Asked to address open court vs. arbitration, Roger Goodell masterfully deflected

USA TODAY Sports

Commissioner Roger Goodell infrequently sits for one-on-one interviews. But he conducts at least five press conferences per year.

Press conferences, from the perspective of the person giving the press conference, are safer. You’re asked a question, you answer it, and then it moves on to the next reporter, who asks the next question. While it can sometimes get a little uncomfortable when multiple reporters are asking about the same thing (requiring quick work to get the microphone to someone who will ask about something else), the scattershot, one-question-per-topic approach of a press conference is far better than getting Morley Safered by someone who: (1) knows the subject matter thoroughly; (2) is willing to ask tough questions and pointed follow-ups; and (3) has the time and opportunity to do so.

Earlier this week, we showed how Goodell managed to bulldoze his way through the minefield of materials showing that the Rams and the league told bald-faced lies about Stan Kroenke’s intentions regarding land he’d purchased in Inglewood, California. During that same press conference, Goodell engaged in another impressive act of verbal sleight of hand when asked a simple question about the league’s ongoing love affair with arbitration.

Jarrett Bell of USA Today tried to get Goodell to address the philosophical basis for the NFL’s chronic effort to force lawsuits from the normal public litigation system and into a process that I have been calling (and won’t stop calling, because it’s accurate) a secret, rigged kangaroo court. Goodell completely ignored the actual question regarding the basis for the league’s obsession to abandon transparent, fair procedures for something that can be kept concealed — and that involves the scales necessarily being tipped in favor of the NFL and its member franchises.

Bell ultimately asked Goodell to “define” the league’s position on the matter of open court versus arbitration, specifically in the context of the Jon Gruden case. Said Goodell, “I don’t think that’s a decision I’m going to make, Jarrett. It sounds to me that’s what the court’s going to make. We’ll wait and see what the court decides.”

The next day, the court decided that the NFL’s effort to force Gruden’s claims to arbitration must fail. The judge ruled against the league straight from the bench; she didn’t even take a Wapner-style five-minute break.

The NFL lost this one, badly. But the NFL will keep appealing and appealing and appealing for as long as it can, both because it refuses to accept the objective weaknesses of its position and because it wants to buy as much time as possible before facing the merits of the claims in open court.

The NFL and the Rams took its Hail Mary effort to force the St. Louis case into arbitration all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It will surely do the same with Gruden.

Through it all, we’ll never get a direct answer to Bell’s question. Although the answer is obvious, it would be nice if the NFL and/or Goodell eventually would be compelled to admit publicly the reasons for its effort to keep its various legal fights private.

NFL tweaks the rules for interviewing head-coaching candidates

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As the NFL tries to nudge the owners toward a more fair, thorough, and inclusive process for interviewing and hiring head coaches, the league has made a couple of important tweaks to the hiring process, aimed at giving all candidates more time to get ready for their interviews.

This week, the league issued a resolution that makes two important changes to the process.

First, teams cannot interview a head-coaching candidate who is employed by another NFL team until the third day after the conclusion of that team’s Week 18 game. This specifically applies to assistant coaches working for teams that did not qualify for the playoffs or that earned a first-round bye. For teams that play in the wild-card round, assistant coaches cannot be interviewed until the following Tuesday (for Saturday and Sunday games) or Wednesday (for the Monday game).

Second, no in-person interviews are permitted with candidates who are employed by other teams until after all wild-card games have ended. Before the end of the wild-card round, in-person interviews may occur only with candidates employed by the team hiring a head coach or candidates not currently employed by the NFL.

The resolution, which amends the language of the league’s Anti-Tampering Policy, applies through May 31, 2024.

It’s a far cry from the suggestion made on Super Bowl Sunday by Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, that the entire process be paused until the playoffs end. But it’s a step in that direction. Maybe more steps will be made in that direction, until the league’s standard approach becomes conducting no interviews until after the last piece of confetti falls in mid-February.

Win a free signed copy of Playmakers for Father’s Day

PublicAffairs

Father’s Day is coming. It would be good to buy something for your dad. It would be even better to win something for him. Or for yourself.

PublicAffairs has launched a Father’s Day sweepstakes with three prizes. A signed copy of Playmakers, a signed copy of The Silver Waterfall, and a signed copy of Jimmy The King.

Three people will win the three-book prize. You can enter here.

Or you can just buy one or more of these books.

Playmakers debuted on March 15. It tells the story of the NFL of the past 20 years, one incident, controversy, anecdote, etc. at a time. It’s a mosaic that ultimately demonstrates how the NFL operates, and how the league somehow thrives through a degree of ever-present dysfunction.

Despite giving up Super Bowl halftime show, Pepsi remains an NFL sponsor

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Pepsi is out as the sponsor of the Super Bowl halftime show, but it’s still in as a major NFL sponsor.

Pepsi officially announced this week that, after 10 years as the presenting sponsor of a concert seen by more than 100 million people annually, it will surrender that position. However, Pepsi will remain a sponsor of the NFL.

Its parent company, PepsiCo, has multiple deals with the NFL, via the Gatorade, Frito-Lay, and Pepsi brands. They have all been renewed.

Via CNBC, PepsiCo previously paid $2 billion over 10 years to the NFL. Terms of the new deal, without the halftime show, have not been disclosed.

The NFL reportedly wants up to $50 million annually for the Super Bowl halftime rights. The broader plan includes making the show stretch well beyond the 12 minutes that it unfolds, with “documentary footage around the preparations for the show or behind-the-scenes access, or footage from dress rehearsals or bonus performances.”

This strategy points to a partner who will be able to maximize that value, like Amazon or Verizon or Apple or some other media company. Regardless, someone will be digging deep in order to put their name on the Super Bowl halftime show — starting in 2023. And if the NFL doesn’t get the money it’s looking for, it surely wouldn’t hesitate to go forward without any presenting sponsor.

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler skips national anthem over Uvalde shooting

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Six years ago, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose not to stand for the national anthem, in to bring awareness to police violence against Black and Brown citizens. Now, San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler is making a similar gesture, sparked by exasperation over the nation’s collective failure to protect children in school from being massacred by a weapon of war purchased legally by an 18-year-old.

Instead of kneeling or sitting while the song plays, Kapler will remain away from the field. He said he will proceed with his peaceful protest indefinitely.

Until I feel better about the direction of our country,” Kapler said, via Evan Webeck of the Bay Area News Group. “I don’t expect it to move the needle, necessarily. It’s just something I feel strongly enough about to take that step.”

Kapler said he wished he had done more on Tuesday, when the Giants played the Mets after the killing of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. The game was preceded by a moment of silence for the victims, followed by the playing of the anthem by Metallica.

“I knew that I was not in my best space mentally, and I knew that it was in connection with some of the hypocrisy of standing for the national anthem and how it coincided with the moment of silence and how those two things didn’t sync up well for me,” Kapler said.

Kapler explained the situation in his personal blog on Friday.

“Every time I place my hand over my heart and remove my hat, I’m participating in a self congratulatory glorification of the ONLY country where these mass shootings take place,” Kapler wrote. “My brain said drop to a knee; my body didn’t listen. I wanted to walk back inside; instead I froze. I felt like a coward. I didn’t want to call attention to myself. I didn’t want to take away from the victims or their families. There was a baseball game, a rock band, the lights, the pageantry. I knew that thousands of people were using this game to escape the horrors of the world for just a little bit. I knew that thousands more wouldn’t understand the gesture and would take it as an offense to the military, to veterans, to themselves.

“But I am not okay with the state of this country. I wish I hadn’t let my discomfort compromise my integrity. I wish that I could have demonstrated what I learned from my dad, that when you’re dissatisfied with your country, you let it be known through protest. The home of the brave should encourage this.”

Indeed it should. America isn’t great simply because we’re all expected to believe it and to say it — and to shun anyone who dares to disagree or to join the herd in a collective display of mandatory patriotism. America has to earn its greatness. Currently, in Kapler’s estimation, it isn’t.

His gesture comes at a time when Kaepernick finally, after five years of being ignored due to owners who simply lack the moral and financial courage to do the right thing (i.e., NFL owners are cowards), has gotten a workout with the Raiders. If others are committed to doing the right thing, of standing firm in the face of those who will huff and puff, Kaepernick will get more opportunities after more than a half-decade of getting none.

Like Kapler, Kaepernick participated in a peaceful protest. Kaepernick acted within the applicable NFL rules. He did nothing wrong.

With so much mayhem and carnage flowing from an unreasonable obsession, and wholly unrealistic interpretation, of the Second Amendment, it would be nice if those who live in the greatest nation on earth had a full commitment to the plain language of the First Amendment. And it would be great if some of the richest and most powerful people in the country set the right example for the rest of us.

Fantasy football dispute leads to on-field fight between MLB players

USA Today

Fantasy football is a popular pastime in Major League Baseball clubhouses, but a dispute in a baseball players’ fantasy football league led to an on-field fight between the Cincinnati Reds’ Tommy Pham and the San Francisco Giants’ Joc Pederson yesterday.

According to Pederson, Pham hit him in the face during batting practice before the game, all because they’d had words about Pham’s accusation that Pederson broke the rules of their fantasy football league.

“We were in a fantasy league together,” Pederson said. “I put a player on injured reserve when they were listed as out and then added another player. And then there was a text message in the group saying that I was cheating because I was stashing players on my bench. Then I looked up the rules and sent a screenshot of the rules, how it says that when a player is ruled out, you’re allowed to put him on the IR. That’s all I was doing. It just so happened that he had a player, [49ers running back] Jeff Wilson, who was out. He had him on the IR. I said, ‘You literally have the same thing on your team, on your bench.’ Then I guess he was in two leagues and one of them he was on the IR and one of them he wasn’t, so maybe that was the confusion, but the ESPN league we were in he was listed as out, so it feels very similar to what I did. And that was basically all of it. There’s not much more to it.”

Pham was pulled from the lineup just before the game. Pederson played as usual. Several players from both teams got involved in the fracas between Pham and Pederson, but Pham’s slap appeared to be the only instance of physical contact. Major League Baseball announced an investigation.

“MLB is investigating the incident that occurred before the game involving Mr. Pham,” said an MLB statement. “Mr. Pham agreed to not play this evening, pending the results of MLB’s investigation.”

New Steeler Miles Boykin admits he hated Pittsburgh while he was with Baltimore

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
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After three seasons in Baltimore, wide receiver Miles Boykin was waived by the Ravens and claimed by the Steelers this offseason. Meaning he went from one side of a fierce rivalry to the other.

And Boykin admits that he used to hate Pittsburgh, not only because of the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, but also because he expected the Steelers to draft him in 2019 and was angry when they passed on him.

“It was crazy because I thought the Steelers were going to draft me originally,” Boykin said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But when I got to Baltimore, it was like, ‘No, I hate Pittsburgh.’”

Now Boykin is in Pittsburgh, but he doesn’t hate Baltimore, and he says he understands why they decided to release him.

“I kind of knew about it since the end of the season. They kind of expressed that my hit on the salary cap was going to be detrimental to them,” Boykin said of his discussions with the Ravens. “They’re trying to work out deals with Lamar [Jackson] and other people . . . so I was kind of ready for it. I was prepared for it.”

Boykin said he’s loving the offseason program in Pittsburgh and that the Steelers have told him they think he can “be a difference maker, whether it’s special teams or receiver.”

“I’m just excited to get out there and get a chance to be a playmaker here,” Boykin said.

After showing some promise as a wide receiver in his first two seasons, Boykin played special teams almost exclusively in 2021. If he can contribute at wide receiver for the Steelers, he’ll get plenty of cheers in Pittsburgh, the city he used to hate.

What are the best sports movies of all time?

Rocky
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Ray Liotta, who played Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams, died Thursday at 67. In honor of Liotta, we looked the all-time best sports movies during Friday’s PFT Live.

We did it in the form of a draft, with Peter King and yours truly going back and forth through three rounds.

There have been many great sports movies over the years. (There have been a few that haven’t been so great, too.) And we all have a great memory associated with seeing one of them, don’t we?

Although I went with Rocky II over the original Rocky as my pick in the best-ever sports movie category (the moment Adrian came out of the coma and told Rocky to “WIN!” is my favorite movie moment ever), one of the greatest memories of my childhood comes from seeing Rocky with my dad. I knew nothing about it; my dad came home from his bar one night (he was a bookie) and wanted to go see it. But it was a school night. Things like that never happened on a school night.

My mother surprisingly didn’t object. So off we went. And it was awesome. Everything about it. And then, to cap things off, we crossed the street from the Coronet Theater in my hometown of Wheeling, West Virginia to a new pizza place. I can’t remember the name of it. I don’t think it stayed open for very long. But I still remember the how that pizza looked, how it smelled, how it tasted. Even now, 46 years later.

Maybe the original Rocky should have been my first choice, after all. Some of my best memories of growing up include going to the movies with my dad. And the best of those memories happened the night we saw Rocky Balboa fight Apollo Creed in a fight far more as compelling than any real fight I’d ever watch.

Should Aaron Rodgers be at “voluntary” OTAs?

NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers
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It’s OTA season. Voluntary OTA season. Voluntary but not really voluntary.

Players don’t have to be there. Most who stay away have some plausible business reason for doing so — even though there’s a very real business risk associated with a player working out on his own.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, for example, isn’t setting foot on a practice field until he gets his new contract. That’s smart. For Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who could have his new contract whenever he wants it, his reasons for skipping the sessions during which the offense is being installed aren’t known.

Then there’s Aaron Rodgers. The Packers gave him a mammoth new contract after he decided not to retire or request a trade. He’s now getting more than $50 million per year. Meanwhile, the team’s receiver room is undergoing major overhaul following the trade of Davante Adams. And Rodgers isn’t there for the process of moving forward with new pieces at the position.

He doesn’t have to be, but (frankly) he should be. It’s critical to start building a rapport with newcomers like Sammy Watkins and second-round rookie Christian Watson. Although many (including Rodgers) have pushed the idea that the Packers have found plenty of great receivers in rounds two and three of the draft, none were expected to walk through the door as the No. 1 guy. Watson is.

Why wouldn’t Rodgers want to be there to begin the process of helping Watson get more comfortable in advance of training camp? Rodgers presumably wants to add to his legacy by winning another Super Bowl. Why wouldn’t he take full advantage of the opportunity to work with Watson and Watkins and the rest of the receivers in a less rushed and stressful environment?

While it won’t necessarily make the team any better in 2022, it won’t make the Packers any worse. And maybe that extra time spent in May and June will help the Packers, you know, not lose at home in the playoffs in January. Again.

This isn’t about whether Rodgers needs the OTA reps in order to be the best version of himself when the real games start. This is whether other players need Rodgers there to be the best version of themselves.

They surely do.

Jayron Kearse looking to build on his surprising 2021 season

NFL: JAN 16 NFC Wild Card - 49ers at Cowboys
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In the first five seasons of his career, safety Jayron Kearse started 12 games, made 138 tackles, half a sack and an interception. He arrived in Dallas in 2021 on a one-year, $1.1 million contract with no guarantee even to make the roster.

Kearse ended up starting 15 games, led the team in tackles with 101, added a sack and two interceptions and earned a two-year, $10 million deal with $5 million guaranteed this offseason.

“Considering the trajectory of my career, to be at this point that I’m at now, it’s a huge accomplishment for me,” Kearse said, via David Helman of the team website. “But I’m still with the same mindset that there’s more out there for me, and I’m working to go get that.”

Kearse is among four of the team’s five regular secondary starters returning in 2022. Instead of competing for a job this offseason, Kearse is working toward an even bigger season in his second season as a full-time starter.

“It’s very different than it was last year – especially around this time,” Kearse said. “Around this time last year, I was coming in and competing, just trying to get my feet wet and earn my way here.”

Steelers hire Sheldon White, promote Dan Colbert, announce Andy Weidl as assistant G.M.

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The Steelers announced the hirings of Andy Weidl and Sheldon White on Friday, along with the promotion of Dan Colbert.

Weidl was one of six finalists for the Steelers’ General Manager job that went to Omar Khan. He has joined Khan as assistant General Manager.

Weidl, a Pittsburgh native, began his career in the NFL with the Steelers as a player personnel assistant from 1998-99. He worked for the Saints and the Ravens before joining the Eagles’ front office in 2016.

White joins the Steelers as director of pro scouting after a season as a scout for the Commanders. He previously worked in the Lions’ front office for 19 seasons before moving on to Michigan State.

Colbert, the son of former Steelers G.M. Kevin Colbert, will take over as director of college scouting. He is in his 12th season with the team, working as a player personnel intern and a college and pro scout.

David Njoku agrees to four-year deal with Browns

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Word this week was that tight end David Njoku and the Browns were close to an agreement on a long-term contract extension.

They have bridged the final gap. NFL Media reports that Njoku has agreed to terms on a four-year deal with the team.

Njoku was set to play out the year under the terms of the franchise tag, but that won’t be necessary after agreeing to the $56.75 million pact. The deal includes $28 million in guaranteed money. The guarantees were believed to be the sticking point this week and the agreement shows that the two sides were able to find the right landing point.

Four other tight ends — George Kittle, Travis Kelce, Dallas Goedert and Mark Andrews — have contracts with average annual values of at least $14 million.

Njoku was a first-round pick in 2017 and has caught 148 passes for 1,754 yards and 15 touchdowns during his time in Cleveland.

Jadeveon Clowney: “Much better feeling” being back with Browns

NFL: JAN 09 Bengals at Browns
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Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney re-signed with the Browns this week in a move that will allow him to stay for the same place for two straight years for the first time in a while.

Clowney was traded by the Texans to the Seahawks in 2019 and then spent a year with the Titans before joining the Browns in 2021. That makes this year the first since 2018 that he has not had to get acclimated to a new situation while also preparing himself to play football.

“It’s a much better feeling,” Clowney said, via the team’s website. “You’re just always excited. I’m excited to be around them. I know what I’m dealing with and I know who I got. I know what we can do together. I’m just hoping we can take that step forward and get where we need to get this season.”

Clowney said the team had a great defense last season and “got some more key players on offense and defense” this offseason. The result is a roster that Clowney believes has “a shot” at the Super Bowl, although the league’s disciplinary decision on quarterback Deshaun Watson could impact that possibility before the team hits the field later this year.

Kris Boyd raising money for families of Uvalde shooting victims

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Kris Boyd was born 427 miles from Uvalde, but as a Texas native, the Vikings cornerback knew he had to do something to help after hearing of the elementary school shooting. A lone gunman killed 19 children and two teachers earlier this week at Robb Elementary School.

Boyd set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $100,000 for the victim’s families.

“I just feel like it’s something I had to do, with me being from Texas and having such a huge platform and being a father, a brother, an older brother to my little sister and my little brother and being an older cousin,” Boyd told The Dallas Morning News on Friday. “Just thinking how could it happen? How it had been somewhere like that. It hit close to home. . . . It’s heartbreaking. It’s devastating. I feel like no one should have to really go through that.”

Boyd’s fundraiser has raised more than $18,000 so far, with NFL players Cameron Dantzler and Terry McLaurin among those who have contributed.

Boyd, a seventh-round choice of the Vikings in 2019 out of the University of Texas, plans to visit Uvalde next week with some teammates to show support for the community.

To donate to Boyd’s GoFundMe page, click here.

Jerry Jones says CeeDee Lamb is an upgrade over Amari Cooper as a No. 1 receiver

NFL: JAN 16 NFC Wild Card - 49ers at Cowboys
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The Cowboys traded Amari Cooper to the Browns this offseason, leaving no question that CeeDee Lamb is the No. 1 receiver in Dallas.

Cowboys owner and General Manager Jerry Jones says that’s an improvement.

Jones told Clarence Hill of the Star-Telegram that Lamb will be an upgrade over Cooper as a true No. 1 receiver in the Cowboys’ offense. Jones said that’s no knock on Cooper, but that Lamb has the makings of a complete No. 1 receiver in “production, in the huddle and off the field.”

Lamb had largely already overtaken Cooper as the Cowboys’ No. 1 receiver: Lamb played more snaps than Cooper, had more passes thrown his way than Cooper, and caught more passes for more yards than Cooper last season.

But with Cooper gone, there’s now no question which receiver opposing defenses will focus on most when facing the Cowboys. Jones thinks Lamb is up to the task.