TIME NFL

Painkiller Suit a Serious New Headache for NFL

Roy Green catches pass in endzone
Wide receiver Roy Green #81 of the Phoenix Cardinals catches a pass in the endzone during an NFL game against the San Diego Chargers on Oc. 1, 1989 at Sun Devil Stadium in Phoenix. Stephen Dunn—Getty Images

In 1984, while naming his first All-Madden team, John Madden called Roy Green, wide receiver for the St. Louis — now Arizona — Cardinals the best player in football. Better than Montana, better than Marino. But three or four years after he retired in 1992, Green says he started feeling a strange fatigue. From there, things just progressively worse.

“Bending over to tie my shoe felt like running a mile,” Green tells TIME. “You know what, just imagine, being one of the most highly-trained athletes, the best in the world at what I did,” says Green. “You go from that, to not being able to jog, barely able to walk. Just imagine what my psyche was like.” Green got depressed, and his physical problems persisted. Since his retirement, Green has suffered three heart attacks. He has high blood pressure, and his kidneys failed: in November 2012, Green had a kidney transplant. “It was just a miserable existence, really.”

Now, Green wants the NFL to pay for his medical problems. Green is one of eight named plaintiffs, which include two stars from the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl team — quarterback Jim McMahon and defensive end Richard Dent — in the latest class-action legal move against the NFL. More than 500 ex-players are suing the league over its alleged reckless distribution of narcotic painkillers, which help keep players on the field but carry serious long-term health risks. The complaint says that Green, for example, received “hundreds, if not thousands, of injections from doctors and pills from trainers, including but not limited to NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), Indocin, Naprosyn, Percocet, Vicodin and Butisol. He was also given trauma IVs. No one from the NFL ever talked to him about the side effects of the medications he was being given or cocktailing.”

Before the transplant, Green says he came across a 1984 team medical report that showed he had high creatine levels, a condition that warns of possible kidney failure. Green’s lawyers say they have the report. Yet, Green says, doctors and trainers continued giving him drugs where kidney damage was a known side-effect. (The NFL says its lawyers are reviewing the complaint; a spokesman for the Cardinals, the team for which Green played the bulk of his career, did not return a request for comment).

“I was angry,” Green says about his reaction to seeing the report. “Like, ‘wow, I could have avoided all those miserable years.'” Green says that if he were warned of the potential side-effects of the drugs, he would not have taken them. “I would have had a very short career,” Green says. “You just trusted they had your best interests at heart.”

Coming on the heels of the concussion litigation that the NFL and ex-players settled for $765 million in August — though the judge hasn’t officially signed off on the amount, saying it might be too low to support all the suffering players who need the financial assistance — it might be tempting to dismiss this action as a frivolous follow-up. Hit the NFL while it’s vulnerable: a settlement worked for concussions, let’s give painkillers a go.

Don’t. “This is a serious suit,” says Paul Haagen, co-director of the Center for Sports Law and Policy at Duke University. “If the facts bear out that doctors were not warning players about the health risks, weren’t putting them on notice, for a long period of time, there’s clearly potential for liability.”

Though victory is very far from a sure thing. The NFL is sure to argue that because it operates under a collective bargaining agreement with its players, these grievances are subject to arbitration, not the federal court system. Also, the NFL will question why the players’ union didn’t object to any of this medical treatment.

As with the concussion litigation, the biggest challenge will probably be causation. In Roy Green’s case, for example, how can you prove without question that painkiller injections caused his kidney damage? “No doubt the players have suffered real damages from playing football,” says Warren Zola, sports law expert at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. “But blaming the NFL in a court of law is a high hurdle.”

Legal merits of the suit aside, says Haagen, “the entire issue of painkillers is the next part of the exploration of violence in the game.” Getting players “healthy” enough to return to the field will always come with potential consequences. “Normally, doctors control a patient’s medication to help the body heal,” Haagen says. “Here, they are controlling medication to do more damage to the body.”

The suit itself acknowledges that “several NFL teams and physicians have recently taken steps to tighten the control and distribution of medications in the locker room.” One recently retired NFL vet, former Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk, says he always got “excellent care” and was given warnings about the side-effects of painkillers. Russ Hochstein, meanwhile, played in the NFL from 2001-2012, most notably as an offensive lineman for the New England Patriots. “The difference in the education about painkillers and their side effects definitely changed, for the better, since the time I entered the NFL,” Hochstein says.

Green hopes the suit will permanently change the NFL’s painkiller culture. “It’s all about the opportunity to say, ‘no, I don’t want to do that.'” Since his kidney transplant about a year-and-a-half ago, Green said his health is improving. “But I’m never going to get all those bad years back,” Green says. “That’s for sure.”

TIME tennis

Rafael Nadal: ‘I Doubt About Myself’

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates defeating Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic during day seven of the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 9, 2014 in Madrid. Julian Finney—Getty Images

Ahead of the French Open, the tennis star talks to TIME about pressure, confidence and his health

This week’s print edition of TIME includes a feature story on Rafael Nadal, the world’s number one player who is chasing Roger Federer’s record of 17 Grand Slam titles (Nadal has 13). The French Open begins May 25: Nadal has won eight of the last nine French Open titles, but enters this year’s tournament having lost matches in three clay-court tuneup tournaments, something that hasn’t happened since 2003, when Nadal was 16. Below are some excerpts from TIME’s interview with the Spanish superstar:

On preferring five set classics to straight set blowouts ….

“I never like the easy matches. I think that good sportsmen don’t like the easy wins … At the end, if you are winning with a little more drama, it stays in your mind a lot longer than when you are winning easy, no?”

On why he loves Roland Garros, home to the French Open, and playing on clay …

“I always like to play on this beautiful surface that gives you an opportunity to attack, an opportunity to defend. I like this thing. I understand the sport this way. It needs strategy, it needs suffering, it needs good possibilities to make the game interesting, no?”

On the state of his knee …

“I’m still having pain a lot of days. The only thing I wish is that the pain is only minding me when I’m competing. Because I really like to enjoy the rest of the time of my life.”

On confidence …

“I doubt about myself,” Nadal says. “I think the doubts are good in life. The people who don’t have doubts I think only two things: arrogance or not intelligence.”

On whether Nadal can possibly enjoy his epic matches as much as his fans do …

“It’s difficult to understand for somebody who is not on the court. I don’t know if the word is enjoy. But in some way that feeling is great when you are there and are playing well, the opponent is one of the best in the world, you are competing for important things and you are fighting and you resist a little bit more. You need to find another solution, you need to put one more ball in play, with the right determination in that point because it’s the point that can change the dynamic of the match. So all these things, it’s difficult to say you’re enjoying, but it’s, in some way, yes, I will say—I appreciate what’s going on in that moment. Because all my career, all my life, I work hard to be there, and today you feel there, you are healthy, you are able to run, you are able to fight, you are able to play for something that was a dream for you since you were a kid. You appreciate the moment a lot.”

 

 

 

 

TIME Horse Racing

Horse Racing’s Nasal-Strip Nonsense

FILE: California Chrome Cleared To Wear Nasal Strip In Belmont Stakes
California Chrome during the 139th running of the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore on May 17, 2014 Rob Carr—Getty Images

The New York Racing Association has just lifted its ban on nasal strips for this year's Belmont Stakes — a victory for common sense that may allow history to take place

On Sunday night, Jeff Blea, president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and one of the most respected horse-racing vets in the country, was watching the local news at his home in the Los Angeles area. He spotted an alert going across the ticker at the bottom of the screen: California Chrome may not run Belmont, giving up his bid for the Triple Crown. “Oh jeez,” Blea thought. He expected the worst. Maybe the horse had suffered a career-ending injury.

But then Blea’s wife Googled the news. Instantly, worry and despair were replaced by bemusement and frustration. Art Sherman, the trainer for California Chrome, was protesting New York’s ban on equine nasal strips — yes, equine nasal strips — and hinted that if New York racing officials didn’t change their stance, California Chrome could sit out the June 7 Belmont Stakes. The colt is on a six-race winning streak while wearing the adhesives. “I just shook my head,” Blea said. This is such a nonissue, he thought. And it needs to be resolved.

Luckily, the New York Racing Association (NYRA) did just that on Monday, lifting the nasal-strip restriction for this year’s Belmont Stakes. Sure, California Chrome’s crew was probably bluffing: Were the co-owners Perry Martin and Steve Coburn, along with trainer Sherman and jockey Victor Espinoza, going to give up a chance at history to defend something that keeps grandpa from snoring?

But by lifting the restriction, NYRA avoided a possible three-week standoff over a nonsensical rule. At a time when horse racing should be anticipating history — since Affirmed won the last Triple Crown in 1978, California Chrome has become the 13th horse to win the both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes — it was the last fight the struggling sport needed.

Ugly doping scandals, which often result in fatal results for the thoroughbreds, have plagued racing over the past few years. California Chrome, a horse bred off an initial $10,000 investment by its co-owners — one of whom, Coburn, bears a striking resemblance to actor Wilford Brimley — offers a rare chance for the industry to shine. Though on Tuesday night, HBO will interrupt this feel-good tale with a special report on drugs in horse racing on its Real Sports program. Trainer Steve Asmussen and his team have allegedly drugged and mistreated horses on his barn, and he’ll respond to the abuse accusations from PETA.

So racing has much larger issues than nasal strips. New York was the only racing jurisdiction that banned them: Blea claims they don’t enhance performance. “They open up the nasal passages and help the horses breathe, just like they do for NFL linebackers who wear them,” says Blea. “I’ve had horses run with them, and horses run without them. I haven’t seen enhancements. Optimization is the way to look at it. They optimize a horse’s breathing.” California Chrome, it’s important to note, isn’t just 6-0 while wearing the strips. He’s also 6-0 since Espinoza took over as the horse’s jockey.

Blea notes that unlike steroids, nasal strips don’t harm the horses, so they shouldn’t require any regulation. Wearing them isn’t cheating, when every other horse can do the same. When it comes to adhesives, the turf is level. “There’s nothing covert about them,” Blea says. “They’re visible on the horse and visible to the public.”

Over the past 36 years, a generation of sports fans who’ve never witnessed a Triple Crown winner have instead seen all kinds of Belmont heartbreak. Just look at the last decade alone. Birdstone caught Smarty Jones at the last second in 2004. Big Brown seemed like such a sure thing. He finished last in 2008. Two years ago, I’ll Have Another had everyone’s hopes up. Then, the day before the Belmont, he suffered a career-ending leg injury.

California Chrome seems so unflappable. They all do, after winning the Derby and Preakness. So much can happen between now and June 7. At least nasal-strip heartbreak is off the track.

TIME NBA

Donald Sterling’s Defense Against Racism: More Racism

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling claimed in an inflammatory sit-down that he's not racist, asking forgiveness following crude comments that earned him a lifetime ban from the NBA, but then said he doesn't think African-Americans are philanthropic enough

The NBA might want to ditch the red tape and put a rush order on its “make Donald Sterling go away” vote. (Does today work for everyone?)

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper Monday night, Sterling did the unthinkable – actually, knowing his history, we probably could have seen the train wreck coming. Though he claimed that he wasn’t a racist, and though he begged for everyone’s forgiveness, he actually made more racist remarks during his conversation with Cooper.

While trashing Magic Johnson for contracting the HIV over twenty years ago, Sterling made the following observation, among others: “That’s one problem I have. Jews, when they get successful, they will help their people — and some of the African-Americans, maybe I’ll get in trouble again, they don’t want to help anybody.”

Jews are generous. Blacks aren’t. That’s stereotyping 101. To be fair, Sterling said “some” African-Americans don’t give back. But it’s a paltry sort of qualifier. His insinuations could not be clearer.

Then, there was the Magic rant. If Sterling is trying to win over fellow owners so he can keep his stake in the Clippers, a bizarre, ignorant trashing of an NBA legend is probably not the best way to go about it.

Magic Johnson isn’t a saint. He’d be the first person to tell you that. After contracting HIV in 1991, Johnson was open and honest about his mistakes. He had unprotected sex with many women, and barnstormed the country telling young people to avoid the mistakes he made. President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the National Commission on AIDS, and Johnson later resigned in protest, because he thought the administration wasn’t truly committed to fighting the disease.

Over the years, could Johnson have done more to support HIV/AIDS awareness and research? Some activists have said so. But Johnson has made a sincere effort, and his foundation continues to fund HIV prevention and education programs. The Magic Johnson Foundation also provides scholarships for low-income students, and, according to its website, has opened Community Empowerment Centers in 16 cities across the country, including New Orleans, Oakland, Chicago, and New York City. His inner-city movie theaters have created jobs for African-Americans.

But this is Sterling on Johnson: “Well what kind of guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he catches HIV, is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself. I think he should go in the background. But what does he do for the black people? He doesn’t do anything … I just don’t think he’s a good example for the children of Los Angeles. He would go and do what he did. And then get AIDS. I mean come on.” (In fact, Johnson has HIV, not AIDS.)

Sterling went onto compare Johnson unfavorably to Jews, whom, he said “want to help people. If they don’t have the money, we’ll loan it to you. If you don’t have interest, one day you’ll pay us back. I’m just telling you. [Johnson] does nothing, it’s all talk!”

Cooper then asked if Sterling was implying that African-Americans don’t give back to their communities as much as Jewish people do.

“There’s no African-American,” he began — but at this point, even Sterling could sense his screw-up. “Never mind. I don’t know. I’m sorry. You know they all want to play golf with me. Everybody wants to be with me.”

Okay then.

“What we saw tonight was a man with racism in his soul,” says former Clipper star Marques Johnson, now an analyst for Fox Sports Net. “And I’m not going to chalk this up to the ramblings of an 80-year-old man. This is who he is. He has this pre-conceived notion that African-Americans don’t help each other. Wow. That’s bullshit.”

Please, NBA owners, act fast. So we don’t have to hear any more of it.

TIME NFL

For Michael Sam, It’s Time to Move Past the Kiss

The St. Louis Rams selected Michael Sam in the seventh round of the NFL draft, but he's not guaranteed to make the roster. He'll have to prove himself, and only the merits will matter. Hopefully

+ READ ARTICLE

Two truths have emerged from Michael Sam’s selection in the NFL draft in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams on Saturday. First: the prospect of an NFL draft pick breaking down and kissing his boyfriend on national television after being told that a team was about to select him seemed unimaginable, what, 10 years ago? Fifteen years ago? Five years ago? Acceptance of homosexuality has come a long way in this country, thanks in part to progressive legislators and courts that strike down discrimination and President Obama’s 180-degree turn on gay marriage. And a more open-minded populace. Now, the NFL has moved forward. The kiss symbolized all of that, and is a touchstone moment in American culture.

The other: there’d be some ugly responses. Let’s not confuse Twitter for a legitimate social-science research tool. But a quick search of Michael Sam and kiss on Sunday morning was predictably disheartening. There was some really nice stuff: former NFL offensive lineman Roman Oben, for example, weighed in with something poignant:

See, the idea of a sports moment transcending sports is far from a tired cliché.

But, the responses included “Ok, I don’t want to wake up and turn on sportscenter and watch Michael Sam kiss his boyfriend … eww” and “it’s weird and I don’t want to see that” and “I think I’m going to be sick” and even uglier comments.

So that’s what we know: Sam will both inspire and offend — hopefully, in 2014, the former much, much more than the latter. What we don’t know, now, is even more intriguing: Will Sam fit in with St. Louis? Both on the field and off the field? The locker room is a laboratory, and that’s why athletes like Sam and NBA player Jason Collins coming out is so important. Now we get to see, in the most macho of settings, if a gay athlete can “fit in.” In Collins’ case, so far, so good. He’s had little impact on the court for the Nets during their playoff run, which isn’t surprising: he’s an aging veteran with limited offensive skills. He hasn’t gotten time in a single playoff game. Jason Kidd, his former teammate and current coach, is benching Collins based on the merits. And the Nets locker room hasn’t imploded because a gay man joined the team. His presence is almost a nonstory at this point — which, in a way, is the best part of the Collins story. He’s gay, and so what?

Sam’s case is quite different. He’s just starting his career, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll even make the St. Louis roster. Football is the most violent, most militaristic — read, “manly” — and most popular American team sport. So if Sam’s sexuality causes little to no discomfort in an NFL locker room, people might feel more comfortable coming out in a host of other professions (Sam came out privately to his college teammates and coaches before last season, it’s worth noting, and Missouri did just fine).

And since Sam’s been drafted, we’ll at the very least get a glimpse into this locker-room lab. He’ll be at training camp. He’ll play preseason games. Will an NFL locker room accept a gay player? For the past few years, there’s been endless speculation. Now, we’ll at least get a partial answer.

Maybe Sam makes the team and becomes a key contributor. Then we’ll have a much fuller answer. We can only hope, like with Collins and the Nets, Sam plays, or doesn’t play, based purely on the merits.

Last night, Sam had his moment: it was wonderfully important. But it’s time to move past the kiss a little. Now, the real work for him begins — the football work. And that work is wonderfully important all the same.

TIME Sports

Dont Freak Out If Michael Sam Isn’t Drafted

Michael Sam
University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam warms up at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, on Feb. 24, 2014. Ben Liebenberg—AP

If his name isn't called over the next two days, a flood of hysterical questions and forced debates are inevitable

Now that Johnny Football has been drafted — some team finally did select him, right? Manziel’s not still chugging water at that table? — all eyes turn toward Michael Sam. Usually, the second through seventh rounds of the NFL draft, which ESPN and the NFL network will broadcast tonight and Saturday, are only of interest to die-heard fans. (And plenty of them will stay inside on a lovely spring Saturday, to see whom their favorite team snares in the fifth round. Drama!)

But this year, the later rounds offer intrigue for a much broader audience. Which team, if any, will take Sam, who would become the first active openly gay player to suit up for an NFL franchise? The consensus — which comes with a giant disclaimer, since many anonymous scouts make a living telling strategic lies to NFL reporters — is that Sam will be taken between the fifth and seventh rounds on Saturday, or quite possibly not at all. Bob McGinn, the highly-respected NFL writer from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, polled 21 scouts from around the league, and asked where they think Sam should go.

Three said fifth round. Three said sixth round. Three said seventh round. Five said they would sign him as a free agent. Seven said they wouldn’t sign him as a free agent.

Sam, the SEC defensive player of the year, has a real problem. He’s a classic tweener: potentially not big and strong enough to play on the defensive line, where he started at Missouri, but not fast enough to play linebacker in the NFL. But Sam, who’s listed at 6-ft., 2-in. and 261 pounds, has improved his 40-yard dash time, vertical leap, bench-press reps, and Wonderlic intelligence test this spring.

If Sam’s name isn’t called over the next two days, expect a flood of hysterical questions and forced debates. Did teams pass on him because of his sexuality, and use his lack of size and speed as a convenient excuse? Did they not want the media “distraction” that would accompany Sam, wherever he goes?

Before rushing to call out NFL execs as bigots, however, consider: whether he’s drafted or not, Sam will get his chance to show a NFL team he can play.

Because worst case, some team will invite Sam to camp as an undrafted free agent. Here, I’ll trust those five scouts in McGinn’s poll who said they would sign him. It would be crazy for no team to at least give the SEC player of the year a look in camp. From a pure football perspective, it’s a low-risk, potential high-reward move. The list of undrafted free agents who later became stars is impressive, and includes Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, ex-NFL MVP Kurt Warner, and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, who signed a luscious five-year, $43 million contract extension with the team last summer.

So if you’re a Sam fan, or are just rooting for his social message — a gay player can be accepted in the most “manly” American team sport — don’t freak out if his name isn’t called. If no NFL team extends Sam an invite to camp, that’s when things get fishy. That would reek of weakness and bigotry.

TIME NFL

Johnny Football Learns a Little Humility

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel sat with a sullen look during the draft until Cleveland made its third trade of the first round, grabbing him at No. 22

There was never a reason, really, for humility. Not with the Heisman Trophy — he was the first freshman to ever win it — the records, the partying and palling around with LeBron and Drake. He could make the “cash-money” gestures on field, and be the most cocksure college kid in the land, because Johnny Football almost always delivered on the field. Johnny Manziel did it his way. He was going to enjoy the hell out of his life. He was a college kid, and going to do college kid things. He wasn’t going to miss out on all the fun.

The NFL, however, has a way of crushing you, in front of millions, in prime time. LeBron hoped Manziel would be picked first overall, by the Houston Texas, essentially his hometown team. Not quite. As expected, Houston took Jadeveon Clowney, the defensive end from South Carolina. The Jacksonville Jaguars, with the third overall selection, picked the first quarterback of this year’s draft, Blake Bortles of the University of Central Florida. Cleveland, at number four, seemed like a good fit for Manziel: the Browns have used 17 starting quarterbacks since 1999, the most in the NFL. They could use a franchise player, a little stability, at that position. But then the Browns traded that pick to Buffalo. The Bills have a young quarterback, EJ Manuel, they still believe in. Manziel wasn’t going to Buffalo.

For two years, Manziel helped drive huge interest in college football. The whole “Johnny Football” persona transcended the sport. But in New York, player after player passed him in the green room, their NFL dreams fulfilled — guys who never got a sliver of the attention Manziel attracted. Back-to-back, two of Manziel’s Texas A&M teammates got picked before him: Jake Matthews, an offensive lineman, by Atlanta with the sixth pick and Mike Evans, his 6’5” wide receiver, his favorite target, by Tampa Bay with the seventh.

The NFL can send a cruel message. The guy who blocked for you, and the guy who caught your passes, went ahead. To his credit, Manziel was magnanimous, hugging his teammates on their way to meet Roger Goodell at the podium.

Cleveland was up at number eight; maybe they were about to pull off a heist. They bet their man, Manziel, would still be on the board. So they could trade away the number four for Buffalo’s first round pick next year; pick Johnny Football at number eight, and snare another prospect in the process. The breathless crowd waited.

Cleveland took a cornerback, Justin Gilbert. If Manziel chugged a beer in the green room at that point, no one would have blamed him.

So where could he go now? A tantalizing prospect: Dallas, at number 16. America’s team, America’s more alluring college player: what a match. Those big ol’ stars on the Cowboys helmets are there for a reason. Jerry Jones loves them. Sure, he has a starting quarterback, Tony Romo, who drives Cowboys fans crazy but is a more than capable NFL player. Still, Manziel could come in, learn from Romo, maybe take over in a few years. And Jerry Jones likes money. Even as Manziel held a clipboard for Romo, Jones could still sell all those Johnny Football jerseys. And if Romo, who is coming off back surgery, ever faltered….

The Cowboys picked Zack Martin, an offensive lineman from Notre Dame. They passed on the celebrity and picked a guy to protect Romo, their current prized possession.

Time for some shots?

As team after team passed over him, Manziel was losing prestige, and even more importantly, money. The farther you fall, the less you make. At the number four pick, according to one estimate, Manziel could have pocketed a $14 million signing bonus. The Cowboys, at 16, would have given him about $5.3 million.

Manziel sat through it all, trying his best not to hide his disappointment. Still, you could sense it. Finally, around 10:45 p.m. eastern time, it was over: Manziel was a member of the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland made another trade, and grabbed the 22nd pick from the Philadelphia Eagles. Cleveland was clever all night. Instead of just taking Manziel with the fourth pick, they got a cornerback, an extra first rounder next year, and still wound with Manziel later in the first round. All this dealing probably cost Manziel a good $10 million in signing bonus.

But Manziel should be able to compete for a starting spot, against Brian Hoyer, right away. As he approached the stage to greet Goodell, he made the cash-money gesture — hey, NFL QBs, at any draft spot, make good coin — as the Browns fans in New York cheered like crazy.

Manziel’s far from the first star to fall further than expected. Poor Aaron Rodgers was projected as a possible top five pick back in 2005: he dropped all the way to 24, to the Green Bay Packers, who still had Brett Favre kicking around. Rogers looked so sad and confused. Now, he’s one of the best.

Johnny Manziel could wind up as a great one too. But Johnny Football — that guy is already long gone.

TIME NFL

Richard Sherman: The NFL Would Not Have Banned A Donald Sterling For Life

Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman, Superbowl Champion, cornerback Seattle Seahwaks, speaks during Adobe Summit, The Digital Marketing Conference on March 26, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Susan Goldman—AP

The Seattle Seahawks star and TIME 100 honoree, who just signed a $56 million contract extension, talks about the upcoming NFL Draft, the lessons from his famous post-game interview and why the NFL would react differently if it had its own Donald Sterling

When you heard the racist remarks of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, what was your reaction?

I wasn’t really shocked or anything. Because of what I saw after the incident after the NFC championship game. You’ve got a lot of racial backlash, and a lot of racist comments that were uncalled for – I can never see a time where racism is called for. So it didn’t shock me as much as it would have had I not experienced that personally, had I not seen those things.

Because it showed me that America still had some progress to make. On equality, and understanding that it doesn’t matter what color you are, you treat people as people. And whether a good person or a bad person, you don’t judge them off the color of their skin. You can know a person is a good person or a bad person by who they are, not by what they look like. In that situation, it just seems like a lot of people gave him a lot of flack, well deserved, but you know – I feel like a lot more people were surprised then they should have been.

That’s why a lot of people shy away from the conversation that I forced on us in January. People want to it to be done, they want that uncomfortable truth to be over with, they want the racism to be done, they want to believe everything is great and hunky-dory. And it’s not. There’s a lot of racism still alive and still active. And it just forced America to rethink it once again. And to really, really understand that racism isn’t gone. We have to actively push it out. And snuff it out.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Donald Sterling for life. Do you think if an NFL owner made similar comments, would commissioner Roger Goodell react in the same way, and do you think an owner would be banned for life?

No I don’t. Because we have an NFL team called the Redskins. I don’t think the NFL really is as concerned as they show. The NFL is more of a bottom line league. If it doesn’t affect their bottom line, they’re not as concerned.

Do you hope the Sterling incident can be a touchstone to force some change on the Redskins issue?

I would hope it would help. It’d help reinitiate the conversation. And at least there would be another discussion. You know, I think the discussion has stopped. And the public has just accepted it. And I think there should be more conversations. But it is what it is.

You’re confident that the NFL would not have reacted like the NBA did because they already have a team name like the Redskins. So to you, that says a lot, right?

It does. It says a whole lot.

Thursday marks the start of the NFL Draft. What was that experience like for you back in 2011? Seattle selected you with its 23rd pick in the 5th round. Did you expect to go higher?

I was excited when I got the call. But I was definitely disappointed, I fell so late. I was told by multiple teams that I would go earlier on the second day [NOTE: when the second and third round selections are announced]. I was called on the second day. And teams said they would bring me. And nothing transpired. So that was disappointing. You feel like teams lie to you. And so it was an emotional roller coaster. During days like that, when you expect to get picked on the second day, the time to wait for the third day feels like you’re waiting years. And when it finally comes, and you don’t get picked the whole fourth round, then it feels like an eternity. Where you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, am I not going to get picked at all? Was it all for naught? It it done?’ Then you finally get picked, and it’s you know, all those worries go away for a second.

Are you surprised the draft has become such a huge live event, where people travel from all over the country to New York City just to hear Roger Goodell read names? Last year, I met a Dolphins fan who flew all the way from Panama to be there.

Yeah, I mean it’s kind of crazy, man. It’s kind of crazy. The amount of coverage and the amount of attention it gets. Because it’s a day where you can watch it at home and see the same results. Probably get a better shot of it. It’s really surreal. And I mean, I really can’t imagine why people would go watch it.

Since everyone seems to have an opinion on Johnny Football (Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel), have to ask: do you think he’ll be a good NFL player?

I have no idea to tell you the truth. I’ve seen him play. I think he’s a great player. And he did a great job in college. You know, it can translate very well into the NFL and you can have the next Brett Favre, the next great quarterback. Or it cannot transfer well. You never know until they put pads on, and step onto an NFL field. We’ve seen a lot of average college players turn into great NFL players. We’ve seen great college players turn into great NFL players. We’ve seen great college players turn into terrible NFL players. So you really never can guess how the game’s going to translate until he goes out there and puts it on tape.

So you’re not one of those guys who’s automatically convinced he’s going to be an overhyped bust?

No. Because I’m one of the guys that believes you’re gonna be who you will yourself to be. So if he believes he’s going to be a great quarterback, and he puts in the work, who’s to stop him? I mean, they say his size. But I’ve sat here and watched Russell Wilson win a Super Bowl.

Do you think college players, particularly big stars like Manziel, should be paid?

I do. I think even if they were paid an hourly wage, it’d be quite an improvement from what they get. And you know, I understand the arguments about they’re getting their education paid for, they’re this that and the other, but there are people on academic scholarships that don’t have to deal with any extra rigors. They get their education paid for. And they don’t have to deal with eight hours a day of football, and you know, if you mess up your knee you’ve got to deal with two hours of rehab everyday. So that’s 10 hours of your day gone, and there’s only 24 in a day. So, if they just gave him an hourly wage, even if they gave him 10 bucks, 12 bucks an hour, that’d be a vast improvement over what they got now.

How do you think an NFL team will react to having Michael Sam, the draft prospect from Missouri who announced he was gay back in February, in its locker room?

I think it’ll play out just fine. I think that’s a big deal being made about nothing. I don’t think guys will make a big deal about it in the locker room. I think he’ll be fine. You know, the thing that’ll hurt him is if he doesn’t play well. If he doesn’t play well, it doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay, or indifferent. If you can’t play, you can’t play. You can play, you play. And the NFL is a real bottom-line league. And that’s the bottom line.

You attended the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and got a shoutout from President Obama. What was that like?

I was in awe. It was hilarious after I got past the shock. But it was an incredibly surreal experience for me, to get shouted-out by the president.

How would you characterize these last few months, since your post-game interview, the firestorm it caused, and the Super Bowl win?

It’s been a whirlwind. A lot of apprearances. A lot of attention. A lot of people wanting to get your opinion about things, and it’s just something you’ve got to accept, and something that you have to temper a little bit. You have to temper your emotions and try to stay stable. And also try top stay on your routine.

Did you learn any lessons from that whole experience, being in the media firestorm and sparking a heated national conversation because of the interview?

It showed me how fleeting opinions are. And how opinions and people’s choices and I guess criticisms are rarely based in fact. A lot of times they are knee-jerk reactions, a lot of times they’re based off of media perception, you know, what they can see on the surface. Surface perception. And that a lot of people don’t take time to delve deep into things before they make an opinion, or make a criticism or make a remark. And that’s OK. That’s the society we live in, it is what it is, you have to accept it.

Do you have any regrets about the interview?

I don’t. Because I said exactly what I meant to say. Truthfully, I expected it to get some attention, but I didn’t expect it to overshadow the performances of the game. And us winning the NFC championship. I didn’t think the media would take it that far, but they did. And so once they took it there, we had to change the discourse. But, um, yeah, I was frustrated that a lot of people didn’t acknowledge the great game that [safety] Kam Chancellor played, the great game that [linebacker] Bobby Wagner played, [running back] Marshawn [Lynch] had a good game, [wide receiver] Doug Baldwin had huge catches the whole game, and [wide receiver] Jermaine Kearse made the catch to put us ahead. And you know those are the things that frustrated me a little bit about the incident.

Have you had any contact with Michael Crabtree at all?

I have not.

Has he reached out to you, or you reached out to him, or neither.

Neither.

You’re starring in a new ad campaign for Oberto, the beef jerky brand. One ad touts the athletic training benefits of beef jerky. Gotta say, I’ve never associated beef jerky with athletic training.

(Laughs) Oberto beef jerky is all natural, it’s a great source of protein. I mean we eat all these protein bars, with a bunch of sugar and a bunch of calories. Oberto, it’s just a good, I guess, substitute for that sometimes. You don’t want to always put a bunch of sugar in you. Because your sugar gets high, it gets stuck in your blood, it gets stuck in your system. It makes you tired. You have the ups and downs. So it’s a great substitute to be a little healthier.

But you can understand my reaction?

I definitely could. I definitely could understand your reaction, man. But I also like their slogan. “You Get Out What You Put In.” I mean, that applies to ball, that applies to all walks of life. And thought that that really meshed well with football and what we like to do. But I can definitely see your reaction

(This interview has been condensed and edited)

TIME NBA

Sterling Ban Shows Power of NBA Players

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference
NBA commissioner Adam Silver addresses the media about the investigation involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling in New York City on April 29, 2014 Spencer Platt—Getty Images

The lifetime ban handed down to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling on Tuesday following revelations of his racist comments marks a new chapter in activism for NBA players like LeBron James. Commissioner Adam Silver won praise, but players pushed the ball

Malik Rose was caught off guard. The former NBA forward, who played 13 seasons before his career ended in 2009, expected NBA commissioner Adam Silver to issue an “indefinite suspension” to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for his racist remarks caught on tape. That “indefinite” language would give Sterling some leeway to go on an apology tour, find some sort of public reformation and return to his courtside seat.

Instead, Silver banned Sterling from the NBA “for life” on Tuesday.

The difference is, to some degree at least, a matter of semantics: lifetime bans can be lifted. But it was a strong statement. From the podium at a closely watched news conference in New York City, Silver expressed great confidence in his convictions.

“The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful,” Silver added. “That they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage. Sentiments of this kind are contrary to the principles of inclusion and respect that form the basis our diverse, multicultural and multiethnic league.”

Rose, who was respected for both his on-court toughness and off-court intelligence and leadership, was impressed: “I mean, it’s crazy. It’s like Adam Silver is trying to win the MVP race.”

Yes, Silver won the day. But his decision may say as much about the changing nature of the NBA as it does about its new commissioner. In the NBA, the players have wielded tremendous power in recent years. If a star like Dwight Howard wants out of Orlando, or Carmelo Anthony wants out of Denver, they make it happen. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh wanted to play together and build a dynasty in Miami. They made it happen.

In the days after TMZ published audio of Sterling chastising his then girlfriend for bringing black people to Clippers games, the biggest current and former stars in the game — James included — condemned him in no uncertain terms. And Sterling paid the price.

What’s refreshing here is that the players wielded their power on an important social issue. Silver heard the voices of his players, nearly 80% of whom are African American. Sure, James blasting a racist owner doesn’t take the same courage as John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising a fist at the 1968 Olympics or Muhammad Ali losing his heavyweight title over Vietnam. But Rose, a former member of the negotiating committee for the players’ union, doesn’t believe stars would have made the same noise if this incident had happened a decade ago. “Superstars speaking out — more than ever, they understand the full scope of their power,” Rose said. “Strong, united players can affect change. I take great pride seeing that.”

National Basketball Players Association vice president Roger Mason said a group of players told Silver they were ready to boycott the playoffs if the commissioner didn’t take strong action against Sterling.

Now, Silver wants Sterling out of the NBA. He took Sterling’s punishment one step further than many had expected, recommending that the owners force Sterling to sell the team. Silver needs three-fourths of the owners to vote in favor of forcing the sale.

“I’ll let the lawyers lay out for you the provisions of our [league] constitution,” Silver said. “Let’s just leave it that we have the authority to act as I’ve recommended.” Silver is relying on Article 13(d) of the NBA’s constitution and bylaws, which states that ownership can be terminated if an owner “fail(s) or refuse(s) to fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association, its Members, Players, or any third party in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely.”

Sterling’s racism, in Silver’s view, “adversely” affected the NBA brand enough to warrant this unprecedented action.

Silver also expressed confidence that he’d corral the necessary votes to force Sterling to sell. Twenty-nine teams have expressed support for Silver’s decision, ESPN reports. That support may not translate into votes for the sale.

But Silver seems to be gaining momentum. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, for example, had called a forcible sale of Sterling’s team, because of his personal views, a “slippery slope” that sets a dangerous precedent for legislating owner behavior. While Cuban condemned Sterling’s comments, he told the Associated Press that “regardless of your background, regardless of the history they have, if we’re taking something somebody said in their home and we’re trying to turn it into something that leads to you being forced to divest property in any way, shape or form, that’s not the United States of America. I don’t want to be part of that.” After Silver’s press conference, however, Cuban tweeted that “I agree 100% with Commissioner Silvers [sic] findings and the actions taken against Donald Sterling.” (Cuban did not return an email from TIME requesting clarification.)

During his news conference, Silver said Sterling expressed no denial, or remorse, about the comments on the tape. Silver said he had “no idea” if Sterling would fight the punishment.

“Based on his history,” says Cari Grieb, adjunct professor of sports law at the John Marshall Law School, “I expect him to litigate to the bitter end. This can be another A-Rod.”

And even if Silver and the NBA owners get their wish, and Sterling is forced to sell the team, the Clippers owner cashes in. His former longtime employee, NBA great Elgin Baylor, has said Sterling had a “vision of a Southern plantation-type structure” for the Clippers. And that mentality will line his pockets: Sterling bought the team for $12 million in 1981, and the purchase price for the franchise is sure to be north of $600 million.

“Yeah, it’s somewhat bittersweet that he could profit so much through his punishment,” says Rose. “But in all, it’s a happy day for the NBA.”

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