Archive | September, 2014

Chin Music’14: Exit Jeter, Enter A-Rod

30 Sep

Mood Swing

They’ll feel the breeze clear over in Jersey, once that change in mood starts swingin’ across the great Metropolis.

As Derek Jeter, newest member of the vaunted pinstripe pantheon, exits stage left for golf, girls & good food (go easy, DJ (See; Thomas & Maddux)), and Alex Rodriguez of the tarnished reputation (‘14 PED susp’n) re-enters stage right and re-rosters with the New York Yankees, the change in the air will be palpable. And that’s not all bad.

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The mood (& pitches) may’ve been groovin’ in Derek’s NYC farewell (v BAL) but Yanks captain was running near empty most of ‘14. Alex just may have some gas left in his tank.

Though, if I had my druthers, the 39-year old A-Rod would never be rostered again in the majors, i.e., banned-for-life, w/legal prejudice. Of course, you’d need monarchical-power, backed by a strong, well-compensated military alliance to pull that one off.

Today’s sport union is a powerful entity, advocating for its player membership seemingly at all costs, sometimes to the great detriment of the game’s integrity (PEDs), the fans trust and even the players themselves (long term health).

The same could be written of the owners and their Commissioner advocate (See; Silver & gambling push), but then cufflinks, apart from the rare case (J. Irsay), don’t send a bad message to kids on drugs & alcohol and are minor leaguers compared to players major league skill-set for criminal misdeeds.

Fear is the great motivator.

Were collegiate and pro athletes banned-for-life after one positive PED test result (no shortage of notice), a rigid standard like that proposed for domestic abuse and other serious crimes in the NFL, the use of performance-enhancing drugs would plummet.

As it stands today, the sliding stigma that attaches for the first failed test and resultant susp’n, is small deterrent to drug cheats when millions ($) are to be gained in risking violation of what are still half-measured, substance abuse policies.

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One can assume NYY top brass have swept most the bad feelings arising from A-Rod’s 2014 Biogenesis susp’n under the proverbial rug. Yanks are contractually bound to Alex for near $60M (3y) and, with tepid team tallies (84-78; BA .245 (#11-AL)); OB% (14); runs (14) hit (13)) bringing up the League rear, the Steinbrenners, GM Brian Cashman and Mgr Joe Girardi are hoping the former MVP still has enough spike on his cleats and speed in his swing to add some much needed punch to a low-impact New York line-up.

Now it’s A-Rod‘s team, for better or for worse.

“Decline and (near) Fall of the (2014 Athletics)”

A baseball funk is like quicksand, the harder you try to get out, the more it pulls you in.

Funk is what the 2014 Oakland Athletics have been experiencing since mid-summer but managed to pull themselves out Sunday night, clinching the remaining American League wild-card spot on last day of the regular season in besting the Texas Rangers, 4-0.

The Swing-less A’s were in serious danger of becoming this season’s sad collapse story, having comfortably led the AL-West for two-thirds the season. Then GM Billy Beane of Moneyball (‘11) fame made major pick-ups in the all-important pitcher department, chiefly, Jeff Samardzija (Cubs) and playoff patina’d Jon Lester (BOS / 11gs – 2.11 (3-0 WS)), hoping to cruise to the division title. But nobody booked it and Oakland went in a tailspin for the next six weeks, just barely pulling out at the last minute.

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Most opinionators lay blame at doorstep of Mr. Beane, godfather of sabermetrics, for choosing to part w/ former A’s slugger, Yoenis Cespedes in acquiring Lester. While it’s true the Athletics’ team batting average (#9-AL) made hitters a premium pre-trade (162g #13 / .244), in his four seasons on the Bay (‘14: .256 / 17 hr / 67 rbi), most of Yoe’s biggest moments seem to’ve come in the home run derby (2x champ).

Besides, gotta’ admire Bill’s boldness in breaking with recent A’s tradition of playing it cool at trade-time and instead, taking the plunge this year in obvious effort to break with their other contemporary trend of bottoming-out in the post-season. Sensical.

A’s (Lester) will fly to KC to take on 2nd-half wunderkinds, the Royals (Shields) Tuesday night, who make their first playoff appearance since days of Brett & Saberhagen (‘85).

Oakland’s playoff birthing wasn’t exactly a breech presentation, more like collapsing w/ finish tape in hand. It won’t make ‘em favorites but in Athletics’ favor is knowledge that all you need do today is make it into the 2nd season (PS) and ANYTHING can happen.

The sporting gods love determination and surprises (See: FLA ‘03 & STL ‘11).

Legacy Planner

Joining Alex in the Butterfly Club (nerves) this spring will be rookie invites hoping to “show,” along w/ baseball’s newly appointed Commissioner, Rob Manfred.

Rob, like other Commissioners before, has a long association with baseball, having served in some legal capacity since ‘87, including his current post as COO. He’s a veteran of the lawyer league but an unknown to fandom and maybe most in media as well.

Hopefully, Manfred’s given serious thought to what imprint he’d like to leave on MLB, whether that’s simply the mark of money (owners & affiliates), or something bigger like restoring integrity and a broadly felt excitement to the national pastime that goes beyond transitory gimmicks (HRD / IR) and fads (drag pants, bunny hops & sugar-water baths).

Rob’s should do list:

1) Affirm lifetime ban on Pete Rose

Unclear message on gambling we don’t need, Rob (i.e., MasterCard Rose invite). No player nor cult of personality is bigger than the game;

2) Close window tight on PED cheaters

Add an in-season blood draw to the half-measured spring sample, from every player or institute cutting-edge biological passport stratagem, then watch the typical player weight drop from 210 to 190 in a year’s time;

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3) Keep designated hitter rule in AL or eliminate all together

Time to bury the trite DH debate that arises each year from quarters seeking to expand it into the Senior circuit but who likely get as much thrill from baseball as they do from their Law & Order re-runs. Those who love the game and pass it down WANT the League distinction and DON’T want more homogenization (inter-league). American devotees favor a power game while DH-free National disciples live for the strategy-based play. It’s called allegiance, Rob. Mess with it because of faux-fans (saberheads) and watch NBA move into #2.

4) Fix MLB record book. Asterisks, strikes, whatever, but do it soon. Bedrock stuff;

5) Daytime World Series

A necessary part of becoming a Restoration Commissioner, putting back into baseball that which the past four Czars took out, those special elements that made it America’s favorite pastime for over a 100 years. Not every game need be day-light. Can’t expect greed to be bridled. Like Godzilla (pre-‘64), you can’t stop it, just hope to submerge it for a time. One game would be sweet. And it won’t be the Super Bowl (thank god), but just might become the best thing: a national Series Skip Day (work & school / 2:00 EST). Be bold.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credits: A.Rodriguez / 9.29.07 / wc.cca / K.Allison; A.Rodriguez / 8.26.11 / wc.cca / K.Allison; B.Beane & DePodesta / 9.9.11 / wc.cca / GabboT; B.Cashman / 6.26.09 / wc.cca / jimmyack205; R.Manfred / wc.cca / 7.15.14 / A.Pardavila
Posted: 9.30.14 @ 1:21pm EST

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NFL14 Cherry Picks W4: Calling Mrs. Miniver

26 Sep

“A (football) by any other name would (sail) as sweet”

Oh, how we could use more souls like “Mrs. Miniver” on this side of the pond, to advise & consent those who occupy our seats power. The nasty John Oliver, he you can have back, England, but “Kay,” oh my gosh, more like her we need.

One of those Chairs-in-Command sits in America’s fourth branch: the media monopolies, who’ve apparently ordered their army of producers, scribes & staff to take offensive to try toppling NFL’s head honcho, Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Mrs. Miniver (‘42) is William Wyler’s heart-warming film that tells the tale of a fictional matriarch running a household in England at outbreak of WWII and how she & family cope with the trials & tribulations on the home-front that befall soon after their nation’s entrance into the War (‘39) upon Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland.

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Why a reference here in sport article to a beautiful lass from Hollywood’s golden age?

Week 4 on the NFL schedule sees the start of London-fest, with the first of three games slated to be played at Wembley Stadium. Phase I features the Miami Dolphins versus the home-designated Oakland Raiders. That means, of course, the Sir Francis Drake and Sir Henry Morgan fan-clubs should be in full attendance:

Gangway, ye scallywags & scurvy dogs! Mess with me booty (grog, fish & chips) and you’ll be keelhauled quicker than a pirate can separate a dandy from his coin purse!

No movie gave American audiences a better dramatic window through which to view the lives of our British Allies across the Atlantic in their lonely fight to halt Axis powers Westward blitzkrieg, than did this film gem starring the redheaded Greer Garson, who’d captivated movie goers three years earlier w/Robert Donat in the classic, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (’39).

Garson’s inspirational character was cinematic but certainly emblematic of millions of women, people, who held down the home front for the fighting forces, working arsenal of democracy, keeping a semblance of sanity in place and sometimes sacrificing their lives.

World War 2 exposed a frightening & prevalent capacity in our human race for organized cruelty & greed by way of the Axis powers (ESPN still shamelessly employs their own version of “Axis” visual gadgetry). But by good triumphing over evil, the grace of god or simply better military strategies, the resolute Allied forces prevailed.

Watching Mrs. Miniver last weekend (TCM), I couldn’t help but appreciate how different were the eras, the spirit of community and mental approach taken to trying times.

Today’s mental tack: mountains made of media mole-hills, privacy exposed for profit, self sacrifice too rarely afforded, patience is anything but a virtue,…you get the idea.

Charming, easy-on-the-eyes, neighborly, strong of constitution, even stops to smell roses and appreciates history (“Richard I“), maybe “Kay’s” most endearing trait today would be her ability to defuse the explosive situation, i.e, angry blue bloods (“Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty)” and armed & dangerous, downed German pilots (Helmut Dantine).

..........Goodell.thumbnail.flag

Roger Goodell may wish he’d booked a flight to “Kay’s” old stomping grounds for this weekend’s festivities, offering him a brief escape from the Hounds of the Barkervilles.

Because of the politicized protest on domestic violence that’s quickly turned lynch-mob in tenor, lacking a more constructive, practical, honest purpose & tone, it’s come clear now that the anti-Goodell campaign is really the anti-Redskins push (‘12 / Nike joins NFL) in different garb, w/assorted malicious mercenaries joining the horde:

Grudge-holders (Bountygate, Simultaneous-gate, ex-players (Bruschi)); PED-punished player entourages; profit-seeking ($) opportunists (TMZ, Oliver, ESPN, Costas, etc.), and simply those who just don‘t like sport and believe those that do are moronic, some w/ agenda (NOW), others a prejudice. Not a big group, but a big megaphone (Disney, Time Inc., etc.).

To be concerned, a bit angered by recent wave of player criminal arrests is appreciable.

But to make Goodell scapegoat for this rare confluence of badness, spotlighted by tabloid tape drop (TMZ) after an initial League response (Rice 2g) that was not atypical, as news & leisure-media grant immunity to NFLPA, is shameful, and more so, unbelievable.

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As a plan took shape in the 90s under then Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to bring kids & female consumers into the NFL fold, the failure to use their bully-pulpit to expose player refusal (NFLPA) to raise their own standard of behavior to a level comporting better with the new audience, chiefly, drug use, in particular PEDs, sowed seeds of trouble and either innocently or negligently created environment where Rice-gate was bound to happen.

In a highly flammable state where player misdeeds start the burn, fanned by all the above (“Grudge-holders, etc.), and a Commissioner who, ever since Tagliabue vacated Bounty-gate suspensions (12-‘12) (after arbitrator voided (9) & NFL reinstate (10)), has had his authority, prestige severely undercut, NFL’s leadership post itself has been compromised no matter who sits atop, leaving the direction, value & health of the League uncertain.

The only thing that’d make matters worse for NFL would be election of a polarizing, poli-operative, faux-football proponent (C. Rice) or like celebrity into Commissioner’s post, one even the earlier Iron Maiden, “Mrs. Miniver,” would hesitate to take.

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“Who (brought) the dogs (in), woof, woof?”

The Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers has been doing something this week to which he’s almost entirely unaccustomed: quelling a growing chorus of grumblers in Packerland.

As result of Green Bay’s lethargic loss in the Silverdome last Sunday (19-7), a game where Packers’ defense actually played what normally would’ve been fine enough for a win, the Cheese Squad has fallen to 1-2 in what had been a hopeful outlook for ‘14.

The natives are restless but the Packers stellar QB is taking it in stride, as any former champ & MVP should: “Relax, we’re going to be fine,” he said on Wednesday. Okay.

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But unless I’m mistaken (I am), those are the exact words Napoleon spoke to his Grande Armée when things were looking bleak at Waterloo (and the Duke of Wellington was closing the deal): ‘Détendez-vous, nous allons bien.’

You’re probably, right, Aaron, the offense will find its rhythm. But if losing continues, you (& MM) just want to make sure you bring the dog in at night (See; Dan Devine ‘74).

Off the Schneid

Week 3 Sunday was a time of redemption for four previously winless teams, picked by many prognosticators to contend (It‘s only Week 4): the Giants (1-2), Colts, Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Most likely to run-the-table rest of the way? the Saints, KC, Indy and, sure, the Giants.

“Stay Classy,” Coach

NFL has its share of lopsided scores (W3: ATL 56 v. TB 14), and if loppy enough, will be scornfully referred to as ‘piling-it-on.’ NFL: troubled, but not w/out standard.

But on the college scene where idyllic pronouncements are carved into marble facades, good sportsmanship gets thrown under the visitor’s bus when poll positioning is at stake.

The Michigan State Spartans, long in proud tradition, hosted intra-State rival E. Michigan last Saturday and put a 73 – 14 thumping on the Mid-American member. The small school record-enhancer will get a nice check, but in these match-ups, with big disparity in score & recruitment, 70 is the jerk-line and “winning (like that, isn’t) everything,” Coach Dantonio.

Secret Agenda Man?

Add former Patriots linebacker and current ESPN “analyst” Tedy Bruschi to the list of celebrities to call for Roger Goodell’s resignation. On Friday after Goodell’s ill-advised presser, the former Patriot stated this on ESPN:

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“One of the only ways Roger Goodell could’ve lived up to standards he placed on us as players…was to step down because he’s (NFL‘s) ultimate (“Tedy” / USAT / Lisk / 9-19).”

Ted Bruschi has always been Ted Bruschi’s biggest fan.

And for a guy whose NFL legacy benefited from Roger’s even handling of Spygate, it’s safe to assume gratitude is not high atop Bruschi’s list of values. That probably means the former Patriot gives no credit to the Commissioner for his role in bringing NFL’s PED prevention program into the 21st century with recent upgrade (blood draws), sending a hopeful message to young athletes that NFLPA “players” resisted giving for so long. Analyze that, Tedy.

Mueller Time

Though he doesn’t possess power to compel evidence, the man heading up the NFL’s Ray Rice – Janay Palmer investigation (NFLPA has followed Suit (Smith)), former FBI Director Robert Mueller will have something almost as good working for him: experience.

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And for the naysayers predicting a whitewash: when such people seek and will only accept one outcome, what else could you expect but apathy? Besides, would a man who likely has a few million secured away and reputation for ethics on the line, allow a business affiliation to turn into a conflict of interest? Not bloody likely, mate.

One result I’d hope comes from Mueller’s search for truth is determination on chain-of-custody issue (evidence) and tabloid acquisition of such. TMZ is seen by most as Paul Revere but more accurately a golden calf for those of weak faith. And when investigation is complete, whether result shows up, down or middling for RG, the nation will accept it because the Boards of Directors of the corporate sponsors will accept it. Go Green!

Curious Quotes

“How successful can you be, given the (weapons at your disposal)?” Query from ESPN post-game field reporter for Ted Bridgewater after he’d subbed for injured Matt Cassel in Vikes 20-9 loss to the Saints. Pose questions for the players, Ma’am, not statements.

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Cherry Picks Week 4: London Calling

Giants (1-2) @ Redskins (1-2): 9-25 CBS 8:30 EST: NYG wins
Packers (1-2) @ Bears (2-1): 9-28 Fox 1:00: Green Bay wins
Bills (2-1) @ Texans (2-1): CBS 1:00: Houston wins
Panthers (2-1) @ Ravens (2-1) CBS 1:00: Baltimore wins
Dolphins (1-2) @ Raiders (0-3) CBS 1:00: Miami wins, Arrgh!
Eagles (3-0) @ 49ers: Fox 4:30 (Clash-of-the-Week): SF wins
Saints (1-2) @ Cowboys (2-1): NBC 8:35: New Orleans wins
Patriots (2-1) @ Chiefs (1-2): 9-29 ESPN 8:35: KC wins

Record: 19 – 9

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Photo credits: G.Garson / 1940 – MGM – P&P / wc.cca / 36k; G.Garson / 1942 – MGM – R.Harvest / wc.cca / 19k; R.Goodell / wc.cca / 8.30.12 / SSG T.Wade / USMA; P.Tagliabue / wc.cca / 8.4.02 / G.Mitchell – USNavy; A.Rodgers / wc.cca / M.Morbeck / 2008; T.Bruschi / wc.cca / 11.3.11 / ESPN / J.Kern; R.Mueller / wc.cca / 2011 / US – FBI; Cherries on cloth / wc.cca / picdrome / 6.11.11

Posted: 9-25-14 @ 11:00pm EST

NFL14 Cherry Picks W3: Only the Lonely

19 Sep

“The Loneliness of the Long Distance (Leader)”

Nobody likes a leader.

Most aren’t too crazy about clever blokes or knights on white charger, either, but that’s another piece.

Hyperbole, to be sure, but when it gets down to the nitty gritty, people just don’t get too jacked-up about forward thinkers and truth tellers. Go figure.

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Oh, some will, in certain circumstances, follow a leader’s command, i.e., military (“fight & obey”), fire & police (rural) and Wal-Mart store managers, when you can find ‘em.

The great ones (Abe – JFK – Jackie) will remain in the memories of the populace;

Their loving spouses will stand by their sides in tough times, and nearly everyone will take full advantage of any broad benefits that may accrue from brave stewardship.

But to actually like them? That’s probably a ‘no.’

Leaders make hard decisions, give clear message, can sacrifice friendships, careers and sometimes give their lives. They test our integrity and force us to think beyond ourselves and our times. And their choices might mean we have to sacrifice for the greater good. Imagine that? In 1944, sure, but 2014, not a very popular proposition.

The Old Hickorys, Honest Abes, Grovers, Teddys & Franklins, Woodrows, JFKs, they can have their time in the sun but it doesn’t usually last all that long.

To say leadership posts are challenging is an understatement, though, some offices do provide their perks and compensate accordingly, i.e. the reported $40M earned by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2013. It may be lonely at the top but far from boring.

And those bronze statues proliferating everywhere? They ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.

It’s always been this way, as far back as the solitary tribal chieftain who stared into the unknown with no one to consult but the sky above and his or her person.

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Baseball Commissioner Kuhn (‘69 – 84) was often at odds w/ specific owners (Finley / Turner) and sometimes players (Flood / Aaron), but there was a different level of respect back then, and Czars weren’t called upon near as frequent to act the disciplinarian.

Today we live in the information age. Combine it with a prevailing sense of entitlement, widespread aggression (MMA & Rd rage), disdain for integrity and an unbridled greed and you’ve got a state of cultural garden where leadership rarely grows (See: Vote 2016).

For Roger, that means this new wave of player criminal charging and League response can engender rebuke from, not only women advocates, but also from the torch & pitchfork crowd, meaning, anyone in conflict w/NFL policy, be it anti-Redskins, bitter Saints fans & the like, youthful angst, PED pushers, snobs on sport or just a pissy attitude.

The mainstream media does it’s part to fuel the flames of discontent.

Their goal: increase traffic on information highways (soc-media & TV), sensationalize the troubled topics, work the non-sporting, junior public into a frenzy with relentless and repetitious coverage of said topics, make a bushel of bills ($) and get that promotion.

But even Goodell’s biggest critics, those with a smidgen of humility, must concede that what the NFL is experiencing presently in off-field criminal and PED-related player conduct is unprecedented in its long history (c. 1919).

NFL, like other pro sports, is and always has been, a microcosm of the world in which it operates. The recent troubles besetting the League are largely age-old in their nature.

Drug – alcohol violations and / or abuse

Some recent violators: J. Irsay, J. Gordon, W. Welker & Aldon Smith

Back 30 years ago it was a different plague: cocaine.

I penned my first college paper back in the 80s (MATC) on the topic of recreational drugs in pro sport. The athletes whose careers were derailed or ruined altogether were many.

The PED plague is different. It has an element of chicanery that’s more widespread, more insidious. It’s disdain for fair-play & health sends terrible message to kids: ‘Look at me, I score big digits, big $ and don’t do LSD like grandpa & grandma did, how’s that wrong?’

The Phillips selection & off-field violence

Some recent chargees: R. Rice, R. McDonald, G. Hardy, A. Peterson & J. Dwyer

Like substance abuse, physical brutality is an enduring societal curse. The drafting of Cornhusker Lawrence Phillips (STL ‘96 / R1-6), and then his re-signing (MIA – SF), a man who’d been arrested for assaulting a former girlfriend while in Lincoln, in defiance of his character red-flags, was a bad sign for the League but not unique in the business.

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Phillips is currently serving sentences in the California prison system for “felony assault (three teens w/car)” and “assault (on former girlfriend) with great bodily injury, false imprisonment, making a criminal threat, and auto theft (See: Wikipedia).”

One wonders if the believed prevalence of performance-enhancers is contributing to the upsurge in violence off the field, and outburst on it, making recent report of deal between NFL & union in upgrading League’s “Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse,” a welcome bit of news. That good is colored by report of an enabling down-grade of standard, courtesy of NFLPA cufflinks no doubt, in the “recreational” drug category, sending a glaring mixed message.

‘Rob Peter to pay Paul,’ who can‘t find his sandals in the haze? Oy vey.

Oddly enough, the Mob of Concern, aka, League critics, emanate a deafening silence, not just on the recent recreational drug enhancement, but on what should also be topics of concern in child gaming and a lowered Heisman standard, i.e., Jameis Winston (FSU).

Not the roulette wheel or Art Schlichter (80s) varieties of gambling, not yet (See: Silver (NBA)), but the seemingly innocuous, kid-friendly fantasy gaming that rakes in millions and indoctrinates children into routines useful in wagering, as if it were finger-painting.

Fantasy gaming just might be the new “Joe Camel.” ‘Gambling rocks!’ Ugh.

As for college’s reigning king Jameis, anyone telling you his recent high jinks are causing his stock to drop w/NFL Suits & scouts by way of the character issue, don’t you believe it. As long as Winston appears drug & criminal-case free, and keeps matriculating that ball, the Suits consider the young man “clean as whistle” and a lock for NFL Draft.15’s #1.

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Goodell would’ve fared better and avoided much of the present faux-fuss had he gone the appeaser route, played to the crowd, aka, Adam Silver, by sensationalizing sad scenarios for PR (initially suspending Rice for a whole season), rather than respecting the template laid down by the Atlantic Prosecutor and likely approved by the victim, Palmer – Rice.

Off-field player issues are largely outside their employer’s control, beyond measures of deterrence & incentive. Goodell et al have, like an attuned, savvy signal-caller, audiblized at the line of scrimmage, having enhanced the PCP and “leadership team” on domestic issues. NFL does not seek and will not be expected to become a suedo-police state.

The dust is just starting to settle now on the NFL scene, with no new reports of any player being inducted into the criminal legal process as of this posting. Day’s not over.

Roger Goodell will keep suffering the slings & arrows of the non-sporting set who seek to capitalize ($) on his troubles (The Daily Show, Olbermann, Peter King, NOW, etcetera), but odds should favor him keeping his job even after the Mueller report is issued.

We know what Gloria Gaynor would say…sing, question on Roger is, does he want to survive as Commissioner? Owners & most fans would hope, yes, but “lonely are the brave” and no amount of loot can make a culturally thankless and very trying job worth keeping.

Curious Quote

“This is Robert’s team (Redskins). My job is to be the back-up quarterback.” Hmmm.

That was the soft speak of current #1 Washington QB, Kirk Cousins, who spoke Monday after subbing for the injured RG3 (ankle) and leading Redskins to a 41-10 win on Sunday over the hapless Jags whose junior fandom is biting at the bit for Mr. Bortles.

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Message for Kirk: Make no apologies. Your “job” is whatever coaches tell you it is, and I’d guess that’s to lead your team into the end zone. Courtesy is good, but either you’re all-in and embrace the leadership role or it’s time to hand in your pads.

Encouraging Signs

Jay Cutler, Bears QB (@ SF): Tosses 4 TDs to bring Monsters back from a 3Q, 20-7 deficit for a 28-20 win. Equally discouraging for the other hombres, who miss Bowman.

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Packers’ defense (v. NYJ): After giving 14, 1Q points, cheesy got chintzy and gave but one TD the next three. It was the Jets. As usual, Burnett (6-4) & Hawk (5 -5) lead the Pack.

Chris Conte, Bears’ safety: Conte made interception of the weekend as “that daring young man…(flew) through the air with greatest of ease,” to take away a 2Q Colin toss. Now, if speedy Christopher can only learn to fly (tackle) low (See: Bills’ Jackson, W1).

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Cherry Picks Week 3: Bring ‘em on, please!

Chargers (2-0) @ Buffalo (2-0): 9-21 CBS 1:00 EST: San Diego wins
Redskins (1-1) @ Philadelphia (2-0): Fox 1:00: Eagles win
Ravens (1-1) @ Cleveland (1-1): CBS 1:00: Baltimore wins
Packers (1-1) @ Detroit (1-1): Fox 1:00: Green Bay wins
49ers (1-1) @ Arizona: Fox 4:10: San Francisco wins
Broncos (2-0) @ Seattle (1-1) (GOTW): CBS 4:30: ‘Hawks win, again
Chiefs (0-2) @ Miami (1-1): CBS 4:30: Kansas City wins
Steelers (1-1) @ Carolina (2-0): NBC 8:35: Pittsburgh wins
Bears (1-1) @ New York Jets (1-1): 9-22 ESPN 8:35: Chicago wins

Record: 12 – 7

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Photo Credits: Un-named US soldier & R. Goodell / Afghan. / 7.10.08 / wc.cca / Sgt. B.Del Vecchio; R.Goodell / 8.30.12 / wc.cca / SSG T.Wade / USMA; NFL – wikiproject; L.Phillips / 8.21.05 / wc.cca / LA-Sheriff; J.Winston / wc.cca / D.July / 10.8.13; K.Cousins / 7.31.12 / wc.cca / K.Allison; J.Cutler / wc.cca / 11.1.09 / M.Schadle; ripe cherries / wc.cca / Chirak / 6.24.07

Posted: 9-19-14 @ 2:28pm EST

NFL14 Cherry Picks W2: TMZ & Profitable Chaos

9 Sep

Coinage in Chaos

Most news reports began with phrases like, “new video has surfaced,” and “obtained by TMZ.com,” sadly, words that’re now nomenclature (std schpeal?) in today’s tawdry tell-all times (“New Video” / SI.com / 9-8-14 / Axson).

The breaking story flooded the media landscape after TMZ released a video Monday showing Ray Rice assaulting his then fiancée, Janay Palmer in-elevator at a New Jersey hotel last February. It followed a criminal conviction against Rice earlier in summer, 2-game NFL ban and a national focus on the issue of domestic violence. This new tape’s public-vetting of the brutal incident has led to Rice‘s quick, same-day release by his Baltimore Ravens team and indefinite NFL suspension.

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The tape, widely disseminated by TMZ, is of rather poor quality but clear enough to show a verbal and physical back n’ forth between the two throughout the brief tapping, ending with Rice visibly knocking-out Palmer with one, severe blow.

Resentment towards Rice, the Ravens, Atlantic County prosecutors and Roger Goodell is at fever pitch and has that now all too common, pitchfork-crowd mentality about it.

But just as clear as the viciousness of Ray Rice in this 2nd video, is that TMZ and its managing editor Harvey Levin will, in all likelihood, profit mightily by its acquisition and marketing, yet, are receiving little or no criticism for their dubious business practice.

As to claim that TMZ’s latest excretion (See; Sterling-Stiviano audio) will aid to heighten public awareness on domestic violence & brutality, that was already accomplished in release of the first Palmer – Rice hall-way video. In their acquisition ($?) & “surfac(ing)” of this in-elevator, video evidence, TMZ et al merely enflamed simmering rancor and may’ve compromised the carefully crafted resolution to this NJ criminal case, one involving input from prosecutors, the principal parties and their legal team.

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TMZ, in effect, outed Janay Palmer in releasing the tape, arguably in pursuit of profit & self-promotion. Even were the on-line tabloid to donate a sizable sum to charitable cause (they can‘t donate publicity), is Janay the better for TMZ’s action? Was their decision, one that’s gone largely unquestioned by media, public and a panicky, knee-jerk Ravens club (Rice jersey exchange), done in Palmer’s best interest? Doubtful.

And are we a better nation for its release (2nd tape), to simply get confirmation of an act we already knew (Ray hit Janay hard), if not with certainty, a high probability, even at expense of the victim? That’s not ‘better’ but just one more reason for self-righteous rage.

It did, however, get Bruce Levenson (Atlanta Hawks) off sporting oven’s front-burner.

Not privy to details or inner-workings of the prosecutor’s office, I’ll hazard a guess that where an accused (Rice) has no prior record of abuse and the victim is desirous to afford a second chance, authorities listen and heed the call, w/in clearly defined parameters.

Janay, who’d already had support from much of the public, can’t be too happy w/release of this new video. TMZ’s play may only worsen her and husband’s state as he’s expected to undergo counseling. Hopefully they’ve the strength & support network to ride it out, for with a likely life-time NFL ban looming, Ray’s now gonna be home alot. Thanks, Harv.

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As for Goodell and the 2g ban he initially gave Rice, while the under-fire Commissioner will try to appease the mawkish mob, whether he (& favored media) saw this video previously or not (he claims not), Roger likely acted in respect of prosecutor’s determination, the victim’s wish and refused to contradict those interests merely to win PR points.

Any view rejecting such theory on Goodell can only be possessed by a prejudice, or, dumbfounded in their belief of either one of three crazy postulations as to his motive for not rendering a stiffer penalty initially on Rice: 1) He’s an incredible bias in favor of the Ravens, so much so he’d risk reputation & job to satisfy it; 2) he’s suddenly turned too timid to punish wrong-doers sufficiently (See: Al. Smith, J.Gordon, Bountygate, Bullygate, etc.); or 3) he dislikes women and was not moved by the in-elevator tape when viewing. Crazy.

But try telling that to the Mob of Concern.

Sexual Orientation – Affirmative Action?

Peter King (NBC – SI) and S.A. Smith (ESPN) reported on Thursday (9/4) the NFL made contact with various teams regarding Mike Sam after he failed to latch on with the Rams.

Assuming the King & Smith comments are full & factual, the appropriateness of the action, reaching-out to determine or cultivate team interest in Sam, who’s since been signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, may turn on exactly what information the NFL was acting upon and their particular motive involved.

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If NFL believes Sam has pro-skills and learned the former Tiger was being denied a fair chance (prejudice), one that others of his set would receive, then the calls are tantamount to either a pre-emptive legal move, or NFL – AA (Affirmative Action: a pro-active hiring practice designed to level a playing field and root out entrenched racial prejudice in hiring, a government policy since the 60s that’s much debated still today.

While many players have spoken publicly since Sam’s declaration last spring about homosexual orientation not being a problem in their respective NFL locker-rooms, has there been a less accommodating, un-spoken policy amongst certain management?

If, on the other hand, the League had little basis for 1) judging Mike’s skill set, or 2) did not hear-tell that prejudice was precluding his signing-on w/another club, then what these reports claim are likely predicated on an NFL – NFLPA purpose in PR and commerce.

The NFL is a private entity and can legally promote itself how it sees fit. If King & Smith are disseminating, this leak had purpose. The problem here: such a policy, if it exists, may do more harm than good to future, openly gay players as AA is a polarizing position.

Encouraging Signs

It was only the Cowboys and Romo was pretty awful (3 INTs), but it was in Big D and Colin Kaepernick showed a new found poise in the pocket in 49ers 28 – 17 victory (16 -23 / 201y / 2TDs). CK took hits and used mobility to find targets, not to scamper.

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Geno Smith had 3rd-best comp-% (82) in Jets history (23 – 28 / 221y / 1-1), leading New York to 19 – 14 home opener win vs. Oakland. C. Ivory ran for 102y (71 – 1td) for NYJ. Raider highlight: 2nd-year LB Sio Moore with 11 tackles, 2 assists and a sack. Busy.

Curious Quotes

Not every defense, can’t stop every play:” Former Ravens’ coach, Brian Billick, working analysis on NFL GameDay Live, Sunday afternoon. Yogi Berra would be proud, BB.

“Beers:” How one host on NFL GameDay Live pronounces ‘Bears.’ Watch much sports?

This is a pass – fail League, today we failed:” Browns’ new head coach Mike Pettine, of the ‘glass half-empty’ school, after his club fell at Pittsburgh in a gutsy loss, 27 -30. Try “Ac-Cent-Tchu-At(ing) the Positive,” next time, Mike, your men played with spirit.

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Cherry Picks Week 2: Bounce Back

Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) @ Baltimore Ravens (0-1): 9-11 NBC 8:30 EST: Ravens win.

Arizona Cardinals (1-0) @ New York Giants (0-1): 9-14 Fox 1:00: NYG wins.

Miami Dolphins (1-0) @ Buffalo Bills (1-0): CBS 1:00: Dolphins win.

New England Patriots (0-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (1-0): CBS 1:00: Patriots win.

Detroit Lions (1-0) @ Carolina Panthers (1-0): Fox 1:00: Panthers win.

Atlanta Falcons (1-0) @ Cincinnati Bengals (1-0): CBS 1:00: Bengals win.

Seattle Seahawks (1-0) @ SD Chargers (0-1) (GOTW): Fox 4:10: Bolts win.

Kansas City Chiefs (0-1) @ Denver Broncos (1-0): CBS 4:30: Chiefs win.

New York Jets (1-0) @ Green Bay Packers (0-1): CBS 4:30: Packers win.

Chicago Bears (0-1) @ San Francisco 49ers (1-0): NBC 8:35: Bears win.

Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) @ Indianapolis Colts (0-1): 9-15 ESPN: IND wins.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Photo Credits: H.Levin / wc.cca / G.Hernandez / 4.2.10; R.Rice / 1ravencowboysnflfan / 8.12.12 / wc.cca ; R.Goodell / wc.cca / SSG.T.Wade / USMA; M.Sam / wc.cca / 11.30.13 / M.Qwertyus; C.Kaepernick / 2.3.13 / Au.Kirk / wc.cca; Cherries / wc.cca / B.Kua / 6.1.08.

Posted: 9-9-14 @ 5:52, 6:56, 11:55pm EST

NFL14 Cherry Picks W1: Thursday Football?

5 Sep

Thursday Night Football

Not a fan of the Thursday night game, am I, and especially not to kick-off the 2014-15 NFL season.

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It’s a terrific inaugural match-up this season, as the Packers, winners of Super Bowl 45 (’11), return to Seattle, the site of Simultaneous Catch 2012, to face the defending champs, the Seahawks, in a battle of NFC juggernauts.

The caliber of TNF team won’t usually be this high.

Tens of millions will watch tonite’s game. Of course, it’s pro football on TV.

But who in their right football mind prefers to watch the first contest in mid-week, at night, with work & school the next morning? Not many. Sunday would’ve suited fans, probably players & coaches too, just fine. And that’d be the fan-friendlier NFL world.

The memo that proposed TNF, along with the same that hatched the in-game pink-wear idea that shocks in October, and the likely Nike memo (‘12?) that may’ve discussed new logos for what some non-sporting, agents-for-change had hoped would be an easily ousted Washington Redskins motif, oughta’ all be framed. Then hang it in a prominent place at NFL headquarters as a reminder of how not to do business. But that’s another world, too.

The Braun Line in Denver

From sympathetic figure (preseason-concussion) to sorrowful scoundrel in a matter days, Broncos’ starry slot receiver Wes Welker was scrambling for answers Wednesday morning after report he’d tested positive for PEDs (amphetamines, reported “Adderall”) as part of NFL / NFLPA’s Policy & Program for Substances of Abuse and would serve a 4 game suspension after losing his appeal (Aug).

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I’m as shocked as everyone at today’s news. I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I would NEVER knowingly take a substance to gain a competitive advantage in any way…I now know, that (drug-policy procedures) are clearly flawed, and I will do everything in my power to ensure they are corrected, so other individuals and teams aren’t negatively affected so rashly like this. I have worked my whole life to be the best that I can be, and I have encountered many obstacles over my career, and THIS WILL BE NO DIFFERENT (“Wes Welker” / denverpost / 9-2-14 / Klis).”

Welker’s public response has an air of Braun about it.

Like the Brewers’ slugger and former MVP (‘11), Wes sings an old tune in appearing determined to blame everything but himself.

He hasn’t as yet called into question the integrity of his tester as did Ryan, but has “clearly” made the process the culprit. He’s also thrown out the possiblity his beverage at the Kentucky Derby, where testing occurred, may’ve been laced with the banned drug.

Strange, corrupt things do happen sometimes, but Wes is gonna’ have to produce reliable evidence of such a mickey-plot to clear his name. As things stand presently, “The (man) doth protest too much, me-thinks (Ed de Vere (Hamlet)).”

In all likelihood, given that Wes’ appeal was “denied,” only thing “clearly flawed” about NFL’s PED-prevention program is the absence of HGH-blood draws, thanks in large part to Welker’s NFLPA and Executive Director, DeMaurice Smith.

Dark Horses

Prognosticating is in vogue this first week of NFL play, as everyone and their Grandma dives into the pool of picks, giving their best guess on post-season participants for 2014-15: divisional, wild-card, Conference and of course, the big kahuna, the Super Bowl.

But even an un-distinguished foreteller as myself can, mostly likely, correctly pick most of those stalwarts who’ll end up in the winner‘s circles.

More challenging are the dark horse selections.

Those are the teams who clearly have some talent, their fair-share of obstacles to over-come and showed enough moxie in the prior year to make them hard to keep out of the contender category. They’re the teams that, if they do make the playoffs, you won’t be kicking yourself: ‘Damn, I should’ve tabbed those guys winners.’

AFC

Thoroughbreds: Denver (even Welker-less); New England (especially w/out Gronk-itis); KC (ended high (v. IND), offense, anyway) and Cincy (changing of da’ AFCN guard).

Dark Horse: San Diego

Never say die: Chargers’ unofficial motto in 2013. After a home loss to Bengals in W13 things looked bleak. But Bolts went on a 4-game tear, then took revenge in taking wild card in Cincy and finally succumbed to AFC thoroughbred Broncos by 7 in Divisional.

It was a nifty Y1 for coach Mike McCoy who might’ve won COY (Rivera) if playoffs factored. Likewise for Phil Rivers who was given time (30sk) and played superb (69.5%, 32-11), while run-back Ryan Mathews finally stayed healthy and performed to potential (1255y / 4.4). With Don Brown signed (537 / 5.3), Woodhead (429 / 4.0) is insurance.

AP’s CPOY, San Diego mainstay Rivers is cut from same pocket-passer cloth as Cutler but better bang-immunity, starting every game for 8y straight: Jr. Iron-man. At 32 you’d expect QB fade but Phil’s a live-wire cut from Mickey Rooney cloth (we miss ya’ Mick (d. 4-6-14)). And with kindred spirit in Mike, who played QB and coached NFL offense since 2000 w/ specialty in QBs, the scoring synergy should stay energized (R5 / 393).

But Diego’s different on defense. Bolts reside in lower echelon (R23 / 366.yapg), only adequate in manufacturing opportunities, i.e., find few fumbles (15), so-so sacks (34) and few picks (11). But Weddle, Butler, Gilchrist, Marshall & Liuget are solid core.

The obstacles: Can star run-man Mathews stay healthy for 2 in a row, Whisenhunt (OC) is now in Tennessee and will core defenders Weddle & Butler get enough stoppage support keep games close. Strong finish (PS loss v. DEN) gives Bolts followers best hope in a decade, in a Conference ripe for change.

NFC

Thoroughbreds: Seattle (If Dick Sherman ever starts tackling, watch out); Green Bay (Did defense upgrade?); New Orleans (better than ‘09-10) and Atlanta Falcons (Bounce-back).

Dark Horse: Arizona Cardinals

Were best-record the playoff tabulator, Arizona would’ve made the cut in last season’s PS instead of North division ‘champ’ getting an invite, as Pack (8-7-1) went one & done in a home loss to, who else, the 49ers who, of course, ran wild, yet again.

Cards came in at 6 (D) & 12 (O) and fairly active in agency. Only team to top the titlists in Seattle (W16), but couldn’t handle success and closed out w/ home loss to the Niners. Trouble is, now they’re scrambling on defense with stalwarts Karlos Danby gone (CLE), Daryl Washington susp‘d (plea-a/a) and Ty Mathieu (knee) working back.

Carson Palmer’s getting toothy but had one of his best in yards (4274) & C% (63+) while INTs tallied high (22). His target pool grew w/ FAs Ginn & Carlson (TE), O-line beefed up w/ Raiders alum J. Veldheer who missed most of ‘13 w/triceps, but backfield re-work is in order as Mendy retired (3.2 ypc) and 2y Ellington (5.5) looks to fill the void.

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Cherry Picks Week 1

Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks: 9-4 / 8:35 EST: Seahawks win

New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons: 9-7 / 1:00 (GOTW): Falcons win

New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins: 1:00: Patriots win

Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens: 1:00: Bengals win

San Francisco 49ers @ Dallas Cowboys: 4:30: Cowboys win

Indianapolis Colts @ Denver Broncos: 8:30: Broncos win

New York Giants @ Detroit Lions: 9-8 / 7:15: Giants win

San Diego Chargers @ Arizona Cardinals: 9-8 / 10:25: Cardinals win

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Photo credit: cherries / Hispalois / wc.cca / 7-2-12 / Spain; W.Welker / J.Beall / wc.cca / 8.29.13

Posted: 9-4-14 @ 10:18pm EST

NFL Hunch Line: Cover Pink Proves Timely

2 Sep

Too little, too late.

That had been the prevailing sentiment of an already disgruntled NFL fan-base shortly after hearing news last Thursday (8/28) that Roger Goodell had tightened-up the League policy on substantiated claims of domestic violence & related wrongs committed by players & League employees.

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Knee-jerk might’ve summed-it-up, just fine.

But that maligning mood may give way to a new sentiment, i.e., better late than never, as the NFL’s fresh-off-the-press, enhanced standard will be tested before the ink’s dry.

Reported on Sunday was the arrest & bail-walk of 49ers veteran defensive lineman Ray McDonald (8y) on a domestic violence incident (“49ers“ / USA-Ty / L.Jones / 8-31-14).

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The following is a key paragraph in the upgrade that the Commissioner’s office gave the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy (PCP) and detailed in letter sent out to owners last week:

Effective immediately, violations of the (PCP) regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant….A second offense will result in banishment from the NFL; while an individual may petition for reinstatement after one year, there will be no presumption or assurance that the petition will be granted. These disciplinary standards will apply to all NFL personnel (“Roger Goodell Letter” / espn.com / 8-29-14).

The policy enhancer came in response to a string of events starting last February.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested, along with then girlfriend, now wife, Janay Palmer, for aggravated assault (Palmer was not charged) in an Atlantic City hotel elevator. Rice was seen on video exiting and pulling an apparently unconscious Palmer out onto the hallway. The athlete reached agreement with County attorney whereby he may avoid conviction if he meets certain counseling and other requirements.

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In late July Goodell suspended Rice for what seemed to many a light, disaffected 2-game suspension to start the 2014 NFL season.

While NFL’s action last week is clearly designed to show compassion for victims of the harmful behaviors listed in their letter, to work a deterrent, and address short-comings in the NFL – PCP policy, it should come as little surprise that it’s also most likely intended to stop the bleeding, i.e., head off an anticipated consumer backlash from the fairer sex.

The prevailing perception has been that the NFL’s ‘by the book’ approach in addressing Rice’s criminal – legal circumstance (?) was insufficient and insensitive.

Some may’ve also seen it as contradicting the League’s pro-female stance in procurement of women consumers into it’s football family by way of merchandise, TV personas and sponsorship of a breast cancer awareness campaign (“A Crucial Catch”) as parlayed in the god-awful, gaudy pink game apparel proliferating in the League come October.

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There are three developing markets in the NFL: children, foreigners and women.

The kids are an easy sell: games (fantasy), glitz & gimmicks. It’s a ‘can’t miss.’

The foreign market has always been a tough nut to crack, given how soccer is god most everywhere outside North America. Any in-roads made are considered a plus.

And State-side, the female consumer sector is potentially huge. It is, however, selective.

Football is an all-male sport (Mo‘Ne Got Pads?). And though it espouses values in team-work, self-sacrifice, loyalty and sportsmanship (sure), it’s brutish & violent at its core, something most women avoid like ESPN (See; S.A. Smith) and socket wrenches.

Just the thought of Mom having been a pro-football fan gives this writer the willies.

While Goodell was roundly criticized for the nearly inconsequential 2g ban given Rice after his “incident of domestic violence,” and failed to explain exactly how NFL could’ve “allowed (their) standards to fall below where they should be (on DV) (“Roger” / espn),” I wrote at the time that the Commissioner’s actions were, to a degree, out of his own control, shaped by a justice system, the parties and precedent, including the CBA.

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As well, Roger has given no indication of being soft on bad behavior, i.e., “Bountygate and Bullygate,” and recent Aldon Smith (9g / SF) and Josh Gordon (2014 / CLE) bans.

Where the Commissioner might’ve spared himself, his entity, some verbal flogging was by way of the PR department. If his hands were in fact tied, communicate that fact to the people, Roger.

There is one point (letter) I would, if given the chance, bend Roger’s ear on. He wrote: “The public response reinforced my belief that the NFL is held to a higher standard (“Roger”).”

“Higher?” Really, than what, the Legends (Lingerie) League?

Uh-uh, Roger, not a “higher” standard, just a standard. Lawyers, right?

Though the League had to be a bit jolted by the collective thumbs-down given its Rice punishment, it must’ve suspected it wouldn’t take long, sadly, for its new, ameliorating measures (PCP) to be called into action, showing those fickle fans that the NFL now means business and affording them reason to come back home and help put it back in the pink.

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They just didn’t figure this long, or short (See above; McDonald).

As to Mr. McDonald, the NFL is monitoring the legal process, lawyer-vetted statements will be disseminated accordingly and the public (media & fans) hopefully observes w/emotional detachment.

Then, when the final report is issued and the fallen chips are all stacked, we can assume that any pointed questions directed to the principals will be side-stepped and the standard, ‘I take full responsibility’ will be spewed forth. All we ask is that we‘re spared the other standard (& poor) line in after-math: ‘It is what it is.’ Ugh.

But be assured, if cause does arise from McDonald or future employee incidents where violence or force is confirmed, Goodell & Co. are now, not only empowered but poised to act on that authority w/all due speed, clarity, fairness & firmness, showing the world the NFL has heart and holds human dignity amongst its highest values. Highest.

But as long as Ray Rice laces ‘em up, he’ll remain a symbol of leadership’s need to, not just talk the talk (pink wear and lady sideline reporters), but walk the walk, as well.

And to the Rices or any persons involved in domestic disturbance, be it believed victims, accused, local authorities, family and even employers, we fans wish them well in working out of that troubled state, and remain hopeful that the end results will most often become a learning experience rather than tragic memory of a day, a time, gone terribly wrong.

We also hope that where there are those who sit in judgment, their passing hand is guided by courage & wisdom yet tempered w/compassion, foresight, independence and humility.

Steven Keys
NFL Hunch Line
Photo credits: Goodell / wc.cca / 8.30.12 / SSG-T.Wade – USMA / 2.9m;  Goodell & unidentified soldier / wc.cca / 7.10.08 / Sgt. B.DelVecchio / Afghan / 616k;  McDonald / wc.cca / 8.21.8 / D.Kaczmarczyk / 181k / thumb; Rice / wc.cca / 8.12.12 / 1ravencowboysnflfan / 65k; US.Navy / 10.7.12 / Steelers / 1.5m / wc.cca / Lt. J.Prunera; NFL symbol / wikiproject / Ixnay – Beao / 1.21.10; Redskins – cheer / wc.cca / US.Navy / Italy / 361k.

Posted: 9.1.14 @ 10:57pm, EST