#sports

Jonathan Mahler and Richard Sandomir on the return of Bill Simmons from his (ridiculous) suspension this week:

Simmons declined to comment. Since his suspension, he has surfaced only in snapshots on his Instagram account — Simmons at the beach, Simmons on the golf course — seemingly designed to let ESPN know that he’s enjoying his time off. But people close to Simmons say he is furious and has been talking a lot about whether ESPN is still the right place for him. He has threatened to leave ESPN before, but this is the most pitched moment yet in their fraught relationship.

The next move will indeed be interesting

One thing that won’t be happening:

Kenneth Lerer, the co-founder of the Huffington Post and chairman of BuzzFeed, said he has never met Simmons, but thought it would be relatively easy for him to move to another large company, but infinitely more difficult to start something of his own. “Knowing what I know now,” Lerer said, “I think he should say: ‘I had a breakdown, I didn’t mean what I said. I’m back at ESPN and I love it.’ ”

Simmons may indeed come back to ESPN — he’s certainly incentivized to between salary, Grantland, 30 for 30, and soon his new NBA show. But I’d say there’s no way he comes back fully hat-in-hand. Nor should he.

Eric Kester has a good yet balanced take on the current state of the NFL (not only was Kester a ball boy in the NFL, he played college football) in an op-ed today. His best bit:

A sniff of my salts would revive the player in alertness only, and he would run back onto the field to once again collide with opponents with the force of a high-speed car crash. As fans high-fived and hell-yeahed and checked the progress of their fantasy teams, and as I eagerly scrambled onto the field to pick up shattered fragments from exploded helmets, researchers were discovering the rotting black splotches of brain tissue that indicate chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Known as C.T.E., this degenerative disease is the result of players’ enduring head trauma again and again. Symptoms include dementia and extreme aggression, and C.T.E. is considered at least partly responsible for the string of recent suicides of former and current N.F.L. players, whose anger, sadness and violence eventually collapsed inward.

As with everything, this isn’t as black and white as it may appear to some. But it’s just really hard for me to see how this game exists in its current form in 20 years. We’re basically cheering as giant men destroy themselves before our very eyes — both physically and as a result, mentally.

Dawn Chmielewski:

Bose secured a league sponsorship deal that effectively allows it to elbow Beats — and any other rival headphone manufacturer — off the playing field.

Under terms of its agreement with the league, the NFL confirmed, Bose received a broad set of rights that entitle it to prevent players (or coaches) from wearing any other manufacturer’s headphones during televised interviews.

There should be a term for this nonsense. An “on-the-clock-block”? Just thinking out loud here.

This is a classic example of a company paying up so they can appear to be “winning” (or maybe more apt: “not losing”) rather than actually innovating and winning legitimate market share. See also: the NFL’s deal with Microsoft to use Surface tablets to block the actual and natural use of iPads.

Bill Simmons, Weasels, and Jackals

A week later, I still find myself thinking about ESPN’s suspension of Bill Simmons. The fact that it’s based on what was said on a podcast. The fact that Simmons is now effectively muzzled and can’t say a word about the suspension (he can’t even use his own Twitter account, let alone podcast). The absolute insanity of the suspension being longer than Ray Rice’s original suspension. The whole thing.

Amy Davidson brings up a couple good points. First, on the situation itself:

Simmons’s anger is absolutely earned. Goodell’s denial is absurd; as I’ve written before, what did he think it looked like when a football player knocked a woman unconscious? (Note that Simmons is saying that he lied about knowing what was on the tape, not whether Goodell saw it himself.) There are a few levels of dishonesty here: when Goodell hears that a player—a man whom he watches on the field every week using the force of his body in violent collisions—has hit a woman, and says that he just can’t picture the mechanics of that action without a video, how many lies is he telling, to others and to himself? Perhaps in other cases, when players choked women, shot them, or dragged them by the hair, he needed a sort of animated diagram.

It’s pretty simple, really. Goodell, and by extension, the NFL, has taken what is a serious, sad, and bad situation and has obfuscated it in trying to save their own asses and hiding behind technicalities. Like weasels.

Second, specifically on Simmons part here:

Maybe Simmons was deliberately looking for ESPN’s limits; if so, he found them. What does it mean, anyway, for a journalist to be suspended? Simmons presumably won’t be able to write his columns, appear on television, or record his podcasts. But he still might be asking questions.

Whether he was doing it on purpose or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is that ESPN was foolish to suspend Simmons for this. Whether they’re acting as the hand of Goodell here or not, it appears that they are. That’s all that matters. It has destroyed their credibility.

It’s interesting to think that Simmons was smart enough to know exactly how this would play out — that he would goad ESPN into suspending him and that it would elevate the firestorm even further as a result. Regardless, he comes out of this looking great, while Roger Goodell, the NFL, and ESPN all look like conspiratorial jackals.

But it also puts Simmons in a precarious situation when he returns from suspension. Does he continue on with business as usual? Can he? Won’t it look like ESPN (and again, by extension — rightly or wrongly — the NFL) ultimately “won”? That money continues to talk?

It would seem like the perfect reason for Simmons to break away and re-start Grantland (he’ll undoubtedly be blocked from using the name) on his own? Maybe he has a non-compete (I assume so). And there are probably a half dozen other reasons why it would be hard for Simmons to leave ESPN (aside from the large amount of money they pay him, of course). But doesn’t he have to now?

By forcing ESPN’s hand (for the right reason) did he force his own?

The Harbaughs believe in Brady Hoke. He’s a great coach. He believes in Michigan. I believe in what they’re doing there. I think they’re going to turn it around.
John Harbaugh, the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens (not to be confused with his brother Jim, the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers), addressing the rumors swirling that he (or his brother) could be heading to Ann Arbor (where both grew up) to fix the Wolverines any time soon.

Ashley Burns:

Hell, the Microsoft Xbox even showed up as the sponsor of last Thursday’s NFL Kickoff Concert in Seattle, as Pharrell and Chris Cornell put on shows for the fans, who were undoubtedly hypnotized by the endless barrage of product placements. So you’d think that with all of that money spent on getting the Surface in front of our faces that the NFL would have sent out at least one memo to the networks to make sure that this specific sponsor was mentioned by name. If anything, someone might have written “Please don’t call it an iPad!” and emailed it to the announce teams.

If that did happen, Fox’s John Lynch didn’t get the memo, because he went ahead and called the Surface tablets “iPad-like tools” during yesterday’s Saints-Falcons game. Whoops.

$400 million well spent by Microsoft. It just goes to show you: you can buy placement, but you can’t buy mindshare.

Meg James:

Overall, CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and DirecTV are paying the NFL more than $5.5 billion for TV rights deals this year. That’s a 22% increase over last year, media analyst Michael Nathanson of the MoffettNathanson research firm wrote in a report Friday.

Still plenty of money (and life) left in television, apparently. I just wonder how long this lasts? I imagine live sports (and the NFL in particular) will end up as the last stronghold for traditional television. This may not happen anytime soon, but nothing lasts forever.

If television advertising ever starts to dwindle, even slightly, how fast does the NFL shift the focus to other means? Fast, I imagine.

And how long until we see one of the online players (Netflix, etc) strike one of these deals as well? I’d bet on sooner rather than later.

 Darren Rovell and Marc Stein:

With Durant on the verge of a move to Under Armour, sources told ESPN on Sunday that Nike exercised its right to match any rival shoe company’s offer to the Oklahoma City Thunder star. A source with knowledge of the deal later told ESPN that Durant has indeed signed with the Oregon-based company.

Nike countered Under Armour’s offer of between $265 million and $285 million and believes it will keep Kevin Durant for the next 10 years, sources told ESPN.

The most interesting aspect of this isn’t that Nike beat out Under Armour, it’s that Durant went with Nike even though Under Armour’s deal was said to include a huge chunk of Under Armour stock. This is the same type of deal Under Armour cut with the NFL owners in 2006 to get their foot in the door — and it’s worked out very well for the NFL ($4.5M turned into well over $100M). 

Hard to see the downside of going with Nike here, but it could end up being shortsighted by Durant.