Archive | Sports and Games

Corporate Welfare for the Washington Redskins

Richmond-Times Dispatch columnist A. Barton Hinkle describes a massive corporate welfare handout that the Washington Redskins just got from Virginia’s state and local governments:

The announcement that the Washington Redskins will move their training camp to Richmond was met with mixed emotions, as they say. It’s certainly great news for Virginia’s capital city. Virginians across the state are happy the Skins will not decamp to Maryland. On the other hand, a fair number are shocked at the public funds being lavished on the team.

The Old Dominion will give the Skins $4 million; Loudoun County (home to the team’s headquarters) will give them another $2 million, and Richmond will kick in $400,000. All this for “the third-richest sports franchise on the planet behind British soccer giant Manchester United and the Dallas Cowboys,” as Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Jeff Schapiro noted a week ago….

Football fans will be delighted to have the Skins in town a few weeks out of the year. But when it comes to the subsidy, even some longtime fans can’t help agreeing with State Sen. Chap Petersen—a season ticket holder—when he called it “corporate welfare at its finest.”

The official rationale for the huge subsidy is promoting economic development. But, as Hinkle points out, studies overwhelmingly show that sports team and stadium subsidies don’t actually produce any net development; they mostly just transfer wealth away from other, often more productive, activities.

The only thing that can be said for the Redskins is that they still have a long way to go before they get as much corporate welfare as the New York Yankees. [...]

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More on Retribution and Metta World Peace

University of San Diego Law professor Michael Rappaport has written a response to my post arguing that, under a retributive theory of punishment, LA Lakers player Metta World Peace did not deserve to get extra punishment for his brutal elbowing of James Harden as a result of his previous offenses:

As a consequentialist, I might be the last person to ask about retribution, but I wonder whether this is right. Yes, World Peace has been punished for offense 1 already. But when someone commits offense 2, we need not think he is only being punished for offense 2. Depending on how the NBA rules are understood, he might be thought of as being punished for offense 2 by itself, plus for committing offense 2, having already committed offense 1. Put differently, one might think there was one offense — offense 2 — and another offense for having committed two offenses. In this respect, this latter offense is similar to the three strikes rule.

I don’t think the above logic works. If World Peace has already been punished adequately for offense 1, then there is no retributive justification for punishing him for it some more after he commits offense 2. If the punishment for offense 1 was insufficient, then perhaps he should get additional punishment for it; but that would be true regardless of whether he later commits offense 2. To put it a different way, there is no retributive justification for creating an “offense for having committed two offenses” if one of the two is a crime for which the perpetrator has already been adequately punished. The occurrence of offense 2 does not make offense 1 any worse or any more blameworthy than it was before.

Obviously, as I explained in my original post on this subject, there may well [...]

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Determining the Optimal Punishment for Metta World Peace

On Sunday, LA Lakers forward Metta World Peace (formerly known as Ron Artest) viciously elbowed James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Because of his previous history of on-court violence, many commentators are urging the NBA to give Peace a chance to experience a severe punishment greater than would normally be imposed for such an offense. ESPN columnist Jemele Hill writes:

It would be much easier to forget Metta World Peace’s turbulent past, if he didn’t so often provide present-day reminders.

With a vicious elbow to James Harden’s head during Sunday’s Lakers-Thunder game, it became 2004 all over again — when Metta World Peace (then known as Ron Artest) engaged in a brawl that spilled over into the stands and remains the most embarrassing incident in NBA history…

Was his elbow as violent as the one Karl Malone gave Isiah Thomas in 1991, which resulted in 40 stitches for Thomas? Was it as deliberate and dirty as Andrew Bynum clotheslining J.J. Barea in last year’s playoffs?

No, but World Peace must be held to a higher and different standard. He needs to be suspended at least 10 games, and league officials would be justified if they decided on an indefinite suspension.

If you think that’s too harsh, keep in mind World Peace has been suspended 13 times in his NBA career for a total of 111 games — 86 of which were related to the brawl.

Should World Peace’s previous offenses lead to harsher punishment this time? It depends on your theory of punishment. If the goal is deterrence, than extra severity probably is warranted. World Peace’s previous record proves that he is an unusually difficult guy to deter, which suggests that greater severity is needed for him to get the message. Moreover, he is notorious around the [...]

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Will Tort Lawsuits be the Downfall of the NFL?

The National Football League has been the most successful professional sports league in the US over the last several decades. But economists Tyler Cowen and Kevin Grier argue that tort suits over concussion injuries might lead to its downfall:

Before you say that football is far too big to ever disappear, consider the history: If you look at the stocks in the Fortune 500 from 1983, for example, 40 percent of those companies no longer exist…. Sports are not immune to these pressures. In the first half of the 20th century, the three big sports were baseball, boxing, and horse racing, and today only one of those is still a marquee attraction.

The most plausible route to the death of football starts with liability suits. Precollegiate football is already sustaining 90,000 or more concussions each year. If ex-players start winning judgments, insurance companies might cease to insure colleges and high schools against football-related lawsuits. Coaches, team physicians, and referees would become increasingly nervous about their financial exposure in our litigious society. If you are coaching a high school football team, or refereeing a game as a volunteer, it is sobering to think that you could be hit with a $2 million lawsuit at any point in time. A lot of people will see it as easier to just stay away…. The end result is that the NFL’s feeder system would dry up and advertisers and networks would shy away from associating with the league, owing to adverse publicity and some chance of being named as co-defendants in future lawsuits.

This is a plausible scenario for the demise of professional football. But Cowen and Grier ignore an important countervailing factor: If tort lawsuits start to pose a serious threat to college and professional football, the NFL and other powerful interests that [...]

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Tim Thomas, Libertarian?

Earlier today, the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins visited the White House. But playoff MVP goaltender Tim Thomas chose not to attend. He issued a very libertarian-seeming statement explaining his reasons:

I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT

For reasons I described here, I don’t think we should attach much weight to the political views of sports and entertainment celebrities. That holds true even in the rare cases like this one where a celebrity makes a political statement I agree with. Still, I thought Thomas’ decision was interesting, if only because there are so few libertarian celebrities out there. I don’t know if I would have rejected the invitation to the White House were I in Thomas’ position. But I certainly sympathize with his reasons for doing so, including the point about both parties bearing responsibility for today’s overgrown federal government.

UPDATE: Various media reports indicate that Thomas is a fan of Glenn Beck, who is far from uniformly libertarian, and occasionally endorses ridiculous conservative conspiracy theories. So Thomas may well be more of a conservative himself. That said, the reasons he gave in his statement are ones [...]

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Football Over Soccer

An Englishman makes a confession: He prefers American football to soccer.

In its energy and complexity, football captures the spirit of America better than any other cultural creation on this continent, and I don’t mean because it features long breaks in which advertisers get to sell beer and treatments for erectile dysfunction. It sits at the intersection of pioneering aggression and impossibly complex strategic planning. It is a collision of Hobbes and Locke; violent, primal force tempered by the most complex set of rules, regulations, procedures and systems ever conceived in an athletic framework.

Soccer is called the beautiful game. But football is chess, played with real pieces that try to knock each other’s brains out. It doesn’t get any more beautiful than that.

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Yet Another Issue Where Barack Obama and I Agree

I have an occasional series of posts highlighting issues where Barack Obama and I agree. So far, the list includes creating a playoff system for college football, allowing gays in the military, ending the home mortgage interest deduction for high-income taxpayers (though I would go further and abolish the deduction for everyone), the president’s right to forego defending federal statutes he believes to be unconstitutional, and that the Obama health care plan’s individual mandate is not a tax.

I am happy to announce that we have another addition to this distinguished list. Both Obama and I are happy that the NBA lockout seems likely to end soon:

NBA owners and players reached a tentative agreement early Saturday to end the 149-day lockout and hope to begin the delayed season on Christmas Day.

Neither side provided many specifics but said the only words players and fans wanted to hear.

“We want to play basketball,” NBA commissioner David Stern said….

President Barack Obama gave a thumbs-up when told about the tentative settlement after he finished playing basketball at Fort McNair in Washington on Saturday morning.

The shortened season might end up helping veteran teams like my Boston Celtics against younger ones like the Chicago Bulls (Obama’s favorite team). Our agreement on basketball issues might collapse if the president again tries to undermine the confidence of Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo:). Hopefully, Obama won’t want to alienate Celtics fans during an election year. [...]

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When a Horse has to be More than Just a Horse to be Eligible for the Olympics

In order to compete in the Olympics, a horse has to be more than just a horse [HT: Tyler Cowen]. It also has to have the right “nationality”:

Their bond was a gold-medal partnership years in the making — and practically impossible for Canadian equestrian Eric Lamaze to duplicate.

When Lamaze’s horse Hickstead collapsed and died at a competition in Italy on Sunday, it left the world’s No. 1 show jumper mourning his longtime teammate. He also could be without an Olympic-calibre mount less than nine months before the London Games….

“It’s fair to say there certainly isn’t another Hickstead in the world, and that will be a misfortune for Eric,” said Akaash Maharaj, CEO of Equine Canada.

Much like a human athlete who must be a citizen of a country for a required period of time before representing that country in the Olympics, a similar rule applies to horses.

“A horse can only represent a country at the Olympics if he has been owned by his country or a citizen of his country for the requisite amount of time,” said Maharaj.

That deadline is January.

Although I’m no fan of nationalism, it is fun to watch national rivalries play out at the Olympics. And it makes at least some sense to attribute national loyalties to people. When it comes to horses, it seems silly. Olympic equestrian competitors should be able to ride whatever otherwise eligible horses they want, regardless of their “nationality.” [...]

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A Too Big to Fail Parking Lot at Yankee Stadium?

Manhattan Institute scholar Nicole Gelinas has an interesting column about a massive financially dubious parking lot at Yankee Stadium, which Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. claims requires a government bailout to prevent a local financial crisis:

If the Zuccotti kids want to protest Wall Street bailouts, they should go occupy the Yankees’ luxury parking garages in The Bronx. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. wants to give the garages’ private investors a fat-cat rescue at the expense of Gotham’s Main Street mice.

Four years ago, the Yankees wanted a souped-up parking “system” for their new ballpark, and Mayor Bloomberg obliged. City Hall helped a previously unknown outfit, the Bronx Parking Development Co., borrow $238 million to build and run a $300 million parking paradise on city land under a long-term lease. (The state supplied the balance of the cash.)

ut the mayor didn’t put the city’s credit on the line. Instead, the city’s Industrial Development Agency — which is not guaranteed by city taxpayers — sold the debt to bondholders.

No one ever said so outright, but bondholders were plainly supposed to assume that, because Bronx Parking’s board is stacked with city officials and city officials talked up the bonds, that the city was there should the deal run into trouble.

It sure didn’t make sense on the merits. The old parking lots generated $7 million a year, but the new lots were supposed to pay twice that in annual debt costs. And Bronx Parking can’t just raise prices to fill the gap. Not many folks will pay $35 to park when there’s a new Metro North station right there.

Reality has caught up. Last week, Bronx Parking made its payment to bondholders only by tapping an emergency fund. The firm must make two more payments by next October —

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Farewell to Terry Francona

The Red Sox and manager Terry Francona have decided to end their relationship in the wake of the teams’ painful September collapse. Despite the disappointing end to his tenure with the team, Francona will surely be remembered as the most successful Red Sox manager in almost a century, if not ever. During his eight years with the team, the Sox made five playoff appearances and won two world championships. Most important of all, they put an end to the Curse of the Bambino and repeatedly vanquished the Yankees. Even this year, they went 12-6 against them.

Francona was not a great tactical innovator like Earl Weaver or Tony LaRussa. But he still impressed me with his skill, as I followed the team closely during his tenure. His single greatest virtue was avoiding dumb mistakes. He rarely if ever lost a key game by doing something stupid. This is an underrated quality. Sabermetric analysis shows that it is much more common for managers to lose games by making foolish errors than to win them with some brilliant insight. Just ask Francona’s predecessor Grady Little, who provided a textbook example of the former in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. Francona avoided those kinds of mistakes, in part because he was open to the use of sabermetric statistical analysis to guide his decisions.

Francona’s other great virtue was the way he handled the insane media circus surrounding the Red Sox and managed to work with the difficult personalities of some of the team’s stars. It is often said that the manager of the Red Sox gets more media and public scrutiny than the governor of Massachusetts or the mayor of Boston. No Red Sox manager in my lifetime handled it better than Francona. It also wasn’t easy for him [...]

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Taylor Branch on Paying College Athletes

Historian Taylor Branch has a fascinating Atlantic article on the history of regulations forbidding pay for college athletes. He also makes a strong case for abolishing those rules and describes various legal challenges to them. I don’t agree with all of Branch’s analysis. For example, I’m not as optimistic as he is that lawsuits will soon lead to the end of the NCAA cartel. The Supreme Court has long interpreted the antitrust laws to exempt college sports, and it is unlikely to change its mind – both because a multibillion dollar industry has relied on those decisions and because the Court generally does not like reversing its statutory interpretation decisions.

But I do agree with Branch that the rules need to be changed. In any event, the article is well worth reading for anyone interested in the issue.

I myself made the case for allowing colleges to pay athletes here and here.

UPDATE: I should have said that the Supreme Court has long endorsed the view that the NCAA cartel forbidding payment of players does not violate the antitrust laws, as it said in this 1984 case:

In order to preserve the character and quality of the “product,” athletes must not be paid, must be required to attend class, and the like. And the integrity of the “product” cannot be preserved except by mutual agreement; if an institution adopted such restrictions unilaterally, its effectiveness as a competitor on the playing field might soon be destroyed. Thus, the NCAA plays a vital role in enabling college football to preserve its character, and as a result enables a product to be marketed which might otherwise be unavailable. In performing this role, its actions widen consumer choice – not only the choices available to sports fans but also those available to

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Redskins Owner Drops Defamation Suit Against Washington CityPaper

And it today’s football-related legal news, the Washington Post reports that Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has dropped his defamation suit against the Washington CityPaper over an unflattering story about him.

Snyder had sought $1 million in general damages as well as unspecified punitive damages from the weekly paper; its parent company, Creative Loafing; and journalist Dave McKenna. McKenna’s story in November, “The Cranky Redskins Fans’ Guide to Dan Snyder,” was an unflattering account of Snyder’s tenure as owner of Washington’s NFL team, with an encyclopedia-style listing of alleged missteps and public-relations controversies over the years. . . .

But people close to Snyder said the team’s owner felt vindicated when City Paper’s publisher, Amy Austin, acknowledged in a story published in April that one aspect of the story was not meant to be construed as literally true. . . .

In his original lawsuit, Snyder said he was defamed by several parts of the article, including the suggestion that he had been kicked out as chairman of the board of the Six Flags amusement park chain and had gone “all Agent Orange” by cutting down a stand of trees on federally protected land that blocked river views from his Potomac mansion in 2004. He also objected to the story’s assertion that he had been “caught forging names” on consumers’ long-distance phone contracts while he headed a marketing firm, Snyder Communications, before taking over the Redskins in 1999. He denied all of those allegations.

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Soccer Update:

So I know that faithful readers have been patiently waiting for my take on the current goings-on in the world of international soccer … Though this is the off-season, of course, for most of the world’s leagues (other than our own MLS), there’s a fair bit of action out there, in particular (a) the Women’s World Cup, in Germany, and (b) the main South/Central American tournament, the Copa America, in Argentina.

Re the first: I’m not, generally speaking, much of a fan of the women’s game. Like women’s basketball, though the games can be exciting, there’s not enough skill and athleticism, usually, to hold my interest. But I have to say that the WWC games I’ve watched so far have been pretty damned good — the level of play is much higher than it’s been in the past, and some of the games — Germany-France (4-2), Sweden – US (2-1), Australia-Equatorial Guinea (3-2), and France-Canada (4-0), were fine matches, full of attacking play, near misses, great goals, and all the rest. The Germans look formidable, and will probably win it all – though my money is on Brazil (which plays the US tomorrow at noon, a match that, given the shaky back lines and strong attacks of both teams, could well be a 5-4 thriller …).

As to the Copa America, the big news there so far has all been pretty negative. The two giants of South American soccer — Brazil and Argentina — have looked uninspired (to put it mildly); Brazil was held to a boring 0-0 by Venezuela, pegged as one of the weaker teams in the tournament (Venezuela being one of the very few countries in the hemisphere where baseball, and not soccer, is the sport engaging the most passion); And the less said about Argentina’s performance [...]

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Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Stanley Cup, but Were Afraid to Ask

Kent Russell of the new Grantland sports blog has a fascinating piece on the history of the Stanley Cup, hockey’s most prestigious trophy. Interestingly, the Lord Stanley after whom the cup is named was not a hockey fan and probably never even saw a hockey game in his life.

Let me also take this opportunity to point out yet again that the Cup was just won by the Boston Bruins! [...]

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