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Archive for Omnibus

Nov. 24, 2021 — It’s making sense, now

It was in early 2020, right at the start of the global pandemic, that a number of prominent American women’s soccer players decided to leave their National Women’s Soccer League clubs and go off to European clubs like Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Paris-St. Germain.

Over the last few months, however, one of the big reasons for the exodus has been exposed. A culture of disrespect and abuse of professional players, making an average of about $33,000 a year, has led to a diminishing of not only the league, but of the performance of the U.S. women’s soccer team.

I cannot help but posit that the USA’s third-place performance at the Tokyo Olympics is a consequence of the abusive environment, which was aided and abetted by certain owners of NWSL teams, and the United States Soccer Federation, which had a major ownership state in the league when it launched in 2013.

Just this week, Rory Dames, the head coach of the second-place Chicago Red Stars, resigned under a cloud of suspicion regarding his behavior towards his players.

This means that, since the start of the 2021 season, nine out of the 10 head coaches in the league resigned for one reason or another. Six of them left under fire from their own players for abusive or coercive behavior.

That is a remarkably poor record for any professional league, in any sport.

As the NWSL becomes the first USSF Division I women’s pro soccer league to surpass 10 teams, there are still existential questions about the league and the various entities surrounding it. There is open revolt against the ownership of the league’s most popular team (Portland) as well as the current league champion (Washington). There are also questions going right up to the top levels of U.S. Soccer — the kinds of questions which are reserved for a Watergate-type investigation.

I don’t think this is going to go well for the people who run women’s soccer in America.

Nov. 10, 2021 — Just when you thought the women’s soccer universe couldn’t get more lurid

Last Thursday, the Paris St. Germain women’s soccer team had just finished a team meal when Khiera Hamaroui, who had joined the team from Barcelona over the summer, got into a car with her teammate Aminata Diallo.

The car was accosted on the way back from the restaurant by two men, who used metal bars to strike Hamaroui on the legs and arms. The assault left cuts and heavy bruises, and she was left out of PSG’s Champions League fixture this week, which was a 4-0 rout of Real Madrid.

This morning, Diallo was arrested in connection with the assault. The arrest was confirmed by the club this morning. Apparently, she arranged the attack since Hamaroui was a rival for Diallo’s place in the side (both are midfielders).

The attack wakes up the echoes of the Tonya Harding scandal, when the figure skater allegedly arranged for an assault on her skating rival Nancy Kerrigan in order to improve her chances of making the 1994 Olympics in women’s singles.

This soccer scandal comes in a very awkward time for Paris St. Germain. The club has leveraged funding by Qatari interests in order to try to buy the best talent on the men’s side, including Lionel Messi. At the same time, the women’s club has also been looking to improve. PSG won the French first-division champion last year, its first major trophy.

Too, Hamaroui and Diallo have not only been teammates with PSG, but for the French women’s national side.

Oct. 31, 2021 — In the NCAA, gender inequities run deep

The pictures hit social media like a bomb last March.

There was a small oddment of dumbbells and yoga mats in a hotel ballroom that a Stanford coach photographed and compared to the full gym setup afforded to the Cardinal men’s basketball team for their participation in their respective NCAA Division I basketball tournaments.

An exhaustive and evolving listing of inequities have been maintained by OnHerTurf, and may be found here.

The story has led to a gender equity review conducted by the law firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP (full disclosure: Roberta Kaplan is my former college classmate).

It should be no surprise that the NCAA, despite its status as a legal non-profit, has aimed resources at revenue-generating sports such as football and men’s basketball. The NCAA spends more than twice the money on male athletes than they do on female athletes in championship settings.

But even when you look at other comparisons between men’s and women’s organizations in the same sport, gender inequities are pervasive and obvious. The lacrosse Twitterverse was rife with comparisons late last week, describing how the Division I men’s lacrosse tournament is played in professional football stadiums and with paid advertisements on billboards. Meanwhile, the women’s lacrosse tournament is held mainly in football stadia of mid-major programs such as Stony Brook and Towson University. It has also been pointed out that while the men’s octofinal and quarterfinal rounds of the lacrosse tournament are broadcast in their entirety, that is not the case for the women.

The pervasiveness of the inequities and the difficulties of reform were reflected in the law firm’s report. Apparently, the NCAA does not maintain records of expenses, ticket sales, amenities, or other items in a standardized manner, which makes it difficult to analyze spending year-to-year or sport-to-sport.

But the biggest problem is, frankly, the television revenue. While CBS and Turner pay the NCAA several billion dollars for carrying the Division I men’s basketball tournament, the ESPN contract for 29 sports (including women’s basketball) is, according to the Kaplan report, a “significant underpayment.”

The NCAA has been promising some reforms, including using the service mark “March Madness” for the women’s basketball tournament. But real reform isn’t going to be as simple as plastering that wordmark at the center jump circle where the words “Women’s Basketball” were.

Oct. 30, 2021 — The exposure of locker-room culture is showing an unpleasant side to sport

Back in 1970, a baseball player named Jim Bouton published a book called “Ball Four,” a first-hand diary of his 1969 baseball season. It was the first tell-all book about the inside of a baseball locker room and the dynamics between players as well as between players and coaches.

This year, the toxic relationships between players and team personnel have been brought into the light. Earlier this month, the National Women’s Soccer League saw a near-revolt by its players against toxic coaching, brought on by revelations about coaching abuse in North Carolina, Washington, Portland, Louisville, and New York.

Just this week, the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League were fined $2 million for not investigating claims by one of its former players, Kyle Beach, that he was sexually abused by the team’s video coach back in 2010.

Aside from the multimillion-dollar fine, there have been a number of resignations. Chicago general manager Stan Bowman and senior VP of hockey operations Al MacIsaac have lost their jobs. And so has Joel Quenneville, the former Chicago head coach who has been coaching at Florida the last couple of seasons.

Sexual abuse in ice hockey has been one of those secrets that have been kept hushed in many conversations, especially in Canada. Dozens of vulnerable teenagers, looking to make better lives for themselves, play for Tier I junior teams from coast to coast, living with host families and traveling thousands of miles by bus to play 60-game seasons. There, the players have to learn life lessons about sex abuse, drugs, and alcohol away from their families.

The unfortunate thing is that the wrong lessons are often learned. And not just by the players, but by coaches and administrators of the sport. Given what has been written about the Beach situation, as well as the situation we talked about last year regarding Tom “Chico” Adrahtas, I get the feeling that there’s going to be a severe reckoning within the North American ice hockey community.

Oct. 21, 2021 — The NYSPHSAA makes an enormous mistake

Imagine if a young Lew Alcindor, as a basketball player for Power Memorial High School in New York City, could have made money selling his autograph in the 1960s.

Imagine if a teenage Tracey Fuchs could have made paid appearances in the early 1980s for SportCraft field hockey sticks.

Imagine if Shannon Smith ran youth lacrosse camps while attending high school, trading on her 500-goal career on Long Island.

These scenes of amateur athletes selling their names, likeness, and/or image were unimaginable in their time because of rules on amateurism that, if violated, could affect an athlete’s amateur status for college and even Olympic competition.

These days, however, a flood of deregulation in amateur sports has allowed track athletes to make money racing full time, has allowed NBA and NHL players to make Olympic basketball and hockey teams, and has resulted in numerous college athletes to sign with t-shirt companies, on-line casinos, and even local businesses near college campuses.

Yesterday, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the state governing body for high school sports in New York, has passed a rule at its quarterly executive committee meeting allowing high-school students to profit off their NLI.

The legislation is limited, to a point. An athlete can participate in commercial endorsements provided there is no identifier regarding the player’s school, team, section of the state, or the NYSPHSAA itself.

This brings to mind New Yorker Sebastian Telfair, who, as a middle-schooler, appeared in advertisements for sneakers and streetwear in urban magazines before playing a single game at Lincoln High School. He would negotiate an eight-figure sneaker deal before playing a single NBA game, all the while riding around town in Jay Z’s limousine.

The amount of money involved in shoes, athletic wear, camps, and other endorsements make me believe that the NYSPHSAA is making an enormous mistake. Sure, it is evident that coaches, agents, and others in the scholastic sports world will find their way around any and every regulation enacted to protect athletes from the unscrupulous. But especially in basketball-mad New York, the temptations afforded high-school students could be even greater than what Telfair faced.

Telfair was a ranked basketball player as early as fourth grade, and was called the best backcourt prospect coming out of Manhattan in decades. He committed to the University of Louisville until his handlers convinced him to come out for the NBA Draft.

The regrettable thing is that Telfair became little more than a journeyman player in the NBA and had frequent brushes with the law. The latest scandal involves federal fraud charges involving the NBA’s own health benefits plan.

Thing is, there shouldn’t be less protections for high-school athletes from some of these predatory figures — there should be more.

Oct. 17, 2021 — A short supply in a place you might not expect

I’ve read a bunch of stories this fall about umpiring shortages in field hockey. The shortages are getting to a point where games aren’t getting assigned officials until hours before the opening hitback of a particular game.

Field hockey isn’t alone. The global pandemic has done a number on refereeing pools in sports from football to lacrosse. The aging pool of game officials is not being replenished, and there is wage pressure being placed on the organizers of youth sport.

This is even happening in a place like the province of Quebec, which has seen a 30 percent decrease in hockey officials since the start of the pandemic, according to CTV News. This, and low pay (the referees get as little as CDN$25 per game) has had many potential referees opting out and taking higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

I’m amazed that this shortage is occurring in hockey-mad Canada. The thing is, hockey officials are a specialized type of athlete. Hockey officials not only have to apply a complex set of rules, they have to keep up with skaters going up to 30 miles an hour and pucks going up to 100 miles an hour. They also have to have the physical ability sometimes to break up scrums along the boards. And all of this while on ice skates.

Now, I’ve heard plenty of arguments in the sports world that game officials in many sports are in short supply because of overweening helicopter parents shouting at them because of a particular call or calls going against their teams. This especially happens in pay-to-play situations like travel sports, where parents spend thousands of dollars on their children’s game experience in order to chase either exposure or a college scholarships.

Frustration with these kinds of pursuits has led to some high-level cases of abuse of officials. One prominent example is an extremely ugly incident last year in Texas which saw a high-school player ejected from a game and his team disqualified from the state playoffs for their enrollment class.

Like in many industries in America, you’re seeing potential employees — in this case, game officials — opting to take jobs where you don’t have half of a public crowd barking at you for three hours for low wages. In other words, game officials aren’t being made to feel useful or have their work be validated by members of the general public. That’s the real shame of this entire post-pandemic economy.

Oct. 13, 2021 — Athletes Unlimited makes a curious choice

When Athletes Unlimited began sponsoring their coachless models of women’s sports leagues in softball, volleyball, and lacrosse, they stepped into situations of failing pro leagues.

In softball, the COVID-19 pandemic put the kibosh on 2020 and 2021 leagues, plus there was the entire situation when the Scrap Yard club side walked out on their ownership during a series of exhibition games against the USSSA Pride.

In volleyball, Athletes Unlimited stepped into the void left when the United States Professional Volleyball League folded in 2001. And in lacrosse, AU came in after two women’s leagues — the WPLL and UWLX — started up in the late 2010s.

So, I find it interesting that Jon Patricof and Jonathan Soros have made their next foray into a women’s sports league with a sport which has a quarter-century of professional history in America.

That sport is basketball.

Yep, Athletes Unlimited is looking to get a foothold in a sports market where the NBA and WNBA are the undisputed kings and queens of the hill. AU is planning a five-week schedule with four 11-woman teams. In a statement released by the league yesterday, former WNBA guard Natasha Cloud said that one of her reasons for playing in the league is the fact that many pros who play in the WNBA have to play in a panoply of foreign leagues during the league’s offseason in order to get by.

“I have played overseas, it’s not what I want to do,” Cloud said. “I don’t want to spend seven months away from my family. To have a competitive league and stay in shape … is new wave. I’m excited to be one of the pioneers for the basketball side of it.”

The league will take place Jan. 29 to Feb. 28 of next year in a city yet to be determined. And I think the location of that city may be a determinant as to the direction that AU will go in terms of empowering female athletes. Given the fact that the league window is right in the middle of the NCAA and NBA seasons, I think it is going to be very difficult for this league to get any attention unless it becomes a true happening in the city in which is located.

And the thing is, many places in the U.S. are pretty well saturated with live basketball during the winter months. Even top markets for the women’s game, such as eastern Tennessee and southern New England, are going to have competitors for attention.

It’s a risk, but I have a feeling this is one which the league partners believe is worth taking.

Oct. 7, 2021 — A game-changer for young people

This morning, word came that Pfizer made a formal request to the Food and Drug Administration to authorize its Coronavirus vaccine for children age 5-11. It’s estimated that up to 28 million children in the United States would be eligible for the shots if the FDA panel green-lights the vaccine.

For most of the duration of the global pandemic, the target demographic for people getting vaccines have been persons over the age of 18, fully grown adults and the elderly. But in the last few months, as the vaccinated population has risen, the demographics have skewed towards younger groups.

As in-person schooling has become the norm in many American school districts this fall, there has been a greater effort in getting vaccines in students under the age of 18, especially student-athletes. Indeed, there are several large and prominent school district across the U.S. are mandating vaccination for people wanting to play winter sports, almost all of which are played indoors.

The Pfizer vaccine for the 5-11 age group will almost certainly prompt more districts to mandate vaccines for high-school aged student-athletes.

The way I see it, anything to make the atmosphere safer for everyone involved is a good thing.

Oct. 6, 2021 — For the NWSL, its reckoning begins tonight

This evening, the National Women’s Soccer League retakes the field in Philadelphia, Portland, and Cary, N.C. for the first time since revelations about systemic and pervasive verbal and sexual abuse of pro women’s soccer players in the nation’s longest-surviving Division I league came to light.

The revelations, published in The Washington Post, have resulted in the resignation of coaches, the departure of the CEO of one team, and the stepping-down of NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird and her general counsel.

The league begins this week much changed from the beginning from of the 2021 season, with the resignations of several coaches for cause and all manner of questions being asked of team and league officials as to why certain coaches, with reputations of abuse, were allowed to become coaches in the league.

In addition, there are questions about the quality of officiating within the league, with poorly-paid secondary-level game officials (you’ll notice them because their referee patches are other than black) and the lack of video assistant refereeing.

But what seems to be the major issue that is driving a lot of the grievances within the league is the lack of a collective bargaining agreement. The league has found its feet, expanding to as many as 12 teams by 2023, but the main body of NWSL players are not paid a living wage. Players have had to scrounge around as Door Dash delivery people, or hire themselves out to soccer camps, to get by. Indeed, the NWSL Players’ Association and supporters have been bandying around a hashtag to agitate for an agreement between players and owners. The hashtag is #NoMoreSideHustles, and that hashtag is likely to be part of displays and banners at games between now and the end of the season.

I suggest taking a look at the supporters groups during the games — the Spirit Squadron, Cloud 9, the Rose City Riveters, the Uproar, the Bayou City Republic, and the Rose Room Collective. What these groups do in terms of not only their team support, but their activism off the pitch, will go a long way to determining what happens with the league in terms of governance and ownership in this critical time.

Oct. 4, 2021 — Multiple outlets, a good thing

This site hasn’t been affected at all by today’s outage of social media presences like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram.

Indeed, the great thing about what we’ve done over the past 23 years on this site is to build in a measure of redundancy. For the blog, we designed this site to have a front and a side door; there are three ways to get to these words.

It’s much the same with our social media posts. Although our Unfiltered series is based on what we have on Instagram, you can access the post through Twitter or Facebook. Our TikTok videos can be found through Instagram.

So, we’re still here, still writing, and still listening to what is going on so that you, the readership, can be informed.