2020 US Open and 2021 Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka made news last week when she withdrew from the French Open after winning her first-round match. Osaka cited depression as the reason. She said she could have continued in the tournament had there not been a stipulation that all tennis players must hold a press conference following all their matches.
Depression doesn’t discriminate and it affects even the most successful people in their fields. I applaud her for seeking help in battling it. Having said that, however, I wasn’t happy she made the media out to be a cause for her distress. Yes, I am a sports columnist so my reaction is expected, but the truth is every job has aspects we’re not crazy about, but we can’t only do the parts we happen to like.
My concern is Osaka may have opened a Pandora’s box. This could easily give an excuse to unscrupulous athletes and sports promoters/gatekeepers to avoid providing access to the media. Right after the news broke there was conversation on social media about the relevance of postgame press conferences, which may have been planted by some of these nefarious types.
Pioneering sports journalist Jane McManus articulated many of these concerns in a Deadspin article last week. She also worried whether the Osaka story would negatively impact women’s sports and reminded everyone media coverage increases player compensation.
I find it interesting how many of the same people who were enraged every time President Trump went after the media were cheering at the prospect of sports journalists having a harder time to do their jobs properly.
The Memorial Tournament, held in central Ohio, is not one of the PGA Tour’s more glamorous events, but it got a ton of attention Saturday when golfer Jon Rahm was told he had tested positive for Covid-19. Rahm had just completed the third round and was leading by six strokes when he got the news. He was notified he would be unable to compete in Sunday’s final round, and thus forfeited his right to the winner’s $1.675 million in prize money.
Rahm is asymptomatic and will hopefully be fine, but I have no sympathy for him. He had every opportunity to get a vaccine but apparently failed to do so. PGA officials refused to reveal his vaccination status but it’s safe to say Rahm would have let it be known had he gotten his shots as soon as the story broke.
The PGA Tour should require all golfers be vaccinated if they want to play in a tournament. By not doing so they put golfers, spectators, vendors and the press at needless risk. If they refuse the PGA can tell them to play in Russia.
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Rahm is certainly not the only PGA Tour member who has not been vaccinated. The answer for that resistance may lie with politics.
Ninety-nine percent of professional golfers are Republicans and the reasons are obvious. The GOP has traditionally lionized self-reliance and, of course, low taxes. Phil Mickelson has constantly said taxes are issues 1 through 5 when it comes to political issues. Frankly, it’s hard to quibble with “Lefty” given his annual income.
The problem is too many in today’s Party of Lincoln subscribe to crazed conspiracies with few, if any, facts to back up their beliefs. Among them are irrational fears about getting vaccinated against Covid-19.
Kudos to the New York Racing Association for setting up a vaccine booth this past Saturday at Belmont Park. Those who got their jabs received a voucher for free entry to next year’s Belmont Stakes.
I spoke with Bill Strauss, the owner of Hot Rod Charlie, at the Belmont Stakes draw last Tuesday. I told him his horse had the best name of any of the entrants for the 2021 Belmont Stakes. “I would rather have the best horse with the worst name!” he replied with a laugh. It turned out he had a surprisingly good horse as Hot Rod Charlie placed, finishing just a length behind the winner, Essential Quality.
Strauss acknowledged the horse racing industry suffered greatly when the apparent 2021 Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, was disqualified after a drug test revealed he was given a banned steroid for a rash. “It may not have affected his performance but there were other topical ointments which could have been used,” said Strauss.
I hadn’t been to Belmont Park in at least three years, and I was saddened to see how the construction of the New York Islanders’ new home, the UBS Arena, has destroyed half of Belmont’s beautiful leafy backyard area. It was where a lot of baby boomers saw some great free concerts in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In fairness, the area had been underutilized for years.
The Knicks had a great season but as Bill Walton used to always say, “Stars win important games.” Atlanta Hawks’ guard Trae Young is an elite player who thrives on the big stage. The Knicks did not have that kind of player although fans were hoping Julius Randle would fit that role. He didn’t.
The Mets’ lineup is not very impressive, so you must give manager Luis Rojas credit for getting the most out of his depleted resources. The team showed resilience in splitting a four-game series with the Padres in San Diego after looking feeble in losing the first two games there. Jacob deGrom and Marcus Stroman showed why they get the big bucks by pitching great in the final two games.
Longtime Showtime and Fox Sports boxing commentator Brian Custer, whom many here remember from his anchor work at SNY, has joined ESPN, where he will be one of the SportsCenter hosts.
Life and style
It was great to see Chris Matthews return to television after a two-year absence. Matthews had to give up his nightly MSNBC 7 p.m. “Hardball” show after a network makeup artist complained about flirtatious comments he made to her. Even the most ardent “Me Too” proponent would have to admit Matthews’ punishment was a bit draconian.
Matthews was promoting his autobiography, titled “This Country: My Life in Politics and History,” published by Simon & Schuster. He was as sharp as ever, giving it to both right-wing zealots and the woke left — as was his wont on “Hardball”— during his appearances on ABC’s “The View,” HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” and a pair of shows at his old MSNBC home, “Morning Joe” and “The Reidout.”
There are very few moderates who host cable news network political opinion shows and that is one reason our society has become so polarized. Extreme viewpoints generate ratings and social media buzz. It is time for some network to hire Chris Matthews. MSNBC would be smart to give him a weekend show considering the many lightweights I see filling up their Saturday and Sunday time slots.