ROGER GOODELL IS A FAILURE

Pro football is in trouble.  A significant decline in viewership of NFL pro football could trigger a death spiral for the entire sport.

Pro football has a concussions issue, an overall safety issue (e.g., spinal injuries), a saturation issue (football on Sunday night, Monday night, Thursday night), an empirical ambitions issue (games in the U.K., Mexico, etc.), a feminist/metrosexual issue (football is too mean, violent, aggressive, and manly), a players-as-felons issue (Ezekiel Elliott, Ray Rice, etc.), and a race-&-politics issue (Colin Kaepernick, a decent QB who is shunned because he chose an outrageous platform from which to stage his socio-political protests).  The cumulative magnitude of these issues is being revealed by a substantial decline in recent TV ratings.

Thus we have a Bob Costas piling on, with his observation that we may be headed toward a day when the only remaining players will be athletes for whom football is the only way out of poverty –  “At some point  . . .  parents say, ‘I don’t want my kids to play.’ And then it becomes only the province of the poor, who want it for economic reasons to get up and out.”  Is it a coincidence that the NFL is presently 70% black?

Some fans, especially former players and coaches, have already indicated that they find the pro game boring and they think college football is way more interesting because it involves more action, more innovation, more complexity.  These fans say they have already switched to college ball and they do not miss pro ball at all.

Well, here’s the problem.  If pro football became a niche sport, why would an elite athlete want to play college ball?  Young athletes do not matriculate in order to study Sophocles or Thomas Acquinas, they do it to prepare themselves to play football for big money.  Take away pro ball, you take away college ball in pretty short order.  And maybe high school ball and Pop Warner, which are already in trouble.  Even with all the slimy agents and alumni, college players do not make seven figures a year.  Blacks would drop football if it no longer offered them a future, and whites would drop football if their mothers would no longer let them risk concussion and paralysis.  Game over.

Commissioner Goodell thinks he should be retained as NFL Commissioner because the NFL has made a ton of money during his regime.  That might be persuasive if the NFL were a publicly-owned corporation offering positive projections, but it is not.  The future does not look so great, largely because Goodell has failed to resolve any of the critical issues and has no apparent plans for doing so, meaning he stinks at his job regardless of the NFL’s 2016 financials.  If Goodell had the necessary talents for the job, we would never have had a Tom Brady fiasco, an Ezekiel Elliott fiasco, or a Colin Kaepernick fiasco.  But we did, and millions of fans were alienated and the NFL was left with a legal/social/political crisis.  Help!

SAVING THE NFL

Here is why – and how  – the Houston Texans should hire Colin Kaepernick.

The take-a-knee movement in football is a tragedy.  If the point is to complain about poor treatment of black people in America, especially poor treatment by the police, that is a fair point, a fair topic for conversation.  But what has that got to do with football – which employs far more blacks than whites and pays them far more than what the vast majority of white Americans are paid?  What does police misconduct have to do with the national anthem and the flag – which are inspirational symbols the vast majority of citizens respect?   Short answer:  nothing.  The anthem/flag platform was chosen because:    (i) it would attract a lot of attention by annoying a lot of people; and thus (ii) it would give the players greater leverage in their battle to achieve improvements in their treatment by their fellow citizens and the police.  So far, the jury is still out on whether the players have helped their cause.

Which brings us to Kaepernick, the leader of the Take-A-Knee movement.  It comes as no shock that the American Left, which includes virtually everyone who reports or comments on sports on TV or radio or in the newspapers (even the Wall Street Journal), argues that Kaepernick should be picked up by an NFL team.  In truth, the lefties would probably prefer a perpetual stalemate where CK does not get hired but remains a prop for the argument that pro sports in America are controlled by racist bigots.

The best venue for the solution to the TAK crisis might prove to be the Houston Texans, now reduced to rubble by season-ending injuries to both the best defensive player in football (J. J. Watt) and arguably the best offensive player in football (rookie Deshaun Watson).  The Texans would  have little to lose by hiring CK, other than the support of their fan base, which would have a cow but would  eventually calm down if the team explained the move properly and  CK actually won the Texans a few games they otherwise would have lost.  Besides, with a 4-year wait-list for season tickets, the team would have no difficulty in replacing people who gave up their seats on principle.  Especially with Watson and Watt coming back, amidst visions of Super Bowls.

So, why not give it a shot?  The media answer:  a moot point.  They won’t, because owner Bob McNair is a billionaire white guy – i.e., a racist bigot.  Isn’t he the guy who referred to the NFL players as “prison inmates.”  Well, no, that is not what he said or meant, though the media have chosen to disregard McNair’s plausible and sensible explanation that his “prison inmate” comment was a slam at Roger Goodell, not at the players.  In fact, McNair has shown, time and time again, that he is totally colorblind regarding both management and players.

So, should McNair OK a CK-hiring?  Sure.  CK is maybe the last of what used to be thought of as the prototype black QB:  great runner, decent arm, limited ability to master the full range of QB responsibilities (reading the defense, checking down to the right receiver, etc.).  In other words, Vince Young.  Could the right coach turn CK into a decent QB?  Well, if anyone could do it, it would be Coach O’Brien, who specializes in getting good football out of bad QBs.  O’Brien has been masterful in handling Deshaun Watson, who combines the best of the white QB model with the best of the black QB model, a blend of Tom Brady and Michael Vick.  CK is no Deshaun Watson, but he is not chopped liver, either.

If handled correctly, the hiring of CK could be a masterstroke, a way to save the NFL, to halt the death spiral, a way to satisfy both the TAK players and their patriotic fan base. Even if CK stunk.  How could McNair do it, assuming his coaches were OK with bringing in CK?  McNair would seek a meeting with CK to discuss race and politics in football, might seize the opportunity to elaborate on the point that being a patriot does not make one a racist.  No one need win the argument, just a fair and frank exchange of views.   McNair, before signing CK, would insist upon CK’s commitment not to take knees or raise fists or link arms or take any other symbolic actions during the anthem while wearing a Texans’ uniform.  Out of uniform, CK, like all the Texans’ players, would be free to say whatever the heck he wanted.  We are happy to have you, we respect your views on race and politics, but on the field, our team, our rules.

The Texans’ fans would reluctantly be OK with it – and would hope that Kaepernick still had some good football in him.  But even if he proved a bust, his hiring, and the terms under which it took place, would defuse the crisis and make McNair and the Texans heroes for saving the game while improving race-relations.  Even if they could not save the Texans’ 2017 season.

TEXAS V. EVERYBODY

It now appears likely that both our Houston Astros and our Houston Texans will have their seasons sacrificed on the altar of political correctitude, their morale blown to bits by twin explosions of overdone umbrage.  Well, at least we Texas sports fans can draw solace from knowing that, in bowing to the gods of our new religion, we all took one for the cultural team.  Today’s lineup:

  • ESPN The Magazine, reporting on an October 18 meeting attended by NFL league executives, team owners, and players, quoted Bob McNair, the Texans’ owner, as stating that “we cannot have the inmates running the prison.” The report provides zero context for the comment, but the players, heeding the immortal advice of Rahm Emanuel (“never let a good crisis go to waste”), volunteered to offer context, claiming that McNair was insulting the players, was referring to them as the “prison inmates” in his metaphor.  McNair himself responded to the uproar with both an apology and an explanation: one of the NFL’s problems is that the owners, having ceded too much control of the sport to the NFL commissioner, have in effect put the “inmates” (i.e., Commissioner Goodell and his staff) in the position of running the “prison” (i.e., the teams).  In McNair’s view, the commissioner’s job is to execute the will of his bosses (the owners), not to overrule them.  Nothing newsworthy here; that tug of war has been going on for ¾ of a century.  As for whether McNair’s statement of intent was correct and complete, should we care?  Short of  psychological testing, there is no way to figure out what McNair originally meant, but we do have his apology and explanation, providing assurance that he does not consider players as inmates and has never done so.  In a rational world, that would suffice.  But McNair’s intended meaning was irrelevant to the players, who were delighted to channel their inner Rahm Emanuel.  For today’s victims, no explanation, apology, or penance is enough.
  • Speaking of today’s victims, we come to the sad case of the Astros’ Yulieski Gurriel, their 33-year-old rookie who escaped from Cuba last year and had been the ‘Stros’ best hitter in the playoffs. Gurriel did something worse than spitting at the umpire or giving the fans the finger:  after hitting a home run and returning to his dugout, he made a pair of gestures to the opposing pitcher that would be regarded as good-natured ribbing in Cuba (and much of the rest of the world), if delivered between two friends or colleagues or fellow-competitors.  (As for America, you want to tell me NFL offensive and defensive linepersons do not do stuff like this, and worse?)  Yes, baseball has a code that you avoid showing up the opponent, but this was dugout-to-dugout.  I am OK with giving Gurriel a lecture, maybe a fine, maybe 2 hours locked in a room with Rachel Maddow, plus an explanation that this stuff might be OK in Cuba but not here.  But a 5-game suspension?  For a guy who apparently had no idea this was a capital offense in MLB? Plus doing it immediately, which might have placated America’s moral guardians but also seriously affected the Astros’ morale for the rest of the World Series?

WOULD THE PLAYERS TAKE A KNEE FOR THE INTERNATIONALE?

Here is the critical passage from the  “Memo 4 players sent NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell,” as reported by Yahoo Sports on September 20  ( see  https://sports.yahoo.com/memo-4-players-sent-nfl-commissioner-roger-goodell-030818178.html ):  “As players whom (sic) have been advocating for social justice for the past year, we appreciate the opportunity to engage with you, the league, owners, coaches and GMs to make our communities stronger. As we shared with you, the silence following our individual and collective demonstrations around the national anthem to raise awareness to racial inequality . . . .”  (italics added, for emphasis).  One of those players, Michael Bennett of the Seahawks, has continued to speak out and to repeat his call for social justice and an end to racial inequality.

Mr. Bennett seems sincere and thoughtful, one who has been deeply affected by negative experiences with employers and the police.  The guess here is that he picked-up on “social justice” and “inequality” from listening to President Obama and that he has no idea of the etymology of those terms, which represent the essence of the goals and ideals of socialism and communism, going back not just to Barack Obama but to the original “community organizer,” Saul Alinsky, and indeed to the big guy, Karl Marx.  Translated from lefty Newspeak, “social justice” means the government controls everything and makes sure you are treated the same as everyone else – i.e., your life is just as crappy as your neighbor’s – and “inequality” means there are no rich people (other than officials of the ruling political party), and everyone is equally poor.  However glorious and idealistic these terms may sound to a college sophomore, you should not have graduated before figuring out they are fraudulent.  Mr. Bennett and his colleagues are innocent pawns in a larger game.  The knee-taking, raised arms, and sit-downs might not be intended as insults to the anthem or the flag, but there can be no doubt that they constitute political advocacy.  Denying that the protests are political is a con.

For Mr. Bennett and others, “social justice” is targeted mainly at racial-profiling by the police and anti-black bias by the judicial system.  Their frustration is understandable:  blacks in America know there are a lot of bad apples wearing a police uniform or sitting on juries, some are racists, some are people of low character and an instinct to bully.  Maybe the country needs its Colin Kaepernicks to remind us of the problem of the rogue cop and the bigoted juror.  But the problem cannot be solved by setting quotas on convictions of black defendants or banning profiling; none of that would make life safer or better for a resident of a gang-dominated black neighborhood in a major American city.  As for profiling, it is a necessity of life, of survival; there is not an adult in America who does not use profiling every day and in every aspect of his life, applying his knowledge and experience and judgment to make good decisions when there is neither the time nor the resources to find perfect ones. If police are not permitted to “profile,” they are given a strong incentive to stay away from trouble, to avoid doing their job of protecting you and me. Social justice is a con.

For Mr. Bennett and others, “equality” does not mean equal opportunity, which is already required by law, or equal pay for equal work, which is likewise the law.  It appears to mean equal outcomes, with blacks’ incomes being the same as whites’ regardless of the nature of the job and the skill and diligence with which it is performed.   In other words, Marxism.  If you really think Marxism would give us a better economy, or even better football, raise your hand and you are excused.  Equality is a con.

It is also a con to argue that the anthem protests are free speech, protected speech, for which the speakers cannot be punished.  The protesters are sadly mistaken, as the First Amendment provides freedom from government interference but does not prevent your employer from firing you if you say things that violate company rules. Doesn’t matter whether you are a factory worker, the company president, or a starter for the Dallas Cowboys.

When the players say (as so many of them have said) that all they want is to have a conversation about race, what they mean is, they want to vent about their perception of social injustice and inequality, and the only conversation they want is for them to talk and you to listen and agree.  Well, that is a conversation that has been going on for at least 50 years in this country, especially through political campaigns, and that has yielded little in the way of improving the lot of blacks in this country; few problems have been addressed, and tensions between black and white have gotten worse, not better.  The conversation I would like to have, is that I think the sorry state of much of America’s black population today is the result of 50 years of horrible social and economic policies foisted upon the country by the Democratic Party over the objections of Republicans.  I am tired of having black America dragged down by the Democrats’ educational and social policies, which encourage and perpetuate the breakdown of the public school system and the family unit.  But I don’t think any black American (other than Thomas Sowell, Larry Elder, Jason Riley, or Clarence Thomas) is interested in hearing that.

I concede that the White House is not interested in having a conversation.  If the president is enjoying the confrontation, it is because he is winning this argument, because the teams are realizing that the public is not on the players’ side and the NFL is losing money by accommodating the players.  As for the president having the loudest voice in the room, that is not at all the case;  the “room” is the entire mass media (whose voices are collectively way louder than the White House’s and who, with the intermittent exception of the WSJ’s editorial department and Fox News, are uniformly and violently opposed to the president).   Good thing the left does not yet control the social media; were it not for Twitter, the president would have no voice at all.

P.S.   There is a simple solution, though purists on both sides would object: First the players do all their warm-ups and preparations, then they go back to their locker rooms, then the anthem is performed and the eagle flies and the rest of the patriotic hoopla occurs, and then, when the smoke has cleared, the teams run back onto the field and play some football.  No one is allowed to brag or pout about having won or lost in the compromise solution.  Play ball.

HOW TO SAVE BASEBALL

About these 4-hour baseball games:  a suggestion that would kill several diseased birds with a single stone: technology.  If we can put a football coach in direct, exclusive, instantaneous communication with his QB, how about same thing in baseball for manager-&-catcher, catcher-&-pitcher?   Baseball’s biggest  time-wasters are slow pitchers, catcher- pitcher conferences, and on-field conferences of any kind that involve a manager.  My suspicion is that many of the catcher-pitcher conferences have to do with a well-founded suspicion that the other team (especially the baserunners) is stealing your signs, and that the rest of the catcher-pitcher conferences have to do with the pitcher voicing discomfort with the catcher’s pitch selection.  If the catcher and pitcher can communicate swiftly and securely, that alone would probably save at least a half-hour per game, maybe more.  Same with managers and pitching coaches telling the pitcher he is losing his arm angle or whatever.  Once you have the technology in place, a time clock on all these delays could be easily enforced.  While I kind of like the pace of the current game, which gives me time to argue with my wife about the manager’s next move, I could readily learn to live with the change if it saved me an hour per game.   Come to think of it, we could maybe do the same thing with pro golf, where most of the time-wasting consists of “reading” greens – even though the pros all have topographic charts on every green and thus there is really no need to “read” anything, so all the fooling around is little more than a tic, a style matter, a useless ritual.