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Column: Set your DVR for Pro Bowl. Now. Seriously

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Column: Set your DVR for Pro Bowl. Now. Seriously

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warned players a while back that he was prepared to drop the Pro Bowl if they didn't pick up the level of play. Next thing you know, he'll be threatening to hold his breath.

Instead of calling his bluff, which is what anyone who doesn't get the consolation prize of a week's vacation in Hawaii should have done, they promised to try harder. At the time, it sounded like one of those things kids say just to get their parents off their backs. That seemed even more true this week, when cellar-dwelling Kansas City somehow managed to get five players selected to the AFC squad. That's three more than the number of wins the Chiefs have posted so far this season - when they were supposed to be trying - which raises the question: Will anyone who tunes into the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27 be able to tell the difference?

That's the problem facing every pro sport that stages an all-star game these days: It's tough to tell whether anyone's heart is in it anymore. Most veterans would rather take the days off than whatever cash or exposure it provides, and nearly all of them can afford it. More than two dozen passed on an opportunity to show up for last year's 59-41, do-no-harm win by the AFC over the NFC. By the end of that one, defenders were waving ballcarriers by with the kind of flourishes usually reserved for bullfights. Even a solid company man like Goodell had to admit it was an embarrassment.

``If we cannot accomplish that kind of standard,'' the commissioner said during a radio interview in October, referring to the league's high-intensity regular season, ``I am inclined to not play it. It is really tough to force competition, and after a long season, to ask those guys to go out and play at the same level they played is really tough.''

Impossible, though, is more like it.

Because the Super Bowl is played at a neutral site, Goodell can't follow the lead of baseball boss Bud Selig and try to coax players into caring about the outcome by awarding home-field advantage to the winning side. There's nothing to be borrowed from the NBA's version, either, because basketball - unlike football - can be entertaining without anyone actually playing defense, as fans of the Charlotte Bobcats can attest. And there's no reason to even mention the NHL in this context, because nothing that Commissioner Gary Bettman has come up with during his tenure is likely to be worth stealing.

So what should Goodell do?

Exactly what he's doing now: Pretend to be concerned, and leave it at that.

Despite a few head-scratching decisions this year - sticking too long with replacement referees; trying to punish the New Orleans Saints more than Bountygate warranted - Goodell hasn't lost his touch. He's not about to cancel the Pro Bowl. The one lesson that's been reinforced time and again since he took the job five years ago is that there's no such thing as too much NFL - on the tube, online and even when most of the players are on vacation.

Nearly five million people tuned into the league's scouting combine at some point this spring to watch players who hadn't even made the cut lift weights and run around in shorts and T-shirts. And last year's Pro Bowl game, bad as it was, still pulled in better numbers than any of its rivals - an average of 12.5 million viewers, even if most of them were asleep by the end.

So Goodell knew exactly what he was doing when he suggested the NFL might skip the game and instead honor the players selected to the Pro Bowls rosters during a ceremony. All-Star games are popularity contests after all, and the NFL's participants are chosen according to a vote among the league's players, coaches and fans, with each group given equal weight in the process.

But if you've followed the arguments about who was left out, you'll find very little griping between the first two groups - with the possible exception of players who promised the family a week in Hawaii. Instead, it's coming from the same fans who will doze off during the game, but can't for the moment imagine how the Cowboys' Dez Bryant didn't get picked, or how overrated but still popular Green Bay center Jeff Saturday got the nod over linemate Josh Sitton, or why all those Chiefs are hanging around.

So consider this your wake-up call, fans, even if it came a month early.

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke

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5 things to know about new Wizards senior vice president Sashi Brown

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5 things to know about new Wizards senior vice president Sashi Brown

The Washington Wizards announced Monday that Sashi Brown will be named the new senior vice president for the team.

Here are 5 things to know about Brown...

1. Sashi Brown used to be an executive for the Cleveland Browns.

Yes, you read that correctly. Sashi Brown used to work in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns. Prior to working with the Browns, Brown also worked with the Jacksonville Jaguars as their lead counsel. 

2. Brown is a Harvard Law graduate.

Sashi Brown received his law degree from Harvard University in 2002. Brown utilized his Harvard Law degree with the Jaguars and the Browns to advise them in various business making decisions. He will do the same for the Wizards.

3. Brown has D.C. roots.

Brown is no stranger to D.C. Prior to working with the Browns and Jaguars, Brown worked at the Washington, D.C. based law firm of Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr. 

4. Brown will be moving from Ohio to D.C.

Sashi Brown currently lives in a suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife, Paige and two sons Robeson and Ellison and his daughter, Zora.

5. Brown is only 43 years old.

Sashi Brown is only 43 years old and was featured as a 38-year-old in Sports Business Journal's "Forty under 40" in 2015.

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Wizards show creativity in front office shakeup by hiring Sashi Brown from NFL ranks

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Wizards show creativity in front office shakeup by hiring Sashi Brown from NFL ranks

Now that the pieces are falling into place, the Wizards' months-long process to revamp their front office is beginning to make more sense. The outcome was unexpected, but sensible as the Wizards aim to begin a new era while still holding onto some of their own personnel they see value in.

After allowing Tommy Sheppard to run their offseason with an interim tag, it was only logical to promote him long-term, so that's what they did. Yet, they were still able to bring in a collection of new people to change their direction and vision.

The most notable hiring was of Sashi Brown to serve as a senior vice president. But the Wizards also brought in Daniel Medina to improve their medical program and John Thompson III to assist in player development and wellness.

The Wizards deserve some credit for creativity in the end when at times over the past few months it appeared they lacked it. Reports had them trying to poach from other teams and some of their targets seemed entirely unrealistic. They were criticized for not having their own ideas.

But the Wizards were able to find an intriguing executive in Brown, they just had to look outside of their sport. Wizards managing partner Ted Leonsis scanned the other major leagues including the NFL, MLB and in European soccer. He found Brown in the football industry, waiting for his next gig after he was fired as executive vice president of the Cleveland Browns in 2017.

It is an outside-the-box decision by Leonsis that parallels what the Browns did back in 2016 when they overhauled their front office and brought in Paul DePodesta from the New York Mets, fresh off a run to the World Series. DePodesta was a longtime baseball executive, having served in a variety of roles including as the GM of the L.A. Dodgers. Though he played football in college, the NFL was not his expertise.

The jury is still out on whether the Browns were smart in going that direction. They are seen as a team on the rise, but have yet to accomplish anything of significance.

Brown, 43, certainly understands how a professional sports organization should work, having served both with the Browns and the Jaguars. But he is not an experienced basketball executive. That presents some risk and probably some learning on the job.

The latter point is important to consider regarding the timeline Brown's addition. In hindsight, the Wizards had good reason to not install their new executive in the middle the offseason bustle. Brown will have some catching up to do first.

Brown has never run an NBA team before, but what he did with the Browns is extra-interesting as for how it could pertain to the Wizards. Brown was known as a Sam Hinkie-like figure in the NFL because of the extensive teardown he orchestrated in Cleveland. The Browns tanked, got super young and accrued as many draft picks as possible.

Like Hinkie, Brown was fired before his work brought dividends. But will he advise the Wizards to follow a similar path? That would seem to put trading Bradley Beal on the table, though Sheppard and Leonsis are not in favor of such a move at this point.

Leonsis has compiled a collection of smart people to run his franchise, though only time to tell whether they are a good fit together. Now there are more cooks in the kitchen and they come from different backgrounds. It is worth noting, however, that Sheppard himself has football roots, having played at New Mexico State University.

What happens if it doesn't work will be interesting. Is Sheppard's fate tied to Brown in any way? How long is their leash?

What is clear is that Leonsis is adding more resources to the Wizards. Fans will appreciate that. Most will also like their significant push into analytics.

And it will likely be appreciated by many that Leonsis is taking a risk in this hire. The nature of the NBA rewards those who swing big, those who are aggressive. With this new front office dynamic, Leonsis believes the Wizards can be factors in free agency next summer.

According to a person familiar with their plans, the Wizards aim to enter next offseason with the cap room and young assets to acquire major difference makers. They want to add pieces of significance around John Wall and Bradley Beal. Brown will help them make their free agent pitch.

The operational word for the Wizards now is 'reboot' and not 'rebuild.' The Wizards see a path to contention that doesn't require an extended period of lottery picks.

Few things in sports offer guarantees and certainly, front office hirings are included. The Wizards, though, are showing some imagination and could be rewarded for it.

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