TIME Sports

Bill Simmons Is No Freedom Fighter

Bill Simmons - KIA NBA Countdown - January 30, 2013
Bill Simmons on the set of NBA Countdown in New Orleans on Jan. 30, 2013. Don Juan Moore—AP

Jack Dickey is a reporter for TIME focused on culture and sports. He is also a contributor to Sports Illustrated.

No sports pundit has held as much sway of his bosses since Howard Cosell. That power makes the ESPN star an awkward leader of a movement trying to hold the media giant to account

Whenever we’d take chemistry tests in high school, the instructor would always take care to note whether the hypothetical reaction was taking place in a closed system. In a closed system, the products and reactants exist among themselves—nothing from the outside has any bearing on the reaction.

And so it always is, even when it appears otherwise, with Bill Simmons and his ESPN bosses.

News of ESPN’s three-week suspension of Simmons sent Twitter into a tizzy Wednesday night, with the #freesimmons hashtag so heavily posted as to signal the start of a movement, such as it is. (C’mon, Lena Dunham joined in!) Simmons had earned the suspension, ESPN said, for failing to “be accountable to ESPN … and operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards.” Namely, he had criticized NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the Monday episode of his popular podcast, The B.S. Report.

His criticism: “I’m just saying it: He is lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail. For all these people to pretend they didn’t know is such f–king bullsh-t.” And then Simmons challenged his bosses to go after him. And then they did. (Through a publicist, Simmons declined to comment for this story.)

While Simmons has a thick personnel file in Bristol—he was suspended from Twitter in 2009, and again in 2013, for sniping at the network’s properties, and he had public beef with his editors about his column in 2008—this case seemed to many to signal something different. ESPN is one of the NFL’s major broadcast partners, and, coincidentally, the Goodell firestorm started with a suspension too.

Yet Simmons makes an imperfect freedom fighter. There were three parts to what he said: There was the substance of the accusation against Goodell, there was its coarseness, and there was the threat to go public if ESPN pressured him. (He said, “I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell. Because if one person says that to me, I’m going public. You leave me alone. The commissioner’s a liar and I get to talk about that on my podcast.”) The latter two must have dwarfed the first in significance within the network’s culture of coordinated collegiality. A tempered accusation would have offered a tighter test case—especially given that only ESPN’s most credulous blowhards seem presently inclined to trust Goodell. (Here’s where my editor makes me point out that I am a contributor to Sports Illustrated, which competes with ESPN in all kinds of ways.)

It’s a little surprising, though only a little, that Simmons hasn’t left his corporate-antagonist shtick behind. In recent years, ESPN has elevated him from a (terribly popular) web columnist to the editor in chief of an occasionally fantastic web magazine that employs nearly 30 people (Grantland), the executive producer of a strong series of documentary films (30 for 30) and a talking head on its NBA coverage. He’ll even be getting his own show this year. He led the effort to bring Nate Silver aboard (even Simmons’ father pitched in), and he is said to earn several million dollars a year. It’s hard to think any sports pundit has held so much sway over his bosses since the days of Howard Cosell. (Even Cosell, a onetime major in the Army, never had so many people working under him.) And one might expect Simmons to be even gentler with his bosses in light of his rise since, as Will Leitch wrote Thursday, ESPN doesn’t even need to be in the Bill Simmons business. Its website could be a still photo of Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, and its NBA pregame show could be a loop of Rednex’s “Cotton Eye Joe” video, and Disney’s accountants would barely notice the revenue dip.

That’s part of the reason Simmons built his site in-house and encouraged Nate Silver to build his the same way. As Simmons told me earlier this year when I wrote about Silver, “The good thing about ESPN is that it’s a really smart company making a lot of money,” which was to say that ESPN’s smaller businesses face little pressure to turn a profit.

After all, ESPN makes the vast majority of its money not from web advertising or the DVD sales of its documentary series but from cable subscriber fees. And the programming that makes the network essential to cable companies isn’t College GameDay or Monday Night Countdown or the new Grantland NBA series; it’s the big DVR-proof games that follow those, exclusively on ESPN’s signal. And doesn’t that make their college-sports, NFL and NBA reporters irreparably compromised? You bet!

Which brings us back to Simmons, and the closed system. As Jeb Lund memorably put it in 2011 upon Grantland’s launch, “ESPN and Simmons exist to make each other look edgy.” Simmons gets to menace the suits and see where he stands, and ESPN gets to look like a shop that has the standing to enforce something it calls journalistic standards. It’s a stunt, which concerns the general public only inasmuch as it makes people curious about the promise of independent media. And maybe, just maybe, it has.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME NFL

Ties Between NFL and Former FBI Head Raise Questions About Probe

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell News Conference
National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell speaks during a press conference on September 19, 2014 inside Hilton Midtown in New York City. Alex Goodlett—Getty Images

Robert Mueller was tapped by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to investigate

On Sept. 9, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hired former FBI Director Robert Mueller to run an independent investigation into the league’s handling of the Ray Rice affair. But independent is hardly the way to describe the probe, given the deep connections that exist between the NFL, Mueller’s law firm — WilmerHale — and Rice’s former team, the Baltimore Ravens. How deep do those bonds go? The president of the Ravens was a partner at the firm that became WilmerHale for 31 years.

On WilmerHale’s website the firm boasts that “our expansive alumni network includes many former WilmerHale attorneys who have moved on to highly respectable positions after leaving the firm — for example … in-house counsel for National Football League teams.” An article in The American Lawyer from February 2006 paints the law firm as a production line for sports executives, particularly in the NFL. The article is available on WilmerHale’s website.

Fan poll: Should Goodell keep his job? | Game deserves better than Goodell

Former WilmerHale lawyers who hold senior positions within the NFL front office or with NFL teams include the league’s finance counsel, Jay Bauman, and both the Browns president, Alec Scheiner, and executive vice president, Sashi Brown. Partner David Donovan also served as general counsel for the Washington Redskins from 2005 to ‘09, before returning to WilmerHale in ‘11.

Another former WilmerHale lawyer is Ravens president Richard Cass. He was a partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering — which merged with Hale and Dorr to form WilmerHale in 2004 — from 1972 to 2003, and both Bauman and Scheiner worked under Cass at the law firm. Cass represented oil tycoon Jerry Jones in his purchase of the Dallas Cowboys in 1989, and he worked as an advisor for the NFL in the ‘93 collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.

In 2004, Stephen Bisciotti reached out to Cass’ firm for assistance with his $600 million acquisition of the Ravens. Cass was then the head of WilmerHale’s corporate practice, and Scheiner was the lead advisor of the buyout. As the new owner of the Ravens, Bisciotti made Cass his first hire.

That same year, Scheiner left WilmerHale to become general counsel for the Dallas Cowboys. While at the law firm, Scheiner had done outside work for that team. Scheiner was promoted to vice president in 2008, and in ‘12 moved to the Browns to become team president. Brown, another former protégé of Cass’, left WilmerHale for the Jaguars in 2005. A year after Scheiner moved to Cleveland, he brought Brown on as executive vice president.

Cass’ influence within the NFL runs deep enough that he was even touted as a candidate — albeit a darkhorse — to replace Paul Tagliabue when he stepped down as NFL commissioner in 2006. In a statement at the time, however, Cass wrote, “Certainly, no one has approached me, and I have the job I’ve always wanted. This is where I’ll stay.”

Mueller rejoined WilmerHale in March — he was a partner at Hale and Dorr from 1993 to ‘95 — after running the FBI for 12 years. The appearance of conflict here is unavoidable. The NFL also appointed Giants co-owner John Mara and Steelers owner Art Rooney to oversee Mueller’s investigation. Mara has already publicly dispelled any notion that Goodell’s job is in danger, raising further doubts about impartiality. In an interview with NBC’s Michele Tafoya on Sunday, Rooney also put his support behind the commissioner. “One mistake doesn’t ruin a great career,” Rooney said. “[Goodell’s] had a great career.”

In his Aug. 28 letter to the NFL owners explaining his handling of the Rice episode Goodell wrote: “I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.” By believing Mueller and two of his biggest supporters can conduct an independent investigation of the NFL, the commissioner may have gotten it wrong all over again.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME LGBT

Olympic Committee Adds Anti-Discrimination Clause for Host Cities

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 126th IOC session in Sochi,
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 126th IOC session in Sochi, February 4, 2014. Sochi will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games from February 7 to February 23. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard (RUSSIA - Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS) - RTX187WH Eric Gaillard—Reuters

The move comes after the much criticized Sochi games, which took place against a backdrop of Russia's staunchly homophobic policies

The International Olympic Committee announced on Wednesday that they will add an anti-discrimination clause to host city contracts.

So in order to host the 2022 Olympic Games, cities must pledge to adhere to a principle of the Olympic charter which prohibits discrimination. The move is a result of the pushback the IOC faced from human rights organizations following the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, where homophobic policies and incidents were rampant.

The updated clause calls for the prohibition of “any form of discrimination,” under the rules of Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, which bans “any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise.” LGBT rights organizations All Out and Athlete Ally championed the Principle in an effort to get athletes and fans to speak out against the anti-LGBT laws in Russia.

Organizations like Human Rights Watch also urged the IOC to add a human rights provision to its host city contract for future games.

Co-founder and executive director of All Out, Andre Banks, called the IOC’s announcement a “significant step in ensuring the protection of both citizens and athletes around the world.”

TIME major league baseball

Baseball’s Derek Jeter Problem

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees
Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees smiles prior to a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on September 22, 2014. Mike Stobe—Getty Images

What will happen when the sport's most recognized and admired player leaves the game?

The New York Yankees have a Derek Jeter problem. Sure, the endless pomp surrounding Jeter’s retirement has kept a lot of people watching a team that won’t make the playoffs. But during his long goodbye, Jeter simply hasn’t produced. Entering Wednesday’s game, Jeter was hitting .255 – a full 55 points below his career average. His .615 on-base percentage (OPS) is the second-lowest of his career, ahead of only his .542 clip during last year’s injury induced abbreviated 17-game campaign. Jeter has hit a home run in 0.6% of his plate appearances; excluding his brief call-up in 1995, when he did not hit a home run in his 51 plate appearances, Jeter’s prior low was a 1.3% home run percentage in 1997. So in this category, it has been his weakest year, by two. He has drawn a walk in 5.6% of his plate appearances, another career low.

Outside the batter’s box, Jeter’s struggles as a shortstop have long been documented. And they’ve continued this season. According to the analytics, he’s below-average at his position.

In the public’s imagination, Jeter — who will play his last home game as a Yankee on Thursday night — is one of the greatest clutch hitters of all-time. But on Tuesday night, with the Yankees barely hanging on to the mathematical miracle they would have needed to make the post-season, Mighty Jeter struck out, with the tying run was on first, to end the game. It was a fitting summation of the season.

The Derek Jeter problem extends to all of baseball. Despite his shaky last-season performance, Jeter is still the most familiar, marketable, beloved player in the game. And right now, the sport has no one to replace him.

That love was on full display a few Sundays ago, during Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium. Three-plus hours before the start of New York’s game against the Kansas City Royals – which the Yanks lost 2-0 – dozens of Yankees fans milled about. Joe Talnagi, 21, was asked what he was going to do during all this pre-game down time. “Probably cry,” said Talnagi, a college student from New Jersey. “Number 2” patches graced bottles of wine resting on the locker room chairs of all his Yankee teammates, the Yankee uniforms, and the flags atop the stadium. They were painted onto the field, along the first- and third-base lines. Jeter’s former teammate Jorge Posada showed up, and called Jeter the greatest Yankee of all-time. Michael Jordan was the surprise guest, and said Jeter is an “idol to me.”

Jeter’s fans, teammates, and buddies aren’t the only ones who idolize him. According to Q Scores Company, among active athletes recognized by more than half the U.S. population, Jeter owns the second-highest “Q score” – a general favorability rating – trailing only Peyton Manning. The bad news: no other baseball player ranks in the top 15. “Baseball players aren’t even on the national radar for the general population,” says Henry Schafer, an executive vice president at Q Scores. “They’re just not out there like players from other sports.”

Baseball has become a more regionalized game, a series of thriving fiefdoms with little national cultural connection. Thanks to lucrative local television deals, stable attendance, and smart digital investments by Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the game’s overall revenues have grown. The sport is in fine economic health. But fans are getting older. The game is getting slower and slower, which hurts its appeal among younger viewers. Rarely is a regular season game appointment television. There’s just too much competition. A quarter century ago, NBC offered a “Game of the Week” on Saturdays. Now, the network offers Premier League soccer, a hipper product, on its cable channels. European soccer over baseball once seemed like a ridiculous proposition. Not anymore.

How did Jeter, who played 20 seasons in New York, won five World Series rings and has 3,461 hits–sixth-best of all time–break through? “Being able to accomplish all that, for that long a period of time, in a major market is highly unusual,” says Schafer. “The Yankees are both loved and hated across the country, but what’s surprising is he rises above it. He’s a likeable individual, and he’s respected.”

For 20 years, no personal scandal has interrupted the Jeter narrative: he’s a winner, a leader, a guy who plays the game “the right way.” During the Jeter ceremony, if any fans played a “right way” drinking game during the dozens of between-inning personalized messages that former teammates, opponents, New York sports legends like Joe Namath and random big names like Kenny Chesney and Matt Lauer delivered on the video board, they were sloshed before the seventh-inning stretch.

“He’s pretty much the face of baseball,” says Schafer. “There’s going to be a big void. It’s going to be like when the NBA was trying to find the next Michael Jordan. Baseball is going to have a very tough time finding the next Derek Jeter.” On Schafer’s list, there is one other active baseball player that more than half of the general population recognizes.

It’s A-Rod.

TIME Auto Racing

Tony Stewart Not Charged in the Death of Kevin Ward Jr.

Tony Stewart
NASCAR driver Tony Stewart (14) looks out from his garage during a practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. on Sept. 13, 2014. Paul J. Bergstrom—AP

On Wednesday, a grand jury in upstate New York decided that criminal charges would not be brought against Tony Stewart in the death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.​

During an Aug. 9 sprint car race, Stewart’s car hit Ward after Ward got out of his car and walked onto the track to confront Stewart.

Ontario County (N.Y.) District Attorney Michael Tantillo said that Ward was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash, which was enough to impair his judgment.

On Sept. 16, Tantillo said he would present evidence from the police investigation of the incident to a grand jury.

Tantillo held a news conference on Wednesday to reveal that findings of the investigation.

According to the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle, Chuck Hebing, who was driving in the race where Ward was hit, was called to testify about the accident.

Stewart did not participate in the three Sprint Cup Series races after Ward’s death but has raced in the last four.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Football

NFL Players Association Hires Its Own Top D.C. Lawyer

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos
Doug Pensinger—Getty Images

The NFLPA will conduct their own investigation into handling of Ray Rice case

The NFL Players Association has hired its own D.C. lawyer, Richard Craig Smith, to conduct an investigation into how the Ray Rice case was handled, it announced Wednesday.

Smith, a former federal prosecutor, will conduct his investigation in parallel to Rice’s current appeal of the league’s decision to suspend him indefinitely after a video of him punching his now-wife was leaked, the NFLPA said in a statement.

 

TIME NFL

Late Football Player’s Family Sues NFL Over His Suicide

San Diego Chargers defensive back Paul Oliver (27) makes a move during the NFL week 10 football game against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday, November 10, 2011 in San Diego, Calif.
San Diego Chargers defensive back Paul Oliver (27) makes a move during the NFL week 10 football game against the Oakland Raiders on Thursday, November 10, 2011 in San Diego, Calif. Paul Spinelli—AP

The relatives of former San Diego Chargers defensive back Paul Oliver have sued the National Football League for wrongful death, claiming that concussions contributed to his suicide last year, the Associated Press reports.

Oliver’s wife and sons are also suing the Chargers, the New Orleans Saints and the corporations that own several helmet manufacturers, alleging fraud and negligence and accusing the NFL of glorifying the “brutality and ferocity” of football as a marketing strategy.

The lawsuit says the 29-year-old Oliver shot himself to death in front of his wife, Chelsea, and two sons last September at his home in Marietta, Georgia, after suffering “mood, memory and anger issues” associated with repetitive head trauma and that after his death, a doctor confirmed that Oliver had chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

In August, the NFL settled a concussion-injury lawsuit with thousands of former players that includes $675 million for awards to injured players, $75 million for baseline assessments, $10 million for research and $5 million for public notice.

According to the league, nearly three out of every 10 former players will develop debilitating brain conditions.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Soccer

Even Soccer Fans Don’t Recognize Clint Dempsey Without a Jersey

The U.S. men's soccer team captain is apparently hard to spot when not playing

Soccer player Clint Dempsey, who captained the U.S. Men’s National Team through the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, may have won the adoration of American fans on the field, but off the green he appears to be harder to spot. In fact, even soccer fans seem to have trouble recognizing America’s star soccer player out of uniform.

TIME Soccer

FIFA May Mandate Concussion Breaks in Soccer Games

Germany v Scotland - EURO 2016 Qualifier
Christoph Kramer of Germany jumps for a header Boris Streubel—Getty Images

After head injuries marred this summer's World Cup

FIFA’s medical committee proposed a new policy Tuesday that would require a three-minute stop if a player is suspected of suffering from head trauma.

“The incidents at the World Cup have shown that the role of team doctors needs to be reinforced in order to ensure the correct management of potential cases of concussion in the heat of the competition,” the committee said in a release. “The referee will only allow the injured party to continue playing with the [authorization] of the team doctor, who will have the final decision.”

The proposal has been sent to the FIFA Executive Committee, which will vote on the matter.

In this summer’s World Cup, controversy arose when Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira was allowed to stay in the game after taking a knee to the head, while dazed German midfielder Christoph Kramer was allowed to play for 14 minutes after a collision that left him so disoriented, he asked the ref “Is this the final?” (It was).

According to the Center for Injury Research and Policy, more high school soccer players suffered from head injuries in 2010 than softball, wrestling, basketball, and baseball players combined. And these sustained injuries can have lasting health repercussions: Although Brazilian soccer star Bellini, winner of the 1958 World Cup, was thought to have died due to Alzheimer’s complications in March at age 83, new research reveals that he actually suffered from a degenerative brain disease also afflicting many boxers and football players.

 

TIME Baseball

Mo’ne Davis to Donate Jersey from Little League Shutout to Hall of Fame

Mo'ne Davis
Mo'ne Davis of Pennsylvania waits to pitch to a Nevada batter during the United States division game at the Little League World Series tournament at Lamade Stadium on August 20, 2014 in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Rob Carr—Getty Images

Mo’ne Davis will donate the jersey she wore when she became the first female to throw a complete game shutout in the Little League World Series to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., according to the Associated Press.

Davis’ team will play an exhibition game at Cooperstown’s Doubleday Field.

Davis was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in August.

Her Philadelphia team, the Taney Dragons, lost to Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West in the U.S. semifinal game.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

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