Friday, July 03, 2009

Lingering Items--Cover Up Edition

For all of the shortcomings that former Cleveland Browns’ general manager Phil Savage had, one thing he seemed to understand was the special bond between the fans and the players, particularly Browns fans. To that end, he went about trying to bring in players with a local connection; players who understood exactly what the Browns-Steelers rivalry meant.

One of those was certainly Joe Jurevicius, an unabashed Browns fan well before he ever became a pro football player himself. A local product through and through, except for that unfortunate stint at Penn State, Jurevicius represented everything Cleveland fans like in their players. He was loyal, hardworking, and not afraid to get his jersey dirty. He took on the unglamorous assignments that are so critical to moving the ball down field and has the body scars to prove it. When he made one clutch third-down catch after another, every fan celebrated with him as he thrust his arm forward as if he was the referee signaling for a first down. More than anything else, he was a winner.

Jurevicius, as fans well know by now, went under the knife for relatively routine arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after the 2007 season. But complications, mostly stemming from a staph infection he contracted, put him out of service for the entire 2008 season. He was released after the season and whether he’ll ever play again is questionable.

Though no longer on the team, Jurevicius still has the chance to help the Browns through the lawsuit he filed last week against his old team, the Cleveland Clinic and team physicians. It’s unlikely that the Browns and their lawyers see it that way, but by bringing the lawsuit Jurevicius hopes to, in part, expose what he no doubt believes is a cover-up by the Browns’ organization over the last few years with regard to staph infections suffered by the players. If he’s successful, it can only help the Browns in the long run. Sometimes the only way to help is with a sledgehammer.

In the suit, Jurevicius alleges that the Browns, despite representations to the contrary, did not properly maintain, disinfect or clean their therapy devices making it likely that he and, by proxy other players,would get a staph infection.

The particulars of Jurevicius’ lawsuit aren’t nearly as interesting as what is likely to come next. Since much of the lawsuit is premised on Browns officials, including Savage and former head coach Romeo Creennel allegedly misleading Jurevicius about the precautions the team had taken to rid its facility of staph, those same officials are going to find themselves on the hot seat having to answer difficult questions about what they knew and when they knew it.

Savage, in particular, undoubtedly will be the focus of some particularly grueling questioning by Jurevicius’ lawyers as topic one for them is going to be Savage’s bungling last year of Kellen Winslow’s medical situation, an incident that as much as anything led to Savage’s firing. Savage supposedly did everything he could to keep Winslow from revealing that he, too, was suffering another staph infection and then punished him for essentially going public with his concerns. Though not stated directly in the pleadings, this is the heart of the lawsuit. Savage claimed he was just trying to protect Winslow from, I guess, the media vipers. In actuality, Savage was just trying to protect Savage.

The Winslow incident, which Savage clearly tried to bury, was the first real shot across the bow of the team for their allegedly perfunctory efforts in keeping their players healthy. The Jurevicius lawsuit is the second. With a new regime in place, it will be easy for them to dismiss this lawsuit as old business. That would be a mistake.

While the old business is the Winslow incident, in a vacuum, the larger issue for Jurevicius and other players is how it plays into why, exactly, Jurevicius got staph. Did the Browns really take all the precautions they could to combat staph? Whether or not the relatively large number of staph infections by Browns’ players over the last year or two is a pattern or a coincidence will be a key to whether or not Jurevicius prevails in his lawsuit and whether or not there are other similar lawsuits in the team’s future.

But even if the lawsuit doesn’t result in any recovery for Jurevicius, it more than succeeds anyway if it brings a new-found focus on this problem Everyone involved, from the players, to the coaches to team officials are tired of dealing with this issue. But for all that weariness, it’s time for an actual solution to this problem to be found so that no more relatively minor injuries suddenly and unexpectedly transform into career-threatening injuries.


And the fall from grace continues.

Roger Clemens proving as inept at covering up his steroid use as he was proficient at throwing drug-induced fastballs, has taken still another whack to his flagging reputation. After being outed as a steroids user by his former trainer, Brian McNamee, during George Mitchell’s investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, Clemens loudly took the legal route to clear his name. It didn’t work.

In February, the judge hearing the lawsuit summarily dismissed it. The gist of the ruling was that McNamee, himself a target of the investigation, enjoyed immunity from such a lawsuit by virtue of his talking with governmental investigators from the Department of Justice and Mitchell. That McNamee would enjoy such immunity is Law School 101 and Clemens’ lawyers knew it. If cooperating witnesses in a governmental investigation can be sued for defamation for telling what they know, pretty soon there will be no such thing as a cooperating witness.

Not knowing when to say when, Clemens’ lawyers, no doubt at Clemens’ urging, asked the judge to reconsider the ruling. He did and slammed Clemens even harder than before, telling him sarcastically to sue the government if he really feels they overstepped theri boundaries in undertaking the investigation. He won’t.

The judge, helpfully.did tell Clemens that he could recast his defamation lawsuit by pointing not to what McNamee told the government but what he told Andy Pettitte directly. Of course, the judge said that knowing that this would require Clemens to bring Pettitte into the lawsuit, something Clemens can ill-afford. Pettitte, by truthfully coming forward, albeit after getting caught, retains his credibility and will have to again say under oath that Clemens was a drug user.

At some point Clemens may very well learn to leave well enough alone but for now it’s too late. His lawsuit may have been nothing more than an expensive exercise is public and private denial but it also served as a sharp stick in the eye to McNamee, who now plans on filing his own lawsuit. This one will be harder to dismiss.

Clemens doesn’t enjoy the immunity that McNamee had because Clemens’ statements about McNamee weren’t in the course of a governmental investigation. The only issue for the jury will be whether Clemens’ statements were defamatory. It’s a close call, given the extent of McNamee’s own wrongdoing.

But the real fireworks, just like the Jurevicius lawsuit, will be in the run up to the potential trial. Clemens will again be under oath and forced to either stick with his story thereby subjecting himself to perjury or moderate his stance into more of a Barry Bonds “I didn’t knowingly take any performance-enhancing drugs” non-denial denial.

Just don’t look for those fireworks anytime soon. Up until being replaced by South Carolina Mark Stanford, Clemens served as the textbook example of how not to handle a crisis. Eventually, though, he’ll learn his lesson and you’ll know it via the two or three line press release indicating that the parties have resolved their differences amicably.

Hopefully, then, we will have heard the last of Clemens.


Lost in all the mind-numbing sameness of this year’s version of the Cleveland Indians’ was general manager Mark Shapiro’s off-handed statement the other day that he hopes to right this ship in the next three years. Three years? Is there anyone alive out there?

It’s a testament to the job security that Shapiro must feel to be that blunt about his team’s prospects in the near term. The question is why isn’t anyone holding him more accountable? If Eric Mangini or George Kokinis had said that about the Browns there would have been a near riot on Mall C.

Maybe it was because Shapiro said it to a national writer that his three-year projection didn’t get much play locally. But it’s a stunning revelation nonetheless for a team that, more than many others, needs butts in the seats. Left unsaid, though, is exactly why Shapiro needs another three years or how, exactly, it will all come together in that amount of time.

My guess is that Shapiro is essentially admitting that serious organizational deficiencies in the acquisition of talent, both through free agency and in the draft, coupled with players on the current roster under long-term contracts that they can’t possibly live up to, are the culprits for his rather dismal prediction.

If the Indians were a publicly-traded company, the shareholders would revolt en masse. From a team that was relatively close to the World Series just a few years ago to have suddenly turned into baseball’s version of Delta Airlines smacks of management incompetence on a level not experienced since, well, the Browns returned to the NFL, but that’s another story.

But after learning some hard lessons after covering up Victor Martinez’s injury last season, Shapiro has embraced some level of transparency in his operations. Of course, that kind of transparency is always easier when nobody’s paying attention anyway. And if the fans’ indifference to the Indians’ latest free fall is teaching us anything, it’s that nobody really much cares anymore.


With Jhonny Peralta sleepwalking through another season, this week’s question to ponder: Is Peralta the least motivated player to wear a Cleveland uniform since Keith Hernandez?

1 comment:

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