With the movie 42 coming out on Friday, I’m sure we’ll hear folk say that Jackie Robinson was the first black Major League baseball player. But that distinction belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker who played in the American Association in 1884. The color barrier was instituted to keep him out and, of course, Robinson broke it in 1947. Walker was originally an integrationist but his struggle with racism led him to champion Garvey’s “Back to African Movement.” He led an interesting life.
As most readers are probably aware, the past few years have seen considerable media and clinical interest in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive, neurodegenerative condition linked to, and thought to result from, concussions, blasts, and other forms of brain injury (including, importantly, repeated but milder sub-concussion-level injuries) that can lead to a variety of mood and cognitive disorders, including depression, suicidality, memory loss, dementia, confusion, and aggression. Once thought mostly to afflict only boxers, CTE has more recently been acknowledged to affect a potentially much larger population, including professional and amateur contact sports players and military personnel.
CTE is diagnosed by the deterioration of brain tissue and tell-tale patterns of accumulation of the protein tau inside the brain. Currently, CTE can be diagnosed only posthumously, by staining the brain tissue to reveal its concentrations and distributions of tau. According to Wikipedia, as of December of 2012, some thirty-three former NFL players have been found, posthumously, to have suffered from CTE. Non-professional football players are also at risk; in 2010, 17-year-old high school football player Nathan Styles became the youngest person to be posthumously diagnosed with CTE, followed closely by 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania junior lineman Owen Thomas. Hundreds of active and retired professional athletes have directed that their brains be donated to CTE research upon their deaths. More than one of these players died by their own hands, including Thomas, Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, and, most recently, retired NFL linebacker Junior Seau. In February 2011, Duerson shot himself in the chest, shortly after he texted loved ones that he wanted his brain donated to CTE research. In May 2012, Seau, too, shot himself in the chest, but left no note. His family decided to donate his brain to CTE research in order “to help other individuals down the road.” Earlier this month, the pathology report revealed that Seau had indeed suffered from CTE. Many other athletes, both retired and active, have prospectively directed that their brains be donated to CTE research upon their death. Some 4,000 former NFL players have reportedly joined numerous lawsuits against the NFL for failure to protect players from concussions. Seau’s family, following similar action by Duerson’s estate, recently filed a wrongful death suit against both the NFL and the maker of Seau’s helmet.
The fact that CTE cannot currently be diagnosed until after death makes predicting and managing symptoms and, hence, studying treatments for and preventions of CTE, extremely difficult. Earlier this month, retired NFL quarterback Bernie Kosar, who sustained numerous concussions during his twelve-year professional career — and was friends with both Duerson and Seau — revealed both that he, too, has suffered from various debilitating symptoms consistent with CTE (but also, importantly, with any number of other conditions) and also that he believes that many of these symptoms have been alleviated by experimental (and proprietary) treatment provided by a Florida physician involving IV therapies and supplements designed to improve blood flow to the brain. If we could diagnose CTE in living individuals, then they could use that information to make decisions about how to live their lives going forward (e.g., early retirement from contact sports to prevent further damage), and researchers could learn more about who is most at risk for CTE and whether there are treatments, such as the one Kosar attests to, that might (or might not) prevent or ameliorate it.
Last week, UCLA researchers reported that they may have discovered just such a method of in vivo diagnosis of CTE. In their very small study, five research participants — all retired NFL players — were recruited “through organizational contacts” “because of a history of cognitive or mood symptoms” consistent with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). Participants were injected with a novel positron emission tomography (PET) imaging agent that, the investigators believe, uniquely binds to tau. All five participants revealed “significantly higher” concentrations of the agent compared to controls in several brain regions. If the agent really does bind to tau, and if the distributions of tau observed in these participants’ PET scans really are consistent with the distributions of tau seen in the brains of those who have been posthumously-diagnosed CTE, then these participants may also have CTE.
That is, of course, a lot of “ifs.” The well-known pseudomymous neuroscience bloggerNeurocritic recently asked me about the ethics of this study. He then followed up with his own posts laying out his concerns about both the ethics and the science of the study. Neurocritic has two primary concerns about the ethics. First, what are the ethics of telling a research participant that they may be showing signs of CTE based on preliminary findings that have not been replicated by other researchers, much less endorsed by any regulatory or professional bodies? Second, what are the ethics of publishing research results that very likely make participants identifiable? I’ll take these questions in order.
As the National Football League (NFL) finally has come to take seriously the problem of concussion, litigation by many former players will focus on the question whether the league acted unreasonably in not taking action sooner.
In reviewing the response of NFL to concussion, one can easily think that the league was too slow to worry about the medical consequences of head trauma. Despite concerns being raised for many years about the risk to player health, it took until December 2009 for the NFL to advise its teams that players should not return to play or practice on the same day that they suffer a concussion.
But the NFL was not alone in viewing concussion as a relatively mild problem. Physicians also did not worry very much about the medical consequences of concussions. For decades, neurologic experts disagreed as to whether concussions could cause permanent injury, with many attributing patient symptoms to psychological issues or to the incentives created by compensation programs for people with disabling conditions.
While the NFL may have responded slowly to problems from concussion, the extent to which its response was unreasonable is unclear. If many medical experts did not worry about concussions, it is difficult to fault the NFL for not worrying either. Still, one can question the NFL’s failure to adopt concussion guidelines in the late 1990’s when they were being issued by medical experts.
For more detail on these questions, see a forthcoming article that I've co-authored.
[cross-posted at HealthLawProfs]
Despite earning the same score as bronze medalist Aliya Mustafina, Aly Raisman officially finished in fourth place in the women's all-around gymnastics final. According to international gymnastics rules, ties must be broken.
But why? When two superb athletes share the same score at the end of their competition, we should appreciate that they have performed equally well. A tiebreaker creates only an illusion that one of the two was the better contender that day. We should be able to remember Raisman as a co-medalist in this year's Olympics. Instead, she will be remembered as a heartbreak runner-up.
The controversy over the outcome in the Pacquiao-Bradley championship boxing bout reminds us that we can expect similar controversies at the Olympic Games later this summer. While it's impossible to prevent referees from influencing outcomes entirely, perhaps Olympic officials should try to eliminate the authority of judges to determine an athlete's score in a competition, as happens now with gymnastics, diving and some other sports (e.g., ice skating in the Winter Games).
Imagine if Tim Tebow's touchdowns counted for fewer points than those of Aaron Rodgers because they were less pleasing aesthetically. There should be ways to bring more objectivity to the scoring of an athlete's performance in all sports. Indeed, there were objective measures that supported a decision in favor of Pacquaio. He landed more total punches and more power punches than Bradley, and he also landed a higher percentage of his punches than Bradley.
Scoring in gymnastics is more objective than it once was, but it's troubling that it still takes six judges to determine a gymnast's execution score. If that many judges are needed, there's too much subjectivity involved for a competition that's supposed to identify the best performance.
The start of another season of America's pastime is upon us, which means that it's time for George Will's baseball trivia quiz. Here's the link. Being a die-hard Cardinals fan, I found question 31 most painful to answer. And if you need a hint for #22, try this: "His last name includes Tim Zinnecker's three initials, in consecutive order."
Or just a savvy politician?
Brad Smith, an undergraduate political science student at the University of North Carolina, entertains himself during tournament lulls:
Stated explicitly, the question I hope to answer here is: "Does Obama systematically favor teams from "swing states" when filling out his NCAA bracket?" . . . To test bias towards swing states I developed a very simple measure that I call the "pander score." This score assigns a value to each state for a given year that is equal to the difference in Obama's bracket and the ESPN national aggregate bracket's predictions about the total number of wins that teams from a given state will achieve throughout the tournament. By using ESPN's national bracket as a control group, this test compares Obama's predictions to the aggregated predictions of a large group, allowing me to identify in a quantifiable way to what degree Obama's predictions differ from that of the "average" individual.
As the results indicate, there is a positive relationship between a team's location in a swing state and the number of wins that Obama predicts that that team will achieve throughout the tournament. Furthermore, this relationship is strongly statistically significant well beyond the 95% level of confidence. Considering that the pander score measures the difference between Obama's predictions and the national average, this positive and strongly significant correlation provides strong support for the notion that Obama's bracket picks were influenced by his desire to appeal to swing state voters.
What fun. Even more interesting would be to think about Obama’s preferences within the swing states. For example, I suspect that a Duke pick (who it looks like the President had losing to Baylor) is unlikely to resonate with North Carolina voters nearly so much as his UNC or NC State picks.
The President's bracket is below.
HT: Kindred Winecoff
The more we learn about football injuries, the more troubling the news. Not only has the NFL apparently failed to take the neurologic consequences of concussion seriously, we now know that causing injuries can be part of a team's game strategy.
It will be very interesting to see what kinds of punishment are meted out by the NFL in the wake of its report on payments for injury. A league investigation found that defensive players on the New Orleans Saints earned $1,500 for knocking an opposing player out of a game and $1,000 for an opponent’s being carted off the field. The payments doubled or tripled during the playoffs. The Saints' former defensive coach, Gregg Williams, administered the system, and he had previously implemented a similar system as a defensive coach for the Washington Redskins.
We've seen fines and one-game suspensions for vicious hits, but those have clearly been inadequate. It's bad enough that players assume far too much risk to their health by playing football. They should not have to worry that other teams are putting prices on their heads. And trying to turn injuries from a secondary effect of the game into a primary goal compromises the integrity of the competition.
For this kind of conduct, a lifetime ban would not be too harsh for Williams, who now coaches for the St. Louis Rams. But the NFL probably has not done enough to put him on notice for such a sanction. Still, a multi-year suspension would be reasonable, and anything less than a one-year suspension would be insufficient. Other culprits among Saints management and players must face stiff penalties as well.
With the football season over and March madness coming soon, I am reminded of how basketball ranks toward the bottom of sports in its response to rule violations. As the safety against the Patriots in the Super Bowl illustrated, penalties in football are tough. Same in ice hockey, where teams must compete short a player after an infraction. But in basketball, fouling is a common strategic option, making the last two minutes of some games interminable. It’s too easy for a team to benefit when an opponent lacks good shooters from the charity stripe. And it’s no answer to say that making free throws is part of the game. We shouldn’t put the burden on the victims of rule violations to even the score. Nor should we be sending our youth the message that breaking the rules is an acceptable tactic. Rather, basketball needs to punish fouls more severely. For example, after shooting its foul shots, a team could retain possession of the ball, as happens with some technical fouls.
I think that NFL head coaches are generally uncreative and extremely risk-averse, and they are absolutely terrible at clock management. There were several important questionable coaching decisions in the Super Bowl:
1) Up 9-3 with 10 minutes to go in the first half at the New England 41, Coughlin decides to punt on 4th and 4. With an expected net punt of 30 yards and against a prolific offense, I'd have taken my chances against the weak Patriots defense. There's been lots of discussion (in academic circles and elsewhere--see, e.g., the recent HBO Realsports report on the very successful high school coach that literally never punts) about coaches punting too much on 4th and short and this was a classic case.
2) Down 17-15 early in the 4th quarter, the Giants burn two timeouts because the coaches get the play in too late. This stuff drives me crazy. In a tight game, timeouts are hugely valuable and coaches throw them away because they obsess over the right play call. Belichick is great at not doing this. The extra 5 seconds to choose the "perfect" play is simply not worth the risk of burning a timeout. And in each case it would've been better to take the 5 yard penalty than burn the timeout. (More on 5 yard penalties being not so bad below.) Lucky for the Giants it didn't turn out to matter, but this was terrible. Chris Collinsworth was excellent at criticizing this.
3) Down 17-15, 1st and goal at the NE 7, 1:07 left, clock is stopped, and NE has two timeouts. If the Giants kneel down three times (centering the ball in the middle of the field), NE burns its last two timeouts, and the Giants have a perfectly centered 27 yard field goal indoors to win the Super Bowl. By running the ball, they risk a bad handoff and a fumble and scoring quickly. At the very least, Coughlin should have told Bradshaw not to score until third down.
4) Same situation. New England stuffs the 1st down run, takes a timeout, and then on 2nd down, lets Bradshaw coast into the endzone. Nice decision (in fact, the NE players should have pushed or carried Bradshaw into the end zone if they saw he was reluctant to go in himself; while there is a forward progress rule, there's nothing that prevents the defense from pushing an offensive player forward), but the decision was one play too late, costing NE 5 seconds and, much more importantly, one timeout. Instead of down 4 with 1:00 to and 2 timeouts, NE had only 1 timeout and a few less seconds. The only explanation for why the "escort into the end zone" strategy came one play late is that Belichick had to explain it to his players and needed a timeout to do so. But he could have prepared his team for the possibility over the two minute warning. And, for a supposedly detail-oriented guy, I'm very surprised that he didn't prepare his team for this possibility during practices. (Again, Collinsworth was right on top of this, well before Belichick appeared to be.)
5) Coughlin goes for 2, up 4 with :57 to go and NE has 1 timeout. If they make it, then NE needs to score a TD and convert the 99.9% PAT to win. I'd have taken the traditional extra point in case NE happened to score a quick TD. Then a FG by the Giants wins the game rather than sending it into OT (after they miss the 2 point conversion). Very unlikely, of course, that NE would score a TD that quickly but I think more likely than a missed PAT in pristene conditions with the Super Bowl on the line.
6) NE has the ball, down 4, on its own 44, with :17 left and no timeouts. The Giants end up getting called for 12 men on the field, which actually I think is a great coaching move, though I'm sure it was unintentional. There are many endgame (or end-of-the-half) situations where a defensive team will gladly trade 5 yards for 6 seconds. This was one of them. Unless NE gets at least 30 yards, the only chance is a hail mary. So, if I was Coughlin I'd put extra guys on the field and tell everyone to grab an eligible receiver and hold on for dear life (and leave 4 or so safeties back for good measure). 2 plays just like that and NE has the ball at the Giants 45 with at most :06 left. You can't foul on the last play because the offense will get another play, but the last play is a hail mary. (Brady might get wise the second time if he sees extra guys on the field and spike the ball immediately, costing only a second or two, but probably not.) Even better to do this intentioanl foul strategy when the other team has timeouts left, since the clock will stop after each play regardless. Basketball coaches always use intentional fouls, but football coaches never do it.
For whatever reason, I really loved that team of “Cardiac Kids” – I practically cry every time I watch this footage of Jim Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug.
Image Source: SI
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According to this article from today's New York Times, the Badminton World Federation will require women in elite-level competitions to wear skits or dresses. The reason?
“We’re not trying to use sex to promote the sport,” said Paisan Rangsikitpho, an American who is deputy president of the Badminton World Federation, which is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. “We just want them to look feminine and have a nice presentation so women will be more popular.”
Interest is declining, Rangsikitpho said, adding that some women compete in oversize shorts and long pants and appear “baggy, almost like men.”
“Hardly anybody is watching,” he said. “TV ratings are down. We want to build them up to where they should be. They play quite well. We want them to look nicer on the court and have more marketing value for themselves. I’m surprised we got a lot of criticism.”
Apparently, many badminton players wear shorts or track pants to play. And the shorts, I guess, are not short enough. The badminton folks must have figured that if bikinis made beach volleyball popular, skirts will do the same for badminton.
What arena is next? The classroom? Hey lady law profs! Teaching evaluations down this year? Show a little more skin next semester! Get a little more "marketing value" for yourself! If you have a "nice presentation," you'll be more popular, right?!
Marketing in the legal professional world is less important than in the sports world. To be sure, image, dress, presentation, etc. are relevant to lawyers, law professors and law students. But my tongue-in-cheek suggestion aside, noone can or will decree that all female law professors must wear skirts in the classroom. Personal preference, local culture and whether the laundry or dry cleaning is done tend to be the governing factors.
With that background, it does seem absurd to require women look more "feminine" with a "nice presentation" by wearing skirts. An athlete should be judged on the basis of her or his performance, not appearance.
In reality, though, elite-level athletes are not judged solely on their performance. This is especially true for women. Remember the first time Martina Navratilova appeared at Wimbleton in ribbons? I don't think I ever saw Lisa Leslie play without lipstick. Women who are not conventionally attractive are rarely media darlings (and inevitably suffer rumors about their sexuality).
It's unrealistic to think that society will ever evolve to a place where appearance is irrelevant. (Query, also, whether an appearance-blind society would be desirable, either.) I just wish that showing skin were not an official marketing strategy of an international sports organization.
As for me, I don't even like toes showing at the office, so I won't be breaking out the swimwear in the classroom any time soon. (Shudder the thought!) Heck, I'd like the Snuggie to be standard academic attire. Or at least a Hogwarts robe.
Update 6/3/11: The World Badminton Federation has withdrawn the skirts-only rule. See here.
Perhaps no other number in baseball is as revered as 56, which marks Joe DiMaggio's consecutive-games hitting streak. This baseball season marks the 70th anniversary of the Yankee Clipper's assault on the record books. Fans who wish to return to 1941 and relive "the streak" may wish to grab a copy of a new book authored by Kostya Kennedy (a senior editor at Sports Illustrated), entitled 56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports. From the author's website:
In 56, Kostya Kennedy tells the remarkable story of how [DiMaggio's] streak found its way into countless lives, from the Italian kitchens of Newark to the playgrounds of Queens to the San Francisco streets; from the Oval Office of FDR to the Upper West Side apartment where Joe’s first wife, Dorothy, the movie starlet, was expecting a child. DiMaggio emerges in a new light, a 26-year-old on the cusp of becoming an icon. He comes alive—a driven ballplayer, a mercurial star and a conflicted husband—as the tension and the scrutiny upon him build with each passing day. DiMaggio’s feat lives as the greatest sports record. Alongside the story of the dramatic quest, Kennedy examines the nature of hitting streaks and with an incisive, modern-day perspective gets inside the number itself, as its sheer improbability heightens the magic of 56 games in a row.
Related links of interest include:
Some of those events may include: the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the end of World War II, the assassination of JFK, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon, the attempted assassination of President Reagan, the verdict announcement in the OJ trial, and 9/11.
Today marks one of those events for me. On this date in 1980, a modern David v. Goliath tale took place in Lake Placid, as a group of amateurs took on a legendary and invincible army of quasi-professionals on a playing surface as frigid as the relations of their two respective governments. And against all odds, the US men's hockey team defeated the USSR on a Friday evening, giving the world the Miracle on Ice.
I was in college at the time and watched the game with friends at the Wesley House on the campus of Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg. For me, this remains one of the top (if not the top) sports story in my half-century of living. I still get spine-tingling chills when I pause and remember what happened that night, especially when the memory is prompted by the television flashback to announcer Al Michaels as he asks the incredulous audience during the countdown of the final seconds: Do you believe in miracles?
Photo: the SI cover from the issue dated 3/3/80. Notice the absence of any caption or headline. The picture says it all.
Regular Lounge readers have heard me discuss before my seminar on Taboo Trades and Forbidden Markets. Although markets in human organs, sex work, commercial surrogacy, and the like are probably more standard fare in a course of this nature, I think that college athletics and amateurism also have a place, and I normally spend some time each semester on college sports (plus, it’s the Durham-Chapel-Hill area, what do you expect?)
This year I struck gold because my colleague, Charles Clotfelter, has a fascinating new book coming out in the next few months with Cambridge University Press, Big-Time Sports in American Universities. And last week he visited my seminar to discuss his book, which he’s spent years researching.
As a bit of background, Charlie is the Z. Smith Reynolds Professor of Public Policy Studies and a Professor of Economics and Law at Duke University, where he teaches courses on microeconomics and the economics of education. He is also a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
From the CUP website:
For almost a century, big-time college sport has been a wildly popular but consistently problematic part of American higher education. The challenges it poses to traditional academic values have been recognized from the start, but they have grown more ominous in recent decades, as cable television has become ubiquitous, commercial opportunities have proliferated and athletic budgets have ballooned. Drawing on new research findings, this book takes a fresh look at the role of commercial sports in American universities. It shows that, rather than being the inconsequential student activity that universities often imply that it is, big-time sport has become a core function of the universities that engage in it. For this reason, the book takes this function seriously and presents evidence necessary for a constructive perspective about its value. Although big-time sport surely creates worrying conflicts in values, it also brings with it some surprising positive consequences.
One such conflict that Charlie discusses in the book is the compromise universities make in the academic realm in order to succeed in the athletic one. For example, there is abundant evidence that universities apply different admission standards to athletes than to the general student body (though Charlie is careful to note that athletes are not the only students to receive favorable admissions treatment). As just one piece of evidence, a survey of 21 public universities with big-time athletic programs, covering data from various years between 1999 and 2007, found that an average of 4% of all freshmen at those universities were classified as special admits, whereas the corresponding percentage of football players was 49%.
Once admitted, many college athletes, in an attempt to maintain good academic standing in the face of rigorous practice, game, and travel schedules, seek out courses in which they are more likely to succeed. As a result, certain departments or programs at many universities become “the academic home” to a disproportionate share of athletes. At Virginia Tech, for example, 19% of football players were majoring in residential property management, while only 0.4% of all students were. At N.C. State, a third of the football players were sports management majors, compared to only 0.8% of all students. As an extreme example, the book discusses the physical education course taught by an assistant basketball coach at the University of Georgia, with a multiple-choice test featuring such questions as, “How many points does a three-point field goal account for in a Basketball Game?”
Despite all of this, universities struggle to graduate student-athletes in the revenue sports. Charlie calculated graduation rates for the 58 universities with big-time athletic programs for all students entering these universities between 1998 and 2001. The average graduation rate was 72%. But the comparable rate for basketball players was only 42%, and for football it was 56%.
But the book is not intended as an indictment of college sports, so much as a realistic assessment of it. Charlie also discusses the benefits from college athletics, both to the institution and to society at large. Chief among these institutional benefits is the potential to increase the applicant pool, allowing the university to be more selective (this evidence – and its limitations – is discussed at length in the book). But Charlie also discusses a rarely mentioned benefit of college sports -- the enjoyment of fans and spectators, including fans and spectators not part of the university community. As Charlie notes, “American universities, by way of their entertainment function, produce a thing of value that is enjoyed by a population potentially much more numerous than its living alumni, not to mention its current student body.”
As a basketball season ticket holder at a local university that will remain unnamed, I can speak first-hand to such positive spillover effects. But at the same time, I have to wonder about the extent to which big-time college sports – with the benefit of favorable tax, antitrust, and other benefits not enjoyed by its professional counterparts, including the amateur status of its players – may crowd out other, localized sports enjoyment opportunities. Many of my European and Asian friends find it distinctly odd that American universities provide the primary sports outlets in many parts of the U.S., as opposed to professional regional or local leagues. And that Americans (at least in my neck of the woods) are obsessed with the Duke versus UNC basketball game, as compared to India versus Pakistan (cricket) or Netherlands versus Spain (soccer, or football for you euro-types).
It was a lot of fun hearing Charlie discuss the book. And it was also interesting to hear the lengths to which he went to gather the necessary data, the lack of cooperation from many universities, and his corresponding creativity in gaining the information he needed to complete the project. Advance praise from the CUP website includes statements from Roger Noll, Daniel Hamermesh, and Nannerl Keohane, among others.
This topic is of great interest in the Houston area, as Jeff Bagwell (card #47 from the 2003 Upper Deck Classic Portraits set) makes his debut on the ballot.
A California high school student has been charged with sexual battery for his actions during a wrestling practice. The Fresno Bee explains (here) that the accused boy "intensely grab[ed] his opponent's butt cheek to obtain leverage and better positioning." But this is not Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, or even Regis and Nicki Minaj. The news story goes on to explain that the accused digitally penetrated his opponent's anus. Apparently that is not in dispute.
One wrestling coach interviewed by the press says (here):
"To think I'd ever instruct my guys to get on the mat and practice sticking their fingers in their teammates' rear end, it's stupid and ridiculous," longtime Fresno State wrestling coach Dennis DeLiddo said. "A butt drag isn't sticking your finger up a guy's [rectum]. That'd be illegal. That'd be counterproductive. That's not the move.
"That's not a butt drag -- that's just perverted."
Others claim (here) that this so-called "drag" is permitted in wrestling. Whether or not the move is allowed under wrestling rules, it is fair to say that wrestlers assume the risk of bodily contact that might appear sexual in a non-wrestling context. A face to the groin? Sure. A gluteal grab? Yes. Sweat, friction and grunting? Absolutely. But intentional digital penetration is another matter entirely.
Even so, is it accurate to say, as one commentator has, that "the Fresno 'butt drag' controversy [is] just a bit of homophobia"? Consider (however unrealistically) a co-ed wrestling match between a male high school student and a female high school student. If the female wrestler performed the move in question on the male wrestler, would it be any less objectionable? No, in my view. Would the male wrestler be less likely to acknowledge that he had been penetrated? I'm not sure. The genders of the penetrator and penetrated don't appear to make any difference, at least in my analysis.
As anyone from Alabama will appreciate, I mean this headline only partially tongue-in-cheek. It seems that Gene Marsh, an old colleague of mine at Alabama and now an emeritus professor - as well as counsel to Birmingham's Lightfoot, Franklin & White - has just taken on some new business: representing Auburn in the potential NCAA investigation over its quarterback Cam Newton.
For some readers, some background will be in order. What's the deal with Newton? Over the past week, allegations have emerged suggesting that Newton's dad might have been trying to negotiate a payment from somebody (the school? an alumnus?) in exchange for for convincing his son to join Mississippi State. He didn't become a Bulldog...so is it relevant for Auburn? Under NCAA rules, it doesn't matter whether Auburn was involved in negotiations. According to SI.com:
So far, Auburn has not been implicated in the pay-for-play scheme. But by the letter of the NCAA's law, an athlete is ineligible the moment a rule is broken. Even if Newton didn't know about his father's request, this is the word the NCAA put out Thursday: "The solicitation of cash or benefits by a prospective student-athlete or another individual on his or her behalf is not allowed under NCAA rules," NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn wrote. It is up to the athlete's school to declare him ineligible and apply for reinstatement.
The problem is, Auburn has known of these allegations for sometime and it has chosen not to declare Newton ineligible and then seek reinstatement. It doesn't want to risk losing him. Why does it matter? Because Auburn is closing in on the BCS football crown. The implications of this whole Megilla are pretty serious, if you care about college football and particularly if you care about the non-BCS conference teams (Boise State and TCU) who could be boxed out of the championship if Auburn in undefeated. Auburn could easily reach, or win, the BCS championship only to have the NCAA strip it of all its wins months later - which would be no help to a Boise State, for example.
Which brings me back to the point of this post. Gene Marsh was Alabama's excellent, and upstanding, Alabama faculty athletic representative and compliance during some hairy days in the early 2000's. Notwithstanding the Tide's dirty laundry, his efforts won him the position of Chair on the NCAA Committee on Infractions from 2004-06. And now Alabama's chief rival and sworn enemy, Auburn, has just retained the fellow to help it through this dangerous time.
I feel certain that thousands of Bama fans are hoping that Newton is declared ineligible and that Auburn's season goes up in flames. That's just the way college sports rivalries function - much as many true North Carolina fans wish Duke the worst, irrespective of whether Carolina stands to gain from Duke's failures. Alabama fans will not be wishing Gene well, I suspect. And they'll see this as further proof that lawyers lack scruples. As for those Alabama law students who were undergrads at Auburn? Well, that's another matter altogether...
Maybe it's just as well that Alabama is out of contention this year.
Update: As a commenter notes, a columnist from the Birmingham News is reporting that unnamed sources deny that Marsh is working on the case. Auburn apparently routinely retains the Lightfoot firm for various needs but allegedly Marsh has no involvement in this matter. Assuming that Marsh does not have an actual conflict of interest here, Auburn would be foolish not to use his services. Marsh may not be the "point man" on the case, but I'm betting that Auburn is counting on his good advice.