Quote of the Day

“This is a wonderful country, and I think everybody agrees on that. There are things that in our country that can improve, and I don’t think that by acknowledging as a white male that America isn’t the same for me maybe as it is for everybody, the same great place, that we’re complicit in the problem or that we’re saying America isn’t a great place. If we’re saying there are incidents of oppression, systematically or individually, in this country, I don’t think saying, ‘Well in Country X, Y or Z it’s 10 times worse,’ is making things any better. I think that may be true, but why can’t we improve?

“I play in a league that’s 70 percent black, and my peers, guys that I come to work with, guys that I respect, who are very socially aware, intellectual guys, if they identify something that they think is worth putting their reputations on the line [for], creating controversy, I’m going to listen to those guys. And I respect the anthem, I would never kneel for it, and we all come from different walks of life, and we think differently about the anthem and the flag and what that means. But I think you can respect and find a lot of truth in what these guys are talking about and not kneel. Those aren’t mutually exclusive ideas.”

-Patriots defensive end Chris Long, giving what I think is the most balanced and helpful perspective on the national anthem protests that I’ve seen yet.

14 Worthless Predictions for the NFL Season

  1. Dak Prescott (QB, Cowboys) will win the starting job in Dallas and be named Offensive Rookie of the Year.
  2. Dallas will win the NFC East.
  3. Jeff Fisher will be the first coach to be fired this season, after the Rams start 2-6
  4. The Houston Texas will win the AFC South.
  5. Jimmy Garoppolo (QB, Patriots) will go 1-3 as a starter.
  6. The Cleveland Browns will go 10-6, make the playoffs, and Robert Griffin III will be Comeback Player of the Year.
  7. The Oakland Raiders will win the AFC West.
  8. The Carolina Panthers will win the NFC South.
  9. The Vikings will end the season with Shaun Hill at quarterback, after another season-ending injury for Sam Bradford.
  10. Falcons QB Matt Ryan will be benched before Week 8.
  11. The Green Bay Packers will win the NFC North and the NFC Championship.
  12. Aaron Rodgers will be the 2016 NFL MVP.
  13. The New England Patriots will win the AFC East and the AFC Championship.
  14. The Patriots win the Super Bowl, and Tom Brady announces his retirement.

On Religious Liberty, the NFL Fumbles In Their Own Endzone

As a lifelong fan of the NFL in general and the St. Louis Los Angeles Rams in particular, the months of March through July are not my favorite sports cycle. There are still, however, things I look forward to from my favorite sport in its offseason–the drama of the draft, the excitement of free agency, and the revealing of the upcoming season schedule. When it comes to giving its fans fun and entertainment off the field, few organizations do it quite like the National Football League.

But yesterday, Roger Goodell and the league made me wish football had been a bit quieter this spring.

News broke on Sunday that the league has threatened the city of Atlanta with losing its potential bid to host a Super Bowl, if Georgia passes House Bill 757. HB 757 is a religious freedom bill which stipulates that pastors and other religious clergy cannot be sued for refusing to perform services (such as a same-sex wedding) that violate their religious beliefs. The bill also extends this protection to “faith-based organizations,” closely held, IRS-designated religious institutions that would likewise possibly be pressured to lend services to events or products contrary to a confession of faith.

This law is, of course, a response to recent court cases that have found bakers, florists, and other professionals liable in discrimination suits because they would not create for or participate in a same-sex wedding. Similar to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, HB 757 is designed not to empower discrimination against particular groups but to preemptively protect religious organizations and individuals. There is absolutely nothing in HB 757 that enables public services to deny access for LGBT citizens. Rather, the law would force the government to demonstrate a compelling interest when seeking to punish conscientious Georgians.

The NFL, however, disagrees. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the league publicly implied that passage of HB 757 would disqualify Atlanta from hosting football’s biggest night:

The statement from league spokesman Brian McCarthy reads, “NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”

As a pundit on Twitter paraphrased it: “Lovely representative democracy you have there, Georgia. Shame if someone manhandled it.”

To be fair to the league, their statement doesn’t explicitly deny that there’d be a Super Bowl in a state where religious liberty is taken seriously. But the NFL’s statement was in fact a reply to a question posed by the Journal-Constitution, and it’s difficult to read it as anything but a veiled threat against the state. It would have been quite easy (and very NFL-like) to not comment publicly on ongoing legislation, or to simply observe that the league doesn’t itself dictate political beliefs to its 32 teams and owners.

And it would have been much better for the NFL to have done that. The league’s moral grandstanding here borders on the ridiculous.

First, it should be noted that the NFL’s appeal to its own policies is hypocritical at best. Current NFL policy, for example, prohibits the use of recreational marijuana. Yet the NFL continues to field teams and host events in states where recreational marijuana is legal, like Colorado (which hosts the newest NFL champion Denver Broncos) and Washington (home to the recent Super Bowl winning Seattle Seahawks). The NFL has shown no urgency to make sure its internal policies align with state law up until now. I highly doubt this is an earnest change of heart.

Secondly, by implicitly threatening religious liberty, the NFL is turning on many of its most legendary and important people. Pro football has benefited enormously from the platforms of religious athletes, whether old-timers like Reggie White, Herschel Walker and Tony Dungy, or younger players like Russell Wilson and Drew Brees. Indeed, the NFL, far more than major league baseball or the NBA, depends on the employment and performance of religious players and coaches throughout its organization. The Atlanta Falcons, like other teams, have featured their chaplains in their organizational literature and PR. There’s no question that the NFL and its member companies have marketed themselves as friendly to the people they now imply may be bigots.

Third, the league is really not in a position to lecture taxpayers about their ethics. Pro football owners are notorious for passing along the costs of exorbitant new stadiums onto cities, while the NFL, which makes sure to get its cut of everything licensed by the “shield,” files with the IRS as a “non-profit” coalition of 32 individual businesses. In other words, the NFL reaps the financial harvest that comes when taxpayers–the same taxpayers who elect representatives, who then sponsor and pass legislation like HB 757–are asked to subsidize pro football, and don’t see any of the enormous profits come back to them via taxes.

If the NFL wants to criticize Georgia’s politics, it should first profusely thank Georgia and several other states for essentially sponsoring pro-football at taxpayers’ expense and the owners’ (and commissioner’s) profit. As it stands, if the NFL wants such a one-sided relationship with cities, it should probably abstain from farcical moral grandstanding on representative politics.

Lastly, pro football is not really in any position to wax ethical about…well, anything. This is the league, after all, that is facing a tumultuous legal and cultural battle over concussions, and recently settled with former players over accusations that the league withheld information about the effects of concussions on mental health. This is the league, after all, that until 2 years ago repeatedly turned a blind and apathetic eye towards domestic abuse, changing their tune only when media pressure was applied in the Ray Rice case. The NFL is good at entertaining and competitive sports, but it’s lousy at giving lectures on morality and decency.

As a football fan, I enjoy the league, even while I have criticized its flaws and hypocrisy. If the NFL wants to learn from its past failures, I am happy to hear it. What I am not happy to hear are lectures from an organization that profits from people with a conscience and taxpayers who let it skate. If the league wants to make leftist culture warring its newest offseason activity, count me out.

My Super Bowl Preview

On Sunday evening, the NFL will play its final game of the 2015-16 season to determine its league champion. Super Bowl 50 kicks off at 6:30PM ET. CBS has exclusive broadcast rights to the game, though NFL.com has said it will stream the halftime show (performances by Coldplay, Beyonce, and Bruno Mars) online.

Here’s what you need to know for the big game: Continue reading My Super Bowl Preview

The Future of Football

At the New York Review of Books, David Maraniss surveys the ongoing debate over football’s merits (or lack thereof). He evaluates the dialogue between two books, one by Steve Almond titled Against Football, and a response by Gregg Easterbrook called The Game’s Not Over. Continue reading The Future of Football

Be Better Than the Bengals

In sports, character and self-control matter every bit as much as talent. You won’t see many demonstrations of that truth more glaring than Saturday night’s NFL playoff game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers. Continue reading Be Better Than the Bengals