Peter King proposes: ban tackling from youth football
Much has been written about the NFL losing viewers, and now we see Super Bowl TV ratings down 7% from last year. Not terribly alarming, since the NFL still maintains a larger fan base than professional baseball, basketball or hockey. But Peter King, Sports Illustrated’s most respected football reporter, observed on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption: “The one thing that’s very concerning is the numbers in youth football that are moving away from football into other sports. Recently I was at a press conference where Nick Buoniconti, now suffering from dementia, stared into the audience and said: ‘I beg you parents, do not let your children play tackle football.’ I think the NFL right now needs to get behind a movement for youth flag football.” King added, “Tackle football in high school, fine.” But he wants the NFL to push middle school and Pop Warner leagues to switch to flag, “or they risk losing more and more parents every year.” One parent they’ve lost is Justin Timberlake, who said at the press conference promoting his Super Bowl halftime performance: “I won’t let my son play football.” Mike Ditka, Hall of Fame tight end and Super Bowl-winning coach, also has said he would not want his son to play football.
Dear Peter: NFL owners see a slippery slope. Next you will say tackle football is dangerous for 16-year-olds. Then 19-year-olds. Eventually you’ll try to prevent it from being played at all.
Spring training may give way to labor war, as collusion fever spreads
The free-agency market is so quiet that players suspect the owners have returned to a secret policy of collusion that was so disastrous in the mid-1980s, culminating in a World Series-erasing strike in 1994. Agent Brodie Van Wagenen told ESPN that the players “are uniting in a way not seen since 1994.” He said the market “seems coordinated, rightly or wrongly.” In a Twitter post, he warned: “A fight is brewing.” Wagenen, whose law firm represents more than 200 ballplayers, said the fight might begin with a boycott of spring training which begins this month in Florida and Arizona. Although the MLB Players Association insists a spring training interruption is unlikely, Kenley Jansen, closer for the LA Dodgers, told reporters: “Maybe we need to go on strike, to be honest with you.” A boycott would violate the current collective bargaining agreement, but the union would counter that owners breached the contract first by colluding. The union has a 50-year history of winning most labor disputes. This one focuses on one sentence in the CBA: “Players shall not act in concert with other Players, and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs.” The owners are claiming, one by one, that in recent years too many free-agency deals have not panned out for them. They may have a compelling argument that this is one of the weakest free-agent crops ever. Yu Darvish at 31 is the most coveted pitcher after sagging like a hammock in 2017. He was 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA in the regular season, followed by a postseason 6.14.
Dear MLB: With Americans souring on football, you are positioned to reclaim your domain as the national pastime. You had one of the greatest-ever postseasons, and now you’re boosted by the arrival of a global sensation, Japan’s 23-year-old Babe Ohtani. So of course, you‘re going to blow everything up with a labor war. What could be more baseball than that?
Former No. 1 overall pick Appel quits baseball at 26
Mark Appel was thought to be a can’t-miss pitching superstar when the Houston Astros chose him with the first pick in the 2013 draft. Sports Illustrated dubbed him “as risk-free a pitcher pick as has ever been made.” But he never made it above Class AAA before deciding to give up his quest for The Show. He told Bleacher Report he’s taking “an indefinite break.” He would become just the third overall No. 1 pick never to appear in the major leagues. The others were Steve Chilcott (Mets, 1966) and Brien Taylor (Yankees, 1991).
Bradley Beal sees Wizards playing better, communicating better with Wall down
When the Washington Wizards lost their best player, point guard John Wall, to a knee injury, the assumption was the team would falter in his absence, which is expected to be about eight weeks. Surprisingly, the Wizards reeled off five straight wins by spreading the ball around. Bradley Beal, Wall’s backcourt mate, said, “Everybody eats. That’s our motto when we move the ball. It’s good for the locker room, good for the camaraderie.” Even though Wall ranks second in the NBA in assists, at 9.3 per game, the Wizards in his absence are averaging 33 assists per game – highest in the league during that stretch. There has long been friction between the two starting guards, with Beal resenting the ball constantly moving through Wall.
Between the Lines: It’s not unusual for NBA teams to rally when a star is sidelined. It may be that Beal and other Wizards were holding back, letting Wall run the show. Now they see the need to raise their level of play. Let’s see how long it lasts.