Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Quick Takes on Brady, Manning, Sharapova

The wheels of justice turn exceedingly slowly and sometimes they roll off the road completely. Just ask Tom Brady. The NFL has presented no evidence showing that Tom Brady either deflated footballs or had knowledge that footballs were being deflated. The NFL has presented no evidence that any advantage can be gained by deflating footballs. The NFL has not even presented any evidence that footballs actually were deflated (the "science" in the Wells Report is not credible, to say the least).

Despite all of the evidence that the NFL has not presented, Brady's name has been dragged through the mud, his team has been penalized $1 million plus multiple draft picks and it is possible that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will ultimately reinstate Brady's four game suspension that was sensibly thrown out by a U.S. District Court. The U.S. Court of Appeals seems to be much more interested in Brady's destruction of an old cell phone--which is not the "crime" for which Brady was punished--than in whether or not NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had the authority to discipline Brady in the manner and to the extent that he did.

Anyone who cheats in the NFL (or anywhere else) should be punished (see the final section of this article)--but the NFL cannot prove that Brady cheated and cannot demonstrate that he gained any advantage even if he did what he was alleged to have done. At most, the NFL should have resolved this matter by fining the Patriots a token amount and by tightening up the procedures governing how the footballs are maintained prior to and during the games, because that is the larger issue: if the officials had done their job properly, the alleged deflation could not have taken place.

The whole fake controversy takes attention away from the concussion issue, though. Do you think that is a coincidence? What would the NFL rather talk about, footballs being deflated or NFL players suffering brain damage from routine plays?

*********************

Depending on how you look at it, Peyton Manning either retired on a high note or he left town just before the posse arrived. Manning's body failed him during the final several games of his career and he captured his second Super Bowl title as a Trent Dilfer-like caretaker for a moribund offense that was carried to victory by one of the greatest defenses of all-time (no offense meant to Dilfer, who was a solid quarterback but will not be remembered in quite the same way as Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks like Bradshaw, Montana and Brady). Leaving as a champion is obviously the best way to go and few great athletes have the opportunity to do so--and even fewer take advantage of that opportunity, for the lure of one more ring (or piles of more cash) can be hard to resist. Michael Jordan had the perfect ending, nailing the game/championship-clinching jumper versus Utah in 1998, but then he came back to limp around as a Washington Wizard and provide glimpses of what he used to be. Jordan's comeback was a testament to his mental and physical fortitude but it was hardly a storybook ending.

Manning leaves the NFL as a role player on a championship team but as memories fade beneath the magnitude of his career numbers the perception will be that he left on top, even if the reality is that if he stuck around for another season there is likely not one team that would employ his as a starting quarterback.

Manning retired before giving NFL teams a chance to say, "Thanks for the memories and don't let the door hit you on the way to the broadcast booth/front office."

There is also the matter of the dark clouds swirling around Manning, clouds that could have become more publicized if he kept playing but now will likely be ignored.

The first dark cloud is the accusation that Manning used the performance-enhancing drug (PED) human growth hormone (HGH), receiving the banned substance in his wife Ashley's name in an attempt to avoid detection. While the media provided wall to wall, 24-7 coverage of the alleged deflated football scandal as soon as word about it became public--and the media continues to breathlessly report about this story from every conceivable angle--Manning's friends in the media made sure that scarcely anything was mentioned about HGH during Denver's Super Bowl run. Did Manning use HGH? No one, least of all "protector of the NFL shield" Roger Goodell, seems particularly interested to find out. No one is paying Ted Wells millions of dollars to get to the bottom of this issue, that's for sure.

The second dark cloud dates back two decades to when he was a star quarterback for the University of Tennessee. At that time, Manning either (1) sexually harassed the female team trainer, (2) acted in a juvenile manner by mooning a teammate or (3) did something somewhere in between (1) and (2). We likely will never know what really happened, because while Manning's denials and snide verbal attacks against his accuser are not quite convincing his accuser comes across in some accounts as perhaps not the best person to be carrying the torch for Title IX enforcement.

All we know for sure is that an injustice has occurred that will never be quite made right: either Manning has gotten away largely unscathed with sexually harassing someone who had no power to effectively confront the team's star player or Manning's name is being tarnished by someone over an immature act that was stupid but not unforgivable.

The media and the public have largely sided with Manning all along. Manning ran some early morning laps as punishment by the school and he later paid an undisclosed settlement to his accuser but he has hardly been significantly damaged by the situation. Manning admits to at least acting immaturely at the time, so the gracious thing for him to do at this point when the subject is raised would be to say something like this (in his own words and with his trademark Southern drawl): "I regret the way I acted on that day. It was foolish and childish and not the way that I was raised. I learned from that incident and have not acted that way again. I am sorry about the pain and embarrassment my actions caused to all parties concerned." Manning would not be in legal or public relations jeopardy after making such a statement.

If Manning had truly done nothing and was a victim of a completely false accusation, then I could understand him being angry and defiant and refusing to apologize--but he has admitted that he did something that was at least inappropriate and the gracious thing to do would be to apologize to that extent as opposed to making unfunny jokes about the situation or quips at his accuser's expense.

In other words, rise above the fray and be the bigger person in the situation. During my law school studies, one thing that I have learned about negotiated settlements of litigation is that many times a matter can resolved by a simple apology; one party feels as if his or her feelings/personhood have been attacked/demeaned and that party simply wants the offending party to acknowledge this.

*********************

How many PED cheaters or "recreational" drug abusers just admit to their wrongdoing after being caught red-handed? I don't have any hard and fast numbers on the subject but my subjective impression/recollection is that it is very rare for an athlete to just say something like, "Yeah, you caught me. I did it and I was wrong. I need help for my problem, I am going to get that help and I am going to return after my suspension as a better person and athlete." Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones come to mind as athletes who literally issued bold faced lies when they were first accused of being cheaters.

The most recent elite level athlete to be caught using a banned substance is five-time Grand Slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova. Sharapova tested positive for a banned substance that, frankly, I had never heard of before (meldonium); apparently, meldonium can enhance performance by increasing stamina and endurance, two qualities that would be rather useful for a professional tennis player.

Watching sports is fun because you see competitors on a level playing field pushing themselves mentally, physically and emotionally to be the best within a framework of fair rules. I firmly disagree with the notion that because cheating can be hard to detect there should be no rules; that is like saying that many murders are unsolved so let's legalize murder. Without laws, society would descend into barbarism and without rules sports would have no meaning. Cheating is hard to detect and it is a sad reality that some cheaters will prosper but having rules in place backed by effective enforcement means that many cheaters will be caught and many potential cheaters will be dissuaded by the possibility of being caught.

I also think that the records/statistics of convicted cheaters should be marked in some way by a literal or symbolic asterisk. We don't know when Sharapova started cheating or if this is the only kind of cheating she has done, so to my mind all of her records and statistics are suspect. I think that honors that are awarded by vote should be stripped away from cheaters and given to the non-cheater who received the most votes. For instance, if a baseball player is suspended for PED use at any time in his career then if he won an MVP that MVP should be given to the next player in the voting. Maybe that sounds draconian but I think that it would be a more powerful deterrent to cheating than just about anything else.

In an individual sport like tennis or some track and field events, trophies/medals should be stripped from cheaters.

Team sports are more complicated. While individual honors can and should be taken away as stipulated above, if one player on the 45 man roster of a Super Bowl champion is caught using PEDs, it does not seem fair to punish the whole team; that player should receive a lengthy suspension and a stiff financial penalty. However, if a certain percentage of players from a championship team were found guilty of cheating, I think that it might be reasonable to strip that team of a championship.

The NCAA has "vacated" wins and championships achieved by schools that cheated, which in essence means imposing collective punishment on the innocent and guilty alike.

Harsh penalties are the best way to encourage internal policing within an organization. If an NFL player sees his teammate cheating but knows that the cheating might help the team win and will not have a negative impact on his career then he may look the other way--but if that player knows that widespread cheating could lead to collective punishment then he will be more likely to speak up.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pete Rose Does not Belong Back in Baseball but He Belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Pete Rose broke Major League Baseball's fundamental rule about gambling on the sport and he lied about breaking that rule. He deserved to receive a harsh punishment and he has received a harsh punishment: Rose accepted a lifetime ban in 1989. That ban came with a proviso enabling Rose to apply to the MLB Commissioner for reinstatement after one year but now that Rob Manfred has become the third consecutive MLB Commissioner to reject Rose's application for reinstatement it appears that Rose's lifetime ban will most likely never be lifted.

It is understandable why MLB refuses to let Rose have an active role in the sport as an executive, field manager or instructor. Rose continues to bet on sports--including baseball--and even though Rose now apparently does his gambling legally he has failed to "reconfigure his life," which was the standard imposed upon him in order to be reinstated. If Rose were not a compulsive gambler and/or a very stubborn/defiant person then he would have stopped gambling completely and stopped associating himself with casinos. Rose's complaint that this is the only way he can support himself after being banned from baseball does not hold water; Rose remains an immensely popular figure who does not need to be involved with gambling in order to support himself.

If Rose were permitted to work in baseball this would not only reduce the deterrence value of the lifetime ban but it would also potentially create huge problems; Rose clearly cannot stop gambling and if he has access to insider knowledge about baseball players and teams then the possibilities for fixing games (or simply having an unfair advantage as a wagerer) are huge. That is not to say that Rose ever fixed a game or that he would fix a game now but it is understandable that MLB does not want to take such a risk with a compulsive gambler who is also a serial liar.

Rose would have a lot to offer to the sport if he had not chosen this life path but he has to suffer the natural consequences of his mistakes. Rose's exile from the sport he loves is tragic but it is a self-imposed tragedy and it is a tragedy that he could have mitigated over the past few decades if he had made some sincere efforts to "reconfigure his life." Rose reminds me of an alcoholic who says "I can stop drinking whenever I want" but refuses to stop drinking even if the alcohol consumption could harm the alcoholic and/or others. Rose needs intensive therapy/treatment to control his gambling addiction and he has never sought out that help; that is his prerogative and if all of his gambling activities now are legal then no one has the legal authority to stop him but MLB provided Rose with a standard for reinstatement--life reconfiguration--and Rose has failed to meet that standard.

However, Rose's eligibility for Hall of Fame induction should be restored. When Rose agreed to accept the lifetime ban with the possibility of applying for reinstatement, he did not forfeit his eligibility for Baseball Hall of Fame induction. Rose became ineligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame on February 4, 1991, when the Baseball Hall of Fame passed a rule prohibiting anyone who is on MLB's permanently ineligible list from being inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rose is the only living person on the permanently ineligible list, which means that the rule was passed purely to exclude him (it may theoretically exclude other people in the future but he is the only living person affected by the rule now). Without this new rule, Rose would have appeared on the Baseball Writers Association of America Hall of Fame ballot from 1992-2006. The writers could have studied the evidence at their leisure and made their own determination about whether or not Rose belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Clearly, based on the merits of his skills and accomplishments, Rose would be a first ballot Hall of Famer. A case could be made that based on character he should be excluded--but the writers should at least have been given the opportunity to pass judgment and to consider that judgment over a 15 year period (assuming that Rose did not make it in immediately).

The Veterans Committee examines the Hall of Fame candidacies of any eligible candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame who is not selected after being on the BBWAA ballot but in 2008 the Veterans Committee passed a rule barring anyone from the permanently ineligible list from being considered for Hall of Fame induction. Again, this is a rule that primarily if not exclusively affects Rose.

I understand the argument that Rose's character flaws should keep him out of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I have made it clear that MLB's PED cheaters should not be inducted in the Hall of Fame because they have defiled MLB's record book. What Rose did is terrible and the way that he denied his conduct for years before begrudgingly making some admissions says a lot about Rose's character but the difference between Rose and the PED cheaters is that there is no evidence that Rose's gambling impacted the quality of his play or defiled the sport's record book. Rose should be placed on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot and if he is voted in then his plaque should not only list his pertinent accomplishments but also state that in 1989 he was placed on the permanently ineligible list because he bet on baseball. Unless or until there is evidence that Rose's playing career/statistics are tainted by his gambling Rose deserves at least the opportunity to be selected as a Baseball Hall of Famer. The lifetime ban from the sport shields MLB from any damage that Rose's compulsive gambling could cause now and punishes him in a way that will hopefully deter others from making the mistakes that he did.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Professional Tennis is Plagued by Match Fixing

In The Secret World of Tennis Match Gambling, Tomas Rios details rampant match fixing in the professional ranks. Rios explains why corruption is so pervasive in professional tennis:

Tennis is perfectly suited--in every way--for match fixing.
 

Tennis is the third-most bet upon sport in the world and, between the ATP and the Women's Tennis Association, there are 126 tournaments making up this year's tour. The sheer volume of betting and matches makes spotting suspicious activity virtually impossible in all but the most obvious and reckless cases.
 

Then there's the sport's inherent vulnerability to "spot fixing." European sportsbooks allow bettors to wager on not just matches, but sets, games, and even individual points. A corrupt player could easily throw a handful of points over the course of a match and not even the keenest observer would be able to spot it.
 

Of course, a player needs motivation to go corrupt. Tennis does a fine job of making sure players have the best motivation of all.

The "motivation" is that it costs well over $100,000 to play on the ATP or WTA tours when one includes travel costs and the cost of a full-time coach. While the top-10 players make more than $1,000,000 per year and thus have much less incentive to cheat, most tennis professionals can make more money--and guaranteed money at that--by fixing matches than they can make by trying to win prizes honestly.

A 2014 study by Ryan Rodenberg and Elihu Feustel titled "Forensic Sports Analytics: Detecting and Predicting Match-Fixing in Tennis" used betting market analysis and predictive tennis models to determine that it was likely that at least one percent of first round tennis matches over a span of more than two years were fixed. That works out to an average of 23 matches per year--and that does not include the sets, games and points that may have been thrown in "spot fixing" scams.

Rios cites a specific match from 2007 pitting the fourth ranked player in the world versus a player who barely cracked the top 100. The wagering on that match reached a fever pitch--10 times the average--and the match ended with the fourth ranked player conceding the match after claiming that he was injured. The ATP investigated the situation for over a year but could not prove any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, within the tennis community it is widely believed that the match was fixed--and that type of corruption casts a pall on the entire sport.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Emory Tate Will Long Be Remembered For Slashing Attacks and Spirited Conversation

I was shocked and saddened to find out this morning that International Master Emory Tate passed away yesterday while participating in a California chess tournament. Tate was originally from Indiana and he was a fixture on the Midwest chess scene for many years, winning six Indiana state championships in addition to claiming five Armed Forces championships and a host of other tournament wins. Tate did not receive the International Master title until he was almost 50, a testament to his hard work and persistence.

Of course, for years before Tate became an IM he was a threat to anyone he faced, even a former World Championship Candidate like Grandmaster Leonid Yudasin, who was the eighth ranked player in the world in January 1991. No article about Tate is complete without including this brilliant and beautiful game from the 1997 U.S. Masters:

FM Emory Tate vs. GM Leonid Yudasin

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 Nbd7 8. Qe2 Nc5 9. g4 b5 10. g5 Nfd7 11. Bd5 Bb7 12. Bxb7 Nxb7 13. a4 bxa4 14. Rxa4 Nbc5 15. Ra3 Qb6 16. O-O Be7 17. Kh1 O-O 18. b4 Na4 19. Nf5 exf5 20. Nd5 Qd8 21. exf5 Re8 22. Qh5 Nab6 23. Rh3 Nf8 24. f6 Nxd5 25. fxg7 Kxg7 26. Bb2+ Kg8 27. g6 Bf6 28. gxf7+ Kh8 29. Rg1 Re1 30. Rxe1 Bxb2 31. Re8 Nf6 32. Rxd8 Rxd8 33. Qh6 Ne4 34. Qh4 Nf6 35. Rg3 N8d7 36. Qh6 1-0

Tate justifiably loved to show that game to anyone who was interested. I personally watched Tate rattle off those moves from memory on several occasions. His descriptions of the lines he analyzed during the game were mesmerizing and entertaining. It is important to note that when Tate showed the game it did not feel like he was showing off; Tate loved chess, loved to talk about chess, loved to analyze chess and that passion shined through when he discussed this game, so what an observer experienced was Tate's joy and the wonders of chess, as opposed to someone bragging about beating a top GM.

I faced Tate six times in over the board play from 1997-2008, scoring two draws and four losses. In the first round of the Oberlin (Ohio) Open on 4/29/2000, I missed a chance to defeat Tate (who candidly admitted after the game that he had stood worse) and he finished the game in his typical style:

David Friedman (2096) vs. Emory Tate (2443)

1. Nf3 Nc6 2. g3 e5 3. d3 d5 4. Bg2 Bg4 5. Nbd2 f5 6. c4 d4!? (6... e4) 7. Qa4 Qd7 8. Qb5 Bd6? (8... e4 is a better try, but White has a clear advantage after 9. Ne5) 9. a3!? (9. c5 Bf8 10. Qxb7 is winning for White.) 9... Nf6!? (9... Rb8 is more prudent but definitely not in keeping with Tate's style.) 10. Qxb7!? (I could not resist the bait. White is better after 10. c5 Be7 11. Qxb7. The point is that e5 is not adequately defended. White is winning after ... Rb8? [11... O-O is Black's best try, leading to a White advantage after 12. Qb3+ Kh8 13. Ng5+=] 12. Nxe5 Rxb7 13. Bxc6 Qxc6 14. Nxc6+-) 10... Rb8 Black has a lot of play for the sacrificed pawn. 11. Qa6 O-O? (11... e4 is more in keeping with Tate's style.) 12. c5!? (12. Ng5) 12... Be7 13. Ng5 Nd5 14. Qc4 Rbd8 15. Qxd5+ Qxd5 16. Bxd5+ Rxd5 17. Ne6!? (17. Nc4) 17... Rc8=+ 18. h3 Bh5 19. g4 fxg4 20. hxg4? (20. Ne4 is a better try.) 20... Bf7-+ The Ne6 is trapped. Black is winning. (20... Bxg4? 21. Nxg7 Kxg7 22.Rg1 h5 23. f3=) 21. Nxc7 (21. Nxg7 is a better try.) 21... Rxc7 22. b4 a5 23. b5 Nd8 24. a4 Rdxc5 25. Ba3 Rc3 26. Bxe7?? A blunder in a lost position. Rc1+ 0-1

Shortly after I played this game, my friend NM Mark Kalafatas told me, "There are NO better tactical players in the country than Emory Tate. He has a genuine and very rare gift in that regard and has beaten most of the best players in the country at one time or another. I think he is the Earnie Shavers of chess...He (Shavers) gave Ali a good fight and was a terribly powerful puncher that could knock out anyone with a single blow."

Tate loved to talk about a variety of subjects and he was willing and eager to analyze chess games with anyone at any time, regardless of a person's rating or status. I enjoyed the time that I spent with him at various tournaments over the years and regret that I will never again have the opportunity to watch him analyze his win against Yudasin.

IM Emory Tate will be long remembered and dearly missed by anyone who was fortunate enough to cross his path. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Djokovic Once Again Bests Federer in a Grand Slam Final

A significant amount of the coverage leading up to the U.S. Open Final focused on Roger Federer as an ageless tennis deity who has remade his game and even developed a new shot (which--with his characteristic humblebrag modesty--he calls "SABR," meaning Sneak Attack by Roger) that supposedly is an unstoppable weapon. That is all well and good, except that this coverage has been rendered largely meaningless by a story that should be the headline grabber but likely will not capture as much attention as all of the praise that has been heaped on Federer: the real story is two-fold, namely (1) Novak Djokovic defeated Federer in the U.S. Open Final in four sets and (2) Djokovic is clearly the best player in the world, even if he has not named a shot after himself or convinced writers that it is their sworn duty to wax poetic about his every breath, move and statement.

Much of the mainstream media coverage of tennis defies logical analysis. It does not make sense to assert that (1) Federer is as good as he has ever been and (2) that he is the greatest player of all-time while relentlessly ignoring Federer's struggles versus Rafael Nadal and Djokovic. If Federer is as good as he has ever been and if Federer truly established himself years ago as the greatest player of all-time then he should still be winning Grand Slams. Otherwise, it is only logical to assert--at a minimum--that even if Federer achieved greatest of all-time status at some point in the distant past he has since been supplanted by Nadal and Djokovic. Logically and conceptually it simply does not compute to say that Federer is the greatest of all-time and that he has developed a new shot that makes him better than ever but that the successes of Nadal and Djokovic are irrelevant in terms of the greatest player of all-time debate--and this does not even take into account the fact that a very good case could be made that Bjorn Borg is better than all three of them.

There is no question that Federer is very durable. That durability has enabled him to amass some impressive career numbers, including his record-setting 17 Grand Slam singles titles. However, Federer has appeared in 66 Grand Slam events and his .258 Grand Slam winning percentage is not even close to the record Grand Slam winning percentage posted by Borg (.407). Borg never lost in the first round of a Grand Slam, he lost in the second round just once and he made it to at least the quarterfinals in 20 of his 27 appearances (.741). Federer has lost in the first round of a Grand Slam six times, he has lost in the second round once and he has advanced to the quarterfinals in 46 of his 66 appearances (.697).

Federer's head to head struggles versus Nadal are well documented, with the tally currently standing at 23-10 in Nadal's favor, including 9-2 in Grand Slam matches and 6-2 in Grand Slam Finals. Nadal has not been nearly as durable as Federer, though Nadal has been durable enough to win at least one Grand Slam for 10 straight years (2005-14), breaking the mark of eight set by Borg and later matched by Pete Sampras and Federer. Nadal is tied with Sampras for second on the all-time list with 14 Grand Slam singles titles but Nadal's Grand Slam winning percentage (.326) is much better than Federer's or Sampras' (.269). Injuries have limited Nadal at various points in his career and especially since the French Open in 2014 (Nadal's last Grand Slam singles title) but Federer has suffered an even longer drought, with his last Grand Slam winning coming at Wimbledon in 2012 (Federer's only Grand Slam title since 2010).

The Djokovic-Federer head to head rivalry is now tied at 21-21, but Djokovic enjoys the edge in Grand Slam matches (8-6) and Grand Slam Finals (3-1). Federer won five of their first six head to head encounters but Djokovic has captured 20 of the next 36, including each of the past three times that they have met in a Grand Slam Final. Djokovic has won 10 Grand Slam titles in 44 appearances (.227) while losing twice in the first round and twice in the second round and reaching the quarterfinals 34 times (.773, a percentage even better than Borg's).

If Federer had defeated Djokovic in the U.S. Open Final then this would have been cited as yet another piece of evidence that Federer is indisputably the greatest player of all-time--but Djokovic's win against Federer seemingly does not in the slightest way dent Federer's claim to that title. When Nadal beat Federer like a drum, Federer's fans made the excuse that Nadal was a clay court specialist. Now, Djokovic is beating Federer on hard courts (U.S. Open), on grass courts (Wimbledon) and on clay (2012 French Open, 2015 Italian Open) but nothing can seem to loosen Federer's supposedly secure grip on the mythical greatest of all-time title.

If Federer were washed up and just playing out the string then one could make the case that at least some of his losses to Nadal and Djokovic should not count when determining the pecking order among these three players--but the reality is that Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have been in or reasonably close to their primes from late 2008 to the present. During that time, Federer has been ranked number one in the world for 65 weeks, Nadal has been ranked number one in the world for 141 weeks and Djokovic has been ranked number one in the world for 164 weeks. During that same time span, Federer has won five Grand Slam singles titles, Nadal has won nine Grand Slam singles titles and Djokovic has won nine Grand Slam singles titles. It is difficult to make a reasonable case that Federer is better than Nadal and, considering Djokovic's recent success (three Grand Slam wins in 2015 while appearing in each of the four Grand Slam Finals), it is at least arguable syllogistically that Djokovic is better than Federer as well; after all, if Federer is as good as ever and Djokovic is beating Federer on multiple surfaces than Djokovic is not only better than Federer now but he is better than Federer has ever been.

Just once, it would be refreshing to see a Federer supporter in the media write an article making a point something on the order of "As Federer advanced through this tournament I was reminded of why I like his game so much and why he is so highly regarded but after Federer lost to (Djokovic or Nadal) I was also reminded that, while Federer excels in wiping out the lesser lights, he has never established clear superiority over the other two great players of his time." Federer's SABR turns into a butter knife when he faces Nadal or Djokovic and it is difficult to picture Federer having the necessary mental or physical energy to contend with the relentless Borg in his prime.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

ESPN Whacks Patriots in Knees With Regurgitated and Unsubstantiated Allegations

After NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's high-priced lawyers got caught with their legal briefs down and were chastised by federal court Judge Richard Berman for their role in helping Goodell impose his own brand of what Judge Berman termed "industrial justice," it was inevitable and predictable that Goodell would put the mafia-style hit (metaphorically speaking) on the Patriots (which is not to suggest that he ordered or told ESPN to do anything but merely that ESPN--like any loyal capo--knows what the big boss wants done and takes care of it as quickly as possible). So, ESPN--the official propaganda mouthpiece of the NFL--just issued a supposedly bombshell-filled investigative report detailing how Goodell's bumbling of the alleged ball deflation matter is actually a "make up call" for Goodell's handling of the so-called "Spygate" scandal.

One thing that "Spygate" has in common with the alleged ball deflation scandal is that, in both instances, ESPN misreported the facts. During "Spygate," ESPN repeated a never verified--and since debunked--allegation that the New England Patriots illegally recorded the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. Not content to misreport the facts during the immediate aftermath of "Spygate," ESPN resurrected that debunked story this year and had to issue a public--albeit buried--apology. Fast forward to this year's alleged ball deflation scandal, when ESPN--specifically Chris Mortensen--incorrectly reported that 11 of New England's 12 footballs were measured at 2 p.s.i. below the minimum permitted levels at halftime of the 2015 AFC Championship Game. ESPN's motto should be "Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Story That Can Garner Ratings and Revenue."

The new ESPN article contains no new facts but plenty of salacious allegations and quotes from unnamed sources. It would be shocking if it does not contain factual errors, since that is a staple of ESPN reporting, particularly concerning the Patriots. The gist of the story is that a lot of teams that have lost to the Patriots suspect deeply in their hearts that the Patriots cheat in some way. These teams cannot actually prove this but they are pretty sure it is true. Supposedly, Goodell saved the NFL from doom by burying the truth about the Patriots' cheating but promising that if anyone ever cheats again then he will throw the book at them. Thus, after Mortensen made his erroneous report about the Patriots' alleged ball deflation, Goodell jumped in quickly with his "make up call" for supposedly not dealing with "Spygate" harshly enough.

Since Goodell, via ESPN, is determined to retry "Spygate" in the court of public opinion after getting trounced in an actual court regarding the alleged ball deflation scandal, it is worth revisiting the truth about what actually did--and did not--happen during "Spygate." YourTeamCheats is an excellent guide and I will quote from some of that site's research:

The announced reason that the Patriots were punished was for filming their 2007 regular season game against the Jets from a sideline location instead of from an approved filming location (e.g. a press or media box). The actual reason was because they were told to do something by Goodell and didn't do it...

The Patriots were not punished for filming the Jets defensive signals, as that has never been forbidden by the NFL. As of 2006, however, where you film the game and signals is limited to approved locations. Coincidentally, the Jets had done nearly the exact same thing a year earlier but were not punished, even a little bit, by NFL commissioner and former Jets public relations intern Roger Goodell...

Filming your opponents' signals is--and always has been--completely legal, even today. After a league memo to all clubs in 2006, however, you can't do it from a location where the team could potentially use it during the same game.

As Coach Bill Belichick noted in 2015, 80,000 people can see his team's defensive signals: millions more if a TV camera pans by them. The signals are not meant to be hidden, just as in baseball a third-base coach's signals are not meant to be hidden. They should, however, be properly encrypted, but that is the signaling team's responsibility.

Every single NFL team films every single game they play from multiple angles. As they do this, are they supposed to locate and black out the one part of the stadium where the defensive coach is? Should it be a roaming dot if he moves? Obviously not, because the sidelines are just another part of the larger football field and game.

Spygate was:
  • 10% about where they were filming from
  • 90% about Belichick stupidly thumbing his nose at Goodell's new rule, and
  • 0% about what was being filmed
It should have been called WrongLocationgate or F*ckYouRogergate, because there was absolutely no element of spying involved.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Judge Berman Deflates Roger Goodell's Overinflated Perception of his Power

The deflated football "scandal" is a lot of nonsense that was probably incited by people jealous of the New England Patriots' success (either people in the NFL office who used to work for rival teams and/or people who are currently affiliated with rival NFL teams) and clearly fueled by the sloppy reporting/reckless commentary of "journalists" like Bob Kravitz, Mike Wilbon and Chris Mortensen, each of whom has played fast and loose with the facts while issuing broad, sweeping pronouncements that they are not qualified to make concerning issues of sport, fairness and the law (Peter King also filed a report that was subsequently debunked, but at least he had the good sense and grace to apologize, unlike the defiant Mortensen and the bizarrely proud Kravitz, who listed his self-promoting, bombastic coverage of the story as his "drops the mic" moment on his self-evaluation of his past year's work).

Federal District Court Judge Richard Berman just inserted some common sense--and sound legal principles--into the situation with a scathing 40 page ruling that eviscerates NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for the heavy-handed, sloppy and unfair way that Goodell and his cronies conducted the investigation and punishment of New England quarterback Tom Brady. After spending millions of dollars, the NFL could not come up with one piece of hard (or even circumstantial) evidence proving that the footballs in question were illegally deflated, let alone that Brady had anything to do with the alleged illegal deflation: the scientific analysis of the footballs in question is, at best, inconclusive, and there is no proof that Brady had anything to do with deflating the footballs even if it is true that the footballs were deliberately deflated in a manner that violates NFL rules. Nevertheless, Goodell suspended Brady for four games (under a bizarre theory equating ball deflation with illegal steroid use, a notion that an incredulous Judge Berman summarily dismissed) and media members dragged Brady's name through the mud, saying that Brady should accept the suspension (or at most bargain for a slight reduction) to just close the matter. I am sure that if someone punished Kravitz, Wilbon or Mortensen on the basis of no evidence those guys would just roll over and accept it.

Instead, Brady took the NFL to court and pounded Goodell even more soundly than Brady's Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game. Judge Berman expressed unconcealed disdain for the NFL's "independent" investigation (the mocking quotes are Judge Berman's) and chastised the league for refusing to grant Brady the opportunity to cross-examine his accusers and see relevant evidence. So, contrary to the incessant media bleating that we have been hearing for months, it is actually the NFL--not Brady--who obstructed the fair investigation of this matter; you can take the word of Kravitz, Wilbon and Mortensen about this point of law or you can take the word of a federal judge who comprehensively reviewed the matter and actually knows how a legal investigation is supposed to work. Goodell also repeatedly moved the goal posts on Brady, changing what Brady was being charged with doing and what basis was being used to determine Brady's punishment. Judge Berman waded through the NFL's sloppy investigation and bizarre, draconian discipline and voided Goodell's four game suspension of Brady. Keep in mind that federal courts rarely overturn an arbitrator's decision but in this case it is so obvious that Goodell neither conducted a competent investigation nor fairly served as the arbitrator of his own ruling that Judge Berman had little choice but to decide the case in Brady's favor.

The NFL has already announced that it will appeal the verdict. Maybe the league will achieve victory at the Circuit Court level, though that seems doubtful since the league's lawyers just lost in the District Court that they selected for this battle (they filed suit in New York because they felt that they would receive more sympathy in that jurisdiction than in any other one). The NFL's refusal to admit wrongdoing, accept defeat and move on brings to mind Grand Moff Tarkin's mocking dismissal of the idea that the Death Star should be evacuated right before Luke Skywalker blew it to smithereens: "Evacuate? In our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances."

This saga could potentially drag on for years as it works its way through the federal court system but anyone who enjoys football, respects the legal process and values journalistic integrity hopes that when all is said and done we will no longer have to hear from Goodell, his "independent" investigator Ted Wells, Kravitz (whose most recent column about the Judge Berman ruling betrays a complete inability and/or unwillingness to understand what Judge Berman decided), Wilbon, Mortensen and everyone else who has added much heat but little light to the matter at hand.