Thursday, May 29, 2014

Johnny Vegas

Johnny Manziel has been a member of the Cleveland Browns, an unsigned member at that, for about 5 minutes.  And yet in that brief period of time he’s managed to illustrate exactly why he was the most complicated, most confounding player to enter the NFL draft in years, maybe ever.
So much of Manziel is wrapped up in myth making, most of which is self-induced.  He’s not the first athlete focused on his brand, he’s just the latest.  But what will continue to make Manziel the source of much agita for Cleveland fans is simply that he’s at best a difficult fit with the region’s sensibilities.  That doesn’t mean he can’t be successful here.  It just means it will be a trying experience.
Cleveland specifically and the Midwest generally have a culture and a view.  It’s often labeled with the term “blue collar” but that term has lost so much of its meaning and resonance.  Still, Clevelanders will tolerate a significant amount of bullshit in the pursuit of a winner but they will not tolerate being mocked for their values.  Hard work and sincerity are as highly valued as results, maybe more so.  Clevelanders to their credit and detriment will suffer earnest losers more easily than arrogant winners.  Whether he wins or loses Manziel, unchanged, will struggle with a fan base that would rather just love him than hate to love him.
You can and many have written unending paragraphs dissecting Manziel’s antics including his recent weekend trip to Las Vegas and his arrogant response to those who question his work ethic.  It is true, certainly, that there is a time for work and a time for play.  That’s as understood as well in Cleveland as anywhere else.  But there is an order to it and right now, Clevelanders are rightfully asking, as did virtually every NFL personnel type in every draft room, whether Manziel understands that proper order.
I don’t think Manziel won over any new fans by acting outraged at the questions being asked about his commitment to his craft.  Lacking perhaps the personal warmth to respond sincerely he did what most immature young adults do these days, he took to Instagram.  He tweeted pictures of his Cleveland Browns iPad and playbook to establish what exactly, that he looked them over on the plane?  That he studied a few plays between Moscow Mules?
Manziel sees himself as unique but that’s part of his naiveté.  There is nothing new under the sun, just a repackaging of all that’s come before him.  It was just a few years ago when Dallas quarterback Tony Romo was jetting off to Mexico with Jessica Simpson during the Cowboys’ playoff bye week.  The timing of the trip was rightly questioned and his critics’ ire fueled when the Cowboys flamed out in the playoffs.  Romo said virtually the same things Manziel is saying now.  He’s young.  He’s entitled to relax.  He can study in Mexico, with Simpson draped on his arm, just as easily as he could in his home in Dallas.  All true, theoretically.  Again, though, time and place.  Sometimes you have to just read the room.
What it came down to with Romo is what it comes down to with Manziel, as it does with any other player.  Is he willing to really put in the work necessary to be an elite in the NFL.  The fact that this was the most significant question about Manziel before the draft, one would think he would have tried to answer it more forcefully than he has thus far. Indeed he seems hell bent on demonstrating what’s true in the movies only, that Seth Rogan comedies can coexist with Darron Aronofsky dramas.
Romo more or less learned from his mistake and thereafter has courted a lower profile.  No coincidentally his work ethic stopped being questioned.  But Romo isn’t even the best example for Manziel to follow.  That would be Tom Brady.
Peter King, in this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback, interviewed Brady.  When the 2014 season opens, Brady will be 37 years old.  To a great extent he has nothing more to prove as a quarterback.  He’s already a prominent player in the conversation of greatest NFL quarterback of all time.  He also is married to someone who is a prominent player in the conversation of the world’s most beautiful women.  He attends his fair share of celebrity events in service of his wife.
What Brady knows and what Manziel still has time to learn is balance.  Brady spends most of his offseason working to improve as a quarterback and ensuring that he’ll be able to withstand the rigors of a NFL season. 
The money quote from Brady:  I’m not here to be king of the weight room. I do things to make me a better quarterback, whatever they are. Does it work? You be the one to judge. Watch me play. Then draw your own conclusions.”
That’s the point, isn’t it?  Manziel is young and gifted but with a huge learning curve ahead of him.  Will he be willing to do the things to make himself a better quarterback? The results will speak for themselves with others able to draw their own conclusions.
The other thing that struck about Brady’s interview was the passion that burns within, even at this age, to keep working.  Brady said that it’s his love for the game that motivates him to get up at 5 a.m. on a random Thursday in May to work out.  But it’s more.  He also said that he still works on his throwing mechanics with his coach because he was the 199th pick in the draft for a reason and thus he has to be sure he is as efficient as possible with his mechanics.
Jack Nickaus, in his Golf My Way book and in countless interviews over the years, talked about his routine entering each golf season.  He said he starts at the beginning by working on his grip, his stance and his alignment.  Even with all the success he had on the golf course he knew that little inefficiencies creep into your game from time to time and if unchecked compound.
Ben Hogan, who fought a persistent hook, would spend hours upon hours hitting golf balls trying to perfect his swing and his ball flight.  He had a saying, “the secret is in the dirt.”  In other words, the only way to get better is to work at getting better.
Truthfully, we don’t know much about Johnny Football’s work ethic but there are some bright red flags at the moment.  Manziel is constantly defending his commitment to football because most of what the average person now knows about him is from outlets such as TMZ instead of Sports Illustrated.  His moves off the field, the pictures he takes, the way he’s portrayed are very calculated.  He’s good time Johnny and he wants you to know there’s nothing wrong with it.  Until he plays and produces or fails, that’s all we’ll really know.
This will all work itself out eventually.  Browns fans would like to think the team drafted the next Brady or the next Peyton Manning but that’s neither Manziel’s wont nor his temperament at the moment.  A big part of it is simply that Manziel doesn’t yet know what he doesn’t know.  He’s never been through a NFL season.  Indeed he’s never been just another player in a league full of established stars.  The NFL comes easy to no one but Manziel will hardly be the first or last player to think otherwise.
The secret is in the dirt and the classroom and wherever else the likes of Brady, Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and the league’s other elite quarterbacks find it.  Manziel will either find it in the same way or he won’t and the truth will eventually be revealed.  He can’t scramble his way to competence but he can scramble his way to irrelevance.  And if that’s the road he ends up traveling because brand cultivation and management become his priorities, then what he’ll find is that all that was for naught.  If there’s anything that TMZ or the bikini clad princesses of Vegas care less about than a has been quarterback is a never was quarterback.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Numbing Sameness of it All, Again--Dan Gilbert Edition

Dan Gilbert is clever, you have to give him that.  Early in his career as the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers he came across as the prototypical meddling owner who had made money in one line of business and figured that genius translated into the world of sports.  To fans, Gilbert was a huge red flag, a combination of Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones. 

At some point Gilbert became sensitive or at least aware of the impression that was developing. He toned down the act, seemingly turning his attention away from the Cavs and more toward becoming the Moe Green of the Midwest.  Turns out, that perception was the deceiving one. 

Behind the more stealth look that Gilbert crafted beats the heart of an owner whose goals are simply amorphous platitudes about winning and excellence that cannot be achieved because he lacks the temperament to reach them. 

In his 9 years as owner of the Cavs, Gilbert has had 3 general managers and four head coaches.  Let that roll around the inside of your head for a moment.  Three general managers and four head coaches in 9 years. 

That’s almost the exact trajectory of the Cleveland Browns, easily the worst run sports franchise in the last 20 years.  Gilbert’s lay low approach of the last few years belies an impetuousness and an incompetency that rivals that of Randy Lerner.  The reason it gets less attention is that the Cavs are and always will be third in the hearts and minds of Cleveland sports fans.  Most simply don’t care. 

When you’re running a private business with no outside shareholders, the public results are harder to discern.  For all anyone knows or cares, Gilbert chews through vice presidents at Quicken Loans at the same rate he chews through executives and coaches at the Cavs.  That doesn’t matter.  What does is that the Cavs’ business is in the public eye and at the nearly 10-year mark of Gilbert’s ownership, the picture isn’t pretty.   

Gilbert has shown no greater competence than the Gund brothers before him. The Cavs under Gilbert have been transcendent only when they had a transcendent player that fell into his lap.  When the planets realigned, the franchise became decidedly non-transcendent, again.  Gilbert isn’t just the figurehead on which to level the blame.  He’s the perpetrator and instigator of a highly dysfunctional and withering franchise that is still years away, at best, from being any sort of contender and then only if something dramatic happens at the top. 

Undoubtedly Gilbert would like the team to be a success.  It would certainly help bring in more people to his downtown casino during the winter months if the Cavs were contenders and Quicken Loans arena was sold out 41 times during the cold Cleveland winter.  But the Cavs aren’t successful under Gilbert, except around the fringes.  Gilbert, the only one in the franchise with actual power to wield, is the only consistent piece remaining in place these last nearly 10 years.  It’s easy to see where the buck stops and the blame lies.   

The NBA is, without question, the hardest league in which to construct a champion.  That may seem counterintuitive given the relatively small rosters when compared to baseball and football, but the numbers don’t lie.  When a team is down it stays down for years.  A shallow pool of new, NBA-ready talent each year and a salary cap riddled with exceptions are the primary reasons. 

As a result, the league at any given time has essentially 3 groups of teams.  The top group is the very small handful of teams with enough talent to actually threaten for a championship.  Teams in this group feature at least one super duper star and enough almost super duper stars to give them the depth to survive the grind that is the NBA playoffs.  The Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs are two obvious examples.

The middle group is the larger group of playoff teams looking to get into the top group.  The group has its own hierarchy.  There are the teams that just squeak into the playoffs, usually with losing records, which is the equivalent of NBA purgatory because it’s very difficult for those teams to improve without outside help.  The draft is a non-event for them so they improve, if at all, somewhat organically but mostly by prying free agents away from other teams. Then there are the teams on the higher end of this group that seem on the precipice of getting into the top group.  Think Oklahoma City, maybe Indiana.  Some make it, some regress.  Much depends on organic growth or the pick up of a missing piece here or there.   Either way it’s still a slog. 

The bottom group are, naturally, the bottom feeders.  When a team enters this group it is a minimum of 10 years before it can even get to the upper level of the middle group, let alone membership in the top group.  You can look at virtually every former playoff team in recent history that thereafter entered this group.  It is 10 years before they get back into the playoffs. 

The Cavs, for a brief period, were a top group team because they had the league’s best player.  But for a variety of reasons, some having to do with LeBron James’ psychological profile and some having to do with Gilbert’s, the Cavs couldn’t hold on to James.  In retrospect, they weren’t really even in the conversation.  Once James left the Cavs dropped to a bottom feeding team and there they remain.  While James is pushing the Heat to a third straight NBA title, the Cavs can’t even seem to work their way up to membership in the middle group.  Gilbert’s meddling is the primary reason. 

It’s actually quite fascinating that Gilbert can’t seem to learn from the bad examples in front of him all the evils that visit a franchise when it constantly reboots.  The Browns’ are a mere few miles away and dominate the local papers and talk radio stations.  Gilbert must be in some serious denial about his own track record to think he’s not that kind of owner even as he goes about his business every day proving that he is. 

Here’s the dangerous game in all of this.  You can make a case, perhaps even a compelling case, for each of the moves that Gilbert has made in his 9 years.  It might have been a mistake, as Gilbert said last year, to fire Mike Brown the first time, but it also was an obvious mistake to hire him the second time.  The two concepts can coexist.  But that is seeing the trees and ignoring the forest.  Gilbert’s track record, irrespective of how compiled, is that of a meddling owner who can’t be satisfied. Why would a gifted free agent, let alone James, ever want to get involved in this mess?  The same goes for a gifted coach. 

So much of what’s been happening is that Gilbert can’t land on a general manager he trusts long enough to let a direction, any direction, of the club take hold.  It is exactly why the Browns are the mess they are.  Gilbert, like Jimmy Haslam now and Lerner before that, falls in and out of love quickly with his management hires, but not quickly enough to avoid the damage done.  Gilbert wants to win but deep pockets and force of will aren’t enough.  It takes temperament and discipline and at least in this business venture Gilbert falls short. 

Anyone who watched the jumble that was the Cavs last season completely understands why the season ended as it did.  That jumble was the most visible manifestation of all the dysfunction, impatience and impetuousness of the ownership and management team.  A new, permanent general manager and a coach of his own choosing could help on the margins.  But real, permanent change for the better isn’t going to be achieved until everyone in this franchise can stop looking over their shoulders in fear at what Gilbert might do next.

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Numbing Sameness of It All, Again--Johnny Freakin' Football Edition

It’s always nice when a team like the Cleveland Browns gets the player it really wants in the NFL draft.  Who knew that player was Justin Gilbert?

Bouncing around the first round like he was a combination of Butch Davis and Eric Mangini, Browns general manager Ray Farmer certainly made things interesting for the fan base.  And when Farmer traded back up to only then draft Gilbert you could hear the loud sucking sound throughout Northeast Ohio.  Fans once again felt their usual abandonment as another general manager used the 8th pick in the draft to select the 16th best player.

But things ultimately broke Farmer’s way and through another bounce he was able to grab Johnny Freakin’ Football with the most cursed slot of the draft for quarterbacks, 22nd.  That was the home of such previous notables as Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden, and also J.P. Losman. 

When the dust cleared, the Browns had a new cornerback and a new, potentially franchising shifting quarterback in Manziel.  For all the jumping around Farmer did it’s hard not to shake the notion that simply staying put could have, likely would have, resulted in the exact same picks.  The advantage, and this is actually significant, is that for all that movement the Browns not only ended up where they would have any way without it but they essentially stole Buffalo’s first pick in next year’s draft for what amounts to a couple of extra later round picks.  It was a mild version of the movie Draft Day.

In that context, Farmer had a good, if lucky, night on Thursday and, frankly, it’s about time someone associated with the Browns had a lucky night.  It wouldn’t surprise at this point if the other shoe dropped and owner Jimmy Haslam found himself indicted on Friday.  The Gods never give to Cleveland what they can’t otherwise extract at a higher cost.

There’s a lot to like about Manziel.  Most of it is intangible and if there is one thing that most NFL general managers and even coaches hate is taking a player whose intangible qualities are greater than his physical attributes.  It’s exactly the reason that Jacksonville drafted Blake Bortles instead of Manziel.  Bortles is built like Ben Roethlisberger and is better looking.  Jacksonville went all in on that combination and we’ll see whether it was justified or whether Bortles will be the kind of guy who, in two years, is trolling for backup spots in Dallas like Weeden.

There’s no way to know Manziel’s real upside as a NFL quarterback until he gets under center week after week.  Weeden never lost the deer-in-the-headlights look.  Tim Couch had his spirit broken.  The game just moved too fast for Brady Quinn and Colt McCoy. 

In some ways, many actually, Manziel reminds me of Brian Sipe, another relatively weak armed, undersized quarterback whose greater gifts were mental.  There are ways to overcome a lack of size in the NFL and Manziel certainly carries himself as the kind of player who can overcome his lack of size.  Drew Brees was in a similar position.  If Manziel even ends up as a better version of Sipe then the pick will have been justified, particularly in context of all the other blown first round picks over the years.

But the dark cloud hanging over Johnny Football is whether he ends up as more of a Mike Phipps.  There’s an old story about Phipps that former Browns head coach Blanton Collier liked to tell.  When Phipps was drafted, Collier, who had retired, was brought back as a consultant to help school Phipps and get him ready for the NFL.  Collier was an offensive genius with a knack for quarterbacks.  He was everything that Mike Holmgren wanted to be.

Collier worked Phipps out and gave him the benefit of hour after hour of classroom instruction.  When the schooling ended several days later, Collier asked to looked at the notepad he had given Phipps at the beginning of their sessions.  Collier wanted to review the notes Phipps had taken.  When Collier opened the notebook, it was blank.  Phipps hadn’t written a thing.  It was at that moment, with Phipps still a long way from playing his first game, that Collier knew the Browns had made a mistake.

Which way will Manziel go?  Will he be an engaged student or the know-it-all jock with the attention span of a puppy?  There’s no good way to know before the draft because it can’t be measured.  Jon Gruden’s quarterback school is hardly a benchmark.  It’s a made for television farce that by design offers little insight about the player while extolling the perceived genius of Gruden.  Manziel’s heart will get measured from about this point forward as head coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan figure out just what they got in Manziel.

The other thing about Manziel, and this is hardly news but still remains worth mentioning, is that his lack of size and lack of build is still a detriment in a league of physical freaks.  Manziel may be able to move around better than, say, Bortles, but he won’t be able to absorb the same kind of hits.  In other words, the chances of Manziel coming out of any season without at least one separated shoulder seems remote.  Pray that it’s his non-throwing shoulder.

Manziel proved himself to be a playmaker in college, not just once but several times over.  If there’s one thing that the Browns have lacked for most of their 2.0 existence is playmakers of any kind.  Manziel seems to have a knack for stepping in shit and coming out smelling like a rose.  For most of the Browns 2.0 existence when a player’s stepped in shit he rarely can get his foot dislodged let alone get the stink out of his jersey.

As for the drafting of Gilbert, I’m skeptical.  It was a reach and in exactly the most awful way possible.  Pettine said that Gilbert was the best corner for the Browns’ scheme.  Uh oh.  When a team as perennially awful as the Browns and with more holes to fill than a city crew filling potholes on Cleveland’s east side focuses less on picking the best player available and more on filling the roles imagined by a rookie head coach that no one wanted initially, everyone and I mean everyone should see that for the red flag that it is.

Does that mean Gilbert was a mistake?  That can’t be judged specifically.  It’s more the process of his selection that should worry the fans.

Farmer now enters the second day of the draft knowing that he did well on the first part of a multi-part exam.  But he can’t coast.  The rest of the exam awaits.  The reason the Browns are the Browns isn’t just that they made horrific first round selections.  It’s because they also made awful selections in most other parts of previous drafts as well.

Coaches like to say that defense wins championships, but that’s only half right.  What matters just as much if not more in the NFL is depth.  It’s great to have a shut down corner like Joe Haden, for example, but when he was out the drop off was precipitous.  No team can have two deep Pro Bowlers at any position but what’s hindered the Browns even more than a lack of a quarterback is the fact that the fall off between its starters and its backups is probably greater than that of any team in the league.  Indeed, most of the Browns’ starters would be the backups on other teams.  When a starter goes down in Cleveland they’re filling it with a guy that wouldn’t likely be on most teams’ rosters.

Let’s see how the rest of the draft turns out.  It’s off to an interesting, intriguing start.  And let’s recognize, too, how genuinely nice it was to see Browns fans celebrate the drafting of Manziel particularly after it looked like the worst thing in the world had just happened to them, they weren’t getting what they wanted.  But remember that if not getting what you want is the worst thing in the world, the second worst is getting what you wanted.  Now that’s a theme Browns fans should be able to rally around.

Friday, May 02, 2014

The Week In Racism--Sports Edition

You know it’s been a historic week in racism when the number two story involves a guy who started off his rant with the phrase “and let me tell you another thing I know about the Negro.”
That Donald Sterling, the soon-to-be former owner of the L.A. Clippers could somehow eclipse serial criminal, Fox News folk hero and clueless racist Cliven Bundy says something about how deep the spirit of racism remains entrenched at least in some of this country’s population.
And despite near unanimous (I’d say unanimous but the far right never completely disappoints) condemnation of both Bundy’s and Sterling’s words, the backlash with respect to the punishment has begun.
No one, especially politicians and hatemongers like Sean Hannity, have resurrected Bundy’s criminal enterprise to further their war on the country’s first black president.  I suspect no one of import will get back into bed with him.  But when it comes to unrepentant cheater and racist Sterling, we’ve now entered the backlash phase.
On Tuesday, a mere three days after Sterling’s private conversations blanketed the airwaves, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver came down hard.  He banned Sterling from the NBA for life and said he’d work to force a sale of his team.  For good measure, he fined Sterling $2.5 million on his way out the door.
The severity of the punishment has seemed to oddly work in Sterling’s favor, at least for a few contrarians and, surprisingly, not all of them camping out on the far right fringe of polite society.
To this point, the alternate perspective has fallen generally into one of two categories: privacy and freedom. The sound had barely left the auditorium where Silver announced the penalties when questions began to arise about not just the severity of the penalties but what the incident itself says about us as a country.
Jason Whitlock, writing for ESPN, took a thoughtful if nonsensical contrarian approach.  While not defending Sterling’s words, he did raise questions about punishing someone, including a racist like Sterling, for private thoughts uttered behind closed doors to his mistress.  Fair enough even though those supposedly private words were heard by so many so often in the last week that more people can quote them than the first amendment to the Constitution. 
He then raised questions about the apparent mob rule that seemed to mandate Silver’s decision, noting the dangerousness of merely responding to throngs that tend to act more on emotion than intelligence.  Again, fair enough even if he didn’t acknowledge that sometimes the mob gets things right.  But where Whitlock stopped making sense was when he advanced a theory backed by nothing empirical let alone thoughtful that Sterling’s penalty did nothing to solve the greater issue of the culture that informed Sterling’s world view in the first place, not to mention the greater issue of advancing the cause of blacks generally. 
Whitlock is wrong.  The punishment that Silver administered strikes exactly at the core of the culture that created a racist like Sterling in the first place.  Sterling lives in a bubble of his own making.  A line was crossed, probably decades ago, by Sterling when he came to believe that his business success gave him carte blanche to do whatever he wanted and without consequence.  And Sterling certainly lived out that life.  He cheated on his wife openly.  He discriminated against potential minority tenants in his housing projects, again openly.  Indeed Sterling conducted his life so outside of what most would consider normal that his life to most appeared to be a caricature.
The problem is, the standards by which he’s being judged are the thoughts of most of us because most of us don’t live in that bubble.  In Sterling’s bubble, he was just fine, the life of the party really.  Sterling’s past actions, fed by an almost complete lack of attaching consequences, fed, as Whitlock suggests, an insidious culture.  But where Whitlock is wrong is that heavy handed punishments often can and often do shake the status quo of those cultures in fundamental ways.  I still recall a debate from my college days about the seminal Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education in which the concept of separate but equal was struck down.  The professor asked whether a simple Supreme Court decision would have any real impact.  As students we questioned the value of the rule of law in fostering significant cultural change with opinions varied on its effectiveness.
History has more than demonstrated that impact of that simple Supreme Court decision.  It created a sea change in the rights of blacks, changes that many whites are still fighting to this day.  Nonetheless what it did most was change our views, made most of us see the folly and ridiculousness of treating people differently simple because of the color of their skin.
Here, the power of Silver’s penalties can have a similar effect.  While blatant racism isn’t the problem it was in 1954, it’s still wildly prevalent no matter what the Wall Street Journal editorial board may think or how often the overwhelmingly predominately white far right claim it’s not.  On the same day Silver punished Sterling, a Wisconsin federal court struck down a voter identification law in Wisconsin put in place by a far right governor and legislature because while not fixing a problem that doesn’t exist in the first place (voter fraud) the law had a very detrimental effect on the minorities and the poor whose votes they were intentionally trying to suppress.  It was the second court to strike down the law.
The point is that racism may not be as open as it was in the 1950s when blacks had to use separate water fountains, but it exists and in very serious forms still.  The Sterling punishment is a very loud shot across the bow of the white establishment that it is no longer business as usual.  If the lesson learned is that not even private conversations are safe, then so be it.  Sterling’s private racism demonstrated him to be a public phony and ultimately a public racist.
When an essentially private club like the NBA, dependent on the public for its very existence, takes action in that public interest, whether informed by emotion, intelligence or both, it does have an effect.  It sends a message to owners in every sport, in every corporation, that their words have consequences and will be punished. Those in power do have a greater responsibility and as they clean up their act, whether forced by the severe consequences given to Sterling or simply because it’s the right thing to do, society as a whole is better off, more advanced.
Which leads to my second point, the presence of that free market that the right and the extreme right in particular seem to believe cures all ills.  It certainly did in this case and yet it’s those same advocates that are now having the most trouble with what happened to Sterling.
While Whitlock was being thoughtful, others not so much.  On the local front, the media’s biggest troll and lightest intellectual, Mike Trivisonno, used his platform at an increasingly irrelevant AM radio station that serves as the flagship sports station in town to rail on about how Sterling’s punishment is still another example of how our freedoms in this country are under attack.
The problem with jackasses like Trivisonno is not just their inability to process higher order concepts but also their rather simplistic view that freedom is threatened every time responsibility attaches.
Trivisonno decried, simply decried, the influence that various sponsors of the L.A. Clippers had on the punishment handed out to Sterling.  Sponsors pulled their dollars from the Clippers, sending a message to the NBA at the same time that similar actions could follow if Silver didn’t take sever action.  And it certainly it fair to suggest Silver’s actions were highly informed by the economic impact that could befall the league if he didn’t punish Sterling severely.  But so what?  Isn’t that just the free market at work?
Trivisonno was likely speaking from a more personal standpoint on this issue anyway.  As a media provocateur, to be polite, or as an ill-informed nitwit, to be more accurate, Trivisonno’s opinions have likely drawn the ire of his show’s sponsors and that seems to chafe in ways that probably clipped off the even more strident views he’d prefer to express.  Again, though, that’s just the free market at work.
No one holds a gun to the heads of any sponsor to advertise and no one holds a gun to the heads of any team or league to accept that advertisement.  The sponsors who pulled their advertising with the Clippers were maybe slightly motivated by moral concerns but were overwhelmingly motivated by economic ones.  They simply didn’t want anyone to associate their product or service with an avowed racist like Sterling.  It’s really the same thing that happened when Tiger Woods lost all his sponsors when the revelations about his sordid personal life became public.  Most companies not named Nike are concerned about the impact to their bottom line when people thing negatively about their product.
About 76% of the players in the NBA are black.  The NBA courts and counts a large black fan base.  Being sensitive to their concerns just makes economic sense to the sponsors who back the league.
Sterling’s freedom wasn’t at all impacted by the punishment Silver laid out any more than it was impacted by the multimillion dollar settlement he paid to resolve discrimination claims years ago.  He can and probably still will have the occasional private rant about the blacks he either cannot stand or understand.  What is impacted is his ability to conduct business inside the private confines of the NBA with people that don’t relate well to his thinking.  That is just the free market talking loudly and proudly.
Freedom isn’t a catchword for irresponsibility.  Simply because you can say it doesn’t mean you should.  Words and actions do have consequences.  Sometimes they get you into legal trouble.  Sometimes they get you in business trouble.  Sometimes they get you punched in the nose.  And in none of those situations is our freedom at all impacted.
Much of the criticism of Silver that falls into the bucket represented by Trivisonno is really a criticism of what they believe to be political correctness gone amok.  Denouncing racism is just correct.  There’s nothing political about it.
 The real movement we have in this country is being initiated by the Freedom Police, a weird band of off- thinking wingnuts who seem to think that any infringement on their ability to do what they want when they want and to whomever they want is tantamount to the oppression the colonists felt at the hands of the British.
As the fictitious president Andrew Shepard said in The American President, America is advanced citizenship.  We’re a country built not just on freedom as an amorphous concept but responsible freedom exercised by people with a sense larger than themselves.  We can and should put limits on absolute freedom because your right to do whatever you want exactly ends at the point on which it infringes on my right to be left alone.  There’s a reason shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is punishable and not an infringement on freedom.  There’s a reason that libel and slander are actionable.
Sterling may have been exercising his freedom of thought but the moment it impacted on his fellow owners and their ability to conduct their business, the moment it impacted on the league’s black players and their ability to work in a discrimination free environment, that ability to act irresponsibly and without consequence ended.  That’s as it should be and as it’s always been.
So please spare me the sanctimony of the contrarians like Whitlock who believe private words and thoughts shouldn’t matter.  Spare me too the ill-conceived logic of jerks like Trivisonno who only imagine a life lived without consequence, as if that’s ever existed.  Sterling got what the populace and the market dictated.  He got what he deserved, finally.