Dec 12, 2019

Axios Sports

πŸ‘‹ Good morning! I'd like to try an experiment for tomorrow.

  • Reply to this email with a selfie (bonus points if your Axios Sports newsletter is visible), along with your name, hometown, favorite athlete and whatever else you want to add.
  • I'll take those photos, put them all in one place and share them tomorrow so you can meet some fellow readers. Thanks!

🚨 This just in ... Charlotte is officially getting an MLS team.

Today's word count: 1,533 words (<6 minutes)

1 big thing: πŸ’ Hockey's moment of reckoning

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The last month of the NHL season has brought changes behind the bench and in the broadcast booth that represent a cultural reckoning poised to change the sport of hockey forever.

Driving the news:

  • Nov. 12: Don Cherry, a longtime fixture on "Hockey Night in Canada," was fired by Rogers Sportsnet for on-air comments that many believed disparaged Canadian immigrants.
  • Nov. 20: The Toronto Maple Leafs fired head coach Mike Babcock because his team was underperforming, then things took an unexpected turn when former players accused him of abusive coaching tactics.
  • Nov. 29: Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters resigned after admitting to using a racial slur toward former NHL player Akim Aliu when they were in the AHL.
  • Dec. 3: The Chicago Blackhawks placed assistant coach Marc Crawford on administrative leave pending an investigation into allegations he kicked and choked former players.

The response: On Monday, the NHL released a four-point plan to address abuse that includes severe punishments for offenders, mandatory diversity and inclusion training for coaches/staff and a hotline to anonymously report incidents.

"The world is changing for the better. This is an opportunity, and a moment, for positive change and this evolution should be expedited β€” for the benefit of everyone associated with the game we love."
β€” Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner

Reality check: If a true reckoning is coming to the rink, the NHL is not going to be the driving force behind it. That burden falls on the players, who must be brave enough to speak up, as well as the media, which will be called upon to provide more oversight.

  • "It's kind of like the #MeToo movement," Georges Laraque, a Haitian-Canadian who played 12 seasons in the NHL, told NYT.
  • "Akim had the courage to speak up about what happened to him because it's like, 'Maybe this is the time where players can express themselves and there's going to be justice.'"

The big picture: While all sports leagues β€” and all of society, for that matter β€” must navigate these same cultural shifts as the world evolves and younger generations enter the workforce, hockey's insular nature and selfless creed does present a unique challenge.

  • "[M]ost of the coaches are good people. [But] it's not a player-empowered league. It is very authoritative, dominant. Even the star players in hockey don't really have a voice," former NHL forward Sheldon Kennedy told SI.
  • On top of that, the best youth players often leave home as early as 12 years old to live with teammates and "surrogate families," according to the Chicago Tribune (subscription). It's not just a culture; it's a system. And it's a relatively small one, too, making it less likely that individuals stray from the pack.

Strong words:

"Hockey culture values teamwork, family, humility. But these ideals are warped. Teamwork; by valuing groupthink over individuality. ... Family; in insularity and othering anyone who's not in the group ... Humility; by players opting for saying nothing as opposed to saying the right thing."
β€” Jashvina Shah, The Globe and Mail

The bottom line: Athletes known for silence are suddenly speaking up, and a sport known for domineering coaches is coming to terms with the fact that decades-old tactics are no longer acceptable.

2. 🏈 Week 15 NFL rankings (plus playoff picture)
Expand chart
Table: Axios Visuals

With three Sundays left, the Ravens and 49ers remain my top two teams, and the Packers and Chiefs have entered the top five. But enough about my trivial power rankings β€” let's examine the playoff picture, which actually matters.

NFC playoff picture: Entering Week 15, there are just nine teams still alive in this top-heavy conference, and only one has clinched a playoff spot (Saints).

  1. 49ers, 11-2 (next: ATL, LAR, at SEA)
  2. Packers, 10-3 (CHI, at MIN, at DET
  3. Saints, 10-3 (IND, at TEN, at CAR)
  4. Cowboys, 6-7 (LAR, at PHI, WSH)
  5. Seahawks, 10-3 (at CAR, ARI, SF)
  6. Vikings, 9-4 (at LAC, GB, CHI)

In the hunt: Rams, 8-5 (at DAL, at SF, ARI); Bears, 7-6 (at GB, KC, at MIN); Eagles, 6-7 (at WSH, DAL, at NYG)

  • Eliminated: Buccaneers, 6-7 (at DET, HOU, ATL); Panthers, 5-8 (SEA, at IND, NO); Falcons, 4-9 (at SF, JAX, at TB); Cardinals, 3-9-1 (CLE, at SEA, at LAR); Lions, 3-9-1 (TB, at DEN, GB); Redskins, 3-10 (PHI, NYG, at DAL); Giants, 2-11 (MIA, at WSH, PHI)

AFC playoff picture: The Chiefs have clinched the AFC West and the Ravens have clinched a playoff spot. In total, 11 teams are still alive.

  1. Ravens, 11-2 (next: NYJ, at CLE, PIT)
  2. Patriots, 10-3 (at CIN, BUF, MIA)
  3. Chiefs, 9-4 (DEN, at CHI, LAC)
  4. Texans, 8-5 (at TEN, at TB, TEN)
  5. Bills, 9-4 (at PIT, at NE, NYJ)
  6. Steelers, 8-5 (BUF, at NYJ, at BAL)

In the hunt: Titans, 8-5 (HOU, NO, at HOU); Browns, 6-7 (at ARI, BAL, at CIN); Raiders, 6-7 (JAX, at LAC, at DEN); Colts, 6-7 (at NO, CAR, at JAX); Broncos, 5-8 (at KC, DET, OAK)

  • Eliminated: Chargers, 5-8 (MIN, OAK, at KC); Jets, 5-8 (at BAL, PIT, at BUF); Jaguars, 4-9 (at OAK, at ATL, IND); Dolphins, 3-10 (at NYG, CIN, at NE); Bengals, 1-12 (NE, at MIA, CLE)
3. ⚾️ Starting 9 (MLB roundup)
Anthony Rendon went out on top in D.C. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
  1. Rendon to Angels: 7 years, $245M
  2. Read: How the Yankees wooed Cole
  3. Look: Cole as young Yankees fan
  4. $878M: All brokered by Scott Boras
  5. Astros probe: 60 witness interviews
  6. Study: Seam height caused HR spike
  7. Coming in 2020: Opioid testing
  8. Explained: Today's Rule 5 draft
  9. Map: Every minor league team
4. πŸ“Έ Yesterday in photos
Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

TORONTO β€” Kawhi Leonard received his championship ring from Kyle Lowry and got a hero's welcome from Raptors fans in his return to Toronto ... then scored 23 points on his former team in a 112-92 Clippers win.

John Carlson. Photo: Patrick McDermott/NHLI via Getty Images

WASHINGTON, D.C. β€” T.J. Oshie scored twice and defenseman John Carlson got the go-ahead goal to lead the Capitals past the Bruins, 3-2, in a showdown between the NHL's two best teams.

  • By the numbers: Carlson has the sixth-most points in the league (45) and is easily on pace to break the 100-point barrier, a feat that hasn't been accomplished by a defenseman since 1991-92 (Brian Leetch, Rangers).
Photo: Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. β€” Another top-five team has fallen in men's college basketball. 7-foot freshman Kofi Cockburn had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks (see above) to help Illinois upset No. 5 Michigan, 71-62.

5. ⛳️ Presidents Cup: Tiger saves U.S. from shutout
Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

For the first time in 14 years, the International team leads the Presidents Cup after putting a 4-1 beating on the Americans during Day 1 at Royal Melbourne.

  • "It was a butt-kicking on the United States side normally reserved for Ryder Cups, but it's also put a little jolt into this normally-blase competition," writes CBS Sports' Kyle Porter.

The lone bright spot: Tiger Woods birdied the first two holes and chipped in for another at the fifth to help himself and partner Justin Thomas to a 4 and 3 four-ball (best ball) win over Marc Leishman (Australia) and JoaquΓ­n Niemann (Chile).

ICYMI ... Tiger dominates this graphic.

6. πŸ“Š By the numbers
Screenshot: @FOXSoccer (Twitter)

⚽️ All 16 teams

For the first time in Champions League history, all 16 teams in the knockout round are from Europe's "Big Five" leagues: Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy), Bundesliga (Germany) and Ligue 1 (France).

πŸ€ 20 straight years

For the past 20 years, every men's college hoops champion was ranked in the top 12 of the week six AP poll. Great news for Louisville, Kansas, Ohio State, Maryland, Michigan, Gonzaga, Duke, Kentucky, Virginia, Oregon, Baylor and Auburn fans.

🏈 6th-best QB?

Kirk Cousins is quietly having an elite season, ranking in the top five of most key passer metrics (second in passer rating, third in YPA, third in INT%, fourth in CMP%, fifth in TD%). He's also sixth in FiveThirtyEight's QB Elo ratings, trailing only Lamar Jackson, Drew Brees, Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.

7. Dec. 12, 1936: 🏈 Redskins say bye to Boston
The Boston Redskins. Courtesy: Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection

83 years ago today, the Boston Redskins lost to the Green Bay Packers, 21-6, in the 1936 NFL Championship Game. Days later, owner George Preston Marshall announced that the team was moving to his hometown of Washington, D.C.

One year later... The Washington Redskins beat the Chicago Bears, 28-21, in the 1937 NFL Championship Game, bringing a trophy home to D.C. in their first season after relocating.

Washington Redskins rookie QB "Slinging" Sammy Baugh is helped to a drink of water by Erny Pinckert. Photo: Larry Froeber/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Go deeper:

8. The Ocho: 🏁 The Indy 500 of Lawnmower Races

Credit: Great Big Story on YouTube

Lawn mower racing was invented in 1973 by Irishman Jim Gavin, who wanted to create a form of motorsport that was cheap and accessible to everyone. 46 years later, the British Lawn Mower Racing Association is stronger than ever.

The 12-hour race: The BLMRA's flagship event is the "12 Hours of Wisborough Green," a 12-hour endurance race held in Five Oaks, England.

  • Teams are made up of three drivers and one mechanic, and they race from 8pm to 8am, alternating drivers and hitting speeds of up to 50 mph on custom-built lawnmowers that don't cut grass.

Worthy of your time: Great Big Story followed the members of the "Who's Racing" team as they competed in this year's race. Humans are hilarious.

9. πŸ€ NBA trivia

On Tuesday, Vince Carter became the fifth player in NBA history to play in 1,500 games.

  • Question: Can you name the other four players?
  • Hint: Their first names start with D, J, K and R.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🎰 Pick tomorrow's top story


What should the top story in tomorrow's newsletter be?

Click to vote:

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Send me those selfies" Baker

Trivia answer: Dirk Nowitzi, John Stockton, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parrish