Why are there so few women in sports technology?

Angelina Lawton is one of the 30 most powerful women in U.S. sports, according to the Forbes, which published its list in March 2018.

As the founder and CEO of interactive sports agency Sportsdigita, Lawton’s client roster includes more than 300 professional and collegiate teams. Iconic franchises such as the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and Los Angeles Lakers are among the organizations that use her company’s exciting, interactive tool Digideck. Sportsdigita’s cloud-based presentation platform enables clients to apply customized tools to facilitate the sales process.

Studies have shown a diverse workforce leads to better productivity and profits. Having women and minorities in sports tech can help products reach the wider sporting audience.

Lawton, an Arizona State University alumna, is one of only two technology company founders on Forbes’ list.

“Like most other industries, the sports industry is being disrupted by technology advancements and cultural changes,” Deloitte wrote in 2018 for its annual report on sports industry trends. However, the number of women at the helm of these companies remains stagnant.

Low representation of women in both sports and tech has been studied and well-documented over the past decade. Most research arrives at a similar conclusion: female entrepreneurs are approached, evaluated and managed differently, even in Silicon Valley and the other designated tech Meccas which fancy themselves meritocracies.

Like Lawton, Ashley Wellington-Fahey used her tech background as a foundation for a successful sports business launch. The Relish released its mobile app in October 2018 to showcase the millennial female sports fan’s perspective, a need she identified eight years earlier.

“Previously, we (female fans) were dependent on other peoples’ platforms,” Wellington-Fahey said. “We were using social media to connect. Now, our mobile app-based platform lets the fans turn the camera on themselves and create a community network around topics that we’ve curated.”

Ashley Wellington-Fahey (Photo courtesy Marielle Balogh)

Wellington-Fahey launched the video-based mobile app at a time when college sports have taken over the channel guide, the NFL is in midseason form, and the NHL and NBA are ramping up. However, women are often overlooked until the Kiss Cam. The Relish seeks to engage the female fan on every level.

Wellington-Fahey’s understanding of tech entrepreneurship was key to choosing a tool. “We knew we wanted to do video. (It) had a low enough barrier to entry but was sophisticated enough to do what we were trying to do. There’s an evolution of our tech stack as an MVP (minimum viable product) for a new platform. This will enable us to get something to market efficiently and quickly but also perform well.”     

That breadth of focus is a key distinction. Many previous women-centered projects focused on one-off topics such as sports motherhood, limiting the platform based on the false assumption that women without children had no reason or desire to spend money and time on sports.

“There’s a missed opportunity to reach women who are not moms,” Wellington-Fahey said. “I believe that we need to brand and scale an audience. Then we can develop a project to service those needs. There’s a way to address that market and that’s to include technology to help solve that problem.”

Companies such as Sidelinepass.com attempted to address the needs of the female fans but faltered due to funding limitations. Wellington-Fahey plans workarounds while acknowledging the potential pitfalls that plagued her predecessors.

The notion that sexism runs rampant in the sports world also didn’t deter her. She cut her teeth at Pandora and other technology startups. She’s familiar with the rumors of the rampant “Brotopia” culture.

“I’ve worked in (San Francisco) for eight years,” Wellington-Fahey said. “Yes, there’s a triple threat in male dominated spaces that I deal with every day. Venture and tech do have voices for women, but for women and sports, there’s still a lot more room at the top … whether it’s on the field, in the front office, or behind the desk.”

When asked if the toxic Brotopia culture described in the book of the same name was representative of her personal experience while working in Silicon Valley, she replied emphatically: “Yes, YES!”

“Brotopia is one of the core reasons we see women underfunded,” Wellington-Fahey said. “That culture is what holds women back. You had to work three to five times harder. You would still be underpaid, still be underfunded, and still underrepresented. Saying no to that question would do a disservice to everything we’re trying to fix.”

The fix will require concentrated efforts at every level of the sports tech industry. To make headway, those efforts must be monetized.

Money To Grow On

“For female entrepreneurs, the numbers are clear: they own 38 percent of all businesses in the United States, yet they are only receive 2 percent of all venture financing. And even when they are able to raise money, female entrepreneurs find that it is in amounts much lower than their male counterparts.” (Scientific American)

Facts show the engaged, knowledgeable female sports fan base keeps growing. The numbers also show that companies founded by women tend to outperform peer institutions. However, the majority of resources and funds remain directed toward male founders. Women, however, are no longer content to remain in the proverbial kitchen of self-funded blogs or nonprofits.

But how do they join the funded founders’ boys club?

The women-owned companies Sportsdigita and The Relish are outliers as most vc-funded sports-focused companies are founded by men. In January 2018, Sportsdigita announced the completion of its first investment round from Chicago-based PEAK6 Sports.

“Industry analysts value the sales enablement sector at $700 million annually today with expectations to reach $5 billion by 2021.

The company had been approached several times in the previous five years by venture capitalists eager to add them to the client roster. Lawton, true to form, moved cautiously.

“It’s important to not just take any money you can get your hands on without first considering all aspects of a possible deal. For Sportsdigita, securing funding required a lot of vetting and research along the way,” she said.

The Relish closed its first round of venture funding in 2017, a year after the company launch. It has raised more than a million dollars from notable investors such as Charles Hudson at Precursor Ventures, SLO Ventures, Halogen Ventures and Sara Clemens, the COO of Twitch and Chamillionaire. In addition to financial backing, Wellington-Fahey said the mentorship from venture fund individuals helps the company course correct and plan smartly. That advice helps funding recipients make the best use of the resources, but she’s aware her company receives less than her peers’ startups.

“We’ve raised over a million dollars. I can compare The Relish to companies founded by men with far less traction, and they raise more money. The excuses …  The benchmark always changes. Other male founders will admit that they don’t hear the same excuses that a lot of us female founders hear,”.

What/Who gives?

The notion that it’s more difficult for women to find dollars is not an imaginary windmill. It’s a legitimate concern for women entering the sports tech sector.

“A field study conducted on question-and-answer interactions at TechCrunch Disrupt New York City during 2010 through 2016 reveals that investors tend to ask male entrepreneurs promotion-focused questions and female entrepreneurs prevention-focused questions, and that entrepreneurs tend to respond with matching regulatory focus.” “We Ask Men to Win and Women Not to Lose: Closing the Gender Gap in Startup Funding”

From initial concept, women-led companies face gender-based hurdles. In classic chicken-egg fashion, the companies receive less funding during the early stages, thus facing greater obstacles to growth, including limited resources and understaffing. How can they transition, then, into the next level of company development? It’s tough in general, but even harder in a field like sports technology where a female founder is considered outside the norm.

“When women do seek funding, venture capitalists do not respond positively when their business concepts fall outside of traditionally ‘feminine’ areas such as fashion or children’s products,” Wendy DuBow and Allison-Scott Pruitt wrote in 2017 for the Harvard Business Review.

Jasmine Robinson of Causeway Media Partners provided a funder’s perspective. Causeway is a Palo Alto-based growth stage investment firm focusing on sports media and technology companies. With $345 million in capital under management, companies they have funded include wearables, fitness apps and venue technology. Causeway’s minimum revenue size is $5 million.

After graduating from Harvard University, Robinson joined Bain & Company. While there, she found the chance to move into the sports industry, her passion, and made the leap. She spent seven years in the sports industry, first as a member of the strategy team tasked with the San Francisco 49ers transition from Candlestick Park to Levi Stadium and then to a role with an investment company. When she realized how much she really liked investing, she elected to go to Stanford University Business School to strengthen her skills.

“I didn’t think that I was going be able to thread the needle doing both sports and investing, but ended up lucky enough and I found Causeway,” Robinson said. “It checked a lot of the boxes that I wanted which were later stage investing and in an area that I was excited and passionate about — sports, which was my top choice.”

Robinson hasn’t been as affected by rampant sexism others have detailed, finding sage mentors early in her career who helped guide her course. She is aware of the problem.

“Certainly it’s something that’s always top of mind, thinking of how I can help other people; how we as a society can make the workplace a little bit better … women are 50 percent of the population,” Robinson said. “If everything were going right, they’d be 50 percent of the people in the sports jobs and technology jobs.”

Currently, there are no female CEO’s in Causeway’s portfolio, although a majority of the companies have senior roles occupied by women. According to the Harvard Business Review article, the gender gap in funding is moving in the wrong direction both in terms of the number of deals and the amount of money offered to aspiring female entrepreneurs, especially in the technology sector. The facts deter many would-be startup leaders. If they can’t find funds to get off the ground, how do they attract support?

“We’ve all seen the data where female-owned companies really struggle to gain early stage funding … it’s really hard for a female-owned company to reach the type of revenue rates we like to look at,” Robinson said. “If we find great early stage female CEO’s, we’re really, really happy to introduce them to our network to help them to get funding such that they’ll be ready to be companies that we can invest in in the future. At Causeway, all of our emails are on our website, they are right there. We respond to every email that we receive. Honestly, it’s as easy as reaching out. I’m rooting for all of them.”

 

Q & A with Angelina Lawton

ASU Alumna and Founder of Sportsdigita

Angelina Lawton, a graduate of ASU, combined her passion for marketing, branding and technology to become Founder + CEO of Sportsdigita. The company has disrupted the sports industry by partnering with more than 300 clients across professional sports and collegiate athletics with its groundbreaking interactive presentation platform the Digideck. Sportsdigita expanded to work with enterprise companies and leading agencies outside of sports.

Which challenges have you found that are unique to the tech space?

Angelina Lawton

Finding tech talent is becoming more of a challenge for us. It’s so important for us to find committed, hardworking technology innovators to continue to set our company apart. Developers, in particular, are in high demand at the moment. There are a ton of tech companies in Minneapolis, so there’s a lot of competition for developers.

As a woman, have you encountered skepticism or sexism in the sports technology world?

I have always advocated to use my gender as an opportunity to stand out and set myself apart in a male-dominated industry. I am eager to inspire other women to do the same and be bold with their actions.

How would you describe your shift into the technology sector? What was the moment that moved you to found your company?

The shift from a sports agency to a technology company really happened when our cloud-based presentation platform, the Digideck, began to take off. We were seeing an unprecedented amount of success with the Digideck product and realized it held a ton of potential.

Prior to founding Sportsdigita, I was the senior vice-president of corporate communications for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. In this role, I was essentially responsible for anything with the Lightning logo on it. Taking on such a huge responsibility with major branding implications made me push to create the first in-house creative agency for a pro sports franchise. After the success with the Lightning, I knew I had something that I could apply across all professional sports. This really gave me the confidence and positive reassurance needed to start my own company.

Would you consider being headquartered away from Silicon Valley’s “Brotopia” culture a benefit?

Absolutely. The Twin Cities is great for startups. There’s a high quality-of-life with a reasonable cost-of-living. And there are a ton of tech and startup companies based here, in sports, in manufacturing, in technology and more. And for us, being somewhat centrally located allows us to serve clients on both coasts equally well.

Securing venture funding is never a cakewalk how would you describe your experience?

We have been fortunate enough with our early success to have been approached by different venture capital groups throughout the last 5 years. We just took in our first investment in 2018 because we felt it was the right time and right partner. It’s important to not just take any money you can get your hands on without first considering all aspects of a possible deal. For Sportsdigita, securing funding required a lot of vetting and research along the way.

My advice is to wait until you feel your company is ready to make the leap into venture capital and then make sure the proper due diligence is done before securing a venture capital partnership. Ensure that your partner shares your vision and will still allow you to make your own business decisions in the future. It is important to stay true to your mission and values throughout the entire process.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with women in both shaping the future of sports technology and finding new opportunities in the market?

There are seven key takeaways I like to share with aspiring women in any industry when working to advance their career:

  • Be a problem solver
  • Have a sense of urgency
  • Don’t be afraid of technology
  • Surround yourself with smart people
  • Don’t apologize
  • Be bold
  • Find your niche

Finally, I always close by emphasizing that women need to support each other. Other women ARE NOT my competition. I stand with them, not against them.

Mia M. Jackson is a writer based in Germantown, Maryland. 

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Nature of the game: Is cheating just part of baseball’s DNA?

Manager Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox waits before Game 5 of the 2018 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Oct. 28, 2018 at Dodger Stadium. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Eduardo Perez is a perfect example of a baseball player who learned how to get an edge early in his major league career.

While taking bunting practice during spring training in 1992, Perez fouled a pitch into his left eye, creating permanent damage.

It is as old as the game itself, but does cheating in baseball help or hurt the game?

“I couldn’t see,” Perez told GlobalSport Matters. “I had a tear in the pupil and the eye is permanently dilated. With that tear there I also had a hole in the retina. I had internal bleeding. That’s why I could not see. It was just white because of the blood that was in there.”

Perez, a right-handed hitter whose left eye is dominant (because it is the side he faces the pitcher), played 13 seasons in the big leagues with about 40 percent of his vision.

How did he do it?

He compensated for that vision loss by knowing what the pitcher was going to throw and when he was going to throw it. Glove open on a curveball, closed on a fastball. Hands positioned in a certain way. The tipoffs were many.

The art of reading how pitchers tip their pitches and stealing opposing teams’ signs is as old as the game itself. It’s legal today as long as teams don’t try to use external technology to do it.

The fact it still exists became apparent for many as the Boston Red Sox rampaged through the 2018 postseason, winning the World Series in five games over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians complained the Houston Astros, their opponents during the first two rounds of the American League playoffs, were trying to steal signs. A club employee was seen taking pictures near the photographers’ well opposite the Boston and Cleveland dugouts. Major League Baseball investigated and exonerated the Astros.

“A thorough investigation concluded that an Astros employee was monitoring the field to ensure that the opposing club wasn’t violating any rules,” Major League Baseball said in statement last month.

“A thorough investigation concluded that an Astros employee was monitoring the field to ensure that the opposing club wasn’t violating any rules." - Major League Baseball statement after claims a Houston employee was aiming a cell phone into opponents dugouts

The Astros were neither fined nor sanctioned.

“We consider the matter closed,” MLB concluded. The Astros defeated the Indians in an AL Division Series, but lost to the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series.

During the World Series, the Red Sox complained Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado was trying to steal the catcher’s signs while standing near second base. It was one of many complaints teams had about Machado during the postseason. Boston cured that one by keeping Machado off second base.

Though the Red Sox did most of the complaining about cheating this postseason, the focus on all that skullduggery was simply one factor: Red Sox rookie manager Alex Cora.

“Everyone is paranoid of Alex,” Perez said. “I think a lot has to do with that and his reputation. He has a crew over there that’s brilliant at that. He has Ron Roenicke as a coach, who was known for that as a player. They know one thing: Alex wants to win, and he’s going to uncover or look under any rock possible to give his team an edge.”

Stealing signs

Bobby Thompson, of the N.Y. Giants, faces pitcher Ralph Branca. Years after hitting his famous home run off Branca, Thompson was still circumspect as to whether he knew what pitch was coming to help the Giants win the pennant. (Photo courtesy Getty Images)

Teams have been stealing signs since the beginning of the game. One of the most notorious cases was exposed decades after it occurred. In 1951, the New York Giants won a three-game playoff on Bobby Thomson’s famous home run off Ralph Branca of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

The clubhouses at New York’s Polo Grounds were in dead center field, some 500 feet away from home plate. Manager Leo Durocher, that era’s version of Cora, installed a utility player named Henry Schenz with a telescope at a window in the clubhouse to steal signs by peering at the opposing catcher. In its simplest form, “one” may signal a fastball and “two” a curve.

In today’s game, the signs are shuffled and more intricate.

The Giants had rigged an elaborate electronic system to convey signs from their bullpen to the home dugout. It was a hand signal from Schenz to the bullpen and then a wiring system which set off a buzzer as those stolen signs were relayed to their dugout. That was strictly illegal in baseball even back then.

“You just have to be prepared as a team,” Cora said. “That’s the only thing you can do. Stealing signs and tipping has been going on forever. I learned in Miami. In college, we used to do it. I don’t know if that’s good for the program, but, yeah, we used to do it.”

"Stealing signs and tipping has been going on forever. I learned in Miami. In college, we used to do it. I don’t know if that’s good for the program, but, yeah, we used to do it." - Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora

There are much more sophisticated means to transmit data these days. The Red Sox were fined late in the 2017 season when a Boston trainer was seen using his Apple Watch to relay stolen signs during a game against the New York Yankees, who filed the complaint after reviewing video taken of his actions in the Red Sox dugout. Though iPads and Apple watches are allowed to be used in dugouts to disperse information, contact from outside the dugout to these devices is expressly prohibited.

In the National Football League, coaches are allowed to sit in the press box and relay plays and formations to their counterparts on the field. Not so in baseball, where the only contact allowed on strictly monitored phones is between the dugout and the bullpen, regarding possible pitching changes, or from a replay specialist watching video tape to refer close calls to managers for challenges and review.

In 2016, the Yankees were sanctioned by MLB for misuse of their dugout phone.

Cora was a bench coach for the Astros in 2017 and wasn’t involved in the Apple watch incident.

The subject of technological cheating — devices, camera positions and video room communication — was addressed in early November when general managers held their annual meeting with MLB officials.

“We spent a lot of time on it, and got good suggestions,’’ said Dan Halem, the deputy commissioner, during an end-of-meetings conference with the media. “I think the real issue is giving clubs comfort that other clubs are not using electronic technology to steal signs. We took a variety of measures in the postseason to give clubs comfort that the rules are being enforced. We got some additional suggestions on things we can do. I’ll talk to the commissioner who will make the decision whether we should continue protocols we put in place during the postseason, or whether we should add anything.”

To be sure, the union that represents the players is also monitoring the situation.

“We’re paying attention to it,” said Tony Clark, a former player who is now executive director of the MLB Players Association. “We have to pay attention to it. It’s all in gamesmanship, but we have to be concerned that how it manifests itself on the field doesn’t take away from the integrity of the game itself.”

Going back to that seminal game on Oct. 3, 1951, at the Polo Grounds, did Thomson have the sign for Branca’s pitch that day? Branca always believed he did.

“Stealing signs is nothing to be proud of,” the now deceased Thomson told the Wall Street Journal in 2001. “Of course, the question is, did I take the signs that day?”

Thomson equivocated several times when asked if he was given the stolen sign. In the end, he denied taking it.

“My answer is no,” he said. “I was always proud of that swing.”

Pitch tipping

Clayton Kershaw was sailing along in Game 1 of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2014 NL Division Series. The Dodgers had a 7-1 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals heading into the seventh inning with the left-hander masterfully controlling the game.

Kershaw suddenly fell apart, giving up four consecutive singles. Before he left the game, Kershaw gave up another single, struck out two batters and surrendered a three-run double.

The Cardinals won the game, 10-9, and the best-of-five series in four games. Kershaw beaten again in Game 4.

Why did Kershaw lose it so quickly in that first game?

The Dodgers looked at the video and discovered Kershaw was tipping his pitches from the stretch, according to Logan White, the former vice president of amateur scouting for the team. Watch Kershaw in the stretch. As he starts his motion toward the plate, he has the unorthodox style of raising both arms to full extension high above his head, glove hand meeting pitching hand.

“Stealing signs is nothing to be proud of." - Former New York Giant Bobby Thompson

The Cardinals, then managed by Mike Matheny, a former catcher, were adept at reading him.

“He was tipping his pitchers up here,” demonstrated White, who left Los Angeles shortly after the 2014 season to become pro scouting director for the San Diego Padres.

The Dodgers advised Kershaw, but he wouldn’t admit it or make adjustments. Kershaw is more circumspect these days.

Early in his career, Dodgers star pitcher Clayton Kershaw had issues with tipping his pitches, setting up and throwing them in a way that opposing batters would know what he was about to throw. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

“I think everybody goes through it at some point in their careers,” the now 30-year-old Kershaw said during the 2018 World Series. “Usually when you’re younger, people can pick you apart, and over time figure out things. And same thing with me. I think when I was younger I did some things like that and figured some stuff out, and some guys helped me out with that.

“But this series in particular, obviously there’s stuff coming out about all sorts of ways to get signs. Everybody is paranoid, so everybody is taking the necessary precautions.”

The probability, though, is Boston beat the Dodgers at that game inside the game.

Players from Puerto Rico grew up learning to read pitchers tipping their pitches. Alex Cora and his older brother Joey, now a base coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates were both major league infielders.

Brothers Sandy Jr. and Roberto Alomar also came from a Puerto Rican baseball family. Sandy was a great big-league catcher and is now first base coach with the Cleveland Indians. His younger brother, Robbie, a Hall-of-Fame second baseman, is now a special advisor for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Their father, Sandy Sr., was a big league infielder, coach and mentor. He taught his two boys the vagaries of how to use their special talents to get an edge in the major leagues. No one was better at reading a pitcher than the younger Alomar.

Both Coras played for Alomar Sr. at Caguas in the Puerto Rico Winter League and played with Robbie Alomar.

“I mean, his baseball IQ is off the charts. Robbie tries to take advantage of every little detail,” Alex Cora said. “At that time, we knew this guy was going to be a Hall of Famer. I still remember there’s one out, he’s at second, and we’re playing in Mayagüez. That’s like the biggest rivalry for us in Caguas.

“And the catcher was flipping the ball back to the pitcher, back to the pitcher, back to the pitcher. We’re talking about Robbie Alomar, one of the best players in the big leagues, and he’s playing winter ball. Pitch, flip it and he took off to third. We were in awe. Like, if this guy is doing this, we better start playing that way.”

Eduardo Perez

Perez was the son of an elite Cuban player and grew up around the Big Red Machine of the Cincinnati Reds and Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Perez’ father, Tony. When his father was playing with Rose and Morgan for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1983, Eddie was 13 years old, sitting in the Phillies dugout at Veterans Stadium. He said he was flipping sunflower seeds with pitcher John Denny and somehow one hit Rose, who was watching the game. Rose summoned the kid. He didn’t yell at him. He didn’t kick him out of the dugout. This is what Rose did:

“He reprimanded me and said get your [butt] over here and he made watch the game,” said Perez. “I had to learn everything the pitcher was doing. I could talk in between, but I couldn’t miss a pitch. At that point I didn’t know a fastball from a curveball. I’d never seen a slider my whole life. Pete taught me all the tendencies. What a pitcher would do if he threw a certain pitch.”

After his eye injury, those lessons saved Eddie Perez’s career.

“This was a blessing for me,” he says. “After the injury I had blurry vision. It was 20-80, 20-15 before the injury. I couldn’t see much.”

But Perez had his ways.

To pass eye tests during the annual pre-spring physical, he memorized the last line of the eye chart. The smallest letters and numerals.

“Let’s just go to the 20-20,” he’d tell the doctor. “I had it down.”

Even today, as a broadcaster, he still utilizes his reads of pitchers to analyze the games.

“I can’t help it when I’m watching the game, when I’m broadcasting the game,” Perez said. “It’s part of my DNA now.”

Legal cheating is a part of baseball’s DNA, too, and always will be.

Barry M. Bloom has been a baseball writer since 1976, and a National Baseball Hall of Fame voter since 1992. His sometimes award-winning national reports and columns appeared on MLB.com for the past 16 years, until recently. He’s now a contributing columnist for Forbes.com

 

ICYMI: Ronaldo’s DNA sought, running nuns and UFC star takes down potential thief

We all experience that feeling that the week can sometimes get away from you. News happens so quickly that it might feel like you don’t have a chance to know what is going on in the world. Each week, GlobalSport Matters will compile some of the best of the other stories in the sporting news.  These stories will include new breakthroughs in sport science, information about changing technology and just good reads about the global sporting community. Have a story you’d like us to know about and share? Let us know.

Investigators seek DNA from Cristiano Ronaldo

Authorities have issued a warrant to obtain soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo’s DNA in relation to sexual assault allegations against him. Police reopened a near decade-old lawsuit this past Fall that alleged Ronaldo took advantage of a woman in 2009 at a Las Vegas resort. The warrant will be served in Italy, where Ronaldo plays for the Turin-based club, Juventus, and will be used to find out if it matches DNA recently found on the alleged victim’s dress.

The Vatican launches a track team made up of Swiss Guards, nuns and even a 62-year-old professor

About 60 Holy See runners — Swiss Guards, priests, nuns, pharmacists and even a 62-year-old professor who works in the Vatican’s Apostolic Library — are the first accredited members of Vatican Athletics. It’s the latest iteration of the Holy See’s long-standing promotion of sport as an instrument of dialogue, peace and solidarity.

Media outlets claim Andrew Wiggins apologized for using derogatory term, but Wiggins insists he didn’t

This situation actually began with a frightening injury to Oklahoma City Thunder big man Nerlens Noel, who was carried off the court in a stretcher following a hard fall onto the hardwood in his team’s 119-117 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night. Later in the game, Thunder guard Dennis Schroder became irritated with Minnesota players he believed were making light of the injury and laughing about it on the court. Postgame, Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins responded by calling Schroder something that sounded a lot like “gay,” adding Schroder was “acting crazy for no reason.” As media reports moved around the internet quoting Wiggins’ use of the derogatory term, he took to Twitter to set the record straight, claiming the word he actually said was “getting,” but media outlets including ESPN, the AP and the NBA’s own website stuck to their guns, putting them at odds with the player’s version of events and causing many other writers to question the apparent stubbornness of the reporting.

‘I knew how to defend myself,’ says UFC star Polyana Viana after subduing wannabe thief

Obviously this criminal had no idea who he was targeting. UFC star Polyana Viana was a target of a robbery earlier this week, her profession unknown to the thief. Viana stressed calmness over panic, having a plan just as she would for any other fight.

Shaquille O’Neal joins efforts to pay for murdered girl’s funeral costs

NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal has offered to help cover the funeral costs of Jazmine Harris, the young girl who was killed in an apparent drive-by shooting Dec. 30, 2018, as her family was driving in Houston. O’Neal is teaming up with Houston police officer Kenneth Miles to help cover the funeral cost for the 7-year-old girl; one suspect, Eric Black Jr., is currently in custody and could be facing a capital murder charge for Jazmine’s death. Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins pledged his playoff game check to Jazmine’s family.

The game-day caffeine routine that powers the NBA’s most frequent flyers

Coffee rules the morning for millions of people around the world and now runs the NBA and its most traveled team, the Portland Trailblazers. This is a story about how coffee became integral to the daily routine of the basketball franchise as they embark on their travels, nearly 545,000 miles since 2009 and close to 40,000 miles more than the next closest NBA team!

This cyclist tested positive for a steroid. He’s 90 

90-year-old cyclist Carl Grove tested positive for steroid abuse after setting a world record in his age division for completing six laps in just 3:06.12. Post-race Grove was tested for steroid use where they found small levels of trenbolone. He was stripped of his title until it was determined that these traces of steroids likely came from the consumption of contaminated meat. The United States Anti-Doping Agency has seen many cases of positive test results due to environmental contamination and are attempting to establish minimums for substances that may come up on a test.

Basketball official who reportedly asked to see team’s green cards fired

The Arizona Interscholastic Association fired a basketball referee who reportedly made a racist remark prior to a freshman game. A Facebook post by the mother of one of the players went viral, after she praised the way the young boys responded by playing “with class.” The school is nearly 90 percent Hispanic.

Colorado State football coach declines automatic $100,000 pay raise

Colorado State’s football team had its worst season under head coach Mike Bobo’s four-year tenure in 2018 (worst season since 2011), finishing at 3-9. A three-win season in college football typically will not result in the head coach receiving a $100,000 raise. However, written in Bobo’s contract, he is to receive $100,000 raise every year of his contract through 2022. He declined the raise and said, “I’m the head football coach, and I believe accountability is a two-way street.”

Compiled by the student journalists in the Sports Knowledge Lab at Arizona State University

If you look good, do you play better?

Deion Sanders was known for his sharp outfits and style during his NFL playing days. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

As rock group ZZ Top immortalized in song: “Every girl’s crazy ‘bout a sharp dressed man.”

It’s not how you feel, it’s how you look!

Looking good can give you confidence but science shows it can also help an athlete play better

Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders coined the phrase, “If you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, you play good.” What initially gave off the appearance of just another one of “Primetime’s” classic arrogance may actually hold merit.

Athletes in professional sports today embody this ideal. Looking good on the field raises their confidence and comfortability — qualities that are extremely important to elite athletics.

We know that clothing has the ability to considerably change the perceptions and reactions of others.

High school students who dressed more formally were perceived as more intelligent among both professors and other students. Even therapists who dressed less casually were more likely to have repeat patients, according to a study.

What if clothing could have the opposite effect — not only would dressing to impress give us power over others but over ourselves as well.

Dr. Adam Galinsky, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, argues physical experiences and the experience of wearing clothes and how that makes you feel triggers “abstract concepts and their symbolic meanings.”

“When a piece of clothing is worn, it exerts an influence on the wearer’s psychological processes by activating associated abstract concepts through its symbolic meaning,” wrote Galinsky for a 2012 paper that appeared in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. “Similar to the way in which a physical experience exerts its influence.”

The term, coined by Galinsky, is “Enclothed Cognition.”

“I love the idea of trying to figure out why, when we put on certain clothes, we might more readily take on a role and how that might affect our basic abilities.” said assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College, Joshua Davis.

“Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state. You have to wear the coat, see it on your body, and feel it on your skin for it to influence your psychological processes.” - Northwestern University professor Dr. Adam Galinsky

The study featured undergraduate students who were either given a white doctor’s coat or told to wear street clothes and were administered a test for selective attention, such as spotting minor differences in similar pictures. Those who wore the doctor’s coat made about half as many errors as those in street clothes.

Physicians tend to be more careful, meticulous and aware. Therefore, the students who put on the coats had acquired a heightened sense of attention to detail.

“Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state,” Galinsky said. “You have to wear the coat, see it on your body, and feel it on your skin for it to influence your psychological processes.”

For professional athletes, expressing yourself and being confident in your self-image is one way to give yourself an edge on gameday.

“I believe it’s a placebo effect or whatever you want to call it. There’s a role in how you dress and how you perform,” Odell Beckham Jr. said in an interview with Complex. “When you feel good, look good, you play good.”

“I look forward to when (Nike) sends me pictures of what I’m gonna wear this week, and I try and get in the mind frame in what I’m gonna do in these.”

Self-confidence and conceptualization are important aspects for positive performance in everyone but especially among professional athletes. The majority of physiologists contribute positive self-confidence to success and performing at consistently high levels. Without it, it is much harder for individuals to reach their goals in school, at work and even in sports.

“It becomes more and more important the higher level the athlete is,” said Kristin Hoffner, principal lecturer and professor of kinesiology at Arizona State University. “Obviously when you’re younger, just being bigger, faster, stronger is enough. But when everyone is the best, it really becomes who can stay composed under pressure and who can stay motivated.”

While athletes are inherently different, confidence and the drive to succeed are most important qualities. When athletes feel confident, they are more readily able to turn sporting potential into superior performance.

Conversely, when they feel unsure of themselves, the slightest setback or smallest hurdle can have an inordinate effect on performance.

Any way for athletes to feel more self-confident is imperative to success.

As the wise Deion Sanders said, “When you dress for success, success usually finds you. Bring your ‘A’ game!”

Ross Andrews is a senior journalism major at Arizona State University

 

Ocean racers did more than compete, they tracked growing plastics problem

Volvo, Ocean Race, sustainability, plastics,
The start of Leg 11 at the Volvo Ocean Race in Gothenburg, Sweden, is pictured on June 21, 2018. – The Volvo Ocean Race set off on the last leg of its round-the-world odyssey on Thursday, 21 June, with three boats effectively tied for the lead. (Photo by THOMAS JOHANSSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Mankind has been sailing the Seven Seas for centuries.

The passage of time, population growth and settling of most of the Earth’s landmass are having a negative impact on the water that makes up a 70 percent of our planet’s surface.

Tracking the growing plastic pollution in the ocean is problematic but the competitors in the Volvo Ocean Race go right where research needs to be done. The results were surprising.

While people can argue about climate change, the pollution levels in the oceans quietly increases. Quite simply, more people equals more trash, and that trash is finding its way into the oceans where it floats, is consumed by sea life and is slowly absorbed into the water.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch — yes, it has an unofficial name — is a collection of plastic and floating trash. Winds and ocean currents have pushed the debris together and it covers more than 600,000 square miles — twice the size of Texas.

Last month, a 31-foot sperm whale washed ashore dead in Indonesia. Inside its stomach was more than 13 pounds of plastic — more than 1,000 pieces including cups, bags and two flip flops. It’s uncertain if ingesting so much plastic killed the whale, but local wildlife experts believe it played a role.

Recently the journal “Global Change Biology” published a report that examined more than 100 sea turtles of all seven species across the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean. Every one had evidence of plastic in their digestive system.

According to the European Parliamentary Research Service, an estimated 4.8 million to 12.7 million tons of plastic enter the oceans each year. Into this gloomy seascape, sailing met science in a unique combination of a grueling sports competition and research gathering about microplastics in ocean water.

Volvo Ocean Race, garbage, patch, race

Veteran racers see harsh reality

In 1973, the Whitbread Round The World Yacht Race was staged for the first time. The racing of identically rigged sailboats around the world, covering about 45,000 nautical miles, possessed more than a tinge of insanity. It is so grueling and time-consuming (about 250 days) that the competition is staged once every three years.

In 2001, the Swedish company Volvo took over as sponsor of the race. Over the years, the competition has changed from gentlemanly sailing of wooden luxury crafts to countries sponsoring carbon fiber craft with the idea that second place is for losers. In between each of the 11 stages when the ships dock to repair and restock thousands of fans gather, and corporations treat the visiting competitors similarly to how they treat American college football bowl game participants.

The 2018 Volvo Ocean Race finished in November. After 45,000 miles of sailing, the Dongfeng, backed by China, was the winning boat, coming from behind to win in the closest finish in race history. Two of the boats in this year’s competition — Turn the Tide on Plastic and AkzoNobel — did more than compete. Both boats were equipped with collection gear that provided valuable water samples for scientists to study.

“This is my sixth time around the world,” said Dee Caffari, skipper of Turn The Tide on Plastic, to Forbes. “The harsh reality for me is you’re seeing more rubbish. My crew doing this for the first time kept commenting on plastics. Bottles, balloons, bags, packaging. … The reality is it is getting worse. Micro plastics get eaten by animals; we’re eating the fish and it’s coming back into our food chain.”

 

Team Clean Seas Turn The Tide on Plastic seen during the Volvo Ocean Race 2018 on June 10, 2018 in Cardiff, United Kingdom. The Volvo Ocean Race is a yacht race around the world, held every three years. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Microplastics unavoidable even in the deep sea

There was not an epiphany or light-bulb moment that enabled the sails to meet the science.

“It was a confluence of a number of different things that came together and made it happen,” Robin Clegg, the information director of Volvo’s sustainability campaign, said in a telephone interview. “It’s fair to say we probably underestimated the level of interest that there would be in the plastics issue. And it became a ground-breaking concept because it combined sailing and sports and science in a way that had never been done before. The idea of boats racing around the world while capturing scientific data seemed to capture a lot of attention.”

The idea was formalized about 18 months before the ships set sail. In May 2017, the concept took root about the same time as the formation of the Volvo Ocean Race Science Program.

One of the challenges was to find scientific equipment that wasn’t bulky or heavy because each ship is designed and outfitted the same way for a fair competition. Also, the race is so grueling for the crew, the process of information gathering had to be simple and efficient. The collection process generally took one crew member five to 10 minutes every two days.

This picture taken on Nov. 19, 2018 shows a dead sperm whale that washed ashore that had nearly six kilograms (13.2 lbs) of plastic waste in its stomach, in Wakatobi National Park in Sulawesi province. – The 31-foot whale was found to had ingested 115 plastic cups, four plastic bottles, 25 plastic bags, a nylon sack, two flip-flops and more than 1,000 other assorted pieces of plastic. (Photo by LA ODE M. SALEH HANAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The data collected provided some sobering conclusions. A total of 86 seawater samples were collected and of those 93 percent contained microplastic particles.

Microplastic concentrations tended to be higher where major ocean currents bring plastic from large inhabited areas. The highest levels were found in the South China Sea that feeds into the North Pacific Gyre and northwest of the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean meet. However, even at Point Nemo, the oceanic point farthest from land — a point closer to the International Space Station than to humans on earth —  contained between nine and 26 particles of microplastic per cubic meter.

In addition to the research information about microplastics, the boats also collected oceanographic data about temperature, dissolved CO2, salinity and algae content. That info helps scientists gauge the levels of ocean health.

At the 11 ports of call where the ships refitted and prepared for the next leg, the Volvo Race emphasized the scientific mission and the crisis of plastics in the ocean. While on shore leave, crews participated in beach cleaning. Also, the recycling of water bottles plus initiatives to develop clean water production were emphasized.

The Volvo Ocean Race Science Program was honored at the international Beyond Sport Awards, receiving the award for “The Best Corporate Campaign or Initiative in Sport for Good” category. The New England Office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presented the Volvo program with the Environmental Merit Award.

“The objective of the science element of the sustainability program was to further our understanding of the extent to which microplastic pollution has now touched our remotest oceans; places that were previously considered to be pristine natural environments,” said Anne-Cecile Turner, the sustainability program leader. “Our aim is that this research will then contribute to the international standardization of ocean microplastic research.”

Wendell Barnhouse started his career as a sportswriter at 18 and spent the next four decades in newspapers writing and editing. From 2008-2015 he was the website correspondent for the Big 12 Conference producing written and video content. He has spent the last three years freelancing, most recently covering college basketball for The Athletic.

Played among livestock, medicinal plants, ‘Rez Golf’ builds community among Navajo

Navajo, golf, rez golf
For the Navajo, rez golf is about community, entertainment, family, sport and health – both physical and mental. (Photo by Jake Goodrick/Cronkite News)

LOW MOUNTAIN, Az. – On a late September morning deep within the Navajo Nation, Larron Badoni practiced his golf swing.

Sun blanketed the plateaus and mesas surrounding the Lowerville Stingers Golf Club – nine holes scattered over a rocky, hilly, shrubby landscape dotted with blue shade structures, weathered carpets and pins flying red and white flags.

It was just about time for the Lowerville Stingers Golf Club’s seventh annual Rez Golf Two-Player Scramble to tee off in Low Mountain, population 700.

“Rez golf” is growing in popularity among the Navajo, but few outsiders know of it. It’s a game unto itself, an innovative sport designed to be played on rugged courses built amid rocks, medicinal plants, and grazing livestock. On the sprawling, isolated reservation, people play rez golf for reasons – community, entertainment, family, sport and health – both physical and mental.

“Can’t go to a movie theater, there’s no bars, there’s no pizza places,” Badoni said of reservation life. “The only way to deal with it is probably the bottle, that’s probably what I would be doing if golf wasn’t around.”

Badoni, 46, a tall man with a tidy goatee, is a heavy-equipment operator from nearby Piñon. For tournament play, he wore a gray T-shirt and slacks and a black baseball cap. His brother and golf partner, Llewellyn Badoni, 36, wore a bandanna around his head and a white tournament T-shirt – sporting the Lowerville Stingers logo of a bee holding a golf club – and comfortable dark sweatpants.


More players gradually arrived, parking their cars and trucks on each side of the dirt driveway leading to the gritty course. In T-shirts, shorts, sunglasses and baseball hats, they toted their mostly secondhand clubs as they registered at the home of the Ben family, who designed and built the course.

Several years ago, Marvis Ben, a Michael Jordan fan, learned the retired NBA star is an avid golfer. Ben decided to take up the game, so, he found an empty tin can at the trash dump and sank it into the dirt behind his family’s home in Low Mountain.

Hole No. 1.

The family had only one golf club, so they shared, Ben recalled.

He was inspired to design the nine-hole course after visiting the rez golf course called Wagon Trail to Lonesome Pine, in nearby Steamboat.

Ben designed the Lowerville Stingers Golf Club course organically, using hazards that naturally occured in the landscape. One hole features a steep drop-off behind the green, which adds character to the design.

To emulate the texture and speed of grass greens on traditional courses, Ben put down patches of old carpeting – sand-flecked black or gray – discarded by a nearby school.

“Can’t go to a movie theater, there’s no bars, there’s no pizza places. The only way to deal with it is probably the bottle, that’s probably what I would be doing if golf wasn’t around.” - Larron Badoni

The Ben family also maintains the course.

“It’s hard, hard cleaning,” Marvis Ben said on the day of the tournament. “It took like two weeks for me to clean it. Cows and the horses, they just walk on it and everything.”

The tournament players were grateful for the clean course. They jumped with their clubs onto a flatbed truck, and members of the Ben family drove them to their opening holes for the 18-hole event.

“I like it because I bond with my brothers and my dad,” Badoni said. “That’s the only way we can connect. We can’t just go out and go to a movie theater, or go to the mall. … The only way we can connect with our kids, too.”

Badoni recalled growing up in a broken home and being placed as a child with a churchgoing white family in Phoenix for about two years.

Rez golf offered him healing.

“If I didn’t get into golf, I would be a bum,” Badoni said. “There’s nothing more to motivate you out here. You’re isolated from the world. Knowing that, that’s a scary feeling, you know? Because most of the people I grew up with, they’re just walking around bottling it up.”

Like many in his community, Badoni had played basketball, or “rez ball,” in his younger years. It was a way for him to be a part of the community and stay healthy while having fun. But now he has issues with his knees. Golf, which he took up 20 years ago when he was living in Las Vegas, is one of the few ways he can stay active, he said.

Lacking golf carts, it took time and energy for Badoni’s group to find each player’s ball amid the sand, rocks, sagebrush and tall grass. They took their next shots mindful of avoiding unnecessary damage to living things.

Navajo, golf, rez golf
Playing rez golf means improvising, whether that translates to adding patches of carpet or plastic turf when needed. (Photo by Jake Goodrick/Cronkite News)

“The landscape here, it’s not just meant for us, it’s meant for the cattle and the livestock,” Badoni said. “There’s food for them all around. I mean, we’re literally stepping on it as we go from hole to hole.

“That’s rez golf,” Badoni said. “They’ve got handicaps on (traditional) golf courses; here, you’ve got handicaps all around you. You’ve got sheep! That’s the rez golf part of it. And the dirt. You’re actually playing on dirt.”

As the group neared the ninth hole, an old pickup caked with dirt bounced across the fairway. A young boy plopped down from the truck’s cab to deliver brown-bag lunches to the players.

Four hours later, all nine holes were played. Badoni’s group returned to the hole where they started, to begin a second circuit to complete the 18-hole event. A noticeable fatigue had set in. It had been a long day and they were only halfway done.

“That’s rez golf for you, right here,” said Badoni’s brother, Llewellyn, watching his ball roll past the cup before rolling back, Sisyphean style, to the spot where the putt began.

“After nine holes,” he said, “it’s a war of attrition.”

An innovative game

It is unclear how many rez golf courses there are on the Navajo Nation. The two best-known annual tournaments are held at the Lowerville Stingers Golf Club and the Wagon Trail to Lonesome Pine Golf Course.

Traditional golf and rez golf share the same objectives, clubs and, for the most part, rules.

In rez golf, each hole has a designated tee box, along with an indication of par and the hole’s total distance. However, when the ball leaves the tee, it could whiz over a horse or a sheep before landing on anthills or cow pies – challenges not found on a country club course.

“That’s rez golf. They’ve got handicaps on (traditional) golf courses; here, you’ve got handicaps all around you. You’ve got sheep! That’s the rez golf part of it. And the dirt. You’re actually playing on dirt.” - Larron Badoni

But it differs, too, because the land holds special meaning to the players. Rez golfers respect the land, keeping human impact on it to a minimum. Tall grass remains untouched, so animals can graze while the course is in use. Balls that roll under sagebrush, a medicinal plant respected in the Navajo culture, are moved the length of one club, without penalty, to avoid harming the plant.

“If the ball is interfering with the sagebrush or its interfering with your backswing you cannot start stomping the sage brush. Sagebrush stays as is,” said Donald Benally, creator of course at Wagon Trail to Lonesome Pine.

Traditionally, golf is a difficult sport that requires time, patience and, almost always, money.

The cost of equipment is one factor that keeps people away. At Dick’s Sporting Goods, for example, new clubs sell for $150 to more than $1,200.

For the 174,000 residents of the Navajo Nation, about 38 percent of whom live below the poverty line, that’s all but out of reach.

But some rez golfers have found a way around the high cost of clubs.

“We go to Goodwill stores and buy real good golf clubs from Scottsdale because that’s where all the rich people donate all their nice stuff,” Llewellyn Badoni said. “You go to Scottsdale, you go to Goodwill and you can find some real nice golf clubs for $2 a piece.”

Wagon Trail to Lonesome Pine

On a crisp November morning, the Wagon Trail to Lonesome Pine course in Steamboat, about 24 miles from Low Mountain, was hardened by frost, but the sun shined bright enough to warm players so late in the season.

Donald Benally, a 53-year-old carpenter, stood outside the course clubhouse he built himself – a two-story structure with a wide balcony. He greeted kids leaping out of a school bus with a kind smile and a shy, one-handed wave, while keeping his other hand tucked into the camouflage vest that covered his neon green hoodie.

The students, in grades 3 through 6, had just arrived from First Mesa, a Hopi community about an hour’s drive from Steamboat, to learn about golf. They had been visiting the course twice a month as part of an initiative to help Native students develop an active, healthy lifestyle and new skills.

“We go to Goodwill stores and buy real good golf clubs from Scottsdale because that’s where all the rich people donate all their nice stuff. You go to Scottsdale, you go to Goodwill and you can find some real nice golf clubs for $2 a piece.” - Llewellyn Badoni

“We don’t have the lush green lawns to play golf on. It’s just like rez basketball, we make do with what we have to enjoy a passion,” said Francelia Tom, a teacher at First Mesa Elementary.

Kids laughed, swung clubs wildly into the gritty dirt with little regard for accuracy or touch, half-listened to the guidance of their instructors, and explored for themselves a game that could one day become a passion.

This is what Benally envisioned when his brother, Joe,and his cousin, Freddie Yazzie, dreamed up a nine hole golf course on their land about 15 years ago. For nine years, the Benally brothers have hosted an annual tournament, a model for the tournament hosted in Low Mountain.

“We take pride when we have our tournament here,” Benally said. “We take pride. I want to, not really go out and impress people, but I want to present what we can do or what we can bring to the table.”

As a child on the reservation, he recalled, there were limited opportunities growing up.

“We had to struggle through life,” he said.

“That’s the main reason why I initiated the whole thing,” Benally said. “Started the whole thing. Have the kids involved and let them learn exactly how to play the game of golf. I mean, you never know. Maybe one those kids will become a collegiate standout in golf. Maybe they might turn pro. I mean, you never know.”

Rez golf can be a gateway to sports for kids living in Native American communities.

Navajo, golf, rez golf
Rez golf is growing in popularity among the Navajo, but few outsiders know of it. More community elders and rez golfers are sharing the experience with children. (Photo by Jake Goodrick/Cronkite News)

“You see a lot of basketball players that started playing on dirt courts,” said Yazzie, Benally’s cousin. “Their style of play is run, run, run, and that is what they are known for. So why not golf? If those kids can get good playing on dirt courts, why not golf?”

As noon approached, community elders, rez golfers and students gathered around folding tables outside the clubhouse to share a lunch of fry bread and lamb stew. Benally soaked up the scene through thin-framed glasses shaded by the brim of his camo hat.

After lunch, teachers gathered students and settled them down in preparation for the drive back to First Mesa. From the huddle of grade schoolers, a chant arose: “One, two, three: Rez golf! One, two, three: Rez golf! One, two, three: Rez golf!”

As the huddle dispersed, it morphed into a single-file line headed toward Benally. One by one, each student put a small hand into Benally’s large hand and thanked him for letting them use the course.

As the bus drove away, Benally stared past the clubhouse and golf course, and rested his dark eyes on a distinguished pine tree alone on a distant hill.

Days like this – when children, elders, friends, family and community members come together for rez golf on a course he helped build – filled him with satisfaction. The potential for golf to impact his community, to give young people opportunities he never had growing up, had come to pass in his own backyard.

For Benally, this was what rez golf was meant to be.

It’s just talk: How rumors can earn college football coaches big pay days

Head Coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide yells during a timeout during a September 2018 game against Texas A&M. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Year 5 of the College Football Playoff could also be called “The Millionaire Boys Club.”

The combined annual salaries of the coaches in this season’s final four is a tidy $21.5 million: Alabama’s Nick Saban ($8.3 million), Clemson’s Dabo Swinney ($6.2 million), Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley ($4.8 million) and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly ($2.2 million).

Bowl season is “moving” season for college football coaches when just a whiff of another job can send more of that outsized university money their way. That power and money often makes them untouchable.

Those figures are base salaries reported by the schools and don’t include incentives or other compensation. For instance, don’t feel badly and start a GoFundMe for Kelly; he earns another $1.15 million for TV/radio appearances and also receives an unknown compensation from Under Armour, the school’s apparel supplier.

Saban is college football’s highest-paid coach; last year his compensation was $11 million because of a one-time $4 million bonus. Two other teams that were in this season’s CFP chase – Ohio State and Georgia – were coached by Urban Meyer ($7.6 million) and Kirby Smart ($6.6 million).

Meyer, who announced he was retiring after the Buckeyes play in the Rose Bowl, was second to Saban and just ahead of Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh ($7.5 million) on the salary scale. Ohio State named Ryan Day, who filled in when Meyer was suspended for three games earlier this season, as its new coach. He has no head coaching experience. Day’s starting salary is $4.5 million a year.

“On campuses, the size of those coaches’ salaries is an issue. Most of the fans and supporters of teams consider it the price of doing business and competing. But in higher education, those salaries are an anomaly.” - Todd Turner, founder and president of Collegiate Sports Associates

No need for a BREAKING NEWS alert. High-level collegiate athletics is money ball. Those who are benefitting from the rising tide – coaches and their agents – say it’s just the free market at work. Others will blanch and ask how a campus power structure is viable when the football coach makes millions more than the school president and tenured faculty members.

“On campuses, the size of those coaches’ salaries is an issue,” Todd Turner, founder and president of Collegiate Sports Associates, said in a telephone interview. “Most of the fans and supporters of teams consider it the price of doing business and competing. But in higher education, those salaries are an anomaly.”

And those salaries can grow like mildew in a shower stall. Often, a coach needs only to have a conversation and a job offer to enhance his contract.

Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, a middling 13-12 in two seasons with the Boilermakers, received a 50-percent raise ($4 million to $6 million) last month. He was courted by Louisville, his alma mater, with a seven-year deal for $35 million. Purdue, not exactly known as a “football school,” no doubt benefits from annually earning $50 million in revenue sharing from the Big Ten Conference. Brohm’s value was no doubt enhanced when the Boilermakers upset Ohio State in October, a loss that kept the Buckeyes out of the CFP.


While university presidents sit atop the organizational chart, at the top football schools they seldom make as much money as the football coach.

“It shifts the power dynamic,” David Ridpath, associate professor of sports administration at Ohio University, said in a telephone interview. “Presidents in many cases are really powerless to control some of these coaches. That’s what can fuel some the scandals that have occurred because the coaches are so untouchable.”

Turner is a former athletic director at Connecticut, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt and Washington before starting his company, which concentrates on consulting work and executive searches. He explains salary increases involve market evolution plus two other factors.

“University leadership presidents, athletics directors, even board members are feeling pressure to steward their athletic program to be competitive no matter the cost,” he said. “Plus, the agents and representatives of coaches have done a really good job to leverage the job market to their benefit.”

According to figures compiled annually by USA Today, the top 10 coaches in FBS football earned a total of $66.7 million in base salaries. That figure is the floor and doesn’t include bonuses and other monetary supplements to their contracts.

Assistant coaches – specifically offensive and defensive coordinators – are also benefiting. LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda was paid $2.5 million this season, one of 20 assistants – a single-season record – to earn seven figures. The top 10 assistant salaries – all coordinators – totaled $18 million.

“It’s really part of the arms race with everybody trying to one up each other. The money always seems to be there." - David Ridpath, Ohio University associate professor of sports administration

Football’s reliance on and value of strength and conditioning coaches is leading to those positions earning disproportionate salaries. Chris Doyle of Iowa is the highest-paid strength coach at $750,000. That salary is higher that 28 coaches at the 130-team Football Bowl Subdivision level.

“It’s really part of the arms race with everybody trying to one up each other,” Ridpath said. “The money always seems to be there. And there are fixed costs because the labor (student-athletes) isn’t getting paid. I don’t disagree with the argument that it’s a free market, but my point is if that’s the case then everyone needs to participate in that free market.”

The schools that compete for the national championship in college football are a select club. The 20 slots in the first five years of the CFP went to 10 teams. In the 16 previous years of the Bowl Championship Series (which matched two teams in a title game, 32 possible spots), 15 schools played for the crystal football trophy.

Head Coach Urban Meyer of the Ohio State Buckeyes  will retire after leading his team to the Rose Bowl. While his replacement is already on staff, that move could lead to a domino effect for assistant coaches – more money for them to stay where they are. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

That championship chase can be intoxicating.

Texas A&M, which won its only national championship in 1939, made the biggest move following the 2017 season by hiring Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. He won a national championship with the Seminoles in 2014, and that singular achievement enticed the Aggies’ leadership to give him a 10-year, $75 million contract that is fully guaranteed. This season, his first in College Station, Texas A&M finished 8-4 – equaling the regular-season win totals in three of the previous four seasons.

Coincidentally, in 1982 it was considered shocking when Texas A&M hired Jackie Sherrill as its football coach for a six-year, $1.2 million contract.

Schools striving for national championships are often willing to bind themselves with golden handcuffs. As coaching salaries have increased, so to have contract clauses that protect the coach while burdening schools with paying millions to say goodbye the so-called buyout.

Charlie Weis is the personification of the buyout clause.

Just halfway through his first season as the coach at Notre Dame in 2005, there were whispers (perhaps floated by his agent) that Weis was garnering interest from the NFL for a coaching job. That prompted Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White to sign Weis to a new 10-year contract worth between $30 million and $40 million.

Weis was fired after the 2009 season; Notre Dame owed him $19 million.

In December 2011, Weis was hired by Kansas, signing a five-year contract. That gig lasted less than three seasons and Weis was fired in September 2014. Kansas owed Weis $5.6 million. Weis earned nearly $25 million from two schools to NOT coach. In a 90-game college coaching career, he earned $1.6 million per victory.

Dismissing a coach and hiring his replacement can be a costly enterprise. North Carolina dismissed coach Larry Fedora in November and owed him $12 million on his contract. The school hired Mack Brown – who had previously coached the Tar Heels for 10 seasons – to a $16 million contract.

Charlie Weis, Notre Dame, football
Head coach Charlie Weis of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish waits to enter the field with (L-R) Jimmy Clausen, Eric Olsen, Kyle McCarthy and Scott Smith before a 2009 game. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

A year ago, Auburn reached the Southeastern Conference championship game. Soon after, the Arkansas job came open and there were rumors – real or imagined – that Auburn coach Gus Malzahn might be interested. Panicked the Tigers might lose their coach, the school sweetened Malzahn’s deal to $6.7 million per season with a buyout of – wait for it – $35 million.

This season, Auburn finished a disappointing 7-5 season that started with the Tigers in the top 10 in preseason rankings. Soon after the season, rumblings from the school’s powerful boosters indicated the willingness to pay the man his money and change coaches. There also were reports that Malzahn might consider a contract change to reduce the buyout figure.

“These buyouts are huge issues and they make it very difficult to make a coaching change,” Turner said. “I don’t fault the coaches or their agents for negotiating them. But I do think universities have been short-sighted in putting almost unfathomable buyouts in some of these contracts. Good for the coaches – it gives them financial security.

“But the fault for the rise in and use of the buyout clause lies at the feet of the university presidents, athletic directors and boards of regents. They have allowed themselves to be leveraged. They’re way out over their skis.”

Those opposing the salary escalation have little hope to stem the growth. Florida’s Steve Spurrier is considered the first $1 million coach. He signed his seven-figure deal in 1996. In 22 seasons, the salary for the highest-paid coach has increased eightfold.

The idea of capping coaches’ salaries would face legal challenges and would likely require Congress to craft some sort of specialized anti-trust legislation for college sports. In the late 1980s, the NCAA required that men’s basketball coaching staffs have one assistant tabbed as a “restricted earnings” coach ($16,000 a year). The NCAA lost in court when charged with violating Section I of the Sherman Act.

“These buyouts are huge issues and they make it very difficult to make a coaching change. I don’t fault the coaches or their agents for negotiating them. But I do think universities have been short-sighted in putting almost unfathomable buyouts in some of these contracts." - Todd Turner, founder and president of Collegiate Sports Associates

The latest tax bill passed by Congress included legislation requiring colleges and universities be charged a 21 percent excise tax based on their five highest-paid employees. On many campuses, those employees would be football and/or basketball coaches.

However, the actual wording of the excise tax is vague and there’s uncertainty how or if that would create heartburn for schools who pay their coaches large salaries.

Asked if a 21 percent excise tax might give schools pause to continue paying coaches higher salaries, Turner was succinct with his answer:

“No.”

It’s apparent the biggest schools can’t help themselves when chasing and hiring coaches. The temptation is no different than kids in candy stores.

“Nobody will stand up and say, ‘Hey, we can’t afford this coaching salary.’ Or say ‘Hey, this is not appropriate,’” Turner said. If they do that, they’ll be accountable for the outcome. And if it’s an outcome where they let a good coach move on and win elsewhere, they might lose their job. And everybody likes job security.”

That sentiment is certainly true for well-compensated college football coaches.

Wendell Barnhouse started his career as a sportswriter at 18 and spent the next four decades in newspapers writing and editing. From 2008-2015 he was the website correspondent for the Big 12 Conference producing written and video content. He has spent the last three years freelancing, most recently covering college basketball for The Athletic.

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Pulling no punches: 14-year-old girl aspires to be first Navajo boxer to win Olympics

Mariah Bahe is the reigning Arizona State Junior Olympics champion and qualified for the 2018 Elite and Youth National Championships and Junior and Prep Open in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Isaac Colindres/Cronkite News)

CHINLE, Az. – Even with modern technology, it’s nearly impossible to find the homemade boxing gym identified by a tattered wooden sign that reads, “Damon-Bahe Boxing Gym.”

In and around this small town on the Navajo Reservation, house numbers rarely exist. And Google Maps can’t quite explain that, off Indian Route 7, less than a quarter mile west of the Chevron gas station, there’s a dirt road that, after three right turns, leads to the gym and another sign, this one warning “Beware of Dog.”

There has never been a Navajo Olympic boxer but one Arizona girl wants to be the first female Navajo to medal in the sport.

The modest gym, which was built on a patch of land once dedicated to raising goats, now is dedicated to the Olympic-size dreams of a 14-year-old Navajo girl, Mariah Bahe.

These dreams take root in reality. Bahe is the reigning Arizona State Junior Olympics champion and qualified for the 2018 Elite and Youth National Championships and Junior and Prep Open in Salt Lake City.

But on this day, Bahe polishes her boxing skills in a compact space about the size of a one-bedroom apartment. To one side is a fun-size ring with ragged ropes and a carpet floor. Squeezed into the remaining space are a speed bag, several heavy bags and other expected pieces of boxing equipment.

Like many boxing gyms, this one has walls decorated with trophies and newspaper clippings detailing the ring exploits of the Bahe family.

This is where Mariah and John Calvin Bahe Jr. – her father and trainer – sweat through their boxing routine six days a week. It starts with a two-hour warmup. She jogs through cardio workouts, side-steps around the gym and weaves past punching bags before she climbs through the ropes and throws a punch.

The beginning

There is some dispute over when, exactly, Mariah began her study of the Sweet Science. As she remembers it, she began boxing at 6. Her dad counters that she was 7. But to the Bahe family, the journey’s beginning isn’t as important as where it will lead.

The youngest of five children, Mariah is the only girl. Her brothers boxed. Other boys came to the gym to train, too.

boxing, navajo, bahe
Mariah Bahe, 14, boxes at a tiny gym founded by her great grand-uncle, Lee Damon, and grandfather, John Calvin Bahe Sr. (Photo by Isaac Colindres/Cronkite News)

“I don’t have no fee for whoever walks through that door,” Bahe said of his gym. “I do ask for donations … but when they start, I ask them to bring nothing at all, just to work out.”

Mariah wanted to join the boys in the ring. The first fight she had to win was with her father. The ring, he said, is no place for a girl.

“I told her she was not going to box,” Bahe recalled. “ ‘You’re going to be a little girl. Go do cheerleading, softball, basketball, but you’re not going to box.’ ”

A familiar tale followed. She encountered prejudices that threatened to block her path before she ever laced up the gloves. But Mariah would not be deterred.

“All my brothers were in here (boxing) and I was inside with my auntie … and I thought that I could do anything that boys could do,” Mariah said.

That sort of fight has run in the family for what is now four generations.

Lee Damon, Mariah’s great grand-uncle, took up the fight game while serving in the military during World War II. The sport would serve as a cornerstone of his life.

Damon put together boxing teams all over the United States, training fighters in one city before moving to the next and assembling teams as he moved state-to-state. But as age caught up with him, Damon passed the family legacy to his nephew, John Calvin Bahe Sr., better known as Cal, and Damon Boxing metamorphosed into Damon-Bahe Boxing.

“My dad basically claimed it saved his life,” John Jr. said of Cal. “He did a lot of crazy stuff back then, and then he got into boxing. He toned it down, and took a lot of that anger and anxiety out (in the ring).”

Cal relocated the family to Arizona with Damon by his side more than 20 years ago. At the time, Chinle had two boxing gyms and Damon-Bahe was the newcomer in town. Damon died years ago, but his fighting legacy lives on through his family, especially in Mariah.

Facing challenges

Damon-Bahe now is the only gym in town and one of a few on the sprawling reservation, home to the largest Native American population in the U.S. At more than 27,000 square miles, the reservation is larger than Ireland and 10 of 50 states. It spreads from northeastern Arizona into parts of Utah and New Mexico.

But a vast land does not equate to a booming economy. Poverty is common among the Navajo, many of whom have been hit by the one-two punch of drug and alcohol abuse. And it starts young. A 2014 study by the National Institute of Health revealed a much higher prevalence of drug and alcohol use in 8th- and 10th-graders compared with national averages.

boxing, navajo, bahe
John Bahe originally told his daughter that she would not fight because the ring was no place for a girl. (Photo by Isaac Colindres/Cronkite News)

It’s from this humbling environment of hardship and temptation that the Bahe family arose. Each of them can recount incidents of family members, friends or classmates whose lives were buckled by the seductions of substances. Boxing is their escape.

“It’s kind of big here, because my uncles do it, and they really do it a lot,” said James Bahe, Mariah’s brother. “I think (boxing) really helped us because it gave us something that we could do outside of that.”

Mariah is aware of the potential pitfalls. She has done her best to sidestep them, her family says, and as a freshman she was one of the best runners on Chinle High School’s varsity cross country team. She also works as a DJ at events, including school dances. It is another hobby she has inherited from her dad, who has been working as a DJ in his spare time since the 1980s.

She admires the skill, passion and mindset of WWE wrestler John Cena and Golden Boy boxer Canelo Alvarez, her two biggest role models in sports.

However Mariah remains focused on her boxing career with her sights set on the Olympics, possibly in the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.

As she trains, there is a sense that she is the continuation of Damon’s vision, the product of more than 50 years of boxing heritage.

Her father eventually came around, seeing the fight in his daughter and sincerity in her promise to work hard to become great. At age 6 (or was it 7?) Mariah got her opportunity, and she has run with it ever since.

She won her division in Region 9 of the USA Boxing 2017 Junior Olympics and placed third this year. She captured the 85-pound division at the USA Boxing Western Elite Qualifier Regional Open Championship held in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The foundation for her boxing career was laid 22 years ago when the Damons and Bahes, with the help of friends, built the tiny gym where a goat corral had stood. One of John Bahe’s mottos can be found on a sheet of construction paper tacked to the wall.

“ ‘Can’t’ is not allowed in this gym.”

Cinematic boost

Another wall chronicles Mariah’s accomplishments as a youth boxer. Above one of her most prized possessions – her framed Junior Olympics Championship certificate – is a poster for a the 2004 film “Black Cloud,” starring Tim McGraw and Peter Greene.

The film received the Best Picture Audience Award at the Phoenix Film Festival and is based on the life of Lowell Bahe, John’s brother, who won two USA and four All-Indian National Championship belts by age 16.

John Bahe, though once reluctant, has become his daughter’s biggest advocate, helping Mariah pursue an unlikely family story that is unfolding in a remote corner of Arizona. No Navajo has won an Olympic medal.

Back when Lowell Bahe was fighting, Cal was the trainer leading the Damon-Bahe club to national success. And for the first few years that Mariah began boxing, Cal helped train her, until his death in 2015. That’s when John, now 48, took over.

“My family legacy is getting bigger, a lot bigger than I ever imagined when we first started,” he said.

boxing, navajo, bahe
Mariah Bahe, 14, is trained by her father, John Bahe, in a gym the size of a one-bedroom apartment. (Photo by Isaac Colindres/Cronkite News)

During training sessions, John has the vocals of J Cole, Logic, and Usher vibrating through the gym, filling Mariah with energy and drowning out outside noise, save for John’s coaching tips and teasing from her four brothers, all of whom take turns sparring with their sister.

The Bahes are a close-knit family, sharing knowledge and love. John represents that, as he credits his wife, Elvina, and his whole family for training Mariah.

“Everywhere we go, we’re always wearing our Damon-Boxing shirts. I always tell my kids, ‘You’re part of this team,’ ” Elvina said. “I tell them, ‘You represent this name. You represent a long line of Damon-Boxing, and with that comes a huge honor.’ ”

Fall afternoons in Chinle are often cool, like the air that fills Mariah’s lungs as she prepares for her warmup routine. She bounces her weight from right foot to left, toe-to-toe, all 95 pounds of her gracing the ring, whose four corners have become like a second home.

John acknowledged that it is becoming more difficult to keep up with a tireless teenager in her training sessions.

“Her mindset separates her,” he said. “Maybe it’s because when she was a kid I told her she couldn’t do it. … She’s proven me wrong big time. She’s done more in this sport than I ever could have. She’s more dedicated than I ever was.

“As long as she has that dream and that thought in her mind that ‘I’m going to be in the Olympics,’ then I have to make sure that dream comes true.”

Mariah is right where she has always wanted to be, nurtured in the same boxing environment that has embraced three generations of Bahes. Her father is in her corner. Her grandfather in her mind. And the people she represents as she chases her Olympic dream are in her heart.

It is a dream worth the fight for Mariah.

“I just want to show that a Native girl can do anything that she sets her mind to, and she can accomplish anything,” she said.

Study shows brain changes in football players could be from learned hand-eye coordination skills

NFL, football, hand-eye coordination
Logan Thomas of the Buffalo Bills warms up with the help of a trainer doing hand-eye coordination drills using tennis balls before a December 2017 game. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

What impact do subconcussive hits have on the brain of football players? Are these hits the reason for changed brain activity or is there another reason?

A study from the University of Indiana found the brains of football players may be altered due to brain reorganization that occurs while mastering hand-eye coordinations unique to contact sports and not necessarily due to subconcussive hits.

The increased cerebellar activity among football players could show they are working harder to compensate for damage to the brain caused by subconcussive hits. The other possibility is athletes in a sport requiring high visual motor skills could have more of the cerebellum devoted to oculomotor task performance, regardless of subconcussive history.More research is needed.

The study used 21 football players and 19 cross-country runners and scanned their brains using functional MRI. The football players had no prior known history of concussions.

The participants underwent a visual assessment called smooth pursuit. Smooth pursuit is designed to use eye movements to probe brain functioning and has been demonstrated to show reduced performance in concussed patients.

The smooth pursuit task was chosen because it has been demonstrated to reveal reduced performance in concussion patients.

No difference was found in how the two groups performed the tasks. However, the functional MRI results revealed some differences in the brains of football players — though mostly concerning activity occurring in the part of the brain responsible for visual processing.

The report came up with two possible conclusions. The increased cerebellar activity among football players could show they are working harder to compensate for damage to the brain caused by subconcussive hits. The other possibility is athletes in a sport requiring high visual motor skills could have more of the cerebellum devoted to oculomotor task performance, regardless of subconcussive history.

In an article published on the website SportTechie.com, Max Rettig wrote the results could have come from doing these tests on athletes in non-heavy-contact sports that require a great deal of hand-eye coordination instead of cross-country athletes.

Serious brain damage can come from these subconcussive hits, according to Mayo clinic Dr. Anikar Chhabra.

“Likely multiple subconcussive hits can add up to giving a lower threshold for concussions,” Chhabra said. “There is strong evidence to show that long-term brain effects come through contact sports.”

Chhabra said this leads to mood swings and depression in the athletes that undertake them, and those who take place in contact sports are much more likely to suffer from it than those who are involved in sports such as cross-country.

Max Bechtoldt is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University

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Looking ahead: Why guaranteed, non-guaranteed money could result in NFL lockout

Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball during a playoff game in January 2018. Bell has held out all season over his contract. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Player contract talks consume most of the conversations about football every offseason.

Since the NFL is the lone North American major pro sports league in which contract money is not guaranteed, according to Deadspin, players grind year after year to get or keep a big pay day.

Le’Veon Bell’s drastic move not to play during the 2018 season could be seen as a harbinger of labor strife to come in the NFL. What is driving this?

As a result, players will hold out in an attempt to get contracts they want. Different holdout methods include not coming to organized team activities (OTAs), not reporting to training camp, not playing in the preseason and, in rare cases, not playing in the regular season.

In 2015, Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor sat all of the preseason and the first two games of the regular season due to frustrations over a contract extension. Chancellor returned in Week 3 of the regular season against the Chicago Bears.

Chancellor’s return was key to the team’s playoff run. The Seahawks won the first game he played, holding the Bears to 146 total yards and 48 passing yards. In their first two weeks of the season, the Seahawks had given up an average of 30 points. Once he returned, the team averaged 15.4 points allowed through the remaining 14 weeks.

Collective Bargaining Agreement Expires

The current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the 2020 season.

Issues the players want addressed in the next CBA include commissioner Roger Goodell’s power involving disciplinary matters, the lack of guaranteed contracts and the revenue split, according to Sports Illustrated.

According to USA Today, guaranteed money accounted for 60 percent of all money paid to NFL players in 2017.

However, players do not see non-guaranteed money owed to them if the team decides to release them. Releasing players becomes an issue when teams decide to try to restructure player contracts. Such restructuring is used to create cap flexibility.

The issues in the CBA regarding guaranteed and non-guaranteed money are why players such as Le’Veon Bell, Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Odell Beckham Jr., Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas held out in hopes of getting bigger paychecks.

The current CBA gives power to everyone else in the NFL except for the people that bring in the most money, the players. Until, those issues are addressed players will continue to have contract problems in the NFL.

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman told Sports Illustrated he expects owners will implement another lockout in 2021.

What is the cap?

The NFL, NHL and NBA are salary-cap driven leagues. The salary cap is an amount of money each team is allowed to spend on players to put together their team.

In the NFL, parity is created via the salary cap in addition to the 16-game season, which increases the importance of winning each game. From 2016 to 2017 the correlation in NFL records from one-year to the next was the lowest among the four major North American sports.

The cap has gone up 46.9 percent since 2012 with the NFL’s cap for the 2018 season set at $177.2 million, according to ABC News.

 

 

 

The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement also allows teams to carry over unused cap space year to year. Every four years teams are required to spend at least 89 percent of their respective caps in order to avoid a CBA violation.

Negotiating contracts also becomes difficult for teams. Players look for long-term contracts and guaranteed money. The average NFL player plays less than three years in the league, according to the Wall Street Journal. The short shelf life results in the increased desire for players to seek long-term deals. These conflicting realities create the struggle with their teams.

Conventional wisdom leans toward a team signing its best players to long-term extensions. However, long-term extensions do not lead to financial stability and roster security, according to Forbes.

Only a portion of a player’s contract is guaranteed, and once a player gets paid most of their guaranteed money in the early years of their contract the team is put in a financial bind. This financial bind stems from the large amounts of money counted against the team’s cap during the later years of long-term contracts.

Organizations tend to spend a disproportionate amount of money on their best players rather than filling out a variety of roster needs with that same amount of money, according to sbnation.com. NFL teams spent 48 percent of the available salary cap on their top 10 players in 2016 and 2017. This is down three percent from the 51 percent spent on the top 10 players in 1996.

Teams with the most success between 2011-2017 have spent 56 to 59 percent in salary cap space on their top 10 players, according to sbnation.com. These teams won, on average, nine games.

However, there are two exceptions to this model: The 2017 Los Angeles Rams and six New England teams from 2011 to 2017.

Last year’s Rams went 11-5 and won the NFC West. The franchise spent 63.1 percent of its cap space on 10 players. The difference was the Rams had some of their most productive players still on rookie contracts, including Aaron Donald who only recently signed a new contract.

In contrast, New England used 45.7 percent of its cap on average on its top 10 players. The Patriots won at least 12 games in each of those years.

Quarterbacks

The most coveted position in football is quarterback. An elite quarterback can be the biggest difference between winning and losing a Super Bowl or even getting to the playoffs.

The last five NFL MVPs have been quarterbacks. Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning threw for more than 30 touchdowns and threw no more than 10 interceptions in the season they won the award.

The highest paid player on 15 of the 32 NFL teams is the quarterback, according to CNBC. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the highest paid quarterback in 2018.

Rodgers signed his extension with the Packers on Aug. 29, 2018. The deal was for four years and $134 million with $98.2 million guaranteed. The payout with incentives could reach $176-$180 million.

Rodgers’ contract guarantees him $78.7 million at signing, including a $57.5 million signing bonus; $4 million incentives (tied to helping the Packers make the playoffs and finishing top three in quarterback rating); $67 million by the end of 2018 and $13 million before March 17, 2019.

 

 

His base contract pays him the highest percentage of guaranteed money at 73.3 percent. The deal made Rodgers the highest paid quarterback in terms of average salary, too.

The deal came almost four months after 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan signed a new contract in early May.

Ryan’s contract made him the highest paid player at the time in terms of average salary. His contract is a five-year, $150 million extension with $100 million guaranteed.

Quarterback contracts are an example of how players get paid based on their market value in the NFL.

Rodgers waited longer to negotiate his deal, surpassing Ryan’s deal as a result, just as Ryan surpassed former Redskins starting quarterback Kirk Cousins deal. Cousins signed a three-year deal for $84 million. However, his deal was different because all money in his contract is guaranteed. Cousins tried to get $90 million before settling on a slightly smaller figure with Minnesota.

His deal came after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo signed a five-year, $137.5 million contract with $48.7 million guaranteed at signing and a no-trade clause. The 49ers had traded for Garoppolo during the 2017 season after the quarterback spent three seasons as Tom Brady’s backup. Garoppolo started five games for the Niners after the trade and won all five. The small sample size gave the organization enough confidence to sign him to a long-term extension.

His deal made him the highest paid quarterback at the time, surpassing the five-year, $135 million deal Matthew Stafford signed in 2017. Stafford’s contract also came with $92 million guaranteed and a $50 million signing bonus.

Performance and timing — when a contract expires — have a significant influence on contract negotiations. The top five highest paid quarterbacks in the league in 2018 were playing well before their contracts expired. Though Rodgers, Ryan and Stafford were franchise quarterbacks looking to get big deals before their current contracts expired.

Wide Receivers

Matt Ryan has Julio Jones. Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown. Philip Rivers has Keenan Allen, and Drew Brees has Michael Thomas. These are just a few of the best quarterback-wide receiver combinations in the league.

The NFL has become a passing league. The top 15 seasons for passing yards in a single-season have occured in the last 10 years with the exception of Dan Marino’s 1984 season.

The result is a steady increase in the pay for wide receivers.

In 2014, the 20 highest paid wide receivers averaged about $8.86 million.

Now, the average salary of the top 20 highest paid wide receivers is $14.15 million, according to Sports Illustrated via Spotrac.

 

 

The wide receiver position is deep: 13 of the 15 players with more than 1,000 yards receiving in 2017 are wideouts.

Odell Beckham Jr. set the recent market for receivers after signing his five-year, $95 million deal that included $65 million guaranteed, including $41 million at signing, and $5 million in incentives.

After catching 288 balls, 35 touchdowns and gaining 4,122 receiving yards in his first three seasons before sustaining a foot injury in 2017, Beckham Jr. was still working under the terms of his rookie deal and was looking for an extension. Beckham Jr. was scheduled to make $1.459 million, according to Spotrac. Instead, his deal made him the highest paid wideout in NFL history in terms of average salaries.

Overall, the 2018 offseason featured a number of wide receivers seeking new deals. All of the average salaries earned in those new deals ranged between $15-$17 million. All of the receivers except Stefon Diggs (2015) were drafted in the first two rounds of the 2014 draft.

One of the first deals agreed to was by Mike Evans, who signed a five-year, $82.5 million deal with $55 million guaranteed. The deal made him the second highest paid receiver at the time behind Antonio Brown, who is making $17 million a year. Evans has had four consecutive 1,000 yard seasons to start his career.

A few days later, Sammy Watkins signed a three-year, $48 million deal, including $30 million guaranteed, with the Kansas City Chiefs. Watkins played the previous year with the Rams after getting traded by the Bills.

Jarvis Landry signed a deal for five years and $75.5 million with $47 million guaranteed. Landry’s deal came a month after Watkins’ deal was announced and a month after he was traded to the Browns. Landry entered this season with 4,038 receiving yards and 400 catches. He was traded from the Miami Dolphins to the Cleveland Browns in March.

Diggs was the last notable receiver to sign before Beckham Jr. signed in late August. Diggs deal was for five years and $81 million with $40 million guaranteed. In his first three years, Diggs had 200 catches and 2,472 yards as the team’s No. 1 receiver — until Adam Thielen supplanted him in that role. Diggs is most notable for his 61-yard “Minneapolis Miracle” touchdown catch in the 2017 playoffs. Diggs finished that game with six catches for 137 yards including the game-winning touchdown. Diggs was one of several Minnesota players from 2017’s  NFC Championship Game team to get a multi-year extension.

Besides Diggs and Thielen, the Vikings had to keep several players on their defense, which was ranked first or second in yards per game, passing yards per game, rushing yards per game and points allowed.

Defensive Players

There are two ways to eliminate an elite passing attack in the NFL: Have a great pass rush or a great secondary. A special defense has both.

The Vikings had five Pro Bowlers on defense last year: cornerback Xavier Rhodes, safety Harrison Smith, defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph and linebacker Anthony Barr.

Griffen led the team in sacks with 13 and was named second team All-Pro in 2017. He was the leader of the defensive line coming into the season and produced as one of the highest paid defensive linemen. Griffen signed during the 2017 offseason a deal for four years and $58 million with $18.8 million guaranteed. The contract also involved a $2 million signing bonus, $5 million roster bonus in 2017 and a $6 million roster bonus this year. Griffen has made the Pro Bowl three straight years and ranks third in the NFL in sacks since 2014 with 43.5.

Signing him to a long-term deal was the first of many moves by the Vikings designed to retain a majority of their defensive contributors for multiple years. Griffen’s deal came a week before Linval Joseph signed a four-year extension.

One of the team’s next deals came with 2015 third-round pick Danielle Hunter. Hunter was the last piece of their defensive line the Vikings needed to sign to a long-term deal. Hunter had 25.5 career sacks through his first three seasons in Minnesota and was second on the team in sacks in 2017. Hunter signed an extension for five years and $72 million. Of that, $40 million was guaranteed, including a $15 million signing bonus.

The Vikings have five of their 11 defensive starters in 2018 signed to multi-year deals.

 

 

The biggest deals of the offseason involved Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack, the last two AP Defensive Player of the Year winners. Mack won in 2016 as the catalyst on a defense for a 12-4 Oakland Raiders squad that made the playoffs. He had 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and an interception return for a touchdown.

He was up for a contract extension and instead of playing the final year of his rookie contract he wanted a long-term contract. Contract negotiations with the Raiders lasted for months, and Mack never reported during the process. Once, it became evident a deal was not going to get done, Oakland traded Mack to the Chicago Bears on Sept. 2. The Bears sent the Raiders four draft picks, including 2019 and 2020 first-round draft picks.

Chicago immediately signed Mack to a contract extension for six years, $141 million. Of that, $90 million was guaranteed, including $60 million at signing. Mack’s deal made him the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.

The deal came two days after the Los Angeles Rams signed defensive linemen Aaron Donald to a contract extension for six years and $135 million with $87 million guaranteed, including a $40 million signing bonus. Like Mack, Donald held out of  training camp in pursuit of a new deal. He had 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and a fumble recovery during his defensive player of the year campaign last year.

Both players have taken their games to a new level since signing new deals. Mack had eight sacks and five forced fumbles through nine games played. Donald has a career-high 14.5 sacks and three forced fumbles through 11 games this season.

Running Backs

Having a strong running game is important in an NFL team’s pursuit of the Super Bowl. However, the position is, at times, undervalued. The average NFL running back plays a little more than two-and-a-half years in the league.

The hits running backs take wear down their body. As a result, the mantra has become: Do not sign running backs for long-term deals; do not overpay for running backs; and running backs hit a wall at 30 years old.

All of those factors came into play in the case of Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Le’Veon Bell.

Bell has not played during the 2018 NFL season, choosing to hold out instead of playing another year under the franchise tag. Bell made a little more than $12.1 million last season and has made a little over $14.7 million in his career. A long-term deal would be his first big contract after playing most of his career on his rookie deal.

One of the Steelers’ problems with Bell is his age. He is 26 years old, so Pittsburgh is reluctant to give him a four- or five-year deal that will take him into his 30s. In addition, he is one of the perennial pass catching leaders among running backs. During the last two years, he accumulated more than 70 catches and 600 yards receiving. Those plays resulted in even more hits.

Bell’s situation was complicated by the deals given to other top running backs during the last couple of years.

During the offseason, the Rams signed the 2017 AP Offensive Player of the Year Todd Gurley to a four-year contract extension for $60 million. Of that, $45 million was guaranteed, including a $20 million signing bonus. Gurley finished in the top three in rushing two of the last three seasons and made two Pro Bowls during that time. He is a premier pass catching back, and with him being only 24, his contract will carry him through most of his prime.

Gurley’s contract showed their was a market for the type of money Bell was demanding from Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals paid David Johnson, a 2015 draft pick, similarly. Johnson signed a three-year contract extension for $39 million, including $30 million guaranteed. The deal can hit a maximum of $45 million. Johnson was a first team All-Pro running back for his first full season as a starter in 2016, and he was an injury away from becoming the first NFL player to produce more than 100 yards from scrimmage in every game of a NFL season.

 

 

Johnson and Gurley’s deals are part of the reason Bell’s contract will continue to be a topic of discussion until he signs either with Pittsburgh or another team.

Lamar Smith is a graduate student in the sports journalism program at Arizona State University

Survey finds money can be reason parents misbehave at sporting events

The National Association of Sports Officials survey found that parents are the main culprits of unsportsmanlike behavior during games from youth leagues to the professional level. According to the New York Times, money is the main reason parents can act erratically toward a penalty flag or a bad call in their child’s game.

“Parents spend a lot of time and financial resources on youth sports, which can prompt some to want a payoff greater than watching their children perform well,” according to the Times article. Parents can spend a lot of money on tournament travel, equipment and club team costs to improve their child’s chances of getting a scholarship or professional contract.

While some parents are willing to spend the money for their child to play a sport, that investment can lead to misbehavior on the part of the adult and diminish the enjoyment and satisfaction for the child.

While parents want the best for their children, some can get too caught up in their investments and lose sight of why their child is playing.

Dr. Travis Dorsch, Utah State University professor and founder of the Families in Sport Lab, said parents are “content to spend the money, and they are supportive and they don’t say a lot.” However, “in other families, little Johnny goes to a tournament and doesn’t play, and on the plane ride home, they have a discussion,” according to Dorsch in the Times story.

Dr. Dorsch published a study in 2016 for the Journal of Family Relations that studied 163 parent-child pairs and found parents spent “an average of $1,583.89 a year on their child’s sports participation.” Although this “ranged widely,” it was reported that “more than 10 percent of [a] family’s gross annual household income [was spent] on their children’s athletic activities,” according to the Times.  

Dr. Stacy Warner, an associate professor and graduate coordinator for sport management, said in the Times that parents are become tribalistic and gain a sense of validity through the community. Because sports teams are mostly local or run by the child’s school, parents typically meet and socialize with the same people every week/weekend during these games. “A desire to remain with the social group can produce a strong emotional response if a parent perceives that a referee makes a bad call or a child plays sluggishly,” according to Dr. Warner in the Times.

Dr. Warner said this can go as deep as if a child doesn’t make the ‘A’ team or is cut, “their social circle will look very different.” The parents’ “membership” in the community of parents on the ‘A’-team could be taken away if their child doesn’t make the cut.

Parents are under the impression that paying the most they possibly can to ensure a better sports outcome from their child; however, that isn’t the case either. According to the Times, “children perceived their parents as investing heavily in their sport tended to report a greater sense of parental pressure and a reduced sense of enjoyment.”

Barry Mano, the founder of the National Association of Sports Officials, told the Times that some leagues are requiring parents to sign a good-behavior agreement while some are outright banning parents from entering “specific games or entire tournaments.” Parents in states, such as New Mexico, are required to comply with a “Parents Code of Conduct that takes emotions into account.

The code includes phrases that all parents should take into account when going/paying for their child’s activities: “I will be in control of my emotions” and “I will remember that the game is for our youth — not adults.”

Tyler Dare is a senior journalism major at Arizona State University

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Can health apps motivate people to exercise more?

apps, phone apps, exercise

Hey, have you been playing too much “Left 4 Dead”? Bingeing too much “Walking Dead?” Really need to go to the gym?
Now you can use those zombie thrills to motivate you to get off your couch and exercise.
Zombies, Run! takes you through an “ultra-immersive running game and audio adventure, co-created with award-winning novelist Naomi Alderman. Every run becomes a mission where you’re the hero,” according to the description in the Apple App Store.

With the majority of adults not as active as they need to be, any way to motivate people to get up and move is helpful.

With a 4.8 star rating in the Apple App Store and more than 8,500 reviews, people seem to love the extra motivation to work out.
“This is an AMAZING app!!! Interesting story, heart-pounding zombie chases, sports bras, side-missions, this app has it all. And I’m not even into zombies otherwise! There is something so inspiring about going on missions for Abel Township with Sam or others in your ear all the way. I’ve always been on the imaginative side, so to immerse myself in this world and run like my life depends on it is awesome,” one reviewer said.
Sure, you might get judged by your neighbor watching you sprint past them while constantly looking over your shoulder in fear of the virtual zombies, but they don’t get the workout benefits do they?
In a digital age of mobile phones, companies are using adults’ favorite devices to help motivate them to become active. It is an uphill and urgent battle: More than a quarter of adults worldwide are not getting enough exerciseAs a result, thousands of fitness apps are available in Apple’s App Store, ranging from run trackers through dieting and specific workouts to meditating. The most popular is Fitbit.
Fitbit’s popularity can be traced to its convenience: It provides what you need to track and access your workouts. In Fitbit’s case, the promotional blurb in the app store is largely accurate: “Live a healthier, more active life with Fitbit, the world’s leading app for tracking all-day activity, workouts, sleep and more. Use the app on its own to track basic activity and it runs on your phone, or connect with one of Fitbit’s many activity trackers and the Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale to get a complete picture of your health — including steps, distance, calories burned, sleep, weight and more.”
The health attributes are tracked by either the Fitbit clip that is attached to a your belt loop or pocket, or a Fitbit Versa, which is similar to an Apple Watch (but much cheaper) and one of many Fitbit wrist accessories.
Certain apps also try to add non-fitness aspects, such as sharing your workouts or runs on social media, or game/point systems, to encourage people to exercise. A report published by The Sport Review Journal dove into the “extra” aspects of these health apps to see if they were effective. Specifically, the report looked at two apps, WeChat Sports and Walkup.
“Gamification” is the term used in the study to describe the features on these apps. The term means using game elements in non-gaming contexts.
With Walkup, gamification manifests itself in points, badges, achievements, progression and virtual goods the app gives you when you complete enough steps. Walkup wants you to get out and explore the city you live in and complete tasks. The steps you take while completing the tasks give you “energy” to go to other parts of the world.
WeChat Sports is built around “enhanced social interaction.” The gamification with this app can be found in its leaderboards, likes and teams.
The study measured day-to-day activities with both apps to see if their social effects could increase your number of steps.
Prior to testing, the study measured all participants’ exercise habits. There was almost no difference between the WalkUp and WeChat Sports groups.
During the seven-week study, the WeChat Sports group showed a greater increase in steps walked per week than the Walkup group.

The WeChat Sports group also showed a higher percentage of participants who intended to continue exercising while using the app in the future.

Despite the differences in the apps, their features are designed to accomplish the same thing: Keep you using the app and (hopefully) working out.

TJ Mathewson is a junior journalism student at Arizona State University.

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