It’s not just Brees — fans must better understand Black athletes, too

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The story has been rendered less meaningful, justly, but the story persists, offstage for now, waiting. The story is this: Three months into various degrees of ongoing or softening societal responses to a generational pandemic, American professional and major college sports continue to lurch forward toward a resumption of seasons interrupted (NBA, NHL) or the launching of seasons that once seemed certain to be postponed (NFL, college football). Some sports have already resumed (auto racing, for instance) or never stopped (horse racing, for instance). The particulars of these seasons remain under discussion, some organizations closer than others.

Put aside for a moment the debate over whether playing games is safe or appropriate at this time, or whether seasons begun will be completed. That’s a deep, dark hole that I’d prefer to observe from the edge, rather than leap into. League and sport and college officials are in a place they never imagined and never planned for, and about which they know as much as they can absorb, but less than they would like to know. (Medical professionals are still learning about the virus, and insist they will be learning for a long time). They are businessmen (and women, but mostly men), making business decisions, presumably with their employees’ and others’ best interests at heart.

As the resumption of NBA and NHL games unrolls, even without fans in attendance, and as the NFL and college football prepare to start, there is soon to be a steady chorus of assurances that sports are going to heal our wounded country. Stepping back: America can absolutely use some sports right now. No argument there. But that word: Heal. Society is both literally and metaphorically scarred by, first, the pandemic; and next by civil unrest following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers – and beyond that to the issue of systemic racism by police against Black citizens in the United States. Suggesting that some games can heal all of that is a big ask. Especially since games are also part of the problem.

But that does not mean there is no opportunity here. Consider what major league sports are to their audience: Entertainment. Right? Simple. That takes many forms: An NFL game attracts its giant audience because some people are passionate fans of one of the teams involved. And because some people play fantasy. And because some gamble on the outcome. And because some just love the game and love watching it, because they watched with their dad or their brothers and sisters or because they played a little in high school or because it connects them to a broader community. A similar set of motivations can be applied to almost all major sports – and sporting events — in the country (in different numbers, of course). The games bind us, in many ways. They do good things.

But: They are entertainment, and often that entertainment is provided by Black performers for an audience that is overwhelmingly white. (This is true in the NFL and major college football, vastly more true in the NBA and major college basketball, less true in baseball, not true in hockey, but that does not mean that hockey has no problems with race. It does. You can keep going down the list; it is most true in the biggest, most-watched sports in the country). This is a discomforting reality that is rarely confronted, but looms as inescapable in the wake of the last two weeks’ demonstrations and unrest. There has always been a gulf between fans and athletes. That gulf has grown wider over the last half-century as two things have happened: Sports have become blacker and athletes have become wealthier. This has increasingly led to many fans viewing athletes dispassionately, with more attention to their lifestyle and miscues, and less to their humanity. Or, put another way, with more attention to the ways in which athletes are different from fans, and less to the ways in which they are alike.

Over the years, when I have written words asking for empathy with athletes for enduring hardships – such as brain trauma from head blows in football – the most common response is that those athletes are well compensated for their hardships. Pay me $10 million and you can hit me in the head, too. That sort of thing. It always seemed remarkably cold to me, as if wealth could offset every possible challenge in life. It’s not binary. But in all of this, the physical wall between athletes and fans became metaphysical, too.

George Floyd’s life was much the like the lives of the Black athletes we watch on weekends and weeknights. As my former colleague, Michael Rosenberg, wrote for Sports Illustrated, “Scan the roster of your favorite pro team, and you will find somebody who was scrounging for meals as a teenager and in the top 0.01 percent of earners in their 20s.” The athletes understand that connection deeply and implicitly. In Floyd’s death, they see their own place in the same society, separated – but not necessarily protected – by the random commodity of athletic talent.

Caron Butler, who played 14 years in the NBA before retiring in 2016, wrote a searing, first-person piece for The Players’ Tribune.

“When I saw brother George Floyd being pinned down and kneeled upon … a whole lot of images flashed through my mind.

“These memories came back.

“And I’m gon’ tell you like this, as someone arrested more than 15 times in my life: I almost never had a positive interaction with the police.

“Not just coming up, either. Shit — I got pulled over when I was in the NBA already.”

As part of a roundtable discussion for The Athletic, former Phillies’ All-Star Jimmy Rollins said: “Obviously, our white counterparts, they have a completely different view. They don’t have to grow up having that talk — and we all know what that talk is. They don’t have to get in a car, drive down the street knowing I didn’t do anything wrong, but this cop has been behind me for two blocks, something’s about to happen. They don’t have those fears. And every time something like this happens, as a player, you know exactly what is going on. When you get in the clubhouse, you do look at your counterparts, they’re going about their day as if nothing happened. And you’ve got three or four guys in the clubhouse looking at each other like, “Man. You see that? You know what that’s about. What can we do?” Then it’s four versus 21. It makes you a little uncomfortable.”

This week, Saints’ future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and teammate Malcolm Jenkins provided a modern – and real-time demonstration – of the divide Rollins described, a racial divide inside a locker room (and one which is separate from, but not unlike, the fan-athlete divide).

In interview posted by Yahoo Finance, Brees was asked to reflect back on Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 protest. Kaepernick’s protest has become newly examined because, as critics of ongoing demonstrations argue that peaceful actions are more appropriate than violent ones, it has been widely noted that Kaepernick’s very peaceful protest almost certainly ended his football career. Brees responded: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States or our country.” He went on to describe his pride that two grandfathers served in World War II and that he becomes emotional when remembering them during the playing of the anthem. He concluded: “Is everything right with our country right now? No, it’s not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there, showing respect for the flag, with your hand over your heart, is that we’re all in this together and we can all do better and that we’re all part of the solution.”

Jenkins, who is returning to the Saints after six seasons in Philadelphia, posted an emotional response on Instagram. “Drew Brees, if you don’t understand how hurtful and how insensitive your comments are, you are part of the problem.” Later: “Here we are in 2020, with the whole country on fire. Everybody is witnessing a Black man dying, murdered at the hands of the police, in cold blood, for the whole country to see, and the first thing you do is criticize one peaceful protest that was years ago… because it doesn’t fit with what you know, and with your beliefs, without even acknowledging that a man was murdered at the hands of the police.”

Many other Black NFL players – and other Black athletes, including LeBron James — lined up behind Jenkins in calling out Brees. On Thursday morning, Brees posted an apology on Instagram; it included an image of white and Black hands clasped, which is clearly aspirational in the moment.

Two other things. 1) Brees’s pre-apology stance was not materially changed from 2016. 2) Kaepernick was never protesting the flag, or the national anthem; he was protesting the violence by police against young Black men, which has heightened relevance today. Although Kaepernick does not have a job in football.

In the current societal unrest, there is a chance for white fans to better appreciate the athletes whose work they consume. Activism in the current societal unrest, there is a chance for white fans to better appreciate the athletes whose work they consume. Activism would be a stronger position, but lord knows, a stab at understanding would be a worthy first step. Some white men in power have tried this week. Predictably, Gregg Popovich was among the most forceful, telling Dave Zirin in The Nation, “The thing that strikes me is that we all see this police violence and racism, and we’ve seen it all before, but nothing changes. That’s why these protests have been so explosive,” he said. “But without leadership and an understanding of what the problem is, there will never be change. And white Americans have avoided reckoning with this problem forever, because it’s been our privilege to be able to avoid it. That also has to change.”

On the same day, in an interview with the Austin American-Statesman, Texas football coach Tom Herman, when asked if fans understood what it was like to be a Black athlete at Texas, said, “Absolutely not. No. No way… If you’re white, we can’t (understand). I will never know, you will never know, none of us will ever know what it’s like to have that genuine fear. When I make an illegal U-turn and get pulled over, I fear about what the cost of the ticket is going to be. I don’t fear that I’m going to get dragged out of my car and maybe killed because of something I said or did. And that’s real for them.”

And more:  “There’s a double standard maybe a little bit. We’re going to pack 100,000 people into DKR and millions watch on TV that are predominantly white — not all of them certainly, but most of ’em white. We’re gonna cheer when they score touchdowns, and we’re gonna hug our buddy when they get sacks or an interception.

“But we gonna let them date our daughter? Are we going to hire them in a position of power in our company? That’s the question I have for America. You can’t have it both ways.”

On Tuesday night, I reached out to sports psychologist Harry Edwards, Ph.D, who has been on the sports-and-civil-rights front lines for more than 50 years. I gently suggested that perhaps the events of this week had altered the calculus in some way, that some part of white American was better understanding the athletes they cheer, perhaps even Kaepernick, and long before him, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Dr. Edwards forcefully corrected me, as he will do:

“NO!,” said Edwards (his emphasis). “Because the source of their antipathy to protesting athletes is not the validity or credibility of the protesting athletes’ arguments. Problem is that Black people have never been viewed as creditable witnesses to their own experiences, as creditable articulators of their own interpretations of those experiences, going all the way back to the times when slaves were declaring, `We want to be free!’ and the slave masters said, `Our slaves are happy!” And we know who won that struggle over definitional authority.”

More specifically, on the current unrest, Edwards, said, “White Americans might have been compelled to look in the mirror by the George Floyd lynching, but largely they still look away from the realities of Black life – and they most certainly will continue to condemn activist athlete protests which are likely to continue and intensify. There has never been a protest against race-based injustice to which mainstream White America has said `AMEN.’ When that changes, I will be hopeful that activist athletes will be seen in a different light as well.”

Sports cannot fix a centuries-old problem. But sports can help. But not just the athletes, It is time for much more of the audience to better understand the entertainers. Until that happens, there is a wall between two sets of Americans. There is adulation, but not respect. Awe, but not appreciation. Fanaticism, but not empathy.

Not healing, wounding.

Tim Layden is writer-at-large for NBC Sports. He was previously a senior writer at Sports Illustrated for 25 years.

Shibutani siblings elected to US Figure Skating Hall of Fame

shibutani siblings
Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Olympic ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani along with Paul E. George, who served as the director of the U.S. Olympic Committee, were elected to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame on Thursday.

The trio will be inducted Jan. 28 during the U.S. figure skating championships in San Jose, California.

The Shibutani siblings were two-time Olympians who won a pair of bronze medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games before stepping away from the sport in their prime. They also were three-time world medalists, earned medals at each of their 14 national championships and were two-time senior U.S. champions.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who is three years older than his sister, became the first U.S. ice dancers to medal at the world debut in 2011, and the second-youngest team to medal at worlds. She was 16 and he was 19 at the time.

George was the Chef de Mission of the U.S. delegation to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. The longtime member of the Skating Club of Boston, George also was director of the U.S. Figure Skating Association in the late 1980s and early ’90s and later served as president and trustee of the U.S. Figure Skating Foundation.

Father’s Day Gifts 2022: Best ideas for the Sports Fan Dad from Golf to Electronics 

best dad card for fathers day or fathers birthday celebration
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NBC Sports is editorially independent. Our editors selected these deals and items because we think you will enjoy them at these prices. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission. Items are sold by retailer, not NBC Sports. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. 

Father’s Day is just days away and as the thinking goes, the Dads of the family are often the hardest to shop for. But with the weather getting warmer, there’s countless opportunities to get outside, whether for sports or relaxation, and that means countless opportunities to find the perfect gift to make Father’s Day brighter for the Dads who love sports in any and all forms.

To help you in the gift selection process (even if you’ve left it up to the last minute!), the team at NBC Sports has sourced great options from across the internet for sporting Dads of all kinds. Whether the person you’re shopping for is up before dawn to get in a workout, more inclined to take in sports from the couch, or the consummate host planning summer’s best tailgate, there’s a great choice on this list across a variety of price ranges. Below are our ideas separated into categories:

  1. Golf gifts for Dad
  2. Sports gifts for Dad
  3. Tailgating gifts for Dad
  4. Tech gifts for Dad
  5. Other Father’s Day gifts for sports lovers

Golf gifts for Dad

Gifts under $50

1. Pop-up Golf Chipping Net, $44.99, Amazon

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A perfect way to perfect your chipping skills before heading out for a tee time. The net is portable and includes all the pieces needed for a full-scale practice at-home or on the go.

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2. Under Armour Men’s Golf Tech Polos, $27, Amazon

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Help your Dad look their best on the golf course with these breathable and soft golf polos that wick sweat and dry quickly.

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Gifts under $100

3. PGA TOUR Superstore Club Fitting experience, PGA TOUR Superstore

This experience is a must for any dad looking to elevate their game. Per the PGA Tour Super Store site, fittings combine “game-changing technology and manufacturer-specific equipment with the personal attention of our certified fitters to deliver a fully immersive fitting session.” Golfers will leave the one-on-one session with specs for perfectly fitted custom clubs that will be built and shipped to you.

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4. Adidas Men’s Spikeless Golf Shoes, $79, Amazon

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Give your Dad an extra boost of confidence in his golf swing with a pair of Adidas Spikeless golf shoes. Not only are they comfortable, but the shoes are lightweight, stylish, and affordable.

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5. Wood Golf Putting Green Mat with Auto Ball Return, $85, Amazon

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Another great option for Dad that will scratch his golf itch! With this indoor or outdoor putting green mat, the ball will automatically roll back to the golfer after he putts it into the hole.

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Gifts over $100

6. Rukket Haack Golf Net, $130, Amazon

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Help Dad perfect his golf skills right at home with this practice golf net. Just like the pop-up chipping net, this gift option is lightweight and portable and will allow Dad to hit golf balls right in the backyard.

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Sports gifts for Dad

Gifts under $50

7. Lightweight Gym Bag with Wet Pocket and Shoe Compartment, $19, Amazon

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This bag is lightweight with multiple pockets and perfect for the Dad trying to fit in a workout. It’s available in multiple colors, has waterproof storage for swim gear or sweaty apparel post-gym and doubles as the perfect bag for a quick weekend trip.

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8. Yeti mug, $38, Amazon

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Whether it’s for early morning workouts or coaching the 8am Little League game on Saturday morning, a Yeti mug is a great accessory to keep coffee piping hot. Tumblers come in various shapes and sizes to indulge all varieties of pre-game caffeine habits.

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Gifts under $100

9. Outdoor Men’s RoadCycling Shoes, $50, Amazon

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The weather is getting warmer, making it the perfect time to give your Dad these comfortable and colorful shoes for the road. The shoes have a quick drying mesh material that will provide the ultimate in efficiency and comfort.

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10. Pickleball Set, $60, Amazon

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Invented in 1965 and combining elements of badminton, tennis and ping-pong, pickleball is the latest rec sport sensation sweeping the nation. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, it’s one of America’s fastest growing sports, picking up corporate sponsorships and avid enthusiasts nationwide. If Dad is a paddle sport enthusiast looking to indulge their competitive streak, this paddle set is the perfect way to get started.

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Gifts over $100

11. Garmin Watch, $170, Garmin

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Garmin is one of the most trusted names in GPS watches and enables you to monitor and track your fitness endeavors while streamlining your training. Whether it’s for the Dad training for their 10th marathon or just getting started in running and biking, a Garmin Forerunner is a great option to level-up your exercise.

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Tailgating gifts for Dad

Gifts under $50

12. Romanticist 28pc BBQ Accessories Set, $47, Amazon

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This 28-piece set of BBQ accessories is the perfect gift for a Dad that loves to cook for everyone. This versatile set has everything you need: a spatula, fork, 2 barbecue mats, tongs, basting brush, grill brush, extra brush head, meat thermometer, 2 steak knives and forks, 2 shakers, 8 corn holders, 4 skewers and an aluminum case.

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Gifts under $100

13. NFL Brand Folding Chairs, $80, Amazon

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Help Dad rep his favorite team at the beach or a tailgate with this NFL branded folding chair. The carry strap attached to the chair helps make this portable chair a must-have for any Dad on the go!

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14. The Meater Thermometer, $70, Amazon

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The Meater is the perfect kitchen gadget for a Dad who loves to cook meat-forward meals for a big group. It’s a smart thermometer that allows you to monitor the temperature of the meat you’re cooking up to 33 feet away from the grill, oven or rotisserie. Just download the free app and you’re all set!

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Gifts over $100

15. NFL Logo Cornhole Boards, $120, Victory Tailgate

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Keep guests entertained all summer long with the perfect tailgate companion – a cornhole set! This set is perfect for any Dad who wants to rep his favorite NFL team.

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16. Igloo BMX 52 Quart Cooler, $156, Amazon

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This cooler has a capacity of 52 quarts and is the perfect option to keep the drinks cold and the tailgate guests happy. Available in multiple colors, it’s a heavy-duty option for all pregame festivity needs.

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Tech gifts for Dad

Gifts under $50

17. Tribe Water Resistant Cell Phone Holder, $15, Amazon

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This cell phone armband case is perfect for any Dad who likes to go on walks or runs outside. His phone will stay secure and safe, and the case comes with an adjustable strap, key pocket and headphone cord holder.

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18. Amazon Prime Membership, $15/month, Amazon

Give your Dad the gift of Amazon Prime! Not only will he get access to Prime Video which will allow him to live stream his favorite sports, but he can enjoy the convenience of a fast and free delivery for online orders.

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Gifts under $100

19. TV Soundbar Speaker, $86, Amazon

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Make it feel as if your Dad is actually watching the game from the stadium of his favorite sports team. This TV Soundbar speaker will give your Dad a natural HiFi sound experience — perfect for NFL Sundays and also for family movie nights.

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Gifts over $100

20. Apple Airpods, $197, Amazon

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Give Dad the gift of wireless, high quality sound. Whether he’s working out at the gym, listening to a podcast, talking on the phone, or listening to the game, Air Pods Pro are the way to go.

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21. Apple Watch, $383, Amazon

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Have Dad keep track of his health and fitness, and get notifications from all of his favorite sports teams with the flick of a wrist. The Apple Watch is the perfect gift for the Dads who are constantly on the go.

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22. Theragun, $399, Amazon

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The Theragun is the perfect gift for the fitness loving father figure in your life. It’s compact with long lasting battery life and best of all, you can connect it to your smartphone and customize its features.

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Other Father’s Day gifts for sports lovers

Gifts under $50

23. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, $16, Bookshop

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Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat” is the true story of the American rowing team that competed at the 1936 Olympics and came away with a stunning gold. Made up of largely working-class athletes from the University of Washington, the U.S. team were some of the ultimate underdogs, making for an incredible story of human achievement.

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24. I Never Had It Made: An Autobiography of Jackie Robinson, $9, Amazon

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Jackie Robinson is one of the most legendary and trailblazing figures in baseball, but his autobiography talks about so much more than his career on the field. From his time in the army to his family life to his involvement in American politics, “I Never Had It Made” gives the reader an in-depth look into one of the most famous athletes in baseball and in American history.

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25. MLB team sofa protectors, $45, MLB Shop

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The perfect accessory for the MLB enthusiast looking to level-up his viewing experience. Help Dad keep the couch clean, comfy, and in style while he’s rooting for his favorite sports team.

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26. Classic baseball hat, $27, Amazon

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Everyone loves a snapback hat. It’s simple and classic and helps your Dad leave no questions about where his fandom lies.

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Gifts under $100

27. Baseball Bat Mug, $70, Dugout Mug

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Get the baseball ban fan in your life a mug so unique that everyone will ask him about it! This mug was handcrafted from a wooden baseball bat barrel and you can choose a design for any MLB team. Choose Dad’s favorite team and he’ll be sure to love it!

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28. Ultra Game NBA Men’s Soft Fleece Full Zip Jacket, $60, Amazon

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This soft fleece full zip jacket is the perfect gift for the Dad who’s a big fan of a team in the NBA. No matter what team he supports, there’s a comfortable and stylish jacket to fit his needs.

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Gifts over $100

29. Foosball Table, $126, Amazon

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Foosball is a classic game that every Dad at any age is sure to love. This 48-inch game set is built with sturdy wood at a waist-high level and is the perfect gift for any competitive dad.

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30. Custom NFL jerseys, $170, NFL Custom Shop

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With all the blockbuster NFL trades so far in 2022, your Dad’s favorite player might be starting the season for a different team. The safest bet? A custom jersey with his name – QB1 might have left, but his loyalty to the team isn’t going anywhere, for better or worse!

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