Jun 18, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Let's sports.

  • Sad news: Our MLB all-time roster rankings are complete.
  • Happy news: Starting Monday, we'll be doing the same thing for NBA teams.

Today's word count: 1,590 words (6 minutes)

1 big thing: 😷 Sports' summer home sees virus spike

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Florida has become the de facto hub for sports leagues hoping to resume play this summer, but the state has experienced a dangerous spike in coronavirus cases since it began reopening last month, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

The state of play: The NBA and MLS plan to resume their seasons at Walt Disney World near Orlando, with rigorous testing and countless safety measures in place. Meanwhile, the WNBA plans to play at IMG Academy near Tampa Bay.

  • Yes, but: There is growing concern about how resort staff factor into the safety protocol, and the NBA told players that Disney staff will not be subject to the same rigorous testing, which sort of defeats the purpose of a bubble — especially if they're commuting from places riddled with COVID-19.

By the numbers: The WHO recommends that governments not reopen unless their positive test rate drops below 5% for 14 straight days.

  • In Orange County, home of Disney World, the seven-day average ending Tuesday was 6.5%, including 11.9% on Tuesday alone, when the state reported its single highest daily total of new cases (2,783).

The backdrop: Florida was slow to lock down and quick to reopen, as Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed onward "recklessly" despite the data "screaming for caution," state Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried tweeted on Tuesday.

  • A data scientist in the Florida Department of Health was fired last month for "insubordination," which she says was based on her unwillingness to manipulate her COVID-19 dashboard to make the state look healthier than it was.
  • Since being fired, she has launched her own dashboard, which shows that only two of Florida's 67 counties currently meet the criteria for further easing restrictions.

What they're saying: In response to the recent spike, NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told AP: "It's concerning but not surprising. I've watched this governor behave as if the virus is an inconvenience as opposed to a virus."

The bottom line: The worst-case scenario is, of course, that these numbers remain so high that Florida is no longer deemed safe enough to host sports leagues.

  • Assuming play does resume, the state will still need to significantly flatten the curve to stop the looming threat of infection from controlling the narrative once teams arrive.
Bonus: 😷 Coronavirus map
Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise, Naema Ahmed/Axios

Florida isn't the only state where COVID-19 cases are on the rise, as a handful of Southern and Western states are also experiencing surges.

Explore/share the map.

2. ⚡️ Catch up quick

Serena Williams serves during her 2019 U.S. Open Women's Singles final match against Bianca Andreescu. Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

  • 🎾 Tennis: Serena Williams announced that she will play in the U.S. Open, which will be held in New York from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13. Meanwhile, French Open organizers said their event will be held from Sept. 27 to Oct. 11, a week later than originally announced.
  • ⚾️ MLB: We have yet another proposal from the owners that would feature a 60-game season starting July 19 or 20, and a 16-team postseason. Of note: If this system had been in place last year, the World Series champion Nationals wouldn't have made the playoffs and the Rockies, who finished 71-91, would have.
  • 🏈 College football: On the same day that the NCAA D-I council approved a six-week practice plan for football that begins in July, four games involving historically black colleges and universities were canceled, underscoring the financial vulnerability of neutral-site games amid the pandemic.
  • ⚽️ Champions League: Three months after it was suspended, UEFA officials announced that the Champions League will be completed as an eight-team knockout tournament in August in Lisbon, Portugal.
3. 💉 World 100m champ suspended for missed drug tests

Christian Coleman at the IAAF World Indoor Championships. Photo: Stephen Pond/Getty Images for IAAF

American sprinter Christian Coleman, the world's 100 meter champion and a favorite to win gold next summer in Tokyo, has been provisionally suspended by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) for anti-doping violations, Jeff writes.

  • Worth noting: Coleman has never failed a single drug test in his career; rather, these violations pertain to "whereabouts failures," which means he either missed a test or neglected to file the proper paperwork with the AIU.

2019 timeline:

  • Jan. 16: Coleman misses a test after losing track of time at the gym.
  • April 26: Coleman misses a deadline to file his quarterly paperwork.
  • Dec. 9: Coleman misses another test; his third infraction in less than 12 months, triggering a suspension.
  • Dec. 11: Coleman passes his test.

What he's saying: On Tuesday, Coleman posted on Twitter explaining that he was just five minutes away shopping for Christmas presents on Dec. 9, the night in question.

  • He also claims the missed-test report "put down the wrong address, so who knows if he even came to my spot" and questioned why no one tried calling him when he's been contacted by phone every other time he's been tested.

The other side: Various other athletes chimed in, essentially saying, "Yeah, it's annoying, but we all have to do it so just grow up."

"Whereabouts can feel invasive and be stressful — particularly with travel. But it is ONE HOUR A DAY, not all day every day. An inconvenience that is worth it to protect clean sport. Going shopping during your slot when you are on two missed tests is taking a huge risk with your career."
— British Olympian Hannah England

My take: Modernize the process! It's 2020 and testers are relying on physically banging on doors to locate athletes. Everyone has a phone — use it to track location and we can stop with the he-said-she-said of it all.

The bottom line: Doping is a serious issue that must be monitored closely, but when one of the world's best athletes is facing suspension despite never failing a drug test, perhaps it's time to rework the process.

4. ⚽️ Yesterday in soccer
Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

BIRMINGHAM, England — At the opening whistle of the Premier League's first game back, referees and players took a knee for 10 seconds to express support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Players also wore jerseys with the words "Black Lives Matter" instead of their last names.

  • 🎥 Goal controversy: The game ended in a 0-0 draw after the typically flawless Hawk-Eye goal-line technology seemed to malfunction and miss an obvious Sheffield United goal.
Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

MANCHESTER, England — Referees and players also took a knee in the second game of the day. Fans were shown on screens behind the goals as they watched the action from home.

Photo: Marco Rosi/Getty Images

ROME — Following a scoreless regulation, Napoli defeated Juventus 4-2 on penalty kicks in the Coppa Italia final to claim its first major trophy in six seasons and deny Cristiano Ronaldo his 32nd career trophy.

  • Worth noting: The game went straight to penalties without extra time being played — a precautionary measure for players still getting back into shape in only their second match of the restart.
5. ⚾️ MLB rankings in review
Data: Baseball Reference; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

30 teams up, 30 teams down. The great Axios quarantine MLB all-time roster ranking of 2020 is officially complete.


Up next: Starting Monday, we'll be doing the same thing for NBA teams. Get excited.

6. June 18, 1953: ⚾️ Boston's 17-run inning

Fenway Park circa 1953. Photo: Lambert/Getty Images

67 years ago today, the Red Sox beat the Tigers, 23-3, thanks mostly to their seventh-inning scoring barrage, when they plated a modern MLB-record 17 runs.

Breakdown: The inning began with the Red Sox leading 5-3. 23 batters later, they'd gone 14-for-17 with 11 singles, two doubles, one home run, six walks, one steal and a wild pitch to take a 22-3 lead.

  • Three singles and a stolen base plated two runs before the inning's first out, a strikeout. Two runs scored.
  • A double, an intentional walk, a single and a homer plated another five runs, before a single turned the lineup over. Seven runs scored, still just one out.
  • A walk, a wild pitch and a double scored two more, and then a second walk and a single scored another before the 14th batter of the inning flew out. 10 runs scored, two outs.
  • And finally, death by a thousand cuts, as eight straight batters went single, walk, walk, single, single, single, single, walk, scoring the final seven runs. 17 runs scored, 23 batters, three outs recorded.

The big picture: There was a silver lining for the Tigers. The very next day, they signed Al Kaline, the second-best player in franchise history, behind Ty Cobb.

Go deeper: Box score (Baseball Reference)

7. 📚 Good reads

Charles Goodell marches with Coretta Scott King in an antiwar parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1969. Goodell is to the left of King in the photo.

🏈 His father defied the president. Will Roger Goodell follow? (Andrew Beaton, WSJ)

"Charles Goodell stood up for what he thought was right in a tense political climate — a test his son, the NFL commissioner, now faces."

⛪️ How much did the Saints help the Catholic Church on its sex abuse crisis? More than they admitted. (Jenny Vrentas, SI)

"New Orleans' favorite team has acknowledged providing 'minimal' public relations help to the local archdiocese as it handled revelations of sexual abuse by clergy — but an SI investigation found that the team's aid was more extensive. Survivors, who feel betrayed by both institutions, want answers."

🏀 This basketball bubble is already operational. Here's what it's like. (Marc Stein, NYT)

"The Bundesliga's sequestered competition only involves about one-sixth as many people as the NBA's planned campus, but it offers a glimpse of what to expect in Florida."
8. The Ocho: 🏆 Extreme pogo
Source: Xpogo (YouTube)

Extreme pogo (Xpogo) has been around since 2004, when a 14-year-old kid founded the sport and hosted the first annual "Pogopalooza" competition in a parking lot in Nebraska.

  • Since then, it has exploded into an international tour called the Xpogo World Championship Series.

How it works: Athletes use "extreme" pogo sticks made with rubber instead of steel springs, which support more weight and allow for higher bounces.

  • Competitions include big air freestyle, high jump (video above), best trick and even a classic category incorporating standard steel spring sticks.

🎥 Watch: Highlights (Xpogo)

9. 🏀 NBA trivia

Since 2000, there have been just three sweeps in the NBA Finals.

  • Question: Who were the three winning teams?
  • Hint: Two happened in the 2000s, one happened in the 2010s.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Cowboys game at Jerry World in 2014. Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Raj D. (now living in Boston) writes:

"I moved to the U.S. when I was 17 years old. I was an awkward teenager trying to get by in college, and my lack of knowledge about pop culture made conversations difficult.
"I made a couple of friends during my freshman year, but I was struggling. One of those days, a friend took me to a Cowboys game with his parents, and I immediately fell in love. The intensity was unlike anything I'd ever experienced.
"I dove headfirst into learning about football, and the Cowboys became the thread that helped me reach out to people. I couldn't afford a ticket back then, but I never had to pay. It was always shocking to me that people could be so generous.
"Eventually, I graduated and got a job and surprised my friend with Cowboys tickets. We got to celebrate them winning the NFC East, and for me, it was a way of thanking him for all those years of friendship.
"I will never forget the expression on his face when we sat in our seats. And it was worth it, just for that."
Our seats. Courtesy: Raj D.

✍️ 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

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Reply to this email with your current favorite song" Baker

Trivia answer: Warriors (over Cavaliers in 2018), Spurs (over Cavaliers in 2007), Lakers (over Nets in 2002)