Maybe this is how it ends, with lots of early retirements

Today, Yahoo Sports reported that 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis is retiring at the age of 30. It was a surprise to many that the five-time All Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler would retire with seemingly more good years ahead of him.

With the severity of the physical trauma of football becoming clearer and clearer by the day, I wonder if more and more players will choose to retire earlier in their careers, after accumulating some threshold of wear and tear and/or wealth.

Economically, it makes sense. A star player can make many tens of millions of dollars in a the span of a short career, and even a regular starter can pocket millions. If you are frugal, you'll achieve a very comfortable nest egg. At that point, is each additional marginal million dollars worth perhaps several years of your life, or a remaining lifetime of debilitating pain, or worse?

The more we hear about players suffering terribly in their old age, the more the cost side of the economic equation increases. Given that data, more and more will come to see just how rational Willis' decision is.

UPDATE (16 Mar 2015): Chris Borland of the 49ers announced today that he's retiring after just one season, and a great one, because of concerns over the impact of repetitive head trauma on his health. It's happening even sooner than I anticipated.

"I just honestly want to do what's best for my health," Borland told "Outside the Lines." "From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk."
 
Borland becomes the most prominent NFL player to leave the game in his prime because of concerns about brain injuries. More than 70 former players have been diagnosed with progressive neurological disease following their deaths, and numerous studies have shown connections between the repetitive head trauma associated with football, brain damage and issues such as depression and memory loss.
 
"I feel largely the same, as sharp as I've ever been. For me, it's wanting to be proactive," Borland said. "I'm concerned that if you wait till you have symptoms, it's too late. ... There are a lot of unknowns. I can't claim that X will happen. I just want to live a long healthy life, and I don't want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise."

Discipline

Yet secular black culture thrives on colorful stories of punishment that are passed along as myths of ancient wisdom — a type of moral glue that holds together varying communities in black life across time and circumstance. Black comedians cut their teeth on dramatically recalling “whoopings” with belts, switches, extension cords, hairbrushes or whatever implement was at hand. Even as genial a comic as Bill Cosby offered a riff in his legendary 1983 routine that left no doubt about the deadly threat of black punishment. “My father established our relationship when I was 7 years old,” Mr. Cosby joked. “He looked at me and says, ‘You know, I brought you in this world, I’ll take you out. And it don’t make no difference to me, cause I’ll make another one look just like you.’ ”

The humor is blunted when we recall that Marvin Gaye’s life ended violently in 1984 at the hands of his father, a minister who brutalized him mercilessly as a child before shooting him to death in a chilling echo of Mr. Cosby’s words.

Perhaps comedians make us laugh to keep us from crying, but no humor can mask the suffering that studies say our children endure when they are beaten: feelings of sadness and worthlessness, difficulties sleeping, suicidal thoughts, bouts of anxiety, outbursts of aggression, diminished concentration, intense dislike of authority, frayed relations with peers, and negative high-risk behavior.

Equally tragic is that those who are beaten become beaters too. And many black folks are reluctant to seek therapy for their troubles because they may be seen as spiritually or mentally weak. The pathology of beatings festers in the psychic wounds of black people that often go untreated in silence.
 

Powerful op-ed by Michael Eric Dyson in the NYTimes, with an interesting dive into the etymology of the word “discipline.”

Many believers — including Mr. Peterson, a vocal Christian — have confused the correction of children’s behavior with corporal punishment. The word “discipline” comes from the Latin “discipuli,” which means student or disciple, suggesting a teacher-pupil relationship. Punishment comes from the Greek word “poine” and its Latin derivative “poena,” which mean revenge, and form the root words of pain, penalty and penitentiary.

The point of discipline is to transmit values to children. The purpose of punishment is to coerce compliance and secure control, and failing that, to inflict pain as a form of revenge, a realm the Bible says belongs to God alone.
 

The word discipline is a fascinating one. On the one hand, it comes loaded with dark undertones when used in the modern sense of that which enforces order. “Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” As in "disciplining a child."

If we speak of the child as a "disciple" then the education of that child sounds much less ominous. Discipline and disciple, both nouns, separated by just three letters, yet the difference in meaning is a chasm one needs a suspension bridge to cross.

Discipline can be just as positive a term when used to describe a type of self-control that a person possesses. A person with “discipline” is thought of as someone with persistence, a strong work ethic, mental fortitude, the ability to resist distraction and temptation.

It's in the transfer of discipline from one person to another that we wander into a twisted etymological maze.

Brittney Cooper penned a good and related piece in Salon on the differences between black and white child-rearing.

Stakes are high because parenting black children in a culture of white supremacy forces us to place too high a price on making sure our children are disciplined and well-behaved. I know that I personally place an extremely high value on children being respectful, well-behaved and submissive to authority figures. I’m fairly sure this isn’t a good thing.

If black folks are honest, many of us will admit to both internally and vocally balking at the very “free” ways that we have heard white children address their parents in public. Many a black person has seen a white child yelling at his or her parents, while the parents calmly respond, gently scold, ignore, attempt to soothe, or failing all else, look embarrassed.

I can never recount one time, ever seeing a black child yell at his or her mother in public. Never. It is almost unfathomable.

...

For black children, finding disciplinary methods that instill a healthy sense of fear in a world that is exceptionally violent toward them is a hard balance to find.

The thing is, though: Beating, whupping or spanking your children will not protect them from state violence.  It won’t keep them out of prison. Ruling homes and children with an iron fist will not restore the dignity and respect that the outside world fails to confer on adult black people.

What these actions might do is curtail creativity, inculcate a narrative about “acceptable” forms of violence enacted against black bodies, and breed fear and resentment between parents and children that far outlasts childhood.

Violence in any form is not love. Let us make sure first to learn that lesson. And then if we do nothing else, let us teach it to our children.

By the way, by whatever measure, the NFL is having a rough year. Beyond all the high profile domestic violence cases, I was surprised at how quickly the NFL has turned about face and admitted that its sport is causing severe brain damage to roughly a third of its participants.

The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population.

The findings are a result of data prepared by actuaries hired by the league and provided to the United States District Court judge presiding over the settlement between the N.F.L. and 5,000 former players who sued the league, alleging that it had hidden the dangers of concussions from them.

“Thus, our assumptions result in prevalence rates by age group that are materially higher than those expected in the general population,” said the report, prepared by the Segal Group for the N.F.L. “Furthermore, the model forecasts that players will develop these diagnoses at notably younger ages than the generation population.”
 

We won't see the effects immediately, but perhaps we're at an inflection point for the NFL and the sport of football. We may not see immediate declines in the sport's popularity, it is a secular religion in America, a Sunday ritual deeply embedded in the lives of so many fans. But I have to imagine we'll see a decline in youth participation in football given the clear health risks.

The Super Bowl, the outsider's description

The ethics of such an event can be hard for outsiders to understand. Fans, who regularly watch players being carted off the field with crippling injuries, are unbothered by reports of the game's lasting medical impact on its players. Nevertheless, fans and the national media can become extremely indignant if players are excessively boastful at the game’s conclusion.

Perhaps in homage to the country’s patriarchal culture, women are generally involved only as scantily clad dancers during breaks in the action. Minority rights groups have also criticized the owner and fans of one of the country’s most popular teams—the one representing the national capital, in fact—for referring to players using a racial nickname too offensive to be printed in this newspaper. Fans of the team, like those of Tottenham Hotspur, have defended the name, saying it is a term of affection.
 

From Slate, “the latest installment of a continuing series in which American events are described using the tropes and tone normally employed by the American media to describe events in other countries.”

The no punt offense

This isn't a new topic, but I've been catching up on old old reading over the first day of my holiday break, and the Kevin Kelley's no-punt offense is a football strategy that rhymes with David Arseneault's basketball strategy The System which I wrote about recently.

Ask any stats geek about any sport and they'll tell you no team plays the optimal strategy as dictated by the numbers. In the NBA, teams don't take enough three pointers (though they are coming around on that one). In MLB, teams call for too many sacrifice bunts and often save their best relief pitcher, their closer, for the 9th inning when they could be used to greater leverage earlier in the game. In the NFL, teams don't go for it on 4th down often enough. Even the most innovative or bold of NFL teams, the Patriots, usually punt on 4th down.

But one football team, albeit a high school one, takes the numbers to heart. The Pulaski Academy Bruins, coached by Kevin Kelley, not only never punt on 4th down but also try for an onside kick on every kickoff (okay, they have punted four times in the past three seasons, I'm not sure what overcame him those four times).

Pulaski fans are accustomed to such play. Most enjoy the show, shake their heads and refer to the coach, Kevin Kelley, as a "mad scientist." But really, the coach isn't mad at all; his decisions are rooted not in whimsy or eccentricity but in cold, rational numbers. Ask him to defend his methods, and he revs up his Dell laptop and refers to his statistics.

Pulaski hasn't punted since 2007 (when it did so as a gesture of sportsmanship in a lopsided game), and here's why: "The average punt in high school nets you 30 yards, but we convert around half our fourth downs, so it doesn't make sense to give up the ball," Kelley says. "Besides, if your offense knows it has four downs instead of three, it totally changes the game. I don't believe in punting and really can't ever see doing it again."

He means ever. Consider the most extreme scenario, say, fourth-and-long near your own end zone. According to Kelley's data (much of which came from a documentary he saw), when a team punts from that deep, the opponents will take possession inside the 40-yard line and will then score a touchdown 77% of the time. If they recover on downs inside the 10, they'll score a touchdown 92% of the time. "So [forsaking] a punt, you give your offense a chance to stay on the field. And if you miss, the odds of the other team scoring only increase 15 percent. It's like someone said, '[Punting] is what you do on fourth down,' and everyone did it without asking why."

The onside kicks? According to Kelley's figures, after a kickoff the receiving team, on average, takes over at its own 33-yard line. After a failed onside kick the team assumes possession at its 48. Through the years Pulaski has recovered about a quarter of its onside kicks. "So you're giving up 15 yards for a one-in-four chance to get the ball back," says Kelley. "I'll take that every time!" Why not attempt to return punts? "Especially in high school, where the punts don't go so far," he says, "it's not worth the risk of fumbling or a penalty."

Here's a video of Kelley talking about his no punt philosophy, and here's another over at Grantland with some video of their crazy onside kick formations. The results bear out the math. This season the Bruins won their conference again, outscoring the next highest scoring team in their conference by over 15 points per game.

As of yet, no college or NFL team has had the guts to try a similar strategy, though San Diego State made some noise about possibly going in this direction last season. The statistics for the NFL, while they might not support the exact same strategy as in high school or college football, still suggest more teams should go for it on 4th down and that more teams should try surprise onside kicks (the success rate of onside kicks in the NFL is 60% when the other team isn't expecting one). In so many situations in the NFL, the average punt only nets you 10 to 20 yards of field position, I would love to see some of the NFL's truly bad teams who are going to be underdogs in most games try a bolder strategy to increase the variance of their outcomes, just as any good underdog should.

NFL teams have dabbled with some of Kevin Kelley's tactics, but as with whether to hit on a 12 vs a 13 in blackjack, one should really just pick a strategy and commit to it. If your team knows it's going to go for it on 4th down, it can alter its play calls on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down to ensure if it ends up in a short yardage situation when it does end up in 4th down. It also won't feel like such a tense situation when it does occur because it will be part of the team's regular strategy.

The entertainment promise of sports

Chuck Klosterman ponders the purpose of sports we pay to watch in the light of David Stern fining the San Antonio Spurs $250,000 for resting four of its star players in a game against the Miami Heat.

I'll approach the question in light of the Miami Heat's loss to the Washington Wizards last night. I happened to flip to the game and watch a good chunk of it while tapping away on my computer, and you don't have to be a basketball expert to see that the Heat lost because they were indifferent on defense, definitely nowhere near exerting maximum effort to win (Dwayne Wade is a beloved Miami sports figure, but he coasts on defense so much he deserves to be called on it much more). The Heat knew they were far better than the Wizards, and if both teams had been exerting maximum effort, I'd venture the Heat would easily win 9 out of every 10 games, if not more.

The result of the mismatch was a close contest, which some would argue is what fans enjoy. But not all close contests are created equal. Watching two inept teams battle to a near draw is gruesome, and when a good team slacks off against a bad team, that's not fun to watch, either. The truth is, the majority of NBA regular seasons I attend feel overpriced and not that enjoyable. The same for Major League Baseball, though tickets are at least cheaper.

As with movies, though, all baseball and basketball games tend to be priced exactly the same. It's in the free market, for example on StubHub or Craigslist, where you can see how much fans really value a particular regular season game, and with the exception of matchups between two really great teams, especially nationally televised ones, when star players tend to bring their A-Game, a lot of sports contests in baseball and football are just poor entertainment products.

[The NFL is an exception because there are only 16 regular season games and so it's rare to have games that teams just plain concede.]

Both the NBA and MLB would benefit from shortening the season, but they'll never do it because of the additional revenue from the extra contests. The NBA has an additional problem in that talent in the draft is extremely top heavy, so if you're out of it, the best thing to do at the end of the season is to tank to try to get into the draft lottery. I don't care how much David Stern fines the Spurs, no NBA fan is fooled by the illusion of every NBA game being equal in entertainment value.

It's a reminder of another reason why Michael Jordan was such an anomaly. My mom used to get me tickets for my birthday to see Jordan play every year, and I'd venture to say that by the time I die, most of the NBA games I'll have ever watched in my life will have involved Jordan. I never once saw him concede a game, or not exert effort to win, even in trap games like the second game of a road and road back-to-back at the end of a long road trip, when teams tend to just mail it in due to fatigue and/or indifference. He was pathologically, unhealthily competitive, but you always got your money's worth when he was on the court, and he held his teammates to that absurd standard. The fact that the Bulls own the record for most wins in an 82-game season is testament to the fact that they were good that year, but it's also testament to the fact that they didn't take any nights off, and a lot of that was rooted in Jordan's ability to find competitive motivation in any situation, in any form of competition. In that ability to bring it night after night, we might consider MIchael Jordan a method athlete.

Football's narrative edge

One thing football does better than baseball and basketball (and here I'm focused in particular on the pro level, the NFL, MLB, and the NBA) is give viewers semi-filtered peeks behind the curtain. I say semi-filtered because the footage is still edited to bleep out curse words and remove inappropriate content, but it's still bypassing the sports journalists who ask the same questions and dutifully transcribe the same responses in a mutually agreed upon ritual of cliche.

The NFL distributes this content through a multitude of partners. On Showtime, they have Inside the NFL, a weekly recap that features sideline and on-the-field sounds and dialogue. Chris Berman runs a weekly segment (I think it's at halftime of the Monday Night Football game) that's called something like "sounds of the game" or something like that with similar access to audio not heard during live game broadcasts.

In the preseason, the NFL invites HBO to follow one team in the preseason for its show Hard Knocks. It's one of the great sports shows ever, and its given unbelievable access. One of the most poignant moments on HBO this season was not on one of its dramatic series but on Hard Knocks, when Miami Dolphins head coach had to cut Chad Johnson. Imagine seeing footage of Tim Cook firing Scott Forstall (err, "asking him to resign"). I have a perverse fascination with the scenes of players being cut on Hard Knocks. Who will deliver the news, the head coach or one of the assistant coaches? How will the player take it? Plenty of tech company managers could learn a lot from watching these scenes about how to let someone go professionally.

Behind-the-scenes footage isn't always compelling. Some of the making-of segments on DVDs are interesting only to those with a passion for the craft of filmmaking, for example. Hearing an actor discuss how they prepared to play a character really bursts some of the magic of the movie's fictional universe. Most often we'd prefer to be kept behind that fourth wall (veil).

The difference between movies and sports, however, is that sports drama needn't be manufactured. As you learn in fiction writing, all story is rooted in conflict, and sports is pure conflict, each sport just a different form of pure competition. The behind-the-scenes access the NFL grants its viewers actually feels more real and dramatic precisely because athletes are usually so zombie-like when speaking with the press, and that whole charade is dull and tiring and leaves most athletes seeming robotic. In contrast, hearing what the players are saying to each other on the sidelines and on the field, hearing what coaches say to the players before, during, and after games, it all both humanizes and mythologizes them at the same time.

Thanks to Hard Knocks, we have a much deeper relationship with NFL players and coaches given lots of screen time, like Rex Ryan or Chad Johnson. We have a first-person grasp of their personalities, and they become three dimensional characters in our minds. These are personifications that linger in the back of our minds as we watch them play on TV.

In production technique, the NFL has appropriated filmmaking techniques to enhance the grandeur and emotional intimacy of its competition. In these behind-the-scenes segments, the NFL makes heavy use of slow-motion, often running video in slow motion while running the commentary audio in real-time, snipping the video and audio footage so they still roughly line up. Rather than use the usual sideline camera view, the long shot, that we see during live broadcasts, they use close-ups of players hitting each other and bring in on-the-field audio so we can hear each brain-damaging hit in vivid clarity. Watch any Hollywood war scene and you'll see the same camera angles and shot lengths. The NFL also plays with frame rates, and instead of just using the traditional sports frame rate of video (30fps), it mixes in some filmic 24fps footage in these shows, which as any viewer knows intuitively from watching both movies and TV shows lends a more dream-like sensation to the footage due to the increased motion blur. Much of this stylistic vocabulary was developed by Steve Sabol and NFL Films. In heaven, your sports highlights will all be voiced by Harry Kalas.

HBO's 24/7 series is another standout in this elevation of sports as an entertainment product, and it borrows much from NFL Films in style. A boxing match gains from the 4-episode 24/7 arc leading up to the big fight, showing each gladiator in training, amplifying the feud between the two fighters. More than a few times, the series is more interesting than the fight itself.

If you wonder why the NBA and MLB are most often slotted behind the NFL as America's favorite sport, this marketing edge for the NFL is one reason. There is a dearth of regularly scheduled behind-the-scenes mythmaking footage from MLB and the NBA.

Baseball has made some strides. In the preseason, MLB has its own version of Hard Knocks called The Franchise (I missed it because I didn't have Showtime at the time). During the World Series, MLB caught my eye with its super slow motion camera shots of bats contacting balls, and it caught a gem when Hunter Pence's bat broke and contacted the ball three times in one swing. Seeing wooden bats warp in slow motion is beautiful in a Bill Viola-esque way.

But we still almost never hear mound conversations between coaches and pitchers, or dugout conversations, or even chatter between players of opposing teams as when a player singles and lands at first base. It wouldn't have to be live; most of the NFL footage I reference above is shown sometime after the game has ended. MLB has a dearth of compelling superstars (Derek Jeter and, uh...) and much of it is due to the fact that we really don't know any of them. How do TV shows sink their hooks into us? A huge inflection point is that moment when we adopt the characters as our own.

For sports, there is another level to its relationship with a spectator, and that is achieved with understanding of the sport itself. That is, beyond empathy with the player as a person, there is empathy with the player as an athlete and what they are trying to accomplish on the field of play.

I have a greater appreciation for watching sports I play myself. This is one reason I have a tough time watching hockey or soccer, two sports I never played much. I don't understand all the rules, I can't appreciate the moment-to-moment tactics or skill, and often it's like watching a foreign arthouse film with the subtitles turned off.

Organized football is actually quite complex, but the NFL has done a good job simplifying it for the layman. John Madden was a pioneer in this for using the telestrator on replays to diagram how a play broke down, and graphical innovations like the yellow first-down overlay line make it easier to comprehend, in real time, whether a team has accomplished its immediate goal.

This season, the NFL started offering something I've long wanted which is alternate camera angles of the action. The high sideline camera angle which is the standard on TV is not the easiest way to understand the spacial geometry of each play, and in particular, the battle between what the QB sees and what the defense sees. For that, I prefer the high end zone camera (familiar to all NFL fans from the Madden video game series), or what coaches often use, which is the All-22 view. Now you can access that footage through NFL Game Rewind. I've learned a bit about football by playing it, but I've learned most of what I know of organized football from reading books like this, playing Madden, and watching coaches film footage.

That leaves the NBA. Its a league that has more compelling characters than the MLB and arguably even the NFL, but much of that heavy lifting is done by the players themselves, the recent paragon being Shaquille O'Neal. Sadly, the NBA has always been so buttoned-up about its image that it seems the least likely league to open the kimono. Perhaps the NBA fears a bunch of footage of NBA stars sitting around the house smoking pot and playing their XBox. Perhaps after David Stern retires, things will change.

At best, today we occasionally eavesdrop in on a timeout speech from head coach in the huddle, but those are typically cliche-ridden and notable for how uninspiring they are. What I wish we'd hear: on-court trash talking and play-calling, players hanging out with each other in their off-hours, coaches training and chewing out players in practices. Even NBA players Twitter accounts can be muzzled by the league, which is a shame. I find regular season NBA games to be distractingly dull, but there are subnarratives of interest woven throughout if the NBA would just do the work of surfacing them.

This is especially important because the NBA tends to have less variation than any of the other two major sports in the U.S. Luck just isn't as prevalent. In baseball, it's dubious whether the winner of the World Series was really the best team, and in the NFL, with its low volume of plays per game and high potential scoring total per play, luck can swing a single game. But in the NBA, in a best of 7 series, given the high volume of plays and the concentration of playing time in the hands of so few players, skill differentials tend to be impervious to the variances of luck.

If outcomes are so certain, then the quality of narrative becomes even more important to the enjoyment of the contest. Think of the NBA as a genre film. You know when you watch a Western that the good guys will win in the end, but it's about how you get there.

ASIDE 1: I still hold out hope that someday, we'll have the option of watching a broadcast of a sports contest that features unfiltered live audio from on the court or field. It would surely come with a language warning, but that's what pay cable is for, right? I'd pay some absurd premium for that. Can you imagine hearing Michael Jordan trashtalking the opposition in his heyday? You often hear that Kevin Garnett is one of the most hated players in the NBA by the opposition and most beloved by teammates, but without on court audio or behind-the-scenes footage, the audience has no firsthand evidence why.

ASIDE 2: This whole post was spurred by watching this behind-the-scenes video of Stanford's 17-14 win over Oregon. I'm a Stanford fan, of course, but that first minute would give me goosebumps no matter who was wearing the uniforms. Even at the collegiate level, football is cranking out this type of cinematic fare.

Chip Kelly's spread offense

Chris Brown does a great job breaking down Chip Kelly's vaunted Oregon spread offense. Of course I'll be rooting for Stanford this Saturday night in their matchup against Oregon, but I confess to a huge crush on Kelly's spread-offense. Football strategy innovation is rarer than you'd expect given the huge financial incentives to winning, but every so often, someone like a Dick Lebeau or a Bill Walsh comes along and comes up with something new, like the zone blitz or the West Coast offense, and it's a beautiful thing.

Hear Kelly explain his spread-offense, the logic seems elegantly simple.

At its most fundamental, Kelly's system is a carefully organized, carefully practiced method for forcing defenses to defend the whole field, and then exploiting those areas left exposed. And the first tool Kelly uses is a surprising one: math.

"If there are two high safeties [i.e., players responsible for deep pass defense], mathematically there can only be five defenders in the box. With one high safety, there can be six in the box. If there is no high safety, there can be seven in the box," Kelly explained at the 2011 spring Nike Coach of the Year Clinic. The easiest case is if the defense plays with two deep defenders: "With two high safeties, we should run the ball most of the time. We have five blockers and they have five defenders."

When a team brings that extra defender into the box, the calculus for the offense changes. "If the defense has one high safety and six defenders in the box, the quarterback has to be involved in the play," Kelly explained. "He has to read one of the defenders, in effect blocking him. We can block five defenders and read the sixth one." Marcus Mariota, Oregon's dynamic freshman quarterback, has been an excellent blocker without hitting anyone at all.

Football is really simple, in some ways. On offense, the advantage is that they know what play is going to be run and the defense doesn't. But it's somewhat offset by the fact that the offense has one player, the quarterback, who isn't blocking or running a route, giving the defense one extra person to defend (this is one reason why quarterbacks that can run, like Michael Vick or RGIII, are so dangerous; they force the defense to assign at least one defender to shadow the QB, neutralizing that man advantage).

Kelly's spread-offense tries to neutralize the man disadvantage by putting the offense in situations that give them as few defenders to manage as possible, analogous to a power play in hockey. And by playing fast, like no huddle offenses in the pros, they prevent defenses from swapping in personnel for specific packages, further putting the defense at a disadvantage.

I, for one, hope Kelly gets a long, extended look in the NFL, enough time to try to bring some of that innovation to the pro grame.

Forecast: high chance of precipitation

Played in a simplified, run-first, dive-option read offense with very basic high-low reads. Worked exclusively out of the gun and was very quick to run at the first flash of coverage. Limited field vision — does not process the passing game. Inconsistent throwing mechanics with a flick delivery — generates all of his power from his upper-body strength and too often arms the ball. Streaky passer with spotty accuracy. Makes his receivers work hard and throws into coverage. Does not spin a tight spiral. Very disingenuous — has a fake smile, comes off as very scripted and has a selfish, me-first makeup. Always knows where the cameras are and plays to them. Has an enormous ego with a sense of entitlement that continually invites trouble and makes him believe he is above the law — does not command respect from teammates and always will struggle to win a locker room. Only a one-year producer. Lacks accountability, focus and trustworthiness — is not punctual, seeks shortcuts and sets a bad example. Immature and has had issues with authority. Not dependable.

And more:

Can provide an initial spark, but will quickly be dissected and contained by NFL defensive coordinators, struggle to sustain success and will not prove worthy of an early investment. An overhyped, high-risk, high-reward selection with a glaring bust factor, Newton is sure to be drafted more highly than he should and could foreclose a risk-taking GM's job and taint a locker room.

This is all from Pro Football Weekly's scouting report on Cam Newton from March 2011. Italics are mine, as the GM of the Carolina Panthers did get fired yesterday. And he's been leading the front pages of sports pages, like this one on the top of ESPN today, in articles that note that Newton "sometimes comes off as someone more concerned with his own performance than his team's record." Teammates Steve Smith has called him out for his attitude, "I told [Cam] 'You can get some mental reps or you can sit on that bench and sulk.'"

Just a long way of saying it took a year, but that Pro Football Weekly scouting report looks like it was spot on.