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Players and Leagues Use Their Platforms to Further Social Justice Discussions

August 31, 2020
SOURCE: DENVER NUGGETS/TWITTER
SOURCE: DENVER NUGGETS/TWITTER

 The GIST: Although last week’s wildcat strike of games and practices lasted only a few days, the impacts have long-term potential.

NBA: The players agreed to get back on the court this weekend...with a few conditions. The NBA and the players association released a joint statement laying out three major commitments: forming a social justice commission, improving voting procedures in teams’ home markets and using ad space to promote civic engagement. HYFR.

NHL: After royally effing up their initial attempt at solidarity, the NHL made a belated push to join the rest of the sports world in protest. The league and its players hosted public press conferences, and Thursday’s and Friday’s games were postponed. And thanks to the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), the league isn’t getting off easy.

  • The HDA presented a list of asks (with deadlines...damn right) for the league, including hiring targets for Black staff and executives, grassroot programs for BIPOC youth and support for Black suppliers. Your move, NHL.

NFL: Without any games to postpone, many NFL teams canceled practices instead and used the opportunity to host team discussions. Players and coaches have since come out to discuss the possibility and impact of player walkouts once the season starts next week.

  • Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who started leading his own team-wide conversations on racial issues in June, said, “If we have to sacrifice, we have to sacrifice,” and Washington Football Team president Jason Wright (the first and only Black president in the NFL) showed his support for the strikes in a Twitter exchange with NBA star Kevin Durant.

🎾New Proposed Tennis Players Union Does Not Include Women

August 31, 2020
SOURCE: VASEK POSPISIL/TWITTER
SOURCE: VASEK POSPISIL/TWITTER

 The GIST: The U.S. Open is upon us, and as if the road to the tennis Grand Slam event wasn’t rocky enough, a few men’s players are bringing an extra dose of drama to the tournament.

Classic. What’s up?: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic (pronounced JOKE-OH-VITCH), American John Isner and Canadian Vasek Pospisil — all recently resigned ATP Player Council members who have been disheartened by the ATP’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic (ironic) — are leading the charge on a new proposed players union, called the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA).

  • Pospisil cited the main goal of the union is “to unify the players, have our voices heard and have an impact on decisions being made that affect our lives and livelihoods.” They’ll represent the top 500 men’s singles and top 200 men’s doubles players and will fight for better playing conditions and bigger paychecks (especially for the lower-ranked players).

And this is a good thing?: Yes and no. While it is admirable to see these players unite to improve their conditions and wages, there are some glaring issues. For starters, the PTPA does not include women. Like, not one. And though they clarified that there is “active dialogue with the women’s side,” they still went ahead without them. Novak, why are you being such a skeez?

  • The other members of the “Big Four” — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray — are against the new union. We’ll keep an eye on how this plays out, but we won’t be sold on it until we see some real representation. *paging Serena Williams*

Okay, so what about the U.S. Open?: Right! Djokovic is the heavy favorite to win on the men’s side. The women’s side, however, is wide open. Serena Williams is playing for her historic 24th Grand Slam win, top seeded Karolína Plíšková is looking for her first-ever Grand Slam title and Aussie Open champ Sofia Kenin wants her second of the year. Unfortunately, 2018 champ Naomi Osaka’s run for a third Grand Slam could be in jeopardy due to a hamstring injury.

  • Round one matchups begin today at noon ET, and the tournament runs until September 13th. For all the fun, check out the full draw and the daily schedule.

🏈The 2020 College Football Season Begins

August 31, 2020
SOURCE: BUTCH DILL/GETTY IMAGES
SOURCE: BUTCH DILL/GETTY IMAGES

 The GIST: This weekend brought us the day that we all thought might never come: the start of the 2020 college football season!

Who played?: Despite their conferences (Ohio Valley conference and Southland conference) postponing fall conference competition to the spring, Austin Peay State University took on Central Arkansas in a non-conference matchup. While the two teams aren’t well known, Austin Peay still opened things up with a bang, scoring an incredible touchdown on the very first play of the season. Sheesh.

  • Central Arkansas ultimately won and there were some fun antics on the sideline, but the key takeaway from Saturday’s game is what it signals for the rest of the college football season.

What did it show?: We already knew this, but things will be different this season. Saturday’s 25,000-seat stadium hosted a limited crowd of 2,000 fans, creating an eerie atmosphere.

What’s next?: While we can’t tailgate (at least in most places), September *knock on wood* will bring the college football Saturdays we know and love. And although we have to wait until mid-September to watch teams from the still-playing Power Five conferences, there’s a packed Week 1 schedule to tide us over. As things ramp up, we’re tightening

🏆Leagues and Athletes Across North America Boycott Games in Protest of Racial Injustice

August 27, 2020
KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES
KEVIN C. COX/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: Yesterday, in protest of racial injustice, the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their NBA playoff game. And, in one of the strongest collective actions we’ve seen in sports, the rest of the league and athletes from across North America are following suit.

The background: The boycott comes after Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot in the back seven times by police on Sunday, in front of his three young sons, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He is now paralyzed from the waist down. Blake is just the latest in a too-long list of Black men and women who have been killed or injured at the hands of police.

The boycotts: Now the NBA is leading the charge in taking action. It started on Tuesday when the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics players met to discuss boycotting Game 1 of their conference semifinal series, scheduled for today. Raps head coach Nick Nurse even said that some of his players were considering leaving the bubble altogether.

  • Then yesterday, as the buzzer sounded ahead of the first game of the day, Bucks players stayed in their locker room, deciding to boycott Game 5 against the Orlando Magic. The Bucks later released this players’ statement explaining their incredibly powerful action.
  • A few hours later, the NBA and their players association announced that, in light of the Bucks’ decision, Wednesday’s remaining games between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, and the LA Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers, would also be postponed and rescheduled.

The team: The NBA is not alone in this. WNBA players also boycotted all three of their regular season games last night, and three MLB and five MLS games were boycotted, too.

The next steps?: We’re still waiting for them. Last night, NBA players held a meeting to decide on how to proceed, and the LA Lakers and Clippers were the only teams that voted to boycott the remainder of the season.

  • Regardless of what happens next, the players have already made a strong statement. By boycotting an entire day of games, the players forced networks to fill hours of empty airtime by highlighting the Black Lives Matter movement and the injustice that happened to Jacob Blake.  
     
  • We’re giving a standing ovation to the players who are keeping the conversation going and elevating it to an unprecedented level. Black Lives Matter.
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The NFL Releases Various Protocols On Returning to Play With Fans in the Stands

August 27, 2020
ROBERT LABERGE/GETTY IMAGES
ROBERT LABERGE/GETTY IMAGES

The GIST: Sports fans in North America will soon have primetime games with real crowd noise. But the jury’s still out if hosting fans during the COVID-19 pandemic is the best call.

The NFL is split: NFL teams continue to release varying protocols for in-person attendance this season. Some teams will hold their stadiums to a limited capacity while others will have no fans for the duration of the season. But is it really fair to have such wildly different standards?

We say no: You might expect professional athletes to be able to ignore cheers and boos from spectators, but fans really do impact the game, especially in football. Commonly referred to as the “12th (wo)man,” fan noise during the opposing team's offensive plays makes it super hard for them to communicate. And you thought you couldn’t concentrate.

  • With that in mind, the NFL teams playing in front of even a limited-capacity home crowd will definitely have an advantage over those playing in empty stadiums, with some coaches saying the disparity is “ridiculous.” Something to consider when choosing your fantasy team?

The other football: Over in the MLS, despite a successful “MLS is Back” tournament that was played without fans, some teams are already competing in front of fans and many are thinking about it.

  • We totally understand the desire to return to a sense of normalcy...but things still aren’t normal. Catch us streaming all of the action from home — the snacks are cheaper here anyway!