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The [Thursday] Papers

Now that the torture settlement with the city has fallen apart, the mayor will have to leave town again.

Kissing Da Coach
Why is Mike Ditka getting such a free pass?

Let's review.

* "Twice this year, pro football legend Mike Ditka has blasted the National Football League and its players union, telling Congress that both groups are 'delaying or denying' requests by needy retired players for help," USA Today reported earlier this month.

"Ditka formed a charity in 2004 to aid those players. The Mike Ditka Hall of Fame Association Trust Fund has collected $1.3 million and netted about $315,00 after expenses."

Ding, ding, ding!

That not just violates all acceptable guidelines of the percentage of a charity's budget allowed to be spent on expenses, it obliterates it.

And it gets worse.

"[The charity] has given only $57,000 for former players in need, according to federal and Illinois tax records."

So the Mike Ditka Trust Fund has collected $1.3 million and dispensed just $57,000.

* "The trust spent more in fees to induce former stars to appear at a 2005 fundraiser than it gave needy ex-players in its first three years."

* In its first two years, Ditka's charity doled out . . . nothing. Not a cent. In two years.

* "The problem is finding [needy] guys and getting them to fill out the [application] form," Ditka told the newspaper. "Some of these guys are scared of forms. There could be pride involved, too."

* And yet, in June Ditka went before a U.S. House panel and said that the players union "does nothing material to help these guys."

Well, it does a little.

"Two charities formed by the NFL and its union gave about $1.1 million a year from 2000 to 2005 to needy ex-players and related causes, tax records show."

* Then Ditka refused to accept responsibility - you know, the way a real man might. "It is unfortunate that the media has to attack something that is good," he said.

In a prepared statement. You know, without facing reporters the way a real man might.

And yet, the local media has largely downplayed the story and given its sympathy to poor Mike Ditka.

* Jay Mariotti has been the - gulp - voice of properly calibrated outrage on this one.

"You don't launch a spirited fund-raising campaign to aid former NFL players in dire need, then drop the ball when it's time to distribute the money," he writes.

* Mariotti also rightly takes on the local media for soft-pedaling the story.

* "For the right price, Mike Ditka will put his name on anything," Mariotti wrote in another column. "You can book a room at Mike Ditka Resorts. You can buy a bottle of Mike Ditka wine, including the Kick Ass Red. You can devour Mike Ditka's pork chops and smoke Mike Ditka's cigars with gold-chained Ditkaphiles at Mike Ditka's Restaurants. Back in the day, you could take Mike Ditka's advice and try Levitra, which cures Limp Ditka.

"You can join Mike Ditka at Majestic Star Casinos, where he is a spokesman despite the NFL's anti-gambling stance. You can see Mike Ditka playing Mike Ditka in a Will Ferrell movie. You can buy music at Mike Ditka Records Inc. Or you can try the Mike Ditka Kick Ass Salsa, a spicy complement to watching Mike Ditka on TV, listening to Mike Ditka on radio and reading Mike Ditka's book, which, of course, is titled, In Life, First You Kick Ass."

That's Ditka the Showman. But Ditka kicking ass?

"Just last month, Ditka described NFLPA boss Gene Upshaw as a liar. 'These people got in front of Congress and lied, actually lied and said, We're going to try to fix this system,' Ditka said. Play smashmouth with an S.O.B., as Ditka knows, and you'll get your bell rung. Still, it doesn't answer the question of where the money went. Still, it doesn't answer the big question. Will we ever know?

"Not that Ditkaphiles care to know. People love the guy, especially those who hold onto 1985 like their first backseat dates. That's why many will ignore this story and excuse his stance, including his intention to keep issuing appearance payments from his trust fund. 'You're asking guys to play golf in August in a tournament that's got my name on it,' Ditka said.

"He obviously doesn't get it. When a man of his stature puts his name on a charity, it isn't to be treated like wine, salsa and pork chops."

* Contrast that with the take of Rick Morrissey in the Tribune:

"To dwell on the numbers is to miss the bigger picture."

Yes, I'm sure former athletes in need feel that way too. They aren't dwelling on numbers on a check they're waiting for. They're looking at the bigger picture. And what is that again?

Oh yeah. It's all about Mike Ditka.

"He is not a micromanager. Everything he does and has done is big. Ask him to lead men into battle; don't ask him to design a new rifle. He's not the close-up camera shot. He's the wide-angle view."

* And then today, the Sun-Times's Esther Cepeda writes in an item titled "Da Coach Didn't Drop The Ball":

"We cynics can harrumph at what's been billed as yet another charitable mismanagement story, but let's just put it this way: If you've given even a brief second thought - as the National Football League has been forced to do in no small part by Ditka's crusading - to the health and well-being of the retired and mostly-forgotten modern-day gladiators who suffer from the aftereffects of the organized brutality we cheer for every Sunday, then Da Coach did all right."

A) Oh stop, I'm tearing up.
B) Huh?
C) Depending on your definition of "all right."

* On the other hand, the Sun-Times editorial page today has a piece called "Ditka Should Have Kept Closer Eye On Charity." Finally some sense from the genius editorial board?

Don't be silly.

"With all his career obligations - the TV and radio gigs, the restaurant, co-ownership of the Chicago Rush Arena League football team, all the personal appearances - Ditka may have been stretched too thin to devote sufficient time to his charity.

"But those who have heaped scorn on him for its low payout rate are off base. If the NFL was as disturbed by the plight of many of its retirees as he is, far fewer of them would be in such dire straits."

Or, you could look at it another way: If Ditka disbursed as much money as the NFL and the players union that he has so criticized have, they wouldn't be in such dire straits. But the media prefers a good show to the boring details of actual accomplishment.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Stretched thin.



Permalink

Posted on December 13, 2007


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