Rusty Hardin explains away child abuse

This is not a defense of the NFL’s decision to suspend Adrian Peterson without pay for the rest of the season. The NFL’s disciplinary “system” is a mess and needs to be overhauled. But Hardin’s attack on the league this morning was best on a categorically false premise – that when it’s your own children, you may hurt them. To be clear, that is not what Harden said. He said repeatedly that no one wants to see a child hurt and that Peterson made a “mistake.” But Hardin also said over and over again that it was wrong for anyone but parents to be the arbiter of how people should raise their own children, that Peterson “spanked” his four year old son and that he left no permanent damage, as if that somehow made his actions OK. In other words, Hardin tried repeatedly to explain away or minimize assault on a young child.

It’s reasonable to say that the legal system’s adjudication of any criminal matter ought to be the first line of consideration for subsequent discipline by the NFL. But as Jemele Hill pointed out this morning, if Harden is not disputing the league’s right to impose at least *some* discipline in cases of domestic violence, it’s frankly shocking that he does not believe that is the case for abusing a four year old child. And let’s be clear – Peterson was deemed by the criminal justice system to have broken the law when he whipped his four year old son with a tree branch. You’re not allowed to do that and it’s not a matter of discretion.

And by the way, Hardin has no idea whether permanent damage was done to the child. Yes, the physical wounds will presumably heal. But such is typically the case when a child is sexually abused. That’s not material, as the lawyers would say, to whether permanent damage was done. I am not saying that what Peterson did was the same as child sexual abuse, by the way. But what is not debatable is this – you are not allowed to assault a child just because she or he is your own. Reducing that simple, incontrovertible fact to a question of “discretion” in “disciplining” your own kids is sophistry of the worst sort.

Hardin is paid very handsomely to represent wealthy clients. That’s his job. There is, therefore, no reason to take at face value his assertions and characterizations, however. I know he’s a “newsmaker” and attracts audience, which is why companies like ESPN want him on the air. But he’s not an objective analyst. And in my judgment, he crossed a shameful line today and disgraced himself by trying to explain away assault on a small child.

(Don’t) Say Anything

Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose, a former league MVP, tore his ACL during the first game of the 2012 playoffs. He subsequently sat out all of 2012-13. Three weeks into the 2013-14 season, he tore his meniscus and missed the remainder of the season.

Due to an assortment of injuries, the 26-year old has missed six of the team’s first eleven games so far this season.

Last week, Rose said the following:

I feel I’ve been managing myself pretty good. I know a lot of people get mad when they see me sit out. But I think a lot of people don’t understand that when I sit out, it’s not because of this year. I’m thinking about long term. I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball, having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to.

I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past. Just learning and being smart.

Naturally, this caused sportsmediaworld to lose its collective mind. Here’s Deadspin’s account of Steve Rosenbloom, Chicago Trib columnist, arguing that Rose’s comments demonstrate what a stupid idiot he is and, for good measure, what a stupid idiot he is. A similarly characteristic  take came from the inimitable Stephen A Smith, who described himself as “devastated” by Rose’s comments. Smith said that because Rose is in the midst of a guaranteed five year contract, to bring up long-term health concerns like whether Rose was going to be able to be there for his kids without experiencing chronic debilitating pain was “inexcusable” and “egregious.” Smith spoke in the most solemn terms about what a betrayal this was of owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who is paying Rose $90 million plus over the life of the deal. As many others argued, because Rose is not playing football or boxing and, therefore, not risking any real long-term health problems, Stephen A. believes he has no obligation other than to give his maximum physical effort even if that increases his risk of further serious injury. Smith regarded with great “alarm” what Rose was “disseminating to the masses” – namely that, as a basketball player, Rose was making unacceptable claims about whether athletes in his sport could argue seriously that they might have to worry about their physical condition once they retire.

Mike Greenberg was similarly exercised by Rose’s statements.

One wonders whether, until a few years ago, the typical sports pundit would not have said similar things about a football player who suggested he might hold himself out of a game not because he was suffering from an immediate acute injury, but instead because he was looking ahead to the end of his playing days. Regardless, the argument is a stupid one. We can all be thankful that Derrick Rose isn’t playing a sport that may increase substantially the likelihood of his suffering long-term brain impairment. But as anyone with severe arthritis, back problems or other non head-related, but chronic pain can tell you, life under such circumstances can be miserable and sometimes unendurable. Ask Bill Walton what life was like for him for a few years.

I have no idea whether the long-term prognosis for Rose is chronic pain. But neither do any of the clowns weighing in to say what a travesty it is that he’s actually thinking seriously about his kids and his future after basketball. I am sorry that Greenie is offended that Derrick Rose is a little gun shy after two catastrophic knee injuries in two years. But the comments are ill-informed, presumptuous and obnoxious. No one who has played with Rose has ever regarded him as a slacker. Indeed, current and former teammates love Rose and his dedication and commitment.

And I fail entirely to understand why a single fan or sports pundit gives a single solitary shit about Jerry Reinsdorf’s money (or that of any other owner). He’s ridiculously wealthy. He’s making a fortune off his NBA team. If I have to choose between Derrick Rose and Jerry Reinsdorf who is more deserving of the money they’ve made off the game of basketball, that’s a no-brainer. If Bulls fans are frustrated because they want to see Rose on the court more, I understand that. But that’s not a professional, or moral, judgment.

The reaction to Rose’s comments (not unlike the overblown vitriol now being directed at Robert Griffin III) highlight a simple truth. For all their endless complaining about athletes giving boiler plate answers to questions and never saying anything interesting, sports pundits frequently act like a pack of ravenous dogs the second a player dares to go off script.



Bring It!

Michele Roberts is the new executive director of the NBA Players’ Union. She is the first woman to be union chief for a major North American sports league. The players were fleeced during the negotiations that ended the 2011 lockout. To hear Roberts tell it, that’s not going to happen again.

Roberts said that the owners should be credited with having “done a great job of controlling the narrative.” A measure of their success is that the perfectly sensible things to Roberts says are going to sound alien or hostile, because professional owners have often been so successful at using terms like “markets” and “competition” in nearly the opposite of their commonly understood usages.

Among her claims:

1) it’s ridiculous that owners should be splitting the revenue 50-50 with the players. Roberts asks: “why don’t we have owners play half the games?” As she says, “there would be no money if not for the players.” Even the conservative columnist George Will is on the record as saying that when it comes to pro athletes, he subscribes to Marx’ Labor Theory of Value (that’s Karl – not Groucho).

Roberts elaborates:

“Let’s call it what it is. There. Would. Be. No. Money,” she added, pausing for emphasis. “Thirty more owners can come in, and nothing will change. These guys [the players] go? The game will change. So let’s stop pretending.”

Yes, we can quibble over whether the players should get *all* the money. But the owners’ fatuous claims that they teeter on the brink of bankruptcy unless they receive an ever-expanding share of the pie are much less serious than Roberts’ assertions.

2) Roberts described the salary cap flatly as “un-American.” We can quibble about that. But what is undeniable is that the owners, as a collective, would regard as an outrage and an affront to everything America stands for any effort to cap their profits.

3) She rightly bashed the owners’ desire to raise the NBA age minimum. We’ve covered this ground before. Their arguments for doing so do not withstand scrutiny and the larger discussion of age limits in American sports have an undeniable racial tinge.

4) Roberts response to the recent claim by Commissioner Adam Silver that a third of teams were still losing money was the only appropriate one there is:

“I initially just started laughing, to be honest with you,” she said of her reaction to that statistic. “I know that as a result of the last CBA, at least 1.3 billion dollars in revenue that would have otherwise been on the players’ side is now on the owners’ side. I see the valuations of these teams going though the roof. … How much more do you need to make money?”

It’s going to be fun to watch her in action when the players consider opting out of the current CBA in 2016, just before the massive increase in television revenues begins. On the whole, sports media are painfully guileless about the owners’ ridiculous claims of poverty and their absurd attempts to defend their unrelenting greed and market-defying privileges by invoking shibboleths like “competitive balance.”

Roberts seems well-placed to take those head on.

A Better Way?

UNC’s school newspaper, the Daily Tar Heel, in particular the editorial staff led by Jenny Surane, has been doing remarkable work since the appearance of the Wainstein report three weeks ago. Today’s front page editorial is their most powerful piece to date. Titled “An Unfair Burden,” it accepts the reality that UNC “is in the business of fielding high-budget, high-revenue sports teams for institutional gain.” The problem, the DTH says, is that the NCAA and its member schools have refused to accept fully the implications of that reality. Instead, it has maintained a “disingenuous attitude toward the status quo that fails student-athletes. It is the unwillingness to fully face up to the obstacles they encounter in their attempts to complete a degree while essentially performing a full-time job and managing their celebrity. And it is the pretense that this is a reasonable demand upon those whose compensation is so compromised that provides incentive for fraud here and elsewhere.”  

The DTH, as others have done before, insists that athletes be allowed to pursue a degree if they wish, but that standing as a full time student not be a required condition of eligibility to play. Many, perhaps the majority of recruited athletes, will wish to pursue a degree and will have the motivation and preparation to do so. But for those who don’t, such concessions both “put[] more power in the hands of student-athletes to determine the terms upon which they are affiliated with this University and live their lives” and precludes the denialism that incentivizes academic fraud.

The DTH acknowledges that any new path forward will be fraught with challenges. There is no perfect solution to the problem of reconciling big time collegiate athletics with the expressly stated missions of institutions of higher education. Significant changes, such as those the DTH proposes, will inescapably yield unintended consequences. Such is the nature of change. But the DTH rightly notes that “today’s collegiate model is not sacrosanct. Its flaws deserve to be considered on balance with those of proposed alternatives. We believe we have more to gain from an honest assessment of the relationship between athlete and university than we have already lost by delaying this conversation for decades.”

 Surane, in a separate piece today, explained the paper’s decision to break with its longstanding editorial support for “amateurism.” That’s also worth reading.

Blood in the water

For anyone who is a fan of college sports, we’re living in an undeniably fascinating time. On every front, the existing “collegiate model” is under attack. Lawsuits seem to accumulate by the day. The NCAA suffered perhaps it’s most serious legal set back to date in August when Judge Claudia Wilken ruled in the O’Bannon case that the NCAA and its member schools are in violation of antitrust laws by denying players the right to a portion of profits derived from the sale of their images and likenesses. That ruling augurs further attacks on the NCAA’s business model. The formidable legal adversary, Jeffrey Kessler, has filed suit to attack directly the association’s refusal to pay its players commensurate with their market value. The National Labor Relations Board has, until and unless a regional office’s ruling is overturned, deemed Northwestern University football players – and by extension, football players at some seventeen other high profile private universities, including Notre Dame – to be employees under American labor law.

And most recently, former UNC player Michael McAdoo, whose plagiarized paper help to break open the athletic-academic scandal that continues to roil the university, has filed a class action lawsuit. That lawsuit charges that UNC broke a contract with McAdoo by failing to deliver on its promise to provide meaningful educational opportunities.

As reported by today’s Daily Tar Heel:

The lawsuit also details McAdoo’s recruitment process, which the suit claims was misleading.

“During each of the visits, the coaches stressed UNC’s stellar academic reputation and strength as well as the UNC football program’s commitment to its student-athletes’ academics,” the lawsuit states. “Indeed, during one of the visits, Mr. McAdoo remembers head coach Davis telling Mr. McAdoo’s mother, grandmother and grandfather, ‘I can’t guarantee that Michael will play in the NFL, but one thing I can guarantee is that he will get a good education at the University of North Carolina.’”

Whether McAdoo sincerely believed he was going to be receiving a first-class education when he arrived at Chapel Hill will, undoubtedly, be a matter of debate and contention. But what is undeniable is that big time college sports programs *sell* that idea vigorously, both during the recruiting process and in their public-facing justifications for why college sports are, first and foremost, an educational endeavor, not a business.

In reality, NCAA coaches, athletic officials and other supporters continually use language that suits their particular needs in particular contexts, even if doing so requires them to contradict directly language they’ve used in other contexts. Coaches, for example, commonly use the word “contract” when explaining why players who fail to meet coaches’ demands may be subject to dismissal, but otherwise deny that players are employees who might receive the protection of contract and labor law; athletic directors insist that multi-milion dollar coaches’ salaries reflect what the market will bear, while otherwise denying that the language of markets may be invoked in describing college sports; other coaches insist when it’s convenient that they and their staffs are on their players every day about their academic performance, before turning around and denying that they would know anything about such matters.

I don’t have an opinion at the moment about the legal merits of his case. But what is clear is that, on every front, the NCAA and its member institutions are being called on their own justifications for the unique status that their enterprise enjoys. It’s a massive money-making venture that nevertheless declares with a straight face that it is necessary to deny those most responsible for enterprise’s profits a cut of the spoils for their own good. That tortured rationale cannot stand if the NCAA and its constituent schools are unable to demonstrate that they are delivering on the vital non-pecuniary benefit they insist they provide.

What’s eating Bill Simmons?

A friend and I have a running joke about comments like “don’t take this the wrong way,” which typically means “I am about to insult you but I don’t want you to get mad at me for doing so.” It’s a conversational get-out-of-jail-free card, an attempt at immunizing the speaker from accountability for what she/he is about to say.

Yesterday, Bill Simmons appeared on Colin Cowherd’s show and said that LeBron didn’t look the same. Simmons began the segment by ribbing Cowherd for disparaging comments Cowherd made about Cavs’ guard Dion Waiters. Simmons described Cowherd’s comments as “one of the great jump-to-conclusion rants I’ve heard in recent ESPN history” because, Simmons explained, you need 20 games before making a reasoned assessment of a team. But then, four games into LeBron’s season, Simmons said:

“Anyone who thinks LeBron looks the same is fooling themselves,” Simmons said. “He doesn’t have the same impulsiveness. He looks 20 pounds lighter physically. Just his general force-of-natureness capacity — whatever you want to say — it’s not there. And he’s driving to the basket, and he’s under the rim now, and I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if he’s hurt, I don’t know if the big weight loss has affected his game or whatever. This is not a jump-to-conclusion thing. I have been watching this Cavs team since the preseason games started, and he does not look the same.”

Simmons then wondered out loud whether LeBron’s tenure in Cleveland would resemble Albert Pujols’ in Anaheim. Pujols’ left the Cardinals after winning a second World Series title in 2011. In his time with the Cards, Pujols had one of the greatest decade-long stretches in baseball history. As a result, the Angels signed the then 31-year old slugger to a whopping ten year contract. Pujols has been, since 2012, a shadow his former self, a victim of injuries, a depressed offensive environment and, some have speculated, a change in his “routine.” Simmons begged the blogosphere not to jump on him for the comparison since, to repeat, LeBron has played four regular season games so far.

But jump on him MIke Golic did, calling the comparison “one of the most ridiculous statements I’ve heard four games into a season in my life in any sport.” Golic continued, “That’s what I’ll say about Bill Simmons. So, you know, he grabbed a headline, which is something I know he loves — and that’s one of the most ridiculous lines I’ve ever heard in any sport in my life. Four games into a season. I don’t even … that’s ridiculous.”

In turn, Simmons unleashed a twitter fusillade, expressing his contempt for Mike and Mike and deeming as “absolute garbage” Golic’s characterization of Simmons. Simmons also tweeted that it was “disgusting” for “an ESPN Radio show to pull an interview out of context from another ESPN Radio show, then play the moral authority card…”

I don’t know what moral authority card Simmons is referring to. But more confusing than that is the claim that Simmons was taken out of context. True, he tried to play his get-out-of-jail-free card when he was on with Colin. But Simmons went on for a solid 2-3 minutes with Cowherd, describing how King James didn’t any longer seem to have the “wow” athletic factor and wondered out loud whether he ever would again.

What Golic did to Simmons may violate some internal ESPN code. And maybe Simmons will prove to be right that LeBron has suddenly lost it. But to be indignant with rage when someone disagrees with something you said as if you didn’t really say it when, in fact, you spent several minutes elaborating on it – I don’t have any idea where Simmons is coming from here. There is no meaningful sense in which Golic took Simmons out of context.

For an idea of what it actually means to take a quote out of context, this is a much better example.

Steroids and such

Alex Rodriguez has admitted to using banned performance-enhancing substances between 2010-2012. This will shock absolutely no one, with the possible exception of Mike Francesa (just a little dig there).

Something that struck me in the above-linked ESPN account of Arod’s admission was the following:

The [Miami] Herald, citing a written “report of investigation,” says Rodriguez told the DEA that he paid Biogenesis doctor Anthony Bosch for testosterone cream, testosterone gummies and HGH injections. According to the report, one such injection took place in the men’s room of a Miami nightclub.

“Rodriguez injected the HGH into his stomach,” the DEA report stated, according to the newspaper. “Rodriguez said Bosch told him the HGH would help with sleep, weight, hair growth, eyesight and muscle recovery.”

Bosch is not a doctor, of course. Maybe he’s a smart guy who’s done a lot of research, but I am fascinated by the degree to which very rich men, like Arod, with extraordinary resources potentially at their disposal, would be so reliant on the word of one guy about what the effects of these drugs are or aren’t. Maybe Bosch is good at telling people what they want to hear. In this case, maybe he sold Arod on the idea that Rodriguez could stem the aging process. Humans have been selling other humans snake oil for a long time, after all.

But the seeming disconnect between the reality of Bosch two-bit operation on the one hand and the extraordinary amount of money and, on the other hand, the risk Rodriguez incurred to buy products that have not been clinically proven to work to any meaningful degree is striking.

Speaking of performance enhancing drugs, Coach K’s comments about Obama’s foreign policy certainly qualify as stupidity on steroids. As has now been widely reported, the hall of fame basketball coach and, by some measures, the single best paid “educator” in the United States told a military gathering a few weeks back that Obama was blowing it in the war against ISIS. Why? Because in ruling out putting boots on the ground – which Krzyzewski also considered an insult to our infantrymen – Obama was tipping his hand. Coach K, by contrast, would never tell the opposing team that he wasn’t playing one of *his* best players. Because that’s something no good coach would ever do.

Of course, whether Christian Laettner or JJ Redick plays in a game won’t result in people, you know, dying. As opposed to the “game” – also known as “war” – Coach K seems to think the President is playing.

By Coach K’s logic, any time we’re in a conflict with someone, I suppose we should *always* threaten to use nuclear and chemical weapons, since failing to do so would, once again, make it easier for the other side to “game plan” against us. Really, what Obama should do is shut down Congress and the media altogether, since those are just “distractions,” and all coaches want to minimize those before a big game.