TIME NFL

How to Get to the Bottom of ‘Deflategate’

AFC Championship - Indianapolis Colts v New England Patriots
Tom Brady of the New England Patriots looks to pass in the first quatter against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., on Jan. 18, 2015 Jared Wickerham—Getty Images

Tips for NFL investigators from forensics experts

You may have heard that the NFL has written a lousy piece of legislation. Make sure the air pressure of the football meets certain pounds per square inch (PSI) standards two hours and fifteen minutes before kickoff, then hand the ball back to the teams, who are free to pop the balloon a bit. Unless, apparently, the Indianapolis Colts complain.

That’s like a kindergarten teacher taking morning attendance, tearing through the ABCs, and then signing off before snack-time. My work here’s done kids, take care of yourselves until lunch.

Because of such silliness, here we are. Bill Belichick calls an impromptu news conference Saturday afternoon to explain that, according to New England’s internal investigation, it’s the physics, people: The climate, combined with the team’s pre-game “rubbing process,” explains how New England’s balls got deflated before halftime. Bill Nye, the science guy, debunked Belichick’s explanation.

But don’t fear, the NFL will get to the bottom of this. On Friday, the league said it has launched an investigation into the matter, and has already interviewed 40 people. Ignore the NFL’s Keystone Cop attempt to secure the Ray Rice video: This investigation, the league promises, will be different. “We have obtained and are continuing to obtain additional information, including video and other electronic information and physical evidence,” the NFL said in a statement. The rulebook’s reluctance to demand that neutral observers babysit the footballs before and during the games is going to cost the NFL, as it’s now hired outside help. The league has retained an “investigatory firm with sophisticated forensic expertise to assist in reviewing electronic and video information.”

Physical evidence, forensics: How can the CSI bunch possibly crack a case where the crime scene is a friggin’ football, and the potential murder weapon a needle? “Yeah, this is a tough case,” says Mary Ellen O’Toole, program director of George Mason University’s Department of Forensic Science and an FBI agent for 28 years. “But the high risk component in this case, combined with the analytical way they’ll go through the forensics, bring it down to the realm of, Yeah, this case could be solvable.”

How? First, look for the needle marks. “I believe a microscopic examination of the valve, as well as the bladder, might show if they used the same instrument to inflate and potentially deflate,” says Kimberly Rule, forensic science professor at George Mason. If the Patriots balls show more needle marks than the Colts balls, or different patterns suggest one needle inflated, and another deflated, human tampering could be at play.

MORE: ‘Deflategate’ Is Yet Another Bogus Scandal

One problem: Such physical evidence can’t be time-stamped, making it near impossible to prove that someone tinkered with the balls after the refs inspected them two hours and fifteen minutes prior to kickoff. Another possible hiccup is the texture of the valve where the needle is placed. “You’re talking about rubber, not a harder medal, like on a gun,” says Mark Flood, coordinator the forensic science program at Fairmont State University in West Virginia. “It’s less likely to leave a clear mark.”

Fingerprint and DNA evidence could prove even more elusive. “People tend to think that we get the fingerprint, we’ll confront the person, and they’ll fold like a card table,” says O’Toole. “That’s what they see on TV, but that’s not the way it is in the real world.” Many hands had access to those footballs before they were removed by halftime—ballboys, referees, players on both teams.

One potential Hail Mary: If the forensics show that someone who wouldn’t normally have access to the balls got their hands on them, the investigators can question what they were doing. Maybe a back-office employee, or someone of that ilk—not a ballboy, or on-field personnel. Still, the science only goes so far. “A fingerprint of DNA is not going to give us intention of tampering,” says Rule.

The electronic evidence is more likely to yield a verdict. “They’ll sweep cell phones—maybe there was a damning text message,” says Paul Massey, forensic science lecturer at the University of New Haven. “They’ll look at video. If the footage doesn’t show someone actually deflating the football, the investigators could find that someone tampered with the video. Is someone hiding something?”

The Nixonian intrigue knows no end. Maybe a Deep Throat comes forward. Maybe the snoops piece together a surprise timeline. Maybe they come up empty.

Or maybe everyone settles down and just enjoys the Super Bowl. Ha. You don’t need a detective’s badge to figure out that’s not happening.

TIME MLB

Bye Bye, Bud: Selig Left His Mark On Baseball

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees
MLB Commissioner Bud Selig speaks to the media at Yankee Stadium on September 23, 2014. Jim McIsaac—Getty Images

Bud Selig was never the most charismatic public face of baseball. But his job was never to inspire

One thing everyone can agree on: It’s the right time for Bud Selig to hand over the keys.

Selig, baseball’s commissioner since 1992, officially leaves the job Saturday. Rob Manfred, a long-time deputy, takes over. Selig, 80, took baseball to a new place. He’s left his mark. Let’s see what the new guy can do. (Manfred seems fond, for example, of trying to speed up the game. That’s good news.)

Bud Selig was never the most charismatic public face of baseball. But his job was never to inspire. In sports, the players, and sometimes the coaches, do that. Commissioners are tasked with growing their sports for their bosses—the owners—and keeping the games fair. Baseball produces almost $10 billion in annual revenue; the game made just over a billion yearly when Selig took over. Local television deals, in particular, are flourishing. In a media world obsessed with “content,” baseball, with its 162-game schedule and hot-stove intrigue, benefits. Selig’s team was smart enough to capitalize on this: MLB Advanced Media, baseball’s tech engine, has minted millions. Interleague play, and the expanded playoffs, have been good for business.

As for fair play: The controversy over performance enhancing drugs has been picked over plenty. Whether or not Selig was willfully blind to the 1990’s steroid boom, it happened under his watch. Selig’s push for tougher drug testing wasn’t some heroic response. It was the only prudent one, and testing still has flaws. Remember, Alex Rodriguez may have copped to his 2010-2012 drug use. But he did not fail a test during that time.

Selig instituted revenue sharing, and even teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals, hopeless during most of Selig’s tenure, eventually became winners. His hawkish approach to controlling labor costs contributed to the 1994 strike. Like steroids, the work stoppage stains his resume. But since that disaster, baseball has enjoyed two decades of labor peace. Selig deserves some credit.

He also deserves blame for one of the dumbest polices in sports: giving home field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star game, instead of the team with the better record. This gimmick defies logic and fairness. Manfred should reverse it.

One of Manfred’s more serious challenges will be to bring more cultural cachet back to baseball. That unquantifiable spark, buzz, whatever you want to call it. The game consists of thriving fiefdoms, but lacks the national bonds we’ve seen with players in other sports, like LeBron James and Peyton Manning. Baseball’s gone hyper-local: You can obsessively watch your team daily, on all kinds of devices. Maybe Manfred will tap into some marketing magic to make more young people fall for Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, and other emergent stars. Maybe he’ll push baseball beyond the bottom line.

That’s something Selig just wasn’t wired to do.

TIME NFL

As We Go Into Super Bowl, Spare a Thought for Brandon Bostick

NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v Seattle Seahawks
Brandon Bostick of the Green Bay Packers (right) bobbles an onsides kick as during the fourth quarter of the 2015 NFC Championship game at CenturyLink Field on January 18, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. Ronald Martinez—Getty Images

The Green Bay tight end may have made a dramatic blunder, but the online hate goes too far

In the social-media age, it’s all too easy to pick a scapegoat. Nearly three hours after the Green Bay Packers blew a 12-point lead, with over two minutes to play against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship game, “Bostick” was still trending on Twitter. As in Brandon Bostick, the Green Bay backup tight end who couldn’t corral a Seattle onside kick with just over two minutes to play. The ball bounced off Bostick’s helmet, giving the Seahawks possession, and life. If Bostick makes the play, the Packers are pretty much on their way to the Super Bowl.

But Seattle took advantage. After the gaffe, Marshawn Lynch scored on a 24-yard touchdown run to give the Seahawks a 20-19 lead: a two-point conversion put Seattle up three. Green Bay kicked a game-tying field goal to force overtime, but on the first possession of the extra session, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson — who threw four interceptions on the day — hit Jermaine Kearse with a 35-yard touchdown pass that won the game. Seattle made a mind-boggling comeback. In a matter a minutes, Seattle’s offense — putrid all day — couldn’t be stopped.

Bostick made the game’s most consequential mistake. He was the guy, a dozen paces ahead, who slipped near the finish line. So he’s a natural scapegoat. “Business Trip in Seattle!” Bostick tweeted before the game. Afterward, the replies to this comment were predictably noxious. People cursed him, and worse. They expressed their hatred. They delighted in telling him that this would be his last business trip. Clever.

At least Bill Buckner didn’t have hate on his fingertips. Old media did Bostick no favors. Each time Seattle’s comeback looked more and more inevitable, the Fox TV cameras panned in on Bostick’s pain.

But Bostick alone didn’t cost Green Bay the game. It was a true team effort. Seattle scored its first touchdown, trailing 16-0 in the third quarter, on a fake field goal: Why was Green Bay so thoroughly fooled? Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy could have tried to add more points in the first quarter, but he twice settled for field goals on fourth-and-goal, from the one.

Green Bay’s defense broke down. On the late two-point conversion, Russell Wilson threw a hopeless Hail Mary under pressure: the ball was begging to be slapped away. But Green Bay’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix seemed almost scared to break up the play. Seattle converted: a little defense there would have kept Seattle’s lead at one point, rather than putting the Seahawks up three. The Packers could have kicked a game-winning, rather than game-tying, field goal at the end of regulation.

So it’s Seattle, rather than the Packers, who will face the New England Patriots — who trounced the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the AFC championship game — in Super Bowl XLIX, on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Ariz. One thing Bostick has going for him: in the 24/7, what’s-trending-now social-media cycle, people have short memories. But Bostick’s blunder, with so many millions watching, with a Super Bowl on the line, won’t be easy to forget. “I felt like I let everyone down,” he said afterward. If he can somehow shut out the online hounds, that’d be the best win of the NFL season.

TIME College football

Let College Football Playoff Star Ezekiel Elliott Go Pro

College Football Playoff National Championship - Media Day
Ezekiel Elliott #15 of the Ohio State Buckeyes talks with media during Media Day for the College Football Playoff National Championship at Dallas Convention Center on January 10, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. Ronald Martinez—Getty Images

He raised his stock to an all time high against Oregon. But the rules don't let him cash in on NFL riches

Odds are, the college career of star Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott will never get better. Elliott just turned in one of the all-time great performances in title game history, in any sport, college or pro: against Oregon in Monday night’s inaugural College Football Playoff national championship, a 42-20 Buckeyes victory, Elliott ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged an absurd 6.8 yards per carry, and ran for 14 first downs. Elliott’s stat line over his last three games reads like a video game tally: 696 yards, eight touchdowns. In the national semifinals, against Alabama, the 6’0″, 225-pound sophomore ran for 230 yards. He was the first 100-yard rusher Alabama had allowed all season.

College football, as an industry, has never had it better. The College Football Playoff is a windfall for the major conferences: ESPN is paying $7.3 billion over 12 years to broadcast the event. This season, each of the big-five conferences — the ACC, the Big 12, the Big 10, the Pac-12 and the SEC — will receive around $50 million each, almost double what they took home under the old BCS system. The Ohio State-Oregon national title game drew a 18.2 rating and averaged 33.4 million viewers, making it the highest-rated and most-watched event in cable television history. In fact, two semi-final games on New Years Day, plus the title game, account for the three most-watched cable programs ever. Thanks to the hype and momentum of the playoff, the national championship game’s ratings rose 26% compared to last year’s BCS title game between Florida State and Auburn. Total viewership spiked 31%.

Times are nice. But Elliott, the offensive MVP of the title game, gets hit with a double whammy. First, none of this money from the college football playoff flows into the pocket of the best player in the college football playoff. Second, if Elliott wanted to cash in while his stock is at that all-time high — by turning pro — he can’t.

MORE Watch College Football Personalities Read Mean Tweets About Themselves

Since Elliott is a sophomore, he’s ineligible for the NFL draft; only players three years removed from high school can be drafted (Elliott’s teammate, former third-string quarterback turned Buckeye State idol Cardale Jones, is a redshirt sophomore, having sat out his first year on campus, so Jones could go pro if he wants to). Basketball players can leave after their freshman year, so if Elliott played hoops, he could start making plans. But since he plays football, he has no choice but to return to campus, and risk injury in a much more violent sport.

“He has to go through another year in a very tough conference, as the national champion, so teams will be even more hyped up to go against him,” says Alan Milstein, an attorney who represented former Ohio St. running back Maurice Clarett’s ultimately unsuccessful legal attempt to overturn the NFL rule. “Hopefully, he’ll suffer no serious injury. But the reality is, his career could be over at any moment. The NFL isn’t taking the risk. Ohio State isn’t taking the risk. He’s taking all the risk.”

The risk is real. For example, after a huge freshman season in 2010, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, a first-round NFL prospect, suffered season season-ending knee injuries in both his sophomore and junior years. He retired this past November, without having appeared in an NFL game. Elliott might sincerely want to return to school. He can take another year of classes, and chase a repeat championship in front of adoring crowds, on an adoring campus. A possible Heisman trophy win is tempting. But it’s blatantly unfair for Elliott, or any other player in his position, to have no option to go to the NFL. (A request to speak to Elliott, through an Ohio State spokesperson, was not returned).

MORE See the 10 Best Photos From the Ohio State vs. Oregon Championship Game

Back in 2004, Milstein argued that the three-year restriction was illegal. He still feels that way.

“The only reason a team wouldn’t draft Elliott is because they’ve all said we won’t draft him if you won’t draft him,” says Milstein. “That’s the essence of an anti-trust conspiracy.”

A federal district court agreed with him, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York, overturned that judgment, ruling that since the draft rule is a product of collective bargaining, it’s shielded from anti-trust scrutiny under federal labor laws. “That’s what unions do every day — protect people in the union from those not in the union,” appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor said during the arguments. “Why is this case different?”

Sotomayor wrote the opinion. “She killed me, absolutely killed me,” Milstein remembers. So much so, Milstein says, that when Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2009, Republicans called him up to see if he would speak out against her. Milstein, a Barack Obama supporter, refused.

The Supreme Court declined to hear Milstein’s appeal in the Clarett case. Milstein, however, sees a legal opening in another appeals court jurisdiction, most notably the Sixth Circuit (which covers Ohio) or the Eighth Circuit, located in St. Louis. Both these jurisdictions have adopted the “Mackey test” — named after former Baltimore Colts tight end John Mackey, who challenged the NFL in another case — which holds that labor restraints are only exempt from anti-trust scrutiny if they primarily affect the parties subject to collective bargaining, concern a mandatory subject of collective bargaining, i.e. (wages, hours, conditions of employment), and are subject to “bona fide arm’s-length bargaining.”

Since the draft rule is part of the collective bargaining agreement signed in 2011, it meets this third prong of Mackey. But Milstein argues (and the federal district court agreed) that since college players are prospective employees, and thus not “parties subject to collective bargaining,” — and that the three-year rule doesn’t concern wages, hours, or conditions of employment — it fails the first two prongs. It thus isn’t subject to anti-trust exemption.

Minus a legal challenge, Elliott has another option: sit out next year to limit injury risk, but stay in shape and apply for the 2016 draft. Neither of those choices, really, are all that attractive. So Elliott will almost surely return to Ohio State for another season. Fingers crossed for the MVP.

Read next: Oregon Quarterback Marcus Mariota Will Enter NFL Draft

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TIME olympics

Boston May Be the Next Olympic Sucker

Boston Is Fifth Ranked U.S. City In Value Of Commercial Real Estate Transactions
Buildings stand in the city skyline in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Boston will bid for the 2024 Olympics. According to many economists, Beantown will regret it if it wins

Boston wins! Boston wins!

But Boston may lose, big time.

On Thursday the U.S. Olympic Committee chose Boston as America’s bidding city for the 2024 Olympics. Beantown beat out San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles in the Olympic sweepstakes. The latter’s loss is a mild surprise, considering LA’s Olympic experience: the city has hosted the Games twice, and has plenty of venues already built. Not that Boston has no Olympic attractions. Beach volleyball in Boston Common and field hockey at Harvard Stadium sound cool. The city is pretty compact. Hopefully they’ll find some use for Fenway Park. (Equestrian events? Yankees fans might appreciate horses crapping all over the outfield).

The host city won’t be named until 2017, and Boston’s rival bidders potentially include Rome, Casablanca, Paris, Nairobi, Doha and Berlin. While many Bostonians are excited about the the prestige and emotional lift that an Olympic win would provide, critics — like members of the No Boston Olympics opposition group — worry about the price tag. For good reason: academic research has consistently shown that for the host city, the Olympics aren’t the economic boon they’re cracked up to be. In fact, they do long-term harm.

Cities consistently spend more than the original budget projections: before the London Olympics, Will Jennings, a professor of political science and public policy at the University of Southampton, found that the average cost overrun for staging the Olympics was 200% since 1976. Boston has estimated that its bid would cost some $4.5 billion in private funding plus an additional $5 billion in regional infrastructure improvements. “That’s farcical,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College, which is located some 80 miles west of Boston, and the author of the new book Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup. Organizers in London, for example, initially said the Games would cost $4 billion. The final bill came out to to $15 to $20 billion.

Zimbalist was surprised that Boston got the right to bid. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) just passed reforms seeking to control the spiraling costs of hosting the Games: he’s convinced that Los Angeles, with its existing Olympic infrastructure, made the most economic sense. Boston’s biggest challenge will be building an Olympic stadium to host the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as track and field. Zimbalist is also skeptical of Boston’s plan to utilize its many universities to host events and athletes in an Olympics village. It’s one thing for MIT to have fields for archery, and for other universities to have pools. It’s another to convert these places into full-fledged Olympic venues, with seating and infrastructure to support a flood of spectators.

In his book, Zimbalist cites stacks of research showing that the Games aren’t worth it. The Olympics, cities are often told, will boost tourism. One econometric study, however, showed that when other factors were controlled for, Atlanta saw no statistically significant change in retail sales, hotel occupancy, or airport traffic during the 1996 Olympics. During the Beijing Olympics in August of 2008, hotel bed nights dropped 39% compared to the prior year. For the 2000 Sydney Olympics, two researchers concluded that “in terms of purely measurable economic variables the [Games] had a negative effect on New South Wales and Australia as a whole.”

During the Olympics, athletes, officials, media and fans often replace traditional tourists who are more likely to explore the city and spread the word about its virtues. Olympic tourists may brag about their swimming tickets in Boston. But jealous friends can’t then replicate that experience, cause the Olympics are over. So why go to Boston? The idea that the Olympics puts a city on a “world stage,” which will subsequently attract new investment and tourist dollars, in largely bunk.

“More often that not, Olympics wind up as a public burden,” says Zimbalist. “I have no reason to believe that Boston will be an exception rather than the rule.”

TIME NFL

No Lawsuit Can Stop Chris Christie–Jerry Jones Bromance

In this midst of all this hugging and high-fiving, the NFL is suing Dallas' good luck charm. Is the Jones-Christie friendship appropriate?

What’s a little lawsuit between best buds?

There’s plenty to poke fun at while watching the bromance between Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his good luck charm, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, play out on national television and all those subsequent Vines. The sweater. The unreciprocated hug. The fact that Christie, a lifelong Cowboys fan, runs a state stocked with fans of the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, who all hate America’s team.

But there’s something else that’s funny about the Jones-Christie pairing, something that most fans are probably missing. Jones, an NFL owner, is whooping it up with a man who the league is actually suing.

Well, maybe funny is the wrong word. “It’s definitely weird,” says Ryan Rodenberg, a sports law professor at Florida State University who has closely followed Christie’s attempts to legalize sports betting in New Jersey, despite the legal complaints of the NFL and other major sports leagues. In October, the NFL — along with the NBA, Major League Baseball, the NHL, and the NCAA, sued Christie and two other New Jersey officials, arguing that the state’s plan to move forward with sports gambling violated a 1992 federal law that bans it in every state except for Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon. A federal judge agreed, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals is now taking up the case.

Christie and betting proponents argue that sports books could increase revenues and create jobs, particularly in struggling Atlantic City. The league argued that legalized betting can cause “irreparable harm,” i.e. participants have more incentives to fix games, even though such opportunities have already long existed in the underground betting market. (NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already called for the legalization of sports betting, through a federal law change. He says he still opposes New Jersey’s attempt to circumvent the current statute).

Is all this palling around between Jones and Christie appropriate, given the legal fight? “Maybe it’s just the way business is done at that echelon, people don’t take things personally,” says Rodenberg. “It’s not something I can relate to.” A New Jersey taxpayer can look at it this way: my governor is high-fiving a major shareholder of an entity that’s trying to squash legislation that will benefit my state economically. The NFL can look at this way: one of our most high-profile owners is celebrating with a man who’s trying to bring us irreparable harm.

But Jones himself isn’t suing Christie. The NFL league office in New York, along with the other leagues, brought the suit forward: the NFL did not put the proposed litigation to an owner’s vote. (A Cowboys spokesman did not return a request for comment. A Christie spokesman declined to comment.) And even Raymond Lesniak, a Democratic state senator in New Jersey and self-described Christie critic, excuses the governor’s behavior, chalking it up to sports fandom. Lesniak, who’s been trying to get sports betting legislation passed for six years, is more bothered by Christie accepting a free ticket to Dallas from Jones after the Port Authority, which is controlled by Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and whose ethics have been questioned in Bridgegate — awarded a contract to operate the One World Trade Center observatory to a company partly owned by the Cowboys. He’s peeved that the NFL is fighting sports betting in New Jersey, even though it staged three games this season in London, where betting parlors dot the streets like Starbucks.

Lesniak, however, goes to New York Giants games and supports the team, even though he doesn’t support the league’s policies. So he won’t bash the governor for living a fan’s fantasy. “I’ll give him a pass,” Lesniak says. “And I don’t give him a pass often.”

Jones wants Christie in Green Bay on Sunday, for Dallas’ next playoff game: the Cowboys are 5-0 in games Christie has attended this season. “He’s part of our mojo,” Jones said. As of Tuesday evening, Christie still had not decided whether he’d make the trip. Safe bet: if Christie has any ambitions of taking Texas in 2016, he’ll be living it up in Lambeau.

TIME Media

The Soul of Stuart Scott

The ESPN anchor, who died of cancer Sunday at 49, brought unprecedented swagger to sports media

Stuart Scott’s impact can be measured in Sunday’s outpouring of affection for him after news of his death, at 49 from cancer, broke. It cut across all sports, all silos of American culture, from LeBron James to Tiger Woods to Barack Obama to Nicki Minaj. It can be seen in Hannah Storm, the seasoned television professional who couldn’t hold back her tears while eulogizing her colleague on live TV Sunday morning, or Rich Eisen, Scott’s straight-man for many years on ESPN’s SportsCenter, who cut into the NFL Network’s pregame playoff coverage to offer a raw, touching tribute.

Scott’s legacy can be seen, and will be felt, in his last ESPN appearance, the speech he delivered at the ESPY awards in July, upon accepting the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. “It was a miracle that he was even there,” says ESPN senior vice president Mark Gross, one of Scott’s first producers at the network. “He was in tough shape.” Scott’s colleague and friend, ESPN anchor Sage Steele, was afraid that Scott, weak from his cancer battle, might fall down the stairs as he walked onto the stage. But he didn’t, and Scott nailed it. “When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live,” he said. “So live. Live. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, lay down and rest, and let somebody else fight for you.”

Say what you want about ESPN’s stranglehold on sports media. Sure, the debate shows can stink, some SportsCenter schtick gets tiring. But between Scott’s virtuoso performance in July, and Jim Valvano’s “Never Give Up” speech back in 1993, the network’s personalities have offered two of the most most memorable rallying cries against that awful disease. Nothing but goosebumps.

Need more evidence of Scott’s singular impact? Just think about how hard it is to remember that he once had many haters. Scott got hate mail, because he infused his broadcast with hip-hop references. “Some of the viewing audience wasn’t used to it, wasn’t with it,” says Gross. “But Stuart never backed off.” Over the past decade, every time Scott showed up to anchor an NBA Finals, or a Monday Night Football game, it was a reminder to those who watched his early days at ESPN, in the mid-1990s, that Scott’s style more than prevailed. It became the standard.

When Scott came along, sure, there had been African-American broadcasters at ESPN. And there had been SportsCenter catchphrases. But no one was saying “yo” and “brotha” on the air. No one was screaming “Booyah!” No one said “Swoopes there it is,” paying clear homage to hip-hop songs and culture, when WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes made nice play.

At a time when hip-hop was ascendent, in both the inner-cities and amongst the white kids at the suburban shopping malls, no one on SportsCenter was talking directly to them, until Stuart Scott. No one had that swagger. No one, to borrow Scott’s best metaphor, was “as cool as the other side of the pillow.”

And sure, many folks wanted those kids to turn their music down. But in the end, Jay Z became royalty. Obama got elected. And Stuart Scott made it to Monday Night Football, the NBA Finals, and Saturday Night Live.

“Yes, he brought hip-hop into the conversation,” SportsCenter anchor Jay Harris said in Scott’s ESPN.com obituary. “But I would go further than that. He brought in the barber shop, the church, R&B, soul music. Soul, period.”

Lord knows that sports, too often ruthless and crass, can use it. RIP Stuart. We’ll dearly miss your spirit. Your soul.

TIME society

Why Pro Athletes Won’t Stay Silent Anymore

Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James in Brooklyn, New York on Dec. 8, 2014. Jason Szenes—EPA

“I knew it would be coming sooner or later,” says Olympian John Carlos

For nearly 50 years, John Carlos, the American sprinter who raised his arm and clenched his fist at the 1968 Olympics to protest racial inequality, has waited for a group of athletes to follow his example. To stand for something more than scoring points and pushing products.

His wait is finally over. In the weeks since grand juries returned non-indictments of police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, dozens of professional and college athletes have abandoned the safety of the sidelines to lend support for the protests over their killings. “I knew it would be coming sooner or later,” says Carlos, whose “black power” salute with teammate Tommie Smith has become an iconic image. “I’m extremely proud of these athletes. I think they have a brave heart. I think they have a vision. And I think they would like to see these issues resolved.”

Some of the biggest names in sports are leading the charge. LeBron James wore an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt before a Dec. 8 game to support the family of Garner, the New York City man whose last words — captured on video as police wrestled him to the ground — have become a slogan of the emerging movement. Even President Obama took note of James’ decision. “You know, I think LeBron did the right thing,” Obama told People in an interview published Thursday. “We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness.”

Those athletes represented the peak of socially-conscious sports stars. Since then, most have followed the disengaged template perfected by Michael Jordan. In the early 1990s, Jordan refused to endorse an African-American Senate candidate trying to unseat right-winger Jesse Helms in Jordan’s home state of North Carolina. Though he might not have actually uttered the famous excuse for staying neutral that’s been attributed to him –“Republicans buy sneakers too” — Jordan followed this philosophy, and turned it into a marketing blueprint: Play nice, don’t offend, grow your personal brand. And whatever you do, stay out of politics.

James, the modern-day Jordan and Nike’s premium pitchman, and Derrick Rose, Adidas’ biggest name baller who was the first NBA star to wear an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt, have rewritten the rules. “We went through a long stretch there where [with] well-paid athletes the notion was: just be quiet and get your endorsements and don’t make waves,” Obama told People. “LeBron is an example of a young man who has, in his own way and in a respectful way, tried to say, ‘I’m part of this society, too’ and focus attention.”

For these players, the lack of consequences shows that they can take certain stances without sacrificing corporate clout. “Companies are a now little more willing to allow endorsers speak their mind,” says Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. When asked about LeBron’s gesture, Nike said in a statement that “we respect everyone’s right to share and express different points of view.” Adidas says it supports the position of NBA commissioner Adam Silver; he appreciates free expression, but prefers that players stick to the pre-game dress code.

In Jordan’s day, brands could control what their athletes were saying. Nike, Adidas, and other companies now realize that since so many athletes interact with social media, where the protests played on a 24-hour loop, they’re bound to join the conversation. “It’s kind of an undercurrent that pulls you in,” says TNT analyst Kenny Smith, a former NBA player in the 1980s and 1990s.

For the athletes, it’s easier to speak if you know you’ll be heard — and supported. Social media offers a ready platform to spread a message. “When you have a million Twitter followers,” says Etan Thomas, who played in the NBA from 2001-2011 and was known as one of the more outspoken pro athletes of his era, “there’s tremendous power in that.”

And don’t discount the emotional element. A majority of NFL and NBA players are African-American, and many have had personal experiences of being profiled by cops. “Today’s athletes are starting to reflect outside of themselves,” says Carlos, who briefly played pro football before becoming a counselor and track coach at Palm Springs (Calif.) High School. “We wanted to unify ourselves to make a statement to society — enough is enough. I think that 46 years later, that cry is still out there. Enough is enough.”

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