Home Run: Baseball Dominates Sports In The Dominican Republic

Home Run: Baseball Dominates Sports In The Dominican Republic

Baseball is a sport loved and practiced by thousands of people worldwide.

In the late 19th century, it got a significant boost in the Caribbean.

It is the official sport of the Dominican Republic, first established with the Ozama league. The game attracted so much attention that its fan base grew exponentially, perhaps because it served as an escape from the island’s political and economic crises.

National sport

Dominican players started to earn international renown at the beginning of the 20th century. Pitcher Baldomero Ureña (Mero) was the first Dominican player to play in the U.S. Major Leagues, with the Allentown Dukes.

“It is the official sport of that Caribbean country,” said Roberto Rojas, a Mexican baseball coach. “It arrived at the end of the 19th century, and shortly after that, became the most popular one. As soon as the world saw the first Dominican player in the Major Leagues, different countries wanted Dominican players for themselves.”

Many Dominicans dream of playing in the Big Leagues. *** Muchos dominicanos sueñan con jugar en las Grandes Ligas. (Nicole Green/Unsplash)

Many Dominican baseball players became part of foreign leagues, especially in Puerto Rico and Venezuela. It was not a unilateral trade, as the Dominican Republic began to receive both Cuban and Puerto Rican players participating in its national league.

Thus, the ‘Luxury Championship’ started in 1929, when the players’ quantity and quality rose massively, due to the importation of players for the National Series. After that, it took seven long years before there was a similar series.

The dictator Rafael Trujillo fought to glorify the sport. He fielded his own baseball team in 1937. He recruited the best players from Santo Domingo’s ball clubs, then hired Negro Leagues star pitcher Satchel Paige to recruit some of his colleagues. Trujillo spared no expense, which meant, the country was left without a professional baseball league for 14 years, due to the enormous economic investment.

The national championships relaunched in the 1950s, boosting many Dominican players’ debut in the U.S. major leagues.

Baseball is a good outlet in the face of the island’s problems. *** El béisbol es una manera de relajarse ante los problemas que la isla enfrenta. (Nicole Green/Unsplash)

Nowadays, hundreds of players have been parts of Major League Baseball, such as Juan Marichal. He managed to enter the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Other lauded Dominicans were Felipe Rojas Alou, and Tony Peña, due to their excellent team management. These and many other players have won awards for their incredible performance and development.

“For what I understand, baseball was something massive for the Dominicans of that time, and from there, it expanded to the rest of the Caribbean countries and then, to the rest of the Americas,” said Aarón Rivas, an amateur Mexican player. “Right now, baseball is still sensational for those, like myself, who aspire to one day reaching the major leagues.”

The Dominican Republic today is a fertile field of intense training maintained by the primary teams of America’s Major League Baseball, such as the Yankees, the Atlanta Braves, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Kansas Royals, and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, the latter a member of the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization.

The Caribbean country became the most sought-out training center by foreigners, training Dominicans, Americans, Mexicans, Panamanians, Venezuelans and Puerto Ricans, who trust the Dominican Republic to keep improving the sport.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez, edited by Melanie Slone and Fern Siegel.)


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Black Colleges Use Esports to Attract Students and Hook them on Science and Engineering

Black Colleges Use Esports to Attract Students and Hook them on Science and Engineering

The holiday gift that keeps teenagers on the sofa with game controllers in their hands may help parents pay their college tuition. For some, training to compete in cyberspace contests like Fortnite and NBA2K could soon replace training for team sports — and create a new scholarship pipeline and professional opportunities after graduation.

Gaming and esports are becoming sources of camaraderie and competition for students at HBCUs. Three of the four HBCU athletic conferences have corporate partnerships with developers of gaming platforms that allow students to compete against on-campus peers as well as students at schools in their conferences. And this popular form of social entertainment is quickly becoming more than just a pastime.

“Having an esports presence is very important to our institutions in the future,” Southwestern Athletic Conference Associate Commissioner Jason Cable said.

Fortnite is a wildly popular videogame whose best players can compete for college scholarship money. (Epic Games)

Esports teams and individuals compete head-to-head in live online competitions. The industry has grown rapidly worldwide, with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion and global audiences of more than 443 million, according to research by Green Man Gaming.

Most conventional sports franchises took financial losses last spring as American sports leagues postponed events and slashed their schedules to avoid exposing players and fans to the coronavirus. Esports tournaments picked up the slack through sports network TV. College and high school students looking for new ways to live, work, learn and play turned to competitive video gaming more than ever, making esports a cultural force.

Total enrollment at America’s 101 black colleges and universities dropped by 6,000 in the 2018-19 school year. School administrators see a new way to help recover.

“Our institutions are looking to increase enrollment and retain students, and esports gives them a chance to do both,” Cable said.  “It’s the next big thing.”

Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Commissioner Jacqie McWilliams said gaming and esports, which are grounded in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, benefit students academically.

“The move into esports aligns with the educational experience in STEM and overall strategic plan that remains consistent with efforts to continuously grow our brand and advance our students,” McWilliams said.

McWilliams’ athletic conference is one of three dedicated HBCU sports leagues that have attracted corporate sponsorships for competitive gaming platforms and tournaments while athletic sports remain on partial hiatus.

Gamers can compete in tournaments for scholarship money and for the attention of professional sports franchises that may hire the esports movement’s most talented competitors. There were 500 known esports franchises that earned between $95,000 and $36 million in tournaments by the end of 2019, according to Esports Earnings, which tracks the flow of money in the nascent industry. Some socially distant tournaments award as much as $750,000 in prize money.

Educators are more excited about the impact on black students’ professional opportunities when they embrace STEM fields as part of their immersive gaming experience. Programming, software development and cybersecurity can give them the inside track on lucrative career paths.  Some are groomed through academic programs as early as high school, preparing them for athletic esports scholarships.

More than 100 U.S. and Canadian schools offer esports scholarships, following the lead of Robert Morris University Illinois, an institution that has since merged into Roosevelt University. Robert Morris Illinois offered subsidies for members of its first varsity-level Sports League of Legends team in 2014. Some packages today can be worth as much as $76,000 over four years of competitive eligibility. The most talented gamers can defray half of their tuition, room and board.

HBCUs aren’t offering scholarships but want students to think outside their Xbox. HBCU Heroes, a nonprofit launched by former NCAA and NBA champion George Lynch and business partner Tracey Pennywell, raises money to help those schools level the playing field with competitive scholarship offers to student athletes. Now that platform includes esports.

The most talented gamers in America can earn college scholarships that cover half of their tuition, room and board expenses. (campuspartymexico/CC)

Larger universities have vastly more support from sponsors and alumni than most HBCUs.

“My experience at [the University of] North Carolina was on a whole other level,” Lynch said. “We played in the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference], who had the big TV deal, then went to the Final Four and brought back millions of dollars to subsidize the Olympic sports. But most of the traditional HBCUs that we played when I was coaching didn’t have the funding in the athletic department to support the student-athlete’s needs.”

Lynch saw how tight budgets held back athletes at small black colleges while he was head men’s basketball coach at Clark Atlanta University.

“We learned that STEM and cybersecurity is part of gaming,” Lynch said. “Our goal is to fund 12 labs at HBCUs where students can have a curriculum in STEM and develop their skills that give them options other than [major universities] to learn about them.”

Texas Southern University in Houston has extended its sports management program to include an esports curriculum. The interdisciplinary approach is focused on the management side of staging events, designing games and developing sound systems.

Dr. Kenyatta Cavil, interim associate dean of academic affairs in TSU’s College of Education, said he oversaw development of the program to empower students.

“We want the students to get out of the mindset of just being on the couch. We want them to know what’s on the other side of the games,” Cavil said. “We’re trying to be intentional about getting HBCU students into the business segment of the [esports] marketplace.”

(Edited by David Martosko and Jameson O’Neal.)

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Actress Faces Jail over Music Video Shot in Historic Pakistan Mosque

Actress Faces Jail over Music Video Shot in Historic Pakistan Mosque

Pakistan actress Saba Qamar and singer Bilal Saeed are facing the country’s formidable blasphemy laws and heat from Islamic clerics for shooting a music video in a historic mosque.

Qamar, who had a leading role in the film “Hindi Medium” and several TV sitcoms, posted a picture on Instagram with Saeed on Aug. 1 taken at the 17th-century Wazir Khan Mosque, in Lahore, about 230 miles south of Islamabad.

The picture’s caption: “Qabool hai” — the Islamic “I do” in wedding rituals.

Social media was abuzz with speculation of the actress and the singer tying the knot, only to learn later this was part of Saeed’s new song “Qabool.”

There was an immediate backlash, with many demanding the duo be punished for offending religious sentiments.

Lahore police lodged a case against them on Aug. 13 under section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, which aims to punish a “deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious belief.”

If convicted, Qamar and Saeed could face prison time.


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Qubool hai @bilalsaeed_music

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“The maximum punishment under this subsection of the law is imprisonment for two years or fine or both,” lawyer Zain Naqvi said. “This is different from sub-section 295C for which punishment is death.”

Worse, Qamar’s life could be at risk after radical cleric and Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan Chief Khadim Hussain Rizvi in a public meeting on Aug. 14 demanded action against her and Saeed.

“Don’t you know the protocols of mosques?” asked Rizvi in the meeting. “Register a case against those responsible for what happened.”

Rizvi was among the clerics who justified the assassination of Salman Taseer, former Punjab governor.

A police officer on to the governor’s security detail opened fire and killed him in Islamabad on January 4, 2011. Rizvi had then said that since the governor had called the blasphemy law a “black law” his killing was justified.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan were introduced in the colonial era in British India – which included the territory that is now Pakistan – with the justification of preventing and curbing religious violence between Hindus and Muslims.

Under the military government of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988), additional laws were introduced against blasphemy specific to Islam. Today, the most frequently invoked blasphemy laws in Pakistan’s Penal Code are those against outraging religious feelings, desecrating the Quran, defiling the name of the Prophet Muhammad and defiling the names of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, his companion or any of the caliphs.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan — a Muslim-majority nation — have been criticized internationally for being used to target religious and social minorities.

“The systematic enforcement of blasphemy laws …  severely restricted freedom of religion or belief,” claims a recent report on Pakistan by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Amendments to the code in 1986 under the rule of military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq are an “elaborate facade for the ongoing persecution of vulnerable individuals and the reign of the violent extremist idea,” according to a paper published earlier this year by the European Foundation for South Asia Studies.

The report also identifies vigilante justice against religious minorities as one of the major outcomes of the blasphemy laws.

After the outrage, Qamar and Saeed took to social media to explain what had happened and apologized for hurting religious sentiments.

“The impression was created that we danced … inside the mosque and desecrated the holy place,” Saeed said later in an Instagram video. “I am a Muslim and raised in a Muslim household. I swear to God that we did not dance and play music inside the mosque.”

“We realize that we committed a mistake unintentionally. We ask God for forgiveness,” he added. “We apologize to you also and request you to let it go.”

Qamar also took to Twitter to explain what had happened.

“There is only one sequence that was shot at the historic Wazir Khan Mosque,” Qamar said. “It’s a prologue to the music video featuring a nikah (wedding) scene. Despite this if we have unknowingly hurt anyone’s sentiments we apologize to you all with all our heart.”

The song went viral on social media after being uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 12. Since then it has had 4 million views. The scene shot at the mosque is missing from the video.

Saeed had claimed, in his Instagram video, they had sought official permission from the Auqaf and Religious Affairs Department of the Punjab province. A letter has also emerged, which shows that they were given permission to shoot at the mosque for a fee of $177.

“The letter is genuine,” said Syed Peer Saeed ul Hassan, provincial minister for Auqaf and Religious Affairs.

He added that one official of the department had been sacked for granting permission and an inquiry had been ordered.

“Such shoots or any kind of recording within mosques premises is prohibited,” said ul Hassan. “Only shooting for documentaries is allowed. Sanctity of mosques is the priority.”

The Wazir Khan Mosque was constructed in 1634 under Shah Jahan, the fifth ruler of the Mughal dynasty, which ruled major parts of South Asia from the 16th to the mid-19th century. Shah Jahan also funded the construction of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

The controversy over the shoot could also adversely affect Qamar’s career, said sources in the film industry.

“The shooting of a film in which she stars was supposed to start in March but was delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said film critic Hassan Kazmi. “The producer of the film is now not very sure if the shooting will start on schedule after the recent controversy.”

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Matt Rasnic.)

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Bollywood’s $1 Billion Box Office Meltdown

Bollywood’s $1 Billion Box Office Meltdown

MUMBAI, India—Box office receipts—which determine a film’s success or failure based on cinema occupancy and ticket sales—did not see a rise in cumulative collections for the first time in five years.

Trade analysts had projected a total earning of Rs 10,000 crore (more than $1 billion U.S. dollars) for the year, based on the announced film releases.

Instead, the Indian film industry has reported an estimated loss of Rs 5,000 crore ($667 million in U.S. dollars) after five months of the coronavirus lockdown, which closed cinemas. The figure takes into consideration films released in regional Indian languages like Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil, along with revenue received from films released outside India.

“At the moment, there’s no box office tracking anywhere in the world and I don’t see it coming back,” said Sreedhar Pillai, an independent trade analyst from Chennai, India. “Even if cinemas open, tracking will not resume immediately. The entire country will not open all theatres at the same time.”

He reports that the southern regions are facing losses of Rs 500 crores, approximately $66 million in U.S. dollars.

In spite of Pillai’s bleak outlook, others are hopeful that the film industry will get back on its feet soon.

The country has an estimated 8,000 screens, spread between single-screen cinemas and multiplexes.

“Eventually, theaters will open and I think there’ll be no long-term damage,” said Shailesh Kapoor of Ormax Media, a firm specializing in trade insights. “People will come back to the cinema.”

The industry has taken a huge hit since the national lockdown came into force on March 25. “Angrezi Medium” was the last Hindi film to be released in cinemas on March 13.

“Since March, there have been no film releases,” said Amul Mohan, trade analyst, editor of Super Cinema, and film producer. “There has been a tremendous loss but one can’t really quantify it because no film has been released.”

The estimated loss also includes the costs incurred to hold on to projects that are in post-production stages or ready for release.

One such film is “Sooryavanshi, an action film by Indian director and producer Rohit Shetty.

Part of Shetty’s supercop action franchise that has bagged nearly $63 million in profits since 2011, “Sooryavanshi” has been made on a reported budget of more than Rs 300 crore ($40 million U.S. dollars). Its A-list star cast of Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif, Ajay Devgn and Ranveer Singh is expected to lure viewers in droves.

The second film is the highly anticipated sports drama “83 which recounts India’s Cricket World Cup victory in 1983. The film, starring actors Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone, was slated for an April 10 release, but has now been pushed to December.

Since movie halls have been shut, a large number of films have premiered on streaming platforms such as Netflix.

Recently, “Gulabo Sitabo“, starring superstar Amitabh Bachchan, premiered on Amazon Prime Video. Since then, more than 10 big-ticket titles have found homes on streaming platforms like Netflix, Zee5, Disney+Hotstar, Sony Live and Amazon Prime Video.

“Sooryavanshi” and “83 alone have accounted for projected losses amounting to more than Rs 600 crore (around $80 million U.S. dollars) and that’s only taking into consideration their domestic theatrical box office collections and the cost to develop the projects.

“There have been no OTT release announcements yet and it’ll be interesting to see if they’ll buckle under pressure or hold on till cinemas open,” Mohan said. He adds that even if cinemas open at some point during the year, they are unlikely to run at full capacity.

Pillai agrees. He cited South Korea, where cinemas opened at the end of April but weren’t selling enough tickets, as people were still scared of contracting the virus.

“There are fixed costs of running a multiplex and a lot of small things that come together to make a cinema run,” Mohan said. “The last I heard, Indian cinemas may open in September, but only at 30% capacity to maintain social distancing.”

All things considered, the costs of a theatrical release would be higher than the revenue earned, affecting cinema owners and distributors.

In some European countries and China, old blockbusters like “Inception” and “Harry Potter (3D)” were re-released to gauge box office potential and did manage to make some money.

However, the Indian film “Simba,” starring Ranveer Singh and part of the same franchise as “Sooryavanshi” was re-released in Australia and Fiji in June and did not do well at the box office.

Since last month, Indian courts have granted permission to television, advertising and films to resume shooting under strict conditions. The industry is slowly finding its lost balance, but for the box office, it’s a long road ahead.

(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and Matt Rasnic.)

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Gaming network pioneer G4 looks to mount a 2021 comeback

Gaming network pioneer G4 looks to mount a 2021 comeback

If you thought Mike Tyson had the biggest comeback of 2020, you were mistaken. 

During the 2020 virtual San Diego Comic Con event in July, former 24/7 video-game TV network G4 announced that it is returning with a relaunch in 2021 courtesy of parent company Comcast. The network announced on Twitter that the brand had “never stopped playing” and that the comeback is in the works for the new year.

Key details about G4’s return are being kept hush by those involved in the project—including former G4 host Blair Herter, who is a confirmed planner.

It’s unknown whether G4 will return as a full-fledged network or as part of Peacock, Comcast’s recently launched new streaming service. But Comcast confirms that G4’s former flagship shows “X-Play” and “Attack of the Show” will drive the brand’s reboot. 

While fans of the channel might be excited about the return of some nostalgic content, the move is somewhat risky given G4’s hardly-inspiring past viewership.

G4, known as a network for gamers, by gamers that featured multiple player competitions and gaming news, was  launched in 2002, the outlaw days of digital cable. In 2004, Comcast purchased Tech TV—a digital network that appealed to the same demographic as G4 but focused more on technology and the internet—and merged it with G4 into G4techTV. 

G4techTV reached its content peak with a variety of shows that poised the network to be the new hub for the 18-34 demographic. Within one year, G4 had dropped “techTV” from its name again, fired the majority of Tech TV holdouts, and moved its San Francisco-based operation to Los Angeles. “X-Play,” a video game review show, was the only Tech TV property that remained on the network after “The Screen Savers” was rebranded as “Attack of the Show!”, a nightly show that focused more on pop culture than technology. 

With the re-rebrand of G4 in 2005, Comcast had gotten what it needed—increased outreach to boost advertising revenue. But while G4 began to rise in relevance in pop culture, the network’s fall was well underway.

By 2007, G4’s 24-hour content largely consisted of syndicated shows like “Cops” and “Cheaters” that had little connection to technology or gaming. With “X-Play” and “Attack of the Show!” being the main focus, G4 became desperate for more original content to keep audiences engaged and advertisers happy. G4 even began replaying older shows from its outlaw days to keep viewers, but it just wasn’t enough to hold the interest of those who felt shafted following the network’s earlier potential.

DirecTV and Time Warner Cable removed G4 from their lineups in November 2010, citing low viewership. In 2012, Comcast announced that it was going to rebrand the network (again), but even those plans failed by year’s end. “X-Play” and “Attack of the Show!” aired their final original episodes on Jan. 23, 2013, and the network became a dead brand. Comcast officially pulled G4’s plug on Dec. 31, 2014. 

Much has happened since. In February of 2012, G4’s arguably biggest alum, Chris Hardwick, created Nerdist Industries—a successful podcast network that has filled much of the void in the pop culture universe left by G4’s absence. In the gaming world, online outlets such as YouTube and Twitch have led to a rise of eSports, Let’s Plays, and gaming news content in the last decade. 

If G4 is looking to return to prominence in 2021, it will have to deal with a radically different atmosphere than in 2004. G4 was a niche product for millennials at its inception, but the world of gaming is now a $160 billion mainstream industry for Generation Z. One teenager won a $3 million prize at a New York Fortnite tournament in 2018. Pre-pandemic, Philadelphia was set to open a $50 million esports arena in 2021. 

(Edited by Robert George and Emily Crockett.)

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