S1: The follow up podcast contains explicit language. People who are listening for the first time might hear bad word to.
S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor and the author of The Queen, this is Hang Up and listen for the week of March 30th, 2020. On this week’s show, Joe Vardhan of the Athletic. We’ll be here to talk about when sports will be back on TV and the financial pressures behind ensuring that happens as soon as possible. We’ll also discuss the scheme, the HBO documentary about a middle man to pay to college basketball recruits and assess the fallout of a movie that touches on hijinx at Arizona, LSU and a bunch of other schools. Finally, interview tennis player Christianne about the life of a pro athlete who’s off the tour and her relationship with their parents who’ve encouraged her to leave the sport and get a corporate job.
S3: I am coming to you again from my house in Washington, D.C. We are holding up okay here, though I am told we do need to vacuum, so I’ll get on that. Joining me from a couple miles away is Stefan FATSIS. He’s the author of the books Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic. How are you doing over there, Stefan?
S4: I vacuumed the first floor yesterday. Second floor away.
S3: It’s I guess there is probably a divide in America among people whose quarantine a bird becomes cleaner or becomes filthier. I definitely know which one Joel is.
S5: Oh, yeah. We’re really into it right now. We’re basically doing a spring cleaning.
S3: It’s been a lot of fun with us from Palo Alto and his clean place at Slate, staff writer has some slobber in Season 3. Joel Anderson, how are you doing?
S6: You’ll do a good man. Saturday was a big day around here. Two Saturdays ago, we put up new curtains and now we’re just really going through everything. I put away all my slow burn three books, which is about 30 of them, and put them up somewhere different. So things are looking up as much as possible.
S3: Everyone should check out Joel’s interview with the proprietor of a family run grocery store in the Bay Area. Really fascinating. And I must say, Joel, it was kind of inspiring like that. The person that you talked to was like really on top of their shit.
S6: Yeah, I’d been hit by that grocery store a few times. And it’s a pretty cute kind of luxury marketplace. Still not a place you’d go to get cereal, for instance. Obviously, they put a lot of care into that store and it was really nice that they picked up. That woman is extremely busy right now. Like all grocers are at this time. And for her to take time out and talk to me, it was like, really, really cool. Yeah, you could just see that they do a really good job over there.
S3: Stefan making two out of three of us who write good pieces for Slate last week. Your story about the dictionary and an emergency edition of coronavirus related words. That was fascinating.
S7: Thanks. Yeah. Merriam-Webster, as I wrote, acting like a newsroom on deadline, not a dictionary, which usually takes years off and even in the digital age to add words to its online lexicon. The coronavirus propelled Cauvin, 19, into the dictionary 34 days after the word was created. But never, ever, ever, ever, ever even close happened before.
S6: I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know. I guess like many people, we’re all overwhelmed with Kogut, 19, reading material. So Suffern, I have to read this now because I feel left out. Go for it.
S8: Good piece. Check it out. Bulding to them.
S9: I just checked and there are still no live sports on t._v. No matter how hard I smash my remote, we’re getting PR e-mails from ESPN every five seconds about what they’re doing programming wise. The latest came on Monday morning. Subject line ESPN to showcase baseball’s greatest games in MLB on court Tuesdays starting March thirty first. So I now know what I am not going to be doing on Tuesdays with NBA and Major League Baseball and hockey and soccer and everything else off the air. These leagues television partners are hurting for content. What’s not clear is whether the leagues will be hurting for money. Whether ESPN and other rights holders will try to claw back at least some of the billions they’ve paid for games. And if these games are not being played, Joe Barton is a senior NBA writer for The Athletic. He’s based in Cleveland. Last week, he wrote a piece headlined Money Trouble. The Pressure Behind Getting Sports Back on TV. Now he is here to talk with us about it. Joe, welcome to the show. It’s great to be here. Thank you. So the biggest reason there’s big money in sports, Joe, is television, the massive rights fees that leagues get paid by broadcasters. You write in the piece, if the leagues were to lose out on TV money, it would be a devastating blow. So just give us a sense of how much money we’re talking about and how these deals work.
S10: Well, the short answer is, depending on the sport, upwards of a billion or all the way up to five billion. But to really get a sense of why we’re talking about this, we need to take a step back and acknowledge that. Yes, when you’re talking about owners of these professional sports teams, by and large, we are talking about billionaires. No one’s going to feel bad for them. But when you consider the overall financial avalanche coming at sports in terms of lack of gate receipts for the foreseeable future, that’s going to cause real damage. Just based on our lack of testing with this virus, it is going to be a while before we can put large groups of people into an arena or into two into a stadium for a sporting event. So we’re talking millions and millions of dollars there. That’s why they have to try to figure out a way to get on TV. When you start looking at the TV contracts, there is a clause in each of them that basically says, here’s the terms of the deal and it’s a deal unless there’s an act of God like something like a pandemic. And in this situation, that’s what we have. The networks have an out. And so in the case of Major League Baseball, they have 162 games to play. And ESPN, Turner, Fox and then Facebook as well with live streaming rights pays baseball about 1.5 billion dollars annually for rights to some regular season games and then the post-season. And none of those games have been played.
S11: Yeah, baseball seems to be in the most perilous position because the NBA and the NHL only had about a dozen regular season games to go. They’re going to try to figure out ways to maybe jump right to the playoffs. Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, had talked about solutions are already looking at potential resolutions for the summer, even the late summer, or even sort of rejiggering their schedule entirely for the rest of the season and possibly for the next season. But baseball is the one that. Yeah. I mean, nothing’s been played. It doesn’t sound like the networks are going to go after the NBA or the NHL. They could certainly find ways with give backs, give them some additional advertising time. But this is as this is, I don’t think you can understate the potential havoc and the domino effect of losing the network rights fees for at least one season and maybe two when you’re talking about this and then, you know, you’re heading for a sustained period of losses from overall revenues because of tickets, you’re talking about potentially a billion dollars, maybe more per league.
S12: And that is going to directly impact how much money players can make, especially in the NBA, because their contract is directly tied to how much money comes in. And then you’re starting to look at, I mean, some pain, some real pain for for the owners. From the standpoint of like they’ve built their entire fortunes on making sure that their margins don’t shrink or that they have that they don’t lose margins at all. And now you’re already seeing some teams taken a real long time before getting getting in line to pay arena workers for missing, missing a month of work or two or in the case of the Sixers. They tried to to implement pay cuts for a certain selection of their front office. And basically at will workers. And that seems crazy right now, given the revenues for the past year for. For a team like the Sixers. But those are the realities. So the point that you were making, which is a good one, that you don’t you don’t necessarily see a network threatening to withhold all of the money, which is probably true because you want a good Long-Term Partnership and. These contracts all extend beyond one year, for starters. And then when they come up, you want to make sure that you’re in the front of the line to get the same deal that you got before, maybe a better one. That doesn’t happen if you come to the table and take all the money away in a totally unprecedented situation. However, ESPN and Turner pay most of that $2.6 billion a year to the NBA for the playoffs where they really make the money on ads. Is the playoffs. And of course, those have yet to be played again.
S5: No. An entity that lost a lot of money. And we’ve talked about the MLB, we’ve talked about the NBA, but the NC Double-A just had to cancel. Like it’s I mean, that is its moneymaker, March Madness. That’s like that’s where, you know, so much money goes out to schools. And in your story, you mentioned that, you know, they handed out twenty twenty five million to Division 1 members instead of the six hundred million that they normally would have expected to give. So like what sort of havoc is is going to wreak on the colleges as well?
S13: Yeah, I mean, that’s a great point. I’m glad you brought that up because the NCAA did that proactively. The negotiations over what to do about that eight hundred plus million that they pay for it for March Madness haven’t had yet. And so the NCAA went to its members preemptively, basically, and said instead of the six hundred plus, you’re going to get to thirty seven or 257 or whatever it was. And most of that is coming from an insurance policy followed by a second pool of money that’s from reserve. So whatever the NCAA is expecting to get from CBS and Turner, I assume it’s going to be substantially less than they’re used to. And I don’t know if the NCAA will then turn around and give that to its Division One members or if they’ll hold onto it. But are they expecting 200 million out of this out of the eight hundred? I don’t know. I mean, but but certainly just based on how much less they have already decided to give to their members suggests that they are expecting to lose a huge amount of money.
S14: So we’ve talked about the kind of dire scenarios for whether it’s baseball or other sports. There’s also a version of this where leagues come out really, really well. And Mark Cuban said to The Wall Street Journal about the hypothetical scenario of NBA games coming back, he says people will literally be doing anything to watch us. They won’t even necessarily be basketball fans. They just will be starving for new content and we will be there to feed them. Is it fair to say, Joe, that the delta here is just enormous? Let’s just say that the NBA does figure out a way to come back. Maybe it’s empty arenas. Maybe it’s the soundstage idea. NBA could be back playing playoff basketball before, you know. Not just sports. Anybody else is producing live content. And then the ratings are good. It’s gonna be through the roof.
S15: I’m not exactly sure that Mark is right. The longer this thing goes on, the other thing that you have to just keep in mind is how hard this will be just to get players back onto the court. Forget about the fans. And that is part of what the piece goes into. We quote epidemiologists, of course, who lay this out about because of vaccines and because of the spread of the disease, that you just can’t be close together for a while, like months, not weeks. OK, so we’ll say that we get into June or whatever. And now the virus is not spreading like it used to. But the players come back and there’s 450 of them and they’re in the top 1 percent in the world in terms of health and in terms of being able to fight this thing off. Most of them have no underlying conditions because of the close proximity that they’ll be in with each other. They play virtually all of them get exposed to the virus. None of them show any real symptoms. And certainly nobody gets very sick and dies because that’s just what the numbers tell us will happen. So that’s great. But then it takes another five hundred people really to even put the games on without fans. I mean, you’re talking about coaches, assistant coaches, referees, TV crews. Who’s going to feed them? Who’s going to transport them? We are the rest of the United States. We are in the population groups that are not as protected from the possibility of getting really sick, let alone catching it. And the numbers say of those five hundred people, five are going to die. And as the guy, I quote, who lays all this out, he says, who wants to play the games? I am actually of the belief that we still will play them in some way, shape or form. But I don’t think it’s gonna be before June unless we get advances, medically speaking, that we just don’t have right now. And also, there’s some sort of just willingness on the part of the players to either be totally quarantined. So we don’t have situations like with Karl Anthony Towns where his his mom gets sick and is on a ventilator. And as far as we know, he didn’t give it to her. I don’t think he’s tested positive for it. But the point is, unless you are totally quarantined, then that exact. Stability exists and players don’t want to get their wife sick. They don’t want to get their mom six. They have to kind of agree to be away from them for however long it takes to do this.
S11: Yeah, and that’s the tension that I think is gonna be really interesting to watch play out here. It’s what kind of pressure are the league’s going to be facing to get some product, any product to the networks and in front of eyeballs so that they can not only preserve their seasons and start generating revenue again and placate the networks, which are gonna be under tremendous pressure, as we’ve discussed here, with the loss in ad inventory. But but also to sort of preserve their own futures. I mean, I mentioned Domino’s before. You know, Walt Disney Company is going to take a gigantic ship here from lost revenue from ABC and ESPN. TNT is going to take a tremendous hit from lost ad revenue here. And it’s not as if the future was definitively going upward for the leagues in terms of their ability to sell their broadcast rights or their Internet rights. This is considered a time of uncertainty in terms of the cord cutting and whether the next delivery platform is going to be able or is going to want to pay what the networks have been paying for the last decades. We just don’t know what the trajectory is going to be for broadcast rights or Internet rights for the sports leagues.
S16: I think that’s exactly right. You don’t know what’s going to happen with advertisers, to Cuban’s point. He expects Boku ratings, which, of course, would bring advertisers back in droves. You know, you look at the NFL in my piece, I quote a TV expert who says, listen, if the NFL wants to play from November to April, then they’re gonna do it. And the whole country is going to watch and they’re going to watch like crazy. So you say it’ll be fine. But in the meantime, yeah, these networks. The reason why they would bring the leagues to the table and say, listen, we need some money back or we need some breaks on advertising prices is because the advertisers are not getting anything like what they paid for for the ad times that they bought in these time. And so that is really where the pressure begins. You think about all the ads bought for the March Madness, which are done and all the ads that were bought for the Masters. I’m just thinking about CBS now. I mean, that tournament has been totally postponed and it’s kind of a vicious circle right now. And really, the only way to solve it is to figure out how to get back on the court and get back on the field sometime this summer.
S5: That’s the big question here. Right. And you save it to the end. And your story, Joe, about what the hell is this going to mean for the NFL? Because obviously that is so much of the popular TV that we watch. You know, most of the most popular television programming in America is NFL football. So what the hell is going to happen there?
S16: That’s such a scary proposition for the entire sporting world, at least as it relates to advertising and TV. And just sort of what we’re all going to do is if the NFL and I guess to a greater extent, football. But certainly the NFL can come back and come back at a reasonable point in their schedule if they don’t or if they’re on extended hiatus. And geez, all bets are off when you start talking about advertising dollars and subscription dollars. You look at just the timeline and you say, OK, the NFL doesn’t kick off until September. There should be time before it by then to where we can at least figure out how to quarantine the players and kind of keep them safe and at least play some of these games without fans and just kind of figure it out because it’s just the almighty dollar when we when we talk about TV owners. But then you go back to the very logistics of this and you think about the scenario that I just laid up on this podcast. And then also that was in my story. But then you apply it to football. You’re not talking about 15 roster players, you’re talking about 53. Think of how many television cameras there are to run these football telecasts and how many men and women it takes to run that. How many officials there are. When you start looking at from that perspective, it can be frightening.
S17: You just think that by September, like some of the stuff that we really need, like some of this insta testing, maybe some medicine that gets the virus under control, better ways to kind of if you get sick, what to do as far as keeping those people separated from the population segment, that it’s not like those are things that I think as a society and government medical communities, we can figure that out.
S5: To your point, I mean, if we’re still having these conversations in September, we’ve got a problem much bigger than whether or not we’ll be watching football again. So, yeah, that’s correct.
S16: We’ve got to have it figured out before that.
S18: And in the meantime, a reminder, ESPN to showcase baseball’s greatest games and they’ll be on court Tuesdays starting March thirty first. Joe Verden. Thank you very much for coming on the show. Let us hope that we are not watching baseball’s greatest games in September.
S19: A man. If you’re a college basketball fan, you’re probably aware of the recent FBI investigation that promised to expose the rank corruption of the NC double a major college basketball and the Ramoray a fish you feed in this gutter ecosystem.
S6: Were more fish of the fish who feed on the poop of bigger fish. By the way, at the center, the f.b.i.’s case was Christian Dawkins. The 23 year old coach’s son from Saginaw, Michigan, had relationships with some of the top coaches in the game. That includes Rick Pitino of Louisville, Sean Miller of Arizona, and Will Wade of sorry, Josh LSU. But it’s Dawkins, a story that is at the center of this new HBO documentary, The Scheme, which debuts on Tuesday. Here’s a clip of Dawkins talking about his time in federal lockup.
S20: Maybe like an hour go by me just being quiet. And eventually he goes, What are you here for? So I told him he’s like, Yeah. Now you here for something else? Fucking puts you in here, arrest you for paying some basketball players. Mike, I swear, bro, I’m a curious person, so I start to have questions and I was like, you know, who’s gonna put us around? And he was like, El Chapo’s upstairs.
S22: And I’m thinking, OK, how can I be in the same vicinity is El Chapo. This can not be your life right now.
S20: No disrespect to El Chapo and what they got going on, but not going to get the fuck out of here.
S1: Stefan, it’s hard to watch this documentary and walk away feeling as if Dawkins was a felon or anything criminal happened here in the first place other than a tremendous waste of taxpayer money. Is that what you took from it?
S4: Oh, 100 percent. I mean, I think, first of all, the documentary is incredibly well-done. It is gripping. I think it is really well that explains these complex issues in a way that I think newspaper stories haven’t done it because there’s a real dramatic element here. Christian Dawkins is an incredibly reliable narrator I found. Yeah, he’s a Phalen. Yeah. He worked in the world of college basketball, but this due to smart and he has no fucks left to give and he tells his story in about as candid a way as you possibly can. And for me, that clip that we played just reflects the utter absurdity of the government’s case against largely Christian Dawkins, because in the end and we’ll get to this, it wasn’t about the NCAA. He’s setting a floor below al-Joz Bell and wondering, what am I doing here? I paid basketball players. I’m not a drug dealer. The entire story is, I think, just an indictment of the government’s over zealous effort to find a way to do the NCAA business.
S23: I think you got suckered by Christian Dawkins a little bit. He clearly has facts left to go. One of those is about Rick Pitino, who he is not willing to talk about. He is certainly willing to throw Arizona coach Sean Miller and LSU coach well, Wade, unless he hears Josh is inside. I think either way, it is a huge sleaze. And I don’t think he ever should have been hired at LSU. And I think that’s because he brought in players and I talked about this on the podcast before who were accused of sexual assaults. And I think that the fact that Will Wade did what he has on a wiretap here doing, which is very clearly offering talking about paying players money. I think it is evidence they will wait as this as a sleaze. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with paying players. Christian Dawkins doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with paying players.
S24: But, you know, well, Wade is clearly a his sleazy.
S25: Did we listen to Will Wade talking about and then maybe let’s listen to Christian Dawkins analyzing what will Wade says.
S26: I was thinking last night on this smart thing I got behind you. I’m fucking fucking tired of dealing with this thing. I can just be on like this shit. What do you think? I went to him with a fucking strong ass offer about a month ago. Strong. Now the problem was I knew I didn’t take it. Now it’s fucking tilted towards the family a little bit. It was it was a fucking hell of a fucking offer. Right. Hell of an offer. Especially for a kid who is gonna be a 2 or 3 year kid. All right. I’ve made deals for as good a players as haven’t. We’re fucking a lot simpler than this.
S27: I think the only way you can interpret someone in a head coaching position saying they made a strong ass offer, they are talking about a scholarship offer, brah. HUNYOR Ever since talking about money, just the audacity.
S28: I mean, just you gotta take your hat off to a man. He not only didn’t you charge for thing now he did the government have all these this information and evidence and nothing was happening on a criminal level. He also basically just said fucking sensitive away and to the university he worked for.
S29: Head coach. Well, Wade has requested reinstatement from his indefinite suspension while still refusing to meet with the school man.
S27: That was some cheap shit. And he said fuck you to the people who wasn’t with him, and he still got to keep his job and make millions of dollars. It’s like the perfect storm. This is the life fucking. They’re paying him a lot of money to win games, bro. The fuck is he supposed to do? Lose weight is definitely a fucking gangster for what he did.
S30: So Christian Dawkins is right about well, wait. He’s right about a lot of things, but I don’t know.
S24: He’s not the bad guy here. But this is also a guy who reads the book Sole Influence about corruption in grassroots basketball when he’s when he is a kid, basically. And rather than reading this and being like, I don’t want to get involved in this at all, this is like dirty. He’s like, sign me up. I’m going like, right, right. For this kid.
S25: But just that’s but you know, what else would you expect if this was a smart kid, a savvy kid? His father was a high school basketball coach, played with Draymond Green. He started a recruiting Web site when he was 12 years old and he was charging college coaches six hundred dollars. Christian Dawkins was steeped in this world.
S24: And to this gamers, Christian Dawkins is a scammer.
S1: We only consider corruption because the NCW calls it corruption. Like other than that, we’re basic. He’s basically a middleman connecting guys to streams of payment. But like, what is the corruption other than with the NCW says it is?
S25: Well, right. And what’s the scammer, Josh? He recognized as a teenager that this is the way the system works. He got an Under Armour deal for his AA utm that he was managing when he was 16 years old.
S24: Stefan, he recognizes this is all a scam and he’s like, I want to get in on this scam. He has you know, he’s providing information to college coaches for six hundred dollars. That’s like on like a GeoCities site. He’s ranking himself as like the number one player in the country. You know, these are incredibly low level. Like it’s not any human should go to prison for it. But this guy is like on the make. Like the reason that he is involved in all of this stuff, you know, when the FBI starts giving him money, he’s like, I’m going to keep this money for myself. I’m not going to give it to the to the coaches. This is not a guy who’s clean or who’s doing the right thing. It’s a guy who, like, willingly gets involved in this corrupt system and is maybe like, you know, at the very bottom in terms of people that we should be mad at. He’s not a villain. He’s not an enemy. But like, nobody in this is clean. And you don’t ever hear Christian Dawkins, like, does Christian Dawkins do anything for any of these players? Like, does he make their lives better? Is he helping them in any way like that is unclear to me at all.
S1: Well, I mean, I guess, again, I come back to the to the idea that I’m not sure that this is corruption other than the NCW saying that it’s corruption.
S6: But the other piece of this in Christian Dawkins hints at this a couple times about the racial implications of this case. So the way I think of it is that if Christian Dawkins had been white, he’d either be Andy Miller, the agent who was caught up in this dragnet, or he’s Josh Pazner. Now, Josh Pazner is a guy. I’m from Houston. He was a low level, best high school basketball player who helped build an AA U program in Houston called Houston Hoops. He got. He walked on it. Arizona worked on Lute Osuna. Kevin O’Neill then worked under John Calipari for a year before getting a head coaching job. Now, as a Georgia Tech where he’s terrible, you know, sixty five and sixty seven over the last four years.
S1: And so I think that like the corruption here is that people have to find their ways around into the system to get access to the money that everybody else is making golf with them. Kevin O’Neill, low-dose and Rick Pitino will wait. Sean Miller, All these people are getting to be millionaires. And people who have a legitimate interest in basketball or in business management have to find these other avenues in there and there’s not a way for them in there. And so they have to come up with these corrupt pathways into the business. And that’s one way I think of Christian Dawkins. Like the corruption is that these other people in these other institutions have found a way to cordon off the money and they let people in barely into the system. And maybe you can get a piece of it like Christian Dawkins did. But if the system were fairer, more equitable, more open, the players. Get paid guys like Christian Dawkins would just be a money manager or an agent and they could go on about their business.
S31: I think that’s right. And I think Josh should keep using the word scam and corruption. The only corruption here is NCAA amateurism. I mean, this entire industry has been fashion since the 1980s, certainly when the shoe companies became so influential. But even before that, and just in terms of raw recruiting because of the NCAA is reluctance or inability, refusal to pay players. That’s where all this stems from. Henry AB It’s true hoop newsletter that he sent out on Monday, you know, compares this to corruption in Afghanistan or by the Trump administration and private companies. Everyone is in on the scam. The scam is the business. And that extends to how the federal government approached this case, trying to go after Christian Dawkins and some other mid-level players in college basketball.
S24: I feel like you guys are missing something important here, which is that we don’t hear anything from any players in this documentary except for Fred VanVleet, who’s been there for like 15 seconds and says Christian Dawkins is a good guy. Christian Dawkins is a businessman. Despite what everybody says, it’s not clear to me that he knows anything about basketball, that he actually cares about basketball. His dad is a basketball coach. But what does he actually do for any of these players other than you could punch that at anybody, though?
S6: You could say that about anybody involved in the system. What does Lute Olson do? What did Lute Olson do for players? What is will Wade do for play?
S32: All I’m saying is that you guys urged Josh Christian Dawkins gave players money so that he could that they would be endeared to him and that when they turned pro, maybe 1 out of 50 of them would land a big contract and support whatever agency he was running or working for at the time. That’s how the agent thing business works. Christian Dawkins is quoted in this documentary saying Andy Miller was paying players since I was born. What’s the big deal here? What he wanted to do was find a source of money so that he could become a legitimate agent like Andy Miller and the other people that he had surround to that he had been involved with or around since he was a teenager.
S23: Yeah, I think that’s right. I just think that there’s a risk here of making him out to be a hero, that’s all. And I think that the point that Joel made, like the people that I feel really bad for here are like we’ve talked about before is the assistant coaches, black assistant coaches in any sport who get a reputation as just being guys who can, you know, because they can relate to the players and they’re like Yone and they can bring in guys and like they’re just known as recruiters. And there are all these sorts of guys in this and this doc Buck Richards and other people who they should have the same opportunities that somebody like Wil Wade has or that Sean Miller has to be head coaches. You know, they’re just kind of stuck at the bottom rungs, basically, you know, being seen kind of like Christian Dawkins is seen as like middlemen who get the De’Andre Aden’s who get the number one picks for Sean Miller. And then it turns out that it’s like Buck Richardson, this guy who’s, you know, an assistant coach at Arizona who ends up getting prison time, and Sean Miller, totally skate’s the federal government got involved because Christian Dawkins connected with some dude who had some money who wanted to get into the college basketball recruiting business.
S33: And that guy was facing s.E.C. And other fraud charges. And he ratted out to the government and said, hey, I can get you some NCAA dirt and get some get get a case, go in there. And then the feds bring in an undercover agent who pretends to be a 30 something real estate mogul who tries to get Christian Dawkins to do the one thing that the feds maybe can develop a case, which is if he can, he can be shown paying money to assistant coaches at public universities who are public employees. They could develop a fraud case against Christian Dawkins and some of these coaches. And that’ll make it look like we’re going after the rank corruption in college basketball. The whole thing is a joke. These guys are all dumb stooges, the people that Christian Dawkins winds up working with. And not only that, Christian Dawkins doesn’t fall for it. He doesn’t pay the coaches the money that this FBI agent is trying to encourages him to do. He sees through it. He’s just too naive to have done anything about it. You’ve done the due diligence that could have helped him avoid prosecution.
S6: I actually would like to know a little bit more about how the FBI decided to come up with this case, because it doesn’t even make a lot of sense to me. Like, why are they involved in this? Why was this require so many resources and agent?
S32: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m just not. What the hell makes no sense.
S14: The whole thing makes no sense. The feds are obviously the biggest villain here.
S18: The whole case is stupid and just a gigantic waste of resources. And the fact that it’s Dawkins and these other low level guys who went down for it, it’s it’s really it’s not only it’s stupid, it’s offensive. It’s like it’s. And I agree with what you said at the top, that this doc does a really good job of explaining what happened, because I found it hard to understand from reading about it in print. And it’s pretty clear even though they like left out Kansas totally from this movie, even though it was clear even the documentary doesn’t tell you this, but it’s clear that there are places that Dawkins won’t go as far as like Rick Pitino and other people that I think he’s trying to protect. It does really explain what happened and it makes it inarguable that this was a deeply stupid and offensive prosecution.
S1: But I think the thing that I kind of keep coming back to is that there’s like this general culture of shamelessness in the whole thing, that because even when they asked Mark Emmert, they had a clip of Mark M-word asking him to basically justify amateurism. If he can’t, he just says, well, that’s the system. That’s what, you know, we believe in the in the concept of amateurism. But there’s not an argument that he can sustain that goes beyond that.
S31: It doesn’t make any sense. The NCAA is all right. That amateurism is because amateurism is right.
S34: Right. And it’s so silly. And so is this. I didn’t think about all the silly hoops that people have to jump through to keep this going, because if they opened it up, if they decided to pay players, everybody would still be involved. They’d still be coaches. There still be agents that still be money managers and still be youth league teams. The only people that wouldn’t be involved are the NCAA.
S1: We know that it’s all a farce because we always still at LSU, Sean Miller still at Arizona, Rick Pitino back in college coaching at Iona. Now, you know what I mean? Like nobody has really paid a price except for Christian Dawkins in these black assistant coaches and like a couple of shoe guys, but they didn’t serve any time. So I just. The corruption is just what they is, just what they want you to feel like. It’s bad that these players are getting paid. They want you to feel like, oh, it shouldn’t be paid. This is a corrupt scam of a system, blah, blah, blah. But the issue was that they just don’t believe the players should get pay. They believe that a whole nother level, a whole nother layer of bureaucrats should get paid instead of the players. So they should get a piece of it. And Christian talk is just cut through all that and say, hey, look, I’m right here. I know these players. I can send them to here. I can connect them with shoo shoo companies. I can connect them with an agent, a guy, somebody. It’s going to represent them. Maybe that’s not helping them, but he’s not doing anything necessarily wrong either.
S7: I think it’s important here. And I want to play one more. I think we should play one more clip. Josh Christens Organ’s talking about why the feds didn’t go after the bigger coaches, even though they had these wiretap conversations with Sean Miller and will weigh in. And presumably they had more on Rick Pitino. So let’s listen to this, where he does talk about Louisville.
S35: No one got fired. Fuck. Charge them with felonies. No one even got a slap on the wrist. Yeah. You take it on a national championship banner. OK. They still won a national championship, bro. If you can survive a horror scandal, you can survive anything. This is Cleveland State. The fucking hell team will be done. This was the this was western Michigan poll program will be out of here. And they were trying to guess that we would try to save face by punishing someone like that, but they’re not gonna fucking punish the real schools if they make too much money off of them.
S36: So why why do you think then that the feds didn’t go after the bigger fish?
S18: I don’t know. And I don’t think the movie provides a really compelling explanation on that point on. Well, Wade. He’s not a big name. The reason he’s a big name, to the extent he’s a big name is because he was on this wiretap. Nobody knew the guy before then. He’s won some games at LSU. But LSU in the grand scheme of things, the PO’d UNC basketball program. It’s not Kansas or Louisville where nobody cares about LSU basketball. And so the notion that this guy is being protected doesn’t really make sense to me.
S3: And so I don’t know how to answer your question. My last question, and then I think we should wrap it up, as do you think people who don’t care about the NCAA or college basketball would get anything out of this? Because I wasn’t sure watching it. I think we would all say here that we think this is worth watching. Well, we thought it was interesting and entertaining. But what do you think for people who aren’t really immersed in the intricacies of all this stuff?
S1: It’s a good question. I doubt it. I think it doesn’t reveal anything that we don’t sort of already know.
S6: If you’re willing to go, you know, into the actual details of the case and, you know, have that make a little bit more sense, that was useful for me. But in terms of what people think about college basketball and the system of the NCAA Double-A, I don’t think that there’s anything new that they’ll take from it. They’ll be introduced to Christian Dawkins and his story. But I don’t know that there’s anything else for somebody who didn’t know and doesn’t really care about the broader implications.
S37: I don’t know. I think you’d think someone who is not immersed in all of this might walk away thinking the federal government’s really messed up in the way we prosecute people for early black people is a disgrace. You know, I thought Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Who’s quoted a bunch in the documentary, made a really good point, that there’s another one that I think a casual viewer might walk away with. You know, he says that if Google or Amazon hired a black kid from Saginaw, Michigan, for a paid internship, it would be a feature story in the local paper. Instead, we’ve criminalized the payment of young black men to play basketball as an internship program for a possible professional career.
S6: The one thing I would say about that is I feel like that’s an argument that people have been making my entire life against the amateur system and it doesn’t work in people. I think there’s there’s been studies that show that if if if white college sports fans believe that there’s a system that will somehow benefit black players, they’re more against it than anything else. So, I mean, if you’re an open minded person, come into this and you have like no context for any of this and you’re willing to look at the facts as they are. Yes. I think that maybe you might take that from it. But if you’re a college sports fan, I think your opinions are already sort of heart set on this point, maybe. And so I think the moral of the story, as Christian Dawkins says near the end is fuck the NC Double-A. It’s a really good documentary. The scheme comes out on HBO on Tuesday, directed by Pat Condello’s.
S19: Please check it out and let us know what you think about it.
S3: I want to let you know then our bonus segment for Slate Plus members, we’re going to talk about Fred Curly Neal. The Harlem Globetrotters legend who died last week at the age of seventy seven. We will talk about Neil, the man himself, as well as the Globetrotters. Our memories of that joyous ball team. If you want to hear that discussion and you are not a slate plus member, sign up. It’s just thirty five dollars for the first year. And you can do that at slate.com. Slash hang up. Plus.
S38: Christianne was one of the best stories of last year’s U.S. Open. Winning the first main draw, grand slam matches of her career, making it all the way to the fourth round, just a few miles from where she was born in Flushing, New York, and graduated from Stanford in 2014. She broke into the top 100 after that U.S. Open. She was about to play at Indian Wells in March. Before that tournament got called off due to the coronavirus, Indian Wells was the first big American sporting event to get canceled. And it’s crazy to think it was just three weeks ago in those three weeks on has moved in with their parents, become a star on Tick-Tock, where her username is Christianne. And you should definitely be watching those tech talks, which are tennis themed and very funny because Christie has said on social media, I am an introvert. This is my Super Bowl. Christie. Thanks so much for coming on the show. Yeah, thanks for having me. So you also posted your suggestions on how to keep yourself occupied while social distancing. You’ve got clean your room, read books, movie marathons, pick up an instrument and YouTube lessons. Also YouTube, yoga and workouts. I’ve been doing some of that myself. I did not see practice tennis on there and we were actually wondering that at work. Tennis seems like a great sport for social distancing. But have you been hitting it all?
S39: No, I actually have only left my house twice to go on walks around my neighborhood. Obviously social distancing that I have not been to the tennis courts. I haven’t been to any parks or anything. I know a lot of places now. They’re actually closing there, like locking up the courts so that people don’t have access to them. And obviously, it seems like a very you know, you’re standing across the court from someone, but at the same time, you just never know with balls and like things that you’re not thinking about. Normally, it just takes the smallest bit in order to get infected. For me. I mean, we’re not scheduled to play till June right now. I’m really not in a hurry to get back on court.
S40: So you’re a member of the WTA Players Council.
S24: You mentioned in one interview that you have a group chat and it’s blowing up. What is the WTA Players Council group chat like now? Because just tennis, like every other sport, is just in total turmoil right now.
S41: Yeah, we’ve got a great group of girls and everyone’s super active and trying to do what’s in the best interests for not only their ranking group, but for all the players. And I think that’s what makes the player council so effective, is that you have girls not only from different backgrounds, but also representing different ranking groups. So maybe you didn’t think about how it might affect a different ranking group. So it’s just good to have that perspective there. We have almost weekly meetings now.
S39: It’s every time we’re faced with more hurdles and obstacles and it’s it’s really tough. But again, we’re trying to keep the perspective of what’s in the best interest for the WTA as a whole and especially for our players.
S40: Indian wells, you know, when that cancellation happened, people were shocked because it really was the first big American sporting event to cancel. Now, that looks really smart an impression. And so it kind of applause to the organizers for doing that. But just what were your thoughts kind of at the time about it? You know, you had a wildcard into the main draw. You’re looking at eighteen thousand bucks minimum for playing in that first round. And the prize pool for the tournament, men’s and women’s is $17 million. And that, I guess just goes away like that’s money the players aren’t getting.
S41: Yeah, that one was really tough to swallow, not only because, I mean, you know, obviously, selfishly for me, it’s my first time playing in the main draw at the BNP Paribas Open, but also for everyone. Everyone was so prepared like it was the day before qualifying started. There’s you know, this is what everyone’s kind of working towards. It’s a big first mixed tournament mandatory since Australian Open. So and obviously everyone loves Indian wells as well. So it’s a huge bummer to everyone to get cancelled. So what felt like so suddenly and, you know, almost like it was an overreaction to what was one confirmed case in the area. But, you know, that the tournament was monitoring that situation closely. Up until the night before, they were prepared to play. They had no intentions of shutting down. And then the morning before quality started, everything changed. And it was really heartbreaking to see. Raymond Moore and Tommy Haas, the player council, we got informed a couple of hours before it went to the players and then public and you could just see how devastated they were. It wasn’t an easy decision. It was on them as well. You know, obviously as players, we are bummed not only to not play, but also, like you said, the price. Money. But for them, this is their baby. This is their pride and joy. And for them to not be able to hold it. You could see it wasn’t a selfish decision. They did what they thought was in the best interest for the public at whole.
S42: And obviously, looking back now, that was absolutely the right decision. Can you imagine if if we did go ahead and play and we had to think about canceling mid tournament? In retrospect, I think there was a little bit of heat coming from not only the press, but also players. Players were confused and didn’t understand. And then quickly within those those days felt like weeks for especially the player council felt like every hour we were getting more and more bad news about not only the current virus, but also about other tournament’s sports, like baseball, basketball, football, those professional league, those players have no contracts.
S43: And there been conversations between leagues and players unions about pads for those players if if games aren’t played. But I think there’s an expectation there, you know, that our salaries and players are getting, you know, checks every two weeks. Tennis, it’s a totally different system. And the economics are difficult even when every tournament isn’t canceled due to the Corona virus inside. Just wanted to ask about your experience and the economics play on tour for you. I was looking at your schedule this year. I mean, you’d already played in New Zealand, Australia, Russia, Scotland. What are the economics of life on tour for you and how are these cancellations affected you?
S41: Yeah. Tennis is a very tricky sport because everyone is their own employer. So we represent ourselves. We don’t obviously we play for the WTA, but we don’t get a salary. So obviously, if you, you know, make main draw of every slam, you’re assumed to make, you know, six figures right off the bat, you know, I’d be like a quarter of a million dollars, right? Yeah. I mean, obviously, taxes and stuff. Who you attack, this is that small thing. And then not to mention the number of players who travel with a coach. So we’re also talking expenses not only for yourself, but also for a whole another person. And a lot of the time, you’re not only paying for their expenses, you’re actually paying them a salary because you are their source of income. So it’s the numbers are very skewed. My coach, he doesn’t travel. He’s based out in New York and he kind of runs a center in Flushing. And so his obligation kind of ties him down. And that was very much understood when I started working with him. So I’m fortunate that I don’t have to necessarily think too much about paying for another person. But yeah, the finances are definitely tough. I mean, the first two tournaments of my year were in New Zealand and Hobart, Tasmania. And those were only two 50s. New Zealand was absolutely stacked first tournament of the year. And I was actually equality’s and I was ranked like 90, I think 80, 80 or 90 something at the time. And I lost her Sharna colleagues and it was maybe like a thousand bucks or so. I’d like somewhere around there. But obviously, you know, Australian Open, they raise their prize money. So my trip was covered pretty much. And more because of the Australian Open. But with the cancellation of something like Indian Wells, Miami, you know, players are assuming they’re making if you’re a main draw for both, that’s 30 plus K right off the bat. Now, all of a sudden, we’re not playing until June. That’s obviously the French has rescheduled to later on in the year, but that’s another almost a quarter of what you assume would be your earnings. So players are definitely struggling. We’re scrambling. We’re trying to figure out as a player counsel how to try and mitigate this absolutely astronomical hit.
S42: It’s tough when you think about it from the outside, you’re like, yeah, the WTA should definitely help pay for all the players, everyone that they’re accountable for. And we’ve discussed that. We’re trying our best. We as in player council working with the WTA, we are trying to find the best way to help the players through this time. But there are a lot of issues that we run into. And one of them is including the fact that the WTA is also not making any money right now. So we have to try and find ways to help players, but at the same time not entirely hurt our company. And then also tournament, you know, they cancel, they lose money. So everyone’s losing. So it’s just a matter of trying to stop the bleeding as much as we can.
S43: I was just trying to think through the problem and like, well, maybe the slams could give players something like an advance on earnings, but then they’re not actually making money from ticket sales or merchandise or anything. So like, where would that money come from like that? That idea seems d.O.A.
S42: Yeah. And assuming that all the tournament’s want to operate in 2021, they have to save up for the following year. Not everybody’s as liquid as we think they are.
S43: Yeah. Man, that’s a really tough problem and hopefully you’ll be able to be back on court soon. Also, just because we need sports to wash. I mean the tick tock cert. Entertaining, but, you know, I’ve also been looking at the PEND tweet at the top of your account, which is you jumping in the air and pumping your fist for joy at the twenty nineteen U.S. Open. And I was at that match where you beat your and asked to pinko in the third round and it was a special moment just to see in the crowd someone who you know, to have that moment in your career that you’ve been working for for so long at your slam making it to the fourth round. Pro tennis is a really tough sport and a tough life and a lot of people don’t ever get that moment. And so having that must have just been amazing. And so well earned.
S42: Thanks. Yeah, it was really special the whole week or weekend. Some days as a whole was just a completely surreal experience. You know, playing Kuznets Van, the Fair Shrout and Multi Grand Slam champion. And she just came off the finals of Cincinnati and I kind of approached it as I can take it two ways. I can say, oh, what a terrible draw. Or I can look at it and say, this is gonna be so much fun. And I definitely chose to look at it that way the whole week as a whole. And then the awesome Pankow match getting to play on Grandstand for the first time. And, you know, feeling the energy of the crowd. It was not only the crowd like my home crowd, I had so many friends and family turn up like I was so excited to be out there and so happy to just be playing in this. You know, something that I know I’ll be keeping close to my heart for the rest of my life.
S40: So one of your tech talks was about how reporters always ask what was going through your head before a match point and then you cut to a image of a monkey playing SIM both in your head as that question in a slightly different way. We can stipulate that that is a bad question, but sideline reporters always ask. But there’s a lot of pressure and a lot riding on a match like that. Ranking points, prizemoney and just like, you know, the fact that it’s a big occasion, even independent from that, it’s just seems like it would to me like it would be incredibly difficult to compartmentalize and just focus on playing a point. Playing a game, playing a set, playing a match when they’re all of these sorts of implications. Is that something that you’re actively like trying to suppress those thoughts? Like every point? Or do you just manage somehow to blank out your mind and focus on what you’ve been trained to do, even in like what is objectively the biggest moment of your career?
S42: Yeah, obviously those thoughts are they come and go. But I think not only in tennis in life, the more you try and suppress something, the harder it’s going to hit you in the back of the head. So, you know, I’ve been working a lot on mental practices starting from early on in the year and accepting that like nerves are real. Like this is it’s logit. It’s for a very good reason. And then just focusing on the good things like wow, instead of like, oh my God, this is so nerve wracking looking at it like, wow, what a cool opportunity to be here, to be playing this level of tennis in front of this crowd. And also you try and get rid of all the distractions by focusing on this one point and treating it the same as you did every other point for the match. And then sometimes you see players, you know, they didn’t even know that the match was over. I think on strawbery did that either this year, last year, should it realize she won? She’s so tuned in and so locked in that it was just funny to see, like, did you won? And she was like, oh, she had no idea. But that’s the kind of focus that players definitely want to obtain. Myself included, where you just zone in and you’re like tunnel vision for sure.
S43: So your parents got very famous, infamous during last year’s U.S. Open, thanks to an article by our friend Ben Rothenburg in The New York Times. You’re a Korean-American. Your parents definitely value education. They’re glad that you went to Stanford. And then after you graduated your dad, you shook hands on a deal where he would pay for you to be on tour for three years. So why don’t you pick it up there and explain to people who don’t know the story of what happened as the clock was about to run down on your three year deal with your dad?
S44: Yeah. So my dad was kind enough to help finance me for three years, and I think that’s more than generous, he said after three, if you no longer can support yourself, you have to go get another job. And I thought, that’s very. I thought that was more than generous of an offer, so I took it. Didn’t do very much for the first two years and then finally in twenty seventeen, you know, I graduate in 2014. So end of twenty, seventeen, my time would be up and my dad was like, you’re gonna have to get a real job like, oh, you should start brushing up on your resume and just kind of like teasing and poking fun. And I was completely okay with you know, closing my chapter. This is what I agreed to. I, you know, I think four years is more than enough time for me. And in the spring, the early spring of that year, I was just kind of like this is it like this is. I went to Australia to play some challengers. Funnily enough, played like Vonda Sova two weeks in a row. Like, what an unfortunate draw. But, you know, we just kind of like, all right, this is it. You can kind of feel like I’m doing my victory lap. Not much of a victory, but just kind of, you know, closing the chapter for my tennis career. And then I. I don’t know. There’s a couple factors. I don’t know if it was because I. All the sudden release that pressure from myself or I also started spending more time with my coach and friends.
S39: A Perry at the time. But my tennis just really started jumping like I did not see this coming from a mile away. And I don’t think anybody did either, including my parents.
S41: And from that point on, I just read vamped my career got to 1 0 5 in the world at the time.
S39: By the end of twenty, seventeen, beginning of twenty, eighteen. And then all of a sudden my dad kind of had to sit on his hands because I was suddenly finding myself and there wasn’t much he could say about it. And I always told him I don’t plan on playing for an extended amount of time. I’m definitely gonna give it a couple of years. But like I I will know when my time is up, when I no longer want to do this. So he just had to trust me on that. And then again, 20, you know, had a lackluster twenty eighteen and twenty nineteen for the most part.
S42: And I was definitely thinking like this. Yeah, I’m kind of. Towards the end I’m I’m ready to be done. And then I had one of the best mental weeks at Wimbledon qualify. Broke my internal barrier of not being able to qualify for a main draw slam since I was sixteen like eleven years ago. And then since then, it was just rolling like again, it felt like this like this dam was released and the water just like flowing through pressure, like no pressure, had a great U.S. summer and then went into the U.S. Open and I was my dad’s extra quiet hit.
S43: So in The New York Times article, your dad. So on the one hand, he says about, you know, wanting you to get a corporate job. He says if you talking about tennis, if you get injured, you’ve got nothing. There’s no unemployment compensation and you just get hungry and without money. And then he was like he was kind of talking you up to the corporate world. He says she’s a natural leader, very smart. She knows how to talk to people. She understands other people and what they’re thinking. Everybody loves her. That’s the skills corporate America needs. She’s partner material.
S38: That’s my favorite quote material. Thank you.
S40: Thank you, Dad. So on the one hand, he’s, you know, and your mom, too, it just seems like they want you to have a real kind of solid foundation for your whole life and recognize that tennis can be ephemeral. And you know, what this pandemic has showed is that as we were talking about at the top, you know, tennis is you know, it could it could go away for any number of reasons. And then you’re kind of just stuck with no income. So I wonder if this is like, in a strange way, vindication for your parents.
S42: Yes and no. Just because, like, yes, obviously, like I’m not making a penny right now. But then again, so are so many Americans across the country. And that’s obviously it’s easy to kind of poke fun of like haha. This is the instability of tennis and sports and entertainment. But at the same time, like no one could have seen this coming. And just how it’s affected our country as a whole, the number of people who’ve lost their jobs, the number of people who just can’t work because they’re not allowed back in their workplaces.
S39: And then, you know, there’s a number of people who work from home and they’re very fortunate. But that’s not a guarantee by any means. Companies are also cutting down because they have to try and save themselves.
S41: And it’s just a tough, terrible situation for everybody. But with regards to my parents and their views, I think if you ask a lot of immigrants, because my parents were immigrants as well, what their mindset is coming to the states, it’s, you know, not for their kids to become famous or to, I don’t know, be on TV. Maybe some of them do. But for the most part, it’s they came to this country so that their kids could have stability and security, which maybe they didn’t have otherwise in their home countries. So tennis originally.
S42: It was supposed to be a stepping stone in order for me to get into a good college like Stanford or Harvard. And that was their vision. And I mean, my dad’s a planner. He’s been planning that since day one of. OK. Like she will. You know, tennis is obviously a great way to get into a great college. And there’s there’s politics, but it’s less about, you know, the at least coming in. It’s a little bit more. What are you ranked? How did you do? You can kind of look at the results versus like I played soccer growing up and my coach would opt to put his daughter in the team instead of me. And my dad was like, this is done. Like, there’s like, no. Like, she’s better just. And so they kind of saw that, like, I loved soccer, but they’re like there’s there’s too much politics involved in that of favoritism and whatnot.
S40: You know, there’s like a pleasing kind of objectivity to to tennis.
S42: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, you’re out there on the court by yourself. Like you also become you have to become more mature to you’re doing everything by yourself. Obviously, we’re all very immature in our own different ways. But I think from the outside, it’s like, wow. Look how she you know, you have to take care of the little things. You have to manage yourself on court, off court. So it is to become like a little business person.
S23: I feel like, how’s it been living with your parents?
S42: Well, we have fun. It’s it’s a good time. My mom came back from South Korea just just when I was just before I came back home from Indian Wells. And that’s when South Korea was starting to really hit their peak with their cases. And so my dad effectively quarantined my mom for 14 days to her room in the kitchen. And she was not allowed to have any contact with him or anybody else. And they were one of the days it was their anniversary. So they actually just face time from across the hall because they can spend it together. But at the same time, like, obviously, that’s super depressing. But like, that’s the efficiency that my parents and effectively Korea, South Korea as a whole has approached this pandemic of.
S39: Just do your part suffer for 14 days and look now. Now they’re almost, you know, through the clear.
S45: Christine, thank you so much for your time. Folks should follow you on Twitter where you post your tick tock. If you’re not on Tick-Tock like me, you can still watch them on Twitter at Christianne and on Tick-Tock. You’re also Christianne. Hopefully we can check in again and you’ll be back playing soon. Best of luck with everything.
S44: Thanks so much. This is super fun.
S3: Now it is time for after balls and coming out of that conversation with Christianne, one of the things I didn’t get a chance to talk about with her was at the U.S. Open when she went on that great run in 2019. She had a conversation with somebody who congratulated her on that great run. And it was Denarius Athina, Russian player. You may remember her name. She was really good in that in the mid 2000s and on and actually lost in the first round to Safina when she had played in the U.S. Open when she was 16 years old. And Safina remembered her and reached out to her on Instagram and congratulated her. And it was a very cool thing and something that was meaningful to on because she didn’t think that the woman who had been like no one in the world had any idea who she was or would remember her. But Safina apparently remembers everyone that she’s ever played in tennis, and she thought especially if it was a qualifier or a wildcard, she remembered them. So that was very cool.
S45: So Dinara Safina, you’re good people. Stefan, what’s your dinner? SFE.
S36: During our first conversation about the Corona virus on this show nine years ago this month, we talked about how the spitball appeared to have been a casualty of the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 1919. The American and National Leagues banned the pitch before the 1920 season. A story and the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2014 made the connection balls slathered with saliva. The owners noted, were not only difficult to hit, they could spread a deadly virus after the show. Josh emailed Major League Baseball historian John Forn to ask about the connection between the flu and the spitball. Foreign said the spitball ban was largely about repeated calls to juice offense and attendance during the dead ball era. He didn’t know of any connection to the flu. I did a lot of database searching and I didn’t find any either. So we stand corrected. But let’s talk about spitting on these spitball anyway. Back in the day, public spitting was much more common in America, especially in big cities. Thorne, who it should be noted as a true polymath foreign, passed on a link to a 2010 article in a journal called Public Health Reports about New York City’s response to the Spanish Flu. It notes that the city had an anti spitting campaign for more than 20 years before the flu that was based on education, moral suasion and police enforcement. Pamphlets titled Don’t Spit were distributed in tenement houses. Posters were plastered in public spaces. During the pandemic, Boy Scouts handed out cards to people who were spitting on the sidewalk that read, You are violating the sanitary code. And defenders were rounded up and brought before courts in large numbers and often find $1 back to baseball. Several pitchers claimed credit for inventing the spitball. One of them was Frank Chora Don, who pitched six seasons in the NL from 1984 to 1910. He told his story in a newspaper in 1920. I think this could use a little background mood music from the Ken Burns documentary, Baseball.
S46: It all came about on a rainy day in nineteen oh one when I was in Providence playing in the Eastern League. On this day in practice, I was forced to use a white ball, which was kept in a constantly moist condition by the fact that the rain was drizzling down in making one of the pitches the ball instead of going to the point where I had aimed it took a wild shoot as it neared the plate, and instead of plunging into the catcher’s mitt, hit him near the ankle bone.
S47: Caught on set, he did it again and it happened again, and he noticed that if he gripped the ball on an especially slippery spot, it would perform some wild trick secretly for a number of weeks.
S48: I practiced pitching a ball by pouring water on the cover. I found that having a can of water alongside of me was not very convenient. So one day I spit on the ball.
S47: So by this means accomplished the same results in that way. The spit ball really was born. The move to ban the spitter long predated the Spanish flu, I found stories back to when the pitch pretty much first showed up in the big leagues. The flu outbreak started in January 1918. That same month, The Washington Post reported on a pre-existing movement by pirates owner Barney Dreyfus and many other big league magnates to legislate the spitball and other freak deliveries out of baseball. That’s what doctored pitches like these spitball shined ball and emery ball were called freak deliveries or freak pitches. The Minor League American Association banned the spitball before the 1918 season. Mr. Spitball is now Bad Company was the headline in one newspaper in February of 1918. The National League’s president, John Tanner, warned young pitchers not to take up the spitball because it would be abolished soon. Tenor was among the few mentions in newspaper stories that I read of anyone raising the hygenic aspect of the pitch, which he called a disgusting insanitary delivery. Another was the president of the Southern League banning the pitch in 1919. He called the spitball unsanitary, unsportsmanlike and a detriment to the game. The Spanish flu epidemic killed around six hundred seventy five thousand people in the United States in 1918 and 1919. One of them was a former spitball pitcher of local semi-pro repute from Lowell, Massachusetts, named Leo Constantino. That was the only direct connection between the pitch and the flu that I turned up. There was a report that the Chicago Cubs were going to wear flu masks during spring training in 1919, but I couldn’t find any follow up on that. The Latin giants of the Korean League, by the way, wore masks during an interest squad game over the weekend. In February 1919, The Washington Times reported that senator’s manager, Clark Griffith has heard from Walter Johnson, who says he has fully recovered from his attacks of Spanish influenza and will be in good condition to begin training next month. The big flu was no match for the big train. Johnson went 20 and 14 and led the league in Iraq.
S4: That season, momentum to outlaw the spitball kept building free curling perils, life of baseball game, one newspaper said. Finally, in early 1920, both major leagues banned all freak deliveries, spitball shined ball and doctoring the ball in any way. In the words of Al President Band Johnson, the actual rule said that the pitcher, among other things, could not expectorate either on his ball or his glove. Penalties were instant ejection and a 10 game suspension. A handful of active spitballs were exempted from the rule.
S49: Grantland Rice, the sportswriter. As he did all the time in his syndicated column, wrote a poem analogizing the death of the spitball with prohibition. Here goes. This is a sad and rotten world. These spitball pitchers said. And here he lit a cigarette and shook his troubled head. They nail you now before you start, and that’s a certain fact. No matter what your line may be. Somebody Crabb’s the act. At least they made the country dry in spite of every plea. And now they’ve taken pitching up and made it to dry for me. The world is getting worse and worse. The spitball pitcher sighed. He lit another cigarette and gazed out stony eyed. They say If I expect to rate myself against a fall, that now I can’t expectorate upon the foolish ball. They went and made the country dry and drove us all to tea.
S50: And now they’ve taken pitching up and made it dry for me. Grantland Rice was the worst. By the way, Gaylord Perry, of course, this spitball did not go out of fashion. Gaylord Perry used K-Y jelly often to throw the spitball really on the tiger.
S6: King I believe they call that sex, Joe.
S50: That’s what Gaylord Perry called a two year pro.
S14: I just can’t believe the FBI didn’t try to infiltrate the dark and seamy world of spitball pitching to really try to take down these perpetrators and clean up a dirty game. This needs to happen. That was the after ball to end aftermath. Stefan and I think, well, we’re just going to roll the credits. I do have one thing to say now. Freak deliveries. It’s very judgmental like that nerd kink shaming in baseball. Yeah, I don’t like that terminology.
S36: It was widespread. That was what they were all called. Maybe freak had a slightly the freak with the media back then.
S2: Possibly. So yeah, that is our show for today. Our producer, Melissa Kaplan. Often the patches and subscribe or just reach out to slate.com, but hang up. You can email us at Hang-Up at Slate dot com. You’re still here guessing you may want even more. Hang up and listen in our bonus segment this week. He talked about the death of Fred Hurley Neal, the Harlem Globetrotters legend.
S51: Images are seared in all of our brains, I think like a 10 year old kid, you know, the bucket of confetti and needle dribbling around the court on his knees while some hapless white dude on the Washington generals tries in vain to take the ball away from him. Those are are emblematic American sports images here.
S2: That conversation jointly. Plus, it’s just $35 for the first year.
S52: Can sign up at Slate.com. Slash Hang-Up plus for Joel Anderson and Stefan FATSIS. I’m Josh Levine. Members, I’m Obeidy. And thanks for listening.
S14: Now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate Plus members. Last week, Fred Purley Neal died at the age of 77. Neal was a Harlem Globetrotter between the years of 1963 and 1985. It’s probably more accurate to say that for a lot of us, he was the Harlem Globetrotter. He was the guy that defined the team’s style, their ethos, and just he was fun in the way that the Globetrotters were fun. In a statement, the team said the neile was one of the truly magical dribbles and shooters in basketball history. Isaiah Thomas tweeted that Neal taught him how to dribble. I suspect Thomas isn’t the only all time great you could say that about an ESPN. Mike Greenberg said that Neal made as many people smile as any athlete that ever lived. That may not actually be an exaggeration. Stefan. This guy was an amazing entertainer, and he was somebody that I think you kind of thought about as just being part of the fabric of sports and of this team. And it’s been interesting to sort of really read about him is like a real person rather than like this character on the Globetrotters.
S4: Yeah. He’s a huge part of my childhood memories. Only whenever the Globetrotters were on Wide World of Sports on ABC in the 1970s, I was totally tuning in. I never went to too alive Globetrotters game against the Washington generals. But those images are seared in all of our brands, I think like a 10 year old kid. You know, the bucket of confetti and Neil dribbling around the court on his knees while some hapless white dude on the Washington generals tries in vain to take the ball away from them. Those are are emblematic American sports images.
S6: I’d even point out, as maybe some of our listeners know, I listen to the Knuckleheads podcast that has Derrius Miles and Quentin Richardson. They had Isaiah Thomas on last week right before Curly Neal died. And it was Quintin Richardson who asked Isaiah Thomas to say, hey, how did you learn how to dribble? Like, you know, you had a really tight handle. You could still dribble over blah. And he said, Curly Neal, unprompted. It wasn’t like Curly Neal’s death, you know, prompted him to say that he really meant that that that is a guy. I think he said Curly Neal and the Globetrotters showed up at some community center in Chicago when he was a kid and they showed us some drills. And that’s how I learned.
S34: And so, I mean, it’s really hard to understate Curly Neal’s influence on the game, because even though he never played in the NBA, it’s fair to say he probably is he one of the most famous basketball players in recent history? Like, I mean, he’s more famous than your median New Jersey net from the 80s.
S6: You know, I mean, or, you know, Milwaukee buck from the 70s, like he is a guy who has always been there. OUTFRONT with that head, that nickname. And I recall I went to, you know, stuff and you said you you saw me on TV. I actually went to a whole Harlem Globetrotters game. It had to have been in 84, 85, because I know you retired in 85 and saw him and Hubert Geese OSBI playing at the all Houston summit. And it was like, you know, one of the more memorable basketball experiences I’ve ever had in a large part of that is because I got a chance to see Carlino play.
S18: Stefan was the 70s kind of the peak. I mean, the Globetrotters had, I guess, a lot of peaks and they have a long history. And they were really, you know, a competitive team before they got into the kind of more entertaining sort of modes. I’m not going to say like the peak and the Globetrotters, but in terms of like pop culture, you know, they’re on Gilligan’s Island, they’re on Scooby Doo, they’re on wide world of sports. So I think if you grew up in the 70s, whether you became a professional basketball player or you were just a kid in America, then, yeah, I think that’s right. Joel, Curly Neal was gonna be a basketball player like, you know, he was like Dr. J or something. Like he’s a guy who you’re going know, you’re going to remember you’re going to love.
S4: Yeah, that’s totally right. I mean, for me, you know, the 70s were also a time when sports expanded beyond in the in the popular consciousness, beyond the leagues, which were pretty staid. Still, the NBA helped make basketball cool. Let’s not forget. But you also had in terms of television programming, the Trotters, I think, fit right in with things like Evel Knievel and the superstars competitions. I mean, there’s a sort of like peripheral weirdo sports broadcasting that became really a mainstay for kids. And the Trotters were a very important part of that.
S6: I’m reminded because the way that I found out about Curly knows death is that in a Twitter account called HBCU Game Day tweeted it out and I’m reminded that Curly Neal played at Johnson C. Smith, a small HBCU in Charlotte, North Carolina. And so, you know, Josh, you mentioned the peak of the early glow. I mean, the Globetrotters were a team made up of a lot of players who were denied opportunities at playing in the NBA. That’s right. And other, you know. You know, the leagues at that point, they did not integrate it to that point. So the way I think about Curly Neal in some ways and the Harlem Globetrotters from that era, is this sort of like a cross of the old Negro Leagues, an old chitlin circuit. Black entertainers, and that they were forced to barnstorm all around the country and build their audiences for money, for money that was far below what? That’s how it would have demanded in a better, more equitable system. But in spite of that, you know, Curly Neal still made a big name for himself. And that would which often happened with a lot of Negro League artists and other, you know, entertainers or whatever. So like he he was fighting an uphill battle in his career the entire way and still made a big name for himself. And I hope that part of it isn’t lost in his legacy. Yeah.
S53: Colonel O’Neill started playing for the Globetrotters in 1963, not long after college, and he lasted from nineteen eighty five. And you said he retired. He was actually fired. What sort of the Globetrotters went through a bunch of transitions in the 80s and 90s with new ownership and attempts to sort of revive the brand. I mean there was bitterness there. He sued the the Globetrotters new owners over their departures from the team.
S30: He did sign on with the Tampa Bay Bucs, though. So, yeah, he had a good kid. Twilight of his career to Tom Brady. Jack, people come on.
S32: Foul play, more than 6000. I would’ve believed 6000 names. Man.
S30: Yeah. And I think back to Joel’s point. There is a kind of continuum here also with streetball legend. So you think about a guy like Connie Hawkins, for instance. There is a sort of a way in which, you know, somebody like carlini outlawed streetball legend, like their style kind of filters upwards into the pros, into college, into, you know, guys who are playing in the more established rungs of basketball. And I think, you know, Curly Neal is somebody who was more accessible, who is more visible, who like, you know, guys, whether it’s Isaiah Thomas or anybody else, like it might be your first experience, something like, oh, you don’t have to play in the like standard kind of, you know, way that we see, you know, Bobby Knight’s Indiana team playing or like the NBA playing. You can, you know, do these kind of you can play with style. You can play with panache and you can have fun. Yeah, you can be lauded for it. You can have rather than being seen as like going outside, you know, getting yelled at because you’re not doing it the right way. Like that. This was like a venue where having fun, being creative was celebrated.
S4: Right. So the Globetrotters. Joel, I think were kind of an inspiration and a lot of ways for the a.D.A, which brought in a lot of the elements that you just talked about, Josh, like being fun, being more creative, windmill dunks. Chip Donks. You know, the things that the NBA frowned upon, the Globetrotters were doing all those things in addition to the kinds of dribbling feats that Curly Neal was performing on a court every night. I was just I mean, sort of like, what’s the influence, right?
S1: Yeah. Oh right. Yeah. Mean, yeah they were. Yeah. No they clearly I mean it kind of you know it kind of takes me back to that brief moment in time when.
S6: And one basketball you remember the and one circuit. Sure. Yeah. Well that was like had its moment and John Hawkes and guys. Yeah. We’re going out there the professor and all those guys you know, escalate all those guys and. Yeah. You know that they’re sort of the forefathers of all of that man. You know, the Harlem Globetrotters, they changed it up so that now that they were trying to be competitive, though. Now. Right. Like, I don’t think the Washington generals folded. And I think they play like exhibitions and everything now. I’m not sure that they have, you know, a punching bag that they that they travel with anymore.
S43: Yeah, we’re not in that. In the heyday of of the Globus there. You know, they introduced the four-point shot, etc. and so forth.
S8: But currently, Neal, I think despite whatever, you know, rough ending he had with the franchise, he was the the Globetrotters. He is synonymous with the team.
S3: And so glad we got a chance to remember him. And remember that. And Slate Plus members. Thank you for your membership. We’ll be back with more next week.
S1: Hey, if you guys know why he was in Houston at some point. Well, please let me know because I’d like to know.