The NFL created themselves a PR mess last week when issuing Baltimore Raven’s running back Ray Rice a two game suspension for beating his fiancée in a hotel elevator. Today, they turned that mess into a disaster when spokesman Adolpho Birch tried to defend the league in an interview on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike program.
In case you missed it, the whole incident was caught on video. Additionally, the NFL said they have even more video from cameras inside the elevator that show how this woman became unconscious. They themselves say it wasn’t pretty. Numerous reports from people, who saw that tape, say Rice punched his fiancée in the face and knocked her out.
Let me repeat that so it properly sets in. People who saw the entire footage said Ray Rice, 212 pounds of solid NFL running back muscle, punched this woman in the face, knocked her out, then proceeded to drag her unconscious body out of the elevator. It was an unbelievably ugly scene, one where there’s rarely explicit video evidence like they have in this case.
If you or I had done the same thing, would we even have a job this morning?
Last week the NFL suspended Rice two games, plus an additional third game check, for his actions. Immediately there was backlash to that decision, most of it saying the punishment was too light.
Today, Birch defended the punishment by saying, “The discipline that was taken by the NFL is the only discipline that occurred, with respect to Mr. Rice, in this case." He went on to say, "I think that, were he not an NFL player, I don't know that he would be able to receive any punishment from any other source.”
What? That is the NFL’s official explanation for all of this? As Birch is an official NFL spokesman, we must take him at his word when he argued Rice’s punishment was fair and just.
Well then, let’s recap what the NFL’s belief system by looking at some of their suspension policies:
Punch your fiancée in the face and knock her out – 2 game suspension
According to the NFL’s own precedent, they’re saying taking Adderall is twice as bad as a man beating a woman. Getting a free tattoo in college is more than twice as bad and punching your fiancée in the face and knocking her out.
The optics of this is bad, really bad, for the NFL. All of the work the league has done in reaching out to women, including their annual October Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now seems more like a merchandising money grab.
The NFL was already taking a huge public relations hit after the details of Rice’s suspension was released last week. Now that they are coming out and actively defending the punishment expect it to get a lot worse.
It’s so completely nonsensical that it must be emphasized again: The NFL suspends players twice as much or more for getting free tattoos or taking ADD medication.
It’s bizarre, illogical and, I’d imagine, insulting to women.
Expect the backlash to only get worse this week. The NFL, and the sport of football, are so fully embedded in American culture that this issue will gain even more traction in the mainstream now that the league is sending out spokesmen to defend their decision.
There’s been lots of talk about how “distractions” aren’t worth it in the NFL. What would you call this?
A simple modern proverb. One that people in this polarized, political climate seem to forget. So let me say right here at the top that while I disagree, I have no issue with Tony Dungy believing what he wants. That's a foundation of America. You can believe what you want, and as long as you aren't proselytizing, should be left in peace with those beliefs.
This also won't be a character assassination. Everything that Tony Dungy has done in his coaching life has shown him to be a man of high character that people across the NFL and the media have a high degree of respect for. A week of bad judgment won't undo a lifetime of good work.
If everything I said/wrote/tweeted were looked at with a microscope, I'd sure offend as many people as Dungy did. So, I'm not casting stones without personal reflection.
However, what Dungy said was hypocritical, dishonest, and showed such a complete lack of moral conviction.
In case you somehow missed it, Dungy, an ex NFL player and coach and now a broadcaster with NBC, was asked recently about his views on Michael Sam and if Dungy would have drafted him to play on his team, if he were still coaching. Dungy said, "I wouldn't have taken him. Not because I don't believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn't want to deal with all of it."
"It's not going to be totally smooth," he added. "Things will happen."
With that he set off a national media firestorm. Kind of like the one he supposedly would have tried to avoid by drafting Sam. Ironic.
You can see Dungy's full comments, and recent clarification here.
I have issues, major issues, with what he said on a couple of levels. I'm going to break it down by directly addressing the talking points of people who are knee-jerk-defending Dungy on this.
First, we have the "he was just being honest and should be commended" crowd.
Let's get real here. Dungy just isn't being honest about his motivations. Prefaced with what I wrote above about allowing him to believe what he wants, Dungy has a long history of anti-gay advocacy. He raised money for the Indiana Family Institute, an organization that supports anti-gay marriage causes and is affiliated with Focus on the Family that, among other things, supports gay conversion therapy. Dungy spoke out publically in 2007 in favor of an amendment to the Indiana State Constitution banning gay marriage. He would later tweet out his disappointment with President Obama's announcement supporting of gay marriage in 2012.
Furthermore, Dungy is famous for his unbridled support of Michael Vick during his post-dog fighting ring rehabilitation days. He believed Vick, who was convicted of a felony and served prison time, deserved a second shot in the NFL. Regardless of the media scrutiny that was sure to follow.
It reeks of dishonesty when Dungy makes statements about Sam like he did. I'd like to think people are wise enough, in face of the evidence, to realize Dungy has a major moral objection to gays. He is either being completely disingenuous with his reasoning for not wanting to draft Sam, or completely hypocritical given his previous advocacy campaign for Michael Vick.
So no, Dungy wasn't being honest. While I would have disagreed if he would have said, "I wouldn't have drafted him, because I object to him being gay," at least he would have been being direct instead of this between-the-lines nonsense he is currently trying to pull.
Other pro-Dungy supporters out there right now say, "Dungy is right. Sam is just too mediocre to have to deal with the media distractions that would follow him and the team."
By that reasoning you are saying it's not talent level, but media coverage, that should determine the fate of would-be professionals. Isn't that exactly what most NFL-ers would argue against? I've heard the "if you can play, it's all that matters" line spouted by who-knows-how many NFL players, coaches, and executives over the past few months.
I could also go off on a long tangent about why I find it amazing that Dungy, a member of a historically disadvantaged minority group, is now advocating against a currently disadvantaged minority group. Instead, it's probably best if I get a bit personal here and tell you my story. Stay with me here, as I have a point, I promise.
Everybody defending Dungy like this is also saying that I shouldn't get the chance to pursue my career because, hey, I just might be too much of “a distraction.”
I'm lucky to have known what I've wanted to do with my life since a very young age. I used to sit in my bedroom next to my window in Lincoln, Washington and listen to scratchy Seattle Mariners radio broadcasts every summer night growing up. I'd listen to Dave Neihuas, Rick Rizzs, and the other broadcasters thinking one day that could be me.
I've been blessed with a great support group of family and friends, plus enough talent, that I've achieved some of that dream. However, there was a long period when I wasn't sure it could happen.
I came out when I was 25. Came out as gay, I mean, although I find the whole concept of “coming out” a bit silly. Not many gay people want to “come out,” we just want to be able to be who we are. People are right to say straight people don't have to come out, so why should gay people? It all seems a bit unnecessary. At least I hope eventually it will be.
I'd known I was gay, of course, ever since those days sitting in my room listening to baseball games. I grew up and went to high school and college in rural eastern Washington State, not exactly an easy thing to do for a young gay person.
I started working for a local radio station during college, KQQQ, which did local news, talk and sports. They gave me my first shot on-air doing news, plus play by play for a local high school. I'll forever be grateful for the opportunity they gave me. However, I found myself entombed by such conservative anti-gay (and some anti-black) vitriol on a nearly daily basis that one day I had enough, went into my boss's office and told him, emphatically, to knock it off and that we shouldn't put these bigots on the air. A week later I was fired for "showing up late to work.”
That opened my eyes up a bit to the career-progression realities I'd face, but it paled in comparison to what I went through a few years later while coaching my high school alma maters girls' basketball team. I got the job at 23 years old, really only because nobody else would take the job. I was called two weeks before the season asking if I wanted the gig and, not knowing what awaited me, eagerly said yes. I coached that team for two years, and I grew up and matured more during that time than during any other time of my life. I was too young, but never regret taking that job for a second.
I was a bad coach, especially during the first season. I was too young, too inexperienced, and too hotheaded for small town girls basketball. Well, any basketball really. I matured during the second year and had an extremely young squad ready to come back for season three where we'd have been (and they went on to be) extremely competitive. This was small town high school basketball, you didn't get fired unless you did something illegal. Or so I thought.
It was during that second season that I had “come out,” or more specifically been found out. I had been living with my boyfriend literally across the street from a rival high school's athletic director, and about 4 blocks down from my athletic director. I was just done with hiding who I was and didn't care who found out. And people did find out. Lots of people including my parents, friends, and those AD’s.
When my athletic directors (there were two of them) called me in to a classroom during our post-season evaluation they told me I would not be back next season. They gave some vague reasons as to why… some valid (like being too hot tempered)…some not. But, I'll never forget the sequence that happened next.
I knew word had gotten around to them and the school board that I was gay. So I asked them, "Was there any other reason I'm getting fired?"
They looked at each other, sighed and paused, then looked at me, eyes wide with guilt, and said, "What other reason would that be, Seth?"
You know that feeling you have during a moment of complete and brutal clarity? That was it. I was getting fired for being gay. They didn’t even try to hide it from the look on their faces and in their eyes. They just couldn't legally say it.
Like Michael Sam, I had become too much of “a distraction.”
There was a period after where I was a bit lost, unsure if I'd continue chasing my dream. I bounced around small jobs for the next couple of years, not wanting to take a chance at a bigger job or bigger market. It wasn't a fear of failure, more like a fear of wasting my time. My world view had shifted to think that every career opportunity would end at a glass ceiling that I couldn't break.
My family and friends helped me realize somebody had to be the “first,” even if it's on a small scale. Just because there wasn't a path blazed before me, didn't mean I couldn't get where I wanted to go.
Fast forward a few years later and I'm not having to hide who I am to pursue my career. My employer doesn't care about race, gender, religion, or sexuality. They only care if you are good enough to do the job. I'm fortunate and grateful to be in the right place at the right time.
Re @TonyDungy comments, naive to think there isn't "distraction discrimination" absent special talent. More talent, more tolerance.
However, the Tony Dungy's of the world, and their defenders, wouldn't give people like me the opportunity to progress further. Because we could, possibly, be “a distraction.”
There are currently no “out” sportscasters in major markets or on major networks. Hell, I just did an internet search and I can't find one anywhere, large market or small. That's fairly remarkable. I say “out,” because there are gay men women in the industry out there. They have just remained in the closet due to serious career fears…much like athletes have. Much like Michael Sam did.
If I want to progress further in my career and get a big role here in New Orleans, or a big market, or big network, people like Tony Dungy wouldn't let me do it. They say I'd be too big of “a distraction.” I could have talent enough to get there, but if Dungy were running things I'd be out of luck.
That is why I find the oft-used "distraction" argument against Michael Sam, frankly, disgusting. Like Dungy, it is another way for people to hide their true beliefs about people like me.
“Distraction” has become synonymous with “gay.” And people are getting away with it.
Michael Sam is “a distraction.” Jason Collins is “a distraction.” Robin Roberts & Anderson Cooper, both “distractions” for their networks.
There was so little “distraction” surrounding Jason Collins and the Brooklyn Nets that I almost forget he un-retired.
Frankly, I'm tired of people using "it'll be a distraction" as an excuse for their belief system. Let's get real again, when you say “distraction,” you mean gay.
Dungy, and his defenders, say increased media scrutiny could come from being the first gay football player and that's the reason not to let him play. He'd be too distracting. I'm sure they'd all say the same if I got an opportunity to broadcast on a major network. I'd be too distracting.
What they really mean is "too gay.”
Will Michael Sam make an NFL roster? Maybe. I bet he's tired of hearing he won't make it because he's a distraction. Jeff Fisher, the man who counts, doesn't think he is. If Fisher cuts Sam it will be because he wasn't good enough.
I'm glad it's Fisher, not Dungy, making that call.
Yesterday’s World Cup championship game between Germany and Argentina was one of the most highly anticipated finals in the events’ history, and the whole tournament has been high drama worthy of a Vince Gilligan or George R. R. Martin screenplay.
Yet, try talking soccer at the water cooler at work and immediately be bombarded with eye rolls and dismissive comments about how irrelevant soccer supposedly is in this country.
Maybe you just make a comment on Facebook or Twitter about how you’re loving the World Cup or how exciting DeAndre Yedlin is (more on him later.) Be prepared for a slew of snide comments from those with “superior sports knowledge” about how they hate the game and can’t stand the low scoring/flopping/draws/pretty boys or one of a million not-so-unique responses.
I’ve never seen American sports culture so polarized over an issue since the height of the Manning v. Brady debates. When did it become so cool to hate on soccer and why all the backlash over the success of this World Cup?
The anti-soccer crusading hipsters have come out of the proverbial woodwork.
Before rushing to judgment and calling me a soccer apologist, it’s important to know a couple of things.
First, I couldn’t stand to play the sport growing up. Probably because I was freakishly tall and uncoordinated. (I probably should use am instead of was there.) I was awful at the game. I dreaded the days in P.E. when we had to play and never thought I’d get any enjoyment out of the sport in my lifetime.
Also, I really have no stake in the future success of soccer in this country. My journalistic and broadcasting background is in good ole’ American football and basketball, with a little baseball thrown in for good measure. I can’t envision a scenario where soccer’s success or failure will have any relevance on my career or personal happiness. Truly, I think nearly everybody in this country could say the same, save the relatively few involved in MLS or college soccer programs.
But to deny the massive momentum and rising popularity soccer has is like standing out on the highway with a blindfold and saying, “There’s no traffic here because I don’t see it.” I hope you’re prepared to get run over.
The sport is massively popular among young people, so much so that it has passed the NBA, MLB, and college football as the favorite pro-sport for people aged 12-24. Just do an internet search for “soccer youth popularity” and you’ll find a lifetime’s worth of possibly reading to do on the subject. A helpful graph from ESPN in 2012 shows the trends:
Keep in mind that is favorite pro sports, not research on how many kids play each one. Youth soccer has always outpaced youth football in total players simply due to cost and accessibility factors. This graph shows something much different and more important – identification with professional sports leagues. By any measure that is insane growth, nearly tripling in just a decade. ESPN also did a more in depth analysis of the popularity of soccer among our nation’s youth in a recent article.
Oh, I can hear the howls of the TV ratings snobs already. “That doesn’t prove anything, what kids like doesn’t mean jack in the real world,” surely said some ad-exec while reading this. Well, turns out the TV ratings for this World Cup have smashed records. That includes even the poorly timed USA-Belgium match that occurred while every nine-to-fiver in this country was on the clock, or at least pretending to be before sneaking off to their local bar to watch.
Not convinced? Maybe you think those ratings are inflated by USA pride and nobody really cares about soccer, they just care about the stars and stripes. Then that doesn’t explain why the American-less quarterfinals dominated national TV yet again.
By the way, those USA specific ratings crushed the average ratings of Stanley Cup finals and beat the NBA Finals and World Series. That’s a huge feat and can’t be ignored.
Now, if there’s one thing that’s as annoying currently as the anti-soccer hipsters are the pro-soccer elitists. They spout their own breed of intellectual buffoonery in telling the rest of us why soccer is the world’s most popular sport, while listing all the reasons the rest of us dumb Americans and just don’t get it. A friendly piece of advice; lay off the lectures because you are helping expand the stereotype of the Annoying Soccer Fanand doing the sport no favors. Even the tyrannically anti-soccer Keith Olbermann made some great points in a recent special comment on how we can better Americanize the sport as it grows. He’s right. Let’s stop pretending to be Manchester West and make the sport our own.
While it’s clear soccer is on a path to eventual mainstream acceptance, it’s also understandable why the older generation would be skeptical. They’ve heard this all before, especially in the 1970’s when the short lived New York Cosmos tried to shove Pele’-fever down the throats of national viewers and fans in New York.
While the naysayers are correct in pointing out U.S. soccer is at nowhere near the success level predicted back then, they are wrong in ignoring the great growth the sport has seen in the four decades since. The U.S. didn’t qualify for the World Cup nine straight times starting in 1954. That was a 36 (!) year run of futility that left our country more than apathetic to the sport.
All that’s happened since then is seven straight qualifications beginning in 1990, culminating in the first ever back-to-back advancements out of the group stage these past two World Cups. No, USA soccer isn’t Brazil, Germany or even Belgium yet, but the trend says that’ll happen sooner than you might think.
That brings me back to DeAndre Yedlin, the young 20 year old phenom, who broke out on the international stage these past few weeks. The kid is a made-in-USA product who grew up in Seattle and the local club soccer scene there. Yedlin embodies all the reasons why young people are gravitating to the sport in record numbers. He is young, flashy, and represents the potential rise of our nation’s soccer status – not to mention his awesome hair and good looks that will draw in plenty of fringe fans along the way.
That’s what soccer in this country has really been waiting for; a charismatic and likeable young icon who is homegrown and can be the face of soccer. That’s Yedlin, and if not him, then maybe 19 year old Julian Green who became the youngest player to score a World Cup goal since the great Lionel Messi did it 12 years ago, also as a 19 year old.
For as much as I admire Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, or Tim Howard there is a reason they haven’t captured the hearts of young America. Dempsey is seen as too ‘country’, Donovan as old news, and Howard as just plain too old. When Brandi Chastianis perhaps still our country’s biggest soccer star, there’s a need for somebody like Yedlin.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Chastain and that was perhaps the most memorable single sports moment of my lifetime and is a big reason why I found a love for watching soccer, especially at the international level. Her moment personifies one of the biggest reasons soccer will likely supplant baseball and hockey into the ‘Big 3’ of American sports – it is a highly visual medium for its star players, an area where soccer has no peer other than basketball.
Football rules our sports culture, but its big names are relatively anonymous. If I asked Saints’ fans to pick Brandin Cooks, Jahri Evans, and Cam Jordan out of a lineup could they do it? Other than a handful of highly visible national endorsers like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Richard Sherman the stars remain hidden.
There’s a reason why reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly has only 48,000 Twitter followers while Yedlin has over 250,000. Soccer allows its stars to shine, and that is a great thing for the sport in America when charismatic players like Yedlin are about to carry the banner into the future. How many people under the age of 30 do you think are now career fans of his.
That’s why this World Cup mattered. It came at the perfect time for American soccer, when new national TV contracts on FOX and ESPN will start showcasing young stars like Yedlin across the country. Soccer is primed for huge growth, perhaps even outpacing the exponential success it’s had in the past decade. In 10-15 years it’s likely soccer will rival or surpass the NBA in terms of regular season TV ratings and outpace it in per-game attendance.
Is it really inconceivable that in a few decades soccer could be shoulder to shoulder with football in national popularity and TV ratings? Remember, in the 1970’s very few people thought the NFL would morph into the dominant and transformative culture force that it is now. It’s interesting that the first few Super Bowls drew ratings that are very similar to those of this World Cup, and that was in an era where network television dominated. History has a way of repeating itself, and if we consider this World Cup to be soccer’s big coming out party then we are in for one hell of a ride over the next half century.
Not to say everybody will be on board, nor should they be. If you don’t like soccer, whatever your reasons, that’s fine. I don’t watch NASCAR, golf, and am starting to get turned off by college football but I do watch volleyball and the World Series of Poker. That doesn’t delegitimize the sports I don’t like or legitimize the ones I do.
This whole cultural debate over the relevance of soccer is not only counter-productive but also proves a point: Would we all be talking about a niche sport that very few care about for the past month?
Soccer is here to stay. Stars like Yedlin are going to lead it through unprecedented national growth. Then perhaps in 2030 or 2034 we can all get behind the U.S. Men’s team at the World Cup as they lead our proud nation to its first ever championship.