Follow the money. It was memorable advice from Deep Throat in the Watergate movie “All the President’s Men” (but not in real life.)
The advice also works in the belated investigation into the snake pit known as FIFA.
Sepp Blatter was always going to win re-election as FIFA president, which he did on Friday. Many of the voting delegates have been receiving lavish expense accounts, to say nothing of favors that made them look like big men back home, plus packets of bills, preferably US dollars, when they followed orders.
Now there is another pile of money to be followed as the world deals with the reek emanating from FIFA and Zurich. The money is from corporate sponsors – the multinationals with United States bases, Coca-Cola and Visa and the television networks, which do business with world soccer.
The corporate bosses in the States, who never wanted to know, have been forced to recognize, in public, that FIFA is dirty. American stockholders, with all our proclamations about religion and citizenship and saving the world, are facing the fact that a very foreign-sounding federation (and a still foreign-appearing sport) just plain stinks.
What is needed right now is a corporate leader like David D’Alessandro, who was running John Hancock in the late 20th Century when it became known that Salt Lake City had broken rules preparing for the 2002 Winter Olympics. D’Alessandro went public that the Olympics were not a good buy for his company, and he forced the International Olympic Committee to change the leadership in Salt Lake City, to bring in Mitt Romney. I’d love to see D’Alessandro address the obvious scandal in Zurich.
That leads us to Warren Buffett, who swigs ruinous black sugar water as if it were actually good for his stomach and his teeth. Buffett also buys copious amounts of Coca-Cola stock. He must now admit that he and Coca-Cola have been subsidizing a highly corrupt organization.
FIFA has gotten away with its crooked ways in part because the U.S. has been leery of soccer, except for the quadrennial World Cup and more recently the glut of Champions League and powerful European leagues. Corporate leaders – including from networks like ESPN and Fox -- must now publicly acknowledge that their partner is a devious burgher from Switzerland, the land of know-nothing banks.
One sign of progress is that Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation and a member of FIFA’s executive committee, announced Thursday that he would vote against Blatter in Friday’s election.
Was Gulati voting from his conscience? Was he voting from the roars of corporate leaders back home who are shocked, shocked, to discover FIFA is crooked? Or is it some potent mixture of conscience and pressure? Almost doesn’t matter.
According to the admirable new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, major crimes have been committed in the name of FIFA in American jurisdiction. This is Sepp Blatter’s nightmare. He always loved to belly up to the trough that is America, but he always seemed nervous because he knew American business is relatively (I said relatively) more transparent than in most major countries.
As rogues often do, Blatter committed a Nixonian gaffe. He hired Michael Garcia, a New York prosecutor with a great reputation, now in private practice, to investigate FIFA. When Blatter declined to release Garcia’s 450-page report, Garcia quit in disgust…and came home…to New York…where he has connections to FBI director James Comey and Lynch, the former leader of the Eastern District court.
Now we follow the money, right back to Omaha and Atlanta and Beaverton, Ore. and Foster City, Cal, and Bristol, Conn., and Los Angeles, all those corporate homes, the source of those American dollars.
Will the indictment of underlings affect the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups? Russia, putting current world politics aside, has a reasonable soccer tradition and centuries of history, plus it was a great host for the 1986 Goodwill Games. (I was there.)
Qatar is another case, with its lack of soccer history and its current reliance on near-slave labor. However, Qatar does have huge amounts of oil money, which it spends extravagantly in countries like France, which caved to Qatar in the vote for 2022. However, taking away a World Cup from a Muslim country may not be a good idea.
Then there is 2026. Gulati was the first person I ever heard talking about a North American World Cup, ranging from Toronto through the US to Mexico City. When it is time to pick a host for 2026, FIFA must be a totally different outfit.
I bet corporate sponsors have some kind of discretionary escape clause in case of scandal. Whatever it takes. Follow the money.
(Your comments are always welcome.)
(I've been running since 7 AM Wednesday, doing all kinds of radio and TV cameos to explain the FIFA scandal. My friend Douglas Logan, the first commissioner of Major League Soccer, did have time to write his take, speculating on how US president Sunil Gulati would vote. Hours later, Gulati told the NY Times that he plans to vote for Blatter's only rival on Friday. Bravo, Gulati.
(Late Thursday night, Logan commented on Gulati's plans:
By Douglas Logan
In less than 24 hours I have to eat my words. I was wrong.
Yesterday, in a post titled “First Shoe Drops”, I expressed skepticism that the US vote for FIFA President would be cast against the incumbent, Sepp Blatter. I wrongly assumed that Sunil Gulati, President of the US Federation [USSF] would avoid making a courageous statement with our vote. Well, I blew it!
In the last hour media sources have reported that Gulati has announced that he will cast our vote for Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, the challenger. With this act Gulati has put us in sync with the “good guys”. It sends a clear message that we will not continue to back the regime that has facilitated, fostered and protected corruption in the governance of this great sport. We are standing tall, regardless of the consequences.
At this hour I have no idea what the results of the election will be. It could be that Blatter’s support in the emerging nations of Asia and Africa, together with the steadfast backing of Putin and Russia cannot be defeated. It makes no difference. That there may be retribution is probable. Again, it does not matter. What does matter is that we are taking a moral stand against the corruption that threatens the game.
I have had my differences with Mr. Gulati over the years. Not in this instance. I apologize for my faulty presumption. I commend him for his leadership and courage. I am proud of him.
* * *
(The earlier piece can be found on this link
* * *
(Thanks to Doug Logan. The only thing I can add is that Chapter 18 of my soccer book is entitled: Blatter Scores an Own Goal. Then on Page 267 of the new paperback edition, in the Afterword about the Brazil World Cup last year, I have a long paragraph that begins:
"The biggest loser of all in 2014 was FIFA" and it ends:
"By the end of 2014 it seemed clear that, in some cosmic way, FIFA had been found out."
Your opinions are valuable. I'll get back to this in time for the next coronation of Merrie Kinge Sepp.)
Is it true that inside every band musician there is a superstar looking to break free?
“We all feel that way, if we had our druthers,” said Andy Aledort, the blues guitarist who will be part of a concert at the Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington, Long Island, on June 2 – The SideMen With the Uptown Horns.
Aledort then added the practical side of the blues – “It’s hard to make money.” So you do what you can.
He is a thoughtful musician who has played for Dickey Betts and Double Trouble and Buddy Guy and in Jimi Hendrix tribute shows. He also transcribes classic riffs and teaches guitar (to Paul Allen, just to drop a name) and writes about music. His experience in the industry has taught him that winning teams must have rebounders, passers and defenders as well as stars firing 3-point shots.
“Just as an aside, a few years ago I went to an astrologist, Bob Cook, who looked at my chart and told me, without knowing anything about my life or career, that I was the type of person that was happier helping others to ‘shine’ without striving for the spotlight myself, and this is definitely borne out by the many things I’ve done on and off stage.”
In recent months I have been reminded of the talent that backs up the stars. I went to the Landmark – where all three of our children went to elementary school -- to see two of my favorite singers, Kathy Mattea and Iris DeMent. Sitting up front, I was transfixed by the guitar riffs that made the stars even better. (I wish I had taken names of the two pickers, but afterward I did get to tell both of them how terrific they were.)
On June 2, the same Landmark on Main Street will welcome to a whole concert of sidemen – Aledort, plus Audley Freed (Cry Of Love, Black Crowes, Jimmy Page, Sheryl Crow), bassist Andy Hess (Black Crowes, Gov't Mule, John Scofield), singer/keyboardist Mike Dimeo (Deep Purple, Riot, Bonnie Tyler, Tommy James), drummer Shawn Murray (Mink Deville, John Hammond, Mick Taylor), bassist Dennis Metzler, and singer JP Patrick.
They will be joined by the Uptown Horns, who have backed up The Rolling Stones, James Brown and Bruce Springsteen and, yes, B.B. King.
For information on the event at 7:30 PM, please see:
The SideMen concept is the brainchild of Bill Willets who works with Louis Rosano of Louis Electric Amps in New Jersey. Willets recently organized the first Sidemen concert in Ramsey, N.J., and sold out the place – and is bringing accomplished musicians to my town on June 2, with another concert scheduled for Teaneck, N.J., on June 4.
Aledort, 59, grew up in nearby Little Neck and at the age of 8 he and a few pals began riding their bikes up and down the hills to Port Washington to ogle the wares at the legendary Ghost Motorcycles – by coincidence, next door to the Main Street School.
He studied guitar under the legendary teacher Joe Monk of Great Neck and lives in nearby Sea Cliff with his wife Tracey Aledort, who runs Forest Books in Locust Valley, and their children, Rory and Wyatt.
For a while, Aledort did 50-80 shows a year with Dickey Betts (who came up with the Allman Brothers Band) but Aledort says life on a band bus “is like being on a chain gang.” Hence, he tries to stay close to home, but the blues are always the blues.
(Below: Aledort gives a little primer on the blues.)
My new smartphone hates me. I can tell.
The other night I cleared a space for it on the dresser – never had to do that with my old clamshell.
Then I noticed it had wriggled a few inches, seeking to fling itself over the edge, to escape.
I know it hates me. When I curl my fingers around its elegant girth, I feel it seeking the slightest gravitational opening to plunge to the floor. I grip it tighter. It struggles with animal desperation. Let me go, let me out of here.
Does its heart belong to another? Does it seek a mate? Has it been given a nefarious Manchurian Candidate task to destroy itself – or me?
For the past decade, I got by with a rudimentary clamshell, delighted just to be able to make phone calls or peck out terse messages. .
It fit in my pocket, snugly and comfortingly, like the lemon soap Leopold Bloom carries in “Ulysses.”
We're a capital couple are Bloom and I;
He brightens the earth, I polish the sky.
However, last week I was working in my basement and swept the clamshell into the bucket from the dehumidifier. The innards were fried. I had to update my act.
I have never trusted Mr. Jobs’ gadgets – too pretty, too smooth, too obscure. Now I have one -- almost the size of a Steinbrennerian plaque in Yankee Stadium,
Every day I learn a trick or two. The other day, parked in my driveway, I figured out how to pull up a map for directions, so I didn’t have to run inside to my laptop. Progress!
I’m not a Luddite, but I am a survivor. I don’t trust this stranger in my life. I am now told I need to buy a cushy holder and a glass cover to protect Mr. Jobs’ handiwork from escape efforts. I need to carry the clunky thing in a belt around my waist. This is progress? Why not carry my laptop in a knapsack on my back, the way I used to do?
Plus, I know the smartphone is plotting to get me. If these essays stop coming, you know who did it. My smartphone’s nickname is Chucky.
I avoided David Letterman for years, but it was hard to avoid our son’s guffaws. He would come home late from working as a busboy and would turn on the television
“What in the world was so funny?” I would ask the next day.
“Dave was throwing watermelons off the roof,” our son would reply. Oh.
Never a fan of late-night TV, I avoided Letterman until my wife and I took an apartment in Florida, much too young for that kind of thing. There wasn’t much to do in the evening, so I gravitated to Letterman who by that time had moved from tossing watermelons to wandering around suburban subdivisions knocking on doors. It wasn’t in the least bit funny. I think of them as Letterman’s Lost Years.
Still, I became hooked on Letterman’s sour moods, his distracted interviews, his foolish audience-participation games, his apparent disinterest in most of the music, the Freudian working-stuff-out cameos by his mom. He was an acquired taste -- a grumpy guy dealing with major heart surgery and 9-11 and that obviously nasty fling with the intern.
Dave's strange routines (traced and parsed in Wednesday's New York Times) made him part of my trinity of flawed television role models – joining Tony Soprano and Clint Eastwood’s gunslinger and assembly-line bigot. I made sure to watch Dave late at night, because you never knew.
I loved his loyalty to standup comedians, his repartee with old pros like Regis Philbin and Martha Stewart (he upgraded her totally marginal financial conviction to “she killed a guy.”) And I shared his affection for Julia Roberts and some guests of the female gender. (Salon.com ran a top-ten list of Letterman crushes and never even mentioned his gushing about Cate Blanchett.)
One night Dave interviewed Natalia Makarova (whom my wife and I had seen in Lincoln Center, summer of 1971 -- the most transfixing evening of ballet we have ever had.) Dave had met Makarova when both were honored at the Kennedy Center; he gave her total respect on his show.
Ever since Letterman announced his retirement as of May 20, I have been unable to watch his show. It’s over. I never watched Johnny Carson or Jay Leno and I doubt I will ever watch Stephen Colbert. (Jimmy Fallon and Marco Rubio have blurred into the same persona -- a hyper comedian I call El Joven.)
Alas, my walkabout meant I did not see Michelle and Barack Obama. I missed Tina Fey – greatest eyes on television -- strip down to her skivvies. Thank God for youtube.
I did catch a snippet of Dave talking about the chasm that awaits him upon the dreaded R-word. Is it more shtick or real terror? My advice to him is, sometimes it’s very healthy to get off the high wire. How many insipid sit-com actors or loutish baseball managers can you interview in a lifetime?
Dave will be fine -- in his own miserable way. Plus, he can always go on the roof of his own home and chuck off a few watermelons.
Update: Tom Brady has been suspended four games and the Patriots have been fined $1-million dollars and deprived of two high draft picks.
In other words: only four games, only $1-million, only two high draft picks.
Meantime, Pete Rose is banned for life from baseball for betting on games and lying about it. Guess Rose was not as creepily charming as Brady (above).
Back to our regularly scheduled programming:
They have one thing in common: they think you are stupid. You, the sports fan. They say things and expect the fan to believe them. Because that is the nature of a fan: blind faith.
Brady showed up in Salem, Mass., the other night with a smug look that comes from winning all those Super Bowls and he assured the crowd that he didn’t know anything. They cheered him. Because they are Patriots fans.
Ever since this deflated-football business surfaced, I have been saying that the truth would emerge that a Patriot employee named Elmo who made a modest salary would have done the actual dirty work in a back room. Turns out there are two Elmos. Now a report says Tom Brady probably knew. Probably.
This happened in the world of Robert Kraft, just as the Belichick spying and other scandals happened in the world of Robert Kraft. But Patriots’ fans think it’s all fine. And other fans wish their team cheated that well.
Roger Goodell, who must decide how much to suspend Brady after the recent report, is already exposed for his disinterest in the damage perpetrated upon generations of football players. The commissioner has acted as if he could bluff his way through because of football’s television ratings and income. Those guys with the deteriorating brains? Collateral damage, apparently. Goodell's face betrays no inner life, no sense of guilt.
The Yankee fans gave Alex Rodriguez a curtain call the other night for passing Willie Mays’s home run total of 661. This accomplishment does nothing to eclipse Mays, a beautiful baseball player who brings a smile to aging faces. A-Rod is from a more recent generation. He cheated multiple times, was penalized multiple times, and now he is back, one of the Yankees’ best players. Fascinating. What happens if his spurt of energy, coordination, power, whatever, fades by mid-summer?
The Yankee organization now publicly welches on a contract, claiming it was a marketing deal, not a bonus for his 661st homer. The Yankee organization also paid the salary of Roger Clemens, one of the great pitchers of his time or any time, but having been in the hearings and the courtroom, I can say Clemens got off lucky because of an amateur prosecution.
Then there is Manny Pacquaio, who declined to mention that he had a damaged right shoulder for his “fight of the century” last Saturday. What century? Boxing is the Brigadoon of sports. It only re-appears periodically. But people spent millions, to watch a charade by a boxer with a damaged shoulder. Now there will be lawsuits. Normal.
One of the great lies told to fans is that sports breed good character. It is one rationale for colleges fielding semi-pro teams and paying athletes minimally, under the table.
Sometimes the scandals back up and flood over the side. This seems to be one of those times.
This is a great time of the year in the United States. The final four of Champions League soccer is being piped in during mid-afternoon across this huge country.
On Wednesday Americans got to see Messi break down Bayern Munich with two killer strikes, three minutes apart, as Barcelona won, 3-0, at home in the Pep Guardiola Bowl – his current team (Bayern) against his old team (Barça).
On Tuesday, Juventus held off Real Madrid, 2-1, at home, as described so well by Sam Borden in the Times. I enjoyed watching old hands like Buffon, Pirlo and Chiellini, who sported a bandage and a bloody jersey -- and Suarez was nowhere in sight.
(Euro calcio scribes dispatch with first names; everybody knows the players, or is supposed to. Fact is, American tifosi recognize the manic features of Buffon, who has been a staple of our lives for two decades. We know this stuff.)
Next week the teams play again and the final is June 6 in Berlin. Pubs and restaurants will be jumping in New York as fans celebrate the true rite of spring.
The big question is: how far can the growing sophistication and demand for soccer go in the New World? We do know that European clubs are thrilled to make money here. In July the master impresario Charlie Stillitano will import some of the best squads for the International Champions Cup -- what amounts to pre-season training. (That’s right; these blokes will be whacking away in two months.)
But how long will American fans, with their discretionary income, be willing to serve as out-of-town tryout audiences, like spring training baseball fans in Florida and Arizona, or theatre-goers watching plays before they reach Broadway?
Americans are getting the hang of world soccer. The New York Times dispatched Sam Borden to Europe to add to what Chris Clarey and Rob Hughes have been doing. Americans know all about master schnorrer Sepp Blatter of FIFA. (Check out Bloomberg’s big piece on Blatter.)
Every four years, American fans must settle for their plucky Last Picture Show national squad. Major League Soccer is growing its product correctly. I think the time zones over the Atlantic are a barrier to having a Boston team or a New York team playing in a top European league. But money can make anything happen, I suppose.
It’s been a huge transition in the past generation, just having the top clubs show up in our summer. In 2001, Bayern won the Champions League on a Wednesday night in Milan and flew home for a parade in Munich on Thursday and celebrated with no sleep until the flight to Newark on Friday for a Saturday night exhibition.
Bayern scraped together eight starters from the final but their legs and brains were shot by the time they wobbled onto the field in New Jersey. The hideous MetroStars won the exhibition, 2-0 – and over 30,000 fans showed just to watch the best players in the world, hung over. More recently, Bayern has opened a New York office. You think they’re not serious?
I knew the appetite for American money was growing when Sir Alex Ferguson deigned to lunch with American soccer writers before a rake-in-the-bucks swing in 2003. The extroverted Dutch striker Rood Van Nistelrooy told a charming story about getting into a coed pickup match in North Carolina the summer before and finally being recognized by a female opponent.
Footy in the Colonies! In 2011 I covered a Liverpool-AC Milan match in hallowed Fenway Park. And I used to watch Champions League matches in BXL, Foley’s, and the late, lamented L’Angolo in Greenwich Village.
We Americans have learned a bit in recent decades. But will we ever really be part of world football? Or will we remain well-heeled consumers rather than participants?
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.