Thinking out loud: Current events are much bigger than sports right now

Protests
Photo credit Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports
By WEEI 93.7

Thinking out loud…while wondering if there is enough time left in 2020 to make a second half comeback…

 

  • Oh, sports stuff is in here.  But I ain’t stickin’ to just sports today.  

 

  • That this year is going down in the history books, there is little doubt.  We have experienced similarities to several great crises of the past century – and all of them within the same calendar year. 

 

  • The 1917 Spanish flu pandemic.  The emerging-but-struggling economy and subsequent unemployment of the 1930’s following a worldwide depression.  The shootings, race riots and protests of 1968.

 

  • Covid-19, 38 million-plus unemployed workers and wrongful deaths and riots would each be remarkable and unforgettable as stand-alone stories this year.  But 2020 isn’t even half over with yet.  

 

  • This is a year no one will soon forget, even if we want to.

 

  • And I may not be black, but I see you.

 

  • The police officers in Minneapolis failed and committed an egregious wrong in the death of George Floyd, this much is certain.  But ACAB (all cops are bad)?  No.  Of course not.

 

  • Good cops are out there.  We’ve seen them join in protests this week.  We’ve seen their emotional responses to much of the tragedy in these moments we’ve all shared, while continuing to serve their communities. 

 

  • My nephew is a police officer in Fort Worth, TX, serving his neighborhood every day.  Willingly.  He wanted to be a cop.  He wanted to help others, and still does…again, every day.

 

  • Good exists. Some people do not harbor ill will, racism or possess evil in their hearts, minds and actions.

 

  • And I may not be black, but I hear you, too.

 

  • I have spent my entire athletic life – 50+ years – in the company of all races.  Friends.  Teammates.  In interviews.  Talking to coaches, athletes, administrators, and others in the media.  Traveling with and becoming friendly with many, many more.  

 

  • I have never seen nor really thought about ‘color.’  These peeps are just my peeps, period.

 

  • But what I’m discovering through this tragedy is that I thought I knew what was right and wrong about oppression, equality and opportunity.  I suppose I don’t know.  I hope I’m learning.

 

  • The only path away from the pain, the division, and the misunderstanding we’ve all seen is true reconciliation, it seems. 

 

  • But how do we get there, from where we are now?  It’s a question we’ve tried to answer in America for more than 150 years.

 

  • Peaceful protest is one thing.  We have that right as Americans.  But violent, criminal protest is another, especially when taking advantage of the very plight we’re all now trying to bring to light, by rioting, looting and committing crimes in the name of that peaceful protest.

 

  • The message, whatever it may be, gets lost in that violence.  Then we’re all back at Square One.

 

  • College and high school sports may only be a slice of the athletic landscape around here, but as you are undoubtedly aware, they hold great power and influence in other parts of our country. 

 

  • As such, because college and high school sports are unique due to their racial, religious and demographic nature in America…college and high school sports can also be a driver for change.  They touch all the bases, and leave lasting impressions.

 

  • Sports connect us.  Sports teach us.  Sports, from the youth stage to the college level, can impress good and bad behaviors upon younger minds.  

 

  • This week alone, Marquette rescinded a scholarship offered to a student athlete. Southern Cal pulled the season tickets and cut ties with a prominent football booster and the TV voice of the Sacramento Kings was fired from his full-time radio job and resigned his TV spot – all for comments made with regard to Mr. Floyd’s death and the subsequent protests-turned-into-violence.

 

  • This is what we should all be afraid of, and now is a part of our societal problem.  Fear immobilizes us.  Being scared to do or even say the right thing, for fear of being misunderstood and ridiculed. 

 

  • But through this ‘unfairness’…maybe we can all get a sense of what persecution really means?  Just sayin’.

 

  • Downtown Providence was not immune to the senseless violence, and neither was Boston.  Several suburbs and smaller cities and towns also became part of the story.  “Live” destruction and looting of stores took place on local TV this week during the 11 o’clock news. 

 

  • That was a first – and hopefully, a last.

 

  • Many pro and college coaches – and athletes – rightfully spoke out against the violence with regard to the initial tragedy in Minneapolis, some more eloquently and decisively than others. 

 

  • But it all helps.  Sharing the pain, even if misunderstood or misquoted by some, is one way we move forward.

 

  • Best comment I saw this week, from anyone, came from the Celtics’ Semi Ojeleye who told WBZ’s Steve Burton: “We cannot become the hate that we’re trying to eradicate.”

 

  • That is memorable.  Should be on a bumper sticker or a billboard somewhere.

 

  • Tweet of the Week, from @cgasper: “Here’s the final score on inane ‘stick to sports’ refrains right now: What do you have a bigger problem with as a human being, a cop kneeling on a black man’s neck or athletes trying to make sure it never happens again?”

 

  • It seems Drew Brees missed the point.  But this is a conversation we need to have.  We’re not all against the military.  We’re not all against the flag.  We should all be against systemic racism. 

 

  • Ex-Patriot Martellus Bennett had a long, rambling, graphic and very honest tweet in response to Brees’ stance, ICYMI.  Suffice to say, Martysaurus Rex moved in on Brees like a bull moves in on a china shop.  Brees, on Thursday, apologized for ‘missing the mark.’

 

  • Sports is about unity, about togetherness and teamwork.  Will Brees have teammates refuse to play with him?  Or can they forgive a mistake?

 

  • Always admired Brees and the way he’s carried himself throughout his career.  But his original thoughts showcase another problem we have right now – misunderstanding the lesson that needs to be learned.

 

  • My buddy “Big E” sez he was getting his haircut this week with “Mrs. E,” and while he was in the chair she looked through pictures trying to find hairstyles for herself. When she found one she liked, she asked the stylist if she could take it next door to make a copy. 

 

  • “Sure,” she said.  “But leave your phone or another form of ID here, would you?”  “Mrs. E” replied, “well, my husband is here getting a cut.”  And the stylist replied, “I know.  But I need something you’ll come back for.”

 

  • The collegiate cost-trimming of teams and events continue like so much hair falling from the barber chair.  Tourney cuts in C-USA, the Mountain West and Mid-American have been made, and the Colonial Athletic Association has adopted a scheduling system for members that won’t force them to play everyone within their league this fall.

 

  • The Big 12 also announced it is cutting operating expenses back by 10% next year.

 

  • Wright State in the Horizon League cut softball, men’s and women’s tennis this week, and stands at 11 varsity programs.  They will now need a waiver to remain in Division I, as schools need a minimum of seven men’s and women’s teams for membership.

 

  • To that end, Robert Morris (currently in the NEC with Bryant) has been rumored to be a potential new candidate for membership in the Horizon…even though the school is cutting staff and putting employees on furlough.

 

  • Some teams may also be making a comeback.  Alabama-Huntsville hockey met a $500K fundraising goal to save the program – even though the coaches stepped down and Bowling Green baseball has raised $1.5 million to sustain their program for another three years.

 

  • The Big East is likely headed for their fall conference season without full participation, due to pandemic restrictions and guidelines in member states.  A six-team minimum is needed for NCAA post-season eligibility in any sport.

 

  • PC’s Bob Driscoll, perhaps in response to recent media on venue possibilities for next season, says for him it’s ‘Dunk-or-bust.’  Great to have options, if they’re needed, at Alumni Hall or Mohegan Sun, however.

 

  • Let’s hope the State of Rhode Island, the Convention Center Authority and Larry Lepore at the Dunkin Donuts Center can agree and cooperate accordingly for their longest-serving, loyal tenant.

 

  • Option #1 – playing a normal season.  That’s according to Big East commissioner Val Ackerman last weekend.  But with uncertainty, change will undoubtedly follow.

 

  • Not for nuthin’, but Happy 41st birthday, Big East.  It was May 31, 1979, when Dave Gavitt’s vision turned into one of the most powerful influences the intercollegiate sporting world has known. 

 

  • The Big East, certainly, helped transform college sports into the billion-dollar industry it is today.

 

  • And to think it all got started around a conference table at Duffy and Shanley in Providence.  A table which exists, to this day, in the conference room at Providence Venues & Sports Properties, located in the Dunkin Donuts Center along with the P-Bruins offices.

 

  • Sports in New York returned this week at Belmont Park for the first time since the pandemic hit and knocked the Big East Tournament for a loop at MSG in March.  The one-day handle of nearly $11 million in wagering set a track record.

 

  • TV ad revenue, predictably without sports, took a huge, 27% downward turn in April.  The losses?  NBA = $240 million.  NCAA = $200 million.  NHL, PGA, MLB = $100 million. 

 

  • Now, perhaps it’s a bit more understandable why the athletes and owners in several sports are having a difficult time deciding on a re-start.  Everyone is trying to recoup what they can.

 

  • In case you were wondering, the top athletes on the planet ARE earning less money.  Forbes this week reported Roger Federer is the top money-maker at $106.3 million, the first time a tennis player has led the list.  Soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been bumped to Numbers’ Two and Three, since their salaries have been cut due to shortened seasons.

 

  • Of the Top 100 earners, basketball leads the way with 35 players on the list, the NFL with 31 and global soccer 14.  Total athlete revenue fell for the first time in four years, due to the pandemic.

 

  • Baseball – not surprisingly – took the biggest hit.  Just one MLB player, Clayton Kershaw, reached the list…down from 15 players in the Top 100 a year ago.

 

  • The one baseball story that’s good no matter how you see it?  Minor leaguers (mostly) getting paid through the summer, except in places like Oakland and New York.  Several of the players released from the Yankees, like they have been in other places (including the Red Sox) were likely training camp cuts anyway.

 

  • 40 games, 50 games, 100 games?  Just play ball.  Figure it out.  ESPN analyst and former all-star Mark Teixiera said owners and players “need to understand that they have to invest in the future of their sport.”

 

  • Absolutely.  But their actions are telling the rest of us they’ll only do that “as long as I get mine, right now.”

 

  • The Globe’s Peter Abraham hits the nail on the head: “If baseball screws this up, 17 months will pass between the end of the 2019 World Series and the start of the 2021 season.  That’s a long time for people to find something else to occupy their time.  And they will find something.”

 

  • There will be some college baseball played this summer.  The Collegiate Baseball Summer Invitational is playing in College Station, TX, with practices beginning this week.  And the Futures League (Brockton, North Shore, Worcester, Pittsfield, Westfield, Nashua, New Britain) is going for a July 1 start.

 

  • FYI – in that CBSI tournament in Texas, players will be allowed to fist-bump, high-five and (gasp!) spit.  Why?  The coaches and players are all living in a ‘bubble,’ with a high level of quarantine.  They want to play the game and interact the way they always have.

 

  • MLS sidestepped a real problem – irrelevancy – when they agreed to labor peace with their players this week.  Training and an opening summer tournament in Orlando (NBA, hello!) will precede resuming the regular season.  Smaht move.

 

  • New American Hockey League commissioner Scott Howson (he takes over July 1) told the Columbus Dispatch he’s not sure what comes next for the league. 

 

  • The AHL is working on several schedule modules for 2020-21, starting play as early as October or as late as January. 

 

  • And because the Providence Bruins are one of those teams with potential arena issues due to possible Covid-19 restrictions or guidelines – it is conceivable those who are ready to play will…and those who aren’t won’t.  Whenever that may be.

 

  • Even though the NHL will re-open facilities next week, hockey still faces major hurdles in its’ restart.  There is an exemption getting players back into the US – but Canada still has a mandatory 14-day quarantine in place on those who return.

 

  • NFL teams, once they return to their home stadiums and facilities, will stay home for training camp.  That hasn’t been an issue for the Patriots since prior to Gillette Stadium opening in 2002.  But it also means no controlled practices with other teams, or scrimmages.

 

  • We’ll all be glad to have football back, but we’ll also get to see – first-hand – how unnecessary the preseason really is today.  B-O-R-I-N-G.  But perhaps because there will be less team off-season work, that won’t actually be the case?

 

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week it’s possible 100 million vaccine doses could be ready for distribution before the end of the year.  Will you be in line, behind me?

 

  • NFL teams are all moving toward playing in front of stadium crowds at 25-50% capacities for the season, give or take, minus a vaccine.  And depending upon local restrictions.  The State of Texas, for instance, has opened all college and pro stadiums for up to 50% capacity in the fall.

 

  • It’s still short of normalcy, but that’s the ‘nervous’ goal.  Just who gets into a stadium on game day, pre-vaccine, is still very much up in the air. 

 

  • The NBA non-playoff teams all wanted to play, fearing the incredibly long (nine month) layoff if they’re not a part of the Orlando ‘bubble city’ plan. 

 

  • Their concerns are understandable, but having terrible teams play meaningless games – is that what you really want for your sport right now, especially in a soon-to-be-crowded marketplace?

 

  • Wes Unseld was one of the first professional athletes that left a real impression on a young basketballer like me.  Undersized at 6-7, but a true threat in the post during the ‘70’s with the Bullets.  He wanted it more.  He simply was one of the best rebounders in NBA history.  Unseld was inducted into the Basketball Hall in 1988 and passed away this week at age 74.

 

  • And I may not be black, but I support you.

 

  • Interested in having your questions on local Rhode Island sports (and yes, that includes the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, whenever they play again) answered in a somewhat timely fashion? Send ‘em to me! It’s your chance to “think out loud,” so send your questions, comments and local stories to jrooke@weei.com. We’ll share mailbag comments/Facebook posts/Tweets right here!  Would appreciate the follow on Twitter, @JRbroadcaster…and join in on Facebook, www.facebook.com/john.rooke ...

 

Don’t forget to tune into Providence’s 103.7 FM, every Saturday from 7:00-9:00 am for Cordischi and Coit!  Call in at 401-737-1287 or text at 37937.