I used to listen to a variety of podcasts: tech, politics, business, sports. But as the world keeps feeling worse and worse, I find myself needing diversions from reality more than ever, so now I limit myself mainly to podcasts about sports.
I think that's true, in one way or another, for a lot of people these days: we all need an escape from reality sometimes.
So here are four new ideas to make sports better, safer, more rational and more fun so they can keep up with the times and keep giving us the break we all need.
1. Create the Player/GM Position
The player/coach concept has been around for decades and, at times, has worked really well (Bill Russell is probably the best example). But in today's NBA, only super-teams can win titles and superstars have far more ability to recruit top tier teammates than traditional executives do. In June, the Cavaliers parted ways with their general manager and then stumbled for six weeks trying to find someone new, eventually promoting their assistant GM.
They missed the most obvious candidate: LeBron James. LeBron orchestrated the Cavs' trade for Kevin Love a few years ago. He recommends free agent signings. He's not only the most influential athlete in the league, he's the most influential athlete of his generation. Perhaps most important, if he's literally running the team, the odds of him leaving next season for the Lakers or anyone else go way down.
While LeBron is the most obvious example of this new model, it could have worked with Chris Paul and the Clippers and maybe, at some point, Durant or Curry and the Warriors too. The game has changed. Front offices should change with it.
2. Take the World Cup Away from Russia
I know, I know. I promised a diversion from politics, we're not even halfway done with this column and here we are. But it's important. Allowing Russia to host the World Cup next June is problematic for two reasons: (1) It only makes Putin billions of dollars richer; and (2) It validates his reprehensible behavior.
When Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, they spent $50 billion. $50 billion! How much of that ended up on the slopes and ice and how much in Putin and his cronies' pockets? 50-50 wouldn't be a bad guess. And while the cost of hosting the World Cup is a lot less, estimates still approach $11 billion. Perhaps even worse is the legitimacy the event bestows on Russia.
Even though FIFA itself is a bastion of corruption, the World Cup is still one of the most popular events anywhere. Allowing the same country who meddled in the U.S. Presidential election, props up Assad's murderous regime in Syria, and invades neighboring countries without a second thought simply shouldn't receive this honor.
While the U.S. lacks the legal authority to take the World Cup away (and Trump seemingly has no desire to upset Putin in the first place), if Fox and Telemundo both said that their contracts to broadcast the Cup were no longer valid because of the new Congressional sanctions against Russia (or any sort of morality clause) and if no U.S. broadcaster (or streaming service or social media platform) were willing to pay FIFA for broadcast rights, they'd be forced to move the event somewhere else.
And unlike the Olympics, any country that already has a stable of large stadiums, hotels and airports - England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Australia, Japan - could pull it together quickly. I really enjoyed the last World Cup. I'd like to watch it again. But not at the cost of validating Putin. Fans shouldn't be forced to make that choice.
3. Create a Football Safety Incubator
Just like watching Putin's World Cup will be challenging, watching NFL players knowingly subject themselves to CTE every Sunday has cut my football consumption by 90%. I like football. But I don't like watching people give themselves brain damage. Technology may not be the solution to everything, but the NFL should consider creating a full tech incubator for companies just focused on sports safety.
They'd provide seed funding, space, access to expertise and, for the startups who produce something worthwhile, a ready-made customer base (the NFL has offered $50,000 prizes to three startups who make sports safety technology, but that's not nearly enough given the scope of the problem and the size of the league).
Given the $14 billion in revenue the NFL is projected to take in this season, dedicating a few million to an incubator focused on research and technology that could save the game, spare the players, give fans less pause about watching, and ultimately make the league a lot of money (they'd own a piece of each company) is an easy investment to make. And even if the effort fails, just knowing the NFL is really, truly trying would go a long way.
4. Give Catchers Another Way
My son and I were at the Mets game the other night and he asked me if the runner is out if the ball hits him while he's trying to steal second. He's not, I told him. But then I thought about it. Why shouldn't he be? Despite the qualms above about brain damage and murderous dictators, baseball could use a little excitement.
What if the catcher could peg the base stealer with the ball? Sure, it's a high risk play - the ball could easily skip into right field and the runner likely advances to third. But in some cases, it may be easier to hit the runner on the way than for the throw to beat the runner to second (or to third; you couldn't do this for anyone stealing home since the ball would be coming at their face; it's also probably too dangerous to apply to bunts and dropped third strikes).
While this may only end up working a few times a season, it'd be exciting when it did and while it may raise injury risk, it's probably not as bad as being hit by a pitch (further distance, not thrown as hard). Will it bring the demographic of the average baseball fan from a middle aged white guy to a millennial? No. But it'd be fun and baseball could use more fun.
Given the rapid pace of political, economic, technological and climate change, the world isn't going to get easier, safer or calmer any time soon. We obviously can't put our heads in the sand and avoid dealing with each challenge, but we're also going to need diversions more than ever. Sports, at least for some of us, offer that escape. And the more sports keep pace with the times - with evolving social and cultural norms, with shifting entertainment preferences, with new technology - the more it can continue to be a release valve for everything else. We sure could use it.