Mahomes and Hurts’ Black Quarterback Super Bowl showdown has been decades in the making

Jalen Hurts will take on Patrick Mahomes in the first Super Bowl featuring two Black starting quarterbacks.

With all due respect to the Salt Lake City NBA All-Star Weekend, Glendale, Arizona is 2023’s “Black Super Bowl.” A week before NBA superstars and celebs descend on Utah, Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes will take the field as the first pair of black quarterbacks to start against one another in a Super Bowl.

Mahomes has been here before. Hurts won an NCAA national championship after getting benched in the second half, and lost one despite heroics on his part. However, he came aboard the Eagles as a second-round project. In 2020, ESPN’s lead draftnik Mel Kiper Jr. face-planted by describing Hurts as a Taysom Hill-type gadget player.

Only a small fraction of quarterbacks have improved their standing in two off-seasons the way Hurts has. Two years ago, anonymous NFL talent evaluators, execs, coaches, coordinators voted Hurts as the 30th-best quarterback in the entire NFL. A few months ago, 50 voters ranked Jalen Hurts 20th among 32 quarterbacks. In the estimation of NFL institutionalists, he was somewhere between Carson Wentz and Baker Mayfield. After emerging as a frontrunner for the MVP award that Mahomes clinched (after Hurts sprained his right shoulder) and reaching his first Super Bowl, he’s clearly stormed the top quarterback tier.

Advertisement

People still don’t believe in Jalen Hurts?

Yet, the hesitation to buy in on the authenticity of the new and improved Hurts persists. All season, long league observers have waited with bated breath for Hurts to descend from the Cloud Nine he’s been floating on. It never came. Since Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen elbowed his way into play calling duties during the second half of the 2021 season, the Eagles have soared.

Advertisement

Hurts has morphed into an offensive motherboard whose triple threat ability to read coverages, run and pass, and decide in an instant which would demobilize the defense, transformed the Eagles into a three-dimensional offense that shattered rushing touchdown records. Operating from a clean pocket behind a premier offensive line, Hurts is a scalpel-wielding RPO master. Occasionally he’ll wield a sword and decapitate defenses loading the box to stop the run with a deep bomb to DeVonta Smith or A.J. Brown.

The irony of San Francisco being trounced after scratching through the bottom of their depth chart where their “break glass in case of emergency” fifth quarterback should have been is that Hurts fits the archetype that Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers had in mind when they drafted Trey Lance. Having Hurts’ Super Bowl ascension burrowed into the Niners’ memory banks may be what keeps Lance in San Francisco for another season.

Advertisement

How do Mahomes and Hurts stack up?

Hurts and Mahomes represent the dichotomy in play between mobile quarterbacks. What Mahomes does is tougher to replicate. He’s the best sideways scrambler in the NFL. His habit of improvising and leading defenders into some sort of labyrinth, then creating plays outside the pocket while keeping the threat of a pass alive until he decides to flick it forward for a first down or keep it for himself is a cheat code.

Advertisement

A pass rush crashing through brings out Hurts’ mortality. Under duress, Mahomes has an innate equanimity. Whereas Hurts operates out of designed runs or scrambles in efficient, straight lines, Mahomes is an abstract dancer who can emerge from a muddy pockets with a bleach white jersey. This season, his deep ball passing occurred less frequently due to the void left behind by the trade of Tyreek Hill, but he sprinkled the ball around to tight end Travis Kelce first, running backs second and receivers third with remarkable efficiency.

And yet, with that reliance on his legs, he led the entire league in passing for the second time in five years. Through 13 playoff games, Mahomes is the all-time pace-setter with the highest QB Rating, touts the lowest interception percentage, the second-highest completion percentage, and the fourth highest yards per attempt average. His first down scramble on a tenderized ankle that vanquished Cincinnati was illustrative of Mahomes’ brilliance.

Advertisement

Hurts and Mahomes’ matchup taking place against the backdrop of an 2023 NFL draft that will feature two black quarterbacks coming off the board in the first two picks is a testament to the shifting tides for the NFL’s prestige position.

Women’s sports get 6 minutes of coverage on ESPN and a conservative journo says there’s a feminist agenda

Image for article titled Women's sports get 6 minutes of coverage on ESPN and a conservative journo says there's a feminist agenda

Here we go. Again. Women’s sports are given media coverage, and men feel the need to make sure we all know no one cares about women’s sports. “Women’s sports aren’t interesting.” “Men’s sports are better.” “Women don’t deserve media coverage.”

It intrigues me that people who claim to care so little about women’s sports feel such an intense need to share how much they don’t care.

Jason Whitlock is a buffoon

The latest contributor to not caring goes to noted sports manist Jason Whitlock, who was upset that ESPN’s late-night SportsCenter coverage Monday dared dedicate the first six minutes to two college women’s basketball games. Then, after being called out for his take, he took to right-wing Blaze Media to blast ESPN for pandering to the feminists, and blast women for daring to want to see media coverage of women’s sports. He also managed to indirectly insult men and added accusations of racism to the top of this spectacular sundae of whining.

Advertisement

Here’s the thing, Jason. You claim that women are not owed reparations because “They have not been mistreated, denied freedom, or relegated to an inferior position. They’re not victims of an exploitative patriarchal tradition.” Two sentences later, you label women as the “weaker sex,” relegating them to an inferior position. Saying women’s sports don’t deserve the coverage they are getting makes them a victim of an exploitative patriarchal tradition.

The flip side of that coin is that men are not entitled to all the sports coverage. Or all the prominent sports coverage. Whitlock asks what percentage of sports fans, exactly, are served by six minutes of women’s basketball coverage.

Advertisement

The answer is a rapidly growing percentage.

Rising number of participants in women’s athletics

The Women’s Sports Foundation reports that 60 of girls participate in a high school sport. Roughly 44 percent participate in a collegiate sport. 2022 brought record-breaking viewership numbers. A study from the National Research Group found 30 percent of respondents say they are watching more women’s sports than they were five years ago.

Advertisement

The No. 1 reason given for the growth? “There are more women’s sports being broadcast.”

It’s not just women watching

What hasn’t been mentioned is that this growth is not just among women; men are watching too. Fathers are watching with their daughters; many took to Twitter to praise Kendall Coyne Schofield’s participation in the 2019 SAP NHL All-Star Skills competition, saying she not only served as a role model for their daughters, but their daughters now realize hockey was a sport they could play too.

Advertisement

DJ Dunson noted the broadcast deals that have been inked by ESPN for women’s basketball, both NCAA and the WNBA. Front Office Sports highlights the broadcast deal with the NWSL. Viewership numbers have soared for women’s sporting events in the past couple of years, and demand continues to grow.

Whitlock fails to take any of that into account, simply chalking up ESPN putting women’s collegiate basketball on ESPN as “pandering to the feminist agenda.” The most recent version of USC/Purdue University’s study on sports coverage by gender found 5.7 percent of ESPN’s SportsCenter broadcast was devoted to women’s sports.

Advertisement

Almost six percent. What pandering. The feminist agenda has dismantled the sports patriarchy. Or maybe, just maybe, ESPN isn’t pandering to a feminist agenda. Perhaps they are making a business decision to cater to a rapidly growing audience and demand.

Whitlock believes women are only getting coverage in sports media because they have beaten these media entities into submission and created a species of weak and simpering men who are just unnecessary in society. Those six minutes on SportsCenter apparently represent the utter downfall of American society. That is a hell of a claim to make about six percent of all coverage on SportsCenter, or six minutes of coverage one night.

Advertisement

Women watch sports. Women play sports. Women love sports. That’s not a feminist agenda. That’s a fact. No one is asking for all men’s sports to cease being covered in favor of all women, all the time. No one is seeking the destruction of men in society through more women’s basketball coverage.

It’s not outlandish or unreasonable for women to want media coverage. Especially when the numbers show demand for women’s sports programming. Representation matters, and the next generation of young women wanting to play sports should see the likes of Caitlyn Clark, Alex Morgan, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Coco Gauff, Jocelyn Alo, or the multitude of other amazing athletes playing the sports they love.

Advertisement

Social stigma surrounding women’s sports

The Women’s Sports Foundation notes one of the main reasons girls drop out of sports is due to social stigma — specifically, girls experience bullying and social isolation due to their involvement in sports. Bullying … like men taking to social media to proclaim that women’s sports are boring, no one cares, they are ruining sports, they are ruining society. A recent search of LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne’s name on Twitter found multiple videos that men made where they were masturbating to her image. If you’re going to complain about a lack of biblical values, Jason, perhaps you should condemn the men who feel posting that type of content is in any way clever or appropriate. That’s more disturbing than a drag queen ever will be.

Advertisement

Sports are not just about building strong men. It’s about building strong men and women. Women who participate in sports reap a multitude of benefits — socially, personally, and academically. Women have always been strong. Women will continue to be strong, even as their accomplishments and achievements are put down, simply because they are women.

The irony is not lost on me that all of this stemmed from six minutes of sports coverage. From that six minutes, women were basically told to sit down, shut up, and know their role. The gaslighting of women being told that they have it good in the U.S., that they’ve never been mistreated (as they are repeatedly insulted) or seen as less than, and that developing a strong woman has become a priority over developing strong men … phew. That six minutes must be devastating if it unleashed so much upset and anger. You know what I typically do if I see sports coverage I don’t care about? I move on with my day.

Advertisement

If you are this upset by six minutes of coverage, you probably shouldn’t be calling women the weaker sex.


Lauren Smith is an associate professor of sports media in the Media School at Indiana University. Her research focuses on examining the psychological effects of mediated sports content on emotions. She studies issues of gender, race, identity, and social justice. Lauren is currently a nationally ranked age-group triathlete and three-time Ironman finisher.

A rising tide lift all boats and it’s time we threw Jason Whitlock’s ilk overboard

Image for article titled A rising tide lift all boats and it's time we threw Jason Whitlock’s ilk overboard

Choosing between women’s and men’s sports is a false choice. If you’re a certain blogger for Glenn Beck’s conservative Blaze media, revisionist history can be a comfort zone that vilifies feminism in sports as your woke sports boogeyman, but makes you look like a headass instead. Jason Whitlock’s resentment-driven tweet on women’s basketball’s place at the bottom of the sports hierarchy eventually led to a longer missive against women’s societal advancements and the fall of masculinity.

Oddly enough, in a link I don’t care to share, Whitlock proceeded to blame feminism for everything ranging from drag queens, to the degradation of the nuclear family, and the decline of biblical values. In Whitlock’s opinion, the glass ceiling wasn’t sturdy enough.

He pontificated in his Wednesday column: “As technology advanced and curbed the natural hardships of basic survival, American men led the world in granting freedom and autonomy to women. Feminists have taken advantage of man’s instinct to please women, casting themselves as long-suffering victims of male supremacy, and reshaped American society into a culture that favors the weaker sex.”

Advertisement

In fairness to Whitlock, let’s analyze all the excellent points he made.

.

.

.

.

Hold on a second. I read the entire screed. Something will squeeze out soon…

Whitlock spews more garbage

He did attempt to trace a crooked link between modern society and early man’s roles as hunter-gathers, but it doubled as a rant against evolution. Imagine beginning your argument for a return to medieval masculinity by bemoaning women’s sports on TV. As usual, the intellectual cupboard is bare. Whitlock’s fragility over women’s sports is indicative of the obstacles women in workplaces have always faced. For a contingent of dudes who take his word as gospel though, women’s sports are their bête noire.

Advertisement

Battling over an alternate view of history that makes a case for how sexism was good or opining that the women from the Greatest Generation who took occupations in defense plants and factories during the war effort of the 1940s defanged American culture is a fascinating insight into how a twisted mind justifies itself. Don’t give yourself hemorrhoids trying to mine wisdom from those thought turds, and never roll with a pig in his sty.

Women’s leagues have helped usher in sports’ golden age

If you’ve browsed the front page of Deadspin’s space lately, or any industry leaders like Fox Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports, or Yahoo Sports, you’d know the myth of the feminist agenda pushing men’s sports aside is a pile of crap. America’s Big 4 leagues, plus NASCAR, Formula 1, college football, and college basketball have reigned supreme since being given a 50 to 75-year year head start over organized women’s athletics.

Advertisement

In a few short months, the U.S. Women’s National Team will defend their World Cup so you can expect to see their faces plastered all over ESPN screens between now and then. The USWNT has won half of the first eight Women’s World Cups FIFA’s held, but had to grapple with U.S. Soccer for pay commensurate with men last year. Their decades-long push was reminiscent of Billie Jean King and the “Original Nine’s” early enterprising. Their revolutionary founding of the WTA is one of the impetus for women’s tennis being on a more equal footing with the men’s tour.

The most prominent leagues have had to share space in an increasingly crowded room (pickleball has entered the chat), but this is the golden age of live sports. The continued growth of women’s leagues has been nearly as monumental as streaming has been to prestige television. The only downside to the panoply of options at our disposal is the paradox of choice.

Advertisement

Dawn Staley and Kim Mulkey are college basketball titans

Today men’s college basketball is in a rut. It’s as rife with parity, as it is empty in name-brand, blue-chip talent, or upper-echelon teams. The inverse of men’s hoops’ suboptimal tornado of middle-of-the-road teams, is happening in the division where Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks are cruising toward a repeat. Fans love dynasties and one may be building in Columbia.

Advertisement

UConn is still a threat on Feb. 5, however, its biggest obstacle resides within the SEC.

Kim Mulkey and Staley have taken the baton as college basketball’s preeminent rivalry. The juiciest storyline in college basketball, regardless of gender, is the upcoming tilt between the only undefeated teams left in the nation. Hopefully, someone informs Alfalfa’s He-Man Womun Haters club not to switch on the late-night SportsCenter shows on the night of Feb. 18.

Advertisement

The halcyon yesteryear of the UConn-Tennessee rivalry is long gone in the Vols’ post-Pat Summitt era. Even with former Naismith Player of the Year Paige Bueckers on the mend for the entire season and phenom Azzi Fudd in and out of the lineup, UConn has been firmly entrenched in the top 10. Tennessee is still on the road back to prominence under Kellie Harper and was promptly smacked down by the Huskies on Thursday night.

While we’re on that note, contrary to the Blaze TV blogger’s soliloquy about women’s advancements coming off the backs of men’s work, the infrastructure for modern women’s basketball was originally built by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. At its peak, the AIAW’s membership consisted of 280 colleges that held championships across 19 sports, including women’s hoops. The AIAW was a women’s collegiate sports organization founded by women, but in 1981, the NCAA took over from the AIAW after 120 schools left for the more economically advantaged NCAA.

Advertisement

Breanna Stewart’s free agency

Over in the WNBA, free agency is in full bloom. Candace Parker is vacillating on whether to wind her career down in Chicago or with one last hurrah in Los Angeles. Free agent center Brionna Jones, the reigning Sixth Player of the Year, is essentially seeking to branch out after her second Finals appearance. Think of a bigger James Harden in 2012, trying to loosen himself from Oklahoma City’s bench.

Advertisement

The bulk of WNBA free agency attention is trained on Breanna Stewart’s movements. Reportedly, Stewart has whittled her choice down to approximately four teams, including her home state New York Liberty, a pairing with Elena Delle Donne in Washington, running it back with a depleted Seattle Storm roster, or zagging unexpectedly to the Minnesota Lynx.

There’s no planned primetime TV special starring Jim Gray, or Hannah Storm for the internet Whitlocks to carp about, but the Liberty are what everyone in the league office is undoubtedly rooting for. Imagine if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh had chosen the Knicks in 2010. Or if Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Harden had been a more well-adjusted collection of personalities. Stewart linking up with 2020’s No. 1 overall pick, Sabrina Ionescu, recently acquired 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, and free agent Courtney Vandersloot would be the culmination of an arms race with the Las Vegas Aces.

Advertisement

In addition to looking out for her own future, Stewart is using her clout to engineer solutions to funding charter flights for the league’s 12 teams. Stewart’s efforts have reignited the discourse around the WNBA’s problematic travel arrangements. We’ve long known that cramming long athletes onto commercial flights dozens of times a season is a hindrance to peak performance, but the WNBA hasn’t quite taken it to heart yet and Stewart’s not keen on waiting until the CBA expires in 2028 to address it.

Ultimately, for every sports fan with Whitlock’s attitude, there’s Kobe Bryant. Kobe and others understood that a rising tide lifts all boats. In his final years, Kobe became an advocate for women’s hoops. Then, three years and a day ago, he perished on his way to coach his daughter’s AAU team. But if you’re having trouble choosing between living in a shared reality where the Black Mamba’s noblesse oblige spirit is considered ruinous to culture or one where internet Whitlocks signify strength, your worldview is bass-ackwards and you’ve got your head on the wrong side of your torso.

Should Brian Kelly have to give $1 million back to LSU over a clerical mistake?

Brian Kelly

Louisiana State University (LSU) reset the college football coaching market in 2021 when they signed former Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly to a 10-year, $95 million contract. Kelly responded by winning 10 games in his first season in Baton Rouge highlighted by a home win over Alabama and an appearance in the SEC Championship Game. This is the work of a man that deserves a generous tip. So then why is Kelly giving back the extra million dollars that LSU gave him?

Only rich people can shrug their shoulders about seven-digit clerical errors.

According to a recent audit, somebody in Baton Rouge messed up and gave Kelly an extra $1,001,368, as someone forgot to stop transferring the money to his bank account instead of an LLC in his name.

Advertisement

This is why you should always check your accounts, even if you have automatic bill pay.

Given that Kelly paid twice, the sides have reached an agreement in which he’ll technically keep the money as he’s signed off on a reduced payment schedule until the school recoups their money.

Advertisement

Dollars and sense

The discussion about whether or not Kelly did the right thing by “giving the money back” was just the hook to get you to click on/read this story. Because what I actually want to discuss is how Kelly’s situation is an example of how folks never seem to care about the money that college coaches make, but then will turn around and lose their sh*t when it comes to NIL money.

Advertisement

Don’t you find it funny that nobody batted an eye when it was announced earlier this week that Tennessee head football coach Josh Heupel’s contract extension came with a raise that will pay him $9 million per year?

But yet, people acted like the world was going to end because Jaden Rashada had the good business sense to ask for a release from his letter of intent to play at Florida after a $13 million NIL deal fell through. The highly touted quarterback will have multiple suitors as he’s looking to make the best business decision for himself and his family — which is the same line that coaches use when they change jobs for better paydays.

Advertisement

And if you don’t want to receive this message for me or think it’s overblown, here’s a link from NPR in which Nicole Auerbach, senior writer for The Athletic, is describing how the NCAA has been practically begging Congress to help them out with NIL because a non-profit agency like the NCAA — which annually brings in a billion dollars in revenue — is in a state of hysteria because college athletes are making too much money for their liking.

Advertisement

Brian Kelly did the Christian thing by making sure that LSU recouped the extra million that they accidentally gave him. But the actual Christian thing to do would be for the Christians who are involved in collegiate sports to upend a system that’s built on injustices, unfair labor practices, and cruelty. 

Pickleball proves sports networks will invest in just about anything before building a framework around women’s sports

Riley Newman at the 2022 Margaritaville USA Pickleball Nationals Championships

In a sign that ESPN and other networks can choose to devote broadcast hours to new and emerging sports, the American sports cable channel announced that it was adding pickleball to the lineup.

Pickleball, the racquetball of our era, is Crossfit without the tattoos and supplements. A sport that takes abandoned tennis courts and repurposes them as ping-pong Coliseums. It’s barely even a professional sport at this point, but here you have the broadcast deal.

The details: CBS Sports will show 12 hours of matches and highlights, and ESPN will have eight hours of action and recaps on ESPN2 plus 200 hours of coverage on the streaming platform.

Advertisement

But what about women’s sports?

Full disclosure, I don’t really mind pickleball. And I don’t actually begrudge the new league a broadcast contract and additional exposure. But that’s not the only young league that has landed a broadcast window. LIV Golf also announced a broadcast deal with the CW Network after the usual sports outlets passed.

Advertisement

The point here is that sports networks often take a flier on young sports leagues. As long as those leagues are men’s. In fact, what might be most notable about pickleball is that the Association of Pickleball Professionals has women’s divisions.

“But Jane,” you might say, “look how many people are playing pickleball!”

And to that I would answer, wait until you hear how many girls play soccer in this country. And yet the U.S. Women’s National Team game vs. New Zealand was not broadcast on a traditional sports network, it was shown on HBO Max.

Advertisement

“Pickleball has celebrity owners!”

And you should see the lineup for the National Women’s Soccer League — Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Natalie Portman, Sarah Spain, Mia Hamm… Women are investing in their own games like never before.

Advertisement

Slow to embrace coverage of women’s sports

American sports broadcasters have been slow to embrace women’s sports coverage. Even when they have been broadcast, networks haven’t built a suite of programming around those properties, like pre- and post-game shows or weekly roundups. Despite being one of the better networks in this regard, ESPN hasn’t had a women’s sports-specific recurring program on the network. This NFL Insiders for the WNBA or women’s tennis. Several studies also note how infrequently traditional sports outlets include women’s sports, with estimates ranging from four to six percent. Considering that U.S. women have been dominant in tennis for two decades, it’s a huge missed opportunity to cover the WTA as a sport, rather than cover individuals like Serena and Venus Williams, Naomi Osaka, and those who came before.

Advertisement

So, as Kathleen Schmidt, a public relations executive, tweeted on Monday:

Advertisement

May pickleball find all the success, but the announcement is more proof that traditional sports networks are gatekeepers that effectively marginalize women’s sports. Let’s take baseball. MLB has an average fan that is well in his 50s. The audience is aging and shrinking even as the architecture of sports coverage remains the same. Meanwhile, look at women’s basketball both professional and college. You have younger fans and a potential for more audience growth.

“It seems like the incremental progress gets a lot of attention,” said The Athletic’s Bill Shea, who writes about the business of sports. “We’re still in a ramp-up period that we probably should have been through years ago.”

Advertisement

The truth is that a bulk of the pickleball deal is on ESPN’s streaming platform. That’s a low-risk way for a network to try out a sport and see how it does, Shea said. Many streaming numbers aren’t released publically and there isn’t a standard way of noting them, so it isn’t clear what the comparable audiences are across platforms and leagues.

“We’re in such a chaotic era for coverage of sports with cord-cutting,” Shea said, “because the model is basically collapsing.”

Advertisement

The audience is there

Women’s sports have surged in interest in the last decade. U.S. women’s soccer routinely outperforms the men’s game in the World Cup. Serena Williams can pull 4.8 million viewers to the U.S. Open, and the NCAA women’s tournament has about the same size audience for the finals. Those are strong audiences in the era of viewer fragmentation, and they are improving year to year.

Advertisement

But women’s sports waiting for their due since before the era of televised poker are still waiting. Cornhole, beer pong… broadcast sports are about not disturbing an audience of young men more than they are about actually broadcasting sports.

Women in the sports audience have been growing, and now account for 47 percent of the NFL’s audience. Meanwhile, the ratings for sports talk radio don’t even count the women in the listening audience.

Advertisement

Go ahead pickleball. Have your day. Just do us all a favor and put some of those women’s matches in the premier windows now that you have a platform. Having a good balance of men’s and women’s games has been a formula for the U.S. Open’s success. And if sports entities like the NCAA and FIFA assigned more value to their own women’s divisions, they might be able to bypass network inertia.

Meanwhile, I’m going to check out the “trash-talking, sight-fishing” coverage this weekend on ESPN2.

Where’s the outrage about the rest of the NBC NFL crew?

Ugh.

Ever since NBC NFL analyst Tony Dungy tweeted out a common right-wing, anti-trans, completely-debunked talking point, much of sports media has been focused on Dungy’s history of aligning himself with anti-LGBT+ individuals and organizations. And rightly so. I myself was so outraged by Dungy’s transphobic remarks that I immediately grabbed my phone to call him out on Twitter. (Dungy has since tweeted out an apology.) But Dungy isn’t the only problematic member of NBC’s premier football crew. Both announcer Mike Tirico and analyst Matthew Berry have, in the past, been accused of sexual harassment by their female colleagues.

Mike Tirico’s history

According to Mike Freeman’s book, ESPN: The Uncensored History, Tirico was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women during his tenure at ESPN, including this truly disturbing allegation:

The woman was a production assistant and “considered an up-and-coming talent,” and Tirico went up to her at the party and said “you’re the most beautiful woman in here.” She walked away, but he kept following her around the party until she finally snapped, “Why don’t you fuck off? Get away from me.” As she and friends hopped in their car and pulled out of the party, Tirico stepped in front of the car and made the woman stop. “You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen and I think I’m in love with you,” Tirico said. She tried to roll up her window and take off, but Tirico stuck his hand in and tried to wedge it between her thighs. She got away, and the next morning, when they saw each other in the ESPN parking lot, he walked up to her, and she expected him to apologize. Instead, he said, “all I did all day was think about you.”

Advertisement

And that’s not the only accusation of horrific behavior by Tirico:

In another story, one female producer — who had been to dinner with Tirico and his fiancee — was startled to receive an email from him saying that he wanted to sleep with her. Later, when the staff went to a bar after a late night covering the NCAA tournament, Tirico approached her and said, “I wish I was single. If I were, I’d throw you on the table right here and fuck your brains out.” After she tried to excuse him as drunk, he persisted: “I know you want to screw me. So let’s leave.” Later, he followed her on the highway and tried to get her to pull over, unsuccessfully.

Advertisement

Tirico was suspended by ESPN for three months and called the incidents detailed above “misunderstandings.” For its part, NBC has addressed his hiring by the network during the height of the #MeToo movement, despite cutting ties with other men accused of similar behavior, like Matt Lauer and NBC political analyst Mark Halperin. NBC told the Hollywood Reporter:

“(W)hen we hired Mike in 2016, we were aware of the incidents from more than 25 years ago, which had been addressed in 1991-92 by ESPN, his employer at the time, and for which he has apologized. Mike has repeatedly assured us that this behavior is long in his past, and we have no evidence of anything to the contrary in his tenure at NBC Sports.”

ESPN added that “these charges were aggressively addressed 25 years ago with a lengthy suspension.”

Advertisement

That will definitely make all the women watching the NFL (47 percent of the audience, per the NFL’s own research) feel loads better about having Tirico constantly shoved down our throats as the face of NBC Sports. Especially the journalistic integrity that was on display when he was chosen to be the one to interview Olympic snowboarder Shaun White about White’s own sexual harassment lawsuit, though Tirico’s past was never mentioned by him or the network. Sports journalism is still journalism, guys, and the same rules still apply.

Accusations against Matthew Berry

As for Matthew Berry, he was one of the subjects of a Spotlight (yes, that Spotlight) investigation into sexual harassment at ESPN. The Spotlight team reported:

“During her months-long audition, [Jenn] Sterger said an executive showed her a copy of a Playboy magazine that she had modeled for and then she was taken to a strip club by Matthew Berry, who was interviewing as a contributor for The Fantasy Show.

The strip club outing was not a formal ESPN activity, but it followed a dinner with company employees and involved several male job candidates. Sterger said she initially did not realize where they were going and she was teased about being uncomfortable once there.

Sterger and Berry say they were both admonished for the strip club outing, but Sterger did not get a job at ESPN while Berry did. ESPN said it chose another woman who had more experience, though an e-mail from the network at the time also said Sterger could have improved her chances by showing “more professional behavior.” Berry is now ESPN’s senior fantasy analyst and one of the most influential personalities in fantasy sports.”

Advertisement

Per Spotlight, Berry admitted visiting the strip club was not smart and that he regretted going. “He described a photo from that work trip in which he is pointing at Sterger’s breasts as ‘personally embarrassing and I did not mean any offense.’” Dude, YIKES.

If the NFL cares at all about women, they’ve done a terrible job making it believable to anyone. While they trot out the pink gear every October to supposedly make people “aware” of breast cancer, they continue to make excuses to keep men who harm women on their teams and in their owners’ suites, and they certainly don’t seem to object to them in the broadcast booths, either. And while women have come to expect nothing less from Roger Goodell and company, it would be nice to see that sexism and workplace sexual harassment matter to our male colleagues, too.

Advertisement

Instead, we’ll suffer through another NFL broadcast, being reminded that allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct do not, by any stretch of the imagination, “ruin men’s lives,” on the field or off. And that when it comes to calling out -isms in sports, sexism is the one that is left to the women in sports journalism to call out.

NCAA to Congress: Stop us before we NIL again

Gonzaga University men’s head basketball coach Mark Few testifies during the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing titled “NCAA Athlete NIL Rights” on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

The NCAA needs a reality check. This week the vanishingly relevant college athletics institution has once again asked Congress to help it stabilize the college sports system, but unless Hunter Biden is suiting up at linebacker for LSU next season, it’ll be hard to motivate the people in charge to fall in love with this cause.

This isn’t 1922, and the NCAA isn’t America’s Pastime. Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption is 100 years old, but trying to get some bespoke version of that for a college sports labor market instead of crafting it through deliberative policy is like deciding not to work for a living and buying a lottery ticket every week.

Name, Image and Likeness

The provocative issue is the arrival of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), which allows college athletes to make money off their status without drawing a salary from schools. It’s been a boon for many players, a bane for schools, and the chaos of a new market means that it isn’t a level playing field, so the NCAA would like Congress to nationalize the rule. Anyone could have seen NIL coming, but rather than trying to get ahead of the storm, the NCAA spent the last decade pouring cash into lawsuits that eroded the institution’s authority and options.

Advertisement

(Full disclosure, I am the executive director of Seton Hall’s Center for Sports Media.)

Advertisement

After current president Mark Emmert announced he was stepping down, the NCAA tapped former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to take over. Choosing a politician to head the organization speaks volumes.

You know who else wants Congress to save an industry from itself? Mark Zuckerberg signaled he was open to legislation starting in 2018 and now is lobbying around Section 230 in a way that would preserve Facebook’s advantage. And professional sports leagues have been clamoring for federal legislation around sports betting as most U.S. states have now legalized it in some form or another.

Advertisement

As unsympathetic as Zuckerberg and most professional sports leagues are, there is broad agreement that both social media and sports betting would greatly benefit from sound legislation. Social media has been found to have some damaging side effects for young people, and sports betting is a snarl of different state rules and little independent oversight.

But even those issues aren’t what’s in line in front of the NCAA’s request. Instead, you have things like HR 263 being brought to the house floor, proposing to ban rules that would outlaw gas stoves. It’s straight culture war nonsense.

Advertisement

Is protecting the NCAA offering the same kind of red meat to the base of these lawmakers? Unless Nick Saban is diagramming plays using Critical Race Theory, or the server with all of Hillary Clinton’s missing emails is buried under the 50-yard line at Ohio Stadium, this is just not a cause that will resonate with this cast of politicians.

But to be fair, this Congress is having trouble just paying the bills already. And it took 15 rounds of voting just to get a Speaker of the House.

Advertisement

Politicians are all about performing their fandom for the voters. In 2018 the mayors of Athens, Ga., and Tuscaloosa, Ala. bet some craft beer and charitable donations on the outcome of the Alabama-Georgia CFP title game. And who can forget Rudy Giuliani’s famous affinity for the Yankees when he was New York’s mayor?

And in some cases, those loyalties can greenlight stadiums and infrastructure. But as Boland notes, plenty of politicians are fans of teams, but a USC allegiance probably doesn’t mean any affection for the NCAA. No one has a Mark Emmert rookie card in a shoebox under the bed.

Advertisement

In fact, there might be more enthusiasm for individual athletes these days now that they can express themselves on social media. Face it, the model of amateur athletics is on the way out.

Advertisement

Glory days, well they’ll pass you by

So here comes the NCAA, asking us to look back to the glory days of your favorite era, as long as it came before the O’Bannon decision, and rewind the hands of the clock. But nostalgia isn’t the solution, although it has preserved the revenue-generating machine long beyond its expiration date.

Advertisement

A system that pays men’s football, and basketball coaches millions while refusing to compensate players is no longer a business model. There is way more money in the game now, and the trade that athletes make for tuition is more restrictive than what other scholarship students are asked to do. NIL is actually a pretty elegant solution since it generates revenue for players from outside the colleges.

Looking to Congress for the Hail Mary won’t change any of that.

Bethune-Cookman should fire Ed Reed — no more celebrity football coaches at HBCUs

In less than a month as the new head football coach at Bethune-Cookman University — a Historically Black College & University (HBCU) — Ed Reed has already unsurprisingly proven why he never should have been hired. Over the weekend, the College and Pro Football Hall of Famer took to social media to rant and rave in expletive-filled monologues about how Deion Sanders “was not wrong about HBCUs,” and how leadership at HBCUs somehow have “broken mentalities.” All of this is from a man that still hasn’t blown a whistle at an official practice yet.

This is what happens when schools believe that following the Jackson State model with Deion Sanders is sustainable, and when a grown man mimics another grown man.

“I just pulled up to work. We’re going to try to help y’all too man. Because I know a lot of HBCUs need help,” said Reed in one of his social media videos. I’m just here to help here first. I see it all too clearly. All of our HBCUs need help. And they need help because of the people who’s running it. Broken mentalities out here. I’m going to leave you with that. I gotta get in the office.”

Advertisement

“I’ve been here for a week and a half and have done more than people that have been here in freaking years. And I’m not even hired yet. Damn shame,” Reed claimed.

Advertisement

Reed later issued an apology in which he blamed his lack of professionalism on his passion. “I fell victim while engaging with antagonists on social media as well,” he wrote. But, the damage was already done. A program that was 2-9 last season, and a university that’s still dealing with the fallout from the pandemic as well as the ramifications from a hurricane that altered campus operations, is now dealing with Reed’s unnecessary antics. Not only is Reed an outsider when it comes to the HBCU landscape, but he also doesn’t check any of the boxes when it comes to coaching or running a program. His lone experience was as an assistant coach in the NFL for one season, and serving as an advisor and the chief of staff for the football program at his alma mater — the University of Miami.

Advertisement

Reed’s decision to run to social media to belittle Bethune-Cookman is very reminiscent of when Sanders did something similar to inform us that his car had been broken into and that some of his personal items had been stolen after his first game. Sanders would later inform us, via social media, that the items that were taken from his car were returned. It was also later learned that Sanders’ things had been moved, and not stolen during his coaching debut.

Beyond childish behavior

The frustrations and anger that both Sanders and Reed may have felt about what comes with the jobs they willingly accepted are more than understandable. However, what isn’t, is that two grown men — who are also two of the greatest players in football history — ran to the internet, or a friend with a microphone posing as a journalist, to air unnecessarily dirty laundry in a way that is reminiscent of teenagers trying to get their “likes” and “engagement” up on TikTok. This is beyond childish behavior. These are the acts of men with juvenile thought processes, who then dare to require accountability when they haven’t proven that they are even capable of their own requests. And then, to insult the mentalities and commitment of the students, alumni, faculty, and staff at HBCUs as if these great institutions are operating like struggling mom-and-pop stores is not only repulsive but the shining example of why both of these men are a detriment to the culture and HBCUs as a whole. Reed and Sanders exemplify why the celebrity coach trend at HBCUs needs to be eradicated and banished — forever.

Advertisement

For the smart people in the room that always understood that Sanders would never be the so-called savior of HBCUs, Reed’s rants are exactly what we meant when we said that Sanders didn’t make things better for HBCUs as a whole. He simply made things better for JSU’s football team for three seasons, and even then, he choked in the biggest game…twice.

There’s also Hue Jackson

And if Reed’s antics aren’t enough to warrant why the trend of hiring celebrity coaches needs to end at HBCUs, then Hue Jackson at Grambling State is Exhibit A. Before he even coached his first game, Jackson made headlines for doubling down on trying to hire Art Briles as his offensive coordinator — a man that’s been all but banished from coaching after being an alleged serial rape enabler during his tenure as the head coach of Baylor. [Editor’s note: An NCAA report at the time found that Briles “failed to meet even the most basic expectations of how a person should react to the kind of conduct at issue in this case.”] And now, Jackson — who is coming off a 3-8 debut season — is doing recruiting videos on social media that are copycatting Sanders’ “I’m bringing my luggage with me, and it’s Louis,” quote from when he told players at Colorado about the recruits he would be signing. In the video, Jackson is posing with expensive luggage next to a Maybach. This is the same man that accumulated an 11-44 record as an NFL head coach.

Advertisement

Eddie George does it the right way

However, if there is one celebrity coach that is doing it the right way, it’s Eddie George at Tennessee State. Next season, the Tigers will make history as the first HBCU to play at Notre Dame Stadium. It appears that George has done the work by listening, asking questions, and understanding what comes with being involved with HBCUs and HBCU athletics. “The bigger issue the school (TSU) is fighting is the money that’s owed to them from the land grant from the last 50 years. And that’s something that can be a huge shot in the arm for our institution,” said George in a recent interview on the obstacles that so many ignore, or are uneducated about, that HBCUs continually face.

Advertisement

These are the things that keep the leadership at HBCUs up at night, not worrying if Reed’s office is clean enough. Because what Reed, Sanders, and so many others have failed to notice is that athletics have never been a top priority at HBCUs, and never will. They’re not the reason that these institutions were founded, have survived, and are still thriving. The big man, or woman, on The Yard (campus) will never be an athlete, as they’re usually at the bottom of the social ladder. And if you think something is wrong with that, or that it needs to change, it’s proof that an HBCU isn’t for you.

Advertisement

But even still, some of Reed’s irritations are warranted. Just because athletics aren’t the first priority at HBCUs, it doesn’t mean more can’t be done. Back in 2013, Grambling’s football team boycotted for almost a week due to the conditions of their team facilities, long bus trips to road games, and personnel decisions. And at the time that this was written, Morehouse College — a place where Doug Williams and Todd Bowles once spent time on the sidelines coaching — still hasn’t hired a new head football coach.

We have to do better. We must do better.

But, hiring men like Reed and Sanders isn’t the answer. They’re focused on what HBCUs can do for them instead of what they can do for HBCUs. And at some point, we have to hold the schools accountable for making these flash-in-the-pan hires that don’t help in the long run. The public — and HBCUs themselves — have got to stop viewing these campuses as soft landing spots, or places where you can “get your foot in the door.” These are top-tier institutions that produce alumni who change the world.

Advertisement

In closing, the best example of why Ed Reed doesn’t deserve to be affiliated with Bethune-Cookman University, or any other HBCU, is a video clip of him giving a passionate halftime speech to his teammates when he played at Miami. “I put my heart in this sh*t! Let’s go, man!” he screams. If a man with that much passion and determination can’t bring that same energy in a positive way to a school that was founded by one of this world’s best educators, philanthropists, humanitarians, and civil rights activists (Mary McLeod Bethune) then the answer is simple — fire Ed Reed.

Jaden Rashada was sold a bill of goods, and Florida paid for it

Jaden Rashada

It’s always funny to me when a sportswriter says LeBron James or Steph Curry would be worth double or triple on the free market. While that may be true, that’s not reality. The salary cap is the reality, and they’ll have to accept the $40 million salary they’re currently earning. The same goes for Florida QB recruit Jaden Rashada, who was quoted $13 million in NIL deals by a collective in Gainesville. The reality was much less, and now Rashada has asked to be released from his scholarship.

This is more or less chaos as usual in the era of NIL deals. We think they’re this huge boon for recruiters and unpaid student-athletes. It’s just not as lucrative as you’d think. Former Alabama quarterback Bryce Young allegedly made $800,000 in NIL deals before even taking a snap for the Tide, and that’d make me extremely leery if I was Rashada. The Heisman winner didn’t clear seven figures when he was in Rashada’s position, so alarms should’ve gone off when some figurehead at the UF collective threw out that absurd number.

Who told him $13 million? Joe Burrow doesn’t even make that on his rookie deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, and he’s been to a Super Bowl. There’s no way in hell — or central Florida — that a high school recruit whose last name isn’t Manning is showing up on campus and getting an eight-figure NIL deal.

Advertisement

Speaking of Arch Manning, his NIL valuation was put at $3.5 million, according to reports, and that’s another red flag for Rashada. There are No. 1 overall recruits, and then there are Mannings, and even though the latter wasn’t the top prospect in his class, he’s got enough name recognition and family connections to show up in a Caesars Sportsbook ad alongside his uncles. (Though Arch is still a few years away from being able to legally show up at a casino.)

It’s like when my girlfriend Googled a few of my baseball cards, and the internet told her they were worth thousands. I wish there was a payoff for lugging those around to four different states, but alas, it was not meant to be.

Advertisement

So what are Florida’s options under center?

The Gators are now in the unenviable position of scrambling for a starting QB. Rashada was the highest-ranked player in Florida’s 2023 recruiting class, and now it’ll be up to whoever wins the battle between Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz, Ohio State transfer Jack Miller, and sophomore Max Brown. Mertz made Badgers fans’ eyes bleed for years in Madison, and the other two haven’t seen a ton of snaps.

Advertisement

There have been rumors of Florida turning to the transfer portal, but most of the viable options have already picked a new school, and the official NCAA transfer window closed today. Rashada is sure to get more than enough hate messages for a decision that was the result of a collective failing to deliver on a promise.

So Florida fans, please, think before you inundate an 18-year-old with grievances and insults because he’s not entirely to blame.

Advertisement

Who’s the leader to land Rashada?

Prior to committing to Florida, the No. 6 quarterback recruit in the country appeared to be on his way to Coral Gables and the University of Miami, and it looks like that’s where he could ultimately end up. Current ‘Canes QB Tyler Van Dyke took a step back this season under new head coach Mario Cristobal, but he remains with the team.

Advertisement

However, the U’s other QB who saw playing time in 2022, Jake Garcia, entered the transfer portal this week, and considering how shaky Van Dyke was last year, the competition for the starting spot is likely wide open. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Garcia’s decision was a direct response to Rashada asking out of his scholarship.

No word on how much Rashada is worth on the NIL market in South Florida, but hopefully he’ll be a tad more skeptical the next time a collective comes to him with a massive valuation.