NFL Today – On the Field And In The Booth

It has been a while since I had the chance to comment on NFL matters that have on-field implications beyond what people are going to call the Washington franchise this year.  So, let me do a little catching up with a comment on the Jets trading away safety, Jamal Adams.  They sort of had to make a deal sometime because Adams was clearly disgruntled over the lack of contract extension talks.  They got a deal from the Seahawks that gave the Jets two first round picks, a third-round pick and a replacement at the safety position.

Most of the folks who have analyzed this trade – or assigned grades to both teams for making the deal – focused on the Jets getting 2 first round picks as the major assets in return for Adams.  In most cases I would agree with that but my sense was that the Jets just do not draft well and so I wondered if those two first-rounders were as valuable as they seemed.

I went to Google and found a history of NY Jets draft picks leading to this summary:

  • Quinnen Williams (DT) – first round pick in 2019 – played in 13 games last year starting 9 of them – recorded 2.5 sacks and 15 solo tackles.  Ho-hum!
  • Sam Darnold (QB) – first round pick in 2018 – first two seasons have been OK but nothing more than that – a work-in-progress?
  • Jamal Adams (S) – first round pick in 2017 – excellent players now traded away
  • Darron Lee (LB) – first round pick in 2016 – now with the Chiefs
  • Leonard Williams (DT) – first round pick in 2015 – now with the Giants
  • Calvin Pryor (DB) – first round pick in 2014 – played for the Jags in 2017 and has been out of the league in 2018 and 2019.
  • Dee Milliner (DB) – first round pick in 2013 – played well in rookie year and then was out of the league after his third season.
  • Sheldon Richardson (DT) – another first round pick in 2013 – played 4 seasons with the Jets and is now with the Browns.
  • Quinton Coples (DE) – first round pick in 2012 – last played in the NFL in 2015.

That list tells me two things:

  1. Other than Jamal Adams who was just traded away, the Jets have not taken any star players with their first-round picks since 2012.  [In fact, the last bona-fide star drafted in the first round by the Jets was Darrelle Revis in 2007.]
  2. The Jets do not tend to keep their first-round picks on the team as foundation pieces for very long.

As I was reading about NFL players opting out for the 2020 season over the weekend, I ran across a listing around noon on Saturday.  At that point, 34 players had opted-out and 19 of them were either offensive linemen, defensive linemen or linebackers.  Keith Jackson used to refer to those units as the “Big Uglies”; however, don’t call them the “Big Dummies”.  Those are players who are going to be violating social distancing guidelines on every snap of the ball AND those are players who carry with them one of the “underlying conditions” for COVID-19 severity – namely high body mass index.

Over the weekend, ESPN revealed the new announcing team for Monday Night Football in 2020.  It will be a 3-man booth:

  • Steve Levy will do play by play.  He is solid in that role; he will not drown out the game with vocal histrionics.
  • Brian Griese will be an analyst.  He and Levy have worked together before and done a good job on the mic.
  • Louis Riddick will be an analyst.  I really like Riddick on the studio programming on ESPN.  If he carries over that level of performance to MNF, he will be a star.

I have to believe that the suits at ESPN want this team to be stable for a few years because the recent history of the MNF announcing crew has been an embarrassment for the self-proclaimed “World-wide Leader in Sports”.  Here is what has been on the air since Mike Tirico left ESPN to go to NBC after the 2015 season:

  • 2016-2017:  Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden called MNF.  By that point in his career, Gruden had become repetitive and annoying; McDonough could not cover that up.
  • 2018:  Joe Tessitore, Jason Witten and “The Booger Mobile”:  Witten was awful; the “Booger Mobile” was transcendentally stupid; Tessitore would go into a paroxysm over a 7-yard gain.  It was a painful year.
  • 2019:  Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland in the booth.  Witten’s return to the field was an announcing “addition by subtraction”; I thought McFarland was fine and Tessitore was still hyperventilating over first downs.  ESPN decided to “go in a different direction”…

I am a little surprised that ESPN did not find a way to pry Ian Eagle loose from CBS.  He and Dan Fouts were the CBS #2 announcing team for NFL football last year.  Fouts’ contract expired after last season do Eagle will pair with Charles Davis as the #2 team at CBS this year.  The thing here is that Eagle is blocked at CBS because the #1 team there is Jim Nantz and Tony Romo.  Nantz is only 61 years old and CBS is not likely to jettison him any time soon; room just signed a 10-year contract with CBS, so he is not going anywhere either.  With that dynamic in place, I thought ESPN might have been able to do some business with Ian Eagle.  Oh well…

Finally, now that we have a short respite from hearing about contract negotiations between the Cowboys and Dak Prescott, consider this observation from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Franchised: During Dak Prescott’s contract saga, would it have been impolite to point out that the Cowboys behind Prescott were 8-8 last season?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

MLB Versus COVID-19…

The last time the Phillies and the Marlins took the field in an MLB game was last Sunday.  The Marlins did so with 4 known COVID-19 cases on the team and subsequent testing has shown that almost 20 players, coaches and staff personnel have contracted the virus.  Meanwhile, the Phillies have not reported any positive tests for players but in the middle of the week the club revealed that a coach and a team staff member did test positive.  Last night the Phillies made these announcements:

  • The team has discontinued all baseball operations until further notice.
  • The weekend series between the Phillies and the Blue Jays will not happen.

There needs to be some perspective here.  The Phillies have already postponed a series with the Yankees; combined with this series, the Phillies will have postponed 6 games; in the truncated 2020 season, that represents 10% of the entire season.  For comparison purposes, imagine a situation where a team had 16 rainouts on the books sometime in late April of a normal season; the scheduling gymnastics to pull together a full season would be daunting.

MLB has reacted to this situation with what appears to be a band-aid.  From here forward, each team must take a “coronavirus compliance officer” with them on road trips.  The duties for this haute fonctionnaire is to assure that the rules laid out in the MLB COVID-19 protocol are followed notwithstanding a few elephants that are still in the room:

  • Elephant #1:  The tracing for the source of the Marlins’ outbreak is either not yet done or is inconclusive on THE most important question here – – how did the virus get in the clubhouse and spread so rapidly??
  • Elephant #2:  What evidence is there that the MLB protocol was violated in significant ways by the Marlins leading to the introduction of the virus and then the subsequent outbreak?
  • Elephant #3:  Is there actually a “Patient Zero” within the Marlins’ organization?

There are other unanswered questions remaining, but those will do for the moment because with those questions in focus, the key question now is more transcendent:

  • Does the MLB protocol – notwithstanding its 100+ pages in length – have any value with regard to the playing of MLB games in 2020?

That is the question that must be answered first.  If someone can indeed answer that in the affirmative with some basis other than arm-waving and wishful thinking, then we can move on to asking what the coronavirus compliance officer is supposed to do and what authorities he/she will have.  It seems obvious to me that even if every coronavirus compliance officer is a member of the Justice League of America, they will be less than successful in keeping COVID-19 away from MLB if in fact the protocol itself is flawed.

As they say in the infomercials, “But wait; there’s more!”

One might think that the MLBPA would be outraged by this outbreak at the start of the season.  After all, more than half of the expanded active roster for one of its teams is now COVID-19 positive; those union members were not protected by the protocol; the safety of workers and of working conditions has normally been a foundational piece in the reason for unions to exist in the first place.  So naturally, I assumed that the MLBPA would have their knickers in a knot over this and would be demanding new and better protective measures for its union brethren.  Let me put it this way; if indeed there is going to be a union outcry over this, it is more likely to be a whisper than a tirade.  According to reports, this is what the union has had to say about the outbreak:

  1. MLB has proposed changing necessary double headers to either a pair of 7-inning games or a 9-inning game followed by a 7-inning game.  The MLBPA has endorsed the pair of 7-inning games and has urged the members to back that option too.
  2. The expanded 30-man roster is set to be reduced to 28 players at the end of next week.  The MLBPA wants to extend the date of that roster contraction.

Player safety?  I guess they will get to that one of these weeks…

The reason that baseball officials – management and labor – ought to be focused on safety is that it now appears as if the Marlins’ “issues” may be a bit more commonplace that anyone would wish for.  John Heyman Tweeted this morning that today’s game between the Brewers and the Cardinals has been postponed because two Cards’ players have tested positive.  The firewall has been breeched again and in a different place.  So, is that misfortune or are the ramparts insufficient to meet the threat?

I think I have counted correctly.  There are 15 games in MLB that have been postponed due to coronavirus that will need to be made up.  There has been 1 postponement due to rain.

Enough gloom and doom for today…  There is a positive story out this week related to the NFL.  Alex Smith has been cleared by his doctors to go back to the Washington WTFs after almost 2 years away from football.  You may recall in the middle of the 2018 season, Smith suffered a grotesque injury in a game.  Since that time, he has undergone 17 separate surgeries to put his leg/ankle back together and to fight off a massive staph infection that he contracted somewhere along the line.   Coach Ron Rivera says that Smith will have a shot at the starting QB job once training camp begins IF Smith can pass the team’s “football physical”.

Frankly, if Alex Smith can simply take a snap from center, drop back and throw a pass in a practice environment, it will be a positive moment.  By all accounts, Alex Smith is one of the “good guys” in the sports world.  It is nice when something good happens to one of the good guys.

Finally, this comes from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The Pentagon team tasked with studying UFOs — the Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force — plans to publicly release information on its findings.

“So maybe we’ll finally get our answer: Did Otis Sistrunk really graduate from the University of Mars?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Hockey Leads Today

Everything – – and I do mean everything – – that I know about youth hockey in Canada comes from reading Gregg Drinnan’s blog Taking Note.  A posting there from earlier this week demonstrated to me that outrageous adult behavior related to youth sports is not confined to the US.  Here is a rough outline of what happened:

  • The North American Hockey Classic (NAHC) is a tournament for multiple youth hockey teams ages 7 through 12.  It was held in Winnipeg; Winnipeg is in Manitoba.
  • Five teams from Saskatchewan participated in this year’s NAHC.  According to an official in the Saskatchewan government, “Currently, inter-provincial travel is discouraged but not banned.  Inter-provincial travel for competition for tournaments is not permitted at this time.”

So, what’s the big deal?  The chronological adults nominally in charge of these teams misunderstood the regulations and  took a bunch of kids to do what kids do in Canada – – play hockey.  No one should get their bowels in an uproar over that.  Except … maybe – just maybe – those adults really did know that what they were doing was wrong because:

  • They played in the tournament under team names different from the ones they normally play under.
  • They withheld player names on the official game rosters.
  • They forbid parents who accompanied the team from posting any pictures or comments on social media.

From everything I have read, junior hockey in Canada is a way of life and it has passionate and dedicated followers and supporters.  I guess it is like the atmosphere surrounding high school football in Texas.  Nonetheless, that does not excuse the team officials here.  What they did was wrong on multiple levels; here are only two such levels:

  1. The travel restrictions are in place because of COVID-19.  Even if you want to argue that the travel and the participation only raised the likelihood of a child contracting the virus, adults in charge of entities involving children have a responsibility for safety and security.
  2. What is the lesson for those kids (ages 7-12) to learn here?  If there is a rule or regulation that gets in your way, then what you should do is to figure out a way to circumvent that rule/regulation in such a way that you are not likely to get caught?

Even if you want to target government officials for promulgating ambiguous regulations here, the measures taken by those five teams is deplorable.  It probably does not good to say, “Shame on them,” because their behavior seems to indicate that they do not understand “shame”.  Go to Gregg Drinnan’s blog, Taking Note and read the July 28 posting for more details here.

Yesterday, I mentioned that the socially aware NBA would not be sporting any social justice icons or slogans that might offend the Chinese government because of the large revenue stream that flows to the NBA from China.  Today, there is a story from ESPN that there are multiple accusations of “child abuse” at some of the NBA Academies in China.  According to ESPN, a coach describes one of these academies as “a sweat camp for athletes” and the report says that several coaches have resigned over the treatment of athletes there.

There are reports of physical abuse of athletes and there are reports that the academics that kids are supposed to get there in parallel with their athletic training are lacking.  US coaches who were involved as overseers of the camps have resigned over the lack of academics and over the sub-standard living conditions associated with some of the academies.

The NBA should not go out of its way to offend the Chinese government and injure its revenue stream from China; after all, the NBA is a business and revenue matters.  The problem here is that the NBA begins to look like it is in the business of hypocrisy.  The NBA wants to be seen here as a change agent for social justice – – but it ignores horrible social injustices perpetrated by the folks in charge of its revenue stream and now it appears that it has lent its name and its “brand” to activities that qualify as child abuse.

My position here is pretty straightforward:

  1. No one – anywhere – should seek to perpetrate social injustices.
  2. People who abuse children are antediluvian pond slime.
  3. The NBA ought not to try to be seen as an army of social justice warriors while also cozying up to folks who engage in the behaviors enumerated above.

Denver Nuggets’ forward, Michael Porter, Jr., is on record as a COVID-19 minimizer at best and maybe even a denier.  According to USA Today Porter says the virus is “being used to control people” and that it is “overblown”.  Here is some of what Porter had to say:

“Personally, I think the coronavirus is being used obviously for a bigger agenda.  It’s being used for population control just in terms of being able to control the masses of people.  Because this virus, the whole world is being controlled.  You’re required to wear masks and who knows what will happen when this vaccine comes out.  You might have to have the vaccine in order to travel, that’d be crazy.  I’ve never been vaccinated in my life; I’ve never had any shots or anything like that.”

Finally, here is a Tweet from humorist, Brad Dickson, at the intersection of sports, politics and COVID-19:

“You know the world is messed up when Mariano Rivera is attending the White House briefing and Dr. Anthony Fauci is warming up to take the mound at a major-league stadium.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

For Whom A Contract Tolls?

There is a twist to the upcoming NFL season that has not been present in the past and it is one that I think I understand – but am prepared to have someone correct/amend.  For the first time, players may opt-out of playing in the 2020 NFL season but that will not void their contract.  Instead the contract “will toll”.  My understanding of what that means is that in 2021 – when presumably COVID-19 will be harnessed – players can return to their teams and their contracts will simply have extended for a year.  They will make in 2021 the same salary that they would have made in 2020 had they opted in rather than opted out.

The league and the union put one more “pick and roll” – to borrow a phrase from basketball – to this situation.  Players may opt out for any reason at all and they will get an advance on the salary they will make in 2021 when they return to their teams:

  • If a player opts out for a medical reason related to COVID-19, he will receive a salary advance of $350K
  • If a player opts out for some other reason, he will receive a salary advance of $150K.

Before anyone asks, I do not know the mechanism by which there is an adjudication regarding what constitutes a “medical reason” for opting out as opposed to just a “garden variety” opting out.

I mention this today because players have until August 4th to make their opt in/opt out decision for 2020.  However, as of this morning, 25 players have opted out for 2020 and 6 of those players are New England Patriots.  I have no idea why that is the case, but that surely represents an uneven distribution of players opting out.

In addition to this new feature for the 2020 season, there is also an unprecedented agreement between the league and the union regarding player behavior(s) off the field for the balance of the 2020 season.  Some of the provisions include a ban on players attending indoor nightclubs, indoor house parties with more than 15 attendees and indoor concerts and sporting events.  The penalty for violating these sorts of restrictions is a fine – – but there is a footnote here too:

  • If a player engages in a prohibited behavior and subsequently comes down with COVID-19, then the player will be inactivated and will not be paid for the games that he misses.
  • In addition, future guaranteed money in the players’ contract can be voided  [Translation:  Misbehave and catch COVID-19 and the fine you paid just got a lot bigger.]

This all sounds as if the league and the union are seriously committed to player safety and keeping the coronavirus out of team locker rooms – – and maybe they are.  However, the enforcement of these seemingly draconian behavioral constraints is left to the individual teams.  It does not make a lot of sense to me that something as apparently important as this – and with potentially severe penalties attached to it – would be subject to 32 differing methods of enforcement.

If these restrictions on behaviors off the field are in fact going to be enforced with the stipulated consequences, I think that NFL players should take a second look at the importance of social media in their lives.  Even without ascribing terminal stupidity to a player by suggesting that he might take a few selfies at a party or a nightclub or a concert and then post it himself on any one of the social media sites available today, social media can be a real hazard.  Nearly everyone has a cell phone; nearly everyone knows how to take pictures/video on that phone; nearly everyone knows how to post said photos/videos on social media.  Ergo, there are myriad sources for documenting potential player transgressions.

For the 2020 season, I make this suggestion to NFL players:

  • Social media are not your friends…

Tomorrow night, the NBA will resurrect its 2020 season when the Jazz and the Pelicans take to the court.  In keeping with the NBA’s preferred image as a socially progressive organization, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” will be painted on the court and players will be allowed to wear social justice slogans or exhortations on their uniforms for the games.  This branding strategy on the part of the NBA is highly effective in terms of maintaining a connection with the players in the league and in terms of projecting positively to a significant portion of its fanbase.  Some have labeled the NBA’s actions on this front as brilliant.

If I were to apply the “brilliant” label here, I would have to include a dimension of the NBA’s strategy that no one says out loud.  The NBA has managed to put itself on a pedestal as a caring and progressive organization fighting for social justice reform – – and all the while being a party to social oppression when it is financially beneficial to the NBA to be a party to such social oppression.  If you think that is harsh, check out the games on TV and see if you see even a hint at social reform messages akin to :

  • #FreeHongKong – – or – –
  • #UighurLivesMatter

Finally, I missed any reporting on this topic completely, so I was interested to see this comment in Bob Molinaro’s column last week in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot.  For the record, I am in total agreement:

Public pressure: In a Japanese survey released this week, fewer than 24 percent of respondents favor holding the Summer Olympics in 2021. Without a vaccine, it won’t happen anyway.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

RIP Eddie Shack

Eddie Shack died earlier this week.  I remember him from the mid-60s when I started to recognize ice hockey as a sport because the NHL was in the process of expanding from 6 to 12 teams.  He was a player you could not help but notice when he was on the ice.  He was part of the last Toronto Maple Leafs team to win the Stanley Cup .

Rest in peace, Eddie Shack.

It is always comfortable to look at complex situations in a simplistic manner; it makes them easier to understand.  The problem is that sometimes the easy/comfortable view does not allow one to think of complex consequences.  Consider the recently restarted MLB season.  The league and the players’ union agreed to a health and safety protocol that was more than 100 pages in length.  Logically – and simply – it defined what players/coaches/managers/etc. could and could not do, what they should and should not do, and what sorts of testing/tracing would be done for and by each team.  That seemed to compartmentalize everything so that each piece could be understood.

The problem is that reality bites and it only took 4 days into the 2020 delayed MLB season for reality to plant its teeth into MLB’s exposed posterior.  There is an unalterable fact about baseball games; they always involve two teams – – not just one.  And because COVID-19 can spread at a distance – in fact, that is most likely its most common vector for spreading – looking at individual teams as entities for safety protocols does not make a ton of sense.  Here is the current state of play:

  • The Phillies and Marlins opened the season with a 3-game series.  Everything must have tested out to be hunky-dory as of last Friday; it would be outrageous to assume that MLB knew there was a COVID-19 problem with either team but let the games go on as scheduled anyway.  Anyone dumb enough to do that probably also thinks that a thumb drive is what a hitchhiker is looking for.
  • At first, the Marlins had a player – maybe two – who tested positive and who “sat out”.  Makes sense; that is a foundational piece for the health and safety protocol.
  • By Monday, however, at least 11 members of the Marlins – and maybe as many as 14 – have tested positive and because they have interacted with most of the Phillies roster for the last 3 days, the Yankees/Phillies game for Monday had to be postponed lest the Yankees be exposed.  Of particular concern must be the result that Marlins’ catcher, Jorge Alfaro, tested positive and catchers are the players most likely to interact with opposing teams at less than the social distancing guidelines for extended periods of time.
  • Somehow, the Marlins became a viral hotspot all their own.  The health and safety protocol can now determine what the Marlins have to do to rid itself of that contagion.  The ability of MLB to identify how that many players came down with the virus will be a test of its ability to do contact tracing,  Moreover the schedules – and maybe the seasons – of the Phillies and/or any of the upcoming opponents of the Phillies might also be altered significantly if MLB cannot find the source of the Marlins’ contagion and it migrates to the Phillies’ clubhouse in a dormant/undetected state for 3 or 4 days..  The restarted season called for 60 games in 65 days; there is not a lot of room for “postponed games”; the Yankees and Phillies have already “spent” one of those off-days.

By the way, the Marlins/Orioles game scheduled for Monday was also canceled to avoid any more spread of the virus to the Orioles roster and because the Marlins might have difficulty fielding a team with 11-14 or more players on the shelf.

  • Memo to MLB:  You may want to test any of the umpires who were on the field with 14 Marlins’ players who have tested positive over the weekend.  If umpires are infected, they can go to their next assigned game and pass on the virus to two other squads.  But you knew that…

There is another COVID-19/MLB note that is less than positive.  Red Sox pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez, previously tested positive for COVID-19 but seemingly had recovered.  I say seemingly because the team shut him down over the weekend because an aftermath of his bout with COVID-19 is a cardiac inflammation.  Myocarditis – the medical name for his condition – can manifest itself with “rapid or abnormal heart rhythms” which in turn can “affect the heart’s ability to pump.”  That sounds to me a whole lot more serious than a respiratory infection – – unless of course that respiratory infection also includes a stay in an ICU facility.

I know that owners and players want seasons to go on for financial reasons.  If I had millions of dollars at stake, I would probably also want to take some risks to get the games into the books. However, the news from last weekend should be a cautionary tale.  COVID-19 is not to be taken lightly.

With all that MLB news as a backdrop, remember that the NBA will restart its season later this week.  It has had players/teams in the “Orlando Bubble” for a while and there have yet to be any positive tests there let alone an outbreak.  However, there is a teeny-tiny potential problem.

  • Lou Williams, guard for the Clippers, will need to sit out a 10-day quarantine because he left the bubble for an “excused absence” but did not abide by safe practices while outside the bubble.
  • Some reports say he went to a strip club in Atlanta – about 400 miles from Orlando; others say he went to get wings; maybe he got the wings at a strip club.  Whatever…
  • Here is the caution; he was able to get out of the bubble with an excuse.  The way the league found out about his “improprieties” was a photo taken by someone and posted on Instagram.  The NBA “Bubble” is entirely dependent on chronologically adult players behaving intelligently should they leave “The Bubble”.  Good luck with that…

I think Lou Williams is the leader in the clubhouse for NBA Meathead of the Year

Finally, Lakers’ center, Dwight Howard, tried to explain why he was stubbornly anti-mask wearing.  He said he was unaware that the coronavirus could be “flying through the air looking for people.”  How might he have thought that 4 million infections in the US managed to happen?

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Strange Things Happening…

I went to Space.com this morning just to check; we are not close to a full moon; the last one was on July 5th and the next one is on August 3rd.  But there are strange doings out there this morning and I thought there might be some sort of lunar influence going on.  It seems to be just garden-variety bizarreness.

It seems that Mike Tyson is serious about returning to the boxing ring and it is not for a 3-round celebrity boxing match to raise money for some worthy cause.  The reports say that it will be an 8-round fight and the opponent will be Roy Jones, Jr.  Mike Tyson is 54 years old; Roy Jones, Jr. is 51 years old.  The fight is scheduled for September 12th in a venue ironically named Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, CA.  The only minor concession to age for the fight is that both men will wear larger gloves than standard boxing gloves.

The California sports body that oversees boxing has been assured by both fighters that they are not going into the fight with the intention to knock out or hurt the opponent.  Somehow, that makes the overseers prone to giving sanction to this exhibition.  For a normal fight, if the two combatants made the same sort of declaration, it might be considered disqualifying.  The only contingency standing in the way for Tyson and Jones is a physical exam for both men that still needs to happen.

Lots of folks associate George Foreman’s name with boxing at an advanced age.  Indeed, Foreman retired permanently from boxing at the age of 46.  Both Tyson and Jones are significantly older than that.  It is difficult to know what to expect for this fight.  The only thing that comes to mind as an analogy is a baseball “old-timers’ game”.  If you have ever seen one, you know that they are fun to watch – – once a year.  So, I have to hope that this fight is not a harbinger of a new concept for boxing…

Another strange event happened late last week when someone asked LaVar Ball a question – or maybe he just threw out a comment because he thought someone had a question in mind for him.  Let us all agree that La Var Ball is no stranger to oddball comments.  Here is the latest of his mental constructs:

  • IF the Golden State Warriors were to draft his youngest son, LaMelo Ball in this year’s NBA Draft, LaVar things that LaMelo should start even though the Warriors backcourt is populated with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
  • When “confronted” with that roster reality, LaVar doubled down on his assertion saying that while it is true that players like Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo came off the bench as rookies, “OK, Michael Jordan didn’t come off the bench.”

Where to start to deal with that analogy?  The best place is to acknowledge that LaVar is factually correct; Michael Jordan did not come off the bench as a rookie in the NBA.  What Michael Jordan brought with him to the NBA, however, was a bit different from the experiences that LaMelo Ball will bring to the NBA.

  • Michael Jordan played 3 years at UNC – winning a national championship there.  He played for a great coach and played against lots of future NBA players.
  • LaMelo Ball has played a bit in a Lithuanian basketball league and for part of a season in an Australian pro league.  I will not pretend to know anything about his time in either league because I acknowledge that I did not see him perform there.  I know nothing about Lithuanian pro basketball; I do recall watching a couple of Australian games back when Andrew Bogut was coming out of that league and became a “draft sensation”.  I remember that I liked Bogut as a player, but I did not see any other players there who looked like NBA prospects.

I do not intend to denigrate LaMelo Ball as a basketball player; he will deservedly be a high draft pick in this year’s NBA Draft to be held in mid-October in this year of strange schedules.  Nonetheless, I think it is way beyond over-the-top to compare him in any way to Michael Jordan at this point in his career.  In fact, the player with whom I would compare him right now is his brother Lonzo Ball.  It appears to me that LaMelo should be a better scorer than Lonzo but that Lonzo is the better distributor/point guard.  That might be a discussion based in reality; comparing LaMelo Ball to Michael Jordan in 2020 is like comparing Pee Wee Herman to Lionel Barrymore.

The other oddball event that relates to the sports world is the reported start of an investigation by the US State Department Inspector General into allegations that the US Ambassador to the UK, Woody Johnson, made racist and sexist remarks in the course of his duties as Ambassador.  The reason this has anything to do with sports is that Woody Johnson is the majority owner of the NY Jets.  This report from CNN.com will fill you in on the background to this story if you are interested.

I can picture the scene in Roger Goodell’s office when a staff member gives him the “breaking news” on this story.  In my imagination, Goodell reaches into his desk and takes out a ball peen hammer and begins to pound it into his forehead.  After doing that a few times the staffer asks The Commish why he is doing that to which Roger Goodell replies:

“Because it feels good when I stop.”

The NFL does not need another allegation of sexism involving one of its owners any more than a drowning man needs a cinder block.  The league had to rid itself of Jerry Richardson over similar issues about 2 years ago; in the last two weeks, the Washington WTFs were the focus of stories pertaining to sexual harassment and a toxic work culture for women in its front office.  Now this…

Obviously, I have no way to predict the outcome(s) of the State Department Inspector General’s investigation.  From reading several reports of the ambassador’s behavior and remarks, they are “off-center” at the very least and – as one person supposedly characterized his remarks about women in the embassy – close to “cringeworthy”.

Then again, learning about sexist remarks from a person named Woody Johnson ought not to be that shocking…

Finally, since I mentioned the maelstrom that is the front office of the Washington WTFs, let me close today with this observation by Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Just asking: Why was it treated as sorta big news that Ron Rivera said he has ‘no regrets’ about taking the Washington job? What did we expect him to say? Snyder’s money still spends.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Major League Baseball And “The Washington WTFs”

MLB returned to action last night and COVID-19 made an immediate impression.  The ESPN crew doing the Nats/Yankees game introduced themselves from an ESPN studio and not from the press box.  Only because of the ongoing pandemic could this situation ever obtain; in days of yore, reporters could have been fired for “covering a game” by watching it on television.  Change is everywhere…

There is a baseball change for this year that I hope does not catch on as a “good idea”.  The baseball playoffs will be expanded to 16 teams this year – 8 from each league.  For years, baseball had one postseason event – the World Series.  Then they added a wild card team to the postseason and then came division winners.  This year more than half of the MLB teams will be in the playoffs leading up to the World Series.

  • Sorry, that is too much of a not-so-good thing.

One “change issue” remains to be resolved.  There is a team in MLB without a home.  The Blue Jays cannot play in Toronto because of travel restrictions between Canada and the US due to the pandemic.  It looked as if the Blue Jays were going to call Pittsburgh’s PNC Park home for 2020, but somehow that ran afoul of regulators/government officials in Pennsylvania.  [Aside:  I would have thought that MLB and the folks who run the Jays would have had that sort of approval in their back pockets even before broaching the subject with the “PNC Park people”.]

The Jays’ first “home game” is scheduled for 29 July.  Stay tuned…

The Nats’ Juan Soto was not in the lineup last night because he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the day.  According to MLB protocol, he must now quarantine for a minimum of 10 days and then produce two negative COVID-19 tests before he can be in a game.  That news stands in contrast with the NBA experience in the “Orlando Bubble” where there have been no positive tests to date.  MLB is not an entity that would fit neatly into any imaginable “Bubble Environment”; there are too many players on the teams to make that work and the fields needed to pull off the games are too large to be squeezed into a single complex.  Basketball courts are far more amenable to such clustering of venues.

I mention this because the NFL should be paying strict attention.  MLB is the operating model for the NFL; there is no “Bubble”; players will need to be living in the community and traveling from city to city.  Baseball has recorded several positive virus tests along the way; MLB is trying to contain a viral spread where the number of infected players at the outset of the season is relatively small.  Meanwhile, the NFLPA announced earlier this week that 95 NFL players have tested positive for COVID-19 and that number is up from 72 players with positive tests on July 10.  That increase is a bit more than 30% over a two-week time span – – and training camps have not yet begun.

As I understand it, this is the NFL testing protocol for training camp:

  • Players will be tested daily for COVID-19 for at least the first two weeks of training camp.  So will “team personnel with close access” to the players.
  • If at the end of two weeks, the positivity rate falls below 5% of everyone in the testing universe, tests would then be administered every other day.
  • If the positivity rate does not fall below 5%, tests would continue to be done every day until that positivity rate does fall below 5%.
  • [Don’t know what happens if the positivity rate never falls below 5%.]

MLB had some positive on-field news from yesterday.  Mookie Betts signed a humongous long-term deal with the Dodgers; the terms are reported to be 12 years and $365M starting next year.  Betts will be 28 when the new contract kicks in next year and he will play under that contract until he is 40 years old.  Obviously, the folks who make the financial decisions for the Dodgers do not see a future where COVID-19 puts a lasting economic wet blanket on MLB teams.

It seems as if we cannot go a day without having something strange emanate from the inner workings of the currently nameless Washington NFL franchise.  In fact, yesterday brought two such emanations:

  1. The team announced that it will refer to itself as the “Washington Football Team” for 2020 as it makes its final decision and secures the proper trademark rights.  Please note that it takes only the most minor rearrangement of the first letters of that team name to arrive at “WTF”.  Not such a bad fit for that acronym and that that team owner either…
  2. The Fritz Pollard Alliance took exception to the hiring processes by which the “WTFs” (sorry, I cannot resist that.) filled some of the vacancies created by the dismissal of folks in the wake of the exposure of sexual harassment allegations within the organization.  The Alliance questions if the team complied with league rules as they relate to interviews for minority candidates to fill certain front office jobs.

Normally, I agree with positions taken by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, but in this case, I wonder if this is a fight worth having.  Anyone who has read these rants for more than a month knows that I am anything but an apologist for the Washington WTFs, but when I look at the recent hiring decisions, I do not see an organization mired in “good-old-boy” practices.

  • Ron Rivera was hired as head coach in January.  He is a man of Hispanic heritage.
  • Julie Donaldson was hired to replace Larry Michael as VP for Media Content (whatever that job is).  She is a woman.
  • Eric Stokes was hired as the Director of Pro Scouting replacing Alex Santos.  He is an African-American.
  • Jeff Scott was promoted internally as the Assistant Director of Pro Scouting replacing Richard Mann II.  He is an African-American.

If the substantive goal here is diversity and career development for women and minorities, it would seem that whatever process may have been in use here produced a positive result.  The raising of an issue here by the Fritz Pollard Alliance seems petty to me – – and that is not the history of the Fritz Pollard Alliance.  There must be more to this than is obvious at the moment.

Finally, Bob Molinaro had this  comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot recently related to the Washington WTFs:

Wondering: Why is Ron Rivera, who has been with the team for about 20 minutes, deeply involved in finding a new name? As if he doesn’t have enough to do. Who is running the operation? But that’s a question fans of the team have been asking for years.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Looking Ahead To The NBA Restart…

I have recommended Sally Jenkins’ columns many times in the history of these rants.  Her latest column in the Washington Post from yesterday is excellent; you can find it here.  The main message is that the NFL has known that Danny Boy Snyder is a hot mess as an owner; and therefore, the NFL owns a piece of the current sexual harassment mess.  Let me give you one paragraph from the middle of the column to whet your appetite:

“Roger Goodell and Snyder’s fellow owners know exactly who and what Snyder is from league meetings. He operates with a combination of panting twerpism, incurable nastiness, and wormy duplicity, throwing human shields and checkbooks in front of him to absorb the blast injuries caused by his behavior.”

Yesterday, I anticipated the start of the 2020 MLB season that will happen here in DC in the evening.  Soon after that emergence, the NBA will re-emerge from its season-interruptus with a two-week finish to the regular season followed by the playoffs.  The teams are now in a bubble in Orlando and will remain there so long as the teams continue to play.  Games will be in empty arenas which will make for interesting TV.  A reader sent me an e-mail yesterday reminding me that basketball shoes make a lot of noise on a basketball floor; that noise is hidden for the most part by crowd noise at a “normal” NBA game but that it will be very noticeable in an empty arena.  I agree; it will be a different experience.

There is also the possibility that the networks will need to put in a short delay on the telecasts.  Without a crowd, it is more than merely possible that commentary between and among the players will be “loud and clear”.  Let us just say that all such verbal exchanges are not aligned with “G-Rated” or even “PG-Rated” television.  Once again, the normal crowd noise would tend to drown out such language.

Several folks have asked me over the past month or so why the NBA went to such lengths to concoct a partial ending to its “regular season” and why they did not just take the playoff eligible teams and start the playoffs from the beginning.  It should not be a huge shock for anyone to learn that the answer is money.

  • NBA teams have local TV contracts in addition to the national TV deals that the league negotiates with the networks.  Most of those local contracts have a clause in there that requires the individual team to provide the network with a minimum of 70 regular season games to put on the air.
  • When the NBA pulled the plug on the original schedule for its games, teams had played between 65 and 67 games.  Almost all the teams would have lost plenty of money on those local TV deals.  But with the addition of some more “regular season games”…

The question then becomes, why not let every team “finish its season”.  I think logistics gets in the way of that one.  The NBA wants to begin its playoffs by mid August – – again for financial reasons:

  • The NBA does not want to have to go up against MLB’s World Series and NFL regular season games (assuming both take place). That could depress TV ratings significantly and that is not a financial plus.
  • That means keeping the playoffs contained to September and early October.
  • As it stands now with some teams “eliminated” from play, the schedule in the bubble is crammed with games such that the regular season ends on August 14.  Some days will see 7 games played in the 3 gyms available for play.  The “early game” will start at 1:00 PM EDT and the “late game” will tip off at 9:00 PM.  Imagine trying to squeeze another 50 games or so with those sorts of schedule/deadline/facility constraints.

The players and the league may not agree on everything, but they do seem united on one topic where they are engaged in preemptive conditioning.  Both the league and the players assert that whoever wins the 2020 NBA Championship should not have an asterisk placed next to their accomplishment. The “party line” is that winning the title this year will be much more difficult a task than winning it in a normal season.  [Aside:  That is a dumb stance to take from a PR point of view.  In future years, it is unlikely that the league will have to do what it did back in March.  So, therefore, all future NBA Champions will have done something easier than this year’s champion?  All future champs are chumps by comparison?  How dumb is that?]  Players, coaches and even The Commish are championing that line of reasoning.

Lest you think I am exaggerating the “party line” here, consider these remarks from Clippers’ coach, Doc Rivers:

“Whoever comes out of this, it’s going to come down to mental toughness.  There’s going to be so many things thrown at us that we don’t even know yet.  I’ll use the Navy SEALs as an example.  They get deployed and don’t know the situation.  They don’t know when exactly they’re going, but they keep preparing so that they’re ready when called upon.  The way I look at it, our situation is like that.  I feel like we’re going to be deployed for a mission in Orlando and we have to have great mental toughness to finish it.”

Normally, I pay a lot of attention to what Doc Rivers has to say, but that sort of rhetoric is a bit over the top for me.

Finally, for those who plan to tune in to the Nationals/Yankees game to inaugurate the 2020 MLB season, there is good news and bad news:

  • Good News:  The Nationals’ tradition of the “racing Presidents” will continue to happen “albeit in altered form” – – whatever that means.
  • Bad News:  The Nats’ bald eagle mascot, Screech, will not be present for any of the Nats’ home games this season.

Or … do I have the good news and bad news reversed?

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Baseball Is Back

At 7:00 PM EDT tomorrow, MLB will do what it normally does in the early Spring.  The MLB regular season will begin with a game between the Yankees and the Nationals here in DC.  The composite schedule calls for a total of 900 games to be played between tomorrow and September 27th; as much as those games will represent competition between the two teams on the same field, the progress of the season itself represents a competition between MLB and COVID-19.  MLB will not try to be  “Bubble Sport”; it will play its games in each team’s home stadium – save for the Blue Jays who cannot travel back and forth to Canada under current travel restrictions.  The most noticeable concession MLB has made to COVID-19 to date is that there will be no fans in the stands.

[Aside:  The NFL plans to follow a similar scheduling/playing mode starting in September.  I would think that NFL officials will be watching what happens and how MLB reacts to whatever happens over the next 6 weeks.  There could be some lessons to be learned…]

At the start of this abbreviated MLB season, rosters will be expanded to 30 players for the first two weeks; then teams will have to cut down to 28 players for two more weeks and ultimately finish the season with a 26-man roster.  This modification is based on the idea that players had a vastly different version of “Spring Training” this year and the expanded rosters will allow teams/players to ease into the grind of regular games.  [Aside:  The season is 60 games long played in a stretch of 65 days.  There are not a lot of “days off”.]  However, expanded rosters might affect the conduct of the games themselves – especially for “creative managers”.

Last year, lots of teams carried 13 pitchers on a 25-man roster.  That meant the manager had 4 position players on the bench with one of those players being the “emergency catcher”.  That situation did not leave a lot of room for “maneuvering”; pinch runners became an endangered species.  With rosters expanded, those sorts of things could make a comeback in 2020 – – so long as teams choose not to carry 17 or 18 pitchers.

And that is an alteration to “normal baseball” we might see in 2020.  With even more pitching arms on the bench and in the bullpen, we might see a parade of relief pitchers even in early innings and starters rarely going longer than 5 innings.  If the relievers happen between innings, that should not be a big deal – save for fantasy league managers – but if they happen during innings, it will slow the game down significantly.  No one needs that to happen.

The presence of the DH in the all games this year is not something I look forward to, but it is going to happen, so I need to get  used to it.  I think that rule is a boon to the Chicago Cubs who will be able to use Kyle Schwarber as their DH on days when he is not in the field.  Getting him into games where he need not wear a glove is a plus.

To the fan tuning in to games on TV, they should expect changes – and not all of them will be positive ones.  National telecasts are going to have “piped in crowd noise”.  Supporters of this “innovation” say it adds to the ambience of the game and that it is really no different that what baseball did back in the early days of radio with its “reconstructed games”.  Personally, I do not think it adds to the ambience; it certainly does not add to it in English Premier League telecasts that I have watched.  Moreover, there is a fundamental difference between listening to a game on the radio and watching it on TV.

  • On radio, the entire experience is an imaginary one constructed in the mind of the listener.
  • On TV, anyone with eyesight better than Stevie Wonder will be able to figure out that the “absent fans” in the stadium are not making that noise (s)he is hearing.

There is an even more pernicious possibility open to TV producers for games this season.  In any 3-hour telecast of baseball game, tens of minutes are devoted to “crowd shots” notwithstanding the fact that 99% of the crowd shots are of no known value.  What will those creative producers do this year with no fans to show?  Well, every network has a ton of crowd shots in their “video vaults”.  Would you put it past those producers to dip into those annals as a way to “spice things up” and “keep things going” during games this year?  I hope they do not succumb to this temptation – -but I am not sure…

Forget all the possible ways that the MLB season or the telecasts of its games might fly headlong into a cliff face; the season is going to start tomorrow and here is proof positive that it is going to happen.  On CBSSports.com this morning, there is a story under this headline:

  • 20 Bold Predictions for MLB season

Most of the time, “Bold Prediction” equates to “Wild Guess” or “Statistical Oddity” from the past that is projected onto the present.  If you are interested in such stuff you can find it here.  I thought a couple of the “Bold Predictions” were interesting:

  • The baseball will be even more juiced in 2020 than it was in 2019.
  • Khris Davis will hit .247 in 2020.  [He hit .247 in three of the past four years.]
  • Shohei Otani will be the Angels’ best player.
  • Kris Bryant will be traded – – to the Phillies
  • Both World Series teams from last year will miss the playoffs in 2020
  • The Dodgers will win the 2020 World Series.

Finally, Brewers’ first  baseman, Logan Morrison, had this response to a question about what it would be like to play games in empty stadiums:

“It’s not going to be that difficult. I played with the Rays and Marlins.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

 

 

Strange Stuff Today …

There is a report in the Orlando Sentinel that the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) voted to start the high school football season and the girls’ volleyball season on time this Fall.  The leaders of the FHSAA ignored the recommendation(s) of its own Sports Medicine Advisory Committee as it took that action.  The chairwoman of that advisory committee is a physician with the Mayo Clinic in Jax; here is her statement:

“It is our stance that return to competition for the high-risk sports of football and volleyball is not medically safe.”

It may be difficult, but please put aside any political leanings you might have regarding COVID-19 and state mandates regarding personal behaviors.  In addition, please remember that I am rooting for a return of football this Fall; I want that to happen.  Having said that, this action by the FHSAA makes no sense.

  • Right now, in the State of Florida, the community spread of COVID-19 is as bad as it is anywhere in the US.
  • Certain counties in southern Florida report that they can count the number of vacant ICU beds on two hands with fingers left over.

The question here is simple:

  • Why does the FHSAA bother to have a Sports Medicine Advisory Committee?

In another corner of the football universe, there have been recent comments from LSU coach, Ed Orgeron, that fall somewhere between “wishful thinking” and “magical thinking”.  Here is a smattering of what he supposedly said:

“We need football.  Football is the lifeblood of our country.”  [Coach, I love football; it ain’t the lifeblood of our country.]

“Whether we start Sept. 5 or a little after that; in-conference, out of conference, that doesn’t bother me. I do know this; I believe we’re going to play.”   [Coach, I really hope you are right.  I hope just as fervently that your concerns for the health of the players on your team and your opponents’ teams is as strong as your obvious love for football.]

For the last 5 years, the Buffalo Bills have played their home games in New Era Field; the naming rights belonged to the New Era Cap company in Buffalo.  The company now wants out of that deal – not for reasons similar in any way to the reasons that FedEx threatened to take its name off the Washington stadium – and so there is a “naming rights opportunity” out there for the taking.  The Tushy Bidet company – – its goal is to Tushify every bathroom in the US – – has said it would be interested in putting its name on the stadium and that it would try to bring a college football bowl game there and call it the Toilet Bowl.

Greg Cote of the Miami Herald summarized this tidbit and hit all the low notes:

“The Buffalo Bills’ stadium needs a new name sponsor, and a bidet company called Tushy is bidding. Decorum prevents us from noting that Tushy Stadium sounds like a pretty crappy name.”

I have one last item today and it is something I have mentioned before.  The reporters who cover golf should be ashamed of themselves; they are not reporting on the sport and their writing is not nearly close enough to “deathless prose” to mitigate their poor and subjective reporting.  Far too many golf reporters spend far too much time in an obsequious posture at the feet of Tiger Woods.  That unprofessional nonsense was in full display over the weekend and yesterday.

In last week’s tournament Tiger Woods finished 15 strokes behind the tournament winner.  He finished in a 4-way tie with 3 other golfers whose names happen to be:

  • Scott Harrington
  • Marc Leishman
  • Ryan Moore

I list their names here because the reporting on the tournament ignored them even though their performance was as relevant to the tournament outcome as was Woods’.  That is the polite way of saying that all four of them finished – – in racetrack parlance – – up the track.

However, Tiger Woods got a ton of coverage that was irrelevant to the outcome.  Here is a headline from CBSSports.com on Monday morning:

  • Improvement comes Sunday as Woods closes 2020 Memorial Tournament on high note

For someone like me who did not watch the tournament live on TV the day before, the implication here is that Woods rallied in the final round but that he started the day so far off the lead that he could not win the tournament.  So, I clicked on the headline and found this to be Paragraph #1:

“Tiger Woods ended his 2020 Memorial Tournament with a 76, which sounds terrible until you compare it to what the rest of the field is doing. Woods’ 76 was exactly the field average at the time he finished on a Muirfield Village course that was playing 4 over in major championship-like conditions.”

And you think that political campaign managers spin the news?

  1. The course did not play 4-over at the end of the day because the players who were playing well over the weekend finished after Woods was in the clubhouse.
  2. Woods also shot a 76 on Friday – – when the course was playing “normally”.  Forty golfers who made the cut shot under par on Friday – if I counted correctly.
  3. Thirty-nine golfers finished ahead of Woods – and the other three golfers who finished at +6 for the tournament.  That ended the tournament on a “high note”?

That kind of “reporting” is shameful; it is not journalism; it is close to idolatry; it is time for it to stop.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this golf-related item in the Seattle Times recently.  I suspect the golf writers of the day did not report fully on these events either:

“David Feherty says his finest moment in golf came at St. Andrews, where ‘I captained the Irish side that won the 3-man world championship back in 1990 in a blind hangover. I threw up twice on the course.’

“Which certainly gives the golf term ‘up and down’ a whole new meaning.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports