May 1, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Starting next week and lasting throughout the month of May, each Monday edition of this newsletter will be a "deep dive" on a specific topic.

  • Monday, May 4: ⚾️ Baseball in America
  • Monday, May 11: 👶 COVID-19's impact on youth sports
  • Monday, May 18: 🎬 The 50 best sports docs ever
  • Monday, May 25: ⁉️ Mystery

Today's word count: 1,787 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🎾 Federer calls for tennis unification

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Roger Federer made headlines last week when he came out in support of merging the men's (ATP) and women's (WTA) tennis governing bodies into one, unified organization, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

"Just wondering ... am I the only one thinking that now is the time for men's and women's tennis to be united and come together as one?"
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer)

Why it matters: This has been a long-gestating issue within tennis, but having a voice as powerful as Federer's chime in — joined by the likes of Rafael Nadal and new ATP president Andrea Gaudenzi — has reignited the conversation. And, with tennis on hiatus, real progress might be achievable for the first time in decades.

The backdrop: In the early 1970s, when men's tennis began exploring the idea of starting an organizing body, female star Billie Jean King suggested men and women band together to form one tour.

  • Instead, the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) was born in September 1972, followed shortly thereafter by the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) in June 1973.
  • "The WTA on its own was always plan B," King tweeted in response to Federer.

Worth noting: The ITF (International Tennis Federation), founded in 1913, oversees major events like the Grand Slams, Davis Cup, Fed Cup and Olympic tennis — adding yet another governing body to the mix.

What they're saying: With men's and women's tennis being so similar, the call to streamline the two would seem to be a no-brainer — and something former pro and current ESPN broadcaster Patrick McEnroe tells Axios he fully supports:

"The bottom line is it absolutely should happen. You look at the majors, which are by far the most successful events ... and what do they have in common? The men and women play together.
"Plus, if I'm a fan going to Indian Wells [one of the few joint non-majors], I love the fact that I can watch Serena, and then I can walk to an outside court and watch Félix Auger-Aliassime. That's what tennis fans want."

The other side: Those who oppose merging cite an earnings discrepancy that estimates the ATP brought in twice as much money as the WTA in 2019, while also pointing out that each tour would need to renegotiate long-term deals — such as the WTA's 10-year plan to hold its finals in Shenzhen, China — to make this work.

The big picture: Tennis is unique on the world sports stage in that big names, regardless of gender, tend to rule the day.

  • For example, in 2018, the women's US Open and Wimbledon finals both outdrew the men's finals, thanks to Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber offering more excitement than Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and Kevin Anderson.

The bottom line: There are too many moving parts to expect an immediate change, but the confluence of a pandemic, top players speaking out, and a generation of progressive men who, as King puts it, "want their daughters to have the same as their sons," has created some undeniable momentum.

2. ⚽️ Soccer transfer market could collapse
Data: TransferMarkt; Note: Big 5 leagues only; Table: Axios Visuals

Whatever happens over the next few months, one thing seems certain: Soccer's $7 billion global transfer market is going to collapse.

Why it matters: This will have huge ramifications on the intertwined soccer world, inflicting serious financial harm on clubs that rely on transfer market returns for survival, while potentially helping the rich get richer ... at a bargain.

How it works: The summer "transfer window" (i.e. designated times on the calendar when transfers can take place) essentially removes trading as we know it and replaces it with cash-swap deals.

  • Instead of Club A trading assets to acquire a player from Club B, Club A pays Club B a sum of money equal to that player's value (in Club B's eyes). Once that fee is agreed upon, Club A can negotiate a contract with the player.

Sellers: Clubs like Germany's Borussia Dortmund invest heavily in the development of young talent — often through youth academies — in hopes that those players blossom and fetch huge sums on the open market, thereby generating a return on their investment.

  • Bad news: It will likely be difficult to find buyers this offseason, and clubs could be forced to accept lower fees for the players they do manage to sell, losing out on critical revenues (the sale of one major prospect can fund a youth academy for years).

Buyers: Other clubs like England's Manchester City typically spend big on the transfer market, whether that's adding a much-needed role player or shelling out nine-figures for the next global superstar.

  • Good news: Market conditions could present the opportunity to snag a bargain or two.

The big picture: While nobody is rooting for a slow transfer market, clubs behaving in a more frugal manner may not be such a bad thing, according to those who think player values have gotten out of hand and need to be reset.

  • Transfer fees regularly eclipse $100 million these days, and three years ago, PSG paid Barcelona a record $263 million for Neymar (who they will pay $265 million in wages, putting the eventual cost at $528 million).
3. 🏈 85% of NFL draftees played multiple HS sports
Data: Tracking Football; Chart: Axios Visuals

85% of the 255 players selected in this year's NFL draft played multiple sports in high school and more than half competed in track & field, according to Tracking Football, an advanced scouting service.

Go deeper:

4. ⚡️ Catch up quick
Darlington Raceway. Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
  • 🏁 NASCAR announced Thursday that it will resume its season without fans starting May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, joining the UFC as the first major sports organization to announce a specific return date.
  • 🎓 Seven women are suing the NCAA for failing to protect them from alleged sexual assaults by male college athletes at Michigan State, Nebraska and one unnamed D-I school in the America East Conference.
  • ⚾️ The Little League World Series has been canceled for the first time in its 73-year history. The organization has not, however, called off the 2020 regular season.
  • 🏀 Wake Forest has named East Tennessee State's Steve Forbes as its next head men's basketball coach, replacing Danny Manning.
  • 🏥 Watch at your own risk: Tonight at 7:30pm ET, ESPN will air a special about Alex Smith's terrible leg injury that saw him go from Redskins starting QB to fighting for his life within a matter of days. The latest clip is gruesome.
5. 📸 Derby Weekend, minus the Derby

Known for mint juleps, big hats and even bigger bets, the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, is the longest-running sporting event in the U.S., dating back to 1875.

  • Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year's iconic race — originally scheduled for this weekend — will be postponed until September 5.

Missing these vibes...

Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

2019 — Country House (far left in yellow) was declared the winner of the 145th Kentucky Derby after a stewards review disqualified Maximum Security (in pink, second from right).

Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

2012 — A trainer inspects his horse after the morning training session in preparation for the 138th Kentucky Derby.

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

2007 — Horses round the first turn during the 133rd Kentucky Derby.

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

2003 — Yes.

🎵 Watch: Here's a wonderful video of Kentucky-born cellist Ben Sollee performing at an empty Churchill Downs.

6. May 1, 1994: 🏎 Senna's last ride
Ayrton Senna before the 1989 Hungarian Grand Prix. Photo: Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

26 years ago today, legendary Brazilian Formula One driver Ayrton Senna died after crashing during the seventh lap of the San Marino Grand Prix in Imola, Italy. He was 34.

The man: Senna was a true duality. A god-fearing man who gave millions to charity off the track while employing a unique level of ruthlessness on it.

  • Senna "import[ed] the tactics of the kart track to Formula One, changing the rules of engagement in a sport whose drivers, although always ferociously competitive, had generally treated each other with chivalry," noted The Guardian's Richard Williams.
  • By the numbers: His 41 Grand Prix wins and three World Drivers' Championships (1988, 1990, 1991) both rank fifth all time, while his 80 podium finishes ranks seventh.

The crash: German Michael Schumacher, then a relative newcomer (he's since become the GOAT), was right behind Senna from the start.

  • During the seventh lap, doing anything he could to stay in the lead, Senna's tires had lost enough pressure to drop the base of his car into the track, effectively turning it into a surfboard.
  • At the infamous Tamburello Corner, a particularly harrowing turn known for its unsafe conditions, Senna spun out and crashed into the concrete barrier. He died almost immediately, when debris from the wreck pierced his skull.
  • Of note: Senna had dominated with McLaren for years, but joined Williams in 1994 to immediately poor results, saying "I am uncomfortable in the car. It all feels wrong." This was just his third race in that vehicle.

The bottom line: Prior to this race, Formula One had gone 12 years without a fatal crash, but Senna — and Austrian Roland Ratzenberger, who had died the previous day in qualifiers — flipped that streak on its head, prompting the implementation of various new safety measures across the sport.

🍿 Watch: "Senna" (Netflix)

7. 📚 The story that changed sports journalism

Hunter S. Thompson circa 1974. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/GettyImages

My annual tradition on the Friday before the Derby is to read "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved," a piece by Louisville native and legendary journalist Hunter S. Thompson, written for Scanlan's Monthly in 1970. It's iconic.

  • "Along with the politicians, society belle and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything within 500 miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs."
  • "Pink faces with stylish Southern sag, old Ivy styles, seersucker coats and buttondown collars … Not much energy in these faces, not much curiosity. Suffering in silence, nowhere to go after thirty in this life, just hang on and humor the children. Let the young enjoy themselves while they can. Why not? The grim reaper comes early in this league."

Dive in.

P.S. ... ESPN made a short documentary about this article, which "changed sports journalism and broadcasting forever."

8. The Ocho: 🛶 Canoe marathon
Source: YouTube

Jeff writes: Every July since 1947, the tiny town of Grayling, Michigan (population ~1,800), has hosted the AuSable River Canoe Marathon.

The race: Also known simply as "The Marathon," teams of two race in canoes for 120 miles from Grayling to Oscoda in the longest, nonstop, canoe-only race in North America.

  • It's the second leg of "The Triple Crown of Canoe Racing," beginning with Memorial Day's General Clinton Canoe Regatta (New York, nonstop, 70 miles) and ending with Labor Day's La Classique International de Canots de La Maurice (Quebec, three days, 120 miles).
  • The race begins in the evening with a Le Mans-style start, where teams must sprint with their canoes for four blocks before entering the water. It's also been billed as "The World's Toughest Spectator Sport," as many fans follow the racers along the entire 120-mile course overnight.
  • Québécois Serge Corbin holds both the course record (13:58:08) and the record for most wins all time, with 18.

Looking ahead: This year's race, scheduled for July 25th, is still in limbo due to COVID-19.

🎥 Watch: Beautiful drone footage of the race (YouTube)

9. 🏈 NFL trivia

A.J. Green and Andy Dalton were teammates for nearly a decade. Photo: Mark Cunningham/Detroit Lions/Getty Images

Following Andy Dalton's release, there are now only three QB/WR combos in the NFL that have played together for more than four years.

  • Question: Can you name the three QB/WR combos?
  • Hint: All NFC.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Caroline and her dad. Courtesy: Caroline H.

Caroline H. (Michigan) writes:

"In my family, I was the first first-born's firstborn (still with me?) in a largely exaggerated number of generations that was a girl. I couldn't carry on the family name, but at least I was a bit of a tomboy.
"Like the rest of our household, I was obsessed with Michigan football, which was my introduction to sports. But this is a story about hockey. Not a season, or a championship game — just one moment that made my Dad proud.
"As a third-grader, I was one of two girls in my hometown's inline hockey league. One spring day, it was my turn to play goalie. My Dad helped clip me into my pads as I laid face down on the rink, and I skated over to the net.
"I don't exactly remember the events that led up to the best player on the other team earning a penalty shot against me, but I do remember thinking that this was my moment.
"Everybody thought this fifth grade hockey star — and heir to a beer fortune, but that's beside the point — was about to easily score on this third grade girl who had been swallowed up by her goalie pads.
"He slapped a shot straight at me. Everyone sighed, thinking he'd scored. But then I skated out of the net, revealing the puck lodged in my armpit. The crowd erupted in cheers, or at least that's how it felt.
"I'm not sure if we won that game or what came next. I only played a couple more seasons. But I do know that my Dad has retold that story more times than I can count.
"Though I was never going to be the firstborn that was expected, I'd like to think I gave my Dad the same pride a son might have. And I'm glad we can still yell at the TV together on football Saturdays, even if now it's over Facetime."
Courtesy: Caroline H.

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or an example of sports having a positive impact on your life? If you'd like to share, simply reply to this email. We'll be telling your stories until they run out.

Kendall Baker

Enjoy the weekend,

Kendall "Play multiple sports, kids" Baker

Trivia answer: Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett.