Study Shows Domestic Violence Increases after Upset Loss in NFL

March 24, 2011

In a study published online earlier this week by The Quarterly Journal of Economics (2011, Vol. 126, pp. 1-41), two California physicians have reported that domestic violence against women increases significantly in areas where the home fans’ National Football League (NFL) teams just suffered an upset loss at home.

In the article, Family Violence and Football: The Effect of Unexpected Emotional Cues on Violent Behavior, authors David Card and Gordon Dahl report their findings after studying the results of NFL games and comparing those to local police reports of family violence that occurred in a small window immediately following the conclusion of the game. Their study matched NFL game outcomes and family violence reports of six teams: Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, and Tennessee Titans.

When a team lost at home in a game it was favored to win by at least four points, the study discovered a 10% increase in at-home domestic violence by men against women in the local area of the losing franchise. The percentage doubled to 20% when the team lost to a rival.

“Taken together, our findings suggest that emotional cues based on the outcomes of professional football games exert a relatively strong effect on the occurrence of family violence.” (p. 3)

The authors did report that domestic violence cases are still much more frequent during holidays—typically a peak time for domestic violence incidents—although the spike following an NFL team’s loss was approximately equal to the domestic violence reports that occur on hot days, also generally a time when domestic violence cases increase.

“In our case, NFL football games are likely to bring couples together, and the emotional cues associated with televised games place women at an elevated risk of abuse.” (p. 38)

Full journal article: The Quarterly Journal of Economics

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NFL Labor Dispute 101 with Braham Dabscheck

March 18, 2011

Just when sports fans were starting to turn their attention away from the NFL labor dispute and toward NCAA March Madness, the fighting between the players and owners has taken center stage once again. And during a time when buzzer-beating underdogs advancing in the NCAA Tournament typically captivates the nation, it’s quite a feat that the NFL has been thrust back into the proverbial water cooler discussions.

San Diego Chargers linebacker Kevin Burnett put the NFL dispute back into spotlight by these comments earlier this week to XX Sports Radio in San Diego about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell:

“Goodell’s full of it. He’s a liar. You’re a blatant liar. ‘It’s our league, it’s we, we love the players, we want the league,’ but what have you done for the players? What have you done, in all honesty, to improve the game, besides fine guys, besides take money away from guys, besides change a game that you’ve never played? … He’s done nothing to improve the game.”

While the players and owners kept comments to themselves during the mediation process, since the NFLPA has decertified, a group of players has filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL and its owners, and the owners have locked out the players, the public verbal sparring has begun once again.

But for those without a law degree or intimate knowledge of player associations, sport leagues, and labor relations, much of what the two sides are bickering about can be a bit confusing. That’s why Fitness Information Technology has turned to Braham Dabscheck for a primer we’ll call NFL Labor Relations 101. Dabscheck, a senior fellow in the Faculty of Law at the University of Melbourne in Australia, is an industrial relations scholar who has conducted research on professional team sports for nearly four decades. He is also the author of a new release, Reading Baseball: Books, Biographies, and the Business of the Game.

Q: With the players’ union decertifying and 10 players filing an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL owners, who as a result locked out the players, which side holds more power at this point?

Dabscheck: “There will be different answers for the short- (off-season) and long-term (when next season should begin). A lockout is an aggressive act by employers attempting to force workers/players to accept their terms and conditions. In the short run it will negatively affect the players. Once the season is scheduled to start, if the lockout continues, the players don’t buckle, and there is no play, that will hurt the owners more. Why? Because they will obtain no revenue. I feel at this stage both sides are testing each other; wanting to see who will blink first. This may suggest that the dispute will drag on to just prior to the new season. If the players haven’t blinked there will be internal pressure from within the owners to lower their eyelids.”

Q: What exactly is an antitrust lawsuit?

Dabscheck: “Owners/leagues introduced rules like the draft, trading, salary caps etc to control players. Such rules (with the exception of baseball) have been found to be in breach of the Sherman Anti Trust Act 1890 (see my chapters 3 and 4). An antitrust suit would be where players challenge such IMPOSED rules as being in violation of such legislation. A way for owners/league to protect such rules from antitrust action is to have them endorsed in a collective bargaining agreement with players/players’ association. This is why the NFLPA has decertified as a Union under the National Labor Relations Act. It removes such protection.”

Q: Is the decertification and lawsuit just a power move or do the players really intend to see the lawsuit run its course?

Dabscheck: “It is both. It is a power move that opens up the owners’ revenue sharing plans, which by definition is a collusive agreement to antitrust action. It is the major bargaining chip at their disposal. To back down would be tantamount to throwing in the towel. The problem for the NFLPA is for players to hold firm. It looks like the action is well supported by players, especially the stars who have the most to lose if the NFL wins.”

Q: Aside from locking out the players, which they have now done, is there anything else the owners can do to try to gain the upper hand in this dispute?

Dabscheck: “If the dispute goes on long enough they would have the option of looking for replacement players, as they have done in the past and as American corporations do in other disputes. This will help to raise the temperature. Fans and commentators may regard this as a devaluation of the NFL product. In short, this is a tactic that has to be played most carefully.”

Q: Will both sides continue to negotiate even though a group of players is suing the owners and the owners have locked out the players?

Dabscheck: “Yes. Negotiations will occur formally and informally. Also, various intermediaries will be active behind the scenes.”

Q: Can you give us your best projection of how this will play out and how, if at all, the 2011 NFL season will be affected?

Dabscheck: “This is a tough question. It looks like the owners want a fight. They may or may not be solid on this. The NFL has experienced much growth and success in recent years. The owners will feel less inclined to fight when they start to experience costs (loss of revenue). Assuming the players don’t capitulate, the 2011 season may be disrupted. If the owners (or enough of them) perceive that the players aren’t likely to cave in and the use of replacement players will cause different types of problems, they owners will have an incentive to lower their eyelids.”


Fantasy football lockout might deal with real numbers

February 4, 2011
To some, the idea of playing in a fantasy sport league may seem childish and unnecessary; to others it’s a way of life. With $800 million spent last year on fantasy leagues alone, the leagues are hard to ignore. As the industry becomes more widely followed and the fans become more involved, it’s hard to imagine a year without the excitement of drafts and statistics. Some players might say fantasy sports are mostly about having fun, making money, and competing against friends, but the industry is much more complicated. In the probable event that the NFL has a lockout this year, what happens to fantasy football will be much more than simply locking out fans from playing for entertainment.

 There are entire shows on ESPN dedicated to fantasy football statistics, keeping fantasy footballers up-to-date with all of their players.  Many companies are banking on the amount of interest fantasy football incurs each season, such as Yahoo and CBS. According to CNBC online, there are an estimated 21 million fantasy football players bringing in millions of dollars for the industry, and the amount of players continues to grow each year. CNBC also said that 60 percent of the leagues cost money to join and the average league costs $60-80 per team. With statistics like that, it’s easy to see how the leagues bring in such a significant amount of money. For most people, fantasy football wouldn’t be their first concern in the case of a lockout, although for some, it could mean a great financial loss. Advertisers who make money on fantasy football websites and businesses that offer fantasy football software would be greatly affected. For Art of the Fan, a website devoted entirely to fantasy football merchandise, priding itself on original t-shirt designs and the perfect gift for the fantasy fanatic, next season may mean few if any buyers. In the event of a lockout, websites and businesses such as Art of the Fan will have no one to turn to for recourse. The NFL doesn’t endorse this small business along with other similarly small businesses and will have no obligation to help them during the lockout.  

ESPN tells the story of a man named Nathan Harrington who was on medical leave from his job and was subsequently evicted from his apartment, leaving him, his fiancé and their son homeless. Luckily for him, he had his fantasy team to pull him through. He checked friend’s computers, library, and nursing home computers to keep up with his team. His time and effort finally paid off when he came in first in the league on ESPN, making $2,500 that would ultimately help find a way off of the street. What would have happened to Nathan Harrington if the season had been canceled? Fantasy football gave him and his family a second chance. Obviously, while this is a not a scenario that is highly likely for the average American, but it is something to think about in the upcoming months.

Many leagues use pre-draft boards to organize members and players.

Fantasy draft parties make up a large part of fantasy revenue for businesses. On Squidoo you can find tips for what not to do in when you become a fantasy football coach. Yahoo also features a community site, Associated Content,where you can find an extensive list of tips for planning your next NFL draft party. If planning your own party is not for you, you can head over to bars like Hooters that held a staggering 25,000 draft parties this year, offering free draft kits with each reservation.

Most of the discussion on the possibility of an NFL lockout revolves around effects it will have on the owners and player’s union but the true victims in this situation could be the fans. Without a fantasy football season to concentrate on, fans may turn to other fantasy sports, leaving fantasy football in the dust. Similarly, without an NFL season for fans to follow, other leagues may grow in popularity, such as the MLB, NBA and NHL.  During the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Ken Dryden, former NHL goaltender stated, “You never want to give a fan a chance to find out whether it was passion or habit.” The lockout could potentially benefit other sports leagues by taking the most popular sport in America out of the entertainment scene. Time magazine online states that, “for fans, well, no football wouldn’t just be a bitter disappointment that could rearrange their fall weekend schedules, but also a betrayal of intense loyalty that could permanently damage America’s best sports brand.” It’s not just going to affect the sport for one season; this cancellation could mean the loss of fans for many years to come. Those who aren’t already lifelong fans may decide that football isn’t worth the time and money spent following the teams.

There are young men, some as young as eight years old, who dedicate their lives to perfecting their skills as football players and one day dream of making it to the NFL. What will happen if this lockout turns into more than just one season? Many of the boys and men who have trained their entire lives to play in the NFL may lose hope for success. For the owners and the players, there are more things than just wage percentages that must factor into the potential 2011 lockout; they should consider the long-term effects the canceled season will bring. There are millions of fans and businesses who will suffer from this lockout which could potentially harm the football industry for years to come. After all, without fans, there wouldn’t be any football.



Players Becoming More Outspoken about NFL Safety Measures

December 2, 2010

Just as the National Football League season heads into the final few weeks and fans’ interest peaks in anticipation of the playoffs, Commissioner Roger Goodell has a growing public relations dilemma.

Reacting in part to several scientific studies recently conducted about the effects of concussions, the NFL has made player safety a priority. One way the league did so was by enforcing rules regarding hitting “defenseless” receivers and striking players “helmet to helmet.” As a result, a bundle of fines and flags have been thrown at the feet of players this season.

But now the NFL may need to react to a groundswell of confusion and anger by players who say they believe the NFL has become too protective, too inconsistent, and too quick to issue fines for players who violate the rules. What’s ironic is that the very players the NFL is attempting to protect from head injuries are the ones complaining about the rules, claiming that aggression is being removed from the game.

While at first it was a select few defensive players who had reputations for being quick-tempered that were speaking out against the NFL’s new crackdown on cracking heads, this week the source of criticism has crossed the line of scrimmage. Offensive players, such as Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward, are now joining the crowd that claims the NFL is unfairly and inconsistently punishing certain defenders for aggressive play on the field.

In fact, Ward, one of the most respected players in the game, went so far as to call the NFL brass “hypocrites” because if player safety was such a concern, he argues the NFL wouldn’t have recently agreed to extend the regular season from 16 to 18 games (although the preseason schedule will be reduced).

While Ward is concerned about his perception that players are being treated unfairly by the NFL, he is also likely looking out for the interest of his own team, because the Steelers have made a reputation of being a hard-hitting defense, and teammate James Harrison has been fined four times for $125,000 by the NFL for hits it deemed were against the rules.

“If they’re so concerned about safety, why are you adding two more games? That right there tells it all,” Ward told a group of reporters. “They don’t care about the safety of the game. If they’re worried about concussions … mandate each player has a new helmet. They don’t do that. They collect money from every helmet (company) that pays them enough money to get their helmets on the field. Now they have three different helmets, and none of them (are) proven that they work.”

But Ward didn’t stop there. He claimed hypocrisy by the NFL on other things, from gambling to alcohol, and truthfully he raises some interesting points.

“Talk about safety, but you add two games. Talk about you don’t want players to drink, but our major endorsement is Coors Light. That’s all you see is beer commercials. … You say you don’t want us to gamble, but you have (point) spreads.”

Ward’s comments have certainly ignited an already hotly debated issue. The NFL, now, must figure out a way to douse the flames while attempting to balance player safety with player satisfaction.


TV Networks Getting Too Involved in Sports Contests?

October 19, 2010

Much of the country was either asleep or watching Texas polish off the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS on TBS, but late in ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast of the Tennessee Titans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, an odd turn of events occurred and the revelation of why should be unsettling to sports fans and media critics.

With Tennessee leading 23-3 late in the fourth quarter and attempting to run out the clock, Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio began burning his three timeouts. Sports fans have all seen coaches use timeouts late in games when trailing in hopes of pulling off a miraculous comeback, even when logic indicates no comeback is possible. So what Del Rio did by calling timeouts even after the two-minute warning didn’t warrant anything other than a, ‘Oh c’mon, Del Rio, your team has no chance,” reaction. That is, until Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher spoke during his postgame press conference when questioned about why his offense continued to run the ball rather than asking the quarterback to take a knee.

“Jack used his timeouts,” Fisher said. “My understanding is they needed network timeouts, and that’s why Jack used his timeouts. They came over and asked me to do it, but I said, ‘I was hoping to get a first down and kneel on it.’”

That’s right. According to Fisher, ESPN representatives lobbied the coaches of both teams to call timeouts late in the fourth quarter of a game where the outcome was not in doubt simply so they could broadcast commercials.

NFL games typically include five commercial breaks per quarter that were sold by the broadcasting network. Prior to Jacksonville calling timeout, there had only been three advertising breaks in the fourth quarter, with the impending two-minute warning set to provide a fourth. So if neither team had called timeout and Tennessee ran out the clock, which it was content in doing, ESPN would have been one commercial break short in the fourth quarter.

“You can check with Jack. It didn’t bother me at all,” Fisher said. “I believe that they asked them to use them. It’s the first time I’ve heard of it. I just said I would have a hard time using them, because I’m ahead.”

Because of the stoppage in play, Tennessee continued to run the football and running back Chris Johnson broke free for a 35-yard touchdown, pushing the lead to 30-3. So in essence Del Rio succumbing to ESPN’s lobbying caused his team to lose by an even wider margin.

But what if an additional score was not all that happened during the additional plays created by the timeouts? What if a player had gotten seriously injured (several concussions occurred the previous day in the NFL)?

But this isn’t the only time this season on-field action has been affected by TV networks. Notre Dame first-year head coach Brian Kelly openly talked prior to the season about how Notre Dame and NBC executives met to determine how NBC’s length, frequency, and timing of commercial breaks could be altered during its broadcasts of Notre Dame home games to serve as an advantage for the Fighting Irish, who under the guidance of Kelly hoped to employ a fast-paced offense.

Fans had learned to live with the fact that TV networks for years have determined start times for games, whether it be determining the day of the week or the actual tip/kickoff time. College football is now broadcast by ESPN on Saturdays, Thursdays, and Fridays (to the chagrin of high school football fans). And ESPN and other networks that broadcast live sporting events often dictate that start times are pushed back or moved up to inconvenient times for home fans simply for convenience of the networks.

But when TV networks begin lobbying coaches to call timeouts during games, the networks are approaching gonzo journalism status.


NFL’s 18-game season: 8 reasons to think twice about it

October 8, 2010

Hines Ward has a point. The veteran Steelers’ receiver believes that he might be the “last double-digit guy” to play in the NFL, meaning that once the season is extended to 18 games, most players are going to retire from football before they reach a decade of playing time. Ward, like other NFL athletes, usually has a difficult time finishing out the season—the wear and tear from frequent blocking, tackling, and running can take a mean toll throughout the year for any NFL athlete. ESPN.com mentioned that Ward’s shoulders ache badly with every pass reception, and his legs take heavy wear and tear on artificial turf surfaces, not to mention he gets tackled by some of the world’s biggest and fastest athletes.

Although the proposal for adding two games includes taking away two games from the preseason, there can be no denying the vast differences in pre-season and regular season play when it comes to taking a toll on first-string, first-rate players like Ward.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and a large proportion of league owners want the extended season, because, as Goodell says, it “would give fans more games worth watching and eliminate some that are next to meaningless.” Also, it must be noted, the fans aren’t so crazy about the preseason, either.

But let’s call this for what it is: Money. I can guarantee you Goodell isn’t supporting this because of the soft spot in his heart for the fans, and just as well the players certainly want to get paid the most they can get. As the NFL has become more commercialized and organized throughout the years, the seasons have increased in length—in the 1950s, schedules were 12 games long; in the 60s it grew to 14 games. With a longer stretch of 18 games, we’re likely to see a lot of extra money changing hands—through TV channel deals, advertisements, ticket sales, concessions—so far at the expense of the players. But should we care? They, after all, are making hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, and they are playing to the wishes of the fan base. At least the players don’t seem to be hiding behind the pretense that they are only concerned about injuries and time on the road.

“I might get in trouble, I might get a call, but it’s all about money,” said Steelers safety Ryan Clark. “If you want guys to play 18 games, there is some ways guys are going to have to be compensated for that.” Clark also made a good observation when he said that the NFL is contradicting itself after levying new rules to protect players from concussions and injuries, yet is now pushing to put players into a new realm of injury threats.

Steelers’ Charlie Batch has the dubious distinction of being the team’s player representative, and he, according to ESPN, is opposed to expansion because of the risk of injury, something injury-prone Batch knows well. But even he, like others, admits the concept of a longer season in the 21st century will be a new beast. But what can we expect to change? What should we look for?

1. Injuries will rise: Yes, there might be an equal amount of games, but seriously folks, preseason football is like watching college lacrosse—mildly entertaining, but in the end nobody outside of the lacrosse community really cares. In the NFL pre-season we get to watch for new talent, unused quarterbacks, and third stringers trying to make the cut, but without the fun and fanfare of a good intercollegiate game. Lackluster performances by the first-tiered starters mar the action, and the heat is dialed way down, compared to the spine-shaking hits and daring passes into double tomahawk coverage that accompanies play later on in the season–when it counts.

2. The hidden talent dynamic will shift: According to technews.com, Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday,the Colts’ quarterback and center, believe an 18-game season could work severely against undrafted rookies that are trying to make the team. Indianapolis is one of the league’s best at discovering overlooked and hidden talent, and could very well suffer from the advantages of pre-season rookie jubilees. Untested and unproven players will have fewer opportunities to showcase their talents in real games, and will therefore miss out on valuable roster positions.

3. The roster size will expand: As players become injured, strained, and fatigued, someone will have to fill the gaps, so we should anticipate larger drafting pools and a deeper dip into the well of new talent.

4. Network TV wars: This depends on how the NFL sorts out the bye weeks. They might altogether lose the bye weeks (in order to ratchet out a more fluid, regular season schedule), and fuse a schedule that lands games on Thursdays and Saturdays, which might cause the divorce rate to skyrocket. Does this mean we’re going to have more regular games going to cable coverage? It’s already a nasty smack against the blue collar Joes and Janes that can’t afford to watch ESPN for some Monday Night Football action. It just ain’t American.

5. The NCAA might get angry: If games are pushed into Saturday, we’ll be watching two bloated, cumbersome, money-hogging juggernauts slapping each other upside the helmet for financial rights to the Saturday piece of football pie. Think about it. Texas/OU’s Red River Rivalry, or the Cowboy/Redskins game? Some fans will probably spontaneously explode, or fantasy football players won’t have enough time to scout players prior to their fantasy drafts.

6. Losing teams will hurt more financially: By the NFL’s statistics, 14 franchises didn’t make money or were in the red last year. Let’s imagine the Raider fans being asked to pick up a hike in revenue to cover the cost of two more games that nobody wants to attend. You tell them the news, because I’m not going to do it.

7. What about the (not so little) linemen?: Getting personal, Sean Bubin, a friend and former NFL lineman, spoke to me about the dregs of being on the line. Bubin was drafted in 2004 by the Jaguars, and he played for the Lions and Vikings before spending time abroad with the Hamburg Sea Devils for NFL Europe—he retired at the ripe old age of 26. “I seized up—I couldn’t bend my limbs anymore,” said Bubin. “It happens to a lot of us.” Medical News Today cites that the average NFL career length in 2008 was 4.6 years, and only 7% of players made it past Hines Ward’s magic double-digit number of 10 seasons in the league. We may say we’re paying NFL players a boatload of money, but when you waste your body away in four or five years, that money better be worth it. According to the Boston Globe, Bubin only made $360,000 in his final, one-year contract with the New England Patriots.

8. DUI incidents will rise: Okay, so I made this one up, but it sounded good. And I’ll probably be right.


How do small towns produce so many pro athletes?

September 23, 2010

 

I’m sure you’ve seen Friday Night Lights. Or perhaps you’ve watched Hoosiers or Varsity Blues or any of the other hordes of small-town sports movies that showcase the standard formula—a group of high school kids with nothing else to do band together to overcome long odds to succeed. It’s as if the mythos of the small town somehow breeds magic and success into the blood and bones of the young athletes

The myth-and-fact farrago of these movies—emblazoned in our minds by pop culture—might be more science and sociology than we think. Sport psychologist Jean Côté co-authored studies that use statistics to show that small towns are producing more top-tier athletes than cities—a lot more. In an article by the Wall Street Journal, writer Austin Kelley uses NFL quarterback Jason Campbell (Oakland Raiders) as an example of how growing up in small-town Taylorsville, Mississippi, (pop: 1,341) can be a positive reinforcement to young athletes, a contrast to big-city sports that Côté says is “overorganized and overcoached.”

Also of note is the NFL-famous town of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania (Pop: 11,734), that has churned out the likes of “Iron” Mike Ditka, Sean Gilbert, Tony Dorsett, and Ty Law. In 2007, Aliquippa added two more names to the NFL—Derrelle Revis (Aliquippa High/Pitt) and Paul Posluszny (Hopewell HS/Penn State).

The stats are there: although only 25% of our citizens come from small towns, a whopping 50% of the NFL’s ranks are born and raised in cities under a population of 50,000. The same can be said of 45% of the PGA’s golfers. Also of note are the athletes from the NHL (39%), MLB (38%), and NBA (28%). The argument seems to be that young athletes that have a chance to build their confidence—in an environment where the opposition might be somewhat relaxed—might have an advantage over big-city kids who are primed and prepped from a very young age to be a cog in the pro sports machine. Quite often the small-town athletes play several different sports; Aliquippa’s Revis and Posluzny competed in high school basketball against each other since they belonged to rival schools.

The argument, however, isn’t necessarily confined to the great American Midwest or the dusty towns of West Texas. CBS’s 60 Minutes ran a feature on “Football Island”—aka American Samoa—where a population of 65,000 has more than 30 players in the NFL, and more than 200 in Division I college football.* 60 Minutes producer Scott Pelley noted that in the last five years the six high schools on the island have produced 10 NFL linemen, and that a child born to Samoan parents is 56 times more likely to get into the NFL than any kid in America.

But how much of this is truly psychological and/or sociological? In American Samoa’s case, there is little debate that genetics plays a significant role—especially when Pittsburgh Steeler Troy Polamalu is standing over you. But Côté, co-editor of the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, cites a number of factors that lead to “little town” success, some of which were reported in the WSJ. Among the factors cited were, “The accessibility of sports role models in little towns, the cultural values placed on sport, and even the ‘big fish little pond’ effect, which can be a positive reinforcement for young athletes.”

Côté refutes the prevailing notion that children do not need to find a specialized niche early in their sporting careers. They are successful because they do not spend all of their free time learning specialized skill sets.

Pelley reported that, aside from biology, Samoans seem to try hard to overcome their socioeconomic status—their nation is extremely poor. He also reports that the lives of young men are immersed in football culture. If we follow the logic of socioeconomic status and background, we start venturing into Hoop Dreams territory—city boys spend every waking hour trying to get into schools that breathe basketball skills and fine coaching, just so they can get a shot at the pros or a college scholarship.

Wherever the data leads, there is definitely some science in the numbers of small-town athletes. But I think we like to think there’s a lot of magic, too. At least that’s what the movies tell us.

*To be fair, many of them are of Samoan descent, and reside in the mainland United States, Hawaii, and elsewhere.