Week of December 29, 2017

Not cool, hockey guy.

Longevity = Greatness?

The most successful athletes today – Tom Brady, Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo – are doing something the past greats never did: they have transcended eras. Lebron James’ has averaged over 25 points per game in 13 seasons (astounding), whereas Jordan’s dominance lasted 10 seasons.

Pete Sampras won his then record-breaking 14th Grand Slam at 31 years old, running on fumes, then never played again. This year, Federer (36) and Nadal (31) split the 4 Grand Slams. Nadal has 16 Grand Slams to his name, while Federer has collected 19.

You can see where this is going, and you can fill in the blanks for Brady vs. Montana, Messi and Ronaldo vs Maradona and Pele. There is no exaggeration when I say we are seeing individual feats in sports that have never been seen before, and it’s in large part due to the fact that athletes are performing at the highest level for much longer.

Does longevity tip the scale in LeBron’s favor in comparison to Jordan? Is Brady truly better than Montana, or has he just done it longer? Chris Almeida puts it this way: “While it’s clear that our standards for recovery and decline are being distorted, it’s unclear how this generation of athletes will change our comprehension of greatness.”

At the highest level, more time = bigger numbers, and so the numbers established by greats of past eras will fall by the wayside. But, as Almeida points out, greatness is not limited to addition:

For as strongly as greatness is linked with statistics and head-to-head matchups, those have never been solely what the concept is about. Greatness is about dreams and images, and in that respect Michael Jordan is something that no athlete who succeeded in 2017 — not LeBron, Serena, nor Cristiano Ronaldo — is: monolithic, spotless, mythic. He represents the model of dominance in sports as it’s always been understood.

Solid read! – PAL

Source: The Year Age Stopped Mattering in Sports”,  Chris Almeida, The Ringer (12/27/2017)

TOB: *hot take alert*

I did NOT like this article. I considered a full-on Phil-Style Breakdown, but I’ll just say a few things:

  1. This is NOT new. Medicine (of legal and illegal varieties), Medical Care, Nutrition, and all sorts of other ways athletes have learned to take care of their bodies, especially as the money in sports have soared, have had athletes playing at elite levels far later for the last decade or two. Saying 2017 is the year this broke through is a strong overreach.
  2. Saying Derek Jeter was elite across generations? OH COME ON. It’s such a strange choice as an example and really took me out of the piece. Jeter was NOT elite for long, and baseball is not a sport where this is new. Jeter was above league average (I’m being generous here) for fifteen years or so, which has been the on the low end of the baseball standard for Hall of Famers for decades. Willie Mays, for example, was elite (not just above average) for just over twenty years, until age 40. DiMaggio was elite for thirteen seasons, until age 36, but he lost three seasons to World War II. His career began nearly eighty years ago. This is not new for baseball.
  3. As I’ve said here before, I love Federer. But you’re not payig attention at all if you say, “There is no reason to expect a sudden decline.” A year ago, Federer looked possibly done. He took many months off, won two Majors, and then looked toast again. I would never bet against him, but don’t be surprised if he never wins another Major.
  4. “[W]hat LeBron has already done is less interesting than what he seems to be capable of, or where he might harness those capabilities.” UGH. More overreach. LeBron has had an amazing career, and the fact he seems as good as ever is crazy. But does anyone think he’s going to get BETTER? He might ride his peak into an extended plateau…but up? I just don’t buy it. And if the argument is “what’s more interesting is how he might continue to do what he does at an advanced age”, ok, fine. Maybe if he sees no drop-off another five years, that’d be nuts. But it wasn’t long ago people argued LeBron looked toast (the 2015 Finals, for example). He’s human, and for elite athletes, the end often comes quickly.
  5. I don’t follow tennis a lot, but doesn’t the staying power of Federer, Nadal, and the Williams Sisters speak more to how weak the generation behind them has been? Does anyone think Serena Williams now could beat Serena Williams at her prime? I sure don’t.
  6. I also don’t get his point about men’s tennis and how it will change our perception of tennis greatness in the future. Even against their own peers – Federer, Nadal, and Djokovich sit 1-2-4 in the career Major titles list – that’s insane. Federer is a few years older, but more or less three guys from the same generation gobbled up every title for a decade or so. Yes, they are great. But it also seems like a very top heavy era, as opposed to anything to do with longevity.
  7. “The most interesting part of Brady in 2017 is the idea of him excelling in 2022.” Stop saying that!

If it wasn’t clear, I did not enjoy this article.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Mike Davis once took the Indiana Hoosiers, an 8-seed, to the NCAA Tournament’s championship game, in only his second year as a head coach. So the man knows something about coaching winning basketball. His career never really took off after that early success, though, and he’s presently coaching at small school Texas Southern. The team is 0-13 so far this year. So, why are they a favorite to make the NCAA tournament? The answer is in the schedule. As they are finally set to begin conference play next week, here are the teams Tigers have played so far: Gonzaga, Washington State, Ohio State, Syracuse, Kansas, Clemson, Oakland, Toledo, Oregon, Baylor, Wyoming, TCU, BYU – 9 of the 13 were against Top 50 opponents. All 13 were on the road.

Wait, what? Davis believes in sharpening his team by playing tough, non-conference road games. He believes it gets his team ready for conference play, and thus a better shot at winning the conference and then making the NCAA Tournament.

It’s hard to argue – under Davis, Texas Southern has made the tourney three of the last four years. In fact, Davis says he will ALWAYS schedule all his non-conference games on the road:

Economics also come into play. In 2016, Texas Southern made $900,000 in paydays for non-conference road games. Meanwhile, as Davis puts it:

“To have a home game you’ve gotta pay the officials $4,000-$5,000. The people [working the scorers’] table are another $2,500. So in order to have a home game, we’ve gotta clear $10,000. We’re not gonna clear $10,000. And I don’t want to waste my time playing NAIA teams. If we play a lower team, nobody’s gonna come in and see that. The math is simple.”

Again, I can’t argue with that. Davis’ stated goal is to win a national title at Texas Southern. This seems crazy to me, but then again, Butler almost won a few years back, and who would have seen that coming? -TOB

Source: This 0-13 Basketball Team Is A Favorite To Make The NCAA Tournament”, Dan McQuade, Deadspin (12/27/2017)

A Real Cinderella Story

This crowd has gone deathly silent, the Cinderella story, outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper and now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac- it’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!

The “Cinderella” sports trope is well-worn, especially in college basketball, where an underdog team can catch fire for a couple days and become a big story for the tournament. But in football? College football? The blue bloods tend to win, and it’s very difficult to break in to that group. It’s so difficult, and there is so much money at stake, that coaches tend to be very conservative in their assistant coach hires. They spend big money to hire coaches who have proven themselves at the highest levels, or at least for guys who have proven themselves at a half-rung below. They have way too much money to lose if a hire goes poorly.

But Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is not most coaches. First of all, he’s a man. He’s 40!

(No, I’ll never stop playing that in my head every time I see his face or hear/read his name, and we’re at the ten-year anniversary)

But Gundy set himself apart when he hired his current offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, in 2013. Gundy’s three previous offensive coordinators had been plucked away (all for head coaching jobs) after two or fewer seasons in Stillwater. Gundy was tired of the turnover, and decided to try to find a good coach at the lowest levels of football in order to engender some loyalty. So, he started looking on the internet:

Gundy went online and looked up offenses that excelled both with rushing and passing numbers. He then narrowed the search to no-huddle, tempo-based offenses similar to Oklahoma State’s. Next, he found coordinators who also coached quarterbacks. The last step, the trickiest, was identifying lesser-known coaches who might stick around even after successful seasons.

Gundy found Yurcich, the offensive coordinator for Shippensburg University, a DII school in Pennsylvania. It took some effort, but Gundy got some Shippensburg gamefilm. It took some more effort, and Gundy got ahold of Yurcich. The two met at a hotel in Pennsylvania, and spoke for three hours. The next day, Gundy called and offered Yurcich the offensive coordinator job for Oklahoma State:

“Mike, here’s the deal,” he told Yurcich. “I’m going to offer you the job, and I have a three-year contract that pays $400,000 a year.”

Silence. Three seconds, four, five, six … Gundy worried that Yurcich had been caught in a snowstorm.

“Are you there?” he asked.


“Well, do you need to talk to your wife?”

“I don’t need to talk to anybody.”

Yeah, no kidding. I love this story. And to top it off, it has a happy ending. Gundy got a lot of flack for the hire, from fans and the administration, but he stuck to his guns. Yurcich has done so well he’s been in the mix for some head coaching jobs. Gundy seems happy for him, and vows to conduct a similar search when Yurcich does leave. Gundy doubts he’ll have much competition, as most coaches don’t have the guts to make such a hire. It’s hard to disagree. Also, I’m starting to think Gundy is a hell of an offensive coach. -TOB

Source: How Mike Gundy Found His Offensive Coordinator on the Internet”, Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com (12/28/2017)

PAL: Perhaps as important, let’s get an update on Gundy’s mullet. This thing has been going on for quite some time now. He just looks like a mullet guy, doesn’t he? This may have started as a joke, but it’s not any more. I mean look at him. Here he is in the week leading up to their bowl game against Virginia Tech. This is a guy that loves the 80s:

Is that a fake tan?

Here he was as a player:

I mean, this guy was trouble.

And here is the car I bet he has somewhere in his garage:

You can all but hear Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood blasting as he peels out of gas station.

TOB: And that reply, folks, is why Phil gets paid the big bucks by Big Sports Blog. Bravo!

The Most Controversial Anthem Protest Yet

Yes, it’s an Onion article. Yes, it’s mildly amusing. Yes, it’s short. Yes, it was an excuse to post that photo. You should go read it.

Source: Controversial Puppy Bowl Star Shits During National Anthem“, The Onion (02/05/2017)

Video of the Week

That was awesome, but that can’t count…can it?

PAL Song of the Week: My Morning Jacket – “Holding On To Black Metal”

Tweets of the Week

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David here it is, my philosophy is basically this, and this is something that I live by, and I always have, and I always will: Don’t ever, for any reason, do anything, to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what, no matter where, or who, or who you are with, or where you are going, or where you’ve been, ever, for any reason whatsoever.

-M. Scott

Week of December 22, 2017


First and foremost, I implore you to click the link below and read the entirety of this story. It’s so well done. The writing, photography and videos bring you on a fascinating journey that picks up where most end on Mount Everest. Writer John Branch describes it better than I ever could:

Where most of those stories end is where this one begins, long after hope is gone — the quiet, desperate and dangerous pursuit, usually at the insistence of a distraught family far away, to bring the dead home. The only search is for some semblance of closure.

Here are the numbers: About 5,000 people have summited Everest since 1953. Nearly 300 have perished on their attempt. Of those, about 200 bodies never have been recovered from Everest.

Most of the bodies are far out of sight. Some have been moved, dumped over cliffs or into crevasses at the behest of families bothered that their loved ones were someone else’s landmark or at the direction of Nepali officials who worry that the sight of dead bodies hinders the country’s tourist trade.

A lot of variables go into the decision of recovering a body or leaving the body on top of the world. First, it’s expensive (in some cases more expensive than the original expedition). It’s also extremely dangerous. Rescues don’t typically happen when the climber is in danger because every other climber’s life is in peril as well with a finite of supply of oxygen.

There are also questions of religion and transcendence. This story follows the recovery efforts of two West Bengali climbers, both Hindu, who believe in reincarnation. Leaving a body on Everest would be to deny a loved one’s soul the opportunity to pass through to their next life.  

More practically, dying on Everest can make it very challenging for family members to receive death certificates and life insurance benefits in certain parts of the world.

There are about 50 other fascinating points in Branch’s story as he tracks two recovery efforts, so just click on the link below already and have a look for yourself. – PAL

Source: Deliverance From 27,000 Feet”, John Branch, The New York Times (12/19/2017)

How to Handle Fantasy Ohtani

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Earlier this week, it struck me that I should see if Shohei Ohtani is available in my baseball keeper league run through ESPN.com. I was hoping ESPN added him to the system so I could pick him up before our rosters lock in February, ahead of our draft. He was not. As luck would have it, I stumbled on this article later that day about how fantasy sports services are planning to treat Ohtani, a 22-year old from Japan who signed with the Angels. The kicker is Ohtani expects to be both a pitcher and a hitter, likely serving as a DH a couple days a week – an excellent pitcher, Ohtani can also swing the bat.

This is more complicated than you’d expect. Traditionally, fantasy sports have not counted pitcher at-bats. Players are either in a hitter pool, or a pitcher pool. The hitting stats for National League pitchers (or AL pitchers when playing in NL parks) are not counted for or against the fantasy player. Ohtani presented a unique challenge. How should fantasy sports treat a player who expects to be both a good pitcher and a good hitter? There appear to be two approaches the companies are taking.

Yahoo and CBS are splitting Ohtani into two players – you can either draft Ohtani the pitcher or Ohtani the hitter. Or, I suppose, you could draft both. But the point is there will be two Ohtanis. This comes mostly down to ease for the software engineers.

The other approach is interesting, and CBS has hinted they will use it: There will only be one Ohtani, and he’ll be eligible both as a pitcher and a hitter, but his hitting stats will only count when you don’t start him as a pitcher. This makes sense – why would Ohtani’s hitting stats count, but not any other pitcher? You’d be giving Ohtani owners an extra hitter in the lineup each time he starts.

The second approach makes the most sense to me, but the first approach creates for a very interesting draft strategy. Ohtani the pitcher would go fairly early – but how would owners treat Ohtani the hitter? Ohtani the hitter might not be draftable – it’s possible he only DHs twice a week, in addition to his weekly start. If he is a phenom, then those at bats might be worth it. But who is gonna risk it to find out? Rowe. The answer is Rowe. -TOB

Source: Shohei Ohtani Is Already Breaking Fantasy Baseball”, Danny Heifetz, The Ringer (12/20/2017)

PAL: I mean – you’re play a game with “fantasy” in the title. Why wouldn’t you want to draft this guy?

Houston Hittin’ Switches

The Houston Rockets are 25-4, and looking like a real threat to the Warriors in the West this season. The Warriors have been alternately banged up (Steph, KD, and Draymond have all missed significant time), and when they haven’t been hurt they’ve been unfocused, says coach Steve Kerr. The Rockets, though, are hungry – and talented. They don’t seem to have any weaknesses, and run Coach D’Antoni’s offensive system to perfection – they lead the league in offensive efficiency, and they take an astouding 43.2 three-pointers per game, by far the most in the league (by contrast, the Warriors are 8th in the league, taking 30.6 threes per game, and the Rockets take almost ten more threes per game than the Nets, who take the second most threes in the league at 34.0 per game). But what makes the Rockets a real threat to the Warriors come May is the Rockets surprising defensive performance. The Rockets are a surprising 7th in the league in defensive efficiency, an improvement from 17th last season, allowing 4 fewer points per 100 possessions than last season.

At the heart of their defensive improvement is a strategy akin to their offensive strategy – take something that works and take it to its extreme. On defense, for Houston, this means switching every single screen, even those off the ball. They’ve created a roster of long, strong, athletic, and versatile players who can guard almost every possession in a pinch, preventing teams from taking advantage of mismatches after a switch. In this article, Dylan Murphy highlights the defensive play of Ryan Anderson, who we’ve profiled here before. Anderson has long been known as a stretch-four who can shoot the 3 and rebound a bit, but is not known for his defensive abilities. Murphy, though, argues that Anderson has become an excellent defender by defending smart. Historically, when a big gets switched onto a smaller player, the big backs off to avoid a blow-by, and then tries to use his length to contest a shot if the offensive player pulls up. But when Anderson gets switched onto a smaller player, especially a 3-point shooter, he crowds the player, making him uncomfortable, and forcing him to either take a well-contested three, or funneling him into the rest of the defense in the player tries to drive. Here’s an example of Anderson (and Capela) using this strategy after being switched onto Steph Curry back on opening night:

Curry seems very uncomfortable, and in both cases ends up taking (and missing) well-contested shots (the Anderson possession, in particular, reminds me of Kevin Love’s defense on Curry at the end of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals). As Murphy points out,

“Although his feet aren’t moving as quickly as Curry’s, Anderson is not trying to play angles in space. Just touching Curry’s jersey gives him a frame of reference and cuts down on how far he has to slide. Despite each Curry move, Anderson doesn’t overcommit his feet. Reaching out for a touch keeps him grounded, and does not allow Curry to toss him around in space. When Curry decides to fire, the contest is right there.”

Contrast that with the way most bigs defend someone like Curry:

While Curry will be able to blow by a player like Anderson if he chooses, Murphy notes that most players, especially shooters as good as Curry, will not choose to do that all game. As Murphy argues, this is a team set up to give the Warriors a real run in May. Should be fun. By the way, the Athletic is running a 20% off sale with a free trial right now. Check it out. -TOB

Source: The Defensive Versatility of the Rockets Could be a True Threat to the Warriors”, Dylan Murphy, The Athletic (12/20/2017)

Winning by Getting to Average

Mike Trout is the best baseball player of his generation, but he has only made the playoffs once in his career (where the Angels got swept) because the team around him has been so unbelievably bad. despite a Top 10 payroll. In his 6 full seasons, Trout has averaged just over 6.1 WAA – a simple to understand stat; using all sorts of metrics, WAA measures how many wins a player created for his team over a league average player. A single-season WAA of 6.1 is extremely good, and Trout has had a couple seasons over 8.0. In other words, the team has utterly wasted his talent, averaging just 84 wins in his career. Even worse, they’ve averaged only 77 wins the last two years.

Sad Trout.

Rebuilding a bad team is a difficult task…but the Angels have been so bad, and Trout is so good, it makes things a bit easier. In August, the Angels traded for left fielder Justin Upton, who post a very good 3.5 WAR last year. For the season, Angels left fielders posted a WAA of -0.3. Last week, they picked up Ian Kinsler, who was a 0.1 WAA last year, the lowest of his career. Very average. But he replaces Angels second basemen who combined for a -3.0 WAA last year. Then they picked up former Reds shortstop Zach Cozart, who they’ll move to third, where they collectively had a -2.0 WAA last year. Add it up, and they can expect to improve by ten wins, even if Kinsler doesn’t have a bounce back, and that’s before you take into account their signing of two-way Japanese star Shohei Ohtani (see above).

Happy Trout

That’s far more than the Yankees can expect to improve in their trade for Giancarlo Stanton (6 WAA), and the Angels did it simply by turning their extreme weaknesses into mere mediocrity. -TOB

Source: The Angels Might Finally Stop Wasting the Best Baseball Player of His Generation”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (12/19/2017)

PAL: When measured by way of WAR, I thought this quote summarized the the premise of the story perfectly:

That’s why it’s so important to understand where the Angels are starting from: These two unremarkable moves [Kinsler and Upton], paying the going rate for competent big leaguers, could very well improve the Angels as much as trading for Stanton improved the Yankees.

Obviously, having a once-in-a-generation talent like Mike Trout on your team is an advantage, but I’ve never really thought about him as a differentiator in terms of how the team can be built to improve. They don’t need more great players to get better. They need less terrible players. That should be a comparatively low bar to meet.

A League of Her Own: Mamie Johnson (9/27/35 – 12/19/17)

Did you know three women played in the Negro Leagues? I did not, and so it was very cool to learn about Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, albeit from an obituary.

After being turned away from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (the league fictionalized in A League of Their Own), the then 17 year-old Johnson joined the Indianapolis Clowns. And she wasn’t just marketing ploy to sell tickets. As the only woman to pitch in the Negro Leagues. “Peanut” posted a 33-8 won-loss record in three seasons, not to mention batted .270, and crossed paths with the likes of Hank Aaron and Satchel Paige along the way.

During the offseason she attended NYU and later earned her nursing degree (she was a nurse for 30 years after her playing days were over). She’s gave speeches at the Library of Congress and the White House, she’s featured in not one, but two, exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame, and has what looks like a great stocking stuffer of a book:

Here’s to a full and inspiring life! – PAL

Source: SC native, baseball pioneer Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson dies”, Noeh Feit, The State (12/19/2017)

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Bing Crosby & The Andrew Sisters – “Mele Kalikimaka (Hawaiian Christmas Song)”

Tweet of the Week

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Ooh the Crunch Enhancer? Yeah, it’s a non-nutritive cereal varnish. It’s semi-permeable, it’s not osmotic, what it does is it coats and seals the flake and prevents the milk from penetrating it. 

-C. Griswold

Week of December 15, 2017

Malcolm Gladwell approves.

Portrait of a Broken Down, 38-Year Old, Former NFL Star

I’ve seen, and read, profiles of aging NFL stars before. Their memory is gone, they can barely walk, their families describe them as mercurial, politely. But I’m not sure I’ve ever read one this sad. Larry Johnson was the best running back in the NFL for about a year or two. He set an NFL record for carries in a season, with over 400. His shelf life, for an elite player, was incredibly short. He only went over 1,000 yards twice (1,700+ yards rushing and over 2,000 all purpose yards in both of those years), and otherwise was a mediocre back who either split time or suffered injuries. He retired in 2011, after a combined six carries in his final two seasons.

Larry Johnson is just 38 years old. Larry Johnson is not well. He routinely has suicidal ideations, and says he has come very close to going through. His memory is so bad, he makes highlight videos of his playing career so that he can remember, and so that his 7-year old daughter will know – know he’s not a monster, know that he’s sorry when he lashes out when she can’t figure out her math homework. His memory is so bad that he doesn’t remember two full seasons from his NFL career. It’s as if they didn’t happen for him. He’s sure he has CTE, and believes he won’t know his own name by age 50. He feels a kinship with Aaron Hernandez, as frightening as that is – like Hernandez, Johnson has a history of violence, and has been arrested a number of times for domestic violence. Johnson says, “his decision to publicly describe his darkest thoughts is meant not as a way to excuse his past but rather a way to begin a conversation with other former players who Johnson suspects are experiencing many of the same symptoms.”

His daughter is his saving grace. He says she’s the only reason he hasn’t acted on his darkest, violent impulses. But it’s the scenes with his daughter that are the most heartbreaking.

They’re in the living room now, Papi and Jaylen, surrounded by walls undecorated but for the blotchy spackling compound behind them. That’s where, a few years ago, Johnson punched through the drywall.

Jaylen was there, and Johnson says he sent her upstairs before making the hole. The way he describes it, the best he can do sometimes is to shield her view.

“Did you think it was something that you did?” Johnson recalls asking Jaylen afterward, and the girl nodded. “I had to explain it: It’s never your fault.”

Or worse, the aforementioned homework scene:

Johnson has high expectations for Jaylen, and he believes the universe was making a point when it gave him a daughter. How better to punish him for shoving or choking women than to assign him a girl to shepherd through a world filled with Larry Johnsons?

“My greatest fear is my daughter falling in love with somebody who’s me,” he’ll say, and he believes if he’s honest and tough with Jaylen, she’ll never accept anyone treating her the way her father treated women.

With the sun filtering between the blinds, Johnson plays with her curly hair as she slides a finger across her sentences.

“All people,” Jaylen reads aloud, and her father interrupts.

“No,” he says. “Why would it say ‘all people?’ It . . .”

He stops, sighs and presses two fingers into his eyelids. She looks back at him, and he tells her to keep reading. He rubs his hands, massages his forehead, checks his watch. He’ll say he sometimes forgets she’s only in second grade.

They move on to her page of math problems: twenty-seven plus seven.

“How many tens?” he asks her.


“And how many ones?”


“No,” he says, visibly frustrated until Jaylen reaches the answer. Next: fifty-seven plus seven. She stares at the page.

“So count,” he says. “Count!”

Thirteen plus eight. Again staring at the numbers. Johnson’s worst subject was math, another trait Jaylen inherited. But his empathy is sometimes drowned out by more dominant emotions.

“You start at thirteen and count eight ones,” he tells her, and in the kitchen, a watch alarm begins to beep. Jaylen counts her fingers.

“No,” her dad tells her, again rubbing his face. The beeping continues in the next room. “No!”

Abruptly, he stands and stomps out of the room without saying anything. Jaylen’s eyes follow him, eyebrows raised, and listens as her father swipes the beeping watch from a table, swings open the back door and throws it into the courtyard.

That is brutal to read (and a reminder to check my own tone when frustrated with my children). Larry Johnson is no saint. He has admittedly done some terrible things. And as the article notes, “Will she remember this, or has Johnson shielded her from something worse? Is he managing his impulses as well as he can?”  But I can’t help feel bad for him. And worse for his daughter.

In the article, Larry Johnson says, ““What would it be like for this to be the day for people to find out you’re not here?” It’s a profound thought for all of us, but coming from Johnson it is deeply sad. After reading this article I can’t help but think of him as a ticking time bomb, and this begs the question: is today the day we hear some awful story about Larry Johnson, whether it’s something he does to himself, or someone else? -TOB

Source: The Demons Are Always a Breath Away”, Kent Babb, Washington Post (12/12/2017)

PAL: As disturbing as this read is, nothing came off is shocking or new. We’ve read versions of this story quite a bit in last five years. While Johnson says sharing this story is not meant excuse his past, I can’t help but wonder if it’s an attempt to excuse what he hasn’t yet done.

Blue is Fa$ter:

When the difference between gold and no medal whatsoever can be measured in hundredths of seconds, speedskaters preparing for the 2018 Winter Games will try (or believe) anything. This year’s trend: blue is the fastest color.

It’s hard to believe – if everything else is exactly the same – that color dye could impact the time it takes to skate around a rink, but the risk in ignoring a technical advantage is greater than the risk of believing a myth. Andrew Keh examines this funny dance between faith and science playing out right now in speedskating.

“With any new piece of equipment, there is an assumption that it has been tested, tested again and tested some more. At ice rinks, laboratories and wind tunnels around the world, the top countries are engaged in a hush-hush arms race, a different sort of cold war.”

While South Korea skaters have historically worn blue, competitors from Germany (combo of black, orange and red) and Norway (red, always red) are joining the party this year, tossing aside their typical colors. The trend has competitors, coaches, and researchers talking.

  • Dai Dai Ntab, a sprint specialist for the Netherlands: “It’s been proven that blue is faster than other colors. Every Olympic season, everybody is trying to find the hidden gem. This year it’s the blue suits.”
  • Renzo Shamey, professor of color science and technology: “I have come to a point in my life that I have sufficient confidence in what I’ve done and what I know, but at the same time I’m not so arrogant to dismiss claims people make. Having said that, based on my knowledge of dye chemistry, I cannot possibly imagine how dyeing the same fabric with two dyes that have the same properties to different hues would generate differing aerodynamic responses.”
  • Mike Crowe, the coach of the Canadian team: “I look at that as the oldest trick in the book. It’s just gamesmanship, really (on the part of Norway). Make them doubt. Make them wonder.”

Likely, the reason for the blue suit is far more obvious. Give this article a read to find out. I mean – come on – when are you going to read a speed skating story if not now?- PAL

TOB: Blue is the fastest color? Someone tell that to the Cal football team.

Why the Giants Might Need to Stand Pat on a 98-Loss Team, or a Lesson in the MLB CBA

Don’t tell my wife, but I signed up for The Athletic last week, when I was devouring every detail of a possible Giants trade for Giancarlo Stanton or signing of Shohei Ohtani, or both, that I possibly could. Don’t worry. I’m sure it’s some sort of tax write-off, boo. Well, spoiler alert: the Giants whiffed on both Stanton and Ohtani. After reaching a deal with the Marlins for Stanton contingent on Stanton waiving his No Trade Clause to go to SF, Stanton refused. The kicker here is that Stanton reportedly told the Marlins before any trade talks began that he would only accept a deal to a small number of teams (rumored to be the Yankees and Dodgers), but the Marlins engaged the Giants and Cardinals, anyways, and reached agreements with both. The Marlins then went to Stanton and told him to choose the Giants or Cardinals or he’d be a Marlin for life. Stanton, knowing the new ownership group was desperate to shed his $295 million in future payroll, gave them a big f-u and said no. The Marlins predictably caved and sent him to New York for peanuts. Ohtani then shocked everyone and chose the Angels. But I digress.

Once the dust settled on that, the question for the Giants became: What now? Do they go after free agent JD Martinez? Try to trade for an available, expensive, aging star like Andrew McCutcheon or Jacoby Ellsbury? Or trade for a young star like Marcell Ozuna?

This is the part where I finally get back around to shelling out for the Athletic, which recently announced they had hired longtime Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly. Baggarly is very smart (two-time Jeopardy champion, y’all!) and a good writer. In this article, Baggarly makes a very strong argument that the 98-loss Giants very well may, and probably should, stand pat because of the Competitive Balance Tax, or CBT. The CBT is a progressive tax for teams who go over a designated payroll threshold. The tax progresses the higher a team goes over the threshold, and also progresses for teams over the threshold in successive seasons. This year, the threshold is $197 million. Baggarly makes it simple:

A first-time payor gets taxed at a rate of 20 percent. A three-time payor gets levied at a rate of 50 percent…. On top of the base tax on the overage, you pay an additional 12 percent on every dollar that exceeds the CBT by more than $20 million. Then the league levies an additional 45 percent on every dollar that exceeds the CBT by more than $40 million….The penalties for teams that exceed the CBT include stingier draft pick compensation, too. Teams that lose a qualified free agent receive a compensation pick after the first round — unless they were into the CBT, in which case they get a pick after the fourth round. Teams that sign a qualified free agent from another club must forfeit their third-round pick as compensation — unless they were into the CBT, in which case they lose their second- and fifth-round picks, as well as $1 million from their international signing bonus pool.

The Giants have been over the CBT threshold three years running now, and so their penalties are high, but the team can reset those penalties if they get under $197 million threshold next year, heading into a monster free agent class after 2018 headlined by Manny Machado and Bryce Harper (hey, let me dream, ok?). The problem for the Giants is they are going to have a devil of a time getting under the threshold at this point. As Baggarly points out:

Well, you might not like this. They already have 11 players under guaranteed contracts that add up to just more than $150 million toward the total payroll for CBT accounting purposes. Their five arbitration-eligible players project to cost an additional $15 million. It would be another $6 million or so if they were to fill out the roster with players who have fewer than three years of service time.

That’s $171 million. More than a bit of wiggle room before you get to $197 million, right? Except payroll calculations also include a raft of expenditures not limited to but including: contributions to benefits plans, player medical costs, workers compensation premiums, spring training allowances, All-Star Game expenses, contributions to the postseason players’ pool, meal and tip allowances and even moving and travel expenses.

Baggarly estimates the total, then, to be $185 million, leaving them $12 million to work with. In other words, look forward to a lot more bad baseball at AT&T Park in 2018. Then, uh, good luck luring a marquee free agent next Winter. -TOB

Source: Why the Giants Are Motivated to Slip Under the Tax Threshold — And What That Would Leave Them to Spend”, Andrew Baggarly, The Athletic (12/12/2017)

PAL: And if you want to understand it from the Marlins front office, check this out from Michael Baumann. “This is not a baseball trade. This is a liquidation of assets.” The investment group that bought the team this year is immediately in debt, to the tune of $400MM.

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Buffalo Springfield – “Burned”

Tweets of the Week:

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In the end, the greatest snowball isn’t a snowball at all. It’s fear. Merry Christmas. 

-D. Schrute

Week of December 8, 2017

Phil: Champ.

Woodson Wins Manning’s Heisman

There were four Heisman finalists in 1997 (there is no preset number of finalists). Three will have Hall of Fame busts in Canton, Ohio. Can you name the four without looking?

Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Ryan Leaf, and – the winner – Charles Woodson. He remains the only (primarily) defensive player to win the award in its 80+ year history.

Let’s just take moment to truly admire Randy Moss in this pic.

Winning the Heisman obviously takes one hell of an individual performance over the course of a college football season, but it’s also about timing and moments. November heroics and incredible highlights travel better across a country (and voters) than really good stats. The former are emotive, while the latter are logic. If we’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that people vote with their guts and not their heads.

Since seemingly the dawn of time, Peyton Manning has been everyone’s favorite, and he was the favorite to win the Heisman in 1997. Through the words of the finalists, their college coaches, and former teammates, hear how Charles Woodson took a what felt like a formality of an award from a golden quarterback in Chris Low’s oral history of perhaps the most stacked Heisman contest.

Before we get to Peyton and Woodson, I just want everyone to enjoy this college highlight from Randy Moss and his best quote from this story.

Moss, from Marshall, was not going to win the Heisman, and he knew it, despite being the most dominant player of the bunch (26 touchdowns as a wide receiver!). The dude who made news for breaking his parole and only one year of college football under him was not competing with the senior, all-everything Manning, and he wasn’t going to compete with Michigan’s hype machine behind Woodson. His take on his trip to New York, courtesy of Michigan Safety (and Woodson teammate) Marcus Rey:

Then Randy walks in and said, ‘None of us is going to win, so we might as well get through this ceremony, hang out tonight and tear it up in New York City.’ 

As if I needed another reason to love Randy Moss.

Now, back to the Manning – Woodson competition. It was Manning’s to lose from the start of the season. Manning returned for his senior season at Tennessee. He surely would have been a high first-round pick after his junior year in a draft that featured an astonishing two quarterbacks taken in the first 98 picks (Jim Druckenmilller at the 26th pick to the Niners and Jake Plummer to Arizona in the second round). I would say he would’ve been the number one pick, but the St. Louis Rams got Orlando Pace, a Hall of Fame left tackle.

The one scab on Manning’s college resume coming into his senior year victory lap was that he couldn’t beat Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators. He came up short again in ‘97, with a pick-six to boot in a 33-20 loss in September. That opened the door just a crack early in the season for Woodson.

Most remember that Woodson did it all at Michigan. Shut down defensive back with seven interceptions. Wide receiver with 3 touchdowns. Punt and kick return good for another touchdown. The Wolverines also went undefeated that year and split the National Championship (before the playoff or BCS) with Nebraska (Nebraska was number 1 in the Coaches poll, while Michigan was number 1 in the A.P. poll.

Perhaps as important as the stats and success was the fact that Woodson had not one, but two “Heisman Moments”. First, a one-handed pick in October against Michigan State that, as Lloyd Carr puts it, put Woodson “on everyone’s radar”.

Second, and an electric punt return for a touchdown against Ohio State in the last conference game of the season.

All of this leads to a lot of back-and-forth between the peanut gallery of coaches, former teammates, and broadcasters in this article. Enjoy some of the best comments below:

Keith Jackson on Woodson: The game was changing, and I think people realized his brilliance and weren’t afraid to do something out of the norm — and that’s voting for a defensive player. But he was more than just a defensive player. He was the most impactful player in college football, and that’s why I voted for him.

Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer on Woodson: I thought it had maybe gone from a lock to a closer race because Woodson had a big game against Ohio State and returned a kick and caught a touchdown pass. I knew it might be close, but didn’t want to think so. But what do I know about that world?

Manning teammate Jeff Teague, on Woodson winning: We were well-stocked, food- and drink-wise [back at Tennessee]. It never crossed my mind, not for one second, that he wasn’t going to win. We were just there to watch him get it. It was a party. When it went down, it was just a stunned silence. A few guys stood up and threw something. But, really, it was just kind of quiet.

Teague on Brian Griese’s assessment that Woodson was the better player (Teague and Griese were teammates on the Broncos): Brian still can’t see through the maize and blue and be objective on that subject. Brian’s a great guy, but he’s blinded by that ugly helmet.

A fun read looking back 20 years on the eve of what most think will be am anticlimactic Heisman ceremony. Then again, they thought the 1997 ceremony would be anticlimactic, too. – PAL

Source: The Oral History of the Epic 1997 Heisman Trophy Race”, Chris Low, ESPN (12/05/2017)

TOB: I have always had a rebellious streak, and so it should be no surprise that I did not like Peyton Manning as a 15-year old kid. I have always distrusted anyone the media universally liked. I couldn’t stomach the Gameday stories about Peyton and how much film he watched, how he was the first one in and the last one out, and about how gosh darn smart he was. I’ve also always been pro-Michigan. And Charles Woodson was cool as hell. So, yeah, I was rooting hard for Woodson over the Golden Boy.

I don’t remember many Heisman ceremonies, but I remember that one. Heading into the ceremony, I was resigned to the fact that Peyton would win. I was ready to bitch and moan. I was 15, so it meant a lot more to me than it does now. It seemed important in a way that it no longer does. And the kicker is – I didn’t even get to watch. As a kid, we went to Saturday night mass, and my parents made me leave after the show had started, but before they announced the winner. I remember getting home, expecting the worst, and being shocked to hear that Chuck had won, Peyton had lost. I took great joy in that, and I took great joy in this article. Sometimes sports surprise you, and sometimes, it’s great. Peyton never winning the Heisman will always bring a smile to my face.

PAL:  You’re on the ‘Chuck’ level with Woodson?

Which Block Was Most Dope?

Last Thursday, in one NBA evening, we saw three amazing blocks. I couldn’t decide which block was dopest, so we’re putting it to a vote. The contenders:

LeBron on Dennis Schroeder

Giannis on Dame Lillard

LeBron on Taurean Prince

So, which block was dopest? Vote! -TOB

Expand the Damn Playoff

I have been on the fence on whether the NCAA four-team playoff should be expanded. I was watching the Conference Championship games last weekend, and it occurred to me that we, kinda, already have an eight-team playoff. There were 10 teams with a shot at the playoff. In the SEC, Auburn and Georgia playing in the title game, and Alabama (who did not win its division and was idle). In the Big 10, Wisconsin and Ohio St., playing each other. In the Big-12, Oklahoma, playing TCU in the title game. In the ACC, Miami and Clemson, playing each other. And USC, playing Stanford in the title game. It wasn’t a true playoff – as it was, SC and Ohio State won but were left out. Still, unless you are Alabama, you’re not making the playoffs without winning your conference championship game. So, it’s kind of a playoff.

But then I read Dan Wetzel’s proposal for an eight-team playoff and I can’t find a problem. In fact, it sounds awesome as hell. His plan:

  • Scrap the conference title games.
  • The five power conference winners (determined by each conference on its own) gets a spot.
  • Three at-large bids. If a non-power five member is ranked top 10 or 15, it gets a spot (I’d add you could limit this to the top ranked non-power five member).
  • Play the first round in early December, and go from there.

Here’s how this year’s playoff would have looked.

I love it. As Wetzel points out, in the current system Alabama lost its season finale and somehow earned an effective bye to the semifinals, while the team they lost to (Auburn) had to play Georgia, in Atlanta. Sees fair.

Some may argue there’s no reason to include the non-power 5. But, I like it. Who doesn’t like rooting for an underdog? And while they might not be the 8th best team, the 8th best team rarely has a reason to argue they are the best team in the country, so who cares. Do better than 8th next time. Anyways, I’m all in. Eight is great! -TOB

Source: Here’s the Solution to College Football’s Inefficient and (Often) Meaningless Postseason”, Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports (12/03/2017)

PAL: I guess I’d care if I were on the eighth best team. What if the eighth best team is more deserving than the the top-ranked non-power 5? You’re telling me USC isn’t more deserving than UCF this year…wrong question to ask TOB. I love the automatic bid for a non power 5 conference gets at first blush, but the only problem is UCF didn’t play very good teams. And what I mean by that is they played maybe two marginally good teams all season. Here’s UCF’s schedule in this undefeated season (and the opponents CBS ranking, which goes to 130):

    • Florida International (#70)
    • Maryland (#82)
    • Memphis (#16)
    • Cincinnati (#107)
    • East Carolina (#109)
    • Navy (#56)
    • Austin Peay (not on CBS top 130)
    • SMU (#59)
    • UConn (#114)
    • Temple (#79)
    • USF (#23)
    • Memphis (#16)

I’m sorry, but that schedule in no way holds up to USC’s schedule this year (ending the regular season ranked 8th), or any a Power 5 conference schedule. I find it highly, highly unlikely UCF would have gone undefeated playing in the Pac-12, and I highly doubt they lose 2 or fewer games in the Pac-12. They played 2 teams in the top 25, and 4 teams ranked outside of the top 100! We try to make the case for the little guy, but the little guy has to play real games (I know this is hard due to scheduling being done so far in advance).

I don’t love the idea of automatic bids to power 5 conference champs (what if a 3-loss SEC team wins its championship while a 1-loss Pac-12 team loses), but it’s the better than what we have now.  With that said, the either ditch the conference championship games or make them mean something. Just don’t guarantee an at-large to anyone. Play it year-by-year.

Fear and Loathing in Carson, California

The subheadline to Kevin Clark’s story says it all:

The Los Angeles Chargers are playing in a tiny soccer stadium in a city that doesn’t seem to want them. There’s no way they’ll be able to fill a full-size arena, but they’re already on the books to be shared residents with the Rams in 2020. Somehow, the best solution might be to just stay where they are.

The Chargers left San Diego, have no fans in L.A., and can’t even fill a 30,000 seat soccer stadium. This is a great article exploring what the Chargers did wrong, the obstacles they face in setting down roots in L.A., why they should just own being the little-brother-team by staying in that soccer team, and what it’s like to attend an NFL game in a small stadium where no one gives a crap about the home team. Fantastic read. -TOB

Source: The Football Team Without a Home”, Kevin Clark, The Ringer (12/05/2017)

PAL: Comparing the Chargers in Carson City to U2 giving away albums we didn’t want on our phones in the first place such a great analogy, and Clark’s writing only gets better from there. Highly recommend this story.

Don’t Be A Jackass At Your Kid’s Game

Typically not a fan of self-help or advice columns. In appealing to the masses, they oftentimes are diluted to the lowest common axiom. With that said, there’s some interesting stuff in this guide on how to behave at your kid’s game.

First off, we’ve all heard that the chances of your kid going pro are infinitesimal. But how about some cold hard facts? Here are the probabilities of high school athletes that go on to play NCAA sports:

And here are a couple tips for all you parents out there.

  • “If you haven’t encountered game-day maniacs, well, I’ve got some bad news for you: it’s you.”
  • “If you have the means to afford a private shooting coach for your little baller, you have the means to fund a college savings account. Let the ball game be a game, and nothing more.”
  • Learn how to ref…hell, try being one  – “Once you experience the behavior of parents from the perspective of the people who are working diligently to make the games happen, you’ll behave yourself on game day.”

And if none of that persuaded you to chill the f*&^ out, how about two videos of parents losing it and looking like losers of the worst kind.

The Classic:

The Overreacting Mom:

The Worst:

Don’t be that guy, folks. -PAL

Source: How Not to Be a Raging Maniac at Your Kid’s Soccer Game”, Geoffrey Reddick, Offspring (12/6/17)

TOB: Clearly, I am, and will continue to  be, a very level-headed sports dad.

Also, one in EIGHT high school lax bros/bras plays in college? Looks like my boys are getting pinneys and lax sticks for Christmas!

Herm Edwards at ASU is Going to Be Fun (For Everyone Else)

Herm “YOU PLAY. TO WIN. THE GAME.” Edwards has not coached in ten years, He spent the last decade as a talking head, and not a particularly analytical one. He is mostly a guy they go to for discussion on player behavior. So, it was with incredible shock to the rest of college football when ASU was rumored to, and then did, hire Herm as its next head football coach. The introductory press conferece was…hilarious. First, Herm explained how he’d run his offense, and in doing so pinned our country’s problems, at least in part, on the fact that “we don’t huddle anymore in our society.” Uh, ok. Next, he got all weirdly religious when a reporter identified himself as from Devil Digest, and in the process seemed to suggest he has NO IDEA that ASU’s mascot is the Sun Devils. I’m not kidding. Check it out:

A day later, Herm was presented with a game jersey and could not believe how small it was, and thought it was a “girl’s” jersey.

Look, he’s right. Those things are crazy tight these days. But it does NOT HELP with the perception that he’s completely out of touch. As a fan of a conference opponent, I am delighted. Should be a fun 10 months (no, I don’t think he’ll be the coach for even one full season). -TOB

Source: New Arizona State Coach Herm Edwards Had A Bizarre First Press Conference”, Samer Kalaf, Deadspin (12/04/2017)

PAL: Bet. Edwards’ dog-and-pony show lasts for at least 18 college games. Even Odds. $10.

The Early Aughts Were a Weird Time

Presented without further comment:

Video of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Daniel Caesar – “Hold Me Down”

Tweet of the Week

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You all took a life today. The life of the party. 

-M. Scott

Week of December 1, 2017

Strong argument. 

College Coaches: Pass on Tennessee

Tennessee fans didn’t want Greg Schiano as the head coach, and rather than claiming his mediocre head coaching record, they used sexual abuse as their rationale. You see, it was a moral issue, but not really

Backstory: From 1991-95, Greg Schiano served as a graduate assistant, then assistant coach for Penn State football. During that time, Jerry Sandusky was sexually abusing children, many times in within the Penn State football complex. We know how that story has played out. Per Joe Drape of The New York Times:

In a 2015 deposition, the former Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary testified that another Penn State assistant coach, Tom Bradley, had told him that Schiano had talked to him about seeing Sandusky abusing a boy sometime in the early 1990s. Both Schiano and Bradley, most recently an assistant at U.C.L.A, have denied the allegation and said they had no knowledge of the abuse.

Since his time at Penn State, Schiano went on to coach at Miami, Chicago Bears, Rutgers, Tampa Bay, and now he’s the defensive coordinator at Ohio State. He’s had success as a coordinator, and less success as a head coach. At Rutgers he had a 68-67 record, the highlight being 2006, when the team finished 11-2. As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach, he posted a 11-21 win-loss record in two seasons. Take out the 2006 Rutgers season, and he’s been a below  average head coach if you simply look at won-loss. It could be he’s better suited as a big-time coordinator.

Which brings us to Tennessee, a football program and fan base under the delusion that they are a premier SEC program, despite having won more than 10 games in a season exactly zero times in the last decade. They’ve won a single National Title since the Johnson administration.

Since they are delusional, they actually believed (I’m laughing as I write this) that they were going to be the program to lure Jon Gruden back into coaching. When – shocker – that didn’t pan out, they offered the job to Schiano, a move that was vetted internally and approved within the program by the likes of  Peyton Manning. Word got out before it was announced, and the fans were not pleased, and they hung their argument on the allegation that Schiano knew about the Sandusky abuse and didn’t do enough. They made enough noise that the University of Tennessee caved and re-opened the coaching search, despite Athletic Director, John Currie, providing this response to Schiano’s vetting: “He received the highest recommendations for character, family values and commitment to academic achievement and student-athlete welfare from his current and former athletics directors, players, coaching colleagues and experienced media figures.”

The only time Schiano’s name ever comes up in the Sandusky scandal is in a deposition in which one coach (McQueary) said another coach (Bradley) told him Schiano saw Sandusky abusing a boy. Bradley and Schiano deny any knowledge of the abuse. That, as far as I’ve found reported, is it.

Fans didn’t like the hire – not because of sexual abuse – but because Schiano was not successful enough as a coach. It wasn’t a big name, and so they used child rape and molestation as front. I mean, my God.

No coach should take the Tennessee job (as of 12/1/17, 7:30AM PT no one has). 

Obviously, this won’t happen – they’ll pay someone a boatload of cash – but who wants to work at a place where absurd allegations from the fanbase can cause the athletic department balk?

A young hot commodity like Scott Frost will have other big-time offers within a year (the coaching carousel at big-time programs seems to constantly have openings these days. In just the last week, Jimbo Fisher seems to be on his way from Florida State to Texas A&M, UCLA hired Chip Kelly, Florida filled its position, and Nebraska’s looking for a coach).

Here’s to another decade of crap Tennessee football. They deserve it. – PAL

Source: Tennessee, Greg Schiano and Moral Outrage in College Sports”, Joe Drape, The New York Times (11/27/17)

TOB: I hesitate to so broadly paint the Tennessee fans. As Drape says:

Certainly some of the people in Tennessee who objected so swiftly and vociferously on Sunday to the Schiano news were drawing a moral line. For others, though, this is about the University of Tennessee wanting to be good at football again. They want a better coach than Schiano.”

The article makes it sound as though this started when someone painted the rock you see above. I believe the person who did so was in fact making a strong moral stand, and would have done so even if Schiano had Nick Saban’s record. Yes, others piled on, many of whom would not have protested if Schiano had Saban’s record. But the thing is, schools make unpopular coaching hires all the time. Fans call into radio, or flood message boards. But I’ve never seen anything like that. And while I think there’s herd mentality going on, I do think the unique situation here (McQueary testifying that another coach told him Schiano had seen Sandusky raping a boy years before McQueary did) does fuel the flames. It’s child rape. It’s among the worst crimes that can be committed. And if there’s a chance a coach turned a blind eye to that? Well, I get the outrage. I wouldn’t want him coaching my school, either. The fact he’s been a mediocre head coach just makes the decision even easier.

The NFL…Whatever.

I am just so, so, so sick of writing about the NFL. It is such an incredibly cynical, ugly organization. But, I must. Under Roger Goodell, the NFL has tried to suppress any and all individuality among the players. They care about profits, and profits alone. So the NFL borrows a line from Michael Jordan, who once reportedly said, “Republicans buy shoes, too.” That is – stay out of politics. Keep everything vanilla. Be everything to everyone. You can imagine, then, that the NFL hates the protests to the national anthem that have gone on for the last year and change. NFL ratings are way down – due in part to anger over the protests, in part to fan concern for player safety, in part to the continuance of a gradual decrease in ratings owing to a whole host of reasons. But the protests are tangible. It is something the NFL can do something about. So first, they tried to co-opt the protest. But many players would not budge, and continued the protests. So the NFL formed a taskforce with the Players Coalition, a group of 40 or so of the more vocal players, and promised to come up with some solutions. This week, the NFL and the Players Coalition released some news. The NFL would commit $89 million dollars to various causes “important to African-American communities.” Wow! Hey! Not Bad! But the on the eve of that news, 49ers safety Eric Reid and Dolphins safety Michael Thomas publicly announced they’d left the Players Coalition as the coalition’s beliefs were “not in [their] best interests as a whole.”

Well, that’s odd. I wonder what’s…oh. Right. It’s the NFL. So here’s the real deal behind the this great-sounding deal: there are strings attached. While the agreement does not require an end to the protests, ESPN reports the NFL “hopes this effort will effectively end” the protests. On top of that, Reid said he was specifically asked if he’d stop his protest. Shocking.

Worse, the deal is not as great or generous as it sounds. For one, the $89M is to be paid over 7 years. Each owner only pays $250,000 per year, a paltry sum. The players pay the same amount. The balance, about $85M comes from the league. But even so, there’s no guarantee the NFL couldn’t simply reallocate funds already earmarked for other charity projects. And there’s no guarantee the money will actually go to charities the players, or African-American communities, care about. The agreement calls for a group of twelve people – five players, five owners, and two league staffers, to determine how the money will be spent each year. That’s right: the NFL owners and the league have a 7-5 majority, meaning the players’ voices on that committee are effectively silenced. Finally, the NFL apparently threatened that if a deal didn’t get done soon, the deal would be off the table and the NFL would take unilateral steps to ban the protests. Swell. As Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky says:

“So, let’s recap. NFL owners are pledging to spend a relatively paltry amount, not pledging that they won’t just take that money from previous charitable pledges, not promising that they won’t veto players’ preferences on where the money should be spent, setting up a voting body specifically designed to outvote those players, and expecting that this will stop players from protesting during the national anthem.”

Sigh. I can only hope Will Leitch is right, and that the end is already near for the NFL. -TOB

Source: The NFL’s $100 Million Ploy to Stop Player Protests”, Jeremy Stahl, Slate (11/30/2017)

PAL: Every week we tell you “Here are our favorite stories of the week.” This is not one of my favorite stories of the week. I’m not excited to share this with you, my friends, and talk about with over the phone or over a beer.

Is it an important story? Yeah, it is. And while we are absolutely aware that this is not a news site, and we are not journalists, in this small corner of the sports blogs, I for one want to take that moment to share what I think is worth your time.

When we look back on the year of 2017 in sports in 5, 10, 20 years from now, the NFL protests will at the top of the list of topics. That counts for something, and while I don’t like writing about it time and time again, it is a national conversation transcending sports.

To the N.F.L., it’s always about advertiser dollars and ratings. It has nothing to do with patriotism or protests. To take the money under those terms would mean nothing less than to be bought-off by N.F.L.. Good for those players.

What Does A Hero Owe His Hometown

Here’s a sports story I haven’t read before: the small town boy done good, gives time and money to his hometown, but unlikely to return.

Earl Thomas III may be small (5’10”), but the 3-time all-pro has been one the most lethal safeties in football during his eight-year career with the Seahawks. Take it from Tight End Rob Gronkowski (6’6”, 265 lbs), who said this Thomas hit was one of the hardest he’s ever taken.

Thomas grew up in the southeastern Texas town of Orange. In his profile on Thomas, ESPN’s Joel Anderson describes Orange, TX as carrying “a bedeviling legacy as one of Texas’ most palpably inhospitable regions for black people, a town where Confederacy enthusiasts recently erected a monument on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, to be seen from Interstate 10 and the 55,000 cars per day that pass by.”

For generations, the Thomas family has been a rock of the community. Thomas’ grandfather, Earl, Sr., worked at the grocery store for 43 years and built a church in the toughest part of town. His father, Earl, Jr., has been spending the weeks following Hurricane Harvey hanging drywall in the community, and his mother is an unpaid church secretary after retiring from the school district. 

While the longstanding dominance of West Orange-Stark high school football can bring the community together, it doesn’t seem to carry over beyond Friday nights.

The bitter fights over desegregating the schools that took over Orange in 1977 don’t seem that far off now, as the schools in the area are becoming more segregated by the year. While ⅓ of Orange is black, ⅔ of the student population at West Orange-Stark is black. Most white kids head north, out of Orange, for school. Add to that a recent Confederate monument erected on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, and – well – you can decide for yourself what that says about the state of life in Orange.

After Thomas starred at University of Texas for two seasons, Seattle drafted him in the first round.  Seattle is 2,410 miles away, but the distance in thinking might be even further. Thomas is still connected to his home and carries on the Thomas family legacy within the community. He still trains there in the off-season. He puts on free youth camps attended by hundreds of kids. He chartered buses for his community to watch the high school team play in the State Championship. After Hurricane Harvey, Thomas and fellow UT Alum Jamaal Charles were “this area’s Red Cross”.

No one questions his devotion to his hometown, but he got out, and unlike most everyone in Orange, Thomas’ was allowed to see the world through a lens other than Orange.

It’s so draining, and I think it’s why [Earl Sr.] passed away so early. My uncle is going through the same situation. I feel like, going forward, the older I get, the more I kind of push away. I don’t really grow as much when I’m back.

…I want my daughter to have the best schooling. I want my daughter to be around diverse people, where you don’t see the racism and stuff like that going on.

I know I’m always going to maintain a presence there, but living there? No.

This one’s worth the click-thru, folks. – PAL

Source: Earl Thomas is the favorite son of a troubled Texas town”, Joel Anderson, ESPN (11/24/17)

Hey, Everybody! Phil is Running a Marathon This Weekend!

Go get ’em, buddy!

Good luck!

Video of the Week: 

PAL Song of the Week: Burl Ives – “Silver And Gold”

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My mom always used to say that average people are the most special people in the world. And that’s why God made so many.

-M. Scott