S1: The following podcast contains explicit language, including the words, well, you’ll just have to wait and see. Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor. This is Hang Up and listen for Mardi Gras week. That is the week of February 16th, two thousand twenty one. On this week’s show, we’re going to talk about the debate over whether to play the national anthem at sporting events. Also discuss what’s a pandemic taught us about the mysteries of home field advantage. And Ryan Smith of ESPN will join us for a conversation about a lawsuit alleging that the NFL’s concussion settlement discriminates against black players. And in Washington, D.C., I’m the author of The Queen, the host of Slow Burn Season four on David Duke. Also in D.C., Stefan Fatsis. He’s the author of the book Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic and twenty three across in the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. Hello, Stefan.
S2: Hello, Josh. That’s very exciting.
S1: Was that your first Sunday?
S2: It was my first Sunday appearance. I’ve been in The Daily One, says my name once with the book as the answer. And the biggest thrill is when I was the acrostic right after word freak was published.
S1: In time, you’re going to get this friend.
S2: You know, I haven’t gotten the other one’s frame. Maybe it’s time to frame something.
S3: You got a lot of space back there in that room so you could just another room area there.
S1: Subtle, subtle
S2: critique. That’s a that’s an angled ceiling, Joel, and a heart of things. But people do
S3: that book back there anyway. You know, we can interior design later. No problem.
S1: With us from Palo Alto, Slate staff writer and wannabe TV host, the host of Season three and six, a man who is still waiting for his king cake or to the king cake arrived.
S3: King Cake didn’t arrive and I gave up on it. Oh, I’m disputing it through my mother, through my bank right now. So I’m fed up, man.
S1: He’s disputing his king cake through his bank. So I got two things.
S2: One, your wall is completely bare behind you. And two cats are kind of gross, aren’t they?
S3: Oh, that mean that is just blasphemy. Why would you say that?
S1: So disrespectful to our culture.
S3: It really is. And I was I
S2: was trying to get a rise out of you both. It was the one thing I to work.
S3: I was looking very much forward to the peaches and cream king cake that was coming up here, but that is
S1: one step inside.
S3: Oh, no, no, no. You guys have to try it. It’s it’s a great pop. But I mean, I, I’m not going to talk to them up after they failed me so, so badly. So maybe it it is gross. I’m not going to say their name.
S1: All right. Peaches and Cream King Cake Company. You see what you’ve what you’ve lost. You would have had so much amazing product placement. Now we’re just talking around you.
S3: As everyone knows, I have some of the best food opinions out there. I’m a food influencer, so.
S2: We’ll just leave Joel’s food comment hanging out there and get right to the show. Some time before the NBA regular season, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBA Commissioner Adam Silver that his team wasn’t going to play the national anthem before home games. And why would it? Because of the pandemic, there were no fans and the players certainly wouldn’t miss it, Silver said. Fine. And for 12 pre and regular season games, no one noticed. Then last week, Tim Kaito of the Athletic did notice. Cuban confirmed his decision and the NBA defended it, saying that, quote, Under the unique circumstances of this season, teams are permitted to run their pregame operations as they see fit. Then came the predictable blowback. And within 24 hours, the NBA came up with an excuse. Since it was starting to let fans back into arenas, it once again would require teams to play the Star Spangled Banner quote, in keeping with longstanding league policy. And quote Joel, after the league’s ruling, Cuban put out a statement. One sentence was about respect for the passion some people have for the anthem. The next four sentences were about why the anthem is problematic. We also loudly hear the voices of those who feel that the anthem does not represent them, Cuban wrote. We feel that their voices need to be respected and heard because they have not been. Joel, you really know that Cuban believes that playing the anthem before games is bullshit. Should he have fought this?
S3: The short answer is, I don’t know if Mark Cuban had a choice. You remember that Mark Cuban told ESPN that he made the decision to stop playing the anthem after consulting with Adam Silver, the commissioner. So this wasn’t something he felt that he could do unilaterally in the first place. And I don’t know what sort of power governors or owners, as you know, we used to call them, have to defy league orders. He clearly didn’t feel empowered to do this on his own. So he may have not had a choice, but I suppose that he could have made more of a stink about it like he does about officiating or the league’s failure to take advantage of, you know, various financial opportunities or even like Bitcoin. Right. Like he went when he feels passionate about something, he tends to speak up about it and speak up about it forcefully. He’s carried himself out, you know, figuratively as a maverick. Right. That he’s different from the other owners and that he will talk about things and he’s, you know, quoted as much or more than any other NBA owner in the league. So if he felt really passionately about this, I assume that he would have said more about it. I think the easy answer is here that obviously the NBA shouldn’t be playing the national anthem before games. It’s clear that no one cared until a single person noticed that, hey, we’re not going through our little compulsory patriotism routine. So, you know, until that one person spoke up, nobody cared. So, you know, Mark Cuban man, should he have said something? Should he have stood up? I don’t know. I’m not surprised he didn’t, because this is all about not offending the league’s tenuous hold on white fans, because the NBA has some intractable issues to overcome that other sports simply don’t. It’s a majority black league and it’s a black league in a way that the other professional sports leagues are. So I imagine that the pressure from the NBA, especially in a city like Dallas, which is often referred to, is the city that the civil rights movement missed that it’s incredible. And you know that when push came to shove, they weren’t going to draw a hard line about this. So, you know, I don’t know, Josh, you know, you’re from the South to you know, that there’s a lot of pressure to be a patriot down there and to prove that you’re an American. But I don’t you know, I don’t know whether Mark Cuban would have gone or what he could have done any differently, so to speak,
S1: when political debates like this. Joel, there’s a question. When you’re like an activist or an advocate, do you spend your time and energy and resources pressuring the people that are. Kind of closer to your side or the people that are, you know, of hold hold a wildly different opinion because it seems a little bit misplaced to me to be upset with Mark Cuban. And all of this is the person who actually enacted this and then ultimately back down, as opposed to any of the other dudes who run NBA teams who would have never considered it in the first place and probably will never consider it. So I think credit to Cuban for getting this on people’s radar, because it’s the kind of thing where I think I don’t want to say we or us, but I think I would include myself in this number where you just like don’t think about it until someone points it out or brings attention to it. And you’re like, yeah, that is crazy and that we do that, but we just kind of move through the world accepting this. And so, you know, I think the fact that we wouldn’t be having this conversation if it wasn’t for Mark Cuban. And so I give him credit for at least doing something and and forcing us out of the complacency around this issue. Because, Stefan, you did a bunch of work compiling the history of the anthem. And like like everything else, it’s like the anthem in sports was a thing that was like created and invented and became kind of compulsory. But it hasn’t been that way forever.
S2: No. And to put a put a button on Cuban, I think that’s the right interpretation. He did something, as Ray Ratto pointed out, on defector that was very uncharacteristic for him. He showed how much of the anthem doesn’t matter and he did it without ever saying a word. You know, Mark Cuban usually, as you know, de Jong Il is going to talk about everything. And in this case, he just did it demonstrated that nobody gives a shit. And then it’s worth reading his full statement. I read only a little bit of it, but it really is very supportive ultimately of the idea that, A, this is unnecessary. And B, a lot of our employees think that it is disrespectful and people don’t understand how they feel when they hear this played and what as we’ve seen over the last not just year, but going back to cap, how much it does affect people. And, you know,
S1: I also forgot to mention that the Kaepernick there’s a parallel with Copernicus’s saying that nobody noticed he was sitting right until until somebody wrote about
S2: it, until a reporter noticed. And in both cases, Kaepernick and Cuban were trying to make the point subtly. And that’s certainly unusual for Mark Cuban and it’s unusual for a lot of athletes who would just go to a podium and do the thing that you said, Josh, which is to draw attention to their side as opposed to quietly undercutting the arguments of other people in terms of the history. Yeah, this is not clear or linear or uniform. I’m going to talk about a lot of examples in an after wall later. But the short form of this is that, yeah, the anthem was played like once in 1862 before a baseball game. There’s a real good ESPN piece that will link to about that history. And then it wasn’t played regularly until the 1918 World Series during World War One. And there was a whole lot of stuff going on and they played it and then it was very erratically used and sporadically used after that. It was not a universal instant. Let’s play this before every sporting event, it was much less consistent. Not every team abided by it, not every sport abided by it. And it only really in more recent years became something that people were, you know, I mean, when I say recent, I mean, like the last half century became ingrained in sports culture.
S3: Yeah. And I mean, I find that that’s probably not a surprise, given how swiftly the culture and society has moved in the last half century, where we’re I mean, just to be honest, that black people have rights and, you know, opinions that at least are heard in the public square in ways that they weren’t previously. So all of a sudden, it’s not a surprise that people would, you know, grasp on the national anthem as some sort of way to prove your, you know, your loyalty to this country. But, you know, I guess the thing about this is that even for Mark Cuban in the NBA not playing the national anthem and not giving athletes an opportunity to kneel like. I can actually understand if you took the national anthem out of the equation, if you took it, you would not have Neethling as an issue either. So it actually served to help the NBA and the Mavericks so that you can avoid that particular sort of protest and that particular kind of symbolism. And I’m actually sort of surprised that the leagues want to keep, you know, to relitigate this battle over and over again. If they took it away, you wouldn’t have any black players to respond to kneeling or anything else. But on some
S2: level, the NBA, you know, not only endorsed kneeling, but, you know, it wouldn’t surprise me that Adam Silver was quietly and he was publicly supportive of the players protest during the anthem. So you could certainly take a counter argument that continuing to play the anthem gives the players the opportunity to express feelings that the league executives and some of its owners certainly support.
S3: I mean, I guess I mean, they’re the ones that are making this compulsory. And it wasn’t it just a few months ago. I mean, if a couple of years ago or was it in the last year and I should have known this off the top of my head, but that Adam Silver was saying that any player that Nield was going to be fined. So, I mean, it’s a
S1: rule in the NBA that you have to stand and it just hasn’t been enforced.
S3: Right, exactly. So, I mean, like we can say, we think that Adam Silver and the owners, you know, might believe about the players kneeling and whether or not they support them. But like in terms of the rules on the books, which they are in charge of, they could change this. They could change that particular rule and they decided not to. But to be honest, I mean, NewLink isn’t nearly as effective as it was five years ago anyway. Right? Like I mean, this is sort of a played out a bit of activism or protest that I mean, it’s like kneeling has become so watered down that I’ve lived long enough to see Jerry Jones kneel alongside his players, get booed, and then decreed that anybody on his team that takes a knee will be punished in some sort of way. So, I mean, you know, it’s you know, in terms of making some sort of a statement, I feel like, OK, well, you know, we’ve sort of been there, done that. It’s probably time to move on. And if you took the national anthem away, you wouldn’t have that issue anymore, that they’d have to be some sort of other way to generate interest around Black Lives Matter on these other issues.
S1: But there is like a third way Johal, which is that when Megan Rapinoe started kneeling to support Kaepernick way back in twenty sixteen, the then owner of the Washington NWSL franchise, their solution was, we’re going to play the national anthem before the players come out on the field. And so you cut off the opportunity to kneel and you still play the anthem. These these owners are clever. I will I will say this on anything to do with patriotism once it gets instituted, it’s really hard to roll it back. Like think of flag pins after 9/11 and politicians like you’re not going to see a time when a politician like and we’re not going to wear the flag pin anymore, like, that’s that’s over with. So like once you make it kind of culturally informed that we’re going to play patriotic music before a sporting event, it’s really hard to stop doing that without. I don’t know if it’s fear or legitimate of, you know, belief that like, oh, that means you hate America if you’re not doing it anymore. But the thing that I find so interesting is this idea that like the past year during the pandemic, it’s like a time when rules don’t the normal way of doing things and the normal rules are kind of suspended. You know, in the bubble, you had players wearing these phrases on the back of their jerseys. You had this allowance being given for kneeling and for players being more outspoken than is typical. And now we’re like back in our arenas and there’s like a kind of uneasy transition back to the old rules and way of doing things of like, you know, originally Adam Silver said, yeah, because the fans aren’t in the stands, then it’s OK not to play the anthem. And then there’s the blowback. It’s like, actually, no, we do need to play the anthem. And so you don’t see. But the inverse doesn’t really apply at Stefan, where it’s like, OK, if you have a patriotic thing, you can’t get rid of it. Now that there has been this allowance for like, all right, we maybe we can skip the anthem or maybe we can kneel during the anthem like that stuff can get taken away. Like that stuff has not become the new normal. And the transition back to, like, the old way of doing things I think is going to be fraught. And that’s what we’re seeing with this maverick situation.
S2: Yeah, Adam Silver certainly had the opportunity to leave it up to teams. You know, we have a now and he had a he had an example of a team making a decision that had no. In fact, no one noticed, and he could have just said, going forward, we think it’s in the best interest of the league to allow individual teams to make the decision on what to do. And I think that would allow right wing owners who are still the majority in the NBA and in all professional sports to exert whatever sort of influence they wanted to on their teams and more progressive people like Mike Mark Cuban to say. We’re not doing it, period. I mean, it’s really
S1: tell you more. He didn’t say you didn’t say I
S2: wouldn’t go that far with
S3: you. I was like, oh, wow.
S2: OK, how far do you want me to go? I mean, he’s not that progressive, but I don’t know if it’s a question of, again, commercial fear, sponsor fear, fan blowback. It’s the timidity that is involved in going along with the history here. Instead of saying we’re going to try to do this differently, we’re going to listen to our athletes. You know, Brittney Griner and her teammate Brianna Turner during the bubble said that we don’t think they should be played at all. You know, that’s a valid ever played before sporting events. And for someone like Mark Cuban to listen to athletes, but also follow through with it and take a stand against the league or encourage an alternative solution, like giving me the individual ability to do that would be one step forward.
S3: Yeah, it’s interesting you said that about Brittney Griner, you know, said about, you know, we don’t think it should be played. Oh, because that’s the thing. Very few athletes have actually come out and said you should not play the national anthem. Basically what they said is that if you want to stand, it’s fine. Go right ahead. We want to opt out of that. And if you remember back at the beginning of the bubble when Meyers Leonard of the Miami Heat, who is white, even though you wouldn’t know it from his name, he stood for the anthem in two of his teammates, wrapped their arms around him as they knelt. Right. So the thing that I kind of just can’t get over here is that essentially black people and black players in particular are just asking people to respect their decisions. They’re not to say like when when Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon wanted to stand during the anthem, nobody called them out. They would just like you. That’s fine. You go right ahead and do it. We’re going to kneel. And that’s the only thing black people and black Americans, people just cannot stand a critique from them, no matter no matter what form it comes in. And so even if we say we respect your right to stand, please respect our right to kneel, even that just goes too far. And it’s just really disappointing because this has just been an ongoing issue my entire life. Before I was born, it was John Carlos and Tommie Smith. When I was a teenager, it was Mahmoud Abdul Rauf. There’s Tony Smith, Thompson, you know, Manhattanville College in the Early Arts and Colin Kaepernick. And it just feels like we’re still having this debate over and over again. And it’s just a matter of respecting black people’s right to dissent. And it’s not respected in this country. And that’s why we keep ending up here over and over again.
S1: Yeah, and some essential background here that we haven’t mentioned is that Francis Scott Key, so-called black people, a distinct and inferior race. And so it’s not just about what is happening in the country now. It’s like what this song means and where it came from. And I also think it’s important to remember when the NFL and week one of the twenty twenty season decided that they were going to have lift every voice and sang in tandem with the national anthem as the kind of like most mealymouthed possible solution. It’s like the five blade razor of fixes. Just keep adding more songs until until we figure this thing out. No matter what the sport, it’s easier to win at home. We all know it from personal experience and from looking at the numbers. But the weird thing is we don’t really know why home field advantage is a thing. They’re a bunch of hypotheses, but no agreed upon consensus. The pandemic then would be a natural experiment. A way to test out all those different theories within crowd noise is the biggest factor. Well, they’re now home games with no crowds. If you think home teams have the advantage because they don’t have to travel, that’s now been tested by all the games and bubbles. In a piece published in Slate last week, Alex Kershner ran through all the data. What he found was that home field advantage is definitely real and that it’s definitely diminished in true neutral environments like the NBA bubble. But there’s a lot that’s still a mystery. What were some of your main takeaways, Stefan?
S2: I think we should start with just stating that the study of home field advantage relies on win lost type data, but also a lot of conclusions that are based on uncontrollable factors, which you alluded to, the state of mind of referees, the loudness of fans, the effect of individual factors like travel and the comforts of home. So it’s like social science slash statistics. And what made the pandemic or what makes the pandemic such a good laboratory to look at home field is that it flattened a lot of these variables. And in doing so, it confirmed a lot of what people who have studied this, including our friend Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated, who co-wrote a book in 2011 called Score Casting what they found the most notable, but not everything that they concluded. It really is muddy. I think we should get bubbles out of the way first because they’re just like this weirdo science experiment. They I think they end up being more like a control for studying home field advantage and bubbles. Right. Eliminated everything. The road team disadvantages of travel, hotels, smaller locker rooms, booing fans, subconsciously oppositional referees, and then the home team advantages of the comforts of home sleeping in your own bed, cheering fans, subconsciously favorable refs. No surprise, the NBA, the WNBA, the NHL bubbles eliminated almost any home court edge, even where the basketball leagues tried to simulate one by piping in music and noise and hockey, which already offers these built in strategic advantages like face offs and line changes for home teams, the playoff home win.
S1: So all the people that thought home field advantage was based on like train sound effects for for the home team. Not that that’s been that’s been disproven.
S2: That has been disproven. And the numbers, though, the numbers were really stark. The playoff home winning percentage in NBA games in normal arenas is in the mid 60s. In the bubble, it completely vanished. Same in the WNBA and in the NHL. The designated home team won less than forty percent of playoff games, which is just sort of statistically weird.
S3: Yeah, that especially weird to me because you think a team that has what is ostensibly home court advantage and a neutral site would still be the better team. Right. Like you would think they would win according to how often the better team or the team with the better record would win over a representative sample. But that just didn’t happen. But, yeah, you know, the one thing that’s sort of funny is we decided to do this topic and I remembered score casting. I guess I misremembered score casting from so many years ago. I thought, oh, score casting his resolve this that home field advantage is not really a thing. I don’t know why I got
S2: you confused with the hot hand, which I always do like which one is real, which one is and how real.
S3: Exactly. Exactly. I was like, oh wait, this is still a thing. I didn’t understand that we were still like, this is up for debate. But everything that we know about this seems intuitive, right? That yeah, of course, like on the margins, if you have two professional level teams, things on the margins would make a difference. Whether the other team gets to stay at home. It goes through its routine, whether it’s used to its locker rooms and everything else. And, you know, knowing whatever, you know, marginal advantages you might derive from playing on a specific court over and over again. So like knowing there’s a dead spot on the court or, you know, the side of the grass on this side of the field or whatever is a little higher than others. You know, teams monkey with that stuff or they used to certainly a lot more, you know, twenty, thirty years ago. So everything about this seems fairly intuitive. And, you know, the one thing I was thinking about, especially now with the NBA, because things have changed so much, like at least when the bubble they flattened the home court advantage the teams would have had like. Right. You take that away. They don’t get to play at home. They don’t have their fans, all that other sort of stuff. But the thing that was most compelling to me is that, oh, yeah. Like right now, while NBA teams are traveling across the country, they’ve got to worry about getting infected on a plane, getting from the airport to the hotel. What? Over at the hotel, they’re from the hotel to the arena, like there’s so many different points in which you would be worried about getting infected, like I’m a person that used to travel, you know, two or three times a month over the last seven years. I’ve done it in a year. And it’s so much more comforting to not have to worry about that sort of shit. And I can only imagine players are humans, too. Of course, it would affect them, wouldn’t it?
S1: Totally. And all of the stuff that you laid out, Stefan, about the bubbles and the fact that home field advantage goes away, like that’s a good kind of sanity check, right? Like it’s what we expected. And it all sort of makes sense. The parts that are the most interesting are the things that didn’t go as we expect Major League Baseball play the whole season in home stadiums. There is a home team advantage even without a crowd, because you get to bat last and that doesn’t go away. But you’ve got like cardboard cutouts in the stands and home field advantage in baseball was higher than it’s been since 2010. Fifty six percent of games won by the home team and then in college football, where, as we’ve discussed at length, nobody is like following the same rules. Like some stadiums have fans, some don’t. But the one thing that was pretty consistent is that the quote unquote renter win was not a thing and called football, where you don’t have teams just going on the road and getting paid money to lose. And that’s how you rack up a lot of home wins in college football. But as as Alex Kershner wrote in this piece, 60 percent win rate, which is the same as it is historically in college football, even without those reneau wins. And so it seems like in college football, even without crowds and even without those easy wins, you still have this normal home field advantage, which is confusing.
S3: What is it, though? Because it seems like to me, especially for a nonprofessionals amateurs, that all of the obstacles while traveling would be even more pronounced for for people that are not professionals. Right. That don’t get to focus solely on their sport. They’ve got so many other things to do. It seems to me that if they had to travel, that, of course, that would exacerbated whether or not their fans and the crowd or not. Right? I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me, but it seems to be in college. It makes the most sense that. But the thing the things that affect things
S1: most, I mean, the thing that you mentioned at the top job, I think is right, is that there are so many different factors here. And you can mention, you know, the thing that you mentioned made sense. But also it’s like I remember the season at LSU, the season opener at home against Mississippi State, where like Mississippi State goes into Tiger Stadium and for all manner of reasons like wins that game. But like, I would have a hard time imagining that they would have been able to go into a fall Tiger Stadium with, you know, sold out with with fans and full voice and come out of there with a victory. I mean, maybe I’m wrong. This was like a bad, bad season for LSU and in lots of ways. But like, that’s the thing that’s so fascinating about this is that like one of the findings and score casting and I don’t think there has been anything in that pandemic’s necessarily disprove this is that crowd noise like just crowd noise, quiet crowd noise is not a major determining factor. And like, I’ve been in all sorts of games, I imagine that you guys have to wear the home crowd is so loud, like in the Superdome or Tiger Stadium, wherever, where you’re just sitting there like, I can’t imagine how the road team could possibly win this game. It’s like part of it is like magical thinking of like you want to believe that you as a member of the crowd or the members of the crowd can like, well, the team to victory, but also like objectively, it seems like really hard as a road team to win in those cases. And so it just feels weird that it’s not true. Stefan.
S2: Well, except that it also could point to something that I think we tend to under respect, which is just how good athletes are at shutting out environmental factors like crowd noise, where they’re going to be.
S1: Athletes sometimes talk about how it actually makes them more hyped to play on the road and want to prove their team wrong right there
S2: in the crowd. Environmental factors do play a role. And I think this accounts for a lot of baseball, that every baseball stadium is different, backdrops are different, sightlines are different. The grass is different. The outfield walls are different. And I think in, you know, baseball shows that that that really is a strong correlation to winning. And you take everything else out and maybe that’s the most important thing. The other factor that I was really interested in is the one that gets a ton of attention, which is officiating, and whether referees are influenced by crowd noise particularly, or just the psychology of knowing that they’re in a. Your place and therefore are subconsciously led to favor the home team and the you know, the the the data is mixed, it was less pronounced in baseball than in normal. But in soccer, in the in the English Premier League, Alex Kershner found a study that visiting teams were earning fewer yellow cards and more penalty kick opportunities when the stadiums were empty. So that’s a pretty strong indication that, yeah, referees might be affected by their environment.
S1: But in the NFL, there’s no evidence that penalty yardage changed without crowds. And like, that’s the thing that I thought was both kind of frustrating, but actually great about Alex’s piece is like the truth is that the the way that you get this wrong, this question wrong about home field advantage is by thinking, oh, it’s one thing. And like we’re going to figure it out, oh, it’s officiating. Oh, it’s crowds. And it’s like, OK, this is like a multivariable problem. If you look across different sports, you’re going to find some that support different theories and some that don’t. And so like laying this out and all of its complexity and having the humility to say, you know, there is no one answer, but I’m just going to like lay out all of the findings and you can, like, look at all of it I thought was like model act of journalism.
S3: Yeah, no. And you’re right. I think it’s like game to game. Right. Like you said. I mean, anything could happen. Like, it’s hard to build in all the many different things that can go wrong when any one team is traveling and one team is at home and has the advantage, like, you know, maybe your flight was delayed. Right. And you got into your hotel late the night before.
S1: And especially if you’re in the WNBA.
S3: Yeah, right. Right, right. And as Alex pointed out, I was like, you know. Yeah. Like after a while, the home team just sort of gradually built up its advantage over the visiting team, which, you know, I guess makes a little bit of sense. And again, typically it’s particularly because the WNBA, so much of it was the playoffs, like the better team is the team that supposedly has the home court advantage in the bubble. So, like, let’s not forget that it just speaks to all the many different factors that go into this sort of stuff. And it’s it’s kind of confusing to get your arm around. But I guess all things being said, all things being equal, all things being said here, you’d rather be the team playing at home than the team on the road,
S2: no matter what. Right. And the other thing to point out is that historically home field advantage has declined a lot. That’s really the NBA is the starkest example of this. In like the mid 1970s, home teams won games at almost 70 percent, a 70 percent clip. And it’s now down to just over fifty fifty three percent or so. And I think that probably speaks to the increase in the amount of sheer talent in sports so that the margins between the best players and the quote unquote worst players in any league are much thinner than they were in previous generations.
S1: But but travel is also easier. And instant replay is, I think, a major factor that a bunch of these stories mentioned is that, like if there is that officiating bias towards the home team, but then you can challenge the calls or there is some system in place to look at the calls again, then that bias can be corrected for. And so maybe that’s a factor in modern times.
S2: There was a study that was done in the NFL that that indicated exactly that. Like it’s a total shift from the 1990s. Home teams won about 60 percent of the games in the NFL and it’s declined to like 52 percent in I think it was twenty twenty nineteen
S3: when not only has travel changed, but like elite athletes have changed, too, in that there’s so much more used to traveling long distance at an earlier age than they ever were when I was in high school. You would play teams within your area. If you’re an elite athlete, you’re playing seven or seven tournaments all across the country. You’re playing a few tournaments all across the country. Travel is just built into being an elite athlete as you get older now. And it’s just it just wasn’t true before. So all of these kids have so much more experience playing on the road in unfamiliar environments. And so it stands to reason that, like that gap would close as we went along here.
S1: Yeah, Joe, let’s end by kind of drawing on your personal experience. I want to know, like, OK, let’s if you blank out like all of this, like research and everything that you’ve heard here, like when you are playing, what did you think about home field advantage? Like was it a thing? And like if it was what created it, like did you think, oh, like we’re less likely to win on the road because the crowd is loud?
S3: It’s not necessarily that you would think it was less likely to win, but I remember my last high school football game, just for an example, we on the day of the game, we traveled by bus from Houston to Dallas, got to the arena. I got to the stadium like, you know, two hours before the game, before kickoff. And like, I just remember us putting on our. I do not feel ready like this sucks like I was already, and of course we lost 14 to nothing. And now I’m not saying that Dallas Jesuit was better than us. I don’t think they were.
S1: It seems like you’re saying the exact opposite.
S3: I feel like they had an advantage that day that we just did not have, so.
S2: I definitely kicked better in the preseason games that I was allowed to put a uniform on, but the Broncos at home in Denver. Yeah, totally.
S3: So over the years, former NFL players have grown so used to the league’s efforts to deny them health benefits and retirement that they adopted the phrase delay, deny and hope you die. It’s not surprising that the former players have adopted this bit of dark humor, given the hundreds of lives and millions of dollars at stake in the ongoing battle over the NFL’s concussion settlement. The NFL has paid out about eight hundred million dollars in the five years since the settlement was affirmed. At least two former players, Noji Davenport and Kevin Henry, who are both black, said they’ve been denied their cut of the money because of race based benchmarks have used to evaluate their claims. Their stories were at the center of a recent investigation by ABC News, which covered their lawsuit against the NFL. Davenport and Henry have accused the league of explicitly and deliberately discriminating against black players who have filed dementia related claims. So today we have Ryan Smith of ESPN and ABC News who reported out the story and spoke with the players about their frustration with the league’s attempts to deny their claims. Ryan, thanks for joining us. Could you just take us through how the players say race and racism have factored into their claims?
S4: Sure, and thanks for having me, you know, what they’re essentially saying is that there is a formula that the NFL used that’s used to evaluate their claims that is based on race and ends up having the effect of denying them compensation. So this is how it works when a player believes that they had head trauma that caused lasting effects from playing on the field. They can under the settlement agreement between the NFL and the former players, they can go to a neuropsychologist approved by the NFL and that psychologist evaluates them and tries to figure out their level of, let’s say, cognitive decline. They then make a recommendation to a claims administrator who didn’t. Who decides that claim. And so what the players believe is happening, according to their lawsuit, is that when they went to their neuropsychologist to get their examinations, that those neuropsychologists and in different phases of this, we could talk about this, that a formula had to be applied, or at least they believe the NFL required a formula to be applied. That assumes that before black players even walk on the field, they have a lower level of cognition than white players. And therefore, when it comes time to evaluating their cognition in these examinations, if you apply this demographic correction of the NFL calls it, it’s harder for black players to prove that they have cognitive problems as a result of what happened to them on the field. So what happened to these players? And they have different scenarios. But one player submitted to neuropsychologist that basically said they don’t have a level of cognition that gets compensation. Another had a claims administrator approve it. The NFL appealed, saying you didn’t apply the right norms and that claim was eventually denied.
S2: These are called heatin norms and they’re named for a neuropsychologist to develop them and they appear to be racist from the get go. But they were designed based on the entire population, not a small group like NFL players, most of whom went to college. And their stated purpose is to help prevent mis diagnoses in neuropsychological cases. Instead, Ryan, it seems to me that they’re being used here as a tool to injure the dominant class of plaintiffs in this case. So it feels like a misappropriation of these standards to me. Is that an argument that’s being made?
S4: That’s exactly the arguments that’s being made. It’s the irony of all this. It’s supposed to be used as a diagnostic tool to better understand the patient. Yet it’s being used, at least according to these players, against the patient to deny them compensation. So the idea behind these norms was it’s to get a better understanding. And it’s not just race. By the way, this demographic correction, that’s the formula that neuropsychologists is supposed to use in evaluating players. It includes age and education, but it also includes race. The idea behind it was to say, I need to get a better understanding of my patient and where they’re coming from. It’s almost you can look at it like an individualized basis as you go and see a doctor. The doctor wants to get to know you. And so they might use different things about your background to try to understand. You better hear what the players are saying is it’s being applied to say this is what we assume about you. Your level of brain functioning before you even started playing was lower than white players. Therefore, when you come in and you say you had these kind of head injuries sustained on the field, you started from a lower point. So you should be showing a lower point to get compensation. And that’s why when I talk to these players, one of the things they mentioned to me was, hey, I blood and sweat with my fellow white players and players of other cultures on the field. Why is it that when it comes to this, I am looked at differently simply because of the color of my skin?
S1: Yeah. And just the idea that, OK, the most instructive or informative thing about this person when we’re looking at these test results is that he’s black, as opposed to that he is like an individual, like there’s no baseline testing here. Like we don’t know what Naggie Davenport or Kevin Hendry’s numbers were when they joined the league. They’re just looking at them as like if you are an average black person, then this is what your number should be. And it’s like not looking at them as individuals. And it seems to me like, you know, just like based on your reporting, Ryan, that if this test is being used to exclude people, exclude the majority of players in the league that are black, then you have to think about, OK, what are the values here? What are the politics here? As opposed to like what is that? You know, the public health rationale like this doesn’t seem like it’s really based on public health rather than politics or values.
S4: Well, to actually make a good point. And so let me let me give you the NFL’s side of this. They would say. A, this is something that we agreed to in the settlement agreement between the players and the NFL, so they would say this has already been sort of hashed out in the court process in the lengthy process it took to come to this settlement. So in a way, it’s almost as if saying, hey, that’s on your rep for not making sure this wasn’t here. The other thing I think the NFL has said throughout all of this is this is not required. That’s their position. This is not require that. It’s a tool that doctors can use to try to figure out more about the patient. And they have said explicitly, this is not meant to discriminate against people. It’s meant to do the exact opposite. It’s meant to help us tell more about the patient in order to understand it. I think what you’re hitting on is what the players have been saying here is you’re painting the entire group with a broad brush instead of trying to understand the player individually. And that’s where the tension comes in. But the NFL keeps sort of pushing back on this and saying not only is this what we agreed to, but it’s also something that doctors don’t have to impose if they don’t want to. Now, emails that we found sort of fly in the face of that and we can talk about that a little bit more. But that’s what the NFL is saying, that this is not a requirement. This is not something meant to hold people back. It’s, in their mind meant to make sure that everybody is treated fairly,
S3: which is to drill down on that for a second. Right. They say that it’s not required, but they use that as the basis to challenge claims, though, right? Like they say, oh, the doctors don’t have to use the standard, but we’re still going to challenge it on the basis that that that they did not use that baseline. Is that right?
S4: That is where it gets really interesting. And you’re absolutely right, A.J. Davenport’s case, he went to a doctor that took a look at him and believe that he had a certain level of cognitive decline that required compensation. So it went to a neuropsychologist that that neuropsychologist, Dr. Charles Golden, did not apply these demographic norms. He just said, yeah, he’s got this. He seems like a guy who who should get a claim, sent that to the claims administrator and that was approved. So now Davenport gets the award, the NFL appeals that saying, among other things, you didn’t use you had an improper use of the norms, you didn’t apply these norms. So it becomes really confusing thing. When you talk about the story, it becomes what you’re saying. It’s not required. But at the same time, you’re appealing and saying doctors didn’t use it. And that kind of dovetails into what we found when we did more research on this. And we found these really shocking emails between neuropsychologist who are part of this program going back and forth, talking about how they felt they it was required for them. One doctor said that if he didn’t apply the norms, he would get multiple inquiries from the NFL. Another doctor said he felt that the norms did, bottom line discriminate. And there was another doctor who weighed in and said we could have been better advocates for players in establishing this kind of thing. But one thing that really stood out to me in some of these e-mail interactions was a doctor said, hey, if this is something that’s not required, then we’ve been doing it wrong. And and I’m paraphrasing there that is so critical because, guys, the NFL right now is 70 percent black. If you think about these two cases and you think about the fact that there might have been other doctors who didn’t understand this idea that the NFL is saying that this was not required, then you have to imagine, are there other people out there whose claims have been denied for what the NFL is saying? It is not a required formula, but doctors were feeling as if it was.
S2: And there’s just no data on that that’s been uncovered yet, correct?
S4: That’s what’s tricky. Yeah, and there’s been about three thousand claims. About twelve hundred have been played out somewhere around eight hundred million dollars. But the NFL is not releasing demographic data, so we can’t exactly tell who among players and their families filing claims, who has actually received compensation.
S3: And so in the story, I was struck by Kevin telling you that he was never healthy in eight years of football. So can we just play a quick clip of that?
S5: I was never healthy. My my whole career, I was dealing with something. Both ankles, both knees, both elbows, both wrists. All my fingers have been broke at least once. Hyperextended elbow. Terfel had done on both both feet. Man, the list goes on and on.
S3: So, you know, hear what Kevin says here. That just sounds so debilitating. And you talk with them and you talk with Kevin’s wife, too. Can you just tell us a little bit about their lives right now, like how they’re actually living and making it on a day to day basis?
S4: Absolutely. You’ll take I’ll take you from the beginning of their day. Kevin Henry, in order to get out of bed, has to be massaged by his wife, manipulated. And we have a we have a segment in our reporting where she’s trying to manipulate him and massage him in order to get him out of bed. And he hears a crack and he’s like, did you? Or that, and she’s like, I heard that, and that’s just his normal everyday experience. He talked to me about how he is gone days in a room because he just doesn’t want to come out. He suffers from all different kinds of ailments. He has trouble moving around. And one thing I think that we wanted to sort of show in this reporting and that I think sometimes people don’t understand is when people see NFL players, they see gladiators on the field, guys who are indestructible. But and they also see, I think, people who have made a lot of money playing the game. But I think what they don’t realize is a number of players do not have very much money and they are suffering multiple injuries every single game. Concussions. Kevin told me he thought he suffered more than a dozen. He talks about all the different ailments he has. And so his daily life is a constant struggle just to be able to move, to be able to interact, to be able to survive in the world. And his wife and this happens with so many former players, his wife has to put aside her dreams, her work goals, her ability to make money in order to take care of him because she’s concerned for what his safety might be like if she’s not there pretty much. Twenty four. Seven. So his life is a constant combination of pain and struggle in order to survive. And when you talk about the resources he might have in order to take care of himself, those are severely lacking. All he’s got, all his family has is the NFL’s settlement and trying to get compensation through that settlement.
S1: So I think we’ve all seen that with the covid pandemic. It’s really important to think about the ways in which race interacts with health and with public health. But I think we’ve also seen that just saying, oh, different people of different races respond to things differently is not sufficient. And I was looking at this piece from State News published last year. It was about lung function. And it says Many studies have found that on average, black individuals have lower lung volumes than white people. And so similar to what we’ve been talking about when lung function algorithms are talked about, then there’s this assumption that black people have lower lung volume so that it’s normal to have a lower lung volume if you’re black. But then I’m going to quote from this piece by using these lung function algorithms, are we blinding ourselves and society to the health harms of structural racism, effectively normalizing lung damage that black Americans suffer from dirtier air, dirtier jobs and substandard medical care? And so I just want to put that out there. But also, like Ryan, what is the NFL trying to do here in nickel and diming these players? Like, even if we were, I don’t stipulate. But even if we were to stipulate that, like, technically these guys don’t deserve the money, it’s it looks so bad for the NFL to be treating their players like this. And maybe they think that people just don’t care. I don’t know. Like, do you have any sense based on your reporting or just based on your own opinions, like why the NFL is taking the stance
S4: that I’m going to assume they’re taxed for the purposes of answering that? They would say, first of all, they would say we’re not nickel and diming the players. We’ve paid out over eight hundred million dollars and they would cite a lot of that information. The other thing they would say is, hey, this isn’t out. This is this is this is the outcome of what we negotiated. And we always intended this to be something that treated people equally. I think one of the problems that the NFL is struggling with on a story like this is it’s great that you negotiated something in court. But we all know that sometimes when agreements are made, they don’t always turn out the way that, let’s say if the NFL was really trying to establish some sense of equality through using these norms, it’s it hasn’t, at least according to these players, hasn’t turned out that way. They believe this lawsuit the NFL does is entirely misguided. They believe that this lawsuit is sort of missing the forest for the trees, that we’re trying to employ a diagnostic tool to evaluate the claims properly. But you bring up a great point, Josh, that we are in a day and age where when you find out about something like this, you have to at least say we need to make a change now. Roger Goodell was asked about this around Super Bowl time and he said, look, we’re going to look into this. And he talked about possibly being open to making changes. But that, I think, is going to be a tough thing for someone like Kevin Henry or someone like Noji Davenport, because they need the help now. And these policies are in place and they are keeping them from compensation. I wanted to mention something to you guys that we found in looking into this story. We worked with a we looked at some data analysis and there was an NFL affiliated clinician who looked at some of the data from about a group of hundred, let’s say maybe ninety five, ninety four black players, former players. They took a look at the scores of these players and they found that if you looked at these players as if they were white, thirty four qualify for compensation. But when you apply the norms, only 10 qualified. That is huge data right there. And it would be easy for someone on the other side of that to say, well, that’s a sampling. There might be other players. You don’t test that way. But I think, Josh, it comes back to your point, this reporting that we’ve done and what is what this lawsuit is saying is this is what’s happening to some of the players. And you have to you have to think even if it’s happening to one, something has to change. Even if one person has sustained multiple head injuries from playing the game and they’re being denied compensation for something that at least on its face, according to the lawsuit, seems to treat them differently from white players. Something has to be done to address that. And I think it’s going to be a tough sell for the NFL, even though they’re saying, hey, we’re not requiring this with other with the emails, we found some doctors saying they felt like it was required or hey, this is a diagnostic tool with players actually showing that they’ve been treated differently based on the use of that tool, that something’s got to change now.
S2: Well, especially at a time when the NFL is trying to present a new image as a league that is sensitive to racial concerns of its players and to. Social justice and then the second part of it is that, you know, you pull back and you realize that this entire brain injury settlement has been contentious, disputed and criticized by a lot of representatives of players, organizations. Look, it’s not going to cover players who are in the league after twenty fifteen. The amount of money is probably going to run out at some point. There have been tons of pushback against the case itself. So you have to think with this criticism and the more the broader criticisms, if it’s possible in a legal context, to do something about the broader parameters of the settlement.
S4: Yes, Stefan. But and I’ll say yes, but because I think this goes to something you brought up the idea that this settlement has faced a lot of criticism since this settlement has been in place. There has been constant back and forth about this isn’t right. We have to change this. We have to change that. I could see that in some people viewing this from the NFL’s point of view, they might say, you know what, we’ve had 30 complaints about this lawsuit. Here’s another complaint. This is not the way we think it’s working out. And if we give on this, then we’re going to have more complaints that that I’m a lawyer by training and that sort of my legal mind coming into it. It’s, hey, if I let this happen, then what else is going to happen? But you also mentioned the idea of society today and how we look at things. And I want to tell you guys about something Kevin Henry told me. I asked him in the context of where the players stood last year on Black Lives Matter, how they demanded that the commissioner and the league acknowledge Black Lives Matter and try to do things for the black community. And then when the commissioner came out and acknowledged those things, I asked him, how does he process that? And Kevin Henry felt that that was a lie. He felt like it sounds good to say that kind of stuff sounds great, makes you sound like you care. But if you’re letting this happen, you don’t care. And that’s at the crux of this, at the very heart of this is we can talk we can go back and forth about all the legal reasons for why this might not change. I think there’s been a lot of fatigue over changing this settlement on both sides. But at the same time, what you’re seeing here are players arguing that we are being treated unfairly based on race. And as long as that’s happening, the NFL will be open to arguments of hypocrisy unless they do something to address.
S3: Wow, that’s a great place to put a pin in it. Ryan, you did. That was a fantastic story, man. Thank you for covering it. And we hope we get to have you back at some point whether to follow up on this or maybe something more fun. But thank you so much for joining us this morning, ma’am.
S4: Hey, thank you, guys. Really appreciate. Appreciate your time. Love to come back. All right. Awesome.
S1: And now it is time for after balls and we got to get back to Stefan’s appearance in the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle that was created by Lisa Bunker. Did you know Lisa Bunker? Is there any kind of personal.
S2: There’s no concern now.
S1: Now. OK, so. So Lisa Bunker is a elected representative in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and along with Jerry Cannon, the state’s first transgender state legislators, and has written a couple books that both sound very cool, Zenobia Jilly and Felix Wise. I do have one minor beef, not with Lisa Bunker, but with the like right up. You know, they do that kind of a little diet kind of or the daily write up, figure out how to salt like after solving the puzzle, like here’s the like fun stuff in it and mentions Stefan Fatsis as an engaging sports biz commentator on NPR.
S2: I was a little bit I don’t have to
S1: I don’t I don’t take issue with the engaging part, but with the on NPR part, I feel like I was a little opportunity to throw a hang up and listen a little bit. A little bit.
S2: So I haven’t appeared regularly on NPR since like the end of 2014.
S1: I don’t want to appear churlish to complain about that. I just want to say,
S3: isn’t it better for Stefan, though, that he’s known about NPR? I mean, you know, it’s like NPR is a little bit I mean, we have to admit that was a little bit bigger name than
S2: again, I have a wow. I was on NPR for like 17 years, Joel, but I stopped doing it at the end of 2014. So it’s kind of always been
S3: it’s like, you know, like A-Rod, you know, is always known. I don’t know. I think the greatest athletes, you know, Tom’s name is Laker. You know,
S1: Tom Brady is a patriot.
S3: He’s a painter.
S2: Yeah, yeah.
S1: Yeah. I’ll I’ll have to say about this. Joel is like with that attitude then hang ups never going to be bigger than NPR. So self fulfilling. All right. We got a little off track here. The point is celebrating Lisa Bunker for her excellent Sunday puzzle. Stefan, what is your Lisa Bunker?
S2: Very grateful to Lisa Bunker. Thank you, Lisa Bunker, for including me. All I as I mentioned during the segment, I went down a newspaper database, Rabbit Hole, and I’ve got more on sports and the national anthem. The Chicago Cubs for decades had a peacetime time policy of playing The Star-Spangled Banner only on opening day holidays and special occasions. In 1947, the presidents of the American and National Leagues suggested that all teams take the Cubs approach as the war recedes into the background for most people. Harold Case wrote in the Boston Globe in April 1947, There is a growing desire among sports promoters to put the grand old tune back in the mothballs until it is again needed to pluck the Eger strings of patriotism. That kind of gives away the game. Case wrote that the promiscuous playing of the anthem results in disrespect. Masses of people no longer stand at attention while it is played, but laugh, talk and smoke without concern. This was 1947 case reported that the song wasn’t played before a three game preseason series between the Boston Red Sox on the Boston Braves and almost no one noticed. In 1948, the editors of the United States Coast Guard magazine said it was time to stop playing the anthem at the drop of a hat. They singled out boxing cards, quote, A prize fight is neither the time nor the place for playing the national anthem, the editors wrote. The anthem is insulted by the wild, whistling, yelling and bellowing of excited spectators who impatiently wait for the last note so that they may proceed with their interest in legalized mayhem. I’m just going to leave this one right here. According to a column in The Washington Post in the 1960s, George Preston Marshall, the segregationist owner of the city’s NFL team, at one point quit playing the anthem entirely and had the team band play, quote, a dozen choruses of Dixie and quote, Instead, the Washington team did play Dixie alongside the anthem until the mid 1960s. In 1966, the Chicago White Sox decided to play God Bless America because fans weren’t singing along to The Star-Spangled Banner. The team’s GM told Arthur Gaulke of the Chicago Daily News that he guessed that was because it’s a pretty hard piece to sing. But Gorelick reported that fans behaved exactly the same during God Bless America as they had during The Star-Spangled Banner. They rise, trying not to spill the paper cups of beer. Some hold in their hands, others take a few. Puffs on their cigars before waiting for the echo of the last strains of organ music to fade, Gorelick asked the Cubs about not playing any patriotic music before most of their games, quote, The fans don’t seem to care. The team’s promotion manager said, as one White Sox fan also told Gorelick, I come out to see a baseball game, not sing songs. Of course, American Legion and VFW types and sports columnists all protested. What in the world has happened to America? One letter writer asked. And the White Sox caved. They handed out red, white and blue ballots and asked fans to vote for the anthem God Bless America or America the Beautiful. The ballot included a McCarthy like pledge that each time I attend a White Sox game, I will sing along loud and clear. The anthem won in a landslide. The team flew in. Bandleader Mitch Miller exploded fireworks and for one night anyway, most people sang. In 1967, the Cubs decided that it was no longer peace time, even if opposition to Vietnam was growing and restored the daily anthem. With the world situation. What it is, we feel it apropos to play the national anthem at each home game. Now, the team said. Little wonder that Chicago cops cracked the heads of antiwar protesters during the Democratic convention the next year. In 1972, the owner of the Kansas City Royals, Ewing Kauffman, cited disrespect during the song for deciding to play the anthem only on Sundays and holidays that lasted two games. Kaufman said the team received 200 calls and letters accusing it of attacking the flag of the republic, the founding fathers, all of which sounds depressingly familiar. Finally, in 1973, the organizers of a big track meet at Madison Square Garden announced that they wouldn’t play the anthem. Just two days earlier, the entire Eastern Michigan University track team had been kicked out of another meet in New York when three black members of the team stretched while the anthem played. And the previous summer, after finishing one two in the 400 meters, U.S. sprinters Vince Matthews and Wayne Collette were kicked out of the Olympics in Munich after they didn’t face the flag and talked and fidgeted during their medal ceremony. That’s after ball on its own. The Madison Square Garden officials said that playing the anthem at meets was always tricky. Few people were in the stands at the start of meats and playing it in the usual spot at the night before the mile. The marquee race was unfair to the runners, but they admitted that bagging the anthem was about avoiding controversy, a way to keep black athletes from protesting and fans from booing them for protesting. The chairman of the event told The New York Times that what he called the black factor had crossed our minds. One doesn’t relish incidents that disrupt an event, he said. The meet’s decision lasted one day. The management of a garden announced that the anthem would be played before every future sporting event. The U.S. Olympic Committee said it was deluged with irate calls and a bill was introduced in the New York City Council that would have made it illegal to start a sporting event without playing the anthem. The track meet officials said they would be delighted to continue the custom of playing the song, and they did. The African-American jazz singer Ethel Ellis sang it at the meet. The crowd of 12000 cheered loudly, and there were no protests.
S3: Wow, you know, just like I said during our segment, we’ve been having the same debates over and over again for even longer than I thought, like much, much longer than even the life of professional sports in this country. So it’s just, yeah, that’s maybe some day, maybe some other hang up and listen. We’ll talk about the time me and my cousin went to a Rockets game around the Mahmoud Abdul Rauf time, and we did refuse to stand for the anthem at some old old guy, you know, commanded us to stand up. We didn’t, but could have got a little dicey there.
S1: Yeah, well, I’m glad it didn’t get dicey for you, the Pelicans coach, Stan Van Gundy tweeted, If you think the anthem needs to be played before sporting events than play it before every movie, concert, church service and the start of every work that every business, I want to go see a movie when we were on vacation in Thailand once and they played the royal anthem before movies in Thailand. And you’re like you’re you know, you’re commanded on the screen to to stand up and doing that as like. Well, this is really weird, but it’s not it’s not like it’s like no weirder than what we do. And it’s just the way that we’ve been trained to think that it’s normal in this context and like weird in front of a movie, it’s like makes no sense at all.
S3: Why don’t we do the Pledge of Allegiance before work or anything any more than we used to do that as a kid? I like I just. When does that stop?
S2: As a matter of fact, I discovered and I didn’t remember this, but that in the early 1990s, I guess after the Gulf War, one of the Super Bowls, not only were there flyovers and anthems and lots of military, they read the Pledge of Allegiance,
S1: but maybe that is an example, like a counter argument to what I said about like when you institute this patriot patriotism stuff, it’s like impossible to go back. Like, we don’t do the pledge, I think, and the same the same way and and the same amount of context that we did when we were growing up. So, yeah.
S3: So they don’t do the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms anymore.
S1: I don’t think it’s been universally excised, but I think it’s way less common. Our our listeners can chime in and. Correct. Yes, but that’s my understanding. That is our show for today, our sports and and anthem and Pledge of Allegiance podcasting. Our our producer this week with Jasmine Ellis’ doesn’t have and subscribe or just reach out. Go to sleep, Dotcom, hang up. You can email us, hang up at Slate dot com. Don’t forget to subscribe to the show and give us an Apple podcast for Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis. I’m Josh Levine to members of Mobility and thanks for listening. Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate plus members, and as he often does, Draymond Green caught the attention of the Internet and the world on Monday night with some comments he made in his postgame news conference after the Warriors win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Andre Drummond, the Center for Cleveland, did not play in that game because Cleveland announced that they want to play Drummond and they want to move on to the Jarrett Allen era in Cleveland. And I guess they don’t want to risk Drummond getting hurt. So he was sitting on the bench in street clothes and Draymond Green had some thoughts about that. Let us hear a clip.
S5: To watch Andre Drummond before the game, sit on the sideline and go to the back in the come out in street clothes because a team is going to try him is bull, because when James Harden asks for a tray and essentially dogged it, I don’t think there was no surprise or no, you know, there’s no one’s going to fight back that James was daunting in his last days in Houston. But he was castrated for one to go to a different team and everybody destroyed that man. And yet a team can come out and say, oh, we want to trade a guy. And then that guy is to go sit. And if he doesn’t stay professional, then he’s a cancer and he’s not good in someone’s locker room. And he’s the issue.
S1: Stefan, what do you make of that?
S2: I love Draymond Green. I mean, he’s great when he’s been on TNT and he’s great because he is outspoken and he’s thoughtful and he raises issues that a lot of fans wouldn’t necessarily consider about player rights. And there is certainly a double standard, you know, and that’s because of the power structure of professional sports where even you can you can even say that the notion of trading human beings from one business entity to another is absurd. And Draymond is pointing out that the way that the NBA, even the so-called progressive NBA, when it so chooses one, will hang players out and make them the focus of public scrutiny and upend their lives in a you know, in an unfair way is interesting on its own.
S3: Yeah, I think the Draymond General point is right, although am I wrong in saying that he could be conflating media reports with franchises where we’re usually people conflate what they hear on social media. Is media for once like this isn’t something people are blaming on media because these trade requests are usually floated by media outlets and because of sources that they have within the league or within teams. Right. But like it’s not like a team will come out and say, yeah, you know, we’re thinking of trading Andre Drummond and, you know, we’re going to see what we do about that. I mean, you know, that’s not how it tends to go. But that I mean, that’s a minor quibble. Draymond is right on the facts of this and that in the way that teams treat players poorly and discard them, whereas players, when they went out of a bad situation or a situation that they just no longer want to be a part of, the players are demonized and I would say demonized rather than castrated. But I don’t. I thought that
S1: was a strong criticism,
S2: but I don’t know how universal that is. I mean, certainly the public is more sympathetic to athletes having more agency. Right. And where they play. You know, James Harden was not on. Wait, wait, wait.
S3: You’re here. Wait, wait. You think fans are more sympathetic to players having more agents? You know,
S2: I think it’s more accepted publicly. I mean, whether fans, you know, going to go on social media and complain that some, you know, some NBA player feels like he’s entitled, they can demand where he can go play. But the reality is that they do have more agency. And, you know, and it is an accepted part of sports culture that wasn’t the case 20 years ago or 30 or 40 years ago.
S1: I have two issues with what Drayman said, well, kind of agreeing with the larger point I have, I have two issues. I think they’re larger than quibbles. I would I would characterize them as issues. Number one, he says nobody criticizes organizations. Come on. Did the New York Knicks you think nobody has criticized the New York Knicks? Like people talk about how franchise are franchises are incompetent and poorly managed and poorly run all the time. And that kind of leads into, well, this is issue one and a half. I feel like there is a tendency and this is like not a Draymond Green issue, it’s an issue with all of us to flatten things out and say everybody killed him and everybody said this and that. Like, you can find a wide range of views on the issue of like what James Harden did or on the issue of what the Cavs are doing to Andre Drummond. He might be right that like majority of opinion team tends to be anti player or the majority of opinion that like filters to Draymond Green seems to be anti player. Fair enough, but I think he overstates the degree to which it’s like unanimous that James Harden is killed. It’s like unanimous that nobody says that it’s wrong to treat players the way that the Cavs are trash.
S2: He’s just he’s just practicing for his inevitable career as a member of a panel on ESPN.
S1: Fair enough.
S3: Hyperbole gets you there. That’s you know. That’s all right.
S1: Issue issue number two, we’ve moved beyond issue number one and half. The thing that he does not grapple with is that James Harden is incentivized to treat his team like shit because that will make them more inclined to want to trade him. And so if Harden isn’t, you know, and Draymond to his to his great credit does acknowledge that Harden wasn’t trying his hardest. But if you like, treat your employer badly and you make it make their lives miserable, they’re not going to want you around. And so to argue that, like, Harden didn’t have some influence on the way that he was perceived by people in Houston, like, you know, he was he was kind of enacting a strategy to get himself out of town. And you have to acknowledge or understand that one of the consequences of that is that people in your you know, who root for your team are not going to be happy with you.
S3: Right. I’m not a person that has a problem with James Harden did. But I totally understand why people would have a problem with it. Right. That yeah, you’re right, Josh, that, you know, Harden did not necessarily acquit himself very well. And if we’re also talking about the way franchises treat players and vice versa, the Rockets treated that James Harden very well, you know what I mean? Like, they basically gave him everything he wanted and it wasn’t enough. That’s all well and good. Like it wasn’t enough to win a championship. He’s worried about his legacy. Fine. But like, yeah, you can’t say that the rockets did anything wrong here. It’s just that James Harden no longer wanted to be there. And if people killed him for that, it’s fun. And, you know, the thing is, there’s plenty of players that killed James Harden for it, not just within his own locker room, but Steven Jackson has been noticeably outspoken about the way Harden acquitted himself on the way out of the door.
S1: So what are the consequences that James Harden suffered from criticizing him? He got to go where he wanted and he is like getting his full salary and he’s like playing with his friends. It’s like I. I think the most valuable thing that Draymond did here is call attention to the fact that, like,
S1: the franchise is like forcing guys to sit out and like not admit they’re not maybe saying publicly, oh, we are are trying to preserve his trade value or whatever they’re like. That’s not a great way to to treat someone like I feel like that part is something that often gets ignored or overlooked, though, like Harden thing.
S2: I’m not James Harden is a red herring. He was the distraction that everyone’s going to focus is going to latch on to because he’s James Harden and his behavior was so public and obvious. I mean the the point Draymond I think was was intending to make because it wasn’t fair to Andre Drummond to be pulled from, from a lineup and then have his attitude questioned anonymously and publicly, which if Cleveland people were doing that they certainly weren’t enhancing his trade value. But, but, but, but Draymond is making a point about how it’s unfair to that player. You know Andre Drummond a good player, but he’s not like he’s not he’s not James Harden. He’s not a superstar. That can dictate the terms. Of his release or his trade from a particular team?
S1: OK, counter counter counter argument, Stefan, is it weird to feel bad for Andre Drummond, who’s making twenty five million dollars? And the thing that we feel bad about is that he doesn’t have to play basketball to earn his salary.
S3: And additionally, not only that, I mean,
S2: these are these these are the sorts of things that have to be stipulated. Josh right. Like how much NBA players make is how much they make. They make a lot, right?
S3: Well, I mean, like also I mean, should we really feel sorry for Andre Drummond that he gets to leave the Cavs? Right. But he seems like the
S1: Cavs are on the come out
S1: their own. The come up.
S3: Yeah, the excellent backcourt. That’s pretty good. But I mean, I think that on the whole that, you know, like like Joakim Noah said, I mean, you think Cleveland is cool. You know, you’ve heard of anybody going to vacation in Cleveland, you know? So no, no offense, Cleveland. It’s lovely. I had a great dinner there once, but yeah. Yeah, I totally agree. I mean, the thing is, is that you just have to make a difference between the way players get maligned, when they may have to take some exception to the way the franchises treat them in the way that franchises generally their faults, in the way that they treat players and not really a primary source of concern among fans and anybody else. Like I mean, you know, only in the most egregious example you like you use the Knicks as a red herring to just I mean, like not every franchise gets the Knicks Knicks treatment. You know, they are
S1: an NBA franchise feels like fair play to mention them. And they’re doing better this year, too.
S3: They’re almost 500.
S1: My guy, Julius Randle, MVP. So I like I’ve personally come around and this topic feeling like Draymond is wrong and like every specific point. But in the big picture, he’s exactly right.
S2: John Hollinger made an interesting point at the bottom of the athletic story about this, because John Work went and worked for an NBA team before going back to the media. And he said working on the team side, I always thought it was bizarre that we could trade players in season. Like you’re just getting ready for a normal day and then all of a sudden you have to move to Sacramento in twenty four hours and have absolutely no saying it. While sometimes this works to a player’s benefit harden, many times it doesn’t, especially for a salary cap throw in. So I get Draymond perspective he
S1: said yeah they’re saying you got to, these guys have to listen to the national anthem and they could just be forced to move to a different city in a in a twelve hour period. Come on, come on.
S2: NBA players. All right. I mean isn’t this mostly just about like treating players more humanely, like if you’re the front office, do you need. Yes. Andre Drummond. Just sit his ass down or say he’s got an injury and find a market for that guy.
S1: Yes, I think we can all agree on that. We can also agree that we we will treat our slate plus members respectfully. Thank you for being Slate plus members. We’ll be back with more for you next week.