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The soul singer Gladys Knight, who will be singing the national anthem at this year’s Super Bowl in Atlanta, seemed to criticize Colin Kaepernick in a statement published by Variety on Friday.
Kaepernick is the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback whose refusal to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” — and decision to kneel instead — to protest police brutality has made him a divisive figure nationwide, earning him praise from civil rights groups, but scorn from many conservatives, including President Trump.
“I understand that Mr. Kaepernick is protesting two things, and they are police violence and injustice,” Knight wrote to Variety. “It is unfortunate that our national anthem has been dragged into this debate when the distinctive senses of the national anthem and fighting for justice should each stand alone.”
The statement continued: “I am here today and on Sunday, Feb. 3, to give the anthem back its voice, to stand for that historic choice of words, the way it unites us when we hear it and to free it from the same prejudices and struggles I have fought long and hard for all my life.”
This is the latest twist at the intersection of politics, sports and music that has surrounded this year’s Super Bowl. Kaepernick is still in the middle of an ongoing arbitration case regarding a grievance he filed against the N.F.L. He has accused the league’s owners of colluding to keep him out of the league after not being signed last season.
His protests during the anthems became a cultural flash point, even though he wasn’t in the league. Other N.F.L. players began kneeling to support Kaepernick, as did celebrities off the field. Last fall, Nike made Kaepernick the face of a prominent advertising campaign.
This year’s Super Bowl became particularly fraught because of the halftime show. Some high-profile artists, including the rapper Cardi B, said they would not be willing to perform, in a show of solidarity with Kaepernick. Last year, Jay-Z rapped in one of his songs: “I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don’t need you.”
Earlier this week, the N.F.L. announced the halftime acts would be Maroon 5 and the rappers Travis Scott and Big Boi. Scott’s decision to participate, in particular, received backlash, including from prominent African-Americans like Al Sharpton. Variety reported that Kaepernick and Scott spoke before the announcement and described the conversation as “cordial and respectful.” But on Wednesday, several posts critical of Scott appeared on Kaepernick’s Twitter account.
Perhaps anticipating the criticism, Scott announced on Sunday, in conjunction with the halftime billing, that he and the league were teaming up on a $500,000 donation to Dream Corps, a social justice group.
Like a seasoned yogi realizing he can deepen his stretch, there is a zen-like quality to Stephen Curry’s exacting hunt for the perfect shot.
On Sunday against the Nets, he continued his streak of making at least five threes in the first seven games of the season, breaking the record George McLoud set in 1995. Curry is on pace to shatter the single-season record in three-pointers made, which he set at 402 in 2015-2016, which shattered his own the previous record of 286 in 2014-15, which shattered his own previous record of 272 in 2012-13.
In the offseason, he told the Wall Street Journal, “I might be delusional, but I feel like I can get better at putting the ball in the basket.” His personal trainer, Brandon Payne, added that “he’s not even close” to his peak. Together, to hear it from Pablo Torre on ESPN’s High Noon, Curry and Payne devised a drill in which Curry had to hit 20 sets of shots, differing in spot and style, from the perimeter, and swish six of 10 free throws. It was called “Perfection.”
Up against the Warriors’ decadence, tried-and-true theories about the professional athlete’s insatiable drive fall away. It’s hard not to wonder why they’re not satisfied when they’re already deemed unbeatable. What an extravagance. And what do they have left to improve?
But the difficulty of Curry’s shots aren’t mere theatre. If he wants to actually shoot the ball, defenses are going to force the world’s best decoy to chase perfection and master chaos.
Consider: Opponents would rather allow Kevin Durant to play one-on-one against mismatches and let Jordan Bell throw down alley-oops than allow Curry to shoot threes. Hell, they’d rather let him get lay ups: the Warriors often free Curry up by running him off screens as he cuts to the rim, usually as a fake-out before he sprints to the corner pocket. Against the Jazz on Oct. 19, Curry was aggressively chased off the three-point line by Dante Exum and hounded on pick and rolls by Ricky Rubio and Rudy Gobert, whose 7’9 wingspan gave Curry pause. They tugged at his jersey and laid him out with hard screens. Royce O’Neale even gave him a nosebleed. Curry didn’t hit a three until more than halfway through the second quarter, on a uniquely unguardable play illustrated by NBA analyst Jared Dubin.
Curry tried to push the game to devolve into chaos, his high-risk way of forcing the issue: boxing out for offensive rebounds, throwing dangerous outlets, whipping rainbow passes across the floor. But the Jazz’s length, athleticism, and discipline tipped the scales in their balance, up until Jonas Jerebko’s game-winning putback for the Warriors.
As though he took note, Curry had, to put it lightly, more success against the Wizards on Oct. 24, scoring 51 points and drilling 11 threes. The Wizards tried to switch and trap Curry mercilessly, forcing the ball out of his hands. The only problem: he got rid of it by flinging it into the basket.
Four days before a new NFL season gets underway, Nike is throwing its weight behind one of the most polarizing figures in football, and America: former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick will be one of the faces of Nike’s 30th anniversary commemoration of its iconic “Just Do It” slogan. The campaign will also feature athletes such as Serena Williams, NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Shaquem Griffin, a rookie linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks whose left hand was amputated when he was a child.
Kaepernick tweeted out a photo from the campaign on Monday. Over a black-and-white picture of his face, a caption reads, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
In backing Kaepernick, whom the company has sponsored since 2011, Nike is making a high-stakes gamble that its customers support his protest, or at least that enough of them do. The company is also betting its brand can withstand criticism from conservative corners, including the White House.
Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season. That year, he began kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness about police brutality against African-Americans and other racial injustices. Dozens of other players also began joining Kaepernick, and he has grown into a symbol of dividing lines over race in America.
In 2017, he filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging the league conspired to keep him out because of his protests. An arbiter last week denied the NFL’s request to throw out the grievance, allowing the case to proceed to a trial.
The protests have divided the league, often pitting a conservative white owner base against the NFL’s mostly African-American players.
The owners voted in May to approve rules that would have required players to stand on the sideline during the anthem or or remain in the locker room. Teams would be fined if players did not stand during the anthem, and the rules allowed individual teams to set their own policies.
Those rules are on hold while the league and the players’ association negotiate.
Nike’s public support of Kaepernick also risks drawing the anger of President Donald Trump.
Trump and his allies have repeatedly seized on the issue. At a rally in Alabama last year, Trump said team owners should “get that son of a bitch off the field” if a player knelt in protest of injustice during the anthem. Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game after some players knelt.
“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones last year, according to a sworn deposition Jones gave in connection with Kaepernick’s lawsuit.
Nike declined to comment on whether it expected Trump to criticize the company or how it would respond if he did.
The company also drew fire from Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis, who called the Kaepernick campaign “pathetic,” and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who tweeted, “I guess @Nike will now focus on making knee pads for NFL.”
But many users voiced support for the brand’s decision and mocked people who claimed to be destroying their Nike products in protest, suggesting they should donate them to charity instead.
Williams said she was “especially proud to be a part of the Nike family today.”
Outspoken sports journalist Jemele Hill argued that people shouldn’t be surprised by Nike’s decision based on its history.
“Nike became Nike because it was built on the idea of rebellion,” she wrote. “This is the same company that dealt w/ the NBA banning Air Jordans. They made [Michael] Jordan the face of the company at a time when black men were considered to be a huge risk as pitch men. They aren’t new to this.”
One side protects its pole. The other does everything possible to topple it. Botaoshi, a game combining elements of rugby, sumo and martial arts, hangs on in Japan despite the dangers.
TOKYO — On a cloudless spring afternoon, thousands of parents, teachers and alumni watched as a pack of young students charged across a field, screaming and snarling, and then crashed into a wall of students defending an 11.8-foot wooden pole. The attackers clawed, shoved and jumped over the opposition. Heads butted. Elbows were thrown. The wall buckled, then stood firm. Like a mast on a sailboat in rough seas, the pole dipped, then rose again.
This wasn’t trench warfare, it was botaoshi, a century-old game that combines elements of American football, rugby, sumo and martial arts. The game has gotten so dangerous that many Japanese schools have abandoned it, but it lives on at Kaisei Gakuen, where it is the centerpiece of the school’s annual sports festival.
Little known in America, botaoshi, or “topple the pole,” remains a rite of passage at Kaisei, which opened in 1871 and is one of Japan’s most prestigious secondary schools. Teachers say the game promotes teamwork, toughness and sportsmanship. Students eagerly await their chance to compete in the tournament in their junior and senior years. (Underclassmen play more rudimentary games.) Alumni can recount details of games played decades ago.
LAS VEGAS — As the sun set on another day at the N.B.A. Summer League this month, a group of 60-odd power brokers gathered at an upscale restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip. They were among the league’s elite: executives who help engineer blockbuster trades, salary-cap gurus who devise contracts and scouts who identify prospects.
They sipped wine, nibbled hors d’oeuvres and made conversation; perhaps an unremarkable scene except for one thing: They were all women.
“This is the first time, to our knowledge, that this has ever happened,” said Liliahn Majeed, the N.B.A.’s vice president for diversity and inclusion.
Long known for its progressive approach toward social issues, the N.B.A. has emerged as an industry leader among men’s professional sports leagues when it comes to hiring and promoting women. Richard Lapchick, the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, recently released a study that found that the N.B.A. had the highest percentage of women working at the league office and with individual teams, outpacing the N.F.L. and Major League Baseball. Women hold 31.6 percent of team management positions in the N.B.A., according to the study.
Michele Roberts has heard the complaints about the N.B.A.’s best team, the Golden State Warriors, signing an All-Star. She has heard the whining about the league’s best player, LeBron James, moving westward in the first week of free agency. She has seen fans and pundits proclaim the league isn’t competitive enough, and has watched the blame for that land on the doorstep of the National Basketball Players Association and its decision three years ago to reject a league proposal to prevent the limit on player salaries from rising faster than ever before.
After keeping quiet for a week, Roberts, executive director of the players’ union, fired back over the weekend. In a series of emails, she rejected the idea of blaming the players’ decision on the issue known as cap smoothing as nonsense. General managers and coaches may want to blame the players for their teams not being good enough to contend for a championship, she said, but they have no one to blame but themselves.
“Frankly, I have been amused by the chatter suggesting that smoothing — or more accurately the failure to smooth — has now become some folks’ boogeyman de jure,” Roberts said in an email. “While we haven’t yet blamed it for the assassination of MLK, some are now suggesting that it is responsible for all that is presumably wrong with today’s NBA.”
“Needless to say, I beg to differ.”
First, for those not fluent in the N.B.A.’s collective bargaining agreement, a bit of background is in order.
In October 2014, the N.B.A. signed a new television agreement that nearly tripled the amount the league received annually for its national television rights, to $2.66 billion from $930 million, beginning in 2016. The salary cap, which limits the amount each team can spend on players, is tied directly to league revenue. So, in 2016, the first year under the new agreement, the salary cap increased by $24 million, to $94 million, about the same amount it had risen the previous 11 years combined.
The N.B.A. knew this was going to happen, and executives believed a gradual increase of the salary cap was preferable. So the league in 2014 proposed artificially depressing the salary cap for the 2016-17 season. Instead of a sudden rise in the cap, the league offered to provide the players with a lump-sum check that they could divide themselves. That way, teams would not end up signing players to inflated contracts merely because those players had the good fortune of becoming free agents in the summer of 2016.
“Under the concept we discussed, the total salaries paid to players in the aggregate each season would not have changed, but smoothing would have allowed for steadier, incremental Cap increases, instead of a one-year spike,” an N.B.A. spokesman, Mike Bass, wrote in an email.
In February 2015, union representatives from each team unanimously rejected the N.B.A.’s proposal. Roberts said two economists retained by the union concluded players would be worse off under the plan. It has long been accepted wisdom among sports unions that getting every player the highest possible salary is very good for all players.
So, in the summer of 2016, unspectacular players such as Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Ian Mahinmi and Timofey Mozgov all signed contracts worth tens of millions of dollars. Those deals have proven to be poor investments for their teams. With two years left on their contracts, Noah and Deng are all but out of the league, and Mahinmi and Mozgov are little-used substitutes receiving starter money.
During that same summer, the Golden State Warriors — just off a Game 7 upset loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the N.B.A. finals — had enough salary cap space to sign free agent Kevin Durant, and enough space the summer after to retain Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Without the salary cap spike, that would have been impossible unless all three took significant salary cuts.
Flash forward to last week, when the Warriors, fresh off their third championship in four seasons, signed the All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, and James decided to join the Los Angeles Lakers. With the smoothing issue once again at the center of the debate over how the N.B.A. became so lopsided, Roberts decided she had heard enough.
Agreeing to artificially lower the salary cap “offends our core,” Roberts wrote. “It would be quite counterintuitive for the union to ever agree to artificially lower, as opposed to raise, the salary cap. If we ever were to do so, there would have to be a damn good reason, inarguable and uncontroverted. There was no such assurance in place at that time.”
She called the concept fundamentally unfair to players. Many of them had been preparing for the expected spike well before the television deal was signed by agreeing to contracts that allowed them to become free agents in 2016.
Also, Roberts explained, instead of artificially depressing the salary cap, the league could have proposed advancing television money into 2015 and increasing spending. But it didn’t want to “in part because teams weren’t expecting an early Cap increase,” Roberts wrote.
“Just the same way that they shouldn’t be faulted for seeking to meet teams’ expectations,” she added, “folks should recognize how important we felt it was to meet the reciprocal expectations felt by the players.”
She dismissed the idea that the 2016 spike had caused a soft market this year. “We opened free agency with 9 teams that had significant Cap room, in excess of $10 million each,” she wrote. “Frankly, before the spike, that’s about as healthy of a start as we’ve ever had.”
Roberts believes the Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Lakers will all challenge the Warriors, and the young Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets, as well as “a host of other teams are not conceding a damn thing this season.” There have always been dominant teams in the N.B.A. — as there have been in baseball, she pointed out, wh
cap — and they come in cycles.
“We exist to enhance the lives of the players — to provide them with freedom, opportunity, job security and economic wealth,” she wrote. “We actually believe we can provide it all — all these things, plus competition. The fact that one of the 30 teams, at this moment in time, is having its own moment, doesn’t trouble us or make us question the merits of our system.”
Roberts knows that since 2016 whispers have percolated through the league that she rejected cap smoothing because it was the first major decision of her tenure, which began in 2014, and she wanted to avoid the perception that the league could strong-arm the new union director.
Citing her long and bruising legal career as a trial lawyer for some of the country’s most prestigious law firms, she said she would have embraced smoothing if the union’s independent experts had recommended it.
“I stopped making decisions (especially potentially bad ones) to ‘make a statement’ or ‘prove something’ well before I passed the bar,” she wrote.
With rising television ratings and revenues suggesting the N.B.A. is stronger than ever, Roberts is fairly certain who should shoulder the blame for any team that struggles because they signed bad deals.
“I get that there are folks who believe that some of the contracts executed post the smoothing rejection were too large,” she wrote. “I vehemently disagree as I am sure do the players that negotiated those contracts. However, if that’s the beef folks have, take it up with the GMs that negotiated them. The argument that we gave teams too much money to play with is preposterous.”