Accountability

1) Tom Brady’s suspension has been overturned. I remain convinced that Patriots’ employees tried to manipulate the air pressure in the footballs and that they did so at the quarterback’s behest. But that’s not what this case ultimately came to be about. It came to be about the obviously flawed investigation into what happened as well as the commissioner’s handling of disciplinary cases. Roger Goodell is now almost universally unpopular and, for the most part, deservedly so. But the noteworthy development here isn’t that the boss of the NFL imposed arbitrary punishment on a player. Bosses do that all the time throughout the American world of work. What’s noteworthy is that the boss in this case was actually called out for doing so. No less significantly, he was called out for it because there was a process in place for making that possible, and that process actually had teeth. And to square that circle, the fact that the process by which the boss might be called out actually had teeth is a direct result of the right of the employees in this particular workplace to collective bargaining many of the conditions in which they work, which made the scrutiny of Goodell possible.

It’s called accountability. Too few American bosses face it.

2) The discussion in recent weeks of Robert Griffin III’s fall from grace has largely elided an obvious factor in his demise. It’s become a commonplace for commentators to say something along the lines of “there’s plenty of blame to around.” This involves generally criticizing Washington’s management, including its owner in broad terms, while also criticizing RGIII for his questionable attitude, his apparent rift with much of his locker room and his failure to adapt his game to his current ability level.

What’s missing from much of the RGIII debate, or at least what’s given short shrift, are the circumstances in which RGIII got hurt during his rookie season and how the handling of his ailments may have altered the entire course of his career.

SB Nation’s Rodger Sherman provides the gory details. That a 23 year old player wanted back into game action, as RGIII did late in his rookie season and in the playoffs that year when he was obviously injured is unsurprising. It’s also largely irrelevant to the question of organizational responsibility for the player’s health and well-being, especially when the NFL and its franchises take such a paternalistic approach to player conduct in so many other ways.

It’s really impossible to know how those injuries affected Griffin’s subsequent play, but given the importance of his speed and mobility to his overall effectiveness, one cannot discount the career-altering possibilities. Griffin was, as Sherman points, a bona fide superstar his rookie season. Indeed, he arguably had the greatest rookie season of any quarterback in the history of the NFL. Is it really more likely that his subsequent woes are more attributable to the sudden onset of a bad attitude than a disastrous knee injury?

Meanwhile, his coach at the time, Mike Shanahan, who was shamefully negligent and apparently dishonest in explaining his own conduct during that fateful stretch in RGIII’s career, now makes the talk show circuit to discuss his former quarterback as if Shanahan is a dispassionate observer, rather than a guy with an ass to cover.

This is the kind of things that makes me crazy when I hear coaches talk about accountability.

3) speaking of. I haven’t said anything about the case of Sam Ukwuachu, the former Baylor football player (though he never played for the school) recently convicted of raping another Baylor student. Ukwuachu transferred from Boise State in 2013 after he was thrown off the Boise State football team. As Ukwauchu’s case became public in recent weeks – Baylor had managed to keep quiet his impending trial for over a year – Baylor coach Art Briles and former BSU coach Chris Petersen have played a game of hot potato over the question of who knew what about Ukwuachu’s previous conduct and, therefore, propensity to violence against women.

The Baylor situation is doubly nauseating because the school conducted an investigation into the rape allegations against Ukwuachu and cleared him prior to his criminal trial. As Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon detailed in their excellent report for Texas Monthly, that investigation was such a joke that the trial judge refused to allow Ukwuachu’s defense counsel to mention it at trial.

Briles, of course, denies any knowledge of anything bad and will also, of course, keep insisting that his players be “accountable,” whatever coaches mean by that.