Brady ruling makes for some great reading

Now here’s something to read and savor, especially if you’re a New England Patriots fan and you hate Roger Goodell.

NFL vs. NFL Players Association Decision & Order

Tom Brady Deflategate suspension nullified

Patriots owner Robert Kraft issues statement

Hurley: If you’re still hung up on Brady being guilty, you’re an idiot

Goodell won’t let court decision rest; vows appeal

NFL owners to re-evaluate Goodell’s role in disciplinary process

Why Deflategate was the perfect media feeding frenzy

Previously on Adventures in Writing:

Assumptions, not fact, are bottom line in Deflategate

Sports media has lost its cool over Deflategate

High school basketball teams take sportsmanship to a new low

This is somewhat amusing, unbelievable, and shameful at the same time.

Two high school basketball teams – Smyrna and Riverdale, who happen to be located in the Middle Tennessee county in which I live (though, thankfully, I did not attend either as a student) — purposefully tried to lose to each other on the court this past week. The teams intentionally stalled play, made unforced turnovers, deliberately missed free throws, played with backups instead of the usual starters, committed blatant on-court violations, and, at one point, even made as if they were going to shoot at the wrong net.

The referee policing the action finally had enough of the shenanigans and called out the coaches.

Turns out neither team wanted to win because that would pit them against a powerhouse team and possible elimination in the next round of the playoffs, according to published reports. Instead, they wanted the loss so that it would put them on the other side of the bracket where they would stand a better chance against the opponent over there. A win in that case would propel the team into the state playoffs.

Sounds like a Las Vegas sports fix. But these are high school teams!

To appreciate the irony of this further, you need to know that winning is par for the course in Rutherford County high school athletics. Coverage of high school sports has always been an emphasis at the local newspaper, where I used to work as an editor. The county has produced numerous state champions over the years. State playoff berths are as expected from them as much as Super Bowl appearances are expected of the New England Patriots. Anything less is almost taboo.

Hard play, execution and determination are the norm from these two teams.

Famed sports writer Grantland Rice — who was born in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and whose portrait once hung on the wall of my office in Murfreesboro — said: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”

In this case, how the teams played the game was unbelievable, embarrassing and disrespectful.

The game was an insult to fans who paid money to see a legitimate contest between the two schools. Fans were clearly not in on the game plan of trying to lose in order to advance, and the fans took to voicing their disgust on Twitter as the game unfolded.

Nor was the plan to intentionally lose disguised very well. One player reportedly even signaled to the ref that she had made a three-second violation and the ref should blow the whistle on her.

Now that’s comedy.

What isn’t funny is what this says about sports and what it says about fair play. Whether this was an idea or a directive foisted upon the players by the individual coaches or whether it was something the players themselves decided to do, the result is the same. Their actions were dishonest and deplorable, and, quite frankly, akin to cheating.

Both teams have already been punished by being banned from the postseason altogether, put on probation for the following season, and each school fined. One coach has been suspended for two games and discipline may be forthcoming for the other.

Hopefully, the players will learn from their mistake as they go through college and beyond. Because, being duplicitous is not a highly sought after skill on job applications.

And you all thought deflating footballs was a new low.

Kyle Busch crash another wake-up call for NASCAR on safety

Kudos for NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway for their quick response to Saturday’s horrific accident involving Kyle Busch. Officials plan to begin adding soft tire barriers around all portions of the track not already protected by SAFER barriers. But, why is it we have to wait for something like this to happen before anyone does something about it?

Busch was seriously injured after his car was collected in a multi-car wreck in Saturday’s Xfinity Series at Daytona. His car careened across the infield just past pit road and slammed head-on into a concrete wall there. According to reports, he suffered a compound break of his lower right leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot. He’ll be out of action indefinitely while he recovers.

He was lucky. He could just as easily have been killed.

Incredulously, Daytona did not have SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) Barriers in place at this portion of the track. SAFER barriers, consisting of giant Styrofoam-like blocks, were built around race tracks to minimize the impact of cars crashing into the walls. The softer walls were introduced in 2002 and installed on most NASCAR and Indy tracks by 2005, according to ask.com.

For the most part, however, the softer walls only line the outside walls of any given race track.

Following Saturday’s crash, dozens of fellow drivers leveled harsh criticism over the lack of safer walls around the entire track. NASCAR and track president Joie Chitwood III, in turn, pledged to take immediate measures to put buffers in place on any exposed concrete walls. Temporary tire buffers should be in place prior to today’s Daytona 500 and permanent SAFER Barriers will be added after the race.

It’s great news, however overdue.

NASCAR and each of its track operators must have known that anything can happen in a race. Yes, the odds are low that anyone might hit that portion of the wall. But to play roulette with driver’s lives, is a gamble that should never be taken.

Sadly, this gamble has now cost the sport one of its best, most popular (and most hated) drivers for the foreseeable future.

NASCAR safety measures

Admittedly, NASCAR has made efforts to increase safety of its drivers, crews and even fans over the years. The SAFER Barriers are a perfect example.

Restrictor plates were added to stock cars in 1988 to help reduce horsepower. They became mandatory after driver Bobby Allison crashed and his car spiraled into the fencing around the track at Talladega Speedway.

After losing the greatest driver of this era, Dale Earnhardt, in a head-on crash at Daytona in 2001, the sport made use of the HANS device, a sort of harness fastened to the driver’s helmet,  mandatory. The safety measure is designed to keep drivers from suffering life-threatening injuries to their head and neck in the event of a sudden stop.

Roof flaps were added to NASCAR vehicles after several terrifying crashes in the 1990s in which cars rolled over multiple times on high-speed tracks like Talladega and Michigan. The flaps open and disrupt air flow when a car gets sideways and air tries to get under the vehicles and force them up and over. They were further modified in 2013.

Taking chances

Not all of the improvements have been well-received, nor widely embraced when first introduced.

Many argue the advent of restrictor plates is responsible for the multi-car wrecks at Daytona and Talladega that have become the norm, and increase the potential for serious injury. Spectators and announcers alike bide their time just watching for “the big one” to occur. And, it inevitably does.

The HANS device was actually designed in the early 1980s, but didn’t become a mandatory safety device until after Earnhardt’s death. Many drivers, including Earnhardt, derided the device as being too confining and actually stated they would rather take their chances. It took Earnhardt’s death to end any arguments to the contrary.

Now we have an obvious lack of SAFER Barriers.

Amazingly, some drivers expressed surprise after Saturday’s crash that there were no barriers on that part of the track. They were quick to criticize NASCAR for its lack of safety, but did any of them ever walk the track to see where the potential dangers lied? Did any of them petition NASCAR to add SAFER Barriers to exposed walls?  Shouldn’t drivers demand safety measures be met at all tracks before blindly hopping behind the wheel?

Driving any race car – whether it’s a stock car, Formula One car, Indy car or funny car – is inherently risky. It takes tremendous courage for drivers to suit up and go wheel to wheel with other drivers at such high speeds for hundreds of miles. The speed and the thrill of chasing the checkered flag obviously outweigh the dangers for some. (I know I can get white-knuckled just driving at 75 mph on the interstate, let alone what these drivers do.)

It takes a special sort of individual to perform at that level week after week. Unfortunately, it takes a terrible tragedy like Busch’s wreck to bring about change.

Addendum (7-7-15):

It was great to see Daytona and NASCAR follow through on their pledge to expand soft walls at Daytona this past weekend as an added safety measure. But Kyle Busch also makes a valid point about the need to eliminate infield grass areas that add peril to cars as they are skidding out of control. I hope we see this addressed soon.

Lastly, kudos to NASCAR for its safety catch fence that, for the most part, did its job in keeping Austen Dillon’s car from careening into the grand stands on the final lap of the race. Though some debris did get through and caused a few fans minor injuries, the catch fence did its job. What’s more, NASCAR’s commitment to safety in the construction and design of its vehicles also did its job Sunday as Dillon was able to walk away from what otherwise could have been a deadly accident.

Additional reading:

Earnhardt Jr. credits NASCAR for safety efforts

Sports media has lost its cool over ‘deflategate’

New England Patriots players Friday said they have faith in quarterback Tom Brady and support him completely, despite the sports media who would just as soon as string him up by a noose without a trial. Thursday’s Bellichick and Brady press conferences were media circuses, and no matter what either man said about the so-called Deflategate fiasco, the media was determined to tear them down.

I’m not sure where all the hatred comes from or why the media — which is supposed to be impartial and supposed to report facts, not innuendo, rumors and personal vendettas — is so intent on bringing down the Patriots franchise. The only real conclusion is that everyone hates a winner. When the Cowboys won under Tom Landry, they were the team you loved to hate. When the Raiders were winning, they were the hated team. When the Yankees win, they are the hated team. When the Red Sox win, they are the evil empire.

People love sports heroes, and hate winners. That’s all there is to it. The world is full of petty jealousy and losers who can only dream of being as good and successful as others. How else do you explain all the piss-ant former football players turned commentator experts? Where are their rings? Where are their bestselling autobiographies?

Patriots players commended Tom Brady for being calm and collected at his press conference. Some of the media tried to picture him as squirming under the pressure. Well, that is they wished he was squirming. They were too busy trying to rationalize how they could use his words against him.

I wish Brady had actually lost his cool. I wish he would have stood up and taken the media down a peg or two. I hate the media. (Used to be one of them, by the way. Never again. Lousy pay. Lousy job.) Bunch of armchair quarterbacks who live just to tear down someone else’s achievements. Why? For their own five minutes of glory and one-up-manship.

Fact is, this whole deflategate nonsense is just nonsense. A flatter ball doesn’t travel as far or as fast as one fully pumped up. Advantage defense. Hey, Colts defense, be careful what you wish for!

What did the media really want Brady to say, anyway? “Sorry, I did have the balls deflated so I could get a better grip. But, turns out, I was wrong. I throw much better with fully inflated balls after all. Won’t do it again.”

I’m not trying to condone cheating. OK, if someone altered the balls, that was wrong. But, hey, let’s wait until all the evidence is in, huh? Quit convicting people just because you don’t like something. In my opinion, it’s the sports broadcasters (Troy Aikman!) who have lost their cool. Just look at their emotional outburst following Brady’s press conference.

Fact is, in sports, you look for a competitive edge. If that means pushing the envelope or a rule a little bit, so be it. Don’t tell me every sports player doesn’t look for an edge. Don’t tell me the other teams aren’t doing the same things. Doesn’t make it right, I know, but that’s the game. That’s the culture of winning this whole sports world is built around. Win or else. Why do you think so many coaches and players get fired or traded every off season? Because in today’s sports world, you win or you’re out.

No wonder one of my brothers ignores sports. Who can blame him after this? It’s a dirty business and things like Deflategate just make me want to walk away as a fan too. (I know I won’t, though.)

If anyone is looking for blame, then blame the refs. It’s their job to make sure the rules are upheld. If they don’t see a penalty on the field, the flag isn’t tossed. If they see it, they toss a flag and the consequences follow. Well, usually. Except in the case of the Detroit Lions-Dallas Cowboys game. Was it cheating when they picked up the flag and made their non-call? Where’s the outrage over that?

Integrity of the game? Come on, man! Just shut up and play ball.

UPDATE:

The Wells Report on Deflategate