Mt. Vernon Register-News

November 12, 2013

EDITORIALS: NFL players are people too; Get serious on financial crimes


CNHI News Service

Why do we place NFL players on a pedestal?

(The Tribune-Democrat / Johnstown, Pa.)

Pro football has never been more popular, but our society is beginning to have serious discussions about the game and its future. Or at least it should be having them.

The issue of head injuries has become a driving force in the game over the past few years. Having to write a $765 million check – which is what the National Football League agreed in August to pay to settle with more than 18,000 retired players over concussion-related brain injuries – will always make a business sit up and take notice.

With what we’re learning about the very real health problems that players from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s are facing in their post-football days, we have to wonder: Is it worth it? Players put their bodies on the line for years, knowing that could be doing long-term damage, but the love of the game and sizable paychecks kept them from worrying about what might happen to them down the road.

Still, the sport, which is thrilling to players and spectators, continues to captivate our nation. It can provide positive role models for young people. But it also produces plenty of examples that children should not follow.

The latest, if accusations are true, comes from Miami, where Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito has been suspended for allegedly bullying teammate Jonathan Martin. Incognito is accused of numerous instances of bullying including leaving a vitriolic, racially offensive voicemail for his younger teammate, who eventually left the team due to emotional problems. The things that Incognito has been accused of doing and saying are the exact opposite of how we teach our children to act.

But for some, the blame has been shifted to Martin. He’s “too soft” for the NFL, according to some. Many athletes and writers have tried to shrug off bullying and hazing in NFL locker rooms, saying that the testosterone-fueled sport plays by a different set of rules than the 9-to-5 workaday world. And it does. But we must begin to ask ourselves, has it gone too far?

We have elevated NFL players and coaches to a cult status. They’re bigger, stronger, faster and more powerful than the rest of us. They’re the people we wish we could be. They feel no pain, but only inflict it upon others. They’re warriors who we pay exorbitant sums of money to do battle every Sunday. And we love every minute of it.

But, as Martin, and the many players diagnosed with debilitating diseases following football careers have shown us – in very different ways – NFL players are mere mortals. They suffer very real injuries, both physical and emotional.

Maybe it’s time we stopped pretending that those behind the face mask and the NFL’s shield are invincible. Maybe it’s time we stop asking so much of them.

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Get serious on financial crimes

(The Mankato Free Press / Mankato, Minn.)

The U.S. Department of Justice has taken a serious and significant step to finally treat financial crimes in the same aggressive way it would treat drug cartels, environmental abusers and anti-trust cases.

The prosecution of SAC Capital Advisors by the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan recently brought about the first guilty plea by a large Wall Street firm in more than a decade. It’s a fact that probably stuns most Americans – that only one Wall Street firm has faced the music after nearly a decade of financial crimes that have devastated average investors, citizens and small businesses on Main Street.

The investigation and prosecution took nearly a decade and spanned Republican and Democratic administrations. SAC Capital pleaded guilty to five counts of insider trading in the original indictment and agreed to pay a fine of $1.2 billion. Eight of its former traders also have been charged with securities fraud.

Experts say the case may mark the beginning of a more aggressive approach to firms violating securities laws who once may have been considered “too big to jail.”

U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Preet Bharara, in announcing the settlement, said that “No institution should rest easy in the belief that it is too big to jail.” He called the fine “steep but fair,” and “commensurate with the breadth and duration of the charged criminal conduct,” according to a report in The New York Times.

Investor and SAC Capital owner Steven A. Cohen has personally escaped criminal prosecution so far, but officials say the U.S. Attorney’s office continues to look at trading records and seeks help from informants for possible criminal prosecution of Cohen. The plea agreement specifically states that no individual has immunity from further prosecution.

Not since the prosecution of junk bond promoter Michael Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert more 20 years ago have Wall Street firms been held accountable for their misdeeds. Many have paid fines to the SEC over the years with the caveat of not admitting guilt.

Even that appears to be changing. The SEC filed a separate civil case against SAC that says Cohen looked the other way on misconduct of those who worked with him and is seeking to bar Cohen from ever being allowed to manage money that is not his own, according to the Times report.

Experts told the Times the criminal prosecutions like that of SAC are rare and suggest the Justice Department is no longer worried about economic consequences that occurred when Enron’s accounting firm Arthur Anderson was indicted and eventually shutdown, causing 28,000 jobs to be lost.

The SAC case represented a more serious approach to financial crime fighting when it began nearly a decade ago. Prosecutors and investigators began using techniques like wire-tapping and pressuring others to be informants, according to the Times report. Those tactics were typically used in drug or organized crime cases.

Now, it’s all too clear, financial crimes are organized and carry as much damage as drug, environmental and anti-trust cases.

It’s high time we got serious about these crimes again. Congress should support these efforts and make sure prosecutors have all the tools to make sure no one believes they are too big to jail.