Friday, July 25, 2014

Ray Rice Punishment Misses the Mark

I could sit here and list off all the NFL suspensions over the years that help make this punishment look completely non-sensical.

After all, Terrelle Pryor got five games for getting some free tattoos. While in college.

You don't need to know anything more than that.

I could just post Keith Olbermann's epic takedown of the NFL from Thursday night. But I only need to mention a few words. The last ones.

While noting that NFL Network's Chris Rose -- a rock-solid broadcaster, to be fair -- had the audacity to talk about Rice's suspension while coining the term "the iron fist of the NFL," Olbermann had this to say:

"Right now, the iron fist of the NFL has just been used ... against Ray Rice's wife ... and against every woman in America."

Many people love NFL football. Hell, I watch every weekend. There are countless web sites, blogs, Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, and other media dedicated to covering the NFL and living the NFL. The league has made a lot of people -- and not just those directly participating as owners, players, coaches, administrators, broadcasters, or whatever else -- a ton of money.

The NFL's success is largely related to its marketing. They're always trying to grow the league, instead of being content with what they already have. In this world, you're either growing or dying. There is no third direction.

(That's from "Tommy Boy," and it's still completely valid some 20 years later.)

That marketing has stretched to females. The NFL has smartly recognized that women around the world have become huge football fans. They might not be fans for any reason besides the fact their significant other is a huge fan, and they've turned football Sundays into a huge part of their relationship, but they're fans.

(Don't misread that. There's a slew of females out there who are football fans without any coercion from the opposite sex. No matter how they've become fans, they matter to the NFL, as they should.)

That means you can coax them into spending their money on the league, and many of them do just that.

Unfortunately, the NFL doesn't treat all women well.

Look what they just did to Janay Palmer-Rice.

The Ray Rice suspension should bother you as a human being. It isn't a tacit endorsement of the behavior caught in that video, where Ray Rice callously drags his unconscious (then) fiancee out of an Atlantic City elevator. He's not dragging her out of the elevator because he's concerned and wants to get her medical attention. He's not dragging her out of the elevator in a panic because he thinks something is wrong. Instead, his actions appear calm and, yes, callous.

Janay Palmer didn't pass out. Ray Rice knocked her out. And he got a two-game suspension for it.

And then Ravens coach John Harbaugh had the utter nerve Thursday to talk about how kids can learn from Rice's actions and the subsequent punishment.
“It’s not a big deal, it’s just part of the process. There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray. He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since. He makes a mistake, alright? He’s going to have to pay a consequence. I think that’s good for kids to understand it works that way. That’s how it works, that’s how it should be.”
Ray Rice might be the nicest guy on Earth. But that should not -- hell, can not -- matter when levying a punishment for something as severe as this.

And I don't want my 12-year-old son learning from any part of what has happened here. This is where the NFL's past punishments become more than just a valid argument. They become downright scary.

I'm not pro-marijuana, but I'd much rather my son smoked marijuana during the NFL offseason than knocked another human being -- worse yet, his significant other -- out cold before dragging that person's lifeless body out of an elevator with no regard for safety or well-being. And the NFL has just sent the message that it would rather you did the opposite.

Justin Blackmon -- who unquestionably needs help before he could ever even consider a comeback -- might never play football again. Ray Rice will be back on the field in Week 3.

It's the wrong message, and it's one I'd like to think the NFL is smart enough to get right. It's failed in this case.

It failed not just women around the world, but it failed its players, even Ray Rice.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thinking Out Loud: Tony Dungy's Irrational Fear of Distractions, Chris Kluwe's Fight

The idea of an openly gay player in a professional sports locker room is one that's been danced around for years. Many have been afraid to discuss it, and while it's unquestionably true that we've had gay professional athletes, none have been willing to come out during their playing careers.

Before going through the combine and the NFL Draft, Missouri linebacker Michael Sam decided it was time to do just that. He came out as gay, saying his teammates knew last season.

You know the rest of this story. The St. Louis Rams took Sam in the seventh round, and he will have a chance to make the team during training camp, which starts this week.

Good thing Tony Dungy wasn't in Jeff Fisher's spot.

"I wouldn't have taken him,'' Dungy told the Tampa Bay Tribune. “Not because I don't believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it.

"It's not going to be totally smooth ... things will happen."

Keep in mind: Dungy blazed a trail for African Americans to become head coaches in the NFL. He wasn't the first, but he was one of the most successful, and his presence made a huge difference for those who thought the NFL was not providing African Americans the opportunity to become head coaches.

Dungy is a man who stared racism down and persevered despite it.

Sam is blazing a different kind of trail, and Dungy says that trail is too distracting to a team.

That tells you all you need to know about the NFL and its priorities.

Michael Sam's gay. That's a distraction.

Ray Rice drags his fiancee around a casino, and that isn't.

Take it away, Mike Freeman.
Unfortunately, Dungy isn't alone, but Dungy is supposed to know better. He's supposed to be a leader, a man of principal, a man who knows the sting of bigotry. Quite simply, he's supposed to understand.

... Dungy should know better, but he is clearly a good man with a weak spot. Imagine if an NFL team, when Dungy came into football, decided not to draft him because they wouldn't want to "deal with all of it" by picking a black man. Or if Dungy's hero, Chuck Noll, instead of hiring Dungy as an assistant coach, decided, "You know what, the attention will be negative. I don't want to 'deal with all of it.' "

When Dungy was trying to be a head coach, he was rebuffed in many instances because of the color of his skin. Or other superficial features. The late George Young, who was the general manager of the Giants, once told Dungy (as told in Michael MacCambridge's book America's Game): "I want to help you. I want to see you succeed in this business, and I think you can. But you'll never advance any farther with that beard. It's just not seen in the NFL."

When Dungy told Steelers owner Dan Rooney about Young's words, Rooney said: "In some organizations, that's probably true. But we like people to be themselves."
I like people to be themselves, too. I like Richard Sherman as Richard Sherman. He adds to the experience of watching football. As much as Jermichael Finley's flamboyance drove me nuts at times, it'll be missed in Green Bay if he can't play again. I believe the Vikings will miss Jared Allen's personality, possibly as much as the Bears will appreciate having him around.

Some guys stand out because of their uniqueness. If they're doing their jobs and the team isn't suffering because of that "individuality," there's no reason to think that player is a distraction.

Sure, Finley's gestures after every random catch look stupid if the team is down 30-7 or if the record is 3-9. Same for Allen's calf-roping sack dance. But if the team is winning, it's like a rallying cry.

It's amazing that Dungy -- a well-spoken, intelligent man who went through a lot of crap before he finally got the opportunity he needed to prove himself as a coach -- would so easily dismiss a guy like Sam.

Michael Sam's a distraction, but the guy who was thrown in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring (Michael Vick) deserved a second chance at the NFL.

OK, Tony.

I wonder how Dungy would have handled Chris Kluwe if the two had worked together at any point. There's another story.

Kluwe basically took a live grenade to his NFL career in January, when he penned a piece for where he alleged he was let go by the Vikings because of his outspoken support for gay marriage. If that wasn't enough, Kluwe threatened to sue the team (and apparently will file that suit on Wednesday) if they didn't release the results of their commissioned investigation that resulted from Kluwe's piece, as well as levy heavy sanctions against the main subject of that story, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer.

The Vikings called Kluwe's bluff. He wasn't bluffing.

Do I think Kluwe is a bit of an attention seeker? Yes. But I also believe he is standing up for something he feels strongly about: gay rights. And he thinks he is still doing that in trying to get the Vikings to change what he insists is a broken culture within the organization and, more specifically, in the locker room.

This isn't a money grab from Kluwe. He said he will donate every dime he may be awarded from the Vikings. It also isn't a ploy to get back in the NFL. Between the Deadspin piece that started all of this in January and the pending lawsuit, Kluwe knows he's done in the league.

And as the Vikings tried to deflect Kluwe's barbs by leaking word that he had taken part in some ribbing of a Penn State alum on the Vikings' staff (making fun of the Jerry Sandusky scandal), Kluwe went back on the offensive. He said (correctly) that his behavior, while not necessarily right, doesn't justify anything Priefer is alleged to have said in team settings. Priefer is a leader and held to a higher standard, Kluwe says, and he's right.

Just ask the Miami Dolphins, who fired offensive line coach Jim Turner last year after he was found to be taking part in the bullying of lineman Jonathan Martin.
"The language and behavior as described in the Ted Wells report are against the core values of our organization," Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in a statement. "After receiving the report, I conducted my own internal review of the facts to determine the appropriate steps for our organization. Jim Turner and Kevin O'Neill are good people who care a great deal about their profession and the players whom they serve, but both exhibited poor judgment at times which led me to this conclusion.

"As owner, I know firsthand of the high-character and dedicated professionals in our building. I believe in our team and know the hard work and sacrifices they make every day on the field and in the community. However, this is an opportunity and a teaching moment not only for the coaches, staff and players in our locker room, but also for participants throughout sports."
I don't know if Priefer should have been fired, but the results of this Vikings investigation -- even our limited knowledge from that report -- make it clear that locker-room behavior continues to be a problem for the NFL.

Guys are going to kid around, have fun, and get on each other's nerves. But there has to be a line where words and actions start to genuinely offend people. And those people have to be encouraged to speak up, not ripped limb from limb when they do.