Sport

Palou vs. Ganassi, Piastri vs. Alpine

Right now, top-flight single-seater racing news in the USA and the rest of the world is being dominated by contractual disputes involving drivers.

In Indycar, Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) is suing one of its drivers, Alex Palou, for breach of contract after they announced on July 12th that he had extended his contract with them to the end of 2023, and Palou responded “No, I never agreed to this”. Palou and his management believe that he has a signed agreement with McLaren, although it is not clear what racing series he will be driving in in 2023, since McLaren co-owns an Indycar team, and owns a Formula 1 team and a Formula E team. Several hours after Ganassi’s announcement, McLaren announced that it had signed Palou for 2023 and beyond. However, the press release carefully avoided mentioning which series Palou would be driving in.

Palou, it must be mentioned, is the current Indycar series champion, having won the title last year driving for Ganassi in his second season in the series. So we have a championship-winning team suing its championship-winning driver. Not a common occurrence.

In Formula 1, following the shock news that Fernando Alonso is leaving Alpine to join Aston Martin for 2023 and beyond (replacing Sebastian Vettel, who is retiring), which was announced on August 1st, Alpine announced that its reserve driver Oscar Piastri, would be racing for Alpine in 2023, replacing Alonso. To which Piastri immediately responded “I have not signed for Alpine, and I will not be driving for them in 2023”.

It is widely believed that Piastri and his management have been in talks with McLaren about Piastri joining the team, presumably replacing Daniel Ricciardo, who is not performing at the same level as Lando Norris.

Both situations are messy. In the case of Palou and Ganassi, CGR has sued Palou in Marion County District Court (the court handing civil matters in the county in Indiana where CGR has its headquarters). Palou’s lawyers have applied to have the case moved to Federal court, which, if granted, may slow down its progress, and more awkwardly, force Ganassi to reveal more details of the contracts that lie behind the lawsuit claims. (Palou’s lawyers have also hinted that Palou may file counter-claims in the case).

The main issue in this lawsuit may be whether Palou’s contract with CGR contains any sort of “out” clause that would allow him to leave to join a Formula 1 team. Some racing contracts in lesser series have an “out” clause allowing a driver to leave if he is offered a drive in Formula 1. This is entirely dependent on the detail wording of the contract, since the contract might have an “out” clause for Formula 1, but it might only apply if Palou is going to be a full-time driver for McLaren. A test driver role, for example, might not qualify to trigger the clause.

In the case of Piastri and Alpine, the main issue, if Piastri has signed an agreement with McLaren, is that Daniel Ricciardo signed a 3 year contract with McLaren for the 2021-2023 seasons. The contract has no get-out clause on the team’s behalf, but it has an option on Ricciardo’s side for the 2023 season. So, if Ricciardo has already exercised the option, which he would be a fool not to do, he is contractually bound to McLaren for 2023, and if McLaren wants another driver to replace him, they will either have to buy out his contract, or sell his contract to another team (which might also require his express consent, depending on how the contract is worded).

The big backdrop to the Piastri-Alpine dispute is that many option contracts and pre-contracts in Formula 1 expire on July 31st. Teams want to have their drivers locked down for the following season as soon as possible, in order for them to do other commercial deals before the next season commences, and drivers whose current teams may be terminating or not extending their contracts also need to know in time what will happen so that they can look for other opportunities.

What is generally believed is that Fernando Alonso was negotiating a new contract with Alpine, but he had not signed it, because he wanted a multi-year deal, while Alpine was only prepared to offer him a 1 year deal. The insistence on a 1 year deal apparently came from Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi. Alonso’s contract had an exclusivity clause that expired on July 31st, after which time he was free to talk to other teams.

Alpine has had Oscar Piastri under contract for some time, and supported him in the lower formulae. Piastri is reckoned by many people in the sport to be a once-in-a-generation top-flight driver, and his performances of winning both an F3 series and an F2 series in his first season in both certainly suggest that he is highly talented. Alpine had Zhou Guan Yu under contract, but lost him to Alfa Romeo at the end of last year, because they could not offer him any Formula 1 seat. They did not want to lose Piastri the same way.

Piastri’s contract with Alpine also is rumored to have had an exclusivity clause that expired on July 31st. Piastri’s manager, Mark Webber, has been in talks with other teams for a while, trying to find a drive for him next year. Basically, it has been clear all along that if Alpine could not find Piastri a drive in F1 next year, he would become a free agent and any team could sign him. Normally a manufacturer team like Alpine would do a loan deal to another team for 1 or 2 seasons. However, many teams are not keen on taking a driver on loan only to have to give him back after he has spent 1 or 2 seasons honing his craft. Piastri was also not keen on a loan deal to a back-of-the-grid team where he might not be able to show his talent to the full.

There is an additional complication that Alpine/Renault does not have any customer teams. In the past, manufacturers would loan a driver to a customer team, often paying his salary and offering the B team a discount on powerplant supply. Alpine does not have that option available.

Up until last week, the most likely outcome was for Alonso to agree to the 1 year offer from Alpine (which was also rumored to include a clause guaranteeing him the lead driver role in the Alpine WEC car project after 2023), with Piastri being loaned to another lower-tier team for 1 season to allow him to gain experience, possibly Williams or Haas. Alonso had no other options with any other team, and his track record of acrimonious splits with teams has left him with the image as a difficult person to deal with.

Then…Sebastian Vettel announced his retirement on 27th July. That changed everything.

Suddenly, a potentially top-flight team with a wealthy, ambitious owner was on the phone to Fernando Alonso, offering everything that Alpine were not offering – a multi-year contract for a start, and a salary that was rumored to be higher than any salary that Alpine was prepared to offer. (Rumor has it that Esteban Ocon’s salary rises next year as part of an escalator clause in his contract, and the salary that Alpine was offering Alonso for 2023 was less than Ocon’s 2023 salary).

Alonso, a man for whom pride and ego plays a big part, suddenly felt wanted and needed in a way that Alpine were not signalling. In his mind, Alpine wanted to underpay him, then rapidly pension him off and send him to sports cars. Aston Martin wanted him to drive in F1 as long as he wanted to. Big difference.

Legally, Alonso could not sign anything until his exclusivity clause with Alpine expired at midnight on July 31st. But within a few hours after that, Aston Martin announced that Alonso had signed a multi-year deal with the team.

However, at exactly the same date and time, Oscar Piastri’s exclusivity contract with Alpine also ended. He was free to negotiate with other teams, and it just so happened that another team (believed to be McLaren) was very interested. Seeing Piastri as a generational talent, they offered him a contract.

Alpine’s announcement that Piastri would be driving for them can be seen as a throw of the dice. The team, caught entirely unawares by Alonso’s decision to sign for Aston Martin, needed a replacement, and what better than the driver that they have been supporting to get into Formula 1?

However, Piastri’s categorical insistence that he will not drive for Alpine in 2023 is a powerful indication that he has already signed to drive for another team. If the Alpine exclusivity clause in the contract had expired, it is possible that Alpine has no legal recourse. In which case they are left with a vacant seat for next season. If Alpine was unable to commit to Piastri, because they still wanted to have Alonso in the team for 2023, they might have been stringing him along to the point where he lost patience and confidence in them, and signed an option deal with McLaren, to be triggered after 31st July.

Now…if that happened, then things get murky if there was an exclusivity clause attached to Piastri’s contract with Alpine. If Alpine could, for example, show that Piastri and/or his management were negotiating with McLaren in advance of 31st July, when the contract forbade it, then they would have a case against McLaren for tortuous interference, as well as Piastri for breach of contract. However, I doubt that is the case. It has been an open secret for months that Piastri’s management have been trying to find him a formula 1 drive for 2023. They probably already banged on every team’s door a long time ago.

At the same time, 3 into 2 will not work at McLaren, at least not next season. With Daniel Ricciardo essentially unsackable, McLaren will either have to buy out Ricciardo’s contract, find him a seat acceptable to him in another series (i.e. Indycar or Formula E), or trade his contract to another team, if they want to slot Piastri into a race seat for 2023.

One big unknown is whether Ricciardo’s contract contains offset language. If (to use an example) he is being paid $10m by McLaren, and McLaren terminate his contract, and there is offset language in the contract, and he signs a contract with another team for $8m, McLaren would only owe him $2m, because the new team would be paying him $8m of the $10m that McLaren would otherwise owe him in 2023 under the terms of the contract. Absent any offset language, Ricciardo could potentially “double dip”. He could collect the money owed for his McLaren contract in 2023, sign with another team AND get paid by them. Assuming he can find another team willing to sign him at this late stage.

Alpine now has a driver vacancy…

The fact that Mclaren is a suitor for the services of both Alex Palou and Oscar Piastri is probably not a coincidence. Zak Brown, the CEO of McLaren Racing, is ambitious to build up all of the three single-seater teams. McLaren formally enters Formula E next season, when it takes over the Mercedes Formula E team, Arrow SPM McLaren is expanding to 3 cars next season, and Colton Herta has tested with McLaren this season in a 2021 car.

UPDATE – This morning’s addition to the rumour mill is that the contract Piastri has signed with McLaren is for a reserve driver role in 2023, with him becoming a race driver in 2024 and beyond, after the expiry of Daniel Ricciardo’s contract. This is logical from a financial point of view, given the costs that McLaren would likely incur if they terminated Ricciardo’s contract a year early, but the rumour makes little sense from an overall strategy perspective. Alpine would have been extremely keen to have Piastri also continue in a reserve role for 1 year while Alonso saw out his contract, so he was not going to be racing for Alpine.

The only part of the rumor that makes sense is that Alpine planned to loan him to Williams for 2023, and Piastri and his manager felt that was not going to be good for him. However, any racing experience is better than watching from the garage. George Russell was loaned from Mercedes to Williams for 2 seasons, rapidly acquired the nickname “Mr. Saturday” because of his consistent ability to extract the maximum from a mediocre car in qualifying, and is clearly ready to race at the sharp end in 2023 for Mercedes. Being loaned to another team certainly did not hinder him.

UPDATE 2 – The case filed by Ganassi against Alex Palou is now headed for Federal court.

UPDATE 3 – A lot of people seem to think that the Alpine mess with Alonso and Piastri is somehow the fault of Otmar Szafnauer. This is unlikely. Fernando Alonso was apparently negotiating his contract directly with Alpine CEO Laurent Rossi, and it is therefore safe to assume that the same was occurring with Oscar Piastri. Szafnauer, like the rest of the Alpine team, found out that Fernando Alonso had signed for Aston Martin when he read that team’s press release on the Monday morning.

There may be issues with Rossi’s leadership style. Since he became Alpine CEO, three senior leaders – Marcin Budkowski, Cyril Abetiboul, and Alain Prost, have left the team. Alpine also lost Zhou Guan Yu to Alfa Romeo last year when they were unable to offer him a race seat. There is an emerging pattern that suggests strongly that Rossi does not really understand or respect top-flight racing team culture.

UPDATE 4 – It now seems that McLaren intends to replace Daniel Ricciardo with Oscar Piastri in 2023, and has already commenced talks with Ricciardo’s management to buy out the remainder of his contract. 

This explanation from Dieter Rencken shows that Piastri probably signed a McLaren contract before Alonso signed for Aston Martin.

UPDATE 5 – Adam Cooper, writing in Motorsport, explains the events that have unfolded. Included in the article is the revelation that a deal had been agreed for Piastri to be loaned to Williams, with a Renault powerplant deal as part of the arrangement. So the signing of Piastri to Mclaren has pissed off not only Alpine, but also Williams. Alpine would have gained a B team, which they currently lack, which would have increased their influence inside the sport. The relationship between Piastri and McLaren had better work, or his management may live to regret the move.

 

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Lester Piggott 1935-2022 – The lesser-known but important stuff

Lester Piggott, possibly the most recognizable British professional athlete of the last 60 years, passed away this past weekend.

As befits a man who operated at the very top of his sport for 40+ years, amassed 11 UK flat jockey championships, and 30 English Classic wins (including a record 9 Epsom Derby wins), the obituaries were fulsome, but nearly every obituary simply documented all of the well-known highlights (with passing references to Piggott’s collision with the UK tax authorities, which saw him serve a year in jail in the late 1980s), and failed to mention some key parts of Lester’s life that are laudable and noteworthy.

One aspect is that virtually all of Piggott’s fame was achieved without much of his own help in public relations terms. More than many other high-performing athletes, his reputation was built almost entirely by his winning record, particularly in Classic races. He looked mega-serious sitting on a horse, with a face which one journalist memorably summarized as “looking like a well-kept grave”. Monosyllabic in public, with a speech impediment and limited hearing in one ear, Piggott was seldom a good interview, but in private he was said to be much different, with a sly, dry wit, and an ability, which he occasionally showed in public, to turn a pithy phrase.

Most of his interviews were notable for his well-developed ability to deflect awkward questions, or swat away questions he perceived as pointless. Occasionally, he could be snarky and cutting. In 1968, he won the Washington International on Sir Ivor, coming from the pack with a late run to win near the line, on a horse that needed to be held up until the last minute to preserve his speed. US journalists, used to the American jockey style of toe-in-irons, a short rein, crouched almost up the horse’s neck (think Bill Shoemaker), did not know what to make of a really tall guy riding very short, his posterior high in the air, riding with a long rein, and Piggott’s style led to some negative media commentary. In 1969 he returned again and won the race on Karabas. Asked afterwards “when did you know you had the race won”, he replied, deadpan, “about 2 weeks ago”.

The most interesting interview I found was this one, which seems to begin unpromisingly with Lester being, well, Lester, giving short, almost monosyllabic answers to the questions. But somewhere along the line, for whatever reason, he warms up, and proceeds to give detailed and interesting responses to questions. It is a fascinating insight into the thought processes of a man who, beneath the unsmiling exterior, was very smart and very cunning.  

Lester was born into UK horse racing, his family’s horse racing roots going back 6 generations. However, he was not born into upper-crust horse racing life. The Piggotts were hard-working horsemen and women, jockeys and trainers. They lived comfortably, but not large.

At the time that Lester Piggott began to ride racehorses for a living, jockeys were regarded as lower-status servants, small men whose job it was to ride the horses, preferably win riding them, and to doff their caps and be suitably grateful for the privilege of riding Their Horses, and the small amounts of money that even successful jockeys earned. Hanging over the life of a jockey was the ever-present threat of the big accident that could end their career, or if they were unlucky, their life.

Lester, as he became more successful in the late 1950s and early 60s, would have noticed the vast income disparity, not only between him and his owners, but also between the amounts of money that he and his fellow jockeys earned, and the rapidly escalating earnings of other professional athletes. The salaries of professional soccer players in England in the 1960s escalated rapidly after the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961, before which pro soccer players were also little more than averagely paid indentured servants.

Born into a household that imbued thrift and care with money as a virtue, Lester would also have noticed the very high marginal tax rates on high earners in the UK. A number of leading showbusiness people had quietly become tax exiles in the 1950s and 1960s. Noel Coward, Ian Fleming and Richard Burton all became tax exiles rather than hand over way too much of their earnings to the Inland Revenue. In the 1970s, the trickle of celebrities moving their residence outside of mainland Britain, or taking “tax holidays” to coincide with the arrival of large sums of money would become a flood, and tax avoidance would become a burgeoning industry for lawyers and accountants.

Apart from the danger of injury and worse, Lester also experienced the sheer effort involved in riding out, traveling, studying form, and, in his case, the privations of having to run his body at close to 30 pounds less than its normal weight. “What with all of the riding out and the travel, I put in a lot more hours than the average chap”, he remarked in an early 1970s biography.

Piggott, although operating from his own personal motives, which as Peter O’Sullevan noted in his own autobiography, came from his austere upbringing, and his monastic existence, both of which fostered a “me against the world” gunslinger attitude, decided to change the picture.

By 1966, he had been riding as the stable jockey for Noel Murless for over 10 years. During that time, Piggott had won a number of big races on horses trained by Murless. However, in return for a rather modest retainer, he was obliged to ride whatever horse Murless told him to ride. Murless had a very old-world view of jockeys, basically regarding Piggott as just another employee at his beck and call.

Lester was well aware of the rise of Vincent O’Brien in Ireland, who was starting to train top-flight flat horses, after dominating Irish National Hunt racing for years. Piggott chafed at the refusal of Murless to allow him to ride other horses when the Murless horses were not competitive. O’Brien’s horses were becoming too good for an ambitious rider like Piggott to pass up.

At the end of 1966, Lester threw a bomb into the Murless stable yard, announcing that he would be riding as a freelance in 1967. Murless, mistakenly, initially tried to act as if nothing had happened, but soon found out that Lester meant what he said, as he started riding better horses from other stables in preference to the Murless ones. Murless eventually hired George Moore and then Sandy Barclay to replace Lester, who began riding more and more of Vincent O’Brien’s horses.

With top-flight horses from Vincent O’Brien propelling Lester to Derby wins in 1968 (Sir Ivor) and 1970 (Nijinsky), Piggott’s reputation continued to increase, which not only allowed him to ride more Classic-quality horses, but which also meant he began to earn a lot more money. His work situation was awkward. Unlike film or pop stars, who could relocate to more favorable tax havens, while still being able to spend up to 90 days in the UK, Lester worked in the UK, and could not become a tax exile. So he had to resort to creative ways to be rewarded for his efforts without incurring a large tax bill. He began to start asking for (and receiving) additional rewards for his services, in addition to the modest riding fees, and “presents” for winning big races, but preferably not in cash. Lester was fond of indirect payments, especially if they went to an overseas address. Stallion nominations in winning colts and shares in stallions became two of his currencies.

Lester, whether he realized it or not, was already tip-toeing along the fringes of the law, which would come back to hit him hard many years later.

By the early 1970s, Lester had broken the mould of the jockey as obedient servant to owners and trainers. He won the jockey’s title multiple times while riding as a freelance, and he was able to consistently talk himself onto the best horses. Often a single phone call would see a rider “jocked off” a top-flight horse and replaced by L. Piggott. As Vincent O’Brien himself noted, not having Lester Piggott on your Classic horse was a risk that you dared not take.

Piggott also noticed the rise of the wealthy “super-owners”, often from the Middle East beginning in the late 1970s. With his role as Vincent O’Brien’s first-call jockey about to be taken by Pat Eddery, he returned to Warren Place in Newmarket in the early 1980s, to become stable jockey to Henry Cecil, who had taken over the stables from the retired Noel Murless, and had a powerhouse collection of big-spending owners. Effectively, Piggott was riding as much for the most powerful owners in the Cecil stables as he was for Cecil himself.

Piggott’s tenure as Cecil’s stable jockey would end in strained circumstances after several seasons, partly because of a falling-out with owner Daniel Wildenstein in 1983, but also because of a private letter circulated by Cecil, asking leading owners to make payments to Piggott via overseas bank accounts. The letter was leaked, and it’s last words (“please destroy this letter”) would initiate an Inland Revenue investigation. Despite large cuts in direct taxation rates after 1980, Piggott was still trying to shovel cash into his bank accounts via numerous means, some legal, some dubious, and some (it would eventually be ruled) illegal.

Piggott’s attempt to do financial deals directly with owners (albeit under-the-tax-radar) was signaling the beginning of what would later become a firm trend in flat racing, where some top jockeys would be employed by owners directly, riding that owner’s horses, no matter who trained them and where they were trained. Steve Cauthen, who had moved to the UK to extend his career, and who took over as Henry Cecil’s stable jockey after Piggott left at the end of 1984, enjoyed a  period in the late 1980s as the retained rider for Sheik Mohammed until he retired in 1991. Other jockeys continue to be employed to this day by owners or stud corporations such as Godolphin and Coolmore.

The investigation by the Inland Revenue in the mid-1980s led to Piggott being charged with tax evasion. Ultimately, despite paying back a lot of money to the Inland Revenue, Piggott would be jailed in 1987 for 3 years (he served 1 year and 1 day), mainly because he was found to have lied to Inland Revenue investigators about his secret bank accounts. Not even his own accountants knew about one of the bank accounts, which speaks to Piggott’s fiscal cunning and deviousness.

However, Piggott’s laser focus on being paid well for his efforts would help numerous other top riders, who began to be treated far better and given much more credit, private, public and financial, for their efforts. His high public profile, and his unique style of riding, with his posterior high in the air (he famously quipped “well I’ve got to put it somewhere” when asked why his posterior was so high in the air) also paved the way for some other jockeys to drop their anonymity and become public figures, which led to some of them (like Willie Carson) becoming as well-known both on and off the racetrack.

Amusingly, according to the Inland Revenue, Piggott’s sentence for tax evasion also led to a number of other jockeys confessing to the Inland Revenue about certain, ahem, under-the-counter benefits and payments that they themselves had been receiving. Lester had led the way again. Imitation is one of the more sincere forms of flattery, even when (as in this case) other people imitate the dubious stuff.

An innovation that also originated from Lester was a new style of flat race jockey riding position and crouch. During the mid-1960s, he gradually changed his riding position, from a conventional long-leather position (see the image of him on Carrozza), with a straight horizontal back, which was the norm in the UK and Europe at the time, to riding with very short stirrup leathers, with his knees seemingly tied together over the horse’s withers. The change started around 1964, and by 1967, Lester’s riding style was different to nearly every other jockey riding at the time, especially the Australian riders, who always rode with longer leathers than anybody else in the first place. This article from Horse and Hound shows images of Lester from 1966, where he was still transitioning from his previous riding position, and 1971, by which time the famous riding position was cemented in the public view, with his posterior way higher than his head. It became the subject of much comment, but it certainly seemed to work for him, and it led to a rapid move by other jockeys to ride shorter, such that by the mid-70s, just about every flat jockey was riding short, some as short as Lester.  (Later, in the mid-1980s, the influence of Steve Cauthen in the UK and Cash Asmussen in France would lead to a further evolution in riding position and style, with many European jockeys adopting the toe-in-iron position that most US jockeys use).

Lester also shared a love of fast cars and driving fast with his American counterpart Bill Shoemaker. Numerous fellow jockeys had tales of Piggott regarding a 90+ mph dash to a race meeting as simply a jog-trot. (Harry Carr, a peer of Piggott’s in his early career, bailed out of driving to race meetings in Piggott’s car, noting “good driver though he was, it was impossible to stand the strain”). Unlike Shoemaker however, who ended up crashing a high-performance road vehicle after his retirement, and suffered injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic, Piggott was smart enough and good enough to stay out of crash trouble, although he collected speeding tickets at a considerable rate, with the odd driving ban. Sir Mark Prescott tells a hilarious tale of him and Lester, both late in getting to London Heathrow Airport, racing through the London suburbs to get to the terminal, with Lester winning the race by going the wrong way around a roundabout, and when they arrived in Paris, pretending to be the trainer Jeremy Tree and essentially hijacking his rental car. It is perhaps not much of a surprise, that in the earlier-referenced interview, when asked what he would have liked to have been if he could not have been a jockey, Lester replied “motor racing driver”.

Another aspect of Piggott’s life that did attract elliptical comment was that he was polyamorous. He married Susan Armstrong in 1960, and had two daughters, but later had publicly-known affairs with other women, and in 1993 he fathered a son (Jamie, now a bloodstock agent) with Anna Ludlow. In 1997 he quietly left Susan Armstrong (to whom he still remained married) and set up home in Switzerland with Lady Barbara FitzGerald, who also remained married to her previous husband. He lived in Switzerland with her for the rest of his life. His wife professed to be unfazed by the arrangements, and Lester seemingly cared not a jot about what other people thought.

Of course, not caring what anybody thinks can lead to trouble. When you flip the bird to the tax authorities in your country of residence, that tends to end in problems after a while. But we can certainly say that Lester lived his life on his own terms, and most people would like to look back and say that.

 

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2020 Epsom Derby shock – Serpentine

The Epsom Derby has a habit of throwing up shock results from time to time.

Epsom racecourse is not a regular oval, flat race track. It is undulating, culminating in the downhill sweep around Tattenham Corner, which is angled and cambered, and which often sees fancied horses changing lead legs, and becoming, gait-wise, crossed up. This robs them of momentum at a critical phase of the race. The final 3 furlongs to the winning post are actually on the side of a hill, which is not shown to any accuracy on TV angles.

Every year, a lone horse and jockey will try to lead from the front from the top of the hill to the winning post. Usually, it is an outsider, a horse whose trainer is confident will stay 1.5 miles, but lacking in speed. And normally, the lone ranger is swallowed up by the pack about 2 furlongs out, as his staying ability is trumped by the acceleration of higher-quality horses off of the final corner.

Once in a while, however, the lone ranger horse does cross the line first. In 1974, Snow Knight, a colt with next to no racing record, and a suspect temperament, was discounted in pre-race analysis, starting as a rank outsider at 50/1. He further dismayed everybody by dumping jockey Brian Taylor within a short period of time of him mounting in the paddock. This was SOP for Snow Knight, who was a fractious animal. Taylor swiftly remounted, none the worse for wear, and Snow Knight went to the start line, albeit still arguing with his handlers as he was led into the stalls.

Taylor slipped the field over half a mile out and went for home, confident that Snow Knight would stay the distance. He had run well in the Lingfield Derby Trial, a race at the same distance on a circuit that resembles Epsom. Everybody sat and watched, expecting Snow Knight to be swallowed up by the field, but around 2 furlongs out, the terrible truth dawned, both among the brains of the pursuing jockeys, and the spectators, that Snow Knight was not coming back to the pack. He accelerated well, and held off the pursuers to win by 2 lengths. He actually pulled away from his closest pursuer in the last furlong. He had speed as well as stamina.

Unlike some Derby fields, this was not a weak race. Snow Knight was not the second coming of Airborne. High-quality horses such as Bustino (who had won the Lingfield Derby Trial) trailed him home in the race. Snow Knight, it turned out, was a far better race horse than anybody expected. His record in the UK was spotty, mainly because after the Derby he was mostly entered in races where he was competing against older horses, but sent to race in the USA at age 4, he did very well indeed, despite still being a pain in the ass temperament-wise. At the end of 1975 he was voted Champion American Turf Horse.

In 1985, Steve Cauthen led for the entire race on Slip Anchor, and, in an enterprising Cauthen way, pushed Slip Anchor further into the lead 5 furlongs out, after noticing that Petoski, who was leading the chasing pack, was starting to tire. Slip Anchor stayed in the lead all the way to the finish line, extending his advantage in the closing 2 furlongs. At the time, Cauthen was convinced that Slip Anchor might just be the best horse he had ever ridden, but unfortunately he had an accident in his stall and was never the same horse on track afterwards.

Yesterday at Epsom, we had a repeat of the 1974 and 1985 races, when Serpentine, an unfancied outsider, was sent into the lead of the race a long way out. None of the other horses followed him, and kept tracking each other and running their own race. They suddenly found themselves with no chance, as Serpentine kept moving at the same speed, and they barely made a dent in his lead. He crossed the line 5+ lengths clear.

It remains to be seen whether Serpentine’s victory was a fluke, made possible by the introversion and collective observational failure of the rest of the jockeys, or whether he genuinely is a top-class racehorse. His breeding suggests that he may be the real deal. We will find out over time.

UPDATE 1 – Steve Cauthen, in an interview, pointed out the similarities between his win on Slip Anchor and the win of Serpentine. As he says, if you have a horse that handles the curves and undulations, and who likes to run freely, it is possible to lead from the front a long way out and challenge the rest of the field to catch you.

UPDATE 2 – At time of writing Serpentine looks like a fluke winner of the Derby, having done little of note since he won the race. He has been sold out of Aidan O’Brien’s yard to an Australian breeder and has a new trainer in Ireland.

UPDATE 3 – In an event that is almost unheard of, Serpentine was moved to Australia, and has been gelded. No Epsom Derby winner in the last 122 years has suffered that fate. The new owners explained it as a “racing decision”. Nevertheless, this outcome is a rare one for an English classic winner.

It may be due to simple over-supply. Serpentine’s sire Galileo, who died at the age of 23 in 2021, was a popular and fertile stallion, siring upwards of 230 Group race winners. (In his early stud career, he was a shuttle stallion, but after a while he stood exclusively in Ireland). There are simply way too many male descendants of Galileo currently at stud for a moderate, possibly fluke Epsom Derby winner to make any impression in the market.  Despite his impeccable breeding, it was likely that Serpentine did not have any commercial value as a stallion, given his undistinguished record before and after his shock win at Epsom. The owners probably concluded that he had more value as a gelded stayer. (Prince of Penzance, a shock winner of the 2015 Melbourne Cup, was an 8 year old gelding at the time).

 

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What Fernando Alonso just told us about leadership

Today, Fernando Alonso failed to qualify (for sure) at the Indianapolis 500. He finished in 31st place after trying no fewer than 4 times to post a 4-lap qualifying time fast enough to make him one of the top 30 qualifiers, which would have given him a grid place for the race. By finishing 31st, he has to come back tomorrow (Sunday) or Monday (depending on weather) to see if he can win one of the remaining 3 grid places. There are 6 drivers trying to win the 3 places, so on paper he has a 50% chance.

Unsurprisingly, Fernando was not exactly thrilled with his day at the office. In 2017, driving an additional car being run by Andretti Autosport, he qualified well, and even led the race before eventually retiring with engine failure (he was using a Honda engine, of which more later). This year, he is running with a brand new McLaren indycar team. The only running he and the team had done with the car was 1 test day at Texas Motor Speedway. McLaren has a technical alliance with Carlin Motorsport, which is fielding 3 cars at this year’s race. Coincidentally (but maybe not), two of Carlin’s drivers, Max Chilton and Patricio O’Ward, are also in the 6 car shootout, having failed to qualify fast enough today.

Fernando Alonso is, by common consent, one of the great drivers of the modern era. He won two Formula One world championships, and could easily have won more…if he had made better decisions.

Which brings us to today. After the qualifying session had ended, the media wanted to know what Alonso thought of the day’s events.

Well, unsurprisingly, Fernando was not exactly thrilled. No top-flight race driver likes to be struggling to merely get his car into the Indianapolis 500. However, the way that he chose to express his thoughts provides several telling leadership lessons. Here is the quote from him:

“That didn’t help,” Alonso said of the puncture after his first qualifying run, “but, obviously, our performance has been quite bad all week. Quite poor.”
When asked how disappointing it has been to that points, Alonso said, “It is disappointing but I guess it’s more a question for McLaren.”
Alonso added that his team was “not ready for the challenge.”
“We’ve been slow,” he said. “You see (Juncos Racing) crashing yesterday and being ready at 6 (a.m.). That’s impressive. For us, we’ve been a little bit slow slow on everything.”

Firstly and most obviously; Fernando Alonso violated a fundamental rule of leadership: Never throw your team under the bus in a public forum.

The rule should be: praise in public, chastise in private.

Secondly, Fernando was speaking the truth. He crashed his primary car in practice early on Wednesday afternoon. The team had run few laps on Tuesday due to a recurrence of electrical issues that had cut a previous Rookie Orientation run short. The car was badly damaged, but the chassis was apparently re-usable. McLaren, a well-funded team, had a spare car, or more correctly, it said it had a spare car. However, it later emerged that the spare car was not built up and ready to roll. It was in fact a spare chassis with a pile of parts in the Carlin workshop. So Mclaren had to make a decision; either rebuild the primary car, or build up the spare chassis. They decided to build up the spare chassis.

However, there was no Mclaren car ready to run on Thursday morning, as might have been expected. In fact there was no car available for Fernando to drive all day Thursday When he should have been out on track accumulating laps, circuit and car set-up knowledge, he was sitting on the pit wall. As a result, Mclaren entered “Fast Friday” (where the turbo boost is turned up and lap speeds increase by 2 mph) with very little accumulated track time.

Fernando’s comment about Juncos Racing was on the money. Juncos is a team without a sponsor, running, money-wise, on fumes. They crashed their primary car on Friday, and many observers thought that was the end of their participation, especially since the chassis was damaged. However, Juncos pulled their road course car out of storage, and, with some help from other teams who loaned them spares, had the car ready to roll out of the garage, in superspeedway specification, by 06.00 on Saturday. When Fernando Alonso said his team was “not ready”, he was speaking a truth. Despite an alliance with Carlin Motorsports which was supposed to pool data on car set-up and engineering support, McLaren has not looked agile in track operations, nor has the car looked quick enough on track. The loss of track time on Tuesday and Wednesday was a major issue. When you are struggling to find speed on a high-speed oval, you need time to try different set-ups, and run lots of laps to determine what works. Changing weather conditions also make it essential to run all day to ensure that when qualifying and race day come along, you have a set-up for the car that works. Despite pooling data with Carlin, Mclaren and Carlin collectively are not able to make their cars fast enough. Fernando Alonso was, in his wording, being upfront, blunt and candid. He was not engaging in euphemism or personal excoriations. He was pointing out organizational failures. This was actually good leadership – in what should have been a private forum.

Now this is not a new situation for a team at Indianapolis. In 1995, Team Penske failed to qualify any cars, despite winning the race the previous year. Their final hours of qualifying actually looked more desperate than Mclaren’s, as the team showed up with unpainted cars borrowed from other teams in a desperate attempt to qualify their drivers, then waved off one qualifying run that might have qualified one car, before finally running out of time. The team looked totally lost. Indianapolis can reduce teams of smart people to headbanging impotence in hours.

So, here we have a frustrated driver whose team is not in command of the situation, being forced to hang it out (as in, drive a poorly-sorted car that could leave the track at any moment) four times in order to sort-of (but not quite) qualify. So, yes, he was correct in his observations. But, he did a Fernando Alonso thing, something he has done in the past, by publicly slamming his team.

Thirdly, those of us who have followed Fernando Alonso nodded with that “deja vu” nod. Because, you see, has a habit of publicly chastising his employers and component suppliers. Alonso is using Chevrolet engines this year at Indianapolis. He used Honda engines in 2017, when his formula 1 team (McLaren) was using Honda engines. Alonso, in a race while driving for Mclaren in formula 1, once likened his Honda Formula1 engine to the engine in a GP2 car. This was said loudly and publicly over the radio to his team. Engine suppliers, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on supplying engines to a team, do have a valid expectation that their employees will not make such comments in public. Especially a Japanese corporation. Had Fernando Alonso been more diplomatic in his comments about Honda, he might have been able to use Honda engines at this year’s race, and McLaren might have been partnering with Andretti Autosport again, who do know how to be quick around Indianapolis. There are two engine suppliers in IndyCar, but Alonso’s past public comments probably ensured he only had one choice.

Public excoriations like that just issued by Fernando Alonso are difficult for any organization to handle. While it is probable that Mclaren is already aware that their performance has been inadequate (if not, they have an even bigger issue called Denial), these sorts of outbursts are unlikely to positively motivate team members who are probably already working under a lot of pressure.

We wait to see if tomorrow allows Mclaren to find more speed in the car. If they can find 2 mph, then Alonso will probably qualify, and will be all smiles. However, behind the scenes, the issues will linger. Fernando Alonso had his original Mclaren-Mercedes contract terminated in 2007 after a dispute with team management, and left Ferrari in 2014 after another dispute over a contract extension. So we are seeing a recurrence of a pattern of behavior that helps to explain why such a talented and competitive driver only won two Formula 1 championships. The talent, drive and command are all there. The ability to consistently follow fundamental leadership principles is lacking.

UPDATE – Alonso did not qualify on Bump Day. He was, as he probably feared, bumped from the race by Juncos Racing, with the team failing to find any more speed in the car.

UPDATE 2 – McLaren apparently tried to explore buying their way back into the race by buying another team’s qualified entry (in the Indianapolis 500, it is the car that qualifies, not the driver). However, nothing came of it.

UPDATE3 – Bob Fearnley, the team manager for the McLaren effort, has left the team.

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The rumoured McLaren staff revolt and the underlying realities

Reality can be harsh.
Mclaren, a team that has not won a race since November 2012, signed a deal with Honda during 2013 for the 2015 season. Ron Dennis, the founder of the modern McLaren that we know, stated in 2015 that in his opinion, it was not possible for any team to win without being a “factory” engine team for a major manufacturer. McLaren had been nowhere compared to Mercedes in the 2014 season, and Dennis concluded that no customer team could enjoy the same access, and hence the same level of integration and optimization, as a factory team.
We know the history of the McLaren – Honda relationhip since 2015. The relationship, never a good one, finally collapsed last Spring and Summer, when Honda turned up for Winter testing with a powerplant that kept failing, vibrated the hell out of itself and the car, and was lacking in power. After putting Honda on a strict plan to force them to provide a powerplant by the end of the Summer that approached Mercedes customer power, McLaren walked away from the relationship in September 2017, and the Honda engine deal is now with Toro Rosso. The Honda program is now on its third leader in 4 seasons, so there have been consequences inside Honda for the poor performance of the powerplant.
However, all of the time that McLaren was struggling to be competitive with the Honda powerplant, the team had a ready-made excuse for poor on-track performance. It was the same mantra: we would be a lot more competitive with anybody else’s powerplant in the car. This narrative of a potentially front-running team hobbled by a sub-standard power unit was bought into by the drivers, and team management, who said it consistently a lot in the 2017 season.
Following the break with Honda, McLaren, having failed to agree a deal with Mercedes, signed a 3 year deal with Renault. Zak Brown and other McLaren leaders made encouraging noises, pointing out when asked that Red Bull, despite not being a “factory” team (and in fact, despite having re-badged their Renault powerplant as a Tag-Heuer), were winning races. The expectation was that McLaren could be a top 8 team again, capable of podiums, with a chance of a win.
Although the McLaren-Renault car of 2018 is more reliable and more competitive than the McLaren-Honda car, it is still not competitive enough. The car qualifies in about the same place as it did when powered by Honda, and is more consistently competitive in race trim, but it is still not fast enough. So far this season, there is not even the sniff of a podium.
Formula 1, under the current hybrid powerplant formula, is a two-tier series. Mercedes, Ferrari and (on a good day) Red Bull are in Tier 1. The remaining teams are in Tier 2. Absent a sudden change in aero regulations or car development, this is likely to be the status quo until the end of the 2020 season and the beginning of a new engine formula.
In the meantime, Fernando Alonso has seemingly shifted gears away from trying to win in Formula 1 to achieving the rare feat of a win at Monaco, a Formula 1 world championship, a win in the Indianapolis 500, and a win at Le Mans. He appears to have realized that, out of options for any further wins or championships in Formula 1, he should chase the quadruple crown, only achieved by one man (Graham Hill).
McLaren is reported to be keen to keep Alonso in the organization, and to that end is involved in detail discussions with Andretti Autosport to set up an Indycar team for Alonso for 2019 and beyond. The series would be delighted to have Alonso, and if enough sponsorship can be found, it is possible that 2018 will be Fernando Alonso’s last season in F1.
The lack of competitiveness of the Mclaren-Renault car, plus the seeming diversion of resources away from F1, has led to rumours of a staff revolt. There have already been staff changes, with Tim Goss, a long time employee, leaving his job as Technical Director (chassis) in April.
The coalescence point for the rumours appears to be the potential availability of Martin Whitmarsh. Whitmarsh was the CEO of the racing team until he was fired by Ron Dennis in 2014. He was given a generous severance deal that apparently prevented him from working in Formula 1 for a lengthy period of time, so he took a job as the CEO of the UK’s Americas Cup yacht team for several years, a job that he relinquished in November 2017.
Whitmarsh was eventually replaced at Mclaren by Jost Capito, poached from VW by Ron Dennis, but Capito, being Ron’s man, was dismissed soon after Dennis left the organization that he founded, and Zak Brown became the CEO.
Recently, Whitmarsh has been seen in and around the McLaren garage at races, having seemingly been welcomed back into the fold following the departure last year of Ron Dennis. He has now (wittingly or unwittingly) become a lightning rod for the rumours of staff discontent.
The rumours seem to have the following narrative: Eric Bouiller has no credibility as the team manager, because the car is noncompetitive and he cannot explain why. Zak Brown has no credibility because he is distracting McLaren by trying to set up a team in Indycar, and allowing Fernando Alonso to drive in other racing series.
Solution: Bring back Martin Whitmarsh.
There are some problems with this idea, in no particular order:

1. Whitmarsh is supposed to be well-liked in McLaren. This may be true, but sometimes the reason why a leader is popular is that they are not kicking the corporation along. McLaren’s on-track performance declined while Whitmarsh was the CEO. It is not clear how or why the expectation that it will improve if he returns is valid. The idea of getting Whitmarsh back seems to be more rooted in “his name is not Bouiller or Brown”.
2. There is next to no chance of Mclaren winning a Formula 1 race prior to 2021. Renault’s powerplant is not at the level of Ferrari or Mercedes, and the performance of this year’s car shows that it is a good, not great, car. (The problem with blaming your powerplant supplier is that when you change suppliers, your stock excuse disappears). McLaren does not have the engineering bench of Red Bull, so the idea of a “wild card” win is over-optimistic.
McLaren, if it wants to plausibly be a winning racing organization, has to move into another series. The WEC is expensive at the top level, the regulations are in flux, and the series lacks enough promotion muscle outside of Le Mans. Indycar is the next best series from a fit and financial standpoint. A winning McLaren indycar would be a powerful distraction from the average performance of the current F1 team, and if enough sponsorship can be found, it would be self-financing. Winning cures a lot of ills within a competitive organization.

The idea that parachuting a single person into McLaren will magically restore the team’s fortunes is not realistic. Most of the issues with the F1 team are the result of poor strategic decisions. The strategy of going with Honda was the correct one, but the results were not there. McLaren, realistically, is in survival mode in F1 until 2021. Any new CEO is unlikely to be able to change that reality.

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Why the NFL is losing the battle with Donald Trump

Every week (or so it seems) the NFL finds itself deeper and deeper in the mud while seemingly unable to get out of a wrestling match with the President.
The reasons are pretty simple.

1. The NFL owners may be wealthy, but many of them have an appallingly defective understanding of human nature.
2. They also (like many self-made men) are conceited and self-confident enough to think that they can negotiate anything with anybody and get a result in their favor. Including the President.
3. NFL owners do not (under any circumstances) want NFL Players to have the same power as players in other sports such as basketball.

Those 3 mindset imperatives are the reasons why the NFL is now in a mess almost entirely of their own making.
And Col. Morris Davis explains the whole mess from Trump’s point of view:


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The screw tightens on the NFL over the Kaepernick and Reid collusion cases

The collusion cases filed by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid against the NFL are moving through discovery. We have now reached the stage where parts of the testimony are being leaked. For a start, internal team communications show clearly that many teams viewed Colin Kaepernick as a starting quarterback. There is also a cunning trailer of yet more damaging testimony via the classic speculated “mystery witness”.
The leaks, unsurprisingly, are not good for the NFL.
However, they are even worse for President Trump. If correct, the testimony given by Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, shows that Donald Trump was threatening and pressuring the NFL and its teams to get them to change their business practices – in this case, the rules related to the playing of the National Anthem. This is a specific violation of the law, as explained here:

The NFL may be moving towards a point where they have to start seriously considering how to settle the collusion complaints. If the complaints move to a full hearing, even if collusion cannot be proved, the PR damage to the NFL will be immense, especially if (as is likely) all of the testimony is revealed. Worse still, the NFLPA, already under fire internally for not fully supporting the players over the anthem protests, may find itself forced by its members to announce how it will protest the new anthem policy (probably by keeping players in the locker room during the playing of the anthem). There is rumored to be a lot of player anger over the new anthem policy and the blackballing of Kaepernick and Reid. The NFL has over 70% black players, so player anger is a real potential issue. Rival football leagues are also starting operations.

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The NFL’s anthem kneeling controversy escalates

In the beginning…Colin Kaepernick knelt when the National Anthem was played.
Then other players joined him, not only on the 49ers, but players from other teams also joined in.
Then the President of the United States had a hissy-fit and made a lot of noise about the protests, and was joined in the condemnation by lots of people with no understanding of the law, the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, or the Constitution.
Then Colin Kaepernick found himself unable to get a job in the NFL. Eventually he filed a collusion complaint.
Then Eric Reid, who had also kneeled for the anthem, found himself also unable to get a job, and also filed a collusion complaint with the support of the NFLPA.
The blackballing of Reid and Kaepernick (whether this rises to the level of collusion is still to be determined) has pissed off the NFLPA. Remember that 70% of the NFL’s players are African-American.
The NFLPA has now filed two complaints of its own. The complaints are the first time that the NFLPA has become involved in complaints that are broader in scope than one specific player. The players are now beginning to push back collectively in one of the few ways that they can legally do so, via the grievance processes built into the Collective Bargaining Agreement. One thing to realize is that there is an underlying resentment of the current CBA on behalf of the players, who feel that the owners got too large a share of league revenues, and who believe that the Commissioner has abused his powers in the areas of player discipline. (Remember that the owners opted out of the previous CBA, and then took a very tough line in negotiating the current CBA).
The NFL owners, many of whom are used to getting their own way in business, having run privately held businesses for most of their lives, have spent too much time and effort in recent months listening to the President, and not enough time listening to their employees. This may be about to backfire on the NFL.
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Kaepernick vs. the NFL – Part 3

The collusion complaint by Colin Kaepernick against the NFL is slowly shifting into a higher gear, as persons of interest are deposed by Kaepernick’s lawyers.
Yesterday, Bob McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans, gave a deposition in the case in Houston. An interesting aspect of the process was that Colin Kaepernick himself chose to attend the deposition (which he has a right to do). But even more interestingly, Kaepernick chose to work out in a local football facility. He was videoed throwing footballs and participating in a gym workout.
All of this is clearly a carefully calibrated series of actions designed to drive home the message that Colin Kaepernick is not retired, still wants to play in the NFL, and is working to stay fit and sharp for when an opportunity arises. The case, from the viewpoint of Kaepernick and his advisers, is now as much a PR exercise as a legal exercise.
The odds are still stacked against a ruling of collusion; Kaepernick has to prove that multiple owners acted in collaboration to deny him employment, which is a high bar to clear. Unless attorney Mark Geragos and his team can find a “smoking gun” – an item of compelling evidence that teams were collaborating to not sign Kaepernick, the case may fail in the court of arbitration.
However, if the case drags on into the Summer, it risks still being in progress at the start of next season. If, in the meantime, more damaging titbits emerge in the depositions about the racist nature of owner comments, and their seeming willingness to kow-tow to President Trump, from a PR perspective, this will not be good for the NFL. It will cement the image of the NFL as being dominated by owners who are racially tone-deaf and willing sycophants for an unpopular President.
The level of the PR damage may also depend on whether Trump finds himself in progressively deeper troubles himself. The deeper the troubles of the President, the more gullible the Trump-supporting owners will look.
I expect that the collusion case will be a detail topic of conversation at the next NFL owners meeting. I suspect that Roger Goodell will probably be advising the owners in private that they need to seriously think about settling the case before the formal hearing. It will cost the NFL upwards of $75m to do this, but the PR damage may start to exceed that if the case drags on, and more damaging revelations emerge.
As to who pays for the settlement, that is an interesting topic in itself. Teams who clearly were not in the market for a quarterback may resent having to push money across the table as part of a collective settlement effort. They may argue that they should not have to pony up for part of the settlement to assist other teams and owners that should have been a lot more subtle in their private actions and public comments.
The NFL is a strange organization…well, it is, a lot of the time, not an organization at all. It is more like 32 destroyers sailing in close formation, with a commissioner who works for the owners, which makes him only a titular leader. Facebooktwitterlinkedinrssyoutube
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Kaepernick vs. the NFL and The First Law Of Holes

In November, Colin Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL alleging collusion.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, grievances are processed within the NFL according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This means that a discovery period occurs, where both sides get to review the evidence, and where depositions can be requested and taken under oath from witnesses and interested parties.
We are now entering the deposition period of this grievance. One of the underlying weaknesses of the NFL is beginning to undermine the NFL’s whole defense to the collusion allegations.
What is known in the public eye as “The NFL” is really 32 independent businesses, all of which (with one exception, the Green Bay Packers) are privately owned, usually by a family that controls the majority of the equity in the team. The NFL organization, with Roger Goodell as its commissioner, has very limited authority over the 32 teams, because it really functions as a head office, PR front, and mechanism by which the NFL, under its limited anti-trust exemption (codified in the Sports Broadcasting Act) can negotiate broadcasting and other league-wide contracts.
Roger Goodell is employed by and is subordinate to the NFL owners. As one might expect from a collection of businesspeople who own private businesses and have (mostly) total control, the team owners are a feisty bunch of sometimes-cranky folks who mostly intensely dislike being told what to do by ANYBODY. They are also, with one exception, elderly white guys.
Because Goodell has no ability to tell owners what they can and cannot say in public on any subject, the NFL is now slowly, but inexorably, digging itself into a hole over the Colin Kaepernick collusion complaint. Any lawyer with a functioning brain would gather all defendants and persons of interest in a case like this into a room and the first piece of advice would be “stop talking in public about this case or any subject related to this case NOW”. Roger Goodell may have already told the owners this, but his words do not seem to be getting through. Via their own public comments, and a slow but growing number of leaks of information (possibly from Kaepernick’s team), the NFL is being backed into a cross between a corner and a hole over the collusion complaint. In the last 2 weeks the following information has become public:
– Steven Ross, the owner of the Miami Dolphins, apparently announced that he would require all Dolphins players to stand for the National Anthem (despite the reality that he cannot legally do that), only to walk that statement back publicly a few days later
– At least 2 NFL player agents reported that the Houston Texans are “not interested” in signing any player who has protested during the playing of the National Anthem
– John Harbaugh, the coach of the Baltimore Ravens, was apparently advised by a military officer that signing Colin Kaepernick was not in like with the core values of the NFL

None of these actions (and two of them are rumors, not fact) prove that collusion occurred. However, they are slowly placing the NFL in a situation where, even if they win the collusion grievance against Colin Kaepernick, they will emerge having lost in the court of public opinion. The picture that is emerging from the unguarded public comments of owners, and rumors and leaks, is not a flattering one. It shows a league whose ownership is determined to squash dissent from the players, and which is more scared of offending hyper-patriots than it is in supporting social justice.
We can be sure that Steven Ross, John Harbaugh, and the two player agents are now on the list of people who will be requested to give depositions. Their names are going to be added to a lengthy existing list which includes Roger Goodell, his wife Jane Goodell (who ran a fake Twitter account on his behalf), Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, Bob McNair, and Steve Bisciotti.
Kaepernick’s lawyers also want to depose ex-Pappa John’s CEO John Schattner, but that is unlikely to occur since the NFL no longer has a relationship with Pappa John’s (notice how quickly they have been replaced as the NFL Official Pizza supplier?) and Schattner had no direct contractual affiliation with the NFL.
The NFL has emerging challenges that are unavoidable, with viewership steadily declining as more people bail on network and cable television, and its core viewing demographic is ageing.
At the point where the NFL needs a positive relationship with the players, it does not have one. Goodell is widely distrusted by the players over the bruising negotiations at the time of the last Collective Bargaining Agreement, and his approach to player discipline which is seen as capricious and arbitrary.
These are challenges that will be difficult to overcome, and the drip-drip of negative news about the Colin Kaepernick case is making matters worse. If the NFL does not have a plan to settle the grievance in advance of a hearing, it needs one, and fast. Winning the hearing will be a loss if the public perception is that Kaepernick was railroaded out of the NFL.

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