NFL players who share political views or weigh in on current events are often told to pipe down. Here's why we'll continue to give them a platform to preach. Plus, answering reader email about Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and The MMQB 100
We led the Monday Morning Quarterback column this week with an athlete’s perspective of the events in Charleston and we received, predictably, a fair amount of backlash from the “shut up and play” contingent of our readership. In response to Charleston native and Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell’s thoughts on race and culture in his hometown, reader Charles G. of Lacey, Wash., wrote, The MMQB is “passing a football player off as someone with knowledge of anything other than football.” Charles continues: “Of course he's entitled to his own opinion, but he doesn't seem to have any answers or even well-informed thoughts on the issue.”
A sampling of Maxwell’s comments in the story:
- “I think the racism in the South is just more in your face. I remember just about every car had the Confederate flag when I was young. It’s something they’re proud of. If those things are still flying, how far have we really come? They want to say, it’s not hate, it’s heritage. But hate is the most important part of that heritage.”
- “In elementary school, teachers took us down (to the historic district) and showed us the old slave auction site. They would say, this is where your ancestors were sold. That would be a field trip. It’s good to educate, but we were too young. It gave us an inferiority complex. It’s always good to know where you came from, but we don’t know where we came from. King Street is not where we came from.”
In response, I would advise readers like Charles to think of the audience. The MMQB isn’t a sociology forum; it’s a sports web site. We set out with a unique goal in 2013—to provide insightful coverage of the NFL with an emphasis on the voice of the man in the arena. I was thrilled to join a site with this mission, and to work for the same site as Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman as he wrote about finance, health and safety, discipline and, yes, race. I was thrilled because I had read about a time in sports when athletes took up social causes and voiced their opinions at the peril of their own personal brands, before Michael Jordan famously said in 1990, “Republicans buy shoes, too.”
When I think about our audience, I think of kids who are like I was: a teenager tearing through the pages of Sports Illustrated, searching for glimpes into the personalities of my favorite athletes. I saw great American tragedies and conflicts through the lens of those pages, from Columbine to 9/11 to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I saw athletes like Pat Tillman stand for something the way Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson once stood for something.
Years later, I watched the next generation of athletes begin taking swings at the next barrier for equality in our society. Said former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe in 2012, two years before the first openly gay player was drafted: “When sports gets on board with a civil issue, then that issue is rapidly resolved in the next, you know, 10, 15 years. Sports speaks to a large segment of the population, and when kids look at athletes as role models, they say, ‘OK, hey, these guys are saying it's OK if you're gay, it's OK to have same-sex marriage.’ ”
So we’re going to keep documenting the personal and political views of NFL players at The MMQB, and we’re going to keep covering football between the white lines as well. We're going to write about how Byron Maxwell fits in Philadelphia's defense, and if Maxwell decides to donate his time and money to the victims of a horrific tragedy, we're going to ask him why. We think there’s room, and need, for both.
On to your mail...
ON THE BEST DEFENSIVE LINE IN FOOTBALL. The Rams' defensive line is very good, but the best by a long shot? I don't think so. Next time you are driving in New Jersey just remember there's a team there with a pretty good D-line in green and white who just added the best D-line collegian.
To recap, in Monday’s column I wrote:
“I think the Rams will have the best defensive line in football by a long shot, and I’m not surprised to hear the newest member of a stellar group getting excited about it. Nick Fairley told AL.com over the weekend that the D-line of Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Fairley “is going to be amazing this year.”
I heard Peter G.’s sentiment several times from readers of the column. Some cited the Jets, others pointed to the Bills or Broncos. I started thinking of a scientific way to illustrate my point and remembered that Pro Football Focus tallies sacks, hits and hurries for each player. As pass rushing has become the most vital quality of a good defensive line, I figured this would be a good indicator of group prowess. I looked at the projected depth charts for the five teams generally thought to have the best lines, then added up the 2014 sacks, hits and hurries for the top five contributing players on each team (excluding rookies). The results:
Should I rethink my statement? I don’t think so. Consider that Long missed most of the season with an ankle injury, and teams subsequently turned the focus on Quinn, who was coming off a breakout season in 2013. Last season, under those circumstances, Quinn and Long combined for 62 sacks/hits/hurries. In 2013, that number was 154. Barring further injury, factoring in a slimmed down Nick Fairley, I don’t think it gets better than St. Louis.
ON TOM BRADY'S APPEAL. If Brady's suspension is reduced to one game, does he still go to court, or just call Roger Goodell a jerk and then win the Super Bowl again?
I could see this scenario going one of two ways. Brady fights the one-game suspension with a lawsuit that would call into question Roger Goodell’s role as arbitrator, among other things. Such a suit could delay the onset of any suspension, potentially into winter months or even next offseason. Or, Brady could accept the one-game ban, let Jimmy Garropollo get his feet wet, then come back and destroy the rest of the NFL riding that underdog mantra that every NFL player/team loves to employ. Maybe, upon reflection, Brady will feel his public legacy is intact as a result of that AEI study blowing up the NFL's Wells Report. I think he takes the latter route, and probably wins another ring, like you said.
ON RUSSELL WILSON'S CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS. It is irrelevant what the Seahawks think about Wilson’s capabilities in any other team’s schemes. They should be focused on balancing their own needs. But if Russell Wilson becomes a free agent, he is going to sign with the team that integrates and maximizes his earning potential with the team’s success. Wilson is very smart and would go with the team where his talents and the team’s schemes are complimentary, which ensures on-field success and related off-field earning power in a large market. He could go to the Jets or the Rams or the Broncos in a heartbeat and do exceptionally well. Just because the Seahawks think Wilson can’t go to any other team doesn’t mean Wilson is going to any other team.
—Don Brophy, Waltham, Mass.
I wouldn’t say it’s irrelevant, because I don’t think there will be enough teams that are financially prepared for the scenario of a free-agent quarterback who wants to be among the highest-paid in the league AND are interested in Wilson at that price. Especially if that quarterback isn’t Peyton Manning. Also, don't forget, Wilson also has to like said team. When I suggested the Seahawks could “let Russell walk” in 2017 without franchise-tagging him for what would be a second time in the proposed scenario, I didn’t mean they wouldn’t make an offer. I think that offer would be considerably less than what Wilson wants, and he’ll have to make a choice between a place where he’s established and successful in the offense vs. two or three other teams (New York and St. Louis are good guesses) who are relative unknowns but will compensate him slightly better.
ON EXTRA POINTS. Perhaps I'm late to the extra point debate, but would the NFL ever consider going to a rugby-style extra point? That is, the position of the kick in the field is determined by where the ball crosses the goal line (in rugby it's where the ball is 'touched down' in the end zone). There would be a minimum distance (say the 5-yard line), but the kicker is free to move the line of scrimmage back as far as necessary for a kick from near the sideline. In this proposed system, the difficulty of the extra point is a function of where the ball crosses the goal line. A touchdown given up in the center of the field yields an easy extra point while a touchdown in the corner of the end zone means the kicker has a tough angle.
Yes! As a former college rugby player, I almost wrote this very thought in the 10 Things I Think department, but then I thought about how obscenely difficult it would be to kick from the sidelines from any distance. Imagine a last-minute desperation heave down the sideline to come within a point of tying the game, and the outcome comes down to a near-impossible kick that would've been peanuts only a year ago. The key to any change in the extra point system is finding a solution that makes extra points less boring, but doesn’t dramatically upset the current balance between the importance of special teams and the importance of running, throwing, etc. I’d say that balance is 85-15 at the moment, and what you’re talking about would make it 75-25.
ON THE BOSS. How awesome is it working for Peter King? Any great Peter stories?
—Bart C., Calgary
There was that one time he discovered the poop emoji and sent the entire staff nothing but poop emojis for a solid 24 hours... But seriously, PK is the best. I think the coolest thing about him is how often he looks to help young writers advance. I can’t see a reason why Peter would respond to so many young journalists who tweet and email him other than his dedication to the craft and to the future of our industry. He likes to say young people have the best ideas, but it’s Peter who continually churns out many of the ideas behind the best stories you see on the site. If I had to pick one SFW story, though, I’d say it was the time my dad picked him up from the New Carrollton train station in Maryland and Peter came away from a 30-minute car ride knowing more about my dad than I did.
ON THE MMQB'S PRIORITIES. Could you send out a mass text, email or maybe a tweet to let us know when you are going to actually write about football on your football website. That would be great.
Tom! I guess you missed out on The MMQB this week. Here’s the link. I wrote about the Steelers' new look on defense, provided exclusive insight into the relationship between Rob Gronkowski and coach Bill Belichick, and had an extensive discussion with a statistics professor on the changing world of extra points. Enjoy!
ON THE MMQB 100. Really enjoying the very objective approach you have taken as a staff for The MMQB 100. No shameless plugs for SI or your writers for MMQB, and all the picks so far have come from all over the NFL landscape. It's a refreshing read, especially during these dead months.
—Dominic Lepage, Beaumont, AB, Canada
Thanks Dom. It was MMQB editor Gary Gramling’s idea. I've enjoyed the series too.
ON THE MMQB 100 ... AGAIN. I realize it is slow season but The MMQB 100 is exactly the cheap and useless fluff that all other websites use. I thought The MMQB was better. Luckily, you did not kill any trees for this since it is online but many electrons were needlessly inconvenienced for this mindless drivel. Write about the CFL again if you must or have the whole staff take off four weeks. You cheapen your brand with articles of this type.
—Hank Grohman, Chandler, Ariz.
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