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Bird Brown: From cheating to criminal intent, what a week in sports

Two things that happened in professional sports this week have just struck a chord with me, and I can’t get over them.

Sports and the participation in such sports is a life-long passion of mine, and I have spent much of my life either participating as a player or coaching or volunteering in some fashion to be involved in the game. I follow my favorite teams passionately, from the struggling Orioles to Notre Dame football, and put my whole heart and support behind them.

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The lessons one can learn from sports and the positive influence it can have on its participants and fans are sometimes life-changing, at the least life-shaping. The lessons about character, competition, team play, sacrifice, overcoming adversity, respect for positions of authority, and leadership opportunities are life skills that one can take into the “real world” or in their own personal relationships.

When I think of all of the youth players that I’ve worked with over the years and the professional athletes they admired across all sports, I come back to what lessons they could be learning by following their idols so closely. I had idols such as Johnny Unitas, Frank Robinson, and Brooks Robinson, gentlemen who were the epitome of what I wanted to be in sports and in life.

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It bothers me to see what’s been going on recently in Major League Baseball. I know that stealing signs has been something that has been a part of the game forever, but the last time I checked the rules, it still was not allowed.

To have professional coaches, general managers and players involved in a systematic, club-wide, sign stealing, aka cheating scandal, at the highest level of the sport and using it to such an advantage that they not only win the league pennant but go on to win a World Series because of the advantage they gained by cheating has just blown my mind.

And I believe we’ve only scratched the surface on the depth of this scandal.

To its credit, Major League Baseball has come down swift and hard on the known participants. A general manager and a couple of managers have lost their jobs. Clubs have lost draft picks and forfeited millions of dollars in fines. I’m sure as MLB gets more deeply involved in their investigation there will be some other suspensions and fines to go around, but for now the players involved have remained unscathed.

When you see videos of a player telling his teammates not to rip off his jersey, and the rumor is that he was wired up, and he hits a game-winning home run to beat the dreaded Yankees, you have to wonder why no players have been implicated and punished.

And as long as we’re on near criminal activity in sports, once again the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee has snubbed football pioneer Art Modell for inclusion in the Hall of Fame. What is even worse is that one of the ones they allowed in was former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who couldn’t carry his jockstrap in contribution to the game.

Let’s just consider the impact Modell had on the National Football League itself and the product that has become the most impressive in professional sports.

Modell served as an owner for 43 years, earned two NFL titles, and was the only elected president in the league’s history. He was the chairman of the Owners Labor Committee, which successfully negotiated the players’ first collective bargaining agreement which remains one of the most fair and equitable contracts in pro sports.

During the merger negotiations between the NFL and the AFL, Modell served on the merger committee and broke the impasse of the realignment by the two leagues by agreeing to move his Cleveland Browns to the AFL, a risky move for a successful franchise. He helped establish and served as chairman of NFL Films.

Probably his greatest contribution to the game of football was while serving as the lead negotiator for the NFL Modell was able to help establish “Monday Night Football.” While we’re all enjoying the game either in person or in the comfort of our own homes now on Sunday, Monday, AND Thursday nights, make sure you give the man his due and tip your hat or lift a toast in his honor.

Without his many contributions to a game he loved and to which he devoted his life, the product you see would be vastly different.

Forget about the move of the franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore. Regardless of what side you’re on, it stinks.

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The only thing that can be holding Modell from entering the halls of Canton is that he moved Cleveland’s football team to Baltimore. That’s just simply criminal.

Hopefully parents and coaches can use the baseball cheating scandal as a way to further their goals of honesty and fair play in any sport and that Major League Baseball continues to vet out the participants and issue swift and severe punishments to save the games’ dignity and respect.

As far as the Modell thing goes, at some point hopefully those people who are responsible for voting in the next class of the Hall of Fame do the right thing and put him in his rightful place.

As the great Jim Henson once wrote, “Kids don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”

Kids are watching.

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