even death – when someone ignores the law by driving at 100 mph and winds up killing a bystander.  Nor is it reasonable to assert that the fundamental reason the various legislators enacted those laws was to obviate any responsibility for such deaths by the legislators themselves.

The allegations against Taggert and Oderinde are more interesting to me.  Willie Taggert took over the coaching job at Oregon in December 2016.  He was a “hot property” at the time because his USF team had just gone 10-2 in the 2016 season and earned an invitation to the Birmingham Bowl that year.  The Ducks had gone 4-8 in the 2016 season and most folks thought the program was headed in the wrong direction.  Then the assertions in the lawsuit get interesting:

  • Supposedly, Taggert told the players that he and his staff were going to focus on strength and conditioning and that players who were not onboard with this direction were snakes in the grass who needed to be found out and have their heads cut off.  [Aside:  Clearly, coaching hyperbole here…]
  • Coach Oderinde had been Taggert’s strength and conditioning coach at USF prior to Taggert taking the job at Oregon.  He brought Oderinde with him to Oregon.
  • Sometime early in Taggert’s and Oderinde’s tenure, there were a series of four daily workouts which resulted in three team members – – Brenner being one of them – – being hospitalized with rhabdomyolysis.  Related to this is the assertion that coaches and trainers withheld water from players until all the drills were completed.
  • About 6 weeks after taking over at Oregon, Taggert suspended Oderinde for a month soon after the hospitalizations took place.

If in fact all of that is true, it would seem clear to me that Coach Taggert knew about the punishing workouts and that he took disciplinary action against Coach Oderinde when it resulted in players needing hospitalization.  While I do not think that any sort of oversight by the NCAA from afar would have been meaningful here, I do think that oversight and focus on the part of the head coach sort of co-located with the workouts is reasonable to expect.  I do not mean that Coach Taggert needed to be there for every bubble and squeak of the workouts themselves, but he could easily have overseen what was being done and how players were reacting in the post-workout times.

The question about Coach Oderinde’s adequate or inadequate training to do his job will have to be argued out in court.  However, there is an interesting follow-on action here:

  • Coach Taggert was at Oregon for only one season (2017).  The Ducks went 7-5 that year and were invited to the Las Vegas Bowl game.
  • Before that bowl game happened, Taggert left Oregon to take the head coaching job at Florida State.
  • Once at Florida State, Taggert once again hired Oderinde as the Seminoles’ strength and conditioning coach.

You can read all of that to mean that Coach Taggert was pleased with the results of his strength and conditioning programs at the three schools.  You can also read that to mean that over a span of several years, Coach Taggert had to know the kinds of workouts that could be ongoing.  That is for the jury to decide.

When I first read about this lawsuit about 10 days ago, my first thought was that this would be settled before the case went to the jury.  Now I am not so sure because all the defendants have very different outcomes that they want from – or want to avoid as a result of – this action:

  1. The NCAA is not likely to want to settle with Brenner if it must pay $10M or more.  The NCAA is int financially bankrupt by any means but settling this case could easily mean writing a check for 8 figures and that will not go down easily.  Brenner probably added the NCAA to the defendants’ list here simply because it has deep pockets, and it costs him nothing to append them to the action.
  2. Oregon asserts that it did nothing wrong.  Moreover, after the suspension resulting from the hospitalizations, Oregon made an organizational change and required Coach Oderinde to report to an official in the Athletic Department and not directly to Coach Taggert.  It is hard for me to see the university’s motivation to settle here unless it is for pennies on the dollar.
  3. The two coaches should be highly motivated to settle the case as quietly as possible with all sorts of non-disclosure agreements attached to the settlements.  However, the two coaches – – Coach Oderinde in particular – – probably do not have deep enough pockets to come close to making an offer that Brenner and his attorneys would find reasonable.

As best as I can tell, the trial is ongoing.  If I run across the final decision here, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Finally, the objective of the trial referenced above is for the jury to determine the truth in the matter.  That being the case, let me close today with this observation about “The Truth” by Oscar Wilde:

“The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

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



Crime And Punishment?

So … yesterday’s rant dealt with investigations of alleged wrong-doing(s) and lawsuits.  Let me continue today with happenings that fall into a similar genre.  First among examples here would be this headline at

  • “MLB suspends Trevor Bauer two full seasons over sexual assault allegations”

Remember that in this case, the district attorney who investigated the incident(s) at the core of this matter decided NOT to level formal charges and proceed to a prosecution.  Everyone here knows that I am not an attorney; and even though I am overweight, I did not play Perry Mason on TV.  So, let me demonstrate my meager understanding here with these three comments:

  1. The DA’s decision not to prosecute was probably based on an assessment that the State could not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trevor Bauer was guilty of a sexual assault.
  2. That choice by the DA means that Trevor Bauer will not stand trial for what his accuser alleges he did.
  3. That choice by the DA does NOT mean that Trevor Bauer did not do what his accuser alleges that he did.

Now let me put on my analytical hat and suggest that the following is similarly true:

  • MLB conducted its own investigation of these allegations – – maybe with the cooperation of the DA and maybe totally independently.
  • For MLB to have handed down a suspension of that length absent any sort of decision as to criminal guilt tells me that MLB waded into some pretty sordid waters in the process of its investigating.

Trevor Bauer is innocent in the eyes of the law; Trevor Bauer is not innocent in the eyes of MLB whose standards for deciding guilt or innocence are very different from those of the criminal law.  The reason I say that I suspect MLB “waded into some pretty sordid waters” here is that by issuing this 2-year suspension – – without a provision for time served already nonetheless – – the Commish has levied a fine on Bauer in an amount that approaches $65M.  I am not sure that the Commish has the authority to levy a fine of nearly that magnitude against a team if they are found to have done something heinous “to the game”.

If you want to go and read all the background info on these allegations, Google is  your friend.  Notwithstanding all the forthing and backing in the rhetoric here, please also go to “Google Images” and search for “Trevor Bauer Accuser”.  I know nothing about how and why his accuser came to look the way she does in those photos; but suffice it to say, that she does not look as if the actions prior to these photographs were only kind and loving.

Bauer says he will appeal the Commissioner’s decision; of course, he will; if he can overturn it, he will collect about $65M from the LA Dodgers.  You may be certain that his attorneys/publicists will frame his appeal in terms of his innocence based on the DA’s decision not to prosecute.  [Aside:  Recall from above that the choice not to prosecute does not determine in either way the fact of a sexual assault or the absence of a sexual assault.]  That may be true for the attorneys/publicists who are applying billable hours; this is more of an image-driven issue for MLB and the Dodgers.  Bauer is suspended through the end of the 2023 season and that coincides with the termination of his current contract with the Dodgers.   If – – I said IF – – his appeal is denied, Bauer will be 33 years old and a free agent after the 2023 season.  He will also be a pariah as he goes around to shop his talents as a starting pitcher to teams who may not be looking forward to the sort of publicity that could devolve to them once they sign him.

I am not ready to posit that Trevor Bauer’s MLB career is over because I have seen too many incidents in professional sports  over the past 40-50 years where teams have turned a blind eye to some atrocious behaviors/predilections if and when the talent was sufficiently above average.  As Trevor Bauer goes looking for work in the winter of 2023/24, I am sure that his agent(s) will be reminding teams that he has had about three years less wear and tear on his arm than a normal 34-year-old starting pitcher would have – – thanks to the Commissioner’s still to be proven criminal behaviors by their client.

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald reacted to this whole situation with the following comment:

“Bauer quickly announced he would be appealing. Ironically, it seems very little about Bauer is appealing.”

AND … this is not a situation that should be taken alone and without context.  Rob Manfred is not nearly a paragon of competency as a Commissioner of a major sport – – but he stood up on his hind legs here and took a stand that might or might not be sustainable or popular.  Lest anyone forget, Roger Goodell has a similar conundrum on his plate as we speak.  Deshaun Watson has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault and the DA in Texas has chosen not to prosecute Watson.  Once again, that does not mean Watson did not do what he was alleged to have done; what it means is that the DA thinks it is more likely that he would lose the case if he had to present it to a jury.

Watson just signed a humongous, guaranteed contract with the Browns.  Roger Goodell’s counterpart in MLB just handed down a 2-year suspension without a jury finding of guilty; the ball is now in Roger Goodell’s court…

Finally, today’s rant has dealt with matters of law as they relate to matters of fact and so it is fitting to close with this comment on the law by comedian Fred Allen:

“I learned law so well, the day I graduated I sued the college, won the case, and got my tuition back.””

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



Investigations And Lawsuits Today …

A quick glance at my clipboard tells me that there is an abundance of “legal stuff” going on in the sports world so let me start with a report on with this headline:

“NFL concludes that Hue Jackson’s tanking allegations against Browns cannot be substantiated”

Recall that those allegations came on the heels of Brian Flores’ lawsuit regarding racial bias in the hiring processes for NFL coaches.  Flores said he was offered $100K per game if the Dolphins lost so as to improve the team’s draft slot.  Soon after that was made public, Jackson said that he had experienced the same situation when he was the head coach of the Browns.  The NFL then hired an outside law firm to conduct an investigation leading to the headline above.

One can easily be skeptical about such a finding; there is no doubt at all that it would be deleterious to the NFL’s interests for such a thing to have happened.  Therefore, it would clearly be in the best interests of the people paying for the investigation to find no wrongdoing.  If you are of such a mind when you read about the investigation, you will conclude that the following statements by the league and the investigators are included as window dressing:

“The investigation included the full cooperation of the Browns, which included interviews with owner Jimmy Haslam along with current and former members of the organization. The [investigators] did not speak to Jackson, but they had access to his public statements and to his filings and testimony in a prior arbitration proceeding. According to the statement, the Browns produced thousands of pages of documents, including emails, texts, and internal memos along with other material relating to club operations.”

Obviously, I have no way to know if Hue Jackson was telling the truth when he made his allegations and I understand the skepticism some can bring to the conclusion offered here.  It smacks of “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”  However, as a card-carrying curmudgeon, I am obliged to be an equal-opportunity skeptic.  So, let me just throw this out for giggles:

  • Hue Jackson had a legal contract with the Browns that set out his compensation as the head coach.
  • Hue Jackson also must have had some “outside deals” for things like radio appearances in Cleveland and endorsements for a car wash or a local restaurant.
  • Therefore, one might readily calculate his earnings in the years when he was the head coach of the Browns.

Now consider that Jackson’s coaching record in Cleveland was 3-36-1.  If indeed he were to have collected even half of what Brian Flores’ says he was offered to tank games in Miami, Jackson would have amassed a nice chunk of change “off the books”.  Question:

  • Did Jackson report that “off the books” revenue as part of his IRS filing?

In another legal proceeding related to the sports world, Sage Steele has sued ESPN saying that the network abridged her First Amendment rights – – and a state law providing free speech protection – – when it suspended Steele and “under threat of losing her job was forced to issue an apology” for statements she made to Jay Cutler on Cutler’s podcast.  I did not  hear the podcast and have not been able to find it so that I could listen directly to what she said there, but according to reports her remarks were critical of former President Obama and of COVID vaccination mandates.  As is commonplace in the days after such a lawsuit is filed, there are clear and unambiguous statements made by representatives of the plaintiff:

“ESPN violated her free speech rights, retaliated against her, reprimanded her, scapegoated her, allowed the media and her peers to excoriate her and forced her to apologize simply because her personal opinions did not align with Disney’s corporate philosophy of the moment … Sage is standing up to corporate America to ensure employees don’t get their rights trampled on or their opinions silenced.”

I must admit that I do not understand how this is a First Amendment issue.  The First Amendment says:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In this matter, Congress is not involved – – even indirectly; the alleged source of the “free speech abridgement” is either ESPN – – or Disney Inc which owns ESPN.  No matter how many times I read the First Amendment, I cannot see how actions or policies of ESPN/Disney are covered in any way.

I absolutely believe that Sage Steele has the right to her opinion(s) on political figures and on the righteousness of vaccine mandates and that she should never face any legal charges based on her voicing those opinions.  What seems to have happened here is that Steele’s employer found her remarks to conflict with the employer’s “policies”.  In such a situation, it is not surprising that the employer might take some sort of disciplinary action.  I am confused by this one…

Finally, since everything today has dealt with investigations and lawsuits, let me close with a comment on the law by the “Bard of Baltimore” – – H. L. Mencken:

“The penalty for laughing in a courtroom is six months in jail; if it were not for this penalty, the jury would never hear the evidence.”

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