Monday, August 30, 2010

Ramapo supervisor continues quest for baseball park

Ramapo supervisor continues quest for baseball park

By Evan Weiner

August 30, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- Sometimes you have to ask the question. What motivates politicians to pursue a policy whereby they spend taxpayers’ money on money losing operations like baseball stadiums, football stadiums and indoor arenas for professional sports teams? Ramapo, New York Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence is continuing his quest to bring an independent baseball league franchise to what once was a wooded area in his town about 30-35 miles north of Manhattan.

St. Lawrence is so gung ho about getting a 3,500-seat facility built on the taxpayers dime that he has decided that the results of last Tuesday's election which saw local voters turn down the stadium spending request by a 2 to 1 margin was a mirage. Yes the voters said no, but they were clearly mistaken. It wasn't the ballpark or the fact that St. Lawrence has an agreement with the financially-troubled Can-Am League to play at the facility that caused a landslide vote.

No, it was the stadium financial package. Ramapo residents did not want to put up $16.5 million for the stadium.

Ramapo residents welcome to the "Business and Politics of Sports." Ramapo now has a chance to join a select group of municipalities who voted down stadium or arena packages only to see elected officials overturn the result.

In sports, saying no to a stadium or an arena proposal doesn't mean no. In the mid-1990s, voters in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee voted against funding for new baseball parks and in Pittsburgh's case a new football stadium as well. Yet the Seattle Mariners ended up with a new, taxpayers funded ball park as did the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Milwaukee Brewers. Pittsburgh also built a new facility for the NFL Steelers.

In Charlotte, voters said no to spending $342 million for a new arena in June 2001 with a 15,000 vote majority. George Shinn took his National Basketball Association franchise to New Orleans in 2002. Charlotte spent $52 million to build an arena in the late 1980s. The structure opened in 1988 and by 1999, Shinn was pushing for a new Charlotte arena for his Hornets because the 11-year-old facility was outdated.

Once Shinn was gone, Charlotte decided that the city needed an NBA team and that the 2001 vote was a referendum on Shinn not the need for a new arena. The city was promised an expansion team by NBA Commissioner David Stern if elected officials came through on a promise to build a new arena. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCoury said one of the reasons that he wanted a new arena built in the city to replace the one that opened in 1988 was that the city would get free publicity every time Charlotte’s basketball team’s highlights were shown on ESPN.

The city spent $265 million to get back into the good graces of the NBA and in exchange, Bob Johnson bought the 2004 expansion team which moved into the new arena in 2005. Arena revenue streams from club seats, luxury boxes (two items that Shinn really did not have) were supposed to make a Charlotte team financially competitive. The franchise has had money problems since day one and the Charlotte Coliseum was demolished in June 2007 at the age of 19.

But in sports, saying no to a stadium or an arena proposal doesn't mean no. State politicians in Washington, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin decided that the voters really didn't intend to kill the ballparks and overturned the vote by taking it out of the voters' hands and passing state legislation raising taxes to build ballparks in Seattle and Milwaukee.
Weeks after the Seattle ballpark referendum was defeated, Washington Governor Mike Lowry on October 24, 1995 signed a bill which allowed King County to create a .017% sales tax, which was offset against the sales tax now collected by the state in King County. Other funding mechanisms included the sale of baseball stadium commemorative license plates as well as using money from sports theme lottery scratch games. Non baseball fans were hit as well as baseball fans for dining as a special stadium sales tax of .5% on restaurants, bars and taverns was levied for patrons in King County and as a special stadium sales tax of 2% on rental cars was implemented. The Mariners contributed $75 million.

The Kingdome was blown up in 2000 but the debt service lingers on until 2016.
In Pittsburgh, Plan B was enacted by city and Allegheny County politicians and money was found to build a new baseball park and a football stadium. Pittsburgh and Allegheny County residents were still paying off the debt on Three Rivers Stadium when the two new parks opened. Three Rivers Stadium was blown up in 2001 but the debt service wasn't.
In Milwaukee after voters said no in January 1995, the state houses (the assembly 52-47) and the state senate 16-15) said yes and sent a bill to Governor Tommy Thompson to sign that made taxpayers in Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, Washington, and Ozaukee Counties pay additional sales taxes 0.1% sales tax to cover 77.5% of the costs of the baseball stadium they didn't want. The tax is scheduled to end in 2014. The most interesting part of the Brewers/Wisconsin stadium deal came nine months after the October 6, 1995 vote by the state senate to approve the taxation. State Senator George Petak, a Republican from Racine, originally voted no because Racine had nothing to do with Milwaukee economically and Petak felt that Racine should not be included in the taxation method. Petak voted no but switched his vote which allowed the stadium package to pass by a vote.
Petak was recalled by Racine voters nine months later and ousted from office because of his support for the stadium financing scheme. But the stadium was built.
Politicians just cannot say no to sports. Yonkers, New York has been pushing to build a 6,500-seat baseball park for another independent baseball circuit, the Atlantic League for 10 years now but the project has not taken off. The former mayor, John Spencer, brought out the old and worn out axiom that the ballpark would be an economic engine---a notion that has been put to pasture by virtually everyone over the past two decades with stadium economic impact knowledge----but so far the stadium project remains on the drawing board.
Ramapo Supervisor St. Lawrence hasn't given up yet and probably doesn't know much about George Petak. For whatever reason, St. Lawrence plans to proceed with plans for the stadium that could cost taxpayers even more money. Ramapo could pay a higher interest rate on the 20-year bonds, which have been guaranteed by the Ramapo Local Development Corp., or vote to finance the stadium with town funds. Either way, Ramapo taxpayers stand to lose more than they will gain and the possibility of cutting needed town services becomes greater as stadiums and arenas are endless money pits for their owners. Just ask the people in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Charlotte who said no and were told by elected officials, your vote didn't count and are paying and paying and paying for the facilities and cost overruns (Seattle and Milwaukee).

Evan Weiner is an award winning author, radio-TV commentator and speaking on "The Business and Politics of Sports." He can be reached at

Monday, August 16, 2010

Do states get a return on sports facilities investments?

Do states get a return on sports facilities investments?
MONDAY, 16 AUGUST 2010 07:30

A little less than 34 years after the New York Giants played the Dallas Cowboys in the opening game of new stadium off of Exit 16W of the New Jersey Turnpike in the Meadowlands, the Giants and the New York Jets will play the first football game in the new stadium off of Exit 16W of the New Jersey Turnpike in the Meadowlands. The new stadium has hosted concerts and the international kind of football but this place was built for the Giants and Jets.
The new place has a price tag of an estimated $1.6 billion which was to be split between the Giants and Jets ownership. But the state of New Jersey is on the hook for a lot of cash too, an estimated $300 million in infrastructure costs. The new stadium was built in a decaying sports complex. The race track, which was once the crown jewel of the Meadowlands and counted upon to pump money into the complex is dying and the three decades old arena no longer has either a National Basketball Association or a National Hockey League team. The Xanadu project has not been the panacea that Meadowlands backers had hoped.
New Jersey is saddled with the debt of Giants Stadium 34 years after it was opened and months after it was demolished. New Jersey joins places like King County (the Kingdome in Seattle) and Pittsburgh (Three Rivers Stadium) in paying off the debt of a place that no longer exists except on the ledger sheet.
The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority could be as much as $830 million in debt. The Meadowlands Racetrack cannot help pay down the debt anymore. It is no longer 1971, a time when horse racing was still popular and a few years before it began a slow decline.
The New Jersey Sports Authority is in charge of the Meadowlands sports complex. The properties include the Xanadu retail and entertainment project, and also oversees the football stadium and the arena. Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, and Atlantic City Convention Centers is under the authority's aegis.
The Meadowlands has become unwanted and unloved and a money drain except for the area around the new stadium. New Jersey is not only pumping money into the football facility but is also providing all sorts of tax breaks which has not made elected officials in East Rutherford too happy. The municipality is losing much needed revenue from property in the area.
The question that should be asked in this time when all municipalities are struggling with revenues and balancing budgets, is any municipality getting a return on stadium and arena investments?
On Friday, the State Comptroller of New York, Thomas P. DiNapoli said he didn't know whether New York was getting any kind of return on the state's investments in stadium and arena projects in Buffalo, Rochester and especially the Bronx with the Yankees and Queens with the Mets. New York State also has hundreds of millions of dollars slated to go into the Brooklyn arena project construction that when finished will become the home of the Newark-based New Jersey Nets National Basketball Association franchise.
DiNapoli was quick and seemed very honest when saying that he had no idea if his state was getting any kind of benefit from a minor league baseball park in Buffalo or a hockey arena in Buffalo or a minor league stadium in Rochester. New York is a State spending hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure in the Bronx and Queens as is New York City for the Yankees and Mets stadiums.
DiNapoli said New York State has never done a survey and figured out if spending what is probably a billion dollars for sports venues in Albany, Binghamton, the Bronx. Buffalo, Elmira, Queens. Staten Island, Syracuse and other locales in the state was worth the effort.
The state money for facilities was started when Governor Mario Cuomo decided to go along with Major League Baseball's Player Development Contract with Minor League Baseball which required Minor League Baseball franchises to play in facilities that had to meet a standard created by Major League Baseball by 1994. Virtually every minor league team needed some form of upgrade or new stadium and that forced a realigment of minor league baseball teams. The New York Penn League Glens Falls (N. Y.) team relocated for a while in Augusta, New Jersey. Cuomo pitched hard for a Major League expansion team, in Buffalo by building a minor league stadium that could have been expanded into a 40,000-seat stadium.
The MLB/MiLB PDC agreement gave birth to independent baseball leagues and teams in New Jersey in the Atlantic and Northeast League-Northern League which is now the CanAm League.
The stadium/arena building in Buffalo has not been an elixir that has brought the Buffalo economy back to the late 1950s boom years when the city was a major port and there were vibrant steel, flour and shipping industries in the city. Rochester is still reeling from the loss of Eastman Kodak; Syracuse has lost Carrier air conditioners. Binghamton has not replaced IBM and clothing industries yet stadiums and arenas were sold as economic engines.
New York is not alone in the assessment. Has New Jersey benefited from building the Meadowlands Racetrack, Giants Stadium, the Meadowlands Arena, the Trenton arena and other sports venues? The latest proposals to fix the Meadowlands problems of a dying race track and an empty arena include selling the properties to private investors or shutting down racing at the track and make the building a glorified racing studio or Off Track Betting parlor with no horse racing.
The Meadowlands as an OTB parlor may not work all that well without slot machines. The Meadowlands is only about 13 miles away from Yonkers Raceway in New York where there a video slot machines and one of these days, there will be video terminals at Aqueduct Raceway in Queens.
Politicians have spent, spent and spent on sports facilities nationally for six decades and there seems to be no end in sight. The 1986 Tax Act did local municipalities any favors when it came to municipal funding of stadiums. The federal tax code limited cities, villages, towns, counties and states to collect just eight percent of the revenues generated in a sports arena or stadium to go to pay down the debt in the venue.
Since 1986, municipalities have been pitted against one another in attempting to get a team, whether it was an expansion franchise or a team looking to relocate for a better locale. The worst deal that was signed was between Louisiana Governor Mike Foster and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. Louisiana gave Benson $186.5 million in checks as a thank you for keeping the team in New Orleans between 2002 and 2010. The city of San Diego was buying unsold San Diego Chargers tickets as part of a lease arrangement in the late 1990s. This summer, the giveaways kept coming despite belt tightening around the country. Jacksonville politicians gave up the city's right to collect 25 percent of the revenue for naming rights of the city owned football stadium to the National Football League's Jaguars or about $4 million over the next five years.
Some of that four million dollars could have been used to pay municipal workers to keep social and needed services going. Instead Jacksonville Jaguars ownership can spend the $800,000 or so annually on players.
The National Hockey League's Columbus Blue Jackets franchise is crying the financial blues so in the middle of July, the team president Mike Priest came up with a "most viable solution" asking the city to turnover over revenues from a proposed tax on new downtown casinos to the team. Columbus is getting a casino soon. A portion of the construction costs of the new Pittsburgh arena was paid by a new casino in the city.
Indianapolis elected officials decided earlier this summer to give Herb Simon, the Pacers owner, $10 million a year for the next three years along with $3.5 million for a new ribbon ad board inside the Indianapolis arena in an attempt to keep Simon happy and his team playing at the arena. Simon's team has been playing at the city's taxpayer-funded arena since 1999, a building that he uses for free as in no rent and the kicker is that Simon keeps all revenues from his team's home games. The Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board which runs the arena and the one-year-old Colts-NFL stadium has to come up with the money. But there is a problem, the board is broke and had to borrow $27 million from Indiana last year to continue operating. Simon's team will play in Indianapolis for at least three more years.
San Diego officials are planning to spend $500,000 (in cash strapped California where state workers may have their salaries reduced to minimum wage if Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state houses cannot get a budget done) to study the viability of a new football stadium for the Spanos family's NFL Chargers. Hamilton County and Cincinnati are having financial problems and don't have money to pay off the debt load on the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals stadium.
So it goes and that is all the news in the past 60 days or so. In Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A's continue to look across the bays, Tampa Bay and the San Francisco Bay, for new homes. Rays ownership would like to play in Tampa while A's owner Lewis Wolff is waiting for Godot or Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig or Dionne Warwick or Burt Bacharach or Hal David to ask him "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?" Wolff would pack up the A's in a moving van and drive south on the I-880 in a New York minute to play in San Jose. Of course there is a question of stadium funding in Tampa and San Jose that needs to be answered.
The Giants ownership almost accepted a renovated Giants Stadium in the mid-2000s, while the Jets ownership planned to move to Manhattan's Westside near the Javits Center between 30th and 34th Street surrounded by 11th and 12th Avenues. Both ownership groups watched other municipalities build stadiums or create incentive packages such as the Foster-Benson agreement in New Orleans. New York Assemblyman Sheldon Silver blew up the Manhattan stadium which forced Jets owner Woody Johnson to look elsewhere and eventually Johnson along with the Giants Mara/Tisch families came up with the New Meadowlands Stadium deal which involved land swaps, tax breaks and infrastructure money for a stadium and other retail development.
Back in 1971, New Jersey officials decided to get in the game. What they didn't realize then is that once you start playing, you better bring your money to the table and be prepared to spend, spend and spend. Was it worth it? In New York the state comptroller DiNapoli couldn't answer the question with an affirmative or negative response since he didn't have the data because no one in the state ever decided to give it a close inspection.
The answer is pretty obvious.
It is no.
Stadium and arena building has not been an economic engine (in Baltimore, the baseball stadium came after the Maryland Science Museum, the Harborplace and the National Aquarium opened. the baseball and football stadiums were an add on and not an anchor for the project). Stadiums have not rebuilt city's downtowns in Cleveland or Phoenix. Governor Chris Christie ought to appoint someone to do that survey that no one has done in New York as to whether a state or a city really gets a return on a sports venue investment like the New Meadowlands Stadium.
Of course politicians may not want to really know that answer.
Evan Weiner is an award winning author, radio-TV commentator and a speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business.' He can be reached at

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Adolf Hitler and the Nazis cost the Giants and Jets $30 million a year

How Adolf Hitler and the Nazis cost the Giants and Jets $30 million a year

Wednesday, 11 August 2010 13:40




Had all gone according to the original plan, the first "American" football game, which will be played on Monday night at the new Meadowlands Stadium between the East Rutherford-based New York Giants and the Florham Park-based New York Jets, would have had the name Allianz attached to the stadium. The Munich, Germany-based financial services and insurance company was negotiating with the Giants-Jets stadium management group to be the naming rights partner of the new East Rutherford stadium but those talks ended on September 9, 2008 after news broke that the two football teams were negotiating a deal with the Munich company which had ties to the Third Reich and Nazi Germany.

According to some reports, Allianz was willing to pay as much as $30 million annually for the naming rights. The Giants-Jets group is still looking for a naming rights partner in what has become an extremely difficult financial environment. Many companies don't see the value in purchasing naming rights to a stadium. The one-year old Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas still does not have a corporate naming sponsor which is a bit surprising in that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is hosting the 2011 Super Bowl next February and the Super Bowl is a prime advertising vehicle.

The Giants-Jets stadium will host the 2014 Super Bowl.

It is not unusual for a non-American company to buy the naming rights of an American arena or stadium. LM Ericcson, a telecommunications company based in Sweden, bought the naming rights for the new Charlotte football stadium in a ten-year, $25 million deal that started in 1996.

Last January, the Canadian insurance company Sun Life Financial signed a five-year, $20 million agreement with Miami Dolphins owner (and New York-New Jersey real estate magnate) Stephen Ross for the naming rights to the Dolphins' Broward County stadium. Sun Life, which is Canada's third-largest insurer, was looking to increase the company's visibility in the United States and probably did well on the deal as the Sun Life name and signage was plastered all over last February's Super Bowl broadcast. That exposure was more important than the other aspects of the deal which included having the Sun Life name printed on tickets to sporting events at the stadium.

Two other Canadian financial institutions have their names affixed on arenas in the United States. In 2005, TD Bank bought the naming rights to the arena that houses the National Basketball Association's Boston Celtics and the National Hockey league's Boston Bruins The building is called TD Banknorth Garden. Royal Bank reached an agreement with the Carolina Hurricanes ownership in 2002 for the naming rights to the Raleigh, North Carolina arena. The venue is known as the RBC Center.

If the New Jersey Nets franchise does ever move to Brooklyn, the building will be called Barclay's Center. The England-based Barclay's does not have any bank branches in the United States but the bank does have a number of global locations.

The Giants-Jets/Allianz deal was stopped when Jewish groups and holocaust survivors learned of the talks. The Giants-Jets negotiations brought to light Allianz's history with Adolf Hitler and Nazi, Germany. A little history lesson needs to be told to understand the opposition to Allianz putting the company name on the sides of the East Rutherford stadium.

In 1993, Allianz's CEO Henning Schulte-Noelle decided to take a look at Allianz's corporate history and research the role the company might have played between 1933 and 1945 with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi government. By 1997, Schulte-Noelle found the man he needed to do the research in at Cal-Berkeley, Dr. Gerald Feldman, who was the director of the University of California's Center for German and European Studies. Dr. Feldman had spent a good chunk of his adult life studying all aspects of German history. Dr. Feldman's 2001 book, "Allianz and the German Insurance Business, 1933-1945," explained how Allianz had given money owed to Jewish life insurance policy beneficiaries to the Nazi government.

Among Dr. Feldman's findings were records which showed that Allianz insured the property and personnel of the Auschwitz extermination camp, as well as the Dachau concentration camp. Additionally, Allianz also insured the engineers working at the IG Farben Company, the company that oversaw the manufacture of the Zyklon B cyanide gas used at concentration camps to kill Jews and other victims. Allianz provided insurance throughout the war to Nazis who had seized valuables from those victims captured and forced into the camps.

Dr. Feldman also related that Allianz Chief Executive Kurt Schmitt was Hitler's Economy Minister from June 1933 until January 1935, and found a picture of Schmitt wearing an SS-Oberf├╝hrer's uniform. Allianz General Director Eduard Hilgard led the "Reich Association for Private Insurance" and helped create and enforce termination and refusal policies to pay off any life insurance policies issued to Jews. Beneficiary payments went directly sent to the Nazis instead.

Feldman said in a 2001 interview that is posted on the Allianz website that he had "unrestricted freedom" to do independent research.

Allianz had hoped that the company would have been able to do business in the United States like other German companies that had ties to Hitler and Nazi Germany and pleaded that the present day company leaders had nothing to do with the Nazi era. Allianz and four other German insurance companies were key backers of the "International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims" and Allianz was a founder of the German Foundation "Remembrance, Responsibility and Future." Dr. Feldman's findings in the book along with Allianz taking responsibility for being involved with the Third Reich did nothing to sway Holocaust survivors who were aghast at the thought of Allianz putting the company moniker on the East Rutherford football stadium.

Allianz has never dabbled much into the sports world. The company has the naming rights for the football (soccer) stadium in Munich that houses two clubs, FC Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga and TSV Munich 1860 of the Second Bundesliga. The company also owns Gornik Zabrze, a Poland football club and Allianz also is a sponsor of the AT and T Williams Formula 1 racing team.

On Monday, Allianz joined Adidas, BMW, Lufthansa and Finanzgruppe in financial support of Munich's bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The 1972 Munich Summer Games was the scene of killing of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in the Olympic Village by the Palestinian Black September terrorist cell. Annecy, France, Munich and PyeongChang, South Korea have moved to the final round of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games bid process. The 2018 Games winning bid will be announced by the International Olympic Committee in July 2011. Munich is attempting to become the first city to host a Summer and Winter Olympics.

There will be no corporate name on the Giants-Jets Stadium on Monday night. Naming rights deals have been dwindling although the Jacksonville Jaguars National Football League franchise did get a five-year, $16.6 million contract signed with EverBank at the end of July. That is slightly more than $3 million a year and stipend won't cover the annual contract of a good offensive lineman. The EverBank-Jaguars deal nearly fell through because the city of Jacksonville was entitled to 25 percent of the money. On Tuesday night, the Jacksonville City Council voted 14-3 to give up the approximate $4 million that the city was contractually due and took one for the financially troubled team. City leaders are afraid that Wayne Weaver will move his franchise because there is a lack of support for the team and every million helps. Presumably the Giants-Jets business arrangement is still looking for someone ready to hand over hundreds of millions of dollars in naming rights to help pay down the stadium debt. Jerry Jones is still looking for a big payday in Arlington, Texas for Cowboys Stadium. Companies have tightened spending which is why the East Rutherford football venue is called the New Meadowlands Stadium.

Evan Weiner is an award winning author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on the "Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at

Monday, August 9, 2010

Alex Rodriguez and Rush Limbaugh faring far better than Tom Hicks and Red McCombs these days

Alex Rodriguez and Rush Limbaugh faring far better than Tom Hicks and Red McCombs these days
MONDAY, 09 AUGUST 2010 18:09
It was not a good week for two Texas moneymen whose portfolios included separate ownerships of sports teams and a piece of the ownership of Clear Channel, a radio syndicator and outdoor advertising company. Thomas O. Hicks' Hicks Sports Group hit the financial skids sometime after the economic meltdown in September 2008. Hicks purchased the Texas Rangers along with the lease at the team's Arlington stadium and land that surrounds the park from a group that included then Texas Governor George W. Bush for a reported $250 million in 1998. The Hicks Sports Group started when he purchased the NHL's Dallas Stars in 1995 for a reported $82 million. In 2007, Hicks along with then-Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett bought Liverpool FC in the English Premiership for about $430 million.
Hicks was finally relieved of his baseball team last week. Liverpool backers are hoping for the same outcome. In 2007, this reporter while in the U.K. spoke to some Liverpool fans and they said they feared Hicks and his partners would Americanize English football bringing with them luxury boxes and club seats. They did and local football supporters have rued the day that Hicks got the team. The hockey team has drawn some interest but the problem according to some in the know is that Hicks did everything right in Dallas but the team is a money loser.
Meanwhile one of Clear Channel board members, Red McCombs found out last week he may owe the Internal Revenue Service $45 million. McCombs was one of the founders of Clear Channel in 1972 when it was just WOAI radio in San Antonio and ended up owning the ABA/NBA's San Antonio Spurs, the NBA's Denver Nuggets and the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. McCombs sold the Vikings in 2002 after failing to get the Minnesota legislature to spend money on a new football facility in Minneapolis.
The Hicks Sports Group became an awful investment. In April 2009, Hicks defaulted on $525 million in loans when interest payments were missed. The Rangers franchise declared bankruptcy in May 2010 in an "effort" to speed up the process to get a deal to sell the franchise to a group led by former Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh investor Chuck Greenberg on track. The sale of the Rangers ended up in a bankruptcy court last week with the Ryan/Greenberg group battling Mark Cuban and his partner Jim Crane for the franchise.
Ryan and Greenberg group was the highest bidder for the team.
It is interesting to note that while Clear Channel's Rush Limbaugh was again playing the role of whatever is required of Limbaugh to make people notice him and hold attention between commercials that promise to pay off debt and push erectile dysfunctional remedies, Limbaugh made no mention of Hicks problems or the allegations against McCombs. Limbaugh trotted out the same type of lines that got him in hot water while he worked as a football analyst with Disney's ESPN when he complained about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb being protected by the media but this time applied it to First Lady Michelle Obama. Limbaugh quit ESPN on October 1, 2003 three days after he said "McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed." Limbaugh took aim at the media (it must be hard for Limbaugh to figure out what the media is since he is not one of them nor did he every cover a story) because they were not criticizing Mrs. Obama's trip to Spain enough to meet the Limbaugh standard.
"As far as the media's concerned, Mrs. Obama deserves this. Look at the sordid past. Look at our slave past, look at the discriminatory past. It's only fair that people of color get their taste of the wealth of America too," he said on his Friday show.
Hicks was still part of Clear Channel in 2003 when the wrath of the NFL came down on Limbaugh. McCombs is still very much a part of Clear Channel. Silence is golden for Clear Channel executives when it comes to Limbaugh.
Limbaugh must be getting stale as he is recycling old thoughts instead of using that talent that was allegedly on loan from a higher authority. Limbaugh is heard locally on WABC in New York and WPHT in Philadelphia.
Hicks, as the Vice Chairman of Clear Channel, never stood in the way of Limbaugh's daily utterances. Limbaugh, the highly paid carnival barker, was putting a lot of money into Clear Channel's coffers or was he? Limbaugh was paid handsomely by Clear Channel but Clear Channel as a business which included Hicks and McCombs on the board was eight billion dollars in debt.
By all accounts, Hicks was a model owner with both the Rangers and Stars. He signed Alex Rodriguez to baseball's most lucrative contract ever in 2000. He literarily built a youth hockey program in Dallas by constructing ice rinks in the Metroplex while the hockey team became an NHL power. There will be players joining the NHL in years to come because of Hicks and his Stars President Jim Lites endeavours. Hicks was the 1996 co-chair of the "Dallas Jewish Coalition for the Homeless "Vogel Alcove" project, and received the 2000 "Henry Cohn Humanitarian Award" from the Anti-Defamation League.
Yet Hicks is one of the people who allowed Limbaugh and his tirades to fill up the airwaves on hundreds of stations nationally. To be fair, Clear Channel also employed Randi Rhodes who is just as distasteful from the liberal side. CBS (WFAN Radio in New York) and MSNBC fired Don Imus after some banal name calling about the Rutgers women's basketball team. It is hard to tell why someone gets fired for saying something stupid while others get suspended and others skate free. Limbaugh is the darling of the media in that he knows how to get attention and probably still has a sizeable portion of listeners while Imus was fading in the ratings. The question of why anybody takes any of these people seriously needs to be examined. Drug addicts, gamblers, adulterers, political operatives and yes, even criminals set the political discussion and most of these people have no basis to command that type of respect. Yet Limbaugh is given credit as the head of the Republican party. Limbaugh is a genius that he has fooled so many esteemed journalists and politicians or the esteemed journalists and the politicians are not very smart and fall for the circus performer(s).
Talk radio on the AM dial has been a savior for some radio stations that could not compete with the FM dial and then satellite radio. But most of AM talk radio is inane conversation featuring babblers whose sole job is to inflame people and hold their attention between radio commercials.
Clear Channel stations and programming have had a desultory impact on society. The strategy of narrowly targeting an audience is nothing new in radio but the problem is that other media take radio talk show hosts seriously when most of them are just performers with no journalistic background and play the role of courtyard bullies. Ironically, the Clear Channel sprint to the top of the radio industry was made possible by one of Limbaugh's most frequent targets, Bill Clinton. In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Act which allowed Clear Channel and Infinity to gobble up as many stations as they could. Before the 1996 legislation, a company could only have 14 AM and FM stations and only one AM and one FM per market. The two companies did buy and buy and buy but neither company has had financial success and the two companies have put thousands of professional disc jockeys, reporters and other radio staff out of work by consolidating operations. Infinity, CBS or whatever name that CBS is using these days corporately owns New York's two news stations, WINS and WCBS, and WFAN along with a number of FM stations including WCBS-FM.
In terms of profitability, neither Clear Channel nor Infinity has done well. In truth, the entire 1996 Telecommunications Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton, was a fiscal disaster for all except a few like Limbaugh.
The still financially struggling Clear Channel and the company's partner Premier Networks have Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Jim Rome, Ryan Seacrest, Bob & Tom, Delilah, Steve Harvey, Blair Garner, George Noory, John Boy and Billy, Big Tigger, Dr. Dean Edell, Elvis Duran, Jason Lewis, Randi Rhodes, Kane, Nikki Sixxon the roster and distribute FOX Sports Radio. Clearly, this is a company that only cares about selling commercials to numerous demographics more than content. Critics contended that Clear Channel was too close to the Bush Administration and pushed for support of the Iraq War. But the truth is, Clear Channel has no ideological agenda and just like Rupert Murdoch, the company was looking for a niche were they could get the most money from advertisers. There is one ideology in radio and TV.
Get as much money as possible in ad sales.
Hicks' baseball legacy will not get him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Despite having Alex Rodriguez on the roster (and paying him $252 million to boot---some of ARod's money was deferred and may be in play in the aftermath of the bankruptcy), Texas was never a major player for a title. Hicks never developed the land around the Arlington baseball stadium while ARod was with Hicks' Rangers as planned. Part of the reason ARod signed with Hicks besides the money was that Hicks would develop the acreage around the stadium with ARod as his signature employee and possible spokesman. It never panned out.
Hicks' hockey team won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and he is reviled in Liverpool.
Hicks has left MLB and had Alex Rodriguez wondering about his back pay. Limbaugh and Beck never talk about the people who give them a platform. They should show they are more than just one dimension cartoon characters whose sole purpose is to fill time between selling your gold and sleep deprivation spots. But if they did, they might blow the cover on what radio talk shows are all about, no nothings who scream the loudest and call people names like schoolyard bullies.
It wasn't a good week for Hicks and McCombs, two people who are never in the spotlight but should never be ignored as they are the deciders of how we think and how we are entertained whether it is in sports or on the radio.
Evan Weiner is an award winning author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at

Friday, August 6, 2010

Will the IOC rehabilitate BP’s image?

Will the IOC rehabilitate BP’s image?
FRIDAY, 06 AUGUST 2010 08:25
It's a good thing that Dr. Jacques Rogge is fine with the efforts of British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup. If Dr. Rogge was upset with BP, it would be absolutely disastrous for the International Olympic Committee, The United States Olympic Committee and the 2012 London Summer Olympics because the Belgium medical doctor happens to be the President of the International Olympic Committee and the oil company is a major Olympics sponsor/partner and pours millions upon millions of dollars or pounds into the Olympics movement. Dr. Rogge seems fine with the oil company that is responsible for the largest oil spill ever in the Gulf of Mexico.
The April 20 explosion of the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and unleashed a spill of hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf. But the oil well is being permanently capped and BP is cleaning up the mess and so whatever problems there are with fishermen not being able to earn a living or the eco system has been damaged or the beaches that cannot be used is probably a minor nuisance. It's being cleaned up and as Dr. Rogge pointed out to the Associated Press, "If a company would have been negligent, that's another issue. Everyone can be exposed to an accident."
An accident. That's about it according to Dr. Rogge.
Rogge is fine with the pace of the clean up and why not? In the world of the International Olympic Committee (which is an exclusive men's club made up of Dukes, Lords, Generals, Dictators, Fascists and others---look at the lineage of the Olympics movement leaders), BP is paying the London Organizing Committee about 50 million pounds (about $80 million) and London needs every quid available to pay the ridiculous amount of money it costs to stage an Olympics.
Dr. Rogge, Lord Sebastian Coe (the head of the 2012 London's Olympic Committee), General Electric's NBC Universal media platforms including NBC, CNBC, MSNBC and USA Network and the Olympics movement may be more important than the possible rebranding of BP than changing the BP name in the United States to Amaco in the hard sell of rehabilitating BP. Because of the money involved and the sponsorship, there will be a see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil mentality will take hold when it comes to BP and the Olympics.
BP has one of those multi-million multi-year Olympics deals.
There are 10 Global sponsors for the 2012 Games, Coca-Cola, Acer, Atos Origin, GE, McDonald's, Omega, Panasonic, Samsung and Visa. The IOC wants two more. GE is General Electric and GE is paying billions for the rights to show the London Olympics so there probably will be a shift soon at NBC in terms of BP.
As the Olympics near, the London event is still two years away, BP could be rehabilitated, at least as far as the Olympics interlocking five rings and the Peacock (NBC) network are concerned.
That's what Olympic sponsorship is all about. The interlocking five rings logo is globally recognized by marketing partners and all of the negative publicity surrounding the Games has whitewashed all the warts about the Olympics. What is forgotten is the debt left behind by the 1976 Montreal Games, the 2000 Sydney Games and the 2004 Athens Games along with the carnage of the 1972 Munich Games, the boycotts of the 1976, 1980 and 1984 Games along with the 1996 Atlanta bombing and the 2010 death of the Georgia luger in Vancouver. There has not been a number attached to the debt that was accrued in the Vancouver Games yet politicians in Canada are already thinking of a possible 2022 bid for the Winter Olympics in Quebec City. If something has the interlocking five rings on it, then all is right with the world.
Peter Ueberroth either enhanced or destroyed the Olympics in 1984 because the Los Angeles Olympics Committee made money and that caught the IOC's eye and that was quickly rectified by the Lords of the Rings.
Ueberroth ran the 1984 Games.
In 1978, the LAOOC (Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee) traveled to Mexico City to meet with the IOC President, Lord Killanian (Ireland) and other IOC officials. LAOOC wanted the Games in 1984 in Los Angeles. John Argue, a Los Angeles attorney, headed the committee. Argue was given instructions by the Mayor Tom Bradley that the city would not be financially responsible for the Games.
"LA was the only bidder for the Games at that time," said an LA insider. "Lord Killanian said no and they could always take the Games back to Munich. LAOOC members said 'do it' and the meetings were over. Mayor Bradley's assistant called him to say we were not going to get the Games as the IOC said the rule has to stand.
"On the way back to the hotel, Argue said he was going to take one more shot at it. Somehow, he convinced Killanian and the IOC officials to put rule aside one time. With that LA got the Games. Argue had one man in mind to run the 1984 Games, and that was Peter Ueberroth.
"Ueberroth opened a bank account with $100 of his own money.
Peter wanted to have as many American corporate sponsorships as possible. And basically, he got them. One interesting item: Companies like Fuji was waiting in line, but Peter wanted Kodak. He was asking $ 4 million from each company. He went to Rochester, New York and met with one of their executives. He told Ueberroth Kodak would give them $1 million. Pete said it was $4 million for everyone. The man said, "Mr. Ueberroth, see that door? When you want to accept $1 million you can come back." Peter said thank you, went to the nearest phone and told Fuji they had the film rights for $4 million. Kodak fired the man."
Los Angeles was the only city that wanted the Games after the Montreal financial fiasco.
"Of course, LA had all the venues and the sports federations were delighted with them," said the LA insider. "However, there was no Olympic swimming pool (the one from the past LA Games was covered over) and a velodrome. He asked McDonalds to pay for an Olympic pool that was built on the USC campus. He asked 7-11 to pay for the velodrome in Carson. (Peter asked his friend, the President of 7-11 to pay for it. The guy said OK, and then said by the way, Peter, what is a velodrome?) UCLA was going to build a new four-story building on the edges of its campus in Westwood. Peter said house us there for a while and he would give UCLA the $four million to construct the building.
"There were 21 Commissioners of the sports. Peter paid them $5,000 a year. Someone asked him how he could pay millionaires 5 grand a year. Ueberroth said because I can fire them. It is difficult to get rid of volunteers and if these men and women were volunteers their head would not be in it. Of course, he didn't have to fire anyone. Everything on the Games went according to clockwork. Peter, Harry Usher (his #2) and Mike Mitchell (Financial and logistics) were superior."
With that Peter Ueberroth changed the Olympics. The IOC made sure that the organization would make sure local and national governments picked up the tab for losses. (When George W. Bush was the governor of Texas, he put aside $100 million for losses in the event that either Houston or Dallas landed the 2012 Games.)
"Of course, the Russians didn't come in retaliation for USA not going to the '80 Moscow Games," said the LA insider "Ticket sales were slow in January, but when the Torch Run across the country took place, tickets went like hot cakes. I believe the Games sold 93% of all tickets.
"The Games made money ($250 million). The deal with ABC (television) was that if the ratings went up and the sponsors paid addition revenue it would be shared. Peter told (The President and Chairman of ABC News) Roone Arledge he wanted his share ($100 million). Roone said the contract called for the Russians to participate. Roone told Peter he would see him in court. Peter became the Baseball Commissioner and Roone paid him the $100 million.
"Ueberroth shared the money. The IOC got a big payday. But he kept $100 million and started a foundation for LA's inner city kids and put money into facilities, equipment, etc. The interest on the money was the foundations budget every year.
"The IOC hated Ueberroth for making all that money and not giving it all to them. (IOC President Juan Antonio) Samaranch had a good relationship with Peter, but he was smart enough to change the rules so that the city/country got stuck and the IOC got the money. Samaranch wanted to open it up to women. He put in women's softball and men's baseball in the Games."
Men's baseball and women's softball are gone, golf and rugby are in. The IOC has never forgiven Major League Baseball for not sending the best professional players in the game to the Olympics party (the IOC's nasty battle with MLB over steroid usage in the sport was the result of MLB's refusal and ultimately one of the reasons Congress called hearings on steroid/performance enhancing drugs was because of IOC pressure on the federal government---the IOC acts like a sovereign nation even though it is nothing more than a global sports operation). The IOC delegates also dropped softball in spite because American women were so dominant.
BP may have been the cause of the worst oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico but that's not a problem for the International Olympic Committee, the United States Olympic Committee and the London Games. Eleven dead, the local economy wrecked, ecosystems ruined, yet as long as BP cleans up the Gulf, all is well with Dr. Rogge and his group.
It's all about money, money thrown into the IOC, USOC and London Organizing Committee's coffers.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio and TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business and can be reached at

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tank Younger, Eddie Robinson and James Harris and the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Tank Younger, Eddie Robinson and James Harris and the 1964 Civil Rights Act

By Evan Weiner

(New York, N. Y.) -- About 19 years ago, Eddie Robinson was holding court at a hotel off of Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey talking about his 50-year career as the football coach at Grambling University and about two players in particular, Tank Younger and James Harris. Younger was one of Robinson's first great players and yet there was a question of whether he could land a job in the National Football League with the Los Angeles Rams in 1949 because of the color of his skin. Harris was a quarterback with skill, but there was a question about his ability to become an NFL quarterback. It also had to do with his skin color.

In 2010, there is once again talk about race in the United States. The latest salvo was caused by a media that is far too sloppy in a rush to produce "Good TV" or "Good radio" in an effort to keep viewers and listeners attention from commercial to commercial. A doctored video of a speech by former Department of Agricultural employee Shirley Sherrod that was circulated by conservative blogger Andrew Beirtbart unleashed the usual cable TV news discussion about race which featured the usual talking heads "debating" the subject in a far than less scholarly fashion.

Radio and TV bookers should pay attention to history and talk to people who experienced life before and after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 instead of rounded up the unusual suspects that are herded into the cable TV news studio to give their viewpoint which is usually designed to bolster ratings than be reviewed by future generations as a matter of public record.

Higher ratings mean higher ad revenue for the cable TV news channels although most of the operation is funded by cable subscribers who are forced to pay for the channels whether they want the or not if the consumer wants the basic expanded tier. The news networks are bundled by multiple systems operators thanks in part to the Cable Act of 1984 which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

Why cable TV news outlets and the rest of the fourth estate take Breitbart and his ilk from both sides of the aisle seriously is a question that can only be answered by editors and TV executives. But it has a lot to do with a media psychology that people will watch or listen to or read about train wrecks instead of a well reasoned conversation. A lot of opinion makers in radio seem to have a commonality, abuse problems whether it is drugs, alcohol, gambling, sexual harassment allegations, libel charges or jail time. They also call people names acting like a bully knowing that they are safe in a studio and it is a one way conversation that is controlled by the talk show host. The discourse would never be tolerated in elementary school with the student who emulated a talk show host being brought into the principal's office facing possible suspension.

Americans expect more out of a fifth grader's behavior than a radio talk show host.

The talk show host's instructions from upper management is to go after disgruntled listeners who are angry with their life, their job, their spouse, their kids and anything else and get them even angrier. These are the people that media executives, particularly in radio, have hired to be opinion makers. Whether people liked William Buckley's politics or not, Buckley was always civil in his discussions except with Gore Vidal. Buckley was not alone in being polite and civil.

Eddie Robinson coached Grambling University's football team between 1941 and 1997. He died three years ago. In that hotel room back in 1991, Robinson talked about Younger who played before the Civil Rights Act became law in 1964 and of Harris who had the ability to play in the NFL in 1968, four years after the law was passed. He spoke about the NFL reluctant to have a black quarterback on the team because Negros, blacks and African Americans were not smart enough to play quarterback in the NFL.

Tank Younger was the guy that really needed to make it according to Robinson in 1949. If Younger failed, the NFL might not have taken a chance with a player from a predominantly black college.

The National Football League had no Negro, black or African-American players between 1933 and 1945. One of the conditions attached to the Rams franchise move from Cleveland to the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1946 was that the Rams hire Negro players. The rival All American Football Conference did hire Negro players in 1946.

Younger was selected as the Black College Player of the Year in 1948 but he wasn't drafted by any NFL teams. He was signed as a free agent by Los Angeles.

"Younger was the first one, we had a time with him. They didn't want to give him. it was a matter of about six thousand and a coach told me, he said Eddie it would be better if you let us pay him four, because there is going to be a lot of great guys in camp and it might be between Tank and a guy who is making six and they would go ahead and keep Tank," said Robinson. "I said you give him the six and if he doesn't show you, cut him. The coach didn't want to do that but Tank made it. It was only because we spent all day talking about just giving him the chance to play and if he wasn't worth the six-thousand dollars he didn't need to be in the league He was our first football player to make the NFL and I guess when Tank left Grambling, he was in the best shape of any football player. He practiced all summer, he'd run the sprints, he caught the passes and he had done everything.

"And when we carried Tank, back in those days was real popular. We carried Tank to the train that stopped and one of the kids asked Tank, 'you think you are going to make it?' he said if they are playing football. If they are playing basketball, I probably won't make it.

"Sometimes you think about what might have happened if Tank hadn't made it. He opened it up and since that time the people from the NFL teams have always been coming to our campus."

A decade later, the Cleveland Browns took an offensive lineman named Willie Davis. Cleveland didn't think too much of his ability and let him go. Davis went to Green Bay where Vince Lombardi turned him into a defensive end and that was the start of not only a successful football career but a highly decorated business career for the player who was not good enough in Cleveland. Davis owned radio station and served on many board of directors after his playing days ended in 1969. Davis is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The American Football League paid close attention to Grambling and the traditional black colleges with the Kansas City Chiefs leading the way. Kansas City took one of Robinson's stars, Buck Buchanan with the first pick of the 1963 AFL draft. To illustrate the difference between the leagues, Buchanan was a 19th round selection by the New York Giants. The AFL showed a willingness to sign black players while Congress literarily had to force Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall to hire in black player in 1962.

"I knew Lloyd Wells (the magazine photographer/football scout with Kansas City who uncovered many talented black players), the guy with Otis Taylor. (Don) Klosterman (the Chiefs General Manager) was one of top persons at that time and he was friendly with Lloyd Wells and all of those people. They would come over to Grambling and have a great session."

Kansas City had Buchanan, Taylor and a host of black college players and by 1966, Kansas City had a Super Bowl.

Robinson had another Hall of Fame caliber player too who signed as a free agent with an American Football League team in Willie Brown. Willie Brown signed with Houston and was cut, he went to Denver and ended up with Al Davis in Oakland and became a great player.

Robinson was turning out players but the NFL still had an unwritten rule about black quarterbacks. The NFL had none in the 1960s. The last black quarterback was Willie Thrower who took a few snaps for the Chicago Bears in a game on October 8, 1953 against San Francisco. Chicago lost and Thrower was just three for eight in passing for 27 yards. Thrower led Michigan State to a national college championship in 1952. He was ignored by the 12 NFL teams in the 1953 draft and signed a deal with Chicago as a free agent.

There were just a little more than a dozen black players in the NFL in 1953. Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney voted against moving the New York Yankees to Dallas for the 1952 season because Rooney was feared for the safety of black players in Dallas. That was the NFL back in the 1950s.

NFL coaches also didn't think to quote the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball executive in an interview on ABC's Nightline in April 6, 1987 that blacks "did not have some of the necessities" to be a quarterback, center or middle linebacker in football. In 1987, Campanis was talking about why there were no black managers or general managers in Major League Baseball at the time. He could have easily been talking about the NFL of the 1950s as well.

In 1962 Sandy Stephens was drafted by the NFL's Cleveland Browns and the AFL's New York Titans. Stephens was a great quarterback for the University of Minnesota and finished fourth in the 1961 Heisman Trophy balloting but neither the Browns (who took him in the second round) or the Titans (he was the fifth player selected in the AFL Draft) wanted him as a quarterback. He ended up with the Canadian Football League's Montreal Alouettes.

In the late 1960s, a number of years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, there was still the question. Why weren't there any black quarterbacks in the NFL? Robinson thought he had a guy that could be an NFL starter in Harris but the "necessities" issue was a problem.

While Harris was a senior at Grambling in 1968, the AFL finally had a black starting quarterback in Denver as Marlin Briscoe took snaps for the Broncos. But the NFL still had not had a black field general (quarterbacks used to call plays on the field) since 1953.

"I wanted whatever it was to try to change whatever I needed or whatever could change in football," said Robinson. "You know they came to me and said the black quarterback didn't have the mentality to make it in the league. Then I know Howard Cosell and he had always been a friend of mine and asked me to be on the (TV) program when I came up here (New York). I did. I was afraid he was going to ask a lot of questions that might embarrass me but I knew he really didn't want to embarrass me but he promised he wouldn't and the first question he asked me he said, “Eddie, after you have been in the game for the great number of years you have coached, do you feel you have the ability that you can train a quarterback who play, lead a team, in the NFL? Nobody had done it before.

"I told him yeah. Yeah, I can do it, I think I can do it. I told him I knew he was going to ask me a question like that. But I got on the airplane, I went straight back to Louisiana. We were recruiting James Harris (1964). I went to James Harris and got James up after I got off the airplane and his mother and I told them we wanted him to be the first quarterback to start in the NFL. The first requirement was graduating. If you have a diploma, you have some kind of intelligence. He did and we got him."

Robinson was right about Harris although Harris was just a mid-level draft choice by the Buffalo Bills in the 1969 combined AFL-NFL Draft. Harris was Buffalo's starter on opening day in 1969. Ironically Denver sent Briscoe to Buffalo where he switched positions and became a wide receiver catching balls thrown by Harris.

Harris had an up and down NFL career with Buffalo, Los Angeles and San Diego. He was the first black quarterback ever to start a conference championship game in 1974 and was the MVP of the 1974 Pro Bowl Game. He has had a long career in football and among the titles he has held was the Vice President of Player Personnel of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Robinson had one other quarterback who made history. Doug Williams was the first black quarterback ever to lead a team to a Super Bowl victory in Washington's win over Denver in Super Bowl XXII. Williams was the Most Valuable Player of the game.

Rand Paul and Andrew Breitbart reignited a discussion of race relations in America this year. Breitbart should not have gotten as far as he did with his doctored video but today's journalism is long on sensationalism and short on explanations especially on the cable news networks or talk radio, two mediums that give carnival barkers a bad name. If cable TV and the radio talkers want to really do a service, there are still plenty of people around who can tell them stories from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s instead of the rabble rousers who present one sided arguments on radio or the fabricated "debates" on cable news which are all designed to keep the attention of the aging core demographic of sixty years and older so that they listen or watch long enough to hear some commercial for some pill to relieve some pain.

Evan Weiner is an award winning radio-TV commentator and columnist who lecturers on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

NFL’s concussion warning poster a small step for football

NFL’s concussion warning poster a small step for football
TUESDAY, 03 AUGUST 2010 15:47
When Brent Boyd reported to the Minnesota Vikings training camp in 1980 after being selected in the third round of that year's draft, the last thing on his mind was testifying before a Congressional panel about the plight of former National Football League players who suffered head injuries doing their jobs as professional football players. Boyd was a guard and like a lot of rookies, he was eager to make a favorable impression of Vikings coach Bud Grant.
Twenty-seven Septembers later in 2007, Boyd was telling members of the United States Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that he suffered brain damage from concussions, and how a disability review board rejected the opinion of two doctors who said his health problems were caused by football and sided with a third doctor who didn't agree with the other two. Boyd testified that the NFL and NFLPA were battling links between long-term health problems and concussions in the same way tobacco companies once fought links between cancer and cigarettes.
Nearly three years later, a good number of retired players are frustrated and wondering whatever happened to NFL provided healthcare after they left the NFL and why the public — both football and non-football fans — is paying their healthcare.
Boyd is still battling for NFL — not public — health benefits.
Boyd has been one of the most vocal critics of the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association. He remembered the game that would ultimately change his life. It was the final pre-season game of the 1980 season, Boyd's Vikings took on the Miami Dolphins at the old Orange Bowl. Boyd was knocked out on a play and lost sight in his right eye. He was on the sidelines telling his coach that he could see out of his right eye, the coach said can you see out of your left eye, Boyd said yes and went back into the game.
He had his bell rung. It wasn't a concussion or anything serious, he was wobbly, dizzy and couldn't see out of his right eye but as soon as all of that went away, he would be fine. It was like hitting your funny bone. Boyd was a rookie hoping to make the team and would do anything not to be cut including staying in the game. It was the turning point of Boyd's life. He made the team but his health was severely compromised. It was the first of dozens or maybe even hundreds of concussions he suffered. The injury would eventually cost him his career, a possibility of going to law school, his marriage, his post career jobs and his house. It was not until 1989 he said that he found out that the constant dizziness and fatigue were caused by the head injuries.
Boyd was out of football by 1987 at the age of 30. "Guys who retire in their 20s and 30s have a regular life ahead of them. Careers, family, you have to pay mortgages. It took away my mind, my potential dreams and goals," he said. But Boyd because of the multiple concussions could not have that and became the "father of the new movement on concussions" instead.
Out of that Boyd founded "Dignity After Football" which is a group that is fighting for the "decent benefits and dignity" for former American and National Football League players who performed in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s before the explosion of salaries in the game. Boyd wants to get the message out to the people who fund the game, TV partners, marketing partners, the people who buy luxury boxes, club suites, park in valet parking and use in-stadium restaurants and buy merchandise along with just everyday football fans. The group that includes Roman Gabriel, Joe Kapp and Ed White wants people to know that "former players live out their lives above the poverty lines and did not know how playing on Astroturf, which was developed by Monsanto, (or polyturf) would impact their bodies and the players were never told about the dangers of 'getting your bell rung' which was a concussion with serious long term effects."
The National Football League has, at least, publicly posted a warning to players which will be posted in NFL locker rooms that comes complete with a warning which seems similar to the little blurbs on cigarette packs that say smoking can be harmful. The NFL's poster includes a warning — that concussions "can change your life and your family's life forever." The warning has slogans such as "Let's Take Brain Injuries Out of Play" and has information about concussions such as facts, symptoms, and poses questions such as "Why Should I Report My Symptoms" and "What Should I Do If I Think I've Had a Concussion."
The NFL seems to be willing to acknowledge there is a problem after years of denial but for former players like Boyd, the operative word here is seems. There is little movement to help the older players like the 53-year old Boyd who rely on government programs such as Social Security and Medicare for their health care.
"There is no health care," said Boyd. (The injuries) drains bank accounts, forces divorces. We (as football players) went in with the understanding that there was a safety net."
But there was no safety net and that leads to two questions. Were members of the National Football League Players Association underrepresented under their Executive Directors Ed Garvey and Gene Upshaw and should municipalities be liable for some of the injuries because ultimately municipalities ran stadiums that players knew were unsafe? Players would tell anyone who listened that the municipally owned stadiums in Philadelphia and Houston were the worst playing surfaces around and that the "artificial turf" under any name was taking a toll on the players well being.
Could the players go after the NFLPA in court for not getting benefits as part of the collective bargaining agreement with the owners? Could the players go after the municipalities or someone for installing Astroturf or polyturf or some other surface which was on top of a thin rubber pad on top of asphalt or cement? Is it too late to go after all the municipalities that had unsafe fields?
Boyd is not sure about a class action suit by the former players against their former association but the municipality liability is a question that might be worth pursuing.
The ersatz turf had bubbles and seems which players didn't think much about during the course of doing their jobs. Some players suffered knee injuries just hitting a seem, players that were knocked down hit the ground hard on a turf that the rug on top of the rubber on top of the asphalt or cement, the brain could not handle that type of impact.
In addition to his head injuries, Boyd has had knee replacements and has bad hips. The need replacements were paid by the United States government insurance programs, not the NFL.
Boyd has taken his case to Washington and is hoping that the United States Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and other members of the Senate and the House of Representatives will put pressure on the NFL and the NFLPA to take care of the older players.
A lot of the former players though are keeping quiet publicly. Privately there are e-mails from former players such as this one whose name will not be identified.
"I just had neck surgery and I am scheduled to have lumbar (L3 L4 L5) surgery in November. I am thinking about trying the Oxygen chambers for my recovery as well as, using the Oxygen chambers to reduce some of the pain in my lower back that I suffer with daily.
"Question: Will this treatment (Oxygen chamber) help me? How will it help? How often should I administer this treatment in order to see the benefits? However, it's $$Very Expensive. I am eager to hear your thoughts. Thank you for any assistance that you can provide on this matter and concern."
Some former players are pushing for the NFL to install hyperbaric oxygen chambers at training facilities and stadiums to help players (and former) players with head injuries and memory loss.
There is also a new collective bargaining agreement that needs to be negotiated between the owners and players. The present agreement ends shortly after the Super Bowl is played in February. So far there is no political pressure on the owners and players to address the old players needs however that could change if Congress decides to take a closer look at the NFL.
Why should Congress be involved? Congress created today's NFL. The Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 was Brooklyn Congressman Emanuel Cellar's gift to then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and NFL owners. Cellar got the bill passed in the House, The Senate agreed and President John F. Kennedy signed it into law on September 30, 1961. The bill allowed the NFL to sell all 14 teams as one entity to a TV network. CBS beat out NBC with a major contract that was worth more than all 14 individual local NFL TV networks combined and started the NFL gold mine. The American Football League's 1964 agreement with NBC made it possible for the league to challenge the NFL financially and ultimately force a merger between the competitors in 1966.
Congress had to approve the merger. Both the House and Senate signed off on the merger and President Lyndon Johnson's signature in 1966 created a super football league and the Super Bowl.
Additionally two Congressional bills that were signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, the 1984 Cable TV Act and the Tax Act of 1986 greatly benefitted the NFL (and all major league sports in the United States). Owners were able to make billions because of the changes in the cable TV structure which a basic expanded tier and ruled out a la carte selections by consumers and the changes in the tax code changed the way municipalities funded stadiums. Municipalities could get as little as eight cents on the dollar from stadium revenues to pay off stadium debt. It is not a coincidence that most new or renovated stadium and arena facilities in the United States were built after 1986.
Boyd thinks the National Football League Players Association should have taken better care of the players but the players have never really looked after much except getting paid more money. Boyd was the Vikings player rep during the 1982 strike and said that the players had to be sold on paying union dues as it was voluntary in those days and that players just concentrated on ending the strike of 1982 and getting back on the field. An effort to include players who played before 1959 in a benefits package failed in 1982. These were the same players who formed the NFLPA back in 1956.
The players wanted more immediately and never thought about the future and the Garvey-Upshaw team always concentrated on getting more money but some players privately complained about making sure that someone took care of playing conditions and severance/health packages.
Money won out. A pension and disability plan lost. Twenty five years after the 1982 strike, pension and disability remained a problem that Congress wanted to know about.
"We fought for the salaries and benefits (today's players get); it would be a classy thing for today's players (to give some benefits). You are only allowed the benefits you negotiate," Boyd said.
Boyd is one of the few who is visibly out in the public talking about the old players. The old players do talk among themselves about injuries but there is a football mentality of suck it up. They know football is a violent game and that a player will get injured. But it is still for them, take one for the team or as the Giants defensive lineman Jim Burt said after the 1987 strike when the players folded like a cheap suit, "we are used to be hit over the head but its okay."
The mentality has not seemed to change much after retirement.
"There is a touch of machismo," said Boyd. "There is fatalism, an embarrassment. Why do it if nothing is going on?" The fatalism comes out. "I don't know how many years I have left but I don't feel robbed (by playing football). I made uninformed decisions, that's what you made. I feel robbed that I didn't have that information (on head injuries), there is an irony at the same time the NFL is being the good guy with the posters about concussions, they denied (Boyd's) disability."
The poster is up in NFL locker rooms on concussions. But the former players who have had life altering injuries have seen no real change. For a good many of them, they are out of sight and out of mind even though they were the guys immortalized by the voice of John Facenda on NFL Films, sportswriters and TV networks, and built the National Football League into the America's most popular game.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio and TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at