Saturday, July 19, 2014

Just the Bestest

Hey, Minnesota Vikings... why did you hire Littler Mendelson to write a hit job masquerading as a summary of the RKMC investigation?:
When the investigation was complete, in order to further maintain objectivity and integrity, the Vikings engaged a nationally-prominent law firm in employment matters and one of the top-ranked and recognized firms for diversity, Littler Mendelson P.C. and partner Donald Prophete, to independently review and assess the findings and provide a report to the Vikings from an employment law perspective.
Maintain "objectivity and integrity"!  How do you know that the anti-labor law firm will be objective and demonstrate integrity? Littler Mendelson is recognized for its "diversity"!

Isn't the point the Vikings are making here that because the organization hired a professional firm that prominently features minorities they are insulated from charges of being biased or discriminatory?  If so, is the fact that they pay minority attorneys the equivalent of a secular indulgence, allowing the rich and powerful to behave poorly towards the marginalized?

Probably not, as the Sterling/Snyder playbook requires not only hiring minority professionals as your hit men, but the purchase of real indulgences from secular dispensationalists:
In addition, as a continued effort to support human rights and anti-hate causes, the Vikings will make a total donation of $100,000 to LGBT rights charitable and educational organizations.
Never mind then.

The behavior and response of the Vikings organization, as set out on their own website, is profoundly depressing.  How you feel about Chris Kluwe's conduct is really immaterial to the Vikings behavior.  Ownership of an NFL team (or an NBA team, or a MLB team, or a MLS team, or a NHL team) is not license to be an a**hole.  And, yet, there are a number of professionals -- in the legal and public relations fields -- that signed off on this idiocy.

With the Redskins, that organization's awfulness is obvious to everyone.  A trivial test for where we are in terms of sports culture is how people respond to this gambit.

Littler Mendelson, Zygi Wilf, and You're Not Even Trying That Hard

The Minnesota Vikings released a summary report from the independent investigation of former special teamer Chris Kluwe's allegations regarding misconduct by one of the team's coaches.

While the independent party conducting the investigation was the law firm of Robins Kaplan Miller and Ciresi (RKMC), the summary report was drafted by a different law firm, that of Littler Mendelson.

At this point in its existence, how is it possible that Littler Mendelson can be peddled to anyone in the media or elsewhere as a neutral, objective presenter of facts?  The firm and its lawyers have made their mark in the American legal market by aggressively promoting the interests of management over labor.

There's nothing wrong with that, particularly if you're an attorney that enjoys monetary compensation and power.  But it is quite a stretch to pretend that such a firm is likely to produce anything that approximates an objective analysis of facts in an employment dispute.

The Minnesota Vikings have not released the results of RKMC's (with the help of Waypoint Inc.) investigation.  Instead, the organization had Littler Mendelson write up a summary of the findings of another law firm.  From the Littler memo:
You have asked us to review RKMC’s investigative materials that you provided and to provide you with an assessment of the investigation’s findings from an employment law perspective, to help the Vikings decide how to address Kluwe’s claims fairly and in accordance with the law and team policies. You have directed us to be non-partisan in our assessment of the evidence uncovered by the Investigators.
What?  Do the Vikings expect to get away with releasing this "review" without actually providing access to the materials that Littler reviewed?  

They shouldn't.  Particularly when the memorandum concludes as follows:
In sum, our review of RKMC’s investigative materials you provided fails to establish that Kluwe’s activism in support of marriage equality and other equal rights motivated his release from the team in May of 2013.

We also did not find sufficient evidence to establish that members of the Vikings organization attempted to discourage Kluwe from engaging in marriage equality or equal rights activism or that the Vikings harbored a homophobic hostile work environment. The record does, however, support the conclusion that the distractions caused by the level, but not the nature, of Kluwe’s activism did create some discomfort in the organization during the 2012 season in which Kluwe’s punting performance was unsatisfactory to the team. The investigation materials support that the Vikings released Kluwe for football performance reasons and not his views on marriage equality.
Sure, ok.  Whatever you say.

Then there is the actual name on the memo from Littler, this guy.  Again, this guy.  THIS GUY:

Don Prophete’s letter constitutes an attack on our firm by someone whose larger motives are incomprehensible to us. Two indisputable facts provide critical context: the shareholders of the firm voted overwhelmingly for him to leave, and he never made any allegations of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation prior to his departure. Further, when we learned of his after-the-fact allegations (upon receiving a copy of the email he sent to others, not the firm), a full investigation was conducted and his allegations could not be substantiated.

The fact is that all of this occurred well more than a month ago, and we have moved on. Just six shareholders have chosen to follow Prophete to his next firm, and those that worked with him the longest have chosen to stay with our firm. His departure will have a minimal effect on our firm, its continued success, and its commitment to providing outstanding service to our clients.  In the final analysis, this unfortunate story should not deceive anyone as to the culture of our firm. In fact, our culture has and will remain famously collegial and supportive of diversity at all levels. The numbers speak eloquently: Ogletree Deakins hires a great number of laterals while losing very few shareholders to other firms. We are proud of our reputation for diversity and fairness, which reinforces our sense of ourselves, and our pride in the integrity and humanity of our firm.
Mr. Prophete's done well for himself since leaving Ogletree Deakins.  He got lead billing on Littler's amicus brief on behalf of the NCAA to the National Labor Relations Board opposing the College Athletes Players Association's efforts to form a union for Northwestern University's football team.  (The amicus brief, which is well written, predicts doom to universities should collective bargaining rights for collegiate athletes be recognized and includes this fun image of the apocalypse:  "Seats formerly occupied by students with school colors painted on their faces will be empty.").

Notably Littler Mendelson's summary memo reports that there were several NFL teams that declined to participate in RKMC's investigation.  From the Littler Mendelson memo:
Investigators contacted the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, and Cincinnati Bengals to ask for interviews regarding their evaluation of Kluwe as a potential punter. No one affiliated with these teams agreed to an interview.
Unfortunately, one person who elected to participate was Jerry Angelo.  And, for whatever reason, Mr. Angelo seems to have enthusiastically adopted the position of Vikings management lackey.  Again, from the Littler Mendelson memo:
Angelo said that, if he had held the title of General Manager of the Minnesota Vikings for the 2012 season, he would have “in all likelihood” released Chris Kluwe as the Vikings’ punter. He explained that his experience has shown him that “once players get into the later years of their career, they are more prone to decline and inflexible to change.” Angelo said that the Vikings’ impending move to TCF Bank Stadium, with a minimum of 11 outdoor games, would have made his decision even easier because Kluwe would not likely be able to maintain his performance outdoors.

Angelo said that, in his professional opinion, a team would be justified in releasing Kluwe if the team did not like (1) Kluwe’s style; (2) where he was in his career given his age; or (3) Kluwe’s veteran salary. Angelo thought it was reasonable for the Vikings to release Kluwe after his 2012 season given Kluwe’s age and the presumption that his leg strength would diminish as he got older. Angelo said this was especially true in light of the fact that the team would soon be playing in an open-air stadium for two seasons. Angelo noted that a punter’s hang time and distance are the most important criteria when playing outdoors.
Leaving to one side whether any of Mr. Angelo's claims are true, the decision to participate in something structured by the Minnesota Vikings organization reflects lamentable judgment.

As to the Vikings, you all just keep being you.  Free Adrian Peterson!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

There's Nothing Wrong with the American System

In the wake of the United States performance in Brazil -- which was fantastic -- it is now time for folks to weigh in on how this country will never produce elite soccer talent because of how the sport is organized.  One example, the Guardian's Liviu Bird contends that the whole system must be blown up here.

One of the more interesting aspects of Bird's piece is that it does not cite the British system as an example of something U.S. soccer should emulate.  Instead, Bird points to Belgium, a country with a population slightly more than half that of the state of New York and roughly one-fifth the population of England.

I've got no particular expertise in this area, but it strikes me that there is much to be learned from the British system in terms of why the incredible developmental academies and scouting networks in that country have not resulted in a talent pipeline equal to its continental and South American rivals.  We have sponsored a number of youth players in football sides throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.  It is not as if talent is automatically harnessed and nurtured in those structures.

Instead, up and out programs underscore intense competition at early stages.  While youth players with top clubs may have additional opportunities with lower tier clubs if they don't catch on with the mother ship, kids on other clubs face a bleak future if they don't stick.

Talent evaluation and identification is tricky.  Tell someone in December of 2008 that Omar Gonzalez would be a key part of the U.S. Men's National Team in Brazil and, if they followed college soccer, you wouldn't get much in the way of argument.  Tell them that another member of that team would prominently feature for the USMNT in 2014 and it would probably take a while before they guessed Zusi.  The team that played in the College Cup in 2008 had Jason Herrick and Casey Townsend up front.  Zac MacMath was in goal and the backline was, along with Omar, A.J. Delagarza, Rich Costanzo, and Rodney Wallace.  Graham Zusi played with Jeremy Hall and Matt Kassel in the midfield.

In the 2009 MLS Superdraft, Omar went third, Wallace went sixth, Hall went eleventh, and Delagarza was selected nineteenth.  Zusi was the twenty-third pick in that draft.

Zusi was still heralded enough to be recruited by the best college programs in the country and drafted by MLS teams.  The U.S. national pool player that I have become most fond of did not make the trip to Brazil but provides one of the better cautionary tales to those who are advocating for a stronger command and control system of youth development.

Joe Corona went to the same high school, Sweetwater High School, as many of my cousins.  He was part of San Diego's Nomads Academy ("for those serious about soccer"), where Eric Avila, Steve Cherundolo, Frankie Hejduk, Eric Wynalda, and Marcello Balboa also played.  But Corona's pedigree translated into a year at San Diego State University before deciding that the way to go was the Xolos youth setup.

How does that happen? 

The four countries left in the World Cup have populations of 201 million (Brazil), 81 million (Germany), 42 million (Argentina), and 17 million (Netherlands).  All together, that's a bit more than the population of this country (340 vs. 318 million).  Population isn't destiny -- India's 1.2 billion people and China's 1.3 billion isn't going to translate into soccer powerhouses any time on the horizon.  But the USA is a soccer nation.  And the thought that US Soccer and MLS academies are going to effectively identify and develop talent throughout the country is ludicrous.

What American soccer needs more than anything else is MORE.  More soccer.  Better collegiate soccer, with stronger programs and a bigger presence on campuses across the nation.  Better lower division soccer teams, meaning serious and sustained efforts to make the NASL work and mitigation of the damage done by corpses of USL franchises racking up debt and pissing away fan interest.  Better developed pipelines into Mexican, Central and South American, and Scandinavian football clubs for U.S. youth players.  More soccer, disaggregated, beautifully disorganized.  MLS constantly under fire.