By Scott Henry (@4QuartersRadio)
Welcome to the second round of the Worst Sports Owners Tournament. We're down to 16 of the craziest owners ever. Some won, but spent other people's money like drunken sailors to do it. Some lost, and made themselves look like spoiled children in doing so. Your mission, should you be brave and intelligent enough to accept it, is to decide which is a more grievous offense.
The tournament will roll through three weeks, and the votes will be decided between Athlon’s editorial staff, the comments you post below each piece, and comments on the Facebook pages of Athlon Sports and 4 Quarters Radio. Remember, you’re voting for the owners whose crimes against sport, humanity, and/or nature were the most egregious. We’ll offer anecdotal evidence of each owner’s evil/incompetence, and if you’ve got more, feel free to throw it in.
Here’s the schedule:
Monday, Week 1: Baseball Round 1
Tuesday, Week 1: Football Round 1
Thursday, Week 1: Basketball Round 1
Friday, Week 1: Hockey/Soccer Round 1
Monday, Week 2: Baseball/Hockey/Soccer Round 2
Thursday, Week 2: Football/Basketball Round 2
Monday, Week 3: Quarterfinals
Wednesday, Week 3: Semifinals
Friday, Week 3: Final
In this installment, we see four of the NFL's biggest scoundrels and four NBA owners who had major issues relating to others.
Worst Football Owners Bracket:
(1) Dan Snyder (Washington Redskins 1999-present)
(4) Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals, 1991-present)
Round 1 Results:
Snyder def. Ralph Wilson
Brown def. Al Davis
Snyder, much like Donald Sterling in the basketball bracket, had plenty of evil-incarnate acts on his résumé, more than enough to see off Ralph Wilson and his mostly good-intentioned bumbling. Brown and Davis had one of the more contentious matchups of the round, with some people absolutely incapable of comprehending why Al was even in the tournament. In the end, Brown advances because Al had 25 years of great work and service to the game of football before he became a total doddering sideshow. Brown has proved nothing aside from his cheapness and incompetence since taking over the Bengals.
While being a Redskins fan is often frustrating, at times Snyder’s made it downright dangerous. In addition to the restroom refreshments mentioned in Round 1, Snyder also scored himself a bargain in 2005, when Independence Air went out of business. He must have gotten a sweet deal on the remaining stash of peanuts, because a year later, Independence Air nuts were still being sold at FedEx Field. The nuts stopped being shipped before Independence went under, and according to the American Peanut Council, the shelf life of a foil bag of peanuts is around three months or so. So, in essence, Dan Snyder told thousands of Redskin fans to choke on his rancid nuts. Literally.
In a more figurative violation of the people who pay for his excesses, Snyder’s ticket office went all pound-of-flesh in 2009 on 125 season ticket holders who struggled to make ends meet when the economic recession hit. Fans that backed out of their 10-year agreements to renew tickets were sued for full payment, plus interest and attorney fees. 72-year-old realtor Pat Hill, who was living on $400 per month from Social Security, became the poster case for the outrage over the Redskins’ money-grubbing. The team actually won a judgment for more than $66,000 in Hill’s case, but eventually agreed to vacate the judgment and leave Hill in relative peace.
Of course, Redskins attorney David Donovan still asserted that the whole affair was Pat Hill’s fault, saying in an e-mail, “I wish that you had returned our calls in 2008 or reached out to me in response to the letters I and others had sent you and explained your situation. If that had happened, we never would have proceeded with the claim against you." Hill was able to enumerate multiple calls, letters, and even visits to the Redskins’ offices to remedy the situation.
Being a Bengals fan has hardly been peaches and cream in its own right, but to the best of our knowledge, there have been no poisonous foods or vicious lawsuits against grandmothers. What there have been in Cincinnati are player arrests. Lots of them. 27 different Bengals have been arrested since 2000, a total of 35 different incidents. The late Chris Henry counted for six of those by himself. In 2007, Mike Brown decided he was going to take a stand. He was mad as hell, and he wasn’t going to take it anymore.
So, what did he do to draw the line in the sand with his hooligan players? Absolutely nothing. No, the stand was against new commissioner Roger Goodell and his desire to strengthen the NFL’s personal conduct policy. When Goodell wanted to expand the consequences of illegal activity, Brown was the only owner to stand up and speak against the idea. In a moment of sheer comedic gold, Brown is alleged to have said, “We should each be able to manage our own organization without the league getting involved. If we can’t manage it ourselves, we shouldn’t be running our businesses.”
Many Bengals fans couldn’t have said it better themselves.
(3) Bob Irsay (Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts, 1972-1997)
(7) Norman Braman (Philadelphia Eagles, 1985-1994)
Round 1 Results:
Irsay def. Hugh Culverhouse
Braman def. Art Modell
Irsay and Culverhouse were surprisingly similar guys, prone to taking their mistakes out on others. While Culverhouse occasionally blamed the fans for the Bucs’ troubles, he never moved the team. That’s a big trump card. Braman emerged as the first round’s most surprising winner, primarily due to the fact that several votes came from devout Ravens fans grateful to Art Modell.
Much like Alan Eagleson took the fall for some of Bill Wirtz’s less scrupulous maneuvers, Bob Irsay had his own personal fall guy in general manager Joe Thomas. Thomas had helped to broker Irsay’s purchase of the Rams and the subsequent trade for the Colts, being named GM as payment for services rendered. Thomas frantically set about reshaping the team, making eight trades in 11 days in 1973, including sending Colt legends Johnny Unitas and Tom Matte packing. Thomas got in over his head in 1974 when a drunken Irsay demanded that head coach Howard Schnellenberger change quarterbacks, provoking Schnellenberger to suggest that Irsay perform a physically impossible act upon himself. After the game, Irsay canned Schnellenberger and announced that Thomas was the new head coach, terrifying everyone including Thomas. The team finished 2-12 that season.
When Ted Marchibroda took over, the team made a major improvement, finishing 10-4 and starting a string of three straight division titles. During the 1976 preseason, though, another Irsay tantrum provoked Marchibroda’s resignation. Coach Ted gave Irsay a he-goes-or-I-go ultimatum regarding Thomas, and the owner sided with Thomas. One player revolt later, Thomas was sent to beg Marchibroda to come back. After the second division title, Irsay finally let go of Thomas. For all of Thomas’s goofy trades and poor people skills, however, he was the only thing standing between Irsay and firsthand control of all the team’s operations. After a few years, Thomas would almost come to be missed.
Braman’s tenure as owner of the Eagles wasn’t marked by the sort of interpersonal turmoil as Irsay’s years in Baltimore, but the fans weren’t terribly impressed with his tight-fisted approach to the team. A man who spent months at a time at a villa in the south of France and flew to games in his private jet, Braman could afford all but the most outrageous operating expenses. Unfortunately for Eagles fans, those outrageous expenses included things like players and scouts. The team only employed three or four college scouts, compared to most teams using a dozen. His hardline stance during the advent of free agency has already been documented. Holdouts and contract disputes were commonplace. Meanwhile, documents unearthed during antitrust actions in 1992 revealed that in 1990, Braman had paid himself a salary of $7.5 million, writing it down as expense instead of a portion of team profits. It’s his money, and he’ll hoard if he wants to (hoard if he wants to, hoard if he wants to).
Braman was a busy man in the early ‘90s, also heading up the Super Bowl Site Selection Committee in charge of determining host cities for sports’ biggest event. Super Bowl XXVII was awarded to Phoenix, Arizona until the league was presented with analysis of Arizona’s civil rights record, including the fact that there was no statewide Martin Luther King holiday. The NFL demanded the holiday be approved, and when it was shot down, the Super Bowl was yanked. SB XXVII ended up being held in that bastion of early ‘90s civil rights peace…Los Angeles, California. The game was played mere months after the Rodney King riots, a slightly greater racial catastrophe than a missing holiday.
Worst Basketball Owners Bracket:
(1) Donald Sterling (San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers, 1981-present)
(4) James Dolan (New York Knicks, 1994-present)
Round 1 Results:
Sterling def. Joe/Gavin Maloof
Dolan def. Howard Schultz
Sterling the Original turned away the Sterlings in Training, again relying on a long career full of anti-social behavior to trump the Maloofs’ wandering eyes. Dolan has a similar string of inexplicable decisions to his name, and Schultz just didn’t have the longevity to compete.
Athletes have occasionally accused owners of treating them like slaves. When a crusty old white man attempts to wring every drop of blood and sweat out of young black men for his own profit and gratification, it only takes one contract battle and the PR war that ensues for the rhetoric to ramp up pretty fast. In Donald Sterling’s case, though, the accusations are many, and there are legal documents to back them up. During Elgin Baylor’s wrongful termination suit against Sterling, the ex-Laker legend claimed that Sterling expressed a dream of “a white Southern coach coaching poor black players,” which Baylor promptly branded “plantation mentality.” Further, Baylor recounted an incident during contract negotiations with 1988 No. 1 draft pick Danny Manning. Sterling reportedly balked at some of Manning’s requests, saying “I’m offering a lot of money for a poor black kid.” Never mind that that poor kid’s father Ed was a longtime pro basketball player and assistant coach. If they’re black, they must be poor in Sterling’s world.
White staff didn’t have it a whole lot easier. In 2004, assistant coach Kim Hughes was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Sterling wasn’t about to go above and beyond to cover an employee’s out-of-network procedures, since he’s rich enough to not be concerned about public relations. Four of Hughes’ players (Marko Jaric, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, and Chris Kaman) put down chunks of cash to ensure that their coach was able to get the surgery he needed. The reason the Clippers gave when Hughes inquired about the surgery being covered was that if they helped one person, they had to help everybody. When given the opportunity to help, Donald T. can routinely be counted on to err on the side of cheap.
Members of Jim Dolan’s staff aren’t exactly putting him on their Christmas card list, either. In addition to the Anucha Browne Sanders lawsuit, the Knicks have had other hiring and firing mishaps that would keep any human resources director keeping a flask in the desk drawer. Announcer Marv Albert lost his job with NBC in 1997 after he was accused of sexual assault. Some would commend and some would condemn the Knicks for keeping Albert in the play-by-play chair during his personal turmoil. Once the issue blew over, Marv was hired to call games for TNT, and he would occasionally call a spade a spade and express some negative views on the Knicks’ on-court play. Obviously, biting and sodomizing a woman is perfectly acceptable content in Jim Dolan’s view, but pointing out that Jamal Crawford and Mike Sweetney suck is a firing offense.
The Knicks seemed to be moving toward respectability when they hired Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkens in January of 2004. Lenny is still the only coach to ever lead the Toronto Raptors past the first round of the playoffs, so if anyone knew how to handle terrible teams with me-first players, it was Lenny. The problem was that no one bothered to tell Don Chaney about the new hire, which was kind of a big deal. After all, Chaney was the guy Lenny was being brought on to replace. Chaney showed up for a game as scheduled, only to be informed that someone else would be sitting in his seat and that his services were no longer required. Chaney got to play the part of the guy finding someone else married to his wife before he was even served with the divorce papers. Of course, with Isiah Thomas shopping for the groceries, Wolfgang Puck couldn’t have cooked a tasty dish, and Lenny Wilkens was unable to win a playoff game before bailing a year after he arrived.
(3) Chris Cohan (Golden State Warriors, 1994-2010)
(2) Ted Stepien (Cleveland Cavaliers, 1980-83)
Round 1 Results:
Cohan def. George Shinn
Stepien def. Michael Heisley
In one of the closer matchups of Round 1, the Warriors’ persistent losing proved to be a major factor. Despite Shinn’s frequent attempts to draw attention from his team and later drag them all over the map, the Hornets have been an occasional contender, a claim the Warriors were never able to make during Cohan’s tenure. The Ted Stepien Rule is a big mark in the ex-Cavs owner’s “favor,” trumping Heisley’s money-grubbing ways.
Bless Ted Stepien, though, he tried to make the game entertaining. He was one of the first to introduce a dance team to the NBA, calling them the Teddi Bears. Some of his other halftime entertainment choices included Crazy George the World’s Greatest Ballhandler, and a guy named Don “Boot” Buttrey. Buttrey’s act usually consisted of crushing beer cans with his teeth and detonating firecrackers in his mouth; in essence, “Boot” mastered an act that would make any of us want to, well, boot.
Stepien also commissioned a fight song for the Cavs, a jaunty polka-flavored number, and he delivered copies of the song to local radio stations, bribing program directors with a pound of kielbasa. His other tastes in publicity stunts bordered on dangerous, including dropping softballs from the 52nd floor of Cleveland’s Terminal Tower. That idea resulted in injuries to pedestrians on Public Square, as one might expect when objects are dropped from high surfaces into public areas. We would suggest trying it, but there could be serious liability issues involved.
Chris Cohan could have faced his own liability issues at the 1995 All-Star Game, less than four weeks after he finalized his purchase of the Warriors. Already leery of the press, Cohan was determined that he was not going to speak to any of the local media. When a few reporters came toward his seat at the game, Cohan yanked his wife out of her seat and the pair sprinted through the arena as if reenacting a scene from “The Fugitive.” Eventually, Mrs. Cohan became dead weight, and Mr. Cohan gallantly left her behind, raced up a flight of stairs and ducked into a luxury box. If he was that terrified of press backlash four months in, how in the blue flames of hell did he survive 16 years?
Another reason that Cohan was fortunate to survive 16 years as the Warriors’ boss comes from simple hindsight. There are draft blunders, but then there are finding ways to screw up a potential no-lose situation. The loaded 1996 draft may be the greatest incoming class in NBA history. Allen Iverson, Marcus Camby, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, and Antoine Walker had already been picked when the Warriors went on the clock for pick No. 11. Players like Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash, and Jermaine O’Neal were still available.
And the Warriors chose…Todd Fuller, a 6’11” white boy from North Carolina State. Fuller was an amiable kid with a nice smile, he had gone to a Christian high school, and was an avid believer in abstaining from sex before marriage. That serves as a stark contrast to many NBA players, who don’t believe in abstaining from sex before breakfast.
Fuller turned down a Rhodes Scholarship to play pro ball. His studies at Oxford would have taken almost as long as his pro career, as he was out of the NBA by the 2001-02 season. If they’d wanted a goofy-looking white guy, they could have at least chosen Vitaly Potapenko or Zydrunas Ilgauskas. At least with one of those two, the media would have been too busy struggling with pronouncing their names to rip apart their games.
With that, Round 2 comes to a close. Throw some votes on it, and let’s see if you can get some of your favorites through to the quarterfinals. On Friday, we’ll see which owners will battle to become the worst owners in the history of their particular sports.