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2020 Aside, The Future Of Sports Depends On…Sports

“With a full slate of Corona-defiant events and plenty of homebound viewers watching, a fortunate sports world now should lean on its trump card: great performances that disrupt the national conversation.”

Jay Mariotti

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I’m not sure which is a bigger stinkcrock: the idea that President Trump likes Big Ten football or his comparison of police officers who shoot Black people in the back to golfers who “choke’’ when “they miss a three-foot putt.’’ But you get it. Trump is trying to influence voters in critical Big Ten-Country swing states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — while hoping Black America noticed when he cold-called the African-American commissioner about resuming the season.

That’s all it is, another pre-election ruse, best ignored by higher minds.

And while Black athletes throughout sports are poised to boycott more games — and seasons — if necessary, my same advice applies regarding Trump’s latest Twitter warning to NFL and Major League Baseball players. He no longer wants them kneeling for the national anthem, as NBA players continue to do, and while protesting should be their choice for as long as they damn well please, I’m compelled to issue a reminder amid the tumult and fear of 2020 America: Social awareness aside, athletes still can make overpowering statements about who they are and what they stand for while competing on fields and courts of play. “People are tired of watching the highly political @NBA,’’ Trump typed yet again. “Basketball ratings are way down, and they won’t be coming back. I hope football and baseball are watching and learning, because the same thing will be happening to them. Stand tall for our Country and our Flag!!!’’

What, only three exclamation points?

Sometime soon, such as right now, sports should jackhammer through the fury and frustration and just let sports take over. It alarms me, as you know, when Neymar vacations in Ibiza and, of course, becomes the latest soccer superstar to test positive for the coronavirus. But rather than ask why Neymar was in Ibiza, fans of Paris Saint-Germain just count down his 14 days of quarantine (and those of two teammates) as if they have sore quads. So, for now, I’m giving up on preaching common sense even in an ongoing pandemic storm. If leagues insist on flipping off COVID-19 and jeopardizing health to play games — or, as Kirk Cousins foolishly told Kyle Brandt, “If I die, I die. I kind of have peace about that,’’ — then the mindset moving forward should be to entertain and dazzle the masses and at least disrupt the political conversation.

Live and let die? Live and let live, says sports — defiantly.

Somehow, September launches a 10-week Coronapalooza of TV-tailored events that evidently, unless the world ends or the virus swallows us whole, will include the NFL regular season, Southern-fried college football, the U.S. Opens of tennis and golf, the NBA Finals, Major League Baseball’s playoffs and World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals, two Triple Crown events in horse racing and, finally, the Masters in mid-November. I’m not sure how we got here, viewing all of this as a Petri dish for medical disaster, but I’ve come to realize I’m not risking my health out there. If athletes decide to risk their immune systems, why don’t we watch and wait for the usual thrills while hoping — no, praying — there isn’t a superspread?

This will be remembered as the year when sports, like our country, washijacked by a cocktail of coronavirus, social injustice and police brutality. The hatred inevitably continues this week, at the Kentucky Derby, where the trainer for favorite Tiz The Law exacerbated protest tensions ahead of the race. Said Barclay Tagg: “I don’t know what these guys are gonna do, these rioters. Who knows? All I know is, you’re not allowed to shoot them and they’re allowed to shoot you. That’s what it looks like to me.” Tiz The Law should boycott, I say. Other horses should follow.

But sports doesn’t have to remain in the toxic haze, imprisoned by the moment. With seasons in full bloom, for better or worse, the industry does have a chance to give itself oxygen — and a stronger future — by reminding us of what sports does best: delivering emphatic, riveting performances that bring us back for more. Only sports can save sports. And athletes and leagues must realize that viewers are still watching in surprisingly sizable numbers, in Bubbles and beyond, and that their best collective revenge is to provide great moments despite surreal and volatile circumstances.

Already, we’re seeing examples of stuff that cuts through the difficulty and awkwardness of taking sports seriously amid so much tumult. As much as their energy and noise are missed, we’ve learned to adapt without fans in the stands. The NBA playoffs haven’t missed a beat since last week’s game boycotts, with two Game 7s and flopping drama involving Chris Paul and the former teammate who wanted him out of Houston, James Harden (who still sucks in the postseason). Is this the year an upstart contender, such as the Heat, shocks the world? With an upset of the Bucks, will the door open for Miami to trade for an unfulfilled and playoff-underachieving Giannis Antetokounmpo? A likely Western final between the shiny Lakers and gritty Clippers should be held in a downtown L.A. alley, but the Bubble will do. Still, who might ditch Disney World first: LeBron James or one of many Clippers candidates? And now that family members and friends are allowed in the Bubble, is COVID-19 plotting a sneak attack?

To preserve continuity and fortify the future, it’s vital that each league generates competitive momentum this year and proves its sturdiness. The NBA has a fraught future, with a business model dependent on the arena experience and lucrative sponsorships. But the NFL, though cavalier about obvious virus concerns that could shut down the season, is positioned to thrive because of revenue feeders frothing at the mouth for next week’s season opener: broadcast networks, gambling sites and loyal advertisers who’ve remained on board. It remains to be seen if players will boycott games if faced with social justice opposition from the league.

But if the virus and Jerry Jones allow, the NFL doesn’t lack for intrigue: Tom Brady fighting time in Tampa with crazy-uncle Bruce Arians and party-boy Rob Gronkowski … Bill Belichick, with his new Subway ads, risking his system-is-king legacy on Cam Newton … Aaron Rodgers against the world, including his own bosses, as Jordan Love stands by in Green Bay … Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, trying to build a dynasty and helped by 16,000 fans in the seats, creating a competitive imbalance for 25 teams that won’t have home fans to start the season … Amid thick racial tension, will the Saints forgive Drew Brees for his insensitive words or turn on him if he plays like an old man? … Cincinnati, a dead end for football joy, hopes Joe Burrow provides life support … The Browns, with their third head coach in two years, try to avoid inevitable dysfunction with Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr. and Myles Garrett in the house … Will Lamar Jackson realize there’s more to football than a regular season? … Tua Time in Miami? … The Bills as a sleeper? … And what if Cousins contracts the virus and spreads it to his Minnesota teammates?

“If I get it, I’m gonna ride it out. I’m gonna let nature do its course,’’ said Cousins, before lamely trying to clarify the comments. “Survival-of-the-fittest kind of approach. And just say, if it knocks me out, it knocks me out. I’m going to be OK. You know, even if I die.” You know.

What if a teammate sneezed in the huddle? “Within the building, there’s gonna be a dichotomy of people who couldn’t care less about the virus, have no concern about it, have never lost a minute of sleep about it,’’ Cousins said. “And then you get people on the other side of the spectrum who, every second of every day, they’re consumed with fear about it. What you don’t know is who’s where on the spectrum when you first go back.”

You don’t think that attitude could divide a locker room, do ya, Kirk?

The NFL’s COVID-iots need only to examine the virus struggles of MLB, also played outdoors without a restrictive Bubble environment. It will be a miracle if baseball and its inept commissioner, Rob Manfred, get through a postseason and crown a champion. Also notice how teams keep wanting to brawl, including the Rays and Yankees, a disgraceful pandemic scene that saw Aroldis Chapman throw a 101-mph fastball near the head of a Tampa Bay pinch-hitter while each manager was suspended a game. It’s a shame because MLB broadcast ratings, on a steep decline for years, have been helped by pandemic audiences with limited entertainment options and a lack of original programming. People are so desperate for anything to do, including women and young people, they’re actually watching baseball. But unlike the NBA, which has suffered a Trump-gleeful ratings drop, MLB doesn’t move us with story lines. When the San Diego Padres create the most buzz — thanks only to Fernando Tatis Jr. and a flurry of trade-deadline activity — it doesn’t bode well for October interest when football and the NBA Finals will rule sports chatter. Imagine a San Diego-Tampa Bay World Series. As industry stories, low-revenue teams are sweethearts.

They also make for record-low postseason ratings, with games slower than ever and diluted by the same home-run binges that reek of fake news.

Hockey? Only the diehards are watching, but like NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NHL boss Gary Bettman is impressively surviving his Bubble experiment without a COVID-19 disruption. Players are ignoring protocols and fighting — 11 bouts so far, triple the rate of last year’s playoffs — but at least we’ve learned what is tantalizing about Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. By the way, three Tampa teams — Lightning, Rays, Buccaneers — could flirt with championships.

Only in a pandemic.

Just like a Cubs-White Sox World Series.

Sports simply has to keep selling the goods through the madness. The formula is time-tried and reliable. Collin Morikawa sold us with his electric finish at the PGA Championship, creating fun noise for golf’s U.S. Open and Masters as Tiger Woods fades and Phil Mickelson tweets. Serena Williams gets a big headline if she wins her 24th Grand Slam title in New York. All day and all night, sports events are on TV, a dream for fans and gamblers.

It’s almost enough to make one back-burner the politics. An important case study is the Bucks. As the first team to boycott a playoff game after the shooting of Jacob Blake, in Milwaukee’s backyard of Kenosha, Wis., the players were dismayed when the state’s Republican-bent legislature didn’t take immediate action this week on proposed policing measures. Have the Bucks been so consumed by politics that they’ve lost focus on why they’re in Florida? If so, it’s a sour development for a championship contender trying to retain Giannis long-term.

Said veteran guard Kyle Korver: “It was disappointing. Surely, there are things to talk about right now, right? Like surely there are things that our state needs leadership in and how can we be better. What we’re trying to figure out as a team is, we don’t want to be aligned politically. Sport has always had the opportunity to be a bridge in life in so many ways, and that’s what we’re trying to do as a team. We’re trying to find that balance. There’s things going on in our country that are more important than basketball.’’

America is well aware. Yet in the pursuit of higher moral ground, sports cannot forget its primary purpose. After a harrowing spring and summer in a weary, bleary republic, autumn is upon us, and people still want to watch games and events. This is a lucky opportunity, nothing short of shocking.

So entertain them, would you please?

BSM Writers

Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?

Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.

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The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.

In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?

We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?

Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:

Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN

ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.

The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.

Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.

Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.

“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”

Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.

“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?

“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”

Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.

Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.

The NFL Today – CBS

CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.

Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.

The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.

Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.

Fox NFL Sunday

The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.

Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.

Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.

Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.

Football Night in America – NBC

Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.

But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.

Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?

When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.

But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”

“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”

Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.

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BSM Writers

Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers

Jason Barrett

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Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3nTJC5K 

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BSM Writers

Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area

Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.

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Joe Rogan

For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.

As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.

I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.

At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.

From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”

But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.

But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.

However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.

One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.

Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.

There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.

Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.

At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.

There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.

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