TIME Baseball

The Kansas City Royals Are the Future of Baseball

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas pitches during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles in Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri on Oct. 15, 2014.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jason Vargas pitches during the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles in Game Four of the American League Championship Series at Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri on Oct. 15, 2014. Dave Kaup—EPA

In baseball, power is out. Speed and defense are in. And the Royals play small-ball best

Updated on Oct. 15, 7:18 p.m.

Sure, the Kansas City Royals are an intriguing tale for the typical rags-to-riches reasons. A team that hasn’t made a post-season appearance in 29 years becomes the first team in baseball history to win its first eight games in the playoffs. On Wednesday afternoon, the Royals beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, completing a sweep and sending the team to the World Series.

But the Royals are more than just an enchanting small-market success story. They represent the changing game of baseball.

In the post-steroid era, the game is going through a remarkable transition. Power is out. Pitching, speed and defense are in. Home runs per game are at their lowest levels since 1992. Teams scored 4.07 runs per game during the 2014 regular season, according to stats site Baseball-Reference.com–the lowest total in 33 years. Runs-per-game are down 15% since 2007, and off 21% from their steroid-era high of 5.14 in 2000. Players are striking out 7.7 times per game, an all-time record, breaking the prior high of 7.55 set last season. In fact, in each of the past seven seasons, baseball set a new all-time high for strikeouts per game.

Enter the Royals. The Royals had the fewest home runs in the majors this past season, with 95. But no team had more stolen bases, and the Royals have kept running this post-season. The team has stolen 13 bases so far: seven of them came in Kansas City’s wild 9-8 comeback win over the Oakland A’s in the AL Wild Card game.

The last big-league club to reach the World Series while finishing last in home runs, but first in swipes, was the 1987 St. Louis Cardinals. Those Cardinals teams of the 1980s played an exciting brand of “small-ball” throughout the decade: the ’82 Cards finished second in steals, and last in home runs, and won it all (the ’82 Oakland A’s finished first in steals, thanks to Rickey Henderson’s 130 swipes, a modern-era, single-season record that still stands).

For the Royals, that speed pays off in the field too. According to FanGraphs.com, Kansas City players collectively finished with the highest Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) – an advanced metric that measures defensive value – in the majors. Kansas City’s outfield, with three-time Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon in left, Lorenzo Cain in center, and defensive replacement Jarrod Dyson shoring up center field in the late innings (Cain then usually moves to right), have baseball analysts raving. “Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here,” wrote Sam Miller of Baseball Propectus. “We’re not just talking about a good outfield, or a great outfield. We’re talking about what one might decide to argue is the greatest defensive outfield of all time.”

The Royals have found a winning formula. These days, if you swing for the fences, you’re more likely than ever to strike out. So just put the ball in play – Royals hitters have both the lowest strikeout rate in the majors, and the lowest walk rate – and take your chances with your legs. Steal bases to eke out those diminishing runs.

Since today’s pitchers are better keeping balls in the park, if your opponent does make contact, make sure you have players who turn these balls into outs. (Like third baseman Mike Moustakas diving into the stands). Let the big-market New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels overpay for aging sluggers who will inevitably depreciate at the back-end of their ludicrous contracts (Alex Rodriguez, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols). Small-ball is cheap, and effective. This is where the game is heading. The Royals just do it best.

Read next: The 7 Greatest Trick Plays in Sports Movie History

TIME Baseball

The Ump Who Blew the ’85 World Series Wants a Rematch

Don Denkinger
St. Louis pitcher Todd Worrell (facing) argues with first base umpire Don Denkinger in the 9th inning of Game 6 of the 1985 World Series in Kansas City, Missouri. Kerwin Plevka—Bettmann/Corbis

The umpire who made a famous blown call in the last World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals speaks out

If anyone should be rooting against a rematch of the “Show Me” World Series — featuring an all-Missouri St. Louis Cardinals-Kansas City Royals battle — it’s former major league umpire Don Denkinger. Back in 1985, Denkinger’s infamous blown call at first base in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 6 helped the Royals rally to a 2-1 victory, forcing a seventh game against the Cards. The Royals won that one in an 11-0 laugher. So if the Royals can hold their 2-0 lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series, and the Cardinals can knock off the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS – that series is tied at 1-1, and both Game 3s are on Tuesday – Denkinger is sure to get a million calls from media members asking him to relive the worst moment of his professional life.

Denkinger, however, wants to see a replay. “I . . . wish they had the replay rule that night, so we could have gotten it right,” Denkinger says from his Phoenix-area home. Denkinger, an Iowa native who still spends part of the year in Waterloo, Iowa, is rooting for Cardinals-Royals out of Midwestern pride. “We don’t get a lot of participation from two teams at the same time from the Midwest,” says Denkinger, 78. “Let’s shake it up a little bit.” The last all-Midwest series was in 2006, when St. Louis beat Detroit in five games. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to 1987 to find two Midwestern teams in the Series: Minnesota-St. Louis, which the Twins won in seven.

Even if the Royals alone make it to the Series, he knows the onslaught will be coming. “I don’t think I’m sick of talking about it,” says Denkinger. “Though I’m not soliciting calls, that’s for sure.”

Denkinger seems at peace with his undistinguished place in baseball history. “The call will never go away,” Denkinger says. “It’s going to be there forever.” On October 26, 1985, the Cardinals, who were up 3-1 at one point in that series, were three outs away from winning their second title in four seasons. They were leading Kansas City 1-0 in Game 6, when the Royals came up in the bottom of the ninth for one last chance. Pinch hitter Jorge Orta squibbed a grounder towards first; Cardinals first baseman Jack Clark charged in and tossed the ball to reliever Todd Worrell, who ran to cover the bag. Orta was clearly out, by a half-step. Denkinger called him safe.

“I looked up and saw [Worrell] catch it,” Denkinger says. “When I looked down, I saw [Orta’s] foot on the bag and called him safe. Now, had I been farther away from the play, and I could have gotten them both in my peripheral vision, I would have liked to think I’d make a different call. Just that matter of time to look down created him to be safe.”

“I looked up and saw [Worrell] catch it,” Denkinger says. “When I looked down, I saw [Orta’s] foot on the bag and called him safe. Now, had I been farther away from the play, and I could have gotten them both in my peripheral vision, I would have liked to think I’d make a different call. Just that matter of time to look down created him to be safe.”

Fans tend to forget that the call itself didn’t decide the game. (I, for example, always thought it came with two outs. In fact, Orta was the leadoff man). Big Steve Balboni, the next Royals hitter, hit a foul pop-up near the steps of the Royals dugout: Clark misjudged a ball he should have caught, and it dropped behind him. Balboni, in turn, singled, putting runners at first and second. Jim Sundberg tried a sacrifice bunt: the ball bounced hard off the artificial turf to Worrell, who threw out Orta at third. With one out, a passed ball allowed two runners to move into scoring position; the winning run was now at second base. Worrell walked Hal McRae to load the bases. Then, pinch hitter Dane Iorg looped a single to right field; the tying run came in from third, and Sundberg, a catcher, rounded third and chugged towards home. Andy Van Slyke unleashed a rocket from right; Sundberg, sliding head first, barely beat the tag. Royals win.

“There were a lot of opportunities for the Cardinals to bail me out,” says Denkinger. “But they didn’t.”

So Denkinger, who spent the rest of that inning convinced he made the correct call, had a rough night – and years – ahead of him. He retreated to the umpire’s dressing room, where commissioner Peter Ueberroth was standing outside the door. “I just said to him, ‘did I get it right?’” Denkinger says. “And he just shook his head no. That’s when I knew that I missed it. I couldn’t have felt more sick.”

Denkinger was behind the plate for the deciding game. After the Royals jumped out to a big lead, Cardinals pitcher Joaquin Andujar — on in relief — charged towards Denkinger to challenge his strike zone. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog argued with Denkinger too. He told Denkinger that if he hadn’t blown the call the previous night, they wouldn’t be playing a Game 7. “I said, ‘if your team were hitting better than .120 we wouldn’t be here,’” Denkinger says. (The Cardinals finished the Series with a .185 average). “He said, ‘you’re nothing but a so and so.’” Denkinger tossed Herzog out of the game.

The ump remembers one death threat. A few years later, Denkinger says, someone wrote him a letter threatening to “point their .357 Magnum at me and blow me away.” Denkinger, who continued to umpire until retiring in 1998, reported the letter to MLB security. “The postcard itself was never stamped, so we didn’t know where it came from,” says Denkinger. The FBI came to Denkinger’s house to look through a stack of other mail: the feds noticed that the perp misspelled the word restaurant — Denkinger owned one in Waterloo at the time — in the exact same way as a man who had previously written Denkinger. That prior letter had a St. Louis address on it. The authorities told the guy he’d be prosecuted if he ever corresponded with Denkinger again.

Denkinger’s career spanned nearly 30 years, and it had many memorable — and less humiliating — moments. He disliked arguing with managers, with one exception, which involved the irascible Earl Weaver, the Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles manager from 1968-1982, and again in 1985 and 1986. “I guess the night Earl Weaver decided to eject all four of us was probably kind of humorous,” Denkinger says. “He started at the mound, got the home plate umpire and said ‘I’m going to show how stupid you guys are.’” So then he ran down to first, he threw the first base umpire out. He ran down to second, threw him out. I was at third, he threw me out. I said, ‘Earl, you done? Because you’re the only one who’s going to leave.’ He just looked at me.”

He was behind the plate for the famous Bucky Dent game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in 1978. He umped the 1974 World Series, between the Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Dodgers, and the 1980 World Series, between the Royals and Philadelphia Phillies. “That was the hemorrhoids Series, right?” Denkinger says. “Didn’t George Brett have hemorrhoids?” (Indeed, Brett removed himself from Game 2 of that series, which the Royals lost, because of hemorrhoids).

After the ’85 debacle, Denkinger even got another World Series nod. He was the home plate umpire for Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, a 1-0 classic won by the Minnesota Twins on a walk-off hit. “Life went on,” says Denkinger, who celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary two years ago.

Still, much like, say, Bill Buckner, one mistake will always overshadow Denkinger’s successful run. If Denkinger gets his wish, a Royals-Cardinals redux, he’d have to be rooting for the Cardinals, right? So Cards fans can maybe finally shut up about ’85? “That would never shut them up,” Denkinger says. “And that’s just fine.”

TIME College Sports

Yet Another Heisman Hopeful Runs Afoul of the NCAA’s Unfair System

Vanderbilt v Georgia
Georgia running back Todd Gurley (right) stiff-arms Torren McGaster of Vanderbilt on October 4, 2014 in Athens, Georgia. Mike Zarrilli—Getty Images

The University of Georgia's Todd Gurley has been suspended after reportedly being accused of accepting money for autographs. What exactly did he do wrong here?

Another year, another Heisman contender’s season interrupted by stupidity.

In 2013, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel–then the defending Heisman trophy winner–became embroiled in a cash-for-autographs controversy. The National Collegiate Athletics Association and Texas A&M said “there was no evidence” that Manziel “received money in exchange for autographs,” but Manziel was still suspended, for the first half of A&M’s opener, for an “inadvertent violation regarding the signing of certain autographs.”

The Johnny Football contretemps was a flash point in the longstanding debate about whether college athletes deserve a fairer share of the expanding revenues flowing into college sports. Love him or hate him, why shouldn’t a player who was bringing in millions for Texas A&M be able to receive autograph money if someone wanted to give it to him? What Manziel was allegedly doing was hardly illegal, except in the weird world of college sports.

Turns out, Manziel didn’t get railroaded. After sitting out that first half, he had every opportunity to compete again for the Heisman (though he lost out to Florida State’s Jameis Winston, even after an excellent 2013 season). Looks like University of Georgia running back Todd Gurley won’t be as lucky. Georgia has suspended Gurley indefinitely; SI.com reported that “a person confirmed to Georgia’s compliance office this week he paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items on campus in Athens, Ga., one day this spring. The person claimed to have a photo and video of Gurley signing the items, but neither the photo nor the video showed money changing hands.”

(MORE: TIME Cover – It’s Time To Pay College Athletes)

Gurley is a Heisman hopeful. Through Georgia’s first five games, the junior had rushed for 773 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per carry. Georgia is ranked 13th in the AP college football poll: the Bulldogs play at Missouri, ranked 23rd, tomorrow. Not only is Gurley a Heisman candidate, but the Bulldogs still have national championships hopes. So Gurley’s success, and the possible once-in-a-lifetime success of his teammates, are now in jeopardy because he may have received $400. Georgia’s football team generates $77.6 million in revenues, and $51.3 million in profit, according to federal data.

The whole system angers Chris Burnette, who finished his career as a Georgia offensive lineman last season and is now working as a financial planner in Atlanta while finishing his MBA. He vented his frustration on Twitter last night:

Burnette, a vocal supporter of compensation for athletes during his Georgia playing days, sounded exasperated when reached by phone. He says he’s not angry at Georgia, and has no firsthand knowledge of any violations Gurley may or may not have committed. “It’s just so frustrating,” says Burnette. “If a student creates an app, no one is telling him he can’t do something because he’s paid for his talents. For these rules to just apply to athletes, it’s almost un-American, really.” Burnette calls Gurley a “stand-up” guy who would “never do anything malicious.”

“I mean, something has to change,” Burnette said.

Luckily, momentum is shifting towards a fairer system. And cases like those of Gurley and Manziel—stars under fire for breaking rules that defy common fairness—can only help speed things up. Everyone involved deserves better.

(MORE: The Long And Winding Road To Paying College Players)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIME Business

Why You Can’t Find the Baseball Playoff Game on TV

Baseball Matt Carpenter
St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Carpenter hits an RBI single during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers in Milwaukee on Sept. 7, 2014. Morry Gash—AP

Big events, like the final games of the Major League season, are moving to harder-to-find cable networks. And cost of your cable bill is only getting biggger

At a Bay Area retirement community this past Monday, a group of elderly baseball fans gathered in a room to watch their San Francisco Giants take on the Washington Nationals in the National League playoffs. One problem: the game was nowhere to be found on the TV. The MLB Network, a league-owned cable outlet that requires a special subscription in many areas, was airing the game. The old folks were out of luck, until a worker called the cable company for a quick fix. “An associate and I were able to negotiate a deal (probably not such a good one) to get the game and the channel instantly,” a worker at the retirement community told the San Francisco Chronicle, “for an additional $18/month.”

These retirees weren’t alone: the Chronicle reported that its sports desk fielded over 150 calls from fans trying to find a playoff game on TV. The migration of sports programming away from free TV is nothing new. But now even the crown jewels are on cable. For the first time ever, the bulk of baseball’s two league championship series will air on cable channels. TBS will carry the American League Championship Series between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals, which starts Friday; Fox Sports 1, the network Rupert Murdoch launched in August 2013 to compete with ESPN, will handle Games 2-5, and Game 7, of the National Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, which starts on Saturday. The Fox network will broadcast Game 1 and Game 6.

The baseball playoffs have moved way down the dial. I, for one, never thought I’d be watching a league championship series on Channel 99, home of Fox Sports 1 in my New York City neighborhood.

TBS broadcast the Final Four national semifinal games last season, will do so again this coming season, and will add the title game in 2016. The Super Bowl still rotates between CBS, NBC, and Fox: the Super Bowl of college football, the championship game of the new College Football Playoff, will be on ESPN. The sports cable boom isn’t going anywhere: on Monday, the NBA announced that it extended its rights deal with ESPN and TNT through the 2024-2025 season. These networks will pay the NBA a combined $2.66 billion a year, almost triple what they pay in the current contract.

Such lucrative agreements fatten the wallets of players and owners. But they do consumers no favors; they’re driving up the cost of cable. An FCC study shows that the average monthly cable bill for expanded basic service grew 30%, to $64.41 between 2008 and 2013. According to SNL Kagan, a media research firm, sports networks account for 40% of the fees that operators pay cable network to carry their programming.

Operators pass those costs along to consumers, while building in some margin for themselves. So if ESPN and TNT are tripling their investment in the NBA until 2025, they’re going to charge operators more to finance this investment, further spiking your bill. According to SNL Kagan data, ESPN and TNT are already the two most expensive national basic cable networks: operators pay an average of $6.04 per month per subscriber to carry ESPN, and $1.44 per month for TNT. That’s right: ESPN can command a price that’s three-times as high as the second most-expensive national basic cable channel. Four of the top-10 most expensive basic cable networks are sports channels (ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN2, Fox Sports 1). Two others — TNT and TBS — feature high-profile sports content like the NBA regular season and playoffs, the baseball playoffs, and March Madness. (Disney Channel, Fox News, USA, and Nickelodeon round out the Top 10, according to SNL Kagan).

In some areas, the regional sports networks are among the most expensive for operators to carry. For example Fox Sports North, which serves Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other states, costs $4.67 per subscriber per month. Comcast SportsNet Washington (DC) costs $4.60 per month. NESN, in New England, costs $4.22. The rates dwarf the top-tier, non-ESPN basic cable nets like TNT ($1.44), CNN ($0.61), MTV ($0.47) and AMC ($0.39). The network that shows Minnesota Twins games is nearly 12 times more expensive than the one that airs “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

Over the past five years, ESPN’s carriage fees have jumped 48%. NFL Network fees are up 100%. CNN’s have spiked 22%; fees for Lifetime Television are up 18%. Two forces have driven — and will continue to drive — the accelerated growth in sports cable prices.

First, sports remain DVR-proof. You can record a great TV show, and catch up to it later while fast-forwarding the commercials. (Just stay away from spoilers.) A great sporting event is perishable: going back three days later to watch a Super Bowl just doesn’t make much sense. “Sports is an anomaly,” says Derek Baine, research director at SNL Kagan. “People watch it live.” So ESPN and other sports networks can still attract advertisers, and this ad revenue allows these networks to keep upping the ante for sports rights.

Second, blame Murdoch. If the Fox chairman is going to mount a serious run at ESPN, Fox Sports 1 needs big events. This year’s NLCS, in many respects, is a dress rehearsal. Murdoch’s presence alone made ESPN and TNT pay a premium for the NBA; the networks knew that if they didn’t ante up, Fox would likely swoop in. Fox Sports 1 and other new outlets like NBCSN (NBC Sports Network) increase competition for rights, which create bidding wars that drive up cable bills.

The more expensive monthly bills may not be a bad deal for avid sports fans. For less than $10.00 per month, ESPN comes out to pennies on the hour. But if you don’t want sports, you’re getting rooked. Since cable companies bundle channel packages, you have to pay premiums for ESPN and other sports networks in order to get the stuff you want. Sen. John McCain has pushed for “a la carte” cable — just pay for the channels you know you’ll watch. He won’t get his way any time soon though. The cable industry is fine with their bundled revenues, thank you. The sports boom is just too good. No matter how it costs you.

 

 

TIME College Sports

The Long and Winding Road to Paying College Players

The man who helped win free agency for NFL and NBA players is seeking the same for college athletes

Over the past few months, the movement to pay college players has gained unprecedented momentum. In August, a federal judge ruled that college football and basketball players can earn a share of licensing revenues from the use of their name, image, and likeness. (The NCAA has since appealed the ruling.) An athlete can access these funds, which will be placed in a trust, when he or she has graduated or left the school. Schools can cap the pay, but the minimum cap is $5,000 per year.

This verdict in the so-called “O’Bannon” case – a former UCLA hoops star filed a lawsuit in 2009 after realizing he wasn’t being compensated for his likeness being used in a college basketball video game – came a few days after the NCAA voted to let schools in the Big 5 power conferences – the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC – have autonomy to write their own rules. These schools are prepared to give all their athletes a stipend that covers the full cost of attendance, which amounts to anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 above the value of their athletic scholarships.

In March, a regional director for the National Labor Relations Board said that football players from Northwestern University could form a union, since these students act as employees of the school. Northwestern appealed the decision; the NLRB’s national office has yet to rule on the appeal. One just-released paper, to be published in the Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal, argues that the players should win.

(MORE: TIME Cover Story — It’s Time To Pay College Athletes)

However, an even bigger threat to the amateur model looms ahead: the lawyer who helped win free agency for NFL and NBA players is seeking the same open market for college athletes. Jeffrey Kessler, a partner at the Winston & Strawn law firm, filed an anti-trust lawsuit in March that could fundamentally alter college sports. The O’Bannon suit was limited to intellectual property rights: could athletes profit from their names, images, and likeness?

“We’re aiming to enjoin the restrictions placed on Division 1 basketball and major college football players from being compensated for their services, given the huge amount of revenue generated from these sports,” says Kessler, one of the top sports labor attorneys in the country. “What will be decided is whether it’s legal to have a rule that schools cannot compensate athletes at all.”

Kessler’s case won’t go to trial until fall of 2015, at the earliest. If he prevails, the courts may force the NCAA to adopt a true pay-for-play system, which the organization has long dreaded. The mechanics of paying players — do you just pay the football and men’s basketball players, and no one else? Should there be any limits? — are daunting. But the O’Bannon ruling sets some strong precedent for Kessler. The judge in that case, Claudia Wilken, may not have torpedoed the college sports model with her ruling. But she seems to invite someone else to do so.

Her opinion condemns the NCAA, and knocks down some of the most common justifications for limiting compensation for athletes to the value of the scholarship. “The evidence … demonstrates that student-athletes are harmed by the price-fixing agreement among FBS football and Division 1 basketball schools,” Wilken writes.

“It is also not clear why paying student-athletes would be any more problematic for campus relations than paying other students who provide services to the university, such as members of the student government or school newspaper,” Wilken writes in another section.

(MORE: College Athletes Need To Unionize, Now)

There’s nothing amateur about college sports. Conferences own their own television networks. Schools switched conferences to capture more revenues. Coaches salaries have skyrocketed: Newsday just reported that the average compensation for coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision – the top tier of college football schools – is $1.75 million per year. That number has spiked nearly 75% over the past seven years. Athletes deserve their fair share.

Kessler picked the right time to mount a challenge. “There’s a growing recognition from the courts, the public, the fans, and even the schools that the current system is fundamentally unfair,” says Kessler. “We think change is coming.”

 

TIME Football

Another High School Football Player Dies After Injury

Equipment sits on a football practice field near the main entrance for Shoreham-Wading River High School on Oct. 2, 2014, in Shoreham, N.Y.
Equipment sits on a football practice field near the main entrance for Shoreham-Wading River High School on Oct. 2, 2014, in Shoreham, N.Y. Kathy Kmonicek—AP

Tom Cutinella, 16, collapsed after a collision in a game. He's the third high school football player to die in a week

Tragedy has struck a high school football field — again. Tom Cutinella, a 16-year-old junior from Shoreham-Wading River High School in Suffolk County, N.Y., died after suffering an injury in Wednesday’s game between Shoreham-Wading River and John Glenn High School in Elwood, N.Y. Steven R. Cohen, superintendent of the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District, told reporters Cutinella’s fatal injury was the result of a “freak football play” where there was “typical contact.”

Cohen said Cutinella suffered a head injury; Newsday reported it occurred after he “blocked an opponent for a teammate.” School officials said Cutinella stood up after the play, then collapsed. The injury occurred at 6 p.m., police say: Cutinella was rushed to a hospital, and pronounced dead Wednesday night. The Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office told TIME that it has yet to perform an autopsy on Cutinella. Daniel Holtzman, principal of Shoreham-Wading River High School, said Cutinella was nice, well-rounded, and an “amazing student.”

ESPN says that in the last week alone, three high school football players have died. One other death, like Cutinella’s, happened after a collision. The third player died after collapsing in pre-game warm-ups. As TIME noted in a recent cover story, eight people died playing football in 2013, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research at the University of North Carolina. That was the highest toll since 2001; all eight were high school players.

This latest incident is another stark reminder of the risks of high school football. Despite these deaths and heightened awareness of the dangers of concussions, high school football participation has held steady: it’s down just 1.12% since the 2007-2008 school year, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. Participation for kids ages 6 to 12, however, has dropped 26.5% between 2007 and 2013, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

On Thursday afternoon, around 1,000 people gathered for a candlelight vigil in Cutinella’s honor at the Shoreham-Wading River field. As Newsday describes it:

Cutinella’s No. 54 was up in lights on the scoreboard, and at the 50-yard line white candlelights were set up to form the number of the linebacker and guard…When his Wildcats teammates lined up as if for a football play, they left a spot empty for Cutinella, 16, and players began talking about the student they admired.

“He always went out of his way to make you smile,” one player said.

 

TIME Athletes

Dull Derek Jeter’s New Site Could Actually Be Cool

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox
Derek Jeter speaks to the media following his last career game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on September 28, 2014 in Boston. Jim Rogash—Getty Images

That didn't take long. Three days into retirement, the Yankee great launches a media business. Here's hoping it's more interesting than he's been.

Oh, so that was it. For 20 years, Derek Jeter was one of the most boring athlete interviews in history. We now know why: he was apparently saving the good stuff for retirement — and he’d like to make a little money off it to boot.

Just three days into his post-baseball life, Jeter has stolen some attention from this year’s postseason with the announcement that he’s now the “founding publisher” of a new website, The Players’ Tribune. The conceit: a site where athletes can connect directly with fans, unfiltered, presumably at more than the 140 characters than Twitter currently offers.

“The Players’ Tribune aims to provide unique insight into the daily sports conversation and to publish first-person stories directly from athletes,” says a brief mission statement on the site. “From video to podcasts to player polls and written pieces, The Tribune will strive to be “The Voice of the Game.”

“I’m not a robot,” Jeter writes in an introductory note. So why did he often come across as one? “I realize I’ve been guarded. I learned early on in New York, the toughest media environment in sports, that just because a reporter asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer. I attribute much of my success in New York to my ability to understand and avoid unnecessary distractions. I do think fans deserve more than “no comments” or “I don’t knows.” Those simple answers have always stemmed from a genuine concern that any statement, any opinion or detail, might be distorted. I have a unique perspective. Many of you saw me after that final home game, when the enormity of the moment hit me . . . We all have emotions. We just need to be sure our thoughts will come across the way we intend.”

The irony of Derek Jeter, distruster of media, starting a media business is outright comical. (My colleague Jack Dickey nails it here on Twitter). Jeter’s pitch is that the site has “no filter.” But don’t expect real honesty here. Twitter already works too well for that. The reason athletes tend to spout their true feelings — which they often wind up regretting — on Twitter is that Twitter doesn’t give people time to think. The whole operation — the 140-character limits, the endless chatter on your timeline — thrives on quick outbursts. Athletes aren’t going to thoughtfully air grievances with teammates on Derek Jeter’s website, which will apparently be staffed with editors. The editorial process will slow things down, and discourage spontaneity. It gives publicists time to get involved. Readers don’t want glorified press releases.

A certain type of story, however, does offer a win-win proposition to both athletes and fans. Athletes like talking about their craft. And sports geeks like reading about it. If Derek Jeter offers deep insight into how he pulled off all those jump throws, for example, that’s safe stuff for him — nothing remotely controversial about it. And readers benefit. Baseball lovers would eat it up. Parents can share Jeter’s tips with their kids.

(Quick: what are the two most-viewed video clips on TIME’s YouTube channel? Number one — by over a million views — Kobe Bryant offering hoops tips. Number two: Novak Djokovic explaining his serve and giving other insights on his game.)

So I, for one, look forward to seeing what Jeter cooks up. And if it takes a boring athlete to make an athlete-bylined website compelling, so be it. And who isn’t ready for more Jeter right now anyway?

TIME NFL

Are NFL Head Injuries Causing Domestic Violence?

Jovan Belcher, in September 2012.
Jovan Belcher, in September 2012. Kansas City Star—MCT/Getty Images

A report shows that Jovan Belcher, who killed his girlfriend before taking his own life in 2012, probably had football-related brain trauma. A link between the NFL's most troubling issues is far from implausible

Another football “what if” was just answered. In December 2012, after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend before fatally shooting himself in the head in the team parking lot, you couldn’t help but wonder: could head injuries associated with football have contributed to this horrible act? Aggression and lack of impulse control are known symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease that had ravaged the brains of over 30 deceased NFL players. A few of them had committed suicide.

Still, you had to approach the question gently, because casually linking the game to Belcher’s actions was irresponsible. Belcher also had “no long concussion history,” the Chiefs said at the time. There was no evidence that he had brain damage.

Until now. Far too often over the past few years, football’s worst fears are confirmed. According to a neuropathological report prepared in the wrongful death lawsuit that lawyers for Belcher’s daughter have filed against the Chiefs, Belcher’s brain showed signs of damage “fully consistent with the pathological presentation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as it is reported in the medical literature.” For example, the research — conducted by Dr. Piotr Kozlowski, dean of research and professor of pathology at the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City — says that Belcher had clumps of tau protein in “the 7 out of 7 sections of the right (4 sections) and the left (3 sections) of the hippocampi.” A buildup of abnormal tau levels can cause nerve cell damage in the brain.

Belcher’s body was exhumed a year after his death; his brain showed “severe decomposition,” according to the report. Researchers can only diagnose CTE posthumously. “The quality and quantity are compromised because there was some breakdown of the brain after death and due to the gunshot,” says Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health and NFL Neurological Center, who examined Kozlowski’s report at TIME’s request. “But I don’t see any reason to doubt this reading of CTE.”

Belcher is not the first athlete with signs of CTE to act violently. Chris Benoit, a former pro wrestler, killed his wife and son before committing suicide in 2007. The family of Paul Oliver, a former safety for the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints, sued the NFL, the Chargers, the Saints and several helmet manufacturers after Oliver’s 2013 suicide. In an upcoming episode of HBO’s Real Sports, Oliver’s wife Chelsea talks about how her husband abused her. She says he pushed her, kicked her, pulled her hair, and threw her against the wall. One time, she says he dragged her up and down stairs. HBO asked Chelsea if she felt like her life was in jeopardy. “As time went on, I starting thinking about that, yes,” she said. Both Oliver and Benoit had CTE.

After these tragedies, all “what ifs” are on the table. It’s more than fair to ask if the NFL’s two most troubling issues, domestic violence and head trauma, are linked.”You can’t say those brown spots on Jovan Belcher’s brain caused him to do what he did,” says Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at the NorthShore University HealthSystem outside of Chicago, who has extensively studied football brain injuries. “But are those brown spots tell-tale signs of a brain injury that influences behavior? With every case like this, we keep upping the ante.”

Even if players haven’t fully developed CTE, or haven’t suffered obvious concussions, they still may be at risk. “The frontal lobe of the brain often jostles around during head contact in football games,” says Gandy. “And the frontal lobe has an inhibiting effect that helps control behavior. Damage to the frontal lobe can compromise the inhibiting effect, and cause mood swings, even violence. You simply can’t exclude the possibility that frontal lobe damage is linked to damaging behavior.”

Scientists are starting to identifying possible ways to spot at-risk players while they’re still alive. Gandy injected a radioactive chemical that sticks to tau into a former NFL player who has suffered cognitive decline: a PET scan picked up the tau buildup, showing pathology consistent with CTE. “We’re still early in our experience, but at a minimum, we can signal to people that they might clinically be showing signs of CTE,” Gandy says. His team just published this neuroimaging technique in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

Bailes has also been working on a PET scanning method to spot CTE in living patients, in conjunction with UCLA researchers. He anticipates expanding it to NorthShore. “While it’s been rewarding to do work on tau,” says Bailes, “it’s gets a little tiring diagnosing patients when they’re already dead.”

 

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