Ime Udoka: The Franchise and the Media

By Sarafina Napoleon

Sarafina Napoleon is from Nigeria and is a first-year graduate student in Sport Administration at BGSU. As a journalist for 9 years, she brings a wealth of experience and insight to the Maxwell Media Watch.

September 24, 2022

After a terrific first season as head coach of the Boston Celtics, Ime Udoka finds himself in unfamiliar territory. A territory that might be a tipping point in his career, and he is on the verge of losing everything, and the big question is: Is there a way back for him?

September 21, 2022, will be a day to forget for the ex-international as the news of his consensual sexual relationship with an unnamed staff member of the organization made it to the media. As reported by ESPN, his relationship with the staff member was “considered a violation of the organization’s guidelines;” hence he will have to face the music.

Udoka is out of the entire 2022-2023 NBA season due to suspension, with the franchise releasing an official communication late Thursday. According to unconfirmed reports, his assistant Joe Mazzulla will likely serve as interim coach for the 2022-23 NBA season.

It is imperative to state that before this saga, Udoka had been a huge part of the success story of the Boston Celtics since he joined the team after stints with the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, and Brooklyn Nets. His Celtics’ team recorded wins last season over the Brooklyn Nets, Milwaukee Bucks, and Miami Heat to win the Eastern Conference title. He guided them to the NBA Finals but lost in Game 6 to the Golden State Warriors, becoming the fifth coach in the last 25 years to make the Finals in his first year. He also secured a fourth-place finish in Coach of the Year voting. After a stellar outing last season, the fans had high hopes. They looked forward to a new season expecting the team to continue from where they left off last season, but this time it will be without head coach Ime Udoka.

It is important to note that we do not regularly see a coach’s lengthy suspension in the NBA. Last season, Mike Batiste of the Washington Wizards was handed a two-game suspension for entering the stands. In 2013, Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd faced a two game suspension. Still, an entire season suspension of an active coach has never happened recently and possibly in the history of the NBA.

There are also reservations about the media’s role in bringing to light the coach’s relationship with the unnamed staff member and how he has been portrayed.

Furthermore, are the Boston Celtics innocent of how they handled the issue?

One pertinent question to ask is how the information got to the media. Who leaked the information? Couldn’t such seismic news be dealt with internally?

Another angle to consider is the need to conceal the identity of the “unnamed staff member” while revealing coach Udoka’s, more without hesitation. Why is the coach alone facing the repercussions of an action that two adults carried out?

The club released an official statement that only captured Udoka’s punishment. Why? Is cheating not wrong on all levels and unfair to the partners of those involved? Still, a season suspension and the possibility of getting fired for breaking a code of conduct termed “Consensual” is absolute madness and arguable.

The role the media played in the reportage of the incident cannot be overlooked. It was at no point stated or reported that Udoka coerced the staff member into the relationship, so why did the media report it as a criminal incident? The coach committed an offense against the franchise owners and his fiancé Nia Long, not a crime against the government. The problem with the media reportage of the incident is that it has largely swayed how the franchise chose to deal with it. One could also argue that the media coverage of the incident could be about the color of his skin, which is my perspective as a Nigerian. Would the media come for his head if it were a white coach? Your guess is as good as mine.

Carlos Alcaraz: The Future of Men’s Tennis

By Kalen Lumpkins

Maxwell Media Watch

09/13/22

At this year’s French Open, third-seeded Alexander Zverev won a four-set thriller against sixth-seeded Carlos Alcaraz 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7) to advance to the semi-final for the second year in a row. In the post-match interview, Zverev was asked what he said to Alcaraz when they greeted each other at the net after the match concluded.

“I told him at the net, ‘You’re going to win this tournament a lot of times, not just once,’” said Zverev. “I hope I can win it before he starts beating us all.”

Fast-forward to this year’s U.S Open, and Carlos Alcaraz is beginning to do just that.

At the start of the U.S Open, tennis fans from around the world would gather into their designated courts to watch their favorite players do what they do best. On the women’s side, most were there to see Serena Williams’ last rodeo play out. On the men’s side, there was no Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer for the fans to marvel at, but there was one legend that always is the fan favorite every time he steps on the court.

Rafael Nadal.

The King of Clay opened as the overwhelming favorite to win his third Grand Slam of the year and 23rd Grand Slam overall. Nadal had not lost a Grand Slam match all year coming into the U.S Open (Nadal withdrew from the Wimbledon semifinals due to injury), and he was on a mission to make 2022 his year.

As the 2nd seed Nadal cruised to the quarterfinals, the 3rd seeded Carlos Alcaraz followed.

Alcaraz beat the people that he should have in the first three rounds (Sebastien Baez, Federico Coria, Jenson Brooksby) decisively in straight sets. The combination of his killer forehands and spacing were too much for his opponents to handle and were stunning to watch. Still, all eyes were on Rafael Nadal’s journey through the tournament. 

Then came the Round of 16, where Alcaraz faced 16th seeded Marin Cilic. And to put it lightly, Carlos Alcaraz put on a show for Arthur Ashe Stadium. Cilic and Alcaraz went back and forth hitting each other with long rallies and killer serves. Alcaraz’s game is comparable to the likes of Roger Federer: his serves, backhands, forehands, positioning among other techniques. There’s one aspect of Alcaraz’s game, however, that makes him in a league of his own and such a joy to watch. 

His effort.

During their match, Marin Cilic learned how hard it is to not only get the ball away from Alcaraz, but also how to keep it away from him. Multiple times during the match, Cilic would make an amazing forehand winner only for it to not be a winner at all, as Alcaraz would sprint to the back of the court and hit a forehand winner of his own. Cilic would find out that Alcaraz was simply too much to handle, as Carlos Alcaraz would beat Marin Cilic in a five-set thriller to advance to the quarterfinals. The breakthrough that Alcaraz needed, however, happened before he would even step on the court that day.

Earlier at Arthur Ashe Stadium, the tennis world was shaken up as Rafael Nadal was defeated by the 22nd seeded American Frances Tiafoe, which is seen as the upset of the year. The day before, the top seed Daniil Medvedev was handled by the controversial Nick Kyrgios.

With the top two seeds out of the way, all eyes were now on the highest seed remaining: Carlos Alcaraz. The Spaniard would decisively prove, however, that he could handle the bright lights.

With the plays and overwhelming efforts that were present in his Round of 16 match (like this sensational behind the back shot), he would come back from a 2-1 set hole to defeat John Sinner 6-3, 6-7 (9), 6-7 (7), 7-5, 6-3 to advance to the U.S Open Semifinals. His opponent in the semifinals would end up being one of the most anticipated matches on the tournament.

Alcaraz’s opponent: Frances Tiafoe, the man who ended Rafael Nadal’s U.S Open run.

Tiafoe was making history himself, becoming the first African American since Arthur Ashe to make the U.S Open semifinals, and he had no plans to make his match with Alcaraz his last of the tournament. Alcaraz, however, had other ideas.

Frances Tiafoe experienced what Alcaraz’s prior opponents did: his relentless drive and effort. Alcaraz pulled rabbits out of his hat all match, scoring points that seemed impossible, bringing the Arthur Ashe crowd to its feet to the point where they could barely sit down. Alcaraz would beat Tiafoe 6-7 (8), 6-3, 6-1, 6-7 (7), 6-3 to make the U.S Open final.

Before the tournament, people already had their favorites coming into the tournament. Going into the final, everyone had become a Carlos Alcaraz fan.

Alcaraz would defeat 5th seeded Casper Ruud in the U.S Open final 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-3 to win his first Grand Slam title. The ovation Alcaraz received after the match point was astounding. The crowd there were amazed by his near perfect U.S Open Tournament, the plays he made and most importantly: the effort he put in.

The victory makes Alcaraz the youngest No.1 in ATP history. At 19, he is like Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer, who won their first major at 19, 20, and 21, respectively. Alcaraz is nowhere close to finished, based on his interview after his U.S Open win.

“Right now, I’m enjoying the moment. I’m enjoying having the trophy in my hands,” said Alcaraz. “Of course, I’m hungry for more. I want to be at the top for many, many weeks. I hope many years.”

There have been comparisons with Alcaraz to the big three (Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic) with how his career has started, but there is one thing that stands out compared to everyone else.

The effort.

Carlos Alcaraz has the potential to be the greatest tennis player to ever hold a racquet. It is too early to tell, admittedly, because he is only 19. However, if there is one thing that should be taken from this article, its that Carlos Alcaraz will be a name that will be known for years to come.

Believe the hype.

Most Valuable Player

By Ryan Harless

September 16, 2022

Ryan Harless is a third-year undergraduate at BGSU from Hillsboro, Ohio. He is majoring in Sport Management with a Journalism Minor. Baseball and golf at all levels are his primary interest but is also interested in combat sports, hockey, basketball, and football.

In the world of baseball, the Most Valuable Player award is one of if not the most sought-after award. It goes to the player who has the best numbers on the field in each respective league. There have been many debates in the past decade over if the award should include pitchers as there is already an award for the best pitcher in each respective league, that being the Cy Young award.

But in recent years there has been a phenom who has thrown a wrench into baseball tradition and how we think of its players. Shohei Ohtani is a twenty-eight-year-old who plays for The Los Angeles Angels. What separates Ohtani from literally EVERY other player in the MLB is the fact that he is an elite power hitter who is in the top five in home runs, RBI, and slugging percentage. He is also an elite starting pitcher who is in the top five in ERA and strikeouts.

Enter Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge, who is currently on pace to break the all-time Yankee single season home run record. He also has a current slash line of .307/.410/.677 which are unreal numbers to have along with fifty plus home runs. Judge is having a career year and one that in any other time period would all but guarantee him a unanimous MVP award. But is he the most valuable?

I think that if we are looking at players strictly on stats for MVP voting you cannot give the award to anyone but Ohtani. Sure, Judge is having a massive year offensively and putting up numbers we haven’t seen since the days of Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. But right now, Ohtani has scored 80 runs on offense and has only given up 40 earned runs as a pitcher. With Ohtani, you’re not only getting a far above average starting pitcher, but a starting pitcher who will more than cover the runs they give up at the plate!

In the 2021 season when Ohtani won his first MVP award, he negated the earned runs he gave up just with his home run count alone. He had insanely tough competition in the MVP race that year too as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was in major contention to win the first triple crown in MLB since 2012. But Ohtani still won unanimously.

Shohei Ohtani is a generational talent that we may never see again. It’s unfortunate for anyone else in the American League that puts up good numbers, but Shohei is, by far, the Most Valuable Player in all of Major League Baseball and will continue to be until he chooses not to.

Ons Jabeur: From 2007 (Junior) US Open Debutant to 2022 Finalist

By Sarafina Napoleon

Sarafina Napoleon is from Nigeria and is a first-year graduate student in Sport Administration at BGSU. As a journalist for 9 years, she brings a wealth of experience and insight to the Maxwell Media Watch.

September 10, 2022

Ons Jabeur advanced to semifinals with win over Caroline Garcia

It was yet another win for Africa on September 9th, 2022, when Ons Jabeur booked a US Open final spot, becoming the first African Woman since 1968 to achieve such a feat in the professional era. It’s been a terrific 2022 for the Tunisian, making consecutive Grand Slam finals, but many people are unaware of how the journey started, thanks largely to the scant media coverage she has received. It’s been 17 years of constant hard work, perseverance, and the desire and will to get to the top.

Born in Ksar Hellal, Tunisia, Ons started playing tennis at the age of three and played on the ITF Circuit in 2007. Two years later, in 2009, she made her first junior Grand Slam debut at the US Open but couldn’t get past Britain’s Laura Robson in the first round. She eventually won the Junior Grand Slam title at the French Open in 2011 and became the first North African Woman to win a Grand Slam tournament at the junior level. Then came 2012; at 17, she was handed a wildcard at the Premier 5 Qatar Open in February, where she made her WTA main-draw debut but lost in three sets to No. 103 Virginie Razzano from France.

Considering her struggles at WTA Events at a senior level, it hasn’t been all rosy for Ons. She did qualify for two Grand Slam main draws at the 2014 US Open and 2015 Australian Open but failed to live up to the billing, losing her opening matches at both tournaments. For the first time in 2017, she participated in all four Grand Slam singles events but couldn’t win any of the titles. Her big break came at the French Open, where she won two main draw matches and cemented her place in the top 100 for the rest of the year. In 2017, she competed at all Grand Slam tournaments for the first time in her WTA Career, but she struggled.

A determined Ons kept working hard and digging deep to get to the top, which eventually paid off in 2021 when she won her first WTA Title at the 2021 Birmingham Classic, defeating the Russian Daria Kasatkina in the final. It is also worth mentioning that she got to the Wimbledon championships’ quarterfinals in 2021.

2022 RUN

2022 started with the Tunisian playing at the Sydney International where she got knocked out in the quarterfinals. She withdrew from the Australian Open after picking up an injury at the Sydney International. Jabeur lost in the second round of Indian Wells, but got to the fourth round of the Miami Open, reached the final of the Charleston Open, and went on to win the Madrid Open, making her the first African player to win a WTA 1000 title. Then came the Italian Open, where she had a brilliant run. Still, she wasn’t good enough to win it all as she fell to Iga Świątek in the Final; despite losing the Italian Open final, she reached a career-high world No. 6 in May.

The French Open came with many expectations, but she fell out in the first round against Poland’s Magda Linette but made a career-high ranking of world No. 4 in June at the end of the tournament. Wimbledon saw a different Jabeur who went all the way to the final, defeating Mirjam Björklund, Katarzyna Kawa, Diane Parry, and Elise Mertens in the process. The Wimbledon Final came, which was her first Grand Slam final appearance, making her the first African Woman to reach a Grand Slam Singles Final in the Open Era. Sadly, she couldn’t deliver at the biggest stage, losing to Elena Rybakina in three sets which was a bitter pill to swallow as an African, since tennis experts had picked her to win.

Ons Jabeur vs Iga Świątek: A revenge mission?

September 10th, 2022, will be a day to remember for many. Africans and Arabians who are all looking forward with high expectations. Ons Jabeur will be in action, participating in her second Grand Slam Final barely two months after her first final, which she lost to Rybakina. She faces a daunting task against Świątek, who is yet to lose a Grand Slam final. The Polish player has won in both Grand Slam finals she’s played (French Open 2019 & 2022).

Ons Jabeur is one match away from becoming the first African and Arab Woman to win a significant title, and she can achieve this at the 142nd edition of the US Open. To this point, her accomplishments have been overshadowed by the massive coverage of Serena Williams’ retirement and excitement about rising US stars Francis Tiafoe and Coco Gauff.

The big question now is, Can She win? And if she does, will she gain the accolades deserving of a first-time grand slam winner and the first African-Arab Woman to do so?

Welcome to Fall 2022 Maxwell Media Watch

Writers for Fall 2022 Maxwell Media Watch had their first meeting on Thursday, September 8, 2022 and have already begun working on their first entries. This semester’s writers include a grad student whose media name is Sarafina Napoleon, who penned the first entry about today’s U.S. Open Women’s Singles Final featuring the first African-Arab woman to advance to the U.S. Open final. Forthcoming entries will discuss: Francis Tiafoe becoming the first Black male advancing to the U.S. Open semifinals since Arthur Ashe; WNBA player Brittney Griner’s detention in Russia; WNBA player Sue Bird’s retirement; the rebuild of MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates; and the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani’s case to be named MVP.

Undergraduate and graduate students in Sport Management, Sport Administration, Journalism and Communication are welcome to attend Maxwell Media Watch meetings and to write entries that critique media coverage of sports. For more information, please contact Pershelle Rohrer, senior contributor (rohrerp@bgsu.edu), or Dr. Nancy Spencer, faculty advisor (nspencr@bgsu.edu).

How the Brian Flores Lawsuit Shed Light on Media Critiques about Hiring Black Head Coaches in the NFL

By Gavin J. Davidson

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

Brian Flores Timeline

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.

The Life Behind a Meme: The Story of Bishop Sycamore and ESPN

By Griffin Olah

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.”

The Decline of the Houston Texans and Why We Should’ve Seen It Coming

By Breven Miller

June 9, 2021

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):

Houston receives: OT Laremy Tunsil, WR Kenny Stills, 2020 fourth-round pick, 2021 sixth-round pick.

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):

Arizona receives: WR DeAndre Hopkins, 2020 fourth-round pick.

Houston receives: RB David Johnson, 2020 second-round pick, 2021 fourth-round pick.

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. 

References

Barkevious Mingo stats. (2021). Pro Football Reference. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/M/MingBa00.htm

Bill O’Brien record, statistics, and category ranks. (2021). Pro Football Reference. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/coaches/OBriBi0.htm

Brinson, W. (2017, April 28). Browns own Texans’ first and second-round picks in 2018 after Deshaun Watson trade. CBS Sports. https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/browns-own-texans-first-and-second-picks-in-2018-after-deshaun-watson-trade/

Chassen, A. (2016, March 09). Brock Osweiler signs $72 million deal with Texans. SB Nation. https://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2016/3/9/11143754/brock-osweiler-signing-free-agent-texans-broncos

Gareon Conley stats. (2021). Pro Football Reference. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/C/ConlGa00.htm

Holleran, A. (2021, March 1). Deshaun Watson is reportedly considering a drastic move. The Spun. https://thespun.com/nfl/afc-south/houston-texans/deshaun-watson-sit-out-games-texans

Houston Texans Team Encyclopedia. (2021). Pro Football Reference. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/htx/index.htm

Jacob Martin stats. (2021). Pro Football Reference. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/M/MartJa02.htm

Johnson Bademosi stats. (2021). Pro Football Reference. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/B/BadeJo00.htm

Julie’n Davenport stats. (2021). Pro Football Reference. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/D/DaveJu00.htm

Kasabian, P. (2019, September 01). Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills traded to Texans for 2 1st-round picks, more. Bleacher Report. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2851360-laremy-tunsil-kenny-stills-reportedly-traded-to-texans-for-huge-haul-of-picks

Kenny Stills stats. (2021). Pro Football Reference. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/S/StilKe00.htm

NBC Sports. (2019, June 27). PFT Top 30 Storylines: Can Houston Texans win in playoffs? | Pro Football Talk | NBC Sports[Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3JoWTfxEcs&list=PLXEMPXZ3PY1jmuyphRJnUBL1S9RD8mQNY&index=3577

NBC Sports. (2020, June 25). PFT Draft: Next QB to get first Super Bowl ring? | Pro Football Talk | NBC Sports[Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y35YAsoMmqQ&list=PLXEMPXZ3PY1jmuyphRJnUBL1S9RD8mQNY&index=1974

NFL Films [@NFLFilms]. (2021, January 5). “I’m sorry, we wasted one of your years.” Watt to Watson after a tough season[Tweet; video]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/nflfilms/status/1346506627239845888?lang=en

Rapp, T. (2020, March 16). Report: Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins over contract; O’Brien, WR had friction. Bleacher Report. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/2881274-report-texans-traded-deandre-hopkins-to-avoid-restructuring-contract

Schefter, A. (2017, March 09). Texans trade Brock Osweiler, 2018 second-round pick to Browns. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/18865517/houston-texans-trade-brock-osweiler-2018-second-round-pick-cleveland-browns

Shook, N. (2020, October 06). Texans fire Bill O’Brien as general manager, head coach. NFL.com. https://www.nfl.com/news/texans-fire-bill-o-brien-as-general-manager-head-coach

Starr, P. D. (2020, January 28). Bill O’Brien named the general manager of the Houston Texans. Sports Illustrated. https://www.si.com/nfl/texans/news/bill-obrien-named-the-general-manager-of-the-houston-texans

Weston, M. (2020, May 15). BRB groupthink: Revisiting the Jadeveon Clowney trade. SB Nation. https://www.battleredblog.com/2020/5/15/21260199/brb-groupthink-revisiting-the-jadeveon-clowney-trade

COVID, A Year Later – BGSU Women’s Basketball and Softball

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).

References

Cihon, M. (2021, March 22). Memorable 2020-21 season comes to an end. BGSU Falcons.https://bgsufalcons.com/news/2021/3/22/womens-basketball-memorable-2020-21-season-comes-to-an-end.aspx

MAC statement regarding updated conference policies due to COVID-19. (2020, March 12). BGSUFalcons.com.https://bgsufalcons.com/news/2020/3/12/baseball-mac-statement-regarding-updated-conference-policies-due-to-covid-19.aspx

Quarantime with the Falcons – Robyn Fralick. (2020, April 24). Falcon Athleticshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V18QyA45srY

2020 softball schedule. (n.d.). BGSUFalcons.com. https://bgsufalcons.com/sports/softball/schedule/2020

2021 softball schedule. (n.d.). BGSUFalcons.com. https://bgsufalcons.com/sports/softball/schedule

2021 softball standings. (2021). Mid-American Conference. https://getsomemaction.com/standings.aspx?path=softball

Mental Health and Professional Athletes

By Griffin Olah

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!

References

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

Epstein, J. (2020, September 10). Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott on why he opened up on depression, brother’s suicide: ‘Being a leader is about being genuine.’ USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/cowboys/2020/09/10/dak-prescott-dallas-cowboys-depression-brother-jace/3460645001/ 

Fletcher, J. (2021. February 2). Andrelton Simmons opens up about depression and thoughts of suicide. The Orange County Register. https://www.ocregister.com/2021/02/02/andrelton-simmons-opens-up-about-depression-and-thoughts-of-suicide/ 

Gardner, S. (2020, September 10). Fox Sports calls out Skip Bayless for ‘insensitive comments’ about Dak Prescott.’ USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/cowboys/2020/09/10/skip-bayless-fox-sports-criticizes-cowboys-dak-prescott-revealing-depression/3461207001/ 

Gleeson, S. & Brady, E. (2017, August 30). When athletes share their battles with mental illness. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2017/08/30/michael-phelps-brandon-marshall-mental-health-battles-royce-white-jerry-west/596857001/ 

Love, K. (2018, March 6). Everyone is going through something. The Players’ Tribunehttps://www.theplayerstribune.com/articles/kevin-love-everyone-is-going-through-something

Mental illness. (2021). National Institute of Mental Healthhttps://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml#:~:text=Mental%20illnesses%20are%20common%20in,mild%20to%20moderate%20to%20severe

Passan, J. (2021, February 2). San Francisco Giants outfielder Drew Robinson’s remarkable second act. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/30800732/san-francisco-giants-outfielder-drew-robinson-remarkable-second-act 

Torres, M. (2020, September 22). Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons opts out of playing the rest of the season. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/sports/angels/story/2020-09-22/angels-shortstop-andrelton-simmons-opts-out-of-playing-rest-of-season