Matt Connolly

DC Senior Editorial Fellow

Before joining Mother Jones, Matt was a local reporter for the dearly departed Washington Examiner. He has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Chicago Public Radio, and the Times of Trenton.

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Could the NFL Yank Arizona's Super Bowl Because of an Anti-Gay Law?

| Tue Feb. 25, 2014 2:24 PM PST

A "religious freedom" bill that would allow discrimination against LGBT residents passed the Arizona Legislature and is currently sitting on Republican Gov. Jan Brewer's desk. Both of Arizona senators, the state's chamber of commerce, Apple, and American Airlines have all asked Brewer to veto the bill. Another critic, though, might have the biggest bargaining chip—and has shown the state before that it's not afraid to use it.

Arizona is set to host next year's Super Bowl, and the big game's host committee is not happy:

We share the NFL's core values which embrace tolerance, diversity, inclusiveness and prohibit discrimination. In addition, a key part of the mission for the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee is to promote the economic vitality of Arizona. On that matter we have heard loud and clear from our various stakeholders that adoption of this legislation would not only run contrary to that goal but deal a significant blow to the state's economic growth potential. We do not support this legislation.

An NFL spokesman noted the league's anti-discrimination policy and said the league was "following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so should the bill be signed into law." Would the NFL go so far as to move the country's biggest sporting event due to a social issue? History suggests that yes, it would.

The 1993 Super Bowl was supposed to be held in Tempe, but the league backpedaled in the midst of a controversy over celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Then-Gov. Evan Mecham had abolished the state's MLK holiday, arguing it had been illegally created through executive order. A public vote on the holiday was scheduled for 1990, and players and NFL officials began to express their displeasure over playing the Super Bowl in a state that wouldn't honor King. "If there is a smear on the Martin Luther King holiday of any kind, I would personally lead the effort to rescind the Super Bowl," said then-Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman, who was head of the Super Bowl site selection committee. "We wouldn't go there. How could anybody in his right mind go to play there?"

NFL officials made it clear that the state would not keep the Super Bowl if voters turned down the holiday, a move that infuriated Mecham, who called it "a shameful and disgusting attempt to blackmail this entire state." (Mecham, it should be noted, had earlier been impeached and removed from office on charges of obstruction of justice and misuse of government funds.) Arizona voters turned down MLK Day, and then-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue took the Super Bowl away less than 12 hours later.

"I don't believe playing Super Bowl XXVII in Arizona is in the best interest of the NFL," Tagliabue said at the time. "I will recommend to NFL clubs that this Super Bowl be played elsewhere. I am confident they will follow the recommendation. Arizona can continue its political debate without the Super Bowl as a factor."

League officials said Arizona could host the big game in 1996 if the state approved the holiday by then. Voters complied, approving it in 1992.

Given that the NFL is expecting its first openly gay player next season, and considering anonymous team officials' comments on the matter, league administrators are likely hyperaware of the kind of publicity an Arizona-based championship would get if the state's anti-gay bill is signed into law. Perhaps most importantly, the state would lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars if the big game is moved elsewhere—just as it did in 1993. Multiple outlets reported Tuesday that Brewer was likely to veto the bill. As one source told NBC News, "She doesn't want to take any actions that could jeopardize the economic momentum we've seen here in Arizona."

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Openly Gay NBA Player Jason Collins Signed by Brooklyn Nets

| Sun Feb. 23, 2014 6:39 PM PST

The NBA will have its first openly gay active player. Jason Collins, who came out in Sports Illustrated last April, signed a 10-day contract Sunday with the Brooklyn Nets. When Collins steps on to the court, it will be the first time an athlete who is widely known to be gay will have played in an NBA, NFL, NHL, or MLB game.

Collins announced he was gay when, after a slew of injuries, he wasn't on any team's roster and he remained unsigned until the Nets recently reached out to him. Collins will likely make his first appearance in the Nets' Sunday night game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Collins' NBA return comes as former University of Missouri football player Michael Sam is working out at the NFL Combine and preparing for the league's May draft. Sam, who came out in February, is looking to be the first openly gay player in the NFL. John Amaechi became the first former NBA player to come out in 2007, though he did so after his five-season career was over. Glenn Burke, who played baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Oakland Athletics from 1976 to 1979, may have been the first openly gay player in any major American professional sport—though reporters at the time kept Burke's sexuality under wraps and the Dodgers even tried paying him to take part in a sham marriage. (Burke refused.)

Collins received the public backing of many NBA stars when he came out last year. That support continued during the signing process, with new teammate Kevin Garnett telling reporters, "I think it's important that anybody who has the capabilities and skill level [gets] a chance to [do] something he's great at. I think it would be bias, and in a sense, racist, if you [were] to keep that opportunity from a person." Collins will wear jersey number 98 with the Nets in honor of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student whose brutal 1998 beating and death made him a gay rights martyr.

Can These College Football Players Actually Unionize?

| Fri Feb. 21, 2014 4:00 AM PST
Kain Colter

Last month, football players at Northwestern University took formal steps to organize a labor union and bargain for benefits like guaranteed multiyear scholarships and medical coverage for concussions and other long-term health issues. The first of what will likely be many battles for the unionization effort came this week, with an hearing before the Chicago regional National Labor Relations Board.

The proceeding, which will continue at least through the end of the week, has pitted the proposed College Athletes Players Association and former Northwestern quarterback (and NFL hopeful) Kain Colter against Northwestern. While the university reacted much less strongly than the NCAA when the unionization efforts were unveiled—the official university statement made sure to say that Northwestern is "proud" of its students for being "leaders and independent thinkers"—it is still the theoretical employer of Colter and the other players and thus must face off against them before the labor board. (Head coach Pat Fitzgerald is expected to testify Friday.) Here's what you need to know about the hearings and what they mean for college football:

What does the union need to prove to win? The College Athletes Players Association, with the help of star witness Colter, is arguing that football players are employees of the university. The group has some strong arguments in its favor, according to University of Illinois law professor and sports labor expert Michael LeRoy. For one, the players work long hours equivalent to a full-time job. Colter testified that football-related activities take up 40 to 50 hours a week during the season and 50 to 60 hours a week during training camp in the summer. The players' efforts also benefit the university—an economics professor who testified on the union's behalf said that Northwestern's football revenue totaled $235 million between 2003 and 2012, while its expenses added up to just $159 million during that time. "It's a financial benefit, and that's putting it mildly," LeRoy said.

An economics professor who testified on the union's behalf said that Northwestern's football revenue totaled $235 million between 2003 and 2012.

What does Northwestern need to prove? The university's argument is that the players are student-athletes and nothing more. The players receive scholarships worth about $60,000 a year, a university athletics official testified, and a lawyer for the school noted that players also get "a world-class education, free tutoring services, core academic advice, and personal and career development opportunity." While some of Northwestern's other counterpoints lacked substance—school lawyers grilled Colter on whether leadership and other skills learned from the football team helped him get a prior internship at Goldman Sachs, a line of thinking LeRoy called "fairly irrelevant" to whether or not college football counts as labor—perhaps its strongest point is that players signed a scholarship contract, agreeing to their amateur status and therefore waiving their collective bargaining power.

What happens now? No matter which side the Chicago labor board takes, the loser will probably appeal that decision to the national board in Washington, DC. That ruling will likely head to a federal appeals court. The entire process could take years, LeRoy said, which presents a unique challenge for union organizers: There's a chance all the players who signed union cards will have graduated and moved on by the time a final decision comes down. One big question is how other schools and teams will react—while teams at private schools like Northwestern can try to unionize, teams at public schools must adhere to their states' collective bargaining laws. If players at some schools are able to negotiate benefits that players at other schools are not, LeRoy said, it could fundamentally change recruiting, realign conferences, and lead to swaths of state legislation addressing the matter. "It's a huge can of worms," he said. "It's a showstopper."

Who's going to win? LeRoy said he thinks the regional and national labor boards will rule in favor of the players due to the boards' liberal slant, but that the courts will rule against Colter & Co. That won't mean the movement was pointless, though—LeRoy expects the NCAA to compromise on many of the union's core issues by that point. Vitally, the Northwestern players aren't asking for pay for play, meaning the university and the NCAA could provide them with the scholarship and medical benefits they're calling for and still maintain its structure and concept of amateurism. Even a formal union doesn't hold up legally, LeRoy said, we may see a "union substitute" in which the threat is credible enough that the NCAA provides players with more voice and benefits. "I don’t think we’re going to have collective bargaining," he said. "But I think this is a necessary step."

George Zimmerman's BFF Called Oprah the N-Word

| Wed Feb. 19, 2014 10:23 AM PST

George Zimmerman's de facto spokesman, Frank Taaffehas recently rushed to the defense of Michael Dunn, who, like Zimmerman, was accused of murdering an unarmed black Florida teenager. Perhaps this should come as no surprise: Taaffea frequent cable news commentatoris an unabashed racist who has said that "the only time a black life is validated is when a white person kills them."

On Tuesday, Political Research Associates, a liberal think tank, dredged up troubling new evidence of Taaffe's racial animus, including audio of him calling Oprah Winfrey the N-word on his now-defunct white-power podcast, Standing Our GroundDuring an episode last fall, Taaffe and his cohost discussed when to apply the slur. After being asked by a caller whether Oprah fit the bill, Taaffe launched into a rant, filled with racist language:

Yeah, she's a nigger because she keeps spewing out all that bullshit. She goes over to Switzerland and she says that the lady didn't want to share a handbag because she thought that she couldn't afford it, and she keeps just doing what she's doing. She keeps stirring the pot. She keeps trying to promote her boy Obama. You know, Obama could do no wrong. You know, it's birds of a feather, they flock together and stick together, and to me, she's a nigger. Oprah Winfrey's a nigger. She's a nigger.

You can listen to the entire exchange here:

This language is not out of character for Taaffe; he has previously come out against races intermingling, defended racial profiling, and compared affirmative action to slavery. Nevertheless, cable news networksincluding CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox News—regularly tapped him for commentary on the Zimmerman case. During the recent murder trial of Michael Dunn, the Florida man who shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis after a dispute over loud music, Taaffe began making the rounds again, with appearances on HLN's Nancy Grace and Dr. Drew on CallHe was supposed to appear on CNN as well. But on Monday, after Mother Jones took HLN to task for giving Taaffe a regular platform, his booking was canceled. And Taaffe announced on his Facebook page that he won't be making any more Nancy Grace appearances either. Here's hoping that next time cable news networks can find a pundit who isn't a white supremacist.

Guns Are for Shooting "All Black People" and Other Horrifying Quotes From the NFL's Dolphins Investigation

| Fri Feb. 14, 2014 12:50 PM PST
From left: Dolphins linemen Mike Pouncey, Richie Incognito, and John Jerry. While Incognito was identified as a bullying leader, all three took part, according to the report.

In November, after Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team due to bullying from teammate Richie Incognito, the NFL commissioned an independent investigation to look into the matter. The results of that investigation, released today, reveal a pattern of racist, homophobic, and generally awful instances of harassment that took place inside and outside the Dolphins' locker room. Read the lowlights—which are vulgar and graphic—below.

Incognito leaves a racist voicemail for Martin (page 10):

"Hey, wassup, you half-nigger piece of shit. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. I'll shit in your fuckin' mouth. I'm gonna slap your fuckin' mouth, I'm gonna slap your real mother across the face [laughter]. Fuck you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you."

Incognito and others taunt and harass an Asian American trainer (page 22):

Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey admitted that they directed racially derogatory words toward him, including "Jap" and "Chinaman." At times, according to Martin, they referred to the Assistant Trainer as a "dirty communist" or a "North Korean," made demands such as "give me some water you fucking chink," spoke to him in a phony, mocking Asian accent, including asking for "rubby rubby sucky sucky," and called his mother a "rub and tug masseuse." Martin and others informed us that Incognito and Jerry taunted the Assistant Trainer with jokes about having sex with his girlfriend. Incognito admitted that these types of comments were made to the Assistant Trainer.

On December 7, 2012 (the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor), Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey donned traditional Japanese headbands that featured a rising sun emblem and jokingly threatened to harm the Assistant Trainer physically in retaliation for the Pearl Harbor attack. Martin reported that the Assistant Trainer confided to him that he was upset about the Pearl Harbor prank, finding it derogatory and demeaning.

Incognito and an anonymous teammate exchange text messages joking about shooting black people (page 103):

Player B: Fuck yea! That what I'm doin my .338 in. Badass

Incognito: That's gonna be sick

Player B: Especially if u plan living in Arizona in the future, that's exactly what you want

Incognito: Yea. For picking off zombies

Player B: Lol isn't that why we own any weapons!?

Incognito: That and black people

Player B: Mmm def all black ppl

Incognito and others, including a coach, engage in homophobic taunting (page 19):

Incognito and others acknowledged that Player A was routinely touched by Incognito, Jerry and Pouncey in a mockingly suggestive manner, including on his rear end, while being taunted about his supposed homosexuality. Incognito specifically admitted that he would grab Player A and ask for a hug as part of this "joke."

Martin said that on one occasion, Pouncey physically restrained Player A and, in full view of other players, jokingly told Jerry to "come get some pussy," and that Jerry responded by touching Player A's buttocks in a way that simulated anal penetration. Pouncey and Jerry both denied this allegation. Given the seriousness of this allegation and the conflicting recollections, we decline to make any findings about this particular alleged incident.

The evidence shows that [offensive line coach Jim Turner] overheard and participated in this behavior toward Player A. During the 2012 Christmas season, Coach Turner gave all of the offensive linemen gift bags that included a variety of stocking stuffers. In each gift bag except for Player A's, Turner included a female "blow-up" doll; Player A's bag included a male doll.

Incognito tries to get teammates to get rid of evidence—a "fine book" that lists financial penalties for offenses like wearing "ugly ass shoes" or being a "pussy" (page 42):

"They're trying to suspend me Please destroy the fine book first thing in the morning."

Martin tells his parents about the taunting and his struggles with depression (page 15):

"I care about my legacy as a professional athlete. But I'm miserable currently. A therapist & medication won't help me gain the respect of my teammates. I really don't know what to do Mom."

"People call me a Nigger to my face. Happened 2 days ago. And I laughed it off. Because I am too nice of a person. They say terrible things about my sister. I don't do anything. I suppose it's white private school conditioning, turning the other cheek"

Martin texts a friend with the pros and cons of continuing to play football (page 112):

-Football games are fun

-I can make a lot of money playing football and be set for life

-I have a legacy that will live after I die

-not many people get to live their childhood dream

-I am the left tackle for the Miami dolphins

-if I quit, I'll be known as a quitter for the rest of my life

-my legacy at Stanford will be tarnished

-I will never be able to look any coach from my past in the eye

-I hate going in everyday.

-I am unable to socialize with my teammates in their crude manner

-I already have a lot of money. I could travel the world, get my degree. Then get a real job

-I could lose 70 lbs and feel good about my body

-I won't die from CTE

-Maybe I'll start to LIKE myself

-I don't need to live lavishly. I could live very frugally

-why do I care about these people? All I need is my family

Read the full report here:

 
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