Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 24 No. 155

Leagues and Governing Bodies

An "element of viciousness has crept into what was already a violent game" during the past month of the NFL season, causing it to supersede the "great play that brought people to it in the first place," according to Cindy Boren of the WASHINGTON POST. The day-after conversations "now center on fights over necklaces and nasty hits," with Monday night’s Steelers-Bengals game the most recent example. Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict was "stretchered off the field to undergo concussion evaluation after an illegal hit" by Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. That was followed by Bengals S George Iloka hitting Steelers WR Antonio Brown "in the face mask on a game-tying touchdown." Recently, the league has seen Bengals WR A.J. Green fined for putting Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsey "in a chokehold," while Raiders WR Michael Crabtree and Broncos CB Aqib Talib were suspended after getting into a fight. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski on Sunday "delivered what might be the ugliest hit of the season" when he dove on Bills CB Tre’Davious White, who was "already face down on the turf after he intercepted a Tom Brady pass." Gronkowski's hit "sent White into concussion protocol and resulted in a one-game suspension." The majority of play over the past month has been "within what we consider reasonable as we watch the game of football." Boren: "But there is an element of thuggery and ugliness that simply has to go" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 12/5).

TOUGH TO WATCH
: In Cincinnati, Paul Daugherty writes the "violence at Paul Brown Stadium" on Monday during Steelers-Bengals "went from routine to frightening to uncomfortable to watch." Smith-Schuster and Iloka each received one-game suspensions for their hits, though Iloka's ban was overturned today. That came after Steelers LB Ryan Shazier was carted off the field in the first quarter after being "unable to move his legs" following a tackle. Daugherty: "Is this entertainment? Is the NFL better when its players deliberately try to injure each other, then gloat about it when they do?" There was "nothing entertaining about watching a street fight dressed up in shoulder pads" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 12/6). In Pittsburgh, Matt Rosenberg wrote Steelers-Bengals "left many wondering whether this was football at all." Rosenberg: "If it was, is it time to question everything we think about it?" The game was "among the NFL's worst nightmares: A game that, by nature of the teams involved, was going to garner a large audience anyway became one of the more brutal, violent games the league has seen." The game was also on "MNF" and "seen in primetime by a captive national audience." The NFL is "now tasked with trying to salvage a tarnished image stemming from the events at Paul Brown Stadium" (TRIBLIVE.com, 12/5). ABC's T.J. Holmes noted Steelers-Bengals was supposed to be a "showcase game for the NFL, and this is what the country got to see." The NFL is a "great game, but it's overshadowed now by the brutality" ("GMA," ABC, 12/5). CBS Sports Network's Adam Schein said the game was a "bad look for the NFL" ("Time To Schein," CBSSN, 12/5). ESPN's Bob Ley noted images from Monday's game have been "burned into the national memory" ("OTL," ESPN, 12/5).

VIOLENCE HARD TO IGNORE...
: In N.Y., Evan Grossman writes under the header, "NFL Violence Should Be More Off-Putting Than Anthem Kneeling." It is "impossible to ignore the carnage of the game may be pushing some people away." The "violence and lack of respect between" Steelers and Bengals players also was "clearly evident" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 12/6). In Columbus, Rob Oller writes, "If you are like me, you love the game but find it increasingly sickening to watch." Fans "enjoy the physicality but have become nauseated by the threat of concussion, and angered when fools" like Smith-Schuster or Gronkowski "behave like animals" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 12/6). ESPN's Sarah Spain said, "What we're watching is not just football. It's the deterioration of a sport in terms of how people are going to watch it. You look at that game and how difficult it was for us to stick with it" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/5). The Ringer's Kevin Clark said, "If we have kids, I don't know how we say, after watching that stuff, 'Okay, you can go play. I don't care.' It certainly gives you pause" ("The Ringer NFL Show," THERINGER.com, 12/5). CBSSPORTS.com's John Breech wrote as for Steelers-Bengals, "If you were watching the game and thinking, 'I've seen less violence in a UFC match,' I would have to agree" (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/5).

...BUT THAT'S WHAT PEOPLE WANT: ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "I love football for the violence. Most people do. They'll lie now and say they don't, but they do" ("PTI," ESPN, 12/5). ESPN's Cian Fahey: "Was too much violence bad for football fans? No, that's what they're there for. We can come up here and say, 'That's a disgrace, this is something we need to outlaw.' But we signed up for this. Every football fan is enabling this" ("SportsNation," ESPN, 12/5). Showtime's Ray Lewis said, "I get what people are saying, but this is the game we all play. I think we've got to let some of this just be football" ("Inside the NFL," Showtime, 12/5). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Adelson wrote the "central dilemma" for the NFL is the same as its "central lure." Adelson: "It's brutal and dangerous. ... We are drawn and repulsed, and we are drawn because we are repulsed" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/5). ESPN's Scott Van Pelt said, "As the league tries so hard to figure out what it wants to be moving forward, it cannot run from the fact its popularity over the years owes much to elements from Monday’s game" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 12/5).

TIMES HAVE CHANGED
: ESPN's Louis Riddick noted fans need to "open their eyes and recognize and admit the fact that the game has changed for a number of different reasons." Riddick: "The game needs to evolve from a level of savagery that used to exist … and the players need to recognize that. If they don't recognize it, then (the) game’s going to suffer for many different reasons” ("OTL," ESPN, 12/5). NBC Sports Bay Area's Dave Feldman noted this is not "20 years ago," and football "can't be played the same way." Johnson: "If they don't enforce it in a certain way, the players are still going to play that way" ("The Happy Hour," NBC Sports Bay Area, 12/5). In DC, Mark Maske writes Steelers-Bengals was "played with a viciousness that once defined the NFL." But the problem is those days "are gone." They "should be long gone, in fact," as the NFL "cannot afford to be a platform for wicked helmet-to-helmet hits that once were celebrated but now are illegal." Meanwhile, ESPN's crew, led by analyst Jon Gruden, was able to "put the game in the proper perspective and context." Gruden and announcer Sean McDonough "lamented and decried the on-field events Monday night rather than glorified them" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/6). ESPN's Spain said Gruden "understands that this game is going nowhere and dying a fast death if they don't adjust" ("Highly Questionable," ESPN, 12/5).

PLAYER NEED TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
: WEEI.com's Alex Reimer wrote at a certain point, responsibility "must also fall on the players." It is "insulting to assume they’re incapable of thinking rationally on the field, even when emotions are running high" (WEEI.com, 12/5). NBC Sports Bay Area's Ray Ratto said, "Basically it was players saying, 'We don't care about our own safety because we certainly don't care about yours.' It's hard to make the case that owners should clean the game up if players aren't willing to do the same thing" ("The Happy Hour," NBC Sports Bay Area, 12/5). The WASHINGTON POST's Maske writes the NFL "can only do so much." The players -- all players -- "must do their part as well" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/6). The Colorado Springs Gazette's Woody Paige said, "The players themselves need to actually get together and say, 'This is how we protect ourselves'" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/5).

PRIMETIME PLAYERS: Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger said that games like Monday's are "intentionally placed in prime time to maximize their appeal." In Pittsburgh, Jerry DiPaola noted the Steelers and Bengals have played each other three times on "MNF" since '10. Roethlisberger: "The NFL, sometimes, they'll take any publicity they can get, good or bad. They put it in prime time knowing that it's a physical game. Some people tune in just to see the physicality of the game, the hits, what's going to happen" (TRIBLIVE.com, 12/5). But CBSSN's Schein wondered what the NFL expected "when you put the Bengals and Steelers on national TV." He said, "The NFL got it wrong by putting this game on national TV. It was dirty, it was ugly, it was awful and it was predictable" ("Time To Schein," CBSSN, 12/5).

The one-game suspension handed out to Steelers WR JuJu Smith-Schuster brings to a total of 9 bans "given for on-field misconduct" this season, up from zero last year and three in '15, according to Jacob Feldman of SI.com. The "troublesome trend" comes amid an "emphasis on eliminating 'egregious hits'" this season. There also is a preference to "suspend players after the game rather than eject them during the game to allow time for careful consideration." However, the NFL is "wading into troubled waters, because now, rather than discussing how to make the game safer, fans are crying foul." Feldman wonders if either of the fouls committed by Smith-Schuster or Bengals S George Iloka, who had his own one-game suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit overturned today, were "truly as egregious" as Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski hitting Bills CB Tre'Davious White on Sunday long after the play was over. Gronkowski also received a one-game suspension for his actions (SI.com, 12/6). In San Diego, Tom Krasovic writes the Smith-Schuster suspension made it "even more obvious" that Gronkowski "got off light." Gronkowski's hit "wasn’t a football play." It was a football player "delivering a violent blow to a defenseless person" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 12/6). ESPN’s Clinton Yates said Smith-Schuster is different than Gronkowski hitting a player who was "literally defenseless." Yates said the NFL gets "outside the context of football and you’re penalizing guys the same way for what they do within the natural confines of the game, that’s when you have a huge problem." Yates: "That’s the big inconsistency that makes people wince more than anything when you see this” ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/5).

TRACK RECORD SHOULDN'T MATTER: Showtime’s Boomer Esiason said he was fine with Gronkowski getting a one-game suspension "because there’s no history.” But Showtime's James Brown said, “If they’re talking about a culture change in the league and getting rid of the Neanderthal players -- and I like Gronk, who doesn’t? -- but that was as clear an indication of a violation. The punishment should be fair and equitable across the board, period. There’s no excuse for that” (“Inside the NFL,” Showtime, 12/5). WFAN-AM’s Maggie Gray said, "I don't think the league wants these star players suspended for longer, and if you don't have a track record they're going to give you benefit of the doubt. I would like to see what happens if Gronk ever pulled this again” (“We Need to Talk,” CBSSN, 12/15). NBCSN's Mike Florio said, "If it’s one game for Smith-Schuster, it should be two games or three games for Rob Gronkowski. What Smith-Schuster did was in the confines of an actual football play. It wasn't an attack on the opponent after the play ended” ("PFT," NBCSN, 12/6). CBS Sports Network's Adam Schein said Gronkowski’s hit "was not about football." Schein: "That was about Gronk being a jerk. There's no place for that in the NFL. Gronk doesn't have that in his past, but it doesn't even matter. That was egregious, that was scary. He deserved the suspension” (“Time To Schein,” CBSSN, 12/5). Meanwhile, BLEACHER REPORT's Mike Freeman writes Gronkowski's hit "should forever end all the 'just Gronk being Gronk' chatter." Gronkowski in the past "has been given a pass for his antics, but he crossed a line this time, endangering another player's health." That should "make everyone see Gronk through a different lens" (BLEACHERREPORT.com, 12/6).

MAKING A STATEMENT: ESPN's Michelle Beadle said, “If we are worried about people getting hurt, why do we act like a one-game suspension is the end of the world? If a one-game suspension even changes one dude from doing this again or preventing a dude from being stretchered off the field, is that such a big deal? ... Don't tell me with one face that you give one damn about these players, and then whine about, ‘My favorite player might sit out a game,’ because you are full of crap if that’s what you’re doing and you’re a hypocrite as much as anyone else" (“SportsNation,” ESPN, 12/5). 

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati will not seek re-election next year, but he "didn’t feel comfortable leaving the USSF’s business in the hands" of any of the potential candidates until one he "could back emerged," according to Steven Goff of the WASHINGTON POST. Soccer United Marketing President Kathy Carter yesterday officially announced her candidacy for the role, and while Gulati has "not endorsed her," it is "clear she has his support." Goff notes to "earn a place" on the February ballot, a candidate "must secure three nominations" from USSF membership. Carter "will undoubtedly get them." Being the only female in the field "should help her chances, even though the voting delegation is largely male." Goff notes all 11 USSF presidents "have been men." USSF VP Carlos Cordeiro -- also running for president -- is "very much an insider, which probably won’t sit well with voting members seeking fresh ideas." He is "trying to carve an identity separate from Gulati’s, and the fact that he and Gulati had differences will help his cause." The three former players running -- Eric Wynalda, Paul Caligiuri and Kyle Martino -- have "high profiles but no executive experience." Two attorneys -- Boston-based Steve Gans and N.Y.-based Michael Winograd -- and Massachusetts-based soccer coach Paul Lapointe are also running. However, not all candidates are "expected to receive the necessary nominations." But while his potential successors "battle it out, Gulati will remain engaged" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/6).

AGENT CARTER: SI.com's Grant Wahl wrote Carter is a "credible candidate with a successful track record in soccer business, and it’s not lost on her that she is the only woman running." But sources said that Carter "decided to run only after being actively lobbied by both Gulati" and MLS Commissioner Don Garber. However, Carter said that is "not true" and that she "made the decision 100% on her own." But she added that she "does hope she has the support of Gulati and Garber." Wahl noted Carter has to "walk a fine line: She wants the support of Gulati, who helps bring some voters, but she doesn't want to be tied too closely to a guy who just got out of the race because of negative public opinion about him." At a time when most people "think U.S. Soccer needs to put more attention on the soccer side and less focus on the business side, Carter and Cordeiro are very much business-side types who know they will need to shake people’s idea that they are extensions of Gulati" (SI.com, 12/5).

ON THE CLOCK: In Boston, Joe Halpern noted the deadline for Gans and LaPointe to "submit the minimum of three letters of nomination from soccer delegates is Dec. 12." LaPointe said that he will "decide at that point whether he will actually submit his formal nomination or withdraw and throw his support to another candidate." But he said that he "would not support Gans' candidacy." Gans is a "former professional player who has been involved in soccer nearly his entire life" and "might be considered the frontrunner to succeed Gulati." But he said that it is "difficult to assess his chances" of winning in what has "become a crowded field." Gans said, "It's become somewhat discombobulated with so many candidates. But I'm confident. I remain the only candidate who has a deep soccer background and combines that with a deep business organizational leadership. I'm the only candidate, I believe, who can elevate the game at all levels in this country" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 12/5)

Esports tournament organizer ESL is standardizing its tournament format across its biggest event series in '18, making all ESL One, Intel Extreme Masters and ESL Pro League events six-day, 16-team competitions. As it stands today, every event is reconsidered based on different factors, involving anywhere from 8-16 teams, with wide variation on how many slots are determined by qualifying events versus invitations. In many cases, teams accept and then learn the details with only a few weeks’ notice. "We wanted to make sure we change it to set clear expectation for everyone in the ecosystem as to how many teams are going to be at a specific event, and then how many of those do we invite, and based on what criteria, and then how do the rest of the slots get determined,” said ESL VP/Pro Gaming Ulrich Schulze. The change also is designed to appeal to sponsors’ and advertisers’ planning needs, and is yet another step in the esports industry’s ongoing attempts to change its free-wheeling approach to something more aligned with corporate planning budgets and calendars. The expanded tournaments will be more costly, Schulze notes. “A significant six-figure increase,” Schulze said. "But we believe it’s something that we can more than make up for on the revenue side.” Schulze said ESL officials settled on the 16-team format as a way of ensuring the presence of the most marketable, successful teams while also giving qualifiers of local relevance a chance to compete. The changes affect at least 10 planned events on the calendar for '18. In each competition, the 16 teams will be divided into two groups for the first three days of double elimination group play, with the top winners there advancing to a six-team tournament in the second half. The second half will be played in major arenas where possible, though it will be difficult to secure a third day in some high-demand locations.

For more coverage of the business of esports, visit our partners, esportsobserver.com.