Last month, Brian Levy of Goal Line Football invited his roster of NFL and college coaches to the Sea View Hotel in South Beach for a new kind of summit. At the Goal Line Football Coaches Workshop, coaches would gather in a conference room to hear from experts in football analytics, organizational leadership, media and diversity. It was, for the average football coach, the rare opportunity to workshop in their quests for bigger and better jobs, and to speak openly and honestly about personal ambition. For me, sitting in the front row with a notepad, it was refreshing to hear coaches talking in something other than coach-speak.
Rod Graves, the newly appointed director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, and formerly an NFL VP of Football Administration—and before that, general manager of the Arizona Cardinals—gave an hour-long talk about diversity, and all the qualities that make great coaching candidates. Having had the ear of a number of owners in his career, Graves went into what frightens owners in the hiring process. Assistant coaches from teams with losing records, he said, were a hard sell.
But this NFL head coach-hiring cycle saw Kliff Kingsbury of the 5-7 Texas Tech Raiders get hired in Arizona, and Matt LaFleur of the 9-7 Titans and their 25th-ranked offense get hired in Green Bay. One of Levy’s clients, an African American defensive line coach, interjected: “Is it more difficult to sell that when you’re a person of color?”
“I don’t think so,” Graves said. “That’s something that can be debated, but most of the owners I’ve been around just want to win. If you can convince them this is the right person, and that person has a plan and speaks to the issues, I don’t think color matters.”
“If that was the case,” the coach replied, “we wouldn’t need the Fritz Pollard Alliance.”
“I’m not going to argue it’s not a factor,” Graves said. “It’s my charge to make that different. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
The Fritz Pollard Alliance is a professional organization of scouts, coaches and front-office personnel in the NFL committed to equal opportunity in the industry, according to it’s stated mission. In that, the organization has a rough path ahead, if the 2018 hiring cycle is any indication. Five black head coaches were fired after the 2018 season—Todd Bowles (N.Y. Jets), Hue Jackson (Cleveland), Vance Joseph (Denver), Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati) and Steve Wilks (Arizona)—and the NFL saw its number of minority head coaches cut down to just four: Brian Flores (Miami), Anthony Lynn (L.A. Chargers), Ron Rivera (Carolina) and Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh), fewest since the Rooney Rule, which requires NFL teams to interview minorities for leadership positions, was adopted in 2003.
Graves replaces the legendary John Wooten as chairman of the FPA with one goal: Fairness in hiring. “Diversity is an unnatural process for most people,” he told the assembled coaches. “Unless you’re talking about it and it becomes part of your business plan, I believe it’s not likely to become a priority.
“All we’re fighting for is a process that’s fair and includes the most qualified candidates.”
Albert Breer was kind enough to hand over the reins of the MMQB to me for this fine July Monday as we count down the days to the first NFL training camps to open the 2019 season. NFL coaches and execs are wrapping up vacations around the league, and I was fortunate enough to catch up with three head coaches entering their second seasons at the helm of their respective teams. Mike Vrabel (Titans), Frank Reich (Colts) and Matt Nagy (Bears) reflected on their rookie campaigns and offered some insight into what 2019 will bring for each club. We also hear from three of my favorite beat writers on three rookie quarterbacks, and we’ll check-in with a surefire first-ballot Hall-of-Fame wide receiver, who has high praise and higher expectations for the draft’s No. 1 overall pick, Arizona’s Kyler Murray.
But first, back to the summit, and Levy, one of the most fascinating people I’ve met in the NFL. He grew up in Manhattan Beach, the Jewish and Italian section of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. In 1990, he founded Goal Line Football, representing a small group of NFL players. Two of those players—Raheem Morris and Vance Joseph—decided to go the coaching route when their playing careers ended, so they went from player clients to coaching clients. Then Mike Tomlin signed on. Today Levy and his vice president, former NFL player and scout Cedric Saunders, represent more than two dozen NFL coaches, the majority of whom are African-American.
As a result, Levy has become an unlikely expert on the politics of minority coaching hires in the NFL, advising clients on which interview opportunities are the real deal and which are likely toothless attempts to satisfy the Rooney Rule. Last offseason he set out to provide coaches in his group with educational opportunities through a weekend coaches’ summit. Ten months later, Levy watched client Steve Wilks lose his job after one season in Arizona, and Vance Joseph get the boot after two losing seasons in Denver.
“Is one year enough for a head coach? Is one year enough to say this guy’s not a good head coach and he will never work?” Levy asks. “Bill Belichick was 6-10 in first season as head coach and 7-9 in the next two with Browns. These guys need time to get the job done. And I think the hook is quicker for the minority coach.”
There’s been frustration among the coaches in Levy’s firm and other black coaches around the NFL with what they see as an increasingly narrow path to head coaching jobs.
“You’ll notice the teams that fired minority head coaches didn’t hire one,” Levy says. “It’s almost like they fulfilled their quota so they don’t have to worry about it this year. I think [a team hiring two minority head coaches back-to-back] only happened once in the history of the league: Tony Dungy to Jim Caldwell, and that was an in-house hire.”
When it comes to black coaches being hired in the NFL, they can feel pressure to coach a certain way. Looking at the recent head-coaching hires, six of the eight new head coaches in 2019 are viewed as quarterback gurus. Often, if a black coach doesn’t check that box, he is expected to fit the Mike Tomlin mold of having a big personality, in place of an extensive QB coaching pedigree. And with NFL head coaching opportunities so few and far between, black coaches can feel like they should take any job, regardless of the circumstances.
Harold Goodwin, the 45-year-old Buccaneers run game coordinator and a Levy client, says he interviewed for an opening two winters past and was asked if he’d be open to retaining both the offensive and defensive coordinators from a sub-.400 football team; Goodwin told the team he’d be uncomfortable with that plan. “I probably lost out on that job opportunity, but it is what it is,” Goodwin says.
Derek Mason, the former NFL wide receiver and current Vanderbilt head coach, spoke during the summit and warned of agreeing to just such an arrangement, offering that he wished he had built his staff from scratch when he took the job in 2014 to avoid split loyalties that can arise from carried-over staffers. “That came up over and over again this weekend: Stick to your principles, and don’t agree to things you don’t believe in,” Mason says.
Levy isn’t the only agent who hosts summits for coaches—Trace Armstrong, one of the league’s leading coaching agents, hosts a similar program each summer (plus, the NFL debuted a minority coaches summit this summer in conjunction with the black college football Hall of Fame). But Levy is the one agent who can boast a client list with a handful of the highest-regarded black coaches in the game. Goodwin, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy and former NFL head coach and current Falcons receivers coach Raheem Morris are all clients. If the tide is going to turn in minority hiring, it will likely start with this group.
“The process over the last few years has been very disappointing for guys, but it’s cyclical. This phase is the QB guru guy, and whether that works or not is still TBD,” Levy says. “We have to give them tools to push themselves internally and have those conversations with higher ups.”
All of which speaks to that defensive line coach’s question for Graves. Are minority coaches a harder sell? How hard should a black coach have to push to be recognized and to be given an equal opportunity rather than a cursory interview?
“To me the issue is not that owners are explicitly racist,“ the coach told me later, ”but people want to hire the people they can have conversations with and relate to. And we’re not that.”
I’ll wrap this up the way the summit wrapped, with an unexpected video and some unexpected tears. Carrie Cecil, a media guru, gave a presentation on effective use of social media to end the weekend. She put on this video, a tribute to Ellie Levy, Brian’s daughter, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a child survived two double-lung transplants before passing in 2014 at the age of 23. Levy had a special relationship with his daughter built on sarcasm and dark humor. (When told she’d be put under for a procedure, Ellie infamously wrote a note to her favorite nurse: “You know how much I love it when you wipe my ass. They said they would keep my ass. Well, f— me.”)
She’s the reason he moved the practice to Miami from New York in 2000 (the climate was easier on her lungs), and she’s the reason Levy holds the summit at the Sea View Hotel, where Ellie trained in the oceanside swimming pool to build up her lungpower.
“That’s where I get my strength, every single day,” Levy says. “It’s impossible to let it go. She taught me so much about resilience, and going through a horrible life sentence and enjoying every second. You could not knock her off the horse.”
Ellie’s Army Foundation provides financial support for families going through what the Levy’s did for the better part of two decades. Please check out the site and consider a donation.
I was able to catch up with a handful of head coaches this weekend at the American Century Championship, a golf event in South Lake Tahoe that brings together celebs of all stripes (Steph Curry and Justin Timberlake were the big draws this year) for three days of golf at the gorgeous Edgewood Tahoe. It’s a cool scene: At the 17th hole Par 3, swimsuit-clad partiers dock dozens of boats at the banks of Lake Tahoe, shouting encouragement at the golfers as they walk down the fairway just a few feet from the beach. Tony Romo was the runaway winner of the event, and the five current head coaches in attendance faired about as well as you’d expect NFL head coaches to.
Over three rounds, here’s what their scores looked like.
NAGY, Matt 84 88 87
VRABEL, Mike 92 86 82
PAYTON, Sean 93 86 95
REICH, Frank 92 89 94
LYNN, Anthony 97 93 99
I asked each of the second-year head coaches— Colts’ Reich, Titans’ Vrabel and Bears’ Nagy—one burning question.
KLEMKO: How do your expectations for Andrew Luck change and evolve after Year 1 in the offense and the changes that were made early on in 2018 in his mechanics, and perhaps, the slow start that followed? (The Colts started the season 1-5 with Luck passing for 16 touchdowns and 8 INTs, then finished the season 9-1 with a 23:8 TD:INT ratio)
FRANK REICH: “He certainly did improve mechanics-wise on things he was working on with [throwing guru] Tom House and with our staff. Tom was primary in all that stuff but we all were working together. When Tom comes to Indy, we all circle up and talk about what we’re all seeing. I want to know what he’s told Andrew. Andrew to start had really good mechanics. He was making small changes in his footwork, setting the target line; his head position definitely got better. We talked about ball position being slightly higher in his drop, back foot perpendicular to the target. Not everybody teaches this, but get the throw lined up in your drop, because you already know where you’re going based on your read, and if that’s not there, then move your feet in the progression of your read. But his mechanics were already pretty stinking good. He’s a classic overhead thrower. But my opinion was it had nothing to do with the slow start. I thought he was playing winning football from Game 1. We were all new. I got better as a playcaller, and we got better as a team.”
RK: Marcus Mariota, along with Jameis Winston, is the first quarterback since the new CBA to play on a fifth-year option. What does he have to show you to earn an extension? (Mariota is 27-28 as a starter, with an 89.4 passer rating and a 69:42 TD:INT ratio.)
MATT VRABEL: “I think everybody has a contract, and we’re very aware of players who are in the last year of the deal. Marcus is obviously one of those. When you make a commitment to the QB you want to make sure that this is going to be your guy for the next 7-10 years when you look at the percentage of the cap quarterbacks are driving. Nobody is more proud of what Marcus has done in the offseason than me. He’s come back stronger, bigger, with greater understanding of what we’re doing offensively, being able to communicate it to players the field. I don’t look at the lack of a long-term extension as a negative, though that’s what people try to make it. I know Marcus’s demeanor and that won’t change whether he’s on a 10-year contract or its up after the season. He’s that type of person. So I know it’ll work because of how he is.”
RK: We’ve heard you’ve shown your team footage from the wild card loss to the Eagles more than once this offseason. What’s the thinking there?
MATT NAGY: “Just twice. We watched it at the very first meeting and the last meeting. I want them to remember the hurt. Understand that this year is a new year, but don’t forget what it felt like when we came off that field and how we were in the locker room. I don’t think you’re doing the right thing if you don’t use that as a coaching tool, as a reference, you know? There are so many examples of teams that have had bad things happen to them and come back the next year and do well because of that adversity and experience. I want them to come back here ready. I don’t want them to hang onto that stuff but I want them to use it.”
A WORD ON THE ROOKIE QBS
I know that new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury offered some mild pushback on the notion that first-overall draft pick Kyler Murray will be the opening-day starter in the form of a “we’ll see” in an interview with Jim Rome in May.
But I don’t think there’s any doubt the No. 1 overall pick will get the nod over Brett Hundley (barring injury), and my conversation with Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald over the weekend confirmed that. Owing to Murray’s familiarity with offenses stemming from the Mike Leach coaching tree, the 35-year-old Fitzgerald says he’s never seen a rookie quarterback so comfortable in an offense since Day 1. In fact, Fitzgerald and others were taken aback in their first practice with the rookie during Cardinals’ minicamp when Murray started calling out audibles based on the looks he was getting from the defense.
“I know him running Lincoln Riley’s offense is very similar to what Coach Kliff runs,” Fitzgerald says, “but on the first day he’s calling audibles and getting us in plays that are favorable to the offense. So I was really impressed by his ability to take a leadership position first day at the offense. I was impressed with how smart he is, how determined he is. His future is extremely bright.”
One more observation from Larry Legend, in the earliest days of the Kingsbury era: We can expect the Cardinals offense to run much, much faster. Arizona ranked 20th in the NFL in pace (time between plays) in neutral situations (when an expiring game clock wasn’t a factor) according to Football Outsiders. Fitzgerald says Kingsbury’s offense contains less verbiage than Arians’s, and players are expected to process pre-snap adjustments considerably faster.
“It’s not so much what he’s installing that stand out; it’s how its run, the tempo of it,” Fitzgerald says. “Every single day, with more experience, we were able to run it faster and faster and faster, get more plays in more efficiently. The faster guys understand the concepts the more pressure we can put on defenses. The language is simpler, but you have to process it faster. In this system, you’re on the ball and you don’t have an abundance of time to understand what’s going on. You have to decipher and be able to play fast.”
I believe Murray will almost certainly get the nod in Week 1, but when might we see about the other rookie quarterbacks? The best people to answer this question are the team beat writers.
A quick note: When I started covering the NFL at the national level for Sports Illustrated in 2014, it didn’t take long to realize how treacherous it could be to drop into a new city for a day or two of practice and write a story pretending to know it all. I know now that you have to ask for help from people who know the most about any given team: NFL beat writers. The best ones often know more about how the team operates than the some of the coaches, players and execs inside the building, and the veteran beat writers have the benefit of historical context within an organization, rendering them immune to whimsical analysis and prediction.
So here’s a question I probably would’ve asked these beat writers whose teams drafted quarterbacks in the first two rounds the next time I see them in person: When is the rookie QB seeing the field? And rather than ask this in a press room or on a sideline, I figured I’d get them to share their predictions with you, dear reader.
If you had to pick a specific week in the season, when do you predict your team’s rookie quarterback will start his first game in 2019? Describe the likeliest scenario.
Matt Lombardo, NJ Advance Media, New York Giants
On the No. 6 overall draft pick, former Duke QB Daniel Jones: If the Giants’ 2019 season starts off at all similarly to last season’s 1-7 first half, it will be a matter of when, rather than if, rookie QB Daniel Jones replaces starting QB Eli Manning. At some point, during [head coach Pat] Shurmur’s second season, the focus needs to be on winning rather than placating Manning’s legacy. Manning holds all of the cards. If Manning leads the Giants to a fast start, there is no doubt that he’ll be the quarterback as long as the Giants are competitive and in the mix for the postseason. However, if the Giants leave their Thursday night matchup in Foxboro at 1-5 or 2-4, a soft landing spot ten days later in Week 7 against the Cardinals at MetLife Stadium seems to be ideal for Jones to make his debut as the starting quarterback. That would give the rookie an extra three days to prepare with three winnable games looming against the Cardinals, Lions, and Jets, along with the rematch against the Cowboys all on the docket prior to the Week 11 bye. The schedule sets up for the Giants to build some early momentum, but if they fail to do so, Week 7 against the Cardinals seems a safe bet for Jones to make his first career start.
Kareem Copeland, The Washington Post, Washington
On the No. 15 overall draft pick, former Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins: Haskins is already the most physically blessed quarterback on the roster. The question is—how long will it take to master the scheme and nuances of NFL defenses? It’s all between the ears for Haskins. The Redskins have a brutal start at Philly before hosting the cowboys and Bears. A road trip against the Giants in Week 4 precedes a home game against the Patriots, and that seems like the ideal place to start Haskins if the team struggles early. However, the hope is to mimic the early stretch of 2018 with a strong run game, low turnovers and a staunch defense. That equation led to a 6-3 start with Alex Smith playing smart, measured football and a similar scenario with veterans Case Keenum or Colt McCoy could buy Haskins more time to grow from the sidelines.
Nicki Jhabvala, The Athletic, Denver Broncos
On the No. 42 overall draft pick, former Missouri QB Drew Lock: At the risk of getting bashed for being the ultimate pessimist, I could see Drew Lock making his debut after bye, in Week 11 at Minnesota. John Elway and Vic Fangio have said repeatedly that they want Lock to learn behind Flacco and to not rush the process. Coming from the spread at Missouri to the Broncos’ play-action offense is no small adjustment. (It was too big of an adjustment for Paxton Lynch, the last young quarterback pegged as the team’s future.) But if the Broncos look anything like they have the last two years, they won’t have the luxury of time. Given their strength of schedule, they could easily go into the break 2-7. At that point, you have to give the kid a shot.
1. Reps for Chargers RB Melvin Gordon say he’s holding out for a contract extension, and if he doesn’t get it, he wants to be traded. I get it. Gordon’s been a top-five back for three seasons—only Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott and Rams’ Todd Gurley have more yards from scrimmage in the last four seasons than the 26-year-old former first-rounder—and Gordon’s been hinting at this for a while. When an SI film crew and I spent a game day with Gordon last season, his dad asked him if he thought Le’Veon Bell would hold out for an entire season.
“Yes, sir,” Melvin said. “And I would too. Come back and get hurt—why? Gave up everything he had for five, six years, and y’all can’t pay the man?”
The big difference is that Bell was on the franchise tag, and Gordon’s still on a fifth-year option scheduled to pay out $5.6 million. That hurts his leverage. The fact that he missed four games due to injury last season and the Chargers offense looked the same without him hurts his leverage, too.
Here’s what I think will be his saving grace, and may just get him paid: Chargers QB Philip Rivers is 37 years old, and Los Angeles needs every bit of ammunition for one last run at this thing before starting over at the most important position. Anthony Lynn, himself a former running back, needs all the horses in the barn.
2. In case you missed it, here’s Washington cornerback Josh Norman leaping over a bull.
Whenever I see some offseason shenanigans like this—the kind where players put themselves at unnecessary risk of injury all for internet clout—I ask myself, ‘Would this happen if the player was on the Patriots?’ The answer is no, because when the overriding expectation throughout the franchise is winning Super Bowls and not collecting paychecks, players generally steer clear of steers.
3. From July 12, 2019: The NFL has suspended Oakland Raiders guard Richie Incognito two games for violating the personal conduct policy, reported by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The discipline is the result of Incognito’s role in an April incident at an Arizona funeral home following his father’s death.
The incident, via CBS Sports:
At various points of his time at the funeral home, he threatened to return to his car, get guns out of the car and shoot employees of the funeral home if they didn’t allow him access to the proceedings and his father’s body. Police did find firearms in his truck when they arrived… According to a copy of the arrest report, Employees of Messingers Pinnacle Peak Mortuary told Scottsdale police that the former Pro Bowler said he wanted his father’s head cut off for research purposes and that he walked through the funeral home punching caskets and throwing things.
I’d say the word ‘incident’ in the NFL.com story is carrying considerable weight.
4. I’m in agreement with the Kansas City Star editorial board’s take on the latest in the Tyreek Hill audio saga.
A brief recap: KCTV dropped the edited audio first, removing a portion of the tape (released last week by another outlet) in which Espinal appears to attempt to goad Hill into admitting to assaulting her in 2014, and he denies it, despite having plead guilty to it at the time. KCTV explained their decision here. Portions of media and fans took that as evidence of Hill’s innocence and a smear campaign led by Espinal.
Here’s The Star’s take: When she instead repeatedly asks him where her bruises came from if he never hit her, he doesn’t answer because there isn’t an answer that he likes well enough to repeat. I agree. The full tape is not vindication for Hill, who still says, in both versions, “You need to be terrified of me, too, dumb bitch.” There’s no sugarcoating that, and the NFL has to decide whether it wants to embrace that quote and the person who said it in the warm safety of its shield.
5. I agree, for the most part, with EA Sports’ decision to make Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, Bears edge defender Khalil Mack, Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald as the players rated 99 overall in Madden 20. One nitpicky note: I’m not sure how you can separate the resumes of Bobby Wagner and Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. The case can even be made that Kuechly is slightly better in pass coverage, though they’re both otherworldly linebackers.
6. Speaking of Mack, when I had the chance to catch up with Bears coach Matt Nagy this week, I felt compelled to ask him about the most baffling NFL transaction of the last five years: Oakland sends Khalil Mack and 2020 second- and fifth-round picks to Chicago for first- and sixth-round picks in ’19 and first- and third-round picks in ’20.
It doesn’t make sense to me and it never will. Turns out, it didn’t make much sense to Nagy either (not that he’s complaining): “It’s rare to have a guy that talented, at the age he was at, that’s that good of a person, become available.”
It’s that last part of what Nagy said that resonates. Usually when superstars are moved, it’s because there’s some dirt behind the scenes—something askew with the locker room dynamic. With Mack there was none of that. Jordy Nelson, who played in Oakland in 2018, echoed that when we spoke: “For those guys that had played with him, it wasn’t just that they were losing a great player. They all said they were losing a great person and a better friend.” Mystifying.
7. I’d be less inclined to work out a long-term deal for Jadaveon Clowney than I would for Melvin Gordon, all things being equal. Yes, Clowney plays what’s generally-considered a more important position, but he’s been a late-bloomer in that building in terms of veteran leadership and his injury history (multiple lower body surgeries) should give the Texans pause in terms of a large financial commitment.
8. I’m a few weeks late on this but if you’re like me and you don’t play video games often but you miss the hell out of the EA Sports’ NCAA football games, this may be welcome news to you. Doug Flutie has partnered with a video game developer to make Doug Flutie’s Maximum Football. It’s being produced by a former online producer for all the EA Sports titles, and while it won’t have the budget of an EA game and the state of the art gameplay that comes with that, it will have a college football franchise mode, with an impressive-looking recruiting platform. Competing for recruits in dynasty mode was always the big draw for me growing up, so I’m pumped to give Flutie’s game a try when it comes out this fall.
9. Our NFL preview content is just around the corner, but I can tell you right now I’m picking a Colts-49ers Super Bowl. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck are about to remind everyone why they were the toast of the NFL just a few years ago. Put it on the board.
10. The MMQB has gone through a lot of changes since its inception in 2013. For starters, the man who started the group—and this column—has moved on to NBC Sports. The only originals remaining are myself, Jenny Vrentas, Andy Benoit and editor Mark Mravic. Somehow, though, it still feels like one big family. Peter created a culture of resource-sharing that I’m not sure exists to this degree at other NFL media shops, and he initiated that trend with this very column. In sharing the weekly duties with Albert Breer, Vrentas and myself while he was on vacation—rather than have non-SI guests write the column as he had in the past—Peter exposed our work to a larger audience and began to create an identity based on collaboration within our staff. I can’t wait to see what my friends Jonathan Jones, Kalyn Kahler and Conor Orr do with the spotlight when it’s their turn.
… OF THE WEEK
“Fans and media discuss what would happen to ratings and revenue or whether [18 games] is a good idea or bad idea. … For us, it comes down to who players are as men and is it good for us. If a coal miner is willing to spend more time in the hole, does it likely result in more money? Yeah. Is that a good thing for him as a person? Probably not. That’s the question nobody confronts. It’s easy to say it’s more money. But is it good for us? The answer is no.”
— NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, to ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe, on the possibility of an 18-game season perpetually being floated by owners.
S/O TO …
1. Abby Wambach. I had the pleasure of meeting Wambach and hearing her speak at the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year banquet early last week at the Ritz Carlton in downtown Los Angeles. First of all, I’m not one to pump up a brand just because we have a business relationship with them. With that said, it’s a tremendous event that celebrates not only the best athletes in each high school sport in the country, but rewards the best students. There wasn’t a GPA under 3.3 in the bunch, and most of the honorees had 4.0-plus GPAs and more community volunteer experience than I thought possible in four years of high school.
Back to Wambach: She presented the Gatorade Female Athlete of the Year award, and it was clear that she was the star of the night. No athlete in attendance got a bigger round of applause upon introduction—not Karl-Anthony Towns or Peyton Manning, Sony Michel or Todd Gurley. Wambach is no longer a member of the national team, but in the minds of the audience at the Gatorade awards, she represented the U.S. Women’s national team, which had just stormed to World Cup victory, and inspired some consternation, at home and abroad, over Megan Rapinoe’s activism and the team’s celebrations throughout their run.
Like the other presenters—which included Manning, Towns and Sage Steele—she initially stuck to her prepared remarks on the teleprompter. But just before announcing the winner, Wambach tapped into the moment and the good word poured out. She went off script.
“I stood on the shoulders of giants,” Wambach said, pausing to consider her words, “and so will you. But what Megan [Rapinoe] and Alex [Morgan] have done in terms of celebrating their victories, being confident, being badass and most importantly being unapologetic—you all take that into every step of your athletic career, because the world is ready for you.” Amen.
2. Jets running back Ty Montgomery, whose foundation provided a donation worth $2,500 to two Milwaukee families which finalized adoptions of foster children over the weekend. Montgomery, himself not a foster child, had 17 foster brothers and sisters growing up. The way he tells it, “I told my mom I wanted some siblings around second or third grade. I wanted someone to share life with, and it took off from there.”
After his rookie year in Green Bay, Montgomery started My 10 Percent, a foundation that supports foster families and combats trafficking of foster children. The weekend trip to Wisconsin was about celebrating new beginnings.
“We want to provide some intangibles. Give them a mindset of hope and faith that will allow them to move foraward with conviction in life,” Montgomery told me over the phone. “Jesus said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move a mountain.”
SIX FROM THE SIDELINE
1. If there exists a better demonstration of our political divide as it manifests itself in the TV news wars than this, I haven’t seen it.
2. That Sam Presti, general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is still employed is a truly remarkable thing. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, three of the top 10 NBA talents of the last decade: All gone, with nary a ring to blunt the pain. GMs in the NBA and every other league have been let go for far, far less.
3. Apropos of nothing, I asked Gatorade National Track and Field Athlete of the Year Matthew Boling to describe his meal intake on the day of the award dinner. The rundown: “A scoop of eggs and a scoop of egg whites, three pieces of turkey bacon, and a chicken fajita with rice and beans for lunch.” And at the cocktail hour: “Three of those hummus-stuffed peppers, three of those sushi thingys with cucumbers, three mini crabcakes.” And at dinner, Boling smashed his beef short rib entree and ordered another. Also, he worked out that day. I guess that’s how you set a world high-school record in the 100-meter dash.
4. Read this: A conversation between mother and son, via the New Yorker’s brilliant satirist, Lane Moore.
Listen, buddy, I don’t want to sound like I’m anti American men’s soccer. I think it’s great that they’re out there doing their thing. I’d totally watch men’s soccer sometime. It’s not real soccer, but who cares? Men are really attractive when they sweat, and they look so cute running around in their little uniforms. I love the face men make when they’re really trying to focus, like, “Grrr. Men can be tough, too!” It’s adorable.
5. Jalen, this is not a political debate. This is a public health issue. Stop. Talking.
6. Please allow me homage to my favorite feature of the magazine as a kid. Here’s this week’s (online) Sign of the Apocalypse:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The deadline to sign franchise-tagged players to multi-year contract is today at 4 p.m. ET, upon which time players can only agree to one-year deals that cannot be extended until the after the fnal regular season game of the 2019 season. Houston texans edge defender Jadaveon Clowney and 49ers kicker Robbie Gould are the only remaining tagged players.
The Denver Broncos are the first NFL team to begin training camp, with rookies and veterans reporting Wednesday July 17, and the first practice of the season happening Thursday. Football’s back!
Question or comment? Email us at [email protected]