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    Irv Cross, First Black Network TV Sports Analyst, Dies at 81

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyIrv Cross, First Black Network TV Sports Analyst, Dies at 81After playing defensive back in the N.F.L., he made history when he joined CBS Sports’ pregame show, “The NFL Today.”Irv Cross in 1985. He had a 15-year run as an analyst on “The NFL Today.”Credit…George Rose/Getty ImagesMarch 1, 2021Updated 7:48 p.m. ETIrv Cross, a Pro Bowl defensive back with two N.F.L. teams who later made history as the first Black full-time television analyst for a network television sports show, died on Sunday in a hospice in North Oaks, Minn. He was 81.The cause was ischemic cardiomyopathy, a heart disease, said his wife, Liz Cross. He also had dementia, which he believed had been caused by concussions he endured in his playing days. He had arranged to donate his brain to the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center.By 1975, after nine seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Los Angeles Rams and four years as a game analyst for CBS Sports, the network hired Mr. Cross to join the cast of its pregame show, “The NFL Today,” beginning a 15-year run as a high-profile commentator. He, Brent Musburger and Phyllis George — and, starting a year later, the betting maven Jimmy Snyder, who was known as the Greek — previewed and analyzed the day’s coming games and gave half-time scores.The cast was unlike others in N.F.L. television programming, with Mr. Cross in a job that no other Black sports journalist had held before, and Ms. George, a former Miss America, becoming one of the first female sportscasters. With entertaining banter and byplay, the combination of personalities proved extremely popular.“Irv was a very smart, hardworking, hugely kind person who always had a warmth about him,” Ted Shaker, the former executive producer of CBS Sports, said in a phone interview. “He had built up his credibility as a player and game analyst, and he was our anchor at ‘The NFL Today.’” He added, “Like Phyllis, Irv was a true pioneer.” (Ms. George died in May at 70.)In 1988, CBS fired Mr. Snyder over widely publicized comments he had made in an interview about the physical differences between Black and white athletes. His comments, Mr. Cross said at the time, “don’t reflect the Jimmy the Greek I know, and I’ve known him for almost 13 years.” (Mr. Snyder died in 1996.)After CBS fired Mr. Musburger in a contract dispute in 1990, the network overhauled “The NFL Today,” ending Mr. Cross’s long run on the program. He returned to being a game analyst at CBS for two years, but after his contract was not renewed he did not work in network television again.“I didn’t have an agent, and I didn’t search for a TV position as aggressively as I should have,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1996.“I just quietly faded away.”His broadcasting work was honored in 2009 when he received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.Mr. Cross in 1976 with his “NFL Today” colleagues Brent Musburger and Phyllis George.Credit…CBS ArchivesIrvin Acie Cross was born on July 27, 1939, in Hammond, Ind., the eighth of 15 children. His father, Acie, was a steelworker; his mother, Ellee (Williams) Cross, was a homemaker.Mr. Cross said his father, a heavy drinker, had beaten his mother. “It tears me up,” he told The Chicago Tribune in 2018. “It was frightening. You could tell it was coming. We tried stopping him a few times. We’d jump on his back. It’s absolutely raw for me.”Ellee Cross died in childbirth when Irv was 10, leaving him to wonder whether the beatings had worsened his mother’s health problems.After excelling at football at Hammond High School — which earned him a place in its hall of fame — Mr. Cross was a wide receiver and a defensive back at Northwestern University under Coach Ara Parseghian. As a junior, he caught a 78-yard touchdown pass during a 30-24 Northwestern victory over Notre Dame.“We didn’t have much depth, but Parseghian was great at moving guys around and getting the most of them,” Mr. Cross told a Northwestern online publication in 2018. “His teams beat Notre Dame three straight times from 1958 to 1961.” Mr. Parseghian left Northwestern after the 1963 season to begin a storied run as coach of Notre Dame.As a senior, Mr. Cross was named Northwestern’s male athlete of the year.The Eagles chose him in the seventh round of the 1961 N.F.L. draft. He intercepted a career-high five passes in 1962 and played in the Pro Bowl in 1964 and 1965. The Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown once said, “No one in the league tackles harder than Cross.”After five seasons with the Eagles, Mr. Cross was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1965 and played there for three years. He returned to the Eagles in 1969 as a player and a defensive backs coach. After retiring as a player at the end of the season, he continued to coach for one more year.Mr. Cross when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles in the early 1960s. He was a two-time Pro Bowl defensive back before becoming a sportscaster.Credit…Philadelphia EaglesMr. Cross began planning for a television career while he was with the Eagles, working as a radio sports commentator and a weekend TV sports anchor in Philadelphia during the off-season. Though tempted by the Dallas Cowboys’ offer of a front office job in 1971, he chose to work for CBS Sports instead.Joining “The NFL Today” came with a certain amount of pressure. He recalled in the Northwestern interview that in 1975 “the TV landscape was much different, much whiter.”“I never focused on that,” Mr. Cross said, “but I was keenly aware that if I failed it might be a long time before another Black person got a similar opportunity.”When the cast of the show was changed in 1990, Greg Gumbel, who is Black, was hired to work alongside the former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw.After Mr. Cross left CBS he changed course, working as the athletic director at Idaho State University in Pocatello from 1996 to ’98 and at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., from 1999 to 2005.In addition to his wife, Liz (Tucker) Cross, he is survived by his daughters, Susan, Lisa and Sandra Cross; his son, Matthew; a grandson; his sisters, Joan Motley, Jackie McEntyre Julia Hopson, Pat Grant and Gwen Robinson; and his brothers, Raymond, Teal and Sam. His first marriage ended in divorce. He lived in Roseville, Minn., outside the Twin Cities.When Mr. Cross played, concussions were usually not taken seriously. He sustained several in his rookie season, enough for his teammates to nickname him Paper Head. One of the concussions knocked him unconscious and sent him to the hospital.To protect himself, Mr. Cross had a helmet made with extra padding.“I just tried to keep my head out of the way while making tackles,” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2018. “But that’s just the way it was. Most of the time, they gave you some smelling salts and you went back in. We didn’t know.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Police Raid F.C. Barcelona and Detain Four People

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyPolice Raid F.C. Barcelona and Detain Four PeopleThe authorities have been investigating the club’s relationship with a company that produced disparaging content about Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué and other star players.The police in Catalonia said they seized evidence in their raid of Barcelona and detained four people.Credit…Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesMarch 1, 2021Updated 9:54 a.m. ETThe police in Spain raided the headquarters of F.C. Barcelona on Monday, seizing evidence and detaining four people. The arrests, on the eve of the club’s presidential election, created another crisis for a soccer behemoth brought low by crippling debt, boardroom infighting and poor performances on the field.A spokeswoman for Mossos d’Esquadra, Catalonia’s regional police force, said its economic crimes unit had seized evidence from Barcelona’s offices. She added that the investigation was continuing and that four people have been detained but, citing police policy, declined to name the individuals.Dispositiu en marxa de l’Àrea Central de Delictes Econòmics de la DIC relacionat amb el @FCBarcelona_es S’estan duent a terme diverses entrades i escorcolls pic.twitter.com/N0GZEMHN4W— Mossos (@mossos) March 1, 2021
    Several news media outlets reported that the four people detained were prominent current and former executives of the club: the former president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, who resigned in December, shortly before he was to face a vote of no confidence; Oscar Grau, the club’s chief executive; Roman Gomez Ponti, its head of legal services; and Jaume Masferrer, an adviser to Bartomeu.Barcelona said in a statement that the club had offered “full collaboration to the legal and police authorities to help make clear facts which are subject to investigation.”Investigators have been looking into Barcelona’s affairs for months, after incendiary revelations suggested the club had secretly hired an external marketing company to produce disparaging content about some of its most important and high-profile players, including Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué.The team denied any wrongdoing and hired a consultant, PWC, to complete an audit of its relationship with the marketing company, I3 Ventures, but the police continued their investigation.The police investigation into Barcelona has been closely followed by Spanish news media, which has called the affair “Barcagate.” Bartomeu said in February that he had no idea the company was involved in spreading negative content targeting Barcelona players, and although the club terminated the contract, the stain remained.The raid on the club’s offices come just days before more than 140,000 Barcelona members will elect Bartomeu’s successor, and it is another hit to the reputation of a club that for years had portrayed itself as a benchmark in world soccer. The team liked to portray itself as a team with values that put it in a class of its own, operated under the slogan, “More than a club.”Bartomeu’s resignation came months after a humiliating 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich that eliminated the club from last season’s Champions League, Europe’s richest club soccer competition, and a public falling out with Messi, arguably the greatest player in the game’s history.Messi described Bartomeu’s board as “a disaster” and demanded to be allowed to leave the club he joined as a 13-year-old from Argentina. The club refused Messi’s request and the player backed down and announced he would stay rather than drag the issue through the courts.Messi’s contract allows him to leave at the end of this season, but he has said he has not decided what he will do.Bartomeu has been fighting negative headlines for more than a year, and his tenure as president, which began amid an earlier scandal in 2014, has been marked by periods of turbulence. Last spring, six members of the club’s board resigned and went public with their criticism of Bartomeu.At the heart of their falling out was the contract with I3 Ventures, and allegations that it was behind fake social media accounts — purporting to be Barcelona supporters — that attacked those perceived to Bartomeu’s opponents. Those included Victor Font, an outspoken candidate to be the club’s next president, and popular players like Messi and Piqué.The raid on Barcelona’s offices came days before the club’s 140,000 members will elect a new president.Credit…Lluis Gene/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe team’s finances are also more precarious than at any time in its recent history. Earlier this year, it published financial statements showing it owed more than 1 billion euros, about $1.2 billion, to its lenders, tax officials and rival clubs, with more than 600 million euros required to be paid in the short term.The club has entered emergency talks with banks to find a solution to its problems, and club officials are also weighing selling some of the team’s commercial assets to investors to raise as much as $250 million.The club has played without spectators this season because of the coronavirus pandemic, as is the case for most teams in Europe, and the team’s revenue forecasts have cratered. The club’s cavernous Nou Camp stadium and museum are ordinarily two of the most visited tourist sites in Spain, and the loss of those revenues and other income could reach as much as 600 million euros, club executives recently told The Times.On the field, the picture is hardly better.Even though Messi returned, the club’s performance has been a shadow of its dominating past. Barcelona endured yet another Champions League humiliation last month, losing by 4-1 against Paris St.-Germain in the first leg of its two-game, round-of-16 match. The defeat means elimination from this year’s tournament is all but assured.Barcelona has rallied from a poor start to move into second place in the Spanish league table, but it is still five points behind the leader, Atlético Madrid, whose success in part has been attributed to the goals of striker Luis Suarez, whose contract was canceled by Barcelona before the start of season.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Black Players and Common Goal Join Forces for Anti-Racism Project

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyNew Anti-Racism Project Hopes to Push Soccer Past GesturesBlack players, joining with the charity Common Goal and backed by teams in North America, say they hope to reinvigorate the campaign against racism in the game.Wilfried Zaha and other Premier League players still kneel briefly before every match, but he and other Black players said the time had come to do more.Credit…Pool photo by Clive RoseFeb. 24, 2021, 7:00 a.m. ETTony Sanneh saw the pattern while he was a player. It is precisely the same one he sees now, more than a decade after his retirement.Soccer confronts its struggle to combat racism only sporadically. The abuse of a player on the field, the denigration of a team from the stands, a sudden reminder of the lack of opportunities for Black coaches or executives — all of it sparks a conversation, a campaign, a vow to do better. “It is always talked about,” Sanneh said. “And then it goes away again.”Several prominent Black voices within the sport have suggested, in recent weeks, that it must not be allowed to happen again. After almost a year of protests inspired by the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that swept the globe after the killing of George Floyd, a number of players, in particular, have suggested that gestures are no longer sufficient.“It has become something we just do,” the Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha said of players’ taking a knee before Premier League matches. “That is not enough for me.”The players say they want actions, not gestures, and Sanneh — a veteran of the Bundesliga, Major League Soccer and the 2002 World Cup — and others are hoping to kick-start that effort. Sanneh has joined with Common Goal, a player-led social movement in global soccer; clubs from the three major leagues in North America; and the American Outlaws, the United States national team’s largest fan group, to launch the Anti-Racist Project, a program designed to tackle all aspects of soccer’s problem with racism.The program’s scale is ambitious: It aims to engage some 5,000 coaches and 60,000 young people in more than 400 communities in its first year, using an educational antiracism tool kit established and honed by the work Sanneh’s personal foundation, based in St. Paul, Minn., has done over the last two decades. Sanneh said he hoped it could be “refreshed and globalized” to be rolled out beyond the United States next year.Flickers of players’ impatience with the pace of change in the game are already starting to show. In England, where the sight of players taking a knee is now part of the pregame ritual, the Brentford striker Ivan Toney has suggested it has become “pretty pointless.” “Take the knee and the people at the top can rest for a while now,” he said.The United States women’s team did not kneel during the national anthem before its game against Brazil on Sunday, a collective decision made by the team after nearly a year of protests. “It is all to say that we are now ready to move past the protesting phase and actually move into putting all of the talk into actual work,” the midfielder Crystal Dunn told reporters afterward.The United States women’s national team on Sunday ended its ritual of kneeling during the national anthem.Credit…Alex Menendez/Getty ImagesSeveral players, including Manchester City’s American goalkeeper Zack Steffen, have backed the project, but its advantage, according to Evan Whitfield, a former Major League Soccer player who now works with Common Goal, is the breadth of its coalition.“There is a rich history of player-led demonstrations,” he said. “That will continue, but what is unique about this is that sense of collective action.”For a long time, Whitfield said, “corporate entities and clubs” have sought to use “their messaging to pacify player voices.” There is a sense that has changed now, not only because clubs are prepared to “back up what they espouse” through action, but also because there are those, like Sanneh and Steffen and others, who have sufficient clout to “put their thumb on the scale.”The Chicago Fire of M.L.S., the Oakland Roots of the lower-tier U.S.L. and Angel City F.C., the National Women’s Soccer League expansion club that will join that league next year, all have lent support to the project.“I cannot tell you how important it is that we step up before we take the field,” said Cobi Jones, the former United States international who is now one of Angel City F.C.’s owners. “It shows everyone that the club has an understanding of where it stands on racism, that we are at the forefront. It is inherent in what we stand for.”The hope is that they will be just the first to take part. The project is, Whitfield said, “a call to action,” not just for other clubs, but “for leagues and fans, too.”“We had to step up and work collectively,” Sanneh said. “To use our success to work for others in this industry. We have to all work together to combat societal challenges.”Steffen was a little more succinct, echoing the views of a growing chorus of players. “We have talked a lot for the last few months,” he said. “Now is the time to take action, to get out there, and to show people that we are serious.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    The Women's Team Won a Title. Weeks Later, Owners Shut It Down.

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyA Rising Tide Sinks One BoatA top women’s soccer team won its first league title last season. But as richer rivals pour money into the women’s game, Kopparbergs decided to fold rather than fight.A Champions League defeat against Manchester City turned out to be the final match for Kopparbergs/Gothenburg F.C.Credit…Jason Cairnduff/Action Images, via ReutersFeb. 24, 2021, 12:05 a.m. ETAs far as Elin Rubensson knew, the call was about plans for the coming year, nothing more. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, she and her colleagues at Kopparbergs/Gothenburg F.C. were summoned for a remote team meeting. They dialed in expecting to hear details of the club’s ambitions for the new season.Things, after all, were looking good. A month earlier, Kopparbergs had been crowned Sweden’s women’s soccer champion for the first time; it had been only a couple of weeks since the team had played Manchester City, the English powerhouse, in the knockout rounds of the Women’s Champions League.Though Rubensson had not played at all in the 2020 league campaign — she opted out while expecting her first child — and had missed the celebrations of the title victory after testing positive for the coronavirus, she was excited. She had given birth to a son, Frans, just before the holidays. She was thinking about when she might start playing again.And then “a bolt from a clear blue sky.” It was over.On the call, the club’s executives told the players that Kopparbergs — on the back of the greatest season in its history — was being closed down, effective immediately. It would not defend its league title. It would forfeit its place in next season’s competitions. The Manchester City defeat would be its last game as a club.“It was a shock for all of us,” Rubensson said. “We did not expect it. Our son was only a week old, and suddenly I had no club to play for. We didn’t know what was going to happen or what to do.”Elin Rubensson, right, learned in a phone call that she did not have a club anymore.Credit…Adam Ihse/EPA, via ShutterstockOver the last decade or so, the landscape of women’s soccer in Europe has shifted so fundamentally as to be unrecognizable. As the game’s popularity has grown, as the broadcast deals and sponsorship money have poured in and more and more fans have come through the gates, it has attracted the attention of the continent’s history-laden — and cash-soaked — men’s teams.The Champions League has been dominated by the game’s hegemon, Olympique Lyonnais, with only the superheated rise of its national rival, Paris St.-Germain, providing any threat to Lyon’s primacy.The lavish spending of the clubs of the Women’s Super League in England has attracted players such as Tobin Heath, Rose Lavelle, Pernille Harder and Sam Kerr, turning it into what many regard as the strongest domestic women’s competition on the planet. Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich have all dedicated a portion of their considerable resources to trying to keep pace. Manchester United fielded its first women’s team in 2018; Real Madrid bought an existing one and rebranded it in its name last year.While that investment is welcome and overdue, it is not without cost. Across the continent, the teams that did so much to sustain and grow women’s soccer before the money arrived, the clubs that constitute so much of its history, have found it all but impossible to compete: England’s Doncaster Belles, Spain’s Rayo Vallecano, Italy’s A.S.D. Torres, even Turbine Potsdam of Germany, a two-time Champions League winner. Glasgow City, champion of Scotland for 13 years in a row, knows it can hold out for only so long now that Rangers and Celtic are showing an interest in the women’s game.It was that same current that forced Kopparbergs’s hand. The club had moved to Gothenburg a couple of decades before — it had previously played “on a bad pitch, close to the airport” in the satellite town of Landvetter, according to its official history — at the invitation of the local authorities, hoping to give the city’s women and girls a place to play and a chance to dream.But though it was backed by one of Sweden’s largest breweries — Kopparberg is one of the world’s largest producers of cider, and it shared a chairman, Peter Bronsman, with the soccer team — the women’s side was always a small-scale enterprise. “It was four friends doing this as a hobby, almost,” said Carl Fhager, a lawyer engaged to oversee the winding down of the club. “It was not a big organization. It did not have many members. In Swedish terms, it was a very small club.”After watching wealthy rivals like Manchester City pour money into women’s soccer, Gothenburg officials said they no longer saw a viable path to success.Credit…Matt McNulty – Manchester City/Manchester City FC, via Getty ImagesThat did not prevent it from enjoying remarkable success. It was able to sign Hope Solo, Christen Press and Yael Averbuch, all United States internationals. Though it had to wait until 2020 for its first championship, it had won the Swedish Cup three times and was a regular participant in the Champions League.It was those forays into Europe — those encounters with the new powers of the women’s game — that convinced Bronsman and his board that their club’s time was passing. A couple of years ago, they had opened discussions with I.F.K. Gothenburg, one of the city’s men’s teams, about folding the club into its operations.The idea was eventually vetoed by I.F.K.’s members — Swedish clubs are member-owned nonprofits, and the idea of one’s taking over another was too alien to be tolerable — but the more it ran into the likes of Manchester City, with its squad packed with international stars and its training facilities shared with the club’s men, the more Kopparbergs felt the writing was on the wall.“It became even clearer in the Champions League,” Fhager said. “The club knew it was not competitive anymore, and the difference in facilities was not fair on the players.” It was the same reasoning that would appear on the statement released by the club on Dec. 29, confirming its closure.By that time, Kopparbergs had contacted Fhager, tasking him with finding a new home for the players: either by identifying a larger club to assume the team wholesale — ideally one in Gothenburg — or finding new homes for as many members of the squad as possible. He contacted not only Gothenburg’s four men’s soccer teams, but its ice hockey clubs, too, anyone who he thought might have an interest in assuming the Kopparbergs players and the team’s place in Sweden’s top tier, the Damallsvenskan.One was particularly responsive. Marcus Jodin, the chief executive of BK Hacken, one of Gothenburg’s biggest men’s teams, had seen the news that Kopparbergs would be shuttered, but had not thought too much of it. “We were really busy,” he said. “We were trying to close a big transfer for the men’s team.”His phone, though, soon started pinging with messages from colleagues and friends. “They said this might be a chance for us,” he said. Hacken had a strategic plan to increase its investment in the women’s game — its women’s team was at the time playing in Sweden’s third tier — as part of an attempt to become a “fully balanced club between men’s and women’s sports.”When Fhager called Hacken on the afternoon of Dec. 29, Jodin was ready to listen. The next day, at a meeting of Hacken’s board, team officials discussed the idea. Though taking over another team was anathema, the appeal was clear.Part of Jodin’s argument was financial. “The economics of women’s soccer are moving really fast,” he said. “If it takes us five to seven years to make it to the top level in the normal way, then where are the economics then? Do we have the time and money to wait that long.”But part of it was moral, too. Without Kopparbergs, Gothenburg would not have an elite women’s team. “The club was founded to give girls in the city a chance to dream,” Jodin said. “And that dream can’t move to Malmo.”BK Hacken, now strengthened by some of the Kopparbergs players, will take the former champions’ place in the new league campaign.Credit…Mattias Ivarsson/BK HackenWith the backing of the board, he set about not just putting the idea to the club’s members, addressing all of their “questions and fears,” but making Hacken ready if they agreed. “We wanted the players to notice a change from Day 1,” Jodin said. “They had been through a nightmare, losing their jobs and income. If we had not been ready for them, we would have failed.”In late January, the merger went to a vote, as all decisions at all Swedish clubs must. Ninety-two percent of Hacken’s fans agreed to it: The club would take on Kopparbergs’s players, its commitments and its place in the league. The team would change its name and its jersey. All that would be left of a quarter-century of history was the nonprofit association number under which Kopparbergs was registered.For those involved, it is a happy ending. “There were only two alternatives,” Jodin said. “Either the club closed, and the players left, or they became part of Hacken.”Fhager said most of the fans he had spoken to were enthusiastic: “The idea of Kopparbergs was to give Gothenburg an elite team that girls can aim for. It still has that.”For Rubensson, “everything feels great.”“The size of the organization and the facilities are the main difference,” she added. “We’ve been very well welcomed. We feel like this will be a very good step for us, at a time when Swedish teams need to improve to be successful in Europe.”For her, as it is for everyone else, this is the future. Kopparbergs, and the teams like it, are the past.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    New York Sports Entering a Promising Era

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonVirus Hotspots in the N.B.A.The Friendship of LeBron and Anthony DavisThe N.B.A. Wanted HerMissing Klay ThompsonKobe the #GirlDadAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyOn New York SportsThat Strange Feeling Going Around New York Is OptimismAfter two decades of frustration and incompetence broken up by an occasional championship (thanks, Giants), the region’s sports teams all appear headed in the right direction.Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving have the Nets poised to be true championship contenders for the first time since Jason Kidd was playing for the team.Credit…Jason Miller/Getty ImagesFeb. 23, 2021Updated 9:08 a.m. ETIt was a rough couple of decades for sports in New York, and not just because of the incessant losing. The last 20 years was an era of general ineptitude marked by a butt fumble, a Ponzi scheme, failed coaches, disgraced executives, a team hero getting dragged out of the arena by security and losing seasons stacking up like rotting garbage bags in the snow.To be a New York sports fan through all of that was a mental and emotional test of endurance just to remain loyal during perhaps the worst two-decade stretch for sports in the region.The dozen or so teams in the country’s biggest market, with all their resources and expectations, competed for a possible 223 championships over that period in six different leagues, but won only four titles, or 1.8 percent. Boston, a much smaller city, won 12 out of a possible 99 and one team in a an even tinier market — the San Antonio Spurs — won just as many as all the New York teams combined, despite having only 20 chances.But maybe, just maybe, the collective suffering is coming to a merciful end. You might have to look deep in a couple of cases, but for the first time in years, all the arrows seem to be pointing up.“We are on the cusp of maybe a good 10-year run where all the teams are in contention in their respective sport,” said Boomer Esiason, the Long Island-bred former N.F.L. M.V.P. who, as the host of the drive-time morning show on WFAN radio, has the pulse of the fans. “It’s really a fascinating time in New York sports.”Of course, it could all go sideways in the blink of a stupid trade or a shredded elbow, especially with articles like this one to jinx it. For now, optimism reigns as fans are allowed back in arenas and stadiums in limited numbers, and the following words can be typed in succession for the first time in ages: The Nets are stacked, the Mets are poised, the Giants seem to be building something real, the Jets have a bushel of draft picks and a commanding new coach. And the Knicks — the Knicks! — actually seem to know what they are doing.OK, we know you are skeptical. Twenty years of sports PTSD will do that. But here is a closer look at how the various New York teams are faring.Julius Randle, center, has received All-Star buzz but the team has several other promising young players like Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett.Credit…Jason Decrow/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe Nets are contenders. The Knicks are competent!The most astonishing turnaround in the metropolitan region at the moment belongs to the Knicks.People under the age of 30 may not remember, but there was a time when the Knicks owned New York, even more than the Yankees. When they played the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat in the playoffs in the 1990s, the city went on pause. That changed, coincidentally or not, around the same time James Dolan took ownership of the team and the Knicks only made the playoffs (barely) five times over 20 seasons.But the future for the Knicks shimmers a little brighter now with a combination of exciting young players, a highly respected head coach in Tom Thibodeau and a sensible executive with a vision in charge of it all (Leon Rose, that is, not Dolan).Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin are impressing in their first few months in the league. RJ Barrett, a former No. 3 over all pick, is only a year ahead of them on the development scale. And Julius Randle, a rare free agent success for the team, has broken out to become a star. With everyone committing to Thibodeau’s defensive mandate, the Knicks are floating close to .500 for the first time in eight years and are actually watchable again.“One hundred percent they are headed in the right direction,” said Isiah Thomas, the Hall of Fame point guard, N.B.A. analyst and former Knicks coach and executive. “Under Leon Rose and Thibodeau, what they have established with his defensive mentality is already paying dividends.”Sabrina Ionescu didn’t get much of a rookie season because of an injury, but she is expected to lead the Liberty into a promising new era.Credit…Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated PressWhile the Knicks are building organically, the Nets took the just-add-water approach with a powerful mix of three superstars — Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. The Nets, fresh off a five-game sweep on the West Coast, are the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference behind the Philadelphia 76ers and are title contenders for the first time since the Jason Kidd (playing) era.The Liberty have been quietly atrocious the last three years, but in 2020 they selected the incomparable point guard Sabrina Ionescu with the No. 1 over all pick in the W.N.B.A. draft. She played in only three games her rookie season because of an ankle injury, but is expected to help transform the team. Adding Natasha Howard, an All-Star who has won multiple championships, can’t hurt.Oh, and St. John’s men’s team is playing tough defense, too, and is over .500.Taken as a whole, Thomas said, “It’s very positive for basketball in New York right now.”Shortstop Francisco Lindor is expected to solidify the Mets’ defense while providing a middle-of-the-order bat.Credit…Gene J. Puskar/Associated PressD.J. LeMahieu and Luke Voit are two of the many bright spots for a loaded Yankees offense.Credit…Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesThe Mets have a savior. The Yankees are the Yankees.It is impossible to look past the Mets repeatedly hiring men accused of harassment, but the actual team on the field should be in for an exciting summer. Many of those fans waited years for an owner like Steven Cohen to take the team from the Wilpons and start spreading his billions around like a wiseguy at a craps game, but their best off-season move was a trade for Francisco Lindor, a transformational player. For now, fans and players alike believe Cohen will deliver a winner to Flushing. Luis Rojas, the Mets manager said the players’ optimism was palpable on the first day of spring training.“You feel the energy from the guys as far as talking about the passion that our new owners has shown in the off-season,” Rojas said.As for the Yankees, let’s cut them some slack for only winning one World Series since 2000. Ordinarily, that would be an abject failure, but compared to the other slouches in town, at least they actually grabbed one. For sheer consistency of effort over that time, the Yankees stood alone in the region.Coach Joe Judge appears to have changed the tone for the Giants.Credit…Adam Hunger/Associated PressCoach Robert Saleh is expected to bring intensity to the Jets’ sideline.Credit…Doug Benc/Associated PressIn new coaches, the New York football teams trust.Look, we know the last five years or so of football in New Jersey has been excruciating for the fans. But …“There is no question that both franchises are on the upswing,” said Esiason, who is also an N.F.L. analyst for CBS. “Both Giants and Jets fans feel there is an optimism surrounding the team, for different reasons.”Finding something positive about the Jets is really an undertaking for a historian. Actually, a geologist — what does the carbon dating reveal about their only trophy? Paleolithic period? Jurassic? After all, the Jets (2-14 last season) can’t even lose properly. By winning a second game, they missed out on a generational No. 1 draft pick. Trevor Lawrence almost certainly won’t be a Jet, but the No. 2 pick is better than, say, the No. 3 pick, and they have many more picks in the holster, too.“I would love to see Joe Douglas’s white board,” Esiason, who played for the Jets, said about the team’s shockingly competent general manager. “They’ve got tons of options.”They also have a new coach, Robert Saleh, whom people already love before he has run a practice. The Jets clearly took note of the success of their fellow Jersey swamp residents’ new tough-guy coach, and hired one of their own.Much of the hope surrounding the Giants emanates from that coach. Joe Judge changed the culture in his first year and led the G-men to six wins, which in the awful N.F.C. East made them a playoff contender.Plus, with two Super Bowl titles in the last 14 years, the Giants get the city’s only hall pass in this accounting.Alexis Lafreniere, center, is one of the many bright spots for a team that began a total rebuild a few years ago.Credit…Nick Wass/Associated PressHockey built itself back from the ground up.Esiason is also passionate hockey fan, and he pointed to a key moment in recent Rangers history that he sees as the catalyst for the entire region’s turnaround. In February 2018, the Rangers decided they were going to tear down the roster and rebuild, and sent a letter to season ticket holders advising them to say goodbye to their beloved older stars.“That has never been accepted in New York, for any team,” Esiason said. “It kind of set things in motion.”Now the Rangers are loaded with promising young players, like Alexis Lafreniere, last year’s No. 1 pick, Kaapo Kakko, the No. 2 pick in 2019, Adam Fox and goalie Igor Shesterkin, just to name a few.The Devils have also been plucking No. 1 picks, with Nico Hischier, who was just named captain last week, in 2017 and Jack Hughes in 2019, plus a deep pool of other intriguing prospects. Fans seem to appreciate where they are headed (and yes, they also get credit for capturing the region’s other title way back in 2003).Meanwhile Islanders fans are feeling good that Lou Lamoriello is the president of a team that made the conference finals last year.“Lou Lamoriello has basically resuscitated that moribund franchise,” said Esiason, whose son-in-law, Matt Martin, is a forward on the team, “and they have a new arena being built over in Elmont — who would have thought that would ever happen? Now, suddenly, they are one of the top teams in the N.H.L.”It’s all there. Maybe.Add it all up, from the Bronx to New Jersey — the Red Bulls are bound to win an M.L.S. Cup eventually, right? — and maybe the region really is headed for something better than four championships in the next 20 years.“New York is the greatest city in the world and it really needs some positive energy,” said Alex Rodriguez, the ESPN analyst who was part of the last Yankees championship in 2009. “Things are looking up. I think sports is ready to bring a lot of joy and hope for the folks of New York.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    ‘Pelé’ Review: A National Treasure

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main story‘Pelé’ Review: A National TreasureThis Netflix documentary surveys the Brazilian soccer player’s pioneering career.Pelé, the famed Brazilian soccer player, is the subject of a documentary.Credit…NetflixFeb. 23, 2021, 7:00 a.m. ETPeléDirected by Ben Nicholas, David TryhornDocumentary, Biography, Sport1h 48mFind TicketsWhen you purchase a ticket for an independently reviewed film through our site, we earn an affiliate commission.There are two documentaries contained within “Pelé,” David Tryhorn and Ben Nicholas’s film about the Brazilian soccer phenom. The main one is the starry survey of Pelé’s record-setting achievements and national adulation. But a second, more sobering story steadily drops the temperature in the room, once Brazil’s military violently takes power in 1964 and shows a strategic interest in “the beautiful sport.”The filmmakers run through a storied history, from Brazil’s 1950 loss to Uruguay in the World Cup (when Pelé, as a boy, told his sobbing father that he’ll win it back) to its triumph at the 1970 final. In a recurring sit-down interview, the now 80-year-old legend is both genuine and diplomatic after decades of worship as “the King.” Teammates remain fond, journalists kibitz, and the singer-songwriter Gilberto Gil and Brazil’s former president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, proffer pop analysis.[embedded content]But as we hear soccer repeatedly invoked as the life-force to Brazil’s sense of self, one interviewee sticks out: a matter-of-fact former cabinet minister, Antônio Delfim Netto, who signed the dictatorship’s infamous “AI-5” act institutionalizing torture and censorship. The filmmakers go on to suggest that the national team’s success became part of military propaganda, and Pelé shares his own guarded thoughts on the era.The dictatorship’s involvement takes the pressures of championship play to another level; Pelé later calls the 1970 World Cup victory simply a “relief.” I did yearn to see more of his talents in action; his header goal in that year’s Italy final feels cosmically liberating. But however conventional as a whole, the movie feels troubled by the traumas of Pelé’s heyday.PeléNot Rated. In Portuguese, with subtitles Running time: Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. Watch on Netflix.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Champions League Schedule Blurs Home and Away

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyChampions League Adapts to a Fluid Concept: Home and AwayCoronavirus restrictions have sent multiple games to neutral sites. Will this summer’s European Championship be the next big event to reschedule?RB Leipzig’s Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi might have been the only player truly at home last week in a Champions League match against Liverpool in Budapest.Credit…Attila Kisbenedek/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFeb. 23, 2021, 2:00 a.m. ETTwo European soccer giants, Atlético Madrid and Chelsea, will meet in the Champions League on Tuesday. The site of this much anticipated game? Bucharest, Romania.On Wednesday, Manchester City will play the German team Borussia Mönchengladbach. That game will be in Budapest, the Hungarian capital, where the English champion Liverpool beat Germany’s RB Leipzig last week.In the Europa League, the continent’s second-tier club championship, neutral sites are now almost as common as home games. Last week, Spanish and English teams played in Italy, and teams from Norway and Germany met in Spain. On Thursday, a week after the London club Arsenal played to a draw against Portugal’s Benfica in Rome, the teams will meet again in the second leg of their not-home-and-home tie near Athens.The pandemic has wreaked havoc with international sports schedules for a year, and that chaos continues to have an impact on soccer’s biggest club tournaments. The reasons — government edicts, travel restrictions and quarantine rules — vary around Europe. In some countries, teams are still allowed to travel to and from their opponents’ stadiums without issue. In others, countries have blocked entry to visitors from entire nations, or drawn up onerous rules that make such travel impractical in a soccer season when teams often play two or three games a week.UEFA, the European soccer governing body that runs the competitions, has decided that if restrictions adversely affect any game, it will be played at a neutral site where travel is permitted. But the decision to play knockout games in places seemingly chosen at random has led to confusion, and not a little grumbling.Real Sociedad, for example, played its “home” leg against Manchester United last week in Turin, Italy, but will play the return match at United’s home, Old Trafford, on Thursday.“It does not seem coherent to me that as the home team, we play on a neutral field, and as a visitor, we do it there,” Roberto Olabe, Real Sociedad’s director of football, told Diario Vasco. “I would like the return to also be on neutral ground, or for UEFA to appoint a single venue for a one-game tie as it did last year.”The displeasure has not been universal. Both Hungary and Romania, whose teams almost never go deep in major European competitions, have been eager to bring the games to their countries — even if, in many cases, they must still be played behind closed doors.“A match played in the framework of the most prestigious European interclub competition is a major sporting event, and we offered our support to the organizers as soon as this possibility was raised,” the Romanian soccer federation president, Razvan Burleanu, told Agence France-Presse.The playing of some games at neutral sites has turned the first tiebreaker for the tournament, the away goals rule, into something of a paradox. Normally, if a home-and-away tie ends with neither team ahead in total goals, the team with the most goals away from home advances. The logic is that scoring away from home is a little harder in a hostile environment, and should get a small bonus.But home isn’t the same for everyone. Chelsea, for example, will play its away game not at Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano stadium but on neutral ground in Bucharest. But any goals scored there still will count as away goals only for the English team.Atlético will then have to defend, or make up, any difference in the score line on Chelsea’s home field in London next month.Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, left, and Arsenal played to a draw against Benfica last week in Rome.Credit…Alberto Lingria/ReutersFor the Benfica-Arsenal matchup, the away-goals rule seemed even more puzzlingly arbitrary. The first leg in Rome ended in a 1-1 tie, when Arsenal was considered the away team. Benfica will be the away team in Greece, but if that leg ends in a higher-scoring draw — say, 2-2 — Benfica will advance by having scored more away goals.(Some European soccer traditions appear immune to the coronavirus: The Serbian club Red Star Belgrade was forced to apologize last week after some of its fans broke into a closed stadium for a Europa League tie against Milan and racially abused Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is of Bosnian descent.)Soccer’s scheduling problems may not be over, however. The continuing reach of the pandemic has called into question the plans to stage this summer’s European Championship in 12 cities around Europe. Traditionally, the event has been a less-sprawling affair hosted by one country, or a pair of neighboring ones.Given the travel complications laid bare by the club competitions, the idea of national teams flying around Europe seems foolhardy, or downright dangerous. Already there are calls for relocating the entire tournament to a single county, probably England, which is already scheduled to host the two semifinals and the final.Over the weekend, The Sunday Times of London reported that the British government had told UEFA it was ready and willing to stand in as host of the full schedule of games, although the country’s health minister promptly denied that report.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

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    Luis Suárez Rediscovers His Bite

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyOn SoccerLuis Suárez Rediscovers His BiteAfter a summer of indignity and humiliation, the striker has been reborn with Atlético Madrid.Luis Suárez has scored 16 goals this season after swapping his colors in the Liga title race.Credit…Pablo Morano/ReutersFeb. 23, 2021, 12:01 a.m. ETLuis Suárez had already been made a scapegoat, blamed for all that had gone wrong at Barcelona. He had already been rejected, told bluntly by the club’s new coach, Ronald Koeman, that his services were no longer required.He had been forced to sit alongside the president who had precipitated it all and say thank you for having me, even as the thought of being forced to go brought him to tears. Worse, though, was still to come, a final indignity in his summer of humiliation.On Sept. 17, Suárez touched down in the Italian city of Perugia to considerable fanfare. The airport where he landed put out a statement celebrating his arrival. His progress to the city’s University for Foreigners was accompanied by a crowd of fans and photographers. Even the university thanked him for gracing its halls.His stay was to be brief. Suárez was there to sit for an Italian exam. His wife, Sofía Balbi, is of Italian descent, making her husband eligible for citizenship, providing he could demonstrate competency in the language.Suárez brief visit to Italy in September attracted the attention of fans and, later, the authorities.Credit…Crocchioni/EPA via ShutterstockIt was something he had been planning for at least a year, he would say later, but at the time his motivation seemed much more immediate: Juventus was offering Suárez a swift exit from Barcelona, but could not employ any more players from outside the European Union. Suárez’s getting an Italian passport was the key to the transfer. A few minutes after arriving, he left. He had passed the test.That, though, was only the beginning. A few days later, the Perugia prosecutor’s office and the Guardia di Finanza, part of Italy’s mosaic of law enforcement agencies, announced that they were investigating “irregularities” in the exam. Suárez, they suggested, had been informed of the questions beforehand, and been asked only to do the oral portion of the test.The university was accused of agreeing to give him an intermediate grade — enough to pass — before he had taken the test. Juventus, the prosecutors would later claim, had sought to exert pressure “at the highest institutional levels” to accelerate the process. A phone call from his Italian tutor to one of the examiners had been intercepted, revealing that she admitted Suárez could not “utter a word” of Italian.Though both the university and Juventus deny any misconduct, and Suárez himself was never accused of wrongdoing, the reputational damage was nevertheless substantial.He has, of course, long been used to being cast — often rightly — as a villain. As his summer descended through tragedy and all the way on into farce, though, his image shifted again: unwanted by Barcelona; accused of cheating in an exam; and at 34, while still one of the most talented strikers of his generation, condemned to play out the coda to his career as a figure of ridicule.A timeline of Luis Suárez’s actual and suspected crimes, clockwise from top left: a handball against Ghana at the 2010 World Cup; accusations of racial abuse leveled by Patrice Evra in 2011; an accusation of biting (the third of his career) in 2014; and diving, every time he steps on the field.Credit…From top left, clockwise: Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press; Lindsey Parnaby, via European Pressphoto Agency; Ricardo Mazalan, via Associated Press; Manu Fernandez, via Associated PressThat is not quite how things have worked out. Suárez did not end up signing with Juventus. Instead, freed from his Barcelona contract, he joined Atlético Madrid. Barcelona’s hierarchy would have preferred to see him leave for Italy or France — Paris St.-Germain was interested, too — rather than for a direct rival. There was some trepidation that the executives might come to regret the move. Even they, though, could not have predicted quite how much.As he prepares to lead Atlético’s line against Chelsea in the Champions League on Tuesday night, Suárez is in “one of the best moments of his career,” as the Atlético president, Enrique Cerezo, put it.He has scored 16 goals in 20 La Liga games for Diego Simeone’s team. Atlético sits atop the Spanish table, with a three-point lead and a game in hand on the second-place Real Madrid. Thanks in no small part to Suárez, Atlético is dreaming of its first league title since 2014, and only its second this century. He has, in the first six months of his Atlético career, proved one thing beyond doubt. “Luis Suárez is not old,” Cerezo said.Simeone, certainly, never believed that he was. He had admired the Uruguayan for some time — he had hoped to sign Suárez while he was still with Liverpool, calling his performances in England “extraordinary” — and, when it became clear Barcelona was prepared to jettison him, Simeone urged Atlético to make its move. Cerezo and the club’s executives did not take much persuading. “When a player of his quality is available, you have to try,” Cerezo said.In his final days with Barcelona, Suárez, like Lionel Messi, became an easy target for those looking to assign blame for the club’s failings.Credit…Pau Barrena/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesWhen coach and player first spoke by phone, Simeone detected “the energy, the hunger, the defiance” that have not only characterized Suárez, but that also were Simeone’s finest attributes as a player. Most of all, though, Simeone felt that Suárez had something to prove. “He had a desire to show that he is still relevant,” the coach said.It is tempting to ascribe Suárez’s form in Madrid to the re-ignition of that inner fire. He has always, after all, given the impression that he is at his best when he has something or someone to rage against, whether it is an opponent, an authority or, in this case, simply the dying of the light. “Some did not believe I was still capable of playing at the top level,” Suárez said this week.And yet it is possible, too, to believe that the opposite is true: that Suárez has found himself again not in war, but in peace.His former international teammate Sebastián Abreu told the Spanish newspaper El País this week that he believed Barcelona had, in Suárez’s final year with the club, “mounted a campaign where they identified Luis as the problem with everything, together with Lionel Messi.” Suárez, judging by his public comments, seems to agree with that assessment.With Atlético, by contrast, he has not only encountered a coach who — as Abreu put it — “knows perfectly how to treat a player,” he has also found a club that is not “blaming Suárez for every situation, and so that has liberated him to enjoy playing soccer completely.” Without battles to fight off the field, he has been able to dedicate himself once again to winning them on it.Just as crucially, he has found himself on a team prepared to offer him the support he needs to do so. Just as Atlético has revived Suárez, so he has revived Atlético. Simeone had always regarded Suárez as the finest pure striker in the world, but he was aware that he was, in his mid-30s, no longer able to play on the counterattack quite so devastatingly as he had, say, with Liverpool in his mid-20s.Atlético Madrid adjusted its style of play to get the most out of Suárez. It’s working: The club leads La Liga by three points.Credit…Jose Breton/Associated PressIn order to restore Suárez to his former grandeur, then, Simeone dispensed with the counterpunching approach that had long characterized his tenure at the club. In its stead came a more possession-oriented, high-pressing style, one designed to get more players closer to Suárez, and the ball to him in the areas where he could do the most damage. “The team is accompanying him, so that he can become the best version of himself,” Simeone said. “And that is scoring goals.”Even for someone, like Simeone, who never doubted Suárez’s ability — who never mistook the ticking of a clock for the tolling of a bell — there is still the occasional surprise.Late in January, the Atlético coach found the striker lingering on the training field, practicing free kicks with a couple of teammates, Thomas Lemar and João Félix. Simeone, sensing an opportunity to set Suárez a challenge, remarked that he had not seen him score from set pieces all that often during his career.A few days later, Suárez lined one up in a game against Cádiz. He was about 30 yards from goal. He whipped the ball into the top corner. Suárez had passed that test, too.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More