Late last week, former Michigan and New England Patriots Defensive Back Corwin Brown made a sorry set of headlines. The former assistant coach for the Pats and Fighting Irish made some threats, apparently, to his wife, but ushered her and his three kids out of their suburban South Bend house at mid-day, and then holed up inside their home for a seven-hour standoff with a SWAT Team, ending with some gunshots causing some self-inflicted, non-life-threatening wounds to Brown, and a ride to the hospital for him in an ambulance. Two days ago, his family released a statement suggesting that the events, along with Brown’s recent pattern of aberrant behavior, were likely the result of numerous concussions or head traumas suffered playing football, referring explicitly to a similar set of behaviors by former NFL player Dave Duerson prior to his suicide last year.
And yesterday the Miami Hurricanes/Shapiro scandal hit the collegiate sports world like a massive meteorite, providing what appeared to be very solid empirical data (from convicted and jailed Ponzi-scheme king Shapiro) directly linking some 72 former Miami football players, and many Miami basketball and football coaches, with a long, lucrative series of “benefits” (loosely categorized as payments, parties, and prostitutes) since 2002. The stench covers the entire athletic program — and may just kill it.
Also last week, a collection of 50 or so NCAA college presidents assembled in Indianapolis, which resulted in an announcement of what NCAA president Mark Emmert believes is “substantive” change, which signals, he says, his commitment to radically change the course of the organization.
The Brown family’s explanation for Corwin’s behavior has the ring of plausibility. Roger Goodell, the savvy and forward-thinking NFL Commissioner, would nod his head in agreement. Goodell is the guy who was able to figure out how critical the Injury-from-Head-Trauma issue is going to be for the NFL in the coming years, fired their antique in-house medical expert, and immediately donated $1 million to BU’s ground-breaking concussion research projects.
Donna Shalala is concussed, having just received one mammoth blow to the head. Hit by a meteorite of accusations of a football program which — if you believe Shapiro – partied and spent at someone else’s expense for years. She did a broadcast email to the entire “Miami community” today, dictated from her fainting couch, committing herself to “getting to the bottom” of it all.
NCAA President Mark Emmert said today that they have been investigating Miami for five months; he also said at the end of their Presidential Pow Wow last week that his principal proposal — to elevate the threshold for proving academic performance on a team – will be a “big change” for NCAA operations.
Emmert’s “brain trauma” is not because of some physical trauma to the head. It’s because there’s too much space to rent up there in his cranium, he can’t process what’s in front of him. He wasted the time of all those Presidents in Indianopolis by dithering about tiny tweaks to a regulatory system which is fundamentally flawed. He understands none of the economic, legal, and financial tensions which will rip the organization apart. He is numb, and can’t find his way out of the maze. Let’s compare him to Roger Goodell: has Emmert done a single thing to even “engage” the NCAA on this emerging public health issue which is concussions derived from high school, college, and professional sports? No. He’s done nothing. And it’s not a matter, so that you understand, of deciding to “get out front” on the concussion issue because it is what a good person would do. It’s a business issue which has the ability to shake the entire college game.
Here’s how. Corwin Brown was not an employee of the University of Michigan. But he took, and dished out, a number of hard hits while he played there. In more technical terms, he suffered, one would guess, a “gradual” injury while at U of M. And it may have been an injury which was not “discoverable” during those years. Those kinds of “not discoverable”, and “gradual” injuries are clearly “compensable” under many states’ workers compensation laws – but for vacuous and out-dated judicial decisions infected by the athletic gestalt from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Workers’ Comp Laws which were enacted in every state more than 100 years ago — but right now do not protect “amateur” players like Corwin Brown, despite the fact that a strict application of most Workers’ Comp laws — if applied by a blind-folded judge, trying to choose between Coke and Pepsi — would find that Brown was an employee. It’s that workers’ comp exposure (and/or civil liability exposure) which motivated Roger Goodell to act so precipitously. Where the hell is Mark Emmert on the concussion stormcloud which looms over the NCAA? The NCAA should be donating a million dollars to BU, and should be leading the way on this issue. Not Emmert, he’s too busy — like most of these vapid NCAA silk-tie, “yes-I-used-to-be-or-still-want-to-be-a-D-1-jock-too” types, smiling and shaking hands and cashing his million dollar per year checks.
Shalala may be numb right now from the meteorite hit. But she wasn’t stupid before that hit yesterday. More to the point, she was oblivious. Oblivious of the reality of what’s gone down in Miami during her tenure. Things are going to get very bad for her in the coming months.
What Shalala and Emmert don’t get its this: the Brewonsouthu Reality Check. While you’re having a two beers with friends down at the Brown Jug, everyone (all of whom know many people at Michigan, and all over the country, in the college sports “profession”) agrees: Miami is what it is. It’s not the exception. It’s the rule. It’s “corrupt” across-the-Board. Everyone is breaking the rules. Hard and agressively. Everybody cheats, pays under the table; and administrators and coaches try to look the other way. It give sympathetic context to Tressel’s (and Rodriguez’) bald-faced lies, because what was on their faces, as they lied blatantly to school and NCAA investigators, was this sentiment: “hey, you guys are clueless! You want to get all worked up about trinkets and practice-time?
But the irony is this. Look at what Shapiro described. Assume it’s all true. How in the world is that at all different than what has gone in Hollywood since 1915? Parties. Rich hangers-on, buying influence and cache. Drugs. Licentious behavior. You know what I say? — That’s how the free market works. Big deal. Do I approve of all that crazy stuff? No. But free markets are full of crazy behaviors. These athletes are entertainers. The kids line up overnight – all night, just to get Tim Tebow’s autograph. Tebow, Denard, Cam Newton, Pryor: they should be getting their “day in the sun” by reaping the market cash they can get. That’s what Mark Emmert’s done after all, even with all that space for rent.
Brown’s up for criminal charges, wondering which hit caused which episode of depression or rage; Shalala’s looking alot like her old boss, Bill Clinton, because it appears that some of the Miami athletics DNA was found on her dress, and she just might be in the middle of it all. And Emmert, he’s smiling like a Boy Scout with a big bank account. Just wait til some smart lawyer figures out how to finally push a state Workers’ Comp Board into finding that a whole group of college football players were “employees” under the state’s workers’ comp laws, and suffered compensable gradual concussion-related injuries. What no one gets is that the comp system — if they make that finding — couldn’t care less about nonsense like “upsetting the competitive balance”, or whether the University’s tax exempt status is then subject to challenge. An employee is an employee, and that’s a match which can burn up the whole silly system Emmert’s in charge of. But Emmert does not have a clue.