S1: The following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: Hi, I’m Stefan FATSIS, the author of Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic. And this is Slate’s sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen for the week of January 6th, 20/20 on this week’s show, Slate’s Seth Stevenson joins us to talk about the end of the New England Patriots dynasty or whatever the team’s loss over the weekend signified. And a new profile that he’s written of retired tight end Rob Gronkowski, who maybe would have changed the outcome of the game against Tennessee on Saturday. Hall of Fame basketball writer Jackie McMullen will be here to assess the life of one of the most influential executives in modern sports. NBA Commissioner David Stern, who died last week.
S3: Finally, Director Theo Anthony will join us to discuss his new ESPN 30 for 30 documentary subject to review a meditation on the mechanics and metaphysics of instant replay.
S4: Josh Levine is Slate’s national editor and the author of The Queen of the Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth. He joins me again from New Orleans, where the Saints lost in overtime to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, 26 to 20. Joshua at the game, appreciate the reminder in case you’d forgotten.
S5: Yeah, they did lose in overtime. I remember now that it was bad.
S6: Did you throw a metaphorical red flag after the no call against Kyle Rudolph for pushing off during his game winning touchdown catch?
S7: I did not. I wasn’t particularly upset about that. We can get into it when we talked to Seth. Look, I just want to make sure you’re OK, though. I’ll make it through. We’ll make it through together. I’ll help you.
S8: On Saturday night in Foggy, Foxboro, Massachusetts, six time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady’s team scored zero points in the second half of a game against a team quarterbacked by a guy who was dumped by the Miami Dolphins. That’s not entirely fair because Ryan Tannehill has been pretty great since taking over the Tennessee Titans early this season. But Brady was pretty bad in the last few weeks and again in his first appearance in the lowly wildcard round in a decade. The Patriots managed just one offensive touchdown and the night ended with the guy who last year applied to trademark Tom. Terrific. Throwing a pick six. Did Brady’s career in New England. And after 20 seasons with that stinker after the 2013 loss, Brady said, Who knows what the future holds, which is certainly true. His coach, Bill Belichick, was asked various permutations of the same question. Let’s listen to one exchange with a reporter.
S9: Those are collective decisions that are not made by one person. Collectively, there’s a lot of time, thought and effort and communication that goes into. And now is not the time.
S2: I certainly appreciate that. I have just one more.
S9: If Tom says he wants to come back and play the same answer that I just gave you and just keep going to our Slate colleague Seth Stevenson joins us now.
S6: Hey, Seth. Hey, you done? Good. Let’s start by breaking down Belichick’s reply there. Markey’s trademark press conference mumbles all you want, but that was a totally reasonable answer. Brady will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. He’s turning 43. Belichick isn’t afraid to cut ties with anyone. You are a member of Patriots Nation. Are you done with TB? Twelve.
S10: Seth, I’m not done with TB. Twelve. He’s obviously lost two to eight steps from from his peak performance level, but I’m not done with that. I think, you know, there’s like if he leaves, aren’t there all these salary cap ramifications and Brady in a free agent would crush them and they need to, you know, bolster their offensive weaponry. And they really should be able to do that if they can afford to do it. There’s all these other questions around keeping him that have nothing to do with his Tuaolo. I think he has he can still pilot a team. I don’t think I need to just cut ties with if I’m not done with him. They need to improve the team around him.
S11: The thing that was so confusing about the Pats this year, they get off to this really hot start a no and then eleven and one. But the offense is just totally futile from you know, after the first quarter or so of the season, they had really been relying on Josh Gordon and then Antonio Brown, who are both extremely unreliable for different reasons. Those guys leave the team and it just seems like, you know, Josh McDaniels, the offensive guru, and Belichick himself, they’re just not able to put together any sort of scheme or find any sort of offensive playmakers, which is just so unlike the Patriots, they’ve always been able to cobble it together than we saw in the playoffs. It just continued like what is your explanation s for why they were never able to put it together offensively for months upon months?
S12: Well, there’s a couple of things going on. I mean, they have previously fielded teams where the skill positions were really office skills. Positions were really underwhelming. They’ve had teams the past would like a terrible receiver corps, but Tom Brady would kind of just make it work and they’d use screens and they did do all sorts of ways of working around their bad receivers. Yeah, that didn’t happen this year. And they traded for Sanu to try to get someone better on the field. They drafted a rookie wide receiver this year who just didn’t really do much Nikil Harry. So I’m not exactly sure. I think it they’re sort of shared responsibility between there wasn’t enough talent level. They just weren’t really getting open. Julian Edelman wasn’t Julian Edelman and was getting doubled. And the combination of those two things made him not super effective. And I do think Tom Brady is not Tom Brady anymore. You know, he in that playoff game, the passes were not quite as laser accurate as they had been in the past. He is often behind great receivers or low. I think his decision making is just a split second slower than it used to be. He’s just he’s not quite the same quarterback he was. And so he can no longer make the people around him better in the way that he used to be able to do.
S4: And not having the guy that you profiled for Slate, Rob Gronkowski on the team certainly didn’t help. They were anemic at tight end this year.
S6: Ben Watson, who played a lot, was, what, thirty nine years old? Brady’s 42 years old. The Patriots have the oldest roster in the NFL, the oldest defensive unit in the NFL. There are larger problems here. And it doesn’t really make sense to me how signing a 43 year old quarterback for even if it’s just one or two more seasons is going to help Bill Belichick, assuming he sticks around for more than one or two seasons. Get the Patriots back up to the level that everyone has come to expect over the last 20 years.
S12: Well, this is the question. If if Bill Belichick is sticking around and Tom Brady’s leaving. Right. Are they really going to be able to bring in a quarterback that. Within the however many year window Bill Belichick has left is going to bring them back to the heights that they wanted to be with Tom Brady. You know, I feel like one more year Tom Brady might if Belichick is only around for a couple more years. Maybe it is just Brady. And you know what you’ve got. And he’s you know, he’s not a terrible quarterback at this point, although maybe next year he’ll be even worse. I don’t know if they can bring someone in and just keep it rolling like people are imagining.
S13: Life was hard for a 40 plus year old quarterbacks this weekend. I watched Drew Brees and the Saints lives in the dome on Sunday. Josh McCown, the backup for the Eagles. He’s 40. He had to come in after Carson Wentz, his head injury. The Eagles lost is turning 41 in about a week. And, you know, he does look better, I think, than than Brady does. And the Saints have a better offensive scheme around him. But you saw a year with the Saints that their offense has now adapted mostly successfully, not successfully in the playoff game against the Vikings to a quarterback with a weaker arm, to a quarterback who is diminished. And this is like obviously what’s going to happen when a guy is in his goddamn 40s and still playing in the NFL. It’s miraculous that these guys are still able to play and compete at such a high level. And it’s not like their other you know, there’s like 32 teams with amazing quarterback situations out there, teams that wouldn’t be very happy to have a Drew Brees or a Tom Brady. You know, there are teams that are going to be happier to have a Lamar Jackson or a Patrick Mahomes. But for as long as these guys can continue to play at a reasonably high level, the NFL is the you know, as the cliche goes, the ultimate team game. If you put a really good line around them, really good skill position players. I think, you know, a guy like Drew Brees can still win and succeed at a really high level. I mean, the Saints were scoring 40 points per game last fall into the regular season and they just stunk on Sunday.
S6: Let’s not forget, Peyton Manning won a Super Bowl when he was as diminished as any 40 year old quarterback has ever been. Pretty much maybe, except George. He was just straight up bad. Right. And the Broncos won a Super Bowl with him. John Clayton, the former ESPN football reporter, did a piece for The Washington Post after the Patriots game that lasted like six places that made some sense for Brady as destinations in the off season led by Indianapolis, where the Colts have a really good team, but a mediocre quarterback who was one of the quarterbacks that was perceived to be a potential successor to Tom Brady. The Chargers were listed there because they’re going to need to sell tickets in L.A. when they move into the new stadium that they’re going to share with the Rams. The Broncos were on the list because they have a young quarterback that could maybe use tutelage. So there’s always gonna be a market for this, whether that’s, you know, historical bias that you’re willing to give Brady or Brees a place to play at less than full capacity in their advanced years, or that they’re just good enough to be caretakers. That’s open to debate whether you might be smarter sticking with the younger players, but they’re going to play. And Brady was clear that he is not retiring. I thought in his press conference after the Patriots game.
S10: Yeah, he was. Use a little more sanguine about his future. I thought there was a chance he would just say, okay, that’s it. Because he played pretty. I mean, he wasn’t the complete problem in that playoff game against the Titans, but he did not play great. And I thought maybe he would decide that that was it. But maybe he just he just can’t go out with that pick 6 being the last pass on his resume. I guess, you know, maybe that was the deciding factor. I thought he would come out and leave the door much wider open than he did. He seems really seem to think he’s coming back.
S14: Let’s talk a little bit about the playoffs more broadly. And this weekend, there were all really close games, all competitive, some more hurt, you know, beautiful to watch than others. We could say. But, you know, being in the Superdome for that game just was such a stark example for me of how amazing, alternately amazing and awful the NFL product is. Just the communal experience of being at the game for these moments that were, you know, transcendent when you’re in the crowd. Tatum Hill breaking free for a long run.
S6: And Josh, you were in the crowd, not in the press box, right?
S15: I was in the crowd. On the press box. I was non-objective objectively cheering. So. And then you have, you know, Vonn Bell running back a fumble for a touchdown to give the Saints the lead. Then you have the long replay review, which confirms that actually he did not run the ball back for a touchdown and Dalvin Cook was was down by contact. But you have these just like at moments of absolute insanity and brilliance and then these just kind of long it feels interminable when you’re when you’re there and not kind of stimulated by what’s going on in your house. Everybody’s just sitting there in total silence, waiting to be angry at the refs. It’s just a very strange experience. I don’t know if you guys can relate to like going to a game after spending. You know, it had been, I think, years since I had been in the dome for it, for instance, game. Just how? Different and bizarre it is to be in a stadium after you’ve become conditioned to watching these games at home.
S10: I’m so accustomed to watching them, you know, delayed with a DVR. And fast forward Haik through every official replay, through every, you know, time out after a kick off. You know, we get like a kick off play where it gets a touchback and then there’s another stoppage for commercials. I’m just so used to fast forward through those that, yes, the one time I went to a game in person last year, I remembered, oh, my gosh, there is so much downtime. It’s it’s really like people have said, it’s the ultimate TV sport for lots of reasons. But for me, it’s the ultimate TV sport because of that DVR function.
S14: All right. Let’s talk about Rob Gronkowski. Seth, you profiled him for Slate and you went into that piece wanting to understand what his post-retirement life was. This was a guy who was not only one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history. He also had this persona of being kind of the ultimate football player, just being fun loving, seemed to like wring everything that one could wring out of the NFL retires at twenty nine with fifty three million dollars and career salary. And yet there’s something like very sad about him. Or maybe it seemed like he was sad. So what did you find when when you went and checked in on him?
S10: So I had seen him in this press conference he gave after he retire where he announced he was going to do this new line of CBD infused products in that press conference. He when he talked about retiring, he almost started crying, you know, talking to reporters about how football, like, sucked the joy out of his life and how much tainted indoors a football player. And so I you know, he looked like a beaten man in that press conference. And I didn’t know what to expect when I saw him in person. By the time I saw him, which was about three months later. He did not look beaten down. He looked much had here. He seemed enthused about this CBD entrepreneurial foray of his. He was sort of closer to his cranky self, the gronk’s self that I’d remembered from his football playing days. He was pretty upbeat, except when he would talk about what he suffered while playing football at the physical pain that he endured. And that’s when he sort of would again go into this mode where I feel like looking back, he almost couldn’t quite believe how much pain he went through to play the sport.
S4: I think that’s a truth for every NFL player. And what you experienced South was different because it was Gronk, because the Gronk that we all remember is the guy spiking the football furiously in the end zone and the guy reading from a grokking to remember on one of the late night TV shows. The reality for all of them is that football is miserable. They are injured all over the time.
S6: And there is this realization that I think every football player experiences in retirement. It’s the body starts to heal. They lose the 20 to 30 pounds of muscle weight that they’ve added to play their positions in their careers. They look like more normal sized human beings and they want to forget what they went through. And I loved the way you described in the piece s how Gronk didn’t strike me as in any way stupid and the way he became so animated and thoughtful when talking about the thing that he loved about playing football, the beauty of the game.
S10: Yeah, he really did love that. He talked about how it activated his central nervous system, even like a practice day, how it just lit up. He would be by playing football and he did really love that. But there was an obviously, you know, made him fantastically rich and famous as well. But there you know, there is a tradeoff that I think he’s become even more aware of now that the pain is still there. You know, I asked him. You know, he’s only he only retired. Twenty nine if he’s thirty now. And he’s got a long life hopefully ahead of him. And with a lot of decades to pursue other projects, I asked him, do you have any longer term goals beyond this slight C D company? I thought he might talk about, you know, coaching kids or philanthropy or something. And all he wanted talked about was his quest to heal up his body. He talked about, you know, 15 years of playing football and the damage it had done to him. And he just wanted to get his body right again. And he’s hoping to get there. That really seems to be Duff thing that’s weighing on his mind.
S16: Well, whether you’ve experienced it yourself or through a loved one, you realize at a certain point in life that the only thing that really matters is being healthy and feeling good and feeling like yourself. And I think there are a lot of people that would trade places with with Gronk that you would want to have tens of millions of dollars. And that can buy you a lot of happiness and good and good doctors. But if you feel like crap and if later in life you develop, you know, neurological problems or or just or and know a lot of chronic pain from joint injuries, you know, no matter how much money you have, that’s not necessarily going to make you feel good.
S7: If. You’re in pain or if you have dementia?
S10: Yeah, I think Grok right now is very optimistic that he’s going to he’s going to beat this weather using CBD or something else, that he’s gonna beat his pain and figure it out. Do yoga and that he’s going to heal his brain by doing brain exercises, doing puzzles and stuff. But I think the question is he like you said so. But he’s not he’s not a dumb guy. Right. And you could envision a different life or Gronk, where his dad had this very successful fitness equipment company. And you could picture Gronk just being an executive at his dad’s fitness company and maybe being groomed to take over the company and having a nice wife or he’s actually, you know, does pretty well money wise and does not, you know, have the threat of dementia. It does not, you know, to have trouble sleeping at night because his legs hurt so much. You know, I don’t know that Gronk, if he could do it all over again, would would take that route instead. But, you know, I I almost maybe would choose that route for him instead.
S17: Seth Stevenson is a senior writer for Slate. Go read his profile. Is it good to be Gronk, which is up on Slate now? Seth, thanks a lot for coming on the show. Thanks, guys.
S3: Like every other reporter who covered the NBA, I was criticized, mocked and coerced out by David Stern. I was also often in the same conversation, treated warmly, joked with and even praised as every remembrance in the wake of Stern’s death last week at age 77, has noted Stern was the smartest guy in the room. Forceful, demanding, sharp and fast, unusually right. He was a master manipulator of reporters, agents, players and his bosses, the team owners. He helped save the NBA in crisis in the 1970s. He helped turn basketball into the second most popular sport on the planet. He helped make players incredibly rich. He defended Magic Johnson after his HIV diagnosis. He started the WNBA. But legacies are complicated things. And Stern’s 30 year tenure as commissioner wasn’t perfect. He tolerated racist Donald Sterling and other flawed owners. He botched the investigation into crooked ref Tim Donaghy. He screwed over fans in Seattle, and not everyone appreciated his mean streak. Jackie McMullen knew Stern as well as any reporter. She covered the NBA for The Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated and ESPN for more than a quarter century. In 2010, she received the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Basketball Hall of Fame, and last year she received the Penn ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing. She still appears on ESPN around the horn. Jackie, thank you so much for joining us.
S4: Well, it’s my pleasure. Every NBA beat reporter has a story about an encounter with David Stern, and they’ve all been sharing them in the aftermath of his death. Tell us your personal favorite.
S18: Well, my favorite was ninety five, the first lockout and things hadn’t been resolved yet. And we were at a courthouse in New York. And I was not a new journalist, but I was new to television. And I was with The Boston Globe. But I was doing things. I was doing some TV for ESPN on the side. And they had me there to do a live standup following the proceedings in New York. And I had seen Stern, you know, as far as the proceedings ended. And of course, he didn’t he wasn’t talking. But he wasn’t doing an interview. So, you know, a cursory wave and off he went. So I’m I’m lining up in this building. And, you know, I’ve never done a life sentence in my life ever. Course, ESPN didn’t know that or they never would have asked me to do it.
S19: And I’m standing there. I’m getting ready to go looking at the camera. And just just as we’re about to start, there’s this shadowy figure that goes behind the camera. And as I start my life stand up, the commissioner of the NBA is standing behind the camera with his thumbs in his ears, waving his fingertips like reindeer antlers and making the most outrageous faces I have ever seen of like a 10-Year-Old at recess. He’s trying to get me to laugh during my standup. And it was just I mean, I couldn’t believe it and I didn’t laugh. So I guess that was my test. That was the test I passed that day.
S20: But there was always a test, right? There was always a test with David. But that was one of my favorites.
S21: Our friend Ethan Strauss wrote a piece for the Athletic about a relationship he struck up with Stern over the last few years after Stern retired. And these phone calls they’d have and the kind of constant needling and challenges from Stern about everything from macro issues about the NBA to like Ethan using the word solipsistic in a way that David Stern felt was inaccurate. And, you know, Ethan put the most positive. I think that had a really positive impression of David Stern, that he loved debate, that he loved the kind of intellectual back and forth. But in some of these other remembrances, Jackie, there are folks, you know, like David Aldridge writes about it, just like Howard Stern could be so mean to people in a way that seemed unnecessary at times, whether it was browbeating employees in meetings or ERD something else. So how do you kind of sum up what he was doing and what his persona was?
S19: Well, he had a volcanic temper. And I was certainly on the end of on the wrong end of that from time to time, too. And, you know, there were two things that David didn’t didn’t wouldn’t stand for. And it was to be uninformed or worse, to be ill informed. Those were two things he wouldn’t stand for. And that didn’t matter if you were an owner, a player, a reporter, a secretary, the kid bringing the wrong coffee. Those are the kind of things he just couldn’t tolerate. And, you know, you guys have been around a lot of perfectionists, professional athletes, and so have I. I’ve seen this in other people. I seen Michael Jordan, the streak and Michael Jordan. You know, I’ve seen this and there’s it. I’m not going to say his name, but. Announcer that I admire greatly, who’s been in sports for a long time, who’s one of the best. But everybody hates working with them because he he wants everything exactly right. And that can be wearing on people because we’re human. We make mistakes. And that was the one part of David that was not always palatable because he just didn’t ever consider that not everybody was as smart as him or as careful as him or as accurate as he was.
S22: And that was. The lawyer in him, but at the end of every conversation, David always had this ability to forget where you might not forget and attempt to patch things up as if this were just the normal course of business. You know, he’d yell at you and then he’d ask you how your family was right.
S23: You know, he did that a lot. But he also you know, I remember once I got, you know, a call to come see him in New York. I thought, this is great. All these years of my relation with David Stern, I’m getting something here, you know.
S19: And I went all the way down in New York. I was coming from Boston. And he, in essence, brought me down there to yell at me. He said, you used to be nice.
S20: Now you’re like everybody else. And I said, Well, David, my job isn’t always be tonight. Not to be nice. And I said, by the way, you’re not very nice, you know. So I was.
S19: I knew him long enough that I could have those kind of conversations with him. And I just I would tell you this.
S23: I remember when I was interviewing him for when the game was ours, which was the book I wrote about Larry and and Irvin. And of course, David was such, such a central figure to me. The three of them were intertwined. And Larry often tells me people say urban and I saved the game. It was David Stern. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t Larry. It wasn’t Irving. And so I was interviewing him for the for the book. And I had all my notes. I knew quite a bit about his role in every in, you know, the growth of the NBA, $44 million in revenue in 1984. That grew to over $3 billion by 2007. I knew all those statistics I had on my stuff, but I was asking him questions because I didn’t want to assume anything. And partly through the process, he said to me.
S20: Well, why are you asking me these stupid questions, you know, all the answers. I said, yes, but I need you to say them so I can give them my book. And he just said that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard. He said, you already know the answers to this. Why you ask me that? You’ve lived this as I am. He was just so irritated with me. And so there were times like that that you just threw up your hands.
S21: So David Stern comes into the league and has a relationship with the league going back to the 1960s when he was a lawyer and represented the league. You know, the biggest case that a lot of people are citing is the Oscar Robertson case, which led to that NBA ABH merger eventually. Can you kind of take us back to the very beginning with Stern in the NBA?
S18: We’ll see the one that I think people should focus on a little more and maybe it’s just because it’s not as well known. Is he also representing the NBA in the Connie Hawkins case? And for those young people who don’t know the whole story of Connie Hawkins, he was a New York City high school basketball legend and incredible player who was cavorting with known Point Shaver’s and ended up getting involved in a scandal that he said he had, that he was innocent, that he had never shaved any points. And, you know, you could argue you go back and look. He was on a high school team that dominated. He never got to play a second of college. And Connie’s point always was, how could I have six games? We won every game. It was a high school game. People weren’t betting on high school games. Anyway, I’m digressing a little bit is a frustrating story for me. So anyway, Connie Hawkins is banned from the blackballed from the NBA and his lawyers are trying to get him reinstated. And the firm that is representing the NBA gives it to a young lawyer named David Stern to look over and he looks over all the documents and the testimony in court and the fact that they yanked this this young African-American kid away from school and just literally sequestered him for three days in a almost like a safe house without any representation. You know, they would say things like, well, you did this, didn’t you? You know, just it was just he was clearly railroaded. And so this young attorney went to the NBA and said, you’ve done a terrible injustice to this man and you need to reinstate him immediately. There is no evidence to suggest that he ever conspired to fix any games. And and so because of David Stern, Connie Hawkins was reinstated into the NBA. I don’t know if a lot of people know that.
S4: And that’s that’s a theme that runs through, I think, David’s career, too. He is he was clearly and very openly a progressive liberal who donated to promote that liberal causes, as did his wife. And David, you know, what David did was take these players who in the in the 70s, especially by the late 1970s, were perceived as drug using. The league had a problem with cocaine. The league was perceived as predominantly black, which was bad for business. David effectively made the NBA palatable to white consumers, which led to its rapid growth after Larry and Magic and Michael became worldwide superstars in the 1980s.
S23: Right. And you know how he did that was he he talked to the players. I mean, I thought, you know, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was talking about go into the All-Star game and having to sit in this big banquet room with these bright lights. And Kareem had migraines. And so when Stern said to Kareem, what can we do? Because get me out of that room, get rid of the lights, you know? So then they start having private receptions with family and kids and, you know, the slam dunk contest. Rick Welts, this all. And I believe who came up with that? One of David’s right hand guys. And so David was smart enough to go directly to the source and talk to the players, which I don’t know if many people had thought to do that much before. That doesn’t mean that he did everything they suggested or everything they asked, but he got a better sense from them what was going to work for them and what was going to make them happier. And then, of course, the outreach they did with consumers and and the audience that was not coming to the games because the attendance was very low. I mean, he tells a story about when he’s the vice counsel for the NBA is not the commissioner yet. And there’s a there’s an All-Star game and print and burn arena in New Jersey. And they can’t give tickets away. He’s he’s calling he’s literally canvassing people by phone and saying, hey, come to the game. And then, you know, they’ll say it’s free. I’m giving you free tickets. And I’ll say, right, I’ll take foreigners like take 40. You know, like those are the kind of things David was doing long before he was commissioner. So he was literally in this all from the ground up.
S21: It sounds incredible when you talk about this stuff because you know, the innovations or the decisions that Stern made that were we’re reading about the last week to sounds so obvious. It’s like market the player. It’s like they had ever thought of that before. So how much credit should we give Stern for making the NBA versus coming in at a time when Magic and Larry were already there, when, you know, he starts as commissioner, the year that Michael Jordan is drafted, you know, he comes in to a scenario where there are these stars. And if the big idea is just let’s market the stars. It just does it doesn’t seem like it took a genius that somebody of Stern’s intelligence to figure that out.
S19: Well, that’s a fair point. But, you know, Magic and Larry were in the leagues a couple of two to three years before Stern took over. And it was only just beginning to swell their interest in that. I think it helped a lot that two of your most celebrated markets, the Lakers and the Celtics were in there, were in their primes again, and we’re playing each other. And of course, it was such a one sided rivalry back in the days of western Baylor through no fault of western Baylor, I might add. They were playing a pretty formidable opponent. That was usually Cousy, Russell and Jones to be named later. You know, there was some great Hall of Famers on those of Celltex teams, but that was the perfect vehicle. East versus west. Lunch pail versus showtime. You know, like it or not. And the guys didn’t. But African-American versus a, you know, light Midwestern play, it was just it was it was a made for TV movie. And Stern had the wherewithal to know what to do with it from there. But he also had smart marketing people that found out ways to appeal to advertisers, too. And that was something that just hadn’t been explored before.
S24: Stern took over as commissioner. Now, I’m sure he was thinking about it as he was waiting for his ascension to that position. There’s no doubt about that.
S4: But one thing Stern definitely deserves credit for is taking the NBA and making it a global property. He recognized that. And you mentioned something in your last answer, Jackie, which was that he hired good people. And that’s a talent, too. You know, he surrounded himself with people like Rick Welts, you mentioned, who also, by the way, was a closeted gay man who lost his partner. And David quietly without Wells’s knowledge, made like a $10000 donation to the cause that Welts had specified in the death announcement. So he hired all these good people. But the having the vision to go abroad and see that the Olympics, which the NBA never wanted to participate in, by the way, until they lost in 1988. And Stern and others recognize that, hey, this might be a good platform, but I think anybody anticipated that going to the Olympics with Barkley and Magic and Bird and the rest of the dream team would would would make the NBA this global property. Or maybe David did.
S23: Well, it was such a. I mean, it was called a dream team for a reason. And you have to give Dave Gavitt a ton of credit for the dream team because he was the one that got on the line with these these superstars and convinced them to play. I mean, Larry didn’t want to play. And I remember talking to Larry about it. He was injured. He knew he was he was at the end of his career.
S19: He could barely he could barely walk. Never mind played basketball. And he just didn’t think he should take a spot away from a healthy player in his prime who would have, you know, probably performed better. But then it became Irvin saying, if Larry doesn’t play, I’m not playing. And of course, Jordan was the one they had to get. But once they got Larry Magic and Barkley, then Jordan was like, OK, yeah, I’m not going to miss this. So stern and gathered together. I think you gave Gavin a lot of credit and also Russ Granik and those guys. They were smart enough to understand, like we can do a once in a lifetime lineup here. And, you know, it was I mean, the stories are legendary from Barcelona. Teams weren’t trying to beat them. They’re just trying to get their autograph. I mean, it really was like that.
S4: And what David was smart enough to do was empowers people after the Olympics to set up offices overseas. And I did stories on this from Wall Street Journal. This was like a focus in that era in the late 90s, early 2000s to set up offices overseas, expand, give away, if necessary, the TV rights in foreign countries and turn this into the global brand that it became.
S19: Right. And people don’t realize that there are off. They have offices all over the world. I don’t know that to the casual fan knows that. But they do have the one thing that I always wondered about and I don’t know enough about it to to be very versed in it is what happened with China, with Stern. You know, because he did make overtures with China early on. And my guess is, because of some of the things we talked about, that he had certain beliefs and a certain streak of stubbornness where he had only been so far that they took a little while for China to, you know, to come on board with the NBA. I’ve always you know, if I could go back and ask David. Well, I’d love to ask him a bunch of things now that he’s gone. Right. It’s not always the way, but I wish I had spent more time asking about China.
S16: Well, Henry. That and a couple of pieces. One in True Hoop and one at ESPN a few years back writes that, first of all, Stern was kind of told before a meeting with various Chinese dignitaries, like you need to deal with the business cards in this particular way.
S21: You need to use two hands. And instead, he comes out and just like dumps all the business cards on a table is like, all right, let’s do this thing. And then there is another moment that that Henry Abbott described where Stern said and. Some pressconference like we’re going to do the NBN, China, we’re going to have a leak here, and this was news to the Chinese basketball officials. Like theydid, Stern didn’t say anything about partnering with the Chinese Basketball Association. And so who knows of any of these individual moments really meant the NBA wasn’t going to launch a league in China under David Stern. But I think they great details.
S20: But do you really believe that dumping business cards on it is a deal breaker for two countries of that magnitude that had so many millions and billions of dollars to share?
S23: It seems to me it speaks to the larger issue, as you know, on my terms are no terms.
S21: Exactly. I think they indicate Stern’s attitude and that he was somebody who always felt like I’m the one running this process. I’m not going to, you know, modify who I am based on who I’m talking to. And, you know, he had a lot of success that way. And maybe in some cases, you know, the Adam Silver approach of being more conciliatory, more polite. You can get more things done that way. Right.
S4: Yeah, definitely. You know, you look at the lockouts that created tremendous resentment with player agents and players themselves. Stern certainly ran afoul of culture and prevailing trends in his disciplinary ways after the malice in the palace and the dress code and the sort of of the way that he tried to legislate behavior in the NBA. And I’ve wondered often whether Stern’s force of personality and the kind of remembrances we’ve seen in the wake of his death didn’t cover for some of these failures. Or do you think, Jackie, that failures were just part of this job and part of this 30 year timeline that David had him running the NBA?
S19: I think when you take big swings, which David always did, he wasn’t gone for singles. He took big swings. And when you take big swings. There’s always going to be some big misses. The dress code was the one that confounded me. And he’s tried to you know, I had a bunch of conversations with him about that and he just never convinced me. The mouth at the palace was an interesting one. It was a critical, critical time. I think it was so bad and the public reaction was so horrific. Right. And and I think he just I remember Larry Bird saying to me at the time, you know, Bird was with the GM is running that team. And he said he’s destroyed our franchise for for next several years. And Stern knew that, but he he didn’t care. And what he thought he would argue later to people was that while he handed down the heavy, stiff suspension to run our test, that while he was doing that, he was also simultaneously meeting with our test in his family and trying to get him mental health counseling because he thought he needed it. So there was stern, you know, the public response and the private interest was always a little different. I think malice at the palace. I think I understand why he did what he did, because it just there had to be. Now, what I don’t understand is, you know, the individual arguments with the Spurs over what we now know as an everyday term load management. You know, when Pop made that decision not to start his guys in that game, and that was sort of to me a glimmer of look into Stern’s personality who thought you didn’t tell me this. You showed me up. I can’t have that. That was an ego moment.
S26: I think the Grand Unified Theory to all this stuff, dress code, malice at the palace, the load management is that Stern wanted to show fans and marketers that the players were under control, that the league was safe, that there was someone in charge. There was an adults in the room. And when you’re talking about something like the dress code, that’s going to come off as extremely paternalistic. And I think it shows that the imagined ideal NBA fan is like a middle aged white guy. And I think that’s that’s changed over the decades. And I think, you know, that Stern wasn’t necessarily a force for for bad in that regard. But I think, you know, it’s it’s telling that, you know, he implements something like the dress code and metes out those huge suspensions for for the fight. But, you know, with with the Pacers. But, you know, there’s a DOJ settlement with with Donald Sterling over the fact that he said that black tenants smell and attract vermin. Sterling has fined $2.7 million by the U.S. government and he never gets a suspension or a fine or anything under under David Stern, you know. So I think that shows, you know, who you know, who Stern needed to to show was under his control and who, you know, under under his watch was allowed to do or say what he placed.
S25: Well, you know, he’s always say, I work for the owners sometimes. Feel like it, right? But in that essence, in that in that case with Sterling, and I think that is a blemish and there’s no way to spin that. You know, Donald Sterling. Everybody knew. And I give. I’ve always said that Adam Silver took a lot of courage to do what Adam Silver did. And it should have been done before. There’s no doubt.
S26: Let’s end by giving Stern credit for something that I think he deserves. You know, unambiguously, the WNBA would not exist without him. Can you just talk a little bit about that, Jackie?
S19: Sure. Sure. And he, um, I always tell me, though, it was never a matter of if they were going to do a women’s league. It was only when he had been talking about it for a decade before he did it. He was just trying to figure out how he could best do best, make it succeed. He was a great champion of women. Although you say that you think back to Donald Sterling, that seems a little contradictory. But Donald Sterling is fine. I can tell you from my own personal experience, he was a great champion. I was often the only woman in the arena covering the games back in the early 80s. Like a few others of us, Janet Howard, a few others sprinkled chilly Shelly Smith. Anyway, he was the WNBA. He just he wanted to do it right. So he spent some time looking into it. I think they were smart to capitalize on the success that the women had in Atlanta. So the time was right. There was interest from advertisers. And again, both Stern and Rick Welts, who was heavily involved in that, were smart enough to understand that was important. And then once the WNBA was launched and, you know, the first year was so exciting, they sold out Madison Square Garden. And, you know, Stern was in the stands with Al Akerman and others. And Carol, you know, Blaze watching this all unfold. Then it became a crusade for him and he knew what he was dealing with. He was very smart with the media, as you referenced, in the in the open. And he knew that this was not something that the mainstream media was going to cover. He knew that. And he wasn’t going to rest until they did. And he was it was never going to be. People would come to him and say, well, the numbers aren’t good. Attendance is just a little spotty. I don’t know. And he was like, not on my watch. This will not fail. I will not let this fail. It was that important, too. He just really felt as though the women had a right to have a league like this. And I remember I talked to him in 2012 right after the Olympics in London, because if that was the Olympics of U.S. women for sure in all sports, not just basketball. And we talked about the WNBA and he said, just go back and look at the W the NBA when it started and how long it took. You know, in the early going, guys were taking trains to play the Fort Wayne Pistons. They had to jump off in a cornfield and walk to the hotel or hitch a ride to the hotel. There was no way to get there. There was no money there. People had to have second jobs to them to play in the NBA. And then overtime, we got them where the guy and he felt very strongly that the same thing had happened with the women in the WNBA. And he just he wasn’t going to take no for an answer on that one.
S27: Jackie McMullen is one of the legendary reporters covering basketball. She’s the co-editor of Basketball A Love Story, which came out in 2018. Jackie, thank you so much for coming on the show to talk about David.
S19: I love talking about David. Thanks, guys.
S4: Before we talked to director Theo Anthony about his documentary about instant replay, I wanted to let you know that in our bonus segment for Slate Plus members, Josh and I will talk about all the NFL playoff games that we did not talk about with Seth Stevenson. If you want to hear that and you’re not a member, you can sign up for Slate Plus for just $35 for the first year. You can do that at Slate, dot com slash Hang-Up plus.
S11: In 2006, the U.S. Open became the first of tennis’s grand slams to allow players to challenge line calls. In the decade plus since the Hawk-Eye review system has become ubiquitous in the sport. The new documentary Short Subject to Review, which is part of ESPN 30 for 30 series, traces the rise of Hawk-Eye. But it’s less about tennis than about the nature of objectivity. Let’s listen to a clip.
S28: There are no straight lines in the natural world. A line is an ideal, an impossible fiction. In tennis, a line is a border between two zones on which it is assumed. There’s some essential difference here.
S29: It is something over there.
S28: It’s something else. The line is a compromise, a truce. The physical world says what you ask is impossible.
S11: The line says we’ve done good enough subject to review will be available to stream on ESPN Plus starting on January 13th, and I’d recommend that you do stream it because it’s interesting and delightful and weird. Joining us now to talk about it is the director, Theo Anthony. Hey there. Thanks so much for having me. Of course. Let’s start with the Hawk-Eye system. It uses high speed cameras to create a simulation of a tennis balls path. And that point is central to your movie. Theo, what we’re watching when we see a hockey replay during a tennis match isn’t really real. It’s what cameras and computers say the flight of the ball probably looks like, but it looks real. And as fans we interpret it is real. And that’s kind of trippy.
S1: Yeah, I think a lot of my work deals with visual systems and maps and all these ways. We used to like organize information into something that’s recognizable to us, as you know, interpretable evidence. And I think that, you know, so often we mistake the image of the world for the world itself. And I think a lot of my work just tries to pry open that really big gap between that.
S4: Why do you think tennis decided when it implemented Hawk-Eye back in 2006? What why did they pick a system that would offer this simulation of reality? This image of what we want to see as clarity with the representation of the court and the stands and the ball’s path and the balls mark on the court, it all looks real and it’s designed to trick us into believing that it is definitive.
S1: Yeah. No, this is the really big question and I’ll try to keep it super concise. Like the film kind of gets into a lot of these questions when Hawk-Eye was introduced. There was a string of missed calls at the highest profile being the Serena Williams. Jennifer Capriati 2004 U.S. Open match in which there was like five or six blown calls against Serena. That obviously cost her the match. And there was this huge call for, you know, some sort of system to check, you know, errant human judges. And at the time, Hawk-Eye was being tested out as a broadcast instrument and people saw it as an opportunity to enhance the justice of this of the sport while also enhancing the viewing experience. And the viewing experience is like a really crucial part of it, because Hawk-Eye presents a world that looks recognizable to us. And that’s really important because the visualization, it’s for the human, it’s not for the computer. The computer does not need to visualize something that the humans need to understand what the computer is doing. So when you see a Hawk-Eye read like render of the tennis court where you’re actually seeing it’s kind of a a case or an argument for this is how the world should look and the way that Hawk-Eye does that try to make it as indistinguishable as possible from the world that we’re seeing with our own eyes. So all of these things we’re seeing, you know, in the reconstruction, the simulation aren’t actually necessary. But from like a market perspective, it’s really helpful because it’s Hawkeye’s also, you know, a private company and they’re selling their product. And so it’s to their best in their interests to have something that looks like the real world.
S14: Yeah. And as you know, in the dark, Hawk-Eye knows the answer right away. And that answer is withheld to enhance dramatic tension. You have the players and the fans all looking up at the screen. If you go to a tennis tournament, people clap along. Oftentimes the rhythmic clapping is really not that rhythmic. So it kind of ruins the effect for me. But there is this kind of drug. They they make it into a spectacle.
S26: There’s this system that is supposed to be definitive and clear and to be this omniscient judge, an eye in the sky.
S7: And they turn it into a kind of dramatic entertainment. And you would think that those things are kind of in conflict with each other, wouldn’t you?
S30: Yeah, you would. You would think that.
S31: I think that something one of the big one that one of the richest areas for me to explore and this was actually there really not in conflict, that the idea of spectacle and justice always kind of go hand-in-hand. If you think about like a courtroom, right. With the jury, it’s kind of like the audience. Right. And the prosecution and the defense are not just laying out cold facts. You want a charismatic attorney performing these this evidence. And so there’s there’s this line by this writer, Thomas, in who I really love. And it’s a big inspiration for this film. And he says evidence is precisely that, which is not self evident. So this idea that evidence always needs to be presented, always needs to be reformed, actually ties that to, you know, seemingly disparate ideas of entertainment and justice ever closer together.
S4: And, you know, I’m watching the documentary, Theo. What really struck me is how Tannous did the right thing in terms of creating the illusion of reality where other sports have failed. And most recently VARE in soccer is that they are giving fans a video representation, a replay of what happened. Can you imagine how different it would be if every sport had chosen to go the tennis route and create a simulation, showed us to show us, for instance, whether the toe was offside. Not by showing us Jack grealish his toe, but by showing us a representation, a computer image of the mark where the distance where a football boot had passed or whether a ball had crossed the plan. And the other sports are criticized because this reality reality, the video is inconclusive. Tennis, though, gives us what appears to be an answer when that’s what we want.
S31: Yeah, I think the question is, is always at what cost? You’re kinda you’re kind of getting into it. I would have loved to make like a whole series of films, like kind of a comparative study of how different sports used, instant replay in different ways. The bar with the video assistant referee and soccer right now is super fascinating. It is markedly different from the way that Hawkeye works in that video. Assistant technology, a human is still finally making the call. If there’s if there’s a call in the field, it goes up to the replay booth and they review it. You know, it even ten, 10000 frames per second or whatever. I’m exaggerating here, but it’s still a human that has to make the call. What is what is unique about tennis is that the automated system of Hawk-Eye supersedes the authority of the human judge on the field. And in the case of an error and to be fair to Hawk-Eye, those errors are very, very rare. There is no off switch or any default. I want to I want to kind of like maybe shift it. I don’t. So I don’t. I’m obviously critical of the way that tennis uses it. I think that it is a net positive for the sport and for the viewing experience. But just to shift it real quick to something that a sport that I really do think does it well, which is cricket, and I apologize for kind of like a cricket explanation. You know, I understand like there’s not a lot of big cricket fan, but I had a little bit about how it works. But basically there’s this call called the leg before wicket. And essentially there’s like a bowler or a pitcher throwing a ball at the batter and the batter is essentially defending it or like a goalie. These three posts in the ground called a wicket. Now, though, the pitcher is trying to knock a wicket down in the bowl like the batter is trying to defend the ball from hitting it. So in the sport, it’s illegal to block the wicket with your leg. And if you block it and the ball was on the path to hit the wicket, it’s called a leg before wicket. That’s illegal. Now, it’s a really easy thing for Hawk-Eye to do and that is just extending like the curve of the ball. But the really interesting thing is that you’re ruling on something that would have happened but did not. So you’re making a predictive judgement and that’s a really interesting difference. But what’s even more interesting about it is the way that the two sports render uncertainty like differently. So the film gets into this, but I talk a lot about how there’s no such thing as 100 percent accuracy. That’s just basic statistics. We live in like a really messy world and our instruments aren’t perfect. We aren’t perfect. You know, there’s a lot more there. But in tennis, what you see is a very clean line of a ball. Like I said in the film, it’s inside its ball. Outside its not ball. And there’s this infinitely thin line that separates the two states. And that’s a fiction. That’s not a real state of the world in cricket. What they do is they actually show that uncertainty as a shaded oval instead of a clean line. And what they do is that if the ball like if they show where the ball would have hit it, but it’s within a certain margin of error, they always default to the human judge. So it’s a little bit in the weeds. But it’s really interesting that in one sport they just say, here’s binary in out and the other they say, you know, actually at this edge, our technology isn’t good enough to make a decision. We’re going to default to a human authority. And I think that that is a really amazing way to to co-evolve and to use technology together and to not let it outpace our own lived experience.
S16: Theo, can you imagine if what you described actually made its way to that AFL? If instead of pretending that things that aren’t definitive on the field they like had a shaded oval of uncertainty around the ball, like when you know it was a catcher or not a catch. Just like our sports want to deliver these messages to us that the the referees know what happened. It’s possible to know what happens. And I think the spread of replay and the fact that there’s been replay creep in the NFL and the NBA. It’s being used to evaluate more and more calls that it’s perhaps not suitable to adjudicate. And I think your film really helped convince me more than that. I was already convinced that replay is overused. If if it’s going to be applicable anywhere, it’s in tennis. There’s a very small number of variables and none of them really involve people. It’s just a ball and a line. And yet you show really beautifully, I think, how much uncertainty there is, even when it’s just a ball in the line and you don’t inject, you know, did the ground cause the fumble and all of the stuff that we have sand and football.
S31: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. I think that that really is a really nice interpretation. I think that you’re kind of getting at the core of the film. She’s like me. My feeling is that I think, you know, sports would just be, to me so much more interesting if we made room for uncertainty. Right. Like we don’t watched. And it’s to see like two robots hit back and forth forever. You know, our goal isn’t 100 percent accuracy. If it was, we’d just like watch two eyes playing pong against each other. I think that, you know, we need to make room for this uncertainty and also to like kind of have some transparency into what goes in its decision making. I think your use of the word replay creep is like really interesting replace replay with surveillance creep. And I think that you see a much larger picture that was trying to get at with this film, which is that, you know, increasingly you see these really opaque algorithms defining our everyday lives. We see a judicial system that, you know, is supposed to be fair and work for people. It is you dense, it’s full of human errors. And, you know, to pretend that these are perfect systems, kind of like forecloses on the possibility of changing those systems. And so I think that it’s really important to have some visibility and legibility of of the mechanics of how these systems work.
S4: One of the things that gets suggested repeatedly on Twitter and in the media regarding soccer is that there should be a creation of a sort of a space, an oval of uncertainty, a few millimeters where you don’t say, you know, you give you give the benefit of the doubt to the to the referee on the field. And that does seem to be the logical place to go here. But it also feels like that would be in conflict with what leagues want.
S6: I mean, I would love to hear NFL referees get on the mike on the field and say after further review, the play falls within the oval of uncertainty and the ruling on the field stands. I think that would be highly entertaining, but I don’t think that the NFL for in all of its infinite wisdom, which seeks over and over and other sports as well, to lead us to believe that there is this objective reality with their decision making is going to be willing to go down.
S21: Well, they do have the difference between the ruling on the field stands and we confirm the call stands. They say we can’t quite there’s not enough evidence to overturn it and confirms us like, oh, yeah, there they got it. Exactly right. So there is that distinction.
S1: Yeah. And I think it’s not surprising to me that it’s not that way. And I think that, again, the question comes in of market interests where it it’s in the interests of the NFL and their agenda to present themselves as an unassailable already. And that actually introducing uncertainty into something just the way the world works might actually call into question a lot of a lot of that authority. I don’t want to go too far out on a limb here, but I think a lot of the questions I was also trying to maybe poke at or gesture at was that maybe this is the way that power is always worked, you know, from religious institutions to government institutions. This is presenting a certain picture of the world and in the chaos of the world.
S32: And yet the documentary is called Subject to Review. You can stream it on ESPN plus starting on January 13th. It’s about Hawk-Eye and replay and a lot more. And you should check it out. Theo Anthony, director of Subject Review, thank you for chatting with us.
S1: Hey, thanks so much for having me.
S5: Now it is time for After Balls and Stefan, we didn’t get into the fact that there is no replay creep in tennis. Tennis itself. There’s a new event called the ATP Cup and they debuted at this event a new replay system for foot faults to determine if a player’s foot goes over the line.
S33: And the guy who is subject to it for the first time was the Belgian player, David Goffin.
S22: And he was penalized. He was found to have committed a footfall and he was not upset, which does seem very Belgian. Here’s what defense had after the match. It is quite cool. It is something more that we have for the match, and it’s good to use the technology.
S16: Everybody loves technology for your appreciation of technology. Mr. goffe, and you will be honored with this week’s After Balls.
S8: Stefan, what is your guffin at our live show last month in my After Ball about minor league baseball nicknames. I mentioned the Rocket City Trash Pandas of Huntsville, Alabama, which hosts a NASA flight center and apparently has a lot of raccoons. I heard from a couple of listeners who were inspired to purchase trash pandas T-shirts. That’s why I got into this business to change lives. And then last week, we received a voicemail from 36 year old Keith Petite of Omaha, Nebraska. Keith wanted to let us know that he believes he coined the phrase trash pandas, meaning raccoons. Keith told us that he first used trash pandas in a short story he wrote while in the Peace Corps in China in 2011, about the same time he started listening to this podcast. He said the story was about a Peace Corps volunteer so slovenly that his apartment gets infested with raccoons spur of the moment brain fart. Keith said I just came up with the term trash pandas because obviously they looked like pandas eating trash. Then in January 2014, he commented on Reddit under a photo of a raccoon wearing a white shirt, black vest and black bow tie. Raccoons, equal trash pandas. I obviously couldn’t independently confirm Keith’s story about the short story, but we talked and everything else seemed to check out. Keith does appear to be the Reddit user who wrote Raccoons Equal Trash Pandas, after which trash pandas as a synonym for raccoons went viral. There are, however, some earlier examples. I found a 2007 performance art project titled Trash Panda and the Plywood Carousel Rejects by an artist named Mitchell Wehbe at the Struts Gallery in Sackville, New Brunswick. I emailed Mitchell to ask about his word choice. I use that phrase because it sounded good. You know, talking trash panda. I hadn’t heard the term before, but I had a painting of a panda bear on a wall with the eyes cut out and one could look through them into a space where I was painting, wearing a costume. There was a performance where I worked on some canvases and several persons accompanied me in a musical performance. The installation had all sorts of plywood, scraps piled and painted to resemble something of a carousel. There was definitely a feeling of mischievous in the air rascals or raccoons, but not specifically raccoons. My friend, the lexicographer Ben Zimmer, however, unearthed a more raccoon specific tweet from 2011 by at Hayats Urban, whom the Web site Buffalo spree in crowning him best tweeter of 2012, described as a smart gay, Sabre’s loving sometimes and Assefa W Comics fanboy raccoons are just white trash pandas at Hey, it’s urban wrote white trash pandas, not trash pandas. The tweet. Anyway, it had just 4 likes and 10 retweets and it did not prompt trash pandas to blow up. It did blow up after the 2014 Reddit comment. Subreddits Instagram hashtags maims its in urban dictionary now and which Chinnery and the online slang dictionary. I found two bands, one in Seattle, one in Atlanta named Trash Panda, both founded in 2015. And of course, it’s in the 2017 movie. Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. Here’s the scene.
S34: What are we even talking about this for? We just had a little man save us by blowing up 50 ships. A little like this? A little. 1 inch man saved. Well, if he got closer, I’m sure he’d be much larger. If it’s how I sight works, you stupid raccoon. Don’t call me a raccoon.
S35: I’m sorry I took it too far. I meant trash panda.
S34: Is it better, it’s worse, it’s much worse.
S8: The Guardians of the Galaxy character was named Rocket Raccoon. So when the owners of the Double-A Mobile Bay Bearer’s announced in 2018 that they would move the team to Madison, Alabama, outside of Huntsville for the 2020 season and call the team’s location Rocket City instead of Madison, where the team’s going to play, the nickname seemed, if not logical, then at least plausible. The team held an online naming contest and trash pandas won in a landslide over Thunder Sharks, Moon Possum’s space, chimps and comet jockeys. But the guy who submitted trash LB as 32 year old Michael higly said in a story on AOL dot com that while he had seen the movie, his submission, one of 15 that he made, by the way, was not inspired, at least not consciously by it. I was just thinking of animals of the local area and nicknames for them, he said. I knew realistically looking at other minor league team names that raccoons probably wasn’t going to get it. I had to get a little more creative. Higly knew the term trash pandas from the internet, so he sent it in. Our community, he wrote in his submission is known for engineering and no creature in our galaxy is as smart, creative, determined and ingenious. A problem solver dedicated to the challenge at hand as our local raccoons higly worry. Coonskin cap to the name announcement. In any case, we are proud that a hang up and listen listener appears to be responsible for the spread of trash panda as a synonym for those ingenious problem solvers dedicated to the challenge at hand. Keith Pati told us that it would be nice if the Rocket City trash pandas. Let him throw out our first pitch, but I don’t know. Then I’d have to go to Alabama, he said. I’m not really too keen on that idea. Before I go, I just want to correct something that I said on last week’s show. I said that in our call out for listener comments for sports moments of the decade, no one had mentioned Landon Donovan’s World Cup goal against Algeria in 2010. In fact, Kerry O’BRIEN Bauman did do that on our Facebook page.
S36: Credit restored. Thanks, Carrie. Josh, what’s your golf fan?
S37: So it was really loud on Sunday afternoon in the Superdome. I wore earplugs most of the time when the Saints were on defense, but my left ear is still stopped up. In fairness, that could be because I’m getting over a cold.
S22: But wait, wait, I need to stop you there. Did you bring earplugs because you knew that it gets loud in the Superdome? Did you think it was like a rock concert?
S37: I’ve been to football games before in the Superdome. It gets extremely loud. That’s the point of the earplugs. The dome scoreboard had specific instructions for us. It said we could be sure of disrupting the Vikings offense if we got to 117 decibels or above and there is an ON-SCREEN decibel meter we could use to track our progress. Clearly, this reading was wrong if we had gotten to like over 1 18D and the Saints would have won. I’m not sure where that 117 figure came from. Stefan, we did get over it. A bunch of times we did insulations. I think we did our part. I think I am not personally to blame for the Saints horrifying defeat. But if you’re wondering what is 117 decibel sound like? I found a couple of comparable sounds that I’d like to share with you now. First, from an October story in Science magazine. It has the enticing headline Watch the world’s loudest bird scream for a Mate. The story begins when it comes to choosing a mate. Female Wait. Bellbird won’t settle for just any guy. They want a male that sings louder than any other bird in the world. Researchers found that the male white bellbird actually cranks it up to 125 decibels, totally disrupting the Vikings offense. In an accompanying video, though, there is one called it’s at exactly 117 decibels louder than most jackhammers. We’re going to play a clip, but don’t be afraid. Our producer, Melissa, they’re gonna be on the dials.
S38: You will not suffer from hearing loss, I hope. Let’s listen.
S37: If I have not destroyed your hearing yet, let’s move on to another example. Back in the 70s, the Guinness Book of World Records reported that the band Deep Purple was the loudest in the world.
S22: We we go to a Deep Purple show, Stefan, now, and I’m insulted that you would ask because it implies that I would have been going to rock concerts in the 1970s.
S37: I did see Jethro Tull in 1979, though Deep Purple has been performing continuously for decades. And so there is no implication that you had attended in the 70s. But I’ll continue. They were deemed the loudest in the world, registering a reading of 117 exactly a hundred seventeen decibels at a concert in London. There was so loud that reportedly three members of the audience fell unconscious. I have not been able to verify that. Three unconscious audience members actually existed. I was, though, able to find the entire concert on YouTube. It was at London’s Rainbow Theater. Isn’t the Internet a magical place? Let’s just pause and note how remarkable is that we could get this concert on online. Let’s listen, Stefan, to those famous chords from Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. Hope you don’t get knocked unconscious.
S8: B, a, b, e, a, B.A., come on, Stefan. You felt that I’m knocked unconscious by the spirit of rock n roll.
S5: So how accurate are these decibel meter readings? I would say I trust the Byrd one the most because Byrd people just feel trustworthy to me. I would put the football one in last place because they’re obviously going to try to juice the numbers to make the play seem as loud as possible. And there’s also no generally accepted standard for how to measure crowd noise. Obviously, the distance that you’re away from, the sound is important. We can you know that the 117 of the the Byrd call in the Deep Purple, that was from a specific location. We can tweak it a little bit as we’re playing it for you on three years as you’re as you’re walking the dog. And yet we get these numbers that are definitive last year. The acoustics company Suntech published a blog post in which it very politely questioned the game of a claim again put forward by the Guinness Book that the crowd at Kansas City’s outdoor Arrowhead Stadium reached one hundred and forty two point two DPA in September 2014. This blog post notes that a said tech principal consultant Michael victarion remembers the first time he was in a tug boat engine room with two twenty five hundred horsepower EMT diesel engines operating at full power. He notes If I recall, the sound level was 128 DPA and I could not hear myself scream at the top of my lungs. That’s 14 decibels quieter than the Arrowhead Stadium record. A difference of 10 decibels, according to a Santic, is perceived as half of the sound level. Do we all really think the center of an NFL stadium is twice as loud as twenty five hundred horsepower MMD diesel engines operating at full power? Stefan, do you think so?
S17: No. But are you sure it was an NFL game and not a Deep Purple concert?
S33: Great question. It wasn’t NFL game, not a Deep Purple concert. So we can we can be sure that these these numbers are Geus. They also used something called a peak measurement. And the blogpost gets under it and in some detail. But it’s a measurement that’s as low as two and a half milliseconds rather than a longer reading of like 20 milliseconds. And so they were kind of questioning why you would go with the peak measurement, because even if you’re like measuring a gust of wind at, you know, two and a half milliseconds, it could make it sound like it’s a jet engine. And so Arrowhead Stadium, Guinness Book, we’re not buying it. 142. It’s not real.
S4: Stefan, though I hope the Saints are going to market. Hundred and seventeenth, man.
S16: It’s next year. Deep Purple, purple, people, eaters. I feel like we left a little bit on the table there with that, but I think maybe we should just end the show.
S2: That’s our show for today. Our producer is Melissa Kaplan. To listen to past shows and subscribe or just reach out to Slate, dot slate.com, slash hang up and you can email us at Hang-Up at slate.com if you’re still here. I’m guessing you might want even more hang up in our bonus segment. Josh and I talked about the other NFL wildcard games that we didn’t get to in our earlier segment with Seth Stevenson.
S39: What’s in is a guy who maybe gets lost a little bit in all of the understandable fanfare that Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes gets. But this is a player who led Clemson to win over Alabama when Alabama was in its indomitable phase, leading Clemson on a game winning drive and throwing the winning pass.
S2: You know, with with one second to go to hear that conversation, join Slate plus four, just thirty five dollars for the first year. You can sign up at Slate.com, slash hang up. Plus for Josh Levine. I’m Stefan FATSIS. Remember Zelma Obeidy? And thanks for listening.
S17: Hey, Slate plus listeners, Josh is still here.
S4: I am still here. Let’s talk about some of the rest of the weekend in the NFL. It was wild, wild card weekend.
S16: You said it, brother. How about that football?
S22: How about that Buffalo Houston game? That was my favorite game of the weekend because it was so inapt on so many levels and then so bizarre and remarkable on so many levels. And also it was playoff score, Agami, 22 to 19, first playoff game 22 in 19.
S32: I felt kind of bad for the bills. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I think there was a graphic at some point there was like this is the first time the bills have had a lead. I don’t remember if who was on the second half for the fourth quarter of a playoff game since the Music City Miracle. Like, that’s a great that’s a great reminder. The bills have not won a playoff game since like the mid-90s and they had a 16 or nothing lead. Josh Allen was running around and flinging the ball in and all was well and in Buffalo. But it was for the traditional Saturday afternoon. Let’s put the Houston Texans here because nobody really cares about them. Spot of wildcard weekend. It was a scintillating.
S40: It was scintillating. The end of the game was insane.
S22: I mean, Buffalo had opportunities to win. Have they scored? Allen got sacked twice to push the team out of field goal range. When a field goal would have been extremely helpful, the bills went forward on fourth and twenty seven. Instead of trying a sixty yard field goal, which I’m not sure would have been the best choice, but they were playing in a dome. Sixteen field goal. And I know there were screw ups in terms of decisions on whether to punt or kick a field goal on fourth and 1. The Texans didn’t do it when they were up 3.
S40: Near the end of the game, the whole thing was bizarre. Allen with that lateral like for no reason at all, there was those laughs.
S32: There were a lot of attempts to, you know, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as it were. But you know, the play the game was Deshaun Watson getting sandwiched between two Bill’s defenders and somehow coming out of the other side and throwing the pass that set up the winning field goal. And what’s in is a guy who maybe gets lost a little bit in all of the understandable fanfare that Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes gets.
S16: But this is a player who led Clemson to win over Alabama when Alabama was in its indomitable phase, leading Clemson on a game winning drive and throwing the winning pass. You know, with with one second to go, then he gets to the pros and has had a really, really remarkable beginning to his career. He’s an incredibly cerebral guy. Like, there’s this kind of meme of him in his post-game press conferences and sort of in a LeBron ish way, just describing everything that happened on the field and what he saw in a way that’s like really remarkable and and makes him incredibly likable, not to mention his style on the field and how he is just an amazing runner and passer and kind of a a modern NFL quarterback and all of these great ways.
S22: The play that you referred to but didn’t describe, Josh, was one of the most ridiculous football things that you’ll ever see happen. And basically, two Buffalo Bills had him dead to rights. One hits him from his blindside.
S6: The other then comes in and hits him, but collides with his own player. Neither of the bills wrap up. Watson and Watson through some miracle of physics basically gets spun around rather than falling to the ground and the two bills defenders end up on the ground.
S40: It was just I watched it 10 times to try to figure out how this was physically possible and I still didn’t have an answer.
S41: Very cutting of you to say that I referred to the play but didn’t describe it. Well played, well played. FATSIS Yeah. So the other game, though, we didn’t talk about Stefan, is Eagles, Seahawks. And in that game, Jadeveon Clowney of the Seahawks hit Carson Wednesday, Eagles quarterback in the helmet as Wentz was going down. There’s a lot of talk even during the game about whether this was a dirty hit. The Eagles offensive lineman Jason Peters talked about how he confronted clowny Clowney, saying that it wasn’t dirty, that he didn’t intend to hurt Wentz. And then there was some recollection of the fact that Clowney did something similar to an other an earlier Eagles quarterback, Nick Foles. Stefan, I’m sure you’ll want to talk about the fact that Wentz actually stayed in the game for a bit after the. He then left for the rest of the game with a head injury, a diagnosed head injury, and he was replaced by the backup Josh McCown.
S4: Yeah. Not a good luck for the Eagles to let him stay and of course, or for the NFL.
S37: The independent neurological consultant, right?
S22: Yeah. Yeah. Didn’t consult very well, I guess. Clowney said it was a good clean hit. You didn’t say, Josh, that it was clown’s helmet that hit wentz’s helmet as clowny was taking him to the ground. And Kluwe’s a very large man. So for him to say, which he did after the game, I didn’t think it was that crazy of a hit. I fell on him a little bit, but I didn’t think it was that big of a hit. I really didn’t even put a lot into it for him to go out. I was like, he’s out.
S40: It surprised me. Dude weighs like 300 pounds and he plowed his head into Wences head on the ground.
S6: NFL players sometimes don’t have a very realistic understanding of the forces that they impart on one another.
S16: After the game, referee said, explaining why it wasn’t even a penalty wins was a runner. And he did not give himself up. We saw incidental helmet contact in our judgment. We didn’t rule that to be a foul. It just gets in to kind of the ridiculousness of passing these things.
S5: He didn’t give himself up. He was a runner. Incidental, falling down.
S36: He should have self. I’m giving myself up. I think that’s the answer to this problem in the NFL.
S16: This incident also generated a remarkable paragraph that I’m going to read to you in fall. Stefan, this is from an ESPN story. I thought it was late. Said Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who revealed after the game he played through two rib fractures, a rib cartilage fracture and an injured kidney. I kind of knew something was wrong right away. Just the way he got up. Devastated for my guy. Really tough. Is there any better kind of short-form distillation of the reality of life as an NFL player than the tight end who is playing with broken ribs, talking about how he knew something was wrong when the quarterback didn’t get up, get an injured kidney?
S40: Dellwood, don’t sleep on the injured Gidney Josh.
S41: I would certainly not want to sleep on the side that the injured kidney was on. That’s for sure.
S6: I think they should be standard practice for all quotations from NFL players after games.
S22: There should just be a recitation in the paragraph that in which they are quoted. Of all of the injuries that they were playing through, stories would be very, very long.
S41: They would be very, very long. Josh McCown looked actually credible as an NFL quarterback. He said he’s 40 years old. He was called out of retirement. He was coaching a high school team. And the Eagles were like, here we. We’ve got some injuries to our quarterbacks. Go figure.
S6: If we can’t, we can’t think of anybody else who’s available.
S16: Right. Well, so so here’s the thing. We have cited him repeatedly and fairly as an example of like this is who the NFL is calling on to play quarterback in the league instead of Concow bernick, this 40 year old guy who didn’t want to play anymore and who is coaching a high school team. I think, you know, as I said, McCown played he looked good. He looked like a reasonable, passable NFL quarterback. And so in the interest of fairness, I wanted to to mention that. And yet, Stefan. Yeah. And yet and this is a guy who again told the league, I do not want to play this game anymore. And they saw him as someone who was, you know, all the criticism. McCarren, because does he really want to play? We’re not sure he actually wants to play capron. It repeatedly tells everyone, I want to play in. This guy’s like I. I am telling you, there is no mistaking the fact that I don’t want to play. And they’re like, actually, we demand that you play. You’re 40 years old and we insist that you be in this league.
S4: Tim McManus did a story about McCowen in early December.
S40: And the remarkable thing in there, it’s not only that McCowen didn’t want to play. It’s that the Eagles agreed to his conditions for playing. And that included taking two days a week off from being on the team so that he could fly home to Charlotte on Mondays and Fridays to coach the high school team. You hear all these stories about how the NFL makes no exceptions for anybody and that it’s, you know, it’s the coach’s my way or the highway and you have to be there 24/7. The Eagles were letting this dude take two days a week off to go coaches high school team. It is incredible. Instead of signing a quarterback and maybe it isn’t even calling approtec signing a quarterback who would be there all the time.
S41: Yeah, as we’re talking about this, I think maybe there’s a piece here. Maybe I’ll get maybe I’ll get this up before the show. Perhaps you can hold me to account. Slate plus members. But I think the point. To make is that maybe what McCowen is asking for isn’t unreasonable. Annable Right. Yeah. Right. Isn’t that. Oh, McCowen is like a gold Bricker or the eagle shouldn’t have let him do that, Nick. Maybe I should say let more players do this. And in the Catholic thing is just obviously bullshit. The fact that anybody would question his his commitment and say that, you know, obviously you can’t let this guy on a team because you don’t know if you if you’d be invested are all.
S16: And no, that’s conditional. Like you can you know, there are different rules for four different guys and that can work.
S4: And it would be healthy for the players. It would be healthy for the entire team. And the quality of play in the league might actually go up rather than down. Because part of the problem in the NFL isn’t just the repeated stress on players’ bodies that makes them depressed. It’s the repeated stress on their minds that they don’t ever get a break from in the league. So maybe yeah, maybe Josh McCown taught us something here. Let’s leave it there. Thanks, Josh, for talking some more NFL and thank you. Slate Plus members for being Slate plus members. We’ll be back with more next week.