Monthly Archives: October 2020

Dak Prescott and the battle for players’ rights

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.

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.

References

Acho, E. [@EmmanuelAcho]. (2020, October 11). The opposite has been said, but this moment, Dak Prescott, the epitome, and the embodiment of leadership. You don’t cry[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/EmmanuelAcho/status/1315422934102536193 

Aikman, T. [@TroyAikman]. (2020, October 11). Devastated for @dak- one of the truly great people in the NFL[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/TroyAikman/status/1315423099207249922 

Al-Khateeb, Z. (2020, September 22). Hayden Hurst thanks Dak Prescott for speaking out on depression: ‘I’ve got a lot of respect for what you did.’ Sporting News. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/hayden-hurst-dak-prescott-depression/82lsq51strzp1krk8w8w4c4tr 

Archer, T. (2020, October 11). Dak Prescott of Dallas Cowboys out of surgery for compound fracture, dislocation of right ankle. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/30094698/dak-prescott-dallas-cowboys-carted-field-ankle-injury

Barnwell, B. (2020, October 12). Dak Prescott ankle injury: Answering the biggest questions about the QB, the Cowboys, Andy Dalton and what’s next. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/30094522/dak-prescott-ankle-injury-answering-biggest-questions-qb-cowboys-andy-dalton-next

Blackburn, P. (2020, October 12). Dak Prescott injury: Patrick Mahomes, Troy Aikman, NFL players react to Cowboys QB being carted off of field. CBS Sports. https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/dak-prescott-injury-patrick-mahomes-troy-aikman-nfl-players-react-to-cowboys-qb-being-carted-off-field/ 

Bonesteel, M. (2020, September 11). Skip Bayless condemned for saying Dak Prescott’s admission of depression was a sign of weakness. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2020/09/11/skip-bayless-dak-prescott-depression/ 

Brandt, A. (2020, October 13). Business of football: Dak Prescott’s injury won’t significantly hurt his career earnings. Sports Illustrated. https://www.si.com/nfl/2020/10/13/business-of-football-dak-prescott-injury-bill-obrien-fired 

Dungy, T. [@TonyDungy]. (2020, October 11). Blessing in disguise was a poor choice of words by me. It’s not a blessing for Dak. What I meant[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/TonyDungy/status/1315454990383828997

Heck, J. (2020, October 12). Tony Dungy called Dak Prescott’s injury a ‘blessing in disguise’ for the Cowboys.  Sporting News. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/tony-dungy-dak-prescott-injury-cowboys/1p7r7t3a97cy0101g4yymbyklz

Heyen, B. (2020, October 12). NFL deletes ‘can’t miss play’ highlight of Dak Prescott’s injury on official YouTube channel. Sporting News. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/dak-prescott-injury-nfl-youtube-highlight/1p01mz3n8ridp1kjiwyuvty86p

Mahomes II, P. [@PatrickMahomes] (2020, October 11). Big time Prayers up man @dak !!!![Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/PatrickMahomes/status/1315421298953248768 

McSpadden, K. (2015, January 26). The NFL is finally on YouTube. TIME. https://time.com/3682108/nfl-national-football-league-youtube-google-super-bowl/#:~:text=The%20NFL%20YouTube%20channel%2C%20which,in%2Dgame%20highlights%20and%20recaps.&text=Under%20the%20deal%2C%20Google%20will,to%20the%20Wall%20Street%20Journal

Rosenberg, E. (2020, June 4). How YouTube ad revenue works. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/032615/how-youtube-ad-revenue-works.asp 

Sherman, R. [@rodger]. (2020, October 12). I found this last night and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Is it normal for leagues to[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/rodger/status/1315657073049427970 

Watkins, C. (2020, September 9). Dak Prescott opens up about brother’s suicide, his own battles with depression in new interview. Dallas News. https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/cowboys/2020/09/09/dak-prescott-opens-up-about-brothers-suicide-his-own-battles-with-depression-in-new-interview/ 

Watt, J.J. [@JJWatt]. (2020, October 11). Feel so bad for Dak. Just brutal.[Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/JJWatt/status/1315421651639697408 

This Is Us: Softball’s walkout that the media missed

By Pershelle Rohrer

October 6, 2020

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.

References

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

aubrey_lynne10. (2020, June 22). [Statement following Connie May tweet] [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/aubrey_lynne10/status/1275245355995664384?s=20

Brunt, C. (2020, June 25). Pro softball team suffers fallout after GM’s anthem tweet. Associated Press. https://apnews.com/article/b624cbde1bff8817ee8a112646f5322e

Cwik, C. (2020, June 26). How a Donald Trump tweet controversy inspired pro softball players to speak out and form a new team. Yahoo! Entertainment. https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/how-a-donald-trump-tweet-controversy-inspired-pro-softball-players-to-stand-up-and-form-a-new-team-191245388.html

Hays, G. (2020a, June 23). Scrap Yard Dawgs softball players walk out after GM’s tweet about national anthem. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/olympics/softball/story/_/id/29353915/scrap-yard-dawgs-softball-players-walk-gm-tweet-national-anthem

Hays, G. (2020b, June 27). Ex-Scrap Yard softball players return to form This Is Us team. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/olympics/softball/story/_/id/29372544/ex-scrap-yard-softball-players-return-form-us-team

Hays, G. (2020c, July 8). ‘This Is Us’ all-star softball team cancels season 2 weeks after launch. ESPN. https://www.espn.com/olympics/softball/story/_/id/29431087/this-us-all-star-softball-team-cancels-season-2-weeks-launch

Poe, J. (2020, June 29). This Is Us softball team formed in response to Donald Trump anthem tweet. Orlando Sentinel. https://www.orlandosentinel.com/sports/os-sp-softball-this-is-us-anthem-donald-trump-20200630-qaoyfr4oxfd57b5wowelpjzjr4-story.html

Rosenberg, B. (2020, July 6). This Is Us Softball hopes to continue fight for racial justice. Softball America. https://www.softballamerica.com/stories/this-is-us-softball-hopes-to-continue-fight-for-racial-justice/

Weiner, N. (2020, June 24). A softball team’s tweet to Trump leads players to quit mid-series. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/24/sports/scrap-yard-softball-anthem-tweet.html