Thursday, October 2, 2014

Swing and a Miss

I used to play football. For a week in 8th Grade before I quit. They started me on a Varsity team though I never had exercised regularly in a game I had never watched and didn’t understand was way too much for my changing body. I was a new school in a new town and was having new feelings. I played tennis instead. In high school in order to meet the athletic requirement I became the Manager of various teams, ultimately earning “Manager of the Year.” I won that either for my skill in juggling a variety of sports or through dumb luck in not being hit by the pucks hurled at me as I carried a 10 gallon water bucket across the ice while the guys practiced. I once followed baseball for a few years until I realized I was more fanatical about the statistics than the game itself. It’s all to say that I’m not a big sports fan. I’m not ignorant of the games either. While I do skip over the dedicated section of the paper, I try to keep generally up to date on the overall – so that when the Red Sox won the World Series last year it didn’t come as a total surprise. Now if they did this year it would be, mostly because it’s been what’s known as a ‘lost year.’ I have found myself seeing more about sports recently as the various leagues and high profile players have migrated from the Sports Section to the Main and Metro sections.

Los Angles likes to think it’s a big sports city, but in a region that large it’s too diverse to have the community get caught up in the fever of a particular team. The Twin Cities have great teams and fantastic sports fans and when I lived there it was clear that part of the culture of the community includes the great franchises there. But Boston is a sports town. There is a fanaticism here that’s a little hard to fathom as a non-sports fan. The shine seems to be off of the industry as a number of higher profile incidents are tarnishing the whole, including Aaron Hernandez, a star of the New England Patriots football franchise, who is on trial for murder.

The NFL’s records show that since 2000 there have been 665 incidents that have an overall conviction rate of 68.27%. The breakdown of crimes show that 30% were violent.
The NBA has 196 incidents in the same period, everything from bond violation to homicide.

The MLB in comparison has just 35 incidents, mostly alcohol and drug related.

This info-graphic from 2011 shows the professional sports crime statistics.

Being a professional athlete comes with a lot of perks – and an array of pressures and challenges that those financial incentives are supposed to support. The paychecks are big, the bling is bigger and the outsized proportion of importance is the biggest part of being a star jock. The expectation to deliver at top capacity in exchange can be debilitating (and exhilarating). No matter how talented somebody is – on or off the field – if somebody breaks the law they should be prosecuted just like anybody else. The Hernandez case is good in that it shows that the system does what it’s supposed to do.

Ray Rice allegedly beat up his then fiancĂ© in an elevator. There’s video and pictures, so how can it be “alleged”? No criminal complaint has been filed against him. Let’s not parse here, though – violence is not acceptable in any form, especially domestically. There are laws against it, but he has not been charged. He’s been fired from his team – a violation of a morals clause no doubt. That’s legal. The NFL and its Commissioner Roger Goodell have come under scrutiny and criticism that they lied about seeing the video, didn’t fire him from his team fast enough, etc. All of that may be true – and legitimate complaints. The NFL’s image may be harmed, its value as a franchise impacted, but there’s no evidence that a law has been broken by the NFL. Politicians and media have been screaming for Goodell’s head as if he was the abuser rather than a bad manager and politically inept.


New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) has not only complained about the process and the situation, she has now proposed that Congress investigate the NFL for how it handled the incident. The NFL is a non-profit 501(c)6 league comprised of 32 teams. The IRS has authority to insure they are in compliance with their tax status – but other than that there’s no other federal agency, let alone Congress itself that should be investigating this organization and how it managed this situation.

"If the NFL doesn't police themselves, then we will be looking more into it. I wouldn't be surprised if we had hearings," said Gillibrand, who blasted the "the way the NFL handled" the situation as "awful" and "outrageous."


Congress doesn’t have time to pass a budget, approve a war that’s underway but it’s going to have time to see if the NFL handled an internal matter of one of its franchises? If ever there was an example of Congress swinging and missing – this would be it. 

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