A Letter to My Future Unborn Children About the Value of Respect

September 9, 2034

 

Hey guys,

It’s probably not cool to say “hey guys” in 2034 (or 2014 for that matter), but whatever. There’s no good way to start a letter like this. Man, physical letters totally won’t even exist when you’re reading this. And I’ll be 45. Try to forgive me for buying that sports car last year. Your mother knew what she was getting into.

Given that you come from a long line of Norwegians, Irish and Italians, you – my collective children – are likely comprised of at least one boy and one girl, likely more than one of each (hence the sports car and grey hair). I believe that this message, cryogenically frozen and brought forth twenty years into the future, is extremely important now and will likely be just as important to you as you approach your most informative and important years.

I’m writing you this letter because society in 2014 has begun to undergo a cultural shift over the past decade or so. Racism is still alive, but its social acceptance has all but vanished. Homophobia has experienced the same public undress, though lags behind racism as the disgusting parts of religion still infect so many who choose to hate rather than to love. If nothing else, remember that I will always love you and will embrace whoever you choose to love, provided of course they don’t root for the Green Bay Packers. Your uncles have already been banned from the house on Sundays for this very reason.

I wanted to write this letter because I’m afraid that while we’ve seen a cultural shift in acceptance, the underlying values of hatred will permeate in our society as you’re growing up. You’ll probably have racist or homophobic friends, and you’ll have to make decisions on who you’ll want as friends and lovers. You may not know their feelings on these issues until years from now, when a throwaway comment catches you off guard and sends chills down your spine. You may already be dealing with this type of dilemma. I hope you feel comfortable in who you are and what you believe not to take any abuse directed your way for your lifestyle or with whom you associate. Though I understand that doing so may be difficult. It certainly is in 2014.

Sadly, I can almost assure you that you will have friends who are sexist. People who don’t value men and women as equals, just as they may think white people shouldn’t have to coexist openly and honestly with black people. I know this because I currently live in a world that subversively thinks it’s ok that women earn 80% of what men do for the same job. That our colleges and businesses should be run by men. That women belong in the kitchen cooking dinner. I may share in that last sentiment to a small degree – I apologize if your mother hates cooking as much as I do. I’ll learn how to make something other than soup or frozen pizzas eventually.

Not only do many men believe that they’re superior to women, but some women actually agree with them. Don’t get me wrong, many women are empowered and forceful and rightfully speak up when their rights are valued at a disproportionally low rate, but women outnumbered men by more than 7 million in the United States as of 2009. None of them should feel pressured to stay quiet. But they do, in part because men are bigger and badder and meaner and stronger and are full of testosterone and could just snap at any mo—-

Stop. There is no reason for you to stay quiet if you feel unsafe or hurt or pressured or scared.

I feel so strongly about this now in 2014 because I look at the country and don’t like what I see. I see abusive men, such as Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who knocked his fiancée unconscious but initially skirted by on the underhanded nature of his attrition and his value to his employer. The wrong was righted (partially), due to an overwhelming outcry of anger and derision at his initial punishment. But he was still acquitted by our legal system, a lower rung of the very same oligarchy that believes racism is dead.

In the aftermath of this brutality, I hope we took the time to realize that we’ve fostered a culture that not only treats male superiority as a foundational pillar of excellence, but has replaced the idea of equality with something like an applause meter. If the noise reaches a certain level, only then will the powers that be act in their entrusted capacity. Only once a secret wrong is exposed does it have a chance to be rectified. This needs to change.

To my darling daughter(s) [insert trendy name(s) here derived from popular visual internet program], I hope you understand that you deserve to be respected and treated with kindness and compassion by all who you encounter, so long as you act accordingly in return. I hope you feel confident and strong enough to pursue any career or passion you desire. Unless that means playing for the Green Bay Packers. Your uncles will have to run their Christmas gifts by me from now on.

If we can take only one principle from Christianity – and perhaps we should take just one – it’s that you should treat others the way you would like to be treated. If you abide by this principle, you’ll have everything you need to be successful. You already have your mother’s looks and intelligence.

To my charming son(s) [insert popular name from the 1970s because I secretly lost a bet], the same rule applies for you, as well. Treat women with respect and you’ll receive it right back. It really isn’t that difficult to understand. I’m not asking you to put women on a pedestal, to fawn over their explicit beauty or nurture their every whim, but simply be respectful. Listen when they speak and communicate honestly in a civilized tone. Your friends and girlfriends will appreciate this. They will love you for it.

And maybe, just maybe, you can take the time to show your friends this letter. Maybe they can show theirs. Social equality shouldn’t carry with it the same third-rail animosity that socialism or a social economy does. I hope you read this, even if by the time you do, you won’t even know what a Green Bay Packer is.

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.

*     *     *    *     *

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.

25

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 capgeek.com, 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.