Rest In Peace, John Thompson, Jr.

John Thompson, Jr. died last weekend at the age of 78.  Most people know him for his accomplishments as the head coach at Georgetown; before that, he was an All-American player at Providence and a “bench warmer” – – behind Bill Russell on the Celtics.  I cannot pretend to have known Coach Thompson, but I did meet him and spoke with him more than a few times in the mid-to-late 1970s as he was in the process of establishing Georgetown as a basketball program on the national level.  I always found him to be insightful even though his view of various things was very different from the norm.  He was a physically large and imposing man; he was also gentle and warm.

Rest in peace, Coach Thompson…

About a week ago, the NY Times carried a story that was a one-off in the sports section and it did not get any follow-on reporting or commentary that I could find in other areas of the news media.  The story related to the arrest and charging of Pats’ owner, Robert Kraft, with solicitation of prostitution in February 2019 at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida.  The report in the Timeslinked here – says that a 3-judge panel in the Florida appeals court unanimously upheld a previous ruling by a lower court throwing out the evidence against Kraft because the process by which it was collected violated his Fourth Amendment rights.  Here is what the Fourth Amendment says:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In the “Orchids of Asia caper”, the evidence was collected by a warrant duly issued – – but the ruling is that the basis for the warrant was misrepresented to the judge that issued the warrant.  Kraft’s attorneys have issued the not-unexpected statement that this ruling not only ends the case against their client – – subject to an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court that may come later – – but that it is a foundational decision protecting all citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights blah, blah blah…

I do not read minds, but I suspect that Robert Kraft will be more than happy to be done with this matter as will the NFL at large.  However, it would not aggravate me in the slightest if Kraft also chooses to file a defamation of character suit against everyone involved in the misrepresentation of what was going on in that spa.  After the arrest, news headlines said that the investigation went beyond prostitution and that it was part of an operation against sex-trafficking.  Robert Kraft was charged along with more than 20 other men in this case; none of those charges involved sex-trafficking.  No one else was ever charged with sex-trafficking.  And yet, those sorts of issues are associated with Robert Kraft improperly because various officials in Florida misrepresented them.

Robert Kraft is clearly a public figure and the odds of a public figure winning a defamation suit are long odds indeed.  Moreover, filing such an action would dredge up unseemly reports about his behavior and he needs that like a third nostril.  Nonetheless, there is no real penalty to be assessed against those folks who exaggerated the severity of what was ongoing there.  Perhaps this case taught some of those folks what the Fourth Amendment limitations on their investigations are; I do not see that there is any comparable lesson here about exaggeration and misrepresentation of the severity of the actions of an accused person.

Moving on …  Sometimes, I can garner what I believe to be all I need to know about a subject from a brief comment.  Here are two examples:

“The three-week Tour de France is underway. It was more fun when all the bike tires were being punctured because discarded steroid needles were everywhere.”  [Greg Cote, Miami Herald]

And …

Quick hit: If Usain Bolt can’t outrun the coronavirus without a mask, nobody can.”  [Bob Molinaro, Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot]

There is useless and then there is uselessUntil now, I had always considered things like the Associated Press pre-season college football polls – the ones for the teams and the ones for which players will be named All-America at the end of the season – as useless.  As of this morning I would like to place them firmly and irrevocably in the category of USELESSHere is a link to the AP Top 25 pre-season poll for 2020; 40% of the teams listed here will not play college football this year.  Seriously…

Imagine if for some bizarre reason I wanted to list the 10 best steaks ever eaten and somewhere in the middle of the list I put “Mastodon Sirloin”.  Given that mastodons have been extinct for about 10,000 years, you would not have any way to know if that entry on my list has any basis in reality.  Moreover, the entry there should make you think that my list is useless and/or that I, as the creator of the list, am as dumb as a stove bolt.

So much for the 2020 AP Top 25 pre-season college football poll…

Finally, The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm provides a definition for something that many folks consider to be an utterly useless item:

Fruitcake:  A gift given to you last year by people who shrewdly anticipated your needing a doorstop this Christmas.”

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



More “WTF” From the Washington WTFs

Shoe number two just dropped.  It is not surprising that it dropped; it is a bit surprising what a thud it produced.  I refer to the Washington Football Team – the WTFs – and the revelations of the disgusting workplace conditions there for female employees and interns.  Let me do a quick reset here:

  • About a month ago, the Washington Post exposed a “toxic culture” within the team organization for women.  Seventeen former employees told a variety of stories of sexual harassment and sleazy working conditions.
  • The team did not deny those reports.  Two people in the scouting department were fired; the radio/TV voice of the team “retired” the day before the story broke; the team hired an outside law firm to “investigate” and recommend ways to change the culture.
  • Importantly at the time, none of the allegations involved players, coaches or team owner, Daniel Snyder.

Yesterday, new allegations were reported.  An additional twenty-five women have come forward with stories of their own.  The previous allegations were sleazy and slimy; the current ones are substantially worse.  Moreover, the new allegations do involve team owner, Daniel Snyder.

There are two of the new allegations that I find more repugnant that the others:

  1. Allegedly, Daniel Snyder suggested to one of the team’s former cheerleaders that she should go to a hotel room so that she and the team ophthalmologist – a longtime friend of Snyder’s – could get to know one another better.
  2. Allegedly, there were “secret videos” taken at a photo shoot for the team’s cheerleader calendar about 10 years ago that focused on naked body parts for the cheerleaders.  Then, the team’s senior VP for Communications had a video created that contained all the “good bits”.  The allegation goes on to say that the creation of the video was intended to go to Daniel Snyder.  [The Washington Post has a copy of that video which the former VP for Communications says does not exist.]

Here is the link to the report in the Washington Post; it will add to the two points above and introduce more slime to the story.  I encourage you to take the time to read this reporting; it is impressive reporting; if only half of it is provable, the situation inside team HQs for the past two decades has been outrageous.

After you finish reading that report, get yourself a cup of coffee and follow this link to read what Sally Jenkins wrote in the Post regarding these latest revelations.  Here is the opening sentence from her column; it is not a mystery what her vector heading is:

“This is what the NFL gets for not scraping Daniel Snyder off its shoe before now.”

When the first exposé hit the streets, many frustrated Washington fans thought that this would force Snyder to sell the team – – a condition that many fans here have wished for over the last decade and a half.  I said then that without any direct link to Snyder, the league would not be likely to force a sale even with the precedent of Jerry Richardson and the Carolina Panthers on the books.  Given the second shoe that dropped this week, that dynamic could change dramatically.  If it turns out that these new allegations can be proven, the reaction to date from the NFL via Roger Goodell will be insufficient.  Here is how Goodell described the new allegations in a statement yesterday:

“… unprofessional, disturbing and abhorrent…”

Ever since these rants have begun to appear on the Internet almost 20 years ago, I have had little good to say about Danny Boy Snyder.  However, until now, my “problems” with him have dealt with his hubris related to his knowledge of football and his entitlement and his perception of his exalted social stature.  Hubris is an annoying characteristic and it is not difficult to be averse to someone exhibiting hubris.  The allegations from earlier this week, however, make hubris look like the perfect way to make friends and influence people.  [Hat Tip to Dale Carnegie there.]

I find behavior that nudges up against “pimping out one of your employees to a friend” a lot more revolting than hubris.  I find the existence of a video that smacks of “Peeping Tom” a lot more revolting than hubris.  If the outside law firm investigating workplace conditions for the team corroborates these allegations, then I think Sally Jenkins is spot on in her description that the NFL will have to scrape Daniel Snyder off its shoe.  Stay tuned; this story is not going away quietly…

Lost in the much bigger NBA news related to the player walkout is a tidbit that would normally have sent a lot of reporters scurrying for inside info.  After being swept in the opening round of the NBA playoffs, the Indiana Pacers fired coach Nate McMillan.  No big deal, you say; that happened to Brett Brown in Philly too.  Here is the kicker:

  • Two weeks ago, the Indiana Pacers gave McMillan a one-year contract extension.

Nate McMillan has been the head coach in Indiana for four seasons; his teams have made the playoffs in each of those four seasons.  His overall record in Indiana is 183 – 136.  That is a winning percentage of .574 and all four of his teams had winning records during his regime.  Two weeks ago, he was worthy of a contract extension through the end of the 2021/2022 season; and then, earlier this week he was fired.  I do not pretend to know how all that squares up, and I have no place to send you for an explanation right now because that story has been buried by the player walkout.  C’est la vie…

Finally, the events of the last couple of days – player walkouts, sleazy allegations about the Washington Football Team and the strange firing of a coach – made me stop and think about what might be next.  That reminded me of an observation by the French philosopher, Paul Valery, that I came across while fulfilling my foreign language requirement in my sophomore year in college:

“The trouble with our times is that the future is not what it used to be.”

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



The NBA Players Walk Out

Yesterday, I wrote about declining NBA TV ratings and potential reductions in broadcasting rights fees that might come from those declines if they are not reversed.  I had NO foreknowledge of the NBA players’ choices to refuse to play their playoff games last night when I wrote what I did; now that I know what transpired last night, I am concerned by the idea of a “players meeting” with the stated objective of “determining the next steps”.

Let me get three things out of the way from the beginning so that there can be no misunderstanding:

  1. The shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI that is the foundation of the current protest and “walkout” by NBA, WNBA and MLB players is a horrific event.
  2. The perpetrator should be arrested charged and tried – – and if convicted – – should be punished to the maximum extent provided by the law.
  3. It stretches one’s imagination to conceive of a justifiable reason for any person to shoot another person in the back seven times; that stretch of the imagination goes beyond the strength of the warp and woof of the universe.

I presume that anyone who reads further into this rant understands my revulsion related to the events in Kenosha, WI this week.  If anyone might be unclear on that point, please go back and read those statements again; there are no mitigating adjectives and adverbs in there.

Now comes the time to consider the pragmatic realities that professional athletes must recognize as they demonstrate their revulsion to the events that cause my revulsion.  Here is some of that reality:

  • I write these rants 5 days a week because I find it fun and challenging to do so.  I do not derive a nickel from any of them.  There is no way that the existence of these rants in this backwater eddy of the Internet will confer any sort of “celebrity status” on me.  My writing here is my way of consuming time in my retirement years and a critical element in my continued pursuit of ways to avoid driving my long-suffering wife teaspoons.
  • It does not matter even a little bit to me if the NBA playoffs take a night off – – or take the rest of the season off.
  • For the NBA players, such indifference is hardly the case.  If they take a night off as a symbolic gesture, the NBA can find a way to adapt its schedule – and the TV networks will get over their hastily mandated scramble to fill the air time vacated by playoff games that were boycotted.
  • However, if they decide to double down on their efforts to be “social justice leaders” and refuse to play the rest of the NBA playoffs – – if that is the outcome of “determining the next steps” – – then the NBA players are playing “You Bet Your Career” and the NBA may be playing “You Bet Your Existence” very soon.

According to reports, two NBA teams – – Lakers and Clippers – – have pushed to end this year’s NBA season.  No other teams supported that position, but it appears as if Thursday’s NBA scheduled playoff games will also need to be “postponed”.  I believe the players here are walking a very fine line.

There are economic ramifications here:

  • The NBA playoffs present the league with approximately $1B of the $2.7B that the league collects for TV rights.  Cutting the playoffs off in the early stages will not make the “broadcast partners” happy.
  • As reported yesterday, TV ratings for NBA games are down significantly.  Add to that fact, all the TV networks are financially strapped.  Any cancellation here costs the networks the ad revenues they have already sold; any cancellation here will cost the NBA some of the current – and potentially some of the future – TV revenue for its broadcast rights.

Players who make millions of dollars a year “to play a child’s game” and then walk off that job will not make friends with many NBA fans who may be out of work and scraping to keep their lives together in the days of COVID-19.  Those fans are the eyeballs in front of the TV sets that provide the money to fund those multi-million dollar guaranteed contracts.  Not only might the players risk their financial status here, they can risk losing their “platform” or their “influencer status” if they lose the support of the “fans on the street”.

The players in the NBA – – and in other leagues that have leaned toward supporting the players in the NBA – – are adults and they can and should make their life decisions for themselves.  I am in no way interested in trying to alter whatever course(s) of action they find to be appropriate for them in this matter.  AND, because they are adults, they will need to face and endure any consequences that may come from whatever actions they choose to take.  If the Lakers’ and the Clippers’ players carry on and refuse to play in any future games this year and if the NBA playoffs continue without them, then those players will need to shoulder any and all of the economic and social consequences that come to them.  What will not be tolerable will be for any of those players to try to paint themselves as “victims” in this matter’ they are doing whatever they do by choice – – and by the fact that they have the economic wherewithal to make such choices for themselves.

  • The ONLY victim here is Jacob Blake.

Please recall that I said above that the perpetrator of that shooting should be “arrested charged and tried – – and if convicted – – should be punished to the maximum extent provided by the law.”  I stand by those words and I presume that every concerned NBA player would not disapprove of that position.  Now I have something dark to say:

  • Even if the maximum penalty is assessed here after a conviction of the murderer of Jacob Blake, these sorts of incidents will not stop overnight.
  • Even if the NBA players cancel the rest of this season and sit out all next season, these sorts of incidents will not stop overnight.

Several reporters this morning have characterized the walkout as the players sending a strong message that the social conditions in the US need to change.  I agree the players have sent a message and I agree that social conditions in the US need to change; but sending a message only begins the process of change.  First that message must be received; then it must be understood; then it must be acknowledged as valid; then it can – not will but can – spark change.

  1. The message has been sent.
  2. I think most folks understand the message, but some will deny understanding and try to deflect any explanation of the message to other issues.
  3. Sadly, I think there are too many folks who are not convinced of the validity of the message; and to make things worse there, I am not sure they will see a walkout by millionaire athletes as a reason for them to accept the validity of the message.  For many folks in this category, the linkage between an NBA walkout and the social issues here is tenuous at best.
  4. Change may begin to happen in areas where the first three of these milestones have been accepted and perhaps those changes can spark progress in stagnant communities in the US to move along this path to identify with and to act on the message that has been sent.

And that takes us back to the players.  A symbolic strike and a blizzard of Tweeting gathers attention.  But a symbolic strike and a blizzard of Tweeting will not create the momentum necessary to achieve the change sought by that Tweetstorm.  The need now is for people – – fans and also observers who are not NBA fans – – to see action(s) by players that move things closer to the goal of the sent message.  Actions – – not photo ops.  Actions – – not one-off donations to an NGO.  Actions – – not an Instagram video.

The players have the spotlight; they have the microphone in hand and the cameras are turned on and recording.  It is time for them to lead.  I hope that is what the players meant last night when they called their meeting to determine “the next steps”.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a civil rights movement that accomplished many important things.  He led with words and symbolic gestures – – and then he led with repeated and consistent actions over the course of time; and it was the actions that forced the changes.

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



Sports Media Today …

ESPN Radio has a new voice in the morning.  For what seemed like forever – actually, it was merely 17 years – Mike and Mike in the Morning was on the air.  Several years ago, ESPN moved Mike Greenberg to TV and the radio side morphed into Golic and Wingo.  There was always an element of lightness and humor with Mike and Mike that never seemed to take root on Golic and Wingo; the humor and banter there always sounded a bit forced to me.  Nevertheless, the ESPN morning radio offering was always my choice here in the DC area because the other two options have always been tedious.

The change at ESPN Radio now has three folks on the air in the morning.  They are Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti.  They have been on the air only a week and a half so there is plenty of time – and room – for growth.  The show’s producers seem to be using the leverage of ESPN to get top-shelf guests for the interview segments.  I have heard from Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari, Tyson Fury and Ken Burns during my moments of drop-in listening; that is impressive for less than two weeks on the air.

What needs to develop – in my mind – is a more natural conversational tone to the program.  For most programs of this kind, that sort of tone takes a while to evolve.  The exception to this rule would be Pardon the Interruption where Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon had worked together and been friends for 20 years or so before they ever hit the airwaves.  So far, the new morning show is promising…

There is another aspect of sports media that is not nearly as promising, and it is a bit confusing.  The NBA TV ratings are down – and down significantly.  Yes, they are undergoing a “season-interruptus”; that has sort of happened before because of labor squabbles; today, the ratings are down much more than they were then, and the trend is negative.  Consider:

  • Games of the Week this year (ABC) averaged less than 3 million viewers per game.
  • Ratings were down on every network that carried NBA telecasts by at least 20%.

For perspective, recall that several years ago lots of folks were focused on the cratering television viewership for NFL games.  People opined that it was the Presidential election of 2016 that drew attention away from the NFL but that there were organic problems with the league involving things like CTE and kneeling for the Anthem.  As all of that played out, the average game audience dropped to 14.9 million viewers per game – about 5 times more than this year’s NBA audience.  Last year, the NFL audience rebounded from that low point and for 2019 the average audience was 16.5 million souls.

Putting the NBA numbers for this year’s regular season in another perspective, the TV audience for XFL 2.0 was about 1.5 million viewers per game.  The NBA – one of the top-shelf sports broadcasting properties in the US – had audiences about double the reconstructed XFL.

This is not good news for the NBA for more reasons than the raw numbers:

  • The NBA playoff games in “the bubble” have been good ones.  New stars are emerging like Damian Lillard, Jamal Murray, Donovan Mitchell and Luka Doncic; Anthony Davis’s game has blossomed and Kawhi Leonard just keeps getting  better.
  • There is not of sports competition on TV at this time; the NFL will not start for another couple of weeks and the MLB playoffs will not happen for another month.
  • But the audience is not soaring even under those conditions.

Here are some things that would worry me if I were someone “on the business side” in the NBA:

  • NBA regular season games have lost their TV luster.  Too small a percentage of those 1230 regular season games are consequential and even hard-core NBA fans recognize this.
  • The NBA has grown and developed by marketing its stars.  That has been a successful business model for the league.  Now, the stars have chosen to concentrate themselves on “super-teams”.  That makes the “less-than-super-teams” much less interesting and makes more of the regular season games inconsequential.
  • The existence of the “super-teams” diminishes interest in areas where there is no “super-team”.  When the regular season began in 2019, did any rational fans of the Timberwolves, Pistons, Bulls, Knicks, Cavaliers or Hawks think their teams had a chance to be champions this year?  How about win 30 games out of 82?  Because those teams are out of it from the start, the league has fewer teams to choose from to showcase on national TV games – and watching the same teams all the time becomes less interesting as the season goes on.
  • When the league schedules a TV game that seems consequential and fans tune in to see it, there is always the possibility that one or more of the star players who make the game consequential will be sitting on the bench “managing load”.  Of course, players need to care for their bodies; no one can argue with that.  However, that does not help with the audience numbers for such a game because watching what was anticipated as a consequential game turns into watching a JV contest.

Those four problem areas would concern me “on the business side” because they have been baked into the NBA over the past 25-30 years.  It took time and effort to crate that business model and it will take time and a lot of effort – and cooperation from the star players that the league has created and empowered – to make any meaningful change in direction.  The current TV deal for the NBA with ABC, TNT and ESPN runs through the end of the 2024/25 season and delivers about $2.7B to the NBA annually.  That TV contract is the big swinger in determining the salary cap for the teams and is the prime revenue generator for many teams.  The league needs to find ways to stabilize its audience numbers quickly and then figure out how to grow them at the time they begin to negotiate their next TV deal.

Finally, Bob Molinaro had the observation about sports media programming recently in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

East Coast bias: As I type this, the Red Sox have the American League’s worst record. They are irrelevant, in other words.  Somebody remind ESPN’s programming department.”

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



False Positive COVID-19 Tests – – Hooray!

Scarlett O’Hara is not a positive literary model for dealing with difficult situations head on.  The image of an ostrich with its head stuck in the ground is not one that most people would like to have applied to themselves – albeit that image is better that one with a head stuck in a “lower bodily orifice.”  Ignoring a problem never solves a problem; ignoring a problem might see the problem resolve itself – or not.  At the moment, I am afraid that the NFL is behaving like Scarlett O’Hara and looks like an ostrich.

I wrote yesterday about the false positive coronavirus tests that happened over the weekend causing several teams to interrupt or alter their training camp routines.  Well, it turns out that there were 77 false positive tests (44 players and 33 coaches/others) involving 11 teams.  Let me get the good news in here first:

  • After redoing these tests, all 77 “positive” results turned out to be negative.  None of those folks contracted COVID-19.

William Shakespeare would have us believe that All’s Well That Ends Well; the entirety of the coronavirus spread in the US should make us believe that wishing for a benign outcome does not assure a benign outcome.  The NFL today appears to have adopted the Shakespearian stance on the testing issue.  I realize that a public statement on the issue has to be made in the news environment of 2020 – even if at the time of the public statement, the situation is in medias res.  So, here is the meat of the statement made by BioReference Laboratories – the company that does the test analysis:

“On August 22, BioReference Laboratories reported an elevated number of positive COVID-19 PCR test results for NFL players and personnel at multiple clubs.  The NFL immediately took necessary actions to ensure the safety of the players and personnel. Our investigation indicated that these were most likely false positive results, caused by an isolated contamination during test preparation in the New Jersey laboratory. Reagents, analyzers and staff were all ruled out as possible causes and subsequent testing has indicated that the issue has been resolved. All individuals impacted have been confirmed negative and informed.”

That statement was released approximately 48 hours after the announcement of the 77 false positives and in that time the folks at the lab that made those errors were able to “rule out as possible causes” their reagents, analyzers and staff as the cause.  Think about what that means:

  • The materials they use are the correct ones and are in the proper state of purity; the machines they use function flawlessly; the people made no errors.
  • And somehow, there were 77 “anomalies”.

They reach their conveniently positive conclusion after about 48 hours of investigation – assuming they worked round the clock to get there – and by pronouncement, they declare that the “issue has been resolved”.  I hope they are right; the NFL damned well better hope they are right.  Imagine for just a moment that on the Saturday before the Conference Championships next January – – assuming the NFL season gets to that point – – BioReference Laboratories experiences another ”isolated contamination” in their testing.  Sure, I admit that scenario is looking for the worst possible outcome – – but if BioReference Laboratories and the NFL do not know what that “isolated contamination” is or how it intruded itself into the testing process, how can they possibly assert that ”the issue has been resolved”?

[Aside:  Given the speed with which these folks investigate and reach definitive conclusions, I suggest that the NCAA get their names and phone numbers so they can populate their next Blue Ribbon Commission to investigate the next thorny issue that comes up in college athletics.  Normally an NCAA Blue-Ribbon Commission takes 48 months to conclude that rain is wet.]

I understand that it is important to BioReference laboratories to be positive and to project confidence at a time like this.  It is inconceivable that they would ever stand up and say that they screwed up 77 tests and do not have the foggiest inkling as to how that happened.  I get that.  I do not get why the NFL is playing Pollyanna at this moment.  Here is how the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer sees things:

“To me, the most important thing is that we’ve gotten through four weeks thus far without any of our clubs having a major outbreak.  Certainly, it’s far too early to celebrate that.  But I do think we should acknowledge that our clubs have done a terrific job – players, coaches and staff – in following our protocols, and I think our protocols are working.  I think we have shown they are having the results that we want, and the events of this weekend shouldn’t change that view.”

Allow me to point out four things:

  1. The Chief Medical Officer is absolutely correct that the absence of any outbreaks of COVID-19 over the course of the NFL’s restart is the most important thing and that is a positive thing.
  2. HOW-EVAH [/Stephen A. Smith] it is the testing that you are doing that leads you to conclude that there are no outbreaks and “the events of this weekend” have shown that the testing is not always correct.
  3. The NFL – and BioReference Laboratories – were immensely fortunate that the erroneous tests were false positives and not false negatives.  Think about the ramifications of 77 false negative tests and you will see how lucky those folks were.
  4. AND no one knows how the defined cause of this testing anomaly – – the “isolated contamination during test preparation” – – happened.  Without that knowledge, how can one ever know when or if it will happen again?

Finally, since I mentioned William Shakespeare above, let me present this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm.  It has relevance to Shakespeare, and it seems to parallel the thinking ongoing in the NFL and in BioReference Laboratories:

Shakespeare, William:  Sixteenth and early-seventeenth century playwright widely considered to be the finest dramatist to work in the English language which is weird, since any English-speaking person who has had to read or sit through one of this dude’s plays will tell you that you can’t understand a thing anybody is saying.”

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



Reaching Back…

Back on 7 August, I wrote about the risk to the integrity of sporting events in 2020 caused by the possibility of false-positive tests for the coronavirus which would lead to the unexpected inability of a star player to participate in a game where bets had been placed prior to the announcement of that player’s absence.  Please, scroll back to that date to see the scenario I proposed then.  I mention that here not to repeat myself but because over the last several days the NFL has had a rash of false-positive coronavirus tests.  Since the start of organized NFL activities, the Bears, Steelers, Lions and Chargers have experienced false positive test results

Let me be clear here; false-positive tests results are not nearly as bad as false negative test results; I presume that it would not take long for anyone to come to that conclusion.  Nonetheless, the NFL had better get the false-positive problem under control very quickly.  I realize that the first thing the league must do is to assure the players and the public that they are working the problem.  Here is part of the statement from the NFL from last weekend:

“Saturday’s daily COVID testing returned several positives (sic) tests from each of the clubs serviced by the same laboratory in New Jersey.  We are working with our testing partner, BioReference, to investigate these results, while the clubs work to confirm or rule out the positive tests. Clubs are taking immediate precautionary measures as outlined in the NFL-NFLPA’s health and safety protocols to include contact tracing, isolation of individuals and temporarily adjusting the schedule, where appropriate. The other laboratories used for NFL testing have not had similar results.”

That sort of statement was mandatory as the league learned of the problem.  However, statements and “working with our testing partner” are not enough.  This must be cleaned up such that every “positive” test is double, and triple checked before it is acted upon because this could turn into an issue that assaults the integrity of the games.

The NFL takes in its normal $15B a year because it is a television spectacle watched by more viewers than any other television production.  Networks and sponsors pay top-shelf prices for ad slots in front of all those eyeballs.  And here is the linkage to false-positive coronavirus tests:

  • More than a few of those TV viewers are watching any given game on any given Sunday because that viewer “has a little something riding on the game”.
  • Football gambling is directly linked to TV ratings; anything that could cause some folks to doubt that everything was kosher about the game they have wagered on will have a ripple effect on TV ratings – – and thereby on NFL revenue.

Last week – on 20 August to be exact – I wrote about the situation at UNC wherein the school reverted to online classes, but the football team remained on campus to continue to practice for its upcoming ACC season.  I said then that this was the tail wagging the dog and that it was particularly untoward for this to happen at UNC given the previous academic scandals there related to athletes and their “progress toward degrees”.  The student newspaper at UNC is The Daily Tar Heel; the editorial staff of that paper is clearly not pleased with the status quo at the school.  They announced that henceforth the paper will not use the term “student-athlete” anymore; the paper’s position is that the term is nothing more than a way for the school – – and for the NCAA as an overseer of collegiate athletics – – to foist an “agenda that these athletes are not employees.”  At the very least, the term “student-athlete” is redundant because the NCAA has a rule book on eligibility for college sports that mandates that every athlete be a student at the time of participation.

While I may disagree with the blanket statement that students who compete in intercollegiate sports are all employees of the school, I am in complete agreement with the editors here on the use of the term “student-athlete”.  It is disingenuous at the very least and should be insulting to anyone who attends a school and receives a degree from that school having not been involved with athletics.  Far too many people previously identified as “student-athletes” demonstrate publicly that they have never been – nor could they ever be – serious and full-time college students.

[Aside:  I presume that the editors would also not like my intentionally derisive label for some players as “scholar-athletes”…]

By the way, UNC is not the only college where the return of students to the campus has produced a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.  This situation also obtains at Notre Dame and Dwight Perry had this observation regarding it in the Seattle Times last weekend:

“Notre Dame shut down football practice for a couple days and suspended in-person classes for at least two weeks after 154 new COVID-19 cases on campus in just two days.

“Updated Irish football motto: Wake up the echoes, guys, not the virus!”

Since I have spent time today looking back at recent content in various rants, let me continue that vector heading.  On 19 August, I wrote about the transgender cross-country runner who is challenging an Idaho law that would prohibit her from competing at Boise State.  Later, I received an email from a friend of 50+ years who was a college athlete (lacrosse) when he was an undergraduate.  Here is the pertinent text:

“For the schools planning on playing football this fall, I will be wondering how much attention the participants of the minor sports receive. Surely, it is as important for the cross-country runners (transsexual or otherwise) to be tested frequently to prevent Covid spread as it is for football players. Same for monitoring their off-field activities!”

Great point there.  I have not heard any mention by schools preparing to play football this Fall of the oversight they are giving to members of other athletic teams on campus.  It should not matter if they are competing or not; after all, it is the concern for the health and welfare of those team members that drives all the decision making in athletic departments.  Right?

Finally, here is another observation last weekend from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Entering Friday’s play, the Astros were 6-1 against the Mariners — and 9-9 against everyone else.

“So would it be asking too much for Houston players to vote Seattle a playoff share?”

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



When It Rains, It Pours

The Washington WTF organization is in the process of total reorganization.  Little of that process has been motivated internally – – save for hiring a new head coach because the previous one did not win enough games.  The reorganization has a new Team President, coach, radio broadcast crew and scouting department head along with a new team name that has yet to be announced.  Demonstrating the adage that when it rains it pours, the team got news yesterday that the new coach, Ron Rivera, has been diagnosed with lymph node cancer.  Cancer is never good news ; but in this case, the bright light is that the disease is “in the early stages” and that it is “very treatable providing a good prognosis for full recovery.”

I have never read or heard anything negative about Ron Rivera; everyone seems to hold him in the highest regard.  I do not wish cancer on folks that I consider “bad guys”; so, I certainly hope that the prognosis for full recovery in this case happens and happens quickly.

The abnormal 2020 NFL season is approaching and the presentation of the games on television will be as abnormal as the year 2020 has been.  Most of the teams will play home games in empty stadiums but that is not all that will be different:

  • No team mascots will be allowed on the field.  [Aside:  So what…]
  • No cheerleaders will be allowed on the field.  [Aside:  If there are no fans in the stands to do any cheering …]
  • The networks will not have any sideline reporters.  [Aside:  I shan’t miss any of them.]

Those abnormalities will be evident to fans who tune into the games.  There are other procedures/rules in place for the 2020 season that the NFL and the NFLPA have agreed upon as precautionary measures in these times of COVID-19:

  • Teams – players and coaches – will stay together in a hotel the night before all games.  This includes home teams and visiting teams.
  • While in the hotel, the players and coaches cannot use any of the amenities such as the spa or pool; they may not leave the hotel; all meals will be provided by the hotel using disposable/single-use utensils and single-serving packets of all condiments.  Water will be provided in individual bottles.
  • In the case where a limited number of fans will be in the stadium for the game, those fans will not be permitted near the point of entry where team busses deliver the players and coaches to the stadium.
  • Home teams are limited to having a maximum of 65 workers to take care of stadium matters and presentation matters.
  • Players and coaches are not required to wear masks on the sidelines – – except if a player must go inside the medical tent for an evaluation.  All other personnel on the sidelines must be masked.
  • There will be no media in the locker rooms after the games.  [Aside:  In a pinch, the networks can put together a montage of player comments from locker rooms over the past couple of years.  That montage will not be significantly different from what they would have heard from players in 2020.]

We can hope that these procedures are sufficient to prevent a major outbreak in or among NFL teams for this year.  It is a far cry from having the teams in a “bubble environment”, but hopefully, it can work…

Speaking of different viewing experiences in 2020, I have not been overly impressed with MLB games on TV this season.  To be clear, I am not talking about the absence of fans in the seats or the cardboard cutouts of fans; the games are not compelling.  Most teams have played about 25 games so far; for 2020, that is 40% of the season.  Here are some stats:

  • Five teams – 20% of the teams in MLB – are hitting below .220 as a team.
  • Four teams have an OBP below .300.
  • Twenty teams – 67% of the teams in MLB – have more strikeouts than hits.
  • Twenty-nine of the thirty MLB teams have struck out at least  100 times more than they have walked.
  • Two teams are averaging 10 strikeouts per game.

I like a good pitchers’ duel as much as anyone; but  even in a pitchers’ duel, it is nice to have a few baserunners to give the impression that one of the teams might actually score a run or two before sunrise the next morning.  Too many baseball games this year are dominated by the pitcher and catcher tossing the ball back and forth to each other.

Also, there is an aspect of this year’s games that confuses me.  I do not like the extra inning rule where a “designated runner” begins the inning on second base – – but that is how they are playing the games in 2020.  With that as a fact, here is what I do not understand:

  • When the home team holds the visitors to no runs in the top of the 10th inning – or the 8th inning in a double-header situation – and comes to bat with the guy on second base, why don’t they bunt to get him to third base with one out?
  • A sacrifice fly in that situation wins the game.  Any base hit that would score a man from second base will surely score him from third base too; that would also win the game.
  • Why is that not standard practice?

Finally, since today I have mentioned the absence of fans in the stadiums for MLB and for NFL games, let me close with a pertinent definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Fan:  A stalker waiting to happen.”

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



Another COVID-19 Casualty

COVID-19 has scored another victory over a sport.  The Canadian Football League canceled its 2020 season earlier this week; the Grey Cup was supposed to be awarded on November 21st this year; that will not happen.  Most NFL fans do not realize that the CFL has existed longer than the NFL.  The Grey Cup trophy was commissioned in 1909; it has been awarded to the CFL champion every year since then save for the years of World War I; it will be on hiatus in 2020.

I enjoy CFL games; they are exciting and different from American football in subtle ways.  Back in 1994 when the CFL tried to expand into the US, I took a journey from Northern Virginia to Baltimore with #2 son to take in a Baltimore Stallions CFL game played in Baltimore’s old Municipal Stadium.  I do not save ticket stubs, but my memory is that we had great seats for $20.  The expansion into the US was short-lived; that was the only time I have seen a CFL game live.

[Aside:  There is a great book about that ill-fated “southern expansion” of the CFL written by Ed Willes.  The title is “End Zones and Border Wars”.  For anyone who thinks that greedy and egotistical team owners are limited to the US, this is a must-read.  Anyone who is a sports fan will enjoy the book.]

The CFL had a plan for conducting a season; it was going to “bubble” the teams in the Winnipeg area and play all the games there.  That would have required financial assistance from the Canadian government and/or the governments in Manitoba and Winnipeg.  I have read reports saying that the league asked for $150M in relief from the government; other reports say the league asked for a $30M interest-free loan to be paid back at a glacial pace.  I do not know what the CFL needed or asked for; I do know they got nothing in terms of relief and they have hit the pause button on the 2020 season that would normally be almost halfway toward the Grey Cup Game.

From what I read, the CFL has a national TV contract and it has a salary cap.  Usually, the coexistence of those two things indicates financial stability; obviously, that is not the case there.  Moreover, there also seem to be limitations on what teams can spend on “football operations”; so, I cannot explain how all of this leads to a league in a precarious financial situation.  However, that is reality.

Perhaps part of the reason the CFL finds itself where it is today lies in the league management and the amalgam of team owners.  The book I recommended above, End Zones and Border Wars presents a picture of the CFL in the 1990s that makes the league administration and many of the owners appear as a clown show.  If that situation continues to obtain – and I have no idea if that is the case – then I guess I understand how the CFL can find itself in the situation it is in.

Switching gears – but staying with football – there is a story out there that might just indicate that we are returning to normalcy in college football.  No, I do not mean that schools have reconsidered their season cancellations and are planning to play what was on the books as of last Spring.  No, I mean there is a story out there that rings a memory bell; it is the sort of story that one would read in times that predate the arrival of the coronavirus into our consciousness – and our bloodstreams.

Forget stories about teams in a bubble; forget stories about testing and tracing; forget about anything related to COVID-19.  The NY Post had a story earlier this week that harkens back to days when college football players made the news for more typical anti-social behaviors.  Here is the headline from that report in the NY Post:

  • Penn State football players charged after cops find pot, LSD in apartment.

That headline gives me a warm feeling of nostalgia; we may indeed find our way out of the confusion of 2020; perhaps we can indeed “go home again”…

Another football story from earlier this week blends “old-style news” with “new news”.  A undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks was living in the “team bubble” (new news) but was caught trying to sneak woman into his hotel room inside that bubble by dressing her in a Seahawks jersey (old-style news).  Fortunately, the Seahawks simply released Kemah Severind without any sort of extensive investigation into what happened and how it happened and why it happened.  I am going to go out on a limb here and assume with no evidence whatsoever that “social distancing” was not an integral part of the plan for those two individuals for that evening.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times took this incident in a different direction:

“Seattle cut Kemah Siverand after the rookie cornerback was caught on video trying to sneak a woman — dressed in Seahawk players’ gear — into the NFL team’s hotel.

“That’s what you call disguising your coverage.”

I read a report that said the NBA is paying $140 per coronavirus test inside the “Orlando Bubble” and that it is testing every player, coach and “others” inside the bubble daily.  The good news is that the NBA seems to have put a functioning firewall between its teams and the coronavirus outside the bubble.  Kudos to the NBA…

However, if you extrapolate the financial outlay that the league is experiencing by testing everyone every day at $140 per test, I think you can do just a little math and realize why such a rigorous testing plan is not in place for just about any college football team.

Finally, as the Summer of 2020 turns to the Fall of 2020, the prognosis for this Fall as contained in The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm is not uplifting:

Fall:  A magical time of year, during which the leaves provide a splash of brilliant color before falling to the ground dead, in an ominous foreshadowing of the frigid, metaphorical death that awaits us all from now until Daylight Saving Time.”

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



Serious Business Today …

Back in March, the Idaho State Legislature passed a law that would ban transgender girls/women from competing in girl’s/women’s sports.  A  young transgender woman hoped to compete on the Boise State cross country team; that law barred her from competing and she sought a remedy in Federal court.  Earlier this week, a Federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on the Idaho law that will nominally allow this  young athlete to compete pending the outcome of her lawsuit.  This may seem at first to be a small occurrence in a niche sport, but about a dozen states now have various laws in progress through state legislatures that bear on this matter.

In reading about this case, I was surprised to learn that the NCAA actually has a rule in place that requires a transgender athlete to undergo a year of “hormone treatment” to achieve NCAA eligibility.  It seems that the basis for that rule is the reduction of testosterone levels in the transgender athlete in an attempt to prevent a male athlete who is not good enough to make a men’s team declaring himself a woman and gaining access to that squad.

This issue arises from the fact that in 2020 the concept of “gender” is not nearly as binary as it was even 50 years ago.  About 40 years ago, the movie Fast Break involved a woman who masqueraded as a man in order to play guard on a fictional college basketball team; only 20 years ago, Juwanna Mann was a movie about a female impersonator joining a women’s basketball team.  It was not so long ago that transgender sports were thought of in comedic terms as often as they were in serious terms.  Such is not the case now simply because the entire concept of gender is now part of serious controversy.

It appears to me that there is an ironic angle to the Federal judge’s ruling issued earlier this week.  On the surface, it would seem totally fair and reasonable to allow the plaintiff here to compete until there is an ultimate ruling on her litigation.  To bar her participation would impose a penalty on her until such time as her case is resolved.  However, Boise State is a member of the Mountain West Conference and that conference has already declared that there will be no “Fall sports” in 2020 because of COVID-19.  So, she will not be competing for at least another year.

More than occasionally, I express skepticism here about the efficacy of legislators’ attempts to regulate sports.  This law passed in Idaho would fall into a category that would appear to be intractable.  On one hand, the legislature seeks to define gender at a time when there is serious debate regarding what gender is.  And on the other hand, it seeks to provide for fair competition in women’s sports – which is a noble goal even if it may not be a primary concern for a legislative body.

Moving from the courtroom in Idaho to the campus of UNC, the school decided to shut down in-person classes and go completely to on-line classes in Chapel Hill because of an outbreak of COVID-19 among the student body.  The outbreak did not reach the football team and while students are removed from normal class environments, the UNC football team keeps on keeping on as it prepares to play out its season as part of the ACC.  There have been events in UNC history where it appeared as if the athletics were paramount when compared to the academics.  [Recall the classes that never met and never required any tests or term papers to receive a high grade and credits to keep athletes eligible at UNC.]  The current situation once again gives the appearance of the tail wagging the dog in Chapel Hill…

Recent advances in understanding the longer-term consequences of COVID-19 have shown that more than a few people who have tested positive and then recovered from COVID-19 carry internal effects from their period of infection.  Terms such as “multisystem inflammatory syndrome” and “hyperinflammatory response of the body” and “cytokine storm” may not be used every day in discourse – – but they are recognizable to a much greater extend than they were only a month ago.  One of the things we have learned over the timeline of COVID-19 is that one of the lingering internal effects of the infection is myocarditis – – inflammation of the heart muscle itself.  One of the things caused by myocarditis is irregular heart rhythm.

An assumption that many people seem to make is that young and well-conditioned athletes may contract the coronavirus but that they will fight it off and recover from it in a reasonable amount of time.  For the readily observable symptoms of the disease – – dry cough, fever, loss of smell, etc. – – that appears to be the case.  However, Red sox pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez, ought to give players and coaches and sports leaders some pause.

Rodriguez had the coronavirus and eventually shed all the observable symptoms; he looked to be “cured”.  As the Red Sox prepared to start their delayed and truncated season, he threw a bullpen session and felt exhausted at the end – – a tiredness well beyond what would have been normal.  Subsequent tests showed that Rodriguez has myocarditis because of his COVID-19 event.  Here is why I think this is a big deal:

  • Myocarditis can cause irregular heart rhythm and irregular heart rates.
  • Those are the cardiac events that killed two young and well-conditioned athletes named Reggie Lewis and Hank Gathers.
  • Lewis passed out in an NBA playoff game.  After treatment in a hospital he was practicing three months later and died on that court.  He was 28 years old.
  • Gathers collapsed during a conference tournament basketball game.  He was rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead and the cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  He was 23 years old.

Neither Lewis nor Gathers suffered from COVID-19 but their deaths involved cardiac issues that are related to the myocarditis condition that is noted as a consequence of COVID-19.  This should not be taken to mean that young athletes might be dropping like flies after recovering from COVID-19; what this ought to be taken to mean is that there could be risk of the ultimate after-effect from COVID-19 in a few young athletes.  That ought to be too serious to ignore.

Science is a learning process.  COVID-19 has been around for such a short time that science – and scientists – are still in the learning process.  I think at this point in our understanding, we have to avoid a panic reaction to bad news by imagining the worst AND at the same time, we have to be mindful that incredibly serious consequences can be associated with the disease and even with recovery from it.

Finally, on a somewhat lighter note, here is COVID-19 item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Destined to be a hot-selling bumper sticker in south Florida: ‘Honk if you’re a Marlin who hasn’t contracted COVID.’”

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



Basketball Today …

I have made the point before that great players do not necessarily make good coaches.  Today, I will try to extend that thinking to GMs and use the NBA as my example.  Vlade Divac was fired recently as the GM of the Sacramento Kings; he had been on the job since the start of the 2015/16 season.  From that time until today, the Kings’ cumulative record was 129 – 189; the team was not involved in the playoffs in any of those seasons.  [Aside:  Those performances are not all that unusual to Sacramento fans.  The last time the Kings were in the playoffs was at the end of the 2005/2006 season.]

Vlade Divac made some good moves as the GM but made several more that turned out to be lemons.  The biggest rock he pulled out of a hat was selecting Marvin Bagley with the overall #2 pick in the 2018 draft and passing on Luka Doncic.  Bagley is averaging 14.8 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game playing a little over 25 minutes per game.  Those are not the stats for a “draft bust” by any means – – but Luka Doncic appears to be on a trajectory to genuine stardom in the NBA.

Divac was a very good professional basketball player; he was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019.  When I think of “great players” who then tried their hand as a GM in the NBA here are the ones that come to mind:

  • Elgin Baylor (Clippers)
  • Michael Jordan (technically, he was the Team President of the Wizards)
  • Isiah Thomas (Knicks)

The teams under Divac’s leadership along with the teams under the leadership of those other three Hall of Fame players were “less than fully successful”.  And before everyone dashes to their email programs to remind me, I will acknowledge here that Jerry West had an immensely successful run as the GM of the Lakers; and I consider him to be the exception that proves the rule.

And speaking of basketball, the 2020/2021 college basketball season is still up in the air.  Nominally, teams would begin to practice in late October and begin the season around December 1st.  The early season would see lots of teams traveling to far flung places for invitational tournaments and there would be tune-up games for some top teams that would be nothing more than monstrous mismatches.  Then the season would get serious around New Year’s.

There are about 350 NCAA schools that play Division 1 men’s basketball; I do not know that all – or even a majority – of those schools will be prepared to start the next season on the “normal timeline”.  Moreover, the extensive travel involved in getting to and from some of those early season tournaments could be a deterrent for such endeavors.  In fact, travel to and from games will probably be a big deal for basketball teams in whatever the next season looks like.  In college football, a Power 5 team rarely travels more than 5 or 6 times in a normal season.  There are a lot of folks and gear to bring along, but it is not a frequent occurrence.  College basketball teams often make as many as 15 trips to “away games” and invitational tournaments in a single season.  In the days of COVID-19, travel is a challenge.

Prudent planning for the next college basketball season ought to include an option for a delayed start to the season – – say January 1, 2021 for example.  If that were to be the way next season were to happen, there needs to be concurrent planning for when and how to deal with the tournament that might not be known next year as “March Madness”.  If the idea is to get in 90% or more of the games already scheduled for the season that would normally start  on December 1st, then the date and possibly the place for “March Madness” will need to be altered – – unless of course every conference agreed not to hold their end-of-season conference tournaments which would not make the folks at ESPN happy at all and ESPN is a major source of revenue for college basketball.

If the season has to start late AND if March Madness is to go on as planned, there will be a lot of interconference games that will need to be canceled and that will make the Selection Committee’s decisions even more subjective than they are in normal years.  If that happens, we will not need to wait for the end of the age as explained in the Bible to experience great weeping and gnashing of teeth; the calls to the sports talk radio shows will have more than a little of that stuff contained therein.

So, here is a one-time suggestion for a tournament to be held in late March after a season with a delayed start.

  • There are no guaranteed invitations to the tournament.
  • There are no “play-in games”; there will be 64 teams in the field.
  • The Selection Committee will do a “secret ballot” with each member seeding their Top 64 teams starting with #1 and going through to #64.
  • Those ballots will ultimately be revealed but the way the field will be determined is to sum up the seedings of all members and then to count the number of members who have that team on their Seeding List.  The 64 teams with the lowest total divided by the number of Seeding Lists that the team appears on.
  • The public revelation of all ballots will provide accountability for the Committee members to alleviate somewhat the obvious conflicts of interest some of those members have given their full-time jobs.

Finally, here is a point to ponder from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“If drinking a glass of red wine can equate to an hour of exercise — as a study published in the Journal of Physiology suggests — will this pandemic produce a whole new generation of world-class athletes?”

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