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2020 Aside, The Future Of Sports Depends On…Sports

“With a full slate of Corona-defiant events and plenty of homebound viewers watching, a fortunate sports world now should lean on its trump card: great performances that disrupt the national conversation.”

Jay Mariotti

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I’m not sure which is a bigger stinkcrock: the idea that President Trump likes Big Ten football or his comparison of police officers who shoot Black people in the back to golfers who “choke’’ when “they miss a three-foot putt.’’ But you get it. Trump is trying to influence voters in critical Big Ten-Country swing states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — while hoping Black America noticed when he cold-called the African-American commissioner about resuming the season.

That’s all it is, another pre-election ruse, best ignored by higher minds.

And while Black athletes throughout sports are poised to boycott more games — and seasons — if necessary, my same advice applies regarding Trump’s latest Twitter warning to NFL and Major League Baseball players. He no longer wants them kneeling for the national anthem, as NBA players continue to do, and while protesting should be their choice for as long as they damn well please, I’m compelled to issue a reminder amid the tumult and fear of 2020 America: Social awareness aside, athletes still can make overpowering statements about who they are and what they stand for while competing on fields and courts of play. “People are tired of watching the highly political @NBA,’’ Trump typed yet again. “Basketball ratings are way down, and they won’t be coming back. I hope football and baseball are watching and learning, because the same thing will be happening to them. Stand tall for our Country and our Flag!!!’’

What, only three exclamation points?

Sometime soon, such as right now, sports should jackhammer through the fury and frustration and just let sports take over. It alarms me, as you know, when Neymar vacations in Ibiza and, of course, becomes the latest soccer superstar to test positive for the coronavirus. But rather than ask why Neymar was in Ibiza, fans of Paris Saint-Germain just count down his 14 days of quarantine (and those of two teammates) as if they have sore quads. So, for now, I’m giving up on preaching common sense even in an ongoing pandemic storm. If leagues insist on flipping off COVID-19 and jeopardizing health to play games — or, as Kirk Cousins foolishly told Kyle Brandt, “If I die, I die. I kind of have peace about that,’’ — then the mindset moving forward should be to entertain and dazzle the masses and at least disrupt the political conversation.

Live and let die? Live and let live, says sports — defiantly.

Somehow, September launches a 10-week Coronapalooza of TV-tailored events that evidently, unless the world ends or the virus swallows us whole, will include the NFL regular season, Southern-fried college football, the U.S. Opens of tennis and golf, the NBA Finals, Major League Baseball’s playoffs and World Series, the Stanley Cup Finals, two Triple Crown events in horse racing and, finally, the Masters in mid-November. I’m not sure how we got here, viewing all of this as a Petri dish for medical disaster, but I’ve come to realize I’m not risking my health out there. If athletes decide to risk their immune systems, why don’t we watch and wait for the usual thrills while hoping — no, praying — there isn’t a superspread?

This will be remembered as the year when sports, like our country, washijacked by a cocktail of coronavirus, social injustice and police brutality. The hatred inevitably continues this week, at the Kentucky Derby, where the trainer for favorite Tiz The Law exacerbated protest tensions ahead of the race. Said Barclay Tagg: “I don’t know what these guys are gonna do, these rioters. Who knows? All I know is, you’re not allowed to shoot them and they’re allowed to shoot you. That’s what it looks like to me.” Tiz The Law should boycott, I say. Other horses should follow.

But sports doesn’t have to remain in the toxic haze, imprisoned by the moment. With seasons in full bloom, for better or worse, the industry does have a chance to give itself oxygen — and a stronger future — by reminding us of what sports does best: delivering emphatic, riveting performances that bring us back for more. Only sports can save sports. And athletes and leagues must realize that viewers are still watching in surprisingly sizable numbers, in Bubbles and beyond, and that their best collective revenge is to provide great moments despite surreal and volatile circumstances.

Already, we’re seeing examples of stuff that cuts through the difficulty and awkwardness of taking sports seriously amid so much tumult. As much as their energy and noise are missed, we’ve learned to adapt without fans in the stands. The NBA playoffs haven’t missed a beat since last week’s game boycotts, with two Game 7s and flopping drama involving Chris Paul and the former teammate who wanted him out of Houston, James Harden (who still sucks in the postseason). Is this the year an upstart contender, such as the Heat, shocks the world? With an upset of the Bucks, will the door open for Miami to trade for an unfulfilled and playoff-underachieving Giannis Antetokounmpo? A likely Western final between the shiny Lakers and gritty Clippers should be held in a downtown L.A. alley, but the Bubble will do. Still, who might ditch Disney World first: LeBron James or one of many Clippers candidates? And now that family members and friends are allowed in the Bubble, is COVID-19 plotting a sneak attack?

To preserve continuity and fortify the future, it’s vital that each league generates competitive momentum this year and proves its sturdiness. The NBA has a fraught future, with a business model dependent on the arena experience and lucrative sponsorships. But the NFL, though cavalier about obvious virus concerns that could shut down the season, is positioned to thrive because of revenue feeders frothing at the mouth for next week’s season opener: broadcast networks, gambling sites and loyal advertisers who’ve remained on board. It remains to be seen if players will boycott games if faced with social justice opposition from the league.

But if the virus and Jerry Jones allow, the NFL doesn’t lack for intrigue: Tom Brady fighting time in Tampa with crazy-uncle Bruce Arians and party-boy Rob Gronkowski … Bill Belichick, with his new Subway ads, risking his system-is-king legacy on Cam Newton … Aaron Rodgers against the world, including his own bosses, as Jordan Love stands by in Green Bay … Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, trying to build a dynasty and helped by 16,000 fans in the seats, creating a competitive imbalance for 25 teams that won’t have home fans to start the season … Amid thick racial tension, will the Saints forgive Drew Brees for his insensitive words or turn on him if he plays like an old man? … Cincinnati, a dead end for football joy, hopes Joe Burrow provides life support … The Browns, with their third head coach in two years, try to avoid inevitable dysfunction with Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr. and Myles Garrett in the house … Will Lamar Jackson realize there’s more to football than a regular season? … Tua Time in Miami? … The Bills as a sleeper? … And what if Cousins contracts the virus and spreads it to his Minnesota teammates?

“If I get it, I’m gonna ride it out. I’m gonna let nature do its course,’’ said Cousins, before lamely trying to clarify the comments. “Survival-of-the-fittest kind of approach. And just say, if it knocks me out, it knocks me out. I’m going to be OK. You know, even if I die.” You know.

What if a teammate sneezed in the huddle? “Within the building, there’s gonna be a dichotomy of people who couldn’t care less about the virus, have no concern about it, have never lost a minute of sleep about it,’’ Cousins said. “And then you get people on the other side of the spectrum who, every second of every day, they’re consumed with fear about it. What you don’t know is who’s where on the spectrum when you first go back.”

You don’t think that attitude could divide a locker room, do ya, Kirk?

The NFL’s COVID-iots need only to examine the virus struggles of MLB, also played outdoors without a restrictive Bubble environment. It will be a miracle if baseball and its inept commissioner, Rob Manfred, get through a postseason and crown a champion. Also notice how teams keep wanting to brawl, including the Rays and Yankees, a disgraceful pandemic scene that saw Aroldis Chapman throw a 101-mph fastball near the head of a Tampa Bay pinch-hitter while each manager was suspended a game. It’s a shame because MLB broadcast ratings, on a steep decline for years, have been helped by pandemic audiences with limited entertainment options and a lack of original programming. People are so desperate for anything to do, including women and young people, they’re actually watching baseball. But unlike the NBA, which has suffered a Trump-gleeful ratings drop, MLB doesn’t move us with story lines. When the San Diego Padres create the most buzz — thanks only to Fernando Tatis Jr. and a flurry of trade-deadline activity — it doesn’t bode well for October interest when football and the NBA Finals will rule sports chatter. Imagine a San Diego-Tampa Bay World Series. As industry stories, low-revenue teams are sweethearts.

They also make for record-low postseason ratings, with games slower than ever and diluted by the same home-run binges that reek of fake news.

Hockey? Only the diehards are watching, but like NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NHL boss Gary Bettman is impressively surviving his Bubble experiment without a COVID-19 disruption. Players are ignoring protocols and fighting — 11 bouts so far, triple the rate of last year’s playoffs — but at least we’ve learned what is tantalizing about Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. By the way, three Tampa teams — Lightning, Rays, Buccaneers — could flirt with championships.

Only in a pandemic.

Just like a Cubs-White Sox World Series.

Sports simply has to keep selling the goods through the madness. The formula is time-tried and reliable. Collin Morikawa sold us with his electric finish at the PGA Championship, creating fun noise for golf’s U.S. Open and Masters as Tiger Woods fades and Phil Mickelson tweets. Serena Williams gets a big headline if she wins her 24th Grand Slam title in New York. All day and all night, sports events are on TV, a dream for fans and gamblers.

It’s almost enough to make one back-burner the politics. An important case study is the Bucks. As the first team to boycott a playoff game after the shooting of Jacob Blake, in Milwaukee’s backyard of Kenosha, Wis., the players were dismayed when the state’s Republican-bent legislature didn’t take immediate action this week on proposed policing measures. Have the Bucks been so consumed by politics that they’ve lost focus on why they’re in Florida? If so, it’s a sour development for a championship contender trying to retain Giannis long-term.

Said veteran guard Kyle Korver: “It was disappointing. Surely, there are things to talk about right now, right? Like surely there are things that our state needs leadership in and how can we be better. What we’re trying to figure out as a team is, we don’t want to be aligned politically. Sport has always had the opportunity to be a bridge in life in so many ways, and that’s what we’re trying to do as a team. We’re trying to find that balance. There’s things going on in our country that are more important than basketball.’’

America is well aware. Yet in the pursuit of higher moral ground, sports cannot forget its primary purpose. After a harrowing spring and summer in a weary, bleary republic, autumn is upon us, and people still want to watch games and events. This is a lucky opportunity, nothing short of shocking.

So entertain them, would you please?

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Does The Return of Bob Iger Mean to ESPN?

Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

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Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Is Realistic For FOX at the World Cup?

Demetri Ravanos

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On this special holiday edition of Media Noise, Demetri Ravanos dives into the controversy and criticism surrounding FOX’s coverage of the World Cup in Qatar.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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