Archive | Sports and Games

The Pot Bowl

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the two teams that made it to the Super Bowl on Sunday represent Colorado and Washington – the two states that recently legalized marijuana. If this somehow helps accelerate the recent decline in public support for the War on Drugs, it will almost be enough to offset my disappointment over the Patriots and Tom Brady losing to longtime rival Peyton Manning. [...]

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Germany’s President May Be Boycotting the Sochi Olympics

German President Joachim Gauck may be boycotting the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in order to protest Russia’s human rights abuses:

German President Joachim Gauck will not represent his country at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, his office says.

The announcement makes Gauck, a former pastor, the first major political figure to boycott the games, which will be held at the Black Sea resort in February.

According to a report in the German publication Der Spiegel, Gauck made the decision in protest against human rights violations and the harassment of Russian opposition political figures. The magazine said the Russian government was informed of his decision last week.

But Gauck’s office is downplaying the report. “He simply decided not to go,” his spokesman Tobias Scheufele told CNN. “We’re not saying anything about his motivations.”

Others have called for a boycott to protest Russia’s recent crackdown on gays and lesbians, which is just the tip of the iceberg of the Russian government’s repressive ways under the rule of Ex-KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin.

Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin argues for a limited boycott by world leaders:

The athletes are going to the games, for better or worse. (On one hand the almighty dollar and the bizarre primacy of sports make one queasy, on the other, one can sympathize with the young people who’ve devoted their lives for the perfect performance at just the right time.) But the politicians are an unnecessary and therefore dispensable part of the proceedings….

It would be a small but telling gesture if the Obama administration and all members of Congress would steer clear of Sochi. The athletes in full view of hundreds of millions around the world can compete — and then snag their endorsements. Refusal to grace Sochi with the presence of the

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Proposed Settlement of NFL Concussion Lawsuit

Just before the Labor Day weekend — and just in time for the start of the season — the National Football League announced a settlement agreement with former players who sued the league over concussion injuries sustained while playing professional football.  The plaintiffs alleged the NFL had not adequately addressed concussion risks to players and, worse, had downplayed or even sought to suppress medical evidence linking serious injuries to on-field hits.  According to the WSJ, the settlement represents a “big victory” for the league.

The agreement, reached at 2 a.m. Thursday Eastern time after nine weeks of intense mediation, came far earlier than most expected. It calls for the NFL to pay $765 million, mostly for medical benefits and injury compensation for the retired players, in addition to funding medical research and covering legal expenses.

The settlement includes all retired NFL players who present medical evidence of severe cognitive impairment, not just those who joined the suit. . . .

The settlement will cost each of the NFL’s 32 franchises $24 million over 20 years, or roughly $1.2 million a year. Projected league revenues this season are $10 billion, and the NFL finalized a series of media-rights deals last year that guarantee more than $40 billion through 2022. . . .

The settlement calls for $75 million of the NFL payment to go to baseline medical exams for ex-players, $675 million to go toward compensation and $10 million to go to research and education.

A judge must still approve the settlement for it to take effect, and former players who believe the settlement is inadequate may opt out to pursue claims individually. Current players, however, will have to pursue any future claims through an arbitration process provided for in the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Some former players have attacked [...]

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Sacramento and Washington, DC Threaten to Use Eminent Domain to Take Property to Build Sports Stadiums

Nick Sibilla of the Institute for Justice describes Sacramento and Washington, DC’s ill-advised plans to use the threat of eminent domain to acquire property to build sports stadiums on:

In less than a week, two capital cities are preparing to use eminent domain to build professional sports stadiums. Talk about foul play.

The Sacramento city council voted 7-2 on August 13 to help the Sacramento Kings negotiate with the owner of a Macy’s. As the Sacramento Bee points out, “The city’s involvement in the talks carries with it a key negotiating tool: the threat of seizing control of the property through eminent domain.” That Macy’s Men Store is the last property the Kings have yet to acquire for the arena and may be condemned if negotiations fail. But just because they’re called the Kings doesn’t mean they should have the right to seize peasants people’s land.

Construction hasn’t even begun and the Kings are already corporate welfare queens: the city council has voted to provide the arena $258 million in public funding. Unfortunately, sports subsidies are increasingly common.

Over in Washington, D.C., officials are prepared to authorize eminent domain to build a new stadium for the DC United, the worst team in Major League Soccer. This 20,000 seat stadium is expected to cost $300 million, with half of that coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets. Yet the team sold for $50 million in 2012. In other words, the United will be getting a brand new stadium that’s worth six times as much as the team itself. [links in original post omitted].

Government subsidies for sports stadiums are almost always net losers for the communities that enact them. Using eminent domain to take the property just compounds the losses endured by taxpayers with additional harm inflicted on property owners, many [...]

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Should We Boycott the Sochi Olympics?

Gay rights advocates such as actor Harvey Fierstein are calling for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, over Russia’s highly repressive new law banning “homosexual propaganda,” any speech that equates the social status same-sex relationships with heterosexual ones.
Others argue that the West should not boycott the Olympics, but should instead use it as an opportunity to highlight Russia’s abuses of gay rights. Russian officials have given conflicting statements about whether the law will be enforced against gay athletes and foreign visitors during the games.

The anti-gay crackdown is just one of many human rights abuses undertaken by the regime of ex-KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin. Others include repression of opposition media and persecution of critics of the government. Indeed, the government’s promotion of homophobia is just one facet of its broader ideology of authoritarian nationalism.

In terms of promoting the cause of human rights in Russia, I suspect that a boycott would be more effective than merely calling attention to abuses, while simultaneously attending the Games. Hosting the Olympics is nearly always a propaganda victory for the government of the nation where they take place. Even an otherwise corrupt and inefficient government can put on an impressive dog and pony show that draws favorable media coverage, if given years to prepare. The nation that gave the world the concept of the Potemkin Village is surely no exception.

A boycott has a greater chance of effectively punishing Russia for its unjust policies, and stimulating pressure for change. Sports boycotts against South Africa may have helped hasten the fall of apartheid. The boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics by the US and sixty other nations is often seen as a failure because it did not put an end to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. [...]

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Sports Stadium Corporate Welfare Continues in Detroit

Despite the having filed for bankruptcy, Detroit is going ahead with plans to spend over $400 million in public funds on a new hockey arena for the Detroit Red Wings [HT: Josh Blackman]:

Detroit’s financial crisis hasn’t derailed the city’s plans to spend more than $400 million in Michigan taxpayer funds on a new hockey arena for the Red Wings.

Advocates of the arena say it’s the kind of economic development needed to attract both people and private investment dollars into downtown Detroit. It’s an argument that has convinced Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager he appointed to oversee the city’s finances, to stick with the plan. Orr said Detroit’s bankruptcy filing won’t halt the arena plans.

“I know there’s a lot of emotional concern about should we be spending the money,” said Orr. “But frankly that’s part of the economic development. We need jobs. If it is as productive as it’s supposed to be, that’s going to be a boon to the city.”

But critics say the project won’t have enough economic impact to justify the cost, and that it’s the wrong spending priority for a city facing dire economic conditions.

I’m a big hockey fan and even used to play myself (not that I was any good). And, unlike many other Detroit institutions, the Red Wings have been very successful in recent years. Nonetheless, this massive stadium subsidy is utterly indefensible. Studies by a wide range of economists have repeatedly shown that stadium subsidies do not yield economic benefits for the wider communities where they are located.This recent book by political scientist David Schultz has a helpful survey of the evidence. Moreover, this kind of corporate welfare for powerful business interests is exactly the sort of wasteful crony capitalism that played a major [...]

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Did the Taxman Make Howard a Rocket?

All-Star Center Dwight Howard accepted less money to sign with the Houston Rockets than he could have earned had he remained on the Los Angeles Lakers, yet it appears he actually increased his after-tax income.  According to analyses rounded up by Paul Caron at TaxProfBlog, Howard stands to make more money with the smaller contract.  Texas doesn’t have a state income tax while the top marginal income tax rate in California  is 13.3%. As a consequence, the smaller contract is actually a better deal.  It also doesn’t hurt that Houston could be a legitimate title contender next year. [...]

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Canada Day

Since today is Canada Day, this is an appropriate time to thank that nation for giving us most of the greatest Boston Bruins players, including Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ray Bourque, and Rick “Nifty” Middleton (my favorite player when I was little). I even rooted for Canada more than the US in the 1984 and ’87 Canada Cup tournaments, because Bourque and other Bruins stars were on the Canadian team (also because the US had no chance of winning).

On a (slightly) more serious note, Canada also deserves credit for surpassing the United States on both the Cato/Fraser Institute and Heritage economic freedom ranking. This is partly due to serious backsliding by the US over the last decade. But it is also the result of Canada’s impressive success in getting its government spending under control in the 1990s and early 2000s. Canadian-born economist David David R. Henderson tells the story of that achievement here. Hopefully, the United States can imitate Canada’s achievement in this field, though I’m not optimistic it will happen quickly.

Despite some ongoing problems and periodic secession crises, Canada is also a good example of the use of federalism to reduce ethnic conflict and empower ethnic minorities.

None of this will prevent me from hating the Montreal Canadiens when the next NHL season starts. But in the meantime, Happy Canada Day! [...]

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And Onto More Important Matters . . .

My fears that we were facing a summer without top-class futbol have proven unfounded.  The Confederations Cup tournament, now underway in Brazil, has been a nice reminder that in just over a year or so, there will come a moment when 30 or 40 percent of the world’s population will be simultaneously engaged in the same activity – watching the World Cup final.  (And you heard it here first:  Spain v. Argentina.) If there is a wisdom of crowds, surely this is telling us something about the species, no?

The Confederations Cup is a weird and interesting tournament.  It’s held every 4 years, one year prior to the World Cup, in the host country – it serves as a kind of tuneup for the Big Show, both in terms of seeing whether the logistics (tickets, transport, field conditions, etc.) are all working well, and also to give the national team a first-class workout.

[This is a strange feature of the World Cup qualifying process.  The host team — Brazil, in this case – gets the home field advantage in the tournament, of course, which, in soccer, appears to be an even-more-prevalent phenomenon than in other major sports.  But they suffer a serious disadvantage as well:  Because they don’t have to qualify for the tournament (they’re given an automatic spot as the host), they don’t have to go through a hard-fought qualifying campaign, a grueling series of high-pressure games that all of the rest of the world’s countries are now going through.  It can make it very, very difficult to forge a team — or even to figure out who should be on the team — when it hasn’t played in any tough matches with the pressure turned up.  So the Confederations Cup is designed to alleviate that problem a bit.]

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The Highest-Paid Government Employee in Your State is Probably a Football or Basketball Coach

At Deadspin, Reuben Fischer-Baum has an interesting piece cataloguing the highest-paid state employees in each of the fifty states. Forty of fifty are coaches, all but one of them in either football or basketball.

As Fischer-Baum notes, this state of affairs is not quite as egregious as it may at first seem. Many of these Division I football and basketball programs generate a lot of revenue for their state universities, and the coaches are often paid out of that revenue rather than taxpayer funds. I would also add that NCAA coaches are among the very few state employees who face a serious risk of being fired for poor performance. Most Division I football and basketball coaches get fired within a few years of starting a new job.

On the other hand, as Fischer-Baum also points out, many of the coaches are paid far more than is justified by their marginal contribution to their universities’ revenue streams, even as the NCAA – supported by state and federal governments – continues to operate a cartel that tries to prevent all financial compensation for the players. I made the case for paying Division athletes here and here.

Finally, the state of Maine deserves special recognition from legal academics. According to Fischer-Baum, the highest-paid state official in the Pine Tree State is a law school dean.

UPDATE: In the original version of this post, I accidentally got Fischer-Baum’s first name wrong (I put “Robert” instead of “Reuben”). Perhaps I subconsciously confused him with the late Bobby Fischer. In any case, I apologize for the error, which has now been corrected. [...]

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Yankees Admit that they are “Baseball’s Evil Empire”

Fans of rival teams, especially Red Sox fans, have long known that the New York Yankees are the Evil Empire, as well as major recipients of corporate welfare. But in a recent legal proceeding, the team has now officially admitted it [HT: Josh Blackman]:

A panel of trademark judges in Washington, D.C., earlier this month denied a request from a private entrepreneur, known as Evil Enterprises, Inc., to register the trademark for the phrase “Baseballs Evil Empire.”

Evil Enterprises wanted the exclusive right to market merchandise using that phrase, which was coined in regard to the Yankees by Larry Lucchino, the president and chief executive of the Boston Red Sox, back in 2002….

Evil Enterprises initially applied for a trademark back in July of 2008.

But the Yankees objected, arguing that they had the rights to the phrase—at least when used in connection with baseball.

Part of the Yankees’ argument: a concession that in the baseball world, they are, in fact, the “Evil Empire.” In its legal papers, the team referenced a number of articles from the past decade using the term in connection with the Yankees, and conceded that the team has “implicitly embraced” the “Evil Empire” theme by playing music from Star Wars during their home games.

Not only did the Yankees admit that they are an evil empire, but we now have a legally binding judicial ruling to that effect:

The panel of judges sided with the Yankees, ruling that the Yankees are strongly associated with the phrase. Allowing anyone else to use the phrase exclusively would likely cause confusion, ruled the judges.

“In short, the record shows that there is only one Evil Empire in baseball and it is the New York Yankees,” wrote the judges. “Accordingly, we find that [the Yankees] have a protectable

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High School Football Goes to Court

There’s a bit of confusion about how a late season forfeit should affect seeding for the Ohio High School Athletic Association football playoffs, which are scheduled to start tonight. And so the confusion is being resolved in the typical fashion: A lawsuit. Make that multiple lawsuits that have already resulted in conflicting court rulings. According to this report, this one could end up in the Ohio Supreme Court. [...]

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Can You Tebow(TM)?

The AP reports:

The New York Jets backup quarterback is trademarking “Tebowing,” the move in which he goes down on one knee and holds a clenched fist against his forehead while praying during games. . . .

The devout Christian says his representatives filed on his behalf not for financial gain, but “to just control how it’s used, make sure it’s used in the right way.”

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Johnny Pesky, RIP

Boston Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky passed away today. Gordon Edes of ESPN has a good obituary here:

More than anybody else, Johnny Pesky embodied the Red Sox. More than anybody else, Johnny Pesky loved the Red Sox. More than anybody else, Johnny Pesky shared that love with anyone who ever asked for a picture, an autograph, a smile, a story. And often, you didn’t even have to ask.

On Monday, just more than a month before his 93rd birthday, Johnny Pesky died in … Danvers, Mass….

The Red Sox lost the greatest ambassador they ever had, and a damn good ballplayer too, a shortstop who had 200 hits in each of his first three seasons, a lifetime batting average of .307 and, like [Ted] Williams, might have put up even gaudier numbers if he hadn’t joined the Navy during World War II.

The rest of us lost one of our own, a guy…. who never embraced the notion that playing for the Red Sox entitled him to the prerogatives of royalty.

Pesky worked for the Red Sox for over sixty years and was one of the most important public faces of the franchise long after he retired.

Pesky was one of those players who lost a shot at the Hall of Fame by missing three years of playing time due to World War II. He posted HOF-worthy numbers in his first three seasons (1942, 1946-47), and likely would have done the same in the three years he missed in between. Modern sabermetric analysis strengthens his case somewhat, since his .307 batting average was backed by numerous walks, resulting in a lofty .394 on base percentage ( modern analysts consider OBP the single most important offensive stat).

Red Sox fans everywhere will miss Pesky. [...]

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Munich and the Politics of the IOC

Tonight’s opening ceremony for the 2012 Summer Olympics has been marred by the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to hold a brief moment of silence for the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. IOC president Jacques Rogge claims that the reason is that “the Opening Ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.” But, as various commentators have pointed out, the IOC has held commemorations for other tragedies at previous opening ceremonies, including for Bosnian victims of the siege of Sarajevo (1996 [update: possibly it was actually in 1994]) and the victims of 9/11 (2002). If the Opening Ceremony is an appropriate venue for acknowledging tragedies that have no connection to the Olympics, it is even more clearly appropriate for honoring the victims of the worst act of terrorism in Olympic history.

It’s pretty obvious that the real reason for the IOC’s refusal has nothing to do with appropriateness and everything to do with fear of offending Arab nations, as Rogge privately admitted to the widow of one of the Munich victims. This is not the first time that the IOC has been inconsistent in its political statements. For example, beginning in the 1960s, it understandably banned apartheid South Africa from participating in the Olympics. But it did not ban numerous dictatorships with comparable or worse human rights records, including communist regimes guilty of mass murder such as the USSR, North Korea, and Ethiopia. One cannot distinguish between these cases because South Africa’s racial discrimination violated the rights of athletes directly. Communist and other dictatorships also oppressed athletes, as well as many other people. Saddam Hussein’s regime even tortured athletes who didn’t perform as well as expected. North Korea also [...]

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