When they tell the story of baseball’s demise in Americana — a movie that will last three hours and 37 minutes even with speed-up mandates — the final blow might be the summer of 2020. That’s when the powers-that-be restarted a season, recklessly and dangerously, in a raging pandemic.
No rigid isolation. No medically sealed bio-Bubble like the smart NBA people. Nah, just the same bullheaded idiocy that has plagued the industry for decades.
This is a rerun of how the U.S. government botched its response to the coronavirus crisis: wealth over health, pretend like you know what you’re doing when you don’t, then fail miserably and historically. And why would anyone at all be surprised? As it is, the owners and so-called commissioner have allowed Major League Baseball, once dignified and thriving, to devolve into clumsy and dawdling irrelevance. Who of right mind held faith they’d pull off this lunacy without immediate COVID-19 attacks?
Only days into a shortened MLB season that never should have been attempted, the pandemic has caused predictable chaos. A virus breakout involving at least 14 players and staff members has paralyzed the Miami Marlins, leaving hundreds of big-leaguers and their families to ask in a panic state, “Are we next?’’ And yet, during a conference call Monday, owners refused to consider cancelling the season, instead continuing to play Russian roulette with a virus that is openly laughing at them and ready to create more havoc.
As usual, MLB is taking a devil-may-care attitude. Let the games go on so the Brinks trucks can make their deliveries to teams and TV networks. Miami’s first two home games were postponed, along with a game between the Phillies and New York Yankees in Philadelphia, where the Marlins think they contracted the virus — unless they caught it in South Florida, a virus hotspot thanks to legions of COVID-iots in that state, or perhaps in Atlanta, where they played an exhibition game last Wednesday and where Freddie Freeman, the Braves’ star first baseman, prayed for his life after his virus-triggered fever rose to 104.5 degrees. The next day, one of the sport’s young cornerstones, Juan Soto, tested positive, further darkening Opening Night for a Washington Nationals team that couldn’t celebrate its first World Series title. Since then, the Cincinnati Reds had to send two regulars home after another tested positive.
There you have it, a wildfire in just five days, as predicted here.
And through those virus flames, MLB still is going to play ball.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I’m scared. My level of concern went from an eight to a 12,’’ said Nationals manager Dave Martinez, who has an underlying health condition — cardiac surgery last fall — and doesn’t want his team traveling to a scheduled series in Miami starting Friday.
Do the quarantine math. Check the schedules. Count how many weeks and months are left until the postseason. When infectious disease experts haven’t even begun to weaken the fury of the coronavirus, tell me, how is a corporate weakling such as Rob Manfred going to win this Whack-a-Mole game? Kanye West has a better chance of becoming President than MLB has of denting the virus, much less surviving it until late October. Already, the competitive integrity of a shotgun season — 60 games in 66 days — is in shambles.
So what is the point of even trying to continue a futile exercise? Please call off this debacle — NOW — before a rapid procession of players, older managers and coaches, support staff members and their loved ones follow the Marlins in falling ill and spreading the virus in communities. Manfred and his predecessor as commissioner, Bud Selig, have made regrettable decisions amid baseball’s free-fall since the early ‘90s. Trying to recoup $4 billion with a 60-game regular season and expanded playoffs, as the virus continues to hospitalize and kill victims throughout America and Planet Earth, is the worst decision yet. Manfred and the owners, in protective bunkers with their accountants, are risking the lives of young people — mere employees, in their eyes — and asking them try to save the game the owners screwed up. This after trying to gouge the Players Association with a second pay cut during a preseason labor battle that America was in no mood to watch. If the owners continue to push the virus envelope and plod on, they risk venturing into criminal territory.
What if someone dies because a baseball season was played?
Have the owners even thought about it? What if there is a mass player revolt, starting with the sport’s current face, Mike Trout, whose wife is expecting their first child next week?
“Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first,’’ tweeted pitcher David Price, who opted out of his season with the Los Angeles Dodgers to protect his family from the virus. “Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.’’
Health experts agree with Price. `This is off-the-charts bad,’’ leading epidemiologist Zachary Binney, a frequent critic of sport’s return to live events, told the Washington Post. “MLB should probably shut the Marlins down for two weeks, shut the Phillies down for five days and … hope there isn’t a broader problem.’’
Continuing on Twitter, Binney wrote, “This is absolutely insane … if possible, the literal stupidest possible plan. You have a raging outbreak, anyone in the Marlins traveling party could be infected regardless of how their tests come back. So by all means, just bring that on the road to Baltimore!”
A shutdown? No chance, Zach. As of now, the Marlins are headed to Baltimore, where, even if they barely can field a lineup with players still in quarantine, they are expected to play Wednesday and Thursday against an Orioles team that now must worry about infections. Anyone expecting to hear from Manfred, who loves to hide from public view in difficult times, instead got a statement from MLB:
“The members of the Marlins’ traveling party are self-quarantining in place while awaiting the outcome of those results. Major League Baseball has been coordinating with the Major League Baseball Players Association; the Marlins; the Orioles; the Marlins’ weekend opponent, the Phillies; and Club medical staffs, and will continue to provide updates as appropriate.”
Meanwhile, other teams are being sized up by COVID-19, which is licking its chops, ready to pounce in clubhouses across a diseased land. “I don’t believe there is going to be any panic,’’ Dodgers president Stan Kasten said on Sirius XM, speaking from a state, California, that has been ravaged by the virus. “My understanding from talking with other teams is that it’s business as usual at least for every other team.’’
Good luck to all. “Guys are talking. There’s heightened awareness,’’ said Oakland A’s manager Bob Melvin, “because what everybody was hoping didn’t happen, did. … We’ll see if it gets worse’’
When word came Sunday that four Marlins players — including the day’s starting pitcher, Jose Urena — had tested positive, MLB should have shut down the game. There was no thought of that, not even from within the Marlins themselves, with veteran manager Don Mattingly saying, “We never really considered not playing.’’ Donnie Baseball, obviously, is not Donnie Infectious Disease Expert. He should have known better, lamenting days earlier how his team’s dugout was “a mess’’ during a rain delay in Atlanta. “We had all these guys and nowhere to go,’’ he said. “Then we’ve got a zillion guys in the dugout, so there’s no way we’re social distancing.’’
And every way to spread a virus. Yet, no one thought about not playing a game when four players already were sick? “That was never our mentality,’’ said Miami shortstop and team leader Miguel Rojas, who said players made the call during — gulp — a group text. “We knew this could happen at some point. We came to the ballpark ready to play.’’
No longer is that a prudent, advisable strategy. “The health of our players and staff has been and will continue to be our primary focus as we navigate through these unchartered waters,” said Marlins CEO Derek Jeter, whose stewardship continues to trend in the opposite direction of his epic playing career. “Postponing (two home games) was the correct decision to ensure we take a collective pause and try to properly grasp the totality of this situation.’’
The totality is this: Everybody, go home.
All of which should serve as stark cautionary warnings for the NFL and college football, which should not be proceeding with seasons. Without a Bubble, football risks the same frightening outbreaks as baseball at only a higher rate, given the absence of physical distancing on scrimmage lines and larger roster sizes in locker rooms and on road trips. Roger Goodell is the commissioner, trying to save $15 billion for the owners this season, but the most sound leadership thoughts are coming from players such as New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty, who said on a podcast, “I’m not going to lie. For me as a fellow player, I go on social media and it makes me very nervous to think there will be a season. I’ve seen guys posting a video in a nightclub, and it’s just like, `Yo, we’re attempting to play football. That’s not going to be OK.’ You see guys working out in one city on a Monday, working out in another city on a Tuesday, and another city the next week, and it’s just like, `Dang, if they’re working out here, here and here, that means you have to be traveling and you come across however many people.’ Or you see a guy posting pictures and there’s hundreds of (people), whether it’s anywhere. So for me, it is nerve-wracking.”
He surely speaks for football players everywhere, including those in college, where the help isn’t paid but the university presidents and head coaches are making heavenly salaries. I mean, when the infection control officer of Minnesota Vikings tests positive for the virus, what does that say about football’s chances? McCourty saw the Marlins’ outbreak and said, “Those are the things that for me, make it nervous to say, `Are we going to be able to have an entire season?’ Because of small things like that that go a long way … it only takes one person testing positive, you come into the building, and that thing will spread like wildfire.’’
MLB considered playing in a Bubble, in Arizona, until the governor got cocky and allowed the state to become a hotspot. So, without thinking much, Manfred figured 30 teams could play games in 27 home markets — many still crushed by massive infection spikes — and that everyone would safely head back to their homes and hotel rooms after spending days and nights at ballparks. How mindless can one be? As Mattingly said, “It’s a lot scarier on the road,’’ where players in their 20s and 30s aren’t too eager to follow strict protocols.
“To me, if there was a breach of protocol by any of those players, then it’s more easily explainable,’’ Los Angeles Angels manager Joe Maddon said of the Marlins. “If not, then it becomes more problematic.’’
Never forget that any scenario is possible in a pandemic, including a complete crash throughout sports. But the NBA does have a chance, fair to middling, of successfully finishing its season in a controlled environment. So does the NHL. So does the WNBA. So does Major League Soccer.
Barring a miracle, MLB will be the first league to try and fail, throwing a wild pitch amid the wildest of fires. The only question is whether Manfred will get off the mound before his farcical season turns tragic.
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.
Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?
Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.
The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.
In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?
We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?
Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:
Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN
ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.
The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.
Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.
Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.
“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”
Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.
“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?
“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”
Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.
Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.
The NFL Today – CBS
CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.
Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.
The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.
Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.
Fox NFL Sunday
The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.
Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.
Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.
Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.
Football Night in America – NBC
Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.
But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.
Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?
When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.
But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”
“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”
Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers
Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area
Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.
For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.
As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.
I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.
At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.
From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”
But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.
But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.
However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.
One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.
Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.
There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.
Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.
At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.
There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.
Jason Ence resides in Louisville, KY and is fully invested in the sports betting space. Additionally, he covers Premier League and Serie A soccer, college football, and college basketball for ESPN Louisville 680 including serving as the station’s University of Kentucky correspondent, and co-host of the UK football and basketball post-game shows. He can be found on Twitter @JasonUK17 and reached by email at email@example.com.