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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The emergence of social media has helped the NBA promote its players, reach more fans and make gobs of money. But at what cost?

Driving the news: Speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last weekend, NBA commissioner Adam Silver talked about the depressing vibe he gets when he meets players.

"What strikes me about them is that they are truly unhappy," Silver said. "We are living in a time of anxiety [and] I think part of it is a direct result of social media."

  • "If you're around a team in this day and age, there are always headphones on ... [players] are isolated … they have their heads down."
  • One player spoke to Silver about how isolated he felt. "There was a deep sadness around him," the commissioner added.

The other side: In an appearance on ESPN's "Get Up," Charles Barkley dropped the age-old "rich people can't be unhappy" argument. Classic.

"That's probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard Adam say. Listen, these guys are making 20, 30, 40 million dollars a year, they work 6–7 months a year, stay at the best hotels in the world, they ain't got no problems. That's total bogus."
— Charles Barkley (via ESPN)

My take: This is a full-blown crisis and one that isn't going away anytime soon. Social media, the 24-hour news cycle and all the other things that keep us from ever actually unplugging have real consequences. Athletes, just like you and me, simply cannot let go.

  • Before social media, it was much easier for NBA players to focus on basketball. There were moments — maybe even entire days — where they could mute all the noise and hone in on themselves. There was still a "pureness" to it all, like the feeling you get when you think of your high school sports days.
  • Nowadays, players are exposed to hundreds of trade rumors, hot takes and GIFs each day. Their words are taken out of context and turned into clickbait. Young men who, by some minor miracle, are living out their childhood dreams, are made to feel like pawns in someone else's game. It's almost inescapable.
  • Fame is isolating — lonely, even. And in the age of social media, it's a surreal kind of loneliness because you have all these "fans" who love you and are constantly interacting with you ... but in an app on your phone screen.

The bottom line: Rampant social media usage is a problem that extends far beyond sports, and examining the impact its having on professional athletes really opens your eyes to the magnitude of the problem.

Go deeper: From coast to coast, the growing war on tech addiction

Go deeper

Scammers seize on COVID confusion

Data: FTC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Scamming has skyrocketed in the past year, and much of the increase is attributed to COVID-related scams, more recently around vaccines.

Why it matters: The pandemic has created a prime opportunity for scammers to target people who are already confused about the chaotic rollouts of things like stimulus payments, loans, contact tracing and vaccines. Data shows that older people who aren't digitally literate are the most vulnerable.

12 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress

Photo: Chris Kleponis/CNP/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden told congressional leadership in a letter Saturday that this week's airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to Iranian-backed militia groups was consistent with the U.S. right to self-defense.

Why it matters: Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.

14 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: The authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. will help speed up the vaccine rollout across the country, especially since the J&J shot only requires one dose as opposed to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot vaccines.

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