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Volume 25 No. 27

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL owners left two days of meetings in N.Y. "agreeing to let their players protest, but to work with them on the social issues they are trying to address," according to Ken Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Owners spoke among themselves for several hours yesterday with no "specific resolution" proposed to "strengthen the league’s rules on the anthem, and only a handful of owners expressed a desire for measures that would penalize players who did not stand." Most owners said that they "wanted every player to stand for the anthem, but recognized that it would be misguided for the league to mandate it." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: "We are not looking to get into politics." He declined to say whether the protests "had affected the league’s bottom line." One owner said that league officials did "not say the anthem protests were at all responsible for some of the declines in ratings" (N.Y. TIMES, 10/19). Goodell said, "Our clubs all see this the same way -- we want our players to stand, we're going to encourage them to stand and we're going to continue to work on these issues in the community. ... The fact is that we have about half a dozen players that are protesting. We hope and continue to work to try to put that at zero -- that's what we'd like to do." He added, "I understand where our fans feel about this issue -- and we feel the same way. About the importance of our flag, about the importance of patriotism. And I believe our players feel that same way" (NFL.com, 10/18). More Goodell: "We know how important this is to our sponsors, our partners, our licensees. It’s important to us, also" (WASHINGTON POST, 10/19). Giants President & CEO John Mara said that there was "no vote regarding a policy change to anthem procedure." Mara: "There was conversation, but the policy is not going to change" (USA TODAY, 10/19).

BREAKING IT DOWN: YAHOO SPORTS' Frank Schwab wrote the number of players protesting Goodell cited "seems low," but it "appeared he wanted to make it a point that it’s not as widespread of an issue as it is being made out to be" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/18). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Andrew Beaton writes the NFL's "strategy for managing the festering controversy" over national anthem protests is to "run out the clock." The league is "betting that the issue will quietly die down on its own" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 10/19). In Boston, Ben Volin writes the NFL has "chosen to ignore" President Trump and instead "focus on working with players to help their communities" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/19). In Buffalo, Vic Carucci writes having "built what it perceives as goodwill with players, the NFL thinks this is the right time to stand pat on the anthem topic rather than deciding to make standing mandatory" (BUFFALO NEWS, 10/19). NFL.com's Judy Battista wrote the NFL's decision to "support programs big and small to effect social change on the issues that spurred the original protests" was "surprisingly progressive." Owners and the league office have instead "decided to withstand what they hope is a temporary business setback for what they hope is the greater good gained by supporting initiatives that will improve social equality, even as the president continues to berate the league for what he feels is disrespect for the country" (NFL.com, 10/18).

ROGER THAT: In S.F., Scott Ostler writes Goodell "reaffirmed, in a roundabout way, that the NFL has not caved in to Trump’s demands." Even Goodell’s critics -- who "say he’s been too late or too light on issues like domestic violence and player safety -- have to admit he’s walking a thin tightrope here." He "serves the owners, sponsors and fans," but he also "knows it’s hard to play football without football players." Meanwhile, Trump is "getting what he seems to want, massive huzzahs from his base of supporters and a rising anti-player clamor" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/19). DEADLINE's Erik Pedersen wrote amid a "number of repeated words and phrases like 'dialogue,' 'understanding' and 'underlying issues,'" Goodell "certainly didn’t clarify much -- though he noted that it’s time 'to make sure we get back to football'" (DEADLINE.com, 10/18). In DC, Cheryl Chumley writes Goodell "held a widely watched news conference to clarify the league’s decision on the no-stand-for-anthem campaign -- but really, only ducked and dodged and convoluted." It was not "exactly the message fans wanted to hear." Chumley: "Apparently, players’ petty protests take precedence over the will of the fans, at least in the eyes of NFL top brass." Goodell and the NFLPA, on the "heels of lengthy discussions earlier this week, missed a golden opportunity to emerge from these chats and heal the division that’s marked and tainted this season from the get-go" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 10/19).

Mara said there was conversation about the prospect of an anthem-related rule change
DEAR JOHN: Mara said that he "didn’t see any reason for a change in policy." Mara: “Most of us believe that attempting to force the players to do something that they don’t want to do is not going to be effective in the long run.” In N.Y., Gary Myers reports Mara seems "willing to ride out the negative hit this has caused on team and league business in exchange for working with the players to make positive social changes and allowing them to continue to kneel." He said, "No question it has an impact, but it’s an important social issue and I think sometimes you have to put the interest of your business behind the interest of issues that are more important than that” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/19). Mara added, "My position has evolved a little bit. I think when (kneeling) first happened, I probably had a little more of a hard-line position on it. But since I’ve spoken to players and heard what they’ve had to say and tried to understand what it is that they’re protesting, I think my position has, to be honest, evolved a little bit" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/18). NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said while the controversy has impacted the bottom line for teams, some owners like Mara and the Falcons' Arthur Blank believe this is "something that is bigger than just the business side ... so they're willing to withstand some losses" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 10/19).

MR. JONES & ME
: In L.A., Sam Farmer writes "although Jones said last week that he would bench any player who refused to stand during the pregame flag ceremony," he "doesn’t seem to be building anything close to a consensus among fellow owners." In this case, Jones "is the outlier" (L.A. TIMES, 10/19). YAHOO SPORTS' Charles Robinson wrote Jones was "silent and evasive" on the league's social activism front. Nothing good can "come for the NFL if Jones repeats himself on the national anthem debate," and the other owners "seem to understand that." Jones "stands now -- on an island, left alone as the only team owner inclined to discipline players for any form of protest during the anthem." Jones also "isn’t moving." He still "believes that players can and should be disciplined for protesting during the anthem." If it happens in his franchise, he is still "capable of following through on a threat that would unravel everything and draw the NFL into a potential legal war" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/18). ESPN's Jim Trotter said owners "always listen” to Jones on financial issues, but there were a "number of owners who were upset" with him threatening to discipline players. Trotter: “He does not speak for all the owners” (“OTL,” ESPN, 10/18).

DROPPING BY
: The BOSTON GLOBE's Volin reports NFL owners were visited by N.Y. Police Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill and Chief of Police Terry Monahan yesterday to "speak about how NFL teams can better connect with local police" (BOSTON GLOBE, 10/19). ESPN's Adam Schefter notes the owners believe O'Neill made some "incredibly interesting and insightful comments." O'Neill talked about how they "have changed their police practices in recent times, the way they should be thinking." Schefter: "In speaking to people in that room, they said it was easily the most powerful moment of these two days in meetings and something that will stay with them" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 10/19).

NFL players around the league have been reacting to the meeting between owners and players on Tuesday regarding protests, and Seahawks DE Michael Bennett said that before the league and players "can move forward with conversations about working together on social causes, the issue of Colin Kaepernick's unemployment must be addressed," according to Brady Henderson of ESPN.com. Bennett said, "The first step to even being able to even have a conversation is making sure that Colin Kaepernick gets an opportunity to play in the NFL. I think before we even negotiate anything about whether we sit, whether we stand (during the national anthem), it should be a negotiation about opening up the doors for Colin Kaepernick and giving him an opportunity again, because I feel like through everything, that's been lost." He added, "I don't think we can work alongside of them until we address the issue" (ESPN.com, 10/18). In S.F., Eric Branch notes 49ers S Eric Reid, who attended Tuesday's meeting, "plans to continue to kneel at least until a second a meeting is held with owners within the next two weeks." Reid: "It doesn't change our plans (to kneel) -- just yet. It's a great starting point. Nothing is set in stone yet." He added, "The players brought (lost revenue) up. We knew that this was affecting their business. One owner in particular mentioned sponsorships that he had lost" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 10/19).

COULD PROTESTS END COMPLETELY? Dolphins S Michael Thomas, who was also in attendance on Tuesday, said that he is "optimistic enough" that he can "envision a point this season in which he ceases protesting during the national anthem." Thomas: "We're moving in the right direction." Asked if he will remain in the tunnel before Sunday's home game against the Jets, Thomas said, "We will see" (PALMBEACHPOST.com, 10/18). Jets LB Demario Davis, who attended the meeting, said, "I do think we’re near a time where the protest will end and athletes and owners will be at the forefront of social change for our country in a positive manner" (NEWSDAY, 10/19).

SPHERE OF INFLUENCE: In Seattle, Matt Calkins writes, "Which sports figure do you see having the most concrete influence on progress in this country? There is plenty of talent to choose from, but I’m going with Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin." Baldwin offers a "unique package equipped to create a tangible change for the better" (SEATTLE TIMES, 10/19). Baldwin earlier this week lent his name to a letter sent to Congress supporting criminal justice reform, a move he said "represents a unified effort” with the league. He said the owners have “done a fantastic job of … listening to the players and recognizing that there’s an opportunity for us -- again -- to have a unifying effort” (“OTL,” ESPN, 10/18).

MORE TALKS TO OCCUR: ESPN.com's Dan Graziano cited sources as saying that NFL players and owners "have scheduled a follow-up meeting" for Oct. 31 to "continue their discussions ... on how the league and players can work together to support causes and issues of importance to the players." The meeting "likely will take place once again" at league HQ in N.Y. The "expectation is that such meetings will continue on a regular basis for the foreseeable future" (ESPN.com, 10/18). The N.Y. Daily News’ Frank Isola said it was “good for the league and the owners to get the players in a room and say, ‘You know what, we care about the same issues that you care about.'" Isola: "Weeks, months from now, we'll get to see if this wasn't just a PR move.” ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan said the meeting sounded more like, "Let’s understand each other, let’s try to have a dialogue so I can understand where you're coming from and you can understand where I'm coming from." She added, "That’s the kind of communication that should have happened long before now" ("Around The Horn,” ESPN, 10/18).

Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan said President Trump has focused in on the NFL in part because he is "trying to soil a league or a brand that he's jealous of," according to Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY. Trump made a bid to buy the Bills in '14 before the franchise was sold to Terry and Kim Pegula, and Khan said, "This is a very personal issue with him. ... He’s been elected President, where maybe a great goal he had in life to own an NFL team is not very likely. So to make it tougher, or to hurt the league, it’s very calculated." Bell notes Khan was one of seven NFL owners who "donated significantly" to Trump, providing $1M to his inauguration fund (USA TODAY, 10/19). ESPN's Adam Schefter notes he has had "other owners say the same thing to me." White House officials do not believe that sentiment "to be true." However, Schefter said, "There are other owners who believe that part of the reason Trump has gone after the NFL as aggressively as he has is because he believes Roger Goodell had a hand in preventing him from buying the Buffalo Bills back when they were for sale and because he has not been included in that ownership fraternity. He's waging his own vendetta against the NFL.” ESPN's Mike Golic notes Trump will "hold a grudge on somebody and let you know if he doesn't like someone or something." Golic: "If you want to go back and include the USFL, his couple of dealings with the NFL haven't been good" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 10/19).

NOT TAKING THE BAIT: Giants President & CEO John Mara said the owners are "all aware" Trump will likely continue to comment on the NFL's decision, but he added, "We can’t allow ourselves to get baited by that." Mara: "We’re going to do what we think is right." Asked if it is tenable that one NFL team could have rules about standing that differ from the rules of the other 31 teams, Mara said: “I don’t know if it’s tenable or not. That’s not going to be the policy of my team. Listen, we all want everybody to stand" (L.A. TIMES, 10/19). CBS' Jason La Canfora noted teams are "laying out when Donald Trump tweets or when Mike Pence goes to a game and leaves." La Canfora: "There was a lot of discussion in that room about just kind of taking the high road and letting some of this stuff pass and reminding people that we are talking between 6 and 12 players who were actually doing something other than standing. I think that’s the takeaway from it” (“Time to Schein,” CBSSN, 10/19). Meanwhile, former NBA Commissioner David Stern called Trump’s comments about the NFL protests a “distraction” from real issues. Stern said, “Everyone takes the bait of the president throwing this junk out to distract them from what’s really happening in this country” (“Power Lunch,” CNBC, 10/18).

Former USMNT player Landon Donovan is "seriously considering running for U.S. Soccer President," according to Grant Wahl of SI.com. Donovan has been "asked by a number of respected figures in American soccer to contemplate running." They are concerned about current U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati "continuing to control decisions on the technical side -- including hiring head coaches -- and think Donovan is better qualified to handle the soccer aspects of the job." Donovan's potential candidacy "would be a game-changer" in the USSF presidential campaign. Boston-based attorney Steve Gans has "received the required three letters of nomination that he needs to be an official candidate in the February election." Gulati is expected to "run for his fourth term," though he "refused to confirm he would run again in addressing reporters last week." He did admit he had "reached out to constituents about endorsing him or nominating him in recent weeks." Meanwhile, Wahl notes the USSF's current financial surplus "has been reported to be around" $100M following the success of the '16 Copa America Centenario. But a source said that the "actual number on the surplus is significantly higher" and could be between $130M-140M. While a "significant portion of that surplus needs to be kept in reserve, U.S. Soccer has yet to decide on what to spend the rest of that money" (SI.com, 10/18). ESPN FC's Jeff Carlisle noted Massachusetts-based businessman and soccer coach Paul Lapointe has expressed "intentions to run" for USSF President, and former USMNT player and FS1 soccer analyst Eric Wynalda also is reportedly "considering joining the race" (ESPNFC.com, 10/18).

READY FOR THE JOB? YAHOO SPORTS' Henry Bushnell wrote Donovan is "very unqualified" for the "specific functions that Gulati has preformed." He has "never done much of what Gulati has done over the past 12 years." However, there are "functions Gulati has not served that Donovan could." Donovan would "presumably take an increased interest in mending a dysfunctional youth system." He is not "necessarily more qualified than [someone] like Gulati or Gans to implement youth reform or better the quality and quantity of coaches at all levels." But Donovan would "presumably prioritize the best interests of the sport in the U.S. over other interests, such as money." A central criticism of Gulati is that he has "tended to lean in the other direction." But money "isn’t unimportant either." Under Gulati, the USSF has been "able to make boatloads of it." The problem is that "his role has been far too all-encompassing." If Donovan were to "take on the same responsibilities Gulati did, it would probably be too all-encompassing for him, too" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/18).

TWITTER REAX: FS1's Alexi Lalas tweeted, "I have no idea yet what @landondonovan (potentially) wants to do. But I’ll support anyone who can convince me that they have a better way." AmericanSoccerNow.com's Brian Sciaretta: "I like seeing people who have given so much to the sport possibly stepping up. Curious to know his platform and vision for the federation." Futhead.com's Luke Zimmermann: "Other than being good at soccer, what has Landon Donovan ever done or said to make us think he would be good at being US Soccer President?" ESPNFC.com's Jason Davis: "The only bad thing about Eric Wynalda and Landon Donovan maybe running for US Soccer president is that we don't get televised debates."

THERE IS ANOTHER TEAM TO FOLLOW: In New Orleans, Jeff Duncan notes the USWNT is "carrying the torch for American soccer" with the men's team out of the World Cup. The women's team actually has been "leading the charge for a while now." It is the "most successful soccer team in the world, regardless of gender," and the players have "earned the right to be the face of American soccer ... through their commitment and achievement" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 10/19).

Esports franchise Immortals has been "informed that its application to participate" in the North American League Championship Series (NALCS) has "been denied, while esports franchise Echo Fox has been accepted and will receive a permanent spot," according to sources cited by Jacob Wolf of ESPN.com. A source said that denying Immortals a spot in the top North American "League of Legends" circuit comes in part as a "result of that organization's significant financial commitment to create a live viewing experience" for its L.A.-based Overwatch League (OWL) team. Echo Fox will be "required to pay" $10M in franchising fees over the span of the next few years. Immortals will "receive 10 shares in a compensation pool, the most out of all of its peers" who have been denied a spot after previously being a part of the league. The pool "will be comprised" of the $3M additional buy-ins from new owners in the league. With the reported removal of at least four teams, that pool "will have a total" of $12M or more to distribute. Sources said that in addition to Immortals' role in the OWL, Riot Games, which organizes the NALCS, had "concerns around Immortals' finances." Sources said that the team has "operated at a significant loss since its formation" in late '15 and would "not be able to contribute to the revenue share" (ESPN.com, 10/19).

CONFLICT OF INTEREST? ESPN.com's Tyler Erzberger wrote Riot's decision to deny a spot to Immortals "appears to be a long-term decision." Immortals has "become one of the bigger names" in esports, and with the NALCS also located in L.A., a "conflict of interest could occur down the line." Immortals, which was a NALCS finalist this year, could use its success to "indirectly grow and support" its OWL team. The OWL, operated by Riot competitor Activision Blizzard, "kicks off the regular season at the start" of '18. Both leagues "will go head-to-head" in the L.A. market for "at least the first year of OWL's existence." While OWL has "plans to have games played in each city's respective home turf come the second season of the league," in a world where Immortals is both the center of the OWL in L.A. and a part of the NALCS as a full-fledged franchise, it "could cause issues." Esports team Cloud9, which competes against Immortals, was "admitted into the NALCS and has a spot in the OWL, but they have the London spot." In the short term, Riot's decision to exclude Immortals from the NALCS is a "black eye for the league." Riot will have to "wait and hope that another of the reportedly new franchises," like OpTic or the team now owned by the Warriors, "can fill the void that should have never been needed to be filled" (ESPN.com, 10/18).

CAVS PART OF THE FUN: ESPN.com's Wolf cites sources as saying that the Cavaliers have "obtained a slot" in the NALCS. Sources added that the Cavs have brought in "former Call of Duty pro and influencer Matthew "Nadeshot" Haag to head up their operations and are actively recruiting staff in the League of Legends space" (ESPN.com, 10/19).