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?

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.

 

THE END OF FOOTBALL?

A letter sent to a writer at The Wall Street Journal who wrote a sports-section feature on whether football was on the verge of becoming obsolete in America:

“Well, have to give you credit for touching the third rail of our culture.  The part you neglected, though I am confident you did so for a good reason, was the part about how football is metaphor for life, especially American life.  Not in its presentation of recurring gigantic entertainment spectacle, like a weekly fireworks display with the 1812 Overture as soundtrack, but in its representation of the warrior spirit that allowed us to defeat the British, prevail in two major world wars, and generally scare the pants off people thinking of messing with us.  I am among the millions who consider football a way of celebrating those who are sufficiently strong and fearless that we can depend upon them to keep us safe and secure.  I want my soldiers, airmen, fire-fighters, and policehumans to be fit and strong and brave, willing to give up their bodies and their lives to protect us.  I want my football players to remind us that we have a culture that still has a martial spirit, that can still lead us in important ways.

“In my opinion, if we neuter football, emasculate it, we make a huge mistake.  Yes, there are ways to continue to reduce its risks.  Helmets could be better, or as some suggest, we could outlaw face-masks and make the helmets less safe; lots of former players suggest that the weaponization of the helmet (i.e., the head) resulted from improving the helmet to a point where people were willing to use it as a weapon.  For that matter, we could instantly cut the risks dramatically by strengthening the rules against spearing and by consistently and uniformly and rigorously enforcing such rules.  But in the end, I want football to involve risk, a lot of risk.  Even if one wanted to live in a country without football, we would not exactly be living in paradise; we would be living in a way-less secure nation, one our enemies would quickly re-assess.”

GOLF MUST CHANGE ITS POSITION ON RULES

The nonsense with delayed action on alleged violations of the Rules of Golf, the Lexi Thompson/Dustin Johnson/Tiger Woods syndrome, must stop.

The problem:  people are looking at the wrong problem.  Everyone complains about the rules, but the real problem lies with the enforcement of the rules.  Example, drawn from watching the live telecast of the women’s tournament last week:  the first time I saw a replay of Ms. Thompson’s re-placement of her ball on the green, I thought, that is a clear violation, she could have been changing the placement in order to avoid having to putt from – or over – a defect in the putting surface, a bump or spike-mark or something.  In other words, she deserved to be penalized.  The rule is a good one, as it is designed to prevent people from giving themselves a more-favorable lie.

So why did she do it?  After watching the replay several more times, I realized that Ms. Thompson’s mistake could have been based on geometry and viewing-angle, not on trying to game the system.  By placing her marker and then lifting and re-placing the ball from aside the marker rather than from behind, she had made it much harder to identify a spot in front of her marker, because from the sideways perspective, you are not placing the ball on a line with anything.  Also, the putt was less than a foot and there were no visible imperfections in the turf.  Probably the violation was innocent, probably she was not even aware she did it.  But all of that is beside the point.  Intention is irrelevant; motive is not a part of the rule, nor should it be.  Tournaments do not leave time for lawyers to cross-examine players.

The problem is not with the Rules of Golf, it is with the enforcement of them.  You can’t wait until the round is over (the Woods situation) or until the back nine of the next round (the Thompson debacle) before making a ruling.  In cases where a player seeks a ruling before hitting a shot, the ruling by the attending rules official should be final, not subject to further review or appeal.  In cases where a fellow competitor, a rules official, a TV viewer, or anyone else claims that there has been a violation regarding a shot already taken, pro golf needs a time-limit and an NFL-style instant replay and booth review . If no one makes such a claim within, say, 5 minutes after the alleged violation occurred, case closed, it is too late for anyone to present a claim.  If someone does present such a claim within the 5 minute period, play halts for the player and the others in his or her group.  The booth review people have, say, another 2 minutes to make a ruling, and unless they rule “guilty” within that time, the case is closed, the player is permanently exonerated.

Why so fast?  Because justice delayed is justice denied.  You cannot require the player, indeed the entire field, to continue play without knowing where everyone stands.  Mistakes will occasionally be made, but it is more important, more fair, to maintain pace of play and keep everyone fully informed than it is to spend a lot of time in pursuit of perfect rulings.  Just like football and other sports.  You cannot get to the end of a game and say, wait, we blew the call, we must either replay the entire 4th quarter or declare that the losing team has become the winning team.

Why the USGA cannot figure this out, is a mystery.  Are they trying to avoid the expense of employing more officials and more technology?  Given the egg on their faces after all of these fiascos, is it good business to continue to dodge the problem?  And by the way, golf should be encouraging TV viewers to present claims, not  alienating viewers by being hostile to their actions.