Bob Schwartz

Category: Sports

NFL Priorities

NFL

Which of these three NFL issues deserves the deepest continuous attention by the league, by fans, by the media, and by the public?

1. Frequent on-field concussions that demonstrably lead to players having permanent brain damage, diminished quality of life, and premature death.

2. Frequent off-field antisocial and possibly criminal behavior by celebrated players.

3. A possibly deflated football.

Note: It is possible that more scientists have been covered talking about the football that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may have had deflated than about the concussions in the NFL.

The NFL and Ferguson

Roger Goodell NFL

NFL player Ray Rice beat his then-fiancée/now-wife unconscious inside an elevator in Atlantic City. Police officer Darren Wilson shot dead an unarmed teenager in the middle of a street in Ferguson, Missouri.

(To Rice’s credit, he had the courtesy to drag her body out of the elevator, while the Ferguson police left Michael Brown’s body on that street for hours.)

These two incidents are so much the same and so different. They tell us things we don’t want to hear, know, or think about. They also tell us one surprisingly good thing. The establishment interests can be just as committed to privileging a black American as killing him ruthlessly, under the right circumstances. Especially if there’s big money at stake. So we learn that ignominy is race neutral at last.

Until yesterday there was no publicly available video of the beating, though it was apparently available and seen by various authorities. The only public video until then was from the outside of the elevator, merely showing Rice dragging the body, not beating it. As one journalist now explains his defense of Rice’s mere two-game NFL suspension and not being charged with a felony:

The inside-the-elevator video shows Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, provoking, brutally assaulting and then casually and callously standing over his knocked-out fiancée (who is now his wife). His actions are sickening in their depravity and confirm a worst-case-scenario narrative I was reluctant to believe after seeing only the previously released, outside-the-elevator video.

I thought the full video would explain why: Why police originally charged Ray and Janay with simple assault. Why the prosecutor allowed Ray to enter a diversion program. Why Janay apologized for her role. Why Janay chose to marry Ray. Why the Ravens enthusiastically supported Rice and used their facilities in helping him rehabilitate his image. Why Goodell suspended Rice for only two games.

I wrongly and naively thought that she was the aggressor in the attack, that Rice reflexively shoved her to fend her off and she slipped, fell and hit her head [emphasis added]. I did not think a man could sucker-punch a woman on tape and have the police, a prosecutor, the victim and the image-conscious NFL all work to treat the assaulter in a sympathetic fashion.

Fell and hit her head. That reminds us of nothing so much as the stories reported by battered children (and wives and girlfriends) who “run into doors.” Except this is a journalist using his best investigative and inferential skills to draw an “obvious” circumstantial conclusion. He could be forgiven for drawing the same ridiculous conclusion as law enforcement, the NFL, and the Baltimore Ravens. Except that some or all of them had the inside the elevator video or at least more detail, and still came to the same conclusion, at least publicly.

There is no video of exactly what happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, though there are witnesses to pieces of it, an audio recording, and more than one autopsy. There the instinct on the part of vested interests and the establishment was to wait and see, but really to stonewall, cover up, and put the best light on the situation. That turned out to be a disastrous approach, but at least it got people talking about former unmentionables. Small consolation.

How is this any different than what is going on with Ray Rice? The vested interests tried to put the best light on his situation, and despite outrage, almost got away with it. How are the people who up until yesterday circled the wagons around Ray Rice, giving him the benefit of the doubt and a slap on the wrist, any different than those who have been circling the wagons around Darren Wilson, giving him the benefit of the doubt?

One difference is that Ferguson is a small predominantly black town with a small almost entirely white police force that appears to have some race issues, while the NFL is a huge enterprise predominantly owned and run by white people with a pro game substantially played by black men that appears to have some race issues. It’s those issues, along with other social, legal and moral ones, that have us all talking. About policing. About the NFL. About race.

The victims were both black, one a kid possibly involved in petty crime (there’s a video of that), the other a woman engaged to a professional warrior who could have easily killed her, rather than just beating her senseless after she “provoked” him (there’s now video of that).

Maybe from the first, Ray Rice should have taken the approach that will certainly be at the center of Darren Wilson’s defense, assuming he is charged: I was in fear for my life. Up until yesterday, lots of people would apparently have been willing to accept a story like that, if it served their interests. Thankfully, they now all have to stop pretending, and we can start asking what it all means.

Jack Cristil: The Voice of God is Gone

Jack Cristil Biography

There are two ways you might know Jack Cristil, who died this weekend at the age of 88. But maybe not.

If you’re from Mississippi, or an SEC sports fan, you know him as the The Voice of Mississippi State football and basketball for almost sixty years, until his retirement in 2011.

If you are a member of the Tupelo Jewish community, where Jack was an essential part of Temple B’nai Israel for almost that long, you know him, more or less, as The Voice of God. In addition to his leadership roles in the congregation, Jack frequently led services. Most of us have heard clergy and lay people at the pulpit with some memorable voices and presences. Jack stood above them all. That perfectly modulated baritone, driven by his deep and unshakable faith, gave us all the play-by-play for a different sort of game, season after season.

That extraordinary voice would mean nothing without the man behind it—just a trick of vocal cords and breath. But Jack’s mind and heart were even bigger than that voice. Which is why when he spoke on the radio or at services, or in the more intimate setting of a meeting or conversation, you listened. Some people get our attention by the way they say things, and Jack could get anybody’s attention. But others keep our attention because of what they say, and even more, who they are.

In case you still think that Jack was not so well-known or important, see the above book cover from a biography of him. You may not have heard of Jack or of the author, veteran Mississippi journalist Sid Salter. But the man who wrote the Foreword to Jack’s biography is a little more familiar—a Memphis-based writer named John Grisham.

And if that’s not famous enough, here’s a photo of Jack interviewing Elvis:

Jack Cristil and Elvis

Jack is gone, but anyone who has heard that voice, even once, will hear it forever. One of Jack’s favorite bits in services was to ask the congregation to turn to a particular page in the prayer book and to indicate having done so by being seated. Today, we indicate our love and respect by standing up. We hear you, Jack.

Ukraine: What’s Happening on the Weak Side?

Basketball
The weak side in basketball does not suggest weakness. It is the part of the court away from the ball. This doesn’t mean that the players there are weak or that the action there is unimportant. On the best teams, there can be almost as much happening on the weak side as there is on the strong side. Players may be running around, positioning themselves to take advantage, either by scoring or by taking away the ball. On the lesser teams, weak side players sometimes seem to drift aimlessly, or just stand around, depending on someone else to somehow work it out. If you don’t have the ball, what else is there to do?

We know exactly where the ball is in the current Ukraine crisis. And we know exactly who has the ball. The question is what the players on the weak side are doing. Are there plays carefully diagramed by the coach, practiced for just such a situation? Is there a player away from the ball, away from the basket, just waiting to heroically steal and drive all the way down court? Or are the weak side players drifting, trying to remember plays they once learned or improvise new ones?

The shot clock is running.

Putin About to Win Post-Olympics Invasion Competition

Putin Olympics
In August 1936 Adolf Hitler hosted the Olympics in Germany. In March 1938 he invaded Austria. He waited about 18 months.

In February 2014 Vladimir Putin hosted the Olympics in Russia. Just a few days after the closing ceremonies, Putin is hosting ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych. Putin is also engaging in rhetoric and military movements that reasonably look like a prelude to some sort of Russian intervention in the Crimea region of eastern Ukraine, or he is at least engaging in bullying and sabre rattling.

Putin is on his way to winning the gold for post-Olympics invasions, moving Hitler down to the silver. Well done.

League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis

league-of-denial-raster-br10-8
You may not think that you want to watch the new PBS Frontline documentary League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.

You may not want to spend almost two hours on a documentary, even a superb one. You may not like football, may not know anybody who plays football at any level, may not care about the business of sports. Then again, some or all of those may apply to you.

It doesn’t matter. You can watch League of Denial online. Please watch it.

One of the many lessons you will learn, if you didn’t already know, is that we pay a price for everything. Or at least somebody does. The price is sometimes advertised and obvious, but sometimes hard to find or even hidden. The point is not that something is good or bad, right or wrong, but that we can only make informed and enlightened decisions when everything is known. No more or less.

MLB.com At Bat App

MLB-At-Bat-Splashscreen
About the game of baseball, you cannot say enough great things. No matter how many players in other sports wear John 3:16 eye black or bend a celebratory knee in devotion, baseball is the sport God invented and intended for great athletes to play—proven, among other evidence, by the 60 feet from home to first that is the perfect balance between the speed of a running batter and the speed of a ball thrown from shortstop. Proven also by that fact that very few stars in those other sports have succeeded at baseball, including the greatest of all basketball players, Michael Jordan. If baseball is God’s game, the curve ball is God’s wicked joke.

About the business of baseball, it is more equivocal. As with all sports, teams face daunting changes as the financial stakes have grown exponentially. Some teams have handled the challenge with professionalism, skill and finesse, and with respect for the game, for players, and most of all for fans. With other teams, the terms self-interested and heedless of baseball’s best interests may apply. Right now, a number of Florida fans consider Miami Marlins owner Jeff Loria the poster person for that.

About Major League Baseball, the enterprise overlord that oversees all this, there is even more equivocation. Most of that is centered on the Commissioner. Just as historians talk about the evolution of the Imperial Presidency, the Imperial Commisionership grew out the infamous Black Sox Scandal in 1919, when players on the White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series. The next year, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed Commissioner to take control, and ever since, the Commissioner has served an increasingly central role in the fortunes (metaphorically and literally) of the game.

The best modern Commissioner, who combined the myth and poetry of baseball with its down and dirty aspects, was Bart Giamatti, whose tenure was truncated by his untimely death. Giamatti knew how to manage huge and venerable institutions as president of Yale, but also understood the soul of the sport as a writer and a passionate lover of baseball. The current long-time Commissioner, Bud Selig, is more controversial, and a bit less generally beloved or respected in some quarters. Selig is no poet, nor was meant to be, but some knowledgeable fans also believe that as the game both succeeded and suffered over the past decades, he was a catalyst for both.

Whether or not you are a fan of the Commissioner, or of the direction MLB is taking, or of the direction your particular team is taking, it is time to give credit where it’s due.

Baseball fans are as fanatic as any—some might say more than any—in delving into the details, past and present. Once upon a time, that might have meant reading the Sporting News, especially as spring training for a new season began. Then magazines began popping up, and then fantasy leagues, and then more magazines to inform the fantasy leagues.

But nothing beats the comprehension and immediacy of digital for any special interest, and baseball is no different. The very thought of having a mobile app to feed your baseball addiction is almost too much to bear. The sad news, though, is that with one grand exception, baseball is not yet successfully mobile. Typical for the mobile realm, there’s a bunch of junk and some almost-decent efforts.

The exception: love, hate or question MLB, you have to admit that the free MLB.com At Bat mobile app is a model of how to serve a universe of fanatics. (As an extension of their online offerings, there are paid premium versions that include live games.) Scoreboard, standings, players, teams, rosters, news—it is all there, in an admirably usable and appealing form. They keep working at it too, with a major overhaul just as spring training began. It is not perfect, but it will do until something better comes along.

If you are a real baseball fan, married to the game, you have reasons to complain and moan about MLB even as you are ecstatically thankful for your bliss. Set aside whatever those complaints are and here, as another season begins,  consider downloading the MLB.com At Bat mobile app today.

Permissions and Privacy: Medium

As with all mobile apps, please read carefully the Permissions requested by the developer. Users should be diligent in weighing potential privacy issues against the utility and value of an app.

NASCAR Follows NRA Off the Roof

NRA 300
The National Rifle Association jumped off the public relations roof in the wake of Newtown and the legislative attempts to curb gun violence.

Which is fine. The First Amendment guarantees the right of individuals or groups to jump off any rhetorical roof, so long as no one is harmed (except maybe for the jumper). There is money to be made and power to be gained by taking extreme or contrarian positions, sometimes the louder and more insistent the better.

But as your parents advised you—though you may have willfully ignored the advice—just because Johnny jumps off the roof doesn’t mean you should do the same.

As recently as last September, the NRA sponsored a NASCAR race, the NRA American Warrior 300 in Atlanta.

Today it was announced that the NRA will be sponsoring a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway this April, to be called the NRA 500.

Something happened between September and April: Newtown, Sandy Hook, twenty children slaughtered.

The NRA believes that if anything happened, it only makes it more important than ever to pretend that nothing happened, or to pretend that whatever happened can’t be prevented by any proposed measures, or to pretend that what happened is being unfairly used to threaten their existence and the Second Amendment. The NRA believes it has the support of millions, and that its obstruction is massively appreciated, all national polls to the contrary. It believes that even if it is jumping off some roof, there is a safety net to catch it.

NASCAR may believe that it will be caught by that same safety net, since many NASCAR fans are also gun owners, if not NRA members. NASCAR may feel it is caught between a rock and a hard place: damned if they continue to work with the NRA, damned if they don’t. Of course, even many NRA members are skeptical, some embarrassed, by the NRA’s current extremism and obstruction. On top of that, the NRA PR safety net, even if it does still exist, is probably big enough for just one.

Maybe an NRA race this April won’t be such a big deal for NASCAR. But maybe it will be. If it is, NASCAR shouldn’t expect that there will be a net to catch it. We will know in the days to come whether this is a brilliant move, just business as usual, or a thud.

Dennis Rodman Fired from Council on Foreign Relations

Dennis Rodman
For the record, that headline is a joke.

Former NBA Star Dennis Rodman has never been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, either before or after his surreal visit with Kim Jung Un in North Korea. The CFR says, “With nearly 4,700 members and term members, CFR’s roster includes top government officials, renowned scholars, business leaders, acclaimed journalists, prominent lawyers, and distinguished nonprofit professionals.” Dennis Rodman is not one of those.

If you have followed the story of Rodman’s North Korean visit, you may be amused.

If you have not, please do not spend a single brain cell on learning anything more. If you want any engagement at all, just take a look at the photo above of Dennis Rodman in a wedding dress (he was not getting married). Consider that he is one of the biggest stories in America today, at least for fifteen minutes. Then consider why we have difficulty solving real problems.

Presidential Debates Without Tears: Politics Isn’t Beanbag

 


You can’t expect objective evaluations of the first Presidential debate from either campaign. Republicans want to talk hyperbolically about a victory. Democrats may have candid ideas, but few outside the inner circles will hear them.

The significance of any competition, besides the actual win or loss, is lessons learned. After that first debate, four explanations appear:

The President and his campaign were complacent.
They misread the situation.
They could not strategize or execute effectively.
It was just a bad night.

It was probably a little of all of these. Some will think that last one is just an excuse made by losers, but if you’ve watched competitions of all kinds, sports and otherwise, you’ve seen it. It’s circumstances, it’s the moment. It’s a quantum thing.

Nevertheless, that still leaves the other three as explanations and lessons.

The most significant Republican politician of the last days of the 20th century—yes, that would be Newt Gingrich—said straight out during the halcyon days of the primaries that Mitt Romney was a liar. Whether that was said with admiration or dismay is hard to know.

During that same campaign, Romney observed that “Politics isn’t beanbag.” Detractors then and now focused on the absurdity of this reference to an obscure children’s game. It was like his mentions of trees or the Keystone Cops. Who talks like that, they scoffed.

The focus was on the wrong point of the statement. Strange as Romney may appear to many people, one thing that isn’t strange, and shouldn’t be, is his ambition. Few if any politicians have ever played beanbag, or seen a beanbag match, if that’s what it’s called. But every politician knows about fighting hard, with or without rules.

If a banner saying “Politics isn’t beanbag” isn’t hanging from the wall of the Obama debate headquarters, it should be. Everything the campaign needs to know about Mitt Romney is captured in those three words.