The Daily Briefing Wednesday, July 5, 2017
AROUND THE NFL
David Steele of The Sporting News is livid over the NFL’s hazy justification for its extreme punishments for marijuana usage/addiction:
The one-year suspension of Ravens tight end Darren Waller for a substance-abuse violation raised several red flags, which is not a surprise. Red flags about Waller, of course, and about the Ravens, who, according to an ESPN.com account, have had the most players suspended for various drug violations since 2010 than any other NFL team.
However, Waller is also the fourth NFL player this offseason to be suspended for a year, all for substance-abuse violations … all at least believed to be marijuana-related.
Two days before Waller, ESPN reported that former Bill and Steeler Karlos Williams got the one-year ban. Less than two weeks ago, it was former Brown and Steeler Justin Gilbert. Right after last regular season ended, it was the Cowboys’ Randy Gregory.
Four players, added to the list that already includes Josh Gordon, Rolando McClain and Sammie Lee Hill, and a list from which the Steelers’ Martavis Bryant just returned. At least one player each season since at least 2014, in fact, has been given that sentence.
That should be the biggest red flag of all.
As much as this topic has been beaten into the ground already, it deserves to be beaten on again until some reasonable, sensible answer is found.
In 2017, in a country continuing its gradual turn toward legalizing weed, and in a league with debilitating, often chronic pain at its foundation, why are players still getting kicked out for an entire year? Or indefinitely? Or, in practical terms, forever?
By now, we should be way past the “they have almost all year to use without penalty” argument. And the “the drug test is an IQ test” argument. And the “he deserves a year just for being so dumb” argument.
Because, honestly, what’s so smart about how the NFL is handling this?
Some within the NFL, even some high up the food chain, have been asking for a while if and how the marijuana policy should be tweaked, fixed or overhauled.
What’s going on this offseason, though, should spur them to start asking different questions. And it should get the people they work for — the owners and commissioner Roger Goodell — to ask them, too.
This is one of the biggest weapons the NFL wields. It’s what they handed out to coaches and executives in the Saints bountygate scandal in 2012. Meditate on that for a minute: Darren Waller and Justin Gilbert, the same punishment as Sean Payton and Gregg Williams, for not even nearly the same crime.
That’s how the policy goes, though. Bountygate turned the league upside-down for a while, on several levels, and the repercussions will be felt for a while longer. But if throwing a player out for a year is supposed to have the same deterrent effect, it’s failing, because the numbers are only going up.
And if those growing numbers mean that players are having a harder time adhering to the policy — whether that means passing tests, skipping or missing them, or tampering with them — then it’s fair to raise one of these two questions:
Do they have a much bigger problem that throwing them out for a year isn’t going to solve?
Or, is this even a “problem” at all?
It’s time the NFL seriously considers the latter. Other leagues are not obsessing over this in this way. And that includes other sports leagues, because at least two former NFL players who got long weed suspensions — Will Hill, who sat 10 games last year, and Frank Alexander, who sat all of the 2015 season — now play in the CFL, which does not test for marijuana.
Everything that marijuana advocates connected to the NFL — the Eugene Monroes, Nate Jacksons and others — have said has fallen on deaf ears. All the information available about pain management has led to no serious change.
Everybody who has said, out loud or behind the scenes, about preferring to see players light up than to see them get drunk and do something truly dangerous, gets tuned out. Gordon’s original suspension, back in 2014, was based partly on a DWI arrest, as was Aldon Smith’s 2015 ban, which has not yet been lifted. The Packers’ Letroy Guion was arrested last month and charged with DUI.
The contradictory slaps on the wrist for far more heinous offenses can be recited by heart by now. Ray Rice. Josh Brown. Greg Hardy. The one- or two- or four-game hits for driving drunk, carrying guns, using performance-enhancers and being recklessly dangerous on the field.
We’re not sure how Steele can write “believed to be marijuana-related.” Couldn’t Waller have had another drug of choice, perhaps one more illicit? Still the DB does see this as a presumption now in effect when an NFL player gets suspended – he just couldn’t overcome his addiction to marijuana.
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Conor Orr at NFL.com notes that CB DARRELLE REVIS seems to be marooned without a 2017 contract, but well compensated nonetheless:
As training camp draws near, a 31-year-old cornerback with seven Pro Bowl nods still toils in plain sight without a team to call home.
Darrelle Revis is currently working out in Florida, according to Bleacher Report. As was expected, the offset language remaining in his Jets contract is keeping him from the playing field. Revis is set to make $6 million this year, meaning that it would not make much financial sense to play for less.
The update, which basically puts Revis in the place we all expected following his separation from the Jets, does little to provide any hope that we’ll see Revis soon. As someone who watched him define the persona of a shutdown cornerback during his halcyon days between 2009-2014, I was eager for another chapter. The Revis who slogged to the end of a forgettable Jets season in 2016 with a horde of teammates making excuses for him was not the player we all grew to appreciate.
There are teams absolutely threadbare at cornerback for the upcoming season, though apparently not at the point to offer Revis enough to start generating some serious conversations. The inevitable injury bug could change circumstances, though it would have to be a team willing to spend top dollar on a flier.
It would also have to be a team that plays a good amount of man defense and one that would trust Revis has rebounded from whatever ailed him during last season’s debacle.
Given the potential risks and rewards, coaches are almost always inclined to bet on themselves and get a younger player ready. But what if the Revis of old is still there?
The Legion of Boom is conducting auditions for a drummer. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Legion of Boom has, for most of its existence, resembled the Beatles, with John, Paul, and George forming the nucleus of the group and various guys playing the role of Ringo.
This year, it’s unclear who the Ringo will be.
Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune outlines the options for the man who will play right cornerback, across from Richard Sherman and in front of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Deshawn Shead continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in January against the Falcons; he can’t be counted on for Week One. Other options include Jeremy Lane (pictured, with G.M. John Schneider), Neiko Thorpe, and Shaquill Griffin.
As Bell explains it, coach Pete Carroll has said that Lane currently has the lead, but that would result in the Seahawks needing a new nickel corner. As everyone saw in Super Bowl XLIX after Lane, playing nickel corner, exited with a badly broken arm and Tharold Simon entered, it takes only one glaring flaw to allow a defense to be exploited.
The question becomes whether Griffin, a third-round pick, can quickly step up once training camp opens. If he can handle the nickel assignment — or take a spot on the outside and let Lane slide inside in passing situations — that could be the best way to properly complement John, Paul, and George.
G GABE JACKSON, with a big new contract, is among the Raiders with the wide-spread belief that for all the filthy lucre recently raked in by QB DEREK CARR, there was money left on the table. Jimmy Durkin of Bay Area News Group:
Gabe Jackson was a little uneasy last year when the Raiders went out and signed guard Kelechi Osemele.
It was clear that if the Raiders finalized the roster as they were hoping to — by re-signing left tackle Donald Penn — that Jackson would go into his third season in the league facing a position change. As the ink was still drying on Penn’s new two-year agreement, offensive line coach Mike Tice was already expressing private confidence that Jackson would do great as he moved from left to right guard.
“To be honest, I was a little nervous about it,” Jackson said Monday on a media teleconference to discuss his new five-year extension worth a reported $56 million. “I didn’t know how it was going to turn out.”
A pep talk to himself helped get his mind frame right before he began his transition.
“Can’t get beat,” Jackson told himself. “This is what the situation is so you’ve got to adjust to it. Life is about adjustments.”
It could’ve all hardly worked out better for both Jackson and the Raiders. Osemele, who would’ve played left tackle for the Raiders had Penn not re-signed, made his first Pro Bowl and was also a first-team All-Pro selection at left guard, cementing his status as one of the offensive lineman in the league. Penn also made the Pro Bowl along with center Rodney Hudson and Jackson was named an alternate in his first season at right guard. Jackson and Osemele became the only two offensive guards in the league to play 1,000-plus snaps and not allow a sack as the Raiders allowed an NFL-low 18 sacks on the year.
Now Jackson, a former third-round pick from the Raiders’ wildly successful 2014 draft, has the contract to show for all his hard work. His average salary of $11.2 million per year ranks him third among offensive guards, behind only Cleveland’s Kevin Zeitler ($12 million average) and Osemele ($11.7 million).
What are Jackson’s plan with his newfound wealth?
“Just find some land some land in Mississippi and build a house eventually,” said Jackson, who is from Liberty, Mississippi, and went to Mississippi State.
Overall, Jackson said the deal came together rather quickly after the Raiders signed quarterback Derek Carr to his record $125 million extension. He was in Las Vegas for Hudson’s bachelor party when the deal was finalized, which allowed him to celebrate with his friends and teammates.
“Rodney tried to get me to (buy) dinner, but he was just joking with me,” Jackson said. “At least I thought he was.”
During Carr’s negotiations with the Raiders, he expressed an importance in structuring his deal so that the team could afford to pay players like Jackson and Khalil Mack, who will likely wait until next off-season to get his extensionl. That didn’t surprise Jackson.
“I started smiling when I first heard him saw that because he always said that to me before, that he wants to make sure everybody else is good,” Jackson said. “It goes to show you about his character and how he is as person. He’s one of the most selfless people that I know.”
Jackson said his deal is proof that rewards will come “if you live clean and live good outside of football and you come in and take care of business and you work your butt off.”
“I feel honored and blessed because all the hard work and years leading up to this, the work I put in and the sacrifices, it’s finally here,” Jackson said. “It’s not that I can relax, but I don’t have to worry about another deal. I just worry about playing football and winning a championship.”
S ERIC WEDDLE is thrilled to have S TONY JEFFERSON by his side in 2017. Nick Shook at NFL.com:
Eric Weddle was a key actor in Baltimore’s sales pitch to Tony Jefferson during free agency.
According to the veteran safety, the effort is already paying dividends.
“No disrespect to any of the guys I’ve played with, but it’s nice not to have to explain why I do certain things or why I’m doing this in this coverage,” Weddle said, via a detailed feature on Jefferson’s path written by The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker. “From day one, he already had a feel for how I play and how to work off me.
“It frees me up a lot more mentally. I don’t have to tell him after each play why I did this or, before the snap, let’s do this. He already knows. That is just light years ahead of most guys I’ve played with. I’ve loved every guy I’ve played with, but he’s just on another level.”
In late May, it was coach John Harbaugh raving about Jefferson, Baltimore’s key defensive addition in the secondary. But Weddle’s words carry more weight, because he’s a five-time All-Pro and his deep secondary mate.
Baltimore’s defense finished ninth in the league in passing yards allowed, but entered the offseason with a pressing need at cornerback., addressing that by signing Brandon Carr away from Dallas and drafting Marlon Humphrey. Jefferson became a luxury signing, getting younger and better at the position by replacing him with incumbent starter Lardarius Webb, who remains on the roster. He’s evidently a natural learner, too, based on Weddle’s comments.
With a starting secondary that will include Weddle, Jefferson, Carr, Jimmy Smith and whoever at nickel corner (Humphrey is likely, though Brandon Boykin and Maurice Canady are possibilities), the Ravens are turning back to what has made the franchise great in the past: excellent defense.
On paper, it’s promising. On the practice field, it’s encouraging, according to Weddle. We’ll see how it plays out come September as Baltimore aims for a return to the playoffs.
WR SAMMY WADKINS can’t help but watch the NBA feeding frenzy and dream. Mike Rodak of ESPN.com:
After the first day of NBA free agency Saturday resulted in some players agreeing to contracts in excess of $100 million, Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins took to Twitter on Sunday to promote NFL players getting bigger paydays.
We gotta get paid more I’m pretty sure 2014 class will change the market
Watkins, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 draft, also retweeted NFL player promoter Jake Steinberg, who wrote, “NFL players have the right to be pissed. They get the smallest piece of the pie. NFL has $12B in annual revenue; NBA has $5B.”
In May, the Bills declined Watkins’ fifth-year option for 2018 that would have paid their top receiver $13.3 million. Watkins is now scheduled for unrestricted free agency after the 2017 season.
Over his four-year rookie contract, Watkins will earn $19.9 million, all of which was fully guaranteed.
Watkins resumed practicing during minicamp last month after missing the majority of offseason workouts while recovering from January foot surgery. He missed eight games last season because of the foot injury and was hampered by other injuries over his first two seasons.
QB RYAN TANNEHILL sees big things ahead for the 2017 Dolphins offense. Andie Hagemann of NFL.com recounts a report from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
After a prosperous free agency and offseason, quarterback Ryan Tannehill believes the Dolphins boast their most talented roster yet.
“Honestly, I can say it’s definitely the most talent we’ve had with the receiving corps, bringing everyone back, having a second year together in the same offense,” Tannehill told Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. “That’s going to be huge for us. Adding [tight ends] Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano, veterans who have played a lot of football, is [big]. Bringing back [running backs] Jay [Ajayi], Kenyan Drake.
“Keeping most of the offensive line together, adding a few pieces. Putting Laremy Tunsil back at his natural position. That’s going to be huge for us. You start to stack all those pieces together and we have a good unit. Now it’s a matter of being able to elevate our play throughout the season. Just because you have good pieces doesn’t mean you’re going to perform. That’s what the onus was on all spring. That’s what it’s on throughout the summer. As we hit training camp, it’s pushing each other each and every day to go out and be great. Not just be good, but really be great.”
Ben Krimmel of Real Clear Sports scolds TE ROB GRONKOWSKI for his fun-loving offseason life style and an ill-advised sense of humor:
Were we supposed to laugh at what New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said last month about Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz at a celebrity roast for Big Papi’s charity, the David Ortiz Children’s Fund?
Is this the joke you told, the one directed at the event’s host, comedian Josh Wolf: “You wanna know why Jews do play football? To get their quarter back, you cheap f—”?
An anti-Semitic joke, in 2017? How topical. Is it any wonder then that the New England Sports Network, the regional broadcast home of Ortiz’s Red Sox, scrubbed its plans to re-air the roast?
And what, moreover, are we as a football loving society supposed to do now? Do we just ignore the four-time Pro Bowler’s ugly remarks, and just chalk them up to Gronk being Gronk?
Gronkowski, who turned 28 in May, is entering his eighth season in the NFL and is the premier tight end in the game. But this, of course, is offseason Gronk.
Is the offseason version of Gronkowski his truest self? The man from “Gronk’s Party Ship” cruise, the avatar for male overindulge and crass objectification? Off the field he has developed the character of the party animal so well that it has seemingly become a caricature: a hulking man that stands six feet six inches tall, pouring beer all over himself while shirtless at the Patriots’ most recent Super Bowl victory parade.
Does the same standard of maturity not apply evenly throughout the NFL? Is Gronkowski’s poor attempt at humor any worse than Odell Beckham Jr.’s now-infamous boat party trip, or Cam Newton’s bad post-Super Bowl loss press conference? Only Gronk escapes without a prolonged sports-media scolding, instead earning wry smiles and knowing nods.
Since we all assume Gronkowski to be capable only of sophomoric, ignoble humor, when he tells an offensive joke, does it really count? This is exactly the kind of joke he would tell, isn’t it?
Gronkowski is therefore given a pass for telling an awful joke, one steeped in decades of ugly ignorance and hatred, simply because we hold such low expectations of this loutish pro athlete. But why?
Should it really matter that the Pro Bowler made these remarks at a roast, a venue for off-color and politically incorrect humor? America’s most beloved and well-known meathead was surely within his rights, some might add, to say whatever he would like at a charity comedy roast. “Haven’t you heard of Don Rickles?” some might ask.
However, in the case of Rickles, we all knew that the comedic legend understood what his words meant. There was no hint of actual animus from Mr. Warmth behind his penchant for turning stereotypes into comedic barbs. Do we know this to be true of Mr. Gronkowski?
This isn’t the first time Gronkowski has put his foot in his mouth, however. In 2013, he referred to an Asian-American fan as “Leslie Chow,” Ken Jeong’s character from the 2009 comedy “The Hangover,” adding, “They told me he could only cook fried rice.”
For this gross faux pas Gronkowski at least acknowledged his mistake: “I feel bad, personally … and I apologize to those who took offense.”
Why does Gronk get away with this? What is it about this particular athlete-turned-celebrity that earns so many indifferent shoulder shrugs?
What makes this episode so striking is that this tired, anti-Semitic cliche masquerading as humor was met with laughter. This eyeroll-inducing joke was deemed tolerable enough when uttered by one of the faces of America’s biggest sport.
We let Gronk Be Gronk because deep down many wish they too could be Gronk. They wish that they too could be so unimpeded by the shackles of maturity; free from the consequences of committing societal misdeeds.
Gronkowski fills a void felt by many fans and followers across the country — those who watch and cheer with envy for a star who is unencumbered by the norms of society, or even basic decency.
THIS AND THAT
ALL OR NOTHING AND JEFF FISHER
One team official compared the streaming of Amazon’s latest “All or Nothing” series to “watching the Titanic sink.”
The Los Angeles Rams were bad in 2016, their first season back in Southern California, and the last thing they want to do is relive it all. It’s all available for public view now, though. And like a bad car crash, it is painstakingly difficult to look away.
“All or Nothing: A Season with the Los Angeles Rams” became available for streaming for Amazon Prime consumers on Friday. It is the second installment, following the chronicling of a far more successful 2015 Arizona Cardinals team last summer.
The series, produced by NFL Films and narrated by Jon Hamm, began with the move from St. Louis to Los Angeles in early 2016 and ended with the hiring of Sean McVay in early 2017. It included everything in between — the drafting of Jared Goff, the infamous “7-9 bulls—” speech, the demoralizing Monday Night Football loss, the 3-1 start, the sudden spiral, the sluggish offense and, most prominently, the Jeff Fisher firing.
Throughout, “All or Nothing” portrays a team that stuck together and often struggled with what became a nomadic 2016 calendar year. It gives one a sense for the insane hours the assistants put in and how drastically their lives change when a head coach is let go. It showed how much the players appreciated Fisher and how responsible they felt when he was dismissed.
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Goff’s chance: The show dispelled any thought Rams owner Stan Kroenke, or anybody else, pushed Fisher to start Goff in Week 11 against the Dolphins. Before the Week 10 game on the road against the Jets, Fisher broke the news to Kroenke himself. “Either way today, I’m going to go with the rook next week at home,” Fisher told him. Case Keenum was making his final start at quarterback that day and didn’t even know it.
In the next team meeting, after the announcement had been made, Fisher reminded everyone Keenum was voted a captain before the start of the season.
“You’re still a captain,” Fisher said to Keenum. “I want to thank you for your energy, your leadership, your commitment, your passion, your desire — everything you’ve done to this point.”
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Carrying on after Fisher: Todd Gurley, his head down, was crying in the meeting when Fisher announced he had been fired. The Rams had three games left in their season, including a quick turnaround in Seattle, and the message to the players was to finish strong for their former head coach and their personal pride.
During one of the practices, offensive coordinator Rob Boras told Goff: “No matter who’s coaching you, these guys are gonna do whatever you tell them. It’s your team. I don’t care who the head coach is. I don’t care who the coordinator/position coach is. It’s your team. They’re gonna do what you tell them. So set the standard now.”
“I know,” Goff told him. “I’ve been thinking about it for weeks.”
Fisher, with a puppy in his arms, was standing in front of the gate at the team facility when the buses left for the airport a couple of days after his firing, saluting his former team. The Rams never won again. John Fassel, the special-teams coordinator who served as the interim coach, addressed the team after the final game, a 44-6 loss to the Cardinals. His voice cracked.
“For me, the past three weeks and the opportunity to be here in front of all you guys is an opportunity that I’ll never forget and an opportunity that I’ll never take for granted,” Fassel said. “And it just goes to show that at all times, you gotta be ready to jump in and do something that maybe you weren’t expected to do. And how you conduct yourself at all times matters. … I’m proud to be a Ram, men. I’m proud to be a Ram.”
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McVay and Snead: At one point in the draft room, McVay turned to general manager Les Snead and said, “If the minicamp is any indicator, we hit on our free agents.” The series then showed Snead’s thought process for his eventual trade with the Bills, in which he moved down from 37th to 44th in order to attain an additional third-round pick. “You don’t want to pick early second [round] often,” Snead told McVay. “But when you’re picking early second, never fall in love with a player. You’ll always get an extra third[-round pick].”
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Fisher, in the aftermath: In the final episode, “All or Nothing” caught up with Boras, Hayes, Keenum, tight end Lance Kendricks and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in their new cities. The series ends with Fisher, alongside his wife and two of his dogs, at his home a half-hour outside Nashville. He will be a grandfather in September, and because he won’t work in the NFL this season, he’ll get to be there when the baby is born.
“I gave it my best shot, had fun,” Fisher said. “Miss the players. That’s what I miss most right now is the players. But they’re staying in touch. I want to get back on the sidelines. Not going to happen this year, obviously, but we’ll just see what happens. In the interim, this is our life.”
Bill Williamson writing at FanRagSports.com says Fisher should be done as an NFL coach.
This is not in the spirit of piling on, I swear.
Last week, we all saw the wildly compelling yet sad video of Jeff Fisher telling his coaching staff that he was just fired as a teaser to Amazon’s “All or Nothing” series, which chronicled the 2016 Los Angeles Rams. Fisher’s firing as the head coach of that team was a centerpiece of the series. We were all captivated by the raw, personal moment that captured Fisher telling his coaches that he was no longer their boss. He looked disheveled. He looked exhausted. He looked emotionally spent.
While I found myself watching the video a few times because it was so rare and compelling, I did feel guilty because the moment was so sullen.
I had no holiday weekend plans of bashing Fisher. Yet, the erstwhile former coach is back in the news today. In new footage from the Amazon series, Fisher is interviewed after his firing in the relaxed setting of his property in Nashville. An honest Fisher told the show that he wishes to coach again.
“I want to get back on the sideline,” Fisher says. “Not going to happen this year, obviously. We’ll just see what happens.”
I get Fisher’s wishes and his sentiment, but it shouldn’t happen. He should be done as an NFL head coach.
Again, this isn’t about piling on or being personal, but Fisher has had his time as an NFL head coach. He had his moments, but most were a long, long time ago. The high point of Fisher’s coaching career was the 1999 season when he led the Tennessee Titans to the Super Bowl and one yard (plus a PAT) from overtime and a chance at a Lombardi Trophy. It was a great accomplishment, but it was also a long time ago.
Hell, that wasn’t even in this century. Sean McVay, the man who replaced Fisher as the Rams’ head coach, was 14 years old at the time of Fisher’s greatest coaching accomplishment.
Fisher, a football lifer who had success as a player and as an assistant coach prior to sitting in the big chair, began his head coaching career as the interim coach of the Houston Oilers in 1994. Here’s one more McVay dose of context: He was eight years old at the time.
Fisher kept the Oilers/Titans gig until 2010. He took 2011 off and then was hired by the Rams (he was highly sought at the time and it was considered a coup by the Rams to have landed him).
In 21 full seasons as an NFL coach, Fisher has produced just six winning records. Six. Fisher’s last winning season was in 2008. He had a losing season in all five years with the Rams.
This business is too competitive and too important for a coach who hasn’t had a winning record in 10 years to think he can get a head coaching job in 2018 or any year after that.
These are just the facts. We heard coaches say this is a wins-and-losses business. It’s the truth. Fisher’s truth is that he hasn’t been a consistent winner in the NFL.
Fisher lives off his reputation. That’s what a Super Bowl appearance buys a guy.
However, we have to look at the most recent past. His work with the Rams has to be alarming to prospective new employers. The guy didn’t win with the Rams. He never came particularly close.
I get that Fisher is well liked and respected in league circles. He was a longtime member of the prestigious NFL competition committee. He represented himself well. He just didn’t win enough.
There are too many other talented and capable coaches who deserve a shot before Fisher does. He had his shot. He had 21-plus seasons worth. That’s enough. Its someone else’s turn now.
Perhaps Fisher could try the college ranks. He’s a CEO type and would probably play well with most boosters and parents. I could see a college program being intrigued by Fisher.
The NFL? That time is over.
Shortly after we went to press came word that President of National Networks Jamie Horowitz, a young man with infinite faith in his abilities, had been unceremoniously fired by Fox Sports in the wake of a sexual harassment investigation. Scott Gleeson of USA TODAY:
Jamie Horowitz was a rising sports executive when he was hired at Fox Sports two years ago, coming to the company with a background in successful debate-heavy shows at ESPN. It was a model he carried to Fox Sports 1 with hopes of transforming the network into a go-to platform for sports fans.
But Horowitz was abruptly fired on Monday, and his lawyer, Patty Glaser, told USA TODAY Sports that Horowitz’s departure was “probably” related to a sexual harassment investigation. Fox Sports declined to release details behind Horowitz’s firing, but FOX President and CEO Eric Shanks made reference to workplace rules in announcing Horowitz’s immediate departure and saying, “We are confident in this decision.”
“Everyone at Fox Sports, no matter what role we play, or what business, function or show we contribute to — should act with respect and adhere to professional conduct at all times,” Shanks said in a memo to employees obtained by USA TODAY Sports. “These values are non-negotiable.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that Fox was investigating sexual harassment allegations. The Times reported that several women, including on-air talent, had been interviewed. A woman who worked as a production staffer told Sports Illustrated that she met with Fox human resource officials last week, where she recounted how Horowitz attempted to kiss her away from the studio last year.
Glaser, Horowitz’s attorney, in a statement Monday called Fox’s handling of the matter “appalling.”
“At no point in his tenure was there any mention by his superiors or human resources of any misconduct or the inability to adhere to professional standards. Jamie was hired by Fox to do a job, a job until today he had performed in an exemplary fashion. Any slanderous accusations to the contrary will be vigorously defended,” she said.
Another high-profile Fox departure
Horowitz’s brief tenure as Fox Sports president of national networks came after an even shorter stint at NBC as senior VP/GM on the Today show, where he and the network parted ways after 10 weeks amid stories of Horowitz causing tumult on the set. NBC said at the time that Horowitz was not the right fit.
At Fox, Horowitz made the calls on several major moves, including the hiring of high-profile personalities such as Skip Bayless and, most recently, the website’s pivot to video that saw 20 editors and writers dismissed just last week.
Now he is the network’s third high-profile departure in less than a year prompted by allegations of sexual harassment.
Roger Ailes, the late founder and longtime CEO of Fox News, resigned last July amid a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox News anchor. The lawsuit led to an internal investigation as other women came forward with similar accounts.
O’Reilly, host of the top-rated The O’Reilly Factor, left in April after numerous women stepped forward with claims of sexual harassment.
“It pours more flame on the fire,” Ted Kian, the chair of sports media at Oklahoma State University, said of the Horowitz case. “This probably would not be as big of a story had this happened at ESPN. But because it’s Fox, which has a horrific record with sexual harassment, it’s a different matter.
“Logic dictates (Fox) is being more proactive than it would have been had the other major scandals not occurred. How could a woman employed by Fox feel comfortable and confident to be treated well and fairly without action taken? We don’t know the specifics with (Horowitz), but whatever he did warranted a major media firing and showed Fox was confident in its justification.”
Controversial moves at Fox
Horowitz spent more than eight years at ESPN. His arrival at Fox Sports in May 2015 signaled a new wave of the “embrace debate” concept he championed at ESPN. Loud, opinion-heavy shows were seen as the savior for FS1, which had struggled in the ratings compared to ESPN. In 2016, ESPN beat Fox Sports 1 nearly 5-to-1 in ratings.
Horowitz lured ESPN talent — most notably Bayless, Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock — who fit his vision. But Horowitz drew a rebuke from journalism circles after he led a massive restructuring of Fox Sports Digital. Dozens of writers, editors and producers who contributed to FoxSports.com were laid off last month as Horowitz pushed the website to mirror the content on FS1.
Shanks struck a forward-looking note in his statement to Fox employees, saying “in these times it is important that we remain unwavering and focused in continuing the great work of Fox Sports.”
To Kian, the network’s sudden announcement of Horowitz’s departure is also an indication Fox has learned some painful lessons.
“To say the country, as a whole, is serious about sexual harassment is a stretch. But to say white-collar executives are starting to get the picture based on lawsuits and negative media attention is accurate,” Kian said. “Evidently, Fox felt like (Horowitz’s alleged behavior) could turn into something. Fox seems to have finally and belatedly realized how the negative spotlight translates to the general public.”
We note that “rising” executive Horowitz was fired by NBC after just 10 weeks involvement with the Today show prior to his stint at FOX.
More on Horowitz and his reign from Bryan Curtis of The Ringer:
For all the drubbing he took from critics, in person Jamie Horowitz cut a buoyant figure. He wore pocket squares; he had a fratty, cheerfully conspiratorial air; and he was always, always brimming with self-confidence about FS1. As recently as a few weeks ago, his halo glowed so brightly that one powerful sports media person wondered to me if 21st Century Fox would lure Horowitz away from sports TV and hand him the really big cleanup job — Fox News.
Now, Horowitz is out at FS1. The Los Angeles Times reports that his ouster came “amid a probe of sexual harassment” — the same type of investigation, as it happens, that led to the ouster of several stars at Fox News.
“Jamie was hired by Fox to do a job that until today he was performing in exemplary fashion …,” Horowitz’s attorney, Patricia Glaser, told the Times. “Any slanderous accusations to the contrary will be vigorously defended.”
It’s too early to understand the exact nature and scope of the probe (Richard Deitsch has some details), or whether Horowitz deserves condemnation. Perhaps it’s worth explaining how Horowitz’s vision of sports TV came to be, and why that vision was so controversial.
Horowitz’s break came when he took over the ESPN show First Take in August 2011. He noted that the “1st and 10” debate segments with Skip Bayless were way more popular with viewers than the morning variety fare orchestrated by Jay Crawford and Dana Jacobson. So Horowitz sliced out the news and interviews and doubled down on debate — a form of surgery he would perform again and again, in progressively bigger venues.
ESPN never seemed entirely comfortable with Horowitz’s formula, even though First Take remained a key part of the schedule after Horowitz left for a short-lived stint on Today in 2014. Last spring, when Bayless became the subject of a bidding war between ESPN and Fox, one ESPN executive described the network’s thinking on whether to keep Bayless like this: Do we want to try to please sports media critics or Trump voters? As it turned out, ESPN made a big offer to keep Bayless.
At FS1, Horowitz was free to mold a network in his own image. Debate shows, he argued, required minimal costs. Horowitz acted as the shows’ shadow producer and trained the talent. He would spend his money only on innings-eating hosts — something the talent agents who work in sports TV naturally loved. Bayless signed a contract worth a reported $25 million over four years.
Just as the producers of Jerry Springer can isolate the microscopic particles that make up a talk show, Horowitz studied debate TV with a professorial bent. He could tell you that Colin Cowherd, who likes to spin out arguments at length, is a “theorist,” and therefore could never be paired on TV with another theorist. Otherwise, you’d get dueling monologues — like pushing Mike Daisey onto a stage with Spalding Gray.
Two things made Horowitz controversial. One, he hired hosts who nakedly trafficked in stereotypes. To the accusation that his hosts could be radioactive, Horowitz said he wanted “incisive” programming. As Ben Mathis-Lilley pointed out in Slate, Horowitz also frequently mentioned a koan suggested to him by none other than Rupert Murdoch: “Be wary of the allure of the elite.” Do you want to please media critics or Trump voters?
Second, Horowitz tweaked his old comrades at ESPN. “Strictly, analytically,” he said at various times, “the traditional news and highlights show is in a record free fall.” This was an arrow aimed directly at the heart of SportsCenter, ESPN’s most noble brand. Horowitz managed the miraculous: He aggravated even the mild-mannered Scott Van Pelt. “At some point, if you’re going to talk [junk] about our ratings,” Van Pelt told the Washington Post last year, “you should be held accountable for yours. They’re not close.”
Horowitz wasn’t wrong that highlights could no longer float SportsCenter by themselves. Nor was he wrong — as it turned out — that ESPN was a wounded animal. But Horowitz was also unable to show, at least in a short period, that an ESPN competitor consisting only of “1st and 10” segments could draw big ratings. Noting that an episode of an FS1 show had 28,000 viewers, Van Pelt snorted, “That’s the attendance of a Cincinnati Reds game.”
Among the hosts he hired and promoted, Horowitz could inspire enormous loyalty. I’ve been observing Skip Bayless my whole life, and I’ve never heard him talk about a boss like he has Horowitz. But even among the Friends of Jamie, you would hear mutterings. Why does it all have to be so lowbrow? And though Horowitz has promoted Skip, Shannon, Colin, et al., why was a women never given the same keys to the kingdom?
Fox Sports — the network team — and FS1 took radically different approaches to sports TV. Once seen as an interloper, Fox Sports has since become a respectful, sometimes even reverent place — as trusty a custodian of the NFL and MLB as the Big Three networks. As a producer once told me, “We went from being brash outsiders to the establishment stalwarts of the game.”
Fox Sports employees tended to look at Horowitz’s pirate crew with curiosity bordering on alarm. They’re so different than us. So … controversial. This critique didn’t just come from Troy Aikman, either. One longtime Fox announcer asked me: What are they trying to accomplish over there? How much rope does Jamie have?
Last week, Horowitz made what turned out to be his final aggressive move: laying off FoxSports.com’s staff of writers and editors. I didn’t get it. If anything, the Fox Sports website seemed like a place where inexpensively produced takes could float up from cyberspace to the TV network. Where better to groom the next Nick Wright? But for Horowitz, it always came back to his TV lineup, his surrogate children. He thought the network would succeed or fail based on them.
Now, Horowitz has hired Glaser, a big-time attorney, and will likely settle in for a long war. The memo Fox Sports president Eric Shanks sent to employees today — supplied by Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand — carried these freighted words:
Everyone at FOX Sports, no matter what role we play, or what business, function or show we contribute to — should act with respect and adhere to professional conduct at all times. These values are non-negotiable.
We’ve reached a stage that has nothing to do with the nature of sports TV, with “embracing debate,” with whether LeBron James is the greatest basketball player ever or a giant choker. Now, we figure out whether Jamie Horowitz’s TV legacy is the one worth arguing about at all
The Red Wedding episode of “Game of Thrones.” The failure of Todd Gurley for fantasy owners (at least this one) last season. The ending of the movie “The Sixth Sense.” The results of Super Bowl LI after the Atlanta Falcons took a 28-3 lead. That scene in “House of Cards,” Season Five, when Claire Underwood (and not Frank) talked to the viewers. The re-emergence of Matt Ryan last year.
“What are things that were shocking, Alex?”
Odd things always seem to happen in our world, whether it’s politics, entertainment or sports, so sometimes you have to think at least somewhat outside the box (and sometimes far out of it) when you’re in the business of predicting the future. With that said, here are 20 potential scenarios that would not shock me if they came true during the course of the 2017 fantasy football campaign.
It wouldn’t shock me if … Jay Ajayi leads the league in rushing yards
It wouldn’t shock me if … Matt Ryan records 75-100 fewer fantasy points
It wouldn’t shock me if … Sammy Watkins finishes as a top-10 wideout
It wouldn’t shock me if … Mike Gillislee finishes with 10-plus touchdowns
It wouldn’t shock me if … Bilal Powell leads running backs in catches.
It wouldn’t shock me if … Joe Mixon leads rookie runners in fantasy points
It wouldn’t shock me if … Four rookies finish among the top-20 runners: Those four rookies are Fournette, Mixon, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook. Of course, we’re very likely to see another Jordan Howard scenario too, so watch out for Kareem Hunt, Samaje Perine and Jamaal Williams.
It wouldn’t shock me if … No rookie wide receivers finish among the top 30: Don’t look for a Michael Thomas this season, folks.
It wouldn’t shock me if … Carlos Hyde puts up over 1,200 rushing yards
It wouldn’t shock me if … Marcus Mariota finishes as a top-five quarterback
It wouldn’t shock me if … Marshawn Lynch finishes with 200 fantasy points: Beast Mode might be 31 and coming off a “retirement” season, but I believe he can rush for 1,200 yards and 10-12 touchdowns in Oakland. With around 200 receiving yards mixed in, Lynch will hit the 200-point mark.
It wouldn’t shock me if … Jameis Winston finishes as a top-10 fantasy quarterback
It wouldn’t shock me if … Stefon Diggs finishes as a top-10 wide receiver: Diggs, entering his third NFL season, recorded 903 yards with three touchdowns in 13 games in 2016. His upside to produce much bigger things is apparent though, and I think he’ll do it in 2017. Don’t pass on him.
It wouldn’t shock me if … Isaiah Crowell finishes as a top-10 running back: Crowell was 14th in points among backs last season, and he could be even better in 2017. That’s due to the additions of Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter to an offensive line that could be one of the NFL’s best.
It wouldn’t shock me if … Terrelle Pryor finishes with 1,300-plus yards: Pryor recorded 1,007 yards a season ago on a Cleveland team that had five quarterbacks throw passes. None of them were Brian Sipe, either. Now in Washington’s offense, Pryor’s potential is pretty darn evident.
It wouldn’t shock me if … Andy Dalton finishes as a top-10 fantasy quarterback: Dalton has a lot of weapons
It wouldn’t shock me if … Martavis Bryant finishes with double-digit touchdowns
It wouldn’t shock me if … DeShaun Watson finishes as a top-15 quarterback
It wouldn’t shock me if … Alshon Jeffery fails to post 1,000 receiving yards
It wouldn’t shock me if … Eddie Lacy fails to finish with 700 rushing yards
KAEP IN GHANA
Colin Kaepernick is touring Africa – and he can’t help but dwell on the awfulness of his native country. Darin Gantt at ProFootballTalk.com:
Colin Kaepernick spent his Independence Day in a place where many people lost theirs.
The former 49ers quarterback posted on social media yesterday about his trip to Ghana, where he visited former slave trading sites as well as touring local villages and a hospital.
He posted a short video of the trip, along with the Frederick Douglass quote: “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?”
How can we truly celebrate independence on a day that intentionally robbed our ancestors of theirs? To find my independence I went home.
He followed that with a longer Instagram post, in which he described his trip.
“In a quest to find my personal independence, I had to find out where my ancestors came from,” he wrote. “I set out tracing my African ancestral roots, and it lead me to Ghana. Upon finding out this information, I wanted to visit the sites responsible for myself (and many other Black folks in the African Diaspora) for being forced into the hells of the middle passage. I wanted to see a fraction of what they saw before reaching the point of no return.
“I spent time with the/my Ghanaian people, from visiting the local hospital in Keta and the village of Atito, to eating banku in the homes of local friends, and paying my respects to Kwame Nkrumah’s Memorial Park.
“I felt their love, and truly I hope that they felt mine in return.”
This follows a stop in Egypt, in what’s clearly an extended tour for Kaepernick. That’s far from the public relations tour some have suggested he undertake if he wants to get back into football (though the many less-qualified quarterbacks who have signed contracts this offseason haven’t had to justify their interest in playing to the media before getting jobs).
For now, Kaepernick’s exploring his personal history, a far more meaningful journey.