Sharing the Wealth

As Bob Dylan once said: “The times, they are a-changing.”

A ruling earlier this month by a California federal court threatens to alter college sports. We may soon see a new definition of amateurism, as the door opens for major college athletes to share in revenue at the top levels of collegiate football and basketball. Gone may be the days when revenue generated by athletic performance on the field eluded athletic performers and was instead divided amongst top universities.

The case, O’Bannon v. N.C.A.A., tried in the Northern District of California, involved a challenge by former major college athletes of the N.C.A.A’s rules restricting compensation for elite men’s football and basketball players. The athletes argued that N.C.A.A. rules prohibiting college athletes from receiving compensation from their schools or outside sources for the use of their names, images and likenesses in live game telecasts, video games, game re-broadcasts, advertisements, and other footage, were a violation of antitrust laws under the Sherman Act. The N.C.A.A. argued that its rules were necessary to ensure preservation of amateurism and opportunities for student-athletes, assurance of competitive balance, and integration of academics and athletics.

After a trial that extended throughout the month of June, the court agreed with the athletes, enjoining the N.C.A.A.’s use and application of its rules, and directing that less restrictive methods be adopted for the N.C.A.A.’s stated goals. The N.C.A.A. was effectively told to share its wealth through stipends for student-athletes while in school and licensing revenue trust funds to be set up for the benefit of the athletes after they leave school.

While the N.C.A.A. will undoubtedly appeal the court’s ruling, returning to the decades-long policy of college athletes playing simply for the cost of tuition may prove difficult. The O’Bannon case will likely open the door to change in college athletics. How such change will impact competition on the gridiron and hard courts, however, remains to be seen.

Cold Front

Bedroom windows open for the first time in nearly a year. Cool air streams into the room. It is fifty five degrees outside. Welcome to winter in Miami.

Images of snow and ice fill our television screens. The arctic blast attacks most of the country. Weather maps display single digit or negative temperatures. Sportscasters show highlights of the Forty-Niners/Packers game, one of the coldest in history. A Kentucky convict escapes and almost immediately turns himself in –too cold to elude authority. I sip my coffee and wait for traffic to subside.

The morning drive is uneventful, but busy. Schools are open – back in session after the holiday break. No closings due to weather. Airplanes fly overhead, few heading north, where many flights have cancelled. National radio jocks complain about shoveling snow. They yearn for a spring thaw that remains months away.

Several bank employees in the elevator, all wearing sweaters. Can you believe this weather? I had to turn on the heat. The dogs complained about being outside; I had to let them in.

Through my window I see people walking quickly, bundled in their warmest autumn clothing. Later in the day temperatures will rise, sweaters will be discarded, walkers will slow their pace.

By noon all seems normal. Restaurants are busy, diners sitting outdoors, taking in the sun. The crowd at Hillstone overflows, waiting for tables to clear. There are no open outdoor tables at the Starbucks across the street.

The drive home is slower than normal. Drivers have not yet become accustomed to their evening routine after the holiday gap. My thirty minute drive grows to forty five. I exit the car I feel the dip in the temperature. Cooler weather is expected.

The weatherman warns that the cold front will remain with us for a couple of days. Temperatures will again drop into the fifties. Our windows will remain open another night.

A Message From Dolphins Management

To: Miami Dolphins Players

From: Team Management

It has come to Management’s attention that recent messages encouraging team unity and leadership may have been misinterpreted by some. Effective immediately, all players are to refrain from the following activity:

1. Holding strategy meetings at strip clubs. While the sight of writhing naked bodies may be inspirational to some, Management feels that such an environment is not the most appropriate to discuss blocking schemes and offensive formations. Moreover, these questionable outings are wreaking havoc on the team’s petty cash.

2. Leaving voice mail messages replete with obscenities and racial slurs. The fact that many stand-up comedians use the “n” word with impunity does not make such use acceptable in everyday life. Nor is it OK to send text messages about sexual relations with members of other players’ families. Some may find such messages offensive. We are not operating a comedy club – this is a football team. If you must use racial slurs or offensive language, please make sure that your remarks are not being recorded.

3. Humiliating rookies and other young players in order to “toughen them up.” We understand that historically this has been acceptable behavior in clubhouses. However, times change and so must our “maturation” strategy. People outside of football fail to comprehend how compelling inexperienced, lower-salaried players to pay $15,000 apiece to finance group trips to Vegas (even if the person paying does not attend) builds character and fosters team unity. What you view as building team spirit others may interpret as extortion. So we must reluctantly insist that you cease and desist from such behavior. Come on, guys – leave the Vegas trips to college players who can best afford them.

4. Sexually harassing female volunteers at team outings. There is no excuse for such behavior. It causes needless distractions – we should be focused on preparing for this week’s game. Players found to have engaged in such activity will be forced to publicly apologize to their teammates.

There will be a mandatory meeting of all players Tuesday morning at 9:00 AM before practice to go over all of these items in detail. Practice will begin promptly at 9:15 AM.

Fifty Shades of CNN

Can someone explain why the Jodi Arias murder trial is national news?

The world abounds with newsworthy stories. In Rome, the College of Cardinals has elected the first non-European Pope, while the old Pope still lives. In Venezuela, the death of Hugo Chavez has raised questions about the future of that country, and the possible course of its relations with the United States. In Washington, President Obama has reached across the aisle to GOP leaders in an effort to address looming budget cuts. In New York, the city brazes for the possible trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, captured a few days go. Meanwhile, asteroids continue to pass dangerously close to the Earth, fueling doomsday predictions.

Yet the story that dominates CNN’s nightly coverage is the murder trial of Jodi Arias, now entering its third month.

The story lacks the celebrity of O.J. Simpson and the pathos of Caylee Anthony. What it does have is sex – lots of it.

Each night, Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper and Piers Morgan bring Jodi Arias’ sex life into our living rooms under the guise of news. The details are salacious and explicit, the analysis over the top. We are repeatedly told that the story is important, but we are not told why.

The Arias story is indeed important – not to the viewer, but to CNN’s ratings. After more than two years of round-the-clock coverage of the drama that was our presidential election, CNN now finds itself with a programming gap. The casual viewer will not tune in nightly to watch stories of governmental inertia, no matter how many “gloom and doom” scenarios are attached to the coming budget cuts. Enter the Arias trial, a story that is sure to titillate by appealing to our most basic prurient interests.

Long before the success of E.L. James’ sexual trilogy brought the term “mommy porn” into our national lexicon, the works of such authors as Harold Robbins used sex as a springboard to best-selling status. Sex sells – it is no coincidence that some of the most popular shows on television today are carried by HBO, Showtime and other premium networks not subject to rules of censorship that restrict the major networks. The success of cable and satellite television can be largely attributed to the “anything goes” image propagated from the very beginning by cable networks and operators. The viewer was willing to pay for TV, something that had always been free, because he was getting something unavailable over the airwaves: uninhibited language, graphic violence and, above all else, sex.

Which brings us back to the Arias trial. Each night new details of the sexual relationship between Arias and the late Travis Alexander are disclosed and analyzed. Sex is the hook used by CNN to lure (and keep) viewers until the next big story comes along.

There is nothing new about the concept of news as entertainment. An industry beholden to the whims of advertisers will inevitably compromise its values to survive. That is the way TV news has worked for decades. 60 Minutes remains the longest running show on TV not because of its news value, but because the public is viscerally attracted to attacks launched by the late Mike Wallace and his cohorts upon seemingly unsuspecting targets – that’s entertainment. The stories are trimmed into 20-minute segments, with intervening commercials, to keep the show (and the advertising dollars) flowing.

What CNN is doing with the Arias story is predictable, if lamentable. CNN has turned the Arias trial into national news because it needs the ratings.

It is “news” as conceived by Larry Flynt.

Dreaming

My dreams vanish before they become memories.

I awake knowing that I have dreamt. A hazy image in the recesses of my mind persists, taunting my inability to recall. The darkness around me offers no clue. Where was I? What was I doing? Who was I with? There are no answers in the night, only the certainty that something was but is no more. My dream is over and the questions begin.

Yet sometimes the images are clearer, sharper.

I awake with a start, breathing heavily. And I recall.

The past few weeks have been stressful. My father’s death has evoked wistful memories and the realization that he is no longer there. We were very close. I feel his absence.

Work has offered no reprieve. I have spent several days in contentious negotiations with a woman I have never met. I am pressed by my client to resolve the issue. Yet she remains unyielding, steadfast. We engage in circular daily conversations. There is no end to our discussions.

In my dream we meet for the first time. Her lower face is indistinct, but her eyes are dark, sharp, aggressive. We are sitting in a conference room atop a tall office building. I glance around and recognize it as a downtown Miami skyscraper where I spent more than ten years of my professional life. Through the floor-to-ceiling glass window I see Biscayne Bay, the Port of Miami, several cruise ships making their way to open sea.

I am accompanied by a Jamaican man I do not recognize. He sits by my side as I engage in heated discussion with my opponent. I can tell he is Jamaican by the flow of his voice on the rare occasions when he speaks.

The negotiations end when my opponent insists on terms to which I cannot agree.

The dream ends when the Jamaican man falls through the window and plunges to his death.

I recall vividly the flailing of his arms as he stumbles backwards into the abyss, the shock of realization on his face as he falls away from life.

There will no more sleep this night. I stare at the wall and think.

I remind myself that stress is what is causing my disturbing visions. I need to gain control of my emotions.

Time will assuredly make things better, but patience has never been my strength.

Eventually the pain of my father’s loss will recede, my stress level will drop to nearly-acceptable levels.

Perhaps then my dreams will once again vanish into my subconscious, forever hiding visions seen only with closed eyes, and sparing the lives of unknown beings whose imaginary deaths haunt my nocturnal unrest.

Eulogy

My cousin Antonette wrote this on the day my father passed:

The loss of a loved one is always painful, especially if he touched your life in special ways. Today I lost my Tio Elio, a man to whom I looked up for his wisdom, strength, conviction and, above all, his amazing unconditional love for my brother and me. I will always remember those days as a child when Tia and Tio took us in for the summer and our adventures began. I recall Tio’s commitment to making every moment count for us. I could never repay them for their love. I will miss my uncle and the warm embrace he shared with me every time we met.

My son’s best friend Talayesa wrote the following from Brussels, where he is interning:

I just heard about Elio and am really feeling your loss. It came as a shock, since I was unaware of his condition. He and Daisy always treated me like one of the family, and it’s really hard to imagine coming to see you without being greeted by his welcoming hug.

The underlying themes in both writings are love and family, which defined my father’s life. He gave of himself routinely, willing to sacrifice for those he loved.

In Cuba he was an accountant, his drive and acumen always respected by his peers. He left all that behind for the promise of a better life – not for him, but for me, his only son. When he came to the U.S., he never went back to accounting. Instead, he took whatever jobs would provide for us. He spent his last two working decades as a banquet waiter. And, with the help of my mom, on a banquet waiter’s salary, he put me through college and law school.

He had friends. He was a talker, always willing to engage in conversation, turning strangers into friends. Yet I do not recall my father ever going out with friends or doing anything which excluded my mother and me.

He was generous with his time and money. When he retired in 1997 and he and my mother moved to Miami from New York, they became my children’s daily caretakers. Patricia and I both worked long hours in demanding jobs. And my parents were the reason why we could. They were always there for us and their grandchildren, driving them to their daily activities, embracing and caring for their friends as if they too were their grandchildren.

He was surrounded by nieces and nephews who loved him, and brothers- and sisters-in-law who viewed him as a brother.

He and my mother were married for 58 years.

When my cousin Carmen passed away earlier this year, my father, who was in declining health, insisted on attending the wake. My Aunt Denise saw him sitting in discomfort, obviously afflicted by his condition, and gently reprimanded him for overexerting himself. My father replied: “I had to come. You are my family.”

He was right, of course. We are and will continue to be his family. We defined his life. Which is why his love will continue to dwell within us as time progresses and the pain recedes.

Kumbaya

Nothing unites like a common enemy.

Baseball has been fragmented for decades. Players and owners are perpetually at odds, wrestling over salaries and benefits, hurling accusations at each other, and dealing with several work stoppages, one of which led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series. Teams battle home cities over financing of new stadiums, each insisting that the other bear the brunt of the expense. Fans lament escalating ticket prices, complaining that the game has been rendered unaffordable and taken away from fans for the benefit of millionaire players and billionaire owners. Owners battle owners over distribution of profits, with richer teams compelled to surrender large amounts annually to teams from smaller markets. Politicians square off against players and owners, seeking to clean up a sport altered by performance enhancing drugs, and utilizing federal prosecutions and Congressional hearings to get their point across.

Last week, however, these factions set aside their differences and aimed their collective bulls-eye at Jeffrey Loria and David Sampson, owner and president of the Miami Marlins.

The reason for baseball’s discontent was an international exchange of personnel by the Marlins and their American League counterparts, the Toronto Blue Jays. In one quick stroke, the Marlins shed themselves of more than $150 million in salaries, trading away several of their best and most expensive players for promising and inexpensive prospects.

Analysts almost universally agree that, from a pure baseball standpoint, the trade was good for the Marlins. A last place team wiped out long-term salary commitments that would have assuredly hampered its rebuilding efforts. The young prospects obtained by the Marlins are rated among the Blue Jays’ best, and some among baseball’s best.

But the player analysis does not tell the whole story. Last year, the Marlins opened the doors to their new $515 million stadium, largely financed by public funds. The Marlins, who under two ownership groups had a history of dismantling successful teams and placing profits over quality on the field, had convinced local politicians that a new stadium would bring a new approach to management. Gone, they said, were the days of penny-pinching and wholesale player sell-offs. With the new stadium, the Marlins would compete for top talent, and pay top dollar to do so.

Last December, the Marlins signed several high-priced free agents, announcing to all that better days had arrived. The team expected to contend for the National League East title, and expected to do so before near sellout crowds.

But the 2012 season did not go as planned. After a month of May in which the Marlins won more games than any other major league squad, the team fell apart. Injuries, lack of hitting and an inconsistent bullpen led to repeated losses on the field. And with those losses the Marlins changed course, trading three of their better players at mid-season for less experienced, inexpensive players. Amongst those traded away was Hanley Ramirez, an underachieving yet supremely talented infielder who had long been considered the face of the franchise. Not surprisingly, attendance dropped.

While the mid-season trades caused some concern about the team’s long-term plans, most believed that this would be a mere blip in the Marlins’ rise to prominence. The team had, after all, signed all that expensive talent during the off-season and promised its fans (and Miami-Dade County) that better days were ahead. Few expected a wholesale tradeoff of the very talent the team had recently acquired, which is why last week’s trade, which shed the Marlins’ payroll by more than fifty percent, has angered so many.

Local politicians who had supported public financing of the new stadium feel betrayed – they would not have agreed to the deal had they known that one year after debuting their new home, the Marlins would revert to their old ways and trade away most of their better players. Fans are outraged, realizing that the team will effectively field a minor-league squad in 2013 (and not making this apparent until after season-ticket holders had commenced payments on tickets for the coming season). Players traded away have stated that the Marlins lied to them when they were signed, promising that the team’s commitment to these players was long-term, despite refusing to include no-trade clauses in the players’ contracts. Player agents have warned that, given the Marlins’ apparent deception, it will be nearly impossible for the team to attract top free agent talent in the future, possibly dooming the team to a decade of mediocrity. And owners are concerned that the Marlins’ actions will make it difficult for other teams to obtain public financing for future stadiums – the relationship between host cities and teams will be governed by a mistrust fueled by the Marlins’ sell-out.

Despite the criticism, the Marlins’ management insists that its actions were necessary, and are best for the future of the franchise. By shedding expensive contracts, the team can go back to square one and try to build a winning squad from the bottom up, unencumbered by long term financial commitments. Other teams, most notably the 2012 Oakland A’s, have adopted a similar approach and achieved success on the field. The implication seems to be that team owner Jeffrey Loria should not be compelled to spend needlessly on a losing product. If he wishes to cut costs and pocket profit while the team rebuilds, it is certainly his right to do so.

But the logic of the Marlins’ argument has failed to mitigate the ill-will that this trade has generated.

The Marlins have achieved the near- impossible. With one controversial trade, the team has brought the warring factions of the game together. Players, owners, politicians, player agents, fans and media are united in their contempt for a Marlins ownership group which apparently never learned a basic tenet of human behavior:

Just because you can do something does not mean you should.