Sunday, September 21, 2014

As in: Shame (on) Us

In the late 80's, the premiere basketball team was the Detroit Pistons, aka the Bad Boys.  This team was characterized by aggressive play, exemplified by the unfortunate combination of a shooting forward's touch with a tight end's body and a fiercely competitive nature: Bill Laimbeer.  Due to his lack of agility on the defensive end of the court, Mr. Laimbeer's primary role was to mug the opposing team's star, whenever one had the gall to drive the lane.  When whistled for the inevitable and obvious foul, Mr. Laimbeer usually displayed shock, disbelief and outright denial.  I considered him the poster child for poor sportsmanship.  Years later, when I led training sessions on accountability, I related the story of Bill Laimbeer, among the most famous practitioners of refusal to take responsibility for one's actions.

Most of the football news over the past few weeks has been full of instances of men behaving badly.  There are many examples.  If I merely mention the names Ray Rice and Jameis Winston, does it create a picture in your mind?

As soon as I saw the video of Rice brutally dragging his then-fiance out of that elevator, I had a pretty good idea of how she became unconscious.  I was appalled that she was asked to testify with her abuser present in the room during the NFL investigation.  I later learned that the current commissioner has had 24 similar cases of domestic violence cross his desk during his tenure.  It was only last week that he revealed that he had just learned that such a practice was not proper.  Apparently, the victims might be intimidated in such an environment.  Considering the legion of attorneys that are employed by the league to keep themselves out of jail, this denial is nothing short of astonishing.  Even worse, there were whispers that, perhaps, the woman had provoked the attack.  There were statements by Ravens officials (this, the team whose most famous player in their checkered history has as many felony indictments as Super Bowl rings) that, perhaps, something good could come out of this, that things might change.

I should not be surprised.  After all, this is an organization that has consistently denied and challenged allegations that its players suffer serious long-term brain injury as a result of what happens on the field.  This league allows wildly unsportsmanlike celebrations to occur when a defensive player does his job, which is to stop the offensive player in his tracks.  Sack dance?  Why don't we call it showing up one's opponent?

The other bad news of the week was brought about, again, by the incumbent Heisman Trophy winner.     Several months ago, he was nabbed for shoplifting crab legs out of a grocery store.  He was suspended for a few baseball games, with his team's officials rubbing their hands in obvious dismay, saying that young Jameis needed to show more maturity, to learn a lesson.  This week, in what is at least the fifth example of questionable behavior on his part, he allegedly uttered a vulgar obscenity in a very public place on his college campus.  He was immediately suspended for half a game, so that he would learn his lesson. Later, he was suspended for the entire game.

On Saturday night, Jameis showed up on the sidelines, in full pads, prior to the game for which he was suspended.  I drew a couple of immediate conclusions: First, I was amazed that no one on the FSU staff had discussed the terms of suspension with him.  Second, obviously, he has not learned any lesson.  Was he expecting that he would be allowed to play?  After a clear lecture from his coach, he went back to the locker room, emerging a few minutes later in his jersey, spending the entire game on the sidelines, frequently shown on camera.   I thought he was suspended?

I posted something the other day, in which I said that Jameis has proven, again, that he is absolutely ready to play in the NFL and that his university has, again, found the moral high ground elusive.  Actions by all parties over the past few days reinforce my confidence that my observation was spot-on.

Enough whining.  Here are some concrete suggestions:

  • The NFL should immediately donate a sizable chunk of funding to organizations that study and treat the causes and victims of domestic abuse.  Similarly, they should also provide counseling for their employees who practice it.  Perhaps they could partner with one of their major beer advertisers, whose products, as Jon Stewart so artfully pointed out, are intimately involved with nearly every instance of domestic abuse.
  • The NFL should also ban all episodes of unsportsmanlike conduct, whether it takes the form of trash talking, arguing with officials or any gestures that demean the opponents on the field.  Successive infractions should result in additional penalties. 
  • As for Florida State, suspend him for the season.  It's plain that, despite repeated admonitions from his coaches, he does not get that his behavior is not acceptable in society.  Provide him with counseling and a life-coach who can help him become a mature adult.
  • While there is no proof - yet - that Jameis has abused any women, it's only a matter of time before it turns up.  This man is on a dark road that cannot end well.  Since the university has made millions of dollars off his tarnished name, they should put it to good use: Proceeds from the sale of Jameis Winston jerseys (on sale on their website, prices ranging from $55 to $135, including styles for women) should be routed to agencies that treat the victims of domestic abuse and provide counseling and corrective action for the abusers.  
It's not a cure-all.  There should be consequences for boorish behavior.  I am weary of watching the NFL, its highly-compensated officials, an immensely gifted college athlete and his university all acting like Bill Laimbeer.  Who, me?  What foul?

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