Saturday, September 20, 2014

9/20 Weekend Quickie

Did the Ravens (and NFL) cover up the Rice story? Wait, it's not "if" but "how much." This story-shifting reporting from Van Natta and Van Valkenburg -- "Van Squared?" -- begs the same question my old high school newspaper rival/pal Rachel Nichols asked Roger Goodell yesterday before he jingoistically mansplained things away: It's hard not to question clear conflicts of interest between Robert Mueller and the top executives of the Ravens.

Quick take on Goodell's press conference: What did you expect he would say? He lacked -- and probably fundamentally lacks -- Adam Silver's posture of sincere contrition from the Donald Sterling press conference, and he ultimately came across as stone-walling and, not inappropriately, embattled. But even with the latest ESPN revelation, he'll survive. (My colleague Nancy Armour wrote a good column in the immediate wake of the presser.)

Jameis Winston out for the entire game tonight: They won't need him -- Clemson is overrated. (And not just trying to reverse-jinx here.) He might very well have expanded his suspension because he wasn't consistent in his story with FSU leaders, but we're still talking about him yelling a bunch of stuff publicly. I'm no FSU fan -- and in this case, I think the school is overreacting.

Royals lose to Tigers, now 1.5 GB for AL Central: They may still make the one-game coin-flip wild-card round, but they won't make it easy for their hard-luck fan base.

The Timberwolves would be better off with Eric Bledsoe than Ricky Rubio, but I'm mostly concerned with the #FreeRicky situation -- I'd love to see Minnesota trade him to a team where he might thrive. (Or do they plan to reinvent themselves as Phoenix Midwest and play two PG at once?)

Here's an awesome (and not particularly long) read that was published too late yesterday to make the newsletter -- Grantland's Brian Phillips on Katie Ledecky, who I have a particular affinity for because she lives in my town.

Fortunately, enough kids' sports this morning and afternoon to keep my mind off the thumping Florida is going to take at Alabama at 3:30 today (CBS, if you want to enjoy some schadenfreude), but it's coming. And it's not going to be pretty.

-- D.S.

Friday 9/19 Quickie

Jane Coaston on the NFL: "Football has never been good." Fantastic bookend to a week that started with Louisa Thomas' excellent Grantland essay about the state of the NFL, Together We Make Football.

Procter & Gamble: Fundamentally, Roger Goodell is in sales. Typically, in sales, screwing up the P&G account usually means the end of your job -- if not your career entirely.

A passive-aggressive note from Anheuser-Busch is one thing; it's another thing to trigger the cancellation of a high-profile program from one of the biggest marketers in the world, one typically associated with moms.

(And now, per Buzzfeed's Mike Hayes, Marriott hotels is reviewing its relationship with the league.)

Roger Goodell's just-announced 3 pm press conference today will likely be larded with PR spin -- if he doesn't come across as straight-talking and earnest, I suspect this won't go the way the league wants it to. Then again, it's not like popular opinion of Goodell could get any lower, right? Is it too much to expect tough questions?

Auburn: Win at Kansas State -- arguably the single-best win of the season, by any team -- helps AU claim a spot in my next playoff foursome.

As I wrote a few days ago, here's the huge issue:

Because of the playoff selection committee's inevitable commitment to geographic parity -- and false equivalency -- in the playoff's first season, it's not like the quality of Auburn's wins will get it into the playoff if they are a 1-loss runner-up in the SEC.

Beating Kansas State was necessary to make the playoff, but not nearly sufficient -- sufficiency will be winning the SEC title, full-stop.

Actually, that's not even remotely accurate -- if Auburn had lost to Kansas State but finished 12-1 with an SEC title, they would absolutely be in the playoff.

If they finish 12-1 (including this win over Kansas State) but don't win the SEC title, they will almost surely NOT make the playoff -- presuming an unbeaten FSU, unbeaten Oregon and unbeaten or 1-loss Big 12 champ.

Devin Hester: If you're the greatest TD scorer in the history of NFL special teams, you're a Hall of Famer.

Tigers-Royals weekend series: The most significant September baseball Kansas City has played in -- what? 1985? 30 years? (KC is .5 GB Detroit for the division lead with 11 games to play - 10 for Detroit.)

Felix Hernandez: Last night, he threw 7 scoreless innings with 11 Ks. He didn't get the win, but that's par for the course for King Felix in his should-be Hall of Fame career. (He should be the AL Cy Young winner this season, too.) And he presents the ultimate opportunity if the Mariners make the one-game Wild Card (the M's are currently just 1 GB for the second WC spot behind the suddenly atrocious A's).

Bill Barnwell on the future of football: I loved this -- what a great combination of projecting the future while using relevant historical comps (Barnwell citing the creation of the Premier League was A+.)

I have a lot of thoughts/reactions to this, and I need to sift through them over the weekend to try to make sense of them.

I will preview it this way: I will present a not-complicated, not-unrealistic pitch for a business that could/would significantly disrupt the NFL.

Buzz Bissinger on the hazards of youth football: I'm not much of a fan of Bissinger, who over the years has morphed into a caricature of a journalist -- a professional troll when not a celebrity stenographer -- but I totally agree with his argument here that youth tackle football (including high school) should come with a far more serious warning of its physical consequences. I have said this before, and I'm hardly in a minority: I wouldn't let my kids play tackle football (and I think that's still entirely compatible with the idea that they are huge NFL and college football fans).

Weekend college football viewing: Florida-Alabama at 3:30 on Saturday (CBS), but I suspect it won't be pretty for Gator fans.

Weekend longreads:

*The best chess moment no one heard of (Seth Stevenson, Slate)

*Yoda of the Air Raid Offense, He Is (Kevin Van Valkenburg, ESPN)

*The Jacksonville Jaguars at 20 (Ryan Nanni, SB Nation)

*Ditching Twitter (Erin Kissane)

*You Will Weep and Know Why (William Browning, SB Nation)

*How Gary Hart's Downfall Forever Changed American Politics (Matt Bai, NYT Mag)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

9/18 NFL Travails Continue Quickie

Jon Stewart on the NFL mess: "Actual Vikings don't treat their children like that!" Click here to watch the full segment. Obviously, he takes it to the league, and it's absolutely worth a watch.

There are a couple levels of pressure at work here. When you are mocked by Jon Stewart (or, more recently, by John Oliver), that's a biggie. But there are limits to mockery -- the NFL can largely deflect those.

The ultimate, of course, is pressure on the NFL from its sponsors, which is why the condemnation Tuesday from Anheuser-Busch and, yesterday, from Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, were both huge.

Those corporate partners -- and the others sure to follow -- are protecting their own investments (and brands), in part because they are pragmatic and in part because they can (per Will Leitch) read the public mood.

The next level down are the major media influencers -- Schefter and King, most notably. They drive so much of the conventional wisdom that when they report things out (with any level of atypical outrage) or take strong positions, the league is paying very close attention.

King's suggestion that Goodell have an "I'm NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell -- Ask Me Anything" press conference is a good one, if unlikely for the league to heed, in part because I think they must be scared out of their minds that Goodell won't or can't present genuous enough responses to not make things worse.

(It's an inaccurate comparison, but consider the way NBA commissioner Adam Silver at his Sterling press conference completely changed the Sterling scandal -- and public perception of him, albeit filling in what was a largely blank canvas at the time -- simply by plain-spoken, straight-forward answers, which Goodell has been averse to providing for most of his tenure.)

Below that -- not unlike the way that smaller, repetitive blows to your head through a football helmet ultimately erodes your brain and shortens your life, or at least the quality of it -- it is simply the constant background of news and punditry about all this from every source, reaching almost every fan, that puts the league in an increasingly untenable position without some sort of executive leadership change.

Sure, mockery on the Daily Show is a signal. But the league was losing this this well before 11 pm last night.

More Faves:

Sarah Manchester: The Takoma Park (MD) Middle School math teacher won $1 million on Wheel of Fortune last night, and the moment is as awesome as you think it would be.

"Wheel" gets scoffed at by "Jeopardy" snobs, but Wheel's signature moments of triumph are vastly more telegenic than the monotonous -- if astonishingly impressive -- definition of success on Jeopardy.

Misty Copeland: You've seen the instant-classic Under Armour ad -- next, the profile of her in this week's New Yorker provides essential context to better understand one of the great athletes of this era.

David Ash quitting football: Whether it was his choice or not, the Texas QB walking away from football after multiple concussions will likely add years -- if not decades -- to his life, at a vastly higher quality.

Here is the natural follow-up question: How many concussions are enough to convince someone to get out of the sport? How many of the above-referenced infinitely repeated little knocks to the head, which probably ends up causing even more damage than the single big hits? And how old do you have to be to worry -- college? Prep? Pee-wee?

FWIW: This week's Time cover and cover story are on the massive risks of playing football, with the line: "Is Football Worth It?" (h/t Rebkah Howard)

Wait: Do you need a 2,000-word reported story to answer that? What if you flipped to the page where the story started and it just printed a huge "NO."

(Now, let's be clear: The Time story isn't about Rice/domestic violence or Peterson/child abuse or the NFL/teetering -- it's about the risk of kids playing tackle football, and to a lesser extent, the risks taken on as they progress to the college or pro level.)

FWIW, cont'd: Here's "Friday Night Lights" director Peter Berg, calling out youth football coaches and programs for putting kids in harm's way -- and suggesting kids skip tackle football altogether.

iOS8: I upgraded my 5S and... I mean, it's OK, I guess? Not really seeing the revolutionary utility yet, but I suppose I will when they finally add in the Pay system? (I downloaded the much-vaunted Swiftkey app to replace the standard keyboard, but I'm sort of skeeved out by the level of access Swiftkey wants to my data.)

If you missed it yesterday: Louisa Thomas' essay about the state of the NFL is definitely worth reading. It got a ton of notice yesterday, deservingly.

Football on TV tonight: Are you ready for some... cognitive dissonance? Auburn-Kansas State on ESPN/WatchESPN (arguably the best Thursday night college football game of the entire season) and Bucs-Falcons on CBS/NFL Network, which is probably worth tuning into if only to watch the awkward attempts to not talk about Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Jonathan Dwyer and Roger Goodell.

(It's not a cognitive disconnect at all that I'm also thinking about fantasy football -- whether to start hobbled Bucs RB Doug Martin or his backup, Bobby Rainey.)

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

9/16 Peterson Quickie

The New Yorker's Amy Davidson on Adrian Peterson: I feel really strongly about this situation, and I've had a tough time figuring out how to articulate it appropriately. (I probably set a personal record over the last 72 hours of drafted-then-deleted tweets.)

Davidson comes the closest to my larger view: Beyond Peterson's use of the switch and the "whoopings" as his common, very-much-intended practice, there is no such thing as "unintentional" harm. Intended harm is -- if not the entire point -- an inevitable and absolute result. Peterson's (or his lawyers') cynical citation of "discipline" and "parenting" -- and, yes, "intent" -- as a defense is a grim distortion.

Although you wouldn't think so from the way they have handled the Ray Rice situation -- and now the Peterson situation -- the NFL cares most about its image (and, consequently, its income streams). Vikings sponsor Radisson temporarily suspending its sponsorship (most visibly, of the team's backdrop during press conferences) is an important harbinger here.

Then again: Take 6 minutes to read SI's SL Price on the NFL's essential imperviousness, even after (perhaps evidenced by) arguably the worst week in league history.

And one more good read on the state of the NFL: Slate's Stefan Fatsis on the restrained-yet-strained relationship between the media that cover the NFL and the NFL.

Darren Sproles: And here it is, in full relief, the cognitive dissonance between the NFL's sclerotic core and its most dynamic moments -- like the tiny, zig-zagging, untouchable Sproles putting on one of the most impressive Monday Night Football performances in years. Sproles and Chip Kelly are one of those perfect combinations, like Kurt Warner and Mike Martz 15 years ago. Sproles vaults up the NFL's "must-see" list.'s redesign: Starting as an editor at the gloriously branded "" back in the mid-1990s and since, as both a columnist and an avid user/observer, I have paid close attention to essentially all of's redesigns (shout-out to Satchel Sports,'s original name!)

There are always inevitable gripes, but the new version coming today (previewed here) is particularly seismic -- and in a very positive way.

I'm going to explain why in tomorrow's newsletter. (I actually wrote it up for today, but let's save it to lead tomorrow's edition. Or maybe, if it's not overstepping, a separate email I can send later today -- it'll take you just a minute to inhale it.)

The Greatest/Worst Fake Punt Ever: This happened on Saturday but only really gained traction last night -- look for the player who fell over and pretended to pass out (or die???). This is totally absurd but mesmerizing.

SEC West: SB Nation's Bill Connelly walks you through how amazing this group of teams is. I will offer a larger interpretation: It is clear that the new College Football Playoff Selection Committee is committed -- certainly in Year 1 -- to "fair" regional representation, even at the expense of false equivalency:

That somehow FSU's laughably weak schedule it will run through unbeaten is more qualifying than a 1- or even 2-loss SEC runner-up, who will inevitably be shut out of the playoff.

(The upside: When that happens, the SEC will force an expansion to 8 teams -- it is ludicrous that the SEC would be artificially limited to one playoff team per year, and it's also not unreasonable for the rest of the country to be upset if the SEC was given half the playoff spots every year, even if the SEC deserves them.)

Minecraft as the new Legos: I'll admit Minecraft was a blind-spot for me, but after reading this from The Verge's Ben Popper on the parenting/Minecraft nexus, I think it's something I want my kids to try.

(More good Minecraft context: This from Buzzfeed's Joseph Bernstein on the macro media landscape of games like Minecraft signaling a tectonic shift in gaming.)

Nieman Lab on native ads: If you work in journalism or media, you absolutely have to understand the role of native advertising. The Lab's Josh Benton (filing from paternity leave, no less) smartly takes you through the current state of the landscape.

Another really important recent Nieman report, on women in leadership roles in news organizations. (I feel incredibly fortunate to work with fantastic women leaders, with USA TODAY Sports managing editor Mary Byrne at the top of the list.)

(Anyone going to the Online News Association conference in Chicago next week? I'll be there. Be sure to say hi.)

Monday, September 15, 2014

9/15 NFL Week 2 Hangover Quickie

Get the college football hangover directly below...

*This Adrian Peterson story has me sick to my stomach. It's hard for me to believe that the Vikings are going to reinstate him (and the NFL isn't going to do anything about it).

*The most interesting developments coming out of Week 2:
(1) Kirk Cousins Mania in DC.
(2) The Chargers beating the Seahawks.
(3) The Bills being 2-0.
(4) The Saints being 0-2.
(5) The Panthers being 2-0.

*Amazing kids-sports story from the weekend: Our 3rd-grade soccer team played a super-hard-fought battle with a rival and lost 5-4. It was as hard as I have seen the kids play in four years of them all playing together, across all sports. It was actually pretty remarkable.

The ref came over at the end and said he had it scored "5-5." We knew that was wrong. Of course, the kids were jubilant. Our head coach brought the kids together, had them acknowledge that we only scored 4 -- that we lost the game -- and that the unquestionably right thing to do was to report the score to the league as a 5-4 win for the other team.

The best part was that the kids totally knew it was the right thing to do, and there were no complaints. Meanwhile, what a lesson about how you can accept a loss -- even a tough one -- when you know you've come pretty close to giving your best possible effort.

*If you don't understand Minecraft, here's a good explainer about why parents like it.

-- D.S.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

9/14 College Football Hangover Quickie

*If the playoff foursome was determined today, the teams should be (1) Oregon, (2) Texas A&M, (3) Alabama, (4) FSU. (Next team out: Oklahoma)

*What is most surprising is that a mere three weeks into the season, it's unclear if there are any more than a half-dozen teams worthy of the discussion (add in Auburn and, say, Baylor).

*And the best news is that A&M, Alabama and Auburn organically sort themselves out over the next two months (and Oklahoma and Baylor do the same thing on Nov. 8.)

*It's self-reinforcing, but it is laughable to look at the schedule the SEC teams have to play, then compare it to the cupcake schedule played by FSU and a would-be unbeaten Big 12 playoff rep.

*Georgia KO'ed from playoff race: They were a longshot anyway - it was unlikely they'd beat the SEC West champ in the SEC title game, and the SEC isn't getting two playoff teams this year.

*USC is out, too: Not that anyone thought they would be challenging Oregon for the Pac-12's title (and playoff spot). But - Transitive Property Alert - the loss at BC revealed a lot about Stanford, too.

*Speaking of Transitive, Ohio State is indeed mediocre: The same Virginia Tech that waxed them in Columbus last week turned around and was beaten at home yesterday by East Carolina.

*Charlie Strong deserves a lot of leeway in Year 1 at Texas, but he's off to a terrible start. (And sticking in Texas, that was a very tough, decisive loss for Texas Tech at home to Arkansas.)

*Florida: Welp, sometimes things go your way. If it makes Gator-haters happier, UF is going to get drilled at Alabama next week on national TV.

*Next week's best: Auburn at Kansas State on Thursday night, Alabama-Florida (ugh, not really), Mississippi State at LSU and Clemson at FSU.

*Set your fantasy lineups! It's a great Red Zone day today, with 5 games at 4 pm to go with the usual slew kicking off at 1.

-- D.S.