Criminal Hockey Owners

Sports franchise owners are often scumbags (for instance and for instance) so no one should be surprised to find that many are criminals, but the National Hockey League stands out for the sheer number of criminals that have owned teams. Toronto, Nashville, Los Angeles, Buffalo, Vancouver, and the New York Islanders have all had owners sent to jail while they still owned the teams. Edmonton’s Peter Pocklington was no longer involved with the Oilers when he went to jail but he makes the cut for the NHL All-Star Team. Player rep Alan Eagleson who robbed his clients’ pensions is honorary coach. Ladies and Gentleman, I present Great Crime Bosses of the NHL:

William "Boots" Del Biaggio [photo: Silicon Valley Business Insider]

William “Boots” Del Biaggio [photo: Silicon Valley Business Insider]

First up: William “Boots” Del Biaggio III, one-time San Jose Sharks part-owner, who conned at least $67.5 Million out of numerous people and used $25 Million of that to buy a 27% share of the Nashville Predators in 2007. After ten disappointing years, owner Craig Leipold had decided to sell the Nashville  franchise. Jim Balsillie of Research In Motion fame tried to buy the team so he could move it to Hamilton but managed to alienate everyone in sight and was shut out of further dealings. Enter Boots Del Biaggio at the head of a group who wanted to buy the Preds and move them to Kansas City where he controlled a sports arena. Del Biaggio had previously tried to move the Pittsburgh Penguins to KC. He was co-owner with Mario Lemieux of a minor league team and Lemieux was miffed at Pennsylvania’s thwarting of an attempt by a gambling combine/casino to build a new arena for the Penguins. Anyway, Nashville rallied to hang on to hockey and a local group arranged to buy the team from Leipold, who then moved on to ownership of the Minnesota Wild. Del Biaggio joined this new group and contributed his share to a rumored $193 Million purchase price. A year later, Del Biaggio was suing for bankruptcy and holding secret meetings with Balsillie to buy out his share of the Predators. The League refused to allow Balsillie to buy in and Del Biaggio’s share went to a bankruptcy trustee who may still be looking for a buyer. Del Biaggio used faked documents and personal charm to scam millions which he then gambled away, both in Las Vegas and on Wall Street where he favored high-risk offerings that usually declined in value. In 2009, Boots Del Biaggio was sentenced to eight years and ordered to repay some $67.5 Million, which may happen the same day Hell freezes over. BTW, I don’t know how $25 M gets you 27% of $193 M but that is probably one reason why I am not spectacularly wealthy.

Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang [NY Times}

Sanjay Kumar and Charles Wang [NY Times}

Rookie forward on this team — and they are all forwards — is Sanjay Kumar, most recent of a long list of owners who have abused the NY Islanders. Kumar was the protege of Charles Wang, founder, with Russell Artzt, of Computer Associates, a multi-billion dollar firm that is currently invested in the Cloud. Kumar joined Computer Associates in 1987 and replaced Wang as CEO in 2000. Under Kumar’s guidance CA used a “long month” bookkeeping practice to delay accounts in a way that would make them appear more desirable to investors. See, if an end-of-quarter month is 35 days long, you can show extra revenue and maybe pretend to pay off debts a bit earlier, thus enabling your outfit to reach its projections. There was other stuff, too, all designed to make Computer Associates look a lot better investment than it was. Mind you, it was a good place to work — Wang took the largest corporate bonus in history (up to that time) in 1999 when he accepted a $675 Million stock grant. Over a billion dollars was paid out in bonuses that year, even though CA was slipping in sales and profits. None of this escaped the notice of stockholders, who took a class-action lawsuit against CA claiming that, in 1996 and ’97, the company had inflated revenues by $500 Million on paper to boost stock prices. And there was a proxy fight over management practices which probably led to Kumar replacing Wang as CEO. And there were bribery charges brought against Wang. And Federal authorities were interested in the company, too. The SEC finally clamped down on CA in 2004. in 2006 Kumar was sentenced to twelve years in prison and a staggering $796 Million in restitution. Meanwhile CA agreed to repay more than $225 Million to stockholders and also clean up its accounting practices. Shortly before going to prison, Kumar sold his share in the Isles to Wang. And that means that the story is not yet over because many folks think Kumar took the fall for Wang. Certainly, that’s Kumar’s story. He says that Wang regretted leaving the CEO post and wanted back in so he stuck Kumar with the fraud that he had perpetrated. Wang is still waiting on the report of a Special Litigation Committee that has already said: “…fraud pervaded the entire CA organization at every level …and was embedded in CA’s culture, as installed by Mr. Wang, almost from the company’s inception.” Probably Wang will only be dinged in a civil court for cash, but, if there are future indictments, Kumar may have a new linemate on the Criminal Owners All-Star team.

When Wang and Kumar bought the Islanders they were seen as saviors because the franchise was in deep trouble. The team was brought into the NHL in order to stave off a Long Island franchise attempt by the World Hockey Association, catalyst for so much that is interesting in the NHL today. But the new team had to pay off more than $40 Million to the Rangers for infringing on their territory so it started out in a financial hole. The team was still in debt to the Rangers and to the League when the original owner, Roy Boe, sold to John Pickett in 1978. Pickett almost got the Islanders back in the black by concluding a cable TV contract worth a great deal in annual revenue but he signed a horrible lease on the stadium and the team tuned into a drain attached to his wallet. Four Stanley Cups (resulting from a smart management decision not to trade draft picks) were not enough to keep the team afloat at the end of the ’80s. Pickett brought in a group of investors called the Gang of Four (more on them later) who picked up a 10% share of the team and handled day-to-day management, but he was just treading water. Then, out of the blue, a buyer emerged. Our next team member, John Spano.

John Spano  [AP]

John Spano [AP]

John Spano had been a serious prospect to buy the Dallas Stars in 1995 but was somehow unable to close the deal. He also made a stab at buying the Florida Panthers that went nowhere. Then, in 1996, Spano offered John Pickett $80 Million for the Islanders and $85 Million for its exclusive cable contract which earned $13 Million a year for the team. A bit later, Spano also agreed to buy out the Gang of Four. Gary Bettman was overjoyed to have a guy with money taking over the Islanders and the NHL quickly gave its okay. Spano made a bit of a downpayment to Pickett and began acting like an owner, throwing a few bucks into players’ accounts and forcing Mike Milbury to give up his coaching job to Rick Bowness. But, in 1997, it was John Pickett who showed up at the NHL owners’ meeting. It seems Spano didn’t have any money other than the $2.5 Million he’d splashed around the Islander dressing room and he’d borrowed that. The cheque he’d given Pickett for $17.5 Million, bounced. In fact, Spano owed back taxes on his house of $85,000 and was being sued by a couple of companies he had done business with for various frauds. Awaiting prosecution on multiple charges, Spano fled to the Cayman Islands, but returned to the US after striking a deal with prosecutors. Spano delayed his court appearance for a long while but, after trying to pay rent with an expired credit card and bad cheques, he lost his bail, his lawyers quit for fear they wouldn’t get paid, he finally pled guilty to fraud charges and, in January of 2000, was sentenced to six years plus $11 Million in restitution, including $1.25 Mil to Mario Lemieux, who seems an easy mark. Let out of jail on supervised release in 2004, Spano immediately returned to fraud, was charged, convicted, and served four more years in jail before being released in 2009. He’s still out there, folks, be careful! Oh, and the Gang of Four? Two of their members were Stephen Walsh and Paul Greenwood who were indicted for fraud in 2009. They had bilked investors out of more than half a billion dollars over the years. Since they weren’t owners at the time, they don’t make the All-Star Criminal Team. Sorry, lads, I’m sure it would have been a comfort to you over the years you may have to serve in prison (sentencing perhaps next month).

The Spano affair was quite upsetting to the NHL and they vowed afterwards to use real due diligence in checking out prospective team owners — less than a thousand dollars was spent investigating Spano. Kevin Connolly has made a movie about John Spano titled Big Shot, that is on TV from time to time. Most of the material about the Islanders above comes from a great seven-part series by Dan Saraceni for Lighthouse Hockey that I highly recommend.

John Rigas [Bloomberg Businessweek]

John Rigas [Bloomberg Businessweek]

Still from the great state of New York, let’s go upstate to Buffalo for next team pick, John Rigas. Rigas earned his millions from a family cable television operation, Adelphia, based in Pennsylvania. In 1997 the team had been losing money for years and was in deep financial trouble. It was rumored that it would be unable to meet its payroll in December. John Rigas bought the team, then fired team president Larry Quinn, replacing him with his son, Timothy Rigas. A good season followed, then a disappointing one, and the following season the team was steamrollered in the playoffs by Mario Lemieux and the Penguins. In 2002, charges were laid against John Rigas and his sons for fraud. Among other things they were accused of using company funds as their own – Timothy buying a hundred pairs of bedroom slippers out of stockholder cash – and hiding $2.3 Billion from shareholders. John still denies he has ever done anything wrong. After lengthy delays, John got fifteen years in prison and Timothy got twenty. In 2002, when Rigas was indicted, the NHL took away his ownership and ran the Sabres from Gary Bettman’s desk. In 2003, a new ownership group led by Tom Golisano and including Larry Quinn, bought the franchise.

Timothy Rigas [AP]

Timothy Rigas [AP]

Bruce McNall made his fortune smuggling stolen antiquities into the US. Later, he produced a couple of movies including Weekend At Bernie’s which made him a few dollars, too. In 1986 McNall decided to get into hockey and purchased, over two years, the LA Kings. Shortly after assuming complete control of the franchise, in the summer of 1988, McNall closed a deal with uber-scumbag Peter Pocklington to buy Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest player in the history of the game. McNall also managed to pick up Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey at Gretzky’s urging. He tried to get Messier, too, but refused to trade Luc Robitaille and so wound up without a complete set of Edmonton Oiler stars. “Pocklington basically wanted the money but Glen Sather wanted the best players he could. Robitaille was number 1 on his list and it took forever to get him to realize I wasn’t giving up Luc,” said McNall in an Ask-Me-Anything session on Reddit last year. ( Highlights. Full AMA.) In 1991 McNall and John Candy purchased the Toronto Argonauts football team and hired US superstar Rocket Ismail away from the NFL. The Argos won a Grey Cup before Ismail went back south. McNall was named chairman of the NHL Board of Governors and supervised the hiring, in 1992, of Gary Bettman, which may cause you to despise the guy right away. Both the Gretzky and Ismail deals were instrumental in raising player salaries. The Kings never won the Stanley Cup in those years, but they came close in 1993. That was pretty much McNall’s high point, too. In 1994, the authorities closed in with questions about various irregularities including bribing a bank president to give him loans. McNall defaulted on a large loan at the end of 1993 and was forced to sell the Kings. It turned out that his wheeling and dealing had gutted the team financially and, in 1995, the LA Kings went into bankruptcy. Luc Robitaille was finally traded and Grant Fuhr briefly joined the Kings (McNall’s memory is that he obtained Fuhr from Pocklington at the same time as Gretzky, Kurri, et al.) Needing some cash during this period, McNall persuaded Michael Eisner to set up a franchise in Anaheim for the Disney Corporation. That deal netted him about $25 Million as Eisner had to pay to set up in Kings’ territory. But soon enough McNall was serving a six year sentence for the usual fraud charges that convict so many of these All-Star Criminal Owners. Still, he seemed not to draw the kind of disgusted sneer that the others merit. Gretzky visited McNall in prison and refused to allow his 99 jersey to be retired until McNall could attend the ceremony. Also unlike the others, McNall cheerfully admits most, or at least many, of his misdeeds. His autobiography, Fun While It Lasted: My Rise and Fall in the Land of Fame and Fortune, gives many details. When I first started looking at criminal hockey owners, I thought that no team had been successful after having suffered through a crime boss, but two Stanley Cups for LA disprove that thesis. McNall is first-line center on the Criminal Owner All-Stars.

Bruce McNall and wife at a dinner given by Luc Robitaille in 2007 [content ©2014 W.E.N.N]

Bruce McNall and wife at a dinner given by Luc Robitaille in 2007 [content ©2014 W.E.N.N]

One of the people that bought the Kings from McNall, Jeffrey Sudikoff, sold out his share during the 1995 bankruptcy. Sudikoff was later convicted of insider trading and other fraudulent activities but was sentenced to less than a year in prison, plus the usual restitution, of course, which, usually no one seems to expect to get back. Sudikoff does not make the cut for this All-Star team.

Pocklington and Gretzky. Does Wayne look happy? [Ray Giguere/Canadian Press]

Pocklington and Gretzky. Does Wayne look happy? [Ray Giguere/Canadian Press]

Is there anything else that needs be said about Peter Pocklington except that he sold Gretzky like a slab of meat processed in one of the plants where he tried to break unions? Gretzky wept but allowed Pocklington to say that he, Gretzky, had initiated the trade. Everyone else is clear that Pocklington said that he needed fifteen million dollars and would flog his greatest asset (and Edmonton’s hope for a Cup dynasty) to get it.

When Gretzky went to L.A.
my whole nation trembled
like hot water in a tea cup when a train goes by.

“The Trade That Shook the Hockey World”, John B. Lee

Pocklington wrote a book about this: I’d Trade Him Again: On Gretzky, Politics and the Pursuit of the Perfect Deal after he realized that he couldn’t stay in Canada any longer and moved to the US. So it is some satisfaction to all Canadians that Peter Pocklington was finally found guilty of something (there are so many possibilities, but fraud and perjury finally won out) and sentenced to prison. It is less satisfying when you know that the sentence was only six months plus six months house arrest, and even less satisfying than that to learn that he has yet to serve a single day. You can fantasize about Pocklington meeting his cellmate, a 250 lb. emigre Canadian hockey fan named Cookie who is serving a life term for murder, aggravated assault, and similar misdeeds, but that’s all it is — a fantasy. Pocklington is the despised member of the Corporate All-Star Criminals, sort of their Brad Marchand.

Tom Scallen post-prison. [Globe and Mail]

Tom Scallen post-prison. [Globe and Mail]

By the end of the 1960s, with the NHL expanding to more cities, there was a concerted drive to finally get a franchise for Vancouver. A local group, based around the WHL/PCHL minor league franchise Canucks was in the running but, rumor has it, Stafford Smythe blocked it for some reason or other, but maybe this is just western prejudice against godawful Toronto. Anyway, Vancouver did get a team but the new owner was an American named Tom Scallen. Scallen had gotten rich with Medicor, a Minnesota company that had something to do with the incomprehensible American medical system. That was 1969. By 1972 Scallen was facing various charges resulting from his manipulation of Canucks funds, essentially using hockey proceeds to pay Medicor debts. He spent the next two years in jail and was deported on his release. The Griffiths family bought the Canucks from Medicor and since then things have improved except no Stanley Cup. Scallen insists he did nothing wrong. He was pardoned in 1982 during Trudeau’s decline. A journeyman winger, Scallen will skate on a line with Kumar and Del Biaggio, unless the All-Stars acquire Wang, in which case he may join the father/son Rigas duo.

Wendel Clarke and Harold Ballard [Doug Griffin / Toronto Star ]

Wendel Clarke and Harold Ballard [Doug Griffin / Toronto Star ]

Captain of the All-Star Criminal Owners team is Harold Ballard, the man who destroyed the Toronto Maple Leafs. Ballard was buddies with Stafford Smythe (see Canucks section above), son of Conn Smythe who owned the Leafs. Stafford bought the franchise from his father in 1961 but it was Ballard who gave him the money and Ballard became part of the Leafs organization. These were good years for Toronto who won four Stanley Cups 1962-67, but at the same time Harold Ballard was showing his dark side. At one point he threatened to cut a video line with a fire axe unless the CBC agreed to his demands; he took down a portrait of the Queen in order to stick more seats up in the rafters — “What position can a queen play?” he said; when the Beatles played at Maple Leaf Gardens, he cut off the water fountains, turned off the air conditioning, and charged triple prices for soft drinks. Increasing profits was Ballard’s entire purpose in life. Meanwhile, players had begun to chafe under the serfdom imposed on them by the NHL and the World Hockey Association and the Players’ Union revealed new horizons. Ballard despised unions and he hated the WHA, refusing to ever deal with it. By the end of the 60s, Ballard had alienated several Toronto stars, especially Dave Keon. In 1969 charges were brought against Ballard and Stafford Smythe for using company — that is, stockholder — funds as their own. John Bassett, the third major owner of the Leafs, persuaded the Board of Governors of Maple Leaf Gardens to fire Ballard and Smythe, but the Board and Bassett lacked the followthrough to carry this out. Smythe and Ballard returned, got rid of Bassett, Smythe died, and Harold Ballard wound up owning the entire franchise right before going to prison in 1971 after being convicted on forty-eight out of fifty counts of fraud, tax evasion, and theft. Among other items he had bought motorcycles for his sons and charged them as expenses to the Toronto Marlboros, another of his properties. At this time the negotiations for the Canada/USSR Summit Series was going on and Ballard offered Maple Leaf Gardens as a training venue and did other diplomatic things to win a little favorable PR. Later, he billed Team Canada for every nickel he could squeeze out of them. Ballard later described his prison years as living in a motel with steaks for dinner and color TV in his bedroom. While he was incarcerated, Leafs management hired a European — something Ballard opposed — Borje Salming and made other moves that kept the Leafs a potentially good team. On his release in 1973, Ballard did all he could to destroy this work. Dave Keon’s contract expired in 1975 but the NHL Players Association was not yet able to stop an owner from controlling a player’s leaving his team. Ballard named a huge price for any team trying to recruit Keon, who jumped to the WHA. Keon, who had been a key member of the Stanley Cup winning Leafs, refused to have anything more to do with the Toronto organization for twenty years, after Ballard was dead. Meanwhile, a new young player with signs of greatness named Daryl Sittler had been acquired by the Leafs. Ballard at first lauded Sittler, then — after Sittler became active in the Players Association — tried to destroy him. He traded away Lanny MacDonald who was Sittler’s good friend and denounced Sittler to the hockey press, an action which resulted in Leafs players trashing their dressing room in protest. Sittler ripped the C from his jersey and Ballard said that was equivalent to burning the Canadian flag. Meanwhile Ballard, though micromanaging the team, hired his buddy Punch Imlach as coach. Imlach operated as a Yes man for a while but suffered several heart attacks that effectively removed him from the fracas. In 1981, Sittler finally found another team willing to pay Ballard’s price and he was traded. During all this period the Leafs’ revenues went up. Ballard tripled the franchise income in the early 60s and kept it rising thereafter. At the same time he engaged in petty nastiness that no one can quite explain, like destroying all the Stanley Cup and other championship banners that at one time hung from the Garden rafters. Why on earth? But the fact is, the man was a convicted criminal, possibly sociopathic; Harold Ballard needed no reason except his immediate desires. There are so many other stories about Ballard — his trashing of Foster Hewitt’s pressbox when the Hockey Hall of Fame wanted it as an exhibit, for instance– and the opportunities he wasted — Frank Mahovlich and Bernie Parent were two other potentially great players lost to the Leafs–but whatever the stories, the consensus is that Ballard was the worst hockey owner of all time. Which is why he is captain of this All-Star group of criminals. Can’t you see them skating on the ice in their black-and-white striped jerseys, their names just over their numbers on the back, sort of like Beagle Boys? (Ballard once refused to put players’ names on their jerseys. He was disciplined by the NHL so had names added, white letters on white jerseys, blue letters on blue ones, so that they could not be seen.) They skate out onto the ice, looking for a way to screw over their team mates, seeking a profit that can be made somehow, perhaps by throwing a game. Oh, don’t you just love the criminals that bring you hockey!

 

 

 

 

 

Putin, Sports Hero

Back during the Russian elections, I posted a link to an animated cartoon that had Putin running at a track meet. First he shoots his opponents, then he has the finish line brought to him. This is funny, you understand, because that really is the way Putin wins elections. For example, last time around he disqualified any candidate that might beat him, then rigged the vote anyway. Here’s the cartoon:

[click to play] Say! Do you think this is where Sacha Baron-Choen got the race sequence in that new bad movie of his?

It will not surprise you to learn that, not only is Putin an accomplished tyrant, he is also a gifted athlete. Now you may have heard that 58-year-old Putin offered his talents to the national judo team (who claim to be seriously considering the matter) but did you know that he is also an excellent swimmer and hotshot equestrian rider? But that’s not all: Putin also plays hockey. Here he is last November. Take a look:

[click to play]

Oh my! That’s not exactly scintillating goaltending, is it? The goalie actually hands Putin the puck and Vlad still can’t discover an opening. In fact, he can’t handle the puck at all. You have to wonder about these powerful guys: they must know they look like jerks, so why do they do this stuff? Are they simply unable to resist acting out impossible fantasies? In his mind’s eye, does Vlad see himself circling the crease like a shark while the crowd cheers, “PU-tie! PU-tie! PU-tie!” He shoots! He scores!

It turns out Mao really did swim the Yangtze in 1966 but it doesn’t matter; he looked foolish, just as all these autocratic would-be sports heroes do.  After all, by definition, any event these most-powerful potentates are in, is rigged.

Of all the world’s dictators, Kim Jong-Il was probably the most gifted athlete. He once shot 38 under par on a world class green with five holes-in-one! Some say eleven! But Kim’s most amazing feat was trying bowling and, the first game, Kim Jong-Il bowled 300. That’s right. A perfect game, the very first game he ever bowled in his life. Putin is simply not in that class yet.

I say “yet” because Putin is still improving. Check out this video from a hockey game the day after Putin won the election:

[click to play]

Now you should know that Putin’s team was behind 4 – 3 when Vlad entered the game. Right away he scored and tied it up! Then, in the sequence above, you see Putin score the winning goal in a shoot-out. Now I don’t want to talk about whether the goalie could have covered the net better — poor bastard had a lot on his mind, no doubt — but look at that shot! Backhand and top shelf! That is pretty good for an ageing autocrat. Vladimir Putin, I salute you and award you the honor of being chosen as Most Improved Player, International Despots League, 2011 – 12 season.

[via PuckDaddy]

Is Football Finished?

There is a wave of interest in banning football in the U.S. The evidence, derived from autopsies and oberved deterioration of living athletes, about the effects of repeated blows to the head is overwhelming. Football destroys brains, no question, now what to do about it?

Left: a normal, 65-year-old brain. Right: The brain of former NFL linebacker John Grimsley, who died of a gunshot at age 45 after nine concussions.
The brown spots are tau proteins, which build up after brain trauma. [http://whyfiles.org/2010/traumatic-brain-injury/]

Do nothing, says one group that includes a lot of players. Sure, they say, this is dangerous but we knew that when we signed on. Banning football is an intrusion on personal liberty. Of course, there are other cases where individual freedoms are subjected to the dictates of society: drug laws for example. The right to harm your own body is curtailed by the authority of the state. Suicide is illegal. Sports seem exempt from laws against self-damage.

Prizefighting was made illegal in England and most of the U.S. in the latter part of the 19th Century. This did not end boxing, as it was defined then, but bare-knuckle fight-to-the-finish encounters. The legal arguments had little to do with the damage fighters suffered and much to do with problems of crowd control. There are still demands for boxing and other fighting matches to be banned but these seem (to me) to have little traction.

Is it possible to reduce football injuries, particularly brain destruction? Some say yes, that there are a number of small steps that can be taken that will, each of them, lessen the probability of serious brain damage. “The reality is you’re going to need about twenty fixes that reduce risk by a couple of percentage points each,” says Chris Nowinski in an interview with Ben McGrath.

But American football rules as they currently exist are the result of earlier attempts to change the game and make it less injurious, as pointed out in John J. Miller’s The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football. Deaths on the field almost got football banned at the beginning of the 20th Century. Helmets were brought in (though were not manadatory in the NFL until 1943). Teddy Roosevelt helped craft a new game incorporating the forward pass that was supposed to end the head smashing at the line of scrimmage. That line, incidentally, was itself introduced to stop the violence of continuous rugby-type scrum, instead it created a new set of injury-creating conditions. 

Perhaps violence is what the game is all about, after all the New Orleans Saints actually offered bounties on other teams’ players. Get a guy injured so badly that he’s taken out of the game and you get paid. Brent Favre, who had a $10000 bounty on his head, shrugs this off, hitting is not illegal so why get upset about rewarding it? Some players would agree with that:

…we’re well aware what we’re signing up for. The violence, we love it. The madness, we love it. We love measuring ourselves in it.

There aren’t too many places a 400-pound guy with an attitude can go and beat the crap out of somebody and not get locked up for it. I have a violent streak. I have to fight it out of my system. We signed up for it. All of it. We’re not trying to be sane or rationale.

That kind of argument bothers some people. Maybe you can’t ban football, they say, but that doesn’t mean you should condone it: Quit watching! Malcom Gladwell took that line in talking about college football and Ta-Nehisi Coates has taken the pledge:

I’m not here to dictate other people’s morality. I’m certainly not here to call for banning of the risky activities of consenting adults. And my moral calculus is my own.  Surely it is a man’s right to endanger his body, and just as it is my right to decline to watch. The actions of everyone in between are not my consideration.  
I’m out. 
 
Gladwell wants to end college football and he is not alone. American colleges have become training grounds for professional athletes and feeders for the business of athletics. Football is an expensive sport and, inevitably, winds up taking money from education. Since a lot of this is tax money, the public has a reason to stop the process. Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights:

I can’t help but wonder how a student at the University of Oregon will cope when in-state tuition has recently gone up by 9% and the state legislature passed an 11% decrease in funding to the Oregon system overall for 2011 and 2012. Yet thanks to the largess of Nike founder Phil Knight, an academic center costing $41.7 million, twice as expensive in square footage as the toniest condos in Portland, has been built for the University of Oregon football team.

 Massive liability suits might be enough to end the college game and, once college ball is ended, pro football would shrivel for lack of interest. In fact, that may happen anyway:

 …boxing and horseracing didn’t end [after attempts to ban them]. They have persisted, just in vastly less popular forms than before. They have gone into slow and irreversible decline. I suspect that the same will happen with football. It’s going to wither as the supply of talent slowly dries up.

I have little interest in American football. But I am involved in this topic because it relates to hockey, which does interest me. There are some differences — the NHL has a long season, eighty-two regular games plus playoffs meaning an athlete on a successful team will play over a hundred games in a season. Football players have fewer matches than any other pro athletes and they play less — the ball is in play for only eleven minutes or so each game — yet perhaps twenty percent of pro football players will suffer serious brain damage. In the 2010 season about half the players suffered a concussion.  By any measure, football is a more destructive sport. Even so, unless the National Hockey League finds some way to reduce concussions, fans will inevitably have to question their support for the game.