Isn’t There More to Worry About Than Headphones?: Opening Line

There’s a lot of stuff going on right now, from the usual geopolitical hot spots to the seemingly sudden descent of the German/European economic machine, a killer epidemic, the financial trial of the century, and the markets’ reactions to some or all of the above.

Banks are reporting earnings, the weather is changing and might be getting a little volatile, ISIS/ISIL/I.S. -- we could go in any of those directions. But we think there’s one issue right now that rises above all this, something more important, something critical to the heartbeat of America, something we can’t ignore.

It’s the headphones controversy in the NFL.

We know, we know -- we can’t believe it took us this long, but when you’ve got Paulson, Geithner and Bernanke on the stand, or a virus that makes you bleed from your eyeballs before killing you now spreading around the world, you have to prioritize.

That’s what we’d have expected of the NFL as well.

Instead, while NFL players are beating up their women and children, the league is fining players more for wearing the wrong headphones than they are for dirty play or hits that could actually injure someone. The Beats headphones are the wrong ones now because the league signed a sponsorship deal with the Bose brand.

Why is the NFL entering sponsorship deals with headphone makers? Doesn’t that seem a little...specific? Where does this end? Will a player one day find he’s prohibited from driving anything but the authorized NFL automobile into the stadium parking lot? Will the NFL enter a deal with Tiffany, thus enjoining any player from sporting diamond stud earrings from Zale? Tattoos? What?

And where does the money go -- the money that the NFL gets from one company to stifle an individual player’s choice and to enforce one that isn’t? The commercialism in this league -- enough already. There are no press conferences now that don’t take place before a sponsor’s backdrop. Heck, even Ray Rice’s apology for being a caveman took place in front of a Baltimore Ravens-Under Armour logo.

But whatever. The NFL has no soul.

As for the players, what kind of preening, coddled, grown-ass man on a National Football League team wears headphones on the field during warm-up drills? How seriously are they warming up? Don’t you have to, like, run around fast and stuff? We’d like to take today’s players and put them on a team coached by Vince Lombardi or Bear Bryant and see how many are flitting around the field with electronic fashion statements.

And what are they listening to? They’re already high as hell on steroids, HGH and smelling salts. Do they need some Taylor Swift to pump them up even more? (Tom Brady, that question is for you specifically.)

As Eben Novy-Williams points out today, someone hasn’t done their homework on reverse psychology. Because the more the NFL tries to outlaw the Beats headphones, the more publicity it’s giving them and the more recalcitrant the players become. There’s also the curious, uh, cultural aspect to this. You can’t help but wonder if this heavily tattooed league is trying to draw the line at associating with rap music and Dr. Dre.

So yeah, the Beats brand is a status symbol, but are the headphones any good? Whose headphones are better -- Beats or Bose?

Neither. You’ll want a pair of the Grado Prestige SR325is model.

***

Today’s U.S. economic indicators include retail sales, the New York Fed’s Empire manufacturing index, and the consumer-price index at 8:30 a.m. EDT, business inventories at 10 a.m., the monthly budget statement at 11 a.m., and the Fed’s Beige Book at 2 p.m.

There are 16 U.S. companies scheduled to report earnings, including MGIC, Schwab, KeyCorp, BlackRock and Bank of America before the bell. After the bell, we’ll hear from Netflix, American Express, Kinder Morgan, EBay, PNC and Las Vegas Sands, among others.

Wal-Mart and Time Warner Inc. hold investor days.

*** - Second health-care worker tests positive for Ebola in Texas. - Kerry is in Vienna, where talks over Iran’s nuclear program were scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. local time, 4 a.m. EDT. - AbbVie is having second thoughts about its tax inversion with Shire. - Citigroup Mexican unit chief said to be nearing retirement. - Police beating of protester under review in Hong Kong. - Texas abortion-clinic law blocked by U.S. Supreme Court. - Li Keqiang, the Chinese premier, meets Matteo Renzi in Rome at 5:45 a.m. local time, 11:45 a.m. EDT. - Turkey steps up to the plate in the fight against terrorism by bombing its own people, not the Islamic State. - Toyota recalls 1.75 million vehicles in 10 models to fix flaws in brakes and fuel systems. - Google engineers uncover gap in common website security protocol. - Will you need ID to vote in Texas? Depends what week it is. - Ebola SWAT teams planned by CDC. - Vatican backtracks on pope’s recent brush with tolerance. - Nigerian schoolgirls’ parents are losing hope. - David Greenglass dies 61 years too late. - Mass grave in Mexico didn’t hold missing students. - Ha. - Reluctant panda leaves captivity for life outdoors. - Will Zach Galifianakis still be funny now that he’s skinny? - When doctors kill. - Supreme Court forces ban on foie gras down Californians’ throats. - Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle charged with shoplifting underwear and cologne. Got a date, big fella?

***

It’s been pretty funny watching Mayor Bill de Blasio implement (inflict?) his liberal policies on New York City. Because who knows what New York is, really? Left or right? On the one hand, you’ve got the obscenely wealthy, on the other hand you’ve got the people who clear the obscenely wealthy’s plates. The plate-clearers live on the ground level, or closest to it, and plate-eaters live up in the sky, to which they may repair to find refuge from the plate-clearers.

And then you’ve got the outsider plate-eaters, the jet-setters who drop in on their Manhattan for a weekend once in a while, and they don’t have a living relationship with the city. They don’t give a darn about the schools or anything that’s not Nobu, Lincoln Center or JFK airport. Which is why they’re screaming like stuck pigs about de Blasio’s plans for, effectively, a luxury tax on million-dollar apartments for those for whom New York isn’t their primary residence.

Henry Goldman and Allyson Versprille lay out the battleground between those who think the trappings of privilege should be acquired for a premium and those who remind us that it’s their money that’s making the town go around in the first place. The policy would affect about 1,500, or 1.75 percent, of residences, they report.

Here in Pennsylvania, if you want to fish, you need a license. Like most state fishing regulations, a license costs less if you live here than if you live out of state.

Why? We don’t know. Because.

***

After all the stories about dangerous bridges, highways in need of repair and big transportation projects abandoned for lack of money, some good news:

As Mark Niquette reports, two new bridges rising out of the Ohio River between Louisville, Kentucky, and southern Indiana are testament to a new openness on the part of government to welcome private investment in public works. While Kentucky is using traditional public financing, including bonds backed by toll revenue, for its share of the $2.3 billion project, Indiana turned to a consortium of private companies representing the U.S., France and Germany.

“The U.S. has used mostly fuel taxes and public financing for such projects,” Niquette writes. “And the federal gasoline tax hasn’t been raised since President Bill Clinton was in office. A divided Congress only managed a short-term measure in July to prevent the Highway Trust Fund from becoming insolvent.”

As with publicly financed projects, toll revenue is crucial to privately funded ones. ITR Concession Co., owned by units of Spain’s Ferrovial and Australia’s Macquarie Group, paid $3.8 billion in 2006 for the rights to operate the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years. Last month, ITR filed for bankruptcy protection, citing declining traffic volume. (Why the highway became so much less popular under private management is a question at least one congressman has been asking.)

What seems beyond debate is the need for financing, whether public or private. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the U.S. needs $3.6 trillion in infrastructure investment by 2020.

Trillion.

***

Hola ladies and gentlemen, or as my worldliest friends back home in America say, buenos nachos!

(Silence.)

It’s good to be in Barcelona. Things are so clean here! I just flew in from Madrid, and a lot of people there told me to expect this city to be way too Messi.

(Silence.)

Get it? Messy? Messi?

(Silence.)

Geez, tough room. What’s the matter, did they introduce me as Francisco Franco?

(Silence.)

Where am I? Where’s -- hold on a minute. Where’s my manager? Leon! Leon, is this is that club that charges you by the laugh?

***

Not that long ago, the aroma of rank opportunism emanated from the competition among states to legalize gambling -- sorry, “gaming” -- so as to get their cut of Americans’ wagering.

Now the smell is something different: desperation.

For proof, look at the New Jersey state Senate’s swift action to lift the longtime state ban on gambling on sporting events. Having lost court decisions on the matter, New Jersey is now racing to rewrite state law before the next judge weighs in.

The sponsor of the latest bill, Democrat Raymond Lesniak, told NJ.com, “We have to get it passed and on the governor’s desk before the case is heard in federal court.”

Who said the gears of government grind slowly?

New Jersey voters, in a 2011 referendum, blessed the idea of allowing its casinos and racetracks to take bets on “professional, certain college, or amateur sport or athletic events.” (Take note of the word “certain.” Betting on in-state college teams and games would remain illegal, a blatant double-standard that Las Vegas abandoned years ago.)

Republican Governor Chris Christie also supports legalizing sports gambling for the state’s ailing casino industry, though his strategy to achieve that goal is something of a mystery.

The problem for New Jersey is that the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act -- a law sponsored by none other than Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey -- banned sports wagering in the 47 states where it was not then legal. Most sports gambling now takes place in Nevada, although Delaware allows betting on National Football League games, and Oregon offers lottery games based on football-game outcomes.

The 1992 law gave New Jersey a one-year window to authorize sports gambling in Atlantic City. After a lively debate, supporters lacked the numbers to enact the change. So 22 years later -- or is it 22 years late? -- they’re trying again.

***

’Woods, Mickelson Join Panel to Figure Out How to Win Ryder Cup’

Mike Buteau’s story yesterday got predictably high readership, because as we’ve seen from experience, put Tiger Woods in a headline, any headline, and you guys will lunge for it. Here’s one that Opening Line wrote back in March, during the column’s infancy: ’Woods Joins Harvard Hedge Fund With Kardashians: Opening Line’

It was totally cheating -- more of a trial balloon to see how many of you out there would notice it -- and the column’s readership has never been higher since.

Anyway, we’re looking forward to what the blue ribbon commission on winning the Ryder Cup comes up with, beyond, you know, playing better golf.

Even some players are rolling their eyes.

“I spoke with a PGA Tour veteran currently playing on the Champions Tour the other day,” Buteau told us, “who said, ‘A captain? Ear pieces and radios? Opening ceremonies? Really? It’s just golf!’

‘‘Some players think the whole thing has just spun too far out of control,’’ Buteau says.

***

Team of destiny? The Kansas City Royals beat the Baltimore Orioles again last night, 2-1, to take a 3-0 lead in the American League Championship Series. They can win the pennant today. Game 4 gets under way at 3 p.m. in Kansas City, Missouri, 4 p.m. EDT, when they send Jason Vargas to the mound against Baltimore’s Miguel Gonzalez.

Earlier in the day, the San Francisco Giants took a 2-1 lead in the National League Championship Series after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals 5-4 in 10 innings. Game 4 takes place tonight in San Francisco at 5 p.m. local time, 8 p.m. EDT. Adam Wainwright will start for St. Louis. The Giants’ pitcher hasn’t been named, that we can see.

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