Throughout the month of April the sports watching public was swamped once again with prognostications concerning the draft. Every able bodied reporter with a presentable haircut and three-piece was elbowing for some good face time. Each spring I have to stifle my nausea watching so-called NFL draft gurus like Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock going at it predicting how the draft order will change and the predictions as well. Locally this is a huge pain in the ass as the focus is on the eternally pathetic Cleveland Browns, even while we have a winning baseball team. There is NO BIGGER expression of the over-hyped sports event than the NFL Draft. At least LeBron's decision was a one-time deal.
There are some more teeth gritting moments during the actual NFL season, such as whenever Steve Young comes on camera. But the concentration of these pompous a-holes is highest during draft week. Here is the attitude that I think people should take towards each draft: Teams have a true opportunity to improve, experiment, and rejuvenate their lineups. On the other hand, by over-investing in it the consequences can wreck entire organizations. Every sport has its own drawbacks in this respect. In baseball the draft is nowhere near as important, because there is such a wealth of picks and prospects tend to change organizations easily. In basketball, however, it isn't uncommon to see teams tank entire seasons just so they could move to the top of the draft order, a la Charlotte this season. In football, losing teams often have hometown radio hosts who will encourage them to roll over late in the season for better draft picks. Does that really end up helping the team? If anything it only degrades the self esteem of fans, and lowers the motivation of free agents to return.
On the N.O. bounty scandal
I cannot take a stance in favour of or against Roger Goodell's handling of the Saints' bounty scandal. This is because such offenses don't fit into any real category that has existed in the past. I think that America was collectively welcoming of the Saints' Super Bowl title two seasons ago, including myself. The key figures on the team, even those who have left, were easy to identify with and have engaging personalities. But like in every ethics scandal of sports, even people who are normally worthy of our admiration must bear some responsibility for their stupid decisions or behaviour.
The real issue shouldn't be whether this penalty was fair. What I can't understand is that no one asks why if this is such a heinous crime the NFL shouldn't deal more seriously with off-the-field incidents. On the contrary, pro football decision makers like Goodell are all too willing to let bygones be bygones when the offense is outside of stadium bounds. To a certain extent, those aren't his responsibility. When a player belts his wife or girlfriend, or is pulled over reeking of Jager, or sends an electronic package of his package to a reporter, the justice system is the real venue for settling these disputes.
However, there are certain crimes that the NFL somehow deems unforgivable, such as gambling. Gambling may not be the most virtuous pastime, but it certainly isn't harmful in and of itself, like domestic violence, sexual harrassment, or DWIs. Yet Art Schlichter, a former Colts quarterback convicted of only illegal gambling offenses but none of the other vices I've mentioned, may be the fastest player to be banned permanently from the NFL. During the same period Dexter Manley, a Redskins defensive lineman, was a repeated drug offender, yet was never permanently banned . . . only suspended for two seasons. He would have been able to make a comeback if he hadn't been convicted of a cocaine related offense in 1995. Some have posited that gambling is a threat to the integrity of the game due to the possibility results and performances can be affected by wagers. But aren't such results also affected by drug use? What about people like Sam Hurd he never can get enough and become large scale drug dealers? Wasn't Brett Favre's mental focus affected during the photo scandal? Michael Vick's dog fighting activities may have been the most self-destructive saga of the decade for an individual NFL player, and it rivals Tiger Woods' own troubles in the general field of sports.
Roger Goodell's program of reducing the violent injuries on the field has a legitimate point, even if plenty of people think it degrades the quality of play. But then why give so many players the benefit of the doubt when they make immoral decisions? Saints fans and others should accept this penalty, but they should also demand the book be thrown at the next Sam Hurd or Donte Stallworth.
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