Don’t Compare Ray Rice to Josh Gordon

Reports this Wednesday morning indicated that Cleveland Browns’ Wide Receiver Josh Gordon’s one-year suspension from the NFL would be upheld; Gordon’s appeal would go for naught. Gordon was suspended for violating the league’s collectively-bargained substance abuse policy for a third time, reportedly for marijuana use after a test showed levels of THC in his body slightly above the maximum threshold allowed.

The punishment is stiff, but according to the rules the NFL Players Association agreed to, fair. One could easily make the argument that the punishment is too severe in a country where marijuana is legal in two states home to NFL franchises, but that’s a different question. Personally, I would prefer to see marijuana treated as alcohol in the NFL – perfectly legal to consume, but any public bad judgment that results in an arrest may be subject to punishment from the commissioner’s office. With the amount of punishment these players take — both short-term and long-term — marijuana should be the least of the league’s worries.

A common reaction to the suspension being upheld is to compare it to the two-game ban Ray Rice received for assaulting his then-fiance. Two games for female abuse, but a whole year for weed would, on the surface, put the league in a farcically poor position. How could such a violent and abusive act — caught on camera, no less — warrant the  metaphorically-in-poor-taste slap on the wrist?

The issue lies with Roger Goodell, who was correctly ridiculed for his lenient Rice suspension last month. Rice should have been forced to miss the whole year — the crime is far more severe than Michael Vick’s canine torture. Many derided the punishment as light at the time and it looks even worse today, even though Gordon’s crime is judged on a much different scale than Rice’s.

In collectively bargained, or unionized, companies (of which the NFL is one), the employees must reach an agreement with their officers in order to go to work. Unions should be encouraged to flourish, especially in a enterprise that raked in $6 billion in revenue this past season. Players must speak up for their rights to long-term benefits, a must given the science that correlates the hits they sustain with brain damage and CTE later in life. They have to fight for a fair wage since combined they only see half of the revenue, if that. And, as it pertains to Gordon, they must make sure that cheaters cannot prosper and use that competitive advantage to take another player’s job and salary.

Again, while some (including yours truly) may believe that the crime not only doesn’t fit the punishment, but it should be permissible, the fact remains that Gordon violated the terms of the substance abuse policy. The players bargained for this policy to keep their game as clean as possible, with escalating suspensions for continued or relapsed use.

Rice’s crime was reprehensible, but it wasn’t subject to the CBA. The next lockout — it’s definitely happening — may spur the players to push for Goodell’s power to subjectively punish to be transferred to a third party. It may remove marijuana from the list of banned substances. Josh Gordon knows what he signed up for as a member of the NFLPA. It’s just that the NFL’s personality problem will suffer regardless.

Comcast, Customer Service and the Benefits of a Monopoly

Between buying companies and burying its own customers, Comcast has dominated the cable industry news over the past few months. Reports have shown just how evil the cable giant truly is, pushing sales tactics on its customer service employees, charging customers for unwanted services and simply engaging in despicable corporate behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone.

Except that despite the recent exposés on Comcast’s business practices, nothing will change. There is no need for remorse, contrition or changing values. Comcast will continue to print money, buy other media empires and control television programming uncontested.

How could this be possible? After a disgruntled customer recorded his call with Comcast customer service two months ago, the backlash was severe. But people already hate Comcast, and yet revenues continue to grow. Report after report indicate that Comcast’s customer service is atrocious, but according to their second quarter earnings report, Comcast added more than 200,000 high-speed internet customers, the best second-quarter growth in six years.

Even worse, Comcast is in the perfect position to grow even stronger. Understanding the utility of the internet shows just how powerful Comcast may become.

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Television as a medium isn’t dying, but it’s hurting. Cord-cutting is a legitimate concern, but not because people have stopped watching media on their television. Instead, consumers have switched to third-party applications like Netflix which don’t require a cable subscription to authenticate.

As that model evolves, more and more content providers will opt to split from their bundled old-world ways, leaving cable and satellite television providers with little recourse but to either demand lower subscription fees from networks…or pass along those astronomical costs to subscribers. It’s not unfathomable that by 2030, ESPN will become a subscription service, either via customer demand or government action; eventually the $5-$6 sub fee cash cow will run dry.

But these subscription services all rely on the exact same utility to function: the internet. And who owns the internet? Comcast.

See, as the internet evolves, it will have the power and access to expand its content offerings across the country (and the world). Fifteen years ago, you needed an AOL CD just to access dial-up speeds, now gigabit-per-second speeds don’t even seem unfathomable. Faster speeds mean more capabilities, such as streaming media and teleconferencing. The applications for the interconnectivity the internet provides are likely in their infancy compared to what’s coming. Most businesses at least have an online presence, but may not have figured out how to maximize their online efficiency. Third-world nations will eventually “connect” as well, it’s just a matter of time.

All this bandwidth places a premium on speed. A premium on resources. Most of which will be funneled into Comcast’s metaphorical hands.

Even if the merger between Comcast and Time Warner doesn’t go through, the former has the market share and lobbying power to ensure its requests are met. That the FCC is even considering changing its “net neutrality” laws – which would likely provide additional revenue streams for internet service providers who could then extort their clients – shows just how powerful Comcast already is.

As access and speeds increase, those with the capability to not only provide the bandwidth but upgrade it stand to benefit the most. Comcast will always face competitors in the sector – AT&T’s DSL internet often undercuts on price, but severely lags behind in speed while Google and Verizon may eventually become the preferred providers with their fiber optic networks, but those are years away from availability across most of the United States.

For most businesses, Comcast (or high-speed broadband internet) remains the de facto choice. Mobile carriers could have cornered the market for individuals, but opted to cap their data plans for fear of overuse (which could cause intermittent network shutdowns if the servers couldn’t handle the workload). Companies such as Verizon and AT&T could have leveraged the rise of mobile data use into even greater price gouging than they already do, but with data limits here to stay (at least for some time), individuals unload as much of their data usage to home or public wireless networks. This has allowed companies like Comcast to expand their empire – throttling does exist, but the limit is exponentially higher than the standard 2 gigabytes offered on a cellphone.

With its market share likely only growing, Comcast has little financial incentive to augment its business practices. Locking in customers now gives the Philadelphia giant a better chance at retention because of its “fair” cost (compared to competitors). More importantly, the internet’s function as a utility means that like water, heat and electricity, once you have internet, you’re likely not going to cancel it. With federal regulations forbidding high-speed cable competition, there are no true adversaries that offer both comparable network speeds and prices.

Comcast can do what it wants, when it wants and how it wants. There will likely be long-term effects from poor consumer confidence and customer service, but for the time being, owning the keys to the internet ensures that Comcast has no incentive to stop.


Another year has passed, 365 days of happiness, sadness, anger, regret and exuberance. I’ve always held the standard of life to an arbitrary 100 years, but really it’s not arbitrary – it’s just a round number off which to measure everything that’s passed and everything yet to come.

I’m quite unlikely to live to 100, my body’s been ravaged by addiction (to food, but still), a fondness of sugar, fake sugar, emotional abuse and drugs. I’m shooting for 80 at this point, but 40 and 120 are certainly possible outcomes as well. So at 25, I’ve likely lived more than a quarter of my life, of which I can’t even remember it all. Hell, I don’t even remember where I was or what I did on my 24th birthday. I’m sure no one else remembers either, even if we believed at that moment we would hold onto it forever.

In terms of output – because I’m a fucking robot – I’ve exceeded most of my prior annum. I have a job at which I’m proficient, one I’ve actually enjoyed performing at times. Life doesn’t care if you don’t like your job, that is unless you hate it so much you revolt publicly. Then everyone seems to care about that one time Dave screamed at his boss, pulled his own pants down and raced around the conference table. A moment so unique it lives forever.

My professional life has been a series of disappointments, failed expectations and wasted potential, but it’s afforded me the chance to write when I see fit and of course to pursue the very few hobbies I actually enjoy. I got to see Patrick Kane defy the laws of physics in person, so that was cool. Thanks employment!

Personally, age 24 has been another year of introspection. Honing myself to try and be a better person, which is much harder than I ever thought it’d be. I’ve excised most of my demons, hoping that the few remaining ones lay dormant for at least a little while longer. I’ve embraced the chaos of change…to the extent I feel comfortable. Unwinding the damage my brain has caused me will take years and it’s only just begun.

For me, 25 will be a test of will, of patience, of expectations and sacrifice. It will likely be one of the three or four most important years of my life to date, at least those that I could control. As a creature of habit and a lover of routine, I’ve always juxtaposed my long-term future against my short-term happiness (or what I reluctantly call happiness, but is truly just a lack of unhappiness). Now, as I slowly approach a potential turning point of permanence, I’m cognizant of just how important my choices and actions can be. How much they can affect those around me. Those I care about, sometimes more than I care about myself.

And yet, 25 may be nothing more than 24 with a worse memory. So much has changed in the past year, but the most important things have only swapped names. When looking back next August, do I truly believe that my life will be meaningfully different? Right now, all I can do is hope.

The Chicago Blackhawks Pay Their Own – The Signings of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

Every (professional) sport operates under the guidelines of some type of collectively-bargained arrangement. Players and ownership collaborate to usually find a middle ground, where both sides make concessions in order to reap the sizable rewards that come with playing sports in the United States (and Canada).

Each sport has its quirks. MLB sets no maximum on player or team salaries, provided that those teams which spend above a certain threshold pay a sizable penalty. The NFL has the franchise tag, which forces certain players to be paid an exorbitant one-year wage under the mandate that they play for their current team. The NBA has both team and player maximum salaries (in addition to player term limits), which can be bent for certain players, often under the instruction they return to their current team.

The NHL combines certain aspects of all three under its most recent collective bargaining agreement (CBA), signed in the wintry abyss that was January 2012, ending its third lockout in less than two decades at an embarrassing 119 days.

The new CBA instituted term limits for players – no contract could last longer than seven years, except for players returning to their respective teams, they would be allowed eight-year deals. The “hard” salary cap remained – no team can be a penny over the $69 million limit once the season begins (excluding LTIR or other oddities allowed to circumvent the upper limit). The actual cap number itself is subject to intricate calculations with components only the league has access to, so while many believe that each team will be able to spend upwards of $75 million on player salaries by 2017, there’s no definitive measurement to determine this.

Between NBC shelling out $2 billion for ten years of the NHL rights in the United States and Rogers Communications opening its checkbook to the tune of $5.232 billion over 12 years, the league will be flush with cash. Barring unforeseen and catastrophic incidents, the salary cap will increase substantially over the course of the CBA.

What this means is that player salaries will increase as well.

Under the prior CBA, no player earned more than $12 million per year (Brad Richards), but with no term limits, the highest dent to a team’s salary maximum was Alex Ovechkin’s $9.538 million. Some players signed up to 15-year contracts, with many of those deals designed to pay a player more up front , but still keep the perceived economic value of the player lower so the team could sign more (or better) players. How were they able to do this? They tacked on near-league minimum salaries at the end of the contract, even though both the team and the player knew the player would retire before these dummy years kicked in. The lockout happened in part due to these deals, which have since been removed and stiff penalties await the teams that signed these players.

With the new CBA and television rights deals in place, impending star free agents have it substantially better than their predecessors. Competing teams likely know the parameters of the contract demands and while a player’s current team can negotiate with that player a year before free agency, the possibility of top-dollar salary keeps free agency a star-powered affair.

The two best players eligible to be free agents after the 2014-15 season were the Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, star players currently 25 and 26 years old, respectively. They’ve won a combined two Stanley Cups and two Olympic gold medals and should only improve as they reach their prime. The NHL does not have a player maximum, so market forces — and incessant owners – often dictate what players earn. Kane and Toews will each count as $6.3 million against the salary cap this upcoming season in the final year of their five-year $31.5 million deals that began in 2010. The Blackhawks, a big market team that’s finally acting like one, aggressively hinted deals for both players would be done before the end of July. There was only one question that remained: how much would they make?

According to the Chicago Blackhawks, the team has signed both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to identical 8-year/$84 million contracts, with an average annual salary (AAV) of $10.5 million (this is the number that will count against the cap for each). These are the largest contracts signed under the new CBA and carry the distinction of the highest AAV in the NHL. Others will make more – Shea Weber and Sidney Crosby will each earn more than $100 million over the life of their contracts – but signing Kane and Toews under the terms of the prior CBA was impossible for general manager Stan Bowman.

The figures look daunting now, but Kane and Toews may not be the top dogs for very long. Steven Stamkos will be just 25 when he’s eligible to sign a long-term extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning next July. Unless Stamkos takes a discount, it’s not inconceivable he’ll ink a larger deal than either Kane or Toews.

For the Blackhawks, signing the star duo was a foregone conclusion. The salary comes in slightly above what most Blackhawk fans would like, but it represents fair market value in a system that virtually mandates it. It’s entirely conceivable they would have fetched larger offers from other teams, with Philadelphia probably trading its entire roster for a chance to see Kane in orange. With discussion focused on LeBron James not wanting to take a discount to remain with the Miami Heat, it should be known that no player should have to sacrifice their limited earning potential because their front office mismanaged the league’s salary structure. Anyone crying foul that Kane and Toews are overpaid fails to understand how a professional sports league functions. The owners already make 50% of all hockey-related revenue, which doesn’t include their stadium agreements or outside investments. While live sports programming may exist in a type of bubble that could eventually pop, the NHL is locked in through at least 2021. The league has its money; the players should have theirs as well.

For the Blackhawks going forward, these contracts represent a shifting dynamic. Conservative estimates put the salary cap at around $73 million for the 2015-16 season, so having 29% of the team’s total salary tied up in two players looks problematic, but the Blackhawks have built a strong core and have supplemented that with excellent draft picks. Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa are significantly underpaid when compared to the value they provide and as long as neither retires anytime soon, the penalties for their contracts won’t derail the team’s hopes at winning a third Stanley Cup within the decade. If it truly becomes dire, Kane and Toews received much of their money up front via signing bonuses, making them easier to trade (if they agree to be traded, of course).

Courtesy of the indispensable, the Blackhawks have nearly $66 million tied up in just 15 players for the 2015-16 season (and $52 million for 9 guys the following year). The team will likely have to trade one or two significant pieces, whether that’s Patrick Sharp (three years remaining on his deal) or Brent Seabrook (two years left). Depending on the agreement Brandon Saad signs – will be a restricted free agent next offseason – both may be expendable.

A rising salary cap tends to shine brightest on deals signed before it jumped. Bryan Bickell’s four-year/$16 million looks like a reach, but it may be downright larceny if he rebounds and similar players are netting $6 million paychecks. Everything’s relative, and relative to the current environment, Kane and Toews certainly got what they deserved. Now, it’s up to them to bring Lord Stanley back to Chicago in 2015.

Bob Ryan, WAR and Trusting the Storytellers

Columnist Bob Ryan wrote a critique of advanced metrics in baseball this week in the Boston Globe, checking off virtually every common complaint induced by the rise of sabermetrics. Elements of his stance are certainly valid, as the divide between casual observer and analytical quant remains significant. For better or worse, intentionally or unintentionally, writers have shown difficulty in incorporating advanced statistics into their reporting in an informative, charismatic way that doesn’t detract from their intended narrative.

However, managing editor of, Dave Cameron, offered a rebuttal to Ryan’s piece and touched on a fundamental element surrounding the very nature of the job: the burden of trust. Cameron pointed out that casual fans care about Home Runs and RBIs because sportswriters emphasized those numbers. They understand that a batting average above .300 usually indicates an above-average hitter because journalists have spent decades telling them this is important. As more advanced metrics have been created and tested, savvy individuals (or at least those interested in a deeper understanding of baseball) have begun embracing them. We’ve discovered that RBIs are fairly contextual and rarely provide enough useful information about that particular hitter. A stat like wRC+ on the other hand, measures an individual’s runs created and factors in ballpark, run environment and league. It’s a fairly simple metric to understand, since it’s a simple rate: anyone with a wRC+ above 100 is an above average run creator.

You don’t need to know advanced math or study the intricate details to understand the ins and outs of baseball. You just have to be willing to learn, to trust that these new numbers do a better job of explaining what is happening than the old ones. Old baseball journalists – many of whom have lost the desire to learn – have derided the analytics movement as a fun-killing, destructive endeavor that wants to quantify every last morsel of the game. Not only is this blatantly false, but it misconstrues the very notion of analytics. The goal isn’t to quantify everything, it’s to examine what we know and what we can measure in order to predict the future. If our estimates suggest a negative outcome, we can make the necessary changes to augment that reality. Anyone who has studied advanced metrics in sports understands that luck is the driving force in most outcomes, but over the course of months and seasons and decades, the performance tends to seep through.

In his piece, Ryan also returned to the scene of the sportswriters versus sabermetricians war of 2012, when Miguel Cabrera defeated Mike Trout in the MVP race, despite Trout having a greater WAR. In a “stunning” development, sportswriters not only decreed that WAR was flawed, but that if the goal of analytics was to quantify a player’s value in a single, measurable statistic, it would likely miss the importance of easily-digestible filler like “grit” and “hustle”. The Will to Win at least exists…as an inverse relationship between the Chicago White Sox’ success and Ken Harrelson’s dickishness.

But WAR isn’t a catch-all statistic. It shouldn’t be used as the end point, it should be the basis off which to jump. Using Fangraphs’ methodology, the top five hitters in WAR as of today are Troy Tulowitzki, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig and Josh Donaldson. This makes sense, as Tulowitzki is threatening the best 50-game start to a season in MLB history. All five have a wRC+ of 142 or better (all are 42+% better than league average) and all five are slugging at least .500. Columnists have already written lengthy diatribes on these five because they’ve been in the upper echelon for at least a year now.

Looking further down the leaderboard, two names jump out. Seth Smith, a 31-year old corner outfielder for the San Diego Padres, is eighth in WAR while Brian Dozier, a late-blooming middle infielder for the Minnesota Twins is 11th. Without any additional information, we can discern that these two are, at least for the time being, pretty good. But we don’t know why or how or if this success is sustainable.

Bryan LaHair, a journeyman prospect was offered a starting spot on the 2012 Chicago Cubs, hit 10 Home Runs in the first two months of the season and made the All Star team. He was the subject of quite a few gushing columns, with at least one calling him the “best story of the season”. For casual fans, this may have filled them with optimism, that the Cubs found a diamond in the rough who would save baseball on the north side of Chicago. Sabermetricians and scouts alike would have noticed his poor track record, high strikeout numbers, poor defense and good luck and known that the bottom would have fallen out eventually. He hasn’t played in the majors since. He finished the 2012 season with 0.4 WAR, barely in the top 200 of position players with at least 350 at bats.

With players like Dozier and Smith, we can use WAR and advanced metrics to examine their pasts, present and futures. Smith likely won’t hit .333 for the season, but he’s striking out less, walking more and showing immense power. Even if the results are lucky, the skills have improved. Writers shouldn’t overgeneralize or deal in absolutes, but examining Smith’s performance compared to his past would allow for a discussion on what he’s doing well. We as fans learn something while writers still get to spin their yarn.

Ultimately, the numbers (or better versions of these numbers) will seep further and further into the public consciousness until they can no longer be ignored. MLB itself has pushed for player mapping (installing cameras in three parks so far to measure just about everything that happens on the field). This type of data collection should foster curiosity and excitement that idea that we can learn more about how this game works, making our viewing experience better, our discussions on the futures of our favorite teams more applicable and allows the journalists to examine exactly how the best players perform so well. We should embrace analytics because, in fact, they make the game better. There’s still 25 guys on the roster, 8 playing defense and one on the mound. Only now we have a better idea if they’re good enough to win.