NEW YORK — Inside the Times Square office of a media company — valued at around $175 million from a 2012 acquisition — sat a room of USF faculty and alumni. The group was eager to hear remarks from former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley on the intersection of sports, politics and business. Leading the Q-and-A after was president of the company and a USF alumnus himself — Rory Brown. The company? Bleacher Report.
By the time you read this, Bleacher Report’s posted an Instagram video or photo that has more likes than the population of Hawaii. That’s not unusual for the sports media company that has separated itself from the stream of game-recaps and straightforward highlight reels. They’ve done this by taking an intersectional, social-media oriented approach to sharing sports content.
“People today [aren’t] waking up and turning on the TV or reading the newspaper. They’re waking up and looking at their phones,” said Brown. The 34-year-old president of Bleacher Report graduated from USF in 2005 and served as the editor-in-chief of the Foghorn and former sports editor during his undergraduate career.
Besides its breakthrough approach in sharing sports content by focusing on social media trends, Bleacher Report recognizes the intersection of sports and culture. For example, a recent Instagram post from them featured a poster of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich Photoshopped onto it, jokingly named “Popovich Things.” Part of Bleacher Report’s genius is recognizing that sports culture wears many hats.
No man exemplifies this intersection better than former Senator Bill Bradley, who is also an Olympic gold-medalist, two-time Knicks NBA champion, Rhodes Scholar and former presidential candidate. In his remarks, Bradley moved effortlessly from telling stories of negotiating amendments on the Senate floor to convincing USSR basketball players that he spoke Russian.
USF alumni, representing classes from 1979 to 2017, listened intently to Bradley’s remarks. “So I was given the task today to talk about the intersection of sports, politics and business,” Bradley stopped with a chuckle. “So, let me see if I can pivot a little bit.”
Bradley elaborated on values he relied on throughout his accoladed career, one of them being discipline.“The old favorite, right. This is a good Catholic school?” The crowd met Bradley’s laughs even louder ones, some even throwing in a few off-handed claps.
Bradley emphasized the value of integrity when he alluded to politics. “It’s pretty obvious. I know it’s in short supply in some places,” he said. More laughs bubbled from the audience at the purposeful omission of a name typically said when politics come up.
Politics came up again, this time in the question and answer portion of the event. Moderated by Brown, he began by asking about Bradley’s opinion on sports and politics colliding in today’s age, as demonstrated by NFL and NBA players.
“I think athletes have always been on the cutting edge,” Bradley responded. “Jackie Robinson; well that was a pretty important step and that wasn’t yesterday. And then Bill Russell, the Don.”
Bill Russell is a basketball legend, leading USF to two consecutive NCAA championships and the Celtics to eleven. Despite Russell’s star status, he faced an uphill battle against racism, facing racial slurs during games and segregated hotel rooms during team trips. Bradley spoke on the time Russell and his other black teammates were refused service at a restaurant in Kentucky. Russell and his teammates left before playing the game and faced widespread criticism similar to what is seen now towards athletes kneeling during the national anthem.
A class of ‘86 Don asked, “Wouldn’t you agree though when Bill Russell took that stand, it was very clear what he was opposed to? […] However, when the latest incident happened with the NFL and those people took “a knee” quote on quote, they were objecting to something that really had nothing to do with the national anthem.”
The audience’s ears were piqued for Bradley’s response.
He said, “I think also that what is being missed in this whole thing, because it quickly polarizes, is what are young African-American men trying to tell us when they do this about their lives? What are they telling us about their children’s lives? What are they telling us about their feelings of security? So we don’t listen to what their message is — we ended up condemning the action that is emblematic of something.”
Gabrielle Marchand, a 2014 graduate who now works in New York City with a marketing firm, stood thoughtful as she contemplated Bradley’s speech. She said, “Given the state of politics today, I think people have the right to give their opinion. If you don’t want to listen to somebody else’s then you have no business being here, regardless of your opinion. I think [Bradley] made some really valid points.”
Featured Photo: Senator Bill Bradley (standing) speaks at Bleacher Report’s New York City office for a USF alumni event. Bleacher Report president and USF alumnus Rory Brown (seated) moderated. Ali DeFazio/Foghorn