Friday Notes

As we approach the weekend, two notes:

1) Colin Cowherd is under fire for comments he made yesterday about Dominicans and the intelligence level necessary to play Major League Baseball.

Deadspin circulated a short audio clip which, if you play it, you’ll hear cuts off right after Cowherd says that baseball can’t be all that complex, since “a third of the sport is from the Dominican Republic.”

Today, Cowherd trued to explain himself. He bashed Deadspin for playing a short clip that took his comments out of context.

Here’s his opening monologue today, during which he played the entire 57-second clip that, he notes, caused an internet uproar yesterday (start at 4:15 if you want to skip the prelims). Today, he did cite a bunch of data showing that educational attainment levels in the DR are low. It’s a middle income country, with a lot of poverty and a lot of the kids from there who end up playing baseball come from impoverished backgrounds.

How it follows that the presence of a significant number of Dominicans in baseball is dispositive of whether baseball is a complex game (whether it is or isn’t is a separate question) honestly escapes me. Most Americans players, the majority of Major Leaguers, don’t have college degrees. There are all sorts of reasons for that, just as there are reasons for the poverty levels that exist in the Dominican Republic.

In any case, you can listen and decide from yourself. Cowherd’s protestations to the contrary, the additional tape today does not, in my judgment, materially alter the meaning the short clip conveyed.

Does it matter when major media figures say stuff like this? I’m not sure I know anymore. I’ve explained before why I am somewhat wary about these kerfuffles over language, when other profoundly injustices are left to fester, far from the media spotlight. But I’ll say this about Cowherd – if he’s genuinely feeling blindsided by the reaction to his comments, the man is living in a serious bubble.

2) Some nice quotes from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich about Becky Hammon. Last year Hammon, a former WNBA star, became the first full time women to be an assistant coach in NBA history. She made news this past week by coaching the San Antonio summer league team to a title, leading to much talk about whether she – or another women – might some day be an NBA head coach.

Here’s Pop on Hammon:

“I hired her because she was in my coaches meetings for an entire year because she was injured,” Popovich said. “She’s got opinions and solid notions about basketball. Obviously, she was a great player. As a point guard, she’s a leader, she’s fiery, she’s got intelligence, and our guys just respected the heck out of her, so she’s coaching with us, she’s running drills. That’s why we made her a full-time coach and gave her the opportunity to coach at summer league.”

“I don’t even look at it as, well, she’s the first female this and that and the other. She’s a coach, and she’s good at it. I think some people thought this was some kind of gimmick or we were just trying to be cool. I’m glad she’s there.”

I don’t believe Pop when he says he doesn’t even consider that Hammon is the first woman to do this. She obviously stands out in a man’s world. But the decision to hire Hammon reflects an organization that is especially good at identifying talent where others aren’t even looking for it.

Men have increasingly moved into roles coaching women’s teams, especially basketball, as those positions have become more prestigious and remunerative. It’s insane, when you think about it, that there is not a single instance of a woman coaching men at a major program, college or pro. That we take for granted that men can coach women, but not vice versa, shows that we’ve got a *lot* of work to do.

Update: Chris Spatola, who does a weekend radio show on 99.9 the Fan in Raleigh, had a really good, smart discussion this morning of the controversy surrounding Cowherd’s comments. Spatola, a West Point grad., army officer, former college basketball player and assistant to Coach K, said that he is not going to shy away from conversations about controversies in sports and how they touch on larger social issues. About Cowherd, specifically, Spatola rightly noted that Cowherd confused several issues, including the distinction between book smarts and “being smart at your sport” (Spatola puts himself in the latter category in evaluating his time at West Point), and the distinction between impoverished background on the one hand and intelligence on the other. In part because Cowherd has a history of questionable comments when it comes to race and ethnicity, Spatola said people are ready to jump on him when he says the kinds of things he said on Wednesday. What’s welcome about Spatola’s perspective is that, apart from whatever one thinks about the ethnocentrism in Colin’s comments, he did a poor job of making the point he was *trying* to make: that managing a baseball team – let alone playing it – can’t really require that much intelligence, since most baseball people aren’t all that educated.

As a result of Cowherd’s comments, his departure from the network has arrived unceremoniously and effective immediately. We can debate whether he should have lost his job over this, but Cowherd’s departure – regardless of how it ultimately came about – paves the way for a sharper, more adept replacement. In that light, The Cauldron profiles the very impressive stable of talent ESPN has been cultivating in recent years – a line up of smart, diverse, on-air personalities – including Dan LeBatard, Bomani Jones and Sarah Spain – who have been re-making sports radio. I don’t share all of John Gorman’s somewhat hagiographic views of some of the folks he profiles, but his larger point is on target.

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