Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Philosophical Differences

     In politics it has been shown that different philosophies can work. The same has been proven in baseball. In America's favorite pastime, there are those who desire to win now, and those who desire to win later. Believers in the former are usually marketable high-rollers, winning by using their unparallelled assets to simply outspend the competition. Those following the latter are usually small market teams possessing a smart front office and a revolutionary way of looking at free agents. They also keep talent in the organization by good drafting. When the Yankees reload, the Cincinnati Reds refill.

     Teams with higher salaries are usually the teams with the rings. That is undeniable. As mentioned above, they can simply outspend the competition. While the strategy of going out and signing high-profile free agents is exciting, it is very difficult to keep doing. The signings have to work well, for if they do not, then the team loses and attendance sinks, therefore limiting profits and eliminating the possibility to give a competitive offer or provide a stable, winning environment. However, the few teams that use said philosophy are very good at it. The New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Boston Red Sox built up a strong core with players they developed in-house, then reaped the benefits and using the newfound cash to buy championships. The Yankees had their "Core Four" in Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Petite. They won A LOT with them. This enabled them to trade for, and later resign Alex Rodriguez to one of the largest contracts in baseball history. After first baseman Jason Giambi left in free agency, rather than using one of their developed and relatively cheap Triple-A prospects, the signed Mark Teixeira to a very large contract. A similar situation developed when catcher Jorge Posada began faltering behind the plate. Rather than use talented Jesus Montero, who was traded to the Seattle Mariners during spring training, they went out and got Russel Martin. On opening day, only three of the Yankees starters came from their farm system. A similar scenario has shown itself in Boston. Behind Theo Epstein, the Red Sox were very good at evaluating talent. They were also good at offering big contracts, as shown by their recent signings of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, and again in 2007, and both of those teams' key players were acquired through trades and free agency. The Philadelphia Phillies are no different. They exploded on to the MLB scene in 2008 by beating the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series and returning the following season, albeit losing to the New York Yankees. The front office proceeded to open up the checkbook, trading for expensive but talented veterans like pitcher Roy Halladay, and signing Cliff Lee. While they may have developed players like the injury prone Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, the impact of what they have done in free agency and trades far outweighs the impact of developed players.

     The other side of the spending spectrum contains winners as well. Penny-pinchers like the Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds and, to an extent, the Texas Rangers are perennial "Next Year Is The Year" teams, as their star prospects always seem to take longer to get to the big leagues than necessary. The Rays were, and still are contenders with a very low salary. They developed talented players like third baseman Evan Longoria, and outfielders B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford, and still managed to win games, even if they were in the same divisions as the aforementioned Yankees and Red Sox. They have faith in their general managers and in their ability to draft well. These teams are often very efficient with costs and players. When players become stars on cost-effective teams, they either have become attached to the area, like Reds first baseman Joey Votto, or leave for bigger markets, like Crawford, but that is an obvious risk with prospects, as they can quickly become expensive luxuries and sign elsewhere, whereas a free agent is a known value and is signed to a longer deal that is generally more team-friendly in the long run, for a prospect's price goes up when an older free agent's goes down. The Cincinnati Reds, like the Rays, have consistently had one of the lower payrolls in Major League Baseball. They traded big stars like Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn, who was developed in the system, for prospects, to make room for players they drafted. Griffey Jr. made room for slugging outfielder Jay Bruce, who was drafted and developed in the Reds farm system. Then, Joey Votto, was drafted, signed, and resigned to be a career Cincinnati Red. On opening day, five of the nine starting players were drafted by the Reds. When these prospects become too expensive, as Bruce and pitcher Johnny Cueto might, there will be others waiting at the doorstep to step up. A similar situation unfolded in Texas, as the Rangers lost one of the most popular players in baseball, pitcher C.J Wilson to the Angels. Wilson was brought up by the Rangers, as were potential-laden players like Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus. Wilson's free agency was a hot topic, as he was very expensive but not necessarily worth the money he was demanding, so those who wanted to win now campaigned for a new deal, while others realized that a prospect like Feliz could fill the void without much of a drop in performance, if at all.

     Different teams have different philosophies. The big spenders have to win now, and their method of acquiring players or filling needs reflects that attitude. Rather than wait for prospects, teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies attack the free agent market with reckless abandon, while other teams like the Rays, Reds, and Rangers are more patient and fill their needs with players they drafted and nurtured. Both philosophies have a proven track record, as every team mentioned, save the Reds, though they may get there soon, has been to the World Series in the last five years, regardless of whether or not they got there with players they bought. Some teams choose to spend; others have to to maintain a steady fanbase and revenue source. Some teams choose to stick with their own players; others have to due to a lack of resources. The only question is, which do you prefer?

Images retrieved from: www.bleacherreport.com

Friday, May 4, 2012

Brain Drain: The Concussion Problem in the NFL

      February 17, 2011, April 19, 2012, May 2, 2012, are all dates that will live on forever. Why? They are all the dates of NFL player suicides. Dave Duerson, a safety for the infamous Chicago Bears defense of the 1980s commit suicide on February 17 of last year. Ray Easterling, also a safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers left us on April 19th, and yesterday, legendary linebacker Junior Seau died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest. All of them played in the NFL, all of them were reported to suffer concussions, but that was before anyone really knew what a concussion actually was or what the terrifying repercussions may be. Now, we know that a concussion occurs when the brain itself slams into the skull, often causing severe headaches and nausea. However, when concussions go unnoticed and continue to occur, life-threatening damage can result. Players, especially at high-impact positions like corner, running back, linebacker, defensive and offensive line, and wide receiver, have complained of bodily harm after retiring since the game's conception. Football is a violent game, as we all know. However, they didn't realize that their brains were slowly being destroyed. NFL players have higher rates of suicide--six times the national average to be specific--Alzheimers, and even depression. Some have lost complete bodily function, like Eric LeGrand, a defensive lineman who, in symbolic gesture, was signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After suffering a debilitating spinal chord injury, many doctors said he would be forced to live off a respirator and be paralyzed for the rest of his life. This is just the beginning of an issue that is just now coming to life. 

     Before one can fully understand the problem concussions actually are, it is necessary for a brief overview of what being concussed actually means. The simple definition mentioned above is sufficient for a non-football concussion. In the NFL, a defensive back like Duerson or Easterling can tackle a player with over 1,600lbs. of force, and a linebacker like Seau could hit even harder. Keep in mind a Smart Car weights 1,609lbs. These guys hit each other with the force of a small car, yet the NFL doesn't think concussions could cause dangerous side-effects. An insurance company pays better than the NFL. That's saying something. A concussion occurs much more often then players themselves think. Let's assume a 6'3, 250lb linebacker who runs a 4.6 forty yard dash hits a player with the force of 2,000lbs. The running back, like the linebacker, is running at full speed. A collision occurs. The both players go from full-speed to full-stop. Their helmets protect their skulls, but it only hurts their brains, as the brain continues moving even after the head stops, causing a concussion. The force necessary to cause a concussion gets progressively less as each one occurs, though the severity of the consequences increase exponentially. The linebacker walks off the field for a few plays, while the running back only feels dazed and gets back in the huddle. The running back knows his time in the league will most likely end by his thirtieth birthday, and he needs to support his family. He has to go back in the game, thus he puts his career, and his life on the line. There's clearly a problem, and only recently has the NFL decided to make a change for the better.

     Dave Duerson was a safety and defensive back for the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants. He was an All-American at Notre Dame, and a Super Bowl champion with the Bears. He had the record for most sacks by a defensive back with seven until it was broken by the Cardinals' Adrian Wilson. As a pass-rusher along with being a defensive enforcer in the secondary, he supposedly had multiple concussions in his career, though they were, at the time, considered "getting your bell rung" and nothing more. At the time, a player would have his teammates help him up and stagger back to the huddle. Duerson was one of those players. He loved the game. He was a warrior. He got back into the huddle...a lot. After retiring in 1993, his condition quickly deteriorated. According to his son and ex-wife, he had trouble spelling words, suffered from Alzheimers, dementia, and had a terrible short-term memory. In the years leading up to his death, he was accused of many "spur of the moment" crimes, such as battery or domestic abuse, most likely because he could no longer make decisions without seriously contemplating his options for a substantial amout of time. One doctor who analyzed his brain was surprised Duerson was even capable of WALKING. In his final act, he shot himself in the chest to save his brain and left the note shown above. He knew something was wrong, and he decided to make a change for the better by donating his brain to science. Duerson's brain was shown to have a protein deficiency known as CTE caused by significant, and most importantly repeated, brain trauma. His brain was literally being destroyed bit by bit. His family has received nothing. All because the NFL refused to acknowledge football played a factor.

     Ray Easterling, also a safety, was a player for the Atlanta Falcons. A defensive captain, he was a key player for a team that had arguably the best defensive season of all time. With a tough defense, players get competitive. There's nothing worse for a man's brain than to put him in front of millions of people and surround him with twenty-one other testosterone-fueled men. He tries to get the knockout, the highlight hit, the devastating tackle that knocks out the star offensive player. That's exactly what happened with the Falcons. After retiring, his body was destroyed. He had over twenty orthopedic surgeries, and was, like Duerson, was diagnosed with dementia. In an interview with Fox Sports Network, his wife Mary Ann, said:

“He had been feeling more and more pain. He felt like his brain was falling off. He was losing control. He couldn’t remember things from five minutes ago. It was frightening, especially somebody who had all the plays memorized as a player when he stepped on the field.”

     Easterling commit suicide, like Duerson, by shooting himself in the chest to preserve his brain for study. His brain was also found to contain tau, a key sign for the existence of CTE. Easterling, like Duerson, was a part of a lawsuit suing the NFL over, according to Easterling's lawyer:

"Continuously and vehemently denied that it knew, should have known or believed that there is any relationship between NFL players suffering concussions while playing . . . and long-term problems such as headaches, dizziness, dementia and/or Alzheimer's disease that many retired players have experienced."

     Junior Seau was a Hall of Fame linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins, and New England Patriots. He hit with a ferocity only seen in gladiatorial death matches. He was a warrior. He never went on the disabled list for a concussion, though, according to his ex-wife, he suffered many of the symptoms. He was depressed, hard to believe for such an upbeat man, and had the symptoms of CTE that afflicted Duerson and Easterling. He was accused of battery, a sign of a heightened sense of aggression that has been linked to brain damage and a possible lack of decision making ability.  He too shot himself in the chest to save his brain for testing. It doesn't do Seau justice to simply say he played with the joy of a boy but the intensity and heart of a man, it doesn't do him justice to write a few paragraphs, let alone a few sentences. It doesn't do Junior Seau justice to leave his family unpaid for something football caused.

     Only recently has the National Football League taken a stand against concussions and overly violent play. Commissioner Roger Goodell has become one of, if not the most, controversial commissioners in all of professional sports. He made it clear in late 2010 that concussions were a problem and harsh penalties would be brought upon those who refused to follow the new, safer rules. Some have lauded this stance, while others claim this is just the beginning of a gradual shift to the NFFL, the National Flag-Football League, where nobody can tackle anyone. They fear the "Glory Days" in which the Bears could literally break the backs of their opponents and the Purple People Eaters could probably get away with actually eating their offensive victims. These people fail to realize the days of vicious defense and ruthless hits are over. The very hits we used to celebrate are now the same hits we fear may contribute to an terrible, life-threatening injury and eventually a violence-filled life after football riddled with bouts of depression, dementia, and possibly suicide. A change has to be made. Now.

Images Retrieved From: www.wallsnimages.blogspot.com, www.buscoscience.wikispaces.com, www.nytimes.com, www.tributes.com, and www.boltsfromtheblue.com

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stoopidity: The Redskins

     As evidenced by the title, this is yet another addition to the unending Stoopidity series. This time, however, it is perpetrator is NOT a member of the Miami Dolphins organization. Can you believe it? I sure can't! The organization committing the unforgivable crime this time is from the the......Washington Redskins. The Redskins made waves by trading up in the NFL Draft with the St. Louis Rams in order to draft Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick. That's all well and good, and I still think that RG3 may end up having the better career than the first overall pick and fellow quarterback Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts. Griffin, as of now, has the better supporting cast of the two, and Mike Shanahan has a history of developing legendary quarterbacks like Steve Young and Joe Montana. Again, that's not the problem.

     They did the unspeakable, the horrible, the most mindless and brainless thing any team can do besides trading for Tim Tebow. In short, they drafted a second quarterback...early. The unfortunate victims of this crime against the Church of Common Sense are the two quarterbacks drafted, the aforementioned Robert Griffin III, and the other guy, Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. Cousins was rated by many experts a second round pick, some even going as far as saying a team could pick him late in the first. He fell to the fourth round, as many of the teams needing a quarterback or at least wanting one, like the Dolphins, Browns, and Broncos (Peyton Manning is the ultimate tutor for his own successor) addressed the issue early. This is where the headscratching begins. Why would the Redskins even think of drafting another quarterback when they already locked up the position for the next five to ten years? To make matters worse, why would Mike Shanahan even think about drafting another signal caller, even if he was supposedly "too good to pass up," as Shanahan supposedly said. If Cousins was really that good, the Redskins could have traded the pick to an interested party and focus on getting some help for that God-forsaken defense! In the end, this only damages the careers of both players involved, for Griffin has to deal with the threat of a very talented backup, and if he so much as blows a few games we know the impatient home crowd will cry for Cousins, and Cousins, will waste away as a backup and occasional starter when he could be setting the league on fire. If this is some sick and twisted way to light a fire under the already driven and determined Griffin, it clearly has backfired.

     This move does absolutely nothing for the Washington Redskins. Nothing. The only thing they accomplished with their picking of Kirk Cousins was show that they lack the faith, and frankly the guts, to get behind the man charged with saving the franchise. There's clearly a problem with whoever is running the show in Washington. I mean, they threw $100,000,000 at Albert Haynseworth, so that in of itself tells you the front office brass isn't that smart to begin with. Now, we know they aren't even brave or faithful in their own decisions.

Image retrieved from: www.koehlerlaw.net