Bob Schwartz

Category: Sports

Colin Kaepernick in new Nike ad campaign: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Colin Kaepernick for Nike

ESPN:

Colin Kaepernick is back — at least as far as Madison Avenue is concerned.

The former NFL quarterback, who is suing NFL owners for colluding to keep him out of the league, is one of the faces of a new Nike campaign meant to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the brand’s iconic “Just Do It” motto.

The new ad, which Kaepernick shared on social media Monday afternoon, features the message: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Nike signed Kaepernick in 2011 and kept him on its endorsement roster over the years. The company had not used him in the past two years.

“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand for North America, told ESPN.

Other athletes in the “Just Do It” campaign include Odell Beckham Jr., Shaquem Griffin, Lacey Baker, Serena Williams and LeBron James.

“We wanted to energize its meaning and introduce ‘Just Do It’ to a new generation of athletes,” Fisanotti said.

Fisanotti said the new version of the campaign is meant to specifically speak to 15- to 17-year olds.

Kaepernick’s protests of racial injustice — which began in August 2016 with sitting and later kneeling during the national anthem — launched a movement across the NFL. No team signed him as a free agent in 2017.

Sure Nike has mixed motives in running this campaign. One of them is to sell shoes. But they are paying their money to communicate an important American message and story. Kaepernick stood up by kneeling, and paid a price, but set a movement in motion. Nike may pay a price for standing up too.

So consider buying a pair of Nikes, even if you don’t want new shoes or their shoes. Consider investing in Nike (NKE), even if you don’t buy stock or want their stock. We need more Americans like Colin Kaepernick and more American companies like Nike to stand up in the face of some ugly and oppressive winds. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” That’s an American message to be repeated and lived. Just do it.

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Without a Brand New Playbook the Democrats Are Lost

Sid Gillman is a towering figure in National Football League history—in fact, in the history of American football:

He began his coaching career in an era that taught that running the ball was the surest way to victory.

It was a philosophy with which he disagreed. “The big play comes with the pass,” he would tell anyone who would take time to listen. “God bless those runners because they get you the first down, give you ball control and keep your defense off the field. But if you want to ring the cash register, you have to pass.”

Sid went on to become the foremost authority on forward passing offense. He was the first coach to produce divisional champions in both the National and American Football Leagues. Gillman’s first pro coaching job came in 1955 when he became the Los Angeles Rams head coach. In his first year he led the team to a division crown.

The rest is history. Not only did opposing teams have to learn to defend against the big pass play, which opened up the field, but they had to develop new and innovative playbooks of their own.

Like it or not, there is a new playbook in American politics, at least from one of the teams. Maybe—hopefully—it will return to a game that unconditionally rewards excellence, competence, integrity, morality, ethics, reasonableness, responsibility, accountability, civility and honesty. But not at the moment.

This isn’t to suggest that Democrats adopt the Trump playbook. But just as with the football teams that had to play against Gillman, the Democrats have to spend time—much of which they wasted in 2017—doing more than tweaking the plays or even finding better players. The old playbook is not going to work in 2018, and for all we know, in the foreseeable future.

Whatever you hear the Democrats propose, whoever you see the Democrats running, ask yourself whether it is part of a brand new playbook, or just updated versions of the same old one. Because without that new playbook, winning will remain often out of reach.

NFL Priorities

NFL

Which of these three NFL issues deserves the deepest continuous attention by the league, by fans, by the media, and by the public?

1. Frequent on-field concussions that demonstrably lead to players having permanent brain damage, diminished quality of life, and premature death.

2. Frequent off-field antisocial and possibly criminal behavior by celebrated players.

3. A possibly deflated football.

Note: It is possible that more scientists have been covered talking about the football that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may have had deflated than about the concussions in the NFL.

The NFL and Ferguson

Roger Goodell NFL

NFL player Ray Rice beat his then-fiancée/now-wife unconscious inside an elevator in Atlantic City. Police officer Darren Wilson shot dead an unarmed teenager in the middle of a street in Ferguson, Missouri.

(To Rice’s credit, he had the courtesy to drag her body out of the elevator, while the Ferguson police left Michael Brown’s body on that street for hours.)

These two incidents are so much the same and so different. They tell us things we don’t want to hear, know, or think about. They also tell us one surprisingly good thing. The establishment interests can be just as committed to privileging a black American as killing him ruthlessly, under the right circumstances. Especially if there’s big money at stake. So we learn that ignominy is race neutral at last.

Until yesterday there was no publicly available video of the beating, though it was apparently available and seen by various authorities. The only public video until then was from the outside of the elevator, merely showing Rice dragging the body, not beating it. As one journalist now explains his defense of Rice’s mere two-game NFL suspension and not being charged with a felony:

The inside-the-elevator video shows Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, provoking, brutally assaulting and then casually and callously standing over his knocked-out fiancée (who is now his wife). His actions are sickening in their depravity and confirm a worst-case-scenario narrative I was reluctant to believe after seeing only the previously released, outside-the-elevator video.

I thought the full video would explain why: Why police originally charged Ray and Janay with simple assault. Why the prosecutor allowed Ray to enter a diversion program. Why Janay apologized for her role. Why Janay chose to marry Ray. Why the Ravens enthusiastically supported Rice and used their facilities in helping him rehabilitate his image. Why Goodell suspended Rice for only two games.

I wrongly and naively thought that she was the aggressor in the attack, that Rice reflexively shoved her to fend her off and she slipped, fell and hit her head [emphasis added]. I did not think a man could sucker-punch a woman on tape and have the police, a prosecutor, the victim and the image-conscious NFL all work to treat the assaulter in a sympathetic fashion.

Fell and hit her head. That reminds us of nothing so much as the stories reported by battered children (and wives and girlfriends) who “run into doors.” Except this is a journalist using his best investigative and inferential skills to draw an “obvious” circumstantial conclusion. He could be forgiven for drawing the same ridiculous conclusion as law enforcement, the NFL, and the Baltimore Ravens. Except that some or all of them had the inside the elevator video or at least more detail, and still came to the same conclusion, at least publicly.

There is no video of exactly what happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, though there are witnesses to pieces of it, an audio recording, and more than one autopsy. There the instinct on the part of vested interests and the establishment was to wait and see, but really to stonewall, cover up, and put the best light on the situation. That turned out to be a disastrous approach, but at least it got people talking about former unmentionables. Small consolation.

How is this any different than what is going on with Ray Rice? The vested interests tried to put the best light on his situation, and despite outrage, almost got away with it. How are the people who up until yesterday circled the wagons around Ray Rice, giving him the benefit of the doubt and a slap on the wrist, any different than those who have been circling the wagons around Darren Wilson, giving him the benefit of the doubt?

One difference is that Ferguson is a small predominantly black town with a small almost entirely white police force that appears to have some race issues, while the NFL is a huge enterprise predominantly owned and run by white people with a pro game substantially played by black men that appears to have some race issues. It’s those issues, along with other social, legal and moral ones, that have us all talking. About policing. About the NFL. About race.

The victims were both black, one a kid possibly involved in petty crime (there’s a video of that), the other a woman engaged to a professional warrior who could have easily killed her, rather than just beating her senseless after she “provoked” him (there’s now video of that).

Maybe from the first, Ray Rice should have taken the approach that will certainly be at the center of Darren Wilson’s defense, assuming he is charged: I was in fear for my life. Up until yesterday, lots of people would apparently have been willing to accept a story like that, if it served their interests. Thankfully, they now all have to stop pretending, and we can start asking what it all means.

Jack Cristil: The Voice of God is Gone

Jack Cristil Biography

There are two ways you might know Jack Cristil, who died this weekend at the age of 88. But maybe not.

If you’re from Mississippi, or an SEC sports fan, you know him as the The Voice of Mississippi State football and basketball for almost sixty years, until his retirement in 2011.

If you are a member of the Tupelo Jewish community, where Jack was an essential part of Temple B’nai Israel for almost that long, you know him, more or less, as The Voice of God. In addition to his leadership roles in the congregation, Jack frequently led services. Most of us have heard clergy and lay people at the pulpit with some memorable voices and presences. Jack stood above them all. That perfectly modulated baritone, driven by his deep and unshakable faith, gave us all the play-by-play for a different sort of game, season after season.

That extraordinary voice would mean nothing without the man behind it—just a trick of vocal cords and breath. But Jack’s mind and heart were even bigger than that voice. Which is why when he spoke on the radio or at services, or in the more intimate setting of a meeting or conversation, you listened. Some people get our attention by the way they say things, and Jack could get anybody’s attention. But others keep our attention because of what they say, and even more, who they are.

In case you still think that Jack was not so well-known or important, see the above book cover from a biography of him. You may not have heard of Jack or of the author, veteran Mississippi journalist Sid Salter. But the man who wrote the Foreword to Jack’s biography is a little more familiar—a Memphis-based writer named John Grisham.

And if that’s not famous enough, here’s a photo of Jack interviewing Elvis:

Jack Cristil and Elvis

Jack is gone, but anyone who has heard that voice, even once, will hear it forever. One of Jack’s favorite bits in services was to ask the congregation to turn to a particular page in the prayer book and to indicate having done so by being seated. Today, we indicate our love and respect by standing up. We hear you, Jack.

Ukraine: What’s Happening on the Weak Side?

Basketball
The weak side in basketball does not suggest weakness. It is the part of the court away from the ball. This doesn’t mean that the players there are weak or that the action there is unimportant. On the best teams, there can be almost as much happening on the weak side as there is on the strong side. Players may be running around, positioning themselves to take advantage, either by scoring or by taking away the ball. On the lesser teams, weak side players sometimes seem to drift aimlessly, or just stand around, depending on someone else to somehow work it out. If you don’t have the ball, what else is there to do?

We know exactly where the ball is in the current Ukraine crisis. And we know exactly who has the ball. The question is what the players on the weak side are doing. Are there plays carefully diagramed by the coach, practiced for just such a situation? Is there a player away from the ball, away from the basket, just waiting to heroically steal and drive all the way down court? Or are the weak side players drifting, trying to remember plays they once learned or improvise new ones?

The shot clock is running.

Putin About to Win Post-Olympics Invasion Competition

Putin Olympics
In August 1936 Adolf Hitler hosted the Olympics in Germany. In March 1938 he invaded Austria. He waited about 18 months.

In February 2014 Vladimir Putin hosted the Olympics in Russia. Just a few days after the closing ceremonies, Putin is hosting ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych. Putin is also engaging in rhetoric and military movements that reasonably look like a prelude to some sort of Russian intervention in the Crimea region of eastern Ukraine, or he is at least engaging in bullying and sabre rattling.

Putin is on his way to winning the gold for post-Olympics invasions, moving Hitler down to the silver. Well done.

League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis

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You may not think that you want to watch the new PBS Frontline documentary League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.

You may not want to spend almost two hours on a documentary, even a superb one. You may not like football, may not know anybody who plays football at any level, may not care about the business of sports. Then again, some or all of those may apply to you.

It doesn’t matter. You can watch League of Denial online. Please watch it.

One of the many lessons you will learn, if you didn’t already know, is that we pay a price for everything. Or at least somebody does. The price is sometimes advertised and obvious, but sometimes hard to find or even hidden. The point is not that something is good or bad, right or wrong, but that we can only make informed and enlightened decisions when everything is known. No more or less.

MLB.com At Bat App

MLB-At-Bat-Splashscreen
About the game of baseball, you cannot say enough great things. No matter how many players in other sports wear John 3:16 eye black or bend a celebratory knee in devotion, baseball is the sport God invented and intended for great athletes to play—proven, among other evidence, by the 60 feet from home to first that is the perfect balance between the speed of a running batter and the speed of a ball thrown from shortstop. Proven also by that fact that very few stars in those other sports have succeeded at baseball, including the greatest of all basketball players, Michael Jordan. If baseball is God’s game, the curve ball is God’s wicked joke.

About the business of baseball, it is more equivocal. As with all sports, teams face daunting changes as the financial stakes have grown exponentially. Some teams have handled the challenge with professionalism, skill and finesse, and with respect for the game, for players, and most of all for fans. With other teams, the terms self-interested and heedless of baseball’s best interests may apply. Right now, a number of Florida fans consider Miami Marlins owner Jeff Loria the poster person for that.

About Major League Baseball, the enterprise overlord that oversees all this, there is even more equivocation. Most of that is centered on the Commissioner. Just as historians talk about the evolution of the Imperial Presidency, the Imperial Commisionership grew out the infamous Black Sox Scandal in 1919, when players on the White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series. The next year, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed Commissioner to take control, and ever since, the Commissioner has served an increasingly central role in the fortunes (metaphorically and literally) of the game.

The best modern Commissioner, who combined the myth and poetry of baseball with its down and dirty aspects, was Bart Giamatti, whose tenure was truncated by his untimely death. Giamatti knew how to manage huge and venerable institutions as president of Yale, but also understood the soul of the sport as a writer and a passionate lover of baseball. The current long-time Commissioner, Bud Selig, is more controversial, and a bit less generally beloved or respected in some quarters. Selig is no poet, nor was meant to be, but some knowledgeable fans also believe that as the game both succeeded and suffered over the past decades, he was a catalyst for both.

Whether or not you are a fan of the Commissioner, or of the direction MLB is taking, or of the direction your particular team is taking, it is time to give credit where it’s due.

Baseball fans are as fanatic as any—some might say more than any—in delving into the details, past and present. Once upon a time, that might have meant reading the Sporting News, especially as spring training for a new season began. Then magazines began popping up, and then fantasy leagues, and then more magazines to inform the fantasy leagues.

But nothing beats the comprehension and immediacy of digital for any special interest, and baseball is no different. The very thought of having a mobile app to feed your baseball addiction is almost too much to bear. The sad news, though, is that with one grand exception, baseball is not yet successfully mobile. Typical for the mobile realm, there’s a bunch of junk and some almost-decent efforts.

The exception: love, hate or question MLB, you have to admit that the free MLB.com At Bat mobile app is a model of how to serve a universe of fanatics. (As an extension of their online offerings, there are paid premium versions that include live games.) Scoreboard, standings, players, teams, rosters, news—it is all there, in an admirably usable and appealing form. They keep working at it too, with a major overhaul just as spring training began. It is not perfect, but it will do until something better comes along.

If you are a real baseball fan, married to the game, you have reasons to complain and moan about MLB even as you are ecstatically thankful for your bliss. Set aside whatever those complaints are and here, as another season begins,  consider downloading the MLB.com At Bat mobile app today.

Permissions and Privacy: Medium

As with all mobile apps, please read carefully the Permissions requested by the developer. Users should be diligent in weighing potential privacy issues against the utility and value of an app.

NASCAR Follows NRA Off the Roof

NRA 300
The National Rifle Association jumped off the public relations roof in the wake of Newtown and the legislative attempts to curb gun violence.

Which is fine. The First Amendment guarantees the right of individuals or groups to jump off any rhetorical roof, so long as no one is harmed (except maybe for the jumper). There is money to be made and power to be gained by taking extreme or contrarian positions, sometimes the louder and more insistent the better.

But as your parents advised you—though you may have willfully ignored the advice—just because Johnny jumps off the roof doesn’t mean you should do the same.

As recently as last September, the NRA sponsored a NASCAR race, the NRA American Warrior 300 in Atlanta.

Today it was announced that the NRA will be sponsoring a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway this April, to be called the NRA 500.

Something happened between September and April: Newtown, Sandy Hook, twenty children slaughtered.

The NRA believes that if anything happened, it only makes it more important than ever to pretend that nothing happened, or to pretend that whatever happened can’t be prevented by any proposed measures, or to pretend that what happened is being unfairly used to threaten their existence and the Second Amendment. The NRA believes it has the support of millions, and that its obstruction is massively appreciated, all national polls to the contrary. It believes that even if it is jumping off some roof, there is a safety net to catch it.

NASCAR may believe that it will be caught by that same safety net, since many NASCAR fans are also gun owners, if not NRA members. NASCAR may feel it is caught between a rock and a hard place: damned if they continue to work with the NRA, damned if they don’t. Of course, even many NRA members are skeptical, some embarrassed, by the NRA’s current extremism and obstruction. On top of that, the NRA PR safety net, even if it does still exist, is probably big enough for just one.

Maybe an NRA race this April won’t be such a big deal for NASCAR. But maybe it will be. If it is, NASCAR shouldn’t expect that there will be a net to catch it. We will know in the days to come whether this is a brilliant move, just business as usual, or a thud.