The return of baseball, Liverpool, Mike Boynton and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. Rob Manfred did what he had to do but there will be a price to pay
At the end of the day, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred gave the players and owners as long as he possibly could to reach an agreement before intervening. Baseball had to have a season, and it had reached the point where it was only going to happen through the league office exercising its right to impose a schedule. The reality is that the announcement of a plan to play in 2020 is nothing more than a temporary reprieve from the issues that caused this mess in the first place.
With the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement expiring after the 2021 season, these two groups will be back at the negotiating table shortly. Neither side is about to forget the resentment it currently feels toward the other. The sport also has to deal with the fallout from all the negative publicity it’s received. Unless something changes between now and the end of next season, baseball will be right back where it was before Manfred stepped in.
2. Liverpool is yet another example of why culture matters so much
Make no mistake about it: Liverpool doesn’t win its first Premier League title in historic fashion without paying world-record transfer fees to bring in goalkeeper Alisson Becker and central defender Virgil Van Dijk. Manager Jürgen Klopp and sporting director Michael Edwards assembled a remarkably talented squad, and it took a substantial investment from owner John Henry to do so. Nobody wins without talent. However, nobody wins exclusively because of it either.
Klopp’s relentless optimism and fierce dedication to every part of Liverpool Football Club are one of the most underappreciated aspects of the Reds’ triumph. He refuses to allow his team to quit because he feels that’s what the fans deserve. It is not a coincidence he dedicated the title to club legends Kenny Dalglish and Steven Gerrard. From the day he arrived, Klopp instilled the values and philosophies that turned Liverpool into the best team in the world. That culture allowed his players to win the Champions League in 2019 following the heartbreak of 2018, and it is what led to the moment Liverpool fans have waited 30 years for after coming so close a season ago.
3. NASCAR handled the noose in Bubba Wallace’s garage exactly how it should have
When a noose is found in the garage of the only black driver in NASCAR’s top series in the midst of the racial justice movement sweeping across the country, it is completely logical to assume a hate crime took place. NASCAR’s history only reinforces that idea. And when it appears a hate crime occurred, the next step is to support Bubba Wallace and condemn the act in the strongest terms possible. There is no time to wait until an investigation is complete before deciding how to respond, particularly when NASCAR is genuinely working to improve the culture inside the sport.
The FBI concluded the noose was there long before Wallace used the garage. That doesn’t harm the reputation of Wallace or NASCAR one bit. Nobody is disputing it was a noose. Nobody made this up and Wallace wasn’t even the one who reported it. Nobody was wrongly accused of something they didn’t do. Of course, the truth is important, and now everyone knows nobody inside the sport committed such a heinous act. The more important thing, though, is sending an unmistakable message against racism. Kudos to NASCAR for having its priorities in order.
4. Mike Boynton is a source of hope for the future of college basketball
Cade Cunningham’s reaffirmation of his commitment to Oklahoma State on June 22 served as a reminder about just how powerful relationships can be. The No. 1 recruit in the country could have gone anywhere and played in the NCAA Tournament or made hundreds of thousands of dollars in the G League. Instead, he is going to be a Cowboy for one simple reason: Mike Boynton is the coach Cunningham wants to play for.
When Oklahoma State’s postseason ban was announced, Boynton said he didn’t spend years recruiting Cunningham to stop caring about his best interest now. Boynton’s willingness to support whatever decision Cunningham made is precisely why he will be coaching him next season. This is a story about a kid who fell in love with a school and a coach who genuinely loves him back. With the amount of garbage going on in college athletics right now, people like Boynton who appear to do things the right way should never be taken for granted.
5. College athletes aren’t going to stop speaking out any time soon
When Nigel Hayes was tweeting about the Black Lives Matter movement and protesting the NCAA back in 2016, the Wisconsin basketball player never got the support needed to enact change. Flash forward to 2020. Future No. 1 overall pick and Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is speaking at a rally in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Kansas State’s entire football team is boycotting until a student at the school is dismissed for a racially insensitive tweet. Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill says he won’t play if the state’s flag isn’t changed. Within a week of Hill’s announcement, Mississippi’s state legislature — facing pressure from numerous sources including the SEC and NCAA — is in the process of doing just that.
The empowerment college players now feel to become activists isn’t going to be limited to one issue or stop after one movement. Every positive experience they have advocating for social reform will only serve to embolden them further. While more pressing topics have correctly taken priority, don’t think for a second the NCAA will be immune from the wave of momentum activists are riding right now. States are already trying to force the NCAA’s hand through legislation, but the organization’s own student-athletes might just beat them to it.
Christian Pulisic is going to have terrific stretches like the one he’s in since soccer returned in England. He’s going to have stretches where he can’t get into Chelsea’s starting lineup. Here’s the bottom line: Pulisic’s manager believes in him and he will get plenty of playing time. U.S. soccer fans need to stop freaking out at every obstacle and overhyping the brilliant moments. The 21-year-old is going to be just fine.
Photo by silver-novice / Flickr