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AP photo by Ryan Kang / Tiger Woods tees off on the 18th hole Riviera Country Club during the second round of the PGA Tour's Genesis Invitational on Feb. 14 in Los Angeles.

What's next

The conversation around these parts on Tiger Woods on Wednesday was insightful and thought-provoking. Nice job, gang.

The path for Tiger is a lot of medical work, rehab and the like. Sure, he's been through this before, but not since Steve Austin has someone had this many overhauls, replacement parts and technological redos.

Will he return? I think we will see Tiger play golf again. Will Tiger ever be back? I was one of the few who said he would win a major after the run of back surgeries, knee procedures and off-the-course scandal. He did. One.(I thought he might get a few to be honest.)

And I believe it will be his last major. Heck, it's hard to see Tiger getting to a place to contend again, much less win. Be it the Barclays or the British Open, the Memorial or the Masters.

But that's the personal part of the 'What's Next' conversation, and in my mind there are three paths that need to be explored soon rather than later.

Because as we all ache for Tiger's situation, the fact of the matter is that Tiger is still far and away the biggest draw in a sport that needs individual star power as much as other. And while Tiger has not been Tiger for a while, the looming possibilities about Tiger returning — capped by the fairy tale that was the 2019 Masters — had value.

That value is nonexistent, at least for the next year.

So what does golf do next? Here's my three-pronged attack.

First, when he is able, make Tiger a PGA executive. Heck, make him commissioner — just have the current commissioner, or the folks who manage all the daily details still do their jobs — and let him speak at every tournament. Sit downs Sunday with Nantz or Dan Hicks. Whether he's in a hospital bed or at the hacienda, the truth of 'golf needs Tiger way more than Tiger needs golf' still rings solid, like a Tiger stinger on No. 3 at Augusta.

Second, get Phil Mickelson in a booth. Any booth. Tomorrow. Next to Tiger, Phil has been the most recognizable player for the better parts of two decades. And for a little perspective, other than Tiger and Phil, I can make a hard argument that the general sports-watching public feel like they know Jim Nantz or Sir Nick Faldo a heck of a lot better than Dustin Johnson or Justin Thomas. Mickelson's magic would help on a lot of fronts in this transition.

And while we're here, this transition has been a talking point for the better part of a decade. Whether it was 'Life after Tiger' or 'Who's the next Tiger' the PGA and golf in general has to have known this moment was coming. Sure it was dropped with the suddenness of a car crash, but not unlike an eviction notice, there were several delivered warnings long before the doors were locked and the power was shut off.

Which leads us to our final point. The PGA powers-that-be need to call Marty and Dr. Brown and get back to 2017 and find the secret sauce that Jordan Spieth lost in the last couple of years.

As golf stares into the Tiger-less abyss, it comes with this caveat: The last three final rounds of the last three PGA tournaments have actually seen increases in viewers and ratings. In this day and age, that kind of TV-related positivity in sports is as rare as Pelosi in MAGA tank top.

Sunday's tournament was up 10% in ratings and 17% in viewers to 2.2 and 3.62 million. Spieth's presence on the leaderboard into the weekend at all three of those events — he finished in the top 10 twice and tied for 15th last Sunday — can't be viewed as complete coincidence. Especially when you recall that the popular 27-year-old three-time major winner had the lead going into the final round at Pebble, and that Sunday was the most-watched non-major tournament day in more than two years.

Yes, golf has hit the life after Tiger ledge, and the solutions of the next three months will dictate the next decade or two for the sport. A fact that is magnified by the very real 'golf' bump that has seen way more folks play the game during the pandemic because it was one of the safest socially distanced activities. (Side note: The National Golf Foundation reported that there were almost 36 million rounds of golf played in 2020, an increase of 14 percent.)

 

Changing the channel

The next streaming service that lands will be Paramount+, which launches a week from today.

Sports Business Journal — pay site or I would link — is reporting that ViacomCBS, which owns Paramount+ is looking at anchoring a lot of NFL and soccer coverage to lure subscribers.

That's smart on multiple levels, considering the two forms of futbol/football are the most popular sports in the world and in the U.S. respectively.

And the early returns of a lot of these streaming services have been the success stories with niche audiences. Disney+ is not being carried by ESPN streams — no those are still filling your cable box for the time being — as much as it is being gobbled up by the Star Wars wannabes and the Marvel maniacs.

Plus, there is tangible added value for Paramount+ in the current set-up of the NFL broadcasting rights.

The SBJ report stated that CBS will put all of its NFL games on the streaming service. Considering the NFL's market-related rules, we all know that if the Titans are playing at 1, then the CBS game in our market is going to be Titans, even if the Chiefs are in Foxboro at the same time.

It's doubly valuable right now for CBS, which generally has the right to first refusal for games in the AFC, which far and away has more nationally interesting storylines, even with the Cowboys and the Packers in the NFC.

Consider the young stars like Mahomes, Watson (for now) and Trevor Lawrence are in the AFC. As across-the-country popular as the Packers are, the Pittsburgh Steelers are right there with them. Plus, the three young, on-the-rise rosters across the league's landscape are the Browns, Colts and Bills.

All of those faces and franchises are in the AFC. And if you are a fan of any of those players — or even a fantasy player — the $4.99 price for access to all of those is way better than signing up for DISH or Direct TV and the NFL ticket for big dollars.


 

Race conversation

I have noticed a couple of you abstaining from questions that deviate from sports. I understand that position, and I respect it.

Truly I do. I also know that the exchange of ideas is important as we try to better understand the vantage points of all Americans, because understanding is the first step in the arduous process of acceptance. And yes, we as a country have failed repeatedly to make positive strides in that march for generations.

Has progress been made? Sure. Has enough progress been made. Not even close.

But if everything is about race, then is everything else other than race meaningless?

And as is often the case, the conversion and the conversation of race directly intersects with sports.

Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of the Lakers' ceremony to honor Kobe Bryant, who died last year in a helicopter crash. He was 41.

It also was the day that Kyrie Irving sent an InstaGram post suggesting the NBA change its logo to one of Kobe Bryant, with a photo of Bryant dribbling in above the NBA letters.

Bryant's death hit a lot of folks very hard, and Irving was among them. I understand the tribute and the suggestion and could even get behind it from the emotional stance and the connection.

But we'd be remiss if we did not include Irving's comments on the idea: "Gotta Happen, idc what anyone says, BLACK KINGS BUILT THE LEAGUE."

If that's the sentiment — and the current logo is of course a silhouette of Hall of Fame Jerry West, who, like Kobe, was a former Lakers great and, unlike Kobe, is white — then is it fair that Irving is saying a Black man should be the logo of the league, no?

And if that's the case, well, the conversation should start with Bill Russell and it should end with MJ.

Because Irving's logic is not exactly accurate. The league was originally constructed by white men because of the hatred of the times.

(Side note: Red Auerbach's love for winning outweighed Boston's hatred. In a lot of ways, Red's decision to draft Chuck Cooper in 1950 was very Branch Rickey-esque. In fact, one of the greatest racial quotes in sports history came from then-Celtics owner Walter Brown. When other owners and league execs tried to convince Brown not to draft Cooper because he was black, Brown said during the draft, ""I don't give a damn if he's striped, plaid or polka dot. Boston takes Charles Cooper of Duquesne." So there's that.)

The game was lifted to its then peak by Wilt and Russell — another Red move — and lifted again with Kareem's arrival.

But it was saved from the depths of being almost irrelevant — from a time of drugs and scandal and controversy that had NBA Finals games being played on tape delay at 11:30 p.m. after the local news — by Magic and Larry. (Side note: In some ways the league's greatest individual rivalry was boosted by the racial divide as many white Americans leaned to the blue-collar Celtics rather than the 'Showtime' Lakers.)

Jordan took the recovery project Larry and Magic did and lifted it higher than anyone expected.

If they want to change the logo as a tribute to Kobe's presence, fine. If Kyrie and Co. want to make it a racial statement, well, that's their right too, I suppose.

But if it's the latter, well, we are open to feeling about that how we will, but I think we could all concur that there are way better choices than Kobe if the goal is to honor the 'BLACK KINGS' Irving believes built the league.        

 

This and that
 

— So ETSU players took a knee during the anthem of a Feb. 15 game at UTC? I was unaware of that, and in truth, there was bliss in my ignorance, in retrospect. I also am pretty sure we've covered every angle of this discussion in multiple directions. If you are new to these parts and want my opinion on it, I am happy to give it. But dating back to Kaepernick in 2017, my view on this anthem conversation in a lot of ways has to be similar to Jimmy Buffet's view of Margaritaville. Yes, it is an important piece of the product and a lot of folks want to hear it, but man playing the same song over and over gets tiring. Here's more from TFP government ace Andy Sher. My nutshell reaction: Freedom for everyone. Freedom to take a knee, freedom to be outraged by someone kneeling during the anthem. But freedom of choice is not a freedom from the result. If colleges say that scholarship recipients must do certain things — go to practice, maintain a GPA of a certain level, wear orange overalls on game day, etc. — then that's part of the working agreement between school and player. Thoughts?

— Here's country all-timer King George Strait's Texas abode hitting the market for a tidy $7.5 million. Heck, Spy, write a check for that thing in case we swing over to Abilene with Cowboy Gil from Parenthood. Side question: Yes, Ron Howard has made some fine feature films. Apollo 13 comes to mind. So does Mr. Mom, Cocoon, Backdraft, and a slew of others. Yep, Opie grewed up and done did fine. (Side questions on the side question: Since I am a Southern white fella, I can make fun of Southern white fellas, right? Who am I kidding, using a country accent is the last acceptable imprecation anyone can do these days. Second, what is the proper spelling of 'grewed' as in sounds like brewed and is the Billy Bob past tense conjugation of grown? Discuss.) Anywell, as for Opie, while the depth of feature films is impressive, and yes I know he got one of those Golden dudes for A Beautiful Mind, but Parenthood may be the most under appreciated movie of my lifetime. And some of Steve Martin's finest work since The Jerk. Thoughts?

— Speaking of which, Ron Howard will be 67 on Monday, and when Opie Taylor is 67 years old, well, that will make any of us feel old.
   
— If you thought Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas was bad or the Warriors dealing Joe Barry Carroll for what became McHale and Parrish and two-thirds of the greatest frontcourts in NBA history, well, I argue that there has ever been a worse major sports decision than giving the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. (Side question: Hey, Spy, how is that Qatar pronounced? Is it like 'Cutter" or is it more 'guitar' with a q rather than g?) Anywell, we knew the fix was in from the get-go when they gave the world's most-followed event in the world's most popular sport to a place where summer temps are in the 120s. (The event will be in November and December because of the temperatures.) We also knew the fix was in because I'm pretty sure at least one of and maybe both 'F' in FIFA stands for 'fix.' Now comes news that 6,500 migrant have died during construction accidents during the building of facilities needed for the '22 event, and Qatar leaders say those numbers are in line with expected numbers. WHAT? They expected to have 12 deaths a week since construction started in 2010? Seriously? Not since the Egyptians erected the Pyramids have work-place death tolls like that been viewed as standard operating procedure. They are building seven soccer stadiums, and working day and night to fill up all local cemeteries apparently.    

— Picture being worth a thousand words, example 13,067: Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon was not happy with the reporting from ESPN.com's Jamison Henley. So Judon demanded an apology, and threatened to release some photos of Henley at a local strip club. OK, according to ESPN's website bios, Henley has a wife and two kids. Going to a strip club is certainly not a crime. (The assault that my wife would commit if I went to a strip club would be, so we got that covered.) Which also brings us to this point: Judon has already floated the assertion that these photos exist, which Henley's wife certainly would know by now. So that begs the question, how incriminating are these photos then? Either way, Henley's got some splainin' to do at home. And Judon's resulting to public pressure and threats that feel a lot like blackmail is not a good look either.  

 

Today's questions

Wow, lots of heavy stuff up there.

So, let's chat. Which streaming service is your go-to?

Also, what is on those photos of the ESPN reporter if the Ravens linebacker is using it for that kind of leverage? Can't be good.

If Tiger's not in the conversation, do you have a favorite golfer, and if so who is it? And if Tiger's not in the equation, who is the biggest star in an individual sport in this country?

As for today, Feb. 25, let's review.

Ali won his first heavyweight title on this day in 1964. He beat Sonny Liston.
Well, the Nature Boy, Nic Flair is 72 today. Man, that's 72 hard-bleepin' years friends.

Rushmore of folks who are still with us that surprise you. Yes, Keith Richards is far left, but I think Flair may have a spot on that Rushmore too.

Go and remember the mailbag.

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