So I’m experimenting with keeping my laptop and iPad out of my room when I’m ready to sleep and this essay may be proof that it works. Last night, I tried to write a couple sentences on my essay, felt my eyes get heavy, and then lay in bed, where I drew parallels between the grandiosely vacuous promises of Donald Trump--and of professional sports. I ultimately didn’t craft that essay, though if you need a conversation starter doesn’t Make America great again kinda remind you of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2004 slogan, Take back our house?
Leadoff hitter: Longform that lays off the first pitch.
Before I fell asleep last night, I remembered Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens, and Kenny Britt. The five St. Louis Rams players entered the Edward Jones Dome on November 30, 2014, with their arms raised in the spirit of hands up, don’t shoot. Four days after a grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in the death of teenager Michael Brown, five African American players ceased pretending there was silence in the world around them.
The moment was powerful, but I felt conflicted. Football makes me uncomfortable. I don’t appreciate the voyeurism and miserable pay associated with cheerleaders. I abhor its flippancy about the trauma of CTE and the pain and danger wives and children face when loving an athlete with a damaged mind. whose mind has been messed up. But come January, I sit at the edge of my seat when Seattle storms a comeback against Carolina. All season long, I stare at my social media timelines—politically polarized, but uniform in their willingness to take a Sabbath on Sundays, the NFL’s day. I ponder what sports remain whose fans don’t predominantly represent one race or socioeconomic class or education level. I hate acknowledging that the NFL convenes better than anyone.
This admission hurts, not only because of my own qualms, but because everyone loves the NFL and the NFL loves no one. Its commodity has an uncommon capacity to bring people together, but the corporation running it doesn’t value its communities.
I am watching this play out in St. Louis. Several weeks into the new year, they lost a football team for the second time.
“Given what our community has been going through,” the Rams’ move was unfortunate, Antonio French, an alderman active in Ferguson community building efforts, told The New York Times.
It is more than just Ferguson. Small towns in the county used to fill their coffers aggressively issuing traffic tickets. The city recorded nearly 200 homicides, the highest number in 20 years, last year. Several years ago, dozens of white parents showed up to a school board meeting in the county to express their fear and anger about African American attending the same high school as their children.
Let me be clear: NFL teams do not provide jobs. Concessions and ticket sales may generate money for a city, but taxpayers generally fund their stadiums. (We’ve said this before.) And it’s hard to believe the Rams might have been capable in the near future of a transcendent moment that thrust the city together.
The team finished its 2015 season 7-9, its previous season 6-10, and the season before that 7-9. The last time they won a Super Bowl, a 28-year-old Kurt Warner preached Jesus while hoisting a Lombardi over his head and two years later New England may or may not have spied on its opponent before besting them in the title game. The legend of Tom Brady commenced. The Rams made the playoffs two more times before they lost their city.
Meanwhile, attendance cooled. Just over 52,000 people for 66,000 seats showed up on average during the 2015 season, giving the Rams the 32
But the Rams arguably meant more to a broader swath of people than the Cardinals and Blues, who have no African American players and rosters.* After all, weeks before the "Hands up, don’t shoot "pregame entrance, a Cardinals fan wearing a Darren Wilson sign and another encountered #BlackLivesMatter protesters shouting “Africa! Africa! Africa!”
The following weekend, I sat in a sea of thousands of white people in the fresh Busch Stadium to see San Francisco play in the National League Championship Series. (I truly had difficulty finding people of color in the stands.) The next day, away from ESPN’s cameras on Monday Night Football, fifty fans in the upper deck a series of signs: "Black lives matter on and off the field.”
Nobody deserves sports teams. But nobody deserves to have their sports team taken away, not after they have been cajoled into loving a group of players who will disappoint them routinely, players who are controlled by the whims of the one percent, in a location subject to market forces.
Nobody deserves to have its ownership group trash its home while it begs for a new one:
“St. Louis is not a three professional team market.”
“St. Louis lags, and will continue to lag, far behind in the economic drivers that are necessary for sustained success of an NFL franchise.”
“St. Louis ranks near the bottom of all U.S. cities of any size in terms of economic and population growth.”
St. Louis has lost its football team. That may mean that it has lost a cultural institution adept at bringing its estranged community together. But it may also mean that the area’s taxpayers will not be further burdened with an expensive (and beloved) diversion and that the people--no longer fretting about its future and their part in it--can bare down on addressing region’s pain. Alderman Antonio French again:
“I, for one, am in one way pleased that we can now turn our attention back to those issues that matter most to the people who live here.”
*The hockey team boasts Ryan Reaves, an African-Canadian player. Meanwhile, Jason Heyward’s departure for Chicago meant that no black players remained on St. Louis’ 40-man roster as of this week.
Stick to sports: In which we stay in our lane.
Heavy-wight champion. David Bixenspan’s SB Nation longform about Paul Wight (aka WWE legend “Big Show”) and his transition from wrestling to boxing is a must-read. Wight was 7'1" and around 500 pounds when he made the temporary switch, so like, dag, you should read how he did it.
Almost as funny as Riley Curry. Steve Kerr, Anthony Rizzo, and a few other Chicago athletes past and present threw out the playbook when they made their improv comedy debuts at the legendary Second City. Hopefully, they asked him who’s better at comedy, the ‘96 Bulls or today’s Warriors. The people need to know.
Delay of game: All you can read before the clock expires.
Youth, revolting. This is a gruesome story of sexual assault. Please click through with caution. Three Ooltewah (TN) High School students allegedly raped a freshman teammate for reporting hazing. When the school found what the boys did to their teammate, the team played three more games before suspending the student-athletes and eventually, forfeiting the remainder of the season.
But the school failed to recognize--or downright ignored--the severity of the crimes, treating the accused not as rapists, but as bullies. School principal Jim Jarvis downplayed the severity of the incident to the local media, initially referencing the assault as a “violation of team policy,” a turn-of-phrase best reserved for showing up late to practice.
If you want to donate money to cover the victim’s medical expenses, you can do so via his GoFundMe page here.
"If I could go back, I wouldn't." Antoine Randle El once threw a pivotal 45-yard pass to help the Pittsburg Steelers win Super Bowl XL. Today, he has trouble walking and suffers from short-term memory loss. He's 38.
“I ask my wife things over and over again, and she’s like, ‘I just told you that,’ ” Randle El told the Post-Gazette. “I’ll ask her three times the night before and get up in the morning and forget. Stuff like that. I try to chalk it up as I’m busy, I’m doing a lot, but I have to be on my knees praying about it, asking God to allow me to not have these issues and live a long life. I want to see my kids raised up. I want to see my grandkids.”
Reread Morgan's essay. Who does the NFL care about, really?
...and then, the League keeps pulling me back in. The Buffalo Bills hire Kathryn Smith, the first female full-time coach in the NFL. Smith worked in the game for 12 years and will now serve in the role of Quality Control-Special Teams.
Can’t wait to see how she helps Rex Ryan keep my Jets out the playoffs for a sixth straight year, Lol!
Answering the Aroldis Chapman question. Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees principal owner, invokes “innocent until proven guilty” when defending his acquisition of the Aroldis Chapman trade. There are issues with the logic (some of them lamented in one of our previous letters) well-summarized by Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk. His closing graf strikes at the very heart of what makes Hal’s deflection so disappointing.
Should [athletes] be moral examples? Are we hypocrites in expecting them to be? Are we complicit if we expect them not to be?
Again, I really don’t know the answers to those questions. But I really wish people like Hal Steinbrenner would bother to entertain them rather than blow them off with nonsense like “innocent until proven guilty,” which does nothing but lower the standard for a professional athlete’s conduct to the absolute bare minimum — only those who, beyond reasonable doubt have done something technically illegal shall be judged — without for one second admitting that by doing so he is lowering that standard.