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Another Dark Ending For A Sport That Deserves Love

The suicide of former U.S. Olympic coach John Geddert brought more trauma to women’s gymnastics, but maybe now, a full cleansing of predatory behavior will come to this and all sports.

Jay Mariotti

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It was a delicacy of every Summer Olympics, from Barcelona to Atlanta to Beijing, sitting inside a packed arena and covering women’s gymnastics. The performances were inspiring. The atmosphere was magical. The TV coverage was mesmerizing, they’d say back home.

What Seeing a Black Olympic Gymnast Meant to Me | Time

There even was some post-Cold War conflict to it all — our way versus their way, our hugs against their snarls. Me? Weary of the bats-and-balls routine in testosterone-drowned Chicago sports, I was only happy to write columns in these far-flung places, even as male colleagues chided the sport at the late-night hospitality bar.

Now, looking back, how could something so fun and uniquely American turn out so sick?

If the trial and conviction of Dr. Larry Nassar brought unspeakable stories of predatory behavior, no one could be ready for what came next. The coach of the 2012 U.S. Olympic women’s team, John Geddert, was hit Thursday morning with 24 felony charges — including sexual assault and human trafficking — all associated with his hellhole of a training gym outside Lansing, Mich., where Nassar would stand at a table and sexually abuse young female athletes while believing in his warped mind that he was medically examining them.

By mid-afternoon, Geddert had killed himself, his body found in a rest area along Interstate 96, not far from the Twistars USA Gymnastics complex in Dimondale. “This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” said Dana Nessel, the Michigan attorney general.

If Geddert had chosen to live and fight the charges, his attorneys probably would have defended him as a 63-year-old man from the old school of coaching. It is the very world, twisted and savage, that the 21st century is dedicated to purging forever, thank God. What he viewed as authoritarian instruction and tough love actually was human abuse of the worst kind, recruiting female aspirants to his building and charging high prices to make them suffer. He was partners in slime with Nassar, loyal to a fault for more than a quarter-century, lying that he had no knowledge of Nassar’s crimes when police say otherwise.

In 2017, Geddert went on the record with that claim, telling the Wall Street Journal, “I would have immediately acted on any suggestion that any of our gymnasts were being — or had been — abused by anyone.” But in Thursday’s court documents, Geddert was accused of digitally penetrating a girl between ages 13 and 16 in January 2012, during his time as the Olympic coach. Guilt by association sometimes isn’t fair or accurate, but in this case, prosecutors had no choice but to pursue Geddert. The entire culture of USA Gymnastics was corrupt, including the cover-up attempts of former CEO Steve Penny, and the illness wasn’t restricted to Nassar.

Human trafficking might sound overly prosecutorial and out of place. In the context of Geddert operating his horrid business for decades, then cashing in with a prestigious Olympic assignment in London that led to gold medals for the legendary Fierce Five, it’s a proper definition by today’s sensibilities. “We think of it predominantly as affecting people of color or those without means to protect themselves … but honestly it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” Nessel said in court hours before Geddert’s suicide. “Young, impressionable women may at times be vulnerable and open to trafficking crimes, regardless of their stature in the community or the financial well-being of their families.

John Geddert, ex-US Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to Larry Nassar,  dies by suicide after being charged: AG - ABC13 Houston

“It is alleged that John Geddert used force, fraud and coercion against the young athletes that came to him for gymnastics training, for financial benefit for him. The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and attempts at self harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault. Many of these victims still carry these scars from this behavior to this day.”

That, we know. It was apparent during an unforgettable courtroom scene in 2018, when Nassar’s victims addressed him, one by one, before he was locked away for life in a Florida federal prison. Geddert, too, thought he was doing nothing wrong, telling the Journal then, “I am known and respected for my high expectations and high standards. I am a passionate coach who wants our gymnasts to realize their potential. There are times, in any competitive sport, when the intensity proves challenging — sometimes for the gymnasts, sometimes for the adults, and sometimes for both.”

One man’s intensity is a victim’s terror. Suicide only rips open the wounds.

What’s heartening is that already, after all the tears and nightmares, there is light. The American dreamers have carried on. The Final Five, led by superstar Simone Biles, successfully defended the team title at the 2016 Games in Brazil. Just before the pandemic, Biles made headlines after USA Gymnastics celebrated her 23rd birthday, tweeting, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY to the most decorated gymnast of all time, @simonebiles! We know you will only continue to amaze us and make history!” Her response was a perfect 10.

“How about you amaze me and do the right thing… have an independent investigation,” Biles clapped back.

Instead, there were 24 felony charges. And one dead man at a rest stop. “His suicide is an admission of guilt that the entire world can see,” said Sarah Klein, a longtime student of Geddert who was assaulted by Nassar, in an Associated Press interview.

We only can hope for the sport’s sake that Biles, pandemic permitting, will compete with her teammates this summer in Tokyo. Without Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, she is the face of the Games with four Olympic gold. “She’s just above anything else that we have seen in the sport,” the legendary Nadia Comaneci said.

“Gymnastics,” IOC president Thomas Bach said, “has all the ingredients to be … a top Olympic event in Tokyo.”

Yet, nearing her 24th birthday, she likely won’t have another Olympic shot if the 2020/2021 Games are canceled. Said Biles, in a recent NBC interview: “Hopefully the Olympics can still be put on, even if it means we’re in a bubble. I’ll basically do anything at this moment. It just is a matter of time until we hear what the Olympic Committee has to say and what their precautions are going to be going forward. But whatever they say they want us to do, I’m in 100 percent.”

Simone Biles, in Tears, Says She Still Cannot Trust U.S.A. Gymnastics - The  New York Times

At least there is hope that closure is near. For now, many published stories about John Geddert’s death are accompanied by a cautionary note. This piece will end with the same note.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or is in emotional distress, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

BSM Writers

Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?

Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers

Jason Barrett

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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.

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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.

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Joe Rogan

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.

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