The Daily Briefing Friday, August 25, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

With the focus on oft-injured Washington TE JORDAN REED, Greg Bishop of SI.com studies the proposition that NFL players are now too big and too fast but just as vulnerable.  Excerpts below, the whole thing is here:

 

(After a description of a workout)

Reed calls his vomit-inducing power walks a “standard” workout. But what he considers typical, even most elite athletes cannot fathom. For a man of Reed’s size—6′ 3″, 240 pounds—he doesn’t run so much as he glides, swallowing the gym’s turf field in long, graceful strides. He moves faster than some wideouts; he leaps as if boosted by springs; he pushes around 500-pound sleds like shopping carts. Although Reed didn’t play organized football until ninth grade, he has come to represent the future of pro football, both in records broken (numerous) and in concussions suffered (at least five; depends whom you ask).

 

Reed knew from a young age that he was different—it was evident as he jumped over five-foot-high fences and later when he front-flipped into end zones. Had he the desire, his high school coaches say, he could have played major league baseball or college basketball, drawing from the same gifts he would use to accumulate 200 receptions faster than any other tight end in NFL history.

 

Today his personal receivers coach, David Robinson, compares Reed’s speed and acceleration to those of 5′ 10″, 181-pound Steelers wideout Antonio Brown (another client) and his body control to LeBron James’s. In other words: Reed, freak that he is, has the skill set of two elite athletes, one who weighs 60 pounds less and another 10 pounds more. “He’s changing football right before our eyes,” says Robinson.

 

Reed is both the next drawing in a Darwinian timeline and the embodiment of what happens when a sport built on brutality meets Isaac Newton’s second law of motion, force equals mass times acceleration. He’s so big and so fast (he ran a 4.62 40 at his pro day) that he generates uncommon momentum, and that makes him more susceptible to the worst kinds of collisions, the hardest kinds of impact, in ways that smaller or slower players are not. He’s everything that’s beautiful and dangerous about football, at once the future of the sport and the face of what could threaten it.

 

At Auburn, Sumner played at 6′ 1″, 225 pounds. Today he’d be considered undersized. “I’m like, What are these people eating?” he says. “Did you see [2017 No. 1 pick, defensive end] Myles Garrett at his pro day? I’ve never seen somebody that big and that lean move that fast. That’s just not normal.” Sumner smiles. “That’s what football is becoming.”

– – –

Take Reed’s football position, for example. In 1967 there were only eight NFL tight ends as tall and as heavy as Reed is now. That number was up to nine in ’77, 35 in ’87, 75 in ’97, and it topped off at 97 in 2011. It has since dropped as low as 81, last year, accounting for the NFL’s emphasis on athleticism at the position—and that’s why Reed represents what’s next. Tight ends were already big. Now they’re faster and tasked with spending the majority of their time in the middle of the field.

 

This isn’t some towering pitcher hurling 100-mph fastballs or a 6′ 11″ star point guard. In football, evolution leads to bigger, stronger, faster players hurling themselves into other bigger, stronger, faster players with unparalleled force. These collisions are often referred to as car crashes, but more and more they resemble tractor trailers with Lamborghini engines ramming each other at top speed.

 

During an NFL season Andrews says he spends his Mondays “picking up the wreckage” from the weekend, his phone ringing from sunrise to sunset with news of various injuries. Legislate violence out of the game all you want, but men like Reed still barrel across the middle of the field—faster than their predecessors, more like receivers—where 260-pound linebackers and 225-pound safeties lurk, waiting to deliver forceful hellos.

 

On Sundays, Andrews views those collisions up close on the sideline at FedEx Field, as the Redskins’ team doctor. He describes Reed as “a hell of a player,” “someone I worry about” and “someone who epitomizes where we’ve come with tight ends.” It’s not just tight ends that keep him up at night, though. It’s all the players with Reed’s body type and athletic makeup: big and tall and fast. Think Rob Gronkowski and J.J. Watt, Cam Newton and Demaryius Thomas—guys whose size-speed combinations make F=MA problematic. “Bunch of injuries,” Andrews says. “They’re just so damn big.”

 

Which raises a question central to football’s not-that-distant future: What happens when there are 22 Jordan Reeds on the field? “Well, they’re going to tear each other up,” Andrews says. “They already are.”

 

He sighs. “I love football, but I’m sick of seeing these guys get hurt, too.”

– – –

– – –

The gifts that had made Reed stand out at every level of organized football also left him vulnerable. The better he got, the more vulnerable he became.

 

Reed’s flexibility, moving between two dramatically different roles, underscored how the game was evolving, with specific positions becoming less important and sheer athletic ability increasingly desirable. As teams passed more, at all levels, defenses replaced slower linebackers with faster safeties or nickelbacks. Colleges recruited athletes. Reed typified the hybrid movement.

 

But evolution came with a cost. Reed injured both hamstrings, the result of all the extra running and collisions, and he considered quitting. “I would wake up in the mornings and my joints were inflamed,” he says. “I couldn’t move the way I usually do. I was done.”

 

Instead he pushed forward, and in his redshirt junior season he caught 45 passes for 559 yards and three touchdowns—then he left school for the NFL. Banking on his raw talent, the Redskins plucked him in the third round.

 

By then Reed’s career had developed a pattern. The gifts that had made him stand out at every level of organized football also left him vulnerable. His blessing and his curse. The better he got, the more vulnerable he became.

– – –

Reed admits he has discussed his concussion history with his family in recent offseasons. But he prioritizes the future financial well-being of his two young daughters—Jaeda, 2, and Laila, who was born in February—over even his own health. He sympathizes with his NFL counterparts who have retired early because of health concerns, but that’s not him. Not yet.

 

He reasons that he’ll never make more money than he earns now, in his NFL prime, and he falls back on typical football rationalizations about enduring concussions: Life is dangerous; an office worker can suffer from hip pain, or a construction worker might break bones before returning to work. . . .

 

None of that changes physics. For all that football has evolved, the attitudes surrounding the game aren’t all that different than they were 50 years ago. “If I have another [concussion], maybe I’ll consider doing something else,” he says. “But for the time being, I’m perfectly comfortable where I’m at.”

 

– – –

The battle of 2022 will almost surely feature The Commish, Roger Goodell, on one side, supported by an army of lawyers and p.r. folks.

 

For the NFLPA?  DeMaurice Smith may not be returning for a re-match.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Earlier this week, attorney Cyrus Mehri emerged as a way-too-early candidate for the position of executive director of the NFL Players Association. Appearing Friday on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike, current NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith was asked whether he’d be willing to debate Mehri.

 

“We have a process, and I think that if there’s someone out there, like there has been before, who wants to run for the job, that’s fine,” Smith said. “I wake up every morning knowing what my job has to be, and look forward to it every morning.”

 

There was nothing more about the election or Mehri’s candidacy during the interview. With Mehri in the early stages of what will be a persistent and relentless campaign (I’ve gotten three press releases in three days), it’s unclear how long Smith will be able to go without engaging Mehri.

 

If Mehri ends up being the first of many challengers for the job, like there were in 2015, that will help the incumbent. If, ultimately, only a small handful of candidates emerge, Mehri and Smith could essentially cancel each other out, given that both are litigators who didn’t play pro football. That could open the door for a former player to swoop in and capture the votes, like Smith did when former players Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong split the vote in 2009.

 

As to the possibility of a debate between Mehri and Smith, they’ll eventually have a chance to be heard within the process to which Smith referred. A public debate for the benefit of folks who won’t have a vote in the process would be aimed only at generating media support (presumably for the contender) in the hopes that this will influence the 32 player representatives when the time comes to pick a leader next March.

 

However it plays out, it won’t be going away. And so with the Commissioner close to nailing down an extension through 2024, the NFLPA will spend the next seven months with uncertainty looming over who will be calling the shots for the critical three years before the current CBA expires.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

Sighs of relief in the Carolinas.  QB CAM NEWTON looked good in his preseason debut.  The AP:

 

Cam Newton was perfect in his preseason debut.

 

Seeing live action for the first time since last season’s finale, Newton completed both of his passes for 21 yards and a touchdown in Carolina’s 24-23 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night.

 

Newton’s 9-yard slant pass to Kelvin Benjamin capped a 10-play opening drive that showed Panthers coach Ron Rivera all he needed to see from his star quarterback. Newton spent the rest of the night watching from the sideline.

 

The 2015 league MVP had surgery in March to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in his right, throwing shoulder. Newton participated in the first five practices of training camp before developing soreness and backing off for nearly two weeks.

 

NFC WEST

 

SEATTLE

ProFootballTalk.com with an update on the status of WR TYLER LOCKETTE:

 

Tyler Lockett returned to practice week ago. But the Pro Bowl return man may not play in a game until they actually count.

 

Via Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune, Pete Carroll said he’s encouraged by the wide receiver’s return from last December’s broken leg, and may hold him out of the last two preseason games just to be on the safe side.

 

“He has competed in practice throughout this week,” Carroll said. “He has looked very confident. He has looked fast. I am still watching him, though. I still want to make sure we are taking all the time we have available.

 

“There is no reason to rush him. He is a fantastic competitor. He knows what we are doing. He is well-schooled on everything we are asking him to do. We love the player that he is. So we are just going to make sure we continue to maximize his security and safety for his return. So that’s what we are doing.”

 

Carroll said Lockett was “dying to play,” but they “may or may not exercise (that option).”

 

Lockett could add a big-play threat to the offense when he returns, as he averaged 14.6 yards per reception last year in addition to his return ability.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

No clarity for the Jaguars about their QB position.  Michael DiRicco of ESPN.com:

 

The Jaguars are still searching for a starting quarterback.

 

Neither Chad Henne nor Blake Bortles did enough to gain an edge over the other in the Jaguars’ 24-23 loss to the Carolina Panthers at EverBank Field on Thursday night.

 

Henne was solid but unimpressive, and Bortles threw an interception that nearly got returned for a touchdown. Coach Doug Marrone said he will take more time before deciding who will start the season opener Sept. 10 against the Houston Texans.

 

“I’m sure both quarterbacks would have liked to have done a better job, but offensively I think everyone needs to do a better job,” Marrone said. “Like I said to you guys earlier in the week, I’m not going to stand up here and comment a lot on the two. I’m going to go back and look at things and see where we’re at.

 

“I think offensively we didn’t help ourselves. We weren’t in manageable situations, whether it be through sacks, too many tackles for loss in the run game. I think that’s difficult on whoever’s playing quarterback.”

 

Henne completed 8 of 14 passes for 73 yards in the first half against Carolina’s first-team defense. He led the Jaguars to a touchdown and a field goal in five possessions with a lot of conservative throws.

 

The offense wasn’t exactly crisp — Henne was sacked three times, the offensive line didn’t open much space in the run game (31 yards, not counting a fake punt), there were three penalties, and Keelan Cole dropped a deep pass — but the unit didn’t turn over the ball and had one big play. That was a 27-yard diving catch by Allen Robinson on a perfectly thrown ball by Henne, who dropped it over the receiver’s shoulder before the safety could get over and knock it away.

 

That was the best pass he threw, though the deep ball down the sideline to Cole was perfectly thrown as well.

 

That half was essentially what the Jaguars will get from Henne: some safe throws, a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage, a good deep ball and some times where he will hold on to the ball too long and take a few sacks. But he didn’t turn the ball over, which has been Bortles’ biggest issue; he has an NFL-high 63 turnovers in the past three seasons.

 

Bortles played nearly the entire second half behind the first-team offensive line, but he was facing the Panthers’ reserves. He completed 12 of 16 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, but he also tried to squeeze a pass in to Allen Hurns that was intercepted and returned to the Jaguars’ 3-yard line.

 

However, Bortles led the Jaguars to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, the first coming on a nice fade pass to 5-foot-6 receiver Shane Wynn in the back of the end zone. His two-point conversion pass after the second touchdown was intercepted.

 

And owner Shad Khan says he is not the reason the team has not signed QB COLIN KAEPERNICK.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Jaguars are as needy at quarterback as any team in the NFL. So would they sign a certain controversial unsigned quarterback?

 

Jaguars owner Shad Khan says he’s OK with signing Colin Kaepernick. Asked by Mike Dempsey of 1010XL if he’d sign off on Kaepernick if that’s what the football people want, Khan said, “Absolutely.”

 

However, the football people don’t seem to want Kaepernick. And in Jacksonville “the football people” really means Tom Coughlin, who favors more of a pocket-passing quarterback than a mobile quarterback like Kaepernick, and who’s about as old-school as it gets regarding not wanting players to be focused on anything off the field.

 

Kaepernick, who started silently protesting during the national anthem last year, has made it clear that he has many off-field interests related to social justice. Much of the work Kaepernick has done is commendable, but that doesn’t mean a football guy like Coughlin would want him around.

 

So it seems unlikely that Kaepernick is heading to the Jaguars. Even if the owner would be OK with it.

 

AFC EAST

 

MIAMI

So far so good for QB JAY CUTLER with the Dolphins.  Jay Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Dolphins had quarterback Jay Cutler in the lineup for the second time on Thursday night and he showed that the deep ball could be a productive tool for the offense this season.

 

Cutler hooked up with DeVante Parker for a 72-yard gain to set up one touchdown and another long ball for Kenny Stills resulted in a pass interference penalty that left the Dolphins with one yard to pick up for another score. The night had its rougher moments, including a lost fumble on a sack by Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry but Cutler was 5-of-8 for 105 yards and a touchdown in an outing that met with approval from coach Adam Gase.

 

“It seems like his pocket presence is coming back pretty quick,” Gase said in comments distributed by the Eagles. “He made some nice step ups and sliding in the pocket to find some lanes; there were some broken plays where he hooked up with some guys. I thought that was a step in the right direction. Last week, he was kind of still feeling his way out and tonight he looked more comfortable.”

 

Gase took the blame for the sack, saying he put the team in a “bad position” by having them go with a silent count that they haven’t worked on enough, and saw room for improvement on third downs, but it feels like the team’s pretty comfortable with where things are headed offensively now that Cutler’s had some time to get used to life in Miami.

 

 

NEW ENGLAND

The Patriots are so good they may be in a position to discard DE KONY EALY.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Patriots traded a second-round pick for defensive end Kony Ealy and a third-round pick this offseason and they have reportedly taken a look to see what they could get back in another trade involving Ealy.

 

Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports that New England has “gauged” the trade market for Ealy.

 

Ealy had a slow start to his first training camp with the Patriots as he sat out the team’s first practice and then spent time working with the second and third teams as he worked to get comfortable with what the Patriots ask of their ends. Pelissero notes that he’s “started to settle in” as time has progressed, which may make the final two preseason games a big chance for him to show he’s a fit with the team.

 

Another factor could be the changes to the position group since the start of the summer. Rob Ninkovich’s retirement and Derek Rivers‘ knee injury have thinned out the players on hand, which could boost Ealy’s chances of sticking or lead Bill Belichick to use linebackers in different ways in the event they’re unconvinced Ealy can do what’s asked of him.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

KAEP AND SHADY

Bills RB LeSEAN McCOY shows a pretty good understanding, in the DB’s opinion, of all the factors that have kept QB Colin Kaepernick unsigned.  TMZ.com:

 

LeSean McCoy says there’s only one reason Colin Kaepernick isn’t in the NFL … he’s not that good at football.

 

McCoy unloaded about Kaepernick after Bills practice moments ago … saying he doesn’t believe the league is being unfair to the embattled QB at all.

 

“You just got to look at all sides, like if I’m an owner, or the GM of a team, do I want to put him on my team? Is he good enough to be on the squad, to even deal with

everything that’s going on? That’s something that I don’t really partake in,” Shady said.

 

That wasn’t all, the Pro Bowl running back went on to say he thinks a better player like Tom Brady or Odell Beckham wouldn’t even be dealing with the heat Kaep is getting.

 

“Take a guy like Michael Vick who went  through all that he went through. He’s 10 times better than Kaepernick. So you’ll deal with that situation. You’ll deal with that attention, the media aspect of it, the good the bad attention to it compared to Kaepernick, he’s really not that good of a player.”

 

But Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com takes umbrage:

 

McCoy’s comments were curious, for one specific reason.

 

No, this isn’t about the distractions McCoy periodically has created, including most recently the investigation that nearly resulted in criminal charges for assaulting an off-duty police officer. This is about the distractions that McCoy experienced when the Eagles brought Mike Vick to Philadelphia after two years in custody for dogfighting.

 

For McCoy’s Eagles, Vick’s distractions clearly outweighed his perceived talent as of 2009. But the Eagles embraced Vick without hesitation or reservation — and without engaging in a prolonged fit of public neurosis over whether they should or shouldn’t sign him.

 

“[I]t’s the chaos that comes with it,” McCoy said Thursday of Kaepernick. “It’s a lot. A team’s trying to win and not have a distraction on a team. As a player, there’s certain players that can be on a team with big distractions, and other players, they’re not good enough that it’s worth it. I think his situation is, not good enough to have on a team with all the attention that comes along with it.”

 

Vick, nearly three years removed from playing football of any kind, wasn’t nearly good enough to justify the “chaos” that came with bringing a convicted dogfighter and admitted dogkiller to town. But the Eagles did, and McCoy (who was only a rookie at the time) never said a word about it.

 

So Vick was able to get a job as a backup quarterback in only weeks before the start of football season despite substantial distractions (and flat-out illegal, immoral, and sociopathic behavior) but Kaepernick can’t, due to “distractions” arising from an exercise of rights that violate no laws or NFL rules — and he plans to stand for the anthem in 2017.

 

The newest argument emerging in NFL circles is that the efforts by some in the media and groups like the NAACP to point out that Kaepernick is getting screwed add to the distraction. But what are people who genuinely believe Kaepernick is getting screwed supposed to do? Pipe down and ignore it?

 

That’s the overriding message that permeates so much of the modern NFL. The league and its teams want to be able to do whatever they want to do, without scrutiny or criticism or second-guessing of any kind. The fact that the scrutiny and criticism and second-guessing make Kaepernick even less desirable than a convicted dogfighter and admitted dogkiller confirms that the league and its teams have bungled this situation as badly as anything the league and its teams have bungled in recent years.

 

 

ROBERT LEE, CLAY TRAVIS AND ESPN

Robert Silverman of The Daily Beast fires out a long, long piece on Clay Travis and ESPN which is partial to ESPN’s view of itself.   Part of it is here:

 

To be clear, ESPN has never identified as a “liberal” media company. You’d be hard pressed to find a business more devoted to the principle that, for any issue, Both Sides must always be heard than ESPN. But now every action taken by the Worldwide Leader in Sports—every editorial choice, hiring and firing decision, and the loss of subscribers—can and will be viewed first and foremost through a political lens.

 

In reality, ESPN has always been driven by a singular goal: increased audience and increased profits, despite recent, significant losses.

 

Just how the “liberal ESPN” narrative became commonly accepted as truth on the right owes to a series of high-profile stories covered by ESPN and and an increase in political activism by the athletes themselves, all of which landed just as a larger culture and information war was gathering steam, fueled by entities that had a vested interest in framing ESPN as a liberal mouthpiece.

 

According to sources that spoke with The Daily Beast, there could be strong financial motives for Travis to bash ESPN, according to an ESPN vice president.

 

Beyond the right-wing media, multiple sources who spoke to The Daily Beast pointed to Fox Sports 1 as being the loudest, most prominent exponent of the “ESPN has become a left-wing mouthpiece” narrative, with most pegging the recent rise in ESPN-bashing to Travis in particular.

SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill said that this kind of criticism had spiked “considerably” in the last six to eight months, right around the time that Travis started ascribing ESPN’s subscriber losses to its so-called politics. 

 

According to Mike Soltys, ESPN’s vice president of corporate communications, there’s a clear business reason why he might have been inclined to hammer away at this issue.

 

“We looked at one point, and over a two-month period, half of his top 10 most trafficked stories were critical of ESPN and most of them talked about our alleged liberal bias,” he said. Travis did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the popularity of these stories prior to publication.

 

Bryan Curtis, a media reporter with The Ringer, added that lobbing this particular critique at ESPN is practically guaranteed to ensure a great deal of attention and will be trumpeted by the non-sports media, though he admitted that he didn’t have access to Travis’s internal traffic numbers.

 

“I would guess that there’s a really strong incentive to keep writing this stuff,” said Curtis. “He talks frequently about building an audience and getting attention for his website. It pretty easily follows that this stuff gets a lot of attention.”

 

The battlefield in which ESPN finds itself enmeshed is a two-pronged one. For Fox News, Breitbart, and the entire right-wing media ecosystem, it was inevitable that ESPN would be eventually lumped into its now-decades long efforts to discredit mainstream journalism.

 

Similarly, Fox Sports 1 and Travis have arisen as competitors for ESPN’s core audience and possess a clear financial motivation to highlight how “edgy” it intends to be—even if no top-down directive to take on ESPN’s politics and label it liberal from FS1 executives was ever issued or even implied, according to sources that spoke with The Daily Beast.

 

These two flanks will often intermingle and blur as a story gains enough traction to make its way up the right-wing media food chain, as we saw with Not-That-Robert Lee, culminating in Travis’s Tuesday and Wednesday night appearances on Tucker Carlson Tonight.

 

It’s a culture and information war ESPN wasn’t aware it was fighting until it had already lost. And while the company is still in the black, and there are serious questions as to what degree the notion that it had pivoted left has impacted it financially—if at all—the label has stuck, and there’s not much it can do to remove it.

– – –

Jamie Horowitz, the former president of Fox Sports, never explicitly encouraged anti-ESPN blogs from Travis, who has repeatedly stated that he has always retained complete editorial independence. (Fox Sports did previously host Outkick the Coverage on its website and maintained a licensing agreement beginning in 2013, but that relationship ended in 2017. Currently, Travis does not receive a salary from any Fox Sports properties, though he appears on Fox Sports Radio.)

 

A former Fox Sports executive told The Daily Beast that it was his impression Travis’ ESPN-bashing was purposely kept at arm’s length. “Those guys were not allowed to do that under the Fox Sports banner,” he said. “Which is why Clay [Travis] had his own Outkick site where he could write what he wanted and we had no say.”

 

Although Horowitz—who was credited with creating the “Embrace Debate” era while at ESPN, and was fired last month amid allegations of sexual harassment—reportedly did not overtly direct or even suggest an editorial direction for Travis, that doesn’t mean he took issue with his anti-ESPN broadsides.

 

“I think Jamie was personally uncomfortable with the social and political stuff, but as ratings continued to suck and things got more desperate, he certainly encouraged extreme behavior,” the former Fox Sports executive said. “My read is, those guys are provocateurs, and while no one was telling them they had to do those things, I’d bet no one was telling them not to, either. There was a lot of desperation in that building, and creating controversy was their Hail Mary.”

 

The Daily Beast spoke with Travis by phone. He repeatedly claimed that ESPN had a very clear political agenda, one that was adopted in order to stem its six-year-long persistent subscriber losses. His critique of ESPN, he said, was not that ESPN dallied in the political implications of any given sports story, but rather that alternative, and specifically a conservative viewpoints, were not aired.

 

“The way ESPN debates something is they basically say, ‘Look, how heroic is Colin Kaepernick?’” said Travis. “It’s not, you know, ‘Is Colin Kaepernick making a good decision,’ it’s ‘How heroic is he?’ There’s no counterpunch.”

 

While many prominent ESPN personalities have praised Kaepernick’s now-shuttered protest, the network has not treated him like he’s “the Rosa Parks of football” or “a modern-day Nelson Mandela” as Travis wrote. Steve Young called his actions “thoughtful.” NFL analyst Trent Dilfer even resoundingly criticized Kaepernick, describing the protest as “selfish.” Will Cain said, “Let’s not act like he’s this virtuous guy.” 

 

Stephen A. Smith pilloried Kaepernick for declining to vote in the 2016 presidential election, calling him a “flaming hypocrite” and “absolutely irrelevant.” Smith also also lambasted Kaepernick for wearing a T-shirt depicting Fidel Castro’s meeting with Malcolm X, calling it “dumb” and saying it rendered much of Kaepernick’s activism invalid—as did Dan Le Batard, whose parents fled Cuba. Le Batard called him a “dope,” before adding that it was possible to be supportive of Kaepernick’s anthem protest and still criticize the shirt.

 

And per a report by Deadspin’s Kevin Draper, when President Trump’s first attempt to ban individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries entry into the United States was announced, ESPN’s vice president of audio sent out a memo informing ESPN audio employees that Cain, a climate-change denier and First Take talking head, could be brought onto segments about the ban to provide “balance” and an “opposing viewpoint.” 

 

When The Daily Beast mistakenly cited Mark Schlereth and Merril Hoge as two ESPN personalities who had been critical of Kaepernick, Travis said, “Where does Mark Schlereth work now?” and “Where does Merril Hoge work now?” with the implication being their estrangement from the network was more evidence of an anti-conservative bias. 

 

With regards to Jenner and the ESPYs, Travis sees a conspiracy: Jenner’s ESPY was part of a quid pro quo between Jenner and two Disney properties. “They give an award like that to Caitlyn Jenner and suddenly she gives an exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer to ABC?” he asked. “If all that’s coincidental, it’s amazing. I just don’t buy a coincidence there.”

 

The actual timeline of events doesn’t support Travis’s viewpoint. According to Maura Mandt, the owner of the production company that has been producing the ESPYs for over a decade, Jenner was one of a pool of candidates under consideration for some form of recognition, but she was not up for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award until after the Diane Sawyer interview aired on April 24, 2015, when Jenner first came out publicly. The vetting process kicked into gear shortly thereafter, and in early May 2015, the ESPYs committee tabbed Jenner. James Andrew Miller broke the story on June 1, 2015.

 

But Travis’s seeming inability to recall that ESPN does offer ostensibly conservative viewpoints and his penchant for floating questionable theories very much falls in line with a growing trend in far-right and pro-Trump media circles.

 

Travis believes, for example, that ESPN pivoted leftward to bolster Disney CEO Bob Iger’s (still undeclared) presidential campaign. He claims it’s “not unreasonable” to suggest that Kaepernick’s anthem protest swung enough votes to gift the election to Donald Trump. Travis thinks someone working for LeBron James could have scrawled a racist epithet on his California home in order to generate positive press for James the day before Game One of the 2017 NBA Finals, a conspiracy theory for which there is no evidence.

 

The near-constant periscoping and tweeting by Travis is also a tactic used by the alt-right, particularly the burgeoning pro-Trump media. Like a sports-centric version of pro-Trump troll Mike Cernovich, he offers up a near-constant swarm of takes, and by the time any one of them is debunked, he’s already moved on to the next one.

 

He’s always available to periscope any time a hot-button issues arises, calling for “emergency press conferences” that consist of Travis staring into the camera wearing a T-shirt, often unshaven, in front of an Outkick the Coverage backdrop. But the lo-fi production values and always-on accessibility create a sense of intimacy and familiarity with readers, in contrast with the professional production values at ESPN or even Fox Sports 1. He treats them not just as consumers of a product he’s offering, but soldiers in a culture war that have joined his side—and one that’s “winning,” as he constantly reminds his fans—simply by clicking on the website or buying his merchandise.

 

The notion of “winning” is important in Travis’ world. You can see this emotional appeal at play when ESPN announced that it was laying off approximately 100 staffers, largely public-facing on-air talent and reporters, cuts to staff that were enacted largely due to a dwindling cable-subscriber base.

 

 

FANTASY DRAFT TIPS

Matthew Berry of ESPN.com has some tips for you in the form of lists:

 

List 1: 10 players who are not currently being drafted as starters in ESPN.com leagues (top 10 QB/TE or top 20 RB/WR) that I believe will finish as such

 

1. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (current ADP: QB12): So you’re telling me that the most efficient red zone quarterback (since he entered the NFL), who added the most efficient red zone receiver (in terms of PPR points per game since 2012) and was QB7 before he got hurt last season (Weeks 1-15), isn’t being considered a fantasy starter? According to Tristan H. Cockcroft’s Consistency Ratings, Mariota is joined by the second-most-consistent TE over the past three seasons, and Rishard Matthews is back in the fold after breaking out (WR22) in his first season with the Titans. Did I mention that the Titans used two top-75 picks on receivers? Or that they have an elite offensive line?

 

2. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers (current ADP: QB17): I get there’s nothing sexy or interesting about Rivers, but the guy always stays healthy and was QB14 last season throwing to no one. As I mentioned in Love/Hate this year, I am a Keenan Allen believer this year. And Rivers’ career per-game numbers with Allen on the field are eye-popping. Over a 16-game stretch, you’d get 4,597 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Hunter Henry and Tyrell Williams emerged last season, plus Antonio Gates is back for another year and maybe they get something out of Mike Williams … a lot of toys for Rivers to play with.

 

3. Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints (current ADP: RB25): Well, he was going as RB31 a few days ago, but you spend 28 straight hours on TV talking a guy up apparently it helps his ADP. I get the “he’s old and an injury risk” concern, but come on. He doesn’t have to be his Hall of Fame self, he just needs to stay reasonably healthy. There are 247 non-Mark Ingram touches available from last season on a team that had 17 rushing touchdowns and the fourth-most rushing scores the past three seasons. He could fall into double-digit scores.

 

4. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (current ADP: RB37): Martin has looked good this preseason, we have certainly seen him do it before and I expect the Bucs’ offense to take a major step forward this season. Combine Martin with RB48 Jacquizz Rodgers and you have the starting RB on a good offense for a 12th and a 14th, according to ESPN ADP. I love the price and the upside.

 

5. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs (current ADP: RB40): I expect his ADP to continually rise, and after the second preseason game that hype will continue. But I still don’t think he’ll get drafted inside the top 20, and I know the Chiefs love him. Hunt is a true three-down back I’ve written about a lot (and I’m not alone), and he has received good reviews in pass protection from Andy Reid. He’ll be involved from day one and this will be his job sooner than later.

 

6. Brandon Marshall, New York Giants (current ADP: WR 30): I could spit stats at you, like the fact that Marshall is the top-scoring fantasy receiver in the red zone since 2012 or that the Giants have dropped back to pass at the fourth-highest rate inside the red zone over the past two seasons. But after finishing as a top-three fantasy wideout in both his first year in Chicago and his first year with the Jets, I like Marshall’s chances at a top-20 finish this season while playing with the best QB of his career.

 

7. Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers (current ADP: WR32): The upside is high. Like really high. Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in deep touchdown passes last season, despite missing a pair of games, relying on 5-foot-10 Antonio Brown to stretch the field and with a trio of receivers in Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates combining to drop 10.4 percent of their targets (league WR average: 3.5 percent). Bryant has the physical tools to fill that role in a massive way and that’s not just me saying that, we’ve seen it. In 2014-15, Bryant ranked fourth in air yards per target and third in yards per reception. The receiver pool is deep this season and that means that you have no excuse to not draft Bryant as a starter, as your replacement-level player will be plenty productive to offset the risk taken.

 

8. Eric Decker, Tennessee Titans (current ADP: WR 38): Doubling down here … if I’m going to be right on Mariota, it will be because his connection with Decker is as good as the numbers suggest. Since 2012, Decker has been among the most consistent wideouts in the NFL and is averaging 82 catches, 1,116 yards, and 10.6 touchdowns per 16 games. That’s his average … not his ceiling. The combination of high floor and ceiling is impossible to match at this point in the draft. Sign me up.

 

9. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts (current ADP: TE13): I’ve talked him up a ton this preseason. We got a glimpse of Doyle’s upside in Weeks 1-7 last season (when he was fourth among TEs in fantasy points) and with Dwayne Allen no longer eating up the red zone looks, Doyle has tons of potential with a quarterback and offensive coordinator that both love to utilize the tight end.

 

10. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons (current ADP: TE20): As Matt Ryan got even more comfortable in Kyle Shanahan’s offense last season and Alex Mack helped solidify the offensive line, a funny thing happened. The Falcons started using the tight ends, as they accounted for 10 scores, twice as many as they tallied the previous two seasons combined. I’m not sure Hooper gets all of that action, but there’s no more Jacob Tamme, and after a Super Bowl in which Hooper scored a touchdown, he might not get to top 10, but he will easily beat his current ADP.

 

List 3: Ten rookies I would take, in order, in dynasty leagues

 

1. Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

2. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

3. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers

4. Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans

5. Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

6. Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers

7. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

8. O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

9. John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

10. Zay Jones, WR, Buffalo Bills

 

List 5: Ten running backs going in the 10th round or later who have sneaky PPR value and can be used as an RB2 or flex, depending on league size

 

NOTE: All references to rounds below are for 10-team leagues.

 

1. Theo Riddick, Detroit Lions: Obvious, but going in Round 10 (90th overall).

 

2. Duke Johnson Jr., Cleveland Browns: ADP will rise, but still a lot to like at 111th overall (12th round).

 

3. James White, New England Patriots: Super Bowl hero was top three in RB receptions, targets and receiving yards. Going in Round 12 due to “Patriots RB fears.”

 

4. C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks: Needs to stay on the field, but there’s no question about the talent or how Seattle wants to use him. Going in Round 14.

 

5. Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins: A crucial part of Washington’s passing offense. He finished strong last season, averaging more than 11 points a game in his final four. Going in Round 15.

 

6. Shane Vereen, New York Giants: Forgotten after last year’s injury-plagued season. He has a specific role on a pass-first offense and a reasonable path to significant playing time. Going undrafted.

 

7. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints: Already penciled in as Drew Brees’ third-down back. He’s a true three-down talent behind two veterans who have struggled with health in their careers.

 

8. T.J. Yeldon, Jacksonville Jaguars: It’s unlikely the Jags will have Leonard Fournette play on third downs initially, so Yeldon, who has caught 78.9 percent of his targets from Blake Bortles during his career (all other Jags have caught just 58.7 percent of his passes in that stretch), is the third-down beneficiary and basically free on draft day.

 

9. Kyle Juszczyk, San Francisco 49ers: Juszczyk is a good pass-catcher, and he became the NFL’s highest-paid fullback this offseason. After catching at least 37 balls in two straight seasons, he has been working out at tight end some and will absolutely have value this in deeper PPR leagues.

 

10. Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears: As mentioned by Chris Mortensen on “The Fantasy Show” earlier this week, the Bears like what they have in Cohen and he should see 8 to 12 touches a game in relief of Jordan Howard.