By DERON SNYDER
Organizations as big and powerful as the NFL should be much slicker in handling spin and shaping perception. But the NFL routinely falls to a level you’d expect from mom-and-pop outfits unexpectedly thrust into the national spotlight.
We see right through the league’s actions, which lack consistency and appear to be made on the fly. The latest example involves the Scouting Combine, which begins Tuesday in Indianapolis.
Unlike its track record in handling public relations crises, the NFL excels at creating ways to engage fans, entice sponsors and extract dollars from both. Nothing in the history of sports and marketing compares to the combine. It began 30 years ago at the Hoosier Dome, where the windows were covered and the prospects’ results were privileged information.
Now the week-long event receives nearly non-stop TV coverage.
The NFL this year is launching the Combine Experience, allowing fans to play interactive games, compete in skills drills and participate in virtual-reality activities. Approximately 200,000 square feet of the Indiana Convention Center is dedicated to the cause, including a massive retail store and other attractions. Fans can watch prospects’ bench-press drills and observe press conferences.
All 32 NFL teams will be on hand to poke, prod and probe the 330 invited players.
But neither Oklahoma halfback Joe Mixon, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly nor Baylor receiver Ishmael Zamora will be in attendance,
By DERON SNYDER
Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:
*HOW THE WIZARDS SNUCK UP ON EVERYBODY.
Hard as it is to believe, Washington is a bonafide contender in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. The metamorphosis happened right before our eyes and we never saw it coming during a wretched 2-8 start under new coach Scott Brooks. But the Wizards are 32-13 since, among the league’s hottest teams and a popular pick to make a deep run.
Regardless, GM Ernie Grunfeld still deserved a pink slip before now.
*WHY MAGIC JOHNSON SEEMS PERFECT FOR HIS NEW JOB.
Running the Los Angeles Lakers’ front office must have been Johnson’s birthright. He was the face of “Showtime” and helped the NBA to new heights in the ‘80s. Then he became a successful businessman while dabbling in sports. He has a daunting task with the dreadful Lakers, who haven’t more than 27 games since the 2012-13 season.
At least he can’t do worse than when he coached the team (5-11) in 1994.
Dr. Larry Nassar
By DERON SNYDER
How do agencies charged with caring for children and youth become so callous?
In England last year, an “Operation Hydrant” hotline was flooded with calls about coaches’ sex abuse not just in soccer, but in rugby, gymnastics, tennis, swimming and golf as well. In Pennsylvania last week, the arrest of Jeffrey Sandusky re-opened scars caused by his father, Jerry, the convicted pedophile and former Nittany Lions football coach.
In Connecticut two years ago, the Boys Scouts were slapped with an $11.8 million verdict for sexual abuse and cover-up, with a reference to the organization’s “ineligible volunteer files” (aka, “Perversion Files”), which tracked and concealed allegations of sexual misconduct. In Massachusetts, The Boston Globe won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for revealing a widespread pattern of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that the city’s Archdiocese hid.
The United States Olympic Committee appears to be the latest culprit in a troubling pattern of betrayal: another organization that should protect kids but instead has allowed them to be prey. Various examples exist among the national governing bodies, i.e., USA Swimming, USA Taekwondo, etc. One of the latest — USA Gymnastics — was featured Sunday on “60 Minutes.”
The broadcast follows last summer’s damning report by The Indianapolis Star, which found that USA Gymnastics (USAG) failed to report multiple allegations of sexual abuse by coaches. Such lapses included a Georgia case in which a coach abused young female athletes for seven years after USAG dismissed the first of four warning about him.
By DERON SNYDER
Traditions can be tricky as time passes and norms change. Customs that once occurred without a second thought can become questionable and antiquated. Beliefs that once were widely held can be broadly rejected a few generations later.
These shifts take place within families and society in general, most notably in attitudes toward race and gender.
Few individuals, at least publicly, argue in favor of old practices such as segregated restrooms and male-only workplaces. Likewise, the idea of reserving certain positions for white players, or limiting athletic opportunities for women, is no longer standard operating procedure.
Breaking traditions in politics has been all the rage lately and has seeped into sports. Some athletes are more willing to express their views, either by speaking out or kneeling down. Others have made their thoughts known by being elsewhere during team trips to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Not every player who declines an invitation to the White House after a championship does so for political reasons. Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison skipped visits under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. “I don’t feel the need to go, actually,” Harrison said in 2009. “I don’t feel like it’s that big a deal to me.”
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said that’s how he feels about several players who announced they won’t accompany the team whenever it visits President Donald Trump. It’s not scheduled yet, but the trip will be New England’s fifth in the last 16 years.
“Every time we’ve had the privilege of going to the White House, a dozen players don’t go,” Kraft said Monday on the Today Show. “This is the first time it’s gotten any media attention.”
That’s not exactly true.
By DERON SNYDER
Pictures that include kids are the most interesting when hate and invective fill an arena, when so-called adults froth at the mouth and hurl vile insults at a fellow human being.
That scene played out Saturday at Oklahoma City when former favorite son Kevin Durant made his first appearance since bolting for Golden State. Cupcake props, “KowarD” T-shirts and all manner of derogatory homemade signs complemented the verbal abuse that Thunder fans dished throughout the game.
“The most vicious things you could say, they said about my son tonight,” Wanda Durant told ESPN after the Warriors’ 130-114 victory. “We poured our heart into this place. Not just him. Our family. This is basketball. This is not whether or not you’re going to make it into heaven.”
Some children seemed genuinely confused, understandably so.
Yes, Durant’s decision to leave was painful, but this is grown-ups’ way of processing pain? This is what mature behavior looks like, compared to antics of spoiled fifth-graders? He’s now a worthless piece of trash, eight seasons as OKC’s pride and joy instantly obliterated by his career choice last summer?
“Daddy, why is everybody being so mean to KD?”
“Well, kids, he doesn’t play for our team anymore; he’s the enemy.”
“But isn’t he the same person we used to love?”
“Go do your homework.”
By DERON SNYDER
Super Bowl 51 was unlike any other, featuring a historic collapse and unprecedented comeback. The game capped a topsy-turvy NFL season of lackluster TV ratings, uneven play, inconsistent officiating and the usual assortment of issues involving drugs and domestic violence.
However, professional football is part of our national DNA. Even with dips in viewership, NFL games attract as many eyeballs as anything else. Nielsen reports that 172 million people watched at least some portion of Supe 51, making it the most-watched program in television history.
As a multi-billion dollar industry, the NFL is doing fine with a forecast that remains bright for the immediate future. There’s too much money at stake for a precipitous drop in commercial interest and fans have invested too much emotionally and reflexively for steep declines in viewing interest.
But pro football is only a sliver of the game. Like an iceberg, the tip can remain intact while pieces break off beneath the surface.
By DERON SNYDER
One of sports’ greatest debates revolves around the best way to lose. Kind of like the semi-serious, jokingly morbid discussions on preferred methods of death.
Would you rather fall behind quickly and slide onto the wrong side of a blowout, your mind drifting off as the clock winds down, like you swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills?
Or is the choice a taut, competitive contest with lead changes and mood swings throughout, until at the very end you lose in a flash, like a bullet to the temple?
Such deliberations are unnecessary for the victors. The best way to win is “all of the above:” running away early; pulling away late; and seesawing in a nail-biter that’s decided on the last play.
Overcoming or blowing a huge lead seems to occupy a separate category of joy and pain. It contains all the drama of a back-and-forth affair, but it doesn’t start dispensing the tension until we’re convinced none is coming.
Then it’s like an IV drip that was clogged but suddenly opened at full bore.
Sports has delivered an overdose recently.
By DERON SNYDER
The college football season kicked off Wednesday, at least the portion that delivers a fresh set of rankings to devour. Thousands of high school seniors played their role in feeding the machine, sometimes on live TV, by putting pen to paper for the spectacle that is National Signing Day.
ESPN scheduled live coverage of a dozen players announcing their commitments over the course of the day, from four-star offensive tackle Stephan Zabie (UCLA) in the morning, to five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson (Florida State) in the evening. The network also placed reporters at 16 schools for live reports, in which no coach was displeased with his haul of incoming workers.
Every school’s class is No. 1! Each coach should receive a participation trophy.
The process is disturbing on a number of fronts: the glorification of high school students who play football; the commercialization of college sports; the overemphasis on athletic interests versus academic pursuits; the reinforcement of a grossly unfair, multi-billion dollar system.
I can’t blame the 18-year-olds for being excited as most of them make the biggest decision of their lives to date. Graduating from high school and selecting an institution of higher education can be exceedingly stressful. The ability to finally make your choice official has to be a relief.
Adults are the problem, preying on the emotions of immature teens, providing them with an inflated sense of self-worth and dubious definition of commitment.