TIME Sports

ESPN Sportscaster Comments on Ray Rice Stir Controversy

Commentator Stephen A. Smith has been accused of victim blaming

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Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice received a slap-on-the-wrist, two-game suspension after being arrested and indicted for allegedly hitting his now-wife so hard that he knocked her unconscious. Following the NFL’s announcement of the punishment, ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith implied yesterday on First Take that women need to be careful about what they do or say so as not to tempt men to viciously attack them:

We know you have no business putting your hands on a woman. I don’t know how many times I got to reiterate that… But what I’ve tried to employ the female members of my family, some of who you all met and talked to and what have you, is that again, and this what, I’ve done this all my life, let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions, because if I come, or somebody else come, whether it’s law enforcement officials, your brother or the fellas that you know, if we come after somebody has put their hands on you, it doesn’t negate the fact that they already put their hands on you. So let’s try to make sure that we can do our part in making sure that that doesn’t happen.

He goes on:

In Ray Rice’s case, he probably deserves more than a 2-game suspension which we both acknowledged. But at the same time, we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation. Not that there’s real provocation, but the elements of provocation, you got to make sure that you address them, because we’ve got to do is do what we can to try to prevent the situation from happening in any way. And I don’t think that’s broached enough, is all I’m saying. No point of blame.

ESPN host Michelle Beadle fired back at Smith after the segment on Twitter.

She has also retweeted several violent threats that were made against her following her comments.

Smith responded by trying to clarify his position and apologizing to Beadle. He tweets that he never accused women of being wrong. But he also concludes, “I was simply saying to take all things into consideration for preventative purposes.”

MORE: The NFL Needs To Take Domestic Violence Seriously

TIME Courts

Sleeping Yankees Fan’s Lawsuit Won’t Get Far, Legal Experts Say

A $10 million lawsuit filed by a man who was broadcast on ESPN while sleeping during a baseball game draws skepticism

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Legal experts are skeptical of the $10 million lawsuit filed by a man after he was broadcast on ESPN while sleeping during a baseball game.

Andrew Rector, who was sitting amongst Yankees fans with his head resting on his shoulder, appeared to have dozed off during the April 13 Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game. Once Rector appeared on camera, ESPN commentators Dan Shulman and John Kruk quickly began discussing his slumped-over body.

“Maybe that’s his buddy, and he likes him a lot better when [Rector's] asleep,” Kruk said, referring to a man sitting next to Rector. The commentator duo also remarked that Rector was “oblivious,” expressing surprise that he had fallen asleep during the fourth inning.

Rector filed the suit against ESPN, Shulman, Kruk, the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball (MLB), which also picked up the footage, according to Courthouse News Service. Rector claims damages for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, citing false statements said about him including that Rector is “a fatty cow” that represents a “symbol of failure.”

In response, ESPN stated that “the comments attributed to ESPN and our announcers were clearly not said in our telecast. The claims presented here are wholly without merit.” MLB declined to comment.

Legal experts agree with ESPN’s assessment. “I think he has no chance on this lawsuit,” Vincent Blasi, a professor at Columbia Law School and expert in tort law, told TIME. “If the grievance is defamation, you have to show someone said something factually false about him. It requires a misstatement of an empirical fact.”

The idea of defamation rests on false written or spoken statements about an individual that damages his or her reputation. Classic defamation cases include suits in which the plaintiff was falsely accused in public statements of manipulating clients in business, or having a debilitating infectious disease.

“[Rector was] clearly been set up for ridicule. He’s unfortunate. He’s been made a butt of jokes. But there’s just no defamatory statement about him,” Harvard Law School professor John Goldberg told TIME, noting that defamation suits rest more on reputation damages than emotional distress.

Goldberg added that the suit, which was filed in Bronx County Supreme Court in New York, would face an uphill — if not entirely vertical — battle. Though there are constitutional limits applying to all U.S. states, New York is “notoriously unfriendly to defamation suits,” and it is “very unlikely that the suit will get anywhere,” he said.

Still, defamation suits have the potential to result in significant compensation. A Palestinian shopkeeper, Ayman Abu Aita, filed in 2009 a multimillion lawsuit against comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and the Late Show With David Letterman after the TV program aired a clip from Baron Cohen’s movie Bruno that portrayed him as a terrorist. Aita claimed the movie damaged his business and caused him to receive death threats. The case was subsequently settled in 2012 “to the mutual satisfaction” of everyone, according to Fox News.

MONEY Sports

Your Guide to Watching World Cup Soccer—Legally, for the Most Part

There are more ways than ever to tune in to the World Cup, held this year in Brazil. Here are all the options.

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The World Cup starts on Thursday, and if you’re like pretty much everyone in the world (the 2010 Cup drew an audience of 3.2 billion), you’re looking for ways to watch this event at home, at work, on the train, maybe in the shower. Here are all the legal methods — plus a couple ambiguously legal ones — to get your soccer football fix.

Regular Old Television

If you own a TV (or can sneak one into your office), you automatically have access to the 10 matches that will air on ABC. Have cable or a satellite TV package? Then you can watch the other 54 matches exclusive to ESPN and ESPN 2. Here’s a TV schedule to help you keep track of all the channels. As you might guess, the first two scheduled matches for the United States team, on Monday, June 16 (versus Ghana) and Sunday, June 22 (versus Portugal) are being shown on ESPN, not ABC.

Streaming Via ESPN

TV? What is this, 2010? Nowadays it’s all about watching everything on your computer, smartphone, or tablet, and ESPN has delivered with the relaunched ESPN FC. The website is a soccer news and video hub that sports both a website and a downloadable app for your mobile devices. During the World Cup, ESPN FC will be airing all of ESPN and parent company ABC’s World Cup coverage. That means you can watch all 64 matches online as well (assuming your cable provider is on this list). The problem? Just like with NBC’s online streaming of the Winter Olympics, you need a cable or satellite subscription to access any of the content.

Stream Directly From Your TV

Want to watch at work, but don’t have a TV at your desk? Devices like Slingbox let you stream direct from your home TV and then watch on the Slingbox website or app. It also offers a 1080p viewing experience in case ESPN’s quality dips. You can stream anything you could normally watch on your home TV, meaning no ESPN unless you pay for cable or satellite. However, Slingbox can stream ABC matches from your TV if you own a digital TV tuner (which comes included in certain Slingbox models).

Try Aereo (Before the Supreme Court Bans It)

Aereo is a service that has planted thousands of tiny TV antennas all around the U.S. and then streams that content to a subscriber’s computer or mobile device. (This creative method of skirting copyright law has led to a bit of legal trouble.) Because it largely depends on what it can pick up off the air, Aereo’s content essentially consists of the major networks. Luckily for you, that means all 10 matches being shown on ABC. (Unlucky for you, no matches featuring Team USA, at least not in the beginning.) The best part? The company is offering a 30-day free trial (after that, it will cost $8 a month). Just make sure you live in one of its coverage areas.

Stream for Free … in Spanish

Spanish language channel Univision is streaming every single match from the first two rounds for free, without requiring the viewer to be a cable or satellite pay TV subscriber. Even better, the company offers an Android and iOS app in addition to its website. The catch? Well, obviously, broadcasts are in Spanish. If you speak the language, this is muy bueno, and if you don’t, you can listen to EPSN radio with the match on mute. Consider giving the original broadcast a chance, though. Spanish announcing is always better. Gooooooool!

Cross the border

As for the more… creative methods for World Cup viewing, many U.S.-based soccer fans head across the border — virtually. Canada’s CBC, the U.K.’s BBC, Ireland’s RTE and Australia’s SBS are all streaming everything for free—but only to people who live in their respective home countries. To get around the regional lock, hard-core fans use services like TunnelBear that create a virtual private network, masking one’s true location.

Is it legal? Accessing content from outside these networks’ region is a clear violation of their terms of service; but whether users are actually breaking the law is apparently a grey area. “While there are differences among the courts about the use of masking IP addresses to gain access to a site,” Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Mitch Stoltz told Forbes, “it is pretty well established that simply violating the Terms of Service alone is not sufficient to warrant a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.”

Stoltz admits that authorities might go after a TunnelBear user as an example to others, but says such an outcome is “very unlikely.” For its part, TunnelBear emphasizes that it is based in Canada, outside U.S. jurisdiction, and that there is “no Canadian law that requires us to keep logs on customer usage.”

TIME World Cup

ESPN Taps Landon Donovan for World Cup Coverage

Landon Donovan
Landon Donovan during the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinal match at StubHub Center on March 12, 2014 in Los Angeles. Victor Decolongon—Getty Images

The all-star won't be on the field, but he'll still be on TV

Landon Donovan may not be on Team U.S.A.’s World Cup roster, but he will still get to go to the World Cup—in spirit. ESPN announced on Wednesday that the famed soccer player will join the sports network as a commentator, broadcasting from Los Angeles, during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Donovan, who many believe to be the best player in the history of the U.S. national team, will make his ESPN debut during their two-four FIFA World Cup Preview Wednesday.

“Adding Landon to our ESPN roster just before the World Cup is a coup because he knows the United States team better than anyone having played such a huge role in its success, especially at this event,” said Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president. “Landon is also one of this country’s biggest sports stars and we believe that he will help attract even more fans to our month-long coverage.”

Donovan added, “I look forward to working with the talented ESPN broadcasters to provide unique insights for our amazing U.S. Soccer fans.”

Donovan was cut from the 23-person team in the last round in May. He is the all-time leader in goals and assists for the national team. He has played in 12 World Cup games and scored five goals in those games, both U.S. records.

 

TIME Television

Cable Industry Frets Over Future of Your Television Bundle

Change is coming to the way you watch television, and there will be winners and losers. At the annual cable industry conference, insiders are squirming in their seats.

LOS ANGELES—Cable television’s lucrative strategy of “bundling”—charging customers for a package of channels rather than allowing them to pay only for the ones they want—came under attack here Tuesday during the first day of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual Cable Show.

Jerry Kent, the CEO of Suddenlink, a regional cable broadband service, said during a panel discussion that when it comes to bundling, the industry is “at a tipping point.” The model will fail, he warned, as soon as “certain cable operations stop carrying certain programmers because it’s too expensive,” he said. “Or when people start disconnecting” because their cable bill is too high.

Nancy Dubuc, the president and CEO of A+E Networks, who spoke on the same panel was even more blunt. “A la carte is already coming,” she said, as the audience, nearly all of whom draws a paycheck from the bundling model, squirmed in their seats.

While the pay-TV industry, which includes cable, as well as satellite and fiber providers, like Verizon FiOS, has quietly relied on bundling as their lifeblood for decades, the model has drawn fire in recent years. That’s partly because the price of those expanded basic cable bundles have grown at more than twice the rate of inflation every year for the past 17 years, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission. And it’s partly because Americans’ TV-watching habits have started to change. Consumers can now purchase many episodes and series “a la carte” through online companies, like Apple’s iTunes or Google Play.

Just last week, the premium cable channel HBO agreed to allow Amazon Prime customers to stream popular shows like “The Wire,” “The Sopranos,” and, at some point in the near future, newer series like “Girls.” (Disclosure: TIME’s parent company, Time Warner, is the owner of HBO as well as several other cable television channels that benefit from bundling.)

The discussion about bundling comes just a week after the Supreme Court heard a case involving a small start-up, Aereo, that has built its business model around snatching broadcast signals from the airwaves, “recording” them onto the cloud, and delivering customers a premium, a la carte experience—all without paying content producers pricey “retransmission fees.” If the justices decide in favor of Aereo and it was widely adopted, the consumer need to pay for a bundle of cable channels may be further eroded.

With all these changes, industry has reason to squirm. In a report last year, media analysts at the investment firm Needham & Company estimated that if all TV content were unbundled, the TV industry would take a $70 billion dollar hit, and all but 15 or 20 channels would disappear. During an afternoon event at the Cable Show, Amdocs, a company that works in customer experience, announced their findings from a survey of North American households: more than half would prefer to pay individually for channels they actually want, rather than a large bundle of choices.

Kent and his fellow cable execs, including Rob Marcus of Time Warner Cable, which is no longer owned by Time Warner, pointed the finger at programmers, like ESPN or the Disney Channel, which charge large fees to distribution companies for the privilege of transporting their content to customers. Distributors, whose customers demand channels like ESPN, have no choice but to pay programmers’ high prices, a cost that’s passed onto customers themselves.

Partly in response to rapidly rising customer costs, the FCC proposed rules last month that would limit programmers’ ability to leverage high prices from distributors. For the same reason, Canadian regulators directed TV companies late last year to offer customers a la carte choices by 2015.

John Skipper, the president of ESPN, a network owned by the Walt Disney Company, who spoke on the same panel as Kent and Dubuc, said the reaction against bundling was unfounded. He lamented “that old canard” that only a few people are watching sports while “grandmothers are paying for it” through bundling. “It’s a nice rhetorical device, but it’s not fact,” he said, adding that ESPN was “the single greatest buttress in the pay-TV package.”

Skipper went onto slam online video-streaming sites, like Netflix and Amazon, which he said were encroaching on the old guard’s business model. “Shame on us if we don’t protect our turf,” he said.

TIME ESPN

How Nate Silver Hires

Nate Silver at the New York City headquarters of ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight blog on Feb 26, 2014.
Nate Silver at the New York City headquarters of ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight blog on Feb 26, 2014. Brad Harris for TIME

Forget H.R. The ESPN stats star uses a graph to measure his future employees

Read about Nate Silver and his plans for FiveThirtyEight at ESPN in the March 17 issue of TIME.

Since joining ESPN in late July, Nate Silver has spent an estimated 90% of his time interviewing candidates to add to FiveThirtyEight’s team. He is fanatical about hiring. He has insisted that potential hires demonstrate an ability to learn new things. In the journalism business, that might mean computer-programming skills or the creation of a novel beat. Silver judges potential employees by a set of coordinate axes he has saved on his computer. (“Because I’m a dork,” he says.)

The x-axis runs from “quantitative” to “qualitative,” the y-axis (top to bottom) from “rigorous and empirical” to “anecdotal and ad hoc.” All FiveThirtyEight employees, he says, need to land in the upper-left quadrant of the coordinate plane, where they are quantitatively inclined, rigorous and empirical. The adjacent quadrant above the x-axis, Silver says, belongs to journalists like some of his former colleagues at the New York Times and Ezra Klein, most recently of the Washington Post. “People call them numbers whizzes, but they’re not that—just very good journalists.” The bottom two quadrants belong to the dregs of American journalism: on the left, sportswriters who cherry-pick statistics without thinking through them, and on the right, op-ed columnists. “That’s the crap quadrant. Two-thirds of the op-ed columnists at America’s major newspapers are worthless,” Silver says. He hates punditry, he hates narratives, he hates bold proclamations — and so too does he hate the media’s most willing vessels for all three.

“Companies in general ought to spend more time on their hiring — it’s not the kind of thing that should be left to HR reps,” Silver says. “You know, clubhouse chemistry matters.”

Read about Nate Silver and his plans for FiveThirtyEight at ESPN in the March 17 issue of TIME.

TIME Basketball

Nets Sign Center Jason Collins on New Contract

Brooklyn Nets Jason Collins speaks during a news conference before an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls at the Barclays Center, Monday, Mar. 3, 2014, in New York Seth Wenig / AP

Brooklyn franchise gives green light for new 10-day deal with N.B.A.'s first openly gay player

The Brooklyn Nets will ink a new 10-day contract with Jason Collins on Wednesday, according to ESPN. The seven-foot center’s initial 10-day deal is set to expire Tuesday.

Brooklyn was the first N.B.A. franchise to sign Collins after he announced he was gay during an interview with Sports Illustrated last May. The veteran has been widely celebrated since the announcement, and is the first openly homosexual athlete to compete in one of America’s four major sports leagues.

Nevertheless, the 35-year-old has played down any talk of being a human rights icon. “I’m just trying to be Jason Collins,” he said. “What Jackie Robinson did for the sport of baseball and our society [is] tremendous. But I am just trying to be Jason Collins.”

[ESPN]

TIME Television

Disney, Dish Web Distribution Deal Includes Ad-Skipping Détente

Ride Along With During A Dish Network Installation Amidst A Pay-TV Merger Speculation
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Disney, parent company of ABC and ESPN, has signed a major content distribution deal with Dish Network giving Dish customers access to myriad Disney content on their televisions and Internet devices while also ending a suit over Dish's ad-skipping DVR feature

Entertainment titan Disney and satellite giant Dish Network have struck a major distribution deal that paves the way for Mouse House video content — including ABC and ESPN — to be delivered to consumers as part of a new Dish Internet offering, the two companies announced late Monday. As part of the deal, Dish has agreed to scale back its AutoHop DVR ad-skipping technology, which has been the subject of a closely watched legal battle between the satellite network and the major broadcasters.

The agreement marks of the culmination of months of negotiations between the two companies. It represents a significant coup for Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen, who jumps to the front of the pack in the race to deliver so-called “over the top” TV programming that’s accessible via the Internet on a range of devices, including smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and old-fashioned televisions. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The deal grants Dish the right to stream live and on-demand content from ABC-owned broadcast stations, ABC Family, Disney Channel, ESPN and ESPN2 as part of a new Internet-based offering, the two companies said. The pact also means that Dish customers will gain access Disney’s stable of Internet-based video products, including WatchESPN, WATCH Disney, WATCH ABC Family and WATCH ABC using their mobile devices.

The deal positions Dish to introduce a new Internet-based service that incorporates the various Disney content offerings, although it’s unclear when such a service will launch. With the Disney deal in hand, Dish could now seek to strike similar agreements with other programming giants, including 21st Century Fox, which owns FOX; Comcast, which owns NBC; and CBS.

(MORE: Aereo Boss Says He’s ‘Confident’ Ahead of Supreme Court Battle)

Anne Sweeney, Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks, and President, Disney/ABC Television Group, called the agreement “one of the most complex and comprehensive we’ve ever undertaken.” She added. “Not only were innovative business solutions reached on complicated current issues, we also planned for the evolution of our industry.” John Skipper, President, ESPN & Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks, said: “We worked with Dish to smartly address the future of the multi-screen world on several levels.”

The agreement is sure to be greeted warmly by sports fans who subscribe to Dish’s satellite service. As part of the deal, Dish will make available ESPN Goal Line, ESPN Buzzer Beater, as well as Longhorn Network and the upcoming SEC ESPN Network upon its launch, the two companies said. In addition, Dish, ESPN and ESPN Deportes customers will have access to the live and video-on-demand channel ESPN3. Dish will also launch ESPNEWS and ESPNU in high-definition, and ESPN Classic will be reintroduced as a video-on-demand channel.

“The creation of this agreement has really been about predicting the future of television with a visionary and forward-leaning partner,” said Joseph P. Clayton, Dish chief executive officer and president, said in a statement. “Not only will the exceptional Disney, ABC, ESPN entertainment portfolio continue to delight our customers today, but we have a model from which to deliver exciting new services tomorrow.”

The agreement also includes the renewal of retransmission rights, allowing Dish to continue to carry ABC and ESPN on its satellite network. The previous agreement expired last fall, and Dish and Disney have been working behind the scenes to craft a new arrangement, in hopes of avoiding an acrimonious spat like the one between CBS and Time Warner Cable that caused CBS and Showtime to be blacked out for millions of Time Warner Cable subscribers late last summer.

As part of the agreement, Dish will disable AutoHop functionality — which allows viewers to skip ads on ABC shows that they’ve recorded — for three days following the initial broadcast. That feature had been at the center of a contentious legal dispute between Dish and the major broadcasters, which felt that AutoHop threatened their advertising revenue and charged that the service violated copyright law. All pending litigation between Disney and Dish over AutoHop has now been dismissed as part of the pact, the two companies said.

John Bergmayer, Senior Staff Attorney at Public Knowledge, a DC-based digital rights group that has long argued that AutoHop is a legal technology, said he was disappointed that the service became a bargaining chip as part of a broader financial deal. “If Disney and Dish want to come to a distribution agreement where Dish agrees to disable legal features on its DVR, that’s a commercial matter between the two companies,” Bergmayer said. “But it’s unfortunate that Disney or any company would want to take away the flexibility that viewers are legally entitled to in their own homes.”

TIME Media

ESPN Draws Fire Over Reporter’s Reaction to Kevin Durant Thanking God

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Six
Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts towards the end of the game against the San Antonio Spurs in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on June 6, 2012 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Ronald Martinez—Getty Images

Twitter responds with outrage after perceived slight

An ESPN reporter’s response after Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant thanked God for his team’s victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday has drawn harsh criticism from the Twitter-sphere.

After the Thunder beat the Heat, ESPN reporter Doris Burke asked Durant about his particularly strong play of late. Wednesday night marked the 12th consecutive game in which Durant scored more than 30 points.

“Thank God, that’s all I can say. Jesus Christ,” Durant said.

Burke laughed. “You didn’t have nothing to do with it?”

“No. It’s all Him,” Durant said.

Some Twitter users responded with outrage and sometimes vitriol, many taking offense at Burke’s perceived scoff at the notion that an NBA player would credit God for his prowess. Some even called for the reporter to lose her job over the incident.

[The Tulsa World]

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