By Kyle Hightower in Boston
BOSTON (AP) — Bill Russell never had to find his voice as an activist. He didn’t know any other way but to speak his mind.
It’s what made the winningest athlete in team sports one of the greatest champions of activism. His belief in equality and the stances he took helped create a pathway that athletes today continue to walk in.
Len Elmore, who played 10 seasons in the NBA and is a senior lecturer at Columbia University where he’s taught on athlete activism and social justice in sports, called Russell’s social contributions “immortal.”
“He showed many of us in the game how to be,” Elmore said.
Before Russell, who died Sunday at age 88, developed the skills that would make him an 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics, two-time Hall of Famer and an Olympic gold medalist, he had a front row view of the racial indignities endured by his parents as he grew up in segregated Monroe, Louisiana.
In a time when Jim Crow laws in the South existed to silence the views of Black people, he was groomed to be an unapologetic thinker.
“I have never worked to be well-liked or well-loved, but only to be respected,” Russell wrote in his 1966 book “Go Up For Glory.” “I believe I can contribute something far more important than mere basketball.”
That conviction was rooted in what he observed as a child in the late 1930s and early 1940s in Louisiana, where his father, Charles, worked at a paper bag company.
Russell was with him at a gas station one day when the attendant ignored them as he talked to a white man and then proceeded to provide service to other cars that had arrived after them.
Charles was about to drive off when the attendant pulled a gun and said, “Don’t you try that, boy, unless you want to get shot,” Russell recalled in his book.
His father responded by grabbing a tire iron and chasing the man away.
Decades before Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem demonstrations to raise awareness about police brutality, or the collective sports world advocating for justice following the 2020 death of George Floyd and others, Russell used his platform to hasten civil rights.
It’s why when Russell later faced his own forms of discrimination decades later, he didn’t hesitate to challenge the status quo.
One of the first examples was 1961 when the Celtics were in Lexington, Kentucky for an exhibition game.
The team was in their hotel when teammates Sam Jones asked Satch Sanders to go to the lobby to get some food. They were refused service.
Later they were met by Russell and K.C. Jones. After Sam told them what had happened, Russell suggested none of the Black players should participate in the game and informed Celtics coach Red Auerbach.
The game would be called off after two more players from the St. Louis Hawks joined the protest.
When former President Barack Obama presented Russell with the Presidential Medial of Freedom in 2011, he called it an example of how he “stood up for rights and dignity of all men.”
Russell didn’t just risk sullying his reputation, he put his life at risk in the wake of the 1963 assassination of civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi. Just days after Evers was slain, Russell reached out to the leader’s brother, Charles Evers. He wanted to inquire about what he could do to help.
Charles Evers asked him if he’d be willing to visit the state and stage its first integrated basketball camp. It was a huge ask considering the very real peril Russell would be putting himself in by visiting a city riddled members of the Ku Klux Klan. Still, Russell accepted the invitation.
“I didn’t want to go to Mississippi. I was like anyone else. I was afraid I might get killed,” Russell would later write. “My wife asked me not to go. Some friends said the same thing. A man must do what he thinks is right. I called Eastern Airlines and ordered my ticket.”
Despite coming off his third MVP award and fifth NBA title, Russell said “without hesitation” he’d have left the Celtics that season if his continued presence in Mississippi or anywhere else could have advanced civil rights push.
“If my popularity depends on a thing like this, I don’t give a damn,” he said at the time.
A star of Russell’s stature to show a willingness to put his convictions ahead of his athletic career put him in a small group during that time like Muhammad Ali, Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and Jim Brown.
And it was Russell, Alcindor and Brown sitting beside Ali in Cleveland in 1967 when the boxer announced he was refusing induction into the U.S. military to fight in the Vietnam War.
Current Celtics star Jaylen Brown, one of several young NBA players who have used their own platforms to raise awareness and engage in social justice protests, said it was Russell who first taught him “it is OK to be more than just a basketball player.”
It echoed what Russell wrote in 1966 about how he wished to be remembered.
“In the end, I live with the hopes that when I die it will be inscribed for me: Bill Russell. He was a man.”
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Professional Bull Riders Elite Cup Series returns to Red Deer this weekend
From Kacie Albert of PBR Canada
PBR CANADA’S ELITE CUP SERIES RETURNS TO RED DEER, ALBERTA, FOR SECOND CONSECUTIVE YEAR WITH 2023 SEASON-LAUNCH EVENT FEBRUARY 4
For the second consecutive year, PBR (Professional Bull Riders) Canada’s elite Cup Series, presented by Wrangler, will buck into Red Deer, Alberta, launching the 2023 season for the nation’s premier series on February 4, with the PBR Cross Country Canada Classic, at the Peavey Mart Centrium at Westerner Park.
PBR Canada’s Cup Series regularly features Canada’s best riders alongside some of the league’s top international athletes, squaring off against the rankest bucking bulls from across the nation.
For one night only, fans will witness exhilarating 8-second rides and wrecks throughout the action-packed event as the PBR’s courageous bull-riding athletes face off against their 2,000-pound opponents bred to buck.
The PBR Cross Country Canada Classic will mark the 2023 season launch for the PBR Canada Cup Series, presented by Wrangler.
In June 2022, PBR Canada’s elite Cup Series debuted in Red Deer to launch the premier series’ seventh season. Compliments of a perfect 2-for-2 effort, Jake Gardner (Fort St. John, British Columbia) won the event, surging from unranked to then No. 2 in the race for the 2022 PBR Canada Championship and accompanying $50,000 bonus.
In Round 1, Gardner first went head-to-head against Tickety Boo (Chase Kesler Bucking Bulls) inside the Peavey Mart Centrium, reaching the requisite 8 for 83.5 points, and punching his ticket to the championship round.
As the penultimate man to leave the chutes, the “Prince of the Peace Country” was poised atop Alberta Springs (Vold Rodeo). In true cowboy fashion, Gardner gritted his way to the 8-second whistle, despite almost being upended seconds into the ride, earning an 86.5-point score to clinch the victory.
As the only other rider to go a perfect 2-for-2, Lonnie West (Cadogan, Alberta) was second, collecting 55 national points to overtake the No. 1 rank in the Canadian standings.
Fresh off his event win the night prior on the developmental Touring Pro Division in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, West kept his momentum rolling in Round 1 from Red Deer when he converted aboard Warning Shot (Outlaw Buckers Rodeo Corp.) for 81.5 points. West then remained flawless in the championship round when he covered Hanna Motors Winston Bruce (Skori Bucking Bulls) for 86 points.
Prior to the debut of the PBR Canada Cup Series in Red Deer, the city held two developmental Touring Pro Division events in 2015 and 2016, both won by Garrett Green (Meeting Creek, Alberta).
The bull riding action for PBR Canada Cup Series’ Cross Country Canada Classic, begins at 7:00 p.m. MT on Saturday, February 4, 2023.
Tickets for the event go on sale Friday, November 18 at 10:00 a.m. MT, and start at $20, plus fees, and can be purchased at the Peavey Mart Centrium Box Office, online at TicketsAlberta.com. Charge by phone at (866) 340-4450.
Stay tuned to PBRCanada.com and follow the tour on Facebook (PBR Canada), Twitter (@PBRCanada), and Instagram (@PBRCanada) for the latest event and broadcast schedule, results, news, stats and more.
Will Cable Cord Cutting Shock Pro Sports Back To Its Senses?
If there’s one constant in modern sports it’s bewilderment at how high salaries have risen for elite athletes. Where a million dollars a year was once the “unheard-of” threshold for salaries, today’s stars are easily taking home 20, 40, even 50 million a year under the new economy in sports. Even college athletes, once forbidden to accept remuneration, are cashing in millions for their name, image or likeness.
When people complain about overpaid athletes to IDLM we simply say the money is in the business, who else do you think should get the cash? Ditto for franchise values, where the Denver Broncos recently sold for a staggering $4.65 B. and the Washington Commanders might fetch $6B.
Largely the infusion of riches in pro sports has come from TV and digital-rights contracts between leagues and regional sports networks (RSN). Those RSNs are the carriers of the local and regional teams. Packaged through cable or satellite carriers they deliver valuable programming dollars to leagues. And for smaller media markets they are a vital source of revenue to keep up with the big boys whose ancillary revenues are pumped by many more customers.
As just one example, the MLB St. Louis Cardinals are currently earning about $66 million a year from their 15-year, $1B deal they signed with Fox Sports in 2015. There are 18 other teams on Sinclair/Diamond local TV deals, all of whom rely on RSNs to play New York salaries in Pittsburgh or Kansas City.
In Canada, as opposed to the American model, regional sports contracts are held directly by either TSN or Sportsnet, national carriers. The monopoly status has suppressed revenues to Canadian NHL, MLB or NBA teams relative to the deals cut in large markets such as New York’s tri-state area, southern California or Chicago.
Recently TV rights packages values were boosted by the arrival of Amazon, YouTube and Google which began to compete with traditional networks for U.S. broadcast rights. But now RSNs are threatened by the cord-cutting trend that sees American and Canadian consumers dumping their traditional bundlers of services to go à la carte digital directly with the producers of programming. ( In Canada the DAZN network has gone head-to-head with TSN for NFL games on a digital deal with the league.)
This past week the American cable giant Comcast reported a year-over-year 11 percent loss in its customer base. That’s about two million Americans saying “I can do without the middle men and the useless channels. I want to subscribe directly to the producers of the material I want to see.” From a peak of 110.5 million customers in 2013 the Comcast market is estimated to drop as low as 65 million customers by 2025.
In part this is consumers shedding programming bundles they never watch and bloated subscription fees as they tighten their belts. It’s also a reflection on the Netflix streaming revolution sparked by Covid-19 lockdowns that saw locked-down consumers get used to the convenience of directly streaming programming from Netflix or Amazon Prime or Disney without paying for a raft of useless channels.
Advertisers have noticed, too. They are headed to streaming services, where their messages can be more targeted to desired audiences than cable TVs scattershot approach.
The impact is being seen in the U.S. where Diamond Sports Group, which controls a huge portion of the pro sports RSNs, is said to be headed to bankruptcy court to restructure its $8.6B in debt. “There are a lot of business and financial terms and policies to work through,” says Deadspin, “but the long and short of it is that DSG is likely going to skip an interest payment it owes, which should be enough for them to get to the bankruptcy claim they’ve been rumored to be after for a while now.”
Bloomberg reported that if they file for bankruptcy it could “potentially put at risk crucial broadcasting rights revenues” for major North American sports networks. Greg Boris, a sports management professor at Adelphi University summed up the looming disaster for pro sports. He told The Score that RSNs have “been a golden goose. You remove cable TV from the scenario, and franchises are worth a fraction of what they are today, players make a fraction of their salaries today… the boom has been going on for almost 30 years. But the vast majority of the people that pay never watch (services they purchase). That’s been the model.”
Leagues are now investigating what to do if the RSN model collapses. Currently the leagues operate direct streaming services for customers wishing to watch out-of-town games not involving their local team. They could simply add the RSN rights too these streams.But direct-to-consumer can be very costly. The Disney+ operation was thought to be a slam dunk, but now management at Disney admits it will be a few years before the operation gets out of the red. American carrier Comcast launched the Peacock network as an outlet for NBC content. It lost $2.5B in 2022 and projects to lose another $2B in 2023. Similar startups such as CBC Gem have been flops.
Direct-to-consumer is also not the easy money machine that RSNs were. If a league or a team operates a direct customer service it takes on the responsibility of signing up and maintaining its customer base. That means dealing with the fickle fans who might drop his/ her package to an NHL, NFL, MLB or NBA team for a few years till the club improves.
That could be a disaster for underperforming teams like MLB’s Pirates or NHL Vancouver Canucks who had the assurance that, while their programming sucked, the other offerings on the cable package were worth customers retaining the service. Direct-to-consumer could, however, be a ray of hope for fans of bad teams that force clubs to finally get serious about producing a winning product.
This potential financial shortfall is probably one of the reason pro sports has so fervently embraced sports betting— to the annoyance of many fans. If the TV money goes, they’ll need every dollar they can find to pay out the contracts they’ve been issuing with impunity the past decade.
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Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the seventh-best professional hockey book of all time by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted sixth best on the same list, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx
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