Normative Narratives


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Monday Morning QB: Can the NFL Stop Domestic Violence Among Its Players?

Long answer short–it can reduce it, but not definitively stop it.

The NFL has come under fire from fans, politicians, and sponsors over the past two weeks. Since the infamous Ray Rice elevator video was released (which the NFL claims it never saw, a claim I strongly doubt), a parade of disturbing and embarrassing stories have come to the forefront.

Notably, news of Adrian Peterson’s multiple child abuse episodes has (rightfully) resulted in public outcry. As if not to be outdone, soon-to-be-former Arizona RB Jonathan Dwyer was arrested for both beating his wife and throwing a shoe at his 17 month old son. The Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald domestic violence cases have also come under closer scrutiny.

These incidents have led to an independent investigation into the NFL’s conduct during the Ray Rice investigation. Commissioner Roger Goodell has promised that “all options are on the table” in revamping NFL processes and rules. Perhaps most notably, their has been a decisive shift in the balance between legal due process and NFL / team punishment. These are all important steps; in behavioral economics terms, the NFL has increased the “cost” of domestic violence.

Furthermore, the NFL should pursue a preventative campaign against domestic violence through education. The NFL should educate its incoming and current players, as well as league personnel, on domestic violence issues on a regular basis. The NFL should also focus its efforts towards the youth within its influence, utilizing it’s NFL Play60 and Youth Football programs as an already-in-place infrastructure for reaching young people during a period in life when lifelong values are formed. The NFL can also team up with the NCAA to educate young adults at the college level. At all levels, the NFL should partner with experts in the domestic violence, substance abuse, and the behavioral sciences fields to create curricula which effectively address domestic violence and related issues.

I believe the question on many peoples minds is, “Why the sudden increase in domestic violence?” The answer is there has not been an increase in domestic violence, but rather it’s reporting. The 24 hour news cycle and muckraking news outlets like TMZ (I can’t believe I am using such a noble term to describe TMZ, but it has truly evolved into an important news source) have brought previously unreported issues to light. Social media has given fans a direct outlet to voice their displeasure; overwhelming shifts in public opinion can catalyze change in ways that “the facts” alone historically have not. These are positive evolutions–ignorance is not bliss, it is ignorance.

Having said this, we must remember that the court of public opinion often makes up its mind based on imperfect / incomplete information, and demands disproportionate penalties. I am not advocating for relying solely on the legal process–which when popular figures and high-priced lawyers are involved often delivers incomplete justice–but a reasonable middle ground. While players should certainly be held accountable for their actions, they should not suffer enhanced punishments because of their public status; a mistake should not cost someone their career (most of the time).

There is a limit to what the NFL, or any organization, can do to stop domestic violence. Ultimately, the issue of domestic violence comes down to one of personal accountability. The NFL is not beating women or abusing young children, individuals are. The NFL can make counseling, mental healthcare, and anger management services available or even mandatory, but it cannot police it’s almost 1,700 players 24/7.

Players bring their own personal baggage into the NFL. Players drink, do drugs, and make bad decisions; players are people, and will inevitably make mistakes. Even if the NFL was willing to institute a vigorous vetting process, turning away talented players on the grounds of character concerns, it would be impossible to completely stop such occurrences. Everybody make mistakes, and with player’s lives under the microscope, these mistakes will come to light. This fact, in-and-of-itself, should provide a powerful deterrent to would-be offenders.

The NFL has to revamp it’s policies, but it should not have to defend itself every time one of its players makes a poor decision. You don’t see the POTUS apologizing for every personal scandal involving a Congressman, or a CEO addressing the personal issues of their employees; this is an unfair burden that no other organization faces. The NFL probably does not deserve tax-exempt status, but this issue should not be connected to some mystical air of infallibility which never existed in the first place.

Professional sports leagues champion positive values such perseverance, teamwork, and community service, in addition to providing enjoyment to millions of people on a regular basis. No matter what the NFL does, these stories will continue to pop up–they are symptoms of advances in communication technologies, not a signal of deteriorating values.

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Monday Morning QB: The Joe Flacco Contract Edition

First and foremost, congratulations to The New Rochelle Huguenots basketball team on their section 1 class AA New York State championship win yesterday. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, the Huguenots won on a 60 foot shoot with 0.1 seconds left in the game by Khalil Edney (who is also led New Rochelle to a state title in football as the QB last November). After the initial inbounds pass was stolen by Mt. Vernon, Edney rushed into action, picking up the loose ball and chucking a beautiful arching 60 foot shot all in one motion. This highlight has been on ESPN and news outlets nationwide, and I would not be surprised if it ultimately wins a 2013 ESPY. (Edney is currently undeclared as far as college goes, it will be interesting to see how this recent success affects how heavily he is recruited).

Ray Rice was happy for Edney and the city of New Rochelle for continuing its championship ways, as evidenced by his tweet following the game: “CITY OF CHAMPIONS NEW RO STAND UP WE RULE WESTCHESTER #914”

Rice is also presumably happy that his Quarterback, Joe Flacco, just signed a record-setting 6 year $120.9 million contract. Rice’s foreseeable future is with the Ravens, having signed a 5 year $40 million contract last summer. Certainly neither man will ever have to worry about personal finances again.

But is Flacco’s deal, which is the largest in NFL history, the right move for the Ravens? Certainly after coming off a dominant playoff run, capped off by a Super Bowl victory, everyone knew Flacco was in for a huge pay day. But did the Ravens give him too much money? For comparison’s sake, here’s how Flacco’s deal compares to other big deals for star QBs:

Tom Brady: 5 years $33 million

Ben Roethlesberger: $11 million next season (base $2.6 million + bonuses)

Aaron Rodgers: $9.25 million next season

Drew Brees: 5 years $100 million (2013 salary, $9.75 million)

Matt Ryan: $10 million next season

Tony Romo: $11.5 million (plus another $5.3 million against the cap)

Phillip Rivers: $12 million next season

Eli Manning: “He will make $13 million in base salary and his salary cap hit, including signing bonus tops the league: $20.85 million”

Peyton Manning: $20 million base salary next season

Joe Flacco: 6 years $120.9 million, base salary next season unknown as details of the deal remain uncertain.

There are a number of things a team can do to soften the salary-cap blow of signing such a large deal. The team could provide a large signing bonus, or make the contract “front or back loaded” (and then restructure the deal if the team needs salary cap flexibility in the future, assuming the player is willing to play ball). As I am not an expert on NFL contracts and what does and doesn’t count against the salary cap, we’ll just assume for now that Flacco will allow the Raven’s to be flexible with his contracts salary cap impact.

The issue with such a large contract is amplified in a sport with a salary cap. No one will fault Joe Flacco for cashing in on this opportunity; he is a young star QB coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance, whose value will never be higher. The issue here is are the Ravens putting too many eggs in this basket—will they be able to afford to keep the talent around Flacco needed for the Ravens to continue to be perennial Super Bowl contenders?

The best way I can think to pose this question is as a hypothetical. Had Flacco not resigned with the Ravens, would you have wanted your team to sign him to this contract? Is the contract too large, or did Flacco play up to it? When you look at that list of QBs, Flacco is set to make a lot more than some guys who have had considerably more success in the NFL than he has. Flacco’s career Passer Rating of 86.3 is impressive, but only 10th best among active QBs. On the other hand, he does have the record for road playoff wins (6), and is only now entering the prime of his NFL career.

(The road playoff record is a fickle stat; if you’ve had Super Bowl success, it becomes a defining number for “road-warriors” such as Flacco (6-4) and Eli Manning (5-1). If on the other hand you’ve struggled and never won a SB, it will become a forgotten stat, as it has been for Mark Sanchez (4-2).)

In salary cap sports we sometimes see guys take less money so there is more available to sign other guys (think of the Miami Heat’s big 3 or Tom Brady’s recent contract extension). With Ray Lewis retiring, and Ed Reed possibly following him, the Raven’s will have big holes to fill in their defense, which has historically been their strong point. Will the Ravens be able to afford All-Pro caliber replacements on defense after giving the big bucks to their offensive play-makers (Rice and Flacco)?

At the end of the day, Joe Flacco worked hard and earned this record-setting contract. How he continues to mature into an elite QB going forward, and the flexibility he allows the Ravens in restructuring his contract down the road, will go a long way in determining his NFL legacy. The Raven’s did the right thing by signing Flacco to a big deal. It is now up to him to live up this contract not only on the field but off the field as well.

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Monday Morning QB: New Year, New NFL Super bowl Champion

The Giants season ended a lot like their last Super bowl defense. This time, no one literally shot themselves, but with missed opportunities to lock up a playoff spot earlier in the year (8-5 after week 14), it certainly feels like the team collectively “shot itself in the foot”. The Bears also fall into this category; oh well, better luck next year guys.

It is almost funny going onto ESPN today, as almost every story is about a head coach, GM, or coordinator who was fired from a NFL team that struggled this year. Not at all surprising, but an insight into just how unforgiving an industry professional sports can be.

Congrats to the L.A. Clippers, who went 16-0 this month and have won 17 straight games! The combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin has been dominant, and depth in the form of role players such as Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, and Lamar Odom (just to name a few) have the Clippers poised to make a deep playoff run. Despite the highly publicized signing of Dwight Howard by the Lakers, it appears the Clippers are now the team to beat in L.A. This is a true “changing of the guard”, as the Lakers have been the big brother in L.A. as long as I can remember.

Back to the NFL, Let’s do a little Wild Card breakdown:

Colts v Ravens:

This will be an interesting game; a high powered offense versus one of the game’s best defenses. Can rookie Andrew Luck continue his meteoric rise to NFL stardom? Will Ray Lewis be effective when activated from injury, or perhaps even more effective after a long break (he is old; the injury could have been a blessing in disguise keeping him fresh). The match-up to watch here is how the Colt’s defense plays against the Ravens offense. If they can keep Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, and Torrey Smith in check, I like their chances. Andrew Luck won’t become the first rookie to make it to the Super bowl, but his season does not end next weekend either.

Predicted Winner: Colts (I may just be thinking wishfully, but who doesn’t want to see Peyton v. Luck in the playoffs?)

 

Bengals v. Texans:

The Bengals have a high powered offense, but little to fear after that. The Texans have one of the most complete teams in the NFL; a solid QB, an All-Pro RB and WR, and a defender in J.J. Watt who strikes fear in the hearts of NFL QBs. I got the Texans in this one all the way, possibly by a large margin.

Predicted Winner: Texans

 

Seahawks v. Redskins:

This has got to be the first time two rookie QBs have faced off in an NFL playoff game, right? RGIII has been nothing short of amazing since week one of the season, beating Drew Brees at home. Russell Wilson has had more of a traditional rookie season, but eventually got it together and tied Peyton Manning’s rookie TD record with 26. RGIII is the better QB, but the Seahawks are the better team in every other aspect of the game (particularly on defense; the Seahawks are one of the league’s best, the Redskins one of the worst). I’m calling this one for the Seahawks.

Predicted Winner: Seahawks

 

Vikings v. Packers:

Fun, fun, fun, a rivalry game in the playoffs (so is Ravens-Colts I suppose). A week 17 rematch, I expect different results this time around. Adrian Peterson has been unstoppable this year; coming off a knee injury and a slow start, “All Day” AP finished only 9 yards shy of Erik Dickerson’s single season rushing record. This though should keep AP warm during an otherwise cold post-season, as the Christian Ponder lead Vikings will not beat Aaron Rodgers and the gang for the second time in two weeks. This one will probably be a shootout, as neither team has a great defense, which favors the Packers who can move the ball more effectively through the air. The “cheese-heads” have legitimate Super bowl aspirations, and must first knock off the surging Vikings to get there.

Predicted Winner: Packers

 

There are my NFL Wildcard predictions, we’ll have to tune-in next weekend to see what actually happens.