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The NFL’s 180 On Player Protests

We start this week by looking at further statements from prominent players and the NFL itself about the current protests against systemic racism and police violence. And there were a lot of statements. While Roger Goodell saying “Black Lives Matter” on camera may have been an important milestone for the league, we think it was probably New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees issuing several apologies — and a direct appeal to President Trump to stop obscuring the true meaning of player protests with claims about the anthem and the flag — that showed the league how much both player and public sentiment have shifted since 2016. While NFL owners have stayed largely silent, the grassroots push from players and league staff to make their voices heard over the past week will certainly influence the NFL going forward. As, we suspect, will the coronavirus, which could take the specter of negative fan reaction to kneeling players out of the equation.

Next, we discuss the NBA’s now finalized plans to restart play, with an eight-game “season” for 22 teams followed by the playoffs as normal, all at Disney World. Jokes about whether the Phoenix Suns will be forced to stay in that motel from “The Florida Project” aside, there’s a lot to be excited about: the possibility of a fun play-in tournament for the eighth seeds in each conference and the more-crucial-than-ever jockeying for playoff seeding, just to name two. The time off may have helped teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, who were juggling injuries, but it also might hurt those teams whose home-court advantages were significant … like the Bucks and 76ers. Neil and Geoff both think that the Los Angeles Lakers still seem poised to win the title, with King James conquering the Magic Kingdom, but Sara warns not to sleep on the Bucks. Whatever happens in the Finals, it will be a shot heard round the World Showcase Plaza.

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, Neil brings us the legacy of fake sports teams and players in video games. From Backham to Ronarid to a version of Bill Belichick who wears a polo, sports games have tried all sorts of tricks to get around paying licensing fees. While fake players like Jon Dowd (aka Barry Bonds) are mostly artifacts of the past, they have left behind a fun online legacy.

What we’re looking at this week:

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Neil Paine was the acting sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.