So Stephen A. stepped in it Monday on "First Take."
His premise was that Major League Baseball is in trouble in some ways, that its biggest star needs an interpreter to communicate to the press and the public. He of course was referring to Shohei Ohtani, who may still be learning English but is Ivy League-level educated in the language of baseball.
"The fact that you got a foreign player that doesn't speak English, believe it or not, I think contributes to harming the game to some degree, when that's your box office appeal," Smith said on ESPN's most prominent morning show. "It needs to be somebody like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, those guys. And unfortunately at this point in time, that's not the case."
"For some reason, in Major League Baseball, you got these guys who need those interpreters, and I think that compromises the ability for them to ingratiate themselves with the American public, which is what we're really talking about."
OK, deep breaths.
There's a lot of cover, and I'm not really sure of the order.
First, and this is important: When someone's ol' No. 1, their fastball, is being bombastic, you have to expect bombastic to occasionally be a bomb that blows up in your hand. That's how this works, especially for someone who speaks as often as Stephen A. does and as tyrannically.
Second, social media went big-game hunting on Stephen A., because that's what social media does. OK, whatever. Social media is a plight, friends.
Third, and this is important to cover early: Stephen A. apologized, earnestly and directly. It was not a statement or a ham-handed, "Well, I am sorry you were offended" type of thing.
Next, I hate cancel culture, and I accept Stephen A.'s apology, not even knowing if I am in a position to accept his apology per se.
I actually find the follow-up tweet more questionable in which Stephen A. tries to diffuse the controversy with this take: "Amazing that folks still don't know me after all these years. If I am wrong about something, I will apologize. Especially if I unintentionally offend ANY GROUP of people — because it's the right thing to do. Period! I'm BLACK. I would know! See y'all tomorrow on @FirstTake."
Because if the "I'm BLACK' excuse works for Stephen A., then shouldn't the "I'm a woman" version work for Rachel Nichols in her dust-up with Maria Taylor?
But bigger picture, we'll never be able to have a meaningful conversation about inclusion and its importance when everyone everywhere is afraid to say a meaningful thing because they may step on their tongue — even someone who uses their tongue to make millions like Stephen A.
Because these final two details are important, too:
Not a week earlier this is what Stephen A. said about Ohtani: "Baseball has a modern-day Babe Ruth on their hands, and what are they doing about it? How many Shohei Ohtani commercials have you seen? How many people are wearing Ohtani jerseys outside of Angel Stadium in Anaheim? You better get your act together, baseball. You have to fix your game. Market it better."
And we all kind of understand his poorly worded point right, because there is a cliché that says something about being lost in translation. Unless of course that cliché is now offensive, too.
So there's that.
Yikes, that bad?
Lots to get to today, but I thought this was important, too.
The NBA Finals numbers are in the tank. Like really bad.
If we take away the bubble — which had more star power and a better match-up than these Suns-Bucks Finals — these Finals are all-time terrible. And I think across the board, we all wipe away the bubble numbers, which were the lowest ratings across every sport for myriad reasons.
Game 1 of this Finals drew 8.56 million viewers, which is down 36% from 2019. Game 1 was the least-watched, non-bubble Game 1 since the numbers have been tabulated. Game 1 was, according to SportsMediaWatch.com, the eighth-least-watched Finals game ever, behind five bubble games, Game 2 of Cavs-Spurs and Game 2 of Nets-Spurs in 2003.
Game 2 of the Bucks-Suns series averaged 9.38 million viewers, which was down 32% from the 2019 Finals and down almost a full 50% from 2018's Game 2, which drew 18.47 million.
There are a lot of ways to finger-point this, and in truth, there is a measure of truth in almost all of the reasons rather than one paramount reason.
The injuries have hurt. (See what I did there, Spy?) The match-up is blah-tastic. The calendar changes are still new — July 4 NBA still seems a little strange — and it's a plain truth that every non-NFL sport's TV numbers are sliding.
But, for all the spin each side tries to do on the political stances of the NBA, it's impossible to a) say the only reason the numbers are down is because of the social stances, and b) deny that the social stances have nothing to do with the sliding numbers.
The NBA's faux stance on equality is the primary reason. Is it a reason? Yes, the NBA is losing a connection with a group of casual sports fans, and it does not appear to care.
(And using the Squad-member Ayanna Pressley's antagonistic reverse racism spin move — She famously tweeted that "You can't be anti-racist if you're anti-student debt cancellation" — on this is not only disingenuous, it's dangerous — to the product and the discussion.)
The numbers are clearly falling, and falling more drastically than the rest of sports. There may be plenty of reasons, but to pretend the social commentary is not among them is just as ludicrous as pretending it's the only reason.
Some good news
You know the rules. Here's TFP college football ace and all-around swell human being David Paschall with some bright news for those who wear bright orange come Saturdays in the 'er' months.
This also seems an apropos time for a bigger picture discussion, considering there are an usually high number of high-quality high school prospects in Tennessee. (Hi. That was a lot of highs, H.I.)
The state has two five-star players and 12 four-star recruits, according to 247sports.com.
The good news is, as Paschall reports, Cameron Miller is one of those four stars and is a big-play wideout. The bad news is that Miller's is UT's first commitment from a player in the top 25 of the in-state rankings. (Heck, UK has two of the top 12 in the Wade boys from Spring Hill.)
Translation: With so many uncommitted in-state difference makers — three of the top six are uncommitted, and let's remember that these verbals are non-binding — and after the craziest single recruiting cycle in history, coupled with another UT coaching staff overhaul.
Simply put, the first month-plus of this season for Josh Huepel in the eyes of these in-state kids could not be more important. And that's not as much about wins and losses as it is about energy at Neyland, optimism among the fan base and momentum within the building.
This and that
> British Open contest, who's with me? Send me five golfers, top four scores count. Get places for their finish — winner is 1 point, Tied for third is 3, etc. — lowest score wins a gift card. Put your entry in the comments or email me at email@example.com.
> Speaking of the Derby, it seemed fun. I did not watch a large chunk of it — and no, it was not because Shohei needed an interpreter (although his first-round loss did hurt my interest) — but there were a couple of observations to take away. First, Pete Alonzo made more money winning back-to-back Home Run Derbys — in 2019 and last night — than he will in the 2019 and 2021 seasons. Also, the betting options on the Derby were fun, including an offer of whether Ohtani would hit a 500-footer (Yes, on some sites was dropped to even — aka easy — money) and the over/under on the longest home run. And friends, when I try to convey how good the algorithms and guesstimates are when it comes to Vegas setting lines, let this serve as a forever reminder: The over/under on longest homer last night was 519.5. The longest homer was 520 feet from Juan Soto.
> Here's today's A2 offering.
> Former professional wrestler Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff died. He was 71. Sad news. Made even sadder still that his son took to social media and said there was a GoFundMe.com page started to pay for Mr. Wonderful's funeral expenses. Man, the real story behind the lives and times and the ugly ends for professional wrestlers is a scary tale, friends.
True or false, it's Tuesday.
True or false, UT coach Josh Huepel has a tough time sleeping before a very important September.
True or false, Stephen A will be disciplined by ESPN.
True or false, an American wins the British Open.
True or false, the NBA's social justice campaign is the biggest reason for the Finals ratings drop.
You know the drill, answer some T or Fs, leave some T or Fs.
As for today, July 13, let's review.
Happy birthday Harrison Ford, who is 79 today.
Rushmore of actors with the most watchable all-time catalog. And if you are unclear of the parameters, you are trapped on an island with a TV and the entire DVD collection of one actor/actress. This caveat is in play: You have to watch every film before you can rewatch any film.
Who are the four actors on that Rushmore? Go.