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🏀To help or to hinder

June 15, 2020
DUANE BURLESON/AP
DUANE BURLESON/AP

The GIST: The NBA’s highly anticipated return-to-play might not happen after all...and for good reason. Players are speaking out about their reservations over bringing their sport back while the fight for social justice continues.

Who’s speaking up?: On a Friday night conference call with around 100 players, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving led the charge, saying that it would be detrimental to the Black Lives Matter movement if the NBA returned. Irving called out systemic racism in America and urged his fellow players to sit out.

  • Many players publicly agreed with Irving, including Portland Trail Blazer Carmelo Anthony, LA Clipper Lou Williams and LA Laker Dwight Howard, with Williams and Howard calling sports an unnecessary “distraction” right now.
     
  • Former NBA player Stephen Jackson, who was a close friend of George Floyd, said that basketball will “take all the attention off the task at hand right now and what we're fighting for.”

Is this a consensus?: Not totally. Other players have since come out to say that restarting the NBA season would only help the movement. Houston Rockets guard Austin Rivers (son of Clippers coach Doc Rivers) made a case for the restart, saying “we can do both.”

  • Rivers suggested that players use the money they’ll make to help the cause and use their platforms to elevate the movement (think things like kneeling during the national anthem and wearing the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts).

So what happens now?: Although the NBA hasn’t released anything official, NBA spokesperson Mike Bass said that they understand the players' concerns and are working with the players association. Given the amount of pressure they’re facing from players, we expect the NBA will have something more official soon.

  • Due to the pandemic, NBA players were forced to stop playing the sport they love and make their livelihoods from. Now they’re actively choosing to sit out. They wouldn’t do that unless they had a damn good reason.
     
  • And this is one. We miss sports as much as anyone, but if putting off the season means avoiding disrupting the momentum of the movement, we’re here for it.
🎾🏀🏒🏉

A gong show

June 15, 2020
SHAUN BOTTERILL/GETTY IMAGES
SHAUN BOTTERILL/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: The NBA season isn’t the only one in doubt. Due to COVID-19, the tennis season is hanging on by a thread, while the MLB situation is the literal definition of a gong show. The WNBA and NHL are looking good, though...well, kind of.

WTA & ATP: The good news is that the US Open will not move from its forever home in NYC to Florida as previously reported. The bad news is that the tournament might not happen at all. The US Tennis Association (USTA), which hosts the tournament, is currently considering three options, one of which is canceling the event altogether. Say it ain’t so.

  • Another option includes holding the event with a ton of previously announced restrictions, even though many top players have said they will opt out if the restrictions are enforced.
  • The USTA stands to lose a lot of money regardless of what they decide to do, as the event doesn’t have cancelation insurance. Rookie mistake.

MLB: Take a deep breath (or have a strong drink) before getting into this one. Quick refresher: the MLB and MLB Players Association (MLBPA) can’t agree on the season restart. They’ve been punting proposals back and forth to no avail, mostly because the players want their full earned salary, while the MLB wants to pay them on a sliding scale.

  • On Saturday, the MLBPA rejected the MLB’s latest offer, and now they’re asking the MLB to just order them back to work for however many games the league wants (which might work out to around 50). Sorry, what TF?
  • While this seems very counterproductive to what the players have been fighting for, it might actually make sense. Here’s why: if the players are ordered back to work, they can then file a grievance against the league for their equivalent salaries and monetary damages...which means the players could end up with more money than they asked for. Cheeky.

WNBA: The WNBA is also still negotiating their season restart, but it looks like the league wants to pay players their full salaries (up from the 60% they initially proposed) for 22 games (the 2020 regular season was set to be 36 games). The girls are getting paid!

  • This is great news, especially in light of what’s happening in the MLB. WNBA players voted on this proposal over the weekend and results should be announced today. If the proposal’s approved, we’ll have basketball back on July 24th. Fingers (and toes and eyes) crossed!

NHL: Don’t look now, but it looks like Las Vegas is going to be one of the two hub cities hosting the NHL’s super weird postseason. Cue: “Waking Up in Vegas.” The league has also decided that training camps will begin July 10th. So soon!

  • The NHL hasn’t decided, however, what they’re going to do if a player, coach or other essential team staff gets COVID-19 during the playoffs. This weekend, a Boston Bruin tested positive for the virus, so the league better make some quick decisions.

Everything else: The PGA returned this weekend, with Daniel Berger winning the Charles Schwab Challenge after going to a playoff with Collin Morikawa. The tournament was played without fans, which was a little strange without the polite golf claps, but still — live sports!

  • And New Zealand hosted their nation’s first Super Rugby match since March, with over 20,000 fans (!!!) in attendance after the country declared themselves virus-free last week. See, this is the reward you get for wearing a mask and washing your hands!

🏆Off the deep end

June 15, 2020
USA SWIMMING
USA SWIMMING

Note: this section contains descriptions of sexual abuse that may be offensive to some readers and/or painful to survivors of sexual assault.

The GIST: After USA Gymnastics dealt with the monster that is Larry Nassar back in 2017, it’s now time for USA Swimming to confront some demons.

The details: Last week, six women filed lawsuits against USA Swimming for failing to protect them from sexually predatory coaches throughout the 1980s. The women say that USA Swimming, along with local swimming associations in California, assisted in creating an abuse culture within the organization.

  • The women named multiple coaches in three separate lawsuits, including a former national director and a former coach, Andrew King, who was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2010 after being found guilty of 20 charges of child molestation, including impregnating a 14-year-old.
  • The six women say their abuse occurred as early as age 11 and that those in charge at USA Swimming were aware of the harassment and abuse and did nothing to end it. Absolutely horrible.

The next step: The women are now calling for an investigation into the named abusers and those who enabled them, which is possible thanks to a new California Assembly Bill that allows victims of child sexual abuse to file claims that had otherwise expired under the statute of limitations (because f*ck statute of limitations).

  • Whatever happens next, we’ll let you know. ICYMI, 2020 is a year of reckoning. About damn time.

🏆One day at a time

June 11, 2020

The GIST: Sports are finally returning. And with athletes, coaches, teams and leagues back in the limelight, it’s the perfect opportunity for them to follow up on their statements on the Black Lives Matter movement with real, tangible actions.

How so?: The Players Coalition, an alliance of players and coaches that works with governments to improve social justice and racial equality, is asking Congress to pass the Ending Qualified Immunity Act. Qualified immunity protects police officers and other government officials from legal action by victims of police brutality and their families...even if their civil rights were violated.

Amazing! Tell me more: Seven current and former players have come together to form the Hockey Diversity Alliance, whose mission is “to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey,” as well as to promote diversity in the predominantly white sport.

  • The organization, co-chaired by San Jose Shark Evander Kane and former NHLer Akim Aliu, will run independently from the NHL, but has full support from the league. No female representation on the Alliance yet, but we’re sure that’s coming soon, right boys?
  • The NHL also plans to create a council and three committees to address the diversity problems within the league. The Executive Inclusion Council will use feedback and recommendations from the committees to address and find solutions for the league’s diversity issues.

Love it. What else?: We all know how crucial voting is to ensure the right people represent us in government. And Eric Reveno — an assistant basketball coach at Georgia Tech — is trying to make sure his athletes have the chance to do so. He’s started a movement to mandate Election Day as a day off, and it’s gaining traction.

  • Reveno initially lobbied his school to mandate the day off (i.e., no mandatory practices or games) for the entire varsity program, and is now petitioning the NCAA (and using the hashtag #AllVoteNoPlay) to ensure that their 460,000 student athletes (holy crap, that’s a big number) are free to vote on November 3rd. Rock the vote!

Wonderful! Keep it coming: The US Soccer Federation (USSF) has rescinded their ban on taking a knee during the national anthem after the US women’s national soccer team (USWNT) called on them to do so. FIFA and the NFL have also voiced their support of athletes who choose to #TakeAKnee.

  • It’s not all good though. Back in January, the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics released rules for the upcoming Games that included a ban on “gestures of a political nature, including kneeling” during sporting events, and this week the IOC confirmed they have not repealed the rule.
     
  • But we’re not hanging our heads on this one yet. A lot of athletes are upset about it, and there’s a lot of time between now and next July for things to change. Just look at the last three weeks.
🎾

Baby come back

June 11, 2020
TIM CLAYTON/GETTY IMAGES
TIM CLAYTON/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: Like we said, sports are coming back...but not all sports...yet! This week has seen some positive steps forward, a few setbacks and yet another proposal to salvage the baseball season (spoiler alert: it’s not looking promising).

Start with the good news: Will do. The MLS confirmed their plans for a tournament to start the season. The month-long “MLS Is Back” tournament, clearly inspired by the Backstreet Boys, will begin on July 8th in Orlando, Florida, and will feature all 26 teams. The winning team will earn a 2021 CONCACAF Champions League berth, and the regular season will continue with a revised schedule that is TBA.

And the setbacks?: Speaking of golf, the LPGA has lost one of its five majors. The Evian Championship, held annually in France and originally set to start on August 6th, has been canceled, with officials citing travel concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic as the main reason.

  • The US Open (the tennis one, not golf) is considering moving the tournament from NYC to California or Florida (even though Florida’s COVID-19 numbers are rising) and most Canadian fall semester varsity sports have been canceled. Meanwhile, the NCAA is trying to adapt.

Okay, I’m ready. Tell me about the MLB: Oh boy. In an attempt to start the 2020 season, the MLB and the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) have been lobbing proposals and counter-proposals back and forth for the last month with little success.

  • While back in the MLBPA’s court (sorry for the mixed sports metaphors), on Tuesday they proposed an 89-game regular season, an expanded 16-team postseason and “broadcast enhancements,” including having players mic’d up during games. Are you not entertained?
     
  • But the issue is, and always has been, the players’ salaries. The players are proposing prorated salaries, but the teams say they don’t have the money (each game without fans can lose a team about $640,000). Moral of the story: we don't feel good about this counter-counter-counter-proposal’s chances.