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NBA players put owners, leagues and fellow athletes on notice – Sportsnet.ca

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“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

James Baldwin wrote those words in Time magazine in 1965. They still ring true in 2020.

Before the resumption of play in late July, Masai Ujiri said the Toronto Raptors would channel that rage and use the NBA bubble as a platform. For the last month he, his organization and the entire league have made good on that promise, using daily media coverage to eloquently educate on issues far greater than basketball schemes. Players and coaches alike have protested during national anthems, worn their convictions on their clothing, and used entire media availabilities to speak on pressing issues.

But what if all of that fell on deaf ears? What if it wasn’t enough to spark meaningful action in defence of Black lives?

On Sunday, police in Kenosha, Wisc., a city 40 miles from Milwaukee, responded to an alleged domestic disturbance. A man named Jacob Blake was present at the scene. According to Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing Blake’s family, the 29-year-old was there to break up an altercation between two women.

What happened next was captured in a graphic video filmed from the other side of the street. The video shows Blake walking toward the driver’s side door of a gray SUV. Two officers follow him with their guns drawn. As he opens the door, one officer grabs his tank top and multiple gunshots ring out. Blake collapses. It would later be reported that he was shot seven times from behind by officer Rusten Sheskey, and that Blake’s three children were inside the SUV at the time of the shooting.

Blake suffered organ damage and is now paralyzed from the waist down, according to Crump, his spinal cord severed as a result of the shooting.

On Wednesday, in response to this most recent tragedy, the Milwaukee Bucks declined to take the court for their game against the Orlando Magic as a form of protest. Their decision came exactly four years to the day after Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem for the first time to protest police brutality while playing a pre-season game in the state of Wisconsin. In the locker room, the Bucks reportedly called Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, and attorney general, Josh Kaul.

When the Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers all decided to join the Bucks and Magic in protest, the NBA postponed all three playoff games scheduled for Wednesday.

Athletes and teams from other sports quickly followed suit.

Washington Mystics players entered the arena in Bradenton, Fla., wearing shirts that spelled out Blake’s name, each with seven holes in the back signifying the bullets that hit Blake. The Mystics were scheduled to face the Atlanta Dream and both teams met on the court to decide whether to play. They originally planned to go ahead with the game and place the ball on the court every time the clock hit seven minutes, again to signify the seven shots that hit Blake, but three minutes before tipoff a consensus not to play was reached. Players knelt, locked arms and raised fists during the national anthem. All three games on the WNBA schedule were postponed.

It’s no surprise WNBA players would make a strong statement. They have been speaking with a unified voice on these issues since the inception of the league. It’s also worth noting that, if these games aren’t made up, the loss of income is a much riskier sacrifice for WNBA players than their male athlete counterparts.

In MLB, it was the game’s top Black players leading the way. Mookie Betts decided not to play, and the rest of his Dodgers teammates followed suit. Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler and Jack Flaherty were other big names who decided not to play Wednesday. In all, three MLB games were postponed (they will be played as doubleheaders Thursday).

Five of six MLS matches were postponed after Atlanta United didn’t come out for the kickoff of their match against Inter Miami. And individual athletes also joined the protest, like Naomi Osaka, who decided to skip her Thursday semi-final match at the Western and Southern Open. The tournament itself is now taking a one-day pause.

In total, 14 games across four leagues were postponed Wednesday.

And then there is the NHL.

The NHL had three games scheduled. All three were played. Only in one was there an acknowledgment of what was going on in the wider world. Before the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lighting faced off, they had a “moment of reflection” with “End Racism” and “We Skate for Black Lives” displayed on screens above the ice. Given that every other major sports league has once again taken more progressive and proactive action on these issues than the NHL, a more appropriate gesture might have been to stop skating for Black lives.

At a meeting of all the players in the bubble Wednesday night, the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers reportedly voted to sit out the rest of the season. Just before noon on Thursday, it was reported that player’s had decided to resume the playoffs, with games likely beginning again on Friday. A meeting between players and owners is also expected Thursday.

Regardless of the steps they took moving forward, players were going to draw criticism, and the fact athletes have ended up in this position at all is unfair. Watching Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, George Hill and Doc Rivers bare their souls is as educational as it is heart-wrenching. And it is their primary job to entertain us not to educate us.

Making the position even more difficult is the impossible task of dealing with your trauma while still performing your job at the highest level. After kneeling for the anthem, Mets first-baseman Dominic Smith broke down explaining the gravity of the moment.

On Monday, Bucks guard George Hill expressed how restarting the NBA season might have been a mistake because it took the focus away from pursuing meaningful reforms to address systemic racism and police brutality.

“First of all, we shouldn’t even have come to this damn place to be honest,” he told reporters. “Coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are. But we’re here. It is what it is. We can’t do anything from right here. But definitely when it’s all settled, some things need to be done. This world has to change.”

The players had to advance the conversation somehow. At some point anthem protests became less of a statement. Kneeling before a game was a nice gesture but not exactly a bold statement when everyone including the referees are doing it. Unless you’re in the NHL, where the practice hasn’t been embraced. And the strike did seem to generate some traction, even in the immediate aftermath. Late Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting of Blake.

We can tweet and talk and march but the question we all ultimately have to answer is what are you willing to give up so that someone else doesn’t have to give up their life, their child, their partner, their parent or their freedom?

Martin Luther King Jr. gave up his life.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave up their medals.

Colin Kaepernick gave up his career.

The Bucks and their NBA brethren have given up playoff games.

Many have sacrificed, but one notable exception is those who have the most to spare: The owners, the executives of companies who partner with leagues and, quite frankly, those like us at Sportsnet who broadcast the games.

The NBA’s owners launched the NBA Foundation in partnership with the NBAPA, which will see them contribute a collective $30 million annually for 10 years to support racial equality and social justice. It’s not an insignificant gesture but it’s also a rounding error for billionaires who own Fortune 500 companies. And for change to be enacted, we need more than their fiscal capital, we need their political capital.

At some point, if you benefit from Black talent but don’t work to eliminate Black trauma, you are part of the problem. If NBA stakeholders want players to stop using their power and refusing to play, they need to use some power of their own to create change.

And it’s not like the type of pressure the players are asking the league to apply is foreign or unreasonable. The NBA has used its might before as leverage to promote social change. The league refused to host the All-Star Game in North Carolina for two years in protest of the discriminatory HB2 “Bathroom Bill,” which singled out members of the transgender community and limited LGBTQ+ protections. The NBA didn’t respond with phrases on jerseys or writing on the court, they said, “We are taking the All-Star Game away from Charlotte unless your repeal this bill.” And they didn’t bring that positive economic impact back to Charlotte until they were satisfied. When the NCAA threatened to join the boycott, state lawmakers repealed the bathroom regulations within the bill.

Imagine if leagues and owners put a similar type of pressure on the state of Wisconsin on behalf of Jacob Blake, or the state of Kentucky on behalf of Breonna Taylor. That’s the type of tangible action a strike can force. Black athletes have realized their talents aren’t just for owners to profit off of, they’ve realized those talents have political power. By withholding their services, they not only gained leverage and a seat at the table, they showed the blueprint of the power of a Black labour movement.

This isn’t just about Jacob Blake being shot in the back in front of his kids, or Masai Ujiri not being able to celebrate in peace, or Breonna Taylor’s killers still being free, or George Floyd pleading for his life with a knee on his neck, or Dafonte Miller losing his eye. It’s about the systems that perpetuate a cycle of Black incarceration, voter suppression, racial wealth inequality, lack of access to education and health care, and state violence against Black people. This is about the fact that these deadly interactions with police will keep happening if we keep having the same reaction to them.

The players decided they had to use their status to disrupt the status quo.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” NBA players have put owners, leagues and their fellow athletes in other sports on notice. In removing themselves from the on-court conversation, they will see who speaks up and who stays silent. If Black lives matter, it’s time for those well-connected friends in high places to speak up and act to make some change for all of us.

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U.S. cyclist Chloe Dygert injured in horrific crash at road worlds – CANOE

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Her team car immediately came to her aid and she was treated by paramedics. It was unclear initially how badly she was hurt although USA Cycling tweeted that she was conscious and talking.

“We are in contact with our coaches and Chloe’s team on the ground in Italy. We will post a report on her condition as soon as we have absolute clear confirmation as to her condition,” USA Cycling said in a statement.

Images posted on social media showed Dygert being taken away from the scene on a stretcher with a drip attached.

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

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Olympic road race champion Van der Breggen, who finished second behind Dygert last year in Harrogate when the American won by a record margin, claimed victory in 40:20.14, 15 seconds quicker than Swiss Marlen Reusser with Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) in third place.

“Getting second (in the TT) for many years, I would say that I really can’t believe it yet,” Van der Breggen said.

The championships were originally scheduled to be held in Aigle-Martigny in Switzerland but were moved to Imola because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Action continues on Friday with the men’s elite time trial.

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MLB playoff push: Blue Jays can clinch with win over Yankees Thursday – Sportsnet.ca

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One year after losing 95 games, the Toronto Blue Jays are on the brink of their first playoff appearance in four years. And this time, they don’t need help from anyone else to clinch.

With Hyun Jin Ryu slated to face the New York Yankees Thursday evening, the Blue Jays’ magic number is finally down to one. A win would eliminate the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners and assure the Blue Jays the last available American League playoff berth. On the mound, there’s no one Toronto would rather have pitching than Ryu, whose 3.00 ERA has been instrumental in the team’s success.

Watch live Thursday on Sportsnet, SN1 and SN NOW as the Blue Jays look to clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Yankees. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT with Blue Jays Central.

Considering where the Blue Jays were a year ago, they weren’t considered a playoff favourite entering the season, but they’ve overcome injuries to get this far – all while playing at their triple-A park. And while the Blue Jays would undoubtedly be underdogs should they advance, anything can happen in a three-game series. First things first, though – they have to get there.

Here’s a closer look at where Toronto stands in the MLB playoff picture…

If the playoffs began today
The top two teams in each division make the playoffs along with the top remaining two teams from each league for a total of 16 playoff teams. Those 16 teams will then face off in eight best-of-three series that precede the League Division Series.

If the post-season began today, these eight American League teams would qualify:
No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays vs. No. 8 Toronto Blue Jays
No. 2 Oakland Athletics vs. No. 7 Cleveland Indians
No. 3 Minnesota Twins vs. No. 6 Houston Astros
No. 4 Chicago White Sox vs. No. 5 New York Yankees

And these eight National League teams would qualify:
No. 1 Los Angeles Dodgers vs. No. 8 Cincinnati Reds
No. 2 Atlanta Braves vs. No. 7 San Francisco Giants
No. 3 Chicago Cubs vs. No. 6 Miami Marlins
No. 4 San Diego Padres vs. No. 5 St. Louis Cardinals

How seeding works in 2020: According to MLB, the top three seeds in each league go to the three division winners in order of record. The next three seeds go to the three teams that finish second in their division, in order of record. The final two seeds will go to the two teams with the next best records, regardless of division.

This season, Dan picks an issue, trend, news item or story from around MLB, and digs in on it with a guest. And he does it five times a week for about 15 minutes a day. Enough time to inform and entertain, but also get fans back to all the sports going on.

In striking distance
In the American League, only two teams outside the top eight have a chance of advancing to the playoffs and both will need everything to go right to qualify. The Angels (26-31) and Mariners (25-31) are both off Thursday, but a Blue Jays win would eliminate those AL West teams. Even if the Blue Jays lose Thursday, the Angels and Mariners will still be a single loss away from elimination as they enter their weekend series against the Dodgers and Athletics, respectively.

Meanwhile, in the National League, there are still eight teams in the mix for the final four spots. The Phillies (28-29) and Brewers (27-28) are just one game behind the Giants (28-27) and Reds (29-28), putting lots of pressure on San Francisco and Cincinnati. Even the Mets (25-31) and Rockies (24-31) are still technically in the mix, though they’d need some help to advance.

Playoff odds report
Objectively speaking, here’s where the Blue Jays stand in relation to their closest adversaries, according to FanGraphs and FiveThirtyEight:

Blue Jays’ FanGraphs odds: 99.8% | Blue Jays’ FiveThirtyEight odds: more than 99%

Angels’ FanGraphs odds: 1.5% | Angels’ FiveThirtyEight odds: 1%

Mariners’ FanGraphs odds: 0.1% | Mariners’ FiveThirtyEight odds: less than 1%

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

Next up
The Blue Jays will send Ryu to the mound Thursday evening while the Yankees will counter with Jordan Montgomery. Once the Yankees leave town, the Baltimore Orioles will arrive in Buffalo for three games to wrap up the regular season. Of course if all goes well for the Blue Jays Thursday, that series against the Orioles will merely be a tune-up for the playoffs.

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Esposito, Gainey celebrate legacies with Stars, Lightning in Cup Final – NHL.com

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The 2020 championship series being played at Rogers Place in Edmonton is the first Stanley Cup Final between two Sun Belt teams, each aiming for its second title.

Watching on TV from his hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, Gainey is pulling for the Stars, having arrived in Dallas in 1993 as GM of a relocated team that had been founded as the Minnesota North Stars as part of the NHL’s 1967 six-team expansion.

Bob Gainey behind the Dallas Stars bench.

It was Gainey who from the mid-to-late 1990s built Dallas into a Stanley Cup contender, then hit the pot of gold with the 1999 team going all the way.

“I’m happy to see the Stars where they are now,” said Gainey, who won five championships while playing his entire 1,160-game NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens. “I know that their fans in the Dallas area and those who follow them from afar are happy to see them there and they deserve to be there. They’re a really good team.

“I have the lucky situation where I could have a team in each conference and that would give me two horses in the race. I wouldn’t be in a danger zone unless the Canadiens and Stars ended up in the Final against each other.”

From a makeshift broadcast studio in Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena, where he’s doing radio color commentary, Esposito loudly proclaims himself to be a fierce fan of the Lightning, having been a driving force in bringing the expansion team to Florida in 1992.

In Tampa Bay’s fledgling days, Esposito was team president, general manager and chief marketer, selling sponsorships, tickets and pretty much everything except arena beer. 

The native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, played 1,282 games between 1963-81 for the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, winning the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972 with the Bruins. He was a Lightning radio broadcaster when the team won its Cup in 2004.

Bob Gainey (left) and Phil Esposito early in their NHL careers.
 

As they now pull for their respective sides, Gainey, 66, and Esposito, 78, take great pride in the roles they played in building the Stars and Lightning, cherishing memories of importing the NHL into non-traditional hockey markets.

Gainey was coach and GM of the North Stars when the team moved south to begin the 1993-94 season, having coached and managed the team in Minnesota after cutting his coaching teeth in France in 1989-90, diving in immediately upon his NHL retirement as a player.

If Texas had a rich minor pro hockey history dating to the 1940s, the NHL would be a different product, one that hoped to share a crowded stage dominated by the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, baseball’s Texas Rangers and the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

“It was an unknown for me and for many of us who were involved,” Gainey said of the move. “We learned quickly more than 25 years ago that Dallas is a very avid sports-minded community. And people came to our games. The business community gave us a chance. They said, ‘This is a new entity, why not? This could be good.’ It took a lot of work by the parts of the organization that were trying to establish ticket and sponsorship sales. But eventually we got there, and we had a very, very good relationship with the community.”

Esposito, who was GM of the Rangers from 1986-89, had been feeling out the expansion process in the early 1990s when then-NHL President John Ziegler told him to stay away from Texas. Esposito had his eye on Florida anyway, and believed that the North Stars might be headed to Houston, his goaltending brother Tony’s final minor-pro stop on his way to the NHL.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Phil Esposito with defenseman Roman Hamrlik, the No. 1 pick in the 1992 NHL Draft.
 

He recalls playing golf in Orlando when he took a call inviting him to Tampa to meet with high-profile lawyer Henry Paul, who ultimately would be a Lightning co-founder.

“As I’m driving into the city, there are no buildings. No buildings!” Esposito said. “I’m saying to myself, ‘Where are the buildings? How can this be the 12th largest television market in the country?’ I didn’t know anything about St. Pete, Clearwater, Bradenton or Brandon, where we’d have fans. I didn’t know anything about Tampa then. All I knew was that they had the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers and they weren’t very good. I thought we could steal a lot of their business. 

“I went to Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville before deciding to come to Tampa. The decision was clear as a bell to me. I asked Henry Paul in our very first meeting, ‘Do you think hockey can survive in this area?’ Henry said, ‘Well, Phil, we love football, (NASCAR) car crashes, boxing and wrestling. Seems to me you’ve got all of that in hockey.’ I said, ‘I’m going for it, are you with me?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I am.’ That’s how it started — myself, Henry and our partner Mel Lowell.”

Gainey looks back fondly at the Stars 1999 Stanley Cup championship team, one that he helped assemble. 

From left, Bob Gainey, Marcel Dionne and Lanny McDonald with the Hall of Fame rings as members of the Class of 1992.

“We were able to pick up a player like Joe Nieuwendyk, for instance,” he said, the future Hall of Fame center acquired by trade from the Calgary Flames in 1995 for forwards Jarome Iginla and Corey Millen. “Free-agency arrived, and we found Pat Verbeek (in 1996) and Ed Belfour (1997). We learned how to win over two or three years of playoffs where we were eliminated — by Edmonton early (seven-game 1997 Western Conference Quarter-Finals), then a disappointing loss deeper in the playoffs to Detroit (six-game 1998 conference final). But those are the things that ultimately take you up to the next level of competition and allow you to really compete for the Cup.

“In 1999, we won our first game of the year, started the season in first place and didn’t leave it to win the Stanley Cup,” Gainey said. “It was an end-to-end commitment by the team and players to accomplish what had just been out of our reach the previous couple of years.”

It was the Stars’ championship parade, modest by most standards, that Gainey says was one of his most enjoyable and rewarding moments in Dallas.

“I realized that we had a cross-section of the whole city that was really enjoying the team’s success,” he said. “For me, that was the message that we weren’t just a flash like a sports team that enters a market and stays for a little while then leaves. We’d penetrated deeper and broader and the franchise, handled properly, could be there for a long time.”

Brothers Phil and Tony Esposito play a 1970s table hockey game bearing their names.

More than 1,000 miles to the east, Esposito remembers delegating many of the Lightning roster decisions to his brother, Tony, whom he brought in as director of player personnel. 

“I was busy selling tickets,” he said. “Tony would come to me and ask for my opinion and I’d just say, ‘Brother, do what you think is right, that’s fine with me.’ 

“I remember the first couple years, people up in Canada and the Boston and New York area saying that I was a raving (expletive) lunatic for trying to put hockey in Florida. I just didn’t understand it. I think it was the ego of the Canadian media that couldn’t deal with it. The fact is, you play indoors. You keep the building at 69 or 70 degrees and the ice is fine.”

It’s with fatherly pride that Esposito supports the Lightning, and he gets a kick out of fans asking him whether he cheers for the Bruins, with whom he enjoyed his greatest playing success as a fearsome, record-setting sniper, or Tampa Bay.

“I tell them, ‘Are you kidding me? I gave birth to the Lightning. There’s no question. None,’ ” he said. “If the Lightning were out of the playoffs and Boston was still in, yeah, I’d probably cheer for Boston a little bit.

“Of course, I’m pulling for the Lightning. I’d love to see them win the Cup for (owner) Jeff Vinik and for the fans. It’ll make it even better around here. What’s going on downtown is amazing. And you know what? There are buildings in Tampa now. Lots of them.”

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