Sports is Now Front Page News
In 1962, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Earl Warren gave an interview to Sports Illustrated about his thoughts on sports.
“I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures,” said the then 71-year-old Chief Justice Warren.
You wonder how Warren and his generation would view sports 51 years later and how the transition from the sports pages to the front page would impact their love for sports. Although newspapers have diminished in importance in the five decades since the quote, whatever papers left have had a plethora of stories to put on the front page just this week.
For some reason, the Russian government is going after gays and lesbians. In June, legislation in Russia passed bans on all “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations.” The new law has spilled into the sports arena with the upcoming Sochi, Russia Winter Olympics being hurled into the eye of the storm in Russia’s attempt to take away human rights from gays and lesbians.
The Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko said the country plans to enforce the law during next February’s Olympics, which could come with a 15 day jail sentence.
The International Olympics Committee claimed it received assurances from Russia that the law would not impact the Sochi Games. Apparently that is not necessarily going to be the case. Meanwhile, there is a talk of a Sochi Games boycott.
If the fewer number of newspaper editors didn’t want to touch that story, there was the former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez. In a letter obtained by a tabloid television show, Hernandez said he was not guilty of the charge of murder. The pre-trial maneuvering will continue for months. Meanwhile, the National Football League (NFL) carries on with the games starting and the stigma of about 30 different criminal charges against players and team executives between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of training camp.
That doesn’t include a murder-suicide at the Kansas City Chiefs training facility last December and a DUI-manslaughter charge against Josh Brant of the Dallas Cowboys also last December. Brant’s teammate Jerry Brown died in a car crash. Brant, according to police, was intoxicated.
Brant has retired and the investigation of the establishment where Brant allegedly was drinking continues.
But training camp has not been a panacea for the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles player Riley Cooper was caught on a phone at a Kenny Chesney concert yelling at security using a racial slur. Philadelphia fined Cooper, but he has left the team for the time being. Meanwhile, the league has suspended Baltimore Ravens player Asa Jackson eight games or a half a season for violating the league’s banned performance enhancing drug agreement.
Unlike Major League Baseball (MLB), the NFL quietly suspends people and it is next man up.
MLB has been giving headline writers a great supply of material for the past few weeks. MLB has already suspended one player for apparently being on a list of clients for the now closed anti-aging South Florida clinic, Biogeneis. The Milwaukee Brewers player Ryan Braun cut a deal and accepted his sentence.
But MLB has not suspended others, although they are leaking information to the media like water going through a sieve. The drama of when Alex Rodriguez’s suspension and how MLB will skirt existing the collective bargaining agreement drug clauses and perhaps find another excuse to put Rodriguez and his massive salary out of the game brings up the question as to the legitimacy of the actual on-field play.
Does MLB provide bona fide competition or has it become an exhibition?
MLB has signaled out a number of players for punishment, yet has not tossed them, and those players are still on the field performing even though they are marked players.
In Chief Justice Warren’s old home state, California, there is a growing opposition to building a new arena for the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Sacramento Kings. A petition drive to put the question of whether Sacramento residents should vote on the expenditure is growing with out of Sacramento interests now involved in collecting signature.
Meanwhile the gravy train for the NCAA making money off of college players in video games may be over. In a 2-1 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court that EA or Electronic Arts had used the images in its video games of several ex-NCAA athletes without their permission in its NCAA football and basketball series. The NCAA and EA may appeal, but there are also other lawsuits against the NCAA and EA that have been filed by former NCAA athletes.
All of these front-page newspaper stories have surfaced just this week. To be truthful, in 1962, Warren’s sports was facing some significant problems and was undergoing some radical changes. MLB had banned an entire race for six decades and was just in the 16th year of desegregation at the time of that interview. MLB teams had unofficial quotas on the number of Negroes (or blacks or African Americans) that were employed by the then 20 teams. Many big-time college football playing schools did not have Negros, and some schools invited to bowl games were told to leave their Negro players at home.
The NFL was ordered to end a ban on Negro players in 1946 when the Cleveland Rams franchise moved to Los Angeles as part of the lease agreement with the Los Angeles Coliseum. Negros didn’t play in the NFL between 1934 and 1945. Even after the end of the segregated era, the NFL had a quota system in place and Negros, or blacks or African Americans, could not play certain positions, quarterback, center and linebacker among the most prominent positions.
MLB got a willing partner in building stadiums, local government, in 1950. There was the shift of Lou Perini’s Boston Braves to Milwaukee in the spring of 1953 that changed MLB and began a series of franchise moves. Bill Veeck’s St. Louis Browns franchise was sold to Baltimore interests. Arnold Johnson moved the Philadelphia A’s to Kansas City, Walter O’Malley, spurred on by the Perini move and the need for additional revenue although his Brooklyn Dodgers franchise was second in revenues generated to the New York Yankees in 1957, took his team to Los Angeles in 1958. Horace Stoneham kicked the tires in a number of cities and joined O’Malley in 1958 in San Francisco, relocating his New York Giants.
Branch Rickey was seeking investors for a new “major league” baseball operation in 1958. The Continental League never got off the ground, but Rickey’s idea lived on with the formation of the American Football League (AFL) in 1959. The league’s founder, Lamar Hunt, co-opted many of Rickey’s Continental League’s business ideas. The new NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle would co-opt Hunt’s business plan in certain areas, including group the league’s 13 franchises into one bundle and selling it as one to a television network.
The Rozelle idea needed Congressional approval and the signature of President John F. Kennedy. He got all of that accomplished by September 30, 1961. The Sports Broadcast Act of 1961, which allowed leagues to bundled teams into one package and sell that bundle to TV, became the cornerstone of sports financing.
MLB went from 16 to 20 teams in the early 1960s. The National League expanded into New York and Houston, which just about destroyed Rickey’s plan. The American League had a big problem when the Washington Senators franchise was moved to Minneapolis-St. Paul after the 1960 season and quickly moved back into Washington (to placate Congress and preserve baseball’s antitrust exemption) and add Los Angeles.
The NBA left behind tiny markets in Fort Wayne and Rochester looking for TV money. By 1960, the NBA had a Los Angeles franchise, the transplanted Minneapolis Lakers.
More legislation would come after Warren’s quote. But, the foundation of sports change and the money coming into sports was already laid by the time Earl Warren spoke to Sports Illustrated.
Chances are Warren and his generation would not recognize sports anymore. Warren wanted to read the sports section first. Today Warren, if he was alive, could read all about sports on the front pages.
Evan Weiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at www.bickley.comand, Amazon.com and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports are available at www.smashwords.com, iTunes, nook, versent books, kobo, Sony reader and Diesel.