Weekend updates – Jameis Winston, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin

1) the ongoing mess that is sports media’s attempt to talk about character is especially apparent in coverage of Jameis Winston. Michael Rosenberg made the appropriate distinctions this week between the knuckle-headed stuff on the one hand and a profoundly serious accusation on the other. As to the latter, as Rosenberg is at pains to point out, Winston has not been found guilty of anything. Nor for that matter, has he even been charged (for apparently disturbing reasons). But commentators frequently toss dopey stuff into the same pot as they do far more disturbing allegations. Then they throw around mindless words like “maturity,” “judgment” and “distractions,” as if a player’s readiness to play and help his team is the ultimate test of that aforementioned “character.”

These already murky waters have been further muddied by new allegations that Winston was paid to sign autographs – a violation of NCAA rules. The prohibition on payment is a joke, of course, a reflection of the NCAA’s hypocritical and incoherent defense of “amateurism.” But while some pundits, like Mark Schlereth, have taken the time to say explicitly that the rule is a “farce,” this latest scandal is only deepening the character morass.

Character is central to sports analysis in order to make plausible a normative agenda – that sports are a morality tale, in which wins and losses reflect higher truths. This is little more than a fairy tale, built on often warped presumptions about what it does and doesn’t mean to be a “good guy.” But I guess that’s the point.

2) It’s apparently news that ESPN ranked Kobe Bryant as only the 40th best player in the NBA heading into this season. Bryant is now 36 years old. He first entered the league 18 years ago. He missed almost all of last year due to injury. As they say, he’s not getting any younger. In 2012-13, a season in which Kobe played quite well, he finished 25th in the NBA in Wins Produced. I know many basketball analysts and fans believe it’s a great skill to be able to take and miss a lot shots. Since I don’t share that view, I will continue to rely upon Wins Produced as the best measure of a player’s overall contribution to his team’s wins. By that measure, assuming Kobe stays healthy, he will be doing well if he finishes in the top 40 in that category this season.

3) I know The Player’s Tribune is getting panned in some corners, but Blake Griffin’s piece about Donald Sterling was kind of interesting. Griffin comes across as self-aware about how athletes are viewed, about the peculiar universe in which they live and about how they are supposed to understand their own roles in the larger world.

I liked it.

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