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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

No Fun League?

Sometimes you just have to spend a little time in the sandbox.

It was interesting to read this morning in various media outlets the exhortations of the increasingly clueless George W. that the United States "does not torture" and that we follow the law when it comes to interrogating terrorist suspects. I suppose that's good news, I don't know. And I admit that it's a complicated topic. But while claiming we don't torture detainees and that we scrupulously follow the law, W. also was standing firmly behind the efforts to have the CIA exempted from the John McCain backed Senate bill to outlaw torture. This is noteworthy on at least two counts.

First, it clearly illustrates who exactly is running the country and while you can have 3 guesses as to the answer, the first two don't count. In the old days, that is, pre-W, the vice presidency was more or less a thankless role. If called upon to do anything at all, the vice president's job was to stump for important presidential initiatives that needed an extra push and to attend funerals in incovenient locations. But in this wacky, but dangerous, administration however it's the other way around, as if we didn't know that already. W's push for a CIA exemption is being driven by, give up? Cheney. Roll that around in your mind for a moment. In context, this is one of the more important philosophical decisions to be made by the Senate in recent memory and rather than seizing the opportunity himself to stake out a claim for the higher moral and ethical ground, W is out shilling for a vice president sorely lacking in either. Oh the pictures Cheney must have from W's party boy days!

Second, finding the flaw in W's logic as he articulates, poorly, his rationale for torture, is so easy, it ought to be the test question on the student achievement tests dictated by the No Child Left Behind Act. "If George can get Congress to exempt the CIA from any laws against torture, can he then proclaim that we are only following the law if we still torture detainees?" And W and his handlers why an increasingly overwhelming majority of the American people no longer find this frat-boy lap dog credible?

But when things get this bad, sometimes you just need a diversion into the irreverent and irrelevant. That's right, I'm talking about Terrell Owens, along with virtually everyone else. There is no doubt that T.O. is the worst teammate of all time, as Jim Rome noted yesterday. And it more than illustrates why the only way to enjoy professional sports these days is to follow the plays and not the players.

That all being said, the Owens saga does underscore one of the fundamental differences between pro football and its pro sports brethern. NFL owners have consistently held the line on refusing to guarantee contracts for its players while the guaranteed contract is virtually the way all other pro sports do business. In this way, the NFL is like most workplaces--you are just a bad hair day from being fired without anything more than the personal effects on the top of your desk. But is that a good thing?

From the NFL owners' perspective, it's clear that the guaranteed contract wreaks havoc on major league baseball. Studies demonstrate, time and again, that players rarely live up to the value of their contracts and ultimately the fans get left holding the bag as clubs raise ticket prices to pay, in part, legacy money owed to players no longer with the club but whose contracts have yet to expire. This tends to argue for non-guaranteed contracts. But by going this route, NFL owners, with the complicity of the players union, has created major instability in other ways.

At its core, the Owens saga is about money. While it is true that poor T.O. signed a 7-year deal last year for approximately $49 million, the only (and I say that gingerly) money Owens was guaranteed was his signing bonus. That coupled with his first year salary pocketed him $9 million last year. Not bad, but not $49 million, either. The rest of the contract is back-loaded, as they like to say in the trade--earned in subsequent years through increasingly higher salaries and roster bonuses, assuming he wouldn't be cut before either kicked in. In other words, the only way T.O. has a chance to earn the other $40 million is if he plays the full 7 years with Philadelphia. Disregarding the fact that T.O. is the clubhouse leader on the all-jerk team, the fact is that neither the Philadelphia front office nor T.O. ever expected that he'd play out that contract or earn that money. The salary cap implications of high yearly salaries and non-prorated (from a salary cap standpoint) roster bonuses all but prevent that from ever happening. As a result, the only way for a jackass like T.O. to get more money before he blows out a knee for good is to parlay his immediate accomplishments into a re-negotiated contract with more upfront bonuses. That's the game the owners and players engage in each and every season and is a dance that T.O. knows all too well.

In this way, T.O. is like the Judith Miller of the NFL--the right issue but the wrong spokesman. While no one will muster any sympathy for T.O., there is no doubt that this saga and its underlying implications will have a dramatic impact on the negotiations currently taking place between the NFL and its union. If the lack of progress in those negotiations thus far is any indication, a labor dispute in the form of either a lock out or a strike is on the horizon. And we can blame this on T.O. as well.

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