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RIP, AAF

Maybe it’s only mostly dead, but it looks pretty dead.

After eight weeks of games and less than one season into Alliance of American Football’s existence, league owner Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all operations, league co-founder Bill Polian confirmed to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on Tuesday.

“I am extremely disappointed to learn Tom Dundon has decided to suspend all football operations of the Alliance of American Football,” Polian said in a statement Tuesday. “When Mr. Dundon took over, it was the belief of my co-founder, Charlie Ebersol, and myself that we would finish the season, pay our creditors, and make the necessary adjustments to move forward in a manner that made economic sense for all.

“The momentum generated by our players, coaches and football staff had us well positioned for future success. Regrettably, we will not have that opportunity.”

[…]

Players are being forced to pay for their own travel back home, a source told ESPN, confirming an SI.com report.

Despite a litany of issues, ratings had remained fairly consistent for the league, with between 400,000 and 500,000 viewers often tuning in for games, according to ratings reports. And the league got a bump in attention after Johnny Manziel signed last month and was allocated to Memphis.

Manziel offered some advice to AAF players on Twitter with Tuesday’s news.

The league signed all players to three-year, non-guaranteed contracts worth $70,000 in the first year, $80,000 in the second year and $100,000 in the third year. The hope, Polian said, was that the league would send players to the NFL.

In his statement Tuesday, Polian said he’ll do “all I can” to help the league’s players achieve that.

“My thanks go out to all who made our football product so competitive and professional,” Polian said. “I am certain there are many among them destined for future success in the NFL and I look forward to doing all I can to help them in their quest.”

Ebersol told ESPN in January that they had structured the league around a “sober business plan” because he believed he had learned lessons from his father, Dick Ebersol, who helped run the first version of the XFL.

Problems, however, popped up surrounding the nascent league that was trying to be a complement to the NFL.

See here for the background. The AAF had its challenges, but I thought they’d at least finish the season. Who knows, maybe they could have gotten an infusion of cash afterwards, and been able to keep going. I feel bad for the players, who of course will get screwed out of their last paychecks and stuck with hotel, travel, and healthcare expenses, and at a much lower level for the fans in San Antonio, the eternal bridesmaids of pro football fandom. Anyone wanna lay odds on how long the rebooted XFL will last?

Will the AAF be one and done?

Could be.

The first-year Alliance of American Football’s inability to secure cooperation from the NFL Players’ Association to use young players from NFL rosters has put the AAF in danger of folding, Tom Dundon, the league’s majority owner, told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday.

“If the players union is not going to give us young players, we can’t be a development league,” said Dundon, who in February committed to invest $250 million into the league. “We are looking at our options, one of which is discontinuing the league.”

The NFLPA had no official response to the accusations that their lack of cooperation is prompting the AAF to fold.

However, a players’ union official did express serious concerns about the risks of lending active NFL players to the AAF. The official requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

The person said the players’ union is founded on the belief that using active NFL players and practice squad members for the AAF would violate the terms of the CBA and the restrictions that prevent teams from holding mandatory workouts and practices throughout the offseason. The limitations set in place are designed to ensure the safety and adequate rest and recovery time for football players. But there’s a concern that teams would abuse their power and pehaps force young players into AAF action as a condition for consideration for NFL roster spots in the fall.

The additional concern on the NFLPA’s part is that if an NFL player played in the AAF and suffered serious injury, that player would face the risk of missing an NFL season and lose a year of accrued experience, which carries financial ramifications for players.

Sorry, San Antonio. As For The Win notes, if the plan was to depend on NFL players to supplement the league, that plan was never going to work. The NFL might have an interest in having a feeder league available to it, but given the health risks of football, it’s not at all clear why any players that have a legitimate shot at playing in the NFL would go for that. What you’re left with is a bunch of lower-level players plus the occasional Johnny Manziell, and that adds up to a league that not many people have paid any attention to since their opening weekend. Even with better players available, you’ve got March Madness, the NBA and NHL gearing up for their post-seasons, and now MLB is back. That’s a lot of competition for a fledgling league. I figure as long as they have some TV money they can probably continue, but I don’t see much hope for their long term future.

“How Baylor Happened”

From Deadspin:

There’s not much to recommend spending four years in Waco. Driving into town up Interstate 35 from the south, the endless stretch of Texas nothing fills out slowly. It’s flat in the way you think Texas is flat. Empty fields give way to John Deere dealerships, then fast-food chains.

On your left, you’ll see the strip mall that housed the Twin Peaks biker gang shootout of 2015. Pass through the city’s squat downtown, and you can catch a glimpse of the grain silos that Chip and Joanna Gaines, stars of the HGTV smash Fixer-Upper, converted into the retail base of their reality TV empire.

But then, rising from the banks of the Brazos River, appears Baylor’s towering McLane Stadium. The building serves to announce the home of the Baylor Bears, Robert Griffin III, the Heisman Trophy, and a football legacy stretching back to, well, RG3 and the Heisman Trophy. But that’s the point. Baylor is here. Baylor matters, finally. The other campus buildings are tucked away in the short hills along the highway, but the stadium declares itself forcefully.

For most of its history, football barely registered at Baylor. Instead, the school cultivated its own culture, deeply rooted in the Baptist church. It banned dancing on campus until 1996. Until May 2015, its student conduct code listed “homosexual acts” and “fornication” as expressly forbidden behavior, alongside “sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault,”and other activities. Sex outside of marriage is still forbidden. The university’s mission statement says it was “founded on the belief that God’s nature is made known through both revealed and discovered truth.” Even a teenager who’s been homeschooled her entire life can walk around Baylor, see the statues of Jesus and the sidewalks emblazoned with Bible passages, and feel safe that the university that speaks her language and shares her values.

Jane’s* parents celebrated when she was offered a soccer scholarship to Baylor. She’d be among other Christians, less than two hours away from their Dallas home. Alicia* was drawn to Baylor because she wanted something to bring her back to her faith. She wanted to attend chapel with her classmates, to feel the closeness of a religious institution. “I want to feel God on campus and in class,” she knew. “I want to come here to be with God in every sense of the matter.”

Melissa* had attended a small private Baptist high school in California. She was scared to attend a party school and was looking for a more conservative university. She liked how nice everyone at Baylor was, and that dorm visiting hours ended at midnight, even on weekends. Suzanne* was the daughter of missionaries. She grew up mostly overseas and spent a lot of time in Christian boarding schools in Papua New Guinea. College wasn’t something her parents expected of her—everyone in her family did church work—but she wanted to be a missionary doctor.

They all chose Baylor because it felt safe.

What they didn’t know when they enrolled was that the combination of Baylor’s culture and a set of newly-established ambitions had created a university that was unusually safe—but not for them. It was a safe place for football coaches who could do no wrong, for players whose transfers from other teams after being accused of violence were billed as the first half of a redemption story, for young men whose potential was prioritized over that of their female classmates, and for university leaders who prized their reputation over the safety of the women who studied there.

As Jane was beginning her senior year of high school, already committed to play soccer at Baylor in 2013, the university was breaking ground on McLane Stadium. Baylor had a vision for itself—to become the Baptist answer to Notre Dame—but accomplishing that would require money, a lot more money, and fast football success was also a fast way to excite major donors. Greed is not a Christian value, but as the world would soon find out, the school’s commitment to the religion of football would serve to undermine everything else that the university was supposed to stand for.

What follows is a long and detailed look into how Baylor, a small Baptist university where football was played, became Baylor, a blossoming national football powerhouse where female students were repeatedly assaulted by football players and no one cared until it finally became a scandal. I’m oversimplifying here, but that’s close enough for these purposes. Authors Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon have been the go-to reporters for documenting how and why it all happened, and you should read what they have to say.

MLS comes to Austin

Welcome to the big leagues.

After a long and often rocky courtship, Austin and Major League Soccer became a match.

The league formally welcomed Austin as its 27th franchise with a raucous downtown party Tuesday full of chanting and flag-waving, and Commissioner Don Garber calling the Texas capital a “perfect fit.” MLS said Austin will begin play in the 2021 season.

“We think of us being a league for a new America,” Garber said. “Austin is diverse. It has enormous energy. It has people who really believe in the city. … We need to be here.”

The move has been long expected as Austin became the target destination for efforts last year to move the Columbus Crew. The Crew instead will stay in Ohio under a new ownership group.

Austin recently signed a lease with Austin majority owner Anthony Precourt, a California-based investor, to provide land for a privately-funded $225 million stadium. The Austin venue will be an open-air facility with a grass playing field on land that has been vacant for 25 years.

“We’re going to unite this city. We’re going to fight for this city. We’re going to make you proud,” Precourt said.

Precourt’s attempts to move the Crew, a bedrock MLS franchise, drew fierce resistance in Columbus as fans rallied to save their team and state and local officials filed lawsuits attempting to block the move.

In Austin, a divided city council argued for months over the stadium deal before it was approved on a narrow vote. Instead of moving the Crew, MLS and Precourt agreed that team would be placed under a new ownership group that includes Cleveland Browns Dee and Jimmy Haslem.

MLS has long eyed Austin — although quietly until 2018 — as an expansion opportunity. Precourt’s initial purchase deal for the Crew included a promise to keep the team in Columbus for at least 10 years, but it also had a clause that would let him move to Austin. And before Precourt announced his desire to move, MLS had trademarked Austin FC and Austin Athletic as possible names for a franchise even though the city had not applied for expansion.

Here’s the official MLS story. I’m happy for Austin, but it turns out that not everyone else is.

Austin FC won’t join MLS until 2021, but it is already the league’s most-hated team.

[…]

So, why does everyone hate Austin FC? The answer is simple: Anthony Precourt.

Precourt owned the Columbus Crew, and announced in 2017 that he planned to relocate the club to Austin because Columbus would not provide a publicly funded stadium. By threatening the move to Austin, Precourt essentially held the club hostage until Jimmy and Dee Haslam partnered with Pete Edwards to save the Crew.

MLS saw the massive public outcry against Precourt’s ownership tactics and still rewarded him with a shiny, new franchise in the city of his choice — all while deserving cities like Sacramento, St. Louis and Phoenix are still vying for the last remaining spot.

Austin has a $225 million, 20,000-seat stadium slated for completion by 2021. Precourt Sports Ventures is funding that project after an agreement with the city.

We already know that Columbus will root viciously against Austin FC. It’s personal for Crew fans. But if MLS decides to stay firm on that 28-team figure, soccer fans from the left-out cities will be rooting against Austin as well.

Click over to see a sample of Twitter reactions. You can add soccer fans in San Antonio to that list, too. Well, it never hurts to have a rivalry in sports. I can’t wait to see how that plays out.

FIFA World Cup update

Still a year away from a decision.

Houston is among 17 American cities vying to become one of 10 host cities selected when the finalists are trimmed by 2021. The 2026 World Cup will also include 10 games each in Canada and Mexico. A host city would get six games during the 32-day event.

Bid committee president Chris Canetti is hopeful of Houston’s chances but sees the addition of [John] Arnold as another boon for the bid.

“One of the things that we’re going to need to do as a committee here and as a city is raise funds,” Canetti said. “So when you agree to host a World Cup, there’s an expense that comes with it. This is really the same exact formula that existed when the Super Bowl came a couple years ago, so to have someone like John who’s so well-respected in the community, so well-connected in the community … it’s really important to us to be able to open some doors.

“When you look at Houston as a package, we’ve got everything in place,” Canetti said, referring to the city’s recent history hosting national events and its broad infrastructure. “We look at it as, ‘What’s going to put us on top with the decision makers and let them know that Houston belongs.’ And we think being funded is a great thing.”

Committee members believe Houston’s preparation has helped distinguish the city from its competitors. Still, it’s a cautious optimism. And to an extent, they see the potential for collaboration.

“FIFA’s indicated that they have a preference for some geographic concentration to make travel easier for both teams and fans, so … Dallas and Houston can work together, and they can be complements rather than an either-or situation,” Arnold said, pointing to Houston’s relative proximity to Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey, three Mexican cities included in the joint bid among Canada, the United States, and Mexico. “The geographic spread of cities will be important, the amount of fan support and community support that each city can show and demonstrate will be important, and I think the culture of soccer that each city shows will be important in that process.”

See here for the previous update. Houston really does have a lot going for it, including a track record of doing well hosting other big sporting events. The World Cup would be bigger still, thanks to the number of matches and influx of international fans, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. Here’s hoping for the best.

The Karolyis and Larry Nasser

Ouch.

A report commissioned by the U.S. Olympic Committee into the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal was strongly critical of the culture created by longtime coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi, saying that the atmosphere at the couple’s Walker County ranch gave disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar “broad latitude” to abuse young gymnasts.

The 237-page report compiled by the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray, which was made public Monday, also said that two top USOC officials, former CEO Scott Blackmun and chief of sport performance Alan Ashley, failed to take prompt action to protect gymnasts and others after receiving initial reports of allegations against Nassar in 2015.

[…]

The report is critical of what it described as USA Gymnastics’ lack of oversight regarding Nassar’s activities at the Karolyi Ranch between Huntsville and New Waverly, the longtime site of the USA Gymnastics women’s training center.

It also said the Karolyis created “an expectation of absolute perfection and a single-minded and exacting focus on an athlete’s training and performance-readiness to the exclusion of everything else.” This, combined with the ranch’s isolation, “gave rise to a perfect storm of circumstances that facilitated and enabled Nassar’s abuse of elite gymnasts” at the ranch.

Nassar, the report said, took advantage of a culture that was “intense, severe and unrelenting … (and) demanded obedience and deference to authority.”

Even one of the signature moments in the history of the sport — Kerri Strug’s vault at the 1996 Olympics, after suffering an injured ankle, to help the U.S. women win a gold medal — is cited as an example of an approach that emphasized results over athletes’ safety.

Strug’s vault, the report said, “has since become a source of national pride. And yet it also serves as a warning about the casual disregard for athlete safety by those entrusted with their welfare and the overwhelming pressure on athletes to persevere at any cost.”

[…]

Regarding the Karolyi Ranch, as well as the Karolyis’ roles as national team coordinators for most of the past two decades, “no institution or individual took any meaningful steps to ensure that appropriate safety measures were in place to protect the young gymnasts. And within the isolated and secluded environment of the Karolyi Ranch … Nassar had broad latitude to commit his crimes,” the report said.

The culture faced by gymnasts during the era when the Karolyis were influential, the report said, “normalized intense physical discomfort as an integral part of the path to success.” It also led to social isolation and encouraged gymnasts “not to rock the boat.”

“When those pressures were coupled with the harsh and isolated conditions at the Karolyi Ranch, they together gave rise to a perfect storm of circumstances that facilitated and enabled Nassar’s abuse of elite gymnasts,” the report added.

See here, here, and here for some background. The irony, of course, is that for the longest time that “expectation of absolute perfection and a single-minded and exacting focus on an athlete’s training and performance-readiness to the exclusion of everything else” was considered the Karolyis’ main virtue as gymnastics coaches and the fulcrum for all of the adoring press they’d received over the years. Turns out that kind of system has its flaws. The 237-page report is embedded in the story, but if you don’t want to read it you can instead read this ThinkProgress summary of it, which makes that case that the USOC should join USA Gymnastics on the junk pile of history. Deadspin has more.

Houston to get XFL 2.0 team

For those of you that need more football.

TDECU Stadium at the University of Houston will be the home field for Houston’s team in the XFL, the spring football league owned by WWE chairman Vince McMahon that will begin play in 2020, the league announced Wednesday.

Joining Houston among the eight XFL charter cities are teams in Dallas-Fort Worth, playing at Arlington’s Globe Life Stadium, plus Los Angeles (StubHub Center), New York-New Jersey (MetLife Stadium), St. Louis (The Dome at America’s Center), Seattle (CenturyLink Field), Tampa (Raymond James Stadium) and Washington, D.C. (Audi Field).

Houston’s team has yet to be named, but the announcement signals a return to the city’s football heyday of the 1980s, when the upstart USFL’s Houston Gamblers shared the pro football landscape with the established Oilers, much as the XFL now will do with the Texans.

Coincidentally, the announcement of Houston’s XFL selection came from the league’s president, Oliver Luck, who was a quarterback for the Oilers during the Gamblers’ 1984-85 run at the Astrodome.

“We believe the Houston-Harris County area is a fantastic place for one of our franchises, given the deep love and passion that people here have for football at all levels,” Luck said in an interview prior to Wednesday’s announcement.

“It was a pretty easy decision to place a franchise in Houston.”

[…]

Houston will be in the XFL’s Western Division with Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles and Seattle. New York, Tampa, St. Louis and Washington will comprise the Eastern Division. Teams will play a 10-game regular season, followed by two semifinals and a championship game.

Teams will have 45-man rosters with seven-member practice squads. A centralized “Team Nine” of players under contract to the league will be available to replenish rosters as needed.

While Luck did not offer details, he said the XFL continues with what he described as a “reimagining” of football as it awaits its 2020 debut.

“We’re looking at some of the administrative rules of the game – time outs and other things – and at what technology can do to improve and enhance the game,” he said.

“Our goal is to have a fast-paced, high-octane game with less down time – less stall and more ball. It will be a rock-’em, sock-’em, 11-on-11 game.”

See here and here for some background. All this sounds good, but in an earlier version of this story, there was this:

The new XFL, league officials have said, aims to offer an alternative to fans disenchanted with the increased length of NFL games and the social activism of some of its players. Games will last under three hours, and the league has said that anthem protests will not be allowed.

Yeah, I’m not going to support that. If you want a different option, there’s yet another league in the pipeline, and San Antonio is a charter member. There will be more than one way to get your extra football fix.

RIP, Bob McNair

The Houston Texans owner has passed away.

The death of Texans owner and founder Bob McNair rocked the NFL, the city of Houston and his players and coaches Friday, sparking rich remembrances of his life and legacy.

McNair was 81 years old and had battled skin cancer for years. He had been in poor health for several months.

McNair leaves behind a first-place AFC South franchise that had been entrusted by him to stable leadership provided by his son, chief operating officer Cal McNair, coach Bill O’Brien, general manager Brian Gaine and longtime team president Jamey Rootes.

From his instrumental role in returning the NFL to Houston after the departure of the Oilers to Tennessee to his philanthropic contributions and warm, approachable personality, McNair was recalled fondly upon his death.

McNair is a seminal figure in Houston sports for bringing the NFL back to Houston. It’s not often mentioned these days, but at the time everyone assumed Los Angeles was going to get the expansion franchise that eventually became the Texans. He’ll be long remembered in Houston for that, and for his longtime civic and charitable participation. He also had a long history in Republican and conservative politics, none of which was mentioned in this story. That’s a topic for another time. For now, my condolences to the McNair family.

USOC moves to decertify USA Gymnastics

About time.

On Monday night, the U.S. Olympic Committee made a long-overdue announcement: It is taking steps towards decertifying USA Gymnastics by revoking its recognition as one of the USOC’s National Governing Bodies (NGBs).

Now, what’s to come is not going to be an overnight fix. Decertification is a complicated process — one that involves a review panel, a formal hearing, and a finding-of-fact before it becomes official. But the USOC has stressed its commitment to making sure that athletes are well-served during this time and that all training and competitions proceed as planned in the run-up to the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. Additionally, the USOC plans to play a part in building and fostering a revitalized, athlete-centric governing body for the sport. It’s a significant step toward true accountability and change.

However, hold the applause. It’s crucial to remember that the USOC is not the hero of this story. That honor is reserved for the brave sexual abuse survivors who have been calling for drastic measures of this kind for years.

The USOC had numerous opportunities where they could have — and, indeed, should have — stepped up to protect the athletes over whom they has responsibility. Time and time again, however, the USOC decided to do absolutely nothing.

Just go read the rest. The entire story of USA Gymnastics and its utter failure to do anything to protect its athletes from the predation of Larry Nasser is more than enough reason to blow it up and start over. This time, maybe put some actual gymnasts in leadership positions. The Chron and Deadspin have more.

Babygate, 25 years later

Boy, I remember this.

Remember Babygate?

Scot Cooper Williams came into this world Oct. 16, 1993 and was the center of a firestorm 24 hours later. His father David, an offensive tackle for the Houston Oilers, had missed the team’s game in New England to be with his wife when he was born.

The coaches were livid. Some of his teammates were upset and angry. A combination of timing of Scot’s birth, fog in New England and David not being able to catch the last flight out of Houston that Saturday night forced David to make a decision that cost him a $111,000 fine.

The story went viral – 1990s style. National headlines. Network television. Talk shows around the country. Everybody had an opinion, especially when the macho culture of pro football collided with changing times around the country (the Family and Medical Leave Act had passed in February 1993).

“It took me a while,” David said of the media frenzy, “to get over it.”

This week marks the 25th anniversary of Babygate and the men in the center of that moment can chuckle a little about it now.

[…]

A quarter of a century ago, then-27-year-old David, who wasn’t one to miss a game for any reason, just wanted to be with his wife when she delivered. Debi had suffered a miscarriage the year before after a tubal pregnancy and he wasn’t leaving her side. They had planned to have a C-section the Monday after the game, but Scot had a mind of his own and Debi went into labor at 4 a.m. Saturday, and David missed the team charter.

David figured Scot would be born, mom and baby would get checked out and he’d have time to catch the last flight to Boston on Saturday night.

But that didn’t happen.

While Debi was in labor, David was on the delivery room phone with coaches and team officials. Time was running out to catch that last flight and the conversation wasn’t pretty.

“It was hard on her at the time … She could hear them screaming over the phone at me,” David said. “Finally the doctor just yanked the phone plug, took the phone off the wall and said ‘We’re not taking any more calls.’ ”

Scot didn’t arrive until almost 6:25 p.m. and, by then, it was too late for Williams to catch the 6:54 p.m. flight from either airport.

“Even if I had left the second after he was born, I still never would have made that plane,” he said. “It was nerve-wracking for me. I’d never been through anything like that. It was tough.”

He said teammates Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews tried to arrange a private plane through a third party, but when David left the hospital around 11:30 p.m., he hadn’t heard back.

“I had been up with Deb since 4 o’clock that morning and going through that emotional roller coaster of getting screamed at and yelled at by coaches and general manager as I’m in the delivery room,” he said. “My wife’s giving birth and I’m getting screamed at. Man, it isn’t supposed to feel like this.”

David went home, showered and was sound asleep when the person called back. The voice on the other end of the phone said there were no guarantees he would get to the stadium in time. The pilot might be able to get him into one of the New York airports, but then he would have to drive to Foxborough, Mass.

“They were diverting planes everywhere,” David said. “At that point, I said, if he can’t fly me to Boston, just tell him to forget it. I made that decision on my own. I was absolutely exhausted.”

He paused.

“I was just (thinking), ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to be fired.’ I knew it. I just knew I was going to be without a job the next day. It was crazy, but that was the decision I made.”

Read the whole thing, and marvel at it whether it’s the first you’ve ever heard of this or it takes you down memory lane, as it did with me. Sure seems hard to believe, here in 2018, that a father-to-be missing work to be at the birth of a child would even raise an eyebrow, but it did a lot more than that in 1993. However far we still have to go, we really have come a long way. All the best to the Williams family, for their unwitting role as trailblazers.

Bring back the Comets

Jenny Dial Creech would like to see one more professional sports team in Houston.

As [Tina] Thompson — the league’s first No. 1 overall draft pick — was inducted into the [Naismith Basketball] Hall of Fame, we were all reminded that the Comets set the bar for greatness in the WNBA.

“The Comets were the impact,” Thompson told ESPN earlier this year. “They made people stand up and watch. They made skeptics of the league and its ability to survive into believers. Houston set a tone. It created awareness and excitement, like a curiosity of, ‘What’s going on over there in that league? What is it that everybody’s talking about?’ Not just in the state of Texas, but also in other states and other cities, because they wanted to kind of know what the fuss was about.”

The Comets were widely supported, averaging more than 11,000 fans per game in their first five years. Cooper, Swoopes, Thompson and their teammates were stars.

Since 2008, a passionate group of Comets supporters has clamored for the return of their beloved team. It’s not that easy, of course.

There doesn’t seem to be a WNBA expansion plan. And though one team, the Liberty, is for sale, the hope in New York is that the new buyer will keep the franchise there.

But even though there isn’t a clear answer to get a team to Houston, the city should jump at any chance to get one.

We were season ticket holders for the Comets from 2001 through their last season. They may have averaged 11K per game in the first five seasons, but it definitely dwindled after that. (I can’t find season by season totals on the internet, so you’ll have to trust my memory on this.) I’d say part of that is that Houston fans can be fickle, and part of it is that the team just wasn’t as good after Cynthia Cooper retired. The team started out with a superstar trio (Cooper, Swoopes, Thompson), and never found another high-level player. There’s only so good that a basketball team can be with two stars and a bunch of mostly interchangeable spare parts. I don’t know what the WNBA’s plans are for expansion in the near to medium term, but if and when that becomes a thing, bringing a Houston franchise back to the league should be a priority. If you don’t remember the Comets or just want a refresher on their history and how damn good they were for those first four years, this Undefeated story from 2016 has you covered.

Another Lopez brother gets banned from taekwondo

Steven Lopez this time.

Two-time Olympic taekwondo gold medalist Steven Lopez has been banned permanently from competition by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, based on the results of the agency’s investigation into Lopez’s sexual relationship with an underage female in 2000.

The relationship, according to a report compiled by SafeSport, involved a 14-year-old neighbor whose family was a friend of the Lopez family, and occurred at a time when the complainant was a taekwondo athlete and Lopez was establishing himself as one of the sport’s dominant figures, eventually winning five world titles along with the two Olympic gold medals.

Investigators said the relationship progressed over a four-year period, beginning when the complainant was 10, from what was described as grooming to sexual contact to oral sex, the latter occurring at a time when the complainant was 14 and Lopez 22.

The sexual relationship, SafeSport concluded, took place “in violation of the SafeSport Code, the criminal laws of the State of Texas and the standards expected of USA Taekwondo members.”

Lopez, who with his older brother and coach, Jean Lopez, has been named as a defendant in a federal court lawsuit filed in Colorado, declined to be interviewed by SafeSport regarding the allegations.

See here and here for some background on Jean Lopez. Steven Lopez had been suspended in May by SafeSport, and both he and his brother, along with SafeSport and USA Taekwondo and the US Olympic Committee, are defendants in a lawsuit over this whole sorry and deeply disturbing mess. All that matters at this point is finding some justice for the victims, and doing everything we can to make sure that this shit never, ever happens again. Deadspin has more.

Taekwondo coach Jean Lopez un-banned

Hard to understand this.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport has lifted a permanent ban imposed earlier this year on Sugar Land taekwondo coach Jean Lopez, clearing the way for Lopez to resume coaching while he and his brother, two-time Olympic gold medalist Steven Lopez, still face a federal court lawsuit accusing them of being sexual predators.

Jean Lopez’s status is now listed by SafeSport as “interim measure — restriction,” the details of which are not spelled out on the agency’s website.

However, Lopez’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, told USA Today the restriction is that Lopez is not allowed to contact his accusers.

“The main thing is that (Lopez) had been banned from coaching, and he’s no longer banned from coaching,” Jacobs told the newspaper. “We hope this is the end of it.”

The Lopez brothers, however, still face a lawsuit filed in Colorado by four women, including former national team members Mandy Meloon, a former Sugar Land resident who now lives in Austin, and Heidi Gilbert and former collegiate competitor Gabriella Joslin of Houston.

Jon Little, the Indianapolis attorney who represents the four women, said Saturday the decision to rescind the permanent ban reflects what he described as the “toothless” nature of Safe-Sport, which was established by the U.S. Olympic Committee to sanction athletes, coaches and others accused of sexual misconduct and other violations.

“I have other avenues to deal with Jean Lopez,” Little said. “Sadly, though, the USOC is putting medals and money ahead of the safety of children for the umpteenth time. This is what I expected of them.”

See here for some background. There’s some dispute over how the SafeSport appeals process is supposed to go, and I’ll refer you to these two USA Today articles for the details. I feel like any process that allows for a lifetime ban for multiple credible allegations of abuse to be lifted that easily is a process that should be reviewed. Deadspin has more.

Texans’ cheer coach quits

Of interest.

Altovise Gary, the longtime director of the Houston Texans cheerleaders squad who was named as a defendant in one of two recent federal court lawsuits filed against the team, has resigned, a team spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Gary resigned on her own accord, citing what team spokeswoman Amy Palcic described as personal reasons. The team had no additional comment on her departure.

[…]

Gary was named as a defendant in a case filed in May by a former cheerleader who accused her of body-shaming and failing to act on complaints that cheerleaders were physically assaulted by fans. She was not named as a defendant in a second suit filed days later by five former cheerleaders against the team.

Both suits were dismissed and the former cheerleaders’ complaints submitted to arbitration, as required by their contracts with the team.

Houston attorney Bruse Loyd, who filed the first lawsuit that included Gary as a defendant, said he would have no comment on Gary’s resignation.

Houston attorney Kimberley Spurlock, who along with noted women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred filed the second lawsuit, said in a statement: “We believe that our lawsuit and the voices of our brave clients have made an important impact on the Houston Texans. As a result of their courage, there appears to be an important change taking place in the staff.

“However, until there is justice for the cheerleaders by paying them fairly and compensating them by paying them the wages that they are due, we will continue our fight to win them the respect and dignity to which they are entitled and which is long overdue.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t have much to add to this, I will just reiterate my positions that 1) harassment and abuse of any kind should not be tolerated, and 2) it’s a travesty that the multi-billion dollar business that is the NFL refuses to pay its cheerleaders a wage the reflects their worth. Not sure what else there is to say.

The Prairie View cricket complex

I love stories like this.

Growing up, Tanweer Ahmed’s mother, Kalsoom, always discouraged him from playing cricket. They were a poor family. His mother sold vegetables and milk from the few cows they had in his hometown of Sialkot in Punjab, Pakistan.

“Cricket doesn’t cost that much, but every penny matters when you don’t have anything,” Ahmed said.

Kalsoom put those pennies toward getting him and four siblings through the best school in the city. He had one school uniform, one pair of shoes, and one pair of clothes to wear at home.

“That’s all we could afford,” he said.

Today, Ahmed is owner of more than 150 franchise restaurants in four states, plus an energy company and half of a medical research venture. And he is busy pouring millions of his own dollars into building one of the nation’s largest cricket complexes. It will serve children and adults when it opens in early September, and later it could host professional international matches.

The project is rising from the plains of Prairie View, less than a 15-minute drive from the Grand Parkway on the outskirts of Houston, in prominent view of drivers on the newly refurbished U.S. 290.

Plans for 10 to 12 fields on 86 acres have raised eyebrows among some locals who question the viability of such a facility in the rural expanse around a college town of about 6,000. But this is no quixotic attempt to recapture some piece of a lost childhood far from home. Houston has been waiting for this, observers say. If he builds it, players will come.

“There’s certainly a large demand” in Houston, said Eric Parthen, U.S. project manager for the International Cricket Council, which is not involved in the project. “It will immediately be one of the larger facilities in the country, if not the largest.”

A recent study by the council, in concert with the market research firm Nielsen, found 200,000 people playing the game in the United States, and it counted millions of fans.

“It’s untapped potential in the youth market,” Parthen said. “The U.S. has the largest immigrant population in the world, a lot of those coming from South Asian cultures, and these are children growing up in families passionate about cricket.”

I would assume this venue will be of great interest to the nascent Houston Cricket League, as well as the US cricket team. It’s not hard to imagine Ahmed’s venture becoming not just the premier location for cricket in the US, but also a major attraction for the region. I wish him all the best with this project.

Final Four returns to Houston

Mark your calendars.

The NCAA announced Monday that Houston and NRG Stadium will host the 2023 men’s Final Four. College basketball’s marquee event will be held April 1 and 3.

It will mark the fourth time the event will be held in Houston, joining 1971 in the Astrodome and 2011 and 2016 at NRG Stadium.

[…]

The NCAA also announced Phoenix/Glendale (2024), San Antonio (2025) and Indianapolis (2026) will host Final Fours.

The latest announcement joins a growing list of major sporting events that will be held in the city over the next several years. Houston will host a 2020 NCAA Tournament men’s basketball regional, the College Football Playoff national championship game in 2024 and is among 17 cities vying to host as part of the winning North American bid for the 2026 World Cup.

“Houston’s on a roll,” said Janis Burke, chief executive officer for the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. “We keep getting bigger, better and stronger when you look at our footprint.”

I’m always happy for Houston to get these events. I think by now it’s very well established that we have good facilities and we do a good job with them. It’s a little hard to believe now, but Houston was a total no-go zone for 15 years for big sporting events. Between the 1989 NBA All-Star Game at the Astrodome and Super Bowl XXXVIII in 2004, as far as I can tell from googling around there was bupkis. New stadium construction and downtown revitalization have turned that around completely. That may change again – Houston did host several events in the 1980s, so perhaps there is another dry spell in our future. I kind of doubt it, though. Good for us.

The World Cup and its possible infrastructure effects

Assuming Houston does get to be a host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, that could spur some major projects, for transportation and recreation and who knows what else.

Houston will not receive final word on the bid until 2020 or 2021, but officials remain optimistic the city is a strong competitor for what could be six to eight American cities, each hosting five or six matches over 30 days. That means weeks of hotel stays, restaurant and bar sales and other expenses for visitors.

Ultimately, that could pay off with long-term projects in Houston. Part of the city’s pitch to selectors is use of a new green space east of the George R. Brown Convention Center, a long-sought cap for Texas Department of Transportation’s plans for a redesigned and buried Interstate 45. Though TxDOT plans to spend $7 billion redesigning and widening the freeway, it cannot spend federal or state highway money on park space capping the buried sections.

A local World Cup committee, however, could focus on fundraising and organize and plan a park, [Doug Hall, vice-president of special projects for the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority,] said.

“The World Cup Local Organizing Committee would help raise funds for such a legacy project if it becomes a final part of the plan,” Hall said in January when officials were finalizing the city’s bid. “The Sports Authority’s tax funds can only be used on voter-approved projects and all monies are currently pledged to the existing sports stadiums.”

[…]

Only the spot along the convention center has been mentioned as a possible legacy project of a World Cup hosting. Preparations for the World Cup coming to Houston would also include numerous other upgrades and close coordination with Metro because public transit would be crucial to any events.

Metro and local organizers are already discussing some alternatives, officials said, though it will be years before final plans are prepared. In preliminary discussions, Metro has said transporting around half of the 75,000 people expected to attend soccer matches at NRG Park will require extensive bus service, along with possibly running light rail vehicles in couplings of three, as opposed to the typical two vehicles per trip.

Metro is also researching with NRG Park officials a more permanent redesign of its rail stop near NRG Park to provide shelter and possibly seating for passengers as they wait in sometimes long lines as trains depart after events packed to capacity. During major events such as Houston Texans football games and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, riders can sometimes wait 30 minutes or more for room on the train.

Some transit officials during a January discussion said a World Cup event could also spur additional coordination with the city about dedicated bus lanes in more parts of Houston, and perhaps even more.

“I am thinking that would require additional light rail,” Metro board member Troi Taylor said of the potential deluge of visitors for the World Cup.

We’re far enough out from 2026 that anything Metro might propose for the 2019 referendum could be completed by then, though anything that would require federal funds would be up against some very tight deadlines. I suppose work could be mostly done on I-45 by then as well, though I wouldn’t want to bet on that. It’s hard to know without knowing what the specific plans may be, but for sure we should be talking about it now, and working to build consensus for what we can. Anything that develops into a big political fight is a lot less likely to get done.

Larry Nasser indicted in Walker County

It’s something, but it’s not enough.

A Walker County grand jury Friday indicted two former USA Gymnastics officials, disgraced physician Larry Nassar and athletic trainer Debra Van Horn, in conjunction with Nassar’s sexual abuse of gymnasts at the Karolyi Ranch in the Sam Houston National Forest.

Investigators, however, said they had no evidence on which to base charges against famed coaches Bela and Martha Karoyli, whose secluded ranch served for two decades as the women’s national team training center and where Nassar is accused of abusing world class gymnasts, including Olympic gold medalists, for two decades under the guise of medical care.

Nassar, who is serving the equivalent of a life sentence after pleading guilty in Michigan to state charges of sexual abuse and federal charges of possessing child pornography, was indicted on six charges of sexual abuse of a child, a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 prison years, a maximum $10,000 fine or both.

Van Horn, who worked for USA Gymnastics for almost 30 years through last January, most recently as director of sports medicine services, was indicted on one charge of sexual abuse of a child. She is not in custody, but her attorney, Philip Hilder of Houston, who also is representing USA Gymnastics in two Walker County lawsuits, has been informed of the indictment, officials said.

[…]

The decision to indict Nassar and Van Horn but to spare the Karolyis was greeted with greeted with thanks by the Karolyis’ attorney, David Berg, and with disdain by John Manly, who represents several dozen of Nassar’s victims and has filed lawsuits against USA Gymnastics and the Karolyis for failure to protect athletes from Nassar’s abuse.

“The Karolyis are grateful to the Texas Rangers and the Walker County DA’s office for reaching the only conclusion they could have reached, that this exonerates them and removes a terrible cloud,” Berg said.

“They will continue to cooperate, but this investigation could go on until the end of time and there will never be charges against Bela and Martha Karolyi because they have done nothing wrong.”

Manly, in contrast, said the decision to indict Nassar, in light of the lengthy prison sentences already handed down, made as much sense as “digging up Lee Harvey Oswald and indicting him for the murder of President Kennedy.”

“Walker County made it clear to the survivors that they the Karolyis were never going to be a target of the investigation. This is a classic example of insiders protecting insiders,” he said.

“Their universal response of the survivors and their families is they feel nauseous about the way this was handled. I am convinced if this were a high school football team in Walker County, they would have gotten better treatment than these women did. … I’ve seen police departments take speeding violations more seriously.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I mean, maybe there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge the Karolyis with a crime, despite all of the criminal activity happening at their ranch that they apparently failed to notice or take action on, but it sure seems like there ought to have been. It’s hardly out of the question that the Walker County DA might have given them more courtesy than they deserved. Perhaps we’ll find out more as the various lawsuits work their way through the courts. But for now, this is what we have. Deadspin and ThinkProgress have more.

Texans cheerleader lawsuit update

Couple points of interest here.

A former Texans cheerleader who says cheer director Alto Gary derided her as “skinny fat” and applied duct tape to her stomach before a 2017 game added her name Friday to one of two lawsuits filed against the team over payment and workplace issues.

Angelina Rosa, a two-year member of the cheerleading squad who said she also was a dancer for the Chicago Bulls and a member of the Astros’ Shooting Stars group, is the 10th cheerleader to join one of two suits filed against the team in Houston federal court.

Rosa is the sixth former cheerleader to sign on as a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and Houston attorney Kimberly Spurlock. Four have joined a suit filed by Houston attorney Bruse Loyd seeking class action status.

While descriptions of the duct-taping incident were included in both lawsuits, Friday was the first time that Rosa was identified as the affected cheerleader.

[…]

Both lawsuits accuse the Texans of failing to pay minimum wage and overtime for hours spent on the job, and both allege other workplace violations.

The Texans have denied the allegations and have filed motions seeking their dismissal. If the cases are not dismissed, the Texans want them delayed while allegations are submitted to arbitration before NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Since the lawsuits were filed, several former cheerleaders have told local news outlets, including the Chronicle, that they were not subjected to the abuses described by their fellow former cheerleaders.

I had noted before that the Texans had filed for dismissal of one of the lawsuits, and I had wondered about the other one. Now I know. As far as the denial by some other cheerleaders about the allegations made in these lawsuits, that’s of interest and would surely be a key pillar of the defense if this ever makes it to a courtroom, but the presence of some cheerleaders – even many cheerleaders – who say they were not abused or harassed does not have any bearing on the testimony of those who say they were. One can be both credibly accused of bad behavior, and also credibly defended by others who say “that never happened to me”. The defense against harassment by some other members of the Texans’ cheerleading squad also doesn’t address the claims of wage theft. We are still a very long way from a resolution here.

San Antonio to get pro football team

Not the NFL or the XFL but the AAF.

“After talking to [league co-founder and CEO] Charlie Ebersol, I knew the Alliance of American Football was right for San Antonio, and that San Antonio was right for the Alliance,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who participated in talks with the league prior to the announcement.

The AAF was unveiled in March as a complement to the NFL with its season kicking off in early February next year six days after the Super Bowl and finishing in April with a championship around the time of the NFL draft. It aims to put a quality product on the field made up of former college players and pros trying to make it back to the NFL and coached by names fans will recognize.

League officials, including Ebersol, a television and film producer, will be in town Thursday to announce the local general manager and head coach. San Antonio was the eighth and final city to be unveiled as a charter member of the new league joining Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; Memphis, Tennessee; Orlando, Florida; Phoenix; Salt Lake Cit; and San Diego.

Coaches such as Steve Spurrier in Orlando, Mike Singletary in Memphis, Rick Neuheisel in Phoenix, and Mike Martz in San Diego give the league credibility. Add to that a television contract with CBS and the league already appears to be on more stable footing than other professional football league startups of the past.

“Spring football forever has been thought of as a money grab,” Ebersol said during a Facebook Live event after announcing the league in March. “It has been thought of as somebody just going in and building a business very quickly and making money right out of the gate because people love football.

“But what we tried to build here was something bigger. We tried to put together a team, an alliance of people that were committed to what we could do if we actually started from scratch with a professional sports league.”

The AAF is funded by private investors but there are no individual owners for each team. It is what the league’s name suggests – an alliance aimed at building a strong product in each city.

[…]

The AAF founders have been working for more than a year to identify the cities in which they wanted to place the first eight teams. They also have been laying the groundwork for the league in talking with potential coaches, general managers, and considering ways in which they might want to make their brand of football different from the NFL.

Some of those differences will include no kickoffs, no extra points, no television timeouts, and a 30-second play clock instead of the 40-second clock in the NFL. The differences are rooted in player safety and shortening the length of games.

The San Antonio franchise will play its games at the Alamodome. The AAF was mentioned in that recent XFL story I blogged about, which was the first I had heard of it. Sounds like they have some interesting ideas, with this league maybe kind of serving the same function as the NBA G League does for that sport. The recent record of non-NFL pro football leagues is not great, but this one has a pretty good pedigree, so we’ll see. (Then again, so did the WLAF.) And since you’re wondering, yes, Charlie Ebersole is Dick Ebersole’s son.

Texans move to dismiss one cheerleader lawsuit

Standard stuff, I presume.

Attorneys for the Houston Texans have asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the team by five former cheerleaders or to delay proceedings while the former cheerleaders’ complaints are submitted to arbitration.

Team attorneys, in a motion filed with U.S. District Judge David Hitner, cite several flaws in what they describe as a “frivolous” lawsuit filed by former cheerleaders Hannah Turnbow, Ainsley Parish, Morgan Wiederhold, Ashley Rodriguez and Kelly Neuner.

The suit is one of two filed last month by former Texans cheerleaders, complaining of wage violations, breach of contract, negligence and other issues.

Among the lawsuit’s flaws, the Texans say, is that former cheerleaders acted improperly by filing legal action despite signing contracts that require mandatory arbitration for disputes. If the suit is not dismissed, the team says, it at least should be stayed pending arbitration.

[…]

The former cheerleaders also “want to rewrite history,” the team says, by complaining about their treatment after several posted complimentary messages on social media about their association with the team.

“Above all, the plaintiffs want to ignore the law, which dictates that their claims fail, whether in arbitration … or in this court,” lawyers add.

The standard cheerleader contract includes a clause in which both sides agree that the NFL commissioner will preside over binding arbitration to settle any disputes. The commissioner also has authority to refer the dispute to an outside arbitrator.

In a separate filing, attorneys for the team say that Neuner’s complaint against the team because she has not been a cheerleader since the summer of 2011 and that that her complaints fall outside the statute of limitations, which range from 300 days to four years, along with being “factually invalid.”

See here for the background. I’m not aware of any action with the other lawsuit, but my guess is that the team will have a similar response. For sure, the cheerleaders will want to keep this in a courtroom and away from an arbitrator. That’s all I’ve got, so we’ll see what happens.

Here comes the FIFA World Cup

Three cheers for the three nations.

In a long-anticipated vote on Wednesday, the joint bid of the U.S., Mexico and Canada defeated Morocco, its only challenger, as 200 national soccer federations cast their ballots to cap FIFA’s annual Congress.

The three-nation bid captured 134 votes, with Morocco earning 65 from the panel and only Lebanon choosing neither option.

“This is an incredible, and incredibly important, moment for soccer in North America and beyond,” said Carlos Cordeiro, the president of U.S. Soccer.

The 2026 tournament will feature an expanded field of 48 teams — as opposed to recent editions having 32 — and will mark the first time in FIFA’s history that a three-nation bid has been awarded the showpiece event.

The joint bid’s plans call for 60 of the 80 games to be played in the United States — including all matches from the quarterfinals onward — while Canada and Mexico host 10 apiece. The final is expected to be played at MetLife Stadium, just outside New York.

See here and here for the background. I had previously said that if Three Nations won the bid that Houston would get to be a host city, but that’s not quite true, as this story notes:

In an agreement announced when the bid launched last year, the United States will stage 60 of the 80 matches, including all from the quarterfinals on, while Mexico and Canada will get 10 apiece. Twenty-three cities, including Washington and Baltimore, are in the running to become the 16 match venues. In all likelihood, 11 of the 17 proposed U.S. sites will make the cut. A decision is not expected for another two years.

[…]

Mexican venues under consideration are Monterrey, Guadalajara and Mexico City. Canada narrowed its list to Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton.

The U.S. metro areas in the running are Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Stadium), Baltimore (M&T Bank Stadium), Boston (Gillette Stadium), Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Dallas (AT&T Stadium), Denver (Sports Authority Field), Houston (NRG Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium), Los Angeles (Rose Bowl and the new NFL stadium), Miami (Hard Rock Stadium), Nashville (Nissan Stadium), New York (MetLife Stadium), Orlando (Camping World Stadium), Philadelphia (Lincoln Financial Field), San Jose (Levi’s Stadium), Seattle (Century Link Field) and Washington (FedEx Field).

Given Houston’s track record with Super Bowls and Final Fours, not to mention international friendly soccer matches, I feel good about our chances, but there are no guarantees. In the meantime, US Soccer is involved in a bid for the 2027 Women’s World Cup as well, so who knows, maybe we’ll get a twofer. Slate and ThinkProgress have more.

They’re still trying to make XFL 2.0 happen

And who knows, maybe it will.

Oliver Luck, the former Oilers quarterback and Dynamo executive who has most recently worked at the NCAA, was named Tuesday as the commissioner of the relaunched XFL that World Wrestling Entertainment will launch in 2020.

Luck, the father of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, was announced as CEO and commissioner of the new eight-team league by WWE chairman Vince McMahon, the league’s founder.

“Football has always been a constant in my life and I’m excited about the unique opportunity to present America’s favorite sport to fans in a new way,” Luck said in a statement from the league. “The XFL will create first-class organizations that local cities across the country will be proud of.”

McMahon he and Luck “share the same vision and passion for reimagining the game of football. His experience as both an athlete and executive will ensure the long-term success of the XFL.”

See here for the background. Among many other things, Luck has served as president of NFL Europe, so he has real experience with this sort of thing. I still have my doubts that they’ll be able to get an eight-team league off the ground and on solid financial footing by 2020, but so far at least this is not an obvious farce. And while I said before that I probably wouldn’t watch a new XFL (as I hadn’t watched the original XFL), I’ve changed my mind. There is a scenario under which I will become an XFL fan, and that’s if they treat their cheerleaders better then the NFL does (not a high bar to clear, as we know). Have the teams hire their cheerleaders as employees, pay them a fair salary, institute real anti-harassmemt policies, don’t put ridiculous rules on them and only them about fraternizing with players, and I’m in. What do you say, Oliver? The Press and Texas Monthly have more.

More on the Texans’ cheerleader lawsuit

Here’s a story in Vanity Fair about the second lawsuit filed against the Houston Texans by a group of former cheerleaders, who allege wage theft and harassment, among other things. The tale is from the perspective of plaintiff Gabriella Davis, and much of it focuses on the lousy treatment she and her fellow cheerleaders got from the team and specifically its longtime cheerleading director, Altovise Gary. I encourage you to read all that, but I want to highlight the matters relating to money:

Davis said the cheerleaders were frequently reminded that they were replaceable: “We were told, ‘There’s another girl who will do it for free,’” she said.

But they practically did that themselves.

According to both Davis and a copy of the 2017-2018 Texans cheerleader contract, cheerleaders were making $7.25 per hour, the state’s minimum wage, or approximately $1,500 per season. The employment agreement stipulates that the cheerleaders are hired as part-time employees (by day, some were college students, lawyers, or worked in P.R.). But Davis, as well as her former teammates who are suing the Texans, argued that Gary warned them upfront that they would be “part-time employees with full-time hours.” Their time commitment included games, practices, and a required 50 team-sponsored promotional appearances during the season. The cheerleaders said they were not paid overtime for hours of work outside of cheering, including selling calendars and meeting fans after games, plus daily social-media requirements, which included tweeting from the official cheerleader handle and following hundreds of people on Twitter in order to boost the account’s following.

See here and here for the background. The “we can replace you with someone who’d do this for free” attitude is pervasive, and is right there in the comments on the Chron story about the more recent lawsuit. You want to talk about “economic anxiety”, I’m here to say there would be a whole lot less of it if people didn’t internalize that message. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would side with the multi-billion dollar entity that could easily afford to pay these women a salary that’s actually commensurate with the work they do and the value they add. I’m rooting for the courts to see it the same way, but ultimately what we need is better legislation to improve working life for all of us. Here are statements from the plaintiffs and a statement from the Texans on this case. I’m sure we have not seen the last of these in the league.

Second group of cheerleaders sues the Texans

Different group, same basic complaints.

Hannah Turnbow spent the 2017 NFL season wearing a bright smile and a Texans cheerleaders uniform, dancing on the field, waving pompons on the sideline, meeting fans in NRG Stadium suites and concourses and attending team-related functions as a Texans brand ambassador.

Friday, however, Turnbow was reduced briefly to tears as she described how she and four other former cheerleaders were underpaid, browbeaten, threatened and, in her case, attacked by a fan and told by team officials to “suck it up” when she complained.

Turnbow, who spent one season as a Texans cheerleader, is the lead plaintiff in the second lawsuit in two weeks that accuses the team of violating federal labor laws and minimum-wage regulations.

The suit was filed in Houston federal court by Houston attorney Kimberly Spurlock and by noted women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, who said she plans to deliver a letter stating the cheerleaders’ case Monday to the office of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York.

“We’re not arguing with the concept of whether there should be cheerleaders or not,” Allred said. “But we are asserting that if there are cheerleaders, they should not be exploited in their wages or in any of the terms of their working conditions.”

[…]

Dallas has long been the center of NFL cheerleader culture, since the Cowboys in the early 1970s adopted the dance team format that the Texans and other NFL teams use, and Androvett said the Cowboys would be a lesser product without the allure and marketing attraction that cheerleaders have provided for more than 40 years.

“Football fans have wives and daughters. Women are big consumers. They are a force to be reckoned with,” Androvett said. “Why wouldn’t you reach out to women and say if there’s a wrong, let’s right it. You can do that in a way that doesn’t incur legal liability.”

By not dealing with complaints by cheerleaders over pay and working conditions, the NFL also faces potential damage in the wake of the “#metoo” awareness movement of sexual assault and harassment.

“People will say it’s like being in Hollywood: there are things you buy into in exchange for all the opportunities that are presented to you,” he said. “But Hollywood is a great analogy. We all realize now that not everything goes.

“If I were the NFL, I would try to get in front of this and communicate that cheerleaders are part of the NFL experience and to treat them in a way that suggest you believe that.

Also, as franchises become more valuable in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that could lead to increased sports gambling, “it’s not a good optic for the NFL when you have a class of women who are trying to get paid based on $7.25 per hour,” Androvett added.

See here for more about the other lawsuit. It really is a matter of paying them a fair amount for their labor, and treating them with a sufficient level of respect. Frankly, the NFL could do a better job of that with their players, too, but at least they have the right to collectively bargain for those things. I’m rooting for the plaintiffs in both of these cases. Think Progress has more.

Former cheerleaders file lawsuit against Texans over pay

I’d been wondering if something like this was going to happen here.

Three former Texans cheerleaders sued the team and its cheerleading supervisor Tuesday, accusing the Texans of failing to pay minimum wage and overtime and accusing the cheer squad director of body-shaming and failing to act on complaints that cheerleaders were physically assaulted by fans.

The former cheerleaders, who were on the squad for the 2017 season, are seeking class action status, which would include all Texans cheerleaders for the last three years who also complain of similar treatment by the Texans and their cheerleader director, Altovise Gary.

The suit against the Texans and Gary, filed in Houston federal court, joins a growing list of legal actions in which former NFL cheerleaders complain about pay, safety issues and working conditions.

“I have been a season-ticket holder since 2002. My name is engraved on the glass outside NRG Stadium,” said former cheerleader Paige G., who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “It was always a goal of mine to get on the team, and I thought this is so great that now I get to cheer for the team that I love.

“It was really unfortunate that we were treated with such disrespect.”

Paige G. claims in the lawsuit that while she was paid $7.25 per hour for a set number of hours each week, she did not receive overtime for team-imposed email monitoring and social media requirements and for other “off-the-clock” job-related duties, including gym workouts, spray tans before games and events and required attendance at other team functions and autograph sessions.

“One of the most famous quotes from (Gary) is that this was a part-time job with full-time hours,” she said. “We signed up for a part-time job that didn’t require more than 30 hours a week. If you’re going to make it full-time hours, make it a full-time job. I would be happy to do that.”

The suit also accuses Gary, described in the document as “Coach Alto,” of harassing and intimidating behavior and of cutting Paige G. and other cheerleaders from the squad in April after they sought improved working conditions.

Others may join in as plaintiffs, and they will seek class certification, assuming Neil Gorsuch hasn’t made that illegal. We have seen a number of lawsuits like this filed by other teams’ cheerleaders in recent years, some with truly appalling fact sets. Several teams have paid out settlements, and I suspect that is what will eventually happen here. Seems to me the right thing for the teams to do is to pay their cheerleaders a fair wage for their labor and to generally treat them with a minimum level of respect. But this is the NFL, and that’s not the way they do business, so off to the courts they go. I know who I’m cheering for.

Add taekwondo to the list of problematic sports

Also a sport with local ties.

Last week, four female USA Taekwondo (USAT) athletes filed a joint lawsuit against the USOC and USAT, alleging that the two organizations engaged in sex trafficking by forcing its athletes — including minor females — to travel and train with sexual predators.

According to the lawsuit, officials in both organizations knew about allegations of rape and sexual assault against brothers Jean and Steven Lopez, who are commonly referred to as the “First Family of Taekwondo,” as far back as 1996. And yet, the organizations allegedly failed to either investigate or punish the Lopez brothers, or protect the minor female athletes who were forced to train and go on international trips with these men if they wanted to follow their Olympic dreams.

“The USOC knowingly trafficked these girls to obtain medals and money, time and again,” Jon Little, one of the attorneys representing the women, said in a statement obtained by the Indy Star.

The USOC’s role in the systemic sexual abuse of athletes has been under the microscope lately, owing to the fallout from the sexual abuse of more than 250 girls and women at the hands former Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics, and USOC doctor Larry Nassar. Many of Nassar’s victims have filed lawsuits against the USOC for enabling Nassar’s abuse, and failing to prioritize the protection of its athletes.

This suit will hardly help the USOC rebuild its tarnished reputation. It specifically alleges that current interim CEO of the USOC, Susanne Lyons, as well as four other current top USOC officials “had knowledge of the numerous complaints of rape and sexual assault made by female taekwondo athletes against both Lopez brothers” but all declined to take pro-active steps to ensure that the athletes would be free from harm.

[…]

Essentially, the allegations center around two brothers, Jean and Steven Lopez. Jean was Team USA’s taekwondo coach at the 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympic Summer Games, while Steven was a five-time Olympian and three-time Olympic medalist. Together, they have been the face of USA Taekwondo for the better part of the past two decades.

The lead plaintiff is Mandy Meloon, who the Lopez brothers allegedly began to abuse in 1994, when she moved to the U.S. Olympic Training Center at the age of 13.

There’s a lot more, so go read it. I know I’ve seen a bunch of laudatory stories about the Lopez family in the past, much as there had been many such stories about the Karolyis before the media started cluing into the problems that had existed. Taekwando has a lower profile than gymnastics, so maybe that’s helped keep the Lopezes’ alleged sins out of the public eye. But as with gymnastics and swimming and so many other things, the story is one of victims not being listened to and victimizers not being held accountable. I sure hope we’re learning a lesson from all this, because the price many women have paid for it is really steep. USA Today, CNN, and Deadspin have more.

Stadiums and sports betting

Sheryl Ring at Fangraphs adds another dimension to the SCOTUS sports betting decision story.

But there is another incentive for states to legalize sports betting aside from just basic tax revenue. We’ve talked about ballpark deals, particularly in the context of the Marlins. If states legalize betting at games and tax those bets, they can guarantee themselves a potentially large revenue stream out of the baseball stadiums they subsidize for teams — which suddenly makes ballparks a much more interesting investment for local governments. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see some ballparks look a little more like racetracks in the future, with the ability to place bets at the park itself. The idea of ballparks as entertainment centers, rather than simply sporting venues, is one which lends itself particularly well to this model.

But remember the potential for a patchwork we discussed. Let’s say that Pennsylvania and New York legalize sports betting and allow it at ballparks, and Missouri and Wisconsin don’t. Now you have a situation where big-market teams like the Phillies and Yankees have access to another revenue source, while smaller-market teams like the Brewers and Cardinals don’t. In an era of superteams, state laws could suddenly have a big impact.

On the other hand, sports gambling already happens all the time — and I’m not just talking about racetracks and off-track betting. I’m talking about websites like FanDuel. Many states, partly in response to PASPA, already either make gambling illegal or tightly regulate it, and that has led to a series of lower-profile cases arguing that daily fantasy sports are actually gambling — a proposition which courts have been debating for years. We’ve seen New York settle a case for millions of dollars against FanDuel and DraftKings, and this issue has arisen over and over again in courts throughout the Seventh Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. This constant legal limbo has led to financial trouble for daily-fantasy companies. But the Supreme Court’s decision is likely to grant FanDuel and its industry peers a new lease on life.

Fangraphs is a baseball website so its focus is only on that sport, but there’s no reason to think that the “let’s have sports betting at sports venues” idea would be so limited. I mean, football is the 800 pound gorilla of sports betting, and I have to imagine the idea of creating that kind of enhanced revenue stream will have occurred to Jerry Jones and Bob McNair as well. If they can pitch the idea as being mutually beneficial to the local governments they have fleeced out of taxpayer dollars received stadium deals from, that could make for a strong lobbying team at the Capitol. I’m not saying this will happen – I don’t even know what the NFL’s official position on the SCOTUS ruling is – but it could happen, and if it does it will be a lot more formidable than the usual collection of casino and horse racing interests, which are usually at odds with each other. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

Will the AG get involved in the Karolyi case?

The gymnasts who were victimized by Larry Nasser at the Karolyi Ranch would like to see a higher level of action.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office should take the steps of the Michigan attorney general in aggressively pursuing charges against the men and women who enabled Larry Nassar — the former doctor for the U.S. women’s Olympic gymnastics team — to sexually assault more than 200 young female athletes, a group of survivors and their lawyers said at a press conference Thursday morning.

Standing in the sunshine and wind outside the office of Texas’ top attorney, five women who say they suffered abuse at the hands of Nassar asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to take action against the couple they say allowed that abuse to continue — action Paxton’s office has said it does not have the power to take.

The women and their lawyers claim that Martha and Bela Karolyi, owners of the famed Texas Karolyi Ranch north of Houston, knew about the abuse at the longtime official training site of the team but took no steps to prevent it from continuing. They point to a May 2017 deposition in which Martha Karolyi answers “yes” after being asked whether she was aware of molestation accusations against Nassar.

The Karolyis have said through their lawyer that “Martha misunderstood the question and misspoke.”

[…]

The Texas Rangers, in consort with the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, have been investigating Karolyi Ranch since January at the request of Gov. Greg Abbott. That investigation is ongoing, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Thursday.

Lawyers for the women called that investigation insufficient, saying there have been no search warrants or charges yet issued. And there’s no indication that that probe is “seriously looking into the Karolyis,” said California attorney John Manly, who’s representing more than 100 survivors in the Nassar case.

Michelle Tuegel, a Waco attorney representing many of the Texas survivors, said a case of this scope requires action from the state’s top attorney — and, perhaps more importantly, the resources his office brings with it.

But in a statement shortly after the press conference, a spokesman for the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the investigation is “outside of our jurisdiction” but that the office would “gladly and immediately assist with this investigation and prosecution” if asked by local law enforcement.

See here and here for some background. The Texas Rangers have been working on this and I’d say it’s probably a little early to say that it’s taken too long for anything to happen. That said, Martha Karolyi’s “misstatement” deserves closer scrutiny, as does the entire history of the Karolyi Ranch, to be honest. It’s certainly fair to say that if either Karolyi didn’t know what was going on with Larry Nasser, they should have, and any professed ignorance on their part doesn’t excuse their culpability. Whether that translates into legal liability or not I don’t know, but the moral case is clear. The Chron has more.

Tina Thompson

Congratulations to original Houston Comet Tina Thompson for her selection to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Tina Thompson

Tina Thompson was honored for her stellar college, professional and Olympic career when she was named to the 2018 Class of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The associate head coach for the University of Texas women’s basketball team joins a list that includes NBA greats Steve Nash, Ray Allen, Grant Hill and former Ohio State and WNBA standout Katie Smith.

[…]

Throughout her 17-year professional playing career, Thompson was a four-time WNBA champion with the Houston Comets (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000), a member of the WNBA All-Decade team, an eight-time All-WNBA team selection, a nine-time WNBA All-Star, and the WNBA All-Star MVP in 2000.

Thompson ended her professional career with the Seattle Storm in 2013 as the league’s all-time leading scorer with 7,488 points in 496 games played (15.1 ppg). She still remains the league’s second-leading all-time scorer behind Diana Taurasi (7,867 points).

On the international level, Thompson has won two Olympic gold medals as a member of Team USA in 2004 (Athens) and 2008 (Beijing).

Jenny Dial Creech gives Thompson some well-deserved love. For a bit of perspective here, the Comets had more championships in their twelve years of existence than the Astros, Rockets, and Oilers/Texans have combined in their histories. They were an amazing team, and Tina Thompson was a foundational piece of it. It’s a shame the franchise was disbanded, and it’s a shame that the memory of them fades as time passes, but as long as Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes and Cynthia Cooper are in the Hall of Fame, a piece of the Comets and their amazing legacy will live on. Congratulations, Tina Thompson!

Houston makes final cut for FIFA 2026 bid

Now it’s up to FIFA.

The Houston Dynamos might have to make some room: Space City has been included in the bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

On Thursday, officials announced that Houston is one of 23 cities that are a part of the “United Bid,” a joint bid by Canada, Mexico and the U.S. to host the World Cup.

If the bid is successful, Houston could see international teams battling it out at NRG Stadium.

“Canada, Mexico, and the United States have joined together to deliver a United Bid that offers FIFA and its member associations the power of unity, the promise of certainty, and the potential of extraordinary opportunity,” John Kristick, Executive Director of the United Bid said in a news release.

See here for the background. The original list had 49 venues in 44 cities, so it was about fifty-fifty for Houston to make the cut. At this point, if United Bid wins, we’re in. I’ll definitely buy some tickets if we do. US Soccer has more.

SaberCats Stadium

Houston’s new pro rugby team will soon have a home.

The city’s burgeoning rugby community is poised to have a new home after City Council inked a $3.2 million deal Wednesday that paves the way for the Houston SaberCats to build a 3,500-seat stadium.

The SaberCats, one of seven new Major League Rugby franchises, plans to finish the new facility and two practice fields at Houston Amateur Sports Park, along Texas 288 in south Houston, in time for the beginning of its 2019 season.

The city, meanwhile, will retain ownership of the site, lease the property to the SaberCats for 43 years and use $3.2 million from its 2012 bond package to reimburse the team for the cost of installing a 760-space parking lot and adding public utilities.

“This is a major step forward,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said of the deal. “We say we’re an international city, and this helps to create those venues that can appeal to the interests of a very diverse population.”

SaberCats President Brian Colona echoed Turner’s enthusiasm.

“Obviously, we’re thrilled to have the city council back this thing with great support from Mayor Turner and his staff,” Colona said. “This is the quintessential example of good public-private partnership in order to advance the needs of the community, and we’re happy to be a part of that.”

[…]

As part of the deal OK’d Wednesday, the SaberCats have committed to providing at least 200 hours of free children’s rugby training annually, hosting high school rugby matches and running free rugby camps for children ages 6 through 14, among other types of community engagement.

See here for some background on the SaberCats, who as you can see were formerly known as the Strikers, and here for an earlier article on this deal, which again notes that funds from the 2012 bond referendum that were earmarked for this facility are what’s being used. The main reaction from the SaberCats’ Facebook page is “why only 3,500 seats?”, since a recent exhibition game had 5,000 in attendance. There will be some 4,000 standing room spots as well, so they ought to be covered for now. I’ve never actually seen a rugby game before, I may have to check this out when they have their grand opening. Any fans of the sport out there?

Investigating the Karolyis

I’m fine with this, but I feel like we’re overlooking something.

Nearly a week after prominent USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to prison for the sexual assault of several female gymnasts, Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate misconduct allegations at the famed Karolyi Ranch, the U.S. Olympic training facility in southeast Texas, north of Houston, where Nassar treated athletes.

“The public statements made by athletes who previously trained at the Karolyi Ranch are gut-wrenching,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday. “Those athletes, as well as all Texans, deserve to know that no stone is left unturned to ensure that the allegations are thoroughly vetted and the perpetrators and enablers of any such misconduct are brought to justice. The people of Texas demand, and the victims deserve, nothing less.”

The Walker County Sheriff’s Office confirmed last week that it was looking into the ranch.

Abbott added that the Texas Rangers, the state’s top criminal investigative unit, and the Walker County Sheriff’s Office must collaborate on the case because of the far reach of the allegations, which are spread across jurisdictions and state lines.

There’s more in the Chron, where we find out that Simone Biles is ready to speak to investigators about the assaults she endured. It’s appropriate ti have the Rangers help out with this investigation, as I’m sure they have more resources and experience than the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, and of course we want all of the facts to come out so that everyone responsible can be held to that responsibility.

At the same time, though, I think we need to look past the criminal aspect of this and really ask ourselves how this was happening for nearly 20 years without anything being done about it. Among other things, maybe we need to have a good hard look at how the Karolyis operated for all these years and ask ourselves why we didn’t see the potential for problems all along. The isolation, the dictatorial methods, the extreme pressure on young girls to conform and submit to an absolute authority – is it any wonder a monster was able to flourish under those conditions? Yet as recently as 2016, in the runup to the Summer Olympics, the Karolyis were still the subject of fawning coverage; a lawsuit alleging they had a role in the Nasser scandal – he was forced out of US Gymnastics in 2015, you know – followed a couple of months later. But even before that, former gymnasts led by Dominique Moceanu had been sounding an alarm about their training methods; she was vindicated by an investigator last year. We were warned, well ahead of this recent news. We need to understand why we didn’t heed those warnings.

The XFL will be back

And this time the gimmick is there will be no gimmicks.

WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon announced Thursday he is giving a professional football league another go.

It will be called the XFL, the same name of the league McMahon and NBC tried for one season in 2001, but it won’t rely on flashy cheerleaders and antics as its predecessor did, he said.

McMahon said he is the sole funding source for the league, which is slated to begin in January 2020. Its first season will have eight teams around the country playing a 10-week schedule. The initial outlay of money is expected to be around $100 million, the same amount of WWE stock McMahon sold last month and funneled into Alpha Entertainment, the company he founded for the project.

“I wanted to do this since the day we stopped the other one,” McMahon told ESPN in an exclusive interview. “A chance to do it with no partners, strictly funded by me, which would allow me to look in the mirror and say, ‘You were the one who screwed this up,’ or ‘You made this thing a success.'”

McMahon told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he has had no initial talks with media entities.

One mark of the new league, McMahon said, will be faster games. The ideal running time, he said, would be two hours.

As for the timing of the announcement, two years before the league’s debut, many might point to McMahon’s relationship with President Donald Trump, who this fall criticized the NFL for allowing its players to kneel and sit during the national anthem. McMahon said players in his league will not be given the forum to take a personal stance while on the playing field. McMahon’s wife, Linda, heads the Small Business Administration in Trump’s Cabinet.

Hey, everything else from 20-30 years ago is being rebooted, so why not the XFL? I can’t say I’d care – I didn’t watch the original version – but it will provide a few jobs, so that’s something. And for what it’s worth, I’m rooting for El Paso to get a team. Deadspin has more.