Peter King is on vacation until July 26, and he lined up some guest writers to fill his Monday spot on Football Morning in America. Today, Peter returns briefly to introduce a special column.
Recently, Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt surprised Terez Paylor’s parents and his fiancée with the news that the late sports journalist will be honored Aug. 27, at Arrowhead Stadium, when the team plays the Vikings in a preseason game.
That is some of the best news of this NFL summer.
Paylor, 37, died suddenly two days after the Super Bowl last February. Though he was feted at the time for his impact on journalism, it seemed his true impact wasn’t duly appreciated. For someone who died so young, his stamp on journalism and on the conscience of football journalism and on Black journalists will be felt for years. And, through an enduring scholarship set up at the respected journalism program at Paylor’s alma mater, Howard University, I hope generations of future writers will feel the significance of Paylor’s stamp on his profession.
That’s what Patrick Mahomes hopes too. When Mahomes walked into the NFL, the first beat man covering him was Paylor, at the Kansas City Star. I knew that Mahomes had great respect for Paylor, and he was gracious enough to write the lead of this guest installment of Football Morning in America—a tribute to a terrific and important journalist and friend gone too soon. Mahomes, as well as the other journalist contributors to this column (Steve Wyche, Charles Robinson, Cameron Wolfe, Josh Tolentino), write here to be sure Paylor’s legacy isn’t extinguished. Later in the column, I’ll tell you how you can contribute to the scholarship fund that has been set up in Paylor’s name at Howard.
I admired Paylor because he had a strident and passionate voice. He wanted to be great. As someone who shared the Hall of Fame voting room with Paylor for the past few years, I saw his love of football, and thought he was going to be the leader of the next generation of excellent chroniclers of the game. He loved the game, but he also held it to account, such as this point when the Cardinals fired a Black coach, Steve Wilks, after 11 months and one season: “The Cardinals’ decision to can Wilks is one of the most unfair, outrageous firings the NFL has seen in years … As a person of color, the thing I’m most concerned about—a worry shared by numerous African-American coaches, executives and scouts I talk to throughout the league—is how the NFL seems to be taking a step back as it relates to diversity in leadership positions.”
My thanks to today’s writers for ensuring that Paylor will continue to be remembered . . . and to Hunt and the Chiefs for the tribute they will pay to Paylor next month. We can’t allow Paylor to be forgotten.
Mahomes, the Kansas City quarterback, was covered by Kansas City Star reporter Terez Paylor in his first two NFL seasons.
I miss Terez Paylor. It’s crazy, and sad, to think he’s been gone for five months now.
In my first two years in Kansas City, he was the beat guy covering the Chiefs for the Kansas City Star. I thought Terez was what a big-time NFL writer should be. He asked insightful questions, not cliché questions. I always knew when he was going to interview me that he’d be prepared. He’d have done his homework. I think some of the best stories written about me came from him—he asked questions that made me think, and so I’d give him good answers back. That’s a big part of why I really enjoyed my interactions with him.
I trusted him. He never tried to play gotcha with me, never tried to catch me in something so he could make a headline out of it. What I always appreciated was that he asked me questions to really try to let the fans know the inside story of why a play worked, or why we won or lost. That trust led me, when I started my foundation in 2019, to think of Terez. He had left to go to Yahoo Sports by that time, but when I started my foundation, 15 and the Mahomies Foundation, I called him first. I wanted him to tell the story because I knew he’d tell it right.
One of the reasons I’m writing this today is that I feel we can’t let his legacy go dim. He deserves to be remembered, and to impact future journalists, for years to come.
Terez was just 37 years old. He had decades left to be a beacon for so many young journalists—particularly minority journalists. Terez didn’t get to be a national writer and forget where he came from. He knew as he rose in the business that he was a role model for minority journalists. He definitely knew who he was talking to, who he was writing for. It was for the football audience, yes, but it was also for a generation of journalists he was influencing and hoped would follow his path.
He knew he didn’t see many people from his race, people who looked like him, climbing the ladder in sports journalism. He wanted that to change, and I respected the heck out of him for that.
I hope through his scholarship fund at Howard University that young journalists study journalism well, and also study Terez’s path. I hope for years there is a stream of Terez Paylor Scholars entering the business and rising to the heights he did. Knowing Terez, and knowing where he came from, that would be a proud piece of his legacy.
Wyche, an anchor and reporter for NFL Network, also hosts the Huddle and Flow Podcast with Jim Trotter. Like Paylor, Wyche is a proud Howard University grad.
When I was asked to write something to honor Terez Paylor, I was humbled and flattered to share a little bit about my friend.
Now that I’m writing these words, though, I must admit, this sucks. Here’s why:
The NFL Network sent me to cover the Chiefs late in the season in 2017. The club made media wait in a hallway before allowing them to enter the locker room post practice, and Terez walked up with his Howard University lanyard that held his credential. As Howard alums, we already shared a love for one another that grads from the Mecca inherently share, but we’d gotten to know each other some and were cool. So, we dapped each other up, bro hugged, chatted about whatever and eventually made our way into the locker room.
It was late in the week so Terez, then the Chiefs beat writer for the Kansas City Star, had already done most of his legwork for the week. Meanwhile, I was hustling—talking to players other media members weren’t. It’s my M.O. on how to work a locker room. Zig when others zag.
I was getting a lot of good stuff for my immediate reports and asking players about their rookie QB, Patrick Mahomes, who was sitting behind starter Alex Smith. I wasn’t reporting anything on Mahomes, just gathering insight to store in the mental archives for the day he got his shot—and I was getting some good stuff.
What I didn’t know was that Terez was watching my every move. It’s an inherent thing to do as a beat writer when a national reporter comes to town. You’re always afraid of getting scooped. I used to be that way when I worked for the Miami Herald and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution when Chris Mortensen or Pam Oliver showed up.
That insecurity wasn’t why Terez was checking me out though. After I was done making the rounds I found Terez and he clicked off damn near each guy I was talking to: “That guy is a really good talker,” and that guy, “gives me insight that he doesn’t give to anyone else.”
It was as if he was making sure that I was checking the proper boxes of players to get the right information. He was making sure that I was good.
What? I LOVE this dude!
Terez was THE source of Chiefs info in that market and used every medium—print, video, social media, podcasts—to inform readers and viewers. His grind was unquestioned, his love for the sport evident.
And here he was making sure that I covered the proper bases. In hindsight, talking to so many who knew him, that’s what he did. He made sure that we were all good. Many of us knew Terez was a star. Besides knowing his stuff, he also had a personality that would endear him to anyone. The cherry on top was a satin voice like a late-night R&B radio DJ and smile that was ever present.
Later that same day we had been in the Chiefs locker room, Terez asked me, “What do I need to do to get where you are?”
“Don’t worry TP. Keep doing the things you are doing, and you’ll be taking my job soon.”
It wasn’t something I just said. I knew it. Either that day or later that week, I let the folks at NFL Network know they better track this guy because he would be an asset to our roster of strong reporters. Several times a year Terez and I would chat on the phone, meet at the draft combine, Super Bowl, at games, whether he was working for Star and eventually Yahoo.
Once he became a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector, we’d gather the Saturday before the Super Bowl when the class was chosen. I covered the voting process for NFL Network while Terez and more than 40 others would vote behind closed doors. Afterwards, four of us—Terez, me, and selectors Jim Trotter (NFL Network) and D. Orlando Ledbetter (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)—would take the annual Howard University alumni photo.
These were moments that we banked on. Moments we knew we’d have together every year. Moments we treasured.
And now, we don’t.
That is why this sucks.
Robinson is the national NFL reporter for Yahoo Sports. He co-hosted Yahoo’s NFL podcast with Terez Paylor from 2018 to 2021.
In the immediate aftermath of personal tragedy, we tend to reach for the light. We wax affectionately about the good times and share our most cherished stories about a departed friend. Partly to celebrate the person we’ve lost — but also to heal ourselves and take our first steps to soldier on in life.
But as time passes, you become more aware of endings. You read a last text. You scroll through final social media entries. Maybe you try to remember the last conversation you shared, in hopes that it was meaningful enough to bookend a friendship. And in the process of sorting through it all, loss becomes more quantifiable. Not only for what was, but also what might have been.
Many of us are getting there with the passing of Terez Paylor.
Later this month, the NFL will start again without him. For the first time in many years, the seat he filled will be empty. Notebooks will go unused. Questions will not be asked. Something very noticeable will be missing. And as journalists covering this league, we’ll all be challenged to pick up that slack.
This is not an inconsequential fact of losing Terez. He was developing an important voice in our world. Not just because he was young and black and a rarity as a national reporter. But also because he was inquisitive and capable of challenging the status quo. It was something he was showcasing in 2020, despite the year being one of the most emotionally draining in his life.
I know this because conversations about the crumbling world around us became a sizable and exhausting part of our friendship. One that left us investing a lot of time talking about what it meant to be white and black in America.
While I don’t want to speak for Terez, I can say that our conversations taught me a lot about life experiences that I often took for granted. Things that I am ashamed to admit I should have known long before my 40s. Like the immense value of refraining from reaching for the overused expression “I understand” — instead recognizing the truth that no, as a white man I often couldn’t fully understand Terez’s life experience. And that my best path to true empathy was through opening my ears.
If you knew Terez Paylor, you knew the All-Juice Team.
We teamed up with @BreakingT to help honor his legacy with this T-shirt.
All proceeds will go to funding the new Terez Paylor Scholarship at @HowardU.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) February 23, 2021
One of those moments came in June of 2020, on the heels of an Atlanta police officer shooting and killing Rayshard Brooks after he had fallen asleep in his car in a Wendy’s drive thru. It was only a few weeks after the police-involved killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Brooks had been shot in the back twice after scuffling with officers then allegedly taking the taser of one and running away with it. Now the Wendy’s where it all occurred had been lit on fire by protesters. Watching it all unfold on TV — including the graphic bystander footage of Brooks being shot — I called Terez one night.
Looking back, it was the height of selfishness. I just wanted it all to stop and I wanted to talk to someone who I knew would listen. What I failed to consider was that this helplessness wasn’t anything new to him, and my exhaustion coming only after weeks of nationwide turmoil was a very real example of my whiteness.
I knew it the second I asked Terez if he’d seen the news about Brooks.
“Charles, I’m so f—ing tired,” he said. “I’m just tired. This s— is never going to change.”
I still feel shame over that moment and the long talk that followed. Because it was when it became unmistakably obvious to me that I had been gifted something at birth many white people are gifted: ignorance. Many of us, if we choose, can wake up every day to live in the ignorant belief that our experience is everyone’s experience. That our shock is everyone’s shock. That’s wrong. I was wrong not to see it for so long.
This is a considerable part of Terez’s life that I think about now. That by the end, he had endured a lot of emotionally exhausting days, often spent contemplating where the country was heading for himself and his fiancée Ebony and all Black Americans. And as much as we remember him for his laugh and smile and dogged pursuit of being better every day, his exterior was not impenetrable. He was a human being, swimming for the other shore every day of his life.
This is also why his void in our world as journalists is more significant than some might realize. Because not only did he wield a perspective at the table that differentiated him from a vast number of his colleagues. You could see it when you worked with him, that he understood how powerful his platform could be in the years ahead.
At 37, he had just begun tapping his own potential to be an agent of change. And he was poised to embrace it.
A very small part of this came out in the wake of his death. Most prominently, it was in a widely shared story about how Terez played a meaningful role in helping to push forward the Hall of Fame candidacy of Terrell Owens, a moment in which Terez shared his personal perspective of seeing Owens through the prism of a young black football fan. It was a unique vantage point that resonated with some in that Hall of Fame voting room. And it provided an important glimpse of what Terez could provide in the years ahead, to a wider football community that continues to need challengers to the status quo.
Since his passing, I wonder what impact Terez might have had on the issue of primary Black ownership of an NFL team, something that is going to become an even bigger elephant in the room in the coming years. I think about his advocacy for Black assistant coaches who are struggling to ascend through the ranks, and his questions about why the second-chance opportunities for Black head coaches or executives remains so challenging.
The NFL is on the doorstep of a renaissance, with the league suddenly orbiting around elite black quarterbacks, social awakening and escalating concern over shortfalls in minority opportunities off the field. It isn’t going away. But now we’ve lost a talented person of prominence, who was ready and willing to play an expansive role in it.
Terez Paylor is gone and an important seat at our table is suddenly empty. Now we have to commit to embrace not only his memory but also his motivations . . . if only to make sure that a budding legacy and everything it stood to accomplish doesn’t also depart forever.
Wolfe, a University of Houston grad, covers the Dolphins, the NFL and boxing for ESPN. Before moving to south Florida, he covered the Broncos and the Titans.
The world lost a giant in Terez Paylor. But I can’t stop thinking about what we—the young generation of Black journalists that looked up to him—lost. An untiring mentor and advocate. A relatable, respected, real-ass dude.
It hurts every day. If you didn’t get to know him, you missed out on one of the best people I’ve ever met.
The first time I met Terez was November 2015 at a Broncos-Chiefs game in Denver. My top goal that day was to make a connection with Terez. I’m not too proud to admit I was nervous. I spent half the game trying to figure out what to say when I approached him.
To my surprise at halftime, while I was stuffing my face with food, he approached my seat, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Cam Wolfe. I’m Terez Paylor. You’re doing a great job, man I’ve read your work. Keep going. You got something special, young brother. You got a bright career ahead of you.”
I froze. Terez read my work? Stop playing. I’ve read Terez since high school. He looked like me in an industry where Black folk are few and far between. And he was damn good at his job. Terez gave me his number and told me don’t hesitate to reach out. I took him up on it. We talked at least twice a month for five years until he died in February. He was a good friend.
In his predraft presser, Colts GM Chris Ballard is wearing an "All-Juice Team" shirt in honor of the late Terez Paylor, whom Ballard grew close with during his time with the Chiefs. "A special guy," Ballard says of Terez. "The guy loved football." pic.twitter.com/pOrW9S8q0r
— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) April 23, 2021
Part of what made Terez unique is he was a perfect bridge between us young Black reporters trying to do this journalism thing our way and the OGs who paved the path for us to have this opportunity. I remember a chat we had at the NFL combine over whiskey a few years ago. We opened up about personal struggles, career dreams and roadblocks along with a myriad of other topics.
But what sticks with me about that night is as we walked out the bar, he gave me a hearty intro to two assistant NFL coaches who I still have a relationship with today. In an industry where connections are everything, he didn’t hesitate to hand me two like it was nothing. He was like a brother, my trusted confidant, and a selfless, helpful mentor in the same step.
I’ve never met a person who didn’t like Terez. He was Black excellence. He helped teach me it was OK to be unapologetically Black in what we do.
Our last significant in-person interaction was at the 2020 Super Bowl in Miami, nearly a year before he died. We walked around blissfully that week. We shared childhood dreams of one day attending the Super Bowl and now being so grateful that we were getting paid to cover it.
We both spent the week covering the Kansas City Chiefs for our respective outlets. Three or four days that week after we finished our work, we met up outside the team hotel and talked football. Terez was an X-and-O film junkie. I was always learning from him. One day, we debated Tua Tagovailoa versus Justin Herbert. The next day was talking Patrick Mahomes’ path to becoming the best quarterback of this generation. The last day was Tom Brady versus Michael Jordan legacies. That was Terez too, a guy you loved to spend hours just talking ball.
When Terez died, the world was robbed of all the great stories he would have told. We just began to see how far his work could reach after he ascended to a national role with Yahoo Sports. But we were robbed of our guy. We miss him every day.
Terez loved being an advocate for us. He called a small group of us rising stars. He told me that nearly every time we hopped on the phone like he was trying to convince me of my own potential. I hope he knew that he was our star, my star, the star we all wanted to be more like one day.
We’ll make sure Terez’s legacy keeps shining.
Tolentino, who previously wrote about the Dolphins, Packers and Ray for The Athletic, covers the Eagles for the Philadelphia Inquirer. In addition to his work, Josh is president of the Asian American Journalist Association Sports Task Force, and graduated from Illinois State.
I still can vividly remember the rush of adrenaline I felt as I walked away from that basketball court in Leawood, Kans., in 2017. Moments after playing basketball with Patrick Mahomes and a few other Chiefs, my natural instinct was to share the news with someone I had quickly developed a rapport with as a summer intern at the Kansas City Star.
As soon as I sat down inside my car, I called Terez Paylor. It took less than one full ring for him to pick up.
“Talk to me, bro,” he said.
Speaking with a mix of nervousness and excitement, I explained to Terez how I just had a lucky run-in with Kansas City’s top draft pick and the city’s soon-to-be face of the franchise. Following a few pickup games, Mahomes and I sat on the grass alongside the courts and chopped it up. We related on several fronts, including being fresh out of college in a new city, and other mutual interests. I told Terez everything about our interaction, but also made it clear to him how I wasn’t too friendly.
Terez was a master at controlling the relationship in a work environment. At that point, we had only worked together for a few weeks, but it was easy to see why Terez was so likable across the league. His ability to naturally navigate a conversation—how he kept things so real with whoever he’d talk—was a trait I immediately admired and wanted to apply to my own craft.
— Chiefs Communications (@ChiefsPR) May 1, 2021
Such was exuded in my interaction with Mahomes. When nearby park-goers noticed the rookie quarterback, a large group asked to take a photo with him. Before snapping the picture, Mahomes asked if I wanted to be included. I politely declined.
After sharing my story with Terez, he shared some parting words.
“Imma take care of you lil bro,” Terez said.
Did he ever. Not only did Terez keep his promise throughout that summer, he continued to be a champion of mine as life progressed. He frequently checked in on my progress and to talk about career developments. We rapped plenty about personal life too, including his love for his fiancée, Ebony Reed. I’ll miss his genuine laugh and smile that could brighten up the darkest of rooms.
Terez would’ve been the first to know about my new upcoming chapter—covering the Eagles for the Philadelphia Inquirer. It pains me that I’m not able to share the good news with him. Terez taught me to pay attention to the tiniest details, a trait he displayed in creating his iconic ‘All-Juice’ teams. I promise to him I’ll be bringing that same energy in Philly.
Terez may no longer be a phone call away, but the hope of carrying on his legacy is where I find peace. Thank you for everything, big bro.
To keep the legacy of Terez Paylor alive, a scholarship for young journalists has been set up at his alma mater, Howard University. Donations to the Terez A. Paylor Scholarship can be made in two ways:
• Online at https://giving.howard.edu/givenow. Under “Tribute,” note that your gift is made in memory of Terez A. Paylor. Under “Designation,” click on “Other” and write “Terez A. Paylor Scholarship.”
• By check, please write “Terez A. Paylor Scholarship” on the check and mail to:
P.O. Box 417853
Boston, MA 02241-7853