In the final installment of my interview with Washington Post sports columnist John Feinstein, the author of 35 books, we talk about an irritating aspect of security in Minneapolis at the 2019 Final Four, how professional sports are handling chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE, a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head) and whether college athletes should be paid.
Q: What was the extra layer of security you found annoying at the Final Four?
A: I've never experienced it before, but the security people were literally under orders to take your credential in hand to look at it as you were going into the media room or out onto the court. It wasn't just for the media; it was for everybody. Basketball [commission bigshots] who are usually treated like gods, had the same experience. ... [When] you're wearing your credential around your neck and somebody grabs at it, kind of pulls it, it's not the most pleasant experience in the world. I had never seen it happen. I never got a clear answer on the reason why. By the way, the security guards themselves could not have been more polite about it. I didn't blame them.
Q: How do you think the NFL and the NHL are handling the CTE issue?
A: Well, the NFL, for years, handled it with denial. I think the NHL has followed to some degree. I think the NFL, in particular, is trying to convince us that it's got it under control now. We've put in all these new rules on the head-to-head hits, and [NFL commissioner] Roger Goodell is saying football is safer than it's ever been.
Here's the problem: Football's never safe. It is a violent game. On a routine play, a guy picks up 4 yards and everybody goes back to the huddle. If you were to look at it not as a football play but a collision of 22 giant men, you'd be horrified: "Omigod, how can anybody stand up and walk away from this?" If you play football for years and years and years, you're going to absorb it through your head [and] body.
I did a book 15 years ago where I spent the season with the Baltimore Ravens, and my most vivid memory of that entire year was the day after their season ended they had a team meeting. When the team meeting was over, everybody walked down the hall to the locker room. As I was walking with players and looking around me, the only one who wasn't limping or stooped over or wearing a sling or on crutches was me.
Q: Football is the sport that attracts the most of my attention, and if I were NFL commissioner, the list of illegal hits would be longer. I think you can tackle with more elegance, although a lot of people love the collision and bells being rung.
A: Oh, yeah, they sold videos of those hits until CTE became a public health issue. Go back and look at tapes [of games]. If there was a big hit on somebody, they'd replay it five or six times.
Q: Should student athletes in the high-profile NCAA sports be compensated beyond their scholarships?
A: It's a very complicated issue. I've said two things. One: If a player can make money by signing autographs, doing selfies with fans, making appearances at automobile dealerships, whatever, outside of playing the game, they should be allowed to do that. This notion that the walk-on on the end of the bench should get the same as the star players ... is ridiculous. That's not true in any walk of life. There are people who are stars and more highly compensated and people who are less highly compensated.
Two: I've always said what they should do for the revenue-bearing sports, no matter what they are — basketball, football, women's basketball, there are some places where wrestling is a revenue-bearing sport — at the end of each year you take a percentage of the net dollars [and] you put it into a trust fund. The day an athlete in that sport graduates, you give him or her their share of that trust fund.
Is it going to be billions of dollars? No. But most college athletes aren't going to make billions of dollars. Those who do are the tiny exception to the rule. So if you were told, "C.J., there's $30,000 waiting for you," that's pretty good for a 22-year-old. It's the same for anybody who has a scholarship, it's their share, whether it's [Duke star and now NBA player] Zion Williamson or the eight or ninth guy on the team.
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9's "Buzz." E-mailers, please state a subject; "Hello" does not count.