A Sort-Of Victory for Colin Kaepernick

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On Friday it was announced that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid settled out of court with the National Football League (NFL) for an undisclosed amount of money.

Kaepernick and Reid had sued the NFL for blackballing them—colluding to keep them unemployed—because in 2016 they kneeled for the U.S. national anthem (“The Star-Spangled Banner”) before NFL football games, to protest police brutality against blacks. Their actions inspired a wave of other protests throughout the league.

Reid eventually signed with the Carolina Panthers, but the more visible Kaepernick is still unemployed in football.

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On the one hand, the settlement is a capitulation: Kaepernick is settling for a lesser heap of cash than he would get if the case had been ruled in his favor. Also, the NFL avoids an admittance of guilt, and the embarrassment of details (revealing emails, harmful testimonies) that would otherwise go public.

Scott Cunningham_Getty Images

Photo: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

On the other hand, “Kap” achieved something rare: he was able to administer a black eye to a multi-billion dollar corporation (unlike fellow NFL QB Tom Brady with Deflategate), and he’ll continue to be an icon and standard bearer of social consciousness in sports. Like boxer Muhammed Ali and Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, his stature will only grow in coming years (assuming he steers clear of #MeToo).

Kaepernick has already garnered a multi-year endorsement from Nike, which will only get sweeter. It’s also still possible that a team owner might grow a backbone and sign him to a contract (the Panthers owner, perhaps?).

Beyond this are the damning depositions by league owners Jerry Jones (Dallas Cowboys) and Stephen Ross (Miami Dolphins), who claimed that a certain pubescent, pontificating president’s meddling forced a cowed NFL into making a rule change: players are now required to stand for the anthem. (longitudes: are clenched fists and bowed heads still permitted, or will prohibition of these gestures also now be added to contracts?)

The president, well-known in reality television circles for his enthusiastic embrace of firing employees, not only went on record urging the firing of players who protest during the anthem, but went so far as threatening a change in “tax law” to penalize teams who don’t crack down. Legal experts are now analyzing possible “government infringement upon players’ First Amendment rights.”

While Herr Donald needs little assistance in damning his own legacy, the NFL’s image has only further eroded with its blackballing and government-dictated rule changes.  It comes after a successful $1 billion suit by former players over concussion-related injuries that the league had, for years, denied…monies which are, reputedly, still unpaid.

Kap, longitudes is with you. Happy President’s Day.

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Photo: Getty Images

Cleveland Browns Finish Season at 0-16, and Fan Relocates to Cave in Patagonia

I don’t normally write about sports. I still remember that managing editor in Florida who informed me “Sports is to journalism what masturbation is to sex.”

But the post-holiday, mid-winter funk has left me without any intelligent material.

This post isn’t technically a “vent.” A venting implies that one is frustrated by something and needs to let off steam. But I gave up on the Cleveland Browns a long time ago, so there’s no steam left in the boiler.

Ah, yes. The Cleveland Browns. For those familiar with American football, even the name brings a chuckle.

The Browns just finished the 2017 football season with a sterling record of 16-0. Sixteen losses, zero wins.

Combined with last season, the Browns are 1-31 (the San Diego Chargers mercifully let them win by three points in their last game of 2016). Over the past three seasons, the Browns have compiled a record of 4-44. A team needs to put in a lot of overtime to produce a stench that toxic.

After the 2015 season, both the head coach (whatzizname) and general manager (whozit) were fired, after they posted a 3-13 record. I’m scratching my head why the current coach (dat udder guy) can retain his job after posting a 1-31 record. In the real world, he’d be polishing his LinkedIn profile and watching “Leave it to Beaver” reruns. But this is the National Football League.

Fans of the Browns are affectionately known as the Dawgs. I’m still not sure if the misspelling is intentional or not. For years, these fans have promulgated all sorts of reasons for the illness on Lake Erie. “We need a franchise quarterback.” “We need a new head coach.” “You build your team around the offensive line.” “The front office sucks.” “The owner cares more about soccer than football.” “It’s all Modell’s fault.” “We need to change our colors.”

The only solution that came close to working was after visionary owner Art Modell 🙂 moved the team to Baltimore in 1995 (where, of course, he won the Super Bowl). The city of Cleveland filed a lawsuit against the National Football League. It was then rewarded with a spanking new team, and three years later the Browns squeaked into one playoff game.

Playoffs?? Did I say playoffs?? That was 16 years ago, the longest playoff drought in pro football history. Essentially, the Browns are in the 19th year of a three-year rebuilding program.

The Browns at one time had an enjoyable rivalry with the nearby Pittsburgh Steelers. But you can’t sustain a rivalry when, since the dawn of the millennium, one team amasses a record of 32 wins and only five losses against the other team. That’s not a rivalry, it’s human bondage.

Since I’m not a fan anymore, I feel I can offer a refreshing outside opinion as to how this team can once again return to the playoffs (forget the Super Bowl… Donald Trump will win a Nobel Prize before the Browns ever reach the Super Bowl).

Boycott.

That’s right. History has numerous examples of how boycotting and civil disobedience lead to results. The big problem in Cleveland isn’t the Browns owner, front office, coaching staff, or players. It’s the fans. They’re sports whores. They’re loyal to a fault. Browns fans are maybe the best fans in all professional sports. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. They continue to buy tickets and merchandise despite the product being seriously flawed. It’s like driving around in an old Chevy Corvair long after the car has been declared a road hazard.

It’s time Browns fans ceased this perverted game of “Thank you, ma’am, may I have another?”

I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, which also has a professional football team (the Cincinnati Bengals sprouted from the Browns 50 years ago after Modell fired legendary Browns coach Paul Brown, who then drove down I-71 and started his own team). Unlike Cleveland, Cincinnati is a “fair weather” sports town. In other words, the fans are smart. They’re frugal and won’t purchase a flawed product. After 14 losing seasons, Bengal fans threw up their hands, then threw up, and stopped coming to games. So the owner, Mike Brown (Paul’s son), started investing in quality personnel, not long after he blackmailed the city into building him a new stadium.

Since then, the Bengals have reached the playoffs seven times. Of course, being the Bungles, they’ve lost the opening playoff game every time. But at least they’re not a punch line like their noodlehead neighbors up north.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Browns fans will ever follow Bengal fans’ lead. They wear their sports loyalties like Keith Richards wears eye liner, or Elton John wears a toupee. It’s a part of who they are. Without their beloved football team, they’d be lost. You can only visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or troll for walleye on Lake Erie so many times on Sunday afternoons.

Earlier, I said I was no longer a Browns fan. Let me qualify that: I still have a place in my heart for that goddawful franchise. It was once a champion, in a faraway time, before many of you were born. The greatest athlete in history played for the Browns (running back Jim Brown). Best of all, they had a northern Ohio native at quarterback (Bernie Kosar) who threw side-armed and ran like a drunken giraffe.

But I can’t watch them anymore. I’m even embarrassed to be seen in public wearing orange and brown (and this is a masochist who wore Browns clothing when Cleveland was without a team). I’d prefer to devote my loyalties to the meaningful things in life. Sports are fun, but hardly meaningful.

So I guess you could label me a “fair weather” fan. Which means that, these days, I’m not only closer in attitude to Cincinnati than Cleveland, but I’ve been waiting for torrential rains to stop for a long, long time.

Does it rain much in Patagonia??

My Lonely Boycott of Sports

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DISCLAIMER: This editorial isn’t intended to disparage those who like sports.  Sports encourage physical well-being and can build character in young people.  The criticisms here are directed at those who make money from big-name sports as entertainment.  Not the fans.  But if you’re sensitive to my opinions, leave a comment, and I’ll dig out my old boxing gloves.

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John Lennon, in his song “Working Class Hero,” rails against nebulous power elites for keeping the rest of us “doped with religion and sex and TV.”  He could have also included “sports.”

Until recently I was a fairly big sports fan.  I liked athletic competition (and still do).  I admired the skill required to pinpoint a receiver forty yards downfield, or smack a 95 mph fastball over the fence, or nail a jump shot over outstretched arms at the buzzer.  When my boy was small, I enjoyed attending trading card conventions with him, and watching our favorite teams on TV.  I bought the merchandise (hats, jerseys, flags… you name it).  I was a cheerful little sports consumer.

But over time I became more jaded.  Some might say “Well, you shouldn’t have picked Cleveland teams.”  Or “For heaven’s sake, why did you choose Penn State over Ohio State??”  Honestly though, picking losing pro teams and a shattered college team isn’t why, on weekend afternoons, I now go to the art museum or prune my azaleas.

These are the reasons:

1. Stupid TV commercials.  They’re dumb everywhere these days, but they’re especially dumb during sports broadcasts.  Maybe because advertisers know that most sports viewers are men, and men are dumber than women.  floSo if it’s not “The all-new this” or “The all-new that” (usually referring to a car or TV sitcom… these things are never “half-new”), it’s a pig squealing “Wheeee!!” from a car window, or a talking gecko, or Flo, or Peyton “I’ll sell anything!” Manning, or some other redundant image trying to dig into my wallet.

2. The Super Bowl.  This orgy of capitalism might be a good excuse for a party in dreary February, but the action on the field is only incidental to the media frenzy and swirling commercialism.  Every piece of this bombastic event is sold to the highest bidder: pre-game show, trophy presentation, televised replays, touchdowns, field goals, and, of course, the atrocious halftime extravaganzas.  beerIt’s gotten so bad, even some advertisers are complaining about the gluttony.  And the alcohol and junk food emphasis should require a public health warning.  My wife looks forward to the “funniest Super Bowl commercial.”  I look forward to the day when Western civilization is no longer in decline.

3. League of Denial.  The National Football League recently settled out of court with ex-NFL players, who sued the league for ignoring the seriousness of concussive injuries.  As detailed in the book LEAGUE OF DENIAL: THE NFL, CONCUSSIONS AND THE BATTLE FOR TRUTH, the NFL went as far as hiring its own dubious “experts” to debunk the reality of serious brain trauma caused by repetitive head impact.mike webster  With the settlement, Commissioner Roger Goodell and company are betting their troubles will disappear.  But unless all helmet contact is outlawed, and the league actually gets serious about fines and suspensions, there will be more Mike Websters and Junior Seaus.  In the meantime, the NFL hopes fans suffer collective amnesia on this subject, and asks… “Are you ready for some FOOTBALL?!!”

4. Steroid use.  All I can say about this is that baseball records and statistics used to have meaning.steroids3

5. Ex-jocks in the broadcast booth.  This is a disease that’s spreading rapidly.  Who would have thought I’d yearn for Howard Cosell?  Howard would be crestfallen at the surfeit of grammatically bemused rhetoricians today (and he’d use those exact words).  What’s worse than bad English are the endless clichés like “He’s a class act.”  The underlying meaning of “He’s a class act” is that the individual mentioned is an exception, so his peers must therefore be without class.  So the “class act” is the football player who doesn’t thump his chest after a tackle, or gyrate in the end zone after a touchdown.jocks  Maybe it’s the baseball player who graciously agrees to forego a raise in his multi-million-dollar contract to stay with the same team.  Perhaps it’s the team owner who at the last minute decides – with feigned humility – to keep his asset (sports team) in the same city.  Or any coach or athlete who flaunts his Christian faith.  According to ex-jocks-in-the-broadcast-booth, these are all examples of “class acts.”

6. NCAA hypocrisy.  College sports were once a refuge from the corruptness of the professionals.  That was yesterday.  Today, college football and basketball are swimming in money.  So it’s ok for the NCAA to stuff its athletes into Final Four TV ads, while simultaneously penalizing a college coach (the late Rick Majerus) for buying a player a meal after the player’s dad died.  Or as sportswriter Frank Deford puts it, “peddling sanctimonious claptrap about how it really cares about academics” when its real concern is revenue.  More recently, there’s the controversy over the NCAA’s spider web of lawsuits with video gaming company EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Company, after uniting with them to profiteer from student-athletes’ likenesses.ncaa  The NCAA also violated its own rules by sanctioning Penn State University without conducting an investigation (the Freeh report was outside of the NCAA), and for disallowing appeal.  What happened in Happy Valley was tragic beyond belief.  But it seems to me the NCAA can just make and break rules whenever it sees fit (and when it can get away with it).

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I’ve talked to others who agree with me on the above.  And a few have also taken the bold step of boycotting.  Problem is, everything seems to suddenly be forgiven and forgotten when your favorite team wins four games in a row (I wouldn’t know about this, though).

But lest you think I spend all my time watching “Antiques Roadshow” reruns, I haven’t completely sworn off televised sports.  I’ll probably tune in the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day.  And I love watching tennis.  I also find televised golf very relaxing (despite having to endure hearing Tiger Woods’s name every two minutes – even when he’s not in the tournament).  I may even start following ice hockey or soccer.  There may be few authentic class acts sprinkled in those sports.  But I first need to examine the commercials, and find out how many ex-jocks are in the broadcast booth.

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