Sports Round-Up: NFL Can't Discipline Aaron Donald Despite Obvious Assault, Jersey Retirements are Out of Control & NBC isn't Taking NASCAR Seriously
by Julian Spivey
How Can NFL Not Have Jurisdiction Over Joint Practices?
Many people, including myself, were horrified on Thursday (August 25) when images of a brawl at a joint practice between the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals were published showing three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald of the Rams wielding two Bengals helmets as weapons, including contacting the helmet of a Bengals player.
The incredibly dangerous scenario had me thinking when I first saw the images that it would be at least an obvious fine for Donald and potentially a suspension. He could’ve seriously injured or killed somebody, after all. But then I saw the tweet from Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio that the NFL doesn’t have jurisdiction over joint practices, meaning it couldn’t act against players during joint practices. I wonder if that would have changed had the Bengals player assaulted by Donald been hauled off the practice field on a stretcher?
The Rams, which do have the right to discipline Donald, have said they would do so, but that the punishment would remain “in-house.” Whatever the Rams do to discipline Donald will simply not be enough to fit what he did. Using multiple helmets as weapons against your fellow competitors should be at least a multiple-game suspension. It seems the league’s best defensive player will get away with essentially less than a slap on the wrist.
The league must do what it can to wrangle disciplinary control over its teams in all scenarios.
Jersey Retirements Have Gotten Out of Control
I’ve never thought too much about jersey number retirements in sports except for how dumb it is that the Miami Heat in the NBA has retired Michael Jordan’s No. 23 despite never playing a minute for the franchise. But lately, jersey retirements have been on my mind. Shortly after the death of NBA legend Bill Russell in late July, the league decided it would be retiring his No. 6 leaguewide. Except Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 in Major League Baseball, because he integrated the game-changing it forever and it was truly a landmark moment in American Civil Rights, I don’t believe jersey numbers should be retired league-wide. I think the NHL retiring Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99 leaguewide was ridiculous. If the NBA has retired Russell’s no. 6 shouldn’t it also retire Jordan’s No. 23, as he’s almost unanimously considered the G.O.A.T? Russell already has the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award named in his honor. Isn’t that enough?
I was shocked recently when catching bits of a New York Yankees game to see it was Paul O’Neill’s jersey retirement day at Yankee Stadium. O’Neill was an important part of the Yankees late ‘90s dynasty, but he couldn’t even make it past his first time on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. This is the Yankees organization, the most esteemed franchise in all of the professional sports and they’re retiring O’Neill’s No. 21? Doesn’t that tarnish many of the other retired numbers in the franchise’s history like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, or modern stars like Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera? O’Neill isn’t even in the same stratosphere as legends like that.
Some of these jersey retirements have gotten out of control. I believe that in most circumstances a player should be a hall of famer before his number is retired by a franchise. I’m fine with rare moments like the Yankees retiring catcher Thurman Munson’s No. 15 after he was killed midseason in an airplane crash, but at least he was a league MVP and seven-time All-Star.
O’Neill was the 23rd Yankees player or manager to have his number retired. That franchise is going to run out of numbers at this rate, especially with cheap retirements like No. 21.
On Saturday (August 27), the New York Mets announced they were retiring Willie Mays’ No. 24. Mays is one of the five greatest baseball players of all time (he’s likely top three), but he played 135 games over the span of two seasons with the Mets at the very end of his career. I understand he spent a handful of his Giants years in New York before the franchise moved to San Francisco and thus means a good deal to the history of baseball within the city, but this seems too much, even for a man on baseball’s Mount Rushmore.
Teams and even leagues are taking some of the specialness out of jersey retirements.
How Are We Supposed to Take This Sport Seriously?
NASCAR and the media covering the sport had been hyping the regular season-ending Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway scheduled for Saturday (August 27) as potentially the biggest race of the season thus far (or at least the second biggest after the season-opening Daytona 500). The race on Saturday was postponed to Sunday morning due to rain. I understand NASCAR can’t control the weather, but it can control its schedule making. The sport wants this race as the cutoff race for its 10-race playoff at the end of the season because of the unpredictability of the pack style of racing on the track and the fact that it essentially levels the playing field allowing any and every driver the chance to win the race, which is a free ticket into the playoffs. The second Daytona race of the season was run on July 4 weekend for most of its existence and was plagued by rain often, but the sport moving it to its current place in the schedule at the end of August/beginning of September has moved it to the rainiest time of the year statistically for Daytona Beach, Fla. Again, July wasn’t much better. But NASCAR could have a similar final playoff race excitement meter pegged moment and help some of the weather issues by moving Daytona into the playoffs in October, a much less rainy time of the year on average for the city, replacing it as the final regular season race with the similarly styled Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, which holds an October playoff spot.
That’s only my second biggest issue with the Daytona rainout. The biggest is NASCAR’s decision and NASCAR’s network partners’ decision to attempt to start the race at 10 a.m. EST on Sunday on CNBC, a network dedicated to covering the financial market. The race was originally scheduled to run on NBC. What does NBC view as more important to air at 9 a.m.? It’s a weekly news program “Meet the Press” and then the affiliates have the next hour after that (my local NBC is showing church service hosted by religious charlatan Joel Osteen and then paid programming).
So, NASCAR’s potentially biggest race of the year is set to start at 10 a.m. EST (or when most of its west coast fans will still be sleeping) on a stock market watch network because Chuck Todd is going to be blabbing about politics.
How can this be taken seriously as a sport when its major events are being moved in favor of “Meet the Press” and shown on a network most racing fans have never spent two seconds watching?
It probably won’t matter anyway. It’s supposed to rain in Daytona Beach all day tomorrow, even at 10 a.m. EST … because NASCAR scheduled the race at this venue’s rainiest time of the year!
by Julian Spivey
Vaughn Grissom wasn’t supposed to be in the big leagues. Hell, he hadn’t even played a game yet at AAA. He’s only played 22 games in AA. But there he was on Wednesday night (August 10) at Fenway Park penciled in the starting lineup at second base (his true position is shortstop) for the Atlanta Braves in town to play the Boston Red Sox. He had just gotten into town from Pearl, Miss., where the Braves AA team plays.
Before the night was over he would’ve lived something most of us only dreamt of as children.
Grissom was called up to the Braves after Orlando Arcia, the fourth guy to man second base for the reigning World Series champions this season, pulled a hamstring late in an extra-innings game the night before. The only other player who could play second base on the Braves active roster was Ehire Adrianza, who’d only played seven games there this season (three of those since joining the Braves right before the trade deadline last week). But Adrianza is really the Braves only utility infielder on the roster. They needed something more. The most obvious choice in the system would’ve been Braden Shewmake at AAA Gwinnett, but he suffered a season-ending injury on August 6 after colliding with a teammate on defense.
So, the Braves decided to give Grissom, their No. 1 prospect (as ranked by MLB.com), the call. There’s a good chance he’ll be their Opening Day shortstop in 2023, after all, if the team’s current All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson leaves via free agency this upcoming offseason.
When Grissom stepped foot on the field at Fenway Park on Wednesday night he became the third youngest active player in Major League Baseball, behind the guy the Braves had manning center field Michael Harris (whom they brought up to the bigs earlier in the season despite also never playing a game at AAA) and Wander Franco, shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays. Grissom was 21 years, 217 days old.
Things began rather normal for Grissom. In his first career at-bat in the third inning, he grounded into a fielder’s choice. In his second at-bat in the fifth inning, he struck out swinging.
Then came the moment most of us could only ever dream of in the top of the seventh inning. Facing Red Sox reliever Darwinzon Hernandez, Grissom took a first pitch fastball and deposited 412-feet away over the famed Green Monster (completely over it as in out of the entire stadium) in left field of Fenway Park, with a smooth casual bat flip to boot.
Hitting your first major league home run for your first major league hit in your major league debut is special enough, but to do it over the most historically famous wall in the entirety of your sport is damn well fairytale-like.
It’s a moment Grissom and any Braves fan who witnessed it will never forget.
In the top of the ninth inning, Grissom led off the inning by hitting a single to left field. He then stole second base becoming the youngest player in baseball history to hit a homer and steal a base in their debut (so long Jose Offerman, now lost to history). Just another accolade for the young man who was never supposed to be here this soon.
by Julian Spivey
There was no sports story bigger on Sunday (July 31) than the death of basketball legend Bill Russell at age 88. Yet ESPN, known universally as “the worldwide leader in sports,” was nowhere to be found with coverage in the minutes, or even hours following the announcement of Russell’s death.
Sure, you could find the news of Russell’s death on the scrolling chyron at the bottom of the page, but that’s simply not good enough for the “worldwide leader of sports” and it’s not good enough for an athlete of the stature of Russell – a man who wasn’t just one of the 10 greatest basketball players of all-time, but a leader in civil rights in the sports world and beyond.
In some ways it’s a sign of the downfall of ESPN as a leader in sports journalism. The network has broken into coverage in the past for similar sports greats – I remember the network doing so in 2016 for the death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
When the news of Russell’s death came out between noon and 1 p.m. (CST) I immediately turned on my TV and flipped to ESPN. I found the end of the UEFA Women’s EURO final soccer match between England and Germany. This was arguably the biggest sporting event in the world on Sunday and I would never expect the network to preempt this event for coverage of an icon’s death. So, I flipped over to ESPN2 and was immediately dismayed to see a knife throwing championship that I’m fairly certain was tape delayed. There is no way this non-live event should’ve taken precedence over live coverage of the death of one of the most important figures in the history of any sport, especially knowing that ESPN must’ve had a pre-packaged video tribute to Russell, as most journalist entities will prepare such things in the event of death for famous folks, especially those up in age.
I thought, ‘OK, ESPN2 doesn’t have coverage, surely ESPNews will.’ Nope. ESPNnews was showing coverage of the AKC Flyball dog relay event, which I also believe to have been tape delayed.
So, the biggest news story of the day in sports couldn’t be bothered to be covered immediately by the “worldwide leader in sports” because – let me check my notes once more – there was knife throwing and dog relay races on its networks.
And I gave ESPN opportunities. I kept turning back to ESPN2 and ESPNews time and time again in the next hour to see if they had preempted coverage for news of Russell’s death. They never did.
The UEFA women’s soccer final was nearing it’s end so I felt like the mother channel would do it’s job following the game and give us something on Russell’s death. Following the game ESPN went immediately into its regularly-scheduled programming of a re-run marathon of its multi-part Derek Jeter documentary “The Captain.”
ESPN did properly pay tribute to Russell during its evening editions of “SportsCenter,” with multiple segments dedicated to the 11-time NBA champion and five-time NBA MVP, but those were hours later.
Yes, there was plenty of coverage online and on social media, but there’s just something about the way the network has paid tribute to past legends upon the announcement of their deaths that this just seemed a dereliction of duty on the network’s part.
When I remarked about the knife throwing and canine relays on my social media instead of the actual news of the day a friend jokingly remarked, “what’s on the Ocho?,” a reference to the joke in the 2004 Vince Vaughan-Ben Stiller comedy “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.” If knife throwing and dog relays are on ESPN2 and effectively ESPN3 could you imagine what utter shite would be on an actual Ocho?