Will You Bite The Hand That Feeds You? Will You Stay Down On Your Knees?

Vikings Williamses Football

I suppose I ought to apologize for borrowing a Nine Inch Nails chorus, but it’s the basic question that the NFLPA handed itself when the late Gene Upshaw ceded the union’s say in disciplinary matters years back. Then again, no one really could have predicted the reign of Lord Roger Goodell coming around, but still, any union head has to be smart enough tos ee those possibilities coming.

Now, you have a matter of NFL discipline in the hands of the legal system, becuase Minnesota Vikings D-linemen Kevin Williams and Pat Williams were bright enough to lawyer up for their suspensions over using StarCaps, which the league said had a substance on the banned list, but the players claimed a hotline put in place to answer those sorts of qustions about supplements was not functioning properly. The other players involved and suspended by the league are the Saints’ Will Smith, Deuce McAllister, and Charles Graint, along with a Texans’ long-snapper.

I have made it a point to rail against Goodell’s heavy-handed and inconsistent approach towards player suspensions (Jared Allen gets a four-game knocked down to two; somehow, Matt Jones has gotten forever to appeal a three-gamer for his coke arrest), and this is not helping matters when players are paying dues to an association that isn’t doing a whole lot to help them when they get in straits with the league’s no-tolerance policies through methods that could easily be honest mistakes.

If at any time, the NFLPA needed an outside fiture, its own Marvin Miller to help guide it to a prominence similar to the NBA Players Association or the MLBPA, this is the time — as the owners are citing the bad economic forecast as justification for pulling out of the current labor agreement. (This conveniently ignores the owners pulling out at least a few good months before the mortgage collapse truly hit the fan.)  If this is the case, it’s time to insert some levity back into the disciplinary process for on-field and off-field related matters in exchange for any sort of concession to ownership.

I’m not so sure the players can do that if they pick one of their own to replace Upshaw. For the sake of its members who pay dues and get screwed by fine-print rules which the league’s supposed 24-hour hotline can’t explain, the NFLPA needs to find an outside leader and start challenging Dictator Goodell on his power tripping.

Somehow I Don’t Think Ms. Jones Will Have Mr. Libby’s Good Fortune

It’s kind of hard for me to be sympathetic to Marion Jones at this point. After lying for years about PED use, she decides to come clean and admit it all, only getting a six-month prison sentence for it, and now, she’s asking President Bush to commute the sentence?

Got to take some guts to do that. I mean, having a public admission on the steps of a federal building in New York City, breaking down and crying in front of the cameras about what you did wrong, and then having the audacity to say you shouldn’t serve the time even though you lied to the government?

The Justice Department confirmed Monday that Jones is among hundreds of convicted felons who have applied for presidential pardons or sentence commutations, but would provide no further details. A pardon removes a conviction from someone’s record, while a commutation only reduces or eliminates the person’s sentence.

I understand Jones has kids, and that’s not a good situation to be in, with their mother serving out a sentence. But those are the risks you take when you lie to federal agents. I mean, damn. You gotta think about those things when you’re keeping up the lie — whether it’s worth it for you or your family to go through that.

Giambi Gets Fan Campaigns While Bonds Sits And Waits

A column like this is why I’m a big fan of the New York Times’ William C. Rhoden: why is a former steroid user like Jason Giambi, someone who really didn’t fully admit he used (“stuff” is not a complete explanation), getting a campaign with fake mustaches to get the fans to vote him in for the last slot in the All-Star Game (which he lost to Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria) while the best hitter of his generation, Barry Bonds, waits for a team to call him?

Giambi’s half-hearted not-really-an-apology got him leeway and a way back in with the fans after a purgatory spent in unproductive baseball hell. The Yankees orchestrated an entire campaign to get him in the All-Star Game; hell, no one even brings up his steroid past any more. Yet Bonds’ impending perjury trial (which isn’t until next year) is enough to keep him from having a job this season.

Locker room distraction? Only because the press decides to make one out of him. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy every time an analyst or reporter brings it up.  Asshole? Probably, but it’s not like baseball has all good guys in its clubhouses. There are productive players who are probably complete dicks, yet they still are playing in the league.

The problem is, as Rhoden notes, that Bonds has not and will not prostrate himself before Bud Selig, the media, or anyone else: he says he has not used PEDs and is sticking to it.  We are not comfortable with this. As a culture, we want penitence from athletes whom we believe have done wrong, we want them to be humble in ways we would imagine ourselves being in that position. Anything else upsets our sensibilities — and especially when it comes to the uppity black man.

Jason Giambi has been rehabilitated in the public eye.  Every announcer is still in thrall of what Rick Ankiel can do in center field with his pitching arm; no one recalls his shipments ordered from Signature Pharmacy in Florida.  Paul Byrd is having a sub-par season with the rest of the Cleveland Indians; he got a contract extension mere weeks after it came out that he got HGH from a dentist. Troy Glaus has had a pretty good season for a Cardinal team hanging around longer than anyone thought.

Oh, how soon we forget.

A Double Fault On Defending The Indefensible

On Friday at Sports by Brooks, I wrote on Justin Gimelstob, who turned a career as an unremarkable tennis player into an equally unremarkable career writing columns for Sports Illustrated‘s web site and occasionally working as a TV analyst, and his much too frank comments on his feelings about Anna Kournikova and opinions on the pulchritude of several up-and-coming female players (of course, all said on D.C. sports talk radio, unfortunately, WJFK’s archive has purged this segment of the Junkies due to age since it aired on June 18th.)

I didn’t expect anyone at SI to address the matter; the usual modus operandi is to sweep these things under the rug and/or handle it internally, while sneaking out a small note about the matter. But, the mag’s lead tennis writer, L. Jon Wertheim, brought it up in his “Wimbledon Midterm Grades” column, yet I think he’s only managed to make it worse by admitting it was indefensible — if only to then excuse it.

Justin Gimelstob: Dozens of you referenced his unfortunate remarks. The full disclosure, of course, is that Justin has been writing for si.com, which makes this all the more awkward. The remarks themselves are thoroughly indefensible. But let me say this in his defense: he’s always been a beacon of candor, one of those athletes who speaks honestly, regardless of whom he might offend or what collateral damage might arise. This doesn’t, of course, give him license to say anything, but — and I feel similarly about Charles Barkley — it tempers at least some of the outrage when he crosses the line.

I don’t ever recall Charles Barkley on TNT ever saying he wanted to hit someone — never mind a woman — with a ball, and saying that if he didn’t do that, he hadn’t done his job. That’s really awful moral equivalence, and it serves to distract from the offenses. Barkley has talked shit about entire cities, about backwards-ass people in his home state, various other things, but I don’t recall him talking openly about how much he hated someone; so much so he expressed a desire to hurt the person physically.

Never mind Gimelstob’s comments about maybe letting his “stud” brother take a run at Kournikova if she offered to screw him.  I got a bit of a slimy feeling just listening to it as I waded through the audio on Friday, and I’m fairly crass myself. Gimelstob has had to apologize, of course, but it’s probably not that sincere, and I’d say if he’s still keeping those views of the women’s tour, maybe he shouldn’t be paid to write or analyze it, because he may not be entirely capable of doing so fairly and with respect.

Gimelstob comes off as a self-involved frat boy, bragging about nailing Martina Hingis, and talking about Kournikova, Tatiana Golovin, and Alize Cornet in such pleasant “sexpot” terms. It’s one thing to do it when you’re an average Joe viewer (I’d be lying if I said I never gawked at Kournikova, Maria Sharapova, or Ana Ivanovic, to note a few) but it’s quite another when you are a former player and current analyst of the game, never mind a member of the ATP board of directors.

Wertheim’s “not really a condemnation” is also insufficient because it doesn’t detail the remarks; it presumes everyone has heard them, which I’m not sure is actually the case. So, once you frame it as something regrettable and indefensible, you can make the excuse that it’s a candor-based mistake without quoting or linking to any parts of what he said.

Photo: Jeff Zelevansky/Reuters

Cheap Shots #111

Another Useless Hearing: It’s amazing how huffy Congresscritters can get over drugs in sports, spending another day in an office building with commishes, union heads, and USADA types this morning. Wake me when they show as much concern for more important issues — I could swear there’s a war going on and a housing downturn to deal with. Careful what you wish for with a bill that takes drug testing out of the hands of the individual sports, Rep. Bobby Rush — you want a handle on the testing, you may have to take control of more aspects of the leagues.

Olympic HGH Testing: I believe WADA will have an effective test in time for the Olympics just as much as I believe Olympic athletes who say they aren’t doping. Let’s call it very specious. Someone will be ahead of the test. [AP/SI]

Investigating the Rocket: Reps. Waxman and Davis recommend the Justice Department check further into the story of Roger Clemens. Will it lead to perjury indictments? Don’t know at this point. Clemens is politically connected, and as the past hearing with McNamee went, has too many people on his side to go too quietly. [AP/ESPN]

Apparently The Lessons Post-Josh Hancock Didn’t Take: The fuzz in Irvine has a warrant out of various DUI and hit and run related charges for Cardinals’ utility man Scott Spiezio (who was in rehab during last season, too.)  If St. Louis’ baseball team was a college team, there would certainly be a question about “lack of institutional control.” [TMZ]

R.I.P., Myron Cope: The radio voice of the Steelers passed away; TSW has a nice compilation of links of what made him special. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Black and Gold Tchtchkes]

Randy Johnson Is Not Very Green: The D-backs pitcher zipped in and out of NYC in order to catch one of the three nights at MSG of Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton. Overheard: a band calling itself “JD and the Straight Shot” wanted to open, but the headliners had enough pull to say no. [Sports by Brooks]

Not Too Much Shock About The Vols: Five minutes at the top after Vandy, and some people aren’t particularly shocked. [The Legend of Cecilio Guante]

Why You Don’t Talk Politics While Still Playing: Remember that Jeff Pearlman Page 2 piece on Rangers reliever C.J. Wilson and baseball players not caring much about the election? Well, I wrote last week that there’s a reason athletes don’t do political talk until they’re retired — and Wilson is getting some blowback from the clubhouse. [Dallas Morning News]

Sam Zell Thinks Selling The Naming Rights To Wrigley Will Increase Value: I call this a stunt to get money out of the Wrigley family before selling the team. Certain franchises have so much value tapped into their stadiums and their names — we’re thinking Boston and Fenway, L.A. and Dodger Stadium, and the Yanks and their eponymous digs — that it’s actually counterproductive to re-name it. [Chicago Sun-Times]

Doesn’t Wilbon Have Better Things To Do: Threatening to beat down Dan Steinberg, even jokingly. Hopefully this eventual conflict gets live-streamed somewhere. [DC Sports Bog]

Submit To Your Weekly Blood Test

This unfortunate suggestion that baseball players and all other pro athletes have to suck it up and should give up their right to privacy in order to submit to regular blood tests for any sort of “public good” needs to die a very quick death. I’ve written about this before, but it keeps surfacing: Eric Kaselias adopted it while subbing for Mike Greenberg today (thanks, D-Wil), and Skip Bayless, the target when I wrote the prior entry, decided to spew the same stuff again.

Let us take down the rationales for such a policy:

  1. The “privilege” of making millions in pro sports: You know what players do to earn that privilege? They put their bodies through intense workouts for years, focus on very little outside of their chosen sport for years in service to Rhoden’s Conveyor Belt, and if they are good enough to make a roster, earn a paycheck doing what they are good at. All arguments about the “privilege” ignore how much work goes into becoming good enough to play professionally.
  2. “For the children” arguments: I get so tired of these. Essentially, this one boils down to, “Since children idolize athletes, we should have the right to demand testing to ensure they’re all clean.” It’s a ridiculous argument.  Teach your children to idolize someone else.
  3. Sports leagues in the pros are private corporations, with unions: Drug testing issues are almost always negotiated when there is a union. This is no different. Demanding weekly blood tests be “imposed” speaks to a clear anti-player bias.
  4. You are dealing with people’s medical privacy. Such testing and release of information policies would violate constitutional rights and doctor-patient privileges already established. Start that for pro sports and who knows how far it goes.

Again, if professional sports leagues want such draconian policies, let them negotiate with the players for them. Many of the players may be more than willing to agree to testing policies that come closer to that standard, but imposing them is a joke.

Boss Junior, Mouthing Off Again

Hank Steinbrenner is at least a card, no matter what you may actually think of the Yankees. When not making ultimatums and caving to A-Rod or threatening head-rolling if his team’s inability to get Johan Santana costs it the playoffs, he’s saying that the NFL is sliding by on the whole steroid issue while baseball gets bad pub:

“A lot of baseball people thought that baseball would be the last sport that it would be a problem in and probably just ignored it too long,” Steinbrenner said. “But the fact is it’s been in football a long time and it’s been in basketball, I’m sure. Why baseball is being singled out, I don’t know. I don’t know. I know all the excuses — `Well, it’s America’s game and it’s the statistics.’

“That’s not an excuse. If a sport is riddled with it, it’s riddled with it. Why aren’t they looking at the NFL?” he said.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello basically refuted it with a very simple response, saying the league has been testing since 1990 and busts people with immediate suspensions (Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman and Pats safety Rodney Harrison both getting four games right off the bat for steroid and HGH use, respectively, being the most recent examples.)  Steinbrenner has a point here — the NFL can basically do no wrong unless there is a wave of athlete misbehavior that would dwarf the Bengals — but football has had to deal with the steroid issue earlier, from Lyle Alzado to Bill Romanowski and countless others in between, and they haven’t gone about trying to obscure or ignore the behavior, so far as we know.

Athletes will game the system if they really want to get ahead that badly, but since football is not quite so stat-dependent in crucial areas like baseball, it’s less of a Big Concern and Crisis in the minds of the sportswriters who set the agenda. Also, there’s a lack of personification in football that’s paramount in baseball; something as simple as being able to see the faces of the competitors on the field somehow makes it more personal when a baseball player uses PEDs (although I can’t justify this theory personally.)

A better one is that save a few name skill players on every team, the NFL is such a cutthroat league for players without guaranteed contracts and obscured by everything team from helmets to shoes, that fans and the media develop the attraction to the team rather than the individual components. It’s hard to relate to 53 guys as opposed to the starting nine.

Still, it rings hollow when an MLB team’s front office starts carping about other sports, because the fallout from baseball was so public and ignored for so long that at this point, management needs to take the lumps for what happened while PEDs helped the sport escape from a vicious economic slump post-strike in 1994.