The Media Is Enabling LaVar Ball’s Charade

Richard Maxson/USA Today Sports

Don’t worry, this article is not going to have to do with the full-fledged category 5 hurricane of a crazed AAU dad that is LaVar Ball. This is going to be about how the media let his antics become as legitimate and important as they have.

If you’re unfamiliar with who LaVar Ball is, 1) you’re probably better off and 2) he is the father of UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, who is very likely to hear his name called in the top two or three picks of next month’s NBA draft. Lonzo is, by all accounts, a quiet, respectful young man who is laser-focused on improving his game. LaVar is quite the opposite: a loud, bombastic father who is willing to beat his own drum just as much as, if not more than, he’s willing to promote his sons.

Chances are you’ve seen LaVar across the sports media landscape over the past few months, from FS1 to ESPN’s First Take and beyond. In the past, he has made comments to the press that can best be described as annoying, bizarre, and delusional. Recently, Ball’s quotes and actions have taken a turn toward offensive and indefensible. What’s even more interesting is that LaVar has something called the “Big Baller Brand” which sells apparel inspired by LaVar’s three sons. This is taken from the “About Us” section of Big Baller Brand’s website:

BIG BALLER BRAND is a Lifestyle Apparel company founded on core family values, and inspired by the 3 Ball brothers from Chino Hills, California.
Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo Ball are basketball players with Championship pedigree. We are always striving for excellence through strong work ethic, passion, and commitment to win as a team. Our company goal and purpose is to deliver the same qualities into the brand. We are dedicated to produce the highest quality products to build brand loyalty.
Our mission is to provide a clothing line that is a reflection of what every Big Baller in the world expresses through what they wear. Trust Big Baller Brand as a Lifestyle for the latest in apparel fashion and design for any occasion. Welcome to our family.

The statement says that the three sons have championship pedigree; none of them have played in the NBA and LaMelo is 15 years old. Also, that same championship pedigree is what may or may not have gotten the sons’ Chino Hills High School coach, Stephan Gilling, fired after this past season; Gilling said he was relieved to be done as Chino Hills’ head coach and deserves a civilian award for dealing with LaVar for an entire season. Now, the eldest Ball is making headlines for what he thinks of his and his son’s abilities.

Recently, many writers and pundits have come around to the fact that Ball is really a loud-mouthed blowhard who can’t back up his braggadocio with anything more than being Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo’s dad. This is the problem: by having him on television, major sports networks seem to be legitimizing LaVar Ball and his outrageous statements. This week, Awful Announcing’s Andrew Bucholtz wrote about just how willing certain networks are to have him on their air and promote his craziness:

Well, if there’s no place for that in TV, it’s interesting that FS1 has done so much more to promote Ball than anyone else to date. They’ve given him eight TV appearances and five podcast/Periscope appearances in just over two months and tweeted about him at least 105 times (from the official FS1 account and the official accounts of three of their shows). By contrast, ESPN appears to have had him on TV three times, on radio once, and mentioned him a combined 37 times between @FirstTake, @ESPN and @SportsNation.

105 times in two months! Just to reiterate, this is the same guy who once averaged all of two points per game at Washington State.

That’s the issue with his sudden fame and his appearing on FS1 every five minutes. LaVar Ball is famous because he says so; he’s the basketball world’s version of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian rolled into one. The way to combat Ball’s growing fame is to not give him a platform to say stupid stuff on such a regular basis. Sure, media types can rant and rave about the things LaVar Ball says and does. But, after all, who is giving Ball the platform to say those things? The media. Kristine Leahy, the Fox Sports anchor LaVar told to “stay in her lane”, said Thursday that the show she co-anchors, The Herd, should not allow Ball back on the show. The problem is that by saying, as Leahy did, that there’s “no place for that on TV”, she is indirectly criticizing her employer for having him on its air in the first place, which could lead her into trouble with the network. Her choice is this: accept Ball’s bravado and move on with a guilty conscience or criticize Ball and her network, the same network that tweeted about him 105 times in the span of two months.

This ultimately comes down to network executives and what they value. There are currently plenty of important stories in the sports world; Tom Brady’s potential undocumented concussion, the NBA suddenly consisting of only two great teams, and Enes Kanter’s detainment in Romania, to name a few. These and others are the stories that should really matter, not the one where someone’s father brags about his basketball abilities or broaches the subject of Kyrie Irving’s deceased mother when boasting about his son.

I believe that sports networks may have reached their wit’s end with Ball’s antics, particularly after his most recent controversies. That is generally how it goes with suddenly famous public figures or stories. However, Ball’s comments on show X make person Y more likely to tune into show X the next day. Also, a show like First Take will happily welcome Ball because he can make someone like Stephen A. Smith, the guy who once threatened Kevin Durant on-air, look like the sane one in the conversation. That is not a small factor in how networks decide whether or not to book a loose cannon like Ball.

And let’s face it: there are plenty of viewers who will absolutely devour Ball’s nonsense like it’s candy. This is the same reason why CNN’s viewership increased by an average of 300,000 viewers per day since they doubled down on coverage of an airplane that no one could find. Everyone was making fun of the network’s coverage; heck, even the leader of the free world ridiculed them at the 2014 White House Correspondents’ Dinner:

I am happy to be here even though I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia – the lengths we have to go to to get CNN coverage these days.

That would seem like a large indictment of CNN’s integrity. But remember, their viewership increased 1.6 times in the span of a week, and the President mentioned the network completely of his own volition. That would be advantageous for the network’s sagging ratings going forward, just like Ball is for a network like FS1 that has lagged far behind ESPN’s ratings since its inception in 2013.

Again, the best way to handle someone as unpredictable and strange as LaVar Ball is to not give him attention he doesn’t deserve. What I’m saying is to take a page out of ESPN anchor and SportsNation host Michelle Beadle’s playbook:

That’s what has to be done here. When push comes to shove, how hard was that?

The patriarch of the Ball clan recently proclaimed that if you can’t afford his ridiculously expensive shoes, you’re not a Big Baller. But why is LaVar a “Big Baller” himself? Because he anointed himself as one.

And the way to refuse him the legitimacy of a real “Big Baller” is to deny him the platform to brag about himself and his children on an everyday basis.

Encore: Court Stormings Do More Harm Than Good

Rob Kinnan: USA Today Sports

Slightly over a year ago, I wrote an article extrapolating on the dangers of storming the court, particularly in college basketball. I likened it to the Running of the Bulls and offered a proposal to combat the growing issue of fan, coach, and player safety in instances of upsets. However, my exposure to these activities was somewhat limited; I had only rushed my high school’s football field twice and while a high school basketball court is 84 by 50 feet, a football field is 360 feet by 160 feet, meaning that there was more than enough room for everyone to get on the field.

And then something happened yesterday that completely proved the point I made last February.

Yesterday, I attended my school’s (Bergen Catholic) state semifinal basketball game. The game was tight, albeit less-than-aesthetically-pleasing, throughout, and the outcome rode on the Crusaders getting one last stop to close out the game. Bergen was up three and, though the defense surrendered a buzzer-beating layup, held on to defeat St. Peter’s Prep, 47-46. Seconds after the final buzzer, everyone in the student section (including myself) stormed the floor (Bergen was the higher seed in the tournament, but whatever).

I was in the middle of the student section and got to the court just after many of my friends did. As we stormed the floor, the central location of the celebration began to move back towards the stands; normally, when fans rush the floor, the central location to which they congregate stays the same. In this case, it did not. When I reached the middle of the floor, where the fans and players were gathered, I was hit either from ahead or behind; I honestly don’t remember exactly what happened. This was the result:

Yep, that’s me in there the middle of the pile, on the floor. The good news is that my entire body was beyond the three-point line. A couple of quick thoughts:

  1. There is a short list of safe places to be during a court storming. “On the ground” is not one of them.
  2. Seeing the bottom of people’s shoes is not what you want to see in a situation like this.
  3. Holy Lord, that was frightening.

In reality, the danger was not overwhelming. But it could have been. I was on the ground for roughly 15 seconds or so. I likely was not in imminent danger of serious injury, but in the moment, I was scared to death. Luckily, one of my friends realized what was going on and helped me up. If he had not done that, I very easily could have been injured. I’m not going to name him, but he saved me from further danger.

This is the problem: while the court storming was fun (I enjoyed myself until I got dropped), it is an incredibly dangerous and inherently unsafe activity. If it’s done right, no one gets hurt and everyone has a great time. That’s an awfully big if.

Another point I must make is that I completely panicked when I hit the floor. However, I wasn’t sure if getting up in that situation wouldn’t have subjected me to more of a rush from the opposite direction. I picked my poison, which was to stay on the ground until I got help. It may not have been the best option, but it worked out in the end.

One more thing I should say: I’m not mad. This is no one’s fault. Students rush the floor because it’s fun and exhilarating. Security at the game didn’t follow through on any sort of protocol because I highly doubt they have one. But the personal experience of literally being underneath a court storming is something I never wish to experience again. No one is at fault, but that doesn’t make it less scary. I’m also not writing this just because it was me on the ground (it does help, though).

Yesterday, I almost became a victim of something that is practiced across the country on an almost-daily basis in the fall and the winter. Thankfully, I was not.

But we must change our thinking on this issue before someone else is.

Minor League Baseball’s Bizarre Wage War

Photo Credit: Anna Webber/Getty Images

It’s the year 2016, and we’re having fights over whether or not a group of human beings deserves to be paid the standard minimum wage in this country.  God Bless America.

On Wednesday, Congressman Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos (D-IL) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives called the “Save America’s Pastime Act”.  It sounds like a nice proposal on the surface; it’s really a lesson in not judging a book by its cover.

This is an excerpt of the bill.  Every word of it is 100% real:

In any action or proceeding commenced before, 16 on, or after the date of enactment of the Save America’s 17 Pastime Act, no employer shall be subject to any liability 18 or punishment under this Act on account of any violation 19 of section 6, 7, or 11 with respect to any work performed before, on, or after such date of enactment for 21 which the exemption under section 13 is applicable.

Okay, but what is it that the employer will not be subject to any liability for?  Paying its players the federal standard minimum wage.  No, I’m not kidding.  This bill is really designed to prevent minor league players from receiving the proper compensation for the work they do.  If that doesn’t make you angry, nothing will.

Before you say that baseball players are overpaid to begin with, that’s not the case in the minor leagues.  According to the MiLB website, players below the major league level earn an average of $1,100 per month.  And that figure represents the average salary at the highest levels of minor league baseball; life really isn’t that peachy for players aiming to fulfill their dreams of playing in the majors.

The saddest part of this fact, though, is that many of these players never get to the bigs.  Roughly 10 percent of minor league players reach the highest level, meaning that around 90 percent of them will never realize their dreams.  Many if not all of the players (especially those who don’t receive signing bonuses upon being drafted) may very well be forced to find other sources of income when they’re not playing in the offseason.

However, you would think that Major League Baseball would have the good sense to publicly denounce this bill.  But it did exactly the opposite in a press release yesterday:

MLB heavily subsidizes Minor League Baseball by providing Minor League clubs with its players, allowing professional baseball to be played in many communities in the United States that cannot support a Major League franchise. Moreover, for the overwhelming majority of individuals, being a Minor League Baseball player is not a career but a short-term seasonal apprenticeship in which the player either advances to the Major Leagues or pursues another career.

A “short-term, seasonal apprenticeship”.  Think about what an apprenticeship really is: it’s an opportunity to get your foot in the door with a particular company or in a certain profession. That particular company might not hire you but you have learned the skills of the occupation you wish to enter and would probably be able to handle a job in that field.

Moreover, minor league baseball is far from a “seasonal apprenticeship” for many players, nor is it “short-term”.  Just ask Mike Hessman.

Hessman was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 15th Round of the 1996 Amateur Draft.  Drafted at 18, Hessman would make his big league debut seven years later.  After going back and forth between Triple-A and the majors in 2004, he signed a minor-league deal with the Tigers the next year.  He wouldn’t arrive in Detroit until 2007 and he only played 17 games with the Tigers that season.  He spent another season with the Toledo Mud Hens (Detroit’s AAA affiliate) and appeared in 12 games with the Tigers.  He subsequently signed with the Mets in 2009 and embarked on another season in the minors.  While he did get 65 at-bats with the big club in 2010, that cup of coffee would be his last in Major League Baseball.  A season in Japan and another four years in the minors ensued; Hessman finally retired from professional baseball this past November after 19 seasons.  His greatest feat in baseball?  Breaking the minor league record with 433 home runs.

In those 19 seasons, Hessman racked up a total of 250 major-league plate appearances, 14 home runs, and 33 RBI.  Those are numbers you would expect to see from a part-time player. Those are Mike Hessman’s career MLB statistics.  But yeah, try telling him that minor league baseball is a short-term “apprenticeship”.

I do understand part of baseball’s stance on this subject.  It’s very difficult to pay minor league players on a per-hour basis because the employer would be forced to determine if travel time, batting practice, and postgame interviews all count as time spent working.  There’s also this: minor leaguers are provided shelter for their minimal compensation.  They’re pretty decrepit living conditions, but they do provide for the essential needs of the players.

However, exempting organizations from compensating their players for the work they do is egregious. Not doing so is especially crass when you consider that major league teams pay their minor league players, and it’s not like those teams don’t have money.  After all, the Mets paid Bobby Bonilla $1.19 million today; he last played for the team in 1999 and retired in 2001.  Oh, and did I mention that Bonilla will be paid every July 1 through 2035?  So yeah, baseball is clearly awash in money.

There is some good news on this front, though.  Bustos, 24 hours after introducing the bill in the House, did what many politicians do: flip-flop on her own piece of legislation:

Bustos recanted her support for H.R. 5580 for one obvious reason: she wanted to maintain public support as she’s up for re-election in Illinois’ 17th District this November.  Introducing this bill (which would never be passed) would simply make her look like a fool, something she can’t afford as she seeks a second term in office.  That being said, she did make the right decision here, even if she did so for the completely wrong reason.

It comes down to this: minor league baseball players deserve their money.  They aren’t getting much of it now, but they have earned the right to be properly compensated for their services, as many of them won’t make it to the majors.  They deserve the right to make the minimum wage, something that H.R. 5580 aims to take away from them.

Something that I can’t even believe we’re talking about in 2016.

Why Athletes Don’t Trust the Media

Photo Credit: AP Images
Photo Credit: AP Images

The Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets 121-94 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round series.  To many in the city of Houston, though, the game was an afterthought.

Ravaging floods have recently affected the city, killing at least eight and forcing over 1,000 to leave their homes.  The rainfall is a serious matter as it has caused over $5 billion in property damage across the city.  Therefore, you can understand why Houstonians aren’t exactly worried about their Rockets right now.

But that didn’t stop a reporter from asking Draymond Green a question about the parallels between the flood and the Warriors’ road wins in the city in each of the past two playoffs.  Instead of deflecting this ridiculous inquiry, Green took the time to wonderfully excoriate whoever this “reporter” is:

The question was easily the dumbest I’ve ever heard.  Trying to create similarities between the team’s 21 threes and a life-threatening natural disaster is never a good way to go about your business as a so-called “journalist”.  Yes, you’re there to ask questions and get more than just cliched responses out of the players, but you’re also supposed to make informed, relevant, pointed inquiries.  That question had none of those qualities.

And yet, upon hearing the tirade, I had a different thought: would it have been better for Green to just say “next question” and move on? Did Green’s destruction of the reporter actually shift attention away from the question and toward the player ranting about it?

We’ve seen reporters ask stupid questions before, especially in the NBA.  During the 2014 NBA Finals, local reporter Bobby Ramos made a name for himself for all the wrong reasons.  After the Spurs’ 111-92 defeat of the Heat in Game 3, Ramos got his chance to question LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.  This is what he asked in his 15 seconds of fame:

I have no idea what Ramos was trying to accomplish by way of that question.  Translated, this is what he asked: “Is the problem that you’re not scoring enough or that you’re giving up too many points?” Basically, it sounded like Ramos wanted to know if it was important for one team to score more points than the other.  In my brief experience with the game of basketball, it is.  But that’s just my perspective.

It was a question that James and Wade wasted little time with.  They both chuckled and Wade answered that the team was down 2-1 and that was the big problem.  Really, huh?  I’m sure that’s a piece of information that fans would not have previously known.

That wasn’t all the press conference fireworks for that series, however.  Before game 4, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down at the podium and fielded this bizarre query from another Miami-area reporter:

While Popovich gets criticized sometimes (and rightfully so) for his excessive brevity with reporters, he did nothing wrong by shooting down this question.  The team was coming off one of the most dominant performances in NBA Finals history in game 3; a repeat of that level of play would assuredly be good enough to win game 4.  So why on Earth would the team change anything?  What is there to change?  Again, this is an example of a question that was not thought out in advance, one that ended with a verbal smackdown that ended faster than you could say “five championships”.

But which response is better: the ignorance of the question or the flaming of the reporter who asked it?  The answer depends on the situation.

For example, Green was asked a question about flooding, a life-threatening situation.  He and the Warriors were also coming off a game in which they lost soon-to-be-MVP Stephen Curry to a knee injury; Curry will miss at least two weeks with an MCL sprain.  That loss, combined with the stupidity of the question asked, created a perfect storm for Draymond to react the way he did.

On the other hand, Popovich, Wade, and James were asked questions about the game itself.  Granted, they were absurd lines of questioning, but they had to do with the comparatively trivial subject of sports and nothing greater.  Because of this, it was easier for them to deflect the questions as nothing more than unprepared reporting.  However, it would have been understandable if they had reacted to the silly questioning like Jay-Z probably reacted to Lemonade; that is to say, not well.

There’s another side to the story, though, and that’s the side of the reporter.  Obviously, not all sports journalists ask questions so hollow and uninformed.  There are plenty of reporters who ask fair, challenging, tough questions that back interview subjects into corners.  For example, take this exchange that then-CNN personality Rachel Nichols had with Roger Goodell over a year ago:

There, Nichols asked a very relevant question: why does the NFL refer to their investigations as “independent” if they are still paying the “private investigators”?  The commissioner immediately got defensive with Nichols, saying that he didn’t agree with her assertion and even pointing out that she won’t be paying for the league’s investigations.   The exchange was a demonstration of excellent journalism and how a prepared, reasonable question could put one of the most powerful people in sports on his heels.

That being said, not enough of those informed questions (and people) comprise the sports media today.  Too many times, athletes are asked ignorant questions at press conferences, flip out on the reporters asking them, and are blamed by the partial media for doing so.  In reality, it isn’t their fault; they push themselves to their physical and mental limits each and every day.  To have second-rate journos interrogate them this way is, in some ways, a little insulting.

The relationship between athletes, coaches, and the media is an interesting one.  The players and coaches feel that they should be given more space while the media wants unfettered access into their lives.  Their relationship is lukewarm, at best.

And with questions like the one posed to Draymond Green last night, it’s hard to see it improving anytime soon.

Sports Bloggers Are People, Too

Pardon this interruption, but bloggers are people who sit in their mother’s basements and write stuff.

Seems pretty bold coming from someone who runs a blog himself. But don’t take it from me; take it from ESPN’s Michael Wilbon.

Wilbon, along with Tony Kornheiser, is the co-host of the station’s Pardon the Interruption and is also known for his work with the network’s NBA Countdown.  Prior to that, he gained notoriety for his work writing about the sports landscape for the Washington Post.  He’s survived a lot of change and done a lot of good work during his career, so I’m not going to take any shots at him in this post (besides the intro, because that was low-hanging fruit).

Wilbon was recently on a panel with Kornheiser, USA Today’s Christine Brennan, and Maury Povich (yes, that Maury Povich) to discuss the evolution of journalism.  (Povich was on the panel because it was done in conjunction with the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism; Shirley was Maury’s father.)

Anyway, Wilbon was asked by Povich about the change in journalism from when he broke into the business to now.  And this is what he said:

What bugs me now is that people is that people sit in their mother’s basements and write this crap and they don’t have any knowledge of what is going on in that place, and it’s too easy to get it. You can go to a game, you can go to a locker room. The only reason to read this stuff is to tell people why something happened, and if you’re not there, and you can’t tell me why it happened, I don’t care about all your advanced analytics and all the other things you concoct.

First of all, I’m not sitting in my mom’s basement right now while I write this article, so he’s kind of wrong with his remarks off the top.

Let me say this: he does make a couple of valid points.  For starters, when covering a team, it helps to be in the locker room interviewing players and coaches rather than writing about said team from afar.  His other completely correct point comes when he says that people read pieces of sports writing to figure out why something happened; that’s absolutely right.  That’s why I don’t write recaps here; sports writing is all about the “why” and not the “how”.

But the “mother’s basement” put-down and “they don’t have any knowledge” points are simply wrong.  While it should be noted that Kornheiser and Brennan weren’t too fond of this new journalism, either, they were at least able to stay away from making blanket statements like Wilbon’s.  It’s also ironic that Wilbon is saying this coming off the heels off his company’s shutting down of Grantland, which was the greatest example of modern, long-form internet blogging (in other words, journalism).

And about the advanced analytics that he seemingly despises?  While we are all entitled to the right to have an opinion, I find Wilbon to be in the wrong here as well.  He obviously doesn’t think much of advanced stats in sports, but they aren’t concocted: maybe he should read this article from one of his ESPN colleagues, Tom Haberstroh; in it, Haberstroh combines advanced analytics with solid writing to provide a fascinating lens into the NBA’s gradual acceptance of living and dying by the three.

Teams, especially in Wilbon’s area of expertise, basketball, are relying on advanced analytics more and more.  All advanced analytics amounts to is another way for teams to make personnel decisions, and teams that ignore them completely are often left behind because they are disregarding information that could really help them in making future decisions.

But blogging isn’t all about sitting in mom’s basement and writing about stuff.  For example, Jessica Mendoza of ESPN (them again) became the first female announcer ever to broadcast an MLB playoff game.  The reason why is because the color commentator she was filling in for, Curt Schilling, was suspended, initially because of a tweet equating Muslims to Nazis.  Later, he decided to e-mail a writer at Awful Announcing about his displeasure with their reporting on the initial story about the tweet (AA, ironically enough, was one of the first sites to call Wilbon out on his comments at the Povich Symposium).

The site then published Schilling’s e-mail, and he was suspended for the rest of the season, allowing Mendoza to finish off the rest of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball schedule and the one playoff game the network aired, the American League Wild Card game.  Simply enough, if it wasn’t for Awful Announcing, Schilling likely would have returned to the broadcast booth before the end of the season, and no history would be made.  Like it or not, the site changed the course of history for both people, as Mendoza earned rave critiques and may very well replace Schilling in the broadcast booth for the long run.

Another, more obvious example of the importance of blogging comes in the form of the Greg Hardy story.  As you probably already knew, Deadspin published photos of the aftermath of the domestic incident between him and his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, in early 2014.  The images are incredibly disturbing, and no matter where you stand on the story, Deadspin’s publishing of the photos has framed the debate on the issue.  The anger toward Greg Hardy may very well have dissipated if it weren’t for our ability to see those pictures.

To conclude, I have a world of respect for Michael Wilbon.  Having seen him all over ESPN for as long as I can remember, he always seems fresh and interesting, even as he freely admits that he isn’t quite down with the new way the majority of the people look at sports.  His points always bear weight, even as he easily surpasses the topic-to-topic time limits on PTI.  They bear weight because of the respect he has among colleagues and people in sports, as well as his vast experience in the industry.

But as much as it pains me to say this, he’s wrong on this one.  We don’t just sit in the basement in our underwear and write, and we definitely don’t just spit out nerdy statistics for no particular reason. This mass generalization is unfair, but to be fair to Wilbon, some of us bloggers have probably told people of his ilk to “get off our lawn”. I’m not telling Wilbon to do that, but he needs to respect us and the work we do as indicative of the way sports journalism is going.

He needs to respect us because we’re people, too.

The WDBJ Tragedy Should Give Us a New Respect for Journalists

Journalism keeps you planted in the earth. – Ray Bradbury

This is a sports blog.  You know that by looking at the name.  But today is different.  I can’t stick to sports today.  I just can’t.  And it’s because of what happened at 6:45 this morning in Moneta, Virginia, just outside of Roanoke.

At that time, reporter Alison Parker was interviewing Vicki Gardner, a high-ranking official in the local Smith Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, about the current state of tourism in the area.  Routine interview.  Or so it seemed.

Then, as Gardner was speaking, a gunshot rang out.  It was captured in this video (WARNING: Video contains extremely disturbing content).

The end result was the worst possible one: Parker and her cameraman (Adam Ward) were dead; the general manager of WDBJ confirmed this much on the air later in the morning.  Parker was 24; Ward was 27.

But then, the shooting took an even more horrifying turn.  The shooter, 41-year old Bryce Williams, posted a video (presumably taken from a GoPro) of the shooting on Twitter and Facebook.  As bad as this, too many people were subjected to it; due to auto-play on both applications, many on both social media accounts saw the shared or retweeted video on their timelines and were unable to stop it.

This was as surreal of a story as there you could ever imagine.  What made it more unbelievable was the fact that all of it was caught on live television, or, as we found out later, a GoPro.  So why I am I writing this article on a sports blog?

Well, it’s a complicated answer, but the main reason is at I am an aspiring future journalist.  I think of myself as something of a journalist now, with this blog, but not really.  I’m not in the industry, I’m not out covering stories, and I’m not subjecting myself to harm like Ward and Parker did.  And I have all the respect on the planet for real-world journalists, especially after the events of today.

On-camera reporters often face distractions during their reporting, and they’re usually very innocuous.  Most of the time it’s people like this (WARNING: video contains a brief moment of mature content).

But, in reality, the Baba Booey guy is representative of the distractions field reporters face 95% of the time.  There also exists another popular, sexist, and extremely inappropriate phrase that many reporter-hecklers have used in a live shot (you can find out for yourself what it is).  But, the consequence of those occurrences?  The reporter throwing back to the studio, the studio anchor apologizing, and the newscast moving on.  No one is physically harmed.

So this is a new frontier.  And it should make us realize: a journalist/reporter’s job is really hard.  We often see certain people on TV and think, “That’s just another teleprompter-reading, stupid TV anchor/reporter”, and that could not be further from the truth. Even singer Don Henley crooned in his solo hit “Dirty Laundry”, “We got the bubble-headed bleached blonde, comes on at five/she can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye”.  Again, this opinion of reporters couldn’t be further from the truth.  TV, and in particular, reporting, takes so much more than a smile and a hair color.  Unfortunately, part of that includes shutting out extraneous distractions, something that Parker and Ward had to do in the last moments of their lives.

And a piece written by Jaye Watson on her blog absolutely knocks it out of the park.  Read it.  It is the best piece of writing I have read on this senseless tragedy and maybe one of the best essays I’ve ever read. Here is the last part of it, which perfectly encapsulates the role of a journalist in making the world a better place:

It’s enough to make you wonder, who in the hell would want to do a job like that?

Us.

Because deep down inside, we are the same in believing that we can make a difference.

We can change things.

We can expose rot.

We can give a voice to the voiceless.

We can make people happy.

We can make them angry.

We can be the catalyst for change.

We are the ones at the shooting, the city council meeting, the hospital bedside, the big high school game, the war zone, the grieving family’s living room.

We take what we hear and I swear we do our damndest to regurgitate it back to you the best we can.

We want you to know what we know.

I didn’t know Alison Parker or Adam Ward, but I would bet they entered this business with an idealized, deep desire to make the world a better, more informed place. They wanted to tell good stories. They wanted to be part of the change.

One person, a Glock and GoPro toting person, stole the promise of their lives, ensuring they would experience no more ‘firsts,‘ of any kind.

I beg of you to remember one thing.

He was not one of us.

And this is why journalists are so important; they make the world better.  They force change through ingenious investigative reporting. Going back to sports for just one second, if it weren’t for two journalists (Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru), we wouldn’t have had the information about Cris Carter’s fall guy comments at last year’s NFL rookie symposium.  And if it weren’t for great investigative reporting, we likely wouldn’t have ever found out about Watergate, the horror of the Vietnam War, or the unethical surveillance ways of the NSA.

Journalism is essential.  It was attacked today.  Whether you like it or not, today was an attack on free speech and journalism, by a disgruntled reject from the outside.  We shouldn’t be talking about the shooter’s motive right now (he killed himself this afternoon) but it probably had nothing to do with attacking free speech.  From all accounts, the gunman had been fired from several outlets, was not easy to work with, and had an anger issue.  He was fired from WDBJ in 2013 and reportedly refused to leave the offices.  (He would later file a wrongful termination lawsuit against WDBJ; it was unsuccessful.)

But we can try to figure out motives later.  This moment is about remembering Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two aspiring journalists, doing something they did every day: their job.  Two innocent lives, put in danger by a savage gunman aiming to finish them.  And, the saddest part, two soon-to-be-spouses.

Ward was engaged to one of the producers at the station, and (this is terrifying), she had to watch his death from the control room.  It was her last day at WDBJ, and Parker had supposedly brought in balloons for the celebration.  Parker had moved in with fellow station reporter Chris Hurst, and according to Hurst, they had future plans for their lives, too:

This is the real shame of today; they were young.  They had most of their lives ahead of them.  But that all ended at 6:45 this morning.

But this is what I hope comes out of this: I hope people respect the role of journalists in our society.  The job always brings its perils, and while we usually equate reporters being harmed with their reporting in war zones, those perils walked into the living rooms of the greater Roanoke area just after dawn today, and maybe changed the journo industry forever.  While the piece Parker and Ward were doing was an everyday, routine piece, people like them serve a big role in our society, as a conduit to the American public.

But they’re gone now.  And may they rest in peace.

Some Thoughts on the Waterways of Rio De Janiero

Did I ever think that I would actually be writing about the quality of water in a South American country?  No, but that’s life, and that’s become sports, too, recently.

To catch you up on recent events (if you haven’t been following), the Associated Press published an investigation into the water that the athletes of the 2016 Rio Olympics will be swimming and rowing in next August.  Here’s an excerpt:

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Athletes in next year’s Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.

An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.

It is the first independent comprehensive testing for both viruses and bacteria at the Olympic sites.

Brazilian officials have assured that the water will be safe for the Olympic athletes and the medical director of the International Olympic Committee said all was on track for providing safe competing venues. But neither the government nor the IOC tests for viruses, relying on bacteria testing only.

Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites.

As a result, Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.

Despite decades of official pledges to clean up the mess, the stench of raw sewage still greets travelers touching down at Rio’s international airport. Prime beaches are deserted because the surf is thick with putrid sludge, and periodic die-offs leave the Olympic lake, Rodrigo de Freitas, littered with rotting fish.

That’s disgusting.  FIFA and Sepp Blatter look at that and say, “that’s despicable”.  But this is no laughing matter.  And lest you think it won’t get worse, it does.  Back to the report:

The AP also measured fecal coliform bacteria, single-celled organisms that live in the intestines of humans and animals. Fecal coliforms can suggest the presence of cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid.

In 75 percent of the samples taken at the Olympic lake, the number of fecal coliforms exceeded Brazil’s legal limit for “secondary contact,” such as boating or rowing — in two samples spiking to over 10 times the accepted level. The Marina da Gloria venue exceeded the limit only once, while at Rio’s most popular tourist beach, Ipanema, fecal coliforms tested at three times the acceptable level in a single sample. At Copacabana, the AP tests found no violations of fecal coliform counts.

Fecal coliforms have long been used by most governments as a marker to determine whether bodies of water are polluted because they are relatively easy and cheap to test and find. Brazil uses only bacterial testing when determining water quality.

In Rio, the fecal coliform levels were not as astronomical as the viral numbers the AP found. That gap is at the heart of a global debate among water experts, many of whom are pushing governments to adopt viral as well as bacterial testing to determine if recreational waters are safe.

That’s because fecal coliform bacteria from sewage can survive only a short time in water, especially in the salty and sunny conditions around Rio. Human adenoviruses have been shown to last several months, with some studies even indicating they can last years.

That means that even if Rio magically collected and treated all its sewage tomorrow, its waters would stay polluted for a long time.

The diseases mentioned (cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and hepatitis A) are all bad, so bad that they all have death rates.  While these death rates are minimal, they increase dramatically when untreated.  A swimmer/rower coming down with this disease and not treating it is very plausible, the athletes may not be aware of the symptoms.  These athletes may also want to push through that pain, especially because of the absurd amount of training that goes into the Olympics.  Nonetheless, the risk of death exists for two reasons: the IOC and the Rio government.

The IOC stands for International Olympic Committee, and it essentially runs the Olympic games.  Most importantly, it’s a corrupt organization that has fallen under a multitude of controversies just in the last ten years.  So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when this was announced just yesterday:

RIO DE JANEIRO — The International Olympic Committee ruled out conducting viral tests of Rio de Janeiro’s sewage-laden waterways ahead of the 2016 games, a top official said Wednesday, despite an Associated Press study showing dangerously high levels of disease-causing viruses at all aquatic venues, with experts saying athletes are almost certain to be exposed to pathogens.

Speaking at a news conference dominated by questions about Rio’s sewage pollution problem, Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi said the IOC will be sticking to World Health Organization guidelines recommending only bacterial testing.

The AP’s independent analysis of water quality showed high levels of viruses and, in some cases, bacteria from human sewage in all of Rio’s Olympic and Paralympic water venues, including the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where rowing will take place, the Guanabara Bay, where the sailing competition are to be held, and at Copacabana Beach where distance swimming events will take place.

In two separate emailed statements following the AP’s July 30 publication about its study, the World Health Organization said it was advising the International Olympic Committee “to widen the scientific base of indicators to include viruses.”

However, in an emailed statement Monday, the organization backpedaled and said that “WHO has not and will not issue an ‘official recommendation’ on viral testing.”

So, the IOC’s reaction to human sewage, bacteria, and disease-causing viruses is, basically, “Yeah, whatever.”  You may have heard stories like the one that came out of Rio last week, in which thirteen of the forty rowers on the United States Rowing Team fell ill with stomach problems.  The team doctor believes that the sicknesses are due to impurity in the Rio waters that the team was training in, and she’s probably right.

But the IOC, in another episode of being the IOC, not only deemed the waters safe but also denied the doctor’s claims.  Nawal El Moutawakel, the leader of the inspection team in charge of checking the waterways that will be used in the Olympics, said this:

The IOC puts on the highest priority the athletes and our friends around this table are doing their upmost so that this issue of water quality is being heavily dealt with so the athletes can compete in secure and safe environments.

Yeah, sure you do.  I’ll take hypocrisy for $1,000, Alex.

Answer?  Daily Double.  Daily Double because she said that the athletes and the playing conditions are the two highest priorities, both taking precedent over special interests.  This is a double dose of BS from a company full of it.  Is there more?  Of course there’s more!

The city of Rio De Janeiro was awarded these Olympics in 2009, giving them seven years to prepare, and preparing for the games includes cleaning up the water.  Per the International Business Times, the Rio government didn’t exactly do that:

Rio’s Olympic officials vowed in 2009 to address 80 percent of the area’s water pollution before the 2016 games began. Earlier this year, city government officials said funding for cleanup efforts would be drawn from an $8.8 billion budget devoted to “legacy projects,” such as water pollution and transportation infrastructure, USA Today reported. But Andre Correa, Rio’s environment secetary, acknowledged an 80 percent cleanup was “not going to happen” and said it would cost about $3.8 billion to establish a sewer system capable of fully addressing Rio’s needs.

A monthslong Associated Press investigation found in July that all of Rio’s Olympic waterways were brimming with bacteria and viruses from human waste. In one case, the level of water pollution was more than one million times worse than an acceptable standard on a California beach, the AP reported.

Oh yeah.  The fun starts with the money being taken out of the “legacy projects”, which were supposedly being used to help the city’s infrastructure and pollution.  However, the goal of an 80 percent cleanup was obviously never going to happen, so why did the government promise to get it done?  It’s obvious that the city did not want to let the IOC down, but an 80 percent cleanup was still unrealistic.

And even this is on the IOC, too.  With the knowledge that the water was contaminated and even a total cleanup would still leave a good deal of the pollutants in the water, why did Rio get the games?  With swimming and rowing events occurring in these waters, how did the country with the most polluted water get the right to host them in the largest worldwide competition there is?

As you can imagine, these pieces of news, along with the handling of the situation by the IOC and the Rio government, have drawn complete outrage from many.  The loudest critic of the IOC recently has probably been ESPN’s Mike Greenberg, and he said this today on his radio show, Mike & Mike:

Interestingly enough, this question was actually asked to the IOC officials last week.  This is how that scenario went down, per CBS News:

Asked whether they themselves would swim in the bay to prove the water’s quality — as Rio’s state environmental secretary did on a television program earlier this year — the officials laughed jocularly and shifted in their seats.

“We will dive together,” said El Moutawakel with a giggle, pointing to other IOC officials she said would take the plunge with her.

But honestly, if you really think that the IOC officials are going to dive into the polluted water together, you are probably losing a grip on reality.  It’s not happening.

The IOC and the government of Rio have combined to make this the most dangerous Olympics in recent memory.  We have to get past the corruption and bribery of Olympics past, because this is worse. Human lives are now at risk.

There wasn’t any bribery with these Olympics (that we know of). There wasn’t much controversy until now.  But there may be some major illnesses for the athletes involved, which is the real shame in all of this.

Every athlete in the Olympics has pushed himself or herself to his or her maximum potential.  Making the games is a dream come true for everyone involved, and, as I said before, these games are a once in a lifetime opportunity.  And, for swimmers and rowers, that once in a lifetime may involve cholera, dysentery, or other ills that put these athletes in very real and serious danger.

Danger brought about by the Rio government and the IOC.