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Paul Sullivan: From Carl Nassib coming out to Becky Hammon being a finalist for an NBA head coaching vacancy, our sports world is ever-changing. And that’s a good thing.

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 6/24/2021 Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune
Becky Hammon et al. standing in front of a crowd: San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is the first woman finalist for an NBA head coaching vacancy. © Ronald Cortes/Getty Images North America/TNS San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is the first woman finalist for an NBA head coaching vacancy.

CHICAGO — New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom was legally searched without cause Monday, while Chicago Cubs shortstop Javier Báez was unilaterally penalized for a midgame brain freeze.

Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib became the first active openly gay NFL player, pride flags flew over Wrigley Field and San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon became the first woman finalist for an NBA head coaching vacancy.

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and umpire Ángel Hernández both trended on Twitter.

The only thing these stories have in common is they all took place on one day in a sports world in which change comes at you at dizzying speeds.

If you can’t keep up, find another diversion.

Let’s start with Major League Baseball’s version of stop-and-frisk — searching pitchers as they enter and leave the field for possible use of illegal sticky substances that enhance their grip. The new “old” edict, which began being enforced Monday, has dominated baseball discussion over the last few weeks, pitting pitchers versus hitters in a classic struggle for dominance while putting umpires in the middle.

“Un-American,” one veteran pitcher recently told me while discussing the crackdown.

Un-American? Another political statement from an athlete?

“Umpires are the judge and jury, and we’re now all suspects without cause,” he continued.

The pitcher, who asked not to be named, suggested it would be open season on players who umpires didn’t like. I agreed that umpires had unchecked authority and asked what he and the players union planned to do about it.

After criticizing the players union, he joked he might make a statement by bringing out handcuffs during his next start, asking to be cuffed while being searched.


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A perfect idea, I told him, and a moment that would go viral. I doubt he’ll do it. Commissioner Rob Manfred and the players union aren’t know for their sense of humor. But baseball could use a few viral videos from someone other than Fernando Tatís Jr., so hopefully he pulls it off.

Day One produced no real news, though Hernández, the Brett Kavanaugh of umpires, was witnessed checking out a Baltimore Orioles pitcher for illegal sticky stuff in the pouring rain. And by mere coincidence of the schedule, the first player stopped under the new edict was deGrom, who might be having the greatest season ever for a pitcher, carrying a 0.50 ERA into late June.

It’s all laughable. And that’s what many umpires and pitchers seemed to be doing when the searches for PEST took place. (“PEST” is not an official baseball acronym like “PEDs,” and in fact, “Performance Enhancing Spider Tack” is terminology I just made up).

If baseball is intent on growing the game, umpires should be seen less, not more often. At least conduct the searches off-camera in dugout tunnels.

Another law-and-order episode occurred Monday night at Wrigley when Cubs manager David Ross removed Báez for being doubled off first base after forgetting how many outs there were. In this case, Ross was unquestionably judge and jury and made the correct call to pull Báez for violating the sacred rule taught in Little League — always know how many outs there are.

Some wondered if Judge Ross was showing favoritism by not benching Anthony Rizzo for two baserunning gaffes Sunday or Joc Pederson for admiring his would-be home runs that don’t leave the park. Fair questions.

After the game, Ross said he felt it in his “stomach” for benching his friend, which makes him human. He said Báez hustles “99.9%” of the time, which might be true, though Báez also neglected to run on a popup against the New York Mets earlier this season and wound up with a single. He was allowed to remain in that game and later admitted he was in the wrong for not running hard.

On Monday he immediately admitted his mistake and said Ross was in the right. It doesn’t explain the lapses in focus, but at least he is accountable, which is laudable.

While Báez lost focus in one inning, Cubs fans have had a difficult time concentrating since Wrigley reopened to 100% capacity. The return of the wave Monday night and the nightly obsession with creating beer snakes in the bleachers might be a residual effect of the Cubs’ snooze-button lineup that wakes up sporadically. It’s no wonder no one can pay attention.

Monday’s more important stories concerned Nassib, Hammon and the Supreme Court, which ruled 9-0 that the NCAA and its schools and conferences were in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act by limiting athletes’ compensation for academic expenses. Kavanagh, the Ángel Hernández of Supreme Court justices, wrote in a concurring opinion of the ruling: “The NCAA is not above the law.”

It was a great day for college athletes, who one day might even get a percentage of the revenue for team jerseys with their names on the back that schools sell in university bookstores. It’s getting closer by the day.

We always can dream, as Hammon did when she became Gregg Popovich’s assistant in San Antonio six years ago. Who would’ve thought we would soon see a woman general manager — the Miami Marlins’ Kim Ng — and a woman coaching an NBA team? As experienced and respected as Hammon is, it’s only a matter of time before her turn arrives, though to be a trailblazer with the Portland Trail Blazers would truly be serendipitous.

Sharing the national headlines with Hammon was Nassib, who came out Monday and was widely accepted by his NFL peers and coaches. Perhaps the best response came from Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who said: “I learned a long time ago what makes a man different is what makes him great.”

As the real world changes, the sports world follows, sometimes at a slower pace than we’d like to see.

But at least we’re getting there, step by step.

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