EAGAN, Minn. — The head coach lost his parking space. COVID-19 casualty.
There’s a 40-foot BioReference Laboratories trailer in space 136 in the Minnesota Vikings’ players/coaches parking lot just outside the entry where every essential Vikings employee will arrive to work this year. The trailer has four COVID testing bays, with certified testing agents ready to do about 180 nasal-swab tests of players, staff and coaches when they report to camp in the coming days. Space 136 is labeled “HEAD COACH.” It is Mike Zimmer’s spot. Or was.
“Has anyone told Coach Zim he doesn’t have a parking spot anymore?” tight end Kyle Rudolph said the other day, trepidation in his voice.
Yes. Veteran athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, now doubling as the team’s Infection Control Officer, told the fiery Zimmer.
“What the —-!” Zimmer said.
“But Mike gets it,” Sugarman said. “He gets it because he has to get it. Every head coach has to get it this year. That doesn’t mean they’re gonna like it.”
On Friday, Sugarman, who suddenly becomes as important as a coordinator this year as the Vikings’ chief COVID-fighting employee, and GM Rick Spielman gave me a socially distanced tour of what every coach and player in the league will experience as long as the NFL attempts to play football in 2020. Players—other than rehabbing ones—have been banned from these facilities for months. How long? In the linebackers classroom inside this facility, the Christmas decorations haven’t been put away yet . . . understandable seeing that the ‘backers were last in the room in early January.
Today, the first NFL players will cross the Rubicon into the strangest training camp in NFL history, when rookies for Houston and Kansas City are scheduled to report. Unless they don’t. Scores of players—unhappy that they don’t know all the rules of engagement about the state of play in 2020—went on a raging tweetstorm Sunday, including Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
I am concerned.
My wife is pregnant.@NFL Training camp is about to start..
And there’s still No Clear Plan on Player Health & Family Safety. 🤷🏾
We want to play football but we also want to protect our loved ones. #WeWantToPlay
— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) July 19, 2020
Frequency of testing, whether preseason games happen, an acclimation period to football after this languid offseason . . . all huge points to the players. We’ll get to those, with slings and arrows from players, after this tour of the Vikings’ Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, and the BioReference Lab. The TCOPC tour may answer some questions.
Sugarman wore a natty Viking-logoed black mask to start the tour in this three-year-old football palace, and he made it clear immediately that there will be no mask-related politics inside this building this year.
“You are required to wear a face covering inside this building all day,” he said. Then, sternly: “Without exception.”
He won’t be alone in his enforcement. Here, and with every team, there will be three additional “COVID Protocol Coordinators,” to enforce rules, manage flow around the building and coordinate the tracing and tracking of people. (More about that in a moment.)
• First stop: the four testing bays. In training camp, the 100 club employees who come into daily contact with players—coaches, trainers, staff, service employees, team media people—and 80 players will enter the trailer and undergo the COVID-19 test. Not the deep “brain-scraper,” but the mid-nasal test that’s not as intrusive. I’m hearing the league is leaning toward compromising with the union and ordering daily tests, at least for a substantial period of time this summer.
There’s one entry for all 180 essential personnel, called Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees and players. (Others who work in the building will use another entry and be shielded for entering any part of the building where any of the 180 can go.) Next: Enter, and sanitize the hands at one of the automatic sanitizing stations. CLEAN HANDS ARE SAFE HANDS, the machine reminds you.
Then it’s temperature screening at the thermal-scanner tablet with camera on top. With mask on—the device won’t work unless half the face is covered—you step about 18 inches from the camera and center your face so it focuses on you.
I did it. The device took three seconds to read me. I’m good: 97.9.
“Temperature detected is normal,” the voice in the tablet said.
• Entry: Call up the TeamWorks app on your phone, enter your temperature and answer the 10 health questions. If you’re good, the smart phone shows a big green check mark.
“You’re approved to enter TCOPC today,” the screen below the checkmark says.
A COVID Protocol Coordinator will give each player, plus all Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees, something called a proximity tracking device when they enter. That will track the movements of every player and employee throughout the day, in the building and on the field—even in the huddle. This, of course, will allow tracers, if someone tests positive for COVID-19, to figure out which player or employee has been in close proximity to the infected person, and for how long, to determine the course of palliative action the team should take after contact-tracing. NFL medical director Allen Sills on Sunday called this a huge part of the league’s efforts to ID all people who come into contact with an infected person.
• Locker room: By NFL standards, it’s particularly big—6,500 square feet, complete with fireplaces and a wall of TVs, and 94 wide-body lockers. When the players report, only 42 will be used . . . with more on the way this week.
“We have the good fortune of being in one of the largest and most awesome facilities in the NFL, and in the locker room, it gives us a big advantage when it comes to social distancing,” Sugarman said. The locker room, a week out from welcoming players, is still a work in progress; Kirk Cousins still has a full locker neighboring to his right, but that will be eliminated when players report. The finished product, Sugarman said, will have an empty locker next to a used one, never two used ones in a row. This week, extra spaced-out lockers will be added to accommodate more players, and some rookies may be housed in an adjoining room. The couches are gone. More space. More breathing room. “The goal is no player will be within six feet of another player,” Sugarman said.
• The hot/cold tubs: Normally, each modern built-in tub would fit 12 players. Now they’re marked for six, with purple markers placed for each of the players to stand. In training camp, when more than six players would want to crowd into a cold tub to lower the body temperature, the Vikings will put up tents outside, with individual ice barrels for players.
• Showers: Every other shower head will be removed. No player will shower closer than six feet from another.
• Training room: The tables that appear closer than six feet apart will be separated by plexiglass to be installed this week. And every table, once used, will be cleaned by an electrostatic sprayer, the kind you’ve seen used to clean airplanes, spraying a fine mist of disinfectant. Sugarman demonstrated on a treatment table.
“The difference is, you want to leave it wet, rest for several minutes,” Sugarman said. “These particles cover the entire the table. They go in the cracks. So, a much safer way to clean. We’ll use these sprayers in the weight room, in the players [meeting] rooms, in the cafeteria.”
• Meeting rooms: These have all changed. A large room for the offensive linemen, for instance, which normally would fit 20 big men sitting at long tables with the coaches at the front, has had all but 12 chairs removed. There is at least six feet between each chair, and at least six feet between the chairs, front and back. In the linebacker room, 14 seats have been reduced to eight, with a jumbo round container of sanitary wipes and a Purell dispenser when players walk in. And on the floor of the linebacker room . . . what’s that?
“Christmas stuff,” Sugarman said. “You should see what the offensive linemen do in their room.”
There’s a North Pole sign, unstrung lights, a small fake tree, and a bunch of little Santas, neatly arranged, waiting to be boxed—most likely to be put away for next December. Which really isn’t that far off. But that’s what happens when a pandemic hits. Normally, the Christmas stuff would get put away before the offseason program commenced in April. Not this year. No offseason program.
In football, there are daily full-squad meetings, and this building has a lovely 172-luxe-chair theater-type setting for just that. Not anymore. “We’ll be able to use 42 of the chairs in here this year,” said Sugarman, motioning to the back of the sloping theater. “By the time the players get here, the seats on these other chairs will be screwed out. Again: No one will be within six feet of anyone else.”
This room will likely be used for defensive team meetings. The offense, likely, will be down on the artificial turf of the indoor facility, with AV equipment and a big screen rolled in daily for film study for the full offense.
Full team meetings? It’s probable that those will be held by videoconference, the way teams did a lot of their teaching in the offseason.
“Again,” Sugarman said, “there’s going to be lots of new normal this year.”
• Cafeteria: At one point during the tour, Sugarman walked into the cafeteria, which normally seats more than 100. This year: 40, with the hope that most people will grab-and-go. “Where’s the food!” he said to the cafeteria workers, knowing that the food this year won’t be laid out to ladle onto plates or taken with fingers.
“Players will not touch food,” he said. “Disposable plate, single-use condiments . . . pasta salad, maybe, in a sealed container. Same food. It just might look a little different when they get it. Best thing is, we’re gonna have an app on your phone. You can order your lunch in the morning. You can walk up here, and grab-and-go. Kirk Cousins walks in, grabs it, he’s here for 15 seconds, he goes back and eats at his locker or wherever.”
• The COVID room: There’s one room in the building. It’s a typical office that will be kept empty and sterile, except when a player or staff member feel sick or is notified he/she has tested positive. Sugarman has laid out a slew of health-care products to show me. Once a person tests positive or complains of illness, the person will be isolated in this room.
“The sick player will get a care package,” Sugarman said. “Three different kinds of face coverings in the care package. A fingertip pulse oximeter because we know COVID can affect oxygen levels and we want to be able to track that. A thermometer. Hibiclens soap, to clean. Gloves. A meal schedule; we can deliver meals to them if they’re isolated. So they’ll get this bag, with all this, and they will be either removed from the building or not allowed in the building, once we examine them.”
If a player or staff person is married or living with someone, the ICO has accounted for that too. When camp begins, there will be a meeting for all family members of players and staffers—sort of what-to-do-if-your-loved-one-gets-sick info session.
There’s another aspect of the 2020 operation here, and with every team, that interested me. The Vikings have approximately 210 employees who work here. With only 100 being allowed to work in proximity to the players, surely there are some jobs that now will either go undone or have to be done by some of the 100. The Vikings Entertainment Network, with 30 employees producing content for the website and league use, will have only six employees in the player-touching group of 100 employees. The ticket manager who handles player tickets? If there are fans at games this year, someone else will do the job of taking player ticket orders. Not essential enough. Same with some janitorial/cleaning staff, interns for various staffs. Now, all of those employees below the 100 who touch the players keep their jobs. They’ll just be doing them without personal contact with the players.
“Sug [Sugarman] and I had to sit down and cut that 200-plus to 100,” Spielman said. “That wasn’t easy, believe me. But I’m actually excited about it.”
“We all gotta pitch in,” Spielman said. “That’s what a team does. When a meeting room as to be sanitized between meetings, we’re going to take turns going in there, everyone [in Tier 1 and 2]. I’ll be cleaning rooms. We all will. You know what was exciting to me? When we had to cut down that list to get to 100, and you let people know their roles, I got three phone calls that night from guys saying, ‘What can I do to help? What do you need me to do?’ “
Theoretically, Spielman could have the short straw one day. He could cut a player and, if no one’s around to drive, Spielman could have to drive the guy to the airport to start his next life.
The more you can do. That just might be the NFL motto for 2020, for as long as this season can last.
I see a few problems in the season of the pandemic. Players see a few too. On Sunday, after a day of talks between frustrated players (who want to know what the work and testing rules are) and the league, here is where the NFL is on a few important items:
• The real issue no one’s talking about. What I told Sugarman is that no one should be worried about getting COVID inside a facility. I’d eat off the floor of the Vikings’ place; Sugarman has made it his life’s mission to be sure, as Minnesota’s Infection Control Officer, he doesn’t mess this up and keeps the place pristine. But what happens when the season starts (assuming it does), and young people with money in their pocket, 23 or 24 or 25, go out on a Thursday or Friday night and get careless? Or what happens, as Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth said, when one family member goes to lunch, practices social distancing, and somehow comes down with COVID . . . and proceeds to spread it to Whitworth and his wife, their four children, and two parents? “Nine for nine,” he told me Saturday night. “Went through our family like a tornado.” Luckily, they all recovered, but still. Said Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph: “If it runs through the team, we end up not being able to play. If there’s one thing that can ruin a team, it’s the flu, or a virus like this.”
Sugarman told me, “The only way we can beat this is through education. The team that really takes responsibility for their actions is the team that has the competitive advantage. There is no year in my career that that’s ever been truer than this year.” It’s totally unrealistic to think that most or all teams won’t have some slipups, which brings us to the testing part of this.
• How will testing work, and will it work? Big worry, as far as I’m concerned. Let’s say this league-engaged testing company for all 32 teams, BioReference Labs, has a 24-hour period to get tests back to teams. (There are no reliable instant tests yet, even though the league hopes that a saliva test will get more reliable later this year. And BioReference does not have test-result labs in each NFL city, so some of the tests must be flown to a testing facility. Some time up to 24 hours seems realistic.) And let’s say a team goes through a fairly normal practice session on a day when one of its players tests positive but no one knows it yet. By the time the test results come back positive the next morning, that player has already exposed himself to lots of teammates.
NFLPA president J.C. Tretter, the Cleveland center, laid it out Friday: “If the center tests positive on a Friday, and there’s a quarantine period for all of his close contacts . . . well, if I just came from practice where I’ve been in a huddle with all my offensive teammates, been doing individual drills with all my linemen, then blocking the defensive linemen and linebackers all afternoon, aren’t we talking about 35 guys being close contacts with me? And if they’re all in quarantine for the next couple days, what does Sunday’s game look like? You don’t have enough bodies to put on the field to play.”
Interesting point made to me by a coach the other day. “Even if we’re socially distanced,” this coach said, “what happens if the night before a game the defensive backs coach gets sick and we’ve had a staff meeting that day and a few of us got close to the DB coach for a while. Do we have someone to call the defensive signals for us in the game if we take away four or five coaches?”
• Richard Sherman’s strong point. The Niners corner and NFLPA board member told me Saturday it’s essential that the league has daily testing. The reason: Because there are false positives and false negatives, if you’re not testing daily, it could be several days before a false result gets cleared up. Think of the problems if there’s not daily testing, and there’s an ambiguity to the test or a mistake, and your quarterback is sidelined for days. Testing daily—at least at the start of the process—is essential.
Last point. I’m dubious about the NFL’s ability to play this season in full. There are 10 teams in hot-spot states Florida, Georgia, Texas, Arizona and California. The NFL is not playing in a bubble. The chances that none of those teams will be ravaged by COVID-19 seems far-fetched. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it. I asked several players about the chances the NFL will be able to start and finish the season.
Richard Sherman: “No one knows. But I feel like the way this league runs, if this season starts, they’ll fight tooth and nail to finish.”
Kyle Rudolph: “I think the season will go off as scheduled and we’ll play the season. I don’t have fear about playing football. I trust the league, I trust the Players Association, I trust [head trainer] Eric Sugarman to keep us safe. My only fear, I guess, would be being a month or so into the season and having a three- or four-month interruption. It’s so tough to get into football shape, and to stay in football shape. I don’t know what the game would be like when we came back.”
Andrew Whitworth: “I don’t feel great about the chances. Not that it can’t be done. But it’s going to be hard this year to have a high quality of play, and play to the finish. How do you keep the game fair if teams have key players going in and out of the lineup? The calls I’ve been in on with the [NFLPA] this summer—there’s been more fear than I expected. There’s a broad spectrum. Some guys are like, ‘I don’t want to be around anyone who’s been exposed to the virus.’ Some guys are like, ‘Let’s do it.’ Some guys are changeable. It’s going to be different. I think coaches are going to have to be counselors as much as coaches this year. There’s going to be a lot of emotion among the players.”
Two other things to button up.
1. I don’t see how the NFL plays preseason games. Seems like a dumb battle to fight with the union, and a dumb way to risk COVID transfers between teams in games that are meaningless.
2. And about the preparedness, with the players wanting 21 days of strength and conditioning, 10 days of non-padded practice, and 10 of the last 14 days practicing with pads . . . I could see some wiggle room in the 10 days without pads, because it seems impractical with no preseason games to not put on pads till the last few days of August. Whatever, I expect there to be some grudging agreements with players on those issues early this week.
Buckle up, people. We’re in for an incredible experience here, no matter what happens.
Daniel Snyder has no business owning an NFL team. First: He stinks at it. Second: Rightfully, he inspires nothing but enmity among his fan base. Third: No one wants to work for him, or with him; it’s a miracle he found a very good man, Ron Rivera, to coach his team. (Though if you want to be an NFL head coach, sometimes you take what you can get.) Fourth, and perhaps most maddening to any principled person: He avoids accountability at every turn. Nothing’s ever his fault.
It was an awful football week in the nation’s capital.
Will Hobson and Liz Clarke of the Washington Post reported that 15 female employees of the team and two female media members who have covered the team alleged that club employees sexually harassed them. Not two or three women. Seventeen.
That story dropped three days after the team said it would no longer use the team name “Redskins.” It took the franchise years to drop the name, even though the most widely used dictionary in America, Merriam-Webster, says, “The word redskin is very offensive and should be avoided.” Snyder did not come to this conclusion of dropping the name on his own; he was browbeaten into it by corporations pulling their money from his franchise, and by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell telling him to wake up.
The franchise was once an NFL flagship, but in the reign of Snyder, the organization has become football’s New York Knicks—big name, shameful performance, totally irrelevant. Snyder’s team has finished third or fourth in the NFC East in 16 of his 21 seasons as owner, is 49 games under .500 in his tenure, and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005. None of his eight prior head coaches left the team with a winning record.
The biggest indictment of Snyder’s ownership might be none of those things. It might be that all three minority partners want nothing to do with him. Fred Smith, Dwight Schar and Robert Rothman, per Pro Football Talk, all are trying to sell their combined 35-percent stake in the NFL’s Titanic.
One veteran front-office man with another team who knows the franchise well told me that no one wants to work for Snyder (that’s pretty obvious), especially after widely respected NFL business authority Brian Lafemina lasted only eight months with the team before being fired in late 2018. And another former club employee told me the atmosphere around the team in his time there was like a frat house.
With his franchise a five-alarm blaze, Snyder did what he always does: He hid. An accountability press conference? No chance. Not his style, taking responsibility. He issued a four-sentence statement, saying he was committed to setting a new culture.
Blah blah blah. It’s a stretch to believe that Snyder didn’t know some of his employees were creeps.
The luckiest thing for Snyder this year is that fans won’t be able to come to games—at least at the start of the 2020 season—and chant what would be anti-Snyder chants, and unfurl anti-Snyder banners in the parking lots during tailgates. That’s assuming any fans would come. The stands at RFK Stadium pre-Snyder would be so raucous that the press box in the old barn would shake. FedEx Field in the Maryland ‘burbs is like the team: emotionless and dreary.
It’s every NFL owner’s inalienable right to print money, which is why I doubt this stubborn man would consider selling this franchise. Snyder can rake in $280 million a year from national TV and media deals (which should increase with new media contracts getting done in the next two years) by going 5-11, year after year. The NFL incentivizes mediocrity that way. But how many more slaps in the face does Snyder need to take to know he’s not wanted locally or nationally? He apparently avoided lots of the slings and arrows—as the Washington Post reported—by being out of town and touch during some of this recent crisis on his $100-million superyacht, the one with the IMAX theater.
The unfortunate thing if you root for this team is that nothing Snyder has done merits a Donald Sterling-type takeover by the league. You’re stuck with him. It’s a shame. I remember when this team mattered.
I took a five-week vacation. The NFL did not. Since I last wrote on June 8, the football world went nuts. Catching up on the biggest not-so-current events in pro football:
• The R word is no more (July 13). I remember before the 2013 season when I stopped used the Washington team name in my writing. In mid-season, a league employee I did not know contacted me. This league employee was Native American, and talked of the leader of the person’s family, a beloved grandmother, telling a story at family functions. When she was a child, she would come home from school or visits into the town near where they lived, and she would scrub her skin. She told the family that, as a young girl, she didn’t want the color of her skin to be darker than those she would see in town or in school, and she didn’t want to be called “Redskin.” Thus, this Native American who contacted me hated the name, and felt it was a slur.
For those angry that the name is being changed, I would say this: Life changes. Eighty-seven years ago, when a racist owner named his football team, he thought there was nothing wrong with naming the team “Redskins.” Something that was okay (and perhaps not to all) in 1933 might not be okay today. It’s okay to advance your thinking, even if you’re emotionally attached to a team that won three Super Bowls with this name, even if the team is the dream team of your life. It will take some time to get used to a new name, but in time whatever it is can be chanted with joy, and with a clear conscience. I do not understand people saying they won’t root for the team anymore because of the name change. That’s a nickname too far to me.
• Cam Newton replaced Tom Brady in New England (June 28). Two things can be true: In March, I did not expect Cam Newton to be a Patriot. In July, I am not surprised he is a Patriot. Cap-strapped New England coach Bill Belichick (this is the only thing I got right on the Patriot QB story last spring) was going to wait out the market and see if there was a vet quarterback he could get for cents on the dollar. Dallas nabbed Andy Dalton, and the Saints signed Jameis Winston, and that left Newton, hungry to prove the world wrong after injuries killed his last 1.5 seasons in Carolina. And Belichick, somehow, got Newton for $550,000 guaranteed. How could New England not sign Newton?
As for what to expect, I disagree with those who think Newton’s a lock to start opening day—if there is one. I think he probably will start . . . but consider that Newton, this morning, has never had one install session with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, has not played fully healthy for 21 months and has had two significant surgeries in that time. Then throw in the fact that the Patriots have never had him on a practice field, and that Newton may not have his first real padded practice with the Patriots till two weeks before opening day. There’s a lot to overcome.
I think Newton wins the job, but don’t discount the high New England regard for Jarrett Stidham. Belichick simply doesn’t care what anyone thinks about his quarterback situation.
• Patrick Mahomes signed the richest sports contract ever (July 6). Could Mahomes have made more than $477 million over the next 12 years? (It is folly to suggest the Chiefs will be cutting him unless he suffers a career-ending injury, a remote possibility.) The odds are better than 50-50 he could have. But here’s why I like the deal for the Chiefs and for Mahomes. On the Mahomes side: Winning and continuity is big to him. He does the organization a solid cap-wise for the next two seasons ($5.3 million, $24.8 million) while GM Brett Veach tries to wedge a starry team under the cap—particularly next season, if the cap craters because of the COVID economic uncertainty. Mahomes is a Brady type in that way. As long as the team is spending to the cap, giving him the best chance to win, he’ll sacrifice a bit to be sure the nucleus can stay intact. For the Chiefs, Mahomes’ average cap hit in the first even years is $32.56 million, which by 2026 should be middle of the pack.
There’s also this possibility: What if we don’t recover from our current downturn economically for two or three or even four years? What if the TV deals we all think are going to push the cap toward $300 million by 2025 don’t actually skyrocket? I think this is a wise deal for both sides.
• A sex-harassment scandal roiled Washington (July 19). Tremendous reporting by Will Hobson and Liz Clarke of the Washington Post, particularly in getting three employees/journalists to talk on the record about sexual harassment inside the Washington organization. One of the first things I thought was I doubt this is the only team, and I doubt these are the only women, with stories like this. So I asked around and found two women in the media who agreed to talk anonymously about some of their experiences in covering the NFL.
A female sportswriter who writes about the NFL:
“There was a scout I thought I had a good relationship with. He always would show me pictures of his kids, who are the cutest things ever, so that made me feel comfortable that he was not going to try anything with me since we established he was married. We’d gotten drinks together alone at the scouting combine before and he’d never tried anything so I felt comfortable with our relationship and didn’t have my guard up like I usually do with male sources that I’m not sure if I can trust yet. This year at the combine I texted him to try to meet up, and he asked if he could ask me a personal question. ‘Are you dating anyone currently?’ He then followed up with, ‘I want to see that pretty face out of work-mode.’
“This was incredibly frustrating because I had worked so hard at this relationship and thought I had earned his respect as a football writer, not as a ‘pretty face.’ I ignored him and avoided him the rest of that week. He then reached out a couple weeks later to apologize and we talked about why that was inappropriate and are now back in a solid spot, at least for now. He is far from the only one to do this, and it’s just difficult because I feel like I have to work twice as hard to maintain relationships and keep them straight. I can’t ever really trust any men. I want to stay out just as late as the male reporters at events like the scouting combine and the Senior Bowl, but when I do, I have to shut down repeated flirtatious attempts, and I have make sure I’m walking back to my hotel room by myself . . . because there are plenty of men who have tried to walk me back to keep me ‘safe.’ “
A veteran NFL TV journalist:
“Relationships in football are often advanced through social situations. I watched a lot of my male colleagues get ahead by initiating dinners or staying out late networking with coaches, players, and executives. When I did the same, it was often misconstrued. While my male peers gained insight that advanced their careers and furthered their network, I received suggestive late-night texts or heard sexually charged comments. Subtle sexual discrimination is so pervasive that women are forced to find ways to deal with it to survive. I would do things like immediately tell men when I first met them about my husband and children. It was a strategy to send a message that I was interested in professional working exchanges and nothing else. The culture that exists in places like the NFL puts women in the position of having to worry about how they are being perceived by the men around them. It is even more complicated because it is an industry where women have roles where they are encouraged and rewarded for their femininity and somehow, they are also responsible for another person’s inappropriate reaction to it.”
There’s a lot of progress that needs to be made. A lot. I’ve thought over the years what an advantage a man has covering the game. I never worry about hanging at the bar during the combine or at league meetings; in fact, late-night schmoozing is a near-must to doing the job well. Imagine worrying, as the reporter does, about the “plenty of men” who want to keep her “safe” by walking her back to her hotel. Imagine all the things women have to worry about in this business than men don’t have to worry about. I applaud Hobson and Clarke for making this story must-read in every corner of the NFL—and, if teams are smart, they’ll do their own in-house fact-finding to be sure it’s not happening in their worlds.
• Lots of NFLers got woke. Establishment coach Bill O’Brien said he’ll kneel for the national anthem this year (June 12). This got lost in so many things that happened in June, but some people you wouldn’t have expected will be kneeling. And good for coaches like O’Brien who set aside hours and hours to hear out his Black players so he could truly understand what their lives have been like.
• Statues for tarnished franchise founders in Carolina and Washington got removed (June 10, 19). The protesting fervor in America forced the removal of a 13-foot statue of founder and owner Jerry Richardson of the Panthers, and a monument of former owner George Preston Marshall in Washington. Richardson, per a Sports Illustrated investigation in 2017, used a slur against a Panthers scout, while Marshall was the last NFL owner to integrate his team—and it happened against his will. The fall of Richardson is amazing. There wouldn’t be an NFL team in Charlotte without him, and now, on the wrong side of racial and sexual-harassment history, his name will be forever tarnished in the Carolinas—and rightfully so.
• The Patriots got their third major league sanction of the Belichick Era (June 28). Either there was a gigantic coincidence on the last Sunday night in June, or someone inside the Patriots has a good idea how to do damage-control. On Sunday, June 28, at 7:54 p.m., Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen broke the story of Cam Newton signing with the Patriots, sending social media into spasms of news-hungry glee. Eighteen minutes later, Mike Reiss broke the news that the Patriots would be fined $1.1-million and docked a third-round draft choice for a team employee illegally taping the Cincinnati sidelines during a game last year. Guess which story got the bigger play? I’ve always thought the taping by a Patriots’ feature producer—not a member of the football staff—was too stupid to be a spy job, and still do. But when you’re the Patriots, and something like this happens, you get zero benefit of the doubt.
• DeSean Jackson made some idiotic anti-Semitic remarks; his Eagles career should still be in danger (July 6). Jackson, the veteran wide receiver, posted quotes on social media that were indefensible, abhorrent and incomprehensible. Jackson’s bosses, owner Jeffrey Lurie and GM Howie Roseman, are Jewish and had to have been apoplectic over this; the team fined him and talked to him about what he’d have to do to make this right. Regardless, who in the world posts something on the side of Adolf Hitler? Jackson committed to educate himself about Jewish topics. But for Jackson to continue to have a job in the NFL, I believe he needs to be strident and unswerving about denouncing Hitler and all statements remotely inferring that Jewish people did the acts he originally posted about. Patriots receiver Julian Edelman made an excellent offer, saying he’d take Jackson to the Holocaust Museum. When the pandemic has passed, that should be the first thing Jackson does.
• San Francisco wide receiver Deebo Samuel, one of the most dangerous players in the league, broke his foot, and he could be out till October (June 18). One of the five most impactful players in the Super Bowl, Samuel is a key element to everything Kyle Shanahan wants to do on offense. With someone who relies on speed and cutting as much as the cat-quick Samuel does, the 49ers cannot rush him back. Luckily for them, September isn’t their most arduous stretch (Arizona, at Jets, at Giants); if he can get back by Oct. 18 for the Rams-Pats-‘Hawks-Packers-Saints pre-bye gauntlet, that might be optimal.
• The president tweeted he won’t watch football if players kneel for the anthem (June 13). Better find a new autumn Sunday pastime, sir.
“I just feel terrible about his death. John Lewis lived his life fighting for all of our rights. He is exactly the person you build a statue for.”
—San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman, on civil right leaders John Lewis, who died Friday night at 80.
“The players, they’re going to all get sick, that’s for sure. It’s just a matter of how sick they get.”
—Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians earlier this month, to the Tampa Bay Times.
That seems an outlandish thought, but time will tell.
“While I will enjoy hearing ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ during the NFL’s opening week, I will remain skeptical. I want to believe that league officials and team owners finally get it—and I know a number of them do. But as in football, good intentions don’t win games, performance does. Radical change is truly needed. We don’t need any more symbolic gestures.”
—Former NFL wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth, writing in the New York Times, about the NFL agreeing to play the song known as the Black National Anthem on opening day at all of its games.
“We need to learn to live with this virus. This virus isn’t going anywhere. You’re going to have more positive tests going forward.”
—PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, on June 24 at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut.
Truest words of the past month.
“He committed his life to the struggle for justice and equality for all people. He was one of the great civil right icons and led a life of service for the betterment of all mankind. We have lost a giant of a man.”
—Hank Aaron, on the death of Congressman John Lewis.
“Please don’t take me.”
—Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, telling reporters about his prayer when his temperature spiked to 104.5 during his COVID-19 experience earlier this month.
At first glance—and second and third, perhaps—the Browns making Myles Garrett the highest-paid defensive player in history seems precipitous. Do you make a player mega-rich after 37 games? Can anyone really be sure he won’t have an on-field meltdown again? There was nothing in his past that suggested he would use a helmet to try to smash a quarterback’s head, as he did in his last appearance in an NFL game last fall, but still . . . paying him more than Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack, coming off the worst violence in a game in years? That’s a risky gambit by new Browns GM Andrew Berry, regardless of how great a young player Garrett is.
But, and this is a big but, Garrett as a player only is the kind of piece a growing team wants to build with. Comparing his career sack production to the three men I consider the most formidable pocket-disruptors of his day gives you an idea why Berry made this deal. (Though if I were in Berry’s shoes, I’d have given Garrett a month or two of this season to prove the assault on Mason Rudolph was totally out of character.) In these stats, games include playoff games:
I know we can overrate sacks, but translating these percentages means Garrett would average three more sacks per season than Mack over their careers. It may not turn out that way, of course, but that’s what the numbers say now.
Premier League champion Liverpool employs a throw-in coach.
In Washington’s July 3 statement announcing it will conduct a “thorough review” of the team’s name, the word “Redskins” was used five times in the 166-word announcement from the team.
The only word in the news release used more often than the doomed team name was the word “the.”
Just a gut feeling. But this release looked to me like Daniel Snyder sticking it to the world.
Business days between the Washington franchise’s “thorough review” of the team’s name and the “retirement” of the team name: five.
Those must have been some long, soul-searching, thorough, oh-so-serious meetings.
Lots of thoughts about traveling for the first time in 137 days Thursday/Friday to Minnesota:
• Driver on my ride to the airport Thursday afternoon: “You’re my first airport trip in four months and three days.”
• Mid-afternoon Thursday when I walked into Terminal D at LaGuardia. Nobody there. No one in line at TSA. I thought I wouldn’t be so . . . stark. But it was.
• Delta was great. Really great. Traveled to and fro on Delta, and with the plane about half-full each way, attention was paid to leaving seats open next to almost every passenger. “We are all wearing masks onboard today,” the flight attendant said before we left LaGuardia, “and if you forget, don’t worry, we’ll remind you.”
• Excellent mask discipline, by passengers and airline people.
• Minneapolis looked good. I don’t know—I thought it’d be notably under construction. I wanted to eat at the Super Bowl pizzeria favored by The MMQB a couple years back, Pizzeria Lola, a Korean place, but it was takeout only and by reservation, so I ate at my airport hotel. I did briefly visit two nice brewpubs, Indeed and Baldman. (Very nice Kolsch at Baldman.)
• Normally, the MSP airport is one of my favorites. So many good spots to eat, good coffee, convenient, polite. But the mess we’re all in struck me Friday around 5 p.m., walking through the terminal and seeing a good bar-restaurant closed, and seeing the coal-fired pizza place closed, and seeing the cops arrest some screaming guy trying to sell passersby some electronics. That was ugly. The guy resisted and was whimpering on the floor as four cops cuffed him.
• Because Minnesota was on the list of places New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ID’d as a COVID hotspot—truthfully, it’s a COVID lukewarm spot—we were handed forms to fill out boarding the plane home, for contact-tracing in case anyone on board was infected. And we were told we’d have to quarantine in New York for two weeks . . . so it looks like next week’s column, like so many since March, will be born and raised and produced in an apartment in Brooklyn.
• I feel awful for the travel industry. Travel to me is not drudgery; I like seeing the country and visiting different places—always have. I hope we all mask up and get back in the air and on the ground across the country.
What you are seeing today is our guys standing up for each other and for the work their union leadership has done to keep everyone as safe as possible. The NFL needs to listen to our union and adopt the experts' recommendations #wewanttoplay
— JC Tretter (@JCTretter) July 19, 2020
Tretter, tweeting Sunday as part of a coordinated Twitter blitz by players, is the president of the NFL Players Association.
2020 Ravens season tickets will be deferred to 2021.
If permitted under state and local government regulations to have fans attend games in 2020, a reduced seating capacity at M&T Bank Stadium will be in place of fewer than 14,000 seats per game.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) July 8, 2020
#Mets Is that the cardboard cutouts booing already?
— Steve Serby (@NYPost_Serby) July 18, 2020
Serby, a New York Post columnist, watching the Mets bumble through an exhibition loss to the Yankees in front of a small crowd of cardboard cutouts Saturday night.
— Fᴏᴏᴛʙᴀʟʟ Zᴇʙʀᴀs ✊🏾⚖️ (@footballzebras) July 17, 2020
If Americans had really wanted to watch football this fall we would have paid attention to mask suggestions and social distancing from the beginning. It’s not complicated! More important, being respectful of people that are at higher risk is a compassionate/important thing to do.
— Bill Curry (@coachbillcurry) June 25, 2020
Curry is a retired NFL player and college football coach.
Send your questions to me (I promise next week I will even talk a little real football!) at email@example.com.
Both true. From Michael Holland of Columbia, Md.: “In the last guest column, the lesser-known Michael Thomas wrote: ‘The video Michael Thomas engineered, featuring so many young stars, was so powerful, and Roger Goodell responded.’ Your previous article gave the credit to a white NFL employee. Truth please?”
Here is precisely what happened, as I reported in an early June column: NFL social media creative producer Bryndon Minter, who is white, was frustrated with the NFL’s tepid response to the murder of George Floyd.
Minter sent a message to Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, who’d been reacting strongly to the death of Floyd, and Minter said: “Want to help you create content to be heard around the league. I’m an NFL social employee and am embarrassed by how the league has been silent this week. The NFL hasn’t condemned racism. The NFL hasn’t said that Black Lives Matter. I want [to] help you put pressure on. And arm you with a video that expresses YOUR voice and what you want from the league. Give me a holler if you’re interested in working together, thanks bro!”
Just 23 minutes later, Thomas responded. He was interested. Minter proposed players telling the NFL they needed to be supported more, and the highest levels of the league needed to come out unambiguously and say black lives matter. Thomas agreed, okayed a later script, and got NFL players to cooperate. So really, the safety Michael Thomas was right. This video never happens without Thomas’ approval and Thomas getting the players. But it never happens without Minter’s idea, and his work, either.
Praise for “Know My Name.” From Shane Stacy of Lynwood, Wash.: “Thanks for your Father’s Day book recommendation of Know My Name by Chanel Miller. I was immediately hooked with Ms. Miller’s ability to take us there to feel what she was feeling (only partially, I can’t fully walk in her shoes) and thought to myself that this would be a great book for my daughter to read some day before she goes off to college. Male naivety at its finest! Chapter after emotional chapter I quickly realized it’s not our daughters who need to read this book, it is our sons. My son has many years before he heads to college but I will remember to pack this in his bag when the time comes.”
So glad you enjoyed it. “Know My Name” is one of the most important books I’ve read in years.
Thoughtful idea. From Patrick Horvath: “Before future NFL games that I watch in public . . . I hope I have the courage to do something like the following: Stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag just before the end of the Star Spangled Banner. Then, just as I get to the last six words of the pledge, I will take a knee and conclude loudly, ‘with liberty and justice for all.’ I hope I can reasonably demonstrate that kneeling players (and coaches?) are simply trying to get America to live up to its ideals. If people truly believe in the patriotic words of this pledge, then I hope they can understand that kneeling during the national anthem is not about disrespecting the flag and never has been.”
Thanks for contributing to the ongoing dialogue, Patrick. That makes sense.
No one know, Joe. From Joseph Balitewicz: “Has any NFL team explained how attending games will occur? I am a Bears season ticket holder. We are awaiting information but it seems nearly impossible. (The Bears did send a note and are allowing any season-ticket holder to receive a full refund and retain their season tickets, which is a nice option.) How will seating be determined? We tailgate with seven people and sit two sections apart. Can we attend a game together? How will entrance to the game work and social distancing during a game? Is tailgating allowed?”
Joe, I am typing this answer on Saturday evening. Earlier today, an NFL team president told me he had no idea what the rules are for training camp, and camp is supposed to start this week. So with respect to your query, as much as the NFL loves the fans and in particular the paying customers, no one knows what the rules of engagement will be for fans at any games this year. Some teams are operating under the assumption that they’ll have 20 percent of the fans in the stands when/if fans are allowed. But the rules in Florida might be different than the rules in Colorado, for instance. The Ravens, as one of the tweets above says, will max out at 14,000 fans. So it’s largely still unclear across the board. You’ll have to be patient.
1. I think this is normally the time of year when I prepare for my training camp trip. (Twenty-one camps last summer.) But this year it’s all TBA. In each camp, assuming they happen, a max of 10 reporters per day are allowed to distance-watch practice. There will be no in-person interviews with players. Coaches can choose whether they want to talk in person or by phone/Zoom with reporters. I’m unsure whether each camp will be this way, but for instance, most national reporters will probably want to take the temperature of the Bucs in Tampa this summer. If I do go to Tampa, I’ll have to take a COVID-19 test at the Bucs facility, then return to my hotel to await the result of the test. How long will that take? Unknown, though I’m assuming it’ll be 24 hours or less. Then I’d be one of the 10 reporters allowed in to watch Tom Brady with his new team. I’ll be sure to bring binoculars, because I have no idea how far away the viewing spot will be. From the time I walk on the property to the time I leave, wearing a mask will be mandatory. (In Florida, and everywhere, that should be the rule for everyone anyway.)
2. I think I have zero complaints about all of it.
3. I think I’ve barely thought about the football part of football season, but I found it very interesting Saturday when one top club official said to me: “We could crown the Detroit Lions Super Bowl champs this year.” Huh? “Because this year’s going to be about who handles COVID the best. Suppose the Lions have zero people quarantined this year, while other teams have important players out for a while.” It’s like what Kyle Rudolph of the Vikings told me Saturday too: The team that handles the peripheral stuff best will have a huge edge, because this year the peripheral stuff will be as important as the on-field stuff.
4. I think, as Mike Florio reported in depth over the weekend, the league making the players’ opt-out date Aug. 1 sets up some interesting scenarios. But this one seems to be most impactful to me: A player who opts out has his contract simply moved back one year. He must continue with the regularly scheduled contract in 2021, getting no accredited season toward future free-agency for 2020. He can choose to take a $150,000 payment for 2020 to help with any expenses in a year he does not play, but that money will be subtracted from his salary in 2021. Once a player says he’s opting out, he cannot renegotiate the contract. So this gives players the next 11 days to decide whether they’re playing in 2020, and, as Florio points out, makes these next 11 days vital to any player who might choose to use this time to try to renegotiate his contract with the implicit threat that he could choose to opt out if he can’t agree to a new deal. That’ll be interesting to watch.
5. I think the best piece of non-Washington football journalism I read this month was Kalyn Kahler’s three-part, 26,000-word opus in Sports Illustrated on the strange, scary and dangerous post-career journey of former Packers pass-rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila. Gbaja-Biamila divorced his wife Eileen and left his eight children when she refused to join him in a cult-like ministry, Straitway. The stories are disturbing, to say the least. There’s the section about two male friends of Gbaja-Biamila, armed with unregistered weapons and extra ammunition being dispatched to a Christmas play with Gbaja-Biamila’s children playing roles, which was so harrowing that the school called police to arrest the two men; the incident rightfully frightened the school community. Gbaja-Biamila seems almost blithely forgetful about the eight children he fathered in his first marriage. Writes Kahler of Gbaja-Biamila:
“He has a new family now. This spring, [wife] Bri gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son . . . He says he wants to have 94 children (a nod to his jersey number) and knows he needs more than one woman to achieve that goal. ‘I am like a farmer,’ he says. ‘You plant seeds, the storm comes in, it takes [those seeds] out. Guess what? You replant. I am going to replant. I am going to rebuild my house and I got me a woman and we are going to keep on moving . . . I have everything I need to create life again. I hope to have so many babies the ones I lost will be a forgotten story. Job lost all his babies too, and God blessed him with more.’ “
A former religious friend of Gbaja-Biamila’s, team chaplain Jim Baraniak, told Kahler: “I don’t know that we’re at the end of this. . . . He will find disciples and he will find people to follow him.” Terrific reporting by Kahler, with assists from editors Gary Gramling and Jack Dickey.
6. I think this is the 85-word personal note of the week for me: I am prejudiced, because I’ve known Kahler since she walked into the doors of The MMQB out of college five years ago as an editorial assistant (job assignment: Do everything that needs to get done to keep the website humming every day), but even in this era of disappearing newspapers and thinning sports websites, it’s crazy to me that she is not working full-time somewhere. Just crazy. Read her work.
7. I think for a couple of weeks before Washington announced the name change, University of Oregon sports brand strategy professor Paul Swangard told Ken Belson of the New York Times: “The Redskins are on an island and the glaciers are melting.” Perfect. I bet Swangard does well in Vegas.
8. I think if I’m Jets GM Joe Douglas, I am not trading safety Jamal Adams. I’m not even thinking about it. The Jets simply have to start developing and keeping home-drafted talent instead of either blowing the picks or drafting flawed (Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams) players or people.
9. I think I’m just getting to know Warren Sharp, a football analyst who has thrown himself into being a latter-day Dr. Z (they would have gotten along famously). But his devotion to his craft impresses me, as does his NFL preview work for 2020. I’m impressed with Sharp because I know what it takes to dig up the sort of arcane but meaningful numbers Sharp lives to do. Such as, in a story on inequities of the NFL schedule that he wrote recently, this factoid: Over the past 10 season the Arizona Cardinals have had a huge weeknight prime-time game advantage—Of the 14 they’ve played on Monday and Thursday, eight have been at home, including all six Monday night games between 2010 and 2019.
In Sharp’s season preview book, this caught my eye:
“There have been just four running backs since 2012 to receive veteran contracts that averaged over $10M per year. All four were cut or traded before the end of the deal, including: Todd Gurley (cut after year two), David Johnson (cut after year two), Adrian Peterson (cut after year two), and Marshawn Lynch (traded after year one). We know that the efficiency a particular running back brings to the table is not so significantly larger than another running back that he should be paid 10 to 15 times more per year. And yet even recently, clubs are still making this costly team-building mistake, which not only impacts the team during the years of those high cap hits but also with dead cap after he is cut.”
I would not put Derrick Henry in that category. At 26, and with just one year of NFL over-use on his body, and with the Titans able to move on painlessly after two seasons (there’s zero guarantees and a $6-million cap hit to move on from Henry before the 2022 season), that was a smart contract for the team. And it was good for Henry in that it gave him more than he’d have made had he been franchised this year and next.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. RIP John Lewis, American hero. In the great doc “John Lewis: Good Trouble” available on streaming services, what impressed me so was his never-ending striving for truth and justice. It started with a letter to Martin Luther King in his teens, continued through demonstration after demonstration for quality and voting rights in the South, including suffering a fractured skull in the Bloody Sunday march in Selma. He was proud of being arrested 45 times, standing up for justice causes: “When you see injustice, stand up against it!” I cannot think of a man in modern society who I have admired more.
b. My sincere thanks to the five guest columnists who, in my absence, regaled/educated you with a slew of smart football and life columns.
• Writer Michael MacCambridge on the nuttiness of the 17-game schedule and writers he loves
• Dr. Myron Rolle and a slew of front-line COVID-19 workers on their selfless efforts to get us out of this hole
• Former NFL PR czar Joe Browne on the 50-year anniversary of the NFL/AFL merger
• Bills co-owner Kim Pegula on what she’s learned as an owner during the pandemic and post-George Floyd
• Michael Thomas (the Houston safety) on why he’ll see the NFL’s social-justice efforts as lip service until Colin Kaepernick has a job.
c. Never thought one of my columns would have a reasonable discussion about reparations, but I am glad Thomas’ column made the case for them.
d. So now that I’m back at work (and who knows what form that “work” will take in the coming weeks and months), I’m probably going to have to cut back on my napping. I turned 63 since last we met, and one of the things I concentrated on during my time off was sleep. My wife and I were in bed before 10 almost every night, and I supplemented a good night’s sleep almost every day with a 30-minute mid-day, post-crossword nap on the couch in the living room. And now you know what a nerdy life we lead! I’m going to try to keep it up, but no guarantees once the real world intercedes.
e. So what were the vaca highlights? Modest ones. Three days on the shore in Rhode Island, two days in Burlington, Vermont. The rest: home sweet home in Brooklyn, reading a lot, binge-watching some good shows (gem: “Lenox Hill,” on the front lines of real people in a real hospital, nine episodes) and documentaries (please watch “John Lewis: Good Trouble”), and long walks with Chuck the dog.
f. Best books, you ask? Don Winslow’s “Broken” is riveting. Six novellas, and if you haven’t gotten into novellas, please do. They’re pandemically perfect. Who can’t read 50 or 60 riveting pages before bed? That’s what I did: six nights, six stories that I absolutely could not put down. How great is it to get transfixed by a story of a jewel thief in California who has figured out the perfect way to never get caught? That was one night. Another: A great surfer, and a Hawaiian gang, and a perfect ending. Transfixing.
g. And a hat-tip to Steve Wyche for the recommendation of James McBride’s excellent and enlightening 2008 book on slavery, “Song Yet Sung.” So grateful to have read this, because as a white guy who grew up in a white town in a white state and studied white stuff at a white college, I know so little about the history of slavery. This book, set in 1850, is fiction, but not altogether, because it’s inspired by Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Dramatic and educational, with a feel of reality. You follow the journey of elusive slave Liz Spocott and you empathize, and you root for her through the swamps of the Eastern Shore of Maryland to get to a more free Philadelphia. Thanks, Steve.
h. If Tommy Tuberville won his Alabama senatorial primary race with 62 percent of the vote, what percentage of the vote would Nick Saban get if he ever runs for something in Alabama? Ninety-three?
i. Stories of the Summer:
• On Coronavirus: Eli Saslow of the Washington Post with the as-told-to tale of a New York City paramedic, Anthony Almojera, at the height of the pandemic. Top pay for a New York City EMT is $48,000, 40 percent less than top scale for a firefighter or cop. Almojera says: “The most 911 calls we’d ever had was back on September 11th, and we broke that record every day for two weeks straight . . . At one point we had 25 percent of EMTs in the city out sick. Others are living in their cars so they don’t risk bringing it home to their families. They’re depressed. They’re emotionally exhausted. They’re drinking too much. They’re lashing out at their kids. They’re having night terrors and panic attacks and all kinds of outbursts.”
• On journalism: Ed Willes, a columnist for The Province in Vancouver, with a scary journalism story about the truth being too much for the sports establishment, and on the disappearing story of a hockey star testing positive for COVID-19 by Toronto journalist Steve Simmons. “I’m upset with my industry,” Simmons said. “I expect more from them.”
• On the most infamous sports fight (away from the field or court or ice) of all time: David Margolick, in the New York Times, setting the record straight on a legendary fight purported to be between five Yankees (including Mantle, Berra and Martin) and a liquored-up bowling team at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City on May 15, 1957. For 63 years, the real story was never told, and it was assumed that Yankees right fielder Hank Bauer (who had a bouncer’s body) and the pugnacious Billy Martin were the big players in the scrape—which happened while Sammy Davis Jr., was onstage. But the 25-year-old muscle for the Copa that night, a bouncer named Joey Silvestri, is still alive, 88 now, living on Long Island, and he looks quite fine for his age in a suit. Margolick’s best line in the piece has nothing to do with his role in the brawl. On Silvestri: “His fists retired in 2004, after decking a kid 50 years his junior who’d cut in line outside Grimaldi’s, the Brooklyn pizzeria Mr. Silvestri managed for a time. The rest of him retired two years later.” For those of us of a certain age, a story with Sinatra, Davis Jr., a drunken Mantle, and a soused bowling team at the Copa . . . well, it’s pretty spellbinding.
• On the nation’s most underrated governor, Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island: A good interview by Michael Grunwald of Politico on Rhode Island’s governor beating back the pandemic by making a lot of unpopular decisions. Raimondo on the frustration of dealing with the federal government at the height of the pandemic: “I spent hours and hours of my days and nights scouring the earth to find PPE for my state. I’d call FEMA and say, ‘Uh, can we tap into our national stockpile?’ . . . One time they promised me, ‘OK, [PPE] will be there today, a truck full of PPE.’ I said: ‘Tell me the time, I’ll check on it myself.’ They said 7 p.m. Great. At 7 p.m., no truck. I call and ask where is it, they say 9 p.m. Fine. Around 9 p.m., I get a text from FEMA: Governor, the truck arrived. Hallelujah! I called my director of health. ‘Great news, the truck is finally here!’ She says governor, it’s an empty truck. They sent an empty truck. No PPE. I can tell you a dozen stories like that.”
• On going out to eat, finally: Pete Wells of the New York Times, assigned to find a restaurant in Manhattan with outdoor seating that appealed to him when the city finally opened up and picking Veselka, a Ukranian place with outdoor seating on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Wells can be a tough critic, but not for this meal: “New Yorkers need to get out of their apartments, even if it means wearing masks, carrying hand sanitizer and talking across longer-than-usual distances. None of this bothered me at Veselka, although I did learn quickly that it’s pretty hard to drink a cherry lime rickey when you have a patch of pleated cotton tied over your mouth. I took it off for about 15 minutes and then retied it again when I’d finished lunch: cold borscht and a mixed plate of boiled pierogies, half cheese and half blueberry. I liked it all, especially the slightly scouring tartness of the cherry lime rickey, but if there had been any problems I wouldn’t tell you about them. Now is not the time for criticizing. Any restaurant that is serving food now is a good restaurant.” If you lived anywhere in the spring with a tight rein on things like restaurants or any sort of personal freedom, you can identify with Wells.
• On supporting local newspapers: Check out the front page of the July 1 Anchorage Daily News, via editor David Hulen’s Twitter account. The Daily News won a Pulitzer Prize for public service reporting in May for a series it reported in conjunction with Pro Publica called “Lawless,” on the failing of criminal-justice in Alaska, particular in small communities. (One third of Alaska’s villages have no police protection.) Now the paper is continuing with important journalism, on the topic of the hidden sex-assault epidemic in the state. In June, my wife and I subscribed to three of the local papers that won Pulitzers this year—the Anchorage Daily News, the Baltimore Sun, and the (Louisville) Courier-Journal, in the hope that we could do some miniscule thing to help local journalism. That brings to eight the number of papers we pay for, either at our doorstep or virtually. It’s crucial to our future to have good watchdog newspapers. This front page of the Alaska paper is a stark reminder of how important local coverage is.
• On what will happen if we don’t support local newspapers: What a story—“The last reporter in town had one big question for his rich boss,” by Dan Barry of the New York Times. The fact that he never got to ask to ask the question of one of the owners of the ruinous journalism mob bosses of Alden Global Capital (if you live in Denver, you have seen Alden’s rapacious and greedy ruining of the Denver Post) isn’t the point, though you’ll like the lengths Evan Brandt of the Pottstown Mercury went to in his quest to ask the question. Brandt is the only reporter left on the news staff, and he covers the city of Pottsville (pop.: 16,000) and the surrounding area 45 minutes northwest of Philadelphia.
Wrote Barry: “Mr. Brandt is also responsible for covering more than a dozen other governments and school districts: Limerick, Lower Pottsgrove, Upper Pottsgrove, West Pottsgrove, New Hanover Township, Douglass Township, Phoenixville, Boyertown . . . He can’t bear to think of communities not knowing about a proposed tax increase, or the politics behind a town official’s ouster, or yet another public agency violating the open-meetings law by conferring in private. But it’s impossible to be everywhere. Mr. Brandt might wish that Alden would take its cue from Lancaster, an hour’s drive away, where the Steinman family announced last year that it would forgo dividends and reinvest profits back into its newspaper, LNP. The publisher, Robert M. Krasne, said the company faced the same industry challenges but was committed to putting its readers first. But Mr. Brandt realizes that the Alden Global Capital goliath is concerned about its investors, not the desires of some $46,342-a-year newspaper reporter with a son in college and a wife with health problems. If anything, the hedge fund is benefiting from his conviction that what he does matters. ‘I think of it as a calling, the same way that some people are called to the priesthood,’ he said.”
j. TV feature of the week: Steve Hartman of CBS News, on a Black man with a reason to not like police officers saving one after a car accident.
k. Glommed onto a new podcast from Cadence 13, “Hope Through History,” a five-episode pod by Jon Meacham on what we can learn from historical and health crises in our history. I liked Episode 5, on the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which highlighted what a bad job president Woodrow Wilson did managing the crisis while he focused all his attention on World War I. Meacham’s so good at making history important today.
l. Coffeenerdness: On our quick trip to Burlington, Vermont, I popped into Speeder and Earl’s, the longtime Vermont coffee roaster, and had a big cup of French Roast. Always loved their coffee. Maybe 15 years ago, I used to get Speeder and Earl’s by mail order, and I’d never seen their place in Burlington. Very Vermont. Homey, cute, friendly, in an arts district near downtown.
m. Beernerdness: Tried quite a few on our Vermont trip, and I’ll be extolling them in the coming weeks. Quite bullish on one from Ten Bends Beer (Hyde Park, Vermont), Cream Puff War, a Peach Double IPA. I’m not that big an IPA guy, but this was delicious. When there’s fruit in a beer, it has to be mild and not overwhelming, and this beer has a perfect fruit part—it’s there, but on the back of the taste buds, along with a vague honey taste too. Too often, I think of bitterness when I taste IPAs, but the taste of this one is so good, I think, because the peach plays down the bitterness. A very nice summer beer.
n. I see HBO has re-upped “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which is the good news—the extremely good news. The bad news: Judging by past schedules, that 11th season probably will air in about 2024. No, I really am happy about it. It’s just that the first 10 seasons were aired over a 21-year period. So it’s not like there’s any expectation the 11th year will start anytime soon.
o. Thanks, Richard Sandomir, for your spot-on obit on our friend Lonnie Wheeler. Lonnie was a good friend from my Cincinnati days, and a superb writer. His wife Martie organized a wonderful Zoom memorial service for Lonnie on June 14.
p. RIP, Gay Culverhouse, the former Tampa Bay Buc executive who spent the last decade-plus of her life advocating for retired players with brain injuries and cognitive issues.
q. The annual bang-head-against-wall ritual of rotisserie baseball continues for me. The draft in my New Jersey-based league was the other night, and here is the lineup for your Montclair Pedroias:
• Infield: Freeman, Altuve, Story, Danny Santana.
• Outfield: Bellinger, Gallo, Rosario, Braun.
• Utility: Matt Carpenter/Pederson.
• Catcher: Ramos/Sean Murphy.
• Starters: Nola, Giolito, Woodruff, Hendricks, E.Rodriguez, Eovaldi.
• Pen: Rogers, Joe Jiminez.
r. Play ball. At least I hope they will, starting Thursday night.
s. Congrats on the wedding, Aaron Wilson! Hope your bride knows the hours she’s in for.
t. And I am so happy for the Esiason family. Sydney’s a mom to Windsor Grace now, and Boomer and Cheryl will be the devoted grandparents. So cool. Good luck to all. Winnie, you’re a lucky girl.
It’s great to be back.
To what, I really don’t know.
The future: murky.