Week of March 29, 2019

Bryce Harper with the advanced level pandering.


Entertainment Almost Always Matters More

A few baseline statements before we get into yet another NCAA scandal story, because I can all but feel you rolling your eyes and considering if this one’s worth your time:

  • NCAA football and basketball players are absolutely getting paid under the table
  • These payments are pervasive. This isn’t a bad apple brand or booster or AAU coach; this is happening all over.
  • Nike, Adidas, Under Armour, and any other brand that fancies itself a player is paying kids

I appreciated this story because it underscores the exploitative scum is on all sides. It’s not just a shoe company, or the AAU weirdos, or the coaches; it’s also the folks on the other side making a gross situation even more despicable.

In case you haven’t heard, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer is in a bit of trouble on this one. Michael Avenatti tried to threaten Nike into a big payout, and it did not go according to plan:

According to federal prosecutors, Avenatti told the billion-dollar company that he represented a former AAU coach who had proof of Nike paying players and he would keep quiet about it, for a price. The charging documents read like Avenatti had watched too many mob movies. They say he wanted $1.5 million for his client, and $3 million for himself. Then he wanted $5 million, then $7 million, then $9 million, then between $15 million and $25 million. After a negotiation that was secretly recorded, Avenatti allegedly lowered his price to $22.5 million to get rid of it in “one fell swoop.”

“I just wanna share with you what’s gonna happen if we don’t reach a resolution,” Avenatti said, according to the unsealed complaint. “As soon as this becomes public, I am going to receive calls from all over the country and all kinds of people—this is always what happens—and they are going to say I’ve got an email or a text message or—now, 90 percent of that is going to be bullshit because it’s always bullshit 90 percent of the time, always, whether it’s R. Kelly or Trump, the list goes on and on—but 10 percent of it is actually going to be true, and then what’s going to happen is that this is going to snowball… and every time we got more information, that’s going to be the Washington Post, the New York Times, ESPN, a press conference, and the company will die—not die, but they are going to incur cut after cut after cut after cut, and that’s what’s going to happen as soon as this thing becomes public.”

In another recording, as described in the complaint, Avenatti tells Nike he is going to “take ten billion dollars off your client’s market cap.”

Doesn’t that make you feel all warm inside? Ever since the threat of a huge NCAA basketball scandal surfaced last year, I’ve been waiting for the crossroads moment when it becomes impossible to ignore the scam that is big time college sports. I wait, and while I wait I consume both the games and the criticism of the system. I watch the games. I read the stories. I share the stories. I embed the highlights.

NCAA basketball is an awesome scam, and Zion Williams highlights are awesome, too, so we consume both. Sports became entertainment the moment each of us realized we would never play for [insert your favorite childhood team]. It’s odd to say this, but the entertainment matters much more than almost any terrible truth.

Millions of people still watch football when we all know there’s at a fair chance it causes brain trauma in a lot of people who play it. Most of us believe that pretty much any big time college basketball player is getting paid under the table. A lot of athletes take PEDs. Tennis has a match-fixing issue. Greyhounds are jacked up on god knows what so we can gamble on a m-f’ing race, only to be killed whenever they are no longer useful at the track. All of that absolutely matters less than our entertainment.

With that in mind, of course the public just doesn’t give a shit when shitty people like Michael Avenatti go after shitty companies like Nike, especially when March Madness is on and the great entertainment of a massive single elimination tourney takes place.

Dan McQuade sums it up far more eloquently:

In theory, this could lead to broader discussions in politics and law enforcement of the NCAA cartel and the expected result of black markets when anything (be it drugs or “earning power from basketball”) is restricted. The NCAA helped create this situation, where players or players’ families and handlers are paid in secret by shoe companies in order to steer them to universities. Sneaker companies exploit it. Avenatti allegedly tried to weasel some money out of the system for himself, too.

Avenatti might have tried to style himself as a hero, but all he did was allegedly use the same corrupt system for himself too.

Can I still claim to care about the fairytale of amateurism represented by the NCAA, or is the threat of its collapse is just another bit of entertainment? – PAL

Source: Whatever Michael Avenatti Has On Nike, No One Really Gives A Shit”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (03/27/19)

TOB: The headline is so true. I heard about this story when Avenatti was arrested this week, but didn’t hear a single whisper of his tweets last week where he hinted he’d be revealing some big scandal involving Nike. The Adidas story got a lot of coverage when the arrests were made, but the trial ended with barely a ripple.

I just can’t believe it’s 2019 and college players still can’t be paid. You may have read about or seen Tom Izzo’s explosion at one of his players during the first round of the tournament. After the game, Izzo defended himself in part by saying this:

Ohh, now it’s a PROFESSION? College basketball players have a JOB!? I don’t know about YOU, Tom, but if I wasn’t being paid at my “job”, I wouldn’t be too concerned with being held accountable. What a joke.


Chasers

On the surface, this story is about a niche group of folks, known as chasers, who go to great lengths in pursuit of seeing a game in every baseball minor league stadium (there are 149 in all). Like most snapshots of extreme hobbyists, this is a story full of random oddities that seem a bit foolish to regular people. I love baseball, but eagerly awaiting minor league schedule announcements in the offseason so I can plan a complex road trip peppered with cheap motels (is there any other kind?) and gas station food is not my idea of time well spent.

Logistics and obsessive pursuits aside, these chasers are onto something special: a pretty comprehensive mosaic of America and convincing evidence that baseball remains America’s pastime. Per Joe DeLessio:

A tour of Major League parks takes a traveler exclusively to stadiums in or near major cities. But an attempt to hit all 159 affiliated Minor League parks — for the record, that number includes the one in Jupiter, Florida, that’s shared by two teams — effectively forces a chaser to explore towns big and small, all across the country. Chasers initially set out on these trips because they like baseball, but the pursuit means that they wind up seeing the country in ways that most people never will.

“If every Minor League team is a reflection of its community, then there’s 160 teams that taken together are a reflection of America,” says the Brooklyn-based writer Benjamin Hill.

Later in the story, this point resonated:

The idea of baseball as the national game—something fundamentally and uniquely American, and rooted in something deeper than branding—is much more persuasive at levels where the stadiums are not named for major financial institutions or tech concerns.

Isn’t that something? Maybe this has been obvious to many of you for some time. Not to me. It’s a relief to read a fresh thought in an era of sports writing so constipated with reactions to reactions to reactions. – PAL

Source: “The Best Way To See America Is To Visit Every Last Minor League Ballpark”, Joe DeLessio, Deadspin (03/27/19)

TOB: I would love to find myself in a place in life where I had the time and financial security to try this. Because I really love minor league baseball. Last summer, we had to end our stay at the Lair of the Bear early due to all the smoke from the Yosemite fire. We had time off work, but the places we could go that weren’t blanketed with smoke were few. We stopped for lunch in a small town and eventually I thought, “We should find a minor league game!”

I scoured the schedules of every minor league level, and somehow my only options that night were the Stockton Ports and the Visalia Rawhide (the A-ball affiliates for the A’s and Diamondbacks, respectively). Because we were much closer to Stockton and it would set us up better to finish the week in Santa Cruz as we’d decided, we went with the Ports.

What a night! And so cheap! For $8 a ticket we got front row seats behind the Ports’ dugout. Front row! $8! And there were just a few other people in our section – grizzled locals who love baseball so friggin much that they come to Class A games by themselves on a Wednesday night. The Ports had a fun kids meal deal – for like $10 the kids got vouchers for different items to be picked up at various junctures of the game (hot dog in the 2nd, ice cream in the 5th, etc.). The stadium was right on the river, and we got a hotel room right next door, so we could walk there. Jack got a foul ball, and a player even handed him a ball at the side of the dugout.

Which is all to say: I get this story. I get it completely. I get why “chasers” do it. And I totally agree with the thesis – that it’s a hell of a way to see America – even if that isn’t consciously in the “chasers’” minds when they start. I don’t feel a compulsion to see all of the minor league stadiums, but if I’m somewhere new and I don’t have anything to do, I’m always wondering if there’s a baseball game to go see. Great read.


Video of the Week


Tweets of the Week


PAL Song of the Week

Bob Dylan – Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts (More Blood, More Tracks version)


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“I have got to make sure YouTube comes down to tape this.”

-Michael Scott

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