TIME society

Why Pro Athletes Won’t Stay Silent Anymore

Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James in Brooklyn, New York on Dec. 8, 2014. Jason Szenes—EPA

“I knew it would be coming sooner or later,” says Olympian John Carlos

For nearly 50 years, John Carlos, the American sprinter who raised his arm and clenched his fist at the 1968 Olympics to protest racial inequality, has waited for a group of athletes to follow his example. To stand for something more than scoring points and pushing products.

His wait is finally over. In the weeks since grand juries returned non-indictments of police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, dozens of professional and college athletes have abandoned the safety of the sidelines to lend support for the protests over their killings. “I knew it would be coming sooner or later,” says Carlos, whose “black power” salute with teammate Tommie Smith has become an iconic image. “I’m extremely proud of these athletes. I think they have a brave heart. I think they have a vision. And I think they would like to see these issues resolved.”

Some of the biggest names in sports are leading the charge. LeBron James wore an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt before a Dec. 8 game to support the family of Garner, the New York City man whose last words — captured on video as police wrestled him to the ground — have become a slogan of the emerging movement. Even President Obama took note of James’ decision. “You know, I think LeBron did the right thing,” Obama told People in an interview published Thursday. “We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness.”

Those athletes represented the peak of socially-conscious sports stars. Since then, most have followed the disengaged template perfected by Michael Jordan. In the early 1990s, Jordan refused to endorse an African-American Senate candidate trying to unseat right-winger Jesse Helms in Jordan’s home state of North Carolina. Though he might not have actually uttered the famous excuse for staying neutral that’s been attributed to him –“Republicans buy sneakers too” — Jordan followed this philosophy, and turned it into a marketing blueprint: Play nice, don’t offend, grow your personal brand. And whatever you do, stay out of politics.

James, the modern-day Jordan and Nike’s premium pitchman, and Derrick Rose, Adidas’ biggest name baller who was the first NBA star to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt, have rewritten the rules. “We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsements and don’t make waves,” Obama told People. “LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society, too’ and focus attention.”

For these players, the lack of consequences shows that they can take certain stances without sacrificing corporate clout. “Companies are a now little more willing to allow endorsers speak their mind,” says Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. When asked about LeBron’s gesture, Nike said in a statement that “we respect everyone’s right to share and express different points of view.” Adidas says it supports the position of NBA commissioner Adam Silver; he appreciates free expression, but prefers that players stick to the pre-game dress code.

In Jordan’s day, brands could control what their athletes were saying. Nike, Adidas, and other companies now realize that since so many athletes interact with social media, where the protests played on a 24-hour loop, they’re bound to join the conversation. “It’s kind of an undercurrent that pulls you in,” says TNT analyst Kenny Smith, a former NBA player in the 1980s and 1990s.

For the athletes, it’s easier to speak if you know you’ll be heard — and supported. Social media offers a ready platform to spread a message. “When you have a million Twitter followers,” says Etan Thomas, who played in the NBA from 2001-2011 and was known as one of the more outspoken pro athletes of his era, “there’s tremendous power in that.”

And don’t discount the emotional element. A majority of NFL and NBA players are African-American, and many have had personal experiences of being profiled by cops. “Today’s athletes are starting to reflect outside of themselves,” says Carlos, who briefly played pro football before becoming a counselor and track coach at Palm Springs (Calif.) High School. “We wanted to unify ourselves to make a statement to society — enough is enough. I think that 46 years later, that cry is still out there. Enough is enough.”

TIME College football

College Football Top 25, Ranked By Academics

Cameron Echols-Luper of the TCU Horned Frogs celebrates his 69-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter during a game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 15, 2014 in Lawrence, Kansas.
Cameron Echols-Luper of the TCU Horned Frogs celebrates his 69-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter during a game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 15, 2014 in Lawrence, Kansas. Ed Zurga—Getty Images

TCU didn't get in the football playoffs, but at least the Horned Frogs won something.

Correction appended: Dec. 19, 2014.

Forgive fans of Texas Christian University’s football team for feeling blue over the holidays. After all, the Horned Frogs entered the last weekend of the regular season ranked third in the college football playoff rankings, good enough for a coveted spot in the four-team national semifinals. But by the weekend’s end, they painfully fell out of contention.

Horned Frogs boosters, take some solace. Because according to an annual academic ranking of the top 25 college football teams, your school is number one. “Overall, TCU is really the standout,” says Alexander Holt, policy analyst at New America, the Washington, D.C. think-tank which publishes the rankings, viewed first here at TIME. “It’s a real academic football power, which is very rare.”

For the final results, check out the chart below. Click the left tab for the football rankings, the right one for the academic top-25:

To compile the rankings, New America started with each school’s football graduation success rate (GSR). The GSR is an NCAA metric that, unlike the federal graduation rate, doesn’t penalize schools for having players who transfer or leave for the pros–as long as those players depart in good academic standing. The higher the school’s graduation success rate, the higher they start out in New America’s rankings.

But New America penalized schools for graduating football players at different rates than the overall male student body at the school. To compare players to students, New America relied on federal rates, since there’s no GSR for the general population. The bigger the discrepancy, the harsher the penalty. It’s important to note that even if a school graduated football players at higher rates than the overall male student population — four schools in the top 25, TCU, Arizona State, Arizona, and Boise State, did so — the difference was counted as a penalty. Why? “We were not going to reward schools with really low overall graduation rates,” says Holt. In fact, schools got an added bonus for having high overall rates.

TCU, for example, has a 77% federal graduation rate for football players, and a 73% federal graduation rate for all male students. This four point difference is relatively minor. But Boise St. has a 70% football graduation rate, and a 31% graduation rate for all the male students. The low overall rate hurts the school tremendously in these rankings: despite a strong 85% graduation success rate for football players, Boise State fell to 24th in these rankings.

Of the four playoff teams — Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State — the defending champion Seminoles have the lowest GSR, at 65%. “It’s super troubling,” says Holt. “Florida State is a very good football school. But what’s going on here with the other 35% of the players?”

TCU’s academic win won’t match the euphoria that a national title would deliver. But it’s something, right? “Sure,” says Jamie Plunkett, a TCU alum and managing editor of Frogs O’ War, a TCU fan site. “It’s always cool to be ranked number one in something. Where’s Baylor on that list?”

Correction: A number cited by Alexander Holt was misquoted in the original version of this story. The percentage of Florida State players who did not graduate is 35%.

Read next: The Big 12 Bites Itself in College Football Playoff

TIME society

Dear Police Unions: Please Stop Asking Jocks To Apologize

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns
Andrew Hawkins #16 of the Cleveland Browns walks onto the field while wearing a protest shirt during introductions prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium on Dec. 14, 2014 in Cleveland. Joe Robbins—Getty Images

Sean Gregory is a TIME senior writer who has covered sports extensively over the last decade.

NFL players have taken stands against the deaths of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice, and been criticized by police unions. But why shouldn't athletes take a stand?

On Sunday, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a t-shirt that said “Justice For Tamir Rice And John Crawford III.” Rice, a 12-year-old, was shot by a Cleveland police officer in a park last month; the boy had been carrying a toy gun. Crawford was shot by police in in Beavercreek, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton, while holding an air rifle in a Walmart this summer; a grand jury did not indict any officers.

“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law,” Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland police union, wrote in a statement to a local TV station. “They should stick to what they know best on the field. The Cleveland police protect and serve the Browns stadium and the Browns organization owes us an apology.”

Neither the Browns nor Hawkins said “I’m sorry.”

On November 30, five St. Louis Rams players made the “hands up, don’t shoot” pose during game introductions, in support of Michael Brown and Ferguson protestors. The St. Louis police union was similarly peeved. It released a statement saying the officers were “profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory.” The union called for player discipline and “a very public apology” from the NFL and the Rams. Although the police organization and the Rams debated whether private correspondence between a team official and the union qualified as an apology, the team publicly stood by its players.

Public opinion has moved against police officers. Some misguided people are painting them with a broad brush, saying all cops are bad. As the son of a retired New York City police sergeant, I strongly disagree with this sentiment. That’s why I’m asking police unions to please stop belittling professional athletes.

These apology demands come off as defensive. They don’t help public perception; they don’t help the tense relationship between law enforcement and many communities. These athletes aren’t painting all cops as racists. They are exercising a right to free speech. The right to believe that a 12-year-old boy should not have been shot. To believe that an unarmed Michael Brown did not deserve to die. Sure, officer Darren Wilson said Brown never raised his hands to surrender. A few witnesses said he did. The St. Louis Rams have a right to believe the witnesses.

And why single out athletes for reprimand? Unions don’t seem to be firing out angry letters to peaceful protestors. To be fair, not every union is singling out athletes. Before a December 8 game in Brooklyn, NBA stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, and other players wore “I Can’t Breathe” shirts in warmups, to protest the death of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after an officer put him in a chokehold. He uttered “I can’t breathe” before he died; a grand jury acquitted the officer. The New York police union did not publicly blast the players.

And official police department representatives generally have been much more measured. Cleveland Division of Police Chief Calvin D. Williams said on Tuesday: “The Division of Police respects the rights of individuals to peacefully demonstrate their personal views and opinions. Mr. Hawkins was certainly well within his rights to express his views and no apology is necessary.”

Yes, athletes have a larger platform than the average dissenter to spread a message. But if you don’t agree with the message, that doesn’t mean you go after them. Jocks have a first amendment right not to stick to sports. Why should law enforcement chastise law-abiding athletes?

 

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME

Roger Goodell’s Worst Words

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looks on as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft speaks at an NFL press conference announcing new measures for the league's personal conduct policy during an owners meeting on Dec. 10, 2014, in Irving, Texas.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looks on as New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft speaks at an NFL press conference announcing new measures for the league's personal conduct policy during an owners meeting on Dec. 10, 2014, in Irving, Texas. Brandon Wade—AP

TIME's Sean Gregory weighs in on a troubling September memo the NFL commissioner

Second, on multiple occasions, we asked the proper law enforcement authorities to share with us all relevant information, including any video of the incident. Those requests were made to different law enforcement entities, including the New Jersey State Police, the Atlantic City Police Department, the Atlantic County Police Department and the Atlantic County Solicitor’s Office. The requests were first made in February following the incident, and were again made following Mr. Rice’s entry into the pre-trial diversion program. None of the law enforcement entities we approached was permitted to provide any video or other investigatory material to us. As is customary in disciplinary cases, the suspension imposed on Mr. Rice in July was based on the information available to us at that time.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote this paragraph in a Sept. 10 memo to NFL owners and team presidents, which explained his investigative process in the Ray Rice incident. Two days earlier, TMZ.com published video of Rice knocking out his then-fiancée in an elevator of an Atlantic City casino. Goodell then suspended Rice indefinitely.

These are troubling words, because ESPN reported Wednesday that the transcript of Rice’s appeals healing — a judge lifted his suspension last week — shows that they’re very likely not true. According ESPN, the NFL’s lead investigator into the Rice incident told the league’s head of security, in an email, that “again, I never spoke to anyone at the casino or the police department about the tape.” At the end of the email chain, he wrote, “I never contacted anyone about the tape.”

The takeaways seem pretty clear: Either Goodell was frighteningly incompetent here, or he distorted the truth in that memo. For him — or his staff — to sit down and compose a letter saying the NFL asked for the tape, while the head of the Rice investigation is saying the exact opposite, is startling. This wasn’t Goodell misspeaking at a press conference or in an off-the-cuff moment. These words were prepared, and had to be vetted and fact-checked for accuracy.

So was Goodell lying, or is the paragraph just bumbling? Goodell seems to lean toward the latter: In the Rice hearing, when a lawyer informs Goodell of the emails, the commissioner responds: “I wasn’t aware of the fact that they tried to get it from law enforcement.” Really? So amidst the most intense public scrutiny the NFL has ever seen, Goodell sent out a letter to his bosses without asking the head of the Rice investigation if it was indeed accurate? Or did the head of the Rice investigation, Jim Buckley, and the recipient of the email, NFL chief security officer Jeffrey B. Miller, not tell Goodell that Miller hadn’t asked for the tape? Or did the NFL fudge the truth to seem like it had followed basic investigative protocol?

No matter what, it’s a head-scratching mess. This exchange is not unrelated to the NFL’s announcement earlier on Wednesday that an investigator, not Goodell, would be in charge of initial disciplinary proceedings under the league’s revamped personal conduct policy. (Though Goodell can remain involved in the appeals process). At the very least, Goodell clearly needs to get out of the judge and jury role. The owners have stuck by him through this crisis. How long will their patience last?

TIME

The Big 12 Bites Itself in College Football Playoff

Iowa State v TCU
Texas Christian University Quarterback Trevone Boykin throws a pass during the thrid quarter of the Big 12 college football game against the Iowa State Cyclones at Amon G. Carter Stadium on Dec. 6, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. Christian Petersen—Getty Images

Naming TCU and Baylor co-champions gives College Football Playoff Committee an out: let a true conference champ in

Five power conferences. Four playoff spots.

Someone was always going to be left out.

It’s early December, which means one thing: a contingent of the country will be whining about its place in the college football postseason. Pick your administrative acronym! Whether it’s the BCS, or this year’s much-discussed CFP (College Football Playoff!), a school or schools were going to get screwed, according to players, coaches, and supporters of that school or schools. In this, the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff, the screaming is particularly loud, as two teams from Texas — which happens to be the corporate headquarters of the playoff committee, and site of the national championship game — didn’t get an invite to the national semifinals.

Texas Christian University and Baylor, from the Big 12 conference, entered the weekend ranked third and sixth, respectively. They both took care of business this weekend: TCU trounced lowly Iowa State by 52 points, while Baylor beat No.9 Kansas State, 38-27.

But in college sports, that on-field business doesn’t always count. It’s the off-field machinations, conducted by highly-compensated bureaucrats, that determine the fate of unpaid amateurs.

The college sports business bit the Big 12. Schools like Missouri and Texas A&M and Colorado and Nebraska started abandoning the conference a few years back; the Big 12 now has only 10 teams. Under NCAA rules, you need 12 teams to hold a conference championship game; so the Big 12 didn’t have a clear champion in the eyes of the committee.

In lieu of a championship game, the Big 12 created a “One True Champion” campaign that now looks like a joke, since Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby presented both TCU and Baylor championship trophies on Saturday. Bowlsby played politics: he didn’t want to tick off either member of his club. But he got played. Without giving the selection committee a clear choice, even though Baylor beat TCU head-to-head in the regular season– no more logical tie-breaker on the planet exists — Bowlsby gave the selection committee an easy out.

Put Ohio State in the playoff.

The Big 10 has 14 teams. (We know, we know, the conference names really make no sense). So it played itself a championship game, and the Buckeyes, with their third string quarterback, destroyed 13th-ranked Wisconsin, 59-0. Such a decisive win in a high-stakes affair made the decision easy. Put the champs from four of the five power conferences in the playoff — Alabama (SEC), Oregon (Pac-12), Florida State (ACC), and Ohio State (Big 10). Leave the touchy-feely Big 12 — both of you boys win!! Trophies for everyone!!– out of it.

You have to feel for the players of TCU and Baylor: bad politics cost them a shot at the national championship. But we all know what the committee knows. College football wins here. Ohio State, with high-strung coach Urban Meyer, is a more compelling national draw than either TCU or Baylor. In the first year of the playoff, the New Year’s Day semifinals — Alabama vs. Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, Oregon and Florida State in the Rose Bowl — will get monster ratings.

As for the Big 12 — well, start adding teams. Or lobbying for a waiver start a championship game with 10 teams. Or change the tie-breaker rules.

In other words, get back to business. That’s what always wins here.

TIME NFL

Don’t Expect to See the Reinstated Ray Rice Play Anytime Soon

Ray Rice, Janay Palmer
Ray Rice with his wife Janay Palmer, Nov. 5, 2014, in New York. Jason DeCrow—AP

A former judge overturns Roger Goodell's indefinite suspension of Rice following his domestic violence incident. But will any team sign him?

Ray Rice is back—if anyone will have him.

Former federal judge Barbara Jones overturned the NFL’s indefinite suspension of Ray Rice Friday, calling the NFL’s decision to kick Rice out of the league, after a video emerged of him attacking his future wife in an Atlantic City elevator, an “abuse of discretion.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell originally suspended Rice for two games, but added to the penalty after the disturbing elevator video was made public; Jones is basically saying that the NFL should have gotten it right the first time. She noted that the NFL never asked Rice for the elevator video — which was in Rice’s possession — in its initial investigation. This mystifying decision will dog Goodell for a long, long time.

Goodell has said that the contents of the video clashed with Rice’s description of the event during their conversation. “What we saw was new evidence [the elevator tape] that was not consistent with what was described when we met with Ray and his representatives,” Goodell told USA Today in September.

Jones disagreed, saying that she “was not persuaded that Rice lied to, or misled, the NFL at his June interview.”

Her decision, just like former commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s reversal of Goodell’s Bountygate suspensions two years ago, is a stern rebuke of Goodell’s leadership. In response to Goodell’s recent suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who pleaded no contest to one count of misdemeanor reckless assault in a child abuse case, players union chief DeMaurice Smith said when it comes to doling out player discipline, the NFL has “simply been making it up as they go along.” Jones’ ruling lends great credence to Smith’s position.

As for Rice, reinstatement does not mean teams will be lining up to sign him, at least not this season. He’s got a bunch of factors working against him. First, the video is still relatively fresh in the public’s mind: teams risk offending fans and sponsors if they bring him on board. Second, it’s so late in the season that the chances of Rice learning a team’s offense, and having a positive impact on the field, are fairly remote. So why risk the off-field backlash? And third, Rice was already showing signs of decline before the domestic violence incident. He averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in 2013, his sixth season, which was 22.5% off his prior career low.

After an off-season in which Rice can make a positive contribution to domestic violence education and eradication, while giving teams a full audition of his skills, a return seems more realistic. Second chances are given in sports. For now, however, Rice will almost certainly remain on the sidelines.

TIME NFL

NFL Players Give Six Reasons Thanksgiving Football Can Stink

Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (75) pushes back New York Jets guard Brandon Moore (65) into quarterback Mark Sanchez (6) causing Sanchez to fumble the ball during the NFL Thanksgiving Day game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J on Nov. 22, 2012.
Mark Sanchez's butt fumble is one of many low moments in the annals of Thanksgiving football Chris Szagola—ZUMA Press/Corbis

Vets recall butt fumbles, near-brawls and other moments that spoiled their holiday

Ask an NFL player how it feels to play on a day most Americans are relaxing in front of the TV with a belly full of stuffing, and nearly all will say the tradeoff is worth it.

“It’s your opportunity to be the entertainment,” says former NFL linebacker Bart Scott, who played on Thanksgiving for the New York Jets in 2012. “You know everyone in America is watching you,” says former Detroit Lions quarterback Scott Mitchell, who played in three Thanksgiving games with the Detroit Lions in the 1990s. “And that’s a cool thing. I never felt deprived. If you think about it, a lot of people go and play football on Thanksgiving anyway. We just felt we had our own little pre-Thanksgiving pickup game. It just happened to be on national television. In front of millions of people.”

For Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, the Thanksgiving game had its gastronomic advantages. “All the dudes that play on Sunday, they can’t really enjoy Thanksgiving,” says Irvin, now an NFL Network analyst. After all, with a game coming up in a few days, they can’t overindulge. But Irvin’s Cowboys had a ten-day break after their Turkey Day clashes, enough time to feast like a civilian. Irvin remembers coming back to his place after the games — Dallas and Detroit always play at home — and raiding the fridge. “Eat, fall asleep, eat, fall asleep,” he says. “You can go three of four rounds. It was a treat.”

But that doesn’t mean playing on Turkey Day doesn’t have a downside. The NFL’s longstanding tradition of Thanksgiving day games has produced plenty of moments that ruined players’ holidays. Below, former NFL players recall games that spoiled their sweet potatoes.

1. Bounty Bowls

Who wants to spend a holiday getting smacked around by three All-Pro defensive lineman? When Troy Aikman was a rookie quarterback for a 1-15 Dallas team back in 1989, Philadelphia’s trio of Reggie White — a future Hall of Famer — Jerome Brown, and Clyde Simmons pounded Aikman in his inaugural Thanksgiving game. Philly won 27-0. “At the end of the game,” says Aikman, now the lead NFL color analyst for Fox, “they X-rayed both my knees, both shoulders, and my elbow. I would have sworn they were going to have to put me in a cast.”

The beating was so severe that Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson accused Eagles coach Buddy Ryan of offering a $500 bounty on Aikman and a $200 bounty on Cowboys kicker Luis Zendejas, whom the Eagles had cut earlier that year. ”It’s stupid to have a coach like that in the N.F.L., the fat little guy,” Zendejas, who suffered a concussion after being hit on a kickoff, said of Ryan. ”He can’t take you out himself, so he pays somebody else to do it for him. That’s about as low as you can get.” Johnson said he would have confronted Ryan after the game if Ryan hadn’t gotten “his big, fat rear end in the dressing room” so quickly. Ryan denied the bounty charge, and took mock exception to all the talk about his weight. “I resent that,” Ryan said. “I’ve been on a diet, I lost a couple pounds, and I thought I was looking good.”

Turns out Aikman was OK — but he wouldn’t have necessarily minded a short stint on the injured list. “We played Philadelphia two weeks later, so I was almost hopeful that something was wrong,” says Aikman. The first game was christened Bounty Bowl I. The Eagles won again in Bounty Bowl II, two weeks later, and Philly fans pelted the field, and CBS broadcasters Verne Lundquist and Terry Bradshaw, with ice balls.

Following the Thanksgiving debacle, Aikman — who will call Thursday’s Dallas-Philly game, hopefully not Bounty Bowl III — drove back to his parents’ place in Oklahoma. “I had plenty of time to reflect,” says Aikman with a laugh, “on that season, that day, and why I decided to play professional football.”

2. Butt Fumbles

Scott, then a Jets linebacker, didn’t see exactly what transpired on Thanksgiving night, in East Rutherford, N.J., two years ago. He was on the sideline when Jets QB Mark Sanchez muffed a handoff, then tried to run forward before colliding into the behind of lineman Brandon Moore. The ball popped loose, and Steve Gregory of the New England Patriots picked it up and ran for a 32-yard touchdown, giving New England a 21-0 lead in the second quarter (the Pats would go on to win the game 49-19). A little later that night, Scott, now a studio analyst for The NFL Today on CBS, saw the clip that launched a million memes: the Butt Fumble.

Any Jets fan can relate to Scott’s reaction: “Hey man, only us, man. Did that just happen? What? Maaaan. No. Really?”

Really.

3. Disrespected Kickers

Between 1992 and 2012, Detroit kicker Jason Hanson played on Thanksgiving every year except one, 2010, when he was injured. In 2003, Hanson kicked five field goals to lead Detroit to a 22-14 win over Green Bay. Near the end of the game, Hanson started to get giddy — he thought he was going to win Fox’s Galloping Gobbler award, given to the MVP of its Thanksgiving game. After all, Hanson scored 15 of Detroit’s 22 points. But when it was time to hand out the turkey trophy, Detroit cornerback Dre’ Bly, who intercepted Brett Favre twice, got the nod. “So there I was, saying ‘yeah, I’m going to get an award on national television,'” Hanson says. “All of a sudden, I see Dre’ Bly mugging it up for the cameras. That’s when you’re reminded that you’re just the kicker.”

4. (Near) Bathroom Brawls

As starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions, Mitchell was 2-1 on Thanksgiving. In 1995, he even threw for 410 yards, and four TDs, in a 44-38 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. But Mitchell’s loss, a 28-24 defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1996, almost sparked what would have been one of the most infamous moments in NFL history: a post-game melee with fans in a Pontiac Silverdome bathroom.

This was a rough year for Mitchell, who was bothered by injuries, and Detroit, which finished 5-11, in last place in the NFC Central. And the game was excruciating: after a Hanson field goal gave the Lions a 24-21 lead with 8:41 left, Kansas City used its running game to hold onto the ball for the next 7:55, and march 76 yards downfield. Marcus Allen scored the game-winning, 1-yard TD with 46 seconds left.

Afterwards, Mitchell waited to face the expected media scrum at his locker. And waited. But the reporters never came, because they were squaring off with Lions coach Wayne Fontes. “I’m waiting, waiting, waiting,” Mitchell says. “Finally I’m like, ‘I want to go home, I’ve been here a long time, we lost the game and it’s Thanksgiving.'” So Mitchell, who has shed 98 pounds as a contestant on this season’s The Biggest Loser, headed up a Silverdome elevator to the suite where his family watched the game. As he walked down the corridor towards the suite, four fans passed him. “One of them recognized me and makes a comment: ‘Mitchell, you suck.'”

Mitchell brushed off the remark. He peeked in the suite, but his family had already left. Suddenly, he sort of snapped. “Something in my mind in that moment, I was like, ‘you know, I’m not going to take this from this guy.’ So I turned around, left the suite and started chasing four guys down the corridor in the Silverdome.”

Terrible idea. The fans went into the bathroom, and Mitchell followed. When the quarterback got there, they were in the stalls. “So I make a general announcement,” he says. “‘Anybody in here have a problem with me?’ And all of a sudden these four guys walk out of the stalls. I’m standing there, and they’re looking at me. I think they were as shocked as I was that we were going to have this conversation.” One heckler said that he indeed had a beef with Mitchell, and Mitchell told the guy he wouldn’t last a second in the NFL. Third grade stuff, on Thanksgiving. “He said to me, ‘you’d like to hit me, wouldn’t you?'” Mitchell says. “And I said, ‘yeah, actually, I would.'”

“And then the strangest thing happened to me,” says Mitchell. “In the corner of the bathroom was a janitor. And he started talking to me, he says, ‘Scott, you’ve got to leave right now.’ And I was like, ‘you’re right. I do. I need to go.'” And I turned around and walked right out. To this day, I don’t know if it was in my mind because no one was in there when I walked through the doorway.”

Scott Mitchell has a guardian angel that saved him from infamy. “I had lost it,” Mitchell says. “I don’t know if I would have won or lost. But there would have been a fight. It was going to be bad.

“So that was kind of a Thanksgiving moment.”

5. Death by Coin Toss

For Jerome Bettis, the Thanksgiving game against the Detroit Lions in 1998 was supposed to be a happy homecoming. The Pittsburgh Steelers running back known as The Bus was a Detroit native who learned about football while watching the holiday games; he bowled on the weekends growing up, so Bettis didn’t watch on Sundays. He had 80 friends and family at the game. And the night before, his family hosted around 60 Steelers teammates for an early Thanksgiving feast. Turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese, the works. “We didn’t just have the little guys,” Bettis, now an ESPN analyst, says. “We had the offensive linemen, defensive linemen. Those guys don’t shy away from calories.”

The game was a tight one. Pittsburgh and Detroit ended regulation tied 16-16 and headed for overtime. At the coin toss, Bettis initially started to call heads, then quickly changed his mind to tails. Referee Phil Luckett missed the switch, and when the coin came up tails, he awarded the ball to the Lions. The Steelers flipped out. “It was like, ‘Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa,'” says Bettis. “‘Wait a second.'” Hines Ward was a rookie wide receiver for Pittsburgh. “It was just shock and confusion,” says Ward, now an NBC commentator.

Back then, overtime was simple sudden death. On Detroit’s first possession, Hanson kicked the game-winner. “That was a rough flight back to Pittsburgh,” says Bettis. The Bus would never take part in a coin toss again. “I got fired,” he says.

6. ‘Not. Leon. Lett.’

“That was the weirdest day ever,” says former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, talking about Thanksgiving Day in Dallas, 1993. First of all, a rare snowstorm blanketed the Metroplex. “I remember driving to the game that day — oh my God, I’ve never been more afraid,” says Irvin, then a Cowboys receiver. “My God, they’re going to cancel the game.”

That didn’t happen, and Dallas took a 14-13 lead over the Miami Dolphins into the final seconds. With the game on the line, Miami kicker Pete Stoyanovich lined up for a 41-yard field goal in the sleet and snow. Lined up to block it was a special addition to the Cowboys’ defense.

Before the game, Dallas special teams coach Joe Avezzano had an idea for Johnson. Because of the snow, Avezzano figured, the Dolphins offensive line might have trouble with its footing. Why not put Leon Lett, a 6’6,” 290-lb. defensive lineman, on the field goal blocking team? Maybe he can get his hands on one. Johnson agreed, but no one realized that Lett wasn’t all too familiar with the special teams rules. So when Dallas’ Jimmy Jones blocked Stoyanovich’s attempt, seemingly clinching the Dallas win — owner Jerry Jones raised his victorious arms on the sideline, while Aikman and Irvin embraced — Lett came charging out of nowhere towards the ball, which had sailed past the line of scrimmage and trickled towards the end zone. By rule, the ball was dead, and the game was over, unless a Cowboy player picked it up, or touched it. And Lett’s foot indeed grazed the ball as he slid on the snow: Miami recovered the now live ball, giving Stoyanovich another chance to win the game for the Dolphins, which he did.

Lett had already made a famous gaffe in the previous season’s Super Bowl. With Dallas destroying Buffalo 54-17, Lett recovered a fourth quarter fumble, sprinted towards the end zone for a surefire touchdown, and began to celebrate early. Buffalo’s Don Beebe, however, chased him down, and knocked the ball out of Lett’s hands before he scored. That was embarrassing, but it didn’t cost the Cowboys the game. “Leon Lett, nooooooo,” NBC commentator Bob Trumpy shouted during the Thanksgiving game. “Not. Leon. Lett.”

The season before, Johnson had cut a running back for fumbling during a meaningless game. “I would have bet everything that Leon Lett, the next day, would not have been on the team,” Aikman says. But Johnson actually consoled Lett, who was crying in the training room, telling him he’d be part of the team as long as Johnson was in charge. “Leon was actually one of my favorites, even though he made two of the more famous blunders in NFL history,” Johnson, now a Fox studio analyst, says. “He was a really good player, and a good person.” Lett spent a decade with the Cowboys, winning three Super Bowls, and is now an assistant defensive line coach for the team. Irvin says he thanked Lett for keeping him off the next day’s front pages. “That may have been the worst game I ever played,” Irvin says. “I remember dropping so many passes. I told him, ‘I’m so glad you did that, man.’ They would have been all over me. It would have gotten crazy.”

What was left of Johnson’s holiday — he says he never really celebrated Thanksgiving as a coach — was pretty much ruined. “I doubt if I had any turkey,” Johnson says. “I probably had some nachos and a cold beer. That’s my normal Thanksgiving.”

 

 

TIME Education

Is a Bad College Education Illegal for the NCAA?

Mike McAdoo
Michael McAdoo in a 2011 picture taken as a member of the Baltimore Ravens AP

Former North Carolina football player Michael McAdoo is suing the school over sham classes. Does the case have a shot?

When the University of North Carolina was recruiting Michael McAdoo, Tar Heels head coach Butch Davis made a pledge that helped lure the high school football star to Chapel Hill. “I can’t guarantee that Michael will play in the NFL,” Davis told McAdoo’s mother, grandmother, and grandfather while at their home in Antioch, Tenn. “But one thing I can guarantee is that he will get a good education at the University of North Carolina.”

It didn’t quite work out that way. After enrolling at UNC and playing defensive end during the 2008 and 2009 seasons, the NCAA ruled McAdoo ineligible because he received improper help from a tutor in writing an African-American studies paper. That sort of extra assistance was all too common for top athletes at the highly-regarded public university. According to a devastating report released in October, former federal attorney Kenneth Wainstein found that between 1993 and 2011, over 3,100 UNC students took “paper” classes in the school’s Department of African and Afro-American Studies. These courses required no classroom time, little work, and produced inflated grades that were often assigned by a department administrator, not a faculty member. Of the 1,871 paper classes taken by athletes between 1999 and 2011, 63.5% of the enrolled students were football or men’s basketball players.

McAdoo says he was put in such sham classes against his will. So he’s added another headache for the beleaguered school. On Nov. 6, McAdoo filed a class action suit in federal court against the University of North Carolina, on behalf of himself and other football players on scholarship between 1993 and 2011. The suit accuses North Carolina of fraud, deceptive trade practices, and breach of contract: the school promised a legitimate education in exchange for athletic services, but allegedly failed to deliver. “Legal action was in the ether when I first met Michael earlier this year,” says Jeremi Duru, one of McAdoo’s attorneys (McAdoo declined to comment directly). “But the Wainstein report put the engines in motion.”

The complaint says that “almost immediately after arriving at UNC to begin his freshman year, Mr. McAdoo realized that the promises Head Coach Davis and his assistants made about the football’s program’s commitment to academics were false.” McAdoo says he expressed interest in becoming a criminal justice major, but football players were steered into three options for a major: Exercise Sport Science, Communications, or African-American Studies. Per the complaint: “When Mr. McAdoo asked why he should not pursue other majors, he was told these were the only majors that would accommodate his football practice and playing schedule, and that the football program had ‘relationships’ with professors in those departments.” McAdoo, who majored in Exercise Sport Science and African-American Studies, says that an academic counselor gave him and his teammates pre-assigned course schedules that included paper classes. “Mr. McAdoo had no role in selecting the courses,” says the complaint. “The same thing happened every semester Mr. McAdoo attended the University of North Carolina.”

UNC said in a statement that “the University will reserve further comment until we’ve had the opportunity to fully review the claims.”

Davis, who coached UNC from 2007-2010 after being the head coach at the University of Miami and the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, tells TIME that he wasn’t aware of the sham classes when he promised McAdoo a good education. (Davis was fired after the 2010 season, in part because the turmoil surrounding the program after some of the academic impropriety came to light). “After we recruit the athletes, then everything about their academics was handled outside the athletic department,” says Davis, who is now an analyst for ESPN. “Their classes, their degree programs, their teachers, their mentors, their tutors, and everything fell completely under the supervision of the university academic advisement or career counseling program. The only role that I or my assistant coaches had is they would ask us from an academic standpoint ‘what days would you like to practice and what times would you like to have your athletes?’ … Our coaching staff didn’t know that there was anything corrupt, fraudulent, or cheating going on in those classes. We didn’t know.”

At least one former player doesn’t absolve Davis. A man who identified himself as former North Carolina defensive tackle Tydreke Powell told a Greensboro, N.C. radio station that Davis “came into a meeting one day and he said, ‘If y’all came here for an education, you should have went to Harvard.”

Davis acknowledges the remark, but insists that Powell misunderstood the point. “I said that, OK, in the context that I made that statement one time, and it was a poorly phrased context, but I said it half comical and half in the form of ‘stop complaining,’ Davis says. “Your days are long. It’s a long, hard day. You’ve got to practice, you’ve got to study, you’ve got to go to class, you’ve got to take notes, you’ve got to do extra work. If you wanted to just get an education period, and you didn’t want to play in a high profile football program, and you didn’t want to chance to go to the NFL, you should have gone to Harvard. It was totally kind of halfway joking and halfway whimsical, comical, and halfway saying ‘hey guys, I hear you. I know being a student-athlete in a Division I major college program in any sport is harder than just being a student.’ If you just wanted to be a student, you should have gone to Harvard, you know?”

The Legal Odds

McAdoo’s suit will keep the glare on North Carolina, but will it hold up in court? “I think it’s an absolutely brilliant strategy,” says Marc Edelman, a sports law expert at Baruch College in New York City. “The thrust of what the NCAA purports to be based on is education in exchange for athletic services. That’s supposed to be the quid pro quo. The implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is a basic tenant of contract law. There’s a very strong argument that North Carolina violated the quid pro quo.”

But McAdoo isn’t the first college athlete to make this argument, and the existing case law could throw a wrench into his suit. In 1992, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit largely upheld a lower court decision to dismiss a case involving Kevin Ross, a former basketball player at Creighton University who sued the school for negligence and breach of contract for failing to educate him. “We agree — indeed we emphasize — that courts should not ‘take on the job of supervising the relationship between colleges and student-athletes or creating in effect a new relationship between them,’” the judges wrote. Courts are reluctant to judge the quality of a student’s education, because “theories of educations are not uniform.” How can you objectively measure the quality of a student’s academic experience? It may be a ‘practical impossibility to prove that the alleged malpractice of the teacher proximately caused the learning deficiency of the plaintiff student.’”

“Courts have consistently been very reluctant to get into the quality of education,” says Phillip Closius, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law. “This is not binding precedent. But it seems highly unlikely for a court to ignore it.”

The judges were also concerned about the potential “flood of litigation against the schools.” If McAdoo wins damages because his education is deemed insufficient, what’s to stop other dissatisfied students from bringing their own claims?

But the appellate ruling in Ross’s case did leave a small opening for McAdoo’s suit. In order to avoid the murky matter of judging the quality of Ross’ education, the lower court was ordered to answer a very narrow question. “To adjudicate such a claim, the court would not be required to determine whether Creighton had breached its contract with Mr. Ross by providing deficient academic services. Rather, its inquiry would be limited to whether the University had provided any real access to its academic curriculum at all.”

Under this precedent, McAdoo would have to show that North Carolina offered him no education. That’s tough to prove. (Ross, who left Creighton with seventh grade reading skills, reached a $30,000 settlement with the school, which admitted no liability). And it begs the question of why McAdoo didn’t fight harder to enroll in a major of his choosing. “He’s not a minor,” says Closius. “If you know classes have no content, why don’t you do something about it?”

Duru, McAdoo’s lawyer, argues that for young athletes who’ve trained their whole lives to play college football, taking such a stand isn’t so easy. “Think about the expanse of the academic impropriety, and channeling into these courses, going on at North Carolina,” he says. “It was almost part and parcel of being part of the football team. It was just systematic and normative that an 18-year-old kid drop into it.”

McAdoo declared for the NFL’s supplemental draft after he was ruled ineligible and spent two seasons with the Baltimore Ravens on injured reserve. His suit isn’t just seeking money. He wants the court to appoint someone to review the curriculum and course selection for all North Carolina football players for the next five years, and for the school to guarantee athletic scholarships for four years.

“He’s not trying to vilify North Carolina,” says Duru. “He’s trying to right a wrong.”

Read next: North Carolina Has a Real College Sports Scandal on its Hands

TIME MLB

The Stream Is Over: A-Rod Admits to Manipulating Drug Tests

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez wipes sweat from his brow as he sits in the dugout before a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore on Sept. 11, 2013.
New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez wipes sweat from his brow as he sits in the dugout before a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore on Sept. 11, 2013. Patrick Semansky—AP

Alex Rodriguez admitted to using PEDs from late 2010 to October 2012, according to a new report, and described his novel method for beating the tests. The lies will be his downfall

Alex Rodriguez, according to a synopsis of a January meeting between him and the feds cited by the Miami Herald, has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs supplied by Anthony Bosch, a fake doctor who ran a South Florida steroid ring. According to the Herald, Rodriguez copped to using PEDs between late 2010 and October 2012. That A-Rod did drugs will surprise no one–the slugger previously admitted to taking steroids in the early 2000s.

However, what’s especially revealing is the way in which A-Rod says he beat the tests. As the Herald reports:

Rodriguez also described how Bosch gave the ballplayer “tips on how to beat MLB’s drug testing,” according to the DEA report.

The secret? According to Rodriguez, “Bosch advised him to only use mid-stream urine for MLB drug testing. Bosch told Rodriguez not to use the beginning or the end urine stream.”

It worked. A test he took while using the drugs came up negative.

Could this strategy have possibly worked? Victor Conte, founder of the infamous BALCO lab that created designer PEDs, calls it “good instruction” for avoiding detection. “I do think there is a different concentration of metabolites in the first portion of a urine stream,” says Conte. However, Conte doesn’t think submitting the end of the stream would increase an athlete’s likelihood of getting caught.

Don Catlin, former director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory – the world’s largest PED testing facility – disagrees with Conte’s assessment. He says the chemical makeup of the urine stream is consistent from beginning to end. “I think that’s nonsense,” Caltin says. “But it does speak to the difficulty of urine testing. There are lots of ways to wiggle around the actual test.”

Catlin says he’s seen Olympians carry a “bladder-type device” under their armpits, and squeeze someone else’s clean urine down a rubber tube taped to the penis. You can also stick, say, bleach on your fingers, and put your finger in the urine stream while taking the test, tainting the sample. “The bleach no longer renders urine a pure substance,” says Catlin.

In theory, testers should watch an athlete urinate to make sure the process is pure. “But leaning over and being aggressive,” says Catlin, “sometimes doesn’t happen. That’s the nature of life.”

The troubles with urine testing, says Catlin, eventually forced him out of the testing game. He knew too many athletes were getting away with things. Outgoing baseball commissioner Bud Selig touts his sport’s testing protocol as tough. And yet Rodriguez – and several other high-profile players – have shown they can beat it. No matter how Rodriguez did it, a positive test didn’t catch him. An investigation, and now this reported confession, did. “I don’t have the confidence,” says Catlin, “that baseball is doing it right.” This is coming from one of the pioneers of modern testing. And he says baseball’s not alone: you can’t be certain other sports are clean either.

Still, it’s Rodriguez who’s now going to face Lance Armstrong-levels of public scorn. Few sports fans have ever believed his innocence. But his posturing looks so noxious now. Last November, Rodriguez left a grievance hearing regarding his 211-game suspension after finding out that Selig would not have to testify. He ran over to the studios of WFAN radio, and denied to host Mike Francesa that he used PEDs.

It’s not the drugs that doom the steroid users. It’s always the lies. Baseball is coming off a charming post-season, with the underdog Kansas City Royals 90-feet away from sending a classic Game 7 into extra innings. Madison Bumgarner’s performance was historic.

Now, this off-season and into spring training, the A-Rod sideshow is back.

Read next: Prosecutors Allege A-Rod Paid Cousin for Silence Over PEDs

TIME Baseball

Dynasty! San Francisco Giants Win It All

World Series - San Francisco Giants v Kansas City Royals - Game Seven
The San Francisco Giants celebrate after defeating the Kansas City Royals to win the World Series at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City on Oct. 29, 2014 Jamie Squire—Getty Images

Madison Bumgarner finishes off the best pitching performance ever in a World Series, giving the San Francisco Giants their third World Series win in five years

Three World Series titles in five years? Yes, let’s give the San Francisco Giants their due. The Giants somewhat quietly won the 2010 and 2012 Fall Classics, beating the Texas Rangers in five games the first time, then sweeping the Detroit Tigers two years ago. But now that they’ve beaten the Kansas City Royals in a compelling Series that went the distance — the Giants nipped the Royals 3-2 in a nail-biting Game 7 — it’s time we revere the Giants, like we revere the late-90s New York Yankees, or even all those Atlanta Braves teams that won year after year, even though they only won a single World Series. Send Giants manager Bruce Bochy to the Hall of Fame.

Going into the 2014 World Series, many analysts dubbed the San Francisco-Kansas City matchup the “small-ball” series. And although there were some decidedly big-ball scores, like Kansas City putting up 10 runs in Game 6, and San Francisco scoring 11 in a Game 4 win, Game 7 fit the script. The Giants executed small-ball to perfection: they scored two runs on two sacrifice flies in the second inning. In the fourth, with the score tied at 2-2, big Pablo Sandoval advanced to third on a flyout to left field — left field! Pablo Sandoval! — and then scored the deciding run on a Michael Morse single.

And oh, how the Giants pitched. Well, starter Tim Hudson only lasted 1 2/3 innings, but Jeremy Affeldt, normally a late-inning guy, stopped any bleeding. Then came Madison Bumgarner in the fifth. No pitcher in history had a World Series like Bumgarner. He gave up one run in Game 1. He pitched a shutout on Sunday night. And here, on two days rest, Bumgarner had five more shutout innings in him. This, in an era of specialization, when pitchers just aren’t supposed to stretch their arms like Bumgarner did. Nuts, really. Crazy.

Bumgarner got some help in his first inning. Omar Infante hit a single to right, and Royals manager Ned Yost had the next batter, Alcides Escobar, sacrifice bunt on a 2-0 count. Bumgarner looked so shaky, but the charity out seemed to settle him down. Yosted.

And oh, how the Giants fielded. After Escobar’s bunt, Norichika Aoki sliced a line drive down the left field line. It smelled like a double. But Juan Perez was positioned perfectly, and he made a beautiful running catch. And two innings earlier, with a man on first and no outs, Giants second baseman Joe Panik dove to catch a grounder, flipped it to shortstop Brandon Crawford with his glove, and Crawford threw it on to first. The ump said Eric Hosmer was safe, but then after a replay review that should not have lasted as long as it did, Hosmer was ruled out. An unforgettable double play.

But it’s Bumgarner who we’ll always remember from this World Series. After Bumgarner retired 14 straight Royals, Alex Gordon hit a fly ball to center with two out in the bottom of the ninth: it tricked by San Francisco’s Gregor Blanco, who misjudged it. Perez chased it down at the wall, then bobbled it. Was Gordon going to tie up Game 7 on a ninth-inning, two-out inside-the-park home run? No, but he got all the way to third.

But then Bumgarner got Salvador Perez to hit a pop up in foul territory, off third: Sandoval squeezed it and fell to the ground. Giants win. Unforgettable ending. Unforgettable pitcher. Unforgettable team.

Read next: The 7 Greatest Trick Plays in Sports Movie History

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