What we’re about to experience, coronavirus permitting, are ballgames on mushrooms. It’s the best the pandemic can do to lift our battered beings from America’s daily morass, one that has left us alternately numb, angry and slap-happy. If NBA players aren’t being tested for recreational drugs in their Disney World Snitch Bubble, it’s only fair that fans get stoned as they warily enter the new sports twilight zone Thursday.
That’s when a COVID-19 testing site in Los Angeles, formerly known as Dodger Stadium, moonlights as an Opening Night TV studio.
Artificial crowd noise will be piped in from a video game and equipped with 75 effects and reactions, which is so typical of Major League Baseball, lying instead of embracing innovation and miking up players. Camera shots will be tight to avoid showing vacant caverns. The house organ and walk-up music will be eerie. And cardboard cutouts as fans? At least they won’t be hospitalized or killed by screaming foul balls, just pelted with holes. Wrigley Field looked like a vacant movie set Sunday night, sad and hollow, a reminder that sports never should take fans for granted in the live experience
But even if it seems like something Will Smith stumbled upon in “I Am Legend,’’ it’s still baseball of some sort. Not that it’s safe in the least, as underscored by the fears of Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, the most prominent of many players who’ve shuttled back and forth after battling the virus. “I was just scared to go to bed,’’ said Freeman, whose fever reached 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit. “I was scared if I spiked even higher when I was sleeping, what would happen.’’ He was scared of dying, but, hey, get your ass out there and play ball! DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees called his positive test “a scary experience’’ though he had no symptoms. Know this going in: Chances are, the 60-game season will be shuttered by outbreaks because, unlike Bubble life, players will be vulnerable to virus transmission in the 18 hours they aren’t at the park daily.
The Canadian government is locking the Blue Jays out of Toronto, not wanting players to catch anything in the contaminated U.S. The geopolitical quagmire requires the club to play home games in … Buffalo? L.A. County still might force Dodgers players to quarantine 14 days — along with me and anyone else who lives here — if contact tracing so demands, meaning the World Series favorites would be at a competitive disadvantage in an area where more than 4,000 died last week from the virus. “It’s not going be to like anything else we’ve done,’’ said Clayton Kershaw, “but at the same time, we’re all going through it on an exactly level playing field.’’
Maybe not, big guy. How can MLB begin to stage a realistic season if the logistical field is uneven? Answer: the $4 billion that owners are frantically trying to recoup from desperate broadcast networks, with Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf — a man for whom few feel sorry — telling USA Today he has incurred losses “in the nine figures’’ from his MLB and NBA franchises. The face of baseball, Mike Trout, probably won’t play much, if at all, prioritizing his wife’s August pregnancy. Other major names are staying home; more will join them in coming weeks. Rosters will be so depleted, the season could become illegitimate before they even juice the balls. And given how the so-called commissioner, Rob Manfred, has been an abysmal failure in normal times, imagine what chaos awaits amid a health crisis. Yet, bastardized as it all is, we’re going to try and watch these games, if only for a few days, because, you know, we need a friggin’ escape hatch.
Oh, how we need a diversion from mask warfare, Daniel Snyder, the disturbing notion of Black anti-Semitism, the sin of athletes getting quick test results when many commoners cannot, a vomit-inducing NFL labor battle over still-absent virus protocols, wealthy coaches who push for a college football season while asking unpaid young men to assume health risks, the continuation of insensitive nicknames after “Redskins’’ was purged, the hypocrisy of prospective Mets owner Alex Rodriguez advocating an MLB salary cap after earning $450 million during his playing career, Tiger Woods’ balky back, upheaval in the media world and the creep who secretly recorded Rachel Nichols in her hotel room, the latest bit of madness from the burning house of ESPN, which actually seems nuttier than the White House.
“America needs baseball,’’ declared the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.
Actually, America needs baseball to get away from President Trump, who created this godforsaken medical mess even as he tries to blame and stonewall the good doctor, Anthony Fauci. I’m not sure anyone cares what happens in these ballgames, but at least we have something to watch on ESPN, which actually ran two Eagles concerts in prime time, channeling Zach Ertz through Joe Walsh.
And America needs to get away from the evil Snyder, who finally faces a national reckoning as the derelict NFL owner who flouted a racist nickname and allowed a culture of sexual harassment and piggery. Somehow, in the nation’s capital, he employed enough cavemen in his hierarchy to prompt 15 women to voice serious allegations, leading to numerous firings in another dark moment for the Washington franchise. Alex Santos was dismissed as pro personnel director after Rhiannon Walker, a reporter for The Athletic, accused him of inappropriate advances, telling her she “had a little wagon for an ass’’ and that she “wore the f— out of the jeans’’ she wore one day. In what world is a man like this allowed to be gainfully employed?
In his usual weenie way, he recruited a female lawyer, Beth Wilkinson, and empowered her firm “to do a full, unbiased investigation and make any and all requisite recommendations.’’ Then he recruited his wife, Tanya, to co-draft an apology that was emailed to all employees, saying the details in a Washington Post report have “no place in our franchise or society.’’ But it’s hard to believe an owner, even one as clueless as Snyder, didn’t have some idea of the toxic climate in his front office. As the man responsible for such abuses, Snyder should be forklifted out of his perch by league owners. That won’t happen; Snyder was not accused directly in the allegations, and the influential Jerry Jones, for one, is a Snyder pal who has indulged in his own piggery.
Though the league condemned the franchise in a statement — saying the alleged behavior is “serious, disturbing and contrary to the NFL’s values’’ — expect a fat fine, which is a wrist slap for a billionaire whose team is worth $3.1 billion. Settlements with victims will cost Snyder considerably more, and if he were smart, he would sell the team before he botches the next nickname. He’s fortunate to have a respected fixer in Ron Rivera, who is running the football operation and coaching the team and produced the defining quote of the debacle.
“My daughter works for the team,’’ he said, “and I sure as hell am not going to allow any of this!”
But then, the NFL is too busy playing loose and free with COVID-19, announcing that a couple of thousand players are due in training camps next week. There isn’t a health protocol in sight, a frightening thought in a close-contact sport with no chance of physical distancing, prompting players — including the increasingly vocal Patrick Mahomes — to blast the league in a tweeting ambush. “The league is in charge of opening and closing the plant. We ask, `Is it safe?’ ‘’, said J.C. Tretter, president of the NFL Players Association. “It’s up to the NFL to make those decisions on when we open. Every decision we make that doesn’t look at the long term of getting through the whole season will set us up for failure.’’ All of which is code for ugly negotiations ahead. I’d be shocked to see an NFL season.
Same goes for college football, with LSU coach Ed Orgeron declaring this during a roundtable discussion with — how’s this for a duo? — Vice President Mike Pence: “We need to play. This state needs it. This country needs it. This (the coronavirus) can be handled. I don’t think we can take this away from our players, take this away from our state and our country. We need football. Football is the lifeblood of our country.’’
America doesn’t need football. America needs to get well, to keep ICU beds from filling up, to stop people from dying. But don’t tell Coach O. He and Dabo Swinney think they’re bigger than any old pandemic.
Tensions also are inevitable inside the NBA Bubble, where players and coaches accustomed to the best in life are isolated for weeks and months. The Snitch Line — the league’s anonymous hotline used to report those breaking protocol — already is causing problems, with Dwight Howard upset to have received more attention for not wearing a mask and being the only player at a league party than social injustice crimes. “Breonna Taylor, the people who did the heinous incident against her, they’re still free,” said Howard, who had thought about not joining the Lakers in Orlando. “They’re out there living their best life. Instead of worrying about if I have my mask on or not, that’s something we should be discussing. Why haven’t these people been brought in? Why haven’t they been charged for anything or arrested for what they’ve done? Instead of the topics being about who’s not wearing a mask in the bubble, who was at the DJ party, who wasn’t — all of these things seem entertaining. But we’re not going to forget about what’s going on around our world.
“Those cops, one of the cops just posted a picture of himself at the beach. How could you have a conscience? You just killed somebody. And you’re out at the beach with women. You killed a woman. And you’re out at the beach with some more women having a good old time. You know, that’s not right. There’s families out there mourning, white and black who’ve been killed by cops. Been killed through different things. The topic of discussion is who doesn’t have a mask on and people snitching. Let’s not forget why we are here.’’ I echo his thoughts. Still, Howard must wear a mask.
Without much to cover since March, the sports media industry has gone gnarly, too, turning on each other within their own companies. We realize ESPN can be a petty place, but what prompted someone, presumably employed by the network, to record Nichols in her hotel room inside the NBA Bubble and send the audio to a sleazy site? This wacknut was trying to sabotage Nichols, host of “The Jump’’ program, and portray her as a backstabber as she discussed company affairs, including broadcasting assignments for the NBA postseason. Again, in what world is such a person allowed to be gainfully employed?
ESPN’s world. This in a week when the network’s NBA insider, Adrian Wojnarowski, was suspended without pay for only two weeks after sending a “F— you’’ Woj Bomb to a Missouri senator. Insane place, Bristol. Anyone running the joint? Other major media organizations are dealing with internal coups, including the New York Times and L.A. Times, where the sports staff crafted a letter to the executive editor, Norman Pearlstine, outlining what it sees as ethical issues involving columnist Arash Markazi. The Times hired Markazi to emphasize, among other millennial subjects, social media — making him more Billy Bush than Bill Plaschke, which didn’t go over well with old-school writers and editors. Nor did it humor them that Markazi was getting more media attention than most of those old-schoolers, including praise from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who lauded him for losing 130 pounds.
The signees say Markazi’s work habits “negatively affected reporters’ relationships with the people, teams, and leagues that we cover, as well as our peers. During this time of deep newsroom reflection, we feel compelled to demand action in response to these transgressions. At stake here is not only the integrity and credibility of the sports staff, but of the entire Los Angeles Times.”
Key question: If The Terminator calls on Markazi’s behalf, will Pearlstine side with him or the sports staff?
While on leave, Markazi always can mask up and help Chico Herrera in the Dodger Stadium outfield. Who is Chico Herrera? He’s the clubhouse attendant who played left field during an intrasquad scrimmage, actually throwing out Chris Taylor at second base on a deep fly ball.
And why was Chico out there to begin with?
Because too many of the Dodgers were in quarantine.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers
Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area
Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.
For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.
As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.
I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.
At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.
From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”
But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.
But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.
However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.
One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.
Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.
There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.
Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.
At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.
There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at email@example.com.
Grading How the Networks Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion
Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.
The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.
In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?
We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?
Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:
Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN
ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.
The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.
Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.
Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.
“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”
Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.
“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?
“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”
Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.
Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.
The NFL Today – CBS
CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.
Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.
The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.
Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.
Fox NFL Sunday
The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.
Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.
Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.
Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.
Football Night in America – NBC
Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.
But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.
Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?
When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.
But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”
“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”
Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.