I’m back from a lovely vacation. A few random things to comment on:
1)those of you read me regularly (insert blog traffic insults here) know how I feel about the coverage of “discipline” and “character” and related topics in sports. You also know that I root for the football Giants. Though he’s only in his second season, Odell Beckham, Jr. is probably already the second most exciting Giant I’ve had the pleasure of watching (LT will always be N0. 1). Because I was traveling, I didn’t get to see yesterday’s game against the Panthers. But I’ve seen all the highlights now of Beckham’s repeated entanglements with Josh Norman, the Panthers’ star cornerback who covered Beckham yesterday, including the play when Beckham targeted Norman with the crown of his helmet while ostensibly throwing a block (or something); I heard (a somewhat groggy) Norman on Mike and Mike this morning assail Beckham’s behavior and there’s not much to say here. Beckham lost it yesterday and, in the process, really hurt his team, especially because his impending one game suspension reduces further the Giants’ already slim chances of making the playoffs.
OBJ is awesome. And I don’t think he’s in danger of somehow jeopardizing his career by his occasional antics. He’s young. He’ll grow. But he needs to do better than this. Cris Carter said this morning that he’d spoken to OBJ late into the night last night and, Carter said, Beckham felt really remorseful about his conduct.
Quick side note – Dan Graziano, who covers the Giants for ESPN, was very critical of what he described as Beckham’s ridiculous behavior at the postgame press conference, when Beckham more or less acted like nothing of note happened between him and Norman. But Graziano himself said that that was probably Beckham posturing in front of the media, given that Beckham had apparently apologized to his teammates after the game. I mention this because this is a degree of nuance about player behavior and conduct: that actions in one context don’t necessarily and irrevocably define the player and his character in toto. A small point, but I appreciated Graziano’s capacity to step back from his own (fair) criticism of Beckham at the press conference.
Meanwhile, including the overtime loss, the Giants have, we’re told, lost five games this year in the final seven seconds or later of regulation.
2) the Daily Beast has a terrific interview with the legendary Bryant Gumbel. Gumbel, the former host of NBC’s Today, has been doing HBO’s Real Sports for two decades now. Gumbel suggests in the interview that he’s not far from hanging up that particular microphone. But Gumbel is still doing great, substantive work and is an evidently brilliant guy. I was especially interested in what he had to say about the networks’ ability to cover seriously football’s health issues, given the vast sums of money they make off of it. Here’s the relevant question and Gumbel’s response:
“In a previous interview you said that it’s impossible to both promote and broadcast an industry that that you’re ostensibly supposed to cover as a journalist. Is that still true?
Absolutely true. At this point ESPN is so conflicted, it makes no sense to even discuss them, you know? Even 60 Minutes did something three weeks ago on the NFL and player safety. It was like a big wet kiss, to allow Roger Goodell to sit there and say “We care about player safety.” Does it occur to you at some point to say, “Excuse me? If you cared so much, why as recently as two years ago, were you saying there was no link? As recently as two years ago, were you fighting in court spending zillions of dollars to make sure these guys don’t get anything?”
I have all the respect in the world for 60 Minutes and for Steve Kroft. But when you sit there and watch something like that, you’re inclined to say, boy oh boy, it’s nothing more than a marketing plan.”
Compare this to the utter nonsense Danny Kanell tweeted out recently (backed up by Jason Whitlock). What Gumbel brings to this is an understanding of *real* power and *real* influence, not meaningless phrases like “liberal media,” and “war on football.” If you’re going to use the metaphor of war to describe any aspect of football, it would be most appropriate to say that football amounts to a war on the bodies of players who play it. To say that a fabulously wealthy and successful enterprise, the subject of saturation media coverage is the *victim* of a war, on the other hand, is sheer stupidity. The more I think about the asinine Kanell-Whitlock tag team on that issue, the more annoyed I get. If you think that it’s OK because the players consent to it, you’re entitled. But you cannot simultaneously invoke the “grown men” argument (and we’re leaving aside the health effects of football on kids) to pooh-pooh the health stuff *and* take up the mantle of the poor, helpless baby Roger Goodell, the owners, and the media conglomerates making a killing off the sport.
There are a lot of people out there who imagine themselves to be courageous truth-tellers because they defend powerful, vested interests.
Just ass backwards in every way.
On this subject, Patrick Hruby, who has written extensively about football, concussions and CTE, has a powerful and sad piece about the suicide of 26 year old Zack Langston. Langston played high school then Division II football before spiraling into depression and increasingly erratic behavior before shooting himself in the chest (as Dave Duerson and Junior Seau had done), and who was diagnosed with CTE post-mortem.
3) in the same interview, Gumbel addressed the question of whether football would, due to the mounting health concerns, become a kind of niche sport in the next generation:
It’s a game played by the poor for the benefit of the rich.
None of these prep schools have football teams. You look at where football flourishes. It flourishes in the poorest states. It flourishes in Mississippi, in Alabama, in West Virginia, Texas.
It’s because it’s an opportunity for people who don’t have education, or job opportunities, to make something of themselves, to get out. To a certain extent, it’s already close to being a game played by the poor for the benefit of the rich. They’re not giving away tickets to Giants Stadium. You sit up in a luxury box; the guys down there on the field don’t come from your background. I don’t know. Will we get there? I think we’ll get there. At what point, I don’t know.
I’d add the following wrinkle: football is a game played by a lot of poor kids, but some kids from quite affluent backgrounds. More specifically, there are two positions whose overall demographic make-up clearly differs from the sport as a whole: quarterback and kicker. At the elite level, those are largely white positions. As it happens, they’re also the positions most clearly protected from injury by the rules. And they draw a lot of talent from kids whose parents had the wherewithal to pay for intensive coaching and training from a relatively early age.
That doesn’t detract from Gumbel’s overall point at all. The class and racial dimensions of the sport, given the consequences of competing in it, are bracing.
4) Mea culpa watch. At the beginning of the season, I dismissed Kirk Cousins as, at best, a mediocre quarterback with no discernible upside. At the time, I was focused on what I still consider to be the problematic treatment of Robert Griffin, III, who had a historically good rookie season as Washington’s quarterback in 2012, only to have injuries diminish seriously his abilities. Cousins, his one-time back up, has played very well for the Bread Sticks this year. I could nit-pick – his QB rating is inflated by a very high completion percentage, which is the least important component of that measure. But he’s gotten better as the season has gone on and certainly justified the team’s confidence in him.
I did better in my long-time defense of Cam Newton, who is in the midst of an absolutely insane (and certainly unsustainable) stretch of greatness.