Musicians are athletes. They have talents that can’t be coached but must be practiced to reach their potential. They are expected to perform at the highest level both in practice (in the studio) and in games (on stage in front of thousands of paying customers) despite grueling travel and publicity schedules. And they both exert energy performing with no guarantee of success.
Musicians’ success ultimately depends on their ability to play, which, like athletes, is dependent upon their health. And while musicians’ careers might not be as short as athletes’ careers on average, they’re equally dependent upon talents that inevitably diminish with age. But what are the sports musicians play on stage when it comes to comparable caloric exertion? That all depends on the genre of music they're playing and how they're playing it.
My research started with 28 musical performances in 27 days, beginning with Earth, Wind & Fire at the Minnesota State Fair on Aug. 26. From there I flew to Las Vegas for Mariah Carey at Caesars Palace on Sept. 5. A week after returning to Minnesota, I was headed to Chicago for Riot Fest, featuring a three-day lineup spanning almost every musical genre over the last 70 years.
The late 1950s rockabilly and ’60s rock & roll of pianist Jerry Lee Lewis gave way to metal/punk pianist and professional partier Andrew W.K. Fittingly, Elvis Costello and the Imposters played songs from the new wave he helped build and Blondie brought ashore to the states throughout the 1970s, riding the wave to the top of the charts in both the U.S. and U.K. in 1980 with a cover of The Paragons’ “The Tide is High.”
Blondie also served as a reminder that the political, electronic punk group Pussy Riot has Debbie Harry to thank for not only popularizing female punk voices but feminism as a whole. And while Bad Religion wasn’t the first band to get political with their lyrics in the 1980s, their popularity certainly made it a staple of the punk genre, paving the way for acts like Pussy Riot to draw attention to political corruption with their music. Pussy Riot did just that at Riot Fest, calling for justice after a longtime member and activist with the group was poisoned, perhaps for uncovering information regarding the deaths of three Russian journalists with whom he’d been working.
The ’90s were well represented by Lagwagon and Face to Face, and although Blink-182 had to cancel for health reasons, the lineup somehow got better with the additions of Weezer, Run the Jewels, and Taking Back Sunday. Blink’s absence didn’t mean pop punk of the ’90s would go unheard at Riot Fest Chicago 2018. Alkaline Trio announced their presence with a fantastic set just before Incubus reenacted the heydays of alternative rock that started in the late ’90s and continued into the new millennium.
If you thought Riot Fest was a punk rock festival, you’d be surprised to know that hip-hop acts have played the festival in consecutive years. The best performance of 2017 was provided by Prophets of Rage, a rap rock supergroup consisting of members from Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill. The performance unified very different genres and, as a result, very different people, but was especially emotional coming just months after Audioslave’s lead singer, Chris Cornell, committed suicide. Cypress Hill’s B-Real must have enjoyed the emotional and genre-defying performance he gave with Prophets in 2017, because he was back playing “Hits from the Bong” with Cypress Hill in 2018. Run the Jewels concluded the festival’s final day just as Prophets of Rage did the year before.
Cypress Hill might be playing the only sport for which cannabis is a performance-enhancing drug, but that doesn’t mean what they’re doing on stage (and off) isn’t athletic. Exactly how athletic is difficult to determine without primary research. Ideally, I would have slapped a Fitbit on the wrist of each musician before going on stage. Instead, we’ll have to rely on estimates of caloric exertion provided by sources I felt to be most reputable and accurate based on my own calorie counting. So what sports are some of music’s best athletes playing on stage?
Mariah Carey’s body might be enhanced in a Bondsian fashion, but her voice is Ruthian; it might be replaced with a recording on occasion, but never enhanced, only amplified. Mariah is the Babe Ruth of popular music for a lot of reasons, but mostly because she has done and continues to do something no one else in her sport has.
The greatest athletes of all time separate themselves from their peers by being the only athlete in their sport to do something. Mariah has sung a G7 (a G-note in the seventh octave), which no other singer of popular music has done. She regularly reaches F#7 in concert (F-sharp, seventh octave), lifting people to their feet and putting smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes. I can personally attest to this, but I can only imagine men cried when Ruth allegedly pointed to the center field bleachers and then hit a homer there in what was a tied Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.
Barry Bonds hitting more home runs than Ruth, regardless of cleanliness, is as irrelevant to the greatest-baseball-player-of-all-time argument as Ruth’s all-time best 182.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) over his career because only Ruth has been both the best hitter and pitcher in his league over the course of a single season (so far).
Had there been an American League Cy Young Award in 1916, Ruth would have won it, but not by the margin he would have won the Most Valuable Player Award had there been one in 1920 (he hit 35 more home runs than runner-up George Sisler) and eventually did win in 1923 despite sharing the home run crown with Cy Williams (he reached base in more than half of his plate appearances and got all eight first-place votes).
While a 28-year-old Walter Johnson led the AL in wins (25), complete games (36) and innings pitched (369.2) in 1916, Ruth was the league’s best pitcher by any measure—new (Ruth had a league-best ERA+ of 158) or old (Ruth led the league with nine shutouts to Johnson’s three and allowed the fewest hits per nine innings pitched in the AL). And while Johnson's Senators finished last, Ruth led Boston to the American League Pennant (and, eventually, a World Series Championship) with 23 wins in a league-leading 40 starts and four other appearances accounting for more than 23 percent of his team’s innings pitched during the regular season (323.2, third-most in the AL). Two years later Ruth led Major League Baseball with 11 home runs along with Tillie Walker, but did so with almost 100 fewer at-bats. It was the last time Ruth would have more wins (13) than homers in a single season.
Using strictly vocal range as a means to determine popular music’s best singer would be like using batting average to determine baseball’s best hitter—it doesn’t tell the whole story. Ruth only led the league in batting average once, and his .342 career average is just tenth-best all time. Axl Rose might have the largest vocal range in the sport of popular singing, but the lowest note he sang (F1) is just one note lower than Barry White's lowest (F#1, or F-sharp, first octave). Mariah’s highest note is seven notes higher than that of her closest competitor.
Longevity matters in GOAT debates too, and Rose didn’t retain his vocal range for nearly as long as Mariah has. The one thing only Rose has done in the sport is so closely contested its baseball equivalent would be Roger Maris breaking Ruth’s single-season, home run record in the last game of the 1961 season, which was 10 games longer than Ruth’s in 1927, but resulted in Maris getting just seven more plate appearances than Ruth had to hit 60. Mariah is the GOAT because, at some point in her long career (like right now), she’s been both the sport’s best hitter of notes (vocal range) and best “pitcher” (highest or lowest pitch sung), and has done so convincingly and simultaneously.
Mariah’s relative dominance of her sport isn’t the only similarity she shares with Ruth. While Mariah isn’t “The Mariah” like Ruth was “The Babe,” her fans refer to her using only her first name with the assumption that absolutely everyone knows which Mariah is the Mariah. And like the Sultan of Swat, who went by his “stage” name of Babe over his given name, George, Mariah has earned a lot of nicknames, including “The Voice” and “Songbird.” So the relative fandom of musicians is also comparable to that of athletes.
Mariah is beloved by her fans like The Babe was by kids. They defend her unconditionally because she is other-worldly in their eyes and ears. Any comparison to Whitney Houston is met with ruthless rebuffing comparable only to that of Michael Jordan fans fending off LeBron James comparisons as if they’re attacks on their religion or right to free speech. Ruth’s dominance of his sport allowed him to enjoy a long leash when it came to his off-field behavior, and the same goes for divas. There won’t be another Mariah, and there won’t be another Ruth—only imitators and imposters.
But Mariah isn’t popular enough to be the Michael Jordan of popular music, and she’s not burning comparable calories on stage as a basketball player does on the court. Few musicians are. Mariah Carey is playing baseball on stage, and she’s probably working harder than Ruth did playing the outfield, but not as hard as he did as a pitcher and hitter early in his career. Early in her career, though, her on-stage caloric exertion might have been closer to the caloric exertion of Ruth the pitcher/hitter.
If Livestrong’s estimates are accurate, Mariah singing while standing for an hour burns around 140 calories assuming a weight of 150 pounds. Healthy Celeb has her at around 148, which is reasonable given her five-foot, eight-inch height. Since she’s walking around the stage and doing so in heels, she’s probably burning another 200 calories per hour even if she’s lip-syncing. So that’s 340 calories burned per hour singing and moving around the stage (and crowd, which she did in Vegas), but we’re not considering her four plate appearances per game.
Mariah’s plate appearances are her wardrobe changes, each of which she knocked out of the park simply by being a knockout (thank you, gastric sleeve surgery). Mariah had four wardrobe changes during her Las Vegas show, all completed in three minutes or so, and while I’m sure she has plenty of help backstage, she’s still burning calories just as Ruth would even without swinging the bat. She might not burn a home-run-trot’s worth of calories changing clothes, but even The Great Bambino had a “courtesy runner” round the bases for him on home runs late in his career.
If we use an average of 3.5 minutes per wardrobe change given Mariah’s height, weight, and age, she likely burned another 20 calories or more changing clothes. And I think that’s a low estimate given her elevated heart rate going into the wardrobe change and the pressure of quickly completing the change. Keep in mind this estimate represents the caloric exertion associated with dressing and undressing with no stakes or complicated outfits. Still, that’s a total of 360 calories burned per hour on stage.
A non-pitching, non-catching fielder burns roughly 1,000 calories during a nine-inning baseball game. Another source estimates caloric exertion of non-pitchers and non-catchers at 305 calories per hour. An average game is over three hours long, so Mariah’s caloric exertion per hour on stage is comparable to that of a baseball player who isn’t pitching or catching. And her talent, longevity, and dominance of her sport is comparable to that of baseball’s best player.
Sinbad said prior to the Earth, Wind & Fire concert that I was in for a religious experience. He was absolutely right, but I didn’t think there would be so much movement on stage given the average age of the band members. I figured Philip Bailey’s voice would have regressed at the age of 67; I was wrong. I couldn’t imagine bassist Verdine White moving as much as he did at 67, and longtime percussionist/vocalist Ralph Johnson, also 67, didn’t miss a beat or note. It was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and I can only imagine had I ever seen the Bulls of the ’90s, I would have cried tears of joy at United Center just like I did at the Minnesota State Fair.
Earth, Wind & Fire has as many Grammys as the 1990s Bulls have championship rings (6), and like the greatest NBA dynasties, still has a big three in Bailey, White, and Johnson. Even Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman/Horace Grant. Earth, Wind & Fire not only has a big three, but nearly as many touring members as an NBA team (9). And they likely burned comparable calories as the Bulls roster on any given night.
Johnson alone likely burned more than 300 calories in an hour of drumming. White’s bass playing and dancing given his slenderness likely resulted in excess of 250 calories burned per hour, and we know singers around Bailey’s size burn around 180 calories per hour if their standing while singing. So the three remaining original members of Earth, Wind & Fire likely burned 730 calories in an hour.
Add the horn section with saxophonist, Gary Bias (217 calories per hour), trumpet player, Bobby Burns Jr. (273), and trombone player, Reggie Young (180), and total caloric exertion comes to 1,400. Two guitarists (217 calories burned per hour each) brings the total to 1,834 calories burned per hour, and background vocalists Philip Bailey Jr. and B. David Whitworth push the caloric exertion total to 2,134. Myron McKinley on keyboards (181) pushes Earth, Wind & Fire’s collective caloric exertion to 2,315 calories per hour. In the hour-and-a-half-long set at the Minnesota State Fair, the band probably burned close to 3,500 calories.
In comparison, if Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman played 40 minutes at their listed weights on Basketball Reference (1,523 calories burned), Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley, and Ron Harper played 30 minutes at their listed weights (1,200 calories burned), that would leave Steve Kerr 20 minutes (220) and Randy Brown 10 minutes of playing time (118). The 1997-98 Chicago Bulls would collectively burn around 3,061 calories per 48 minutes on the floor, or a bit more than 3,800 calories per hour. The vast difference in mass between members of Earth, Wind & Fire and the Chicago Bulls (Longley was listed at 265 pounds) could account for much of the difference in calories burned per hour.
No one enjoyed sharing the puck more than The Great One, and no one enjoys sharing a party more than Andrew W.K. Party music is a broad genre and pretty much includes anything played with pace. And while Andrew W.K.’s success in his sport isn’t comparable to that of The Great One in his, there isn’t a single act out there that screams hockey like Andrew’s. Andrew W.K. shows are both pace-full and probably painful for Andrew, but he leaves it all on the stage (even blood sometimes) every night.
The first thing you’ll notice about Andrew W.K. when you see him live for the first time is his teeth. He has the biggest smile of anyone I’ve ever seen play music—so big, in fact, I thought he was high on cocaine. Now I know it’s the crowd that’s his addiction. I’ve never seen anyone happier doing their job than Andrew W.K., except maybe Wayne Gretzky after assisting a teammate on a goal. Gretzky loved assisting his teammates so much he has more assists than anyone else has points scored, and Andrew W.K. looks to simply assist the party-starting despite his early passion being fashion.
We know playing piano burns around 181 calories per hour depending on size, but no one plays piano like Andrew W.K. The only person who did hasn’t kicked the bench out from under himself for quite some time. In fact, it took Jerry Lee Lewis almost five minutes to change jackets onstage after his band played for 15 minutes awaiting his arrival, but he’s 82 years old!
Assuming Andrew burns just 200 calories an hour playing piano and another 180 calories singing given his size (he’s a big man and wrote about working out for Vice amongst other things), that’s 380 calories per hour burned on stage. But Andrew W.K. moves about the stage more and more violently than Mariah Carey or Philip Bailey, so this estimate is more than safe given his hour-long, Riot Fest set.
Time on ice statistics are only available going back to the 1998-99 season, during which Gretzky averaged about 21 minutes per game. But that was his final season, so using playoff numbers might be a better representation of actual calories burned per game in his prime. In the 1993 Conference Finals Game 7 he played close to 24 minutes, and in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final Game 5 he played 23. Livestrong estimates caloric exertion for a 190-pound hockey player to be 700 calories per hour.
So in 22 minutes, Gretzky would burn a little more than 250 calories, but Livestrong notes that the intensity of hockey as an activity allows for calories to be burned well after coming off the ice. Kind of like Mariah Carey’s stressful, high-heart-rate costume changes, hockey’s shift changes results in hockey players continuing to burn calories even while resting. One study found that 10 men who completed an intense, 45-minute workout on a stationary bike burned an additional 190 calories in the 14 hours following the workout. So Gretzky and his linemates burning an additional 80 calories between shifts is reasonable, making The Great One’s total exertion 330 calories per game.
So I think I’ve at least proven that musicians (and singers are musicians because our voices are instruments) burn comparable calories performing on stage as athletes do playing sports, fulfilling the energy exertion requirement of athletes. Whether a musician’s talent and amount of practice required to perfect and preserve that talent is on the same level as professional athletes require more in-depth, accurate research. But if you aren’t considering the performance of your favorite band as an athletic endeavor, you might consider considering it.
The greatest rock band of all time last toured in 1994 with three original members and eight supporting members. That's enough people to match the caloric exertion of the best Boston Celtics teams. Although Pink Floyd was without their Bill Russell (Roger Waters), they still had a Bob Cousy (David Gilmour), a Tom Heinsohn (Nick Mason), and a Bill Sharman (Richard Wright). Waters returned for a reunion performance in 2005.
Regardless of the lack of competition Pussy Riot has in its genre, they've dominated that genre for about as long as the Canadiens did the National Hockey League from 1952 to 1960, winning the Stanley Cup six times and finishing runners-up twice more. Pussy Riot's 11 members probably do enough dancing on stage to match the caloric exertion of the Canadiens of the '50s, too.
I know Run the Jewels consists of two people—El P and Killer Mike—but it takes at least two people to match what LeBron does on and off the court. Run the Jewels is not only as successful at selling records as LeBron is tickets, but all three of the group's records are critically acclaimed, like LeBron's off-court efforts.
Each week at Foul Play-by-Play, we cover the law-related, sports headlines, including the cheats, cheap shots and alleged criminals in sports. Here are the headlines, "Historically Foul Play," “Statistically Significant Foul Player,” and Cheats of the Week for the week of May 18-25.
The NFL owners adopted a new national anthem policy despite an official vote never taking place, according to Seth Wickersham, which he tweeted is “atypical for such a major resolution.” According to Jim Trotter of NFL.com, there were eight to 10 owners who, before the meetings, expressed support for keeping the league’s anthem policy “as is.” They believed the protests were fading and the league should instead focus on community work being done by players.
Regardless, it seems the resolution has been adopted by the NFL, and players who choose to be on the field for the national anthem must either “show respect” for the anthem and flag or the team will be fined. The resolution is intentionally vague, allowing NFL owners and the commissioners to determine what qualifies as respect on a case-by-case basis. So standing for the anthem with a fist in the air like Chris Long did to show solidarity for his protesting teammates would be a finable offense. Team owners can pass those fines onto the players, which will allow them to control the players. While New York Jets chairman Christopher Johnson volunteered to pay all fines incurred by Jets players for violating the policy, other owners aren’t expected to be as tolerant. And if an owners says “this team will pay anthem protest fines as a team” not too many players will be protesting.
Well the NFL Players' Association is already telling players to save their money for a 2021 lockout, when they next negotiate with owners on a collective bargaining agreement, during which the players could demand a more preferred anthem policy. That works perfectly for me, because I intend to stop watching football if the Vikings don’t win a Super Bowl in the next three years, and not because of anthem protests. I’m tired of watching seven seconds of action followed by 25 seconds of inaction. I’m tired of watching kickers and officials determine the outcomes of games. I’m tired of NFL replay, which will now be used to review ejections. And I’m tired of coaches punting on fourth and inches. But at least a catch is a catch again.
Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors Smith is suing USA Swimming alleging a cover-up of her former coach's sexual abuse. Kukors Smith alleges that Sean Hutchison groomed her for sexual abuse when she was 13, started touching and kissing her when she was 16 and engaged in sexual activity with her when she was 17. Worse yet, she alleges the national governing body knew her former coach sexually abused her as early as 2005, when she was 16. The lawsuit alleges that officials did not report it to authorities and didn't protect Kukors Smith while shielding Hutchison and the image of USA Swimming.
It seems like a case similar to that of the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky scandal, except we know multiple Penn State employees witnessed Sandusky’s behavior with underage boys. In this case, USA Swimming hired a private investigator in 2010 to look into rumors of a relationship between the then-21 Kukors and Hutchison, who was 39, finding no misconduct after the two and others denied the relationship.
The Houston Astros cut suspended minor leaguer and former top prospect Jon Singleton because he couldn’t resist smoking cannabis. As an advocate for cannabis legalization and former holder of a medical cannabis prescription, I understand Singleton’s struggle. While cannabis withdrawals are minimal when compared to say opioids or even alcohol because the plant isn’t chemically addictive like tobacco or alcohol, a psychological addiction can occur. It’s not unlike an addiction to gaming machines.
When something makes you feel good, like getting into the bonus on a reel game, it triggers a release of dopamine by your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. This release happens naturally all the time, even during exercise. Cannabis triggers a considerable dopamine release, so unlike nicotine, which is chemically and psychologically addictive, the cannabis user is addicted to good feelings achieved through cannabis consumption. So you and the cannabis user are actually addicted to the same thing. Only the triggers are different.
Just because it’s all in your head doesn’t make it easy to kick a psychological addiction, especially for those with addiction in their family history. I’m speculating here, but I’d bet that’s the case for Singleton, who substituted alcohol for cannabis after a stint in rehab following his second failed drug test -- the penalty for which is a 50-game suspension, unpaid. That’s almost $715,000 of Singleton’s $2 million annual salary, a figure considerably higher than what most minor leaguers make thanks to the Save America’s Pastime Act, which Major League Baseball snuck through Congress in 2016 to keep minor league baseball players exempt from federal minimum wage laws.
Most minor leaguers at the upper levels of the minor leagues like Singleton make $2,150 per month, according to a class-action lawsuit brought by minor leaguers challenging MLB’s minor league pay schedule. Given a 23-week regular season, that’s an annual salary of $12,362.50. A 50-game suspension for smoking pot would cost these players $4,415.18. As someone who’s lived on less than $8,000 a year, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you enjoy sweating through summer nights sleeping in your van, waking up wet in a borrowed tent failing miserably to withstand overnight thunderstorms, or living with your parents. But if you had to live on less that eight grand a year, I would recommend the van and then the tent over the parents. I don’t know your parents, and I’m sure they’re very nice people, but it doesn’t change the fact you’ll be sick of them within a week.
Lower-level minor leaguers who test positive for cannabis wouldn’t be able to afford a van. Their average salary is $1,100 per month, and an A-ball season is less than 12 weeks long, so a 50-game suspension for smoking weed would leave these 18- and 19-year-old kids with a measly $873.53.
Because of Singleton’s perceived potential, he was lucky to hold onto the money he did. He was the Astros’ top-rated prospect after the 2011 season, according to Baseball America. But he struggled mightily in his first 114 games in the bigs, never getting his batting average over .200.
Finally, the kicker: had he stuck in the bigs, he could have smoked all the pot he wanted. He would have been required to pay a small fine for each failed test, but he wouldn’t have been suspended and he wouldn’t have lost a single game check. The MLB Players’ Association negotiated for that in the collective bargaining agreement, but the MLBPA does not represent minor league ballplayers.
So the reason for both the harsh cannabis policy and poverty-level salaries in minor league baseball is the minor leaguers’ lack of bargaining power, which they could remedy by starting a union of their own. So why haven’t they? There are far more of them than there are major leaguers, and a walkout would collapse the minor league business model because the owners of those teams don’t pay their players’ salaries. MLB teams do. Are 6,500 minor leaguers just keeping their heads down with hopes of realizing that major league dream?
I think if a kid wants to risk his shot at a career in Major League Baseball to smoke weed just let her do so. I understand the employers’ interests in protecting their investments, and that they have the right to do just about whatever they want with regards to drug testing. Hell, if they wanted to they could make every player take a breathalyzer test before each plate appearance or a urinalysis between innings. But being barred from a new profession for roughly two months is more damaging to a young prospect’s career than unwinding after a brutal roadtrip with a joint, or substituting weed for booze when the team goes out after a big win. This policy does not protect the employers’ assets; it turns them into liabilities.
If you’re going to randomly test your employees for drug use in the name of protecting them and the game, stick to the performance enhancers like amphetamines, cocaine, and steroids, and the real drugs of abuse that are physically addictive, like amphetamines, cocaine, opioids, and alcohol. If you’re worried about players playing the game stoned, you need not worry, because cannabis is a hell of a performance inhibitor.
Our intramural softball team in college was called Bozeman Toast because we all burnt bud before gametime. There might have been one or two sober softballers out there, but they weren’t any good sober, either. The rest of us were toasted, eyes bloodshot and feet barely under us. I don’t think we ever won a game. We allowed 15 runs in the first inning of a game once just kicking the ball around the infield and misplaying fly balls in the outfield. Once our collective buzz wore off, though, we got back in the game and lost by one. But an at-bat in slow-pitch, intramural, co-ed softball isn’t as scary as an at-bat in professional baseball. I imagine a 95-mile-per-hour fastball or 12-to-6 curveball would be the ultimate buzzkill. Your brain and body just aren’t prepared for that while stoned.
And that’s not even the worst cannabis-sports story of the week, either. High school football player CJ Harris dreamed of playing for the Auburn Tigers, but his recurring seizures threatened that dream until his cannabis medication stopped those seizures. Now that medication will keep him from pursuing his dream, because per NCAA rules, athletes are not permitted to have any tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive substance in cannabis, in their systems. The cannabis oil Harris takes for his seizures contains less than 0.3 percent THC, according to the label, which means it doesn’t get you high. This is something the NCAA can easily fix by changing the language to allow for the use of non-psychoactive cannabis medications. Whether they will is unlikely.
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell weighed in on the Supreme Court’s recent decision that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 is unconstitutional, opening the door for states to legalize sports betting.
U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, has been speaking the the NFL and is planning to introduce federal sports betting legislation. Goodell wants Congress to create uniform betting standards that, at minimum, include:
Unlike Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the Professional Golfers’ Association, the NFL has not expressed an interest in receiving a direct cut of legalized sports betting action. Instead, sources say the league is more focused on monetizing data and video rights, and for good reason.
While MLB, the NBA, and PGA Tour are lobbying for what was one percent of all money wagered on their games and have since lowered their demands to .25 percent of all wagers, the NFL is laughing at .25 percent because it amounts to Roger Goodell’s pocket change.
$1.7 billion was bet on both college and professional football at Nevada sportsbooks last year. Half of that is $850 million, and .25 percent of that is $2.125 million. The NFL doesn’t get into bed with anyone for a couple million dollars. But there’s billions of dollars to be made selling analytical information to gamblers gambling on games that are decided by fewer and fewer points each year.
According to research by Eldorado, the 2015 NFL season had the lowest median margin of victory in history. Games nowadays are more than twice as likely to be decided by three points than games played from 1922 to 1973. Over at marasoft.com, you’ll find that almost 24 percent of all NFL games played in the last 20 years were decided by three or fewer points, and roughly half of all NFL games are won by underdogs. So the sport can be a nightmare for even the savviest of sports bettors, and gamblers will take any bit of information they can get to gain an edge.
So many elements go into determining the outcome of a football game that having a means of producing and distributing gambling-related information is way more valuable than a quarter of one percent of all money wagered on games. So while MLB, the NBA, and PGA Tour are negotiating over what amounts to Roger Goodell’s pocket change, the NFL is looking to exploit the vast amount of data its sport produces by owning the method or math it chooses to turn that data into information it can sell to clueless gamblers as a subscription service.
This was a big deal when it came to determining the legality of fantasy sports betting. Fantasy sports gamblers who win most often aren’t simply luckier than the losers. They employ an algorithm that considers all the things they feel affect the outcome of sporting events. The NFL, I think, aims to own the algorithms and sell the answers those algorithms provide.
After being arrested with 126 grams of cannabis and $92,000 in cash two months ago, former Boston Celtics forward and NBA champion Glen “Big Baby” Davis was again arrested last Friday for felony assault with intent to cause great bodily injury. According to TMZ, after almost hitting a man with his car, Davis allegedly slammed the man on to concrete when confronted.
Milwaukee Bucks' rookie Sterling Brown was stun gunned by police back in January. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett was worried about the video’s release this week and potential public backlash that could result because Brown was not combative prior to being tased.
An officer who was doing a business check at a Walgreens stopped to question Brown about a parking violation at about 2 a.m. on Jan. 26. Brown gave his name and showed an identification card. The officer called for assistance, and half a dozen squad cars responded...for a parking violation. Eight officers ended up on the scene...for a parking violation; three were disciplined, with the first on the scene reportedly being suspended for a full two days. Two supervisors who later arrived, escalating the situation, were suspended for 10 and 15 days, and several other officers were reprimanded.
Brown's arrest did not result in criminal charges, and he played in a game later that day with bruises on his face. Brown intends to file a civil rights lawsuit against the Police Department, which is something that most Milwaukeeans involved in similar situations couldn’t afford to do. I guess it’s a good thing those Milwaukee cops don’t watch Bucks basketball, because had this happened to anyone else, we probably wouldn’t have heard about it.
The saddest thing about this is that there are so many unjustified shootings by police of black men and women that I’m just glad this officer reached for a stun gun instead of a real gun, and the thought that “at least they didn’t kill him” has even crept into my mind is troubling to me. Wyatt Cenac has been doing some great work investigating police brutality for his show Problem Areas on HBO. One episode looked at the importance of providing police with and reinforcing the use of non-fatal means of ending confrontations. But you also have to combat the training to which police officers are subjected that instills a sense of them being at war rather than at one with their communities. To remedy this, a good place to start would be requiring police officers in training to communicate with non-police minorities prior to earning the privilege of carrying a badge and a firearm.
With all the bad news out of the way, let’s for a minute consider how lucky we are to be alive for this era in sports, because we’re seeing things that haven’t been seen in generations. The Vegas Golden Knights are playing for a championship in their inaugural season for the first time since 1950, when the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship in their inaugural season. And that’s not even the most historic story in sports, because Los Angeles Angel Shohei Ohtani is serving as both a formidable starting pitcher and hitter for the first time since Babe Ruth did it roughly a hundred years ago.
I know you and our listeners want to hear some Ruthian stats, so here they are, in a segment we call “Historically Foul Play,” because these numbers are so unbelievable their most reasonable explanation is foul play.
So not only is Ohtani doing something unseen for 100 years, he’s arguably doing it better than Ruth did. While he’s never going to pitch almost 25 percent of his team’s total innings on the season like Ruth, he is going to get more than 20 starts and is on pace to get a similar number of plate appearances as Ruth did at the same age. If he stays healthy, the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball might end up the new Babe Ruth of Major League Baseball.
Let’s keep the statistical analysis going and find a player whose stats indicate foul play in a segment we call ‘Statistically Significant Foul Player.’
Foul Play-by-Play, its hosts, nor its partners practice nor condone the accusatory promulgation of foul play by athletes for the sake of the hot take. Cheats are innocent until proven guilty. That said, in this case of the statistically significant foul player, I’d like to admit into evidence the following significant statistics indicating foul play.
Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is third amongst active players in hit by pitches with 106 over his seven plus seasons. He’s led the league in hit by pitches twice, taking 30 for the team in 2015 and wearing 24 last year. There’s a 2.6-percent chance a Rizzo plate appearance ends with him on first base with a bruise.
Rizzo is just one reason why umpires should enforce the rule that players have to make an attempt to avoid a pitched ball. I mean, a lot of those free bases should probably be called balls and the at-bat continued. I’m not calling the defendant a cheat. I’m just sayin’ the statistics are significant indicators of foul play. I trust the jurors will make the right decision and find the defendant guilty of foul play given the evidence. I rest my case.
Bronze medalist: Infamous NFL bully and Pro Bowler Richie Incognito allegedly threw a tennis ball and a dumbbell at someone at a Florida gym on Wednesday and was placed on an involuntary psychiatric hold by police, according to TMZ Sports. The alleged victim claims Incognito was rambling about the government and screaming at him to “get off” his “bleeping playground.” That’s just rich coming from a man who lost a job for bullying a teammate. He makes this list because he was also named the second dirtiest player in the NFL by The Sporting News in 2012.
Silver medalist: Admitted steroid user and former Mets and Phillies star Lenny Dykstra was arrested early Wednesday in New Jersey while possessing cocaine and ecstasy. The arrest was the result of an Uber ride gone bad. The Uber driver told police he picked up Dykstra and when he refused to change the destination Dykstra initially requested, Dykstra allegedly brandished a firearm, pointed it at the Uber driver’s head and threatened to kill him. The Uber driver said he sped into a parking lot next to the Linden police station, honked the horn and fled the vehicle. Dykstra, 55, was charged with making terroristic threats and a number of drug offenses.
Gold medalist: Chicago White Sox catcher Welington Castillo has been suspended 80 games for testing positive for erythropoietin, a performance-enhancing drug that stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. The resulting rise in red cells increases the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, in turn, increasing the endurance of the user.