I want to start today with something that happened at a Donald Trump rally in Iowa about a week ago. Fear not; this is not going to be a political rant regarding any candidate or party. This will actually circle back to sports pretty quickly.
In the audience at the rally were some members of the Iowa football team; and according to reports, Trump called them up to the stage to be with him. The players gave him an Iowa team jersey with the name “Trump” on the back. Now there are reports that the Iowa football program might – let me emphasize MIGHT – be in trouble with the NCAA because there is an NCAA rule that prohibits student-athletes from endorsing political candidates.
I am not surprised that such a rule exists; after all, if the NCAA has to have a rule book that is 500 pages long, they have to come up with lots of arcane things to regulate. [Hmmm… I wonder if there is a set of rules in there somewhere that defines exactly what the team proctologist may and may not do with his/her spare time?] I may not be surprised that there is such a rule but I surely do not understand why the NCAA mavens thought it was important to write it in the first place.
I continue to believe that the NCAA rules on eligibility and proper recruiting practices and allowable benefits for athletes are there for this purpose only:
To create a level playing field – to minimize any on-field advantage that Team A might gain over Team B.
The NCAA – given the fact of its existence – has to care about intercollegiate athletic contests and if they care about them in such a way that the NCAA can make money for itself and for its member schools and conferences, then they have a vested and legitimate interest in creating and enforcing rules that seek competitive balance. What that has to do with which political candidate some or all of the players on a particular team might support/endorse in any election is not so clear to me.
As a former US Government employee, I am very familiar with the idea that I could not endorse any political candidate or party. The Hatch Act restricts Federal employees from such activities and it is a condition of continued employment that Federal employees comply with the provisions of the Hatch Act – and all other Federal laws as well. Some folks argue that the Hatch Act restricts the freedom of expression of Federal employees and I am sure that sort of thing makes for spirited debates in law school classes. Nonetheless, that restriction – if it really exists – is in force.
Now, I would surely hope that the NCAA would not try to justify its prohibition on endorsing a candidate on any basis that resembles the justification for the Hatch Act. Here is the bugaboo in that argument:
Federal employees bear their restriction(s) as a condition of employment.
The NCAA vehemently denies that student-athletes are employees. [Aside: That is one point where I agree completely with the NCAA.]
I hope that someone in the NCAA Enforcement Mechanism – whatever it is called – steps back and recognizes that the Iowa football team gained no on-field advantage from the actions of some team members standing on a stage with Donald Trump at a political rally – unless of course someone can show that the players were paid to make that appearance. So far, I have seen no reporting that makes even a passing mention of such a thing. However, for completeness, I would agree that the players and possibly the entire program might need a sanction if indeed there were shadow payments involved in that event. Absent evidence of that nature, those players were part of a fundamental American process; if they participated because that is what they believe, that is something that relates closely to the educational goals that the NCAA continues to champion for its student-athletes.
Let us hope that sanity prevails here…
A rather standard sports bar argument challenges participants to name a sports record that is “unbreakable”. The fundamental problem with the approach to such arguments is that a human being set the current record that one asserts to be “unbreakable” which denies the possibility that another human being may come along at some time and do just that. Here are some standard examples of nominally unbreakable records:
Hitting in 56 consecutive games. I probably will not be around to see it, but there is no reason why someone cannot possibly ever hit in 57 consecutive games.
Being the winning pitcher in 511 games. Considering that modern pitchers who win 300 games are ushered into the Hall of Fame as soon as possible, it will likely be a long time before that record is approached; but impossible…? [By the way, Cy Young also pitched 749 complete games.]
Scoring 100 points in an NBA game.
Pitching 7 no-hit games. The pitcher who ranks second in no-hit games had 4 in his career; he was a pretty good pitcher named Sandy Koufax…
Receiving 688 intentional walks. Barry Bonds did that; second on the list is Albert Pujols who has collected 296 and Henry Aaron is third on the list at 293.
Winning 122 consecutive races over a 10-year span in track and field. Edwin Moses did that in the 400-meter hurdles.
Those and tons of other are amazing records but someday, each might be broken. However, there is one record I can think of that cannot be broken;
Super Bowl XXV was the game between the Giants and the Bills; if that is not enough of a clue to bring the game to mind, it was the “Scott Norwood game” or the “wide right game”. The final score was Giants 20 and Bills 19.
Not only was that the smallest margin of victory in Super Bowl history, it is the smallest POSSIBLE margin of victory in a Super Bowl game. That record may be tied in some future game but it will not – because it cannot – be broken.
If you find yourself in such an argument at a sports bar, try to get some folks to put up a few dollars on the proposition that you can give them a sports record that cannot be broken. Ask the bartender to hold the stakes and be the judge…
Finally, since I started today with something at the intersection of sports and politics, let me close with a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News regarding another event at that intersection:
“Near the start of his speech at [University of] Nebraska-Omaha, President Obama called out, ‘Go Mavericks!’
“Which is the political equivalent of a rock star opening a concert by shouting, ‘We love you, Akron!’ ”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………