Thursday, December 23, 2010

No to Publicly Funded Stadiums

The NBA recently took collective ownership of the New Orleans Hornets. It seems likely that the Hornets will be able to opt out of their lease in New Orleans at the end of this season.  All parties involved insist they want to keep the Hornets in New Orleans, but they are ripe for a move.  The last major American sports franchise to move, the Seattle SuperSonics, did so because Seattle wisely refused to use taxpayer dollars to build a new arena.  Home to an exceedingly wealthy basketball fan and potential owner (Microsoft's Steve Ballmer), Seattle is first among whispered potential destinations should the Hornets move.  Seattle mayor Mike McGinn recently expressed both openness and skepticism when asked about the NBA's potential return: "We'd put any option on the table if someone came to talk to us...But we do have to look at, how much, and what's the return to us." While it seems a solid majority of Seattle citizens are still opposed to using tax dollars on a new arena, it bears reiterating what a truly crappy deal publicly financed stadiums are for the general public.

New York City has two iconic parks.  They are, perhaps, the two most renowned parks of their kind in the world.  One of them is always free and open to the public and hosts 25 million visitors per year. The other is private and charges admission to every visitor--as much as $1,250 for a few hours--and hosts under four million visitors per year.   Both are funded by a combination of public and private money.  The public park must rely on private donors for 85% of its funding.  New York City contributes about $3.5 million annually for its upkeep.  The second park was finished only two years ago.  It replaced a very similar, slightly larger park, which, if perhaps a little outdated, was still a much beloved historical gem.  To create this private park, 24 acres of public parkland were destroyed.  This second park cost $2.3 billion to build, $1.2 billion of which came at taxpayer expense.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lebron and Obama

They came from humble backgrounds.  Raised in working class households by single mothers, each displayed precocious gifts early on and then rose meteorically to fame and power.  Both burst onto the national scene in 2004, and in the years that followed, very little went wrong.  Beloved by the nation like few others in their arenas, they both seemed like not only the most talented guy in the room, but also the most likable.  Even among their peers, there seemed little resentment of these men's outsized gifts.  Yes, they were blessed with extraordinary talents, but they were so at ease with themselves, so comfortable in their own skin, and so damn cool that there was no begrudging their abilities.  But, there comes a point when charisma and cool only take you so far.  Barack Obama may still be the smartest guy in government and Lebron James is probably still the best basketball player on the planet, but 2010 has proven both of them feckless and lacking in gumption and conviction.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

FIFA's Shameful Choice

"We go to new lands." That was FIFA President Sepp Blatter's entire cryptic rationale for choosing Russia and Qatar to host the next two World Cups. The choice of Qatar is baffling. Where to start? It's area is smaller than Connecticut, and its population of 1.49 million is about the same as Houston's. 3.59 million people attended games at the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. 3.18 million people attended the most recent World Cup in South Africa. Qatar is going to have to host a crowd more than double the size of its own population.

What kind of environment can these visitors expect? Average June and July temperatures in Qatar are 105 degrees. In the middle of the day, when games are sure to be played, temperatures regularly rise to 130 degrees. In the summer, Qataris tend not to leave the confines of air conditioning during the day, preferring to take a stroll at night when temperatures drop. Stay inside during the day, emerge at night. Sounds like quite a party. Speaking of party, Qatar has only two liquor stores in the entire country, and a permit is required to buy from them. Back to temperature: those numbers are historical averages. With global warming, it's impossible to tell how high they could rise twelve years from now. This summer, Moscow was ten degrees hotter than its historical averages. If that happens in Qatar, we can expect daily averages around 115 degrees and highs of 140 degrees. 15,000 people died in Russia because the temperature reached 100 degrees. What could happen in Qatar, with visitors coming to celebrate from around the world, if temperatures are 40 degrees higher? Qatar has promised that the stadiums will be air conditioned and will lower temperatures by as much as 20 degrees. Even assuming they can make good on this promise (they currently have no air conditioned stadiums), a fat lot of good 20 degrees does when the starting temperature is 130. FIFA is courting catastrophe by scheduling the world's biggest sporting event in such an extreme climate.

Cam and Cecil: Ignorant and Incompetent

On Monday the NCAA said that Cam Newton had violated his amateur status.  On Tuesday Auburn simultaneously suspended Newton and requested his reinstatement.  On Wednesday, the NCAA reinstated Cam Newton.  That's the timeline, no joke.  Newton was initially deemed in violation because his father, Cecil, had requested somewhere between one hundred and two hundred thousand dollars from Mississippi St. in return for his enrollment.  The NCAA is settled in its belief that this happened.  Newton was reinstated according to the NCAA because, "We do not have sufficient evidence that Cam Newton or anyone from Auburn was aware of this activity."  So, apparently, Cam Newton's father is free to shop him to the highest bidder so long as Cam Newton can plausibly pretend that he didn't know about it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Derek Jeter and Greed

The Yankees are ready to offer Derek Jeter a three year, $50 million dollar contract.  It looks as if that won't be enough, as Jeter apparently wants something closer to five years and $100 million.  Is Jeter, always said to be one of the game's smartest players, a moron?  In 2010 Jeter had career lows in home runs, batting average, slugging percentage, and on base percentage.  Despite being awarded a gold glove (preposterously), advanced defensive statistics placed him well below average.  Does he know the going rate for 36 year old shortstops coming off career worst years?  It certainly isn't $100 million.  Jeter's 2010 stats are remarkably similar to those of Marco Scutaro who is going into the second year of a two year, $12.5 million dollar contract.  Based solely on his on field, statistical value, that's probably about what Jeter's worth--two to three years at $5-10 million per year.

Ah, but we can't forget, Derek Jeter is a Yankee legend.  He means so much more than numbers to the Yankees.  He's the Captain.  He's Mr. November.  He once dove into the stands.  He's the heir to the legacy of Ruth and Gehrig, Dimaggio and Berra, Mantle and Maris.  All this is true.  Jeter is way more valuable to the Yankees than he is on the open market.  But the Yankees have reportedly offered him three years at $50 million, somewhere between double and triple what he could get on the open market.  It seems they're being more than fair. 

Jeter is coming off a contract that paid him $189 million over the last ten years.  Only one player in baseball history has ever signed a bigger contract.  The Yankees have taken care of him.  In turning down their current contract offer, he's being greedy and stupid.  What's he going to do if the Yankees play hardball and say take it or leave it?  Will he go around the league saying, "The Yankees are offering me $50 million, can you best that?"  He'll get laughed out of the room. 

The Yankees have already paid Derek Jeter more money than he'll be able to spend in a lifetime.  They're currently offering him at least twice as much money as anyone else would.  Has he no pride?  In asking for $100 million, roughly $80 million more than anyone else would pay him, he risks turning himself into a multi-million dollar charity case.  At this point in his career he simply is not worth anywhere near that much money, and he must know it.  His quest for more money is shameless.  He's preying on the emotions of the Yankees brass and Yankees fans who love him for all he's done and all he's won. 

In the end, Jeter needs the Yankees more than the Yankees need Jeter.  He's an iconic player because he's been so great and had so much success, and it's all been with one team.  Great athletes don't do much damage to their their legacies by finishing their career with a different team.  Does anyone care that Willie Mays played for the Mets, that Joe Namath played for the Rams, or that Michael Jordan played for the Wizards?  Not really.  We remember Mays' Giants hat falling off as he catches Vic Wertz's fly ball.  We remember Namath's Jets beating the Colts, just as he said they would.  We remember Jordan shooting over Bryon Russell for a sixth Bulls title.   For the most part, we remember the good stuff.  But if any damage was done, it certainly wasn't to the Giants, Jets, or Bulls--it was to the athlete who couldn't quite stick it out with one team for his whole career.  Jeter's fifteen years are secure in Yankee history.  They're not going away and they won't be tarnished by what happens now.  It's Jeter's legacy, not the Yankees', that's still on the line and it's his greed that's to blame.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cam Newton and the NCAA

The circumstantial evidence against Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is pretty damning.  There are three independent sources who claim that either Newton, his father, or someone acting on their behalf, either asked for payment from Mississippi St., or inferred that they were receiving payments from Auburn in return for Newton's enrollment.  There's also a report that Newton was caught in three separate acts of academic dishonesty while at Florida, and left the school rather than appear before the student conduct committee.

There's also the bizarre way in which Newton chose where to go to school.  Admittedly preferring Mississippi St., Newton ceded the decision to his father, Cecil, who abruptly chose Auburn.  At the time of the decision, the church at which Cecil Newton is pastor was in violation of city building codes.  The church has since been renovated and the NCAA is investigating its finances.  Admittedly, none of this proves anything, but none of it looks good either.

Perhaps Cam Newton is the victim of a libel campaign carried out by the school he left (Florida) and the school he spurned (Mississsippi St.).  The NCAA is a notoriously slow investigator.  Reggie Bush won the Heisman in 2005, and only gave it back a few months ago, five years later.  So, Cam Newton will almost surely end the season (likely his last as a college student) as an eligible athlete.  Barring a quick resolution, this is as it should be.  He's innocent until proven guilty.  He should win the Heisman Trophy which, according to its instructions, goes to the most outstanding college football player who is "a bona fide student ... in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student athlete."  Cam Newton is the best college football player in the country and he is in compliance with the NCAA (for now).  He should win.

But, and remember none of this has been proven, it seems likely that Cam Newton and Auburn cheated. Is it the end of the world if Auburn paid Cam Newton or his father so that they could renovate his church?  No.  Is Cam Newton the only collegiate athlete who (allegedly) got paid?  Of course not.  If Cam Newton wasn't a world class athlete, and just a regular college student, would we disapprove of him fundraising for his father's church?  No, in fact if anyone cared, they'd probably find it laudable.  There's a lot of corruption in college football, and Cam Newton is only (allegedly) a small part of it.

But (it seems) he did break the rules, and he did get caught.  If Auburn paid Cam Newton, they tilted the playing field in their favor.  They gave themselves an unfair advantage over teams that play by the rules.  No different than if players use steroids or coaches videotape other teams' signals.  So, if the NCAA finds that Auburn broke the rules, they will be punished, as they should be.

By that time, Cam Newton and his teammates will be long gone.  It will be some future generation of Auburn football that bears the sanctions for their sins.  Games will be voided.  If Auburn wins the rest of their games, and the national championship, we'll be told it never happened.  Just like we've been told that Reggie Bush wasn't really the best college football player of 2005.  Just like Memphis didn't really lose to Kansas on Mario Chalmers' miracle shot in the 2008 NCAA basketball championship, because of course that whole Memphis season never really happened.  Just like Chris Webber never called a timeout he didn't have in the 1993 national title game, because of course the Fab Five never really happened.

The NCAA's policy seems to be one of retroactive nullification.  They can't really catch cheaters while they're cheating, but don't worry, years from now we'll be told that a bunch of games never happened. Maybe there isn't a better way for the NCAA to handle situations like these.  They certainly can't invalidate players or programs without solid proof.  Investigations take time and the NCAA can't really be blamed because the protagonists in their dramas have left the stage by the time denouement is reached.

But this is cold comfort to those who play by the rules.  By the NCAA's logic, Boise St. and TCU may well go undefeated only to sit by and watch as a team, which ends up being invalidated, plays for their national championship.

Don't worry, we'll be told.  We don't need a playoff.  The BCS works.  College football has the best regular season of any sport.  Every week is a playoff.  Every game counts.  Except, that is, for every game that Boise St. and TCU played and won, because they didn't count enough to get either team a shot at the national championship.  Except, that is, for every game Auburn played, because a few years from now, we may be told that they never even happened.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Randy Moss, Allen Iverson, and Maurice Lucas

Randy Moss had one superlative year. Yes, he was great in his first stint with the Vikings, and he was a pro-bowler in his last two years with the Patriots. Moss is a future hall of famer on the strength of his entire career, but it was only 2007 when every Sunday felt like there wasn't a man on earth, much less the opposing sideline, who could stop Randy Moss from catching the football. He caught 23 touchdowns in 2007, more than anyone has ever caught. His team scored 589 points in 2007, more than any team has ever scored. Images of Moss from 2007 stick in the memory. Catching a touchdown between two Dolphins in the end zone. The coverage couldn't have been better, Tom Brady threw a jump ball, and Randy Moss was bigger, stronger, and a better leaper than the two men guarding him. He wanted the ball more and he was more equipped to get it, so he did. Streaking down the sideline agianst the Giants in the last game of the regular season, Tom Brady could have thrown the ball a mile, and Randy Moss would have run under it. And the first game of the 2007 season, against the Jets. Moss was running a post down the right sideline and Brady heaved it towards the left corner of the end zone. Moss blazed across the field, leaving three Jets struggling futilely in his wake, chasing like Keystone Cops. Of course Moss ran under the pass for a touchdown. In 2007 you could not overthrow Randy Moss. The man was a gazelle. No one ever looked more majestic on a football field than Randy Moss at full speed.

Unfortunately, it's hard to imagine a man acting smaller than Moss did on Friday, allegedly berating a caterer. Moss' boorish rant led to his dismissal by the Vikings. It's the fourth time a team has cut ties to Moss, each time his team received nothing approaching fair value for one of the greatest receivers of all time.

Allen Iverson had one superlative year. Yes, he's won four scoring titles, but in 2000-01 he captivated, he mesmerized. He's always been the smallest and the fastest man on the court. He's always been relentless, fearless in driving to the basket, irrepressible in attacking men a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than himself. In 2001 Iverson willed a very flawed team, with no other great players, to the NBA Finals. Once there, he scored 48 points to win game one, giving the much vaunted LA Lakers their only loss of the 2001 postseason. In that game's most memorable sequence, all of Iverson, for better and worse, is on display: His breathtaking quickness and skill in crossing up and shooting over the Lakers' quickest player, Tyronn Lue; and his self assurance, cockiness, and bravado in stepping right over a prostrate Lue in front of an animated Lakers' bench and screaming LA crowd.

Much like Moss, who famously "plays when he wants to play," Iverson's brilliance always came with a self-assurance that flirted with self-righteousness, a confidence that blended with arrogance. And, much like Moss, Iverson has now parted ways with four teams, a disporportionately large number for two men with such prodigious talents. Iverson, far from washed up, but unwilling to play a lesser role than he once did, was passed over by all 32 NBA teams this off-season. Just last week, he signed a contract to play basketball in Turkey, and seems unlikely to ever play in the NBA again; a belittling end for an all time great.

"He was very black, very articulate, very political, a strong and independent man sprung from circumstances that could also create great insecurity. There was about him a constant sense of challenge; everything was a struggle, and everything was a potential confrontation, a struggle for turf and position. It was in part what had made him at his best so exceptional an athlete. He liked the clash of will. He was at once an intensely proud black man, justifiably angry about the injustice around him, and a superb and subtle con artist, a man who had in effect invented himself and his persona."

These words seem as if they were written about Moss or Iverson (both were involved in racially charged brawls in high school). They were, in fact, written about another man who had one superlative season. The preceding paragraph is from David Halberstam's 1981 book, The Breaks of the Game and is describing Maurice Lucas who died on Sunday, far too young at 58, of bladder cancer. In 1976-77 Lucas led the Portland Trailblazers in scoring, and along with Bill Walton, led Portland to the NBA title. That team, although it would fall apart after just one year, is an iconic one in NBA lore. Halberstam writes, "It was a wonderful moment...It was not just that they had won, but the way that they had won, unselfish in a selfish world and a selfish profession. It had been not just a matter of scoring baskets, but of scoring baskets off the perfect pass." Two years later, Walton (who loved Lucas so much he named his son after him) was gone to San Diego and Lucas was hampered by injuries and unhappy about his contract. He would play the next 12 years of his career with six different teams, never coming close to recapturing the magic of 1977, just as Moss and Iverson have never been able to duplicate the magic of 2007 and 2001, respectively.

Who knows what factors converged to make just one year so great for these three men. Greatness is fleeting, ephemeral, hard to pin down. Moss has played with great quarterbacks--Randall Cuningham, Daunte Culpepper (both in their primes), Tom Brady, and Brett Favre--almost his entire career, but never quite reached the take your breath away greatness that he did in 2007. He's about to join his fifth team, and his third this year. For much of his career, Iverson played on teams built around him, tailored to his strengths, but his swagger and talent never coalesced into team greatness quite like they did in 2001. He'll likely spend the rest of his career playing in a basketball backwater. Maurice Lucas was a brooding physical presence. Nicknamed, the Enforcer, he was an enormously powerful man with exceptional quickness and skill for his size. An all-NBA player, he should have been an asset to every team he was on. But his career never quite reached the same heights as it did in his first year in the NBA, 1976-77.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Here's What Lebron Should Do

Lebron James has a new Nike commercial. Or perhaps it's more correct to say that Nike has a new Lebron James commercial. Regardless, if you haven't seen it, rest assured it will be difficult to watch a sporting event for the next week or so without being bombarded by it. In it, Lebron tries to address the criticism he's taken over his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami via free agency this offseason. In the commercial Lebron proposes hypothetical scenarios and repeatedly asks us, the audience and his presumed critics, "What should I do?" Since he's asking us in a television commercial, not a news conference or town hall meeting, it's a one sided discussion. With no avenue for response, the questions are undoubtedly rhetorical. Be that as it may, most of his questions aren't all that difficult to answer. So I'm going to help him out with some answers.

Lebron and I were both born in 1984. We both played multiple sports in high school. We're both huge sports fans. We really are remarkably similar. So here's what Lebron should do--coming from someone who's not all that different than he is, but who hasn't been called (and referred to himself as) "The Chosen One" and "King James" for his entire adult life.

Should I admit that I've made mistakes?
Yes. Everyone makes mistakes. Admitting them is an important part of being a good human being.

Should I remind you that I've done this before?
Done what before? Switched teams? I'm not sure that reminding people in Cleveland that you once chose a private high school over a public one is going to make them feel any less bitter and betrayed. Maybe it will reinforce their belief that they never should have trusted and embraced you the way they did, that they should have seen this coming the moment you were drafted and weren't allowed to handpick your friends to be on your team, but is that really what you're looking to do?

Should i give you a history lesson?
On what? Are you in any way qualified to do so? Do we ask historians to shoot jump shots? No.

Should I tell you how much fun we had?
Actually, that's not a bad idea. It's your life and you don't owe anyone any explanations for your decisions. But, since you seem to be courting public opinion, maybe you should try to explain the rationale behind your decision which upset so many people. Maybe if you explain how much fun you had in Beijing with Dwayne and Chris people will understand why you wanted to play with them. But, just warning you, they might not. One of the reasons people loved you is that you always looked like you were having so much fun. You did sideline dances and had pre-game routines with each teammate. You looked like a gigantic 40-year old kid. You may be hard pressed convincing people that you had so much more fun in Beijing than you did in winning 127 games in the last two regular seasons in Cleveland. Few teams ever looked so joyous. Few teams ever looked like they genuinely liked each other so much.

Should I really believe I ruined my legacy?
Not really. But, to speak abstractly, you've probably lowered your legacy's cieling. If you go on to be the best player on a whole bunch of championship teams your legacy will be fine. In forming your pseudo all-star team in Miami you announced that you didn't think you could get it done in Cleveland. You joined Dwyane Wade's team. You may become the best player/alpha dog on the team, but he already won a championship in Miami as the best player. For now, it's still his team. No great player wins without help, but in talking about things as grandiose and ephemeral as legacies, the details matter. Is Michael's legacy diminished because he never won without Scottie? No, but Scottie's certainly is because he never won without Michael. Look at Kobe. Four years ago he requested a trade. He didn't get it and he's gone on to win two championships, without Shaquille, and unquestionably boosted his legacy. So, your legacy certainly remains unwritten. But, no matter how many championships you win in Miami there will always be that nagging doubt--why couldn't he get it done, on his own, in Cleveland?

Should I have my tattoo removed?
I assume you refer to the tattoo on your back that says "Chosen One?" Probably not. Tattoo removal is a long, painful process. It probably wouldn't be worth it. Just maybe think twice next time you're considering getting a tattoo comparing yourself to Jesus Christ. Or at a very minimum, if you want to get another tattoo making the JC comparison, maybe you should win an NBA title with the team you're on, rather than join a ready made all-star team with your buddies to help you.

Should I just sell shoes?
No. Emphatically no. The worst thing about your idol, Michael Jordan, was that, after winning, selling shoes always came first. Nike may pay you an awful lot, but that doesn't mean you have to be a corporate shill. Take a stand on something. You live in Miami now, why don't you endorse someone in Florida's governor's race. Or its Senate race. They're both very close. You could publicly insist that your sneakers get made in a factory with humane and fair working conditions. People will listen to you. Your ability and hard work have given you an extraordinary platform. Use it. Whatever you do, don't ever say anything like, "Republicans buy sneakers too."

Should I tell you 'I am not a role model?'
Only if you want to feed the media maelstrom. You are a role model, like it or not, there's no changing it. Again, it's your life, live it how you want. You didn't ask to be a role model and you don't have to act like one. (And no, just because a basketball team or a shoe company pays you millions of dollars doesn't mean you've implicitly agreed to act a certain way. They're paying you to play basketball and sell sneakers, they don't have the right to tell you how to live your life.) But denying that you are a role model won't change anything.

Should I tell you I'm a championship chaser? I did it for the money? rings?
It doesn't matter if you tell us any of those things, we're going to come to our own conclusions. You look like a championship chaser. You joined a team that's recently won a championship and you joined two other all-NBA players. You didn't do it for the money, because you could have gotten slightly more in Cleveland. That's laudable. Too few athletes in your situation recognize that whatever they choose they're going to have more money than God, so they might as well go wherever makes them happy.

Should I be who you want me to be?
No, be who you want to be. What a silly question.

Should I accept my role as a villain?
If you want to. If it makes you play better. But not if you want to regain the public's affections. People liked you because you always seemed like such a good guy. You had so much fun playing and you smiled instead of sneered and your teammates loved you. That's why no one outside LA likes Kobe.

Should I stop listening to my friends?
No, but maybe stop following their advice. It's very admirable that you've remained so close with your childhood friends and you've brought them along on your ride. But you should also recognize that although they may have your best interests in mind, they may not always be the best people to give you advice. They're kids from your neighborhood, do they really know what they're doing in managing your career? Sometimes the best intentions aren't enough. And as for your new best friends from Beijing, Chris and Dwyane, recognize that they likely have a lot more to gain from a partnership with you than you have to gain from a partnership with them. They may be your friends, but take their advice with a big grain of salt because you have no assurances that they've got your best instrest in mind.

Should I try acting?
Only if Spike Lee comes knocking with an offer to do He Got Game 2. Have you seen Steel and Kazaam? How about Space Jam?

Should I make you laugh?
I don't see why not. Everyone likes to laugh. So, sure. Go for it. Just don't make it your number one priority.

Should I read you a soulful poem?

What should I do?
Understand that you upset an awful lot of people with "The Decision." Understand that The Cavaliers paid you millions of dollars to work for them for seven years and that, by all accounts, they treated you exceedingly well. This obviously didn't obligate you to continue playing for them, but you should have shown some decency and informed them personally that you were leaving, instead of making them find out via a sham interview on national TV. Also, understand that the American economy sucks right now. That lots of people (especially in rust belt cities like Cleveland) are really struggling. That watching you play for the Cavs was a bright spot in a lot of people's lives. You don't owe anything to people who root for you, but it'd be nice to show some empathy and apologize for leaving so callously. There was no reason to put a whole city through the ringer on national TV like you did. Maybe do like your teammate Zydrunas Ilgauskas did and take out an ad in the Cleveland newspaper saying how much you enjoyed playing there. It'd be a nice gesture. Also, stop insisting that "The Decision" was a good idea because you raised $3 million for the Boys and Girls Club. You're rich. You could have given money to the Boys and Girls Club. you could have asked Nike and your other sponsors to match or exceed your donation. You could have spared Cleveland the spectacle.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Football's Big Hit Problem

There were a number of sickening hits in NFL games this past weekend. Violent, full speed, stop you dead in your tracks type collisions. These hits aren't new. They happen every week, it just seemed like there were more of them this week. Brandon Merriweather's helmet to helmet shot on Todd Heap was the most flagrant. The ball was past Heap and he was already being tackled, yet Merriweather still stopped, changed direction, and contorted his body to hit Heap in the head. The Steelers' James Harrison concussed to Cleveland Browns. He stopped Mohammed Mossaquoi dead in his tracks after a catch and before Mossaquoi had a chance to gather and defend himself and he led with his head in making a tackle on Josh Cribbs. A collision between the Falcons' Dunta Robinson and the Eagles' Desean Jackson knocked both players out of the game and left Jackson with a serious concussion and memory loss. It was sickening to watch.

Stunningly, the NFL, which claims player safety as a top priority, handed out no suspensions. Merriweather and Robinson were fined $50,000 and Harrison, as a repeat offender, was fined $75,000. Proportionate to salary, the fines are minuscule and toothless. If Harrison was making $35,000 per year, his fine would be less than $200--similar to a hefty parking ticket. Rodney Harrison (himself once considered the NFL's preeminent head hunter) scoffed at players being punished with fines: "My mentality was if it costs me $30,000 $40,000 $50,000 to be an all pro, than that's the price I have to pay...But when I got suspended, it was, 'Uh-oh.' That was a different mentality now. I'm hurting my team, I'm losing a game check. Let's try to change things up."

The fines would be laughable if so much wasn't at stake. Rutgers player Eric LeGrand was paralyzed this past weekend after a violent collision on a kickoff. Football is a violent sport. Players complain about being policed by people who don't know what it's like to play the game. They complain, and they're right, that there's no way to make it safe. But there are ways to make it safer. If the NFL is serious about protecting its players it needs to make changes. Any helmet to helmet hit should be a mandatory one game suspension for the player who initiated it. The same goes for hitting a defenseless player as Robinson hit Jackson and Harrison hit Mossaquoi. These aren't new rules. They are already on the books, the NFL just needs to give some teeth to its enforcement.

Players will complain that they were taught to tackle one way and now they have to change. So be it. People may complain that the sport is less fun to watch. (This won't be true. Fans may watch football in part for the neck-craning-can't-look-away-collisions, but they don't like them. The Jackson-Robinson collision was like a car crash. Yes, you had to watch, but it was also cringe-inducing, horrifying, and voyeuristic. And as both players lay on the ground, I felt nothing but dread and an uneasy feeling that I really shouldn't be watching this, that these men should not be doing these things to each other for my entertainment.) Again, so be it.

There's no indication that the NFL is taking player safety as seriously as it claims. If it was, it would be suspending players for hits. It wouldn't be quibbling with the player's union over who qualifies for post-career health insurance. And it certainly wouldn't be pushing for two extra games per season. These men put their bodies, livelihoods, and even their lives at risk every time they play. To ask them to do it more often while failing to institute policies that would slightly lessen the risks they face is more than hypocritical, it borders on the criminal.