This week’s guests include Cindy Boren (Washington Post), David Berri (Forbes), and Brett Baldeck (FOX 46 News).
Topics include President Trump’s continued attacks on activist-athletes, whether now is an economically advantageous time to invest in a professional sports team like the WNBA, and what the recent arrest of NASCAR’s CEO could mean for the future of the company.
WaPo’s Cindy Boren on athlete activism, Trump criticism
Cindy Boren is a reporter covering sports, with an emphasis on politics and national stories for the Washington Post. Boren is also the founder of Early Lead, the Washington Post’s sports blog.
She joins the show to discuss her recent article: “When Trump attacked LeBron James, it had an unintended effect: other athletes speaking out.”
ICYMI: Last weekend, LeBron James sat down for an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon to discuss James’ recently-opened I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. The school will serve at-risk, low-income, students in the third and fourth grade.
At one point during the interview, James made it clear that he would sit down with President Obama, but never with Trump.
President Trump responded to the interview with a tweet attacking James, questioning his and Lemon’s intelligence, and comparing James to Michael Jordan:
“Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”
Boren notes that James had also previously called Trump a “bum” over Twitter, in addition to briefly campaigning with Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election – “and if there's one way to get under President Trump’s skin, it's to align yourself with Hillary Clinton,” Boren says.
But publicly condemning athletes who choose to voice their disagreement with his administration or demonstrate in a certain way has become a frequent line for Trump. Since Colin Kaepernick first started kneeling for the national anthem to protest police brutality in 2016, Trump has continued to make very clear his opposition to anti-Trump or so-called “unpatriotic” behavior.
Presumably, Trump’s eagerness to loudly and publicly criticize comes with the hope that doing so will silence activist-athletes.
Boren argues, however, that the opposite is becoming true – that these attacks are only going to keep this issue at the forefront of the national conversation and further give athletes a reason to speak out.
“It seems to me that this is just a fight that's going to do nothing but bring more and more athletes to the forefront,” Boren says.
“If he wants incredibly popular people to be active and vocal, he's accomplished it…he’s probably not going to like their message, but it's one that's not going to go away.”
Indeed, when the NFL’s 2018 preseason began this Thursday, many players continued to protest during the national anthem. Some refused to take the field, some knelt, some raised their fists. It is clear that the so-called national anthem protest will not slow down for the President.
Enforcement of the new NFL rules, which required players to stand during the national anthem, was suspended last month. It is not clear how the league will ultimately decide to proceed, and Boren has no predictions about what the NFL and NFL Players Association will end up deciding.
“Trying to come up with an intelligent, reasonable national anthem policy that everyone can follow and that will keep the president quiet” is “probably not a realistic goal,” since Trump is likely to find reasons to critique the NFL either way, Boren says.
But Boren says she has been witnessing athletes like LeBron James, for example, becoming “increasingly vocal and active” about issues plaguing marginalized communities.
“With each each time a young black person is shot to death by a member of the police…[James] speaks out,” Boren says.
Additionally, she adds: “He was incredibly active, he and other NBA players, when Donald Sterling was pushed out…for his racist comments when he owned the Clippers.”
“I don't think athletic activism is going to go away, and I don't think LeBron James is going to be shy about sharing his opinion from now on either,” Boren says.
Read Boren’s Washington Post article here.
Forbes contributor David Berri on the ideal conditions for investing in a sports team
David Berri is an author, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University, and a Forbes contributor. He joins the show to discuss his latest Forbes piece about why he believes now might be the economically ideal time to invest in a women’s professional sports team like the WNBA.
As Berri writes in his article – “you probably need to be worth billions” to buy an NBA team today, whereas the same teams cost very little to purchase less than a century ago. Those who invested in professional sports teams back then likely could not have predicted how immense of a payoff they would experience many decades later.
A similar phenomenon may be happening now, Berri says, with women’s professional sports – simply because the women’s franchises are so much younger, and perhaps have yet to find their true value.
“I want people to think about women’s sports today in the way you would think about men’s sports...30, 40, 50, 60 years ago,” Berri says.
For example: in the 1960s, “the NBA was exactly like the WNBA today. It was a minor sports league; their attendance was extremely low,” he says.
Because of this, investments in the NBA at that time would have been relatively inexpensive – but ultimately very profitable down the road.
“Let's say you could go back in time…if you went and bought the Boston Celtics in 1965, I doubt it would have been a very expensive investment. It was not a very big league,” Berri says.
“If you held onto that investment and you kept the Boston Celtics, 50 years from now you have something that’s worth a billion dollars.”
The same context applies to today’s younger professional sports franchises. Namely, women’s sports, since the two oldest organizations in women’s professional sports – the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) – are still younger than the NFL, NBA and MLB. Since women’s sports teams are not yet as established as the men’s, but they are on track to be, now is the time to invest in them.
“It takes time for a history to be written, for a context to be established,” Berri says. “Until that happens, your sport is not going to be tremendously popular.
“But when it does happen, your athletes...have a much bigger demand, have a lot bigger audience they're going to generate a lot more revenue. And so again, the time to get involved is before that happens.”
FOX 46’s Brett Baldeck on what Brian France’s arrest means for NASCAR
Baldeck is a news and motorsports reporter at FOX 46 Charlotte in North Carolina. He speaks with David about the recent arrest of NASCAR’s CEO Brian France, and what the unfolding situation could mean for the company and the sport. Read Baldeck’s latest reporting on it here.
Brian France, the CEO and Chairman of NASCAR, was arrested last Sunday for DUI and possession of oxycodone. His blood level was reportedly more than twice the legal limit.
France was released on his own recognizance after being held overnight for a morning arraignment. He then released a statement that included an apology, along with an announcement that France will be taking an “indefinite leave of absence” to focus on his “personal affairs.”
According to Baldeck, most NASCAR fans would like him to stay gone.
“From the fans’ perspective, they would like to see him go. They kind of see him, unfortunately, as a villain. That's how most fans feel,” Baldeck says.
“Now that this has happened, they’d like him to step down and get away from NASCAR – that's most of the fans’ perspective.”
NASCAR has been seeing notable declines in both ratings and attendance in recent years. There is the argument that this is simply an industry-wide problem, not the fault of Brian France’s leadership, but Baldeck says there are certainly those for whom France’s presence alone has soured the sport.
“He was making poor decisions with the sport,” Baldeck says. “He rarely would actually even be at a NASCAR race, and fans were pretty upset about that…[and] a lot of fans are upset with Brian France for all of the changes that he’s made over the last ten years.”
Baldeck says that ousting France as CEO could be an opportunity for NASCAR to shake things up and improve how they do things – and hopefully “bring some new life into the sport” – but it is rather unlikely, given the fact that NASCAR has been owned and operated by the France family since it was founded in the 60s. The decision will therefore be a family one.
“NASCAR is a privately-owned, family-run business, so they can make whatever kind of decision they want…it's really going to be up to the France family about what they want to do with the future of him and his involvement within the sport,” Baldeck says.
Since France only said that he is taking a leave of absence, and not that he is stepping down, Baldeck says that he will likely come back as CEO once things are sorted out for him.
Listen to the entire show below.