There are people who get very upset when the sports industry is criticized whether it is stadium funding or how a television news division (CBS) was ruined in the late 1980s because a network chairman of the board (Lawrence Tisch) decided to overpay for the National Football League and Major League Baseball and had to cut costs somewhere. Sports fans or fanatics don’t want the real world to spill into their toy box where games are plentiful and they can play fantasy sports.
But the fantasy really doesn’t exist. In the last month, a number of 1970s National Football League players were told they are suffering from Chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, a form of brain injury that might have occurred from playing football. People have now been told for more than two years that playing football even on the youngest and most basic level may be hazardous to a football player’s health. In the past two years, there has been a drop in the number of participants in youth level or Pop Warner football from 248,899 players in 2010 to 225,287 in 2012, a decline of 9.5 percent.
There need to be surveys and studies done about the sudden downturn in Pop Warner football numbers but at least at first observation, the stories of NFL players after leaving the game of memory loss, depression and a number of former players suicides may be having a sobering impact on parents who might be questioning whether it is worth to risk the health of their children by enrolling them in youth football.
New York Assemblyman Michael Benedetto plans to introduce legislation that would ban tackling and contact in organized football for players under 14. Benedetto is lacking support from his fellow legislators and from the Pop Warner industry.
As many as four high school football players may have died from injuries suffered in the field in 2013.
Football is a massive machine in America from the youth level to high school ball to college and finally the biggest stage of them all, the National Football League. Both players and fans seem to be saying today’s game is watered down; boys can’t be boys and deliver devastating blows anymore. There have been some unflattering names thrown around about just how “soft” the game has become.
But the NFL knows that they have to shore up an image of safety to get the parents and particularly the mothers of potential football players to understand that football is a safe game and one that builds character in men and teaches them teamwork.
The NFL paraded the popular television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz to a function in Chicago a couple of weeks ago to reassuring parents, make that mothers, that the game was the be all and end all and not dangerous. The game is being made safer. The NFL and Tide, the washing detergent, have cut a marketing deal aimed at the woman consumer in an effort again to reassure the mother that the game is fine.
As Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells pointed out years ago when he was a young coach recruiting players for college, the mothers have to make the decision and you have to make sure you tell the mother that her son is in good hands at the college that recruits him.
The National Football League used to be good at clamping down at problems before the problem became know. In the past two weeks, there have been arrests of players, a played just released by the Atlanta Falcons was killed in a high speed auto accident. Then there is the Miami Dolphins bullying story.
The league has appointed an independent counsel to review just what happened in Miami that lead to Jonathan Martin leaving the team and teammate Richie Incognito being suspended. The days of boys will be boys appear to be coming to an end and the locker room mentality will be changed forever. No more hazing of rookies, no more name calling. No more toughening up of players by veterans. The locker room will become a workplace and will be governed by workplace rules that will include no bullying.
The NFL may change but does the sports fan want the change? The answer is do it but don’t tell me about it. In fact, let me hide my head in the sand and don’t tell me about what is going on in Jamaica or Germany or in baseball. Don’t bring up match fixing in football (soccer). I don’t want to know, I just want to watch a game.
The sports culture has turned and there seemingly are suspicions all over the world that athletes are using performance enhancing drugs and that all athletes need to be drug tested to prove they are not using banned substances.
In Jamaica, Olympic caliber athletes are getting annoyed with reports that the authorities in Jamaica who are charged with taking samples to determine who is using drugs and who is not are not in compliance with the World Anti-Doping Agency (a group that depends on tax dollars to operate, meaning that people who have no interest in sports are putting up money to drug test athletes).
WADA, a self appointed sports drug group, has threatened Jamaican athletes with 2016 Olympics explosion unless the Jamaican drug authorities prove that they can live up to WADA’s standards.
The barbarians at the gate, WADA has to protect the Olympics gravy train. They cannot risk having another Munich situation. Ten days ago, voters in Bavaria turned down a referendum that would have funded a Munich bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Six areas are bidding for the 2022 Olympics despite the rising costs of hosting the event which include costs for building Olympic venues and infrastructure.
Almaty, Kazakhstan; Beijing, China; Krakow, Poland; Lviv, Ukraine; Oslo, Norway; and Stockholm, Sweden are moving ahead with the bid.
The Olympics is a money drain, the estimate cost of the February 2014 Sochi, Russia Games is now $50 billion. The original estimate for the cost of the 2014 Winter Games was $10 billion. Russian taxpayers will be funding the difference. England still has not released the official costs of the 2012 London Games.
Also in Germany, Formula One head Bernie Ecclestone is facing bribery charges.
Major League Baseball isn’t in the legal trouble that Ecclestone is facing but did Major League Baseball commit any crime in obtaining stolen documents from the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic in building a case against Alex Rodriguez and others who allegedly went to the clinic for whatever reason?
Major League Baseball and Rodriguez are battling before an arbitrator as Rodriguez appeals a 211 game suspension even though he never tested positive for drugs. There is one parallel between the MLB/Rodriguez hearings and the Incognito/Martin questioning. The players associations in before Major League Baseball and the National Football League seemingly are helpless in the proceedings. The Major League Baseball Players Association apparently told Rodriguez and the other Biogenesis customers to accept MLB’s penalty and not fight the suspensions. The NFLPA is in a strange position of having to represent both Incognito and Martin and other Dolphins in the NFL investigation of the alleged bullying and Martin told the NFLPA to stay away.
That brings up the question of whether the Major League Baseball Players Association or the National Football League Players Association can properly represent players in arbitration or investigation cases. It is possible that Rodriguez and Martin could end up in the judicial system and the real world like Ecclestone.
People get upset when it is pointed out just how much government money has been invested in sports globally and how there really are no documented studies which suggests sports is or is not a worthwhile taxpayers investment.
Real world questions get in the way of games and for sports diehards, anyone bringing up that up in conversation is a sports hater. Question sports at your own peril.
Evan Weiner can be reached at [email protected]. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/365489) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/americas-passion-how-coal/id595575002?mt=11), From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/from-peach-baskets-to-dance/id636914196?mt=11) and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/business-and-politics-of-sports-evan-weiner/1101715508?ean=2940044505094) are available.