The Looming Standoff: Russell Wilson vs. Seattle
In my last column for a spell—hooray! (your emotion, not mine)—I’ve got a couple of annual events. First: My collection of commencement speech snippets, from the Self-Deprecating Graduation Line of the Year by former President Bush (the younger) at the Southern Methodist University graduation, to the best advice I’ve read from any speaker this year, by ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz to the Kenyon College grads in Ohio. Second: Part one of the annual Fathers Day book review section, a really interesting book by St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny on the crisis in youth sports and his little-engine-that-could recipe to fix it.
I always love those two sections; usually I have them in different columns, but the way the calendar worked this year they’ll appear in the same week. Now, I didn’t want a 12,000-word June column, so the Matheny review is today and I plan to cover the rest of the books Wednesday in my weekly mailbag column.
Of course, I could lead this week with the continued dissolution of the 49ers, with another premature retirement and the trade of three-time all-pro punter Andy Lee. While I’ll address the Niners here, I’m leading with another ominous note regarding an NFC West team that’s not getting much attention. And maybe it shouldn’t. Yet.
But something about the dragged-out and apparently fruitless negotiations between Seattle and quarterback Russell Wilson is starting to raise alarm bells. And the new deal between Carolina and quarterback Cam Newton just exacerbates the issue, whether the Seahawks see it that way or not.
* * *
In April, general manager John Schneider was asked on KIRO radio about the Wilson negotiations. The Seattle quarterback is due $1.542 million this year, the final season of his four-year rookie contract. It’s been thought for some time that 2015 would be when a new Wilson deal would get done, seeing that the first opportunity to re-do the contract of a third-round player who has monstrously outperformed his deal is in year four. That’s now.
What Schneider said is something he’s said a thousand times, in various forms. No one is bigger than the team. Basically, that’s what he said on KIRO. “Every negotiation is unique in and of itself, and this is no different,” Schneider said. “He's our quarterback. We'd love him to be our quarterback. But the thing is, we need to keep as many of these guys together as we possibly can … We have to be able to protect ourselves as we go and make smart decisions in trying to keep this whole thing together as long as we possibly can.”
Any general manager worth his salary would say that. And Schneider is one of the best in the game—maybe the best. He believes in his eye for players and has been right on so many beyond the first round who became the infrastructure of a two-time Super Bowl team: Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Doug Baldwin, K.J. Wright.
I still don’t think it was a body blow to the negotiations, but imagine you’re Wilson.
At North Carolina State, in each of your freshman and sophomore and junior years, you lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in touchdown passes, and in the spring before your senior season, while you’re playing minor-league baseball, your football coach, Tom O’Brien, releases you from your scholarship so he can have backup Mike Glennon start for the last two years of his eligibility.
I threw 76 touchdown passes for him in three years, but O’Brien thinks Mike Glennon’s better than I am? I’ll show Tom O’Brien.
At Wisconsin, where Wilson transfers, he earns one of the Badger captain nods after just 19 days of summer practice. He throws 33 touchdown passes and four interceptions, completes 73 percent of his throws, leads Wisconsin to the Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth … and is the 75th player picked in the 2012 NFL Draft. Five spots after the quarterback-needy Jaguars take a punter.
I walk into Wisconsin in July, learn the offense in about 10 minutes, set the NCAA passing-efficiency record for a season, get the Badgers to the Rose Bowl, and five quarterbacks get picked before me? Brandon Weeden goes 53 picks before me? I’ll show the NFL.
At Seattle, Wilson wins the starting job in his rookie training camp over high-priced free agent Matt Flynn. He quarterbacks his team to the playoffs in each of his first three years, to the NFC title in two seasons, and to the Super Bowl title in one of those seasons. In all three years, he’s in the top 10 in the league in passer rating. He quarterbacks his team to more wins, overall, than any other quarterback in football—Wilson 42, Tom Brady 41, Peyton Manning 40—including playoffs. (I know quarterback wins can be a misleading stat. But if you play well enough to win big, and Wilson has, is that a number that should be ignored?) And by all accounts, Wilson and the Seahawks aren’t close to a deal. Oh, and Cam Newton, four games over .500 in the same three years that I’m 28 over, just signed a contract with $56 million coming in the first two years.
My franchise had finished below .500 four straight years before I got here, and we’re 42-14 with two trips to the Super Bowl in my time, and we can’t get a deal done? I’ll show management.
There’s an interesting factor at work here. Wilson’s representative, Mark Rodgers, is a baseball agent, a lawyer who got to know Wilson in his fledgling career as a minor-league second baseman in the Rockies’ system. We’ve had several conversations about the differences between baseball and football contracts. He’s never had any fear taking his baseball clients to the market. At one point last year, the Red Sox were offering a client, lefty reliever Andrew Miller, what seemed to be a mint (three years, $19 million), but Rodgers was convinced he could get more on the market. Sure enough, the Yankees signed Miller for four years and $36 million—and that wasn’t even the highest offer out there for Miller. Ditto, with different numbers, for client Jeff Samardzija, who waited and didn’t get the multiyear offer Rodgers thought was right; Samardzija signed for a year and $9.8 million, and he will play this deal out and hit the market again if the Chicago White Sox don’t pay something very close to what Rodgers thinks he can get for his player on the market.
Of course, free agency in the NFL is far different from baseball free agency. In the past 10 years, one quarterback with legitimate franchise potential—Drew Brees, in 2006—hit the market, and that came in large part because of a serious shoulder injury in 2005 in San Diego. Quarterbacks of value always re-sign with their teams.
There’s little question, to me, that Wilson will be the Seattle quarterback through the end of the 2016 season. If no deal gets done this year, he’ll play for $1.5 million in 2015, and if the two sides can’t agree after the season, Seattle’s very likely to franchise him the exclusive-rights number of about $24.5 million for 2016. That’s a best guess. The exclusive-rights tag would be vital, of course, because in unrestricted free agency Wilson could get stolen for two first-round picks by some team.
Rodgers was mum on terms or any detailed state of the negotiations when we spoke over the weekend. Rodgers said he didn’t think Newton’s deal was one that would force Wilson’s deal to get done, the same way he said Ryan Tannehill’s extension in Miami (he was drafted the same year as Wilson) wouldn't be a spur to get Wilson’s deal done. Rodgers sounded conciliatory when I asked about the state of the talks. “There’s no deadline, no pressure,” Rodgers said. “Russell has a contract for this season, and he is fully prepared to play the season out if he does not sign another contract. It’s early June. They don’t report to camp till late July. I’ve always assumed this contract would take a while to get done.”
But beyond that, as we sit here a year and a half before that Molotov cocktail could be lobbed into the Pacific Northwest, I have some growing doubts about Wilson’s long-term Seattle future.
Three reasons why I think the talks between Wilson and the Seahawks could be in trouble:
- Rodgers is a baseball guy, and it’s clear he loves the prospect of his players maximizing their value on the open market … some day. As does Wilson. I don’t know what Rodgers wants, but I can assume it must be close to making Wilson the highest-paid quarterback in football. This is a little complicated. The highest-paid player in football today, in average compensation, is Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, at $22.0 million. He signed the contract in 2013, when the league’s salary cap was $123 million. Suppose Wilson signed a deal averaging $22 million per. This year the cap is $143.3 million. Rodgers’ deal, in year one, was for 17.8 percent of the Packers’ cap. Wilson’s $22 million average deal, if that’s anything near what he wants, would be for 15.4 percent of the Seahawks’ 2015 cap. I only say that because it’s fair to think Mark Rodgers would be taking into account the fact that teams have $20 million more to spend this year, and the cap is only going to go up.
- Schneider is a football guy, schooled in the Ron Wolf/Ted Thompson way of personnel management. All three understand you don’t win without a quarterback. But Schneider watched Wolf make cold-hearted decisions when needed. He watched Thompson stick with the unproven Aaron Rodgers when the momentarily retired Brett Favre wanted to come back to the Packers in the summer of 2008. Schneider is proud as heck of sticking his neck out for Wilson, but his “we’d love him to be our quarterback but...” statement this spring sounds very much like a man who believes in sticking to the value the team sets for a player, whatever it is.
- This opinion from Mark Rodgers: “Sometimes, the best deal is the deal you don’t do. For me, there would be a greater disappointment in taking a below-market deal than there would be in honoring the fourth year of a contract.” This is not how an agent talks if he’s thinking of taking a hometown-discount deal for his client.
All I’m trying to do is read tea leaves. I don’t know where this is headed. And Seahawks fans, a lot can happen in two years. But I’d ask you this: What if Wilson wants Aaron Rodgers money now, and a deal doesn’t get done, and what if Wilson in 2015 simply does what he’s done in each of his first three seasons—have a passer rating near 100, make the playoffs and get the team in or close to the Super Bowl? What happens then, when the cap will be at least $30 million higher than it was when Aaron Rodgers signed his deal? Let’s just say I doubt the asking price will be the same next year as it is now. It’ll be higher. So that’s a spur for the Seahawks to get something done this offseason.
I would have liked to get Schneider’s point of view on this. But he declined comment when I reached out Sunday.
Many of you might be wondering why I’m writing about Wilson and not Andrew Luck, who, like Wilson, doesn’t have a new long-term deal either. The difference is, as a first-round pick, Luck can have a fifth year automatically added to the contract at a pre-set number, which the Colts did two months ago. Luck will make $3.4 million this year and $16 million next year, and owner Jim Irsay—who absolutely, categorically, will not let Luck out the door—said earlier this year it’s likely the Colts will get serious on trying to get a long-term deal done with Luck early in 2016. Contracts for players taken after the first round do not have fifth-year options. So for Wilson, it’s either a new deal or some form of free agency in 2016.
I don’t often write about contract stuff, and I’m not convinced in any way that Wilson and the Seahawks are headed for splitsville. But I find it a compelling story, and an important one for the future of the NFC’s flagship franchise today.
* * *
Lordy, what’s left of the Niners?
If you had asked me for the 25 most important 49ers for the near future—and I’m talking players and coaches combined—six months ago, I’d have given you a list something like the one that follows. Look at the list, and see where the people are now:
|1. QB Colin Kaepernick||San Francisco|
|2. Coach Jim Harbaugh||Head coach, Michigan|
|3. LB Patrick Willis||Retired|
|4. Pass-rusher Aldon Smith||San Francisco|
|5. T Joe Staley||San Francisco|
|6. Def. coordinator Vic Fangio||Chicago|
|7. WR Michael Crabtree||Oakland|
|8. LB NaVorro Bowman||San Francisco (coming off serious knee injury)|
|9. G Mike Iupati||Arizona|
|10. T Anthony Davis||Retired/sabbatical|
|11. G Alex Boone||San Francisco|
|12. LB Chris Borland||Retired|
|13. TE Vernon Davis||San Francisco|
|14. S Eric Reid||San Francisco|
|15. DE Justin Smith||Retired|
|16. RB Frank Gore||Indianapolis|
|17. Off. coordinator Greg Roman||Buffalo|
|18. S Antoine Bethea||San Francisco|
|19. WR Anquan Boldin||San Francisco|
|20. LB Aaron Lynch||San Francisco|
|21. RB Carlos Hyde||San Francisco|
|22. P Andy Lee||Cleveland|
|23. CB Perrish Cox||Tennessee|
|24. CB Chris Culliver||Washington|
|25. Spec. teams coach Brad Seely||Oakland|
In San Francisco: 11.
Playing elsewhere: 6.
Coaching elsewhere: 4.
San Francisco owner Jed York and GM Trent Baalke have made a calculated risk to move on, not just with the coaching staff but with a slew of key players. It continued Saturday with the trade of Lee to Cleveland. Which is understandable; Lee is 32, and his cap cost of $2.5 million is heavy for a guy who’s still a top-quartile punter but not arguably the best in football, which he was in 2012.
But Lee’s just a brick in the wall. When your coach and three coordinators go ... and two promising young players retire by the age of 25 ... and your defensive leader retires ... and your top wideout heads across town ... and two good cover corners go ... and a mauling guard goes to a division rival ... and when you’re putting your franchise quarterback coming off a checkered season in the hands of a position coach (Steve Logan) who was doing a talk show for the past couple of years...
The one thing the Niners have going for them is that the world will expect them to crash and burn. The players can use that as motivation, and new coach Jim Tomsula can too. But this is a team with some incendiary players who’ve not been part of a bottom-rung team recently (or ever) in the NFL … and they’ll have a first-time NFL head coach shepherding them. Tomsula is well-liked by the players from all reports. But losing does funny things to relationships. The chemistry experiment in Santa Clara will be the most compelling one to watch in the NFL this year.
* * *
Fathers Day is 13 days away …
Don’t get him a tie, or a gift card. Get him a book. Or put a book on his Kindle, or his tablet. Today and Wednesday, I’m going to recommend several books I’ve read in the past year. There’s a fascinating book on life behind the North Korean curtain—my favorite of the year. There’s a terrific page-turner by Bill Pennington on the life and times of Billy Martin; can’t recommend that one highly enough. And more. I plan to write about those two and the others on Wednesday.
But today, I want to start with one that hit home with me, seeing that I coached girls softball for 17 years in my New Jersey life, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny has some tremendous lessons for coaches but mostly for parents in the book I’ll write about this morning:
By Mike Matheny with Jerry B. Jenkins.
Thanks heavens Matheny spoke up. That’s the impression I was left with after reading this ode to parents of athletes everywhere … and to athletes. So many valuable lessons. Let me boil the lessons down to this:
- Failure is good. Very good.
- Hard work is good. Very good.
- Shut up and watch, parents. And play with your kids in the backyard more.
- Don’t tie success to achievement, to wins and losses.
“I wanted people to know how sports should look for those out there who really want it done right,” Matheny said by phone from Los Angeles over the weekend. His Cards were there to play the Dodgers. “Sports should be about kids and their passion, not about parents and their goals. We love our kids so much, we want to map out the their futures for them so early. For so many, a college scholarship is their definition of success. That’s sick thinking, and unfortunately, it’s contagious.”
What’s great about what Matheny did is that it was truly a grassroots thing, and it spread like wildfire online. Sometimes the internet can be a vehicle for bad, but for Matheny and his ideas, it was a vehicle for very good.
In 2008, his first year out of baseball, Matheny considered answering the call of some in his Missouri community that wanted him to coach a boys travel baseball team with Matheny’s 10-year-old son on it. One night he typed out a five-page letter with his rules; if he was going to coach the team, the parents would have to sign a paper saying they'd abide by his rules. Those rules weren’t complex, but in the era of helicopter parents they went against the grain.
He wrote, “The biggest problem in youth sports is the parents.” He said he would teach the players the game from its very roots, and they would play with sportsmanship and they would hustle and they would never, ever question an umpire. The parents would be quiet in the stands. No, “You can do it, Billy!” Just adds to the pressure the kids feel, Matheny wrote. “You need to be the silent, constant source of support,” he wrote. Every player would pitch; no young arm would be overused. While the players learned the game, the batting order would be meaningless; all players would bat the same number of times. Players would rotate keeping score, because Matheny wanted their heads in the game. Parents, stay away from your kids at all times after you’ve dropped them off for practice or games. Don’t question the coaches, or rather, question them in private but understand there will be no negotiation on playing time or positions played or where kids bat in the order. Let the coaches do their job, and even if you disagree, don’t tell your kids. “Give me the benefit of the doubt that I have [the player's] best interest in mind, even if you’re convinced I’m wrong,” Matheny wrote.
Matheny read this to a room full of parents one night, parents of the kids he hoped would play on the team with his son. When he finished, he felt a chill in the air. This was not what the parents were expecting. But one said, “I’m in,” and the rest followed, and off he went. Then the letter hit the internet. Until then Matheny’s idea was strictly local. One team. “This was only meant for 13 families,” Matheny told me. “There was no vision beyond our team. But if we did it right, maybe people would see it and learn something.” Then he started to hear from other coaches, and other parents. His message resonated. In a world with relaxed rules, parents and coaches wanted a road map to do things right.
What also struck me about Matheny was how he handled failure. As a youth baseball star in Ohio he struggled when his coach brought in another catcher, and the new kid beat out Matheny. Accustomed to playing all the time, Matheny was morose—and expected his parents to back him and say the coach was wrong for benching him in favor of the new kid. “I was miserable,” Matheny said. “If my parents had encouraged me in any way, I might have been out of there.”
One day, in the car driving home from a game in this disappointing season, Matheny’s father said to him: “Sometimes life isn’t fair. The coach is the coach, and he’s always right, even when he’s wrong.”
Now, Matheny recognizes the fallacy in that—sometimes coaches are flat incompetent or dangerous. But if you’re on a team with a smart coach who has made a call you don’t like, grow up. “We all want to stick up for our kids,” Matheny writes in the book. “But what are we teaching them if we don’t let them face their own difficulties?”
As he said the other day, “Where have I learned the most in my life? Through difficult times. They are no fun to go through. You find out about yourself. I don’t think we’re doing our kids any favors by sheltering them and not allowing them to go through tough times.”
You get the idea. Matheny’s old-school. He’s ancient-school, actually. But he’s been heartened to see how parents and coaches have reacted to the five-page letter and, now, to his book. “I can’t begin to tell you about the cool conversations I’ve had with people. Some of them really emotional. Like parents sitting down with kids and asking about how they wanted them to act at games. They were floored to find out the kids were totally embarrassed with how they acted at the game. The parents re-wired their behavior at the games.”
This is a self-help book that so many parents need. It’s so important today, with so many wacky stories about how win-at-all-cost coaches and driven parents are ruining the games kids play. You’ve got to know someone who could use this book. You’ve got to know 10 people who could use this book. They’ll thank you for getting it.
Graduation Speeches, Vol. VIII
By my count, this is the eighth year I’ve looked for good stories and lessons in the commencement addresses given to graduates. It’s a fun exercise, reading wisdom from Garry Kasparov and George Bush and Joyce Carol Oates. Not a lot of football in here, except from Matthew McConaughey, who recalled a painful moment for Houstonians.
Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion, St. Louis University
“When I won the world championship in 1985 I was 22 years old, and it was the greatest day of my life. I imagine today is a similar feeling for many of you. You are young, you are strong and you have a long-time goal in your hands. On that day in 1985, a strange thing happened. I was standing there on the stage, still with my flowers and my medal, the happiest person in the world, when I was approached by Rona Petrosian, the widow of a former world chess champion from the sixties, Tigran Petrosian. I was expecting another warm congratulations, but she had something else in mind. ‘Young man,’ she said, ‘I feel sorry for you.’ What? Sorry for me? Sorry for me? The youngest world champion in history, on top of the world? ‘I feel sorry for you because the happiest day of your life is over.’
“Wow, I couldn't believe it. What a thing to say. But as I got over my shock I began to wonder... what if she's right? And while I did not think much more about it on that celebratory day, I slowly came to realize that Rona Petrosian had given me a new goal in my life: to prove her wrong!
“Now I realize she did me a favor that day, and so I will pass her gift on to you. Is the happiest day of your life over? Or do you already have a new dream, a new goal, a new plan? Graduation is about the future, and not just about your future. Few people expect to change the history of the world, but in some way you all will. It is up to you to decide if you will change the world with your presence—or if it will change in your absence.
“If you always have a dream, the happiest day of your life is never over.”
George W. Bush, former president, Southern Methodist University
“To those of you who are graduating this afternoon with high honors, awards and distinctions, I say, ‘Well done.’ And as I like to tell the ‘C’ students: You, too, can be president. (Laughter and applause.)
“One of the great strengths of America is our active public square. Issues are influenced by the will of the people. That is why an educated citizenry is so important to the success of our country. As SMU graduates, you are well-equipped to participate in these vital debates. My hope is that you speak out on the issues that matter to you. Participate in your nation's civic life as citizens, not spectators. You'll come to learn that who you are is more important than what you have—and that you have responsibilities to your fellow citizens, your country and your family. By taking part in American democracy, you will make our country stronger.
“Many of you have already made service a priority in your lives by volunteering during winter, spring and summer breaks … I thank you for recognizing the timeless truth: Of those to whom much is given, much is required. As you serve others, you can inspire others. I've been inspired by the examples of many selfless servants. Winston Churchill, a leader of courage and resolve, inspired me during my presidency … In 1941, he gave a speech to the students of his old school during Britain's most trying times in World War II. It wasn't too long, and it is well-remembered. Prime Minister Churchill urged, ‘Never give in. In nothing, great or small, large or petty. Never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.’ I hope you'll remember this advice. But there's a lesser-known passage from that speech that I also want to share with you: ‘These are not dark days. These are great days. The greatest our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.’
“When Churchill uttered these words, many had lost hope in Great Britain's chance for survival against the Nazis. Many doubted the future of freedom. Today some doubt America's future, and they say our best days are behind us. I say, given our strengths—one of which is a bright new generation like you—these are not dark days. These are great days.
“I want to thank you for letting me share this special day with you. I wish you all the very best. Stay in touch with your friends. Love your family. Treat this day as a step toward a lifetime of learning. And go forth with confidence. May God bless you.”
Joyce Carol Oates, author/professor, Niagara County (N.Y.) Community College
“Stephen King, our American prodigy, whom you have all read, is now one of the great bestsellers in history, perhaps in the history of the universe. You might be surprised to know that in his early twenties Stephen King was a struggling high school teacher in Maine who was humiliated because he didn’t make enough money to support his family and had to supplement his income by working at menial, disagreeable jobs—a slaughterhouse, for instance. Luckily, being Stephen King, the young writer found such occupations fruitful as material. He had written more than 60 stories which made the rounds of magazines and were rejected. He’d written four novels, all of which were rejected. The fourth, Carrie, he tossed out in the trash in a fit of despair but—here is the fairy tale reversal—his wife, Tabitha King, who, when the two were undergraduates at the University of Maine and were taking writing workshops together, was considered the writer of the two—retrieved the manuscript from the trash and sent it out herself to another publisher; this time it was accepted, and published rather inauspiciously; but made its way at once with the reading public and became a surprise bestseller, eventually a very successful movie. What if, like a reasonable person, Stephen King had given up writing after the rejection of 60 stories and four novels?
“Without ‘heart’ an athlete might have a professional career but he or she cannot be a great champion. The writing students of mine who have gone on to be truly successful, in several cases quite impressive careers, were individuals who worked, worked, worked, and did not allow rejections to dissuade them of their inner worth.
“… This stubborn optimism, this predilection for trying one more time, I bequeath to the graduates of the Class of 2015—in fact, to us all.”
Martha Raddatz, ABC News foreign affairs correspondent, Kenyon (Ohio) College
“Let me offer you all some very quick practical advice on how to succeed in the workplace. Eight simple words. ‘Of course, I would love to work late.’ Now I want all of you to practice. Turn to your neighbor, and say it. ‘Of course, I would love to work late.’
“You likely have very different goals and seek very different experiences. There is no single definition of success. That is unique to each of you. But all of the people who I truly admire have attributes in common. They seek a life of learning, asking questions and making complex judgments both morally and professionally. They do not seek power or wealth, but if they achieve those things they use it for the good of others.”
Michelle Obama, First Lady, Tuskegee University
“Throughout my journey, I have learned to block everything out and focus on my truth. I had to answer some basic questions for myself: Who am I? No, really, who am I? What do I care about? And the answers to those questions have resulted in the woman who stands before you today. A woman who is, first and foremost, a mom. Look, I love our daughters more than anything in the world, more than life itself. And while that may not be the first thing that some folks want to hear from an Ivy League-educated lawyer, it is truly who I am. So for me, being Mom-in-Chief is, and always will be, job number one.
“Next, I’ve always felt a deep sense of obligation to make the biggest impact possible with this incredible platform. So I took on issues that were personal to me—issues like helping families raise healthier kids, honoring the incredible military families I’d met on the campaign trail, inspiring our young people to value their education and finish college. Now, some folks criticized my choices for not being bold enough. But these were my choices, my issues. And I decided to tackle them in the way that felt most authentic to me. So I immersed myself in the policy details. I worked with Congress on legislation, gave speeches to CEOs, military generals and Hollywood executives. But I also worked to ensure that my efforts would resonate with kids and families, and that meant doing things in a creative and unconventional way. So, yeah, I planted a garden, and hula-hooped on the White House Lawn with kids. I did some Mom Dancing on TV. I celebrated military kids with Kermit the Frog. And at the end of the day, by staying true to the me I’ve always known, I found that this journey has been incredibly freeing. Because no matter what happened, I had the peace of mind of knowing that all of the chatter, the name calling, the doubting … all of it was just noise.
“So, graduates, that’s what I want for all of you. I want you all to stay true to the most real, most sincere, most authentic parts of yourselves. I want you to ask those basic questions: Who do you want to be? What inspires you? How do you want to give back? And then I want you to take a deep breath and trust yourselves to chart your own course and make your mark on the world.”
Katie Couric, news anchor/TV host, University of Wisconsin
“Don’t be afraid to take risks. When I left the Today show to anchor the CBS Evening News, I remember a note given to me by a colleague. It said, ‘A boat is always safe in the harbor, but that’s not what boats are built for.’ After 15 years of sleep deprivation, I was ready for a new challenge, and I jumped at the opportunity to be the first female solo anchor of a network newscast. I thought it was about time. After all, when I started in television some 36 years ago, women were mostly secretaries or production assistants. In those days, ‘harass’ was two words, and not one. When I made the move to CBS, there were plenty of naysayers, both inside and outside of the network.
So I guess I’m a poster child for putting myself out there … Feeling the terra firma of TV news shift beneath my feet, I decided to go to Yahoo and dive into the world of digital media. It’s exhilarating to transition to a new environment, where I can wear a hoodie and eat free Pop Chips. I’m having a ball profiling global game-changers and innovators, producing explainers on everything from Benghazi to GMOs, and conducting in-depth interviews—a rarity in TV these days—with a whole range of fascinating people. I’ve talked to John Kerry about ISIS, Ruth Bader Ginsberg about Hobby Lobby, the Fat Jewish about bacon and Steve Aoki about EDM. Who knew?
“Of course, the flip side of getting out of your comfort zone is that it can make you uncomfortable. And you can fall flat on your face. But it’s amazing to me how many stories of success include one word: failure. Experiencing setbacks, disappointments and, yes, failure helps you develop another essential skill. And that’s resilience.”
Ed Helms, actor, University of Virginia
“It has been said that a rolling stone gathers no moss. I would add that sometimes a rolling stone also gathers no verifiable facts or even the tiniest morsels of journalistic integrity. Rolling Stone tried to define you this year. As a result, not only was this community thrown deep into turmoil, but the incredibly important struggle to address sexual violence on campuses nationwide was suddenly more confusing than ever and needlessly set back. Sadly, Rolling Stone’s rush to define is just the tip of the iceberg. We see it everywhere in the media. Less than three weeks ago when Baltimore was erupting in violence, Erin Burnett on CNN argued with a local resident insisting the rioters be defined as thugs. Wolf Blitzer did the same thing. But City Councilman Nick Mosby wouldn't have it. In a testy exchange, he defined his own community, saying, ‘This is about the social economics of poor urban America. These young guys are frustrated. They're upset and unfortunately they're displaying it in a very destructive manner.’ That's a bigger, much more complex analysis that strikes me as the real news story.
“Either way, the reductive labels aren't helping, and we better stop applying them, because there are a lot of Americans in a lot of pain. The riots weren't happening in Kiev or Benghazi; they happened a mighty pleasant three-hour drive from right here. We're all guilty of this. How many times do we label people with our first impressions only to be proven wrong? We try to define others with simple labels because it makes the world easier to understand. This community didn't fall for the fallacy that just because Rolling Stone was wrong everything here must be perfectly peachy. You all had the courage to understand you can be outraged at Rolling Stone and still ask yourselves hard questions: If sexual violence does occur in our community, do we have the best possible protocols and resources available to our students? And UVA is charging forward to answer those questions, and you should be proud of that.”
Tim Cook, Apple CEO, George Washington University
“Your values matter. They are your North Star. And work takes on new meaning when you feel you are pointed in the right direction. Otherwise, it’s just a job, and life is too short for that. We need the best and brightest of your generation to lead in government and in business. In the science and in the arts. In journalism and in academia. There is honor in all of these pursuits. And there is opportunity to do work that is infused with moral purpose. You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well. It’s a false choice, today more than ever. Your challenge is to find work that pays the rent, puts food on the table, and lets you do what is right and good and just … Graduates, this is your world to change.
“I am a proud son of the South. It’s my home, and I will always love it. But for the last 17 years I’ve built a life in Silicon Valley; it’s a special place, the kind of place where there’s no problem that can’t be solved … A friend of mine at Apple likes to say the best way to solve a problem is to walk into a room full of Apple engineers and proclaim, ‘This is impossible.’ I can tell you, they will not accept that. And neither should you. There will always be cynics and critics on the sidelines tearing people down, and just as harmful are those people with good intentions who make no contribution at all. In his letter from the Birmingham jail, Dr. [Martin Luther] King wrote that our society needed to repent, not merely for the hateful words of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. The sidelines are not where you want to live your life. The world needs you in the arena.”
Matthew McConaughey, actor, University of Houston
“I am here to talk brass tacks, to skip the flattery and the ‘attaboys’ because I do know this.
“The sooner we become less impressed — with our life, our accomplishments, our career, the prospect in front of us— and more involved with these things, the sooner we get a whole lot better at doing them.
“Number one: Life’s not easy. Don’t try and make it that way. It’s not fair, it never was, it isn’t now, it won’t ever be. Do not fall into the entitlement trap of feeling you are a victim. You are not. Get over it and get on with it. And yes, most things are more rewarding when you break a sweat to get ’em.
“ … January 3, 1993. NFL playoffs. Your Houston Oilers versus the Buffalo Bills. Oilers up 28–3 at halftime, 35–3 early in the third quarter. Frank Reich and the Bills come back to win 41–38 in overtime for one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. Yeah, the Bills won, but they didn’t really beat the Oilers. The Oilers lost that game. They beat themselves.
“Why? Because at halftime they put a ceiling, a roof, a limit on their belief in themselves, a.k.a the ‘prevent defense.’ Maybe they started thinking about the next opponent at halftime, played on their heels, lost the mental edge the entire second half and voila, they lost. You ever choked? You know what I mean: fumbled at the goal line, stuck your foot in your mouth once you got the microphone, had a brain freeze on the exam you were totally prepared for, forgot the punch line to a joke in front of four thousand graduating students at a University of Houston Commencement speech? What happens when we get that feeling? We tense up … We realize that the moment just got bigger than us. You ever felt that way? I have. It’s because we have created a fictitious ceiling, a roof, to our expectations of ourselves, a limit — where we think it’s all too good to be true. But it isn’t, and it’s not our right to say or believe it is.
“We shouldn’t create these restrictions on ourselves. A blue ribbon, a statue, a score, a great idea, the love of our life, a euphoric bliss. Who are we to think we don’t deserve or haven’t earned these gifts when we get them?”
Madeleine Albright, former U.S. secretary of state, Tufts University
“Although I didn’t attend Tufts, I feel a personal connection to this outstanding university.
“Back in the 1960s, this is where I met one of my heroes, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson, after he delivered a speech. I never, ever, imagined then that I would one day be appointed to Acheson’s job. It’s not that I lacked ambition; it’s just that I had never seen a secretary of state in a skirt.
“If we want the world to heed our views and follow our lead, we must listen to the concerns of others. We must listen confidently to rising powers such as China, who want to have a greater say in global governance, as we push them to abide by the same rules that we ourselves uphold.
“We must listen to scientists who say global warming is a real and grave threat to our future; scientists who believe that conservation is a national security imperative, not a four-letter word.
“And we must listen to those who argue that globalization should not lead to marginalization of the world’s poor.
“I have traveled almost everywhere, and I have found that there are essentially three categories of countries in the world today. In the first, people work all day and still don’t have enough to eat. In the second, families are able to scrape together just enough food to meet their basic needs. In the third category of countries, diet books are bestsellers. Of course, the same distinctions also apply to the neighborhoods of Boston and Baltimore, and to the mountains of Appalachia and the American West. Confronted with this hard truth, some people simply shrug their shoulders and say that such inequality is too bad, but there is not anything anyone can do about it. I say, such unfairness is intolerable, and we each have a responsibility to change it.”
Kent Brantly, American doctor, Indiana University School of Medicine
“In the first seven weeks of treating patients with Ebola, we had only one survivor; one survivor and nearly 20 deaths. Losing so many patients certainly was difficult. But it didn't make me feel like a failure as a physician, because I had learned that there's a lot more to being a physician than curing illness. In fact, that isn't even the most important thing we do. The most important thing we do is to enter into the suffering of others. And in the midst of what was becoming the worst Ebola epidemic in history, we were showing compassion to people during the most desperate and trying times of their lives. Through the protection of Tyvek suits and two pairs of gloves, we were able to hold the hands of people as they died to offer dignity in the face of humiliating circumstances, to treat with respect the dying and the dead. And in my opinion, that made those weeks, those difficult weeks of my career a success.”
* * *
Quotes of the Week
“Anthony Davis to retire.”
—A statement from the San Francisco 49ers Friday afternoon, surprising the football world by announcing the retirement of starting right tackle Anthony Davis at 25.
“After a few years of thought, I've decided it will be best for me to take a year or so away from the NFL. This will be a time for me to allow my Brain and Body a chance to heal … I’m simply doing what’s best for my body as well as my mental health at this time.”
—A statement from Anthony Davis later that same day.
Not so fast on the retirement thing.
“Everyone talks about how hard the transition can be, and I thought that couldn’t be me. I was in a dark place I thought I was totally incapable of being in. It’s a paradigm shift; it’s a hormonal shift. You’re not going out there and hitting people every day, releasing the same adrenal glands. You’re a mess … I wouldn’t say I considered suicide. Ultimately, I’d say I had a nervous breakdown and felt quite vulnerable for some time afterwards. I had never felt so fragile emotionally. Thankfully and luckily I have an amazing wife to support me as I go through the transformation process. But by no means do I assume I’ve arrived in Happyville. I’m sure there are more troughs ahead to work through.”
—Recently retired San Diego center Nick Hardwick to The MMQB’s Emily Kaplan. He’s lost 85 pounds and has had his struggles as he adjusts to life after football, as you can read here.
“You just saw Seattle Slew.”
—Longtime respected horse trainer Nick Zito, to Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden, after watching American Pharoah gallop to a five-and-a-half-length win in the Belmont Stakes Saturday, completing the first Triple Crown of horse racing in 37 years. Seattle Slew won the 1977 Triple Crown.
What a story by Layden on SI.com. Fantastic detail, wonderfully weaved.
Stat of the Week
Sebastian Vollmer of New England and Anthony Davis of San Francisco … Two right tackles. Crucial for their teams. In the upper echelon of right tackles in football, Vollmer has been more consistent in recent seasons than Davis. But how much more consistent, really?
Davis versus Vollmer since 2012, with stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus:
|Player, Team||Games||Total Sacks/Hits/Hurries Allowed||3-Year QB Disruptions|
|Vollmer, New England||38||12/13/55||80|
|Davis, San Francisco||39||16/10/64||90|
Davis wasn’t the best tackle in football—not by a long shot. But the Niners played better when he played, and he’s another of the many significant losses for the once-proud franchise. On the offensive line alone, the Niners have lost their second- and third-best starters, guard Mike Iupati and Davis.
“I don’t think it’s a huge blow to this team,” coach Jim Tomsula said Friday after Davis texted him with the news he’s leaving football. “We’ve got some guys doing some really good things right now that we’re really excited about moving into training camp.”
We shall see.
I count 10 starters from last December’s Niners now gone: Iupati, Davis, Michael Crabtree and Frank Gore on offense (as well as part-time starter Jonathan Martin, whom I did not count); and on defense, Ray McDonald, Justin Smith, Chris Borland, Patrick Willis, Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver. It’s 11 it you count punter Andy Lee as a starter.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
As the New York Daily News pointed out Sunday, the last time there was a Triple Crown winner—Affirmed, on June 10, 1978—you could buy Wheaties at your grocery store with reigning Olympic decathlon champion Bruce Jenner on the box.
Wow. I just realized the last time a horse won the Triple Crown before Saturday, it happened on my 21st birthday.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Travel Note of the Week
After the wedding of our daughter, my wife and I went on a cool 35th anniversary trip: VIA Rail’s Vancouver-to-Winnipeg train through the Canadian Rockies. Fifty-two really fun and relaxing hours, with some of the prettiest scenery you’ll ever see. The highlight was this announcement over the 24-car train’s intercom one day into the journey: “Ladies and gentlemen, on the left side of train you’ll see a black bear.” Sure enough, there was a large black bear, eating something in a field as we approached the Rockies.
Good food on the train. Good beer. (Lots of it.) Day two of the trip, a long Sunday, was mostly through the plains from Saskatoon to Winnipeg. There’s not much out there. Good chance to get in a lot of reading. Then we flew from Winnipeg to Toronto and spent the last two days of our trip sightseeing in Toronto.
Canada is one huge and scenic country.
Tweets of the Week
In my 37 years of covering the NFL I've never seen a team have such a devastating offseason as the 49ers.
— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) June 5, 2015
The NFL beat man extraordinaire, tweeting after the Anthony Davis retirement Friday, and before the trade of Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee on Saturday.
American Pharoah jockey Victor Espinoza is donating all his winnings from Belmont Stakes to City of Hope, a cancer research center in Calif.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 7, 2015
So, when will American Pharaoh host Saturday Night Live?
— Bob Ryan (@GlobeBobRyan) June 7, 2015
— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) June 6, 2015
The SB Nation Red Sox blogger, with a fun visual of ambidextrous Oakland reliever Pat Venditte warming up for his major-league debut at Fenway Park on Friday night. Venditte pitched the eighth inning, left-handed against lefty swinger Brock Holt and righty against right-handed hitters Hanley Ramirez and Mike Napoli.
Ace Sox beat man Gordon Edes reported that the Boston organist played Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” when Venditte entered the game.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these notes caught my eye from the NFL’s announcement of its roster of officials for 2015:
a. Veteran Bill Leavy’s out as a referee. Mike Holmgren and Seattle fans won’t forget a couple of iffy calls in the Super Bowl loss to Pittsburgh nine years ago. Now Leavy will be an officiating supervisor for the league. The newest of the NFL’s 17 referees: ex-line judge John Hussey.
b. As expected, Sarah Thomas, the first female official hired by the league as part of a permanent crew, will work on easygoing referee Peter Morelli’s crew. She is a line judge.
c. Walt Coleman IV, the son of the NFL’s dean of officials, ref Walt Coleman, will be a side judge on Jerome Boger’s crew.
d. Only one ref change this year—Hussey’s ascension. Those not in the Jeff Tripplette Fan Club will have to wait at least another season, because he’s back.
2. I think my biggest problem with the NFL putting the kibosh on the Tony Romo Fantasy Football Convention at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas—FOX’s Alex Marvez reported this Friday—is pretty simple: The NFL has embraced fantasy football in a huge way. Virtually every fantasy football league has a gambling component to it, whether you want to call it that or not. People kick in $5, or $50, or $5,000, or $50,000 at the beginning of the season, and the winner gets the majority, if not all, of the pot. That’s gambling. It’s harmless gambling, but it is gambling. And the NFL loves it. So much, in fact, that the league has poured millions into producing its own fantasy football content. The NFL runs its own fantasy football platform on NFL.com, produces its own daily fantasy football show on NFL Network and has hosted something called Fantasy Draft Week in New York City the past couple years. For the NFL to deny Romo the right to hold a business venture in a ballroom at a hotel in Vegas where gambling happens amounts to looking the other way on fantasy football, which is legal gambling, while preventing Romo engaging in a business venture that will not include gambling. I think Romo should make a big stink over this.
3. I think I don’t know what being “the blood of the city” means, which is how Pat Bowlen’s son John described himself to a 911 operator when his girlfriend called the cops on John Bowlen after a domestic disturbance. But I don’t think that statement, plus the ominous tone of the 911 call, as obtained by the Denver Post, is going to help John Bowlen avoid being suspended by the NFL (he is employed by the Broncos in the marketing department) at a sensitive time for the league when it comes to domestic violence. From the sound of the call, John Bowlen could use some time off, and some counseling. It’s still uncertain who ultimately will run the Broncos now that 71-year-old Pat Bowlen has stepped away due to Alzheimer’s Disease.
4. I think one of the football stories we’ve paid far too little attention to this offseason is what the Eagles have done with their skill positions. Added: running backs DeMarco Murray (the number one rusher in the league in 2014) and Ryan Mathews (number seven in 2013), first-round receiver Nelson Agholor. Subtracted: running back LeSean McCoy, wideout Jeremy Maclin. With Murray, Mathews and Darren Sproles—who, I’m told, is still a major favorite of Chip Kelly—I think you’ll see the Eagles be a top-three rushing team in 2015. That is: If they’re efficient at it, the Eagles will be in the top three in the NFL in rushing attempts this year.
5. I think you’re surprised by that, aren’t you? Don’t be. In Kelly’s first two seasons as an NFL coach, his Eagles were fifth in 2013 and seventh in 2014 in rushing attempts per game. With a quarterback, Sam Bradford, that the Eagles don’t want to expose to more punishment than necessary, and a potential workhorse back in Murray, the Eagles are strong candidates to run the ball more than half of their offensive snaps. That’s something no one thought Kelly would do as an NFL coach.
6. I think, now that Yahoo has paid in excess of $10 million to live-stream a game with no national TV outlet—the first time in NFL history for that—the next thing on the NFL’s media horizon that you should be paying attention to is further selling of league highlights. I’m told the league is intent on making sure every person, in front of a TV or holding a smartphone walking through a mall on a Sunday afternoon, can follow every big play on an NFL game day.
7. I think this is the offseason that a storm cloud simply will not vanish from the airspace over Foxboro. That includes, apparently, a highway near Foxboro, where, on Sunday morning, an abandoned and damaged car was found after an unreported accident overnight. The car apparently belongs to former and current New England linebacker Brandon Spikes. Stay tuned for the developing story.
8. I think if Wes Welker plays football again—and he’s working out in south Florida, waiting for a team to call—I certainly hope that team does about three times the amount of work on Welker’s concussion history as it has to. I’d be leery of signing him, obviously. He very much wants to keep playing.
9. I think I loved this note from longtime Lions beat man Mike O’Hara, now with the Lions' official web site: Jack Nicklaus’s first paycheck as a pro golfer was for $33.33, for finishing 50th in the 1962 Los Angeles Open. His grandson, rookie Bills tight end Nicklaus “Nick” O’Leary, earned his first pro paycheck recently. It’s the signing bonus on his rookie contract: $119,690.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Two overtime games in the NBA Finals. One the Cavs should have won and lost. One the seriously undermanned Cavs should have lost and won. That's what's so great about sports.
b. The LeBron hatred by so many on Twitter and elsewhere is so foolish, such a waste of time. I don't care how many shots he missed Sunday night. He willed that team to a win, along with a spunky little guard I never heard of until two days ago.
c. Yowza. That ESPN “Outside the Lines” story on Hope Solo and the allegations of her violent conduct with her stepsister and stepsister’s son is about as alarming as can be.
d. Really enjoyed the Belmont on Saturday. I was lucky to attend for the first time, thanks to some NBC ducats. I’m no horse racing fan, but I am a fan of sports history, and there was certainly the sense in the crowd as the race was minutes away that we were all about to see something special. What impressed me the most is that from maybe 20 yards out of the starting gate, American Pharoah took the lead and remained that way for a mile-and-a-half. How hard it must be, to keep a lead in a race that long. This really impressed me: The horse has won its last seven races by an average of five-plus lengths.
e. Lord, Pablo Sandoval is on the verge of Chuck Knoblauch/Steve Sax disease. Sailing throws from third to first.
f. Beat Writer Stat of the Week, from the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham, on Friday, in the midst of another crash-and-burn Red Sox season: “The Sox are 95-122 the past two seasons and 296-317 since the 2011 All-Star break. The ESPN ‘30 for 30’ documentary on how the 2013 Red Sox were one of the great outliers of all time will be fun to watch in 10 years. The Jonny Gomes quotes alone will be great.”
g. Pete Abraham is such a pleasure to read.
h. Congrats, Serena Williams, on your 20th major singles title. My favorite part of it: thanking the crowd at the French Open afterward with a nice little speech—in French.
i. Coffeenerdness: Toronto’s a huge coffee city. I bet there are more per-capita Starbucks outlets (and other independent shops) downtown than in Seattle’s downtown.
j. Beernerdness: Was lucky enough to try quite a few new beers on the trip through Canada. And maybe it’s because I’m going for a lighter taste these days, but I really found Steam Whistle Pilsner (Steam Whistle Brewing, Toronto) surprisingly tasty for a pilsner. The atmosphere in the downtown brewery was cool too, and probably enhanced the experience. Quite a nice brew scene in Toronto.
k. This column will have guest writers for the next four Mondays. We’ll open next week with Jenny Vrentas, and Robert Klemko and Andrew Brandt will also be writing in the coming weeks. As for the fourth columnist, it’s still TBA, but I’m working on an option you’ll enjoy if it pans out. I’ll be back in this space July 13, ready for another season.
The Adieu Haiku
Coach of the Year? Now?
I’ll take Mike Zimmer. Easy.
Stood firm on AP.
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