The Daily Briefing Thursday, May 31, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Not everything on Twitter is awful. This tweet started with a young Arizona State graduate/student and aspiring media type named Delilah Cassidy trying to board an American Airlines flight (we’re guessing Dallas to Phoenix, but it’s not clear). Take it away Delilah:
WOW okay so the most amazing thing just happened to me and I can’t help but share it with the world. American Airlines instituted a new policy where you have to pay to take a carry-on onto the plane. Which is ridiculous but off topic.
consolidate my bags into one and they measure it and say it’s just a little too big. They proceed to charge me $50, except they only take credit card, no cash. Since I just got back from Europe all my cards are being declined as Chase doesn’t know I’m back.
They tell me that I’m going to have to miss the flight and head back to the ticket counter to pay down there. I’m pleading, devastated after a long day of travel. Then, this man walks up and says, “How much is it?” They tell him $50 and he says “I got it.”
I’m astonished and tell him it’s fine not to worry and he hands the lady his card as the American Airlines employees stand in silence shocked by this man’s generosity. They swipe the card and he tells me to have a great flight and hop on board.
I’m crying as I write this and as I board the flight. This man was an angel. I stop him as he’s sitting in first class and try to give him my money but he just shook me off and told me to pay it forward.
My heart is so happy. There are good people in this world. Be that person for someone because I know after this I sure will be.
Update: It was Jermaine Gresham.
Meanwhile, at the airport in Appleton:
Gresham wasn’t the only NFL player committing a random act of kindness in an airport, either. Earlier this week, Packers running back Aaron Jones helped a stranger in a wheelchair:
Just watched Packers Aaron Jones push a random lady through the Appleton airport because there was no there to push her 💛💚 GO PACK GO @espn @packers @Showtyme_33
The DB knows a Purdue alum who saw this gesture and proclaimed DREW BREES the greatest Boilermaker of all-time. This is if John Wooden isn’t. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
A few weeks ago an anonymous bidder spent $264,000 to buy a jersey worn by the legendary college basketball coach John Wooden when he played at Purdue in the 1930s. Now that anonymous bidder has come forward: Drew Brees.
Brees, the Saints quarterback who played his college football at Purdue, has announced that the jersey will go on permanent display on Purdue’s campus.
“The first words out of my mouth to him upon finding out the John Wooden jersey would be made available to the public was, ‘We have to get this for Purdue University. This jersey belongs in Mackey Arena back at Purdue,’” Brees said.
Brees has given millions of dollars to Purdue during his NFL career, so it’s not a big surprise that he was willing to spend that kind of money on a memorabilia that celebrates Purdue’s athletic history.
Wooden, best known for winning 10 national championships as head coach at UCLA, was an All-American basketball player at Purdue from 1930 to 1932.
Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com predicts the biggest storyline for 2018 for the Ravens and it involves the futures of John Harbaugh and QB JOE FLACCO:
Will this be the end of the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era?
Over the past 10 years, Harbaugh and Flacco have combined for 92 regular-season wins, six playoff seasons and one Super Bowl title. But the pressure is on for both to get back to their winning ways. Owner Steve Bisciotti said he considered firing Harbaugh after the Ravens failed to reach the postseason for a third straight year, and Baltimore drafted potential Flacco heir apparent Lamar Jackson in the first round this year. Given that this is already the final season for general manager Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens could undergo a major transformation if they’re sitting at home in January again. –
And at OTAs, QB LAMAR JACKSON is making a splash. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
First-round quarterback Lamar Jackson continues to be the talk of Baltimore Ravens’ offseason workouts.
Speaking on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football Ravens safety Eric Weddle gushed about Jackson’s ability.
“He’s been great. Obviously you know why we took him,” Weddle said. “He’s as talented of a player that I’ve seen coming into my 12th year. He’s got a live arm, he can sling it. Obviously, his ability to run and shake guys — you see it in team drills where things break down, he gets out on the perimeter and guys aren’t even close to him. “
Perhaps realizing the hype he was building about a rookie quarterback participating in non-contact offseason drills, Weddle couched his comments, noting Jackson must continue to grow before taking over the starting role.
“But he’s got a long way to go. He’s a rookie,” Weddle said. “It’s hard to make that transition, especially for quarterbacks that come from those crazy offenses that they’re doing nowadays. But [offensive coordinator] Marty [Mornhinweg] is doing a great job implementing a lot of the stuff he did, along with Joe [Flacco].
“So I think he’s got a bright future, but I don’t know what the plan is for him play-wise. I know Joe is having an outstanding camp — he’s healthy. And we’re going to go as far as Joe takes us, quite honestly.”
Flacco remains the starting QB. For now.
So it was a joke? S DAMARIOUS RANDALL contemplates the incredible nature of his Twitter promise. Austin Knoblach of NFL.com:
Hey, everybody — Damarious Randall didn’t think you’d take his “you all get a jersey” Oprah moment seriously.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the Browns safety indicated he doesn’t really intend to give everyone who retweets his now infamous “jerseys” tweet a jersey if the Cleveland Cavaliers win the NBA title.
If the Cleveland Cavaliers win the 2018 NBA finals I’ll buy everyone who retweet’s this a jersey…
“I definitely didn’t think the Cleveland fan base would go this crazy about it,” Randall said, via ESPN’s Pat McManamon. “Obviously, it is a joke. Just to know how passionate this fan base is, it is really encouraging.”
While Randall would like to give jerseys to fans in the event of a Cavaliers victory, basic logic would tell you that he simply got caught up in the hoopla that comes with trying to fit in among an excited Cleveland sports fan base. Also, it would take some sort of Marshall Plan-like operation for him to deliver jerseys to whomever is behind the more than 818,000 retweets he’s received (a bunch of those got to be bots, right?).
“Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to get over 100 [retweets], to be honest,” said Randall, who added that would do “something” for fans regardless of the NBA Finals result.
Randall is quickly learning the power of social media. He might want to think twice next time he’s on Twitter — or just listen to some sound advice from new Browns teammate Tyrod Taylor.
Can’t he just give at least one to a randomly-chosen RTer?
Big talk from WR DeANDRE HOPKINS. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
During the games when Deshaun Watson was their starting quarterback last season, the Texans were the highest-scoring team in the NFL. So it’s no surprise that Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins thinks he and Watson can be the best pair in the NFL this year.
Hopkins said at Houston’s Organized Team Activities that he sees the two of them developing into the best quarterback-receiver combination in football in 2018.
“Honestly, I feel like I set the standard high for myself and him, so I think we can be the best in this league,” Hopkins said, via John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. “I think he can be the best quarterback. I know I can be the best wide receiver. That’s our mindset coming into the season.”
Watson is still being held out of 11-on-11 drills to protect his surgically repaired knee, but he is making good progress and expected to be cleared well before the start of the regular season. Hopkins said he’s been impressed with how Watson has tried to improve mentally while he hasn’t been able to do everything physically.
“I would say him studying off the field, just learning the system [and] not just coming out and making the plays that he naturally can do,” Hopkins said. “I would say studying defenses, being a student of the game. Just the conversations we have in between workouts and warming up. It’s constantly going over defenses, talking about what we can do to get better. I definitely can see him wanting to be the best.”
The Texans are coming off a 4-12 season, but with Watson and J.J. Watt returning to health, there’s every reason for plenty of optimism coming out of Houston.
Peyton Manning has some thoughts on QB ANDREW LUCK as recorded by Mike Wells of ESPN.com:
Their injuries were different, but future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning knows all too well about the mental obstacle Andrew Luck will face from missing a full season.
All indications are Luck will be back with the Indianapolis Colts next season after missing all of 2017 with a right shoulder problem, which he originally injured in Week 3 of the 2015 season. Manning missed the 2011 season with a neck injury. That season was the final one of his 13-year career with the Colts.
“Everything is an individual thing, so you have to be careful speaking on it since injuries are different,” Manning told ESPN after participating in Wednesday’s Pro-Am at the Memorial in Ohio. “But it’s also universal. For me, I was a [repetition] guy. I liked to get all the reps on practice. The theory of 10,000 reps, I believe in that. I felt like I was kind of behind because I hadn’t gotten the reps even though you have a lot in the bank. It took me a few games before I felt like I was coming back. Getting as many reps as possible is key.”
The issue Luck currently faces is that he’s taking part in the team’s offseason workouts to only a certain extent. He currently can’t get all those reps because he hasn’t thrown a football since October 2017.
Colts coach Frank Reich said on May 23 that he anticipates Luck will start throwing during the time between the end of minicamp on June 14 and the start of training camp in late July. At that point, if things go as planned, Luck will increase his reps with his teammates so that they can potentially hit the ground running at the start of training camp. If he’s ready to throw to teammates at that time, he’ll have to do it away from the team’s facility.
Luck, who has admitted he pressed too hard in an attempt to return last season, missed 26 games over the past three years, and he needs as many reps as possible with his skill position players because he’s in the process of learning Reich’s offense, which he brought with him from Philadelphia.
“For me, coming off missing the entire year with the neck, I knew I was going to have to play a different kind of way, a different sort of physical state,” Manning said. “I was looking for things like positive feedback from receivers on whether the ball felt the same coming in and then when you get into the game and you throw a deep out. We played a preseason game and I threw a deep comeback route, and that was a thing to check off the box. You want to do everything for the first time again. You want to get hit, you want to make a tight throw, have a two-minute drive. I wanted to do all those things again.”
Luck replaced Manning as the face of the Colts when the franchise made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2012. The two have remained friends over the years.
“I’m pulling for Andrew’s return,” Manning said. “I stay in touch with him. I came to the combine. He and I sat down for two to three hours and talked about in-season routine, offseason routine.”
A candidate for GOAT was at Patriots practice on Wednesday, but it wasn’t QB TOM BRADY. And yes, we know the debate is down to LeBron and MJ in all the elite NBA circles. Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:
The New England Patriots returned to work Wednesday for their fourth voluntary organized team activity, and they were greeted by a celebrity guest from a different sport: Kobe Bryant.
Bryant’s presence excited several players, some of whom posted pictures of themselves with Bryant on social media. Said one player of Bryant’s presence, “Just hanging out and dropping some knowledge.”
Bryant announced this week that his book “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” will be released in October. As part of his visit with the Patriots on Wednesday, Bryant was at the team’s practice and spent time in the team meeting room.
It is commonplace for the Patriots to welcome visitors from other sports to their practices, as last year they hosted Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Baseball Hall of Famer Tony La Russa and Georgia men’s basketball coach Tom Crean, among others.
As for Bryant, he has long been admired by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who hasn’t been present at the team’s voluntary workouts this year. In 2012, Brady explained how he first met Bryant when the Los Angeles Lakers played in the 2010 NBA Finals against the Celtics. The Lakers won the series 4-3, and Bryant was the MVP.
“You always watch other athletes and how they play the game and what makes them successful. You see them play the game the way you think it needs to be played,” Brady said at the time. “You look up to them and admire what it takes day in and day out to be a great player.”
And this little nugget:
Brady is expected to be at the Patriots’ mandatory minicamp June 5-7, according to owner Robert Kraft.
Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com wonders what is going on in New England:
The recent comments from former Patriots defensive end Cassius Marsh are surprising not simply because of their strength but because of their rarity. During the 18 years that Bill Belichick has coached the team, the atmosphere hasn’t changed. So why haven’t more former Patriots popped off?
One possibility is that the Patriots misjudged Marsh as someone who would respond well to the New England environment. Belichick and company typically look for — and find — players who will buy in to The Patriot Way, which consists (in a nutshell) or having a hard shell that tolerates constant badgering and fear-based motivation, that puts team above individual, and that results in the successful players making financial sacrifices for the greater goal of effective cap management, not just to afford free-agent starters when needed but to have a robust middle class of experienced players who provide depth when injuries inevitably happen.
Even if Marsh didn’t fit in, he’s hardly the first. So why haven’t past Patriots teed off on Belichick’s methods after leaving the team?
The closest anyone else has come to taking shots at The Patriot Way happened nearly three years ago, when receiver Reggie Wayne asked to be released after a short stint in New England because “the work environment was tough” and Wayne was “not having fun.” Considering that Wayne occupied a central role on a Colts team that exuded excellence and that featured a strong, detail-obsessed personality at quarterback, the revelation was a bit of a shock.
But Wayne never suggested that the sense of unhappiness went beyond himself. Marsh’s comments broadened the focus to include others.
“They don’t have fun there,” Marsh said. “There’s nothing fun about it. There’s nothing happy about it.”
That has prompted some within league circles to wonder whether the Patriots have, over time, lost their nucleus of players who revel in the ends-justify-the-lack-of-fun approach. Players who believe winning is fun enough. Players who willingly accept the fact that championship football is zero fun, sir.
If past Patriots teams had a guy like Marsh who was grumbling about not having fun, team leaders would have swooped in immediately and rectified the situation, one way or the other. Marsh wouldn’t have believed that “they don’t have fun there.” He would have simply concluded that they have a different idea of what fun is.
At a time when the discontent has spread to players like quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski, maybe there really is a deeper problem in the locker room, where the core of players obsessed with winning has been overcome by a critical mass of players who are sick of being constantly criticized. The tipping point quite possibly came during Super Bowl LII, when Belichick apparently departed from the win-at-all-costs mindset to instead play some sort of mind game with cornerback Malcolm Butler, leaving him on the sideline as the defense couldn’t stop Philadelphia’s offense.
Whatever the reasons and whatever the trigger, it’s becoming more and more clear that something has changed in New England. And while none of it may matter when it’s time to suit up and play in September, the fact that both Brady and Gronkowski are nowhere to be seen necessarily affects the overall preparation of a team that uses every phase of the calendar as a building block toward the next one.
If they and others find themselves resenting Belichick’s ways and questioning the effectiveness of his methods and his message, coach and players could be on a collision course for a level of dysfunction that they may not be able to overcome.
THIS AND THAT
The DB only slept at a Holiday Inn Express, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones would not seem to have helped the NFL’s case with this admission. RealClearLife.com:
Testimony from Cowboys owner Jerry Jones indicated the specter of President Donald Trump continuing to rip the league in tweets and in speeches led the NFL to create the new national anthem policy it introduced last week.
While testifying in the Colin Kaepernick collusion grievance, Jones hinted past criticism from Trump prompted the league to address the anthem issue even though mainstream talk about it had largely faded away.
“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump told Jones in a phone call, according to a sworn deposition that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. “Tell everybody, you can’t win this one. This one lifts me.”
A White House official did not dispute that account and said Trump was giving Jones good advice. “The majority of the American people agree with the president, love our country, love our flag and believe it should be respected,” the official said.
During an NFL owners meeting, Jones relayed what the president had said, prompting others, including Patriots owner Robert Kraft, to speak about the president and his past comments.
Those discussions – during which President Trump’s name came up at least three times – ultimately led to the NFL instituting its new anthem policy.
It may be bluster, but Kaep’s attorney says he has an informant. Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:
The attorney for former 49ers Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid is hinting that a witness in their collusion case can come forward with concrete evidence of a conspiracy to keep them out of the league for kneeling during the national anthem.
Lawyer Mark Geragos said on CNN Wednesday night that the NFL owners are conspiring against his clients to appease President Trump, and he suggested that more evidence will surface soon.
“I would stay tuned because this case is about to take a dramatic turn,” he said.
Asked what he means by that, Geragos wouldn’t offer specifics other than a suggestion that “somebody has decided they were going to dime out the NFL for what they were doing.”
That may mean a witness can come forward who will contradict the stated position of the NFL, which is that each team decides for itself whether a player can help that team, and that if Kaepernick and Reid aren’t on a roster, it’s because teams have individually decided they can’t help. If Geragos can produce a witness from the league office, or a team’s coaching staff or personnel department, who can testify that the football people do, in fact, think Kaepernick and Reid can contribute, but that owners and the league office have decided that Kaepernick and Reid are not to see the field, that would go a long way toward making the players’ case.
Even as ABC/Disney gives the boot to “Roseanne” and Roseanne, they are re-hiring Keith Olbermann. Clay Travis believes the hiring is a sign of leftward bias as he notes that Curt Schilling remains banished.
Hill wasn’t punished for her series of Tweets attacking Trump, which led many, including this website, to point out the unfair and unequal treatment liberal and conservative opinions received at ESPN. While Jemele Hill could call the president, his supporters, and his cabinet white supremacists and say the only reason Trump was elected president was because he was white, Curt Schilling couldn’t support the North Carolina transgender bathroom bill. One man was fired for private political speech on social media, one woman suffered no consequences at all.
The only difference between the two? One shared a liberal opinion, the other shared a conservative opinion.
Since the sending of these Tweets Hill has been forced off the six PM edition of SportsCenter and seen her role at ESPN significantly diminished. It seems clear both sides are tired of each other. That’s even more the case when you consider the public release ESPN recently put out trumpeting the increased ratings for SportsCenter since Hill and her co-host, Michael Smith, were removed from their hosting duties.
In recent months, under the new leadership of Jimmy Pitaro, it appeared ESPN was attempting to ratchet down the left wing, biased political discourse on the network. Then Friday happened, and ESPN made the inexplicable decision to announce the hiring of Keith Olbermann, a man who has made a career off far left wing politics.
If Hill’s Tweets about the president being a white supremacist were inappropriate, how in the world can ESPN justify hiring Olbermann, who has regularly called the president a Nazi as well as a white supremacist psychopath?
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So @gehrig38 gets fired by @espn for sharing a Facebook meme supporting the North Carolina transgender bathroom bill, but @espn hires @KeithOlbermann despite dozens of Tweets calling @realDonaldTrump a Nazi racist. But there’s no double political standard y’all.
Leaving aside the absurdity of Olbermann’s accusations — how many Nazis are beloved in Israel and have fantastic relationships with Jewish leaders, not to mention a daughter who converted to Judaism and grandchildren who are Jewish too? — how in the world can ESPN hire a man who has sent far worse Tweets than Jemele Hill? If Hill’s Tweets were “inappropriate” how are Olbermann’s Tweets not much worse?
What’s more, if you found Hill’s Tweets so inappropriate that you helped to force her out of hosting SportsCenter, how in the world can you bring in Olbermann and let him host SportsCenters? This is so mind-bogglingly inconsistent I don’t even see how it’s possible to reach this decision. The entire purpose of having rules is so people understand what’s expected of them. When you apply the rules to circumstances, you set precedents.
Here ESPN is effectively letting it be known that there are no rules and there are no precedents when it comes to far left wing politics. The rules only apply to conservative political speech.
Because Olbermann’s insults are far beyond the pale of acceptable discourse, regardless of your own political leanings. I’d ask ESPN to justify this decision, but they’d just lie to me. So I’m not even going to bother asking them about it.
The truth of the matter is this — hiring Keith Olbermann to talk about sports on your network is indefensible. Unless, that is, ESPN would ever think about hiring Rush Limbaugh, again, or Sean Hannity to do a show on the network.
Moreover, how can anyone at ESPN argue that critics who see a far left wing agenda in their sports coverage are wrong when they make a decision like this? This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything I’ve been arguing for the past couple of years is completely correct. I honestly just don’t see any way this decision was made. It’s simply indefensible for anyone with a functional brain to make this decision.
Now you can certainly argue that when Olbermann sent these Tweets he wasn’t an ESPN employee, but that’s a nonsensical argument that even makes ESPN look even worse. When Hill sent her Tweets ESPN didn’t know those Tweets were coming and was forced to react to them in real time. It’s not as if they saw everything she’d Tweeted abotu Trump and still hired her. Everyone at ESPN knew exactly what Olbermann thought of the president already. As if that weren’t enough Olbermann had written a book called, “Trump Is Fucking Crazy” with the helpful subtitle of “(This is not a joke.)”
ESPN: “It’s crazy people say we’re biased politically. That’s not true! You’re making it up!” Also, @espn: “Let’s hire the guy who just published a book called “Trump is fucking crazy”
If you fired Barstool after a single show because you found their past jokes inappropriate and offensive, how can you hire a guy who wrote a book calling the president fucking crazy, who regularly called the president a Nazi, and who has sent far more Tweets calling him a white supremacist psychopath than Jemele Hill ever did? And, again, this is a guy who is specifically acknowledging he isn’t joking. This isn’t satire or hyperbole being misconstrued and taken out of context, this is directly disparaging attacks on the president.
Put it this way, is there any way a conservative author would ever be hired at ESPN if he or she’d written a book called, “Hillary is fucking crazy (This is not a joke)” or, god forbid, written a book called “Obama is fucking crazy (This is not a joke).”
Of course not.
You’re laughing even thinking about the idea.
By hiring Olbermann despite knowing everything he’s written, ESPN is effectively endorsing his comments on Trump and sending a messing to every conservative viewer — go elsewhere, we don’t want you. What’s more, Olbermann is an old guy without any fan base. We know this because his ESPN2 show was canceled a couple of years ago because no one watched. At least you could argue Jemele Hill is popular with a subset of young sports fans on social media who want to be woke. Sure, that’s a small audience, but at least it’s an audience. Does Olbermann even have a sports fan base at all? And if so is a tiny fan base of cantankerous old liberals a ticket to sports rating success?
Of course ESPN knew this criticism was coming, it’s why they waited to put out the news until the Friday before Memorial Day, hoping to slide it past a public already focused on the holiday weekend. But that didn’t stop my phone from blowing up with ESPN employee reactions. How, many of them asked, can we fire hundreds of hard working non-political employees and then hire this guy? Furthermore, how can you argue that you’re leaving left wing politics behind when you just hired the single most political person on any sports network in the 21st century?
Look, despite what my critics say, I don’t have a problem with politics mixing with sports. In general, I believe it’s bad for business to mixing sports and politics when you’re trying to appeal to everyone, but my primary issue with far left wing politics mixed with sports has been that it’s dishonest and one sided. Half of Americans voted for Donald Trump for president. Sports fans are more conservative than the general public. This means that an absolute minimum at least half of ESPN’s audience voted for Trump too. Does it make any sense at all for a major corporation attempting to appeal to everyone to hire a man who has called the president of the United States a pyschopathic Nazi white supremacist?
Of course not.
Unless, that is, you’ve decided to become the People’s Republic of MSESPN, serving up all the far left wing sports news that’s fit to print, every day, all day long.
Which is exactly what ESPN has done.
Their message to conservatives and moderates is simple — get your news elsewhere, we don’t respect you or your values. Worse than that, ESPN is also telling those people we won’t even let you sit down on your couch and watch a sports games without getting that beaten over your head again and again.
ESPN just keeps proving it’s a biased, untrustworthy, far left wing news organization.
Here is Greg Howard in the New York Times with a favorable look at the crusading Olbermann written prior to his getting his bigger platform (although not as big as it once was) at ESPN:
Keith Olbermann doesn’t look much like a warrior. His gray hair is giving way to white, his midsection threatens the buttons of his sport coats and he walks gingerly, with a gnarly limp from an aging knee. When I visited him in late January, he was ill, hoarse and racked with fits of coughing. But when he hobbles into his studio and sits, a table shields his less flattering proportions, accentuating broad shoulders and an icy blue gaze. And when he starts to speak — confidently, quickly, alternately gesticulating or pretending to read from a stack of papers — he looks more like the man he used to be: the broadcaster who helped not only revolutionize sports news, but also invent a new mode of liberal cable-news political commentary.
His current show — a series of web shorts titled “The Resistance” — is not on cable and was not supposed to exist at all. It began last September as “The Closer”: six- or seven-minute monologues, written and performed by Olbermann and posted twice a week, on YouTube, the web and social media, by GQ magazine. It was expected to end after Election Day, but Trump’s win changed that. On Nov. 16, one week after Hillary Clinton conceded the election, Olbermann sat down at the desk of a spartan set constructed mostly of blankets, inside a cavernous photo studio on the 24th floor of 1 World Trade Center, and declared war on Donald Trump. “Since no Democratic or liberal politician has yet stepped forward out of the morass of Politics Inc. to take on the responsibility of the resistance,” he said, “I, with complete awareness of the presumptuousness and arrogance of this statement, volunteer myself.”
In the weeks after Trump’s election, the humor and levity sprinkled throughout “The Closer” vanished as the show narrowed its focus to a single mission: to end Trump’s presidency and see him “on a boat headed to the Cayman Islands.” According to “The Resistance,” the United States has suffered a “bloodless coup” and is “no longer a democracy”; the president is a “Manchurian candidate” who is “mentally ill” and beholden to “Russian scum”; we are witnessing the steady reduction of “the chance that we will have any future elections”; and Olbermann, the show’s tireless hero, will not rest until this problem is solved. “Is There an Actual Tape of Trump’s Russia Collusion?” an episode title asked last month. “There may be two tapes,” Olbermann concluded, citing a blog post from Louise Mensch, the English founder of the news and opinion site Heat Street — a former member of Parliament whose belief in Trump-Russia collusion is so strong she has suggested everyone from Ferguson protesters to James Comey is under Russian control. The world Olbermann describes on “The Resistance” is different from and even more dystopian than anything I can recognize, and his efforts to chase down Trumpian conspiracies can strain credibility. It was hard not to wonder what he was trying to accomplish, and what he truly believed.
– – –
Olbermann has a favorite historical figure, Cincinnatus, whose story he likes to tell. It goes like this: Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a Roman consul and military leader until 460 B.C., at which point he retired to a modest farm and planned to work happily for the rest of his days. He plowed his fields in peace for two years. Then, one day, he was interrupted by visiting Roman senators, who told him he’d been named dictator — and that a Roman army was being besieged by plebeians on nearby Mount Algidus. Cincinnatus raised an army and marched it to Mount Algidus, defeating the plebeians in a day. Rome was in his debt; he had control of the military and full dictatorial powers. He could have ruled Rome for life, but he didn’t. This is the part Olbermann loves: not that Cincinnatus saved Rome, but that afterward, he simply returned to his farm.
Olbermann is far from the only person to enjoy this legend. George Washington has often been called the American Cincinnatus; he retired to Mount Vernon immediately following the Revolutionary War and stepped down as president after two terms. Cincinnatus’ legacy has also been invoked more recently: There’s an echo of it in the Trump family’s frequent argument that their patriarch doesn’t need to be president and is sacrificing a life of unworried luxury for the good of the country. At 58, Olbermann is about the same age Cincinnatus is thought to have been when those senators arrived. And of course, as he sees it, he’s leading the fight against an unprecedented evil that threatens to corrupt and corrode the American way of life. An old email address of Olbermann’s is even named after the Roman. “What’s your farm?” I asked him, on the show’s set.
“His dogs!” a producer volunteered. But Olbermann corrected her. “Sports.”
Before Trump was Olbermann’s nemesis, Trump was Olbermann’s landlord. In 2007, Olbermann bought a condo in Trump Palace on the Upper East Side for $4.2 million, and he says Trump checked in to make sure he liked the apartment. “I saw him there at least once,” Olbermann says. “And I got a fan letter from him once.”
Olbermann says they first crossed paths in 1984, when Olbermann was a young sportscaster and Trump was the loud new owner of the New Jersey Generals, a team in the United States Football League, which folded in 1986 after only three seasons. Two decades later, Trump joined Olbermann under NBC’s corporate umbrella, as the star of “The Apprentice,” which first aired in January 2004 — the year Bush was re-elected, and the year before “Countdown” became a beacon for millions of liberal fans. One of those fans, Olbermann says, was Trump, still in the days when he moved in left-leaning New York circles and donated mostly to Democratic campaigns. According to Olbermann, Trump would tell him stories about how liberal he was, encouraging him to keep attacking Bush and commending him for championing the rising career of Barack Obama. (The Trump White House declined to comment.) This, Olbermann told me, is why he thinks Trump is mentally unfit for office: He can’t reconcile the man he knew with the one who ran for president, and is unnerved by the difference. The Trump he knew, he claims, had “no bluster.” Accounts from others who have known Trump for decades say his personality has been entirely consistent — even if it makes him prone to professing different beliefs depending on the situation.
On “The Resistance,” Olbermann insists that Trump is genuinely mentally ill; in person, he says that his psychologist friends, despite never having treated the president, have remotely “diagnosed” Trump with any number of mental illnesses, up to and including psychopathy. The argument feels wishful and familiar, bringing to mind challenges to Obama’s birth or religion from fearful, frustrated or opportunistic voices on the right.
Another thing Olbermann might find difficult to reconcile is the reversal in the two men’s fortunes. Twelve years ago, Olbermann was a player in the American political scene, with “Countdown” helping solidify MSNBC as the chief cable-news destination for liberal commentary; Trump, meanwhile, was emerging from a corporate bankruptcy into a role as a reality-TV host. Then came 2011. That January, Olbermann left MSNBC three months after being suspended for donating to three Democrats’ campaigns. In March, Trump entered the political conversation by insinuating that President Obama might not be an American citizen. Now Trump is president, and Olbermann is not on television at all.
In the same way that Olbermann’s work alongside Dan Patrick on “SportsCenter” created a generation of highlights shows and sportscasters following their wry, geeky style, the work Olbermann did on MSNBC birthed its own replacements. He is quick to name the mainstays of the network’s current prime-time lineup — Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, Lawrence O’Donnell — as people who guest-hosted for him years ago. This is an important year for each of them. Liberals woke up on Nov. 9 under a cloud of dread that hasn’t dissipated in the months since, creating a crucial moment for left-leaning political commentators on TV. In April, MSNBC’s weekday prime-time viewership was larger than CNN’s — the third straight month the network placed second among the cable news’s big three, trailing Fox News. Maddow, MSNBC’s biggest star and the tentpole of its evening lineup, has the most-watched and fastest-growing prime-time show on cable news.
But Olbermann, who pioneered the form, can’t get back on TV. “I always thought that just wanting to be on television would be eventually classified formally as a mental illness,” he told me. “I do not exclude myself from this. I like to think that I treat it and I survive with it, the way other people survive with real diseases.” It can’t help that he has garnered a reputation as a terror to work with — known for haranguing and rebelling against the executives who pay him, feuding with the talent around him, making underlings feel small. He famously made his co-anchor Suzy Kolber cry when he was briefly moved to ESPN2 to start the channel and its flagship program “SportsNight,” and later went to war with Current TV when he was fired from the network in 2012, one year into a five-year, $50 million contract. He returned to ESPN for two years in 2013; in an oral history of SportsCenter, his colleague Rece Davis said that when rumors first arose that Olbermann was coming back, one coordinating producer said, “I think it would be a good idea, but with one caveat. He first has to stand in the reception area, and everybody who wants to gets to come up and punch him in the stomach.”
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In March 2016, Olbermann wrote a column for The Washington Post announcing that he was moving out of Trump Palace. Trump responded in an email to CNN Money the following month. “Keith is a failed broadcaster, and the people in the building couldn’t stand him,” he wrote. “He is just trying to use ‘Trump’ to get publicity and stay relevant. The prices of Trump apartments are today the highest they’ve been. When people find out he is leaving Trump Palace, prices will probably go up.” It was the last time Trump would publicly acknowledge him.
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On a frigid Friday afternoon this winter, Olbermann invited me to join him for lunch at the Atlantic Grill, a tony restaurant near Central Park. He was just coming down with the illness I’d see the following week on set, and within minutes, he received a call from his doctor. While on the phone, he recited his date of birth, which is how I learned that the meal we were sharing was his birthday lunch. He ordered us what he said were the best oysters in the city, then told a story about how he first really tried oysters six or seven years ago, while dating a woman from Cape Cod who could, he claimed, dive them out of the ocean and open them with her teeth. Until then, he’d spent his whole life avoiding seafood. “My dad grew up basically where the Throgs Neck Bridge is,” in the Bronx, he told me, “and as he said: ‘We never had fish growing up.’ He said: ‘The only thing I ever saw coming out of the water was missing union organizers.’ ”
Back in 2010, Olbermann used a Major League Baseball blog he was running to take a shot at one of ESPN’s most celebrated personalities, Bill Simmons. “I am again left to marvel,” he wrote, “how somebody can rise to a fairly prominent media position with no discernible insight or talent, save for an apparent ability to mix up a vast bowl of word salad very quickly.” Simmons responded in a tweet: “KO, please know the feeling is mutual. You’re my worst case scenario for my career in 12 yrs: a pious, unlikable blowhard who lives alone.”
It was cruel because it was factual. Olbermann is a bachelor with no children. His loves of history and sports seem less like escapes than parts of his job. He seems to have lived for little else until four and a half years ago, when he adopted his first dog. He’d never owned one before. “I avoided it for many years through, like, 12 girlfriends,” he told me. “Then one time the girlfriend was young enough that the family dog was dying.” They went into a pet store and emerged with a Maltese. A year later, he adopted a second. “And after I got them, I was calling all my friends who had dogs and saying, ‘Why didn’t you tell me this is the meaning of life?’ ” Olbermann now spends two hours a day outside with his pets; before the election, when the idea of a Trump presidency still seemed unlikely, he shot an episode of “The Closer” in which he examined whether Trump had ever owned a dog. (He couldn’t find any evidence.) When he dies, he imagined, “my last thoughts would be about the dogs. My next-to-last thoughts will be a flashback to how much I enjoyed ‘SportsCenter.’ ” Then he corrected himself. “I think my last thoughts will be: I pushed back against bad things.”
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“He’s still looking out the side of his eye at cable,” his GQ editor, Geoff Gagnon, told me. “That’s his world. For years he lived in a profession shaped by certain values, by certain viewership metrics, that judge success in a certain way.” Cincinnatus’ fight required him to leave his peaceful farm, but Olbermann is currently fighting to return to the place he feels most at home. “If CNN called tomorrow and said, ‘We resolved the thing from two years ago; do you want to do the 9 o’clock?’ I’d sign,” he admitted, “and then go, ‘By the way, what are you paying me?’ ”