Ray Ratto

Trump made UCLA trio's apology more of a duty and less of a choice


Trump made UCLA trio's apology more of a duty and less of a choice

Donald Trump’s first big victory of his presidency – squeezing public gratitude out of UCLA’s Sunglass Three – will be trumpeted across the land as a triumph for every old person ever who glared at a child demanding gratitude for some kindness.

That Cody Riley and LiAngelo Ball both thanked Trump for whatever diplomatic schmoozing he applied to Chinese premier Xi Jinping to get the three shoplifting Bruins freed is, frankly, a polite thing to do, something done in civilized society when someone does you a solid.

But the fact that Trump had to goad them into it with one of his off-the-meds tweets doesn’t allow the young men a chance to express themselves openly and sincerely. They might very well have thanked the President without his stern prompting, in which case good on them for noting the kindness of another.

But his obnoxious thank-you prompt made the whole exercise more of a duty and less of a choice – which actually might be part of their punishment, which so far includes the scorn of millions and indefinite suspensions from the basketball team.

If that was Trump’s aim, to toss some nationally commented shame onto their shoulders for their behavior, then he is far more clever than he has revealed to date. My guess is not.

Instead, he wanted everyone to know what he did, and wanted to wring out a payment from them for his effort – a payment, again, that they night have offered freely.

The point is, to give thanks is what regular folks do. To receive them is part of the social contract upon which we have all agreed. To demand them ahead of time is just gauche.

But that’s . . . oh, hell this one’s too easy. Make up your own tag line. It might very well be better than the one I had.

Once be-all, end-all, Big Game now just friends-and-alumni-only party


Once be-all, end-all, Big Game now just friends-and-alumni-only party

The 97th Big Game is upon us, and that means you scratching your head and asking, “What? Already?”

Cal and Stanford meet for the 120th time, and as is their custom, only one of the two teams is good. Indeed, Stanford has owned this game for most of the last three and a half decades (they are 10-22-1 since 1984, and has won the last seven game in succession by an average score of 40-18).

Indeed, since 1975, the two teams have had winning records at the same time only five times, a yin-and-yang relationship that has no real logic to it.

But in a changing world and an increasingly professional-sports-driven region, the thing that truly reduced the Big Game from a big event to a friends-and-alumni-only party was the decision to move the game around to accommodate other scheduling issues. It used to be safe the week before Thanksgiving, only rarely straying from its comfortable pocket between November 17 and 23.

Once it had to adjust to demands like the Notre Dame game and the Pacific-12 Conference television demands, the Big Game became just part of the schedule rather than the be-all and end-all of the season. And while true believers like Stanford head coach David Shaw, who has proven after Stanford down to his last molecule by not entertaining NFL jobs, still find it an essential highlight of each season, the more casual fan has moved on to other pastimes.

This is partly due to the transient nature of the modern graduate, but also due to college football’s recent playoff-or-bust mentality, of which the only sniff the Bay Area is likely to have is next year’s championship game at Levi’s Stadium, The Stadium That Creature Comforts Forgot.

But enough about why the Big Game isn’t actually “big.” The truth is, it’s big enough for what it needs to be, and maybe that is its true historical value. The last time Cal and Stanford finished 1-2 in the conference was 1937, so maybe this game, in which Stanford is 7-3 and Cal is 5-5, is about what it is supposed to be.

Something fun for the folks already in the tent.

Goodell's contract extension talk is proof the NFL's doom continues apace


Goodell's contract extension talk is proof the NFL's doom continues apace

Roger Goodell and the owners who plan to extend his contract have identified the three tasks he is to tackle in his remaining years as the Kick-Me sign of the National Football League, and they show exactly what the owners don’t get, and why their doom continues apace.

According to Jenny Vrentas of the MMQB.com, Goodell spoke at something called, modestly enough, The Year Ahead Summit and listed his updated in-box contents as follows:

1. Negotiating deals with new media.

2. Extending the current labor deal.

3. Setting up a succession plan.

In other words, moving the product increasingly outside the axis of the network television empires; putting the skewers to the union one more time; and finding someone who wants to be the next him at a suitably lower price.

In OTHER other words, focusing on the business and the palace politics, looking inward when the sport needs to look beyond its narrow, avarice-fueled present.

It is yet again more proof that whether Goodell is or is not the commissioner in 2020 isn’t the point. That’s inside-the-beltway navel-gazing usually made by people who think everything is fine, the problems are just politics, and the black smoke seeping into the air ducts is nothing to worry about.

What IS the point, is brain trauma and what the league intends to do about arresting the idea that it makes brain trauma instead of combats it. What IS the point, is diminishing youth football participation because parents see Issue A. What IS the point, is the scope of player advocacy in an angry political climate. What IS the point, is diminishing viewership by the next generation, and disenchantment from the elder generation. What IS the point, is the growing sense that franchises are severing their ties with the cities and regions in which they operate. What IS the point, is the sense that football is considered less important than the care and feeding of the magnates and oligarchs by the magnates and oligarchs.

But no, they (and in truth we) have been distracted by Jerry Jones and his raging-bear-in-a-a-vat-of-baby-oil coup attempt, because taking sides between Jones and Goodell is a nauseating Hobson’s choice that makes the NFL v. Ezekiel Elliott look like a children’s bedtime story.

The NFL has given is a cavalcade of issues in which there is nobody to root for and a panoply of characters to root against. While that anti-hero plot dodge may have worked for The Sopranos, the Sopranos ended more than a decade ago, and the culture and the nation is lurching violently toward something else – something that may or may not include football.

That’s what Goodell’s job actually should be -- figuring out the future -- and then it will be the job of his successor. But until the job is redefined to understand that, this is just a juicier-than-normal story of unchained deck chairs and political backstabbing, of which we already have plenty more than we can eat.