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Can NFL Competitors Like the AAF and the XFL Be Successful?

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NFL Competitors
PHOTO | Adobe Stock
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In recent years, we’ve seen a bunch of NFL competitors pop up promising streamlined, quick-paced play and an alternative to an increasingly polarizing and political NFL.

Some notable alternatives include the Alliance of American Football and the XFL, one of which just kicked off its inaugural season and the other set to go in 2020.

While the leagues themselves have made big promises as being similar to minor league feeders or straight up competitors to the NFL, those are big promises to make.

The NFL is a billion dollar industry, a juggernaut in the sport only comparable to college football in scale and saturation into the American fabric.

The only way that these leagues can carve out their own niche is to stick to their promised identity, innovate and produce or secure NFL-quality players.

AAF

While the Alliance of American Football (AAF) isn’t a league in direct competition with the NFL, they do have some connective threads.

Alliance teams tout themselves as a feeder system to the NFL, a place for players trying to keep in shape, playing for a team and ready to be signed to an NFL roster in case of an injury.

Some current NFL upper-level management, like the LA Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, feel that the Alliance could be used similarly to minor league baseball teams.

“It’s a great idea,” Telesco told ESPN. “It has the potential to be a nice complement to the NFL. It’s a great spot for a developmental league for players, but even aside from that — coaches and front office, officiating, athletic trainers and video equipment people, public relations — all of that. So I think it’s a great place where people can develop in every department of football operations. Every department that touches a football team can get some real-life experience.”

As a place for young players to develop further after college in an organized, professional team setting or for players who might be between opportunities in the league.

Some former NFL players scattered across the league include Trent Richardson, Christian Hackenberg, Josh Johnson, Nick Novak, Matt Asiata and Bishop Sankey.

It’s yet to be seen if the league has the potential for expansion from where it is now, but it’s one of the more promising prospects as an NFL companion we’ve seen in years.

The XFL

While the Alliance might be positioning itself as an NFL companion, the XFL is trying to dethrone it.

The second coming of the venture, WWE head man Vince McMahon has pitched the XFL as a league that embraces the violent hits that the NFL has worked to phase out of the game and takes a hard-line stance on political protests like kneeling during the anthem that polarized the league these past few seasons.

The XFL promises a league free of protests, where everyone stands for the national anthem, no one with any type of criminal record is allowed to play and players are free to hit one another with reckless abandon.

The key to the XFL’s success is going to be getting those NFL fans who are dissatisfied with the league for the lack of hard-hitting action or political differences to watch them instead of the NFL, a big ask for many.

In a country where football is a religion for many, carving out a segment of that dedicated population might be a mighty challenge.

Whether it’s the AAF or XFL, the alternatives to the NFL are growing. It’s a market yet to be tapped by other leagues.

Eventually, someone is going to do it but I have my doubts it will be either of these two leagues.

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Sports

Kobe Bryant: Tragic End to a Legendary Life

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Kobe Bryant
PHOTO | Noah Graham

Retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, along with nine other people, were killed Sunday in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. He was only 41 years old.

The group of nine people boarded the helicopter at John Wayne Airport in Orange County, departing at 9:06 a.m. PST headed towards a practice session at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California when visibility became an issue due to heavy fog. The helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain, killing all on board instantly and starting a small bush fire. 

Along with Bryant and his daughter, other casualties of the crash included Christina Mauser, Bryant’s girl’s team basketball coach, Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa, Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton and Ara Zobayan, the helicopter’s pilot.   

First reported by TMZ, with the details later confirmed by other news outlets, the horrific accident takes a global basketball icon, renowned brand builder, successful venture capitalist and investor, philanthropist, filmmaker and media personality away from his wife Vanessa, his three surviving daughters and millions of NBA fans all over the world.

The news of Bryant’s tragic passing immediately sent shock waves around the sporting world, with athletes from all over the planet taking time out to honor Bryant and his legacy. 

NBA superstar LeBron James, a current LA Laker and admirer of Bryant, exited the team airplane visibly shaken after hearing the news, later giving a touching statement to the media. 

“It’s another guy that I looked up to when I was in grade school and high school,” said James. “Seeing him come straight out of high school, he is someone that I used as inspiration. It was like, wow. Seeing a kid, 17 years old, come into the NBA and trying to make an impact on a franchise, I used it as motivation. He helped me before he even knew of me because of what he was able to do. So just to be able to, at this point of my career, to share the same jersey that he wore, be with this historical franchise and just represent the purple and gold, it’s very humbling, and it’s dope.

“Kobe’s a legend. That’s for damn sure.”

James had just passed Bryant for third on the all-time NBA top scorers list the night before in Philadelphia, the city Bryant played in high school before entering the league. Bryant sat in the front row with his daughter Gianna, a talented basketball player in her own right, and his last tweet was a congratulation to King James for his accomplishment. 

Soccer superstars like Leonel Messi, David Beckham and Christiano Ronaldo all posted tributes to Bryant to their hundreds of millions of Instagram followers, fans flooded the outside of the Staples Center with Lakers merchandise and flowers to pay tribute and teams around the league took 8 and 24-second violations to start the game in honor of Bryant’s two numbers, 8 and 24.

Perhaps the most tragic part of Bryant’s passing is the clear plan he had for the second chapter of his career after basketball. In the short three and a half years since his retirement from the NBA, Bryant became an advocate for women’s basketball, won an Academy Award for his short film “Dear Basketball,” the best-selling author of “The Mamba Mentality” and a dedicated father and family man all at the same time. 

Rest in peace, Kobe. Gone but never forgotten.   

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Sports

MLB Officially Removes Cannabis From Banned Substances List

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Banned Substances List
PHOTO | Savannah1969

America’s oldest past-time is chock full of unspoken rules, old-school traditions and players from nations all over the globe on some of the richest contracts in all sports. Now, thanks to some official changes to the rules, those baseball players will be able to spend some of that money they’re making on enjoying cannabis carefree. 

In a move that raised many eyebrows, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the players union announced they had reached an agreement to remove cannabis from the sport’s banned substances list. 

“Going forward, marijuana-related conduct will be treated the same as alcohol-related conduct under the Parties’ Joint Treatment Program for Alcohol-Related and Off-Field Violent Conduct, which provides for mandatory evaluation, voluntary treatment and the possibility of discipline by a Player’s Club or the Commissioner’s Office in response to certain conduct involving natural cannabinoids,” MLB said via an official press release. 

The league will now treat cannabis use the same way they treat alcohol abuse, separating cannabis from some of the harder black market drugs around like cocaine and opioids.

The new rules also dictate that substances like synthetic cannabinoids, cocaine and opioids like fentanyl will now be added to the banned substances list, reflecting the league’s new focus on stamping out opioid abuse. 

On top of the new testing and banned substance policy, the league will require players to take part in newly implemented programs covering “the dangers of opioid pain medications and practical approaches to marijuana” which will reportedly focus on “evidence-based and health-first approaches based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety.”

These new educational programs and the addition of opioids like fentanyl reflect the grim realities in much of Middle America at the moment. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths due to opioids have increased by nearly 10 percent since 2016 and just like any other population, MLB athletes have been directly impacted. 

Tyler Skaggs, a 27-year-old pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angelos Angels, died last July due to an opioid overdose. According to the L.A. Times, his autopsy revealed a mix of fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol leading to his death by choking on his own vomit. 

While Skaggs’ death was ruled accidental after a brief investigation, reports did reveal a Los Angelos Angels employee admitted to providing oxycodone for him, which likely plays a major role in these new rules and educational programs.    

The changes are set to take effect at the start of 2020 spring training.

The move comes as more states ready for legalization in 2020, with states with MLB teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians all make a major push via state legislation or ballot measures.

With popular opinion among U.S. adults clearly on the side of legalization, experts projecting the global legal cannabis market to be worth as much as $66.3 billion by 2025 and the popularity, TV viewership and in-stadium attendance for the sport of baseball dipping to an all-time low, America’s pastime embracing cannabis might be the shot in the arm they need to get some younger viewers back.  

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Sports

PGA Tour Golfer Matt Every Suspended Over Medical Cannabis Use

A statement released on Friday confirms that Matt Every has a 3-month suspension for violating the Tour’s conduct policy on drugs of abuse.

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Matt Every Suspended
PHOTO | Orrios

The PGA has confirmed that professional golfer, Matt Every, has been suspended for 12 weeks, due to a violation of its Conduct Policy on drugs of abuse, effective from Friday, October 19.

Every will be eligible to return January 7 and will miss only three tournaments for which he would have been eligible — the Bermuda Championship, the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico and the RSM Classic at Sea Island.

In a statement sent to GolfChannel.com, Every confirmed he has tested positive for cannabis, but it was a legal prescription — prescribed in Florida, where he resides — to treat his mental health.

“I have been prescribed cannabis for a mental health condition by my physician whom has managed my medical care for 30 years,” Every said. “It has been determined that I am neither an acceptable candidate to use prescription “Z” class drugs nor benzodiazepines.

“Additionally, these classes of drugs can be highly addictive and harmful to the human body and mind. For me, cannabis has proven to be, by far, the safest and most effective treatment.”

Being aware of the Tour’s policy before he violated it, the 35-year-old said he has “no choice but to accept this suspension and move on.”

“I knew what WADA’s [World Anti-Doping Agency] policy was and I violated it,” Every said. “I don’t agree with it for many reasons, mainly for my overall well-being, but I’m excited for what lies ahead in my life and career. Over the last few years I have made massive strides and I know my best is still in front of me. I can’t wait to come back better than ever in January.”

The two-times Tour winner is now the seventh player to be suspended under the Tour’s policy against drugs of abuse that was implemented in 2008. It follows the three-month ban of Robert Garrigus in March of this year.

Despite being medically and recreationally legal in many states, cannabis is still listed as a banned substance under the Tour’s anti-doping policy.

The Tour said it would have no further comment on the suspension.

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