Lettering in Numbers

Paying College Athletes, Weekend Whats, Feel Good Friday

The former era of unpaid (at least officially) college athletes essentially ended when the NCAA allowed student-athletes to make money through promotional endeavors using NIL (name image likeness). Suddenly, college (and even younger) athletes could make money through advertisements and other deals. If NIL put a very big dent in how the NCAA worked, the settlement of an antitrust lawsuit will blow the system to smithereens. Big time college sports make big time money. And soon, students could be getting a piece of the action. NYT (Gift Article): Decades in the Making, a New Era Dawns for the N.C.A.A.: Paying Athletes Directly. “If approved by a U.S. district judge in California, the settlement would allow for the creation of the first revenue-sharing plan for college athletics, a landmark shift in which schools would directly pay their athletes for playing. This sea change, though, also carries its own questions, according to critics. Those include whether women would be compensated fairly, whether smaller conferences would bear a disproportionate burden of the settlement and whether this framework would do anything to limit the power of collectives — the booster-funded groups that entice players with payments to hopscotch from school to school.” You can bet the money will be directed towards the biggest names at the biggest schools and there’s a decent chance this will harm smaller, non-revenue producing sports. In other words, college sports will have an even more distant connection to college than they already do.

+ ESPN: The NCAA and its five power conferences have agreed to allow schools to directly pay players for the first time in the 100-plus-year history of college sports.

+ The lawsuit that triggered this change means former athletes will get a cut of past revenues. “Determining how much each athlete gets is a question that will take months to figure out and involve attorneys, the judge and a formula assessing what they are owed.” Who gets paid? How much? What to know about the landmark NCAA settlement.


Hitting a Sticky Patch

Google is racing to replace their old search results with AI powered answers. Sometimes that works out. Sometimes things get weird. Google promised a better search experience — now it’s telling us to put glue on our pizza. “The feature, while not triggered for every query, scans the web and drums up an AI-generated response. The answer received for the pizza glue query appears to be based on a comment from a user named ‘f-cksmith’ in a more than decade-old Reddit thread, and they’re clearly joking.”

+ Google’s AI search tool is producing flubs and fabrications. Of course, errors are to be expected in a new-ish tech product. This is what the rabid race towards AI gets us. A lot of it will be funny. A lot of it won’t.


Slappy Ending

“The image that I can’t forget—the one that truly pulls me into the savage, surreal, and ridiculously compelling world of professional slap fighting—is the open hand of heavyweight champion Damien ‘the Bell’ Dibbell smashing into the giant bearded face of Ryan ‘the King of Kings’ Phillips in slow motion. In the moment, I can’t tell whether my horror or pleasure is greater. Phillips’s eyes are closed, all 255 pounds of him anticipating the blow, hoping to endure it so he can return fire. He can’t move to evade the slap. That’s not allowed in this relatively new, super-fast-growing combat sport. Flinching is a foul—spiritually, the greatest foul in slap fighting—and the penalty is that your opponent gets an extra chance to smash you in the face. So you just have to take the blow. Dibbell’s slap takes maybe a second to deliver in real time. Phillips drops—whatever was him, gone at least briefly—and his body crumples to the ground.” Ander Monson in Esquire: Inside the Savage, Surreal, Booming World of Professional Slap Fighting. (There’s got to be some connection between our raging politics and culture wars and the fact that we’re inventing new—and ever more basic—ways to pummel the hell out of each other. I’ve been beating myself up trying to understand it.)


Weekend Whats

What to Watch: Hacks, a shows about a Las Vegas comedian who hires a millennial writer, has always been excellent. And it’s one of the rare comedies that gets better each season. Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder are better than ever in Season 3 on Max.

+ What to Hear: It was clear from the first couple of released singles that Twenty-One Pilots had returned to top form on their latest album. Clancy is out now.

+ What to Read:: “There is really no such thing as a big-city newspaper columnist anymore, but Breslin was big—he would literally call reporters on the phone to tell them, ‘I’m big.’ He did beer commercials. He hosted a television show. His books, novels and nonfiction hit bestseller lists, and he was more famous than many of the politicians he chronicled. He was assaulted by the mafia. When the Son of Sam was terrorizing New York in the summer of 1977, he addressed a cryptic and sadistic letter to Breslin, then a columnist for the Daily News. It is difficult to underscore to anyone under 45—I fall into this category—how influential newspapers could be, and the mystique a top columnist possessed.” In a lot of ways, I envisioned NextDraft as a modern day column. My beat is the internet. Ross Barkan with a look back at The Breslin Era: The end of the big-city columnist. (In the 80s, Breslin saw a celebrity real estate heir for the phony he was—and complained about the way the media covered him.)


Extra, Extra

Nauseation Nation: “Americans’ reaction is less like numbness and more a response to something like airsickness, which results when we experience a disconnect between our senses—a nausea-inducing conflict between what we know and what we see. Motion sickness is caused by a discrepancy between what the inner ear detects and what the eye sees. The effect can be vertiginous—so the way people avoid being nauseated is by trying to ignore the dissonance.” Charles Sykes on these profoundly disorienting times and why reading the news might make you puke. The Atlantic (Gift Article): The Trumpian Vertigo of American Politics. Among the reasons: The relentless lies. The more you get tired of them, the more their delivery is accelerated. Exhibit one: The Big Lie. “In the 2024 cycle, the falsehoods have been baked in since Mr. Trump announced his candidacy, almost two years before Election Day. They show no signs of subsiding.” NYT: Trump’s Pattern of Sowing Election Doubt Intensifies in 2024.

+ Court Press: “Israel is unlikely to comply with the order, which the ICJ has no power to enforce, but the landmark ruling will pile pressure on the increasingly isolated U.S. ally.” Israel ordered to immediately halt Rafah offensive by top U.N. court.

+ Super Spreader: “While Jones comes across as a shameless charlatan grifting his audience, Kennedy does seem to fervently believe the dark nonsense he spews. That makes him particularly dangerous, not merely because he may influence a critical election but because his presidential run is something of a super-spreader event for false information, lies, and paranoia.” MoJo: RFK Jr. Is Even Crazier Than You Might Think.

+ All In One Shot: “High sugar levels in the blood of people with diabetes can damage the blood vessels of the kidneys, and this can also cause strain on the heart. The new study found even broader related benefits of semaglutide treatment among people with diabetic kidney disease.” Ozempic reduces risk of serious illness and death in people with diabetes and kidney disease.

+ Outsized Impact: “Documentarian Morgan Spurlock, whose first feature film was the Oscar-nominated Super Size Me, which shifted public perceptions of junk food and McDonald’s, died Thursday in upstate New York from complications of cancer. He was 53.”

+ Making God Go Viral: Pope clears way for ‘God’s influencer’ to become a saint. “Acutis, who died of acute leukemia on Oct. 12, 2006, was put on the road to sainthood after Pope Francis approved the first miracle attributed to him: The healing of a 7-year-old Brazilian boy from a rare pancreatic disorder after coming into contact with an Acutis’ relic, a piece of one of his T-shirts.” God, religion is weird…

+ His Bark is Worse Than His Flight: “Bark Air says it will offer ‘white paw service to its canine customers — who’ll even get to socialize with other dogs in what the company calls a ‘dog-centric’ cabin configuration. Like first-class human passengers, dogs on board will be offered treats, noise-canceling ear muffs, a beverage of their choice and other surprises, the company said.” Bark Air, a new airline for dogs, set to take its first flight. (I have two beagles. You’re gonna need more than noice-canceling ear muffs.)


Feel Good Friday

“Jake Portella, a student at Haddonfield Memorial High School in New Jersey, lives in the same neighborhood as Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper and had an idea. He walked over to Harper’s house and knocked on the door, and when the outfielder answered, Portella asked for assistance in asking a classmate to prom.” (I suppose it makes sense to request the assistance of a professional baseball player if you’re trying to get to first base.)

+ “A five-year-old boy born without a left hand is believed to have become the youngest in the world to receive a bionic hero arm. Jordan’s life-changing Iron Man-style arm was an ‘instant confidence boost’ for him, his mother Ashley Marotta said.”

+ “The question was presented to her as, ‘If you have one thing that you want to see change in this community, what would it be?’,” Wade recalled. “And, for her, it goes right to parents. It goes right to the adults. It goes right to us. It’s not the kids. It’s us. And so she wanted to create a space that felt safe for parents and their kids. That’s what Translatable is, and it’s her baby.” NBA great Dwyane Wade launches Translatable, an online community supporting transgender youth.

+ First-of-its-kind medical school in Cherokee Nation graduates inaugural class of doctors.

+ Yoga too boring for you? Try Yoga with piglets.

+ No, the solution to the Wheel of Fortune puzzle was not, “Right in the Butt.”

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