Haven’t done what I’m about to do for a while, but I thought it might be fun and generate some good discussion.
Who are the 22 most influential NFL people in 2022? (I cheated. I did a bonus person, number 23.)
I tried to mix the business of the sport with the sport of the sport. They’re all in here: eight from the playing field (and a ninth player for a specific reason as the bonus person) six from the league office, two coaches, a media guru, a media kingmaker, four owners (one new, one reviled, two mega-men), 20 men, two women. There are surprises at numbers six and 10, but not surprises to me.
The landscape of the game is changing. I’m sorry that the eight players of 22 are all quarterbacks, but I tried to make an argument for Aaron Donald or Davante Adams or Tyreek Hill, but I couldn’t find it in my heart to put a Donald, say, in the 22 most significant figures of football in 2022. Quarterbacks rule. Argue with me: firstname.lastname@example.org will be the repository for your arguments.
Here is my list of the 22 most influential NFL people in 2022:
1. Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner
Throughout a tenure of major growth for the league—Goodell will mark 16 years in office on Sept. 1, nine months shy of predecessor Paul Tagliabue—the commissioner has survived storms, some of his own doing. He’s got three major ones coming this year: presiding over the presumed appeal of the presumed sanction to Cleveland quarterback Deshaun Watson; what do with the owner driving the Washington franchise into the ground, Daniel Snyder; and how to adjudicate the inter-owner brawl over who pays the $790-million bill in the settlement over the Rams relocation from St. Louis. Messes abound.
We had all assumed Goodell, 63, would be riding off into the sunset from the high-pressure gig by now. But he doesn’t really want to do anything else. Those who know him say he wants to stay in the job past the end of his current deal (March 2024). I’d expect an extension of three to four years in the not-too-distant future. But, I’m told, that extension will expire before the next CBA negotiations, so his successor, a total mystery right now, can have a couple of years to get used to the heat of the job.
2. Deshaun Watson, Cleveland quarterback
Watson will be more in the news for his legal troubles than his football exploits. It’s already happening, which was the easiest 2022 NFL prediction of this entire season to nail after Cleveland traded for him and signed him to a fully guaranteed five-year, $230-million contract. Jimmy Haslam will find that this contract—the biggest guaranteed contract in the 102-year history of professional football—may one day be the key to the Browns winning an NFL title. But for now, it’s the distraction that keeps on distracting. Two weeks ago it was a sordid HBO Real Sports story with two of the 22 women accusing him of sexual assault in civil suits. Last week, it was a 23rd woman coming forward to sue Watson, with graphic and quite disturbing charges about three encounters with the quarterback—which Watson’s lawyer denied.
It’s hard to imagine the NFL’s disciplinary process won’t result in a long suspension of Watson, or some suspension this year and perhaps more next year after the civil suits have been adjudicated. I am still amazed that Haslam showed so much faith in a man with 22 (now 23) women accusing him of sexual misconduct.
Last point: Some franchises with nowhere near the Haslam family fortune (Mike Brown’s Bengals and Dean Spanos’ Chargers) have quarterbacks who are months from negotiating huge contracts with young quarterbacks who have had Watson-type impact. The Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert deals could be nightmare contracts to negotiate, thanks to Haslam’s bizarre largesse.
3. Tom Brady, Tampa Bay quarterback
Behold the power of Brady:
• FOX will pay him $375 million for 10 years as a broadcaster and ambassador when he retires, per Andrew Marchand. Including this season, per Over The Cap, Brady’s total football earnings will be $317 million in 23 seasons. Life is weird.
• The NFL chose the Bucs to play the first league game ever in Germany this year, leading one NFL wag to tell me: “Brady in Germany will be like the Beatles coming to New York City.” An exaggeration of that half-century-old event, but I do expect some mayhem in Munich when Brady and the Bucs play Seattle on Nov. 13.
• When Brady retired last winter, the Bucs were the 15th-most-likely team to win the Super Bowl, per Vegas odds. When he un-retired, the Bucs moved to second.
• Brady’s “Man in the Arena” doc won the Sports Emmy in May for Outstanding Documentary Series.
• He is not washed. Brady did benefit from a 17th regular-season game last season, of course, but at 44, he led the NFL (by 302 yards) with 5,316 passing yards, his career best.
What does he do for an encore, at 45? The number of eyes on him to answer that question is why he’s such a significant person in the NFL in 2022.
4. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City quarterback
Surprised he’s this high, on a franchise that could have a different look without Tyreek Hill this year? Don’t be. Mahomes, in many ways, is the face of the NFL, the cool guy and electric player. My proof: Who did Amazon want for its historic debut game? Mahomes and Kansas City. What’s the Sunday night gem of the first month of NBC’s season? Mahomes at Tom Brady in Week 4. Starting in Week 1, 11 of KC’s first 13 games will be nationally televised: three on Sunday night, one on Thursday night, one on Monday night, and in late-window Sunday doubleheader games, four on CBS and two on FOX.
Obviously, even without Tyreek Hill, the NFL thinks: In Patrick We Trust. It’s a wise motto. The reports of Kansas City’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, and will be as long as Mahomes plays quarterback there.
5. *Rob Walton, prospective Denver owner
*Bidding for the Broncos due this month. Walton, America’s 13th-richest person, is the favorite to win.
But whoever is declared the owner of the Broncos (likely by late August), the news will be that the projected $4.5-billion pricetag will be almost exactly double what David Tepper paid for the Carolina Panthers (an NFL-record $2.275-million) just four years ago. Even with an estimated $5-billion loss with the decline of Walton stock in the current American economic downturn, Rob Walton’s fortune is estimated by Forbes to be at least $60 billion. What makes him so attractive as an owner is not just his overall wealth but how liquid he is, meaning he’ll be able to address whatever issues come up in the running of a major sports franchise. The league could approve the winner’s bid in a special meeting before Labor Day.
Heady days for the Broncos, who have added quarterback Russell Wilson and imaginative coach Nathaniel Hackett this offseason. Could it be a rerun of the dawn of the Mike Shanahan-John Elway-Pat Bowlen era, beginning in 1995? In the first four years of that partnership, the Broncos won 47 games and two Super Bowls.
6. Marie Donoghue, Amazon VP/Global Sports Video
The thing about making a deal with a company the size of Amazon is whatever product they buy into won’t have a tight budget. Thursday night football games on Amazon, though hard to find for those (like me) of a certain age at first, will be 15 individual and well-hyped events. There will be an on-scene pre-game show every week, the premier production team in the game led by multiple-Emmy-winner Fred Gaudelli, the famous Al Michaels to legitimize the main TV team, at least one alternate broadcast team per week, and more of an emphasis on analytics than network games. “We think there’s an opportunity to innovate,” said Donoghue, who came from a big job at ESPN to lead Amazon’s world sports efforts.
And for those who wonder about Thursday night streaming games in sports bars, I’d expect a deal for the games to be in your watering holes to get made this summer, certainly in time for the Sept. 15 opener, Chargers at Kansas City. Amazon has a similar deal with sports pubs in the United Kingdom for their Premier League games.
7. Josh Allen, Buffalo quarterback
Allen’s here because he’s the quarterback on the best team in the league entering the season. The best test of a quarterback’s influence on a franchise is the TV schedule. In Allen’s rookie year, 2018, the moribund Bills played 15 games at 1 p.m. Sunday and one Monday night game. In Allen’s fifth year, 2022, the Bills have been booked for the season-opener at the Super Bowl champion Rams, two Monday night games, one Amazon Thursday game, a Thanksgiving Day game, a CBS doubleheader gem at Kansas City, and one of the best games on this year’s schedule: Green Bay at Buffalo, Sunday night, Week 8.
Allen’s out-front role with the Bills with the Buffalo supermarket shooting in May is an example of how he’s morphing from a lesser-known college player at Wyoming to a guy who’s ready for the bright lights of NFL stardom. Scoring 83 points in eight post-season quarters helps. The way the Bills ended the season was reminiscent of the Jim Kelly K-gun offense putting up 95 points in the division and conference title games in the 1990 playoffs. Now Allen will try to finish the job Kelly’s Bills never could, and we’ll be watching.
8. Sean McVay, L.A. Rams coach
It’s amazing, really, what McVay has accomplished in five years on the job in L.A. Regarded as an extremely risky hire by the Rams in 2017, he’s morphed into the front-facing guy for a team that’s gotten to two Super Bowls and won one. And at 36, he just got wooed by the networks for an analyst job before deciding to return as Rams coach. McVay’s influence goes beyond his coaching and cheerleading the team, and in tempting the networks; McVay and the Rams’ hierarchy have built this team in a different way than the traditional long-term, through-the-draft path. So they just won a Super Bowl, then didn’t have a draft pick in the top 100 of the ’22 draft. They’re fine with that.
We’ve seen boy wonders in all walks of life flame out and move on. But the Rams are going to be good to very good again, and coaches around the league will continue to look at the McVay offense. Four of his former Rams’ assistants are now head coaches in the league, and two more are offensive coordinators. McVay’s influence isn’t slowing down.
9. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay quarterback
I might have him too low here, particularly since he’s trying to become the first NFL player in a quarter-century to win a third straight MVP. (You guess right if you said predecessor Brett Favre was the last to accomplish it, in 1995-96-97.) But Rodgers has capped his 2020 and ’21 MVP seasons with highly disappointing playoff runs, both at Lambeau Field, and he will play this year without the best receiver in football, Davante Adams, who chose, essentially, to go play with old friend Derek Carr in Las Vegas instead of Rodgers. So there’s a bit of a weird vibe around Rodgers and the Packers this year.
Still, he is the league’s biggest lightning rod. I have never seen live-tweeting of a talk-show appearance happen with the intensity of Rodgers’ session with Pat McAfee after the unvaxxed Rodgers tested positive for Covid and missed a game last season. And this season, the team will rely on him more than ever to get two rookie receivers up to speed after the loss of Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Ironically, if the rookie combo of Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs produce and the Packers again win home-field in the NFC, Rodgers’ case for a third straight MVP would be strengthened.
10. Matthew Berry, fantasy football chieftain
Of course this looks like a weird name on the list. It’s not weird to me. Sources in mediaville tell me after becoming a fantasy institution at ESPN, Berry is likely to be on the market in the near future. He is the undisputed fantasy-football king in the media world, and that means even more now that legalized sports gambling puts such high value on quality tipsters like him.
Berry, if he comes free from ESPN, would be the free-agent of the year in NFL media, now that Adam Schefter has re-upped with ESPN. Berry could be used by one of the major networks for both fantasy and betting info (imagine his value on a prop bet for the over/under on Cooper Kupp receptions this year), he has a clever weekly column, and his podcast dominates the field. With 27 million downloads on his podcast last season (the most in fantasyland), he’s going to bring traffic with him wherever he goes.
Why’s he so high on the list? Because fantasy football is a huge element of the popularity of football. A 2021 poll by Morning Consult showed that 51.7 million people play season-long fantasy sports, while a Miami (Ohio) University poll shows that 96 percent of fantasy players play fantasy football. When 50 million people do something, and the most important person in that space might be available in the burgeoning sports media business, he’s an easy pick. He’ll be an interesting story to watch this summer.
11. Brian Rolapp, NFL EVP/media.
Even though the biggest deals for TV and media (11 years, $110 billion) got done last year, several big media things are on the docket this year for Rolapp. He’s got to honcho the league’s first-ever commitment on a prime-time package of games on Amazon Prime. The league is negotiating a long-term home for NFL Sunday Ticket, which is in its last year on DirecTV; Apple TV has been aggressive in the bidding, which could reach $2.5 billion per year.
Rolapp also has a bit of a headache on his hands: what to do with the NFL Media property, including NFL Network. The league, ideally, would like to keep majority ownership of NFL Media while farming out production and operation to one of the major networks that telecast the games. How much exactly is NFL Media worth? That’s the big question.
12. Joe Burrow, Cincinnati quarterback
In today’s sporting/social landscape, it’s almost as important to be groovy as it is to be good. And Joe Burrow is Joe Cool. In leading the formerly woebegone Bengals to the Super Bowl last year, Burrow not only become a top-tier quarterback but a major influencer. Or, as the New York Times said during the playoffs last February, “The Bengals quarterback has achieved a crossover appeal that has inspired Joe Namath comparisons.”
The reason why I think Burrow has shot to the top of NFL Q ratings is not only his ability and his Gen-Z-appealing fashion sense, but also his attitude. He really has some Namath in him, the ability to play like the ultimate tough guy and at the same time having an I-could-care-less-what-you-think-of-me attitude. He doesn’t get nervous or tight in big moments. And if his line could have blocked Aaron Donald down the stretch of Super Bowl LVI, he would have had the time to win it. Whether he’d have made the plays necessary to win, that would have been on him. But he just didn’t have enough time.
Burrow’s 25, a total team guy, coming off a 70.4-percent completion season in his first full year as a pro. He’s made an irrelevant franchise relevant in 25 months. What’s not to like?
13. Troy Vincent, NFL EVP/football operations
As the NFL’s point person on officiating, and on getting more minorities hired as head coaches, coordinators and GMs, Vincent has some pressure on him this year. Last season was just so-so for officiating. And until a late spurt at the end of the coach-hiring cycle, the progress particularly for Black coaches was lagging so much that one of the prime candidates, Brian Flores, sued the league over it.
Vincent is so passionate about boosting the prospects of Black coaches that at times he gets teary just talking about it. It’s no secret around the league that Vincent would love to succeed Goodell as commissioner one day, and the results of officiating and minority hires are big crucibles for him.
14. Daniel Snyder, Washington owner
The fact should not be dismissed that one owner told Jarrett Bell of USA Today prior to the May league meetings that votes on the fate of Snyder as Commanders’ owner were being counted. The dissatisfaction with Snyder and how he has run one of the league’s flagship franchises into the ground should not be minimized.
It’d be one thing if Snyder was just a bad owner, which he is. But the scandalous part of his ownership in a time of #MeToo threatens to drag the league into his mire. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform requested Snyder and Roger Goodell appear at a hearing June 22 in Washington as the committee investigates the team’s workplace for a “culture of harassment and abuse.”
As committee chair Carolyn Maloney of New York said, peevishly, in a statement: “The Committee has worked tirelessly to obtain critical information, including the findings of the internal investigation conducted by attorney Beth Wilkinson, only to be met with obstruction from the Commanders and the NFL at every turn.”
Since Snyder purchased the team in 1999, the team has won a grand total of two wild-card games and nothing beyond that. Washington has won 10 games once in the last 16 seasons. If possible, the teams has been worse off the field than on, and Snyder is being called on that now.
15. Jeff Pash, NFL legal counsel
I remember when Pete Rozelle walked away from the commissioner’s job in 1989, a beaten man. He built the NFL into the most powerful sports league in the country, but it had come at a cost. The litigiousness of the NFL beat him down year after year, and he was a heavy smoker, and seven years later he was dead. I bring that up because Roger Goodell has a trusted lieutenant in Pash who has taken so much of the legal burden off his hands and off his brain and allowed him to steer clear of some of the legal headaches.
This is going to be a big season for Pash, with so much legalness in the offing for the league. Deshaun Watson; Congressional testimony for his boss; Daniel Snyder; Mark Davis; the vitriol over the $790-million settlement with St. Louis and who pays for it. Pash will be expected to be the front-man in figuring out the solutions for all. The fact that he’s been with Goodell for 16 years in such a potentially volatile job tells you how good he’s been at it.
16. Bill Belichick, New England coach
Big year for Belichick, and the Patriots. The Bills are clearly better, so they’re likely battling a top-heavy AFC (including the Dolphins in their own backyard) for one of three wild-card spots. The Patriots backsliding would be a nightmare for Belichick and his owner, Robert Kraft. Still, of all the people associated with the NFL, Roger Goodell and Belichick are the two whose pronouncements are heard by everyone and parsed for meaning.
Also: Sometime in October, Belichick will likely move into second place on the all-time coaching wins list (regular- and post-season). With four victories this year, Belichick will pass George Halas and be looking up at only one man in history, Don Shula. As of today, it’s Shula 347 with wins, Halas 324, Belichick 321. It took Shula 526 games to record his 347 wins, and it took Halas 506 to get his. Belichick, 70 and looking 55, has coached 477 games in his NFL head-coaching career.
No one expects him to quit anytime soon. Mac Jones’ ability is likely to determine how long it will take Belichick to get the 27 wins he needs to pass Shula. “He still attacks the job the same now that I saw him attack it when I first started in 2001,” said his former offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels. Difference is, now he attacks the game without Tom Brady.
17. Trey Lance, San Francisco quarterback
I fear the 24/7 nature of NFL coverage these days could stunt the growth of this sincere and earnest and talented young quarterback. You know the story: The Niners traded the farm to move up in the draft and chose Lance third overall in 2021. They let him mostly sit and observe in his rookie year as Jimmy Garoppolo quarterbacked (sometime shakily) the team to the NFC Championship Game. Now it’s likely Lance’s team.
He’s on this list, ahead of deserving impact guys like Aaron Donald and Tyreek Hill and Kyler Murray and all the filthy rich guys in NFL broadcast booths, because San Francisco has a very good defense and is coming off a 2021 Final Four appearance. I just want the football world to keep this in mind about Trey Lance: He’s 22. He threw 318 passes in his college career, at a level below the top level of college football, at North Dakota State. And he played sparingly as a rookie in San Francisco. He needs time to develop, to make mistakes, to make dumb throws, to not have judgment passed on him after a three-interception game in Week 3.
A reminder: As a rookie with the Colts in 1998, Peyton Manning threw 3, 3, 2 and 3 interceptions in his first four games. After four games, he’d thrown three touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. The world survived. Remember that, Niner fans.
18. Robert Kraft, New England owner
Normally, Kraft would be higher, as the owner of a mega-team and the powerful head of NFL media and compensation committees. But the Patriots are trending toward good and not great, so he drops down a bit. This year, he’ll have an outsized influence on the media negotiations for Sunday Ticket and NFL Media, as I explained above in the Brian Rolapp section. And if the owners get serious about an extension for Roger Goodell, Kraft will be the key negotiator there.
One of the reasons Kraft belongs on this list almost any year is his devotion to all concepts NFL. At the Super Bowl, he was observed having dinner with and working a potential future partner, Warner Bros./Discovery CEO David Zaslav. With the bulk of the media deals having been finished months earlier, this dinner meeting was more an investment in the future as much as anything else. But it shows Kraft’s energy in looking toward the future, always the future.
19. Dasha Smith, NFL EVP/chief administration officer
Smith is the league’s point person on diversity, equality and inclusion. I asked a key league person recently about the importance of that today in the league office, and I was told there is no more important short-term issue on Roger Goodell’s to-do list. Thus the inclusion of both Troy Vincent and Smith on this list.
Smith was an engine behind the league’s Accelerator Program at the spring meetings two weeks ago. After talking to several owners and top club officials at the combine, she and a small group of NFL execs became convinced that one of the reasons for the poor hiring record with minority coaches—particularly Black coaches—was because most owners simply didn’t know most of the top candidates. Part of the Accelerator Program was a speed-dating-type of program, with owners getting to have conversations with multiple coach and GM candidates.
Whether that event and future ones will bear fruit in the next couple of hiring cycles will determine, in part, whether Smith has succeeded in energizing an issue that has long frustrated the league.
20. Stan Kroenke, L.A. Rams owner
The most contentious issue among NFL owners right now is who should pay how much of the NFL’s stunning-in-its-excess $790-million settlement with the city of St. Louis over the Rams’ move to Los Angeles. It has divided the owners into three groups: those who feel Kroenke committed to paying the legal fees and settlement for the relocation of his own franchise (I’d bet nearly a third of owners are adamant that he should) … those who feel Kroenke has built such a landmark stadium and a franchise fit for the enormity of Los Angeles that the other 31 owners should pitch in some smaller amount (say, $7 million to $10 million per team) to defray the costs … and those who would be fine (a small group) with Kroenke’s costs being capped because it wasn’t all his decision to settle for such a monumental amount.
Where will this land? I don’t know. I went back and forth over where Kroenke belonged on this list, or whether he belonged, because the public doesn’t care who pays when billionaires have to share a bill in the millions. It’s more of a Sports Business Journal story. But I decided Kroenke belongs because he’s the Super Bowl-winning owner, his franchise is very high profile, and the Rams, in short order, have solved a major NFL headache by making Los Angeles viable after a generation of L.A. being a dead market.
21. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore quarterback
I never draw many conclusions when players don’t go to voluntary offseason workouts. You know, on account of the English language and the meaning of “voluntary.” So where Jackson has been in the month of May doesn’t concern me. I’m also in the minority about the meaning of Jackson not engaging about a new contract; I think it’s not important, so long as he is in training camp and plays the 2022 season—and there is no indication that he intends to skip either.
If Jackson stays healthy, I believe Baltimore will challenge Cincinnati for AFC North supremacy. I also think there is still a question about how much money the team should pay him in his next contract. Jackson, through four seasons, has been a marvelous regular-season quarterback and a C-minus postseason quarterback. He’s 37-12 with an 84-to-31 TD-to-pick ration in the regular year. He’s 1-3 in the postseason, and has averaged scoring 13 points per game in those four outings. If I were Jackson, I’d want to play this season out and prove I can play well in the playoffs. If I were the Ravens, I’d want the same thing.
22. Peter O’Reilly, NFL EVP/special events
The NFL is going all-in on international games and special events, determined to own more days on the calendar, and determined to create another time slot on the TV calendar to boost viewership of NFL games. Case in point, 2022: Aaron Rodgers in London, Tom Brady in Munich, Saints-Vikings in London all at 9:30 a.m. ET (and 9:30 p.m. in Beijing).
In addition: I expect Dolphins owner Stephen Ross may push for a game in Brazil or Spain as early as 2024. I expect the Rams to continue to investigate playing a regular-season game in Australia sometime in the future. These games and opportunities to advance the NFL’s brand in foreign countries are going ahead, full steam. O’Reilly will ride herd over those. He’ll oversee the first Vegas Super Bowl, and drafts in new markets like Kansas City and Detroit. But this year, O’Reilly’s big agenda item is sending big players and big teams overseas for important marketing opportunities. And spectacles.
Bonus: Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit defensive end
One player on the list who’s not a quarterback, and I just had to get Hutchinson here. The reason is his importance—symbolically and in Xs-and-Os—to a hungry franchise. Hutchinson is a symbol of progress for a franchise that needs one in the worst way. He actually wants to play for the Lions. And the NFL, by putting the Lions on “Hard Knocks” this summer and awarding the city and the Lions the NFL Draft in 2023, is placing a bet that the Lions won’t be a laughingstock much longer.
Hutchinson is at the center of it. The most accomplished player at the highest level of college football last year, he and his family were in Vegas the night before the draft, and I told this story in my column: Hutchinson’s sister, Aria, said as the pre-draft pressure was getting to everyone in the family: “Please, please, please let him get picked by Detroit!” Think of that. When’s the last time someone has wanted a loved one to go to the Detroit Lions? Night Train Lane? Joe Schmidt? In the end, the Lions’ record will be more on Jared Goff than Aidan Hutchinson, but this franchise, and this region, needs the player and person that Hutchinson is.
Sue L. Robinson, a retired former U.S. District Court judge who will hear the Deshaun Watson discipline case once the NFL investigation into Watson’s behavior is complete … Kevin Burkhardt, FOX number one play-by-play man … Kyler Murray, Arizona quarterback. He is miffed at not having a new contract yet, and that will dominate some of the pre-camp buzz in Arizona … Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay coach. Not many Black coaches get second chances, and ever fewer get them with legit Super Bowl contenders … Sean Payton, retired coach (for now). Payton, 59 on Dec. 29, will be the most attractive candidate in the 2023 coaching carousel … Marcus Brady, Colts offensive coordinator, and Aaron Glenn, Lions defensive coordinator, impressed at the league’s Accelerator Program to incentivize minority hiring and should get some looks at head-coach jobs next winter … Jerry Jones, Dallas owner. Just because … Mark Davis, Las Vegas owner. Talk about a succession of dark clouds over a franchise. Anyone still work in that front office? … Brian Flores, Pittsburgh assistant coach. He’ll coach the Steelers linebackers while wondering if he’ll ever get another head-coaching shot.
For some time now (my guess is about 20 years), I’ve had a section in the column highlighting books I like, and I publish the section before Father’s Day. My idea comes from three motivations:
- Most of you who get Dad gifts for this special day have no idea what to get him. You might get him a tie. He doesn’t want a tie. He has 67 already.
- We don’t read enough in this world, unless you count reading text messages and emails on phones. I don’t count those.
- Books are fun. You feel good after reading them. After I finished the one I write about here from John Grisham, I looked at the clock and it was 2:05 a.m., and I thought, well, I’ll need a good nap after lunch tomorrow. But it was worth it.
So I’ve got five for you this year, including the latest by Don Winslow, who is masterful. My new fave. Also: David Maraniss has a book out later this summer on Jim Thorpe. I’m early in it, but it is exciting, and I will be sure to write about it in the column sometime in late August or September.
My Father’s Day choices include a link. I use Bookshop because it promote people buying books from community bookstores instead of the big book dealers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Totally fine however you buy the books, but I’m a fan of supporting the little guy.
The 2022 book list:
True: The Four Seasons of Jackie Robinson, by Kostya Kennedy (St. Martin’s Press, $27.89)
Most of the writing about Robinson—and this book comes out on the 75th anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier—is singularly about his accomplishments as a ballplayer and his guts in desegregating baseball. Rightfully so. Baseball in 1947 was the biggest entertainment venture in the country. Baseball in America in 1947 was bigger than football in America in 2022.
But Kennedy’s book delves deeper into all aspects of Robinson’s life, and into many aspects of American life. When he moved to the then-white enclave of Stamford, Conn., his kids helped desegregate the local schools. He founded a bank that loaned money to minority customers, and he started a construction company to build housing for low-income families. Jackie Robinson, as my former Sports Illustrated peer Kennedy writes, really walked the walk.
One of the reasons this book is so valuable and enjoyable: Kennedy takes you places you haven’t gone, to see things I doubt you’ve seen even if you’re well-read on the subject. Case in point: In 1956, the Dodgers were pressuring Brooklyn to build them a new stadium, and arranged to play several games at a second home site—Jersey City, N.J., 13 miles away, but with the parking facilities Ebbetts Field didn’t have. The first game that season in Jersey City drew only 12,214, even though it was almost exactly 10 years to the day of Robinson’s pro debut in the very stadium as a minor-leaguer. Writes Kennedy:
The fans booed from the start; Jersey City was Giants’ country. The Dodgers were booed over the while, but Robinson bore the brunt of the rancor—just as he had heard the greatest swell of cheers and affection on opening day at Ebbets Field.
“Give them back to the Giants,” Robinson said of Jersey City fans after the game. “There was no justification for their booing me. That kind of reception from hometown fans I resent.”
This was in Robinson’s last year as a player. He’d made the National League All-Star team six years in a row. Five times in nine previous years with the Dodgers, he’s a huge player on a National League champion, and the previous year, the Dodgers won the World Series. Amazing to think after all that he’d get booed lustily at a “home” game.
Kennedy also wrote about Robinson’s disappointment in his life after baseball. He so wanted to coach or manage in the big leagues after he finished playing and never had that chance. Never got close. We think of the Robinson story as one of immense heroism. As Kennedy illustrates over and over, there was a cost to the hero.
Excellent job by Kennedy in telling the full story of Robinson. He died at 53, in 1972. On his gravestone was written: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” For better and worse, the impact was huge, and Kennedy nailed it here.
City on Fire, by Don Winslow (William Morrow, $28.82)
I have a new genre to name after reading Don Winslow: grit fiction. It’s so interesting to read Winslow writing about the Rhode Island mob because he writes like his characters talk, and somehow it comes out as tremendous writing. I’d be shocked if you read this and didn’t come away thinking: Is Don Winslow, uh, actually in the mob? That’s how good it is.
Trust me that the story’s very good. I’m caught on the writing, and the dialog. Such as a section about one crime family deciding whether to hit another crime family, with boss Pasco Ferri thinking about what exactly to unleash, discussing it with soldiers Paulie and Peter. Winslow writes:
Standing in his little kitchen area, he stirs the chowder that’s been simmering on the stove since early morning. Real Rhode Island chowder, with clear broth, not that milky baby puke they throw at you up in Boston. He turns and looks deliberately at Paulie Moretti. “If you hit John Murphy’s son we’ll be in a war that won’t end until we kill every mick in Rhode Island.”
“Okay with me,” Paulie says.
“Is that right?” Pasco asks. “It’s okay with you some of our own people get killed in the process? Our businesses are disrupted? Okay with you we lose cops and politicians when we start littering the state with bodies?”
… “They disrespected us,” Peter says. “We can’t just do nothing.”
“Did I say do nothing?” Pasco asks.
He sips the chowder, then adds a little pepper. The doctor has told him no pepper, but what do doctors really know?
I don’t know. I’ve never been in the mob. But that scene is very Sopranos, as is much of the book. Riveting, most of it.
The Violin Conspiracy, by Brendan Slocumb (Anchor Books, $26.04)
Sometimes you are gifted a book, you’re not sure why, and you pick it up, and you get engrossed, and you say, “Everyone’s got to read this book.” Such was my experience with a book with an odd storyline. Ray McMillian, who is Black, grows up in the rural South dying to be a world-class violinist. Part of the reason is he learns at an early age that the violin he’d been using for practice is actually an invaluable Stradivarius. Against all odds, including a bitter mother who wants young Ray to stay in his place, stop practicing that dumb fiddle, and bring money into the family (she has to be the worst mother in modern fiction), Roy climbs the ladder and becomes a renowned violin player.
Then one day, on the eve of a world competition that could be Roy’s ticket to classical music greatness, the violin goes missing. A ransom note surfaces: $5 million. Life as Ray knows it is over. Ruined. The violin can’t be located, the mystery of its disappearance leads to a worldwide violin-hunt, but the show much go on, and Roy must be prepared for the contest.
This scene from early in the book is when young Ray and some friends (three white friends) play a wedding at a rich family’s home in North Carolina. When it was over, the uncle of the bride furtively grabs Ray’s arm and pulls him to the side.
Uncle Roger pulled him in closer, never breaking his gaze. “You almost destroyed my daughter’s wedding. The only reason I didn’t throw you out is because I didn’t want to cause a scene,” he growled. “I want you to get the f— outta my garden and get the f— outta my home. F—–’ darkies need to stay on your own side of town.”
… There are moments in life when the clouds lift and the curtain of rain blows back and suddenly the world stands before you, stark and vast, and you teeter on the edge of an enormous precipice of knowing, of understanding with every fiber of your soul, every hair on your head; and this was one of those moments.
Imagine: Ray faced this growing up and survived to become great at his passion, and he did it with a mother who never supported him. And I haven’t gotten to the story of the stolen Stradivarius.
You’ll like this one. It won’t take you long to read it.
The Judge’s List, by John Grisham (Doubleday, $27.85)
I keep thinking Grisham is getting worn, but then I get one of his books as a gift, and he keeps bringing the 98-mph fastball. “The unapologetic master of the industrial-strength page-turner,” the New York Times calls him. I think some people get tired of the same-old same-old and get fed up with Grisham, and I get that, because lots of his books have been whodunnits, or proving whodunnit. But this book is different. Give it a chance, and it will be that same read-till-3:10 am book you remember from his early days.
What makes this book different: Grisham profiles a woman whose father died under mysterious circumstances years earlier, and she’s trying to avenge his death. She figure that a judge who crossed paths with her dad, Ross Bannick from Florida, is the murderer, and she also figures that the sicko judge has murdered time and again—apparently because he is determined to get revenge for the smallest slights in his life. It seems absurd until an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct—reluctantly—gets involved. Lucy Stoltz, that investigator, is one heck of a bulldog.
What I think is so interesting about the tale is the lengths to which Bannick goes to hide himself and thoroughly disappear. How does one eliminate any trace of himself? Surgically removing fingerprints is one way. But making any trace of a fingerprint from one’s life has to be done too. What Bannick did: wiping almost any surface at least smears the latent prints and renders them useless. Smearing, though, was not the plan. He mixed a solution of water, distilled alcohol and lemon juice and wiped the counters and appliances with a microfiber cloth … Prints were virtually impossible to lift from cloth, but he filled the washing machine anyway anyway, with bath and hand towels. The cleansing would take hours if not days, and he knew this was only the first pass through.
The research, the intense work, to figure out how to catch an uncatchable brilliant judge is hard enough. Harder, too, when you figure that a third of murder cases in the United States are never solved. There’s a lot at play here, and I found it riveting.
“I think about it all the time … I can definitely see the end coming.”
—Aaron Rodgers, on retirement, to Ernie Johnson at the quarterbacks-playing-golf event the other night.
“Am I going to resign? I haven’t made that decision.”
—Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the commissioner of the Joc Pederson-Tommy Pham fantasy football league that was in the news last week, on his future as league commish.
“Every Eagles fan’s expectations are the Super Bowl for sure.”
—Trout, a huge fan of the Eagles, on his hopes for the 2022 season.
“I don’t want any pity. I am confident in the person I’m striving to be.”
—Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, on his inability to land an NFL head-coaching job despite multiple interviews.
“I’d be a fool to trade him. Deebo will be part of the 49ers this season.”
—49ers GM John Lynch on the future of disgruntled wide receiver Deebo Samuel.
I keep trying to figure a way to quantify how great a year Cooper Kupp had for the Rams in 2021. Not saying a receiver can’t surpass his 178 catches (regular season and postseason), but man, it won’t be easy.
I looked back at the receiver widely considered the greatest of the modern era and perhaps of all time, Jerry Rice. His best year, statistically, was 1995, with 122 catches for 1,848 yards in the regular season. Mind-boggling. Let’s compare the greatness of Rice’s best year to Kupp’s 2021 season.
This one stat, encompassing Kupp’s 21 regular- and post-season games last year, and Rice’s 17 such games from 1995, tell a story of how great Kupp was last year.
Receiving yards per game
Rice, 1995: 115.59
Kupp, 2021: 115.48
That’s Rice’s best year, and Kupp, per game in 2021, was right with him.
Imagine being that productive when everyone in the stadium, from the opposing defensive coordinator to the beer vendor, knows exactly where the quarterback is going with the ball. “Cooper Kupp has this gift,” Sean McVay said last year, “of knowing exactly where to cut and how to do leverage on the corners. He and Matthew [Stafford] are on the exact same page about it, which is amazing for them being together for just this year.”
Rice in 1995 (including one playoff game): 17 games, 133 catches, 1,965 yards, 15 touchdowns.
Kupp in 2021 (including four playoff games: 21 games, 178 catches, 2,425 yards, 22 touchdowns.
That, Cooper Kupp, is an awful lot to live up to in 2022.
In a 1998 Division III football game between John Carroll University and Stonehill (Mass.) College, John Carroll quarterback Nick Caserio completed a 45-yard pass to wide receiver Josh McDaniels to set up one touchdown, and Caserio threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Dave Ziegler. It was a rout: John Carroll 56, Stonehill 3.
Nick Caserio: Houston Texans GM.
Dave Ziegler: Las Vegas Raiders GM.
Josh McDaniels: Las Vegas Raiders coach.
JFK Airport, airtrain from car rental area to terminal, Sunday, 5:30 a.m.
I’d just dropped my daughter Mary Beth, husband Nick and baby Peter at JFK after their week’s visit to Brooklyn. After dropping their car rental at Hertz, I was about to board the airtrain back to the terminal to catch a cab home.
Imagine my surprise when I saw these two attractive fellows on the television. This was the rerun of our two-hour Friday “PFT” show. Vain man that I am, my first thought was, “Man, I need a haircut.”
— Fred Jackson (@Fred22Jackson) June 2, 2022
Former Ryan Fitzpatrick teammate Fred Jackson, with the coolest odd retirement announcement by a player.
John Wooden, who died 12 years ago, hated the "Wizard of Westwood" nickname and loved baseball. Once, he was offered the job of managing the Pittsburgh Pirates.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) June 5, 2022
Farmer writes about sports for the Los Angeles Times.
@RealMichaelKay just made the point that 81 years later, if Lou Gehrig was 35 today, the prognosis for his ALS diagnosis would be the same. The need for more research is obvious. #FightALS #LouGehrigDay
— Gordon Edes (@GordonEdes) June 2, 2022
Edes is a longtime baseball writer.
Today’s game is over. It was not fun.
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) June 4, 2022
Friday night: Yanks 13, Tigers 0.
— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) June 4, 2022
An x-and-o Twitter feed run by a football coach, Aaron Day
Von Miller, by the way, is to be praised for this. He’s investing in the pass-rushers of tomorrow, sharing what he’s learned with the next generation of sackers. That is very cool.
More than 250 of you reacted via email (email@example.com) or Twitter (@peter_king) to the column that led with a plea for sensible gun reform last week. I chose these responses. The floor is yours.
Troubling. From James Barbieri: “My daughter, who graduated college recently at 22, told her mother and I the other day that shortly after she received her diploma she had this thought: I made it through my years of schooling without being in a shooting. She also said, ‘I have so much worry about you two because you work in a high risk profession.’ My wife and I are both elementary school teachers. How can we as a society tolerate the fact that we have an entire generation of young adults like my daughter who live in fear every day—for themselves, their friends and their parents?”
Good idea. From Jim Sweeney: “We need to treat guns like cars. Anyone can have one. You don’t just get a car when you turn 18; you have to practice using it (for quite a while, under supervision, and there are very specific rules), and you have to prove to the state that you can use it safely. You lose the right to drive your car if you do something dumb with it. You have to buy insurance in case you do something stupid with your car, and the younger you are or the riskier you are, the more this insurance costs.”
I am masquerading as a sports writer. From @zitz88 on Twitter: “How bout you either write about football in your FMIA column, or take a job writing about politics and current events. You are sliding more and more in the activist territory and masquerading as a sports writer.”
Well, okay then. From Mike Shereck: “Peter King, you may be the worst of all media people in America. You politicize and manipulate events to push your weak, woke agenda. You left out the guy in your hometown of NYC who was gunned down for no reason on the train. The Goldman Sachs employee, taking the train to work and shot for no reason by a Black man. Or the multitudes of senseless shooting, mostly by Black people to other Black people in just about every urban setting in our country. You are the worst version of man that has ever been created. I do hope one day, while walking the streets of your beloved hometown, some miscreant interacts with you and you get to see what the power of the press has actually created.”
From Italy. From Fillipo Fortini, of Viterbo, Italy: “Here in Europe we take things for granted like universal medical care, sensible housing and most important, no guns in the hands of people who have no business having one. I just don’t understand why the most advanced nation on earth can’t grasp such basic concepts.”
Thank you. From Ed Powers: “As a husband of a retired teacher, a father to two current teachers, and a grandfather of three students, thanks for not sticking to football.”
From a veteran. From David Clippert: “I am a gun owner and support the 2nd Amendment. I am also a human and a retired member of the U.S. Air Force. America cannot make a claim to be an exceptional nation as long as we allow children to be slaughtered.”
From another veteran. From Scott deLage, Command Master Chief, U.S. Navy (retired): “I spent almost 25 years in the military and I know first-hand these [weapons used in recent shootings] are not ‘self-defense’ weapons. These are killing instruments. Plain and simple, these are tools made to kill people. I do not understand why any civilian needs a weapon like that for any reason. I do not understand why we do not have licenses for gun ownership. I do not understand why background checks are not required to purchase any firearm. How many more children need to die before we do something? Thank you for taking the time to express your outrage and condemn our supposed leaders who fail to take action because the NRA has made the Second Amendment into a litmus test for our politicians. I hope more voices like yours, and Steve Kerr’s, and Gabe Kapler’s, continue to speak loudly and strongly.”
Finally. From Greg Wallace, supervisor of school safety and mental health, Johnson City (Tenn.) Schools: “My primary responsibility is keeping our 8500 students safe every day. A few thoughts:
• It is absolutely a mental health issue. The problem is that many of these issues go undiagnosed thus rendering mental health background checks ineffective.
• I am all for responsible gun ownership. Surely we can all agree that as a society if you can’t drink until 21 it might be a good idea to not own something that can kill multiple people in just a few minutes. Can we at least have a conversation?
• Laws need to be enacted that give the schools additional tools to support strong mental health. We have school mental health clinics in each of our schools. It is effective, but most schools do not have the resources to do so.
I love my job. I love public education. I long for the day that my job will no longer be needed. But it is not today.”
Humbling story. From Josh Newark: “In 2010 my brother used his handgun to take his own life after a domestic dispute with his wife turned into a police altercation. Currently, I just completed my 20th year of teaching as a public school social studies teacher. We are years too late in having an honest national conversation about guns. Americans want change but are being held hostage by politicians scared of a gun lobby that is close to bankruptcy. We need more prominent voices like yours who have a national platform to call for meaningful change. Thank you for your stand.”
Good idea. From Bill Petrie: “As a 52-year-old man, I’m beyond tired of thoughts and prayers; I’m exhausted. I’m a believer that change starts with me, so I’ll put my money where my mouth is. Last week I contacted the offices of my elected officials—calls, not emails—and asked hard questions of the staffers I spoke with: Why do they continue to take money from the NRA? What will they do besides grandstanding and sending thoughts and prayers? I hope you will urge your readers, the ones who truly appreciate your candor and vulnerability, to contact their elected officials.”
Smart point. From Steven Levy: “Each person speaking out is a drop of water that will eventually erode the stone and bring our nation back toward sanity on this issue.”
Thanks to all for your sentiments. It’s a complicated, tough issue. I don’t have a lot of empathy or patience for the “Nothing can be done” crowd, because we live in a country where we’ve also been able to solve complex issues. We can’t be intractable. We must be open-minded and think how wrong it is to live in a country that looks the other way when third- and fourth-graders are slaughtered.
1. I think I have a few nuggets on the near future at Amazon with the Thursday night games:
• Talent. Lots of rumors out there about who will be a part of the Amazon pre-game, halftime and post-game team. Richard Sherman has an offer from Amazon to be on the studio show. Ian Rapoport reported Friday that the retired Ryan Fitzpatrick is in talks with Amazon “for a key role,” and I’m told that role is part of the same wraparound show that will feature Tony Gonzalez and could feature Sherman, the longtime cornerback. So if Fitzmagic, Sherman and Gonzalez are on the set, they’ll still need someone in the host chair. The assumption is that was to be Kay Adams, formerly of NFL Network, but I don’t know who it will be. The musical chairs are 98-percent filled at the networks, and the host of this studio-but-not-in-a-studio show is still TBD.
• ‘Fresh off the field.’ When Amazon does announce its next set of hires, expect that there won’t be a lot of age to them. There’s a belief inside the company that the current crop of studio shows skew oldish. If three of the pregame people are Gonzalez, Sherman and Fitzpatrick, their ages are 46, 34 and 39, respectfully, and played in the game most recently in 2013, 2021 and 2021.
• Marshawn. Amazon is considering Mr. Lynch, and I’m told it could be for feature reporting. Imagine how fun that would be.
• On the scene. Fifteen Thursday night games streamed by Amazon, 15 shows on-site, starting in Week 2 at Arrowhead Stadium. The NFL’s pleased with this, and with Amazon trying to make big events out of each game.
2. I think this one quote from Ryan Fitzpatrick sums up everything you need to know about why he was able to last 17 years in the NFL after being the 250th pick out of Harvard in 2005: “I feel like the luckiest guy in the world sometimes, getting to go outside and play football with my friends.” He said that in 2020, after completing 18 of 20 (90 percent) in a 31-13 win over Jacksonville. Think of this Journeyman Stat of the Week: Fitzpatrick, who played with nine teams in his career, beat the Jaguars as the starting quarterback of six different teams.
3. I think, in tribute to Fitzpatrick, let me replay, in an abbreviated stream-of-consciousness form, my conversation with him from a 2020 conversation, starting with how impressed I was with his “luckiest guy in the world” quote:
“I love playing the game. I feel like I’m out there, and I already accomplished way more than I thought. Way back when I was with the Rams in 2005, I was hoping to hang on for a year or two. It’s been a wild ride. Now, being 37, getting to go out there and be surrounded by a bunch of 20-somethings, it does make me feel youthful. It definitely keeps me young.
“Going back and forth, in and out of the lineup, that could be difficult. You could look at it like a failure. But on the other hand, I always took it as an opportunity to sit back, watch the game, and figure out what I could do to improve myself.
“There’s a joy that I get from being on the field. Sometimes it’s hard on the family, and it’s a little bit of a selfish decision. But my family, my kids, my dad, I know it brings some joy to them.
“After 2016 [a down year with the Jets], I lost my passion for the game. It was the lowest of the lows for me. I didn’t want to play anymore. Thank goodness [Bucs coach] Dirk Koetter called me up and I ended up getting in some games in Tampa and I was able to find that passion to compete with the guys.
“What happened was 2015 was such a good year [with the Jets]. We won 10 games, barely missed the playoffs. Then I kind of had my little contract squabble. I didn’t play well. Kind of anything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. Magnifying that, being in the New York market, it was a difficult year for me and my family. It sucked the life out of me. Even confidence-wise, which never was a problem for me, I questioned whether I could still do it. I thought that was pretty much it. I was not at peace with the way it ended, but at peace with my career.
“Sitting and talking with my wife, she has always been in my corner. And she was like, ‘If your heart’s in this, we’re all about it, let’s do it.’ It was the right decision for me to make. Her attitude have never been, ‘Oh shoot, we gotta move again.’ It’s, ‘We’re on to the next adventure.’ My wife views it as that, and my kids have a great attitude about it, and we’ve been so fortunate to find great neighborhoods and have some great neighbors over the years. When I decided to go to Tampa, really to be close to Disney World and good weather for my family, I was able to find that joy again.
“As much as anything, what my career says is resiliency. Being in so many places. What this game means to me. What a great experience it’s all been.”
You read that and you think, Now I know why Ryan Fitzpatrick has been able to find success and have such a long life in football. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be around a competent quarterback with an attitude like that?
4. I think I doubt Daniel Snyder will voluntarily testify before Congress later this month. I just do. He can’t help himself in front of Congress. I’d bet his attorney tells him, Without a subpoena, you’re not sitting before Congress.
5. I think that will make Roger Goodell sooooo happy, having to sit there (if he does) answering for Snyder the miscreant.
6. I think four teams have 16 days to rest after their last preseason games (Kansas City, Green Bay, San Francisco, Houston), which is going to be either an interesting test for those coaches or a big advantage. The Packers are at KC, and San Francisco at Houston, on the evening of Thursday, Aug. 25. Then they don’t play till Sunday, Sept. 11. Plus, with more teams playing fewer starters in the preseason now, it’ll be interesting to see, for instance, how long Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes play in that preseason game. Point is, there are going to be some very well-rested teams (stale, perhaps, too) after a 1.5-week bye prior to the start of the practice week for the first game that counts.
7. I think I don’t know how to describe the joint practices being held between the Rams and Bengals in August other than to say … interesting. Four points:
a. I’m sure the two foes in the Super Bowl have come back to jointly practice months later in camp, though I don’t recall it.
b. The Rams will be flying 1,900 miles and three time zones to play the Bengals in the final preseason game. (But West Coast teams have a hard time with preseason scheduling because there are only seven teams in Mountain and Pacific Time, and you don’t want to play division foes in the preseason.)
c. The last full week of August is late for combined practices prior to the season, but because there are only three preseason games, the last of which comes on the weekend of Aug. 25-28, some teams are doing late ones this year—New England at Vegas, Philadelphia at Miami as well.
d. Field trip to Skyline Chili, Sean McVay, followed by cones at Graeter’s.
8. I think you probably saw Tua Tagovailoa defend his arm strength the other day, and you probably saw the Dolphins post a tweet with Tua throwing a deep ball to Tyreek Hill. Cool. None of it matters until the real games start and we see the game plans new coach Mike McDaniel invents for an offense that includes two legitimate deep threats, Hill and Jaylen Waddle.
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) June 2, 2022
9. I think, not to be Joe Negative, but Pro Football Focus throws a bit of a wet blanket over the arm strength of Tagovailoa. Last year, just 5.3 percent of Tagovailoa’s completions (14 of 263) were on balls thrown 20 yards or more past the line of scrimmage. Patrick Mahomes had 36 such completions. Tagovailoa was 30th in the league in 20-yard-plus attempts with 29. His two deep threats are 4.29- and 4.37-second 40-yard-dash guys, so we’ll see if his arm is up to the task when the games start.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week (with an important life lesson): Talya Minsberg of the New York Times, reporting on lessons from the 75-year-old and up runners competing at the National Senior Games track and field event in Miramar, Fla.
b. “Just keep moving,” 82-year-old Walter Lancaster of Charleston, S.C. told the Times. Minsberg wrote about a 99-year-old runner from Springfield, Va.
Roy Englert was one of the oldest participants in the National Senior Games. He competed in the 400 meters, finishing in 3:35.47.
Englert credits his success to a simple equation. “My consistent advice is to keep moving, keep moving, keep moving,” he said, “and have a little luck.”
c. Such a good reminder about even the most basic fitness for all. Keep moving. I’m days from turning 65, and I try to do something even very basic in the morning and afternoon daily. I can tell you when I’m working in my home office, I need that dog-walk even on the busiest of afternoons. I get up from the desk, all stiff, and I take Chuck out for one mile in the neighborhood, and when I come back my outlook and joints feel so much better. Great to see these older folks with a message for us all.
d. Sports Story of the Week: Adam Baum of the Cincinnati Enquirer on the most interesting person you may not know. “Who is Phil Bucklew?”
e. Bucklew, a pre-WWII NFL player with the Cleveland Rams, went on the become the father of Navy Special Ops. The story stretches from a football field in Ohio to military service in Italy, France, China, Vietnam, and heroism in almost every military theater.
f. Happy retirement, Ray Didinger. The 75-year-old Philadelphia sportswriting and sportscasting institution retired in May. I plan to write more about Ray when I come back from vacation.
g. Obit of the Week: Stu Durando of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on the Washington University (St. Louis) scholar and athlete, Justin Hardy, who played through stomach cancer that finally killed him. Wrote Durando:
Diagnosed in April 2021, Hardy completed a summer internship, tutored students in the fall, graduated in December a semester early and recovered from 50 pounds of weight loss to play college basketball.
Hardy was one of two athletes given the Perry Wallace Most Courageous Award by the United States Basketball Writers Association for his refusal to let a terminal prognosis sidetrack his immediate plans.
“I don’t go two or three minutes without thinking about the fact that this is my life and something that is going to stick with me forever,” Hardy told the crowd on April 4. “But I have a lot to be grateful for, and I can’t let all of that negativity consume my thoughts. Everything in life will be OK if you look at it with optimism. I took that to heart and I think it’s one of the reasons I was able to do all I did.”
h. The debilitating illness limited Hardy’s last season. But in late February, three months before he died, Hardy entered Wash U’s final regular-season game with one minute left. He scored the final points of the game, and his career, on a layup with 20 seconds left.
i. I couldn’t help but notice the news last week from our neighbors up north.
j. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with some fast, common-sense work there.
k. Magazine Story of the Week: Rachel Monroe of the New Yorker on how the Uvalde Leader-News and local media are covering the school shooting. Wrote Monroe:
Local news is an increasingly tough business. Twenty-one Texas counties now have no newspaper at all. When local papers fold, as happened in nearby Del Rio, the information void is often filled by Facebook groups of questionable reliability. At the Leader-News, circulation and ad sales have been dropping. Despite the mounting pressures, the Leader-News has continued to win awards, and to cover everything from homecoming to vehicle accidents to a World Gliding Championship. In 2019, the paper ran a series examining the town’s Ku Klux Klan chapter in the nineteen-twenties. Garnett made a point of nurturing local talent. When he noticed that the paper’s receptionist, Kimberly Rubio, usually had a book open in front of her, he suggested that she apply for a position as a reporter. “I said, ‘You know, if you love to read that much, you can write,’ ” Garnett said. “And, by gosh, she didn’t let us down.”
On Wednesday, when I visited the Leader-News office, the staff had recently received confirmation that Kimberly Rubio’s daughter, Lexi, was among the dead. The newsroom atmosphere was stricken, and the office phone didn’t stop ringing; the paper was getting calls from media around the world, seeking comment, insight, images. The issue had to go to print in a few hours.
Staff writer Melissa Federspill suggested blacking out the entire front page. The issue went to print with a front page that was entirely black, except for the date: May 24, 2022.
l. Radio Story of the Week: Adrian Florido of National Public Radio on the history of Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.
m. The story is part disturbing, part heroic. But I was riveted by it.
n. April 1970. A Hispanic teacher gets fired for trying to advance his career. Some 500 students in town go on strike to protest. A list of demands is drafted, and a high school senior, Elvia Perez, brings the list of demands to the school board:
PEREZ: “I remember walking across the street, and for some reason, I just looked up, and I looked up the barrel of a Texas Ranger’s rifle. They were on the roof with their rifles pointing down at us … I was heartbroken. I was heartbroken because I thought, I am an American citizen from generations, and all of a sudden, we’re being treated this way? Like, I was appalled. I was 17.”
o. This is a week old now, and I am no big NBA guy, but I watched Game 7 of Celtics-Heat, and saw Jimmy Butler, fast-breaking with a few seconds left, Miami down two, and stopping at the 3-point line and letting it fly. No good. Celtics rebound. Celtics win. And I heard criticism of Butler for not driving to the basket and either scoring the tying points or getting fouled and shooting two. It’s a great discussion, wonderful talk-show fodder. But I love what Butler did. The confidence he showed in thinking, I’m going to put us up by one with 12 seconds left in the biggest game of the year, was a beautiful thing and totally justified after watching Butler’s stranglehold on Games 6 and 7.
p. Sometimes you’ve got to trust players. They’re the ones in the arena, and they’ve got their finger on the pulse of precisely the best thing to do. If he makes it, he’s a genius. If he misses it, he’s second-guessed.
q. Teddy Roosevelt, 1910, in a speech that would become known as “The Man in the Arena,” is what I thought of when I saw Butler being criticized. In part, here’s what Roosevelt said:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.
r. I’ve always loved that.
s. Those uniforms worn by the Rockies Saturday night—green and white, for some reason, with a design of the Rocky Mountains on the front in green and white—are the most hideous unis in the history of baseball. And there have been some truly hideous ones.
t. I’ll be on vacation till the column of July 18. (Hints on topic of that column: Motor City, Shinola Watches, Mike O’Hara, kneecap-biting, Tarik Skubal.)
u. Final hint.
v. See you in a few weeks. As I go, let me leave you with a piece from StoryCorps, the NPR-affiliated group that records life stories of interesting people and stores them in the Library of Congress. Most of the great stories are from absolutely normal American people, like these three.
w. I just thought we needed that this week.
Happy summer, all.
I’ll be gone till mid-July.
Read the guest columns!