The Morning Jolt

Culture

The Next Giant #MeToo Scandal Hits the Sports World

Call me crazy, but I think the Washington Redskins are about to become the next huge focus of #MeToo:

When the Washington Redskins took their cheerleading squad to Costa Rica in 2013 for a calendar photo shoot, the first cause for concern among the cheerleaders came when Redskins officials collected their passports upon arrival at the resort, depriving them of their official identification.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. This is the sort of thing that sex traffickers do. What on God’s green earth could justify an employer taking away a person’s passport in a foreign country?

The cheerleaders’ trip moves from an ethical gray area . . . to charcoal:

For the photo shoot, at the adults-only Occidental Grand Papagayo resort on Culebra Bay, some of the cheerleaders said they were required to be topless, though the photographs used for the calendar would not show nudity. Others wore nothing but body paint. Given the resort’s secluded setting, such revealing poses would not have been a concern for the women — except that the Redskins had invited spectators.

A contingent of sponsors and FedExField suite holders — all men — were granted up-close access to the photo shoots.

One evening, at the end of a 14-hour day that included posing and dance practices, the squad’s director told nine of the 36 cheerleaders that their work was not done. They had a special assignment for the night. Some of the male sponsors had picked them to be personal escorts at a nightclub.

The New York Times says its sources for this story are “five cheerleaders who were involved, and many details were corroborated with others who heard descriptions of the trip at the time.” None of the cheerleaders said they had sex with any of the male sponsors. The Redskins organization responded to the Times with what strikes me as a revealingly generic statement: “The Redskins’ cheerleader program is one of the NFL’s premier teams in participation, professionalism, and community service. Each Redskin cheerleader is contractually protected to ensure a safe and constructive environment. The work our cheerleaders do in our community, visiting our troops abroad, and supporting our team on the field is something the Redskins organization and our fans take great pride in.”

Whether he deserves it or not, a lot of the blame for this is going to end up on Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who was not on the trip. The Times article points out that while the job of a cheerleader has always been tied up in sex appeal, the Redskins under Snyder, in the words of one local sports columnist, have been “bringing the craft closer to pole dancing with every season.”

It is hard to overstate how much Snyder is hated in Washington — by the fans who are frustrated by the level of play and the owner’s impatience with coaches, by the media for secrecy that would impress the intelligence community and baseless lawsuits over critical coverage, and by players such as former quarterback Kirk Cousins who apparently felt unappreciated.

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson had to sell his team after multiple serious allegations of workplace misconduct. One can’t help but suspect that the NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would prefer to see a new owner and fresh start for the Redskins. Of course, the other team owners may be just fine with a perennially dysfunctional dumpster fire of an organization playing at FedEx Field.

One angle that fascinates me is that the New York Times broke this story, and not any Washington-based news organization. For those of you outside the nation’s capital, it is equally hard to overstate the obsessive coverage on the Redskins in Washington’s print, television, and radio media. Tune in to sports radio this week, and the hosts are still arguing about the decision to let Cousins go in free agency. But all of those man-hours devoted to covering the team managed to miss this story for about five years!

Guiliani: Oh, Hey, Yeah, Trump Knew about the Payments to Stormy Daniels

President Trump, April 5, speaking to reporters on Air Force One: “Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?” “No.”

Rudy Giuliani, appearing on Sean Hannity’s program last night:

GIULIANI: Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000? Which, I mean, is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money. Sorry, I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.

HANNITY: They funneled it through a law firm.

GIULIANI: They funneled through a law firm, and the president repaid it.

HANNITY: Oh. I didn’t know that. He did.

GIULIANI: Yep.

HANNITY: There’s no campaign-finance law.

GIULIANI: Zero. Just like every — Sean, Sean —

HANNITY: So this decision was made by —

GIULIANI: Everybody was nervous about this from the very beginning. I wasn’t. I knew how much money Donald Trump put into that campaign, and I said, “$130,000? He could do a couple of checks for $130,000.” When I heard of Cohen’s retainer for $130,000, he was doing no work for the president. I said, “Well, that’s how he’s repaying it, with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael.

HANNITY: But you know the president didn’t know about this?

GIULIANI: Ah, he didn’t know about the specifics of it, as far as I know. But he did know about the general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this. Like, I take care of this with my clients. I don’t burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people.

You can say you don’t care about Trump’s sex life, and that’s your right. You can say you don’t care about Trump’s non-disclosure agreements with women, and that’s your right, too.

But if your perspective is, “Of course he’s going to lie about secret payments to her, lying to cover up an affair isn’t a big deal . . .” I’d love to check your viewpoint against your viewpoint in 1998 during Bill Clinton’s scandal with Monica Lewinsky. Yes, Democrats are epically hypocritical about this, but we’re left with the question: Beyond the double standard, what do we want the standard to be?

I would prefer a president who didn’t say “no” when the truth is “yes.”

The Infinity War Goes on for a Long Time . . . But Can’t Quite Nail the Ending

Avengers: Infinity War gets about 90 percent of the way to being the most awesome superhero movie of all time. And then, in a extraordinarily daring attempt to conclude a summer blockbuster on a truly original note, it goes one step too far and tears its storytelling anterior cruciate ligament.

SPOILERS AHEAD

First, let’s give credit where it’s due: Few filmmakers and studios have ever tried to make a movie anywhere near as ambitious, big, difficult, or complicated as this one. Depending upon how you count, it’s got anywhere from a dozen to 20 protagonists. The villain has been touted as the big bad in post-credit scenes and other allusions since 2012. It’s, if not a direct sequel, then a semi-sequel that continues storylines from Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2, Captain America: Civil War, and Doctor Strange. For those of you who don’t read comics, this is a pretty good cinematic interpretation of the once-a-year-or-so massive crossover storylines that would run through a lot of comic titles at once.

And the Marvel creative team knows what its strengths are — fun, interesting characters and funny dialogue — and for two hours, they nail it. Yes, all the action scenes and fights are great, but what we’re really going to remember is Thor trading insults with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the egos of Doctor Strange and Tony Stark clashing, Bruce Banner flabbergasted that there’s now both a Spider-Man and an Ant-Man, and Captain America and Groot introducing themselves to each other.

But the problem with the (NO REALLY, SPOILER COMING) shock ending of the heroes’ defeat and Thanos successfully killing off half of all life in the entire universe is that as daring as it is . . . our suspension of disbelief is among the casualties of Thanos.

Come on. The movie Black Panther made a billion dollars worldwide. Ain’t no way T’Challa’s gone for good. Same for Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and five-sevenths of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

And once you realize the character’s deaths can’t really be permanent . . . you start to wonder if any of the movie’s preceding deaths will be permanent. For two hours, every preceding major character death felt like it was consequential. Idris Elba famously complained about the schedule while playing Heimdall, and so it’s believable he would want out of future movies. Maybe Tom Hiddleston wants to go off and play James Bond or something, so it’s believable this is the last time we’ll see him playing Loki. Gamora’s death was the real gut punch, but it represented a key character-defining moment for the villain: He’s so obsessed with his goal that he’s willing to kill the only person he even remotely “loves,” his adopted daughter. The robotic Vision could be rebuilt, but it’s likely that having a chunk of his computer “brain” ripped out would leave him changed permanently.

But once the characters with their own movie series start drifting away like leaves in the wind, we know this is going to get undone somehow. (Yes, I’m old enough to have collected the original Infinity Gauntlet series, where Thanos’s first-issue magical random genocide wiped away all of Marvel’s less popular heroes but just so happened to keep the most popular characters around to take him on later.) What’s more, Marvel isn’t likely to set future superhero movies in a world where humanity is dealing with the chaos of three and a half billion people suddenly disappearing.

Once we know that most of these deaths are going to be reversed by some time travel, or Infinity Stone magic, or whatever in a future Marvel movie, we’re left wondering . . . what else will be undone? Did any of this really matter? (The greatest superhero cinematic “never mind” is probably The Wolverine, where everything Logan does in that movie is erased by the time travel in the subsequent movie, Days of Future Past.)

It’s easy to see why Marvel chose this route. The most common criticism of their movies (besides that they’re too jokey) is that they’re enjoyable but predictable. Because we know the hero will always win in the end, there’s not much real tension. Mentors and superfluous sidekicks might get struck down, but all of the audience favorites will survive until the credits roll. Kevin Feige and the rest of the creative team might as well have said, “Oh yeah? You think our movies are getting predictable? Watch this!” But even without the not-buying-it closing twist, we’re left with just part one of a two-part story, and the result is an conclusion that isn’t really satisfying, despite the buffet table of superhero fun we’ve devoured in the preceding two hours or so.

ADDENDA: If you haven’t checked it out already, peruse my Corner piece discussing Jungian psychology and how it explains some of the raging antagonism in our politics . . .

Starting tomorrow, coverage of the NRA Annual Meeting in Dallas!

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