PROBLEM ATHLETES, NFL CHANGES . . . AND MORE
by Glenn Dickey
Mar 28, 2007

THE BIGGEST problem in professional sports today is criminal behavior by athletes.

That’s happening in all sports. Sacramento Kings forward Ron Artest recently was charged with domestic violence. While with the Indiana Pacers, Artest was involved in a brawl at the end of a November, 2004 game with the Detroit Pistons. He and teammates Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson, who’s now with the Warriors, were all suspended for their actions.

A’s outfielder Milton Bradley has had temper issues several times in his career. He was suspended for five games in 2004 after slamming a plastic bottle at the feet of a fan. He’s feuded with Cleveland manager Eric Wedge and Dodger teammate Jeff Kent. He had anger management sessions after the 2005 season but still had shouting matches with east coast fans in the 2006 season, before settling into a strong second half performance.

It has been the NFL, though, that has been in the spotlight lately. Players names are showing up on police blotters with disturbing frequency

Tennessee corner back Pacman Jones has had 10 encounters with the law in two years. In the latest, a triple shooting at a Las Vegas strip club in February, police are seeking felony and misdemeanor charges against him. Police Lt. George Castro said, “Was he an inciter? Yes, he was.”

Chicago defensive tackle Tank Johnson was sentenced to four months in jail after violating conditions of his parole from a 2005 conviction on six charges of possession of weapons without a license. Originally, Johnson was not supposed to leave the city but that restriction was lifted so he could play in the Super Bowl.

The burgeoning problem has led to an alliance between new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, who hates the player image which is being projected, for a new get-tough policy on players. Goodell delayed announcement of the new policy this week, until the legal ramifications can be sorted out.

What else can be done? Coaches have to be more realistic about the choices, for one. When Johnson was sent off to jail, Bears coach Lovie Smith said this would have a “devastating effect” on his playing career. What about his life? If this is a wake-up call for Johnson, he will be well served.

There should be more counseling of players. More than 20 years ago, Bill Walsh brought in Dr. Harry Edwards to work with players who came from troubled backgrounds. Generally, that’s worked for the 49ers, though not always.

Teams should factor character into more of their decisions. There were plenty of red flags in Jones’ background but the Titans looked past them to his great talent. Now, they’re paying for that because releasing Jones would cause them great salary cap problems.

Forty-Niner coach Mike Nolan took a gamble on wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who had had problems with two teams before, but he cut his losses this offseason when he let Bryant go.

Meanwhile, let’s hope the NFL can get its get-tough policy going, for the sake of the players as well as everybody else. Players have to realize that, though their playing status shields them somewhat during their careers, when those careers are over, criminal behavior will land them either in jail or in a coffin.

NFL MOVES: Though they did make Instant Replay permanent, NFL owners whiffed on other chances to improve their game.

The owners should have expanded the plays that can be reviewed to include pass interference, which is the most critical call in a game. They should have adopted Nolan’s proposal to differentiate between blatant fouls and incidental contact by putting the ball at the point of the foul in the first case but making the second one a 15-yard penalty. The current rule encourages quarterbacks to throw up long passes in desperation because even incidental contact will put the ball near the goal line.

The owners should also have addressed the issue of overtime games. Each team should have a chance to score in overtime, even if that means the game ends in a tie. With so many teams on the cusp of the playoffs each year, it isn’t fair to make their chances dependent on the coin flip before the start of OT.

Why didn’t they make these changes? In both cases, the changes would have brought the NFL rules closer to those in college games, and that’s a real no-no for the NFL.

49ER STADIUM: One of the methods proposed to finance a new stadium in Santa Clara was an increase in utility costs for home owners. Before they do that, they should talk to Bob Lurie. When the Giants tried to build a new park in San Jose, a tax on utilities was proposed. Opponents of the park campaigned on “Turn Off Bob Lurie.” The ballot measure never had a chance.

MISSED CHANCES:

In the mid-‘70s, a downtown arena was proposed for San Francisco. Not wanting to make the decision himself, then mayor George Moscone referred the proposal to a committee, and it lost by a single vote.

Had the committee approved that arena, San Francisco would no doubt be home to the Warriors and Sharks, and the arena would also be hosting many concerts. Instead, the Warriors are in Oakland (though they don’t want to admit that by opting out of the ridiculous Golden State label) and the Sharks are in San Jose. Concerts are split between the arenas in those two cities.

And, San Francisco has nothing.

In the early-‘90s, James Conn, then president of Bay Meadows, proposed that all Bay Area horse racing be consolidated at Golden Gate Fields, so that facility could afford to expand, improve its dining facilities and become a destination place for other than hardcore race fans.

The proposal made sense because, with off-track betting, two facilities weren’t needed in the Bay Area. It’s not like having two different baseball or football teams. The same horses, jockeys and trainers have been at both facilities.

It was fought bitterly by those connected with Bay Meadows, so it never happened. Now, 15 years later, horse racing in the Bay Area has fallen off the radar of most sports fans. And, guess what, Bay Meadows is coming down, anyway, at the end of the year.

SAME SPORT BUT….I was interviewed last week by a writer working on a book on Willie Mays, and he wondered what it was like with the Giants in the ‘60s. My short answer: It was a totally different world.

At that time, the Giants – like most baseball teams – were strictly about baseball. Owner Horace Stoneham had literally been in baseball all his life; his father had also owned the team. Everybody in the front office had a baseball background. Carl Hubbell, head of the farm system, had been one of the three best pitchers in Giants history (Christy Mathewson and Juan Marichal are the other two). Walter Mails had been a major league pitcher. Public relations director Garry Schumacher had been a baseball writer in Brooklyn and New York. Everybody talked baseball, 24/7.

Now, it’s all about marketing, as I was reminded when I went to the Giants Open House yesterday and they unveiled their new scoreboard, with High Definition visuals. All types of statistical information will be available, as well as lineups for both teams, which should please broadcaster Mike Krukow. The Giants have been in the forefront of technological advances since they moved into their new park.

They served us samples of the food that is being served at the park, and it was all good, a far cry from the old hot dogs and beer cuisines of earlier days.

That’s all necessary in these days because the Giants, and other MLB teams, are going after a different audience. When teams only needed to attract a million fans to make money, they aimed at the true baseball fans. Now, they need three times as many fans, so they’ve had to broaden their appeal.

Nowhere is that more evident than among Giants fans. A high percentage of those who went to games at Candlestick were hardy souls who loved the game. Many of them brought their own scorebooks to keep up with the game; others used the scorecards in the programs.

You don’t see many scorecards at AT&T Park. You do see a lot of cell phones. The game on the field has stayed much the same, but the audience is quite different.

A NEW ORTIZ? Noting a Cactus League story saying that Russ Ortiz had thrown 90 pitches in seven innings, Janice Hough wrote, “He used to throw that many in three innings.”

While going to a 3-2 count on every hitter.



ALTAR BOYZ, MARCH MADNESS. Tickets are available for the Altar Boyz musical, which plays at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco through April 8, on the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link at the bottom of my Home Page. Tickets for the Final Four are available on this site, as are tickets for the July All-Star game at AT&T park. Tickets for The Police concert on June 13 at the Oakland Coliseum are available, as are tickets for the Jersey Boys, which runs through April 21 at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco, and many other concerts. Click on the Bay Area or national links below and the whole list will come up.

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