Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

In the NFL, public money can buy stadiums but not influence

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman

Block & Tackle previews the coming weekend of NFL football.

At a press conference this Monday, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told reporters that the team intended to let Adrian Peterson play football while the legal system handled accusations that he physically abused his son. But even as Spielman announced the Vikings’ self-serving decision, he was unwittingly laying the groundwork for its reversal.


Behind Spielman was a backdrop dotted with the Radisson logo, and the presence of that business-casual paintbrush script gave the impression that the mid-tier hotelier was signing its name to the Vikings’ policy. This was an untenable public-relations crisis. You can imagine the discomfort among Radisson executives as Spielman rattled off astonishing statements like “We feel strongly as an organization this is disciplining a child”—said in reference to an assault that seared a 4-year-old’s legs with a criss-cross of lacerations so vicious that they were still red when photographed for a criminal investigation a week later.

Radisson “suspended” its sponsorship of the Vikings on Tuesday, and on Wednesday the Vikings’ owners proclaimed that, “after giving the situation additional thought,” they would in fact bar Peterson from the team. This is a smaller-scale replay of the sponsor exodus that forced the NBA into action after racist remarks by L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling were made public in April. While these pressure tactics may produce satisfying results, they also evince the troubling fact that corporate America has come to serve as pro sports’ arbiter of morality.

Adrian Peterson (Photo: Minnesota Vikings)

Fans might be tempted to view sponsor pressure as a sort of indirect public activism—companies distance themselves from a troubled team because fans’ outrage will inevitably affect the bottom line, so in a roundabout way, the people’s voices are heard. The flaw in this implicit “vote with your wallet” system is that any “vote with your wallet” system favors those with the biggest wallets. That capitalistic calculus might be acceptable if the NFL were truly a private organization, but it’s not.


Thanks to tax breaks and stadium funding deals, the league is essentially a semi-public enterprise, yet curiously, the public side has practically no leverage when things go awry. NFL owners don’t consult with elected representatives when they need to make controversial decisions, nor do they eagerly solicit the input of the people. Indeed, when the Vikings released their “on second thought…” statement about the Peterson case this week, the owners concluded by expressing their “hope that all of our fans can respect the process that we have gone through” as the Vikings bungled this sensitive matter. In other words, shut up about it already.

That’s a curious attitude for an organization that benefits so greatly from public largesse. On the Vikings’ official website, video of Spielman’s Monday press appearance is accompanied by a wraparound ad touting the Vikings’ new stadium. “IT’S TIME TO BUILD,” the sidebar proclaims, conjuring the image of a thousand blond, mustachioed Vikings using their bare hands to forge a grand new colosseum of the North. This up-by-the-bootstraps message is somewhat undermined by the reality that construction on the Vikings’ facility is aided by almost half a billion dollars in taxpayer money. Plus, the NFL gets millions in tax breaks each year by virtue of its status as a non-profit organization, one that collected more than $6 billion in non-profit last year.


These deals, and others like them, have made the public complicit in the operations of the NFL and its teams. Yet the league remains unaccountable to the public in any direct, substantial way. We all pay into the system the same way sponsors like Radisson and Budweiser do, but without the same leverage. It’s a shame we can’t be sponsors, too. Maybe in the interest of fairness, future stadium deals should come in the form of state-funded “sponsorships” that can be reviewed and revoked on a periodic basis. That would give the public sector some recourse when teams go astray, and it might force owners to find a moral compass that doesn’t treat Radisson Hotels as magnetic north.

It would also be unworkable, alas. Pro football stadiums are massive expenditures; they need the promise of long-term stability to make the investment tenable. When teams want to get that stability by way of public funds, it ought to come in the form of a loan. (If taxpayers can’t buy influence, we can at least get our money back.) And if NFL executives want to address moral crises by looking at the bottom line, let them be true capitalists and contend with the same taxes as everyone else. The league works hard, after all, to ensure that players compete on a level playing field; it’s only fair that we do the same for the league.


Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks — Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS

The Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, Max Unger, and Robert Turbin (Photo: Rod Mar/Seattle Seahawks)

This is being touted on TV as a Super Bowl rematch, naturally, and it promises to be a good game, just like the Super Bowl promised. It’s surely the more enticing game in CBS’ late doubleheader slot this Sunday—only close family of the players involved would prefer to watch Kansas City-Miami. (Good thing, too.) But despite the justified hype, Super Bowl rematches have a hard time living up to expectations, especially early in the season. The stakes are lower, and the consequences are uncertain. There can’t be the same charge. It’s the difference between a halftime show where rock stars perform and a halftime show where a foam osprey officiates a wiener dog race.

(You don’t use a checkered flag to START the race, stupid bird. I know it’s only a wiener dog race, but Christ, take some pride in your craft.)


Anyway, my point is that there’s a hollowness to watching last year’s champions compete to win everyday spoils. For Denver, which is to say for Peyton Manning, this game can’t prove anything. If you win, then why couldn’t you do that in February? And if you lose, you lose.

For Seattle fans, a win gets your team back on track after losing to a bold Chargers squad last week—but that says it all. The Seahawks have to beat the Broncos just to get “back on track,” whereas seven months ago, they beat the Broncos and were crowned kings of the world. Win or lose, this game reminds Seattle that glory fades. Just ask the wiener dogs. The Block & Tackle “incorporate it into your wedding vows” prediction: Denver 23, Seattle 20.


Official Official Of The Week


Block & Tackle’s official Official Of The Week is Byron Boston. He’s a line judge on referee Walt Anderson’s crew, and he wears lucky number 18, a Harshad number. Boston is the official who helped nullify a pivotal Jets touchdown in their loss to the Packers on Sunday. You can see him in the image above, on the left, slowly shuffling away from Jets head coach Rex Ryan.

A split-second before the snap on a late, critical fourth-and-4 play for the Jets, Boston heard somebody on the New York sideline call for timeout, so he granted it. But the play went off anyway, and it was a 37-yard touchdown pass from Geno Smith that would have tied the game. Instead it got waved off. It turned out that, amid some confusion, a Jets defensive lineman had shouted “timeout.” And while the head coach is supposed to have sole authority to call time from the sideline, the league says that officials don’t turn around to double-check when the ball’s about to be snapped—in that tense moment, if somebody shouts “timeout,” the official is supposed to grant a timeout unless he’s 100 percent sure it didn’t come from the head coach. So the Jets got away with calling an illegal timeout that wiped out their own spectacular, game-tying play.


An inevitable collapse ensued, the coda to an exquisite cocktail of error that only the mixologists at the New York Jets could concoct. And at the heart of it all was a man named Boston. Congratulations to Byron Boston, Block & Tackle’s official Official Of The Week.

Chicago Bears vs. New York Jets — Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN


I like when players bring style to their press conferences, because they certainly aren’t there to provide substance. And on Sunday, after an exciting primetime win over a favored 49ers team, the Bears’ Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall brought a special flair to the media room with a late-night double act. In the stitched-together faux-Cinerama screenshot up above, your eye is first drawn to Marshall’s jacket, which is what happens when an alligator has a baby with the jeans they used to give away on Double Dare. Cutler was so entranced by the Jordache beast that he had to feel it for himself:

Cutler half-slumbered through the Q&A session in a state of exhausted bliss, his eyelids drooping as he glanced around the room. Yet whenever he answered a question, he perked up and activated the charm. The eloquence of Cutler’s responses (relatively speaking) was a funny contrast to his apparent daze. But it happened over and over. He’d start listening to a reporter’s question looking like this…


…and by the time he had to respond, he’d transform into this:


Cutler also checked his phone throughout the press conference, seemingly bemused that these journalists were asking him questions when all he wanted to do was thumb through congratulatory Snapchats:


But Cutler wasn’t all antics. He brought his own fashion game, too. The off-white/salmon pocket square is unexpected, and it works. The tie knot, though, could use another pass. That’s one limp dimple, Cutler. The Block & Tackle “mail it to yourself so you can use the postmark as proof” prediction: Chicago 20, Jets 19.

Touchdown Dance vs. Sack Dance, Vol. 1

It is the eternal question, starting now: Which is better, the touchdown dance or the sack dance? Block & Tackle quixotically seeks to solve this riddle in a series of contrived dance-offs. Our inaugural matchup features Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell in the touchdown-dance corner with a Week 1 “Hip Hop Hooray” tribute:

There’s a lot to like here. The moves are admirably crisp and well rehearsed to make an impact in the brief spotlight of post-TD camera time. Involving the crowd is another plus, but the judges have to deduct points for the semi-clumsy climb up to the railing.


And now for your consideration, consider the Bears’ Willie Young, reeling off—or reeling in—this dance during Chicago’s aforementioned victory against the Niners:

Pros: A good buildup that takes patience from Young. He’s committed to the bit. They say acting is reacting, and Young wisely takes what the imaginary fish gives him, feeding off its energy. Cons: More of a mime than a dance.


The winner is Willie Young, bringing the overall tally to Sack Dance 1, Touchdown Dance 0. If there’s an on-field display of joy that you’d like to see featured in Touchdown Dance vs. Sack Dance, tweet it to me at @johnteti. If I decide to use the dance in a column, I’ll tweet you a recipe for seven-layer dip that I found on Yahoo! Answers, but I don’t know if it’s any good or not.

If Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu were a couple from Married At First Sight, which couple from Married At First Sight would he be?


Jamie and Doug.

Washington vs. Philadelphia Eagles — Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox


Scrambling on a play during Washington’s win against Jacksonville on Sunday, quarterback Robert Griffin III landed awkwardly on his ankle and dislocated it. Kirk Cousins, Griffin’s capable backup, finished out the game, and Griffin is expected to miss half the season. It’s the latest injury setback for Griffin, who messed up his knee late in the 2012 season and then messed it up even worse in the playoffs a few weeks later. (This came after the team’s much-scrutinized decision to let Griffin play hurt.) Still only in his third NFL season, Griffin has now suffered serious injuries in two of them.

Griffin’s run of bad luck prompted a remarkable exchange on Sunday’s late-night SportsCenter between ESPN analysts Chris Berman, Cris Carter, and Tom Jackson. Berman kicked off the conversation by promising not to speculate and immediately speculating.

Chris Berman: We can’t speculate, but—dislocated ankle. [Griffin]’s not back anytime soon. Maybe later in the week we know, ooh, boy, maybe all the year, a lot of the year. But [theatrical sigh, as if it pains him to say this next thing] three of the seasons, two not right.

Cris Carter: We talk about it all the time, Tommy: availability.

Tom Jackson: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Carter: And the difference between the great players—the great players, they’re available to play. Somehow, in the same kind of way, they get in the same kind of accidents, car crashes. You know, they get bumped. They get hit. But they make it back out there. That’s the thing about Brett Favre that made him so legendary.

Jackson: Ah, right.

Carter: Not just the touchdown passes, but his ability to get out there.

Indeed, epic poems have been written about Brett Favre’s ability to show up at games where he is slated to play. Carter went on to say that Griffin could bounce back and that he had to think of the long term, but those sympathetic words were an afterthought after Carter had already insinuated, at length, that getting hurt on a football field is some sort of character flaw. This isn’t an uncommon sentiment in troglodytic NFL commentary: Getting injured once is bad luck, but if you get hurt again, hmm, maybe the problem is with you. Because what are the odds of getting hurt TWICE on a pro football field? It’s not like 21 other roided-up, armor-clad men are flying around you at every angle in a veritable snow globe of violence.


Carter and Jackson are both former players, so you’d think they would have a bit more sympathy for Griffin. The fact that Carter casually invokes car accidents—car accidents!—as an analogy for the game indicates that he’s aware of its danger. Maybe he expects actual crash victims to stoically pick the glass shards out of their flesh, give their bones a moment to knit, and get “back out there,” too. Or maybe football pundits can be bafflingly cruel. The Block & Tackle “go ahead and eat it, it’s not poisonous, promise” prediction: Philadelphia 31, Washington 20.

Kirk, whose team is this, and what’s your job? And a follow-up: Whose team is this, and what’s your job?

Corrections department

Due to a bug in Netscape Navigator, the winners and losers in the following game predictions were erroneously transposed in last Friday’s column: Tennessee vs. Dallas, Miami vs. Buffalo, New Orleans vs. Cleveland, Tennessee vs. Dallas again, Detroit vs. Carolina, Tampa Bay vs. St. Louis, Seattle vs. San Diego, Houston vs. Oakland, and Indianapolis vs. Philadelphia. We regret the error and appreciate the opportunity to correct the record.


Fan Forum Check-In: Buffalo Bills


Fan Forum Check-In takes the pulse of fandom, one message board at a time. The Buffalo Range is your destination for “Hard Core Buffalo Bills Talk,” but the proprietors are quick to note that its members also discuss “Bills, Sabres, NFL Draft, Politics, Food, Beer, and everything Buffalo NY related.” Indeed, the site’s Buffalo pride is evident in the masthead up top, which showcases the famous photographer’s watermark that famously hovers over the city. (On a clear day, you can see it from Chautauqua!)

Buffalo is riding high atop the AFC East after a 2-0 start. So naturally, it’s time to complain about the quarterback. Bills field general EJ Manuel comes in for some stick courtesy of a user named wagoncircler, who kicks off a thread entitled “This team deserves a better Quarterback”:

This game should have been 52-10. Maybe more.

EJ was given golden field position all day, but his nagging, ever present accuracy problem turned Carpenter into a Fantasy Football superstar.

The Defense is for real. There’s a ton of talent on Offense.

The Trent Edwards Offense isn’t going to get us there.

This team is a QB away from the playoffs.

It’s a deft bit of online rabble-rousing—too even-handed to be called out-and-out trolling, but still clearly written to piss people off. Eleven-year board veteran Meathead takes the bait:

ive said it before and ill say it again, a good managing qb can be a winning qb. right now alex smith is a great model for that. you can win with the game alex plays - safe, efficient, and smart. id be happy with the black alex smith


bottom line: hes way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way outperforming most of yalls preseason expectations so far so you should be freakin happy lol


“And if you’re all out of the black Alex Smith, could you check to see if you have any Swedish Michael Vick in stock?”

JimKelly12203 is heartened by Meathead’s words, and he chips in his own unintentional damnation-by-faint-praise of Manuel:

Manual had a double play action fake in particular that i think was quite artfully done. It’s little things like effectively selling a fake that make all the difference. I don’t recall the play exactly, but he looked like a ninja with the ball on the second fake. It was VERY well executed.


Meathead responds two minutes later to second this motion, framing his analysis the way all great nuggets of football wisdom are framed:

yeah i told my dad today ej is very good with the ball fakes, which really is a whole art to itself


In another thread, forum member Skooby has made a discovery on his iPhone that he shares, coyly, in a thread titled “Ask Siri who’s the best team in the NFL right now”:

Go ahead and ask her.

Many users do, and they delight in Siri’s answer. But in the third page of the thread, StraightJ makes a stand:

I have no intentions of ever speaking with Siri. Just because I respect Steve Jobs(RIP) for publicly stating LSD was one of the 3 most important things he ever did, doesn’t mean I’m willing to pay the over-inflated prices for Apple’s current product line. (Kind of like spending a fortune on a Tesla car, which plays off the name of a man who died bankrupt, after his sponsors found out he planned to give the world free energy). However, I was amused when I saw a beggar with an iBeg sign recently. I wonder if they had a markup too?

Regardless, props to the OP for an interesting find!

That proves it once again: No matter where you go on the Internet, somebody is bitching about Apple.


Quick-Hit Picks

Here are the rest of Block & Tackle’s final score predictions for the rest of the Week 2 slate. All Block & Tackle predictions are guaranteed to be correct.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons (last night, 8:25 p.m., CBS): Atlanta 28, Tampa Bay 14. Many people think that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is known as “Matty Ice” because he maintains a cool demeanor under pressure, but he just likes ice.


San Diego Chargers vs. Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): San Diego 24, Buffalo 16. Only one of the smiling faces in the picture above belongs to rookie Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett. The rest are Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Houston Texans vs. New York Giants (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): New York 19, Houston 17.


Dallas Cowboys vs. St. Louis Rams (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): Dallas 21, St. Louis 21. What the hell, let’s have a tie.

Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): New Orleans 28, Minnesota 9.


Tennessee Titans vs. Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): Cincinnati 20, Tennessee 13. Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Tennessee is 6-5 against teams named after cats and 2-3 against teams named after birds.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): Cleveland 21, Baltimore 17. The Ravens produce a TV show called Ravens Unscripted, which raises the question, as opposed to what?


Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): Indianapolis 31, Jacksonville 14.

Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., Fox): Green Bay 35, Detroit 24. The Lions defense will be eager to get to the opposing quarterback in this game, because they heard that if you inhale him, it makes your voice sound funny.


Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS): New England 31, Oakland √-7. Oakland will score an imaginary touchdown.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals (Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox): San Francisco 24, Arizona 14. The 49ers have scored exactly 49 points only four times in NFL history. They’re all talk.


Kansas City Chiefs vs. Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS): Kansas City 20, Miami 16.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Carolina Panthers (Sunday, 8:30 p.m., NBC): Pittsburgh 21, Carolina 18. NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth says that he lets Al Michaels write Collinsworth’s broadcast-opening patter. So in essence, at the beginning of a Sunday Night Football game, you’re watching Al Michaels talk to another Al Michaels. That’s too many Al Michaelses.


B&T prediction record last week: 17-0 (Tennessee-Dallas was predicted twice, for emphasis)

B&T prediction record for 2014 season: 33-0

Lamentable corrections made: 17


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