Global Sport Matters

Now & Then: A Year Later in the Pandemic

Episode Summary

On the show today, Global Sport Institute CEO Kenneth Shropshire and Bill Rhoden of ESPN’s The Undefeated reflect on their first episode in the pandemic one year ago and the impact 2020 continues to have on the world of sport.

Episode Notes

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Episode Transcription

Kendall Jones: It’s usually an odd and difficult exercise to reflect on one year ago - you can’t remember the details of where you were or who you were with, but for all of us this time last year, we can safely say we remember - some of us in vivid detail. The pandemic shut everyone down, sport stopped unexpectedly and unanimously for the first time, leaving us all with uncertainty that we didn’t realize would stretch into the foreseeable future.

The moments after entering shut down and entering isolation were followed by horrific racial injustices that sparked a summer of protest and a shift in sports leagues taking a bigger stand for racial justice, something we’d not seen at that scale before. 

Now that we seem to be coming out the other side of this pandemic, how has sport transformed over the year?

In today’s conversation with Global Sport Institute CEO Kenneth Shropshire, and Bill Rhoden of ESPN’s The Undefeated we reflect on their experiences and their first conversation on this very podcast one year ago. This conversation is part of our newest digital issue: Now and Then: How Sport Has Transformed, out tomorrow Friday, April 9th. In it are stories examining how this past year has changed the landscape of sports from a social, business, technological and personal perspective - even asking the question, “can sport survive another pandemic?”

We’d also like to hear from you about what this year has been like and are capturing stories from our listeners for an audio collection podcast. Share your story now at Global Sport Matters dot com.

Now, onto the show.

Kenneth Shropshire: Welcome again to the Global Sport Matters podcast. I am pleased for all kinds of reasons to have another conversation with the great Bill Rhoden from the Undefeated, former New York Times columnist, award-winning, all-around nice guy. We're going to talk about a bunch of stuff, but we really want to reflect on, last year about this time, we were trying to be the nostradamus duo and figure out where things were headed as the pandemic was getting underway and sports was readjusting. So we've got the great producer, Kendall Jones, with us today. [She’s] gonna lead us through some questions, some look-backs. For those of you that enjoyed our podcast about a year ago, talking about what we thought was going to happen, you get to see just how smart -- or not -- we were and we'll give you some new reflections as well, so Bill how's it going for you?

William Rhoden: Hey Ken, how you doing man? Congratulations on your trip, I’m sure we'll talk about that later on, you know, the cross-country trip. Glad you made it, glad you're back where you are, I won't give your location out.

Kenneth Shropshire: Ironically, again, those of you who are big fans of the entire catalog of podcasts we've done, seven, eight, whatever it is. Bill, when we did this last year, was just about to drive back across the country from Phoenix to his undisclosed location on the East Coast, so yeah, these podcasts happen once one of us makes a big coastal move.

William Rhoden: That's right. I’m actually in Indianapolis now at the Men's Final Four, and I drove down from New York.

Kenneth Shropshire: Okay, so still driving. We’ll still have a chance to talk about that, that’s fine too, but even that setting, I definitely want to hear what it's looking like and what you anticipate, but let's let Kendall get us underway and then we'll give me how to get into all that. We definitely -- and this is the teaser -- we definitely want to talk about what's going on in Georgia some too, and how that connects to everything, so we will get to that, Kendall.

Kendall Jones: Well, welcome both of you. I’m really excited to kind of get into it. So, we're just going to kind of go through essentially from the beginning, when we had you both on last year, what were your first reactions and thoughts? And before I actually get your answers, Bill, we know that you were at the Big Ten Conference [Tournament] and we actually have a clip and wanted to get your reaction to that before we actually get your answers. 

[clip plays from prior episode] Kenneth Shropshire: What was your thought when we’re talking about all these empty arenas and the NBA said, ‘nevermind, we’re canceling everything.’ 

William Rhoden: When I heard that, I thought it was a joke. I was waiting for the joke. Bob Bowlsby is the commissioner of the Big-12 conference, and he had to go somewhere and take a call or something and came back and said, ‘look at this, the NBA suspended the season.’ And I’m looking at him, waiting for him to say ‘I’m just kidding, this is a joke.’

[back to present episode] Kendall Jones: So that's just a little taste there, so I mean Bill, do you want to kick us off, bring us back to that moment?

William Rhoden: Yeah, Ken, that’s when I really started to realize that it was really, really serious. When the NBA shut down, I think a lot of the college players realized this was no joke. When the NBA shut down the season, I think they all realized it was really serious. And actually when I was out visiting at Arizona State when we were together, by that time just talking to all the people back east, New York was really just catching hell, so I knew just around then that this was really, really, really serious and had no idea -- still don't really -- have an idea of when it was going to end.

Kenneth Shropshire: You know Bill, I can't pinpoint it. When they did cancel, you know, they blamed it on Rudy Gobert, and all that kind of stuff. But when that moment happened with the NBA that did register ‘okay, this is serious.” But I think it became, and people that I work with know, I still have not seen many of them in person yet. Because I did go into immediate isolation when I understood that I was elderly. It took a minute, it took a minute to accept that. They kept saying the elderly need to watch out for this, the elderly need to watch out for that, and I said, ‘wait a minute, who are they talking to? 

William Rhoden: Right.

Kenneth Shropshire: And then they said anybody over 60. Oh man, they've been talking to me all this time. Well, you know, sometimes they’d say 65, but that didn't save me either. So I said it, it was both the personal and the sports moment. I mean, the personal moment, you know my physician wife started early on. I guess in medical school, you have a pandemic class or something, so she realized the seriousness of it pretty early on. And I know I started kind of personal self-care early on. And for a while, Bill, you were one of the last outside people I saw because we did that podcast face to face, socially distant, six feet. And there were all kinds of little precautions. You know, remember then, that it could be surfaces.

William Rhoden: Right

Kenneth Shropshire: I don't know, we jockeyed [about] who's gonna touch the doorknobs or all that, yeah.

William Rhoden: Exactly.

Kenneth Shropshire: But yeah, it was the personal moment and the sports moment, but that NBA cancellation was really it in sports, and then personally when I accepted that I am elderly as well.

William Rhoden: That was, and continues to be a big thing but kind of like, you spend most of your life always thinking like, oh yeah the elderly and all that -- you think about those other people. But yeah man, you're right, it was like, I don't think either one us, the whole idea of getting COVID tests, had gotten COVID tests at that point. Remember, we were still banging on the NBA players, you know, we really talked about inequities a lot.

Kenneth Shropshire: Right.

William Rhoden: And that's I think that's the big takeaway, and still the takeaway, that this pandemic really put, I think is what your term, out in public the inequities. From, you know, the NBA players getting tested, Tom Hanks getting tested, quarantining in Australia, you know, people quarantining in second and third homes and all that. I guess we all knew about inequities, but this still has put it upfront and center.

Kenneth Shropshire: You talk about tests, [but] the idea that there'd be some kind of vaccine, did we know, Dr. Fauci at that point? But you know, when you first hear about the vaccine that was like way off in the future, don't even think about that. You’re not going to get a vaccine.

William Rhoden: Right that's right, I don't think we did know about Fauci.

Kenneth Shropshire: That should be one of the questions. “When did you first hear about Dr. Fauci?” 

William Rhoden: Yeah, the famous White House press conference. I think that's when most of us were first introduced to him.

Kenneth Shropshire: Yeah, every day, right? They replaced, because you know, there was a moment when we had no sporting events, basically, and then the Korean Baseball thing started and they tried to do some UFC an on an island, and then you know they started bit by bit, they found ways to do stuff and I’m dreading hearing what we said about this. I know one of the conversations was about whether or not they could have -- think about this, we've come such a long way -- can you have sporting events without fans? And I remember talking on a different podcast with Ray Anderson, the athletic director at ASU about that, and he was pretty adamant ‘Oh, you know, you can't have college sports without students in the stands, that's half of what it is.’ We’d never really -- other than even roller derby had fans back in the early days -- and we’d never really seen sports with no fans.

William Rhoden: Yeah I think that was on our pod, but yeah, [Anderson] was saying how you can't do that, you have to have fans. And clearly, you know, the NBA went ahead without fans. You know I think a number of teams [did], but at the World Series, I think, or playoff games were played without fans early on, I mean you know, even now a year later, they’re just now, you know, letting fans in and remember, we didn't realize how politicized that would become.

Kenneth Shropshire: Right.

William Rhoden: You know, we had no idea how politicized it all would become, from test versus no test. I’m not sure with masking, how politicized --

Kenneth Shropshire: I don’t think it was a political issue at the beginning. 

William Rhoden: Right

Kenneth Shropshire: It was not because at the beginning, Dr. Fauci, no hate meant, he among others was saying you don't need to wear a mask. This is not, this is not a mask thing. Right, so we, by the way, did sit in the studio doing that podcast and there was not a mask in sight.

William Rhoden: There were no masks.

Kendall Jones: You were worried about who was going to touch the doorknob.

Kenneth Shropshire: Yeah, but surface was a concern.

Kendall Jones: So I’m going to play a quick little clip here but thinking about, I mean, fanless stadiums were just like, this was the huge hurdle to get over. And even just to wrap your mind around at the moment, you know, how do you do this, how does sport actually perform without fans? Because fans are such a part of the experience and it helps the players in all of this kind of stuff. So, I actually do have that clip that you all are referencing about Ray Anderson, so let me play that really quick and I’ll ask a follow-up question.

[clip plays from prior episode] William Rhoden: Two weeks ago we were side by side in arenas, by concessions, hugging each other, coughing on each other, not really caring about that stuff. How do you now go back to your stadium? Is there gonna be more trepidation? Do you think that the way we're going to be going is basically stadiums without fans? 

Ray Anderson: No I don't. I think sports is too important to think that we can do it without fans, because it's the interaction, it's the camaraderie, it's being in the arena, that really makes sports what it is. So I personally don't see us going back to empty arenas I don't see us going back to compete in, certainly not in the college arenas, until it is safe for folks who gather back up safely the way we were you know, two, three months ago.

But I don't see sports, certainly not collegiate sports, being able to go forward under any model that says we're going to play in empty arenas. I don't think the participants nor the general public would accept that. If we're not safe enough and our venues aren't secure and sanitized enough where by we can't regather as we did before, I don't see it happening.

[back to present episode] Kendall Jones: So, as we heard, I mean --

Kenneth Shropshire: Well, let me say this, and Ray’s not here to defend himself, but he’s one of the smartest brothers I know. I went to Stanford with him, he did much better than me, he went to Harvard Law School, he's been working in sports his entire life. So what he said was the practical, kind of common sense response. When I think about it, you know, Bill, you mentioned letting a few people back in in the stadium. When you really reflect on it, it is kind of like a guinea pig kind of moment, too. 

Do you really want to be the first one? Is it a good idea? I think we thought of it more as an elite, kind of it's going to be select people that are allowed to be in there, which is kind of what it's turned out to be to some extent, but you know, the Super Bowl they had first responders in there that and that sort of thing. But it is you know, if we think about not knowing how it was contracted and now thinking we know, and the mask and all that kind of stuff, you really didn't want to be the first one back in there.

William Rhoden: Exactly. Yeah I mean, even now, when you think about it now -- 

Kenneth Shropshire: I don’t know when I’m going, I know you got to work, but I don't know when I’m going. You're at the Final Four now, so how many sports events have you been to?

William Rhoden: Just the Super Bowl, and there I was basically, you know because I wanted to see how these two these major events we're dealing with Corona, so there, I was in a press box that normally seats, you know 200-300 people, and it was like almost maybe a little less than half of that. And here at the Final Four with the media, there was like 30 people, 30 reporters I think. You know there used to be hundreds. But you know, and I think fans, I think, maybe 6,000-7,000 something like that, Super Bowl I think like 27,000.

It was only those states, kind of states like Georgia and Alabama that were saying heck with it. It's the idea, remember, like I said we're in there, you know, fans crawling all over each other and hugging and all that stuff. And now it's just that's for most people, for most sane people, that’s not even fashionable. So yeah, you listen to Ray, as you know, he was speaking as an administrator. You know, like no way I mean we yeah we got it we got to have fans, but as it turns out, it has been very, very cautious and it's still -- a year later -- still very cautious.

Kenneth Shropshire: Yeah it's also you know, on most of these questions, we think, ‘follow the money.’ We think that it's going to be that the pressure point’s going to be the revenue and whether or not it's going to be, can sports still make money without people? In the end, and they found I mean you know, the way at the end of the bubble, the way they did all the advertising and all that sort of stuff in the facility, show that there are ways to do this. 

You know, viewership’s been down almost universally in terms of TV ratings, other media devices and the like. But they had to do, for sure, I mean this event that you're at, for sure the Final Four was, we have to do this. Because there were all kinds of stories about whether they’d be able to use the insurance policies last time, and all these sorts of things to make up for it, this year they had to deliver it to get media money.

William Rhoden: Yeah, right.

Kenneth Shropshire: So you knew this was going to happen with or without fans, so it did become more of a clear money issue.

William Rhoden: Right, yes, clear, it was clearly nakedly about money. Yeah it's clearly about money but also, I guess, about distractions too. I mean, I think it revealed the extent to which people really miss these distractions. You know that you know we needed just you know, we were locked, we needed to see stuff, me included.

Kenneth Shropshire: I think, you know you read something about distractions and focus, I think the idea that there were these two you know quote-unquote NCAA bubbles, the men's and the women's. I think that really did help to raise a level of focus on the inequities, in terms of the facilities and the like. I mean, I don't know how closely people were looking and thinking about what's the difference between the two locations, I think that that level of focus is, we’re a ways away where I don’t know if we can call it this, but was one of the pluses of the pandemic. That it was brought further to light than it had been before. 

And also you know it's, it seems, again I don't know what the numbers are, that as much as people are looking for outlets and the like, and are on and off about sports, there didn't seem to be a special level of viewership with the Women's Finals at least.

William Rhoden: Yeah, yeah. That's a good point Ken. I think women's athletics came out of this, I think, really advanced. I think they really benefited from people just seeing the equity, particularly at this level, at the championship level. How the people that run college athletics thought really little about women. And in the past they got away with it, you know because for whatever reason, people didn't show [it and] you know, have videos. And I think that comes out of this whole idea of Black Lives Matter and inequities. I think that to me is the continued takeaway from this entire A) of the four-year period under this clown we just got rid of, who was in the White House, and the pandemic. Now there’s this whole idea of a society where money is the highest value and inequities, and I still don't think we have landed on how we feel about that. I mean, there are people who will say well, you know, if there will be inequities, I want to be on the plus side of the ledger line.

I don't know if there's been this moral shift yet to embrace this great society where there's a level playing field, and I think the microcosm has been in sports. Where you know, you are seeing the women really bring this to a head. So you know, we never want to say a bright spot -- there's been no bright spot -- but yeah.

Kenneth Shropshire: Which brings us to, you think about the center of everything if we think about the intersection of race and Black Lives Matter and sports and pandemic, has been Atlanta. I mean, it's really been Georgia, where from the senatorial election to turning the presidential election, to this most recent [controversy], and I don't know what you think about this. The graded exercise for the sport sociology class would be,’Would major league baseball move the All-Star game from Atlanta, had there not been a pandemic?’

I mean that's really it, you know, would what baseball have become where they are now at least on this decision? I’m not going to give them a whole lot of credit, but I’ll give them credit for this decision. Would they be where they are, but for the pandemic? At the beginning of the pandemic, if this was a question at our last podcast together in person and we were talking about this, you know will baseball become more racially conscious?

William Rhoden: Yeah and you can still ask that question. Is baseball racially conscious?

Kenneth Shropshire: [Laughs] Yeah, right you’re saying, because Home Depot because Coca Cola because all these corporations were saying we’re not down with the voting rights in Georgia, baseball said, well, we better get on board too, because these are our major corporate sponsors.

William Rhoden: Yeah Delta Airlines, I mean everybody's in a bind over this. But I think when you say that, I think the pandemic and everything that it created was just sort of this domino effect that showed the inequities and protests and then of course the police brutality and all of that. Now all the way down now to out in Georgia, saying you know, Republicans [saying] we're going to try to roll this back to Jim Crow level, a poll tax, and all that. 

But the difference between doing that now and doing it maybe even four years ago, is that now there's just more of a public outcry, there's more public pressure on corporations. Because you know, these corporations just don't do business with racists. They don't just do business with White supremacists. In fact, you could argue they do more business with people who are at worst neutral and at best have some degree of, you know a lot of people who travel who are biracial, consciously White, I mean you know it's not like it was where you guys can just do this. So I think it's been really a delicious situation to watch these corporations that are being pulled -- because you know for them it's all about the money -- and they’re being pulled back by both sides about people’s money, because they’re boycotted or being pressured.

And I guess the last thing, I don’t know how you feel about this, I’m not sure if it’s you who said this, that maybe, Augusta should say, ‘well you know, we're not gonna hold [The Masters].’

Kenneth Shropshire: Well you know this Senator, another one of your favorite senators, Marco Rubio, sends a letter to Rob Manfred the commissioner of Major League Baseball saying, ‘OK you're -- and I’m very much paraphrasing -- you’re so woke you're going the Major League Baseball All-Star game, you're a member at Augusta National, which is located in Georgia. Why don't you give up your membership? You're not going to do that are you?

Which got me thinking about you know, Condoleezza Rice and sort of all these important people have memberships at Augusta. And the Masters are what is it, three weeks? It's coming up.

William Rhoden: Now, it's now. It's Thursday, it's coming up. They're doing some practice now, yeah it's like now. You think they’re gonna give that up, you’re crazy.

Kenneth Shropshire: I can say I would give up my membership, I mean I also [could give up] a lot of things, I'll give up my Riviera mansion too. But you know so, so it is interesting, I mean what is it that you're supposed to do?

William Rhoden: I’d give up my parking spot.

Kenneth Shropshire: Stacey Abrams kind of initially said more firmly and then backed away a little bit, and the Atlanta Braves are being very aggressive about, well look at the negative this causes to people that may be aligned with you, is boycott really the right answer? And you know, and my answer is always that people don’t think about it is strategic boycott is an answer, that is something that should be done.

William Rhoden: Yeah that I saw her response was sort of conflicted in a way, because she agreed with the move, but you're right she said well you know there'll be people hurt by this. But also, you know it doesn't have to be, it's not this binary kind of decision. You could not only do that, but you could do other things too, on the ground. I think, you've just got to figure strategically, alright, so you know they're doing this with voting, no water we're going to do this. They're doing this, we're going to do that. So I mean, I think you could also have the big symbolic thing of the taking Atlanta out, but you also attack this thing differently. Like it’s chess, or tennis, or table tennis you know. You do this, we’ll do this. You're going to do this, we’ll do this. You want to take this away, we're going to replace it with this, you know. I think that the move with Major League Baseball I see it more positive than negative. 

Kendall Jones: So I guess I have to ask a quick follow-up there, talking about how sports has made more of a push to be at the center of trying to make those changes and things, I mean, has that changed your perspective or your perception of the role of sport and what it's actually capable of now that's actually in some ways, being able to start moving down that road of, well we're going to push for change and progress because we feel that it's important enough? 

And a second part of that is now that we have vaccines coming through, and now that it feels like people are starting to move back into this ‘business as a usual’ mentality in some ways, how do you keep the momentum up? How does sport keep the momentum up?

William Rhoden: That's a good question, I mean I think sports will continue to be played, you know, and I do think that at least in the near future, I think there will be this pressure on social justice, because the injustice is not going to stop. It's not like injustice is gonna stop. I think injustice is going to continue, so I think that there are enough players, whether it's women's rights, women’s inequity, and you know, gender inequity.

I’m looking at the coaching cycle, hiring cycle in college basketball and Hubert Davis just was named head coach at the University of North Carolina. I mean, that'd be unheard of, you know, he comes the first Black head coach there in history and a number of other Black coaches, so I do think that there will, I think that the quote-unquote activism of consciousness will continue and be effective, and I think it will continue to be effective because I think that there are a number of young athletes who all have kind of come up in this era of, ‘yeah we speak our mind,’ and all that and we have to be prepared that there will be athletes who may be active in ways that maybe we don't approve of, so yeah I think that it's going to continue.

Kenneth Shropshire: You know what’s striking to me, Bill, as you're saying that is, you know how long sports has generally been ancillary on these issues. It hasn't led on these issues. You know, the Jackie Robinson trope is like the last real moment where sports did something first. You know, actually football's first but, but you know where they did something and were at the forefront. And then all these other moments have been, you know, all the 60s stuff was on top of Dr. King and Malcolm, when sport wasn't leading the way. It was all part of the bigger movement. 

But it’s now so much more the case that sport’s out front. I mean, it's in a way that I always said we shouldn't expect to happen, and then here it is happening. Even the Major League Baseball piece was, I was surprised, like you know, they didn’t have to do it that quickly. And you know we try to dissect it and figure out why, beyond the money, and also apparently and Bill, you might have a better feel for this to me, there was some feeling that the players or some of the players might boycott, so Rob Manfred wanted to get ahead of the players, too. Which would be another monumental day, especially for baseball players.

William Rhoden: Yeah I agree, I was surprised by baseball because, you may have said, from the very beginning, baseball's never been known for being on the cutting edge of social issues, you know, taking a stand. So I was surprised, but you're right, it had to come to pressure that came from somewhere, and I'm like well, where? Because this is a League where you know I don't know, maybe 30 percent of the players are Latinx, or something. So yeah that's fine, I mean I don't even know if the Super Bowl, the NFL, would do something like that. You know, if they would, if they would take, if there was gonna be a Super Bowl in Georgia, would they move it?

Kenneth Shropshire: But they moved the Martin Luther King Super Bowl -- 

William Rhoden: -- out of Arizona, yeah. You’re right. So to the extent that a lot of these sports are still dominated by, you know, athletes of color and I think -- and you also have to say women -- who have been very attuned to these justice issues and inequity issues, I think it's going to continue. 

The big thing is at the college level. That's been the big resistor, particularly college football, that's been the big resistor. But yeah, I’ve [been] kind of encouraged by it.

Kenneth Shropshire: Right and again in this, you know pandemic plus year now, we got the Supreme Court just heard arguments for the Name, Image and Likeness case in college sports. Which many people see as the catalyst to whatever is next, but it's also been a time where both the G-League -- and somebody asked me, you know what happened to the great freshman basketball players where's the great freshman amongst all these, you know, the Sweet 16 teams and the like. And it is becoming the case, too, slowly that the two of the best players for sure siphoned into the G-League playing with the Ignite team, the Elite team, and then you've got this Overtime Elite league coming out sometime soon that's going to siphon off some more. 

So, and I'm wondering -- again you get lots and reflect on these things with a pandemic -- are we going to see more of these older kind of four year player teams? Where they played together, as opposed to the one-and-done Kentucky team where you see who can you get to come in to win you the championship. Because they're gonna have other options, they got the $500,000 to go to the G-League, $100,000 in Overtime Elite, and then you've always had had Europe and the like, and and then, even if the Supreme Court doesn't say you can make money off your name, image and likeness, you know, there's going to be these other things, but if they do, there's gonna be so much more pressure to open up and allow more more dollars to flow to the players, because the options exist. And all this stuff’s happening and you're watching it more closely in the midst of the pandemic.

William Rhoden: Yeah I mean to the first, for me, I think that's why you see a school like Gonzaga and UCLA, you know, I think you see that. I hadn’t really thought about it, but yeah if you're a top-notch freshman. And it does speak to the quote-unquote either ‘exploitive’ issue or the commercialization issue, which says , ‘well, if i'm going to go into a commercial enterprise, let me make money too.’ Ihat means going into one of these commercial leagues, lower league, let me go there and make money for a couple of years. If this is commercial, why do I have to go out to Duke, where particularly if you see some of these players, a quarter of these different leagues, end up in the NBA?

Kenneth Shropshire: And when that starts to happen, you know, more than the occasional, then it's gonna be so we're getting to a whole new day, for sure. Whether with the Supreme Court or with these new leagues, these new opportunities. It's gonna be interesting, you know [now] we start prognosticating what's going to happen in the next year, but it's going to be an interesting coming year in terms of what's been seeded during the pandemic.

William Rhoden: Things are changing and we see it, and I think that this, you know the pandemic, I think has really triggered because it forced, it seems like it's just forced, a lot of things to come to the surface.

Kenneth Shropshire: As full disclosure, I’m an advisor with the Overtime Elite league, 16 to 18-year-olds, and you know, years ago, I never would have been involved in something like that. But the big component [of] what they're trying to do is figure out, well how do you educate these young men in a way that they're not being educated if they just do the one and done, and how do you prepare them to think about the alternative? If it turns out you're not good enough to play in this league, then how do we make sure you get in college or you get in whatever is next as opposed to being hung out to dry out there, trying to stumble around and play different places and figure out what you're going to do? So there needs to be a whole new model, a whole rethinking to make sure the young people are taken care of. I mean, one thing the Final Four reminds us of is only 2 percent go on to the pros. 98 percent are doing something else.

William Rhoden: Well, that is a question, how is that league taking care of the education of each of these high school kids that go there? I mean i'm curious because you know it's all this focus on commercialization, you do have an opportunity at any of the schools, actually you know, to get a degree. You know, I don't think we should look past that. That is a big plus, a big benefit.

Kenneth Shropshire: No and I think any of them, you know if the G League, if Overtime Elite is going to do it right, it has to be that if you punch out of this, here's a college scholarship, here's the funding to get you to that level you would have been at educationally. Because again, if you went there and plan to be one of them were you taking advantage of it anyway? But yeah, that’s the piece we need to be trying to work on. 

I've been a big advocate of the meaningful degree completion, however you do it. So if you go to a four-year institution and you don't finish the degree, can you go back? So you know, my pandemic dilemma has been thinking about, as you're alluding to Bill, what's the new model that we should come out of this thing with in terms of how to fix college sports because it's changing. How to stay ahead and how not just to take advantage of the athletic skills and your skills as you say, Bill, and the dollars are flowing into the sports industrial complex as opposed to to the labor, putting my Marxist hat on for a moment.

William Rhoden: Right yeah, right. And the NCAA is somewhere that practiced socialism in somewhat of a good way, in that you've got this money and you're taking care of all these sports that don't make money, softball and all that, it's just the part that's not a good look is that all your money's coming from these two sports heavily manned by Black athletes who aren't really being given a fair shake in terms of being reabsorbed as head coaches as, you know, administrators and even not really represented in the other sports, you know, in terms of you know, playing these other sports that are largely these country club sports. 

So does it have to be fixed? Does it have to be adjusted? They cannot continue to go on like this. I’ve argued that the NCAA, and we even have to talk about that, because people throw it out there, like it's this thing. But let’s say the NCAA is probably where baseball was in 1969 and 70, with Curt Flood’s challenge. And when that happened, although he lost at the Supreme Court level, the powers that be knew the jig was up. They knew it was over. They began to make concessions, and I think the NCAA knows that the jig is up.

Like okay, we can't keep doing this, we got to make some changes. What those changes are, I guess is a million dollar question.

Kenneth Shropshire: Well, you know, and a pandemic event -- and we should try to come up with a list of the big things that happened -- I mean, Stanford drops 11 sports. I've seen Clemson and some other schools, they dropped a bunch of sports, dropped track and field and on one hand at Stanford, you know, all these alums are contacting each other saying let’s raise like $500 million to save these sports. And you look around and somebody said, ‘there were no Black people playing those sports,’ and I said, ‘yeah but they're athletes,’ but in these places where track and field were cut, then it was the other questions of wait a minute, these are the sports that included more Black people. 

So it's a very interesting moment that that's something that we, as we look at this whole and we should do this at some point, this whole college sports, ‘where are we, where should we be?’ that's going to be a very interesting piece, the College sports post-pandemic post-Supreme Court, post-wokeness by so many of the student-athletes. But the ongoing problem with student- athletes, although they've got a couple of organizations now, is you're in and out of there.

William Rhoden: Right, yeah. That’s the big problem is it’s tough to sustain. Is that they know there’s going to be turnover. So yeah, I just think that we're in a really different atmosphere. I'm excited just to see the change, but I just think that if you're an African-American family, there's an education value that I just don't think that we should lose track of.

Kenneth Shropshire: I agree, and I'll tell you that that's why I got involved trying to say, well, this is going to happen, so let me see if there's a way to provide this education in a way that I haven't thought about. Is there a nontraditional way? I mean, in the same sense that for some guys I went to high school with going to LA trade tech or being a plumber's apprentice and that sort of thing was the right path, college is not for everybody, or college in the regular course of time, straight high schools, is not the thing. So how do we think about it differently so that these kids can fully pursue their dreams, and you know coming out high school making $100,000 or $500,000 while you're figuring that stuff out, just just don't get lost with the passage of time.

William Rhoden: I agree and I hope that you guys over there can figure that out.

Kenneth Shropshire: I sense there is going to be some more interaction on this topic going on for us, so we'll reconvene later on.

Kendall Jones: I think we figured out a whole new set of podcast episodes right there. So one of the things, a little bit on the same scale, but sort of switching gears just a little bit, is I want to play a quick clip. This is our last clip before we move into [our] final question here, but you know, one of the things coming into this pandemic, we were trying to find a way to make sense of it, and it was like, what's the biggest thing that we can say we've been through? 

And Bill, you know, in last year's episode, you were talking about 9/1, and kind of talking about what is it that that we gave up because of this? We were willing to give up our privacy for more security, and so let me play the clip, and my question to you all is, you know, what did we give up during this past year? Let me play that clip real quick.

[clip plays from prior episode] William Rhoden: The thing is all these things, just like with, you know, with 9/11 because we were so terrified, we gave up a lot of privacy. Tap our phones, you know with everything, what are you going to give up? And that's always to me, without going down that rabbit hole, just sort of an underlying issue, and what are you going to give up when now everybody’s scared?

[back to present episode] Kendall Jones: So what would you say that comes to mind when we talk about what have we given up over the last year, or what are we giving up in order to come back?

William Rhoden: Yeah I think, you know, we've clearly given up more freedom of movement, we've, you know, we've agreed to kind of lock ourselves up in our homes, we've become isolated from each other. We've seen the arts shut down, you know, I think arts are critical to a society that's built on sort of protest and things like that. So I think that we've given up more kind of freedoms with the idea that, the exchange that we're keeping ourselves safe.

The question becomes at what point you know, can you ever get that back? With the [9/11] phone taps and all that, you never get that back, you know, so I think that's a big concern. And you have to walk -- because that's what a lot of these people who are like storming the Capital [think] -- so you have to be careful about that kind of fringe stuff, that you look at the glass half full, like OK there is such thing as a pandemic, just like there was a 1918 Flu. And you gotta beat it and we need each other, but I think, you know, who said that Ken? That government's never, never let national tragedy go to waste or something? So yeah, but I’d say that we gave up just a little bit of freedom of movement.

Kenneth Shropshire: [Laughing] I’d just extend on what Bill said, I am, again with too much time to think about it, but at heart, I only spent three years there, but I am a New Yorker in terms of the way I socialize with people, and that is meet me at this spot.

William Rhoden: Right.

Kenneth Shropshire: That's more than anywhere else that's a New York thing. I've known people for years where I’ve never seen the inside of their house, you always meet somewhere.

William Rhoden: Right, meet me here.

Kenneth Shropshire: Before Starbucks it would be you meet and you go to spots, and so to give that up has been big and not just just to give it up, but to contemplate will I ever bring that back? Which, you know, and I mentioned a few times that I did read a book about the 1918 pandemic, which is the best reminder and probably the best way to start ending a conversation like this is ou know what happened [after the] 1918 pandemic was the Roaring 20s, I mean so everybody did get back out there, you know all kinds of stuff happened, so there is a reason for optimism and there's a reason for me to think about OK, you can go back to to that way of meeting. Because the business I’m in, the businesses I've associated with, relationships are the key. You don't want to be put in a position to have to need somebody for a relationship and you haven't casually developed it, and the idea that you have to coldly get in touch with somebody that you would have met at all these places that I’m normally in, I mean that to me has been the biggest [thing]. It’s not that you're wearing a mask and you know, the idea of you know, the 9/11 that I got to go through TSA, all that kind of stuff is difficult but it's manageable. 

But the human interaction and how that's going to evolve or not, anb to have to give that up for this period of time and now trying to figure out, OK now I got this vaccination, what does that mean? What exactly does that mean I should do going forward, and who’s with me?

William Rhoden: I was at somebody's house the other day and now you kind of ask these uncomfortable questions, you know. The guy goes, well you know, ‘everybody here has been vaccinated,’ and all that and that gives you some degree of comfort, I guess, but you’re right. What does that exactly mean? I'm still going to go so I can get a COVID test. But that's a good point you raised, I hadn't really thought about that, that there was a pandemic, then there was a roaring 20s, almost as a reaction to that, and even though I'm in New York, you’re absolutely right because I kept thinking about, ‘what is that I’m missing?’ And in New York,  I'm like that too, I’ll say let's meet so and so, or there may be a couple of clubs, and you go and just kind of sit at the bar and hear some music, things like that. There’s all this stuff out there that's just there for the taking and I’m optimistic in saying it's going to come back. Because maybe the force of our personalities, or the force of our need for each other and our need to interact will overwhelm any, you now, whatever might stop it. We’re gonna come back, we're gonna come back safely. 

I’m just curious, and I was asking a musician friend of mine, you know as myself, I like going to clubs, for example. I hated going to like the Blue Note, or some other places because jazz clubs were notorious for like shoehorning you in, getting as many people at a club as possible, and what I hope is that, as well as those pandemics and social distancing that that's going to stop. Even if they got to charge you more, but give us some space, you know, stop with like the slave ship type of thing in these clubs.

Kendall Jones: So, then, that leads me to our last question here, what's something that you would want to tell your community? And community is defined however you want to define it? Small, big, sports, non-sports, what's something that you would want to tell your community a year later?

William Rhoden: Ken, you have more of a community.

Kenneth Shropshire: Well, ifI’m honest and I understand where you’re driving it, you know, and you mentioned this question to me before, we heard it before, and I’m still trying to get my arms around it, because both times when I’ve heard it said, I thought the same thing: ‘Hang in there, you're almost there.’ 

I don't want to sound like Joe Biden, but the idea of just continue to do all this stuff for a while longer, and maybe we can be advocates for this. Continue to do all the right stuff for a while longer and then we'll have the roaring 20s. But we can't get prematurely to 1920 or we'll go back to 1918 again.

So I mean that's, you know, if I had some power, I will tell you that I drove across the country as Bill said, and there were so many different variations of mask-wearing in different parts of the country. So many areas of clearly lack of concerns in places in the middle of the country, and then, when I got on the east coast, so many people are wearing masks every second of the day. It looks like I’m in surgery every day. I mean, the culture is you better have a mask on. I don't know the numbers relatively here compared to anywhere else but, but people are at least in that one indicator, trying to do the right thing. You know, still a lot of people, a lot of restaurants, a lot of stuff that kind of makes me uneasy, but if we can stick at it a while longer, I think that's good.

The second thing I’ll say just, just in case I got the community part wrong is that, the second thing is the level of communication that has taken place amongst people -- and maybe it is because you weren't in person that you have learned how to talk via phone and Zoom in a way -- I haven't felt with so many people. I can start my day talking to somebody in Cape Town and talk to somebody in Munich and then talk to somebody in Cleveland and give a keynote in DC, and then talk to my brother in Los Angeles. And I didn't have to go anywhere, but a couple of places, I normally would have had to decide, I can fly here, fly there, so if we can find ways to keep up that high-level communication, bring back my New York-style meetups, and have the roaring 20s, that would be a good outcome for all of us going a few more months or whatever it might be, I’m not Dr. Fauci.

William Rhoden: Those are such great points, and they're optimistic points, because you're right, I mean I’ve been having these Zoom calls with some of my former Morgan teammates. And we've been talking to each other more than ever. And I was just talking to a friend of mine today who I don’t talk to enough. And we’ve been talking, and he said, ‘yeah I’ve been talking to Johnny Foreman, he was always a good guy but we never really interacted till now.’ 

And now you know some of that's a function that we're older and all that, so I think you're right if we could find a way to combine all the best things out of this: how we've been communicating more with each other, how we've cut out unnecessary travel, but then, how can we get back you’re right, to the roaring 20s? 

How can we get back to you know ‘hey Ken, are you gonna be in town? Hey let's meet up with so and so,’ so you know, I’m really looking forward to those days when there's a way that we, do that and know that, because remember pre-pandemic we did it, and I’m sure people had stuff, whether it's a cold or the flu, or something. You know so maybe now that our antenna is more attuned to you know, making sure that we're healthy or that you're healthy. 

But to the question about what would you tell your community, it’s just let's continue to care for each other. You know, to really realize that we need each other, and continue to isolate those people who are just filled with kind of hatred or resentment or want to kind of roll back to a [different] time. I don't want to castigate a particular group, but there is a group, and we all know who they are. They hate anybody who's not quote-unquote White. They hate if you're of color, if you're biracial, if you're whatever. It's just, I would just like to continue to isolate that group and say, ‘hey listen, we’ll buy you guys an island and just go on that island. You could just be there, you know, you just can't have nuclear weapons.’

Kenneth Shropshire: One more thing just because I’ll probably not say it. I was telling my wife, you know, not only I have been, you know knock on wood, fortunate enough not to contract the virus, but I haven't been sick for a whole year. I’ve been, in a strange kind of way at least physically, the healthiest I’ve been. And I hear people go one way or the other, you know either gaining weight and you know, sick and miserable all the time, but it's been this kind of strange, my wife and I are using the word reconstruction.

Back home and doing all this stuff and revitalizing, but during this whole period of time, everybody did all these home projects, and all this other stuff, but physically, as I’ve claimed my elderliness, it’s been kind of an amazing period of time to regroup. Again, as you were saying Bill, just to do stuff that we have not taken the time to do because you have the time, because you're not out of those damn planes and going everywhere every minute.

William Rhoden: You're absolutely right, I mean the flip side of ‘hey meet me so and so’ is that you could just be filling your every single day, every single day [it’s] yeah, hey meet me, let's go ahead and go, hey let's go, let's talk, you know. And particularly in a place like New York or Philly, well you know you're constantly going, going, and I think that the last four years, we've been forced to really evaluate values and things like that. And this last year, I think we've been forced to, like you said, think about your health, and not just my health but your health, because your health impacts mine.

And I think that gets back that whole African thing of ‘ubuntu’ that I am because you are, you know, and that's a very simple way of saying I need you to be healthy so I can stay healthy, I need you to be great so I can be great, and I think that it's a simple concept, but I think we lost it and maybe that's coming back into view, so that's what I’d I tell my community.

Kenneth Shropshire: See Bill in here had Zulu words and everything in there, I’m just talking pedestrian language, but that's OK.

William Rhoden: I liked the Roaring 20s, that's hopeful. Isn’t that the Gilded Age, too.

Kendall Jones: I want to thank both of you for spending the time and Ken for letting me kind of put you into the guest’s spot on this show. I really appreciate both of you, so thank you, Ken and Bill, and for our listeners, we would love to hear your own experience and your story about what this past year has been and what you've learned from it, so we actually will be gathering these stories really easily from our website and we'd love to have you participate, so if you go to we'll post it in the notes.

Share your story with us, and we are collecting these for future podcast shares, so make sure you share that with friends and we'll talk to you next time. Thanks, everyone.

Kenneth Shropshire: Thank you.

Kendall Jones: Special thanks to Bill Rhoden and to our usual Global Sport Matters Podcast host, Kenneth Shropshire, thanks for letting me put you in the guest seat. 

This episode was produced by me, Kendall Jones, manager of events and programs at the Global Sport Institute and huge thanks to our sound design and editor, Sam Esparza and BigU Music.

Global Sport Matters Podcast is a production of the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University. Our manager of marketing and communications is Chrisal Valencia and our marketing and communications assistants are Julia O’Connell, Natalie Skigen and Katie Cross. 

To stay up to date on the latest from the Global Sport Matters team, be sure to follow us on Twitter, we’re at Global Sport M-t-r-s [@globalsportmtrs]. And be sure to sign up for our newsletter on our website by clicking the envelope icon at Global Sport Matters dot com [].

This transcript has been edited for clarity.