NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly personally pressured ESPN executives to pull the network's participation in a joint PBS documentary on the impact of concussions in football. More specifically, the doc would follow-up on ESPN's own reporting about how the NFL had, for a long time, turned a blind eye to the issue of player brain health. (ESPN ended up caving.)
This is the second ham-handed, gross Goodell moment that's been exposed this year. In the other, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services sought a partnership with the NFL and its member teams for an awareness campaign on Obamacare. (A number of the other sports teams in other leagues have participated and there is a substantial, lucrative history of the government leveraging sports teams' audiences in awareness campaigns.) Republican leadership sent a menacing letter to Goodell, warning him away from allowing the NFL to participate in a campaign seeking to educate the nation about the provisions of a very real law that likely impacts them. So naturally, Goodell caved and the league announced the NFL nor its teams would be participating.
Both vignettes make me glad the NBA has David Stern in charge. I can think of only one issue in recent NBA history in which Stern gilded over what seemed like a wider problem: the whole Tim Donaghy scandal. Stern did appoint an independent investigator and made a number of public statements, but at times it seemed like the commissioner was too eager to convince us that Donaghy was a "rogue" agent, not a sign of symptomatic failure of the ref corps. Skeptics remain.
Otherwise, Stern addresses major issues head on. He's not beholden to, well, anyone but his owners. Despite no apparent PED problem in the NBA, he's pushed for stronger testing. He dealt with the league's crack problem head-on in the 1980s. He's made what could be rampant marijuana use by players a de-emphasized issue. (One of the NBA's most sneakily brilliant decisions was to only suspend players on their third positive marijuana test so that the first two incidents don't get publicized at all. Who knows how many stars got a first offense and wound up in the league's drug program only for the news never to see the light of day? Okay, so maybe this isn't a good example of facing issues head on ...)
The point is that Goodell is totally beholden to outside influence and, as a result, uses his own power and influence to cow others. That's bad, especially on something as important as health issues. What's more infuriating is that those ESPN executives who blinked when Goodell applied his pressure really likely had little to fear. ESPN, remember, pays handsomely for its NFL rights. Stern is known as a micromanager -- check out Those Guys Have All The Fun sometime -- but this type of action is beyond the pale. And in the end, it's a dissservice to fans who deserve to know the full picture on player health without the NFL running interference on journalism.
And that, in this example, causes harm to the sport Goodell runs. That's something Stern has infrequently done. He'd argue the worst moments of his career, like the 1998 lockout, helped save the league in the end. If Goodell can argue the same about his intransigence on the concussions doc and the broader concussions issues, he has bigger problems than we know.
Let's hope Adam Silver is more of a Stern and not at all a Goodell.
It is Wroten
The Grizzlies traded Tony Wroten to the Sixers for chicken scratch on Thursday, freeing the young guard to get some actual playing time. He played a whopping 272 minutes as a rookie, plus an 11-game stint in the D-League. A number of Memphis fans, including those at SB Nation's Grizzly Bear Blues, agitated for the freedom of Wroten at times last season, but Lionel Hollins didn't listen. One would expect that, given Wroten's pedigree as a very highly recruited high school player, the new regime in place with the Grizzlies would've wanted to keep him around. Instead, they freed up his roster spot.
On the other side of the equation, this is exactly what the Sixers ought to be doing: vacuuming up every prospect or asset possible. Chances are that Wroten, if he breaks out like some imagine he will, will be used as a piece to grab a bigger asset by Philly. The Sixers are so, so far away from contention that right now everyone is an asset needing to be grown. When you have a tremendous lack of talent and expectations, mere minutes can provide the oxygen and nutrients needed for prospects to blossom into something tangible. You've heard about the 'good stats, bad team' canard? That often means a good player who happens to be stuck on a bad team, or it means an average or worse player getting minutes. Minutes lead to numbers. So, just by being provided minutes, chances are Wroten will be more valuable next season than he is this season.
Revenge of the nerds
Ethan Sherwood Strauss argues that Larry Sanders's massive extension is a victory for basketball nerds because basketball nerds were the most vociferous supporters of Sanders's game over the past two seasons. I'd like that to be true. But the NBA has a long history of paying huge sums of money to big men who can defend, even based on small sample sizes.
Danny Fortson signed a 7-year, $38 million deal way back in 2000 on the basis of a 7-point, 6-rebound per game average. Kwame Brown got $25 million over three years on the basis on a 7 and 5 season. Jerome James famously picked up the whole 5-year mid-level for one good playoff series; James had averaged 4.9 points and 3 rebounds that season.
Big men have been getting huge contracts forever. The difference now is that advanced metrics have significantly helped teams figure out which players are actually worth it and which ones are Jerome Jameses.