The Power of Obsession

Bill Gates: obsessed?

Bill Gates: obsessed?

Listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio over the last few days, one of the topics of discussion was the greatness of NFL quarterbacks, specifically Peyton Manning and Joe Montana. Part of the discussion was on how while talent is important, so is application. Or, as it was framed in the show, whether or not these players were described by others as being ‘obsessed’.

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Problematic use of straight allies in LGBTQ organisations

While The Trevor Project purports to celebrate LGBTQ people, organisations such as You Can Play offer a real example for how organisations ought to support, promote and empower those in the LGBTQ community.

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Thoughts on Punishment for Drugs Cheats in Sport

Everyone knows that drugs are a problem in professional sports. It isn’t news, and is something that authorities have been struggling against for decades. So how can drugs be removed from sports, and what is the most effective deterrent for drugs cheats?

Currently athletes, cyclists and the like are suspended, often for a couple of years, and have their results (including medals) voided. In some cases, the medals are then awarded to the next placed athlete – for example, the silver medalist is upgraded to gold etc. That is all well and good until the person who finished second tests positive too, as was the case with the Tour de France after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles.

The thing is, even with the threat of spoiled reputations, returned medals and voided wins, there are still drugs cheats being caught, whether its the rash of Jamaican athletes caught in the last few weeks, or Ryan Braun finally agreeing to take a suspension for the remainder of the baseball season, at a cost of millions of dollars in salary.

Rather than just suspending the guilty parties, and in the case of the likes of Braun, not paying them during suspension, here is a slightly different approach: take the money that they earned while cheating, and put it to a slightly different use.

For example: a professional cyclist is caught using performance enhancing drugs, and admits to having been using for five years. During these five years, he earned a total of $5m in prize money (I know these figures are not necessarily accurate or realistic, but it makes the maths easier). Regardless of his wages and if they were earned because of his chemically enhanced performance, or other sponsorship deals, it is known that he earned $5m prize money by cheating.

The cheat now ought to be made to repay the $5m. All of it. Regardless of his current circumstances. Say he has retired, doesn’t make an difference. $5m please. If he isn’t able to come up with the money then it should be treated in the same way as a bank debt or mortgage: reclaim and sell off property until the debt has been repaid. So not only is there the risk of having reputation and wins destroyed, but also going broke. Having to repay all prize money earned through cheating is a pretty solid incentive to not cheat.

So once this hypothetical $5m has been reclaimed, what to do with it? Simple: it should be given to the organisations such as WADA who fight drugs cheats. So the punishment is a two stage process: 1) we take back the money you got by cheating, 2) We give the money you earned by cheating to the people who caught you. (The idea of Ryan Braun’s forfeited payments being given to the MLB’s anti-drug organisation appeals as well, though some of it should go to the enforcement officer he got fired last year).

In terms of the money from sponsorship, it also ought to be possible for sponsors to sue the athletes who cheat to have all of the money earned during that deal while the athlete used drugs.

So, at the end of this hypothetical story, our cyclist has had his $5m prize money given to the organisation that caught him, lost the house he bought with that fraudulently obtained money, and is being sued by his sponsors for the money he got from them by trading on his not-as-wholesome-as-it-seemed opinion. Oh, and in the case of Ryan Braun, he has to deal with the business partner he lied to as well.

Sometimes being a football fan is hard

Guardian interview with Robbie Rogers

In the same week that the Guardian ran the linked interview with Robbie Rogers, who retired from professional football because of his sexuality, Sunderland have appointed Paolo Di Canio as their manager.

For those who don’t know, Di Canio is a former West Ham, Charlton and Lazio player, and has previously managed Swindon. He is also a Mussolini supporter and self-confessed fascist. David Milliband, the outgoing MP for South Shields has resigned from the Sunderland board because of Di Canio’s political views.

It is hard to enjoy a sport where being openly homosexual is career ending, while being openly fascist is perfectly acceptable. And how good are The FA, UEFA and FIFA really getting at fighting discrimination when fascists are able to be high profile managers but being gay means you won’t be able to play?
This sport is broken. Can we please start trying to fix it now?

Racism, Hypocrisy and John Terry

John Terry hands his boots to a fan after victory over Arsenal

The FA have released the written reason behind the John Terry verdict, the full text of which can be found on The FA’s website. It is clear that they did not believe his defence that he was simply repeating what had been said by Anton Ferdinand.

Terry now has two weeks to appeal against his four game suspension and £220,000 fine for misconduct. However, I hope that he does not appeal, accepts the punishment and moves on.

The easy comparison to make to this situation is to the one faced by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez last season, when the Uruguay international received an eight game ban for using racially offensive terms towards Patrice Evra. I felt massively uncomfortable with the actions of Liverpool as a club, and those Liverpool fans who stood so closely behind Suarez that they refused to believe that he could have done such a thing. I feel an even higher level of discomfort with this situation, since it is happening to the captain of my club.

Given that this has taken place at the club where I am a season ticket holder – and travelled to Munich for the Champions League Final last season – it is very easy to get caught up in the “he’s not a racist, he just said something racist” that I have heard Liverpool fans use as a defence for Suarez (along with the ever popular “but negro isn’t an offensive term in Uruguay”). From what I could hear coming from the seats around me in the away end at the Emirates, there was plenty of staunch Terry defenders: “One England captain, f**k the FA” being a particularly popular chant. There are a lot of Chelsea fans for whom Terry is still the “Captain, Leader, Legend” and support him accordingly by blaming Anton and Rio Ferdinand (who was certainly foolish with his “choc ice” comment, but hardly can be blamed for being related to someone), The FA, and anyone else except for the man in the number 26 shirt.

But I think that the FA were correct to bring disciplinary proceedings against Terry, even after he was cleared in court, since the two cover different legal areas. While the leniency of the suspension in comparison to Suarez does not send a particularly good message, that they felt fit to convene the panel is a good way to show that while you may not have committed a criminal offence, it was still an offense within the rules of the game.

I am uncomfortable cheering for Terry, as much as I admire him purely as a player I am very uncomfortable with him as a person given his past indiscretions and the appearance that he does not seem to learn from them. I have in the past said that if you use sexist language then it is right to call be called a sexist, and used a similar argument about Suarez. It would be immensely hypocritical of me and fellow Chelsea fans to not do the same with Terry. In both cases, ignorance is not a defence, and nor is using schoolyard ‘but he said it first’ logic.

I feel that while Chelsea dealt with the initial accusations better than Liverpool (I am so glad they didn’t bring out “Support John Terry” t-shirts in the way that Liverpool did), I believe that there is now a responsibility on the club to take actions that will show that no one is above reproach when it comes to their behaviour on or off the pitch, especially the club captain. Chelsea sacked Adrian Mutu for taking cocaine, as it was denigrating to both himself and the football club, and I think that the board and Mr Abramovich need to consider what is best for the club and team in the future, and whether or not that future should contain John Terry wearing either the captain’s armband or the club shirt.

Racism in Football: Bring in The Rooney Rule

It has not been a good twelve months for race relations in football. John Terry and Luis Suarez have seen to that. Some of the fans have not been much better, with several players, Ashley Young, Ashley Cole and John Obi Mikel among them, being targeted for racial abuse on Twitter. And let us not forget the guy who sent abuse to Fabrice Muamba’s twitter account after he had a heart attack on the pitch. These are just a few examples of explicit discrimination against prominent sports figures because of their race.

But what about people not getting chances because of the colour of their skin? Out of the 92 Football League clubs, only 3 of them employ managers of an ethnic minority. That is 3.2%. In comparison, according to the latest Cencus, minorities make up 12.5% of the UK population.

One way to help to combat this inequality is to bring in a UK equivalent of the NFL’s Rooney Rule. Named after the head of the NFL’s Diversity Committee, the Rule is essentially a condition that for every Head Coaching opportunity that comes up at any of the 32 NFL teams, there must be at least one minority candidate interviewed.

While this might strike some people as tokenism, it the extra opportunities has been reflected by an increase in the hiring of minority candidates (remember, they simply need to be interviewed, not given the job).

The Rooney Rule was implemented in 2003. At the time there were 2 minority head coaches in the NFL (Tony Dungy of the Colts and Herm Edwards of the Jets). That is 6% of Head Coaches. Within 3 years, that had gone up to 22%, with Dennis Green (Cardinals), Art Shell (Raiders), Marvin Lewis (Bengals), Lovie Smith (Bears) and Romeo Crennel (Browns) all in head coaching positions.

Currently, 18.75% of Head Coaches are minorities: Lewis and Smith from the above list, as well as Crennel now with the Chiefs, Leslie Frasier (Vikings), Ron Riviera (Panthers) and Mike Tomlin (Steelers) – who was hired having had Rivera also interview for the position. Having minority candidates applying for positions means that while they might not always be hired, there is both a recognition of talent (Smith’s Bears were defeated by Dungy’s Colts in Superbowl XLI, and Tomlin’s Steelers won Superbowl XL and XLIII), as well as an increase in the visibility of minority coaches for younger generations. There is no suggestion that any of these men were hired because of their skin colour, rather that the Rooney Rule has helped to increase opportunities.

Why not apply a similar rule in football? It will not mean that suddenly there will be a flood of high-level minority managers, but there ought to be an increase in numbers – and hopefully this will mean that instead of every minority manager being “a role model”, they can be recognised for their skills.It will also mean that candidates will be able to go through interviews and improve on how owners can see the viability of appointing minority managers – rather than it being either old white English men or foreign managers.

For those who will say that this is an example of positive discrimination or affirmative action, I remind you that the rule says you need to interview one minority candidate, not always give them the job. But if there are no minorities interviewed, then the chances of them getting employed in management positions are negligible. This action would be massively preferable to the current inaction.

Riot Reaction

This is an opinion I wrote for this month’s edition of Kensington & Chelsea Today – it was originally written about a week after the riots had taken place.

“Tougher sentencing, curfews, social media blackouts and increased police powers. These are some of the proposed responses to the recent unrest across the country.  These short-term ‘knee-jerk’ reactions may be popular in certain circles for a few weeks, but they will not help to address the social problems that have helped to create this situation. Not every area affected, or every person involved, was as a result of these social issues, but if we do not do something about them, then other areas could be affected as well.

Consumerism is a driving force behind so many peoples’ lives. It has almost become an ideology for too many, ignoring the reality of their situation. Like the American dream of the early 20th century, everyone looked forward to the day when they would be rich. For a generation we have been told that we can be famous, we can be wealthy, that we can be whatever we want to be.  But with rising unemployment – especially among young people – the chance of that dream becoming a reality is fading. And all the while, we are told that we are all in this together. When people see that this does not seem to be the case, it can cause resentment towards those who are not as affected by what is happening. Problems arise when these resentments are not addressed, and it only takes one action to push somebody over the edge. It is easier for others to follow once one group has stepped over the line.

When looking at the handing down of tougher sentencing, it is important that the punishment fits the crime, and that accountability is held across the board. Former members of the Bullingdon club – known for their wild parties – and a Deputy Prime Minister who once burned down two greenhouses full of rare plants tell us that those who commit offences must be held accountable, having themselves received no punishment. It makes it hard to believe that fair justice will really be done.  It is fairer sentences, not tougher that is what is needed here. If exorbitant punishments are handed down by the courts it will only serve to increase resentment towards the police and further damage trust in the justice system. It is easy to seek to make an example of someone, to scare those who might follow a similar path, but that doesn’t make it right. The sentence for burglary during a riot must be the same as that for any other burglary. I am not sure that stealing a £3.50 case of water would receive a 6 month prison sentence if it were not for the riots and politically motivated advice to ignore sentencing guidelines if the actions took place during a riot.

Social media is another soft target. It connects people more easily and more efficiently than ever before. All you have to do is log into your BBM, Twitter or Facebook accounts and you can interact with people immediately, and more widely than by texting or phone calls. I know this, because I use mine to interact with people as far apart as America, India and Japan. Yes, it can also be used to pass on information about where the police are, where there are shops with expensive goods, and where there is already violence taking place.  But while my city was caught up in the chaos of that weekend, I and many others, kept communications much closer to home – we contacted our friends and families to make sure they were alive, safe and unaffected. Using the hashtag #riotcleanup, people all across the country grouped together with others in their communities to pick up the pieces of their shattered neighbourhoods.

In a country where we are told that personal responsibility is the defining factor in behaviour it is illogical, naïve and possibly illegal to think that closing down access to social media will be of benefit. If personal responsibility is important, then judge each person by his or her actions. If those actions are illegal, then it is the individual’s responsibility, not the fault of the technology that they used.

If you tell one section of society that they are fat, lazy, stupid and criminal long enough and loud enough, then eventually they might start to believe you. When everyone assumes you break the law and contribute nothing to society, where is the social constraint that prevents you from doing exactly that? Society is broken, but it was broken long before these riots, and unless proper, long-term action is taken, it will be broken long after the glass shop fronts have been repaired.

We need to ensure that these events so not repeat themselves. That will not come about through draconian sentences, water cannons, rubber bullets or evictions from social housing. It will come about through an examination of every level of our society. Through stimulation and investment in less wealthy areas, to ensure that aspirations can be met. We must expect a higher standard from those above us. Our political and commercial leaders must lead by example, both in their words, and in their actions. And above all, we must rise above the temptation for retaliation, retribution or revenge. This is not a political problem, it is a social problem, but it does have political causes. We need to make sure that we are not just looking out for those at the top, or those in the ‘squeezed middle’, but everyone. The culture of blaming those below us must end. We must make our society stronger; make our country fairer, more balanced and tolerant. We must not forget that there have been victims of these events, and we owe it to them, and to ourselves, to ensure that there are no more.”