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When Ruthless Cultural Elitism Is Exactly the Job

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When Ruthless Cultural Elitism Is Exactly the Job

I wonder if any of the many literary greats represented by Andrew Wylie ever considered using his story. The raw material is certainly worthy: Wylie, whose father was a high-level editor at Houghton Mifflin, grew up a privileged young scalawag, attending St. Paul’s School, from which he was dismissed, and Harvard, where he insulted one of his thesis advisers, and eventually moved to New York in the 1970s to become a poet and interviewer. Once there, he fell in with Andy Warhol’s crowd, behaved in various ways like a wild man and then, in 1980 and in need of steadier work, began transforming himself into a hugely successful literary agent. Over the years, the Wylie Agency’s clients have included Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Martin Amis and John Updike. (All of whose estates, along with those of other luminaries like Borges and Calvino, are now represented by the agency.) Wylie’s roster of contemporary authors includes Sally Rooney, Salman Rushdie and Karl Ove Knausgaard among its blue-chip multitude. (Several New York Times journalists are also represented by Wylie.) Such voracious acquisition of clients at one point led to Wylie’s being called the Jackal, presumably for his ruthless pursuit of other agents’ authors. That fearsome reputation, along with actual paradigm-shifting changes in his approach to agenting (namely his focus on exploiting the value of authors’ backlists and his determination that publishers pay fat advances for work of high literary quality — even if it might not sell in the short term), have also been factors in making Wylie, who is 76 and a famously forthright speaker, a legendary figure in the publishing world. “I thought, Well, I wonder if you can build a business based exclusively on what you want to read,” he says, understatedly. “That led me to understand, I think correctly, that best sellers were overvalued and works that endured forever were undervalued.”

How do you understand the contradiction that the crappy books that sell so well are what allows for the publishers to pay big advances to your writers? You need the crappy stuff to do well, right? That is the publishers’ view.

What’s your view? Different.

Explain the difference. One, the goal of the people we represent is not to be Beyoncé. It’s not directly connected to popularity. Let’s say you’re inviting some people to your house for dinner. Do you want everyone to arrive? Or do you want a select number of intelligent people who are amusing and understand what you’re talking about? The latter, I think. There are some people I don’t want to have join the dinner. They deserve to live, but they don’t need to come to my house for supper.

Are there ever instances in your work where advocating for the writer is at cross purposes with things that might lead to their books being more widely read? An example might be, I don’t know, the writer wants a particular cover or title, but the publisher says other ones would be better for sales. No disrespect intended for my brilliant colleagues in the business, but usually what happens is the publisher puts forward a ghastly and inappropriate cover design. Then you say: “Thank you, that’s ghastly and inappropriate. Could you either hire someone with a brain or attempt to redesign?” The response in every single case for 40 years has been, We’ve shown it all around the house, and everybody loves it. The number of times I’ve heard that is obscene. They always love the measly result of their ineffectual aspirations. The author sometimes will say, “Jesus, Andrew, what do you think of this?” And I say, “It’s transparently ugly, it has nothing to do with the book, so I think we should ask them to try again.”

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What’s an example of when a publisher or someone else in the business disagreed with you and they turned out to be right? I don’t think that’s ever happened.

There must be something. That’s what living a charmed life is all about.

Denial? Selective memory? Having things happen the way you intended to have them happen.

Andrew Wylie in 1972.

Gerard Malanga

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My sense is that the publishing world used to be run and populated largely by people who liked books and were interested in literature, and now there’s a cohort of people who work in publishing who might be interested in data analytics, and they’re paying attention to spreadsheets and online search terms. Do you find yourself having to communicate differently with those people? I think that a number of publishing companies have brought in businesspeople to help them in a futile effort to become more distinctly profitable. But it’s comical, because frequently these people don’t understand the difference between selling a widget and selling a good novel. The advantage that they bring to the publishing company is counteracted by the hilarious errors of judgment they make because they don’t know what they’re selling. It tends to be true that the best publishers are people who read books and whose primary understanding of the business comes from what they’ve read rather than from Harvard Business School.

Do you have an example of those comical errors? The answer is yes, I do, but I’m not talking about them.

Have publishers gotten any better over time at selling your writers’ books? I’m not so sure. The sequence, as I see it, is this: In the old days — ’80s, ’90s — there was always a discussion about the quantity of print advertising that would be attached to the publication of the book. Then publishers began to declare, and then decisively declared, that print advertising doesn’t sell books. There’s no logic to it. Why should movies, television shows be advertised in print if that didn’t produce a favorable result? What they should have been saying, if they were telling the truth, which sometimes publishers avoid, is that the cost of, say, a full-page ad in The New York Times is not directly recoverable from the number of copies of books sold from that specific ad. What that means is, it’s disadvantageous to the publisher’s balance sheet. Though without question it is advantageous to the author’s balance sheet, because the author doesn’t have to pay for the ad. Now publishers have declared, in their opinion sincerely, that the only way to sell books is through social media and stuff like that. I have gone to a number of meetings with astute groups of people employed in the publishing business who have talked like someone from a very remote island speaking 50 years in the future — it’s like science fiction. They say, we do this, we do that, but it’s not directly measurable. I find myself taking exception to their estimation of their social media skills and the effect those skills have on the sale of a book. I don’t buy it.

I’ll ask in a different way: Has the status of serious writers changed in the country? I think that’s the wrong way to look at it.

What’s the right way? What are your goals?

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To matter in the culture? No. Absolutely not. Who gives a [expletive]? You want to matter in this culture? Not me.

So what should a writer’s goals be? Just on the quality of the work. The kind of ineffable beauty of something extremely well expressed.

Doesn’t the real or perceived commercial status of quality literature have bearing on the deals that you’re able to negotiate for your writers? Well, we try to apply excessive charm in the course of negotiation.

Says “the Jackal.” Some people read our attempts at charm as being disingenuous, but they’re wrong.

I understand the impulse. If you’re a good interviewer, as you are, you have to take yourself out of it and insert yourself in the person you are conversing with so what they have to say becomes powerfully significant in the course of the conversation. What if your entire life is based on entering the other person’s perspective? We represent about 1,500 writers. It’s a field of dreams. You’ve abandoned yourself, which is of no interest, it’s tedious, and you enter into their perspective and it’s totally enriching.

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Wylie with the photographer Robert Frank in 1985.

Allen Ginsberg/Corbis, via Getty Images

I find that line of thinking both intriguing and hard to understand. Well, it could be logically seen as a deficiency. You got nothing to offer, so you crawl inside the other guy’s suit.

Probably you would agree that by and large literature doesn’t tend to depict hollow people as fulfilled or even positively. Well, isn’t “Don Quixote” all about that? There are plenty of hollow figures.

Is that hollowness there when you interact with your family? My family tends to think that I’m somewhat overbearing. But that’s certainly their problem, not mine.

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Have you ever thought about writing an autobiography? No, no, no. First of all, it wouldn’t be very interesting, and second of all, our relationship to the people we work for is like a psychiatrist’s. You do not spill the beans. If I spilled the beans, many people would have diarrhea.

For a yutz like me, a business rube, what’s some advice about how to win a negotiation? If you believe in what you’re selling, to a certain extent that belief is infectious. If you’re just trying to make money, that’s not very convincing. But if you really think you have in your hands a work of genius, that’s quite persuasive. Especially if you also represent a number of people who have been generally accepted to be geniuses. If you represent no one of any quality and you come forward saying this is a work of genius, perhaps the reception of that observation is tempered. But if you represent Orhan Pamuk and Sally Rooney and Salman Rushdie and Saul Bellow, Italo Calvino and Borges and Naipaul and Nabokov, and you say this is a work of genius, the reaction is, well, they might know what they’re talking about, because look at the context. The stronger the context, the more persuasive the offer.

Is there anything, in a longer-term, strategic way, that you find yourself puzzling over in the way that maybe 15 years ago you were thinking about authors’ digital rights? Not really. The battles have remained quite the same for a number of years. It’s all about the exaggerated favor that accrues to the distribution piece. I mean, they’re just a bunch of messengers. You don’t have to kowtow to Amazon. You don’t. And yet, “Well, how do we not?”

What’s the answer to that? It’s like your dinner party: You want everyone to come? The room is going to be packed. Or do you want to just have fewer but better people?

But publishers do want everyone to come, right? Yeah. They’re greedy. The best-seller list is an example of success and achieving the broadest possible readership. But who’s reading you? A bunch of people with three heads and no schooling. You want to spend the day with these people? Not me, thank you.

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We’re not supposed to look down our noses at pop culture anymore. Do you think that’s a phony attitude? Is there some defense of cultural elitism that you want to make? Not particularly. I suppose to a great extent I’m just guided by my taste, and that’s probably idiosyncratic and narcissistic of me. I’m not a person who would ever go to Disney World. There are a lot of people who do. I don’t necessarily think that they’re ridiculous. I just don’t share that taste.

I asked you to leave me with a poem and you slipped in a dig. You can’t help yourself! [Laughs.] God, that’s terrible. Apologies. I love broad humanity — just not Disney World.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity from two conversations.

David Marchese is a staff writer for the magazine and the columnist for Talk. He recently interviewed Alok Vaid-Menon about transgender ordinariness, Joyce Carol Oates about immortality and Robert Downey Jr. about life after Marvel.

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Exposure, popularity and stars. Is college softball on the brink of a breakthrough?

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Exposure, popularity and stars. Is college softball on the brink of a breakthrough?

PALO ALTO, Calif. — On a steamy Thursday afternoon at Stanford’s Smith Family Stadium, every Cardinal player and coach not on the field stands against the dugout rail, shouting encouragement at someone. Including, between every pitch, a chorus of “Yeah, NiJa!”

NiJa is Stanford pitcher NiJaree Canady, a 6-foot sophomore, who finds herself in a bind against rival Cal. She began the top of the fifth inning with a walk, a passed ball and a single. Now, the Bears have executed a double steal to pull within 4-2. There are no outs and a runner at second. It’s a 2-2 count.

But on her 89th pitch of the afternoon, Canady unleashes a searing rise ball to strike out leadoff batter Lagi Quiroga swinging. Canady smiles and exchanges an excited clap with shortstop River Mahler.

And then, in an instant, the inning is over, with Canady notching another strikeout and a two-pitch groundout in the eventual Pac-12 tournament win.

With the NCAA Tournament opening this week, college softball has steadily increased in popularity over the past decade. Viewership for the Women’s College World Series finals reached a record 1.85 million viewers in 2021 and notably passed the Men’s CWS championship with 1.6 million viewers in 2022. The WCWS has reached at least 1 million viewers in each of its last four seasons (it did not air in 2020), and some believe the sport may be on the verge of a women’s basketball-like breakout.

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A handful of recent stars – Alabama’s Montana Fouts, Oklahoma’s Jocelyn Alo, Tennessee’s Kiki Molloy – have captivated audiences over those 10 days in Oklahoma City. Still, the last softball player to transcend into the mainstream sports world was arguably Arizona pitcher Jennie Finch more than 20 years ago.

Canady, a Topeka, Kansas, native and star pitcher with 256 strikeouts in 168.2 innings and a 0.50 ERA, could be that generational player.

“NiJaree’s extremely competitive. I think she might be the face of college softball right now for that reason,” said Reese Atwood, the top hitter for No. 1 Texas who in February slammed one of five home runs hit against Canady this season. “She’s one of those standout players that just everyone knows her name in the game.”

Canady burst on the national scene as a freshman at last year’s WCWS, where she struck out Oklahoma star Tiare Jennings on consecutive at-bats, unleashing her now-familiar fist pump and howl after both.

“I feel like I show my emotion a lot on the mound,” said Canady. “Especially if it’s a good battle.”

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She then closed out a 2-0 upset of Alabama, threw a one-hit shutout with nine strikeouts against Washington and helped the Cardinal take the No. 1 seed Sooners to extra innings before falling to the eventual champs a second time.

Now, a year later, as the eighth-seeded Cardinal begin their quest to return to Oklahoma City, members of the softball community mention Canady alongside the all-time greats. In particular, because of her rare ability to combine velocity (she was clocked at 75 mph in last year’s WCWS) with sorcery. Her rise ball – a pitch with backspin that appears headed to the strike zone, only to rise as it breaks – is virtually unhittable.

“I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever seen (a rise ball) like hers in my whole life,” said Stanford pitching coach Tori Nyberg, a Cardinal pitcher in the early 2000s. “Monica Abbott is in a class of her own, but in terms of the velocity, she’s the only person I can think to compare to hers.”

Abbott, a four-time All-American at Tennessee from 2004-07 and NCAA career strikeout leader, holds the Guinness World Record for fastest softball pitch at 77 mph. She predicts Canady will break it.

“NiJa is already throwing as fast as I was as a pro,” said Abbott, now an ESPN analyst. “Her limit does not exist. I think she could potentially reach 80 (mph).

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“I don’t know — can NiJa be the Caitlin Clark of softball? I kind of believe she can.”


When Patty Gasso arrived as Oklahoma’s head softball coach in 1995, her team spilled into the first row of bleachers at home games. Pushed to a public park, the entire roster could only fit into the dugout once the school opened Marita Hynes Field three years later.

That’s why the yard sign outside Oklahoma’s new, $48 million Love’s Field advertising recreational softball at that same public park is so telling. It’s a reminder of where college softball once was, and a sign of how far the sport has come.

“Every day we come out when there’s a crowd, it’s still a wow moment for us. We’re still trying to get used to this,” said Gasso, whose No. 2 seeded Sooners are playing for their fourth consecutive national title this postseason. “I think everyone is just in disbelief, to be honest.”

Instead of overflowing into the bleachers, Oklahoma’s roster nearly spills onto the field as players lean over the dugout fence chanting. When Oklahoma’s leadoff hitter steps into the box, every fan stands, points to the air and slowly chants “OOO-U” like during kickoff at a football game. For a regular-season home series in April, attendance tops 4,100 at each game, but that’s not a surprise. The program beat its single-season attendance record (43,647 across 30 games in 2018) in just 11 home dates this season.

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Gasso describes playing at Love’s Field, the largest on-campus softball facility in the country, as “more overwhelming” than at Hall of Fame Stadium, recently renamed Devon Park, the home of the WCWS. And atmospheres like this one are popping up nationally. Northwestern and Stanford are building new homes, while Devon Park recently underwent renovations to expand its capacity to 13,000. Florida State, the 2021 and 2023 WCWS runner-up, made $1.5 million worth of upgrades to the Seminole Softball Complex before last season, funded exclusively by booster donations. Simultaneously, new programs at Duke and Clemson, which started in 2017 and 2020, respectively, jumped to relevancy.

When the NCAA staged its first softball tournament in 1982, the sport was predominantly a West Coast fixation. It remained that way for two-plus decades, with either a California school or Arizona winning 20 of the first 23 championships. In that first year, automatic berths were granted only to the Big Eight and Western Collegiate Athletic Association, but as more conferences sponsored college softball, AQs increased. By 2003, every eligible conference nationwide received an automatic berth to the expanded 64-team bracket.

“I was the loudest person that said, ‘Crappy idea. We need the best teams in the postseason,’” said Sue Enquist, UCLA’s seven-time national champion head coach from 1989-2006. “They’re like, ‘No, we’ve got to build the sport nationally.’

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“Fast forward to 2005. Carol Hutchins and her Michigan team came and upset us in the finals. And for the first time ever, you have a snow belt team win the championship. Now, all the big schools in those eastern conferences, SEC, ACC are like, ‘Sh–, we can win!’ And the sport exploded.”

As the sport spread nationally, so did the talent. Canady is a prime example, ranking as the No. 11 recruit in the Class of 2022, per recruiting ranking site Extra Innings Softball. Last year, EIS coined the Kansas City region as an emerging hotbed for college pitchers, with Canady as one of the top products.

“I love that NiJa represents a region of our country in Kansas for so many more fans,” said Jessica Mendoza, a former outfielder at Stanford and current MLB broadcaster at ESPN. “Forever it was California, Texas and Florida, those were where every player came from.”

With that comes increased parity. After revealing this season’s postseason bracket, Division I softball committee chairman Kurt McGuffin said parity in the sport is “gaining ground” and will continue to make the job of the selection committee more challenging than before.

In the 2024 season, 307 Division I softball teams competed (296 full members with 11 transitioning from lower divisions) compared to 245 teams in 2000 and 143 teams in 1982.

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“I’ve always been proud that I’ve been able to actually live through the growth of the sport,” said former Arizona coach Mike Candrea, the winningest coach in college softball history. “And the sport is absolutely still climbing.”

A big part of that climb was more exposure.

When former Stanford infielder and current Pac-12 Network broadcaster Jenna Becerra played from 2008-11, her parents followed most of her games on a website that tracked the play-by-play using stick figures. “I hit lefty and righty, and they never knew which side of the plate I was hitting on,” she said.

A dozen years later, ESPN platforms aired nearly 3,200 regular-season NCAA Division I softball games in 2024. Viewership of the regular season is up 25 percent from 10 years ago, and this was the most-watched season since 2015. All this comes during a season that competes with the MLB and postseasons in the NHL and NBA.

The early days of college softball’s media partnership with ESPN shaped its format and pushed the sport’s executives to be forward-thinking when it came to rule changes, Enquist said.

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Need more hitting? The NCAA Rules Committee agreed to move back the mound. Need to see the ball better? They made it yellow. And when all that worked, former ESPN VP of programming and acquisitions Carol Stiff asked, “Why don’t we do best of three?” So, the sport replaced its championship game with a three-game series in 2005.

“There was a sense of trust and expertise,” Stiff said of those postseason rule meetings. “One hundred percent of everyone that was in that room wanted to grow the game and do what’s good for the game.”

Although the length of games has increased slightly in recent years, college softball is historically fast-moving. An action clock holds the pitcher, catcher and batter responsible for keeping the flow. This season, the time for the pitcher to begin their motion after receiving the ball was reduced from 25 to 20 seconds, while the batter and catcher have to be in position to play with at least 10 seconds left.

“It’s really easy to become a softball fan once you start paying attention,” said Stanford coach Jessica Allister. “It’s a fun sport to watch, it’s fast-paced, the players are athletic, there are big plays, big moments, there’s great energy, there’s great cohesion.

“And I think the more often we can get people to tune in one time, they keep coming back.”

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Average attendance at the WCWS has also seen a steady rise. The 2023 series averaged 12,290 fans across nine sessions, a nearly 30 percent increase from 10 years ago and an 86 percent increase from the first WCWS in Oklahoma City in 1990.

“By the time you get to the Women’s College World Series, not only is everything televised, hundreds of games have been showcased to lead up to that moment,” said Mendoza, “(so you have a really good idea) who the players are that are going to be there.”

And it’s those players who hold the keys to the sport’s next breakthrough.


UCLA shortstop Maya Brady always wanted to play college softball. She remembers feeling giddy before her mom took her to her first UCLA game; Maureen Brady covered Maya’s room in blue and gold decorations before they went.

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Sports ran in Maya’s blood. Maureen was an All-American pitcher at Fresno State and Maya is the niece of two-time World Series champion Kevin Youkilis and seven-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. Maya quickly jumped onto the college softball map, named freshman player of the year in 2020 and repeating as the Pac-12 player of the year last week.

Now, Brady is on the other side of interactions with those giddy young fans at games, many of whom say they play with jersey No. 7 because of her.

Enquist said part of the pull to college softball is the players’ transparency.

“Would we be as popular a sport if we were just a bunch of robots out there being super competitive? Probably not,” Enquist said. “We’re an individual sport that is really camouflaged as a team sport. When I get up to the plate it’s an individual sport. There aren’t nine people getting in the box with me.”

Limited professional opportunities mean most players stay for their full eligibility, adding to the competitiveness and making them more recognizable as their college careers progress. Among the stars, there’s Oklahoma’s Jennings, a top 10 player of the year finalist who is quietly climbing to the top of Oklahoma and WCWS record books. There’s Nebraska’s Jordy Bahl, the former Oklahoma ace who missed this season with an injury but holds high expectations when she returns next year, and Tennessee’s Karlyn Pickens, who joined Abbott this year as the second Lady Vol to be named SEC pitcher of the year. There’s two-way powerhouse Valerie Cagle, the reigning player of the year who helped put Clemson on the map.

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“I thought I could come in and accomplish all these goals and no one would care. Now, looking back I understand it’s very unrealistic,” said Cagle, who set a school record in hits (83) while pitching with a 1.56 ERA last season. “That’s so cool to me that people recognize softball and are excited about it.”

And then there’s Canady, whose impact goes beyond the mound.

Natasha Watley, a four-time first-team All-American at UCLA and two-time Olympian who runs a foundation dedicated to diversity in softball, said Canady is inspiring the next generation.

“I have a young daughter now; to see a Black pitcher at Stanford University – that’s normal. That wasn’t the norm for me,” Watley said. “I don’t know if she realizes how powerful it is.”

Canady said she noticed early on the lack of diversity in the sport (only 6 percent of college softball players are Black, according to NCAA data), “but that was something that helped me want it even more.”

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A two-time state champion and Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year, Canady grew up playing numerous sports alongside her brother, B.J., now a freshman defensive lineman at Cal. In the second grade, she briefly played offensive line. She was a four-star basketball recruit in high school before focusing on softball as a senior.

“Her hitting coach (growing up) told us she could go off to college and be all-conference in basketball,” said her father, Bruce Canady, “but if she sticks with softball, they would talk about her for a long, long time.”

That talk began last summer in Oklahoma City, and will only intensify if Canady and the Cardinal make another run over the next three weeks.

Becerra, who has called many of Canady’s games, marvels at this moment for both the pitcher and the sport.

“Somehow, she’s gotten even better since last year,” Becerra said. “No one’s really sure how that’s possible, but that’s what generational talent does.”

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(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photos: Eakin Howard, Katharine Lotze / Getty Images)

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Lazerus: Rangers prove their championship mettle after flirting with infamy

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Lazerus: Rangers prove their championship mettle after flirting with infamy

RALEIGH, N.C. — Evgeny Kuznetsov, in his inimitable, impish way, promised “hell” for the New York Rangers if they had to come back to North Carolina for a Game 6 in this increasingly indescribable second-round series.

Oh, but this wasn’t hell. Not even with a “raise hell” theme for the night. Not even with AC/DC’s “Hells Bells” blaring before puck drop. Not even with Carolina’s notoriously loud fans reaching new heights as the Hurricanes took a two-goal lead into the third period at PNC Arena. This was nothing.

No, hell is what would have followed a potential Game 7 if the Rangers never pulled out of this tailspin in time to salvage this series. Hell would have been living with the utter failure of losing in the second round after winning the first seven games of the playoffs. Hell would have been the infamy of becoming the fifth team in Stanley Cup playoff history to blow a 3-0 series lead. Hell would have been trying to sleep while endlessly reliving Jordan Martinook’s singular, spectacular save in the second period of Game 6 when he swept Ryan Lindgren’s shot off the goal line from his belly after it had already beaten Frederik Andersen through the legs.

Hell would have been always knowing they had let a golden opportunity at winning the Rangers’ second Stanley Cup in 84 years slip through their fingers, frittering away one of the best seasons in franchise history.

“I (was) just scared thinking about that,” Artemi Panarin said.

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Panarin can admit that now. Now that the Rangers have proven their mettle. Now that Chris Kreider has etched himself into Rangers lore alongside the likes of Matteau and Messier with a natural hat trick to turn a 3-1 third-period deficit into a 5-3 Game 6 victory in front of a silenced, shell-shocked Carolina crowd. Now that the Rangers’ next game at Madison Square Garden will be against either the Florida Panthers or the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final rather than in a winner-take-all Game 7 against the never-say-die Hurricanes.

Postgame locker rooms in the NHL are never all that rowdy after series victories that don’t involve the Stanley Cup itself. The players are too tired and there’s too much work left to do. Save the champagne and the plastic wrap and the ski goggles for late June. So there wasn’t much celebration in the cramped visitors room at PNC Arena after this one. But there was a palpable sense of relief, knowing that the Rangers only flirted with infamy, rather than set a date with it.

“To be honest, I kind of felt nervous on the bench when we were a couple goals down,” said Panarin, who sometimes seems incapable of the usual wall of casual bravado that most pro athletes throw up. “And still in the third period, we were down. I was actually nervous. But we did it — thank God.”

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Funny how quickly things can change.

The Rangers were dead in the water, down 3-1 and handling the puck like a hand grenade, missing the net over and over again. Then Carolina goaltender Frederik Andersen lost a Mika Zibanejad puck in his skates and Kreider whacked it in.

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The Rangers power play was lifeless, having gone nine straight chances with nary a goal, and precious few real chances. Then Kreider tipped in a rising Panarin shot and the game was tied.

The game seemed destined for overtime as both teams battened down the hatches. Then Kreider capped his hat trick and it was the Hurricanes left scrambling.

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Nine minutes. Nine minutes for a 3-1 deficit to become a 4-3 lead, for Kreider to go from franchise pillar to franchise legend, for an all-time Rangers choke job to become an all-time Rangers gut-check, for an all-time Hurricanes comeback to become an all-time what-if.

“They’re a great team,” said Barclay Goodrow, who finally eased the tension with a 143-foot empty-netter with 48.1 seconds left. “It’s not like we go up 3-0 and they’re going to roll over and quit. They’re a really good team and we knew they were going to fight back. We maybe had a letdown game last game but I think throughout the season, whenever that’s happened, we’ve rebounded and came back stronger the next game.”

Doing it in the regular season is one thing. Doing it in the postseason is quite another. And now the Rangers know what they’re capable of. New York’s top two lines could have been on milk cartons the last couple of games. In Game 6, they combined for four goals and six assists over the last 35 minutes. Shesterkin found his all-world form just as Kreider did, denying Carolina captain Jordan Staal from point-blank range shortly before Kreider’s equalizer on the power play, then stoning Andrei Svechnikov unchecked from the low slot with 2:39 left, with Andersen pulled. The Rangers were tested — truly tested — for the first time, and they aced it.

The Rangers were never going to go 16-0; that simply doesn’t happen in the NHL. It’s better this way. Championship teams are forged in the fires of frustration and futility. Championship teams find a way.

On the other end of the handshake line was a team still trying to find that way. For the fourth straight season, the Hurricanes looked the part of legitimate contender. For the fourth straight season, their playoff run ended without a victory beyond the second round. There were the usual culprits, too. For all their strengths — the relentless forecheck wreaking havoc in the offensive zone, the Rod Brind’Amour-esque work ethic that leads to miraculous plays like Martinook’s save, the deep back end that allows them to control the tempo so well — the Hurricanes still didn’t get enough scoring from up top, and still didn’t get enough saves from in goal. Jake Guentzel, their big trade-deadline addition, the long-sought-after sniper, was absolutely terrific in his brief time in Carolina, but had no goals and just one assist in the last three games. Sebastian Aho got a big goal off an Andrei Svechnikov feed to make it 3-1 midway through the second, but that dynamic top line still finished the postseason having been outscored 5-4 at five-on-five.

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And then there’s Andersen. Playoff Freddie (technically an unfair nickname, but Late In A Series Freddie doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue) reared his ugly head again, falling to 5-8 when facing elimination (including wins in Games 4 and 5). He made just 19 saves on 23 shots, his save percentage in elimination games falling to a paltry .897. He’s 0-4 with an .856 save percentage in Game 7s, so even had the Rangers not pulled this one out of their Broadway hat, Carolina would have had a lot to overcome on Saturday night.

It’s a familiar refrain, and a familiar pain.

“This is a tough way to end a really good year,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “These guys played their butts off all year. But this is what you’re going to remember. That’s the hard part.”

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Bruins-Panthers is an all-time hate-watch series I hope never ends

Now the Rangers get a few days off, and they can sit back and watch the Bruins and Panthers beat up on each other for another game (preferably two). All that tension that had been weighing on them since dropping Game 4 is lifted now, but it’ll be back with a vengeance when the puck drops next. All that work and all that sweat and all that energy expended, and they’re only halfway there. That’s playoff hockey — an unrelenting, agonizing, excruciating mental and physical grind, beautiful but brutal at the same time.

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A hell of sorts, you might say.

But one the Rangers now know they can handle. One they now know they can thrive in.

“We just tried not to be frustrated,” Panarin said. “That’s the playoffs. It’s up and down every time. It’s hard to do sometimes. But we did it.”

(Top photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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How does Caitlin Clark’s WNBA salary measure up in sports? An analysis shows big gaps

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How does Caitlin Clark’s WNBA salary measure up in sports? An analysis shows big gaps

After a generational college run at Iowa, Caitlin Clark started her professional career this week in Indiana, where the median college graduate earns $52,267 annually, according to the U.S. Census American Consumer Survey.

But Clark isn’t your average young professional.

She’s one of the biggest stars in the country with major name recognition and commercial appeal as she enters the WNBA. She sells out arenas, inked a $28 million Nike endorsement deal and made television ratings skyrocket — and her pro potential has prompted widespread arguments about the economics of women’s basketball.

In her first season with the Indiana Fever, she’ll modestly surpass that Indiana median with $76,535 in salary. Even considering the WNBA’s five-month season, it’s a pittance compared with many other athletes, especially those hyped as having the potential to change the trajectory of their sports.

Victor Wembanyama, the top pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, made $12.16 million in his first season, roughly 80 times more than Clark per game. The NFL’s No. 1 draft selection, Caleb Williams, will earn about $1 million in salary in 2024, plus a signing bonus that will net him upward of $7 million. Even Paul Skenes, who was the top pick in the 2023 MLB Draft but is far from a household name, signed a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates worth about $9.8 million, which includes a $9.2 million bonus.

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The WNBA’s revenues far trail those of other major North American leagues. But Clark’s salary also lags behind professionals in niche sports like bowling, surfing and bull riding.

The base salary for a contracted player in the Professional Pickleball Association is $75,000. The top five ranked players on the PPA Tour will average $1.5 million this year in prize money and payouts. Ten players in the Professional Bowlers Association made more last year than Clark’s rookie salary. The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association featured 25 bull riders whose paychecks exceeded $76,535 with the top-ranked rider making nearly Clark’s entire four-year contract worth ($338,056) in 2023 from National Finals Rodeo earnings.

Clark’s relative small salary has become such a national conversation that even the president weighed in on it.

One major difference between the WNBA and its counterparts across many other sports is that WNBA players earn a smaller fraction of league revenue. While NBA players have negotiated a 50-50 split of basketball-related income, WNBA salaries represented 9.3 percent of the league’s revenue in 2023. Kelsey Plum, the Las Vegas Aces star and first vice president of the players association, has repeatedly said that WNBA players want a bigger piece of the pie, not necessarily a raw salary bump. “We’re not asking to get paid what the men get paid,” she said. “We’re asking to get paid the same percentage of revenue shared.”

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert has pushed back on the narrative surrounding Clark’s pay. At the CNBC Changemakers Summit, Engelbert explained that Clark could earn up to half a million in WNBA wages in 2024. However, that additional compensation relies on Clark using team and league marketing agreements as well as earning individual honors and advancing in the playoffs.

Nothing is guaranteed beyond her base salary, which resembles the paychecks seen in leagues far newer than the WNBA, which is in its 28th season. The No. 1 pick in the Pro Volleyball Federation, Asjia O’Neal, is earning $60,000 in the PVF’s inaugural season. The PWHL is also paying its players an average of $55,000 in its first year. The newer leagues have said that their sponsorships and media rights are important revenue drivers. But the WNBA draws major sponsors, too, including Google, Nike and CarMax, and has rights deals with ESPN and Amazon.

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Given the WNBA’s position in the major sports landscape, perhaps it’s unreasonable to compare Clark to Wembanyama, Williams or Skenes. But she’s also just being out-earned by the lowest paid NBA player on a two-way contract ($559,872), some NFL practice players ($12,000 per week minimum) and minimum-salary earners in the NHL ($750,000).


 

1.  Future Olympian, 18, earned $80,000 winning one multi-day event this spring and totaled $219,000 in five 2024 events.

2. Finnish pro ranked No. 15, $77,350 prize earnings in 14 events, never finished higher than third in 2023.

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3. According to Sports Business Journal, the Charlotte Hornets entertainer makes an annual salary of $100,000 — not even the highest among NBA mascots.

4. Miami Marlins signed the 17-year-old catcher to a 1-year deal worth $75,000 in the 2024 class. He’s been assigned to the Dominican Summer League Marlins in the minor leagues.

5. The MLS midfielder made a $75,325 base salary in 2023 as the 789th highest paid player.

6. The Professional Pickleball League base starting prize money and payouts for a contracted player is about $75,000.

7. The golfer made $78,414 from participating in 11 events (best finish tied for 23rd) in 2023.

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8. Despite not placing in a majority of competitions, the 20-year-old ranked No. 26 and earned $76,439 in 2023.

9. The chess grandmaster made nearly $80,000 for winning one tournament — the Grand Swiss — in November 2023.

10. Ranked 481st worldwide in total earnings, the Fortnite player won $83,475 last year.


The WNBA’s current position in its evolution is often compared to when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird entered the NBA, which spurred a wave of popularity that the league has ridden for decades. When Bird was drafted in 1978, he signed a five-year contract with an average annual value of $650,000 (that figure does not account for inflation). Johnson’s average salary was $460,000 over his first five seasons.

Proponents of the WNBA hope that Clark can help encourage similar rivalries, with rookies like Angel Reese of the Chicago Sky and numerous other players bringing previous history in the NCAA Tournament and other matchups.

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At an April donor event, Southern California head coach Lindsey Gottlieb cited Clark’s salary as a reason to advocate for more money toward women’s college basketball. Although Clark and USC star JuJu Watkins have lucrative endorsements, Gottlieb said that neither is “going to get paid her value and worth in terms of the basketball.”

The hope for Clark and other WNBA players is that change is on the horizon. The league historically has struggled to sustain its financial footing through investment. Within the past decade, even legacy franchises such as the New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks almost folded. Teams have lacked adequate practice facilities, and players have often competed overseas to supplement their incomes.

Now, teams have become generally more competitive and new ownership groups in Atlanta, Las Vegas, New York and Phoenix are focused on making WNBA life more attractive, fiscally and with perks. The WNBA has pursued more corporate partnerships and media deals to improve the value of the league. The league had an estimated $200 million in revenue in 2023, doubling its 2019 total, according to Chiney Ogwumike, former vice president of the players association. The WNBA recently announced it will spend $25 million in each of the next two seasons on charter flights. And it hopes a new media rights deal — the current one, which nets about $50 million combined from broadcast partners, expires in 2025 — will provide another influx of cash.

Consider the NWSL’s new broadcasting deal that pays $60 million annually compared to the previous amount of $1.5 million, which helped increase the salary cap 40 percent from 2023 to 2024. Now multiple players’ contracts pay in the high six figures annually and are valued at seven figures over their lifetime. No WNBA player has ever signed a million-dollar-plus contract.

That million dollar barrier may fall before Clark signs her next deal. And yet her salary may never reflect what other stars get in similar positions without a significant change in the finances of the WNBA.

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(Visual data: Drew Jordan / The Athletic; Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photos of Caitlin Simmers, Caitlin Clark, Hugo the Hornet, Charlotte Thomas, Sofiane Djeffal and Vidit Gujrathi: Aaron Hughes / Getty Images, Gregory Shamus / Getty Images, Matthew Grimes Jr./ Getty Images / Atlanta Braves, Meg Oliphant / Getty Images, Sofiane Djeffal / Getty Images, Vidit Gujrathi / Hindustan Times)

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