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Michael SamHistory offers us a lens through which to review our most important decisions. Through this lens, it creates a framework for future decisions based on the hard-earned lessons of the past. It gives us an irrefutable rebuke to our poor choices and affirmation of our good ones. In the gay community, more often than not, the history lesson taught is a simple one – it’s easier to hide. On Sunday, former University of Missouri Defensive End and NFL prospect Michael Sam, in interviews with the New York Times and ESPN, announced he was gay and decided to treat history like he treats offensive lineman – by casting it aside. In doing so, he becomes the first athlete in the four major American sports that will be active while publicly acknowledging his homosexuality. The timing of the announcement is the antithesis of Jason Collins; a player on his way into the league, not on his way out. The question now becomes, “Why does this matter?” The easy route to take with the answer, and one you’ll see as the go-to for media-types, is “because he will be the first openly gay football player” or that “he’s shattering stereotypes.” Those responses answer the question on a much too superficial level – it’s sort of like explaining that electricity works by flipping a switch or a car by turning a key. It doesn’t address the underlying historical context of the question. Who does this affect? Why does this matter? And what does this mean going forward?

On a personal level, this announcement does not resonate with me, nor anyone with my worldview. Michael Sam is brave. But for people like me who do not see the LGBT community as any different from the rest of us, it changes nothing; it simply is another example of how we cater to the army of bigots, providing them with validation that we care what they think, that there really is an argument to be made, and that their opinion somehow matters. It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t. No amount of round-the-clock ESPN coverage, public shaming, or NFL players coming out can make them change their minds. So why does Michael Sam’s decision have huge implications for a greater acceptance of homosexuality?

There are two components necessary to change overarching societal attitudes and prejudices. The first is generational turnover. Widespread adoption of a certain viewpoint – especially one that is seen as being more modern than its inverse –  is driven by population growth of like-minded young people who grow older and transfer those viewpoints to their offspring. This generational turnover engineers the exponential proliferation of a certain set of social perceptions and its transition from the minority to the majority – from fringe belief to societal precept. As more and more children are raised to understand what equality means – not in definition but in unasterisked belief and practice  – the American population will further coalesce into a singular belief system with fewer and fewer outliers. This homogenization of generational moral zeitgeist, in my lifetime, will lead to the LGBT community to becoming less and less marginalized with each passing year. Older generations with more antiquated mindsets begin to die off and are replaced by younger people who are not guaranteed, but at least more likely, to be in line with modernity.

If this idea, as it pertains to the acceptance of homosexuality, was represented by a line graph, it would begin in the late 1960s with a gradual climb. Sparked by the Stonewall Riots of 1969 and the subsequent onset of the gay liberation movement, gays and lesbians began to emerge from the shadows. In 1973, homosexuality was officially removed from the DSM as a mental disorder. If this trend would have continued as the generational turnover hypothesis would suggest, the LGBT community might today enjoy more widespread acceptance. However,  the line then descended sharply due to an unforeseen external force: AIDS. In 1981, the CDC first recognized the oncoming epidemic in a group of five gay men in Los Angeles, and from there, the tide began to shift. It wasn’t until the late 80s and early 90s, with the founding of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools and a greater scientific understanding of the disease, that the Gay Rights Movement really began to take flight. Since then, the line has begun to show the exponential growth that it might have earlier if AIDS had not altered its course.

The second element is flash points. Large-scale transitions in social ideology require seminal moments, both good and bad, that make people take notice. The American Civil Rights Movement had countless over the course of the latter half of the 20th century: Jackie Robinson trotting onto Ebbets in 1947 (more progenitor than flash point), Brown vs. BOE in 1954, Rosa Parks and Emmett Till in 1955, The Little Rock Nine in 1957, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “I Have A Dream” in 1963, the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 by Lyndon Johnson, MLK’s assassination in 1968, and much later, the Rodney King beating in 1992. Similarly, the Gay Rights Movement has a long history of seminal flash points, including the aforementioned Stonewall Riots, the first gay rights parades in 1970, Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978, the AIDS panic, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in 1993, DOMA in 1996, Matthew Shepard’s beating death in 1998, Massachusetts legalizing gay marriage in 2004, and the United States Supreme Court striking down DOMA in 2013. These flash points are not as important as generational turnover, but they still provide ammunition and strength to the advocates. And if the story is profound enough, even some free-thinking children who are being taught intolerance might come to believe that homosexuality isn’t so bad, accelerating the process of change.

Michael Sam’s announcement is a flash point. Though not quite on the same tier of historical significance, it certainly has a place in the previous list. Some may say that the relative unimportance of sports in the grand scheme lessens its impact, but it’s undeniable that sports is a preeminent catalyst of trends in our society. Diversity in sport and acceptance of that diversity is a big deal. Michael Sam’s courage could influence not only closeted gays in sports, but throughout the country. It’s not the final breakthrough that the LGBT community needs, but it is a building block. Together with the invalidation of DOMA, the legalization of gay marriage in 17 states and Washington D.C. since 2004 (11 in the last two years), Tammy Baldwin’s election to the Senate, among others, Sam’s announcement has become a small part of a wide-reaching social transformation that remains in progress. Sam has sacrificed his personal privacy to pioneer a cause and thrown himself inside the belly of the beast. American media will track his every move like the Paparazzi. Based on his actions to this point, it seems like he’s ready for it.

So, what is the media’s role in this? On the one hand, they will inevitably create the very story that they will cover, producing so many talking head segments with the title “Will Michael Sam be a distraction?” that they themselves will create the distraction. Ironic, but that’s how media, especially sports media, operates. But on the other hand, the media have proven to also be a sort of social vigilante, an agent that villifies and makes pariahs of players that speak out against gays in sports – Chris Culliver, Torii Hunter, Jonathan Vilma, and others. Perhaps their role is best described as the culprit-cum-watchdog; the criminal, but also the prosecutor and the judge. They will create the distraction but also shame individual players/coaches/front offices that say something stupid.

The last point to examine is something I wrote about last month, that the NFL does not want an openly gay player. Sam is projected as a mid-to-late first round pick; anywhere from the third to the sixth round seems reasonable. If he somehow falls out of the draft entirely, the NFL’s will no doubt be the saboteur. Progressive teams in progressive cities (Seattle, San Francisco, New York Giants/Jets come to mind) will certainly consider him as long as he fits into their defensive schemes and philosophy. NFL Spokesman Greg Aiello released a statement saying “”We admire Michael Sam’s honesty and courage. Michael is a football player. Any player with ability and determination can succeed in the NFL. We look forward to welcoming and supporting Michael Sam in 2014.” It seems that Sam has now forced the NFL’s hand. If he goes undrafted, the resulting firestorm will be a PR disaster. I believe that Roger Goodell does not think the league –  the players and coaches, not the fans – is ready. But, Sam owning this story and coming out ahead of the combine and the draft, makes it impossible for Goodell to delay any longer. I’m fascinated to see what happens in the coming months, but one thing is for sure: Michael Sam has stamped his fingerprint firmly on the history, and the future, of gay people in professional sports.

Budweiser Ad Sinks

Once separated by an ocean, thousands of miles of empty sky, and a violent war, two lovers embrace, their separated souls at long last rejoined. The man wears a military combat uniform, and the woman’s ethereal voice sounds blissfully joyous. A couple reunites, overflowing with happiness in an (empty?) airport, what could be better? What if I was to tell you that it was all caught on camera? Would that be something you might be interested in? Pardon the Entourage reference, but wouldn’t you know it, it IS all caught on camera! Looks like Anheuser-Busch is up to its old tricks again. Another branding ploy, a marketing machination that leases, nay steals, emotional equity from the military to sell a product and make a buck. What do actual veterans get in return? What should they get? We’ll get to that. On Super Bowl Sunday, Budweiser aired a 60 second documentary-style spot, “A Hero’s Welcome,” that followed Lt. Chuck Nadd as he returned home from a tour in Afghanistan, recording the reunion with his girlfriend and a parade in his honor in his hometown of Winter Park, Florida.

 

 

To form your own opinion on this commercial, it’s important to consider the company’s intent. How does one measure the success of a commercial? In leads generation and sales conversion? In laughs and smiles? In tears shed? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee? The answer, of course, depends on the message behind the ad and the objective of broadcasting that message to the public. Without a shadow of a doubt, this ad elicited the response that was intended. It was emotional. It was heartwarming and happy. It was visceral in its simplicity; every word unscripted, every emotion raw. No one in the ad drank Budweiser. Perhaps the company learned its lesson from this 2011 spot, which shamelessly put the beer front, center, and everywhere in between.

 

 

By the way, given the rate of alcoholism in veterans (12% of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan report post-combat alcohol abuse), doesn’t it seem questionable that he’s greeted with a party soaked with Budweiser? The 2011 ad was a misfire, but they actually had a more successful one back in 2007 (are you sensing a theme here?) with this heartfelt standing ovation in an airport for troops returning home. Yes, it was set up – why did AB have cameras there if it wasn’t? But who cares, it was nice and it truly encouraged each and every viewer to recognize members of the military in any way they can.

 

 

Let’s get back to “A Hero’s Welcome.” If the imagery wasn’t enough, Skylar Grey’s beautiful melody then soars in: “I’m coming home, I’m coming home, Tell the world I’m coming home, Let the rain wash away, All the pain of yesterday.” Someone at your Super Bowl party probably calls for the room to be silent. Goosebumps cover our arms, our throats get lumpy, tears slide down our cheeks. We’re not even thinking about Budweiser. We look for a call to action – something that encourages us to donate to military charities, to give a veteran a ride to the grocery store, to help welcome a soldier back home who isn’t Lt. Nadd. But all we get is the Bud logo and “#Salute a Hero.” What is that? Am I supposed to find a veteran on Twitter and write “Thank you for your service. #Salute a Hero”? Honestly, WHY is that hashtagged? And WHAT is the call to action? To use Twitter? That is an empty gesture, a black hole of saccharine altruism.

The commercial, and most of its particular genre of ethos, are masterful works of illusion; specious misdirection that would make David Copperfield jealous (or proud?) – capitalism neatly and effortlessly packaged as patriotism. Distaste for this commercial is not unpatriotic. The distaste arises from an uncomfortable feeling that I get when I watch the ad – it feels at once exploitative, contrived, and worse still, selfish. It’s the worst kind of exploitation because it’s disguised as support, cloaked in an American flag and thus shielded from criticism.

The text in the commercial reads, “Every soldier deserves a hero’s welcome.” So, what about those other troops? The ones that had no one to hug at the airport, who took a taxi home. The ones that came home to PTSD, flashbacks, depression, alcoholism and painkiller addiction. The ones who eventually return to civilian life and struggle to earn an income, possibly ending up as one of the 50,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are currently homeless or in programs aimed at keeping them off the streets. What is Budweiser doing to help them? Confused yet? Me too.

According to its website, Anheuser-Busch and its foundation have donated nearly $11 million dollars to military charities since…wait for it…wait…for…it…1987. Excuse me for a second while I make my shocked face. My rudimentary math skills tell me that that’s 27 years, and my calculator (cut me some slack) tells me that that’s a little less than $410,000 per year. If you’ve done any research into the astronomical cost of purchasing ad time during the Super Bowl, you would know that the company spent $8 million to air the 60 second commercial (more accounting for ad production). If you haven’t done that research, then refer to the last sentence, and as you do, contemplate the math.

It took them 60 seconds to spend the equivalent of 73% of their total donations to military charities ($11 million) from the last 27 YEARS! There’s simply no way that that is somehow a net positive for those military charities. Perhaps the military itself likes it. Young men watch football and like beer, and the military wants to recruit those football-watching, beer-drinking young men. In fact, a few military personnel at the Pentagon are in charge of green-lighting creative projects like this that may tangentially benefit them, and they do so with relative frequency (see: every other brand who has tried to link itself with the military in advertisements). So Budweiser wins, the military wins, the viewers win (a win-win-win is even better than a win-win I’m told). But I think it’s quite clear who the biggest loser here is – the same type of person that Lt. Nadd was supposed to represent – actual veterans. I’m not quite sure how to quantify how many veterans $8 million could have helped or what it could have done for them, but let’s try this exercise:

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s rough estimate, there are 58,000 veterans living on American streets on any given night. If Budweiser were to have split the cash equally among them, that would be $138 per homeless veteran in the ENTIRE country. If Budweiser could have even managed to create a 30 second spot, it could have donated $4 million to the military charities it claims to support. It could have just put the ad on YouTube and saved $8 million. Nearly 9 million people have chosen to watch the ad online so far. That’s far short of the 110 million that allegedly watched the Super Bowl, but once you discount the millions of people watching the game who didn’t watch the commercial, those 9 million people who sought it out and watched it organically on YouTube isn’t half bad.

It’s easier to see problems than it is to create solutions. So here’s my suggestion. Budweiser should have created an ad campaign called “#NoCommercial.” Create a 30 second ad online that stars multiple veterans. They alternately read from the following script:

Soldier 1 (white male): This year, Budweiser has chosen not to air an ad during the Super Bowl.

Soldier 2 (black female): When soldiers like me come back from war, we need more…

Soldier 3 (white female): We need more…

Soldier 4 (black male): We need more than a commercial.

Soldier 2: We need your support…

Soldier 3: Your gratitude…

Soldier 1: And your help.

Soldier 4: With the money that Budweiser saves this year…

Soldier 3: It will donate to organizations that support wounded veterans…

Soldier 2: Veterans that need mental health counseling…

Soldier 1: And veterans that need jobs and a place to call home.

Soldier 3: Go to Budweiser.com to find out more about how Budweiser will help me…

Soldier 2: Will help me…

Soldier 1: Will help me…

Soldier 4: Will help me…

Soldiers 1,2,3,4: Will help us.

Soldier 2: By having “No Commercial”

Outro screen: Budweiser Logo, #NoCommercial, @Budweiser, Budweiser.com

I mean, that took 2 minutes to write, and it’s better than most of the junk that’s out there today. That ad gets MILLIONS of views if Budweiser promotes it the right way. The campaign #NoCommercial alone would get Budweiser more positive brand exposure than it could have ever gotten with “A Hero’s Welcome.” Also, let’s make all Bud packaging in the country completely black for a month leading up to the big game. No logos. No color. Nothing except for some FDA-mandated language – “alcohol may be harmful to your health…pregnant women should not drink,” or whatever it is they require on the packaging. Then put #NoCommercial in big, bold, white lettering.

So congrats Bud, you spent $8+ million to make ONE hero get a hero’s welcome. How many other heroes did you forget about in the process? This Bud’s not for you.

Last week, Bleacher Report published a piece by Mike Freeman insinuating that history was almost made this NFL offseason. Freeman fancies himself an NFL insider, so I’m inclined to believe parts of this particular version despite the likelihood that he and his cabal of NFL journalists are often spoon-fed false information by their “sources.” The crux of the story: Gay NFL free agent sits on proverbial sidelines, ready, willing and able to help a team win games but denied the opportunity. The player, who Freeman ostensibly names, fielded serious inquiries from a number of teams this offseason and was for a time under the impression that he would be signed by one. But, according to Freeman, the team backed out under the threat of media scrutiny.

I don’t believe that was the reason the player wasn’t signed, but wouldn’t it be ironic if it was – if the same media that effusively spews moral-high-ground perspectives on gay acceptance into professional sports was itself the reason that one wasn’t. Regardless, the story would have been media gold, a colossus of a tale that would have Tebowianly devoured weeks of programming time and gave carte blanche to the talking-head pundits to trip over themselves with preachy “It’s about time”s. In my view though, the real story here is not the suggestion that the league was a phone call away from signing a gay player. The real story is why it didn’t happen. To answer this question, follow me on an epic journey (eh, more like a weekend getaway/staycation) to a simpler time when the league purposefully chose to act as the moral authority on two other hot button causes dominating our sociosphere – Breast Cancer Awareness and Supporting the Troops.

The NFL and its marketing cognoscenti have us wrapped around their finger like a size-too-small ring that already lodged itself underneath the second knuckle. Despite our tepid ethical objections to the violence of the game, we’re never going to stop watching until someone dies on the field. Even then. The game is too entrenched in our culture to stop. We love the feeling of waking up on Sunday morning to set our Fantasy lineups, the decision to bolt 11 a.m. church service early to catch the excitement of the opening touchback, and the connection we feel to our family and friends when watching our favorite team play. These people could market the game in their sleep – unless Roger Goodell donned Freddie Krueger claw gloves in their dreams and went on a killing spree, which I wouldn’t completely rule out.

The real stroke of genius lies in building the emotional connections through cause marketing. Let’s start with Breast Cancer Awareness month. In order to make our connection to football more profound, the NFL links our emotions for the game with a calculated mirage of altruism and philanthropy – an artful yet saccharine ruse of public image cultivation that makes us see the league as an essential paladin of breast cancer awareness. “Wow, the NFL cares so deeply about women, look at all the pink on the field! They even have pink towels! Or wait, is that a penalty flag? That wasn’t pass interference stupid ref!” I don’t know how much of the profit from this blatant pinkwashing campaign actually goes towards breast cancer research, but if you give me an over/under bet, I’m taking the under. No need to specify the line. Here’s an idea: October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, National Book Month, and Richie Incognito’s least favorite month of the year, National Bullying Prevention Month. Maybe the league should show some love towards these deserving causes as well.

We’ll now move our tour to November. Once the cloying pink binge of October comes to an end, we are treated to the NFL’s “Salute to Service” (<whispering> sponsored by USAA. Shhhh.). The league donates $300 to a few different deserving military charities for every point scored in 32 games during the month of November. Last year, the jackpot ended up at $800,000. Not chump change, but certainly not a magnanimous offering.  The league also donates 100% of the proceeds from the camouflage apparel auctions to other military charities.

Because of what I’m sure was the measurable Q-rating-esque success of the initiative last year, iiiit’s back! As a result, the NFL basically gets the keys to associate its brand with the military in any way it sees fit. Drew Magary at Deadspin recently suggested that it’s “the world’s cheapest licensing agreement.” One thing he overlooked was the league’s partnership with USAA, also known as the checkbook behind Salute to Service, or in the league’s corporate-speak, “The Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the NFL” whatever that means. While terms of the 4-year agreement are not disclosed, a decent estimate would be $5 million per year that goes to the NFL to give USAA “the right to” use the NFL’s brand to attract new business. So, $5 million (est.) – $800,000 means that the NFL made $4.2 million last year off of this campaign (not accounting for tax breaks for the $800,000 donation). The relationship with the military is the silver bullet for any PR woes that ail the NFL. As the Deadspin article mentions, the NFL gets to “lease the goodwill” of the American military. That’s not an empty phrase. Goodwill, as an accounting term, means that the reputation of a company has an intangible yet very quantifiable value as an asset. This leasing of goodwill provides real monetary value to the league.

Many if not most companies use Veteran’s day, Memorial Day, and other patriotic events as a marketing tool, and that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to show their respect and gratitude to the military using whatever pulpit may be at their disposal. It’s just that the NFL happens to have a massive platform from which to broadcast – its influence boosts whatever cause it’s championing, an approach that uses the asset of goodwill from other groups at a steep discount.

The NFL, without a shadow of a doubt, doesn’t think that anyone will be a big enough jackass to actually criticize its link to the military or to call out the league for scamming the system to reap the image-building and economic rewards of such a partnership. After all, what kind of anti-American Debbie Downer spoilsport doesn’t support something that has to do with our military? Well, just because none of us should ever criticize the courage and dedication of our nation’s bravest citizens doesn’t mean the NFL is bulletproof. They are two different entities, linked only by a corporate partnership of debatable authenticity. The NFL uses the military as a PR shield, an artificial aureole, like a bullied kid in school trying to befriend a kind-hearted but strong student to make sure he’s protected.

So, in a league that is so willing to make profitable connections with issues that tug at our heartstrings, manipulating the fan base like a puppeteer his marionette, why is the league so afraid to get a gay player? It could be the NFL’s next great marketing coup, a brilliant encore to the modestly superficial benevolence of October and November. But it’s not. Why? To be sure, the NFL has a reason for everything it does, or in this case, doesn’t do.

If it’s true that the player in question is gay, I believe it was a conscious decision by the league office. As we’ve explored on our brief sojourn, the NFL is more than willing to associate itself with causes that society cares deeply about, and many of us do care deeply about LGBT rights. The league clearly had the opportunity to sign a gay player, and it could have exerted its powerful influence to make sure that one of the interested teams actually pulled the trigger and signed him. The identity of the player is most likely known. He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber player who still should be in the prime of his career, or very close. It just doesn’t make sense that multiple teams would reverse course so drastically after the initial intention to sign the player to a contract. The only conclusion to draw, in my mind, is that the NFL chose to not have this player in the league, whether because of a perceived danger to him in the locker room or another reason. Hopefully a player already under contract will soon find the strength to come out and inspire others to do the same.

Dramatic, thrilling, suspenseful, competitive, patriotic. These are just a few of the reasons why we love the Olympics, and it’s now safe to say that NBC has lost the vision of why they really matter. Although the $1.18 billion it paid for the exclusive rights to London 2012 gives it the right to broadcast the content in any way it sees fit, the games have become a spoon-fed sequence of non-sequential events; “The Bachelor” in sport form. I take no issue with NBC’s decision to put most high-profile events on tape-delay, but the theatrical presentation has become nearly unbearable.

At best, it’s a brilliant choreography of production, editing and storytelling. A real-life puzzle poetically arranged to deliver the best stories at the best times to the greatest amount of viewers. At worst, it’s a slap in the face to true drama, a fabricated pastiche of sports television and an admission from NBC that it doesn’t believe that its viewers can enjoy the Olympics for their true value. It also may be a final goodbye to the Olympic drama of the past and a requiem to the suspense that used to define the games, delivered condescendingly and without apology to an American public that deserves better.

NBC has treated us like barnyard animals feeding at a trough, waiting with anticipation and hunger for the next story that it considers to be worthy.The winner? When NBC televised three swimming events and a set of volleyball before Gabby Douglas’ final, gold medal-winning floor exercise routine during the women’s all-around final in an attempt to manufacture drama. Did it not realize that the vast majority of its audience already knew the result? Just show it to us already and let millions of young American girls watch their new idol win gold while still getting to bed at a reasonable hour.

It’s interesting that despite NBC’s best attempts to alienate its viewers, ratings thus far have been huge. NBC had predicted a 20 percent ratings decline from Beijing in 2008 but instead has enjoyed a 9 percent increase. In addition, through Wednesday, an average of 35.6 million viewers had tuned in per night. Unfortunately, the network has brushed off the vitriol spewing from the collective voice of journalists, bloggers and social media users, calling them the “loud minority.” Twitter has been especially vocal, with many users lambasting NBC for its tape-delayed coverage in the “Twitter age.” Twitter has been the primary catalyst driving the rapid acceleration of news and, in some cases, shoddy, “me-first” reporting, but NBC is literally staring it in the face and saying, “We just don’t care.” Actually, I don’t see the logic in complaining about the tape-delay due to NBC’s outstanding decision to live-stream almost every single event online.

But, instead of responding to the social media outrage by directing users to register for the live streams, NBC has brushed the criticism aside and let its prime-time ratings do the talking. This logic is anything but impeccable. People watch the Olympics because they love the Olympics, not because they love NBC’s coverage. In the process, it has broken one of the principal rules of business by ignoring the most vocal, influential and tech-savvy consumers. That’s what is usually known as a short-sighted approach to business. A business’ most vocal and influential customers will always be a minority, and rejecting their opinions is unwise. The Twitterverse should be buzzing with compliments on the quality of the online video streams and how it’s nice to watch the events live from the office, not with relentless criticism and hashtags like #NBCFail. It’s NBC’s fault that the focus is on the tape-delayed prime-time coverage and not the innovative, ground-breaking live streams.

Although there undoubtedly are millions of Americans with no cable, satellite or telco subscription, which is required to view the online streams, it’s only a small hassle to register on NBCOlympics.com. Reportedly, the live feeds have been quite dependable, including streams for apps on iPhones, Android and tablets. But here’s the problem, and by the way, these statistics come straight from an NBC press release on August 3:

UNIQUE USERS

London 2012 Beijing 2008
NBCOlympics.com computer 31.5 million 29.1 million
NBCOlympics.com mobile website 5.2 million 2.8 million
NBC Olympics Live Extra app 7.0 million NA
NBC Olympics app 2.7 million NA

Okay, so that looks pretty good. There’s clearly a bit of overlap, so for simplicity’s sake, let’s say that there have been 40 million unique users in total. Care to venture a guess as to how many cable, satellite or telco subscriptions have been verified out of those 40 million unique users?

6.2 million.

Standing on its own, that is clearly a huge number and represents how far we’ve come in the digital age. However, 6.2/40 = .155. So, 15.5 percent of all unique visitors to NBC’s various online platforms are registering with their cable, satellite or telco subscriptions to watch live streams. That’s not good.

NBC already owns the rights to every Olympics until 2020, so hopefully the failures in London will serve as a learning experience. As mobile use continues to skyrocket, it should continue to simplify the online registration process and add features for future games for users who want to live stream. But, it absolutely must reconsider its current strategy of only televising high-profile events during prime-time. The problems could be easily fixed by simply airing these in-demand events live on NBC, CNBC, MSNBC or NBCSN and then again on tape-delay for those who couldn’t watch during the day.

If this happens, Wheel of Fortune fans will mourn. But fortunately, true fans of sport will rejoice.

Yesterday, NCAA President Mark Emmert levied penalties on the Penn State football program resembling the athletic equivalent of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown in nearby Harrisburg, PA. The sanctions on Penn State University will include vacating 111 wins from 1998 through 2011, a $60 million fine to be donated to external child abuse prevention programs, a four-year bowl ban and the revocation of 40 scholarships over the same time span. Emmert spoke for nearly 45 minutes at the press conference, delivering a farewell speech to the football program that was not so much a eulogy as it was a scathing condemnation of the newly-minted pariah of the NCAA.

As the NCAA set the plan in motion to annihilate Penn State football, Rodney Erickson was cornered. This past weekend, the NCAA reportedly informed the Penn State University president that he had a choice between multiple years of the death penalty for the football program and a crippling array of sanctions that would extend for four years. Given the choice, Erickson made the correct decision. Penn State games will still sell out. In fact, given the incredible support that the fan base has shown in recent months, demand may even rise. Each home game has a massive economic impact for State College and the surrounding area, and multiple years of an empty Beaver stadium would have wreaked havoc on the university, the town and countless businesses that depend upon revenue derived from football games. According to the Wall Street Journal, Penn State football generated $161.5 million for the state of Pennsylvania in 2009.

Ironically, Emmert criticized Penn State’s “lack of institutional control” while proving that his own organization has exactly the same problem. He ascended to his current post in October of 2010 and immediately sought to shake the traditional notions of the NCAA; weak, ineffective and toothless. A chihuahua at the dog park trying desperately to bark loud enough to convince the big dogs to fear his bite. Emmert wanted so badly to prove that the NCAA had teeth that he violated his own organization’s rules. How’s that for institutional control?

Emmert was convinced that the only way to solve the NCAA’s Napoleon complex was to pull the trigger on this ruthless punishment. The only problem is that the NCAA, by precedent and by its own bylaws, has no authority to punish schools for moral transgressions, however depraved, sinful or Sanduskian they may be. The NCAA is no moral authority on anything. In fact, last time I checked, it was making millions of dollars off of the hard work and talent of the semi-free labor of its “student-athletes.” Emmert claimed to want to “reform” the athletic culture of universities, but instead administered a brand of frontier justice that creates no precedent whatsoever for future cases to be judged against. Penn State would be crucified in the court of public opinion if it decides to fight the sanctions, so Emmert also forced the penalties onto a defenseless public university.

Emmert and the NCAA violated due process and overstepped their legal authority, but the point is that they did not have to. The heinous crimes committed are a Jerry Sandusky problem. They are a Graham Spanier problem, a Tim Curley problem and a Gary Schultz problem. They were also very much a Joe Paterno problem. Sandusky has faced his day of reckoning and been declared fit for society only in the solitary confines of a dark prison cell. Spanier, Curley and Schultz will soon be punished for their own indifference, inaction and as Emmert himself put it, “hero worship” of Joe Paterno. Sandusky’s enablers were in charge of the university when all of this happened, and they failed miserably to protect the dozens of boys that Sandusky molested. But they will be judged, and they will be judged harshly. The NCAA had no place to penalize Penn State’s students, coaches and athletes for the crimes of the Sandusky Society.

I would be willing to bet that Erickson and Penn State would have listened if the NCAA would have requested that they simply donate the $60 million to charities as an act of goodwill. Too bad they didn’t ask. Instead, Emmert channeled his and the NCAA’s inner chihuahua and maimed the football program at Penn State for years to come. Congratulations.

Oscar Pistorius“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records” – William Arthur Ward

For every evil, there is an equal and opposite good. Although that’s not exactly what Newton meant, I’m sure he would approve of the slight modification. After an exhausting few months of Penn State and Jerry Sandusky dominating headlines, it seems right that the perfect protagonist has emerged to rebalance the scale. The South African Olympic Committee announced today that double-amputee Oscar Pistorius, the Blade Runner, will be a part of the team running the 400 meters and the 4×400 relay. In doing so, he will become the first amputee athlete to ever compete at the Olympic Games.

What this isn’t is a sappy, cloying personal interest story that NBC uses to keep non-sports fans tuned in. Pistorius has achieved something truly extraordinary, something transcendent. He has achieved something that was not thought possible – the mere suggestion that a double amputee could compete in the Olympics – in sprints – would have been laughed at before Pistorius began his ascent to the top. Most of us can wake up every day and be thankful that we can roll out of bed and land safely, if not deftly, on our own two feet. Oscar Pistorius has no such luxury. He was born without fibulae in his legs and had them amputated just below the knee when he was 11 months old. Turns out, he was fine without them because of what he was born with: more courage, determination and perseverance than most of us could ever hope to have. As Charles Portis would say, he was born with True Grit.

I can’t learn anything from him on what it’s like to live without legs. Neither can anyone else who has a fully present and functioning lower half. In fact, Oscar Pistorius hasn’t taught us anything because he hasn’t needed to. He has shown us. He has stared disability, disadvantage and sometimes disdain in the face and literally outran them. Instead of giving in to one of the most legitimate excuses we’ve ever seen in sport, he used all the tools at his disposal – toughness, skill, hard work, and yes, a little bit of science – to achieve the unachievable. Pistorius has shown us that we can overcome any obstacle, no matter how great. He has given people around the world an example to point to that directly refutes the phrase, “No, I can’t.”

It doesn’t really matter if he medals in London. In fact, he probably won’t. But if he, or the 4×400 relay team gives the performance of a lifetime, the sight of Pistorius leaning forward on his carbon-fiber blades as a medal is draped around his neck would be one of the most inspirational moments in sports history and an enduring image in the minds of anyone that calls themselves a sports fan. More than that, it would be something that disabled people all over the world could look to as a historic moment of equality, an affirmation of acceptance and an inspiration to fight on. And if he doesn’t win a medal, it really doesn’t matter. He’s already accomplished what should have been impossible.

In a world that’s cluttered with villains, criminals and miscreants like a certain prisoner in the Pennsylvania state prison system, the story of Oscar Pistorius provides a welcome relief. A 30 for 30 certainly is not far off, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a movie is in the works as well. He would probably have to play himself, because I would think the market for stunt doubles that can sprint a 45 second 400 on two blades is pretty small.

The Olympics are still a few weeks away, but I absolutely cannot wait to watch Pistorius run and represent his country. Pistorius is not a passenger on this ride, and his competitors should not take him lightly. Throughout his life, he’s shown the ability and the desire to prove everyone wrong, and no one should be surprised if he does it again in London.

Update: Perhaps Pistorius’ success brought him too close to perfection, too close to sublime – Icarus incarnate. He now awaits trial for the murder of his ex-girlfriend in South Africa. Perhaps a more appropriate quote to have begun the story with would have been from Abraham Lincoln – “Nearly all man can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Blackened lives
Sunless skies
Our bare world weeps
Black hearts now reign

This is a lyric from a band you’ve probably never heard of called Unearth, but I felt that it properly represented Jerry Sandusky’s execrable contribution to this world. Last night, in Bellefonte, PA, Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 counts, and his reign of terror over his victims finally, mercifully, met its end. Prosecutors claimed that he sexually abused 10 boys over a period of 15 years. They, and everybody else, know it was much more and much longer than that. His organization, The Second Mile, which provided him with a nearly bottomless cache of vulnerable, fatherless victims, was founded in 1977. Once again, 1977. You do the math, because I really don’t want to. Hopefully, the other victims that we don’t even know exist have taken some sort of solace in the guilty verdict and are receiving the emotional help and support that they need.

Aside from the unfathomable physical pain and psychological torture that 68-year-old Jerry Sandusky’s victims have endured and will continue to endure for the rest of their lives, the greatest tragedy in this case is Sandusky’s old age. When Sandusky exits this planet, he will receive a permanent respite from the suffocating ignominy and shame that he brought upon himself, his family and Penn State University. Society will be spared of his existence, but his death will be a tragedy, as he will no longer have to suffer in a prison where solitary confinement would be a gift. We can only hope that wherever he ends up will be worse than a life behind bars. If Hell does exist, there will be a special cage on the 50-yard line reserved just for him, complete with a great view of a black, inescapable eternity.

The haunting testimony from the cavalcade of victims described in detail the acts of a pederast and revealed how the secretive culture of a university acted as a sentinel and provided a safe house for his pedophilia. Penn State University aided, abetted and rationalized his conduct all in the name of shielding the football program from public humiliation and protecting the Penn State brand. How’s that brand looking now? During an interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly struggled to find words to answer Schaap. The question: “What took so long?” Unfortunately for Penn State, it will have to answer that question and explain its indifference to the world.

Athletic Director Tim Curley and former VP of Business and Finance Gary Schultz are charged with failure to properly report suspected child abuse and perjury for lying to the grand jury and will face their first hearing on July 11. Former President Graham Spanier has not yet been charged, but indications are that charges will be forthcoming. Around the time that the trial started, NBC News released a report with this bombshell:

Internal e-mails and documents they say show former President Graham Spanier and others discussed whether they needed to tell authorities about a 2001 allegation involving a late-night encounter between a naked Sandusky and a young boy in the Penn State shower room. The sources say documents show Penn State even did legal research on the issue. But in one e-mail exchange, two sources say, Spanier and former vice president Gary Schultz agreed it would be ‘humane’ to Sandusky not to inform social services and the incident never got reported.

Whoa. If these e-mails say what NBC is reporting, they will prove without a doubt that Spanier, Curley and Schultz conspired to harbor Sandusky and looked the other way as vicious crimes were being committed on their watch. I’m no expert, but sounds like these boys would be well advised to hire a good lawyer (hint: avoid Amendola) that will get the best plea deal possible, because they don’t want this going to trial. They’ll end up right next to their old buddy Jerry. I wonder if it was worth it.

Penn State now must put as much distance between itself and Sandusky’s accomplices as possible. Some people, whether Curley, Schultz, Spanier, other Penn State employees or the university itself, are about to get annihilated, and it won’t be “humane.” Penn State is staring at the possibility of a scorched earth, not just for the athletic department, but for the entire university. The once-respected institution could be immolated as a warning to others, and deservedly so. It hired administrators who willingly ignored the warning signs and who cared more about their jobs than the well-being of children. It had the power to stop it and chose not to. And it didn’t just stand by idly as this was happening. It willingly and actively took steps to give Sandusky carte blanche to continue to play his despicable game.

Penn State enabled the abuse, exploitation and rape of innocent children.

It best chew on that as it considers how to respond to the inevitable federal investigation. And it best fire anybody and everybody that could have had knowledge of Sandusky’s actions or the simultaneous cover-up. If not, the university could see its name etched on numerous federal indictments.

Hopefully, some good will come from the legacy of this case. It could lead to more victims coming forward without fear. It could lead to more people acting upon their suspicions and alerting the police. And it could lead to a change in institutional policies at Penn State and across the country that make it impossible for school administrators to conspire to allow abuse to take place. Unfortunately, any good that comes from this case will never compensate for all the evil that Jerry Sandusky created in his lifetime. His victims must live with the permanent memories of the “Tickle Monster,” a man with an infested brain and a soul of miasma who was allowed, and even encouraged, to ruin their lives.

At least today, we can say with confidence that Sandusky is where he belongs. It will be nice if he stays alive and suffers for many years in prison, but if he dies soon, there will be someone eagerly awaiting his arrival. Hopefully the Devil’s got a few tricks up his sleeve for this one.