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Volume 24 No. 112

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith and some players will attend next week’s owners’ meeting in N.Y., and both the league and the union have "pledged to work cooperatively to address the issue of players’ protests during the national anthem," according to Mark Maske of the WASHINGTON POST. The owners appear "likely to consider the possibility during the meeting of requiring players to stand for the anthem" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/12). NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, "What we plan to do is have a very in-depth discussion with the players and owners next week to make sure we truly understand the issues and also understand the approach we want to take together with the players to address these issues in our communities." He said the "real dialogue and the real issues have been overtaken by the controversy" surrounding the anthem." Goodell: "What we want to do is get back to focusing on the actions that we want to take to really improve our communities and support our players to get things done" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 10/11).

ISSUE "DRAINING" THE LEAGUE: The Undefeated's Jason Reid said the anthem issue is "really draining everyone in the league.” The league office wants to "try to move on from this, and the only way they’re going to be able to move on from this is if they come together in some form or fashion that gives the players the belief that the league is behind (them)” (“OTL,” ESPN, 10/11). ESPN's Adam Schefter notes Tuesday's meeting will include a "lot of people with a lot of desires" that the league and the owners will "have to sit down and address." Schefter: "It’s a critical issue. There are so many differences of opinion. ... It is a very volatile, dangerous time for the league to be in the position it is in, because it is very sensitive. It is chipping away at the popularity of the sport and people are turned off and people canceling DirecTV subscriptions. It is a big deal” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 10/12). But FS1's Jason Whitlock said, "You should have known this was coming and implemented these types of rules and had this argument and debate during the offseason. We're in the middle of the season and people are meeting with the commissioner and owners are meeting, talking about the national anthem. I blame ownership and a lack of leadership” ("Speak For Yourself," FS1, 10/11).

PLAYERS SPEAK OUT: Buccaneers DT Gerald McCoy said there is "going to be an angry reaction" around the league if it is mandated that players stand during the anthem. He predicted there will be "an uproar if that is to happen, because you're basically taking away a Constitutional right of freedom of speech." McCoy said the NFL "did right by allowing guys to be free" and protest initially. McCoy: "If they want to switch the rule ... it's going to be a negative reaction" ("Know Them From Adam," ESPN.com, 10/11). Eagles DE Chris Long said an anthem mandate would open a "whole other can of worms." Long: "Potentially, you’re gonna see another wave of protest of people that might say, 'You know what, the hell with this, I’m not gonna be told what to do.' The owners are certainly able to lay down the law if they choose. It’s their workplace ultimately, but, the players are gonna have a lot to say about it." He added, "I don’t think mandating that players can’t kneel is gonna be the answer. I think you’ll see a messier situation" ("Off The Board with Jimmy Traina," SI.com, 10/11). Lions WR Golden Tate said that he is "opposed to a rule that would somehow penalize players who choose not to stand for the anthem." Tate: "I want to do something because I want to do it, not because I feel like I’m being made to do it" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 10/12). Ravens WR Mike Wallace: "We’re starting to let the president get into it and make his personal views be the law of our league, which is a privately owned league. So I feel like our views, they don’t want to hear our views" (Baltimore SUN, 10/12). Pro Football HOFer Eric Dickerson: "You can't make players stand. ... If I don't stand, then what? All the players could say, 'If you're making us stand, all of us are leaving the field. We're not going to play.' Now nobody is going to play. Then what happens?" ("Speak For Yourself," FS1, 10/11).

YORK GIVES 49ERS ASSURANCES: 49ers S and player rep Eric Reid said that he has "received assurance" from team CEO Jed York that he and teammates "won’t be forced to stand." Reid said York "expressed very clearly that he wants to support us." Reid: "He’s not going to force us to do anything. Speaking for our team, that’s what he’s told me explicitly" (SACRAMENTO BEE, 10/12). Meanwhile, Dolphins S Michael Thomas said that the team’s "newly-implemented policy of requiring players to stand for the national anthem or stay in the locker room or tunnel is a good thing because it leaves no room for ambiguity." Thomas, one of three Dolphins who had knelt during the anthem this season, said, "Now players aren’t wondering, ‘OK, who is going to do what?’ or what not" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 10/12).

WHATEVER WORKS: THE UNDEFEATED's Reid wrote the owners' new pushback against the protests actually could "help players move the conversation in a more productive direction and inch closer to effecting the positive change they seek." A "hard-line stance by ownership would end the false narrative that players have demonstrated specifically to disrespect the flag, the military and the government and its institutions, rather than what they’ve truly done." Thomas said, "At this point, it’s not even about protesting and taking a knee anymore. We did that to raise awareness. ... But at this point, there has been a lot of talk. There’s more awareness now. And that’s great. But the next step is, ‘OK. What do we do to fix it?’" (THEUNDEFEATED.com, 10/11).

COME TOGETHER: In West Palm Beach, Jason Lieser noted Goodell joined Thomas and Dolphins teammates TE Julius Thomas and WR Kenny Stills for an event with the North Miami Police Department on Tuesday, where he had "good dialogue with three players who have been kneeling." Stills said that Goodell "made no demands about the anthem." The sense from both Thomases was that Goodell is "interested in helping lead a joint initiative with players, owners and the league to work toward the societal changes for which the players have been pushing." Michael Thomas "declined to give specifics on what that program would entail, but it is likely to be discussed at next week’s league meeting" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 10/11). In Denver, Mark Kiszla writes, "Here is the NFL’s chance to be better than Washington politicians. ... By shining a light on social issues with the same power it uses to fight cancer, maybe league owners and players can bring some meaningful resolution to the anthem tiff" (DENVER POST, 10/12).

President Trump believes the NFL "would have never had a problem" with protests during the national anthem had the league suspended Colin Kaepernick when he first took a knee during the '16 preseason. Trump, appearing on Fox News' "Hannity," said Kaepernick "would have never done it again" if the NFL penalized him initially. Trump: "They could have then suspended him for two games and they could have suspended him if he did it a third time for the season." He called Kaepernick's protest "terrible" and something that became "bigger and bigger and started mushrooming" ("Hannity," Fox News, 10/11). The NFL will take up the topic of possibly instituting a rule that players must stand for the anthem during next week's owners meeting, and in N.Y., Charles Gasparino writes the controversy, which was "all but ignored by NFL brass before the president got involved, was an easy pick-six down the sideline" for Trump. He "gleefully and expertly took advantage and scored some much-needed political points in the process." Sources said that the league's data show around 70% of all NFL viewers "make $100,000 a year or less." NFL viewers additionally are nearly 70% "white and mostly male." The typical viewer is "also more likely to have served in the military than the general population." Gasparino: "In other words, welcome to Trump Country." The president "knew this from the minute he started his stand for the anthem crusade" (N.Y. POST, 10/12). In DC, Cheryl Chumley writes Trump has been on the "right side of this NFL kneeling issue from the start, calling out league officials for allowing their paid players to use the football field -- their place of business -- for political protests" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 10/12).

SELF-SERVING MOVE: USA TODAY's Christine Brennan writes Trump is "waging war on the NFL for his own selfish political purposes." This was "not a fight the NFL wanted," as the president "dragged the league into this one with his despicable, race-baiting, 'son of a bitch' comment about anthem protesters in a political speech in Alabama nearly three weeks ago." However, this is the "fight the NFL now faces." As much as the league "says it wants to work with its players on the very significant issues some are highlighting with their bended knees and locked arms, it can’t when a human noise machine with a cell phone continues to pound away from the vast beyond" (USA TODAY, 10/12).

U.S. Soccer needs a "massive reboot" following the USMNT failing to qualify for the '18 FIFA World Cup, and it has to "start at the top with the replacement" of U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, according to Grant Wahl of SI.com. Gulati has held the role since '06, and as "coincidence would have it, the next election for a new president is in February." Recently enacted term limit rules would "allow Gulati to run for one more term, but he would be wise to announce as soon as possible that he will not seek another four years." Gulati has had "successes under his watch," as the USWNT won the '15 Women's World Cup and earned Gold Medals at the '08 Beijing and '12 London Games. Additionally, U.S. Soccer has "certainly found economic stability over the last decade" and has a "more powerful voice than ever in the halls of FIFA." But 12 years "at the top is plenty" for any U.S. Soccer boss, and the trends on the field have been "backsliding dramatically." Gulati also has "made some big mistakes" regarding the head coach for both national teams. What U.S. Soccer needs at the top are "fewer social connectors, backroom operators and business experts and more people who are truly savvy when it comes to soccer" (SI.com, 10/11). In S.F., Ann Killion writes there "should be a new" U.S. Soccer president, as Gulati is "largely responsible for the direction of the program, which is clearly flawed." The initial comments from Gulati and USMNT coach Bruce Arena after Tuesday's loss to Trinidad & Tobago "smacked of pure denial -- that there was no need for big changes." Killion: "That is completely wrong." U.S. Soccer and MLS "must take hard looks at the way they conduct business." The failures of U.S. Soccer are "too massive to ignore" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/12). In Philadelphia, Jonathan Tannenwald wrote with "all the changes that are needed, a change at the top seems a good place to start." The USSF should "find a way for Gulati to step aside and focus on his FIFA role, and let someone else run U.S. Soccer" (PHILLY.com, 10/11).

NEED FOR A NEW VOICE: In California, Scott Reid writes the "real debacle, the real crime" of not qualifying for the World Cup would be U.S. Soccer "failing to take this opportunity to have the brutally honest, soul-searching conversation about the American game, top to bottom, it should have had more than a decade ago." The disappointing showing on Tuesday "came from a generation of entitled and soft national team players" and was a product of MLS, "whose view of itself is nearly as over inflated as the ego" of Gulati. The conversation needs to start without Gulati, who has "breathlessly chased power within FIFA with a blind ambition while failing to address the American game's glaring problems." U.S. Soccer "cannot move forward" with Gulati on top, as the USMNT under his watch has "failed to qualify for the last two Olympic Games and now pulled off the unthinkable" of missing the World Cup (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 10/12). SI.com's Brian Straus wrote Gulati "burdened himself and U.S. Soccer" with former USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann's "unearned promotion and contract extension" ahead of the '14 World Cup, then "waited too long to fire him once it was clear" in late '15 that the team was lost (SI.com, 10/11). ESPN's Pablo Torre noted Gulati has "made a lot of money for U.S. Soccer," but Tuesday marked the "most humiliating night in the history of U.S. Soccer.” The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw: "When you're the president of an organization whose team has just failed miserably, you’re inclined to say, ‘We don’t need wholesale changes here,’ because that might include me” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 10/11).

HAT IN THE RING
: In Boston, Joe Halpern noted Boston-based attorney Steve Gans is one of several people that could run against Gulati, and he said following Tuesday's loss, "This is just part of a larger problem -- problems with our entire system and leadership and judgment. It just makes me and a lot of other people more convinced that we need a change." Asked why he believes he is qualified to lead the USSF, Gans said, "I understand all of the constituencies involved. I have a pretty good finger on the pulse of soccer, and I feel I bring good judgment and leadership skills" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 10/11).

Missing the '18 FIFA World Cup will "affect the USSF's bottom line," according to Steven Goff of the WASHINGTON POST. The organization collected $10.5M from the '14 World Cup in Brazil -- $1.5M for participating and $9M for "advancing to the round of 16." Additionally, the "absence of a U.S. team at the most popular sporting event on the planet will make it difficult to attract" new sponsors. However, the USSF currently is "locked into long-term deals with many" of its partners (WASHINGTON POST, 10/12). YAHOO SPORTS' Henry Bushnell wrote the revenue gleaned from World Cup runs will "no longer fall into the federation’s bank account." Bushnell: "It’s also the exposure and brand-building opportunities that accompany the tournament every four years. How does USSF make up for that loss?" There have been "rumblings over the years about running back Copa America Centenario, or organizing a similar tournament that pits the U.S. against high-profile, non-CONCACAF opponents." Expect the USSF to "explore those possibilities with heightened interest now that there is nothing but Gold Cups, and perhaps a Confederations Cup," on its calendar between now and November '22 (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/11).

WHERE TO FROM HERE? USA TODAY's Martin Rogers writes the "start of a long hangover" began yesterday for the USMNT, and a "deeper look at the U.S. program and how to address the shortcomings" is needed. While the overall state of the game in America is "far more buoyant than at any other time, the national team has somehow snapped its own streak of seven straight World Cup appearances" (USA TODAY, 10/12). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Futterman & Robinson note the USSF "invests millions of dollars each year to increase participation and train coaches," and MLS franchises have in recent years "begun to open youth academies." But those efforts are a "pittance compared with what happens in so many countries." The U.S. has "failed to cultivate even a couple of true international stars over the years" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/12). CBS Sports Network's Adam Schein said, "If you are a great player, you go overseas. That's how it works. Look at Christian Pulisic -- he had to leave Hershey, Penn., and go play internationally" ("Time to Schein," CBSSN, 10/11). In Dallas, Dan Crooke writes the U.S. has "fantastic talent at the youth levels, but there's a lot of contact and experience missing in the formative years where a player hones technical skills that will help them realize their potential." The U.S. instead is "hoping sheer athleticism can put a band aid over those lost years" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 10/12). However, NBC Sports Bay Area's Greg Papa said, "I wonder with American youth pulling away from playing football if our better athletes will now start to play soccer more" ("The Happy Hour," NBC Sports Bay Area, 10/11).

ADDRESSING THE ISSUES: In San Diego, Tom Krasovic writes while the NFL and MLB can claim to have the best "players in the world" in their respective sports, MLS "cannot claim to have the best soccer product in the world." Krasovic: "Not by a long shot." MLS has no "top-flight feeder program akin" to college football. The failure to qualify for the World Cup is a "reminder that when you’re truly competing with the rest of the world, as the NFL is not, the road traveled is riddled with potholes" (SANDIEGOUNIONTRIBUNE.com, 10/11). NBC SPORTS BAY AREA's Ray Ratto wrote the USMNT's "great failing has been in believing what it tells itself about itself, and it is as it has been for 40 years" (NBCSPORTSBAYAREA.com, 10/11). In Colorado Springs, David Ramsey wrote the "age of American soccer" has "never arrived." After Tuesday night's "debacle," it is "starting to look as if it never will arrive" (GAZETTE.com, 10/11).

BRING ON THE BOOS: In Miami, Michelle Kaufman writes U.S. Soccer "claims to be all grown up now, brags about its league and its development academies, so it deserves the same skewering the world’s other teams would get if they got tossed from World Cup contention" (MIAMI HERALD, 10/12). CBSSN's Schein said, "It's garbage. It's unacceptable. It's embarrassing. It's pathetic. It's a total disaster" ("Time to Schein," CBSSN, 10/11). ESPN's Taylor Twellman: "It's the worst moment in U.S. Soccer history" ("SportsNation," ESPN, 10/11). ESPN's Dan Le Batard said America "cares just enough to get embarrassed" when the USMNT loses to a country like Trinidad & Tobago ("Highly Questionable," ESPN, 10/11).

MLS likely could feel the effects of the USMNT not qualifying for the '18 FIFA World Cup, as the league is "currently riding a wave of explosive growth," according to Alicia Jessop in a special to the WASHINGTON POST. MLS could "see growth of sponsorship revenue slow now." Over the past year, the league has "experienced a sponsorship boom, with brands like Target and Kellogg’s Snack Brands partnering with it for the first time." While a number of factors "played into these brands signing with MLS, some think American interest in future World Cups and the possibility" of the U.S. hosting the '26 World Cup "pushed corporations to engage more with MLS." If the league’s audience and American interest in soccer "decline leading up to and after" the World Cup, MLS "may see a shift in sponsors" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/12). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Alderson noted in '13, a year before the '14 World Cup in Brazil, "overall attendance in the USL was 445,709" and by '15, that number had "boomed to 1,132,218." This season, the league "estimates 2 million spectators." Those numbers are "boosted by expansion, but even that indicates what one four-year period can do." Will the "next four years see a tapering off in that buzz?" MLS "saw year-over-year attendance growth" of 12.6% in '15, and it is "foolish to think none of that came because of U.S. soccer participating in the World Cup" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/11).

SEPARATING CHURCH & STATE: In San Diego, Mark Zeigler notes the U.S. hosted the '94 World Cup and "spun the profits into birthing" MLS. Ever since, the league and the USSF have been "inextricably linked." Zeigler suggests breaking "overt ties between U.S. Soccer and MLS, which means electing a new federation president" in '18, "removing MLS Commissioner Don Garber from the federation’s board of directors and negotiating separate TV contacts." What is "best for MLS is not always what’s best for national teams." Let them "exist independently" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 10/12).

NASCAR driver Danica Patrick said she would like to continue her racing career, but only for a "competitive team." Patrick will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing next year, and she said right now for her, "It's figuring out what to do next, how it looks and if I'm going to race for another team, if I'm going to keep going, if I'm not going to keep going." Patrick added she is "very open-minded" and is "in a 'go with the flow' mode" in terms of her racing career. Patrick: "I keep in mind all the things I want for my life and everything will fit in according to that." She added, "No. 1, if I continue, it's going to be with an opportunity that gives me the chance to win" (“NASCAR America,” NBCSN, 10/11). In Dallas, Gerry Fraley reports SHR "hopes to field a fourth team next season, with Patrick's replacement to be determined." Meanwhile, team Owner Tony Stewart said he and SHR had "taken" Patrick "as far as" it could take her. Stewart added that he was "'disappointed' in media coverage of Patrick throughout her Cup career." Stewart maintained that she was "harshly judged for mid-level finishes." Her best annual average finish was 22nd last season. Stewart: "She can run 20th, and everybody says she's not performing well. She's still out-running 20 guys who have decent cars. From day one, she's done a great job" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 10/12).