They dress in the finest business suits, communicate with polished elocution and carry themselves with a superior-than-thou aplomb. But the men who run sports in this country generally are naked hypocrites — or, if you prefer, full of crap.
We watch every day to see how they handle the most critical issues in a kingdom where staggering amounts of money are in play. The fans, as consumers, deserve to know if leagues genuinely care about the safety of athletes and integrity of competition when megabillions are the known and stated priority.
And every day, the sports lords conveniently lapse into amnesia about their so-called standards and just keep following the money.
There was Odell Beckham Jr., somehow allowed to remain in the game Sunday during a violent binge in which he used his helmet as a projectile in deliberately slamming into an opponent’s head. With brain trauma in the continuing forefront as a life-and-death football crisis — a damning movie, “Concussion,” debuts on Christmas Day — Beckham should have been ejected during a gamelong, swinging-and-smacking rage against Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman.
So why wasn’t he kicked out by the officials or removed by his head coach? Oh, because Beckham, the charismatic highlight machine of the New York Giants, is real good for business and prosperity. He was the talk of America as he went all UFC on Norman, whose Super Bowl-caliber team was attempting to maintain a perfect season in a classic, New York-vs.-the Undefeateds story line. As for Giants coach Tom Coughlin, a stoic football lifer who should know better, he needed his explosive receiver to keep alive the team’s waning playoff hopes. Sure enough, Beckham caught the game-tying pass when he should have been bounced long before. Thank goodness justice intervened, as the NFL’s impending Most Valuable Player, Cam Newton, quickly drove the Panthers to a winning field goal and a 14-0 record.
Entertainment, ratings and late-season urgency won.
Amid extreme pressure from legitimate and social media, the league hit Beckham with a one-game suspension Monday. But the penalty, which is being appealed, came much too late when one considers the damage Beckham could have done to Norman and Cortland Finnegan, who also grappled but not nearly to Beckham’s level. Besides, the league already revealed its lameness in a blame-shifting statement, whch said only on-field officials have the ability to eject a player. While veteran referee Terry McAulay, who headed the crew, should have taken control and ejected Beckham instead of assessing three personal-foul penalties, he also made a curious comment in the post-game pool report: The league office, McAulay said, reviews such incidents during a game. What he meant to say, I imagine, was that the league office sees such incidents during a game.
And in the bigger world, yes, it would’ve behooved commissioner Roger Goodell, who sees all and knows all, to have a lieutenant alert McAulay that Beckham’s behavior was out of control and embarassing to the NFL, the Giants and Beckham himself. In a league dealing with perception problems that players are goons, here was a budding rock star, armed with a galaxy of Vine and YouTube miracle catches and increasing endorsement opportunities, acting like a lunatic. Why couldn’t a league official — either inside MetLife Stadium, in the NFL offices or at home in his recliner with a beer and popcorn — stop the madness with one directive in the referee’s earpiece to eject Beckham at once?
Oh, because the Odell show was must-watch TV.
A league of denial, indeed.
“All the concussion stuff that’s going around, they’re trying to prevent head-to-head, and if that wasn’t blatant head-to-head, I don’t know what is,” Norman said. “The guy took a shot at me I don’t know how many times. To take a shot at a guy’s head, I mean, come on. Players like that don’t belong in the league. It’s ridiculous.”
It’s also all about the bottom line, which continues to thrive this season with no signs of ratings and revenues heading anywhere but skyward. The NFL has the same problems (concussions, arrests, poor execution by Goodell in handling scandals, officiating blunders) and some new ones (a mediocre and kind of boring season, bubbling labor strife). Still, nothing knocks the express train off track. Remember Goodell’s mission to produce $25 billion in annual revenues by 2025? He undershot the number.
Major League Baseball, too, bases success on the same metric. At present, though now the No. 4 sport nationally (college football and the NBA skew younger and hotter), the owners have stumbled through their own crippling crises — steroids and labor — to become a $10-billion-a-year industry. But they also know they’re very lucky to be in business cahoots with regional content networks that need programming inventory. Those networks can afford to overpay for rights fees thanks to 162 dates per regular season provided by each franchise, which produce whopping ad revenues.
The owners and new commissioner Rob Manfred always are seeking more financial streams, though. And they’ve found one in a dubious lucrative partnership with a major fantasy sports company, DraftKings. This is a gambling website, period, that is banned in five states and is under federal investigation. Like FanDuel, also being probed, these are sites that dangle sports meth in front of problem gamblers who have nothing better to do than wager on individual player performances. It already has led to one scandal akin to insider trading, and anyone familiar with sports gambling through time — and the point-shaving scandals — grasps the vulnerabilities. What stops a team employee, or an athlete or executive, from leaking inside information to a DraftKings player? How do we know the athlete is on the up-and-up when dealing with a possible fantasy jackpot?
Sports commissioners should be frightened of these sites. Instead, Manfred is jumping into bed with them.
While telling Pete Rose to go away forever because, ahem, he continues to bet legally on sports.
If the Beckham double-talk is disturbing, it’s appalling to see Manfred uphold Rose’s permanent ban for gambling while ignoring baseball’s association with a gambling company. As a young-pup columnist in Cincinnati in the late 1980s, I saw the numbers-and-drugs scum hanging around the town icon and was revolted by his flaunting of the rules, ignoring the no-gambling sign affixed to every clubhouse wall. I saw him hanging out with Michael Bertolini — “Fat Mike,” we called him — the same creep who kept a notebook of Rose’s betting records from 1986, when he was managing the Reds. I do not think Rose should return to the game, either. He hasn’t been sincere about cleaning up his life. He continues to shove his gambling lifestyle up baseball’s hind end, from Vegas to Cooperstown. He didn’t confess until he could do so in a book, at $24.95. He has lied and continues to lie.
But Manfred is living a lie, too. He wants it both ways — make money off gambling, keep Rose out because of gambling. What, does he think we’re stupid? Stop the scam. Drop DraftKings.
“He told me,” wrote Manfred, referring to Rose, “that currently he bets recreationally and legally on horses and sports.”
Like the millions of people who will place bets on DraftKings, of which MLB is a prime investor.
Maybe Pete can sign up and start playing. Manfred and the owners would love to have his money.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.