A Step In The Right Direction

The NFL and NFLPA agreed on a testing regimen/protocol for human growth hormone (HGH) testing and finally implemented it. Testing began the week of October 6 and here is the rough outline of how the testing will go:

    Every week, five players on 8 teams will be selected for testing.

    No testing will be done on game days.

    Appeals of positive results will be handled by a third-party neutral and appeals will be handled “expeditiously”.

    Punishments will be:

      Use of masking agents is a 2-game suspension
      Steroids/stimulants/HGH is a 4-game suspension
      “Manipulating a test” is a 6-game suspension
      Second violation is a 10-game suspension
      Third violation is a 2-year suspension.

Is this a perfect solution? Of course not. Is it a step in the right direction? I think it is a big step in the right direction because it does several things:

    It acknowledges that HGH is a substance that can be abused and it includes HGH as part of the “banned substances” and/or PED menu.

    It provides random testing.

    It takes the adjudication/sentencing aspects of “failed tests” out of the hands of the Commissioner.

The league and the union have been working on this for at least a couple of years. Kudos to both sides for coming up with an improvement in this aspect of NFL football. I hope they seize on this success to arrive at a more effective and efficient means of handling other kinds of disciplinary measures involving players/coaches/front office folks/owners.

Speaking of those “other disciplinary matters”, here is a comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald, which seems to indicate that some NFL players have not gotten the memo:

“On the NFL and harassment of women: Dolphins suspended defensive end Derrick Shelby after his nightclub arrest for allegedly harassing women. Cops did not buy his excuse that he mistook the women for quarterbacks.”

In another disciplinary matter that is ongoing, Adrian Peterson – charged with felony child abuse for beating his young son with a switch – is out on bail but admitted to smoking a little weed just prior to a urinalysis test. Yes, he lit up the test tube; no, courts do not look upon failing a drug test while out on bond as a laughing matter; yes, Peterson got himself another warrant and another charge to answer. What was it Joe Theismann said about NFL players?

    Geniuses do not play football.
    Geniuses are people like Norman Einstein.

It was something like that…

Here is something else that the league and the union can work on. This is the kind of juxtaposition that makes people wonder if there is adult supervision at work.

    Julius Thomas was fined $8,268 for an illegal chop block that injured another player. That fine is based on the current CBA between the league and the union; it is not just a number pulled out of a bodily orifice.

    Colin Kaepernick was fined $10,000 for wearing a brand of earphones other than Bose, which is a league sponsor and “the official earphones of the NFL”.

Fans look at that and ask to what level of stupidity must one sink in order for those two things to make sense. The NFLPA may be upset with the magnitude of Kaepernick’s fine; but before they get their knickers in too tight a knot, they need to consider that they were party to setting the level of the fine that injured one of their union brethren. The NFL might want to look at this kind of publicity and suggest to the NFLPA that until the chop block fine level can be increased, fines are not publicly announced.

As the baseball playoffs move along, recall that I said I was rooting for the Royals to make it to the World Series because they had not been in the playoffs since next to forever. I did not think they would make it this far, but they have a 2-0 lead over the Orioles with 3 games in KC providing the opportunity to close out the ALCS and go to the World Series. I get to see plenty of Orioles’ baseball on TV during the summer and the O’s are a good team to watch. However, in the back of my mind, I simply cannot invest any enthusiasm in rooting for the Orioles to win the World Series simply because I would not want to see Peter Angelos holding the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Finally, this comes from Gregg Drinnan’s weekend blog entry, Keeping Score:

“The best quote out of this week’s 1984 Edmonton Oilers’ reunion came from Mark Messier, who said: ‘I never finished high school, so this is my first actual reunion.’ “

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………
By The Sports Curmudgeon, on October 14, 2014 at 10:42 am, under Daily Rants

A Bit Of This And A Bit Of That

The NFL announced that Katy Perry will headline the Super Bowl halftime show in February – ignoring my advice and an Internet petition to get “Weird Al” Yankovic to do the show. Not surprisingly, I do not know Katy Perry and could not tell the difference between Katy Perry and Perry Como, Perry Mason, a Mason jar or a Freemason. That really does not matter since I do not watch Super Bowl halftime shows.

Speaking of the NFL, you have to have noticed the ads on games and on pre-game shows for Fan Duel – one of those fantasy football sites where each week is a season unto itself and people reportedly win lots and lots of money. If you look closely early in the ad, there is small print low on the screen that says:

    This is not a gambling site

Let me get this straight… Lots of people pay money into a pool in order to make fantasy football selections and some of the people who do so receive more money than they put in while others receive none of their money back. If that is not gambling, then pari-mutuel wagering on horses is not gambling and poker is not gambling. I do not play fantasy football – or baseball – simply because I do not find them interesting but the idea that fantasy sports is not a form of gambling is not much more than an exercise in parsing the English language.

Please remember the willingness of the NFL to have this advertising associated with programs that feature the NFL the next time the league files a legal brief alleging that gambling would attack the integrity of the game. Think about it folks, players in the NFL are playing fantasy football meaning they have an interest in how players on teams other than theirs perform. I do not believe that has destroyed the integrity of the game, but if you try to make “high moral ground arguments” about gambling and integrity and that kind of stuff, how can you allow fantasy football to be in your league and advertising on your programs?

Here is an item from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald about 2 weeks ago:

“Four Redskins fans agreed to go on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and were surprised to be confronted by Native Americans. That’s like going on Fox News and being surprised by conservatism.”

I hope those same four fans are not surprised when they go to FedEx Field and see the team lose…

Switching over to baseball, Tony Bosch – the former director of Biogenesis – is in jail because his bail was revoked after he failed two drug tests and did not attend the voluntary treatment sessions that were part of the deal that let him out on bail. Here is what the judge said as he revoked bail:

“I simply have no confidence in his ability to appear as required. I don’t find that he’s a good candidate to remain out on bond.”

Bosch is “required to appear” to plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances as part of a plea deal with prosecutors as he is a cooperating witness in other matters related to the whole Biogenesis mess. Bosch was one of the folks who provided evidence against Alex Rodriguez to MLB leading to the season-long suspension of A-Rod.

Here is another baseball-related idea from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Parting thought: Baseball continues to mull ways to speed up games. They already rejected my idea: Relievers getting from bullpen to mound via catapult.”

Man, the folks who run baseball are ossified fuddy-duddies. That is a great idea. You could modernize the concept and make it seem like a cannon with an explosion just as the pitcher is launched from the bullpen. Oh, and it would not be long until one of the DJ geniuses at one of the parks took to playing Johnny Cash doing The Wabash Cannonball as relievers’ entry music…

Pro football has its problems with domestic violence issues and concussions; baseball has its problems with PEDs. In college sports, the nefarious activities remain focused on old-fashioned bad behavior. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Sanford Lovingood was the comptroller for an organization known as Seminole Boosters. It does not take a great deal of insight to realize that this organization raised funds to support Florida State athletics. The organization fired him after an audit of the organization’s bank records revealed that Lovingood “took” somewhere between $500 – 700K from Seminole Boosters for himself.

The report in the Tallahassee Democrat says that Lovingood admitted to Booster members that he had taken the money and explained how he did it. Evidently, he had been doing this since 2011.

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel put some perspective on misdeeds in Tallahassee with this comment:

“Did you see where Sanford Lovingood, the comptroller of FSU’s athletic booster organization, is accused of misappropriating between $500,000 and $700,000 from the booster fund? And we’re worried about Jameis Winston stealing $20 in crab legs?”

Finally, here is a self-contained description of a minor sports event from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“The 60th Columbus Day Regatta wraps up Sunday on Biscayne Bay. That’s the local institution known for drinking, topless women, partying, debauchery and, when time allows, sailing.”

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

Thursday Night Football

A headline at CBSSports.com this morning says:

Arian Foster rips ‘Thursday Night Football:’ No one likes it

Recently, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Numbers game: If the string of lopsided scores from the NFL Thursday night games is any indication, the mystical forces that control the football cosmos strongly disapprove of the new prime-time CBS package. Through five games, the average margin of victory has been 29 points, with no result closer than 20 points.”

I do not have a direct line to the inner sanctum of the football gods, but Arian Foster and Bob Molinaro are both onto something here. The Thursday Night Games so far this year have been laughers; the “tightest game” was the Baltimore/Pittsburgh game where the score was deceptively close at 26-6. Here are a couple of Arian Foster’s comments about Thursday Night Football:

“Thursday Night Football is pretty annoying for players. I don’t know one player that likes it. I really don’t know a fan that likes it, either. I think it’s just the league’s way to try to generate more revenue, but that’s what they are here for.”

And…

“Nobody is ready to play physically after a Sunday game but you have to go out there and do it.”

I guess the reason Arian Foster thinks fans do not like Thursday Night Football is because he has never met the ten million or so fans who tune in to watch those games on CBS and/or NFLN. However, I can certainly believe his two points that players do not like Thursday games and that many players are not physically recovered from the previous Sunday games when Thursday rolls around. The NFL itself provides some evidence for that last point.

More than a few times during the season, a player cannot practice during the week but recovers sufficiently to play on Sunday. Most – if not all – of them would not be able to play on Thursday night without putting their well-being at greater risk than normal. The NFL injury reports and the media coverage of teams and their practices tell us this.

Foster was asked why he did not voice his complaint to the NFLPA and his response was interesting:

“The union and the league is kind of the same thing.”

Well, I am not the same as the union or the league and so let me offer a possible path toward resolving this issue:

    Every team that plays a Thursday game will have a Bye Week the week before that game. Therefore, every player will have 10 days to recover/prepare for a Thursday game.

    That means every team will need 2 Bye Weeks during the season and to accommodate that, the regular season would be extended to 18 weeks (but would stay at 16 games).

    Players and coaches should like the extra time to prepare; the league and the union should like the extra revenue that another week of NFL games on TV will generate; the networks should like another week of highly rated programming; the fans should like being able to see more regular season games over a longer period of time. Only the folks in the scheduling department might dislike this idea because it would complicate their job ever so slightly.

Foster’s comments are timely because the Texans and the Colts are the Thursday Night Game this week…

While I am on the subject of making changes for the NFL, may I suggest a different way for the league to keep track of return yards? Consider the following scenario:

    Team A kicks off to Team B. The ball goes five yards deep into the end zone and Team B’s returner does not take a knee; he returns the kickoff.

    Team A covers the kick well and the returner is tackled at the 12-yardline.

    The current return stat would credit the returner with a 17-yard return. In reality, what he did was to cost Team B 8 yards of field position. Had he just refused to run the ball, Team B would have had the ball at the 20-yardline. Somewhere, the league should account for that kind of hidden yardage within a game and report it. If the returner gets the ball out to the 27-yardline, he should get credit for a 32 yard return and get a “plus 7” for field position as a result of his return. In my original example, the returner would get a “minus 8″ for field position.

It would be a new stat and it would be one that cannot be applied retroactively to previous games for at least 2 reasons:

    1. It would be more work than it is worth to go through NFL video archives and do the calculations for previous games.

    2. There are too many NFL games for which there is no video or film record and so the calculation for those games would be impossible.

Nevertheless, I would like to see the league begin to record this stat.

Finally, Bob Molinaro writes for the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot but is a Baltimorean by heritage. It should please him to realize that one of his recent items proves a point made by the Bard of Baltimore, H. L. Mencken:

“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American Public.” [Mencken]

And…

“Dollar signs: Derek Jeter’s career may be over, but the marketing of his image continues, right down to the selling of Jeter game-used dirt. Steiner Sports, the Yankees and Jeter are making available plaques that include a capsule of infield dirt from Yankee Stadium that Jeter allegedly walked on. But if that doesn’t intrigue you, you might be interested in Jeter game-used socks – only $409.99 per sock.” [Molinaro]

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

Good Intentions…

As the NFL continues to try to get itself on a positive side of the issue of domestic violence, the league announced recently that it will offer educational programs for players that center around socially acceptable behaviors and socially unacceptable behaviors. Good for the NFL; such programs cannot hurt. Nonetheless, count me as cynical on this one…

The fact of the matter is that every NFL player is an adult and adults arrive at a workplace with a set of life experiences. Every employer offers “training courses”/”indoctrination courses” that seek to focus new employees on the behaviors that are appropriate for the specific workplaces. With regard to most of those kinds of training endeavors, the idea of trying to mold “off-the-job behavior” is pretty far out in left field. And that is what the NFL is going to try to do here.

Look, those adults who play in the NFL – and the ones who coach and the ones who work in front offices and the ones who own teams and etc. – ought not to need an educational program to tell them the following:

    It is not socially acceptable to beat your wife/girlfriend/kids.

    It is not socially acceptable to drive drunk.

    It is not socially acceptable to [fill in the blanks here]

In addition to the expectation that none of those adults ought to need such programs, I wonder just how effective a “short course” along the lines of “Behaving Properly 101” will be in overriding the years of life experience for many of these athletes who have been conditioned to believe that their athletic prowess inoculates them from any consequences of their behaviors. The danger here is that these programs will provide a patina of security that the league and the teams are taking effective steps to deal with these image problems. I doubt that will be the case…

Moreover, even if these programs are designed and executed such that they have universally positive effects, the league needs to be sure to do two other things in conjunction with these programs:

    1. The programs must not be limited to players. Coaches have been known to behave badly; owners have been known to drive while impaired. Any programs that are mandatory for players must be mandatory for everyone else in the NFL including the Commish.

    2. The league needs to look at its “bureaucracy” and at the front office staffing for all 32 teams with an eye to this question:

      Do we have in place the right mix of professionals (psychology folks, security folks, counseling folks) to work with all employees to head off at the pass future incidents of gross anti-social behavior? It is not good enough to be wealthy enough to hire some smarmy “crisis communication consultants” after the fact. Are the organizations staffed properly to act proactively on this front?

Teams in the NFL are constructed and run with the idea that the single most important thing in the world is to win the next game and then to win the one after that… If the teams are expected to police themselves on anti-social behavior issues, that activity will almost immediately collide head-on with the “win now and win again” mindset. The conflict in terms of objectives here could not be more stark; teams just cannot be asked or expected to police themselves effectively.

In the last paragraph, I used the phrase “collide head-on” and that leads me to another problem the NFL faces. The concussion issue – in all of its ramifications – is another big problem for the league. Again, I think that the NFL has put in place “concussion protocols” that serve to provide a patina of “concern” and “activism” around the problem – but it is no more than a patina. Here is what a “dinged player” has to do to get back on the field:

    He must not show any of the overt symptoms of a concussion. If he can do that to the satisfaction of medical personnel on the sidelines, he can go back into the game. And, make no mistake here; the player prefers to go back into the game at least 99% of the time.

Once again, you have things working at cross-purposes only this time there are time constraints. After all, if the league protocols for a “dinged player” were to take 4 hours to complete, the player would de facto be barred from returning to any game where he had a problem. Aye, there is the rub…

Forget the case where the player was out cold on the field for 5 whole minutes before being revived to a blurry state of consciousness. That is the obvious case and it can be handled by someone whose only medical expertise comes from studying for the MCATs.

Since there is no rapid “litmus test” for a concussion that can be administered on the sideline where the results are comparable to litmus paper in a chemistry lab with regard to accurately detecting acids or alkalis, the protocol is subject to Type 1 and Type 2 errors. Some concussed players will be sent back onto the field; some non-concussed players will be misdiagnosed and prevented from playing again on that day.

Moreover, part of the protocol is to communicate with the player. If the player is motivated to be “uncooperative” or to be “less than candid” in his communication with the medics, the protocol itself is weakened even further than the real presence of Type 1 and Type 2 errors would suggest.

The fundamental idea here is a good one; I simply doubt how effective it is going to be.

Finally, since I am on the subject of the NFL, here is an observation from David Letterman the week after the Pats lost on national television to the Chiefs:

“The New England Patriots got routed 41-14, and a Kansas City Chiefs player was fined because he was in the end zone praying. That’s different than the New York Jets. They pray to get INTO the end zone.”

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

One Step At A Time

Back in September, I wrote that one of the major difficulties with the job that Roger Goodell has developed for himself was that he had to be “The Disciplinarian”. In that piece, I argued that the role of disciplinarian does not mesh well at all with the more fundamental responsibilities of a commissioner:

    A. Grow the league revenues

    B. Maintain labor peace

    C. Maintain and enhance the league’s public image and standing

I also suggested there that the best way to deal with discipline would be to “outsource it” to an arbitration staff paid for by both the NFL and the NFLPA such that there would be no suspicion of pulling fiscal strings behind the scenes. Well, last week, the NFL and the NFLPA took a first step exactly that path. They agreed to hire an outside arbitrator to handle the appeal that Ray Rice and his attorneys have filed. This is a big deal. The NFL and the NFLPA have agreed on a single person to handle this matter and both sides have agreed to live with the consequences of that person’s decision here. That may seem very normal – even mundane – for us “ordinary citizens” but that has never been the case for the league and the union.

Former US District Court judge, Barbara Jones, will be the arbitrator. For one, I hope that her handling of this matter is so exemplary that both sides come to the decision that hiring a small outside staff that will do nothing except handle disciplinary matters is a positive direction for both organizations.

Greg Cote posed an interesting rhetorical question in the Miami Herald yesterday:

“Question: How does A’s general manager Billy ‘Moneyball’ Beane get to keep being a genius when this was the 17th consecutive season his team failed to reach the World Series, let alone win?”

I think the answer to that question is that the baseball poets and Michael Lewis have anointed him as a genius and no one wants to be the fart in church to suggest otherwise. I never believed Moneyball to be a faithful rendition of history from the time I read it. I am not one who resists new analytical stats – although I do believe some of the “advanced metrics” are a tad arcane – but I also believe firmly in the “Eyeball Test”.

Now for a retrospective view of why the Oakland A’s were so successful around the turn of the millennium that you would not get just from reading/seeing/reading Moneyball:

    The A’s had three young pitchers (Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito) who all blossomed around the same time. No analytical process predicted that would be the case nor did any such process make it happen.

    The A’s at that time had a roster with more than a couple of players who have since been associated with PED use.

Now, that leads to a retrospective on this year’s big trades for Jeff Samardzija and John Lester near the trade deadline. For whatever reason, the A’s cratered after that trade; the team was 66-41 when the trade went down; the A’s went 22-23 after the trade. It is difficult to look at those numbers and say the trade was a “success” for the A’s but that is exactly what Billy Beane keeps trying to say. In fact, the SF Chronicle reported that he said the A’s might not have made the playoffs had he not made that deal.

There is no advanced analytical stat that measures “team chemistry” or whatever you want to call that concept. However, if the SF Chronicle report is accurate and I have no reason to doubt it, how might the 20 or so players in the A’s clubhouse feel about the way team management views their value. They were 25 games over .500; they had the best record in MLB at the time; management says they would have missed the playoffs without a couple of additions to the roster. Billy Beane likes to dismiss any discussion of things like “team chemistry” and the “Eyeball Test” as irrelevant. In this case, he had better be correct…

    [Aside: Every time someone asks me what I mean by the “Eyeball Test”, I use this example if the person is more than 35 years old. In football, the career quarterback ratings say that Chad Pennington, Duante Culpepper and Jeff Garcia were all better quarterbacks than John Elway. That does not pass the “Eyeball Test”.]

Here is another item from Greg Cote’s column in the Miami Herald yesterday:

“Saw a headline that LeBron already has mastered new Cavs coach David Blatt’s offense. Figures. The offense may be summarized as, ‘Give the ball to LeBron!’ “

That snarky remark got me thinking about the Miami Heat for the upcoming season and leads me to ask:

    How long will it be until folks begin to question if Erik Spoelstra is actually a good NBA coach or is he just a guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time to be on the bench with LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh?

The Heat will not be nearly as dominant this year as they have been for the last four years. The reason for that will be that LeBron James is in Cleveland and not in Miami. Nonetheless, Spoelstra will take some heat.

Finally, since I have used two of Greg Cote’s items from yesterday’s Miami Herald, let me close by using a third. It needs no amplification:

“Johnny Manziel says he might offer to counsel Jameis Winston. No, seriously.”

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

More Legal Stuff For The NFL

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changed one of their rules. That rule had been the NFL’s basis for having and enforcing its “Blackout Policy” for local telecasts. The FCC did not order the NFL to do anything; it simply negated the rule. Here is where it gets complicated – too complicated for me to understand based on the various reports I have read/heard.

The NFL is appealing the FCC decision. No surprise here. However, I do not understand what if any added “jeopardy” this might heap upon the NFL. If there is no added jeopardy, of course they will appeal and appeal and appeal.

Several reports say that even with this ruling, the NFL can continue to have its blackout rule – no telecasts to the local area if the game does not sell out 72 hours prior to kickoff. If that is the case, I have to say that I do not understand why or how this is any big deal at all.

Finally, I do not understand why the NFL does not argue that lifting this rule and permitting even the possibility of local telecasts is blatantly unconstitutional per the Eighth Amendment. That amendment forbids the infliction of “cruel or unusual punishments. If the NFL has to televise Jacksonville Jaguars home games to the home TV market, that would inflict the punishment of watching the Jags stink it up on the road AND at home. How cruel and unusual is that?

I wonder if the scouts and the player development departments around the league are looking at the recent events involving Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson to the point where they might be changing the ways they will evaluate and interview high-talent collegiate prospects before drafting/signing them. I am specifically thinking of Jameis Winston here.

No questions continue to obtain with regard to Winston’s football skills; he can play. There are loads of questions about his socialization level/maturity/ability to stay out of trouble. Winston is only 20 years old; he has only been at Florida State for 2.5 years; and in that short time, he has been involved in:

    An alleged rape
    A shoplifting escapade
    Standing on a table in the student union shouting obscenities.

That is not a warm and fuzzy trifecta; that does not portray a young man who has self-control and/or a keen sense of what is right/wrong/acceptable/unacceptable in terms of behavior. No matter; he is going to be a high draft pick by an NFL team because he has “that kind of talent”. “That kind of talent” has seemingly immunized him from suffering the consequences of these kinds of actions to date; but in the current environment, that continued immunity is not a sure bet.

I would love to see the scouting reports that come from the “Chief Scout” that go to the “Player Development Guru” and the GM for teams that will be drafting in the Top 10 next year. If I had to write it, I would make sure it was clear that this kid is a special talent on the field – and that he has a special talent for finding troubles off the field. In large font type and in red letters, I would point out to the draft day decision makers that special talents like Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Ray Rice did not materially help their teams in 2014…

Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot summed it up this way:

“A message: The consequences of Winston’s actions have stretched beyond Internet ridicule, an all-too-brief half-game suspension and a growing bad reputation. Now Mel Kiper Jr. has weighed in, dropping Winston from third to 25 on his famous Big Board eight months before the next draft. As silly as it sounds, maybe this will get through to the kid whose quarterback skills are eclipsed by his talent for making wrong choices.”

If I were King of the World, here is an immediate change I would make for all sports telecasts:

    There would be no interviews with coaches just before the game or at halftime of the game. The penalty would be caning – probably 50 strokes would do the trick. The coaches clearly do not want to be interrupted from whatever zone they are trying to get themselves into; they never say anything even remotely interesting; the interviewer has to pretend to care about the pabulum answers. Stop this insanity and stop it immediately!

Now that the police, prosecutors and a Grand Jury have decided that Tony Stewart will not face any criminal charges in the events that led up to and resulted in the death of Kevin Ward about a month ago in a dirt-track race, it is time for the people screaming for Stewart to be boiled in oil to – how can I say this politely? – shut the Hell up. Unless one of them can prove conclusively in public that he/she is a mind reader, there is not much that any more theorizing or arm waving can accomplish here. I do not know if Stewart ran over the kid intentionally or because he lost control of his car after “trying to scare the kid”. More importantly, neither does anyone else except Tony Stewart. That includes all the Internet shriekers who have already convicted him of a half-dozen heinous crimes.

Remember the adage used by lawyers for public figures who have been indicted by a Grand Jury that it is easy to indict a ham sandwich. Well, this Grand Jury found it more difficult to indict Tony Stewart so the evidence before them had to be pretty thin. That means he is less likely to have committed a crime than a ham sandwich – even one with mustard and a pickle.

Finally, here is one more cogent observation from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot regarding the strange course of events for the NFL in this early part of the 2014 season:

“In passing: Remember when NFL officials thought the biggest distraction this season would be Michael Sam?”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

The Baseball Playoffs…

I got an e-mail from a former colleague who has retired to live in Pismo Beach and write books. He is also an avid LA Dodgers’ fan who wanted me to make World Series predictions as soon as the baseball playoff picture had been resolved. Well, the games begin today and even though it is not a fundamental part of my nature to please other people, I will honor that request:

    American League: I have to root for the Royals; the last time they were in the playoffs was before Fawn Hall had her 15 minutes of fame. [Google is your friend.] I do not think the Royals – or the A’s – will emerge from the play-in game to make it to the World Series but I would love to see the Royals advance. I think the Angels’ pitching is suspect; I think the Tigers’ defense is beyond suspect. I like the Orioles to win the AL pennant because they are above average in just about every aspect of the game.

    National League: The Washington Nationals are the best team in baseball from top to bottom and from side to side. Once they demoted Soriano from the closer’s job, they removed their only real liability. Having said that, I worry about any team getting through a 7-game series against a team that can start Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke twice each. The Nationals are the better team, but I suspect the Dodgers will win the NL pennant.

    Notice that I have avoided picking a “cute World Series” such as a Bay Area Series (Giants/A’s) or a Tinseltown World Series (Dodgers/Angels) or an Interstate 70 World Series (Cardinals/Royals). The idea of these “cute World Series” names has been done to death.

Sticking with baseball for a moment, the Twins fired manager, Ron Gardenhire yesterday. The Twins have been awful for a couple of years but that awfulness is far more a product of the roster assembled by the team front office under the budget constraints of the team owners than it is a product of the manager and the coaching staff. As they say, you cannot fire the players – not without having to go out and spend a lot of money on free agents to replace some of them – and so the manager takes the blame.

Yesterday, I think I made it clear that I had had more than enough of the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour Around America. Well, I suspect I was not the only one. Consider these two items:

“Speaking of Jeter, I’m not saying his final home game in New York was a baseball lovefest of Biblical proportions, but did you see where the Three Wise Men — Bob Costas, George Will and Peter Gammons — showed up bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh?” [Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel]

And…

“Now that the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour is just about a wrap, how’s that Welcome Back, A-Rod campaign for 2015 coming along?” [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

The Ryder Cup has come and gone. In case this remains a mystery to any sports fan, golf is not a team sport and just because you dress all of the players in the same outfits – preferably ones that they would not be caught dead wearing at any other moment in their lives – does not turn golf into a team sport. Once again, I seem not to be alone in my marginal interest in the Ryder Cup; here is what Greg Cote had to say about it in the Miami Herald:

“Golf’s Ryder Cup matches between the United States and Europe end Sunday in Scotland. It’s one of sports’ most riveting competitions, according to announcers for the broadcasting network.”

Whilst on the subject of golf, consider these two items found in Dwight Perry’s column, Sideline Chatter in the Seattle Times:

“Golfer Tiger Woods, who parted ways with adviser Sean Foley last month, says he might serve as his own swing coach for a while.

“Tiger to give swinging a try with no adult supervision — what could possibly go wrong?”

And…

“GM is coming out with a self-driving Cadillac.

“ ‘So where were you when I needed you five years ago?’ moaned Tiger Woods.”

I did a double take when I first read a report that the new manager of Leeds United in the Championship League in England would be Darko Milanic. I thought that the draft bust taken by the Detroit Pistons had given up basketball to take up soccer coaching. At that point, I realized that I had no idea where Darko Milicic’s career had taken him now and so I went to Google to find out. Strangely enough, Darko Milicic is indeed giving up basketball for a new career vector in sports. He will not be a soccer coach; he plans to become a kickboxer. Seriously, that report comes from ESPN and not The Onion

Finally, here is Greg Cote’s commentary on the US Open Tennis Tournament from the Miami Herald:

“Marin Cilic beat Kei Nishikori for the men’s U.S. Open crown. But, really, other than it being a star-less, lopsided match won by a guy coming off a doping ban, it was a great men’s final!”

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

News Flash; Stop The Presses…

It is not often that I get to break news in one of these rants; that is not their intent. However, here in Curmudgeon Central, I have breaking news. Derek Jeter had decided to retire and he played his last game in MLB over the weekend. Who saw that coming?

Seriously, last year we had Mariano Rivera take a yearlong “victory lap” around MLB and this year we had Derek Jeter do the same. Unless someone reconnects Ted Williams’ head with a torso over the winter, I really do not want another year of ceremonial goodbyes. Enough already…

Two comments regarding Ray Rice, the NFL, domestic violence and the like and then I want to move on:

    1. Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot seems to agree with me that at least some of the anger directed at Roger Goodell is misplaced:

    “Maybe you noticed that some NFL players expressed more anger at Goodell over fallout from the Rice case than they have over what Rice did to his wife. Feel free to be disgusted.”

    2. I have heard all that I need to hear from ex-jocks on TV regarding the issue of domestic violence. I realize that the Presidential Campaign for 2016 is just about to begin and that means that athletes and celebrities will feel compelled to tell me what their political views are. My earpans will be under assault for the next two years. Can I get just a brief respite now?

It is never news to report that someone in the US Congress is grandstanding but one such Congressional event falls into the category of “grandstanding that will actually work”. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) will introduce legislation that would revoke the NFL’s tax-exempt status specifically because the league continues to have a team with a nickname that is racist. I do not care which side of that argument you wish to take; that is not the point here

I have said for years – actually for more than two decades – that the only way the team would change its name or that the NFL would force them to change its name would be to apply economic pressure to the team and/or the league. Senator Cantwell’s bill would begin to do just that. Her legislation is based on whatever moral position she and others may have with regard to the team name “Redskins” but her legislation would take their morality and move it into operational mode.

While I agree completely that the South Park satire of the NFL is brilliant, the NFL and the Redskins can shrug it off and wait for the next satirical commentary from Jon Stewart and/or Keith Olbermann and then they can ignore those also. But removing the tax exemption? What might be next? Legislation to outlaw the Redskins’ trademark? How about mandating an anti-trust investigation into the NFL itself?

Economics is the battlefield the NFL does not want to have to defend. Senator Cantwell’s legislation would not resolve this problem even if it passed tomorrow – and it will not pass tomorrow because Congress is in recess until after the mid-term elections and will then reconvene in a lame-duck session where no one will want to do anything resembling “controversy”. In the new session of the Congress, this bill will languish in whatever committee it goes to until and unless other members push for it to go to the floor for debate. I think the odds of this bill ever seeing the light of day are long – but it focuses on the only meaningful aspect of this controversy that has a chance to result in change.

In the backdrop for all of that, Danny Boy Snyder announced that he has begun to explore options for a new stadium in Washington – or maybe in Maryland or perhaps in Virginia. Obviously, he hopes to start a bidding war among the jurisdictions so that he does not have to pay for the stadium out of his pocket. If you live in area, you would recognize immediately that the local pols would fall for that gambit faster than a prom dress hits the floor around midnight. In order to separate the idea of a “new stadium” from the “nickname controversy”, Danny Boy might attempt to form what I will call the AUC – the Abjectly Unholy Confederation. The AUC would have two major players:

    1. Danny Boy Snyder whose dual objectives are to keep his team name and also to get a brand new playpen for his team at minimal or no cost to him.

    2. The well-meaning – but addle headed – folks in this area who want Washington DC to be the US city nominated by the US Olympic Committee to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Yes; those folks exist and they have already begun their “communications operations” to convince the people and the pols in this area that they have a good idea as opposed to the dumbest idea since the screen door on a submarine.

In case you have not put two and two together properly, the common ground between Danny Boy and the “Olympics” is that the stadium used for the Opening and closing Ceremonies could also be Danny Boy’s new playpen. As this all moves forward, I suggest that someone in the Washington Post will come to the realization that this is the vector for the AUC sometime in the next 12 months. They will then trumpet their new insight and use it to bolster whatever side of the argument they happen to be on at the time. Trust me; this will happen…

    [Aside: Danny Boy and the Olympics would have been a great name for a “doo-wop” group back in the early 60s…]

Finally, let me close today with some more words of wisdom from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Weather or not: The excuses some NFL people have used to explain why it took so long to suspend players for domestic violence incidents generally fall under the heading of ‘the climate has changed.’ I never realized there were so many meteorologists running NFL teams. But no one who respects the difference between right and wrong waits to see which way the wind is blowing before doing the decent thing.”

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

Learning From Experience…?

People – and institutions – learn things in different ways. The norm for most institutions is that they learn by experience and not from some kind of group-cognition that reveals some kind of understanding of smart things to do as opposed to dumb things to do. One of the adversaries to “learning by experience” is stubbornness; some folks – and some institutions – seem impervious to taking advice or considering protest. Often, such folks/institutions rightfully become public piñatas for their actions flavored with their stubbornness.

If these rants followed a path of political commentary, that introductory paragraph might fill up a week’s worth of verbiage for folks to read. Fortunately for everyone here, I try to concentrate on sports. Today, I would like to suggest that two sports institutions that I have bashed more than once in the past may have shed a tad of stubbornness and may have learned from experience. That does not make them perfect – they have a LONG way to go just to become something more than a waste of space – but it is a start.

The first organization that may have figured out that obstinance is not next to Godliness is – hold your breath – FIFA. According to a Reuters story earlier this week, the 2022 World Cup Tournament will not happen in Qatar. The report quotes a FIFA Executive Committee member, Theo Zwanzeiger, focusing on something other than the social/political/diplomatic/economic aspects of the FIFA decision to put the games there:

“Medics say that they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions…”

It would be a lot easier for the FIFA foofs to be stubborn about their previous decision – and avoid all gas they will take from Qatar and whatever allies Qatar can gather in a debate to change the decision made in 2010 – when the arguments did not focus on player safety and fan safety. More from Theo Zwanzeiger:

“They may be able to cool the stadiums but a World Cup does not take place only there.

“Fans from around the world will be coming and traveling in this heat and the first life-threatening case will trigger an investigation by a state prosecutor.

“That is not something that FIFA Exco members want to answer for.”

Other FIFA officials quickly pointed out that Zwanzeiger was not expressing an official FIFA position and that he was merely expressing his opinion. Nonetheless, it appears as if concerns for athlete safety have caught the attention of at least some FIFA officials and that is a significant change.

Learning from experience…?

The second organization that seems to have learned from experience and had decided to change its current behavior is – hold your breath again – the NCAA. Mark Emmert said that the NCAA will stay away from involvement concerned with domestic violence or investigations of domestic violence on college campuses. He told the AP that domestic violence is a school issue and not an NCAA issue and that colleges should handle these matters – even if they involve student-athletes.

Mark Emmert is absolutely on the right side of that issue – and that is not a sentence I am wont to type. Not only does the NCAA have no organizational interest in such matters, the NCAA has no expertise or insight to add to anything the colleges might choose to do or not to do. If he can hold to that position, he got it right. However, he is more than likely to take a whole lot of gas for that position. Let me frame the argument for you:

    In the sordid Jerry Sandusky situation, Mark Emmert and the NCAA dove in headfirst to punish Penn State to the point where it tried to get $60M from the school to use as it saw fit at other member schools. [A court said that was not going to happen, but that was the NCAA intention.]

    So if that is the NCAA established precedent for handling outrageous criminal behavior that has nothing to do with on-field athletics, why the change?

      A. Does the NCAA think that victims of domestic violence – the vast majority of whom are women – do not matter enough to warrant draconian sanctions?

      B. Does “date-rape” on campuses not sink to the same level of sleaze as “shower-rape”?

Sadly, the best answer for why the change will probably not get much play in headlines because it is too straightforward. The reason is that the NCAA had no business sticking its nose into the Jerry Sandusky matter in the first place and that the NCAA has learned something from that experience. Date-rape and domestic violence on campus is a matter for criminal investigation and the criminal justice system. The NCAA has nothing whatsoever to do with that and it needs to avoid becoming involved with it.

The issue of domestic violence as it relates to athletes – particularly football players in recent weeks – has come into focus recently with the names Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Jameis Winston as part of the headlines. Obviously, the half-game suspension for Winston that turned into a full-game suspension for Winston had to be part of Mark Emmert’s thinking and commentary on this matter. He did have one comment that seems to indicate that the NCAA realizes that this is a “school-matter” as opposed to an “NCAA-matter”:

“Most universities understand [student behavior and student punishment] is a reflection on the university. Universities have a lot more at stake in holding students accountable for their behavior. I wouldn’t say it’s done right all the time, but it is done right most of the time.”

Learning from experience…?

Finally, here is Greg Cote of the Miami Herald on the PGA’s FedEx Cup:

“The PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs were won by somebody named ‘Billy Horschel,’ a strong indicator that whatever the FedEx Cup playoffs are, they stink.”

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

Misplaced Anger

I have said that the NFL was tone deaf in the way it dealt with the Ray Rice discipline matter from the time the announcement of the 2-game suspension hit the streets. I have said that the prosecutor(s) in Atlantic City, NJ should be ashamed of themselves for their leniency in that case. I said that the folks in NFL Security were either incompetent or complicit in a cover-up in this whole matter. I have chided Ravens’ fans who gave Ray Rice a standing ovation when he hit the field at training camp. I pointed out the apparent – if not real – conflict of interest in naming Robert Mueller to head the investigation into what the Hell happened here. I have a whole list of folks with whom I am angry here but I have to go waaay down on that list before I come to Roger Goodell.

He has been ham-handed, tone-deaf, out to sea and befuddled throughout this mess. However, he has also become the guy whose face is on the dartboard for everyone to take shots at. And I do not think that is either fair or appropriate. Too much anger is misplaced.

Before you accuse me of being a shill for Roger Goodell, please consider:

    Roger Goodell did not hit Janay Parker Rice in that elevator. For all of the activists out there who are carrying signs demanding that Goodell lose his job, why are you mad at him? He got the initial punishment wrong; he admitted that he got it wrong; he then upped the ante. What would you have had him do? His mistake was the original 2-game suspension decision and it has been corrected to a degree. If you want him fired for that, no one would be safe in a management position anywhere in the US; managers and leaders make mistakes all the time. The key element is whether or not they correct their errors and find ways not to repeat them.

    Roger Goodell did not give Ray Rice a pass on criminal charges putting him into a “court-supervised counseling” program. The original charges offered up by the grand jury could have gotten him 3-5 years in jail plus a fine of $10K. Pleading that down to “counseling” seems to me to shrug at the seriousness of what happened in that elevator on that evening. If you believe that violence against women is too commonplace in US society – which I do – and if you have any belief that punishment has any effect at all – which I do -, then you should be mad at the prosecutors in Atlantic City a lot more than Roger Goodell.

I do not say any of the above with the intention of exonerating Roger Goodell; he handled this matter about as poorly as possible but I do not think his fumbling the ball here comes close to a “firing offense”. Based on what I know now – and presumably there will be more info coming from the “Mueller Investigation” – I have an opinion on who ought to lose his/her job:

    Everyone in NFL Security who was involved in the league’s investigation of this matter leading up to the decision to issue that original 2-game suspension should be in “employment jeopardy”.

    Far too little information that was “out there to be had” never found its way to NFL Security. Boiled down to a single word, that performance was “Incompetent”.

    Alternatively, more information than has been acknowledged did come into the hands of NFL Security but it never made its way to decision makers. Boiled down to two words, that performance was a “cover up”.

    Where I come from, both “incompetence” and “covering up” are causes for termination.

    The “middle management structure” within the NFL that oversees NFL Security and its performance and its role in keeping senior leadership apprised of the facts of matters of this kind also should be in “employment jeopardy”.

    If the problem was “incompetence”, it is unlikely that said incompetence came forth in full bloom for the first time in this matter. Yes, people make mistakes but if you are a professional in the security/investigation game, these mistakes were way below the level of “junior varsity”. How was that kind of performance allowed to continue to exist? Middle managers should be made to “splain that.” [/Ricky Ricardo]

    If the problem was a cover-up, middle managers could have played a variety of roles:

      Middle managers actually buried germane information and kept it from senior decision makers.

      NFL Security folks did the covering up and the middle managers did not ask enough questions to prevent those folks from being successful in the cover up.

        Again, the choices here seem to be “incompetence” or “covering up” and I think I said above what I think of those situations.

    One other actor in this affair is the NFLPA which is now filing an appeal on behalf of Ray Rice based on technicalities in the process here. They are going to argue in favor of a man who unquestionably cold-cocked his fiancée in an elevator to the point where she was unconscious as a result of a single blow. They are going to use “procedural niceties” to seek his reinstatement as an NFL player. Boiled down to a single word, that action is “disgusting”.

    I would ask DeMaruice Smith the following question. Suppose someone in the NFLPA office who answers to you unequivocally did what Ray Rice did in that elevator – or what Adrian Peterson allegedly did to his 4-year-old son – and that person made your organization look like a bunch of troglodytes. Then, if you terminated his employment with the NFLPA for any of variety of reasons, how would you react to someone outside your organization appealing his termination based on ‘procedures”?

    People like Roger Goodell and DeMaruice Smith – and politicians too – never deal with those kinds of questions. They hide behind the arm-waving statement that hypothetical questions are somehow inappropriate. Well, in this case, absent the kind of answers needed from the NFLPA, I can only draw conclusions based on actions:

    Procedural matters are far more important than violence against women. Those procedures need more vigorous protection than do victims.

    I am part of a book club; we had a meeting earlier this week. At that meeting, I had the opportunity to tell one of my book club colleagues – who also reads these rants once in a while – that I would be happy to resolve this matter for the NFL in the following way.

    I would be happy to put these rants on hiatus for however long in order to undertake to lead the investigation into what happened for the NFL. I have no conflict of interest in the matter nor do I have any apparent conflict of interest.
    I would do the investigation for no fee; the only charges would be to cover documented out-of-pocket costs.

    The only “wrinkle” I would add to the mix here is this:

      No one other than me and whomever I might solicit to join me in doing the investigation would see a single word of the final report until it was ready for release.

      Moreover, the release of the final report would happen electronically to the NFL, the NFLPA and 50 press outlets simultaneously. There would be no redactions and it would not be copyrighted.

    So, when it comes to pass that there is criticism of the Mueller Investigation – for valid or for invalid reasons – I am on record here providing them a way out of the mess. The caveat is that I spent 37 years of my life as a basketball referee and what I learned from that avocation was to “blow the whistle and call what I see.” This whole mess needs a lot more of that and a lot less misplaced anger.

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