For those of you who might be concerned, based on the draft Notes, we did NOT, in fact, get permanently kicked out of our favorite watering hole, The Tav. I’m guessing that Mitch, the owner and a lovely man, appreciates the constant mentions in my column and would not risk losing a loyal customer and free advertising. And who knows, if we keep our noses clean and I make a few mentions of The Tav as HANDS DOWN, THE BEST PLACE FOR BEER, SPORTS AND A GREAT TIME ON CATHEDRAL HILL IN ST. PAUL, maybe Mitch will let us have the draft there next year.
Anyway, the whole fantasy league gathered together for opening Sunday at my place. This being the 21st Century, only Mike, Carol, Lars and me were there in person. Robbie, Stoner, T.J., Jack and Hal joined us via text message and the occasional Facetime. I’d like to tell you things were joyful and fun (and certainly given the amount of beer and grillables consumed, it wasn’t a drudgery) but there’s getting to be a bit of a pall surrounding football (and it had nothing to do with Lars pouting about me not letting him rent a Port-a-Potty to put on my deck as a time-saver.) The constant bad news about concussions and domestic violence and borderline-criminal incompetence have finally started to supersede the enjoyment of the ritual of getting together. It’s the kind of thing that can’t be overcome by a well-timed fart joke (though Mike certainly gave it the old college try.) Makes me wonder how much longer we’re going to have these rituals. For now, it was nice to have my friends around for opening weekend. For now.
On that joyful note, let’s do this…
AWARDS FROM THE COMMISH
FANTASY PLAYER OF THE WEEK: None
At least, nobody that started in our league. While I pointed out that we had imbibed a bit during the fantasy draft, I didn’t think we were drunk enough to draft like we were collectively suffering an open head wound. Looking over the lineups, I kept wondering, “What the hell were THEY thinking?” (I’m not excluding myself from this, by the way.) As for the players, I realize most of them have played all of four minutes since last December, so I guess I shouldn’t have expected much. But seriously, NOBODY stepped up and had a big week? Going to be a long season at this rate.
FANTASY OWNER OF THE WEEK: T.J.
Yes, the same T.J. we routinely make fun of for his fantasy incompetence. That T.J. This week, he had the chutzpah (if I can use that term for someone as ragingly gentile as T.J.) to start rookie Leonard Fourtnette. Fourtnette’s 100 yards and TD justified T.J.’s faith. Yes, T.J. benefited from Philly’s D playing Washington, something that won’t happen when Philly plays actual NFL teams. But T.J.’s biggest coup was demolishing Robbie, who has not yet emerged from hiding. I don’t say this often (or at all, really) but: you da man, T.J. You da man.
DUMBASS OWNER OF THE WEEK: Chuck
I’m taking my life into my own hands here. And I’m being a bit unfair. Traditionally, Dumbass Owner of the Week goes to someone who cost themselves a victory through a short-sighted or eminently avoidable roster move (or non-move). If a loss wasn’t mandatory, Hal would have been the Dumbass Owner, but he managed to defeat Chuck. Not that Chuck made the task difficult. Here’s the only stats you need: Chuck’s kicker, Stephen Gostkowski, got 9 points. The entire remainder of Chuck’s TEAM got 8. Defense rests, your honor.
HORSESHOE UP ASS AWARD: Hal
There’s a karmic back-and-forth going on with Hal here. Yes, by all rights, he should have won the league last year. He finished with the best record and had the most talented, deepest lineup in the league. That he lost to Jack in the semi-finals was a real miscarriage of justice, but that’s fantasy football for you. Similarly, if there were any justice, Hal would have opened this season with a loss. He started Willie Snead, who’s currently serving a three game suspension, and the rest of Hal’s lineup was only slightly better than Snead. In fact, Hal’s anemic 33 points would have been enough to lose to ANYONE in the league…except Chuck, who was (you guessed it) Hal’s opponent. Just when I thought we were going to retire this award with Carol…
LINE OF THE WEEK: Chuck Pagano
After getting drubbed 46-9, the Indy coach had this to say: “We got our asses kicked, and credit the 49ers and coach McVay.” Apparently, the Colts got their asses kicked SO bad that Pagano forgot they actually played the Rams.
ASSCLOWN OF THE WEEK: NFL Owners
This is more an off-season award, but since we’re beginning a new NFL campaign, I’ll haul it out now. It’s become obvious, even to the commissioner’s many apologists, that Roger Goodell is not only killing the Golden Goose, he’s doing it in the most disgusting manner possible. Ratings are down. Revenue is down. An increasing number of parents are refusing to allow their children to play youth football because they worry about the dangers of concussions. It’s an issue that the NFL has refused to get out in front of and instead has done this…
So in the face of falling revenues, worsening public perception, a general consensus that there is no leadership in the commissioner’s office, a looming labor battle that could make Stalingrad look like a spitball fight, what did the NFL owners do this summer?
They extended Roger Goodell’s contract to 2024.
We extend our condolences to the family of the goose.
And finally, in honor of Jon Stewart (we still need you, brother) I give you…
YOUR MOMENT OF ZEN: The Ezekiel Elliott Suspension (?)
There are certain traditions in the NFL that I very much enjoy. Opening weekend. The new Thursday night kickoff. The Thanksgiving games. The Super Bowl parties. The draft parties. The inevitable soul-crushing end to the Vikings’ season. Hell, I even enjoy the Hall of Fame game. One recently-added tradition that I could do without, though, is the annual Suspension That’s Been Rendered Utterly FUBAR by the NFL. Just when we thought we had moved on from Deflategate comes the sequel: the attempt to suspend for Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliott for…stuff…we’re (kinda) sure…he did.
For those who came in late, this is the situation: in July, 2016, a woman Ezekiel Elliott was dating called Columbus, Ohio police to report a series of violent altercations between she and Elliott. The police did not arrest or charge Elliott because they could not verify the woman’s version of events or establish that she and Elliott actually lived together (Ohio law does not recognize domestic violence unless the couple lives together.) The prosecutor reviewed the evidence including witness statements, copies of text messages, and photographs of Elliott’s accuser’s injuries. Those documents showed that she was not truthful about the events of July 22 (in fact, she sent a text message to a friend asking her to lie to the police.) As a result, the prosecutor chose not to bring charges against Elliott, though he did suggest that he believed Elliott had been physical with the woman at some point. But there was no corroborating evidence to verify the woman’s version of events, therefore the case was dropped.
The NFL, however, decided to look into the matter, having already made a hash of the Ray Rice, Josh Brown and Greg Hardy situations. Determined to “get it right”, they took nearly a year to investigate the case. They interviewed all parties involved and extensively reviewed the forensic evidence. Their lead investigator came to the same conclusion regarding the accuser’s reliability and the lack of corroborating evidence. She recommended no suspension for Elliott. Commissioner Roger Goodell, who had not been involved in the investigation in any capacity, took all of this into account and rendered the obvious decision.
He suspended Ezekiel Elliott for six games.
Before Goodell rendered his verdict, though, both Elliott and the National Football League Players Association realized you didn’t have to be Nostradamus to see where this whole thing was going. They filed a suit against the NFL and requested a temporary injunction blocking any suspension the league might levy until the suit was resolved. From there, things played out rather predictably. The NFLPA appealed Elliott’s suspension to Goodell. He referred it to a neutral mediator, who upheld Goodell’s suspension. However, a judge granted Elliott’s request for the temporary injunction, making it likely that Elliott will play the entire NFL season while the legal wrangling continues.
If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve watched it play out time and again during the Roger Goodell era. A situation occurs and rather than let it go away on its own (as it certainly would do on its own merits) the NFL blunders in and turns it into a public relations nightmare. The sad and funny part, of course, is that public relations, not justice, is foremost in the NFL’s mind. The league’s approach to player discipline isn’t guided by a set of clearly defined rules and regulations. It’s Roger Goodell putting his finger in the air and saying, ala Diamond Joe Quimby, “If this is the direction the winds are blowing, let it not be said that I don’t also blow.”
One thing I need to be clear on: it DOES give someone a queasy feeling to have to agree with people like Ezekiel Elliott and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Elliott has established a pattern of behavior that makes you believe he’s not an innocent victim in all of this. Jones, meanwhile, doesn’t see any comparison between this and Deflategate, giving us a sort of double-speak that amounts to, “Hey, it was great when it happened to ANOTHER team.” Let’s not forget in all of Jones’ airy BS that he’s the same guy who employed Greg Hardy when there was ample evidence that Hardy is a sadistic sociopath.
But, as I said repeatedly during Deflategate, what you think of the people involved is irrelevant. Even a cursory glance at the process and the evidence reveals that the NFL clearly operated from an assumption of guilt and demanded that Elliott prove otherwise. Rather than begin with an open mind and go in the direction the evidence told them, the league decided Elliott was guilty and looked only for evidence that supported that hypothesis. Any evidence that contradicted that version of events was simply treated as if it didn’t exist. When a federal judge slapped down the entire process as unfair, it was reported that league officials were “shocked.” That they didn’t see this coming after the various debacles previously mentioned tells you everything you need to know about whether or not the NFL has learned its lessons.
All that said, I’m convinced that Ezekiel Elliott will serve a six game suspension, if not this season, certainly next. When the courts ruled against Tom Brady in Deflategate, they were NOT saying that Brady was definitely guilty. They were upholding Roger Goodell’s right to suspend Tom Brady, no matter how flimsy the evidence or unfair the process. The league and the NFLPA agreed to said process in the last collective bargaining agreement. The courts were essentially saying, “Hey, you guys agreed to this screwed up system. It’s not our job to fix it.” While I’m the furthest thing from a legal expert, I have a hard time seeing how the Ezekiel Elliot case will turn out differently.
Which would not, necessarily, make it a victory for the NFL. Yes, in the short term (the only term he seems to think about) Roger Goodell could claim vindication. The commissioner’s authority confirmed, all at the low, low price of gaining another stadium he’ll be booed out of. But the long-term damage to the health of the league will continue. Further mistrust has been sewn between the players and the owners, not to mention between one owner and another. Fan bases that may have delighted at Tom Brady being suspended are beginning to think, “Hey, what’s to stop him from doing that to US?” And taking more time to “get it right” has simply proven that it will do nothing to stop the NFL from being capricious and unfair. Meantime, the doomsday clock continues to count down to 2021; the end of the current collective bargaining agreement and the likely beginning of a holy war between the league and the players.
Again, our condolences to the family of the goose.