Grantland’s Pierce: Government Force Justified Unless Proof Exists of Prior Harm

In the midst of an article discussing the events from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, writer Charles P. Pierce unsurprisingly used a sizable chunk of his platform to discuss politics. Specifically the bill signed by Indiana Governor Mike Pence (Senate Bill 101) that would (amongst other things) make it legal for businesses in the state to discriminate against homosexuals. With the Final Four coming to Indianapolis next week, Pierce’s concern over the attention paid to this issue boiled over.

Among this angry and degrading rant from Pierce, it was highlighted that Governor Pence “couldn’t come up with a single example whereby a private business had been injured in any way by catering to gay or lesbian customers.” Apparently this lack of an example is all that is needed to force a business to serve those individuals they do not wish to serve according to Pierce. So because a governor can’t think of an example of a prior instance of damage, hardship or inconvenience caused to a business owner who catered to a specific group, that gives the state the right to impose its will on any private business owner. Of course, what the state would be hindering would be the freedom of association. This is not only the freedom to freely associate, but also the freedom to not associate with whichever person or group you wish when it comes to your own property.

Demanding examples of prior injury as some sort of bizarre prerequisite to avoid government suppression of a basic right (like association) sets a dangerous precedent. After all, can someone’s Second Amendment rights be taken away as a result of a lack of proof that restricting their right to bear arms would injure them? If you can’t prove how the government’s domestic spying programs have hurt you, does that give the government the freedom to restrict your Fourth Amendment rights? Clearly a person’s freedoms do not depend on the ability of that person to prove to the government the extent to which denying those freedoms would cause them harm. But I guess Charles P. Pierce thinks otherwise.

Also, consider a scenario in which the governor (or someone else) was able to provide an example of prior injury due to catering to gays and lesbians. Would that one example be good enough for Pierce? What about two examples? What about five? Or maybe ten? I think you can get the point. If it is no longer legal to privately discriminate because there are no examples of prior injury in catering to a specific group, then the illegality of private discrimination is based upon that number being zero. But if one or more examples existed, then the basis of outlawing private discrimination evaporates.

Of course, rights are not based on prior incidents. They are inherent to us and recognized by our Constitution. Rights make it so that the burden of proof is never on us to secure our freedoms by demonstrating how we might be harmed if our liberty is taken away. Rather, it is government which must assume and respect the freedom instilled in all of us.

The Irrelevance of College Basketball in Developing NBA Talent

With college basketball’s conference championship tournaments in full swing and Selection Sunday approaching, an inevitable comment will be made at some point during March Madness. This comment, which will likely come from a studio commentator or broadcaster (last year it was Charles Barkley, who I otherwise enjoy listening to), will advocate for more basketball players to stay in college to work on their game. Unfortunately, many people hearing the comment will agree with whichever television personality utters it. The reason that this is unfortunate is because there is virtually no evidence that staying in college for the purpose of improving as a basketball player is a more effective option than trying to improve in the NBA or elsewhere. Those who believe college has a monopoly on player improvement have been badly misled or are lying to themselves.

First, let’s discuss a little background on this issue. In 1995, Kevin Garnett became the first high school player to enter the NBA Draft in 20 years. From then until 2005, 39 different players were drafted by the league out of high school. Negotiations began in 2005 between the league and the NBA players’ union on the proposal of a new age limit. The league wanted an age limit of 20, while the players’ union did not want the age limit to be changed at all. In July of that year, the two sides compromised to require draft entrants to be 19 and spend at least one year out of high school before draft eligibility. However, players are not required to spend that year in college.

The introduction of this new age limit has often caused top level talent in college to only spend one year there before leaving the school for the NBA. This phenomenon is often called being a “one and done” player. The frequency of these “one and done” players has become unpopular and controversial to the point that some, including new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, have supported the league once again attempting to raise the minimum age requirement to 20. But what is the motivation for an elite player choosing to leave college after just one season? Well, the obvious answer would of course, be money. But the better question would be: what is the motivation in wanting those elite players to play in college longer?

One of the claims made by the proponents of requiring a lengthened stint in college is that playing at the collegiate level better enables a player to improve his skills. To believe this, one would have to conclude that improving as a player is somehow exclusive to those who play college basketball. Anyone who even remotely follows NBA Basketball should know that this isn’t true. After all, were high school draftees like the aforementioned Garnett and Kobe Bryant All Stars in their first season? No, they were not. In addition, the NBA’s Most Improved Player award has gone to a player drafted out of high school three times (Tracy McGrady in 2001, Jermaine O’Neal in 2002 and Monta Ellis in 2007) and a player only playing one year of college ball once after the new age limit was imposed (Kevin Love in 2011). Clearly NCAA Basketball does not have a monopoly on player development.

College basketball’s advocates somehow ignore how often the best NBA players are those who spent the least amount of time possible playing elsewhere before entering the professional level. From 1995-2005, players entering the draft out of high school accounted for three MVP award winners (Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James) and seven more who made at least one All Star Game (Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis, Tyson Chandler, Amar’e Stoudemire, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum). Since the age limit change, the best players are often now the ones who just play one year in college before entering the draft. From the 2006 draft to the present, players waiting the minimum amount of time before turning pro have accounted for two MVP winners (Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant) and five more who have made at least one All Star Game (Kevin Love, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis). Certainly a lack of exposure to the college game did not hold any of these athletes back from becoming an elite player.

Recent NBA history is littered with examples of players achieving success despite limited or no college and other players who succeeded during a lengthy stint in college having underwhelming professional careers. Perhaps the best example of this was during the 2004 Draft where the two best big men were Dwight Howard and Emeka Okafor. The size of the two players and the position they played were very similar (Howard is listed as an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier. Both were built as if someone had engineered them in a lab somewhere). However, the contrast between the collegiate careers of the two men could not have been more different. Howard, of course, had no collegiate career. He came into the NBA directly out of a private high school in Atlanta and was considered to be a “raw” talent. Meanwhile, Okafor had spent three years at the University of Connecticut which culminated with a National Championship victory and the award for the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.

The Orlando Magic’s decision to draft Howard over Okafor with the number one draft pick was met with harsh criticism. Howard was almost an unknown whereas Okafor had succeeded on the biggest collegiate stage possible. During each player’s rookie season (2004-2005), it looked like the critics may have had a point. Howard did average a respectable 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. But Okafor averaged 15.1 points and 10.9 rebounds while picking up Rookie of the Year honors. Since this initial season though, a different story has emerged. Okafor never went on to average as many points as he did during his rookie campaign (mostly due to injury). He never made an All Star Team or any of the All NBA Teams. Conversely, Howard turned himself into one of the best big men of his generation. He made five All NBA first teams, won three Defensive Player of the Year awards and took his team to the 2009 NBA Finals. So much for Okafor’s college development making any difference at all when it came to competing at the NBA level.

As I mentioned earlier, the age limit that the league adopted in 2005 does not actually require a draftee to play college basketball. As a result, playing somewhere other than college remains and option. But how beneficial would playing somewhere else (like overseas) be to an aspiring future NBA player coming out of high school? Fortunately there is a recent example we can use to assess the possible benefits of this option. Rather than playing college basketball as an 18 year old, Brandon Jennings (one of the top high school prospects in the country coming out of high school in 2008) decided instead to go to Italy and play in the Euroleague. He then decided to enter the NBA draft a year later in 2009, when he was first eligible. Although Jennings isn’t a superstar, he was one of the best guards in his draft class and made the All-Rookie First Team in 2010. He has averaged a solid 16.6 points and 6.2 assists per game for his career and is still only 25. Perhaps skipping college is not such a bad move after all.

Despite all of the previously mentioned evidence that indicates the insignificance of college level player development, many still will not let go of their desire for an increase of the NBA age limit. So why is this the case? One of the reasons advocates give for an increased age limit centers on education. They make the claim that their desire to have college basketball players get an education is the source of their push for an age limit increase. Wanting someone to become better educated can certainly be a virtuous cause. But when it is claimed as motivation for increasing the NBA draft’s age limit, ulterior motives are almost always in play. If it really were the case that the supporters of a 20 year age limit cared so much about elite athletes getting an education, they would apply the same logic to elite athletes in other sports who attempt to turn professional rather than going to or staying in college.

A great example of a sport that shows this inconsistent philosophy is baseball. Often times the top level of high school baseball players choose to enter the Major League Baseball draft rather than attend college. In fact, in last year’s MLB draft, four out of the top six players taken were out of high school rather than college. But do you ever hear anyone lamenting over how horrible it is that great young baseball players are choosing against going to college and are entering the draft instead? If the number one baseball prospect coming out of high school this year (I looked it up, his name is Brendan Rodgers) chooses to enter the draft instead of going to college (and I’m sure he could go play wherever he wanted being the number one prospect in the nation), do you hear any complaining from the pro-college crusaders? But why not? Both a player entering the MLB draft out of high school and a player entering the NBA draft, either out of high school (when that was possible), or after just one year of college, are choosing the prospect of a professional sports career over being a student athlete. So why all of the crying into the night about basketball players taking this path, while baseball players taking the same path produce the sound of crickets?

The answer to the aforementioned question can be found in the love that people have for the game of college basketball. I’ve met many basketball fans throughout my life who enjoy college basketball more than NBA basketball. But I don’t think I’ve ever met a baseball fan who enjoyed college baseball more than Major League Baseball. The desire that people have in raising the NBA’s minimum age limit is really about keeping better players in college in order to improve the quality of play that the college game experiences. Since hardly anyone watches or cares about college baseball, elite players playing elsewhere and not improving the collegiate quality of play is of no one’s concern.

So I would encourage the proponents of raising the NBA’s age limit to be honest above all else. Stop telling us that a basketball player who develops his game in college is better off than one who does his developing in the NBA. It clearly isn’t true. Stop telling us that you are so concerned with young elite athletes becoming educated in college. If that were the case, then you would care about elite athletes in every sport getting a college education, not just basketball. In order to truthfully advocate for an NBA age limit increase, do so by telling us this:

“I love college basketball so much that I want to force players who are talented enough to become professionals, to remain at the collegiate level so that the college game becomes better than it would otherwise be.”

Somehow that doesn’t have as much of a ring to it as a developmental or pro-educational argument.

Will Money Taxed from Pacquiao’s Super-Fight be Enough for the IRS?

As probably all people who at least casually follow sports know, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will finally be squaring off against one another on May 2. Many sports fans wanted the fight to first take place as far back as six years ago. But hey, better late than never, I guess.

What a lot of sports fans don’t know is that Pacquiao has been engaged in his own fight against both the IRS and its Filipino counterpart, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (looks like other countries have tax collecting monstrosities just like we do). The Philippine (where Pacquiao is from) Government levied a tax evasion case against him and is attempting to obtain the equivalent of 75 million US Dollars from the boxing champion. Meanwhile, the IRS has slapped on a federal tax lien for $18.3 million in allegedly unpaid taxes for 2006 through 2010. Pacquiao claims that a treaty between the US and the Philippines prevents his money from being taxed twice.

In his last fight, Pacquiao faced Chris Algieri in Macau, China rather than a popular US bout destination. As a result, he was able to save millions of dollars since his earnings were not subjected to the 39.5% US income tax rate for top tax earners. The combined tax rates of the Philippines (20%) and Macau (12%) still leave the fighter with a bigger payday than the one he would have had if the fight occurred on US soil. Pacquiao’s desire to avoid taxation does cause one to wonder why he campaigned for Harry Reid in 2010. Guess everyone is a conservative when it comes to their own money.

Perhaps the man known as “Pacman” would ideally want his fight with Mayweather to occur overseas as well. But given the enormous payday for both fighters, ($120-150 million for Mayweather, $80-100 million for Pacquiao) those concerns may have been dismissed. Consequently, the US government will be able to extract the full top tax bracket amount from each fighter as a result of the fight taking place in Las Vegas.

Given the amount of money that the US Government is about to receive from Pacquiao, it brings to mind the usual claims made on behalf of the state as to why taxes are collected. I’m sure that we are all familiar with these claims. But remember, Pacquiao is not an American citizen. His home is in the Philippines. So when assessing the government claimed reasons for wealth confiscation, consider the following questions while keeping in mind the amount of money Pacquiao will be giving to the US Government and that same government’s claim that what he has given isn’t enough (hence the $18.3 million lien).

• Will Manny Pacquiao ever receive Social Security? (I realize that he likely won’t need it since he’s a multimillionaire, but still).

• Will any of Manny Pacquiao’s five children ever go to a school receiving money from the US Department of Education?

• How often does Manny Pacquiao drive on an American road?

• Is a top priority of the US Military the defense of the Philippine coastline? (not that it should be). Or to put it differently, do Filipino Citizens feel safer as a result of the actions of the US Military?

• Will Manny Pacquiao or his family be able to receive Medicare or Medicaid at any point during their lives?

It isn’t difficult to see that Pacquiao’s return on investment for his American taxes is pretty horrible. He may as well have sat in a room with the IRS and said “I’ll have the biggest fight of my career here in the states and you can take 39.5% of my earnings while I derive virtually no benefit from the money you take from me.” Will the IRS then back off their harassment of the prize fighter as a result of this decisively one sided deal? My guess would be no.

If Pacquiao’s tax troubles haven’t caused you to feel sorry for him since he can get through it more comfortably due to being wealthy, consider that the IRS routinely harasses those who have far less wealth he does. And if one of the world’s highest paid athletes won’t be able to negotiate his way out of this harassment, what chance could the rest of us possibly have?

Government Does The Worst Kind Of Gambling. But Of Course, It’s Legal When They Do It.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sparked some significant discussion back in November when he came out in support of legalized sports gambling. He submitted an article to the New York Times where he proposed that wagering on professional games should be legalized and regulated. These comments made him a revolutionary voice among other sports commissioners both past and present. So much talk was initiated by Silver’s opinion that ESPN devoted their entire February 2015 magazine publication to the debate by titling it “The Gambling Issue.”

Part of Silver’s reasoning for his new position stems from a desire to better eradicate some of gambling’s shadier characteristics rather than a support for every consequence that gambling may entail. In the aforementioned ESPN the Magazine issue, he is quoted as saying:

“One of my concerns is that I will be portrayed as pro sports betting…But I view myself more as pro transparency. And someone who’s a realist in the business. The best way for the league to monitor our integrity is for that betting action to move toward legal betting organizations, where it can be tracked. That’s the pragmatic approach.”

Of course, libertarians and other liberty minded people know this argument all too well. It is the argument they use to support the legalization of other vices that the government has criminalized. Their support for ending the drug war (for example) is more about taking power away from drug cartels and drug dealers through the same transparency Silver describes rather than championing actual drug use. Yet uninformed people will no doubt label Silver as “pro sports betting” just as they label those who advocate drug legalization as “pro drug use.”

But when one thinks about the audacity of a government preventing its citizens from engaging in voluntary wagers of their own money, it becomes easy to see the hypocrisy at play. First of all, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “gamble” as “to play a game in which you can win or lose money or possessions.” And of course, no one gambles with money or possessions quite like governments do. It’s easy to see why they do this. Since all money government has it obtained from other individuals, it is less likely that government will behave responsibly with it.

The examples of these failed state supported gambles with public money are numerous and seemingly never ending. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) publishes his annual “wastebook” detailing the ridiculous programs the federal government spends money on. On the state level, boondoggles like California’s high speed rail, Seattle’s highway tunnel and Pennsylvania’s incinerator are only some of the more glaring cautionary tales.

Add to all of this the fact that the money spent to build the stadiums where the sporting events take place is often seized via taxation from the public. And so many times those subsidies are not even worth the return on investment.

So it’s not just that government gambles away money that initially belonged to other people. It also prevents those people from gambling on sports with their own money despite the fact that the facilities containing the sporting events are paid for by those same taxpayers. Perhaps it’s time for members of government to enter a gamblers anonymous program.

Olbermann Knows That This Wasn’t the Redskin’s Inaugural Season, Right?

There’s no question that this has, by virtually every measure, been a terrible NFL season for off the field issues. It would be hard for anyone to dispute this. The bigger indiscretions which dominated the headlines were mentioned as part of a four minute rant by ESPN’s Keith Olbermann in which he mentioned the reasons for why he doesn’t care about and will not watch this year’s Super Bowl. Here is the quote specific to these issues (said sarcastically, of course):

“Support the National Football League which brought you Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and Ray McDonald and the racist team name in Washington and Roger Goodell, and all of them just this season.”

Olbermann is correct when identifying that the infractions committed by Rice, Peterson and McDonald were confined to this past year. Certainly the NFL didn’t “bring us” Goodell in that time. He has been the acting commissioner of the NFL since 2006. But I’d imagine that he’s referring to Goodell’s well documented botching of the Rice aftermath. So that at least fits. But to claim that the NFL “brought us…the racist team name in Washington…just this season” is pretty misleading.

The Washington Redskins were first established as a team in 1932. So if the nickname is truly racist, as Olbermann clearly believes it is, then it has been racist ever since then. The nickname did encounter some new opposition this season as both football studio personalities Tony Dungy and Phil Simms claimed they would no longer use the word “Redskin.” In addition, retired NFL referee Mike Carey said he didn’t work games involving the Redskins because he felt the term was “disrespectful.” But opposition from new sources hardly means that the team’s allegedly racist nickname somehow burst onto the scene this season above all others the same way that the Rice, Peterson and McDonald assaults did.

It doesn’t appear that Olbermann is so ignorant as to actually believe that Washington’s professional football team either didn’t have this nickname until this season or that somehow, the nickname wasn’t racist until this season. In the same video, he talks about how he has worked for NBC Sports and Fox Sports in addition to ESPN. Clearly, this overlapped with the Redskin’s existence that has spanned from 1932 until the present.

So why then does Olbermann falsely claim that the NFL “brought us” this “racist team name” during this season specifically? Well, notice how he places it strategically in the midst of other horrible occurrences that plagued the league this year. This is, of course, meant to stir up emotion about actual crimes of violence that took place either during the year or in the off season. Then, with you in this emotional state, Olbermann cleverly places a controversial issue he feels passionately about but has been an ongoing issue for a long time amidst these violent crimes. Perhaps he hopes that without actually thinking about it, his viewers will lump a controversial team name that has been in existence for over 80 years with women and children being beaten and act like they all somehow culminated in the same season when they clearly didn’t.

Sadly, Olbermann still could have mentioned the ongoing Redskins name saga along with the aforementioned instanced of violence as something that continuously acted like a thorn in the side of the league. But where he went so wrong was to present the name controversy as something that was specific to this NFL season when it is certainly not. All of us who follow the NFL can expect to hear more about this controversy as the years go on. What Olbermann said could have been accurate if he were to say something like this:

“Support the National Football League which brought you Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and Ray McDonald all just this season. Plus, you can throw in the league’s ongoing drama with the racist team name in Washington.”

There’s nothing technically wrong with that statement (for the record, I’m not claiming that the Redskin’s name is offensive or not as I will save that for a future article). No implying that the nickname’s controversy was initiated this year or that the alleged racism of the name became an issue during this specific NFL season above all others.

Hopefully Olbermann’s future rants will be a little less misleading. I know, since it’s Keith Olbermann we’re talking about, this may be a little too much to ask.

Realizing the Folly of Sports as Economic Stimulus

As Super Bowl XLIX descends upon us, once again we see evidence that sporting events are not responsible for wildly successful economic surges. The most recent blow dealt to this bogus claim came from Glendale, AZ (the sight of this year’s Super Bowl) mayor Jerry Weiers when he said of the game “I totally believe we will lose money on this.” Weiers also claimed that that Glendale lost more than one million dollars when it hosted their last Super Bowl in 2008. So it appears he knows what he’s talking about.

These claims come as no surprise to libertarians who know that sports events and complexes are often nothing but public works projects involving shady deals between governments and corporations. But what is somewhat of a surprise is that an article highlighting these shortcomings was featured on ESPN. It was rather strange to see an organization so consumed with sports actually feature an article admitting the failure of sports as an economic godsend. So perhaps there is some hope in challenging this fallacy.

But of course, it isn’t just the Super Bowl that is guilty of mass corporatism. The entire NFL operates this way. Billionaire owners often get the cities they reside in to shell out tax dollars for new stadiums. Subsidies toward NFL teams are so common and yield so little in return that it’s legitimate to wonder if a city having an NFL team is worth it.

So what is the libertarian, free market solution to fix the problem of the rampant corporate-state sports alliance? Well, like most of our other solutions, it would involve the complete removal of government from being able to offer this money in the first place. No doubt many will claim that those who want this money removed from the process will cause these sporting events, stadiums and professional leagues to not exist. But of course, this is complete nonsense. It’s no different from the claim that libertarians objecting to the government funding of transportation, science or commerce would cause those things to not exist. It harkens back to the quote from Frédéric Bastiat in his legendary 1850 masterpiece The Law:

“every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.”

Since there was no NFL at the time of Bastiat, he wasn’t around to see the state involve itself in that organization. But it would echo the theme of The Law to say that “we object to having state sponsored sports franchises. Then they will say that we want no sports franchises at all.” Given the amount of revenue professional sports leagues generate in America, it would be quite difficult to claim that they would not exist without the state’s involvement.