Commentary on sports, current events, and politics

The NFL’s Glass House

This article is by Victor Davis Hanson and is very clear in describing the NFL’s current problems. I have added notes where appropriate.


The Glass House of the NFL

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File

The Glass House of the NFL

The National Football League is a glass house that was cracking well before Donald Trump’s criticism of players who refuse to stand during the national anthem.

The NFL earned an estimated $14 billion last year. But 500-channel television, internet live streaming, video games and all sorts of other televised sports have combined to threaten the league’s monopoly on weekend entertainment — even before recent controversies.

League broadcast revenues are threatened by the rush to cut the cable. These revenues ae based on cable systems charging each subscriber a fee for sports programming even though only a portion of the subscribers actually watches the programs. The cut the cable movement, which I have done, will reduce the revenue pot used to pay the enormous rights fees paid to eh NFL and other sports leagues.

It has become a fad for many players not to stand for the anthem. But it is also becoming a trend for irate fans not to watch the NFL at all.

Multimillionaire young players, mostly in their 20s, often cannot quite explain why they have become so furious at emblems of the country in which they are doing so well.

Their gripes at best seem episodic and are often without supporting data. Are they mad at supposedly inordinate police brutality toward black citizens, or racial disparity caused by bias, or the perceived vulgarity of President Donald Trump?

The result, fairly or not, is that a lot of viewers do not understand why so many young, rich players show such disrespect for their country — and, by extension, insult their far poorer fans, whose loyal support has helped pay their salaries.

ESPN talking heads and network TV analysts do not help. They often pose as social justice warriors, but they are ill-equipped to offer sermons to fans on their ethical shortcomings that have nothing to do with football.

In truth, the NFL’s hard-core fan base is not comprised of bicoastal hipsters. Rather, the league’s fan base is formed mostly by red-state Americans — and many of them are becoming increasingly turned off by the culture of professional football.

Professional athletes are frequently viewed as role models. Yet since 2000, more than 850 NFL players have been arrested, some of them convicted of heinous crimes and abuse against women.

The old idea of quiet sportsmanship — downplaying one’s own achievements while crediting the accomplishments of others — is being overshadowed by individual showboating.

Players are now bigger, faster and harder-hitting than in the past. Research has revealed a possible epidemic of traumatic brain injuries and other crippling injuries among NFL players. Such harm threatens to reduce the pool of future NFL players.

There is a growing public perception that the NFL is less a reflection of the kind of athleticism seen in basketball or baseball, and more a reflection of the violence of Mixed Martial Arts — or of gladiators in the ancient Roman Colosseum.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has received more than $212 million in compensation since 2006, has been a big moneymaker for the owners. Yet otherwise, he has been a public relations disaster, due largely to his incompetent efforts to sound politically correct. Goodell often insists that trivial rules be observed to the letter. For instance, the league denied a request by Dallas Cowboys players to wear small decals honoring Dallas police officers killed in a 2016 shooting.

At other times, Goodell deliberately ignores widespread violations of important NFL regulations — like the requirement that all players show respect for the American flag by solemnly standing during the national anthem.

The average value of an NFL franchise is estimated at $2.5 billion. The average player salary is nearly $2 million a year. Some of the league’s superstars are making more than $20 million a year. Given such wealth, local governments are understandingly becoming miffed that they have to pony up public money to support new NFL stadiums. Over the last two decades, the American public has shelled out more than $7 billion to build or renovate NFL stadiums. Billionaire owners are able to blackmail the public to pay to keep a franchise or else lose it to a city that offers bigger stadium subsidies.

Meanwhile, the NFL has successfully lobbied for exemption from federal antitrust regulations. NFL owners are crony capitalists who want the state both to subsidize them and leave them alone.

The antitrust exemption is overstated. There is a general exemption for all sports leagues in the Sports Broadcasting Act that allows teams to pool resources to enter into league-wide broadcast agreements. Ther is also a general exemption for labor that all employers use. The NFL does not have an antitrust exemption like the baseball exemption. 

Racial politics in the NFL have become increasingly problematic. The mega-wealthy franchise owners are almost all white businesspeople. Their multimillionaire players are about 70 percent African-American. So there is little diversity among the players, but even less among the owners.

Politically correct orthodoxy dictates that even quasi-public entities like the NFL should “look like America.” But instead, the NFL apparently sees itself as an old-fashioned meritocracy where athletic skills and corporate success alone determine who plays and who owns.

The progressive notions of “proportional representation” and “disparate impact” that sometimes govern universities and government mysteriously do not apply to the NFL, where few Latinos or Asians are included.

But most importantly, the league has entirely forgotten the fundamental rule of business: Never ignore, insult or talk down to the loyal consumers who provide the leagues’ support and income.

The NFL will not disappear, but its national significance is rapidly diminishing.


Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His latest book is The Savior Generals from BloomsburyBooks. You can reach him by e-mailing


The NFL’s Prescription Drug Problem

I encountered a friend and famous Viking defensive lineman one Sunday morning before a game. He was not walking well. He said, “When it hurts Sunday from last Sunday, it’s time to think about doing something else!!” 

Football is a violent game and pain is the constant.  Medication is required and its use is problematic, as the following article claims. 

National Football League teams violated federal laws governing prescription drugs, disregarded guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration on how to store, track, transport and distribute controlled substances, and plied their players with powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories each season, according to sealed court documents contained in a federal lawsuit filed by former players.

The sealed material, which was reviewed by The Washington Post, provides a rare look into the league’s relationship with drugs and how team doctors manage the pain inherent in a bruising sport to keep players on the field.

Federal law lays out strict guidelines for how teams can handle and dispense prescription drugs. The sealed court filing, which includes testimony and documents by team and league medical personnel, describes multiple instances in which team and league officials were made aware of abuses, record-keeping problems and even violations of federal law and were either slow in responding or failed to comply.

The filing, which was prepared by lawyers for the players suing the league, asserts that “every doctor deposed so far … has testified that they violated one or more” federal drug laws and regulations “while serving in their capacity as a team doctor.” Anthony Yates, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team doctor and past president of the NFL Physicians Society, testified in a deposition that “a majority of clubs as of 2010 had trainers controlling and handling prescription medications and controlled substances when they should not have,” the filing states.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the allegations contained in the court filing “are meritless and the league and its clubs will continue to vigorously defend these claims.

“The NFL clubs and their medical staffs are all in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act,” McCarthy said in an email. “… The NFL clubs and their medical staffs continue to put the health and safety of our players first, providing all NFL players with the highest quality medical care. Any claim or suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.”

The details and communications were unearthed by lawyers representing more than 1,800 former professional football players who are suing the league in U.S. District Court for Northern California, claiming they suffer long-term organ and joint damage, among other maladies, as a result of improper and deceptive drug distribution practices by NFL teams.

The material was collected by the players’ attorneys as part of the discovery process in the case. The attorneys redacted large portions of the 127-page complaint because both parties had agreed to do so under a court-approved protective order, sealing it from public view. The Post was able to review the redacted information because of an apparent technical error in the filing process but not some of the supporting exhibits and documents.

The filing solely reflects the ex-players’ claims against the NFL’s 32 teams, presenting their legal arguments and evidence to the court.

HGH In The NFL, Rampant Use Reported

No matter what you think about Peyton Manning—he used, he didn’t use, you don’t care either way—one thing is certain in the wake of Al Jazeera’s bombshell allegations: The NFL‘s drug-testing program continues to have a massive, gaping hole when it comes to HGH.

One veteran NFL player put it this way: “Steroids aren’t the problem. HGH is the big problem. For the past four or five years, the league has been almost overrun by HGH. … The new testing procedures aren’t catching anyone, because players know there is almost no way to get caught.”

Like the NFL’s marijuana policy, the player said, a player using HGH will only get caught “if the NFL gets really, really lucky, like win-the-Lotto-every-month lucky.”

Players Bleacher Report spoke to estimated that somewhere in the range of 10 to 40 percent of current players use HGH. Various former players have had similar and even higher estimates. Former quarterback Boomer Esiason once said 20 percent of the league used HGH. Former quarterback Brady Quinn estimated the number to be 40 to 50 percent on the Roughing the Passer podcast on CBS Sports.

This apparent rampant use of HGH over the past five years or more has created—as one player explained—a league of “superfreaks” who continue to run faster, jump higher and break records. Quinn said he believes this is behind the rash of injuries across the NFL this past season, and players interviewed by Bleacher Report had similar concerns: that the massive use of the drug, or others like it, will have long-term health ramifications. Their worries sound similar to the concerns expressed by some players in the 1980s and 1990s about concussions.

“The bodies of players are basically acting as chemistry sets,” one veteran said. “What’s going to happen to these guys five or 10 years from now?”

All of this may change next season, when the league goes to a different type of test. Then, the league’s policy could be much tougher. More on that in a moment.

For now, the league’s testing program has no teeth, and a half-dozen players interviewed for this story say the reason why comes down to one word: isoform.

The NFL and union agreed to HGH testing in 2011. Testing did not begin until October 2014. The NFL says there are about 40 random tests a week during the regular season, five random tests per team during the postseason and other players who are subject to testing because of cause. Violators of the HGH policy are subject to a four-game suspension.

Adolpho Birch, the NFL’s senior vice president for labor policy, was asked if an HGH user has been caught by the NFL’s testing.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

“Remember, despite our efforts, the union would not agree to publishing the substances: Suffice it to say that it is as low as can be,” Birch told Bleacher Report in an email. “But I keep trying to emphasize that doesn’t mean the test is inferior, or that it is not sufficiently deterring use.”

When Birch says “as low as can be,” he is saying no player has been caught yet.

An email to George Atallah, the union’s assistant executive director of external affairs, was not immediately returned.

Back to isoform: The problem, longtime anti-doping analyst Don Catlin told USA Today‘s Brent Schrotenboer in February, is that isoform testing only works if the player is tested within a few hours of using HGH. It “doesn’t catch many people at all,” he said. “It’s not a test that’s designed to really do that. It will catch you if you just used it a few hours ago, but if it’s a day or more, it’s not going to find you.”

In other words, using the isoform test is the equivalent of the police staking out a house days after it was burgled.

Players say the entire player base is aware of this and that that is why there’s no fear of the league’s HGH testing procedure.

One player remembers a team union player representative briefing the team after the league and players agreed to the testing procedures. The message of the team rep, this player said, was that there’s little chance any player would ever get caught under these rules.

But this is where things get interesting, because Birch said the league will soon use a different form of testing.

“We are currently using isoform,” he said, “but I expect that we will add biomarker in the offseason.”

As David Epstein wrote for’s MMQB in July, “The biomarker test does not pick up doping within the previous two days, but the detection window extends back beyond that for at least a week, so it has the potential to be much more effective than the isoform test.” That would dramatically increase the chances of a cheating player getting caught. This type of testing, like all testing, would have to be agreed upon by the union.

What exactly is HGH? It’s a hormone that increases strength and reduces fat. Yet the characteristic of HGH that is also of great interest to NFL players is it helps the body heal from injury faster.

One of the only times the NFL catches HGH cheats are in instances like the one that involved former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who admitted to law enforcement officials in 2007 that he used HGH. This admission led to a four-game suspension.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

“I used it. I never had an issue with my groin ever again,” Harrison, now an analyst, said on NBC this past week. “It wasn’t smart. I put a foreign substance in my body and I don’t know the long-term effects. I have a black cloud over my career. I played 15 years and that doesn’t feel good. That’s embarrassing. But also I look at the kids, my kids and the kids that look up to me, and now I have to tell them why I did it. Maybe I can use this opportunity to let them know it’s not worth it, point blank, period. It’s just not worth it.”

Apparently, though, it’s worth it to many players in the NFL. It seems clear that they’re using HGH, and for now, it seems clear that there’s little chance they’ll be caught doing it.


Brady Wins, Why I Was Wrong

Federal Judge Richard Berman has ruled that the four game suspension against Tom Brady is to be dismissed. This is a very important sports law case because this is a matter of a judge overturning an arbitrators decision. This rarely happens and is based on the Judge finding that the arbitration process was flawed. I didn’t think this would occur although I have thought all along that this Deflategate issue was much ado about nothing. Never in the history of the case did anyone show that 1. Brady deflated anything or ordered the deflating of footballs a pound or two under the suggested air pressure.  2.That he enjoyed an advantage because of this that had an impact on the game, and 3. Most importantly, did the Collective Bargaining Agreement give Goodell the authority to suspend the player.

Basically, the Judge overturned the Commissioners over reach. There was no reason to suspend Brady over this imagined issue and Goodell did not have the authority. This is Judging at its best. A minor, insignificant matter, blown into a major news story because it involved a famous quarterback and the NFL, has been relegated to its proper position- a non-story, by a federal judge who has better things to do.

I was worried that the judge would follow the time honored case history that called for judges to defer to arbitrators in such matters. The judge made the right decision. I wrote that he wouldn’t <a =”″>here</a&gt; but am glad to have been wrong.

The article below says more:

Judge rules against NFL, drops Tom Brady’s four-game ban

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady arrived at federal court in New York on Monday.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady arrived at federal court in New York on Monday.

By Larry Neumeister and Tom Hays ASSOCIATED PRESS SEPTEMBER 03, 2015
NEW YORK — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady can suit up for his team’s season opener after a judge erased his four-game suspension for ‘‘Deflategate.’’

The surprise ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman came Thursday after more than one month of failed settlement talks between the NFL and its players’ union. Many legal experts believed the judge was merely pressuring the sides to settle when he criticized the NFL’s handling of the case at two hearings in August.
But the judge wasn’t posturing.

He came out forcefully in Brady’s favor, maligning the NFL for its handling of the scandal that erupted after the AFC championship game in January, when officials discovered during the first half that Brady used underinflated footballs. New England beat the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 then won the Super Bowl two weeks later.

An NFL investigation led to Brady’s suspension, which Commissioner Roger Goodell upheld.

Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and the NFL Dilemma

Ray Rice was video taped punching his then girlfriend (Now his wife) in an Atlantic CIty elevator and then pulling her unconscious body from the elevator. Adrian Peterson punished his four year old son by hitting him with a switch. The league and Peterson’s team have reacted and both players are now inactive indefinitely. The media outrage is enormous and it is suggested that NFL Commissioner Goodell be fired.
There is no way the actions can be defended. Both are horrible. However, there was a delay in the media outburst that suggests that there is another agenda here. As this is an election year, I surmise that the media response here is political and financial. There have been several cases of domestic abuse in the NFL in recent years and none of those engendered the vigorous reaction by the mainstream medis so far. The effort is directed at generating support for the so called war on women (that doesn’t exist, by the way) to increase voter turnout among Democrats. The NFL target, very male, violent, aggressive is the perfect foil for this activity. Goodell, its leader, tall, large, rich and blond is a compelling target as well. So what are the aims of those who attack the NFL over this issue? (By the way, Goodell had already instituted a domestic violence program to stop such violence.)
The aim here is the classic shakedown. The. demands on the NFL will mount as various organizations demand money, probably in the billions of dollars, before going away. They may also demand positions within the NFL for their members, and then, urge that Goodell be replaced by one of theirs, to assure compliance with their demands.
The NFL’s dilemma is that it must stand up to the demands while taking actions to re-assure fans that domestic violence will not be condoned in any way. If the league gives in, especially with regard to the Commissioner, it will mean that the owners have given up control of the business. If the league acquiesces in this matter, the demands will only increase and spin away from Rice and Peterson into unrelated areas that will involve the surrender of more of its authority and ability to manage it own affairs. That is an existential moment that must be prevented. The sharks are circling here, and they must be kept out of the NFL boat.

Why Orchestras and Football Teams Are In the Same Business

Professional orchestras and sports teams are remarkably similar in their business operations and in labor relations. Orchestra management and sports management are in the same business, the difference being whether the players are holding a bat or a bassoon. In both industries,management scouts and hires talented players to perform difficult feats in such a compelling way that people pay for tickets to their events and fill concert halls and stadiums. In both industries,labor problems have caused enormous disruptions such as the one that has closed Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis for the last year. Just as the first baseball union formed the Players’ League and tried to play its own schedule, the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra have formed the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians to produce their own concerts. The “Players’ League” failed as the baseball players lacked capital and had the tendency to overpay themselves. The Minnesota Orchestra Musicians are following a similar path now and will learn about orchestra management’s importance.

Professional athletes and musicians start their careers early in life, either playing in Little League or in a school band. They both practice their skills the prescribed 10,000 hours to perfect the art.As they improve, they begin to stand out from their peers and are given privileges, receive adulation, and develop commensurate egos. Both players compete in countless try outs, are recruited, and attend special schools, The Eastman School and Julliard are the same as LSU and Alabama in this respect. Star at either and play later as a professional.

Players in both “sports” survive a rigorous elimination process where they are promoted over peers and then find themselves in the “Big Leagues.” They note the full audiences and regale in the applause. They understand that all of this is due to their unique talent, especially when they are the featured soloist playing Bach’s “Toccata & Fugue,” or quarterback starring in the Super Bowl. The audience is not cheering the Board of Directors are they? This sense of self leads to monumental labor conflicts which is the history of professional sports. The National Football League has adopted a salary cap/revenue sharing plan that lends itself to the orchestra setting, and should be applied to the Minnesota Orchestra.

The NFL system is based on a revenue metric and a percentage of revenue to be paid to the players. For the orchestra, the union and management would agree on the revenue attributable to the musicians–from tickets sold for orchestra events, sales of DVD’s and other media, to t-shirts,and then agree on the percentage payable to the players, and different percentages can be paid from tickets and DVD’s. The allocation between the players can also be part of the agreement.Most of the elements of this plan are already in place. It is a matter of agreeing to the concept and then sitting down and working out the details.

I have been involved in labor relations for decades and recognize that this is the time for bold action by the orchestra board. Such bold action by the NFL created the balanced plan that benefits owners, players, and fans of that sport. By adopting such a plan, the Orchestra can look forward to long term labor peace and we concert goers can enjoy the wonderful music they create.

College Football’s Money Tree

George Will writes here about the college football money tree. He begins by describing the head injuries that are the necessary result of playing the game of football and continues by describing the income derived from the play of the players, and the salaries paid to head football coaches.

The suggestion, is, of course, that this is a world beyond the control of college administrators.

For my “Questions About the NFL Concussion Settlement”, that shows how those players and the league have settled the issues concerning brain injury, go here. There is a NCAA lawsuit as well, but no settlement soon, I am told.

New NFL Concussion Law Suits Filed

On August 31, I wrote on the settlement of the NFL Concussion law suit involving 4,500 players. hereThe league agreed to a $765,000,000 settlement. In that article, I mentioned that the suit was over for the players who were part of the law suit, but that other players may file new cases. That happened in New Orleans on Sunday. (In the digital era, courts are never closed!)

The four plaintiffs in this case, Rich Maunti, Jimmy Williams, Jimmy Keyes, and Nolan Franz are suing over the same issues that  the original 4,500 players claimed in their law suit. These issues are, headaches, dizziness, memory loss, depression, cognitive impairment, and medical bills because of concussions and other brian injuries caused by traumatic brain injury. Curiously, I have not seen a reference to the three named conditions of the settlement agreement, Alzheimer’s, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and dementia. It may that these syndromes are thought to be subsumed by the “other brain injury” claim. Three wives are also part of the lawsuit saying, “brain injuries have deprived them and will deprive them and other NFL spouses of their husband’s services, society and companionship.”

The suit also names Riddell, the helmet manufacturer as a defendant, saying, “it failed to protect players from brain injury.” Riddell is part of the original suit, but was not included in the settlement. I have not seen material indicating the size of the claims against Riddell, but helmets do carry a warning as to the potential danger of playing football.

I assume more players will join the New Orleans suit and make the same claims that were cited in the original lawsuit. What is critical here is that these players can not be said to have been warned of the dangers of traumatic brain injury as have current players, therefore, there can be no “assumed  risk” defense by the NFL. This will be interesting and I wonder at how many players and wives will join this suit. It will not end soon.

By the way, paricipation in youth football is declining as parents are paying attention to this problem.

Questions About the NFL Concussion Settlement

The NFL anounced a settlement with the 4,500 players who had sued over damages from head trauma. The settlement amount is $765,000,000, or $170,000 per player. That is the simple arithmetic of the settlement, but there is other language that raises more questions. For example, there is a individual cap of $5,000,000 per Alzheimers case, $4,000,000 for each chronic traumatic encephalopathy case, and $3,000,000 for each case of dementia.  This means that for one case of Alzheimers, soaks up the pool amount for 29 players. If there are 5% Alzheimers cases out of the 4,500 players, or 225 such cases, and each case soaks up only 20% of the cap, or $1,000,000 dollars, a reasonable number, I am told by those who know about this stuff, $225,000,000 of the settlement pool is gone with only 225 players paid. The same can be said for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, say 1% of the players are diagnosed and treated for that malady, or 43 players, $176,000,000 is gone. For dementia, and I have seen players with dementia, so that can’t be uncommon. let’s be conservative and say another 1% or 42 have that diagnosis, another $126,000,000 is gone. By simply estimating the number of players who contract the three named afflictions where damages are capped, $527,000,000 of the $765,000,000 pool is used up by 310 players.

This means that the pool is to be managed by a bank and interest earned. At 3.5% interest, the pool will double in 20 years, but there will be deductions to compensate injured players, so the pool will diminish. The NFL is very smart and has employed actuaries to estimate the incidence of the named maladies as well as the other injury and mental syndromes that may occur. They are betting on a lower incidence than the conservative estimate I made above. There is also the question of the claims processing system. Are claims simply paid on diagnosis, a pure liability system or can the NFL examine the player to determine the NFL’s percentage of fault compared to high school, college or non-sports related activites, or even past substance abuse? A hearing would determine the percentages that would then limit NFL liability. I don’t know what sort of methodology will be used, but given the numbers, some sort of limiting technique is implied by the settlement

This is the end of the case for 4,500 player/plaintiffs, but future plaintiffs may arise with the same symptoms. To avoid or, at least, limit these claims, the NFL will give each player a document indicating that playing football carries with it the risk of Alzheimers, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and dementia, as well as other long term, debilitating conditions. This means that the players, having been warned, assume the risk of playing football and assumption of risk is a perfect defense in tort claims.

The concussion case settlement will pay injured players, but the NFL admits no fault. It does end a problematic class action lawsuit and subsequent remedial actions may prevent them in the future. Whatever you think, you have to admit the NFL is very good at handling its problems.

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