November 24, 2014

OPINION: History shows future is cloudy for Redskins’ Griffin

The last three times the Redskins made the playoffs, it was on the back of a second-half surge in 2005, 2007 and 2012. The Redskins entered their bye week at 3-6 much like they did in 2012, but this year, the defense is forcing fewer turnovers. The only game the Redskins were actually out of in the first nine games of 2012 was against Pittsburgh. They had given up a victory with a blown coverage late against the Giants.

Robert Griffin III was fully healthy and playing well back then, after a sensational debut in the first game of the season against New Orleans. With RG3’s health an unknown variable in 2014, the Redskins would be best served trying to find out what kind of quarterback he will be coming off his dislocated ankle. The good news is that this time, no one has made Redskins head coach Jay Gruden backtrack on his comments that he’ll use RG3’s running skills.

Tony Dungy commented that RG3 is no longer the stunning athlete he used to be. He doesn’t have to be. At RG3’s peak, the only quarterback faster than him was Michael Vick, even though many have pointed out that RG3’s speed is more straight-line and not as elusive as Vick’s, even though it doesn’t keep either of them from getting injured. At his best, Mark Brunell ran around a 4.6 40. That’s all you need as an NFL quarterback to make defenses account for you as a running threat, assuming that he was equally good at passing.

It would be best to compare RG3 to other quarterbacks that have suffered knee injuries. Among them, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady are not applicable to RG3’s case because they are primarily pocket passers. Daunte Culpepper was a mobile quarterback, but his case is not applicable because the severity of his knee injury was much greater and catastrophic to the point that it ended his NFL career.

The two closest cases are Randall Cunningham and Brunell. Cunningham suffered a torn ACL and MCL in Week 1 of the 1991 season. Cunningham lost his job to Rodney Peete when the Eagles made a coaching change after the 1994 season. Cunningham didn’t fit Ray Rhodes’s desire for a West Coast-style QB. He was out of football for a year before he resurfaced with Minnesota and led the Vikings offense on a magical run that unfortunately ended in the 1998 NFC Championship Game.

Cunningham never changed his style even after his injury, mostly due to coaching on the part of Rich Kotite, who continued Buddy Ryan’s strategy of having Cunningham make a few plays on offense and then let the vaunted Eagles defense handle the rest. “I remember Buddy used to say to Randall, ‘All I need is for you to make four or five plays a game to make the difference,’ one former teammate told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. “And Randall used to go out and make these unbelievable plays, plays nobody else could make. Buddy was relying on Randall’s athletic ability and not his ability to read or learn defenses, and that turned out to be Randall’s undoing.” Kotite described Cunningham, “If he wasn`t pressured he didn`t run. If he was, he improvised as he does so well.”

This continued even after Cunningham broke his left fibula in Week 5 of the 1993 season. Cunningham had led the Eagles to a 4-0 record and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month before that untimely injury.

Cunningham never wanted to change. If you go over some of his quotes from 1992: “I`ll be back scramblin’.” “Those who doubt me don`t believe in me. There`s no doubt in my mind I`ll make it back all the way.” “My instincts are still with me. If I lost my instincts, I probably would have retired. I`m not going to try to be somebody I`m not. I`m going to be Randall Cunningham as long as I can perform at that level.” “I`m not going to sit in the pocket like Joe Montana and complete 70 percent of my passes. I`m not going to scramble like Fran Tarkenton and launch bombs. I`m just going to play football the way I want to and the way the coach wants me to.”

Even if someone pointed out that he was becoming more conventional prior to the 1991 injury, Cunningham said, “I did scramble less, because I was dropping back and completing 70 percent of my passes. But I haven`t changed. I still enjoy that style. If something opens up and I have to dip through and get a few yards, it`s OK by me.”

Brunell is a closer comparison. Brunell, like RG3, was still a running quarterback after his first ACL tear in the spring game after his sophomore season at Washington in which he was named Rose Bowl MVP. When Brunell led the NFL in passing yardage in 1996 with 4,367 yards and ran for 396 yards, he still threw 20 interceptions to go along with 19 touchdowns.

Brunell didn’t become a pocket passer until after he led the Jaguars to the 1996 AFC Championship Game and was rewarded with a big contract. That moment came after he missed the preseason and the first two games of the season after suffering a partially torn ACL, MCL, and PCL in the first game of the 1997 preseason.

Brunell, like RG3, displayed a willingness to adapt to being a pocket passer. “It’s very easy, and this will almost sound too basic, but it’s reps,” Brunell told ESPN’s John Keim. “It’s going through OTAs and minicamps and training camp with the mindset of, ‘I’m dropping back and absolutely have to find a receiver.’ There are four or five receivers in each pass route and your job is to find the open guy.”

After the Jaguars had clinched a playoff berth against Buffalo in Week 16 of the 1997 season, then-Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin said, ”He had a great decision-making game. His spontaneity was better, and he made plays on the run. He also took some pretty good hits and still delivered the ball very well. It’s a shame he had the interception, but he still had a solid game.” Jaguars center Dave Widell said, ”He’s improving with every game and gaining the poise he needs to be successful. That includes not throwing the ball away. He’s leading the offense as he should be.”

“I had to sit in the pocket and throw,” after the injury, Brunell told Keim. “I moved a little bit and not nearly as effectively as before. Going into the ‘98 season, I felt better as a pocket passer. It probably took me a year. I never got to the same speed, but it put me in position where I was forced to develop as a passer. In a way it was one of the best things for me.”

Gary Clark said before the season began that this could be the best offense the Redskins have had since 1991. On paper, it compares favorably with the 1999 offense with quarterback Brad Johnson, running back Stephen Davis, receivers Michael Westbrook and Albert Connell along with tight end Stephen Alexander. One place where they don’t compare well is the offensive line, where Trent Williams is by far the best player, as well he should since he was the fourth pick of the 2010 draft. The Redskins have used precious few draft picks on the line dating back to the Mike Shanahan era.

Tight end Jordan Reed is healthy again, while DeSean Jackson leads the NFL in yards per catch. Pierre Garcon is only one year removed from breaking Art Monk’s single season receiving record, and Andre Roberts was brought in from Arizona to be the No. 2 receiver before the signing of Jackson. The running game with Alfred Morris has been coming around since halftime against Dallas.

With the vast array of offensive weapons in the Redskins arsenal, the playcalling has been very conservative thus far. Through Week 8 against the Cowboys, “All three quarterbacks combined have thrown 45.5% of their passes within the 0-9 yard window, with just 12.5 attempts traveling 20 yards or more through the air. The receivers are expected to turn short passes into large gains through their feet, as Pierre Garcon did for his 70 yard touchdown in Week 8,” according to Trey Cunningham at Pro Football Focus.

OPINION: New coach, same old story? Why are Caps not as good as sum of their parts?

Yes, this is another “kick them while they’re down” column.

The Captain is getting criticized for (perceived) lack of leadership, “hockey IQ” or heart. Threats of reduction in ice time are only realized in the lower part of the roster. Goaltenders with sub-.900 save percentages. The Washington Capitals are — yet again — performing at less than the sum of their parts.

What year is it exactly?

We were promised a difference this time. Barry Trotz was going to come in and demand accountability from the Washington Capitals — and the entire organization. So far, it’s been much like the past several seasons: glimpses of brilliance followed by frustration and disappointment.

The team’s possession stats and shots against numbers show that they are driving play and limiting opportunities in their own end. Yet, in the past six games the results have been downright terrible. Plenty of voices are saying, “Stay the course, good things are coming.” It’s hard to ignore when you look at the stats. But folks been saying similar things for a while with nothing to show for it except first round exits.

It takes time to change the culture of an organization. Anyone that thought Trotz would able to accomplish the feat in the first couple months of his first season was deluded. But so far this season we continue to see the same fundamental problems this team has had over the past, oh, I don’t know, nine seasons or so.

The “country club vs. lunchpail” debate has been going on since Bruce Boudreau’s last couple of campaigns, and still, the Caps flounder.

None other than resident new guy, Brooks Orpik, noted, “Guys are [going to] make mistakes, we just need other guys to pick them up and right now one guy makes a mistake and everyone just kind of watches it happen.” (my emphasis, via CSNWashington, s/t RMNB)

Trotz, for his part, is starting to show some of that frustration himself. His comments following the disastrous 6-5 loss to the Coyotes Sunday night show that he is exasperated with the general attention level of his players.

“You guys have lived it more than I have,” Trotz said. “But I will say this: That behavior has to change or we have to change people. Plain and simple. To me it’s absolutely unacceptable. They have to fix it. It’s my job to fix the behavior. If they’re not going to fix it internally, then I’ll make sure I fix it.”

“Sometimes I get the feeling we play just as hard as we need to,” he said. “That’s not how I operate. That’s not how you win in this league.”

Trotz has a well-earned reputation as a hard-nosed, no-nonsense coach in this league. This team has a well-earned reputation as being soft and undisciplined. It’s a toss-up which way this will go. So far, it’s only cost four coaches their jobs.

You might think this criticism is directed straight at the Captain. While I honestly think some of the problem lies at his feet, it’s more of a pervasive attitude that hinders the Caps.

Despite opening the season playing very strong defense, why have we seen such dramatic (and continued) breakdowns the past two weeks? Despite numbers to suggest he’s always driven play, why has Eric Fehr been benched now by his last four coaches? Despite talent suggesting he should be a clear-cut No. 1 goalie in this league, why does Braden Holtby look like he’s getting worse instead of better? Despite an utter lack of talent, why does Jay Beagle keep getting opportunities in the top-6? Despite all the goal-scoring talent in the world, why can’t Kuznetsov get off the fourth line?

Despite all the obvious talent on the roster, why aren’t the Caps better than the results?

These are all questions that can only be answered by the men that make those decisions. NHL coaches can’t afford to be completely honest in answering media questions, so we have to distill the answers by what they say and the decisions they then make with regards to the lineup.

Like Adam Oates, Dale Hunter and Bruce Boudreau before him, Barry Trotz is now tasked with maximizing this team’s talent. It’s a job the previous three weren’t able to accomplish.

After nine years of trying, I wonder if anyone is capable of accomplishing the feat.

OPINION: Washington Nationals might have blown best chance for this group to win championship

It’s never easy, the end of the baseball season. And make no mistake, it’s over. Sure, you can follow the rest of the playoffs until its conclusion, but for fans of the Washington Nationals, the end of the baseball season came late Tuesday night in San Francisco.

It came in a bitter, frustrating, disappointing manner — they weren’t so much defeated, but done in by their own mistakes and mismanagement.

It’s an unimaginable conclusion, after winning their way to the best record in the National League to be dumped in the division series, unceremoniously, on the road, practically in the middle of the night.

Most fans would like nothing better than to praise the winners for a job well done, victors in a meritorious fashion. But the bottom line of this NLDS is that the Giants, while victors, were no better than the Nats. Neither team hit at all, rather the Nats continued to make errors and mistakes, and as one of the analysts on the terrible postgame shows said, “If you aren’t scoring runs, you can’t give away outs.”

The Giants didn’t, the Nats did.

Both teams scored nine runs in the series. Four of the nine runs came via solo home runs, three of which came from the youngest player on the team — who could be the youngest player on the majority of AA teams.

It just wasn’t enough.

Manager Matt Williams was criticized — rightly — in three of the four games for decisions he made with his pitching staff, most notably how he managed his bullpen. Veterans Denard Span, Jayson Werth, Adam LaRoche, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos were non-existent.

Werth and LaRoche, the three-four hitters combined for two base hits in 35 at bats in the four games. In the game Span reached twice, the Nats won. Other than that, he was transparent. Desmond and Ramos are still swinging at sliders away.

It’s hard to fault the pitchers that didn’t come through, considering they gave up just nine runs in four games. Aaron Barrett and Tanner Roark looked in over their heads. Gio Gonzalez got rattled after a physical error. Drew Storen gave up base hits when he needed strikeouts. But it’s nit-picking.

They gave up NINE RUNS IN FOUR GAMES. They should have won all of them.

Yes, this one’s gonna hurt. They all do. But this will hurt differently than 2012 did. The Nats were one pitch away from advancing on several occasions in a ten minute period and it was ripped away from them. Most thought they weren’t ready.

This year, they were ready. Full of veterans. Playoff tested. Best record in the league. Young players coming into their own. The best starting staff and bullpen in the league. Yet, it all blew up. Rather, they just didn’t show up.

The window’s still open with this group of players, but it won’t be forever. Denard Span and Adam LaRoche both have team options for next year. We don’t know if either will be back. Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann are free agents after next season.

We have no idea where — or even if — Ryan Zimmerman will be able to contribute in a meaningful way the rest of his career.

For a team that’s as veteran as this is, there are a lot of questions. The sobering conclusion is that this very well might have been the Nats best chance to win a championship with this group of players.

And they blew it. It’s hard to type that. I’m sure it hard to read it. But it’s true.

OPINION: Harsh dose of reality for Washington Redskins after Giants beatdown

Washington Redskins fans cling to every last glimmer of hope with every fiber of their being. You can’t blame them. For 20 years, this team has been the Lucy to its fans’ Charlie Brown, holding that football out for them enticingly, only to pull it away at the last, sending poor Chuck to an embarrassing and painful fall.

The latest shimmer of hope, Kirk Cousins, went dark Thursday night, as the New York Football Giants picked him off four times and forced him to fumble yet again. Cousins has now turned the ball over an astonishing 18 times in 10 games, including 13 interceptions and five fumbles.

That’s absolutely no way to win in this league. [Read more…]

OPINION: Time For Roger Goodell to Send a Message Regarding Off-Field Player Violence

He gets booed consistently and is widely ridiculed, but NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is currently staring down a golden opportunity to improve his reputation and the league’s reputation with a strong and strict disciplinary ruling on Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy’s latest domestic violence charge.

If there’s one thing that has been a constant problem in recent years in the NFL, it’s player discipline. More and more each year, we hear about and see players getting in trouble for their actions off the field. Despite the real world rules and laws they’ve broken, they still manage to take the field on Sunday’s and make millions of dollars. [Read more…]

Capitals overpay to rebuild defensive corps in NHL free agent frenzy

When I first heard the deal the Washington Capitals handed 33-year-old (34 before opening night) defenseman Brooks Orpik, I was as apoplectic as anyone else. Well, almost anyone else.

My initial reaction: the Caps drastically overpaid — in dollars and years — for an aging, slowing, one-dimensional defenseman that doesn’t drive play. While I can appreciate the element Orpik will contribute to the team, what crusty old Canadians refer to as “snarl”, in no way is that worth $5.5 million over a five year term. Let alone, to a player that will be 39 at the end of the deal.

The analysis stands. My emotional response to the deal has mellowed a bit though.

Yes, the Caps drastically overpaid. There’s no possible way Orpik returns value on the length of the contract. With luck, the salary cap will continue to go up and he’ll be less of a burden in the later years.

He’ll add very little to the offensive side of the game. He makes a decent outlet pass, that’s about it. There’s lots of video of more talented skaters turning him inside out, and that’s going to continue.

As Caps GM Brian MacLellan pointed out, Orpik’s primary responsibility was starting in his own end and getting the puck out of it. Corsi’s not going to be kind to a player like that.

But the Caps have very precious little muscle on the back end. And that’s where Orpik can still contribute. Essentially, Orpik will be the player the Caps hoped John Erskine could continue to be. It’s debatable how long Orpik will be able to continue in that role, but we’ve got the next five years to watch it.

The next deal that the Caps made, bringing in fellow former Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, sort of helps put the Orpik deal in perspective.

Niskanen signed a market-value seven-year deal for $40.25 million — the largest contract doled out on frenzy day. Niskanen was probably the best defenseman available on the free agent market. He’s 27, coming off his best season, and in the prime of his career. He’ll “just” be 34 at the conclusion of his current contract.

Signing Niskanen gives the Caps not just another top-four defenseman, it gives them a top pair blue-liner. Whether Niskanen plays with Karl Alzner, Orpik, John Carlson, or even Mike Green or Dmitry Orlov, it slots every one down a spot. The Caps added not one, but two top four defensemen, something we advocated in this column before the conclusion of last season.

They are now deep, talented and tough on the back end, with impressive defense coaches to guide them.

Yes, the Caps spent a lot of money on two NHL caliber defensemen. But they needed to. After the parade of journeymen and teenagers last season, the Caps now boast a legitimate NHL defensive corps.

The team has been pretty good at drafting and developing puck moving defensemen, but you can’t teach size and toughness. As much as some of us (myself definitely included) like to point to possession and skill, this game still needs an element of toughness and defensive reliability on the backline.

The Caps have failed miserably to develop anyone to fill that role, so they had to pay for it.

The Caps are banking on the idea that while Alex Ovechkin is in his prime, they have to take every opportunity to “go for it.” Tuesday proved that this “refresh” is no rebuild. Damn the future, MacLellan’s directive is obvious: patch together a team that if it makes the playoffs, will at least have a puncher’s chance in the tournament.

The addition of Niskanen and Orpik, at an exorbitant cost, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the organization — and ownership — thinks it should be competitive.  Maybe they are deluding themselves. Maybe they know more than we think. Maybe they are chasing fool’s gold. Maybe they are just trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

Maybe in three year’s time they’ll be looking for another general manager.

But for know, the Caps were the most active team in the free agent market. That means that they have at least acknowledged that problems existed. There will still probably be dominoes to fall. When all is said and done, we can — and will — judge.

Orpik’s deal is bad. He’s aging quickly, his skating isn’t great, and he doesn’t drive play. The last couple of years of this contract are going to be painful to watch. But, at least, at the end of the day we could see a semblance of a plan, where taken at face value and on its own it looked like unmitigated and indefensible disaster.
__________________

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Washington Capitals, Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics. Dave also works for Associated Press, covering Major League Soccer, college football and basketball out of its Spokane, WA college sports desk. Previously, he wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network and spent four years in commercial radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams.  Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence.  You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP.

OPINION: Time for Washington Redskins to change name

I have long resisted entering this debate, but the time has come that I commit my opinion publically, for whatever that is worth. Being one-eighth native American, I have long wrestled with whether my affinity for the NFL team that resides in Washington (technically, Virginia and Maryland, but I digress) should override the just plain wrongness of its nickname. It should not.

The Washington Redskins should change their name.

I have been a fan of the Washington Redskins since I was a child. One of my first real memories was Super Bowl VII, huddled around a small black and white television in our home in Fairfax with my mom. I remember the excitement when Mike Bass returned the blocked field goal for a touchdown, and the disappointment when the team lost to the “perfect” Miami Dolphins.

I was in high school and college during the championship years of Joe Gibbs and the Hogs and the Fun Bunch and Riggo and believed it was my birthright for my team to win the NFC East and have a chance to truly compete for the Super Bowl every year.

As an adult, I had season tickets to the games for a couple of years until the misery associated with 10-hour Sundays at FedEx Field got too much to bear.

I understand the feeling of camaraderie in being associated with a group of fans that take pride in their team. That’s what sports is all about. There’s nothing better than the euphoria when your team wins the big game. All those years going through the “bad times” are rationalized away when the team finally wins.

But that euphoria doesn’t justify institutional racism.

There are no winners in this game. The “defenders” are too busy crying “political correctness” to see the big picture, the team is too busy defending what they think are its rights, and those that are offended — truly offended — continue to suffer in silence as they have since colonial times.

There are three reasons it is beyond time for the team to change its name:

THE TERM “REDSKIN” IS DEMEANING AND PEJORATIVE

There are studies on both side of the origin of the word “redskin.” The origin of the term is immaterial. The term was widely and publically used as a pejorative for many decades and, according to the literal definition in the dictionary, still is.

It does not matter if you are not personally offended by the word, or if I am or not. it doesn’t matter if a large group — even a majority — of people are not offended. It does not matter if you use the term solely to describe the NFL team or not. It only matters that there is a segment of people — by the way, AMERICAN PEOPLE — that are offended and demeaned by the term’s use.

Like any other type of harassment, the intent of someone using the term is irrelevant to whether another finds it offensive.

That’s the very definition of institutional racism. Because so many (non-offended) people use a word that was once demeaning and pejorative in a manner that is not necessarily so, that term has now been, more or less, accepted as a society to have taken that second meaning. That, my friends, is a perfect example of institutional racism.

History shows how native American people have been systematically oppressed damn near to the point of extinction. No amount of public relations fluffery can make a dent in the damage that continues in the name of “team pride.”

Ironically, everyone that opposes the name change is a victim themselves of the institutional racism they oppose and they are completely unaware of it.

And that is very, very wrong.

THE TERM “WASHINGTON REDSKINS” NOW REPRESENTS EMBARRASSMENT

The very first thing that comes up when one identifies themselves as a fan of the team is the name debate. The second is the other person’s opinion of Daniel Snyder. Maybe the third thing is RGIII, and not how exciting a football player he is, but how the whole mess about how his injury was handled.

This is how the Washington Redskins are perceived from outside the beltway. As a joke, at best. A punchline. An embarrassment.

Not with words like “pride” or “history” or “legacy”, as the team’s promotion material so stridently tries to pull the wool over the eyes of the fervent, defending their trademarks and wordmarks until the very end.

In other words, most of the country doesn’t even think about football at all when the term Washington Redskins is brought up. Through the team and ownership’s own actions and words, the very ideals they claim that the name represents are rendered an afterthought.

There’s no talk nationally about how the team will fare on the field. It’s just the incessant talk about the name change and the dysfunction surrounding the team. Eventually, fans of the team will die off (figuratively and literally) and new ones won’t take their place because of the embarrassment associated with the team.

I think even the most fervent “defenders” would agree that the headache associated with being a fan of the Washington Redskins outweighs whatever benefit comes from the arrangement.

THE TEAM WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE MONEY REGARDESS THE OUTCOME

There have been lawsuits over the past 20 years, and so far the Washington Redskins have come out on top. Maybe that actually fuels the hubris by the organization with regards to the name change. But they face another challenge in the courts, as Wednesday’s ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office shows.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registrations for the team’s name Wednesday, claiming it is “disparaging to Native Americans.” 

The case, brought to the PTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board by five Native Americans in 2006, removed six federal trademarks that included the word “Redskin”…

“The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board agreed with our clients that the team’s name and trademarks disparage Native Americans,” Jesse Witten, the plaintiff’s attorney told Politico. “The Board ruled that the Trademark Office should never have registered these trademarks in the first place.”

The team issued a sternly-worded press release, vowing to continue its fight for its name and trademarks.

We’ve seen this story before.   And just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo. [ed.–team’s bold face]

 -snip-

We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal.  This case is no different than an earlier case, where the Board cancelled the Redskins’ trademark registrations, and where a federal district court disagreed and reversed the Board.

As for public opinion, well, we’ve been down that road already. But the most recent and obvious example of public opinion swaying against the team was the two minute PSA that appeared during the NBA Finals on national television, sponsored by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation of native Americans. It was moving and poignant, and of course was met with derision and contempt by “defenders”.

But eventually, public opinion will win. Scores of colleges and high schools have changed their names over the past several decades. More will follow. It’s not enough that the once socially acceptable nicknames are “history” and used with “pride” by those associated with those institutions. As we detailed above, it’s institutional racism.

The Washington Redskins, despite years of futility on the field, are still one of the most profitable franchises in the league. They will continue to do so even if forced to change the name and mascot. The NFL has a license to print money. Between the massive broadcast contracts, merchandise sales, stadium and parking concessions, and overwhelming dominance in the sporting landscape, the team will continue to thrive regardless of what it is called.

Despite their adamant defense of its trademarks and wordmarks, the team stands to heavily profit from a name change, when the eventuality finally presents itself. It is only due to the hubris of its ownership that the team still fights so fervently against public opinion and governmental interjection.

***

Going forward, as Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page I am instructing all of our writers to refer to the team as “Washington Redskins”, in full, in any mention of the team in any game story, article, analysis or opinion. We will no longer use the term “redskins” or “skins” as a stand-alone references to the team in any form.

I realize that our reach and scope is limited. I also realize that it’s a fine editorial line I’m making between the protected wordmark “Washington Redskins” and the pejorative “redskins” or “skins”. Until the team changes its name — or is forced to — we’re left with imperfect options.

‘Damaging’ Media and MLB Free Agents: Is Scott Boras Right?

“I am angered that numerous baseball executives have blatantly and intentionally violated our collective bargaining agreement by offering to ESPN comments about free agent values of Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales. These statements undermine the free agent rights of the players and depress the market values.”
Tony Clark, Executive Director of the MLB Players’ Association

I’ve read a couple of interesting articles lately about player compensation in the MLB. A debate on the topic started this winter when draft-pick compensation rules were limiting free-agency spending, and the discussion has become much more aggressive this last week.

A slew of articles, particularly this one by Jon Heyman, caught my attention. They cover the feud between Scott Boras, the MLBPA, and big media and the MLB. An interesting twist, Heyman’s includes a direct response to Buster Olney’s controversial April 9th piece on the MLB market’s puzzling lack of employment for household-known, free-agent players.

This discussion is a complicated one. The battle they’re discussing maybe new, but the labor war in Major League baseball is not. It had just temporarily fallen off the front page, but it seems like it’s ready to return.

[Read more…]

OPINION: Arguments for fighting in NHL weaken in face of player safety

“It’s a part of the game.” 

“It protects players.”

“Players should stick up for their teammates.”

“It helps teams win games.”

If these phrases look familiar to you, it’s because the pro-fighting contingent of hockey fans has pounded you over the head with them like haymakers.

Here’s the thing about those claims–they aren’t true. None of the logic commonly used to defend fighting in the NHL is fact-based or proven in any way. In Wednesday night’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers, the mini-line brawl triggered all these excuses and more.

Fighting is not a part of the game.

Yes, violence is a part of the game, and hockey is an inherently violent sport, but fighting is a part of the game the same way the shootout is a part of the game, if you choose to subscribe to that logic.

The shootout wasn’t always a part of the NHL, and at some point in time, will no longer be a part of it. (The shootout doesn’t have much in common with fighting aside from disrupting the flow of a game, but the point still stands.) The same goes for fighting. Just because it is there now, and has been in the past, doesn’t mean it should be, needs to be, or always will be a part of it.

Fighting does not protect players.

The notion that fighting “protects” players is ridiculous. Teams that dress less-skilled players and deploy them for 4 minutes a night — in the name of “protecting” their star players — usually end up just retaliating for clean, hard hits or incidental contact on their goalie. These players serve no other purpose than to physically maim their opponent. For want of protecting a teammate, they could end someone else’s career with several well-placed punches. Most of these guys can’t play. They are dead weight.

Cheap shots, slashing in retaliation, slew-foots, etc. have been in the game for a century, and remain today. No amount of “protection” or “enforcing” has managed to drive this nonsense from the game. Honest, legitimate player safety rules, enforced on the ice, by the league, and by teams themselves, is the only answer. To this point, the league has allowed certain teams to dictate policy when it comes to fighting and violence in hockey.

One day, I hope, if fighting does still exist in the NHL, the “goons” are not just goons. I believe that every player on a team should possess actual hockey skill and contribute to the team in other ways besides propelling their metacarpals into someone else’s skull.

Hockey is a physical sport, and any time the human body is subjected to any extreme force, including a hard body check, it causes trauma to the brain. Now think about the force exerted by a fist to someone’s head. Over time, that can lead to undiagnosed concussions and traumatic brain injuries.

While we can’t completely rid the game of hitting, and nor would we want to, shouldn’t we want to see the amount of potential brain trauma reduced as much as possible? The answer is yes.

Fighting does not help teams win games.

Sure, a fight can boost momentum, that much is true, at least. Hockey is an emotional game. But what matters at the end of a game is the score on the scoreboard. The team with the most goals wins the game, not the team that spars the hardest.

There are no moral victories in hockey.

On many occasions, I’ve seen the losing team praised for showing “grit” and “heart” because they came out on the winning end of a couple fights. “They were trying to get the bench fired up,” it is then said. Do you want to know another way to “fire up the bench”? Score goals. Finish your checks. Play smart hockey. Don’t break another guy’s orbital bone, because that doesn’t improve your place in the standings. In fact, it’s probably sending your team to the penalty kill, where your opponent will likely score a goal. You are putting your team at a disadvantage, and thus making it less likely they will win a game.

Most people who know me, or at least follow me on Twitter, can attest to how outspoken I am about fighting in hockey. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve heard the prior arguments and more, including being urged to find a new sport, and being told that I should find a new sport to watch. What you and these other people may not realize is that I, too, was once a fan of fighting. It’s exciting. It boosts your adrenaline.

But at some point, I realized that the toll taken on the athletes who play these types of roles is not only detrimental to their long-term health and longevity in the sport; it’s detrimental to the game. People I’ve spoken with who are not hockey fans have told me they are turned off by seeing line brawls and fights whenever they turn on a game. As many people as are attracted to hockey because of fighting, the same proportion are alienated by it.

If the league wants to reduce the amount of head injuries to players,  why not rid the sport of something that is probably the main cause of it? It’s a gross double standard.

The NHL has clearly started thinking about it, instituting rule changes that require all players entering the league to wear visors, and penalizing players for taking off their helmets prior to a fight (they’ve also started doling out penalties to those who think they are clever by removing their opponents helmet before a fight, as well). It will be years before fighting is phased out of the league, but the NHL is taking baby steps toward protecting the health of its players and the sport as a whole.

The health of the players who play the game we love to watch should be considered paramount. The long-term effects of continued brain trauma are well-known, the emotional and psychological effects of it are probably not thought about too much. It’s time to start thinking about it.

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Katie Brown is a Staff Writer for District Sports Page covering the Capitals. She grew up in Virginia and Maryland, currently resides in Arlington, VA, and developed a love for the sport of hockey as a youngster while watching her brothers play. She combined her enthusiasm for the game with her love of writing after college. Katie has covered the Capitals as credentialed media for two seasons for several area blogs before joining the DSP staff. Katie works at a nonprofit organization by day but the rest of her time is devoted to watching, writing, and talking about hockey and perfecting her mean one-timer. You can follow Katie on Twitter @katie_brown47.

OPINION: Redskins fire Shanahan — Where do they go from here?

After meeting with owner Daniel Snyder Monday morning, while the players were in the locker room answering to the media following their eighth straight loss ending a 3-13 season, the Washington Redskins fired head coach Mike Shanahan and his entire coaching staff. Where the team goes from here is literally anybody’s guess.

The move comes as absolutely no surprise. Shanahan compiled a 24-40 record over four seasons — reason enough to dismiss the veteran coach and start over, were the problems with this franchise limited solely to the playing field.

Shanahan’s teams in four seasons finished with double-digit losses three times, and the sole time they did not, they started the season 3-6 and in Shanahan’s press conference following the sixth loss, a 21-13 decision to the Carolina Panthers, he essentially gave up on the season, saying that over the course of the season he’d find out who belonged and who did not.

The Skins then went on an improbable seven-game winning streak to win the division and make their only playoff appearance under Shanahan — a loss at home to the Seattle Seahawks, one in which the franchise quarterback, Robert Griffin III, was allowed to return to the game when his right knee was obviously compromised, only to blow it out completely requiring extensive surgery, causing him to miss all of the offseason workouts, training camp and preseason.

During the rehab process, and indeed, even after the season started, Shanahan and Griffin’s camps were divided and fractious, with the player having lost trust of the team doctors, his head coach, and by extension, his offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, Mike’s son.

What was left was a tenuous situation at best, with an obviously rusty Griffin not succeeding on the field and left warring with his immediate supervisors, all under the same big tent as Snyder — and General Manager Bruce Allen — sat silently, out of the spotlight watching all the ugliness unfold: all the ugly losses, the leaked reports citing “unnamed sources”, the headlines in the national media and the degraded play of the previous season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, ultimately leading to Shanahan benching a seemingly healthy Griffin for the team’s last three games of the season.

So Shanahan — and the $7 million that remained on the original five-year contract he signed — ride off into the sunset, his reputation and legacy further clouded by the stench of three double-digit loss seasons, the pandering nepotism, and the ceaseless turmoil and divisive media leaks that could only have come from within his camp as this season wound down.

But he’s not the Redskins’ problem anymore. Where, exactly, do they go from here?

The Redskins head coaching gig should be a prized position. Despite the 3-13 season — and the lack of first round draft picks the next two seasons, the new coach will have a presumably healthy and motivated Griffin to work with. That will be the new guy’s primary responsibility: repairing the damage this franchise has done to Griffin, both physically and psychologically.

The new head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach have to iron out Griffin’s footwork, keep him better protected, and put him back in a position to succeed, not simply live out the OC’s desire to prove he’s smarter than everyone around him.

That means, among other things, they have to fill the playbook with screens, picks and slants — like most teams with young quarterback do. They have to design plays intended to get the ball out of Griffin’s hands as quickly as possible and allow players more suited for the rigors of NFL contact to take that punishment on a regular basis.

Griffin’s legs are a weapon, yes. But they don’t have to be the only trick in the book. Griffin should run when he feels the pressure to escape the rush, where he’s able to break down defenses on the edge with his speed and natural ability. He just doesn’t have the frame to withstand running the ball off-tackle, where 300-lb linemen and 250-lb linebackers can neutralize that speed due to more-confined spaces.

There’s a really good reason the option doesn’t work on the professional level as a basis for an offense.

It also means the Skins have to fine several offensive linemen that excel in pass blocking. The group they currently have are decent-enough run blockers, but as a group — especially the interior — they aren’t proficient enough in the passing game.

That task should fall to a new talent evaluator as well. The Redskins have had enough experience with “my way or the highway” coaches to realize that a traditional system, with a GM that acts as talent evaluator and head coach that manages that talent, should be the way to go. The new coach is going to have enough trouble getting Griffin’s career back on track.

And once and for all, Mr. Snyder needs to stay away from the field. He needs someone to help him finally realize that fraternizing with the players, though a perk of ownership, should be confined to team holiday parties and special occasions like the Homecoming Luncheon. He needs to finally realize that his relationship with individual players undermines his coaches and lowers opinions of him throughout the league.

Mr. Snyder needs to hire a competent GM and let him do his job. He needs to allow the GM to hire a head coach, preferably and up-and-comer, not another “big-name” retread looking for a golden parachute. He needs to allow the head coach to hire his own coordinators and assistants, with the guidance of the GM. And he needs to step away and enjoy his product from the comfort of his suite AT ALL TIMES, instead of hanging around on the sidelines at practice like a giddy fanboy.

Or else we’ll just be back at this again in another couple of years.

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