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 www.yahoo.com:

  • “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 CBSSports.com 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………

 

 

2022 NFL Draft “Analysis”

Traditionally, I gather up notes that I took while watching college football games in the previous fall/winter and use them to make projections about the NFL Draft in the Spring.  Family, social and travel events this year made it impossible for me to get that done prior to the Draft, so I am going to do it differently this time around.  I will go through the draft as it actually happened and append any notes I have – – assuming I can decipher all of them.

Lest anyone is new to these sorts of things, let me lay out a bunch of disclaimers:

  • This is my perception based on watching games on TV.  I do not scout; I do not go to these games; I do not talk to coaches or players; I do not watch film 100 hours a week.
  • My viewing habits/preferences are skewed.  I watch a lot more games involving top teams from power conferences than I do involving lesser conferences and/or bad teams.  That is my choice because my viewing is done mainly for pleasure and not for scouting.
  • I live on the East Coast meaning I get to see eastern teams and midwestern teams a lot more conveniently than I do western teams.  So, it there is a fantastic prospect at a western school in a minor conference, the odds are I have never seen him play football and that is why I have nothing to say about him.
  • Because I know as I am looking at games on TV that I am not in any position to make broad comparisons among players around the country, my assessments of when and where players might be drafted will vary widely from reality.  There will be about 250 – 275 players taken in this Draft; I will have no notes on at least 200 of them – – but I will probably have a note or two on someone I liked who never got drafted at all.

With those ground rules stated, let me get to the meat for today…

Trayvon Walker DE Georgia – – Overall #1:  “Quick off the ball; lots of speed”.  “[Georgia’s] defense is stacked so probably drafted later than others.”

Aidan Hutchinson DE Michigan – – Overall #2:  “Good pass rusher and good run defender”.  “Should go first round”

Derek Stingley, Jr. CB LSU – – Overall #3: “Good man-to-man cover corner” “very quick to react to pass to his side” “sure tackler”.

Evan Neal OT Alabama – – Overall #7:  “Big man, strong man, quick on his feet”  “good pass protector”  “will go in first round”

Charles Cross OT Mississippi State – – Overall #9:  “Very good pass blocker but MSU does not run the ball enough to know if he can block on runs very well”

Garrett Wilson WR Ohio State – – Overall #10:  “Deep threat, good speed and hands”

Chris Olave WR Ohio State – – Overall #11:  Deep threat”  “think he is better than G. Wilson”.

  • [Aside:  Obviously, since the Jets took Wilson instead of Olave they disagree with my assessment.  C’est la vie…]  

Jameson Williams WR Alabama – – Overall #12:  “Seems as if he is always open over the middle”  “speed burner” “first round pick for sure”

Jordan Davis DT Georgia – – Overall #13:  “Huge hominid”  “run stopper” “screen graphic says 340 lbs.; must be before breakfast”.

Kyle Hamilton DB Notre Dame – – Overall #14:  “Big, fast, good cover and good tackler”  “top ten pick???”

Jahan Dotson WR Penn State – – Overall #16:  “ Plenty of speed and good hands”  “not very big so he might slip to mid-rounds”.

Kenny Pickett QB Pitt – – Overall #20:  “Supposed to be one of the top QBs in the country.  He’s good but no “wow factor” “maybe 2nd or 3rd round?”

  • [Aside:  Let the comparisons begin.  Dan Marino also went to Pitt and slipped to the 27th pick in the 1983 draft…  Welcome to the NFL, Kenny Pickett.]

 Quay Walker LB Georgia – – Overall #22:  “Does everything well – cover, rush passer, tackle” “good speed for his size” “should go early”

Devin Lloyd LB Utah – – Overall #27:  “Screen graphic said 235 lbs. and he is fast!”  “good in coverage too”  “mid-round pick”.

Devonte Wyatt DT Georgia – – Overall #28:  “Best player on best defense in the country”  “lots to choose from on Ga’s defense but he would be first for me”.

  • [Aside:  Of course, the Packers had to take him; they traded away their player named Devante (Adams), so they needed to replenish their supply of Devontes.]

Kenneth Walker III RB Michigan State – – Overall #41:  ‘Power runner with good speed” “fights for every yard” “mid-round pick?”

John Metchie WR Alabama – – Overall #44:  “Not as good as [Jameson] Williams but fast and sure-handed”  “mid-rounds”  ‘not very big but jumps well to get ball”.

David Ojabo LB Michigan – – Overall #45:  “Big and fast”  “Power pass rusher”  “hits hard”  “first round pick”

  • [Aside:  He tore his Achilles tendon at a workout in March and still went in the middle of the second round.]

Joshua Ezeudu OT UNC – – Overall #67:  “Big strong and good pass blocker”

Nakobe Dean LB Georgia – – Overall #83:  “Not real big but really fast” “sure tackler” “vintage sideline-to-sideline guy”

  • [Aside:  He was not the best player on the Georgia defense by any means, but how did he last this long in the Draft?]

DeMarvin Leal DT Texas A&M – – Overall #84:  “Small for a DT but plenty of speed and agility” “sure tackler”  “mid-round pick?”

Malik Willis QB Liberty – – Overall #86:  “Great running QB skills”  “pass accuracy is unimpressive but arm is strong”  “long-term project for the NFL”

  • [Aside:  These notes come from watching some of the Senior Bowl game.  I did not see Liberty play in the regular season]

Rachaad White RB Arizona State – – Overall #91:  “Really good in open field – makes guys miss”  “good in passing game”  “late round pick”

Matt Corral QB Ole Miss – – Overall #94:  “Aggressive runner – not a good QB style in the NFL” “not a big arm but accurate throws”  “needs development”

Logan Bruss OG Wisconsin – – Overall #104: “Good run blocking – – not as good pass blocking” “late round project”

Danniel Faalele OT Minnesota – – Overall #110:  “Huge guy; can’t miss him”  “screen graphic says 6’ 9” and 380 lbs.”  “believe it or not, he is faster than a fire hydrant”  “late round pick”

Isaiah Spiller RB Texas A&M – – Overall #123:  “Good size and agility”  “runs hard”  “late rounds”

Jordan Stout K Penn State – – Overall #130:  “Booming punts that are high and long”  “kickoffs reach end zone”  “kickers/punters go in the 6th or 7th round”

  • [Aside:  Jordan Stout went in the 4th round to the Ravens.]

Hassan Haskins RB Michigan – – Overall #131:  “Big tough bruising runner”  “very good pass blocker”  “good not great speed”

Zach Tom OT Wake Forest – – Overall #140:  “Big and quick”  “good pass blocker/ decent run blocker”  “late rounds”

Sam Howell QB UNC – – Overall # 144:  “Excellent runner in an RPO offense”  “not a big arm but good accuracy” “worth a pick mid-round”  “long slow pass release on deep throws”

Otito Ogbonnio DT UCLA – – Overall $160:  “Good size, good run defender, mediocre pass rush”  “late rounds”

Ko Kieft TE Minnesota – – Overall #218:  “Big man; not fast but good hands and can get yards after catch”  “lined up next to Faalele [see above] they block out the sun”

Tariq Castro-Fields CB Penn State – – Overall #221:  “Good speed; good cover guy”  “comes up to play the run well”  “not as tall as other DBs”  “2nd or 3rd round?”

Jesse Luketa LB Penn State – – Overall #256:  “Big and powerful; hard hitter”  “not super-fast but usually around the ball” “good pass rush from inside”  “3rd round”

Now for some notes on players who I thought could be drafted but who were not.  I will list these folks alphabetically lest anyone think I am prioritizing them:

Chase Allen TE Iowa State:  “Big target and good hands”  “not lots of speed”  decent blocker”  “take late rounds”

Bubba Bolden S Miami:  “Big hitter but not good tackler”  “late rounds”

Trevon Bradford WR Oregon State:  “Small and fast”  “good jump to get high passes” “cannot or will not block”

Ellis Brooks LB Penn State:  “Not very big but always around the ball”  “good tackler” “mid-rounds”

Malachi Carter WR Georgia Tech:  “Big, tall guy with good hands”  “not a lot of speed – possession receiver”

Cameron Dicker K Texas:  “Draft him so local writer can make reference to ‘Dicker the Kicker’”

Dontario Drummond WR Ole Miss:  “Big possession receiver”  Sure hands and gains yards after being hit”  “not big enough to be a tight end”

Jerrion Ealy RB Ole Miss:  “Little guy who is both quick and fast”  “good hands – third down back?”

Jeremiah Hall RB Oklahoma:  “Big power runner”  “good hands” “decent pass blocker”  “mid rounds”

Smoke Monday CB Auburn:  “Good size and strength”  excellent run defender/tackler” “got beat deep a couple times” “love the name”

CJ Morgan DB Mississippi State:  “Good size; sure tackler”  “fast enough to play safety”

Jayden Peevy DT Texas A&M:  “Good interior pass rush”  “strong against run”  “mid-rounds”

Mike Rose LB Iowa State:  “”Big and strong”  “good run defender”  “inside pass rush” “not real fast”

Carson Strong QB Nevada:  “Lots of hype on him being this year’s Josh Allen”  “big arm like Allen but not very accurate”  “big and strong but not quick or fast”  “mid-rounds maybe?”

  • [Aside: This is from watching the Senior Bowl game; I did not see Nevada play last year.]
  • [Another aside:  The Eagles signed Carson Strong to a free agent contract so Jalen Hurts gets to share the QB room with another guy named “Carson”…]

Finally, since this has been all about the players taken in this year’s NFL Draft, the most appropriate closing comment comes from Mike Bianchi in the Orlando Sentinel:

“If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had a sense of humor, he’d step up to the podium and declare: ‘With the No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select … The Wrong Guy!’”

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

 

 

The NFL Draft Is Underway…

The first round of the NFL Draft happened last night.  When the entire Draft is over on Sunday, we will have achieved two milestones in the NFL offseason:

  1. Mercifully, the ubiquitous yet meaningless Mock Drafts for 2022 will stop.
  2. Fans across the country will enter a brief phase of euphoria over the new roster additions for their favorite teams.

I suspect that coaches and GMs around the league will see the end of the Draft as the time to do some pending business in terms of roster building.  There are still hundreds of free agents out there who could be signed to patch holes in rosters that the Draft did not necessarily fill adequately – – or reliably.  There seem to be two main categories of free agents still out there looking for work:

  1. Players with a lot of miles on the tires whose best days are in the past but who can still play professional football.
  2. Younger players who have been deemed expendable – – or at least not worth re-signing – – by a previous employer.

Just to give you and idea of some of the available talent in Category 1 above, here are ten players I found very quickly on the free agent list:

  1. Odell Beckham, Jr.
  2. Brian Bulaga
  3. Jadeveon Clowney
  4. Akiem Hicks
  5. T.Y. Hilton
  6. Melvin Ingram
  7. Julio Jones
  8. Jarvis Landry
  9. Tyrann Mathieu
  10. Carl Nassib

Here is a link where you can find all the outstanding NFL free agents as of now.  If you venture there, I promise that you can find another list of 10 veteran free agents whose careers would indicate that they still have enough left in the tank to help a team in the 2022 season.

No one on that list is going to be the league MVP next year; at the same time, barring injury, all those players can make positive contributions to whatever NFL team acquires their services.  There may not be any pizzazz to this aspect of roster-building as compared to making splashy trades or making a bold draft pick, but this is an important time for NFL execs and coaches.

In addition, low-key free agent signings are as important as developing a “Draft Board” for a team.  Looking at that free agent list in the link above, I saw two signings that had slipped by me because they were not splashy – – but I think both players could be positive acquisitions for their new teams:

  • DJ Chark left the Jags and signed a 1-year deal worth $10M with the Lions.  I am not going to pretend that I have watched Chark intensively over the course of his career with the Jags over the last 4  years.  However, I have seen him play enough to know that he is a speed burner who averaged more than 12 yards per catch with the Jags in his career.  The Lions have a possession receiver – – Amman-Ra St. Brown – – and adding a speed guy to their attack should be helpful.
  • Jordan Whitehead left the Bucs and signed a 2-year deal worth $14.5M with the Jets.  When I saw the Bucs’ games, I thought Whitehead was more important for that defense than either of the Bucs’ much more heralded CBs – – Antoine Winfield and Carlton Davis.  The Jets need help in their defensive backfield, and I think they made a good choice signing Whitehead.

I have one other NFL offseason observation for today and it has to do with two outstanding WRs who have been traded in the offseason.

  • Devante Adams is no longer a Packer catching passes from Aaron Rodgers.  He will be a Raider in 2022 catching passes from Derek Carr.
  • Tyreek Hill is no longer a Chief catching passes from Patrick Mahomes.  He will be a Dolphin in 2022 catching passes from Tua Tagovailoa.

I think this will be an interesting experiment; Adams and Hill are better pass catchers than anyone that either QB has ever had.  The other side of the coin is that both WRs are going to have to deal with QBs who have not ever been considered peers with the QBs the WRs have left behind.  Let the games begin – – and the experiments commence…

Finally, with the NFL Draft having begun last night, there are 32 football players who have achieved hero status in the cities of the teams that drafted them in the first round.  So, let me close today with these words about heroes from H. L. Mencken:

“Nowhere in the world is superiority more easily attained, or more eagerly admitted.  The chief business of the nation, is the setting up of heroes, mainly bogus.”

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

 

 

TV Sports And Cognitive Dissonance…

About 5 years ago, NFL TV ratings were down significantly, and NBA TV ratings were on an uptick.  That was also a time when you could not go more than a week without reading a gloom-and-doom themed column about CTE and how – maybe – there would be no football players available at some point in the future for the NFL to use and abuse.  [Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be football players.]  Ignoring the absolute numbers and only looking at the “trends” and then extrapolating them, there were more than a few pundits who proclaimed that the NBA would soon be on an equal footing with the NFL.

Well, let me present you with some data from 2021/2022:

  • The NBA saw a 19% growth in its average TV audience in the regular season.  The average NBA game had an audience of 1.6M and there was a significant growth in the number of women watching NBA games this year.  According to one report I read, women make up one-third of the NBA TV viewership.
  • Sounds good … and yet …
  • The average NFL audience in the 2021 regular season grew ever so slightly and the average TV audience for an NFL regular season game was 16.1M.  Yes, the average NFL audience was a factor of 10 greater than the average NBA audience.

Notwithstanding the significant NBA growth and the meager increase for the NFL in terms of average TV audiences, the NBA has a lot of growing to do to be considered even a minor “threat” to the NFL.  And at the end of this year, we will get a direct head-to-head comparison.

  • Christmas Day has belonged to the NBA for years.  They televise games from noon to midnight; even though the NBA regular season begins before Thanksgiving, Christmas Day is when the NBA announces itself and puts itself out there.
  • In the past, the NFL has tended to avoid playing a full schedule on Christmas Day.  Not so in 2022, according to reports, the NFL regular season schedule for 2022 will have an NFL triple header on Christmas Day.

Looking ahead, Christmas falls on a Sunday this year.  In the past, when Christmas fell on a Sunday, the NFL would play most of its games on Christmas Eve and play only a single game – or possibly two games in the afternoon – on Christmas.  Supposedly, the schedule for this week will be to play 12 games on Saturday afternoon, 1 game in prime time on Saturday night and the 3 remaining games on Sunday making the TV schedule for Christmas Day look very much like the one for Thanksgiving Day.

And that will put the NFL triple-header in direct opposition to the NBA extravaganza.  I am pretty sure that the NFL games will dominate the ratings that day.  Just one data point to explain my level of confidence here:

  • In 2021, on Thanksgiving Day, the Raiders/Cowboys game in the late afternoon time slot had a TV audience that averaged 38.3 million viewers over the course of the game.

[Aside:  I predict that the NFL Draft later this week will draw a TV audience that is greater than the average NBA game from last season (1.6 million viewers) by at least a factor of 3.  We shall see…]

There is another “calendar twist” this year about which I have yet to see any reporting.  When Christmas falls on a Sunday, so does New Year’s Day.  If I have counted correctly, that would be Week 17 of the upcoming NFL season meaning there could be several games with playoff importance on the same day that college football plays its New Year’s Day bowl games.  Now that would be the definition of your “Football Extravaganza”…

There is another NBA “story” out there that begs comment.  Kyrie Irving proclaimed that he would re-sign with the Nets – – presumably meaning a contract extension since he has an option year left on his current contract – – to stay with the team and help manage it along with Kevin Durant, the team GM and the team owner.  Please note three things:

  1. Irving “managed” this year’s team by sitting out most of the games and then by providing three listless performances in the four-game sweep that eliminated the Nets from the playoffs.
  2. Several years ago, Irving told the Celtics he would re-sign with them and stay with the team for the long term – – if the team would have him back was how he put it.  Less than a year after signing that new contract with Boston, he finagled his way out of town to join the Nets.
  3. Irving’s statement of team management included four people – – himself, Durant, the GM and the owner – – but conspicuously avoided having a head coach or any coach in the management group.

Kyrie Irving is a great basketball player when he puts his mind to it; historically, his mind has a tendency to wander.  Look back on Irving’s actions/decisions over the past several years and then try to square all of them with this statement that he made about wanting to be with the Nets and part of its management:

“You know, sometimes I feel like the noise on the external world or outside noise can seep in, and, you know, I’m not the type of person to allow that to happen. So as we build together as a squad, I just think we need to be tougher mentally and just more honest about what we want to accomplish and just stick to the goal, stick to the mission.”

I have exactly no credentials in psychology, but the dictionary definition of cognitive dissonance is this:

“The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.”

Finally, having looked at calendar holidays earlier on and having just used a dictionary definition, let me close with this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

July Fourth:  An excuse to get drunk, light things on fire, and perhaps even lose one or more of the digits on your hands, all the while knowing you can blame it on loving your country.”

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

 

 

Mostly Baseball Today…

Mark Emmert has announced that he will step down from his position as the President of the NCAA on 30 June 2023 or when his replacement is hired – – whichever comes first.  I think everyone knows the level of esteem I have for the NCAA as an institution so let me step aside and snicker after I put Dr. Emmert’s words here so you can read them for yourself.

“Throughout my tenure I’ve emphasized the need to focus on the experience and priorities of student-athletes.  I am extremely proud of the work of the Association over the last 12 years and especially pleased with the hard work and dedication of the national office staff here in Indianapolis.”

Moving on …  While I was in Ireland, Miguel Cabrera got his 3000th major league hit; only 33 players in baseball’s 150-year history have done that.  However, that is not all he accomplished with that base hit because last season Cabrera hit is 500th MLB home run.  The “3000-hit club” is exclusive; the “500 HR/3000-hit club” is elite.  Here are the 6 players who had previously achieved both milestones:

  1. Henry Aaron
  2. Willie Mays
  3. Eddie Murray
  4. Rafael Palmeiro
  5. Albert Pujols
  6. Alex Rodriguez

Interestingly, two of those players are not in the Hall of Fame.  A-Rod only got 35% of the votes for entrance last year and the threshold is 75%.  After Palmeiro’s infamous finger-wagging testimony before Congress about steroid use and his subsequent positive test, I suspect he will never make it to the Hall.  However, Cabrera and Pujols would seem to be first ballot shoo-ins once they retire and spend 5 years cooling their heels waiting to be eligible to appear on the ballots.

One more thing about Cabrera …  He – like many other excellent players – played for the Marlins before being traded.  Many folks will recall just a few years ago when the Marlins outfield consisted of Marcell Ozuna, Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich – – and then they were all traded away.  What might have passed into dim memory is that the Marlins once traded Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers for 6 prospects:

  • Burke Badenhop
  • Eulogio de la Cruz
  • Camron Maybin
  • Andrew Miller
  • Mike Rabelo
  • Dallas Trahern

Maybin played for 15 seasons in MLB for 10 different teams.  Andrew Miller had a 16- year career in the majors with 7 different teams.  However, none of the players involved in this trade – including Dontrelle Willis – had anything resembling a Hall of Fame career.

Speaking of baseball, it appears that the latest analytics-driven change to the game is no longer “The Shift”.  It appears that with increasing frequency, teams are shifting their infield AND are putting one of the shifted players in as a fourth outfielder to cut down on the outfield gaps where extra base hits might happen.  This would seem to be a smart defensive strategy for some hitters meaning that the “Umbrella Outfield” might reduce scoring in games where it is employed.  If that is the case, then perhaps the “Umbrella Outfield” is not something that will enhance the popularity of the game.  This is something to watch…

Dwight Perry had two items in his column last weekend in the Seattle Times regarding the Oakland A’s:

“The Oakland Coliseum, home to the Athletics, has been invaded by an estimated 50-100 feral cats. Animal control has been trapping the squatters, spaying or neutering them and returning them to the ballpark.

“On the plus side, the Coliseum no longer has a rat problem!”

AND …

“The A’s drew crowds of 3,748 and 2,703 — their worst two gates since 1980 — last week in back-to-back games, cats not included.

“Team publicists, not missing a beat, retroactively proclaimed them Social Distancing Nights.”

I have never been in favor of using taxpayer money to build stadiums for billionaire team owners who then get sweetheart lease deals to play in the new facilities.  At the same time, I never think that it is “proper” for a team owner to hold a local jurisdiction hostage by threatening to move the team if no new stadium is made available.  However, the Oakland Coliseum presents a special situation.

  • It is a horrible place to play.  The facility has been sub-standard for at least the last 15 years – – and maybe the last 25 years.
  • The attendance is awful.  Yes, the team stinks so fans who go to the games would need to enjoy the “game experience” to be repeat customers.  That is unlikely to happen.
  • The owner and the city fathers have been going through a kabuki theater routine about a new facility/franchise move for at least the last 5 years.  Enough of that nonsense; those folks need to make some sort of deal or the A’s need to pick up and move somewhere else.  This is an embarrassment for MLB.

Finally, I will close today with an entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Jury Duty:  Part of the very backbone of the judicial system that sets the United States apart from every other democratic country, this is a proud and honorable civic duty that all Americans should do everything in their power to get out of.”

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

 

 

Thoughts On Jay Wright’s Retirement

They say that a bad penny always turns up.  Well, I guess that makes me like a “bad penny” because I have returned from Dublin and will be back at the keyboard here in Curmudgeon Central notwithstanding the lack of clamor for me to be so.  Ironically, we experienced 7 consecutive days of sunshine in Dublin and now on our first day back in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC, there is total cloud cover in the sky and the weather forecast has a 70% chance of rain later in the day.

I have a bunch of catching up to do, so let me begin with some thoughts about the retirement of Jay Wright as the Villanova head basketball coach.  I do not know Jay Wright; I have never met Jay Wright.  I do know several people who have known him for years and I have communicated with two of them since I read the news of Wright’s retirement.  Both were shocked – – as was I – – at the announcement and all three of us think that college basketball is now missing a positive influence in the game.

Wright never competed in the college basketball “one-and-done sweepstakes”; he took players who were “3-star and 4-star” recruits who demonstrated that they were smart and that they were willing to be coached by someone who was genuinely committed to making them better players and better persons.  And with those “lesser recruits”, Wright won two national championships while graduating a whole lot of the players who stayed at Villanova with the program.  What Jay Wright did was to take the spirit of the NCAA rules and to abide by that spirit and still find ways to beat other teams who followed the rules as interpreted but gave the spirit of the rules a wink and a nod.

In 21 seasons at Villanova, Jay Wright made the Final Four four times and won the national championship twice.  Playing in the highly competitive Big East for 21 seasons, his teams won 72.5% of their games.  The man can coach, and he can develop players; the numbers say that, and the eyeball test confirms that.

I read speculation that his retirement from Villanova has a Machiavellian motivation.

  • The Lakers need a coach.
  • Current Sixers coach, Doc Rivers, seemingly wants that job.
  • Ergo, Jay Wright is now available to take the Sixers’ job should it come open.

As I said, I do not know Jay Wright; and as I have professed here many times, I do not read minds.  However, it does seem to me that if Wright really wanted a shot at the Sixers’ job in Philly, all he would have to do is place a phone call to the Sixers’ GM once Rivers departed to get himself an interview for the job.  His contract with Villanova would not be an insurmountable barrier.

Personally, my guess – and I do mean guess  – – as to the reason why he retired last week is that the landscape of college sports has changed dramatically in the last couple of years and maybe he just does not like what he sees as the new terrain.  Let me be clear, there are two major changes in collegiate sports in the US which are positively motivated.  Unfortunately, as with many things that are fundamentally good ideas, there are ways to take the edge off their beneficence.

  • The first major change is having athletes get paid for their name, image and likeness (NIL).  Fundamentally  this is totally fair and probably should have been in place long ago.  The problem is that the NCAA has turned over governance of this issue to anyone and everyone – – demonstrating conclusively to me that the NCAA is genuinely useless as a governing body.  And the lack of governance means there are already huge abuses of the system.  According to reports, boosters at Texas A&M pooled $25M this year to be paid out to football recruits.  That was not the intent of NIL ab initio.
  • The second change is the transfer portal.  Of course, players should be able to move from one school to another just as chemistry majors can transfer from one school to another.  However, the transfer portal has no costs associated with it nor is there any standardization regarding qualifications to be allowed to transfer – – as would be the case for most chemistry majors seeking to transfer schools.  In the current environment, any player can decide to transfer if he is unhappy with the selection of condiments available in the student union cafeteria for his hamburgers.

I am not saying that NIL payments and the transfer portal are malicious and need to be expunged from college sports.  I am saying that when you have a fifth-year graduate student playing in games at his fifth different school, there is something in the system that just might need to be corrected.  The same goes for boosters amassing a recruiting war chest of $25M to get themselves a football team.

My guess – – remember it is a guess – – is that Jay Wright sees where this is going and that he decided it is not where he wanted to go.  It is not nearly as easy to determine coach’s salaries as it is to determine pro athletes’ salaries, but if my calculations are correct, Wright has earned more than $30M over the last decade.  To me, that means he is financially secure and does not need to spend time in his life doing something he prefers not to do.

  • [Aside:  If I am even nearly correct in my estimate of his earnings above, that also means he does not need a coaching offer from the Sixers to keep body and soul together.]

Personally, I will miss Jay Wright as part of the national college basketball picture.  I think that the game itself will miss him even more than I will.  Sic transit gloria mundi…

Lest I lose “curmudgeon cred” here with my praise for Jay Wright, let me offer one bit of criticism.  For years Jay Wright’s presence on the sidelines was one of class;  you could easily have labeled him as “Armani Jay” with his classically tailored suits and ties.  He looked as if he had just finished a “fashion shoot” as he arrived at the arena for the game.  Last year, Jay Wright took to wearing what looked like a sweat suit and walking shoes on the sidelines.  I liked “Armani Jay” a whole lot better than last year’s “Gym Clothes Jay”.

Finally,  since I have just returned from a week in Ireland, let me close today with an observation about Irish people by Samuel Johnson:

“The Irish are a fair people – they never speak well of one another.”

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

 

 

Wolves And Chickens…

I am still in Dublin, but this will be the final communique from across the Atlantic for this visit.  We have brought five consecutive days of sunshine to the city; so I expect the Chamber of Commerce and/or the Tourist Bureau here to offer to host us on a regular basis once they find out the cause of this outbreak of blue-sky days.

The Minnesota Timberwolves and their current owner, Glen Taylor have drawn the ire of animal rights activists.

  • During the play-in game between the Timberwolves and the Clippers, a protestor tried to glue herself to the court.  [Aside:  Yes, you read that correctly.]  During the administration of a free throw, the game had to be halted as a protester ran onto the floor and attempted to glue her wrists to the court.  Security guards grabbed the woman and got her off the court and the area was cleaned.
  • When the Timberwolves made it to the next round of the playoffs against the Grizzlies, play was interrupted again when another protestor chained herself to the basket as an act of protest.  Security guards unchained the woman and five of them carried the woman out of the arena.  While she was chained to the basket, the woman threw animal rights leaflets on the floor and she wore a tee shirt that said, “Glen Taylor Roasts Animals Alive”.

Here is my best understanding of the situation.  Glen Taylor owns a farm that raises chickens in addition to owning the Timberwolves – – which he has just sold .  Evidently, there was an outbreak of avian flu at one of his farms and the group that is orchestrating these protests alleges that Taylor’s farm – – and therefore Taylor himself by extension – – killed 5 million chickens by shutting off the ventilation systems in their habitat.

Taylor will no longer own the Wolves after they finish playing this season.  The new owners will be a consortium led by Alex Rodriguez.  Reports say that the new owners paid $1.5B to buy the franchise – – so I suspect that Glen Taylor will be able to withstand the loss he incurred from having to dispose of those infected chickens.

Finally, let me close with this observation about chickens by Oscar Wilde:

“People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely because chickens run about so absurdly that it is impossible to count them accurately.”

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

 

 

Sunshine In Dublin…

Greetings from Dublin, Ireland where we have experienced three consecutive days of full sunshine.  We left the US on Sunday night, but I did bring a few notes with me to allow for brief commentary until we get home early next week.

I watched a bit of the opening weekend action in the USFL before leaving the US last Sunday night.  Here are five notes I made during the telecast:

  1. The two teams are playing the game in an organized way.  It looks as if the teams have been practicing and playing together for a long time – – which is not the case.  That is a credit to the coaching staffs.
  2. Given the recent record of Spring Football Leagues, it should be considered a major accomplishment if the USFL simply makes it to a second season next April.
  3. Players are delivering enthusiastic performances.  Motivation is likely that they want NFL observers to see them hustling and making plays as often as possible.  Every player here wants to “graduate” to the NFL.
  4. Curt Menefee and Joel Klatt as an announcing team were very good.  Klatt sometimes rattles on, but they let the game speak for itself to a large measure.  They were certainly better than many of the college football announcing crews out there.
  5. I am already tired of the “helmet camera”.  Just because technology allows for that to be part of the telecast does not mean it enhances the telecast.

Speaking of TV announcers, there was some good news last week about one of them.  Dick Vitale got to “ring the bell” when tests showed him to be cancer-free.  Vitale had been diagnosed with lymphoma and he also had surgery to remove a melanoma, but after several months of treatment, he went through a PET Scan, and it came up clean.

Vitale is 82 years old; plans call for him to return to the airwaves for ESPN starting next college basketball season.

The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs is working to remove Native American mascots from various public schools in the State.  It appears that the next target will be schools named “Thunderbirds” because that name represents a mythical bird that is an important part of the culture of several tribes in the State.  I wonder how this Commission will react when the Air Force Thunderbirds land at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs…

Finally, here is an observation from Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“There is an art, or rather, a knack to flying. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.  Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.”

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