Author: TJ Mathewson

Despite new CBA, WNBA salaries and benefits still lag far behind international leagues

The WNBA made history when it announced the league and Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) agreed in principle to a new Collective Bargaining agreement on Jan. 14 and will run through 2027, with major improvements to player pay, travel conditions and maternity leave.

 

The two parties ratified the previous CBA following the 2014 season to run through the 2021 season. The WNBPA used an opt out after four years of the previous CBA, expiring last October while the two sides engaged in negotiations on a new version.

 

Under the new CBA, teams and players will see a massive jump in salary and salary cap, a 53 percent increase in cash compensation, including base salary, bonuses, prize pools and more. 

 

The new CBA includes improvements in the following:

 

Salary/Cash Compensation:

  • Top players can now earn over $500,000 in cash compensation (including bonuses/incentives), and between $200,000 and $300,000 in salary, a big bump from the projected $121,500 max salary for the 2021 season. ($121,500 for the 2021 season)
  • The CBA also notes that for the first time in WNBA history, the average player compensation will be six figures, around $130,000. The league also set a minimum of $750,000 in prize pool money for special competitions beginning in the 2021 season.
  • A new 50-50 revenue sharing agreement, meaning the league will now pay 50% of its revenue to the players like the NBA does (the previous revenue sharing agreement was 25% to the players.)
  • Increased bonus for performance awards.

Travel:

  • Player travel conditions greatly improve under the new CBA. After years of flying coach, sharing hotel rooms and enduring the pains any ordinary traveler would, WNBA athletes now get premium economy status on flights during the regular season.
  • Players will also get individual hotel room accommodations on all road trips.

 

Family:

  • Players will now receive full salary while on maternity leave. 
  • Annual child care stipend of $5,000. 
  • Teams will provide two-bedroom apartments for players with children, comfortable workplace conditions for nursing mothers.
  • New family planning benefits that include up to $60,000 in reimbursement for veteran players for costs directly related to adoption, surrogacy, oocyte cryopreservation or fertility/infertility treatment.

 

The league wanted players to view the WNBA as a priority and the premier women’s basketball league. Too often, the WNBA loses players to injury during the offseason while playing overseas to supplement their salary.

 

2018 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart lost her entire 2019 season due to a torn achilles while playing for Dynamo Kursk in Russia, and is one of many WNBA players who have suffered injuries while playing in the offseason. Eighty one WNBA players played overseas in the 2018-19 offseason across 13 different countries. The percent of WNBA players that end up playing overseas in the off-season sits at around 75 percent. 

 

Players have long lauded the better conditions overseas than in the U.S. There have been reports of salaries more than triple the amount earned under the former WNBA CBA. Phoenix Mercury star center Brittney Griner reportedly earned $1.5 million in Russia during the 2018-19 season. Her Phoenix teammate, star guard Diana Taurasi, reportedly earned the same amount in the 2015-16 offseason in Russia.

 

How can these teams afford to pay their players a much higher salary than their American counterparts? According to agent Allison Galer and Newsday, these franchises are funded by a municipal government (most Russian teams do this), a rich owner who appreciates women’s hoops (also mostly in Russia), or in partnership with a high-earning soccer franchise (much like how six WNBA franchises are partnered with corresponding NBA teams in their respective cities). 

 

Besides the pay, the benefits players receive overseas is vastly different from what they receive in the U.S.. ESPN’s Jim Caple detailed the 2006-2007 WNBA offseason of Taurasi and Seattle Storm star Sue Bird with Spartak Moscow. Besides each of them making at least four times their WNBA salaries, the living conditions provided almost reflected that of their NBA counterparts.

 

Caple wrote: “From December to mid-May, the two former UConn teammates were back together, living in a rent-free, six-bedroom villa only slightly smaller than the Kremlin, so lavish it included an indoor swimming pool and a sauna. They had a part-time cook. They had an interpreter. They had personal drivers. They received three round-trip, business-class flights between the United States and Moscow during the season. They regularly flew business class or charter for road games. They played in a new arena with a photo mural of the team stretching across the entire back wall. von Kalmanovic phoned them several times a day, took them to dinner and shows, and flew them abroad on break.”

 

Taurasi said it best in a June interview with espnW: “We had to go to a communist country to get paid like capitalists.”

 

It’s not because Spartak rakes in cash with large crowds and a large TV contract. They didn’t. According to the article, the team averaged about 3,000 fans a game and tickets were free. The team also paid to get its games televised. This would lead to the team having $5-$6 million in expenses each year, with little-to-no revenue, according to owner Shabtai von Kalmanovic.

 

The owner of the team, the late von Kalmanovic, didn’t care. For him, he said, “Basketball is everything. It’s a hobby, a pleasure, a casino. Whatever you want.”

 

And that’s how the players view it should be in the U.S., even if it’s not.

 

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

COVID-19 and the Reset of Sport

As the world continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, an unanswered question continues to push itself to the forefront of many debates: What will the reset of sport look like?

Outside of the Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) and the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO), in Taiwan and South Korea respectively resuming play in May, the rest of the sports world looks to find answers.

The recent Global Sport Matters Live: COVID-19 and The Reset of Sport panel looked ahead to try and envision what the reset of sport could look like. 

The panel included:

Tracey Holmes, Australian journalist and presenter on ABC News Radio.

Howard Bryant, American author, sports journalist and radio and television personality.

Victoria Jackson, Arizona State University clinical assistant professor of history, specializing in sport.

Kenneth Shropshire, CEO of the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University.

“There’s a really good question taking place here (during quarantine), it’s starting to dominate,” Bryant said. “The idea of ‘effect vs damage.’ Right now we are feeling the effect of COVID-19 but we have yet to really see the damage of COVID-19.

“What restaurants don’t come back? What sports don’t come back? What percentage of fans don’t come back? What are the layoffs? How many of our jobs don’t come back? When (companies) lay off, they don’t rehire in the same capacity.”

“This pause button gives us an opportunity to think strategically about the decisions we make and we are protecting and prioritizing those who are the most vulnerable in this moment,” Jackson said. “We have to make good business decisions, but we can also do it in a way that is inclusive and thinking about people who have tried so hard getting a foot in the door and getting their sports promoted.”

Bryant also pointed out the push to reopen the economy and return to normal. The groups most impacted by COVID-19 are the poor and minorities, Howard said, so there is suddenly an immense pressure to come back because the most affected are the most vulnerable.

“There are plenty of conversations to be had in terms of how this story has shifted,” Bryant said. “Once we saw who was being mostly affected by COVID-19, there was this movement to say ‘Hey we can come back now’ because the most vulnerable amongst us are being affected and others aren’t.”

A big “if” in the world of sports lies with the major universities allowing students back on campus for the 2020 fall semester. Texas has plans for state schools to have students on campus for the fall, as do the University of Oregon and Arizona State University.

Many other schools have yet to make a decision.

“I think the college side of (returning to sports) is more important than professional sports,” Bryant said. “We are speaking about colleges and universities right now, I have some friends over here (in Massachusetts) who work at Boston University and Boston College, and some of them are saying they aren’t expecting students back on campus until 2021.

“If that’s the case, how can you expect a student-athlete to perform when his classmates aren’t going to class? What does that do to the question of amateurism? Doesn't that undermine the entire question of amateurism? That makes them employees to me, especially if you are taking the Mike Gundy position that we need to get college sports back to help economies.”

Jackson, a former college athlete herself, put it in further perspective.

“Well, the majority of these conversations are about the Power Five (schools), and the Power Five are predominantly white institutions and the rosters of these college football teams are majority black,” she said. “Not to make it about this, but it’s really revealing the purpose of this and the entertainment purpose of these students on campus.

“It’s revealing the myth of amateurism and how we see these lives (of the athletes) as different from other lives on campus.”

It raises another question: How essential is the business of sports?

“We always would say that sports relied on the illusion that it was important. “It’s important for my team to win,’” Bryant said. “Now you start looking at it in terms of essential from another perspective, the economist's perspective. You start looking at the dollar amounts, especially these publicly financed stadiums that the states need the revenue to keep moving forward.

“As much as we talk about essential and non-essential, it took sport and celebrity that got people moving on this, where people really took their cues. It’s also going to be sport and celebrity to give these people their cues it's good to go outside.

“If we conclude that sport is driving the reopening of the economy because the finances looks terrible, that is sending a terrible message to the lower levels, to high school and college, that your health is secondary to what revenues you generate for us.”

The next Global Sport Matters Live conversation is scheduled for Friday, May 15th and will focus on the impact on sport in Native American communities

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University.

Empowering athletes in the post-sport journey

The transition from athletics to civilian life is not always an easy one. In March, the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University was scheduled to host a panel during the annual SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. The panel continued virtually, entitledEmpowering Athletes in the Post-Sport Journey,” and featured speakers from diverse areas of sports discussing the transition from play to a second career.Panelists included:

Mori Taheripour, a globally-recognized executive and award-winning educator at the University of Pennsylvania with unique expertise in negotiation, diversity and inclusion, athlete education and development, high-impact philanthropy and sport for development.

Karen Gallagher, a senior postdoctoral research scholar at the Global Sport Institute. She serves as project manager on collaborative research efforts and works in developing programs and research projects related to athletes’ post-sport transition.

Jacques McClendon, the director of player engagement for the Los Angeles Rams. After spending seven seasons as an offensive lineman in the NFL, McClendon is responsible for assisting players with the transition from professional football and developing off the field.

Kenneth Shropshire, CEO of the Global Sport Institute. He is an author, educator and speaker consulting on athlete-transition and financial education and has worked with the NCAA, MLB, NFL, the United States Olympic Committee and others.

The panel discussed their transitions, McClendon from the NFL into his current role with the LA Rams, and Gallagher from the military into her role with the Global Sport Institute.

McClendon credits his high school for helping him realize what he could accomplish outside of football.

“I grew up in a single-parent household, just me and my mother,” he said. “She made about $25,000 a year. I had this opportunity to really propel myself and attend a very affluent high school. It cost $40,000 a year. I was able to get a scholarship. What this really showed me was the power of having a network.

“My best friend to this day is from that school. Just being able to interact with him and his family, and to see how his dad carried about his business, to see how the other side lived, coming from a place where we grew up on food stamps and other things of such.”

McClendon played college football at Tennessee. He graduated in three years with a bachelor's degree in economics and in the following year graduated with a masters in sports management before the Indianapolis Colts selected him in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

That year, the final year of the old collective bargaining agreement before the 2011 lockout, allowed McClendon the time to explore what else he was planning to do in life besides football.

“Here I am, didn’t play much my rookie year, thinking ‘OK, what’s next?’” he said. “That’s a big transition year, year one to year two. I had to figure out something to A, stay busy and B, stay on top of my training.”

“I had the training part down, but the NFL had an externship available at the NCAA national office, so I took it and I was there for four months during the lockout. I worked from 8 (a.m.) to 4 (p.m.) and worked out from 4:30-6. That made me realize that sports administration was what I wanted to do. That exposure was key to me.”

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 12: Jacques McClendon #66 of the Jacksonville Jaguars warms up before a game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on October 12, 2014 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans defeated the Jaguars 16-14. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Gallagher had a different path, enlisting in the Army out of high school, becoming a paratrooper and a chemical specialist.

“It was me seeking something bigger than myself,” Gallagher said. “When I got out of the Army, I had no room for my civilian self. There was this all-encompassing identity and tremendous sense of loss no one prepared me for.

“Every relationship outside of the military felt shallow, because we were not bonded by something bigger than ourselves.”

Gallagher said she wouldn’t speak to anyone for weeks, but finally found a turning point to guide her in the right direction.

“I connected with another veteran, who was a Vietnam veteran. He gave me a hand up and said ‘You can do this, we can’t let your generation fail,’” she said. “It was that moment for me that I started making room for my civilian self.

“From an adult developmental perspective, transition in itself is traumatic. If we are prepared for it, know what to do about it and know how to connect, we can succeed.”

In discussing the toughest transition in the post-sport journey, the panel arrived at a unanimous answer: the mental aspect.


“I agree, I really think the mental aspect is the hardest to deal with,” McClendon said. “You look back to high school, the way these guys are built up in a recruiting standpoint. Everyone is trying to reach the pinnacle, the NFL, but no one talks about what’s next.

“Your passion and purpose is ‘Get to the league, get to the league.’ When it’s over, what is next? I think that if we can find a way to position this better, the best way I’ve heard this worded is, ‘It’s not a career, it’s an experience.’ The perfect time to (drill this in) is college, they have all these career centers and academics, all these resources to ask yourself what you want to do.”

Gallagher relates it to the military: “For military veterans, it should be part of training,” she said. “It’s one of the things we need to bridge better. Discharge begins at admission, if we don’t do this, it’s almost too late.”

For athletes, utilizing your platform and network is the best way to pave the way to your next career.

“People love sports because sports unite,” McClendon said. “So while you have that platform and opportunity, leverage it for your success, you have an unbelievable opportunity to leverage the now for the later.”

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University.

Around the World: COVID-19 and Sport Panel

The first Around the World: COVID-19 + Sport Panel brought some of the best minds together for a conversation on how different regions of the world are dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.

The conversation was moderated by Kenneth Shropshire, CEO of the Global Sport Institute, and joined by global speakers:

Tracey Holmes | Australian Journalist and presenter on ABC News Radio
Andrés Martinez | Arizona State University Professor of Practice & Journalist
Ilhaam Groenewald | Chief Director of Maties Sports at Stellenbosch University, South Africa
James Skinner | Director for Sports Business at Loughborough University, London
Natalie Welch | Asst. Professor for Sports Business and Marketing, member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Simon Chadwick | Director of Eurasian Sport at Emlyon Business School
Stephen Ross | Executive Director of Penn State Center for the Study of Sports in Society

Is too much money a problem?

Billions of dollars are tied into professional sports across every continent. Does that stop leagues from listening to health professionals until it’s too late?

“There is a genuine concern around ‘is money dominating more than anything else?’,” Simon Chadwick said regarding sporting events continuing despite the pandemic.

“Ok, so let’s reset (to when sports mean more than money). Reset to what? Ten years ago? Twenty years ago? To the mid-20th century? There’s also the issue around, ‘Ok, so we agreed to reset, who is going to do that?’. There are some political and ideological questions there about how we are talking about sports industries? Are we talking about commercial partners? Sports governing bodies?”

“There are some really fundamental questions right now being thrown up by the virus that right now we are not answering, but in the future we need to.”

The financial push to keep sports alive during a global catastrophe is nuanced, argued one panelist. 

“I think we should be a little cautious about romanticizing the reset that’s coming, especially when you think of areas of the world like Latin America,” Andres Martinez said. “In times of prosperity in professional sport in Latin America like everywhere else, we are very focused on inequality.

“But, when the prosperity ends and the markets bust, what often follows is greater preoccupations and inequalities, equality distributed poverty and scarcity. For example, in the last few years in Latin America, we have had the beginnings of a viable women's football league in countries like Mexico, Peru and Argentina.

“Often times that has been the result of this influx of money where these professional clubs have been told by FIFA and societal pressures, ‘Hey, if you are going to have a men’s soccer team, we are going to create a league and you are going to have to support a women’s team,’which has opened up tremendous avenues for participation.”

“When I think about the reset that’s going to come when these leagues are decimated and we have a financial crisis in these emerging sports markets, I think the first things that are going to go (are those teams).”

Alongside the subsidizing of women’s sports is the grassroots programs that are paid for by the commercial aspects of these sports, Stephen Ross said.

He noted that outside of the northern rich sports, there is a very strong connection between grassroots programs and commercially profitable leagues that provide opportunities to underprivileged children who can’t afford equipment or private club fees. 

“One of the things I think there might be an opportunity to reset in the wealthy countries is to think about what are the obligations of the commercial leagues,” Ross said.

“And whether it’s time to start expecting there to be a link which would not only be socially responsible, but in the long run help the commercial leagues fight off critiques of commercialization because then anyone who objects to the commercialization, (the league shows it shares money to those who need it most).”

When can we see sports return and what is next?

“We need to listen to medical experts,” James Skinner said, amongst a consensus from the rest of the panel. “It’s going to be a gradualized process, people will come back slowly, they will lift the restrictions gradually. I can’t see us waking up one morning and everything is back.”

“Even when we talk about coming back, we still don’t know if there is going to be a second wave according to the seasons around the world,” Tracey Holmes said. “All of those issues are still to be determined. Some people have suggested (sports) come back slowly, it comes back without crowds until you can guarantee everyone is going to be clean and not get reinfected.

“I don’t want us to get back to normal, I want us to redefine normal and be better when we come back.”

“I don’t want us to get back to normal, I want us to redefine normal and be better when we come back.”

“What I’m not hearing from a lot of people is, what happens next?” Chadwick said. “I challenge everybody who is here, for the next five years, what is your manifesto for sport? We talked about resetting sport, getting more access, not forgetting certain communities, contracts, broadcasters etc.

“I think we need to break out of this current situation. I know it’s really important, it’s a crisis and an emergency, I know those things, But at some stage we are going to have to start looking forward and looking at what is next.”

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University

GSM Updates: COVID-19 and its impact on sport

Ever since the calendar flipped to 2020, COVID-19 has slowly but surely torn its way though countries all over the world, and taken sports with it. There are constant ebbs and flows of how countries are dealing with the virus and the precautions around it. 

Here’s a look at how countries are handling sports to this point. 

Last updated April 27th

KBO to resume May 5th

Five weeks after the scheduled start of the season, the KBO is set to return on May 5 without fans according to Yonhap News Agency. The teams will play four exhibition games prior to the newly scheduled start, and plan to play the entire 144-game schedule, although it could be shortened by as many as 36 games. The season was previously supposed to begin on March 28.

The league plans to gradually allow fans back into the stadiums as the threats of COVID-19 slowly subside. All photographers and TV cameras were positioned in the stands where fans would normally sit during preseason games, according to reports. 

The KBO says they will shorten the season if infections spike back up. As of April 26, only ten new cases were reported in South Korea.

There are some rules that will be in place to ensure the safety of players and team personnel. No spitting allowed, daily testing, wearing masks everywhere except on the field and dugout, masks and gloves for umpires, and strong discouragement of high fives and handshakes. Players that test positive for COVID-19 would be quarantined and the stadium of that team would be closed for a 48-hour cleaning period. If a player tested positive, that wouldn’t necessarily shut the league down, it would be up to KBO officials still.

ESPN is close to acquiring broadcasting rights for the KBO, according to reports from Yonhap News Agency. The network plans to broadcast multiple KBO games a week back to its American audience once/if the deal is completed.

NBA to open team facilities

The NBA released a statement Monday that targets May 8th to open team practice facilities in states where stay-at-home orders have been eased.


The players allowed in facilities would be under certain restrictions. No more than four players would be allowed in the facilities at any one time, no head or assistant coaches can participate in workouts, no group activity would be allowed and players would not be allowed to use non-team facilities such as public gyms/fitness centers. 

Other restrictions include players wearing masks at all times unless in physical activity, staffers must wear gloves at all times working with players and physical distancing of 12 feet, according to Shams Charania. Players must conduct a resting ECG and troponin test before resuming physical activity. The teams will also need to assign a senior executive to a “Facility Hygiene Officer.” 

The league has yet to give an update on when games could resume.

As of April 22nd

PGA to return in June

The PGA plans to be back in action on June 8 at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth Texas, pushing the event back three weeks from the original date (May 18-24). 

“The health and safety of all associated with the PGA TOUR and our global community continues to be our No. 1 priority, and our hope is to play a role – responsibly – in the world’s return to enjoying the things we love,” PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan said on April 16. “Today’s announcement is another positive step for our fans and players as we look toward the future, but as we’ve stressed on several occasions, we will resume competition only when – working closely with our tournaments, partners and communities – it is considered safe to do so under the guidance of the leading public health authorities.”

The events will remain closed to the general public, but remain open to essential personnel. More information is available here.

As of April 14th

CPBL back in Taiwan

The Chinese Professional Baseball League (CPBL) played the first regular-season baseball game in the world on April 11 between the Chinatrust Brothers and the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions, nearly a month later than the original opening day was slated for (March 14). 

Fans were not allowed inside the stadium, as expected. However, the Rakuten Monkeys filled up their stadium with mannequins and cardboard cutouts (Rakuten didn’t end up playing due to a rainout).

UFC 249 postponed, but WWE rolls on

After originally being scheduled for April 18, UFC 249 and all other events are postponed until further notice, UFC President Dana White told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. 

The event was originally scheduled in Brooklyn at the Barclays Center, then the backup plan moved the event across the country to Tachi Palace Casino Resort in Lemoore, California, sovereign native american land that didn’t have to abide by state regulations. However, due to concerns from DIsney and ESPN, the event was postponed.

“ESPN has been in constant contact with the UFC regarding UFC 249. Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do, but we didn't feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons. ESPN expressed its concerns to the UFC and they understood," ESPN said in a statement.

Meanwhile in the world of professional wrestling, WWE continues to run events out of its Orlando facility without fans. The brand was deemed “essential business” by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

Initially, it was not deemed essential, but after discussions with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ office, that the ruling changed and WWE was allowed to continue through the stay-at-home order issued on April 3. 

A spokesperson from DeSantis’ office told ESPN that WWE is “critical to the Florida economy.” When asked if the UFC could do something similar, the spokesperson said, “The memo does not specify specific sports, as long as the event location is closed to the general public."

"We believe it is now more important than ever to provide people with a diversion from these hard times," WWE said in a statement. "We are producing content on a closed set with only essential personnel in attendance following appropriate guidelines while taking additional precautions to ensure the health and wellness of our performers and staff. As a brand that has been woven into the fabric of society, WWE and its Superstars bring families together and deliver a sense of hope, determination and perseverance."

As of April 7th

MLB back as soon as May?

Major League Baseball and the Major League Players Association are examining the possibility of getting the season underway as soon as May, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. WIth the backing of high-ranking health officials, the plan would have all 30 teams playing in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The teams would play at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix and 10 spring training stadiums and other fields around the Valley. Teams and other essential personnel would be housed in nearby hotels in isolation, only traveling to and from the ballparks they would be playing in.

The games would be played without fans, but would be televised and broadcast on radio.

Among the steps that would be necessary to pull it off: COVID-19 tests with quick results, sufficient isolation methods in team hotels, security, transportation and the willingness from players to be seperated from families for up to 4 ½ months.

MLB responded to the ESPN report with a statement: 

"MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so," the MLB statement said. "While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan. While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association.

"The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus."

Playing without fans would cost the league more than $10 billion in ticket revenue, according to Passan. A couple other things noted in the report.

  • Officials don’t believe that one positive test could shut down baseball, unlike what happened to the NBA when Utah’s Rudy Gobert tested positive. Under the proposed plan, teams would have expanded rosters.
  • Electronic strike zones would be used so umpires can maintain distance from the catcher and batter.
  • Mound visits from the catcher or pitching coach would not be allowed.
  • Teams would play seven-inning doubleheaders to allow more games in a shorter period.
  • Players would sit 6-feet apart in the stands to maintain social distancing rather than sit in the dugout

The NHL is considering something similar in North Dakota, according to Sportsnet.

UFC on an island?

UFC President Dana White told TMZ and ESPN on April 6 that he has secured a private location in the United States to resume events amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a private island in an undisclosed location, for athletes who cannot travel into the U.S. 

White said UFC 249, which is scheduled for April 18, is a full-go with 12 fights on the card. The U.S.-based location will play host to weekly fights for at least the next two months.

"I'll tell you this, I'm this close to getting a deal done," White told ESPN regarding the island. "So this place where this fight is going to be on April 18 I have locked up for two months, so I'm going to continue to pump fights out. I also secured an island. I've got an island. The infrastructure is being built right now. We're going to do all of our international fights on this island.

"So when we do this fight April 18, international and in the United States, we're going to start cranking. The UFC will be back up and running, internationally and here in the States."

White said he will not be disclosing the location of the venue in the U.S., the fight will be held without fans in attendance.

As of April 6th

KBO sets date for play to resume

South Korea has done well in containing the COVID-19 outbreak, and because of that, the Korean Baseball Organization has set April 21st as the return date for the league to get underway, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Six exhibition games per team are scheduled before the 10-team league starts the regular season

As noted earlier, the KBO is streaming intrasquad games on Youtube while the rest of the sports world remains on hiatus, because the country has flattened the curve in its graph of coronavirus infections.

The U.S. and South Korea announced their first cases on the same day, January 22nd. In a country of 51 million people, South Korea announced just 47 new cases and three new deaths out of the total of 10,284 confirmed cases in the country as of April 6, according to the World Health Organization. The U.S. announced 33,510 new cases on April 6 alone, totalling 307,318 nationwide.

Passan spoke with eight-year MLB pitcher Dan Straily, now a member of the Lotte Giants in the KBO. Straily said that KBO and its teams are monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely. If any player, coach, stadium worker, or other participant is infected before the designated start date, the season will be postponed two weeks.

Other leagues will watch closely to see how the KBO handles the situation and will use it as a blueprint going forward. The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) and Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in Japan already have postponed restarts due to complications with the virus.

NFL Draft moves to a virtual format

On April 6, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the 2020 NFL Draft, originally to be held in Las Vegas, will be conducted remotely with club personnel staying home.

A snippet from what Goodell said in his statement:

"We have made this decision for several reasons. All Clubs will not have access to their facilities, which is contrary to the fundamental equity principle that all clubs operate in a consistent and fair way. Moreover, we want all NFL personnel to comply with government directives and to model safe and appropriate health practices. Our staff will carry out its responsibilities in the same way, operating in separate locations outside of our offices. And after consulting with medical advisors, we cannot identify an alternative that is preferable from a medical or public health perspective, given the varying needs of clubs, the need properly to screen participants, and the unique risk factors that individual club employees may face.

The draft is still scheduled to take place April 23-25.

As of March 30th

Olympics officially moved to 2021

Officially, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced the 2020 will be postponed  until Jul. 23 - Aug. 8, 2021, the first time ever the games have been rescheduled (they have been canceled three times, during World War I in 1916 and World War II in 1940 and 1944). The Paralympic games will take place Jul. 23 - Aug. 5.

IOC President Thomas Bach said in a statement released by the organization:

“I want to thank the International Federations for their unanimous support and the Continental Associations of National Olympic Committees for the great partnership and their support in the consultation process over the last few days. I would also like to thank the IOC Athletes’ Commission, with whom we have been in constant contact. With this announcement, I am confident that, working together with the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Japanese Government and all our stakeholders, we can master this unprecedented challenge. Humankind currently finds itself in a dark tunnel. These Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 can be a light at the end of this tunnel.”

Mori Yoshiro, president of the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, also released a statement at the time of the announcement that said: 

“IOC President Thomas Bach and the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee held a conference call today to discuss in detail the revised dates of the Tokyo 2020 Games. Minister for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Hashimoto Seiko and Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko joined the call. I proposed that the Games should be hosted between July and August 2021, and I really appreciate that President Bach, having discussed this proposal with the various international sports federations and other related organizations, kindly accepted my proposal.

“A certain amount of time is required for the selection and qualification of athletes and for their training and preparation, and the consensus was that staging the rescheduled Games during the summer vacation in Japan would be preferable. In terms of transport, arranging volunteers and the provision of tickets for those in Japan and overseas, as well as allowing for the COVID-19 situation, we think that it would be better to reschedule the Games to one year later than planned, in the summer of 2021. 

“Notwithstanding the postponement of the Olympic and Paralympic Games for the first time in history, and various other issues that have already been highlighted, the event schedule is the cornerstone of future preparations, and I am convinced that taking this decision promptly will help speed up future preparations. I would like to thank all the stakeholders, including the host city Tokyo and the Government of Japan, for their hard work during this short period. The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee will continue to work hard for the success of next year's Games.”

Could leagues play games for the rest of their season in one city behind closed doors?

The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) has floated around a litany of ideas on how and when to resume its season, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

One of those options for the CBA, which is targeting the beginning of May to resume play, is to cluster all teams in one or two cities and play games in empty arenas. Every team has 16 games left to go before the league playoffs, and the goal would be to have fans allowed back in arenas by the time playoffs come around.

The two sites the CBA is looking at are Dongguan, a city in the southern region of China without the same volume of cases as the rest of the country, and Qingdao, a city on the northeast coast that has developed effective quarantine strategies thanks to its high volume of travelers from Japan and South Korea.

The team would live in a contained and monitored environment with the players having their body temperature checked multiple times each day.

Could the NBA do the same? It’s possible. Windhorst suggests playing at a vacant Vegas casino, where everything could be done in one building (MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay). Other options include moving to the Bahamas, or to a college campus in the midwest, where the outbreak isn’t as severe. 

However, according to Windhorst, Lakers star Lebron James is not a fan of the idea of being quarantined in a hotel with other players and teams. 

“I ain't going for that s---,” he said. “I'm not going for that."

The English Premier League discussed the same thing, according to The Independent. The teams would be held in “World Cup-style” camps over the summer months with a plan to televise all remaining 92 matches as a “TV mega-event,” with a few matches played each day.

Like the CBA and the NBA plans, the Premier League would rely on a strong quarantine and comprehensive testing measures in an area isolated from the rest of Britain. 

Tiger and Phil again?

The PGA Tour has postponed events for the near future, but  that doesn’t mean golf is out of the picture. Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods could be working on a rematch of “The Match,” their first-ever pay-per-view golf event between them played in Las Vegas in 2018. Mickelson won, taking home the winner-takes-all $9-million prize.

The event would require the PGA  Tour’s approval, and with events postponed through May, there are a lot of logistics that would have to be worked out.

 

As of March 26th

Olympics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced on March 24th that the 2020 Olympic Games will be postponed until the summer of 2021 at the latest.

“In the present circumstances and based on the information provided by the WHO today, the IOC President and the Prime Minister of Japan have concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020 but not later than summer 2021, to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games and the international community,” a joint statement between the Tokyo Organizing Committee and the IOC said.

“The leaders agreed that the Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times and that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present.”

This move came after both Canada and Australia announced they would not be sending athletes to the 2020 Summer Games. Both countries initially called for the Games to be postponed another year.

Athletes like USA Soccer’s Carli Lloyd had a consistent message regarding the postponement: “It’s bigger than the Olympics.”

 

 

United States

All four major US sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL) and the NCAA have been hit hard by COVID-19, with the most cases of the virus worldwide.

On March 11, the Ivy League announced it was canceling all spring sport competition and practice. The NBA followed later that night and postponed its season after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.

In the next 48 hours, the NCAA announced it would be canceling every winter and spring championship and postponed on-campus recruiting for the foreseeable future; MLB canceled spring training and postponed Opening Day; the NHL postponed its season; the XFL canceled its season; and the PGA Tour canceled the remainder of the Players Open, which was still in progress, and all events for at least the next two weeks.

Five days later, the NFL suspended all offseason training activities (OTAs) indefinitely and implemented new rules that teams cannot invite free agents to team facilities, nor can team personnel travel to meet with free agents.

On the same day, MLB postponed its season indefinitely after targeting April 9 as the return date. 

“We will continue to monitor ongoing events and undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts, and urge all baseball fans to follow suit,” MLB said in the statement. “MLB extends its best wishes to all the individuals and communities who have been impacted by the coronavirus.”

Commission Rob Manfred said the league will take a “wait-and-see approach” in regards to the regular season and Opening Day.

The NBA continues to provide updates on its season, but hasn’t said when the league is ready to resume action. 

Commissioner Adam Silver says the league is currently weighing multiple options, whether it be canceling games or moving the season that was just a few weeks from the playoffs. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA owners are looking at dates as late as Labor Day to resume and potentially salvage the season.

The NHL, at the same point of the season as the NBA, is considering similar options.

In a league Q&A, the NHL stated that it hasn’t considered when play will resume or how the playoff format will look.

“The form and format of resumption of play scenarios will depend entirely on what transpires between now and when we are permitted and able to resume -- and, ultimately, on timing and taking into account logistical constraints. We are going to have to be flexible and react to events as they unfold as well as the best medical advice available,” the league said.

On the timeline of the season?

“We will continue to monitor developments during the 60-day window prescribed by the CDC. Assuming events are tracking positively, we would hope to be able to begin providing high-level guidance on the potential of opening a Club training camp period roughly 45 days into the period covered by the CDC's recommendation.”

Italy

The country hit hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak (second-most cases behind China, most deaths), has forced the entire Italian sports world into a complete halt.

The halt was confirmed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on March 9 and was initially supposed to last until April 3 .However, that is contingent on the containment of the outbreak. Nine days later, that date was pushed back to the beginning of May. There are reports Serie A, the top-flight football league in Italy, could just get canceled

Serie A has its eyes set on an early May return date, but is unsure whether fans will be in attendance.

“I believe that Serie A can return on May 3,” Italian sports minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “Then we will evaluate whether it’s played behind closed doors, or open to the public.”

Football has been a huge reason why the virus has been able to spread so quickly, according to reports. Double-digit athletes have tested positive for COVID-19.

“The condition in Italy now has worsened and I will say it’s not good. I am doing well but the conditions here are very bad," Inter Milan midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah told Ghanaian radio station Peace FM.

“For now we can’t go anywhere. All training programs have been canceled. Everything has been shut down here in Milan. It hasn’t been easy. We didn’t take this thing seriously in the beginning. People were still going about their daily activities, that is why the virus has really spread that fast."

Lega Basket Serie A (LBA), the top-tier Italian basketball league that has been halted since March 9, also sits in an indefinite suspension. 

Former Arizona State Basketball player Kodi Justice talked about how his team dealt with the situation prior and after the shutdown here.

China

Despite being the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, there is some optimism within Chinese borders that the outbreak has been contained. As of March 25, only 113 new cases were reported and just four new deaths.

What does this mean for the sports leagues? The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) made its way through 30 of 46 scheduled games before being shut down in January. The league was optimistic in its efforts to return as early as the beginning of April.

The CBA sent a memo out to its member clubs, acquired by ESPN, that said the following:

"In January 2020, the new coronavirus broke out in many places across the country. According to the requirements of national epidemic prevention and control, we postponed the subsequent games of the 2019-2020 CBA season scheduled to be held on February 1. At present, the situation of epidemic prevention and control in CBA cities is basically stable. In order to better respond to the national requirements on precise prevention and control, solid and orderly promotion of return to work and production, shoulder the mission and task of sports confidence, warm people's hearts and gather people's hearts, according to the relevant requirements of China Basketball Association on the restart of the league, the rest of the games of the 2019-2020 CBA season will restart from the beginning of April.

“All clubs and teams are requested to prepare for the restart of CBA League as early as April 2. At the same time, all teams should comply with the relevant requirements of the national and local epidemic prevention and control departments, continue to strengthen the epidemic prevention and control work, do a good job in making detailed and solid security measures such as epidemic prevention and control, and ensure the health and safety of club and team members. Details of the restart will be notified separately."

That date got pushed back even further on March 25, moving the potential start date to May, according to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.

The league sent all of its foreign players home in January, including former NBA players Jeremy Lin, Ty Lawson and Lance Stevenson. The tricky part is getting the players back into the country with all of the travel bans, detailed here.

Other Notes

Last Baseball Standing: South Korea’s KBO League and Japan’s NBP continue to train and play with no fans allowed in stadiums across both leagues. Both leagues have targeted late April as potential Opening Day options.

Australia:  One of the last major countries to shut down all major sports, Australia finally axed competition due to the COVID-19 threat. On March 22nd, the Australian Football League postponed play. A day later, the National Rugby League did the same

“Our industry provides livelihoods for thousands and thousands of people but our key focus at the moment – like every organisation in the country – is to do everything that needs to be done to help slow the spread of this virus and to keep people as healthy as possible," AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said.

"To say this is the most serious threat to our game in 100 years is an understatement. It is unprecedented in its impact. It is unprecedented in the impact it is having on our game and the wider community, and as a community and as a code, we all need to take the unprecedented and required actions to get through this together.”

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

Manufacturers creating clothing, shoes specifically for adaptive athletes

Shaquem Griffin, Seattle Seahawks
Linebacker Shaquem Griffin of the Seattle Seahawks became the first one-handed player drafted in the NFL. Nike created lace-less easy entry shoes for him.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

With the holiday season in full swing, many companies are aiming to provide clothing options to every area of the sports-apparel market.

And they’re not just targeting non-disabled consumers.

Why, sport and the body
Adaptive clothing makes popular clothing options available to all audiences.

According to the American Institute for Research, working-age adults with disabilities represent nearly $490 billion in disposable income. When big brands see a number that big, they are going to try to tap into that market.

That’s why companies like Nike and Tommy Hilfiger have dipped their toes into the adaptive clothing market and retailers such as Zappos and Target are putting more adaptive products on their shelves for active consumers with functional limitations. 

Manufacturers are adding small details that are important to disabled consumers like hidden Velcro, magnetic clasps and zippers that blend into the clothing to give it a clean look, but make it more accessible.

Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin knows how important those small details can be.

Griffin broke down barriers when he became the first one-handed player drafted into the NFL when the Seahawks selected him in the fifth round (141st overall) of the 2018 NFL draft.  

He was born with amniotic band syndrome, which prevented the fingers in his left hand from fully developing and doctors amputated his hand when he was 4-years old. Griffin’s story inspired Nike to design the new Nike FlyEase cleat to be more accessible to amputees like him.

The cleat made its debut when Griffin suited up for his first meaningful action of the season November 11 against the San Francisco 49ers. The key feature of this cleat? No laces. Instead, the easy-entry shoes employ fastening straps. 

One of the biggest problems for Griffin growing up was keeping his shoes tight and being able to adjust them during a game. The straps allow for easier in-game adjustments.

"I said, ‘Imagine a shoe with no shoestrings,’ " Griffin told CBS Sports when asked about his new cleat. "Even if your strap comes undone, you can strap your shoe right back and get back into the game without missing a beat."

Nike released an ad featuring the shoe with Griffin delivering the message: “You have a wall in your way, don’t jump over it. Kick it down.” 

Griffin said he hopes the shoes will help others see their dreams come true.

“I mean, I’m living mine right now and I want to set examples for other kids and everyone else who has a dream, who wants to be able to be the best they can be,” he said.

The football cleat was designed as an “armored sock” with just two straps for adjustment and a lot of flexibility for the foot, like many of the FlyEase products.

Tommy Hilfiger also is doing more to reach the massive market.

“For one in five Americans living with a disability, something as simple as getting dressed each day can be a challenge. Inspired by their experiences and Tommy's own history having children with autism, our team made a commitment to rethink the design process to uncover solutions that really work,” the company’s website states. 

The products include coats, shirts, pants, underwear, and watches in styles appropriate for hot or cold weather. 

The Tommy Adaptive Colorblock Yachting Jacket utilizes many of these adaptive features. The zipper is magnetic at its base, requiring only one hand to zip while keeping it stylish for outdoor adventure with its block coloring and design.

Another option is the Hilfiger sweatpant. These sweatpants have a cord-lock fastener on the drawstring, allowing the user to get into or adjust the pants with one hand.

Other companies that provide adaptive clothing include Silvert’s, Izzy Camilleri, Able2Wear, and Adaptations by Adrian.

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University

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Dynamic stretching is the key to a good workout

stretching, female soccer players, football
(Photo courtesy Getty Images)

Should you stretch before a workout? 

When you’re healthy, yes. Stretching reduces the risk of injury, increases range of motion and decreases stiffness in muscles, and it’s an important way to help athletes stay healthy through a rigorous training schedule, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The Mayo Clinic emphasizes using proper technique to maximize these stretches, making sure that you focus on major muscle groups and balance the stretches on both sides of your body.

Why, sport and the body
Both dynamic and static stretching have proper places in a workout – dynamic during the warmup and static during the cooldown.

“Tight muscles can cause undue strain on the neighboring joints during normal daily function, or they themselves can become injured," Sasha Cyrelson, clinical director at Professional Physical Therapy, told SELF.

“We need to take an active role in maintaining and improving the length of our muscles so we can continue to enjoy our abilities without pain."

Stretching is part of the proper warmup that gets the body ready to work out to full potential. Studies show that dynamic stretching such as arm circles, high knees or yoga is a better fit as a warmup to go along with cardio such as running or rowing. These stretching activities, rather than static stretching, mirror more of what you will do in an actual workout.

But static stretching has its place. More research shows that static stretching is best for after a workout. If done before, it actually might make you feel weaker while working out. Static stretches are ideal after a workout to improve flexibility.

Sport-specific stretches are also encouraged. Such stretches focus on the muscles most prone to injury in the sport, such as hamstrings for soccer or shoulder for baseball.

There are a few stretches that every athlete should utilize: 

Lunges: Work hips, hamstrings, glutes and muscles on the insides of the thighs (adductor).

High knees: A dynamic stretch that utilizes quads, glutes and calves.

Arm circles: Another dynamic stretch that works shoulders, biceps and triceps.

Iron cross stretch: Stretches out the lower back and hips.

A study conducted published by the European Journal of Sports Science looked at how sessions of stretching affected range of movement and stiffness in the muscles and tendons, measuring range of motion (RoM), passive resistive torque (PRT) and maximum voluntary contraction (MVC).

The study randomly tested 14 subjects on four different days, with three varying intervals of rest (no rest, five minutes, 10 minutes) after a static stretching session or a control session. The results confirmed the increase in RoM and a decrease in MVC from the test group to the control group, plus a decrease in PRT and muscle stiffness.

Stretching is also a method of de-stressing. Dean Ornish, founder of Preventive Research Institute in California, says the two relate closely to each other.

“As you know, your mind affects your body and your body affects your mind,” he told WebMD. “During times of emotional stress, the muscles in your body contract. This is an adaptive response to acute stress, as it fortifies your ‘body armor’ so that in times of danger, if you get hit, for example, your muscles help to protect you.”

“However, in times of chronic stress, these same mechanisms that have evolved to protect us can create problems – chronically tensed muscles, especially those in the back and neck, predispose to chronic pain or injury. Thus, stress management techniques can help prevent this. Also, gentle stretching of chronically tensed muscles provide relaxation to the mind as well as the body.”

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University

Less stress, diverse exercises highlight the benefits of group workouts

Women dancing
(Photo courtesy Getty Images)

What’s more beneficial: training by yourself or training in a group?

A study says that working out in a group is the better option, lowering stress while meeting the exercise criteria. With research done by The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, group exercisers in a group saw lower stress levels and a higher quality of life.

Why, sport and the body
While many people choose to workout on their own, studies show that group workouts might actually be more beneficial.

The study divided a group of 69 participants into three different groups, one that participated in a group fitness class, one that exercised alone or with up to two people regularly, and a control group that did not exercise regularly. 

The results showed that the fitness class group saw much lower stress levels and high fitness/mental quality of life (QOL) over the course of the 12-week testing period. The other two groups saw no significant changes in quality of life or lower stress levels over the same testing period.

Stress was measured by having subjects complete the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) once every four weeks during the 12-week session. QOL surveys were distributed to the participants weekly, and they were asked in a variety of questions to rate their physical, mental and emotional QOL on a scale of 0-10.

The most well known group-workout method, Crossfit, encourages group workouts. Trainers change workouts from day to day, and encourage positivity through the workouts from the other participants. They want everyone to experience their workouts.

There are several factors that go into making a group workout successful. Are trainees going to motivate other members of the group to be better? Is one more likely to wake up to an early alarm clock for a group workout over a personal workout?

Dian Griesel, co-author of TurboCharged, told to NBCNews about the benefits of group training.

“Working out with a crowd carries a plethora of intertwined benefits that include enhancing consistency, duration, motivation, conversation and inspiration,” she said. 

“Workouts with others improve consistency because they involve a commitment. ‘No shows’ and cancellations get noticed by others and positive peer pressure can help curtail the urges to skip a workout … or quit.”

Working out in a group also encourages trainees to work out longer than they would by themselves. A study done by the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology tested this, having participants performing a series of planks both alone and with a partner. 

The partner’s performance was always manipulated to be better than the test subjects. The study found that the subjects planked longer on average with a superior partner than by themselves.

Safer and more diverse workouts are available when working out with more than one person, according to John Ford, the head trainer at JFK Health and Fitness. 

“Having spotters to make sure that you’re performing an exercise correctly and can do said exercises to failure in a safe manner,” Ford told NBCNews. “In some instances, having a partner can even help you do exercises that you couldn’t do on your own. Think partner assisted pull-ups.

Ford added that group environments help diversify workouts.

“There are so many fun fitness moves that require having a partner or multiple partners,” he said. “Just try doing medicine ball toss sit-ups by yourself. It can make you feel really lonely in a hurry. Having multiple people around can really open up a creative catalog of exercises: from partner resisted moves to relays, the options are plentiful and fun.”

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University

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Researchers: Overtraining fatigues endurance athletes' brains

ultra marathoner
A runner competes in the Grand Raid de la Reunion ultramarathon race (also called La diagonale des fous) on Oct. 18, 2019 in the Cirque de Mafate caldera on the French Indian ocean island of La Reunion. (Photo by RICHARD BOUHET/AFP via Getty Images)

Overtraining for endurance sports can fatigue the brain, resulting in diminished performance, a new study says.

New research funded by the French anti-doping agency AFLD and compiled by the journal Current Biology shows that the brain doesn’t make the same decisions during overtraining as it would with proper rest.

Overtraining syndrome is a dangerous reality for endurance athletes, and a reminder about the value of proper rest.

And it determined Overtraining Syndrome (OTS) — a form of burnout that often affects endurance-sports athletes such as ultrarunners and long-distance triathletes — shares neural underpinnings to the fatigue that affects the cognitive control brain system during prolonged intellectual work.

OTS often leads to sudden, and otherwise unexplained, decrease in performance among athletes which may be accompanied by a sensation of prolonged fatigue even after extended rest, as well as depression, anxiety, insomnia and more.

It is believed to be caused when athletes train too hard and too long without proper rest and recovery.

And it can be devastating.

In Outside magazine, reporter Meaghan Brown tells the story of Montana ultrarunner Mike Wolfe’s experience with the syndrome. Prior to competing in the Transvulcania Ultramarathon, a 74-kilometer race with more than 8,000 feet of elevation gain on the island of La Palma in the Spanish Canary Islands, Wolfe was plagued by constant hunger and difficulty sleeping during his long training weeks prior to the event.

The race was Wolfe’s debut as a full-time professional, after he had set a course record at the Wyoming’s Bighorn 100 in 2010 and won the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship in 2011.

But Wolfe faltered in the race, eventually finishing 13th, and he didn’t know what had gone wrong.

“It was like my body just shut down on me,” he said.

It was a familiar refrain to those who have studied OTS.

 “OTS is one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen in my 30-plus years of working with athletes,” David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University, told Outside. “To watch someone go from that degree of proficiency to a shell of their former self is unbelievably painful and frustrating.”

The new study may provide some answers.

In it, researchers found a ‘significant’ difference in brain activity and behavioral performance between overtrained and properly rested athletes while performing choice tasks.

Tests were performed on the two groups of athletes after three weeks, inducing a mild form of overtraining for one group and proper training for the other. Through magnetic resonance imaging, researchers saw signs of fatigue in areas of the brain related to decision-making in the overtrained group. 

After training, the two groups were put through a two-day testing period. On the first day, the participants were rode on a cycle ergometer to determine their post-maximal power output (MPO) compared to their pre-MPO, which corresponds to the maximum workload the subjects could sustain when physiological measures reached exhaustion criteria.

The second day consisted of two separate MRI scans sandwiched around a 45-minute cycling session aiming for acute, intense exercise over a long-term-exercise effort level. The researchers tested for neural and behavioral markers of cognitive-control fatigue.  

“Our results ... provide causal evidence for a functional link between enduring physical exercise and exerting cognitive control,” the researchers wrote. 

That link might be a step toward better understanding OTS, which has been a mystery to endurance athletes for years.

Nieman told Brown that he began receiving letters from distressed endurance athletes as early as 1992 in which they described a sudden “loss of ability,” chronic dehydration, anemia and more. 

One famous case of OTS involved Alberto Salazar, the since-suspended head of Nike’s Oregon Project and a former American running star. Now 61, Salazar suffered from exercise-induced asthma and depression due to his obsessive exercising, later attributed to  OTS.

Experts say that preventing OTS is as simple as getting more rest before its onset. Convincing competitive athletes to take a break is the hard part.

“These athletes are so defined by their workouts that forcing them to rest leads to a full-blown identity crisis,” Jeff Kreher, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Outside.

Former Alaska ultrarunner Geoff Roes described the advice he got from fellow ultrarunner Kyle Skaggs when he was having symptoms of OTS and didn’t know what to do about it.

“If he had any advice at all, it was to get away from the whole scene,” he said. “In time your body will feel better, and you’ll be able to just run however it fits into your life.”

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University

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Midnight marathon final doesn't ease grueling IAAF worlds conditions

IAAF World Championships. Doha, heat, marathon
Svetlana Kudzelich from Belarus tips a water bottle over her head after the marathon world championship in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships are underway in Doha, Qatar amid horrendous weather conditions for runners. While sprinters, long jumpers, and hurdlers  compete inside the climate-controlled, open-roofed Khalifa International Stadium, marathon runners enjoy no such luxury.

The average high temperature in Doha was over 100 degrees in September, with a heat index – which includes humidity – above 110 degrees. Those are tricky conditions for a 26.2-mile race outside. 

Despite the midnight start of the marathon at the IAAF world championships, nearly a third of the women's field droped out because of the heat. Experts say running at the high temperature and humidity at that time is not healthy.

However it hasn’t stopped the event. The women’s race was contested Sept. 27, 2019 and the men are scheduled to run Oct. 6, 2019. 

To avoid sweltering temperatures, the IAAF scheduled the men’s and women’s marathons for midnight in Doha. For the women, the temperature dropped down to 90 degrees by race time and 105 with humidity. Extra water stations and medical personnel were added, but that didn’t make the race any less grueling. 

“Probably the hardest conditions I’ve ever raced in,” American runner Roberta Groner told the New York Times. Groner finished in sixth place.

Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya took home the gold medal, but of the 68 runners that started the women’s marathon on Sept. 27, just 40 finished.  

Retired Ethiopian running great Haile Gebrselassie spoke out against the IAAF’s decision to hold the World Championships in the sweltering Qatar weather.

“It was a mistake to conduct the championship in such hot weather in Doha, especially the marathon race. As someone who has been in the sport for many years, I’ve found it unacceptable,” he told the Associated Press.

“God forbid, but people could have died running in such weather conditions.”

Road Runners Club of America, which promotes the growth of running and the value of health, recommends avoiding running in temperatures above 98.6 degrees or when the humidity is above 70 percent, while emphasizing proper hydration. The organization’s website notes a runner can lose between six and 12 ounces of fluid for every 20 minutes of running. 

And high humidity slows the process of sweat evaporating off of the body, which prevents the body from properly regulating its temperature which can cause overheating.

Historically, the average temperature in Doha at midnight on Sept. 27 is just over 85 degrees. However, that also is near the most humid time there. The muggiest part of the day is at about 10:30 p.m., 90 minutes before the women’s race began and the men’s event is scheduled to start. 

The forecast calls for a temperature near 85 degrees with humidity hovering near 50 percent for the start of the men’s event. 

Update: Lelisa Desisa took the men's marathon with a time of  2:10:40. The temperature reported was just under 85 degrees with 48 percent humidity. Of the 73 runners that started the race, just 55 finished.

TJ Mathewson is a senior sports journalism student at Arizona State University

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Former aerospace engineer giving U.S. swimmers an edge

swim, championships
(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics are less than a year away, and Americans are again expected to finish ahead of the competition in the pool.

Black text that reads why this matters
Utilizing advanced technology and analytics in partnership with a former aerospace engineer, USA Swimming is taking the high-tech route to preparing for the Olympics.

U.S. swimmers have dominated the podium at the Olympics on both the men’s and women’s side. Nine of the top 10 most decorated male Olympic swimmers in history are Americans, led by Michael Phelps with 28 medals. Six of the top 10 women are from the U.S., led by Jenny Thompson with 12 total medals.

One way Americans have gained a competitive edge is technology used in and out of the pool. For that, USA Swimming leans on high-performance manager Russell Mark, a former aerospace engineer who swam on three Atlantic Coast Conference championship teams at Virginia.

Mark uses technology, data analytics and video to give USA Swimming that edge. Dan Durden, coach of the U.S. men’s team, told the Washington Post in July that Mark is a huge reason for the team’s success. 

Mark told Sporttechie.com he is trying to fill the gap in the use of technology and data in swimming. Changes have taken place since he joined Team USA in 2002, including the ability to record video underwater to examine a swimmer’s mechanics.

“I would say the field of swimming mechanics is still evolving just because having a human in water is an unnatural state, an unnatural environment, and everyone moves through it a little bit differently,” Mark told SportTechie. “Even amongst the very best in history, there are some differences. So you’re constantly learning. I would say my job is to sort through what can apply to most people and what are the exceptions that make the best go.”

Mark utilizes a GoPro video camera during training sessions, using the camera underwater to record swimmers. The video is uploaded to an iPad, on which Mark can break it down immediately.

Five-time Olympic champion Nathan Adrian has worked with Mark since Adrian was 16.

“He has this eye – like a photographic memory for our strokes,” Adrian told the Washington Post in July. “He notices the smallest things.”

Despite innovations in technology, not all swim programs take advantage of it, Mark said. 

“I do get a lot of swimming technology that comes across my radar every year,” Mark told Sporttechie. “Integrating technology into swimming is really hard. This is what I tell people: the only technology that has stood the test of time is a stopwatch. There are so many programs and teams that don’t use video in general – not even analyzing video, but just taking it with your phone or an iPad or a video camera and watching it.

“There’s still a gap in technology and swimming. I think that’s partially kind of what brings me value is that I’ll show up to a team or a national team athlete, and I just have my camera. Let alone analyzing race data or taking measurements and analytics from a video – just to watch it subjectively is of huge value.”

Those little things include ideas Mark became familiar with in his previous profession as an aerospace engineer: physics, force production, fluid dynamics and fluid mechanics. They can make a big difference in performance.

When breaking down video, Mark and his team count the strokes manually to calculate a swimmer’s stroke rate (strokes per minute) and stroke tempo (the time it takes to execute a single stroke).

“Let’s say Katie Ledecky is swimming at a 1.15 or 1.20 tempo – so it takes her 1.2 seconds to move her arms in one cycle,” he told the Washington Post. “What’s crazy is, we’ll see that a difference from 1.20 seconds per cycle to an average of 1.22 seconds can change your speed by 10ths of a second. We’re talking 0.02 seconds, but over 20 cycles, that impacts your speed. So we’re thinking about ways we can get them to move their arms just a tiny bit faster.”

Swimmers have been trying to get ahead of the curve since the start of the 20th century, often through improvements in swimwear technology. Swimsuit material used to be wool, and suits covered swimmers, men and women alike, from hip to shoulders. 

Speedo’s introduction in 1928 of the Racerback swimsuit, with a cut similar to what competitive swimmers wear today, allowed for more movement in the arm and shoulder.

Adaptations to the swimsuit material followed. For example, Nylon swimwear, introduced in the 1950s, provided a smoother, less water-resistant option. 

In 2000, Speedo took swimsuit technology a step further. It introduced the Fastskin swimsuit inspired by shark’s skin. In 2008, the company introduced the LZR Racer, which was worn by Michael Phelps during his historic, eight gold medal performance in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

TJ Mathewson is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University

Burkini bans prevent Muslim women from health benefits of swimming

Burkini, swimming, Muslim women
A Muslim woman wearing a burkini enjoys the warm water in the Gulf of Mexico at San Marco Beach on Marco Island, Florida. In come locales, burkini-wearing women are banned from using the beach, keeping them from the healthful benefits of swimming.  (Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Traditional Islamic attire requires men to cover from their belly button to their knees and women to cover everything except their hands and faces, typically donning a hijab.

Black text that reads why this matters
Bans and the harassment of burkini-wearing Muslim women keeps them from enjoying beneficial exercise such as swimming.

Because these attire guidelines include swimwear, Muslim women don burkinis. A burkini covers a woman’s body, exposing the face, hands and feet, while being made of a light material that is suitable for swimming. 

However, Muslim women who wear the burkini have been harassed and kicked off beaches in Europe and the United States. 

The harassment, or the fear of it, keeps many Muslim women away from public pools and beaches and denies them the benefits of swimming.

“Your identity is so bound up in what you do, and if you are no longer doing that you have serious issues with loss of identity, loss of purpose, depression, anxiety, a confrontation of those big life questions,” ASU clinical assistant professor of history Victoria Jackson said. “Depending on the circumstances and situation of the individual, it can become quite overwhelming.”

Swimming is a great exercise. It works all of a person’s muscles without stressing joints or other body parts as running would. Swimming strengthens the heart and lungs while reducing the risk of death. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, swimming has been shown to lower blood pressure and control blood sugar.

The harassment and fear is not limited to Muslim women in any one country. Several places have banned the burkini at public swimming areas. A few years ago, numerous French towns banned the swimwear in light of ISIS terror attacks in France from 2015-2018.

The first town to issue this type of ban was Cannes, France, a town of 75,000 on the nation’s southeast coast. The town’s mayor, David Lisnard, stated he wanted to ban beachwear that was “ostentatiously showing a religious affiliation while France and places of religious significance are the target of terror attacks.”

Other towns in France, such as Villeneuve-Loubet, declared the only clothing allowed was “(clothing that is) respectful to morality and secular principles, and in compliance with hygiene and safety rules.”

A tribunal upheld the ban, ruling it was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate to prevent public disorder.” 

Similar issues have arisen in the United States, ranging from controversy over concerns pool sanitation  by lifeguards and other poolgoers to straight-up harassment.

The Huffington Post spoke to numerous Muslim women across the United States who described incidents of harassment, including one where a burkini-wearing Muslim mother was approached by staff members at a waterpark in Toledo, Ohio, who questioned her outfit.

Before Manar Hussein, a 27-year-old Muslim woman living in New Jersey, began wearing a hijab as a teenager, she spent hours on end at a local pool. One day she witnessed a burkini-wearing Muslim woman being harassed at the pool; people demanded she get kicked out because her clothing was unsanitary.

This was one of the reasons that caused Hussein to avoid the pool for many years, scared by the fear that she could be the victim of this public humiliation.

“A woman playing a sport and using her body for her own pleasure and power is transgressive. Historically, a woman doing this, especially if it falls into public space, has been met with resistance. Violent, verbal, all forms of resistance.” - Victoria Jackson, sports historian and clinical assistant lecturer of history at Arizona State University.

According to the Lifesaving Society, an organization whose mission is to promote safe interactions with water to prevent drowning and other injuries, a burkini is an acceptable and hygenic article of swimwear.

Burkinis and rash guards are examples of acceptable alternative swimwear as face and neck are uncovered and fabric is tight-fitting enough to do not interfere with swimming skills. Hands and feet can move freely and there is an additional element of hygiene if hair is covered,” the site states.

Muslims are not the only religious group whose beliefs impose restrictions on their swimwear. Both Orthodox Jews and Mormons wear swimwear that covers much of their bodies, similar to the burkini. However, only the burkini ignites a significant and widespread backlash.

“A woman playing a sport and using her body for her own pleasure and power is transgressive,” Jackson said. “Historically, a woman doing this, especially if it falls into public space, has been met with resistance. Violent, verbal, all forms of resistance.”

Jackson draws the parallel to when women first started playing sports in the 19th century.

“There was a basketball craze, women were playing basketball in high numbers, and the greater public didn’t know what to do with it,” she said.

Jackson described how women’s dress in the 19th century bears similarities to what Muslim women wear now. It was marked by long dresses, sleeves and corsets. Much like the burkini today, the general public(in this case men) didn’t know how to react to the situation.

“It makes it easier for the community to learn when they know that they can be in a pool where they don't have to worry about wearing a scarf. They can wear whatever they want in the pool, as long as the windows are covered. We have a female instructor, a female lifeguard. It's great.” - Zahara Hassan of  Fairview Health Services

“Oftentimes, they play in closed-off areas where men couldn’t watch because of the fear of what men would do when they saw an exposed ankle,” Jackson said.

It took the public a while to embrace the image of women playing basketball in the early 20th century, and some places have taken steps to familiarize the public with the image of a burkini. 

Sports Illustrated featured its first burkini-wearing model in the magazine’s most recent swimsuit edition, Halima Aden, a 21-year-old Somali-American model originally from Kenya.

“Embracing all cultures, and those cultures finding ways to promote and support women in sport is awesome, and especially in the U.S. or in other countries where that might be seen as something that is not as typical or something that you would see regularly if you were to go to the beach,” Jackson said.

“To put it in such a mainstream national publication like that means Sports Illustrated is thinking about its place in the world and promoting and advocating for more women and girls to play.”

There are places that try to give opportunities for Muslim women to get in the pool. Zahara Hassan of the Minneapolis non-profit Fairview Health Services works to make opportunities available to Muslim woman and girls, according to MPR News. The organization offers free swimming lessons to them once a week, with no men allowed.

“It makes it easier for the community to learn when they know that they can be in a pool where they don't have to worry about wearing a scarf,” she said. “They can wear whatever they want in the pool, as long as the windows are covered. We have a female instructor, a female lifeguard. It's great.”

TJ Mathewson is a senior journalism student at Arizona State University