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Justice In Georgia: An Asian Player Wins The Masters

Hideki Matsuyama is just another guy who likes playing with his cellphone, but in becoming the first Japanese-born male to win a golf major, he represents so much more after anti-Asian hate killings in the Atlanta area.

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If we must have Georgia on our minds, amid a torrent of anti-Asian hate in that state and across America, is it not poetic that Hideki Matsuyama became the first Asian-born man to win the Masters? A week after Tsubasa Kajitani, a 17-year-old from Japan, won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur? Last month, six women of Asian descent were murdered in a shooting rampage at Atlanta-area spas.

Hideki Matsuyama winning Masters could be worth $1B | Yardbarker

The hallowed club in the hills of east Georgia remained open for its sacred tournament. Even as Major League Baseball played a contrived public-relations card, protesting the state’s new voting laws by moving its All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver, the lords in their green jackets never considered pausing to let the state breathe. There were TV fortunes to make, azaleas to show off and golf memories to create — hopefully by an American, they quietly harbored, to quell the unspoken dread that Tiger Woods may have been impaired (again) in a February SUV crash he doesn’t remember. Maybe Dustin Johnson would be the first back-to-back winner since Woods. Maybe Jordan Spieth finally would stop talking to himself and his caddie and figure out his troubles. Hell, let Bryson DeChambeau obliterate Amen Corner.

Just make sure the winner was American, y’all, if you know what they mean down there on Waffle House Highway.

Instead, the champion was Matsuyama, who instantly became likable when he revealed how he spent Saturday’s rain delay. He walked out to his car — imagine, a Masters contender walking through a storm to the parking lot — and decided he needed a diversion from the awful tee shot he’d just sent into the trees before play was suspended. “Played a lot of games on the cellphone,” he said. “Maybe it relieved some pressure. I just figured, I can’t hit it anything worse than that.” When he returned and played the final eight holes in 6-under par, for a memorable 65, they might as well have pointed him straight to Butler Cabin. The green jacket was his, the first major golf championship won by a Japanese-born male.

“Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and there will be many young Japanese to follow,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m happy to open up the floodgates and hope many more will follow me. … The youngsters who are playing golf or thinking about playing golf, I hope they will see this victory and think it’s cool and try to follow in my footsteps. Until now, we haven’t had a major champion in Japan, and maybe a lot of golfers or younger golfers thought, well, maybe that’s an impossibility. But with me doing it, hopefully that will set an example that it is possible and that, if they set their mind to it, they can do it, too.”

He was asked which Japanese athletes inspired him. He mentioned no golfers or sumo wrestlers, just baseball players we know in the U.S. “Darvish, Ohtani, Maeda,” he said. All are in his Matsuyama’s shadows today.

A tweet from Jupiter, Fla., soon followed. “Making Japan proud Hideki,” wrote Woods. “Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment for you and your country. This historical @TheMasters win will impact the entire golf world.” Not that it will take our minds off Woods and whether he continues to have opioid issues after another round of surgeries, his most intense yet.

This is not what the haters wanted. But it’s what they deserved, a winner who didn’t look like them but outlasted all the popular and marquee names by finishing 10 under par. This was no fluke — Matsuyama, 29, has been ranked as high as No. 2 with eight top-10s in majors and 14 victories worldwide. Blessed by Jack Nicklaus as a global star in the making and once the low amateur at Augusta, he only had to learn to control his putter through recent travails. The sum of his talents finally converged in the perfect setting.

Set aside America, where Asians have been killed, harassed, threatened and spat at by those who want blood and blame China for the coronavirus. He had enough of a burden in his native land, where the pressure to make history was unbearable. “He’s a bit like a Tiger Woods (is) to the rest of the world, Hideki in Japan,” former Masters champ Adam Scott said. When Matsuyama had his one uncomfortable moment Sunday, finding the water on No. 15 and letting a four-stroke lead shrivel to two, CBS aired the reaction of broadcasters on the Japanese feed — frantically raised voices and sighs. Was he blowing it again, as he did in 2017 at the PGA Championship, when he missed a late par putt and left Quail Hollow in tears?

“My nerves didn’t start on the second nine. It was right from the start, right to the last putt,” he admitted.

He was helped, indirectly, by the pandemic. COVID-19 kept the usual mob of Japanese media members to a minimum at Augusta. “I’m not sure how to answer this in a good way. Being in front of the media is still difficult for me,” Matsuyama said. “It’s not my favorite thing to stand and answer questions, so with fewer media it’s been a lot less stressful. I’ve enjoyed this week.” He guards his privacy, to the point his December 2016 marriage wasn’t disclosed by his management company until after his wife, Mei, gave birth to their first child that July.

“As far as the family and privacy, no one really asked me if I was married, so I didn’t have to answer that question,” Matsuyama said.

Actually, it was an American, Xander Schauffele, who cracked Sunday. On the heels of the leader, he found the water on No. 16, then hit into the gallery behind the hole. His triple-bogey removed all but one golfer — the American Will Zalatoris, whose poise belied his Owen Wilson looks, rail-thin frame and 24 years — from the finish line. Matsuyama survived a final challenge, hitting an approach shot into the greenside bunker, before completing the journey to warm, respectful but hardly thundering applause.

“I remember the feeling of a four-shot lead, and he’s got Japan on his back and maybe Asia on his back,” Spieth said. “I can’t imagine kind of how that was trying to sleep on that, even with somebody who’s had so much success. I think the way he’s been able to withstand it, if he’s able to finish this one off, I think it’s really good for the game of golf globally. He’s a great young player who inevitably was going to win major championships.”

We’ve waited forever for someone to assume dominance in this sport and move a needle. Now that Woods is finished with regular competitive golf, we’re still asking the questions: Who? And when, if ever? Johnson follows up glory with clunkers. Spieth is as infuriating as he is charismatic. Rory McIlroy isn’t that man. Brooks Koepka is dealing with knee issues. Justin Thomas crashed in the third round and isn’t all that. DeChambeau? All the eating binges and caloric intake can’t help if Augusta is encamped in his head. We knew there wouldn’t be another Tiger Woods. At this point, we’re just looking for someone to be interesting. Is it you, Will Zalatoris?

“I know I can play with the best players in the world,” he said after a stunning second-place finish. “I felt I played well, but I left a lot of shots out there. The first one’s coming. I’ve just got to keep working.”

Who, by the way, forecasted his emergence? None other than Tony Romo, whose football seer ability works on golf courses, too. When Zalatoris, a star at Wake Forest, moved to the Dallas area and started playing at Romo’s club, it was clear a player who ranked 483rd last April — and 2,006th at the start of 2019 — was bound for impact. Who knew it would happen so soon?

But this day at Augusta belonged to a man from the other side of the world, a nation that insists it will host the Summer Olympics as COVID continues to rage. Matsuyama will be front and center in the festivities and a favorite in the golf competition. Perhaps, as Nick Faldo mentioned on the CBS broadcast, he might be chosen to light the cauldron at opening ceremonies. “I’m really looking forward to the Olympic Games in Tokyo,” he said. “If I am on the team, and maybe it looks like I will be, I’ll do my best to represent my country.”

Yeah, I think he made the team.

IOC and Tokyo 2020 Joint Statement - Framework for Preparation of the  Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 Following their Postponement to 2021  - Olympic News

His victory is a salvation for a country bracing for the months ahead. Ten years after an earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 in Japan, is another catastrophe coming to the Games? A more contagious variant is spreading there, as only one percent of the population has received the first of two vaccine doses. That will lead to more propaganda among anti-Asian factions in the U.S., claiming our athletes are on death watches if they compete starting in late July.

Let them seethe. On a warm and sunny Sunday at Augusta, an American portrait like no other, Hideki Matsuyama reminded us that the world is filled with people. Asians and Americans, Blacks and Whites — we’re all just people.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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