Locker-Room Culture Change Starts Now

The NFL begins its three-week, 32-team journey to improve the workplace environment. Plus, celebrating 25 years at Sports Illustrated, an owner talks Los Angeles and London, commencement speeches and a travel note to beat 'em all

A varied day in the world of Monday Morning Quarterback:

  • The NFL starts its locker-room-culture initiative today in Atlanta—32 one-hour sessions in front of every NFL team by month’s end, continuing the league’s effort to Incognito-proof 32 locker rooms.
  • In the wake of Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer’s death, thoughts on his colorblind impact on the game, and on the creeping ageism of NFL ownership.
  • The week’s my 25-year anniversary at Sports Illustrated. I reflect on my Johnny Cash interaction at the beginning, Steve Young vomiting perilously close to my shoes in the middle, and me being an ogre of a boss at the end. (Groaning, you skip the 25th anniversary section.)
  • It’s my annual recap of the best (or at least the ones the web spat out when we web-searched) graduation speeches of 2014.
  • The disastrous Sean Lee injury for Dallas.
  • Arthur Blank predicts a team for Europe. Or two. Soon.
  • Steve Jobs once had a one-word message for Roger Goodell. (And it wasn’t “Plastics,” Benjamin.)

Happy June, everyone. The first training-camp practices are seven weeks from this morning.

* * *

Players, get ready for a lot of HR talk in the next three weeks.

Ex-Falcon Patrick Kerney will be among the NFL contingent in Atlanta on Monday to discuss locker-room culture. (Paul Spinelli/AP)
Ex-Falcon Patrick Kerney will be among the NFL contingent in Atlanta on Monday to discuss locker-room culture. (Paul Spinelli/AP)

Not home runs. Human Resources. The NFL’s executive vice president and chief human resources officer, Robert Gulliver, leads a three-man NFL team into Flowery Branch, Ga., today to meet with all players, coaches and selected executives (owner Arthur Blank will be on hand) to discuss how to improve locker-room culture. Gulliver and former NFL players Patrick Kerney and Donovin Darius will talk to the 100-plus Falcons at the team complex as part of the league’s efforts to make sure a Dolphins-type hazing situation never happens in an NFL locker room again.

“We believe the moment is now to really effect change,” Gulliver said over the weekend. “This is not a Band-Aid from [NFL offices at] 345 Park Avenue in New York. This is the chance to start a dialogue about what a more respectful locker-room culture is all about. While we have rules and policies on the books that talk about the workplace, what is also important is the culture that reinforces the rules and policies. We believe that a more respectful culture is part of a winning culture.”

Gulliver won’t make every trip. Nor will the same former players be at every stop; the league’s newly trained “Ambassadors,” scores of recently retired players drilled to instruct their ex-peers on the workplace environment, will fan out to different teams this month. Today, the Atlanta presentation will be about an hour long, and former Falcons defensive end Kerney—now the league’s vice president of player benefits—and Darius, the former Jaguars safety, will be there to help Gulliver drive home the point about respecting the guy next to you in the locker room.

What can be accomplished in an hour? It’s a logical and skeptical question. “It’s to start the dialogue, to provoke conversation,” said Kerney. “As players, we need to understand we’re all going to be out of there soon and into the real world. If we continue some of the behavior of the past, we’re enclosing ourselves in the bubble even further.”

In the wake of the Miami hazing culture blown apart by Jonathan Martin’s quitting the team last year, the league invited values-based-leadership author and speaker Dov Seidman to keynote the opening session at the league meetings this year. The NFL also has engaged former NFL player Wade Davis, who came out as gay after his career, to speak to teams about understanding homosexuality, both in society and in the locker room; Davis was dispatched to consult with the Rams for several days after they drafted openly gay defensive end Michael Sam in April. Now this.

“The moment is now,” said Gulliver.

Will it work? Can it work? I think the most important element here is the acceptance by coaches and the team leaders—especially the team leaders. In Atlanta, coach Mike Smith needs to be open to this; I’m told he very much is. But it has to be the players accepting it even more than Smith. Locker-room culture may be ruled by the coach, but it’s the players who have to live there for hours a day and understand it’s a new day. Kerney’s message is correct: This abusive and raunch boys-club-gone-wild atmosphere bubble doesn’t exist in the real world. Just because it’s been the tradition is many NFL locker rooms, why does it have to continue?

The author with then-Packer Greg Jennings after a game in 2011. (David Stluka/AP)
Peter King with then-Packer Greg Jennings after a game in 2011. (David Stluka/AP)

The anniversary.

I got a bit nostalgic on Friday when I told my crew at The MMQB—we were gathered in New York City for our microsite’s offseason seminar—that Sunday was the 25th anniversary of Sports Illustrated managing editor Mark Mulvoy offering me a job and saying, “I want you to cover the NFL your way.” Nostalgic, and a bit ancient. Two of the staffers in the room on Friday, Andy DeGory and Emily Kaplan, weren’t born when I started at SI. Which means one of two things. Either I should get lost, and go where the dinosaurs go. Or I should, as many athletes say, stay till they kick me out of the game.

I’ve opted for the second choice, at least for now. Twenty-five years, 25 memories:

1.  First assignment: June 1989. The NFL’s trying to birth a minor league, the World League of American Football, and I’m sent on the road for three days with the new exec of the league, banished Cowboys czar Tex Schramm, as he private-jetted from Jacksonville to Orlando to Birmingham to Charlotte to Nashville scouting for American franchises for an uninvented league. Highlight: I’m sent down the stairs of the plane first when we get to Nashville, and at the bottom is the Man in Black, with his right hand out to shake. “Hiyah, welcome tah Nashville. Ahm Johnny Cash,” said Johnny Cash. Those were the days: three days on the road for 370 words buried in “Scorecard.”

2. One of the great things about the Sports Illustrated of a generation ago was access. A PR man in those days would actually value an SI writer more highly than an ESPN reporter or anchor. And so less than 48 hours after the biggest trade in NFL history—the 18-player/draft-pick Herschel Walker deal between Dallas and Minnesota—I’m in a car with Walker as he runs errands the day before his first game as a Vike. “I’m ashamed to be here, almost,” Walker said. “These other guys have earned their stripes, and I’m almost sneaking in.” I was in the wrong place, even though Walker gained 148 yards the next day. I should have been in denuded Dallas. That trade gave Dallas several pieces it needed to win three Super Bowls, even though it set them up for a 1-15 season.

King's first cover story in August 1989 (Ronald C. Modra/SI)
King’s first cover story in August 1989 (Ronald C. Modra/SI)

3. I loved the openness, the bawdiness, the intelligence of Jimmy Johnson. In training camp in 1990 we dined one night and he told me what a living hell the 1-15 season was, and he detailed all the crap that went on all season. At one point Johnson realized how much he was saying and his glare bore a hole through me. “Peter,” he said. “If you f— me on this story, I will squash you like a squirrel in the road.” Another time, he opened a briefcase to get something out, and a canister of Paul Mitchell Freeze and Spray Shine hair spray fell onto the floor. “Oooops!” he said, laughing.

4. Most often my first three or four years, pre-TV, I’d sit in the office on an NFL Sunday and gather enough material for a four-page “Inside the NFL” notes column. Or I’d go on the road and get a lead for the column out of a Sunday game. I liked the weird stats. Like this after the Colts fired Ron Meyer in 1991: In his last 72 games, Ron Meyer went 36-36. In his last 72 games, Chuck Noll is 36-36.

5. In a Jersey movie theater watching “A Few Good Men” in 1992, something happened that made me say, “You work at a cool place.” Tom Cruise’s character was on the streets of Washington, D.C., and stopped at a newsstand. He bought a copy of Sports Illustrated with my “One Happy Camper” story from Colts camp the previous year, on Eric Dickerson, and flipped through it for a few seconds. Had to call my mother and tell her about that one.

6. Biggest regret, by far: My father, who died in 1986, who brought home five or six Boston and New York newspapers every Saturday and Sunday to our home in Connecticut—that infected me with the media bug—never got to hear any of my stories, never got to go to any games, never got to know how important he was to what happened to me.

7. The media … what a difference a generation makes. I traveled in the early ’90s with a large notebook, a few pens and a small computer that most often stayed at the hotel. I’d take notes at a game, do interviews post-game, and go back to the hotel and write my piece for the magazine. When that was done, so was I for the week. The End. Now: I use a smart phone, a tablet and a laptop, daily. I phone, I tweet, I skype, I research the ’net. I do talk shows. I do video chats. The other day I did something called a Google+ hangout with Brandin Cooks and A.J. McCarron. In a 2014 game week, I’ll get up Sunday morning, try to polish off 2,500 early words for my Monday Morning Quarterback column for The MMQB. Then I’ll go to NBC to watch games, and I’ll interview some players and coaches by phone, and then the NBC pre-game show comes on and I’ll have a little segment on it, and then I’ll report whatever needs to be reported. Then I’ll go home to my Manhattan apartment and finish my Monday column, and then go in the office to do some video work, and the multimedia thing will start all over again. Back in the day you prayed something you found out on a Friday would hold until it got to peoples’ mailboxes six days later. Now that thing you found out will probably be on the internet in six minutes by someone else if you don’t rush to get it up first. 

8. Deion Sanders, the football player moonlighting as a baseball player. Went to see him play for the Braves in Pittsburgh in 1992, when he was nearly an everyday player for Atlanta. He told me to meet him in his hotel room an hour after the game. So I went. He’d taken the collar against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield at Three Rivers, and when I got to his room, he was sweating, shirtless, taking swings in front of the mirror. The guy wanted to be good at baseball, but he knew the reality of it. “They can do without me,” he said. “I know it and they know it.”

9. In 1995, Mike Holmgren, the Green Bay head coach, let me spend a week inside the Packers. That was fun. Brett Favre farted in quarterback meetings a lot. What a memory he had. He’d be looking up at the ceiling, seemingly not paying attention, and QB coach Steve Mariucci would say, “Brett, what are you looking for with this protection?” Favre would just spit out, “Strongside ’back. C’mon Mooch. Gimme something tough.” That’s the week Holmgren, playing a game against Minnesota for the division lead in three days, had to call two rookie running backs into his office and tell them they couldn’t have a pet lion. A couple hours later, one of them, Travis Jervey, told me if he couldn’t get a lion, well then, he’d like a tiger instead. 

10. Maddest a player ever got with me? Probably Kevin Gogan of the 49ers. I called him a journeyman in print in 1997, seeing as though he was on his third team in five years. When I showed up in their locker room a few weeks later, he confronted me and screamed, “JOURNEYMAN? JOURNEYMAN! JOURNEYMAN!!!!” I just stared at him as he towered over me—he was 6-7, 320—and screamed. “Do you want to talk about it?’’ I said. He just kept screaming, “JOURNEYMAN!!!” Strange afternoon. 

King with Bills coach Doug Marrone at training camp in 2013. (Bill Wippert/AP)
King with Bills coach Doug Marrone at training camp in 2013. (Bill Wippert/AP)

11. Maddest a coach ever got? One time Bill Parcells told me we were through—he was coaching the Jets, and thought I told another writer something out of bounds—and that lasted about six or eight months. Now we talk a lot. I guess Bill Belichick got mad after some of my coverage of Spygate in 2007. I’m not sure, though. He hasn’t talked to me since.

12. Regrets? You’ll probably say, “The Saints’ bounty story.” Nope. I don’t regret a syllable of it. Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis and Gregg Williams and Jonathan Vilma should be mad at themselves, not at me, for not stopping it before it got out of control. I’d love to have a relationship with smart men and brilliant coaches like Belichick and Payton again, but these things happen in this business.

13. Best locker-room scene: Steve Young, after he threw six touchdown passes in super Bowl XXIX to shred the Chargers, hugging the Vince Lombardi Trophy so tight I honestly though he might bend it. “THEY CAN NEVER, EVER, EVER TAKE THIS AWAY!!!!!!!” Young screamed before the media got let in. (I worked for ABC at the time, and the game network got to be everywhere. Lucky me.) 

14. Best post-Super Bowl scene: Young, that same night, throwing up red Gatorade in the limo taking him from the game to his hotel in Miami—all over agent Leigh Steinberg’s shoes. “Guess I’ll never polish these shoes again,” Steinberg said. Young was so dehydrated back at the hotel, cramping up so badly he was nearly catatonic; Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue had to come up to the room and give him IV fluids in both arms. When a relative in his suite tried to gloat a bit—“Joe Who?!!!”—Young right away said, “No, no. Don’t do that. That’s not right.” Young’s one of the classiest people I’ve met in these 25 years.

15. So … the classiest? In no particular order: Young, former Packers linebacker Johnny Holland, Wellington Mara of the Giants, quarterback Frank Reich, linebacker London Fletcher, Troy Polamalu, Marv Levy, Peyton Manning, the late Buffalo center Kent Hull, Barry Sanders, Kurt Warner, Dan Rooney, Jake Delhomme, Hardy Nickerson, Aeneas Williams, Coby Fleener, Alex Smith, kicker Gary Anderson, Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Nnamdi Asomugha, Chad Pennington. I could go on for a long time. Suffice to say: Good guys outnumber the turds by a lot.

16. Player whose downfall surprised me the most? Not even close: Darren Sharper.

King's cover story on the Saints in January 2010. (Simon Bruty/SI)
King’s cover story on the Saints in January 2010. (Simon Bruty/SI)

17. Best story: The Saints. Everything about the rise of the Saints from the depths of Katrina to Super Bowl champs is good—for the community, for the spirit, for sports. I’ll never forget Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis going to a Habitat for Humanity building site in the Lower Ninth Ward the day before the Reggie Bush draft, to boost spirits of the volunteer builders … and President Bush showed up. “How about this?” Bush said, greeting Payton. “A 42-year-old guy from Eastern Illinois, coaching the Saints, living his dream!” Cool stuff, all of it. And New Orleans is still wedded to the Saints unlike any other city south of Green Bay is to its team.

18. I’ve covered a lot of fun games, but for some reasons I’ll remember the game New England won to set the record for consecutive NFL wins (19) in 2004, because that story contained my favorite SI line. (The list of good lines is a very short one, believe me.) I’d written previously about Belichick having the biggest football library in the world—which he has since given to the U.S. Naval Academy library. In a quiet moment in the locker room after New England beat Miami to earn the record, I got Belichick about as celebratory as you’ll hear him. And I wrote, “ ‘It’s great to be in the history books,’ said the man who has read them all.”

19. Best interview: Brett Favre edges Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman, John Randle and Jimmy Johnson. The memory of each man is startling, Favre and Manning especially. I’ll never forget what Favre told me about his post-football life. This was in 2000. I asked him where he’d be and what he’d do in retirement. “I’ll be down in Hattiesburg [Miss.]. You’ll never find me. You know the ‘Where are they now?’ segments on ‘Inside the NFL?’ They’ll do one on me, but they’ll have to get Robert Stack, like on ‘Unsolved Mysteries.’ I’ll disappear.” Well, he’s in Hattiesburg. I can never get him on the phone anymore. He’s disappeared, except to coach the offense for the local high school football team.

20. Best time of year: training camp. I’m fired up for the trip in July, the same as I was 25 summers ago. It’s the only time you can get some semblance of quality time with players and coaches between July and February. I hate that so many teams are reverting to their in-season facilities. Go to Pittsford, N.Y., (Bills) and Spartanburg, S.C., (Panthers) and Latrobe, Pa., (Steelers) and Mankato, Minn., (Vikings), and I dare you to tell me there’s not some benefit for teams to get away and be together day and night—and for their fans to be able to touch them. 

21. Smartest professional decision I made in these 25 years: listening to Steve Robinson, the first editor of the magazine’s website, in 1997 when he asked me to empty out my notebook on Monday morning with whatever I wasn’t writing for the magazine that week. That’s how “Monday Morning Quarterback” was birthed.

22. Three best mentors: 1. Paul Zimmerman. He never knew it, but the most important thing I learned from him was simply by observing him. He almost always interviewed people alone. Invaluable … 2. Mark Mulvoy, my first managing editor at the magazine. Chase the story, no matter how many interviews or winding roads it takes … 3. (Tie) The much-younger people I respect in this business now—Robert Klemko, Greg Bedard, Jenny Vrentas, Jeff Darlington, Mike Reiss, Liz Merrill—and I am sorry to leave so many out. They are important to me because the young people in this business are so good, and the only way I can keep my job is to chase them and continue to try to compete with them. Just try to compete with Merrill on a long story. It’s intimidating. But it’s great too, because her work is something to shoot for.

23. The job’s tougher now. Lots of layers of PR people and team officials and milquetoast player quotes. But I’m still having as much fun as the day I walked down the plane steps and there was the Man in Black. You’ve just got to try to figure out a way to get to the story.

24. So the world changes now. I am editor-in-chief of The MMQB, this site you’re reading now, and I spend eight or 10 days a year on the road talking to advertisers now, trying to tell them how we can deliver the goods others can’t. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. I have to think of video now, and social media, and I have to think about several other writers and what they should be doing and writing. It’s different. But last week we had our second annual two-day offseason seminar (I guess that’s what you’d call it) and I was encouraged by the imagination of our staff. There’s a lot of original ideas out there, even as things like the scouting combine have jumped in coverage from 15 reporters in 1999 to 941 this year. You’ve just got to be smart, and you’ve got to think. I am very fortunate to have smart thinkers surrounding me on the staff.

25. I often think how fortunate I am professionally, to be doing something I like so much for so long. That’s what I would leave you with in this contemplative mood I’m in this weekend. When it’s time for me to go—and I hope that’s not for a while—I will be the luckiest man in the business that day, because it lasted so long.

Under owner Malcolm Glazer, the Bucs won the first Super Bowl in franchise history in 2003. (Dave Martin/AP)
Under owner Malcolm Glazer the Bucs won the first Super Bowl in franchise history in 2003. (Dave Martin/AP)

Malcolm Glazer’s quiet legacy.

Glazer, who died Wednesday at 85, was a stealth owner if there ever was one. The longtime owner of the Bucs—he bought them from Hugh Culverhouse in 1995—very seldom spoke publicly, and he’d gotten even more reclusive after suffering a stroke eight years ago, leaving the operation of the team to sons Joel, Bryan and Edward.

Tampa Bay won one Super Bowl under Glazer’s ownership, the Jon Gruden-led title 12 years ago, after Glazer made the difficult decision to fire Tony Dungy and go with new blood. But it’s Dungy who is part of Glazer’s real legacy, both to the Bucs and to the game. The Glazers, in their two decades as owners, have hired three African-American coaches—Dungy, Raheem Morris and Lovie Smith. No other owner in NFL history has hired as many African-American coaches. That should be the significance of Glazer’s run in the NFL—he was colorblind at a time when many teams, and owners, in the league were not.

“Yes, it is notable,’’ Dungy said over the weekend. “He hired me when there was still trepidation by some people. And he may not have made the final decision on Lovie, but he set the tone in the organization and he put the mindset in his sons to look at people impartially. He and I had many conversations about relationships and how you treat others. That was very important to him.”

The Glazers have hired five coaches. Dungy turned the franchise from sad-sack losers to annual contenders. Gruden finished the job. Raheem Morris largely failed, lasting three years. Greg Schiano didn’t have a long-enough chance (two years), but he failed too. Now Smith takes over. No one around the NFL will remember many impassioned speeches by Glazer. But his actions spoke louder. The league should hold him up as an example of hiring the best guy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

* * *

The graying of the league.

NFL ownership is aging. Four teams in the last eight months have had a transition in ownership with the death of principal owners. And 13 other teams have principal owners who are more than 70 years old. The recent deaths:

Oct. 21: Tennessee owner Bud Adams, 90.
March 9: Detroit owner William Clay Ford, 88.
March 25: Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson, 95.
May 28: Tampa Bay owner Malcolm Glazer, 85.

And the aging: Virginia McCaskey (Chicago) 91, Alex Spanos (San Diego) 90, Tom Benson (New Orleans) 86, Dan Rooney (Pittsburgh) 81, Bill Bidwill (Arizona) 82, Mike Brown (Cincinnati) 78, Jerry Richardson (Carolina) 77, Bob McNair (Houston) 76, Stephen Ross (Miami) 74, Robert Kraft (New England) 73 on Thursday, Jerry Jones (Dallas) 71, Arthur Blank (Atlanta) 71 and Pat Bowlen (Denver) 70.

Of course, in many of the places where owners are aging, teams have strong family plans in place. Dean Spanos is a well-respected presence at league meetings for the Chargers, as is Art Rooney II for Pittsburgh, Katie Blackburn (Mike Brown’s daughter) for the Bengals, Michael Bidwill for the Cards, Jonathan Kraft for the Patriots and Stephen Jones for Dallas.

John Mara has emerged in a leadership position in the league now, and Clark Hunt too, after the deaths of their influential dads Wellington with the Giants and Lamar with the Chiefs. It’ll be interesting to see who’s next to take power in league circles as the graying of the league continues. I think Jonathan Kraft, Art Rooney II and Blackburn—all very smart, all well-respected in their ways—will be ones to watch over the next decade.

* * *

Falcons owner Arthur Blank (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Falcons owner Arthur Blank (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Arthur Blank is very bullish on expanding the NFL’s borders.

My Q&A with the Atlanta owner:

The MMQB: What’s the short- and long-term future of the NFL in Europe?

Blank: The games in London, I think are a tribute to the NFL, a tribute to the fans there, the quality of the game—and I think that it’s proved conclusive that fans will come out when they see the real players playing games that are really meaningful, as opposed to NFL Europe. So I think—and all three of the games for 2014 sold out immediately, 240,000 tickets—the league, as you know, has been in discussion about a fourth game, in discussion about games beyond that. There’s been discussion about potentially having a franchise in London. I’m very optimistic. The approach that the international committee and the commissioner have taken is, ‘Let’s do London right, and then move from there to potentially somewhere else.’ I’m sure there are wonderful cities in Europe, and elsewhere.

The MMQB: Is it more likely there would be a franchise in London or that there would be six to eight games a season?

Blank: I think it will lead to [a team]. I think it will start with an increased number of games. That will be translated into a very successful series of games, and eventually, I think a franchise. And maybe more than one. London’s a big city … I think eventually having that many games says that we really are playing a season in London, so we probably ought to have a team here. I think it will be a natural progression to a team.

The MMQB: In how many years?

Blank: Less than you’d think. The success has been remarkable, and I don’t see any reason why it’s going to slow down.

The MMQB: How about Los Angeles? This is the 20-year anniversary of the last NFL game there. 

Blank: I think there will be one or more teams there in the future. Clearly, in terms of the media market, it’s not made a difference. We’ve had great success—all of our media partners are thrilled with the ratings, etc. But I think to not have one or more teams in L.A., over an extended period of time, on the surface it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So I think that eventually there will be a team in L.A. It’s a matter of getting the stadium puzzle, getting the public/private partnership puzzle—getting all that worked through and worked out. I can’t see the NFL ignoring the city long-term. The public/private partnership balance in the state of California is pretty tricky these days. You talk to the 49ers. You talk to the Chargers. [San Diego president] Dean Spanos could probably write a book on it.

The MMQB: What worries you about the future of the league? Overexposure? Pricing fans out?

Blank: You have to worry a little bit about overexposure. When I grew up, it was Sunday at 1 o’clock. That was it. Now it’s Sunday at 1, Sunday evenings, Monday night, Thursday night—it’s a lot. Clearly the demands for the product are incredible, so I’m not being critical. I think the league has exposed their product appropriately and increases exposure at a reasonable rate, because of the demand. You talk to the over-the-air broadcasters and they can’t live without it. What worries me in any successful business is a word called complacency. Complacency in any organization can creep in. It depends on the leadership to make sure that it doesn’t creep in. I think that Roger will not bow down to that. I think the people who he surrounds himself with, and the owners, they feel that way. But that’s always the danger. This is a competitive world for people’s time. It’s a competitive time for their financial resources. My sense of Roger after eight years … Roger is always running scared. I don’t mean that in a negative way. When I was running Home Depot, I’d be the same way. You’re always looking for things that could be issues. It’s required even more so when the organization is doing extraordinarily well. By every measure, the NFL is doing extraordinarily well. But you can’t take anything for granted. Anything. I think the minute you do is the minute you start getting in trouble.

At Home Depot, I’ll tell you a little side story—we used to bring in people from the outside all the time. We were growing the company at an incredible rate. We’d bring in some senior executives periodically and they would always come back and say to me that you would think that this company is on the verge of bankruptcy. We were growing the company at a rate of something like 48 percent a year. We’d bring in people who’d look at us and say, ‘You guys spend all your time focusing on things that are opportunities and things that are wrong. You can’t even believe how successful this company is.’ My sense in the NFL is that there is a tremendous amount of time spent looking at things that we can do better, as opposed to celebrating the successes of the league. I think that’s healthy and required when you have the kind of success that we have.

Yale students listen to Secretary of State John Kerry's speech at Class Day on May 18. (Jessica Hill/AP)
Yale students listen to Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech at Class Day on May 18. (Jessica Hill/AP)

Graduation Day.

I have a custom for those new to the column of taking chunks of graduation speeches from around the country and either inspiring you or boring you to tears with them. Here are parts of a few that caught my eye this spring:

Alex Smith, quarterback

University of Utah

It’s been almost 10 years to the day that I graduated from the U, and I’ve had many ups and downs over the course of that time, and there are really three concepts that I’ve learned and relied on, over those years. One: Identify my weaknesses. Two: Embrace the new. Three: Let go of what I cannot control.

When I graduated from Utah, I was headed into the biggest job interview of my life, the NFL draft. As you can imagine, I wanted so badly to impress; I wanted to be perfect. I tried to be the perfect draft prospect. In my meetings with the coaches and the executives, I tried to be the perfect interview. At the combine and at my workouts, I tried to be the perfect player. I tried to promote my strengths and conceal my weaknesses and on paper. I kind of succeeded; I was the first pick in the draft. And with that I inherited this big shiny trophy that I carried around, and it had one word engraved on it: ‘anxiety.’ You see, the problem was, and this is the point, I felt like I had to be perfect to justify my draft status. I became my own worst enemy. I constantly stressed for others’ approval and worried about what they were thinking. I felt like I couldn’t even make the smallest of mistakes, and then when I did make a mistake, I agonized over it; this became a paralyzing cycle. I became cautious. I was tentative. My entire mindset became, ‘Don’t screw up’. Literally, I would tell myself, ‘Don’t screw up. Don’t throw an incompletion. Don’t throw an interception. Don’t fumble. Don’t drop the snap. Don’t line up under the guard.’ That’s what I’d tell myself.

I was young, and I let my insecurities and own self-doubt get the best of me. I worried about others’ approval, and the result was, I was stressed, I was exhausted and I was full of anxiety. And most importantly, I was completely unproductive.

I recently had the opportunity to hang out with UFC champion Georges St-Pierre. For those of you who don’t know Georges, he’s a world class mixed-martial artist, and some would even regard him as the best ever. After getting to spend some time with him, one thing really stuck with me. It was how much time Georges and his team spent evaluating his own weaknesses. I’d always imagined that they spent all their time and energy focusing on their next opponent, a lot like we do in football; instead, Georges spends his time targeting his own weaknesses. He isn’t insecure about his abilities or who he is—instead he’s honest with himself, and he embraces the challenge of his own shortcomings.

We can never fully plan our future, so don’t try. And how many of you graduates know what you want to do today for the rest of your lives? I know I didn’t, when I got my diploma and that’s really okay. I encourage you all to embrace what life throws at you, no matter how uncomfortable or daunting it might seem. Let’s all have the courage to walk across the room and make a connection.

I really have had the opportunity to play for some extraordinary coaches, none better than my coach here at the U, Urban Meyer. Coach Meyer used to always tell us this: ‘If what you want is different than what you have, then you need to change what you are doing.’ Coach would always say that right before he asked us to do something really crazy, but he was right. If we wanted to be, I don’t know, the first school to break down the BCS, we couldn’t just keep doing the same old thing. It’s something that’s really helped me over the years. It’s actually something I tell myself every time that little voice in my head tries to get me to take the easy way out.

* * *

William McRaven, Navy admiral

University of Texas

I have been a Navy SEAL for 36 years. But it all began when I left the University of Texas for basic SEAL training in Coronado, Calif. Basic SEAL training is six months of long torturous runs in the soft sand, midnight swims in the cold water off San Diego, obstacles courses, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet and miserable. It is six months of being constantly harassed by professionally trained warriors who seek to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming a Navy SEAL. But the training also seeks to find those students who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardships. To me basic SEAL training was a lifetime of challenges crammed into six months.

Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room, and the first thing they would inspect was your bed.

If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard, and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack. Rack—that’s Navy talk for bed. It was a simple task, mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our beds to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs. But the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over. If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.

If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

* * *

Colin Powell, former Secretary of State

High Point University

Don’t fall for slogans, one-liners, screamers, hate peddlers or cable pundit commentary. Don’t fall for those who will not compromise. This nation is here because our founding fathers with all of their different beliefs … as strongly as they felt about everything, they knew they had to compromise in order to create a constitution, in order to create the great country we now enjoy. As you go through life, listen to the other side. Have your eyes and your ears and your heart open to counter views so we can get back what makes this country great in the political sense—the ability to compromise with each other and not just freeze ourselves on a spectrum of political desire from the right or from the left.

* * *

Philip Rivers, quarterback

Catholic University

Two traits I want to share with you that I have experienced and dealt with over the past few years. First: Don’t worry. There were so many ups and downs for me in the 2010, 2011, 2012 seasons, and I had many struggles, that I began to worry. When would a bad play happen again? Would we make the playoffs ever again? Will I continue to have turnover problems? As these bad thoughts and worries crept in, I began to read and pray and meditate on this from Imitations of Christ: What good is anxiety about the future? Does it bring you anything but trouble upon trouble? It is foolish and useless to be either grieved or happy about future things that perhaps may never happen. But it is human to be deluded by such imaginations, and the sign of a weak soul to be led on by suggestions of the enemy. Second: Be thankful. In January of 2013, our oldest son, who was 5 years old, was diagnosed with T1 diabetes. Immediately, anguish and sadness and frustration all emerge and as a family, as mom and dad, we felt like it was the end of the world. How would he adjust? What does this mean? How hard will this be? After walking in and out of the children’s hospital and seeing other, sicker children, we became grateful. Not happy that our son would deal with this for the rest of his life, but we all have our crosses to bear. Not all of them the same, and I was once told that if we all could see everyone else’s problems, threw them in a big pile, we would probably want to just keep ours. Through this life changing health issue and throughout the struggling seasons, we have much to be thankful for.

With that said, I can make two guarantees to you today. First, your time on earth will end. Second, you will be remembered for something. Class of 2014, how do you want to be remembered? Answer that question now while your best years are still ahead of you.

* * *

Janet Yellin, Federal Reserve chair

New York University

Your NYU education has not only provided you with a foundation of knowledge; it has also, I hope, instilled in you a love of knowledge and an enduring curiosity. Life will continue to be a journey of discovery if you tend the fires of curiosity that burn brightly in all of us. Such curiosity led Eric Kandel, here at NYU, to his lifetime goal, to discover the chemical and cellular basis of human memory. A few years after his graduation, he was doing research on cats. But he had the idea of focusing on an animal with a simpler, more fundamental brain: the California sea slug. His colleagues all but ridiculed him for the idea. They knew that the study of the lowly sea slug was irrelevant for understanding human memory. Kandel’s surgically skilled collaborator deserted him. To get up to speed on sea slugs, Kandel had to go abroad to study. But Kandel persisted, and in 2000 his curiosity won him the Nobel Prize. It was, as you must have guessed, for deciphering the chemistry of memory in humans, as revealed by his research on sea slugs. Kandel’s life, I believe, demonstrates how a persistent curiosity can help us reach ambitious goals, even with great roadblocks in the way.

* * *

John Kerry (Jessica Hill/AP)
John Kerry (Jessica Hill/AP)

John Kerry, Secretary of State

Yale University

One of the best lessons I learned here [Kerry graduated from Yale in 1966] is that Mark Twain was absolutely right: Never let school get in the way of an education. For all I ever learned at Yale, I have to tell you truthfully the best piece of advice I ever got was actually one word from my 89-year-old mother. I’ll never forget sitting by her bedside and telling her I had decided to run for President. And she squeezed my hand and she said: ‘Integrity, John. Integrity. Just remember always, integrity.’ And maybe that tells you a lot about what she thought about politics.

But you should know: In a complicated world full of complicated decisions and close calls that could go either way, what keeps you awake at night isn’t so much whether or not you got the decision right or wrong. It’s whether you made your decision for the right reasons. Integrity. And the single best piece of advice I ever received about diplomacy didn’t come from my international relations class, but it came from my father, who served in the Foreign Service. He told me that diplomacy was really about being able to see the world through the eyes of someone else, to understand their aspirations and assumptions. Perhaps that’s just another word for empathy. But whatever it is, I will tell you sitting here on one of the most gorgeous afternoons in New Haven as you graduate: Listening makes a difference, not just in foreign ministries but on the streets and on the social media network the world over.

* * *

John Legend, singer/composer

University of Pennsylvania

My father often talked to us about his definition of success. He told us that it wasn’t measured in money and material things, but it was measured in love and joy and the lives you’re able to touch—the lives you’re able to help. And my parents walked the walk. They gave of themselves to our church. They took in foster kids and helped the homeless, even though we didn’t have much money ourselves.

[When I was young] the only thing I allowed myself to really love without reservation was music. I put all of my passion into it. I spent so much of my spare time working on it, that I barely got any sleep. At night, I was doing community choir, show choir and musicals in high school; a cappella and a church choir in college. I wrote my own songs. Played in talent shows. I put a lot of energy into becoming a better artist, a better writer and a better performer. And in some ways, it made me a better student and a better leader. Because when you actually care about something, you want to lead. Apathy’s not so cool any more.

When I graduated from Penn, I had many of the traditional opportunities in front of you now, and I took a job at the Boston Consulting Group. But I couldn’t shake my passion for music. I had followed the path that the Penn graduate was supposed to take, but I didn’t fall in love. I immediately started thinking about how I could leave BCG and become a full-time musician. I spent hours during the day preparing powerpoint presentations and financial models. And I spent almost as many hours at night writing songs and performing at small gigs around New York and Philadelphia.

I always believed that my big break would come sooner rather than later. In fact, from 1998, while I was still at Penn, to early 2004, I spent each of those years always thinking that I would get that big record deal within the next few months. I always thought my moment was just around the corner. But I was rejected by all the major labels; some of them rejected me multiple times. I played for all the giants of the business—Clive Davis, L.A. Reid, Jimmy Iovine, you name it. And all of them turned me down. But I did find a young producer from Chicago named Kanye West who believed in me. Now, Kanye and I have very different personalities, as you might have guessed. But what unites us is our true love for music and art. We love to create … And it turns out that love requires that level of commitment from you. Half-doing it is not doing it right. You have to go all in. And yes, your personal relationships require that too.

Now, I’ve already talked about the power of love in your work and your personal lives. But I also want to talk about how love changes the world. There are 7 billion other people out there. Seven billion strangers. I want you to consider what it means to love them too. What does it mean to love people we don’t know, to see the value in every single person’s life? It means we don’t see Trayvon Martin as a walking stereotype, a weaponized human. We see him as a boy who deserves the chance to grow into a man, even if he makes boyish mistakes along the way. It means American lives don’t count more than Iraqi lives. It means we see a young Palestinian kid not as a future security threat or demographic challenge, but as a future father, mother and lover. It means that the nearly 300 kidnapped girls in Nigeria aren’t just their problem. They’re “our” girls too. It’s actually quite a challenge to love humankind in this way.

So love your self, love your work, love the people around you. Dare to love those who are different from you, no matter where they’re from, what they look like, and who they love. Pursue this life of love with focus and passion and ambition and courage. Give it your all. And that will be your path to true success.

* * *

Tony LaRussa, baseball manager/executive

Washington University in St. Louis

I was once introduced to a prolific best-selling fiction writer. One of the best gifts of my life was when my parents taught me the love of reading, early on, and I retain it to this day. I love reading books, and I met this writer and he explained to me that in his books that have been so successful, he concentrated most on the first sentence in the first paragraph and everything flowed from there.

So taking his advice, I wanted to concentrate on the first message. It’s one that I think is hard-earned. I thought seriously about this. I think in these times, my message to you would be, as you go forward, you need to understand the concept of personalization, taking things personally, being respectful to yourself and to others in a real personal way.

I look at this scene and it’s overwhelming, the environment here. You know from my background, I never thought I would say that something is more impressive than opening day with the Cardinals. But this is. I mean that, winning and losing a game, that’s sports, entertainment, great meaning to us, we try to be Hall of Famers, but this is more real, and I’m sincere when I tell you that being here today, with the importance of what you accomplish with your graduation and what you have going forward, is more important than a baseball season.

And I’m going to tell you that I’m anxious about these remarks, to the point I’m fearful. I’ve actually learned the difference between good fear and bad fear. I talked this morning, I was really struck by the Olympic music, I talked this morning with an Olympian, distinguished Olympic swimmer, and I told her what I was doing, and she said she’d been invited before and was always too afraid to accept the invitation. And I thought, respectfully, I would talk to her about good fear/bad fear because that’s bad fear. You feel this anxiety, the expectation of pressure, and you decide that you’re going to dodge it. And you’re just not going to participate. You will regret that the rest of your life, and you’re going to face a lot of opportunities where there’s an uncertain outcome and you’ve been given the opportunity to try it. Bad fear means you call in sick. And you will never ever have a strong personal feeling and a strong enough ego to be successful and take advantage of what you’ve gone through your whole life, including your education at Washington University.

The good fear is one that you recognize, to have this anxiety is normal. So I’m nervous. And what that has caused me to do is every day for the last month, I’ve thought about this few minutes that I’m going to speak to you, and I was up at 5:30 this morning changing it. But my point is, I’m not afraid to try to say some things this morning that hopefully will be helpful. I’m more afraid of saying no, and not trying it, and I suggest to you that that’s an important lesson going forward. Don’t be afraid. Good fear makes you study for a test because you want to make sure to do your best. Bad fear makes you afraid to take the test.

* * *

Jill Abramson, former executive editor, The New York Times

Wake Forest University

New York Times journalists risk their lives frequently to bring you the best reporting in the world. That’s why it is such an important and irreplaceable institution. And it was the honor of my life to lead the newsroom. A couple of students I was talking to last night after I arrived, they know that I have some tattoos. One of them asked me, ‘Are you gonna get that Times T that you have tattooed on your back removed?’ Not a chance.

I faced a little challenge of my own not long ago. I got run over and almost killed by a truck in Times Square. You may begin to call me Calamity Jill, but stay with me here. But with the seventh anniversary of that accident approaching, I wrote an article about the risk to pedestrians with three Times colleagues who had also been struck and hurt. We mentioned a 9-year-old boy in the top of our story who had been hit and killed by a cab early in the year. A few days after the story was published, I got an email from Dana Lerner. It began, ‘Thank you for the article you wrote in last Sunday’s Times. The boy you mentioned was my son, Cooper Stock.’ I met with Dana last Thursday and, you know, Cooper was just killed in January, but Dana, her husband and others are already working on a new law to make the streets safer. She is taking an unimaginable loss and already trying to do something constructive. We human beings are a lot more resilient than we often realize. Resilient and perseverant.

 

Quotes of the Week

I

“I call Twitter the microphone for morons.”

—Denver GM John Elway, at a NFL event, the career development symposium, Saturday at Penn’s Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia.

II

“The NFL is a unique work place. There are no secrets anymore. Technology has taken over and secrets are exposed. People are going to know what you’re all about. You have to make sure you have real honesty in the workplace or you’re going to be exposed.”

—Andy Reid, the Chiefs coach, at the symposium in Philadelphia.

III

“It is completely unacceptable that Daryl has once again put us in this position. We all know what the consequences are and will deal with them.”

—Arizona GM Steve Keim, in an unusually strongly worded statement condemning linebacker Daryl Washington, one of his best players, for being suspended for the 2014 season. Washington said he tested positive for marijuana.

IV

“It’s a war. It’s on. I have no respect for him no more … You can’t be acting like a little girl out there … a little b—-.”

—Red Sox DH David Ortiz, on Tampa Bay pitcher David Price, after Ortiz was hit in the back by the first Price pitch he saw in 2014, the first time they faced each other this season, on Friday at Fenway Park.

Cool baseball drama. Last fall, Ortiz homered twice off Price in a playoff game at Fenway Park. On the second homer, which wrapped around the foul pole in right field, Ortiz stayed at home plate, waiting to see if it would be fair or foul; there was no question it was far enough to be a home run. When it went fair, Ortiz ran around the bases. Price evidently seethed. Ortiz said after the game Friday that he called Price in the offseason and smoothed over their differences stemming from the home run and Price’s alleged hard feelings about Ortiz being too slow to run around the bases.

Baseball is a fun game. It is also a silly game sometimes.

Stat of the Week

Every year, NFL officials are given points of emphasis for the new season. One of the big ones this year will be taunting. Not just the woofing or screaming in vanquished players’ faces; but excessive belittling language, and racially charged language too.

Amazing to me the numbers from last year on taunting. In 2012, officials threw nine penalty flags in 256 regular-season games for taunting. Last year, officials threw 34 flags for taunting, and there were another nine that the league officiating office would have deemed acceptable taunting calls.

So if there were nine taunting fouls in 2012, and if 43 such fouls could have been called in 2013, imagine what happens when officials are ultra-sensitive to make such calls in 2014. Either players will get see the quick trigger fingers the refs have and cut it out early this year, or there will be an epidemic of taunting calls this fall.

Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me

I

Roger Goodell takes a trip every year to Silicon Valley to meet and talk to innovators in the technology, TV, social media and academic set. On one of his first such trips, he met with Steve Jobs, the Apple boss, who had one word of advice for Goodell: “Wifi.”

When you hear owners and club presidents and league officials say they’re intent on enabling all fans able to use their smart phones inside all NFL stadiums, you can trace that advice to Jobs.

II

One of my favorite press releases of the year came in the email box the other day—the one announcing the awarding of grants by Peyton Manning’s PeyBack Foundation. Manning’s charitable arm is giving out $1 million to charities in the states he’s lived and worked—Louisiana, Tennessee, Indiana and Colorado. This year he gave $10,000 to GreenLeaf Denver, which promotes urban agriculture so city kids can eat fresh fruits and vegetables and get used to working the soil; $8,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee; $8,000 to Kedila Family Learning Service of New Orleans, which fills some gaps in social services left by post-Katrina effects; and $4,000 to the anti-bullying Peace Learning Center of Indianapolis. It’s good to spread the seeds.

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

I have heard of flight delays and I have heard of emergency landings, but what happened on a US Airways flight from Los Angeles to Philadelphia last Wednesday sets an American aviation record for incredulity. Lucky for all of us, Chris Law, a 30-year-old NFL Network producer—he handles Rich Eisen’s podcast and produces programming about fantasy football, the draft and the combine—was in row 10 of the plane and was an eyewitness, and nasal witness, to airline history.

And to Truffles the dog, who couldn’t quite control her bowels on the coast-to-coast flight.

“I fly US Airways all the time,’’ Law said over the weekend from Virginia, where he was attending a bachelor party. “I have status with them. I didn’t get an upgrade to first-class on this trip, but I did get a good seat in row 10, the emergency exit row. Before we board, I see this lady with a full-grown dog. I have never seen a full-size dog on a plane in coach. This dog had a service tag on it, and the lady looked healthy, fine. But whatever. I get on the plane, everyone boards, the lady and her dog go in back.

“A strange thing happens while we’re waiting to take off. They spilled 1,000 gallons of fuel on the tarmac. They had to add fuel to the plane. But they didn’t fill the tank all the way because of all this gas spilling. We’re on the L.A. tarmac for two-and-half hours while they take care of that. While we wait, this lady is walking her dog up and down the aisle.

“So we take off, and an hour or so into the flight, I have to go to bathroom. I walk to the back of the plane, and there’s a flight attendant with a drink cart; she can’t move it because there’s a blanket covering something on the floor with white powder in the middle of the aisle. I asked what happened. She says, ‘The dog went to the bathroom. We dropped some sanitation powder on it.’ I go back and sit down, mention it to a couple people. ‘That dog went to the bathroom back there!’ A lady near me laughs about it.

“So I’ve got a lot of room in this exit row. And then, maybe an hour later, I notice seven or eight passengers start moving aggressively down the aisle. I’m wondering what’s going on. Strange. The flight attendant comes up. She says, ‘The dog defacated again—for the third time.’ She goes, ‘People are getting sick back there. I think we’re going to emergency-land in KC.’ Up where we were, in row 10, very faintly we start to smell it. After a half hour I could really start to smell it. And the flight attendant says, ‘We’re landing in Kansas City. Hazmat’s got to come on board.”

“The pilot comes on. He says, ‘We have to emergency land. There is an issue in the back of the plane. We have to land the plane.’ ”

[Fellow passenger Steve McCall, contacted by “Inside Edition,” reported exclusively that Truffles had, and I quote, “fully fledged dog diarrhea.”]

Now back to Chris Law: “So we land. We stay on the plane. Hazmat is actually five guys in orange vests. They work on the problem for maybe 35 minutes. But by the time we’re ready to take off, so many people already know they’ll miss their connections or aren’t going to make it to their destination on time. A lot of people just don’t continue on the flight.

“This dog was like some kind of full-size poodle mixture. Biggest dog I have ever seen in coach. During the flight, when I went back there, the dog had a seat to itself. It was the woman on the aisle, the dog in the middle, and some poor guy in the window seat. I wonder how that guy felt when all that was going on. The lady seemed nice. She was asking people all around her, ‘Please give me your name and address. I will send you a Starbucks card for your trouble. I am so sorry.’

“But when we were in Kansas City, she and the dog got off. It was clear this dog was ‘serving’ no purpose. The woman was walking fine. The dog had its own seat. So when she got off, it was like a walk of shame. Her and the dog walked off. People were clapping when she got off the plane, maybe 10 or 15 people clapping. Some people were pretty pissed off. Two people missed their cruise to Greece. People missed their connections. A lady sitting near me was getting honored by a charity that she runs in Hartford that night, and had to make a speech there, but she never made it.

“I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere that day, so all I could do was laugh about it. I want to say also the crew was really nice, and professional. But what a day.”

I will never, ever, ever complain about anything related to travel for the rest of my life.

At least until next week.

One last thing: A paper in Ireland headlined its story on the incident thusly:

A plane had to make an emergency landing
because a dog wouldn’t stop pooping

… with this subhead:

Hey, when you gotta go you gotta go

Or, perhaps, you’d like to see how Poopgate was portrayed by Italian TV, complete with footage from “Airplane:”

Tweets of the Week

I

II

Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah with his early analysis of the possible top pick in the 2015 draft, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

III

Things have turned around since. They followed the 10-game losing streak with six wins in a row.

IV

V

That was reaction of the New York Mets announcer for SNY, upon seeing the Mets—who had played 14 innings Friday night and then 14 innings Saturday—go to extra cantos again on Sunday in Philadelphia. The Mets won in 11.

 

Geno Smith and Michael Vick will battle for the starting quarterback job when the Jets open training camp in July. (Julio Cortez/AP)
Geno Smith and Michael Vick will battle for the starting quarterback job when the Jets open training camp in July. (Julio Cortez/AP)

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think the most meaningless, dumb story of this offseason is the constant, unending, logic-defying debate over who is the Jets’ starting quarterback, and that anything done before the battle is joined once training camp is a tangible factor in who will win the job—Geno Smith or Michael Vick. To recap all that matters: Smith is the incumbent. Smith gets the first snap in training camp. Vick was brought in to compete with Smith, whose minus-9 TD-to-pick differential and 66.5 rating was the worst for any starter in the league last year. Smith and Vick will compete for the job. If Smith is better or it’s a tie or it is a close competition in camp, Smith starts. If Vick is markedly better or Smith flops in camp, Vick starts. Period. End of invented story.

2. I think no matter what owner Woody Johnson, GM John Idzik, coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Smith, Vick or John Carollo—he’s the team dentist; surely he is the only one related to the franchise who has not yet been quoted on the subject—says, very little matters until we see Smith and Vick competing in practice and preseason games this summer. OTA practices matter a small amount; but no matter what impression is left this month, it will be overtaken by the reality of padded practices in full-squad camp and in preseason game action in August.

3. I think there’s an incredible story out there, waiting to be written about Josh Freeman. It could be called: “How to ruin your football career in just 18 months.” In the span of the past year and a half, Freeman:

  • Threw for 4,065 yards at age 24 in 2012, appearing to be one of the best young quarterbacks in football for a young Tampa Bay team.
  • Had his work ethic questioned in Tampa, where he was mostly scarce on game-planning Tuesdays, a day very few if any starting NFL quarterbacks take off.
  • Was benched by coach Greg Schiano in Tampa.
  • Was cut by Tampa.
  • Was signed by Minnesota last October.
  • Completed 43 percent of his passes, a laughable figure, in seven games in 2013.
  • Lost his only start as a Viking, to the previously winless Giants.
  • Got cut loose by the Vikings after the season.
  • Got signed April 21 by the Giants, who planned to give him a chance to win the number two job behind Eli Manning.
  • Got cut by the Giants on Friday.

4. I think it’s easy to say Sean Lee is injury-prone and leave his latest bit of terrible news—he suffered a torn ACL last week when he was jarred by rookie offensive lineman Zack Martin at a non-padded Dallas workout—at that. But with DeMarcus Ware and Lee gone for 2014 (Ware was cut in a cap move), and defensive tackle Jason Hatcher not re-signed, I cannot see any way new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli can make a strong defense out of what he has left in Dallas. Talk about pressure on Tony Romo. He certainly was looking forward to not having to outscore every team he played this fall. Now, the Cowboys’ only real chance for the playoffs seems to rest on just how high-scoring the offense can be. The defense will be one of the worst in the league.

5. I think Arizona GM Steve Keim (see Quotes of the Week) is justifiably fuming over the year-long suspension handed to Daryl Washington, the best player on his front seven. Look at the team with Washington and without him last year. With: 8-4. Without: 2-2. In his first game back after a four-game drug suspension to kick off the season, Washington sacked Cam Newton twice and intercepted him once, and the Cards blasted the Panthers. With both Washington and the departed Karlos Dansby (Cleveland, free-agency), the Cards have lost all their linebacker playmakers, and there’s no time or market to find spares. In March, Keim essentially handed Washington a $10 million option bonus to trigger his contract for 2014. Now Keim has to feel altogether double-crossed, and it’s certain the team won’t allow Washington to keep that money without a fight. Arizona also could move on from Washington, figuring a player the coaches cannot trust (suspended for 20 of 32 games over a two-year span) is worthless to them.

6. I think Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III deserves a hand for helping a Centreville (Va.) High girl ask a fellow student with severe cerebral palsy to the prom. This is a terrific story from WJLA-TV in Washington.

7. I think when Stephen Ross says an NFL team will be in Los Angeles within five years … well, I’m not saying he’s flat wrong, but I will ask this question: Now that Steve Ballmer has handed Donald Sterling (apparently) $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers, how many other sports-freaky people have $3 billion to $4 billion to spend to do what it takes to put a pro football team in Los Angeles? Speaking of Los Angeles, here’s a tip: Read our NFL 95 story on The Day Football Died in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Cool story.

8. I think if Will Hill can blame second-hand smoke for his positive drug test—the league suspended him six games for the positive test last week—I can blame second-hand pizza for my weight. And if Tom Coughlin takes him back in October, I will be surprised.

9. I think it is impossible to read this well-reported story on soccer match-fixing by Jere Longman and Declan Hill of The New York Times and not worry about the other football—fútbol—beginning in 10 days in Brazil.

TALK BACK

Have a question or comment for Peter? Email him at talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in Tuesday’s mailbag.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Reader/Tweeter Scott Marler, @hunkish, asks: “I would enjoy a mmqb of you describing your approach to twitter, ie who gets retweeted or blocked.”

I’m fairly inconsistent, Scott. Most often, though, I have one rule: If you curse at me, you get blocked. Sometimes I can look at Twitter and laugh at the reactions, foul or fouler. Other days, if someone comes at me with total disrespect and is an idiot, that person gets blocked. I can’t define that; it’s more of a feeling. When Sports Illustrated asked me five years ago to interact with people on Twitter, I was told to go on for five minutes or so every day or two and answer questions. That’s how I started, re-tweeting the best questions and answering them. I still mostly do that, but I also throw some critical comments up, and occasionally a really negative one. I do not do that to elicit sympathy, but rather for two reasons: to illustrate the volume of those I get, and, sometimes, to embarrass those who send the vile or foolish comments. Hope I answered your question.

b. Holy cow, Edwin Encarnacion. You’re the most dangerous hitter in baseball right now. Encarnacion hit two homers the other night—16 for the month of May—that traveled the length of three homers in any ballpark in America. Wow.

c. George Springer: You don’t get cheated on your swing, do you?

d. I don’t know exactly how this is possible, but when I looked at the baseball standings Saturday night, Houston had a better record than Tampa Bay, by half a game.

e. Johnny Manziel throwing out the first pitching at Red Sox-Cleveland game Wednesday. Will Ortiz do the finger-rub cash sign?

f. My sympathy to fellow Hall of Fame voter Nancy Gay on the loss of her lovely dog Scooter on Saturday. What a great life you had with Scooter, Nancy.

g. RIP, Maya Angelou, who said in 2000: “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back.” What a tremendous person to follow and read about and learn from.

h. Coffeenerdness: So I’m weak, and I just had a five-latte week. Just don’t tell the nutritionist.

i. Beernerdness: Thanks to The MMQB’s Robert Klemko, I got to try the new Maryland beer, Flying Dog Dead Rise Old Bay Summer Ale (now that’s a handful). Thought I’d taste some of the Old Bay seasoning, but there was none of that, just a crisp and new ale with a near-IPA taste to me. I liked it.

j. Keep fighting, Jim Kelly.

The Adieu Haiku

Freeman, cut again.
How were so many so wrong?
Two words: work ethic.

More from The MMQB
443 comments
Mat X
Mat X

What, no excerpt from  Barack 0bama's epic commencement speech at West Point?  Where is the love?

johng721
johng721

If Smith/Vick is over, why did you have to write 2 points on it.  Like your column but you're adding to the nonsense

BruceWayneBasa
BruceWayneBasa

"That should be the significance of Glazer’s run in the NFL—he was colorblind at a time when many teams, and owners, in the league were not" - Please don't use the phrase "colorblind", that phrase is an oxymoron and false and minority folks like myself call BS on that......talk to your friends who are minority and get educated on why that term is insulting....

MickPatrick
MickPatrick

This is beyond parody: The NFL's sensitivity sessions are being held in Flowery Branch, Georgia. Be nice, boys.

metalhead65
metalhead65

I know it is all about the money but wouldn't you think goodell and the owners would want to listen the fans before they make changes to the game? nobody wants to see the playoffs expanded just so the cowboys can make them or a team with a good record could not win when they should have and did not make them. nobody wants the league to turn into hockey and the nba where everyone but the worst of the worst make it. and make no mistake when they do expand and the league makes more money because of it they will do it again. fans do not care that there is not a team in la la land and could care even less about one over seas. football is a American sport and should stay they way. the games sells out because it is a curiosity for them and another excuse to get drunk for a day but they do not know what they are watching or care about it. as for the culture change that is just what the game needs to slow it down are a bunch of stupid penalties for name calling. enough of the pc nonsense and let them play football! they are grown men and if someone is bullying them then stand up for yourself! it used to be if you stood for yourself even if you got your butt kicked you stopped being picked on.

ianlinross
ianlinross

Teams in Europe? Gimme a break. Can Goodell just maintain what's there? Does he have shareholders to answer to? Leave it alone.

wlewisiii
wlewisiii

Re: the greying of the league.


Green Bay. All teams should be owned that way. 

skanee00
skanee00

American football is an uniquely American experience. Keep the NFL in America. Let the foreign countries start their own leagues if they want teams.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

he couldn't have included people erick legrande.  also most nfl fans if you ask them, why do you care about growing the game in london, as i bet you ask these owners that have the london game there fuming because they lose a home date, and this year you're going to ask lions fans get up at 6 am to watch your team

Raiderforlife
Raiderforlife

I predict the Raider defense will be a top 12 defense this year go Raiders.

EmmettJohnson
EmmettJohnson

So what your telling us is that 2 of the best coaches in the game, Belichick and Payton, have no respect for you, yet the problem lies with them and not you. Peter, i think you needed a longer look in that mirror.

John4
John4

The number on the Giants player's helmet does not match his jersey.  Why is that?

gary7
gary7

This how I like my Peter King, great 25....not the GM King or the Anonymous Source King

TomTofTampa
TomTofTampa

Peter,  Re your list of Classiest NFL people?  I know you say you missed some.....but no Tony Dungy???? Here in Tampa there's nobody in the NFL more deserving of the title "CLASSY".  Ask Derrick Brooks or Warren Dunn, two guys (deservedly) on your list, if they'd give up their place to have Tony on your list. No doubt in my mind on that question.


riverotter1968
riverotter1968

Love how Arthur Blank totally dodged the question of pricing fans out.

connorjohn508
connorjohn508

want to watch football players play football, and I could care less if they drink beer, smoke pot, or eat pancakes on their off-time. If they are a habitual user and risk taker the law will catch up to them and punish them accordingly (and the NFL can follow suit). It's tough to lose some of the most exciting players in football because of an issue that has more to do with an outdated moral system than harm to the game (or, arguable, to anyone). People justify the punishment by saying that "you have to be an idiot to fail a drug test in the NFL", shifting the culpable act from the recreational activity to the act of being simple minded. Since when has the NFL punished dumb players? I could really care less about the intelligence of Josh Gordon or Daryl Washington so long as they are not injuring innocent people... I mean, Ray Rice SLUGGED A GIRL IN THE FACE AND KNOCKED HER OUT but instead of a per se suspension (i.e., second time positive test), we wait for it to play out... as if some magical reason to justify punching a woman's brains in will arise in Rice's defense. I am not a Browns fan, nor am I a Cardinals fan, but I am a fan of the game and 2014 is now a year that those teams can never get back.... all because of a harmless recreational activity. It just doesn't seem right, and it doesn't help provide the product we as fans want to see. Peter King often makes connections between the NFL and broader society to show the leagues role beyond the hash marks.... Here is another opportunity for the league to affect social progress, because here, like in broader society, it is the drug policy and not the drugs that are doing the most damage.


P.S., an example of how other industries are struggling/adapting to the changing moral system, the FBI just went to Congress about the difficulty of hiring the best and brightest because many of those individuals indulge in the recreational use of marijuana. (http://fortune.com/2014/05/28/does-the-fbis-marijuana-policy-breed-dishonest-applicants/)

DickKeefe
DickKeefe

Peter - you forgot to include commencement speech remarks from Condoleezza Rice.  Oh wait...


Dan Hodous
Dan Hodous

6 pages - 25 years.. congrats but without one mention of anything for the Chicago Bears my proof of BIAS against them has now been proven beyond a shadow of any doubt.

vspoke
vspoke

Nice pic of Pete pressed up against a bent-over ball player.

Dani
Dani

'dumb story of this offseason' ! Yep ! For sure. Smith will be the starting QB. Why ? Vick does not getting  younger. And on the first injury ( it's gonna happen ) there will be no doubt on who will be the starting QB.

guykingii1
guykingii1

I have a problem with the Saints'   "bounty scandal" not being regrettable... when even PK recognized that many teams ran their own versions of the same effort.  Leaving out context details makes it easier to pick highlights and lowlights.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

I still don't get how Peter calls the Saints the best story of the last 25 years.



Pat Tillman's selfless decision to serve his country and turn down a million dollar plus contract to join the military was my favorite.  He paid the ultimate sacrifice for it.  Although he was killed by friendly fire, it does not diminish the role that he played or the inspiration he is to so many Americans.  In a time in our culture when the sports world stories are dominated by greed and bad behavior, this one made many of us proud.


The Saints story is murky at best.


JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@metalhead65


I don't think racial slurs have a place anywhere and whether you like it or not NFL players are looked up to by kids.  Parenting can only go so far, but I don't want to be at a game when someone on the field is slinging that cr^p out of their mouth around the kids.  It isn't all about the players.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@metalhead65


I disagree.  We have all seen too many times when a cr^ppy team wins their division with an 8-8 record only to have a 10-6 or 11-5 team not make the playoffs because they were in a tougher division.  Look at what happened to Arizona last season.  They went 10-6 in a division with Seattle and San Francisco and don't make the playoffs.  Green Bay gets in at 8-8-1 because they win the North.  Both teams deserve a shot in the playoffs.  I don't have a problem with a slightly expanded playoff to eliminate these kind of problems.  


I think most football fans don't care about this particular expansion as much as they care about having an expanded playoff format in college football.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@ianlinross


I don't care for the teams in Europe deal because we already hear too much about jet lag from coast to coast.  

olmanwinter
olmanwinter

@EmmettJohnson Yeah, because Belichek and Payton (Spygate and Bountygate, respectively) are the kind of stand up, morally sound fellas you hope for approval from.

Raiderforlife
Raiderforlife

@TomTofTampa Tony Dungy is to religious for a liberal moon bat like Peter King but I agree very classy guy should have been mentioned

John4
John4

@Dan Hodous Yes, BIAS.  After all, the Bears were great for ONE SEASON.  

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@guykingii1


So you are saying because other teams did it then it was ok?  That's stupid!

olmanwinter
olmanwinter

@JimSmith4 Tillman's story is not really a football story though is it? The politics surrounding it are messy. 

The Saints, and their impact on the city of New Orleans post-Katrina is an amazing story. 

guykingii1
guykingii1

@JimSmith4 The murky part is how everybody forget other teams had their version of a bounty on opposing teams.  Highlights are easy to pick out when journalists leave out any semblance of detail in the context.  But "best" and "worst" are absolutes which are impossible to prove.

Scramble
Scramble

@JimSmith4 If someone had attacked us and he was going to defend our country, then it is a great story.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@olmanwinter


The Saints and their story comes with baggage.  Bountygate swept under the rug to try to dog and pony a feel good story.  


The circumstances surrounding Tillman's death were cloudy until the investigation was finished and I believe that it was important to display those facts of what happened that day.  


Friendly fire does occur on the battlefield, but it in no way detracts from the service and ultimate sacrifice made by that individual.  The public needs to understand this about war.  I am not going to argue about what war is or about what that war was or what it was about.  I am going to support those serving us in the military because ultimately they do not make the political decisions.  The serve when called and I am grateful for that.


Regardless of how he died what mattered about this story was the choice he made to serve his country in a time of perceived need and that he walked away from a profession that by all accounts he loved dearly because he felt it was his duty.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@olmanwinter


Completely disagree with that point.  The politics are not messy.  He chose to serve his country regardless of any political leanings.  


He was a highly successful pro football player that passed up a contract worth millions to serve his country.  It is absolutely a football story.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@guykingii1


So you are saying because other teams did it then it was ok?  That's stupid!

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@Scramble


I am supportive of our military personnel without the right/left leanings.  They serve when called.  Period.

Mike26
Mike26

@MickPatrick @olmanwinter @EmmettJohnson They might be really bright guys but it's hard to respect them with the garbage they've pulled over the years - or garbage they've ALLOWED over the years.  Both deserve disdain for their arrogance in that regard.  Payton has won ONE Super Bowl in 7 seasons and hasn't sniffed it since.  Belichick has dominated a mostly-weaker division for a decade but hasn't won a title since Spygate FOR WHATEVER reason.  They are both good coaches/strategists but as management types aren't overwhelmingly effective.

arthur3
arthur3

@JimSmith4 @guykingii1  It's not that. It's that the whole thing turned out to be crap, seized upon to prove the NFL's concern for it's players (I mean dollars).. 50,000 pages of so-called documents; film of the "give me my money" clip; etc. etc. Mary Jo White impaired her integrity by declaring that they had it locked. What did they come with? About 5 handwritten pages from a coach that was fired and an audiotape of Williams the loudmouth before a game in which NO had no penalties and the only player knocked out was Pierre Thomas on a helmet to helmet hit by Whitner. It was so worthless that Goodell's patron Tagliabue threw out all the charges and held specifically that no money ever changed hands nor was there any evidence of a deliberate attempt by any player to hurt anyone. But he couldn't humiliate Goodell completely and the season suspensions were already up for everyone except Payton, so he let that slide. Peter King bought the whole thing hook, line and sinker, and now says he was justified in doing so.I like King's work, but it's no wonder Payton has no time for him.

duder
duder

@JimSmith4 @Scramble of course they deserve support and sympathy -- but the wars themselves are immoral and imperial. 

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@arthur3 @JimSmith4 @guykingii1


Oh please with the nonsense already.  The reason the suspensions were allowed to "slide" as you put it and the supposed lawsuits from players didn't materialize is because the NFL realized that they could be opening up a Pandora's box due to the rumors that a few other teams did the same.  


No matter what the NFL always spins it just like King for the survival of their enterprise.  


If you believe there were no bounties you are just another Saints fan drinking the Kool-Aid. 

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@duder


That's your opinion.  Regardless of your political views, it does not change what kind of character Pat Tillman had that has made many of us proud.

arthur3
arthur3

The player suspensions did not slide. They were OVERTURNED. No money changed hands means Tagliabue found no evidence of bounties being paid. You need to get your facts right. Or maybe you can prove Tagliabue was on the take.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@arthur3


All to preserve the NFL.  Just like concussions and every other laughable thing that they do.  Its all about the money.  They know public image doesn't mean squat to most of their fans.

arthur3
arthur3

Oh I can agree with you there. We have common ground and that was my point.. They had to get rid of the concussion lawsuit so they tried to prove their bona fides.

Newsletter