Spike Lee is wrong about Colin Kaepernick… for now

Over the weekend, Capital One spokesman, Reggie Miller antagonist, and filmmaker Spike Lee mused publicly about quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who remains unsigned in a busy NFL free agency period. “How Is It That There Are 32 NFL Teams And Kap Is Still A Free Agent?” Lee wrote in a creatively capitalized post-brunch Instagram post, poetically implying that Kaepernick is considered radioactive for his race and outspoken politics.

He might be right, but it’s too early to say. Right now, NFL teams fall into four broad tiers in terms of quarterbacks:

  1. Teams who have their quarterback for next year, and are content with that person.
  2. Teams that are pretty sure they have a quarterback for next year but have some doubts about injury or effectiveness. An example here might be the Bills, who are still feeling out what they have in Tyrod Taylor, or the Steelers, who are rightly concerned about the getting-up-there Ben Roethlisberger missing a few games.
  3. Teams with a nominal starter who would probably upgrade if they could.
  4. Teams with no clear plan at quarterback. There are really only two teams here, and ironically they are the two who made the biggest offseason trade of a quarterback so far: the Browns and the Texans.

Looking at these groupings, the market gets tough for Kaepernick. He’s only 29 and has a Super Bowl run under his belt; his struggles in the years since that run mean he isn’t a clear upgrade over most established or nominal starters. If you are an NFL general manager, looking for an extra arm to throw in camp or a capable backup, there will be plenty of options as training camp approaches. There’s no need to sign a guy like Kaepernick yet.

The only market for him now are teams looking for a high-upside fallback option who would definitely start the season on the bench. For that reason, it might be in Kaepernick’s better interests to wait. If the Houston Texans can’t get Tony Romo, or the Raiders find Derek Carr isn’t all the way back from injury, or the Vikings’ Sam Bradford gets hurt in minicamp, Kaepernick might find himself in a better situation than becoming the next Browns quarterback whose career gets sacked into oblivion.

On the other hand, as training camps get closer and rosters take shape, someone really ought to sign Kaepernick, baggage and all. If the season kicks off and finds Kaepernick in a Tim Tebow-esque purgatory, we might find that Lee was right all along.

This assumes, of course, that Kaepernick wants to sign. He might find it more amenable to his long term health to use his experience as a social commenter and provocateur to craft a career more in the mold of his pal Spike Lee.

Revisiting the Rooney rule

The NFL is looking to diversify its front offices, and turning to a play that has worked before:

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday that the league will institute a Rooney Rule for women when it comes to all NFL executive positions

“You can see that progress is being made and our commitment is, we have something called the Rooney Rule, which requires us to make sure when we have an opening that on the team or the league level that we are going to interview a diverse slate of candidates.

“Well, we’re going to make that commitment and we’re going to formalize that we, as a league, are going to do that for women as well in all of our executive positions. Again, we’re going to keep making progress here and make a difference.”

Uh… Did anyone catch that? Maybe a female commissioner would know how to form a coherent sentence.

Let’s try again: The league is implementing a version of its “Rooney Rule” for front office searches, mandating that women are included in searches. When implemented in 2003, the rule required teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching vacancies and eventually front office jobs.

Surely, teams have brought in “check-the-box” candidates they had no intention of hiring just to keep on the sunny side of the rule. There is no mandate to hire minority coaches, only to interview candidates.

Yet, the rule has clearly worked – teams have hired more minority coaches in the past 13 years than they had in the previous eight decades. There is unmistakable progress.

Two possible reasons for this stand out.

First is the opportunity for media buzz. Coaching searches aren’t conducted in secret; as soon as an NFL coach is fired, local and national media speculate about who might be next. The candidates who make their way to team headquarters for an interview are duly documented. This puts even the minority candidates’ names out there as potential head coaches. Even if a would-be coach doesn’t get a job during one offseason, he strengthens his candidacy for the future. Hiring a first-time head coach isn’t easy for most notoriously risk-averse NFL front offices, but that option becomes more palatable if the candidate has been discussed as a head coach prospect.

Second, the Rooney Rule interviews may be dog-and-pony shows to the team executives, but they don’t have to be for the candidates. Thanks to the Rooney Rule, a minority candidate has a chance to prepare and endure the interview process. Again, it might not help him get the first job he interviews for, but go through a practice run can only help in future years, when his candidacy may be more serious.

Teams won’t hire unqualified candidates, but rules like this can help qualified candidates prepare. The ten minority coaches who have been hired since the Rooney Rule’s inception weren’t hired because their teams were forced to interview them, but the rule might have given them valuable experience or put them on teams’ radar when coaching vacancies popped up.

If the NFL is serious about getting more women in its front offices, this is probably a good place to start.


Maybe all the teams should move to LA

The Rams are moving back to Los Angeles. The Chargers and Raiders want to move to L.A., too. Ron burgundy’s hometown could lose its football team, but might coax the ruffians from Oakland down to the southern end of the state. As the teams play musical chairs, local governments are trying to figure out what they’ll have to pony up for new stadiums.

Got all that? Me neither. Luckily, my old pal Vince Vasquez helps me figure it all out on this week’s Crummy Little Podcast.

Why the NFL loves Deflategate

ESPN’s Steven Wulf recounts a non-controversy Major League Baseball faced in the early 1990’s, when they tried to enforce regulations about glove sizes. Wulf points out that MLB handled the situation quietly and without fanfare, in contrast to how the NFL seemingly flubbed and fumbled their way through Deflategate. Had the NFL handled Tom Brady’s appeal better, he theorizes, we might not have been talking about it for the past couple of weeks.

But would the NFL really want a situation like that – where people aren’t talking about the league?

It may not have been the actual strategy, but things worked out pretty well for the NFL. Sports media spent the back half of July talking about the league. Fans had something to debate and discuss among themselves. And the controversy wasn’t initiade by someone smacking a woman or a kid.

For all their bluster, the Patriots come out of this pretty well, to. They’ll have a chance to rest their 38-year-old quarterback for a quarter of the season, but have him ready to go for the playoffs. They’ll also get an extended look at backup Jimmy Garappolo so they can figure out how talented he is and what kind of draft picks they’ll trade him for.

For the league that thrives on constant attention and chatter, what could be worse than handling a situation like this quietly?

In sports, gambling is worse than steroids

ESPN was been all over sports gambling stories in June, weren’t they? This week it’s Phil Mickelson, last week it was proof that Pete Rose bet while he was a player.

Gambling has been a third rail activity for athletes since the Black Sox scandal, and yet it has shaped sports more than almost anything other than television. Fantasy Football has boosted the NFL, and just about everyone fills out a bracket when March Madness rolls around each year. For those with short attention spans, there are one-day fantasy sports gambling sites which promise the thrill of the wager without a season-long commitment.

Yet the players who become involved with gambling – Rose, the Black Sox, Paul Hornung and “George” from TV show Websterthe 1978-79 Boston College basketball players – meet with more disgrace than if they had committed any other sin against the integrity of the game. Gamblers Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson are banned by rule from Baseball’s Hall of Fame; PED users Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro weren’t elected but at least appeared on the ballot.

The fact that gambling is so interwoven into watching and enjoying sports is exactly why we don’t put up with it from athletes themselves. After all, if the players’ motivations aren’t purely focused on winning, how hard would it be to put down money on their chances?

We can’t have some schmuck messing up our Fantasy Teams just because the mob is threatening to break his thumbs.

Obamacare and the NFL

News broke yesterday that the Department of Health and Human Services hopes to enlist the NFL as a partner in expanding enrollment in health insurance plans through state exchanges.

There’s probably no better, more apt partner for Obamacare than the NFL, a league which is certainly familiar with health care:

Will Obamacare offer a system that will take care of you the way the NFL takes care of its players?  Kathleen Sebelius might want to re-think the optics of that partnership.