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Serena’s Only Option: Surrender To Queen Naomi

With Osaka firmly established as tennis’ reigning one-name icon, it’s important Williams not overstay her welcome at 39 in pursuit of a daunting 24th Grand Slam title.

Jay Mariotti

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Let’s not misinterpret why Serena Williams was crying. It wasn’t because reporters were pushing her toward retirement with cold questions as she sat glumly, four years since her last Grand Slam title, wearing a diamond necklace that recognized her as “QUEEN.”

No, she was breaking down and abruptly leaving the news conference in Melbourne because she no longer can be QUEEN.

Image result for queen serena williams tears

It’s only a winnable game, this business of going out on one’s own terms, if obstacles aren’t clogging the legacy train. Tom Brady still hasn’t encountered an impediment to winning Super Bowls, but Williams, nearing 40, is trapped in an unfulfilling end game dominated by a younger and, somehow, potentially better version of herself. The new badass of women’s tennis, Naomi Osaka, already is 4-for-4 in major finals at just 23 after winning the Australian Open — which happens to be the number of Slam titles that Williams has been stuck on forever, one shy of the sport’s all-time record. Eerily, 23 also was the uniform number of Michael Jordan, another legend who didn’t realize it was time to go before it was too late.

“If I ever say farewell,” she said, “I wouldn’t tell anyone.”

She won’t have to say a word. It’s already clear how this story ends, the succession to her throne already established.

We needn’t prosecute Williams if she wants to march on in her one-legged catsuit, in awkward pursuit of one or two more trophies. It’s her life, not ours. But the tears provide evidence of her pain, a burden that is harder to watch as Osaka assumes control with an impenetrable perspective for one so young. Have you listened to her speak? She exudes traces of Zen, having overcome her own tears when she crumbled emotionally two years ago at Wimbledon, no longer having fun after ascending to No. 1 in the world. Tennis is known for breaking phenoms, and Osaka could have cracked following the moment that changed the sport forever, when she won her first U.S. Open amid boos as Williams infamously melted down in warfare with a chair ump doing his job. Born in Japan to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, Osaka grew up on Long Island and in Florida, yet she was treated like an outsider that day by boorish New Yorkers. Who was she to disrupt Queen Serena?

“Honestly, for me, when everything happened in New York, I got really scared, because I felt like it put me into this light that I’ve never been in before,” she said.

Instead of fading away, Osaka found peace — and, after two coaching changes and 12 subsequent losses, a keeper in Wim Fissette, who devised a plan that refined her pulverizing serve and groundstrokes. She also matured into womanhood and embraced the lessons of 2020, the horrors of COVID-19 mixed with racial unrest, wearing seven different masks with names of Black police brutality victims during her U.S. Open matches. When she arrived in Australia and had to quarantine in a hotel with other contestants, she didn’t complain like the planet’s top male player, the insufferable Novak Djokovic. She simply stayed in her room and tried not to binge-eat while plotting how to use the pandemic to her advantage.

The greats have done precisely that.

Brady. LeBron. Naomi.

“I think the thing that I’m most proud of is now how mentally strong I’ve become,” Osaka said. “I used to be really up and down. For me, I had a lot of doubts in myself. But I think the quarantine process and seeing everything that’s going on in the world — for me, it put a lot into perspective. I used to weigh my entire existence on if I won or lost a tennis match. That’s just not how I feel anymore.”

She sounds like she’s on a couch with a therapist. Except, Osaka is winning the inner conflict with her soul. “What I’ve learned on and off the court is it’s OK to not be sure about yourself,” she said. “For me, I feel like I’ve always forced myself to, like, be `strong’ or whatever. I think if you’re not feeling OK, it’s OK to not feel OK. You have to sort of go within yourself and figure things out in a way.”

But as long as she’s out there on a court — whipping forehands and making endorsement fortunes like no one since, well, Serena — Osaka sees no point in wasting time. “I have this mentality that people don’t remember the runners-up,” she said. “You might, but the winner’s name is the one that’s engraved.” If that approach sounds familiar, she reminded us of her muse by wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey to a news conference, as she does in other defining moments. “I truly think it gives me strength,” she said.

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So how is Williams supposed to overcome this hurricane? She can’t. Despite claims of being lighter on her feet after an offseason of training, she simply couldn’t move at times as Osaka’s strokemaking ran her from side to side. With her unforced errors climbing toward 24, she lost focus and faith, screaming after a missed forehand, “Make a shot!” We forget, in witnessing her machine-like grip on her craft for two decades, that Williams experienced what she called life-threatening complications during her 2017 pregnancy, and that she left the tour to gather herself. When she returned, there was Osaka, who had idolized Serena and aspired to become the same force.

Now, it’s a matter of when Williams realizes she can’t get to 24 as Osaka is collecting all the Slams. She is a human being who has suffered injuries for three years — knees, a left Achilles, a pectoral muscle, circulation issues in her legs and feet — and while Osaka has slipped up on the Wimbledon grass and Roland Garros clay, there’s a sense Serena no longer can seize a flaw. Having achieved so much, she understandably prefers not to end her career just shy of a goal. Djokovic, who now has 18 Slam titles and is chasing his own history (the 20 of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal), put it best when he said of himself and Williams, “When you’re chasing big things that are related to the history of the sport, obviously it has a lot of weight, a lot of pressure. And regardless of the amount of years you have played on the tour and the experience that you have, you still feel it on your shoulders.”

Yet isn’t 24 just a number when Williams long has been validated as the greatest ever in her sport? The holder of the record, Margaret Court, won the Australian Open 11 times in her native country back when elite players didn’t venture Down Under for the event. Her place atop the leaderboard is diluted, further muddled by her public anti-LGBTQ opinions — “the work of the devil,” Court has said — that have made her a detestable figure in some tennis circles. Is it possible Williams, as an advocate of gender equality, is driven to topple Court for social reasons?

Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, says Williams doesn’t think she needs 24 as career validation. Just the other day, Serena herself said, “My life is way more than a trophy.” But another recent glimpse shows her in Miami, giving a video tour of her new home to Architectural Digest. When she reaches the trophy room, she spots a piece of runner-up hardware and says, “We’ll put that one in the trash. We don’t keep second place.”

In Melbourne, Williams didn’t even finish second. Another young American, Jennifer Brady, lost the final to Osaka in straight sets. So much was made of how Williams greeted Osaka at the end of their semifinal, with her hand over her heart, as if saying goodbye to Australia and hello to her successor’s reign. Osaka has made it clear she doesn’t want to see Williams go, owing so much to the legacy of Serena and older sister Venus, two Black girls from Compton who shunned the sport’s White establishment and were home-schooled to glory by their father. Osaka, among 12 Black women in the 2020 U.S. Open singles draw, wrote in a recent column in The Telegraph (yes, she writes her own columns): “My young aspirations owe so much to Serena and Venus. Without those trailblazers, there would be no Naomi, no Coco (Gauff), no Sloane (Stephens), no Madison (Keys). Everything we did was inspired by them.”

When asked about Serena’s future last week, Osaka grew wistful. “It’s kind of sad when you say it like that, because for me, I want her to play forever. That’s the little kid in me,” she said. “As long as Serena’s here, I think she’s the face of women’s tennis.” And make no mistake, Osaka still can be a little kid, such as when she signed a TV camera lens immediately after beating Williams. “Mari, stop sending weird images in the group chat,” she wrote, directing a message to her older sister.

But Naomi is the predominant one-name icon now, capable of winning majors as long as she wants to keep playing. Said Jen Brady: “She’s such an inspiration to us all, and what she’s doing for the game is amazing in getting the sport out there. I hope young girls at home are watching and inspired by what she’s doing.” Osaka likely won’t want to play until she’s 39, but that doesn’t mean she won’t be remembered — like Tiger Woods juxtaposed against Jack Nicklaus — as having played the best tennis ever in the female ranks.

Perhaps that realization already has tapped Williams on the brain. On Instagram, just before leaving Australia for possibly the last time as a player, she thanked local fans in a note. “I am so honored to be able to play in front of you all,” she wrote. “Your support — your cheers, I only wish I could have done better for you today. I am forever in debt and grateful to each and every single one of you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I adore you.”

Hours later, after ruling the final with a serve that reached 122 mph, Osaka was saying after her 21st straight victory, “For me, I feel like every opportunity to play a Slam is an opportunity to win a Slam. So I think maybe I put that pressure on myself, but honestly, it’s working out in my favor right now.”

She was handed a pour of champagne. Not a drinker, she reluctantly took a sip and made a sour face, having been told growing up that alcohol is a no-no. “Like it’s ruining your body or your liver,” she said. “I just want to give myself an advantage for as long as I can.”

Naomi Osaka celebrates with champagne during a photo shoot at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy

And how long might that be? “I feel like the biggest thing I want to achieve is — this is gonna sound really odd — hopefully I play long enough to play a girl that said that I was once her favorite player or something. For me, I think that’s the coolest thing that could ever happen to me. … I just think that that’s how the sport moves forward.”

Spoken like the new QUEEN, with no interest in abdicating until she says so. Let the dethroned shed the tears.

BSM Writers

The NFL Hopes You’re Lazy Enough to Pay Them $5

“This app reportedly doesn’t even have any original content of it’s own. NFL Films produces content for ESPN+, HBO Max, Peacock, Tubi, Epix, Paramount Plus, and Prime Video. It has also reportedly had discussions about producing content for Netflix. Unless they plan to bring all of those shows in-house, what kind of shows could NFL Films produce for NFL Plus that you couldn’t already find on all of those other apps?”

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NFL Streaming

Corporate goodwill is a hard thing to ask for. It’s not something that is a requirement for any entity to engage in. But it can go a long way in establishing a deeper bond for the future. According to Sports Business Journal, NFL owners are contemplating launching a streaming service for the league.

The app would feature podcasts, content created by teams and radio content. It’s unknown where the podcast content will come from but one can assume it’ll include the various podcasts the NFL produces with iHeartRadio. Team content that is expected to be featured could come from videos and audio that is already posted on team websites and social media platforms such as YouTube.

Various organizations across the league have expanded their YouTube efforts over the last couple of years as the Google-owned site has slowly set itself apart as a leading source for viewership. My hometown team, the Baltimore Ravens, for example promotes a talk show with cornerback Marlon Humphrey where he interviews players and other key figures from the team about their lives and careers and how they got to where they are today.

The most important part of this app will be NFL games itself. On Sunday afternoons, whatever games are airing in the specific location you’re in while using the app, those are the games you have access to watch. If you’re in Baltimore and a Ravens game is airing on CBS while the Commanders are on Fox, those are the games the app will offer. If you’re in Boston and a Patriots game is on CBS while a Giants game is on Fox – you won’t have access to the Ravens game airing on CBS in Baltimore or the Commanders game on Fox in Baltimore even if that’s where you normally live. These games used to be a part of a deal with Yahoo Sports and Verizon – who distributed them on their apps for free.

JohnWallStreet of Sportico notes, “longer term, the existence of a league-owned streaming platform should help ensure broadcast rights continue to climb.” But at the end of the day, how does this help the fan? The increase of broadcast rights is going to end up costing viewers in the long run through their cable bill.

ESPN costs almost $10 per cable customer. The app, as of now, isn’t offering anything special and is an aggregation of podcasts, games and videos that fans can already get for free. If you want to listen to an NFL podcast – you can go to Spotify, Apple Podcasts and various other podcast hosting platforms. If you want to watch content from your favorite teams, you can go to their website or their social media platforms. And if you want to watch games, you can authenticate your cable subscriptions and watch them for free through your cable company’s app or CBS’ app or the Fox Sports app.

It’s nothing more than a money grab. Games are already expensive to go to as it is. Gas prices have reached astronomical highs. Watching content has become extremely costly and it’s debatable whether buying streaming services is cheaper or more expensive than the cable bundle. And now the NFL wants to add more stress and more expenses to their viewers who just desire an escape from the hardships of life through their love of a beautiful game? It seems wrong and a bit cruel to me.

The beauty of paying for content apps is that you’re going to gain access to something that is original and unique from everything else in the ecosystem. When House of Cards first premiered on Netflix, it was marketed as a political thriller of the likes we had never seen and it lived up to its expectations for the most part. The critically-acclaimed series led viewers to explore other shows on the app that were similarly a more explicit and unique journey from what had been seen on television before.

This app reportedly doesn’t even have any original content of it’s own. NFL Films produces content for ESPN+, HBO Max, Peacock, Tubi, Epix, Paramount Plus, and Prime Video. It has also reportedly had discussions about producing content for Netflix. Unless they plan to bring all of those shows in-house, what kind of shows could NFL Films produce for NFL Plus that you couldn’t already find on all of those other apps? Even YouTube has partnered with NFL Films to produce behind the scenes footage of games that is available for FREE.

If you’re going to force viewers to pay $5 to watch games on their phone, the least you could do is give fans access to speak with players and analysts before and after the games. Take NFL Network over the top so that we can wake up with Good Morning Football. Offer a way for fans to chat while games are being watched on the app. The ability to watch an All-22 feed of live games. A raw audio options of games. The ability to screencast. Even a live look at the highly paid booths who are calling the games.

Five bucks may seem small in the grand scheme of things but it is a rip-off especially when the content is available for free with a few extra searches. Goodwill and establishing a person to person online relationship with fans could go a long way for the NFL. It’s not going to work using these tactics though. And after facing such a long pandemic, offering it up for free just seems like the right thing to do.

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BSM Writers

Sports Talkers Podcast – Danny Parkins

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Danny Parkins opens up to Stephen Strom about why he is so passionate about defending Chicago. He also gives his best career advice and explains why a best friend is more important sometimes than an agent.

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BSM Writers

Marc Hochman is The Lebron James of Miami Sports Radio

The Hochman and Crowder Show with Solana isn’t like anything you’ll hear in most major markets. But they wear that distinction with a badge of honor. They’re not interested in breaking down why the offensive line can’t get a push on short-yardage situations, they want to make you laugh, regardless if it’s sports content or not. They’re perfectly Miami sports radio. 

Tyler McComas

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Marc Hochman

There’s 30 minutes to go until Marc Hochman’s summer vacation and he’s suddenly overcome with emotion. Instead of staring at the clock, he’s staring at an article from The Miami New Times, which has just named him Best Talk Radio Personality in its “Best of 2022” awards issue. It’s an incredible honor in a city that has several worthy candidates, including the man sitting right next to him, Channing Crowder. 

But it’s not just the honor that’s catching Hochman’s eye, it’s also the paragraph where the newspaper compares him to Lebron James. No, seriously. Compliments are nothing new for the Miami radio veteran, but being compared to one of the best basketball players of all-time is new territory. Part of the paragraph reads like this:

“His current domination of the afternoon drive simulcast on both WQAM and 790 The Ticket (WAXY) is akin to Lebron playing for the Lakers and Clippers simultaneously. Could he do it? Probably. Does Hochman do this daily? Yes. Advantage, Hochman.”

Talk about incredibly high praise for a sports radio host. Especially one in Miami where there’s still a lot of hard feelings towards Lebron. But the praise is accurate, because the Hochman and Crowder Show with Solana airs on two different Audacy stations every day. It’s an interesting dynamic, especially for a market the size of Miami/Fort Lauderdale. 

“We have a joke that if you don’t like what you’re hearing on 560, feel free to tune in on 790,” laughed Hochman. “But it’s fun and I think in some strange way it’s increased our audience. As crazy as it is to say in 2022, there are people who listen to a particular radio station and don’t ever change it. I do think being on both stations has expanded our audience. We have fun with it. The show is on for four hours on 560 WQAM and three hours on 790 The Ticket.”

It’s cool to see Hochman get this type of honor during his 10th year of being an afternoon host on 560 WQAM. Especially since he’s originally from Chicago, but has carved out an incredible career in a city he’s called home since the late 80s. It’s funny to think Hochman had no interest in sports radio in 2004 when his college friend Dan Le Batard offered him a job as an executive producer at a startup station in Miami. Now, 18 years later, he’s being voted as the best to do it in the city. 

“Everybody likes to be recognized for what they do,” said Hochman. “We get recognized all the time by the listeners, but when someone out of your orbits writes their opinion of what you’re doing, and it’s that glowing of an opinion, it’s great. I’ve been compared to Lebron before, but it’s always been my hairline. It was nice to be compared to him for another reason. That was super cool.”

The best part about all of this is how Hochman will use this as a funny bit on the show, because, above anything else, he’s instantly identified as someone who’s incredibly gifted at making people laugh on the air. There’s no doubt it will become a theme on the show, both with him and his co-hosts, Crowder and Solana. 

“The award came out about 30 minutes before I was leaving for my summer vacation, so I had about 30 minutes on the air to respond to it,” Hochman said. “So I’m sure it will become a bit on the show, I certainly will refer to myself as the Lebron James of sports talk radio in Miami. Although, there’s still some hard feelings here towards him.

That was the one part that jumped out, obviously, to me, Crowder and to Solana. I don’t think I’m Lebron James but Crowder said on the air that sometimes you have to acknowledge when you’re playing with greatness, and he said “I used to play defense with Jason Taylor and Junior Seau, now I’m doing radio and I will acknowledge greatness.”

With or without this honor, it’s pretty evident Hochman is the happiest he’s ever been in sports radio. He’s surrounded with two talented co-hosts, but the sentiment is that Hochman does an incredible job of putting both Solano and Crowder in situations to be the best versions of themselves on the air. However, Hochman sees it differently. 

“I think that’s more on the people around you,” he said. “If you have great teammates, they’re great. Crowder and Solana, those dudes, if you want to make a basketball comparison, we have ourselves a Big Three.

Solana is the best at what he does, Crowder is the absolute best radio partner I’ve had in my career. He’s so aware of what it takes to entertain but also has broadcast sensibilities at the same time. I actually think he’s the one that makes us sound better than what we really are. He has a really incredible knack for entertaining but also informing.”

The Hochman and Crowder Show with Solana isn’t like anything you’ll hear in most major markets. But they wear that distinction with a badge of honor. They’re not interested in breaking down why the offensive line can’t get a push on short-yardage situations, they want to make you laugh, regardless if it’s sports content or not. They’re perfectly Miami sports radio. 

“I would say Miami is the strangest sports radio market in the country,” said Hochman. “I grew up in Chicago so I’m intimately familiar with Chicago sports talk. Miami sports talk, which is Le Batard, who redefined what works. In Miami, that’s what it needed. It’s more guy talk than sports talk. We certainly can’t break down a third inning in a Marlins game and why a runner should have been running when he wasn’t, the way that New York, Philadelphia or Boston radio could.”

“That doesn’t work here. When Crowder and I go on the air everyday, we’ve always said, our goal is we want to laugh the majority of our four hours on the air. If we’re laughing, we assume the audience is laughing, as well. That’s our personality. We both like to laugh and have fun. I like to do it, no matter what is going on. That translates to the radio. Luckily, Miami is a sports radio market that embraces that, because I don’t think we could do a show any other way.”

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