The Daily Briefing Thursday, September 14, 2017

AROUND THE NFL

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Appealing the ruling of the Dallas-based federal judge Amos Mazzant, the NFL does not tell the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals court that they treated RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT fairly.  Instead, the flyover state justices are told that the 2-1 decision in New York’s 2nd Circuit in the Deflategate case commands that the players have bargained away their constitutional protections and that NFL Justice can do whatever it wants and no one, not even a life-appointed federal judge, can do anything about it.

 

The AP:

 

The NFL is trying to accelerate the timeline in its appeal of a federal judge’s injunction that blocked Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension over a domestic violence case.

 

The NFL quickly answered a filing from Elliott’s attorneys Wednesday, telling U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant that the league would immediately go to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans if he didn’t rule on its request for a stay of his injunction by Thursday.

 

The legal maneuverings are unlikely to keep last year’s NFL rushing leader from playing Sunday at Denver. He had already been cleared to play in a season-opening win over the New York Giants before Mazzant granted his request for an injunction.

 

The NFL had until Friday to respond to arguments from Elliott’s camp against Mazzant putting his injunction on hold pending hearings. In that scenario, Mazzant wouldn’t have ruled until next week.

 

”If this court declines to grant relief, respondents intend to seek a stay from the Court of Appeals and believe it is important to give the Court of Appeals the opportunity to act promptly,” NFL attorneys wrote.

 

The 22-year-old Elliott was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell last month, and attorneys representing Elliott for the NFL Players’ Association contended in a lawsuit that Elliott didn’t get a fair hearing in an appeal that was denied.

 

Elliott was suspended after the league concluded he had several physical confrontations last summer with Tiffany Thompson, a former girlfriend. Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided about a year ago not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence.

 

In their latest filing, attorneys for Elliott argue that the NFL can’t meet the standard for irreparable harm because the league can still suspend the Dallas star if its wins on appeal.

 

The league argues that the harm is in Mazzant’s ruling interfering with a labor deal that was approved by both sides.

 

”Petitioner should not be allowed to evade its CBA obligations by delaying suspensions indefinitely through the courts,” NFL attorneys wrote.

 

A notice has been filed with the federal appeals court, but future filings with the three-judge panel in New Orleans have been on hold while the league followed the procedure of asking Mazzant for a stay of his ruling.

 

The NFL said its conclusions in suspending Elliott after a yearlong investigation were based on photographs, text messages and other electronic evidence. The running back denied the allegations under oath during the appeal.

 

The league has argued that it acted within the parameters of a labor agreement that gives Goodell broad authority to suspend players, and that the appeal process was consistent with its personal conduct policy.

 

Attorneys for Elliott contended that the appeal hearing before Harold Henderson was unfair because Henderson barred Thompson and Goodell from testifying and excluded notes from the investigation that were favorable to Elliott. Mazzant’s ruling for the injunction largely agreed.

 

Elliott, who had 1,631 yards rushing last year as a rookie, finished with 104 yards in the 19-3 win over the Giants.

 

Steve Silver of AboveTheLaw.com, writing before Harold Henderson upheld Elliott’s suspension, explains why the NFLPA has a tough row to hoe no matter how unfair the process that convicted Elliott may seem:

 

While Elliott was learning how to drive a car, the NFL Players Association was handing Roger Goodell the keys to an unstoppable disciplinary machine without regard for fairness, due process, or sanity.

 

There is no way to reconcile Elliott’s six game suspension for alleged domestic violence without any criminal charges being filed while kicker Josh Brown got one game — and he admitted abusing his wife. Let’s also not forget that Tom Brady served a four game suspension for maybe knowing that footballs were a little deflated while Ray Rice initially received a two-game suspension and a standing ovation from Ravens fans after knocking his fiancé unconscious in an Atlantic City casino.

 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this arbitrary disciplinary system is exactly what the NFLPA bargained for when it agreed to Article 46 of the CBA.  That section granted Goodell the broad power to discipline players for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.”

 

When the CBA doomed Brady’s effort to appeal the Deflategate suspension to the Second Circuit, I wrote that “Tom Brady Got Exactly What the NFLPA Bargained For” and when that pesky agreement halted Adrian Peterson’s appeal of a suspension to the Eighth Circuit, I wrote a remix titled “The Shoddy NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement Claims Its Latest Victim: Adrian Peterson.”

 

The deck is already stacked against Elliott — and the NFLPA should have seen it coming.

 

First, the CBA provides Goodell with the power to either sit as the arbitrator himself as he did in Deflategate, or unilaterally appoint one. The appointment of Henderson is particularly troubling for Elliott because Henderson is the president of the Player Care Foundation, a League-affiliated charity. He previously served for sixteen years as the League’s vice president for labor relations and chairman of the NFL Management Council Executive Committee. He also sided with the league in upholding Peterson’s suspension, which the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals later affirmed.

 

That glaring conflict of interest illustrates why the players needed to pay more attention to the CBA before it was ratified in 2011.

 

As the Hon. Steven Colloton held while writing for a three-judge panel on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Peterson’s case:

 

Allowing the Commissioner or the Commissioner’s designee to hear challenges to the Commissioner’s decisions may present an actual or apparent conflict of interest for the arbitrator. But the parties bargained for this procedure, and the Association consented to it. See CBA art. 46 § 2(a). It was foreseeable that arbitration under the Agreement sometimes would involve challenges to the credibility of testimony from Goodell or other League employees. When parties to a contract elect to resolve disputes through arbitration, a grievant can ask no more impartiality than inheres in the method they have chosen.

 

Second, nothing in the CBA compels the league to produce witnesses for cross-examination or to turn over key evidence. Prior to the appeals hearing, Henderson denied Elliott’s request to make his accuser available for cross-examination. Since she would not be available live, Elliott asked to examine the league’s notes from its multiple interviews with her. That too failed.

 

Since we know how the Eighth Circuit would come down on such a one-sided process, how about looking across the country in the Second Circuit? Elliott is toast there too.

 

While putting Deflategate to bed once and for all last year, the Hon. Barrington D. Parker explained that:

 

If it is seriously believed that these procedures were deficient or prejudicial, the remedy was to address them during collective bargaining. . . . Had the parties wished to restrict the Commissioner’s authority, they could have fashioned a different agreement.

 

With a league ally as the arbitrator and two Circuit Court decisions upholding the sanctity of the CBA — Elliott is rushing toward a dead end.

 

Even with one of the top litigators in the country, Jeffrey Kessler, by his side, Elliott is bound for a repeat of the NFL’s victories in the Brady and Peterson cases should he pursue his appeal in federal court.

 

If Henderson upholds the suspension, Elliott’s legal team will likely pin their hopes on proving that the decision was “fundamentally unfair,” which Kessler succeeded in doing for Brady in the Southern District of New York, before the Second Circuit reversed.

 

However, that is a difficult argument to win again and Elliott’s chances of success largely depend on which venue a potential appeal is heard in.

 

At this point, all signs indicate that Elliott will be another hard lesson for the NFLPA to remember when it sits down to negotiate the next CBA in just a few years.

 

Michael McCann, SI.com’s legal eagle, goes over the ruling of the Dallas-based Judge Mazzant to accord relief in the face of the NFL’s extraordinary rights to whatever brand of justice it wishes to administer:

 

In his opinion, Judge Mazzant openly acknowledged that he was obligated to accord high deference to the NFL. “It is a narrow exception and rare circumstance,” the judge wrote, “[in] which a court interferes with an arbitral award.” This language is important since if the NFL appeals, the league will contend that Judge Mazzant misunderstood and misapplied the law. So in his order, the judge wanted to correctly enunciate the law. Despite this deference, Judge Mazzant found the NFL’s review of Elliott to consist of “unique and egregious facts” along with “extreme circumstances” which collectively “necessitated” the judge’s intervention.

 

Put more basically, Judge Mazzant reasoned that the NFL had to be really bad in its review and punishment of Elliott in order for the judge to grant an injunction. Judge Mazzant found that the NFL was, in fact, really bad.

 

Returning to the four prongs, Judge Mazzant stresses that Elliott has a high probability of success on the merits for several reasons. In doing so, the judge, as expected, highlighted the league inexplicably obscuring the knowledge of Kia Roberts, the NFL’s Director of Investigations and the only co-league investigator who interviewed Elliott’s accuser, Tiffany Thompson. Compounding that problem, Judge Mazzant reasoned, was the decision-making of Henderson. Judge Mazzant sharply criticizes Henderson for denying Elliott access to the investigator’s notes or an opportunity to cross-examine Thompson.

 

Judge Mazzant, of course, acknowledged that the NFL couldn’t force Thompson to testify—the league is a private company and has no subpoena power. However, the judge stresses, “the record indicates that the NFL did not even ask Thompson to testify. Thompson was cooperative throughout the entirety of the NFL’s investigation, and there is nothing in the record to suggest that she was unwilling to testify at the arbitration hearing.”

 

Further, Judge Mazzant pays substantial attention to Henderson, who, Judge Mazzant asserts, denied Elliott a fair appeal. Indeed, Elliott and the NFLPA “had the burden of convincing [Henderson] that Commissioner Goodell’s decision was arbitrator and capricious.” Yet Henderson, Judge Mazzant concludes, essentially made it impossible for Elliott to meet that burden by denying Elliott access to critical evidence.

 

Judge Mazzant’s lengthy criticism of Henderson is noteworthy since it suggests that Elliott would likely win his lawsuit if it is ever reviewed by Judge Mazzant.

 

Judge Mazzant also found that Elliott met prong two by showing how he would be irreparably harmed without an injunction. Although the NFL could ultimately reimburse Elliott for lost game checks, the judge stressed that missing part of the season “potentially deprives Elliott of the ability to achieve individual successes and honors.” Further, Judge Mazzant notes that NFL careers are “short and precarious,” so Elliott missing mere weeks is akin to most of us missing months or years of our careers.

 

Further, Judge Mazzant concluded that issuing an injunction “does not eviscerate the internal procedures of the NFL and NFLPA.” This point goes to the third prong—that issuing an injunction would cause more harm to the NFL than the amount of harm Elliott would suffer if an injunction were denied. Judge Mazzant found that, “given the current set of facts,” an injunction “merely ensures the internal procedures [of the CBA] are being carried out in the appropriate manner.”

 

Lastly, Judge Mazzant found that issuing an injunction advanced public policy, and thus comports with prong four. “While the Court agrees that there is a preference for private settlements,” Judge Mazzant wrote, “the Court still retains review over the arbitral process to maintain minimum standards of fairness.”

 

If Goodell places Elliott on the “Exempt List” expect Elliott to seek another injunction from Judge Mazzant

 

Elliott will play in Week 1. But Judge Mazzant’s order doesn’t necessarily guarantee that he will play in Week 2. The order blocks the NFL from imposing the suspension.

 

The order does not block the NFL from placing Elliott on the “Exempt List.” This list is controversial for a variety reasons, including that it is explained not in the CBA—a document assented to by players—but instead in a league-issued document, the NFL Player Personnel Policy Manual. A player placed on the Exempt List is essentially put on paid suspension. He receives paychecks but is denied the chance to work. In most workplaces, this type of punishment is referred to as “administrative leave.”

 

If Goodell places Elliott on the Exempt List, Elliott and the NFLPA will immediately seek an injunction from Judge Mazzant. They would contend, with good reason, that placement of Elliott on the Exempt List would undermine the existing injunction issued by Judge Mazzant. This is particularly true in regards to Judge Mazzant’s reasoning on irreparable harm: Elliott missing games—which would be true whether he is suspended with or without pay—would damage his career since he would be denied a chance to accumulate statistics and improve his skills.

 

The NFL will appeal and the NFL does well on appeals

 

Cowboys fans and fantasy football owners who have Elliott on their team are likely happy tonight. The current landscape of Elliott’s legal situation is that he will be available for perhaps months, maybe the entire 2017 season.

 

Notice the word “current” and recall how Brady and Adrian Peterson won at the district court level as well. Both later lost on appeal.

 

The NFL can—and almost surely will—appeal the preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The NFL could file a notice of appeal as soon as this weekend and submit an accompanying brief early next week. The speed of an appeal is uncertain at this point, but remember when U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson issued a preliminary injunction for NFL players during the 2011 lockout: the NFL immediately appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and within four days—yes, four days—a three-judge panel on the Eighth Circuit stayed the injunction, meaning the NFL obtained a reversal in the same week.

 

You might observe that when the NFL appealed Tom Brady’s victory before U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in September 2015, the appeal wasn’t heard until March 2016 and wasn’t decided until the end of April 2016. That would all be true, but Brady obtained a different type of legal “win.” He persuaded Judge Berman to vacate the arbitration award (i.e. hearing officer Roger Goodell upholding commissioner Roger Goodell’s four-game suspension of Brady). Elliott, in contrast, has only persuaded Judge Mazzant to enjoin the arbitration award’s accompanying suspension—in other words, the award still exists. Also, appeals for injunctions tend to move faster than those for other kinds of remedies.

 

The NFL is probably optimistic it will win at the Fifth Circuit. At some point after the appeal is filed, a panel of three Fifth Circuit judges will review the appeal. The Fifth Circuit is known in legal circles as very friendly to management and business. Republican presidents nominated nine of the 14 judges on the Fifth Circuit. It is a favorable court for the NFL.

 

In an appeal, the NFL will re-litigate the four prongs and insist that Judge Mazzant misapplied them. The league will also stress its legal victories over Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson. While those decisions are non-binding in the Fifth Circuit, they are persuasive authority and, in terms of procedure, in some ways on-point.

 

For instance, the Second Circuit ruled that Brady was not entitled to investigative notes because Article 46 doesn’t express that right. Judge Mazzant—just like Judge Berman before him—viewed that topic differently, finding that fairness requires that those notes be shared. Mindful of the Brady decision, Judge Mazzant attempted to distinguish the two sets of evidence and testimony by arguing that investigative materials for Elliott are “material, pertinent, and critically important.” The NFL would contend there is no viable distinction. Further, the NFL would, like in Brady and Peterson, assert that Article 46 accords nearly unlimited authority to Goodell to determine whether a player committed “conduct detrimental to the league” and if so, what ought to be the punishment.

 

If Elliott ultimately prevails at the Fifth Circuit . . .

 

If Elliott can overcome the odds yet again and defeat the NFL on appeal before the Fifth Circuit, it would be a true game-changer. Suspended players would try to file lawsuits in that forum, knowing that precedent in the Fifth Circuit favored players when challenging NFL suspensions. For its part, the NFL would appeal Elliott’s appellate win to the U.S. Supreme Court and there would be a chance the Supreme Court takes it: the Fifth Circuit’s reasoning on Article 46 would seemingly be incompatible with the reasoning of the Second Circuit (Brady) and Eighth Circuit (Peterson). To be sure, the Supreme Court only accepts about 1% for review, but you never know—so-called “circuit splits” are prime candidates for review. Perhaps this is one reason why the NFL seeks to move the Elliott case to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York: to avoid a potential defeat in the Fifth Circuit and subsequent “forum shopping” by players.

 

Only time will tell and only one thing is for sure: these are interesting days in the world of NFL justice.

 

NFL spinmeister Joe Lockhart wants everyone to know the NFL is doing everything in its power to suspend Elliott as quickly as possible.  Will Brinson of CBSSports.com:

 

For those wondering about confirmation for the Cowboys having Ezekiel Elliott on the field for Sunday’s Week 2 game against the Broncos in Denver, there is some good news: he is pretty much a lock to play as of lunchtime on Wednesday, at least from a discipline perspective.

 

On a conference call with media members, NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart said he “would assume” that Elliott will play Sunday. Elliott was previously suspended six games by the NFL this offseason over a 2016 domestic violence incident, but Elliott sued the NFL (as one does) and was granted a temporary restraining order allowing him to play.

 

But things could get a little murky as the season moves along. According to Lockhart, he does not believe it is “likely” that Elliott will play the rest of the season.

 

“It is possible,” Lockhart said. “But I don’t know that I would go so far as to say likely.”

 

This could be one of two things. It could be the NFL throwing a public barb out there to try and take a shot at Elliott’s legal team and the Cowboys and Elliott’s fantasy owners. Or it could be the NFL trying to push the narrative that it is attempting to speed up the legal process in the Elliott battle.

 

We haven’t found the makeup of the three-judge panel that will hear the appeal.  Although the court is based in New Orleans, its members come from all over the South.  But if two of the judges happen to be from Louisiana where memories of NFL Justice and Bountygate linger…

 

NFC SOUTH

 

NEW ORLEANS

Cory Gunkel of RealClearSports.com smells a coaching change in New Orleans:

 

Nothing about the New Orleans Saints’ Monday night stinker was especially surprising  to those who understand what the team has been reduced to under longtime head coach Sean Payton.

 

The Saints’ offense is still potent but no longer talented enough to carry the team, as veteran QB Drew Brees gracefully ages behind a papier-mache offensive line. Despite boasting a Hall of Fame quarterback who would start on nearly every other team in the league, along with a bevy of talented skill position players to work with, the Saints simply aren’t good enough on that side of the ball to mask a defense that made journeyman quarterback Sam Bradford look like Aaron Rodgers.

 

It doesn’t matter how many solid running backs you throw into the cocktail. Payton seems to have lost the play-calling flair that once enabled him to lord over the rest of the league on offense from 2009 to 2013.

 

Which brings us to where we are now, dissecting yet another Saints prime-time dud, the fifth time they’ve lost on Monday Night Football in their past six tries. The home field advantage once enjoyed by a raucous Superdome has completely evaporated, and the team has gone 10-14 in road games since Payton’s last playoff appearance.

 

This might be tough for some of you to hear, so make sure you’re sitting down (or at least three beers deep).

 

It’s time for Sean Payton to go.

 

Now, before you pour Tony Chachere’s in my eyeballs Saints fans, look at yourself in the mirror. Stare into your own eyes and ask yourselves: Is Sean Payton ever going to bring another Super Bowl to the Big Easy?

 

We both already know the answer. And if he isn’t, then what’s the point of keeping him around? Rewarding mediocrity is something you should reserve for the Pelicans.

 

The Saints haven’t had a winning record now in a staggering 1,354 days. That is an incredible statistic for a head coach who was signed to a five-year extension for more than $45 million just last year. New Orleans has now gone 7-9 four times in the past five seasons with Payton at the helm, and is staring down the barrel of another losing record before the faithful Who Dat Nation has even had the chance to march from their cars to the Superdome for the home opener.

 

A home opener, mind you, against a pissed off Bill Belichick-led Patriots team coming off its own prime-time thumping just last week.

 

Not ideal!

 

By now, Saints fans and casual NFL observers alike have resigned themselves to understanding how bad the team’s defense will be. Payton’s squads are routinely relegated to the bottom of nearly every defensive statistic, and there is no reason to believe that that will change until the head coach does as well. You don’t need to see the jaw-dropping statistics plastered across this page to know that. Just watch the tape of Sam Bradford dropping dimes.

 

Sean Payton was a magnificent hire at the time, and he has undoubtedly developed into the best coach in team history. But paying for sentimentality and nostalgia is always a mistake. Payton has proved that he no longer has the offensive acumen to overcome his revulsion of defense, and the Saints are stuck in purgatory because of it.

 

I’ll miss the Blue Steel sideline looks he gives on a regular basis. We’ll forever remember the ballsiest call in football, when Payton started the second half of a Super Bowl he was losing with an onside kick that forever changed the franchise. The Sean Payton era in New Orleans culminated in a revitalized region snagging a Super Bowl in a way that captivated the entire Gulf Coast. Nobody can take those memories away from you. Enjoy the good ol’ days, Saints fans, and look back at Payton’s time in NOLA with fondness.

 

But it’s time to move on.

 

If Drew Brees follows suit and chases a massive payday somewhere else after this season, so be it. Overpaying an aging legend for nostalgia’s sake will only further prevent the inevitable rebuild that’s coming. There’s a reason Jimmy Garoppolo still stands on the sideline of Gillette Stadium in New England. As soon as Tom Brady begins to slip, Belichick is moving on like a man in a country song.

 

Sean Payton is no longer equipped to win big games with the Saints. He’s not even equipped to make the playoffs, something he hasn’t done since the 2013 season. That was 34 Browns quarterbacks ago! Right now, Payton is simply a $45 million drain on the franchise who has flatlined as a head coach.

 

His defense, which finds new ways to break all the wrong NFL records, looks just as bad as its historically poor 2016 offering. The offense, as it has done so many times before, is stuck playing catch-up despite its own unique set of struggles, starting with Payton’s play-calling.

 

Nothing has changed. What tangible moves have general manager Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton made to make you think it ever will? We’ll be waiting for that answer longer than Falcons fans will wait on a Super Bowl ring.

 

A change of scenery for Payton might re-energize another team and inject some life into his coaching that could pay dividends for a different franchise. But it won’t be in New Orleans.

 

After Monday night’s embarrassment, Payton began his press conference looking overwhelmed and shell-shocked.

 

“I don’t know where to begin,” he muttered. I think we all do, coach.

 

Laissez les bons temps tomber.

 

Let the good times go.

 

NFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES RAMS

The Rams defense destroyed Indianapolis last week – and now they are adding one of the elite defenders in football to the mix.  Marc Sessler at NFL.com:

 

The Rams are ripping the training wheels off Aaron Donald.

 

After ending his holdout over the weekend, the All-Pro defensive tackle was back at practice on Wednesday ahead of Sunday’s tilt with the Washington Redskins.

 

Coach Sean McVay told reporters after the session that Donald, the club’s unquestioned defensive centerpiece, looked “fast and fresh” in practice, per the team’s official website.

 

McVay said he anticipates Donald suiting up against Washington, adding that if the behemoth plays, he will start the game — with or without a new deal.

 

“The way I chose to handle it is the way I chose to handle it,” Donald said of his decision to hold out. “And I’m here now.”

 

We fully expect Donald to play, giving defensive coordinator Wade Phillips a titanic Christmas gift three months early.

 

The Rams’ defense was opportunistic and chaos-causing against the Colts last Sunday and now will face a Redskins attack that looked disorganized in their Week 1 loss to the Eagles.

 

As Washington’s former offensive play-caller, McVay knows his former team — and their quarterback, Kirk Cousins — as well as anyone in the NFL.

 

That knowledge is doubly dangerous with Donald back in the mix as one of the league’s premier, game-plan-wrecking whirlwinds.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

QB ALEX SMITH is viewing 2017 as his swan song in Kansas City.  John Breech of CBSSports.com:

 

You could make a strong argument that the NFL’s best quarterback in Week 1 was Alex Smith. During the Kansas City Chiefs’ 42-27 win over New England, Smith threw for 368 yards and four touchdowns, a performance that was good enough to be named AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday.

 

The funny thing about Smith’s award is that if he were to win it again in Week 1 next season, he may be doing it for a different team. During a recent interview on In Depth with Graham Bensinger, Smith admitted that it “absolutely” feels like it’s going to be his final season with the Chiefs.

 

Bensinger opened up the interview by asking Smith if it felt like the 2017 season would be his last year in Kansas City.

 

“For sure,” Smith said. “It absolutely does. Without a doubt.”

 

Despite his brutally honest answer, Smith didn’t sound bitter about his situation. The Chiefs quarterback said that getting dumped by a team is just one of the harsh realities that comes with playing in the NFL.

 

“Structurally, the contract, the guarantees are less, and that’s just the reality,” Smith said. “You have to prove yourself year in and year out and if you can’t get the job done, every team is going to go and try and find somebody else that can. That’s the reality of the deal. I don’t care who you are.”

 

For most NFL quarterbacks, leading a team to a 12-4 record and a division title — as Smith did with the Chiefs last season — is pretty good for job security. However, it seems Smith definitely understands he may not be around much longer in Kansas City.

 

“You’re a veteran, you’re expected to perform and play at a certain level, and if you don’t, the team, they’re not just going to keep going, they’re going to try and find someone else that can [play],” Smith said. “No different this year than every year. That’s just the way it is. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, either. That’s a nature of the business at this point.”

 

Although it was difficult for him to watch, Smith said he wasn’t completely surprised when the Chiefs traded up to select Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

“It was hard,” Smith said of watching the Chiefs taking a quarterback. “I knew we were potentially going to take a quarterback. We hadn’t really spent a lot of draft capital on a quarterback since I’ve been here. I definitely knew it was a possibility.”

 

Smith’s biggest problem with the trade, which involved the Chiefs giving up the 27th pick in the draft, along with their first-round choice in 2018 and a third-rounder in 2017, is that it hampered the team’s efforts to build for the this season.

 

“We have a lot of expectations for winning now,” Smith said. “We got this window of opportunity and let’s take advantage, and here was a draft pick that maybe could’ve of contributed [this year], and now, I’m hoping that he sits for awhile.”

 

Smith would’ve preferred to see the team use their 2017 first-round pick on someone who could’ve contributed to the team right away.

 

“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Smith said of seeing Mahomes get drafted. “It’s like, man, [we] could’ve added this or this or this position or this player.”

 

Although Smith didn’t want the Chiefs to take a quarterback, he said that there’s no animosity among the team’s QBs.

 

“If something comes up with Patrick that I see and I want to say, I’m certainly not going to bite my tongue and not say it,” Smith said. “That’s just the way I operate and [Chiefs coach Andy Reid] knows that, so he sees the way I am, and that’s how I go.”

 

During the interview with Bensinger, Smith described the 49ers, the team that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2005, as mostly dysfunctional during his first few years in San Francisco. Smith then made it clear that he doesn’t want to see the same thing happen in Kansas City.

 

“If I can help these guys not go through [the dysfunction I went through in San Francisco], I certainly don’t wish any of that stuff on him,” Smith said.

 

In a separate interview with Bensinger, Reid said the Chiefs aren’t necessarily planning on getting rid of Smith after this season.

 

“The reality is that Alex isn’t getting any younger,” Reid said. “That doesn’t mean he can’t go on and continue to go out and have a great career, so that’s what where his focus is. He’s far enough along in it, ‘OK, I know what you had to do, I’m not getting any younger, but go watch what I’m going to do right now.’ That’s how we roll. That’s the name of this league. It’s not a personal thing, that’s not where we go with it.”

 

Smith has a contract that runs through the 2018 season, and if the Chiefs do get rid of him after this year, it would almost certainly come through a trade, and if Smith continues to look the way he did against the Patriots, his trade value will be sky-high by the time the end of the season rolls around.

 

The crazy part is that Smith strongly believes that he’s only going to get better this season.

“I haven’t reached my potential as a quarterback,” Smith said. “I’ve shown flashes of it but I haven’t done it really at the level I know I’m capable of.”

 

Where could Smith end up?  The DB thinks of Washington (KIRK COUSINS), New Orleans (DREW BREES) and Cincinnati (ANDY DALTON) as teams that might be moving on from veteran QBs next year.

 

 

THE RAIDERS

It looks like T DONALD PENN is going to get a deal done.  Conor Orr at NFL.com:

 

The Raiders wanted left tackle Donald Penn to show up in Oakland and end his training camp holdout as a show of good faith before negotiations on an extension could take place.

 

That good faith is about to be rewarded.

 

NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Wednesday that Penn and the Raiders are “closing in” on a two-year extension that could be finished by the end of the week. That would keep Penn, 34, in Black and Silver through the 2019 season.

 

While projecting an offensive lineman’s value at age 36 isn’t easy, it might be a safer bet than trying to develop one coming out of college — especially when the team’s Super Bowl window seems wide open. Week 1 was an obvious sign that younger offensive linemen are taking longer to adjust to the professional game (as was seen in struggles from Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers and rookie Garrett Bolles in Denver among others) and Penn was one of the best tackles in the league last year.

 

As Rapoport reported at the time of Penn’s holdout, the issue at hand was the relative bargain deal Penn signed back in 2016 that will pay him less than $6 million this year. At the same time, top tackles around the NFL are making upwards of $13.6 million per year (Trent Williams’ deal in Washington signed in 2015 is the highest in terms of average per year salary, while Tyron Smith’s 2016 extension boasts a $97 million total with just $22 million in guarantees).

 

Even before Wednesday’s report, the Raiders were spending more cap dollars (nearly $43 million according to contract tracking site Spotrac) on their offensive line than any other team in football. Their appreciation for a clean pocket and a happy Derek Carr cannot be more obvious.

 

AFC NORTH

 

PITTSBURGH

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is mad, not at his player, CB WILLIAM GAY for making a clearly illegal hit.  No, he is upset that officials may have glanced at Cleveland’s video board to assist their pursuit of justice.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Steelers cornerback William Gay was flagged for a hit to the head of Browns receiver Ricardo Louis on Sunday, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin described himself as “irate” about it.

 

Tomlin said he didn’t necessarily have a problem with the penalty itself, but he was furious that the officials appeared to call the penalty only after they saw a replay of the hit on the stadium’s video board.

 

“I’m a big player safety guy. I’m on the competition committee,” Tomlin said. “Very rarely are you going to hear arguments from me regarding calls relative to that, provided they are done in real time. I thought they called it off the JumboTron, and I won’t accept that.”

 

On a conference call today, an NFL spokesman confirmed that officials are not permitted to use the video board in the stadium.

 

“Officials are all instructed that they are not to use the stadium video boards to aid in officiating in any way,” spokesman Michael Signora said.

 

It’s unclear whether the officials in the Steelers-Browns game actually did use the video board. If they did, they screwed up — even as Tomlin acknowledges he has no problem with the call they made, only the way they went about it.

 

Apparently, it was 25 seconds before a flag flew.  Matthew Marczi at SteelersDepot.com:

 

There seem to be pretty mixed opinions when it comes to the hindsight of William Gay’s hit on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Ricardo Louis in the second half of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory on Sunday in the opening game of the regular season.

 

Objectively, looking at the replays of the play and understanding the rule on illegal contact for defenseless players, it is frankly unambiguous that what occurred on the play is something that is going to be penalized, and you can rest assured that Gay will also be getting a notice later this week that he has been fined.

– – –

As unambiguous as the illegal contact on the play is, it’s also unambiguous to see that it was in part instigated in fact by the bobbled reception by Louis, who was forced to lower his head as he tried to concentrate to catch the ball a second time

 

That is why you have so many defensive players in particular react in certain ways to these penalties. You can count Cameron Heyward among them, who in an interview in the locker room yesterday even went out of his way to point out that he was restraining his comments because he didn’t want to be fined.

 

In a video from Jeremy Fowler, the defensive end said, “I’m trying not to get fined, but I was very surprised by” the fact that the officials, about 25 seconds after the initial hit, threw a flag on Gay’s hit. “It was a heck of a hit. I had already run off the field thinking we were going to sit down and then they said we had to go back out”.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

Repeat offender LB BRIAN CUSHING has picked up a PED suspension of 10 games.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The NFL has suspended Texans linebacker Brian Cushing 10 games for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy. He can return to the active roster on Nov. 28, the day after Houston’s game against the Ravens.

 

Cushing was suspended for four games for violating the PED policy in 2010 after earning defensive rookie of the year honors in 2009. He said then he tested positive for a non-steroidal banned substance.

 

He had only three tackles in Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars before leaving with a concussion, which had ruled him out for Thursday’s game anyway.

 

Benardrick McKinney, in his third season, will wear the “live” helmet that allows him to relay play calls of defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Cushing had held that job.

– – –

It is looking like QB DeSHAUN WATSON will make his first start on a short week tonight – and that leaves the agent for TOM SAVAGE confused.  Greg Rajan in the Houston Chronicle:

 

Veteran agent Neil Schwartz expressed dismay over his client being pulled by Texans coach Bill O’Brien after halftime of Sunday’s 29-7 loss to Jacksonville at NRG Stadium.

 

“I’m still trying to figure this out … 31 plays and you’re getting benched?” Schwartz said in an interview with NBC Sports’ Mike Florio. “It makes no sense.”

 

When asked by Florio who ultimately made the call to start Watson – which the Texans are expected to do – for Thursday’s game at Cincinnati, Schwartz said “I don’t know – I’d love to find out.” He added that he had not tried to talk to Texans general manager Rick Smith after Savage’s benching.

 

Schwartz said he even consulted other industry personnel about the move. Savage was 7-for-13 for 62 yards with a 66.8 passer rating. He was sacked six times and lost two fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown.

 

“I watched all 31 plays, because that was the extent of what Tom saw in the first half,” Schwartz said. “And I can’t figure out why he’s benching Tom. I went through every single play and I even went one step further. I asked two different NFL personnel people (or) coaches on two separate teams to evaluate and break down the film to see if I was missing something. He went 7 for 13 … 12 of the 13 balls touched the receiver’s hands. The only ball that didn’t was the strip-sack fumble that they called incomplete (upon replay). Seven were completions, five were drops.

 

“If you watch the film and you say ‘I see something wrong that deserves to be benched,’ I wouldn’t be on the phone with you now. The second issue which I heard is he held the ball too long. He didn’t hold the ball too long. Every play except for the one that was third and 12 (and) he got sacked was (released in) less than three seconds.”

 

“Tom earned the right to be the starter,” Schwartz said. It ‘wasn’t given to him. And he’s worked hard every day in training camp and the exhibition season to be the starter – on the field and off the field – to maintain a leadership role. After 31 plays, you bench him? I have an issue.”

 

Schwartz said several times that benching Savage was O’Brien’s prerogative, but that he decided to speak out to back Savage, the career backup who started two games last season after free-agent bust Brock Osweiler was benched.

 

“I wanted to defend Tom and this was my choice,” Schwartz said. “I spoke to Tom and he was OK with it and comfortable. Someone had to defend Tom and I didn’t feel the coaching staff defended Tom or defended his performance.

 

“I don’t normally do this. This is only the second time I’ve done this in my career and it’s only to defend a client where I felt he wasn’t getting defended properly by the team or the media.

“Tom’s obviously taken the high road and I would only expect Tom to take the high road. He’s going to support Deshaun and he’s going to support the team. He wants to beat Cincinnati and be a part of the Houston organization. He loves it down there. It’s just frustrating.”

 

Upon replacing Savage, Watson was 12-of-23 for 102 yards with a touchdown and interception and finished with a 60.4 passer rating. He also lost a fumble.

 

Watson will become the ninth different starting quarterback in O’Brien’s four seasons as Texans coach. In the 2015 season opener, he benched Brian Hoyer after three quarters for Ryan Mallett. Hoyer returned to the starting role in week 6.

 

Florio asked Schwartz if he expected a reprise of that QB carousel.

 

“Getting benched after 31 plays is incredulous to me, so at this point in time, nothing will surprise me,” Schwartz said. “I don’t have a response because I’m shocked (Savage) got benched after 31 plays.”

 

Somehow, Schwartz doesn’t mention that Savage was sacked 6 times in those 31 plays, six times in 19 dropbacks.  Now, all of the rushers may have come clean and instantly, but one would think that between holding the ball, being relatively immobile and not sorting out protections properly, Savage might have contributed to the onslaught.  O’Brien couldn’t change his line, so he went with the more mobile QB Watson who was sacked 4 times in 29 dropbacks (including 2 successful scrambles).

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Chuck Pagano claims not to know who will start at QB against the Cardinals on Sunday in Naptown.  Andrew Walker at Colts.com:

 

Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said Wednesday the team has yet to make a decision at the quarterback position heading into Sunday’s 2017 home opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

 

According to Pagano, both Scott Tolzien and Jacoby Brissett will receive snaps at practice this week, though he did not specify whether those would be first-team reps.

 

 

“We’ll work both guys in,” Pagano said.

 

Tolzien, who has worked with the No. 1 offense since the start of the offseason workout program, got the start on Sunday in the Colts 2017 season opener against the Rams. He completed 9-of-18 passes for 128 yards, but threw two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns.

 

Brissett entered the game near the start of the fourth quarter and would complete 2-of-3 passes for 51 yards in limited action, including a 50-yard strike to wide receiver Donte Moncrief on his first pass attempt of the game.

 

Pagano said that Brissett on Sunday showed a great deal of poise going out and producing eight days after he was acquired in a trade from the New England Patriots.

 

“He’s got a sense of calm to him,” Pagano said of the second-year North Carolina State product. “Obviously you love his physical traits. He’s a big man; he can see over things. Obviously it wasn’t too big for him. He made a big play down the field — Moncrief had a lot to do with that, obviously, going up and making a play for him. So, great poise, sense of calm to him, been there before, so obviously it’s not too big (for him).”

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

Was CALAIS CAMPBELL the key to unlocking the potential of Jacksonville’s defense?  Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY:

 

Calais Campbell has fought enough battles in NFL trenches to maintain a certain perspective.

 

After signing a four-year, $60 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars last spring, he had a monster debut with his new team. Campbell’s four sacks helped pave the way for a stunning win over the Houston Texans.

 

“It’s just one game,” Campbell told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday, “but we’re off to a good start. When you’re a young team, you have to build confidence. And the more success you can have, the more confidence you can build.”

 

It can be tempting to make too much out of Week 1 results. I mean, at the moment, the Jaguars, Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams are all in first place in their respective divisions while the New England Patriots are tied for last.

 

So it’s way too early to tell if the Jags made a statement. Still, with Campbell leading the way, they set a franchise record with 10 sacks, and the talented defense — built with high draft picks and premium free agents — had the look of a unit that can live up to the investments.

 

More: NFL MVP tracker: Did any Jags get votes?

 

More: SIGN UP!: NFL newsletter delivers our best coverage

 

More: Hot seat rankings: Coaches under pressure

 

A better test awaits Sunday, when the Tennessee Titans — their O-line features two of the NFL’s best young tackles in Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin and is far superior to Houston’s — visit Jacksonville. Still, for at least one week, the Jaguars have the look of a contender.

 

“When we do it right, we can play well and win,” said Campbell, 31, who spent nine seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. “We’re still young and growing, but the potential is there.”

 

New coach Doug Marrone and his boss, Tom Coughlin, are rebuilding the program with an emphasis on smash mouth football, tough defense and power running.

 

That’s the ticket.

 

With the huge defensive effort at Houston — Jacksonville only surrendered seven points and 203 yards — complemented by rookie Leonard Fournette’s 100-yard debut, the vision of what the Jaguars hope to become was on full display.

 

Now do it again.

 

Given the futility that has existed with a franchise that’s gone 22-74 over the past six seasons, including a 3-13 finish last year, 2-0 would be a bigger accomplishment than in most places. The Jags haven’t been 2-0 since 2006.

 

Campbell picked Jacksonville largely because of the defensive talent that has been assembled. No doubt the contract was a lure, as was the plan to deploy him as he was Sunday, wreaking havoc all across the defensive line. He started at right end, got his first sack from left end and then the next three sacks at right defensive tackle.

 

The unit is loaded with athletic, high-round picks such as corner Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack and linemen Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler. Campbell followed free agent additions from recent years that include tackle Malik Jackson and safeties Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson.

 

Campbell has quickly accumulated the respect of the locker room.

 

“You have to earn it, and I that that’s where Calais and a lot of our players have done a good job coming in here and making sure they’re communicating that they’re happy to be a part of something,” Marrone said.

 

“Not the thought process of, ‘You guys just follow me, and we’re going to be fine if you do things my way.’ “

 

Still, Campbell’s way — with sheer hustle demonstrated on top of bull rushes and swim moves — was certainly worth emulating Sunday.

 

But this team needs a veteran’s steadiness in another sense now.

 

With Hurricane Irma hitting Jacksonville last weekend, the Jaguars stayed in Houston until Tuesday. The makeshift adjustment included lifting weights and doing cardio work at a YMCA.

 

They returned home to grasp an additional sense of purpose amid the remnants of the storm.

 

“We’re all in this together,” Campbell said.

 

Owner Shad Khan donated $1 million to local relief efforts, and the team will give away 5,000 tickets to first responders and volunteers for Sunday’s game. It’s unclear how well attended it will be, given that many ticket holders evacuated. Yet with EverBank Field intact despite massive local flooding, there was little consideration of moving the game. City officials maintain it won’t drain resources being used for the aftermath of the storm.

 

“It’s important for us to play and give people something to cheer about,” Campbell said. “It may help some people with whatever they’re dealing with.”

 

Especially if the Jaguars can strengthen their grip on first place by beating another AFC South foe and perhaps make 2017 the 14th NFL season of the past 15 to feature a worst-to-first division champion.

 

“These are the types of games we need to win if we’re going to reach one of our goals and win the division,” Campbell said.

 

We will know more after Houston visits Cincinnati tonight, but there is a decent chance that if the Jags beat Tennessee on Sunday, they will be 2-0 while everyone else in the AFC South is 0-2.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW YORK JETS

Todd Bowles tries to fire up his defensive line.  Daniel Popper in the New York Daily News:

 

Jets defensive linemen Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Kony Ealy sat slumped next to one another at their lockers after a season-opening loss to Bills on Sunday. They dressed quietly and chatted somberly before Todd Bowles, dressed in a powder-blue three-pice suit, walked over with a suitcase in hand. The trio looked up. Bowles spoke a few stern words, gave the three players a nod, and walked away toward the door.

 

A day later, the Jets reviewed film from the 21-12 loss in which Buffalo RB LeSean McCoy totaled 110 yards on 22 carries, and Bowles delivered a more detailed and specific message to his defensive line during a meeting: You must be better. The unit missed assignments all afternoon, failing to clog up running lanes while McCoy rattled off a flurry of back-breaking big gains, including three rushes of more than 20 yards.

 

Bowles implored his defensive linemen to eliminate their mental mistakes.

 

“Our room, we take a lot of pressure. Coach even called us out,” Wilkerson said of Bowles. “We take pride in ourselves and our work, and we definitely accepted the challenge and know we got to play better this week.”

 

Wilkerson wasn’t surprised by the personal shots from Bowles.

 

“We men,” Wilkerson said. “I feel like as a man, you should definitely want to accept that challenge.”

 

“We took that very personally,” nose tackle Steve McLendon told the Daily News. “We’re held to a certain type of standard here, and Coach asked us before the game: ‘What kind of standard are we held to?’ And we told him, and we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain. So he put us on, he told us in the meeting. ‘Hey, D line, it’s on y’all.’ We know what kind of standard we’re held to here. And all we want to do is play hard, play smart and dominate up front.”

 

“As a D line, we want to be the leaders of the group. We want to be the leaders of the team, and obviously be the major reason why we win,” Ealy added to The News. “I don’t blame Coach Todd for getting on us, because obviously we need that.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

BROADCAST NEWS

NFL ratings were okay in Week 1 despite the distraction of Hurricane Irma.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

As Hurricane Irma approached Florida on Sunday, millions were glued to the TV coverage, and rightfully so. It was a major storm with the potential to spark widespread destruction and devastation. Though it ultimately wasn’t as bad as it could have been, it was still a horrible weather event for most of Florida.

 

It thus became a foregone conclusion that the TV ratings for Week One would be impacted negatively by the storm. And maybe they were. Regardless, at least one of the major Week One games showed an increase over 2016.

 

The Giants-Cowboys opener — a dud of a 19-3 drubbing by Dallas — showed an increased TV audience of five percent over last year. The TV viewership of 24.2 million reflected an increase of five percent over last year’s 23.1 million who watched the Patriots-Cardinals game. The total audience, including live streams via NBCSports.com, also increased by five percent, with 24.5 million watching the game.

 

It will be interesting to see how the other games did in the other significant broadcast windows. Under the circumstances, the league has to be happy that the number for the major Week One prime-time game was up and not down.

– – –

We let the story of Jemele Hill, a major face of the current version of ESPN, going on a long, long twitter rant against the President Donald Trump slide yesterday since it wasn’t NFL related.  That and ESPN management’s decision to let her off without any apparent punishment other than a semi-strongly worded statement.

 

But now comes word of turmoil in Bristol as employees compare and contrast the way Hill is off the hook for an unhinged rant while Linda Cohn was “suspended” for speaking the truth to ESPN power.  Clay Travis has the story:

 

Last night Outkick broke the news that Linda Cohn, one of the most respected women to ever work at ESPN and the person who has hosted more SportsCenters over the past 25 years than any other current employee, was called and told by ESPN president John Skipper not to come to work after she went on the radio in New York City this past April and said as follows:

 

“They definitely overpaid for many of these products, whether it’s the NBA or starting up networks like the Pac-12 Network and SEC Network,” she said on WABC’s “Bernie and Sid Show.” “It’s well documented … They [also] did not see that they would lose all these subscribers [to competitors like Netflix.]

 

But it was more than just that. Politics played a part, as did the network’s move away from strictly covering sports.

 

I felt that the old school viewers were put in a corner and not appreciated with all these other changes. And they forgot their core. You can never forget your core and be grateful for your core group.”

 

As comments go, virtually no one could disagree with any of what she said. ESPN did overpay for the NBA and other sports rights, it’s why they are firing hundreds of employees. And ESPN’s ratings have definitely plummeted over the past couple of years at the same time that they have lost over 13 million cable subscribers. Studies have clearly shown that conservatives have felt alienated by ESPN’s leftward turn and have abandoned the network in droves as well.

 

Everything that Cohn said was supported by ample data.

 

But her opinion still wasn’t acceptable to ESPN’s bosses, who have been arguing, and losing the public battle, that ESPN hasn’t adopted a left wing mantra.

 

According to multiple sources inside ESPN — Cohn declined comment when reached by Outkick — ESPN president John Skipper called Cohn and screamed at her for having the gall to share her opinion in public and told her to stay at home instead of coming to work that weekend. Why was Cohn to stay at home? So, according to an irate John Skipper, she could have time to think about what she had said.

 

When Outkick reached out to ESPN seeking comment on the Cohn story, ESPN’s PR staff refused to explain anything about the decision, responding via email: “The last time we responded with an explanation, you called us liars.”

 

Word of Linda Cohn’s suspension raced through ESPN’s corridors with many employees furious over Skipper’s treatment of the longtime legend at the network. Especially when so many at ESPN disagreed with the direction of the network in general and felt compelled to keep their mouths shut lest they also say something that angered their bosses.

 

Time after time and employee after employee has reached out to Outkick to express total befuddlement with John Skipper’s incompetence.

 

“The guy running our company,” said one prominent employee who requested anonymity, “is not good at his job. When is he going to fire himself instead of firing everyone else?”

 

But most inside ESPN kept the Cohn story quiet until yesterday, when Jemele Hill received no punishment for Tweeting Donald Trump was a “white supremacist,” that Trump was only elected president because he was white and had the support of racists and that Trump’s administration — the cabinet of which features a black man, an Indian woman, an Asian woman, and multiple Jewish people — was “largely…white supremacists.”

 

At that point the floodgates broke and employee after employee reached out to Outkick to share the Cohn story and other comments. (Outkick granted them anonymity because they all feared being fired if they used their names. Plus, these are the same sources that have consistently been correct about ESPN’s firings, the Robert Lee debacle and now the Linda Cohn suspension.)

 

Said another, different ESPN personality, “If Jemele can say that and Linda can’t say what she said, what kind of standard actually exists here? There isn’t one. There’s clearly a double standard. If you say things the company agrees with, you don’t get punished. If you say things the company disagrees with, you do get punished. Maybe even fired.”

 

Another prominent employee who also requested anonymity stated, “If I’d said Obama got elected because he was black is there any way I’d still be employed here? No chance. But Jemele can say Trump got elected because of white racists and no one does anything? They protect the people they agree with politically. They give them better jobs, more money, everyone can see it.”

 

Another employee recently contacted Outkick and said, “I pretend I’m a Democrat so I can keep my job here. And there are others just like me. We’re like a secret society inside ESPN.”

 

For many the combination of the Cohn suspension and the Jemele Hill non-punishment was a breaking point.

 

“I’m tired,” said yet another employee, “of pretending this company is not full of shit.”

 

Richard Deitsch of SI.com says Hill’s outburst was signaled last month.  He also points out the mire ESPN finds itself in for inconsistent discipline (see Doug Adler) without even mentioning Curt Schilling:

 

Last month ESPN commentator Jemele Hill, as part of an SI Media Panel on social media interaction in the age of Donald Trump, offered insight into the challenges of being a prominent ESPN analyst discussing social issues on social media.

 

“I have to talk myself out of sending certain tweets several times a day,” Hill told SI. “When you’re under the leadership of a President that refuses to condemn Nazis and racism, how am I supposed to function the rest of the day and pretend as if I give a shit about Blake Bortles losing his job? That’s the conversation I’m having with myself on daily basis. I know there are sports fans looking for me to provide them with an ‘escape,’ but as a woman and person of color, I have no escape from the fact that there are people in charge who seem to be either sickened by my existence or are intent on erasing my dignity in every possible way. So today, my feed is probably a little edgier than it was. It’s reflective of all the emotion and conflict I feel. I think others feel the same way.”

 

On Monday night Hill tweeted that Trump was “unqualified and unfit to be President” and “a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.” Those tweets came in the middle of a conversation with readers and were eventually amplified into the larger media ecosystem. The following day, ESPN management released a statement via its PR office saying that comments Hill made about Trump during an interaction with her Twitter followers “do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes her actions were inappropriate.”

 

ESPN declined to comment on what discipline was given to Hill. She has been off Twitter since Tuesday morning. The company often tells employees to stay off social media after any controversy.

 

On the topic of talking politics on Twitter, Hill told SI last month that “it’s very important to make the distinction between politics and commentary, information and discussion of social issues. I find that the majority of what comes into my timeline is related to social issues. Nobody is dying to engage in a discussion about repeal and replace, at least not with me. The percentage of people who want to discuss social issues has, however, increased substantially. Everyone is consumed with what’s happening in our country right now. I don’t tweet a lot about politics. I do tweet more about social issues, which I consider to be issues of morality. Racism isn’t politics. Racism is an issue of right and wrong. Tweeting about significant issues that impact marginalized people isn’t politics. That’s right and wrong. If I had to guess, I would say I’ve increased my tweets about social issues about 20%. I’ve tried really hard not to let these issues consume my feed, because there are a lot of days where I just want to have fun on Twitter. I want to debate with Power and Insecure fans about what’s happening on the show. I want to make jokes and have silly sports arguments, but unfortunately those days feel like they happen less.”

 

The issue of where the line exists at a place like ESPN remains unclear. It has a social media policy about politics on social media but that policy is violated daily de facto. As always, the company often finds itself with self-inflicted wounds because of discipline inconsistency. Where Colin Cowherd receives no discipline for comments about Sean Taylor, Bill Simmons is disciplined for comments about Roger Goodell. Where at-will employee Doug Adler loses his tennis job for what appears to be an obvious overreaction by executives, other executives get promotions for presiding over analysts questioning Robert Griffin III’s blackness.

– – –

Hill is one of the most popular on-air talents at ESPN because she has used her platform and standing to give others opportunities, particularly on her “His and Hers” show where many ESPN-ers have gotten much needed TV reps. Ley, wired to ESPN internally, said he expected there would be mixed reactions within the company—not for Hill the person, but for a front-facing talent tweeting out such an opinion.

 

“I love Jemele and consider her a friend, and she has many here,” said Ley. “I’ve worked with her on a number of shows and projects and she was a guest on OTL even before she joined us. I’m well aware a number of folks will agree with the substance of her comments while others will reject them just as readily. You can love the sinner and hate the sin. It clearly was not a proper use of a company-provided megaphone. There are important responsibilities that come with the many perks, and chief among those these days is realizing your words carry the weight of your platform. You speak for more than yourself.”

 

“I don’t know what the reaction will be and I don’t want to speculate,” Quinn said. “But I know that even people who might disagree with her politically have great respect for her as a person and a colleague. She’s a pro and smart as hell and works hard and is utterly devoid of ego. There are damned few like her.”

 

One of the people I wanted to reach out to was Jim Trotter, one of the most thoughtful voices at ESPN. He clearly spoke for a lot of ESPN employees, particularly those of color, and was emphatic on his support for his colleague.

 

“Black folk are tired and we have to recognize some of the things that are going on in this country and we have to be honest about it and meet it head on,” said Trotter, an ESPN senior writer. “If you are black and know the history of our country, you can understand her frustration. It is time we stop pretending it is not true. The reason I tweeted what I tweeted is I know Jemele, I have spent time with her, I know what she is about, and I wanted to say that I support her as a friend and a colleague. If anyone has a problem with that, that is on them.”

 

Hill apologized late Wednesday, not for her comments, but for bringing more fire from the right upon her superiors at the company:

 

“My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs. My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.”

 

Charles Pearce at SI.com thinks Hill is doing just fine with her ardent attacks on Trump.

 

I was going to give this a pass. Truly, I was. Jemele Hill, the gifted young woman who co-hosts ESPN’s The Six every night with my old Morrissey Boulevard running buddy Michael Smith, got on her electric Twitter machine and tweeted out her unremarkable—and damned near irrefutable—opinion that the current president of the United States is a racist and a white supremacist.

 

This drew the usual screams from the political flying monkeys of the American Right. ESPN responded with a craven corporate response that I’ll get to in a minute, but let me just say right now that you will not believe that the response was written by anyone who ever came within a light-year of any newsgathering operation. OK, so I thought that was pretty much it. I agreed with everything Hill tweeted. I thought what she said should be obvious to everyone in America at this point. She delivered her opinion. There was the customary cyber-bullying pushback, and we all move on.

 

That, of course, was until the whole business hit the podium of the White House press room. On Wednesday afternoon, administration spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked about the controversy and this is what she said.

 

“That is one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make and certainly something that is a fireable offense by ESPN.”

 

Let us pause for a moment and consider how far we’ve drifted into the outer suburbs of Crazytown here. This is the official spokesperson of the President of the United States calling upon a television network to fire one of its highest profile employees because she was mean to the president online. As a taxpayer, this makes me wonder whether or not my money is being well-spent on things like Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s salary. As a journalist, this makes me wonder exactly how far these people will go in knuckling the media to protect their boss’s delicate fee-fee. But you can’t really understand how we got here unless you understand what’s happened to the newsroom.

– – –

Newspapering used to be about being loud and profane, and the newsroom used to be about hanging out, swapping lies, concocting elaborate murder plots concerning the dumb brutes of the copy desk, and did I mention hanging out? Being paid to hang out used to be one of the perks of taking up this battered old craft. Now, though, I am told that the newsroom is indistinguishable from the cubicle farms of the insurance and financial services industries. A reporter for a local daily recently showed me a memo from the people in his HR department in which the reporters—grown men and women, all of them—were cautioned to use their “inside voices” while at work. The corporations bought up all the newsrooms and the beancounters took over the profession and that’s how you get wretched little kindergarten memos like that one, and I guarantee you the drone who wrote it gets paid more money than most of the people working in the newsroom.

 

Suddenly, all of us had to be concerned about “the brand.” We were warned not to do anything that might damage “the brand.” Often, “the brand” was camouflaged as the publication’s “credibility,” but anyone over the age of five knew that “credibility” translated into don’t write or say anything that might cost us a couple of dollars or get us screamed at by the talk-show lunatics on the radio. I once was severely disciplined by my newspaper for having called Newt Gingrich “a doughy fraud” in another venue. I mean, honestly, if you can’t call a doughy fraud a doughy fraud, what the hell is the fun of being in showbiz?

 

And then, almost out of nowhere, came the miracle of the Internet. Suddenly, the buccaneer spirit of the old newsroom, reckless and renegade, had a new place to light for itself, the way it did when the alternative press kicked over the applecart in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Except that this happened all at once, and instantly. The beancounters in charge of what became known, not always affectionately, as “the mainstream press” have floundered for decades trying to monetize this beast that simultaneously was scaring them to death. There was money out there somewhere but, at the same time, the Internet was the wild kingdom, where anybody could find an audience, and where the beancounters’s employees could find an outlet from the steady anesthetizing of what used to be a profession that was always half-outlaw at its best. And that, alas, is where Jemele Hill finds herself right now.

 

She tweeted out what she tweeted out, and this is what her employer told the world in response.

 

“The comments on Twitter by Jemele Hill regarding the President do not represent the position of ESPN. We have addressed this with Jemele and she recognizes that her actions were inappropriate.”

 

That was not written by a journalist, or anybody who cares about the craft of journalism. That was written by some beancounter—or, worse, some beancounter’s lawyer—who is more concerned with “the brand” than he or she is concerned about standing by a valued employee when the wind begins to blow. We already have gone too far down the road on which our employers presume to have some sort of right to control us in our off hours. Journalists, that ought to mean that our employers have no right to get hysterical for anything we write that’s outside the institution that pays our salary.

 

Writers think. Writers write. And, in 2017, that means that they share their thoughts in writing with the world in what has come to be the equivalent in cyberspace of the old town square. To threaten someone’s employment for something they wrote in their personal time just because it drew you some angry phone calls is not a labor strategy. It’s extortion. So, in conclusion, and in the spirit of an earlier Boston alternative journalist named William Lloyd Garrison, who told a sleeping country, “I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard” let me say the following:

 

Jemele Hill is a tribute to the people who raised her and an ornament of great value to her profession.

 

The President of the United States is a white supremacist and a racist, just like his odious father was before him.

 

Go ahead, Sarah.

 

Tell them to fire me.