Five days after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency in 2016, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mike Evans decided to take a pop at him.
Like a few of his colleagues, Evans knelt during that weekend’s NFL pregame anthems. Unlike any of them, Evans singled out Trump as his target.
“It’s well documented what he’s done,” Evans said. “I’m not going to stand for something I don’t believe in.”
That principled stand lasted until the next Tuesday, when Evans released a contrite statement: “I want to start by apologizing to all the U.S. military members …”
In the annals of athletic protest, Mike Evans’s name does not ring out. But his apology was a seminal moment – the last time the left retreated under pressure from the right.
The soon-to-end (at least in terms of official titles) Trump era was good to sports. Right up until COVID-19 came down on their business model like a falling piano, everyone was thriving.
An external enemy gave many leagues focus; it bound management and labour together in common cause; and it tightened their collective grip on the imaginations of the young – the most important customer base of any entertainment offering.
By the time things got hairy this past summer, sports was no longer aligned with the protest movement. It was leading it. The NBA in particular has become a sort of political movement in short pants, as though Gold’s Gym started its own party.
Giving it to Trump and his supporters also insulated a group of bajillionaires from the anti-elite sentiment that underpins the progressive left. Somehow, the likes of LeBron James (annual earnings, according to Forbes: US$88-million) are able to project man-of-the-people vibes while maintaining their private-jet privileges.
All of this canny manoeuvring was predicated on outsiderness. Pro athletes – a group about as 1-per-center as it gets – got to have it both ways as long as they railed against an unpopular sitting establishment. At least, unpopular in the places athlete-moguls make their money (Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Fifth Avenue, etc.). Sports had figured out how to turn the counter-culture into a profit driver.
Well, bad news – they won. Trump’s done. And now things start getting complicated.
With Trump in place, the sports world’s messaging was controlled by a hive mind. It wasn’t hard to figure out the right things to say: ‘Trump is bad’, ‘Police brutality is worse’, ‘It’s time for change’, ‘We have to work together’.
These are not exactly nuanced ideas. Saying them requires zero understanding of policy issues. It’s simple to slap a slogan on the back of a jersey. It’s simpler still to point at a teammate who seems to better understand what’s what when it comes time to speak.
For most participants, this wasn’t about convincing anyone of anything. It was about fighting for your side. Nobody understands combat better than elite athletes. It’s what they do for a living.
Now that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States, leagues and the athletes who play in them have a decision to make. Now that our side has the top job, is the fight over? There are as many ways to answer that question as people you could ask.
Presumably, some will continue publicly hitting just as hard at systemic problems that aren’t solved magically by moving a Democrat into the White House.
Others may declare victory and move on.
Others still may simply be tired of being de facto spokespeople for this or that cause, and want to get back to the simple life.
And – here’s where it gets dicey – may now be emboldened to go off-brand.
Over the past few years, big leagues figured out how to stop dissent – you don’t stop it all. You just make sure it looks a lot like consensus.
They presented an easy-to-understand story of good guys (us) vs. bad guys (everyone who doesn’t agree with us). They turned America into a two-team league, and invited everyone (and their money) to sign with them.
So when we analogize entire teams of players and staff kneeling during the anthems with Muhammad Ali being criminally charged and stripped of his titles for refusing the draft, the comparison doesn’t hold.
Current athletic protests build up the business of sport. Ali was trying to tear it down. One is smart marketing, the other takes guts.
What the people who own sports teams (man, have they ever got off easy in all of this) should fear now is that they have created a generation of Alis.
For the better part of four years, athletes have been told that speaking out on social issues that matter to them isn’t just permissible, but compulsory. A bunch of guys raised on “Shut up and play” just made a hairpin turn into “Tell us how you feel.”
One thing kept that ad-hoc and very public group-therapy session from becoming messy – Donald J. Trump. He’s the Vladimir Lenin in this story. Once he’s gone, prepare for an outbreak of ruthless factionalism in the leftist circles sports has embraced.
In the past, sports leagues negotiated these eruptions of athlete protest with appeals to capitalism. Sure, you may feel strongly about Issue X, but you like money more, don’t you? Most players decided they did. The ones who didn’t were seen as malcontents or oddballs.
That’s out the window now. Every league crumbled this summer under pressure to put politics front and centre. You’re not putting that genie back in the bottle, not with social media sitting there as an alternate broadcasting platform. Woe betide the league that tries to shut anyone up these days. Whatever that guy is yelling about will lead the news cycle for days.
What comes next is dissent, the uncontrollable sort, the kind that risks turning off your customers. Eventually, activist players may decide their allegiances don’t line up with their employer’s. One WNBA team, the Atlanta Dream, spent the past few months trying to unseat the owner, Republican senator Kelly Loeffler. (Loeffler is headed to a run-off against a candidate supported by WNBA players.) Imagine that sort of dissent spreading into other leagues.
This all has the potential for complete chaos, which sounds like more fun than another season of fan-free baseball. Sports wanted a political awakening and, for its sins, it got one.
If sports was at war with Trump, then what comes next must necessarily resemble peace. And, as Nietzsche said, in times of peace, the warlike man attacks himself.
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Scott Stinson: Blue Jays fans may not miss the Rogers Centre, but don't expect them to pay for replacement – National Post
Article content continued
Could a similar scenario play out in Toronto? The specifics might be different but the end result the same: a big and complicated vision gets whittled down into more acceptable parts, and a lot of horse-trading ensues involving cost and land use and eventually a baseball stadium emerges at the end. Maybe it’s next to the Rogers Centre, maybe it’s somewhere else on the waterfront that is presently being imagined for better things.
The thing to remember as the process plays out is that Rogers has a baseball stadium that it already owns, and which it bought, at 15 years old, for less than five per cent of its construction cost. If it wants to replace it, that should be a project that is entirely up to Rogers management and its shareholders. The stadium gambit inevitably includes an appeal to public money to help with up-front costs, or tax breaks on the back end, or sweet land arrangements, or some combination of all three. Sure, that stuff benefits the team owners, but hey: New stadium! Outfield beer garden! Woo!
Already there are probably Blue Jays fans who are dreaming of a PNC Park North or an Oracle Park East — the lovely waterfront stadiums of Pittsburgh and San Francisco — and who would be fine if a few tax dollars went to that instead of filling potholes.
But that’s just the trap that the team owners set. Of course it would be nice if the Blue Jays replaced their fusty old dome. And if they do, the public should be willing to support it in one specific way, and one way only: by buying tickets.
Maradona's Manager Reportedly Says Football Icon Was Tired, Let Himself Die – Sputnik International
REUTERS / Marcos Brindicci
MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Football legend Diego Maradona was tired and let himself die, Maradona’s manager and friend, Stefano Ceci, told La Gazzetta dello Sport on Friday.
“Diego was always alone. Diego was tired, yes, he let himself die. He did not want to live anymore. Diego stopped being Diego when he turned 15: since he became Maradona, he was alone. I was living close to Diego for 20 years. Diego was a fragile and shy man. Diego’s personality was the opposite of Diego-footballer,” Ceci said, as quoted by the Italian media outlet.
The manager added that, two years ago, Maradona remained active and even played football with younger people, but, finally, family scandals exhausted him.
“In recent months Diego became very tired. I saw that something changed. Two years earlier, he played football in Dubai with people, who were 15-20 years younger than him. Chaos in the family bothered Diego, who never had peace,” Ceci said.
The iconic forward passed away on Wednesday at the age of 60 due to cardiac arrest. Clashes and riots engulfed Buenos Aires on Thursday as the authorities removed the casket with his body from public viewing for early burial. Maradona was buried at a cemetery in the Bella Vista residential area near Buenos Aires.
Best moments from Phil Mickelson and Charles Barkley's win at The Match – Golf Channel
Score one for the underdogs!
Phil Mickelson and Charles Barkley entered the latest iteration of The Match, The Match III, as betting underdogs to favorites Stephen Curry and Peyton Manning. However, Mickelson and the 25-handicap Barkley got the job done in convincing fashion, winning 4 and 3 on Friday at Stone Canyon Club in Oro Valley, Arizona.
“Two people thought this was going to happen: you and me,” Mickelson told Barkley as they walked off the 15th green.
After dropping the first hole, Mickelson and Barkley won four straight holes to take command. As Curry struggled with his game and Manning couldn’t do much to pick up the slack, the two went 4 down after 10 holes. In total, they won just three holes.
While there were still plenty of Classic Chuck shots to make things entertaining, Mickelson performed well as a player, coach and caddie to headline a strong team performance.
Oh, and the banter wasn’t “turrible,” either.
Here are some of the most memorable moments from the day:
To: Chuck, From: Tiger
Barkley’s golf ability and knack for self deprecation make him an easy target, so it’s no surprise that Tiger Woods’ needle found him.
Woods sent some gifts Barkley’s way before the match, including a reflective vest and airhorn.
The joke, though, was mostly on Tiger. Barkley didn’t need any of his presents early. He hit a nice baby draw off the first tee and didn’t miss a fairway until the fifth hole. And while Barkley did hit some foul balls later, the match was well in hand by then.
Mickelson put on his caddie hat right away after bombing a drive into the left rough at the opening hole. As Barkley sized up a wedge shot, Mickelson shot the flag with his rangefinder.
“70 yards,” Mickelson said.
Barkley clipped it a little thin, sending the ball well over the flag and rolling it onto the back fringe, some 80 feet away from the flag.
Mickelson then conceded that he over-clubbed Barkley on purpose.
“It was actually 55,” he said to Barkley. “I didn’t want to tell you that because I wanted you to be aggressive. … I’ve underestimated your ability.”
Pray for the zebras?
Steph Curry was easily the best dressed player on the course, and Phil Mickelson agreed: “I think he looks amazing.”
But Andre Iguodala, one of Curry’s former Warriors teammates who was part of the broadcast team, disagreed.
“How many zebras had to die for you to look fly?” Iguodala quipped.
Barkley’s Gary Player story
Speaking of outfits, Barkley’s all-black attire prompted a tweet from Gary Player.
“Glad to see that Chuck has channeled his inner Black Knight with his all black attire today,” Player said. “Let’s go Chuck & Phil.”
Barkley then mentioned that he and Player teed it up recently.
“One of the highlights of my life was getting to meet Gary Player about six weeks ago,” Barkley said. “I always wanted to meet him, we played a great round of golf and it was an honor and a privilege.”
Unsurprisingly, Player made some comments about Barkley’s weight during their round together.
“I’ll tell you what, he made me feel bad about being fat, though,” Barkley said. “He told me I need to get in the gym.”
Tiger and Gary weren’t the only ones making fun at Barkley’s expense. Barkley’s “NBA on TNT” colleagues – Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal – joined the telecast from their homes.
“I’ve got $100,000 on Steph Curry,” O’Neal said to Barkley, who chunked his tee ball at the sixth hole amid the trash talk.
Finally, Mickelson had enough.
“I’m tired of your colleagues disrespecting you,” he said before handing a dozen Callaway golf balls with Shaq’s face logoed on them to Barkley.
Barkley’s next shot from the drop zone missed the green, as well.
“200,000 on Steph Curry,” O’Neal added.
“Where’s the hitch?” Kenny Smith asked Barkley as he walked toward the green.
O’Neal then had the best zinger of them all as Barkley lined up a birdie putt off of Mickelson’s tee shot.
“Chuck, if you can’t read words how you gonna read greens?” O’Neal asked.
Mickelson’s advice – “Quiet your mind, my friend” – paid off, though, as Barkley nestled one close to clinch the halve after Manning lipped out a short birdie try.
‘Strong, cocky move’
With Barkley facing a long birdie putt from the fringe at the fifth hole, Curry had a chance to chip he and Manning’s fourth shot close and put some pressure on.
However, he duffed it.
With the ball still in the rough, Mickelson decided to conceded the bogey to his opponents.
“That’s a strong, cocky move right there,” he said to Barkley, who ended up lagging one 4 feet past and setting up a Mickelson par make for the hole.
‘I bought it’
Who said the Super Bowl had the best commercials?
Here’s the ball flight we’re used to out of Chuck. Warning: It’s not for the shank of heart.
After Barkley declared the match basically over with he and Mickelson leading 3 up at the turn, the pair went 4 up after 10 holes. But Curry and Manning managed to get one back at the par-4 11th hole as Mickelson and Barkley spent some quality time in the desert.
Nice out by Mickelson, even if Barkley would later miss a putt for double bogey.
As for Barkley’s club toss? In Chuck’s words: Turrible!
Great – but meaningless – shot!
Not much went right for Curry and Manning on Friday.
Even this beauty of a bunker shot by Steph, at No. 12, resulted in a lost hole.
Great shot, but Curry still might not want to check his Twitter for a while. Better to let the plus-1 handicap skepticism die down first.
Block or charge?
And the winning putt…
Mickelson sealed the deal with this birdie make, but man, wouldn’t it have been great if Barkley had drained the game-winner instead?
Scott Stinson: Blue Jays fans may not miss the Rogers Centre, but don't expect them to pay for replacement – National Post
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