The Daily Briefing Friday, May 25, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

John Harbaugh of the Ravens, the coach with PK JUSTIN TUCKER, has a vested interest in making the kickoff more exciting.  Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

As the NFL continues to discuss ways to change the kickoff and reduce the number of collisions that take place on it, one idea has been bandied about from time to time that would give the kickoff team a strong incentive to kick it deep: Give the kicking team one point if a kickoff goes through the uprights.

 

The Ravens have been the team most in favor of the rule, for a simple reason: Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has a strong leg and would have a good chance of putting a kickoff through the uprights.

 

Is it realistic? Probably not. The idea has never even reached the point of being voted upon at a league meeting, let alone adopted. But since the idea came up again this week at the Ravens’ Organized Team Activities, we’ll repeat what we’ve said before about why the rule could make sense:

 

It’s good for player safety. When the NFL moved the touchback to the 25-yard line, the goal was to reduce kickoff returns. But that rule hasn’t made much of a difference because some teams now kick high and short in an effort to avoid touchbacks. The Ravens’ proposal would certainly reduce the number of kickoff returns: Teams would have a strong incentive for their kicker to kick it as deep as possible to try to get that bonus point, and when those kickoffs fell short of the goal posts, the returners would usually stay in the end zone because they’d be backed up near the end line.

 

It’s exciting for late-game strategy. Under current rules, we’ve grown accustomed to a seven-point lead meaning a touchdown and extra point can tie, an eight-point lead meaning a touchdown and two-point conversion can tie, and a nine-point lead meaning a two-possession game. This would change things. Now you could trail by seven and take the lead with a touchdown, extra point and kickoff point. Or trail by eight and take the lead with a touchdown, two-point conversion and kickoff point. And a nine-point game would be particularly exciting: You score a touchdown late in the game down by nine. Do you go for two and try to tie the game with a kickoff point? Or do you kick the extra point and try to win the game with an onside kick followed by a field goal?

 

It could feature an exception to the goaltending rule. The NFL currently has a rule against goaltending on field goals and extra points: A player who jumps up and touches a ball as it is about to go through the goal posts in an attempt to block a field goal is flagged for goaltending, a 15-yard penalty. But that rule shouldn’t apply to kickoff points, because it would be great to reward a kickoff returner who’s athletic enough to leap up and swat away a kick that’s 10 or 11 feet in the air. And in a late-game situation where one point is the difference in the game, a team could put in its best goaltender to try to block a kickoff point.

 

Don’t hold your breath for a rule like this ever being adopted. But it would make Tucker an even more valuable player.

 

NFC NORTH

 

DETROIT

The charges were dropped, but the media is not resting until it knows all the gory details of Coach Matt Patricia’s escapade as a college student on South Padre Island.  Mark Hicks and Robert Snell of the Detroit News are on the case:

 

Texas officials are seeking to conceal new records recovered from the 1996 sexual assault case against Detroit Lions coach Matthew Patricia.

 

The revelation was made Thursday by the City of South Padre Island in Texas in response to a request from The Detroit News and other media outlets for information related to the alleged incident that occurred at a hotel there more than two decades ago.

 

In a letter to the Texas Attorney General’s Office dated Thursday, South Padre Island Public Information Officer Angelique Soto said the discovered files include “internal working documents that would be used in the process of submitting cases to the District Attorney’s Office and reporting a criminal history to the Texas Department of Public Safety.”

 

The original case file, however, was destroyed after being held in records until 2006, Soto noted.

 

A grand jury indicted Patricia as well as a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute football teammate, Greg Dietrich, on one count each of aggravated sexual assault involving a 21-year-old college student, but the felony charges were dismissed when the accuser declined to testify, saying she could not face the stress of a trial, according to court records.

 

The allegations were previously unknown until uncovered by The News this month. The case was dismissed by the Cameron County district attorney’s office “and the City of South Padre Island would not want internal working documents to be released in the event it could jeopardize future cases,” Soto wrote Thursday.

 

“The city is requesting to withhold the information as this case has been dismissed, but the release of information could jeopardize a person’s identity. Furthermore, the information on file are internal records of the South Padre Island Police Department, codes are used by officers and release of the documents could unduly interfere with law enforcement and crime prevention.”

 

A day after The Detroit News broke the story on Patricia’s indictment, the Lions head coach defended himself with a three-minute statement, proclaiming his innocence.

– – –

The surviving documents could include summaries of forensic evidence and interviews with the accuser, and possibly, Patricia and Dietrich, said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. The documents could also include the investigators’ assessment of the credibility of key figures involved, including Patricia, he said.

 

“We don’t know if (Patricia and Dietrich) consented to an interview, but those notes and any forensic evidence likely would be in that,” Henning said. “This would add to what’s known (publicly) about the investigation.”

 

The News previously reported that investigators collected statements from five witnesses and medical evidence from the 21-year-old college student who accused Patricia and Dietrich of violently sexually assaulting her.

 

The list included her college classmate, an emergency room nurse and doctor at Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, Texas, and two law enforcement personnel with the South Padre Island Police Department.

 

It is unclear if that medical evidence included DNA evidence, though former South Padre Island Police Chief E.E. Eunice has told The News it was customary for his department to take sexual-assault accusers to an area hospital so medical staff could search for evidence of sexual assault.

 

Cameron County Court records show Patricia’s lawyer, Jeff Wilson, requested a copy of the accuser’s medical report on Oct. 30, 1996, seven months after Patricia and Dietrich were arrested during Texas Week on South Padre Island, Texas.

 

Earlier this week, the NFL ruled that neither Patricia nor the Lions would face discipline from the league regarding the indictment.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Despite a lack of big plays as a Ram, WR/RB TAVON AUSTIN, now with the Cowboys, continues to believe he can make them.

 

When the Dallas Cowboys acquired Tavon Austin from the Los Angeles Rams, the team immediately define him as a “web back” who they hope could fill the vacant Lance Dunbar role.

 

Austin is labeled as a running back on the roster sheet but spends time during organized team activities in the wide receiver’s room. The former first-round pick brushed off questions trying to define his role in 2018.

 

“I don’t care what I’m being called as long as I’m playing, that’s all that matters,” Austin said, via the Dallas Morning News. “You can call me anything you want as long as I’m playing.”

 

Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones put an outlandish goal of getting Austin between 12 and 24 touches per game. That outsized target range would be miles ahead of the “Lance Dunbar role” — Dunbar’s career-high in touches for a season in Dallas was 47.

 

Last year in Sean McVay’s offense, Austin touched the ball an average of 4.23 times per game, including a goose egg in the Rams’ playoffs loss. Of his 72 touches in 2017, just 13 came in the passing game. If an offensive mind like McVay couldn’t figure out a way to use Austin, it’s fair to wonder if the Cowboys will have success in that endeavor.

 

The 28-year-old is set to return punts for Dallas and could be used on kick returns. Austin is willing to play any role that gets the ball in his hands so he can finally show off the talent that got him drafted eighth overall in 2013.

 

“At the end of the day, I’m a playmaker,” Austin said. “That’s how I describe myself. I don’t really care where I’m at on the field. I just want the ball and a little bit of space and let me create and I’m going from there…

 

“An athlete who creates, the thing I did my whole life. I’m cool with it, running back, receiver, punt returner, it really doesn’t make a difference to me. I just definitely want my opportunity to get the ball in my hands and get a little bit of space and do what I do best.”

 

Thus far, no coach has unlocked the secret to utilizing Austin’s strengths in a consistent, productive manner. In Dallas’ revamped offense there are plenty of touches up for grabs. Whether Austin warrants a large chunk remains to be seen.

 

Austin was drafted with the belief he could make big plays.  Yet, here is where he sits on the all-time list of yards per catch among WRs with 100 career receptions – dead last.

 

                                                   Catches     Avg.

1          Tavon Austin                     194            8.7                                                      

2          Brad Smith                        104            9.5                                                                  

3          Danny Amendola              426            9.6                                                      

4          Austin Pettis                      107            9.7                                                      

5          Andre Caldwell                  156            9.7                                                                                                                                          

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

ELI MANNING is still the QB of the New York Giants, but the equipment staff members who aided a scheme to fake game-worn helmets are on the street.  Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News:

 

The Giants have fired the three ranking members of their equipment staff not long after settling the Eli Manning memorabilia fraud case in which they all had been initially named.

 

The club let go equipment director Joseph Skiba, his brother and assistant equipment manager Ed Skiba, and equipment/locker room manager Ed Wagner, Jr., a source told the Daily News Thursday night. ESPN first reported the firings.

 

Wagner had been employed by the Giants for more than 40 years. His father, Edward, also had been the franchise’s equipment manager. And the Skibas each had been with the club since college.

 

But the lawsuit, which dragged on more than four years before settlement on May 14, seemingly strained the Giants’ relationship with the Skibas in particular past the point of no return.

 

Joe Skiba most notably was the recipient of a Manning email on April 27, 2010 — made public last spring — in which Manning asked for “2 helmets that can pass as game used.”

 

Skiba complied, and though he ultimately wasn’t liable in the final version of the lawsuit that was settled, there were rampant allegations against Skiba about knowledge and participation in fraudulent dealings never actually dispelled. Skiba simply had most claims against him dismissed because the judge ruled he had not profited nor actually misled any consumers directly of the allegedly fraudulent items.

 

The Giants did not represent the Skibas in the lawsuit, but court papers suggested the Giants were paying Joe Skiba’s “substantial legal bills” in the case. Ed confirmed “they are paying our legal fees” in a text conversation with his brother. Later in the conversation, Joe Skiba threatened to “tell the whole f—— world the truth” about the memorabilia case.

 

With the integrity of Manning and the franchise on the line, all parties settled the case just as it was set to go to trial last week. And then it didn’t take long for the organization to settle this business in-house.

 

But the question now is: is this story over? Or are these firings just the beginning of a different fight?

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

QB PATRICK MAHOMES has not lit it up in OTAs.  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

The Kansas City Chiefs earned plenty of praise when handing the starting quarterback job to Patrick Mahomes this offseason after just one start.

 

Despite the universal acclaim, the young Padawan still has several steps to take before becoming a Jedi Knight.

 

Andy Reid and the Chiefs coaching staff have thrown the kitchen sink at their new starter during offseason practices. During Thursday’s OTA session open to the media, Mahomes struggled, completing just 4 of 15 passes with an interception in a full-squad session. He went 7 for 12 with an INT in 7-on-7 drills, per ESPN’s Adam Teicher.

 

Normally we’d scoff at tracking completion percentage and interceptions during OTAs. In the Chiefs’ case, however, it’s instructive in how much the coaching staff is putting on Mahomes’ plate, knowing he must run the offense at full capacity come September if K.C. is to return to the playoffs.

 

“[Coaches] have really tried to throw a lot at the whole offense,” Mahomes said Thursday, brushing off his struggles, via the team’s official website. “If you want to make mistakes you make them now. You don’t want to make those mistakes in the game so we throw a lot now so when we get to the game it’s a lot easier.”

 

Reid likewise dismissed Mahomes’ practice struggles as part of the process of getting the new quarterback up to speed.

 

“No, and I’ve mentioned this to you guys before when Alex [Smith] was here and so on, these are camps where you want to test,” Reid said when asked if the interceptions were worrisome. “We throw in a lot of new stuff so you want to test what you can get away with in these camps, so you’re going to have interceptions. That doesn’t bother me. If you repeat it, now that’s a problem but you want to test it and see what you can get away with. That’s all a part of the way this thing works.”

 

Mahomes garnered nearly widespread praise for his singular outing in 2017, in which he completed 22 of 33 passes for 284 yards with one interception. The big-armed quarterback showed some ‘wow’ throws and flashed the traits that caused the Chiefs to leap up in the first round to select him last year. Ultimately, it was that game that made Reid and the Chiefs comfortable transitioning from Smith to the youngster.

 

Offseason practices aren’t used only for testing a young QB’s limits. Coaches also need to discern what Mahomes does well to tailor the playbook to his skill set.

 

“I want him to be exposed to things and that’s what you do,” Reid said. “Then you work with it and put your personality on these different things. Try to find the things that he’s best at, work the offense around him like we did with Alex. We worked the offense around Alex and built it around him and now it’s this kid’s turn and you have to kind of feel that part out. He’s gonna keep firing and that’s all we want, and learning, it’s a great time for that. That’s what this is all about right here.”

 

Mahomes’ struggles in the spring shouldn’t be taken as a precursor to problems in autumn. They should simply be used as a reminder — a soft break on the hype train, if you will — that we shouldn’t assume the transition from Smith to Mahomes won’t have some bumps along the way.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Dan Hanzus of NFL.com thinks the Texans (along with the Broncos) are the most likely of the eight last place teams in 2017 to win a division title this year:

 

Houston Texans

Like the Broncos, here’s a situation where an improved team meets a wide-open division. For the Texans, just getting healthy could be enough to punch a ticket back to January. This is a defense that — health willing — will include J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus and Tyrann Mathieu. There are durability concerns with all those stars, but the upside is undeniable. The same can be said about an offense led by quarterback Deshaun Watson (a legit phenom as a rookie before hurting his knee). Houston’s offense isn’t perfect: The offensive line is a question mark and the hope is that D’Onta Foreman pushes the underwhelming Lamar Miller in the backfield. But I like the stars here, and I really like the head coach, Bill O’Brien, who consistently gets the most out of his teams.

 

As for the rest of the AFC South? I’ll spare you the obligatory Blake Bortles misgivings, but let’s just say nothing should be assumed with the Jaguars. The Colts have their Andrew Luck thing going on. If this division is indeed heading for a shake-up, don’t be surprised if it’s the Texans and Titans fighting for the top spot come late December.

 

An encouraging sign from Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Texans’ two most important players have spent more time together than with their families over the past six months. Deshaun Watson and J.J. Watt have rehabbed together, worked out together and supported each other in their comebacks from major injuries.

 

“It was similar as me,” Watson said, via Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. “We have the same mindset: Grind and feel like we’re in last place, never get complacent. Each and every day is an opportunity for us to get better, and we know that we have a long way to go to get back to where we were but we understand the process.”

 

Watson got in some work during the team’s OTAs this week. Watt watched from the side. But both have made progress.

 

Watt played in five games last season before a tibial plateau fracture ended his season prematurely. He is expected to return in time for training camp.

 

Watson played seven games before tearing his right ACL last season. He has said he definitely expects to be ready for training camp.

 

AFC EAST

 

BUFFALO

The Pegulas, who saved the franchise for Buffalo, want a new stadium.  A public official is not receptive.  The Buffalo News:

 

The price of building a new football stadium in Buffalo for the Bills to call home could exceed the $1.4 billion purchase price of the team.

 

That makes for a daunting proposition for team officials as well as state and local officials and could mean increased prices and personal seat licenses for fans. In an interview with The News, co-owner and team president Kim Pegula acknowledged, “I don’t even know if we can get there … We don’t have a billion-and-a-half dollars sitting around. We used it to buy the team.”

 

The Bills’ current lease at New Era Field expires in the summer of 2023, although the Bills can opt out in 2020. The team has said it has no plans to opt out. The stadium had $130 million in renovations in 2014 as part of an agreement to extend the lease to 2023. In March, the NFL also approved an $18 million renovation to improve the stadium’s sideline clubs and signage. The renovation will be privately funded.

 

In response to the interview published Wednesday, County Executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted: “I’ve been saying this for years. Recently built stadiums are approaching $2 billion. That is a ridiculous amount of money to spend for just a stadium if you think about all the other needs a community has to address. I’m glad Kim Pegula said publicly what all with the team knew.”

 

A spokesman said Poloncarz had nothing to add beyond the tweet.

 

So, if the Bills don’t get a stadium, and we know the Panthers, a mid-market team, just sold for north of $2 million – how much would the Bills be worth to a buyer who wants to plant them in London or Toronto?  And is the NFL better served in England or upstate New York?  Just asking.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTHEM

A handful of NFL players disrespected the flag and the National Anthem/launched a peaceful protest against systemic social injustice – and, after a lame response, the NFL lost a significant portion of its fans just like that – 5%, 10%.  That’s billions of dollars out the window – and when the owner’s make a half-hearted, belated effort to get those fans back (after thinking they had bought off the protestors with $100 million in payments to social justice organizations), the player’s union and a significant portion of the media/self-styled cultural elite have the vapors. 

 

Here’s DeMaurice Smith raising the specter of the plantation as covered by Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith says the league’s owners are less interested in showing respect for America than in showing they can control their employees with the new rule requiring players who are on the field for the national anthem to stand.

 

“It smacks as more of a desire to exert control rather than a desire to stand up and support the rights and freedoms that our country was founded on,” Smith said in an appearance on ESPN.

 

Smith also noted that some owners, including 49ers owner Jed York, Raiders owner Mark Davis and Jets owner Christopher Johnson, have made statements suggesting they don’t support the new rule. And he also said he wants to support the free speech of a player like Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a military veteran who defied coach Mike Tomlin last year by standing and saluting during the anthem while Tomlin kept the rest of the team in the locker room.

 

“It doesn’t appear to have the full support of all of the CEOs who own teams,” Smith said. “It punishes not only players who wish to protest but also could punish players who want to come out and stand and salute the flag.”

 

Whether the NFLPA has the ability to fight and change the new policy remains to be seen. But there’s no question that the union is not happy with having this rule forced upon its membership.

 

Shannon Ryan in the Chicago Tribune:

 

When Muhammad Ali refused in 1967 to fight in the Vietnam War because of his religious convictions and his questioning of our goverment’s racial hypocrisy, he was banned from boxing for three years.

 

Now we look back at those moments as signifiers of the times. Many regard those athletes as heroes and see those who didn’t support them as roadblocks toward racial equality.

 

How will we look back on the NFL in 2018?

 

NFL owners picked a political side Wednesday. They also picked the wrong side of history.

 

A new policy, which overwhelmingly targets black athletes, requires players either to remain in the locker room or stand and “show respect” during the national anthem. Teams with players who do not comply can face a fine and have discretion on how to discipline those players.

 

Roughly 70 percent of NFL players are black.

 

The new rule didn’t go as far as President Donald Trump’s suggestions. He said at a September rally that a protesting NFL player is a “son of a bitch” and suggested team owners fire players who kneel.

 

But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and owners strongly backed the sentiment.

 

Applauding the NFL in an interview with Fox News in the wake of the new policy, Trump said of players who use their platform to spark awareness about racial injustice by kneeling: “Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

 

Those are chilling words.

 

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday retweeted a screenshot about the policy and wrote, “#winning.”

 

So who is losing?

 

The policy and the administration’s encouragement distract — perhaps purposefully — from the very reason players such as Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneeled during the anthem: to call attention to the many black men brutalized by police.

 

It was sadly ironic that this policy was announced on the same day Milwaukee police released sickening video footage of Bucks player Sterling Brown, a black man who remained calm while being intimidated and ultimately stunned with a Taser by police officers over what should have been a simple parking ticket.

 

I’m baffled at the refusal by too many Americans to connect the dots.

 

“Flag-waving individuals didn’t give a (expletive) about your life,” John Carlos said in a 2015 Huffington Post article. “Well, you know, it wasn’t just their flag; it was my flag too. Their flag was supposed to cover them and cover me as well, and at that particular time we were saying that flag didn’t cover everyone.

 

“You might still say today that it’s supposed to be covering everyone, but everyone is not covered under the flag.”

 

Carlos’ point about racial inequality in America is the same one today’s athletes are attempting to make. Cases such as Brown’s should make it clear the flag doesn’t provide equal protection.

 

Forcing athletes’ protests behind closed doors isn’t neutralizing the issue. Threatening punishment is a method of silencing. It’s choosing a side that will be historically chronicled as anti-justice and anti-black.

 

Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report:

 

The NFL has gotten things wrong before, but in the recent history of this league, it has gotten fewer things more horribly, disgracefully, stupidly, terribly wrong than what it decided to do Wednesday in trying to half-heartedly stop players from protesting during the national anthem.

 

In a statement released by the league, team owners decided that starting this season, players can stay in the locker room during the anthem. If players take a knee to protest, say, unarmed black and brown people being unjustly shot by law enforcement, commissioner Roger Goodell can potentially fine both teams and players.

 

Essentially, the league is trying to shove the protests out of sight by putting them in the locker room. And by fining players who want to publicly protest, it is also trying to make this a financial decision for players.

 

“We want people to be respectful of the national anthem,” Goodell said in a press conference. “We want people to stand—that’s all personnel—and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That’s something we think we owe. [But] we were also very sensitive to give players choices.”

 

But as protesters like Colin Kaepernick (who, along with Eric Reid, started the protests) have said, they are not protesting the anthem or the military; they are using the anthem to bring attention to racial injustice and the issue of police abuse of black and brown citizens.

 

Now, because of the NFL’s ineptitude, the anthem controversy will be around a long time, and it will be messy, and ugly, and divisive. The union and the league will likely go to war, and swaths of America will fight over it.

 

Why is the NFL handling this so poorly, crafting a policy based on fear, not practicality? The answer remains clear, according to a variety of league sources: an intense fear of President Donald Trump.

 

This is a fact. This is the truth. This is the core basis for the NFL’s decision. This has been told to me before, and it was reiterated by several people Wednesday.

 

“Our league,” one team official said, “is f–king terrified of Trump. We’re scared of him.”

 

What does the NFL fear? It fears boycotts of games. It fears people not watching its product on television. It fears people not buying its products.

 

There is, however, no proof that any of this would happen.

 

In fact, the NFL recently signed a streaming deal with Verizon for $2 billion. The NFL’s bottom line remains fat and happy.

 

The NFL’s actions reflect something scary about America now. Everything is transactional. Social justice. The plight of civil rights of certain American citizens. All of it is secondary to money, and fear of a boorish president.

 

After all, most teams won’t be shutting down their concession stands (aside from the Niners) as the anthem plays.

 

Yet that fear of losing money thanks to an angry fanbase, stirred up by the president and his supporters, clearly drove this decision.

 

We still like Steve Kerr, whose father was murdered in Lebanon by terrorists in 1984 if you have forgotten, but why with his series tied 2-2 did he feel compelled to weigh in on the NFL’s National Anthem controversy?  Chris Haynes of ESPN.com:

 

Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr called the NFL’s new anthem policy, which will prevent players from kneeling during the national anthem, “idiotic.”

 

President Donald Trump says the NFL is “doing the right thing” with a policy banning kneeling during the national anthem. The policy forbids players from sitting or taking a knee on the field during the anthem but allows them to stay in the locker room.

 

“I think it’s just typical of the NFL,” Kerr responded when asked about the league’s new policy after shootaround Thursday in advance of Game 5 of the conference finals. “They’re just playing off their fan base, and they’re just basically trying to use the anthem as fake patriotism, nationalism, scaring people. It’s idiotic, but that’s how the NFL has handled their business.”

– – –

Kerr furthermore blasted the NFL’s decision to implement such a policy and applauded the NBA’s handling of social justice matters.

 

“I’m proud to be in a league that understands patriotism in America is about free speech,” he said. “It’s about peacefully protesting. I think our leaders in the NBA understand that when an NFL player is kneeling, they were kneeling to protest police brutality, to protest racial inequality. They’re weren’t disrespecting the flag or the military, but our president decided to make it about that and the NFL followed suit and pandered to their fan base by creating this hysteria.

 

“It’s kind of what’s wrong with our country. People in high places are trying to divide us, divide loyalties, make this about the flag, as if the flag is something other than what it really is. It’s a representation of what we’re about, which is diversity, peaceful protest, the abilities, the right to free speech. So, it’s really ironic, actually, what the NFL is doing.”

 

This from Clay Travis in response:

 

@ClayTravis

Anybody gonna point out to Steve Kerr that NBA’s stand for the anthem rule is more stringent than NFL’s or nah?

 

@ClayTravis

The NFL’s policy on the national anthem is far more lenient than the NBA’s, which requires players to stand. Ask all the SJW sports media crowd why they haven’t been outraged at the NBA policy for the past twenty years.

 

@ClayTravis

Especially when the NBA suspended a player, fined him $32k, and changed the policy to require standing once an athlete anthem protest began. And then refused to employ him even though he was only 29.

 

What is Travis talking about?  Evan Grossman of the New York Daily News on the unsung story of the NBA’s Colin Kaepernick:

 

The NFL has been taking a well-deserved beating this week for prohibiting players from kneeling during the national anthem.

 

Meanwhile, the NBA, which has had an almost identical policy for years, has gotten a free pass.

 

People seem to forget that. Outspoken Warriors coach Steve Kerr certainly did on Thursday when he threw rocks from inside a glass house and ripped the NFL’s anthem policy as “idiotic.” If he was a football player, they might wonder if Kerr was practicing without a helmet.

– – –

OK, now let’s see what would happen if Kerr and his socially conscious players took a knee during “The Star Spangled Banner” before Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

 

They don’t have to. We know exactly what would happen. The NBA would fine the daylights out of them for violating the rule that mandates “Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the national anthem.”

 

You should know that’s not the NFL’s rule. That’s right out of the NBA rule book. And if you think the so-called most progressive pro sports league on the planet would be accepting of players testing the anthem rule, look no further than last September when NBA players were flat-out warned to remain upright during the song.

 

In a memo to teams, deputy NBA commissioner Mark Tatum reminded them, “The NBA has a rule that players, coaches and trainers stand respectfully for the anthem. The league office will determine how to deal with any possible instance in which a player, coach or trainer does not stand for the anthem. (Teams do not have the discretion to waive this rule).”

 

And if you’re curious what penalty NBA players would face if they do step out of line, look no further than Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the Muslim former Nugget who refused to stand because of his religious and personal beliefs in 1996. Abdul-Rauf called the flag a “symbol of oppression, of tyranny.”

 

“This country has a long history of that,” he said. “I don’t think you can argue the facts. You can’t be for God and for oppression. It’s clear in the Koran, Islam is the only way. I don’t criticize those who stand, so don’t criticize me for sitting. I won’t waver from my decision.”

 

The NBA suspended him one game and he had to give up $31,707 in salary as punishment. He agreed to stand and pray during the anthem going forward.

 

Kerr, who was playing for the Bulls at the time, must not remember that.

 

Like the NFL, the anthem rule was instituted without being collectively bargained with the players. The NBA and NFL rules are both unilateral, but NBA owners get none of the flack NFL team owners receive.

 

Still, the Abdul-Rauf suspension was not the first or last time the NBA stepped on the freedom of its players. Almost 10 years later, in 2005 and in direct response to the Malice at the Palace brawl, the NBA became the first major pro league to institute a dress code when it outlawed hip hop attire and banned players from wearing jerseys, jewelry, jeans and do-rags as a desperate reach to repair its image. NBA players are now subject to suspensions and fines if they don’t dress right.

 

The NBA has gotten a free pass on these issues for decades, and it is not likely going to be criticized for banning anthem demonstrations with the vitriol reserved for the NFL. Maybe that’s because the NBA hasn’t gone there yet, and no players have mustered the courage to challenge the rule since Colin Kaepernick started the movement two years ago. Honestly, would Kerr and his super team be suspended if they took a knee in solidarity with the issues they purport to be so passionate about? Would socially conscious LeBron James get docked for taking a knee?

 

The NBA has obviously stifled protest, so we may never know. Instead, it’s been the women of the WNBA who have taken a knee and challenged the rules. And guess what? They won.

 

In 2016, the entire Indiana Fever team and two players from the Phoenix Mercury took a knee during the national anthem before a playoff game. Earlier that summer, the WNBA fined teams including the Liberty, Fever and Mercury $5,000 each and every player $500 who violated uniform rules and wore Black Lives Matter/Dallas 5 T-shirts during warmups.

 

The fines were rescinded, but that should not detract from the fact that the NBA and its sister WNBA, which are thought to be the most progressive and socially conscious of all the pro sports leagues, are just as oppressive as the NFL.

 

But the NFL takes all the shots, while leagues like the NBA, which has been stifling free speech for decades, get a free pass.

 

David French, nominally a conservative writes an op-ed at the New York Times, takes the NFL to task as well:

 

On Wednesday, the mob won. The N.F.L. announced its anthem rules for 2018, and the message was clear: Respect the flag by standing for the national anthem or stay in the locker room. If you break the rules and kneel, your team can be fined for your behavior.

 

This isn’t a “middle ground,” as the N.F.L. claims. It’s not a compromise. It’s corporate censorship backed up with a promise of corporate punishment. It’s every bit as oppressive as the campus or corporate attacks on expression that conservatives rightly decry.

 

But this is different, they say. This isn’t about politics. It’s about the flag.

 

I agree. It is different. Because it’s about the flag, the censorship is even worse.

 

One of the most compelling expressions of America’s constitutional values is contained in Justice Robert Jackson’s 1943 majority opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. At the height of World War II, two sisters, both Jehovah’s Witnesses, challenged the state’s mandate that they salute the flag in school. America was locked in a struggle for its very existence. The outcome was in doubt. National unity was essential.

 

But even in the darkest days of war, the court wrote liberating words that echo in legal history: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

 

Make no mistake, I want football players to stand for the anthem. I want them to respect the flag. As a veteran of the war in Iraq, I’ve saluted that flag in foreign lands and deployed with it proudly on my uniform. But as much as I love the flag, I love liberty even more.

 

The N.F.L. isn’t the government. It has the ability to craft the speech rules its owners want. So does Google. So does Mozilla. So does Yale. American citizens can shame whomever they want to shame.

 

But what should they do? Should they use their liberty to punish dissent? Or should a free people protect a culture of freedom?

 

In our polarized times, I’ve adopted a simple standard, a civil liberties corollary to the golden rule: Fight for the rights of others that you would like to exercise yourself. Do you want corporations obliterating speech the state can’t touch? Do you want the price of participation in public debate to include the fear of lost livelihoods? Then, by all means, support the N.F.L. Cheer Silicon Valley’s terminations. Join the boycotts and shame campaigns. Watch this country’s culture of liberty wither in front of your eyes.

 

The vice president tweeted news of the N.F.L.’s new policy and called it “#Winning.” He’s dead wrong. It diminishes the marketplace of ideas. It mocks the convictions of his fellow citizens. And it divides in the name of a false, coerced uniformity. Writing in the Barnette decision, Justice Jackson wisely observed, “As governmental pressure toward unity becomes greater, so strife becomes more bitter as to whose unity it shall be.”

 

The N.F.L. should let players kneel. If it lets them kneel, it increases immeasurably the chances that when they do rise, they will rise with respect and joy, not fear and resentment. That’s the “winning” America needs.

 

Nick Schwartz of For The Win with some points by Stephen A. Smith of ESPN about the personal nature of Trump’s anti-NFL tirades.

 

The NFL unveiled a controversial new national anthem policy for the upcoming season that will require players to stand respectfully for the anthem on the field, and give players an option to wait in the locker room if they don’t want to stand on the field.

 

The changes have been widely criticized by analysts and players across the league, but President Donald Trump notably praised the NFL on the new policy.

 

According to ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, the NFL should be afraid of Trump and his influence. Smith said Thursday that Trump has targeted the NFL after he was unable to become a team owner himself, and now has the power to turn his base of supporters against the league should he choose to.

 

“The president, whether you like it or not, whether you like him or not, is the President of the United States of America. Over 62 million voted for this man. And when you have the power that he has and you have th influence he has, you have the ability to hijack an issue – like the Colin Kaepernick protest – and turn it into something it was not about. Turn it into an issue of patriotism. He successfully hijacked the issue, and he targeted the NFL – a group of owners, a cadre of individuals, a league that would not let him into their good old boys club, per se.

 

I spoke to him in 2014… and the man, at that time, said to me ‘you know what, I want to own the Buffalo Bills. I want to buy this team. If they don’t let me in, hell, I might run for president. I’ll get their behinds back then.’

 

And what happened? He targeted the NFL owners. We’ve had owners who are friends of his who absolutely, positively believe he targeted them simply because he has the ability to influence a constituency and let them know how he feels.

 

…. They had better hope that the President of the United States doesn’t turn around and start complaining about those players again when they’re not coming out for the national anthem. When they’re waiting inside the locker room as the national anthem is being played, and then they come running out onto the field. Because the second he makes that a focal point of his argument, so will his constituency and millions of others.”

– – –

The passage of the new NFL has some mystery.  Jed York of the 49ers and Mark Davis of the Raiders say they didn’t vote for it although the rule was said to have passed either unanimously or without dissent.  And Chris Johnson, now running the Jets, says he will pay any fines incurred by his socially-aware players. ESPN with more:

 

The NFL did not take a formal roll-call vote when it passed its new national anthem resolution that will take effect this season, league spokesman Brian McCarthy confirmed Thursday.

 

Instead, the league called for a show of owners’ hands to test support of the new policy — an unofficial process that is often used, McCarthy said. There were zero nays, he said.

 

“That was considered a vote,” McCarthy said.

 

Sources told ESPN’s Seth Wickersham that league officials wanted to make sure that the resolution would not fail, and so after hours of debate they called for the show of hands. The informal nature of it surprised some in the room. Not taking an official tally is atypical for a major resolution.

 

Later Thursday, Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis confirmed what Wickersham reported earlier — that he abstained from the vote. Davis would not comment further about why he abstained, saying he wanted to speak with his players first before going public with his rationale.

 

“I haven’t changed my mind,” Davis told ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez, referring to his feelings on the matter.

 

McCarthy did not immediately return a request for comment.

 

The new policy requires players to stand if they are on the field during the anthem but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer. The policy subjects teams to a fine if a player or other team personnel do not show respect for the anthem. That includes any attempt to sit or kneel, as dozens of players have done during the past two seasons to protest racial inequality and police brutality.

 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday the vote was “unanimous” among owners, although San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York said he abstained.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II told reporters Thursday that everyone had an opportunity to express their views, even if a formal vote wasn’t taken.

 

Wednesday’s decision drew praise from President Donald Trump, who told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday that the NFL was “doing the right thing.”

 

The anthem policy will be part of the NFL’s game operations manual and thus not subject to collective bargaining. The NFL Players Association said in a statement that it will review the policy and “challenge any aspect” that is inconsistent with the CBA.

 

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith was on ESPN’s Get Up! on Friday and called the league’s voting process “haphazard.”

 

“Suggests to me that this was more of a desperate attempt by a group of owners to simply quote-unquote ‘get back to playing football’ rather than to honestly and with a sense of what America means, to sit down and figure out what’s the right thing to do,” Smith said. “What I think they did was they sat down and tried to figure out, ‘What can we get away with as quickly as possible?'”

 

Davis spoke to ESPN’s Gutierrez about the anthem issue in September before the Raiders’ nationally televised game in Washington, during the height of players taking a knee or sitting during the anthem in protest of police brutality against African-American men and inequality for people of color. At the time, Trump had just called any player kneeling a “son of a b—-” who should be “fired” by the league.

 

“About a year ago, before our Tennessee game, I met with Derek Carr and Khalil Mack to ask their permission to have Tommie Smith light the torch for my father before the game in Mexico City,” Davis said at the time. “I explained to them that I was asking their permission because I had previously told them that I would prefer that they not protest while in the Raiders uniform. And should they have something to say, once their uniform was off, I might go up there with them. Over the last year, though, the streets have gotten hot and there has been a lot of static in the air and recently, fuel has been added to the fire.

 

“I can no longer ask our team to not say something while they are in a Raider uniform. The only thing I can ask them to do is do it with class. Do it with pride. Not only do we have to tell people there is something wrong, we have to come up with answers. That’s the challenge in front of us as Americans and human beings.”

– – –

Kaepernick’s lawyer thinks Donald Trump (and VP Mike Pence) are lawbreakers for using their bully pulpit to encourage respect for the National Anthem.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

At least one person thinks the President and the Vice President may have violated federal law in relation to this attack against the NFL over the anthem issue.

 

As noted on Thursday by LawAndCrime.com, attorney Mark Geragos suggested in a Thursday tweet that efforts of the top two members of the executive branch to pressure the NFL to force players to stand for the anthem potentially run afoul of Title 18, Section 227 of the United States Code. A violation of 18 U.S.C. 227 arises if the President and/or the Vice President intended “to influence, solely on the basis of partisan political affiliation, an employment decision or employment practice of any private entity” and “influence[d], or offers or threatens to influence, the official act of another.”

 

A clear example of a prohibited action under 18 U.S.C. 227 would arise if, for example, the President pressures a news outlet to fire a reporter who asks too many tough questions, under threat of revoking access. While more murky as it relates to the NFL, it seems fairly clear that the President and/or the Vice President have pressured (successfully) the NFL to remove the pre-existing right of its players to protest during the national anthem.

 

It feels too simple to be applicable, but the language is as plain as it can be. And the punishment feels too harsh, with imprisonment of up to 15 years and potential disqualification from holding office.

 

But the law contains a bright line that potentially may have been crossed. The NFL is a private employer. The President and/or the Vice President successfully pressured the NFL to change its anthem policy to remove the right of players of protest during the anthem, which  amounts to an employment practice.

 

At a time when far more complex and convoluted facts are being considered by prosecutors for potential criminal actions by the President and those close to him, maybe there’s silver bullet is hiding in plain sight — one that could knock both the President and the Vice President out of office.

 

It’s unlikely that the dominoes would fall this way, but the law says what it says. If there’s a prosecutor who is willing to attempt to enforce it, who knows what might happen?