Good morning! Spring Training starts in 6 days, and baseball's 2 biggest free agents — Manny Machado and Bryce Harper — remain unsigned.
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The 2022 World Cup will be the first one played on Arab soil. It will also break with tradition and be held in the winter, as opposed to the summer, given the searing temperatures in host nation Qatar. This has made the tournament a hot-button topic in the soccer world for years.
What's happening: The goal of Qatar's political enemies is to sabotage the tournament or, at the very least, to humble Qatar by forcing it to share the event with them.
Details: When leaked emails belonging to U.A.E. Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba became public in 2017, they revealed a wide-ranging plan financed by the U.A.E. to use "American journalists and think tanks to reposition Qatar and its World Cup in a negative light."
The big picture: "The dispute has added a new dimension to a specialized industry in which consultants and other insiders can earn millions of dollars for their efforts to shift public opinion in favor of the nations that finance them, or against those countries' rivals," write Montague and Panja.
The NFL head coaching carousel has finally come to a halt, with the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins officially introducing their new hires on Monday.
Why it matters: Of the 8 head coaches hired this offseason, Flores is the only one who is a minority. Meanwhile, 5 of the 8 fired coaches were minorities, cutting the number of nonwhite leading men in the NFL from 8 to 4.
Between the lines: The NFL's "Rooney Rule" — named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who championed its creation in 2003 — requires teams to interview "at least one diverse candidate" for every head coaching position.
The other side: To paint the Rooney Rule as a failure based off the results of a single offseason would be a mistake, as it has had an overall positive impact since being instituted in 2003.
The bottom line: The Rooney Rule does its job. It gets minority coaches job interviews. But rules create structure and process; they don't foster long-term, sustainable change.
Go deeper: The Undefeated analyzed all 108 head coaching hires (prior to January) since the Rooney Rule went into effect.
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
🏆 Last night's MVP: James Harden scored 44 points (highlights) in the Houston Rockets' 118-110 win over the Phoenix Suns, extending his streak of 30-point scoring games to 27.
📖 Best thing I read: In the aftermath of an NBA trade, so much time is spent debating which team won the deal that we rarely talk about the actual human beings whose lives were just upended.
📺 Tonight's TNT doubleheader:
The extended netting behind home plate installed at all 30 MLB ballparks. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
A 79-year-old California woman died last August after being hit in the head by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium, according to a Los Angeles County coroner's report obtained by ESPN's "Outside the Lines."
What happened: During the 9th inning of the Padres-Dodgers game on Aug. 25, Linda Goldbloom was struck in the head while sitting in her seat just over the area protected by netting.
The big picture: This tragedy happened during the first season in which all 30 MLB teams installed protective netting extending from home plate to the far ends of both dugouts. Such a tragic incident could result in even more expansive netting being added in the name of fan safety.
"My mom went to the game and never came home. People need to be aware, and we'd really like them to be protected in the future."— Linda Goldbloom's daughter Jana Brody
Speaking of bad MLB news ... Splinter published leaked emails in which Cubs patriarch Joe Ricketts endorses and shares racists and Islamophobic sentiments.
From Mike: Depending on where you live, sports betting has either arrived or is likely coming soon. So how will you actually place a bet? On your phone? Or will you need to do your gambling inside of a sports book? Lawmakers are debating that right now.
What's happening: In New York, state delegates are at a standstill on whether bettors in New York should be allowed to bet using a mobile device.
The big picture: What New York does here could set a precedent for every other state. Not sure where your state stands in terms of sports betting legislation? Here's a handy tracker.
P.S. Even if mobile betting becomes the norm in your state, you won't be able to place a wager from, say, you're beach house a few states over.
Zion Williamson and Sabrina Ionescu. Photos: Grant Halverson/Getty Images; Alika Janner/Getty Images
The top 20 candidates for the men's and women's Wooden Award were announced on Monday night.
This past weekend, Dallas Mavericks rookie sensation Luka Dončić became the 7th player in league history to score 1,000 points before turning 20.
Answer at the bottom.
This weekend, hundreds of drone pilots will descend upon Las Vegas for the Drone Racing League (DRL) Tryouts. The league is gearing up for its fourth season after a successful 2018 that saw it air in more than 75 countries, including 10 events on ESPN.
Drone racing, explained: Pilots move quickly through elaborate courses inside large buildings like eSports arenas, zooming through LED hoops and hurdles.
"There's very few things that I've experienced that are almost a full out-of-body experience. Whenever I fly, I'm transplanted into the drone. I'm flying my whole body, my mind is transplanted into this other little machine. I think that's the coolest thing ever."— Jordan Temkin, two-time DRL champion (via The Ringer)
Jake LaMotta knocks Sugar Ray Robinson out of the ring. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images
76 years ago today, Jake "The Bronx Bull" LaMotta defeated Sugar Ray Robinson by unanimous decision in one of the most historic victories in boxing history.
Go deeper: The two men shared a profession but they were polar opposites when it came to their boxing philosophies, The Guardian's Paul Gibson writes:
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
Kendall "Would be so down for a new Bourne movie" Baker
Trivia answer: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Devin Booker