TIME NFL

NFL Cheerleaders May Get Workplace Protections in California

The New England Patriots cheerleaders perform during the 2015 AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
The New England Patriots cheerleaders perform during the 2015 AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Elsa—Getty Images

Lawmaker introduces bill that would protect their rights as workers.

Four days before some 100 million viewers tune in to watch the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks battle in Super Bowl XLIX, a California lawmaker introduced a bill to protect the rights of women like those who will be dancing on the sidelines on Sunday.

On Thursday, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego, announced a bill that would consider cheerleaders as employees under California law and require professional sports teams in the state to grant them the same rights as other employees. The legislation aims to protect cheerleaders from workplace violations, such as unpaid overtime and having to pay for work expenses with their own funds.

“If the guy selling you the beer deserves a minimum wage, so does the woman entertaining you on the field,” Gonzalez, a former Stanford University cheerleader, said. “All work is dignified and cheerleaders deserve the respect of these basic workplace protections.”

The bill comes in the wake of a landmark class action wage theft lawsuit filed by two former Raiderettes against the Oakland Raiders, which highlighted alleged workplace abuses that professional cheerleaders endure. In September, the Raiders paid $1.25 million to settle the lawsuit, which claimed that the Raiderettes were paid a lump sum of $1,250 at the end of the season for their work, amounting to as little as $5 per hour. The lawsuit also said that cheerleaders were not paid for all the hours they worked and were forced to pay for job-related expenses out of their own pockets. With the settlement, the Raiders started paying its cheerleaders California’s minimum wage: $9 per hour.

NFL cheerleaders have also sued the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for minimum wage violations.

The NFL, which was named as a defendant in a second cheerleader wage suit against the Raiders, has maintained that cheerleader pay is a “team matter.”

This article originally appeared on Fortune.

TIME Super Bowl

How Science Could Determine Who Wins the Super Bowl

A football science expert on how coaches can minimize randomness and take risks

Consider the fumble. Unlike a basketball, soccer ball or baseball, a football will never fall the same way twice. Its cone shape causes it to bounce in random directions, and every time the ball is fumbled, players must dive on top of where they think it might be going in an attempt to recover it. It’s the most exciting part of the game—and, it turns out, perhaps the most important.

The reason we call a football a pigskin is because the balls were originally made from a pig’s bladder. Those balls were about the same size as today’s but were not as pointy on the ends. The balls only began to take their modern shape—what’s known as a prolate spheroid—after the forward pass was introduced, because it’s easier to throw a pointier ball, even though’s harder to predict what will happen to it when it hits the ground.

“These guys are gladiators, the best specimen of humans that we have, but when it comes to the ball being dropped, they’re reduced to kindergartners because they just throw themselves on top of it. That’s the best you can do in terms of recovering this ball,” says Ainissa Ramirez, and scientist and author of the book Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game.

MORE How Digital Footballs Could Have Saved Us From Deflategate

It’s a problem for coaches in a game where so much of the play is precise. “Randomness, which is part of this bigger field called chaos theory, is sort of one of the last ways coaches have to beat another team,” says Ramirez. “We studied two different teams that looked pretty much the same on paper, but they had different performances when it came to recovering fumbles. One team did better than the other, and its performance that year was better than the other.”

This attempt to control randomness has become particularly important during the Deflategate debate leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. Since 2000, teams that have won the turnover scramble won 79% of their games. Warren Sharp at Slate argues that statistics suggest the Patriots—who allegedly used under-inflated balls in the AFC Championship game that clinched their trip to the Super Bowl—have been trying to eliminate fumbles and therefore win more games by deflating balls. He points out that the Patriots have been nearly fumble-free since 2006 and probably not because of any new carrying strategy—players who left New England had drastically worse individual fumble rates after their departure.

Without cheating, there’s no real skill that goes into recovering the ball. It depends on luck. So what else can coaches do to win games? One suggestion might be combatting their biological instincts.

Why, for example, don’t coaches go for it on a fourth down? It’s a question Ramirez gets a lot, and the the answer, she says, actually has to do with monkeys.

She describes one experiment in which scientists taught monkeys how to exchange money for grapes. The monkeys interacted with two people: A generous person and a stingy person. The generous person would show the monkeys one grape; the monkeys would give them money; and the generous person would give them two grapes. The stingy person would show the monkeys three grapes; the monkeys would give them money; and the stingy person would give them two grapes. “In both cases, the monkey got two grapes, but the monkey didn’t like the stingy person at all,” says Ramirez. “They actually quantified this: The monkeys hated the stingy person by 2.5 times.”

MORE The Simple Way to Make Football Safer

Humans have the same instinct: Our dislike of risk is 2.5 times greater than our appreciation of a benefit. “So coaches don’t want to go for it on the fourth down because their sensitivity to risk is higher than the benefits of actually going for it,” says Ramirez.

Whatever coach can find (legal) ways to recover fumbles and teach himself to bet against his instincts during the Super Bowl will likely win.

 

TIME NFL

Drew Brees on Deflategate: Air Pressure Imperceptible in Game

Brees was able to correctly guess the pressure levels of different footballs

Saints quarterback Drew Brees was on Conan on Wednesday, where he was inevitably asked about the NFL topic on everyone’s mind.

Brees briefly discussed Deflategate somewhat seriously before his appearance devolved into something more absurd.

Conan asked Brees if he can tell the difference between a ball that is properly inflated and one that is not.

“Throughout the course of a game, no,” Brees replied. “A ball will come up and you don’t even think about how it feels. You’re just programmed to go through your read, throw the ball, no excuses.”

Given a chance to sit and thoroughly examine some footballs, Brees was able to correctly guess their pressure levels. He wasn’t quite as successful when trying to throw those balls into the crowd, though.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME NFL

How the NFL Convinced Michael Jackson to Perform in the 1993 Super Bowl Halftime Show

The league was eventually able to make a convincing argument

Michael Jackson gave one of the most memorable Super Bowl halftime show performances when he rocked the stage in 1993.

But it wasn’t easy for the NFL to convince a star like the King of Pop to perform in the middle of a sporting event back then. As this Austin Murphy story about how halftime became “The Halftime Show” details, the league was eventually able to make a convincing argument to Jackson:

For a month they got nowhere. (The NFL’s Jim) Steeg sat down with the King of Pop’s manager, Sandy Gallin, 11 months before Super Bowl XXVII. “I remember pitching them,” he says, “and them not really having a clue what we were talking about.” At a subsequent meeting, producer Don Mischer pointed out that the Super Bowl would be broadcast in more than 120 countries. Now he had Jackson’s full attention.

Steeg recalls Jackson saying, “So you’re telling me that this show is going live to all those places where I’ll never do a concert?” A pause. “I’m in.”

“Michael worked harder than anybody [who’s done the halftime show], before or since,” says Steeg, who remembers seeing Jackson still rehearsing his act at seven the night before the game, in a tent outside the Rose Bowl.

And it showed. Jackson, rocking a bandolier-draped frock coat on loan, apparently, from Muammar Gaddafi, was sensational. The final moments of that show were the most viewed in the history of television at the time.

You can read more about Jackson and all the other star-studded performances here.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME super bowl 49

Seattle Seahawks Star Unsure if He’ll Skip Super Bowl for Son’s Birth

Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks speaks during a Super Bowl XLIX media event on Jan. 28, 2015 in Chandler, Arizona.
Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks speaks during a Super Bowl XLIX media event on Jan. 28, 2015 in Chandler, Arizona. Christian Petersen—Getty Images

"We'll cross that bridge when we get there"

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said he has not thought about the possibility of skipping the Super Bowl for the birth of his son, ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss reports.

Sherman’s girlfriend, Ashley Moss, is pregnant with their first child and expected to give birth within the next week. She is in Arizona and Sherman did not say if he would miss the Super Bowl to be with her during labor if it overlaps with the game.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Sherman said. “We’re not thinking about the possibility.”

Sherman also said they have already picked a name, but aren’t ready to reveal it.

In 2013, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco skipped his son’s birth to play in a Week 2 game against the Cleveland Browns. Former NFL head coach Herm Edwards missed the birth of his son in 1981 to play in a game, but said he would understand if Sherman skipped the Super Bowl, NJ.com’s Randy Miller reports.

In baseball, Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy skipped the first two games last season to see his son’s birth, and Mark McGwire didn’t play in the final two games of the 1987 season to see his son’s birth and finished with 49 home runs.

Sherman’s status for the game was temporarily in doubt after he injured his elbow during the NFC title game against the Green Bay Packers, but he completed treatment for the injury earlier this week.

The Seahawks will try to win their second straight Super Bowl on Sunday against the New England Patriots.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

MONEY Sports

2015 Super Bowl’s Most Fun, Stupid, and Absurd Prop Bets

150128_EM_SBBets
Steven Puetzer—Getty Images

If you've been itching to place a random quirky sports wager that really has nothing to do with sports, wins, or losses, then step right up to the gimmicky world of Super Bowl prop bets.

The Super Bowl is on Sunday. Who are you picking in the coin toss? What’s the likelihood of hearing some variation of the phrase “deflated balls” on air during the game? How about your take on Katy Perry’s choice of outfits during the halftime shows? The odds favor skirt, but you’ll make more money if you bet she wears pants and she does—and you’ll really clean up if you guess right that she dons a whipped cream bikini (18/1 odds).

Known as “prop” bets—short for proposition—these kinds of quirky novelty wagers only tangentially related to the game are increasingly popular during the Super Bowl. For example, the Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook offers roughly 350 different kinds of bets related to this year’s Super Bowl. The Bovada sportsbook has hundreds more bizarre betting options, many involving events far away from the football world, such as whether the Dow Jones Industrial Average will be up or down the day after the game, and whether or not Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow on Groundhog Day.

In most cases, gamblers can’t pretend to have genuine insight as to what’s going to really happen in these silly scenarios, so winning a bet is like correctly picking the flip of a coin (which you can wager on too, naturally). You can not only bet on whether the Super Bowl opening coin toss lands on heads or tails, but on which team will win the coin toss, and whether the team that wins the coin toss will ultimately win the game.

The history of Super Bowl prop bets dates back to 1985, when the Chicago Bears gargantuan defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry was used during the season as a running back in goal line situations, and his popularity led to a quirky bet concerning whether he’d score a touchdown during the Super Bowl. (He did.) Countless absurd bets have followed, such as the proposition in 2013 as to whether any players will be arrested in the lead-up to the game, and whether or not the announcers at last year’s Super Bowl would say the word “marijuana” during the telecast. (The game concerned teams from two states where recreational marijuana sales became legal in 2014.)

By some reckoning, roughly one-third of all Super Bowl wagers aren’t about basics like the over/under or which team will win, but are prop bets like those cited above. Why are people interested in betting on such gimmicky nonsense?

Bruce Svare, a psychology professor at SUNY-Albany who studies sports and addiction, says that there isn’t much research regarding prop bets, at least partially because the phenomenon is so new and, for now at least, largely limited to the Super Bowl. “What I can tell you is that the gambling industry is willing to devise anything to bring more money their way in profits,” Svare said via email. “Proposition betting is probably very popular because gamblers seek frequent and immediate action and gratification.”

In fact, the strangeness and novelty of these gimmicky bets is likely part of the allure. “It is well known that novelty can also drive biochemical events in the brain that may lead to increased interest and ultimately greater vulnerability to addiction for some individuals,” Svare said.

Among the 2015 Super Bowl’s silliest prop bets, the subjects for wagering include:

Bill Belichick’s Fashion and Facial Expressions
In a bet involving the color of hoodie worn during the game by the New England Patriots coach, gray is the favorite, while blue and red are the underdogs. Place a $100 bet on gray, and if you’re right, you win $50. Another bet involves the odds of the surly, ultra-serious coach actually smiling on camera during the game.

Meaningless Game Statistics
You can bet on the total yardage of all made field goals during the game (over/under: 111.5 yards), whether or not the first kickoff results in a touchback, the length of the game’s shortest touchdown (over/under 1.5 yards), and if the game will decided by exactly 3 points, among other options.

The Announcers
You can wager on the number of times halftime performer Katy Perry will be mentioned on air during the first half of the game, as well as how many times the announcers will say “deflated balls” (over/under: 2.5) during the telecast.

Other Sports
For instance, you can bet whether there will be more goals in an NHL that day (perhaps Coyotes-Canadiens or Blues-Capitals) than there are touchdowns scored in the Super Bowl by the Patriots and Seahawks. Other bets involve Barclay’s Premier League Soccer (will Cristiano Ronaldo score more goals than Marshawn Lynch has touchdowns?) and the NBA (Will the Warriors’ Stephen Curry make more 3-pointers than there are made field goals during the Super Bowl?).

Stuff That Has Nothing to Do With Any Sports
In addition to one-air mentions of Katy Perry’s name, gamblers can place bets on what songs she’ll sing, whether she’ll wear pants, shorts, or a skirt, and whether or not singer Idina Menzel will omit at least one word in her rendition of the National Anthem before the game.

Marshawn Lynch’s Crotch
The Seahawks’ running back was fined $20,000 recently for grabbing his crotch to celebrate a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers, and he was fined $100,000 earlier this season for not speaking to reporters. Ironically, the NFL has been selling photos of Lynch’s crotch-grab celebration for $150 a pop. What does any of this have to do with betting on the Super Bowl? Well, gamblers can bet on whether Lynch will grab his crotch in the game after scoring a touchdown—a $100 bet that the crass move will indeed happen will pay $400.

The tacticians out there will notice that Lynch made a rare media appearance this week in order to avoid being hit with a $500,000 fine by the NFL. That may indicate he’s not keen on getting fined again, and therefore would make the case that Lynch wouldn’t make an obscene gesture during the Super Bowl. To break down this proposition further … oh, who are we kidding? This is a wager about a guy grabbing his crotch. If you’re betting on this, you’re not thinking about it too seriously. We hope.

TIME super bowl 49

Marshawn Lynch Owes Us Nothing

NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks Team Media Availability
Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch sits at his podium during a Super Bowl XLIX media availability at the Arizona Grand Hotel on January 28, 2015 in Chandler, Arizona. Christian Petersen—Getty Images

Like it or not, the Seattle running back's media boycott does him no harm. So why should he speak?

Seattle Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch has made a sport of ignoring the press. At Super Bowl media day on Tuesday, he answered questions with a stock response: “I’m just here so I won’t get fined.” He uttered that phrase 29 times in less than five minutes. (Reportedly, the NFL threatened Lynch with a $500,000 fine if he didn’t show). During Wednesday’s media session, he switched things up a bit. “You know why I’m here,” Lynch said 14 times.

Lynch’s performance sparked the typical finger-wagging. “Crass Act,” screamed one columnist. Boycott Skittles! (Lynch has a confectionery deal).

Or is Lynch actually an American hero?

Then there was this tweet:

Wow, that’s quite a proclamation on the importance of one’s profession. Especially in 2015.

Athletes no longer need the media; more specifically, the news organizations that used to have a sweet monopoly on delivering what we now call “content.” (Surely the television and distribution arms thats deliver the actual football action to millions of viewers help underwrite Lynch’s paycheck. But Lynch isn’t sticking it that type of “media.” And the complaints aren’t coming from, say, the network that will draw a record number of eyeballs Super Bowl Sunday, no matter how Lynch behaves). If Lynch wants to put his story and views out there, he can do it himself on Twitter. Or nab a senior editorship at Derek Jeter’s thingy. Or on the team website. Or on Entertainment Tonight, with whom Lynch actually chose to speak.

That’s the key: the choice is his. A more charismatic media presence could win Lynch more endorsement deals. But as long as he can plow through defenses on the football field, he’ll still make millions if he never says a word. You can think Lynch’s act is rude and is doing the media, and a segment of fans, a disservice. You can think the NFL’s fines are draconian. But you just can’t argue that third-party inquisitors are the reason Lynch and his fellow NFL players are the most obsessed-over athletes in the country. If Lynch wants to shut it down, no one will stop watching him play.

TIME NFL

Marshawn Lynch May Be Fined for Beast Mode Hat

NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks Team Media Availability
Running back Marshawn Lynch #24 of the Seattle Seahawks sits at his podium during a Super Bowl XLIX media availability on Jan. 28, 2015 in Chandler, Ariz. Christian Petersen—Getty Images

Seahawks player has already been fined $100,000 by the league for refusing to speak to media after games

Even though Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch met his obligation and showed up at Media Day at the Super Bowl, he could still face a fine for wearing unsanctioned gear, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Darren Rovell report.

Lynch’s agent Doug Hendrickson said Wednesday he had not heard from the NFL regarding a fine, ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported.

Lynch spent fewer than five minutes at the podium on Tuesday, repeating “I’m just here so I won’t be fined” almost 30 times.

But Lynch wore a hat with a Beast Mode logo on it, which is selling for $33 on the company’s website and drew the attention of the league.

According to the report, the league does not like when players wear gear or promote a brand that it has not already approved.

There is precedent for the league fining players for running afoul for not wearing approved brands. Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was fined $100,000 for wearing a Vitamin Water hat during Media Day at Super Bowl XLI in 2007.

Lynch has already been fined $100,000 by the league for refusing to speak to the media after games and has been fined twice this season for making an inappropriate gesture after touchdowns.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME public health

Even More Bad News For Young Football Players

helmet football concussion
Getty Images

Former NFL players performed below expectations for their age groups on cognitive assessments

Professional football players who began playing tackle football before age 12 experienced more dramatic cognitive decline as adults than their counterparts who begin playing later in life, found a new study in the journal Neurology. Overall, former NFL players in the study performed below expectations for their age groups on cognitive assessments.

“As a society we need to question whether we should sanction and condone allowing our children at a young age to having their brains be jostled about inside their skulls hundreds of times per season,” says study author Robert A. Stern, a professor at Boston University.

The study tested 42 former NFL players who were experiencing brain function issues on their ability to remember a list of words, solve problems requiring mental flexibility and read and pronounce uncommon words. Athletes who began playing before age 12 performed significantly worse than their late-starting counterparts on all measures.

MORE: The Tragic Risks of American Football

The results challenge a common misconception that young people are likely fine if they aren’t experiencing full-blown concussions or dramatic injuries. Repeated hits sustained by children under 12, even if they’re not traumatic, may also affect the brain’s structure and function, the study suggests.

“For me, the biggest concern in long-term consequences is not concussion, but rather sub-concussive exposure,” says Stern. “We need to continue anything and everything possible to reduce the number of hits.”

Stern describes the findings as “robust” but noted the study’s limitations. For one, focusing solely on NFL players makes it impossible to generalize the findings to all athletes, or even all football players. Still, he says, the notion that tackle football poses the risk of brain damage just makes “logical sense.”

MORE: Football Head Impacts Can Cause Brain Changes Even Without Concussion

The study, released just days before the Super Bowl, adds to a growing body of evidence on the dangers of the sport, particularly for young people. A 2012 Virginia Tech study, for instance, tracked accelerometers in the helmets of youth football players ages 7 and 8 and found that the average player received 107 impacts throughout the course of the season, some at speeds equivalent to a car accident. Parents have responded to the mounting research by questioning whether their kids should play the sport at all. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of children ages 6 to 12 playing tackle football declined by more than 25%.

TIME Super Bowl

The Simple Way to Make Football Safer

Better materials could mean fewer concussions

Football is not a safe sport. Even though players wear lots of protective gear and helmets to protect their skulls, it doesn’t stop what many are calling a “concussion epidemic” among U.S. sports. But, one scientist is calling upon the community to develop new materials that could make helmets much safer.

A new study published Wednesday shows former NFL players who played tackle football before age 12 were more likely to have memory and thinking problems when they’re adults. But scientist Ainissa Ramirez, author of the book Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game, says it doesn’t have to be this way. If helmets were made with better materials, players’ brains could be better protected. “Helmet material is too stiff, it’s not able to absorb the force,” she says.

MORE: How a Digital Football Could Have Saved Us From Deflategate

Ramirez and her co-author Allen St. John decided to ask the question: Why don’t other animals who hit their heads often get concussions? First, they looked at the woodpecker. “What we learned that woodpeckers don’t get concussions because they have small brains which means they can handle bigger forces,” explains Ramirez. “You know this intuitively, if your cellphone drops off your desk or your laptop drops off your desk, you’re not going to be too worried about your cell phone but you’re going to be afraid for your laptop.”

Next they looked at rams, and made a promising discovery. “Rams and big horned sheep hit each other at 40 miles and hour, and seconds later they are coming back for more,” says Ramirez. “They have brains comparable to our own size. They can survive and not get concussions because of their horns.” Rams’ horns are made out of a polymer called keratin. Keratin is in our hair, our fingernails, in tortoise shells, and porcupine quills for example. Ramirez says it’s very stretchy, and for rams, it acts like a crumple zone for a car, but with the ability to recover.

“We need better materials [for helmets] and we can borrow from nature. Maybe we need a material that’s sort of like keratin,” says Ramirez.

It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve borrowed from nature. Velcro, for example, was created in the 1950s when George de Mestral, a Swiss electrical engineer. After returning from a walk, he discovered his socks and his dog’s fur were covered in burs. Intrigued by how they worked, de Mestral looked at the burs under a microscope and discovered a bunch of little hooks, which became the inspiration for velcro.

Ramirez isn’t positive that keratin will for sure work as a helmet material, but she’s calling on the scientific community to try it out, or at least prioritize the search for better materials. Despite the fact that in 2013 the NFL launched a $10 million program to find better shock absorbent materials for helmets and other technologies to prevent concussions, there hasn’t been much of a race for finding the perfect material. One promising effort is from a team at UCLA that’s researching the use of a energy-absorbing microlattice material that could replace the foam in helmets.

You can watch a video of UCLA’s material below:

Ramirez says she thinks there are not many academics taking on helmet materials because the field isn’t “sexy.” “Scientists have egos like everyone else and if you’re sitting at the table working on helmet material, people think, ‘well what’s wrong with that person?’” says Ramirez. “It’s also hard to get an audience with the NFL. There are a lot of barriers.”

Still, the hope is that more priority and funding from the NFL and medical community will spur greater innovation for new helmet materials. We might see new technologies to prevent concussions in the near future, though not in time for the Super Bowl this weekend.

 

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