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The revolution will understand sexism: On Bernie, Hillary and the conversations on my timeline

By Aaron Leibowitz

usa-election-democrats     Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

(Note: This blog is about sports and politics. This particular post is not about sports at all.)

Bernie Sanders is talking about a revolution. He’s a self-proclaimed socialist advocating for redistribution of wealth, tuition-free college and breaking up the big banks. You’ve all heard the talking points.

I will be voting for Sanders because I think he’s the candidate most likely to push for serious structural change. I think he’s in a better position than Hillary Clinton to do so because of where his money, and her money, respectively, comes from.

But I’m not writing this to engage in a Bernie vs. Hillary debate. I’m writing this because the presidential election has sparked a discussion among my generation – millennials – about the best way forward. And if we’re serious about having this discussion – serious about systemic change – then we need to not only take a hard look at the platforms of the candidates before us, but also consider what we want that change to look like, sound like and feel like.

More to the point: If we want to have a legitimate conversation about a revolution, then we need to confront the sexism tainting the ongoing presidential race.

Sexism manifests itself in a million different concrete, measurable ways. On the macro level, it’s denial of reproductive health care; the wage gap; domestic abuse; disproportionate responsibility for unpaid childcare and household work; and so on.

But it also manifests itself at the micro level in ways that are more difficult to prove with hard numbers. Because of the power dynamics of patriarchy, men are more likely to feel comfortable speaking condescendingly toward and about women; more likely to view them as untrustworthy; and more likely to judge their displays of emotion and empathy as signs of weakness or irrationality.

Which brings us to Bernie and Hillary.

I recently saw a male friend who supports Sanders post the following about Hillary on Facebook:

“More and more people will come to their senses about what a snake that woman is.”

Another male friend who supports Sanders posed a question on Twitter:

“How come it’s sexist to hate Hillary Clinton even though she’d make a piss-poor, terrible, awful, lying, deceitful president?”

It’s not, in a vacuum, sexist to believe Clinton is misguided, or a liar, or a bad leader. Personally, I see her as someone who would more or less continue along the same political path as Obama. I think the path Sanders proposes is better, so I’m voting for him.

But while Clinton is perfectly deserving of critique, the intensity and nature of the vitriol being slung her way – in many cases by male supporters of Sanders – is absolutely attributable to sexism. Instead of simply accusing women who point this out of playing the “gender card,” stopping and listening and sincerely trying to understand the double standards that exist would go a long way.

I see little acknowledgement from most male Sanders supporters of the fact that, a) Clinton has accomplished seemingly impossible things for a woman within the U.S. political system; and b) she could not have gotten to this point – becoming a legitimately electable presidential candidate – without “playing the game” by taking corporate money and being hawkish in her foreign policy approach.

None of these, I believe, are reasons to vote for her. But it’s sure as hell worth examining, as individuals, whether we’re bringing the same harsh tone and intense lack of trust to our critiques of male politicians – particularly those with comparable platforms to Clinton’s and plenty of flaws of their own.

An honest reflection should make it clear that, on the whole, we’re not.

No, it’s not inherently sexist to disagree with Hillary’s policies, or even to hate them. But problems arise when self-proclaimed “radical” men, claiming to want revolutionary change, look at Hillary’s policies, look at Bernie’s policies, decide they like Bernie better, and ask no further questions about how we got here.

Problems arise when we support a candidate calling for a revolution, but fail to ask whether it’s more than mere coincidence that the only self-proclaimed socialist who has managed to gain mainstream appeal is a straight white male.

Problems arise when we fail to ask whether a revolution led by a straight white male, and bolstered, in large part, by straight white male supporters with a nasty tendency to paint his female opponent like she’s the devil incarnate and to speak condescendingly to her supporters, is truly the type of revolution we want.

It’s worth asking, in our conversations over the next nine months, whether a political revolution whose crusaders are unprepared to recognize and confront sexism is even a revolution at all.

(Sources of wisdom for this piece include: http://www.pajiba.com/politics/an-allcaps-explosion-of-feelings-regarding-the-liberal-backlash-against-hillary-clinton.php; Rae; and Molly.)

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Can sports still help us heal?

By Aaron Leibowitz1--gUfsNCv5pXzO5yfCC64vA(AP)

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron via SI.com: https://thecauldron.si.com/can-sports-still-help-us-heal-4cc8af5df026#.ftobtlwhx)

A week ago Sunday, NFL stadiums around the country observed a moment of silence before kickoff to honor the 129 victims of the Paris terrorism attacks, the deadliest incidents in France since World War II. During that moment at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, one fan decided to howl, “Muslims suck!”

The words shattered the silence like a stone through glass, plain for 80,000 people in the stadium to hear, and clearly captured for those at home. It was a shameful moment, and not one we should easily choose to dismiss as mindless drunk-football-fan drivel.

In a harrowing way, it was perfect, as suspicion and open hatred directed at Muslims is this nation’s current elephant in the room. It’s the feeling fueling the actions of more than half of the nation’s governors, who refuse to welcome Syrian refugees. It’s the attitude that is triggering the vandalizationof mosques across the country. It’s the twisted logic that leads news anchorsto press a Muslim civil rights activist to accept responsibility for the Paris attacks — which is analogous to plucking a Christian-American off the street and asking him to accept responsibility for the behavior of the Ku Klux Klan.

That growing public sentiment is why it was so significant for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — the league’s reigning MVP — to call out that misguided fan, unprompted, after the game.

“I must admit that I was very disappointed with whoever the fan was who made a comment that I thought was really inappropriate during the moment of silence,” Rodgers said. “It’s that kind of prejudicial ideology that, I think, puts us in the position that we’re in today as a world.”

We’ve heard the phrase “sports help us heal” so many times that it has almost become cliché. Baseball helped New York heal after 9/11. Football helped New Orleans heal after Hurricane Katrina. Soccer will help Parisheal.

Sports are a distraction, a marker of normalcy, a space to come together and, in a terrifying world, remind ourselves we’re not alone. When sporting venues become targets, as was the case in Paris, the mere act of gathering inside one can symbolize the refusal to be ruled by fear and hate.

But if fans believe they can go unchecked when they denigrate a religion of 1.6 billion people inside a stadium of 80,000, then is that stadium really a place for healing? Would a Muslim-American have felt safe — or even beensafe — that day at Lambeau Field?

For sports to help us heal in a way that truly brings people together, the spaces that the games inhabit need to be welcoming and supportive for everyone. That includes the majority of Packers fans (who, based on Wisconsin’s demographics, are mostly white and Christian). It also includes servicemen and women, veterans, police officers and firefighters. Sports teams do a fine job of serving both of those constituencies. But the atmosphere should also be supportive for marginalized groups, those who we’ve been taught deserve our scorn before our compassion, those who many of us scapegoat when we become angry and scared.

Ryan Tannehill greets members of the military before the Cowboys-Dolphins game on Sunday. (AP)

 

The problem is, leagues and teams shudder at the thought of supporting just about anything that could be seen as challenging the status quo. Neither the Packers nor the NFL released a statement in response to the fan’s anti-Muslim comment, even though millions of fans heard it at home, as evidenced by a video uploaded to YouTube by the league’s official account. Reaction was similarly nonexistant last year regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, even as athletes across sports wore supportive t-shirts and did “hands up, don’t shoot” gestures in solidarity.

Teams and leagues don’t respond because the status quo is built into what they’re selling. The military, we now know, has paid the NFL (and MLB, the NBA, NHL and MLS) for propaganda spots. But even beyond that, the military is part and parcel of the NFL’s brand. Anything but total support for its actions and, by extension, the actions of the United States, would undercut both a major sponsor and the league’s core values.

The result is that the sports-industrial complex allows for certain types of healing — they often involve military flyovers and chants of “U-S-A!” — but offers little in the way of imagining new paths forward. In this case, sports will not leave much room for an approach that leads us away from war and toward the apparently radical notion that “Muslims” are not the enemy. Athletes like Rodgers might take a stand; the sports establishment will not.


I often think about the role that baseball played in New York after 9/11. As a Mets fan, Mike Piazza’s go-ahead home run in the first game after the attacks stands out. And then there was President George W. Bush’s ceremonial first pitch at the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

I still get chills watching this. As a kid in New York at the time, I was upset and scared out of my goddamn mind. Watching the president throw a perfect strike (while wearing a bulletproof vest) was, somehow, comforting.

But Bush saw the pitch as much more than an act of healing. He saw it as an act of aggression. In fact, he viewed the pitch much like he viewed the ensuing invasion of Iraq: as a giant “eff you” to the planet’s Axis of Evil.

“I probably knew, instinctively, that a bounce would kind of reduce the defiance — the act of defiance toward the enemy,” Bush told Grantland’s Louisa Thomas earlier this year. Whether Americans knew it or not, the pitch was designed to drum up support for war.

It’s at these moments, when we’re at our angriest and most vulnerable, that earnest attempts to commemorate and heal can be exploited to promote the exact things we should be fighting against. Fourteen years later, the decisions made in the wake of a tragedy — decisions driven more by wrath and dread than by love and logic — continue to haunt us. “Muslims suck” isn’t just a stupid thing to say; it’s a reckless foreign policy approach, one that has only served to fan the flames of the problem at hand.

In the tensest of times, we’ve been taught to use sports as a way to clear our heads and get back to our regular routines. That method might work just fine if the world stopped turning while we were trying to heal. Instead, the world spins faster, fear and hate spread like wildfire, and the games that are supposed to bring us solace can lead us further down a dangerous path.

Thabo Sefolosha’s pursuit of justice is opening doors for other athletes

By Aaron Leibowitz

AP

AP

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron via SI.com:   http://www.si.com/thecauldron/2015/10/29/thabo-sefolosha-atlanta-hawks-nypd-arrest-lawsuit)

Right now, there is no athlete more powerful than Thabo Sefolosha.

The Atlanta Hawks wing appeared in an NBA game on Wednesday for the first time in more than six months, having recovered from a broken leg he sustained in an altercation with New York police officers that forced him to miss the playoffs last season. Sefolosha played 19 minutes and tallied two points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals in a 106–94 loss to Detroit.

But it’s  in the courtroom  where Sefolosha is making waves that are starting to ripple across the sports world. On Oct. 9, a Manhattan jury deliberated for an hour and deemed Sefolosha not guilty of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and misdemeanor obstruction of a government administration.

A video of the incident shows officers grabbing Sefolosha and pulling him to the ground outside a New York nightclub on April 8. Police accused him of refusing to leave the area where fellow NBA player Chris Copeland had been stabbed. Sefolosha countered that he was singled out by an officer, then taken down and arrested as he attempted to hand money to a homeless person. He and his lawyers called it a classic case of racial profiling. On Monday, the Swiss-born star told ESPN he will file a $50 million civil suit against the city of New York, the NYPD and the officers involved.

“There’s a lot of unknown about how this will affect me two years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now,” Sefolosha told ESPN’s Hannah Storm. “I think it’s the right approach to put lights [on] a situation like this and be able to fight back in a legal way and in a way that can empower, hopefully, more people.”

That last phrase is what makes Sefolosha’s case unique and potentially momentous: He is putting his own reputation on the line in an attempt to shed light on racial profiling and police violence and to encourage others to do the same. Last month, Sefolosha was offered a quite friendly plea bargain — one day of community service and six months staying out of trouble in exchange for all charges being dropped — and he rejected it. Sefolosha didn’t just want a clean record—he also wanted justice.

Sefolosha’s bold approach is helping to foster a climate in which athletes feel more comfortable speaking up. Retired tennis star James Blake went to the press last month about an incident in which a plainclothes NYPD officer approached him outside a hotel, pulled him to the ground and handcuffed him in a case of mistaken identity. The officer was transferred to desk duty, and Blake, who is black, received apologies from police commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

(NYC police union president Patrick Lynch was not so apologetic, calling the public’s criticism of the officer “un-American.”)

But Blake, like Sefolosha, is still determined to press the issue.

“There are so many stories like mine — but most people don’t have the platform I have,” Blake wrote in a piece published Tuesday at the Players’ Tribune. “However long it takes, I’m sticking with it. I owe it to anyone else who has gone through this.”

Blake said his case got attention for two reasons: first, because people know his name, and second, because the incident was captured on video.

“In New York City each year, there are more than 4,000 reported cases of excessive force involving a police officer and a citizen,” he wrote. “Of these, how many are invited to City Hall to discuss it?”

But Blake is being too modest. The truth is, his case would have also gone unnoticed had he not made the brave decision to talk. It will likely continue to receive attention for as long as he pursues it.

And then there’s the story of Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson, who took to social media last week to explain an incident of alleged racial profiling at a jewelry store in Whitefish Bay, Wis. Henson went to the store to buy his first Rolex. The doors were locked. After he rang the doorbell, police showed up.

In the dispatch audio, an employee can be heard saying the store had received some “suspicious phone calls” about what time they were closing, and that the callers “just didn’t sound like they were legitimate customers.” The store owner has since claimed that it was not a case of racial profiling, noting that the employee thought Henson might be a “suspect” who had come to the store several days earlier with stolen plates.But that phrase — “they just didn’t sound like they were legitimate customers” — sure sounds like the epitome of racial coding. Henson, like Sefolosha and Blake, spoke up.

“This was one of the the most degrading and racially prejudice (sic) things I’ve ever experienced in life and wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” the 24-year-old Henson wrote in a since-deleted Instagram post. “This store needs to be called out and that’s what I’m doing. You have no right to profile someone because of their race and nationality and this incident needs to be brought to light.”

Of course, Sefolosha alone is not responsible for the recent string of athletes talking about their experiences of discrimination (a string that also includes former major leaguer Doug Glanville, who has written multiple times about being racially profiled and even pushed for a new state law in Connecticut). Sefolosha’s case comes at a time when double standards in policing are being discussed and examined like never before, due in large part to the Black Lives Matter activist movement. Recently, in the wake of an extensive New York Times study that found racial disparities in North Carolina traffic stops, President Barack Obama said even he has been pulled over for no apparent reason.

On the one hand, racial profiling is not a new part of the experience of black athletes. There have been a handful of high-profile cases, like that of former Texans running back Ryan Moats in 2009. And some outlets have attempted to document it, as USA Today did in 2013, discovering that black NFL players were arrested nearly 10 times as often as white ones.

But Sefolosha’s case is unique to 2015. There’s video of the incident. He is holding the police accountable. He’s using the media to amplify his voice. And it’s less than a year removed from what felt like a bona fide political awakening among athletes, especially in the NBA, where the league’s biggest stars — LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony — all expressed support for those protesting police brutality.

Sefolosha’s case perhaps represents a logical next step. By wearing “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts, athletes seemed to say, “It could have been me.” By telling their personal stories, athletes are saying, “It is me.”

What these stories tell us is that racism doesn’t discriminate along economic lines — that athletes, six-figure salaries and all, don’t live in a bubble, and that having the “wrong” skin tone in the “wrong” place can be enough to spark suspicion. James Blake was leaning against a pole outside a fancy hotel, scrolling through his phone. Doug Glanville was shoveling snow in his own driveway. John Henson was trying to buy a watch. And Thabo Sefolosha was standing outside a nightclub.

“In the midst of everything that’s going on in the last two years on the TV — police this, police that — I couldn’t believe something like this had happened to me,” Sefolosha said Thursday in a piece for GQ.

But now he realizes: “It was an act of police brutality, and I believe it could happen to anyone.”

Professional athletes, rich and poor, are criminally underpaid

By Aaron Leibowitz

AP

AP

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron via SI.com: http://www.si.com/cauldron/2015/09/18/minor-league-lawsuit-mlb-player-wages-antitrust)

Minor-league baseball players will remain left to bide their off-seasons scraping together a living. That much is clear after a federal judge dismissed a class action antitrust lawsuit against Major League Baseball on Monday in a San Francisco district court.

But the judge, Haywood S. Gilliam, Jr. didn’t say the suit brought forth by four former minor leaguers—Sergio Miranda, Jeff Dominguez, Jorge Padilla and Cirilo Cruz—had no merit. In fact, he suggested the opposite.

Gilliam’s decision reads:

“In short, Plaintiffs have a persuasive policy argument that the Defendants should not be afforded carte blanche to restrict the pay and mobility of minor league players without answering to the federal antitrust laws that apply to the employment of major league baseball players and, for that matter, all other professional sports leagues. But that policy argument must be made to Congress or the Supreme Court.

In other words, while the judge agreed that MLB may in fact be in violation of antitrust laws, there’s very little a mere district judge can do about it. So until the issue is broached at the federal level, the league’s stranglehold over the game will continue unabated.

The ex-players in the Miranda v. MLB case—and in a separate, ongoing case,Senne et al v. MLB et al—have disputed the merits of several minor league payment practices. First, they claim players are being underpaid on an hourly scale (while the average minor leaguer makes between $11,000 and $15,000 per season, they can make as little as $3,000 to $7,500). Additionally, players are not entitled to overtime, despite routinely logging 50-plus-hour weeks and fulfilling a slew of offseason obligations.

In case you were wondering, the federal poverty line is $11,770.

The players in Miranda also argued that their pay was deflated by virtue of what’s known as the “Uniform Player Contract.” From being chosen through the draft and receiving signing bonuses limited by league allotments to being subject to a “reserve clause” that gives signing teams exclusive rights to players for seven years, minor leaguers are beholden to a particularly cynical system. To top it all off, players who don’t make the 40-man roster do not receive union representation.

So how does MLB get away with it? To make a long story short, the league won a court case that has yet to be overturned—in 1922.

In Federal Baseball Club v. National League, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sherman Antitrust Act doesn’t apply to baseball. In particular, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes argued that baseball shouldn’t qualify as interstate commerce.

Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk sums it up thusly:

“[Its] original imposition was based on both a factual and legal fiction of baseball teams being little self-contained storefronts, operating independently from one another in far flung, isolated towns. In reality, it’s a nearly $10 billion business using the federally-regulated airwaves to realize most of their income and using almost exclusively government-funded facilities to generate the rest.”

To put it bluntly, the league’s antitrust exemption is one rooted in myth—just like the NFL’s longtime tax-exempt status, or the NCAA’s Orwellian “student-athlete” doublespeak.

The common thread binding all these myths together is the notion that, because these organizations traffic in sports (activities of “leisure”), the labor provided by their employees is inherently inferior. As such, the thinking goes, if athletes were permitted to operate in a genuinely free market, it would taint or otherwise compromise a certain special something—the love of the game; the honor of competition; the fan experience.

Like MLB, Mark Emmert's NCAA has benefited from some curious legal designations.

Like MLB, Mark Emmert’s NCAA has benefited from some curious legal designations.

The rationalization is a clever one: Who among us wouldn’t, after all, trade our desk job writing hot takes about sports for a chance to play professional baseball? Wouldn’t you be willing to do it for free? Of course you would!

And so would I! But if you wish to be paid what you’re worth, regardless of the job, then it’s in your best interest to want all workers to be paid what they’re worth—free of restrictions and antitrust exemption. If professional sports leagues were forced to follow labor laws, it would only make it easier to argue that all businesses should.

Michele Roberts, who last year was elected the first female Director of the NBA Player Association—and first in any major North American sports league—has called for the deregulation of athlete pay more defiantly than anyone since the days of Curt Flood and Marvin Miller.

In November, Roberts had this to say about the NBA salary cap:

“I don’t know of any space other than the world of sports where there’s this notion that we will artificially deflate what someone’s able to make, just because. It’s incredibly un-American. My DNA is offended by it.”

…and this to say about the prospect of a new NBA draft-age requirement:

“It doesn’t make sense to me that you’re suddenly eligible and ready to make money when you’re 20, but not when you’re 19, not when you’re 18 … There is no other profession that says that you’re old enough to die but not old enough to work.”

NBAPA director Michele Roberts (l) has been a vociferous proponent of uncapping athlete pay.

NBAPA director Michele Roberts (l) has been a vociferous proponent of uncapping athlete pay.

You’ve read the arguments. You’ve seen the historical context. Now comes the modest proposal: a moratorium on any and all suggestions—legal or otherwise—that athletes should make less than what the market says they’re worth.

Should the global economic system collapse and a new society arise in which money isn’t a factor and sports are only played for fun, we might reasonably attempt to keep money out of sports entirely. But if we admit we’re still attempting to fine-tune this whole capitalism thing—and we are, whether we like it or not—then let’s agree to have those same rules govern sports as well.

As for minor leaguers finally getting the chance to earn a living wage, all is not yet lost. Miranda v. MLB could be appealed to an appellate court (although, as Nathaniel Grow at FanGraphs explains, winning that appeal would be a long shot).

There are two other in-limbo cases that broach the issues of player compensation and MLB’s antitrust exemption: San Jose v. MLB and the aforementioned Senne et al v. MLB et al. The former addresses the antitrust matter directly, with San Jose suing MLB in 2013, citing the league’s failure to approve the relocation of the Oakland A’s violated antitrust law. The district court dismissed the suit and the appellate court upheld that decision, but the Supreme Court is expected to decide soon whether to hear another appeal.

The latter, meanwhile, addresses the pay scale for minor leaguers without touching the antitrust exemption—which, as often happens with half measures, could spell its doom.

Asked whether minimum wage and overtime provisions should apply to minor leaguers, an MLB spokesman recently told the New Yorker:

“It is both impractical and nonsensical to require baseball players to maintain time sheets, and to submit requests for overtime when they desire to take extra batting practice or their game goes into extra innings.”

For now, this is the law of the land. And until the players themselves—aided by the right mix of labor advocacy groups and free-market evangelists—can spark some kind of critical mass, it may well remain that way for another near-century.

Tom Brady should answer questions about his support of Donald Trump

By Aaron Leibowitz

cauldron_bradyAP

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron via SI.com:  http://www.si.com/cauldron/2015/09/25/tom-brady-patriots-donald-trump-president-hat)

Through all the twists and turns of the Deflategate saga, the legal bickering and in-depth air pressure analyses, the story remained compelling for one reason: It put the reputation of New England Patriots quarterback and four-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady on trial. It led pundits to ask if the National Football League’s Golden Boy was a winner — or a cheater.

Those debates were oversimplified at best, and downright silly at worst, but one defense of No. 12 seemed to color every conversation: Touchdown Tom was a “Man of Character.”

“[Brady] is the face of our league, who has always carried himself with class and integrity and has been an incredible ambassador for our game,” former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner wrote in Sporting News. Ex-Patriots QB Drew Bledsoe called Brady a “guy of great character” on CNN.

“He strikes me as very solid, humble, and extremely driven,” said Mark Leibovich, who wrote a cover story on Brady for the New York Times Magazine. One Boston-area columnist accused NFL commissioner Roger Goodell of a “disgusting character assassination” of Brady.

Now, of course, Brady is free. He took on the almighty NFL and won. His suspension was lifted. The Patriots are 2–0 to start the season.

Whether or not you think he deflated footballs, Brady left the league and its commissioner weakened, making their abuse of power and shoddy labor practices plain for all to see. For many, that was reason enough to cheer the four-time Super Bowl winning QB. Brady’s reputation, though damaged, was on the mend.

Then Brady expressed support for presidential candidate Donald Trump.

It started on Sept. 8, when one of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” trucker hats was spotted in Brady’s locker. Brady explained that Trump had given the hat to Patriots owner Robert Kraft to pass along to the quarterback. Trump, Brady said, “always gives me a call and different types of motivational speeches at different times.” He said their friendship dates back to 2002, adding that “it’s pretty amazing what he’s been able to accomplish. He obviously appeals to a lot of people, and he’s a hell of a lot of fun to play golf with.”

Then, on Sept. 16, Brady was asked if Trump has a shot at becoming president. “I hope so,”​ Brady said. “That would be great. There’d be a putting green on the White House lawn. I’m sure of that.”

(There’s already a putting green on the White House lawn.)

On the one hand, Brady did not say, point blank, that he is voting for Trump, nor did he say he endorses Trump’s policies. But he had two chances to distance himself from the nation’s most polarizing figure of the moment. He chose not to.“That would be great” is as close to an official endorsement as you can get.

Brady’s words carry weight. He is one of the most recognizable figures in the country. An entire subsection of New England, young and old, worships him. While he has every right to be friends with Trump, endorsing him for president means endorsing — or at least not condemning — what Trump stands for. Slapping a golf joke on the end doesn’t change that.

Of course, athletes endorsing political candidates is nothing new. In 2012, Barack Obama’s supporters included LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Derek Jeter and Cristiano Ronaldo. Brett Favre once made a video supporting Mississippi senator Thad Cochran. Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling touted Scott Brown for senate. Then-Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy endorsed Brad Koplinski for Pennsylvania Lt. Governor.

By using their fame to take political stands, athletes open themselves up to scrutiny. That takes courage. But once you express support for a candidate — whether you’re a public figure or not — you need to be prepared to explain yourself.

Perhaps Brady would be perfectly willing to discuss Trump’s views, and has yet to be asked. So far, though, his praise of the candidate has been surface-level and said with a chuckle. Brady may not want to go any deeper than that, but he should; the implications of Trump as president of the United States are serious. An incident last month in the heart of Pats Nation should make that abundantly clear.

On Aug. 19 in South Boston, two brothers allegedly assaulted a 58-year-old homeless man. Police said the brothers targeted the man because he is Hispanic. One of the brothers, Scott Leader, said he was inspired by Trump. “Donald Trump was right,” Leader reportedly told police after being arrested. “All these illegals need to be deported.”

Trump, told of the incident, first said that “it would be a shame.” Then he added: “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”

In his campaign kickoff speech in June, Trump said that the people “Mexico sends” to the United States are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

I don’t know Tom Brady. From what I can glean, he seems like an incredibly hard worker and a fitness freak. He seems like a fierce competitor who cares quite a lot about winning. He seems like he has a decent sense of humor.

But by aligning with Trump, the candidate, he is by default aligning himself with Trump, the xenophobe; Trump, the Islamophobe; and Trump, the misogynist. If Brady takes issue with those aspects of the man, he should say something. Otherwise, the implication is, on some level, that he condones such views. And that would stand in direct conflict with Brady’s (supposed) character.

The greatest stain on Michael Jordan’s legacy has nothing to do with his performance as an athlete. In 1992, Jordan was asked to support the North Carolina senate campaign of democrat Harvey Gantt, a former Charlotte mayor who was taking on republican Sen. Jesse Helms — a “much despised race-baiter,” as ESPN.com’s LZ Granderson described him. Jordan declined, reportedly telling a friend: “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”

That’s the best-known Jordan quote of all time.

“[F]or many,” Granderson wrote in 2012, “‘Republicans buy sneakers too’ defines Jordan outside of basketball almost as much as hitting clutch shots and hoisting trophies define who he was within it.”

Jordan later changed his tune when pressed on his infamous quote —donating to Barack Obama’s senate campaign in 2004 and  expressing public support for him as a president — but MJ will forever be remembered off the court for his initial decision not to take a stand.

Tom Brady does not possess Michael Jordan’s level of societal influence — except maybe in New England — but he is one of the greatest athletes of his generation. When he talks, people listen. There’s still plenty of time for Brady to distance himself from the ugly side of Trump, but continuing to embrace the candidate, free of qualifiers or disclaimers, should be concerning to those who defend the quarterback’s legacy.

O’Bannon ruling allows ‘amateurism’ argument to continue—for now

By Aaron Leibowitz

How much longer can Mark Emmert and the NCAA dodge the legal bullets?

Photo: AP

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron via SI.com: http://www.si.com/cauldron/2015/10/01/ed-obannon-ncaa-lawsuit-appeal-decision)

In considering whether to pronounce NCAA amateurism dead as we know it, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — tasked with hearing the O’Bannon vs. NCAA federal antitrust case — needed to weigh in on one question above all: If the athletes were paid, would that stop people from watching college sports?

On Wednesday, the NCAA got the ruling they wanted. Sort of.

The decision, which partially upheld a 2014 ruling by District Judge Claudia Wilken, was made after a three-judge panel heard testimony from sports management expert Daniel Rascher. Rascher argued that, despite opinion surveys several decades ago that showed opposition to allowing professional athletes to compete in the Olympics, the public kept watching the Games at the same rate.

The court wasn’t buying that comparison. “The Olympics,” the majority decision reads, “have not been nearly as transformed by the introduction of professionalism as college sports would be.”

How the judges can claim to know this — an extreme hypothetical if ever there was one — is anyone’s guess. In 1960, a member of the International Olympic Committee told Sports Illustrated that, without amateurism, the Olympics would “be destroyed within eight years.” In reality, the Olympic transition away from amateurism was as seamless as anyone could’ve reasonably hoped for.

But that type of fear-mongering — speculative, cynical, based on nothing more than mere conjecture — is precisely what the NCAA is continuing to bank on.

In an effort to demonstrate that paying college athletes would cause an immediate cultural apocalypse, the NCAA presented a survey asking fans whether they’d be more or less likely to watch college sports if athletes received pay above certain thresholds. The conclusion: “38 percent of respondents are less likely to watch or attend games if athletes are paid $20,000; 47 percent if athletes are paid $50,000; and 53 percent if athletes are paid $200,000.”

Of course, the question could have easily been framed much differently. After all, the NCAA wasn’t asking whether college athletes should be compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses (NILs), the issue at the heart of the O’Bannon case. And the survey didn’t bother to offer any nuance as to how athletes could be paid — say by simply shifting money away from coaches’ salaries and athletic department spending, at no cost to consumers.

Curiously, the plaintiffs opted not to counter the NCAA’s study with one of their own, a decision which, according to several antitrust experts, may have been their undoing.

“The fundamental error was that they failed to produce a rebuttal study,” said Marc Edelman, an associate professor of law at Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business. “Had such a study been produced, it would have been a lot more difficult for the Ninth Circuit to curtail the [district] court’s ruling.”

Which brings us to the specifics of the ruling itself. In its ruling, the court confirmed the part of Judge Wilken’s decision which states the NCAA must be subject to scrutiny under the Sherman Antitrust Act’s Rule of Reason — that by restricting athlete compensation up to the full cost of attendance, the NCAA is in violation of antitrust law.

“The statement that the NCAA is not the arbiter of amateurism is critical to this case, and that is where the student-athlete plaintiffs can claim victory,” said Thomas Baker, an associate professor of sport law in the sport management program at the University of Georgia. “Until today, 40-plus years of case law stated that we will not even apply antitrust law to regulations involving student-athletes.”

At the same time, the court reversed Judge Wilken’s ruling that college athletes could receive up to $5,000 per year in deferred payments for the use of NILs. Essentially, the court drew a very distinct line in the sand: Payment for athletes up to the full cost of attendance would not be anti-competitive; anything more, however, would sully the sanctity of amateurism.

The decision reads: “[I]n finding that paying students cash compensation would promote amateurism as effectively as not paying them, the district court ignored that not paying student-athletes is precisely what makes them amateurs.”

The catch-22 is as glaring as it is curious: Amateurism is only as important (nay exists) insofar as the NCAA says it is (and does). The bedrock of amateurism, in the NCAA’s own words, is “preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority.”

We all know this is a farce, of course; many student-athletes, at least in high-profile football and men’s basketball programs, are athletes first and students second. It’s been proven time and time again, through academic scandal after academic scandal. Amateurism, then, is the ultimate red herring — a distraction from the fact that big-time college sports is a gargantuan industry, and that its prime employees aren’t afforded so much as a crust crumb of the pie.

To his credit, one of the three Ninth Circuit judges, Sidney R. Thomas, seemed sympathetic to this fact, defending Wilkens’ $5,000 proposal in what amounted to a partial dissent.

“Division I schools have spent $5 billion on athletic facilities over the past 15 years. The NCAA sold the television rights to broadcast the NCAA men’s basketball championship for 12 years to CBS for $10.8 billion dollars,” Judge Thomas wrote. “The NCAA insists that this multi-billion dollar industry would be lost if the teenagers and young adults who play for these college teams earn one dollar above their cost of school attendance. That is a difficult argument to swallow.

Reading between the lines, it seems Judge Thomas is just about ready to change the system. And yet, by and large, America’s courts continue to accept amateurism as a necessary prerequisite to the existence of college sports. The NCAA is so powerful, its product so deeply embedded in our national culture, that no one is willing to deliver that one knockout blow.

Baker, meanwhile, offered a stark analogy to explain the courts’ hesitancy.

“We can agree there’s this horrible, terrible person who we think deserves to die,” Baker said. “But do you want to pull the lever on the electric chair? Do I want to pull the lever on the electric chair?”

As public opinion on the NCAA continues to shift, changes are happening in baby steps. The O’Bannon ruling (which either side could still pursue an appeal through an en banc review or, failing that, to the Supreme Court) changes almost nothing in the short term, with most schools having already implemented steps to pay athletes the full cost of attendance.

“It certainly can be called a small step forward in the battle to overturn the NCAA principle of amateurism,” Edelman said. “But this is not a huge step forward in any which way.”

Nonetheless, the O’Bannon ruling may serve to open the door yet another crack for the next lawyer — in this case, Jeffrey Kessler, who represented Tom Brady in the Deflategate case. Kessler attended a class certification hearing on Thursday for a lawsuit against the NCAA, seeking a free market for the services of college football and men’s basketball players.

That may sound like a quantum legal leap, especially considering the Ninth Circuit’s assertion that any payment above the cost of attendance would be DOA. But if Kessler can achieve what the O’Bannon plaintiffs could not — produce a comprehensive (and compelling) consumer-demand study showing that fans will in fact continue watching college sports regardless of whether the players are paid — then he might have a shot.

“We’ve kicked the can down the road with this decision, but in a way that made the can bigger for student-athletes,” Baker said. “How long can we keep going with this concept of amateurism? I would phrase it as, ‘How long can we keep pretending?’ The answer is a little while longer.”

On fandom, the New York Mets, and learning to own my emotions

By Aaron Leibowitz

New York Mets' Benny Agbayani points skyward as he watches his game-winning home run in in the 13th inning against the San Francisco Giants in game 3 of the National Leage Division Series Saturday, Oct. 7, 2000 in New York. The Mets won 3-2. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun )

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

(This piece was originally published at The Cauldron via SI.com: http://www.si.com/thecauldron/2015/10/08/2015-mlb-playoffs-new-york-mets-fans)

On Wednesday, as I sat at my cubicle scrolling through Twitter, my attention was drawn to what, for most people, would have been little more than a random baseball curio:

Fifteen years ago to the day, Benny Agbayani had hit a walk-off, 13th-inning home run in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Giants, giving the Mets a 2–1 series lead.

I plugged in a pair of headphones and began watching the clip. Almost immediately, a lump formed in my throat. I was at Shea Stadium on that October night. After Agbayani’s homer, I remember hugging my dad and feeling the entire stadium shake, roars of “BE-NNY, BE-NNY” ringing out around us. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Pure sports euphoria.

I wiped the dumb smile off my face and got back to work, but for the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about that feeling. I was eight years old. It remains one of the happiest moments of my young life.

This meandering down memory lane led me to two thoughts:

  1. I’m so excited the Mets are back in the playoffs for the first time in nine years (Game 1 in Los Angeles is Friday night), and I’d give anything to revel in another moment like the Agbayani walk-off in 2000.
  2. What is wrong with me? No, not because I am a Mets fan — I am largely at peace with that painful identification. But why does a silly game make me feel things that I rarely feel in my actual life?

Here’s the thing: The Mets’ postseason return has been nothing if not a wonderful and welcome occurrence. Most nights this past summer, I’d come home from work, kick back on my couch, fire up the Slingbox and watch my Metropolitans do their thing.

I was furious when the team’s deadline deal for Carlos Gomez fell apart, and I ran around my apartment screaming like a fool when Wilmer Flores hit a walk-off homer in extra innings against the Nationals (just two days after the infielder cried on the field when he thought he’d been traded).

Now, as the Mets prepare to square off against the lock-loaded Dodgers in the NLDS, it’s all I can think about. The team’s success, out-of-nowhere as it has often felt, has compelled me to connect and reconnect with family scattered around the country. I’ve been texting non-stop with old high school and college buddies. People I haven’t heard from in years have been reaching out to express their baseball solidarity, and, lo and behold, we’ve been catching up on each another’s lives.

On Monday, I’ll be driving home to New York to attend Citi Field’s first-ever playoff game. Naturally, I’ll be sitting alongside the man with whom I reveled in Benny’s 11th-hour bomb all those years ago — my dad.

Our Amazin’ family ties run deep. As it so happens, grandpa had grown up a Dodgers fan in Brooklyn, but with his team departed for Southern California, he came to embrace the Mets when they arrived in Queens in 1962. He bestowed his love of the team upon my dad, who in turn passed it on to me.

Last Sunday, the day after the Mets clinched their first NL East title in nine years, my uncle paid a visit to my grandfather’s grave. Using hundreds of tiny pebbles, he spelled out “Let’s Go Mets” on the headstone. He texted me the picture, and like Wilmer Flores back in July, I, too, cried.

Which bring us back full circle: What is wrong with me?

To be clear, it’s not that I think something is wrong with the fact that my favorite team invokes such intense feelings, or that those feelings bring me closer to the people I love. As fans, we’ve all heard self-proclaimed “rational people” wonder how anyone could get so worked up over silly games played by people we don’t know.

But isn’t that the wrong question to ask? Getting worked up is fun; it’s part of being human. And caring deeply about something — while knowing that millions of others care deeply about it, too — that’s exactly why certain things in sports can be nothing short of magical.

What’s weird to me is that very few other things in my life summon the same emotional charge. The best explanation, as I see it, is that we — and by “we” I mean men, in particular — are conditioned to use sports as an outlet for emotional expression that isn’t socially acceptable elsewhere. It’s the excuse we use to feel closer to other people, especially other men, free from the burning fear that we’ll be labeled less cool, less manly, too sensitive.

Of course, when sports is the onlyspace where men feel comfortable letting loose, that’s when things have the potential to turn ugly — and angry. This probably has something to do with why I used to throw temper tantrums every time I messed up in Little League. And it probably has something to do with why emotionally stunted men tend to become a wee bit protective of their sacred sports space.

Mostly, though, I think that release of emotion is a healthy exercise, and it has the potential to help us better understand and deal with life in non-sports settings. The Mets are part of my blood, part of what keeps me connected to generations of relatives and far-away friends. They’re my excuse to scream, to cry, and to unleash exuberant, unadulterated joy.

With Game 1 fast-approaching, all I can think about is how badly I want them to win it all.