Tony Dungy is the Clarence Thomas of football

When he goes to bed tonight, Tony Dungy should offer a prayer of thanks that the US isn’t at the mercy of people like him.

Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam. But not because he’s gay! No, no. Because things will happen. You know … things.

Three thoughts.

1: Look! Look! See, Michael Sam is on TV being interviewed about non-football issues. He’s being a DISTRACTION! And why? Because … well, because Tony Dungy is in the media talking about how Sam is a distraction.

Don’t start no distraction, won’t be no distraction. Just saying. Continue reading

#USMNT should pledge itself to Jurgen Klinsmann for the long term – regardless of what happens in Brazil

Landon Donovan was left off the World Cup team and American soccer fans are up in arms. Everyone needs to calm the heck down and think about the big picture for a minute.

Yesterday US Men’s National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann announced the 23-man roster that will represent America in this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil. That roster didn’t include one Landon Donovan, the nation’s best-known soccer player (and one that many casual observers mistakenly regard as the best player in our history, but that’s another argument for another day). Continue reading

Johnny Manziel: he’s the new Tim Tebow

Johnny Football is probably a bigger douchebag than St. Timmy, but they’re more alike than they are different.

I’m going to miss Tim Tebow.

He was a blogger’s dream.

First, his situation represented an unambiguous wrong, the perfect high horse upon which to climb. He was given an opportunity he did not deserve because of racial and religious bias. Period. No ifs, ands or buts. If he’d been the same white quarterback, only not as overtly religious, he’d have been drafted in the umpteenth round like A.J. McCarron, who has similar stats to Tebow. If he’d been the same religious quarterback with mediocre skills, only not white, he would never have been drafted in the first place. There was no need for nuance when writing about the Tebow situation because there was no nuance involved. WYSIWYG. Some poor schmuck had his opportunity to play in the NFL taken away because of religious zealotry run amok.  Continue reading

NCAA Final Four: Kentucky vs. UConn reminds us how bad American sports are at deciding champions

US sports leagues reward inferior teams and routinely deny their best teams the championship.

Richard Allen Smith and I have argued from time to time about the merits of the BCS vs. the NCAA basketball tournament. Rich defends the BCS, while I point out its unfairness and corruption. He argues that the BCS does (did) a good job at getting the two best teams on the field for the final game, and that the single-elimination format of the Dance routinely allows inferior teams to win.

Whatever you may think about the BCS, it has to be said that Rich is right about March Madness. Tonight we’re going to see a “national championship” game featuring a team whose regular season performance merited them a seed in the 28-31 range playing a team whose record earned them an 8 seed – which is to say, they were somewhere in the early- to mid-30s. Continue reading

In an alternate universe, life sucks for Manchester United but is AWESOME for me

Speculative journalism and Quantum Mechanics provide us all with a vision for a better life.

The other day I was lamenting to one of my online sports groups that the place would be a lot more fun if we had a couple of vocal Manchester United supporters on board. Normally I don’t long for the company of muppets, but this year is special for us Manc haters. See, the once-mighty Red Devils, having seen legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retire over the summer, find themselves in a really disappointing mess under new head man David Moyes. Disappointing for United fans, that is – the rest of the world can’t stop laughing.

Manchester’s supporters have gotten accustomed to winning, and not winning isn’t settling well. As sports fans everywhere know, few things on Earth are bitchier and whinier and altogether more entertaining than the entitled backers of a dynasty run aground. Hence my longing for the wailing of Mancs on the list. (The place hasn’t been totally unrewarding, I should note. We do have a couple of Arsenal fans, and they’re generally easy enough to stir up, especially after a 6-0 pasting at the hands of my beloved Chelsea.)

Continue reading

Michael Sam comes out; will any existing players join him?

Michael Sam has made it easier for current gay players in the NFL. Will they do the same for him?

By now you’ve probably heard that Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam has publicly announced that he’s gay. A projected third-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, this decision will (unless all 32 teams simply decide that they’re going to be officially homophobic and to hell with whoever doesn’t like it) make him the league’s first active out player.

NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth predicts that players will accept him “with open arms.” Makes sense – his teammates at Mizzou did. Continue reading

Is Charlie Strong a Satanist?

Seven reasons Charlie Strong should not be coach at Texas

Red McCombs, a noted football expert, is right. Strong doesn’t, you know, “belong.” Also, he’s a socialist fascist Satanist.

Charlie Strong

Charlie Strong and his white wife.

This week Texas AD Steve Patterson stunned college athletics by announcing the hire of Charlie Strong as coach at the University of Texas, replacing legend Mack Brown. Most pundits had argued the influential boosters of the Texas program would not allow a candidate of color to be named to the position. Now one of those, “megabooster” Red McCombs, has come forward criticizing the hire.

Despite Strong’s record as a coach, 37-15, three bowl wins in four years and two top 15 finishes in the polls, McCombs said that “Charlie” would be a fine position coach or coordinator, but was simply not up to the Texas job.

Here are the top seven reasons Charlie Strong should not be coach at Texas. Continue reading

Italian football sanctions AC Milan over fan insensitivity

The Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), the governing body of football in Italy, just broke bad on AC Milan over its supporters abusive behavior. Gab Marcotti at ESPN FC explains.

The Italian FA charged Milan for the fact that some of their fans engaged in racist abuse during Sunday night’s match against Napoli. In accordance with the regulations, the stand from which the abuse originated (San Siro’s Curva Sud) will be shut for one game. (Individual supporters who are identified can also be charged under separate statutes. Had the abuse been reported as more widespread, Milan could have been forced to play behind closed doors. And had it been noted by the official, the game could have been suspended.)

As you probably know, we’re not fans of racism in football at S&R. Not at all. Nor are our guest posters. So the idea that FIGC is finally getting off its ass and doing something about the appalling behavior of it fan base is welcome news.

Except, well, except that this isn’t exactly what’s happening here after all. Marcotti continues:

But here’s the thing. Of the 14 Napoli players who played that day, 13 were Caucasian. The other, Juan Camilo Zuniga, is mixed race. And he wasn’t being targeted. In fact, the songs had nothing to do with race as in skin color. They were all about Naples and Neapolitans. And apart from striker Lorenzo Insigne, none of the players were from Naples.

The song in question talked about Naples being dirty, about Neapolitans not using soap, having cholera and stinking to high heaven. Another chant implored Mount Vesuvius to erupt and clean up Naples, presumably by killing all the Neapolitans.

It’s offensive and tasteless, sure. But is it the kind of thing that should be barred from football stadiums?

Let’s venture a bit deeper into the weeds, shall we?

The Italian FA is not just taking its cue from UEFA’s new disciplinary code and specifically Article 14 (PDF), which deals with “racism, discriminatory conduct and propaganda.” And in doing so, it’s basically acting as a test case for possible future legislation.

Article 14 punishes those who “insult the human dignity of a person or group of persons by whatever means, including on the grounds of skin color, race, religion or ethnic origin.” Read it closely and you’ll see that while racism, ethnic abuse and sectarian abuse are specifically mentioned, it’s actually about insulting the “human dignity” of a group or individual. That can easily include other forms of discriminatory abuse, such as homophobic abuse.

But what they’ve done in Italy is to specify what constitutes an insult to “human dignity” and, unlike UEFA, they specifically cite (in addition to sexuality) territorial origin.

Ummm. Listen, I’m all for dropping the hammer on racism. But…this isn’t racism, is it? Is it legitimately “ethnic abuse”? Well, if you dig into Italian history, yeah, the South and the North have somewhat different ethnic histories, sort of. Of course, the diffs probably aren’t as pronounced as the gap you’d find between the North End in Boston and the cracker neighborhood I grew up in.

I don’t know. I’m ambivalent here. There can be fine lines in cases like this, and I won’t deny that sometimes Northern Italians speak about their Southern countrymen in ways that feel a bit like racism. Still, I’m not at all sure that FIGC hasn’t overreached.

Part of me says lighten up – this is basic smack talk. It’s often insensitive, I suppose, but are we going to ban fans for hurting the feelings of their opponents? (Read the rest of the article – Marcotti is on his game here.)

This one troubles me, not the least because I have earned a rep as an accomplished purveyor of the trash myself. And my beloved Rocky Mountain Blues have been known to sings songs that are, ummm, potentially hurtful. For instance, we hate the Scousers (Liverpool FC), and the article notes a certain cultural stereotype pertaining to property crime. We like to sing this one, to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine”:

You are a scouser
A dirty scouser
You’re only happy on Giro Day
Your mum’s out thieving
Your’s dad’s drug dealing
Please don’t take my hubcaps away…

And there’s “In Your Liverpool Slums”:

In your Liverpool slums
You look in a dustbin for something to eat
You find a dead rat and you think it’s a treat
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
Your mum’s on the game and your dad’s in the nick
You can’t get a job ’cause your too fucking thick
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
You wear a shell suit and have got curly hair
All of your kids are in council care
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
There’s piss on the pavement and shit on the path
You finger your grandma and think it’s a laugh
In your Liverpool slums

We also love to sing in honor of Manchester United hero Ryan Giggs. To the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”:

Oh Ryan Giggs (oh Ryan Giggs)
Is fucking sheep (is fucking sheep)
Oh Ryan Giggs is fucking sheep
He’s fucking sheep, sheep and more sheep
Oh Ryan Giggs is fucking sheep

This one works equally well for Gareth Bale, or for matter any Welshman with the right number of syllables in his name. The Welsh are whiter than I am – is this racist? Ethnic abuse? Or is it simply nationalistic, tribalistic, etc.? Am I describing a difference that makes no difference?

We even have at our own. Referencing the infamous scandal involving Blues captain John Terry and the girlfriend of former teammate Wayne Bridge, there’s this one to the tune of “London Bridge”:

Mrs. Bridge is going down
Going down
Going down
Mrs. Bridge is going down
On John Terry

Of course, this is personal, not collective. I just wanted to throw it in because it’s my favorite.

Frankly, these are some of the nicer ones. There are lyrics in a few songs I’ve heard that you wouldn’t repeat in a crowd of drunken sailors.

Perhaps you get where I’m going. There’s no excuse whatsoever for racism, but there’s a line, right? It can’t be illegal to be rude, can it? Sure, it’s primitive and juvenile and frankly, we already knew that I’m a terrible human being.

I mean, if you adopted these kinds of rules in the US, that would mean I could no longer point out, when the Broncos are getting ready to play the Raiders, that Oakland is the world’s largest open-air latrine. When the Avs go to play the Devils, I can’t crack that the New Jersey state bird is the housefly. That Nebraska’s football team plays on natural grass so the cheerleaders will have a place to graze. It would probably be hurtful even to snark about what a high percentage of Bengal players wind up in jail.

Or are these things okay because there is no twinge of the ethic about them?

We’ll be watching as things develop in Serie A. Like I say, I applaud any and all efforts to scrub racism from the game. But it would also be a mistake to overcorrect, I think. I’ve had some opposing fans say nasty things to me through the years, and I’d hate to see them punished over a weak-ass attempt at cleverness.

It’s bad enough that their teams suck and their children look like the mailman, don’t you think?

(Shed End) Seattle Diary: I was wrong (and Mikel scores!)

Shed End Seattle

Last weekend I was near despair. As I wrote Sunday, I had marched forth in search of a Chelsea FC community here in my new city only to come up empty. Given the vibrance of the Rocky Mountain Blues supporters club in Denver, I was not exaggerating when I explained the emptiness and disappointment I was feeling.

Within a couple hours of posting my lament, I heard from Jason Smith, the man in charge of Shed End Seattle, the city’s main (and perhaps only – the existence of the Northwest Blues is very much in question at present) CFC group. Turns out the problem wasn’t with the club, it was with the pub – the George & Dragon has decided that it’s better for business if they show games on replay so they can space out their customers during the day. Ummm, yeah. If management is reading this, give me a call. There are some fundamental marketing principles that we need to talk about.

SES was working on the problem and has found a new place – the Market Arms in Ballard – that shows the games live. They were going to be there today. I signed up for the Facebook page and traded some comments with various members of the club, and it was with borderline frantic enthusiasm that I set off this morning to meet them in person and watch the Blues take on West London rival Fulham.

I try not to be wrong any more than I have to, but last week’s post was wrong, and as a result I’m as happy right now as I was despondent then. Jason and the rest of the crowd (pictured above, and bear with me – I’m terrible with names but I will get them all down eventually) turn out to be fantastic. (Since all they had seen of me was my current FB profile pic, they were surprised that I’m bald.) Knowledgable, enthusiastic, and they went out of their way to make the new guy feel welcome. I’m already looking forward to the next match (although since it’s a 4:30am start and the Arms seems unwilling to get up quite that early, we’ll probably be watching on replay).

The Arms, for its part, is a legit pub (the full English is recommended).

While I was wrong last week about the existence of a CFC community here, the rest stands. The RMBs are a special group and I hope they never lose sight of how great they have it. With luck I’ll find the same kinds of friendships here.

Oh yeah, and John Obi Mikel scored the capper today. For you throwball fans, Mikel finds the back of the net about as often as your average backup offensive tackle gallops 99 yards for a touchdown. I predicted that this was the year it would finally happen, though, and to celebrate I stripped and streaked down Market St. I’m not sure if anyone got video, but if they did let me know and we’ll post it for the entertainment of the RMBs and beefcake-loving women everywhere.

We do have this video, though.

 

Conspiracy theory: did Wayne Rooney and David Moyes play Jose Mourinho?

Periodically friends will accuse me of being “pure evil.” I cherish these moments, and am proud of the fact that my mind goes where no demented mind has gone before. But it can be something of a plague, because there’s this part of me that thinks if I’m that sinister, other people must be, too. This quality has not rendered me the most trusting of people, I fear.

Anyhow, if you follow football (not throwball, but football of the global variety, or “soccer,” as you Yanks insist on calling it), you know that one of the protracted dramas of the summer transfer season was Chelsea FC’s pursuit of Manchester United’s star forward, Wayne Rooney (aka “Shrek”). The Blues needed a proven presence up top, and Rooney was disenchanted both with ManUre in general and with incoming manager David Moyes in particular. Shrek played for Moyes back when he was at Everton, and apparently is not fond of the man.

Rooney made clear that he wanted out, Moyes and the club made clear that he wasn’t for sale, and along the way the manager uttered some words in a presser that he insists were taken out of context, but that nonetheless were interpreted by the English football press as indicating that Rooney was to MU’s plans as horse droppings are to work shoes.

And the game was afoot.

Of course, in the end, when nothing was really moving, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho put it out there that in order for the deal to get done Rooney needed to step up and put in a formal transfer request to force United’s hand. Rooney didn’t, and CFC wound up with Plan B, Cameroon’s is-he-over-the-hill-or-not striker Samuel Eto’o instead. For American football fans who are having a hard time following the implications here, this is kinda like you were hoping to land Drew Brees and wound up with Donovan McNabb.

All summer I wondered aloud whether Mourinho, a consummate mind-gamer, actually wanted Rooney or if he was simply fucking with Moyes’s head. Or a bit of both.

Tonight I found myself in pure evil mode, wondering the very opposite: what if it was Mou being played like a four-Euro banjo?

Here’s the scenario. Moyes takes over at MU from Everton. He’s been around the block and knows that Mourinho, taking the helm at Chelsea, is a) in dire need of a new top-tier striker, and b) as noted above, a world-class agitator. So he goes to Rooney and says a) you’re critical to my plans and I want you here no matter what, and b) let’s fuck over Mourinho. Shrek says … well, he probably asks if Moyes’s grandmother is dating anyone at the moment, but that’s another post for another day.

So Rooney suggests, within earshot of a reporter, that he is not entirely enchanted with the idea of playing for Moyes, whom he considers to be a sheep-shagger of the first order. Mourinho sees an opening and dives in.

And the summer-long drama unfolds, with Roo sending out regular come-get-me signals and Chelsea making increasingly lavish offers for his services. United has a bit of sport with the whole thing, not only rejecting the various offers but at one point demanding not only outrageous sums of money, but also Chelsea’s best players in return. (Yes, you can have Brees. For Peyton Manning, Von Miller and three #1 picks.)

Meanwhile, Chelsea swallows the hook and goes all-in. Instead of hedging their bets by lining up a deal for another top-flight striker, should the Shrek deal tank on them, they convince themselves that it’s as good as done and forego the groundwork necessary to land a respectable Plan B.

In the end, Rooney wusses out and decides to stay, leaving Mourinho standing in the rain holding his nutsack (aka Eto’o, who was hell on two legs four years ago but after pissing away the last couple of years in Siberia is, ummm, on the back nine of his career).

That’s the conspiracy theory.

Now, let’s be clear – I have zero evidence that this is what happened. As I said before, I’m occasionally just evil enough to pull some shit like this and it makes me paranoid that others might be, too.

So, you’re wondering: is there reason to believe that this isn’t at all what happened? Yes. A couple things leap to mind.

First, the timing. If you were going to pull this, you’d wait until the last possible second to pull out, making sure that your trollee had no time at all to react. That isn’t what happened. It became clear a few days before the transfer window closed that Rooney wasn’t going to go through with it, and had Chelsea not had all its eggs in that basket they might have been able to get in for a suitable alternative.

Second, there was the whole Ander Herrera debacle, where the Yes Men apparently showed up at Athletic Bilbao to “negotiate” on United’s behalf. You can’t possibly think the people behind one of the sport’s greatest Keystone Kops episodes was also evil genius enough to shank the Special One.

Verdict: probably not. Still, it’s never a bad thing to remind yourself that there are scheming, evil motherfuckers out there looking to screw you to the wall. Assume that they’re at least as smart as you are and plan accordingly.

Meanwhile, Mourinho has to figure out how to turn the combination of Fernando Torres, Eto’o and Demba Ba into something resembling a real strike force. Whether he got played by Moyes or he played himself, he’s now got his work cut out for him.

Counterpoint: Riley Cooper is exactly what you see in the video

Crisis reveals character, they say.

I hope you read Otherwise’s piece on Riley Cooper the other day. It’s truly an exceptional example of the kind of honest, intelligent thinking I’ve come top expect from my colleagues here at S&R.

But while I agree with most of the principles underlying Otherwise’s reasoning, I’m not sure I’m convinced that they apply to Cooper specifically. Before I make my case, let’s review the video that touched off the whole firestorm.

I guess the question of whether to condemn Cooper or, as Otherwise suggests, give him a break, hinges on whether or not we believe what he has said since the video went public. True, he has in fact said and done a great deal that you’d ask someone who was genuinely contrite to do. No argument about that.

The thing is, I don’t believe him. Let’s begin by examining the timeline. The video broke on July 31, and the apologizing commenced shortly thereafter. But the incident happened on June 9. that’s over six weeks where he did nothing. He didn’t apologize publicly. He didn’t tell the club or his teammates and apologize to them. It doesn’t sound like he told his parents about it. You know, the people who didn’t raise him that way and who are now in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Six weeks. He. Did. Nothing. Despite his mea culpas and his insistence that this isn’t a word he uses and it isn’t the kind of person he is, he did nothing.

Okay, you may be saying, but if he made this horrible mistake and was this embarrassed by it of course he wouldn’t say or do anything. He probably hoped it would go away, and no way in hell he actually wants to draw attention to it. Think of the most embarrassing thing you ever did, Sam. Did you go public with it?

No I didn’t, and this is a great point. It’s not only possible, it’s plausible.

But it isn’t consistent with a couple of things. First, you don’t have to go public to apologize to the security guard. You can find him, apologize, maybe even try and make it up by doing something nice for him. Cooper didn’t do this.

What else? Oh – the team says he’s now receiving counseling, and if we’re to believe what he says he’s probably grateful for it. He asks us to believe that this outburst represents behavior that is out of character for him, and if so, he had to be shocked to hear that word coming out of his mouth. I can empathize with that. If I was pissed off and all of a sudden heard myself using that language it would rock my self-image to the foundation. I’d absolutely be seeking counseling of some sort because I’d be in need of it.

If Cooper sought counseling to address this horrid new self-revelation we’ve heard nothing of it, and rest assured, that’s precisely the sort of information that he and/or his agent and/or the team would be making a big deal of.

Finally, Cooper is emphatic in asserting that this is not a word he uses. Is this claim plausible? Well, Otherwise relates an incident where he got so worked up that he blurted out something that was utterly out of character. Do I believe that this happens, that people get mad and say things they don’t mean, that they call people names that they know will hurt?

Yes, I absolutely believe this. But I’m also really intuitive and I have this nuclear powered bullshit detector. I have been known to use a foul word or two. I’ve said things that would make a sailor blush. My vocabulary is a large one, and there are many, many wicked words that I have experience with. There are also words that I never use. My suspicion is that when I crack off a profanity-laced rant featuring my chosen epithets that they roll somewhat elegantly off my tongue. I imagine I might sound less fluid were I to try out new words mid-conniption.

So the question is, when you watch that video and hear Cooper in context, when you admire his rage in full flight, and then he says that isn’t a word he uses, do you believe him?

I don’t. To my ears the word sounds very much at home in his mouth. I grew up in a place where that word was common daily usage and Cooper isn’t the first Southerner I’ve heard bust it out in anger. When I watch that video, I am reminded more of that world and the people in it than I am of people who do not have that sort of racist language in their vocabularies.

I may be wrong. Otherwise may be right. I don’t know Riley Cooper and he may be telling us the straight-up truth in his recent public statements. If he is, I hope the counseling helps and that he learns from this mistake and goes on to be an example for a society trying to claw its way up out of an unspeakable history of prejudice.

I may be wrong. But I doubt it.

Racism in football: FIFA adopts the Dr. Sammy Plan

CATEGORY: Racism in SportsA couple of weeks ago I went off on FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter, over the issue of racism in world football. The impetus for that post was the racist abuse of AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli by AS Roma fans in a Serie A match. If you recall, Blatter was appalled!

I noted that racism in European football was certainly nothing new and that the sports governing bodies had done pretty much nothing about it. Specifically, I wrote:

The failure to stop an undesired action by an individual or group is a function of either a) a lack of power, or b) a lack of will. There’s not a lot FIFA can do about the racism of fans as they share a pint in the pub after the game, perhaps, but there’s a great deal they can do in the stadiums. For instance, in yesterday’s match the game could have been suspended and resumed later in an empty stadium. AS Roma could be fined and docked points in the standings. If none of these measures achieve the desired result over a set period of time, the club could be relegated to Serie B. And so on.

So imagine my surprise earlier today when fellow Chelsea FC supporter (and occasional S&R commenter) Bret Higgins forwards this item along.

FIFA racism measures could see teams expelled or relegated

Teams could be relegated or expelled from competitions for serious incidents of racism after tough new powers were voted in by Fifa.

First or minor offences will result in either a warning, fine or order for a match to be played behind closed doors.

Serious or repeat offences can now be punished by a points deduction, expulsion or relegation.

Jeffrey Webb, head of Fifa’s anti-racism task force, said the decision was “a defining moment”.

He added: “Our football family is fully aware that what is reported in the media is actually less than 1% of the incidents that happen around the world.

“We’ve got to take action so that when we look to the next 20 or 50 years this will be the defining time that we took action against racism and discrimination.”

Fifa, world football’s governing body, passed the anti-racism resolution with a 99% majority at its congress in Mauritius.

Wow. It’s as though FIFA leaders read my post and said “hey, that about covers it. All in favor, say ‘aye’.” While I’m just about certain that isn’t what happened, it’s still nice to see your wisdom validated every once in awhile. Suffice it to say that FIFA has gotten the policy right and they deserve major props for finally getting serious about the dark underbelly of the beautiful game.

All that remains now is to carry through with it. That, of course, could be sticky. I don’t doubt that they’d bring the hammer down in one of football’s notorious backwaters. Booting a lower division scuffer like Hansa Rostock or Hallesche FC down the food chain another notch to make a point? You betcha. I can even see them getting medieval on a big fish/little pond outfit like, say, Steaua Bucuresti.

But what about the racist ultras in some of the world’s bigger, more profitable leagues? Would FIFA and UEFA really relegate an AS Roma, one of Italy’s more prominent sides? What about Lazio, Roma’s far more virulent (and historically fascist) neighbors? As Bret said in a Facebook exchange, if FIFA is serious about this, Italy’s second division is about to get a lot bigger. Perhaps we should expect many rounds of fines and wrist-slapping before a big club is actually punished.

We’ll find out eventually. We can certainly expect a smaller club or two to be made examples early on. We won’t know for sure how serious FIFA really is until they’re faced with repeated offenses by a major side, and the smart money says that case will emerge from Italy.

For now, though, congratulations to FIFA for laying the groundwork. This policy does all the right things, and all that’s left is to enforce it.

 

 

Blatter “appalled” by racist abuse of Balotelli: hey Sepp – less talk, more action

CATEGORY: Racism in SportsRacist abuse of AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli by AS Roma fans in yesterday’s Serie A match caused the official to briefly suspend play. After an PA announcement warning the offending supporters to cease and desist, the game was resumed.

While these things are hardly uncommon in Italian football (or throughout the rest of Europe, for that matter), FIFA dictator-for-life president Sepp Blatter is appalled

“Appalled to read about racist abuse in Serie A last night,” Blatter tweeted Monday. “Tackling this issue is complex, but we’re committed to action, not just words.”

Blatter added that FIFA’s taskforce against racism and discrimination is “serious about devising a unified approach for FIFA’s 209 members.”

Blah Blah Blahtter. I’m not a big Sepp fan, of course. While he is to be praised for his humanitarian efforts, the pungent aroma of Eau de Fixer follows him wherever he goes. In the case of world football’s persistent racism, I have no doubt that he means what he says – he’d like it to be gone, and FIFA is exploring a variety of remedies. On this I take him at his word.

The thing is, I survey the landscape and as far as the eye can see there’s nothing but inaction. Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri had it about right in the post-match interview:

“Stopping the game doesn’t work. It’s a happy medium and like all happy mediums, it doesn’t do anybody any good.”

The fact is that FIFA (and UEFA) responses to racism have been ineffective because they favor, as Allegri says, the happy medium. The half measure. The symbolic gesture. The sternly worded warning. The slap on the wrist.

The failure to stop an undesired action by an individual or group is a function of either a) a lack of power, or b) a lack of will. There’s not a lot FIFA can do about the racism of fans as they share a pint in the pub after the game, perhaps, but there’s a great deal they can do in the stadiums. For instance, in yesterday’s match the game could have been suspended and resumed later in an empty stadium. AS Roma could be fined and docked points in the standings. If none of these measures achieve the desired result over a set period of time, the club could be relegated to Serie B. And so on.

[UPDATED: It has now been announced that AS Roma is being fined 50K euros by the Lega Calcio. This number represents nearly 3.5/1000ths of a percent of the team’s annual revenue.]

What happens as soon as the governing bodies begin taking meaningful action? Well, the technology exists to monitor every corner of a stadium, and it wouldn’t take long to identify the perpetrators. A club facing the loss of revenue associated with meaningful action would have pegged and permanently banned the perpetrators for life before the crew had the stadium swept.

The club would find itself receiving a lot of help from its more civilized fans, too. There are people in the crowd who don’t want to see their team penalized and you can bet the farm they’d be willing to help finger the troublemakers.

FIFA and UEFA could do these things tomorrow. They might encounter a legal challenge if things progressed far enough, but my guess is that they’d be on solid footing.

But they don’t. Why not? If you have the power to solve a problem and you do not do so, then it can only mean that you lack the will to solve the problem.

We can speculate as to motives all we like, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Racism of the sort directed at Mario Balotelli yesterday persists because it is allowed to persist.

I assure you, Blatter isn’t any more appalled by the actions of those fans than I am by his inaction. Perhaps less bluster, less impotent indignation and more leadership is in order.

Lone Star Funds president Ellis Short hires avowed fascist Paolo di Canio to manage his football team

UPDATE: It’s official.

_____

English Premiership side Sunderland AFC is considering hiring Paolo Di Canio to be its new manager. Di Canio would replace Martin O’Neill, who was turfed after Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Manchester United.

Providing negotiations proceed smoothly, club officials hope to announce his appointment on Monday morning. It remains unclear whether he will be hired on a short-term, seven-game deal or a longer contract.

The 44-year-old Italian represents an intriguing choice on the part of Sunderland’s wealthy American owner. Although Di Canio lacks Premier League managerial experience, he enjoyed an impressive 22-month stint in charge of Swindon after being appointed in May 2011.

Here’s a picture of Di Canio from his playing days.

dicanioWait – what?

The hell. No way.

What the goose-stepping motherfuck?

It’s true. Not only is Di Canio a fascist, he’s rather out and loud and proud about it. He’s gotten into hot water for his pro-ultra antics in the past (“ultra” is the term for European football’s rabid right-wing supporters, and those at Di Canio’s home club, Lazio, are among the continent’s more virulent), having drawn fines and a suspension and, in the case of his last employer, Swindon Town, causing a key sponsor to sever ties with his club.

Now, lest you get the wrong idea about di Canio, understand one key fact. According to him:

I am a fascist, not a racist.

Oh, well that’s diff…wait, back up.

“I give the straight arm salute because it is a salute from a ‘camerata’ to ‘camerati’,” he said, carefully using the Italian words for members of Mussolini’s fascist movement.

“The salute is aimed at my people. With the straight arm I don’t want to incite violence and certainly not racial hatred,” he said.

Ummm. So, di Canio is one of those Rainbow Coalition/diversity advocate fascists we’ve been hearing about? Is it possible to be fascist without being racist? Well, if you read what there is to be found on the subject of di Canio and racism, you come away with a picture that’s … conflicted? Is that the right word? He says he’s hanging onto his own ideas, but thinks that maybe all the violence was wrong. Or something.

Anyhow, di Canio is up for the Sunderland job. And Sunderland is in somewhat desperate straits. With seven matches to play, the Black Cats are a scant one point clear of the relegation zone, and being dumped down to the second tier would have grave financial consequences for the club. The stress is apparently leading their front office to consider … extreme measures?

And about that front office. Turns out the team’s owner is one Ellis Short. Short is, of all things, an American (albeit an American who has lived in the UK for more than a decade). He seems to be an almost pathologically private sort; just for fun, go Googling – it’s remarkable how little is out there on the guy, considering he’s a multi-billionaire. One thing we do know, though: he’s the (retired?) president of Dallas-based Lone Star Funds, “a worldwide private equity firm that specializes in purchasing distressed companies and assets, and also purchases under-performing and non-performing loans from banks (the company has been active in Germany in purchasing such loans).”

So, to summarize: a hyper-secretive Red State billionaire is set to hire an avowed fascist (but not a racist one) to save his football club from a financially damaging relegation.

Look, you know me. I hate to politicize things. But … we’re talking about a goddamned fascist. You know, World War II, concentration camps, the whole nine yards. Imagine for a second that the Dallas Cowboys were in danger of finishing last and were paying a financial price for it. Imagine that Jerry Jones were to fire his coach (okay, that’s the easy part) and was set to announce, tomorrow morning, that he had hired as a replacement a guy with a swastika tattoo, who in his autobiography had written that Hitler was “basically a very principled, ethical individual” who was “deeply misunderstood,” and who had, on multiple occasions, stood up in front of the crowd and led them in a rousing Sieg Heil or two.

Look, I hate Jerry Jones and am capable of thinking a lot of bad things about him. But I can’t even begin to imagine this sequence of events.

There it is, though. If The Guardian is right and all goes to plan, this time tomorrow an American owner in one of the largest professional sports leagues on the planet will have retained the services of the guy in those pictures above. Boggle the fucking mind, don’t it? Newspapers have been wrong before and let’s hope this is one of those occasions, huh?

Happy Easter.

Tim Tebow decides to do the right thing for professional reasons (but reserves the right to do the wrong thing later when nobody is paying attention)

I was reading the Internets today and guess what? – our boy Timmy is back in the news.

New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow has decided to cancel his appearance at a Dallas church that is led by a pastor, Robert Jeffress, who has been criticized for his remarks about gays and other faiths.

Tebow sent out a series of tweets Thursday announcing his decision:

“While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance. I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!”

Good for you, Tim. It’s great to hear that you’re genuinely committed to spreading Jesus’s message of love and acceptance, no matter what the circumstances are. Do the right thing, though the world may end. I’m proud of you. I think that….ummm, wait, hold on a second….he what? You’re kidding.

Jeffress told the Associated Press that Tebow told him he would like to speak at First Baptist at some point, but “he needed to avoid controversy right now for personal and professional reasons.”

So….you’ll go speak to the hatemongers as soon as everybody looks the other way for a second? The hell? Can somebody show me where it says in the Bible that you’re supposed to do good works for the Lord as long as it’s professionally expedient? (Hey, maybe this is what was going on with that whole “denied the Lord thrice” thing. I got your back, Jesus, but I got to look out for my family, hear what I’m saying?)

Let’s see if there’s anything else interesting in this article.

Jeffress said Thursday that First Baptist was being mischaracterized as a “hate church,” and that the church’s teachings were consistent with historic Christian beliefs.

Did I miss the part where hate and “historic Christian beliefs” (as interpreted by the likes of the Rev. Jeffress) are mutually exclusive?

“We had planned for him to speak very positively about the difference Jesus Christ had made in his life,” Jeffress said.

This would have been a great speech. If it weren’t for his very, very public displays of piety Tebow would never have played a down in the NFL. To paraphrase Chico Esquela, “Jebus been bery bery good to me.”

What else?

“There are a disproportionate amount of assaults against children by homosexuals than by heterosexuals, you can’t deny that,” Jeffress said in July.

Wait, what? Yes I can.

“And the reason is very clear: Homosexuality is perverse, it represents a degradation of a person’s mind and if a person will sink that low and there are no restraints from God’s law, then there is no telling to whatever sins he will commit as well.”

Which is why our history is so rife with gay serial killers, rapists, Lehman Brothers executives and superchurch pastors.

In a 2011 interview, Jeffress said that Islam and Mormonism were religions that are “heresy from the pit of hell,” and criticized the Roman Catholic Church as “the genius of Satan” and “corrupted” by cults.

And since this sounds like an intramural matter between the good reverend and his fellow Abrahamic religious conservatives, I’m just going to step back and leave it alone.

[Ahem]

We’ve been telling you what Tim Tebow was for a long time here at S&R: an opportunistic, hypocritical self-promoter who can’t play a lick. Between this and the fact that at present the NY Jets don’t want him anymore and can’t seem to find anyone else who does, either, the evidence continues to mount that we’ve been right all along.

Guardiola says no thanks to Chelsea, heads to Bayern – what now, Roman?

Roman Abramovich’s top choice to be the next Chelsea manager, Pep Guardiola, is heading to Munich.

Bayern Munich on Wednesday officially announced it had hired Pep Guardiola to coach next season for an undisclosed salary over three years.

Guardiola, who is the first Spanish manager of Bayern Munich since the club’s promotion to the Bundelisga in 1965, had been linked with Premier League teams Chelsea and Manchester City as well as AC Milan in the past weeks.

What happens now?

If the remainder of the current season goes well and the team perhaps wins a trophy (FA Cup, anyone?), does he stick with Fat Spanish Waiter Rafa Benitez, despite the supporters’ hatred of him? Does he pick up the phone and promise his old friend Jose Mourinho that if he’ll come back he can run the squad without any meddling from the top? If not, what choices remain? Abramovich has alienated or scared off pretty much every potential candidate in the world with his insistence on “attractive football,” his constant “helping” with personnel and his impatience with managers who occasionally lose a game or two?

CATEGORY: SportsIt will be interesting to see if Roman learns anything from l’affaire Guardiola. Chelsea has precisely the kinds of players that Pep likes. Pep has said he dreams of managing in England. Roman has chased him and is rumored to have offered him double what anyone else is paying. And STILL Pep says no. At this point, a man whose intelligence exceeds his arrogance might pause and do some soul-searching, perhaps even listening to those who keep telling him that his policy of turfing managers every couple of weeks is scaring away the good candidates.

My gut says no, Roman doesn’t learn a thing. One doesn’t become a multibillionaire oil magnate without a massive ego, and without putting too fine a point on it, he made his bones in a field that sometimes prefers strength to intellect and that perhaps undervalues the merits of reflection. (There – did I put that delicately enough?)

Time will tell. I’d love to think that this opens the door for a triumphant Mou return, but I’m not holding my breath.

Image Credit: ESPN FC

Five reasons why soccer will eventually surpass football in the US – #5: Americans love a winner

Part five in a series.

As Americans continue to succeed in the global game, expect fans to jump on the bandwagon.

Back to my original thesis, noted in part one: Americans love a winner, and the more success we achieve on the global stage, the more fans here are going to latch on.

…soccer might well have a bright future as a spectator sport in the US if we become an international power. That’s right. If our national team were one of the world’s top five sides, I assure you – I guarantee you – American consumers would fight for a front-row seat on the bandwagon. We’ve been told we ought to like soccer because everybody else does for all these years (and what do we hate worse than being told what we ought to do?), and meanwhile we’ve struggled to even qualify for the World Cup. We’ve gotten our knickers dusted on a regular basis by third-rate countries like freakin’ Brazil. And you want to tell me that if all of a sudden we were dominating the sport the way we dominate basketball that people wouldn’t be lining up for tickets and merchandise?

We’re already seeing more and more American players succeeding internationally (and not just goalies, either), with several Yanks playing key roles in England (Eric Lichaj, Geoff Cameron, Tim Howard, Maurice Edu), Germany (Tim Chandler, Fabien Johnson, Steve Cherundolo, Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones), Spain (Oguchi Onyewu), Italy (Michael Bradley) and Holland, where Jozy Altidore was leading the league in scoring up until recently.

Meanwhile, the most accomplished field player the nation has ever produced, Clint Dempsey, is starting for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premiership (which is currently engaged in Europa League competition).

Dempsey finished fourth on the FWA Footballer of the Year list behind winner Robin van Persie and Manchester United pair Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes, who came in second and third, respectively. Dempsey became the first American to reach the milestone of fifty goals in the Premier League, with a free-kick against Sunderland in the last home game of the season.

On 7 June 2012, Dempsey was voted the Fulham ‘Player of the Season’ by fans for the second straight season.

The national team has endured some growing pains since the arrival of new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but they have talent and he has a proven knack for getting the most of the players at his disposal. Nothing is guaranteed, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the US advance past the round of 16 in the next World Cup, and winning an elimination match would be a massive tipping point moment for American soccer.

In sum, then, soccer is posed for massive, sustained growth in the US at the same time our current alpha spectator sport is being eroded from the ground up by incredibly complex problems that suggest no obvious solutions. No one is predicting that football is going to go away for good, but it’s hard to see how it can maintain its status in the face of the dynamics described in the first two installments of this series.

While I love football (despite not being very good at it when I played as a youth), I’ve also come to understand the passion attending world football culture. Last year’s Champions League run by Chelsea FC was one of the most blindingly exciting things I have ever experienced in all my years of sports, and all those young people investing themselves in the supporters clubs are onto something. It’s more than a group of folks in matching shirts getting together to watch games, it’s genuine community.

I look forward to the coming years and the growth of “proper football” in the United States. And I hope that dedicated fans of American football will understand that this isn’t an either/or proposition: it’s okay to love them both.

Five reasons why soccer will eventually surpass football in the US – #4: The children are the future

Soccer’s American base is young, passionate, and more globally minded than any generation in history.

In part one we saw ESPN analyst Rich Luker explaining that in the 12-24 demographic, soccer is already bigger than any sport except American football. And yesterday, in part three, we saw that the bright young entrepreneurs driving MLS are tightly focused on the sport’s emerging supporter culture, which in some places already rivals just about anything you see in Europe.

In Portland, Paulson sat through a debriefing with his new team’s previous owners. “They were baseball guys who told me about the Timbers Army and simply said, ‘Be careful of those guys. It is an us-and-them situation. Whatever you do, stay out of their section.’ It took going to one game for me to realize they were one of the best things we had going. They were organized, authentic and had the makings of a real historic supporters movement. We opened up lines of communication with an approach that made it clear: We may not always agree with you, but we will always respect you.”

“I quickly learned that soccer is not like other sports where the fans just care about winning,” Paulson concludes. “Here they care about everything. Once I tried to change the logo without any input and practically had a mutiny.”

The guy in the seat next to me on that flight I mentioned yesterday? He told me all about that infamous Timbers logo dustup. He was proud that the Timbers Army was able to work with ownership to reach an accord on the club’s brand, which he felt belonged to the fans. He still hates Nike, though, because the proposed look and feel was all Seattle in his view. In other words, everything Paulson is telling ESPN here is dead accurate from the perspective of a TA section leader.

These supporters groups are under-30s, too, which means they’re going to be around awhile. The Millennial generation takes a lot of flak for its failings, but they’re born organizers and are instinctively communal. As such, they’re extremely comfortable in the kinds of collective, collaborative environments that surround successful soccer fanbases around the world.

They’re also the most diverse generation the nation has ever seen culturally and ethnically. They relish the opportunity to be more global than their predecessors. And they have a dramatically different relationship with spectator sports than Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Back to that ESPN post noted above:

The U.S. soccer audience is also unique in Luker’s eyes. “It is a true community. The only group that comes close are college sports fans or followers of the Grateful Dead. They embrace soccer as a communal lifestyle as opposed to a personal experience or a community that only exists on gameday.”

Luker’s analysis has revealed the reason soccer fandom tends to be expressed on a 24/7 basis. “Soccer was originally an expression of national identity in hotbeds like the United Kingdom or Brazil,” he said. “So that seed has been imported and sown here in the United States.”

Pretty good turnout for the Rocky Mountain Blues (Denver), given that it’s an 6am kick time for a preseason match.

Through decades of study, Luker was able to pinpoint the exact moment soccer’s built-in early advantage traditionally evaporated. “The game was massive up to the age of 13, when sport was all about bonding with male peers, but in middle school, it became all about cross-bonding with other genders and high school football shot right to the top,” he said. “You simply can’t beat the social lubrication of the homecoming football game.”Soccer’s social perception was further weakened by the sport’s stigmatization in the 1990s. “Middle school kids were seen to lack the guts to play one of the big sports — baseball, football, or basketball — preferring to play soccer, the sport their moms were pushing.”

But the sporting tectonic plates have shifted. America’s cultural diversification, increasingly globalized outlook, and widespread access to the Internet all have benefitted soccer more than the other more traditional American sports. “In the last two years, Americans have been exposed to elite soccer on a very regular basis, which has allowed us to appreciate the sport and develop a savvy about it in a way we could not before,” Luker said.

The impact of these factors has been as powerful as they are simple. “Kids growing up today gain cachet and social currency by knowing about the sport,” Luker said. The old stigma has fallen away. Pride and esteem have become attached to the game for the first time as Americans have collectively undergone a “now we understand what it is all about” moment. It is only a matter of time ’til we see soccer take off in a big way.”

Add all this to a new generation of smart, innovative owners who grasp the value of an organic, grassroots audience and you’re onto something.

Tomorrow: If you win it, they will come….

Image Credits: Findwell.com and Rocky Mountain Blues

Five reasons why soccer will eventually surpass football in the US – #3: Soccer is already blowing up in America

Part three in a series.

Thanks to expanding TV deals, smart entrepreneurs in the MLS and a Millennial-fueled supporter culture, soccer is the fastest growing spectator sport in the country. 

There has been a good bit of talk over what pro soccer in the US will do now that Becks has departed the Galaxy. It is a little hard to fathom how much he did for the visibility of MLS, but there’s no question they got good value for their $250 million (or whatever insane sum of money they invested in him). Overnight it went from being a third-tier league to respectability. No, MLS can’t yet attract top world stars in their prime, but it can attract outstanding developing talent and established world stars who aren’t yet ready for the glue factory. Beckham, as we saw, still had some good years when he came over (and will probably be viable for a couple more, depending on where he goes).

Thierry Henry is playing the back nine of his career, but again, is nowhere near done. Robbie Keane is a right Spurs bastard, but there are a lot of teams in Europe that would love to have him right now. The rumor mill says that Kaka, just a few years removed from being the most terrifying attacking midfielder on the planet, is on his way to LA to replace Beckham. Or maybe it will be Chelsea’s Super Frank Lampard. Who knows? In any case, while MLS isn’t yet a top league, it has certainly become a credible league in a nation not driven by a long, deeply entrenched culture of proper football. Considering that it’s not yet 20 years old, that’s significant, if not outright remarkable.

While nobody is yet doling out NFL-type dollars, the major TV networks are clearly interested. In recent years FOX and ESPN have fought it out for rights to televise both MLS and European matches in the US (and both have been recently blindsided by new entrant beIN Sport. None of these deals holds a candle to the latest, though, as NBC has jumped into the fray with a $250M bid for the English Premiership. Whereas previous packages have offered American viewers a game or three each week (on one channel, for the most part), NBC plans to use all of its properties to show most, if not all the Prem games (and this, it is expected, might even include live matches on NBC proper).

Give this piece from ESPN FC a read, and as you do, pay attention to something. The jewels of MLS are obviously the two biggest clubs in the two biggest cities: Galaxy in LA and the perennially underperforming Red Bulls in New York. But that’s not where the backbone of the league’s future necessarily lies. It will avail nothing to build a couple of rich sides if everybody else is the Washington Generals, and it’s the emerging entrepreneurship in places like Portland and Kansas City that are shining the light forward.

But in towns like Portland and Kansas City, soccer has become a cacophonous totem of local pride. Young fans attracted by an intoxicating supporter culture and intimate soccer-specific stadiums have themselves become symbols of the self-confidence and momentum surging behind the game in the United States.

Whereas pioneering owners Lamar Hunt and Anschutz Entertainment gamely propped up a gaggle of teams in the league’s early days, the new energy in MLS has been catalyzed by the arrival of a new breed of young entrepreneurial investors — hands-on leaders who fuse strategy and vision with a passion that reflects their teams’ rabid supporter cultures.

Would you like to go see a Portland Timbers game? Good luck. They seem to be permanently sold out, and that supporters club – the Timbers Army – is the equal of anything in Europe for enthusiasm. (Sit next to one of them on a cross-country flight sometime, like I did earlier this year, and make sure he knows you like soccer. Let me know what you learn.) Pan around the crowd on game day – you’d be hard pressed to tell much difference between them and all but the largest clubs across the pond.

In July, several of us from the Rocky Mountain Blues Chelsea FC Supporters Club tripped up to Seattle to see our beloved Blues take on the Sounders as part of their pre-season tour. It was quite an event. Wherever we went the day before the match, the locals were clearly clued in: “are you here for the Chelsea match?” Everyone in town knew, not just the diehards. And we were well represented. I’m not sure how many of us Chelsea interlopers there were in the north stands, but we acquitted ourselves pretty nicely.

Still, the total attendance at the game was in excess of 53,000, mostly Seattle loyalists. The game was held in CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks play, a remarkable showing for an exhibition match. The Sounders feature some of the best organized fans in MLS, and it’s worth noting that very few stadia in England are large enough to hold that many attendees.

Sporting Kansas City’s Robb Heineman is ambitious: “Our business plan will allow us to be one of the world’s four or five best leagues within the course of the next eight years.” Hmmm. Well, based on current realities, that means behind England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France, but ahead of Holland and Portugal. Seriously ambitious. But maybe not out of the question, depending on what criteria you use to define “best.”

Tomorrow: The children are the future…

Image Credits: The Roar, Rocky Mountain Blues

Five reasons why soccer will eventually surpass football in the US – #2: The lawyers are coming

Part two in a series.

Yes, the lawyers are coming, and football will be forced to change in ways that undercut its essential appeal. Did someone say “litigation”? From the ESPN story linked above:

The concussion issue has become part of the NFL story of late, with more than 3,000 former players suing the league on allegations that officials withheld information about the dangers of head injuries. Players diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy — a degenerative brain disease that can result in dementia — attribute their condition to repeated head injuries sustained on the field. Concussions and CTE also have been brought up as possible factors in the suicides of former players, including Ray Easterling and Dave Duerson.

In fact, right now more than 3,400 former players are suing, with some estimates saying the eventual number could rise above 5,000. Ballpark estimates of the damages? Maybe $10 billion?

Understand – this number is increasing every week. Who knows how many active players will wind up filing suit once they retire?

The league is certainly paying attention (or at least, it’s making a show of pretending to do so – their unconscionable behavior in this year’s referee lockout might cause us to question the depth of their commitment to player safety). There is some controversy over the findings, but the league has sponsored research on equipment safety (although it’s still allowing players to use less safe helmets if they choose). They have also enacted a number of rules changes to promote player safety, including:

  • no hits on defenseless players
  • no leading with the helmet
  • kickoffs moved up to dramatically reduce return opportunities, which result in very high risk of injury
  • and, of course, the gods help you if you hit a quarterback late or low or with your helmet

Rumor now has it that they’re even talking about scaling back on the body armor, abandoning hardshell helmets for leather or perhaps the sorts of padded gear that you find in rugby. The theory is that current helmets often cause injuries because players use them as weapons, leading with their heads in ways they never would otherwise.

This is an especially sticky issue for the sport. First, the fans are concerned. ESPN again:

In the survey, about 94 percent of NFL fans said they feel that concussions are a serious problem in the NFL. For some, it even affects the way they enjoy the game, with about 18 percent saying the concussion debate has made them less likely to follow football or watch it on television.

Second, it’s fair to wonder if you can make football “safe” without “ruining” it. Yes, you can develop better equipment. However, at the same time, players are constantly getting bigger, stronger and faster. It isn’t even remotely clear that it’s possible to evolve equipment that can keep up with the escalating violence inherent in player development.

Finally, let’s understand the appeal of the game. Scoring is fun, we love spectacular catches and breakaway touchdown gallops, but at its core football is about hitting. It’s about violence. It’s about knocking the other guy on his ass, and in some cases the culture promotes the idea of causing injuries.

Think about the squawling we hear each time the league adopts a new safety rule. You know, like last week.

“It’s definitely changing the game,” [Ed] Reed said about the NFL’s policy to protect players, via ESPN.com. “It’s become an offensive league. They want more points. They want the physical play out of it, kind of. They want like powder-puff to where you can just run around and score points cause that’s going to attract the fans. I understand you want to make money, but bending the rules and making the game different, you know, it’s only going to make the game worse.”

Those who run and market football leagues, whether we’re talking about the NFL or one of the lower professional leagues NCAA, really are up against it. On the one hand, they have to make the game safer, which functionally means they have to get some of the violence out of it. On the other hand, taking out the violence makes it inherently less marketable.

And all the while they have to fight off litigation from former players, deal with the public perception that causes the public to tune out and consider the possibility that in a generation or so they’re going to have a substantially smaller talent pool to draw on (and a culture generally that has spent a generation moving football further toward the periphery).

Not a pretty picture. Business is booming right now, but there are extremely dark clouds on the horizon.