Justice In Georgia: An Asian Player Wins The Masters
Hideki Matsuyama is just another guy who likes playing with his cellphone, but in becoming the first Japanese-born male to win a golf major, he represents so much more after anti-Asian hate killings in the Atlanta area.
If we must have Georgia on our minds, amid a torrent of anti-Asian hate in that state and across America, is it not poetic that Hideki Matsuyama became the first Asian-born man to win the Masters? A week after Tsubasa Kajitani, a 17-year-old from Japan, won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur? Last month, six women of Asian descent were murdered in a shooting rampage at Atlanta-area spas.
The hallowed club in the hills of east Georgia remained open for its sacred tournament. Even as Major League Baseball played a contrived public-relations card, protesting the state’s new voting laws by moving its All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver, the lords in their green jackets never considered pausing to let the state breathe. There were TV fortunes to make, azaleas to show off and golf memories to create — hopefully by an American, they quietly harbored, to quell the unspoken dread that Tiger Woods may have been impaired (again) in a February SUV crash he doesn’t remember. Maybe Dustin Johnson would be the first back-to-back winner since Woods. Maybe Jordan Spieth finally would stop talking to himself and his caddie and figure out his troubles. Hell, let Bryson DeChambeau obliterate Amen Corner.
Just make sure the winner was American, y’all, if you know what they mean down there on Waffle House Highway.
Instead, the champion was Matsuyama, who instantly became likable when he revealed how he spent Saturday’s rain delay. He walked out to his car — imagine, a Masters contender walking through a storm to the parking lot — and decided he needed a diversion from the awful tee shot he’d just sent into the trees before play was suspended. “Played a lot of games on the cellphone,” he said. “Maybe it relieved some pressure. I just figured, I can’t hit it anything worse than that.” When he returned and played the final eight holes in 6-under par, for a memorable 65, they might as well have pointed him straight to Butler Cabin. The green jacket was his, the first major golf championship won by a Japanese-born male.
“Hopefully, I’ll be a pioneer and there will be many young Japanese to follow,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m happy to open up the floodgates and hope many more will follow me. … The youngsters who are playing golf or thinking about playing golf, I hope they will see this victory and think it’s cool and try to follow in my footsteps. Until now, we haven’t had a major champion in Japan, and maybe a lot of golfers or younger golfers thought, well, maybe that’s an impossibility. But with me doing it, hopefully that will set an example that it is possible and that, if they set their mind to it, they can do it, too.”
He was asked which Japanese athletes inspired him. He mentioned no golfers or sumo wrestlers, just baseball players we know in the U.S. “Darvish, Ohtani, Maeda,” he said. All are in his Matsuyama’s shadows today.
A tweet from Jupiter, Fla., soon followed. “Making Japan proud Hideki,” wrote Woods. “Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment for you and your country. This historical @TheMasters win will impact the entire golf world.” Not that it will take our minds off Woods and whether he continues to have opioid issues after another round of surgeries, his most intense yet.
This is not what the haters wanted. But it’s what they deserved, a winner who didn’t look like them but outlasted all the popular and marquee names by finishing 10 under par. This was no fluke — Matsuyama, 29, has been ranked as high as No. 2 with eight top-10s in majors and 14 victories worldwide. Blessed by Jack Nicklaus as a global star in the making and once the low amateur at Augusta, he only had to learn to control his putter through recent travails. The sum of his talents finally converged in the perfect setting.
Set aside America, where Asians have been killed, harassed, threatened and spat at by those who want blood and blame China for the coronavirus. He had enough of a burden in his native land, where the pressure to make history was unbearable. “He’s a bit like a Tiger Woods (is) to the rest of the world, Hideki in Japan,” former Masters champ Adam Scott said. When Matsuyama had his one uncomfortable moment Sunday, finding the water on No. 15 and letting a four-stroke lead shrivel to two, CBS aired the reaction of broadcasters on the Japanese feed — frantically raised voices and sighs. Was he blowing it again, as he did in 2017 at the PGA Championship, when he missed a late par putt and left Quail Hollow in tears?
“My nerves didn’t start on the second nine. It was right from the start, right to the last putt,” he admitted.
He was helped, indirectly, by the pandemic. COVID-19 kept the usual mob of Japanese media members to a minimum at Augusta. “I’m not sure how to answer this in a good way. Being in front of the media is still difficult for me,” Matsuyama said. “It’s not my favorite thing to stand and answer questions, so with fewer media it’s been a lot less stressful. I’ve enjoyed this week.” He guards his privacy, to the point his December 2016 marriage wasn’t disclosed by his management company until after his wife, Mei, gave birth to their first child that July.
“As far as the family and privacy, no one really asked me if I was married, so I didn’t have to answer that question,” Matsuyama said.
Actually, it was an American, Xander Schauffele, who cracked Sunday. On the heels of the leader, he found the water on No. 16, then hit into the gallery behind the hole. His triple-bogey removed all but one golfer — the American Will Zalatoris, whose poise belied his Owen Wilson looks, rail-thin frame and 24 years — from the finish line. Matsuyama survived a final challenge, hitting an approach shot into the greenside bunker, before completing the journey to warm, respectful but hardly thundering applause.
“I remember the feeling of a four-shot lead, and he’s got Japan on his back and maybe Asia on his back,” Spieth said. “I can’t imagine kind of how that was trying to sleep on that, even with somebody who’s had so much success. I think the way he’s been able to withstand it, if he’s able to finish this one off, I think it’s really good for the game of golf globally. He’s a great young player who inevitably was going to win major championships.”
We’ve waited forever for someone to assume dominance in this sport and move a needle. Now that Woods is finished with regular competitive golf, we’re still asking the questions: Who? And when, if ever? Johnson follows up glory with clunkers. Spieth is as infuriating as he is charismatic. Rory McIlroy isn’t that man. Brooks Koepka is dealing with knee issues. Justin Thomas crashed in the third round and isn’t all that. DeChambeau? All the eating binges and caloric intake can’t help if Augusta is encamped in his head. We knew there wouldn’t be another Tiger Woods. At this point, we’re just looking for someone to be interesting. Is it you, Will Zalatoris?
“I know I can play with the best players in the world,” he said after a stunning second-place finish. “I felt I played well, but I left a lot of shots out there. The first one’s coming. I’ve just got to keep working.”
Who, by the way, forecasted his emergence? None other than Tony Romo, whose football seer ability works on golf courses, too. When Zalatoris, a star at Wake Forest, moved to the Dallas area and started playing at Romo’s club, it was clear a player who ranked 483rd last April — and 2,006th at the start of 2019 — was bound for impact. Who knew it would happen so soon?
But this day at Augusta belonged to a man from the other side of the world, a nation that insists it will host the Summer Olympics as COVID continues to rage. Matsuyama will be front and center in the festivities and a favorite in the golf competition. Perhaps, as Nick Faldo mentioned on the CBS broadcast, he might be chosen to light the cauldron at opening ceremonies. “I’m really looking forward to the Olympic Games in Tokyo,” he said. “If I am on the team, and maybe it looks like I will be, I’ll do my best to represent my country.”
Yeah, I think he made the team.
His victory is a salvation for a country bracing for the months ahead. Ten years after an earthquake and tsunami killed more than 15,000 in Japan, is another catastrophe coming to the Games? A more contagious variant is spreading there, as only one percent of the population has received the first of two vaccine doses. That will lead to more propaganda among anti-Asian factions in the U.S., claiming our athletes are on death watches if they compete starting in late July.
Let them seethe. On a warm and sunny Sunday at Augusta, an American portrait like no other, Hideki Matsuyama reminded us that the world is filled with people. Asians and Americans, Blacks and Whites — we’re all just people.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.