I (Bradford) struggled to choose a topic worth writing about. Not because of a slow news week, far from it! Jonathan Abrams’ wrote a fantastic book on Kobe, LeBron, and the NBA’s prep-to-pro generation. Americans playing baseball in Cuba! Chris Sale really wants us to be mad about Drake Laroche! So much happening.
I decided to take on the art of Trump-whispering! It’s going to be the best take on Donald Trump. Impenetrable. You won’t believe my Trump-whispers. Lyin’ Ted Cruz doesn’t have game like me. Sad!
Leadoff hitter: Longform that lays off the first pitch.
Is there a pundit around that has yet to be destroyed for their Trump predictions? New York Times columnist Ross Douthat boldly predicted a Marco Rubio nomination, cementing himself as a Dewey Defeats Truman for the Twitter age. Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight’s wunderkind, was deemed a savant when he accurately predicted the 2012 presidential elections in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia. But Silver’s Trump dismissal proved as accurate as, well, Ross Douthat. (Nerd!) Trump-whispering is a calculus with no derivative, an algebra with no variable, a math metaphor with no discernible logic, and so forth. So I didn't even want to try and wade into those murky political waters. Until:
Now, it's personal.
Paul O'Neill, the all-star Yankee outfielder, current broadcaster, and my childhood icon isn't the only athlete that's voiced support for The Donald. His entourage includes current stars like Tom Brady, to former greats like Pete Rose, white (John Daly, O’Neill) black (Herschel Walker, Terrell Owens, Latrell Sprewell), and hairy (Johnny Damon). Even aliens! (Dennis Rodman.) Trump’s influence in the entertainment world features a diverse, ragtag collection of former pros. Does their loyalty to this toupeed bigot suggest they’ve long harbored politically incorrect views they wish to go mainstream? I’d argue no, this isn’t solely about deep-seated hatred. Trump’s appeal to the athlete speaks to his ability to frame himself as more than a politician. He’s the perfect teammate.
As much as I’d like to, you can't write off the deeply troubling resentments driving the majority of Trump mania. The billionaire’s campaign has drawn support by noted Klansmen, kicked out black students that dared to attend, and is founded atop of mythical 2,000-mile wall that promises to keep the Mexican “rapists” out. (When asked to defend his statement on CNN’s The Situation Room, Trump tells host Don Lemon “Well, somebody’s doing the raping, Don! I mean somebody’s doing it!” Microaggressions are so 2015.) Ex-Braves pitcher John Rocker would happily ride the 7 train, so long as Trump is conducting.
So, even a sober assessment of Trump’s voting bloc evokes some concern about man’s depravity. But athletes sit outside of the millions of blue collar (and increasingly white collar) supporters and likely have different interests than concerns that their overseas jobs might somehow return. (Spoiler alert: Trump won’t bring them back.) Instead, the loyalty of these men in spite of the bile of political incorrectness spewing from Trump’s mouth, suggests something far deeper about friendship, especially of the celebrity kind.
Trump’s long-running NBC reality competition, Celebrity Apprentice (CA), is a reliable roundup of the billionaire’s friends. Johnny Damon had an 11-round CA run. Tyson made appearances on CA and All-Star CA (and was “fired” from both). Notorious North Korean dictator amigo Dennis Rodman: another almost-Apprentice.
While Trump fosters some bromances on network television, the mogul’s other favorite relationship steroid: the golf course. Jets lineman Nick Mangold teed off on the Golf Channel program Donald J. Trump’s Fabulous World of Golf. Mangold’s division rival, Tom Brady, met Trump in 2002 (“He just doesn’t lose.”, Brady said in reference to his golfing buddy’s prowess.)
Perhaps no one exemplifies the bromance more than Tyson. Ask the former heavyweight champ and he’ll talk about a relationship going back two decades. “We’re really good friends.” Tyson told The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern in January. “We go back to ’86, ’87. Most of my successful and best fights were at Trump’s hotels.” When Tyson was convicted of raping 18-year-old Desiree Washington, it was Trump advocating for Tyson to continue boxing, suggesting the prize fighter give his earnings to rape victims. (This wasn’t benevolence—preserving Tyson’s career meant more sold-out events for Trump. Everybody wins!)
"We’re the same guy,” said Tyson. “A drive for power. Whatever field we’re in, we need power in that field. That’s just who we are.”
But it’s more than power. It’s also a worldview defined by win-lose, victory-defeat rhetoric with little desire to see the world with nuance or complication.
Trump “has simple, uncluttered narratives. Victory and defeat, enemies and allies, winners and losers,” says Ezekiel Kweku, a writer at MTV News (and fellow Trump-whisperer).
And these streamlined narratives, in turn, end up emphasizing Trump’s demeanor—an attitude shared by many professional athletes. In fact, in today’s sports culture, athletes are often rewarded for embracing an “aggressive, alpha dog” mentality and “Trump's aggressive talk, and talk about winning,” appeals to them, says sports historian Lou Moore.
Tyson and others’ assessment of the Republican front-runner jives with Trump’s language on, well, everything else:
ISIS: “We have to knock out ISIS. We have to knock the hell out of them.”
The economy: “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
Defense spending: "I'm gonna build a military that's so strong, nobody’s gonna mess with us.”
Illegal immigration: “We just form a fucking wall! That’s all we do!”
Actually, that last statement was a crucial late-game instruction from Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. Would you have known the difference?
Small hands or not, Trump exudes a machismo spoken in a familiar tone. And it’s this machismo, more than race—or in some cases, religion—that unites.
Herschel Walker admits he’s not crazy about the wall Trump wants to build. (“We can't build a wall and not let people in the country,” he told TMZ.) But when asked about his former boss (Trump owned his first team, the now-defunct USFL’s Washington Generals), Walker’s quick to revert back to the simplistic football language, reminding USA Today that Trump “wanted to win and he was prepared to go out and do whatever it took to win.”
In a similar register, Tyson exhibits the same dissonance, promising his interviewer that Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country can’t happen because “Congress just won’t do that.” Tyson remains confident that his controversial policy suggestions “doesn’t mean he can’t be president.”
One can imagine the slogan Make America Great Again resonating with a retired athlete. Many of Trump’s aforementioned friendships share a common formula. When someone’s down on their luck, here’s Donald, lending his hand. What if you’re a former star like Johnny Damon, well past your prime and pleading with your former team to get your job back? CA offers a shot at revitalizing your celebrity, even if your exposure is less All-Star and more Omarosa.
Trump’s rhetorical style carries on the campaign trail and to locker room. He positions himself as the perfect teammate when you’ve had a bad day (or got convicted in a trial of your peers for assaulting a teen), buying you a beer and telling everyone in earshot how great you used to be. Even past the link to pro sports or politics, Trump’s presentation of himself, from the toupee to the bronzer, reflects a man pining for his own glory days. What man, especially one who’s career is built on a body constantly staving off decline, hasn’t felt these creational groans into their forties and beyond? White and black; rich, very rich, and newly poor due to miserable life choices, athletes get a glimpse of their former selves in their favored candidate.
Stick to sports: In which we stay in our lane.
Shoe Sponsor’s Steph Sadness. So Steph has UnderArmor, not Nike, kicks. Why? ‘Cuz Nike sucks, and not really, but here are 2,000 words to make you wonder if it’s true. Two moments make this story gold and they occur on the same day in the same presentation. First, a Nike suitor refers to Stephen Curry as Steph-on. Like, Steve Urkel's alter-ego. Nope, dude. Another amazing fact: they recycled Kevin Durant’s PowerPoint presentation. No typo goes unpunished. (I will take that lesson to heart.)
Delay of game: All you can read before the clock expires.
Love-Serena. On Sunday, Serena Williams lost to Victoria Azarenka in the Indian Wells final. I spent about 20 minutes moping Vika’s victory, but most of the world never noticed. That same day, tournament head Roger Moore opened his mouth and claimed that that women’s tennis “rides the coattails of the men,” and that if he was a “lady player,” he would “go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.” (Here is a recap. TL;DR, Moore resigned.) Meanwhile, men’s No. 1 player, Novak Djokovic responded to the remarks with his own comments about women’s hormones and then pivoted to equal pay, long a contentious subject in tennis. (Why? Read this and this h/t @scATX.) He did not seem bothered if women did not approach men’s earnings. Serena, naturally, didn’t let either man off the hook. “Novak is entitled to his opinion but if he has a daughter—I think he has a son right now—he should talk to her and tell her how his son deserve more money because he is a boy.”
Would not have happened if Yankees signed Castro. #ThanksObama. On Thursday, Rays won an exhibition game attended by the president of the United States and a man—who almost played for the Yankees—before he took power in a coup during the Eisenhower administration. Read Jon Morosi living out his dream of trash talking with Cuban fans. Or check out Tim Brown on the lasting impression of Cuban baseball.
(ESPN had an interesting week. They tweeted and deleted this ambivalent dictator tweet. An anti-government protester interrupted a SportsCenter newscast to drop by a pamphlet demanding reforms. And ESPN radio host Dan Le Batard wrote a scathing critique for the Miami Herald on US involvement with the still-oppressive nation, a country his parents fled decades ago.)
Cooking Baseball’s Goose, Part II. Sports media critic Richard Deitsch grills five baseball writers in a fascinating, big picture look, of how they do what they do. Best question? “Are players whose first language is not English accurately reflected by the baseball press? If yes, why? If no, why?” Best answer? “In my experience, many players whose first language is Spanish are sometimes thought of as being ‘simple’ or lacking in intelligence because they use basic sentences to express complicated thoughts,” said ESPN Deportes reporter Marly Rivera. Oh, and remember that MLB translator rule that each team now employ a Spanish speaking interpreter? Per Rivera, some teams just aren’t complying. K.
Mexican ballplayer relieved he plays America’s pastime in Canada. Roberto Osuna doesn’t want you to know his age. Or, at least that’s what I remember, given the 20-year-old’s coolness when he pitched in ALDS Game 5. But off the mound, the Toronto pitcher knows he’s still a brown dude with a Mexican accent and that’s how the US, land of the free and home of the brave, sees him first.
“If you've got the visa, you can cross to the United States and you can do whatever you want. Everyone knows that we Mexicans work so hard and we don't come here to do whatever we want to. We are so scared about the police and other stuff,” he told Vice Sports recently. “I've been in the United States for the last few years and I'm still feeling a little bit afraid to do some things, like I'm driving and I don't want to go over the speed limit because I don't know if I'm going to get in trouble.”
Someone else wants to stick to sports. Baseball writer and Friend-of-the-Letter Jen Mac Ramos started a letter we’re sure many of our readers will enjoy. It’s called Stick To Sports, and like us, Jen uses it as an ironic subversion of sports commentary. Sign up here to include more women and femme sportswriters in your life.
Bowl included. Within the next five years, Atlanta hopes debut a new stadium for the Falcons—and land Super Bowl 54 or 55. But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is threatening to take the honor away if Georgia passes a bill that would permit faith-based organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation. Georgia’s state senate passed the bill, which originally only sanctioned pastors declining to perform same-sex weddings. However, a modified version of the bill permits faith-based organizations to refuse “services to anyone they find ‘objectionable’ and would also refuse to hire or fire people if person's "religious beliefs or practices ... are not in accord with the faith-based organization's sincerely held religious belief."
“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy, said in a statement. “Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”
North Carolina passed a similarly troubling bill. Dave’s Zirin went off, as he and others asked the NBA to move its 2017 All Star Game out of Charlotte. And look, an official NBA response last night! Perhaps the NBA Cares®
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