Mar 11, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

Happy Monday! Hope you had the best weekend. Okay, let's begin with...

1 big thing: 🏈 Antonio Brown took on the Steelers and won

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The Antonio Brown saga, which broke all kinds of NFL norms, is over. The 30-year-old wideout will officially be an Oakland Raider come Wednesday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are getting a third- and fifth-round pick in exchange for him.

Details:

  • Brown also gets the new contract he'd been seeking, with the Raiders agreeing to pay him $54.1 million over the next three years with $30.1 guaranteed, making him the highest-paid WR in the league.
  • In Pittsburgh, he was due $38.9 million over three years — and none of it was guaranteed.

Between the lines: Once Brown decided he wanted out of Pittsburgh, he essentially threw a public tantrum, making so much noise in the locker room and on social media that his parents (the Steelers) eventually relented and let him sleep over at Derek Carr's house.

  • Perhaps a "tantrum" is the wrong word, as that makes Brown's efforts seem unplanned or unhinged. In reality, this was a calculated plan to get him (a) more money and (b) to the team of his choice — and that’s precisely what happened. He took on the Steelers and won.

Why it matters: In the NBA, players routinely exert their leverage and control their own destinies. But in the NFL, where individualism is frowned upon, what A.B. just pulled off is a rarity.

  • However... for superstar players looking to get paid in a league run by owners who are rarely willing to pay them (or, at the very least, hand out guaranteed money), it's slowly becoming the norm.
  • Proof: Khalil Mack ($23.5 million), who held out and got traded; Aaron Donald ($22.5 million), who held out and missed all of training camp; and Brown ($19.8 million) are the NFL's three highest-paid non-QBs in terms of average annual value.
  • Conclusion: "If players want to get paid, they have to be willing to get muddy," tweeted MMQB's Albert Breer.

The bottom line: "Antonio Brown pulled off a savage power play, sabotaging his own trade value while making himself untenable in Pittsburgh on his way to earning nearly $20 million in raises and more than $30 million in guarantees," writes ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

  • Meanwhile, the leverage-less Steelers traded a future Hall of Famer for two mid-round draft picks and $21 million in dead money. Not ideal!
  • Silver lining for Pittsburgh: "Though Brown was well-liked in the locker room, players have had enough with the turmoil," writes Fowler. "This is their chance to redirect the storyline."

Go deeper:

2. 🏀 Madness tracker: 4 tickets punched

Bradley won its first Missouri Valley title in 31 years. Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

1. Ohio Valley: Murray State

  • Last appearance: 2018
  • NET ranking: 52
  • Projected seed: No. 12
  • Key player: Sophomore guard Ja Morant — who poured in 36 points in the conference title game — could go as high as No. 2 in June's NBA draft. Total stud.

2. Big South: Gardner-Webb

  • Last appearance: Never (moved from D-II to D-I in 2003)
  • NET ranking: 185
  • Projected seed: No. 16
  • Key stat: The Bulldogs are one of the nation's most undersized teams, with 6'6" forward D.J. Laster being the tallest player in the rotation.

3. Missouri Valley: Bradley

  • Last appearance: 2006
  • NET ranking: 76
  • Projected seed: No. 16
  • Key storyline: The Braves knocked off last year's March darling Loyola-Chicago in the semis before rallying back from 18 down to beat Northern Iowa in the final. Could they be this year's Cinderella?

4. Atlantic Sun: Liberty

  • Last appearance: 2013
  • NET ranking: 63
  • Projected seed: No. 12
  • Key win: Liberty's 15-point win over UCLA in late December was the straw that broke the Bruins' back and got Steve Alford fired.

What's next: Two more tickets will be punched tonight, one from the Southern Conference and one from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

  • SoCon: UNC Greensboro (28-5, 15-3) vs. No. 22 Wofford (28-4, 18-0) — 7pm ET, ESPN
  • MAAC: Monmouth (14-20, 10-8) vs. Iona (16-15, 12-6) — 9pm ET, ESPN2
3. ⚽️ U.S. Women's National Team sues U.S. Soccer

The USWNT poses for a picture during last week's SheBelieves Cup. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

28 members of the U.S. women's national soccer team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer on Friday, accusing the federation of paying them far less and subjecting them to far worse working conditions (when they play, how they travel, medical treatment, etc.) than their male counterparts.

Why it matters: This immediately becomes the dominant storyline leading up to the Women's World Cup, which kicks off in three months. It also "brings to the fore an issue that affects all women's sports, not just soccer. Per the New York Times:

  • "In golf last year, the world's top-ranked woman earned as much as the 33rd-best man."
  • 'The U.S. women's hockey team expected to have a victory tour after winning gold at the Pyeongchang Olympics last year. It didn't happen."
  • "The NBA minimum salary of $1.35 million for a player with one year of experience is higher than the salary cap for an entire WNBA roster."

The precedent: After threatening to boycott the world championships in 2017, the U.S. women's hockey team received a new contract that paid each player ~$71,000 annually — a huge increase over the ~$10,000 some of them had been making.

  • They also received travel accommodations and insurance coverage that were on par with the men's national team.

What they're saying:

"We feel a responsibility not only to stand up for what we know we deserve as athletes, but also for what we know is right — on behalf of our teammates, future teammates, fellow women athletes and women all around the world."
— USWNT co-captain Megan Rapinoe
4. 🏀 NBA: Best everything
Giphy
  • Best dunk: Derrick Jones Jr. threw down a gravity-defying alley-oop last night. Probably the dunk of the year (even though he technically threw it in the hoop). Enjoy all the angles.
  • Best upset: The Suns beat the Warriors 115-111 last night as 17-point underdogs — just the second time in the last 20 seasons that an underdog of at least 17 points has won, per ESPN.
  • Best news for the rest of the NBA: Steve Kerr was caught on camera saying, "I'm so f--king tired of Draymond's s--t." More Warriors drama for Stephen A. Smith to yell about for a week. Here we go...
5. ⚾️ Babe Ruth's last surviving daughter, Julia, dies at age 102
Babe Ruth and his family celebrating his 45th birthday in 1940. At the piano is daughter Julia Ruth (later Julia Stevens). Photo: Keystone/FPG/Getty Images

Julia Ruth Stevens, the adopted daughter of Babe Ruth, passed away on Saturday in an assisted living facility. She was 102.

  • "She lived a full life and tried to do her very best ... to perpetuate the legacy of the Babe in a positive way," said her son Tom.

Go deeper: Can you imagine being Babe Ruth's daughter?! Back in 2012, Jane Leavy wrote a fantastic piece on Grantland that helps illuminate what Julia's childhood was like.

  • "George Herman Ruth, the namely-est guy ever, exhausted our supply of hyperbole. He was the Babe, the Bam and the Great Bambino ... He was the Caliph and Colossus of Clout and Club ... the Mauling Mastodon, as well as the Mastodonic Mauler ... the Prince of Pounders and the Sultan of Swat."
  • "Julia Ruth Stevens calls him Daddy ... a tender reminder of the limits of hyperbole; how grandiose honorifics obscure the messy, telling details of an interior life."

Travel back in time.

6. 🏈 March 11, 1986: The NFL goes to the booth

An NFL official waiting on word from the replay booth upstairs. Photo: Rick Stewart/Getty Images

33 years ago today, the NFL owners voted to adopt instant replay for the upcoming 1986-87 season after years of experimentation and debate.

Details: This was definitely your grandfather's version of instant replay. Officials reviewed plays through two nine-inch TV monitors that used VCRs to record plays.

  • Reviewable plays included possession changes, plays where the ball broke a plane (sideline, goal line) and easily detectable penalties.
  • Replays were initiated by replay officials upstairs, who would rarely interfere. There were no coach's challenges.

Go deeper: History of Instant Replay

7. 🏀 NBA: Who am I?
  • I played college basketball in the Big 12.
  • I won Rookie of the Year.
  • This season, I'm taking 6.8 threes per game and making 36.2% of them. (For comparison, Kevin Durant takes 5.2 and makes 36.0%).
  • I currently rank 12th in the NBA in scoring (25.3 points per game),
8. The Ocho: The life of a professional darts referee

Darts referee Russ Bray is known as "The Voice." Photo: Nigel French/PA Images via Getty Images

"Watch enough professional darts competitions, and you will be treated to one of the most iconic calls in sports: 'OOOONE-HUUUUNDRED-AND-EIIIIIGHTEE!'" writes Nick Dunne for Deadspin.

  • "It's a call befitting the maximum score in a single turn at the throwing line. In darts, 180s are king, occurring when a player lands three consecutive darts in the triple-20 section of the board. ... When a player achieves this feat in a game, the referee has to rise to the occasion."

The backdrop: In 1992, the world's best dart players — fed up with dwindling sponsorships and prize money — broke off from the British Darts Organization (BDO) to form the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC).

  • "Since 'The Split,' the PDC has grown exponentially, due in in part to Barry Hearn, a boxing and sport promoter who acquired a majority share of the PDC, becoming chairman in 2001."
  • "Hearn is responsible for ramping up PDC events into full-fledged spectacles, complete with pyrotechnics, light shows, and walk-on songs to hype up the rowdy, boozy crowds who flock in the thousands to see (mostly) overweight men throw miniature arrows at a wall."

The bottom line: Professional darts has turned into quite the spectacle, and the booming, theatrical calls from its referees are an integral piece of the experience.

Watch: Russ Bray's best "180" calls

9. Best of the rest
  • Best poetic justice: Less than 10 minutes into the match, a Birmingham supporter ran onto the pitch and punched Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish in the head. Absurd. But Grealish got revenge, scoring the game-winning goal.
  • Best streak (that got snapped): The Pittsburgh Penguins snapped the Boston Bruins' 19-game point streak with a 4-2 win last night. The Bruins hadn't lost in regulation since Jan. 19.
  • Best news for robots: New employment opportunity: umpiring minor league baseball games.
  • Best putt: Francesco Molinari shot an eight-under 64 yesterday to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational by two strokes. The British Open champion capped off his spectacular day by sinking a 44-foot birdie putt on the par-four 18th at Bay Hill in Orlando.
  • Best thing I read: Beautiful words about a father that will remind you to cherish yours. Dive in.
10. What should tomorrow's top story be?

Make your pick. Your vote will be instantly counted and we'll send you to axios.com to catch up on all your non-sports news.

  • Option 1: A feature on Carleton University's men's basketball team, which just won its 14th national title in 17 years. (click to vote)
  • Option 2: An in-depth look at the Professional Fighters League, the season-based MMA league that recently signed a two-year deal with ESPN. (click to vote)
  • Option 3: An entire newsletter (as in, all 10 sections) dedicated to the topic of sports betting. (click to vote)
  • Option 4: How apparel brands like Nike are dealing with declining basketball shoe sales. (click to vote)
Kendall Baker

Thanks,

Kendall "Daaa rrraidahhhhs" Baker

Trivia answer: Blake Griffin, who is having one of the most underrated seasons ever.