Gavin J. Davidson is a second-year graduate student in Sport Administration at BGSU from West Point, MS. He is interested in most major sports but football is his primary sport interest.
March 16, 2022
The NFL has had an historic lack of diversity in its head coaching ranks since the league was formed in 1920. Until 2003, there were only five Black head coaches hired in the league. To increase the chances of minorities getting an opportunity to coach, the league issued the Rooney Rule, which is named after former Steelers’ Chairman Dan Rooney. The Rooney Rule requires “every team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one or more diverse candidates before making a new hire.” In the beginning, most mainstream media applauded the NFL’s efforts to bring greater diversity to the league. The positive reception of the rule allowed it to be extended to general managers and front-office positions in 2009. Jason Lewis considered the rule to be making a positive change, saying, “The rule has been controversial, but it has been effective.”
While Lewis praised the Rooney Rule, he pointed out that sham interviews had occurred. In 2003, the Detroit Lions were fined for not interviewing a minority candidate for their head coaching vacancy. In 2010, the Washington Commanders (then Redskins) hired Mike Shanahan while the Seattle Seahawks hired Pete Carroll to be head coaches for their respective football teams. Since the teams predetermined that they wanted Shanahan and Carroll, they interviewed minority candidates late in the process just to be in compliance. In 2013, Maloni and Diegel suggested that nepotism had trumped the Rooney Rule reporting that in the first ten years of the Rooney Rule, coaches’ relatives would often get jobs on their family’s staff and/or be promoted from within.
When the league saw that it was reverting to the problem of a lack of diversity in the coaching ranks, they adjusted by making additions to the rule. Michael David Smith detailed some of the additions to the rule in 2020, including a second minority candidate added to the hiring pool, no internal promotions, extending the rule to coordinators’ jobs, and adding an incentive program. An additional amendment rewarded teams for developing minority talent who became a head coach or GM in the league. If a team lost a minority coach or an executive to another team, then the original team would get a third-round compensatory pick for two years, and if they lost both in the same year then they received a third-round compensatory pick for three years. The NFL also required teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for a head coaching position and one for a coordinator position. There must also be one minority or female candidate interviewed for senior level positions.
As the rule became less effective, media narratives began to change. Instead of commending the Rooney Rule for helping to even the playing field for minorities, some in the media concluded that the league was finding ways to maintain the status quo, making the rule now useless. So, what factors contributed to changing media narratives about the Rooney Rule? The lawsuit filed by the former Head Coach of the Miami Dolphins certainly highlighted its ineffectiveness.
On January 10, 2022, Brian Flores, the Dolphins’ head coach for the past three seasons, was fired because he was considered “too difficult to work with,” according to the lawsuit filed on February 1, 2022. Coach Flores did not have an unsuccessful tenure when you look at his record with the team. He compiled a 24-25 record with a winning record in the last two seasons. Despite not making the playoffs in three years, Flores inherited a rebuild that may have overperformed based upon national media experts’ expectations reflected by their preseason predictions.
After Coach Flores departed, he had multiple interviews for head coaching vacancies in the league. When the Giants released Joe Judge, Flores was among those considered for the position as head coach. Three days before his interview, his former coach, Bill Belichick, sent him a congratulatory text on getting the job. Being confused about the message, Flores wanted to confirm that Coach Belichick was texting the right person. After Flores reached out to him, Belichick realized that he congratulated the wrong guy, and it was Brian Daboll who was getting the job. Flores had not even been interviewed yet. Despite the news from Belichick, Coach Flores went to the scheduled interview as a show of professionalism, assuming that the only reason he got the interview was because he was the minority candidate and the Giants needed to comply with the Rooney Rule.
Based on what transpired in January, Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL, the Miami Dolphins, the New York Giants, the Denver Broncos, and other NFL teams for racial discrimination. As a result, the Dolphins documented what they believed were Flores’ flaws. Ryan Yousefi explained the reasons why the Dolphins fired Coach Flores, claiming that Flores was ineffective when it came to Human Resources. As evidence, the Dolphins said Flores had more offensive coordinators than the number of years he was head coach, while some players reportedly did not like the way he coached, and the offense had struggled since Flores took over.
The New York Giants proceeded to hire Coach Daboll, confirming Flores’ suspicion that his interview was a “sham.” To seek justice, Coach Flores sued the NFL for racial discrimination in its hiring practices. Flores’ lawsuit referenced previous articles about the Rooney Rule that supported his stance on racial discrimination. Most of the articles were dated in 2020, which meant that these observations came after adjustments to the rule had been made.
One of the key articles that critiqued the lack of diversity in the NFL was written by Jemele Hill in The Atlantic. Hill’s perspective is insightful because she not only discussed the lack of diversity for head coaches but also a lack of diversity within the pipeline that lead to becoming a head coach. Most head coaches were once offensive coordinators. Most black coordinators were defensive coordinators, making it difficult to gain a promotion. Most offensive coordinators earned their position after being a quarterback coach. There are very few black quarterback coaches in the NFL, which gives them less chance of going through the pipeline to become a head coach. Hill also compared Flores to Joe Judge, the former Giants head coach, pointing out that Flores had a better resume than Judge when considering the two coaches’ credentials. It seems that the Giants were not taking that into consideration since they had hired Judge but allegedly only interviewed Flores to fill the Rooney Rule requirements.
After the lawsuit came out, Heidi Schmidt reported that Roger Goodell admitted that the NFL’s diversity initiatives had not been successful, saying “We must acknowledge that particularly with respect to head coaches the results have been unacceptable.” Whenever there is a situation that makes the NFL look like it fails in its commitment to have a diverse organization, they have tried to implement new policies to move towards their goals. According to NFL executive Troy Vincent, who reported to the Associated Press, “We’ve been working on this every single day since the hiring cycle ended a year ago and we have to do better… We have high expectations that we should see positive results because the work has been put in.” While NFL executives have said that they want diversity, they have yet to prove they want it by their hiring practices. The ownership seems to act primarily when they get pushback on issues, they do not feel are important to them. Meanwhile, they send Commissioner Goodell out to take the heat while the owners continue to dodge scrutiny for their actions.
The lawsuit Flores brought against the NFL shows the power of media because some of the main points Flores is making come from articles that document the League’s shortcomings. A problem arises when the media does not call out the league for its failure to achieve equity. The league will continue to maintain the status quo unless someone addresses them. If more writers investigate the problems that are going on, then change will happen. Jemele Hill’s journalistic insights can provide the impetus for the league to pursue the diversity that it claims to desire. More members of the media must act on the inequalities of the situation for changes to take place and need to hold the authority accountable when there is blatant disregard for the rules. There also needs to be greater representation of diversity within the media. If everyone in the media comes from the same background, then there will be no call for change because everyone sees things the same way.
Griffin is a fourth-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Journalism minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.
Over a month ago, on August 29th, 2021, a high school football game was aired on ESPN. One team, IMG Academy, has garnered public attention for years. The pre-college prep school has established itself as one of the top high school football programs in the nation and is the defending High School National Champion. It is also a proven player developing team, with its website prominently displaying the 12 IMG alumni on NFL rosters, including Browns defensive backs Grant Delpit and Greg Newsome II as well as Denver Broncos receiver KJ Hamler and Jacksonville Jaguars safety Andre Cisco.
On the other side of this nationally televised Sunday night matchup is what can be seen as the exact opposite of IMG: the unknown Bishop Sycamore high school in Columbus, Ohio. Up until this moment, most viewers hadn’t heard of the Ohio “school,” but soon it would become a firestorm.
IMG would handily defeat Bishop Sycamore 58-0. IMG was not affected by the win, but Bishop Sycamore was. Bishop Sycamore became a meme.
The story of Bishop Sycamore starts before that Sunday matchup on ESPN in Bradenton, Florida. Two days before, in fact. On Friday, August 27th, like many Ohio high schools, Bishop Sycamore played its second game of the season against the Sto-Rox Vikings of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. In that game, Sto-Rox would defeat Bishop Sycamore 19-7.
That’s right, you read that correctly. Bishop Sycamore played two games in a weekend in two different states. But that wasn’t the main piece of the scandal. The fact that Bishop Sycamore, a school that doesn’t exist, made its way onto ESPN’s national coverage is.
In the weeks following Bishop Sycamore’s ill fated national TV matchup against IMG, people would start digging into the school’s history. They quickly learned that the school was not a school, and in fact, started years prior under a different name. The conditions of players in the program became public. Somehow, Bishop Sycamore booked hotel rooms under the names of the players with no intention of paying for the rooms, had players dining and dashing for food on the road and so much worse. But still, that’s not the story we’re talking about today. If you want to learn more about the scandal’s history, prominent YouTuber FlemLo Raps has a great video on the topic.
So, that brings us to the crux of the issue: How did Bishop Sycamore get on ESPN? And how did they get on IMG’s schedule?
To start, the idea of Bishop Sycamore playing IMG and Sto-Rox across the country in a span of 48 hours wasn’t a surprise. According to Pittsburgh-area TribLive, Sto-Rox head coach LaRoi Johnson knew about the arrangement going into their game. Johnson, however, was told it was two separate teams. High school varsity would be travelling to Pennsylvania to face Sto-Rox, while the post-graduate prep team would stay in Ohio to play IMG. That wasn’t the case.
After the game against Sto-Rox, Bishop Sycamore coach Roy Johnson doubled down on LaRoi Johnson’s beliefs, stating “We have a national team that will play on Sunday,” according to the TribLive.
Then, on Sunday night in primetime on ESPN, the fraud became apparent. Midway through the second quarter of an already bad 30-0 drubbing at the hands of IMG, the ESPN broadcast crew seemed to come clean. The broadcasters stated, “Bishop Sycamore told us they had a number of Division I prospects on the roster, and to be frank, a lot of that, we could not verify … From what we’ve seen so far, this is not a fair fight, and there’s got to be a point where you’re worried about health and safety.”
Immediately after the game, ESPN released a statement on the airing of the game: “We regret that this happened and have discussed it with Paragon, which secured the matchup and handles the majority of our high school event scheduling. They have ensured us that they will take steps to prevent this kind of situation from happening in the future.”
Ben Koo from Awful Announcing, a media critique site, reached out to Paragon president Rashid Ghazi about the airing of Bishop Sycamore vs. IMG on national television. According to Koo, Ghazi said that “they [Paragon] would have cancelled the game” if they knew that Bishop Sycamore was playing the same players in both games. While that sounds bad, reality was much worse: many of Bishop Sycamore’s players played both-ways in both games.
Koo went on to report that Bishop Sycamore “had mismatched helmets and potentially not enough helmets for the entire team… despite the roster being reported to be very small: just 30-35 players.” For reference, the Mansfield News Journal reported that in 2020, the Ohio High School Athletic Association limited the number of football players that can dress for a game to 60. In other words, nearly double the number of players that Bishop Sycamore had listed on their roster are allowed to dress to play in an Ohio high school football game.
As for IMG, this isn’t the first time that the two schools have faced off. Last season, on October 16, Bishop Sycamore travelled down to Bradenton to face IMG. Bishop Sycamore was trounced, 56-6. After that, why was IMG so willing to schedule Bishop Sycamore again?
FlemLo Raps, the YouTuber mentioned earlier who focuses on storytelling and investigative pieces, talked to Ty Arlesit, an Ohio native, about Bishop Sycamore’s scheduling. Arlesit pointed to conference independent teams that are looking for teams to play to fill their 10 game schedule. According to IMG’s MaxPreps, they do not belong to a conference, so this could be a reason for the scheduling. Arlesit went on to say that “teams either find a bad team similar to their size … or face a smaller school that they know will give them points that go towards their Harbin rankings that determine their playoff seeding.” Since IMG is contending for a national title, making the playoffs is crucial. Similar to how Minnesota or other Big Ten schools would schedule a MAC school like Bowling Green for some free wins that the playoff committee would like, IMG wants to boost their resume. All in all, on IMG’s side, it’s very reasonable.
For ESPN, though, there are still questions that need to be answered. Why did no one in the network or with Paragon take the simple step to verify their roster? Since announcers mentioned during the game that hunting down information on the school was difficult and ESPN couldn’t verify the quality of prospects on Bishop Sycamore, then they knew this was a problem. In addition, a simple MaxPreps or Google search would show that Bishop Sycamore was playing Sto-Rox two days before their showcase at the Pro Football Hall of Fame against IMG. Still, the game was permitted.
The sheer lack of accountability on ESPN and Paragon’s side makes this scandal so puzzling. While most of the public ire and jokes fall on Bishop Sycamore and now-fired head coach Roy Johnson, much more of that deserves to be directed towards ESPN. How did nobody in two major organizations do simple fact checking? This is one of the main pillars of journalistic integrity, yet nobody thought to follow up? And, even when surface-level research is done before kickoff and there’s little to no information, no alarm bells sound? ESPN needs to do better. This kind of shoddy reporting cannot stand. Those Bishop Sycamore players could very easily have been injured, and that falls just as much on ESPN as it does on Bishop Sycamore “leadership.”
Breven is a third-year undergraduate student at Bowling Green State University. Originally from Jackson Township, Ohio, Breven is a Sport Management major with a minor in Journalism. His interests lie in all sport, but he has a particular passion for football and soccer.
The Houston Texans were a team poised to win for years to come, boasting a core of talented players that they could build around to make a legitimately great roster.
Now they’re in complete disarray.
Let’s go back to late 2013 for a minute. The Texans had just finished one of the worst, if not the worst, season in the team’s history, going 2-14. They fired head coach Gary Kubiak mid-season, and interim head coach Wade Phillips wasn’t able to do much more than Kubiak (“Houston Texans franchise,” 2021) .
Changes needed to be made, and indeed change happened. In January 2014, the Texans announced Bill O’Brien as their next head coach. O’Brien was coming off of his second year at Penn State, where he led Penn State to a 7-5 record as their head coach. Before that, he started his NFL career in New England as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator during the 2011 season (Bill O’Brien, 2021).
Despite this apparent lack of experience, O’Brien did quite well in his first two seasons with the team. He made a 2-14 team into a 9-7 team for two consecutive seasons. Let’s not forget though that this was a team that still had Arian Foster, JJ Watt, Andre Johnson, and DeAndre Hopkins under contract. It’s not like O’Brien really solved the main problem in Houston either: They desperately needed a franchise quarterback.
Houston parted ways with Matt Schaub, their previous “franchise” quarterback, after the aforementioned 2-14 season. In O’Brien’s first two seasons, six quarterbacks started at least one game: Ryan Fitzpatrick (12 games), Brian Hoyer (9 games), Ryan Mallett (6 games), Case Keenum (2 games), T.J. Yates (2 games), and Brandon Weeden (1 game). That’s not the most inspiring list of names, but the results were okay (“Houston Texans franchise,” 2021).
In the 2015 season, the Texans somehow made the playoffs, despite their aforementioned 9-7 record. They won the AFC South though, meaning they won the right to play the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild card round. These weren’t the same Chiefs we see today, but they were still far better than the Texans, winning 30-0 (“Houston Texans franchise,” 2021) .
Somehow though, starting four quarterbacks in one season wasn’t enough of a low point for the Texans. Enter Brock Osweiler.
The offseason preceding the 2016 season saw one of the most infamous transactions in Texans (and maybe NFL) history happen. For $72 million, the Texans gained the services of quarterback Brock Osweiler for four years. Osweiler had just stepped in as the backup to Peyton Manning for a little more than seven games in Denver and led the Broncos to the playoffs in 2015. He even won Super Bowl 50, but he was on the bench while Manning returned from injury and worked his magic (Chassen, 2016). Despite Osweiler’s lack of experience, the Texans surely thought their quarterback woes would finally end. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Osweiler failed to impress in his first season with Houston. He only threw 15 touchdown passes while throwing 16 interceptions. The offense ranked 28th in the NFL for points scored and 29th for yardage gained.
The team again made the playoffs that season, but only because of their stellar defense. In fact, they even won a playoff game that season! However, they beat an Oakland Raiders team who had seen their franchise quarterback, Derek Carr, get injured late in the season. The Raiders were forced to start Connor Cook instead, who threw three interceptions en route to a 27-14 Oakland loss. Houston was put in their place the following week when they were humbled by the New England Patriots, 34-16 (“Houston Texans franchise,” 2021) .
That game against the Patriots would prove to be Osweiler’s last game in Houston. In the offseason, Osweiler was traded to the Cleveland Browns in what amounted to a salary dump deal for the Texans. Houston gave away Osweiler, a 2017 sixth-round pick, and a 2018 second-round pick for the Browns’ 2017 fourth-round pick (Schefter, 2017).
The Osweiler deal also set up another franchise-altering move for the Texans. They gave the Browns their 2018 first-round pick to move up in the 2017 draft and select Deshaun Watson (Brinson, 2017).
That seemed to be the beginning of the “win-now” mentality for the Texans. They were trading away draft capital quickly and therefore needed to win since they weren’t going to be able to acquire reliable young talent in the near future. Winning didn’t happen much in 2017 though. To be fair, their 4-12 record in this season was wholly a result of Watson’s ACL tearing in practice midseason. Watson went 3-3 over the first six weeks of the 2017 season, while the combination of Tom Savage and T.J. Yates won one game between them in weeks 8-17 (“Houston Texans franchise,” 2021) .
The worst part about the losing season for the Texans though was that they wouldn’t get to take advantage of it. Usually when a team loses their quarterback or another key player that early in a season, they’re able to look to the draft and use their bad season to improve a likely already good roster. However, the Texans traded away their 2018 first and second-round picks. They would go into the 2018 season with largely the same squad as the year before.
The following are the two best years of Bill O’Brien’s tenure as the Houston Texans’ head coach. The 2018 team was probably the best team O’Brien had while in charge. The defense forced the second-most turnovers in the league and the offense wasn’t bad, ranking 11th in points scored and 15th in yardage. Even with this team, which boasted six Pro Bowlers, the Texans couldn’t make it past the wild card round. Even worse, they lost to their division rivals, the Indianapolis Colts (“Houston Texans franchise,” 2021).
It was after this season that more change was sought within the Texans organization. General Manager Brian Gaine was fired in June 2019 and his duties for the 2019-20 season were performed by Bill O’Brien, who was later officially named general manager (Starr, 2020). At this moment, alarm bells should’ve started ringing. However, the mood stayed positive surrounding the Texans. In fairness, the media was still fawning over Watson, who was now clearly the future of the franchise, and optimistic about the rest of the Texans’ squad. In a video from the summer of 2019, Chris Simms of NBC Sports spoke highly of the Texans, saying that the only hesitancy for him when it came to predicting their possible success was how tough their division was (NBC Sports, 2019). And truthfully, Simms and others weren’t inherently wrong in saying things like this. But a wrong move at the general manager position can cost a team everything, and that’s why more attention should have been given to this topic.
In 2019, the Texans, yet again, made the playoffs, though this season the defense dropped off. They went from 4th in points allowed in 2018 to 19th in 2019, and from 12th in yards allowed to 28th. As a result, they were able to beat the offensively-challenged Buffalo Bills in the first round of the playoffs, before blowing an enormous 24-0 lead to the Kansas City Chiefs, who never looked back after scoring 28 unanswered points in the second quarter (“Houston Texans franchise,” 2021) .
The 2019 season won’t be remembered for Houston’s performance on the field, though. It will be remembered largely for the trades made by new GM Bill O’Brien. He started by trading away 2014 #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. The South Carolina stud was injury-prone throughout his first few years in Houston but picked up form once he was healthy. Clowney had been to three straight Pro Bowls before being traded, but he and the Texans couldn’t agree on a contract extension. He was traded to the Seattle Seahawks for Jacob Martin, Barkevious Mingo, and a 2020 third-round pick that was traded for Gareon Conley (Weston, 2020). Those three players have started a combined eight games for the Texans, and Mingo now plays for the Chicago Bears.
Somehow, this wasn’t even the worst trade the Texans made around this time. It was clear that Deshaun Watson needed some better pass protection, so O’Brien went looking for a new left tackle. He found Laremy Tunsil in his search, who was playing for the Miami Dolphins at the time. O’Brien decided to trade for Tunsil in a deal that looked like this (Kasabian, 2019):
Miami receives: CB Johnson Bademosi, OT Julie’n Davenport, 2020 first-round pick, 2021 first-round pick, 2021 second-round pick.
The players in this deal aren’t what’s concerning. Tunsil is a quality tackle and has done well for the Texans, while Stills, Bademosi, and Davenport have all failed to make a really significant impact for their new teams (Bademosi now plays in New Orleans). What’s bothersome in this deal is the lost draft capital. Houston lost three very high value picks for two low value picks and a good left tackle. This move screams “win-now”, and even at that it’s reckless at best. That doesn’t apply to the next trade, which happened prior to the 2020 season. The best word for that one might be something along the lines of franchise-damning.
The Houston Texans had put themselves into “draft hell,” lacking a pick in 2020 that landed within the top 50. Bill O’Brien realized this but dealt with the problem in quite possibly the worst way possible. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who led the team in receiving yards from 2014 to 2019, was traded in March 2020 to the Arizona Cardinals. The deal went as follows (Rapp, 2020):
If the alarm bells aren’t ringing by now, something’s gone haywire. Let’s establish that DeAndre Hopkins was (and still is) one of the best, if not the best, wide receiver in the NFL at this point. For the sake of this examination, we’ll say the fourth-round picks cancel each other out, so Hopkins was traded for an injury-prone, out of favor running back and a second-round pick. Most people would say this was a terrible deal for the Texans, and yet the media weren’t thinking that a drop in form was on the cards. In the words of NBC Sports’ Mike Florio, “I think they’re building something, I think (Watson) is getting better every year, I think (Watson) is being overlooked, I think the Texans, even though they keep finding a way to get back to the playoffs, continue to be overlooked,” (NBC Sports, 2020). Deshaun Watson would carry the squad and everything would be alright, right? Well, not quite.
The 2020 season was the culmination of years of bad trades, bad signings, and overall ineptitude by whomever was running the Houston Texans, be it Bill O’Brien or someone else. The 2020 Texans went 4-12, this time with a full season of Deshaun Watson. 2020 saw the end of the Bill O’Brien era, as he was fired from both his head coach and general manager roles in October (Shook, 2020). Romeo Crennell took over the head coaching position and the GM role remained vacant until the following offseason. The David Johnson project didn’t work, as the Texans ranked 32nd out of 32 teams in both rushing yards and yards per carry (“Houston Texans franchise,” 2021) . But even this was only the beginning of the inevitable end.
After the dismal 2020 season, a video circulated around the NFL world that only added to the negativity surrounding the Texans. It wasn’t known then, but it would seemingly be the last clip we saw of Houston legend JJ Watt in a Texans jersey.
Watt approached the front office after the season and expressed his interest in leaving the organization. The Texans obliged, releasing Watt and allowing him to explore the free agent market. Trading Watt would have been harsh, but surely if you’re an organization who traded away DeAndre Hopkins, you fashion a trade for Watt. This seems like a particularly puzzling move given that Houston is still in the aforementioned “draft hell”, as they are without their first round pick for the 2021 draft. The lack of draft picks wouldn’t be a massive issue if the Texans weren’t now rebuilding. And it certainly would be a much smaller issue if Deshaun Watson wanted to stay with the Texans.
In a final gut punch to end the Bill O’Brien era, the firing of O’Brien led to the hiring of Nick Caserio, who had previously been tipped for the job before O’Brien was initially hired. Quarterback Deshaun Watson, who realistically is all the franchise has left at this point, was and is unhappy with the hire and now wants out. Watson’s wish to be traded or released has not yet been granted, with the Texans adamant that Watson will not only remain with the organization but will play as well. Watson has no intention of doing either of these things and is apparently willing to sit out games if he stays in Houston (Holleran, 2021).
So now the Texans find themselves at the point of no return. They either accept their inevitable rebuild now, taking an NFL record $51.2 million cap hit while gaining invaluable draft capital by trading Watson, or they keep themselves in purgatory, unable to fully rebuild via the draft while holding onto an asset that will very likely yield no returns. And all the while, the warning signs were there. Signing Brock Osweiler for $72 million and dumping his salary the next offseason (while losing draft capital), appointing the head coach who has no experience as an executive to be the general manager of the franchise, trading two first-round picks and a second-round pick for what amounted to one impactful player, and trading one of the best wide receivers in recent memory for pennies on the dollar. Houston had all of these instances of misused assets and overall mismanagement, and yet the media were too caught up in the brilliance of the Texans’ stars to care. The Houston Texans seemed to go from hero to zero in the blink of an eye. In reality, we should’ve seen this coming a long time ago.
Compiled by Pershelle Rohrer and Dr. Nancy Spencer
April 21, 2021
Pershelle Rohrer is a second-year BGSU student from Logan, Utah. She is a Sport Management major with a minor in Journalism. Her primary sports interests are football, basketball,and baseball, both at the professional and collegiate levels.
Dr. Nancy Spencer is a Professor in the Sport Management program and is faculty advisor for the Maxwell Media Watch Project.
What a difference a year makes!
Do you remember where you were on March 11, 2020?
That was when sports virtually shut down due to COVID.
It began when we found out that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID!
Then there was March Madness…
By March 11, 2020, the BGSU women’s basketball team had already been eliminated from the MAC tournament. Western Michigan trounced BG with an 84-67 first round win. The season ended with a last-place finish in the MAC and a record of 10-21.
Fast-forward to one year later, and the women’s basketball team was just “coming off the program’s first win in a Mid-American Conference Tournament game in eight years” (“Setting the scene,” 2021, para. 1). Even more impressive, the Falcons were the tournament’s top seed and set to face 4th-seeded Buffalo in the semis. The turnaround was impressive by any standard, but in a year when the nation faced a global pandemic and sports were on hold for much of that time, it is even more impressive.
How did the media capture what the past year has been like for BGSU athletic teams? We examine several ways BG Athletics covered our athletic teams to understand the transformation that occurred on the women’s basketball team over the past year. We begin with an interview that Todd Walker, the ‘Voice of the Falcons,’ conducted on ‘Quarantime with the Falcons’ (2020) a month after the season ended.
One month after sports shut down due to COVID, players on the women’s basketball team, like other BGSU athletes, were dealing with how to stay engaged with one another. Coach Robyn Fralick reported they were doing a lot of FaceTime, having big team calls and doing many one-on-one calls to focus on building the depth of their relationships. In deciding how to navigate the ‘new normal’ of the pandemic, Coach Fralick encouraged the players to take control of their fitness, nutrition, and skill levels. They would need to be creative to do that. However, as the coach pointed out, they all had outdoor hoops and could work on things like ball handling skills on their own.
In reflecting on the 2020 season at BGSU, Fralick believed the team had improved a lot, although the improvement did not translate to the level she had hoped to achieve. Still, she pointed to specific signs of improvement: Madisen Parker’s three-point shooting (while she made 6 threes as a freshman, she made 98 threes in her sophomore year); Angela Perry shot 57% from the field; and Kadie Hempfling’s assists increased significantly from her freshman year.
Looking ahead to the 2020-21 season, Coach Fralick identified areas where further improvement could occur. First, she said the team needed to become better defensively, to complement their solid offense. Second, the team had to become better at rebounding. Third, she emphasized that the team needed to find ways to create better possessions, whether through second shots, free throws, or steals. And finally, they needed to increase their free throw shooting percentage.
On Monday, March 22, 2021, the memorable 3rd season of the Fralick-coached team came to an end, “as Drake University downed the Falcons, 78-68” (Cihon, 2021, para. 1).
In her postgame interview on March 22, Coach Fralick described the WNIT tournament as “an incredible experience for the team.” She felt really proud of the team and what they accomplished in continuing to change and elevate expectations all year. Fralick added that the team also got to see what the ‘best of the best looked like,’ which should be a motivating factor for next season. Whatever the 2021-2022 season holds for the BGSU women’s basketball team, it should be exciting for fans to see how this young team continues to develop.
As the women’s basketball season was ending, the softball season was just beginning.
The BGSU softball team returned to Meserve Field on Friday, March 19 for their first home game in nearly two years. The Falcons only played 17 games in the 2020 season, all of which were in neutral or road locations (“2020 softball schedule,” n.d.).
In 2020, the Falcons had an 11-6 record with five games remaining before conference play was scheduled to begin. However, the season came to an immediate halt on March 12, 2020 when MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher announced the cancellation of all competition for the remainder of the school year (“MAC statement regarding,” 2020). All practices and in-person recruiting were also suspended.
Members of the softball team participated in interviews discussing COVID in late February, about three weeks before the start of MAC play.
Redshirt freshman pitcher Payton Gottshall described the experience of shutting down as emotional for the team.
“When we found out we were all crying together, and it was just a big mess for us,” Gottshall said.
The softball players went back to their respective homes following the transition to remote learning and could no longer meet in person to practice. That didn’t stop them from improving and working on their skills. Head coach Sarah Willis created accountability groups for the team to participate in remotely.
“We would work out and do mental training or do schoolwork and send it to each other,” redshirt senior catcher Evelyn Loyola said. “We would just work that way and hope that everybody would do their part so when we came back we would be ready to go.”
Summer competitive ball was another way for players to compete even if there was no timetable for when the MAC would clear the team for the 2021 season. As the country began opening up during the summer, Gottshall found places to compete to continue refining her skills.
The Falcons returned to practice in the fall and began their 2021 season on February 12. BGSU is currently 18-18 overall and 10-11 in conference play.
Willis said that keeping the team healthy will play a significant role in the outcome of this season, including who will be crowned MAC champions.
“We, so far, have been good on our luck and discipline as a program in making sure everyone’s staying healthy so we don’t get shut down,” Willis said. “If we can keep everybody healthy and going, then we’re going to be extremely competitive in the MAC this year.”
Willis also emphasized the adaptability that is necessary to remain competitive.
“You can train for it, but you certainly can’t train for every single situation,” Willis said. “If you lose half the team because of COVID and you are still able to go play with 10, then hey, we’re going to go play with 10. The team that’s going to be the most consistent in this conference is going to have to do with adaptability, and they’re going to have the tougher mindset in terms of controlling what we can control at the end of the day.”
BGSU softball is sixth in the MAC as of April 21 (“2021 softball standings,” 2021).
Griffin is a third-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Journalism minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.
February 17, 2021
This entry contains material and descriptions of depression and suicide. If you or a loved one are experiencing depression, emotional distress or thoughts of harming your/themselves, you/they are not alone. Help is available. Contact a mental health professional or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or suicidepreventionlifeline.org to get the help you/they deserve and need.
“I hate myself” (Passan, 2021, para. 94).
These were the words that San Francisco Giants outfielder Drew Robinson spoke to paramedics as they arrived at his house on April 17, 2020. Three simple words. Apparently, they were enough to make sense of everything he had been feeling.
Drew Robinson might not be a name that you know. He’s played 100 career games at the major league level over the past three years, the first two with the Texas Rangers and the third with the St. Louis Cardinals (“Drew Robinson,” 2021b). He was signed by the San Francisco Giants to convert from infield to outfield before the 2020 season, but he never saw the field in the pandemic shortened season – and April 16, 2020 is the main reason for that (Passan, 2021).
Andrelton Simmons, on the other hand, is a name you might know. Simmons, a four-time Gold Glove winner with a Platinum Glove also in his trophy case, has spent nine years in the big leagues with the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels with great success. He is regarded as one of the best defenders in MLB and has received MVP votes three times in his career (2013, 2017 and 2018), with an eighth place finish as his highest (“Andrelton Simmons,” 2021a).
So, what connects one of the top defenders in the game to a utility player bouncing between the majors and AAA? The answer: depression and thoughts of suicide.
A day before Drew Robinson called the paramedics, he sat at his kitchen table and wrote. To anyone gazing in, this seems like a normal event. Sure, most baseball players don’t write on the side, but it seems like a simple task. Robinson finished whatever it was he was writing and moved throughout the house, cleaning as he went. He set about making the house as clean as possible. Then, he sat on the couch (Passan, 2021).
Andrelton Simmons was reaching the end of his age-30 season in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Angels were on the outside of the playoffs looking in, and with one week left in the season, there was a small chance that they could make the postseason. Simmons was enjoying an offensive resurgence in the 30 games he played – he had a .297 batting average and a .702 OPS that were his highest since finishing 15th in the 2018 MVP voting (“Andrelton Simmons,” 2021a). In September, Simmons shocked the Angels and opted out of that final week. He didn’t speak to the media until January 31 at his introductory press conference after signing a one year, $10.5 million deal to be the shortstop of the Minnesota Twins. He declined to answer any questions about his opt-out (Fletcher, 2021).
As with the writing, everything that Robinson did leading up to sitting on the couch was normal. People write everyday. Cleaning is not something that should raise red flags. Everything on the outside was normal and peaceful. Simmons was playing the sport he loved and playing it well. Everything seemed okay on the outside until his opt-out raised eyebrows across the league. Each one of these players had one of the toughest decisions in human life to make, and they made it.
Simmons’ decision was much less dramatic, but produced more stories at the time. He initially cited “COVID-19 concerns” for his opt-out, which caught manager Joe Maddon off guard (Torres, 2020, para. 1). Simmons then released a statement to the local media thanking the Angels organization for his time in Los Angeles, and then rode off into the sunset, not to be heard from until his Twins press conference (Torres, 2020).
Robinson’s decision, however, was complex and had multiple parts to it. The first was on that couch. Before looking at that, however, we need to look back at what Drew Robinson wrote at his kitchen table. A normally mundane activity like writing took massive meaning here. Robinson wrote a suicide note (Passan, 2021).
Back on the couch, Drew Robinson, at 8 p.m. on April 16, 2020, pressed a handgun to his head and pulled the trigger (Passan, 2021).
A few hours later, Robinson woke up, a hole in his head from the bullet. For the next 20 hours, Robinson sat alone in his house, trying to cope with the idea that he was still alive. Once those 20 hours came to a close, he sat down on his couch, the gun in one hand and a phone dialed to 911 in the other. He had a choice to make: life or death. Drew Robinson chose life (Passan, 2021).
Until recently, depression and mental illness were taboo subjects. Even now, stereotypes and misinformation about mental illness run rampant while facts stay in the dark. There was no reason for any athlete to suffer from mental illness, let alone mention it publicly. Success was supposed to make people happy. Money was supposed to solve problems. So, why would someone that successful and with that much money playing the game they love suffer from mental illness?
The ‘Superman mentality’ of athletes took a sharp change when stars like Jerry West, Brandon Marshall and Michael Phelps went public with their struggles with depression (Gleeson & Brady, 2017). If athletes of their caliber could suffer from the same mental health problems that affect one in five American adults, then how many other athletes are affected (“Mental illness,” 2021)? The only problem here is that retired athletes were the ones coming out. What about those that are playing now?
The next year, in 2018, NBA stars Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan went public with their mental health struggles: DeRozan with depression and Love with anxiety. Kevin Love even went as far as saying “everyone is going through something we can’t see” when talking about his own struggles with asking for help and his panic attacks (2018, para. 30). More stars followed, including Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys (Epstein, 2020). Finally, mental illness in professional athletes was in the public eye. It was okay to not be okay. Or, so it seemed.
Even though all of those athletes went public with their struggles, nothing changed. They still played at a high level on the field. They still engaged with the media at the same level they did before. Commercials, TV spots and other ads never halted. Even though they bared their minds and their souls, nothing changed. Enter two baseball players of different playing levels: Drew Robinson and Andrelton Simmons.
Simmons opted out of the season because of his depression, as he later told the Southern California News Group through Twitter Direct Messages (Fletcher, 2021). For the first time, depression was visibly impacting an athlete’s performance. Drew Robinson is still struggling with the aftermath of what happened to him in April. He lost his right eye in the attempt. After countless surgeries to repair the eye socket and ensure his brain was fully intact and functioning, Robinson is attempting a comeback to baseball’s highest level. The San Francisco Giants, his employer at the time in April, signed him to a contract extension to give him a full chance at returning to baseball (Passan, 2021). These effects on both players’ careers may be the next turning point.
As for the media, this is an incredibly hard topic to cover. Even writing this entry, I’ve had some difficulties on how to say things and how to represent what happened. But, the media has been doing a great job leading the charge to destroy the stigma of mental health. ESPN ran the Drew Robinson story as their feature in early February. Andrelton Simmons’ story garnered headlines across the nation as he revealed his struggles with mental health last season. This attention, while it may lead to triggers to some viewers, is erasing the stigma of mental illness. It’s okay not to be okay, and these athletes are reinforcing that idea by sharing their own stories for all to hear.
Even more important than that exposure, though, is the content of these articles and stories. None of the articles that I’ve come across in my own time and in the research for this entry have expressed the athlete’s mental health in a negative light. In fact, any negative views disappeared after Dak Prescott revealed his struggles with mental illness, which Skip Bayless called a sign of weakness and said he “ha[d] no sympathy” for Prescott (Gardner, 2020, para. 6). Bayless’s comments were denounced by his employer, Fox Sports, as well as athletes and media members across the nation, and the stigma surrounding mental illness became something the sports world looked to erase (Gardner, 2020). Jeff Passan’s recounting of Drew Robinson’s story, while graphic, is an important step to humanizing the problem. The in-depth look at Robinson’s experience, how it affected his family, and how he felt leading up to April 16 may open the eyes of some viewers. It may even encourage them to seek help. It may help readers pick up on signs that a friend, colleague or family member is also struggling. That is what needs to happen to get everyone the help they need.
Most importantly, though, was how Passan ended his piece; with hope. Hope that Robinson can make his way back to the majors. Hope that the stigma is being erased. Hope that Robinson’s story can affect others positively. Hope that everyone can come together and help each other, so everyone knows that no matter what they’re going through, they’re not alone.
After all, in the words of Drew Robinson, “I’m meant to be alive” (Passan, 2021, para. 114). You are, too!
Andrelton Simmons. (2021a). Baseball Reference. https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/simmoan01.shtml
Drew Robinson. (2021b). Baseball Reference. https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/r/robindr01.shtml
Compiled by Breven Miller, Griffin Olah, Pershelle Rohrer and Dr. Nancy Spencer, with contributions by Malik Devese
At the beginning of the NFL season, there were concerns about “whether a close-contact sport like football, with 22 players on the field and dozens more on the sidelines along with coaches and trainers, could avoid a coronavirus outbreak” (Belson, 2020, para. 1). As of mid-November, there was no spread on the field although players tested positive for contacts that occurred off the field (at restaurants, via car rides and/or through people not associated with football such as nannies) (Belson, 2020). The NFL’s approach to dealing with Covid differed greatly from those taken by other professional sports leagues that resumed earlier in the summer (e.g., the NBA, WNBA, MLB, and NHL).
The first professional league to return was the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) which “completed a virus-free month-long tournament inside a Utah bubble” (Keh, 2020, para. 3). Major League Soccer (MLS) played in an enclosed environment in Florida, but initially lost two teams due to positive tests (Keh, 2020). The NBA and WNBA both completed successful seasons in a bubble at Walt Disney World where champions were crowned in both leagues – the L.A. Lakers in the NBA and the Seattle Storm in the WNBA. Meanwhile, the NHL returned to play in two different bubbles in Canada, with the Tampa Bay Lightning capturing the 2020 Stanley Cup (Keh, 2020). Since logistics prevented Major League Baseball from playing in a bubble, teams met at a limited number of ballparks and managed to complete an abbreviated season with the L.A. Dodgers winning the World Series.
Although the NFL had the most time to prepare for its season, they seemed to squander that time by delaying their implementation of safety protocols that other leagues had put in place. As Kevin Clark tweeted, “The NFL was the only pro league with the luxury of time and they wasted it” (“How the NFL’s,” 2020, para. 6). Unlike the NBA, NHL and MLB, which “all had their protocols approved a week before camps opened,” the NFL did not approve their protocols until the day some players began to report (“How the NFL’s,” 2020, para. 8).
ESPN’s Dan Graziano (2020) reported that until mid-November, 28 of 32 teams operated under strict protocols due to a member of the organization or a member of a recent opponent testing positive for COVID-19. Sixteen teams operated under intensive protocols multiple times. For those teams, there was a greater than 50 percent reduction in close contacts, helping reduce spread and increase contact tracing (Graziano, 2020). Yet, several teams received hefty fines for violating protocols. The Raiders were fined $500,000 when 10 players attended a large gathering without masks and the Titans were fined $350,000 for their lax handling of enforcement (Belson, 2020).
While the NFL had originally put guidelines in place, they recently instituted more intensive protocols due to the rising spread of COVID-19 around the country (Graziano, 2020). Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the league emphasizing the importance of flexibility throughout the season. As Goodell wrote, “it has been said many times that our 2020 season cannot be ‘normal’ because nothing about this year is normal. Flexibility and adaptability have been critical to our success to date and we must continue with that approach” (Graziano, 2020, para. 3).
On November 17, the Dallas Cowboys established a bubble for all staff that have direct contact with the players at the Omni Hotel attached to Cowboys headquarters in Frisco, Texas (Walker, 2020). The decision came out of the team’s game with the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, where tight end Vance McDonald played before later receiving a positive test. In addition to that, Andy Dalton and Tyrone Crawford were added to the COVID-19 list recently after being exposed to the illness, which is the team’s first contact with the disease since star tailback Ezekiel Elliot tested positive during training camp (Walker, 2020). Jerry Jones said that the team is creating a bubble out of caution as to not throw the rest of the league’s schedule off more than it already has (Walker, 2020). There are questions about the team’s commitment to lowering COVID-19 numbers, however, since Jones followed that up with bragging about attendance numbers. He did point out the usage of pods and limited attendance as keys to his “continued aggressive approach” (Walker, 2020, para. 9).
Despite efforts to curtail the spread, the NFL lost “its marquee matchup on Thanksgiving” when the game between the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and the 6-4 Baltimore Ravens was postponed until Sunday (Kim & Lev, 2020, para. 9). The Monday before they were to play, the Ravens had announced that “multiple members of the organization tested positive for coronavirus” and those who tested positive were in self-quarantine as the team began contact tracing (Kim & Lev, 2020, para. 4). The postponement marked the second time the Steelers had to adjust their schedule since their game against the Tennessee Titans also had to be postponed due to players testing positive. The Steelers’ receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster expressed his frustration in the following tweet:
Two days later, the Steelers learned of yet another postponement as their game was moved back to 8 p.m. (ET) Tuesday, provided that no more Ravens players tested positive (Bumbaca & Jones, 2020). In addition to the postponement, “the Ravens disciplined strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders for failing to report coronavirus symptoms and not consistently wearing his mask or tracking device while inside the facility” (Bumbaca & Jones, 2020, para. 4). So much for not having spread within teams’ facilities!
On Saturday, November 28, CNN medical expert Abdul el Sayed questioned the wisdom of the NFL’s decision to continue scheduling NFL games when so many players had tested positive. Meanwhile, nurses around the country have been questioning why thousands of athletes are able to get tested while they cannot (Babb, 2020). As the NFL season has progressed, one nurse observed the hypocrisy of our nation’s priorities at a time when she and other front-line workers (supposedly, the ‘essential workers’ among us) have not been tested.
At a time when so many have lamented the growing political chasm between the right and the left, perhaps the real divide is between the ‘haves’ (i.e., professional and college athletes) and the ‘have-nots’ (the essential workers who selflessly serve our nation). During the week from November 8-14, “the NFL administered 43,148 tests to 7,856 players, coaches and employees” while “major college programs supply dozens of tests each day” (Babb, 2020, para. 5). Yet, there are still far too many weary health care workers who have been denied access to testing. What does that tell us about our priorities as a nation?
Submitted: September 22, 2020 / Published: November 26, 2020
Brody Hickle grew up in Bluffton, Ohio and now studies Sport Management at Bowling Green State University. The fourth-year undergraduate student minors in General Business. His primary sport interests are hockey and football.
In my last article, I wrote about the Black Lives Matter Movement affecting the professional sport leagues across America, especially with the NBA. If you kept up with the NBA, you can see that they took this movement seriously. The National Basketball Association has shown great support to the fallen African American individuals who were lost to police brutality and to the black communities across America. I wanted to continue focusing on what the media has done as we head deeper into the fall season of sports. The media has brought great attention to the awareness and expects us all to believe that it is right to bring this matter into sports. But the question is, does everyone believe in this movement in sports? Obviously, the answer is no. Viewings have gone down due to the offense drawn to individuals from athletes kneeling during the National Anthem.
It seems right now in the sport world that there are many political judgements coming into sports. During the beginning of the NBA playoffs, we witnessed less fans watching professional sports due to the protests of kneeling during the National Anthem. In week 1 of the NFL season, the African American National Anthem was played before the National Anthem (Fans boo Chiefs, 2020). It created a lot of attention to fans at the stadiums, and the fans at home. During the Chiefs vs Texans game in week 1, the fans in the stadium booed the players loudly, as the players locked arms in the middle of the field (Fans boo Chiefs, 2020). This was strange to me because they were not kneeling, as the NBA athletes have done. So statistically, what has this done to the viewings of sports?
From research, Anne Hendershott (2020) released statistics indicating that 30 percent of American adults are now less likely to watch sporting events that promote Black Lives Matter. However, 21% are more likely to watch sporting events. Additionally, 35% of individuals say that they will never watch any event that promotes Black Lives Matter. Now, obviously the NFL, NBA, and MLB are all too aware of this. So, let us look at how they have responded.
NBA coach, Doc Rivers, made an emotional appeal following the shooting of Jacob Blake. In Kenosha, Wisconsin, there was a video recorded by an individual in the neighborhood where Blake walked away from the cops as if he had not done anything wrong. As he reached to his car, the cops shot Jacob seven times in the back. This would cause another protest in America due to the beliefs from individuals that the cops should have been arrested afterwards (Steinbuch, 2020).
The shooting of Jacob Blake seemed to create many controversies after the incident. Just like the riots, it seems now that the politicians have turned this movement into a “left vs. right” subject. For example, as election year is coming to a close, it seemed from my experience that many individuals Republican views do not support Black Lives Matter, while many individuals with Democratic views do.
Going back to Doc Rivers. Doc Rivers has been a coach in the NBA for numerous teams throughout the years. In his statement, he talks about fear. ESPN staff writer Ohm Youngmisuk cited Rivers ’ words, “All you hear is Trump and all of them talking about fear. We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. We’re the ones that we’re denied living in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear.” (Youngmisuk, 2020, para. 3). In the video, you can see the emotions that not only reflect how Rivers feels, but also how much of the black community must feel.
Now, going back to the Texans vs. Chiefs game that I mentioned before, according to CBS news, JJ Watt mentioned that he thought the booing was unfortunate. He stated that he fully did not understand it. I also learned from CBS that there were two players who did kneel with their fists in the air in solidarity for social injustice (Fans boo Chiefs, 2020). Even the video they shared before the game promoting Black Lives Matter created controversy.
One more statistic that I want to share by Sam Amico is that ABC is down 12% of their viewership from last year to this year (Amico, 2020). ABC does many coverings for the NBA, and it started after the kneeling of the National Anthem. With all of this mentioned, I will now share my opinion with the media towards this matter. I do believe that the media is doing the right thing, promoting the players who believe that everyone deserves justice. I do appreciate them showing everyone why it is important to protest for this matter and why it is more than just kneeling. If you remember in my last article, kneeling is about respect and difference. I will say, however, in some fields of the media, such as social media platforms, I do wish they could share middle ground stating that there are good police officers out there. Lastly, I believe that this should not be a political issue in sports. I believe that professional sport organizations are doing the right thing. Showing support and solidarity makes you more than an athlete. With mentioning that there are less fans watching sports from this matter, I believe that those fans should look into the meaning behind the movement before making assumptions.
Griffin is a third-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Journalism minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.
October 24, 2020
On Sunday, October 11 against the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys quarterback (QB) Dak Prescott ran a QB draw. Prescott had run many plays similar to this one throughout his career from high school, to college at Mississippi State and finally as the Dallas Cowboys’ franchise QB. This third quarter draw, though, was different.
Prescott ran up the middle, made a defender miss, and bolted towards the left sideline. There, Giants defender Logan Ryan was ready to make a play. Prescott attempted to stiff arm the oncoming defender, but Ryan was able to hold on and make a crucial open-field tackle within the red zone with the Cowboys looking to go up by two scores. During that tackle, though, Prescott’s ankle was caught underneath the players as they tumbled to the ground. Ryan stood up, ready for the next play, but Prescott looked to his ankle and found it pointing at an unnatural angle. He had a serious injury.
Immediately, players and coaches knew what was wrong. Mike McCarthy, the first year Cowboys head coach and longtime Green Bay Packers headman, came out onto the field. Teammates and opponents also came to see if the star of the franchise defined by stars was okay. He was not. An emotional Prescott was helped onto a cart and taken to the locker room. Immediately, he was sent to a hospital for surgery on the ankle. The Cowboys team Twitter account announced that Prescott suffered a compound fracture and dislocation of his right ankle, an injury that has a 4-6 month recovery at the very least (Archer, 2020)
As soon as the news reached players across the league, they sent out their best wishes to the injured QB on social media. Stars across the game, such as Patrick Mahomes and J.J. Watt, wished the star a speedy recovery. Media members like Emmanuel Acho and Troy Aikman applauded Prescott and how he handled his injury. Even former Dallas Cowboys coach and current New York Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett made sure to wish Prescott well as he was carted off on the field (Blackburn, 2020).
Unfortunately, a violent game like NFL football is sure to cause injuries for its players. Nobody can argue that Prescott’s injury wasn’t horrible. Yet, the responses haven’t been the best, especially considering the person Dak Prescott is.
Before getting into the reaction, it’s important to understand Dak Prescott’s offseason path. In April, amid the pandemic and a lack of offseason programs that usually fill professional football players’ free time, the Prescott family was struck by tragedy. Dak’s older brother, Jace, died by suicide. In the time afterwards and during his grieving process, Prescott had an interview with Graham Bersinger about his brother’s death. In that interview, Prescott confirmed that Jace’s death was by suicide and that Dak also suffered from anxiety and depression in the wake of the pandemic and his brother’s death (Watkins, 2020). Prescott’s confession shook the world. How could someone that seemed to be so happy, so carefree and so fun suffer from depression?
Prescott’s strength was applauded by many after disclosing his struggles with mental health. Atlanta Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst, whose own struggles with depression are well-documented, made sure to meet the QB after their teams had a game and express his respect for Prescott’s courage (Al-Khateeb, 2020). For every good story, like Hurst’s, there is a bad one. As Hayden Hurst was supporting Prescott, FOX Sports analyst Skip Bayless was tearing him down. On Undisputed, Bayless called Prescott’s admission weak, stating that “If you reveal publicly any little weakness, it can affect your team’s ability to believe in you in the toughest spot” (Bonesteel, 2020, para. 8). Immediately, athletes, media members and fans alike rushed to Prescott’s support. Bayless was torn down, just like he attempted to tear down an important, brave and courageous act by a well-known athlete to pull back the curtain on mental health. Bayless attempted to walk back his comments, but his “opinion” remains a stain on Prescott’s already trying offseason.
In addition to the loss of his brother and the debacle with Skip Bayless, Prescott was in the middle of tense contract negotiations with the Cowboys. Prescott decided to play the 2020 season under the franchise tag after he determined the Cowboys’ offer of a 5-year deal with an annual value of $34.5 million and over $100 million of that guaranteed (Archer, 2020). Prescott believed he was worth more than the Cowboys were offering, and he decided to play the 2020 season under the franchise tag. Fans across the nation, especially Cowboys fans, were taken aback by the QB’s decision. How could Prescott leave millions of dollars at the table like that? Or, for those wanting Prescott to stay with the ‘Boys, how much will those millions of dollars Prescott wants that Jerry Jones refuses to give him matter?
Now, though, Prescott’s injury puts a new discussion on the table. Dak bet on himself, and whether you agree with that or not, it has consequences now as his franchise tag will expire before he plays another game. Fans and media members alike have been asking if Prescott turning down a long-term contract was a bad idea or not, and the truth is we won’t know until Prescott returns (Brandt, 2020).
Prescott’s contract is not what the media is focusing on now, though. That’s reserved for “the worst people on Twitter” to look at (Barnwell, 2020, para. 18). Instead, the shock of the injury is all the media can focus on, and rightfully so. Injuries like Prescott’s – seen in Alex Smith, Gordon Hayward and Kevin Ware – have always captivated the media. You’d have to go back to Joe Theismann and Lawrence Taylor’s infamous hit on him to see a true franchise quarterback go down like this. No offense to Alex Smith.
Immediately after Prescott was taken off the field, the NFL’s YouTube channel posted a video of the injury. The NFL’s YouTube channel is a site filled with highlights, fantasy videos and commercials showing the all-time greats in a ballroom for the 100th anniversary of the league. While Prescott’s injury is something that most likely would be covered there, and for good reason, anything that happens to one of the faces of the league should be covered by the league’s media outlets. But, labelling it as a “Can’t Miss Play” on the thumbnail is something the league seriously missed on (Heyen, 2020, para. 1). Something about a franchise quarterback and star of the league being carted off in tears isn’t a “can’t miss play” to me (Heyen, 2020, para.1) The League, always committed to protecting the shield, was called out on social media by The Ringer’s Rodger Sherman for their labelling of the grotesque injury.
Shortly after the social media firestorm that followed Sherman’s tweet, the NFL deleted the video (Heyen, 2020). As Sherman pointed out, someone would post the video and it would go viral. But why did the official NFL YouTube account feel the need to do that? To profit off of the injury of Dak Prescott? The NFL in 2015 struck a “multi-million dollar deal” with YouTube and Google to post official highlights on the platform (McSpadden, 2015, para. 4). In addition to that, YouTube accounts in 2013 earned an average of $7.60 per 1000 views on their videos, with that number only increasing as the popularity of the platform increases (Rosenberg, 2020). The fact that the NFL was actively profiting off of their star’s injury is horrible, and if that’s how they treat a face of the league like Dak Prescott, how would they treat a lesser-known player?
The media covering the league is not sterling clean either. Well-respected analyst and Hall of Fame head coach Tony Dungy fell into hot water after saying that Dak’s injury could be a “blessing in disguise” for the Cowboys (Heck, 2020, para. 4). While Dungy attempted to walk back his comments on Twitter after the blowback, the damage was done.
If someone covering the NFL can call an injury a “blessing,” what else can they do? While most can agree that Dungy is a well-respected and high-character person, he made a mistake here. That can explain why he faced much less of a blowback than Skip Bayless, although their comments are on equal levels. Without social media to hold these analysts and accounts liable for their slander on one of the most respected players in the game, Dak Prescott’s name could be further dragged through the mud.
Everything that happened to Prescott was horrible, but something could come out of this to help it all. Prescott’s battle with the media and his dedication to himself can inspire players to follow his example. Sure, there has been negative publicity and coverage on everything that Prescott’s been through, but the path that he’s laid and the way he’s handled it can allow more players to pursue contracts that they are truly worth and speak out about mental health. Dak Prescott is now a poster boy for players battling the power of the NFL and the media, and there is nobody better to prove that he made the right decision for himself and turn around the way players’ injuries and decisions are covered in the media. Now, maybe we can see something that gives players a chance instead of immediately siding with teams and allowing players to be humans and talk about human issues.
Pershelle Rohrer is a second-year BGSU student from Logan, Utah. She is a Sport Management major with a minor in Journalism. Her primary sports interests are football, basketball,and baseball, both at the professional and collegiate levels.
On June 22, 2020, the Scrap Yard Dawgs, an independent professional softball team, played the first of what was supposed to be a seven-game series against Florida-based USSSA Pride. The game marked the return of softball, as the sport was one of the first to restart from the coronavirus-related shutdown that effectively halted sports in March. The New York Times writer Natalie Weiner (2020) noted, “For a few hours this week, softball had a shot at something it has pursued for decades: the spotlight” (para. 1). The sport did receive attention following the game, but it wasn’t because of the teams’ play on the field. Rather, a mid-game tweet from Scrap Yard’s general manager caused an uproar that led all 18 players and the team’s coaches to walk away from the team (Poe, 2020).
When the players arrived back in the locker room following the game, they were met with screenshots and texts about the tweet. Scrap Yard general manager Connie May posted a photo on Scrap Yard’s Twitter page of the team standing on the field during the national anthem, tagging President Donald Trump’s Twitter handle with the caption, “Hey @realDonaldTrump Pro Fastpitch being played live … Everyone standing for the FLAG!” (Poe, 2020, para. 3). The President has been critical of athletes who kneel for the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. The tweet was posted at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, just shy of a month after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The tweet was deleted before the conclusion of the game.
The players quickly identified May as the poster of the tweet and met with her to discuss the issue. May used the phrase “all lives matter” during the meeting, a statement that is often used in opposition to “Black lives matter” in order to disregard the struggles of the Black community to find justice and equality (Weiner, 2020). Kiki Stokes, one of Scrap Yard’s two Black players, walked out of the meeting, and the rest of the team followed (Hays, 2020b).
Players expressed their frustration about the politicization of the post. Pitcher and Olympic gold medalist Cat Osterman said, “We were used as pawns in a political post, and that’s not OK” (Weiner, 2020, para. 9). USSSA Pride player A.J. Andrews emphasized the freedom to express personal political beliefs but opposed speaking for an entire group without consent. “Any statement anyone wants to make regarding the national anthem — it’s their right to take their own personal stand. It’s no one else’s right to take that for them. So to have someone shift that and have it come out in a statement that does not represent you as a person — you feel violated,” she said (Brunt, 2020, para. 9).
The story spread through the players’ social media accounts, which they used to call out Connie May. Aubree Munro and Aubrey Leach both emphasized that “this isn’t us” and stated that they wouldn’t play for Scrap Yard again.
May’s tweet from the Scrap Yard page was a deviation from the norm. Jade Hewitt, a longtime employee of Scrap Yard, managed the team’s social media almost exclusively. It was unusual for anyone else to post to the Scrap Yard accounts, so when May’s tweet was posted, many people assumed that it was written by Hewitt (Hays, 2020a). May’s decision to tweet from the official account not only took away the voices of the players, but also caused Hewitt to receive backlash for something that she did not post (Hays, 2020a). It was a demonstration of how quickly a social media post can spread and the impact it can have on the image of the individuals involved with its creation.
Hewitt said, “I did not write or post that tweet. It is not what I personally stand for. I stand by our athletes, I stand by our players. And Scrap Yard is no longer an organization that I will be affiliated with” (Hays, 2020a, para. 13).
Scrap Yard’s players pledged to never represent the organization again, and many fans and media members assumed that their season was over. However, the players felt that they could continue to make an impact on the field. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Cwik (2020) wrote, “The players may have left the Scrap Yard Dawgs behind, but had no intention of walking away from softball, especially after what happened. So they did the next best thing: They started their own team” (para. 3). The 18 players, 11 of whom are listed on the United States roster for the Tokyo Olympics, rebranded as “This Is Us” with the intention of continuing their series against the USSSA Pride (Poe, 2020). The team developed a mission statement, saying that This Is Us is “here to spark a necessary change in the softball community, gaining and sharing knowledge about racial injustice in our world” (Hays, 2020b, para. 4).
The team put their words into action following their first game under the new brand. This Is Us defeated the Pride, 3-1, on June 27. Kiki Stokes and Samantha Show took a stand against social injustice by kneeling for the national anthem prior to the contest, and Sam Fischer led a moderated panel discussion on the field following the game. Stokes, Show, Aubree Munro, and Taylor Edwards participated in the discussion about the events of the past week (Rosenberg, 2020).
Media members praised the players of Scrap Yard for making the difficult decision to leave the team behind despite the potential financial insecurity it could cause. The Orlando Sentinel’s Julia Poe (2020) talked about the risk behind the decision, explaining that, “Professional softball is a high-risk, low income sport in the U.S., with players coaching or picking up extra jobs on the side to support their careers” (para. 11). ESPN’s Graham Hays (2020b) wrote that Scrap Yard was one of the most lucrative options for softball players to compete professionally without going overseas to Japan. Natasha Watley, the first Black softball player for team USA, emphasized that, “We’re already getting paid pennies and now we’re going to get paid nothing to stand up for this. That’s how much it matters” (Poe, 2020, para. 14).
Despite the potential financial issues the walkout could cause, Cat Osterman explained that the decision to rebrand was easy. “We’re not going to tolerate that in our sport. It wasn’t as hard of a decision as everyone thinks it was, because we knew it was the right thing to do,” she said (Weiner, 2020, para. 20).
This Is Us played through donations and fundraising before Smash It Sports helped sponsor the team. USSSA helped provide uniforms for the team and planned on hosting the team for at least 20 games against the Pride with the season ending on July 24 (Rosenberg, 2020). However, the season was cancelled on July 8 after just five games due to This Is Us being exposed to COVID-19 (Hays, 2020c).
While This Is Us didn’t have the opportunity to finish their season, their story was covered by national news outlets such as the New York Times and Associated Press (Rosenberg, 2020). However, sports media, particularly ESPN, had little to no coverage of the series of events. Graham Hays was the only ESPN writer to cover This Is Us, writing three articles about their journey from quitting Scrap Yard to the rebrand to the season’s cancellation. ESPN’s social media accounts do not have any coverage of this story. Social media plays a major influence in fans’ perceptions of sports, and ESPN’s lack of coverage could be a cause of This Is Us’ story remaining virtually unknown in the sports world three months later. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Cwik, Softball America’s Benjamin Rosenberg, and Sports Illustrated’s Jenna West also released stories about This Is Us, but it remains unknown how much more coverage an entire team’s disaffiliation would have received if it occurred in a more popular sport.
The rebranding of the Scrap Yard players into This Is Us helped inspire change in a predominantly white sport. “Playing would be really powerful, taking that control back that was taken away from us,” This Is Us player Sam Fischer noted (Hays, 2020b, para. 8). That goal should be considered a success, as the softball world united behind the 18 players who walked out and supported them on their goal for achieving racial equality. Although their season was short, This Is Us looks to continue to fight for social justice in 2021 and beyond.
Aubree_Munro1. (2020, June 22). Tonight we were misrepresented by Connie May who acted on behalf of @ScrapYardFP I’m appalled by the insentivity & will not represent Scrap Yard ever again. I’m so sorry to all my friends & teammates and the future softball players that are hurt by this. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Aubree_Munro1/status/1275247782648053760?s=20
aubrey_lynne10. (2020, June 22). THIS ISN’T US! What has happened was incredibly inconsiderate, we do not condone, and will no longer be supporting @ScrapYardFP due to the actions taken behind our backs. This season was ment to be something special, to be a light in the darkness. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/aubrey_lynne10/status/1275239965862002692?s=20
Griffin is a third-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Journalism minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey
September 29, 2020
The NFL is back like we’ve never seen it before. Gone are the days of packed stadiums. Now the players duke it out on the gridiron in an empty, cavernous structure to be projected across the nation. Gone are the days of preparation and intrigue, with preseason being eliminated, training camps closed to the public and the season starting. Leading up to and after Week 1, however, there was the same excitement across the nation as the NFL prepared its return and successfully delivered the same product we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing.
Week 2, however, took some of the excitement away from the new season and the return of the nation’s most popular sports league. Stars like Christian McCaffrey, Byron Jones, Michael Thomas and Jimmy Garoppolo all went down with injuries that will cost them multiple weeks of the season. Others, like Nick Bosa, Saquon Barkley, Anthony Barr and Malik Hooker will miss the season (J. Jones, 2020). Teams like the Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants lost multiple key contributors to major injuries and will have a hard time in the rest of the season (Gagnon, 2020).
While the problem of injuries is pretty straight forward, the print coverage of it is quite dynamic and interesting.
Aside from the basic reporting about what happened, who got hurt and how long they’ll be out, most writers are trying to figure out why. Why did so many players go down? Some point to the lack of a preseason and offseason training program due to Covid-19. Many believed that the sudden move from relaxed walk-through type practices into full games would contribute to soft-tissue injuries (K. Jones, 2020; Wilner, 2020). In fact, current NFLPA President and Cleveland Browns center J.C. Tretter wrote a letter to the NFL outlining the fact that after the 2011 NFL lockout and similarly shortened offseason, soft-tissue injuries like those seen in Week 2 increased by 25% (K. Jones, 2020). Obviously, there are not a lot of comparisons that can be made in this unique 2020 season, but a shortened 2011 is a good place to start. That sudden increase, from no contact to full contact, could result in an increase and has in the past (Wilner, 2020).
Others, though, believe that explanation is not enough. They believe it is important to take into account the lack of major injuries in Week 1, which should have been even worse if the problem was conditioning. In addition, most of the injuries came on big hits and high contact plays, not in running or some other non-contact way (Tanier, 2020b). If conditioning, and in turn, Covid-19, was the main cause of these injuries, then why was the onslaught delayed? Why did we get through Week 1 relatively unscathed? And why were so many injuries because of violent tackles? Saquon Barkley was injured when he was tackled on the sideline. Nick Bosa was injured in an awkward block. Drew Lock was injured after being thrown violently on the ground in a sack. These can’t be ignored as we debate the effects of Covid-19 in sports.
Aside from the cause of the injuries, though, there is the coverage of them. Why is this week such a big deal as opposed to other major injury weeks in the past? Why is this different than the lengthy injury lists of preseason games? Well, fantasy football is a driving factor in that. As sports gambling becomes more and more normalized and legalized across the country, more traditional media outlets, such as USA Today and The New York Times, are covering fantasy sports, especially football. Instead of the focus on the team and the players’ health, the focus is now on “your cousin Carmine’s Metuchen Murder Hornets… us[ing] up all of their fantasy waiver points” (Tanier, 2020a, para. 11). This is a dangerous precedent to set. Yes, a lot of people are playing fantasy sports and care about their teams, but that cannot come before these players’ health and well-being. The media plays into that dangerous idea, and it needs to break free.
Week 2 was a wild week, filled with excitement and happiness, but also with injuries and sadness. The NFL is a dangerous league playing a violent sport, but the media needs to make sure they have the right ideas in mind while reporting on the results of that violence. Looking for causes and solutions is good, but focusing its coverage on the players driving fantasy sports instead of the defensive, special teams and role players that go down each week is not helping the problem. The media needs to break out of its gambling, fantasy-focused reporting and just focus on the facts and how to best report on the full story – and include all players in that reporting.