He was once a rich and famous sumo wreslter in Japan, now he's going for broke, trying to make it in the NFL ... Known as "Wakanoho Toshinori" in Japan, he was one of the youngest foreign-born wrestlers to advance to makuuchi, the highest of sumo's six divisions. There, he was revered as a celebrity until he was banned for alleged marijuana possession and retaliated by unloading everything he knew about the sport's rampant match fixing. ... Soslan has always been an athlete of extraordinary ability. At age 12, he made Russia's Junior Olympic wrestling team in the freestyle division. By 15, he was a monster in competition and in appearance, beating older wrestlers for gold medals and measuring 6'3, 300 pounds. Soslan's Olympic wrestling career essentially ended, though, the moment the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) lowered his weight class to 264 pounds. Soslan tried everything to keep his weight down, and on more than one occasion, passed out during practice after skipping meals. ... At his father's request, Soslan visited a few Japanese sumo clubs that had been keeping tabs on both his success and weight predicament. Japan lured Soslan with the desires that run wild through the impressionable mind of a teenage boy: money, fame and girls. He received $15,000 from a club after his first tryout, and he knew two other Russians in the top division who owned brand new Hummers, Mercedes and Maseratis. He saw them partying with beautiful women and wanted what they had as soon as possible. ... By 17, Soslan was married and living the life of an elite sumo wrestler, earning over $40,000 a month and receiving lavish gifts from sponsors for top performances, including cars.
The XFL jumped off the top turnbuckle in 2001 and landed with a blow equal parts short-lived and long lasting. A merging of the schlocky promotions of Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation and the passion and violence of football, the league died after one season, its demise hastened more by a failure of an ill-advised and ultimately doomed business arrangement than a repudiation of the product on the field. ... The XFL's brief life has relegated it to a footnote in American sports history. Yet McMahon's sound-and-fury vision for football echoes in today's NFL, from super huge screens in every stadium to sleeker uniforms to the way networks broadcast the games on TV, with cameras zooming overhead and microphones creeping into every corner.
A new book reveals the moment the NFL could no longer ignore concussion science … THERE HAS NEVER been anything like it in the history of modern sports: a public health crisis that emerged from the playing fields of our 21st-century pastime. A small group of research scientists put football under a microscope -- literally. What they found was not the obvious, as many people later would claim. We all knew that football was violent and dangerous, that one hit could break your neck or even kill you. No, what the researchers were saying was that the essence of football -- the unavoidable head banging that occurs on every play, like a woodpecker jackhammering at a tree -- can unleash a cascading series of neurological events that in the end strangles your brain, leaving you unrecognizable. … The researchers who made this discovery -- you could count them on one hand -- thought NFL executives would embrace their findings, if only to make their product safer. That is not what happened.
He’s resting on a couch, but this discussion—explaining how his team will rebound from a moment that most Seattle fans still can’t bring themselves to watch again—is more interrogation than psychotherapy. “If you hope I’m going to cry over the deal, I’m not,” Carroll says. “I’ve moved past that.” ... Carroll believes he made the right call. He’s never wavered there. Where some people say “worst possible decision,” he says “worst possible outcome.” That’s his distinction, and he’s sticking to it. ... the same critics who panned Carroll for throwing late against the Pats lambasted him for the decisions he made against UT. He never ignored that moment or banished it from his memory or said it didn’t hurt like hell. He confronted it. And it has fueled him. Says Carroll, “It’s much easier for me [to move forward] than most people.” ... There’s a famous story about the epiphany Carroll had around this time. He was reading a book by John Wooden that described how it took the old UCLA coach 18 years to win his first national title. And then Carroll slammed the book shut, inspired. He took the USC job in December of that year and started to write down not only what he wanted to accomplish but how he would go about it. He filled legal pads and the outsides of manila folders with so many notes that he ran out of space to write. He dissected every aspect of performance. Details that seemed small—like having players preorder for the Trojans’ omelet station in order to save a few minutes at breakfast each morning—were implemented to improve efficiency. He asked his assistant coaches to explain their vision in 30 words or less ... To Carroll, it became less about the victories and more about the process.
Their assuredness is as bold as the company behind the school: IMG, the global sports management conglomerate that has helped propel the competitive leap that high school football has made beyond traditional community teams. ... convention is being challenged by a more professional model at the highest levels as top players urgently pursue college scholarships, training becomes more specialized, big business opens its wallet, school choice expands, and schools seek to market themselves through sports, some for financial survival. ... IMG is at the forefront. It is trying to enhance its academy brand with football, perhaps the most visible sport. And it is applying a business model to the gridiron that has long been profitable for tennis and has expanded to golf, soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, and track and field. The academy has nearly 1,000 students from more than 80 countries enrolled in prekindergarten through 12th grade and postgraduation. About half the students are international. ... The full cost of tuition and boarding for a year of football at IMG Academy is $70,800, although need-based financial assistance is available.
The National Football League wants to put at least one franchise in Los Angeles by the start of next season. Kroenke, the owner of the St. Louis Rams and arguably the most powerful owner in sports, wants it to be his. He’s ready to build a $1.9 billion stadium southwest of downtown. He has big backers. Jones, who built an 80,000-seat cathedral to excess known as “Jerry’s World” for his Cowboys in 2009, admires the grandeur of Kroenke’s plan and has sided with him against owners from the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders, who want to build and share a stadium in the L.A. suburb of Carson, bringing two franchises to the city at once. ... Kroenke aims to turn a demolished horse racing track and parking lot in Inglewood, Calif., into an 80,000-seat stadium with a latticed open-air roof; an adjacent 6,000-seat arena; 1.7 million square feet of retail and office space; 2,500 residential units; and a hotel. To put the Rams there, he’ll have to secure the approval of at least 24 of 31 of his fellow NFL owners and give a stiff arm to his native Missouri. ... Along with the Rams, Kroenke owns the National Basketball Association’s Denver Nuggets, the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche, Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids, and two-thirds of the English Premier League soccer club Arsenal—all separate from his wife Ann’s $3.8 billion inheritance.
Flipping a metal disk to determine which group of muscle-bound men gets to play with a football first may sound like a nonevent. But like everything else about the Super Bowl, the simple act has evolved into one of the rites of that pseudoreligious ceremony. The first nine coin flips, like the first nine Super Bowls, featured relatively little pomp, just a referee and the competing teams’ captains. From there the stakes grew with the TV ratings, gaining honorary coin-flippers from sitting presidents (Ronald Reagan, via satellite) to military heroes (David Petraeus) and becoming a popular wager for casual gamblers and junkies alike. The betting site Bovada offers more than 500 bets on the Super Bowl—How long will the national anthem last? What color Gatorade will be dumped on the winning coach?—and says the coin toss is among the top five most active. ... Meadlock discovered that Irving, a Montreal native, was well-known to securities regulators around the world. By the time of their initial meeting in Montreal, the elder Kott had survived two assassination attempts, including a prematurely detonated car bomb, described in the Canadian press as mob-related, and had received what was then the largest civil fine in Canadian history, for stock fraud. Irving had also run what Dutch authorities described as the most successful boiler room in the world.
Few could have guessed that the league's return would become so bloody, bitter and, most of all, emblematic of how power in the NFL truly works. ... The inability of America's most popular sport to occupy the nation's second-largest market since the Rams and Raiders left after the 1994 season had become a running joke. In the past two decades, at least 20 Los Angeles stadium proposals had been designed and junked. An expansion team had been awarded to LA in 1999 but then, mired in red tape, sent to Houston to become the Texans. Many clubs had used the threat of moving to Los Angeles as leverage to build new, publicly financed stadiums. But now, the idea of at least one franchise relocating to LA wasn't just a fanciful notion. It was real. ... Most owners meetings are boring. Some members doze. Groupthink often prevails. Not this time. For hours, the owners argued and traded barbs.
If you think bringing Marshawn Lynch to the ground was a challenge, try getting on his calendar. The recently retired Seahawks running back (more on that later) agreed to talk during a tour of his hometown of Oakland—a serious achievement, given his arm’s-length relationship with the media—but then there was the matter of settling on a date. Since his exit announcement, slyly dropped during the Super Bowl, the five-time Pro Bowler has traveled to Haiti, Canada and Egypt, where he led a football camp, rode a camel and toured the Great Pyramid of Giza. A stealth visit to Flint, Mich.—he wanted to volunteer and lend solidarity to the citizenry—was postponed until later this summer; he appeared that week instead at a Clinton Global Initiative function in Oakland. When Lynch finally blocked out three free days, he warned that he would be spending one of those afternoons with his financial adviser. Then he would head to Seattle, where he would appear at a job fair as a favor to his friend, Starbucks' CEO Howard Schultz. ... All of which speaks to this point: Lynch, maybe more than any other athlete, embodies the gulf between perception and reality. Make no mistake, Beast Mode is no façade. Lynch, 30, carries himself the same way he played during his potential Hall of Fame career, all bluntness and brute force. This is a man who, even with cameras rolling, uses the word “motherf-----” as if it were punctuation. But he is also a gracious tour guide, with a diverse circle of friends and a wide range of interests. With no threat of getting fined for noncompliance, he’ll happily talk about everything from Bay Area gentrification to the importance of authenticity to the much-talked-about status of his NFL career.
Moving into the FBS, which the team has faced increasing pressure to do, would give the Bison the chance to play against the Alabamas, Ohio States, and Oklahomas of the college football universe, grab more media attention, and possibly rake in huge financial rewards—but it could also cost them money and championships. Stay put in the FCS, and the Bison should keep winning. ESPN stops by. The executive director of the booster program, Pat Simmers, continues to receive $250,000 donations from fans who don’t want to wait for season tickets. What’s a ridiculously dominant small-town football team to do? It’s a question with the potential to roil the Bison faithful and ruin this overachieving team’s role as ambassador for an overachieving city. ... Right now, Larsen’s budget is $22 million. The nation’s top programs have kitties in excess of $120 million, built largely on the billions networks pay for broadcast rights. Each school in the Southeastern Conference—the one Alabama plays in—raked in $31.2 million last season, mostly from TV. North Dakota State won’t be paid to have ESPN broadcast its opener—nor any of its contests against Missouri Valley Football Conference opponents—mainly because there aren’t enough eyeballs on its games when FBS games are being broadcast at the same time. Moving up to the FBS wouldn’t guarantee that revenue will pour in, but if NDSU established itself, it could make millions.
Elway is one of the most famous GMs in NFL history, but when he took the Broncos job, he had the walls of his office replaced with glass so staffers would feel comfortable stopping by. He lets employees leave the office early if they have a softball game to coach or an anniversary dinner to plan, and during the holidays last December, he helped arrange for high-end retailers to visit team headquarters to make Christmas shopping easier. He downplays his fame within the organization but isn't afraid to leverage it externally. An NFL GM who grew up as an Elway fan had a deal with the Broncos scuttled by his team's executives because they feared Elway was fleecing their guy, suckering him with a hard count. For laughs, the bosses left it to their GM to break the news that the deal was off, and he was so conciliatory in doing so, some of the Broncos' staffers on the call wondered whether it might end in an autograph request. ... The hardest thing about being a GM is the stillness of it, sitting around watching film. He never wanted to be a coach because he couldn't explain his own gifts -- the improvisation in the midst of disaster, the routine cross-field throws that sent legions of mimicking high school quarterbacks to the bench. Sometimes he still feels the itch to let one fly, even if his body no longer allows it. ... In 2001, bored after two years in retirement, Elway asked Shanahan for a job with the Broncos. Shanahan said there was no job for him. The next year, hell-bent on proving he was serious about succeeding in his second act, Elway bought an ownership stake in the Colorado Crush, an Arena League franchise. He took on the role of GM and appeared in cheesy commercials with Jon Bon Jovi, owner of the Philadelphia Soul. He wasn't just lending a famous face to a new league. He was grinding, learning every facet of running a football team.
If in his public life Hanson gave the impression of an ambitious young man who worshipped money and emulated pro athletes, his downfall as a kingpin, to judge from court records, stems from a need to develop a more sinister self-image, building his empire through ruthless intimidation, paid beat downs and baroque death threats. In his criminal shadow life, he even went so far as to adopt an alias befitting a mafia don. … The story of how Robert Cipriani became entangled with Owen Hanson – the story, that is, of how a vigilante gambler unwittingly helped bring down a USC athlete turned accused crime boss – can be appreciated from any number of angles: as a clash of misguided egos, a glimpse into the turbulent psyches of former athletes or as a cautionary tale, quintessentially American, about what can happen to a certain breed of individual bent on chasing the sort of dreams that burn especially bright in places like Las Vegas and Los Angeles. It begins, however, in Sydney, where back in 2011 Hanson, inhabiting his alter ego as DeLuca, showed up at Cipriani's room at the Four Seasons with $2.5 million in Australian dollars (worth $2.7 million in U.S. dollars at the time) stuffed into suitcases. ... Hanson was a member of Beta Theta Pi, a fraternity that was banned from pledging on campus. They briefly reformed as an underground society known for throwing wild parties called the Stumpos Raiders – so named, according to rumors, because they were raided by an LAPD officer with the last name Stumpos.
Hrusovksy’s pitch to me is roughly the same as the one he just gave Jeff Miller, the NFL’s senior vice president for health and safety—skittering from drones, to driverless cars, to Tesla, to heart attacks and diabetes. “I’m still addicted to pastries at night,” Hrusovsky says before circling back to his thesis: Quanterix’s machines are on the brink of delivering a revolution in medicine, as scientists use them to detect diseases earlier, target them more precisely, and create breakthrough treatments for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s, to name a few. ... Discovering, for instance, that half its linemen show signs of CTE could starve the league of talent or force changes that make it unrecognizable to fans. And football isn’t alone: CTE presents similarly dire questions for hockey, soccer, and ultimate fighting, among other contact sports. ... The method is a thousand times more sensitive than the Elisa, capable of detecting molecules in concentrations as low as 30,000 per drop—the equivalent, Hrusovsky says, of finding a grain of sand in 2,000 swimming pools.
It has always been easy to underestimate Mark Davis. After all, he is known for his wacky bowl cut and silver-and-black suits and for managing the Raiders from the bar at a P.F. Chang's. Since his Hall of Fame father, Al, died six years ago, Davis has been an afterthought in league circles, easy to malign and hard to take seriously. ... Adelson considered the Raiders' move a chance to help him shift a windfall of public money away from a competitor's convention center renovation -- and a chance to enhance his legacy by delivering an NFL franchise to his home city, sweetened by a stake in a gleaming, state-of-the-art $1.9 billion domed stadium and, perhaps, a piece of the team. ... What no one could see then is that, after making good on his word by delivering an American-record $750 million in public funds for the stadium and pledging $650 million of his own money, Adelson would end up furious a year later, feeling that Mark Davis -- the goofy Mark Davis who "surprises people if he can roll out of bed and put on his pants," as a team owner says -- had completely and utterly fleeced him.