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How will we get our sports news now?

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Covid-19

Sports journalist Jim Kayes was a weekend host for the canned Radio Sport channel – and reckons its demise and cuts to sports reporting nationally can in part be put down to snobbery and neglect.

It was never my plan to cover sport but a busted knee saw it happen.

Through university and then during journalism school it was Liam Jeory I’d admired, the foreign correspondent who reported for TVNZ from hot spots around the world.

With a well-thumbed copy of P.J. O’Rourke’s Holidays in Hell beside my bed, it was the dust of foreign fields I wanted to traipse, not muddy sidelines.

After four years as a general reporter I followed my girlfriend, now my wife, overseas to England, busted my knee playing rugby and, when Tim Pankhurst offered me the role of deputy sports editor at the Waikato Times, it was hard, with crutches in hand and a heavy dose of self-pity weighing me down, to say no.

Saying yes was the best thing I ever did.

During 25 years covering sport, however, it’s been evident on an almost daily basis that snobbery reigns in every newsroom.

Sports reporters aren’t seen as the real deal. We aren’t serious and don’t ask “the hard questions”.

It’s ridiculous. A good journo is a good journo and there are plenty of news journos who couldn’t write the news, colour, features and opinion pieces expected of a sports reporter – daily.

Just as silly is the disdain the bosses have for sport until they need it.

Sport is relegated to the back pages and to the end of a TV bulletin, easily chopped when time and space are tight.

On TV, sport is squeezed in ahead of the weather, which is ironic as both are often more talked about than the depressing stuff that takes precedence.

When New Zealand succeeds in sport, the news editors come calling – taking the best angles and interviews for their part of the bulletin or paper.

Sports reporters have been increasingly tied to their desks (trawling through social media feeds it seems). Sure, editors and accountants can argue that good sports journalism is expensive to produce – it costs a lot of money to send someone overseas to cover the All Blacks – and the financial return through advertising is low compared to other sections of the paper and verticals on the website.

But most advertising departments seem hopelessly equipped to sell to a sports audience.

And the fact is, Kiwis love sport.

As popular as Jacinda Ardern is right now, I doubt the Prime Minister would attract 50,000 to Eden Park as the All Blacks do.

If Parliament TV was pay-to-view like a Joseph Parker or Israel Adesanya fight, no one would fork out $50 to watch.

Yet our media bosses hold sport in such low regard. Fairfax has no sports reporters outside the main cities, Mediaworks cut its weekend sports shows on Radio Live at the end of 2018 and Radio Sport has just been taken off air.

Sadly, there are going to be significant cuts to the New Zealand Herald’s sports department too, leaving what was once one of the best newsrooms in the country so bare that office cricket will be impossible to play.

If we are a country of sports lovers then someone needs to tell the bosses at our media companies.Or perhaps we need to tell the public, because, ultimately, media bosses slash and burn by numbers and though Radio Sport may have done better if it had a nationwide FM frequency, it’s hard to sustain a station when there is no live sport, advertisers are leaving and no one seems to be listening.

I hosted The Weekender on Radio Sport last weekend for the final time.

On Saturday, my interviews included NZOC boss Kereyn Smith, former All Blacks captain Kieran Read, Olympians Tom Walsh and Gemma McCaw and cricketer-turned-commentator Ian Smith.

On Sunday I chatted with golfer Ryan Fox, cricketer Jimmy Neesham, boxer Joseph Parker, Black Ferns captain Kendra Cocksedge and All Blacks great Sir John Kirwan.

On any weekend, I’d be delighted with that. On a weekend when there was no live sport I was extremely proud. During those six hours of radio I got one call from the public. One call. (And that bloke called to give me a website where people in lockdown can play golf at home.)

It’s tempting to blame the bosses for the decline of sports departments but Kiwi apathy has been slowly killing us for a long time.

Part of that is an industry problem.

Sports reporters are – predominantly – middle aged white men who focus on rugby and cricket, with a bit of league and netball grudgingly thrown in. When you add in the increasing influence of analytics in the newsroom, the focus on the big two sports has only been exacerbated. Sports reporters have been actively discouraged from covering minor sports with low readership pickup.

I like to think my shows have been reasonably diverse but when the callers did ring it was to argue about rugby or cricket: men’s rugby and cricket.

So, what now for the future of sports broadcasting?

Few expect Radio Sport to return. Trackside Radio could fill the gap but the TAB has other issues to deal with first.

The big one is Sky Sport. If Sky falls then free-to-air companies like TVNZ may step in to cover some of the big sports – and they may be asked to as a way to offload some of Sky’s costs and keep the company afloat.

But if Sky did fail then a lot of sports will suffer in the process as Sky (like the TAB) plays sugar daddy to many sports.

Reports on Sky’s condition vary but no one is hiding from the fact these are extremely tough times for the broadcaster. It may return to full health as it was before, it may change to become more a producer of content and less of a broadcaster, or it could be bought out – a tasty option for some, given Sky’s share price.

Regardless, many sports, especially the big ones, will bolster their media departments when normality returns and go to their fans directly. Social media allows that.

Lots of minor sports already broadcast via Facebook and with 4.6 million followers on that platform seems, it an easy one for the All Blacks to strut their stuff on too.

Players are already ignoring mainstream media and going directly to their fans, and many of the top athletes have a tally of followers in excess of all of New Zealand’s media combined.

Adensanya has 2.4 million followers on Instagram. Why would he stoop to talking to the New Zealand media when he can get his message out unfiltered on Instagram? Though, to be fair to the man, he does frequently talk to the MSM.

Sonny Bill Williams has 896,000 followers on Twitter and 973,000 on Instagram; Beauden Barrett has 100,600 and 560,000; and Ardie Savea 38,000 and 273,000.

They no longer need me or any other sports journalist to help them say it.

Radio Sport’s demise has been blamed on Covid-19 but that’s a bit too convenient. The earlier decision to low-ball New Zealand Cricket for that sport’s commentary rights was a stark indicator that the station was already wobbling.

All the virus did was give NZME an excuse to swing the axe.

They won’t be the last big media company to do so.



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All Black legend Carter in shock Super Rugby comeback, Sports News

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Two-time All Blacks World Cup winner Dan Carter announced a shock Super Rugby comeback with Auckland Blues on Thursday at the age of 38, saying he realised during coronavirus lockdown how much he missed the game.

Carter, a three-time world player of the year, has been a free agent since returning to New Zealand in March from Japan, where a virus-enforced shutdown ended his lucrative stint with Kobe Steelers.

“Two things from the lockdown that I realised was that I really enjoyed spending more time with my family and that I miss rugby,” Carter said.

“For me it is a chance to mentor some young players and to give back to New Zealand rugby,” he added.

The signing comes as New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams prepare to start a domestic tournament next week, after COVID-19 halted the southern hemisphere championship in March.

Carter has not played in his homeland since his international retirement in 2015, when he helped the All Blacks seal back-to-back World Cup titles at Twickenham.

Blues head coach Leon MacDonald said Carter signed a short-term deal as cover for injured fullback Stephen Perofeta. He joins a squad already containing Beauden Barrett, his successor as All Blacks playmaker.

As a replacement player, Carter will reportedly be on a minimum contract worth NZ$1,800 (US$1,155) a week, a huge cut from the millions he earned playing club rugby in France and Japan.

“It definitely not about money, he’s not getting rich doing it,” MacDonald said.

As the Blues already have Barrett — himself a two-time world player of the year — Carter may fill the role of supersub off the bench.

“I have not played for several months so it will take me a little bit of time to get game-ready,” he said.

Former All Blacks coach Graham Henry had no doubt Carter still had the ability to play at the top level, despite his age.

“It’s marvellous, he’ll add a huge amount of experience but he’s also been playing very well in Japan,” Henry told Radio New Zealand.

All Blacks halfback and former teammate Aaron Smith tweeted: “The goat (greatest of all time) is back in Super rugby!”

– Thumbs-up from nanna –

MacDonald indicated Carter would be behind Barrett and rising star Otare Black in the pecking order.

“If he gets back into playing form that warrants selection, then he could help us as a utility back in midfield or fullback,” he said.

Carter played the first of his 112 Tests for the All Blacks in 2003, scored a record 1,598 points during his international career and was the world player of the year in 2005, 2012 and 2015.

He played for French club Racing 92 after retiring from Test rugby following the 2015 World Cup, before signing a two-year deal with Kobe Steelers in 2018.

The South Island native already has three Super Rugby titles from his 13-year stint with the Canterbury Crusaders and remains the competition’s top points-scorer with 1,708.

Often described as the best fly-half to play the game, Carter revealed in his autobiography that he turned down an approach from the Blues in 2009 after his Crusaders-supporting grandmother Pam Carter opposed the move.

However, Nanna Carter said on Thursday that she had no problems with the latest deal and would support the Blues over the Crusaders when her grandson was playing for the Aucklanders.

“I don’t care where he plays as long as he plays,” she told stuff.co.nz.

“I miss him playing. I’m thrilled. I heard it on the news this morning and I thought ‘Good on you Dan’.”

The Blues claimed the last of their three Super Rugby titles in 2003 and have not made the playoffs since 2011. 

Once regarded as a regional powerhouse, they have been the worst performing New Zealand Super Rugby team since 2014.

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Drew Brees faces backlash from teammates, others in NFL and around sports for anthem protest comments

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It’s not often that an NFL receiver will publicly call out his quarterback for something, but that’s exactly what Michael Thomas did to Drew Brees on Wednesday. The Saints receiver clearly wasn’t happy after seeing an interview that Brees did with Yahoo Finance. During the interview, the Saints quarterback was asked what his thoughts were on the subject of players potentially kneeling again during the national anthem for the 2020 season. 

Brees then made it very clear that he’s against that form of protest because he views it as disrespectful to the American flag. 

“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees said. “Let me just tell you what I see or what I feel when the national anthem is played, and when I look at the flag of the United States. I envision my two grandfathers, who fought for this country during World War II, one in the Army and one in the Marine Corp. Both risking their lives to protect our country and to try to make our country and this world a better place.”

Brees also added that standing with your hand over your heart is an equally good way of showing unity. 

“Every time I stand with my hand over my heart, looking at that flag, and singing the national anthem, that’s what I think about, and in many cases, it brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed,” Brees said. “Not just those in the military, but for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movements of the ’60s, and everyone, and all that has been endured by so many people up until this point. And is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not. We still have a long way to go, but I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together, we can all do better and that we are all part of the solution.”

Since making the comments, Brees has faced some major backlash, including some that came from two of his own teammates: Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.  

Sanders just signed with the team back in March after reaching the Super Bowl with the 49ers last season. 

As for Thomas, although he called Brees out, he also gave his quarterback the benefit of the doubt. 

Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins posted a very emotional video on Instagram in response to Brees’ comments and said that if he didn’t understand what was wrong with what he said, then he is “part of the problem.”

LeBron James was one of many athletes who were surprised by Brees’ comments. 

Back in the NFL, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers posted a photo of himself linking arms with his teammates, saying, “A few years ago we were criticized for locking arms in solidarity before the game. It has NEVER been about an anthem or a flag. Not then. Not now. Listen with an open heart, let’s educate ourselves, and then turn word and thought into action.”

Richard Sherman, like Jenkins, added that Brees’ comments are “part of the problem.”

Tyrann Mathieu, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Jamal Adams and Hall of Famer Ed Reed, who grew up just outside of New Orleans, weighed also weighed in. (NSFW language in Reed’s video) 

A few hours after making his comments, Brees attempted to clarify his remarks.

“I love and respect my teammates and I stand right there with them in regards to fighting for racial equality and justice,” Brees said, via ESPN.com. “I also stand with my grandfathers who risked their lives for this country and countless other military men and women who do it on a daily basis.”

Brees was asked about the possibility of players kneeling because there’s a chance that some NFL players could end up making the decision to kneel during the national anthem this season as a way to protest racial injustice and police brutality against minorities.

Colin Kaepernick started the protest in 2016 and his actions have been lauded by some NFL coaches and players around the league following the death of George Floyd in May. The African-American man was killed in Minnesota last week after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. 



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MLB owners reject MLBPA’s 114-game proposal for 2020 season, per report

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On Sunday, the MLB Players Association submitted a proposal to Major League Baseball for a 2020 season that would include, among other aspects, a 114-game regular season and expanded playoffs. It took the league a few days to respond, but on Wednesday owners rejected the union’s proposal and said they would not send a counteroffer, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.

The owners are said to want a shorter regular season, perhaps as short as 50 or 60 games, with an emphasis on getting to the postseason quickly. The hope is to have the postseason completed before a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus can sweep the country, thus ensuring the league pockets all of the money from playoff television deals. (The union, as part of its proposal, included the potential for mass deferrals if the postseason was canceled due to a renewed spread of COVID-19.)

It should be noted that refusing to make a counteroffer is a well-known negotiating tactic, one commonly employed in baseball circles by agent Scott Boras, and that the league’s stance does not necessarily mean the 2020 season is endangered. Still, this was eyed as a pivotal week if the two sides wanted to begin play sometime in early July, and so far there’s been limited momentum toward a deal. 

Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that commissioner Rob Manfred would be willing to force a shortened season with prorated salaries if the two sides could not strike an agreement. That season would be about half as long as the players’ desired length.

While the sides remain apart on the money and season length, it appears they’re closer than not when it comes to the health component. Indeed, the players are expected to get “much of what they want on health and safety,” according to SNY’s Andy Martino

Originally, the league had sent the union a 67-page proposal that laid out its vision for testing and safety protocols. That document included guidelines on travel, clubhouse arrangement, and players’ etiquette when on the road. The union subsequently offered revisions, with players reportedly wanting more access to workout and recovery equipment.

MLB had originally intended to launch its season on March 26.Two weeks prior, the league was forced to hit pause, alongside every other in-season professional sports league, due to the spread of COVID-19. 



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