S1: The following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: Hi, I’m Stefan Fatsis. And this is Slate’s sports podcast, Hang up and listen for the week of August 24th, 20 20. On this week’s show, we’ll talk about Luke Don Chickies. Incredible buzzer beating Step back three to lift the Dallas Mavericks over the L.A. Clippers on Sunday. Bang, bang. And his emergence as a bubble. And NBA superstar David Oben of the Athletic will come on to discuss the start of the football season, the high school football season that is which commenced last week in states around the country. covid be damned. And finally, Ethan Strauss, also of the Athletic, will be here to assess the continued drop in NBA television ratings and whether that matters.
S3: I’m the author of the book Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic. And also while then outside, I’m in Washington, D.C. Joining me from Palo Alto, California, is Slate staff writer and slow burn season three host Joel Anderson. What’s up, Joel?
S4: What’s up, Stefan? You know, I guess this is a show that lives up to the billing. What is it? Two’s company. Three’s a crowd. Just you and me right now. Married is just the two of us. Yes. Shout out Bill with us. We can make it if we try.
S3: So, national editor of Slate, host of Slow Burn Season for David Duke, author of the award winning book The Queen. Josh Levine is mostly away this week. I say mostly because Josh and Josh alone did the interview with Ethan Strauss, relieving Joel and me of the heavy burden of doing three segments all by ourselves. Thank you, Josh.
S5: Appreciate it. I guess he’s a slow burn for and he’s already going dive on us. He’s entitled to a vacation. That’s fair. Fairpoint.
S3: All right, I did my Mike Breen impersonation in the intro to the show and LeBron James tweeted something similar, and I suspect a lot of 10 year olds in Slovenia are also screaming bang bang today, too. For those who might not be familiar with it, Bang is NBA play by play announcer Mike Breen’s A Signature Call. His deployment of two bangs on Sunday after Donchak drained his 27 footer over a helpless Reggie Jackson for a one thirty five one thirty three win and a two two tie in the first round playoff series, it’s cemented the shot in basketball lore. Let’s listen to the original Finnie Smith.
S6: The inbounds back to Donchak Dodgson’s pulls up three pointer by Byron Pitts Gone that six wins the game at the buzzer man Joel That brought a huge smile to my face when it happened And just again listening to it it was great broadcast work.
S3: Donchak finished with forty three points, seventeen rebounds and thirteen assists, becoming just the third player in NBA history after Oscar Robertson and Charles Barkley to go forty, fifteen, ten in a playoff game through the first four games of the series, he’s averaging thirty one point five, ten point five and nine point eight, which rounding up is a triple double. And remember that he did his business on Sunday on a sprained ankle and without his Latvian wingman, Kristaps poor Zangas, who sat out with a left heel contusion. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said after the game. This game today was from another planet. Retired NBA player Channing Frye tweeted, What are we witnessing? To which Dwayne Wade replied, I don’t know, bro, but I’m glad to witness it from my couch. So, Joel, are we all witnesses?
S5: I mean, so is a Houstonian. I’m congenitally predisposed to never give Dallas credit for anything but Lucas. Incredible man. And you know where it’s possible to initially to say, oh, some of this is hype, you know? Yeah. You know, you hear about the legendary Eurostar. It reminded me like when Ricky Rubio came over. Right. And you heard so much about how great he was. It’s such a young age. And we saw him in the Olympics and then it didn’t quite add up. And so what Luca was so do the same thing was like, let’s just let’s just hold off before we crown him. And then you see what he’s doing against the Clippers, who are the league favorite right now with two of the best perimeter defenders of their generation. And he’s getting whatever he wants, dude. And it’s not like he’s incredibly fast or anything. It’s not like he’s beaten these guys off the dribble. He’s like slow footing his ass into the lane and getting whatever he wants against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. So maybe we’re not witnesses, but like, whatever this is, I mean, I struggle to remember a time when I can remember anybody, this young being this dominant against a team, this good. Right? I mean, have you seen anything like that now?
S3: He’s twenty one years old. Yeah. And, you know, it’s one thing and I think you’re right, the hype is generated largely by people who aren’t players. Right. By media members who want to be excited about someone coming into the league, especially, I think someone from Europe. I mean, I think we went through that period in the late 80s and 90s where the skepticism about European players from NBA players was genuine. And there’s a race factor here, too. You know, he’s white. We want to see a great white player, at least medium from white media members do. And I think that contributed to some skepticism of people like Tony Koch back in the day. But now there is there’s universal acclaim. And I think that when players in the league step up and respect other players in the league, you know, it’s genuine. I mean, some of the tweets after the game on Sunday and TV.com collected a bunch of them, CJ McCollum, Chiche, step back to Freedom D Wade Capital w o w with like ten exclamation points. Loukia We are not worthy. Bradley Beal Oh my God. Look Bobby Portis look a bad boy. DeMarcus Cousins young fella special Tristan Thompson Luca is different and then Steph Curry. That’s ridiculous. And then blouses. That’s from Chappelle’s Show.
S5: I had to look at Rafalca. Yeah. You didn’t know that reference. Reference. I think I am what I am. Blastoise that’s Prince. There you go. Yeah, France.
S3: And that is totally worth, by the way, going and watching the clip of Charlie Murphy telling that story about Prince. So, you know, I think that’s what we’re seeing here. There’s this universal recognition that he is damn good at twenty one in the top five, at least right now, of NBA players. And, you know, the question before the playoffs was, well, can you do it in the playoffs? He was rookie of the year. He had a good season. He can score in buckets, but can he do it now? And he’s doing it now.
S5: Yeah. And I think that’s the thing that it’s who he’s doing it against. That gives it a lot more credence because if he was doing against. Randomly, the Pacers, the magic, it would probably be a little bit easier to dismiss, but he’s on the team. That’s the underdog. He’s the guy that’s missing his second best player there, the seventh seed. This is not supposed to happen. He’s not supposed to make it look this easy or efficient. Right. And he’s able to do that while hurt. And so, like, you know, yeah, we’re listening. You know, we’re watching a lot of this unfold on social media. You were just talking about following all those tweets. And so there’s all this debate about where is he, the best twenty one year old ever. And, you know, then people bring up oh, no. Michael Jordan was twenty one years old when he dropped 60 on the Celtics. And, you know, you you know you know, Kobe was great. LeBron was great. Shaq were great. Magic were great at all these ages. But that says everything you need to know about how good look it is, is that when you invoke those names, it really doesn’t matter where you rank. If you’re in that conversation, that tells you how special he is and how special what he’s doing is right now. Right.
S3: Well, and one of his best games in the bubble round was against Giannis and the Bucks had the number one defense in the NBA this season. Downshifts had thirty six, nineteen and fourteen. They won one hundred and thirty six to one hundred and thirty two in overtime and he controlled the game. And the thing about which of course is that like magic he can do everything. It’s the ball handling, it’s the court vision, it’s the passing. And add to that, you know, he hasn’t been the greatest three point shooter yet, you know, shooting like thirty percent, which is not terrific. But damn, that looked like a pretty good three. And he made a couple other pretty amazing ones against the clips, too.
S5: Isn’t that the right comparison? Because, you know, I mean, you mentioned the racial implications of this, right? That, you know, oh, he’s a white player. And so then you hear these comparisons to Bird all the time. But then, like magic is exactly the comparison that I think when you think of, like, a tall guy, not exactly. You know, nobody would have said magic was an incredible athlete. Oh, by the standards, NBA players.
S3: No, you’re right. No, that’s exactly what I think. I think that’s dead on. I mean, when you watch magic, go back and watch those clips of magic playing and it’s not like he’s blowing by people. It’s that that efficiency, that smoothness, that effortlessness that Donchak possesses and tortures is two hundred and thirty pounds. Man, he’s not some little guy.
S5: Oh, it’s real easy to get him confused with, like, power for us, because especially now that we can’t see everybody’s last names on the court. I mean, when he has the ball, it becomes apparent who he is. But for a second you’re like, wait a minute, what you do is that Mexico, you know, whoever. And then all of a sudden, you know, oh, that’s the dude. That’s the guy. And so, yeah, I you know, I, I did not expect to be this impressed by him so early. But I mean, it seems like I mean, it’s so unfair if you’re if you’re a fan of an NBA team and you’ve just not had a superstar like, you know, I’m trying to think of maybe the Pacers. The Pacers have just had some real misfortune. Right. You know, speaking of Paul George. But they go from Dirk the Mavs hand over their franchise from Dirk to Lucas. I mean, that’s like a Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck and like not even like it’s even better because, you know, probably you might argue that Luca is better and more efficient than than Dirk was already. Right. Like, that’s a conversation. Like imagine the luck that the Mavs were able to get Luca where they did in the draft right now and ready to go to replace their franchise defining player. It’s unbelievable.
S3: The Mavericks traded up from number five in the twenty eighteen draft, traded with the Hawks to move up to number three because the Phoenix Suns and the Sacramento Kings decided to pick DeAndre Ayton and Marvin Bagley one and two and look apemen. Bagley, having had terrible first two shooters in the league, you know, Ayton averaged 16 and 18. He also suspended for testing positive for a diuretic. Bagley averaged fifteen. He was mostly hurt this season. They’re not terrible players, but the hindsight with this is getting to be like Greg Oden, Michael Jordan kind of hindsight.
S5: Oh, well, you know, it’s it’s weird you say that to man because, I mean, there was so much hype with like it’s not like anybody didn’t see this coming. He dominated the world’s second best league as a teenager, as a teenager. Right. And so, like, that’s a mistake. There is a little bit more understandable in nineteen eighty four when Sam Buie is dominant and accumulation one a dominant. And it’s a different era of basketball. But it seems like Luka was tailor made for this era and he’s done nothing but to just justify that since then. I mean, he was the head of the most effective explosive offense in NBA history this year. Like, I mean, that can’t be overlooked that that the Mavericks had the best offense in NBA history this year and he’s the big reason for it. And so, you know, the Clippers got a bad one. Man, this is not an ordinary number seven seed. I feel I don’t feel bad for them, but you can kind of see how that might happen, right?
S3: Well, and there’s also the sort of the equalizing, the flattening factor of the bubble. There’s no getting court advantage. It is a different vibe. And I want to talk about that vibe a little bit, Joel, because what I’ve really loved about watching these games has been that it feels like you’re in the gym, like these dudes are just playing pickup and credit to the networks, the TNT and ESPN and ABC and the NBA for experimenting with camera angles that give us a sort of different view that let us feel like we’re courtside. There was a courtside video of Lukash Shot that was really exhilarating because it was like watching some dude do something great because there’s nobody understands. You’re hearing the squeaks, you’re hearing the explosion of joy like it was an NCAA tournament game. And The View gives you the sensation of what it’s like to watch the best athletes do something amazing up close.
S5: Yeah, I mean, I guess what I said, necessity is the mother of invention, right? So they had to figure out a way to put up a really good product. And they had all this time to sort of build towards this. I’ve mentioned a couple of the episodes. There was always this theory that the NBA might go toward more soundstage type atmosphere so there’d be less emphasis, you know, smaller crowds and much more intimate settings to watch basketball games. And this is sort of it. And now we see it’s kind of amazing. The quality of basketball has been really good. I guess if if you really love defensing, you miss the Knicks and Heat of the nineties, then maybe this is very frustrating for you. Everybody is getting their shots or whatever. But if you just like Hoop and you just wanted to stumble in on, you know, watching the pros up close and seeing the way they talk to each other, you know, we can hear Carmelo cursing all the damn time like Chris Harrying wrote about in five thirty eight. You know, it’s just so much of more of an intimate feeling. And I just really enjoyed it, man. I mean, I didn’t you know, I apologize. I was one of the people that said they should not be doing this as a stupid maybe we shouldn’t be trying this, but upon further reflection, this has been pretty damn cool.
S3: Yeah, that Chris harrowing story was really fun. He actually did like a data breakdown in Libya on the TNT broadcasts and calculated how many times TNT had to cut out because somebody was cursing on the court. And it turns out that Carmelo is king. He was plus seven on getting cut out.
S5: So he’s going to make the hall for all sorts of reasons. And that’s another. He was the most efficient Carson, the most prolific Carson in NBA playoff history. So we did, though. I mean, the Nuggets jazz game also came on last night. Another great game, another high scoring game, two really dominant players and Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray. Right. And I mean the nuggets of the higher seeded team. But they just can’t seem to do anything with Donovan Mitchell. Right.
S3: Donovan Mitchell had fifty one on Sunday. Jamal Murray had fifty is the first time in history in the NBA. The two guys went for fifty in a playoff game. Mitchell also had fifty seven in game one of the series, which was the only game that the Jazz lost. Does Mitchell now belong in this group of elite NBA players? He’s in his third year in the league. He came out of Louisville. He was not like projected as a superstar, was he, Joel?
S5: No, not at all. And you know, what’s really interesting is I wear a you know, Stefan can see this. Not everybody else can. I’m wearing a fear. The beard shirt of James Harden, just totally coincidental. Just threw it on this morning. But I saw Donovan Mitchell the last two postseasons because they played against the rockets and the rockets eliminated them. And I was like, oh, Donovan Mitchell, a very good player, but, you know, held this sort of a cap on him because he’s not an efficient scorer and he’s not exactly a playmaker in the way that everybody else is. And for whatever reason, he’s just taking off now. I mean, I would maybe this needs to be a little bit more context of this, because the Nuggets are missing one of the best defenders of Gary Harris, one of their more, you know, sturdier, better perimeter defenders in the league and that guy and, you know, who knows what to think about any of this stuff. So, like, again, the context for these games is all sort of weird because it’s not really a continuation of the season that we already had. We’re looking at teams sort of in a new context now. So, you know, Donovan Mitchell is going off against this Nuggets team. So obviously, you know, things are very different now. You know, the Nuggets are not the same team that they were when they were compiling a record to be the third seed. Nikola Jokic just lost a lot of weight and strangely enough has just been sort of absent. Like I just haven’t felt his presence in the Games in the way that we’ve discussed all these other players that are MVP caliber. So yeah man, I mean you know, Donovan Mitchell is just sort of taking this moment and grabbed it by its throat and we obviously shouldn’t be talking about him in a lot of the same ways. We should be talking about Luca because he’s been every bit as dominant as.
S3: You know, arresting a presence in these game as anybody else, yeah, this is turning out to be a lot of fun and I think that’s the biggest surprise for me. It was you know, you weren’t sure. Would the players respond to the environment with the games? How would the games look and feel on TV? I’m kind of like seeing the virtual fans, the video screens behind the benches. I like seeing the players kind of spaced out and reacting. It’s that camera angle from behind the officiating table when they shoot through the Plexiglas and you hear the ref communicating with the game operators. That’s really interesting to me. And I think it also feels like for all the boredom that the players are probably feeling off the court, it feels like it’s like a bunch of guys collectively being part of something and enjoying what they do in a different way, unencumbered by the sort of brutal travel and the media focus in your face and the scrutiny that comes with being a professional athlete. It’s been kind of refreshing, I feel, and I’m psyched for the rest of the playoffs.
S5: Yeah, me too. I mean, I think that kind of ended on that point. I think that’s the thing that we’re really sort of underselling the the idea that these guys don’t have to travel anymore because we’ve seen studies showing about how hard travel is on athletes bodies. And so we’re just getting to see them. You know, maybe this isn’t quite their peak because there still is this long layoff, but that’s not a factor anymore. And we’re just getting to see who. And in and of itself, that’s pretty damn cool.
S3: And man, if they peek at the conference finals and in the NBA finals, we’re all going to benefit from that. Absolutely.
S4: The debate over whether there should be a college football season continued last week on Friday. About twenty five parents protested outside of big headquarters to demand more information about the league’s decision to postpone the fall season. At least three teams, Vanderbilt, East Carolina and Louisiana. Monroe paused practices after a spike in positive coronavirus test. And at Georgia State, a freshman quarterback announced he would miss the season after being diagnosed with a heart condition as a result of contracting the virus. But while that was happening, high school football was kicking off in Utah, Alaska, both Dakotas, Indiana and Alabama. And in Tennessee, where David of the Athletic attended the first game of the season in the state last Thursday and Knoxville for three hours up and wrote the debate about whether players could or should play, feted David up and joins us from Knoxville, where he also covers Vols Football. So. David, thanks for joining us. And what was it like watching a football game amid a damn pandemic?
S7: Man, it was weird. I was actually talking to a friend of mine about this earlier today. The levels of witnessing it were hard to wrap your mind around in the moment, because from a pure sports than human level man, it was awesome just playing football. You could see guys playing. You weren’t thinking about the fact that there’s a global pandemic that’s killed one hundred and seventy thousand plus Americans. It’s hard to really just enjoy it, because even if everyone’s fine at the game that you’re at, you think about the concept of high school football. You think about how many people have masks below their nose or aren’t wearing masks or are socially distanced or just sitting there and you’re thinking, man, five people in here have this, like this is going to be a problem. It was conflicting, especially somebody whose livelihood is tied to people playing football and now seeing that reality and staring it in the face. Man, it was one of the weirdest nights that I’ve had this year in a year full of weird nights.
S3: You know, your story definitely conveyed that weirdness and the ambivalence. And, you know, as Joel and I have been sort of counseling against the idea of football this year and what we know about which states are not doing a great job following guidelines and making a good faith effort to control the spread of the virus, you could really feel where you were and what it was like. So credit to you on that. It was a terrific read about this weird moment in sports. And I started reading one paragraph in your story, David, and it went like this. Turner knew his players were concerned. He felt it. He heard it especially from the seniors. And I thought, oh, they’re concerned about coronavirus. But no, I kept reading and it’s what they get to play any games in twenty, twenty one game, five games every game. He didn’t have answers. No one does that to me. Felt like it was so on the nose about what the culture of football in certain parts of this country are going through. Hey, it’s not really about the virus. What can we play? When can we play.
S7: Yeah, it’s it’s hard because I remember myself at seventeen eighteen, I’d be thinking about the exact same things. I’m sure it’s easy to look as an adult and be like these kids. They don’t really have a sense of the bigger picture, but then it’s like no kid does. I think that’s why you’re seeing on college campuses, you’re seeing all these videos of bars being packed and it’s like, I’m going to be fine. They probably are going to be fine. But who might not be fine is the person that you go to a bar or whatever. You contract the virus. You say it’s not a big deal. I’m not going to get tested. I feel fine. You might be asymptomatic. You go out to eat, you pass it to somebody who is not going to be fine. And America is obviously very individualistic culture. And I think as you look at all the many reasons why the pandemic has impacted America more than other countries, it’s hard not to see it. As you know, that is a big reason why. And the reality of life in a pandemic is your personal choices are not your personal choices.
S4: So to play this game, the coach and athletic director at Halls High School, they mandated temperature checks. Right, required fans to wear a mask, allowed only 30 percent of the stadium to be filled, even put strips of red tape six feet apart in the stands and ban team handshakes like after a game. Right. And so you even wrote it was evident early on throughout the night that their work in their home stadium earlier in the day was mostly being ignored. Did this just seem like virus protocol theater? Basically, like everybody just kind of knew, oh, we’re supposed to go through the motions here. But I mean, we’re out here. Obviously, we don’t give a shit about if we get this.
S7: Yeah, I think there’s always a tough balance between real precautions and covid Theater. And I think everyone sort of acknowledges that, you know, it’s weird like you’re playing football and the other team was. Gibbs and they were very aware that this game was broadcast locally and they’re very aware the camera is going to be fixed on their sideline for the whole game, is that we have to both coaches, if we don’t want to be the reason why people don’t get to play. And it’s great that they you know, your team is socially distanced and you’re sitting you’re standing six feet apart on the sidelines. And that’s awesome doing what you got to do. But you’re playing football and you’re going to be riding on a bus with these guys and like drawing the line between these are things that are going to protect people. And these are covered theater measures that just look good, that they probably aren’t really doing that much. It’s a tough line to sort of walk.
S3: One of the coaches kind of just gives it up in the story when he was talking about the precautions. And he says if it looks good to the people who are against football and it gets us to continue to play, I’ll do it. It did not feel to me that coaches and educators in Knoxville were asking whether this is necessary or whether it’s right. Did you get that sense in talking to people?
S7: I think they’re trying. I think everyone knows that there’s only so much you can do, like the concept of holding a high school or college football game. There is an inherent risk there that it’s unavoidable. And I think you can say you got to wear a mask in the stadium where everyone wearing a mask, once they got into the stadium, know people wore masks, they had one to get in. But I don’t know what I don’t know if I put a number. There were a lot of people that just took it off or had it around their neck during the game. And if you’re sitting in a crowd and everybody’s yelling, which obviously do. You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to say that’s probably not great, and so again, I think it’s not really about that specific game, but you start by extrapolating this over hundreds of games over a bunch of weeks and thirty eight states. And you’re like, this does not seem like the greatest concept, but yeah, you can essentially distance the seats. Are people going to a plot? Are people going to actually sit apart and only sit within six feet of people they live with? I don’t know, maybe some places. I saw that that ad in Utah stopped the game because fans took off their masks and said, we’re not starting this game back up until you put your mask back on. But, you know, so far different seats. I didn’t see people necessarily applying to or trying those saying, do you have symptoms? Please don’t come in. Here’s a temperature check. They’re all kind of half measures, only so much they can do. And it’s hard when there are legitimate arguments. The other side, I think the idea of mental health of kids, I think that’s a legitimate argument of a 17 year old kid. And I’ve been working hard to play high school football. And this is my last year. And you say I can’t play. And that’s how hard it is. It is hard there. There are no right answers. And all of this there are only wrong answers and perhaps slightly less wrong answers where other people get hurt in different ways.
S8: I absolutely sympathize with this. When I was 17 years old, like if you told me I had to miss my entire senior year, I would have just been devastated. And there’s like there’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think about my senior year of high school football. Right. But I’ve read about all these kids. So like The Washington Post wrote about kids transferring from other states, like there’s been like guys move from Orange County to Valdosta, Georgia, a USC recruit who moved there to play football. And all of these guys are sort of crisscrossing and trying to find games around the country. And I’m just sort of throwing this out to both of you. All four years, people have tried to pretend that football is just some sort of regular extracurricular activity. Right. That, well, school comes first. We focus on school and football is not that important. But then all of a sudden, as soon as it gets bad, like now, people are telling us that football is important to the community in the mental health of children. And I just wonder if, like, we’ll ever be able to get back the plot on considering football just a regular extracurricular activity. Does that make sense? You don’t mean because we just like people have pretended for so long that it doesn’t matter that school is the thing that matters. But as soon as shit went bad, all of a sudden people say, we’ve got to have football. It’s important to the community and important to our kids. Do you think we can ever like once this is over, what does that look like then?
S7: I think it’s hard. I think in high school football, I think that the value of it to a community, there’s some money in there, but it is like sort of a coming together of a small community, especially in small towns. When I lived in Dallas for the better part of the last decade, I’ve seen Texas high school football. I know what it means to small towns, but college football is so much more complicated because there’s so much money tied up into it. The entire economic structure of higher education is largely tied into them playing these games, unpaid athletes producing in many cases, nine digit revenues for their universities. So. I think when you’re saying high school, it can be just a game, this an extracurricular activity, I think it is more, but that’s not an entirely uncharacteristic description of what we’re doing. But college, I think that genie has been out of the bottle since nineteen eighty four. The Supreme Court decision where you started having all the seed money start rolling in and just seeing it’s hard because I just want to play the coaches want to play. All these things happen. Yes, they want to play. But if there wasn’t one hundred million dollars on the line and some of these universities, do you think they’d be playing college football? Absolutely not. There’s no way it would not be happening.
S3: Yeah, but there’s not a hundred million dollars on the line in Valdosta, Georgia. This is true. And the coach of that team, you know, said I disagree with what California is doing, suspending the football season. And then I’m reading one of these stories. And it turns out that the football program at this high school had four positive covid tests this summer, including a coach. And, you know, the coach sort of walks it off by saying, yeah, we checked temperature twice a day, you know, sanitize our hands like crazy. And he goes on to say, I think we need football right now more than we ever needed football. This, to me, is the crux of the debate. Colleges have researchers, epidemiologists, the way the Big Ten in the PAC 12 came to their decisions was because they consulted a lot of scientists. Scientists don’t exist in Valdosta, Georgia, who are helping school districts make these decisions. They’re relying on the states to help make decisions. So this is, as you said, hit or miss and what the ripple effects to all of this. So you get all these kids transferring schools, looking for a place to play, and you get coaches who argue that this is more important than anything. And I want to go back to what I asked you earlier in your conversations with the people in Tennessee. Did you get a sense that administrators had actually debated whether this was the right thing to do?
S7: I didn’t talk to that deeply about it, because I think from football people, there are so few people who say that we shouldn’t play that. I just generally assume that most people think that they should play because they’re wanting to play. And if they want to sit out, they can. So I think it’s more a sense of can we a lot more than should we? And the answer to can we in most states has been, yes, you can. And if they can, they will. I wouldn’t consider myself a high school football expert by any means, but I have not heard of any stories of places where they’ve said you guys can play football in schools. Districts are saying, you know, now we’re probably not. I’m sure there’s probably some out there, but the vast majority of places where they’re saying you can play football, you will. Again, I don’t know a lot about the dynamics of school boards, but if I’m just thinking about the power dynamics, I think that’s a lot of how this all goes down, is, you know, the school boards, the people, they’re going to be these decisions. And in a lot of places, the parents are the ones that have a lot of power, parents or people that have money in the town. And those people want to play football. And the school board says, we don’t want you to play football while there’s going to be some back channel conversations that say, no, you do want us to play football, just trust us. You do want us to play. I think that is what you’re going to see in a lot of places where the people who want to play, the families that sort of run a lot of these small towns, the people that run these small towns, they’re going to sort of get their way. And and I think you’re going to see that a lot of places across America where there’s families that run universities, there’s no families that run conference. It’s people that do have, like said, scientists and researchers and all these things that they’re constantly in communications with. And the president’s the education people are making these decisions and sort of saying, OK, we understand what the ads want, what the coaches want, what the players want. But the presidents are making the call.
S4: David, thanks for that. Thanks for risking your life to go cover a whole verse. Gibbs in Knoxville, who won, by the way, Hall’s one thirty one seventeen. Oh, well, congratulations. You have a hope of that carries you through the rest of the season. So, yeah, thanks for stopping by. And we’re going to invite David to our bonus segment. We’re going to talk about this and some other things.
S3: Before we listen to Josh’s conversation with Ethan Strauss, I wanted to let you know that in our bonus segment for Slate plus members, David Ubben of the Athletic will come back and talk some more about college football if you want to hear that and you’re not a member.
S9: Here’s our reminder that you can sign up for Slate plus for just thirty five dollars for the first year. You can do that at Slate dot com slash hang up plus.
S3: The audience for NBA games on television has plummeted over the last decade. There are reasons like cord cutting and across the board drops and TV watching generally. And there are also some mitigating factors like unreliable measurement of online viewership. The Orlando bubble, though, was seen as a way for the NBA to regain some lost ground. Instead, ratings have actually been lower than those for pre bubble games. Big trends tend to result from multiple factors, Ethan Strauss wrote in a piece published in the Athletic last week. Among the factors he cited that players, coaches and broadcasters have been highly critical of the United States and its government while remaining mostly silent about China. Josh talked to Ethan Strauss about his story. Let’s listen to their conversation.
S10: All right, Ethan, why don’t you start by just laying out the issue, as you understand it, what the NBA is ratings look like now, and why do you perceive this to be a problem for the NBA?
S11: Well, the NBA’s ratings are down forty five percent since they did the lockout season and the old lockout and it was hastily promoted. You would have thought that it wouldn’t have been so highly rated. But people watch. They were into LeBron, they were into the Heat, that particular storyline and some other storylines. And from then until now, on network TV, on those ABC games, the big games viewership is down forty five percent. And during that same time on network TV, baseball and football have seen no decline. They have been completely flat and the decline has been represented elsewhere, where it is down 40 percent for TNT of that era, it is down perhaps around 20 percent for ESPN to say perhaps we still need the final numbers. And we have also seen local TV ratings decline and people do a lot of coping. People try to hem and haw about the reasons why as this bad news is accumulated streaming and pirating of games, it’s just all trying not to face the reality that the NBA has seen a decline in domestic popularity. Well, that’s a problem for them. It’s because they are in a economically precarious time right now, considering that they are about to have a season. We don’t know if they can even have fans. Gate revenue is a huge part of how the NBA makes money. You’ve had owners spending a lot of money to get the teams. And one way they can extend their credit lines is to sign a new TV deal, which is at least a promise of cash coming in. And to do that and they want to do that, it would be great if viewership is going gangbusters. But as I have said, it is not.
S10: There were stories in twenty eighteen about how NBA ratings were going up across ABC, ESPN, TNT, NBA, TV. I’m looking at this story from the Sporting News saying viewership for 17 games on ABC jumped 16 percent average three point eight million viewers has have things changed since twenty eighteen or was that just a blip? And the overall trend line has gone has been going down.
S11: The overall trend line has been going down. And I think that the blips often get overshadowed because the leagues like to trumpet them. But I think around that time there was a lot of interest in the Warriors, in Kevin Durant, and that did Buie the bigger games to a certain extent, and it did Buie the league to a certain extent. But you know, over eight years you lose nearly half your viewership on your big games. That is the general that is the general story. That is the general trend. And even if you have these pockets of uptick, the broad sweep has not been good.
S10: Despite all the coping, you’ve categorized explanations for why the ratings are down as excuses. Right. So let me know if this is an explanation or an excuse that the NBA audience viewership is younger than in some of the other sports that you’ve cited and also more non-white than other sports you’ve cited?
S11: I think there’s an element of explanation where younger people like the NBA, but the liking of the NBA doesn’t necessarily translate into them sitting down and watching two hours of an NBA game. You can figure out a way to make money off people enjoying seeing highlights over YouTube or highlights over Twitter, then good. Good for you. It just doesn’t seem like they’ve been really able to do that. And I just look, I think it’s basic. It’s Ockham’s Razor. The interest in your sport is represented by people sitting down and watching your sport. That’s that’s what it is.
S10: If you look at Gallup surveys, the NBA doesn’t appear to be declining in popularity. If you look at when people say, what is your favorite sport to watch? It’s been flat over the last 15 years. If you look at people saying whether they’re a fan of that sport or not, interest in the NBA has gone up in recent years. So if Occam’s razor is that the NBA is declining in popularity domestically and you mentioned that in your piece, then how do you explain the fact that on this metric of literally whether the NBA is more or less popular, it seems to either be flat or increasingly popular?
S11: Or is the metric what you do with your remote controller is the metric, what you say to Gallup? I mean, I think the quick and dirty measurement is whether you’re willing to watch the sport. I mean, they’re down. Nearly half their viewership, like, what are we doing, like, why are we avoiding this? That’s what I don’t understand. Why are we avoiding this? You lost nearly half your audience in eight years. We’re going to talk about a Gallup survey that’s just seems kind of ridiculous to me.
S10: Would you rather be the NFL where you have this huge TV audience? But there are also existential questions about whether the sport can exist.
S11: If we’re just talking about pure profit, pure moneymaking, then yes, I think you would rather be the NFL now. Do I want to morally be presiding over the NFL? That’s a different question. But as far as how entrenched they are in American culture and how much money they’re making and how much interest there is, I think is over 15 million people watch the NFL draft. Yeah, they are at a starting position that is, I think, more secure than the NBA.
S10: You mentioned some theories in your most recent piece about why ratings could be down. And you said the thorniest one is the political component. I am familiar with the theory, the idea that some segment of viewers might be turned off because of whether it’s things players say off the court or the social justice messages on their jerseys, the fact that they’re not talking about China when they’re talking about Black Lives Matter, what is the argument or what is the evidence that this is causing a decline in viewership?
S11: I think it’s completely obvious to people who aren’t in the bubble. I mean, you have your most precipitous drop this last year after China. I mean, an absolute freefall where you’re having double digits on the national double digits on the local ratings. And, yeah, maybe you’re never going to be able to prove it to a tee that it had something to do. It had something to do with the China effect on the ratings. But that is when the NBA is hitting the news for people who are not necessarily completely engaged. I think that when you talk to a lot of people who aren’t within media people, maybe where their politics don’t line up 100 percent with what’s being evinced. Yeah, a lot of people are turned off by it. I think that it doesn’t take a lot of imagination, really. I feel like I’m being put in the position in a way of just explaining the obvious that gravity exists. And I guess I would say to you, why wouldn’t they? Why wouldn’t it have an impact?
S12: I doubt that people who claim to be very upset about the NBA stance in China are actually upset about the NBA stance on China, considering, for instance, that Trump failed to respond to the coronavirus in a timely way because he said that he didn’t want to piss off China because they’re working on some great trade deals. I don’t see any evidence that people who are big Trump fans before that are now like, really hate Trump because he wasn’t hard enough on China.
S11: The component is a little more complicated than that. It’s the idea that people within the NBA are criticizing the United States, which many of the criticisms on point, many of the criticisms can be agreed with, but that they will not do any criticism at all of China because of the business relationship. I think that’s a fairly obvious hypocrisy that people can understand. They don’t have to be Magga heads to necessarily see it and be put off by it. You’re saying there’s no evidence? I think the evidence is, is the decline. I would again ask for the people who find it so hard to believe. Why? Why would it be so hard to believe that? I think it’s fairly easy to believe.
S12: Well, so it’s reminiscent to me a little bit of the conversation around NFL ratings going down during the Kaepernick kneeling controversy and that being attributed to the Kaepernick kneeling controversy when at the same time ratings for NASCAR were going way down. And, you know, you could look at ratings for NASCAR going down. And and maybe if you had if you didn’t know anything about NASCAR, I’d be like, well, they must be protesting. There must be people pissed off about these drivers talking about social justice.
S11: Yeah, but then does that prove that it can’t be true for football? Because I believe that that particular story tracked with the ratings going down and then the NFL did something draconian to stop the kneeling and then the ratings went back up again. I mean, it’s not inconceivable to me that the people who say they’re pissed off by that kind of thing or pissed off of that kind of thing, I am not I don’t care. I mean, Neal away, that’s fine by me. But there seems to be a population of people who actually do give a shit.
S12: I do not deny that it’s possible that what you’re saying is true. What I’m saying is that I don’t think that you saying that it’s obvious means that it’s obvious. What what do you think the truth is? What do you think? The truth is that I feel like this season is a really challenging one to make any conclusions from just because it’s so.
S10: Unusual, it’s games being played at a time they’ve never been played before in a world in which people’s lives have been totally thrown into disarray, but what does that have to do with the pandemic drop? You’re saying that there are a lot of small things that don’t matter or that don’t explain the drop. Maybe if you add up a bunch of small things that at least gets you some of the distance there. If you add up the fact that the league has this younger demographic, that’s going to be more predisposed to cord cutting. If you add in the fact that we’re in a sort of generational shift and the NBA, if you add in the fact that a lot of the, you know, star power in the league is in the West, if you add in the fact that Tzion was hurt all year, if you add in all of these other factors, maybe it doesn’t get you all the way up to forty five percent, but it gets you, you know, some distance of the way there, right?
S11: Yeah, I would agree that there is sort of this gestalt issue that the NBA has and that they’ve got multiple factors. When people bring up the NBA, the word cloud that pops up is a bunch of positive things and a bunch of exciting things. And it seems recently it’s well, you know, you’ve got the China issue and there’s also the load management and the guys change teams every year. And and I wouldn’t deny any of those factors. I just think that there seems to be a taboo against acknowledging certain factors versus acknowledging other factors.
S10: Do you feel like it’s fair to separate out league executives versus players when it comes to responsibility to talking about China? Because this is a league where Tabo Sefolosha and Sterling Brown have both been victims of police brutality, where this video just came out of messager being assaulted by a law enforcement official at the moment of greatest triumph for him and his team. These are issues that affect the players. The predominantly black league affects them. It affects their their families. Doesn’t it make sense for people in this community to be focused on that and not to expect them to include China in every statement that they’re making, whereas maybe we would expect the commissioner and executives from these teams to actually speak more strongly and and not support having a training camp at a place where leaders are getting detained.
S11: Not I think it makes sense for people to discuss matters that are close to their heart that are influencing their communities. I certainly wouldn’t tell them not to. But there are players who make a tremendous amount of money off of business with China specifically. I mean, the superstar players go there every offseason and do a tour of the country, which is why it was so funny to hear so many people in the NBA saying it’s far away, it’s over there. We don’t know anything about it. There is an intense connection. It’s 15 or was 15 percent of the Bahri that pays players. I don’t think that anybody should be left off the hook in the league vis a vis their business with China. Now, I think you’re attracting a bit of a straw man saying that they should talk about it all the time. They completely run from it. They don’t talk about it ever. I think maybe something in between would make a little more sense. And if they don’t want to do it, they don’t want to do it either. I’m not the moral arbiter of the NBA. If they want to continue to conduct business with China and not ever talk honestly about about the other rival superpower in the world, that’s their prerogative. But it appears to have a domestic cost in the United States. That’s fairly intuitive.
S10: Yeah, I do think it’s fair to criticize players who are making a lot of money from from China for not saying anything that seems reasonable. I don’t think that’s everybody in the league.
S11: Yeah, everybody is making money, but kind of in an indirect way because it’s part of the Bahri. But certainly some players are bigger, bigger reapers of rewards through the sneaker companies and others.
S10: That’s that’s certainly true when I think about the China stuff, is that the people who claim to have stopped watching the league because of it would not be fans of the NBA if everyone was saying exactly what they had wanted them to say about China, that they would find another reason to be mad at the NBA like you feel. Do you think that Ted Cruz would be happy with what the NBA is doing right now if they were saying everything that Ted Cruz wants them to say about China?
S11: Oh, there is undoubtedly a cohort that is bashing the NBA with China because it’s convenient. And they never liked the. In the first place, yeah, there are some people they don’t care about the Weavers and they don’t care about Hong Kong and they’re only pretending to because they also don’t care about the NBA and they like they like attacking the NBA. But within all of that, there is also a cohort. There’s also a contingent legitimately put off.
S10: Michael Jordan was criticized for not speaking out about sweatshop labor conditions with Nike and and how his shoes were being made in Asia. But I don’t recall there being any kind of decline in ratings or the popularity of the NBA because of Jordan abetting sweatshop conditions in Asia.
S11: There was less ill will towards the nation of China. They were a less credible rival to the United States. Well, I don’t think the sweatshops in China, but I think that yeah, we’re not to what you’re saying, there is not exactly a complete fairness to how we judge any of these things. And some things roll off the celebrity’s back and other things stick. And it seems like for Jordan, that was a PR crisis that was handled and kind of went away. But this this current thing is getting at something, I think, beyond morality. I think that there are elements of nationalism and maybe a credible fear that the United States is being overtaken by a country with more a population that looks to be on the upswing. And so it’s just a different dynamic right now.
S10: If we’re looking at the Daryl Morey tweet as the PR crisis, I don’t think it would be crazy just based on evidence. And you’re going to say it’s because I’m inside my bubble to look at that also as a PR crisis that went away. I just don’t perceive there being a huge number of people who are like not watching Lakers Blazers right now because of China.
S11: Well, now I’m going to go the other direction. In some ways, I think the NBA didn’t get proper credit for being a little bit beat, a little bit more principled than some other corporations. Adam Silver did not say we need to fire Darryl Moore. Daryl Morey is still, you know, the GM of the rockets. And China’s government appears to badly have wanted him fired. I think what happened to the NBA and why the NBA got caught in a particularly bad way is that they made China part of their branding. They bragged about how well they were doing in China. You know, we’re not as popular as football, but we’re international. We’re conquering the world. And so since the NBA made China such a part of its brand, when the relationship between the two nations curdled, I think it hurt them particularly badly, even if they handled it maybe in a way that was more moral than they were given credit for.
S9: Ethan Strauss covers the NBA for the athletic, thanks to Ethan and Josh.
S3: And now it is time for after balls in his piece about the NBA’s ratings problems, even took a shot at the social justice messages that players are wearing on the backs of their jerseys. Not like all of them. Just look at Don is the entire Mavericks team decided to wear equality on the backs of their jerseys on the Mavs are an international team, so a bunch of them are rendering equality in their native languages. JJ Barea Iguanodon Maxi Kleber did it in German Glik Octagon Kristaps Pau Zangas in Latvian G.L. leads Embar Vendy Jimma and Luca Donchak and Michael Brown nost e and a k o p r a v A.T. and Michael Brownnose then looked up one of those pronouncing things on Google even wrote that casual fans who haven’t necessarily heard of Luka and aren’t necessarily listening to the announcers at full volume are just supposed to know that. And Michael Brown is Slovenian for equality and not assume that this is another dude entirely who vaguely looks like the European phenom. They might have heard Scott Van Pelt mentioned once just what is accomplished by an American or anyone, for that matter, reading an article proudness on a jersey. Well, I mean, you could argue that Luca is sending a message to Slovenia that Black Lives Matter, which is cool. But come on, man, don’t be a killjoy. I love and I know I can even type it without looking at it. Now, Joel, can you.
S4: That’s how engrossed I am. Yes. You’ve gotten so much better at it in the last few minutes. Thank you for going over it. I probably am going to fail to pronounce it later, but we’ll give it a shot. But yeah, I’m in to a two man world. Learned something. We’re learning words in different languages. I mean, what’s what’s the problem? You know, no problem at all. Joe, what’s your name. Kapranos Dariusz Guy. So USA Today published a story last week detailing accusations that the former LSU running back, Derrius Guice, raped two students when he was a freshman in twenty sixteen. USA Today’s investigation found the women’s allegations were shared with multiple people at the school and that even LSU coach Ed Orgeron referred to the assault in a conversation with one of his players. That player was one of the women’s boyfriends, but both women said no one from LSU interviewed them or potential witnesses about the allegations in USA Today found the school didn’t appear to have investigated the allegations against guys at all. The report came out on the heels of his recent arrest on multiple domestic violence charges in Virginia. The Washington football team cut guys the same day. Many of these details a you, but the noise around guy season and the twenty eighteen NFL draft guys slipped to the end of the second round of the draft after having previously been projected as a first round draft pick. There was a lot of speculation then as to why guys dropped so far in the draft. And I can say that rumors about these allegations came up back then. So now they’re out there. But it’s worth mentioning that another story about guys came out on the same day is that USA Today investigation. Joe Madison, a former writer for Sports Illustrated, wrote about a run in she had with guys when reporting on a profile for him. In twenty seventeen, she went down to Baton Rouge and did all the usual stuff. She lined up interviews and even went over to his alma mater, Baton Rouge Catholic High School, to speak with his old football coach. Totally normal stuff. Then Joan went over to the LSU sports facility to interview guys and he never showed up. The next day, Joan gets a text from guys, Why the fuck are you poking around my life? Get out of my business or else Joan forwarded the message to the LSU d who arranged for the interview. I’ll read Joan’s words here, but I was still nervous to do it. No, I was scared. The interview never happened. Her interview was pushed off again and she had to get home. She later wrote the profile, making no mention of the threat, but did say that guys didn’t make himself available for the interview. I wish I’d seen that story before last week because then what had happened to me at LSU that same fall would have made a lot more sense in the fall of twenty seventeen. I just started working for ESPN as a national college football reporter. My very first assignment for ESPN was to cover LSU home opener against BYU, which had been moved to New Orleans because of hurricane related flooding in Houston. The plan was that I’d help cover the game and then spent a couple of days in Baton Rouge getting what I needed to do a profile on guys. It didn’t happen that way. I drove into town Friday night and watched Baton Rouge Catholic play against its rival, Parkview Baptist. I went to New Orleans on Saturday to cover LSU BYU. After the game, I caught guys on the field and shook his hand. In that fleeting moment, he seemed like a nice, well-mannered, private, school educated kid. He said he looked forward to speaking with me. Sunday, I drove back to Baton Rouge. I was supposed to interview guys. That didn’t happen. We were supposed to meet Monday didn’t happen. In the meantime, I did all of the things reporters are supposed to do. I read up on guys. Life, which would absolutely count as a rough upbringing, his father was murdered in 2003 and his brother was convicted on attempted murder charges in 2016. I tried to put all that stuff into context. I drove over to the little ramshackle house where he grew up, which sits damn near underneath the 10 overpass and not more than a couple of miles from LSU campus. I read up on the history of segregation in Baton Rouge, including the figurative distance from his neighborhood to LSU. And like Joan, I went over to Catholic High to interview his old high school coach. I sat in the living room of a family member who guys lived with for a lot of his childhood. They all said the things you’d expect the guys to use his bad circumstances to become a good kid. Meanwhile, guys continued to blow me off. Tuesday was now out and guys passed along through the side that his grandmother had a medical emergency. Well, that was weird because I just interviewed her a couple hours earlier. It was clear that LSU was making excuses for him. I eventually had to go and I never spoke with guys and I never wrote the story. It was just a tremendous waste of time and resources. I’m still sorry about that. ESPN, I just assumed Guice was a flighty, immature kid and that LSU was simply allowing him to be that admired. ESPN’s expense. I didn’t think anything too sinister was going on, but it was clear that LSU bottom line was covering for guys. Then a few months later, I started hearing all those rumors. Then guys slipped in the draft. And last week, long after I’d forgotten about him and LSU, I read USA Today’s investigation and I read Jones post about her run in with case. And now in a time when some people are risking it all to play football and don’t care who gets hurt to do it, everything makes so much more sense. Joan said it best. We media fans, everyone not sworn to the sports code of moral ambiguity have to be smarter, louder, better.
S13: Football isn’t going to. That’s right. Football isn’t going to be better. It’s going to be up to us to make football do the right thing.
S3: That was incredible, Joel, when you were reporting the story, I mean, it’s hard to go do all that legwork and then decide to punt. Did you try did you think about writing around it or were your a radar so on that it felt like, man, we should just move on here?
S4: It just didn’t make a lot of sense without guys. Right. And to that point, he had not even really done anything like he’d had a great freshman year and he ran for like 80 yards against BYU, you know, so it just didn’t without his voice, it didn’t seem to make as much sense. And, you know, ESPN has so much money, they can just send you someplace and be like, I forget it, you know, just move on. Right.
S3: Well, and hindsight being what it is, you’ve got to be pretty glad that you didn’t write a heroic overcoming your circumstance. A story now.
S8: Oh, yeah.
S13: I would not have wanted that under my byline at this point. So it worked out. All right, Stephan, what is your a knuckle prognosis? That’s good.
S3: I’ve mentioned on the show before that I was a fan of the University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball team long before I went to college in West Philadelphia. That’s because I have a brother who’s eleven years older than I am, who also went to Penn. He was there in the early 1970s when Penn basketball was a national power. The team finished third in the AP poll in his first two years on campus, losing in the Eastern Regional Finals both times. The first one was the shocker. Penn was twenty eight and out and was blown out ninety to forty seven by crosstown Villanova. The second was to a no to North Carolina team that featured Bob McAdoo, Bobby Jones and George Karl Ten’s head coaches were Dick Carter the first year and then harder moved on to Oregon and then Chuck Daly and both of those guys would eventually land top jobs in the NBA. As a consequence of Penn’s greatness, I became a fan at seven. I could recite the team’s starting lineup and sing the fight songs. In my brother’s senior year, he took me to the first round NCAA game where the Quakers lost to Providence. Marvin bad news. Barnes had twenty six for the Friars. By then, the names of the Quakers had changed. Corky Calhoun, Phil Hankinson and Dave Wall had moved on to the NBA. My new favorite player was six foot seven junior forward Bob Bigelow and he was my favorite pretty much because my brother said that his nickname was Boobs, at least among students, because he ran with his chest pushed out forward. Bigelow averaged twelve points and eight rebounds as a senior third on the team. In both categories, he was a lock down defender who deferred to better scores. At the other end, he wasn’t considered NBA material. In fact, he never even made an all Ivy League team. But after his senior season in 1975, Bigelow was invited to play in a three game all star tournament in Hawaii, and he lit it up. He averaged almost twenty a game against the likes of the soon to be number one pick, David Thompson. Bigelow went from unknown to a first round pick taken by the Kansas City Omaha Chiang’s at number thirteen. The draft certainly proved in my mind that I could play, Bigelow told Future New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz in a nineteen eighty nine story in the Penn student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. I didn’t always think so. Bigelow lasted four years at the far end of three benches in the NBA. I quickly resumed my anonymity, he told Schwartz. I soon became cynical and decided that I wasn’t going to be one of those bench sitters. I stayed long enough to get my pension. I was thinking of Bigelow because he died last week at age 66, apparently of a heart attack. I had interviewed him a few years back not to reminisce about his Quaker glories, but about his post NBA career. Bigelow worked a couple of years at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University that was founded by Richard Lapchick. And he did outreach with kids in Boston schools. After his own sons started playing sports, Bigelow told me he was motivated to try to change the system. He wound up becoming an advocate for overturning the youth sports industrial complex and its misplaced emphasis on winning, on early specialization, on enabling abusive coaches and overbearing parents. Bigelow wrote a couple of books on the subject. The first was called Just Let the Kids Play, and he said that he had given more than 2500 talks to leagues and teams and parents and coaches over the years. He argued for limiting travel sports at younger ages, for shorter seasons, for equal playing time, for exclusivity, for having fun. He wanted adults to stop shouting at kids and start understanding them. He was totally my kind of coach. Bigelow knew that it was a Sisyphean cause it had sports. Parents and coaches aren’t going anywhere, but he tried to change one mind and one behavior at a time. I had called him up because I was thinking about writing a book about girls and sports. We talked about the travel sports called The History of Girls Sports. The lack of information for coaches on. Child development and gender and the obstinance of know it all parents, some want to listen, some don’t, Bigelow told me, some think they know when they don’t. I tell them simply, you have to put your ego on the shelf. It’s not about you and it’s not about winning. If these kids ever become good athletes, it’s going to be long after you have them. You are just another little stepping stone on the road to older childhood and adulthood. In an email on Sunday, Richard Lapchick told me that Bigelow was a big man with a big heart. Bob Bigelow is survived by his wife, Nancy, the retired longtime head swimming coach at Tufts and their two sons go Quaker’s.
S4: That’s great stuff, and Bob Bigelow sounds like my kind of guy, too, man. We need more of him.
S2: We certainly do. More advocates for kids playing sports the right way. A great tribute, man. Thanks, John. That’s our show for today. Our producer is Melissa Kaplan. To listen to past shows and subscribe or just reach out, go to sleep, Dotcom, hang up and you can email us and hang up at Slate dot com. If you’re still here, I’m guessing you might want even more. Hang up and listen. In our bonus segment this week, we’ll talk to David Ubben about college football and whether it should return.
S14: What’s the end game here? Because if you’re trying to get them to reverse the decision, like I said, going on to the Astroturf field in front of the political and big offices and yelling at at our breaks doesn’t really do much to hear.
S2: That conversation joined Slate plus for just thirty five dollars for the first year. You can sign up at Slate dotcom slash hang up plus for Joel Anderson and Josh Levine. I’m Stefan Fatsis. Remembers Elmo Daily. And thanks for listening.
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S13: But whatever epochal novel Noko proudness alako and knuckle brownnose ear knuckle pronounced. OK, hurry.
S3: Hey, Slate plus members, thank you so much for your support. Welcome back, David Ubben from the Athletic. We’re going to talk some more about college football. David covers Tennessee and he is up on what’s going on down in the SCC. One of the most interesting developments last week, of course, was the protest by about two dozen parents outside of Big Ten headquarters. They want more information on why the conference decided to cancel the season. You know, two dozen parents, if you start counting how many parents of football players there are in the Big Ten, that’s not exactly the biggest protest. But it is a sign of, I think, a couple of things. One, the interest that families have in their kids futures and maybe misguided interest in their athletic futures and to the sort of lack of of comfort with the decisions that were made by these big universities. What was your response to seeing parents out there complaining? Are they all thinking, hey, I’d rather be playing in the way I wish my kid had gone to Alabama or Mississippi or Tennessee?
S7: I mean, I think is it to mean to say pointless? No, like, I totally understand. Like wanting to fight for your kids and wanting to be an advocate for your kids and push for the things that you think are right for for your family and the things that you believe. But at some point, like what are we accomplishing here, especially if you’re, you know, not only like it felt like cheap theater in some ways of like, OK, if you want to sit down and have, like a meeting with Kevin Warren that feels more productive, at least to have him personally hear from you and these parents about this is what we’re talking about, rather than let’s go march up on the Astroturf lawn in front of the Fogo to chow Big Ten offices and yell at an empty office where no one’s working because, you know, there’s a pandemic going on and the whole office is working from home. And you’ve phone up there to yell at a pile of bricks. I get it. But the whole thing just feels pointless, especially considering a day earlier. He says we’re not going to revisit this decision.
S3: Oh, of course. What was foget a child open?
S7: I mean, that’s a huge that’s a great question. The Brazilian steakhouse in Tennessee where I live is closed and I am very sad about this while understanding. But, yeah, I understand how they could even do it cause I got to bring the food around the tables and stuff is not very seems not great, but I think I just what’s the end game here? Because if you’re trying to get them to reverse the decision, like I said, going on to the Astroturf field in front of defo go to Chow and Big Ten offices and yelling at a pile of bricks, it doesn’t really do much like meeting with Kevin Warren for trying to get a decision reversed that seems more productive or more so more of a Kevin Warren. I thought Greg Doyle, the Indianapolis Star, had a great comment as to the presidents of these universities have skated on the responsibility. That’s what people are saying. Well, there wasn’t really a vote. Come on, guys. You don’t have to punch a ballot to say that there’s a vote. There was a room feeling and there was not a vote maybe, but there was an informal vote. You knew where everyone stood. They didn’t make this decision not knowing where people stood. And they have skated on that responsibility because the presidents make these decisions. The commissioner is there to inform and represent. But it just felt more like a publicity stunt than something that was going to try and accomplish something.
S4: Yeah, I mean, I think about the fact that I mean, they’re pretending that they don’t know the reasoning that went into this stuff. What? It’s self-evident. You all are wearing mask at this protest, right? Yeah. And I mean, so The New York Times had a story that came out talking about doctors and medical experts getting involved in these conversations. And I think this survey has not been peer reviewed yet, but this is pretty damning, it said. A survey by Ohio State’s director of sports cardiology found myocarditis and close to 15 percent of athletes who had the virus, almost all of whom experience mild to no symptoms. And so if you really need some clarity on what’s at stake here and why your league is on the outside looking in and being like, hey, we’re not playing, it seems like it’s pretty self-evident. You just want to kick up a fuss. But the thing is, the NCAA has said, hey, not only do you get to keep another year of eligibility, right. If you want to do it, but the transfer rules are fairly liberal right now. So if you don’t like what’s going on in the Big Ten, I assume that Tennessee would love to take a few of Ohio State players right now.
S7: It’s a little it’s a little complicated because the scholarships, a lot of places don’t have any scholarships. And if you’ve graduated, you probably have that ability. But at this point, I think it’s if we’re going to get down to brass tacks, what are we actually talking about here? The reality is the big 12, the SEC, the other group of five conferences that are still deciding to play, they have a higher risk tolerance than the Big Ten, the PAC 12. We’re all. Talking about the same things, but they’re more willing to take on that risk now, I think you can argue that point, whatever you want to argue. But the reality is that there’s a risk and everyone knows that there’s a risk. And as it stands right now, the SCC, the Big Ten, to be far more willing to take that risk, whereas the Big Ten in the pack. So not you can quibble with this decision, but I think this idea of why is kind of silly. I think the facts are sort of what the facts are. There’s a lot of risk there. You’re either willing to take it or you’re not. And when to covid to say we’re not willing to take it. I think when you keep beating down the door for this further explanation, it’s like, what more? What more? What are you looking for? I mean, I think the big table to help themselves, if they would release their whole medical report, like the facts, all of that, I think that’s why you haven’t seen for there’s a handful of reasons. I think a big reason I haven’t seen is the PAC 12 or at least that 13 page document explaining this is what our medical people told us. This is why we’re not comfortable with it. And I respect that transparency a lot. We have not seen that from the Big Ten. We have not seen that from, of course, the people that are deciding to still play the Big 12, the ACC and the SEC and the athletic. We’ve talked to some of the people on the medical board. And when you ask them why they’re comfortable, you kind of get some answers. But we’ll see.
S3: You interviewed the governor of Tennessee recently. And I was struck by a couple of things that I think all play dovetail here. He said just a lot of sort of bad information. I thought, you know, he said the cases are not going to be generated in the stadium. They’re going to come from the community. So if we can mitigate the spread of the virus in the community and allows people to have a lot more confidence to go out to restaurants and businesses and sporting events, I’m sorry, the football stadium is part of the community. The idea is to minimize large gatherings. And in terms of the so I think there’s a lot of magical thinking going on on in a lot of quarters for people that want to have football. Right. And I think that applies to these parents, too. I mean, frankly, what the parents know, any parents, anything here, they have no role to play here. Their children are adults. They are at the university on scholarship. Most of them. Yeah, they want to play football, maybe some of them professionally. But you know what percentage will actually, too. So get out of here with your protest. You know, you want to pressure someone to do what you said, send a letter to the to the commissioner, send a letter to your university president, try to get some more information, have someone fire the communications of these public institutions to try to get more information. But I’m wondering whether the reality is that a lot of this is a show and that players, too, are way more leery of playing than we might think. You know the right thing to say if you’re a player hoping to keep your scholarship and whose parents are are invested in your life is. Yeah, of course we want to play. I wonder if more college football players reading this, hearing this, seeing what the players in the PAC 12 have done aren’t saying, oh, I’m just going to stay quiet here and I hope we don’t play. David Shaw, though, the head football coach at Stanford, said the other day that the NFL is obviously a biased source, but he said that gratitude is what he’s experienced most. As he’s heard most from his players. They’re relieved to not have to play.
S7: I think it’s a tough question because there’s so much internal pressure to play, play, play. It’s the same idea of if you have a sprained ankle or whatever, it’s like you need to get out there. And so vocally expressing that, you know, the guys that have opted out in the end are allowed to keep their scholarship been pretty minimal. But other people feel that way or feel nervous about it. I don’t know that we’ll ever know because I think there’s plenty of people that might feel that way but feel like now I just got to suck it up for my team and I got to just sort of swallow this anxiety and just keep playing. How many of those guys are there? I really don’t know. Tennessee hasn’t had any players opt out. We haven’t heard a lot of whispers and people that have been uncovered there, a couple of guys who kind of talked about it and ended up deciding to play.
S3: But it’s weird, but it’s not the point, Joel. Right. Like college players are afraid. College athletes are worried about their scholarships, pressure from their coaches, pressure from their parents, pressure to be part of this community. The ones that have come out against playing during the pandemic have been, as we’ve discussed, Joel, incredibly brave. Yeah, but they are going to be the minority here.
S8: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of incentive for them to put up front that they want to do so. OK, I shouldn’t say that. Like, obviously they want to play football. As we’ve talked about every week on this show, football players want to play football. Right. Like there’s no doubt about that. But do they want to play under a circumstance where they may they may right. Where they may get a disease that we still don’t know a lot about, which may lead to another heart condition that we still don’t know a lot about yet. Right. With the long term consequences. Ah, for that, so, yeah, I mean, they’re really a really bad and awkward position and they don’t want to be seen as speaking out against their athletic directors and school presidents and their coaches and everything else. But they also have to think about, you know, men like myself, like I’m you know, they have to live the rest of their lives. And it doesn’t seem to me that the people that should be responsible for thinking about that are thinking about the impact on what you know, what the effects of this might be on these kids for the rest of their life. And that’s that’s just really discouraging because you put we put a lot of trust in university presidents and coaches, and there’s supposed to be sort of parental figures and intellectuals and all these people that are supposed to listen to science, listen to data. And they’re also supposed to be sort of paternalistic and look out for these guys. And I don’t see any of that man like you don’t mean like this is like, how can we get the football? We’re going to get the football be damned, we need it. And it just, you know, the scales are just sort of falling before my face. I’m just I did not realize that people would be this reckless in the face of something this deadly.
S3: And here we are, you know, and that’s why the high school situation feels so dramatic to me. Final thoughts, David.
S7: Overall, we call this a player empowerment era. I think the entirety of college football is about power dynamics and they’re very slanted against the players. They say come back June 3rd. OK, we’re coming back. We’re going to test you when you get back. And if you show symptoms later, we’re going to test you, OK? We’re going to do that. OK, well, now we’re in camp. We’re going to test you once a week because we’ve had a bunch more cases than we thought we would. OK, players will get to name their terms, and that’s when you get into this idea of player association. I guess the players union in the strictest of terms is not a realistic possibility when you start talking about all the law. But it’s the players surest path to a voice is being united. And we saw flashes of that. We saw that the the no, the kindling of that in this summer and recently with the you know, we want to play we are united on my campaigns. But you got to make that a reality. And these are the types of situations where players having a voice will pay off the most for them. And I think that more than anything is what troubles me is that you look at the pro leagues, the players get to name the terms of their return. They say, we’re not going to do that or we are going to do that. We’re comfortable with that. College athletes will have that. The conferences decide they’ll take some input from players, but they decide and the players say, OK, we are not. And again, it’s one thing to say, well, you can opt out and keep your scholarship. But if you’re denying sort of the internal pressures and the power dynamics at play in trying to make that decision just naive and it’s hard covering college football loving college football, it’s hard right now.
S3: David Ivone writes for The Athletic about college football. David, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you, guys. Appreciate you having me. And thank you. Slate plus members. We will be back with more next week.