Elliott Ruiz was guarding a Marine checkpoint on April 4, 2003, part of a mission to rescue seven America POWs from an Iraqi camp. On his watch, a vehicle came barreling toward a barbed-wire fence that U.S. troops had erected, the driver’s side tires caught it, popped it off its stakes, and dragged the wire from its place.
Ruiz bolted, but not fast enough. The wire caught on his right leg, wrapped around it, and, bearing his body weight, ripped it wide open.
Ruiz’s life would never be the same. He suffered nerve damage and needed multiple surgeries, which led to Charlie horses that caused muscle spasms, which in turn necessitated back surgeries. He went under the knife 14 times in all—10 procedures on his leg, four on his back.
And after all that, he never really got the help he needed.
Same goes for Oren O’Neal.
In 2007, Raiders coach Lane Kiffin named him the team’s rookie of the year. The former Arkansas State walk-on’s future as a football player looked bright—and his goals were all in front of him. The next summer he went into Oakland’s third preseason expecting to play strictly at fullback. One of his teammates was a late scratch. So Kiffin asked him to fill in on the kickoff return team.
On the opening kickoff, O’Neal sprinted back to his landmark, turned, and his foot caught in the Coliseum grass. As he went to engage a Cardinals kickoff cover man, his knee went backwards, much like the injury suffered by ex-Bears tight end Zach Miller a couple years ago. O’Neal was carried off the field. On the sideline, the trainers loaded him on to the table and picked up his leg by his foot. It sagged like a noodle.
He would beat the odds one more time and make it back onto the field. But his back gave out in the summer of 2009, in a joint practice with the Niners, to the point where he couldn’t stand up straight. It was so bad that when new coach Tom Cable took the team to a winery on the Raiders’ next day off, O’Neal sat down and couldn’t breathe. He made it halfway through that season before going on IR.
He’d never play again.
On the surface, these two stories are very different. One was at war. The other was in a game. And every pro football player I know is always clear in how wrong it is to analogize what they do with what happens in the military.
“These guys are war vets,” says O’Neal. “It’s different. We’re battling in football, but we’re not at war.”
But what O’Neal was fighting post-football actually wasn’t unlike what Ruiz would go toe-to-toe with once the Marines retired him in August 2005, as a result of his injuries. And Fox NFL reporter Jay Glazer came to realize that in working with guys from both walks of life at his West Hollywood gym.
It’s why Glazer and ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer founded MVP (Merging Veterans and Players) in 2015.
So you can guess where this story is going. O’Neal found MVP. So did Ruiz.
For those guys, and everyone else in the program, the Fourth of July is a big day, and not just for the reasons it is for every other American. Glazer, Boyer and the leaders of MVP have marked it as a day for each of the guys they’re working with to take pride in who they are and what they’ve accomplished. Which, believe it or not, a lot of ex-players and soldiers actually struggle with.
Ruiz took the occasion two years ago to tell Glazer and the MVP group his whole story. They knew about his injuries. They didn’t know they were sustained in the process of rescuing prisoners of war.
“For the first couple years, I never told Jay what it was,” Ruiz says. “When I finally told him, it blew his mind. He said, ‘That’s freaking amazing.’ But I didn’t sign up for anyone to thank me. And I don’t want to come off as someone bragging that I got hurt rescuing seven POWs. I didn’t want to put it out there, I didn’t want to be talking about it. And he said to me, ‘You should let these people know. How many 17-year-olds are rescuing POWs? Most are playing grab-ass in high school.’
“He said, ‘Be proud of it.’ ”
In this week’s edition of the MMQB, we’ll look forward to what’s ahead when we all get back from vacation (and beyond), including …
• National Football Scouting’s initial grades for the 2020 draft.
• Some pretty cool stuff going down in Mobile with the Senior Bowl people.
• Why teams are increasingly staying home for training camp.
• The Tyreek Hill case.
But since the Fourth is coming up, and things are mostly quiet in the NFL, we’ve got a good chance here, I figured, to highlight some pretty important work being done away from the field.
Ruiz was America’s youngest Marine when he forged his mom’s signature to enlist in June 2002, at just 17. He did it, in his words, because “he wanted to get out of North Philly.” He was raised by his great aunt and an ex-Marine great uncle who was twice awarded the Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam.
Ruiz would find his purpose, and his identity, similarly. Getting in the uniform was a logical choice for him. Getting out of it was much more difficult.
In the immediate aftermath of his surgeries, Ruiz suffered from neurological issues that he says the doctors didn’t know how to handle. In his words, “They threw all these pain meds at me.” Things didn’t improve. His mind was cloudy. His body was sluggish. So he kept being giving more and more pills to cope—until a day in early 2005 came where we woke up, felt paralyzed by it all and flushed the meds down the toilet.
That was far from the end of it for him. Ruiz would cope with alcohol abuse. He would have anxiety in public, and he would burst into tears in front of his wife with no real explanation or notice. “This heat would come up my neck, and then into my face for no reason,” he says, “and I’d just start crying.”
But the military had taught him to be tough. To deal with it. To internalize it.
For years, he did. Then, after repeated attempts to help by the VA failed, about a decade after his Marine service ended, Ruiz hit bottom. He felt physically broken. He couldn’t dress himself. He needed his wife to help him shower. He struggled to do a single pull-up. He needed to find a different answer.
“I wasn’t suicidal, but something I always said to my wife—I always felt like I’d die young,” he said. “I’m not sure why, but I always felt like I’d die young. A lot of guys deal with that, it’s not just me. But when those roommates you’ve got, those voices in your head, start talking, it’s tough.”
So he did what most Americans would do in 2015 to find help: He went to Google. He was looking for a gym, found Glazer’s facility, and went there to ask if they had any programs for military vets. The person at the front said no, but mentioned that they had a guy putting together a group for vets, and brought him over to Glazer.
Glazer asked about his injuries. Ruiz went through them and, the war vet says, “he put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed it and said, ‘We got you.’ ”
O’Neal’s low point has some similarity to Ruiz’s. After he got done playing, yes, there were times when he’d find himself in a dark room by himself, crying, without a great explanation for why. But that paled in comparison to other events in his life that put him on his heels, a result of being removed from the game.
There was a time when he was so intent on isolating himself that he’d routinely blow off family members. In one such instance, his mother called to invite him back home for a weekend in Arkansas. O’Neal accepted, with a plan to cancel the day of. He called that Friday and said he wasn’t coming. His brother was a diabetic and suffered a seizure that night and died.
You can imagine how that felt.
And then there was the day with his son, who’d become the one person he didn’t close himself off to. O’Neal got involved in an altercation at a gas station. Tempers flared. His pent-up aggression came out. His family was in the truck, with a front row seat to see the man he was slowly becoming. When he got back in, his son, then 3, said “Big Man [his kids’ nickname for him], you shouldn’t act that way.”
“The mentality, especially in football, it’s, ‘Get up and go! Suck it up and go!’ I had to stop,” O’Neal said. “I realized my son was terrified of me, even though I never put my hands on him. For him, even with it not directed at him, to see a large man be that aggressive … I remember the one time he told me he was scared of me. That broke my heart.”
An ex-Raiders teammate of O’Neal’s, former NFL tight end Tony Stewart, told him he had someone who could help. Glazer called O’Neal and offered him a chance to go with MVP to Boulder Crest, a retreat in Virginia that helps veterans and first responders cope with the toll their professions take on them.
O’Neal was on his way.
Here’s what Glazer figured out—more than anything, these guys need each other.
Ruiz thought, when he left the military, that there wasn’t a civilian who would understand what he’d been through. Along those lines, O’Neal was taught never to show any sign of weakness or vulnerability. As a result, guys from two different backgrounds were joined, seeking—without even knowing it—an outlet that had been ripped from them.
“Every guy who retires, they’ll all tell you, we don’t miss practice, we don’t miss meetings—they miss the locker room,” Glazer says. “That's the biggest thing—we're recreating the locker room. The world’s problems are solved in locker rooms. People can talk about race, religion, politics, and nothing gets out of control. It’s outside the locker room doors where everybody gets so pissed off.
“So the team is what they miss the most. But then also getting them to understand, again, ‘We’re different. Different is good. We don't have to fit into society, [society has to] fit in around us. Different is good. You're not alone. And we’re good with our messed-up-ness.’ We talk a lot about the roommates in our head, but we embrace it. We don’t run away from it.”
For the military guys, the locker room is their unit. The idea is the same.
“So the football players, it’s crazy, it’s very similar to what we deal with,” Ruiz said. “They’ve been on a routine their whole lives, then their career ends and they don’t know what to do. They’re used to the camaraderie, the regimen. They’re missing that regimen and camaraderie. This is a place where they can share their stories, their struggle. They’re all banged up too, just like us. It’s really easy to talk to them.
“We were trained for years not to show weakness. It’s same with the players. They’re trained their whole lives not to show weakness. So they have all this stuff in their head, all those things are built up in their head, and that’s where you get the issues. So it’s great to have that place to be vulnerable.”
And it helps everyone move forward with their lives.
O’Neal graduated from Arkansas State with a degree in Manufacturing/Industrial Engineering Technology in 2006, and worked for a mortgage company, then General Electric after he finished playing football. But he’s now found what he considers his true calling by establishing a literacy program and mentoring club in several Dallas schools, leveraging his NFL connections to attract kids to come aboard.
He’s made such a difference at one of the schools, the Paul L. Dunbar Learning Center in the impoverished Fair Park neighborhood, that they actually now teach his story to the kids. “Made me feel better than any touchdown could,” he says.
“It’s like magic,” O’Neal continues. “Better than any day I ever had on the football field, just to get their attention, to know you’re getting them ready. That’s my new passion, man. And I feel like I’m better at that than I ever I was at football. And I felt like I was pretty good at football. It just got taken away by injuries.”
As for Ruiz, he’s worked his way up to full-time position at a health care company in Los Angeles. He still has issues, to be sure. When we talked, he was driving to USC to get his knee drained. Five months ago, he had an epidural to manage his back pain.
But he’s there every week at MVP, sitting on the mat after the 40-minute workouts, in a place where he can let everything out. And like O’Neal, he’s found purpose.
“I feel like I found something to fight for,” Ruiz says. “Growing up in North Philly, I feel like I was fighting my whole life. Once I got out of the Marines, it was like, OK, what am I fighting for now? It didn’t have to be something physical. It never did. Now, I feel like I have something to fight for. I’m gonna fight for these guys, fight to get them help. I feel like I found my next fight.”
And it’s a fight the NFL’s taken on, too. Ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy funded an MVP chapter in Chicago, and Falcons coach Dan Quinn has done the same in Atlanta. There are four now (including Glazer’s chapter in L.A. and one at Randy Couture’s gym in Vegas), with plans to expand to four more cities soon.
Quinn’s connection was through Glazer and ex-Marine/MMA fighter Brian Stann, who helped integrate martial arts into Atlanta’s strength-and-conditioning program four years ago. After he met with the two last summer, the Atlanta jumped on board, and MVP now hosts sessions on Tuesday nights in suburban Marietta.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of it,” Quinn said over the weekend, from his vacation in Hawaii. “You hear the impact the program is making. It’s so worthwhile. It’s a group of people that really needs help, and I couldn’t be more fired up to be a part of it. When they tell you that Tuesday night’s the best of their week, that’s when you know the difference it’s making.”
Quinn’s hope, as a head coach, is that he can show outgoing players that difference, and get more of them involved. Seahawks GM John Schneider’s thrown financial support behind the program too. And NFL commissioner Roger Goodell attended a session in New York, spending time with ex-Marine Denver Morris, who was homeless at one point, attempted suicide three times, and now has found his own life’s work as a program coordinator for MVP.
“There’s no perfect formula, because you’re dealing with mental health, you’re dealing with real issues,” said Glazer. “But we tackle it. Listen, vets are killing themselves, people in society are killing themselves, people in sports are killing themselves. We had a big talk about it the other day—there’s no perfect thing. But I’m telling our vets, a lot of these guys, they’re bailing out early, and everyone’s all upset and mourning. And they’re going, ‘f---, why isn’t that me?’ ”
“Our vets say, ‘Yeah, that’s what happened to me, that’s what I tried.’ And you know what? It’s not OK. It’s not OK to kill yourself. We’re going to be a big voice on making sure they don’t fall into that trap.”
Ruiz didn’t, and neither O’Neal.
And on Thursday, they’ll get the chance to celebrate all of their accomplishments. Those aren’t limited anymore to fields of battle or play anymore.
2020 DRAFT LOOKAHEAD
Over the last couple months, the scouting community has started working toward next April. And one tentpole event during this time of year is the National Football Scouting meeting in May, when the groundwork is laid to grade the following year’s seniors.
Those grades have gone out to the teams. And eight seniors received the equivalent of first-round grades in the NFS system. We were able to get the list. You want the list? Here’s the list (in alphabetical order):
Trey Adams, OT, Washington: He’s been on the NFL’s radar forever, and was an All-American as a true sophomore in 2016. Since then, he missed half of one season (2017) and most of another (’18) and got a medical redshirt. If healthy, he’s a big-time left tackle prospect.
Derrick Brown, DT, Auburn: Likely would have been a top-15 pick if he’d declared after last season, and is a disruptive, athletic 318-pounder with potential to go higher than that. This will be his fourth year as a starter.
Raekwon Davis, DL, Alabama: A two-time All-SEC player who, at 6’7” and 300 pounds, might have gone in the first round had he declared in January. He’s said to have some growing up to do, and could help himself by showing more as a pass rusher. But he’s an elite run defender who could have a long NFL career.
Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU: Scouts believe he was a better player than bookend Greedy Williams in 2018. Has a good shot to be a high pick if he can find a way to assuage some off-field concerns that have followed the former blue-chip recruit.
Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon: You know the deal—big, athletic and with a ton of room to grow. Herbert was all-conference on the field and academically in ’18, and will be a two-time captain in the fall. He won’t have to wait long to hear his name next April.
Javon Kinlaw, DT, South Carolina: The 6’6”, 302-pounder has 22 starts under his belt in the SEC and led the team in sacks as a junior. His health is worth watching—he underwent hip surgery this offseason.
Julian Okwara, DE, Notre Dame: A presence in the Irish defense since his true-freshman season, Okwara broke out as a junior with seven sacks and 21 QB hurries—plus a crucial pick in a win over Michigan.
Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt: Pinkney is coming off the best statistical season by a Commodores tight end in 34 years, and the 6’4”, 260-pound All-SEC fifth-year senior will return as a focal point for the Vandy offense.
WHILE WE’RE THERE …
Friend-of-the-Site Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, is now on to Year 2 in charge, having taken the reins from now-Jets exec Phil Savage. And so when we were on the phone the other day, he took a few minutes to take stock of what he and his team accomplished over his first cycle in charge. Some numbers he passed along that I thought were interesting …
• 93 players from this year’s game were drafted, besting the previous 10-year average of 83.
• 10 went in the first round, which was the most since 2011. That’s one number Nagy was proud of in particular because 144 juniors declared this year, more than double the number from ’11 (56).
• Three of his scouts were hired by NFL teams. Ryan Kessenich is now an area scout with the Niners, Jack Gilmore landed with the Raiders as college scouting coordinator, and Derek Fargnoli got a job as a scouting assistant in Atlanta. On top of that, Zac Bocian was hired away to be director of player personnel at his alma mater, Cal, and Jim Jauch got a job as the No. 2 guy in scouting with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts.
“Those guys did such a great job,” said Nagy, who’ll also have to replace Seth Turner, who got a job outside football. “My goal was to run it like a personnel department, and those guys did an awesome job getting the right players identified, and then there’s a recruiting aspect to it that they had to handle—going to games, handing out business cards, wearing the gear.”
Two success stories from the game that Nagy plucked for us—N.C. State center Garrett Bradbury and Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom. Both came to Mobile as likely second-rounders who might sneak into the first round, and used impressive weeks as a springboard into draft season. Lindstrom wound up drafted 14th by Atlanta, and Bradbury went at 18 to Minnesota.
“That’s a lot of money those guys made,” Nagy said. “Moving double-digit slots in that area of the draft, you’re talking about millions of dollars.”
Another one to illustrate the process was Alabama State’s Tytus Howard. Nagy first got calls on him last summer, as prospect who might go in the sixth or seven round. So he went to see Howard play when ASU visited South Alabama in Mobile. By then Howard had probably played himself into the third or fourth round.
And that was just the start of it.
“I talked to numerous teams about him, and they said if you put him back-to-back with Andre Dillard, Tytus absolutely had the better week,” said Nagy. “And I thought Andre was the best tackle in the draft combing into the week, and probably still would’ve taken him over Tytus. But there’s no questioning how much he helped himself.” Howard was taken 23rd overall, by the Texans.
So now Nagy’s back to filling out his staff and getting going on the 2020 class, and says he’s ahead of where he was a year ago. Which bodes well for where we’ll be when January rolls around.
• By my count, 12 of the NFL’s 32 teams will go off-site for training camp. And really, the number is 10 since the Packers and Chargers don’t go far away from their home base. It’s unfortunate for us, and for you, no question—those old college-campus camp sites are the best. I still miss the Cardinals going to Flagstaff (super underrated) and the Eagles going to Lehigh. But this is the trend, and the fact that the Greenbrier in West Virginia built a $30 million facility for NFL teams to camp at, in an remarkable fully-functional and remote spot, and that site will sit vacant, is proof positive. (The Saints were at the Greenbrier from 2014 to ’16, the Texans the last two summers.) The reason for staying home? The growing importance of technology within each team’s football operation. Teams don’t want to have to airlift their entire infrastructure elsewhere. And the death of two-a-days—and what was training camp—is a factor, too.
• For what it’s worth, I grew up going to Patriots training camp in Smithfield, R.I., and got to see the Super Bowl Bills work at Fredonia (N.Y.) State too when I was a kid, so I do have a personal attachment to the way it was.
• The deadline to do long-term deals with franchise-tagged players is just two weeks away, and there are three loose ends left to be tied up. Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence got a blockbuster deal to stay home, while Kansas City’s Dee Ford and Seattle’s Frank Clark were traded (to San Francisco and K.C., respectively) and signed to long-term deals in their new home. That leaves Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney, Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett and San Francisco’s Robbie Gould. As of now, Clowney is the player around whom there seems to be certainty—he’ll play out 2019 on the tag, after seeing Lawrence and Clark become the third and fourth $20-million-per defensive players in the NFL. Jarrett’s negotiation, I believe, will go right up to the July 15 deadline. And Gould last week called his situation “complicated” in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. So there should be some action, but not a ton, coming in a couple weeks.
• The NFL has always been sensitive as to how its Week 1 schedule plays, and the storylines attached to it. So it’s at least interesting that league MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are slotted there into a 1 p.m. game in one of the league’s smallest markets, Jacksonville. And it’s easy to make a connection there to the potential for a Tyreek Hill storyline—whether he’s eligible to play or not. For now, the Chiefs are awaiting word from the league on how to proceed, following Hill’s eight-hour meeting with NFL investigators last week. As we’ve said here before, if Hill weren’t such a special player, they wouldn’t have needed to do that, because he’d be gone by now. (For what it’s worth, I’m told both the team and player’s camp are in the dark on any kind of timeline for a decision.)
• Despite all that’s come undone in Houston since, there are pretty decent signs that ex-Texans GM Brian Gaine’s final draft class will be a nice résumé-builder for him going forward. The team loves Tytus Howard, and both second-round picks are carrying momentum into training camp. Tackle Max Sharping will need to find a permanent home at a single spot, but the smart money says he’ll be playing early on. And tight end Kahale Warring has impressed with his athleticism—while he’s raw, and it may take time for him to evolve into a complete player, it looks like Bill O’Brien will be able to use him early on as a matchup type of player.
• Inside the league office, this is actually an important week, with the final trials for the NFL Academy in London set for Tuesday at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium—one that the league invested in, and that is full equipped for American football. There, 150 finalists will compete in combine-style tests to vie for the 80 slots available, and the league will have a number of players on hand (JuJu Smith-Schuster, Akiem Hicks, Gio Bernard and Johnathan Joseph among them) to celebrate the event. It’s a pretty interesting initiative by the league to get kids in the U.K. playing. (We wrote about it in the May 13 MMQB, so check that out for more.)
• We’ll have more on this later in the summer, but I did ask around a few weeks back about college coaches that NFL defensive coordinators might consult with to combat the rise of college concepts in pro offenses. Some of the names that came back: LSU’s Dave Aranda, Wisconsin’s Jim Leonhard, Cal’s Justin Wilcox, and Washington’s Jimmy Lake. And obviously a few more established names, like TCU’s Gary Patterson, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Georgia’s Kirby Smart, would probably be tapped as well.
• I know it really boils down to health with this one, but I’ve heard that Robert Quinn had a strong spring in Dallas and could be an important piece for the Cowboys in taking some of the pressure off of DeMarcus Lawrence in their sub packages. That’d be big for the Cowboys, too, considering how difficult it’s been for them to count on Randy Gregory, and how former first-round pick Taco Charlton’s career has gone to this point. But again, Quinn has to stay healthy before we say any of these things definitively.
• Camp dark horse for you here (and potential “Hard Knocks” storyline): Raiders TE Darren Waller. He’s not that young—he’ll turn 27 right after the opener. And he’s had his share of issues, having incurred a four-game suspension in 2016 and a year-long suspension in 2017. But as a converted receiver moved to tight end, he showed his athletic ability in the spring, after playing a little in Oakland at the end of last year (the Raiders signed him off the Ravens practice squad in November). “He’s an athletic freak—phenomenal speed for his size,” said one staffer of the 255-pounder, while also lauding his work ethic and how he’s fit in as a teammate. Maybe it amounts to nothing. But if it’s more than that, it could fill the void left by Jared Cook’s departure.
• Just terrible news on Bengals first-round pick Jonah Williams, who will miss the season after tearing his labrum and having surgery last week. The coaches were cross-training him some at other positions, in an effort to tinker and get the five best linemen on the field, but he’d been working mostly as the team’s starting left tackle through OTAs and minicamp. Cincinnati has incumbent left tackle Cordy Glenn to help put out the fire there. But losing Williams will short-circuit, to some degree, the effort the Bengals have put into rebuilding their line—with the Glenn trade last year, and consecutive first-round picks spent (Billy Price, Williams) on linemen. Internally, the belief has been that the biggest difference from the 2011-15 Bengals to those of the last three years was the play of the offensive line following the losses of players such as Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Hence the concerted effort to fix it.
… OF THE WEEK
“I just f---ing love Pink Floyd, man, I cannot deny it. I think [Roger] Waters’ lyrics and Gilmour’s playing and their whole story and prominence is just so profound that I cannot say enough about my excitement for this. … David Gilmour stands by himself.” —Colts owner Jim Irsay, to Rolling Stone.
That quote got my attention without even knowing that it came in the aftermath of Irsay’s successful auction bid, $3.975 million, for one of Gilmour’s guitars, the black Fender Stratocaster that Gilmour played on many of Pink Floyd’s ’70s classics. Irsay, who also bought the Strat’s flight case for $175,000 and a 1969 Martin D-35 acoustic for $1.01 million, added that he went into “Zen mode” before conjuring up the winning bid for the Strat. Gilmour put 130 of his instruments up for auction; the $21.4 million proceeds will go to ClimateEarth, a non-profit that fights climate change.
I thought it was at least interesting that Andrew Luck and Carson Wentz ranked ahead of Drew Brees and Tom Brady, and that Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey were the top non-quarterbacks on the list (there were 13 QBs above them, by the way). And for what it’s worth, 1-22 were all either quarterbacks or tailbacks, from Mahomes to Saquon Barkley, and Sony Michel had even odds with the top defensive players, at 100-1.
If this is legit, then Tom Brady clocking a 61 would be better than what any quarterback clocked this decade at the combine, with the exception of class of 2018 quarterback Josh Allen (who hit 62 on the gun in Indy). Not bad.
Big week for Brady on social.
I got Lincoln Riley’s back on this one.
Sign this guy up.
Not sure if HBO intended for its Real Sports piece on Don Nelson to be hilarious. But it was absolutely hysterical. I’ll probably have watched it again by the time you read this.
I don’t know if this is a meme. I have to find a place for it. S/o to me for instigating it. Fight for Tweet King 2019 is on.
We’ll get to this.
S/O TO …
Efforts by a number of NFL players to bring clean water to Africa (Chris Long is a leader in that area) have been strong in recent years, and you can absolutely count Seahawks LB K.J. Wright among those ranks now. He headed to Kenya last week to see two wells he funded over the last year—an initiative for which he raised more than $75,000 over the last year. Wright told the Seahawks’ website that he was inspired during a vacation to Kenya last summer, when he saw a young girl carrying dirty drinking water. Good on him for doing something about it so quickly.
SIX FROM THE SIDELINES
1. I have a ton of respect for Megan Rapinoe for standing up for what she believes in as she did. But I’m definitely a little tired of talking about whether or not this championship team or that championship team shows up for what amounts to a photo op at the White House. That’s just me. Ex-Red Sox GM Theo Epstein skipped one celebrating the team’s 2007 championship, and ex-Bruins goalie Tim Thomas did the same in 2011—and both were politically motivated (from opposite sides of the aisle). I remember it being a talk radio topic for a day or so, and everyone moved. Which is probably what it should be.
3. Whether it was the Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce Celtics, or the LeBron James Heat/Cavs, we’ve all seen that the idea of stocking superstars and worrying about the rest later can work in the NBA. But what the Lakers are doing should be a pretty good test to see how far you can take that. If you add it all up, GM Rob Pelinka shed six players, three first-round picks (and potentially a fourth as part of a pick swap), and a second-rounder to get Anthony Davis and cap space for a big-time free agent. They went into Sunday with three—three!—players on the roster, if you count all the trades. At this rate, they might actually need LaVar Ball’s other sons to fill out the roster.
4. Love UConn football coach Randy Edsall going to the tried-and-true CAPS LOCK tactic in reacting to the school re-joining the non-football-playing Big East.
5. Crazy that New Jersey bested Nevada in money taken at sports books in May ($318.9 million in Jersey, $317.4 million in Nevada), per numbers ESPN obtained from the gaming commissions. Not exactly shocking. But still crazy it happened this quick.
6. Chernobyl was amazing television. Hard to comprehend that all of that happened in my lifetime, and I didn’t have much concept of what was going on. Part of that, of course, was that I was 6. But it was also, pretty clearly, a different world back then.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
I’m taking a break! I’ll be off the next two weeks, but not too far away, and so for the next couple Mondays you’ll be in the very capable hands of Robert Klemko and Jenny Vrentas. I’m looking forward to what they’ve got coming, and you should be too.
I do, by the way, have some content in the hopper that we’ll roll out during the week of July 8, when we take an early deep dive into the 2020 draft. Look for a piece on Trevor Lawrence’s NFL impact (yes, even now), an overview of the quarterback class, and (yup) a quick mock.
Other than that? I’ll see you all in a couple weeks. By then, I’ll be rested and ready, and camp will be here upon us, hard as it is to believe. And that’s awesome, because I love football too.
But I’m not wishing the summer away too soon. Enjoy what’s left of it.
Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.