The Intersection Of COVID-19 And Two Sports

Today, there is news from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  Statistically, the IOC makes the news under one of two circumstances:

  1. Someone breaks a story revealing corruption or chicanery and the IOC swears that it will investigate and get to the bottom of it all because those sorts of things are not part of the “Olympic Movement”.  [Aside:  Ha!]
  2. They announce some phase of some upcoming Games; and normally, it evokes a head-scratching response.

Today’s news is much more of the latter.  According to a senior official of the IOC, the 2020 Games that were supposed to be in Tokyo in July and were postponed to 2021 will go on as scheduled with or without COVID-19 and with or without a viable vaccine.  Let that wash over you for just a moment while I ask – ever so politely and only for the purpose of clarification:

  • If you do not need a viable vaccine to put on the 2021 Games and you are going to stage the Games despite the status of the coronavirus that caused the 2020 postponement, why did you postpone the 2020 Games in the first place?

If the guy in China who ate the bat that caused the coronavirus to jump from bats to humans had ordered Italian food for that dinner, the 2020 Games might have been held under ordinary circumstances.  In that case, the expectation was that approximately 11,000 athletes would have assembled in Tokyo from every corner of the Earth and participated in the Games.  I am going to go out on a limb here:

  • If there is no viable vaccine – – nor presumably a highly effective therapeutic – – for COVID-19 by the Summer of 2021, I doubt that 11,000 Olympic athletes will participate in those Games.

The basis for my assertion there is that I believe that many Olympic athletes are smarter than your average rutabaga.  Some will decide that an infection risk is not worth the gamble and simply go on with some other phase of their lives.  Moreover, the ones who do show up will need to think much more carefully about “normal behavior” in the Olympic Village as the Games run their course.  Recall that in most of the recent Games, there have been reports of hundreds of thousands or condoms being supplied to athletes in the Olympic Village to prevent the spread of AIDS.  I am neither a physician nor an epidemiologist, but I feel as if I am on firm ground here:

  • Folks who recognize the wisdom of using condoms in social interactions are not practicing social distancing.
  • The employment of that which prevents the spread of AIDS might accelerate the spread of the COVID-19 virus – – in the absence of a viable vaccine.

I am not sure why the IOC felt the need to make such a definitive statement at this point, but I try never to be in the business of understanding IOC actions to the point that I can replicate the decision making processes there.

Let me pivot here to the intersection of COVID-19 and another sport – one about to begin its season – the NFL.  Other than the flurry of false positive coronavirus tests affecting about 10 teams a few weeks ago, the NFL seems to have gotten to a very comfortable place at the end of training camp.  There has not been a “team outbreak” and the latest data reported out said that the positivity rate for the frequent testing done is less than 1%.  Frankly, the NFL should not have realistically counted on anything better than that when it finalized its plans for a 2020 season.

Things have gotten to the current positive place because the NFL and the NFLPA agreed to a reasonable testing regime and to team behaviors that were both effective in preventing viral spread and tolerable to the players such that they held to the rules.  Congratulations to both sides of the table for that demonstration of rational adult behavior.

It will be interesting to see how the league will conduct contact tracing in the event of something more than a single positive test that become confirmed as positive tests.  Imagine if 5 players on a team test positive and those positive tests are confirmed.  At that point, the element of contact tracing becomes particularly important.  Consider:

  • The NFL teams do not live in a “Bubble”.  Therefore, players come in contact with people outside the “team environment” meaning that all contact tracing involving that aspect of a player’s life will rely on the candid and thorough recall of the infected player.
  • It has been established that one can spread the virus without showing symptoms which means to me that it is possible for a player to be infected to the point of being a source of viral spread before he is tested and shows positive for the COVID-19 virus.  That being the case, he could have been part of regular team functions – – meetings, film study, practices – – for a day or two or three as a virus spreader before the test results came in.  Ignoring for a moment any outside  contacts that might shed light on how he became infected or to whom outside the team he may have spread the infection, how would a team determine which of his teammates he had been with for a sufficient amount of time and in sufficiently close proximity to put those other teammates at risk?

Those challenges are non-trivial for a single player on a team testing positive; the challenge increases exponentially for multiple players who crisscross one another within the team.  Practices would be real challenges there.  A real practice – – not just a walk-through – – puts players in situations where they are aerosol droplet producers meaning there is always the potential for viral spread in a practice if there is an infected player involved.  Now, imagine the contact tracing challenge if the infected player is part of the defensive unit, the punt and kickoff defense unit, the punt coverage unit and the placekicking unit.  YOWZA!

Finally, let me leave you with this Tweet by WSOP commentator, Norman Chad:

“They say the early bird gets the worm. If the worm were smart, he would start sleeping in.”

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

 

 

Rest In Peace, Lou Brock

Lou Brock died last weekend at the age of 81.  After a 19-year career in MLB, he was enshrined in the Hall of Fame; his ”calling card” was the stolen base.  For his career, Lou Brock stole 938 bases including 118 steals in 1974.  He was involved in one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history; there were 6 players involved but the two that headlined the trade were Lou Brock and Ernie Broglio.  Broglio went to the Cubs and did nothing special there; Brock went to the Cards where he played for 16 years, made the All-Star team 6 times and then entered the Hall of Fame.

Rest in peace, Lou Brock.

The most unusual occurrence over the weekend had to come from the world of tennis where Novak Djokovic was defaulted in a match in the US Open.  Djokovic is currently ranked as the #1 player in the world and while the tennis term is that he “was defaulted”, the more colloquial way to say this is that he was thrown out of the tournament.  What happened is that Djokovic hit ball at a line judge and caught the judge in the throat; the judge was having trouble breathing and had to be assisted off the court.  Reports say that he hit the ball “in anger” and that this was not an accident; that sort of behavior interpreted in that way would get any athlete thrown out of any event save a pro ‘rassling encounter;.

Djokovic has some history with “anger issues” but this is the first time his behavior has cost him a match – and a chance to win another major tournament.  Elite tennis players in the past have also had “anger issues”.  Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Nick Kyrgios are men who come to mind there; Serena Williams has also been known to be less than polite when it comes to dealing with match officials.  There is probably a PhD dissertation in psychology wrapped up in this situation…

Steve Nash has been hired as the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets.  Nash is a Hall of Fame player but has no coaching experience of any note prior to this undertaking.  Stephen A. Smith of ESPN said that this was an example of “white privilege”.

I like Stephen A. Smith and have liked him since he was a beat reporter and then a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.  When he was in that phase of his career,  the term “NBA Insider” had not yet entered the American language, but Stephen A. Smith was as much an “NBA Insider” then as anyone who lives in the glow of that term today.  Having said that, I completely disagree with him on this point.

I have written here several times my sense that great players do not make great coaches.  Nonetheless, great players – of every color and ethnicity – have a trump card to play within the confines of the game at which they excelled.

  • Billy Cunningham and Larry Bird were hired as head coaches after their playing days were over; those hires were not “white privilege”; those hires were “basketball privilege”.
  • Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Paul Silas and Magic Johnson were hired as head coaches after their playing days were over; those hires were not “black privilege”; those hires were “basketball privilege”.

Steve Nash played in the NBA for 18 years; he was named to the All-NBA team 7 times; he was an All-Star 8 times; he was the NBA MVP two years in a row and won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award one time.  If there is an issue or a question or a job opportunity related to basketball, those credentials would get anyone – of any color or ethnicity – entry into the discussion if that person so chose to be involved.

Having said the above, I go back to my stance that great players do not make great coaches and I do not make any assumption that Steve Nash will be a guaranteed success as the head coach of the Nets.  That issue will work itself out over time and the record will demonstrate if this was a “good choice” or a “bad choice” by the Nets’ ownership.  However, under no circumstances do I believe this hiring choice was one of “white privilege”.

Dwight Perry had an item in his column in the Seattle Times last weekend that I missed completely:

“Giants manager Gabe Kapler challenged a play at first base with his team ahead 18-2 in the seventh inning.

“So why isn’t there an unwritten rule about that?”

The final score of the game in question was Giants 23 – Rockies 5.  Considering the vitriol expressed when Fernando Tatis, Jr swung at a 3-0 pitch to hit a grand slam home run late in a blowout game only about a week before this Giants’ game, I wonder why there was no outcry about Kapler’s challenge.  I am sure that if someone had questioned Kapler on that behavior, he would have had some arcane analytical point to make about the necessity for such a move.  Kapler seems to me to be one of analytical baseball’s high priests; he manages the game in a way that a friend characterizes as “analytics on steroids”.

MLB has moved significantly in the direction of analytics; while some of that movement is positive, there are some jarring aspects too.  I have seen games where players in the field take out a card/sheet from the pocket of their uniform to figure out where to play the next hitter in this game situation or for a pitcher to look to see how to pitch to the next batter.  For players at the top rung of their profession, that is a bad look; you don’t see NFL offensive linemen come out of the huddle checking their “crib sheets” to figure out what blitz to look for on 3rd and 8 at their own 25 in the third quarter.

Finally, one more observation from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Who better suited to be the White Sox’s stopper than righty Dylan Cease?”

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

 

 

Rest In Peace, Tom Seaver

Tom Seaver died earlier this week; he was 75 years old.  Seaver is probably the best player in the history of the NY Mets and had a 20-year career in MLB that led him to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He suffered from dementia and recently had contracted COVID-19.

Rest in peace, Tom Seaver.

Assuming that things continue along the trajectory they are currently on, the sports world will be very active very soon.  Baseball, professional basketball and hockey are “up and running”, the NFL is about to kick off its season; college football will happen in some of its normal venues; soccer, tennis, golf and horse racing are ongoing too.  It is almost as if the pandemic has been put under control.

Maybe, that is why a statement by Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli – the director of athletic medicine at Penn State – was so jarring.  Originally, he said that almost one-third of the Big 10 athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 appeared also to have myocarditis based on cardiac MRI scans.  Please note that Dr. Sebastianelli revised those figures saying that the data indicated about a 15% rate of myocarditis and not a 30-35% rate.

No matter …  This is another new discovery as medical science learns more about COVID-19.  There have been previous linkages between myocarditis and COVID-19; Red Sox pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez is probably the most famous of the cases involving that linkage.  And an important thing to know about myocarditis is that it can be fatal if left untreated, and that means a person who contracts COVID-19 and exhibits recovery from the virus may not be totally back to good health.  There may be at least one lingering aftereffect which is less than benign.

Most people who need hospitalization for COVID-19 do not have cardiac MRIs done; so, the data for the general population is not available for comparison to the athletes tested here.  Nevertheless, these are data that cannot be cavalierly set aside.  Medical science needs to begin to shed light on a basic question here:

  • Is this seemingly high rate of coincidence between myocarditis and COVID-19 related in some way to the rigorous physical activity that produces “elite athletes” such that this is a minor concern for the rest of us “normal folks”?

While that may appear on the surface to be a minor point and need not be considered in the times when issues such as vaccines and therapeutics are being studied, there could be important consequences from possible answers to the question above.

  • Suppose a linkage can be shown between the training of an athlete and the likelihood of COVID-19 leaving behind myocarditis in the athlete after “recovery”.  Might that affect the way athletes prepare for their lives in that field of endeavor?  Would there be potential athletes who choose not to take on that added risk?  Might there be vaccines or therapeutics that would minimize the chances of myocarditis even if COVID-19 were contracted?
  • Suppose no linkage can be found between athletic training and myocarditis that follows a recovery from COVID-19.  If that is the case, then there could well be an awful lot of people unknowingly walking around with myocarditis which can be fatal if left untreated.

Let me do some back-of-the-envelope math here.  Before anyone tells me that this is too simplistic, let me plead guilty to that charge.  The reason is that I am not an epidemiologist and cannot do the calculations rigorously, but the “simple math” makes me sit up and take notice.

  • As of this morning according to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 6.17 million cases of COVID-19 in the US this year.
  • As of this morning according to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 187 thousand deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the US this year.
  • Simplistic Assumption Warning: If you subtract the deaths from the number of cases, you can approximate the number of people who have “recovered” from COVID-19 in the US this year.  Again, using approximations, that would mean there have been 6 million folks who have “recovered”.

Now apply Dr. Sebastianelli’s data.  If 15% of the people who contract COVID-19 also carry myocarditis with them AND if this is the situation with the general population and not just elite athletes, then there are approximately 900,000 people going about their everyday lives with a condition that “can be fatal if left untreated”.  Here is a newspaper account of what Dr. Sebastianelli said and how the Big 10 may have considered it as part of its decision to postpone the 2020 football season.  I am not trying to be Chicken Little; I do not know enough to be actively worried about this situation; I also do not know enough to ignore the possibilities here.

As the sports world continues along its path to return to a semblance of normalcy, I think we must continue to study and learn about COVID-19 and its long-term effects over and above its immediate effects.  The resumption of professional sports – – and realistically I put college football in that category – – will provide a lot of money/profit for players and owners and athletic departments.  Much of the attention has been given to the athletes in these endeavors as the ones upon whose shoulders that money will be accrued.  But wait; there’s more…

For all that money to flow into various coffers, there are thousands of other folks who must be actively involved to make it happen.  In addition to the players, coaches and officials, think about the people who set up and take down the stadium/arena environment, the concessionaires, the TV and radio production folks, the people who get the players and coaches to and from the game venues.  If Dr. Sebastianelli’s data applies to the general population, then those people also are in harms way being around potential spreading events and potential COVID-19 spreaders.

When the NFL kicks off next week and limited college football happens weekly, all the COVID-19 problems related to sports may not be in the rear-view mirror.

Finally, here is another slant on the subtle effects of COVID-19 on life in America from a Tweet by Brad Dickson:

“Since all the bank lobbies are closed I’m starting a GoFundMe for bank robbers who are not able to ply their trade. Please give whatever you can. Thanks.”

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

 

 

Something’s Up …

It has been more than a week since the Ravens gave Earl Thomas his outright release and no NFL team has picked him up as of this morning.  That is the sort of thing that makes me stop and shake my head and wonder what is going on here.  Let me do a quick reset here:

  • Earl Thomas is 31 years old; he has been in the NFL for 10 seasons.  He has been selected for the Pro Bowl 7 times and has been named first team All-Pro 3 times.  Those are the sort of stats that orient a player toward Canton, OH.
  • Thomas was an integral part of the Seattle defense known as The Legion of Boom as the free safety.  He was the starting free safety on the Seattle team that won the Super Bowl.
  • There was a falling out in Seattle over contract matters and Thomas ended his days in Seattle being carted off the field with a broken leg and flipping the bird at his bench on the way out early in the 2018 season.
  • He signed on with the Ravens last year and had a Pro Bowl season.
  • In training camp about 10 days ago, he got into a fistfight with a teammate, Chuck Clark,  and was sent off the field.  Reportedly, the Ravens’ Leadership Council let it be known that they thought Thomas was “a problem” and took Clark’s side in the fight.
  • Coach John Harbaugh took that counsel and released Earl Thomas.

When that story broke more than a week ago, it was unusual on a standalone basis.  Thomas is not nearly a youngster in NFL terms, but he made the Pro Bowl just last year which would indicate to me that whatever toll the leg injury in 2018 may have taken, he still has miles left on the tires.  Yet, the Ravens’ Leadership Council and the Ravens’ coaching staff chose to release him outright than try to put the pieces back together.

Just a few weeks ago, another top-shelf safety, Jamal Adams, had a falling out with his team (the Jets) and forced the team to trade him.  In return, Adams brought two first-round picks, a third-round pick and a replacement safety that many feel is in the “good-but-not-great category”.  Even with that “setting of the market” for a top-shelf safety, the Ravens made no attempt to trade Earl Thomas; they just jettisoned him.

The reporters covering the story seemingly took sides in the matter too.  Clark was described as “mild-mannered”; Thomas was “churlish”.  One report had it that Thomas was aloof and not really a part of the defensive unit and that the rest of the players on the defense thought he did too much freelancing outside the limits of the defensive scheme.  Even if all of that is absolutely correct, Thomas still was a Pro Bowl caliber defender just last season in that defensive scheme.

At that point, I thought that there must be something strange going on inside the Ravens’ organization and this was the coaching staff trying to make sure that whatever it is that is ongoing gets stopped before it gets out of hand.  I figured that we would never know about the details until Earl Thomas retired and either went to the broadcast booth or wrote a book about his days in the NFL.  So, I filed all of this in the back of my brain as a “Mysterious Situation”.

However, this morning Earl Thomas remains unsigned; 31 other NFL teams have  – in practical terms – taken a pass on him since he was released on August 23rd.

  • Thomas is from Texas and has said openly and often that he would like to play for the Cowboys.  The Cowboys’ secondary was not a team strength last season.  Jerry Jones has never been one to shy away from players who have “issues” (assuming that is what put Thomas on the free agent market).  And Thomas remains unsigned…
  • The Chargers just lost their All-Pro safety, Derwin James, to a knee injury that will keep him off the field for the 2020 season.  And Thomas remains unsigned…
  • The Jets traded away an outstanding safety and got what most folks consider a “lesser replacement”.  And Thomas remains unsigned …

Now, it seems to me that there is more to this matter than a training camp fight and some internal strangeness regarding the Baltimore Ravens.  It is virtually certain that Thomas will pursue a grievance against the Ravens if they move to claw back any of the guaranteed money in his contract with the Ravens as the team might do citing his release being based on “conduct detrimental to the team”.  But that is “lawyer stuff” and not “gameday stuff”.  It just does not seem to me that is a big enough obstacle to keep Thomas on the outside of the NFL looking in.

About 10 years ago, Mazda had an ad campaign where the TV spots ended with a kid standing on the side of the road as the car flashed by and the kid muttered “Something’s up…”  If the Earl Thomas situation needs a visual as of today, I think that kid’s assessment of the situation is spot on.  Something’s up – – and I have no idea what it is.

As you might expect, Dwight Perry had something to say about all this in the Seattle Times:

“The Ravens cut Earl Thomas loose after he punched a teammate during practice.

“In other words, they simply converted him into a different kind of free safety.”

Finally, since I mentioned that Earl Thomas’ final public action with the Seahawks was his flipping the bird at the team bench as he was wheeled off the field with a broken leg, I want to close today with a pertinent definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Finger, The:  Something you give to other human beings when you cannot find the right words to say exactly how much their very existence has so deeply impacted your life.”

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

 

 

Never Ascribe To Malice …

Over the past several months, I have not been paying much attention to the NFL in general because the other sports were maneuvering to get on the field before the NFL was scheduled to do so.  And when I focused on the NFL, I must admit that I spent most of the time looking at three issues:

  1. Can the NFL play its games in such a way as to avoid massive COVID-19 outbursts?
  2. How will the Bucs fare now that Tom Brady is their QB – – and how will the Pats fare now that Tom Brady is not their QB?
  3. WTF is going on with the Washington Football Team?

Until about 48 hours ago, I had not recognized that there is an NFL franchise that has been systematically tearing itself down for the past couple of years and seems to have finished the demolition about now.  I am referring to the Jacksonville Jaguars so let me do a reset here:

  • At the end of the 2017 season, the Jags led the Patriots by two scores in the 4th quarter of the AFC Championship Game with Blake Bortles as their QB.  They lost that game.
  • That team was obviously built around a really good and young defensive unit.
  • There were 5 Pro Bowl players on that defensive unit.
  • Over the next two seasons, the Jags finished dead last in the AFC South twice and their combined record for 2018 and 2019 was 11-21-0.

The Jags moved on from Blake Bortles – – but they overpaid for Nick Foles and subsequently sent him off to the Bears to cast their fate with Gardner Minshew.  The jury is out on Minshew, but he certainly has a realistic shot at being more productive than Bortles was.  That is the good news for Jags’ fans.  The rest of the news is a list of head-scratching moves that have dismantled that defense that got the team within about 10 minutes of a Super Bowl appearance.

  • A.J. Bouye was traded to the Broncos for a 4th round draft pick. Bouye had been a Pro Bowl CB and was only 28 years old at the time of the trade.
  • Calais Campbell was traded to the Ravens for a 5th round draft pick.  Campbell has been to the Pro Bowl 5 times; he was the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2019; his birthday is today – he is 34 years old.
  • Malik Jackson was released; he signed with the Eagles as a free agent.  Jackson was 29 years old when released and he had been to the Pro Bowl in his career.
  • Yannick Ngakoue was traded to the Vikings last week for a 2nd round draft pick and a conditional 5th round pick.  Ngakoue is only 25 years old and has been named to the Pro Bowl.  [Aside:  Rather than play for Jax as the franchise player at a guaranteed salary of $17.8M in 2020, he signed a one-year deal with the Vikings for $12M.  Really…]
  • Jalen Ramsey was traded to the Rams for two 1st round picks and a 4th round pick.  Ramsey was 25 years old at the time of his trade and he has been to the Pro Bowl 3 times already in his career.

That is an impressive amount of talent that has been jettisoned by the Jags or has forced the Jags to trade them away.  If I have counted correctly, there are only 12 players left on the current roster who were on the roster when the Jags were in that Conference Championship
Game in January 2018.

I guess the braintrust in Jax did not want the offensive unit to feel too comfortable and so the Jags simply waived Leonard Fournette yesterday.  Fournette has been a head case but he gained almost 1200 yards on the ground for the Jags last year.  He is only 25 years old; he was the overall #4 pick in the Draft the year he came out of college; he has averaged 4 yards per carry in his NFL career.

It was fashionable to blame Tom Coughlin for the discord in Jax.  Coughlin is clearly an old-school guy and the narrative was that he clashed with “today’s young athletes”.  OK, even if I grant that to be absolutely the case, Coughlin was fired last December but the team traded Campbell, Ngakoue after that firing and released Fournette just yesterday.  Those three moves do not fit the narrative very well.  Coach Doug Marrone said that they tried to trade Fournette but could not get anything from anyone in a trade deal.  That may be true, but I will not be surprised to see teams get interested in signing Fournette now that he has been waived.

There is an aphorism that may be in play here:

  • Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

“Malice” here might be an unstated plan by the Jags to stink out the joint in 2020 to be in a position to draft Trevor Lawrence next Spring.  We have heard of teams that would “Suck for Luck” or “Tank for Tua”; it is not beyond possible for that to happen in Jax.  However, I am cautious about the existence of such a “plan” because the jags have had a notoriously difficult time engaging its fanbase for quite a while now.  From 2011 to 2019, the Jags have finished above .500 only once – – that year they went to the Conference Championship Game and choked away a win there.  It is not easy for me to accept that the owner would want another miserable season in the books as a way to bond with the fanbase.  But we shall see because the Jags for 2020 are looking like a rag-tag bunch that is going to the same place they have been 4 times in the past 9 seasons – – dead last in the AFC South.

Finally, consider this entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Fair:  1.  A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a hog-judging contest and consume fried cheese in the same location.  2.  What life never is, so suck it up and deal with it.”

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

 

 

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………

 

 

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………