Tagged: espn

The NFL spent decades campaigning against scientific research

League of Denial,” a new book written by ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, says the league “conducted a two-decade campaign to deny a growing body of scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage.”

Here’s Don Van Natta Jr.’s summary of the book:

The book, “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth,” reports that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league’s own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game

The book shares its title with a Frontline documentary premiering next week. ESPN was supposed to collaborate with Frontline on the documentary, but about six weeks ago the sports behemoth abruptly dropped out of the project.

That came a week after four NFL and ESPN muckety-mucks, including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and ESPN president John Skipper, attended a lunch where the NFL made clear its displeasure with the documentary. ESPN pays the NFL $1.9 billion a year for the rights to “Monday Night Football,” among other things.

The league reached a settlement in August with former players suing over concussions (the lawsuits had accused the league of hiding the known risks of concussions). The settlement was worth $765 million, or about $170,000 per player; the NFL made more than $9 billion in profit last year.

You can read excerpts from “League of Denial” at ESPN and Sports Illustrated. The documentary premieres on Tuesday, Oct. 8, at 9 p.m.

ESPN is shutting down Page 2, your old favorite sports blog

I had no idea that ESPN was finally shutting down Page 2 today, but that’s at least in part because I can’t remember the last time I visited Page 2. As Jack Dickey explains over at Deadspin, there was a time when Page 2 was something of a proto-sports blog. I didn’t arrive in time for the Hunter Thompson/David Halberstam/Ralph Wiley era; I got there when it was fully, undeniably Bill Simmons and Friends.

Also, to echo something else Dickey said, there was a time when Page 2 seemed greater than the sum of its parts. I also went through a phase where I even anticipated Greggg Easterbrook columns (though that was just a phase). I used to visit ESPN.com just to skim the headlines, but I’d head to Page 2 in order to do some actual reading and be entertained.

As time wore on, so did the appeal of Page 2. We all grow up and find our entertainment elsewhere. The quality receded while other outlets (Deadspin included) emerged to take Page 2’s place. ESPN.com became a behemoth. The launch of Grantland — Bill Simmons’s own subsection of ESPN.com, complete with its own standalone URL — signaled that the end was nigh.

I visited Page 2 today and found that the site had been redesigned at some point since my last visit (I have no idea if that happened today, a week ago or months ago). There are some remembrances on the site, odes to a time when it was a destination unto itself. For what it’s worth, there was a time when that was true. A new page is launching to take its place on Monday, and I suspect it’ll just be another page within the greater ESPN.com empire. That’s perfectly understandable, and it’s also what Page 2 became a long time ago.

Grantland launches, is what everyone expected

It would have been downright foolish of me to judge Grantland after Bill Simmons’s new playground had been online for just one day. Sure, when your site is masterminded by Simmons, a subject of perpetual online and media fascination, and when it features a lineup of Big Name Writers, and when you promote it with a countdown clock on the homepage, you are perhaps building up outsized expectations relative to what a new outcropping of your site can legitimately provide. Still, judging it after one day would be silly. Now that it has been online for more than a day, we can render a complete judgment.

The resounding impression from the site’s first day was: That’s it? There just wasn’t a lot there on Wednesday, at least in the early going. The big stuff: Simmons had an introductory column and, later, a column about LeBron’s performance in the Finals. Chris Jones, who has apparently shifted from writing full-time for Esquire to covering the AL East for Grantland, wrote about baseball and himself. There was a dumb post about a dumb idea (a “reality TV fantasy draft,” which, honestly, this post and concept lowers this entire enterprise by at least one letter grade). Chuck Klosterman was doing his thing off the bench with the story of a basketball team that played three-on-five and won. No new podcasts. A blog that hasn’t gone up yet. No Eggers, no Gladwell, no Katie Bakes.

A day later, the site looks a little fuller, as you might expect. Klosterman wrote a great little thing about our modern interconnected, over-informed era (nothing hugely original, but still entertaining). Tom Bissell on L.A. NoireDave Eggers on Wrigley. This interesting look at Dirk in the 2011 playoffs.

The design seems to have irked a few people, but I like the relatively sparse and clean look. (Clearly [motions to the surrounding site].) There are still some kinks to be worked out. For instance, former New York Times NBA reporter Jonathan Abrams spoke to Donnie Walsh about parting ways with the Knicks; the post (a preview for the site’s sports blog) was initially found on the main Grantland page and has since disappeared, located only by Googling. It’s going to have to be easier to find everything on the site; people aren’t going to want to have to hunt down everything that’s not Simmons or Klosterman. (And, for what it’s worth, I’m very glad to see Klosterman has a new, regular place to write. He can be frustrating in long chunks — i.e. his books — but in brief bursts, he can be tons of fun.)

As for the introductory note: It reminds me why I liked Simmons in the first place. He’s simply honest about how he doesn’t know what this is beyond what it looks lik so far. He’s still self-satisfied and self-impressed (comparing your new site to a new late night comedy show is…not an apt comparison, but he clearly knows that). Yet he writes with an emotional honesty that I honestly think is his real, true self, not a character he portrays, not a persona he has adopted, because after all these years and in all of his interviews, podcasts and countless gigabytes of produced columns, he doesn’t come across as somebody capable of faking the things he says and does.

It’ll be very interesting to see how the site looks in a month, six months and a year. It’ll also be interesting to see what happens when ESPN does some accounting to figure out of all of this brand name talent is worth what is essentially a better Page 2. Like pretty much everybody else (even people who will complain about it ad nauseum), I’ll be going back frequently.

More from “Those Guys Have All The Fun”

Entertainment Weekly offers another glimpse at the new ESPN book by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales. The book is an oral history of the company, which used to report on sports but now primarily exports scandals and awful sitcoms based on their employees. In the EW bits: Sex, drugs and a cranky Chris Berman. I’m not sure what is going to be more entertaining: the book, or the official ESPN public relations response to the book.

Read an excerpt from the ESPN oral history

I really enjoyed James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales’s oral history of “Saturday Night Live,” so I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of their ESPN oral history, “Those Guys Have All the Fun.” The book’s release is looming, so expect to hear a lot about it over the next week. GQ has printed an excerpt focused on Keith Olbermann, and it might come as a surprise to learn that he was somewhat difficult in his time there. The book drops May 24.

Bill Simmons will mention the Celtics 1,404 times during Friday’s Miami-Golden State game

Bill Simmons is bringing his intolerable voice to the broadcasting table during Friday’s Heat-Warriors game. Simmons, as you well know, has written a great deal of things about the Heat this season, most of which stem from A) His inherent desire to show why Boston is a better team (and why it was SO much more honorable when three superstars teamed up in Boston three years ago than when three joined together in Miami this past summer) and B) His overarching desire to posit a comprehensive Theory of Everything regarding the Heat, because he is a big basketball guy and also because he knows if he changes his tune 15 times this season (and he has), nobody will care, because everybody has.

Mostly, I am going to mute this game because I find Simmons’s voice to be downright excruciating. I tried listening to his podcasts, I really did. I tried watching when he joined up for “PTI.” Putting aside my professed exhaustion with his repetitive, wildly self-aggrandizing persona, I actually find him to be ill-suited as a broadcaster for one main reason: His voice feels like aural waterboarding. How can somebody be a broadcaster with such a horrible voice? Well, since he’s well-established as the big dog at ESPN.com, he got to do a podcast, and since he has so many devoted fans, people keep downloading it and somehow not jabbing their ears with soldering irons. It’s impressive, the way he’s circumvented a basic requirement for what he clearly wants to do (be more of an on-camera presence), but I can be impressed without subjecting my ears to the equivalent of a dozen prostate exams back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

If you watch sports, here’s the explanation for why you’re about to see a lady dressed up as Rapunzel everywhere

In one creative sales pitch, Disney is sending actors dressed as the film’s two lead characters, Flynn Rider and Rapunzel, to NBA, NHL, NFL and college football games around the country, with two seats set aside for the two actors and four or five extra seats reserved for Rapunzel’s long hair. You think cameras from ESPN (owned by Disney) might randomly happen to spot them?

— You can pretty much guarantee that if you watch an NBA game, college football game, Monday Night Football or any SportsCenter over the next week (I don’t include NHL, because who watches the NHL?), you are going to see the cameras oddly focused on a lady dressed up as Rapunzel with her hair over four or five seats. (Not pictured: The crying child who wanted to attend his or her first sporting event, only to find out there weren’t enough seats, because Disney needed to promote a movie that looks pretty blah. ) Because the target audiences for these sporting events are definitely going to run out and see “Rapunzel,” obviously.

Things We Need To Remember Next May

The Miami Heat lost their opening night game to the Boston Celtics. They looked bad. They won their second game, against the shoddy Philadelphia 76ers, and didn’t look that much better. Tonight they play the Orlando Magic, a very good team that — like the Celtics — has size, stellar defense and a few seasons under their collective belts contending with the same core. They might win it, they might not, it really doesn’t matter so much right now. What matters is perspective.

After everything last summer — “The Decision,” Wade re-signing, Bosh joining up, Mike Miller and some old dudes tagging along and countless potshots taken and verbal grenades launched hither thither and yon all over the league, the media and the sports-aware world — there are obviously heightened expectations for the Heat, both good and bad. A lot of people want them to fail, for obvious and unsurprising reasons. Their supposed villainy is something that has been given a lot of attention. Given less airtime was my worry from the moment we heard LeBron was bound for South Beach: When they start winning, a lot of people will root for them. They’ll root for them because most fans don’t grow up in sports meccas; most fans grow up in areas that have no teams, have little-to-no recognizable and entrenched sports culture or the nearby teams simply lack the financial and historical advantages given to fans who grew up in New York, Chicago, L.A., Boston and a few other spots. This is why there are so many Red Sox fans who have never set foot in Fenway and why there are a lot of guys in their 20s who root for the Yankees, Cowboys, Lakers and Duke. These are people who should be punched in the throat, but that’s besides the point.

So obviously there are sky-high expectations engendered by this superstar line-up, and people wonder if they can win 70 games, if LeBron can average a triple-double, if they can win the next 10 titles, et cetera. And people have been discussing this ad nauseum since July. People are fascinated by it. That’s great, because any extra attention for the NBA is welcome for a fan of the league like myself.

It becomes problematic when people make grand, sweeping pronouncements based on 24 minutes of play. It becomes problematic when people make asinine predictions based on two games. It becomes problematic when people look at one or two of the 82 games an NBA team will play and decide, well, that’s about all she wrote.

Bill Simmons, a Boston Celtics fan first and an ESPN.com writer second, never really hides his bias. He is pretty blatant about it. It can be noxious, because when he writes about the NFL and the NBA, he tends to write with blinders on and espouse some pretty ridiculous things. He was obviously very happy his Boston Celtics beat the Miami Heat, and as a result he vomited out 7,600 words about all sorts of things he had come to realize based on one, maybe two games the Heat played. This is what columnists have to do: take immediate positions based on little-to-no evidence (especially when you consider that a mere 2.4 percent of the NBA season has been played, and Simmons witnessed a mere fraction of the time spent between the Heat players, yet he feels able to immediately discern their motives, psychological underpinnings and stature within the organization).

The obvious rejoinder is to point out that three years ago, the Boston Celtics were in a similar position to the Heat. Simmons himself even said so. They had gutted their roster and rebuilt the team around three stars who had always had to carry their own teams. Simmons and others like him will tell you that it was different, that those three guys had put in their time on bad teams, that they were wired differently, that it wasn’t just about fame or money, and these statements might be true and they might be false but they are undoubtedly meaningless. When you boil it down, the points are similar enough that differentiating between the two is a matter of semantics. (For what it’s worth, Simmons is — again, like a lot of columnists who write about different topics — prone to strongly believing something one week and then forgetting he ever said it a month later.)

And for what it’s worth, his entire aside about LeBron needing to run the team and Wade needing to be the sidekick because he is a lesser player: It’s worth pointing out that between them, only one has during crunch time carried a team to victory: Wade, in the 2006 Finals (winning a ring) and in the 2008 Olympics (where he was the leading scorer throughout competition and during the clinching win over Spain). LeBron has a history of putting up big numbers and making big plays and not being able to sink the putt, so to speak. Wade, by comparison, has shown he can carry a team to some success but is better suited to put them over the top when they’re in a position to win. But we should pretend crunch time doesn’t matter and that the best players don’t carry their teams to victory when it counts, or whatever, right?

I can understand why “The Decision” swayed so many people into deciding LeBron was the villain here (and, really, screwing over Cleveland like that was pretty weak), but I still can’t understand why it’s more acceptable for teams and organizations to treat players like walking commodities and to swap them like so many assets in a corporate merger than for players to have any say in their own lives. I don’t get why it’s okay for two executives who are friends (like Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge, former teammates and the execs who made the 2007 trade sending Garnett to Boston) to swap players, but three friends who are players shouldn’t decide their own fates. I don’t know how much of it is because we’ve been conditioned to care about the nonsense that players want to Compete and Grit It Out and it’s some sort of Homeric quest that they need to do alone, to endure and prove themselves the best. I don’t know how much is because players holding out and getting traded is bad, but forgotten about, and players refusing to play is bad, but also eventually forgotten about, yet players being cut and their contracts voided is “just business.” And I don’t know how much of it is racial, in that these sorts of trades/signings/moves are generally controlled by the predominantly white coaches, executives and owners in the NBA (and, for what it’s worth, other leagues), whereas this time the same kind of move (only perhaps grander, given the talents of the three involved) was perpetrated by three young African-American multimillionaires (though they did still need a facilitator in Pat Riley and Mickey Arison).

A lot of it is because in sports, so much gets discussed and dissected off the court and field that we forget the only things that truly matter are the results of the games. Simmons can whine all he wants about some holding penalty that wasn’t called in the 2008 Super Bowl, or say his quarterback saying hi to Pat O’Brien cost them the game, but in the long run nobody will care or remember and the Giants were the champs and the Patriots weren’t. Media commentators — perhaps more than fans — like to pay attention to the off-the-field storylines and narratives. That’s because the games themselves take up a relatively minor slice of time. We have ample, seemingly endless time to banter, bicker, discuss, contemplate. Could Jordan have won eight straight? What would have happened if Elway hadn’t gone to Denver? These things are fun, but they’re empty.

The point is this: Simmons has declared the Heat villains, deemed them to be suffering a psychological and personnel quagmire and determined that they are having trouble handling these dual realities. To say that he’s stretching is to put it mildly. Yes, they’re villains. For now (and forever, in Cleveland, L.A., Boston, places where this matters; in Arkansas, in Oregon, in North Carolina, you think anybody will hold onto this hate next summer?). They aren’t playing with their full roster (Mike Miller, a key component, is out until January). They have played almost no minutes with their main stars until opening night. And to say that a team with such high expectations — from others as well as within — seemed shaky when playing together for the first time (and against an opponent with strengths mirroring the Heat’s weaknesses) and are therefore irrevocably flawed is just stupid.

So let’s remember this next spring and summer. There are a lot of people saying things like Simmons, only with fewer words and smaller platforms. We need to remember this. Assuming there are no catastrophic injuries, this team will find their groove and start winning games and play deep into the playoffs. So next May, when LeBron and Wade have finished averaging 23-24 points per game and are demolishing teams with their unstoppable offensive onslaught, or whatever the hell winds up happening, let us remember that a lot of people had a lot of opinions when the team was unimpressive in their first 96 minutes on the court together. Because these people sure won’t be saying it. Over the season, Simmons and his ilk will slowly admit a few positives about the Heat, notice some good things, hedge by saying there are some negatives and warning signs — and if the Heat truly dominate, they will write how it was what was supposed to happen, and not a surprise, and it’ll be like they never doubted it at all.