Class Presentation: The Ringer

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For my source, I have chosen to focus on Bill Simmons’sThe Ringer. First I will talk about the now defunct Grantland, Bill Simmons’s old ESPN offshoot. Then I will go a little bit into his breakup with ESPN which lead to the creation of The Ringer.

Grantland was Simmons’s brainchild. While he was at ESPN he had developed into their biggest star, and the network gave him complete creative control over his own ESPN affiliated site. As “The Sports Guy”, Simmons created a persona for himself that ushered in a new era of web journalism.

With Grantland he created a pop culture site that dabbled in all aspects including sports, politics, music, movies, and television. It was created in the mold of Simmons and the stable of contributors that he was able to collect provided readers like me a consistent source of entertainment. They had Wesley Morris, Katie Baker, Zach Lowe, Bill Barnwell, Bryan Curtis, Chuck Klosterman and Charles P. Pierce just to name a few. Basically, Simmons had no shortage of talented writers waiting to work with him. That’s when everything went sour.

Simmons had a messy breakup with ESPN and when it became official it appeared that Grantland would live on without him. However, months after the breakup ESPN CEO John Skipper announced that Grantland would be discontinued.  When Simmons’s contract officially expired, along with his gag order, he came out and announced that he was starting a new venture. Thus, The Ringer was born. It quickly became Grantland 2.0.

The Ringer does a lot of things right. Simmons might be the best there is at identifying talent. Just like Grantland there is a deep cast of characters, a mix of old and new faces. When Skipper stopped Grantland he made a point to mention that it was operating at a loss, explaining that the quality of content wasn’t converting to profits. It is interesting to note that all of The Ringer’s content is sponsored, with Miller Lite being tagged right at the header. The images that accompany each article are created in-house. Each visit to the site is a new experience and there is a constant rotation of stories. Overall, the site is very lighthearted and easy to consume. Each article is accompanied by a projected reading time along with notes in the margins on the “highlights” of the article. The one downfall of the site to me is it seems that they have taken a focus on shorter “blog” style posts that are easy to consume.

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The Silencing of Sevyn Streeter

USA TODAY –  Singer-songwriter Sevyn Streeter was scheduled to sing the national anthem ahead of the 76ers’ season opener against the Thunder, but that performance didn’t happen. Streeter tweeted a video where she said her anthem performance was stopped because of her “We Matter” jersey. She added that the order came from the 76ers organization.

 What is the NBA thinking here? This is just a terrible look. One day after the NBA rolled out their “Together” campaign the league goes and pulls this.  It seems as if it was a serious knee-jerk reaction by the 76ers management, one that they will undoubtedly regret.

One week ago, before a preseason game between the Miami Heat and the Philadelphia 76ers, Denasia Lawrence took a knee in the middle of the court during her rendition of the National Anthem. The hosting Heat claimed to be unaware of the gesture, and that type of unapproved protest is something that the NBA is looking to avoid.

How does this reflect upon the franchise? After being a witness to the unscheduled protest in Miami the 76ers, how could the team be so unprepared to deal with a situation that was in their control?  ESPN’s Bomani Jones was brief  but stern in his reaction to the blunder.

With a team that is compromised of 85% black players, the trickle down effect behind closed doors could be volatile but it is very likely this will remain behind closed doors. Simply put, this is bad look for the Philadelphia 76ers and more importantly it looks really bad for the NBA. At the same time that the league acknowledges their role in advancing conversation as they roll out a campaign promoting unity, they have silenced the voice of a civilian.

It All Started With A Red Hat

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WCVB (September 2015)

CSNNE (Tom E. Curran)- I don’t know whether Brady will ever go on-the-record and “correct” Trump on his version of locker-room talk. Maybe deep down he’s thinking if he hadn’t willingly allowed Trump to glom onto him 15 years ago, he wouldn’t be dealing with this crap now.

But at the same time, Brady obviously enjoys the friendship. Fun guy, good golf, nice courses, great cigars and all that.

Saying nothing means remaining loyal to Donald Trump as a friend, protecting the brand and staying above the fray.

But saying something — even something as simple as “I didn’t like the comments…” — will be remembered longer than any cigar or round of golf.

For a man who’s been very much surrounded and formed by powerful, confident, capable women — his mother Galynn, sisters Julie, Maureen and Nancy, his wife Gisele — it’s unfathomable that Brady thinks for a nanosecond Trump’s comments aren’t a big deal.

He really ought to say so. 


Confession. I’m a big fan of Tom Brady. The reality of my life as a New England Patriots fan having already peaked is a sad one, but I wouldn’t trade the memories for anything. I have Tom Brady to thank for that.

Now, let’s just say my feelings for Donald Trump land somewhere on the complete opposite side of that spectrum. So the friendship that has blossomed between the two is a bit of a sore subject for me. Ever since Brady showcased one of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats in his locker during media availability the link between the two has been the elephant in the room yet following his silent endorsement Brady has been tight-lipped on the subject.

It always made sense to me. Brady has created a brand, something that very few NFL players are able to do. The league is designed to take from the players much more than it gives. It has the least effective players association and the shortest average career length of the big four American professional sports. But Brady catapulted himself to that tier of athletes who transcend their sport into the public eye. He stayed quiet, deflected questions about Trump just like he would a question about last week’s game. Very clearly his camp identified the questions as toxic and he stayed far, far away. But now Trump has stepped directly into his life. A week following the release of Trump’s tour bus discussion with Billy Bush where they glorified sexual assault which  Trump simply wrote off as ‘locker room talk’, Trump sang Brady’s praises at a rally in New Hampshire.

Brady has been vigilant in his efforts to profess his friendship with Trump while also asking to remain out of any political discussion. This is where Brady draws the line. As Tom E. Curran wrote for Comcast Sports Net New England, this is also where Brady must acknowledge that Trump crossed that line and he would do a lot of good by coming out with a statement and peeling back the curtain a little bit.

This is where I draw the line. This is where Brady needs to step up and say something. In a way, this will always be the difference between Brady and David Ortiz, the two most important athletes of my life. Ortiz was an extravagant force in a sport that is more accessible than any other. A summer with the Red Sox dominating the sports media cycle always meant a healthy dose of Ortiz sound bites and highlights. With Brady and the Patriots, you are permanently on the outside looking in. Brady never gives you a real look behind the curtain. Now more than ever it feels like  I don’t want to know what is really going on between Brady’s ears and that’s just the way he wants it. His brand off the field is the same as the one on it.  Unflappable, charismatic, excellent. But his personal life is a lot like when he is on the field, Brady wants you to enjoy it from a distance.

Maybe I should have listened to Mike Felger after Brady’s incident with the Trump hat when he took to the radio waves to poke fun at the reluctance of Patriots fans to acknowledge that Tom Brady might be a little stranger than we would like. The truth is, Patriot’s fans don’t want to know. But Brady’s actions makes it hard to not wonder how it got to this point.

A Night at Fenway

For four years Tim Mckeown has called the Grandstand 3-4 ramp his home and as the sun went down on David Ortiz’s career it possibly went down on Tim’s as well. With graduation in the near future, he will be seeking out a job in his field of Criminal Justice and the 2017 MLB season at Fenway isn’t a sure thing. Before the game, Tim said, “I would love to be back, but you know, I’ve got to see what else is out there. I hope it doesn’t end tonight.”

At the bottom of Tim’s ramp sits the Dunkin Donuts stand, the most popular stand in the Park during the cooler months of the season. The beer stands give Dunkin a run for its money but there are plenty of those. There are only two Dunkin Donuts stands in the whole park, and if you want that hot chocolate you will have to wait in some lengthy lines.

The Red Sox went on to lose by a score of 4-3 and David Ortiz’s spectacular career came to a surprising, and disappointing end.

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Boston, a reputation for racism, and where we are today.

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(Getty Images)
Sports Illustrated –  Shortly after leaving the only NBA team he’s ever known, Al Horford was in Boston with a friend he’s known since his rookie season. It was early July. He was throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park. David Ortiz was waiting at the plate.

The delivery took a few extra seconds. 

Horford’s son, Ean, 17 months old, was on the mound with him, but he was scared of the crowd. He’d wrapped himself around his father’s leg and refused to let go. Finally Horford had to force the issue, winding up and lobbing a soft strike to Ortiz. His son tumbled to the ground, right before his dad picked him up and raised him up like Simba is in The Lion King. 

Fenway loved it.

Horford’s welcome to Boston was official. 

 

 

The spectacle was everything Sports Illustrated’s Andrew Sharp cracked it up to be.The old guard passed the torch to another Dominican son in front of a sold out Fenway Faithful. At the same time, it was something that might not have been believed to be possible to the outside world. Sprinkled throughout the history of Boston sports are stories that paint the town as undesirable for minority athletes, the Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics in particular.

The Red Sox were the last team in the MLB to integrate when they promoted Pumpsie Green to the big league club in 1959, amongst charges of discrimination This was 12 years following the debut of Jackie Robinson, a player that owner Tom Yawkey famously  spurned in 1945 when Robinson was pestered with racial epithets while trying out in front of a crowd that consisted only of Red Sox management.

In the North End of Boston around the same time, Red Auerbach and the Celtics represented everything that Yawkey detested. In his first year at the helm, the Auerbach made history by drafting the first black player when he drafted Chuck Cooper in 1950. This was followed by Auerbach starting the first all-black starting five in 1964 and his naming of Bill Russell as head coach in 1966, making him the first black head coach in professional sports. However, Auerbach’s willingness to go against the status quo didn’t spread through the city or the fan base. Russell, the most accomplished professional athlete of all time, who described the city as “a flea market of racism” in his 1979 memoir “Second Wind”. Russell went 30 years without his presence being felt in the city that he brought to NBA prominence, a drought lasting from his final game in Boston in 1969 to a ceremony in the spring of 1999 which Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe described as “shamefully belated“. 

The inability to heal Russell’s wounds mixed with the emergence of Larry Bird and the Celtics status as a “white team”  led to a whole generation of basketball fans  with a preconceived notion what the Celtics, and the city of Boston represented. That night, Bill Russell’s night in the spring of 1999, Paul Pierce scored 27 points . Nine years later he would find himself in the midst of a playoff run that would bring banner 17 to Boston with new acquisitions Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen by his side.

The addition of Garnett in the summer of 2007 was the beginning of something that seemed new for the Boston Celtics. As ESPN’s JA Adande explained in a piece titled The truth isn’t always black and white for Celtics  from December of 2007, there was uneasiness in the black community about rooting for these new Boston Celtics because of their recent history. Adande makes note that a lot of the younger fans fail to recognize what the Celtics, and Auerbach in particular, did for African-American’s in basketball. However, the topic of racism in Boston wasn’t being treated with kid gloves, like Adande’s, across the board. Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post and ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption took to Dan Patrick’s national ESPN radio show on the day the Celtics acquired Garnett to voice his opinion.

Wilbon said, “First of all, it’s a bad team. Second of all, you have this history of bigotry against African-American people in Boston. The only place I’ve ever been confronted, multiple times, and been called the n-word to my face, is specifically the Boston Garden…. The fact is, Boston has that history and black players know that, and they do not want to go voluntarily to Boston.”

In John Gonzalez’s January 2008 piece for Boston Magazine titled Playing Through the Pain looking into whether or not it is fair for Boston to continue to carry the burden of its racist past. He writes, “What also continues is Boston’s visceral reaction whenever someone so much as hints that the city is prejudiced. Some of Boston’s anger may be caused by guilt over its previous wrongs, and some of it may be a genuine belief that the city’s identity should no longer be tied to its ugly past. Either way, it’s self-defeating. Because in Boston’s haste to defend itself—to deny, deny, deny—it simply perpetuates the perception.”

The interaction between Ortiz and Horford that day on the mound in front of a packed Fenway Park says a lot about where we have come. David Ortiz, the face of the Boston Red Sox, hailing from the Dominican Republic introduced his city to the new face of the Boston Celtics in Horford, another Dominican son as well as the highest profile free agent to sign with the Celtics since, well, forever. Ortiz will leave behind a team carried by a core of young talent with the majority being compromised of minority players while Horford will take the reigns of a Celtics team that is decades removed from its reputation for being white washed.

 

 

A Day at the Phantom Gourmet

The 2016 Phantom Gourmet Food Festival had it all. There were creampuffs, meatballs, clam chowder, and endless bags of Utz potato chips. There was a dance contest, a costume contest, and even a VIP party for the friends of Ernie Boch Jr. Rumor on the street was it had everything you’re looking for.

 

 

 

 

Who To Follow?

Bomani Jones – Polarizing personality that has strong opinions on race, as well as races role in sports. Also, doesn’t shy away from entertaining trolls so that’s fun to watch play out.

Brian Stelter – Host of Reliable Sources on CNN, lead media correspondent on CNN as well. Always on top of current political happenings, seems to never sleep.

Chad Finn – Columnist for both Boston.com and The Boston Globe who has interesting columns and opinions on his beat. Very easy to consume.

Richard Deitsch – writer and reporter for Sports Illustrated that has a focus on media. Seems to have a particular focus on ESPN, often focuses on how they cover topics and treat controversy.

Jon Favreau – Former speechwriter for President Barack Obama, columnist at The Ringer. Doesn’t shy away from voicing his opinion.

Wesley Morris – Critic-at-large for the New York Times. Often tackles race and culture as topics.

Charles P. Pierce – Political writer for Esquire Magazine, crosses over naturally into the realm of sports and frequently retweets other writers that are in the same lane as him.

Keith Law – ESPN writer who focuses on the MLB, but doesn’t shy away from sharing his opinions on twitter.

Jason Whitlock – I can only take him and his hot takes in small doses, but I think he (willingly) plays the devil’s advocate and has been given a large platform at Fox Sports.

Mike Wise – Senior Writer at ESPN’s The Undefeated. Has a history of being outspoken on cultural issues pertaining to sports.

Pablo S. Torre – Senior writer for ESPN as well as a contributor on Outside the Lines as well as other ESPN programming. Harvard grad, formerly of Sports Illustrated, that has a history of diving deep into issues in sports.

Michael Lee – One of my favorite NBA writers, now at Yahoo by way of The Washington Post. I would expect some good coverage from him regarding the anticipated protests in the NBA this season.

Digital Newspapers

With a download time of two hours and a charge of $5 per hour of use, the tele-paper  was going nowhere. It had a small market due to the fact that the necessary technology was only obtainable for a minute percentage of the population. More than anything it was an attempt to get the ball rolling on keeping the news cycle on par with technological advances.

In a 1994 video covering the future of electronic news Roger Fidler projects the next 5 years, 10 years, and 15 years of consuming news will lead to a reliance on the Tablet, and Fiddler explains that the goal of his Innovation Design Lab is to create a bridge of familiarity. This particular point stands out because he is essentially describing the ability of tech companies in the present day to get their customers to adapt to new products, operating systems, and forms of consumption by creating the illusion that you as the customer have the option to choose, when in reality the decision is already made for you. As long as the bridge to get from point A to point B is an easy one, in this case the bridge from a physical newspaper to an electronic newspaper, the pushback will only be from the minority.

Fast forward another decade and the technology that we had been subjected too had been on such a rise that the skeptics started to shine through. The future of technology was ominous, and in this EPIC 2015 video  there is an almost Orwellian tone. The Google Grid, a hypothetical next step for Google to take which is outlined in the video stands out to be as particularly peculiar. Shortly following the introduction of the Grid comes the partnership of Google and Amazon, countered by the New York Times going “off-line” and becoming a source of news only for the “elite and elderly”. This is where the line is officially drawn and a cultural divide is predicted. Although I don’t think it has come to fruition, perhaps it is merely too subtle for me to notice.

The expected silence from the MLB and where Colin Kaepernick has brought us

Vox – When it comes to professional basketball and football, black players make up the majority. Seventy-four percent and 68 percent of athletes are black in the NBA and NFL respectively. In the WNBA, black women make up 71.7 percent of the players. So while racial disparities persist when it comes to team owners in these leagues — no black person has ever owned an NFL team and there are nearly no black owners for all three men’s leagues in basketball and football — players can at least protest on the grounds that they know they’re collectively indispensable.

By contrast, black baseball players are largely on their own. African Americans make up only 8 percent of players in major league baseball, according to USA Today.


This week Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said, “We already have two strikes against us already, so you might as well not kick yourself out of the game. In football, you can’t kick them out. You need those players. In baseball, they don’t need us. Baseball is a white man’s sport.”

Jones is one of only a handful of black players in the MLB, but underrepresentation
is a trend that goes far past the players. The opportunities for latino players and black players alike are scarce when their playing days are over. In a conversation with ESPN’s Howard Bryant for his piece titled Don’t expect protests in baseball — it’s a white man’s game by design David Ortiz said, “The opportunities, they speak for themselves. Compare the number of Latinos with the number of Latino managers, you know what I’m saying? Sometimes I get so frustrated about it. But you can’t wait for anyone to give you something. Sometimes I tell the young guys, ‘Be smart. Save, because there won’t be anything here for you when it’s done. Make as much money as you can in the game, and get your black ass out.”

Soon we will be entering what I consider the sweet spot of the annual sports  news cycle. Once October rolls around the NFL is in the swing of its regular season, the MLB is entering the playoffs, the NHL and NBA are on the verge of kicking off regular season play. There is only so much time for each of the four major American sports to be covered enough to reach a mass audience, especially in an election year. The discussion of how to present yourself during the playing of the national anthem originally brought to the forefront by San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a story that has life being breathed into it by news outlets across the spectrum and has even led to President Obama making a statement to reiterate Kaepernick’s constitutional right to kneel during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner amidst the uproar.

Kaepernick’s protest intersects with the hot button political topics regarding the status of race relations in America, and the history of protests in the NBA point towards it gaining more momentum when their season tips off. Oklahoma City Thunder guard Victor Oladipo predicted that Kaepernick’s protest will carry over into the NBA season. And why wouldn’t it? All of the most prominent NBA players are black, and they can’t be told to be quiet as some media members have tried to do with Kaepernick. The likes of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul have shown that they will use their popularity and the platform they have earned to speak out on the issues of racial profiling, take their message at the 2016 ESPY’s for example. ESPN allowed them to take the stage to open up the program, which should be taken as a sign of things to come. Kaepernick is just the beginning, these discussions are only getting started.

What I Hope To Cover

For my blog I intend to follow how the media covers controversial topics with a focus on sports.  I will strive to compare the quality of coverage both at a local level (sports talk radio programs such as Felger & Mazz, Dennis & Callahan, Boston Globe, Boston Herald, etc.) as well as on a national level with a focus on comparing the quality and depth of discussion that happens on major daily programs such as Around The Horn and First Take. I will follow two journalists that focus on the media specifically in Chad Finn of Boston.com and the Globe , and Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, and keep an eye on what they are covering. Ultimately, I hope to siphon through the “hot takes” on topics, and determine which ones carry weight and which ones are simply “click bait”.
For example, there will be  difference in the tone of a day time program such as First Take than their would be on a evening program such as Around The Horn. Through this lense I hope to have the ability to give my own opinion on what audience is being catered to, the depth and quality of the discussion, the weight of the opinions being given on these programs through my eyes as well as through the eyes of the target audience. Twitter, specifically the advanced search option, will be a very useful tool in getting a feel for what people are talking about.