Bob Schwartz

Tag: NFL

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.

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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.

All Politicians Are Progressives

Horse Carriage - Lincoln
Either you embrace innovation or you don’t. And so all politicians who use an iPhone or love the NFL are progressives.

Innovation has two faces. One is the innovation that solves problems. The other is innovation that just does stuff—even if you didn’t ask for it, even if you never knew you wanted it or needed it. Moving from horse transport to self-contained mechanical carriages solved a basic problem, but over time added features some of which are useful and practical for the central function, others of which are just enjoyment that becomes essential. Because times change, as do human expectations and aspirations. Innovation feeds that.

So unless you are a politician who doesn’t have a smartphone, or who doesn’t use a phone or computer at all, or doesn’t drive a tricked-out luxury car (it counts even if you have a driver), you are the beneficiary and tacit endorser of innovation. Which is why when some politicians hearken back to the comprehensive goodness of 18th century America—or 19th or 20th, depending on the issue—it is dangerously silly. This economic Drecession requires an embrace of 360 degree innovation, not just untaxing and unburdening ourselves to prosperity. Not just churning out a generation of STEMers to magically bring us back to former glory. And not just putting digital devices in the hands of every school child either.

This is not the exclusive purview of any political party. There is a tendency, even among the most well-meaning, to take pages from a beloved playbook that are no longer viable. When the legendary coach Sid Gillman changed pro football forever in the 1950s by making the forward pass the centerpiece of the game, it was scoffed at—until he started winning championships and opponents had to permanently rethink the defensive game.

If politicians want to ride around in fancy horse-drawn carriages and send their messages by horse-carried post (if they haven’t made the Post Office disappear), that’s okay. But chances are they’ve embraced innovation in practically every minute of their lives (they love their Twitter!) because, well, it is 2013. It is 2013, everywhere, in every facet, and pretending otherwise is just horse-and-buggy policy. Or maybe just a convenient way to get elected.

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.