Saturday, January 24, 2015

Big Joke...Deflated Football

The inordinate nationwide interest (furor, too) vis-a-vis the slightly deflated football used by the Boston Patriots in their walloping of the Indianapolis Colts for the right to play in the Super Bowl is strange, at least perhaps to those like me, who figure that cheating has always been a part of the sports-scene. Whether it's a boxer “taking a dive” or nearly the entire Chicago White Sox team in 1919 “fixing” the world series and later called the “Black Sox,” it's just par for the course to get an “edge” over the opponent, often by any means necessary.

In the 1940s-50s, some starters on the University of Kentucky basketball teams apparently “fixed” games not necessarily to lose but simply to guarantee the right point-spread for gamblers and/or themselves (with payoffs) to get well. The reason the players could pull it off was simply that they were so much better than other players that they could hit and miss at will. Three players on another UK team in the early 1990s “fixed” foul shooting in at least one game (maybe more) when in confusion after a foul call on Vandy they twice substituted a player at the foul-line who was not fouled but who was a sure shot for one who wasn't. Nobody caught the subterfuge at the time and the players just figured they were doing “what comes naturally”—getting an edge.

More seriously, during 2009-11 there was a “bounty hunter” effort among some of the NFL New Orleans Saints players and coaches, in which players received bonuses for knocking opposing players out of the game, i.e., hurting them badly enough to gain an “edge.” Quarterbacks knocked out of a game represented an especial accomplishment, removing the most key player. A coach and player were actually suspended for a year but other players in on the butchering just received suspensions for a specific number of games. A broken limb means 6 weeks on the sidelines but a concussion, a favored outcome, while a short-term disability, can ruin a player's life.

Why all the hubbub about the deflated ball? MONEY! The average yearly player's salary in the NFL is a paltry $1.9 million, much less than in the NBA, MLB, and NHL at $5.15 million, $3.2 million, and $2.4 million, respectively. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is guaranteed $110 million 2015-19 while Patriot quarterback Tom Brady (deflated football) will make $24 million 2015-17. The 2014 Super Bowl winning player's (Seattle) bonus was $157,000 counting the playoffs, too. Compare that to the 2014 World Series winning player's bonus of $388,606, not counting the playoffs, which bumped it closer to half a million.

Just as Tennessee Ernie Ford used to sing about the coal miner selling his soul to the company store, the professional athlete, especially in football, sells his body for the highest bid. The use of all kinds of drugs that enhance short-term skills cause long-term problems including everything from suicide to Alzheimer's to broken bodies. The baseball scandals of the last few years are just the tip of the iceberg—human-growth-hormone and other drugs pumping up the bodies of folks like Barry Bonds (artificial hitting records) and Alex Rodriguez, suspended for the entire 2014 baseball season. According to Baseball Reference.com, A-Rod's career salary is at $356,285,104.

Neither Patriot coach Belichick nor quarterback Brady had any knowledge of anything as dastardly as “fixing” a football for a game played in the driving rain, according to what both said in separate press conferences. A while back, Belichick—or at least the organization—was fined a half-million for spying on another team in order to discover its defensive signals. I believe spying on other teams doing anything is considered part of the game, so I was surprised at such outrage by the NFL, which lately has been trying to make itself responsible for punishing domestic-violence offenders in its ranks, something that belongs to law enforcement and the courts—another sham.

Players DO strive to win games and honors, as they often claim, though sometimes sanctimoniously; however television, the driver of the huge amounts of money for both players and organizations, corrupts everything it touches. The winning-player's share in the 1968 World Series was $10,937 as opposed to that of 2014, $388,606. That says it all. Players and organizations DO cheat. Spectators know this and generally don't care.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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