SBD/December 10, 2012/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
The NFL has been a league that has "talked about player safety, player conduct and the value of 'protecting the shield,'" but in the aftermath of the second death of an active NFL player in two weeks, it is "time to rethink how it's addressing some of the less discussed issues affecting its brand," according to Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN.com. Cowboys DT Josh Brent has been charged with intoxicated manslaughter following a drunk-driving accident that killed teammate Jerry Brown. That comes just one week after the murder-suicide involving Chiefs LB Jovan Belcher. The "dirtiest of the NFL's little secrets -- drunken driving, domestic violence and guns -- have become major headlines," and the time for "relegating them to secondary status in the news cycle has passed." The problem is these issues "don't seem to rate nearly as high on the league's list of issues that must be addressed." They get "treated as if they are more correctable issues than they actually are, the kind that can be handled with simple condemnation by commissioner Roger Goodell or a few thoughtful seminars at the league's rookie symposium." Chadiha: "One tragic death is already too many for the NFL. Two lets people know that some players aren't nearly as in control of their actions as they might think. How many drunken driving stories have we heard in this year alone? How many tales of domestic violence get reported every season?" The league is "supposed to hold itself to a higher standard," something Goodell "is always preaching." If the NFL "truly is going to carry that mantle, it needs to take the lead on these issues." The league must "start cracking down in ways that will elicit significant changes." Talk to enough people in the league office and they will "gloat over how heavy-handed punishment has re-educated several players regarding violence in the game." That same approach "has to be taken with drunken driving, domestic violence and guns" (ESPN.com, 12/8). The AP's Jim Litke wrote recent incidents have "left the league facing questions not only about efforts to safeguard players on the field but whether it's doing enough to help them stay out of harm's way once they step outside the white lines" (AP, 12/9).
CONSTANT EDUCATION: NFL VP/Player Engagement Troy Vincent said that alcohol education "is a cornerstone of the league's rookie education program." Vincent said, "That particular subject matter is one that is a constant. There is constant education." USA TODAY's Lindsay Jones noted prior to the season, each team "holds a meeting for all coaches and players in which league officials as well as law enforcement officials discuss alcohol, banned substances, prescription drugs and guns" (USATODAY.com, 12/8). ESPN.com's Dan Graziano wrote Brown's death "serves as a reminder of why it's so important for the league to make its players aware of the seriousness of the issue, and the number of drunken driving cases the league still deals with serves as a reminder that the message isn't sinking in." The NFL and the NFLPA "would do well to make this issue a higher, more public priority going forward than they have in the past" (ESPN.com, 12/8). Former NFLer and former coach Dan Reeves said, "I don't know that anybody has the answer, to be honest. They're human beings, kids in most of the cases like this, and they're going to make mistakes" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/10). In Milwaukee, Bob Wolfley noted NBC's Bob Costas and Tony Dungy last night "talked about what coaches in the NFL can do about warning players about drinking and driving." Costas said, "Drinking and driving is a societal problem to be sure, but it's perhaps even more difficult to understand when it involves a football player" (JSONLINE.com, 12/9).
THE SAFE RIDE PROGRAM: CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman noted the NFL's Safe Rides program "has all but died." It is still "available for players to use with services provided by the union and teams," but many players "don't use it because of distrust." Some players "suspect -- wrongly -- that teams place hidden microphones in the cars or the drivers sell information to tabloid newspapers." There is "no proof this happens but players believe it so they refuse to use the team sponsored service." Several NFLers indicated that fellow players are "not using the union provided service as much as they should" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/8). ESPN's Chris Mortensen noted players fear they "will have their activity monitored and be held accountable for how frequently they go out, what time they're leaving the clubs and certainly where they were visiting." They feel that "some of that confidentiality would be breached" ("Sunday NFL Countdown," ESPN, 12/9). Mothers Against Drunk Driving CEO Debbie Weir said that a three-year-old partnership between MADD and the NFL "consists primarily of game-day efforts to educate fans." Weir said that of the NFL's 32 teams, only the Steelers and Buccaneers "use MADD's services to educate players on the dangers of drunk driving" (USATODAY.com, 12/8).
STRONGER DETERRENT NEEDED: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote the NFL can "deter DUI incidents by dramatically increasing the punishment." Currently, a first offense "results in a fine equivalent to two game checks, barring aggravating circumstances." A source said that the league has "pushed hard for a two-game suspension for a first offense, but the union has resisted." The source said that the parties had "agreed to a one-game suspension plus a one-game fine last year for a first offense, but the finalization of that agreement has been bogged down by the parties' inability to agree to the procedures for HGH testing" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 12/8).
BETTER RATES THAN AVERAGE POPULATION: USA TODAY's Brent Schrotenboer writes the NFL "is better behaved compared to the general population." Of about 2,000 NFLers per season, 14 DUI arrests are made a year for "a rate of 0.7%." By contrast, according to FBI statistics for '11, males ages 20-24 and 25-29 each "have a DUI rate of double that, at 1.6% and 1.4%, respectively." However, the league "recognizes it has a problem on its hands, especially as it tries to repair its image as it relates to crime and player safety" (USA TODAY, 12/10). N.Y. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica said there have been “more NFL players who have killed people being drunk behind the wheel of a car than have shot their girlfriend” and then committed suicide. Lupica: “You can’t call it an epidemic, but it keeps happening and happening and happening and at some point the league has to take a look at this particular issue harder than it has in the past” ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN2, 12/9).
WAKE-UP CALL: In Oakland, Monte Poole wrote under the header, "NFL Needs To Take The Lead In Trying To Curb Violent Off-Field Behavior Of Its Players." Poole: "Domestic violence is more prevalent than breast cancer -- and can be just as deadly. It's time for the NFL to put its full tonnage behind this scourge, from education campaigns to abuser interventions to counseling programs to public service announcements." The league "knows too much to plead ignorance" and "has to recognize this and feel an obligation to react." Just as former NFLer Junior Seau's suicide "sounded an alarm on behalf of silently suffering retired players," the Belcher murder-suicide is the "piercing wake-up call on behalf of deeply troubled active players" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 12/9).
NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr "maintains a deal was close with the NHL to end the four-month lockout and kick-start the hockey season before talks broke off" last week, according to Chris Johnston of the CP. Fehr on Saturday said, “My comments from a couple of days ago stand on their own. I think we were very close." Fehr’s comments "run contrary to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who said angrily Thursday he didn’t think the owners and players were close to a deal." Fehr said that he has "not spoken directly with Bettman or deputy commissioner Bill Daly since talks crumbled, adding there have been some minor chatter between the two sides but that no future meetings have been scheduled." Fehr: “So far they have not indicated a willingness to continue discussions." But Fehr added that negotiations are "further ahead than they were a week ago, despite talks collapsing, and that a tentative agreement over a pension plan as well as discussions on money issues are largely done, with the exception of transition payments" (CP, 12/8). Fehr said that the players have "already agreed to 'massive' losses even if the league accepts what had been proposed by the union." He said, “The way this negotiation sits, the percentage that players get out of industry revenue, assuming that the current proposals on the table hold, would result in massive concessions to the owners. When they say they’re negotiating against themselves, what exactly is it? What has moved in the players’ direction? It’s not salaries. It’s not the length of contract” (TORONTO STAR, 12/8). In Toronto, Ian Shantz noted Fehr on Saturday "intimated the next move -- when and how talks might resume -- will be up to Gary Bettman and the league's owners." Fehr: "It's up to them. They're the ones that called a halt to the process" (TORONTO SUN, 12/9).
GAMES CANCELLED THROUGH DECEMBER 30: The NHL this afternoon will cancel regular season games through Dec. 30. The previous cancellation was through Dec. 15. As a result, the best-case scenario for this season is likely a 48-game schedule, which is what the NHL played from Jan. 20-May 3 after the lockout that cancelled the first three months of the '94-95 season. Execs with the NHL and NHLPA were in communication over the weekend, but as of this morning, no formal negotiations were scheduled. It is expected that the two sides will meet at some point this week (Christopher Botta, SportsBusiness Journal). The CP's Johnston noted there was "no contact between the sides on Friday as both took some time to cool off" (CP, 12/7). The AP's Ira Podell noted Daly on Friday said that he is "out of ideas how to get negotiations back on track to save the hockey season." Daly in an e-mail wrote, "I have no reason, nor any intention, of reaching out to the union right now. I have no new ideas. Maybe they do. We are happy to listen" (AP, 12/8). Meanwhile, in N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote this is "not a 'cooling off' period," but rather a "scripted gap meant to whip up dissent within the NHLPA rank-and-file and turn up the heat on Don Fehr." This is a "stretch in which ownership and management mean to scare the players into a stampede to either overthrow or sidestep their elected leader" (N.Y. POST, 12/9). The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Blair wrote, "Do not be misled by the two-month-old press releases run out by the so-called doves among the owners who met with that group of players; this is all playing out according to plan" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/9).
DEAL CLOSER THAN IT MAY APPEAR: In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi wrote the NHL and the union "have never been closer to a labor agreement." There is "still work to be done, but if you cut through the rhetoric, the sides are not far away, money-wise, on the main issues." And it "wouldn't take much for a 48-game season to be saved, with teams starting play in early January" (PHILLY.com, 12/9). ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun believes a deal "will be reached sooner rather than later, and there will be a season," as the NHL and NHLPA last week "got much closer on an agreement." Whether or not the "emotion gets in the way of a deal, well, that I can’t predict." But purely from a "framework basis, this deal is nearly there." The two sides have "essentially agreed on revenue sharing among teams, the players’ pension issues and the make-whole provision." That leaves "three key issues unresolved" -- the length of the CBA, contract term limits and no "compliance buyouts or caps on escrow in transition" (ESPN.com, 12/7). The N.Y. POST's Brooks wrote the sides are "thread-the-needle close to a deal." The league wants a "10-year CBA with an eight-year out clause." The union wants an "eight-year CBA with a six-year out clause." The league wants "five-year contract limits with seven-year limits for teams to sign their own players." The union wants "eight-year limits to apply across the board." Brooks: "That’s about it. A couple of split-the-difference items plus the issue of amnesty buyouts that arises because of what will be a steep drop in the cap for 2013-14" (N.Y. POST, 12/9). CBSSPORTS.com's Adam Gretz wrote of the owners' proposed term limits on player contracts, "Is this really so important to both sides that it would put the 2012-13 season in jeopardy? It doesn't seem like it should be, especially since both sides appear to be so close -- or were close -- when it comes to the financials" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/8). In Vancouver, Bruce Arthur writes the sides are, "other than escrow and buyouts issues, zero dollars apart, based on the offers made this week." There "should be a deal this week." There "should have been a deal last week" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/10).
SIDES HAVE NO TRUST IN ONE ANOTHER: In Pittsburgh, Dave Molinari noted the "sting of Bettman's emphatic rejection" to the union's proposal last Thursday "still showed" in Penguins C Sidney Crosby's tone and words a day later. Crosby on Friday said, "To kind of go through all of that and get a response like that is pretty devastating, I think, for everyone." He believed that there had been "genuine progress made, particularly during the early rounds of talks between the players and owners, when Bettman and Donald Fehr were not involved." Enough that he "still thinks 'the foundation is there' for an agreement in the relatively near future." Crosby: "I think that if it's a case where, like Gary said in his (news) conference, they're going to draw a line in the sand, just say that. Don't waste guys' time, in there for three days discussing stuff for three days, trying to find a way to make something work, then come in and say that" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 12/8). In Newark, Rich Chere wrote under the header, "Owners Appear To Want Total Victory." The owners are "looking for a rout, holding firm to what deputy commissioner Bill Daly says are three key issues" (NJ.com, 12/7). In Toronto, Cathal Kelly wrote it is "clear the NHLPA’s approach to the lockout was doomed from the outset." The players "miscalculated on several crucial points." They have "approached this as a generic labour fight." Kelly: "It isn’t. It isn’t even a sports labour fight. It’s a hockey labour fight, a completely unique beast" (TORONTO STAR, 12/8). ESPN.com's Scott Burnside wrote it has been "clear from the outset these two sides don’t trust each other." That lack of trust has "impaired any kind of meaningful ongoing dialogue, and it has led to misleading the public and, in some ways, their own constituents." For "smart, dynamic men" like Bettman, Fehr and "their lieutenants, this negotiation is a smear on their reputations" (ESPN.com, 12/7). In Boston, Fluto Shinzawa wrote under the header, "Trust Missing In NHL Labor Negotiations" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/9). In Detroit, Gregg Krupa wrote, "This absurdity, on both sides ... must cease." Stopping it is "ultimately more important than whether hockey is played this season" (DETROITNEWS.com, 12/7).
TIME TO ROCK THE VOTE? The BOSTON GLOBE's Shinzawa noted unless the NHLPA's leadership "can finalize an agreement, the rank-and-file will not vote on any proposal." However, it would be interesting "to see the results of an anonymous player vote taken right now on the NHL’s last offer." It is a rule that players "never criticize their own outside of the dressing room." But if given the "chance to vote individually and anonymously, without fear of disclosure or repercussions, the guess is that a healthy number of players would take a deal" (BOSTON GLOBE, 12/9). In Toronto, Joe Warmington noted the CBC's Don Cherry believes that a vote is the only way to "find out for sure if the players want to continue to remain locked out or get it settled and get the games back on." Cherry: “Have a secret ballot and vote on the owners’ last proposal. It’s the most democratic way of deciding once and for all how the players really feel. If they vote 90% in favour of rejecting it, then you know. If most of them in secret actually want to come back, a vote will show that" (TORONTO SUN, 12/8).
PLAYERS TRY TO STAY UPBEAT: Oilers C Shawn Horcoff on Saturday said, "We're running out of time but it's a long ways away. I hope after a couple days, cooler heads prevail and we can get back at it. We're closer. We made progress. It's not like we're farther apart. We made progress on the key issues, we're just not there yet. The worst thing would be to take time off and not meet" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 12/9). Red Wings D Niklas Kronwall on Friday said, "If we’re this close, I don’t see the reason why we shouldn’t just keep at it until we have something. I don’t see the reason why we should all of a sudden step away and get all dramatic. Just stick with it and let’s get this done" (FREEP.com, 12/7). Predators C Colin Wilson: "Everybody is getting antsy, but I certainly wouldn’t mistake it for guys wanting to get a deal done and giving into the owners. Everybody is antsy, but I think everybody is being smart about it as well. I want to get out there and play … a lot" (TENNESSEAN.com, 12/7). Lightning RW B.J. Crombeen: "They're trying to squeeze 5 more cents out of a deal that can be done. It's very frustrating. They're just saying 'It's our way or the highway.' You look at the deal we had and the deal we're going to get, every single aspect (the players are) giving up a lot" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 12/8).
Penguins co-Owner & Chair Mario Lemieux "made two calculated decisions" before the NHL lockout began Sept. 15 -- deciding he "would not wait until it was too late to get involved" and he would build a group "so that he would not become the story, or ammunition for NHLPA leadership," according to Rob Rossi of the PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW. CAA Hockey co-Head Pat Brisson talked to Lemieux around Thanksgiving, and Brisson said, "We agreed that maybe now we should try something. What was our choice, to sit back and watch the season die?" Lemieux "was in, but on the condition that he not be front and center." Lemieux began "working the phones, starting with" Penguins co-Owner Ron Burkle. There was a "joint effort by Lemieux and Brisson to get other NHL franchises, ones not identified as hard-line supporters" -- such as Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs and Wild Owner Craig Leipold -- on board. The Penguins instead "called on support from" Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik, while Kings President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin "were instant allies." This "French Canadian Connection of Lemieux, Brisson, Robitaille and Bergevin gathered speed, and helped sweep aboard ownership groups in Toronto and Winnipeg, the NHL’s biggest and smallest Canadian markets." Brisson started "leaning [on] his highest profile NHL players, including vocal anti-owner" Blackhawks C Jonathan Toews. Brisson "looked for signals as to who he could count upon." Penguins C Sidney Crosby "did not need convincing." Crosby banked on "commanding respect from more reasonable players because of his public and behind-the-scenes involvement with the NHLPA since the summer." Convinced there were players "eager to hear from other owners, he traveled on the week after Thanksgiving to speak in person with a large group of players training in Arizona." While there, Coyotes RW Shane Doan told Crosby that he "would back any effort that could spark talks." Doan said that it "was about trying to save the season -- and maybe the NHL." Doan: "Sid’s just the face of the whole NHL. He makes our case by just doing such a good [job] representing the league" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/9).
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT: Sabres G Ryan Miller on Friday "explained his version" of a "heated exchange" he reportedly had with Jacobs last week during the labor meetings. Miller in a text message wrote, "The owners wanted to leave the room and pull everything we spent a full day on. I asked them to stay and continue pushing through. I may have been passionate but there was no disrespect or calling out one owner by name. I have a lot of respect for any owner because they are a big part of hockey." He added, "I wanted more than anything to make a deal but we are not professional negotiators. We as players didn't have the experience or authority to make a final deal. We were trying to responsibly move this process forward as best we could" (BUFFALONEWS.com, 12/7).
RIGHT WHERE HE NEEDS TO BE: In N.Y., Jeff Klein wrote Kings RW Kevin Westgarth is "well suited to be on the negotiating team" for the NHLPA. The "enforcer" with a psychology degree from Princeton has been present "for almost every bargaining session since before the NHL lockout began." Westgarth said of the similarities between his role in the union and on the ice, “I feel like I want to protect my teammates.” He added, “It’s just the hockey player ethos." The contributions of Westgarth and "a group of other committed players have been invaluable to the union." Westgarth said, “There are a half-dozen or more players who knew exactly where we were and could detail every aspect of where we were at. It became obvious that the guys they brought in had nowhere near a complete understanding of what the proposals were and where we were in the negotiations. I thought it was great that Ron Burkle, [Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Chair] Larry Tanenbaum, [Jets Owner] Mark Chipman and Jeff Vinik got involved -- clearly they’re passionate and care about the game -- but it shows how tightly controlled the league is.” He added, “Part of their tactics is to demonize Don [Fehr] -- we’ve seen it before” (N.Y. TIMES, 12/9).
Jack Nicklaus has "decided to put his considerable clout behind a proposal to form golf leagues using equipment developed by SNAG Golf, a small, closely held company in Tahlequah, Okla.," according to John Paul Newport of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. If all goes "according to plan, about 300 Jack Nicklaus Learning Leagues will pop up this spring in city parks-and-recreation departments across the country, with a further 500 in 2014 and as many as 1,000 additional local programs a year after that." The leagues will operate much like youth soccer and basketball leagues, "with minimal cost for the kids." SNAG, which stands for Starting New at Golf, produces equipment that "makes it easy for beginners, both kids and adults, to learn the fundamentals of the game." Nicklaus said, "Going into the parks and places where the kids come and where they have team sports -- it's a good concept and it's never been done in golf. So let's just see how it evolves." Newport noted more than 11,000 facilities in the U.S. and 4,000 abroad currently "use SNAG, including many First Tee programs." The Nicklaus Learning Leagues will "use municipal soccer fields" because creating a six-hole course with SNAG equipment "takes less than 30 minutes to set up." The Nicklaus Leagues will "build on a two-year pilot program in 15 cities run by the National Recreation and Parks Association." For five and six year olds in the Nicklaus Leagues, the emphasis will "be on whacking the ball around and having fun." Seven and eight year olds will "get more instruction and compete with partners in best-ball format against other teams," while nine and 10 year olds will "compete as a team with stroke-play scoring." Plans "are afoot for leagues involving older kids and even adults" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/8).