Ray Ratto

Again, US men's soccer miles away from where it thinks it should be

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AP

Again, US men's soccer miles away from where it thinks it should be

The United States will not be part of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and we will leave you to make all the political jokes you like about the rich veins of irony in that.

 

But this much is true, and indisputably so. When you lose to Trinidad and Tobago, you don’t get to complain about your fate. The U.S. earned the result it received by its play, by its roster, by its organization.

 

Truth is, except for the elite football-playing nations – Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Argentina – this sport is generational. Sometimes the talent is yours to command, sometimes it is not. It is no more complicated than that, and the U.S. was a hodgepodge of age and youth that never fully meshed, and will be remembered for its quizzical looks at each other when things went wrong.

 

But we try to make it that, especially when it comes to the U.S. The country is so big and so wealthy that the logic goes that it should never have fallow periods, but the young stars (re: Christian Pulisic) have always been too few and far between and overhyped by the country that invented hype and overhype. The U.S.’ great failing has been in believing what it tells itself about itself, and it is as it has been for 40 years – a second-level power who is subject to the same ebbs and flows of talent as, say, Sweden or Croatia or even The Netherlands, which failed to qualify this year.

 

And the U.S. is part of a group, CONCACAF (North and Central America), that is nowhere near as difficult as UEFA or CONMEBOL (South America), so this is a fresher reminder that the U.S. is miles away from where it thinks it should be, and probably will be for the rest of our lifetimes. It is structurally flawed from its youth programs up, and still it reached seven consecutive World Cups.

 

So maybe, in the final analysis, this is its true level – in more often than not, and a part of the World Cup without ever actually challenging for it. But “more often than not” includes times when it is not, and this was one of the times when it didn’t deserve to go any further than it did.

For NFL owners, there's tons of cash in self-embarrassment

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AP

For NFL owners, there's tons of cash in self-embarrassment

The National Football League’s monumental inability to do anything but make money for its 32 owners has been discussed for, well, years, and as a shark-jumping exercise, it has finally reached landfall.  

Thus, the Miami Dolphins’ decision to first issue a nine-page discipline doctrine to its players that included a four-game suspension for protesting social issues during the National Anthem, and then walk it back within hours of the predictable outrage reminded us again of that first paragraph:  

That the NFL is only succeeding despite itself because America isn’t yet ready to abandon its football habit.  

But that’s not today epistle. The real question here is what the league’s owners perceive as the benefit they derive from never getting this right – as to give it its proper name, always looking foolish whatever side of the social protest discussion they hold at any point.  

There must be an up-side for the owners here because they are either smart people or have hired smart people, and they have met incessantly about this issue. There must be some profit in looking like dithering cowards and cowardly ditherers all at the same time.  

I’m just damned if I know how they’re doing it.  

The 32 owners, from Mark Davis and Jed York to Jerry Jones and Bob Kraft, are magnificent at making money where none could be found. It’s how billionaires become multibillionaires – having a seventh sense that allows them to divine massive piles of cash where everyone else finds sand.    

So there must be cash in self-embarrassment, and if there is, these 32 folks are the best ever at rooting it out and seizing it.  

Typically this level of persistent failure is accompanied by loss of money, and in some cases the end of the business itself. Football, though, is still in its too-big-to-fail stage, so there is no chance of imminent collapse.  

But dealing with issues this poorly for this long seems to come without punishment other than ridicule, and ridicule is still free. The owners must see some financial advantage in not only refusing to deal with something this simple, but dealing with it by deliberately misunderstanding the nature of social protest, allowing politicians to hijack the topic, punishing players while allegedly supporting them, and ultimately looking like that rarest of nature’s beasts, the cynical spineless bully.  

There’s cash in this stance somewhere, and it is up to a bold forensic accountant to figure out how they do it. My guess is, some yammering owner (my money’s on Jones, because he can’t shut up on any subject) will blow the whole gaff. Owners who used to be religious in their devotion to omerta, the Mafia’s vow of silence, now leak and preen and brag and strut their stuff as though they were the athletes they pay, and Jones is usually the worst at it.  

So I guess we’ll just have to wait until he cozies up to one of his favorite medioids and spills the story of how this seeming failure was actually a success, and how the owners knew what we mere humans could never comprehend:  

That there is money in seeming eternally dumbfounded by something so simple, and wearing that persistent bafflement like a highway worker’s vest and a light-up fez.

They do that, and we will take a knee in honor of their brilliance. Until then, we’ll just continue to assume their bumbling fecklessness is purely accidental.

 

Raiders' exit feels much more imminent after reported broadcaster swap

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Raiders' exit feels much more imminent after reported broadcaster swap

If Mark Davis really has decided to end Greg Papa’s tenure as the radio voice of the Oakland Raiders, then one of the last links between Oakland and the Raiders now is broken.
 
Rumors have spun for the better part of a month that Davis was looking to plant another flag in Las Vegas soil, and within the past few days, veteran network broadcaster Brent Musburger’s name has been linked to the job. Musburger is the main voice at gambling radio station VSiN and lives in Las Vegas, and as such is as recognizable a voice for the town as there is. The news of Musberger's hire by the Raiders was reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal late Tuesday.
 
The news picked up speed earlier Tuesday, first when tweeted out by “FakeRudyMartzke,” a largely credible voice on broadcasting gossip, and then picked up by AwfulAnnouncing.com and The Athletic. 
 
This would just be another inside-broadcasting story, though, if not for the fact that Papa, who's also a host for NBC Sports Bay Area, represents the second incarnation of the Oakland Raiders as Bill King represented the first, and breaking with that two years before the team’s actual departure from the Bay is another stark reminder of that departure.
 
The Raiders have not yet faced a real fan backlash over the decision to leave for Las Vegas, in large part because the process has gone so slowly and involved so many other cities. People have not only had a chance to face the fact that their team is leaving again, but the departure is not yet imminent.
 
Imminent arrives soon enough, though, and with it all the substantive and peripheral changes that will make the Raiders Nevada’s team. That Davis’ decision involves one of his father Al’s most trusted confidants also makes this another break with the old days, thus reinforcing Mark’s control of how the Raiders present themselves to the outside world.
 
The details on why Musburger has signed on for 2018 rather than 2020, when the Raiders are scheduled to relocate, still are to be ferreted out, but a team’s broadcaster, especially one with Papa’s tenure (21 years), is among the most enduring links between that team and its fan base, and change is jarring, especially as a harbinger of even bigger changes.
 
It is a change, though, that Davis is willing to undertake pre-emptively, either out of eagerness to begin the Las Vegas portion of his ownership or some professional/personal dissatisfaction with Papa. It breaks one of the last enduring bonds of this quarter-century of Oakland Raiders football, and with the minimal likelihood that there will ever be a third, this decision borders on the epochal.
 
In other words, Mark Davis now is making the Raiders' departure that much more real, and he's apparently ready to begin facing the belated reaction of a city scorned.