Stories That Won't Go Away

May 27, 2016

Some stories just refuse to go away. In Rhode Island we have corruption in the State House and Providence City Hall. In Sports World we have deflategate, concussions, performance enhancing drugs and sexual assault. They lie dormant for a while but then return like weeds, mosquitos and humidity.

Deflategate. I don’t have to start at the beginning, do I? The AFC Championship game that spawned this controversy occurred 16 months ago. Sixteen! All that time quarterback Tom Brady has remained steadfast in denying any knowledge of deflated footballs. And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has persisted in playing judge, jury and executioner. At stake, Brady’s reputation and a four-game suspension.

This week, Brady’s legal team fired the latest volleys in this war of wits by requesting a hearing before the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District in Manhattan, giving rise to speculation that they are preparing to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  In addition, the Patriots filed a friend of the court brief supporting Brady, even though Robert Kraft, the Pats owner, paid a fine of $1 million and forfeited draft picks.

I thought this case was over when the appellate court ruled 2-1 to overturn the district court decision that threw out Brady’s suspension. I was wrong. Deflategate refuses to go away.

Concussions. Another headache for the NFL, concussions were back in the headlines this week with the news that Bubba Smith, a defensive end on Michigan State’s great 1966 football team and later an All-Pro with the Baltimore Colts, suffered from the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  According to researchers at Boston University, among the pioneers studying the impact of repeated head trauma on the brain, Smith is the 90th former NFL player they found with CTE. They have studied the brains of 94 former players.

According to the Mayo Clinic, CTE may lead to cognitive impairment, aggressive behavior, memory loss, dementia, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, and difficulty planning and executing plans. Much remains to be learned about CTE because researchers can study only the brains of the deceased.

The NFL has been slow to acknowledge the link between football and head trauma, and this week a Congressional report asserted that the NFL “acted improperly” in trying to influence grants for the study of concussions made by the National Institutes of Health with unrestricted funds from the league. The NFL withdrew a $30-million pledge to the NIH when the organization awarded a $16-million grant to Robert Stern, a BU researcher. Taxpayers are now funding the research.

The NFL disputed the Congressional report, and on Thursday, in a letter to the NFL owners, Goodell expressed league support for concussion research and stood behind the $30-million commitment.  Concussion stories are not going away.

Drugs. Fines, suspensions, and even tarnished reputations have not stopped athletes from turning to drugs, legal and illegal, to run faster, jump higher and be stronger. Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens are just a few of the poster boys. Every week, it seems, some pro athlete is suspended for substance abuse. Now we even have government sponsored doping.

The International Olympic Committee re-tested 454 doping samples from the Beijing Summer Games in 2008 and found 31 athletes from 12 countries with questionable results, according to The New York Times. Russian television identified 14 athletes, 10 of them medalists. Also this month, the chemist who directed Russia’s anti-doping lab for 10 years disclosed that Russian athletes used performance enhancing drugs before the Summer Games in 2008 and in 2012 in London and the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. Dr. Grigory Rodchinkov said he mixed a cocktail of three anabolic steroids to help medal contenders recover from workouts. Russian officials have denied the charges. Rodchinkov is retired and living in Los Angeles now. Last year the World Anti-Doping Agency charged Russia with widespread doping and banned track and field athletes from international competition. With the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro starting on Aug. 5, doping stories will return.

Sexual assault. It’s bad enough when athletes, already privileged personalities on many college campuses, commit sexual assault and indiscretions. It’s worse when coaches and administrators fail to act. The latest example is Baylor University, where Kenneth Starr was forced to resign as president, Art Briles was fired as football coach, and the athletics director Ian McCaw was placed on probation for failing to respond properly to multiple allegations of sexual assault by Baylor football players.

Starr, as independent counsel, led the investigation that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 in the wake of his alleged sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He became Baylor’s president in 2010. He will remain as chancellor and a professor in its law school.

Briles took over a moribund program in 2008 and produced two Big 12 championships in the last three seasons. His career record is 99-65.

McCaw went to Baylor in 2003 from the University of Massachusetts. He began his career in athletics administration in the sports information office at the University of Maine in 1986. He also served as AD at Northeastern from 1997 to 2002.

College coaches, especially football coaches, should post the Baylor story on locker room bulletin boards. And if the stories yellow with age, they should wait for the next scandal because, unfortunately, sexual assault stories are not going away.