Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

There Is No Title For This Piece That I Would Want My Mother To Read

By now, you all must have heard about the issue of football inflation. It’s inevitable, given the Importance Of Professional Sports, and given the Things That American Media Will Obsess Over, and given the Rabid Fan Bases Of This And That Professional Sports Team.

You may not have heard nearly as much about Nigerian mass-murders or Congressional legislative proposals or oil spills in Montana rivers; but you have heard about the Shameful Doings Down In Foxborough.

I just listened to the podcast version of my favorite political talk radio show – political – and I swear to you, the average number of times per minute that the word for “spheroid projectile” was uttered, with more than a hint of Beavis and Butthead, had to have topped a dozen.

(Now, I’m going to put in some serious effort to see if I can avoid using the “spheroid projectile” synonym even once, here. So that no one will snicker during this Very Serious Discussion of an Important Ethical Concern. I mean it. Cut it out. Hey! STOP.)

So, the only two things I need to say in setting up the thought that just occurred to me: [1] there are some people in this Great Land Of Ours who really need to get their priorities straight; and [2] there are some moments where the existence of slang in our fine language just plain s–

(I hate you all.)

Full disclosure: I’ve been a New England Patriots fan since I learned how to watch television. Not that the Patriots were on television a whole lot, back then, owing to their Inability To Win Games, and the NFL blackout rule, and all. In fact, while the vast majority of citizens of the sports-viewing nation who live outside New England have cultivated an intense dislike of that team, I come from a background of remembering when we disliked them for a diametrically opposite reason than the current one. And what’s that reason?

Ya know what? For the past decade and a half, the Patriots have won. Not always, but a super lot more than many teams in their league. Envy and jealousy will inevitably set in, amongst the fan bases of teams that have not won so much. I am not saying this because I’m amongst the fan-base of the team that has found lots of success; this is just true. Talk to fans of, por ejamplo, the Montreal Canadiens hockey club, the Manchester United soccer (sorry; football!) club, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics of the 1980s, the Dallas Cowboys of the 1960s and ’70s (really, who has the arrogance to call themselves “America’s Team”?) … and, much as this New Englander hates to admit it, … the New York Yankees.

Success breeds jealousy. Wish we could win like that (, say this year’s NBA Philadelphia 76ers, this year’s NFL Oakland Raiders, this past season’s Boston Red Sox, or Tiger Woods in the last few years).

But they cheeeeeeeeeeeated!

Sorry, and you think the New England NFL franchise is the only team that ever may have fine-tooth-combed the rule book in its quest for The Golden Loophole? You think there is a single sports team, professional or amateur, who hasn’t at least investigated little tiny ways to gain advantage, to get ahead, to prevail?

I have two words for all you fans of Upright Cosmic-Scale Overgrown Boy Scout Heroes Who Would Never Cheat: Kobayashi Maru.

I know, I know: it doesn’t make it right.

This all is by no means meant to suggest that I’m one of those “what-about-ers”, the people whose response to their team’s (political party’s) (denomination’s) misdeeds is to suggest that the other team (political party) (denomination) has done something equally bad. Both sides do it. Therefore my team isn’t so bad, really.

What they teach you in kindergarten is true: it’s best to play fair. Be honest, shoot straight, be honorable.

What you learn after kindergarten is equally true: humans are incapable of playing fair for their entire lives. Nobody can claim absolute purity. Even when millions, perhaps billions of dollars aren’t on the line.

The “both sides do it” argument is one with which I have grown increasingly weary in the last decade or so. That’s another post for another day.

But there are some moments when somebody takes that “both sides do it” wager and doubles down on it so hard it collapses the card table.

From today’s Dallas Morning News:

Pro Football Hall of Famer, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and Fox color analyst Troy Aikman didn’t mince words Thursday morning when discussing the Patriots, the NFL and Roger Goodell.

It’s obvious that Tom Brady had something to do with this,” Aikman said. “I know going back to when I played, they’ve loosened up the rules in terms of what each team is able to do with the footballs coming into the game. Used to, the home team provided all the balls. And now, each team brings their footballs the way they like them and break ’em in. Used to you couldn’t break them in. So for the balls to be deflated, that doesn’t happen unless the quarterback wants that to happen, I can assure you of that.”

So what should the penalty be? Aikman, who has adamantly contested the NFL’s ruling against the New Orleans Saints for allegedly issuing bounties on players, used them as an example to challenge the NFL. … Aikman noted the difference between the Saints’ charge and the Patriots’ offense, and says the NFL must take a significant stand.

Sean Payton did not cheat,” Aikman contended. “There was nothing that Sean Payton and the Saints did that was illegal. And they did not give themselves a competitive edge. I maintain, regardless of whatever was said in the locker room, and in that locker room, is not anything different than what’s been said in any other locker room around the league. There’s no proof on the field of what took place that guys were targeting players. You can always pull out a play here and there.

Now twice, under Bill Belichick and possibly a third time, they’ve cheated and given themselves an advantage,” Aikman said. “To me, the punishment for the Patriots and/or Bill Belichick has to be more severe than what the punishment was for the New Orleans Saints.”

(By the way, I apologize to readers of this blog. I have forced you to wade through Mr. Aikman’s questionable grip on English grammar. Hell … maybe the grammar isn’t properly inflated …)

While we wait for Mr. Aikman to rise from his fainting couch, let us admire these words from Wikipedia (because that’s where you go to get accurate information, of course!) – which, among other things, suggest that Mr. Aikman is exactly wrong when he asserts that “there was nothing that Sean Payton and the Saints did that was illegal” [italics mine, for emphasis]:

The New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, widely dubbed “Bountygate”, was an incident in which members of the New Orleans Saints franchise of the NFL were accused of paying out bonuses, or “bounties”, for injuring opposing team players. None of the hits in question were ever penalized or deemed illegal by in-game officials. The pool was alleged to have been in operation from 2009 (the year in which the Saints won Super Bowl) to 2011. …

The NFL has long frowned upon bounties, or “non-contract bonuses” as it officially calls them; but an underground culture of bounties is known to exist, with teams turning a blind eye to the practice. …

The league constitution specifically forbids payment of bonuses based on performances against an individual player or team, as well as bonuses for on-field misconduct; the NFL holds that such practices undermine the integrity of the game, and also would allow teams to use such payments to circumvent the salary cap. The collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association also forbids this practice, as does the standard NFL player contract. Every year, the NFL sends a memo reiterating this ban to every team before training camp opens.

On March 2, 2012, the NFL announced that it had evidence that [Saints] defensive coordinator Gregg Williams had created the program soon after his arrival in 2009, and alleged that “between 22 and 27 Saints players” were involved. Williams and the players pooled their own money to pay out performance bonuses. It also asserted that head coach Sean Payton tried to cover up the scheme, and that he and general manager Mickey Loomis failed to shut it down when ordered to do so by team owner Tom Benson. …

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded with some of the most severe sanctions in the league’s 92-year history, and among the most severe punishments for in-game misconduct in North American professional sports history. Williams was suspended indefinitely, though this would be overturned the following year. Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season — the first time in modern NFL history that a head coach has been suspended for any reason — and Loomis was suspended for the first eight games of the 2012 season. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games of the 2012 season. The Saints organization was fined $500,000 [the maximum fine permitted under the league constitution], and forced to forfeit their second-round draft selections in 2012 and 2013. On May 2, 2012, four current and former Saints players were suspended after being named as ringleaders in the scandal, with linebacker Jonathan Vilma being suspended for the entire 2012 season — the longest suspension for an on-field incident in modern NFL history.

As much as Mr. Aikman is now an NFL analyst with the Fox television network, and is therefore a prominent member of the world of football journalism (…sorry, I just had to quell an attack of the giggles) … by way of his membership in the Dallas Cowboys football club during the 1990s, he is also a member of the NFL’s alumni association. Therefore he is somebody who ought to be able to express a hell of a lot greater sense of perspective about these two controversies, and the comparison betwixt and between, than he has.

In this corner: reportedly many more quarterbacks than Young Mr. Brady, Husband Of Gisele Bundchen, who have done the very thing that he’s has been accused of doing.

In the other corner: players whose reward for genuinely injuring other players might be measured in more than just loss of yardage. And a coaching staff which encouraged them to do it.

To coin a ferociously mixed metaphor … this is a slam dunk that ought to be easy to hit out of the park.

If it turns out that the Patriots broke the rules, sure, go ahead and fine ’em. Have at it.

But if the NFL were to take Troy Aikman’s advice and levy a penalty on the Patriots’ alleged inflation work that was in any way comparable to the penalty it assigned the Saints’ bounty program, it would constitute the final clinching proof that the National Football League’s priorities are screwed up beyond any hope of redemption.

What’s more important? Fewer pounds per square inch of pressure … or greater amounts of pressure on a quarterback because the pass-rusher might stand to literally profit from it?

Troy Aikman ought to know the answer to that. If he doesn’t, … I really don’t know what to say.

Other than: I think making the assertion that he did … probably takes an awful lot of testicular fortitude.

Advertisements

January 23, 2015 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, football, media, sports | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The High Road

Early in my ninth year, I found myself out on my school’s playground, in the grasp of a large galoot whom I had previously thought of as a friendly.

This member of my third-grade class had me by the arm, and was playfully whacking me with his free arm. He was smiling. I was relinquishing my own smile, in exchange for a muttered, “um, hey.”

My classmate’s free arm – the one executing the whacking – was partly encased in a cast. Being as this was during the early days of the Gerald Ford administration, it wasn’t one of those lightweight flexible air-cast things that are used nowadays.

His wrist and forearm were encased, basically, in shaped rock.

It kinda hurt.

I let this go on for a few days, turning the other cheek, taking the high road … and then one night I told my parents about it all, over supper.

My non-violence-espousing, turn-the-other-cheek, do-unto-others, decent parents did something that totally, utterly shocked me.

They signed me up for karate lessons.

Several wintry months later, I had completed a series of Saturday mornings in which I got used to the idea of making violent contact with other human beings – in a controlled and disciplined environment. That was entirely outside my experience (except, perhaps, for the disagreements I had with my younger sister, and even those wrestling matches I usually lost).

But aside from some sparring matches during which I was out of my league – somehow, the instructor thought I was good enough to compete with a couple of otherwise genuinely friendly boys who were a solid belt-color-level above me, which ought to tell you more about the instructor than it tells you about me or my competition – I actually was really good at making contact. And performing those pantomimical forms – downward block, punch, kick, upward block, discount double-check… And I even made those hi-yat-su! grunts pretty well (also not a super-large part of my personality).

Recess. Spring day. Playground. Alleged friend. Smile. Grasp. Cast.

Raised eyebrow. Punch in the stomach.

Kid never came near me again.

Last night was the State of the Union speech.

I know. Your head just whiplashed. Stay with me now.

The annual tradition in Washington, on a Tuesday evening each January since Woodrow Wilson was president, is for the president to ascend the speaker’s platform in the House chamber of the US Capitol and address a joint session of Congress, to give a brief overview of how the last year went, and what plans he (or, someday, she) might have for the coming year.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Capitol building. Two summers ago, I was there as a tourist. Along with my tourist compatriots, I felt an undeniable need to maintain an air of dignity and decorum in the midst of the truly impressive surroundings of our nation’s loftiest legislative location. Beyond my thoughts about all the truly momentous people who had strode through those corridors, all the important decisions that had been made in that building, all the important quotes from American history (“a day which will live in infamy”) that had been launched from that podium … the place has décor that kinda demands that people behave very well indeed.

You’d think so, anyway.

During President Obama’s first State of the Union address, a Republican member of the House of Representatives shouted “you lie!” in response to one of the President’s assertions. It drew an audible gasp from a large portion of the assembled legislators and spectators. (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shot a stare out in the direction of the outburst that reminded me very strongly of one of my elementary school teachers after a back-row yahoo belched loudly in the middle of silent reading time.) You just don’t do that! … Or, you didn’t. Until now, I guess.

During one of Mr. Obama’s later State of the Union speeches, Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito vigorously shook his head “no”, in response to another of the President’s assertions. Traditionally, Supreme Court justices who attend the speech do not react in any way to the speech, yea or nay – they stare stoically straight ahead. … Or, they did. Until now, I guess.

I don’t recall any such reactions to the assertions of any past President, Republican or Democratic. Members of Congress never treated any President, from Wilson to Bush 43, with anything but applause (from polite to passionate), the occasional standing ovations, and the otherwise ubiquitous quiet deference and focused attention. Even Bill Clinton, whose foibles got him into various versions of hot water with the press, the public, and his Congressional colleagues, wasn’t treated like this. It has always been understood that, well, we’ll present the opposition-party response to the speech, and we’ll go on “Meet the Press”, and we’ll write op-eds, and we’ll get back at him that way.

Until this Administration, I guess.

Last night, on the way to a larger assertion, Mr. Obama began a paragraph with the preparatory clause, “I have no more campaigns to run, …”

A significant number of legislators applauded sarcastically. As if this were a middle-school assembly and a kid running for student council president was making his campaign speech and screwing it up.

At this moment, the President had a choice.

He could have proceeded with the rest of the paragraph, trying to make his hecklers (hecklers!?) look bad by just ignoring the interruption and trusting the American public to write its elected representatives and chastise them themselves.

Yeah, not likely.

He could have stopped, looked out at the clapping Congresspeople, and (as he has done at some other public events) gently murmured, “now, come on, we don’t have to do that.” Whatever has been his way of dealing with people in private, which we really cannot know, this “let’s all be civil here” reasonableness has been his public personality, over the course of his time in office. Once, he offered a couple of demonstrators the opportunity to talk with him after his speech was over, and then made good on that offer, directing the Secret Service to bring the men backstage so they could present their case to him in person.

He could have taken the low road. Gotten actively angry in the middle of that speech. Or, today, in his first speech after last night’s address, he might have lashed out at the Republican-controlled House or Senate. After six years of having bitten his tongue hard, of taking the high road, one might have forgiven him for having a brief moment of “…are ya kidding me?”

For six years, Mr. Obama has taken it on the chin from his political opponents, consistently and relentlessly. Sometimes they’ve been needlessly personal. Often the name-calling has been hilariously contradictory (you can’t be a feckless, weak President and a dictator at the same time, friends).

And often the policy arguments have been contradictory, too. In the first day after the capture of the mastermind behind the Libyan embassy attacks last year, the President’s opponents criticized him both for not achieving the capture soon enough and for rushing to capture the man so Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could trumpet the success during her appearance on Fox News the following night.

I have the feeling that if the President were to suggest that the sky was blue, someone would pout, “well, it’s cloudy where I’m standing.”

The President has endured attacks on his wife. For transgressions such as, she’s showing too much of her (frankly ripped) upper arms … she looks like she’s rolling her eyes at the Speaker of the House during a state dinner …too this, too that, pick, pick, pick …

But at least Mrs. Obama is an adult and by way of being First Lady, she’s a public figure and therefore, in terms of criticism, will be an eligible receiver. It happens. Same goes for being the actual President. You’re thin-skinned and hopelessly naive if you make it to the White House and still don’t get that.

The President has endured attacks on his kids. (Ostensibly as a way of attacking him. This is what some of his critics think of as clever.) This has traditionally been kinda frowned upon. Leave the kids out of it, as has been suggested in this space previously. Even so, the President has refrained from explaining to the critics of his children at just which bus stop they need to step off.

I admire this. If it were me, and my niece and nephew were treated like Malia and Sasha have been treated on occasion, I would be sorely tempted to recall my third-grade karate lessons.

So, in some small way, I was disappointed last night, when the President didn’t pause, look out at the Congress, and say something like, “…–Really?” Or…

Are you fking kidding me?” Or…

At some point in your miserable, politics-of-personal-destruction, inexplicably-elected lives, are you actually going to attempt to portray grownups?” Or…

Do you not see where you are, what responsibilities you’ve been elected to carry out, how many people across the world are watching how you behave and who you are?” Or…

Do I have to pull this Congress over?”

He didn’t, though.

This morning, he’s being lauded in many quarters for distributing what Slate.com called an “instantly legendary ad-libbed burn”:

He looked out, raised an eyebrow, clearly looked as if his thought bubble was reading, “oh, I get it. We’re still playing that game. It’s still gon’ be like that”, and went off-script. Question: how do I know I have no more campaigns to run? Answer:

I know, ’cause I won both of them.”

He will take truckloads of, forgive me, crap for that, in certain other fair ‘n’ balanced quarters, by the end of today. (“Disgracing the office of the President!”, no doubt.)

And it wasn’t probably as satisfying to the President as “going off on them” would’ve been.

But a little satisfying.

I don’t know; maybe this morning he’s regretting not taking the high road and just ignoring it all.

I didn’t regret that punch in the stomach. But I’m not the President, and I haven’t spent the last six years being called a Fascist Nazi Kenyan Socialist Muslim usurper.

This essay has nothing to do with politics. I promise. And it has nothing to do with whether I’m a big fan of the President, or a big detractor.

This has to do with standards of behavior.

It reminded me of a quote which has been one of my favorites for a long time, and speaks to this moment rather eloquently, if unintentionally.

It wasn’t one of his Starred Thoughts™; instead it was a quote from a magazine interview with the director of my alma mater’s band. In it, he was describing the culture that had been built, over the course of many years, that allowed him to not worry about what first impression his band was going to give people when it went on the road for an away football game, or a parade, or an exhibition, or a rest-area stop for food, or whatever.

There are standards — standards of behavior, standards of how to project the image of the band, which is the image of the university, which is of course the image of themselves.”

One could say that a lot of our elected officials “could stand to improve” on that front … except that their unlikeliness to improve is given away by their pesky ol’ body of work.

January 21, 2015 Posted by | current events, government, news, Starred Thoughts | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Today’s Brief Lesson in Maturity

So last night, the NFL New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, in the AFC Championship game, to earn a spot in the 2015 Super Bowl.

It was just as firm a victory as the score would indicate. In spite of this, and in spite of the fact that both teams were playing very hard until the last couple of minutes, there were no mini-brawls between the two teams. Patriots coach Bill Belichick was shown on TV taking a rather long time searching the field for Colts coach Chuck Pagano so that the two could shake hands and exchange pleasantries afterward. Similarly, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady spent a bit more than a perfunctory couple of seconds and a curt “good game” with his counterpart, the promising Andrew Luck.

In other words, everyone was playing “the grownup in the room”.

After the game, two NFL kickers weighed in on the contrast. Here, I believe, was a tiny yet grand demonstration of the difference between playing “the grownup” and not playing “the grownup”.

According to a report on the New England Sports Network’s website, entitled “Adam Vinatieri Admires Patriots Despite Nasty Taste of Colts’ Loss”:

Adam Vinatieri watched Sunday as several of his former New England Patriots teammates pumped up the Gillette Stadium crowd. The scene sparked wide-ranging emotions within the Indianapolis Colts kicker, but his overriding sensation following the Patriots’ 45-7 AFC Championship Game win was one of disappointment.

For the last decade and a half, two decades, whatever, they’ve been as successful as anybody out there,” said Vinatieri, who played 10 seasons with New England from 1996 to 2005. “Obviously, this is another Super Bowl appearance for them, and they’re a really, really good team. I can appreciate what they’ve done. It leaves a nasty taste in my mouth today, though.”

By contrast, over on the Twitter machine, former New York Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes posted this:

The Pats have learned to celebrate the hell out of those AFC Championships because the[y] know what comes 2 weeks later. #0-2inGlendale

Of course, Patriots fans are probably seething. And of course, this morning many national sports media outlets (ESPN and The Sporting News amongst them) published accounts of this Tweet with seeming admiration for the audacity of the insult.  Burn!

(Lawrence Tynes is no stranger to taking shots while expressing supposed admiration for his pro-athlete colleagues: earlier this season, after Peyton Manning broke Brett Favre’s all-time record for passing touchdowns, Tynes posted this Tweet: “Congrats to Eli’s brother for breaking the TD record. #elihas2 #peytonhas1 @giants @broncos”. Of course, Peyton’s brother Eli, Tynes’ former New York Giant teammate, has two Super Bowl rings, while Peyton has just the one. See what he did there?)

Just to round out the box score on this one:

Mr. Tynes participated in two Super Bowl wins (2008 and 2012) with the Giants, both over the Patriots.

Meanwhile, Mr. Vinatieri participated in four Super Bowl wins in the space of six seasons: three (2001, 2003 and 2004) with the Patriots, and one more with a completely different team (2006), his current Colts.

Mr. Tynes, age 36, was recently released from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Meanwhile, Mr. Vinatieri, age 42 (the oldest active NFL player, with ten Patriot seasons and nine Colt seasons), was still playing as of last night.

Mr. Vinatieri’s actual team participated in the AFC Championship game, and he made his postgame comments at Gillette Stadium, after having spent four hours in vile weather conditions, probably looking ahead hopefully to next season’s competition.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tynes’ actual current team did not make the playoffs this year, and he made his postgame comments … probably from his couch.

As one of my favorite teachers once said, “…see, there’s the whole maturity thing again.”

January 19, 2015 Posted by | celebrity, Famous Persons, football, Internet, media, social media, sports, Twitter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment