The Daily Briefing Friday, October 20, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

There won’t be any 10-point underdogs pulling upsets this week.  Heck, there won’t be any 7-point underdogs pulling upsets.  There is a good chance a 5.5-point underdog will win (as of Friday a.m.):

 

Time                Matchup with Live Spread                  Favorite           Spread

1:00 PM          Tennessee at Cleveland                    Tennessee       -5.5

1:00 PM          New Orleans at Green Bay                New Orleans   -5.5

1:00 PM          Baltimore at Minnesota                       Minnesota       -5.5

4:05 PM          Dallas at San Francisco                      Dallas              -5.5

4:25 PM          Seattle at NY Giants                          Seattle              -5.5

4:25 PM          Cincinnati at Pittsburgh                       Pittsburgh        -5.5

8:30 PM          Washington at Philadelphia     Philadelphia     -4.5

1:00 PM          Jacksonville at Indianapolis                Jacksonville    -3.5

1:00 PM          NY Jets at Miami                                Miami              -3.5

1:00 PM          Arizona at LA Rams (Lon)                 LA Rams          -3.5

1:00 PM          Carolina at Chicago                            Carolina           -3.5

Sun night         Atlanta at New England                     New England   -3.5

1:00 PM          Tampa Bay at Buffalo                        Buffalo             -2.5

4:25 PM          Denver at LA Chargers                       LA Chargers    -1.5

 

The Raiders have already won as a 2.5-point underdog.

 

 

NFC NORTH

 

MINNESOTA

Back at practice after his severe knee 2016 knee injury, QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER sees playing time ahead.  Marc Sessler of NFL.com:

 

Teddy Bridgewater is back.

 

More than a year after crumbling to the ground with a horrible knee injury, the Vikings quarterback returned to practice Wednesday in victorious fashion.

 

“Didn’t feel rusty at all,” Bridgewater said Thursday, per NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.

 

Asked about his confidence level playing on the rehabbed knee, the fourth-year passer told scribes: “I’m very confident. I wouldn’t go out on that practice field if I wasn’t.”

 

The Vikings now sit within a three-week window to either activate Bridgewater or place him on the PUP list for the rest of the season.

 

“I definitely believe I’ll play this year,” Bridgewater declared, saying: “It’s going to take some grit. That’s just the mindset.”

 

The 24-year-old signal-caller went out of his way to credit teammates for sticking by him during a grueling 14-month rehab that happened far away from the bright lights of the NFL.

 

“I hope that my story can motivate someone,” Bridgewater said. “The future is bright.”

 

That’s especially true for the Vikings, who wondered if their one-time starter would ever play again. Minnesota has gotten by with Sam Bradford and Case Keenum manning the position, but a fully healthy Bridgewater would give the club incredible depth at the position.

 

Alive and kicking in the NFC North, the Vikings will now monitor Bridgewater’s status and decide if, and when, to put him back in the lineup.

 

During a decidedly unusual NFL campaign, this is a storyline worth cheering for no matter where your loyalties lie.

– – –

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com on the unusual nature of a Vikings team with three competent quarterbacks.

 

No team in the NFL has more uncertainty at the quarterback position than the Vikings, who are starting Case Keenum now but could go back to either Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater when their respective knee injuries are fully healed. But Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph says that uncertainty is not a problem.

 

Rudolph said on PFT Live that he and the Vikings’ other receivers have confidence in all three of their quarterbacks.

 

“These are all guys that can help us win football games,” Rudolph said. “Unfortunately in this business you deal with injuries. We seem to deal with more than everyone else in the last couple years but it happens. I think all these guys have handled it extremely well and have been ready for their opportunities.”

 

It’s unclear what the Vikings’ quarterback depth chart will look like when and if all three quarterbacks are healthy and ready to play, but Rudolph says that won’t matter to the rest of the team.

 

“I think the biggest thing is just for us as pass catchers, keeping a consistent routine and a consistent work habit throughout the course of the week,” Rudolph said. “We can’t worry about eight weeks from now, we can’t worry about next week, all we can focus on is taking each and every game and making sure we maximize those reps in practice.”

 

With the Vikings in first place in the NFC North, they have every reason to feel confident they can get to the playoffs, despite having no idea who their starting quarterback will be if they get there.

 

Sunday against Baltimore will be CASE KEENUM’s 4th home start for the Vikings.  Minnesota is 2-1 in the previous 3 with Keenum sporting a 98.9 passer rating (64%, 4 TDs, 1 INT) in those games.

 

NFC EAST

 

PHILADELPHIA

John Keim and Tim McManus of ESPN.com get us ready for Monday night’s big rematch:

 

The Philadelphia Eagles ended a five-game losing streak and announced themselves to the NFL as a team to be reckoned with — all in the same day in Washington.

 

The Eagles beat the Washington Redskins for the first time in six games in the season opener. They did so in impressive fashion, with a defense that stuffed the run and a quarterback who kept making big plays in a 30-17 win.

 

Washington fans had to be talked back off the ledge, even though the Redskins won three of their next four games. The question they face this week: Can they win Monday night with a banged-up roster? If so, the NFC East will become a tight race. If not, it could be a one-team sprint to the finish.

 

Here’s a look at the matchup with ESPN Eagles reporter Tim McManus and Redskins reporter John Keim:

 

Biggest change in the Eagles since Week 1: The emergence of LeGarrette Blount and the Eagles’ running game. Blount averaged 3.3 yards per attempt (14 carries, 46 yards) in the opener against Washington, and did not receive a single carry the following week in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Coach Doug Pederson has since committed to the ground game. The Eagles averaged 21 rushes for 78 yards over the first two weeks. Those numbers have soared to 35 rushes and 158 yards over the past four games. Blount has been at the center of that. Rediscovering the form that carried him to a career year with the New England Patriots in 2016, Blount has been averaging more than 6 yards per carry since Week 3.

 

Biggest change in the Redskins since Week 1: The Redskins have been more committed to the run game than they were in the opening loss, when the Eagles shut them down. Philadelphia stopped the Redskins cold, allowing only 34 yards on 13 carries to the running backs. But here’s the key stat: Washington converted only three of 11 third downs, preventing more opportunities — and making the Redskins less likely to stick with an inconsistent rushing attack. They didn’t post strong rushing numbers against San Francisco, for example, as the backs rushed 28 times for 57 yards (quarterback Kirk Cousins is using his legs more). But the Redskins converted seven of 14 third downs thanks to Cousins and the passing game. Still, coach Jay Gruden likes the balanced attack and he especially loves running on first down (almost 70 percent of the time thus far). Washington has run the ball 44 more times than at the same point last season. Running back Rob Kelley has missed one game and part of another because of various injuries. It makes a difference if he plays; rookie Samaje Perine is still getting used to running with patience. The other running back, Chris Thompson, has emerged as the Redskins’ main offensive weapon as their third-down back — hurting teams in the screen game in particular. He leads Washington in both receiving yards (340) and rushing (175).

 

Biggest Eagles injury since Week 1: Cornerback Ronald Darby suffered a dislocated ankle Week 1 against Washington. Pederson mentioned Monday night’s game as a potential return date, but it appears Darby needs more time to work back from a gruesome injury that initially threatened to be season-ending. Desperate for corner help, the Eagles traded wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick to Buffalo prior to the start of the season for Darby, a blazing fast corner who was runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2015. The Eagles’ defense has found a way to succeed despite the loss. The front four are generating good pressure for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, while a corner group that includes Jalen Mills, rookie Rasul Douglas and Patrick Robinson has exceeded expectations. It could still prove to be vulnerable, but the back end has maintained to this point.

 

Biggest Redskins injury since Week 1: Defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is out for the season after suffering a Lisfranc injury Sunday. Allen, the 17th overall pick in April, was performing as hoped, collapsing the pocket and playing with power and quickness. He could line up all over, even rushing from a stand-up position in the middle on occasion. He and fellow nickel tackle Matt Ioannidis enabled the Redskins to rush with four, knowing they could push the pocket and benefit from edge pressure by the linebackers. But Allen’s loss is magnified for this game by the potential absence of corners Josh Norman (rib) and Bashaud Breeland (knee). The Redskins need a healthy unit to combat the Eagles’ offense, so this doesn’t help. Ioannidis has been exceptional. But Allen was playing like he was one of the best defensive players in the draft.

 

What it means to the Eagles’ division chances: The Eagles have an 88 percent chance to win the NFC East and a 95 percent chance to make the playoffs, per FPI. Sitting at 5-1 overall with a 4-0 mark in the conference and 2-0 in the division, the Eagles would take even greater command by completing the sweep of the Redskins, their top threat at the moment with the Cowboys and Giants struggling. There’s the bigger picture to consider as well: FPI says the Eagles have the greatest chance of earning the No. 1 seed in the NFC (45 percent) and are the early favorites to make it to the Super Bowl (31 percent). Those odds will only improve with a win Monday night.

 

What it means to Redskins’ division chances: It means everything. Because the Eagles won the first game, and already have a 1½-game lead over Washington, the Redskins can’t afford to be swept if they want to challenge for the NFC East title. A loss would give the Eagles a 2½-game lead — but they’d obviously win any tiebreakers over Washington, so the Redskins in essence would be 3½ games behind if they lose Monday night. It wouldn’t be impossible to make up that ground, especially considering the Redskins still have 10 games remaining. All it takes is a couple injuries to throw a wrench into another team’s season (Green Bay). But it would be asking a lot. After the Eagles, the Redskins play Dallas, at Seattle, Minnesota and at New Orleans. Not only are those good teams, but they’re also competition for NFC playoff spots. If the Redskins emerge from this stretch, say, 6-4, then they’re in good shape.

 

NFC SOUTH

 

CAROLINA

LB LUKE KUECHLY continues to inch towards playing Sunday.  NFL.com:

 

Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly officially did not participate during Thursday’s practice, but is making progress in the concussion protocol.

 

Kuechly was in a helmet and pads for the first time this week and participated in individual drills. He was held out of team drills, per multiple reports.

 

Asked about Kuechly, Coach Ron Rivera said, “We’ll see.”

 

 

TAMPA BAY

QB JAMIES WINSTON says he will be good to go Sunday and is going to test his arm on Friday.  Greg Auman in the Tampa Bay Times:

 

Will he? Won’t he? It appears the Bucs’ uncertainty over whether quarterback Jameis Winston can play through a shoulder injury Sunday at Buffalo will carry up until the final hours before kickoff.

 

Winston left Sunday’s loss at Arizona in the second quarter after spraining the AC joint in his right (throwing) shoulder, but an MRI showed no additional damage. Coach Dirk Koetter has said Winston has no potential for further damage by playing, so it’s a matter of pain tolerance and whether the shoulder limits his ability to throw. Veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw for 290 yards off the bench at Arizona, is ready to step in if needed.

 

Winston didn’t throw at practice Wednesday, and while coaches had planned to let him throw Thursday, they opted to wait another day, and Koetter said Winston will get all the throwing reps on Friday, which is typically a shorter practice.

 

“I would fully expect that Jameis takes all the snaps (Friday),” Koetter said. “You guys will get an injury report, and you can draw your own conclusions.”

 

The uncertainty also keeps Buffalo from knowing which quarterback to prepare for, maintaining every strategic advantage ahead of a pivotal game.

 

This from Marc Sessler at NFL.com:

 

The arrow is pointing up for Jameis Winston.

 

Nursing an AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder, the Buccaneers quarterback told reporters Thursday he expects to be on the field Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

 

“My thought process is to play,” Winston said, adding: “I’m ready. When it’s time to let me go, I’m ready.”

 

Tom Jones, columnizing in the Tampa Bay Times, advises caution:

 

Don’t be a hero, Jameis.

 

Do the right thing. Do what’s best.

 

Do what’s best for you and, just as important, do what’s best for your team.

 

Don’t play this Sunday if you’re too hurt to play.

 

Sit if you can’t throw a football properly. Take a rest if your shoulder is in too much pain. Let your healthy backup play while your unhealthy body rests.

 

We all saw what happened last week in that debacle in the desert. You did what you always do, which was to try to make something out of nothing. You were being chased, running for your life and instead of chucking the ball into the stands, you kept running and running.

 

By the time it was too late, you flung a ball toward a teammate as you were being hit by one of Arizona’s big uglies and you landed awkwardly on your right shoulder — your money-making shoulder, the shoulder that carries an entire franchise.

 

When it comes to you, that’s the type of play that scares everyone. You don’t know when to give up. All you care about is what’s going on in the moment. You don’t think about the consequences.

 

On one hand, that’s very admirable. You never say die. That’s what leaders do.

 

On the other, sometimes it’s better to be smart than brave, especially when everyone is relying on you.

 

And look how it turned out. You had to come out of Sunday’s game. Your team got smashed. You had an MRI and you got really lucky that it wasn’t more serious than a sprain. But there’s a chance you won’t play Sunday against Buffalo.

 

You’ll know more later in the week. You’ll throw the ball. You’ll get treatment. You’ll do everything you can to get ready.

 

Of course you want to play. That’s who you are. You’re tough. You’ve never missed a start since coming into the league three seasons ago.

– – –

We should note that one piece of business from an owner’s meeting otherwise consumed by talking about how the NFL can assist the social justice movement was that Tampa Bay is now officially the host for Super Bowl 55.  It will be the fifth Super Bowl in Tampa, third at Raymond James Stadium.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Will Brinson of CBSSports.com thinks RB ADRIAN PETERSON will sustain the success he had in his first game.

 

When it was reported that Adrian Peterson was on the trade block and multiple teams might inquire about what the Saints wanted in exchange, people chuckled, because Peterson had not really done a whole lot with New Orleans, other than stare down Sean Payton on the sideline.

And when the Cardinals actually traded for Peterson, people had a very big laugh.

 

It was OK to be a little sarcastic. That’s what social media basically revolved around, and it’s not like A.P. was doing a whole lot in New Orleans. Turns out, though, that Cardinals GM Steve Keim and his staff in Arizona might know what they’re doing; few personnel men have been better at bringing in veterans who looked like they were washed and getting maximum production.

 

They got just that from Peterson in his first game with the Cardinals. After rushing for 81 yards on 27 carries and no touchdowns in four games with the Saints, Peterson promptly posted an eye-popping line of 26 carries, 134 yards and two touchdowns.

 

It was a breath of life for the Cardinals — for the first time all season Carson Palmer attempted less than 34 passes in a game. Arizona came into the Week 6 matchup against the Buccaneers averaging just over 51 rushing yards per game. Peterson’s big day bumped them up to a much nicer 69.8 yards per game and pushed them over the 3.0 yards per carry mark. Eight carries into his day, Peterson had the highest rushing total for a Cardinals player this year.

 

The players on the roster looked more enthused too, in the way that they played. That sounds odd, but Peterson’s reckless abandon and rage-filled runs pretty clearly stunned and inspired the Cardinals. 

 

“All of a sudden the first drive happens and there’s a lot of kind of dropped jaws, like ‘Wow, what did we just see?’ ” Palmer said. “Then the second drive it happened, the third drive it happened. So, it’s a luxury being a quarterback and having him back there.”

 

For one week, Peterson managed to reinvigorate a franchise that looked like it would flounder in what could be the final season for Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Bruce Arians. The questions to ask are: 1) how did he do it and 2) can he keep doing it?

 

Examining Peterson’s big day

The combination of play-calling, blocking and Peterson running with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind resulted in some big plays early.

– – –

Peterson has been there one game and he already leads the team in missed tackles, elusive rating and yards after contact per rush. He’s just a more dominating physical presence than anything the Cardinals had after Johnson went down with an injury.

 

He gives them a different dimension to the offense and he actually caused Bruce Arians, one of the more aggressive coaches in all of football, to dial things back a bit.

 

“If anything, it’s more conservative,” Arians said recently when asked about his playbook with Peterson in the backfield.

 

WHY PETERSON CAN KEEP THRIVING

Not everyone is going to be as undisciplined as the Bucs defense was on Sunday, but Peterson serving as a viable weapon in the running game will have an immediate impact on Palmer’s efficiency through the air. He completed his first 14 passes and was able to only throw 22 on the day, while still managing 283 yards through the air. That’s a tidy little 12.83 yards per attempt, just the way Palmer and Arians want it.

 

The schedule is conducive for Peterson to have success too. All four of the Cardinals upcoming opponents are in the bottom half of yards per game allowed.

 

The better two defenses on there just lost some pretty important players for run-stuffing purposes — Arik Armstead of the 49ers (16th in PFF’s run stop percentage among 4-3 DEs) has a broken hand and could go on IR, while the Texans just lost J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.

No one is trying to sell the Seahawks as a questionable defense, but they are vulnerable against the run this year. The bye comes at a pretty perfect time too — Peterson can leave it on the field against the Rams in London and rest his old bones for two weeks.

 

It helps a ton for the Cardinals to get help back on the offensive line — D.J. Humphries and Alex Boone returned to the field last week. Feel free to dog the Cards line, too. They haven’t been great this year and they’ve been horrendous in pass protection, giving up an adjusted sack rate of 8.4 percent, good for 23rd in the NFL.

 

But if you dig into the offensive line stats at Football Outsiders a little deeper, there’s reason to believe the acquisition of Peterson could be a perfect marriage for this offensive line. Arizona ranks 23rd overall but they have a Power Run Success rate of 73 percent. That’s 10th in the league. Peterson, if you haven’t figured it out, is a power runner. Asking guys like Humphries, Boone and Veldheer to throw caution to the wind and just maul the guys in front of them is a pretty perfect assignment for that physical wrecking crew.

 

Now they have a back who loves to run downhill and will make his lineman look right. It does take two to tango in the run game,” former NFL lineman turned analyst Geoff Schwartz said. “The linemen can open up holes but if the back doesn’t have a sense of where the play is designed to run, or even where the ball might hit based on a certain look, then there is no run game. Peterson knows it all and it showed in his first weekend in Arizona.”

 

Arians confirmed after the game that Peterson knows and “excels” in the plays the Cardinals already have. It’s a natural fit with the offensive line.

 

Adrian Peterson is a 32-year-old running back. The bottom could fall out, or he could suffer an injury. But the guy we saw running against the Bucs was an explosive, dynamic, power runner. Peterson was jumping and cutting laterally the way he did in his prime, and he was gaining steam while pulling away from tackles with that signature high step of his.

 

There might be some concern about how to handle the return of David Johnson, but it actually fits together fairly well. Arians has suggested Johnson might be back by Thanksgiving (the Cards Thanksgiving weekend game is that Texans matchup), but Peterson running well would give the Cardinals wiggle room to push Johnson’s timeline back and/or make sure their franchise back is fully healthy.

 

Peterson could care less about conserving himself. He’s on a team that, heading into Week 7, is 3-3 and somehow in the NFL playoff race after a questionable start (overtime wins over the 49ers and Colts are the only plusses on the schedule prior to last Sunday). It’s a team loaded with guys making a last push with a core group and Peterson is part of it. If he burns himself out or gets injured, reinforcements will eventually arrive.

 

The scheme is a fit, there are carries galore to be had, the offensive line better suits a group that can play smashmouth and set up vertical shots, the players there are long-time, venerable veterans who want to make a run and Peterson showed Sunday that he’s far from finished in terms of being a dominant football player.

 

Peterson and the Cardinals are a good fit and one that could keep on working well in the foreseeable future.

 

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

RB TODD GURLEY is grumpy as he prepares to head to England.  Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com:

 

Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley is not a fan of the NFL’s International Series — at least not from a logistics standpoint.

 

The Rams are playing in London for the second straight year, serving as the home team for Sunday’s Week 7 game against the Arizona Cardinals at Twickenham Stadium. That trip forced the Rams to spend nearly six full days in Jacksonville, Florida, before flying to London on Thursday afternoon.

 

“Terrible,” Gurley said after Thursday’s practice from the University of North Florida, when asked if he has been able to get into a routine with an unconventional schedule. “They need to stop this, all this stuff. This London, this Mexico City stuff, it needs to stop.”

 

The Rams will have their bye week after Sunday’s game, just like they did last year, when they played against the New York Giants at Twickenham Stadium. The Rams are also expected to play International Series games in 2018 and 2019, by virtue of playing out of a temporary facility in Los Angeles.

 

From the start of 2016 to the end of 2017, no team will travel more regular-season miles than the Rams.

 

“It’s cool playing over there, don’t get me wrong,” Gurley said of London. “Just more of the long week, messes up a bunch of people’s schedules. I’m pretty sure y’all [the media] wanna be in y’all bed right now, too. But naw, it’s all good. It’ll be love. The fans over there are great.”

 

 

SEATTLE

Most of the media has moved on from DT MICHAEL BENNETT’s claims of being racially-targeted by the Las Vegas Police Department and subsequent pronouncements of being a slave.  But not Clay Travis.  His long rant against Bennett is here, with a much edited version below:

 

“I just thought it (Jerry Jones’ comments) reminded me of the Dred Scott case. You are property, so you don’t have the ability to be a person first. And I think in this generation I think that sends the wrong message to young kids and young people all across the world that your employer doesn’t see you as a human being, they see you as a piece of property. And if that’s the case, then I don’t get it. I just don’t get why you don’t see him as a human being, they don’t see us as human beings first.’’

 

This quote is so stupid I think we need to unpack its profound stupidity below.

 

But first I want to point something out, these statements by Michael Bennett were made in an open press conference in front of a bevy of reporters who cover the Seahawks and the NFL for a living. And not one reporter challenged Bennett’s analogy here. In fact, not one reporter or columnist that I’ve seen has even written a single word about these comments since they were made yesterday.

 

Moreover, no member of the media in Seattle or any other city that Bennett has played in, has asked Bennett to justify the lies he told about the Las Vegas police or explain himself in any way since those 190+ videos were released by the Las Vegas police that proved he lied.

 

This is very troubling.

 

Because isn’t it the job of the sports media to actually question athletes, coaches, owners and administrators and not allow them to simply lie with no consequences? Shouldn’t we expect that the sports media isn’t going to only cover stories that reflect their own personal political beliefs? In other words, if a player lies or makes an incredibly dumb analogy with no historical cogency or applicability, how is that Outkick is the only media source actually pointing out how completely and totally full of shit Michael Bennett is?

 

It’s absurd.

 

Now let’s unpack how ridiculous Bennett’s comments in this case were.

 

1. THERE ARE NO SIMILARITIES BETWEEN MULTI-MILLIONAIRE ATHLETES AND SLAVES.

 

Slaves, and I can’t believe I am writing this, ARE NOT ALLOWED TO STOP BEING SLAVES.

– – –

 

2. If you are paid to do a job, you are not a slave.

 

Again, I can’t believe I have to write this.

 

That’s because YOU ARE BEING PAID FOR YOUR LABOR, which is the exact opposite of being a slave.

– – –

3. You don’t have the right to make political statements in your uniform at work.

 

I can’t think of any other employee who can make a political statement while wearing a uniform at work.

 

Not a single one.

– – –

3. This type of protest has never happened before in sports.

 

Left wing sports media need to stop analogizing players to Muhammad Ali or the 1968 Olympics because these situations are entirely different. Muhammad Ali didn’t make political statements inside the ring and he wasn’t an employee, he was a sole practitioner, an independent contractor of boxing.

– – –

4. Most athletes have no idea what normal jobs are like.

 

That’s because most athletes have never had a real job before.

– – –

Expecting athletes to comprehend normal work environments is like asking a freshman in college majoring in biology to perform neurosurgery. They just don’t have the skills or life experience to transcend their own work experiences, which are nothing like just about everyone else’s in the country.

 

5. Athletes, like actors and actresses, are not very smart when it comes to sharing their political opinions.

 

Has there ever been an actor or actress who shared his or her political opinion and you thought, wow, that’s really smart?

– – –

 

I haven’t heard a single athlete speak out yet who has impressed me as being more thoughtful than an average voter. Just like I haven’t heard a single actor or actress do so either. Most athletes end up sounding like Michael Bennett, totally out of touch with reality and not very intelligent with their analogies.

 

The longer they talk the more frequently they end up sounding like Colin Kaepernick, who endorsed Fidel Castro’s treatment of Cuban residents while preparing to play a game in Miami.

 

They’re just tone deaf and not very well informed.

 

Why?

 

Because their job is to play sports, not expound upon the issues of the day.

 

6. Bennett says asking players to stand for the national anthem “sends the wrong message to young kids and young people all across the world that your employer doesn’t see you as a human being.”

 

Are you kidding me?

 

Every young kid in the country who goes into the work force is, at some point in time, going to be given a work assignment he or she doesn’t like. That’s why it is called work and not play.

 

In exchange for doing things that you otherwise would not do, you are paid money.

– – –

 

7. There is nothing in modern American life today that in any way should be analogized to slavery.

 

NOTHING.

 

What do you think Dred Scott would think if we put him in Doc McFly’s Delorean from “Back to the Future” and brought him from 1857 to the present day? Do you think he would see Michael Bennett’s $15.4 million dollar salary to play a three hour game 16 times a year, his $4.35 million dollar second home in Hawaii, and the sundry insane accoutrements that wealth affords today and think to himself,  “Man, this reminds me of when I was a slave in St. Louis in 1857.”

 

Do you think he would consider Michael Bennett’s six month a year job or his freedom to retire from work forever in a couple of years to be in any way analogous to his lifetime of forced servitude?

 

Of course not.

 

To argue otherwise is insanely stupid.

 

The fact that Outkick is the only place in sports media this week pointing out how ridiculous Michael Bennett’s comments are should give you pause.

 

Is it the goal of the sports media to be liked and maintain access to boring press conferences to produce what is said verbatim without commentary, or is it to challenge people in positions of power?

 

Because contrary to what he might believe, Michael Bennett’s not a powerless slave, he’s a powerful multi-millionaire with a voice that carries great weight.

 

When he falsely accuses three minority police officers of being racist or analogizes his own life as a wealthy pro athlete to the most famous slave in American history, he isn’t making the world a better place or advancing the cause of equality and justice which he claims to be motivated by, he’s making American life less honest, more polarized and increasing the partisan divide between all citizens.

 

If Michael Bennett’s goal is to make America better, he’s failing horribly.

 

And so is the sports media reproducing Bennett’s lies and false analogies without a single word of criticism.

 

Dred Scott died penniless in St. Louis in 1858, a year after his case for freedom was rejected by the Supreme Court. He did not live to see slavery end, but his great-grandson would become an attorney and speak at the endowment of a courthouse in his name. His struggles and 59 years as a slave indisputably paved the way for Michael Bennett to become a multi-millionaire playing a game for a living.

 

So there is a connection in Scott’s life’s work and Bennett’s present labors, but it isn’t that modern day pro athletes are slaves too. It’s that modern day pro athletes, black or otherwise, are now so wealthy and disconnected from real life that they have the audacity and idiocy to compare their own lives to his and that they can get away with it because the media is so neutered most are afraid to speak truth to power.

 

Modern day athletes struggles are so minimal in the present day that they equate the right to stand or sit for the national anthem in uniform at work as the equivalent of a 19th century slaves fight for freedom. Michael Bennett should be ashamed of himself and so should anyone else in the media who shared his comments without ridiculing them in the process.

 

Because no athlete has ever shared a dumber analogy than Michael Bennett did yesterday. He should be shamed and ridiculed by all who heard it; the fact that he is neither being shamed nor ridiculed by anyone other than me tells us much more about modern media and society than his analogy ever could.

 

Michael Bennett’s not a slave, in fact he’s actually something much more powerful — the master of the liberal sports media. Because no matter how many lies Bennett tells or how many bad historical analogies he makes, the sports media’s there to do his bidding, covering up his lies as artfully as they possibly can, whitewashing the statements of an ignorant athlete and embossing it with the patina of legitimacy.

 

Bennett’s an idiot when he makes this analogy, but he might not actually know how idiotic he sounds. The sports media does and they don’t say anything about it. In the end, isn’t that ultimately worst of all?

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

The crew of Craig Wrolstad did the Chiefs no favors on Thursday night per Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Some questionable calls went against the Chiefs in their 31-30 loss to the Raiders last night, but Kansas City coach Andy Reid didn’t want to talk about it afterward.

 

A long touchdown catch by Amari Cooper was initially flagged for offensive pass interference, but the officials decided to pick up the flag without explaining why. Asked about the play after the game, Reid declined to comment.

 

“I’m not going to comment on that –– I mean, they’re trying to do their best job,” Reid said. “Whether I agree with it or not, it doesn’t really matter. The call stood and that’s what it was.”

 

A strip sack of Derek Carr by the Chiefs’ defense was also waved off by a questionable illegal contact penalty, and the Raiders’ final drive was extended by multiple Chiefs penalties.

 

“Had a few penalties down the stretch there that got us,” Reid said. “It’s a shame it came down to that, right? Let the guys play there. Let them settle it right there on the field.”

 

On balance, the officials appeared to help the Raiders on Thursday night. But Reid apparently doesn’t think saying so will do any good.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

Michael Silver of NFL.com was there in his beloved East Bay for the craziness of Thursday night’s “season-saving” finish:

 

When it was all over, after the hometown hero’s ejection and the sideline spat and the four false endings and the fantastic finish, Derek Carr didn’t even want to go there.

 

The fourth-year quarterback had just led the Oakland Raiders to a dramatic, 31-30 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, thrilling 55,090 fans at the Oakland Coliseum and a Thursday Night Football audience by completing a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback on a two-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree with no time remaining. Yet what if the Raiders (3-4), a trendy preseason Super Bowl pick, had fallen to the AFC West-leading Chiefs (5-2) and suffered their fifth consecutive defeat in the process, with all sorts of accompanying messiness?

 

“I don’t even want to think about that — golly,” Carr answered as he removed his jersey at his locker, accentuating the last syllable for emphasis like Gomer Pyle back in the day. “You’re gonna make me cry.”

 

Instead of that hypothetical hellfire, Carr preferred to focus on the reality of a magical evening on which his heroics made the Raiders’ coaches, players and extremely tense fans smile like adolescents on the last day of school. And with good reason: Suddenly, all of Oakland’s recent turmoil, some of it tracing back to the first half of Thursday’s game, faded into the background, as the Raiders savored a victory they believe could signify the first of the rest of their 2017 season.

 

Or, as Marshawn Lynch told me as he sliced through the Oakland locker room with half of his face covered by a scarf: “S— … we needed that one.”

 

Ya think?

 

Lynch, the former Seattle Seahawks star who ended his year-long retirement to play for his hometown team — largely in response to the NFL’s approval of the franchise’s move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season — certainly appreciated the outcome. Having struggled since a strong performance in the Raiders’ season-opening victory over the Tennessee Titans, the powerful running back was used sparingly in the first 21 minutes of Thursday’s game, carrying just twice for nine yards.

 

Then, following a play for which he wasn’t even on the field, Lynch finally made an impact. After Carr was stopped nine yards short on a third-down quarterback draw, Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, an Oakland native with whom Lynch has been extremely close since childhood (and to whom he refers as his cousin), came in late and lit up the passer with the $125 million contract who was recently sidelined by a transverse process fracture in his back. That set off a scrum between numerous players on both teams, including Peters.

 

Lynch — in a reaction which friends, family members and teammates told me was motivated by a desire to remove and shield Peters from the fray — charged onto the field toward the Pro Bowl corner, pushing line judge Julian Mapp out of the way in the process. That earned Lynch an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and an automatic ejection, ultimately creating a startling scene in the Raiders’ family section near the north end zone, where Lynch, carrying a backpack with his face half-concealed by the scarf, watched part of the rest of the game from the stands.

 

It was an entertaining affair even before the final drive, partly because the Raiders’ offense came out with a purpose. Carr (29 of 52, 417 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) had his best game of the season, evoking memories of 2016, when he emerged as a bona fide star and led Oakland to seven comeback victories. Wideout Amari Cooper, who’d caught just eight passes for 51 yards and no touchdowns over his previous four games, broke out of his slump in a massive way, with 11 receptions for 210 yards, including a pair of first-quarter touchdowns that went for 38 and 45 yards, respectively.

 

Embattled offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who was promoted from quarterbacks coach to his current role after coach Jack Del Rio’s surprising decision to part ways with Bill Musgrave following the 2016 season, said he made a point of trying to get Cooper untracked early. Del Rio, meanwhile, apparently hit the right notes in the days leading up to the game.

 

“I just saw the demeanor in everyone’s face all week, especially Jack’s,” receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said. “It was, ‘We’ve gotta win — or else.’ We got the job done. That’s all I know. This just shows what we really have. You see it. I see it. We can win.”

 

Beating the Chiefs, who’d stormed out of the gate with five consecutive victories (including a season-opening upset of the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.) in 2017, wasn’t easy. Though Oakland’s defense was energized by the presence of newly signed middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman (11 tackles, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hurry), the former 49ers star who was released by San Francisco six days earlier, trying to contain red-hot quarterback Alex Smith (25 of 36, 342 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions) and dynamic playmakers Tyreek Hill (six catches, 125 yards, one TD) and Kareem Hunt (18 carries, 87 yards) was a struggle.

 

After Kansas City took a 30-21 lead on Harrison Butker’s 37-yard field goal with 47 seconds left in the third quarter, it looked like the Chiefs would capture their 13th consecutive victory over AFC West opponents, and their sixth straight win over the Raiders.

 

But Oakland closed to within six on Giorgio Tavecchio’s 26-yard field goal with 11:56 remaining, and when the Raiders got the ball back at their own 15 with 2:25 to go, Carr had the opportunity he craved. He came up with some huge throws in crucial moments: A 39-yard strike to Cooper on second-and-20; a 13-yard dart over the middle to tight end Jared Cook on fourth-and-11; and, on third-and-10 from the Chiefs’ 29, another pinpoint throw to Cook that carried the falling tight end backward into the end zone near the left pylon.

 

That set off a wild celebration — until a replay review found that Cook had in fact been down inside the 1-yard line: False Ending No. 1.

 

No worries: After receiving a shotgun snap with eight seconds to go, Carr threw a fade in the right corner to Crabtree, who separated from Peters and made the catch. It was a redemptive moment for the veteran receiver, who during the second quarter had engaged in a sideline yelling match with left tackle Donald Penn.

 

“He was telling me not to talk to the refs,” Penn later explained. “I said, ‘I’m good,’ and it continued. We were just both emotional… two guys with tempers. We’re good now. That’s football. We dapped it up after.”

 

After making his apparent game-winning catch, Crabtree threw the ball in celebration, only to see a flag fall near his feet: He’d been called for offensive pass interference, moving the ball back to the 10-yard-line with three seconds remaining. False Ending No. 2.

 

Carr took the next snap and threw toward the middle of the end zone for Cook, but the ball bounced off the tight end’s fingertips, causing the Chiefs to celebrate. However, there was another flag: defensive holding on K.C. safety Ron Parker, setting up an untimed down from the 5. False Ending No. 3.

 

This time, Carr threw to Patterson, who caught the ball just out of the back of the end zone, again apparently dooming the Raiders. Not so fast: Another flag for defensive holding, this time on Chiefs safety Eric Murray. False Ending No. 4.

 

Finally, after receiving a shotgun snap from the 2, Carr sprinted to his left — in opposition to the team’s prevailing tendency to run the play to the right side, which was something Carr and Downing had conceived on the fly — and knew exactly where he wanted to go.

 

“He’s got options,” Crabtree said. “But I’m the first read.”

 

As Crabtree slipped behind the left pylon, just inside of cornerback Terrance Mitchell, Carr zipped him a perfect pass, and the receiver went low to make the catch, setting off another wild celebration.

 

However, it came perilously close to becoming False Ending No. 5: Tavecchio, who earlier had missed field goals of 53 and 45 yards, barely snuck the tiebreaking extra point inside the right upright.

 

“That s— was lit out there,” linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “This is the type of thing we can build on. We needed that confidence builder. They had beaten us the last five times. Hopefully, that’s the key win to get the ball back rolling, like we had it last year.”

 

During his postgame news conference, Carr also spoke of the victory’s potential significance.

 

“This was a big win for our team,” he said. “Especially with the adversity we’ve been through. The last month, there’s been a lot of adversity. We have not had our best games. To fight through and then to come out on the other side of it… man, I thank god, to be honest. It was hard. It was frustrating.”

 

And if the Raiders hadn’t come through?

 

“Two and 5 did not sound good,” he conceded. “That made our stomach hurt. So we wanted to come out here and get a big win.”

 

Largely because of Carr, the Raiders did — and, as he’d wished, avoided confronting an unpleasant scenario that he and his teammates were thrilled to banish from their brains.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

Pat McManamon of ESPN.com on how T JOE THOMAS keeps his amazing streak going:

 

Joe Thomas’ back looked as though he had an exaggerated case of hives Thursday.

 

Large, red circular blotches littered Thomas’ upper back and shoulders. What lingered was the remnants of a “cupping” treatment the Cleveland Browns tackle underwent this week for the first time in his 11-year career.

 

Cupping is a technique from ancient Chinese medicine that involves placing cups on the skin with suction. It is used to help with pain, inflammation and blood flow, and can be a type of deep-tissue massage.

 

Michael Phelps and other Olympians at the 2016 Games also used the technique.

 

Per website WebMD, a therapist at one time would place herbs, alcohol or water in a cup and light it. When the flame goes out, the cup is placed on the skin. As the cup cools, it creates a vacuum, which causes the skin to redden and blood vessels to expand. The cup is left in place for up to three minutes.

 

A more modern type of cupping involves a pump.

 

Results can be immediate.

 

Thomas had the treatment on his upper back, with one cup placed on his arm. He said that his back and shoulders take the brunt of his physical punishment during games, but that after the treatment he noticed a difference in his flexibility.

 

“It feels better than it did before, for sure,” said Thomas, who did not practice Wednesday and Thursday this week in hopes of helping keep him on the field all season. Thomas first heard about the treatment during a presentation Wednesday and jumped at the chance to try it.

 

Thomas has not missed a snap since he was drafted third overall in 2007, a streak of 10,325 in a row. The more Thomas talks, the clearer it becomes just how difficult a process he goes through to be on the field every week.

 

Asked to describe how he feels each Monday, Thomas simply said, “Bad.”

 

But that’s not even his worst day.

 

“For some reason as I’ve gotten older, you get even more sore on Tuesday,” Thomas said.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

S MIKE MITCHELL receives a considerable fine for his dirty hit on Chiefs QB ALEX SMITH.  ESPN.com:

 

The NFL has fined Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell $48,620 for his late hit on Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on Sunday, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Mitchell said in the locker room on Thursday that he’s appealing the fine but had no further comment.

 

Mitchell was fined as a repeat offender, having already accumulated two fines for unnecessary roughness.

 

A source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that Mitchell also got an additional fine for grabbing Smith’s face mask on the same play. The minimum fine for such an offense is $9,115, but Mitchell might be docked $18,231 because he’s a repeat offender.

 

Smith has been vocal about the hit, saying he was “fired up” after the Chiefs’ 19-13 loss because of the play and then calling the hit “as flagrant as it gets” on Tuesday after he had a chance to watch video of the play.

 

Mitchell received a 15-yard penalty for the hit. On Monday he said that he tripped and then was shoved by a teammate before hitting Smith.

 

“I’m not a dirty player,” Mitchell said.

 

If anybody was likely to have an opinion about Mitchell, it would be Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Mitchell knocked Green out of a game in 2014.The jarring hit gave Green a concussion that kept him out of the 2014 AFC wild-card game. But Green just shrugged when asked about Mitchell, saying that it was part of the game.

 

“He tells me I’m a good player. It’s all mutual respect out there,” Green said. “Whatever happens out there, I don’t feel he’s a dirty player, man. He just plays with a lot of emotions.”

 

“That’s his style of play,” Green added. “That’s what makes him a starting safety in this league, and he’s a good one, he’s a great one.”

 

You can watch here, but the CBS replay angle is not determinative to Mitchell’s contention he was tripped by his teammate.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

JACKSONVILLE

RB LEONARD FOURNETTE expects to play this week despite a balky ankle.  Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:

 

Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette says he believes his sprained right ankle will not keep him out Sunday against Indianapolis, but said “it’s up to my coaches if they’re going to let me play or not.”

 

Fournette said Thursday that he ran for the first time since he was injured late in the Jaguars’ 27-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. He’s expected to do some change-of-direction work Friday to see if his ankle can handle the strain.

 

If it is up to Fournette, he’ll be on the field against the Colts.

 

“[The injury] wasn’t nothing too serious,” he said. “Everything was progressing, so just taking it a day at a time right now.”

 

Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette ran for a 75-yard touchdown on Sunday against the Rams but later suffered a sprained ankle in the game. Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Fournette was injured when he was tackled by Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson on a first-down run with 9:58 to play. His foot appeared to get caught underneath him as he was being brought to the ground. He got up and tried to hop to the sideline before he went back to the ground.

 

Coach Doug Marrone said Fournette was cleared to return to the game, but he was not on the field during the Jaguars’ last possession. Not having Fournette would obviously be a significant loss because he is the key to the Jaguars’ offense, which leads the NFL in rushing (165.8 yards per game).

 

Fournette is second in the league in rushing (596 yards) and carries (130) and also has 15 catches for 136 yards. He accounts for 36.4 percent of the Jaguars’ total offensive yardage.

 

That’s a higher percentage than any other non-quarterback in the NFL, except for Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt (38.1 percent) and Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown (38.1 percent).

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

Connor Hughes of the Newark Star-Ledger on the likely return this week of RB BILAL POWELL:

 

Bilal Powell is back.

 

The versatile running back, who missed the Jets’ last five practices and last week’s loss to the Patriots with a calf injury, practiced fully on Thursday, coach Todd Bowles said. Trainers have cleared Powell. He will play against the Dolphins.

 

“It’ll be good,” Bowles said. “It will give us another healthy body. Hopefully we can make some plays.”

 

Powell originally injured his calf towards the end of the Jets’ Week 5 win over the Browns. He has 312 total yards and two touchdowns this season. Powell had a season-high 163 yards in the Jets’ 23-20 overtime victory over the Jaguars in Week 4.

 

John Morton deserves credit for Jets’ offense

With Powell back, the Jets will have their full complement of backs for the first time since Week 2. Powell joins starter Matt Forte and rookie Eli McGuire. The three have combined for 554 yards and three touchdowns on the ground this year.

 

The Jets hope Powell ignites a run game which has been stagnant as of late. In their last two games, the Jets have just 108 yards on the ground.

– – –

S JAMAL ADAMS wants to be a transformative figure in the history of safety play.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The Jets began rebuilding the back end of their defense in this year’s draft by taking safety Jamal Adams with the sixth overall pick of the draft and Adams has designs on doing more than just changing the Jets secondary.

 

Adams told Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News that he has set his sights on doing things that will affect the game across the league, pointing to Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham when describing the kind of impact he wants to make.

 

“I’m going to change the position,” Adams said. “When you go out there on the field, you don’t try to stay the same. You try to make something happen. You try to do something different. When Odell made the one-handed catch, he changed the culture, right? He changed what receivers do now. Everybody’s catching with one hand, right? Because of him. Even though people were making one-handed catches, he did something that people had never seen before. So just give it time, brother. That’s all.”

 

Adams didn’t specify exactly what he has in mind for reshaping the safety position, but coming up with the answer to guarding Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Adams had the roughest outing of what’s been an otherwise strong start to his career against the Patriots last week and joined a long list of safeties who have found Gronkowski to be more than they could handle.

 

Solving that conundrum in a way that others could emulate would make for the kind of change Adams is talking about, although it certainly falls into the easier said than done category given Gronkowski’s accomplishments over the years.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

ANTHEM

49ers CEO Jed York, who has been very supportive from the start of Colin Kaepernick’s right to use the National Anthem to protest the wrongs he perceives in America, says his former QBs continued unemployment is not a “blackball” situation.  This from a man who gave $1 million of 49ers gold to Kaep’s causes.  Nick Wagoner at ESPN.com:

 

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York has been one of the NFL’s most outspoken owners when it comes to supporting the right of players to protest, as protests during the national anthem have dotted the league in the past year-plus.

 

On the heels of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick filing a grievance alleging NFL collusion to keep him from playing in the NFL, York was asked Thursday whether Kaepernick has been treated fairly by the league since he opted out of his contract in March.

 

“It’s very difficult for me to say that with Colin being here for a long period of time,” York said. “Obviously, there’s the lawsuit that’s going on, so it’s hard for me to get into any details or really share my opinion, but I don’t believe that there’s base to that claim that he’s being blackballed.”

 

Earlier this week, York attended the NFL’s fall owners meetings in New York, taking part in both the general meeting with the other 31 owners and the special meeting that included 13 current or former players, 11 owners and representatives from the league and the NFL Players Association.

 

The latter meeting took place Tuesday afternoon and included York and 49ers safety Eric Reid. The focus of those conversations was how to address topics such as racial inequality and police brutality, which were initially the issues Kaepernick wanted to highlight when he first knelt during the national anthem last year.

 

“I think the more that you had owners and players together, not just me meeting with 49ers players but several owners meeting with players from different teams, and it’s not about collective bargaining issues, it’s not about workplace environment, it’s really understanding where different people come from,” York said. “You’re seeing people who might not understand that firsthand and they’re getting a much better perspective.”

 

York also emphasized that the meetings in New York were meant to focus on listening and learning rather than some sort of negotiation intended to get players to stand for the national anthem in exchange for something.

 

“This is very, very important: The owners were very clear in our meeting with just players and owners that this is not a trade,” York said. “This is not, ‘We’re going to do this for you and quid pro quo, you stand up.’ That was not there. From a players’ standpoint, I don’t think that they want to give up their First Amendment rights for any amount of money or any amount of support for things from a social standpoint.

 

“I think we want to have a better partnership and a better understanding of one another to say, ‘We would like to get back to just playing football.’ I don’t think anybody should be ashamed of saying that because our fans are telling you we want to get back to football. But our players are saying, ‘We want our message to be heard clearly and loudly,’ and that’s what we’re trying to figure out. … We’re not going to make you stand, and we want to make our country and our communities a better place, not because you’re forcing us to but because we’re compelled to. I think that’s the important thing here.”

 

Because York is the owner of the team where the protests originated, he has offered a perspective that’s a bit different from other owners’ perspectives. York said Thursday there might be misconceptions about his political background because of his support for Kaepernick, Reid and other players, but York acknowledged that he has grown more open-minded living in California.

 

“For me to meet with the LGBTQ community, for me to meet with folks that have different racial backgrounds and different ethnic backgrounds and different socioeconomic backgrounds, again, I think everything starts from conversation,” York said. “And the more you can have conversation, the more you can actually see where other people are coming from, I think the more enlightened you can be. And for me, I am not the most left-wing person in the world. I realize people are trying to sort of paint me as that. … That’s not my background politically and how I grew up, but I think a lot of these things are common-sense issues, and when you actually sit down and talk to people and you know where people are coming from, it’s hard to not be sympathetic and empathetic.”

 

Last year, York and the Niners offered support for Kaepernick with a $1 million donation to causes that were in lockstep with issues Kaepernick was trying to call attention to. York also spoke out against the North Carolina bathroom bill, which would have required those who identify as transgender to use the restroom that matches their biological sex.

 

As for Kaepernick, Reid has already made it clear he believes that his former quarterback has been blackballed and deserves a job. But Reid also has praised York for how he has handled the protests and how he approached the owners meetings.

 

“He’s had the most experience with players protesting since we were the first team to do it, and he spoke up, which was cool,” Reid said. “I really appreciated the role that he played in that meeting.”

 

 

THE CASE FOR CHAOS

While some may chafe at NFL players trying to express individuality/protest while in uniform, Robert Klemko of TheMMQB.com thinks the NFL is a fortress of repression.

 

In 1985, with his Bears on the verge of a 15-1 finish, Jim McMahon received one of the first warnings of its kind from the Pete Rozelle-led NFL. If he continued wearing Adidas-branded headbands during games once Chicago reached the playoffs, he would be fined. McMahon, the rebel child of his era, forged ahead with his illicit gear. He was fined $5,000.

 

In 2007, a little more than a year into Roger Goodell’s tenure as commissioner, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher dared to don a Vitaminwater hat during the expanded Super Bowl media day festivities that would, in subsequent years, become a television spectacle for the league’s in-house television network. His fine: $100,000. Less than a decade later, Marshawn Lynch was fined $100,000 for not speaking to the media enough over a period of two seasons.

 

This is the NFL Roger Goodell created. Stars are propped up in forums invented entirely by the league, and dealt harsh punishments when they take ownership of their individual marketability and stray from NFL-approved branding, or abstain from the spectacle altogether. In this climate, where socks worn too low elicit punishment from the league, it’s easy to understand why the NFL’s very careful efforts to encourage but not require players to forgo their protests and stand during the national anthem have fallen on many deaf ears.

 

Critics of the protests and the NFL’s handling of them point out that the NBA has a rule on the books forbidding anything but standing during the playing of the national anthem. It’s a policy that seems counter to the culture of openness that permeates today’s NBA, where players appear much more comfortable speaking on political issues, and even coaches join the discussion, with men like Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich recently slamming President Trump (see: Popovich’s “soulless coward” rant). But it’s precisely because of this culture that the NBA gets away with legislating patriotic displays.

 

In the NBA media universe, there are entire websites devoted to the various shoes that players wear in games, and the league doesn’t just allow that form of individual expression and branding, it encourages it. Players who don’t speak to the media are granted solace, and players aren’t fined for writing messages on their shoes. A team’s or the league’s public relations staff has less influence over what players do or say.

 

The NFL has been able to effectively manage the public-facing aspects of NFL players’ lives in large part because of the relative impermanence of players. The “next man up” mentality professed by coaches and players alike is a consequence of the violence of the game. Then there’s the literal lack of recognition of players themselves, a result of wearing helmets and facemasks while playing only 16-to-20 meaningful games each year. It creates a peculiar anonymity among men at the peak of their profession.

 

This was all well and good, until players began cultivating social media followings that elevated them from cogs on 53-man rosters. Eagles teammates Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Long, two players invited to NFL meetings this week to discuss solutions to the anthem protests, have a combined Twitter following of more than 500,000 users, about 20% of the following of the Eagles’ team account. Websites like The Players Tribune emerged to take advantage of athletes’ demands to take their words out of the hands of reporters and media relations staffers.

 

Players earned their social-media followings during an era when the league office was trying to stamp out the sort of individuality it couldn’t manage and plaster on boilerplate branding with themes of unity and family. The anthem demonstrations, as much as they are about protesting racial inequality and sticking it to Donald Trump, are about a rejection of the league’s ramped up measures to legislate individuality. In this environment of awakening and rebellion—made possible by Roger Goodell—don’t expect the players to go quietly.