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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s ruling against the New Orleans Saints for the team’s “bounty system” is just another example of a run of bad sports news in the past few years.

Start with Penn State, then add USC, Uiversity of Miami, Ohio State, Syracuse, Ndamukong suh’s stomp, and Floyd Mayweather’s cheap shot. Reach back a little farther and you get Alberto Contador and before him Floyd Landis being stripped of Tour de France wins for doping, and you get Bill Belichick’s sideline video cheating scandal for the Boston Patriots. There are far more examples than those listed here.

Not all these examples are of the same level or concern. Some have argued that people over-reacted to certain occurrences, like for example the memorabilia-for-tattoos scenario at Ohio State. Certainly the child sexual molestation issues at Penn State and Syracuse are as bad as things get. Whatever your take on some of these instances, they all represent a hit on sportsmanship.

The New Orleans Saints “bounty system,” bonus pay for intentionally harming other teams’ players to knock then out of games represents a total disregard for sportsmanship. Not only did members of the Saints coaching staff ignore rules, they later lied to the NFL about their practice, and over at least three years stepped on ethics and fair play. What makes this situation a scandal is that not one or two but many people, coaches and players, colluded to make this scheme happen.

The Saints-that-ain’t worked together in multi-person cheating, lack of integrity, absence of ethics, and disregard for sportsmanship. It’s not unlike Enron or Arthur Andersen of a few years ago, just a different playing field.

Sportsmanship is the idea that sports teams can meet on a court or field of play for fair, honest, and by-the-rules competition. Any effort to gain advantage outside simply the talent and skill and desire of players participating in the event is a form of cheating. Such efforts destroy the integrity of sport, remove from it the joy and beauty of athletics, and reduce the competition to a conflict.

What’s even worse about the New Orleans Saints’ “bounty” is that it aimed at hurting other team’s athletes. This system was set up to damage not just fair play and competition but the health, wellbeing, and possibly livelihood of opposing athletes. It was a form of paying people for assault.

I was never all that warm to Roger Goodell, though I don’t know why. I’m in his camp now. The New Orleans Saints deserved to have the book thrown at them, and Goodell demonstrated far more backbone than most sports commissioners have been known to evidence. He conducted an investigation, found the evidence, and applied the penalty. For this we might in a few years be lauding him for helping restore some sportsmanship in professional sports. Now if only the NCAA could find its own Goodell.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Brett Favre played quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, and finally for the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings. In his playing days he was without question one of the most exciting players to watch. His “gunslinger” approach created plays time and again where there were none moments before and brought his team success and his fans enjoyment. Then it came time for him to retire.

If you’ve paid much attention to football you know his story. Fuss with the Green Bay Packers organization, act like a spoiled kid instead of a nearly 40 year old professional, retire, not retire, retire, come out of retirement. Cry at retirement, come back a few months later: what is this? Whatever was going on in Favre’s life this non-disappearing act made the man look like he didn’t know what he was doing. After a couple of years of this he finally retired January 17, 2011. Or maybe he did—word this week is that he may get a call from the Houston Texans.

Worse than Favre’s retirement fiasco were some alleged off the field shenanigans, investigation by the NFL, a finding he’d violated the league’s personal conduct policy, a $50,000 fine for not co-operating with the investigation, and Favre’s typical reticence on something he should have been man enough to handle. Favre supposedly texted or “sexted” the Jets “Gameday” host Jenn Sterger several times during the 2008 season, sending her salacious messages. She and others claimed he did, he denied it, and now no one really knows. But there was a lot of smoke to believe there was no fire.

Worse still is how Favre not only left the Green Bay Packers but how he spoke publicly about a management and a team that had been his home for most of his illustrious professional career. He slammed them in public and argued his weak case in media.

And worse than this is how he then and now has continued to treat—which is to say not treat at all—Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In a recent television interview Rodgers carefully admitted he “had not heard from” Favre after the Packers won the February 2011 Super Bowl and that he thought he’d had a relationship with Favre earlier but not now. Rivalries in sports and otherwise are understandable, even healthy at times, but this kind of silence speaks volumes. This is what we now have come to realize is the real Brett Favre, a small man in a big profession.

One of the signs of a great leader is that he or she knows when to leave. Great leaders are great not only for what they do during their run at the top but for how they handle themselves and what they do when it’s time to move on—and every leader eventually moves on via opportunity, retirement, illness, or death. The end comes to us all. Favre walked out whining and has never stopped. He clearly is bothered by his successor’s success, and he’s made it clear that he is a selfish person. It could have been different.

When Joe Montana, winner of four Super Bowls in the 1980s with the San Francisco 49ers, came to the end of his run in San Francisco he quietly went to Kansas City and played out his career with the Chiefs. He remains today one of the most respected quarterbacks to play the game, and he lives near San Francisco his adopted town. He won big, he left quietly and respectfully. This is what could have been for Brett Favre.

Whether Brett Favre ever regains his stature in Packer land is largely up to him. For now he’s a sad case. Someday, hopefully for his sake, he’ll make amends. But the damage to his legacy has been severe and it will remain so until Favre demonstrates a depth of character that has so far been absent.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

“Tebowing” is the word of the moment. It’s a noun describing NFL Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s practice of bowing in prayer on single knee here, there, and just about everywhere on the football field. The word was likely first coined as a form of ridicule, but like a lot of other things in Tebow’s life, he’ll probably get the last laugh.

Tim Tebow’s story is by now well known to anyone paying attention to football. He’s the son of missionary parents in the Philippines and grew up home-schooled and groomed for service. Turns out Tebow is a physical specimen, 6 foot 3 inches, 235 pounds, athletic, tough, and gifted at running if not throwing a football.

At the University of Florida Tebow helped his team win the National Championship as a backup quarterback in 2006, won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore starter in 2007, and helped his team win a National Championship again in 2008. In college he won numerous other awards as the best college football player in the nation.

But Tebow is known for more than this, most notably unfailing optimism, terminal niceness, and super-sized leadership skills. Somehow, someway, Tebow always seems to get the job done on the football field and off, giving credit to others along the way. He’s also known for openly living and referencing his Christian faith and testimony, wearing “John 3:16” and other Bible verses on his eye tape in college until the NCAA outlawed it, speaking constantly of Jesus, praising the Lord for his accomplishments, saving himself he says for marriage, and of course Tebowing, which is only one part of his testimony.

For a number of reasons, the suitability of Tebow’s football skills for the NFL, his faith, his openness about his faith, and his Tebowing all create controversy. In particular the latter, how he practices his faith, drives people to polarizing frenzy. His critics accuse him of “pushing his faith on others,” something he has never really done. They accuse him of “telling others what they should believe,” again something he’s never done. They go berserk at Tebow’s expressions of faith ignoring the fact that many other NFL and other professional sports athletes openly express their varying faiths.

Meanwhile, Tebow keeps doing his job, trying to make it as a quarterback in the NFL. He refuses to criticize others who criticize him, including especially players who’ve mocked him with their own Tebowing stance. So far, he appears to be everything he claims that he is, a young Christian trying to live a good and exemplary life, even if a highly visible one in the public eye. In this regard it’s hard not to defend him and a lot of sports journalists and current and retired football professionals are increasingly speaking up for him. Others of course may never be won no matter how consistently he lives his faith.

One has to be concerned for him too. When you live as publicly as Tebow lives, when you put your faith out there and say, “This is me,” you’re a target and you’re vulnerable (as are we all). One misstep, one unwise comment, one human moment of angry emotion, one wrong girlfriend in the wrong place at the wrong time, one ugly reaction, and you’re toast. Ask Mel Gibson, who never lived like Tebow but who did build an image of himself as a religious person that was later shattered by his own anti-Semitic comments, ugly divorces, and romps with supermodels.

For Tebow, despite the doubters, so far so good. He just keeps on. Actually, so far, he keeps winning. At this point, he is 4-1 as the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos, turning a team from 1-4 to 5-5 with a chance to yet salvage the season.

I don’t have any problem with Tebow’s Tebowing, as long as it’s sincere and not a show. On the other hand, I can see why some people question its appropriateness. Put the practice in another professional setting. Do you think it would be helpful if attorneys, doctors, salespersons, bus drivers, or politicians dropped to a knee with each accomplishment? I don’t. But then again, maybe politicians indeed need to spend more time on both knees.

I root for this guy. In an age when sports heroes are more often anti-heroes whose lives are one long story of self-indulgence, Tebow is different. He’s about others. He works hard. He tries to do his best, share credit, live honestly, be nice, and take responsibility for his actions and failings. He’s a leader who’s thus far leading in the right directions. So I’ll cut him some slack. Tebow can “tebow” all he wants.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

No one, I don’t care who, could have predicted, much less bet, in a million years how Coach Joe Paterno’s football career is ending. Fired unceremoniously by phone by the Penn State University Board of Trustees, the powerful “JoPa’s” 61-year football career came to a halt in breathtaking fashion. University president Graham Spanier was also fired by the trustees.

Paterno allegedly did not do enough or did not act responsibly with some form or level of knowledge about a former assistant coach’s, Jerry Sandusky, accused sexual assault of a boy in a university locker room shower. Sandusky is now charged with molesting 8 boys between 1994 and 2009—which, if true, probably and logically means he has harmed far more youth. Two other PSU administrators have also resigned for apparently failing to alert authorities. The story gets worse.

The victims will eventually come forward later if not soon, as happened with the victims of priest abuse a few years ago. They and their families will likely win financial judgments, but they will be scarred emotionally and perhaps otherwise for life.

If indeed Jerry Sandusky is guilty as charged he should be sent to prison for the rest of his life. Retribution will then be served, but even then it’s difficult to identify justice in this, and no legal remedy changes what happened to these kids.

Last night, Penn State students rioted across campus in support of—the victims? No, in support of Coach Paterno. The students’ insensitivity to the child-victims of this scandal is further blackening the university’s already deeply black eye.

I was saddened earlier this year when Ohio State Coach Jim Tressel resigned in disgrace for not informing administrators and basically covering up several of his players’ rule violations. Did you catch that? Tressel cheated and I was saddened.

With Coach Paterno and the Penn State story I’m not just saddened. I’m sickened.

The classic Watergate questions come in handy: What did he know? And when did he know it?

How much did Paterno really know? Clearly the university Board tossed Paterno under the bus. One day the Board states it will create an investigation committee, and a day or so later the Board fires Paterno.

Either trustees are distancing themselves and, they hope, reducing their moral, financial, and reputational exposure, or they know more than we know. Perhaps Paterno really was the man who knew too much. Thus despite his illustrious coaching career—409 NCAA Division I football wins, the most ever—he must be held accountable at minimum for a failure of leadership, at most for a failure of character.

So far, I’d say the Board’s crisis leadership has been less than impressive. Mixed signals, lack of attention to explaining its biggest decision thus allowing students to twist out of control, firing Paterno by phone—classless even if he is worthy of firing--not firing, at least yet, others on the coaching staff who knew something, actually a lot, e.g., receivers coach Mike McQueary.

But I will also say this. Leaders now work behind the curve of real-time developments. Because smart phones with video, texting, and online capability are by the thousands on site as events take place it is literally impossible for leaders to stay ahead of what’s happening. Since they must check their facts to try to assure what they say is accurate and best, they must take time, meaning they are behind, always.

The same scenario happened in 2007 at Virginia Tech University when a student killed 32 people and himself, and wounded 25 others. University officials were blamed for a slow response, yet later investigation indicated they’d done most of what they could have done. So Penn State leaders are scrambling to find their way—but that’s now the rules of engagement in a cyber age.

From here on people need to slow down. This is an understandably deeply emotional issue, but people ranting on television that Sandusky should "have a needle put in his arm" or others saying trustees should pull down the Paterno statue on campus all need to dial it down. Sandusky will have his day in court. Paterno's statue perhaps should or should not be taken down--but the decision should not be made until the facts are identified, and they will be. The truth will out.

Well, what can you say? Serious. Sick. Sad. Sin. “Evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived, (2 Timothy 3:13).

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Increasing incidences of violence—or “acting out” as it’s called today—in and around American sports are symptoms of deeper, wider, larger cultural problems. At least it’s difficult not to interpret sports-related violence this way.

And why shouldn’t we do so? High school, college, and professional athletics are not a world unto themselves despite what a few sports celebrities seem to think. Athletics is simply another thing we do in culture, our way of life.

Athletics at its best is a time-honored form of competitive fun, full of human drama, sacrifice, extraordinary effort and resolve even in defeat, sportsmanship and honor. It’s a form of self-expression that taps all human characteristics, including what religion calls sin. Unfortunately, we don’t escape ourselves in sports. The human dilemma still exists. We are both good and evil, so people cheat, lie, and “act out.”

This year’s preseason NFL games were marked by a rising tide of fan violence. August 20, at the San Francisco-Oakland game, fans fought in the stands, two men were shot outside the stadium, a person was beaten in a restroom, and security ejected 70 while police arrested 12—all over a game. We Americans used to look with smirks, smugness, and superiority upon soccer fan behavior worldwide, but no more. We can get into senseless violence just like everyone else. What happened to “family entertainment”?

After the Canucks lost in the Stanley Cup NHL final fans rioted and burned in the streets, embarrassing a city and a sport, even if one known for on-ice fights. At a San Francisco Giants vs LA Dodgers game earlier this year a man was severely beaten. Similar violence has occurred at university and even high school athletic events, including the chanting of vulgar language aimed at opposing players.

Police and others suggest several reasons: alcohol, sold vigorously and consumed in quantity, in the stadium and at pre-game tailgating; higher ticket prices; joblessness; social media making us more aware of incidences that were there all along, and so it goes.

But none of this gets to the core of a generation coming of age with a greater sense of entitlement and fewer learned self-limitations than ever before. Nor does it acknowledge that American culture is becoming more capricious and violent across the board—more “random” mass murderers on university campuses, in malls, at high schools, more public figures enduring threats and employing security, more family violence and “He was such a quiet, nice boy” killers “acting out.”

It sounds too simple or maybe too complex in a philosophic sort of way, but I think it’s true: the generations coming of age in American culture now are a long way from the Greatest Generation in their understanding of individual responsibility, initiative, work ethic, character principles like integrity, willingness to defer gratification or sacrifice, and earn goals, even a willingness to set goals, and most of all, understanding and embracing the difference between right and wrong. Younger generations including to some extent my own Boomers were not taught right and wrong.

So if something isn’t going the way you want, you “act out.” You fight verbally or physically, you simply take what you think is owed, you cheat, you lie. In the worst cases, people respond violently.

I don’t think the answer is more security, better trained and better paid police, or more stringent alcohol policies. Sports venues are trying: at a recent Michigan State University football game the announcer borrowed from airports, telling people "If you see something, say something." I support all these efforts,, but I don't think they will solve the problem. I think the problem is deeper, going to the root of what it means to be a human being first and an American second. We’ve lost our sense of limits, which is to say law and order.

Ironically, limits liberate, at least the right kind of limits do. Limits based upon respect for life, others, and property, for example. Such limits free us to live, work, and pursue happiness. We’ve lost a lot of them, so we do what’s right in our own eyes—a not so good plan.

Government can’t provide a right sense of limits or vision of hope, nor certainly can corporations or athletics. Only we can do this, but we need help. Where, I want to know, are the churches?

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

The NCAA Division I Board of Directors is meeting this week. That’s 54 university presidents and chancellors and 13 school and athletics conference professionals representing big-time athletics. On tap is an agenda fueled by what for a better way of describing it was a year of collegiate sports characterized as much by cheating and non-compliance as by championships.

Some 13 major violations cases were identified involving multiple sports: Last year, University of Southern California received numerous penalties for violations in its football, men's basketball and women's tennis programs. Football accounted for more cases (55%) than any other sport, followed by men's basketball (45%).

Top of the heap: Ohio State University’s scandal that didn’t have to happen. “If only,” if only last spring Coach Jim Tressel would have reported his players’ rules violations, put them on suspension, and let them and the program take their medicine. Had he done this, rather than covering up for them and for his own behavior, had he done this rather than coaching his team to a bowl championship, OSU wouldn’t be at risk today of losing more than its self-vacated 12-1 season including the bowl win, along with a two-year probation.

The question is, will the NCAA Committee on Infractions, also meeting this week, have the backbone to level more sanctions? If I had to guess, I’d say “No.” It has the authority to do this for the integrity of sport, but it hasn’t up to now at least demonstrated it has the grit to do what’s needed. The Board of Directors could demand sanctions, but this isn’t likely either.

I’m not anti-OSU. I’ve watched OSU football for years, and I was grieved along with a lot of others by Jim Tressel’s outing as a cheater. He’s the one primarily responsible, but OSU Athletics knew more than it is letting on and is too easily tossing Coach Tressel under the bus as its sacrificial lamb. In my book the Athletics Department leadership, which unfortunately is to say the university, must also be held accountable—not for retribution but for responsibility and to try to help set a new standard of expectation and integrity in NCAA Division I nationally. It's not a pretty picture, but in the long run, reform and restored integrity will benefit all of sports.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.