TIME Sports

ESPN Sportscaster Suspended After Ray Rice Comments Stir Controversy

Commentator Stephen A. Smith has been accused of victim blaming

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Updated at 5:45 p.m.

ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith has been suspended from the network for one week following controversial comments he made suggesting an NFL player’s wife may have provoked the alleged severe beating that landed her husband in jail.

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, Smith implied Monday 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 announced in a message to USA Today Tuesday that Smith won’t appear on First Take or ESPN radio “for the next week.” He’ll return to work on Wednesday, the network said.

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 Opinion

The NFL Needs to Take Domestic Violence Seriously

Ray Rice Press Conference
Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens pauses while addressing a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training center on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Rob Carr—Getty Images

Ray Rice's slap-on-the-wrist suspension shows the league doesn't respect women

On Thursday, the NFL issued a two-game suspension to Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice, who this spring was indicted for allegedly hitting his now-wife so hard that he knocked her unconscious. Rice was caught by a security camera dragging his unconscious then-fiancee out of an elevator in an Atlantic City Casino after the supposed incident. The video went viral, thanks to TMZ. It is truly disturbing: at one point the elevator keeps closing on the motionless fiancee’s feet. Considering his actions, Rice’s light punishment is a joke.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended players for longer because of DUIs, smoking pot and illegal tattoos. Fourteen other NFL players have been suspended in 2014, all for drug use—performance-enhancing or otherwise. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is currently appealing a one-year suspension for marijuana use. Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis will sit out four games for taking illegal fertility drugs in hopes of getting his wife pregnant, according to Mathis. Again, Rice will sit for just two games.

As fans, we can’t speculate on details of the altercation: Ray and Janay Rice have tied the knot since the incident, and he has publicly apologized for using violence. But what we do know is this: there’s a tape of Ray Rice dragging an unconscious woman out of an elevator; he was charged with third-degree aggravated assault; a grand jury indicted him; a trial never took place, and he has agreed to enter counseling.

We also know that the NFL has a long history of players accused of committing domestic violence. According statistics from U-T San Diego, 21 of 32 NFL teams employed a player with a domestic or sexual violence charge on their record last year. Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington and Minnesota Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson have all recently been arrested for assault in domestic disputes.

Excusing these players’ actions sends the message that the country’s number one sports league doesn’t care about women (unless they’re attending games or buying merchandise). And it perpetuates the idea that these actions are okay when already 25% of women will be the victim of domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

And such a light sentence opens the door to victim blaming. After the video leaked, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome speculated that perhaps a “different story” would come out, implying that maybe Janay Rice did something to deserve being hit. (To clarify, no victim of domestic violence, male or female, ever deserves to be hit.) Janay Rice fueled the fire herself in a news conference in May by saying, “I do deeply regret the role I played in the incident that night.” Some may rationalize the light punishment by pointing to Janay’s forgiving Rice and Rice’s one-on-one meeting with Goodell. That’s not the message the NFL should be sending.

The NFL’s actions have disturbed fans and players alike. Former player Scott Fujita tweeted:

Goodell promised in 2012 that the NFL would take a stand on domestic violence arrests. And two years later, Goodell is doling out two game suspensions. Get serious, NFL.

MONEY Sports

How the Economics of Playing Football and Basketball Compare

That loud roar you heard this week was NFL training camp getting under way. With less than six weeks until the Green Bay Packers head to Seattle for a game against the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks, fans across the country are following every move of their favorite players and planning for their fantasy football draft.

We decided to take a look at some of the important markers in the life-cycle of a professional athlete. From sporting gear to concussion rates, the gallery below provides a snapshot of what parents have to pay to get their kids on the field—and how long players stay in the big leagues once they actually get there.

To put the numbers in a little bit of context we compared football’s costs to basketball’s.

TIME NFL

Ray Rice Suspended For 2 Games Over Assault Charge

Ray Rice Press Conference
Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens addresses a news conference at the Ravens training center on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Rob Carr—Getty Images

Rice was indicted for assaulting his now-wife in March

The National Football League confirmed Thursday that the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice has been suspended for two games without pay and given a $58,000 fine after a grand jury indicted Rice with assaulting a woman he later married.

“As you acknowledged during our meeting, your conduct was unquestionably inconsistent with league polices and the standard of behavior required of everyone who is part of the NFL,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote to Rice in a letter following a meeting between the two men.

Rice pled not guilty to aggravated assault in the third degree after a physical altercation between him and then-fiancee Janay Palmer left Palmer unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator. A grand jury indicted Rice in March; Rice and Palmer married the following day. Rice settled those charges by entering a pretrial program in May, which meant he was not required to pay a criminal fine or serve jail time. The indictment will be cleared from Rice’s record in one year.

However, the NFL says Rice violated the league’s personal conduct policy, opening him up to punishment by the league.

The running back’s suspension from play will begin on Aug. 30, and he will be eligible to play again on Sept. 12. He will not be paid for those two games plus an additional game, a loss that totals in more than $470,000. He is permitted to participate in training camp and preseason games. The three-time Pro Bowl player can appeal the decision within three days.

Goodell went on to say that Rice was expected to continue counseling.

“It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that’s my fault,” Rice said in a statement released by the team. “As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents.”

“We also respect the efforts Ray has made to become the best partner and father he can be,” General Manager and Executive Vice President Ozzie Newsome said in a statement. “That night was not typical of the Ray Rice we know and respect. We believe that he will not let that one night define who he is, and he is determined to make sure something like this never happens again.”

TIME NFL

Watch Michael Sam’s Emotional Speech at the ESPYs

“Great things can happen if you have the courage to be yourself”

Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player to be drafted by the NFL, gave a powerful speech about being true to oneself during his acceptance speech for the ESPYs Arthur Ashe Courage Award in Los Angeles.

The defensive end, who made history after being drafted by the St. Louis Rams earlier this year, began by quoting the late tennis star Arthur Ashe: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

“Those are words to live by, whether you’re black or white, young or old, straight or gay,” Sam said, holding back tears.

Sam told a story of speaking with a woman who was considering suicide rather than come out to her loved ones. “When we spoke she told me that she would never consider hurting herself again and that somehow my example would help,” he said to a round of applause from the crowd.

“To anyone out there, especially young people, feeling like they don’t fit in and will never be accepted, please know this: great things can happen if you have the courage to be yourself.”

TIME NFL

Pro Gay-Rights Former NFL Player Suing Vikings to Release Dismissal Report

Chris Kluwe
Former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, pictured in a 2012 Minnesota Vikings NFL portrait. AP

Chris Kluwe, the outspoken ex-NFL punter, plans on suing his old team, the Minnesota Vikings, for discrimination

When former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe posted an explosive article on Deadspin in January, alleging that the team dumped him for being an outspoken supporter of gay marriage, he knew his career was pretty much over.

“I’m now known as the activist punter,” Kluwe tells TIME. “So when teams are choosing between a guy who has baggage and a guy who doesn’t, then it’s usually an easy choice for the team to make.”

What Kluwe didn’t expect was that the Vikings would open an independent investigation of his claims, and then, he says, keep those findings hidden.

So Kluwe announced Tuesday that he plans to file a discrimination suit against the Vikings, unless the findings of the investigation are made public. According to Kluwe’s lawyer, Clayton Halunen, over the past few months he and the Vikings have discussed terms of a possible settlement, which included the report going public, a donation of $1 million to two LGBT charities, and a public apology from special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who allegedly said in a meeting “we should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows.” (Priefer was retained as an assistant by new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer).

Halunen said he talked to the investigators hired by the Vikings to probe the case, and they told him the report was finished and corroborated the gist of Kluwe’s allegations, including Priefer’s remark. On Monday afternoon, however, Halunen says he met with Vikings lawyers, and they told him the team wouldn’t release the report. “For six months, we were repeatedly told that the report would be made public,” says Halunen. “This news was very shocking.”

In a statement, the Vikings said, in part, that “in order to further maintain objectivity and integrity, the team engaged a nationally-prominent law firm — Littler Mendelson P.C. — to evaluate employment law matters and provide findings and recommendations to the Vikings. Those recommendations are to be provided to the team this week … the Vikings have never made or broken promises as Kluwe and his attorney Clayton Halunen have claimed … As we have consistently communicated throughout this process, the Vikings will have further comment when the investigation is entirely complete and the team has made determinations on next steps.” You can read the full statement here. The Vikings did not return a request for further comment. Halunen and the team’s lawyers are scheduled to meet on Thursday.

Why does Kluwe want the report to go public?

“For one, it corroborates my claims, obviously, or else they would have made it public by now,” says Kluwe. “And two, it shows the kind of atmosphere that could be allowed to happen if steps aren’t taken to correct that kind of culture. We want to make people aware that what they’re saying has consequences, and can be potentially hurtful to other people.” He also hopes the NFL can learn lessons. “Even though you are the NFL, you are still a business, and you are required to abide by the law,” Kluwe says. “You can’t say, just because this is football we don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else, which I think is very important when you’re talking about a multi-billion-dollar-a-year industry that frequently takes public funds to construct stadiums and host events.”

In his Deadspin piece, Kluwe wrote, “If there’s one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story, it’s to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL.” Kluwe wants that one back.

“I was being too harsh there,” Kluwe says. “What I would like to see is coach Priefer suspended for a period of time, subject to the personal conduct policy — I mean, that’s something we all have to abide by — and then to get training and work with the LGBT groups to understand why what he did was wrong. Because that way, he can serve as a positive role model to other potential coaches or managers out there who might be thinking of doing the same thing he did.

“The NFL is all about redemption stories, right?”

Lately, Kluwe spends his days as a stay-at-home-dad and science fiction novelist. He’s currently shopping a book, entitled “Genesis Prime,” which he co-wrote with friend and bandmate Andy Reiner (Kluwe plays bass for Tripping Icarus, a Minneapolis-based group).

“It’s essentially a very human story about what happens with those in power, as power always corrupts,” Kluwe says. “You can start out with the noblest of intentions, but then along the way you get to a point where you might think you’re doing things for the right reasons, but you’re not.” Hmmm. NFL metaphor, anyone? “No so much the NFL, just large structures in general,” Kluwe says. “You can look at what’s happening with the NSA, you can look at what’s happening with our drone program, even what’s happening with the Catholic Church.”

While Kluwe is comfortable pursuing a writing career and looking after his two young daughters in their Huntington Beach, Calif. home, he still wants an NFL job. He has eight years of punting experience, and was in the top-10 in yards-per-punt during three different seasons. Kluwe says he’s been kicking balls, and is in game shape. Still, since the Deadspin story posted, no NFL team has called. He doesn’t regret writing the piece, but is still disappointed.

“In the NFL, it’s okay to commit crimes or beat your wife or get caught drunk driving, but when you speak out for something, that’s the line you can’t cross.

“Apparently, I can’t be redeemed.”

MONEY Sports

Why Germany Is So Good At Soccer (and the U.S. Is So Mediocre) in 2 Charts

Germany's national soccer players Roman Weidenfeller, Shkodran Mustafi, Andre Schuerrle , Kevin Grosskreutz and Per Mertesacker celebrate
Kai Pfaffenbach—Reuters

Hint: It's Focus.

As Germany takes the pitch Sunday, fresh off crushing Brazil’s World Cup hopes in a historic 7-1 blowout, it’s worth reflecting how Germany got there. Not the team; the country.

See, this isn’t Germany’s first grab at the sport’s brass ring.The German national team is one of international soccer’s most consistent powerhouses. German teams—including those from the Nazi era, post-war West Germany, and reunified Germany—have qualified for 18 of 20 World Cup tournaments and missed the quarter finals of those only once. The team has also made it to a mind-blowing seven finals — a 35% appearance rate — winning three of them.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States has not exactly replicated Deutschland’s success. The U.S. has zero titles and zero finals appearances, and reached the semi-finals only once, at the first World Cup in 1930. This year, we were eliminated by Belgium in the round of 16, and finished 15th overall in the tournament. Not bad by our standards, but not great. And certainly not befitting of a country with the world’s largest economy, 300 million people, and an extremely competitive national team in almost every other team sport.

So why is Germany is so good and the U.S. so mediocre? Following America’s most recent loss, many theories have been offered. We over-coach our players; our college system doesn’t mirror international play; we don’t have a soccer “culture.” There’s likely some truth to all of these answers, but there’s one I find most convincing: competition from other sports. The U.S. has only so much athletic talent, and unlike many other nations, we tend to spread it around. Germany, on the other hand, concentrates the vast majority of its athletic talent on soccer—and they’ve certainly reaped the rewards.

In order to visualize this, I’ve assembled pie charts showing the revenue breakdown of the most popular professional sports leagues. The numbers aren’t perfectly analogous—updated figures on smaller German team sports are hard to come by, sports seasons don’t coincide and sometimes span more than one calendar year, and we’re including only major team sports. But as a rough proxy for each nation’s athletic focus, they are offer a clear picture of the sports the two nations care most about and to which they dedicate the most resources and, as economists and others would argue, talent.

In the two charts below, the green pie slice represents the percentage of major team sports revenue that goes to soccer. As you can see, it’s not even close.

GermanySportsRevNew

 

USSportsRev

Soccer eats up the overwhelming majority of German team sports revenue, while in the US, it barely makes up a sliver. Germany’s three major soccer leagues each take in over €100 million, and their combined revenue is €2.8 billion—the equivalent of over $3.8 billion. There’s really only one major sport in Germany, with a few second-tier leagues running far behind.

In comparison, America’s MLS teams have a combined revenue of about $494 million, as estimated by Forbes in 2013 (the MLS does not release total revenue figures). That’s about 1/7th of the NHL’s revenue, and 1/20th of the NFL’s total income.

So next time you’re wondering why the U.S. isn’t good at soccer, remember: the American people are not exactly focussed on the “beautiful game.” All things considered, it’s surprising we aren’t worse.

Sources: BBL: Deloitte via SportsBusinessDaily; DEL: Deloitte via SportsBusinessDaily; 3. Liga: DFB official figure; Bundesliga: 2014 report; 2. Bundesliga: 2014 report; NFL: Forbes via Statistica; NBA: Forbes via Statistica; NHL: CBS Sports; MLB: Forbes; MLS: Forbes

 

TIME Football

Judge Okays Preliminary $765M Settlement for NFL Concussion Suit

The new deal addresses a judge's concerns about the earlier terms

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A federal judge on Monday granted preliminary approval of a $765 million settlement between the National Football League and the lawyers of more than 4,500 retired players who sued the league for allegedly covering up risks from concussions and head injuries.

The more than 20,000 eligible retired NFL players and their beneficiaries will now vote on the settlement, which eliminates the cap on damages that the NFL would pay to retirees with particular neurological conditions, the New York Times reports.

The new settlement addresses the concerns of U.S. District Court Judge Anita B. Brody of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, who rejected the original $675 million settlement terms in January because she thought the funds would not last the duration of the 65-year settlement, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. To reduce the risk of fraudulent claims, the new terms also allow the NFL to challenge retired players’ claims.

Retired players, who will receive information about the settlement in the mail ahead of the vote, will be counted as in favor of the settlement unless they specifically opt out. Retired players are also allowed to object to some of the terms of the deal.

Last week, seven players formally objected to the terms of the settlement. They can appeal it if the judge does not take their objections into account, and no money will be awarded until all the appeals processes are completed.

[NYT]

TIME NFL

It’s Time for the Redskins to Change Their Name — or Be Buffoons

Dan Snyder is out of excuses

Over the past year or so, we’ve seen landmark shifts in sports. Not that long ago, these movements and actions seemed like long shots at best. An openly gay player suited up for an NBA team, another one was drafted by an NFL franchise. The Ed O’Bannon trial, which is playing out in court in Northern California, threatens the amateur model in college sports. A group of Northwestern players have voted on whether or not to unionize. The NFL settled a lawsuit, brought by former players, that claimed the league was negligent in its handling of concussions — though the amount of money the league ultimately doles out may change.

These are big moves. And now, finally, the easy one — the controversy with such a frustratingly common-sense solution that it should really never have been a controversy at all — got a nice win on Wednesday. If Daniel Snyder now doesn’t just give in and change the name of the Washington Redskins, a nickname that is clearly offensive to some segment of the American population, he will set an all-time record for ownership buffoonery. And if the other NFL owners, led by commissioner Roger Goodell — a man who has long taken pride in doing what he sees as the right thing — don’t squeeze Snyder hard enough so that he changes the name, they’re all officially a bunch of rich buffoons as well.

Goodell & Co. may put more pressure on Snyder, because Wednesday’s ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office canceling the Redskins’ federal trademark registrations could hit the owners where it hurts most: their wallets. Licensed merchandise creates revenue not only for the Redskins but also for all 32 NFL teams who share it. The ruling does not mean the Redskins legally have to change their name or stop selling Redskins merchandise. But the lack of federally registered trademark protections means counterfeiters selling T-shirts with the Redskins name could have more of a claim to cash that normally goes into the NFL revenue pie. “For the owners, this has gone from a moral to a financial issue,” says Warren Zola, sports-law expert at the Caroll School of Management at Boston College.

Practically, the ruling could challenge the NFL’s ability to enforce its trademark protection, says Christine Haight Farley, a trademark-law expert and professor at the American University Washington College of Law. If the ruling withstands appeal — and the Redskins are sure to appeal it — and a counterfeiter starts selling merchandise with the Redskins name, with a design that the patent office has deemed a canceled trademark, that person would likely receive a cease-and-desist letter claiming that while the trademark is unregistered, the Redskins have a common-law claim to the mark. The big question, says Farley, is, If the counterfeiter then challenged the Redskins claim in a federal court, would that court protect a trademark that another federal government entity has canceled and deemed “disparaging to Native Americans”? In some recent cases, Farley says, courts have not protected unregistered marks that have been denied registration under the trademark act. “A federal court may deny a remedy to a party who comes to court with unclean hands,” Farley says.

More important, really, is the timing and wording of the decision. The anti-Redskins movement has been boiling. In May, 50 U.S. Senators signed a letter asking the Redskins to consider changing the name. An effective anti-Redskins ad ran during the NBA Finals. And now the U.S. government has ruled that the term is indeed offensive. Last year, USA Today asked Snyder if he would consider changing the name it he lost the trademark lawsuit. “We’ll never change the name,” he said. “It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

The government canceled the trademarks. It’s time for Snyder to cancel those caps.

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