TIME NFL

‘Here’s Why Deflategate is Still Ridiculous’

Four takeaways from the latest Deflategate news

Not-so-great news, football fans: as training camps kick off this week, pressure gauges and needles are still a hot topic. Did you ever think, upon waking up the morning after the AFC championship game in January, a Patriots romp over the Colts, and hearing about New England possibly deflating footballs, that a few months later this silly-sounding scandal would result in the NFL suspending its Super Bowl MVP, best player, and biggest celebrity for a quarter of a season? That NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would hand down the original four-game suspension to Tom Brady back in May, refuse to recuse himself as appellate judge, and uphold his original ruling upon appeal? That the story of the 2015 NFL season now involves injunctions and smashed cell phones and lawsuits?

Seemed ridiculous at the time. But then again, the NFL seems to specialize in off-field rumpuses. Below are four takeaways from the NFL’s decision to uphold Brady’s suspension.

1. The NFL Created This Mess. Fundamentally, the NFL volunteered to make this a scandal. First off, if mucking with air pressure gives a player a competitive advantage—as Goodell’s decision released Tuesday afternoon contends—then why didn’t NFL rules dictate that someone keep a close eye on the game balls before kickoff? (The NFL is correcting the flaw this year, an acknowledgement that the old policy made little sense).

As Ted Wells’ Delfategate report points out, the Colts gave the NFL office a heads-up about their suspicions that the Pats were deflating footballs. So why didn’t the NFL issue the Pats a warning, or more closely watch the Pats ball attendants to prevent them from allegedly cheating in the first place? And third, why did someone, presumably from the NFL camp, leak PSI information—which turned out to be wrong—to the media in the first place, helping propel the scandal in the Super Bowl walkup?

2. Roger Goodell Says Deflation is Like Taking Steroids. To justify the length of the four-game suspension, Goodell likens deflating footballs to inflating your body via steroids, since both presumably offer a competitive advantage. Yes, he went there, comparing shooting yourself up with body-altering substances to letting some air out of a football.

Goodell also notes that, under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, “the first positive test for the use of performance enhancing drugs has resulted in a four-game suspension.” So, Brady’s alleged attempt to cheat should also warrant four games. But where’s the positive test in Brady’s case? Goodell is basing his punishment on circumstantial evidence, but no accepted smoking gun like a positive test. The NFL can punish PED users without a positive test—a so-called non-analytical positive—but this is rarely done. In 2007, New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison admitted to using a banned substance and was hit with a four-game suspension. But Brady is not admitting to anything. Is this a fair standard for the Pats QB?

3. Tom Brady Needs A Better Cell Phone Plan. In his decision, Goodell said Brady destroyed his cell phone right before investigators interviewed him, so they could not look at potentially incriminating texts. This looks ridiculously suspicious, and will help plenty of fans conclude that Brady is guilty. Brady also said that he regularly smashes phones, and this particular destruction just happened to coincide with the date of the Deflategate interview. This stretches credulity. From the beginning, the NFL has said it offered Brady the chance to cherry-pick any correspondence from his phone to hand over investigators. So why destroy it in the first place?

4. Tom Brady Needs A Grip. One of the weakest parts of the Wells report was its incrimination of Brady based on his mere texts, phone conversations, and meetings with ball attendants after Deflategate broke. Brady wouldn’t communicate directly with them after any other game: suddenly, they’re in constant contact. Must be getting their stories straight, right? That conclusion, however, never felt convincing. If you’re in Brady’s shoes, and you’re a superstar whose clean-cut image is taking a beating because you allegedly cheated, you might be talking to ball attendants more than usual just to find out what the heck is going on. However, according to Goodell’s decision, Brady suggested that they were talking about the upcoming Super Bowl. “I think most of the conversations centered around breaking in the balls,” Brady testified.

Brady turned a weak portion of the Wells report into a strength for Goodell. The commissioner could now say that if breaking in the balls was so important, why didn’t Brady conduct such communication during other regular season or playoff games? Sure, the Super Bowl is important. But it seems off that Brady would suddenly be so fanatical about the grip of the football, to the point that he had to huddle with ball attendants pronto.

Neither the NFL nor Brady did themselves huge favors in this whole appeals process. And it doesn’t look like this story is going away. Where’s Week 1 when you need it?

 

TIME

Boston Will Be Better Off Without Olympics

The gamble just wasn't worth it

The people got this one right. Boston’s Olympic bid, which came to an abrupt end on Monday, never attracted high enough approval ratings in Beantown. Both the United States Olympic Committee and Boston’s political leaders realized that moving forward in the face of widespread public opposition to the bid would embarrass everyone long-term. Might as well cut bait now. It was a mess, but at least now it’s over.

Boston joins cities such as Oslo, Stockholm, Lviv, Ukraine and Krakow who have all recently reconsidered Olympic bids — and then dropped them. (These international cities all bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will be awarded on July 31 to either Beijing or Almaty, Kazakhstan). Many people, it seems, have wisened up to basic sports economics: the Olympics are just as likely to produce eye-popping cost overruns as they are canoeing medals.

“There’s a lot of evidence that people are Olympics and World Cup weary,” says Andrew Zimbalist, author of Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting The Olympics and World Cup. The book includes ample academic research showing the gamble, indeed, is a losing one. “Billions of dollars are spent on a giant party, and the public gets nothing back,” says Zimbalist.

Zimbalist studied the Boston bid, and is convinced that both the city and state of Massachusetts are better off without it. “I don’t think it made a lot of economic sense,” Zimbalist says. Other cities will still compete with one another to convince the International Olympic Committee to award them the 2024 Summer Games: Hamburg, Rome, Paris and Budapest have all announced intentions to bid. Toronto, fresh off hosting the Pan American Games, may jump in.

Will another U.S. city emerge to replace Boston by the Sept. 15 bidding deadline? All eyes are now turning to Los Angeles, a city with a built-in advantage: L.A. has hosted the Olympics twice before, in 1932 and 1984. In ’84 Los Angeles did not have to dazzle the International Olympic Committee with a sparking, and expensive, bid book. Tehran dropped out, so L.A. had enormous leverage since the city was essentially bidding against itself. According to Zimbalist’s book, the ’84 Games produced a $215 million surplus (and not coincidentally, landed the organizer of those Games, Peter Ueberroth, on the cover of TIME as 1984 Man of the Year). The city’s existing Olympic infrastructure could defray some of the cost. “It’s not unthinkable that Los Angeles can do it the right way,” says Zimbalist.

Still, predicting the cost of an event that will place almost a decade from now is a very tricky business. If recent history is any guide, Los Angeles should take a pass too. It’s already got plenty going for it. Why bother with such a gamble? If a city like Paris feels the need to go all in, well…Paris sounds nice enough in summer.

 

 

TIME Boxing

Why Floyd Mayweather Lost His ‘Fight of the Century’ Title

floyd mayweather Boxer
Gregg DeGuire—Getty Images Boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr. arrives at Spike TV's "Guys Choice 2015" at Sony Pictures Studios on June 6, 2015 in Culver City, Calif.

The reason one of boxing's sanctioning bodies stripped the champ of his welterweight title

On Monday the World Boxing Organization (WBO) stripped Floyd Mayweather Jr. of the welterweight title he secured after he defeated Manny Pacquiao in the May 2 “fight of the century” (which was anything but).

According to WBO rules, Mayweather has two weeks to appeal this decision. Here’s everything to know about why Mayweather lost his belt:

Why was Mayweather stripped of his title?

For bureaucratic infighting, something boxing is very familiar with. By beating Pacquiao, Mayweather was recognized by three of boxing’s alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies — the WBO, the World Boxing Association (WBA) and the World Boxing Council (WBC) — as the welterweight champ.

The WBO rules, however, dictate that “no WBO Champion may hold a non-WBO Championship in a weight class that is different from the weight class of his WBO Championship.”

In other words, the WBO can’t recognize Mayweather as its welterweight champ so long as he keeps on to the super-welterweight division titles he holds from the WBA and WBC. Mayweather refused to vacate his other titles by a July 3 deadline, and pay the WBO a $200,000 sanctioning fee. So the WBO stripped Mayweather of his welterweight title.

Does this impact the outcome of Mayweather-Pacquiao fight?

Not at all. Mayweather is still the WBA and WBC welterweight champ. The fight was still a boring fight.

Does this impact all the crazy money generated by the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight?

No. The fight still set all kinds of financial records: most pay-per view subscriptions, close circuit revenue, live gate. So what’s one world title when you’ve made between $220-230 million on a fight, as Mayweather reportedly did for fighting Pacquiao?

What does Mayweather think about it?

The man Forbes recently named the highest-earning celebrity in the world hasn’t publicly weighed in on the WBO’s decision — but his reps are outraged. “It’s a complete disgrace,” Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions, told ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael. “Floyd will decide what, or if any, actions he will take. But in the meantime he’s enjoying a couple of hundred million he made from his last outing and this has zero impact on anything he does.”

Will this impact Mayweather’s legacy?

Another no. Most sports fans couldn’t care less whether a boxer holds the WBC or WBO or ABC or WTF titles. Mayweather, 38, is a technically brilliant fighter with a 48-0 record, whose escapist style has frustrated punch-thirsty fans who tune into his megafights. He’s likely to retire after his next bout, in September.

Mayweather’s troubling domestic violence history will carry much, much more weight on people’s judgments of him than any bureaucratic snafu. This whole mess just captures the trouble with boxing: there’s no unified leadership, no organizational structure to push the sport into the future, and attract new passionate fans.

TIME World Cup

America, Meet Soccer Star Carli Lloyd, Your Newest Sports Hero

in the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Semi-Final Match at Olympic Stadium on June 30, 2015 in Montreal, Canada.
Minas Panagiotakis—Getty Images Carli Lloyd celebrates setting up Kelly O'Hara's goal in the FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 Semi-Final Match at Olympic Stadium on June 30, 2015 in Montreal, Canada.

Her penalty, and perfect pass to second goal-scorer Kelly O'Hara, ensure a crucial U.S. victory in soccer's World Cup

Going into this year’s women’s World Cup, certain U.S. players stole the spotlight. Abby Wambach, the world’s all-time leading international goal scorer, trying to win her first World Cup in the twilight of her career. Forward Alex Morgan, heir to Mia Hamm. Goaltender Hope Solo, for all the off-field controversies.

But step aside, ladies. For this World Cup is now Carli Lloyd’s.

Lloyd, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner making her third World Cup appearance, is no stranger to soccer fans. But for the millions of more casual viewers tuning into America’s quest for its first World Cup since 1999, she’s now a water-cooler fixture. Lloyd has scored a goal in each of Team USA’s knockout-round victories on the way to the World Cup final, which will be played on July 5, when the U.S. will face the winner of Wednesday’s Japan-England semifinal.

Against Germany in Tuesday night’s semifinal, Lloyd’s second-half penalty kick gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead. Later, Lloyd stayed patient while dribbling in the goal box, waiting until Kelley O’Hara was in position to take her perfect pass and boot the insurance goal into the net. U.S. 2, Germany 0.

So America, if you’re not already invested in the World Cup, meet Carli Lloyd. A few quick essentials:

1. Lloyd has a history of shining in big moments: Sports Illustrated put her on the cover of its World Cup preview, with the tagline: “She’s Got Clutch.” No cover jinx in this World Cup — far from it. Lloyd scored the gold-medal winning goals in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. All this bodes well for Team USA’s chances on Sunday.

2. Her ex-Team USA coach, Pia Sundhage, dissed Lloyd in a New York Times profile that ran earlier in the World Cup.

“Carli Lloyd was a challenge to coach, by the way,” Sundhage said offhandedly at one point, her fork dangling as she considered Lloyd, who is a top midfielder for the United States. “When she felt that we had faith in her, she could be one of the best players. But if she began to question that faith, she could be one of the worst.”

She took a bite of salad. “It was so delicate, so, so delicate,” she said.

But so, so good. If coaching Lloyd, 32, has been a challenge, it’s certainly been worth any headaches. Lloyd called Sundhage’s comments “confusing.” America and Sweden played to a 0-0 draw during the knockout stage of this year’s World Cup.

3. Lloyd, who grew up in southern New Jersey and attended Rutgers University, credits a lot of her success to training with a former Australian pro player named James Galanis, described by the Wall Street Journal as “paunchy and bespectacled,” and someone who “comes off like a wizard instructor from the Harry Potter films.” Lloyd was supposed to take a ski trip with some friends while she was at Rutgers; Galanis told her if she was serious about making the US team, she had to skip the vacation.

To the cheers of many Americans, Lloyd put in the work. All that’s left is a World Cup win.

TIME World Cup

In Women’s World Cup, U.S. Feels Weight of Expectations

Members of China's national team take part in a training session at Lansdowne Stadium in Ottawa on June 25, 2015 on the eve of their 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinal match against the US.
Nicholas Kamm—AFP/Getty Images Members of China's national team take part in a training session at Lansdowne Stadium in Ottawa on June 25, 2015 on the eve of their 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup quarterfinal match against the US.

It's not enough for the Americans to just beat China in Friday's quarterfinal

They haven’t lost a single game in this World Cup. They haven’t given up a goal since the opener, stringing together a remarkable 333-minute shutout streak. On Friday night, they face China—a team that hasn’t beaten them in 24 matches, dating back to 2003—in the World Cup quarterfinals. They’re three games away from a championship.

So why all this anxiety about the U.S. women’s soccer team?

Despite the wins—and a scoreless draw with Sweden in group play—the team has drawn more critics than cheers. Eric Wynalda, the former men’s national team player and commentator for Fox, went so far as to call the team’s performance against Colombia, a 2-0 U.S. win in the round of 16, “pathetic.”

Wynalda, and other pundits, have pointed fingers at the coach, Jill Ellis, for the team’s lack of offensive dynamism. She’s employed a defensive-minded game plan—which has clearly worked. So far. If the team couldn’t rack up more goals against early-round competition, the U.S. will be in trouble against a Germany, France, or Japan. “There’s been a lack of offensive flow and rhythm,” said former U.S. star Julie Foudy, a member of the last American team to win a World Cup, in 1999. “They’re not creating a lot of chances, they’re not taking players on, it’s really been four stagnant games.”

OK, but what about all that winning? Does it count for anything? According to Foudy, an ESPN analyst, the complaining has a bright side: we gripe because we care. “It really speaks to the growth of the game here, that we’re all debating it, we’re talking about it, we’re not content with just winning anymore,” said Foudy. “Sure, you can win on good defense. And sure you can grind it out. But really, with more support, more funding, more kids playing in the United States, why are we relying on grinding it out anymore?”

For the Americans, the beautiful game needs to be more beautiful. To that end, Foudy’s hoping that Ellis will deploy three scoring forwards—perhaps a combo of Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and Sydney LeRoux—against China, instead of the usual two. Such a formation would ease the burden on the veteran Wambach, 35, who has had to cover more ground in the two-forward set. “For her to be chasing balls down on into the corner flag is crazy to me,” Foudy said. “That’s not her game.”

Bottom line, Foudy wants Ellis to shake up the game plan now, before trying it out against Germany or France in the semis. Not that the U.S. can look past China. They’ve got strong goalkeeping, and can cause trouble off set pieces. China faced the U.S. in the epic ’99 final, but women’s soccer has declined in that country since that time: as the New York Times reports, only some 6,000 or 7,000 female players above the age of 12 are registered to play. Parents are more likely to stress school over soccer, which offers few opportunities beyond the national team. But China’s president, Xi Jinping, likes soccer, and is backing a plan to revive the game.

Heading into Friday night’s game, the U.S. is also missing midfielders Megan Rapinoe, who along with goaltender Hope Solo has probably been America’s MVP this tournament, and Lauren Holiday, who’ve been issued two yellow cards in the tournament, and thus have to sit out a game. Still, said Foudy, “the U.S. should be absolutely fine” against China.

Fine, however, is no longer fine. The Americans need to win big to temper all this stress. Until the next game at least.

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