The NFL, where the owners remain undefeated

The story always plays out the same. The agent for the NFL star leaks news of a contract extension. The numbers slowly trickle out and we’re told he’s getting record guaranteed money. 

Then the next day arrives and we discover the true deal is nothing like what was reported a day earlier. It’s much more “team-friendly.” 

NFL owners win again. 

In no other sport is the decked so stacked against athletes than in pro football, America’s most popular game. You get paid less, you have no guaranteed contracts and, oh yeah, you might not be able to walk or remember you name when you’re 50. 

If you reach 50. 

Colin Kaepernick’s so-called $126 million deal, announced Wednesday, turns out to be nothing of the sort a day later. The $61 million in guaranteed money? Well, not really. A six-year deal? More like six, one-year deals with no guarantees if the San Francisco 49ers suddenly sour on their quarterback. 

Oh, and even if the $126 million was real? That would rank Kaepernick the 39th highest-paid Major League Baseball player. 

Think about that. Then ask yourself how many baseball players have to worry about concussions ruining their life. 

Nothing can stop the NFL, though. It became the “cool sport” in our culture several years ago. Endless stories about retired players being debilitated haven’t stopped the momentum. Nope, just bigger and bigger television deals and more and more money.

I understand with income inequality in this country the way it is folks are going to be slow to rally to the side of the players for “only” having a minimum salary of $420,000. But, again, tell me why when the Super Bowl gets 111.5 million viewers and the World Series 14.9 million, that baseball players enjoy such superior benefits? 

You make more money. Your contracts are guaranteed. You play a sport where you don’t bash your head in. And somehow baseball hasn’t run off the rails, like we were told the NFL would by Jerry Richardson and other NFL owners before the 2011 lockout. 

All this comes as more and more evidence suggests playing football is just plain dangerous. One hit could not only end a career, but leave you disabled or worse. We’re seeing the effects of players who retired in the 1980s and ‘90s. If you think that’s bad, just wait until the current crop, bigger and faster absorbing harder and more violent collisions, stop playing. 

Yet ex-players have to fight for medical care. They have to sue to get the league’s attention

Owners crushed the players in the last labor contract. Fans, in turn, want players to play at a further discount to help their teams stay under the salary cap. Veterans are routinely released if they don’t agree to take pay cuts. Fans avoid their eyes to how retired players are suffering. 

Kaepernick’s story will soon be repeated when we hear about deals for Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. Record money! Record guarantee! Locked up for eight years! 

None of it will be true, of course. But we’ll forget about that as quickly as the broken-down player leaves our mind when he’s no longer playing on Sundays. We, after all, have a fantasy-league team to set before the 1 p.m. kickoffs.

After 5 years, you’ve changed. My breakup with DirecTV

In the past 10 days I’ve dealt with two major breakups. My girlfriend dumped me last week. Today I ended my relationship with DirecTV.

What hurts more? Damn, I’ll miss the good times with the miniature giraffe. And what could have been with Derek Jeter’s girlfriend the Genie.

I’ve only lived in apartments and condominiums, so when I received the email five years ago that my building was being wired for DirecTV, I was ecstatic.

I could finally get NFL Network! MASN, too! Plus all the regional sports networks! Plus, remember, this was back in my angry, depressed drinking days. So the chance to tell Time Warner Cable we were finished was probably the best part.

We got off to a great start. Sure, it sometimes took 20 seconds to change the channel. And since I live in the South, we have thunderstorms. So the second most annoying thing after the weather crawls for routine summer storms on local TV was the dreaded “Searching for signal in Satellite in 2… (771).

And I’ll always remember the time the screen froze on none other than Radek Stepanek:

I mean, that was a cruel joke.

But I’ll mostly remember the good times. The picture quality was good. I used to never have to worry if you’d carry all the sports channels. We shared the Olympics together in our own special way.

Before ESPN3 and the younger, fitter and dare I say, prettier, Internet streaming thing came along, we created memories around the tennis majors. Being able to watch Wimbledon like this was really cool:

But you slowly started to change, DirecTV. There was the nonsense when you got into the spat with Versus and we missed a good chunk of the NHL season. Then you wouldn’t carry the Pac-12 Network. You were slow to add HD channels. My bill kept going up and it cost too much to add multiple HD receivers.

Plus, times were changing. Why would I pay more for your sports packages like MLB, NBA and others when I can get the online subscriptions cheaper and watch them on my TV anyway with my new Roku?

Then out of the blue, I could no longer record one thing and watch another. But you wooed me with those ads for the Genie. Finally, a state of the art receiver! I thought I was in love again until I called and was told I wasn’t eligible for one. In fact, you couldn’t even help me get my current HD-DVR fixed. I had to go through the latest, fly-by-night company in charge of our master DirecTV dish in my building. Not surprisingly, they were of no help.

All the while, AT&T kept charming me with letters and emails. I already had UVerse internet. The deals to add TV kept getting better. Plus, TV was the last area where I hadn’t downsized since my little meltdown and job loss a while back. UVerse kept adding channels. It had more HD channels than DirecTV.

So Thursday I called DirecTV to break up. They were a little stunned. They offered me another HD receiver for free. When that failed, they offered $25 off my bill for a year, too. But the decision had been made. Yes, I would miss beIn Sport and MASN, but not that much. I was becoming savvy with this interweb thing and knew ways to get streaming of most of this stuff.

So I canceled DirecTV and then called UVerse. I got an even better deal on the phone that would save me more than $80/month. I was excited about this new relationship until the guy told me it would be a while before they could install. When? He wasn’t sure. They were out of equipment.

So today I’m without TV of any kind. Yet I realized I can watch the Masters and Red Sox online. I can watch news channels online, too. Maybe I don’t even need Uverse.

And hey, I hear chicks dig a guy with no TV subscription. 

Richardson gets to have his pie (chart) and eat it, too

For a franchise that’s had its share of bizarre moments, Jerry Richardson’s news conference in January 2011 sticks out in my mind.

The Carolina Panthers owner, less than two years removed from a heart transplant, was arrogant, condescending and feisty when he wasn’t telling a female reporter to move to the front row so "I can abuse you." 

Now we know he was lying, too.

I’ll never forget his answer when asked why he didn’t fire lame-duck coach John Fox before the miserable 2-14 season in 2010.

"I would’ve paid $11,441,000 and then had to hire a new coaching staff," Richardson said, giving the exact dollar amount Fox and his staff were due in the final year of their contracts. "You know we are running a business here. And people don’t like to see their ticket prices go up."

Of course, Richardson raised ticket prices that season anyway. It was one of several misstatements as he rambled on from that podium.

But the biggest whopper was all but confirmed after Thursday’s Deadspin story in which Richardson’s financial records for 2010-11 were revealed.

In the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011, right after the Panthers shed payroll and all but gave up on the season in anticipation of the upcoming lockout, the franchise turned a profit of $78.7 million. 

That doesn’t quite jibe with the homemade pie chart Richardson drew that day as he all but claimed the NFL was barreling toward insolvency with a negative cash flow of $200 million.

"I don’t think many business schools would say that’s a model that’s going to sustain itself," Richardson said that day.

Oops.

The Panthers rushed out a statement later Thursday saying the leaked documents to Deadspin provided an “incomplete picture.” The unsigned statement claimed a better way to judge the company’s health is cash flow. The team indicated cash flow in the 2011 fiscal year was $26.7 million and was $39.8 million a year later. 

So the Panthers are claiming they made just shy of $67 million during that time instead of the $112 million. 

"A detailed review of the financial statements demonstrates the difficulty of being competitive in the NFL, paying players to the (salary) cap, and trying to add the financing of a major stadium renovation," the Panthers said.

Ah, the major stadium renovation. This story comes at a bad time as the Panthers seek more than $200 million in public funds to spruce up Bank of America Stadium, a facility built on the back of the team’s permanent seat license holders.

Those PSL owners were forced to buy season tickets in 2010 when the Jimmy Clausen-led Panthers had one of the most inept offenses in NFL history. That same year, thanks to an extremely low player payroll that left the team overmatched in nearly every game, Richardson took home $78.7 million in profit.

Now you’re being asked to pay for the stadium upgrades, too. For a franchise that has had four winning seasons in 18 years.

Forget the pie chart, fans. That’s just pie in the face. 

Oh, and if you want a slice of that pie at your favorite restaurant, that will cost a little more, too. All in the name of new escalators.

Hey, they’re running a business here.

It sure is hard to be a tennis fan in the US

The good news came in a tweet from a tennis publication earlier this week: A high quality stream of Venus Williams’ match in Brazil had been found on a site called e-Tennis.TV.

Sure enough, the stream was clear and apparently legal. Missing, too, were the misleading popup ads erroneously saying you must download what is certainly a virus. Or the ad with the Asian woman with giant breasts who wants to meet me yet always seems to cover the screen on break point.

A couple days later, the small, but loyal tennis fan base in the United States I proudly call myself a part of was out of luck. After clicking on six streams and enduring a confusing ad about baby tigers in captivity, all that appeared where John Isner and Kevin Anderson were supposed to be trading big serves was a blank screen.

Yes, an American playing in a quarterfinal of a tournament in the US was unavailable in the US. Why wasn’t it on Tennis Channel, you ask? Good question, because the financially-strapped network did show a live match from Delray Beach in the afternoon. But on this night, it was showing replays of matches in Dubai from earlier in the day.

This isn’t unusual. For a sport that desperately wants to reestablish its once-large presence in the US, it’s sure hard to be a tennis fan in this country.

These days it appears you can have access to almost any game of any other major sport. The NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL and even the MLS have packages that allow you to watch every game no matter where you are except for the sometimes annoying territorial blackout. Every round of every PGA Tour event and nearly all its companion tours are on TV somewhere. Each race in each of NASCAR’s top three series is televised.

College football and basketball games are everywhere, and while there are complaints from Atlantic 10 or Conference USA fans from time to time, the advent of ESPN3, Watch ESPN and streaming by individual schools leave a large chunk of games available to fans. Even minor league baseball has an online video streaming package. Numerous soccer matches from around the globe are available live, too.

Tennis is different. I was reminded of that when I got an email from iTunes this week that I had forgotten to cancel my automatic renewal of Tennis TV. I had been charged $91.15 for a service where about 75 percent of the streaming matches are blacked out. And none of the ones that aren’t are in HD.

To be fair, since ESPN finally wrestled Wimbledon away from NBC a year ago we’re no longer subjected to the sport’s biggest tournament being on tape delay. That’s what amounts to a victory for the tennis fan because the French Open remains on NBC and key matches in the second week are still shown on tape delay like it’s 1982 and I had hair.

And even if a tennis match is shown live, it seems nearly every newspaper and publication in the country leaves out Tennis Channel in its TV listings.

So to be a tennis fan can be lonely and frustrating. You often must scour websites that are constantly changing addresses to find an illegal stream. Then you have to hope it works and hope the popups are at a minimum. Sometimes the streams even have English commentary. Other times you get to brush up on your Spanish or French. Why is it so hard to watch Rafael Nadal’s comeback from injury?

What’s my solution? Well, it would probably help if Tennis Channel, long rumored to be available if someone was willing to buy it, would get on stronger financial footing. Too often it won’t show live tennis because it would require voiceovers from a studio or other produced elements. But unlike Fox Soccer Channel or the new beIN Sport, Tennis Channel doesn’t go this route often. Instead, it records the feed and shows it on tape delay later – sometimes days later – yet retains the rights to these events so they aren’t available on Tennis TV’s streaming service live.

But maybe I’m just part of a dying breed – the US tennis fan. As events such as San Jose disappear from the ATP Tour, the American tennis scene is a difficult place even as the sport probably is enjoying one of the best eras with the talent on both the men’s and women’s tours.

Yet let me dream of a day when it won’t be so difficult to watch. In the meantime, anybody find an Isner-Anderson steam yet?

Thank You

Perhaps it’s the reporter in me. Or maybe it’s my love of sarcasm. Whatever it is, I’ve often opted to take the cynical view on things. 

The past 72 hours have put a serious dent in my worldview. 

It’s hard to describe and keep up with the overwhelming support that’s poured in from people I know, people I haven’t spoken to in years and people I’ve never met since I told my story of dealing with depression for more than 20 years. But what was more striking was hearing the many heartfelt tales of people who have either battled the disease themselves, or have family members and friends who have. 

I’ve had to occasionally put down my computer and take a long walk after hearing some of these tales: 

_ An old colleague described how she “tasted the metal” of a gun in her mouth before choosing life. Another told of his failed suicide attempt before he turned his life around. 

_ An old classmate offered up how she lost her marriage and her kids because of addiction and now has been clean for three years and working her way back. 

_ An old family friend who lost her husband to suicide gave me encouragement while saying my story gave her some insight into her husband’s pain. 

_ An old girlfriend who has been sober 10 years gave me some tips. So did a former colleague who has been in rehab and now sober. Another who hasn’t had a drink in 25 years offered to meet. 

_ A couple of people told of how they’re currently in a bad place. I hope they seek help. 

And there were countless other stories from people offering words of encouragement. Yes, there were some negative comments, too, such as the Twitter reply asking, “How would we be better off without a lush narcissist blowing his brains out?” before telling me to go ahead and do it. 

My immediate response to the late night tweet was, I’ve been that guy. I’ve been the guy who could be incredibly mean spirited while under the influence or just after I was overwhelmed with pain. 

As of this morning, my original Twitter link has received more than 3,100 clicks. Special thanks to those far more influential who retweeted. Thanks, too, to those who started threads on various forums and sent me well wishes on Facebook and through email.

I guess the thing that has been the most surprising is how many people I know and don’t who suffer from depression yet have been afraid to reveal it. I can’t tell you how many people have used the word “courage” and “bravery” in describing what I did. But in reality, I had fallen so far I really had little to lose. Frankly, I also was tired of being vague or giving non-answers as to why I had left my job. 

Many others, though, do have a lot to lose. Hopefully some day there won’t be such a stubborn stigma attached to mental illness. 

Living With Depression

It was a couple days after my latest drunken escapade of stupidity and recklessness when I determined I had reached the end. The latest embarrassment — yet another angry rant —  so compromised my reporting career that in my severely warped mind I became convinced there was nothing else left to do. 

I would finally kill myself. 

This time, all the pain and anger would mercifully stop. 

I’ll never forget the sense of calm that enveloped me that early morning in July as I gathered everything that was property of The Associated Press — laptop, cell phone, etc. — and climbed into my car. I drove to the bureau office, numbingly wrote a letter of resignation, pressed send, turned out the lights and left. 

Next stop: the county sheriff’s office to apply for a gun permit. 

Seven months later, I’m still here. Somehow and thankfully, I climbed back over the hotel balcony in Las Vegas last summer. Luckily, I never did pull the trigger on that gun I held to my head. 

When I had a lull in the dread that was often so overwhelming, I finally answered an email from my persistent sister. Thanks to her quick flight to Charlotte and relentless urging, I finally sought help. I’m now on two antidepressants that are doing wonders, alcohol-free for the second time after a relapse, and hopeful I can someday gain back the trust of all the people I hurt. 

But perhaps the most important thing I want to do is implore others like me to seek help. There is hope — and I never thought I would say, write or think that. 

Depression remains an unspoken word to many, and embarrassing to many who suffer from it. Where I come from, you deal with your problems quietly and on your own. But even if I that wasn’t the case, it wouldn’t have mattered. Until recently I didn’t even know I was suffering from clinical depression. 

I didn’t fit the TV description. I was rarely despondent or wanting to stay in bed all day. I masked my feelings by blaming others and seeking escapes through alcohol and other dubious behaviors. My physical symptoms weren’t tears. They were anger, back and knee pain and memory loss. 

To start, I’ve always been a little odd. Social settings always unnerved me. Difficulty dealing with people cost me girlfriends, friends, hampered my career and stunted my growth as a person. To avoid embarrassing social interactions, I often avoided them entirely. People either thought I was a loner, aloof, a jerk or all three. That led me unwittingly down the road to depression and a common way to combat it: self medicating. 

As I got older I discovered this incredible drug that would not only loosen me up if I needed to meet people or attend a social function, but also provide an addicting buzz that dulled the pain: alcohol. 

There’s a period of time, usually between drinks 5-8, where I could function like a “normal” person and feel tremendous. I could be the funniest guy in the room. 

Trouble was, I never stopped at eight drinks. So often around 11, or 16 or 24 I would either do something embarrassing or get angry at my lot in life and lash out at others. This was the way I could let out all the frustrations that were bottled up inside for so long, even if they were directed at the innocent.  

Over the years I was fortunate my reckless behavior didn’t kill me or someone else. Yet, for much of the time I remained oblivious to what was really wrong with me. 

I had a great girlfriend, had moved from radio broadcasting to a good job as a sports writer for the AP, bought a condo in uptown Charlotte within walking distance of the arena, football stadium and countless bars and was relatively financially secure. I should have been happy. Check that, I should have been ecstatic. 

Instead, I was miserable. 

But I didn’t think of it as depression. In fact, I did a common thing men with depression do: blame others. I lashed out at my girlfriend, the kindest person you’ll ever met. Then I cheated on her and eventually lost her. I was short tempered with friends and co-workers. 

To get a reprieve from the feeling of worthlessness I turned to drinking and other risky behavior that produced a fleeting adrenaline rush. I had back and knee pain, which amazingly is another symptom of depression. I would be startled when others would bring up good things that happened to me in the past that I couldn’t recall, yet another symptom. 

I spent too much money on too many stupid things. But I never worried about the long term consequences because I never expected to be around anyway. 

I was 16 when I first thought about killing myself. By my sophomore year at Syracuse the urge was more pronounced. While I didn’t think about blowing my head off every day, it was always tucked away there in the background. Yet it was certainly never something I could tell anyone about. I felt it would make me look weak. 

Never did I think I would live a regular life. A family and normal career? Absolutely not. My life would be short. There was no way I could feel like this for too much longer. The level of angst before simple social interactions was overwhelming. The feeling that I couldn’t do anything right was just too much to bear. 

My behavior had been out of control for a couple years before my angry message to a source in July caused me to hit bottom. But when I quit my job and found out it would take up to a month before I got my handgun permit, I panicked. I’d have to live for another month? 

I tried to hide. Because my work cell phone was the only phone I had, I was fortunately unreachable. When a worried friend knocked on my door and I didn’t answer, I decided I’d go on a trip to spend the rest of my money and get away from all the people I was convinced were trying to bother me. 

The problem was when I get to a certain low point, I don’t even want to drink. It takes too much effort. So this cross country trip didn’t make life better. That’s when I stopped in Vegas and decided to jump off the ledge. The pain was just too much. 

But I changed my mind, in part because I was afraid I would mess it up. Knowing me, I’d hit one of the lower ledges on the way down and not die, putting a burden on my family as a living vegetable. Not wanting to do it never entered the equation. The gun was likely fool proof. I did plenty of research online about how to do it properly. 

I returned home and the permit was in my mailbox. So was an email from my college soccer referee assignor who wondered if I was available this fall. 

That email saved my life. 

I had refereed for many years but had virtually stopped a couple years ago. It was too hard to drink as much as I did and stay in proper shape. I had since put on weight. Yet I remembered I actually experienced a sense of accomplishment when I refereed. I thought I might try to work some matches. I could make some money that way and I thought I would then kill myself at the end of the season. 

So I cashed out my 401k to pay the mortgage for a few more months and went on an intense diet and running program. By the end of the college season I had shed more than 50 pounds and was running up to 11 miles per day. Running had replaced alcohol as my addiction. 

Then the soccer season ended and I lost my way again. 

To avoid thinking about my lack of a future, I drove home to Massachusetts to see my parents in a plan that included staying there for a couple weeks before driving them to my sister’s house in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. But on the night of the holiday an incredible feeling of dread overwhelmed me. There was nothing else to distract me from the reality I was a worthless, miserable, failed human being. 

It was time to die. This time, for real. 

I quickly told everyone I was leaving the morning after Thanksgiving. I went on one final run when I got home — then decided to go to the bar. 

Within two weeks I was all the way back to self-destruction mode. I traded the runner’s high for the old, reliable alcoholic buzz. In a way, I think I was making sure before I died I experienced that overwhelming sense of self-loathing again. 

I was drinking a case of beer or more every other day. (I would be so hung over and feel so badly the next day I didn’t have the strength to drink.) On the off days I made plans to end my pitiful existence. I even watched “Leaving Las Vegas” to put my 38-year life into perspective. 

I finally went to the gun store and purchased my gun. I then bought my ammunition. As I tried to decide whether to kill myself in my condo or in my car, I worried about my parents. I knew they would be hurt, but only because they weren’t fully aware of what a failure I was. Everyone else I thought wouldn’t care — or would quickly get over it. In reality, I had few close friends. There were many other people who rightfully thought I was a jerk. 

Yet I didn’t pull the trigger that early January afternoon on the floor of my bedroom. Why, I don’t know. There was something deep down inside that told me to wait. 

A couple days later I finally replied to one of the many emails I had ignored from sister. She was there in a couple of days, and after one final night tying one on, I checked myself into a behavioral health center. 

After a night wearing a hospital gown, eating spaghetti and meatballs with a plastic spoon and hanging out with the severely mentally ill in an observation area — I had for the first time admitted I wanted to kill myself — I was given pills and orders to find a way to stop drinking. 

It’s been a couple months now and it’s hard to describe the transformation. Simply put, I no longer want to die. I’ve experienced small joys I either forgot were possible or never enjoyed before. 

Whether I can keep this going, I don’t know. I ruined my professional career and refereeing doesn’t pay all the bills. I’m hopeful someone will take a chance on me and I can return to writing, reporting or sports in some way. I miss the people I worked with and covered. I miss being productive. I’m excited to think what I could accomplish now that I’m no longer chemically imbalanced. 

My biggest hope is maybe somebody will read this and say, “That’s me!” If so, there is a way out. Really. 

I never thought a couple tiny pills would do any good. But medication can help. Support from others is crucial. You can’t do it alone. And it’s not your fault you feel this way. 

To those out there who have been the target of my angry rants and selfish behavior, I’m sorry. For those who trusted me and were let down, I apologize. But maybe you can at some point give me another chance. 

I want to give life a shot.