🏈 Sure know how to pick ’em
The GIST: After the WNBA showed us how it’s done, it’s time for the NFL to step up to the challenge. It’s Virtual Draft Day!
Okay wait, what’s a draft again?: A player draft allows a professional league’s teams to select the best eligible amateur players to add to their rosters. In the NFL Draft, all 32 teams have one pick in each of the seven rounds (unless they traded them), and the eligible player pool is mostly made up of college players.
- Usually the NFL Draft takes place live in a centralized location, with athletes, fans and team executives attending the three-day event. This year’s Draft was originally set to take place in Las Vegas, with draft picks arriving by boat across the famous Bellagio fountain and 750,000 fans expected to attend. A low-key affair.
But now...?: They’re going digital. The Draft will be broadcast live from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement (seriously) in New York, with athletes and teams joining via Microsoft Teams and Zoom, from their respective homes across America.
- The NFL did a practice draft earlier this week to work out any technical glitches, and while it got off to a rocky start, everything seems to be in tip-top shape for tonight’s primetime event at 8 p.m. ET. Let’s just hope for a strong WiFi connection.
Fingers crossed. So who’s up first?: That honor goes to last season's worst team, the Cincinnati Bengals, who are projected to take QB Joe Burrow first overall. Burrow was the star QB for Louisiana State University (LSU) for two years and won last season’s College Football National Championship after being named the Heisman Trophy winner (aka the best college football player).
- If/when the Bengals pick Burrow, he’ll become just the third player (the others being Cam Newton, who was drafted in 2011 and Jameis Winston, who was drafted in 2015) this century to win the Heisman, National Championship and go first overall in the Draft. Now there’s a fun fact if we’ve ever seen one.
🏈Thank you for being a friend
The GIST: New England Patriots fans, you might want to skip this one. Beloved former Pats tight end Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski has joined his quarterback (QB) bestie Tom Brady as the newest member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Look out, Florida!
What?! I thought he retired?: Yeah, same. Gronk was drafted by the Patriots in 2010 and spent his career in New England until he retired last March. At just 29 years old, his retirement was a pretty big shock to the sports world.
- That said, Gronk suffered numerous injuries during his career, which took a toll on his mental health. After retiring, Gronk became an NFL analyst for Fox Sports and signed a contract with WWE, where he recently won the WWE 24/7 Championship.
So why is he back?: That’s the power of Brady, baby. The legendary QB created his own shockwaves when he signed with the Buccaneers in March, after 20 seasons and six Super Bowl wins with New England.
- The Bucs have solid wide receivers, but Brady’s always best when he has a tight end he can trust. Gronk and Brady won three Super Bowls together, and if Gronk can get back into playing shape by the time the season starts in September *knock on wood*, we think this dream duo can make it four.
🏀Becky with the good hair
The GIST: April was supposed to be one of the best months for sports: the MLB would have been in full swing, the MLS and NWSL would have been kicking it into high gear, the NHL would have dropped the puck on their first round of playoffs and the NBA postseason would have tipped off on Saturday. So, in honor of the NBA playoffs that would have been, we’re giving #thegist on female coaches in the NBA.
The background: Without a doubt, the NBA is the most gender-inclusive pro men’s sports league. Thanks to leadership that has always valued building the most diverse environments, the NBA touts: the most female majority team owners, the most women serving as team president/CEO at seven (which, BTW, is more than all other men’s pro sports leagues combined) and the highest number of women serving as full-time coaches at 11.
- On top of this, they promote and support the WNBA like nobody’s business and Commissioner Adam Silver wants 50% of all new NBA ref and coach hires to be female. Yes, we’re applauding too.
The first: Our OG ceiling smasher is the one, the only, Becky Hammon. After a 16-year WNBA career, the six-time All-Star became the first full-time assistant coach in NBA history when she was hired by the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Over the last six years, she’s climbed the coaching ladder and, on top of becoming the face of the female coaching movement, is now the lead assistant coach of the team. Heck yes, she is.
- On top of that, in 2015 Hammon became the first-ever female head coach in the NBA’s Summer League, and in 2016 became the first woman to be part of an All-Star coaching staff. Hey, now.
The girl gang: What might be more important is that Hammon became a role model and paved the way for several other women to become coaches in the NBA. Since Hammon began coaching with the Spurs, 10 women (!!!) have earned full-time NBA coaching jobs:
- Jenny Boucek (Dallas Mavericks), Karen Stack Umlauf (Chicago Bulls), Natalie Nakase (Los Angeles Clippers), Kristi Toliver (Washington Wizards), Lindsay Gottlieb (Cleveland Cavaliers), Lindsey Harding (Sacramento Kings), Niele Ivey (Memphis Grizzlies), Brittni Donaldson (Toronto Raptors), Teresa Weatherspoon (New Orleans Pelicans) and Kara Lawson (Boston Celtics). And we have a feeling this is just the beginning.
The GIST: Although we’re still in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, sports leagues around the world are seriously looking at options to start play again. The most popular plan? Games without spectators. Weird.
As long as I can watch from home…: Oh, for sure. We’ll just have to wait a bit longer. As Germany eases out of lockdown, their top soccer league, Bundesliga, has already begun the process to restart the season. All teams returned to practice last Monday, with players adhering to strict physical distancing guidelines as they get back in game shape. Play is set to potentially resume in mid-May.
- And over in Spain, one of the most severely impacted countries, La Liga is gearing up for its return. The Spanish pro soccer league is looking at three possible dates (the soonest being May 28th), and like the Bundesliga, all remaining matches will be played without spectators over the summer months.
Well, that’s great...isn’t it?: Not totally. In theory, a game without fans would cut down on tens of thousands of people gathering in one spot, which is good. On the other hand, as English professional football club West Ham CEO, Karren Brady, pointed out this weekend, it’s still a dangerous option. She estimates between 300 and 500 people would need to be present for a single soccer match, including security, facilities staff, media, players and team staff.
- There’s also the issue of on-field injuries. If a player gets hurt in a game and needs to be taken to a hospital, medical resources could be taken away from COVID-19 patients and increase the risk for the player to contract the virus while in hospital. Not ideal.
Ah, makes sense. Is it just soccer?: Nope. Tennis, too. Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou is starting Ultimate Tennis Showdown, an independent league where players will face off in a controlled environment (i.e., no fans) at his tennis academy in France. And tennis star Rafael Nadal is also getting in on the fun, inviting fellow pros to his academy in Spain to train for the upcoming season and compete against each other for practice (and our television viewing enjoyment!).
- On top of that, Nadal is joining forces with the rest of the Big Three of men’s tennis as they look to help their fellow ATP players. Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic (pronounced JOKE-OH-VITCH) have proposed a relief fund, encouraging top ranked players to donate money to help affected lower ranked players. You love to see it!
And what’s happening here in North America?: Money’s a bit tight over here. The NBA and NBPA (the National Basketball Players Association) came to an agreement to reduce players’ twice-monthly paychecks by 25% starting May 15th, with the funds being held until a decision about the season is made.
- The NHL has decided to hold off another month on making any pay decisions, deferring the final paycheck of the year and giving themselves time to maybe (hopefully!) reschedule the remainder of the season instead of canceling outright. Crossing all our fingers and toes!
🏀Simply the best
The GIST: The 2020 WNBA Draft took place on Friday night, and just as we (and basically everyone) predicted, Sabrina Ionescu (pronounced YOH-NESS-COO) went first overall. Get it girl.
Where’s she going?: New York Liberty selected Ionescu with the first overall pick in the uniquely virtual version of the draft. The California kid was quickly welcomed by fellow WNBA and NBA New Yorkers via social media, with messages from her new Liberty teammate Kia Nurse, Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant and NY Knicks rookie RJ Barrett. *Taylor Swift’s “Welcome to New York” plays in the background*
- To add to the celebration, Ionescu’s Liberty jersey sold out online within an hour (!!!) and by Saturday, she’d signed a multi-year shoe deal with Nike. Unreal.
Who else was drafted?: Ionescu’s former Oregon Ducks teammates will now become her arch rivals...okay, sorry, that was dramatic — opponents. Satou Sabally (pronounced SAH-TWO SAH-BUH-LEE) went second overall to the Dallas Wings and Ruthy Hebard went to the Chicago Sky as the eighth pick.
- Meanwhile, after being selected by the NY Liberty and then quickly traded to the Minnesota Lynx, Erica Ogwumike (pronounced OH-GWOO-MIH-KAY) became the third Ogwumike sister to be drafted to the WNBA — making the Ogwumikes the first family to EVER have three sisters play in the W. Talk about good genes!
And I hear there were honorary draft picks too?: Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced three honorary selections: Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester. The three teammates, all aspiring WNBA players, were killed in a helicopter crash in January along with Gianna’s father and WNBA ally Kobe Bryant.