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.

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]

New Rule: Get Arrested And You’re Guilty

OK. So let me get this straight: aloof running back gets arrested while on a boat in Austin with his mother, his friends, and several female friends (all white, let’s note) and contests the police account, saying he was mistreated and abused. Last Saturday, he gets pulled over and arrested for DUI charges, but maintains that he passed a sobriety test and is innocent of the charges.

Without either of the charges being borne out, he is released by his employer. In what fucking world does this make any sort of sense whatsoever?

This is the world of the NFL, where you can lose your job even if you are completely innocent of any charges against you. Welcome to the real world of the NFL, Cedric Benson — the running back was released from the Bears after last weekend’s arrest, with GM Jerry Angelo expressing the franchise’s supposed frustration with the first-round pick.

Cedric displayed a pattern of behavior we will not tolerate. As I said this past weekend, you have to protect your job. Everyone in this organization is held accountable for their actions. When individual priorities overshadow team goals, we suffer the consequences as a team. Those who fail to understand the importance of ‘team’ will not play for the Chicago Bears.

Bears management needed an excuse to cut Benson. He has underperformed, but has not had the benefit of a well-put together O-line the past year or a quarterback that is any consistent threat in the passing game — as such, it meant he would probably get one more shot this year to show the form that made him a first round pick.

But voila, two arrests and no convictions are enough to throw him out the window. Just how an arrest without any form of conviction or basis was enough to get rid of Tank Johnson (I don’t mean the weapons charges, I mean the DUI afterwards that really wasn’t.) This is the world Roger Goodell has created and the standard he has set — and every other player in the league ought to be incensed (unless you are Jared Allen. now of the Vikings, which means you’re glad you got off easy last year in KC.)

If Benson pleaded guilty or no contest to either charge, it would be a different story. But as of right now, he believes both arrests are unjustified and is willing to challenge the matter in court. Would that the Bears be only that willing to allow due process to play out, but this is Lord Rog’s World, and frankly, it’s time Gene Upshaw and the NFLPA did something to exert some sort of check and balance on teams

The owners have handed the NFLPA a golden opportunity by deciding to drop out of the CBA for 2011.  Now Upshaw needs to prove his worth by giving the men he represents at least a chance at due process for off-the-field incidents.

Photo: Jim Prishing/Chicago Tribune

10 Things Arlen Specter Would Be Better Off Doing With His Time Than Investigating The NFL

Senator Single Bullet Theory (R-Comcast) is not particularly satisfied with Lord Rog’s explanations for the Patriots video-taping ways and Matt Walsh’s revelations, and is already threatening a round of Congressional Kabuki Theater over the league’s anti-trust exemption, citing Goodell’s “conflict of interest” in investigating a matter that involves one of his league’s franchises. I understand. Arlen Specter isn’t unjustified in having questions about the cover-up by the tape destruction. However, the man is all bark and no bite, a 10 gallon hat with no cattle, and plenty of lip without one tooth in his head, as far as rhetoric goes.

Here are 10 things he would be better off doing rather than asking for an NFL-style Mitchell Report and threatening the anti-trust exemption (pardon my politics):

  1. Following through on his outrage over the U.S. attorney firings by politically motivated DOJ staffers
  2. Helping find some sort of solution for the housing and foreclosure mess.
  3. Taking care of himself. He is recovering from cancer.
  4. Vetting judicial nominees.
  5. Looking into that whole warrantless wire-tapping thing the NSA’s got going on.
  6. Following up on previous questions about torture of detainees.
  7. Maybe finding some reserve of his power accumulated over decades to do something about gas prices that works.
  8. Revisiting that Warren Commission conclusion.
  9. Afghanistan.
  10. Iraq.

This is absolutely fucking rich:

Specter was again asked whether his interest in the matter has to do with Philadelphia-based Comcast, one of his largest campaign contributors. Comcast has been involved in a dispute with the league over the placement of the NFL Network on its cable system.

“They have been a campaign contributor,” Specter said, “along with 50,000 other people … I’ve been at this line of work for a long time, and no one has ever questioned my integrity.”

He’s right. We can’t question his integrity. I mean, you try asking about something that doesn’t exist. Everyone just winds up looking foolish.

Specter calls for Mitchell-like investigation of Pats [AP via Sports Illustrated]

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.

Why Gene Upshaw Must Go

By now you’ve likely heard about Chris Mortenson’s report regarding Ravens kicker and player rep Matt Stover’s email circulating about removing NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw by March 2009, and Upshaw’s insistence that he will be staying on as the head of the union.  The urgency on Stover’s behalf (and I presume a sizable contingent of the union, otherwise he wouldn’t float this at all) is because the owners are prepared to drop out of the collective bargaining agreement, creating an uncapped year in 2010 and, if it’s not resolved, a possible strike or lockout.

Upshaw should have been gone a while ago. I’ll try to outline this quickly:

1) Letting Roger Goodell run rampant on player discipline: Upshaw permitted a bad precedent to take place with regard to public discipline of players. No matter what your perception of Adam Jones, Chris Henry, and some of the more extreme examples, the NFLPA gave cursory objection to what was an unprecedented suspension policy, and even less fight in the case of someone like Odell Thurman — who was suspended for repeated DUIs and then was not reinstated after re-applying last July — without an explanation from the commissioner’s office as to why. This is a poor, poor precedent to allow.

2) Player protections in a booming sport: I understand the economics of football a little (but not much), and understand that signing an entire 53-man squad to guaranteed contracts is an impossibility. But the lack of protections for players who can be cut on a whim, most with very little in the way of warning or compensation, seems like something the union ought to have been addressing when the NFL effectively became the country’s most popular sport.

3) Medical issues with the veterans: Upshaw has been the most stubborn when dealing with retired players suffering from various medical ailments, making verbal miscues like threatening a former Patriots defensive player who said he wasn’t doing enough.  MLB’s union is something the NFLPA would do well to emulate on medical — they get lifetime coverage out of the deal in their CBA, and the failure to ensure better medical benefits for NFL players is a bad mark for his record.

These are the three big reasons, and it all comes because Upshaw has been way too close with Goodell and his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue. A bit more confrontation at the bargaining table would serve the players well, and the players probably need a new face to do it.

Cheap Shots #107

Rough week full of day job and working for the other place. As usual, tips et al can be sent to the email.

In The Wake of Tragedy: Northern Illinois University’s athletic events have all been called off for the weekend in the wake of yesterday’s shooting by a former graduate student. Five were killed before the shooter took his own life. [Chicago Tribune]

One Hell of a Typo: So, some time yesterday afternoon a release gets distributed saying Barry Bonds tested positive for ‘roids after hitting 73 in a season — and a few hours later, turns out that “2001” really was “2000”, and an already disputed test. So, no new ground there, but you could have seen the spinning go as soon as it hit ESPN. Still, this will hit the ground running. [SF Chronicle, ESPN]

It’s Not Just Devean George That’s Wrecking A Trade: More on George himself in a separate post, hopefully — but Jerry Stackhouse’s openly talking about being bought out and re-signing with Dallas after 30 days may put the Jason Kidd trade in further danger of not happening. [Yahoo Sports]

Now The NFL May Get A Taste of Congressional Kabuki Theatre: Ack, ack, ack. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) wants to keep going on the Patriots’ videotaping investigation, and now the Judiciary Committee chair, Pat Leahy (D-VT), is encouraging him. Don’t you guys have intelligence bills and judiciary scandals that require more immediate attention? [ESPN]

Visa Problems Hold Up Twins Pitcher: Francisco Liriano is having trouble getting to spring training due to a DUI arrest from 2006, and it’s part of a new immigration law — he’s got to go through a program first in his native Dominican Republic. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune via SbB]

Kelvin Sampson Death Watch: IU prez holding a news conference, is still coaching for now. My guess as to whether he makes it to the end of the season and the tourney: yes, but he will be gone at the end of the season.

Sampson vs. Slimer: Yep, as odd as you think it sounds. [Rumors and Rants]

Watch The Tree People: Stanford, under the radar (well, I suppose so if you’re not up late enough to watch the Pac-10.) [West Coast Bias]

Why Power Rankings Blow: You start them WAY too early. [Crashburn Alley]