The NFL is Out of Control and Football is Failing

New Orleans       There is no danger whatsoever that anyone will start calling American football the “beautiful game,” which is sometimes the expression used internationally for what the world sees as football, which we call soccer.  Football is earning the moniker of the “deadly” game for its institutionalized violence, mayhem, maiming, racism, and more.

I was bumped up to first-class flying home recently.  My seatmate on this leg was an orthopedic surgeon who over the last fifteen years had built the sports medicine center at a big local hospital chain that served all of the southern Louisiana sports world except for one university.  Would he let his son play football?  Heck, no!  He was going west next year on a soccer scholarship.  Did all of these helmet changes by the NFL make the game any safer for the players?  Heck, no, he answered!  What did he think about paying players?  The good doctor thought that universities and the pros should guarantee lifetime healthcare coverage to any athlete playing football at any level.  Why?  Because, all of them are going to need it.  He tells others his views on the sidelines.  I didn’t ask his name, and he didn’t ask mine, but we both knew we had played high school football, loved the game, and in my case, I had torn ligaments and cartilage in my left knee and a Vietnam war exemption to prove it.   Youth participation in football has now gone down an average of 10%, and sometimes more, even in Southern states where the sport has long been king.

If this wasn’t enough, the National Football League, despite being an economic powerhouse worth billions, continues to shoot itself in the foot and everywhere else.  A player for the Cleveland Browns has been indefinitely suspended for ripping a Steeler quarterback’s helmet off and hitting him in the head with it.  Assault with a deadly weapon and an arrest will not be forthcoming, because there is a legal assumption that when players take the field that they have agreed to an implicit sanctioning of violence.  Cam Newton, a former MVP in the league who led his team to the Super Bowl not so long ago and quarterbacked his college team to the national championship, has been out hurt for most of two years and could be gone.  Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts quit after eight years because he didn’t think he should continue dealing with injuries.  The list is endless, and no one seems to learn anything.

When the NFL takes its head out of the sand, it specializes in farce.  The Commissioner after two years of piddling and more recently being prodded by Jay-Z, who shamed himself by throwing Colin Kaepernick under the bus so that his company could make a marketing deal with the NFL, gave him four days’ notice for a special workout in Atlanta where all teams were invited.  The NFL’s hand seems to have been forced when two teams asked them whether or not it was OK to give him a workout, implicitly confirming the common knowledge that he has been blackballed for his on-field protests against racism and police violence.  The farce includes the fact that many teams wouldn’t be able to get their general managers or head coaches to Atlanta on such quick notice for the Saturday before their own game days.  Count on the hater-baiter Dallas owner, Jerry Jones, to pop off about not sending anyone, and then, obviously under pressure by the league, have to get somebody there with a Cowboys’ t-shirt to up the number of participating squads.  No one should be holding their breath waiting for a contract offer for Kaepernick, nor is there any indication that he would stop his protest.

Typical of everything about football’s leadership at the professional level or the semi-pro NCAA level, no problem is ever confronted and solved whether about health, violence, or certainly race.  The standard football playbook for dealing with all of this is just to push the problems further on down the field.  The final signal call will be when they also kill the sport.

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Texas Hospital Merger Cancellation is a Good Thing

The patient tower at CHI St Francis in Grand Island (NTV News)

New Orleans       Hospitals are having some problems these days.  The Republican attacks on the Affordable Care Act meant that fewer of the uninsured that desperately needed health care can find – or finance – their way into hospital beds.  At the same time ACA and the attention during the health care debates did lead to some increased scrutiny about bill-padding and other concerns.  Local 100 United Labor Unions and ACORN International also paid close attention to the requirements in the ACA introduced by Iowa’s Republican Senator Charles Grassley of all people that focused on the number of hospitals that enjoyed tax-exempt nonprofit status but were the opposite of charitable.  With the help of interns from Tulane University and the University of Ottawa, our research into the IRS 990s of the nonprofit hospitals in Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana found that many institutions were miserly despite their status.

All of which brings us to Houston’s giant nonprofit Memorial Hermann and Dallas’s huge Baylor Scott & White nonprofit chain.  Neither of which were really responsive to our requests for meetings, despite the requirements under the Act that they accept community input.  Nor were they willing to meet about their under-par charitable giving.  Their announcement last fall that they were entering discussions to merge, seem to us a step towards making a bad thing worse.  We took their announcement that the merger was off as good news.  A merger might have made them unassailable, so now when they remain separate, they will simply continue to be unaccountable.

These are big boys among hospitals nationally, not just in Texas.  “Baylor Scott & White had $582 million in operating income on revenue of $9.5 billion, according to financial disclosures to bond investors. Memorial Hermann closed the fiscal year with operating income of $129 million and revenue of $5.3 billion,” as reported by the Wall Street Journal.  If the merger had been consummated, they would have been even larger.  To the hometown paper, The Houston Chronicle, Memorial Hermann was as close-mouthed as they were with us about their charity care, issuing a statement full of platitudes.  Sources elsewhere claim the discussions went south when Memorial Hermann balked at the level of cutbacks in operations.  Who knows?  Who cares?

For all the talk about consolidation in health care being a good thing and supposedly delivering economies of scale, none of us have seen that happening in reality as health care costs continue to increase across the board.  Another word for such combinations is monopoly, and that’s not good for any of us.

The Federal Trade Commission should be all over these attempts to corner markets in hospital care, but they seem asleep at the switch in healthcare, just as they have been in supervising tech for example.  This merger may have caved under its own weight, but others have been completed around the country, and no one seems to be jumping in front of this train.

We’re not the only ones that are worried, either.  Reporting on these mergers, here’s a quote from the Wall Street Journal:

Dignity Health and Catholic Health Initiatives closed a merger last month to create the 142-hospital CommonSpirit Health. Last year, Aurora Health Care and Advocate Health Care formed a regional giant spanning Illinois and Wisconsin and Bon Secours Health System Inc. in Marriottsville, Md., merged with Mercy Health in Cincinnati.  One downside of the consolidation is it has given some large systems the size to raise prices and stymie efforts to reduce health-care spending. The deals can also result in patients being steered to specialists inside the systems, even if an outside referral might provide greater benefit.

See what I’m saying.  Just because they are claiming tax-exemptions, don’t make the mistake of believing they aren’t all about the dollar.

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Please enjoy Existential Frontiers by White Owl Red.

Kim Lenz’s Bury Me Deep.

Thanks to KABF.

 

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