Mitt Romney

On the NFL, Ray Rice and leadership


When he was running the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, so this was obviously more than a dozen years ago, Mitt Romney had a saying that bore on the astute reflections of the ladies and gentlemen of the press. It traced to his Mormon forebears, who had come across the prairies in covered wagons. “The dogs may bark,” Romney would say when the newspapers would be filled with one story after another as the Games struggled to recover from the scandal linked to Salt Lake’s winning bid for the 2002 Games, “but the caravan moves on.”

The leadership of any high-profile sports enterprise can be said, in one way or another, to be an exercise in ongoing crisis management.

Now it is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s turn in the white-hot spotlight.

Ray Rice during a pre-season game in August // photo Getty Images

He and the league are suddenly wrestling with a rapid-fire succession of cases linked to domestic violence and allegations of child abuse. In concert, they underscore the NFL’s unique place in American culture even as they also frame significant questions going forward about issues such as due process that remain at the core of the American experience — issues that absolutely need to be addressed, quietly, with reason and certitude, amid all the shouting.

On Sept. 8, the Baltimore Ravens released running back Ray Rice and the league suspended him indefinitely after the website TMZ posted a video showing him punching his future wife, Janay, in an elevator.

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Vikings placed Adrian Peterson, another of the league’s standout running backs, who is facing child abuse charges in Texas, on the exempt-commissioner’s list. Peterson is alleged to have whipped his 4-year-old son with a “switch,” or a tree branch. That same day, the Carolina Panthers took the same action with defensive lineman Greg Hardy; he was found guilty of domestic violence in a case involving his girlfriend in July. Hardy is appealing.

Also Wednesday, Arizona Cardinals backup running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested on charges of aggravated assault against his wife and 17-month-old son and four other counts, all from incidents that took place in July. Police allege he head-butted her after she refused sex. The Cardinals immediately deactivated Dwyer, putting him on the reserve/non-football illness list; he is now ineligible to play for the team this season.

The Rice case has been, by far, the most prominent matter, because the elevator video is so provocative. It has served as a lighting rod for Goodell’s leadership under pressure — offering lessons, good and not so, for the league and for others, both in the United States and worldwide, confronting a major issue, and in real time.

The prime takeaway from the Salt Lake scandal, which erupted in late 1998, is that leaders and institutions need to be as transparent and accountable as possible.

In this regard, Goodell has assuredly made some missteps.

At the same time, he also has — despite the many critics, their voices amplified by social media — done some things right.

Starting from the obvious: domestic violence and child abuse are never acceptable.

Now, some of the the not-so-good:

— In July, Rice was given a two-game suspension under the NFL’s personal conduct policy following a Feb. 15 altercation with his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator. That was too lenient — particularly for a league seeking to attract female fans.

— Critically, Goodell did not go after the in-elevator tape diligently enough. As commissioner, for instance, could he have used more leverage with Rice’s defense attorney? Goodell and the Ravens say they never saw the video before Sept. 8.

— Shortly after the TMZ video emerged, Goodell sat down for a one-on-one interview with CBS News. He hasn’t been heard from since. He needs to make himself available for a news conference. I was there at the hotel in suburban Chicago the day Goodell was elected commissioner. He’s good at news conferences. Have the NFL PR office give everyone with a press pass in New York 60 — heck, make it 90 — minutes notice. That’s more than enough.

In that CBS interview, Goodell said the league is “particularly reliant” on law enforcement for evidence. Unsaid is that TMZ, which is at its core a celebrity-news website, gets its stuff wherever it gets it — and maybe it pays for it and maybe it doesn’t. This leads, however, to a fascinating — albeit fundamental — question:

Do we really want employers to buy evidence regarding activities their employees are involved in outside the workplace?

Or what about this:

Consider Dwyer’s sudden ineligibility. If you go about suspending everyone who is accused of a crime, what about due process? And this, too: millions of dollars are bet, some of it legally, on the NFL. If players are suddenly being forced out because of accusations of domestic violence — what happens if such accusations are made on false, flimsy or thin evidence? Or, worse — if an accuser is being paid off by a gambler?

These are the sorts of difficult, nuanced questions that demand experience — and relationships forged over time — to sift through.

Goodell, despite cries that he should step down or be fired, seems increasingly unlikely to go anywhere.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, right, on the field in Seattle before the first regular-season game of the year -- four days before TMZ posted the elevator video of Ray Rice and his then-fiance // photo Getty Images

Though Anheuser-Busch, a major NFL sponsor, earlier this week said it was “increasingly concerned” over reports of NFL player domestic violence, the chief executive of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi, late Wednesday issued a statement calling some players’ behavior “repugnant” but describing Goodell as a “man of integrity.”

Such praise from the female CEO of the maker of Pepsi, Gatorade and Doritos — and the sponsor of last year’s Super Bowl halftime show — is notable.

Meanwhile, another major sponsor, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, issued a statement that said the NFL had reached out to the company several weeks ago and has “been working behind the scenes to develop and implement problems that will address the [domestic violence] problem at its root.”

These sponsors, and others, understand that in fact Goodell has shown leadership amid the storm.

— Goodell actually has levied punishment on Rice. After the video emerged, he suspended him indefinitely from the league — a suspension the NFL Players Association is now challenging, asserting Rice’s due process rights. Query: has anyone else punished Rice? The criminal justice system? In May, Rice was accepted into a pretrial diversion program, which meant he would avoid prosecution, assuming he successfully completes the program (it usually takes about a year).

— The big thing: after initially assessing the two-game penalty, Goodell began meeting with domestic violence experts and advocates. He then conceded he’d made a mistake and issued not just a personal but an organizational apology, acknowledging he “didn’t get it right.”

Under a new NFL policy announced in August, first-time domestic violence offenders would face six-game suspensions and repeat offenders would be suspended indefinitely.

Intriguingly, this sort of thoughtful honesty and analysis is precisely the sort of thing we say we want in our leaders. Yet when they actually do it, far too many critics are incredibly quick to use it as a weapon against them.

Just one question: why?


2024: LA's time again?


Shutters on the Beach, the Santa Monica hotel, is one of those Southern California legends. The beautiful people go there, and for excellent reason. You get there by heading west down Pico Boulevard until it dead ends at the sand. The president of the University of Southern California, C.L. Max Nikias, had them in full roar Wednesday evening for an alumni event at Shutters. It was not even two and one half years ago that USC announced a $6 billion fundraising campaign. Already, the president said, the university is more than halfway to its goal.

A few blocks away from USC itself, the 73-story Wilshire Grand Hotel is going up at 7th and Figueroa streets, a $1-billion downtown Los Angeles complex with 900 rooms and 30 floors of office space. It will be the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.

2014-01-29 12.04.00

Just steps away from that, of course, is the LA Live complex, anchored by Staples Center, where the Lakers, Clippers and Kings play, and where ESPN has its West Coast studio. The Ritz-Carlton and Marriott there have already become destinations. In 2011, it’s where the International Olympic Committee held its Women and Sport conference; just a few weeks back, USA Swimming’s Golden Goggles gala took place in the same ballroom.

There really can be little doubt Wednesday why USA Track & Field chose Los Angeles — over Houston — as the site of the 2016 U.S. Olympic marathon Trials.

In short: LA is rocking, especially downtown LA, which used to be dreadful but is now staking a claim to be hipster central.

The intrigue, really, is whether the U.S. Olympic Committee will see what is becoming increasingly obvious as it weighs not only whether to get into the race for the 2024 Summer Games but what U.S. city to pick: Los Angeles just might be — again — the right place at the right time.

There’s only one Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Athletes from all over the world want to compete there, to make history, the way it was made in 1932 and 1984.

It’s why there could be only place for the announcement that the marathon Trials were coming to LA — the famed peristyle end of the Coliseum.

It was just after 12 on a glorious January afternoon, the California bear flag swaying overhead to one side, the American flag on the other by those three stately palm trees reaching up high into the sky.  The new Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, fixed LA’s place in the sun for one and all, saying, “Los Angeles is the western capital of the United States, the eastern capital of the Pacific Rim and the northern capital of Latin America.”

To be clear, the USOC is in no hurry to make any sort of announcement. The IOC won’t pick a site until 2017. The USOC has more pressing concerns — like the impending Sochi Games — before it resumes its focus on 2024.

Yet as the IOC members begin arriving over the weekend in Sochi for the meetings that precede next Friday’s opening ceremony, the issue of what the USOC will do for 2024 will be gathering increasing relevance.

Sochi and the Rio 2016 Summer Games are seen by many within the Olympic movement as “adventures.”

In 2018 and 2020, the Games will be in Asia, in choices seen as involving less risk, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and Tokyo.

The 2022 race is just now taking shape. But insiders are already suggesting it would be little surprise to see Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Beijing emerge as frontrunners. Both, again, are seen as choices involving less risk. The IOC will pick the 2022 city in 2015.

Again for 2024 — at this very early stage, the IOC is known to be keen to be soliciting a U.S. bid.

The USOC wants in only if it has the closest thing to a guarantee — of course there is no such thing — that it is going to win. It can not afford another debacle like Chicago 2016 or New York 2012.

If the USOC jumps in, the obvious question is, what city gives it the best chance?

Chicago? With its amazing lakefront? And great technical plan for 2016? Not likely. The mayor was President Obama’s key adviser when Chicago got bounced.

New York? The new mayor seemingly has other priorities.

Boston? Not once over the last year has even one IOC member been heard to say, you know what, I would really, really love to spend 17 days in Boston, Massachusetts. Also, if Mitt Romney — who, genuinely, did a first-rate job running the Salt Lake 2002 Games — is serious about getting back into the Olympic scene, advising the Boston 2024 people, he had better brush up on some reading. He told Fox News two weeks ago that the Munich Games had issues with Hitler; the Munich Games were in 1972, 27 years after Hitler’s death. (Mr. Romney’s staffers: see Berlin, 1936.)

Dallas? The state of Texas could for sure meet the IOC’s financial guarantees. But not a chance Dallas can win. Among its several challenges, beyond being in the American South, and the South is where Atlanta is, and the IOC still recalls Atlanta 1996 all too well: the first thing that comes to mind for some who don’t know about Dallas is, believe it or not, the JFK assassination. Not a positive vibe for an IOC election.

Houston? Not running.

There is sound reason to consider San Francisco, and seriously. It has technology assets the IOC, bluntly, needs. It is typically seen as every European’s favorite American city, and the IOC is heavily dominated by European interests. USOC board chairman Larry Probst is based in the Bay Area. Moreover, San Francisco has never played host to the Games and LA, of course, has done it twice.

It’s that twice-before thing that, over the past several bid cycles, has been a considerable strike against LA.

Now that London is a three-time host, though, that has opened the door for LA, and perhaps in a big way.

A significant faction within the IOC is known to favor New York and LA, and if New York truly ends up being a non-starter — that tilts things considerably.

The New York thing is all about the 2012 bid. It’s about what people remember.

LA: the same, and more. Given all the uncertainties in our uncertain world, it may be, as a symposium at the LA 84 Foundation last Saturday suggested, that the IOC needs Los Angeles — the same way it did in 1984, when Los Angeles was essentially the only city in the world that wanted the Olympics, and 1932, the first Games to last 16 days and the first with an athletes’ village.

The Games, it must be understood, are part of the fabric of civic life in Los Angeles.

Olympic Boulevard? That’s 10th Street. Named after the X Olympiad, the 10th Olympic Games, in 1932.

For most Angelenos, the period from the moment Rafer Johnson lit the cauldron in 1984 until the day Rodney King was beaten by police in 1991 were golden years in Southern California, and they want a new version of those years.

The LA city council, the county board of supervisors, other local political figures — they all support the idea of a 2024 Games. There’s no political opposition. Only support.

To emphasize that point, Garcetti keeps a 1984 LA Olympic torch in his office. How many mayors do that kind of thing? For real — not for show.

Thousands of would-be Olympic athletes train in Southern California. Hundreds of Olympians live in the area.

You want shopping? There’s Beverly Hills and more. Disneyland? Right. You want celebrities, Hollywood, the beach? Check, check, check.

The weather? Only perfect.

That blockbuster hotel complex going up downtown? Yang Ho Cho, who runs the South Korean conglomerate, Hanjin Group, is not only a USC trustee — he led the winning Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games bid.

In an era in which the IOC is avowedly seeking to minimize costs, 85 percent of what’s needed for a 2024 LA Games is already on the ground.

And then, of course, there’s the Coliseum.

Garcetti, speaking in Spanish — the mayor is so fluent he asked a reporter whether she wanted a question answered in English or Spanish — called the Coliseum “a grand symbol of Los Angeles’ Olympic history,” which is, of course, the essence of the thing.

USC now has a 98-year master lease for the place. They’d have to put a new track inside; it’s football-only now. But, you know, these things can be worked out if that’s what everyone wants.

The mayor, back to English, said of the 2016 marathon Trials, “This is a great thing on its own.” And then he also said, “Los Angeles is truly a great Olympic town.”


USOC: no for 2022, go (maybe) for 2024 or 2026

Earlier this year, the U.S. and International Olympic Committees resolved a longstanding dispute over certain broadcasting and marketing revenue shares. That almost immediately prompted speculation that the USOC would get back into the Olympic bid game. Cities across the American West -- Salt Lake City, Denver, Reno and Bozeman, Mont. -- expressed interest in playing host to the 2022 Winter Games. The IOC will select the 2022 site in 2015; a bid for a 2015 Games would be due in the fall of 2013.

The USOC board of directors on Tuesday, however, opted to slow things down, and in a big way, and in so doing it made not only the logical call but the absolute right call.

The board decided not to bid for 2022 but instead to explore the possibility of hosting either the 2024 Summer or 2026 Winter Games.

Translation: It opted to do the right thing, not the fast thing. There's no rush. So why rush?

The smart money here -- there are literally dozens of variables -- is that the working committee the board appointed Tuesday comes back with a push for 2024. The committee is due to make an initial report to the full USOC board in December.

Why Summer? The Winter Games are great but the Summer Games are always going to be the franchise, and the United States can win for 2024.

The IOC will select the Summer Games site in 2017. That's so far out the IOC doesn't even know now where it's going to be meeting in 2017 to be picking the 2024 city.

San Francisco and New York figure to top the list of candidate cities. Chicago will be mentioned again. Dallas is interested, too, but a June Games, which is what they're tentatively talking about down there, would seem to fall outside the IOC window.

San Francisco is a magical name to the Eurocentric IOC.

New York has the advantage of having run a 2005 bid for 2012.

Meanwhile, there doubtlessly will be talk about how South Africa will want to mount a bid for 2024. But that country has a long, long way to go, and all the IOC members who were there for the 2011 session in Durban know that to be the case. And, like those of us in the press, they remember well the warnings not to walk outside the perimeter of the guarded IOC hotel -- even in broad daylight -- for fear of violence.

Paris will be mentioned, too. Sure, 2024 will be the 100th anniversary of Paris' 1924 Games. Big deal. How'd that anniversary work out for Athens in 1896? They held the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Beyond which, the French are in considerably the same place the Americans were several years ago -- trying to figure out, in the wake of the disastrous single-digit vote for Annecy's 2018 Winter Games campaign, why they keep losing cycle after cycle at the Olympic bid game.

The Americans have now figured it out. It's a relationship business.

And it takes time to build relationships.

That's why Tuesday's decision makes so much sense.

USOC board chairman Larry Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun have been traveling the world since the start of 2010, working at the relationship thing. Since the United States is not in the bid game, there's no pressure to ask for anything. They are simply trying to be good members of the so-called Olympic family.

The decision Tuesday gives them ample time to keep being just that.

It also allows time, too, for Probst to become an IOC member. That would be enormously helpful for an American bid.

There are other dominoes that need to fall into place. Domestically, for instance, more study needs to be done on the issue of the financial guarantee the IOC demands of host cities. In other countries, the federal government steps up for that guarantee; the nature of American federalism -- a city bids, supported by state and federal governments -- renders that super-complex.

Also, there are political matters at issue. To be candid, the next U.S. Olympic bid has to wait for a new president in the White House.

That didn't come up at Tuesday's USOC meeting. But it's very much the case.

President Obama traveled to Copenhagen in October, 2009, to push for his hometown, Chicago. He was the very first American president to put not only his personal prestige but that of the office on the line before the IOC.

The IOC then sent Chicago packing in the first round with a mere 18 votes.

There simply is no way the USOC can, or would, ask President Obama to appeal again to the IOC.

If he is re-elected -- of course that's a big if -- President Obama's term would end in January, 2017. The IOC vote for 2024 will come later that year.

Another thought:

It will be eight years between the Chicago vote and the 2024 vote; that's a lot of time and distance for feelings to be soothed.

A President Romney would, of course, change the equation considerably. Mitt Romney ran the Salt Lake 2002 organizing committee and he would be welcomed, indeed, at the IOC -- whether lobbying for a Winter or Summer Games.

But not for the notion of déjà vu all over again in Salt Lake City. Amid all the uncertainties ahead, one thing remains a solid bet:

The IOC is not going back to Salt Lake, not after the scandal that shook it in the late 1990s. Not in 2026. No way, no how.

Salt Lake 2022: not a chance

As Salt Lake City celebrates the tenth anniversary of the 2002 Winter Olympics, local authorities have announced they intend to explore the idea of bidding again for the 2022 or 2026 Winter Games. Addressing supporters at the Olympic cauldron at Rice-Eccles Stadium was re-lit last week for a few minutes, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune, "We need to pursue this [exploration] to see if there is real opportunity there."

I can help, Mr. Governor.

There is no chance Salt Lake City can win. Zero. Zip. Nada. You can stop right now.

Save everyone the money, the time and the worry.

This is not -- repeat, not -- a slam on Salt Lake, or Utah. Salt Lake is cool. Park City and Deer Valley are beautiful. So is Soldier Hollow.

This is, instead, a blunt assessment of the reality of the International Olympic Committee bid game. I have covered every IOC bid contest since 1999. I spent a great deal of 2011 reporting on the 2018 Winter Games contest, won by Pyeongchang, South Korea, going to each of the three stops on the Evaluation Commission tour and then the vote itself last July in Durban, South Africa.

Mr. Governor, not once since the 2002 Games closed has even one IOC member said to me -- you know what, I really want to go back to Salt Lake City.

That is why you have no chance.

Do you know where the members of the IOC consistently say they would want to go?

San Francisco. And Los Angeles. For the Summer Games.

In polling done for the 2012 New York and 2016 Chicago bids, IOC members consistently told their American friends that where they really wanted to go was California. The IOC is Eurocentric; San Francisco is a magic name in Europe and yet it has never staged the Games. LA has played host twice, in 1932 and 1984, but Southern California, with Hollywood, Disneyland and the surf and volleyball culture of the beach, nonetheless remains a potent draw.

Mr. Governor, another point to consider:

Salt Lake was an Olympic city in 2002 but since then, what? The IOC is back in the United States this week for a conference it stages every four years called "Women and Sport." President Jacques Rogge is in attendance. Some 800 people are with him. Where's this conference? Los Angeles.

Is anyone from Utah in attendance here in Los Angeles? Um, still looking.

Three years ago, an Olympic-related conference, SportAccord, was held amid the IOC's policy-making executive board meeting. Where? Denver.

What has Salt Lake done for the IOC since 2002?

This, again, Mr. Governor, is why Salt Lake has no chance.

Though you undoubtedly have been briefed, Mr. Governor, that Denver and Reno-Tahoe are your domestic competitors for 2022, and that Bozeman, Mont., may be interested as well, the real play for the United States may well be California in 2024.

Obviously, a 2024 candidacy would likely take 2026 out of the mix.

If, that is, there's any bid in play at all in the next few years.

There's just no urgency to bid, and here's hoping someone on your exploratory committee by now has told you this.

For starters, it's not at all critical for the Games to be back in the United States. Sure, it would be nice if the Games were back. But it's not an imperative -- not politically, economically or culturally. NBC just agreed to pay $4.38 billion for the rights to televise the Games through 2020; none of those Games is in the United States yet the sales price was hardly depressed.

Moreover, the U.S. Olympic Committee and IOC are locked in a long-running dispute over the 12.75 percent share of television rights and 20 percent cut of marketing rights the USOC gets from the IOC. The two sides are talking but progress has been halting.

There's no bid until there's a new deal, and it's not clear a deal will get done while Rogge is in office. He's president until September, 2013. That doesn't leave a lot of time to get a bid together in time for a 2015 vote for 2022; a bid these days typically runs north of $50 million.

As for Denver: they have to contend in Colorado with the 1970s Olympic give-back (still); the haul up to the mountains from Denver proper; and the environmental and financial issues inherent in building a bobsled track. Like, do we need another one in the American West when there's one next door in Utah?

Reno increasingly seems to be trying to package itself with California -- the Nevada-California border is right there -- and with San Francisco, four hours away.

Which only begs the question, right? Why go to Reno when you're inevitably drawn to San Francisco? That's one of the challenges the Reno bid is going to have to answer. Even in 1960, when the Winter Games were held in Squaw Valley, in the Sierras by the California-Nevada line, building on the same idea the Reno team is floating for 2022, the IOC held its session down in San Francisco.

It is true that the United States has become a Winter Games power and the finances of the movement have made staging the Winter Olympics a much more attractive option than ever before. But the primary play is, and always will be, the Summer Games.

There are lots of reasons San Francisco has never staged the Games. The politics are complicated; same for the traffic. But perhaps the main issue has always been, what about a stadium?

Earlier this month, the NFL announced it would give the 49ers $200 million toward a $1 billion, 68,500-seat stadium in suburban Santa Clara. Site work began in January. The stadium could open as soon as the 2014 season, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Unclear is whether the stadium could be configured for track and field or whether it's football-only.

Let's get back to Salt Lake. All the it-can't-happen evidence in this column -- people in Utah surely stand ready to dismiss it, eager to point to "sustainability" and to Mitt.

It is indisputably true that the facilities that helped Salt Lake stage the 2002 Games are still there. The airport; the venues; the mass-transit system; Interstate 80; all of that.

Doesn't matter.

For one, come 2022, that bobsled track -- just to pick one venue - is going to be 20 years old. It's not going to take some upgrading? That's not going to cost some money?

Beyond which -- those kinds of venues, facilities and things on the ground are what the IOC calls the "technical" stuff.

The technical stuff doesn't win votes. New York had a great technical bid and got 19 votes, eliminated in the second round. Chicago had a great technical bid and got bounced in the first round, with 18 votes.

The IOC likes to talk about "sustainable" Olympics. Then it goes and awards Games to London (2012 - huge construction project), Sochi, Russia (2014 - huge construction project), Rio (2016 - huge construction project) and Pyeongchang (2018 - huge construction project).

Someday, perhaps, that string will be snapped. But why would it be Salt Lake?

Olympic bids are won on emotion, on story-telling, on connection.

The memories that we Americans have of those Games as a patriotic expression of can-do just five months after 9/11?

Within the IOC, "Salt Lake" is still remembered for the bid scandal, for the sense of having to move within a post-9/11 armed camp, even for President Bush's addition to the opening-the-Games formula. He added, "On behalf of a proud, determined and grateful nation" to the traditional formula, "I declare open the Games of Salt Lake City," and within the protocol-sensitive IOC you bet they still remember.

If the bet within Salt Lake City is that Mitt Romney, now running for the Republican nomination for U.S. president, would once again be cast as savior -- the position here is clear.

Romney, along with Fraser Bullock and the rest of the SLOC team, and the volunteers, deserve enormous credit for turning around the 2002 Olympics. The situation when he was brought in was, if not grim, pretty close to it. He and his team -- and everyone in Utah who contributed -- deserve full recognition for the success of the 2002 Olympics, and the $100 million surplus.

"I'm delighted that Utah is thinking about bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics," Romney said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "Our great nation is wonderfully suited to host the world's greatest sporting competition."

It's quite a proposition, though, that Romney as president would sway the IOC. First, he would have to get the Republican nomination; then be elected president of the United States; then convince the IOC. That's a lot of dominoes.

Remember that President Obama went to Copenhagen in 2009 to lobby the IOC on behalf of Chicago, his hometown, and to little effect.

Presumably, Romney would be greeted by the IOC as an Olympic insider. Then again, it's the IOC. One never assumes.

On Peter Vidmar's resignation as U.S. chef de mission

As a journalist, I totally get why Peter Vidmar stepped down Friday as chef de mission of the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. As Peter's friend, I find the whole thing profoundly regrettable. Candidly, I deplore the rush to judgment amid the political correctness and the intense immediacy of the 24-hour news cycle that in many regards has overtaken our political and media cultures. I also wish we could all find a way to tone down the often-incendiary rhetoric that nowadays seems way too common in far too many conversations in the public sphere  -- even in a case such as this one, which in theory revolves around sports but underscores yet again how sports and politics are intertwined.

Again, as a journalist -- I get it. I get all of it. Believe me, Peter does, too.

Understand: Peter has been on our side of the journalists' fence. He was, for instance, a working commentator at the 2008 Games in Beijing; he and I sat right next to each other in the press tribune in the gymnastics arena for a full week. And so he knew now where this was going. As much as a distraction as this might have been on Thursday and Friday, it was nothing compared to the noise once, say, the British tabloids might have seized upon it.

Peter's participation in two demonstrations on behalf of the successful 2008 Proposition 8 ballot initiative in California, and his donation of $2,000 to that cause, was threatening to become a major distraction. He really had no choice.

Understand, too: The USOC accepted the resignation but was prepared to stand by Peter.

Peter Vidmar is one of the finest human beings you would ever want to meet. I said he is my friend -- I was proud to call him my friend before this outburst started and I'm proud to call him my friend now.

Here's what is so troubling about all this.

Roughly within just one 24-hour news cycle, Peter became a symbol of something he absolutely is not. Just because you take a position against gay marriage does not mean you're anti-gay.

"I fully respect the rights of everyone to have the relationships they want to have," Peter told the Chicago Tribune in an interview in the story that started all of this. "I respect the rights of all of our athletes, regardless of their race, their religion or their sexual orientation."

Nonetheless, figure skater Johnny Weir told the Tribune it was "disgraceful" that Peter had been named the 2012 U.S. team leader.

Johnny is fully entitled to his opinion. That's the American way.

This is the American way, too:

Peter took part in the American democratic process. The First Amendment guarantees his rights to religious expression -- his Mormon faith teaches him that marriage is between a man and a woman -- and to peaceably assemble.

It's a pretty straight line from there, amplified by coverage in the Tribune and USA Today, to his decision to step down.

When the retributive process for taking a stand for something you might genuinely believe in can be so ferocious that a profoundly decent person like Peter Vidmar has to withdraw, it has to give you serious pause.

Also: If Mormon beliefs are an Olympic disqualifier -- remind me, how did we have those Games in Salt Lake City in 2002?

Moreover, how is it that Mitt Romney, who is Mormon and who led the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, can be elected governor of Massachusetts and now finds himself a credible candidate for president of the United States, and a conservative Republican candidate at that, but Peter Vidmar shouldn't be the USOC's team leader in 2012? Really?

This is also the fact -- Prop 8 is the law of the state in which Peter and I both live. It passed in the November 2008 election, with about 7 million votes, 52.2 percent of the ballots.

It's absolutely the case that the Olympic movement stands against discrimination. It's one of the "fundamental principles" of the Olympic charter.

I'm not here to defend Prop 8. I voted against it. Peter knows that, just as he knows that I respect his position, and the basis of his stance. As a matter of logic, though, isn't it worth asking the question: is it really discriminatory to hold a position in line with some 7 million other registered voters? More -- is such a position "disgraceful"? Truly?

It's also fact that the Olympic charter doesn't say word one about marriage being between a man and a woman.

The Olympics is not per se about equality.

It's about striving for the best of who we, as humanity, are -- or can be.

The open question is what that all means. The answer: different things to different people.

One expression of that is, of course, equality. But "equality" is susceptible to an incredible variety of interpretations.

Reasonable people have to be able to disagree about big ideas, and to have dialogue without the dialogue immediately becoming what it did in this instance -- inflammatory.

Peter Vidmar has led an exemplary personal and professional life. He would have made an extraordinary team leader. He was an athlete, a double gold medalist; he has led a life of service; he knows the Olympics; he loves the movement.

It's a shame he got bit by sound-bites. As a journalist, I totally understand it. But as his friend and as a fellow American -- that doesn't mean I have to like it, and I don't.