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Two of the sport’s best running backs have yet to report to camp. Will teams pay up?
By Matt Foley
This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.
No disrespect to Denver and Atlanta fans, but the first NFL preseason game of 2019 was a reminder to some teams that their marquee stars are AWOL.
Two of football’s best running backs — Ezekiel Elliott of the Cowboys and the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon — are among four players who have yet to report to camp, each opting to pull a Le’Veon Bell. The message? “Pay me now or I won’t play!”
Typically, a player with two years remaining on his rookie deal wouldn’t hold out yet. But in a modern NFL where running backs are a dime a dozen and receivers are signing record-setting deals — Elliott feels it’s now or never to get that paper. Not helping matters is this week’s string of camp injuries to All-Pros like A.J. Green, Tyreek Hill and Andrew Luck, or the fact that another famous back — Washington’s Adrian Peterson — is playing a 13th season to crawl out of debt after reportedly going broke.
Not even the wily Texas merchant prince Jerry Jones could have predicted that Elliott would leave the country rather than report to camp. Eventually he’ll pay, because that’s also what Jerry does. Some other owners won’t, and fans will watch running backs trade jerseys like Beyoncé changes outfits at Coachella.
Get ready for the Christian McCaffrey holdout, Carolina. New Orleans, cherish Alvin Kamara while you can.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
Colby Covington vs. Robbie Lawler (Saturday at 3:00 pm ET on ESPN)
In a matinee main event in the loaded welterweight division, No. 2 Covington (14-1) and No. 11 Lawler (28-13) square off at Newark’s Prudential Center. Lawler has lost three of his last four, but the heavy-handed veteran could derail Covington’s title aspirations.
Los Angeles FC at New England Revolution (Saturday at 7:30 pm ET on ESPN+)
In the first meeting between these two sides in 2019, the Revs (9-8-6) put their 11-match unbeaten run on the line when they host Supporters’ Shield-leading LAFC (15-3-4) Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Will the streak continue?
New England (+185)
Ones to Watch
Marcus Stroman. After a bizarre MLB trade that featured surprising inactivity from the Yankees and Red Sox, an already-traded Yasiel Puig fighting in a benches-clearing brawl (more on that below) and Houston coming off the top rope by snagging future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke, it’s Stroman who remains one of the most intriguing players moved this week.
With the rebuilding Toronto Blue Jays clearly looking to trade, Stroman knew for weeks that he would be dealt. Like most top-of-the-rotation pitchers, he assumed he would be joining a World Series contender. So when news broke on Sunday that the 5-foot-7 Long Island native was heading to the Mets, he … well … caused a “commotion.” Translation: Stroman was pissed to be heading to Queens, where the team he grew up rooting for is, at the moment, decidedly not a title contender.
And yet, that could change. By adding Stroman to Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler — the latter two of whom they chose not to trade by Wednesday — the Mets now have a premier starting rotation that could dominate in the playoffs. At 51-55, they have just a 9.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, but a second wild card spot does remain within reach. Clearly, rookie Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen wants to compete now. Stroman makes his first start for the Metropolitans on Saturday at Pittsburgh.
Caroline Marks. More than 50 years after legendary Hawaian surfer Duke Kahanamoku lobbied for surfing to be added to the Summer Olympics, the sport is set to make its Olympic debut in August 2020. Well, contrary to what many surf fans have speculated, the competition won’t be held in wave pools from Kelly Slater Wave Company.
Rather, the four-person heats will take place at Japan’s Shidashita Beach, roughly 40 miles outside Tokyo. And while we don’t yet know which surfers will qualify, there’s a strong chance that one of the potential faces of the sport for years to come will stand atop a podium when competition commences. Back in April, 17-year-old Florida native Caroline Marks defeated seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore in the quarterfinals of the Boost Mobile Pro Gold Coast — the opening event of the 2019 World Surf League Championship Tour.
She went on to win the event, becoming the youngest top-ranked woman on the tour ever. It’s a pivotal achievement for Marks, for the WSL and for sponsors like Red Bull, searching for famous faces to promote ahead of the Olympics. With news that the WSL recently signed a deal with Fox Sports — its most expansive TV agreement to date — and the tour’s 2018 move to award equal prize money to male and female athletes in all of its events, Marks is a strong candidate to become surfing’s biggest female star yet.
A Reckoning Off the Pitch. Facing public pressure in the debate over equitable pay, U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro released a letter Monday claiming that the World Cup champion women’s national team has been paid more than the men’s team. According to Cordeiro, the federation paid out $34.1 million in salary and game bonuses to the women between 2010 and 2018 (versus $26.4 million to the men).
The total does not include the value of benefits received only by the women, like health care. Why the release? As it moves toward mediating a federal lawsuit in which the USWNT players accuse U.S. Soccer of institutionalized gender discrimination, the federation is hoping to quell the momentum in favor of the USWNT, who dispute the release. And while the women’s national team battles with its own federation in court, the two sides will have to work together to find a new coach capable of leading the soon-to-be-highly-paid top team in the world. USWNT head coach Jill Ellis left the team on Tuesday, recusing herself after five years, eight tournament titles and back-to-back World Cup victories. Why leave with an overall record of 102-7-18 and on the verge of ushering in a new era of women’s soccer? Ellis said only that “the time is right” and that being the USWNT coach requires “a fresh perspective.”
(Are you thinking what we’re thinking?)
Small-Ball NBA? Is the “small-ball” revolution ushered in by sharpshooters like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson coming to an end? According to new data from FiveThirtyEight, it could be. Attentive hoops fans will have noticed that, beginning last season and into free agency, numerous NBA clubs have loaded up their respective frontcourts, attempting to play contrarian to dominant small-ball clubs like the Warriors and Rockets. Entering next season, teams like the 76ers (Joel Embiid and Al Horford), Pacers (Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner), Trail Blazers (Hassan Whiteside and Zach Collins) and Lakers (Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins) all plan to start multiple big men together. According to FiveThirtyEight, two-big lineups played 58.8 percent of minutes league-wide in 2011-2012, back when Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah could hoop.
Of course, that’s when analytically minded early aughts contrarians decided to go small; then Curry and Thompson splashed up the league, and the rest is history. Last season, two-big lineups played just 6.4 percent of minutes. Should big-ball teams find success in the suddenly wide-open NBA next season, look for the return to historical basketball philosophies to continue. (In a related — but totally made-up — story: Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and Robert Parish have all sent word to teams that they’re available.)
It doesn’t matter if he’s dropping in on a 65-foot mega ramp or jumping out of a plane 13,000 feet above the patchwork ground below him, being airborne feels like home for Mitchie Brusco.
Aimee Berg/The New York Times
Virginia Fuchs announced herself to the boxing world at the 2016 United States Olympic Trials, where she twice upset Marlen Esparza, a world champion. In 2017, Fuchs went 18-0.
Danny Lawhon/Des Moines Register
The final countdown for legal sports wagering in Iowa is officially on. The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission approved the final rules for the state’s initial run at taking bets at a special meeting Tuesday in West Des Moines.
Adam Kramer/Bleacher Report
More than 2,000 days ago, EA Sports released NCAA Football 14, the latest in a popular college football video game series that had an almost cult-like following. At the time, in July of 2013, this felt like nothing more than another content-rich update.
Ever see a pitcher charge the dugout? The culmination of months of bad blood between the Cincinnati Reds and the Pittsburgh Pirates saw Reds standout reliever Amir Garrett decide not to wait for a customary charging of the mound. Rather, Garrett just went after the whole damn Pirates bench, sparking a fight. The 6-foot-6 former St. John’s basketball player will have plenty of time for pickup hoops while he’s suspended.