1) There has been a lot of talk this week about the NFL’s blackout rule. For forty years, the NFL has stipulated that if a team doesn’t sell all of its tickets for a home game within 72 hours of that game’s kickoff, the game cannot be broadcast within 75 miles of the stadium in which the contest is held. In recent years, there have been relatively few blackouts, including only eleven total in 2013, an all time low. But for what appear to be a multitude of reasons, three playoff games this weekend were in jeopardy of being blacked out in the home markets of, respectively, the Colts, the Bengals and perhaps most surprisingly, the Green Bay Packers. The last time the Packers failed to sell out a home game was in 1983.
It looks as if crisis will be averted in all three games – the league has given each club an extension, and businesses in each community have stepped forward to buy large blocks of tickets which they’ve turned around and donated to charities. Some of these businesses had a clear economic incentive to make these purchases – a blacked out home game means lost advertising in local markets. This has led some of the NFL’s critics to charge that the League is using the blackout rule to extort local businesses. The practice is more brazen during the playoffs. During the regular season, teams can sell their tickets for thirty four cents on the dollar if they get into a crunch near the blackout deadline. During the playoffs, however, tickets may not be sold for less than face value and the median price of playoff tickets in some markets exceed $300 a pop.
More egregious than whatever strains the blackout policy places on corporations, CBS’ Gregg Doyel notes that it’s especially perverse for taxpayers to have ponied up large sums of cash to subsidize NFL stadiums, only to be denied the small pleasure of watching their team on television. Writing two weeks ago about a late season blackout in Buffalo, Doyel opined:
That this blackout happened in Buffalo on Dec. 22, 2013 is galling, given that on Dec. 22, 2012 the news broke that the Bills were charging taxpayers $226 million to sign a 10-year extension to its lease at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Erie County taxpayers were hit up for $103 million, while the rest of the state — even areas that don’t consider the Bills the local team — was docked $123 million. And just to be clear: Those taxes weren’t approved by local or state residents. They were diverted from general tax funds. No vote, no referendum, no public debate. That money is just … gone.
To recap: If you live in an NFL city, the NFL will tap into your tax money — diverting those funds from schools, roads, hospitals, whatever — to keep the team in your town for eight games a year. But it will take those games off your TV if the town doesn’t buy every ticket. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
As Doyel notes, the FCC has voted unanimously to kill the blackout rule, arguing that it is a relic of a bygone era, given how much money the NFL makes from sources other than stadium ticket sales. The NFL has vowed to fight the ruling, whose ultimate disposition will end up in the hands of Congress. The league’s ridiculous tax exempt (excuse me, ‘non-profit’) status, the zero-risk guaranteed profits its owners make due to its monopoly position and its shameless extortion of taxpayer money all highlight how petty is the NFL’s ongoing insistence on perpetuating the blackout rule. Truly, these guys have no shame.
Good for Doyel, whose boss, of course, broadcasts NFL games.
2) Former Vikings’ punter Chris Kluwe wrote on Deadspin yesterday that he believes he lost his job this past offseason due to his activism on behalf of LGBT rights. Kluwe is best known for the particularly lively and scathing open letter he wrote in the fall of 2012 to Maryland state delegate Emmett Burns, Jr. Burns had chastised then Baltimore Ravens’ linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo after Ayanbadejo spoke out in favor of a Maryland ballot initiative to legalize same-sex marriage. Kluwe did not hold back in his assessment of Burns: “I find it inconceivable that you are an elected official of Maryland’s state government. Your vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level.” Most famously, Kluwe assured Burns that gays “won’t magically turn you into a lustful cock monster.”
In Thursday’s piece for Deadspin, Kluwe argued that just-fired head coach Leslie Frazier and GM Rick Spielman told him to keep quiet when, in the fall of 2012 (the period during which he wrote the letter to Burns), Kluwe was working to help defeat an amendment in Minnesota to ban gay marriage in that state (the amendment lost). Kluwe was especially critical of Vikes’ special teams coach Mike Priefer whom Kluwe accused of making repeated homophobic comments in Kluwe’s presence during the 2012 season. In one such instance, Priefer loudly insisted “We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” Kluwe concluded:
It’s my belief, based on everything that happened over the course of 2012, that I was fired by Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn’t agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman, both of whom knew I was a good punter and would remain a good punter for the foreseeable future, as my numbers over my eight-year career had shown, but who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter.
Priefer, it should be noted, has denied Kluwe’s allegations. Kluwe was signed by the Raiders after he was cut by Minnesota, but did not make the team, so sat out the 2013 season. For what it’s worth, In terms of performance, Kluwe finished 22nd out of 32 qualifying punters in yards per punt in 2012, and 17th in net yardage. He finished second to last in punts inside the 20. Kluwe is 32, not old for a punter, but he was coming off a below-average season. Were Kluwe a top-flight punter, surely he’d still have a job. That’s obvious on one level and it’s not to say that he is wrong to believe his outspokenness cost him his job. If a team has to choose between Chris Kluwe and a guy who performs just like Kluwe but keeps his mouth shut, I have little doubt that the preference would be for the quiet guy. Kluwe says that Spielman told him in February that the team was receiving angry correspondence from fans about the punter’s tweets in February about Pope Benedict XVI – particularly the institutional corruption that Kluwe believed plagued the Church – after he’d just stepped down from the papacy. Kluwe, it appears, was not worth the headache anymore.
For all the progress that has been made in the sports world surrounding LGBT issues, the landscape as we head into 2014 remains fraught. The Incognito-Martin affair, though not ostensibly about sexuality, clearly had as an important undertone what is considered the acceptable form of masculinity in an NFL locker room. Jason Collins, though generally praised for the manner in which he came out this past spring, was unable to get a job on an NBA team heading into this season (which is not to say his performance warranted a position. But his failure to win a roster spot means we’re still awaiting the first openly gay and active player in a major American team sport). Out of nowhere this week, Aaron Rodgers felt compelled to assert very, very, very clearly that he likes women. And Kerry Rhodes, a well above-average defensive back who is only 31, couldn’t get an NFL job this season for reasons that remain murky.
There seems, in sum, to be a growing disconnect between the public’s increasing embrace of gay rights and an increasingly circumspect but tenacious reluctance to embrace change inside the major American sports leagues. Kluwe’s testimonial is a vivid reminder of that fact.