In re Bob McNair’s gaffe of 2017 October

It’s time for another “queue jumper”. This one can’t wait because it is all over the news; I offer up Bleacher Report’s version if you need to catch up on the story.

The crux of this was the comment from Mr. McNair: “We can’t have inmates running the prison.” Though to his credit, he did apologize for the comment earlier today on Twitter, Mr. McNair’s choice of words was reckless and he should have known that they could be interpreted as racist, given the disproportionate number of people of color currently in prison and the fact that the majority of NFL players are men of color.

I caught some of the commentary on the radio (specifically KILT-AM, SportsRadio 610 during the Triple Threat show) and one of the commentators on that show suggested there would be no controversy over this remark if Mr. McNair had instead referred “inmates running the asylum”. I disagree, even though perhaps there would be less controversy, there would probably be a fairly sizeable stink over the remark. This isn’t the 1960s anymore when asylums of the sort referred to in that idiom are even common. As someone who has battled mental illness in the past, and who has also had to help friends cope with mental illness at various times over the past couple of decades, I think that idiom no longer reflects the reality of current times and needs to be retired as being in equally poor taste.

This goes beyond Mr. McNair, though. All the current NFL owners and anyone representing an NFL team as a coach or front office employee need to realize that a lot of current fans are now closer to tuning out of the NFL before, and in fact many already have, whether it’s because of reasons related to the protests, because they feel the player safety issues will never be resolved to their satisfaction or any number of other issues. Comments such as this one definitely will not help the situation, and if too many owners or staff make these kinds of comments, the NFL’s profitability might suffer.

On our nation’s leadership and protests by professional athletes

I have a lot to weigh in on regarding the recent actions of our president and elected officials, given that I haven’t posted a lot recently. But this, as a football fan (for the moment, anyway), is something I feel needs to “jump the queue”.

This story from Huffington Post covers DJT’s unfortunate and inflammatory remarks about the NFL and its players, calling for fans to boycott NFL games over the protests taking place during the playing of the national anthem. For those that have not kept up with this, the protests follow those by Colin Kaepernick, at the time of the San Francisco 49ers, and now a free agent (i.e. not currently playing in the NFL), which I commented upon previously in this blog.

Before even getting into DJT’s remarks, I feel Colin remaining a free agent (i.e. not employed playing football) as its own problem. Some of it may be due to the injuries he was recovering from last year, but for the most part, I’m not buying any argument that it’s due to football skill or lack thereof. At least most of the reason most NFL teams won’t consider signing Colin to play is because of his protest. Colin’s original protests during the playing of the anthem were, in his own words: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” As I have said previously, it’s a noble cause to protest. That people are angry because those who take a knee during the anthem appear to be unpatriotic, without knowing the real reason, is an unfortunate side effect.

While this was sitting in the queue, something even more disturbing happened. Our vice president (and former governor of Indiana), Mike Pence, flew out to watch the San Francisco 49ers play the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium (in Indianapolis). He saw (49ers) players kneeling during the anthem. DJT told him before the game to leave if any players did this, so he left. According to the Indy Star, this costs the taxpayers somewhere around $250,000 at the minimum, possibly more. In government budgets, that’s not really a whole lot. But Mr. Pence had to expect that some 49ers players would take a knee, and I personally think he orchestrated this whole thing as a protest of his own. An editorial piece in the Indy Star which criticizes Mr. Pence’s walkout also says that he should have expected this, so I’m clearly not alone:

The vice president chose to attend Sunday’s game fully knowing what was likely to transpire. He should have stayed away or stayed in his seat for the game. Instead, he chose to run a political play that shouldn’t have been in the game plan.

(I do disagree with Tim Swarens on his stance that the players are wrong to protest. It is their right to protest both the oppression originally protested by Colin Kaepernick and DJT’s later statements where he suggests that NFL rules put in place to make the game safer for its players should be rolled back, and also suggests that protesting players should be fired with the “get that son of a bitch off the field” remark.)

In this case, Mr. Pence actually protested the existence of the First Amendment by walking out of a game. (That, and he missed what would have been a great game for him to watch, as his Colts beat the 49ers in overtime 26-23.) If DJT is as rich as he makes himself out to be, he should be able to cover the cost of this egregiously stupid PR stunt out of his own pocket. The taxpayers should not have to pay for this waste of resources. This was really DJT’s move here, even though Mr. Pence was the one who actually flew to Indianapolis and left the game. If DJT wants players to quit taking a knee during the anthem, he should show more respect for them and take action to fix the root cause of the protests, which is the systemic oppression of people of color. Given DJT built a large part of his campaign on racism and division, I’m not exactly holding my breath.

Rather than firing NFL players for bringing to the nation’s attention something which has been long ignored, I think a far more intelligent move would be to get that son of a bitch (DJT) out of the White House. The time has come to impeach DJT (and possibly Mr. Pence as well) without any further delay.

(This was written, but not posted, before Colin Kaepernick filed his grievance accusing the NFL owners of collusion. I will cover this in a later post.)

Leaving the announcer’s booth: one analyst’s unusual but justified reason for quitting

A recent Daily Wire story details the somewhat sudden resignation of ABC/ESPN commentator Ed Cunningham. In essence, it became a question of ethics and conscience, quoting him as quoted in the article:

I take full ownership of my alignment with the sport. I can just no longer be in that cheerleader’s spot. In its current state, there are some real dangers: broken limbs, wear and tear. But the real crux of this is that I just don’t think the game is safe for the brain. To me, it’s unacceptable.

I can understand Ed’s decision. I have, in recent years, questioned whether or not I should remain an NFL fan in light of what we are finding out regarding the injuries to players, brain injuries in particular. It could be said that Ed making this decision a high-profile decision, and not simply retiring quietly, is a way of raising awareness about injuries in football, in particular chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). For that, he should be commended.

The thing that really gets me, though, is that the same people who will criticize the hell out of Ed’s decision to quit announcing football games in light of injury risks will also criticize NFL players for asking for what they feel are ridiculous salaries. The reality is that most NFL careers are short: the average NFL career is just under 7 years (6.86 years to be exact per this Houston Chronicle article). Contrast this with most white-collar or even blue-collar careers which usually last an entire lifetime (for the sake of argument, we’ll call it an average of 35 years) and have much lower injury risk. There is also the unknown of a future career-ending injury particularly for NFL players, and it could be said the high salaries cover that risk as well as the first few years after the end of a given player’s NFL career. Of course, some players do last well over a decade, particularly at positions like quarterback, kicker, and punter which have specific protections written into them in the game rules.

It’s easy to watch a football game and just lose oneself in the action until a player gets hurt. It’s even easier to forget the injury risks from playing football become occupational hazards for players at the professional level. I’ve written about college football in the past–and it was college football games for which Ed Cunningham was a color commentator for ABC and ESPN

College players, in general, are particularly vulnerable. Their younger age is a factor, of course, but it’s also due to the fact they make tons of money for their respective schools, none of which they can ever see a penny of outside of a scholarship thanks to the crazy rules the NCAA has come up with to classify these de facto professional players as amateur athletes. The term “student-athlete”, which the NCAA invented and still loves to use, is interpreted by many as an implication that studies come first–and that’s not at all where it comes from, as I have written about previously.

Here’s hoping Ed’s conscience is a bit clearer and that he continues to prosper in his other efforts. And, yes, there are other efforts; this is the same Ed Cunningham who was one of the co-producers of The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a film about the world record high score on the arcade version of Donkey Kong. I have yet to see this film, though I was a bit more active in the video arcade gaming scene around the time of (and thus heard about) the death of Doris Self, who is featured in this film.

Too radical of a concept? Professional football for college kids

In case you missed it, USA Today recently reported on a new football league, designed for developing players less than four years removed from high school who are currently ineligible to compete in the NFL. The Pacific Pro Football League offers experience in a professional football league while not interfering with college for those who still want to go to college. Key quotes from the article:

The plan: Four teams based in Southern California, each playing an eight-game schedule on Sundays during the sports dead zone of July and August. Roughly 50 players per team making an average salary and benefits package of $50,000 a year, which they’d be free to supplement with endorsements. Rules tweaked to enhance safety and give NFL scouts matchups they want to see. Coaches with NFL experience, who would teach pro-style schemes in an immersive environment unbound by rules regarding classroom time. Any player four years or fewer removed from high school would be eligible, including college underclassmen who’d entered the NFL draft.

[…]

If players want to attend school, the summer schedule wouldn’t interfere and there’d be an option to receive one year’s tuition and books at a community college. Training would continue year-round on a similar calendar to that used in the NFL. There also would be development opportunities for coaches and officials, who could come from a program started for military veterans by another advisory board member, former NFL head of officiating Mike Pereira.

[…]

There are no plans to have traditional roster cuts, Yee said, but for some, taking the new option would mean giving up another. Any player signing a Pac Pro contract would forfeit NCAA eligibility, so the decision would need to be well-informed.

I have been a vocal but infrequent critic of the NCAA, particularly in how they handle football. I wrote a post critical of the NCAA back in 2013 April, in particular its use of the term “student-athlete” and how it came to be. I’m not going to rehash all of that here, but there does need to be at least one viable alternative to NCAA football for developing players in the 18 to 22 age bracket.

I don’t know if Pac Pro (as it’s apparently going to be referred to in short) will be the answer. But it’s encouraging to see this type of alternative being proposed. As far as I know, in the era of widespread college football, we have never had a professional league specifically designed to bridge the gap between high school football and the NFL. I certainly hope this takes off, and grows big enough to take a huge chunk out of the billion-dollar-plus college football industry.

And I do say “industry” on purpose. It shouldn’t be an industry. The college players are essentially unpaid professionals–or at best, paid only in scholarships. The idea that these kids can bring in so much money for their schools, and not only get barely any of it (a scholarship, if that) in order to retain their eligibility and “amateur” status–it’s crazy, and it turns common sense on its head.

On the NFL, the Super Bowl, and living in the host city

So, this is the second time now that Houston has hosted the Super Bowl at the same stadium (originally Reliant Stadium, now called NRG Stadium). Yes, Houston did host Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium back in 1974, but this was before my time.

I have been a football fan pretty much my entire life. During the five-year period from 1997 to 2001 when Houston did not have an NFL franchise, that changed a bit. For a while I even followed Arena Football, which unfortunately hasn’t remained popular, with the current incarnation having contracted to a mere five teams down from a one-time high of 19.

That said, once my favorite teams (Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks) get eliminated from the playoffs, I usually quit caring about football for the year and will often either tune out of the Super Bowl or watch only part of it. This year I’m watching from home, mainly because it’s being played here in town. However, next year, unless the Texans or Seahawks are playing in it, I may not watch, for a variety of reasons.

One good thing about having the city you live in host the Super Bowl is a lot of things get fixed and cleaned up that otherwise nobody would really care about. Trash gets picked up off the streets, businesses clean up their exterior and possibly even fix burned-out bulbs in their signage, major streets get repainted months ahead of schedule, burned out streetlights get fixed. This year, it also appears the Super Bowl was the impetus for the completion of the Green Line overpass connecting the final two stations (Cezar Chavez/67th Street and Magnolia Park Transit Center).

Of course there is a flip side to this too where laws are used in unintended ways. While I haven’t heard much about the city (particularly the police department) mistreating the homeless in advance of the Super Bowl, I’m sure it has happened. It’s implausible that the Super Bowl coming up in less than two months and HPD deciding to enforce the homeless feeding ban more aggressively than usual was just a mere coincidence.

While we do get an economic influx, there’s also the extra traffic from everybody coming to town for the game and/or other related festivities. On a personal note, this was part of the reason I cancelled my planned attendance of the 2600 meeting at The Galleria on Friday; it was questionable if I would have attended even if potentially thicker-than-usual crowds were not a factor. I was at The Galleria on Wednesday, and the crowds weren’t terrible then, but who knows how bad it was on Friday night? (If you were there, feel free to comment.) Also, I see many friends on Facebook who can’t wait for the city to “get back to normal.” I don’t blame them.

I don’t mean to throw rain on your parade if you’re a diehard football fan and only care that it’s the NFL and there’s 11 guys on each side of the ball running into each other in the closest thing the USA has to ancient Roman gladiatorial combat. If you enjoy the game no matter who’s playing, that’s great. But some don’t, and some like myself lose interest if the teams are unfamiliar. And honestly, normal life can be chaotic enough without a wildly popular football game and the associated crowds coming to town.