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The Greatest Story in Sports History?

By Dr. Nancy E. Spencer

Tennis commentator John McEnroe called it the greatest story in sports history. Not just in women’s sports, or women’s tennis, but in all of sports’ history! And he wasn’t alone in proclaiming it. On Thursday, January 26, all four ESPN panelists on ‘Around the Horn’ agreed. They were referring to the story of 36-year old Venus Williams and 35-year old Serena Williams, the famous “Sister Act” who were to meet in their 27th head-to-head match in the Women’s Singles final at the 2017 Australian Open. It was part of an historical weekend of tennis that also featured two thirtysomething players in the Men’s final: 35-year old Roger Federer vs. 30-year old Rafa Nadal. By most standards, tennis players in their mid-30s are thought of as over-the-hill. In this case, it was ‘must-see TV’ and tennis was the better for it. Not only were they four of the best players of all time, but they have dominated tennis for over a decade, “winning a combined total of 60 majors in their careers” (Bialik, 2017, para. 1).

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The Results? In the weekend matches, Serena edged out older sister Venus, 6-4, 6-4, while Roger needed five sets to prevail over Rafa, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. Winning another major title brought Serena’s total number to 23 majors, surpassing Steffi Graf (22), and trailing only Margaret Court, the Australian, who holds 24 titles. Besides adding to her numbers, Serena reclaimed the World No. 1 ranking this week, after what was (for her) a disappointing 2016 season. Now that she is healthy Serena could conceivably tie and maybe even surpass Margaret Court in 2017.

The 2017 Australian Open men’s and women’s finals were nostalgic for fans. My biggest regret was that I didn’t attend this year’s tournament in Australia. Ten years ago, I was at the Australian Open for both finals. Guess who won? The same two: Serena won the Women’s singles over Maria Sharapova, 6-1, 6-2, while Roger defeated Fernando Gonzalez, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4 to win the Men’s singles.

The Williams sisters’ rivalry as well as the pairing of Roger and Rafa demonstrate the longevity of their careers. Venus and Serena have faced each other 27 times, while Roger and Rafa have played 35 times. Neither can truly be considered the ‘greatest tennis rivalry’ in terms of the number of times they have played. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova hold that distinction, having met 80 times between 1973 and 1989.

May-Jun 1986:  Martina Navratilova (left) of the USA chats with Chris Evert also of the USA as they hold their respective trophies after the Womens Singles final during the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris.  Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

So, why do multiple sports writers believe the Williams’ sisters’ story may be “the greatest sports story” ever? (Simons, 2017)?

For those who have followed the Williams’ sisters throughout their careers, it is evident that all the elements of a great story are there: a compelling orientation, a crisis, escalation, discovery, and change (Klems, 2014). Below I elaborate on how the Williams sisters’ story demonstrates each of those elements – and how the media reported on them.

The beginning of a good story needs to “grab the reader’s attention,” and orient us to “the setting, mood and tone of the story” (Klems, 2014, para. 15). In 1991, Sports Illustrated writer Sonia Steptoe (1991) introduced 10-year old Venus as “the most hotly pursued preteen in U.S. tennis history” (para. 5). We learned that Venus hailed from Compton, CA (as in “Straight-out-of-Compton” fame) where she lived in “a small mint-green house… spray-painted with black graffiti.” There she dreamed “of wearing a white dress and playing tennis on the grass courts at Wimbledon” (para. 2). Americans were looking for the next great superstar to fill the void left by Chris Evert’s retirement. Venus’ coach, Rick Macci likened her athleticism to ‘His Airness,’ Michael Jordan. The anticipation of this “Cinderella of the Ghetto,” as her father referred to her, established her promise as the future of tennis. Her father, Richard, also suggested that younger sister Serena would be even better than Venus!

venus-and-serena-1991

The second ingredient of a good story is a “crisis that tips your character’s world upside down,” and she cannot immediately resolve the crisis (para. 19). While Venus faced a series of mini-crises in her early career, none rose to the level of unresolvable until 2001, when she and Serena were slated to meet in the semi-finals at Indian Wells, a tournament that was a family favorite due to its proximity to Compton. It was where Serena had won her first professional match. By 2001, Venus and Serena had each won a grand slam tournament – Serena won the 1999 U.S. Open, while Venus captured the 2000 Wimbledon title. When they arrived at Indian Wells, there was great anticipation among fans to see their match that was to be aired live on ESPN. Dominant reports conveyed that moments before their scheduled match was to begin, Venus defaulted, leading some to believe that their father Richard had orchestrated the default, although that suspicion has never been substantiated. Given the disappointment of fans, the announcement was met with harsh booing from the crowd (Smith, 2001). Two days later, when Serena appeared for the final against Kim Clijsters, fans again greeted her with loud boos. And when Venus and Richard entered the court, the booing increased and some fans were heard shouting racial epithets. Richard Williams reported that one fan told him he was ‘lucky it wasn’t 1975,’ or he would ‘skin him alive’ (Smith, 2001, p. 3C).

In an interview with Doug Smith, of USA Today, Richard “accused the media of biased coverage of his family and said ESPN announcers (Pam Shriver and Mary Joe Fernandez) were derelict for failing to criticize the behavior of Indian Wells’ fans when Serena defeated Cljisters” (p. 3C). During the match, Shriver and Fernandez had described the environment as ‘unlike anything they had ever seen.’ Although Serena somehow prevailed to win in three sets, fans continued to boo her throughout the trophy presentation, even as then-19-year old Serena told the crowd that she loved them. In the aftermath of that traumatic experience, Richard vowed never to return to Indian Wells (Smith, 2001).

In 2009, Serena revealed in her autobiography that Venus had informed tournament officials that she was injured earlier in the day of their scheduled semifinal, adding that she would not be able to play the match. However, given the delay (by tournament officials) in announcing her withdrawal until just before the match, Venus (and her father) were vilified by the crowd. Unfortunately, Serena bore the brunt of it. In retrospect, Serena could not understand why a tournament official did not make an announcement or seek to quiet the crowd by telling them that Venus was truly injured. She described it as one of the ‘darkest moments of her career.’

The third element of a good story involves an escalation of the crisis, which occurred in the Williams’ saga when the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) introduced the “Road Map” in 2008 (Evans, 2008). That plan was implemented to reduce the number of player withdrawals and to encourage players to make greater commitments to tournaments. The aim of the guidelines was to make the tour more ‘fan friendly’ by ensuring that top-ranked players would appear in major tournaments. Another feature of the new plan was the designation of five tournaments as ‘premier mandatory’ events, which meant the prize money would be greater than all except the grand slams, and players would be required to enter, barring injury. When Indian Wells was designated as ‘premier mandatory,’ some speculated that it was done in part to encourage the return of the Williams sisters to Indian Wells. Despite the WTA’s efforts to encourage their return, Venus and Serena remained steadfast in their refusal to play at Indian Wells, and their boycott continued. Many in the media expressed the view that the Williams sisters should return to Indian Wells, as indicated here: “There comes a time when bygones should be bygones. Venus and Serena have made their point… it is time for the sisters to return to the California desert with their heads held high and lingering slights, nasty as they were, forgotten” (Evans, 2008, para. 12).

The fourth ingredient of a good story entails discovery, which occurs as “the climax of the story,” when the protagonist(s) “make(s) a discovery that changes (her) life” (para. 41). In February 2015, Serena announced that she would end her 14-year boycott and return to Indian Wells. She attributed her change of heart to Nelson Mandela’s impact upon her life. His example, coupled with lessons she had learned from her mother, enabled her to realize the power of forgiveness. In contrast to the scene of the 2001 tourney, Serena was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation. Although nervous in her first match, she won it and advanced to the semifinals before having to default due to injury. This time she appeared on court before the match to explain to fans what happened, and the fans had a more positive response. According to Thomas (2015), “You could hear a few scattered boos, unbelievably and too predictably, but mostly there was applause” (para. 20).

Finally, a good story reflects change in the protagonist when she is “transformed into someone more mature, insightful or at peace” (para. 48). Serena’s change of heart was noted by USTA President Katrina Adams who said, “Serena’s decision to return is another sign of her maturity in understanding that although many people show signs of ignorance, not all are (ignorant),” Adams added that, “The past is history, but the present is a gift. She has millions of fans in California that would love to see her play in person, and what a treat they will be in for” (Clarey, 2015, para. 16). While most of the media attention focused on Serena’s change of heart and growth in maturity, there was little if any mention that perhaps Indian Wells needed to apologize publicly for the inappropriate behavior that occurred at Indian Wells in 2001, if for no other reason than to assure Venus and Serena that such a response would never happen again. After Serena’s positive experience upon returning in 2015, her older sister Venus decided to return in 2016. She too experienced the love and appreciation of fans upon her return to the court.

The story of how the Williams’ sisters overcame the crisis at Indian Wells is only one chapter of the compelling story of their 20-year careers in professional women’s tennis. That is probably why so many sports writers and broadcasters consider theirs to be the ‘Greatest Sports’ Story!’ The best thing is that it is still unfolding before us.

References

Bialik, C. (2017, January 27). Tennis is growing old with Federer, Nadal and the Williams sisters. FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved from https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/tennis-is-growing-old-with-federer-nadal-and-the-williams-sisters/

Clarey, C. (2015). After a 14-year boycott, Serena Williams plans to play at Indian Wells. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/sports/tennis/serena-williams-will-play-indian-wells-ending-boycott.html?_r=0

Clarey, C. (2017, January 26). A final match for Venus and Serena Williams, but maybe not the last one. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/26/sports/tennis/williams-venus-serena-australian-open.html?_r=0

Evans, R. (2008, September 6). Williams threat to U.S. Roadmap. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2008/sep/07/tennis.usopentennis

Simons, B. (2017, January 26). Venus and Serena – ‘The greatest sports story.’ Inside Tennis. Retrieved from http://www.insidetennis.com/2017/01/ao-venus-and-serena/

Smith, D. (2001, March 26). Williams decries fans as racist. USA Today, p.3C.

Steptoe, S. (1991, June 10). Child’s play. Sports Illustrated Vault. Retrieved from http://www.si.com/vault/1991/06/10/124343/childs-play-tenniss-newest-pixie-is-named-venus-at-age-10-she-dreams-of-flying-to-jupiter-others-have-earthier-hopes-for-her

Thomas, L. (2015, March 23). A place in the sun: The return and withdrawal of Serena Williams at Indian Wells. Grantland. Retrieved from http://grantland.com/the-triangle/serena-williams-indian-wells-2015/

NFL is Becoming the No Fun League

Ever since New York Giants’ wide receiver Homer Jones first drilled a football into the hallowed turf of old Yankee Stadium after taking a routine Earl Morrall screen pass 89 yards to paydirt against the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 17, 1965, thereby dubbing it the “spike” . . . Touchdown celebrations have been as much a part of the National Football League as Gatorade baths, the Terrible Towel,  Green Bay’s iconic “Frozen Tundra,” and referee Ed Hochuli’s biceps.

After all, they showcase a player’s creativity. They give the casual  fan something to look forward to, even if they’re not interested in a particular game. They inflate television ratings. They’ve been known to celebrate a player’s culture (anyone remember former San Diego Chargers’ tight end Alfred Pupunu, a Tongan, “twist the top off a coconut, and drink the juice” every time he scored a touchdown?). And let’s face it, they’re just plain fun!

Yet, over the last 32 years or so -and particularly during current commissioner Roger Goodell’s reign- the NFL has worked to slowly, but systematically take the fun out of its roughly $74.8 billion product, by plucking the proverbial tail feathers of Jamal Anderson’s “Dirty Bird,” pulling the plug on Joe Horn’s “cell phone call,” and otherwise stifling, outright prohibiting, and doling out ludicrous punishments for just about every other TD celebration that occurs. In 1984, the NFL amended its rulebook, and banned what it defined as “any prolonged, excessive, premeditated celebration by individual players, or groups of players,” which inevitably led to the distinction of the “Fun Bunch” (which was a shame, because watching high-flying Washington receivers Art Monk, Charlie Brown, Virgil Seay, and Alvin Garrett gather in the end zone to perform a group high-five was always a good time). Then, in 2006, the league reopened its rulebook to include such language as “a player leaving his feet,” and “using a prop” such as a goalpost, a towel, and especially a football (it’s known as the “excessive celebration” rule), all of which are frowned upon, and typically earn a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff. Fast forward to 2016, and some of the league’s most exciting players literally have to be wary of every step, shimmy, strut, and sway of the hips that they take/make, lest they want to garner a hefty fine or even a suspension. Is it any wonder then that the NFL is turning itself into a cliche, but legitimate “no fun league?”

For instance, in weeks one and four of this young ‘16 season, Steelers’ electrifying receiver Antonio Brown was flagged twice, and fined a total of $36,463 for “twerking” (remember the dance made famous by shock pop artist Miley Cyrus at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards) after taking a pair of Ben Roethlisberger passes to the house. The NFL’s justification for levying such an obscene fine on AB? It has an obligation to protect its product and viewership especially young, impressionable viewers against obscene, “sexually-suggestive” actions that are “construed as being in poor taste.” And while AB’s dance he calls it the “Boomin’”- does indeed incorporate a good bit of pelvic thrusting, where is the NFL’s outrage when it signs some of the sexiest names in pop music à la Beyonce Knowles, Katy Perry, Fergie, and Lady Gaga to perform at its Super Bowl halftime spectacles . . .  Where said divas reap a fortune in viewership for the league every February by purring out overtly-sexual hits, and accompanying them with thrusts, gyrations, and other dance moves similar to Brown’s?

Elsewhere this season, Giants’ dynamic duo Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr were fined $12,154 each when Cruz performed his customary salsa dance after scoring his first regular season touchdown in over a year (the New York pass catcher sat out the entire ‘15 season due to a nagging calf injury). Still, it wasn’t Cruz’s popular dance at all that elicited the steep fines, but instead Beckham Jr’s involvement, which saw the mercurial receiver kneel in the AT&T Stadium end zone, and snap fake Polaroids of his teammate’s moves. The league’s problem with the celebration? It was deemed “excessive, prolonged, and choreographed,” although interestingly enough, it was never flagged. Yet, if the NFL is going to employ that third criteria choreography shouldn’t, too, Cruz’s salsa be flagged and fined every time he catches a TD pass from Eli Manning? Is not the dance the very definition of the term “choreographed?” Has it not been “premeditated,” or planned throughout much of Cruz’s model six-year career? Or because Cruz has been a model citizen, and is still a fresh, young face of the NFL, is he immune to the league’s erratic, often absurd punishments, whereas Beckham Jr with his alleged immaturity, his volatile, powder keg personality, his recent on-field history, and his shock of yellowish hair is not? Were these fines more a case of guilt through association? Is this just more of the modern NFL’s hypocrisy?

As of  the ‘14 season, players have not been able to “dunk” the football over the goalpost crossbar in the vein of Alvin Harper, Tony Gonzalez, and Jimmy Graham. Tabbed the “Jimmy Graham Rule” due to a ‘13 game during which monstrous 6’7”, 265 lb then-Saints’ tight end Graham hauled in a touchdown pass, and then proceeded to throw the pigskin down violently over the crossbar, thereby actually bending the 500 lb aluminum structure, and knocking it askew . . . NFL officials made the celebration illegal shortly afterwards, enforcing the decision with the threat of both a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and an approximately $15,000 fine (Graham, now a Seahawk, has been fined a total of $30,000 for a pair of thunderous dunks since). The league’s thinking on the ban? It’ll cut down on lengthy repair delays in an already at times three-plus hour game, and perhaps more importantly, assure of player, official, and fan safety if indeed a goalpost was to be damaged more than the one was in the freakish Graham dunk, and Heaven forbid come crashing down.

And while “safety” for one’s fellow man is indeed a noble cause, then why did the NFL “grandfather” the 23-year-old “Lambeau Leap” into its ever-thickening volume of rules as a legal celebration in ‘00? Absolutely, it’s one of the coolest TD celebrations in all of football, and has stood as a time-honored Green Bay tradition ever since former Packers’ safety LeRoy Butler returned a fumble recovery for a score, and proceeded to leap into the crowd for the first time way back in 1993. And, sure, it officially takes place “off the field of play,” whereas the majority of TD celebrations that get flagged (and fined) for infractions like “delay of game,” and “taunting,” and “unsportsmanlike conduct,” allegedly do so because they occur within the parameters of the gridiron. But, if the NFL is going to cite “safety” as an issue in the banning of goalpost dunks, shouldn’t it at least consider it with the “Lambeau Leap,” as well? Realistically, what’s more probable, a goalpost crashing down, and badly injuring the “dunking” player, an official or two, and several fans seated in the end zone section of, let’s say, the Georgia Dome? Or, a Packers’ wide receiver like Jordy Nelson or Davante Adams attempting to jump into the crowd after snaring an Aaron Rodgers’ touchdown pass, and in the process sliding off the icy wall and breaking an ankle on the frozen turf below (or worst case scenario, knocking a fan over the side in the midst of the leap, causing serious injury or worse). Stranger things have happened! Can you say lawsuit, NFL?

Further, it’s not merely celebrations in the end zones that are getting lost in this current whirlwind of hypocrisy, out-of-whack priorities, and outright lunacy either! Indeed, more and more celebrations as a result of big plays between the goal lines -and particularly defensive plays- are being blindsided by penalties of the 15-yard unsportsmanlike variety, and ridiculous fines, as well. Case in point? How about Redskins’ star cornerback Josh Norman’s 15-yarder and ensuing $10,000 fine for “shooting an invisible bow-and-arrow” as means of celebration when he picked off a Cody Kessler pass during the fourth quarter of a week four matchup with the Browns? It’s a fact that not one player, official, stadium employee, or raucous fan losing their mind inside FedExField was hurt or killed when Norman pulled back his invisible bow, and let that arrow fly . . . Yet, still, the NFL labelled it a “violent act,” and will look to open its hallowed rulebook at least one more time in the near future probably before the 2017 season kicks off to ban the “bow-and-arrow,” along with the “throat slash” gesture, the “machine-gun salute,” and the “six-shooter” celebration, all of which have been victimized by the league’s “fun posse” in seasons past. And, okay, maybe some of these more marginal celebrations like the aforementioned “throat slash” and the “machine gun salute”- should be mothballed due to current events and American tragedies in recent years, but the “bow-and-arrow?” The NFL is going to strike quick and decisive on such a “violent act” as this, yet drag its feet on bringing justice to the random bullies, wife beaters, and other miscreants who have been giving the game a proverbial black eye for years? Oh, the NFL usually does suspend these players from the league eventually, it just takes a long time. Unlike, say, disciplining a player for dancing! Talk about your out-of-whack priorities!

All that being said, football is supposed to be fun, and a majority of the time, touchdown celebrations are just that . . . Celebrations of America’s greatest game, and its greatest professional sports league (even for all of its above flaws), that comes forth from these players and more when they feel the same joy and passion for the sport that they felt when they were little boys. That’s why the Pack leaps at Lambeau. That’s what made Washington’s “Fun Bunch,” well, fun. That’s what made 1980s-era New York Jet of the famed “New York Sack Exchange”- Mark Gastineau go all “wild man,” and perform his savage “Sack Dance” every time he brought down a quarterback.

The “twerk” is what helps make “business boomin’” for AB, the “high step” is what made Deion Sanders “Neon,” and, Donning a Superman cape, handing out autographed No. 85 jerseys, and proposing to Bengals’ cheerleaders after scoring touchdowns, is what made Chad Johnson “Chad Ochocinco.”

And, like it or not “Uncle” Roger and NFL . . . It’s all what’s helped take your product into the primetime and beyond! It’s what’s made the game, and the league, larger-than-life. It’s what’s helped grow a once-struggling, fringe game into “America’s Game,” thereby stealing the crown from our “National Pastime.”

All that fun and passion, NFL? It’s part of why we watch. It’s part of what we talk about around the proverbial water cooler on Mondays, it’s what we Tweet about, and why we share videos on Instagram with our friends. And, we, the NFL fans, are a huge reason why your product is so big, too.

Keep taking all the fun out of our favorite game by penalizing and banning touchdown dances and other celebrations, and the biggest thing about your product will be Hochuli’s arms as he throws flag after flag.

Tom Brady Suspension Reinstated: Does Goodell Have too Much Power?

The NFL, in their battle against Tom Brady, finally got a victory with the appeals court. The Court reversed the federal judge’s ruling of nullifying Brady’s four-game suspension. As reported on CNN in an article titled “NFL wins ‘Deflategate’ appeal; Tom Brady’s suspension reinstated”, Monday’s court decision came to rule that Goodell “properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement and that his procedural rulings were properly grounded in that agreement and did not deprive Brady of fundamental fairness.”

Now the NFL has to decide whether they want to exercise the power to reinstate Brady’s suspension in the league. If the suspension remains is intact, Brady will miss games against the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans, and Bills. A lot could happen in the next few months, as the NFLPA and Tom Brady will need to decide what action to take next against Goodell and the suspension.

In response the new of the suspension, media and personalities throughout the United States posted on social media to voice their opinions. Bill Simmons, who in the past publically spoke on Goodell’s abuse of power, tweeted “FREE TOM BRADY.” Similarly, Skip Bayless urged Brady to attempt to take the case to the supreme court. Even a presidential nominee, Donald Trump, said “leave Tom Brady alone,” at a rally. The news shook the sports world, and could change the landscape for the upcoming NFL season.

Interestingly enough, the court itself stated that Goodell “properly exercised his broad discretion.” It admits that Goodell has “broad” power when it comes to disciplinary action. The media has only been covering the reports of Brady and story between the two sides, the Patriots and the NFL. In reality, it is extremely noteworthy that the judicial system is willing to admit Goodell has excess power in disciplinary action for the league. It is unfortunate that a league with so much influence and coverage throughout the country has been so greatly challenged by the agendas of the commissioner.

At the end of the day, the NFL must address the issue of Goodell’s power. It greatly affects the league, and the players on the field. Whether it is Tom Brady, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, or Adrian Peterson, the NFLPA and the players themselves need to stand for their rights in the league.

 

Yankees Notes: The Unusual Situation for Rob Refsnyder

by Brendan Ripley-Barasch

It has been a disappointing Spring Training for young Yankees infielder, Rob Refsnyder, to say the least.

                               Image via riveraveblues.com

The former 5th round pick was a favorite to make the big league roster as a backup infielder this spring. After being brought up at the end of last season and having an immediate impact (hitting .302 with two home runs) it is easy to see why some people would think this way. He would have been even more of a lock to make it if the team would not have made one particular offseason move.

Going into this offseason, fans and media were interested to see what player would emerge as New York’s every day second baseman this year with the forthcoming departure of Stephen Drew (who had an abysmal year). Would they just hand the job over to Refsnyder, sign a big name free agent, or perhaps make a trade? The team decided to go with option C.

In December, the Yankees and Cubs agreed to a trade in which New York would receive recently converted second baseman, Starlin Castro in return for swingman pitcher, Adam Warren and utility infielder, Brendan Ryan. Many saw this trade as a win-win for both teams. A win for the Yankees because Castro has five years of experience at the Major League level while only being 26 years old, he is a three-time All-Star, and addresses the need of a productive second baseman immediately. Also a win for Chicago because with the signing of star free agent 2B Ben Zobrist (who previously played for Cubs manager Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay) and the rising of 2B prospect Javier Baez, Castro’s talents were no longer needed and the club received a proven pitcher who could help strengthen either the bullpen or the rotation in Adam Warren and a backup infielder with Brendan Ryan to help take some of the pressure off the starters.

While fans and media rejoiced about the arrival of Castro and claimed the change of scenery was exactly what he needed to get back to his All-Star form. One person was not celebrating, and that person was Rob Refsnyder. It was also later revealed that the Yankees had previously tried to trade for Castro before they even gave Ref a chance. In an article on Pinstripeally.com, a popular Yankees blog, Caitlin Rogers writes, “the Yankees failed to trade for Castro, then decided that the best option was to continue to play Drew instead of Refsnyder, and Drew was terrible.” This further proves some fans theories that the New York Yankees are doing all that they can to not have Refsnyder on their roster, but why would they feel that way?

Fast-forward to the beginning of Spring Training for the New York Yankees. There were many storylines going into camp including who would step up and replace Adam Warren and Justin Wilson in the bullpen? who will the backup catcher be? And who the fifth starter would be? It seemed like most had already forgot about Refsnyder and were focused on Castro being the team’s second baseman for years to come. Even with the arrival of Starlin Castro and the spotlight being on him now, this did not stop Ref from working, improving, and striving to earn a roster spot on the New York Yankees. An article on nj.com quoted Refsnyder discussing the current predicament, “It didn’t change much about how I go about my business. I was raised to work hard and make the most of the situation.”

The former Arizona Wildcat certainly did all he could to try and make the Big League roster and that included trying out a new position. Now that the club had Castro at second with veteran utility player Dustin Ackley serving as his backup, speculation around Yankees camp was that they were going experiment with Ref at third base. Rob began the spring at his traditional position of second but after a week the coaches had moved him across the diamond to third base. The goal for Refsnyder now was to learn quickly and make the roster as a backup to 3B Chase Headley (who took his lumps at third this past season after appearing in the most games since his 2012 season). At the beginning it seemed like Rob was a natural at third and the experiment was successful. Just a short week ago he carried a .250 average including a home run and had only committed one error at the hot corner where he had played 90% of the time this spring. But the last week of Spring Training where success was pivotal in order for him to earn a spot, was not kind to him.

The struggles came this past Friday and Saturday where fans and media saw two plays where the ball took a bad hop and struck Refsnyder in the face, causing him to leave early in both games. Also in the two games combined, Ref committed three errors. He ended Spring Training with a slightly disappointing .242 average and a demotion to AAA followed shortly after. For one player (who was originally an outfielder converted to second base) to learn third base in a month span is an almost impossible task. Although Rob may not have made the Big League roster, this spring has certainly been an encouraging one to Yankees coaches and management in terms of Ref showing them he was willing to do anything to be a part of this team.

The question now becomes what the Bronx Bombers plan to do with this prospect in the future. There are multiple situations that the team could be mulling over in regards to Rob, including sending him back to AAA to further gain experience at third base so he could help take some of the workload off of Headley later in the year or continuing to give him reps at multiple positions (3rd, 2nd, and OF) in order to boost his trade stock. It is unknown if Yankee management includes Rob Refsnyder in their group of prospects who are “untouchable” in trade talks along with OF Aaron Judge, SS Jorge Mateo, C Gary Sanchez, and P James Kaprielian. In an article from the NY Post titled Rob Refsnyder’s weekend from hell ends with sad demotion, Manager Joe Girardi is quoted as saying, “Our feeling is that we want him to play more at third. For him to be valuable to us, if he can do them both [second and third], he would be valuable to us.” So the plan for now is in place.

Personally I think Ref is going to be a great player and I’m rooting for him to excel at third or any other position the organization wants him to try. His work ethic is going to be key to his success and progression as a player and it was on display this spring with the 25 year-old showing up weeks early at the Minor-League complex in Tampa to train. He is not concerned about being buried in the depth of the organization, he is only worried about continuing to improve and will be waiting for his opportunity.

It remains to be seen who the Yankees will keep as the backup infielder to Headley at third, now the players that are in the running for the job and are still at camp include Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes who both have at least some Major League experience. The team could also turn to a player who has been cut recently from another team or even make another trade and bury Refsnyder even more. Whatever option the team goes with it will be a short-term fix and Ref will still be seen as the long-term answer as long as he continues to improve. Who knows, Castro or Headley could struggle down the stretch this year and the Yankees may look to Rob Refsnyder as the replacement (wishful thinking).

 

Title IX: Now and Then

By Angeline Seames

Title IX: is a piece of legislation included in the Education Amendments of 1972 that requires schools that receive federal funds to provide girls and women with equal opportunity to compete in sports

Since the beginning, and as time has gone on, Title IX has affected sports in many different ways. When Title IX had just passed in 1972 there were still problems occurring for women across college campuses.

In 1971, the year before Title IX became law, fewer than 300,000 girls participated in high school sports, about one in 27. Today, the number approaches 3 million, or approximately one in 2½ (Garber).

The number of women participating in intercollegiate sports in that same span has gone from about 30,000 to more than 150,000. In the last 20 years alone, the number of women’s college teams has nearly doubled (Garber).

Before Title IX, only tennis and golf had established professional tours. Today, there are also women’s professional leagues for soccer, volleyball, bowling and two for basketball. Women have even made inroads in the traditionally male sports of boxing and mixed martial arts (Garber).

In 1976 the women’s crew from Yale protested to the Director of Physical Education by writing Title IX or IX on their backs or chest while naked in front of the director. The crew team had this protest to show what a cold shower caused to happen to these young women. The men rowing team on the other hand used the boathouse that had warm showers, while the woman’s used a trailer with four shower heads with only cold water. With this occurring some of the woman on the crew team got sick from sitting on a cold bus, soaking wet, in cold clothes. Nineteen women from the crew team showed up with Chris Ernst the captain to the appointment with the Director of Physical Education. The response from alumni and the nation caused more action to occur with Title IX. Alumni sent checks to help build a girls locker room the next year in the boathouse. With this happening, Title IX became a rally cry for other women on campuses. A documentary was created in 1999 called “A Hero For Daisy.”

Throughout time things have definitely changed for woman and Title IX.

Here are some stats:

1 in 27 – # of high school girls competing in sports prior to Title IX
1 in every 2.5 – # of high school girls competing in sports today
3714 – more women’s teams on college campuses than there were in 1972
989 – more men’s teams
32,000 – # of female college athletes in 1972
164,998 – # of female college athletes today
8.7 – The average number of women’s teams offered per NCAA school in 2005.
2 – # of women’s teams offered per NCAA school in 1972
33% of total NCAA athletic budgets spent on ALL women’s sports (title nine)

While women comprise approximately 54 percent of the enrollment in the 832 schools that responded to the NCAA’s 1999-2000 Gender Equity Study, they account for only 41 percent of the athletes. This violates Title IX’s premise that the ratio of female athletes and male athletes should be roughly equivalent to the overall proportion of female and male students (Garber).

According to 2000-2001 figures, men’s college programs still maintain significant advantages over women’s in average scholarships (60.5 percent), operating expenses (64.5 percent), recruiting expenses (68.2 percent) and head coaching salaries (59.5 percent) (Garber).

Only 44 percent of the head coaches of women’s teams are female, an all-time low that represents less than half the pre-Title IX figure (Garber).

Today, despite these advances, there is still gender discrimination that limits sporting opportunities for women at the intercollegiate level. Despite Title IX’s success in opening doors to women and girls, the playing field is far from level for them. For example, although women in division I colleges are 53 percent of the student body, they receive only 41 percent of the opportunities to play sports, 36 percent of overall athletic operating budgets and 32 percent of the dollars spent to recruit new athletes.

The United States General Accounting Office had recently done a report on the participation level of men and women athletics. According to their report, men’s intercollegiate athletic participation rose from approximately 220,000 in 1981–1982 to approximately 232,000 in 1998–1999. Between 1981 and 1982 and 1998 and 1999, football participation increased by 7,199—offsetting wrestling’s loss of 2,648 participants; outdoor track’s loss of 1,706 participants; tennis’s loss of 1,405 participants; and gymnastics’ loss of 1,022 participants. Other sports that gained participants include baseball (+5,452), lacrosse (+2,000) and soccer (+1,932). It is very clear that although more women’s teams than men’s have been added every year, there are still many men’s teams being added to compensate the programs that have been dropped (GAO 2001).

 

Garber, Greg. “Landmark Law Faces New Challenges Even Now.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <http://espn.go.com/gen/womenandsports/020619title9.html&gt;.

General Accounting Office. “GENDER EQUITY Men’s and Women’s Participation in Higher Education.” United States General Accounting Office, 15 Dec. 2001. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <http://www.gao.gov/assets/240/231026.pdf&gt;.

“What Is Title IX?” Title Nine. Web. 20 Nov. 2015. <http://www.titlenine.com/category/who are we/title ix- what is it-.do>.

 

DFS vs. NCAA

by Brandon Busuttil

For the past 2 years Daily Fantasy Sports has risen through the ranks and is now one of the most exciting ways for people to play fantasy sports. Out of all the people that do play these daily fantasy sports leagues, heavy restrictions have been put on NCAA athletes. In the United States, all but 5 states consider daily fantasy sports leagues to be legal and games of skill rather than games of luck.

Therefore the start of the debate was, if sites such as Fanduel and Draft Kings are considered games of skill rather than games of luck, it is not technically considered to be gambling. Overall, participation by athletes in DFS leagues was allowed.

It was reported that since the year 2004 NCAA athletes have been taking part in DFS leagues and the percentage of NCAA athletes putting money forth and receiving money awards for winning leagues has increased throughout each year.

It is at the point now that not just professional sports are involved, but so are college sports. College football and college basketball DFS leagues are played daily by individuals. Although the use of likenesses is another topic up for debate, athletes are getting in trouble for the use of DFS leagues.

Scott Stricklin, the Athletic Director at Mississippi State made it clear on September 22, 2015 that he was going to reiterate Oliver Luck’s words (NCAA Vice-President) that any college athlete gambling on sports (including DFS such as Fanduel and Draft Kings) will be subject to losing one year of eligibility. This was the beginning of the issue of DFS leagues.

This instance has had a large rippling affect on many aspects of the sporting world. To start, both the SEC Network and PAC-12 Network will no longer air any ads that have to do with Fanduel or Draft Kings, to show they do not support the use of DFS for college athletes. This was a huge decision because both networks lost some of its funding, as both Fanduel and Draft Kings were paying the networks a lot of money for advertising time.

ESPN is the largest network provider of college sports in America. Shortly after Scott Stricklin and Oliver Luck made sure NCAA athletes knew how serious it was to not gamble on any NCAA sanctioned sport, ESPN decided to disband their “cover alert” feature. The “cover alert” feature ESPN had on their apps and sites gave users an update on the broadcast that gives those who are betting a heads up on the score of a game in relation to its point spread. Disabling this feature for users shows that ESPN is trying to do their job by doing what they can to keep athletes safe by trying to keep them away from being tempted to bet. Although it is just a small move by ESPN, it is a move that in a way shows they care.

Overall, should NCAA athletes be allowed to play DFS such as Fanduel and Draft Kings? That is something that is up for a debate, and one that I am pretty sure would be a very long debate. Is it a game of skill or a game of luck? Again another debate that could take a long while to decide. For now the rule is stated that NCAA athletes cannot participate in DFS. However, with such a blurred line of what DFS is really considered, look for NCAA gambling rules to be clarified for athletes as time goes on and in the near future. More than likely the new rules will look to put even greater restrictions on NCAA athletes, as this seems to be a trend for the NCAA.

Sprint Will Return for 2016 NASCAR Season

by Angeline Seames

Sprint is preparing to return in 2016 for a lame-duck year as title sponsor of NASCAR’s Cup Series, though the sponsor was open to leaving early if the opportunity arose, according to sources.

The Kansas City-based carrier, whose contract expires after the 2016 season, indicated to NASCAR months ago that if the sanctioning body found a brand that wanted to take over starting in 2016; Sprint would be open to the arrangement (according to sources). There could have been a financial component to such a move, those sources added, with Sprint helping alleviate a new sponsor’s first-year commitment in the sport. Sprint currently spends between $50 million and $75 million on its title deal annually.
However, with sources saying there have been no indication a new deal is imminent and with the 2016 season just four months away, the window to get a replacement by next year has about closed due to the immense logistical planning and execution that go into such a switch.

Sprint officials acknowledged that the sponsor was coming back. NASCAR declined to comment.

Brands that have been pitched on the title sponsorship include Panasonic, LG, Coca-Cola, Goodyear, Comcast and Hisense, according to sources. They added that Hisense showed the most interest thus far, though the China-based consumer electronics brand has decided against it for now. NASCAR went to market asking $100 million per year for a minimum of 10 years.

Categories that are being pursued by NASCAR for the title sponsorship include consumer electronics, financial services and telecommunications according to sources. The latter two of those are either completely or relatively competition-free in NASCAR, which makes them desirable because they would create fewer issues for NASCAR teams during an eventual changeover from Sprint.

Numerous sources pointed out that a deal of this magnitude was almost always going to take two years to complete, which speaks more to the glacial pace of corporations than anything else. They also pointed out that a lame-duck sponsor working to avoid its final year is routine in sports marketing, meaning it would have been more surprising if Sprint hadn’t shown interest in getting out a year early.

Involved in the NASCAR sales efforts are: Chief Sales Officer Jim O’Connell; Steve Phelps, Executive Vice President and CMO; Chad Seigler, Vice President of Business Development; Matt Shulman, Managing Director of Series Marketing; Chairman and CEO Brian France; and Dewar.

The only title sponsors in Cup series history are Winston (1971-2003), Nextel (2004-07) and Sprint.