Immigration bans. Border taxes. ACA repeal. North Korea. Russian interference in elections. Yes, these are all important issues, regardless of where you stand on each of them. But Jesus f*cking Christ.
The constant, nonstop fighting, wailing and screeching over each of them makes me want to lose my mind.
Here are some reforms (if you're a sports fan) that are fun to debate and discuss. Next week, Tim Brosnan, former COO of Major League Baseball and a really smart and good guy, will join me on my podcast Firewall to talk about each of them.
1. Just Legalize Steroids Already
This is a no win situation for both Major League Baseball and really all professional sports. No one wants cheating. But drawing the line thoughtfully and intelligently is virtually impossible, leading to endless hypocrisy, confusion and controversy.
The people who produce steroids are always going to be smarter and more nimble than the people who police them. And given that there are only 800 people playing Major League Baseball at any given time (out of a global population of 7.5 billion), of course some professional athletes will do whatever it takes to make it. It's hard to blame them (it's not like most of them have great careers waiting in the wings if they don't make it to the major leagues).
So rather than constantly playing a losing game of cat and mouse, just legalize steroids already. If players want to take it, they will - just like they use countless other medications, training mechanisms and anything else that can give them an edge. In a world that's trending towards legalization of illicit substances (for example, 29 states now allow medical marijuana), the best solution is to put this issue to bed by just letting people do what they want.
2. Allow countries to bid for the Olympics, rather than cities
New York City lost their bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics. It's the best thing that ever happened to them (the site of the proposed Olympic stadium is now the home of Hudson Yards, a brand new city within the city). Hosting the Olympics is simply too expensive for almost any city to rationally entertain, which means we're either left with despots looking to legitimize their reign (Sochi) or second tier cities desperate for attention.
Why not just follow the model of the World Cup and allow countries to host the Olympics? Rather than spending billions to build new infrastructure and event venues that virtually no one will use once the games end, just use what already exists. One city could still serve as the central hub (ideally the nation's capital) and host the opening and closing ceremonies.
The host country could use existing hotels in each market for the athletes, rather than paying to build an Olympic Village. Existing airports, train stations, and roads can be used to service athletic facilities, rather than requiring taxpayers to fund new ones. If we used everything already built, rather than requiring all of it to suddenly exist in one city, the Games could be produced at a fraction of the cost. More fans can participate and enjoy them. The media and sponsors will have to adjust but they'll be fine (they're easily sophisticated enough to do so).
Sure, it won't be quite as fun for the athletes as having everything in one place, but presumably they value having an actual Olympics to compete in even more. And, of course, the IOC won't like it (they don't like anything that doesn't benefit them directly, but these are the same people who had to beg Beijing to take the 2022 Winter Olympics because they had no qualified bidders), but it would allow the Olympics to thrive globally for decades, even centuries, to come.
3. Football will be a regional sport in a decade
First come the class action lawsuits. Then the insurers stop covering high school football. Some states (primarily in the South and Rust Belt) step in and create public insurance pools, but others don't. Then some colleges end their programs, either because of liability concerns or moral reasons (does Stanford really need a football program to be Stanford?).
That all reinforces what happens when people play football (every contact in practice and in games jostles the brain just a fraction of a millimeter, but as that builds up over time, it eventually leads to brain damage). And the NFL then becomes a modern day version of boxing - something some people are still passionate about but something most people start to ignore.
Yes, maybe you can change the game so fundamentally that you can prevent CTE, but making football a non-contact sport may be just as damaging to the game as watching players destroy their cognitive abilities on each play. This may seem like an inconceivable outcome for the richest and most popular sport we know, but change now comes far more rapidly across society than it ever has.
Norms shift. Opinions convert - quickly. And given the fundamental challenge of keeping football exciting without causing everyone who plays it to risk brain damage, what sounds like a handful of advocates and reporters worrying excessively now could turn into a tsunami before long.
4. Let players become free agents every year
What if every professional athlete on every team were a free agent after every season? Wouldn't that better reflect the society we now live in? Ask any Uber driver what they like about their job and their answer is invariably the flexibility it affords them.
We live in a sharing economy society. People want choices. They want optionality. They want free agency. Let's give it to them. Imagine how fun it would be if the entire offseason were spent constructing entirely new teams. All four sports would become legitimate year-round obsessions for their fans.
That means higher ratings and revenue for ESPN, NBC, CBS, FOX Sports and everyone else paying massive licensing fees (it's the same reason why fantasy sports are so good for the leagues and the media outlets). It means the media would have something relevant to cover day-in, day-out. It rewards teams that do a good job (players will choose to stay) and forces teams who don't to change.
Sure, the players' unions will hate it (but at least in the NFL, players already lack job security), but it ultimately affords far more opportunity to far more players. It could punish teams in less desirable locations, but franchises like the Spurs, Packers and Penguins have already proven that winning, well-run franchises can always attract talent. And it'd require a salary cap in baseball, but that's an idea long past due anyway.
Our attention spans are shorter than ever. Social media was made for an idea like this. Let's make sports truly free and truly fun.
5. Allow hostile takeovers of professional franchises
There comes a point where you just give up. I'm a Knicks season ticket holder. But not for much longer. There's no point - we never win (I'm 43 and the team has yet to win a championship in my lifetime). We have awful management, constant instability, terrible leadership, and never-ending coaching changes. And until someone else owns the team, it will never change.
The leagues could establish objective criteria like the number of seasons without making the playoffs, the number of coaching and GM changes in a given period of time, scandals by ownership and team management. And if a team exceeds the limit, they're subject to a hostile takeover.
Bids are based on both finances (the owner being forced to sell still deserves the best possible return) and stability (what in the bidder's history shows they will run things better and differently). The decision is at the discretion of the Commissioner. Ruined franchises do not help a league succeed in a very fast changing world that prizes loyalty less and offers people more entertainment options than ever.
There comes a point where something has to be done. Let's recognize that and save our struggling teams before it's too late.
Are any of these good ideas?
I think so. But you could, completely reasonably, feel totally otherwise. Like them or not, at least they're not thoroughly depressing to think about (unlike pretty much everything coming out of Washington these days).
And we need distractions now more than ever.
Have other ideas along these lines? We'd love to hear and talk about them. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll include the best in the next column or the upcoming podcast.