SPORTS OP-ED: The Tort Leagues

Arthur Solomon
Arthur Solomon

By Arthur Solomon

The National Football League should have a warden instead of a commissioner.

The logo of Major League Baseball should be replaced by that of a thoroughbred wearing blinders because of its handling of the steroid era.

The International Olympic Committee should be tried for crimes against decency for its history of awarding its games to totalitarian countries. 

And our major corporations, proud sponsors all of these sports cabals, should have as its logo the three monkeys’ “hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil.”

While all of the above entities prove that sportsmanship is not necessary to play the game for money (or free college tuition), the NFL seems to provide employment for more athletes in trouble with the law than all the other sports organizations combined. 

The latest example of the NFL's slap on the wrist punishment for players, who would probably face harsh treatment by non-sports authorities if they couldn’t sack a quarterback or throw a spiral on target, was the lenient judgment commissioner Roger Goodell gave to a player who was caught on camera dragging his then fiancée, now wife, out of an elevator, seemingly unconscious.  The NFL judge and jury commissioner sentenced the player to a two-game suspension. After an outcry by some of the media, the public and organizations who don’t think football is sacrosanct, Goodell said he was wrong and toughened penalties for players who committed spousal abuse. It included banning second offenders for life, but with a loophole big enough for a 200 pound running back to plow through: the right to petition for reinstatement after one year.  Obviously, in the NFL hard hits are acceptable on or off the grid iron.

The leniency of “football justice” punishments handed down by the NFL commissioner was on display again in Goodell’s handling of the case against Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who pleaded guilty to impaired driving on September 2, 2014. Civil authorities suspended Irsay’s license   for a year and put him on probation for a year.  Goodell’s punishment was to bar Orsay from participating in NFL matters until after the Colts’ game on October 9, for which the commissioner was applauded by some in the media for demonstrating equal justice between players and owners.

Goodell’s getting it wrong was not surprising.  For years he refused to acknowledge that concussions caused by hard hits caused later life medical problems for players until it became a public issue. He also looked the other way on harassment issues (you know the old sports credo, “what you say in the clubhouse, hear in the clubhouse and see in the clubhouse remains in the clubhouse”) and handed down what amounts to “stand in the corner” punishments to players who broke civil laws.  (It is important to note that Goodell is not alone in denying that there was no conclusive proof that concessions caused while playing their sports caused later life problems. Also agreeing was Gary Bettman, the National Hockey League commissioner.)  After decades of just saying no, the NFL agreed to a costly settlement with its players who claimed that concussions were the cause of their post-football illnesses.

Following Goodell closely into the Sports Hall of Shame should be just retired MLB commissioner Bud Selig.  Decades known as America’s pastime, MLB players created their own pastime - steroid use.  Despite the evidence of body changing dimensions, moon shot home runs, players, who weren’t, suddenly becoming power hitters and the rumors of PEDs, the commissioner did nothing to stop the use of steroids until Congress began looking into the issue.  And some in the media applauded the commissioner.

But one organization stands above (oops, below), all the others -– the IOC.  Often attributed to a show biz credo, the slogan “the show must go on” is better suited to the IOC.  At least Broadway productions are cancelled in times of a tragedy.  Not so the shows that the Boys from Switzerland produce.

For decades the IOC has been awarding its propaganda-laden games to totalitarian countries, dismissing criticism with their ludicrous declarations that sport brings people together.

The IOC ignored the evils of Nazism. So did the United States Olympic Committee, which dismissed calls from prominent American politicians and sportsmen to boycott the 1936 Nazi Olympics in Berlin. Thus it’s not surprising that the IOC has since awarded its games to other totalitarian countries: Yugoslavia, China and twice to Russia. The IOC kept quiet even after the public horse wiping of a Pussy Riot protest during the games and Russia’s actions against Ukraine shortly after the conclusion of the Sochi Olympics. 

Discredit for the sorry actions of sports cabals must be shared by their enablers: the sponsors that provide the fuel empowering the IOC, NFL, MLB, NHL, NCAA and other sports regimes to act as if they were sovereign nations. That’s too bad.  One would hope that major U.S. corporations would use their economic muscle to demand that the IOC cease awarding its games to totalitarian countries and for all sports leagues to act as if their rulings were not above criticism from people who believe morality is more important than touchdowns, home runs and Citius, Altius,Fortius.

Play ball!

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Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations and sports publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr@juno.com

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