The ReCap by Laina Stebbins: 6.13.18 Podcast by Jacqueline Parke

 Luther Wright with former NBA commissioner David Stern

Luther Wright with former NBA commissioner David Stern

This week, David is joined by Amy Ellis Nutt of The Washington Post to discuss her reporting on rising suicide rates across the country, particularly those of athletes. Author and game fixing expert Brian Tuohy also speaks with David about newly-legalized sports betting, and some potentially unintended consequences it may have as it becomes more widely available across the country.

Amy Ellis Nutt on rising suicide rates, links between athlete injuries and mental disorders (36:20)

 Amy Ellis Nutt covers neuroscience and mental health for The Washington Post. In the aftermath of recent high-profile deaths by suicide, including Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, Nutt joins David for a timely and important discussion. Topics include Nutt’s reporting on rising national suicide rates, the significance of mental illness as a factor, and how athletes can be uniquely vulnerable to both.

A growing national crisis

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In her most recent article, Nutt reports on details from a new CDC report revealing that suicide rates in the U.S. increased between 1999 and 2016. This was true in all but one state, held for variables including age, gender, race and ethnicity.

In 2016, the number of reported suicides in the U.S. more than doubled the number of homicides, Nutt writes.

Why is America continuing to see a troubling upswing in suicide rates? According to Nutt, a combination of factors are at play – with undiagnosed mental illness being a significant one.

Nutt says there are sadly many people who tragically take their own lives, with their undiagnosed mental disorder(s) only being discovered after it is too late.

“When you go back and do a psychological autopsy on these people, you discover they have all the signs of mental illness, but they haven’t been seen,” she says.

This is often due to Americans not having access to proper care and/or not being able to afford treatment, Nutt says, which by themselves have a lot to do with driving numbers of suicides up.

“Half the counties in the United States do not have a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker, which is really stunning,” Nutt says.

Add to this a prominent social stigma surrounding mental illness, and it becomes apparent why so many Americans do not receive the treatment they may desperately need – whether they know they need it or not.

Why athletes are especially vulnerable

Nutt, speaking to her experience as a former sports reporter, says that athletes tend to have a harder time dealing with issues of mental and emotional health in general.

Often, this can largely be attributed to the significant amount of pressure and scrutiny professional athletes are expected to shoulder gracefully – while continuing to perform at a top level and maintain a good public image simultaneously.

It’s easy for us to think of pro athletes as being pampered because of their lifestyle, Nutt says, but in reality we might be failing to recognize classic signs of mental illness.

She talks about the story of former NBA player Luther Wright, who had a promising but ultimately short stint in professional basketball. His career was cut short after less than a year for reasons including a struggle with mental illness.

Nutt recalls what Wright said during a revealing interview in 2015, in which he spoke about the pressures of being a pro athlete: “He said as an athlete, you're desperate to provide for your family. And especially when you finally reach that professional level, you just might not feel you have a luxury to divulge that you're having a mental health issue,” Nutt says.

“If you're even able to recognize it yourself, it's not something you want to talk about” because of the social stigma and unwanted public attention, she adds.

On top of that: “Athletes are a special breed, they’re perfectionists. Everything about the life of an athlete is measurable…so the standards by which athletes measure themselves are very exacting,” Nutt says.

In this way, it becomes all-too easy for athletes to feel like they are failing if they don't meet certain benchmarks or measure up in a particular way. This perfectionism can lead to athletes playing down or hiding parts of their life they deem damaging to their career, including injuries.

The links between athlete injuries and mental health

David brings up the death of NFL hall of famer Junior Seau, who took his own life in 2012. Seau confided in those close to him about the many concussions he had suffered, but went to lengths to hide them from the public during his 20-year career. Not once was he even formally diagnosed with a concussion. Upon his death, Seau was discovered to have CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a degenerative brain disease found in athletes and others with a history of repeated head trauma.

As described by this NPR article, Seau’s death brought the issue of football-related concussions to the forefront of a national conversation – but six years later, are professional and collegiate teams doing enough to mitigate these risks today?

“I’m not sure they are,” Nutt says.

“Only about 40 percent of Division 1 schools actually have a licensed full-time mental health practitioner,” she tells HWTP Sports Talk. “That, to me, is kind of stunning when you consider the particular problems of athletes.”

An all-too common occurrence for pro football players, repeated hits to the skull are now widely known to pave the way to early-onset dementia, Nutt says.

However, “what a lot of people don't know is that any kind of head trauma increases the risk of developing a mental disorder – sometimes as much as 400 percent.”

In other words, dementia, CTE and cognitive loss aren’t the only potential consequences of repeated head trauma. Mental illnesses can also develop as a result.

“Things like depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia – those are things that can happen from repeated blows to the head,” Nutt says.

Nutt also points to a study in which researchers examined the injury experience of elite athletes: “Having an injury – these researchers likened [that experience] to a grief process,” she tells David.

The study additionally found that with regard to depression and suicide, “about 10 to 20 percent of elite athletes who suffer an injury really warrant a clinical intervention,” according to Nutt.

“It’s easy to be blithe about it, but when that is your life and you injure something...and you might not be the person you were, or you might have to retire early – then it’s devastating, if that’s been your whole life and it’s taken away from you,” she says.

If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK [8255] or text HOME to 741741 for help.

Brian Tuohy on sports gambling (20:00)

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Last month, the world of sports celebrated a long-awaited ruling from the Supreme Court. The 6-3 decision lifted a federal ban on sports gambling, essentially allowing it to transition from an underground practice (with the exception of Nevada) to a legal, above-ground enterprise that states can choose how to regulate.

Since the May ruling, both New Jersey and Delaware have instituted full-scale legalized sports betting. New Jersey’s began Thursday, with large crowds convening at racetracks to celebrate and place their first bets.

Brian Tuohy is a game fixing expert and author, notably of “The Fix Is In.” He joined David to discuss the potential pros and cons of the pastime’s newly-legalized status, and offer his thoughts on what the future may hold.

“I think overall, it’s a good thing,” Tuohy tells David. “If people want to do it...they should be allowed to do it. Then you can regulate it, then you can tax it, then you can have some sort of oversight on it.”

Another positive, according to Tuohy: before the Supreme Court ruling, “everything outside of Las Vegas and Nevada was basically illegal and was controlled mostly by organized crime.

“The more it's legalized, the more you take it out of organized crime’s hand – and the more, hopefully, you can regulate it,” he says.

Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Mississippi are the next few states in line to likely implement sports betting on a full scale in the near future. Legislation geared toward this goal has also been introduced, but not yet passed, in 15 additional states. Click here to follow ESPN’s state-by-state sports betting bill tracker.

Tuohy adds that not all consequences of legalizing sports gambling will be positive.

“On the downside, what I'm afraid is going to happen, at least at first – I think the sports media is going to get carried away with the gambling end of it,” he says.

Tuohy predicts that, to the dismay of the average sports fan, a large portion of sports coverage – including online articles – will likely begin slanting heavily toward this angle as betting becomes more widely available.

“I'm afraid that sports coverage...it's all going to become about gambling and about the betting line,” Tuohy says, “and I think it might get overwhelming for the casual fan who isn't gonna gamble. It just might be too in people's faces.”

“I think they're going to believe that the gambling fan is the engaged fan, and the more they can talk or write about gambling and the sports betting end of things, the more clicks they're going to get,” he adds.

“I think it's going to be a constant loop.”

As for modern-day figures like Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, a popular commentator and gambler on “The NFL Today” in the 1980s largely known for bringing sports gambling into the mainstream: “I think every show's going to have a guy like a Jimmy The Greek,” Tuohy says.

“What I think's going to be the problem is that they’re not going to vet any of these guys,” he continues. “They're going to find somebody on Twitter, or who has some sort of established reputation – be it good or bad, it's not going to matter – there’s gonna be somebody who's established in the gambling industry and they're going to make them a permanent panel member. And you're going to hear nonstop about, again, the gambling end of sports.”

“In the end I still think it's a good thing,” Tuohy says, “but I'm afraid the way the media is going to treat it is going to be a bad thing.”

As for the crowd that has already been gambling in the underbelly – “I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon,” he tells David.

Tuohy explains that a big reason is due to the fact that, unlike in illegal gambling, the major sports books are corporate-owned entities that do not accept huge wagers. “Especially from guys that they believe are sharp, good gamblers,” Tuohy adds.

“So, I think the underground is still going to exist because the illegal sports gambling industry is going to still take those big bets,” he says.

Furthermore, gamblers who win big money from underground bets don’t have to worry about paying taxes on what they win.

In Las Vegas, “you win over 10 grand, you're instantly taxed on it – whereas if you win it with Vinnie, you know, out on the corner, you don't have to.

“So even though it's going to be legalized...there's still going to be this illegal industry that exists, because they can get around certain things that proper sports books won't deal with, and the taxes and fees that they won’t to have to pay,” Tuohy says.

Listen to the whole conversation below.

 

The ReCap by Laina Stebbins: 6.6.18 Podcast by Jacqueline Parke

 NFL Network's Jeffri Chadiha

NFL Network's Jeffri Chadiha

David is joined by NFL Network’s Jeffri Chadiha to talk about Bobby Kennedy and Rosey Grier on the 50th anniversary of RFK’s assassination. Later, New York Times reporter and author Joe Drape joins the show to break down a little league baseball bat scandal and give his take on Justify’s upcoming Triple Crown attempt.

This week’s show was brought to you by USA Natural Patches, home of the B1 all-natural sports performance patch. Visit BuyB1.com and use the code PepJ52 to get 20% off your order.

NFL senior writer Jeffri Chadiha on “Rosey & Bobby”

June 6, 1968 was a day that shocked the country and the world – and left a national wound that we are still assessing to this day. After his victory speech following the California primaries, Robert F. Kennedy, the beloved activist and the leading Democratic candidate for president, was assassinated in Los Angeles.

Wednesday marked the 50 year anniversary of RFK’s sudden and tragic death. David is joined by award-winning writer Jeffri Chadiha to discuss Chadiha’s compelling piece for NFL.com about the relationship between Robert “Bobby” Kennedy and NFL star Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier. The night of the assassination, Grier was guarding the Senator’s wife, Ethel Kennedy.

Chadiha says that everything in Grier’s life had changed after he was asked to be a part of Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1968.

“Bobby Kennedy really loved people, and he and Rosey Grier had that in common from the start...It was a natural bond that they created,” Chadiha says. The two also had football in common; like Grier, Kennedy was also a former football player at Harvard.

“Rosey Grier was probably at some point going to do something to help people, to help humanity, because that’s in his soul,” Chadiha says, but “in so many ways, Bobby Kennedy taught Rosey Grier about how to...not just love people, but how to help people.”

“He wanted to change the world, but he ended up changing Rosey Grier in the process.”

Kennedy was well-known and beloved for his fervent social justice advocacy. He confronted issues that America still grapples with today, including economic equality, racial injustice and immigration.

“The world was divided, the country was divided back then, and I think Rosey felt like [Kennedy] was the person who was going to change that,” Chadiha says.

Chadiha goes on to talk more about the long-lasting impact Kennedy’s life, friendship, and death had on Grier, and how it changed the trajectory of his life and career post-1968.

Read Chadiha’s full piece on NFL.com, "Rosey & Bobby,” here.

NYT writer Joe Drape on youth batting, sports betting

This season’s new standards for youth baseball equipment came with a big price tag, and are being met with outrage and frustration from young players and their parents.

Reporter and author Joe Drape writes about the controversial new standards in his latest New York Times article, “New Rules for Bats Leave Youth Baseball Parents With the Bill.” He talks with David about the updated standards, how they are being received, and the potential consequences of raising the price of youth sports.

Back in the day, David points out, all you needed to play baseball was a bat, a ball or two, and a street or field to play on. “It wasn't something that was costing parents hundreds of almost thousands of dollars to keep kids competing,” he says.

So, what gives?

“They put in, like, OSHA standards of how the bat is built and what effect there would be,” Drape says. But not for safety reasons, as one might presume.

“USA Baseball…[they] didn't think it was competitive enough,” Drape says. The new models apparently make good hits – and thus, home runs – harder to come by.

The approved bats, stamped with the USA Baseball logo, can range from $45 to $350. Drape’s article also reports that retailers are having a hard time keeping them in stock.

“Team sports has definitely become an economic divide,” Drape says. “There's no doubt, when you raise prices like that and make the barrier to entry about bucks, that you're discriminating against people.”

Drape adds that when team sports have this monetary barrier to entry, lower-income children are only able to participate if they can already demonstrate a high level of ability; whereas for children whose families can afford the costs, their talent level is not a factor in their inclusion.

It’s all about the money.

“They basically have sold sports to the folks who can afford it,” Drape says. “Doesn't mean they're the most gifted.”

In the last part of his and David’s discussion, Drape also weighs in on the upcoming potential for Justify to win the Triple Crown at the Belmont Stakes.

To catch the whole conversation, listen to the full show below.

Pepper Johnson: Life after coaching by Jacqueline Parke

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I didn’t want them to jeopardize their careers...”

Johnson on concerns that players would turn to steriods.

By Michigan State University alumna and HWTP editorial manager Laina Stebbins

If you’re a longtime fan of the NFL, it’s a safe bet to assume you’re familiar with Pepper Johnson.

Thomas "Pepper" Johnson has quite the track record: 13 years playing football, 16 years coaching it, with five total Super Bowls under his belt (two as a Giants player; three as a Patriots assistant coach). He’s essentially lived and breathed football since 1986.

Golf, on the other hand? – Not so much.

“I gotta up my game,” Pepper said, who I spoke on the phone with as he made his way back from a golf outing with a friend. “I lost...He has bragging rights.”

Where he is now

Just shy of his 54th birthday, Pepper is back living in his home state of Michigan. He is a year removed from his last assistant coaching job, when a New York Jets coaching shakeup in early 2017 saw six members of the staff – including Pepper – dismissed from the team.

Since then, aside from honing his golf skills, Pepper has been working with USA Natural Patches as the company’s VP of Sports Marketing. The company sells customizable patches that stick to the skin and administer 75 mg of pure thiamine (vitamin B1) to the user’s system.

Vitamin B1 is an essential micronutrient which Pepper says is proven to provide a boost of energy and help the body with overall function. Unlike having to take the vitamins orally or taking shots, “you stick the patch on, and you go,” he said.

Pepper first got into the vitamins business in 2016 when he was still coaching for the Jets. It may seem like a random business venture at first – he said his son was “surprised” when he learned his father was in the vitamins business – but the B1 patches have been quite relevant to his career in the NFL.  (Click on the photo below to navigate through the photo slide: Former NY Giants David Diehl, Lawrence "LT" Taylor and former NBA player Jayson Williams)

While coaching for the Jets, Pepper said he would approach the players about wearing the patches in part because he was concerned that they might turn to steroids instead for enhanced performance and energy.

“I didn’t want them to jeopardize their careers,” Pepper said.

He steered them toward the vitamin patches instead, which he said give players the boost they need while keeping them healthy.

Vitamin B1 is also beneficial for brain health – a particularly important component for football players, who are more prone to concussions and long-term brain damage. Pepper said he’s talked to plenty of ex-players who fret about the potential damage they have sustained.

“We’re bringing more awareness about what B1 does for your mental health,” Pepper said.

“We are talking to the NFL and the league officers and trying to get awareness of vitamin B1 with the concussion protocol,” he said. “That’s going to be huge.”

The NFL concussion protocol was established a decade ago in response to calls for the league to better address the diagnosis and management of concussions. The protocol has undergone many adjustments since then, as football-related head injuries have been further thrust into the national spotlight and more has been discovered about their long-term effects.

In addition to raising awareness of the importance of brain health for football players, Pepper is in the process of testing the patches to gain an official “stamp of approval” from the NFL. If the B1 patches are approved, the league’s trainers and nutritionists would be able to supply them to players directly.

Pepper said after multiple practices and meetings in a single day that often run into the evening, it can be difficult for players and coaches alike to keep up their energy levels and stay focused.

“A lot of guys are humdrum in those practices,” Pepper said, but they “could come back to those night meetings and still be energetic" when they were wearing the B1 patches.

“For me, I would put the patch on and I’d go out to practice...when I came back in, we would have the meetings with the players, and then we’d have more meetings with the coaches, and that’s when I really felt the results of the patches and what they do,” Pepper said.

On his transition from player to coach

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“The transformation, it wasn’t an easy one.”

Johnson on wearing a coaching uniform standing on the sidelines.

Pepper played his first seven seasons in the NFL with the New York Giants, followed by three with the Cleveland Browns, one with the Detroit Lions, and his last two seasons with the New York Jets before officially retiring as a player.

Two years later, through the NFL internship program, Pepper found himself as an assistant linebackers coach under Bill Belichick for the New England Patriots.

This was not something that Pepper had planned for.

“I wanted to come back to my high school and coach my high school,” Pepper said, who had grown up in Detroit and attended Mackenzie High School.

But after the program was over, he was approached by his former coach. “Coach Belichick asked me if I could stay,” Pepper said.

“I had two people I had to get permission from: my mother, and my son.”

Both gave him the green light, evidently, but the transition from player to coach did not prove to be a very smooth transition.

“It was really rough,” Pepper said, explaining that this was largely since his very first season with the Patriots was a difficult year for the team. He was also hyper-aware that being a new coach meant it would take time for older players to listen to him and for younger players to trust him.

He also missed playing the game himself.

“Deep down inside, I still wanted to get out there and play a little more,” Pepper said. “It was rough being on the sidelines while other people were having fun.

“The transformation, it wasn’t an easy one.”

Despite the rocky start, Pepper found his niche in the team and gained the trust of players, even implementing a new team tradition that was a first for the league.

Prior to the 2002 Super Bowl, individual player introductions were the NFL standard for a team’s entrance onto the field. The Patriots turned this on its head when they instead made the decision to run out of the tunnel and onto the field together.

“That idea to come out together, not individually...that was my idea,” Pepper said. “I had told them, ‘we need to focus and get more together.’”

The Patriots won that Super Bowl, and the practice has since all but replaced the previous league standard.

On working with coach Bill Belichick

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“He’s no tougher than [Bill] Parcells.”

Johnson on Belichick's coaching style

In addition to coaching under Bill Belichick for the Patriots, Pepper had previously played for him during his time with the Giants, Browns and Jets.

Belichick is known as a notoriously tough coach to play for.  49ers defensive end Cassius Marsh recently described playing for him as a rather unpleasant experience, saying, in part:

“They don’t have fun there [in New England]...There’s nothing happy about it. I didn’t enjoy any of my time there...It made me for the first time in my life think about not playing football because I hated it that much.”

Pepper, having either played for or coached under Belichick for the better part of 28 years, has a different perspective.

"It’s tough to try and label Belichick as a ‘tough coach’ or anything like that, because in my day, all the coaches were tough like that,” Pepper said. “He’s no tougher than [Bill] Parcells.”

“I think in this day and era, a lot of the coaches are just more lenient."

Regardless, Belichick’s notorious coaching style has led many to believe that it may be the root cause of Tom Brady’s recent string of absences for the Patriots’ off-season program. Brady has been working with Belichick for nearly two decades, so there is plenty of speculation that he may have finally had enough of Belichick, and is yearning to leave.

A fair assumption to make?

Pepper Johnson disagrees.

“They have been doing this for a very long time together,” Pepper said. “I’m quite sure [Brady] feels comfortable in the system that he has to work with.

"I don’t know how much of a concern Bill Belichick has with him not being there. It’s just people trying to write stories and screw up something and trying to break all this winning up,” he said.

"I think all of this stuff is being blown out of proportion.”

Pepper also noted that Brady being absent on the field for the time being is likely giving newer players more of a chance to show their stripes, if anything.

“After so many years, really what do you want from that guy?” Pepper said. “What more can he do there?”

On the NFL national anthem controversy

Speaking of things that Pepper believes are being overblown by the media: "The whole national anthem thing, I don't like talking about it much because that’s another one of those things that is blown way out of proportion,” he said.

The NFL’s controversial new national anthem policy was rolled out early last week following pressure from President Trump, who had been publicly calling for fans to boycott the NFL if players continue to kneel during the national anthem.

The new policy states that players must stand during the anthem, stay in the locker room if they do not wish to, and face fines and/or penalties from the league if they choose not to comply.

"Once upon a time, you had the choice if you wanted to go out and do the national anthem or stay in the tunnel and come out after the national anthem. And so many games, we stayed in,” Pepper said, speaking to his experience as a player in the late 80s and the 90s.

Pepper takes issue with the assumption that standing for the Star-Spangled Banner makes you patriotic, whereas choosing not to stand makes you unpatriotic and disrespectful.

"The cameraman isn’t standing at attention, the hot dog man isn’t standing still,” Pepper points out. “And what is more disrespectful – someone sitting down, or someone who is getting ready to sing the national anthem and don’t know the words?"

As for those who protest during the anthem: "I’m quite sure the majority of any athletes that in the past have chosen to do whatever during the national anthem [were] not spitting in the face of our troops,” Pepper said.

Regardless, Pepper feels strongly that politics have no place in football – or any sport, for that matter.

“I don’t think sports and politics mix, period,” Pepper said. "I don’t wanna sound negative toward athletes, but I don’t think that’s a good place for politics…and I don’t just mean the national anthem.”

On his past and future

It’s been a little over a year since Pepper was a defensive line coach for the Jets, and he’s itching to get back into that world.

“When you get out of the league, it’s hard to get back into the league,” he said.

Either way, Pepper says he feels fortunate to have played a positive role in the careers of players he’s been able to engage with and help over the years as a coach.

“It’s about talking to people and understanding them and not coaching them all just the same,” he said. “I coach every one of my players individually.”

Pepper said he was always getting told to “stay in his lane” for taking his individualistic approach to coaching. “I have a real problem with that, because I have always been that person that likes to help people,” he said.

I asked Pepper where he sees himself in a few years.

“I would love to be coaching,” Pepper replied.  Johnson finally made it onto social media! You can follow him @PepJ52 on both Twitter and Instagram.

By Michigan State University alumna and HWTP editorial manager Laina Stebbins

The ReCap by Laina Stebbins: 5.30.18 Podcast by Jacqueline Parke

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“This whole movement has been hijacked”

George Martin told HWTP Sports Talk regarding the NFL national anthem controversy.

Former NY Giants defensive end George Martin joins HWTP Sports Talk with David Weinstein to discuss the ongoing NFL national anthem controversy. The result is a thorough, engaging discussion about social issues in America and where the NFL may be falling short in addressing them.  A must-listen!

Later, Michigan State University alumna and HWTP editorial manager Laina Stebbins speaks with David about the recent settlement agreement between MSU and Nassar victims, and the troubling First Amendment implications it may have for future sexual assault cases. Stebbins also discusses her interview with former NFL linebacker and defensive line coach Pepper Johnson, which will be available on the HWTP blog by Monday.

George Martin: “This whole movement has been hijacked”

The NFL’s new national anthem policy dictates that players must either stand for the Star-Spangled Banner on the field, stay in the locker room if they do not intend to stand, or face a fine and/or penalties from the league. George Martin, a former New York Giants defensive end and Super Bowl champion, offers up his thoughts as a former player who has seen the norms surrounding the national anthem at NFL games evolve over the years.

David points to widespread misconceptions in the public narrative about what the national anthem stands for, why players kneel in the first place, and how those protests should be interpreted.

In these misconceptions, Martin says, the original message behind the protests has seemingly been forgotten.

“I'm greatly disappointed that the narrative, that this whole movement has been hijacked,” Martin says. “It was never an intent to disregard the national anthem.”

“The issue was the infringement and the deterioration of the rights of People of Color...they used the national anthem to bring that to the forefront,” he continues. “That has been forgotten in this whole discussion, and to me, that is the whole shame of this whole situation.”

Speaking on his 14 years in the league, Martin says as a player he cannot recall there ever being a discussion about what to do during the national anthem. He and his teammates always stood proudly to “acknowledge the country in a patriotic fashion” – but Martin also says that this was never forced, always voluntary.

“I have a very, very staunch and very strong commitment to patriotism,” says Martin, whose father served in the military during WWII. “And at the same time, I know what patriotism stands for, and it can't be mandated. It can't be forced upon you.”

He adds that the American right to protest is also spelled out in the US Constitution – another reason why the mandate does not make sense to him as a measure of patriotism.

David also points out that the NFL Players Association seems to have been left out of the discussions prior to the league implementing the new policy.

“To implement a unilateral decision without the input the NFL Players Association, I think it's just totally misguided,” Martin says. “I think that they come together initially and sat down collectively, as our bargain agreement suggests and recommends.”

Had this procedure been followed initially, Martin contends that “a lot of the harsh rhetoric and language and conflict could have been avoided.”

HWTP’s Laina Stebbins on the ongoing mess at Michigan State

As David rightly puts it, the situation at Michigan State University regarding the Larry Nassar sexual assault case is “something that is simply not going to wash itself away.” It continues to spiral outwards, and has potentially far-reaching implications.

MSU recently entered into a $500 million settlement with Nassar’s victims. Many are now saying that although this number accurately reflects the great magnitude of damage done by Nassar, a portion of the settlement may unfortunately set a troubling First Amendment precedent by stifling the rights of victims and victims rights advocates to speak out about sexual assault and advocate for legislation pertaining to it.

Another new MSU/Nassar development – on Wednesday, former MSU president Lou Anna K. Simon was served with a subpoena at her vacation home in Traverse City. She is being compelled to testify before a Senate subcommittee about the Nassar case, and initially declined to do so because the new hearing date conflicted with her vacation time.

Simon resigned earlier this year under pressure from state legislators, MSU students and more following her apparent mishandling of the Nassar case and sexual assault in general at the university. Her interim replacement, former Michigan governor John Engler, is not faring much better and has been garnering controversies of his own with his words and actions regarding the Nassar case.

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Also...

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to interview former NFL linebacker and assistant coach Pepper Johnson.

Johnson has been involved with an organization called USA Natural Patches since 2016, selling patches of vitamin B1 that he says aid in bodily health and function when worn on the skin. He is currently in the process of obtaining the NFL's official approval for them. Once approved, the league's trainers and nutritionists would be able to directly supply the B1 patches to players for a boost of nutrition and energy without the use of steroids.

Other topics of discussion include: Johnson’s transition from player to coach in 2000, his take on the recent speculations surrounding Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, his views on the NFL national anthem controversy, his thoughts about politics in sports, and more.

Look for my full interview with Pepper Johnson on the HWTP blog this Monday, June 4.

The ReCap by Laina Stebbins: 5.23.18 Podcast by Jacqueline Parke

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This week on HWTP Sports Talk, David has a conversation with author Jesse Berrett about American politics and the NFL. He also speaks with USA Today Sports writer Nancy Armour about policies regarding maternity in women’s tennis, and with Washington Post writer Jerry Brewer about the NFL’s new policy targeting athletes who choose to kneel during the national anthem.

Jesse Berrett – on where and how the NFL fits in with American politics and culture

Jesse Berrett, a teacher and historian in California, published a book this month called “Pigskin Nation: How the NFL Remade American Politics.” In it, Berrett explores an especially heightened era of football and politics in the 1960s.

“People don’t want to think about sports as being political,” Berrett tells David, but he explains that his book illustrates how the NFL has always been interwoven with American politics and culture.

In this particular decade, Berrett says, the NFL began to market itself in a particular way which politicians, former players, etc. picked up on. They chose to further that image the NFL was selling “and used it politically, because the NFL seemed so powerful and useful and appealing.”

Berrett’s book also explores how the NFL as a franchise made its way into the mainstream – a fascinating history that not many Americans are familiar with.

Read more about Berrett’s book, “Pigskin Nation,” and purchase it here.

Nancy Armour – on Serena Williams being denied a seed in the French Open following the birth of her baby

Sports writer Nancy Armour also joins David on the show to discuss her latest article for USA Today Sports: “Is French Open punishing Serena for having a baby?"

Williams, often regarded as the greatest female tennis player of all time, was not given a seed for the upcoming French Open. Officials say this is because they awarded seeds based on rankings, and Williams did not qualify for one at No. 453.

Why the low ranking? – Williams recently had a baby. She had announced her hiatus from tennis because of pregnancy on Apr. 19, 2017, and gave birth on September 1 that year. She had many serious complications, which resulted in Williams having a cesarean section.

The birth of her daughter “literally almost killed her,” Armour says. “This was not a simple delivery by any means.”

In her article, Armour argues that the French Open is essentially punishing Williams as a professional athlete by not offering her a seed because she chose to have a child. “Williams obviously could not play tennis during that time, so an exception should have been warranted,” Armour tells David.

“You are asking these women to either put your career on hold and have a baby, or keep playing and hope that you will still be able to have a child when you want to,” Armour says. “To me, that’s not fair.”

“If you have a child, you should be able to do so without penalty,” she adds.

Jerry Brewer on the NFL’s new anthem policy

David also caught up with Jerry Brewer, a Washington Post sports reporter, about the NFL’s new mandate that players must stand for the national anthem if they are on the field or face fines and/or other penalties.

The statement from the NFL reads, in part:

“This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed.”

In Brewer’s view, this shows yet again that the NFL’s management is willing to sacrifice ethics when their bottom line is at stake.

The socially proper thing to do during the national anthem is obviously to stand, Brewer says, which is exactly the point – the act of kneeling instead is meant to garner attention so the players can deliver a message to the American public about police brutality in this country. The NFL’s new policy will take away players’ freedom to peacefully protest for their cause, he says.

We are a republic that is supposed to show respect for each other [more than] symbols” like the American flag and national anthem, Brewer tells David.

"It’s very dangerous in this country when you start dictating to Americans what is American and how they should be expressing their patriotism,” he adds.

The ReCap by Laina Stebbins: 5.16.18 Podcast by Jacqueline Parke

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This week’s featured guest is Laura Okmin, an NFL reporter for Fox and the founder of GALvanize. She speaks with David about her organization and its upcoming bootcamps for young women in sports broadcasting.

Earlier in the show, reporter Brian Murphy of The News & Observer discusses the prospect of allowing college athletes to profit from their names. USA Today reporter A.J. Perez also joins David to analyze the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week to let states regulate sports gambling.

Brian Murphy on letting college athletes sell their likeness

In college sports, the contentious debate over how student athletes should be treated is nothing new – but the question of whether students should be allowed to make some money from their collegiate athletic careers has seen recent escalation.

Brian Murphy covers the Washington, D.C. beat as a correspondent for The News & Observer and McClatchy. In an article earlier this week, Murphy writes about a Republican Congressman from North Carolina who recently threw his own powerful opinion into the ring by penning an opinion piece for The News & Observer.

U.S. Rep. Mark Walker “basically threatened the NCAA with legislation that would allow players to use their name, image and likeness while in college,” Murphy tells HWTP Sports Talk. “Right now, those rights [belong to] the schools and conferences.”

David points out that this is difficult to balance with the fact that Walker is simultaneously against the idea of paying the student athletes.

It may seem arbitrary, Murphy says, but “the NCAA and many have drawn a line between name, image and likeness [versus] paying players for their performance” nonetheless.

Murphy explains that although the Congressman does not favor paying the players directly, he believes that they should still be able to enjoy the same or similar financial rights as Olympic athletes currently do. The “Olympic model” allows Olympians to earn compensation for selling their image, name and likeness.

“That’s one reason why [Olympians] have longer careers; because they can make money off of being athletes,” Murphy says.

Murphy says the Olympic model is gaining steam as one of the possible solutions being floated in the NCAA debate.

“Some of these athletes in college produce way more value than a scholarship,” Murphy says, and produce so much “surplus value” that colleges are able to make millions off of them every year by not paying their players anything.

Proponents of financial rights for college athletes say the compensation would appropriately reward their achievements, serve as an incentivize for them to finish school, and put them in a better position to have the future they want.

Any kind of big move on this issue by the NCAA will likely need to involve legislation, David speculates.

Murphy says we should keep an eye out for such legislation “later this summer.”

A.J. Perez on the legalization of sports gambling

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an important and long-awaited decision: federal limitations on sports betting, it ruled, are unconstitutional.

A.J. Perez, a sports reporter for USA Today, has been following this story’s progression for the past decade. Back then, he reported on Delaware’s attempt to circumvent the sports betting limitations. Fast forward about ten years, and Perez was able to report on Monday’s momentous court decision.

“It finally happened,” he said.

Perez says that many felt as though it was only a matter of time, comparing it to states gradually warming up to the idea of marijuana legalization. But he had no idea when or how it would happen – until this Monday, when “Jersey won out.”

New Jersey will be the first to offer sports betting within the next week, with others – e.g. West Virginia, Mississippi and Delaware – to follow close behind.

David and Perez discuss the potential pros and cons of the court’s decision, as well as the merits of federal oversight.

States will choose how much they want to tax the newly-legalized pastime, which is something that will likely deviate widely from how Nevada (the only state in which sports gambling has already been legal) has been operating.

“They’re all taxing more than Nevada,” Perez tells HWTP Sports Talk. He notes that Delaware’s state taxes are already extremely steep, for example, and that Pennsylvania is looking into demanding large sanctioning fees on top of their similarly high state tax.

Perez says that with the exception of a small handful of states, he expects that most others will leave it up to their state lotteries or a gaming commission to finalize specific betting rules and guidelines.

Laura Okmin on her GALvanize bootcamps for young women in broadcasting

For over 20 years, Laura Okmin has been at the forefront of professional sports broadcast media. She has hosted, anchored, reported, produced – you name it, she’s done it. Currently, she works as an NFL sideline reporter for Fox.

A few years ago, she also followed her passion to become the founder of an organization that teaches and empowers young aspiring female broadcasters.

Okmin’s organization is called GALvanize, and is geared toward young women who want to gain the experience and confidence necessary to succeed in the male-dominated field of sports broadcasting by providing intensive two-day “bootcamps” around the country.

When GALvanize hosted its first seminar about five years ago, Okmin’s sole focus was on training the young women. She was also working as a media trainer for NFL teams and major league baseball teams at the time. She realized that she was coaching players on how to interact with the media while simultaneously training aspiring reporters about interacting and connecting with those same players.

“I’m sitting here at this beautiful intersection,” Okmin recalls thinking. “How can I get these two sides together?”

Quite easily, apparently, when you have Laura Okmin’s connections; today, all bootcamps are in partnership with NFL teams.

“The [Buffalo] Bills, the Jaguars, the Falcons and the Chargers, they give us our rookies,” Okmin says. “The players AND the women are getting coached.”

Day one of the bootcamp is Okmin’s educational session with the young women, in which she teaches them everything from interview techniques to dressing professionally to building relationships.

Then, on day two: “We are with the rookies, interviewing each other, empathizing with each other,” Okmin tells HWTP Sports Talk.

While the young female reporters are being given the tools to perfect their researching and interviewing skills and build up their confidence, the male players learn to open up and push through nervousness to tell their story and be vulnerable. Both sides learn how to listen and empathize with the other.

“I wanted the men to understand the power that comes with the platform once you learn how to use it, and I want the women to understand the responsibility and the weight that comes with helping somebody share their story,” Okmin says.

“So this way, it’s both sides really helping each other with that, which is wonderful.”

Okmin has three bootcamps coming up, all of which are sold out: two more this month in Jacksonville and Atlanta, and another in L.A. this June.

The ReCap by Laina Stebbins: 5.9.18 Podcast by Jacqueline Parke

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David is joined by author, media historian and University of Maine professor Michael J. Socolow to discuss Socolow’s award-winning book – Six Minutes in Berlin: Broadcast Spectacle and Rowing Gold at the Nazi Olympics.

Later, David speaks with Washington Post sports columnist Jerry Brewer about his latest article detailing the series of "deplorable" decisions made by the Washington Redskins.

Michael Socolow’s award-winning book about the Berlin Olympics and the origins of global sports broadcasting

Originally published in 2016, Socolow’s book recently received the 2018 Broadcast Historian Award from the Library of American Broadcasting Foundation in partnership with the Broadcast Education Association.

The announcement reads, in part, that Socolow’s book “illustrate[s] the development of sports broadcasting at the personal, national, and global levels” with his single case study of the American rowing team victory at the Berlin Olympics, and in doing so revisits “the dramatic and exciting origins of live global sportscasting.”

As David points out, the 1936 Olympics are best known for Jesse Owens’ victory and the longstanding record he set for track and field gold medals by a U.S. citizen. Owens indeed “takes over our historical memory of the 1936 Olympics,” Socolow agrees.

But Socolow’s book details a lesser-known narrative during the games, David says – one that would influence the world of sports broadcasting for decades to come: the story of how the victory of the University of Washington rowing team turned out to be “genesis of global sportscasting and how we all now pay attention to sports.”

“In 1936, the Germans had planned the Olympics to be far bigger, more expansive and more complex than any previous Olympics,” Socolow says. “...They knew that this was their really great chance to introduce the world to their Nazi government.”

They also wanted to contrast themselves with other authoritarian dictatorships. Socolow says, “The Soviets weren't letting people in and weren't letting people report on them, [whereas] the Nazis were welcoming everybody for this Berlin Olympics.”

Additionally, there was the simultaneous development of new radio technologies that allowed for the Games’ live transmission, which Socolow calls “the finest live transcontinental transoceanic transmission that had ever been done before.”

“It created this excitement in the audiences around the world that we sort of take for granted today,” he says.

Socolow tells David he was able to listen to the event from a variety of sources, including Japanese broadcasts from the NHK, German broadcasts (many of which he says can be found online today), and recordings by NBC located in the Library of Congress.

“The 1936 Berlin Olympics may have been the most-recorded event between 1920 and 1940,” Socolow says.

Six Minutes in Berlin: Broadcast Spectacle and Rowing Gold at the Nazi Olympics can be purchased here.

Jerry Brewer on the Washington Redskins’ “deplorable” leadership

In one of his latest columns, The Washington Post’s Sports Columnist Jerry Brewer writes that the Washington Redskins’ continuing series of poor decisions is a direct result of its leadership. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and team president Bruce Allen, Brewer argues, “continue to lead one of the NFL’s most important franchises deeper into the sewer.”

A recent report from the New York Times alleges that the team allowed male sponsors and FedEx Field suite holders access to see Redskins cheerleaders topless or wearing only body paint, after which some of them picked cheerleaders to be their “personal escorts at a nightclub.”

By allowing the franchise to treat their female cheerleaders so poorly, the Redskins' owners and operators "were dancing a dangerous dance in this #MeToo era,” Brewer tells David, adding that this is just one of many instances showing extremely poor judgment on the part of Snyder and Allen.

The Redskins’ leaders “consistently act in a deplorable and privileged manner that makes them ill-suited to represent a community as diverse and influential as this one,” Brewer writes in his article.    The full interview is available below. 

The ReCap by Laina Stebbins: 4.2.18 Podcast by Jacqueline Parke

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David is joined by legendary heavyweight boxing champion Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield and Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame president Ray McCline. Their wide-ranging talk comes in advance of the ACBHOF’s second annual Hall of Fame induction class weekend, June 1-3.

In addition to being among those honored in the 2018 induction class, Holyfield will be bringing his “Real Deal” boxing promotion to the weekend of events with a boxing match on Saturday, June 2.

Evander the Overcomer

Becoming “The Real Deal” was never a given for Holyfield, and he will be the first to admit it. He speaks frankly with David and McCline about years of determination through struggles and adversity, including being raised by parents who did not have education and not meeting his father until he was 21 years old.

Despite his family’s hardships, Holyfield got most of his motivation early on from his mother and siblings. “Don’t let people outwork you,” his mother would tell him. She would push him to never lose his work ethic, and his siblings would support his efforts and keep him out of trouble.

“I wasn’t no quitter,” Holyfield tells David. “I had a good support system…I was fortunate enough at a young age to have people who cared about me and gave me structure.”

Holyfield recalls his first time losing a boxing match as a defining moment for him. “I thought I was gonna be like Muhammad Ali,” he remembers telling his coach through tears.

His coach responded: “You didn’t lose. You only lose when you quit.’”

This philosophy became a key concept that would guide Holyfield’s professional career. “As long as you keep working toward the goal, you get closer to it,” Holyfield says. “…You gotta do your best. If you don’t quit, you eventually win.”

The tenacity and determination Holyfield developed would sustain his record-breaking 27-year career, making him able to push through obstacle after obstacle to eventually become the first and only four-time heavyweight champion of the world. He had broken a record previously set by boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who had been the world’s three-time heavyweight champion.

“Records are meant to be broken,” Holyfield says.

Helping a younger generation of boxers

Holyfield enjoyed a long professional career that spanned from 1984 to 2011. He officially retired from boxing in 2014.

Now a boxer promoter, he believes he can help young fighters aspire to greatness.

“I didn’t want to be a coach,” Holyfield tells David. Coaches can only help a small number of people, in his view, whereas promoters can talk to many more fighters about “what it takes to be a champion” and be able to provide them with opportunities like the ones Holyfield himself was once given.

Holyfield says he wants to “tell the fighters who don’t have great education, who grew up poor…that you can overcome things.”

In this way, Holyfield sees his promoter role as a way of giving back to the boxing community, and especially to the younger generation. Holyfield says he encourages young kids to avoid surrounding themselves with people who don’t have their best interests in mind.

“You have to be very appreciative and strong-minded because there are a lot of people who don’t want you to succeed,” he says.

McCline jumps in with an observation about how “natural” it is for Holyfield to be giving back to the young fighters who are pursuing a career in boxing, since he had so many good values seeded into him by his mother at a young age – like choosing the right team around you and knowing to “walk away from things that don’t align with your character."

“You realize what thrust him to be great,” McCline says.

Atlantic City: A boxing “Mecca”

To many, New Jersey’s Atlantic City is known as a special place for professional boxing.

“Atlantic City and boxing are synonymous,” McCline says. By holding his annual Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in the city, he hopes to keep it on the map in the professional boxing world for years to come.

Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Evander Holyfield, who were both included in the ACBHOF’s first class of inductees last year, are among the boxing legends who McCline says “made Atlantic City...a boxing Mecca that was known around the world.”

“It’s an honor to have that type of boxing royalty part of this,” he tells David.

Holyfield fought in Atlantic City 11 times throughout his professional career and won all but one of those fights. Most of those matches took place in Boardwalk Hall, the very place McCline will be holding his organization’s second annual Hall of Fame weekend.

Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, formerly known as the Historic Atlantic City Convention Hall, served as the venue for his fights against Dwight Muhammad Qawi and Pinklon Thomas in the 80s; against Seamus McDonagh, George Foreman, Alex Stewart, and Ray Mercer in the 90s; and against Hasim Rahman and Chris Byrd in the early 2000s.

McCline says it feels “surreal” to have Holyfield returning to this very building – which he had watched the boxer fill to the rafters many years ago – to work with McCline’s organization and participate in its 2018 Hall of Fame induction weekend.

Hall of Fame weekend 2018

McCline firmly believes in boxing’s “incredible” ability to bring people together, which he says can be no better demonstrated by the ACBHOF’s annual Hall of Fame induction weekend, June 1-3. By gathering boxing fans, trainers, and legends themselves in Atlantic City and showcasing individual stories and careers, McCline says the ACBHOF can properly celebrate the history of the sport and look toward the future while giving proper respect to the past.

The weekend kicks off on Friday, June 1 with a meet-and-greet and VIP reception in the Clarence hotel, followed by a live pro boxing show at the hotel’s Celebrity Theater.

Saturday, June 2 (day two) begins with the “Fight Fan experience” at the Conference Center with exhibits, guest fighters, memorabilia and more.

That evening, Evander Holyfield will return to Boardwalk Hall for his “Real Deal” boxing match showcase.

ACBHOF will then hold its second annual induction ceremony on Sunday, June 3. “We look forward to honoring the greats,” McCline said. “We make sure they are remembered and shown homage to in the right way.”

There will be a formal dinner and presentation, which McCline likens to “the Academy Awards of boxing.”

“We’re really excited about the induction class, but really just the itinerary for the whole weekend,” McCline said.

Visit the ACBHOF’s website for the full 2018 weekend itinerary and more details. Tickets to the weekend’s events can be purchased here. More information about Holyfield’s Real Deal boxing promotion can be found here.