Aaron Hernandez’s fall from grace includes owning a McMansion

Author James Patterson discusses why is he is writing about Aaron Hernandez:

You’ve said that Aaron Hernandez’s fall from grace is the story of our times, even bigger than O.J. What is it about this case that you think fascinates people?

“Well, part of it is just that fall from grace. It’s just amazing, and when we did the 48 Hours piece, which was on Saturday, I became even more aware of it: Striking looking guy, Hollywood smile and dimples, $40 million contract, McMansion, opportunity or promise to be one of the best professional football players ever. Beautiful fiancee, they’d been together since high school. Baby girl. And for it all to go up in a puff of smoke is amazing.

I’m intrigued to see the mention of a McMansion in here. Hernandez had multiple other markers of success including winning on the football field, having a large salary, and looks. But, it was still important to have a certain kind of suburban house. This home outside of Boston certainly had some McMansion features:

The 5,647-square-foot residence includes five bedrooms, six bathrooms, a wet bar, a hot tub, a sauna, a finished basement, a theater room and an in-ground pool.

The location was also apparently popular with Patriots players:

It’s a great neighborhood, which certainly has some of North Attleboro’s most expensive homes,” says Boston-area real estate agent and writer David Bates.

“A review of North Attleboro public records reveals that Patriots have been the buyers of six of the 12 million-dollar, single-family sales in that market,” Bates adds.

In contrast, imagine the well-paid sports star who buys an urban home or condo to be near nightlife and work. What pushes a good number of players to McMansions in the suburbs? Here are a few possible reasons:

  1. Suburban homes offer more privacy away from fans and media.
  2. Americans in general like suburban homes so perhaps sports stars are just like other Americans.
  3. It may matter if the athlete has a family and kids as suburbs are widely viewed as offering a better setting for raising kids.

This also reminds me of an earlier post comparing the large homes of Tom Brady and Matt Ryan. Even for the football elite, having an expensive suburban home is important.

Sociologist Robert Merton featured in Final Jeopardy!

Sociology rarely makes an appearance on Jeopardy! but the discipline was featured in the Final Jeopardy! question on January 8:

Final Jeopardy! clue: Often applied to athletes, this 2-word term popularized by Robert K. Merton refers to an example we aspire to.

I was not aware that this term was popularized by Merton. If anybody popularized this term in recent decades, it was Charles Barkley who several decades ago said:

“I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.”

Read a quick overview of the concept of role model as well as a summary of Merton’s wide-ranging career (which included popularizing other terms such as “self-fulfilling prophecy”).

Why promote education and reading with stars who make lots of money?

As a kid, I remember seeing posters of Michael Jordan (see here) and other star athletes promoting reading. While watching NBA playoff games currently, you can see plenty of NBA Cares advertisements with NBA stars talking about the importance of school. But, amidst seeing several stories that 13-year NBA player Shareef Abdur-Rahim went back to UC-Berkeley to finish his undergraduate degree in sociology, why do these campaigns feature athletic stars and not feature athletes who thought they had a chance to be a star but then realized they needed their academic degree for the rest of their lives? For example, such campaigns could feature a college star who tried to make it in the pros but had a short career, didn’t make much money or got injured early on, and then realized that he needed his academic degree to work the rest of his adult life. Or going further, perhaps non-athletes with decent adult lives could promote the value of a degree. Or athletes could talk about or promote the valuable contributions to society made by people with high school and college degrees. Either way, the star who makes a lot of money, a dream a lot of kids hold but few can attain, doesn’t end up as the primary spokesperson for education.

(I assume that these reading and education campaigns have some data or studies that show using celebrities is the best way to reach children. However, perhaps this strategy of using celebrities doesn’t work, just as using celebrities to promote organ donations isn’t the only factor that increases donation rates. See the book Last Book Gifts.)

 

With March Madness approaching, should we really be talking about “the civil rights movement for our times”?

Many Americans are about to enjoy the beginning of the NCAA Division I basketball tournament, but according to one sociologist, perhaps fans and viewers should pay more attention to the exploitation of the athletes:

In our perennial rite of spring, we are being bombarded with bracketology, Final Four predictions and the general hoops hysteria otherwise known as “March Madness.” There are invariably articles on the business page about the billions of dollars at play from television contracts to online betting to lost productivity as workers spend hours obsessing over their brackets. Yet there is precious little discussion about the teenagers, branded with corporate logos, generating this tidal wave of revenue. This is why Dr. Edwards believes the set-up is in desperate need of a shake-up. In a recent lecture at Cal-Berkeley, he directly tied the relationship between the NCAA and its “student athletes” to the injustices that spurred the Occupy Wall Street movement.

It’s not just a comparison, it’s a connection.… The college athletes are clearly the 99 percent who create the wealth in college sports. The question is, where is the individual from the ranks who is going to frame and focus and project that political reality? Who is going to provide the spark that mobilizes the athletes? A lot depends on the extent to which the 99-Percenter movement now confronting Wall Street can encompass the movement on campus around tuition increases and these outrageous compensation packages for administrators. Someone is going to have to focus and frame that…

But the efforts of the NCPA and the struggle for basic fairness for college athletes would be raised dramatically by seeing just a couple of players, under March’s blazing spotlight, willing to risk the wrath of those in thrall to the “Madness.” The next Smith/Carlos moment is there for any “jock for justice” willing to grasp it. This would require them walking to mid-court before the Final Four, ripping off the assorted brands and logos attached to their bodies, and stating in no uncertain terms that unless they get a piece of the pie, they are walking off the court. The fans would rage. The announcers would sneer. The coaches would fume. But history would be kind, and nothing else, as I can see, would finally put a stake in the heart of sham-amateurism once and for all. It’s a risk worth taking, but don’t take my word for it. As John Carlos said to me, “I have no regrets about what I did in 1968. The people with regrets are the ones who were there with us, and did nothing.”

This article also cites an article from Taylor Branch in The Atlantic that I commented on last September.

It is interesting to consider how people would react if college basketball players did protest during the games. I don’t know how much the “amateur” status of college athletes matters to the average fan. Some people talk about the “purity” of college sports compared to the professional ranks as there are some college players who still appear to take advantage of the educational opportunities as well as revere their schools. Ultimately, I would guess that most fans want to be entertained by their college sports and would be willing to at least small protections for athletes (a little pay, longer-term scholarships, etc.).

This discussion reminds me of the story that NBA players initially refused to play right before the 1964 All-Star Game. Perhaps this story would give some college players hope:

The game was notable for the threat of a strike by the players, who refused to play just before the game unless the owners agreed to recognize the players’ union. The owners agreed primarily because it was the first All-Star Game to be televised and if it were not played due to strike it would have been embarrassing at a time when the NBA was still attempting to gain national exposure. This led directly to many rights and freedoms not previously extended to professional basketball players.

After gaining room to negotiate, now NBA players and other pro athletes would face major issues if they refused to play:

By signing the National Basketball Association’s Uniform Player Contract, a player agrees to “give his best services, as well as his loyalty, to the Team,” to “conduct himself on and off the court according to the highest standards of honesty, citizenship, and sportsmanship,” and “not to do anything that is materially detrimental” to the team or the league. Refusing to play in a game against a coach’s orders could therefore be considered a breach of contract. The team could justifiably withhold payment, terminate his contract, or sue him for monetary damages. (Nearly every professional sport requires players to sign a similar contract.)

The only circumstance under which a player can refuse to compete—in just about any professional league—is if he’s injured. Normally, it’s up to the team doctor to decide whether an athlete is fit to play. If the player disagrees—or gets a second opinion from an outside doctor—he can file a grievance through the players union, which then negotiates a solution with the team.

It’s rare for players simply to decline to go on the court or field, partly because it’s a PR disaster. Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen famously refused to get off the bench with 1.8 seconds left in a playoff game against the New York Knicks in 1994. He wasn’t punished, but the incident tainted his reputation. It’s somewhat more common for a recently-traded player to not report for games with his new team. After Kenny Anderson was traded to the Toronto Raptors in 1998, for example, he refused to compete with the Canadian team. Occasionally, a pro will ask to play less. Starting Carolina Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins, battling alcoholism and accusations of racism, asked to be taken out of the starting lineup. The team obliged him. Sometimes NFL players will receive criticism for failing to show up to off-season workouts, but such workouts are voluntary according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement.

But, of course, professional athletes in the major sports are represented by unions, some of which, like the baseball player’s union, are known as being quite powerful and effective. College athletes don’t have the same protections.

How long can this situation last? While the money is still good for the biggest schools (and most of the money is football money anyway), would college college basketball players really band together to protest?

Tim Tebow is America’s favorite pro athlete…with 3% of the vote!

The fact that Tim Tebow is America’s favorite pro athlete may be a great headline but it covers up the fact that very few people actually selected him:

How big is Tebow-mania? According to the ESPN Sports Poll, Tim Tebow is now America’s favorite active pro athlete.

The poll, calculated monthly, had the Denver Broncos quarterback ranked atop the list for the month of December. In the 18 years of the ESPN Sports Poll only 11 different athletes — a list that includes Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and LeBron James — have been No. 1 in the monthly polling.

In December’s poll, Tebow was picked by 3 percent of those surveyed as their favorite active pro athlete. That put him ahead of Kobe Bryant (2 percent), Aaron Rodgers (1.9 percent), Peyton Manning (1.8 percent) and Tom Brady (1.5 percent) in the top-five of the results.

The poll results were gathered from 1,502 interviews from a nationally representative sample of Americans ages 12 and older.

Tebow is the favorite and he was selected by 3% of the respondents? This is not a lot. While it is meaningful that he was selected so early in his career says something but we need some more data to think through this. What percent have previous favorite athletes gotten? Have previous iterations of this poll had larger gaps between the favorite and second-place? Are responses to this poll more diverse now than in the past?

I wonder about the validity of such questions that ask Americans to pick a favorite as they can garner low totals. Isn’t Tebow’s advantage over Bryant easily within the margin of error of the survey? The issues here are even greater than a recent poll asking about favorite Presidents. If you are a marketer, does this result clearly tell you that you should have Tebow sell your product?

Some quick history of the ESPN Sports Poll.

First million dollar endorsement deal for an athlete went to a bowler

One can learn some interesting facts from random moments in sports talk radio: the first athlete to earn a $1 million endorsement deal was a bowler in 1964.

In 1964, bowling legend Don Carter managed the unthinkable for a bowler — or any athlete for that matter — when he landed a $1 million endorsement deal with bowling manufacturer Ebonite. He was the first bowler to hit the magic mark, and far outpaced his contemporaries throughout the sports world.

Just four years before Carter’s landmark agreement, the best that professional golfer Arnold Palmer’s manager could muster for his client was a $5,000 per year “global” deal with Wilson sports. In 1968, Super Bowl quarterback Joe Namath famously shaved off his moustache with a Schick razor for a mere $10,000. Race car driver Richard Petty would become the first million-dollar driver, but not until 1971.

Carter’s Ebonite deal launched the widely popular Don Carter Gyro-Balanced ball, but his own lucrative endorsement career was already on track. As early as 1959, Carter was grossing more than $100,000 a year through tournaments, exhibitions, TV matches, investments and endorsements for such products as Miller Lite, Viceroys, Palmolive Rapid Shave and Wonder Bread.

Carter dominated the sport:

He also did something that no one in baseball, football or golf ever did. He became the first athlete in American sports history to sign a $1 million marketing endorsement contract, with bowling ball manufacturer Ebonite in 1964.

“It is impossible to put into words what Don Carter meant to the PBA and the sport of bowling,” PBA Commissioner Tom Clark said. “He was a pioneer, a champion and will never be forgotten.”

The 6-foot, 200-pound Carter bowled five 800 series, 13 perfect games and six 299s in sanctioned play. He practically held a monopoly on bowling honors. He was voted Bowler of the Year six times (1953, 1954, 1957, 1958, 1960, 1962).

While bowling may not be a very high-profile sport these days, hearing this reminded me of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone. Not too long ago, many Americans bowled regularly and Putnam argues this is illustrative of a strong civic and social sphere where neighbors and strangers interacted more regularly.

It is interesting to think about why Carter was able to snag such a large deal. Perhaps it is because millions of Americans thought being a good or decent bowler was attainable, perhaps even at their regular leagues. It is a little harder these days when you see such athletes performing in the major sports, in college, and even at the high school level. Anyone can bowl and Carter apparently had an interesting style:

A founding member and the first president of the Professional Bowlers Association, Carter was a powerhouse on the lanes at 6 feet 1 inch tall and 195 pounds…

He bowled with a distinctively ungainly right-handed style, eschewing a traditional backswing, bending his elbow and knee and pulling the ball back around his stomach, then pushing it forward.

“I think there were probably 10 million bowlers who tried to emulate that,” said Bill Vint, a spokesman for the P.B.A. “I don’t think anyone did.”

I bet there is an interesting story in how bowling fell behind the major sports like football in endorsements and attention. Was bowling a gateway sport that was relatively easy to broadcast on television that helped open up things for other sports?

Cam Newton as sociologist?

A commentator in the Wall Street Journal suggests Cam Newton is a sociologist:

All very true, all very interesting, but this was not the part of Fleming’s article—the cover story for ESPN the Magazine’s annual Next issue—that got the most attention on Thursday. That part would be Newton’s refusal to blame the weirdly harsh pre-draft assessments—ESPN’s own Mel Kiper Jr. compared him to former Bengals bust Akili Smith—on any latent prejudices against black quarterbacks. “I can’t sit up here and look at it like, oh man, my critics are racist,” Newton told Fleming. “I blame JaMarcus Russell and to some degree Vince Young. If you have the opportunity to make that kind of money doing something you love to do, why would you screw it up?” Which, admittedly, is an attention-grabbing thing to say.

It was also deemed a mistake by the sport-pundits whose job it is to deem statements like this mistakes. But as Bomani Jones notes in a terrific column for SB Nation, both Newton and his critics seem to miss the point. “The real danger is in the foolishness of the quote and its underlying sadness,” Jones writes. “It’s stupid because the knocks on Cam were based in the same madness that sent his mentor, [Warren] Moon, to Canada seven years before Russell was born. And it’s heartbreaking because, in spite of the progress the world claims it has made with regards to race, the young man who could be the NFL’s future blamed his own unfair treatment on two men who had to fight the same battles.”

Of course, as long as Newton continues to break records and be brilliant, he can—and will—be able to write his own narrative, in his own words. At the very least, it’s refreshing to have a new star who’s as interesting to talk about—and listen to—as he is to watch.

As far as I can tell, the only reason Newton gets dubbed a sociologist is because he brings up the issue of race. Interestingly, he downplays the racial explanation and goes to more individualistic explanations (i.e., two earlier quarterbacks failed). But it is interesting to note that discussing topics of race gets equated with the field of sociology.

While there is no doubt that Newton could have made a bold statement about how black quarterbacks are treated, I wonder if his statement says more about whether athletes can talk about race or feel like they should than about Newton. At this point in his career, what would Newton gain by taking on people like Mel Kiper Jr.? As a rookie, Newton may not want to be outspoken about a controversial social issue. Would his endorsement opportunities go down if he talked about race? Would sportswriters keep hammering on this? I’m not saying Newton is right by downplaying the larger structural forces that make success possible. However, certain athletes don’t address larger issues like some do. For example, Michael Jordan was criticized by some who thought he could have used his celebrity and standing to push for certain things. Jordan, a savvy businessman, chose not to. Newton may be following a similar path.

In the end, I would guess most sports fans and commentators don’t really want to address racial issues even though it clearly matters. On the whole, they would typically suggest sports transcends racial barriers and on-the-field performance is the only thing that matters. Also, the last time I can remember this being a big debate in the NFL with Rush Limbaugh on ESPN, it didn’t work out well.