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.”
Compiled by Breven Miller, Griffin Olah, Pershelle Rohrer and Dr. Nancy Spencer, with contributions by Malik Devese
At the beginning of the NFL season, there were concerns about “whether a close-contact sport like football, with 22 players on the field and dozens more on the sidelines along with coaches and trainers, could avoid a coronavirus outbreak” (Belson, 2020, para. 1). As of mid-November, there was no spread on the field although players tested positive for contacts that occurred off the field (at restaurants, via car rides and/or through people not associated with football such as nannies) (Belson, 2020). The NFL’s approach to dealing with Covid differed greatly from those taken by other professional sports leagues that resumed earlier in the summer (e.g., the NBA, WNBA, MLB, and NHL).
The first professional league to return was the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) which “completed a virus-free month-long tournament inside a Utah bubble” (Keh, 2020, para. 3). Major League Soccer (MLS) played in an enclosed environment in Florida, but initially lost two teams due to positive tests (Keh, 2020). The NBA and WNBA both completed successful seasons in a bubble at Walt Disney World where champions were crowned in both leagues – the L.A. Lakers in the NBA and the Seattle Storm in the WNBA. Meanwhile, the NHL returned to play in two different bubbles in Canada, with the Tampa Bay Lightning capturing the 2020 Stanley Cup (Keh, 2020). Since logistics prevented Major League Baseball from playing in a bubble, teams met at a limited number of ballparks and managed to complete an abbreviated season with the L.A. Dodgers winning the World Series.
Although the NFL had the most time to prepare for its season, they seemed to squander that time by delaying their implementation of safety protocols that other leagues had put in place. As Kevin Clark tweeted, “The NFL was the only pro league with the luxury of time and they wasted it” (“How the NFL’s,” 2020, para. 6). Unlike the NBA, NHL and MLB, which “all had their protocols approved a week before camps opened,” the NFL did not approve their protocols until the day some players began to report (“How the NFL’s,” 2020, para. 8).
ESPN’s Dan Graziano (2020) reported that until mid-November, 28 of 32 teams operated under strict protocols due to a member of the organization or a member of a recent opponent testing positive for COVID-19. Sixteen teams operated under intensive protocols multiple times. For those teams, there was a greater than 50 percent reduction in close contacts, helping reduce spread and increase contact tracing (Graziano, 2020). Yet, several teams received hefty fines for violating protocols. The Raiders were fined $500,000 when 10 players attended a large gathering without masks and the Titans were fined $350,000 for their lax handling of enforcement (Belson, 2020).
While the NFL had originally put guidelines in place, they recently instituted more intensive protocols due to the rising spread of COVID-19 around the country (Graziano, 2020). Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the league emphasizing the importance of flexibility throughout the season. As Goodell wrote, “it has been said many times that our 2020 season cannot be ‘normal’ because nothing about this year is normal. Flexibility and adaptability have been critical to our success to date and we must continue with that approach” (Graziano, 2020, para. 3).
On November 17, the Dallas Cowboys established a bubble for all staff that have direct contact with the players at the Omni Hotel attached to Cowboys headquarters in Frisco, Texas (Walker, 2020). The decision came out of the team’s game with the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, where tight end Vance McDonald played before later receiving a positive test. In addition to that, Andy Dalton and Tyrone Crawford were added to the COVID-19 list recently after being exposed to the illness, which is the team’s first contact with the disease since star tailback Ezekiel Elliot tested positive during training camp (Walker, 2020). Jerry Jones said that the team is creating a bubble out of caution as to not throw the rest of the league’s schedule off more than it already has (Walker, 2020). There are questions about the team’s commitment to lowering COVID-19 numbers, however, since Jones followed that up with bragging about attendance numbers. He did point out the usage of pods and limited attendance as keys to his “continued aggressive approach” (Walker, 2020, para. 9).
Despite efforts to curtail the spread, the NFL lost “its marquee matchup on Thanksgiving” when the game between the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers and the 6-4 Baltimore Ravens was postponed until Sunday (Kim & Lev, 2020, para. 9). The Monday before they were to play, the Ravens had announced that “multiple members of the organization tested positive for coronavirus” and those who tested positive were in self-quarantine as the team began contact tracing (Kim & Lev, 2020, para. 4). The postponement marked the second time the Steelers had to adjust their schedule since their game against the Tennessee Titans also had to be postponed due to players testing positive. The Steelers’ receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster expressed his frustration in the following tweet:
Two days later, the Steelers learned of yet another postponement as their game was moved back to 8 p.m. (ET) Tuesday, provided that no more Ravens players tested positive (Bumbaca & Jones, 2020). In addition to the postponement, “the Ravens disciplined strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders for failing to report coronavirus symptoms and not consistently wearing his mask or tracking device while inside the facility” (Bumbaca & Jones, 2020, para. 4). So much for not having spread within teams’ facilities!
On Saturday, November 28, CNN medical expert Abdul el Sayed questioned the wisdom of the NFL’s decision to continue scheduling NFL games when so many players had tested positive. Meanwhile, nurses around the country have been questioning why thousands of athletes are able to get tested while they cannot (Babb, 2020). As the NFL season has progressed, one nurse observed the hypocrisy of our nation’s priorities at a time when she and other front-line workers (supposedly, the ‘essential workers’ among us) have not been tested.
At a time when so many have lamented the growing political chasm between the right and the left, perhaps the real divide is between the ‘haves’ (i.e., professional and college athletes) and the ‘have-nots’ (the essential workers who selflessly serve our nation). During the week from November 8-14, “the NFL administered 43,148 tests to 7,856 players, coaches and employees” while “major college programs supply dozens of tests each day” (Babb, 2020, para. 5). Yet, there are still far too many weary health care workers who have been denied access to testing. What does that tell us about our priorities as a nation?
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.
Milwaukee Bucks players refused to play Game 5 of their first-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic on August 26 in response to the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin on August 23. Their actions led to widespread boycotts throughout the NBA and across the sports world.
Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot seven times by a police officer while entering his vehicle, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down (Cohen, 2020). Three of Blake’s six children were inside the vehicle at the time of the shooting. Videos of the shooting quickly went viral on social media, and athletes quickly used their platforms to speak out against racial injustice.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard and National Basketball Players’ Association President Chris Paul sent a message of support to Blake and his family following the Thunder’s Game 4 win over the Houston Rockets, encouraging people to register to vote (Cohen, 2020). Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James asked, “Why does it always have to get to the point where we see the guns firing?” (“Inside the hectic,” 2020, para. 3). Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, the son of a police officer, said, “We keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back” (para. 5).
Bringing attention to social injustice and police brutality in America has been the ultimate goal for NBA players in the bubble since the killing of George Floyd in May. The shooting of Blake reawakened the players’ anger, and teams began to consider boycotting their playoff games in order to raise awareness. The Toronto Raptors were the first to discuss a boycott, considering skipping the opening game of their second-round series against the Boston Celtics scheduled for August 27 (Cohen, 2020).
The Milwaukee Bucks became the first team to boycott their game on August 26, participating in pregame warm-ups and media sessions before ultimately deciding not to play shortly before tipoff. Instead, the team participated in a Zoom call with Wisconsin lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes and attorney general Josh Kaul (“Inside the hectic,” 2020). Milwaukee is about 40 miles north of Kenosha, where Jacob Blake was shot.
Barnes said, “They just wanted to know what they could do. I mean, they were very interested in a call to action. They wanted something tangible that they could do in the short and long term. They wanted the walkout to be Step 1” (“Inside the hectic, 2020, para. 19).
The Bucks emerged from the locker room after over three hours, speaking to the media about their decision not to play. The Rockets and Thunder planned to follow the Bucks’ lead by boycotting their game, and the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers discussed doing the same. The NBA ultimately postponed all playoff games for that evening and the following day (Owens, 2020).
A quote from an ESPN article reflects on the events of the day: “The Bucks didn’t expect to be the thread that caused the NBA to unravel, one player said. But that thread had been fraying for awhile” (“Inside the hectic, 2020, paras. 10-11).
The NBA boycott also led to postponements of matches in the WNBA, NHL, MLB, MLS, and even tennis (“Inside the hectic,” 2020).
NBA analyst Kenny Smith walked off the set of Inside the NBA in response to the boycott, saying, “And for me . . . as a Black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight” (McCarriston, 2020, para. 15). Eleven-time NBA champion and civil rights activist Bill Russell praised Smith’s actions. “I am so proud of you. Keep getting in good trouble,” he said (Bieler, 2020, para. 24).
Many athletes expressed their support for the boycott on Twitter, including San Jose Sharks winger Evander Kane, Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young.
CBS Sports writer Shanna McCarriston (2020) recognized that the statement was four years to the day from Colin Kaepernick’s first national anthem demonstration against police brutality and racial inequality. Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since January 1, 2017, just over five months after he began protesting (Guerrero, 2020).
NPR’s Scott Simon recognized how far protests in sports have come since then. “This week really seemed to be a breaking point. And how did we get from Colin Kaepernick being considered an outcast not long ago to major league sports joining national campaigns of protest?” (Goldman, 2020, para. 10).
Players from all 13 teams remaining in Orlando’s NBA bubble met in the evening on August 26 to determine whether or not to continue the season. Before the NBA restart, Avery Bradley and Kyrie Irving argued for ending the season in order to prevent distraction from social justice issues following the death of George Floyd (“Inside the hectic,” 2020). The Lakers and Clippers voted to end the season, but the other 11 teams decided to continue and use their platforms in the bubble to promote racial equality.
Former University of Maryland basketball star and Harvard Law School graduate Len Elmore recognized the tangible change that the players have the opportunity to create. “Now they have started to take some action, recognizing the frustration that every person of color should be experiencing and certainly that they are experiencing. It’s a watershed moment,” Elmore said on Glenn Clark Radio (Gold, 2020, para. 3). He wished the boycott would have lasted longer due to his belief that the initial restart distracted from the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. He said, “I would like to see the thing last a lot longer. I thought the resumption of play would be a distraction and it wouldn’t change anything and we are kind of seeing that play out now” (para. 15).
Bucks guard George Hill shared Elmore’s concerns. On August 24, he said, “I think coming here just took all the focal points off what the issues are” (Owens, 2020, para. 12).
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman (2020) pointed out that the players ended their strike before they met with the owners about social justice issues, writing “Obviously, players lost leverage with that order of events. But owners have shown they’re at least willing to do what’s necessary to present the league as aligned with social justice, and the strike necessitated a greater showing” (para. 1).
Despite losing some of that leverage, the NBA and NBPA released a joint statement announcing tangible actions that will be enacted in order to support the movement. They established a social justice coalition to address issues such as voting, civic engagement, and police and criminal justice reform. NBA arenas will be used as voting locations for the 2020 general election. Lastly, the league will raise awareness for voting and civic engagement through advertisements for the remainder of the NBA playoffs (Feldman, 2020).
Chris Sheridan (2020) wrote that, “NBA players agreed to resume their season in a bubble in part because they believed their platform to push for social change could best be achieved through having their message seen and heard on every game telecast” (para. 21). They are finding concrete ways to take action as a result of the boycott, especially by encouraging people to vote. LeBron James established his More Than a Vote initiative in June to help fight voter suppression, and the NBA and NBPA agreement helps create “a safe in-person voting option for communities vulnerable to COVID” (Feldman, 2020, para. 7).
The NBA players accomplished their overall goal: they brought attention to another instance of police brutality and helped make Jacob Blake a household name. On August 27, Andy Nesbitt (2020) wrote, “They are keeping Jacob Blake’s name at the top of all conversations and they are doing their part to bring justice for a man who was shot seven times in the back” (para. 8). The boycott reminded fans of the injustices that were brought to the forefront of American life in May when Floyd was killed and showed the importance of the messages written on the players’ jerseys. The players look to continue using their platforms to promote racial equality and the importance of voting in November.
Mathieu_Era. (2020, August 26). FED UP. Ain’t enough money in world to keep overlooking true issues that effect the mind body & soul of what we do. We cannot be happy for self when our communities are suffering & innocent folk are dying.. since George Floyd, there have been at least 20 other police shootings. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Mathieu_Era/status/1298719311066853376?s=20
RealBillRussell. (2020, August 26). I’m moved by all the @NBA players for standing up for what is right. To my man @TheJetOnTNT I would like to say Thank you for what you did to show your support for the players. I am so proud of you. Keep getting in good trouble. @NBAonTNT @ESPNNBA @espn #NBAPlayoffs [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/RealBillRussell/status/1298762120394182657?s=20
SportsCenter. (2020, August 26). “As a black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight.” Kenny Smith walked off the set of Inside the NBA in solidarity with the players’ boycott. [Tweet].Retrieved from https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1298752425608785927?s=20
SportsCenter. (2020, August 26). “Despite the overwhelming plea for change, there has been no action, so our focus today cannot be on basketball.” Sterling Brown and George Hill read a prepared statement from the Milwaukee Bucks players. (via @malika_andrews).
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.
Cup Series driver Bubba Wallace has been thrust into the national spotlight over the last month after becoming the face of NASCAR’s push for racial equality. In recent weeks, he has successfully called for the ban of Confederate flags at racetracks, supported the Black Lives Matter movement with a shirt and paint scheme dedicated to the cause, and received a powerful display of support from his fellow drivers after an alleged noose was discovered in his garage stall at Talladega on June 21. He also received widespread support following criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump.
Wallace, NASCAR’s only current Black driver, was inspired to speak up after reading about potential new fans being turned off by the display of the Confederate flag at racetracks. According to James Doubek (2020), the tipping point for Wallace was the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a Georgia man who was fatally shot while jogging in February.
Wallace told NPR on June 12, “It shook me to the core to a point where it kind of flipped a light switch inside of me” (Doubek, 2020, para. 7).
NASCAR has a long history involving the Confederate flag. A sport with deep Southern roots, NASCAR was founded by Bill France Sr. in 1948, and the Cup Series began in 1949 (Kelly, 2020). Most races were in the South in the sport’s early days. Drivers had the Confederate flag displayed on their cars from the beginning. Frank “Rebel” Mundy had the flag painted on the side of his Hudson Hornet in the early 1950s, according to NASCAR historian Buz McKim (Kelly, 2020). Darlington Raceway had a tradition involving “Johnny Reb” that began in the track’s early days. Godwin Kelly (2020) writes, “One of Darlington’s early traditions was ‘Johnny Reb,’ who was a man dressed in a Confederate soldier’s uniform and carrying a Confederate flag on a pole. The race winner would wait for ‘Johnny Reb’ to get on the hood of his car then head to Victory Lane. The character would proudly wave the flag during the short ride” (paras. 11-12). The “Johnny Reb” tradition was dropped before the 1980s.
NASCAR began to push back against Confederate traditions in the 1980s. Henley Gray was forced to paint over the roof of his car, which was decorated with a Confederate flag, because “NASCAR would not let him run with it,” according to McKim (Kelly, 2020, para. 18). Following the Charleston, S.C. church shooting that claimed the lives of nine Black churchgoers in 2015, the sport asked fans to stop bringing the Confederate flag to races. Widely circulated photos of the shooter posing with the flag led to NASCAR issuing this request, according to Maria Cramer (2020).
Despite NASCAR’s request, fans continued to bring Confederate flags to the racetrack. During the 2015 Fourth of July race weekend, Daytona International Speedway started a swap program, allowing fans to trade in their Confederate flags for American flags (Kelly, 2020). Juliet Macur (2020) writes, “Few fans took them up on the offer, and NASCAR continued struggling to balance a new demographic of fans beyond the white and conservative Southern ones that helped NASCAR grow into a powerhouse industry in the early to mid-2000s” (para. 10).
Following the death of George Floyd in police custody in May, the Black Lives Matter movement took off nationwide. BBC News writes, “The movement has sparked a campaign to remove symbols associated with slavery, imperialism and the Confederacy” (“Bubba Wallace: Nascar,” 2020, para. 6). Bubba Wallace called for an outright ban of the flag at racetracks on June 8, saying that the fans should feel comfortable coming to races.
Wallace told CNN’s Don Lemon, “No one should feel uncomfortable when they come to a NASCAR race. So it starts with Confederate flags. Get them out of here. They have no place for them” (Cramer, 2020, para. 4).
NASCAR banned the flag from its events and properties on June 10. In part, the statement says, “The presence of the Confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment” (“Bubba Wallace praises,” 2020, para. 3).
Wallace responded, saying, “Props to NASCAR and everybody involved. It creates doors and allows the community to come together as one” (“Bubba Wallace praises,” 2020, para. 4).
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson also praised the move, stating that they belong in the history books instead of the racetrack. “I know some want to make it political. In all these injustices and inequalities that exist, to me it’s kind of simple if we start with being kind first . . . I think they have a place in history, and we need to keep them in the history books and not have them flying in the sky at the racetracks,” he said (“Bubba Wallace praises,” 2020, paras. 11-13).
Kyle Petty, longtime racer and son of the seven-time champion Richard Petty called it “a huge moment” (Macur, 2020, para. 12), saying on NBCSN’s ‘NASCAR America’, “As we look at the sport and how the sport has grown, we were way behind the curve” (para. 13).
Some fans and drivers were upset with the decision, citing the flag’s ties to racing culture. Ray Ciccarelli, who drives part-time in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, voiced his intention to leave the sport after this season in a Facebook post following NASCAR’s decision (Fernandez, 2020). During the race weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, fans drove by the track with Confederate flags in reaction to its ban from NASCAR facilities, and a plane flew a banner of the flag with the words “Defund NASCAR” (Fryer, 2020).
Wallace wore a shirt that said “I can’t breathe,” the plea spoken repeatedly by George Floyd as a police officer knelt on his neck, followed by the words “Black Lives Matter” ahead of the June 7 race at Atlanta (Doubek, 2020). He wore the same shirt at Martinsville on June 10, this time sporting a car with a special Black Lives Matter paint scheme on it (Gartland, 2020). The car had #BlackLivesMatter over the rear wheel, Black and white hands interlocking on the hood, the words “Compassion, Love, Understanding” on the back bumper and hood, and a peace sign decorated with different colored hands underneath the Black Lives Matter hashtag (Gartland, 2020).
In a video posted to the Twitter page of Wallace’s racing team, Richard Petty Motorsports, Wallace said, “We knew that the Martinsville race was open—we did not sell a sponsorship for that—and it sparked an idea of, why not run a blackout car? Our team brought that idea to me and I jumped all over it. … Why not dive in straight to the root and put #BlackLivesMatter on the car?” (Gartland, 2020, para. 4).
Before the Martinsville race, Wallace spoke about what Black Lives Matter means to him. “I haven’t really slept much thinking about this race — everything that’s going into it and everything going on in the world. Trying to race to change the world here. It’s not that we’re saying no other lives matter. We’re trying to say that black lives matter, too,” he said (“Bubba Wallace praises,” 2020, para. 2).
Many athletes, including LeBron James, Alvin Kamara, and Bernard Pollard Jr, expressed their support for Wallace. Kamara attended his first NASCAR race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on June 14, wearing a Bubba Wallace shirt and hat. Sports Illustrated writer Dan Gartland wrote, “What makes Wallace’s statement especially powerful is that it’s not the safe thing to do” (Gartland, 2020, para. 5).
Gartland’s sentiment proved to be a real concern just a week later. On June 21, an alleged noose was found in Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama (Bromberg, 2020). The noose was discovered by one of Wallace’s crew members and reported to NASCAR. NASCAR President Steve Phelps informed Wallace about the noose and issued an FBI investigation (Fryer, 2020). Phelps said that the individual who left the noose “will be banned from this sport for life” (para. 16).
Wallace received widespread support from current and former drivers, as well as other athletes, politicians, and sports analysts. He also released a statement following the discovery.
The June 21 race was postponed until the next day due to rain, leading to a powerful display of unity from NASCAR as Wallace’s fellow drivers and their pit crews pushed his car to the front of the starting grid before the race. Joined by NASCAR legend Richard Petty, they stood with Wallace during the pre-race prayer and national anthem (Bromberg, 2020) while Brad Keselowski held the American flag during the display (Fryer, 2020). Wallace then took a selfie with everyone behind his car (Bromberg, 2020).
According to Wallace, Jimmie Johnson came up with the idea to stand with him for the anthem, and Kevin Harvick suggested pushing his car down pit road (Fryer, 2020). The hashtag #IStandWithBubba was also painted in white on the infield grass (“NASCAR stands with,” 2020).
NASCAR (2020) tweeted a video of the display using the same hashtag and the word, “Together.”
NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell (2020) reacted to the display, saying, “No words.”
Wallace had a chance to race for the win, even leading for a time with under 30 laps to go, but a fuel shortage forced him to take a late pit stop. He received a push toward pit road from Corey LaJoie after running out of fuel, allowing him to ultimately finish 14th (“NASCAR stands with,” 2020).
Wallace celebrated with a group of first-time fans, many of them wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, after the race (Fryer, 2020). While speaking to the media he apologized for not wearing a mask, explaining that he wanted to show the person who left the noose in his garage that “you are not going to take away my smile” (para. 10).
The FBI released the results of their investigation into the noose on June 23, determining that Wallace was not the victim of a hate crime and that the garage door pull fashioned like a noose had been in the garage since at least October 2019 (“FBI says rope, 2020). The results produced a variety of reactions. NASCAR released a statement, expressing relief that there “was not an intentional, racist act against Bubba” (para. 3), but Wallace received backlash from individuals who felt that he or his team planted the noose themselves (Rosenblatt, 2020).
In a June 24 interview with Craig Melvin on TODAY, Wallace said, “I was relieved just like many others to know that it wasn’t targeted towards me. But it’s still frustrating to know that people are always going to test you and always just going to try and debunk you and that’s what I’m trying to wrap my head around now” (Rosenblatt, 2020, para. 2).
NASCAR released an image of the noose on June 25 following an internal investigation by the organization. Steve Phelps defended NASCAR’s reaction while admitting that he could have worded his initial statement better. “Upon learning of seeing the noose, our initial reaction was to protect our driver. … In hindsight, we should have — I should have — used the word ‘alleged’ in our statement. … As you can see from the photo, the noose was real, as was our concern for Bubba. With similar emotion, others across our industry and our media stood up to defend the NASCAR family — our NASCAR family — because they are part of the NASCAR family too. We were proud to see so many stand up for what’s right,” he said (“NASCAR releases image,” 2020, para. 4-5).
NASCAR doesn’t typically receive much coverage on social media from accounts such as ESPN, but the sport received lots of attention throughout the investigation. ESPN’s Instagram account (2020) posted about NASCAR nine times between the flying of the Confederate flag over Talladega on June 21 and the release of the noose photo on June 25. Bleacher Report (2020) added twelve NASCAR-related posts between June 21 and June 26, and Sports Illustrated (2020) covered support for Wallace and the outcome of the FBI investigation with four posts between June 22 and June 23.
Media coverage of Bubba Wallace and NASCAR expanded further on July 6 after U.S. President Donald Trump (2020) called out Wallace on Twitter, saying that he should apologize for the “hoax” while criticizing NASCAR’s ratings following the Confederate flag ban, calling them the “lowest ratings EVER.”
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended the president. “What the president is making is a broader point that this rush to judgment, before the facts are out, is not acceptable,” she told Fox News’ Sandra Smith on July 6 (Owens, 2020, para. 5). McEnany then compared Wallace’s situation to that of Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a hate crime against himself in 2019 (Pereira, 2020). Jason Owens (2020) emphasizes the implications of this comparison, writing that “McEnany’s Smollett comparison implies that Wallace and his team orchestrated the incident as a hate crime” (para. 9). Steve Phelps has emphasized from the beginning that Wallace’s team had nothing to do with the noose. “I want to be clear about the 43 team: The 43 team had nothing to do with this” (“FBI says rope, 2020, para. 16), Phelps said on June 23.
The media came to the defense of Wallace and NASCAR after Trump’s claims. In response to the president’s claim that the noose was a hoax, Daniel Roberts (2020) responded, “There was no ‘hoax’—the sport merely responded to what looked at first like a hate crime—and Wallace never saw or reported the noose; it was found and reported by a member of his team” (para. 2). Trump’s claim that NASCAR’s ratings are plummeting is also false. According to Michael Mulvihill, the sport’s ratings on Fox networks are up 8 percent since its return from a shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic (“President Donald Trump,” 2020). Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis, broadcast on NBC, had the largest viewership for an Xfinity race at that location since 2017 with nearly 1.7 million viewers (Pereira, 2020). The rating for Sunday’s Cup Series race was up 46 percent from last year’s race at Indianapolis (McCarriston, 2020).
Wallace responded to the tweet with a message “To the next generation and little ones following my foot steps” (Pereira, 2020, para. 8).
“You will always have people testing you. Seeing if they can knock you off your pedestal. I encourage you to keep your head held high and walk proudly on the path you have chosen . . . Always deal with the hate being thrown at you with LOVE! Love over hate every day. Love should come naturally as people are TAUGHT to hate. Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS… Love wins,” Wallace (2020) wrote on his Twitter page.
Audio company Beats by Dre announced a personal partnership with Wallace that night, according to NASCAR (“Bubba Wallace lands,” 2020). “We weren’t going to announce this until later this week, but hate cannot win the day. No one should ever be asked to apologize for standing up for what’s right — we are proud to welcome Bubba Wallace to the Beats by Dr. Dre family,” the company wrote on Twitter announcing the partnership (Beats by Dre, 2020).
Fellow Cup Series driver Tyler Reddick responded to Trump in a since-deleted tweet, saying, “We don’t need an apology. We did what was right and we will do just fine without your support” (“President Donald Trump,” 2020, para. 5).
Kevin Harvick also backed up Wallace on Golic and Wingo (2020), saying that “a misinformed tweet is not gonna change the unity and the direction of our sport and our garage, and the way that we feel about each other.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) agreed that Wallace had nothing to apologize for (Carney, 2020). “You saw the best in NASCAR,” Graham said in a Fox News Radio interview with Brian Kilmeade. “When there was a chance that it was a threat against Bubba Wallace, they all rallied to Bubba’s side. So I would be looking to celebrate that kind of attitude more than being worried about it being a hoax” (President Donald Trump,” 2020, para. 15).
The praise of NASCAR’s unity has been echoed since drivers and crews walked behind Wallace on June 22. Following the FBI investigation on June 23, Elijah Burke (2020) tweeted about how the findings shouldn’t “overshadow yesterday’s display of peace, love, and unity.” NFL analyst Mike Clay (2020) responded, emphasizing that the show of support for Wallace was “important and necessary.” The support of Wallace continued following the president’s tweet with Richard Petty Motorsports (2020) tweeting a simple graphic with the number 43 and the hashtag #IStandWithBubba.
Wallace collected his third top ten finish of the season at Indianapolis on Sunday, placing ninth (Holleran, 2020). He currently leads fan voting for the upcoming All-Star Race, which will take place on July 15 at Bristol Motor Speedway (Stone, 2020). The next Cup Series race, the Quaker State 400, will take place at Kentucky Speedway on Sunday, July 12, at 2:30 PM ET.
BarrVisuals. (2020, June 22). @BubbaWallace gets a late race push from @CoreyLaJoieafter running out of fuel during a late race caution during the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. #NASCAR [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/BarrVisuals/status/1275243933749084166?s=20
beatsbydre. (2020, July 6). We weren’t going to announce this until later this week, but hate cannot win the day. No one should ever be asked to apologize for standing up for what’s right — we are proud to welcome @bubbawallace to the Beats by Dr. Dre family. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/beatsbydre/status/1280283245465071622?s=20
Blaney. (2020, June 22). You’re my brother and always will be. Don’t let the people who are lower than life to try and bring you down. They won’t scare you because you’re strong. I stand with you pal. Forever. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Blaney/status/1275054984732774401?s=20
DougJones. (2020, June 22). We’re with you Bubba. The journey to racial justice has taken far too long. Keep your eyes on @bubbawallace at Talladega, keep that racist’s noose in your thoughts and ask: when will this end? Maybe Bubba can get us to that checkered flag a bit sooner. It’s time America. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/DougJones/status/1275071653781725188?s=20
ESPNNFL. (2020, June 4). .@A_kamara6 rocking some @BubbaWallace gear on his way to his first-ever NASCAR race. Kamara live-tweeted a race on Wednesday, in direct response to the league banning the confederate flag and NASCAR extended him an invitation to Sunday’s race. (via @NASCAR) [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/ESPNNFL/status/1272212295884640257?s=20
GolicAndWingo. (2020, July 7). “A misinformed tweet is not gonna change the unity and the direction of our sport and our garage, and the way that we feel about each other.” -@KevinHarvick on the tweet that President Trump sent about NASCAR’s ratings and Bubba Wallace. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/GolicAndWingo/status/1280496766555742210?s=20
KingJames. (2020, June 21). Sickening! @BubbaWallace my brother! Know you don’t stand alone! I’m right here with you as well as every other athlete. I just want to continue to say how proud I am of you for continuing to take a stand for change here in America and sports! @NASCAR I salute you as well! [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/KingJames/status/1274914521396604928?s=20
MikeClayNFL. (2020, June 23). Yes! We’re all glad the noose was a misunderstanding, but let’s not pretend like racism is solved. The show of support for Bubba through all this (including Monday) was important and necessary. #IStandWithBubba [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/MikeClayNFL/status/1275552791654813696?s=20
Rachel_Nichols. (2020, June 21). A few years ago @BubbaWallace was nice enough to take a couple minutes out to meet my family (they’ve been fans since he raced in the truck series). He’s the only NASCAR driver they ever wanted to meet, and he couldn’t have been kinder. We’re rooting for you Bubba; all of us. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Rachel__Nichols/status/1274926710643781632?s=20
realDonaldTrump. (2020, July 6). Has @BubbaWallace apologized to all of those great NASCAR drivers & officials who came to his aid, stood by his side, & were willing to sacrifice everything for him, only to find out that the whole thing was just another HOAX? That & Flag decision has caused lowest ratings EVER! [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1280117571874951170?s=20
After graduating from BGSU in the fall of 2018, Randy accepted an internship with the Marcus Graham Project, where he helped launch a pop-up advertising agency for the summer and worked as a brand manager on accounts such as Apple and Trailer Park. He currently works as an Assistant Account Manager at Rhea + Kaiser, a marketing communications agency.
June 20, 2020
While the Black Lives Matter movement was first started in 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who murdered Trayvon Martin, black lives haven’t mattered to America since the birth of the country. Systemic racism and the oppression of people of color have plagued America since the 17th century and the blatant inequality that exists is seemingly inconsequential to the majority, as we have yet to see true progress. “All lives matter” has been a common phrase used in response to the Black Lives Matter protests, and in an ideal world that statement would be true. However, it is impossible for all lives to matter until black lives do.
When will black lives matter to America?
I found myself asking this question in light of the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, amongst others. As I began to reflect on the current state of the country, I became angered at the fact that innocent people who look just like me are continuously being killed for no reason, other than being black. But I became even more enraged at the fact that in 2020, we are still having the same conversations that have been had for the past century. This isn’t a new phenomenon; police brutality, racial violence and social injustice have beset the black community since the abolishment of slavery. In the past 100 years alone, we have witnessed the cyclical nature of history time and time again, as the outcries for help and justice by people of color have been essentially disregarded.
1921-Tulsa Race Riots
On May 31, 1921 Dick Rowland, a black teenager, was arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma after being falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman on an elevator (Ellsworth, 2001). Rumors quickly spread of the allegations against Rowland and within less than 24 hours, white citizens burned over 1,000 houses and a number of black-owned businesses in the flourishing African-American community of Greenwood, also known as Black Wall Street. In addition to the destroying of property, over 100 people were killed as a result of the racially charged riot.
1930 – Thomas Shipp & Abram Smith
Thomas Shipp & Abram Smith were publicly lynched after being accused of murder, rape, and robbery. The two men were hung from a tree in front of a crowd of people after being brutally beaten (Kentake, 2015). A photo that captured the lynching was later sold as a postcard. No charges were ever brought against anyone who participated in the murders of Shipp and Smith.
1940 – Austin Callaway
In September of 1940, Austin Callaway was forcibly removed from his jail cell by a group of armed men. Callaway’s body was found the next morning in the middle of the road, where he died of multiple gunshot wounds (“Austin Callaway,” 2020). No one was ever arrested for Callaway’s murder. In fact, the police didn’t even investigate his death.
1955 – Lamar Smith
On August 13, 1955 Lamar Smith was gunned down on the steps of Lincoln County Courthouse in Brookhaven, Mississippi in front of nearly 40 people. The shooter was initially detained, but was later released and no charges were brought against him, even though there were multiple witnesses (Cortes, 2017).
1963 – Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, Virgil Lamar Ware
Shortly after the integration of public schools in Alabama, there were several bombings in Birmingham within less than two weeks that targeted African-Americans in the community. The third and most notorious bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, left four young girls dead (“Birmingham bombing,” 2020). Following the church bombing, riots and violence broke out across the city. After leaving a segregationist rally, a group of white teenagers shot and killed 13-year-old Virgil Lamar Ware in cold blood, as he was riding his bike down the street.
1970 – Phillip Gibbs & James Earl Green
In an attempt to disperse student protesters at Jackson State University, a historically black college, police officers fired over 100 rounds of ammunition into a crowd, killing Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green. There were no arrests made in connection to the murders (Wyckoff, 2010).
1983 – Michael Jerome Stewart
On September 15, 1983, Michael Stewart was arrested for drawing graffiti in a New York subway. Within less than an hour of his arrest, police brought Stewart to the hospital. Upon his arrival, Stewart had no pulse and had been severely beaten; he died 13 days later from his injuries (Nielson, 2013).
1991 – Rodney King
In 1991, a video captured four police officers brutally beating black motorist Rodney King for over 10 minutes after pulling him over. King suffered broken bones, brain damage, and other injuries as a result of the beating (Sastry & Bates, 2017). Although the video clearly showed a use of excessive force, all four officers were found not guilty.
2006 – Sean Bell
Sean Bell was killed by five undercover police officers as he was leaving his bachelor party. The officers fired a total of 50 shots at Bell and his friends, even though they were unarmed. All police officers involved in the shooting were acquitted of all charges (Johnson, 2019).
…Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Antwon Rose, Jordan Edwards, Jayson Negron, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks…
Do you see the trend here?
This is only a small list of black men and women who have been subject to police brutality and/or racial violence, and unfortunately that list is continuing to grow. Over the years there have been a countless number of black people who have been harassed, beaten, and killed simply because of their skin color, and often times the people responsible for committing these horrendous acts are not even held accountable.
Change is long overdue. Its unfathomable that we have to fight just to matter in America. We shouldn’t have to fight for equal opportunities. We are not animals; we are human beings and are deserving of the same rights as everyone else.
When will black lives matter to America?
The time for change is now. This isn’t just a black problem; this is a human problem. No matter your race, gender, age or sexual orientation, you have a voice and you have the power to make a difference. If you genuinely believe that all lives matter, don’t sit back and ignore the racism and social injustices that are ever-present in our society. Additionally, once the protests and media coverage cease, let’s not forget that these problems exist. Just because the headlines stop, that doesn’t mean the issues have been resolved. Persistence is imperative.
It’s impossible for all lives to matter until black lives do. Together, we can end the cycle and change the narrative.
George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Philando Castile. Sandra Bland. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Trayvon Martin.
These are just a handful of the countless black Americans who have unjustly died because of police brutality. We could compile a list of names from the last ten years alone that would continue for pages. Sadly, those would only be the deaths the public knew about. Even more tragic is the fact that we would not have known about these deaths had it not been for the recent developments in video and social media.
At this point, it is painfully obvious that racism still exists in a country that often proclaims itself the greatest in the world. For the past two weeks, I have been asking myself how I can make a difference. In looking for answers, I have discovered many quotes that inspired me to create positive change.
“No justice, no peace,” a common chant at the numerous protests that have broken out in each state across the country and other countries around the rest of the world.
“The man who can’t see isn’t the blindest, it’s the one that chooses not to see,” a sentence in a tweet from NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe (Sharpe, 2020).
“All lives don’t matter until black lives matter,” a phrase I’ve seen on countless signs and throughout social media.
“You have the power to change people’s minds!” a text I received from a friend who has been the victim of racism in America. This was perhaps the most powerful because it reinforced my belief that I could make a difference for the better.
As a white man, I will never be able to fully understand the struggles of black Americans. I have white privilege, which is an essential guarantee my life will not be made more difficult because of my skin color. Unfortunately, this is something I was not aware of until halfway through my college career. However, I now recognize this privilege and I want to use it to make a positive impact.
One thing I have never had to do is fear for my life because of my skin color. Activities that are typically part of everyday life can be safe for white people but dangerous for black people. The picture below is a perfect example of the things white people can do without the fear of being killed or seriously injured.
The most important thing we can do right now is be an anti-racist. It is no longer enough to say, “I’m not racist,” then sit back and do nothing because it doesn’t affect you. That is selfish and ignorant. Be active in the fight against racism. People are hurting, suffering, and dying because of their skin color, and we have the opportunity to support them in their fight. The first step to take in helping is to listen. Listen to your black friends, classmates, colleagues, and community members who have fought an uphill battle their entire lives. While we will never be able to understand what it is like to be in their shoes, we can use our privilege to do everything we can to help.
If you are able, find a reliable and verified organization that is accepting donations for the cause. A simple Google search produces hundreds of families, businesses, justice movements, and bail funds you can donate money to. If you are unable to donate directly, there are YouTube videos that collect revenue based on advertisements. Simply search “Donate BLM,” and select one of the top results. You can play the video in the background as you work on your homework or browse the web, and the money from advertisements will go to the Black Lives Matter fund.
If you have two minutes and Internet access, you can sign online petitions. It costs no money and some websites encourage you to sign multiple petitions in a matter of minutes. If you have the time and resources, attend a protest. Be an ally with those protesting, especially people who face danger because of their skin color.
If you have social media accounts, you can be active in sharing information about protests, donations, and petitions. Do not wait for violence to arise at protests to voice your displeasure; be angry that we still have to protest for basic human rights. Keep in mind, peaceful protests such as kneeling for the national anthem have been vastly criticized and discouraged. Even if protests do not continue at the rate they are now, continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement and be a force for change.
If you see or hear racist comments or jokes in your homes, workplaces, or communities, say something. Silence is not golden. It’s toxic. Speak out and do everything you can to convince people to have a different point of view. The thread below provides answers to some of the tough questions you might be asked in that conversation.
Lastly, I would like to provide everyone with links to two videos from current and former NFL players. After all, this is a website designed to critique sports media. With the current lack of sport, that has become difficult. However, social media has been a wonderful resource, with many high-profile athletes using their platform to make their voices heard and send powerful messages.
First, a video from Emmanuel Acho. a former NFL player and current ESPN analyst. While lengthy, Acho makes some incredible and well-articulated points that each person should have the opportunity to hear.
Next, a video collaboration from several notable NFL players that was posted on multiple Twitter and Instagram accounts.
If you are looking for a way to get started, the website below is a great place.
I have used it to find petitions to sign, videos to watch, and organizations to donate to. If conversations and actions make you uncomfortable, realize that it is needed to create real change. It won’t happen right away, but it will happen with persistence and positive change. We are in the midst of the most important civil rights movement of our lifetimes. It’s time to step up and be better. We can change people’s minds. We can create change. We can make a difference.
ShannonSharpe. (2020, June 4). For Drew Brees not to understand that Colin Kaepernick was never trying to disrespect the flag or the military, although the military had disrespected a lot of black men, goes to show you that the man who can’t see isn’t the blindest, it’s the one that chooses not to see. Twitter.com. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/ShannonSharpe/status/1268568840478179329
Brody Hickle grew up in Bluffton, Ohio and now studies Sport Management at Bowling Green State University. The third-year undergraduate student minors in General Business. His primary sport interests are hockey and football.
April 23 marked the start of the NFL Draft for the 2020-21 season. During the draft, we saw some big moves made by big teams. Before the draft, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a move that brought a lot of NFL fans to their seats, and possibly a lot of tears for fans of the New England Patriots. During this year’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers, Tom Brady was sponsored in a Hulu commercial, where he jokingly mentioned that he had a “big announcement.” Then at the end, he sparked the fans by saying, “I’m not going anywhere.” On March 17, the news came out that Brady was officially going to sign with the Buccaneers, which would bring the “end of an era.” During his career with the Patriots, he and head coach Bill Belichick won six Super Bowls. He has more Super Bowl wins than any other quarterback who has ever played in the league, and the Patriots are now tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers with most Super Bowl wins (6). That is one of the reasons why people call him the G.O.A.T. But the Buccaneers were not done there.
On April 21, the Buccaneers would then sign Tom Brady’s former tight-end teammate, Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski (also known as ‘Gronk’) was a valuable weapon for Brady and was one of his go-to receivers. Personally, I did not see this coming. During the time Brady decided to come back to the NFL, fans were already spreading the rumors that he was going to another team. Before this signing, Gronk was retired from the NFL, after winning his third Super Bowl with Brady and the Patriots.
Before Gronkowski decided to come back to the NFL, an article by Tony Maglio (2020) reported that Gronk signed a contract with a wrestling entertainment organization, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). At one point, I saw a show the organization put on, in which he won a championship for the organization. He also hosted their biggest pay-per-view event, WrestleMania 36, which is thought to be the organization’s biggest event. I believe it caught everyone by surprise that he was signing with the Buccaneers. Nearly everyone, including myself, thought that he was done with the NFL.
Now that Brady and Gronk have signed with the Buccaneers, everyone wants to know if they have the talent to be Super Bowl contenders. I was also researching the odds of them winning it all next season. According to Danny Donahue of The Baltimore Sun, the Buccaneers went from 16-1 with Brady to 9-1 with Brady and Gronkowski. The way I see it, we must realize that Gronkowski is not going to be Brady’s only target. He will also have an opportunity to throw to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who have shown tremendous effort every season throughout their careers. While he may not be used to throwing to these players yet, I believe Brady can make any receiver improve, and can build a quarterback-receiver relationship with anyone.
Pershelle Rohrer is a first-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.
The XFL had a major officiating controversy at the end of a game between the Houston Roughnecks and Seattle Dragons on March 7. The way the league handled it could set an example for the NFL, a league that has struggled to improve its officiating for years.
The Roughnecks led the Dragons, 32-23, with the clock running down at the end of the fourth quarter. Instead of throwing the ball out-of-bounds on fourth down to kill the remainder of the clock, Houston quarterback PJ Walker took a knee with two seconds remaining. The play should have resulted in a turnover on downs, granting Seattle one last shot at the end zone from Houston’s 21-yard line (West, 2020).
Seattle would have had a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and three-point conversion. Instead, the clock ran out, the referees left the field, and the game was declared over. ABC announcers Steve Levy and Greg McElroy immediately called out the officiating crew. McElroy said, “It can’t happen. It absolutely can’t happen. It is inexcusable,” (Werner, 2020, para. 5). When they asked officiating supervisor Wes Booker why the game was called with time on the clock, he admitted his mistake but claimed that he could not bring the teams and officials back for the final play. In USA Today writer Barry Werner’s words (2020, para. 4), “The replay official told ABC the game was over and there was nothing they could do about it, somehow.”
Later that evening, the XFL reassigned Booker and released a statement apologizing for the mistake. Dan Lyons wrote, “Good on the XFL for getting a statement and apology out very quickly,” (2020, para. 7).
The XFL’s quick response to the situation was impressive for the league, especially in a time where fans, players, and coaches are frustrated with the officiating in the larger NFL. Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians called out the NFL in 2019, stating that, “My biggest thing is, referees aren’t held accountable,” (Seifert, 2019, para. 25). The NFL and XFL officiating crews have different levels of exposure, and the transparency of the XFL is what allowed Booker to be held accountable for his mistake. In the XFL, all officials are mic’d up throughout the game, and the access to the officiating supervisor in the booth made it possible to immediately ask for his reasoning behind calling the game early.
All plays are booth reviewable in the XFL, with a replay official in the stadium. In the NFL, plays are only booth reviewable for the last two minutes of each half, and the replay official is at a central command center in New York (Schwartz, 2020). Since officials are mic’d up in the XFL, fans can listen to the booth official’s conversation with the on-field referees and understand the reasoning for either overturning or upholding a call.
Geoff Schwartz claims, “The NFL is already in need of an officiating overhaul and letting people in on the review process would go a long way to making nice with everyone involved” (2020, para. 14). Taking a page out of the XFL’s playbook could be the solution the NFL needs to help restore integrity to its officiating and improve the in-game experience for players and fans alike.
Brody Hickle grew up in Bluffton, Ohio and now studies Sport Management at Bowling Green State University. The third-year undergraduate student minors in General Business. His primary sport interests are hockey and football.
Today, I heard about the coronavirus hitting in Ohio (which is my home state), so I wanted to write about how the disease has been affecting the world of sports. I have many friends who attend Ohio State University, and when I saw the news that they were suspending classes for 20 days, I was more than shocked. First, before I talk about how the disease is affecting the world of sports, I did some research on the symptoms athletes and other individuals can get from the coronavirus, and the symptoms include difficulty in breathing, fever, and coughs (CDC, 2020).
So far, we have seen several cases of the coronavirus affecting sporting events and other activities across the world. When I began writing this, Italy suspended all sporting events until April 3rd, due to the coronavirus. In the sports world, they aren’t just focusing on athletes. They are also focusing on and taking precautions with the media. Jeff Passan (writer/reporter for ESPN) was mentioned in an article updated by another reporter, Randy Miller, stating that the NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLS has restricted media access due to the spread of the coronavirus. In the article, Miller states that in Clearwater, Florida (a popular location for spring training baseball), the New York Yankees decided that for an hour early in the morning, they would allow interviews from the media, because they wanted to keep out of the clubhouses at restricted times due to the concerns of the outbreak.
In Jeff Passan’s part of the article, he said, “Major League Baseball will join the NBA and NHL in closing clubhouses to media due to fear over potential spread of coronavirus, sources tell ESPN. After a conference call with owners Monday evening, MLB remains committed to playing the remainder of the slate of spring-training games as well as opening the regular season on time, the plan, like so many, is contingent on how the coronavirus spreads,” (Miller, para. 4-5, 2020).
I think this is a smart move for the MLB because they don’t want to suspend games like there already have been. Obviously, it is important to keep the athletes, coaches, and everybody else safe. I’m sure that some people working in the media may not be as happy with this move, because they only have one hour to ask questions to the athletes or coaches, and they may not get a big selection of who they can talk to. I wonder how long this disease will continue to affect the world, because we obviously are not just seeing it in sports, but we are seeing it affect companies, schools, and many other businesses around the world.
On March 11, the NBA suspended their regular season, and the NHL did the same the next day. While the NBA was making the decision, the media announced that two Utah Jazz stars (Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell) were tested positive for the coronavirus. From what I have noticed, a lot of fans are not happy with this decision. Being a huge NHL fan, I agree with both of these moves, as I did for the MLB. Again, it is not just happening in sports. On the same day the NBA decided to suspend the regular season, many schools (including mine) moved classes to online to help students avoid the coronavirus as much as possible. Going back to the leagues suspending their seasons, I think they did it more than for keeping the athletes safe. They also want to keep the fans safe. I believe that it is a safe and smart move by the leagues. If any league has a fan tested positive from attending an event, how is that going to look good for the organization? Personally, it is a move I would have made.
Griffin is a second-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
On February 20, 2020, two of the top heavyweight boxers in today’s game met in Las Vegas for a championship bout. WBC Heavyweight Champion Deontay Wilder stood across the legendary Irish giant Tyson Fury for a rematch years in the making. With the WBC Heavyweight Championship on the line, boxing was ready to shine again.
Wilder and Fury met once before in December 2018, where their bout drew 325 thousand pay-per-view (PPV) viewers, which was the tenth largest PPV audience for a fight since the Paquiao-Mayweather superfight in 2015 (World Boxing News, 2019). Their first fight was a wildly entertaining disputed draw ending that captivated viewers. It didn’t do much, however, to push boxing back to the forefront of the casual sports viewer. It did create a perfect backdrop to a fight that may be able to bring boxing back to its former glory.
After all the announcements and pre-fight press conferences, the hype for Fury-Wilder II was at its peak. FOX and ESPN decided to co-promote the bout, which pushed it to an even larger audience than their first fight. Pre-fight PPV estimates ranged from 1 to 2 million viewers (John Wall Street, 2020a). For context, that would be the most viewed PPV fight since the Paquiao-Mayweather fight that drew in 4.6 million viewers, but turned them away bored and disappointed by their purchase (World Boxing News, 2019). The hope is that this superfight can leave viewers happier than the failings of Paquiao-Mayweather.
Amid all the theatrics of putting on a fight, like Fury coming out on a chariot adorning a crown and Wilder wearing a 45 pound costume that may or may not have slowed him during the fight, was a wildly entertaining championship match. Tyson Fury dominated Deontay Wilder throughout the seven-round bout, and ended the battle in a stunning TKO victory with 1:39 left in the round (Campbell, 2020).
After the hype and dust settled on the Gypsy King’s massive victory, the shine of boxing seemed on the borderline to return. The fight brought in an unprecedented $17 million in gate sales, which passed the gate record set by Lewis-Holyfield II in 1999 (Mazique, 2020). There were also between 800,000 and 850,000 PPV sales of the match, which is the fifth most watched fight since Mayweather-Paqiuao (John Wall Street, 2020b; World Boxing News, 2019). While the number of sales was much lower than initial estimates, it is believed that between 10 and 20 million people illegally streamed the fight (John Wall Street, 2020b). Illegal streams don’t help the sales and money generation for the fighters, promoters and everyone else involved, but they are a large indicator of the interest in boxing. With possibly 30 million viewers, Wilder-Fury II would easily eclipse the known 1.3 million viewers of Mayweather-Paquiao (World Boxing News, 2019).
Twitter seemed to collectively enjoy the fight, with many influential athletes praising Fury’s performance. High-profile athletes such as LeBron James and JJ Watt showed the fight’s successes, along with reactions from other high-profile sportscasters like Jemele Hill.
One fight is not indicative of the return of boxing, but a success like Wilder-Fury II definitely helps. When people think of boxing, the most thought of modern fight is the Mayweather-Pacquiao snoozefest that drove away the hype of the sport. Now, an entertaining, classic title fight has taken the reigns and can drive more people to the sport. So, is boxing back? No, not yet, but the increased interest and media coverage will certainly help the sport return to the forefront of American sports coverage.