Podcast Episode 34: Everything you need to know about the 2020 NFL season

September 10, 2020
This week co-hosts Ellen and Steph give #thegist on everything you need to know about the upcoming 2020 NFL season (think COVID-19 implications, BLM initiatives and more) and discuss why Serena Williams continues to be unfairly portrayed by sports media. Tune in, won’t you?
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Barry Wilner/Associated Press
Barry Wilner/Associated Press

 Listen to this episode of The GIST of IT here.


Ellen: What is up GISTers? Welcome to The GIST of It, I'm Ellen Hyslop.

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz,

Ellen: And we're just two old pals and gals here to give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. Let's get to it.

Ellen: Ok, Steph, so we're coming out of the Labor Day long weekend, and there's a lot of things that have gone on, but something that just happened before we recorded this podcast was that Keeping Up with the Kardashians is going to be no longer after 2021. And I know that that's not sports related, but I just felt like it's kind of sports adjacent, considering Caitlyn Jenner and considering all of the athletes that the Kardashians dated. And so I just wanted to throw that out there that I'm kind of shocked that that's finally coming to an end.

Steph: Ok, I'm not saying this is a holier than thou instance because I love pop culture, but I thought it was already over. I didn't actually know it was still happening. So this is great news for me. I'm staying plugged, staying informed. Thank you for keeping me hip to the jive, Ellen.

Ellen: Yes, you've got it. That's what I'm here for. I'm actually the hippest one of my friend group, and I just keep everyone informed on pop culture. I actually found this from one of my favorite people to follow with respect to pop culture. Her name is Alexandra and Insta handle is @lexniko, and she took Kim Kardashian's Instagram story and then tweeted it saying, "There goes the Last Great American Dynasty," and that is fucking comedy gold. Absolute genius, especially considering all the back and forth between Taylor and the Kardashians. Lex, there you fucking go. Just go right into it.

Steph: I'm literally screaming, wow 

Ellen: Anyway, back to proper sports, as opposed to sports adjacent, but I felt like that was big news that we need to talk about 

Steph: Breaking.

Ellen: Yes, Steph. It was breaking. But outside of this Kardashian news, I spent a lot of my long weekend watching the US Open as well as the NBA playoffs. And I'm super struck by two things. One, that the Toronto Raptors came back to tie the Eastern Conference semifinals with the Boston Celtics 2 - 2, only to lose a horrible, horrible, horrible game on Monday night to the Boston Celtics to go down 3 - 2 in that series. They play in Game Six tonight, and they better freaking bring the heat because my anxiety levels are incredibly high.

Steph: I am so out of the loop. I didn't know that was tonight either. Dear God, I need to be near your computer more often.

Ellen: Yes, it's tonight. And then second, Serena Williams became the first player to win one hundred matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium, which is the prestigious stadium that hosts the US Open every year. And how cool is that? That you could win one hundred matches at one stadium? To me, it shows how dominant she has been for literally ever.

Steph: It's like one of those things where you're like, oh, I've had a friend for ten years. You didn't know you've been around this long enough to have that many wins. That's amazing. That says so much about how much of a fulsome career she's having, how she's truly the greatest of all time. So shout out as always to Serena Williams. And you know what? Speaking of everything that I don't remember and I'm out of the know with, Ellen, throughout all of these playoffs and all of this information that you're telling me, I legit forgot about the NFL season, that it was starting on Thursday. I texted you this morning"WTF, Ellen, football is starting." I am so out of the loop. There's so many sports going on. My brain can only have so many tabs open at once. Also, because the NFL didn't have a preseason, because of the pandemic, my brain was not primed. I was not ready for a season start date. It's happening so fast. So today let's go through everything that we need to know and dug up about the upcoming NFL season because the season hasn't started yet, and it's already a little weird.

Ellen: Ok, I absolutely love NFL football. I would probably not marry it, but I'd seriously be in a long term relationship with NFL football. That's how much I love it. And I'm so excited for the season to start. So before we get into the nitty gritty of the season, I think we should take a moment and set the stage a little bit and give the gist of everything with the NFL. So there are 32 teams in the NFL which are divided into two conferences, the National Football Conference, which you'll hear as NFC and the American Football Conference, which you'll hear as AFC and each of those conferences are further split up into four divisions, the North, South, East and West. So each of those 32 teams plays 16 regular season games from September to the end of the year, and games are mostly played on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays. There are a ton of big changes in this season, which we'll get to in a hot second. But in terms of format, this season's playoffs are going to be looking very different because of the league's newly signed collective bargaining agreement, often called a CBA, which we talked about last week a lot when we were talking about college sports unionizing. But anyway, the playoff format this year is going to be expanded from 12 to 14 teams. And there's also going to be a third wildcard team in each conference, which is accounting for that 13th team in the 14th team. And each conference's top seed will receive a first round bye. So previously there were only two wildcard teams that made it through, and the top two teams in each conference would receive a bye. So that's how it's a little bit different this year. It all ends on February 7th in Tampa Bay in Florida who are playing host to the Super Bowl. And fun fact, no team that's hosted the Super Bowl has actually made it to the final game. So the Buccaneers could potentially be shitting themselves right now.

Steph: Hmm. For a second I thought, oh, my God, Florida again, but then remembered last year with Miami and that the basketball bubbles are in Florida. My brain's all over the place.

Ellen: It is Florida again. Tampa is Florida. Miami is Florida, dear.

Steph: Holy moly. What city is it going to be in?

Ellen:  Tampa Bay.

Steph: Oh, shit.

Ellen: That's OK. Geography sometimes, you know.

Steph: Oh, gosh, OK. I know my 10 provinces and three territories, so at least I have that going for me. Before getting into more of the team and the personnel changes that are going on this year with the NFL, I do want to get into the COVID-19 protocols because the NFL is up to some wacky shit this year. There are no bubbles, there's no regionalized travel schedules. They're going to be traveling and hosting teams at their own stadiums as normal. With football being played only once a week, we can see how they might be able to get away with this. But it does seem a little bit sketchy, a little bit risky. So that's the first thing going on with COVID-19. Second is the NFL has left it up to each team as to whether or not they want to have fans attend their home games. We know that some MLS clubs have started to do this and some NWSL teams in the fall series might as well. The fall series did start this past weekend, by the way. So tune into that. But as someone who just went to the hair salon for the first time this past weekend during the pandemic, this just seems like a little bit too much too fast for me. In the NFL, the decisions among the 32 teams are wildly inconsistent as to whether or not to have fans attend their games. So I'm going to break this down from most cautious to perhaps least cautious in the NFL. So we have ten teams that have said no fans at their home games for the entire season. We have one team, the Seattle Seahawks, who said no fans for the first three home games, followed by nine teams who have said no fans for at least the first two home games of the season. Followed by five teams that have said no fans for at least their home opener, and then in in Ohio, Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns are allowed to have 6K fans at their first two home games, and then they're going to step back and reassess as to whether or not that's working for them. And then four teams will have their stadiums with between 15 percent, up to 25 percent capacity starting at the beginning of the season. So we have four teams going up to 15 to 25 percent capacity, and then lastly, we're missing one number here. If you've been keeping track and if you love math, you I know we're only at thirty one teams. So that 32nd team is the Dallas Cowboys who will allow fans into the stadium with distancing guidelines, but they've been extremely vague as to what that's going to look like for them this season.

Ellen: Yes, it's all over the place, and if I may be so bold, Steph, this strategy just seriously pisses me off. And I think that it's wildly unfair for some teams to have fans and not others. Of any sport, fans in football make the most difference. So basically the goal of fans when they're at games is to be as loud as possible when the opposing team is on offense. So this makes it super hard for the opposing team to speak in their huddle or for a quarterback to call an audible or to pay attention to the time on the clock before the play expires. The fans are so impactful when their home teams on defense that they're often referred to as the 12th man, so literally acting as an additional player to the 11 that are already on the field. And so the fact that some teams will have no fans, other teams will have 25 percent, and then the Dallas Cowboys, with those social distancing guidelines, could have potentially up to 50 percent. It's just absolutely ridiculous to me. I just don't see how this is fair and the game of football when fans make such a big impact. That said, to fact check myself and bring myself back in a little bit after I just went on this rant, the league has said that it will supply prerecorded audio to all 32 teams to be pumped into the stadiums and pumped into the broadcast streams and that the curated audio must be played in all stadiums that do not admit fans. And they will reevaluate this audio as the season progresses. But still how is audio going to replace the atmosphere of actually having fans in the stands that are rooting for you? I am just struggling with this 

Steph: This is a tough one to wrap your head around, too, because football stadiums are huge as coming from the hockey world. I have to take a step back and remember that, too. I haven't really been missing fans from a viewer's perspective in the NHL and the NBA bubbles. But I do really like how they've been using that sound to recreate the feeling of the game and the energy of the game in that home-like atmosphere. So I'm interested to see how they're going to translate this into such a different venue, being a football stadium 

Ellen: I miss the fans. In hockey and in the NBA. Oh, my God, I totally miss the fans. I feel like they add just a complete other element to the game, especially in playoffs when you're thinking about home court advantage or even home ice advantage. If you think about even the Raptors when they're shooting free throws. Right now, they just have a bunch of virtual fans trying to spook out the Celtics that's doing shit all, you know what I mean? And then there's also players who actually just so thrive off the energy of fans. And also, I just love being there too. I'm sure there's a lot of people that miss that, but I think that it adds a full extra element to a sporting event. I think that as a purist, I still enjoy the sport. But I love having the fans there. I think it's so much fun and I love the energy. 

Steph: Ok, I totally wish I was at a game, but just more so from a sitting on my couch perspective. I'm curious as to how people are actually going to be able to get into these games. Who's going to get these tickets? I just have so many questions. 

Ellen: And hopefully they'll have their masks on. Hygiene and get your clear bags ready.

Steph: Speaking of COVID-19 concerns, it is worth mentioning that players were able to opt out of playing this season in the NFL and almost 70 players opted to do that, which as a note, is only about four percent of the league. Just as an FYI. The first player to opt out was Canadian and Kansas City guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. He is a doctor who actually worked on the front lines when the pandemic started. And to me, that's very telling. So he was the first player to opt out and he opted out as a medical professional. Otherwise, the most notable player to opt out is New England Patriot Dont'a Hightower and eight other Patriots also opted out of the season 

Ellen: Speaking of the Patriots, the poor, poor Patriots, let's quickly chat about the major changes to teams this offseason. The biggest is obviously the changes to the New England Patriots and to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after spending his entire career and winning a countless number of Super Bowls with the Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady, who's also one of my beloved, moved to Tampa this offseason, garnering the new nickname Tampa Tom, which I love. And yes, Steph that is in Florida. And coming out of retirement to join him in Tampa is tight end Rob Gronkowski. So cool that he's coming out of retirement because Tom's like, "hey, buddy, why don't you move to Tampa, home of the retirees anyway." So he is actually so funny and so hilarious. I'm excited to see the two of them together again. So on the flip side, to fill the hole that is Tom Brady, the Patriots filled that with former NFL MVP and former Carolina Panther Cam Newton. And I bring up the Patriots because I'm really struggling. I would say I am or I was a Patriots fan. I'm not too sure. But here's the thing, Cam Newton drives me up the wall, mostly because at a press conference, three or four years ago, a woman asked him a question about routes and what he thought about different players running different routes. And his response was him laughing and then saying, it's funny to hear a woman speak about routes. And the minute he said that, I was like, no, Cam Newton, you're basically canceled to me. I'm absolutely over this. It was twenty seventeen or twenty sixteen. You know better at that point. There's been so many women working the NFL at that point, and for you to degrade her on national TV and say something like that is just absolutely ridiculous. So because of those incredibly sexist remarks, I just can't be a Cam Newton fan, which means I have a really hard time being a Patriots fan now too 

Steph: Oh, I didn't know that that was that guy, because that is burned into my memory, I will never forget that press conference ever 

Ellen: No, it's so bad. And, of course, there's so many other moves over the course of this offseason. Obviously, I'm biased against the Patriots and with Cam Newton because I have a fiery passion about both of them, but apparently not anymore. But otherwise, a big move that we should note is that former L.A. Charger and dad of nine, Philip Rivers, signed with the Indianapolis Colts this offseason with a one year deal, which is kind of meh in comparison to Tampa's moves 

Steph: I was expecting you to bring up your babe, Tom Brady. So now that that's out of the way, we can move on for sure. So move along. Let's get to some predictions. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, who, by the way, this offseason signed a 10 year contract extension worth a maximum of five hundred and three million dollars. Imagine, five hundred and three million dollars, and his team in Kansas City are the favorites to do it all again. Kansas City are the reigning Super Bowl champs. They defeated the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl last season. And we expect them to make some sort of similar moves this year. Also this season, we are anticipating that players will follow Colin Kaepernick's lead and kneel during the national anthem. The league, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, have gone on record to say that they are totally on board with this action and will support a player's decision to kneel during the national anthem. And NFL teams did walk out and pause their practices to support and be a part of the wildcat strikes that happened back in August. So I am looking to see how else the players will be using their platforms and these games to help shift the culture and continue the conversation. So really interested in how that's going to play out this NFL season. And then from a league standpoint, the NFL did announce a commitment to donate two hundred and fifty million dollars over the next decade towards combating racism and social injustice in America. Definitely be tuning in to see how the players interact with the league and how the league tries to walk the walk after being on the wrong side of history with how they dealt with Colin Kaepernick's peaceful protests in the past. So it's good to see these moves in the right direction 

Ellen: Totally. I really hope that the NFL soon and again, maybe within the next decade, will become a socially forward league. And we associate  all the good work that the WNBA is doing, for example, with potentially good work that the NFL is doing. That would be the right trajectory for them to go on is to follow the WNBA's footsteps. So to stay up to date on all things football this season, Steph, I know you're already subscribed, but for anyone listening, subscribe to our free twice weekly newsletter at thegistsports.com. And also starting today, we're going to have a free weekly NFL pick 'em pool where you basically choose what team you think is going to win each matchup. And if you have the most number of correct wins, then you could win some sick prizes. So that pool comes out every Wednesday and your picks are due Thursday before the Thursday night game. And we'll be sure to link to that pick 'em pool in the show notes 

Steph: I love a competition 

Ellen: OK, so that was a lot of football and a lot of fun, and because it was a lot of fun, instead of doing our regular segment where we have been talking about things that put a smile on our face, I think that football put a lot of a lot of smiles on our faces today. So we're going to bring things back to the WTF moment of the week. So talking about things that made us say, "what the fuck?" And for this week's moment, why not lead into some sexism and racism in sports 

Steph: Yes, at the top of the show, El, we mentioned the US Open. So let's bring it back to that. In a fit of rage, Novak Djokovic pegged a lines person with a tennis ball in the throat. Obviously, I don't think he meant to do this and didn't mean to hit her. But obviously, you shouldn't just whack tennis balls. In a New York Post article about the incident, author Mark Berman wrote about how Novak Djokovic's excessive punishment is terrible for the US Open. And the article was accompanied with photos of Novak trying to help the woman that he whacked with a ball moments earlier, showing him tending to her wounds. Flashback two years ago when Serena Williams lost the US Open to Naomi Osaka following a few incredibly sketchy calls from the umpire. The same author wrote about how Serena was a sore loser. And The New York Post chose a photo of Serena pointing and raising her voice to accompany the article 

Ellen: Oh, God, there's obviously so many things that are wrong with this 

Steph: Yes, OK. I can't help but think of this quote from critical race scholar Brittney C. Cooper, which is "White anger is entertaining. Black anger must be contained." The portrayal of the angry black woman, which we've talked about here with Serena Williams. If you've ever read Michelle Obama's book, you would hear about it, too, it's so damaging and it's so infuriating to read articles where white male athletes like Mr. Djokovic are given the benefit of the doubt when we know the same would not be afforded to a black woman 

Ellen: Yeah, no, absolutely. And to add to that Steph, I watched all of Serena's match on Monday afternoon. And as I was watching, I was watching on my computer doing some meal prep at the same time. I actually wanted to throw my computer away because I was getting so frustrated with the calls of this game. Oftentimes, black athletes are called aggressive, powerful, etc. While many white athletes are called smart, thoughtful and tricky. And even in 2020, the amount of times that they called Serena Williams aggressive over how many times her white opponent, who also hammered her serve at one hundred and twenty miles per hour, aggressive, was just absolutely too much. And we need to start recognizing that all of this minor micro aggression in language matters and that we need to be aware of these things. And this type of language needs to be changed when we're talking about black athletes 

Steph: It's time to get some changes in the announcing booth. All right, sports pals that was the gist of it from Ellen and I. Thanks so much for tuning in. If you've got an opinion about what we said, leave us a review. You can tell your pals to subscribe to The GIST of It on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher. 

Ellen: And if you like what you heard today, you have to sign up for our free twice weekly newsletter where every Monday and Thursday morning we give you the gist of what's going on in the sports world. As I mentioned beforehand, you could subscribe at thegistsports.com. Otherwise, Steph and I would love to hear from you. You can get in touch with us over email at pod@thegistsports.com, or DM us on Instagram @thegistnews.ca or @thegistusa. Again, I'm Ellen Hyslop. 

Steph: And I'm Steph Rotz.

Ellen: And this has been The GIST of It. We'll see you next Wednesday.

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