The NFL “Loosens Up”?

Recently, I have commented on MLB and the NBA; so, let me spend some time on the NFL this morning.  MLB had their “training camp” interrupted and their Opening Day sacrificed to COVID-19; those folks took that opportunity to get into a pissing contest with the union representing their players that did little more than piss off the fans of baseball.  Meanwhile, the NBA worked hard to concoct a “Bubble” environment in which to reconstitute the final stages of its regular season in order to put on its playoffs.  The plan was good, but the coronavirus may have decided to raise the stakes on the game at the last minute.  So … what about the NFL?

Well, if you are something more than a posing Social Justice Warrior, you should be heartened by several actions taken regarding the Washington Redskins:

  1. The statue of George Preston Marshall – an unmitigated and unrepentant racist in his own time well before the present time – which stood outside RFK Stadium in DC has been taken down.
  2. The team has removed his name from the seating areas in the lower bowl of Fed Ex Field and replace his name with that of Bobby Mitchell.
  3. The team has retired Bobby Mitchell’s number.  Mitchell was the first Black player on a Skins’ roster and was there only because the Kennedy Administration demanded that Marshall integrate his team before it would be allowed to play in the newly constructed DC Stadium – – now known as RFK Stadium.

Sometimes, progress takes a while to show itself; and sometimes, it manifests in very stark contrasts.  This is one of those times for the Washington NFL franchise.  Now, the next phase of social awareness revolves around the team name itself – and that is a controversy that has been around for a long time so it might be ripe for some change?

Here is a fundamental multi-dimensional issue that needs to be resolved in the mind of Danny Boy Snyder:

  • George Preston Marshall was a racist by almost any standard you may want to set.  He made a change in his franchise only when he was looking down the barrel of a banishment by the Federal Government from a new stadium that would enrich his bottom line.
  • Danny Boy Snyder now can take a step in the direction of social change that is congruent with where the US is going in 2020.  Will he do that – and sacrifice the team name that he rooted for as a kid growing up in the DC area – or will he be a kick-the-can-down-the-road owner who could well be labelled as a racist in future time?
  • Will Danny Boy Snyder mature into Daniel M. Snyder …?

While we are in the conceptual space of the NFL and social movements, there would seem to have been a significant sea change in the NFL’s posture there.  Maybe it is just a change in rhetorical tone, but maybe it is also a change in philosophy too.  The NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, has publicly acknowledged the Black Lives Matter Movement – which is, frankly, not such a big deal – and in doing so has reached out to lend a hand to Colin Kaepernick should Kaepernick seek to return to the NFL.  I touched on some of the “football issues” related to such a return earlier this week.  However, the posture that Goodell is taking now demands scrutiny; is this a major vector heading correction by the league or is this just playing to the current audience with the hope that “this-too-shall-pass”?

Let me not mince words here.  Colin Kaepernick was fired from the NFL and not re=-hired for more than 3 years because he spoke out on an issue important to him in a way that was not congruent with the image that the NFL sought to build and maintain.  Now, if you take Commissioner Goodell’s words literally, Kaepernick would be welcomed back into the NFL as soon as a team chooses to sign him.  Is this a sea change for the NFL?  The reason I ask is that I can recall several other players who were “punished” in terms of fines and threats of suspension for expressions of their beliefs that ran afoul of NFL rules related to the NFL image.

I have not researched this so do not hold me to a standard where I have identified all of the cases that are similar to the ones below; these are the ones that come to mind with only a few moments or reflection.  The NFL has punished/”fined”:

  • Tim Tebow for wearing “John 3:16” as a graphic within his eye black.
  • Brandon Marshall for wearing odd-colored shoes to “raise awareness” for mental illnesses.  [Aside:  Anyone who needed to see Marshall in his odd-colored shoes to be aware of “mental illness” would probably have forgotten about it 15 minutes after that game went off the air.]
  • RG3 for wearing a T-shirt to a presser that said something on the order of “Know Jesus And You Know Peace”.
  • The Cowboys as a team for planning to have a decal on the star on their helmets to honor Dallas police officers who were killed in the pursuit of their duties.

So, is the “Mea Culpa” offered in the Kaepernick situation a sign that players have more freedom to represent causes important to them during games – – or is the Kaepernick “Mea Culpa” a one-off that is expedient in the current social climate?  As is usually the case in such situations, I must declare that I do not read minds and so I do not know.  But I will find it interesting to see how all of this evolves over the next months/years.

And by the way, even if the league is willing to allow the players a ton more latitude in terms of uniform and representational messages related to social issues, are there limits beyond which the league is not willing to go?  Let me present a few “hot-button issues” and ask purely rhetorically if the NFL might tolerate a player message:

  • Favoring – or opposing – abortion?
  • Favoring – or opposing – sanctions against a foreign country?
  • Favoring – or opposing – a candidate in an election year?
  • Favoring – or opposing – legislation pending in the Congress or possibly a Supreme Court nominee?

The watchword of the day in lots of sports journalism has to do with “player empowerment”.  While I always try to evaluate what anyone – athlete or not – has to say about an issue in light of his/her credentials to speak on the issue, the current social norm seems to be that if someone is “famous” for one thing, that make him/her qualified to opine cogently about anything.  I do not buy into that thinking for even a moment; but it is extant in the land.  I will be interested to see the extent to which the NFL loosens the leash on its players when it comes to “in-game demonstrations” regarding causes that are important to the players.

Finally, having spoken of “empowerment” let me present a definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

“Empowerment:  The feeling of being imbued with a sense of one’s own power.  A bogus concept popularized by self-help gurus whose best-selling books generate enough profits to give them empowerment up the yin yang.”

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

 

 

The NBA Restart In The “Bubble”

I have expended a lot of words about the MLB situation over the past several days so I‘d like to avert my eyes from that train wreck today and gaze upon the NBA and its planned restart in its “Orlando Bubble”.  Just so you can appreciate the complexity of setting something like this up for the first time ever, the NBA circulated a “health and safety protocol” to all the teams last week.  That protocol was 113 pages long.

As the protocol was in the final stages of editing/printing/sending, the coronavirus figuratively sent a shot across the bow of the NBA.  New cases  of COVID-19 in Florida this week are running three times higher than they were back in April/May and – more importantly – new cases of COVID-19 in Orange County – where the “Orlando Bubble” will exist – were also up significantly.  Here is the issue in a nutshell:

  • If the “Orlando Bubble” were like Biosphere in the sense that no one and nothing goes into or out of the “Bubble” once it is closed down and everyone and everything inside has been tested to be coronavirus free, there’s no problem. 
  • That is not the case with the “Orlando Bubble”.

The teams will be staying in Disney-provided quarters and that means all of the services of housekeeping and food preparation and all of the “administrivia of life” will be done by Disney folks – – and they will go in and out of the “Bubble”.  Media members covering the league and the games will not be quarantined in the “Bubble” either.  You get the point; the “Bubble” is going to be penetrated every day; and if you think about it, bubbles do not persist once subject to penetration.

The NBA protocol puts great faith in the testing and isolation procedures it will have in place in Orlando once the players arrive there.  Initial workouts for teams will be in the home areas and while there, players will be tested AND they will also be allowed to go about a normal existence until the teams finally assemble and head to Orlando.  Players can participate in protests and other social events without the need for supervision or reporting.  Here is what that means:

  • 22 teams with a total retinue of 35 people will arrive in Orlando within a short period of time.
  • Those 770 people will be tested/screened and put in isolation for up to 48 hours.
  • From the outset, the sanctity of the “Orlando Bubble” will depend on there being no false negatives in those 770 initial tests…

There were some players who thought they would not report to the “Bubble” because they felt it was more important for them to devote time and effort to the ongoing social justice reform movement in the country at the moment.  Time will tell how many of them make that choice, but that is another wrinkle in the smoothness of the NBA restart.  Additionally, players are not required to report back to there teams for whatever reason they may have.  Already two players, Davis Bertans (Wizards) and Trevor Ariza (Blazers) have announced that they will not participate in the Florida games.

Please do not infer that I think the NBA made a bad decision when they came up with the concept of the “Orlando Bubble”.  At the time they made the decision, it seemed as though they had found a way to resume their season, put together a playoff tournament and crown a champion for what is hopefully a unique set of circumstances for the league.  The issue is that conditions have changed.  Back when this plan was hatched, Florida had two appealing health statistics going for it:

  1. The absolute number of COVID-19 cases in the state was small relative to other states of similar size.
  2. The number of new cases per day was relatively constant.

Today neither of those conditions obtain and that increases the possibility that the virus can get inside the “Bubble” through the exchange of people and objects across the barrier that creates the “Bubble”.  What looked like a sturdy bridge for the NBA to get from cancelled games to a playoff now might be a rickety one.  Hopefully, it will stand the test.

I mentioned that some players may choose not to play in the “Bubble games” to continue their efforts to forge social change in the country.  As sure as I am that the sun came up this morning, there will be folks who label players making that decision in less-than-positive ways.  I certainly think that would be wrong; these are adults who are facing a serious dilemma in their lives.  Neither choice they might make is improper or counter-productive; they must have the latitude to make their own decision and then for everyone else to accept it and move on.

Having said that, here is something I do not understand:

  • I do not understand how playing in these NBA “Bubble games” prevents those players from using their celebrity status to push for social reforms.
  • In fact, I do not understand how playing in these “Bubble games” even detracts from players abilities to push for social reforms.

Presumably, one or more of the players who choose to opt out for this reason will make the case that allows me to understand here…

Finally, here is Scott Ostler of the SF Chronicle and his assessment of the decision to resume the NBA season in Orlando:

“Florida.

“The NBA is about to bubble down in Florida.

“But why Florida? Apparently, there were no leper colonies available.”

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

 

 

Maybe Baseball Is Back…

The headlines on sports websites this morning proclaim that MLB is going to impose a schedule for its 2020 season even in the absence of an agreement with the MLBPA.  If you are a diehard baseball fan – – or if you are simply tired of hearing about how these two entities cannot agree with each other on anything – – you may take those headlines as unadulterated good news.  I am indeed tired of hearing about the intransigence of both sides here, but I cannot make myself stand up and cheer at this outcome.

Let me give you two sentences from one report at CBSSports.com this morning:

“Manfred is expected to schedule a 60-game season provided the two sides agree on health and safety protocols, and the players are able to report to spring training by July 1. MLB asked the MLBPA to agree to both conditions by 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday.”

There are two live hand grenades in those two sentences:

  • “Provided the two sides agree to health and safety protocols” flies in the face of the reality that the two sides have been unable to agree on anything else.
  • “…asked the MLBPA to agree to both conditions by 5 p.m. on Tuesday,” is a deadline already passed without agreement.

Because the 2020 baseball season will forever be viewed as a bastard stepchild, no one really “won the negotiations”.  In a small sense, the owners “won” the bit about season length; they will lose money without fans in the stands, so they wanted as few games as possible.  The original owners’ proposal was for 48 games; the players countered with 114 games.  Purely coincidentally of course, those two proposals just happen to add up to 162 games which is a normal baseball season.  The stage was set for a compromise of 81 games if the two sides could shoe-horn that number into a calendar window.  But no … Manfred is expected to set us a 60-game schedule.  Fewer games = smaller losses for the owners.

Balance that small “win” for the owners against the fact that they will not get expanded playoffs this Fall meaning less revenue from media rights sales.  Fewer playoff games = smaller revenues for the teams.

The MLBPA took a loss – potentially a big one – keeping expanded playoffs from happening.  The owners were offering a 50/50 split of those playoff revenues and that sort of split is far in excess of what MLB currently spends on player salaries.  With upcoming negotiations needed for a new CBA, that would have been a nice bargaining chip for the union to have had on its side of the table.  But no…

Speaking of those upcoming negotiations for a new CBA, watch for this dynamic to play itself out over the winter – – with or without a second wave of COVID-19:

  • Claiming rightly that they lost money in 2020, owners will be very parsimonious with free agent offerings.
  • Someone somewhere – – I would not be surprised if Scott Boras were involved – – will mention “collusion”.
  • That will get the serious negotiations off on the right foot – – NOT!

Rather than drill down into the fine grain here to anoint a “winner” in this mess, let me focus on a more landscape sort of view.  MLB attendance has been down for the past several years; in 2019, MLB games drew about 1 million fewer fans than they did the year before.  MLB is not about to go bankrupt, but dwindling attendance is never a good sign.  I believe that part of the problem here is that the game now has a systemic flaw that it did not have in the past.

  • The average game takes about 3 hours and 5 minutes.  Every attempt to cut that down significantly has either been rejected by either owners or players and/or has been tried to no avail.
  • Homeruns and strikeouts are way up.  In both cases, the plate appearance that produces either outcome does not put the ball in play meaningfully.
  • There is far too much “dawdling”.  There is no sporting term that should have to be applied to the stalling tactics on display far too often.
  • “Tanking” has become acceptable baseball.  There have always been teams that spent less than other teams on players and lost games because of that.  Today, teams intentionally shortchange salaries to lose on purpose over several years’ time to harvest top draft picks.

Those four “negative elements” of MLB’s product today set in juxtaposition with the reality that ticket prices are high and parking/concession prices are highway robbery should explain at least a part of MLB’s attendance declines over the past several seasons.  On top of that, the omens for MLB attendance are not great:

  • In 1995 – after the truncated 1994 season that had no World Series – attendance dropped more than 20%.  Yes, one can attribute the 2020 “short season” to COVID-19, but no one will think of this year as a time when labor and management worked together to make things as good as they could be under the circumstances.  Fans will stay home next year even when the stadia are open for business.
  • The US economy has taken a significant hit in 2020.  The last time something of similar magnitude happened was the 2008 financial crises and baseball attendance dropped in the three years following that event.
  • Go all the way back to the Depression in the 1930s when attendance numbers were much smaller than today to begin with and you will see attendance decline as much as 35% year over year.

Here are my two indicators for just how badly the owners and the union have damaged baseball as an economic entity:

  1. What is the relative handle for Daily Fantasy Baseball at those gambling sites in the truncated 2020 season and then in the first several months of whatever the 2021 season turns out to be?
  2. How many season-long fantasy baseball leagues will be resurrected in 2021 as compared to 2019?

Instead of trying to figure out who won this labor management confrontation and who lost it, consider that the winner may have scored a Pyrrhic victory and that the game of baseball in the US is the unintended victim of the squabbling.

Finally, some cold-hearted logic from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald:

“Tony Hawk was in the news, but I didn’t care enough to Google why. Something about a 52-year-old man on a skateboard makes me sad.”

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

 

 

Team Sports Are In Trouble In the US

A curmudgeon is a crusty old coot who is skeptical about just about anything that has a positive or joyful sense to it.  I will plead guilty to much of that but today I want to add another less than loveable characteristic to my online persona.  Today, I am also going to be the bearer of some ominous news.

  • I am beginning to think that there will be no meaningful team sports in the US for the rest of 2020 and that condition may extend into 2021 based on the availability of an effective, reliable and widely available vaccine for COVID-19 – – or at a minimum a similarly effective, reliable and available therapeutic.

This line of gloomy thinking began at the end of last week.  As MLB and the MLBPA staggered toward a situation where each might grudgingly accept conditions under which to play a shortened 2020 season, COVID-19 raised its hand in the back of the classroom and reminded everyone that it is still here.  The first report last week said that 8 members of the Phillies – – 5 players and 3 “others” – – tested positive at the team’s Clearwater, FL Spring Training facility.  Obviously, the Phillies closed the facility and stopped whatever activities were ongoing there.

A report in USA Today over the weekend said that 40 “players and staff members” around MLB tested positive for COVID-19 last week.  Already, the idea of starting a regular baseball season on 19 July has been ruled out and the tentative “Opening Day” is now set for 26 July.  Let me put on my curmudgeon’s skepticism hat here; that sounds awfully optimistic to me.

In addition to the cluster of positive COVID-19 tests in the Phillies’ facility, there are reports of positive tests in the Blue Jays’, Yankees’, Astros’ and Giants’ facilities.  MLB has closed all facilities, and teams – other than the Blue Jays – will return home and conduct Spring Training 2.0 in their home cities.  The Blue Jays face a double whammy.  Their facility in Florida is closed but they cannot just “go home” because there are travel restrictions in place going to and from Canada – – as well there should be.

At first, it sounds like a reasonable plan; get the teams out of those facilities where there is obviously a COVID-19 presence, deep clean those facilities and have the home field facilities sanitized as the teams reassemble there.  Here is a bucket of sand to throw into those gears:

  • Last week, the States of Florida, Texas, Arizona, California and the District of Columbia saw COVID-19 cases increase by more than 10% over the week before.
  • California, Florida and Arizona all are reporting record highs for new COVID-19 cases over the last week – – and the numbers are continually climbing not levelling off.
  • Eleven MLB teams – more than one-third of MLB – play in those 5 jurisdictions noted above.
  • Those teams will arrive “home” to train and play in places where COVID-19 is in ascendance and not in decline.

My first thought on this matter was that the “COVID-19 problem” would be limited to team sports.  The problem there is the necessary proximity of players and coaches to practice and to play their games.  COVID-19 is highly contagious even before a person demonstrates symptoms and that means it only takes a single infected player or coach or clubhouse worker to bring the virus “in house” where it has the chance to spread widely before it is detected by a test.  What makes that sort of thinking even more ominous is that baseball – – where we have seen viral entry and spread – – is a game that tends to allow for social distancing for much of the time.  It is an imperfect social distancing to be sure, but it is a lot better than the conditions under which football or basketball or hockey take place.

Back in March, the NBA shut down its operations entirely when one player – ONE player – tested positive for COVID-19.  In last March, the number of known/active cases for COVID 19 in the US was less than 75,000 and there had been about 1500 deaths ascribed to COVID-19.  The latest data I can find says that COVID-19 cases in the US now total more than 2.2 million and that there have been approximately 115 thousand deaths.  So, what is the NBA considering today?  Reopening their season-interruptus in a bubble environment in Florida – – one of those States where case numbers are on the rise.  Do those two actions make any sense to you once you juxtapose them?  They do if dollars and cents take precedence over health and safety concerns.

College football provides us with a living and breathing example of Karma in all her splendor this morning.  Recall back in April when Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State said he wanted his football program back to normalcy on May 1st – – that didn’t’ happen – – and Dabo Swinney proclaimed that he was 100% certain that there would be a full and normal college football season in the Fall.  Last week we learned that 23 players on the Clemson football team which was in the process of getting ready to start training for that full and normal college football season in the Fall tested positive for COVID-19 and needed isolation.  Obviously, I want every one of those players to recover fully.  AND, I also want to sit back and smile as I see Karma have its way with Dabo Swinney for the moment…

The COVID-19 “problem” is not limited to Clemson.  According to reports:

  • 30 players at LSU require isolation
  • Kansas St. reported 8 positive tests
  • Oklahoma State – Mike Gundy’s program – has 3 players who tested positive
  • Alabama has “several players” that tested positive
  • Houston has 6 positive tests and has shut down all voluntary training activities.  [Aside:  It is sort of interesting to see an institution shutting down “voluntary activities”.  Makes me wonder how “voluntary” they were…]

Folks, these are just some of the major college football programs affected by the virus; there are lots of lesser programs reporting positive tests, but I want to limit the space consumed here.  The problem facing college football programs is an economic one in addition to a health and safety one.  Testing for COVID-19 is not cheap; the best I can figure, the test kit plus the cost to analyze and report the findings is around $50 per test.  Let’s do some math:

  • A major college football team has about 100 players with 15 coaches and 50 support staff.  Let us consider that the testing population for a college football team is 165 people.  [Trust me, the numbers come out even that way.]
  • Ideally, you would want to test everyone in the facility associated with the team daily to isolate a carrier of COVID-19 ASAP – – but we know that is not going to happen so let me assume that they test everyone on a rotational basis every 3 days.  They will therefore perform 55 tests per day.
  • If organized workouts begin on 15 July and extend until December 1 – – most teams will not play significantly past December 1 unless they play in a meaningless bowl game – – that means the time span for testing is 139 days.
  • So, 139 days times 55 tests per day times $50 per test comes to $382,250.

I am sure that major college football programs can find that kind of money in their official budgets or in their “off-books budget” – – but what about the fringe programs?  Remember, plenty of those “fringe programs” need to sign up to get shellacked by one or more of the major programs every year just to get a big payday to cover normal expenses.  Those “fringe programs” do not have $382,250 just lying around in some sort of slush fund.

The NFL is surely better prepared to incur significant testing and safety costs to allow its season to proceed.  Owners will lament their “losses” which need to be put into context:

  • Over the past several years, every team has done budgetary and fiscal projections for future revenues and expenditures.  Owners are smart and successful businesspeople; that is what they do to be successful.
  • Even at the end of the 2019 season – – and assuredly prior to that time – – owners and teams projected operating profits of “X” dollars for 2020.
  • With the reality that there may be plenty of games – if not all the games – with no fans in the stadium, revenues will be down meaning projected profits will be down.
  • With unanticipated costs for testing now being necessary, expenses will be up meaning projected profits will be down even further.
  • We only get to see the books for the green Bay Packers because they are “publicly owned” so we will never REALLY know if any other team has a revenue statement for 2020 that is the same as the one we will eventually see for the Packers, but my GUESS is that most if not all of the teams will still show a positive cash flow for 2020 – even if they may find a way through accounting legerdemain to declare a “loss for the year”.
  • To be sure, the profit I am envisioning here will be a lot less than the “X” dollars that were projected for 2020, but it will not be the end of the world for the billionaires who own the teams.  Ignore the flood of crocodile tears that are sure to be coming…

Dr. Anthony Fauci has become a “celebrity scientist” throughout the course of this pandemic.  Because my educational background is also in the sciences – – but not medicine or epidemiology by any means – I appreciate his ability to explain underlying conditions that go along with glib assertions such as “create a bubble for teams to live in.”  Here is something Dr. Fauci said in a report from CNN:

“Unless players are essentially in a bubble and insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day, it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this Fall.  If there is a second wave [of COVID-19 cases] which is certainly a possibility and would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

Important concepts in Dr. Fauci’s comment above are “insulated from the community” and “tested nearly every day”.  Are those conditions really feasible for an NFL season that runs for more than 6 months for playoff teams?  I don’t think so…

While team sports in the US are in trouble over the short term, I am a bit more optimistic about individual sports – – but I do not think they are totally immune to COVID-19 “interventions”.  Just this morning there are reports that Bulgarian tennis star, Grigor Dimitrov tested positive for COVID-19.  That announcement came after Dimitrov took part in a tennis exhibition in Croatia with other players including Novak Djokovic.  While tennis is a sport where viral transmission during a match is far less likely than it would be in a football or basketball game, this incident shows that COVID-19 can have a direct effect on an “individual sport”.

Like tennis, golf is an individual sport that also lends itself to social distancing and intermittent mask wearing.  Last week, the PGA Tour had one of its players, Nick Watney, test positive for COVID-19.  While it is probable that Watney contracted the virus in some venue other than on the golf course, the fact that he did bring it to the course – and to the facilities at Hilton Head where the tournament was contested – means that vigilance is necessary.  The PGA conducted testing on 11 people who came in contact with Watney over the weekend; fortunately, all 11 came back with negative tests.  There is no guarantee that will be the case the next time a golfer tests positive.

Sports like bowling and diving and figure skating lend themselves to precautionary measures for COVID-19.  However, I wonder if those sports have sufficiently deep pockets to pay for any sort of extensive testing that might be necessary should an outbreak happen in their midst.  This is a complicated mess at its absolute best.

Entities such as the NBA and the NHL and to some extent the NFL have declared that they have found a formula by which then can create a “bubble” for their teams and then real  games – sans fans in the stands – can happen on a regularly scheduled basis.  I hope they are right but with every new revelation about how many positive tests there are here and there and everywhere, my skepticism gland goes hyperactive.  Remember, the Phillies thought they had their players in a bubble in Clearwater FL.  Turns out that “bubble” was closer to a “bobble”…

Since I referred to Dr. Anthony Fauci above, let me close today with a thought from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times relevant to another piece of the good doctor’s advice:

“Disease czar Dr. Anthony Fauci has advised against playing baseball deep into October.

“No problem, said the Seattle Mariners.”

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

 

 

A Tale Of Three Quarterbacks

With profound apologies to Charles Dickens, today’s rant is a tale of three quarterbacks.  Two are at loose ends while the other one is technically still on the job – – but tenuously.  Let me take them in alphabetical order so that no one may draw an inference here that is unintended; I will begin with Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick was last seen in an NFL game in 2016 and that season was not a good one for him or the Niners.  He started 11 games; the Niners’ record in those games was 1-10-0.  To be fair, the Niners stunk as a team in 2016 ending the season at 2-14-0.  Nonetheless, coaches now looking at his “most recent game film” are not going to see high productivity.  It is difficult to conjure up a situation where a team would sign him and name him the starter at the press conference called to announce the signing.

And there could be a rub – – for a few reasons:

  1. Kaepernick has been to the NFC Championship Game twice and the Super Bowl once.  Is he content to be a back-up somewhere?
  2. More importantly, is he willing to sign for “back-up money”?
  3. Given Kaepernick’s off-field and sideline behaviors in the past, he will be the focus of media attention wherever he signs.  Does a team want its back-up QB to be a center of attention/distraction?

Assuming he is in physical condition to play NFL football, there are lots of teams that could sign him and say legitimately that they had just upgraded their back-up QB situation by a lot.  I would anticipate that teams who show interest in working him out and possibly signing him would be ones with established starters and realistic playoff aspirations who would want Kaepernick as an insurance policy.  Two teams that fit that description are:

  • Seattle Seahawks:  Russell Wilson has started 143 consecutive games for the Seahawks and is clearly going to be the starter there.  The backup is Geno Smith and Anthony Gordon is the other QB on the roster.  Seattle has a legitimate shot at the playoffs and Kaepernick is an upgrade at “back-up QB”.
  • LA Rams:  Jared Goff is the starter for the Rams but there is not much “in the bullpen” in terms of reliable NFL talent.  The #2 guy on the depth chart this morning is John Wolford whose most positive professional days were with the Arizona Hotshots in the late-but-not-lamented AAF.  Also on the roster are two undrafted free agents, Bryce Perkins (UVa) and Josh Love (San Jose St.).

The second quarterback who is also at loose ends this morning is Cam Newton.  Like Colin Kaepernick, Newton has been to the Super Bowl and Newton was the NFL MVP in 2015.  The first two questions that are relevant to Colin Kaepernick above apply directly to Cam Newton as well.  He has a third “issue” that teams have been unable to resolve for themselves due to the COVID-19 mess.

  • Newton injured his shoulder in 2018 and it required surgery.  He came back in 2019 and played 2 games before injuring a foot which also required surgery.  With travel restrictions and team activity restrictions, coaches and GMs have not been able to get him examined by team physicians or to work him out.  Obviously, no one wants to sign “damaged goods”.

On the assumption that Cam Newton is healthy and that he is willing to be a back-up QB somewhere, I think the team for him is:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers:  The Steelers’ starter, Ben Roethlisberger, also started only 2 games last year before suffering an elbow injury that required surgery.  Roethlisberger will be 38 years old this season coming off that injury.  The current QBs on the roster behind Roethlisberger are Mason Rudolph, “Duck” Hodges and Paxton Lynch.  A healthy Cam Newton can beat out that trio and it is not axiomatic that Ben Roethlisberger will be able to start 16 games this year…

The third quarterback is on a roster; Josh Rosen has a job as of this morning.  Right now, he is positioned behind Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tua Tagovailoa with the Dolphins.  Assuming that Tua is healthy, he will be the guy to go in for starter Ryan Fitzpatrick if needed; Rosen will be the odd man out.  And that is strange since he was taken as the overall #10 pick in 2018 and is only 23 years old.  Yes, his rookie season with the Cardinals in 2018 was a hot mess; but the fact is that the Cards were also a hot mess in 2018.

Rosen does not bring a gaudy résumé with him to any job interview but I wonder why the Dolphins would want to keep him as the #3 guy when they should be able to trade Rosen for a contingent draft pick and then sign some guy who gets cut late in the Exhibition Season to fill the shoes of the “quarterback-never-to-be-seen-on-Sunday”.  Here are two teams with playoff aspirations who might consider making a deal with the Dolphins for Rosen:

  • Minnesota Vikings:  The backup behind Kirk Cousins is Sean Manion who has been in the NFL for 5 seasons seeing sporadic action and – – get this – – has never thrown a TD pass in his career and whose average yards per pass attempt for his career is 3.4 yards.  Behind him is Nate Stanley (Iowa) who was taken in the 7th round of this year’s NFL Draft and has never taken a snap with an NFL team.
  • Tennessee Titans:  The Titans make this listing because Marcus Mariota – last year’s back-up – signed on with the Raiders as a free agent.  This morning, the Titans have Logan Woodside listed as the #2 QB.  He was a 7th round pick in 2018 and had a brief showing with the San Antonio Commanders in the late-but-not-lamented AAF; he has been on the Titans’ practice squad, so he presumably “knows the system”.  The other QB listed on the Titans’ depth chart is Cole McDonald who is also a 7th round pick (in 2020) out of Hawaii.

Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with a string of comparisons.  One of them was:

“… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”

Back-up quarterbacks always provide hope for NFL fans; they are often the most popular player on a team if the team is not doing well.  However, back-up quarterbacks usually see action on Sunday out of despair.  Either the starter has to miss time with an injury, or the team is taking a nosedive and the coach is grasping for straws.  There is an interesting parallel to Dickens’ description there.

Finally, here is a key observation by Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“A 2-year-old colt named Fauci finished second at Belmont Park’s belated opening day of racing, by 4¾ lengths.

“Or for you social-distancing fans, roughly 38 feet.”

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

 

 

More Labor/Management Stuff Today …

Reports yesterday said that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark met face-to-face in Phoenix at Manfred’s request and that they may have adopted a joint framework that might lead to an agreement sometime soon to produce a major league baseball season in 2020.  Given the proclivities for both sides to self-immolate, it is too soon to say that “the end is in sight”; but that status is a whole lot more optimistic that the one that existed 48 hours ago.  What happened?

  • We can hope that some adult(s) in the room on either/both sides got the floor and forced everyone to look at the situation rationally asking if the non-negotiations had gotten things to an optimal place.
  • We can hope that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark both realize that carrying through on where this situation was as of Monday night would tarnish any positive reputation either of them might have had 6 months ago.
  • We can hope that no player and no owner will take to Twitter any time soon to bash “the other side”.
  • We do not know what happened; we can hope that whatever it was leads us to a positive end.  But in the end, we must sit and wait some more…

One rumor coming out of this session – – and let me stress the word “rumor” – – is that MLB wants the union to agree to expanded playoffs (16 teams) in both 2020 and 2021.  I hope that is not the case for two reasons:

  1. Baseball does not need more than half of its teams in the playoffs this year or next year or in any other year.  That is simply a bad idea.
  2. If the players were to agree to this and then the country faces a major resurgence of the coronavirus in late September this year obviating the 2020 expanded playoffs, that will be a point of friction between MLB and the MLBPA next year as they try to get to a new CBA.  Do not try to tell me that “reasonable people” will recognize there was the intervention of an outside event; there are no “reasonable people” here; look at where we are and how we got here!

By the way, I did read one report that said this was the first face-to-face meeting between Manfred and Clark since June 7th.  Assuming that is the case, would it not be a good idea for some reporter to ask both men a seemingly obvious question:

  • What took you so long?

It has been a while since I wrote about the NFL and its dogged focus on starting its season on time and proceeding as if the coronavirus was merely an historical oddity.  You may be certain that my hope is for the NFL to be right on that point; my rational brain says they are overly-optimistic – – but then again, my rational brain would have had MLB starting on July 4th with both sides fully content with the way everyone had dealt with the coronavirus.  So much for my rational brain…

Let me assume that the NFL does indeed start on time – the week after Labor Day – having come through a reasonable time in training camps such that half the league is not on the injured list by Week 3.  If that happens, this would be my expectation:

  • The stands will be empty – – or at the very least socially distanced to make them completely different from what we have come to expect of an NFL game.
  • The TV ratings will go through the roof.

The sporting public in the US has been without meaningful live sports since mid-March; the NBA playoffs in empty arenas will have a significant absence of immediacy; people will still be pissed at MLB and/or the MLBPA for all of those shenanigans over the past month or so.  And then the NFL – – the 800 lb. gorilla of pro sports in the US – – can ride in to the rescue with real games played when they were supposed to be played by players who are fully prepared to play those games.

Here is the question that I think is interesting.  Suppose public health reasons prevent the NFL from starting on time in early September.

  • How should the NFL try to play its version of a truncated season?

The date and the place for the Super Bowl are set.  Moving the Super Bowl to another venue or to change the date in the same venue by a couple of weeks is not a trivial undertaking.  So, what ought to be the NFL contingency plan?  [Aside:  For the record, the Super Bowl is scheduled for 7 February 2021 in Tampa, FL.]

Presumably, the NFL will have “gone to school” on the mess created in MLB and the natterings associated with the NBA efforts to put its season back together.  If the NFL does not have a contingency plan in place that has at a minimum the acquiescence of the NFLPA, then shame on Roger Goodell and everyone else along Mahogany Row in the NFL offices in NYC.

Remember, the NFL playoffs for this year – and presumably for time immemorial – will include 14 teams not just 12.  That means two extra playoff games for the league in January and the TV ratings for those games should be very large meaning a nice boost in league revenue which translates into a nice boost in the salary cap for each team.

MLB and the MLBPA showed us that 20 years or so of “Labor Peace” and an agreement to try to “expand the playoffs” to get more TV money into the exchequer is not necessarily a harbinger of a “smooth transition”.  The NFL and the NFLPA really do need to “go to school” here to avoid a congruent disaster.

There are reports out there saying that Dr. Anthony Fauci says that MLB should not play games late into October because the combination of a “second wave of coronavirus” combined with playing outdoors in cold weather could be a health hazard.  Excuse me, if that is a serious concern and a thinly veiled “recommendation” from the nation’s leading epidemiologist, can someone explain to me how the NFL can possibly finish off a regular season with games in November/December in venues such as New England, Buffalo, NYC, Philly, Pittsburgh, Cleveland …  You get the idea.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times from a while back:

“Red-faced Target officials apologized after four Twin Cities stores offered ‘Minnesota Badgers’ onesies for sale.

“No word on how the fresh shipment of ‘Green Bay Vikings’ kiddie shirts is selling in Milwaukee.”

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

 

 

Mix And Match Today…

Alongside reports that some NBA players might not want to report to the NBA’s “Orlando Bubble” to resume the season and begin the playoffs, the league has sent out to all of the teams a memo that details the procedures that would be in place inside “The Bubble” and at least some of the amenities to be provided there down to the level of “barbers, hair braiders, manicurists and pedicurists.”  Ben Golliver covers the NBA for the Washington Post and he reported on this league communication to the teams and thereby to the players.  Here is a link to his report; it is informative.

I assume the issue of pay has been figured out between the NBA and the NBPA by now.  However, since that issue arose to become a huge point in the MLB season-starting plans, I wish I knew what might happen in the following scenarios:

  1. For players on the 8 teams not invited to “The Bubble”, will they be paid the pro-rata share of their contracts for games not played?
  2. For players on the 22 teams invited to “The Bubble”, will they be paid their full contract value despite not playing a full 82-game season?
  3. For players on the 22 teams invited to “The Bubble” and who choose not to report there for whatever reason, will they be paid for games played by their teams (regular season and/or playoff games)?

[Aside:  Could it be that players on teams “uninvited” would be paid for games not played but players on “invited teams” who choose not to play would not be paid for games missed?  Let us just say that situation would be “counter-intuitive”.]

Moving on …  I was pretty confident the following issue would emerge in the current environment of social change/reform and I am surprised that it took as long as it did.  Barry Svrluga is an excellent columnist for The Washington Post; in today’s edition, this is the headline on his column:

“The Redskins’ name is the shameful statue of the NFL. It’s time to tear it down.”

You can read it here.

That issue has been dormant for three or four years and the current tone of the country is clearly in harmony with any call to make a name change there.  And of course, that brings the discussion directly back to Danny Boy Snyder who is on record saying that he would NEVER (I wrote it in caps as he said anyone should) change the team name.  So, how might all that play itself out?

  • He could change the team name and try to assume the mantle of one who has – finally – seen the light.  I think that is a low-probability event because two decades of his team ownership provides precious few examples of him being willing to admit – privately let alone publicly – that he has been wrong about anything.
  • He could be forced to change the team name.  There will soon be alluring calls for “fan boycotts”.  They would work if they could be widely applied AND maintained.  That has never happened in the past.  The NFL could apply pressure to get him to change the name.  The networks could apply pressure to get him to change the name.  He wants a new stadium in the District of Columbia so the pols there can apply pressure to get him to change the name – and can engage in virtue-signaling by doing so.
  • He can dig in his heels and keep the name as it is.  History has shown that he may not like the media affixing negative images to him, but that he is able to shake them off and maintain all the flexibility of concrete.

I have said this every time this controversy has come up – – going all the way back to the 1980s before Danny Boy Snyder graduated from college.  As long as the Washington Redskins team is a cash cow for its owner(s), there is no reason for them to make a change.  If and only if the stature of a cash cow for the owners can be changed will there be any logical reason for him to make such a decision.

So, as you read and hear about calls for a name change here – and I have no doubt they will take place – ask yourself how likely it is that the pressure being applied will change the status of the cash cow.  That has always been the turning point; I suspect that it will be the turning point this time around too.

There is “restart news” in tennis too.  The US Open will take place between August 31 and September 15 in NY but there will be no fans allowed in the stands.  That decision by Governor Cuomo came yesterday and allows planning for the staging of this major tournament to proceed.  As is the custom today regarding anything as complicated as a restart of competition, there is controversy over how it will be done.  Novak Djokovic has called the precautionary measures “extreme” and he told the Serbian state TV channel that he would “most likely” restart his participation on clay.  The US Open is not played on clay – – but the French Open is played on clay and it has been rescheduled to begin on September 20 which is less than a week after the finals of the US Open.

Here is one example of what is described as “extreme”.  The protocol suggested for the US open would allow a player to be accompanied by only one person; that could be a coach or a spouse or a Zen master.  Djokovic said that he needs at least a coach, a fitness trainer and a physiotherapist for himself to compete properly.  Commence controversy…

If Djokovic sits out the US Open, that would remove two of the three biggest men’s stars from the tournament.  Roger Federer announced recently that he is on the shelf until at least 2021 after undergoing a “surgical procedure” on his knee.  Moreover, the third men’s star in the tennis constellation, Rafael Nadal, said about two weeks ago that if you pushed him for an answer then as to his desire to go to NY to play in the US Open, his answer then would be, “No.”  Nadal did leave the door open for his participation if things “improve in the right way.”

Finally, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald channeled Carnac the Magnificent here:

Answer: A 1910 Shoeless Joe Jackson baseball card just sold at auction for $492,000.

Question: What makes you say some people don’t know what to do with their money?”

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

 

 

The NBA’s Turn In The Barrel…

As illustrated yesterday, whatever will try to pass itself off as the 2020 MLB season will be a cheap imitation at best and more likely a fraud.  There is no need to vent any more spleen over that outrageous situation until something more concrete happens to rekindle my revulsion.  But wait, there’s more…

Up until about 48 hours ago, it seemed as if the NBA had found a way to patch together a means to finish their “season-interruptus” from back in mid-March.  I thought the idea of inviting 22 of the 30 teams to participate in the finishing games of the season was a bit strange but I did like the idea of putting all the teams – players and coaches – in a bubble somewhere and testing them for the coronavirus every other day.  Those decisions were made carefully and with input from the NBPA.  It surely seemed as if there was a logical and potentially feasible path forward to finish a regular season and start the belated playoffs.

Out of the blue, Murphy’s Law demanded jurisdiction.  How dare the NBA assume that it had everything under control – – everything, that is, that can humanly be controllable.  Over the weekend, there was a conference call involving a reported 80 NBA players.  According to reports, there was a large sentiment expressed there that a return to work by NBA players – who are predominantly Black – would detract from the attention being given to social reforms that need attention in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

Kyrie Irving is the most vocal of the star players who do not want to report to the bubble in Orlando to finish out the season and Kyrie Irving has a platform from which to assert his position because he is the vice-president of the NBPA.  While I may not agree that the act of NBA players reporting to play games in Orlando would detract from the efforts to effect social reform, I think I can understand how Irving might come to that conclusion.  However, I think Irving’s logic went off the rails when he reportedly told the conference call this:

“There’s only 20 guys actually getting paid, and I’m part of that.  Let’s not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide all of us.”

“…a tiered system purposely to divide all of us”?  Really?  The NBA and its owners have created in a calculated way (”purposely”) a pay scale in the league that hinders players from standing for and pushing for social reform?  I am going to need a lot of tutoring and a lot of real evidence – not just arm-waving rhetoric – to get to that place on the scale of understanding.  It is not that I think the NBA owners are too good and too noble to do anything like that; it’s that I don’t think they could pull it off even after they thought up the system and agreed to implement it.

  • [Aside:  The messenger here is also not a perfect representative.  Kyrie Irving has voiced some “controversial” beliefs such as the time he said he believed the Earth is flat.]

Here is a link to a report at CBSSports.com that will give you a transcription of the remarks from about a half-dozen players who were involved in that conference call.  There are clearly differences of opinion there regarding the righteousness of reporting to Orlando.

Frankly, I think that the NBA players should be equally focused on a different aspect of reporting to the bubble in Orlando.  Back when Florida “reopened” from its stay-at-home status, the number of new COVID-19 cases per day in Florida fluctuated around 750 per day.  That is not great – – but Florida is a big state so one can convince oneself that the contagion might be difficult to encounter.  Here are some latter data for the number of new cases for the State of Florida since reopening:

  • June 12 – – 1,902
  • June 13 – – 2,581
  • June 14 – – 2,016
  • June 15 – – 1,758

I am not channeling Chicken Little here; the sky is not falling.  At the same time, it is fair and logical to say that the numbers of new cases in Florida while it was “shut down” were a lot more attractive than the numbers are today.  I understand that NBA players are young and as a general rule to not have any of the underlying conditions that are dangerous when the coronavirus attacks; but by the same token, they are young men with families to take into consideration as they make their decision(s).

My guess is that most of them will report to Orlando and play.  But there will be twists and turns along the way before all their bags are packed…

Meanwhile, the NFL and the NFLPA are reportedly discussing possible changes to the Exhibition Season with the idea of making it shorter in 2020.  The foundation of this idea is that some players may not be ready even for Exhibition Games this year due to the lack of structured conditioning programs and classroom preparations this off-season.  This situation has the potential to invoke the adage:

  • “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.”

Imagine if it took a pandemic to make a permanent change to the NFL schedule that reduced the number of meaningless Exhibition Games from 4 to 2.  That would mean the pandemic was not an ill wind.  Ruminate on that!

Finally, here is a Tweet from Brad Dickson, formerly with the Omaha World-Herald:

“A driver is retiring because NASCAR is banning Confederate flags. I only hope this news doesn’t harm the image of NASCAR as a sport of sophisticated, worldly, intellectual free thinkers.”

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

 

 

More Tone-Deafness…

Earlier this week, I wrote about the tone-deafness of Drew Brees and the way that his remarks about NFL anthem protests did not fit into the fabric of the conversation regarding police practices vis á vis the minority community at the time.  I doubt that anyone reading these rants was not aware of the controversy those remarks had created before reading any of my remarks.  Today, I want to tell you about another tone-deaf individual that you might not know about.

Wauwatosa, WI is a suburb west of Milwaukee; there are no eastern suburbs of Milwaukee because that would be Lake Michigan.  One of the business enterprises there is a gym called Anytime Fitness.  One of the personal trainers employed there exhibited his tone-deafness in the following way:

  • He posted a sign in the gym depicting a workout that the trainer was using as a “challenge” to gym patrons.
  • That challenge consisted of distance measured stretches on a rowing machine alternating with intervals of burpees [or squat-thrusts as they were called when I was doing gym exercises].  It is a long list of alternating rowing and “burpeeing” workouts with a time goal of 35 minutes and 29 seconds posted.  Sounds harmless so far – – unless you try to meet that challenge and pull a muscle or endure a “cardiac event”…  Here is the rub.
  • On the same whiteboard where this challenge routine was written there is a graphic.  That graphic consists of a depiction of a man on one knee and the graphic is drawn with a black magic marker.  That is not horrible but wait, there’s more…
  • There are words written on the white board too and they say:
  • “I Can’t Breathe” 
  • And
  • “Don’t you dare lay down.”

All I can do here is the channel Dick Enberg and say, “Oh my!”  As you may imagine, this mis-timed posting of a workout in a gym has received a ton of attention and the trainer who created the posting and the graphics has been put on leave by Anytime Fitness and according to a company statement that trainer’s “employment status is under review”.

I think there is an important comparison to make here.  After Drew Brees said what he did, lots of NFL players reacted in the moment and in character to his remarks.  Malcom Jenkins posted on one of the social media sites a video where he spoke from his heart and his gut to the point that he came to tears.  Others reacted and spoke or wrote in plain English what they felt/thought about what Brees said.  It does not matter if you agree with what those players said about Drew Brees in that moment, but it was absolutely clear that what they said and wrote on social media was real and genuine.  Please compare those reactions to the ones that emanate from Wauwatosa in this matter.

`           Here are statements from Self-Esteem Brands and Anytime Fitness:

“One of our publicly-stated commitments to antiracism work is to bolster training efforts for our franchise owners to lead with empathy, love and respect.  This incident makes it clear that we have work to do in this space; immediately, we are sharing this incident with our franchise owners worldwide as an example of what not to do, why it is offensive and what locations should be doing instead.”

As in the “Brees Incident”, it does not matter if you agree with this statement or not, consider if this sounds like something those brand executives would say in any normal discourse – – or if this was conjured up in a session with folks from “Legal” and “Public Relations”.

In a separate statement, the execs also said:

“This experience has further galvanized our commitment to antiracism education within our franchise network.  To our employees, franchise owners, members and  communities – especially those who are black, Indigenous and people of color – we deeply regret today’s events and we will continue to learn from these experiences.  Our commitment to eliminating racism within our business is stronger than ever.”

As above, it is hard to disagree with any of the words or sentiments here – – but does anyone speak that way?  For that matter, does anyone write that way unless they are “putting out a statement” with the intention of putting out a fire?

Here is a link to a report from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about this incident where you can read more about the matter.  Also included, of course, are statements issued by local political leaders who reflexively seized the opportunity to do some virtue-signaling.

Moving along…  The Carolina Panthers signed XFL QB, PJ Walker to a one-year contract and Walker got a signing bonus of $150K.  Walker played his college football at Temple and he was there when Matt Rhule was the head coach at Temple.

In addition, the Carolina Panthers signed former Vikes and Saints QB, Teddy Bridgewater to a 3-year contract that has $33M guaranteed and could be worth as much as $63M.  I really hope that Coach Rhule does not try to portray what happens in Panthers’ training camp as a free and open competition at the QB position.

Oh, and the Panthers also have Will Grier – a 3rd round pick from Florida in 2019 – on the roster…

Finally, let me close today by asking if this ever occurred to you:

  • How did the people on Gilligan’s Island stay so happy episode after episode after they ran out of whatever supply of toilet paper they had on board?

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

 

 

A Time Of Change – – Both Good And Bad

As more parts of the US begin to “re-open” despite a still large number of known COVID-19 cases, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back and see if there might be a bright spot or two that will emerge from the country’s lockdown – – at least as it may apply to the sports world.  It is hard to imagine that anything organic to individual sports like MLB or the NBA or the NHL which had schedule disruptions could have been a “bright spot”, but maybe if we look just a bit more deeply, we can find a nugget or two.  The danger here is that as we dig more deeply, we might find some fetid remains as well.  We shall see…

When sports went dark back in March, the TV networks had to scramble to avoid having test patterns [Google is your friend, youngsters.] and/or dead air fill the screens nationwide.  They resolved that issue by following Warner Wolf’s directive:

“Let’s go to the videotape.”

That solved TV’s immediate problem, but it left execs and producers with time on their hands to think up “innovations”.  Those good folks came up with three of these and I want to put them into three familiar categories:  The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

  • The Good:  The idea of putting microphones on baseball managers/coaches could be an interesting innovation providing added insights into game strategy and dugout atmosphere.  There will need to be attentive monitors of that audio feed and it will be important to silence those microphones when a manager/coach goes nose-to-nose with an umpire over a “blown call”.  [Aside:  Dr. Fauci would not approve of that sort of face-to-face shouting even if the participants were wearing masks.  Just saying…]  I do not need to hear any “commentary” from players or among players, but from managers and coaches it might be interesting.
  • The Bad:  The idea of using mannequins – or worse yet blow-up dolls – as faux fans in the stands so that it “looks better on TV” is more than just a bad idea.  It is a stupid idea.  The collective of humankind saw its total intellectual capital diminished when that idea was first vocalized.
  • The Ugly:  I assume you are wondering at this point what might be worse than something that drains the inventory of human intellectual capital.  Well, the idea of piping in crowd noise because there are no live fans to provide spontaneous crowd noise would fit that bill.  The compelling thing about sports is that it is real; what is happening on the field or the court or the pitch or the ice is not some fakery or fantasy; it is there and it is happening in real time.  Piping in “fake noise” destroys that compelling element.

There was a time 60-70 years ago where there was a thing called a “reconstructed baseball game” as a radio program.  If you saw the movie Bull Durham you saw an announcer sitting in a studio getting a news feed pitch by pitch from the stadium and using sound effects and fake crowd noise to make it seem to the listener that they were hearing a real broadcast.  Those reconstructed games were commonplace until about the early 1950s in MLB but it was always easy to tell which games were “live” and which were “reconstructed” – even to a kid who just wanted to listen to a game on the radio.

  • Memo to TV Execs:  Do not screw around with the reality and the authenticity of the sports you are paying to  televise – unless you lump pro ‘rassling in with the concepts of “sports” and “authenticity”.  The only analogy I can come up with here if you do that is that you will be pissing in the soup.

Along similar lines, the NFL – a sport whose regular season/playoff season was not immediately impacted by all of the COVID-19 trauma – made some changes to the way it did its business and made some rule changes that will go into effect when the NFL returns to live action.  It would be ever so convenient if I could categorize those changes in the same three categories as above – – but I cannot honestly say that any of the changes classify as The Ugly.  So, I will have to settle for a simple delineation of good and bad.

  • The Good:  I really liked the “decentralized NFL Draft” better than the huge convocation of folks into a single venue.  I doubt we will see that very often down the line because of the revenue the mass convocation produces, but it was a great innovation.
  • The Good:  The NFL got rid of the rule allowing replay to be used to review pass interference calls – or non-calls – which had been in place on a one-year trial basis in 2019.  The problem with the rule was not its intention; the problem is that the rule was not enforced well at all and created more animosity league-wide than did the Saints/Rams playoff incident that engendered the rule in the first place.  Good riddance…
  • The Bad:  For the second year in a row, the NFL tabled a rule change that would eliminate the onside kick and replace it with a single play of 4th and 15 to determine if the “kicking team” would retain possession of the ball.  The league is on a dilemma here; they changed the previous onside kickoff rule to enhance player safety; that is a tough terrain on which to beat a retreat.  The problem is that the current rule makes it almost impossible for an onside kick to work.  The NFL needs an infusion of imagination to change things here.

With regard to onside kicks in the NFL, I ran across this stat attributed to Michael Lopez who is the Director of Data and Analytics for the NFL.  I figure he is an authoritative source…  According to his stats, over the last two years since the new onside kick rule has been in effect teams that have tried an expected onside kick in a regular season NFL game have a combined record of 0-104.

Obviously, teams trying an expected onside kick are trailing when they do that; one should not expect the results to be anywhere near .500.  Nonetheless, with the new onside kick rule in effect, the onside kick has been relegated to a status politely described as “Useless”.

  • Memo to NFL Owners:  Find a way to modify the current onside kick rule; it’s not working…

Finally, here is a comment from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times about a baseball story that has receded into memory as the league and the players continue to squabble over money:

“Three teams — the Astros, Red Sox and Mets — fired their managers in the aftermath of Houston’s sign-stealing trash-bangers.

“Or, more precisely, they canned them.”

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