Adam Silver and the economics of morality

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So Adam Silver unloaded the banhammer on Donald Sterling yesterday — preventing the Don from ever getting within two zipcodes of Staples Center or any NBA entity. You probably heard that already.

It was the right call, and, really, it was the only call. Anything less than that would’ve resulted in outright mutiny. Hell, the money already ran scared for the hills.

And this is what makes the decision to dump Donald by the side of the road seem so disingenuous. This was no heroic claiming of moral high ground. This was a decision to save face, a swift rip of the band-aid to let the wound heal in the open.

Mr. Silver, and, particularly, his predecessor of 30 years, Mr. Stern, had numerous chances to oust Sterling in the past for his litany of racist, sexist, bigoted offenses that did real, actual harm to real, actual people.

But it was only when faced with financial peril — when doing business with Donald Sterling was no longer good for doing business — that the NBA chose to sever ties. Donald Sterling’s evil actions and disgusting demeanor (not to mention his asleep-at-the-wheel and offensively penny-pinching ownership) wasn’t enough of a debit to his character until the Association faced financial and public humiliation.

If the NBA really, truly wanted to take a stand against racism within its ranks – on both a personal and institutional level – then the NBA would do better to hire more minorities beyond the workers in the fields on the court. Front offices, broadcast booths, sidelines, league offices and marketing departments are chock full of ivory skin and ivory tower mentality, despite the cherry-picked figures that caused The University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport to award an A+ for racial diversity hiring. (Head coaches? Players? That’s what you’re rolling with as outstanding examples of “diversity” in hiring?)

If Adam Silver truly wants his league to serve as a shining beacon of promoting racial equality, there would be no dress code decreed by the white ruling body enforcing its predominantly black “talent” to dress in semi-formal attire when sitting out full games. There would be no age limit set by the white ruling body deciding when its predominantly black workforce is “mature” enough to start earning grown man paychecks.

And, if the NBA really, really wants to be subversive and forward-thinking in their morality, they would strike the title of “Owner” from their lexicon. I don’t think you need me to tell you why.

Make no mistake, Adam Silver made the right call, and sending a gross dinosaur of a human being to the NBA tar pits is a welcome first step. But it was a convenient first step – one that came adorned with all the trappings of a warm-and-fuzzy feel-good sleeper hit. There were website takeovers and Staples Center billboards (probably not designed by one of the 1-in-20 ‘creative industry‘ workers that’s non-white) and a sweet commercial tailor-made to tug at your heartstrings (the odds of an African-American actually playing any part in the creation of that commercial, by the way? One-in-100.) but to truly turn this into any kind of moral crusade will require more than just savvy marketing and swift justice.

The spotlight shined brightly on Mr. Silver, and boy did he deliver. But, as Donald Sterling knows as well as anyone, character is defined by what we all do with the lights off, long before we’re saddled with the burden of cleaning up the messes of our making.

 

LeBron James just wants to be human

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For nearly half of the 26-year life of King James, he’s glowed atop a furnace of hype.

James is no ordinary great player. He’s a city-swallowing tractor beam of acclaim. Before he had his driver’s license, he became the youngest player ever named Ohio’s “Mr. Basketball”, and was the first sophomore ever selected to the USA Today all-USA first team. SI covers. Sold-out professional arenas for high school games. LeBron didn’t sneak up on anyone, didn’t “pay his dues”, didn’t elevate to stardom. He was shout-it-out-loud transcendent from his career’s antepartum.

He won back-to-back MVPs with Cleveland, compiling a holistic stat line that blended Magic with Michael. So when LeBron decided to “take his talents to South Beach” and join super-friends Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade,  it appalled many who wished he’d become the greatest basketball player in NBA history, and most transcendent figure in Ohio history. LeBron’s decision was mimicked, mocked and ridiculed. He was labeled a coward and a quitter. I see it differently. LeBron just wanted to fit in. Continue reading

March Madness: The Great American Anti-Climax

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I saddled up to my magical blinking box at 10am Thursday morning, all wide-eyed and fluttered. The advent of my favorite sports weekend over, the apex of the uphill roller-coaster that is the college basketball regular season finished.

Four days. 48 games. Every one of them broadcasted in their entirety on four channels and the Internet. It’s nirvana. It’s one 84-hour downhill plunge from chaos to order, with the most joyous and raucous of sights and sounds in between. Continue reading

I Know Why You Really Hate Coach K

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Coach K ain’t so bad.

Probably picks up litter on the sidewalk; probably delivers Thanksgiving turkeys  to crippled old widows; probably even text-message donates to the Japan Nuclear Tsunamiquake Relief Fund automatically every 15 minutes. Swell guy.

But we hate him. I do. And I know you do, too. Continue reading

Top 10 Most Ridiculous Bowl Game Names

There was once a time when contained in the bowl was either the name of the stadium, or some other reference to where the bowl was played or some other significance.

The bowls now are named after whatever company ponies up enough cash. All references to the wheres and whats have long since passed.This is what happens when you need to fill up 35 Bowl Games that now span over 35 days.

Here, we count down the ten worst:

10. Chick-fil-A

There was a time this was called the Peach Bowl. Made sense. It was the bowl game in Georgia. Now it’s Chick-Fil-A. I realize it’s a tasty restaurant, but it’s a downgrade from a bowl name that was fitting and evocative.

9. Bridgepoint Education Holiday

Bridgepoint Education is … what? Online college? Textbook factory? Diploma mill? Teachers Union? Is this game played in a lecture hall?

8. GoDaddy.com

At halftime, Danica Patrick will take off her sweater.

7. Beef ‘O’ Brady’s St. Petersburg

An Irish Pub and a Russian City? Do the teams pre-game for pre-game?

6. TicketCity

Nothing says “sports event cash grab” like naming your bowl game after what sounds like a ticket-scalping service.

5. Kraft Fight Hunger

I’ll tell you what … if you want to fight hunger, you’re going to need a bigger bowl.

4. AdvoCare V100 Independence

AdvoCare V100. That’s either the softest-sounding pickup truck ever to roll off the assembly line, or V1-V99 of the name were even worse.

3. uDrove Humanitarian

Being a humanitarian … Soooooooo past tense. Bonus points for reminding me of uPick strawberries.

2. BBVA Compass Bowl

SWF seeking BBVA. Compass Bowl? Really? Played in … heh. Birmingham, Alabama. Gotta do something there, I guess.

1. R+L Carriers New Orleans

I’m sorry, but any bowl game that sounds like a Calculus Proof or a support group for people with dormant STD’s is going to earn the top spot. Hi, my name’s Joe, and I’m an R+L carrier. Please don’t discriminate.

Jemele Hill, Turner Gill and the 'no girls allowed' rule

ESPN columnist and occasional morning pundit Jemele Hill, whom I respect and immensely enjoy reading, penned a column – out today – which can you can find here.

She illuminates that new Kansas football coach Turner Gill enforces the following rules for his players:

1. He collects all cell phones 24 hours before kickoff, and does not return them until after the game

2. No women after 10pm

The question at the crux of this piece: “Do these rules stunt maturity and development?” Hill claims ‘no’, and while I don’t necessarily disagree, I do believe it’s less harmful than you’d think, and I strongly support these measures.

If you’ve ever been to Europe, you know Europeans have a completely different approach to alcohol consumption than we do. Let’s just say their approach is more open. I once attended a World League football game in Dusseldorf, Germany. There were no tailgating restrictions. Alcohol was sold the entire game. Beer was cheaper than Coke.

The problem with this line of thought is worldwide fans of soccer are notoriously more drunk and disorderly than any American fans of any sport, including American football. We cut our alcohol sales after halftime, or the second period, or the sixth inning. These measures work, even given hours upon hours of pre-game tailgating time.

Gill is hardly alone among coaches. Following Miami’s 36-24 loss to Ohio State, Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon banned his players from using Twitter that week — as if it were the complexity of Twitter’s 140-character limit that caused quarterback Jacory Harris to throw four interceptions. Some coaches have banned Twitter altogether, including Boise State’s Chris Peterson and New Mexico State’s DeWayne Walker.

It isn’t the Tweeting itself that’s distracting. The fallout from Tweeting – accidental lapses in confidentiality, potential for un-PC comments, on-the-record takedowns of coaches and teammates, are distracting and creates headache for programs trying to maintain focus.

One of the biggest mistakes college coaches make — particularly those who oversee the revenue sports like football and basketball — is keeping their players segregated from the normal college experience …

The result is a college experience that doesn’t broaden their view, but narrows it. If Kansas players aren’t allowed to interact with women after a certain time, how does that actually improve the way they view and treat women? How does it help them make the appropriate decision when they encounter a difficult situation? How does this help them become well-rounded individuals?

While her position is admirable and not incorrect, there’s one glaring caveat: These young men are just past the age where ‘well-rounded’ and ‘appropriate’ are plausible goals if they’ve shown sides they’ll be neither of the two.

The players’ attitudes toward ‘normal’ and ‘women’ and ‘experience’ have all been near-irreversibly skewed before they play one snap at college. They’ve been coddled and segregated, boosted and stroked since their pop warner coach or parents first sensed ‘greatness’ – this especially applies to the young men who will with certainty use college as a springboard to the NFL.

Their high school experiences were anything but normal. They ran with crowds – both peer and adult – who showered them with accolades, gifts, opportunities and, most of all, women.

Talent is a key to a high-status world, and thus an aphrodisiac. These men have had girls flock to them in hordes since they were just kids. They’ll never have ‘normal’ perception of proper interactions with women.

A young man – all hormones and inexperience and poor judgment and messiah complex – being regularly flanked by women at all hours of the day simmers a strong possibility for events to go awry. Part of putting yourself in a position to succeed involves avoiding positions where failure is possible. Hell, I know 90% of the bad decisions I’ve made in my life directly resulted from choosing the path that led most easily to getting laid.

Casey Stengel once said, “The trouble is not that players have sex the night before a game, it’s that they stay out all night looking for it.”

The rule isn’t about developing the players’ ability to think for themselves.

The rule’s about risk mitigation, which is also an essential life skill every young man should learn.

Do Turner Gill’s rules impede young men’s development? [ESPN]

The Reclamation of Michael Vick – A Triumph in Aesthetics

Michael Vick is a starting quarterback once again.

Andy Reid did a 180 and tabbed Vick to go in Week 3, replacing hard-luck Kevin Kolb.

The Eagles instantly become must-watch television from this point forward, and – more importantly – Michael Vick once again becomes one of the most popular players in the NFL.

Wait a minute, why are we pulling for Michael Vick again?

Vick was incarcerated for the inhumane treatment and murder of fight dogs. He’s been linked with (allegedly) shootings and drug busts, and has treated fans and the press poorly. By any intellectual measure, one would conclude that Vick should draw ire and venom from the public. One would think.

But here we are this season, watching Michael Vick do what only Michael Vick does. It’s a flooring and enrapturing display of marvel and remembrance. We missed Michael Vick.

We missed him escaping, juking and outrunning defenders. We missed him firing (with that wobbly slinging motion) slithering 60-yard spirals downfield. We missed having fun watching a quarterback play quarterback.

Peyton Manning’s too surgical. Tom Brady’s too predictable. Tony Romo’s too arrogant. Vince Young’s too inconsistent. Brett Favre’s too old. Kurt Warner’s too retired.

Michael Vick’s unparalleled athleticism and creativity were novel in Atlanta, and downright nostalgic now. The NFL is a better place with Michael Vick under center.

But why? It certainly doesn’t stem from his character.

And it’s not like Vick piles up incredible stats. His passer rating is middling, his yardage is pedestrian and he’s never come close to setting accuracy or touchdown records. He also has a bit of a track-record of throwing ill-advised interceptions.

But despite what the numbers tell you, you’re rather sold on his astonishing talent. It’s because you trust your senses before you trust your smarts.

Philosopher Dennis Dutton once proclaimed the “Aesthetic Universals” as:

1. Expertise / Virtuousity
2. Nonutilitarian pleasure
3. Style
4. Criticism
5. Imitation
6. Special focus

There is no doubt as to Vick’s expertise and virtuosity in the art of playing quarterback. We don’t demand that Vick’s play keep us clothed or fed. His style is signature and instantly recognizable. We can discuss and critique and marvel at Vick in social settings and to ourselves. Vick’s jaw-dropping escapes from defenders have a raw, instinctual feel to them which reflect us actually running away from threatening entities. Finally, when we watch Vick play quarterback on Sundays, it is given our own undivided attention, as we ritualize and set aside time to be entertained and engaged.

Michael Vick’s ability to play quarterback is the most aesthetically sublime our world has yet known. His slinging motion is unorthodox and unique, but the finesse and symmetry with which the ball spirals out of his hand is nearly perfect and breathtaking. His stupefying escapes and wild scampers through traffic and down the sidelines know no parallel.

Revered athletic feats are often deemed so by satisfying innate human cravings for beauty. An upper-deck home run’s long arch, a powerhouse 360 windmill dunk, a between-the-legs deke in hockey. Soccer, our world’s most popular sport, is often referred to as “The Beautiful Game.”

Witness Secretariat’s “He is moving like an incredible machine!” in the Belmont, or Barry Sanders spinning off tacklers, or Ken Griffey Jr.’s sweet swing. These are tremendously beautiful visual stimuli to which we are engaged reflexively. We don’t need to intellectually process these events to appreciate and be awed by them.

During the Masters, the highest-rated golf telecast each year, the viewer is bombarded with still shots and video of azaleas in their full magenta bloom, of the crystal blue waters of Rae’s Creek, and of the gentle rolling pastures of green grass mixed with perfectly proportioned pockets of white sand. The commentators note this and remark of it constantly. Augusta always hosts the Masters, and is the only major held at the same course each year.

When one sees a sublime landscape, or a breathtaking vista, the pulse quickens, the eyes widen and the face perks up. These are innate reactions that preempt intellectual assessment.

The Primary Visual Cortex, which processes these events, are located in the lower rear of the brain, just slightly removed from where the brain stem meets the spinal cord. It’s in the primal portion of our brain close to where reflexive responses occur.

It’s also close to the Limbic System, our brain’s center for pleasure and satisfaction. The two systems share common neural pathways. All events experienced by the eyes reach this segment of the brain first, before they ever have a chance to reach our frontal lobes, which regulate assessment and judgment.

Michael Vick’s ability to play the game of football is an otherworldly beautiful and entrancing work of art – one which satisfies aesthetic universals and stimulates our senses on an almost sub-conscious level, and on a level we react to long before we remember, “This jerk killed innocent animals.”

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Vick may have said and done some awful things, but how does it feel to watch him play?

Electric. Invigorating. Mesmerizing. Ecstatic. Michael Vick tickles all the right neurons in our pre-frontal cortex.

We’re wired to be astonished; we don’t care by whom.

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We’ll see you tomorrow.