Rolling The Tape To Find Signs Flashing

The NFL appears to be very, very concerned about a mostly-media-manufactured image problem (the common figure of athletes actually being arrested is 2.2%) among its athletes, and has taken a step that I’m not sure most of us were made aware of when Lord Roger Goodell’s regime started cracking down: they are now reviewing game tape for celebrations by players that might involve gang signs as hand gestures.

Oddly enough, the hiring of gang experts to go through tapes was not inspired by any particular athlete in its league, but the Boston Celtics’ Paul Pierce, who got fined $25K last year by David Stern for making what the NBA called “menacing gestures.”

Partly because of that episode, the NFL decided to make the identification of gang signs a point of emphasis this season, and has called on the resources of local and national authorities to learn more about gang culture.

“We were always suspicious that [gang-related hand signals] might be happening,” said Mike Pereira, the NFL’s vice president of officiating. “But the Paul Pierce thing is what brought it to light. When he was fined . . . that’s when we said we need to take a look at it and see if we need to be aware of it.”

NFL game officials will not be responsible for identifying gang signals but will alert league headquarters of anything unusual or suspicious they see. League executives declined to outline what action might be taken against offenders, but Pereira said, “it will be dealt with harshly. The commissioner is not going to stand for gang signals on the field.”

But how can you tell what the difference is between what could be perceived as a gang sign and what’s a signal? As Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Dennis Northcutt pointed out, there are many gangs, each with their own symbols, and people can have hand signs for anything and everything (not that it’s terribly common.)

A league’s image is everything, but there’s something to be said for waiting to fix a problem when it actually exists. I’m not sure this is actually one of the biggest things in terms of off-field matters that the NFL ought to worry about, despite the seemingly good intentions behind it.

Concerned about gang signs, NFL reviews tapes [Los Angeles Times]

The Cost of Mayo May Keep Rising in South L.A.

Naturally, as soon as any high-profile college program is associated with some allegations of NCAA violations, the well of problems will only get deeper until the program is either punished or gets through the NCAA gauntlet unscathed, and in the era of one-and-done, this is becoming even more obvious.

The current allegations surrounding O.J. Mayo and USC are already affecting Tim Floyd’s recruiting class for the ’08-’09 season in damn near record time: the L.A. Times is reporting that top recruit and prep sensation DeMar DeRozan may ask out of his signed letter of intent if any severe penalties are pushed upon the Trojans next season. This is a concern for any program, but quite possibly doubly so for USC given DeRozian’s very public and celebrity-associated recruitment.

College basketball and football coaches have a practice of offering scholarships to players that they are on the fence about or normally would not if that player can bring in a bigger name with them (read Bruce Feldman’s Meat Market sometime; even though it is about Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss and college football, that stuff happens in college hoops, too). To Floyd and USC, DeMar DeRozian of Compton High School is most likely that bigger name landed. DeRozan’s signing of his letter of intent, however, got a lot more notice than usual.

Why’s that? Because as an eighth grader, he happened to be a star on a club team with a point guard named Percy Romeo Miller, who later played for Beverly Hills High School. That club team is run by Romeo’s father Percy, better known to the rest of us as Master P, and his son as Lil’ Romeo. Romeo Miller averaged 8.6 points a game his final season for the Hills, which finished last in its league. By all appearances, DeRozan and Miller seem to be a two-for-one deal. While their respective fathers deny it, DeRozan’s brother Jermaine claimed in the WSJ article that DeRozan was “seduced” by the Millers’ lifestyle — and the father of walk-on Ryan Weatherell believes it, claiming that Floyd told him it was such a deal.

And Rodney Guillory wanted him, too:

Frank DeRozan said Guillory once attempted to recruit DeMar to play for his Amateur Athletic Union team, and when his advances were rebuffed, Guillory told other AAU coaches that DeMar was 15 years old when in fact he was 13. The family then had to go to some lengths to straighten out the discrepancy.

DeRozan is most likely a member of the latest one-and-done class. I got the opportunity to watch DeRozan play when Compton HS came up for a local HS’s tourney a few months back — complete real deal, outshone all of the talent on hand; I don’t expect him to stay at USC more than a year, and if this gets any worse for USC, it might not be done in the Galen Center. Myles Brand is already spewing fire about committing three investigators to college basketball, while spewing bullshit about how college hoops are harder to police than any other sport (try one with an 85 scholly limit, Mr. Brand).

DeRozan’s brother Jermaine told the Times the incident is already serving as a “cautionary tale.” They’ve already dealt with Guillory, apparently, and from their accounts, he doesn’t seem to be a pleasant fellow if he doesn’t get what he wants — and now, DeRozan’s high school coach has Final Four teams calling him, wondering if DeMar might be interested in changing his mind — another tried-and-true late recruiting tactic.

This is going to get a whole lot uglier. Whether it becomes a full exposure of the seedy world behind big-time college recruiting or simply a witch hunt for the athlete and the alleged enabler who got caught by a whistleblower with his own obvious agenda has yet to be seen. Don’t be surprised if those in the media opt for the latter rather than a modern exposure of Bill Rhoden’s Conveyor Belt concept (from 40 Million Dollar Slaves.)

DeMar DeRozan might ask out is USC is punished in Mayo case [L.A. Times]
A Hot Prospect? [Wall Street Journal]
NCAA ramps up enforcement of men’s hoops recruiting [USA Today]
NCAA — Myles Brand — Adds Race to Mayo Mix [Sports on My Mind]

Go On, Take The Money And Run

There will be plenty more dimensions to the allegations against O.J. Mayo that he accepted $30,000 in cash in gifts from a promoter named Rodney Giullory, all revealed in an ESPN report on Outside the Lines yesterday, which featured a former member of Mayo’s circle who allegedly provided receipts confirming this, and accused the management agency of agent Bill Duffy of paying Guillory hundreds of thousands of dollars to land Mayo when the guard was still in high school. But for now, much of the story makes glaze over and sigh.

Yes, this is the second bad money-involved scandal with USC, still trying to eke through the Reggie Bush investigation, and Tim Floyd must feel like he wants to swallow a cyanide pill if the whole “lack of institutional control” is ever brought up by the NCAA.  However, Mayo and Guillory were unlucky enough to have a member of the entourage turn on them. This goes on more often than you think: how many Sports Illustrated profiles do you read where a scholarship athlete at a big-time university has a decked-out off campus apartment, and that description comes mere paragraphs before or after one where the athlete being profiled grew up in very tough conditions?  That kind of dissonance is prevalent, and such payments are probably just as prevalent.  As usual, the allegations are exposed because someone either got caught or someone who used to be on the inside holds a grudge.

The voices of vitriol backing the so-called “purity” and honor of college athletics calling for sanctions against USC always seem to miss the point, although by the NCAA rules, there’s probably a way to get the athletic department for “lack of institutional control.”  That point is: athletes like Mayo shouldn’t even have to be forced to go to college for a perfunctory year in the first place. Yes, the NBA’s age limit is good for college basketball, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good for the athletes.  Either the NCAA is going to have to find ways to pay the players (any other type of scholarship recipient besides athletic has many more options of earning cahs on the side, and some of  the NCAA’s massive profits need to go to those who earn them on the court and field), or both the NBA and NFL are going to have to establish viable minor leagues unaffiliated with academic institutions.

The fake outrage that arises whenever an athlete is accused of receiving cash while on an athletic scholarship grows more tiresome. They’re operating in the framework of a broken system in the first place.

I Hate Everything About This Stupid So-Called Scandal

I hate Roger Goodell, a sanctimonious prick who decided to get his Little Lord Napoleon act on with the NFL players and is facing some nice little backlash from not being as hard on teams as he is on players with the whole Patriots taping bit, going so far as to destroy the tapes and consider the matter “finished” even though anyone with half a brain knows the cover-up is almost always worse than the original crime.

Despite defending him and even mocking him, I hate Bill Belichick because he’s a curmudgeonly crumbum with an arrogance factor that’s off the charts. Oh, and he willingly broke the rules.

I hate Senator Arlen Specter because he’s another sanctimonious prick who has better things to be doing in the U.S. Senate rather than trying to hold Goodell’s feet to the fire and saying it’s in the public interest to know the NFL is clean and honest. How the good Republican senator from Comcast can talk about honesty and integrity (the man talked nothing but game about putting a check on President Bush regarding war strategy and civil liberties, and then folded faster than origami paper) is beyond my range of comprehension.

I hate Matt Walsh for allowing the whole “Pats taped the Rams before the 2002 Super Bowl” rumor to fester in the hope of trying to protect his own ass legally. The guy seems scuzzier than he lets on, particularly because he stole the tapes (let’s not forget that.)

I hate all the forms of sports media for labeling this whole matter “Spy-gate”, which allowed them to lapse into stupid cliche and continuing with the mockery of crucial points of American history by using the “-gate” suffix as poorly as the political media does.

Now, we have information about the tapes that Walsh turned over — and several teams were taped, including the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. Naturally, the senatorial asshole wants the taping jerk to testify in order to embarrass the front office prick, who will then be shamed into further punishment of the sideline fucknozzle (NYT columnist Harvey Araton is calling for Coach Hobo to get a year’s suspension.) The NFL, for its part, is saying none of the tapes show anything that’s actually new (well, what did you expect them to say?)

I’d love nothing more for this story to die. Yes, the Patriots broke the rules, and the NFL was too hasty in destroying the tapes initially. With that fuck-up by Lord Rog’s office, this load of crap now has a shelf life much longer than it should have been, and is now being driven by some completely unlikeable people on all sides.

Raising The Age Limit Again?

(Yes, I’m wildly speculating that Michael Beasley has played his last college basketball game already. But it’s fairly safe speculation.)

Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer has written a column backing David Stern’s probability of proposing the age minimum in the NBA be raised to 20 when the next collective bargaining agreement comes up — even though the current rule of waiting a year is fairly distateful to many fans of both the college and pro games; myself included. Yes, as Dwyer notes, the basketball at the college level has been better with the one-and-done crew (Kevin Durant and Greg Oden last year; presumably, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, and Kevin Love this year), but it’s done absolutely nothing for the mentality that college basketball players at the elite levels of Division I are nothing close to student-athletes. If anything, it’s turned that into stark relief.

The NBA is private, it can do what it pleases so long as it bargains for it in this case. But Stern’s proposal would be just a reinforcing of the latest mentality to control the product and the people involved in it to an extreme level — please see the dress code, lists of places not to go, stricter rules about calling technicals, etc. The reason there were flame-outs that made the jump from high school had less to do with the player being ready than the front office being enamored with bad product. Stern should not be saving teams from themselves; that’s not his job. But there is something so questionable about essentially forcing aspiring ballers to go to college (Dwyer’s suggestion of playing in Europe is laughable; they may forget you exist if you head over there for a year). It’s not like there aren’t plenty of pro busts who played four years of college and managed to turn it into a pro contract that they never lived up to.

I’m sure I’d like a rule with an age minimum of 20. The quality of the league might be better. But it’s a sign of a league heading further in a direction to appease the naysayers who can only muster enough about the Association to say it’s either full of “thugs” or players who “have no understanding of fundamentals.”

All I’m saying is that someone was dumb enough (that someone being arguably the best player to ever pick up a basketball) to draft Kwame Brown out of high school and sign him to a ridiculous amount of money. Stop protecting hte teams from their own fuck-ups, and let the kids who want no part of Div. I schooling play in the Association.

Photo: AP/Dave Weaver

Why Did This Take So Long?

I’d kind of like to pogo off something I originally wrote up for Sports by Brooks over the weekend — the NFL is probably going to allow helmets for communication between the defensive coaches and the players, thus removing the need for signals and, quite possibly, the urge to tape them (as the Patriots did), which many involved are citing as the reason to finally approve this. You get the gist.

My question, after two more days of thinking about this: why did it take the Patriots videotaping signals for owners to give the defensive side a helmet? I’m aware there is no one player on the defense that is always in there, so you  are going to have to have more than one player equipped with a radio helmet (it’s easier to do on offensive with the quarterback position.)   It doesn’t make any sense to give one side a distinct advantage to not have to fight through crowd noise to get the plays.

Essentially, pro sports are not exactly quick when it comes to picking up on new technology and things that could keep the game moving, cut down on distractions.  So, this is better late than never. But I’m not quite sure I understand how equalizing out both sides with radio communication wasn’t part of the thought process to begin with. Now, it probably can’t be approved fast enough.

Pray That Congress Liked The Mitchell Report, Bud.

Like I’ve written previously with regard to the whole NFL Network/cable/Sunday Ticket issue, I find Congressional involvement in professional sport devolves into the worst sort of Kabuki theatre; soapboxes have already been set up for Rep. Henry Waxman and the rest of the House committee set to grill MLB commissioner Bud Selig, union chief Donald Fehr, and former senator George Mitchell tomorrow morning with stock phrases about matters of “integrity,” “public health,” “doing it for the children,” and “America’s pastime” (as if the NFL had not lapped baseball completely by now). But, as the NFL did, MLB ceded its right to be free of certain forms of interference from the feds once it lobbied and received an anti-trust exemption, so Selig will have to take his medicine and lumps yet again.

However, it’s instructive to read the prep articles for this — and the copy from T.J. Quinn and Mark Fainaru-Wada over at ESPN is probably the most instructive, because it will provide Selig with the easy out of blaming it all on Fehr and the MLBPA, which ties nicely into a politician’s favorite sport — never let the party affiliation smoke you out, there are plenty of Democrats who are less than friendly to labor unions to begin with (Waxman is not one of them; you can’t be an L.A.-area congressman without strong labor support.) Regardless of what happens to players like Roger Clemens (who appears to be scurrying as quickly as he can in what appears to be an impending showdown under oath with Brian McNamee), the least Congress can do — if it has any concept of being remotely fair in its treatment of the issue — is line up as many executives, particularly those named in the Mitchell Report or having signed players named in said report, and ask them under oath what they knew and when they knew it.

In a better world, they might ask the former players why they did it, the reasons they used it, and ask doctors about the science behind it — the wear and tear of a 162-game season, and several playoff series. Maybe instead of starting another front of the colossal failure that is the War on (Some) Drugs, after asking the right questions about the report, those particular pezzonovanti might look at whether there are actual benefits for adult males in strictly prescribed and monitored use or not — and then consider whether it applies to other sports, particularly the one that has lapped MLB and has players with non-guaranteed contracts willing to do a heck of a lot to avoid being cut.

What we will get some damn good theater out of it that will make us feel good and have a scapegoat. Nothing productive will actually come of it. Jose Canseco said last time that Congress held hearings on baseball and steroids that the game could not be allowed to police itself or it would be back facing a House committee again. Well, we’re back again, and in front of representatives that can’t even pay enough attention to determine whether waterboarding is or isn’t torture or logical cases for war.

Color me less than optimistic.