Archive for the ‘Gus Griffin’ Category

Coaching, Parenting, and Lessons from the Saints’ Collapse

Friday, January 19th, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

MW

Nothing in sports is second-guessed and dissected more than coaching. Few other things in the lager society are second-guessed and dissected more than parenting. Without question, coaching is hugely influential on the development of a player. Likewise, parents are even more so in the development of their children. Another common thing between coaching and parenting is the degree to which both are prematurely judged by people who are not privy to all the factors that go into coaching or parenting. The last play of the Saints vs. Vikings playoff game made me think of this.

As you all likely know by now, the Vikings were down 24-23 with less than a minute remaining and in desperation mode. Vikings’ QB Case Keenum lofted a pass up for receiver Stephon Diggs, who leaped to catch the pass and then ran another 40 yards or so for a game winning TD. He was able to do this due to one of the worst defensive non-plays I have seen in my life, on any level of football. Saints DB Marcus Williams lowered his head and blindly missed him, completely allowing Diggs to run for history.

 

I was, as I imagine most of you were, speechless.

 

Then I noticed a few comments on social media questioning how he was coached? Still others theorized that he was afraid to get a penalty. I thought to myself, “What the hell are these people talking about?”. Youth football players are taught at 6 years old to see what they hit.

 

Sometimes a rock is just a rock.

 

This had absolutely nothing to do with inept coaching. The young man simply messed up. He has had a very solid rookie season with 4 interceptions and if he survives this mentally, he seems to have a bright NFL future. But there is no need to overanalyze this. It’s not throwing the ball into traffic on the goal line in the Super Bowl when you have Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. Now that was boneheaded coaching and we didn’t need to know any other factors to conclude that when the Patriots beat Seattle in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago.

 

These two examples are extremes. Sunday with the Saints, coaching was clearly not the issue. With Seattle, coaching clearly was the issue. But most coaching decisions, like most parenting decisions, have a great deal more nuance and gray factors to consider, and only those involved or very close to the situation are privy to these factors.

 

One of the best examples was how the late former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan handled the substance abuse problem of a young talented receiver named Chris Carter. When the team cut Carter, everyone familiar with his talent wondered why take such a young dynamic weapon away from QB Randall Cunningham? To that Ryan would only say, “All he does is catch touchdown passes”. For years, Ryan took ridicule for that comment and the decision to let Carter go. The receiver would go on to resurrect his life and career in Minnesota, which eventually led to his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Carter would set the record straight years later, acknowledging that his release was all about how unreliable he had become, due to his substance abuse problem, and had nothing to do with his on-field performance. Had that come out, Ryan was afraid that Carter would be blackballed from the league. So, Ryan took the hits for years, never revealing the real reason until Carter was ready. He was actually trying to protect his player.

 

Go to any town hall meeting, hair salon, or barber shop, and listen closely for that inevitable moment when the discussion turns to today’s youth. That will start the clock toward the “it all starts in the home” declaration. The issue is not if the statement is largely true. It is! The issue is that it is often a simplistic cookie-cutter, broad-brush explanation for the behavior of youth by people who have little interaction with the very youth they castigate. Regardless of parenting, there will always be youth who decide to drink and drive with disastrous results. It does not mean parent modeling or condoning of such behavior was the root cause. Likewise, players will sometimes fail well below their professional standard. It doesn’t mean bad coaching is the root cause.

 

Whether it’s coaching or parenting, I don’t know why so many are so hell bent on making such conclusive public critiques while being so poorly informed about the individual situation. I do believe it often says more about the critic than it does about those being critiqued.

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

And the Platform Pimp of the Year is…………………..Jon Gruden!

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Donald Trump won it last year, with Daddy Ball taking a distant 2nd.

When the Oakland Raiders rehired Jon Gruden to a 10-year/$100 million contract, he without question did the best job of pimping his Monday Night Football analyst platform for the greatest return. Yes, the deal is back loaded with the first 5 years actually paying him in the range of “only” $5 million per year and the last 5 paying in the range of about $15 million per year. One would think even that amount is heavily incentivized with bonuses for making playoffs, winning super bowl, etc…but this is the Raiders. Common sense isn’t so common.

Let me be clear what I mean by “Platform Pimp”. A platform pimp is anyone that exploits a high-profile situation, under the guise of problem solving, for their own benefit.  The really good pimps raise expectations to unrealistic levels, even without much of a track record of meeting such expectations. These people are very good at giving the impression of expertise in a certain area that is either in high need of a solution and or very popular.

I am not actually even mad at Gruden. I am just dumbfounded at how often and easily these 3 Card Monty players can actually get someone to play his game. In this case, that someone is the Oakland Raiders…who have gone for this okie-doke before…see Lane Kiffin.

In fairness to the Raiders, Gruden is far more accomplished than Kiffin was when they hired him. Gruden has had some success as a head coach, including winning the Super Bowl with Tampa Bay. But we all know that Tony Dungy built that team. His best work was actually prior to that with the Raiders, the team his Bucs beat in the Super Bowl after the 2002 season. He did make the Raiders matter again, going 38-26 over 4 years. His two playoff losses could only be classified as bad luck. His 12-4 – 2000 Raiders lost to the Ravens, in no small part due to Baltimore tackle Tony Siragusa falling on QB Rick Gannon, knocking him out of the game. I have never been convinced that the Trent Dilfer-led offense of the Ravens come out of Oakland with that AFC title win if Gannon does not get hurt. I am convinced that the Raiders would have beaten the Giants to win that super bowl after the 2000 season. Then after the 2001 season, the infamous “Tuck Rule” game loss to the Patriots. One can’t blame Gruden for either one of those.

However, in Tampa, even with one of the greatest defenses of the past 25 years, his record was 57-55. The man who has promoted himself as quarterback and offensive guru couldn’t get much from his QB nor offense in his last coaching stop in Tampa.

The bottom line is that we are not talking about Bill Parcells in the 1990’s. Jon Gruden is basically Mike Shanahan, minus 1 Super Bowl ring.

So the central concerns are two: 1) if this happens, in the closest thing in American society to a transparent meritocracy, imagine what is happening where there is no transparency; and 2) It isn’t just the Raiders’ or even Davis family money. Though not directly, it’s taxpayer money as well. Connect the dots: part of the Raiders profit margin comes from generous tax breaks the city of Oakland granted them to move back and since to remain. These are tax breaks that have been pocketed and will certainly not be returning to the struggling working-class city, even though the team is slated to move. This Gruden contract is like the Raiders giving a final middle finger to one of the most loyal and greatest fan bases in all of sports.

What’s most important is to figure out why platform pimping works and how to recognize and avoid falling for the act. The simple reason it works is that there will always be a critical mass of people who love a messiah. This is true beyond sports. The notion that one person will come along and solve all of your problems, and in the process let the collective you off the hook is appealing. Though irrational, it is a lot easier to conceptualize one hero than it is to imagine the collective engaging in the tedious and often unsexy ground level work necessary for success. It’s the same as those whose primary economic freedom plan is to win the lottery.

Only the self-delusional have difficulty recognizing platform pimps. The three things necessary to avoid their game are as follows: 1) always remember that a platform in of itself does not equate to credibility…especially in the social media age; 2) Can you reasonably foresee the collective benefiting from this person’s work more than the person; and 3) does the person have a track record of success? Parcells always said, “You are what your record says you are.”

I hope that Terrell Owens is paying attention. His on-field performance is without question Hall of Fame worthy and yet he has been denied twice. I suggest he interview to become Gruden’s replacement on Monday Night Football. It would give him a platform to clean up the perception many of the HOF voters have of him….a perception that he surely had a role in creating.

If you are fortunate enough to secure a platform and stay in the public’s consciousness long enough to build a positive image, the fallacy of recently will impact its impression of you more than your actually merit based record. This is a good thing for Jon Gruden. Not so good for Terrell Owens.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Appreciating the Greatness of Nick Saban

Friday, January 5th, 2018

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of USA Today's FTW

Image courtesy of USA Today’s FTW

I missed a call the other day from my brother who is also a big sports fan.  He left a 3-word message that said more than we could have said in an actual hour conversation.

The message was: “ALABAMA IS ALABAMA!”

He was of course referring to the Alabama Crimson Tide smothering the Clemson Tigers 24-6. The same Clemson Tigers that were the defending national champs could not even score a touchdown against Alabama.

Why is Alabama, Alabama? That answer is easy:  head coach Nick Saban, who has 4 national titles there and will field a team to win a 5th on Monday against SEC rival Georgia.

His track record extends beyond Alabama, which is a card-carrying college football blue blood. Saban began his coaching career at Toledo in 1990 and went 9-2. In 1989, that same program won 6 games. In 1991, after Sabin left to be Bill Belichik’s defensive coordinator in Cleveland, it won 5 games.

After a stint at Michigan State with moderate success, Sabin went to LSU where he would lead them to essentially a co-national title, along with my USC Trojans in 2003.

Who knows how good of an NFL coach he would have been had he stuck it out or had the Miami Dolphins not passed on Drew Brees.

So, Saban’s resume is clear and even the most die-hard Auburn Tigers fan would not dare question his greatness.  What fascinates me is, how does he do this?

Never trust the pundits or self-proclaimed coaching gurus to answer that question. If they knew, they would be doing the same or bottling the formula for sale.

Sure, there are other great coaches. “The” Ohio State’s Urban Meyer actually has a significantly better bowl record than Saban and isn’t far behind him in any other category. But every now and then, the Buckeyes will simply lay an egg, such as was the case this year when they gave up 55 points to an average Iowa team, or when they were shut out last year in the playoffs to eventual champion Clemson.

You can’t find those games in Saban’s time at Alabama. Search for yourself. It won’t take long, since under him the Mighty Tide is now 131-20 over 11 years. Let that sink in for just a moment. In the toughest conference in college football, even if some of you still resists acknowledging this, Nick Saban’s teams haven’t even lost 2 games a year. Sure, he loses games. Only non-participants are spared that fate. What his teams at Alabama don’t have are total throw away games. When they lose, they simply get beat. His teams are ready to play every week.

Having been in education for nearly 25 years and also having coached myself, I can tell you from actual experience that keeping a group of 18-19-20 something young men focused enough to avoid such let downs is not only short of a miracle, it’s a biological aberration. By that I mean that the last part of the brain to develop is the frontal lobe, which is responsible for impulse control, executive functioning, and appropriate social and emotional responses.  It is essentially to the brain what brakes are to a car, and in males it typically is not fully developed until about 24-25 on average.

This explains why, based on biology alone, we can foresee much of the unpredictable behaviors in the pre-24 male age group. We often wonder, “What was he thinking?”. The answer often is that he wasn’t thinking.  Thus, inconsistent behavior is the norm.

You simply don’t see this in Nick Saban coached teams.

In looking at Saban’s educational background, he earned a BA degree in Business and a Masters’ degree in Sports Administration, both from Kent State. That might explain his elite organizational competence and even his capacity as a salesman, which gets buy-in from the youth he recruits. But there is also a psychology necessary in that no sales pitch is cookie cutter. The ability to understand personality nuance from athlete to athlete or student to student is indeed rare among coaches and educators of all types.

Some will say Alabama gets the best talent. Yes and no. Alabama certainly gets the cream of the crop at every position…except the most important position, which is quarterback. Not one of Nick Saban’s QBs at Alabama has gone on to distinguish himself in the NFL. The best eventual professional QB he has ever had was Tony Banks at Michigan State. The same Tony Banks that could not hold off Trent Dilfer from taking his job with the 2000 eventual super bowl champion Ravens. Nick Saban even managed to make Matt Flynn and JaMarcus Russell look like viable NFL starting QBs. Either both the brass of the Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders were idiots or Nick Saban is a coaching magician.

Ok, in the Raiders case, it’s more likely the former. LOL

I don’t know if we will ever have a comprehensive answer to how Nick Saban does what he does. I do know that we are witnessing greatness on a high level that we may never see again in college football. Even those of us who are not fans of Alabama should appreciate it while we can.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Why Fans Feel That They Can Throw Things at Athletes

Friday, December 15th, 2017

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

JJ

By now, you have witnessed the scene in Jacksonville last Sunday when a fan (or fans) threw objects at an ejected Seattle Seahawks player, who then attempted to go into the stands. I could parrot the “company line”, which says under no circumstances should a player go into the fan seating areas with malicious intent, regardless of provocation. But there is a part of me that feels perfectly comfortable with the notion of a 300-pound man going into the stands to “lay hands” on any coward who throws an object at him.

To understand why I don’t think this is the worst thing that could happen, we first need to look at why fans do this. There are basically 4 primary causes, being alcohol, the ever increasing prices fans pay for their tickets, envy, and the impunity that they have learned from the larger society about how they can treat Black men.

The last point about Black men is not to suggest that they are the only athletes that are the targets. It is to say that they are the overwhelming targets of this behavior. The first is easy. Some simply can’t hold their liquor and contrary to the common narrative, alcohol does not make one do what one would normally not do. Alcohol does encourage one to do what one has ALWAYS wanted to do but never had the nerve to follow through. Sobriety can act as a filter and catch certain thoughts and behaviors. But it only catches what was inside to begin with.

The second cause is the increasing prices fans are paying for seats. A fan needs to be reasonably close for whatever he or she throws to have a chance to actually hit and harm an athlete. Seats in the section from where the objects came last Sunday in Jacksonville, price at about $238 per seat. These are among the cheapest in the league at that proximity to the field. Imagine what one would pay in New York or Dallas for the same seats? With the price of that ticket, all too many fans feel entitled to do whatever they want.

The third reason is envy. The overwhelming majority of the fans in these seating areas are white and middle to upper-middle class. While the majority do not engage in such behavior, even when drinking, there are some who feel that regardless of how accomplished and wealthy the Black athlete is, he is still subject to them. This leads us to the fourth and most complex of the causes.

It has to do with the message the general society has received loud and clear about how it can treat Black men. That message has been that violence and disrespect is not only permitted but one need not concern him or herself with any accountability. Add all four up: alcohol, entitlement, envy, and a sense that they can treat Black men any way they like with impunity, and we really should not be surprised when this happens.

The insult to injury whenever this sort of thing happens is the focus which shines much more on how the Black athlete reacts to the treatment than the treatment itself. The NFL is like most institutions in that managing the reaction to injustice is a far greater priority than the injustice itself.

In defense of the NFL, there is only so much it can do about this issue. It can and should certainly cancel any confirmed offending fan’s season tickets and push for any applicable criminal charges. While it should do these at minimal, it would be a band-aid. It’s not as if fans come to games as blank slates, free of any of the biases that exist in the larger society. When one looks at the message from the larger society, which clearly says Black Lives Don’t Matter, it’s understandable why they think this way.

Throughout history, from the reaction to the Black Panther Party till today, America has made it very clear that the idea of Black men standing up for themselves in any venue for any reason, regardless of provocation, is to be suppressed. The fact that there is a simultaneous obsession with the right of just about every other demographic to bear arms is not considered a contradiction. Therefore, until the root of this behavior is addressed in the larger society, there is no reason to believe it will cease to exist in the sports world.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

College Football and the Myth of American Meritocracy

Friday, December 8th, 2017

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

UCF

For the most part, sports are the closest thing in American society to a genuine transparent meritocracy. Unlike other areas of American life where who you know, race, class etc. are as much or more relevant than ability, this is not the case in American sports. If you cannot play, none of the above noted factors will save you. Furthermore, from a team concept, if you accomplish predetermined goals, you are guaranteed via systemic triggers the opportunity to go further. This is reflected by winning your division or conference to qualify for a PLAYOFF.

The only team sport in America that has no such structural system is major college football.

Enter the University of Central Florida (UCF) Knights.

They completed an undefeated season in which they never scored less than 31 points in a game.  Still yet, there was a better chance of Donald Trump showing humility than there was for UCF to make it to the college football “playoffs”. Even Ohio State, which was beaten handily in both of its TWO losses, was going ahead of undefeated UCF. Am I suggesting UCF was better than Ohio State? No! But then again, I did not believe that the 2010 7-9 Seattle Seahawks would beat the defending super bowl champion New Orleans Saints. They did and in doing so, treated us to one of the greatest runs in NFL history by Marshawn Lynch. We would have never seen that under the college football “system”. Likely outcomes are not the issue.  Systemically guaranteed opportunity is, and college football does not allow for this in spite of how often we tout the feel-good underdog narrative.

Some will argue that UCF is in a weak conference and played a weak schedule. I agree…but that is a woefully incomplete analysis that assumes this reality was completely within their control. It isn’t. Colleges are contractually bound to their conferences and to leave for a more competitive conference, one must pay a costly exit fee. Even if the college decided to pay the fee, it would need another conference that wanted it…or should I say wanted the Orlando, Florida TV market, because that is the issue more so than the quality of the program. The SouthEastern Conference couldn’t care less about Texas A&M or Missouri as football programs. It did care about the Houston and St. Louis TV markets. That was even truer of the Big Ten’s courting of Maryland. It was all about the Washington DC TV market.

So, could UCF strengthen its non-conference schedule?  Not likely…especially after a season like the one just completed. Think about it, if they call in-state powers Miami, Florida State, or Florida for a home and home two-year series, why would either of them accept? There is nothing for either of them to gain and everything to lose because they are supposed to win the game.

So, what it comes down to is no matter what UCF did, they NEVER had a remote chance of making it to the college football final four or playoffs. No amount of hard work on their part was going to change that reality because the system is structurally biased in favor of the “haves” in the form of the 5 power conferences, to which UCF does not belong.

So too is the larger American capitalistic economic system in favor of the “haves”.

The latest example was this week when CVS pharmacy bought Aetna Insurance for $69 billion.  It’s the first time in American history that we have seen the merger of a retail pharmacy chain, an insurance company, and a pharmacy benefit manager. This acquisition will accelerate the extinction of the small family owned pharmacy and there is absolutely no amount of hard work alone on the part of that small family pharmacy that will stop this process.

That small pharmacy has about as much of a chance surviving as UCF did of making to the playoffs.

So, it’s clear both in big time college football and the larger American business world that hard work alone is not enough to maximize one’s potential. The question is: why do we keep promoting the myth that it is? Why aren’t we willing to be honest enough to say, be it to UCF in college football or that small pharmacy, that the system is structurally rigged and we must dedicate continuous energy to changing that system?

I am not suggesting that hard work is irrelevant. It is in fact a significant part of the formula for success, both individually and collectively. It just is not the only ingredient.

The good news is that the big-time college football system has actually improved. There was a time when tradition alone dictated the college football champion via bowl match-ups and the number 1 and 2 teams were not guaranteed to meet. Then, due to fan demand, they moved to a system that guaranteed the top two teams would meet. Today it’s determined, albeit subjectively, that the top 4 teams will play one another for the title. I suspect eventually that the current format will be extended to 8 teams. While it’s still very flawed, it is moving in the right direction because fans demanded it move.

If we want to transform American meritocracy from myth to reality we must demand it as much as college football fans have steadfastly demanded a playoff system.

As Frederick Douglas said, “Power Concedes Nothing without a Demand. It never did and it never will”.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

 

 

Anna vs. Jana: Style vs. Substance

Monday, December 4th, 2017

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

Jana Novotna (left) and Anna Kournikova (right)

Jana Novotna (left) and Anna Kournikova (right)

Recently, a friend and I got into a respectful debate over the accomplishments of former tennis player Anna Kournikova. My primary contention was and is that she largely had no individual tennis accomplishments, or certainly not enough to warrant her lucrative endorsements.

That cannot be said of Jana (pronounced Hana) Novotna, who died recently after a battle with cancer at the age of 49.

Novotna won 24 Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tournaments to include 1 major title.

Kournikova never won any WTA singles’ event.

Even with that, what Novotna is most remembered for is the 1993 Wimbledon finals when she had a 4-1 lead in the 3rd set over the great Steffi Graff, and had game point at 40-30 on her racquet. She would double fault, lose that game and eventually the match in one of the greatest collapses in tennis history.

I remember watching that match and how uncomfortable I felt for her. We all fail but few do so on a world stage as dramatically as she did that day. In sports, not being good enough is difficult but forgivable. The two things that are not forgivable are to quit or choke. Those two transgressions speak to the athlete’s character and mental toughness in the minds of fans and will not be tolerated.

That day, Jana Novotna choked.

She would get back to the Wimbledon final in 1997 only to lose a lead again, this time to Martina Hingis. Then, finally in 1998, she would reach the finals again of Wimbledon and after unspeakable disappointments over the years, would finally get over the hump and win the title.

For me, one of the most enjoyable things about sports is to observe that moment when the team or athlete better known for not being able to win the big one finally gets it done. Be it Ivan Lendl or Andy Murray finally breaking through to win major titles, or the 2016 Chicago Cubs, or Elway’s Denver Broncos. Unlike lottery winners or the rags to riches narratives we love to promote in America, that are often as much about luck than merit, winning in professional sports is never luck.  Also, unlike most of us who may routinely fail in our professions, athletes do so in the fishbowl that is professional sports.  Their every facial expression and inkling of body language is examined and psychoanalyzed by every Dr. Phil wannabe in the world.  In spite of this all, the professional athlete must continue to strive. So, while many will remember Novotna for her failure, she should be remembered for the fact that she got up off the mat and triumphed in the end.

As for Kournikova, I don’t fault her for exploiting her non-tennis marketability. I certainly hope that she lives longer than Novotna. The fact that she is better known than Novotna, in spite of dramatically less tennis accomplishments, says more about what we as a society value than it does either one of them.

So, thank you Jana Novotna for showing the sports world and beyond that one need not be forever defined by failure and how to come back and triumph.  Your public life showed a great deal more courage than any photo spread ever has.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

What To Make of the Tired and Disturbing Case of Ezekiel Elliott

Sunday, November 5th, 2017

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

EE

The only thing that I am certain of in the battle between the Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel

Elliott and the NFL, which wants to suspend him for 6 games over allegations of domestic violence, is that

I am tired of it and want it to end!

Beyond that, all bets are off.

My initial thinking when pondering writing this was to rail against the self-interest obsessed Cowboy

fans, Jerry Jones’ white male wealth privilege and those apologists, mostly men, for abusers.

Then I did what I hope every opinion writer does: I actually engaged in a more detailed researching of

the “central charge” (I’ll explain why the quotations for this later) against Elliott. After doing this I have

come to the only conclusion anyone could come to, which is that I have no idea who is the victim

between Elliott and his accuser. The inquire raises more questions than it answers. To briefly summarize

the reasons for doubting the accuser are the following:

1) Text messages secured by the NFL show the accuser discussing blackmailing Elliott with a sex

tape;

2) The accuser tried to convince a friend to lie on her behalf and support her claim that Elliott was responsible for her bruises. The friend refused and cited a fight between the accuser and another lady in an affidavit as the possible source of her bruises; and

3) She verbally threatened to ruin Elliott

It’s important to be an ally of women in the fight against domestic violence. As a man, I believe that I can

play a similar role in this struggle as Whites can play in combating racism. I also believe that I have taken

concrete steps to be an ally. The data is clear in that the overwhelming number of allegations of

domestic abuse are true. Having said that, the quest to be an ally does not mean that I am obliged to

blindly endorse the allegations of everyone. Basic fairness demands that allegations, even from a

historically abused demographic, be scrutinized and when that is done in this case, the only conclusion is

that the accuser’s credibility is suspect, so much so that the NFL’s own lead investigator recommended

no suspension for Elliott.

So why is this still a pending issue dangling over the head of Elliott, you ask? There are two primary

reasons for this:

1) Ezekiel Elliott has been a knucklehead with enough documented acts that indicate a lack of

respect for women and poor impulse control and judgment in general. When the totality of his

record is considered, it is not that much of a stretch to believe Elliott is capable of what he is

being accused. The NFL collective bargaining agreement, which the players sign off on permits

the commissioner to consider such incidents in a cumulative manner when pondering discipline.

Therefore, any reviewing of the “central charge” alone is incomplete. It cannot be refuted by

“the police did not charge him” common claim because it’s not a legal process but a workplace

disciplinary process;

2) The NFL has an inconsistent track record when dealing with its players accused of violence

towards women, be it Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, or Josh Brown. As a result, there is tremendous

pressure to get this one right;

3) Elliott is the best player on the most popular team in the most popular sport in America. Anyone in that position, regardless of race, with these accusations is going to draw more scrutiny than say a punter, as was the case with kicker Josh Brown.

You may ask how the NFL can get it right if the player is literally not guilty of the accusation. That’s when

it gets even more complicated. Like it or not, there are at least 2 factors that the NFL considers BEFORE

the actual merits of the accusation. Those two are money and public relations. The actual merits of the

charges are at best a distant third . Money is easy enough to understand. Anything that the NFL deems as having the potential to dip into its bottom line must be dealt with ASAP. Then there are the public

relations of the issue, which is a direct extension of the money factor. This can be best summarized by

saying that the NFL is more concerned with damage control than it is the damage itself. That means

actually caring about domestic violence is not nearly as important to them as appearing to care about

the issue. What this all means is that in the wake of botching the Ray Rice and Josh Brown cases, they

needed a pound of flesh.

Enter Ezekiel Elliott!

So, after multiple court injunctions and stays and no clear ending to the stalemate, here we are.

Based on history, it’s highly unlikely that Elliott will avoid a suspension. It’s not a question of if he will sit

but when, and for how long. After all, even the golden boy, Tom Brady, eventually had to sit. Judges are

very hesitant to overturn provisions of a collectively bargained agreement and that is what the NFL has

as its trump card. Given that, what I have never quite understood is why the Cowboys didn’t play this

differently. Why not take the precedent of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger back in 2010? He got the

same 6-game suspension for multiple accusations of sexual assault. It was eventually reduced to 4

games, during which the Steelers went 3-1. They would win the AFC that year, making it to the Super

Bowl, a highly unlikely accomplishment had they taken the Cowboys approach to Elliott’s situation this

year. Even if Elliott’s suspension were not reduced, the 6 games would be over by now. They could have

gone 3-3 (their record with him after 6) without him. They would have him back, healthy and rested for

the second half of the season, including both games against the high-flying, first place Eagles. Now that is all in doubt, as are the Cowboys’ playoffs hopes.

So why didn’t they take that approach? I can only come up with 3 possible reasons:

1) Jerry Jones is used to getting his way and would not back down;

2) Elliot, like most professional athletes, is programmed not to back down and is engaged in this process in the same way; or

3) He actually did not abuse her.

I do not know which one, two, or all three might have been at the heart of the Cowboys’ strategy.

That disturbs me but not nearly as much as the fact that this saga has given a platform to misogynist and

apologist for those who abuse women.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Dear Michael Jordan…STFU: How We Should Think About Super Teams and Corporate Monopolies

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

MJ

Michael Jordan is upset about the Warriors and Cavaliers being super teams while the other 28, in his words, “are garbage”.

Never mind the insult to the San Antonio Spurs, who would not fit the description of garbage in any era of basketball. Let’s keep the focus on Jordan the player and Jordan the owner.

Michael Jordan the player, was quite possibly the greatest ever and was the primary reason that his Chicago Bulls won the NBA title every year of his last 6 full seasons with the team. It wasn’t just his ability on the court. It was his willingness to play for a “mere” $3-4 million per season (he was making in the range of $36 million in endorsements). This gave his team a huge unfair advantage that they would eventually use to help secure Dennis Rodman and keep Scottie Pippen from leaving before his prime was up.

Michael Jordan the owner, apparently does not want other teams having the kind of advantage his Bulls had in his playing days.

The irony of it all is that the max deal restrictions on player salaries today is a direct result of Jordan’s last 1-year deal with the Bulls.  For the 1997-98 season, Jordan earned just over $33 million, which is still the single season record for a player. This salary was also more than the entire roster of 19 teams that year.

Back to Jordan the player, who once suggested if Wizards owner Abe Pollin could not afford the team that he should sell the team. Jordan would later work for Pollin in his last comeback.

The only conclusion that I can make about the contradictions between Michael Jordan the players vs Michael Jordan the owner is that when people win and/or get the outcomes they want, fairness is not a principle that is very important to them.

The same is true of American capitalism and its production of corporate monopolies. Despite the lessons that should have been learned from the near crash of 2008, less than 10 years later, the U.S. economy is increasingly being dominated by corporate mergers. Walgreens bought up Rite Aid, Heinz bought Kraft, and American Airlines bought US Airways. On Wall Street, the source of the near collapse, the 5 biggest banks hold nearly half the nation’s assets. An increasing trend is to mandate its customers and employees to agree to arbitration in disputes, thereby signing away their constitutional rights to a trial.

Why should we as sports fans care? Because the trends going on with super team formations in the NBA, though largely driven by a handful of the game’s superstars, will not affect your pension, civil liberties, or living wages. The trends going on with corporate monopolies absolutely will affect all of the aforementioned and yet we don’t personalize our indignation about corporate monopolies anywhere near to the degree that we do when attacking pro athletes.

I am not suggesting that this whole super team thing is something I particularly like as a fan of the game. It, without question, leaves a competitive imbalance. I am suggesting that we have idealized the NBA past as if this has never happened before.  The Bill Russel era Celtics won 11 titles in 13 years and the aforementioned Jordan era Bulls won 6 in 8 years. And yet the league survived just fine.  Even the Showtime Lakers, who won 5 titles, also lost 4 times in the NBA finals. Before the 1982-83 season, the 76ers added the late great Moses Malone, arguably the best player in the league at the time. He would be the final piece to a team that had made it to the NBA finals 2 of the previous 3 years, and already had Julius Erving. They cruised through the regular season and playoffs before sweeping my defending champion Lakers for the title.  It looked like at the time that the Sixers would win multiple titles.

They never won another.

In sports, the impact and collateral damage of super teams is relatively minimal and history has shown that the game will survive their fluctuating eras. The same cannot be said of capitalistic America and its corporate monopolies. I would hope we reserve our outrage for the real danger between the two.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Dusty Baker is a Hall of Fame Manager

Friday, September 29th, 2017

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker looks on from the dugout before a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker looks on from the dugout before a baseball game against the New York Mets at Nationals Park, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

As the Washington Nationals prepare for the post season, it should be noted that this is old hat for manager Dusty Baker. In fact, it’s as good of a time as any to make the case that Dusty Baker should one day be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

That’s right, I said it, and the reasons people resist this idea are as interesting as the case that he is, so let’s start with those reasons.

Not only has Dusty Baker never managed a World Series winner, but he has presided over some of the most infamous pennant race and post season collapses in recent baseball history.

He has been the Marty Schotenheimer of major league baseball managers.

The list is as follows:

  • 1993 Giants had an 8 game lead over the Braves in August. Though the team would win a franchise record 103 games, they would lose the Western Division on the last day of the season (losing to those damn Dodgers). That team would not make it to the post season. Many consider that season’s outcome to be the primary basis for the development of the wild card in baseball, giving the best second place team a place in the post season;
  • 2002 Giants have a 3 games to 2 lead over the Angels in game 6 of the World Series and are 5 outs from winning their first world series since 1954. Then it all fell apart and the Angels go on to win in 7 games;
  • 2003 Chicago Cubs and the infamous Bartman game and series. The Marlins win that game 6 and eventually game 7 in Chicago, and beat the Yankees in the World Series.
  • 2012 Reds win the first two games in San Francisco of a best of 5 series, only to lose 3 straight to my Giants in Cincinnati. The Giants go on to win their second World Series of 3 in a 5 year span.

As sports fans, we tend to remember individual failure more than cumulative success.  Ask any fan what they remember most about Billy Buckner and they are likely to cite the 1986 World Series error rather than the 2700+ career hits and 1980 NL batting title.  The same is true of Ernest Byner in football.

It is fair to cite Baker as the only common denominator in all of the above noted collapses.  My primary response is that only an exceptional manager would continually be in these situations.

The case for Baker is as follows:

  • His 1800+ wins are more than Earl Weaver, Tommy Lasorda, or Dick Williams, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame;
  • He is one of only 4 managers to take 4 different teams to the post season, along with Williams, Billy Martin, and Davey Johnson. Martin and Johnson each have their own Hall of Fame cases;
  • He has ten 90 win seasons. All managers with this number or more are in the Hall of fame;
  • He managed Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent over multiple 162 game seasons, which is every bit as difficult as coaching Shaq and Kobe.

So exactly what factors most impact a manager’s success? I say 4, which are communication skills, baseball tactics, instincts, and situation. The manager actually only has control of the first three.  By all accounts, Baker is a great communicator. The problem is that this skill is the least observable to fans and even the sports writers who vote for the Hall of Fame.  So Baker’s greatest skill is the least measurable. His baseball tactics and instincts would have to be above average to win nearly 2000 games. Sure, anyone can find a decision on bullpen or bench management here or there, to dispute over the course of 23 years and 162 game seasons. But surely not enough to question his deserving of Hall of Fame status. The last factor would be the situation, and the manager has little to no control over that factor.  Situation includes the owner, timing, talent, etc. Let’s be clear about this, Joe Torre managed 3 different teams before he took the reins of the Yankees.  In the years before he got there, notoriously meddling owner George Steinbrenner was suspended from the day to day operations of the team.  His history was to win now, future be damned.  What this resulted in was young talent being traded away for veterans.  Due to his suspension, this did not happen in the mid-90s, and thus, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Andy Petite, Mariano Rivera, and Derek Jeter remained in their system and awaited Torre’s tutelage.  The rest is history.  From 1996-2000, the Yankees would win the World Series four times.

Joe Torre did not suddenly learn how to manage in New York with the Yankees.  But the fact is, if you take away his Yankees tenure, his career managerial record is sub-500.  Situation matters.

Dick Williams found working under A’s owner Charlie O Finely so difficult, he resigned from a 2-time defending champion team after the 1973 season, in a similar way that Jimmy Johnson left the Cowboys. Situation matters.

Regardless of the situation, Dusty Baker has won and he has won a lot. This should earn him a bust in Cooperstown someday.

 

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports

Where Jemele Hill Went Wrong

Friday, September 15th, 2017

by Gus Griffin

gus

 

 

 

 

JH

“Trump is the most ignorant, offensive president of my lifetime.”

“His rise is a direct result of white supremacy. Period.”

“He is unqualified and unfit to be president. He is not a leader. And if he were not white, he never would have been elected.”

“Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.”

“The height of white privilege is being able to ignore his white supremacy, because it’s of no threat to you.”

“Well, it’s a threat to me.”

“Donald Trump is a bigot. Glad you could live with voting for him. I couldn’t, because I cared about more than just myself.”

“I hate a lot of things but not enough to jeopardize my fellow citizens with an unfit, bigoted, incompetent moron. But hey, that’s just me.”

These are the tweets that landed ESPN commentator Jemele Hill into hot water.

Every last word is true!  

At the very least, it’s much easier to support what she says about the current president of the “Divided” States of America than it would be to refute them.  

And still yet often in America, truth is not the point! The denial of truth is.

Hill’s comments addressed the truth.  They did not address the denial of the truth, which is a prerequisite.  

It’s like trying to administer treatment or medicine to someone that does not acknowledge being sick.

I realize that this is a hard thing for truth loving people to stomach, especially those of us who are either more likely to be vulnerable to the adverse effects of the current president’s mindset and policies.  It is equally troubling for those who thought that they could find refuge from political commentary in sports.  

The point is that in America we have tacitly understood sacred cow subjects around which we are required to steer clear of under all circumstances, and race in sports is right at the top of that list.  

Full disclosure: Jemele Hill, along with Bomani Jones, Tim Kurkjian, and Jay Bilas, are my favorite ESPN commentators. Unlike Erin Andrews of Fox (throw a nickel out the window and you could hit 20 others who can do what Andrews does), she actually knows sports. She is insightful beyond sports, which is why she had to know that she was violating the code. What code you ask? The code that says as a sports commentator you are to, above all and foremost, insure that your white audience is comfortable with your commentary. Calling a man that more than a few of them voted for, a white supremacist, though absolutely true, is a violation of the code. One of the requirements to maintain a position such as the one Hill occupies is self-censorship.  

Now the other end of this is Jason Whitlock, who either consciously or subconsciously talks about race all the time, but in a way that placates the very element that is currently outraged about Hill’s comments.

As a result, his place in the mainstream sports media is secure.

I am not saying that she should not have said what she did. I am actually always happy to hear “insiders” rock the boat.  I am saying that when you do, understand that the pushback will be fierce and swift, and if one is not prepared to absorb such pushback without apologizing, why say it at all?  

My first degree from Howard University was in Journalism. My desire was to be what Hill is today, which is part of why I am a fan and have such great respect for her. I actually wrote for a Washington Black weekly paper upon graduating and was offered an internship with ABC News under Sam Donaldson. I turned it down and have no regrets. My thinking even then, over 20 years ago, was that to progress in such an environment would require I engage in the type of self-censorship that would have kept Hill out of the hot water she is currently in, and I knew that I simply could not adhere to “the code”.  

In the end, the issue is not Jemele Hill or even ESPN. The issue is the delusional notion that sports is some isolated haven, free of political commentary, or even that it should be. History proves this to be a fallacy.  Be it the influence of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color line in baseball, or the civil rights movement, or Muhammad Ali’s stand against the Vietnam War, sports has always been a platform to address larger issues to include politics as well it should be. But until the contrary myth is debunked, the likes of Jemele Hill and others of her valuable consciousness have a decision to make: is it best to maintain her current platform and speak truth to power from within the existing mainstream system or leave it and all of its perks and restraints to do so from the outside?  Neither you nor I can make that decision for her. If she leaves on principle, I’ll miss her on ESPN but respect her decision.  If she remains, she will surely have to understand that the push-back she is receiving is indeed the price of the party.

Gus Griffin, for War Room Sports