S1: The following podcast contains explicit language, including the words, well, you’ll just have to wait and see. Hi, I’m Josh Levin, Slate’s national editor, and this is a hang up and listen for the week of February seven, 2022 on this week’s show, the New York Times’s John Branch will join us to talk about the controversy over Eileen do the U.S. born skier who’s representing China at the Winter Olympics. We’ll also assess Brian Flores lawsuit against the NFL and whether black coaches will ever get a fair shot in the league, and we’ll look at the latest developments in the 76ers Ben Simmons saga, whether the Sixers in the Nets might be able to help each other out. I’m in Washington, D.C., and I’m the author of The Queen and the host of the podcast One Year. Also in D.C., Stefan Fatsis, he is the author of the book Word Freak A Few Seconds of Panic and Wild and Outside Stefan Did you think about making separate books? Wilds is part one and outside is part two. I wrote Wild. You didn’t know that. I did not know that it would pad your total and get you up to four.
S2: I hope to get up to fourth someday.
S1: We believe in you and back with us making us whole again. As Joel Anderson is a slate staff writer, the host of slow burn season six on the L.A. riots, just one of many slow burn seasons that he says to too many to list at this point. Hello, Joel, welcome.
S3: Hey, happy to be back. You had Joel miss me.
S1: Not really.
S3: You don’t answer it.
S1: We missed you. We missed you so desperately. I know that you were said not to be able to send Tom Brady off into the sunset. You were just sending all these plaintive emails over the weekend. Are we going to be able to talk about Tom Brady? I want to talk about Tom Brady.
S2: I didn’t know Tom such a man crush on Tom Brady.
S3: I don’t. But I’ve come to a grudging respect of the man. And, you know, I mean, I don’t think he’s the best quarterback in NFL history. But, you know, I sort of miss having somebody to root against. You know, it’s it’s more fun when you have somebody you want to lose in the playoffs every year. And I guess Aaron Rodgers will just have to step into that role.
S2: I’m sorry. Who is the best quarterback in NFL history? You open the door.
S3: The best quarterback in NFL history, so I think that it’s Peyton Manning. I think he’s the best NFL quarterback I’ve ever seen. And I’m I’m reserving that. Look, we just we shouldn’t get into this debate in terms of raw talent. I think Aaron Rodgers and Pat Mahomes are better than Peyton Manning. But when you put it all together, I think Peyton Manning is the best quarter NFL quarterback I’ve ever seen. You all clearly don’t agree. Is it who you all have? Joe Namath, Aaron Rodgers.
S1: His talent is just raw. Untainted. Totally. And, you know, pure clean. Nothing has been kind of inserted in between his talent and the outside world. Just totally pure, uncut talent.
S3: That’s all I have to say. OK. Yeah. I mean, I think I think of him, he just kind of just, you know, got him an instinct guy. Not really that school, you know, it’s a little unsophisticated. I’m just joking. I don’t know. That’s just something they would probably say about Lamar Jackson or somebody. But anyway, yeah, I’m comfortable saying Peyton Manning, and I know the people will disagree. This is probably about as popular as my belief that Alabama is still a better football team than Georgia. But what a.
S1: On Monday morning in Beijing, Sunday night in the U.S., 18 year old freestyle skier Eileen Zhu qualified for the finals in her first event. Big Air Zhu, who was born in the US and still lives in California, is one of the faces of these Winter Olympics. And that’s because of her decision to represent China, a move that she says was designed to unite people and promote common understanding. Gou has declined to say much more than that about her choice, telling John Branch, who profiled her for the New York Times. There’s no need to be divisive. Joining us now from Beijing is John Branch. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner and the author, most recently of the collection side Country Tales of Death and Life from the Back Roads of Sports. John Thanks for coming on the show. Thanks for having me. So, John, as you wrote in your profile, Eileen Zhu is a commercial superstar in China. She’s got sponsorship deals with all kinds of companies. She’s on the covers of all kinds of magazines. What can you tell us about how big of a deal she has at these games and how she’s being talked about in China?
S4: Yeah, I’m here in Beijing, and every time I turn on the TV, I see her face either in advertisements for things like cell phone companies or banks, or I see her face on news reports. She has treated very glowingly by the media here. She is seen as somebody who, hopefully for China, will win multiple medals. China does not win a lot of Winter Olympics medals. I think in Pyeongchang four years ago, they won one Gold Medal and she has a chance to win three by herself. So she’s already very well known and she’s on the verge of becoming an icon, especially if she wins a couple of medals here.
S2: This is so fascinating. She, as Josh said as American born, her mother is Chinese. She grew up quite privileged in San Francisco private school. She’s been accepted to Stanford and is delaying her enrollment by a year. And she decided to represent China not recently, but several years ago when she was like 15 years old, right? And as I read your profile John, it was really hard to parse how much of this was a genuine sort of play that a lot of athletes make to represent their families, countries, or whether this was a really a calculated commercial play. I mean, she was going to make the U.S. ski and snowboard team because she’s that good. So how did you sort of parse that the decision that Eileen Gu was made here?
S4: Yeah, it isn’t an interesting thing because she does have a deep background in China, and I had approached her and her mother to talk about that background. You know, I wanted to know more about her decision back in 2019 to represent China instead of the United States. At that time, she’d already won one World Cup event as a member of the United States team. The U.S. folks saw her as a potential breakout star at these Olympics. But she had a deep history with China. Her mom grew up here. Her her grandfather was an engineer for the government here in Beijing. Eileen grew up coming to Beijing every summer. She speaks fluent Chinese with a Beijing accent, which has helped charm the folks here. Her roots are genuine. The story I tried to tell was about those roots. You know why it was important for her to represent China as an athlete, and she was a little reluctant to go there. She was very reluctant to go there. And I think she and her mom both don’t see a lot of upside from diving too deeply into their Chinese roots there. There’s questions about whether she gave up her American citizenship, for example, to compete for China. She really wants to straddle this divide and maybe two or three years ago when she made the decision. Geopolitics weren’t quite what they were or what they are today, so maybe it was a little naive. Or perhaps she really thought she could sort of get through this without having to pick a side, so to speak. She’s in kind of a, I think, a tough spot, either a great spot, depending on how you look at it or a tough spot. She’s in a great spot because she is being cheered on by Americans. She’s being cheered on, certainly by folks here in China. She has a chance to really become a transcendent athlete and supermodel and celebrity who maybe can break down some of these divides. That’s her hope. But she also has a lot of risk involved because people have already turned on her a little bit for making this decision. Certainly the folks on Twitter, certainly some people who are, you know, Chinese Americans are questioning what she has done. She has already become a somewhat divisive figure if you just judge by social media. It’s tricky, and she’s only 18 years old. I mean, on top of that, of all of this, she’s 18 years old, and so she will certainly get a ton of attention starting especially tomorrow. And for the last couple of weeks, and I think she is set up to become somebody we will be talking about for years to come.
S3: So, you know, for lack of a better comparison and having read your profile, I just immediately thought of Simone Biles just in terms of like the expectations and the pressure. You know, so much of these games seem to hinge on her living up to her fame and promise. But that also really gets into that really scary area where it’s like, how much of this pressure is going to affect her when she actually has to perform? It seems like from your conversations with her because you’ve said here a couple of times that she made the decision to do this. She made the decision to do that. But when you talked with her, it didn’t necessarily seem like she was in control of a lot of these decisions that are being made as far as which countries are represent what she’s going to say about her two home countries, so to speak. So when you spoke with her, what did you think of her and her role in any of this, like you said, that she’s made these decisions? But has she? Does she seem like an active participant in navigating this part of her career?
S4: Yeah. When I spoke to her about this, she is really poised and really smart, and in some ways, you know, acts much older than she and she actually is. Certainly, her mother is the biggest influence in her life. Her mother raised her as a single mom. Her grandmother still lives in a house with her. So she’s been raised by two very strong women. She seems like she’s in control of what she’s doing, but they have made the decision to try to steer clear of politics. And, you know, in this day and age, when we talk about athletes and whether or not they should just, you know, do their sport shut up and dribble, so to speak. That’s a tough thing to do in this day and age, and especially when you have made a choice as she has or as her family has to represent one country over another, and especially when those two countries are the United States and China. Yeah, I think she is in control of this, and I think she believes she can navigate this and just stay above the fray and let people like us talk about this and see if she can just soar over the top of it and be a symbol of unity.
S1: Well, figure skater Zhu Yi, who is known as Beverly Zhu growing up in the US, is also representing China Eileen Gu as only the most high profile of naturalized Chinese athletes at these games, and Zhu Yi is not getting the same kind of acclaim in China that Eileen Gu as she fell in the team event. And she doesn’t speak fluent Mandarin John. And so there’s been on Weibo in China. A lot of criticism of her, both for her performance and for, you know, the perception that she’s taking a spot of a quote, unquote more genuine Chinese athlete. And so the notion that Eileen girl is going to be sort of acclaimed and held up as a hero in China, even as her reputation dips in the US, that might be tenuous as well, but it’s hard to think of her decision as being totally kind of benign, given that in the opening ceremony, you know, one of the torchbearers is this week. Our cross-country skier, who finished fourth third in her event, was clearly not chosen for her athletic prowess, but was chosen by Xi Jinping to sort of put the thumb in the eye of of the world’s, you know, international observers who say that there’s a genocide going on and, you know, against the weaker people in China. And so this idea that Eileen Zhu is just going to be like a kind of smiling, happy face that the Chinese people are going to support like. She’s a, you know, propaganda figure, right? It’s not like there’s something neutral about the idea that this like America and just so happens to be representing China. Good for her.
S4: Yeah, I think that’s part of what makes us fascinating because of her deep roots in Beijing, she, as I mentioned, she has been coming to Beijing and to China since she was a little girl. Lots and lots of relatives here. She speaks the language. She has a great accent, according to people. Beijing accent that has earned her a lot of points here. She feels genuine. I think the Chinese people, for the most part, have accepted her as one of their own. And, you know, whether that’s calculated or not, what is behind the decision, whether it’s truly this altruistic notion that she wants to bring harmony and to help build the winter sports program in China and to inspire young women? Those are all things that she has mentioned.
S1: The decision has made her rich,
S4: though that’s the thing. It has made her rich. I mean, the cynical side of of this, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable, is to think that this is a marketing decision, right? An American free skier is not going to become rich and famous. Free skiing is sort of as sort of a second tier at the Olympics from the American side. I mean, we’ve seen, you know, fame and fortune come to people like Chloe Kim and like Shaun White. We haven’t seen that happen with free skiers. And so maybe she saw it or maybe her family saw there was a limited potential there. Staying with the American side. And if you move over to the Chinese side and become a great winter Olympian for China, which does not have very many of them and and get the Chinese people behind you and get Chinese companies behind you. And she obviously has through her family, some connections in China, then there is probably a huge upside. And she has taken advantage of that.
S2: Like, if that’s your goal, right? They’ve made the family obviously made a decision to pursue this. And clearly, the opportunity for her to become a global brand or even just a Chinese brand was far more lucrative than to try to do what most successful winter athletes or summer athletes for that matter from the Olympics do, which is cash in a little bit after the Games. And maybe you have a run of success in the marketing sphere for her. She now represents Tiffany and Cadillac in China. As you’ve reported in the story, some Chinese coffee company, she wants to be a model when she’s been on the cover of Chinese Elle Marie Claire Vogue. That’s not going to happen in the United States and the choice that she has to make now to sort of speak in the most anodyne way about her goals and to dodge politics or even discussing China at all is really interesting. I mean, she sounds sort of like a Miss America speech when the quotes that you used in your piece and some of the things that she’s written on Weibo in other places.
S4: Yeah. And I think that’s that’s the balancing act she’s trying to perform here. You know, she has to stay on the positive side of the Chinese government. And can she do that while staying on the positive side of fans in the West? Can she make all of her sponsors happy if what she’s doing seems to erode too much to the Chinese side? You know, will there ever be a time when some of her sponsors, more global sponsors say, Wait a second, you seem to be now a propaganda tool in this government that is now in conflict with much of the Western world. She may be innocent, or maybe not so innocent part in these geopolitics, and that’s where it becomes fascinating. And I really don’t know if she and her family consider that a lot. A couple of years ago, when she made the decision, or if that would have even changed her mind, it’s tricky to tell. But she certainly found herself in this really interesting, I think, position in these games in Beijing of all places. This wouldn’t be as interesting if these games were in Paris, for example.
S1: So some of the context here, we’ve talked about Peng Shuai on this show before, but she appeared during these games. The tennis player who made a rape accusation against the top Chinese official in a sense, claimed unconvincingly that she didn’t really mean it anyway. Peng Shuai appeared during these games was interviewed by Lekki-epe, the French sports publication, but with a Chinese minder again saying that everything is all good with me and the sorts of things, but, you know, not necessarily the most believable way. There’s also reports about a potential crackdown on speech inside and outside the Olympic bubble. It seems like all athletes their John are conscious or maybe afraid would be a more apt term of saying. Are doing the wrong thing, something that could invite the ire of the Chinese government, and there’s a sense that maybe even if you’re a citizen of another country, that might not be enough to protect you. What’s your sense of that reality and the perception of limits on speech in China right now? Yeah, I
S4: will be surprised if anybody really breaks out and and criticizes China while they’re here. I think the national governing bodies, including the American one, have told athletes in not too uncertain of terms. Look, just be careful. This may not be the place to do this. This comes at a time where the past couple of years this has become a big issue. Whether these athletes can speak out with the Olympic Charter, says the USOC or the U.S. or PC, as it’s called now, has said we will defend athletes who choose to speak out. But now that we’re here in this bubble, I think there is a lot of decisions to be made, whether this is the best time to do it. And yes, the audience is big, but what’s the risk? And when you listen to Thomas Bach, the IOC president, speak a couple of days ago, he boasts doesn’t sound like he has the back of athletes who might find themselves in trouble with the Chinese government should they speak out or should anything happen with the Chinese government gets involved and also sort of with a bit of humility makes it sound like, well, we don’t really have that much power. We sort of think of the IOC as a, you know, big, powerful group. But he admitted in a couple of different realms that we can’t force governments to do things that we might think are the right thing. It came up not only with human rights issues here in China, but also people were asking Thomas Bach about Russia and Ukraine. And he said, Look, what we can say about this is it’s symbolic. And so, yeah, I think if you’re an athlete and you want to speak out, you have to think, does my national governing body have my back? And do they even have the power to do something because I’m not sure the IOC has the power to do something if I find myself in trouble with the Chinese government.
S1: John Branch is in Beijing covering the Olympics for the New York Times. He’s going to be back with us later in the show to talk about Covid in the Olympics and also this great multimedia story that he did about extreme athletes and fear John Branch. Thanks so much.
S4: Thanks for having me.
S1: Come next. Brian Flores, his lawsuit
S5: against the NFL.
S2: When he was fired last month, Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins joined a list of black head coaches who were whacked after posting winning records. Art Shell, Lovie Smith, Tony Dungy, Jim Caldwell. Shell, of course, was the first black head coach in the league, hired in 1989 by Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. That was 23 years after Bill Russell took over the Boston Celtics and 15 after Frank Robinson was hired by the Cleveland Indians. This conversation has been on repeat for years, and we’d be having it now under any circumstances. Of the nine head coaching vacancies this off, season six have gone to white coaches. The Dolphins on Sunday hired San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who identifies as multiracial and two jobs remain open. But Brian Flores filed his lawsuit against the NFL, maybe torching his own career, but making clear that he, on behalf of other black coaches, had had enough with NFL ownership. Joel. We’ve got a week to process Flores’s lawsuit. What are you sticking on factually and emotionally?
S3: Oh, it’s tough because I feel like everything that is ever needed to be said about this topic has been said every offseason for as long as I’ve been following football, which is, you know, more than 30 years now. As you mentioned, the NFL didn’t have its first black head coach until I was 11 years old art show in 1989. And as an aspiring football player, you would like to think that you might have an opportunity to coach someday. Those are the people that really influence you that helped to deepen your love of the game, introduce you to it, teach you all that stuff. And so I knew at a very young age that if I ever wanted to be a coach, that there were a lot of obstacles. You know, I’d seen black coaches in my youth league and even in high school, but not much beyond that level. So just imagine and telling a black person of my generation that you have a real shot at becoming an NFL head coach. It didn’t seem very likely. There was just one, you know, by the time I was 11 years old. So when I heard the news of Flores’s lawsuit last week, I was stunned. But I was heartened because I think non-Black football fans, particularly football fans who don’t have not talked to football coaches, might be surprised at the level of resentment and frustration among black coaches at all levels. They know there’s a ceiling and they know that even if they’re one of the miracles who managed to break through that glass ceiling, that they won’t have much in the way of patience and support in comparison to the white colleagues. So just think about Brian Flores. We just talked about it. I mean, he played at Boston College, took him a few years to get into the coaching profession as it was, and then basically spent the next two decades working on Bill Belichick, you know, showing real promise, right? And he’s one of the few Belichick acolytes who showed real promise as a head coach, right? Like, he finished a game below 500 over three seasons despite reported attempts from his boss, owner Stephen Ross, to intentionally lose games. So he succeeded beyond expectations even of his boss, and was penalized for it at the end of the time. So I guess, you know, thinking about this past week, I’m really proud of Brian Flores for being willing to risk his name and reputation. He’s 40 years old. He’s three years younger than me, right? And I think we all sort of have this understanding, and a lot of people said it when this lawsuit came out. He may never coach again. You know, he may never coach is ahead. He may never be an NFL head coach again. And we’ll see if he actually gets on, you know, a staff in the NFL again. And to make that decision at the age of he’s at the point of desire in his career, that’s just so courageous. And, you know, I guess it always just sort of comes back to this. This has always been a story my entire life. And the one thing that is not changed is the NFL’s ownership class. They’re all white. They’ve always been white. They tend to hire people that look like them, and I don’t know if it’s going to shake, you know, a black owner. I don’t know if it’s going to take another lawsuit, which is how we got the Rooney Rule in the first place. But there’s nothing Brian Flores black people can do to change this, OK? There’s just nothing that we can. And it’s I mean, I could waste your time and talk about how that applies to pretty much every industry outside of football, but we can leave it here. There’s nothing that we can do as a black, as black Americans in this country. There’s nothing we can do to change this dynamic. In the lawsuit, the court system might be the only way, but in its own way, that is a real indictment of the game and the people that are charged with being stewards for it. And so, yeah, that’s kind of where I’m at with it. If I was more in line with my principles, I would boycott the NFL. I would boycott football because that’s how frustrating it is. But like, we all know that that’s not realistic.
S1: So there aren’t like literally no non-white owners there Shad Khan in Jacksonville, Temple and Buffalo. But there certainly aren’t any black owners. And you know, one thing that I’ve been thinking about a lot is that, you know, it was it was said at the time that Colin Kaepernick was potentially torching his career. Like, it wasn’t necessarily a surprise. What happened to him? Or then what happened with Eric Reid, who supported Kaepernick? But the likelihood that Flores is torching his career actually seems higher to me than it was for Kaepernick, because you would think that Kaepernick’s talent was undeniable that what he was able to do on a football field like look at who the starting quarterbacks in the backup quarterbacks are in the NFL. There just wasn’t any argument that this guy didn’t deserve to be in the league, whereas with coaches, what they do is kind of mysterious. Like, I actually feel like coaches and their ability to affect winning and losing is probably on balance overrated across all sports. And so what somebody like Brian Flores does, I mean, like listening to him talk, he seems like a good leader. Seems like a smart guy. Seems like based on reports that we have that players get along with him. But it’s just like sort of ineffable. I’m sure there are people that are good guys that are good leaders that players get along with. I’m sure a lot of and I felt coaches who haven’t been successful have had those qualities and traits. And it’s like Michael Sam, who you’ve written about jobs so well, it’s like you can always come up with a reason when it’s just one person to say like, Oh, because of X or because of Y as why they aren’t going to get a chance. And so the fact that he is putting himself out there, making himself the face of this lawsuit, it just seems like a decision that is going to give all these white owners a pretty strong excuse not to employ this guy. And it also reminds you when you read a lot of these quotes Stefan from black coaches that have been interviewed anonymously and some who’ve been named in the last week about just how much you have to suppress in terms of what you say and how you act and what you do to kind of get along in this league and in this profession, there’s just a lot of like quiet rage. And if you’re the guy who is not going to be quiet, you’re not going to be the guy who’s going to have a long career wearing a headset.
S2: One of the things that the owner’s behavior does in hiring white coach after white coach, after white coach, particularly white coaches who are first time coaches. That is that it perpetuates the idea that, wow, you know, it’s the pipeline. We’re just not getting enough qualified black coaches, you know, got I need someone that’s run an offense or coached quarterbacks. I mean, when ultimately it really is. And you mentioned this Joel, it’s this comfort level. It’s that white people want to hang out with white people. White owners want to hang out on the field. They want to stand next to the coach. How many shots have we seen of Jerry Jones standing on the sidelines during training camp or Dan Snyder standing on the sidelines pretending that he is part of a club that he’s running the team? The myth of the pipeline in the NFL is it’s insidious. It’s absurd to argue that there just aren’t qualified people. We’ve known this for years. You did this exercise on Twitter during the week. Joel, I did it too. I went back and looked at who was on the staff. Of the Denver Broncos, the summer that I got to be in training camp, there were 22 coaches listed, 15 of them are white, seven of them were black. Of them, the one that has progressed, the farthest up the ranks in the last 15 years is Andre Patterson. He was the defensive line coach when I was there. He is now assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Vikings. My two special teams, coaches, both of them are black. One of them currently is an assistant head coach and cornerbacks coach at the University of Montana, and he cycled through a bunch of teams in the last 15 years, including a secondary coach at USC. He was a defensive back in the NFL, and the other guy is still a special teams coach. He’s been with the Giants for for many years. Does that mean that they aren’t qualified to be coordinators in the NFL or to have better jobs or even be head coaches, or that they’re comfortable being where they are with their careers? I can’t speak for them. But looking at the overall numbers, it is shocking and it is disgraceful.
S3: Yeah, I mean, I think to Josh point, you know, there are only a few coaches that are real difference makers, right? Like most of these guys are just replacement level, do you know? No. And and we could even possibly make that argument about Bill Belichick, you know, minus Tom Brady. You know what I mean? Like, without. I mean, not to denigrate his career, but obviously he knows something, and he built a great program. But I mean, if you would, if you were to look at his career without Tom Brady on both sides of it, it’s the beginning of the end. That’s not a guy that we think of as the greatest coach of all time, right?
S1: So or the inverse Joel is that there are lots of great coaches who just didn’t have great quarterbacks and so didn’t have the long career of a of a Belichick or weren’t
S2: given the resources by their owners to to have good teams.
S3: Like you said, we don’t really know what makes a good coach or who’s going to be a good coach, whatever a lot of these guys replacement level. So that kind of comes to you. You said something about the pipeline argument, which is sort of a red herring because, OK, let’s accept the pipeline argument that we don’t know where to find black coaches. Well, I mean, do you know what people tend to find coaches, people that play the game at every level. Black Americans are the majority of players in the game, and you’re telling me that if you’re in charge of a football organization, you’re looking at black people in front of you every day, dozens of them. And you’re essentially saying, I don’t think that they have what it takes to talk or teach this game or to be leaders, which is, I mean, patently offensive. It’s really racist. If you’re leaning on that pipeline argument because you have to go off the map to get somebody like Mike McDaniel, you’ve got to go off the map to get Kyle Shanahan. Obviously, he came up through. That’s part of a previous conversation we had about nepotism. But it’s not like Kyle Shanahan was out there in the NFL’s huddle. You know what I mean? A locker room. When people saw that he had demonstrated some competence at the game, he just happened to grow up in the game and get these opportunities. So I guess, you know, it’s offensive on its face when people say that they can’t find, you know, black candidates for these jobs. We’ve got to develop a pipeline to teach them, you know, the big thing too, is like the fellowship program. You know what I mean? Like the the Senior Bowl will invite a few HBCU coaches like Tyrone. Wheatley is one of them who was one of the coaches with the Senior Bowl as part of this fellowship program. Are you fucking telling me that Tyra Wheatley needs to learn how to coach or learn the game from some people that are already, like, totally played football at the highest level? And you’re telling me he needs something that he doesn’t already have? It’s just patently offensive.
S2: I listen to Bomani Jones and Domonique Foxworth on the Right Time podcast, and they had a terrific conversation that I recommend everybody listen to. And one of them I didn’t write down in my notes who said it, but they were talking about the pipeline idea. And I think it was Dominique who said to believe that there aren’t enough black coaches in the pipeline implies that black coaches are invisible. And that’s you know, that that’s where all of this falls apart and it comes down to H.R. and hiring and a bunch of white dudes, particularly the owner making the final call. And of course, we haven’t even addressed the sort of the sham process of these interviews that triggered Brian Flores to go nuclear and file a lawsuit here. When he got these texts from Bill Belichick congratulating him on getting hired by the New York Giants when in fact, Belichick meant to text Brian de ball with the good news and this was like two or three days before Flores’s interview with the Giants was even going to take place.
S1: So the Giants, let’s talk about the giants here for Typekit, who did hire Brian Daboll, the offensive coordinator for the Bills. Hopefully he’ll be able to bring Josh Allen with them, which would improve his chances of success in New York. But you know, what’s an interesting fact about the New York Giants Joel? What year do you think it was that the New York Giants had a black quarterback start a game for them first, first time?
S2: Oh, there was like two years ago.
S3: Yeah, because they wanted Geno Smith or somebody like that.
S1: Yes, it was. It was Geno Smith in two thousand, Geno Smith in twenty seventeen. And so the idea that springs to mind when I think about the Giants is the concept of pre-clearance like, you know how under the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice would have to approve redistricting in states that have a tradition of discriminating against black voters. I think the New York Giants need to be under preclearance, where although unfortunately it would be Roger Goodell who would have to approve it, but like this is a franchise that didn’t start a black quarterback until 2017. And you’re telling me that there is not something a little bit suspicious about what’s going on there. I mean, and we shouldn’t even single out the giants. I think the black quarterback analogy is a really strong one and how persistent it was for decades, upon decades of black quarterbacks not getting opportunities, a black quarterback getting opportunities and then getting converted and a receiver. I mean, we’ve talked about it a million times, but you know, the fact that that has changed that that turns is, I think, not an indication actually that the same thing will happen with coaches because again, there’s nothing that you could really point to like. Do we think that if every white coach in the NFL like, got replaced by a black coach that we would notice any kind of difference in terms of the way that the game is played, it would be exactly as good or as bad, I think, as it is now. And if every if a black coach never got an opportunity, I think we probably wouldn’t notice in terms of the quality of the game. So again, it just comes down to who do you want representing your franchise being the face of the franchise, who do you feel the most comfortable with? You know, we had the Dan Snyder news the same week that the Washington football team becomes the Washington commanders. There’s this congressional hearing where it comes out. There are more allegations against Snyder around sexual harassment, and there’s a report that the NFL maybe can’t release its independent investigation without Snyder’s approval. Like, there’s no way that the owners will ever be held to account by the league. The whole way that the league is structured is to protect ownership from accountability for everything. And so whatever investigation that Goodell does around, we need to, you know, look into what’s going on with the Rooney Rule and what’s going on with diversity. Although, by the way, everything that Brian Flores said in his lawsuit, we reviewed it for five seconds and we’ve found that it’s baseless. Nothing’s going to happen unless, you know, Congress gets involved and Congress isn’t going to get involved either. So what’s going to happen? Nothing.
S3: Yeah, I mean, nothing is going to happen. I think that’s sort of the I guess the sad thing about this is that Brian Flores sacrificing his career for a greater cause than himself. And you know, we’re still going to have guys like Daniel Snyder or Jim are saying, you know what be like people that have things in their past, you know, should be greater and more scrutiny of what’s going on at that class of the league. But we’re just not going to get it. There’s no incentive for the league to do that. Like why would they change their operating procedures, right? Because actually, this it’s by far the most popular sport in this country. So why would they change anything? They’re not going to change anything until it starts to affect the money, right? And I think that’s just sort of the sad part here that for all the talk that we’re doing. I know that we’re going to be here again next year. I know that A. We’re going to be here the year after that, and I know that we’re going to be here 30 years from now, and that’s that’s sort of the frustrating part, but I mean, again, you know, the Nfl. is not a public concern. It’s not a public agency. They’re not beholden to any particular, you know, well, but they can
S2: operate like anti-trust laws and there are public funding and there are pressure points. But can you force them to hire anybody? No, I’m cynical about that. As you our Joel,
S1: I bet the Texans are going to hire Lovie Smith, who seems to have emerged like out of the ether as like apparently the leading candidate after Brian Flores filed his lawsuit. But yeah, let’s check back in the next year or two years from now and see what happens. It would not surprise me if, because of all of the outrage and the hue and cry about the lawsuit, if there’s like one or two more black coaches hired. But ultimately, I think that that’s not going to affect the bigger picture and the storyline here.
S2: Up next, we’ll talk about the Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons problem and the Brooklyn Nets problems.
S1: In today’s bonus segment for Slate Plus members, John Branch will be back with us, the New York Times reporter. We’ll talk about Covid and the Olympics. We’ll talk about a great piece. He did home multimedia experience about extreme athletes and fear. You’ll want to hear about that if you want to hear it. If you want to listen to our Plus segments every week and you haven’t signed up for Slate Plus yet, this actually might be the best time. We’re offering you $25 off your first year right now. Just go to Slate.com slash hang up plus, becoming a Slate Plus member is the best way to support us here at hang up, and the sale is only happening for a limited time. So go sign up now. Slate.com Flash hang up plus.
S3: As of Monday morning, when we’re recording this episode, the top five teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference are separated by one and a half games. But do you know which team isn’t in that top five? The Brooklyn Nets, who are currently on an eight game losing streak and in seventh place in the East. That means they’re sitting in the play in game slot. A surprising decline a year after missing the East Finals by Kevin Durant toenail. But the Nets have been a mess all season, starting with Kyrie Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated. Irving has played in only 12 games this season, eight of them losses, but that team just hanging on in fifth place. They may have a solution for some of the nation’s problems. The Athletic reported a few days ago that the Philadelphia 76ers are open to swapping their own troubled star Ben Simmons for Nets All-Star James Harden on Sunday. Nets coach Steve Nash said that’s not happening, and ESPN later reported that the teams have only spoken once a flat out rejection from the Nets. But we’ll find out for sure on Thursday, which is the league’s trade deadline. So Josh is a huge fan of former LSU one and done star Ben Simmons. Do you think that the 76ers in the Nets should go ahead and make this deal?
S1: I mean, I’m not only a big fan of Formula One and done Stahl Ben Simmons. I actually saw Ben Simmons play for LSU at Barclays Center, so he’s basically on the Nets he has experience. He knows familiar with the arena. I mean, they did lose to NC State in that game. If I’m remembering right, I mean, I know that they lost. I think it was and they lost a lot that year.
S3: Oh, I see.
S1: Yeah, I mean, they won more than they lost. That’s really the important thing in college basketball. Just don’t have a above 500 record. It’s funny that you said in your intro Joel. The Sixers are open to swapping Ben Simmons for James Harden Ufa. You think they’d be open to that? I think I think Daryl Morey is just a little bit open to that. I mean, I’m finding the Sixers and Nets drama to just be giving me life in this moment, like the Olympics are sort of dark and depressing. The Flores lawsuit also not a particularly happy smiley topic, but like, you know, Ben Simmons, even though he’s having a lot of issues that we don’t want to make light of, I can’t deny it. Still giving me a lot of joy reading Ramona Shelburne piece in which Ben Simmons is saying that he doesn’t personally blame Joel Embiid for the Sixers losing to the Raptors in the playoffs that time when Joel Embiid was like the only guy carrying the Sixers. Just the amount of kind of drama, interpersonal drama, team drama, league drama problems that could be potentially exacerbated by other problems. Just a kind of seven layer dip of Eastern Conference melodrama and the Nets or even Mike way bigger of a mess and the Sixers. It’s funny because the Nets probably have a higher chance of both missing the playoffs and winning a championship than the Sixers do. The Sixers are just kind of muddling along because Embiid is awesome and they’re probably going to like lose in the conference semifinals if everything is status quo Stefan. But the potential delta on the Nets is just, like dizzying to think about the different possibilities here.
S2: Well, don’t those possibilities all kind of hinge on Kevin Durant coming back and still being hurt and somehow not playing most of the rest of the season after he returns in two or three weeks? I mean, they still have Kevin Durant and, you know, they have half of Kyrie Irving, which is part of the mess. But back to Simmons, I mean, you mentioned Ramona Shelburne story for ESPN. It’s not just the drama Josh, it’s the weirdness. I mean, he’s, you know, Ben Simmons is still kind of living in some big house he bought outside of Philly in the burbs, working out at a local fitness club for a while because he refused to go to the facility. And he stopped doing that. And because a photo of him playing and a five on five run with some local guys and former NBA players, including Dion Waiters and D.A. Christmas at Cherry Hills High School East in New Jersey, was posted on social media. And he didn’t want it to get out. And so then after that, he goes back to the Sixers facility, but he only goes kind of when nobody else is there and he works out with his private trainers. It’s really sad. I mean, you know, clearly Ben Simmons. And he’s talked about how he’s had mental health issues and he’s been seeing a therapist. But this is really depressing. And, you know, Daryl Morey said at one point in a recent interview that he kind of blames himself for not reaching out and, you know, trying to establish a better line of communication with Ben Simmons, which no shit. Maybe that’s part of your job.
S1: But Stefan, didn’t it say in the story that, like Ben Simmons, told them not to come visit him in L.A., but then was upset that they didn’t come visit him?
S2: I mean, it’s all game.
S1: It’s not weird. It’s not weird. I don’t I don’t honestly even think it’s depressing. I just think it’s games. I don’t think. I just think he doesn’t want to play there. Like, Why is that sad?
S2: He’s just more than $60 million. That’s fucked up.
S1: It’s all he’s going to get it back in arbitration. It’s brinksmanship, it’s brinksmanship, you know?
S3: I’m reminded a few years ago that Commissioner Adam Silver said that NBA stars are more unhappy than you’d think. And I think a lot of people thought that they were just talking about Kevin Durant in particular. That’s why it’s interesting to see Ben Simmons in this moment, because I think I know a lot of people who think that Ben Simmons is just being a big ass baby like a lot of friends, a lot of people who I consider progressive and really thoughtful and empathetic humans, right, that the they just think, Oh, he’s being a big old baby and he needs to, you know, toughen up. All of us said another word. You know, he’s tough enough and just get his ass out there and play and that there’s this idea that Ben Simmons is sort of capitalizing on this moment of renewed concern for the mental health of athletes, you know, following the example of Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, right? He’s trying to get over because he just doesn’t want to play for the 76ers. But I just think that we’re not being really we’re not taking his claims of mental health as seriously as the moment would seem to demand. Because no matter what, like, let’s just say, OK, he doesn’t want to play for the 76ers. He’s embarrassed. He doesn’t like how they treated him right? Don’t you think something would have to be wrong to be willing to sacrifice as much money? Not just that. You don’t get to do this in a vacuum like you’re still Ben Simmons, you’re still a person of prominence and fame in this country. You don’t get to walk away from this stuff, even if you’re not playing. So he’s still taken a lot of shit for this. I don’t think that you I don’t think he would choose to do this, miss a season in the prime of his career. Right? Like, you don’t get a year back when you’re an athlete, but you have a finite amount of time. He’s willing to sit out and forfeit tens of millions of dollars. It suggests to me that maybe there actually is something really wrong with him, and we’re not taking him seriously because it’s funny to laugh at him. And I just, you know, I’m not saying that anybody is wrong. You know, maybe it is a funny thing. It is kind of fucked up. And you know, like, we all like to see the 76ers because of, you know, Daryl Morey or the Nets, because of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They’re all kind of funny the situations that they find themselves in. But I just wonder if maybe people are not giving Ben Simmons enough of the benefit of the doubt in the way that I mean, his actions suggest that this is a really serious issue and it goes beyond not just wanting to play for Philadelphia, that it suggests that there may be something more serious going on.
S2: But that’s just me. I want to correct myself. I said 60 million. He’s giving. He’s lost 19 million so far. He stands to lose another 12 million. He’s made more than 60 million in his career so far.
S1: Yeah, let me make three points here. Number one, Ben Simmons, if he never plays, another minute, will be extremely rich. Number two, there’s been a lot of speculation informed speculation that Simmons will get a lot of this money back in arbitration, so the idea that he’s throwing the money down the drain is questionable. Number three, is there any doubt among any of you guys or anything that you’ve ever read that Simmons would immediately suit up to play for whatever team he got traded to?
S3: But that is. I mean, people transfer schools because they have mental health issues. You know what I mean? Like this? It’s not uncommon for somebody to say this situation is unhealthy for me. I don’t want to go back to it and I want my freedom. And the only reason we’re doing, we’re saying that like, you know, we’re not making a bigger deal with this. Oh, he’s getting paid really well. The money’s going to be fine, but that doesn’t have anything to do that doesn’t address the substance of what he says is the issue here, which is that he doesn’t want to play there again because of mental health issues and because of the way people have treated him. Sure, he could probably play someplace else because that’s not Philadelphia that doesn’t have Doc Rivers, who he didn’t feel them supported. There doesn’t have Joel Embiid, who he doesn’t feel supported, and it doesn’t have the 76ers fans who he knows are going to give him a lot of shit. And that’s just really tough to deal with, right?
S2: I thought the Shelburne story addressed all of these questions, and I thought it was interesting. I mean, we don’t know who she talked to, but you can pretty much guess. I mean, at one point, she quotes someone saying, we don’t give a fuck about the money. One source close to Simmons said, That’s not what this is, is it’s hard for people to understand. But if you believe in what you’re doing and that this is not the right situation for you and you’re just trying to get to a better place, the money doesn’t matter. You know, he doesn’t have much agency here. What seems odd to me is that
S1: I mean, he he hasn’t played all year that same
S2: agency. I mean, that agency. But the Sixers don’t seem to care. And that’s what I. Just going to say what’s odd to me is that the Sixers are willing to allow Ben Simmons to just sit there, not play for them and also for them not to get any value for him right now before this trade deadline. I don’t quite understand the mechanics of that or the logic behind that. I mean, if he’s really unhappy and if they are, you know, even minimally sympathetic to whatever he is feeling, whether they agree with it or not, whether they don’t believe that he that he’s been wronged or that he should just man up or whatever Joel and get back onto the team and play and all will be forgiven if he performs on the court and the fans will quickly forget because fans have short memories. That’s the part that I just don’t understand. Why have the Sixers allowed this to fester? Have they just not gotten a good enough offer? They’re willing to let Ben Simmons sacrifice, as you said, Joel one precious year of his career.
S1: Can we just note that Le’Veon Bell set out a whole year because he doesn’t want to play for the Steelers, then signed a big contract with the Jets? It’s not unprecedented that a player can sit out just because he doesn’t want to play for a franchise, and Le’Veon Bell never talked about mental health, and I don’t think it was ever talked about in that context. So I think we should just be clear that there has been a precedent for somebody doing this and thinking that it was actually a rational decision, even sacrificing a year of their playing career just because they didn’t want to play for a particular franchise.
S2: You know what? I’ve heard the NFL running backs sacrificing a year a year of your career when you’re 26 or 27 is doing more to preserve your health than anything else. I mean, Le’Veon Bell did not obviously perform all that well since he’d sat that year out. But, you know, people said like, you know, you’re a running back. Maybe it’s a good thing to take a little break from getting your head beat him.
S1: Well, maybe we can agree on this and also transition into the Nets by saying that a lot of the things that Kyrie Irving has said or done in the last few years. If you were to look at it in a vacuum, you’d be like, Oh, that guy seems like he has some good ideas. He’s like, got some smart thoughts on social justice, but it’s like the worst possible spokesperson for those ideas. I think there’s some kind of connection between Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving there that like, even if we were to stipulate that everything that Ben Simmons is saying about mental health is genuine, he’s just not a great spokesperson and representative because of his. Wouldn’t that be the case? Petulance has refused.
S3: Wouldn’t that be the case for all of us, anybody that would make that argument in this case? Like, it’s like if you’re going through what you would consider a mental health crisis, you’re probably not going to be the best possible representative for yourself, right? No matter what. If you get to that point and it would be, I mean, to get the other thing about this that I just kind of and I guess we’re not agreeing Josh the others. The other thing is that what do you get for being vulnerable like this is a famous person in this country right now, and people are predisposed to hate rich black men in this country, you know, ought to be like, like, there’s a lot of resentment around these guys making the money they do and thinking that they have agency over themselves. You gain nothing by being vulnerable to people like to fans, particularly in Philadelphia. That’s why I find it hard to believe that he would just be doing this out of some sort of petulance
S2: because you don’t think this is going to follow him wherever he goes. This will follow for the rest of his career.
S3: Scottie Pippen is great. Scottie Pippen is great. One of the 75 best players in the country, and one of the things that always comes up is that he did not go back into a game once in his career. It is one of the primary storylines of his career. This is going to follow Ben Simmons forever.
S2: Charles didn’t finish that dunk. Ben Simmons didn’t finish a dunk. Yeah, and then he sat out.
S3: You feel you should feel better. This is where we’re pummeling you.
S2: We’re ganging up on you.
S1: This is fascinating to me. So. So you all recall that what the order of events here was is that Ben Simmons wouldn’t report to Philly then when it came out that the only way that he was going to get his money was for him to actually show up comes there with no notice, doesn’t even tell the team, goes into drills and just stands there and refuses to actually produce and gets thrown out in the drills. Yeah. So if he was taking some brave stand about mental health and didn’t care about getting paid, why would he take the actions that he’s taking?
S2: Maybe those actions reflected his mental condition. Josh. You think it was all like pre planned on his part?
S1: Yes, I do.
S3: It’s just it is funny, though, because I had another friend that was at LSU. I mean,
S1: you have to agree that we don’t. You have to agree that we don’t know. We do. We don’t. But we don’t know.
S3: And it’s skepticism is the thing that I guess I’m sort of interested in, because how many times has it happened when somebody has said, I am in crisis, I don’t want to be here? And we’ve said, Yeah. I don’t believe that, dude. You know what I mean, how often does that happen? Now at this point, and to be willing to go through with to this, I mean, he’s going to he’s done the hard thing. This is the hard thing. This is the thing that you know, would forever alter the reputation he has. He’s done it. I don’t understand like why some people think that he would just do this just out of some, you know, unwillingness to I don’t want to share the ball with Joel and b don’t like him. You know, it seems like he would go a little bit deeper than that. But maybe I’m naive. Maybe. I mean, it is.
S1: It is. It is very different than, for instance, James Harden forcing his way out of Houston by actually taking the court and refusing to participate. Like and then like there highlights from the last few weeks of hard and being on the court for the Nets Brian defense. Civil rights,
S2: I believe, is the best person for what we saw
S1: in a very similar way to what he did in Houston. There’s a report on Monday from Adrian, Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne saying that Hardin, who is without an agent who works without an agent, is like he did when he was in Houston pursuing representation to help guide him through whatever this next phase of whatever is. And can we just walk through each of the Nets big three? And by kind of their current state, we have James Harden who’s out with what seems like maybe is a legitimate hamstring issue, but is not playing well when he’s on the court and doesn’t seem particularly engaged. You’ve got Kevin Durant, who is amazing when he’s on the court but is out for a long period of time with his knee issue. Then you have Kyrie Irving and I found this amazing. The Nets have 29 games remaining. I’m going to ask you, I’m sorry, I’m going to do this again to ask you to play a guessing game. How many of those 29 games do you think Kyrie Irving is eligible to play in?
S3: I’m going to say regular season games eight 10 IOC 19
S1: Stefan Fatsis got it on the bottom. Oh, he is eligible to play 10 of the remaining 29 games. And so you might. And the Nets have lost like X number of games in a row the Kyrie has played. It’s not like he’s been a huge difference maker when he’s been on the court. So if you take those three guys, you might actually have to argue that Harden is going to be the one who’s going to be present the most and is going to be the one that you have to count on the most to get them into a position to like, be in the playoffs for when Durant is back. That is funny. Come on, you guys.
S2: That’s funny.
S3: If you’re a Nets fan, it just must be so fucking frustrating because they are 13 and three when all three of them are on the court, right? Like they have the potential to be what it is over a period of years. This is a right over a period of years, not this year. You’re right. This is they play 16 games together in two two seasons, OK? And they had the opportunity to be one of the best teams in NBA history. And it just won’t happen because of this nonsense that’s going God, right? And, you know, actually, I mean, not to derail.
S1: Could you imagine being a fan of the Milwaukee Bucks where like they haven’t been, like, super great this year, but if they don’t win the Championship, you know why it’s they’re not going to win the Championship this year just because another basketball team plays better than their basketball team. Maybe because, like Grayson, Allen will murder someone like, that’s the only thing that I can think of. That would be a non basketball reason that would affect their chances. But they might be the only team, at least in the East, where you can say they will win this basketball championship because of basketball reasons. There’s like no other team that fits that, which is very strange,
S3: and it makes me think that James Harden must really be able to fight because I mean, I just don’t understand, like even the players get out there and they put everything on the line to win and there’s a dude out there just walking around, not closing out on a substantive issue like, you know, that they’ve got to be furious. But clearly, nobody has ever like, threatened him have been like, Hey, man, if you bust your ass, I’m going to bust your ass. It’s just never happened. So it just makes me think the James Harden must be able to kick. People said they must know that he’s be.
S1: It’s it’s the same, but it’s the same with Kyrie Joel. It’s like the whole franchise exists to coddle both of them. They’re like, Oh, you know, he’s so we we’ve all we’ve heard is that he is committed. We just want to support him and be a great teammate. Nobody’s called out either of these guys from either the the roster or the front office. They’re just like basically like praying that they’re just going to like all, be on the court together and be nice and figure it out. And it’s becoming increasingly hilarious.
S2: I’m Harden’s blamed continuity for the team’s problems, which is kind of funny. And then Irving said that they need to get a little closer as a group. The guy who only can play in half the games said they need to get closer as a group.
S1: Now it is time for after balls, and we’re just talking about the NBA trade deadline and there is a story in Bleacher Report, I’m sorry, I just laugh every time that I think about the Sixers and the Nets, I know it’s insensitive. But there is a story in Bleacher Report that included this line. Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe are the 76ers players most often mentioned as trade candidates by rival executives. So forget Ben Simmons. Forget James Harden. We need to be talking about Paul Reed and Isaiah Joe actually remember Isaiah Joe from his time at Arkansas. Really good shooter from the outside. Underrated Isaiah Joe. I’m just going to keep saying it. Isaiah Joe sounds like a generic ass like tech mobile kind of like you didn’t get that. You didn’t get the rights from the league to use the real players’ names. But Isaiah Joe, don’t forget the Nets Isaiah
S3: Joe that is that is a real Arkansas ass basketball player name, though. Like, I felt like if I had another
S1: that Joe, that I just popped into my head. Remember JJ, you
S3: know, oh, you’re the quarterback for Baylor in the eighties, man. JJ Zhu, the John family. If he was awesome, I just remember the nickname is awesome.
S1: Anybody named anybody with the last name Joe is OK with me. Joel What is your Isaiah Joe Isaiah Joe?
S3: So on Friday afternoon, Fox Sports college football analyst R.J. Young posted this delicious bit of off season Twitter fishing. Who is the best player to never win a Heisman? So before we get started? Josh Stefan Stefan you can go first. Who’s the best player you think to have never won a Heisman?
S2: Well, when you asked us this before the show, I of course, like went on the internet and looked up a bunch of lists for who the best player in the Heisman is. And there’s a lot of recency bias. I mean, I got to go back. I mean, you’re probably with me here. It’s got to be Minnesota tailback Paul Geel in 1953. Los Shuai Lattner of Notre Dame. I mean, clearly,
S3: yeah, I mean, Minnesota was a power back then. So of course, yeah, I mean, I can see the case for it.
S2: I mean, unless it’s Tulsa quarterback Jerry Rome, who lost out to Notre Dame quarterback John Hart in sixty four. That’s a tough, tough couple of years there in the early 60s.
S3: Jerry Rome great NFL quarterbacks coach at one point. But yeah, Josh who you got then?
S1: I mean, the go to everybody’s go to pick is Vince Young, who lost to Reggie Bush and then immediately got vengeance in the Rose Bowl. But when I look at these lists, the guys who I think were the most deserving are actually the ones who didn’t make it in the NFL, like the ones who were college stars. And that was like their destiny is to be a college star. And so I wouldn’t even put Darren McFadden in that category because it’s like kind of mysterious why he wasn’t better in the pros. Like, even if we think he should have won the Heisman, he definitely got a shot. So the person that I am going to nominate here Joel is Tommy Frazier, who is like the quintessential Nebraska quarterback. Like he played like Nebraska quarterback of that, like decades long run was like the most probably important and prominent position in college sports. It feels strange to say that now, and he played that position better than anyone else, and he lost to Eddie George, who was like, he had a great pro career. Like Eddie, George doesn’t need any more accolades like Tommy Frazier was denied and should have won the Heisman.
S2: Man, there those lists are fascinating, and I’ll let you get back to your after ball Joel. But you know there’s some patterns you see on some of these list. Paul Horning one over Jim Brown Gary B. Ben one over O.J. Simpson Geno Terada one over Marshall Faulk.
S3: Yeah, yeah. Well, it’s funny you mentioned one of those people, so before I tell you all my answer, I want to go on a very short journey. So when I read the tweet, my mind obviously went all over the place. You know, Vince, as we’ve mentioned, Steve McNair, who was really great at Alcorn State and to my mind, is the best College Football Playoff style ever seen. There are two of my favorites, Peyton Manning, who I mentioned already, who I think is the greatest quarterback in NFL history Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Fitzgerald in Domonique Foxworth, so and so on. So anyway, to make sure that I wasn’t being a prisoner of the moment or rather of my lifetime, I started going back a ways, just like you did Stefan and ended up, you know, where the modern era of football got its start. You know, right about the time of desegregation. And I thought of all the black players of that era who missed out on that honor. Most of them who were playing at hbcu’s or for some schools in the North, Midwest or West. The first black college football player to win the Heisman was Ernie Davis of Syracuse in 1960, and he won that trophy four years after another Syracuse running back who was denied that opportunity despite having a resume that more than met the standard Jim Brown. So everyone who knows even a little bit about football knows that Jim Brown was one of the best to ever strap on the pads, and it was apparent. Even back at Syracuse, but Brown finished fifth in Heisman voting in a senior year, 1956, behind Oklahoma offensive lineman Jerry Tubbs, two running backs in Oklahoma’s Tommy McDonald and Tennessee’s Johnny Majors, whom Brown out rushed and outscored that season. The winner? Notre Dame quarterback Paul Horning reasonable people can disagree about any Heisman winner in any year. But that season, Horning threw three touchdowns and 13 interceptions for two and eight Notre Dame team. OK?
S2: He only ran for four hundred and twenty yards. He just handed the ball off.
S3: Yeah, man. I mean, that was it. I would love to see that Heisman candidacy take place today.
S2: Oh my god, did you say that the Notre Dame finished the season two at eight? Yeah, because that bears repeating,
S3: Yeah, no, I would do it that year. And the quarterback who had a three, four and 13 touchdown to interception ratio, won the Heisman.
S1: He also went number one in the NFL draft and had a good NFL career. So maybe the Heisman voters were right. OK, yeah,
S3: that’s I could be could be happy. You could make the case
S2: a little gambling problem. But other than that great NFL career, yeah.
S3: I mean, look, you can make the case that he was a more deserving Heisman than Jim Brown, but it probably wouldn’t be a very good case. Browns college career ended in a twenty eight to twenty 27 loss to TCU in a game where he still and deservedly was named the MVP after scoring three touchdowns, scored three point after attempts and made five tackles. Because of that performance, even in a losing effort, he was inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame. But as I started looking through Brown’s Wikipedia page, I came across something I truly had never, ever heard before. They played for Syracuse, his basketball team, and I’d known for a long time that he was one of the great lacrosse players of his day, and he was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, which suggests itself that he may have been the greatest lacrosse player ever. He was inducted into that Hall of Fame in 1983, but in all, Jim Brown earned 10 varsity letters at Syracuse and four different sports, basketball, football, lacrosse and track. He was six foot two 212 pounds with a twenty nine inch waist, a man and an athlete way before his time. But I couldn’t have imagined that Brown was as good at basketball as he was. I mean, you’d think about it. How many great college basketball players have you ever seen, even like built Mike Jim Brown, right? Just imagine Najee Harris playing shooting guard for the Crimson Tide. That’s sort of what I imagine. But Jim Brown kid who actually more than a little bit he averaged thirty eight points a game in high school and he could have gone anywhere for college and played anything. He even been offered a minor league contract by the Yankees. But Brown showed Syracuse believing that he’d be on scholarship. But what happened is that Syracuse wanted Brown to try out for a year before offering him aid, and so his old high school football coach paid his expenses for that first semester, which is something else I did not know. Obviously, Brown proved he was worth the scholarship and only a few weeks. He was the only black player on the school’s freshman football team that year, and he was eligible for varsity basketball the next year, where he quickly became one of the team’s best players in the 1954 55 season. Brown averaged fifteen points a game for a team that finished 10 and 11 and even scored a career high thirty three points against something called Sampson Air Force Base. And he didn’t even start in that game. He came back the next season, an average eleven point three points a game, which is fourth on a team that went 14 and eight. Syracuse Bio also notes that Brown was a quote ferocious rebounder, as you’d expect of any football player, especially a running back and especially Jim Brown. But Brown didn’t play for Syracuse in his senior year, and once again, this is where the racism of the day denied everyone its appropriate finale. Brown didn’t return for a senior season of basketball at Syracuse because he was reportedly not permitted to be a starter. So remember, this is the late 1950s, and even in the north, there were unwritten rules about how many black players could start on one team. Syracuse couldn’t start three black players because it already had two others in the starting lineup of guys named Vinnie Cohen and Benny Breeland. And so keep in mind, the idea of all black basketball items were unheard of at the time. Around the same time, the University of San Francisco caused a stir by starting three black players, two of them Bill Russell and Casey Jones, in route to winning the NCAA tournament in 1955 and 56. Good idea for them to, you know, be a little progressive on that front. The NBA didn’t even have its first all-Black starting lineup until 1964. So without Brown that year, Syracuse was really good, but maybe it could have been even better. They went 18 and seven that year, losing to North Carolina in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. One of the team’s black players, Vinny Cohen, has long said Syracuse probably would have won a national title if Brown had remained on the team. And, you know, not long after the University of San Francisco wrote to those consecutive championships. Most schools did away with those gentlemen’s agreements and just went about the business of trying to win games. It was too late for Brown, who never played organized basketball again. He went on, As you probably know, to have a professional football career of some renown. So to get back to the original question at the top of this segment, which you know what’s who’s the best player who never won a Heisman? I was prepared to say Adrian Peterson, OK, like I thought that I’ve never seen anybody that looks like that and play like that. But come on. No need denying the obvious here. Jim Brown was Adrian Peterson before anyone ever thought about it. Adrian Peterson or Adrian Peters Daddy, for that matter, or Peyton Manning or Larry Fitzgerald. Jim Brown earned so many honors in the course of his career. And yet, and still, it wasn’t everything that he deserved.
S1: I remembered when you started talking about football players playing basketball in Syracuse, the Donovan McNabb was actually on the Syracuse basketball team in the 2000s did not put up very impressive stats, although it is impressive to play both basketball and football at the college level. The guy that I remember the most when who, when you like looked at me like that is a football player playing basketball was Julius Peppers when he was on the North Carolina basketball program. Like that was like, you don’t see bodies like that. Like even when Antonio Gates and like Tony Gonzalez Gonzalez were playing like Julius Peppers look more like a football player playing basketball than than those guys did.
S3: I talk about it with friends all the time. Nobody has looked like Julius peppers like maybe, maybe Myles Garrett is the only NFL player that has ever looked like Julius Peppers, but Julius Peppers is one of one. In that way? So, yeah, he was. He was good. That team made it to the Final Four, right? Like what? He’s a starting power forward. On a note North Carolina team that made it to the Final Four, the the Billy Gutteridge team. The coach got team that was like 18 or 14 doesn’t.
S1: That seems right to me. Yeah, but also Joel. How dare you not mention that Adrian Peterson was a three sport standout in football, basketball and track the Palestine High School?
S3: Well, I did know that he was a standout at track. I did not know that he played basketball, but it makes sense. Have you ever been to Palestine, Texas?
S1: I’ve not. It’s pronounced Palestine.
S3: You know what, I have to know this, I’m a Texan, I’ve been there and I think I just kind of go with whatever anybody says at any given minute. I think it’s Palestine, a Palestine, Palestine. Let’s call it it’s Palestine Touch. If you’re a Texan and you’ve been there before and I’ve been there before, unfortunately, you correct me. But I think it’s
S2: Palestine, unfortunately, because you can’t remember how to pronounce it, or unfortunately because you have to go there
S3: kind of both. It’s, you know, kind of center of East Texas, not too far from Navarro Junior College, this side of cheer. I think I had a pretty good meal there once I even got a haircut there while I was there. But, you know, it’s not not a place that I’d be trying to visit again anytime soon.
S1: Sorry, this is like I’m reading even a little bit more deeply into the Wikipedia page. His father, Adrian Peterson’s father, was a shooting guard for Ohio State. But his dream, I think this is referring to the father’s dream of an NBA career was derailed when a gun that his brother was cleaning discharged into his leg.
S3: Yeah, yeah, they they have a very interesting story. The reason I went to Paris, Palestine and Palestine, Texas is to write about Adrian Peterson. His mother was apparently a great track athlete as well. I think she was like a district 100 meter champion. Are you? Are you getting that out of that?
S1: She went to the city of Houston.
S3: Yep, right? Yeah. I mean, it’s not a mistake that Adrian Peterson ended up Adrian Peterson, put it that way.
S1: That is our show for today. Our producer is Kevin Ben. Just listen to Pasha’s and subscribe or just reach out. Go to Slate.com, slash hang up and you can email us and hang up at Slate.com. And don’t forget to subscribe to the show and please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts for Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis. And Josh Levin remembers Elmo, Betty, and thanks for listening. Now it is time for our bonus segment first Slate Plus members, some special Winter Olympics bonus content for you guys this week and back with us is John Branch of the New York Times. John. Welcome.
S4: Thank you very much.
S1: So Covid, let’s talk about Covid and athletes at the games and also the kinds of restrictions that folks media folks in that Olympic bubble are facing, the big news here in the U.S. was events in Zhao. The skater is out of the Olympics after a positive test. So what can you tell us about sort of the the vibes around Covid, what you’re hearing from athletes? What you’re feeling is somebody who’s kind of in the center of it right now?
S4: Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting. I mean, we thought one of the big or maybe one of the first Olympic events of this, of this to Beijing Games was just getting to the Games themselves on the last few weeks have been anxiety ridden for, I think anybody who was trying to get to Beijing because of testing requirements. But then once here, we’ve seen people test positive and it’s strange in some ways because it feels really locked down. Here we are getting tested every day. People are if you’ve seen the photos are on TV, people are wearing these, these white suits and and all the protective gear. You can’t tell if it’s really for show this to show people that we are taking this seriously or if it’s really for their own protection. But you can’t miss the fact that Covid is a big part of this. The grandstands are empty because spectators, for the most part, are not allowed. The place just feels locked down and everybody wears a mask everywhere. It’s as lockdown is as really any time or any place that I’ve been in the past couple of years. And yeah, so you feel bad for the athletes who then come here and somehow test positive. And certainly there are questions about when you test positive. Well, can we get a copy of that result? Can we do our own testing here? You feel horrible for some of these athletes, like we’re talking about Vinson, who was who tested positive, but they wanted to check to make sure that that was a valid test. And so the United States officials and Vinson himself wanted to make sure was that test valid? And can we double check it? And then several hours later, they came back out and said, Well, yeah, he tested positive and he’s now out of the games and can’t imagine the agony of an athlete who has spent years preparing for these moments or this moment, who then comes here and gets through all the protocols and somehow within this bubble, which feels so protected, somehow test positive and now their Olympic dream is over.
S3: You mentioned that you can’t remember going through a similar sort of lockdown over the past couple of years in the middle of this pandemic. I mean, you know, it’s been bad for a long time, and yet it’s we’re going into the second or third year here and it seems as bad as it’s been. So I’m just sort of curious what the environment is like there because this is supposed to be a huge international celebration of sport and diplomacy, right? It’s supposed to be a big fun deal. Are you getting any of that while you’re there?
S4: No, there’s not a lot of fun to be had. Everything is is in a bubble. And I’ll give you an example. If I look at my hotel where I’m staying here in Beijing, there is a perimeter fence around it with guards. It’s like being in a compound when I walk out of my hotel and I go through a through an x ray with my gear on the way out, my hotel room or door after I’ve been tested, which I’m being tested every day and then I get on a bus that’s inside the compound. The guards open the gate, we drive through Beijing. We go to the convention center, where the media center is through another gate into that compound. When I want to go to an event, I get on a bus within the compound, which then goes through some open gates by guards and goes out on the city streets and drops me back into another compound. I cannot mingle with anybody. I can’t go to a restaurant. I can’t walk anywhere outside of this of these compounds. And that’s the same with the athletes. And so there is no interaction between the athletes or the people who are here from outside of China with people within China, other than the volunteers who are helping stage the games. It’s, you know, the arenas and the stadiums feel like soundstages because there’s very few fans in there
S2: and it’s really creating some weird scenes. I mean, these reports from athletes who have been quarantined because of suspicion or an inconclusive test for Covid in these 25 square meter rooms and getting serve bad food and they really can’t work out, one Polish speed skater was quoted as saying. I’m very pale and I have huge black circles under my eyes. I want this to end. I cry every day and then you have this scene. On Monday in Beijing with the Russian Olympic Committee women’s ice hockey teams wearing masks. Face masks can. Ninety five. On the ice during the game after the game was delayed for like an hour and a half or more because there were doubts about the testing status of players, it sounds like on both teams. And I think we’re going to see a lot more of these weird Covid related scenes as these games go forward. And I’m wondering whether people are sort of attuned to that as well.
S4: Yeah, I think they are. I mean, in some ways, they’re used to it because most these athletes compete around the around the globe, and so they’ve gone to other events that have had some of this. I think it’s in some ways more unusual for those of us that don’t cover all those events or don’t watch those events on TV and now see this and see this giant event that we’re used to that we have in our mind’s eye looks like this, and now it doesn’t look like that or feel like that. So, yeah, I think the athletes are just trying to put their brave face on it. I mean, the alternative is not to come, so they just do the best they can and hope that they don’t get caught up in in a positive test or in some sort of weird situation. I think that was the fear for all of us that we were going to on the way here. We’re going to test negative all the way up to the point that we left so we could get on the flight and then arrive here and somehow test positive and be quarantined because the quarantines even from before we got here sounded horrible.
S1: So in the run up to the games John, you did a story headlined What scares the world’s most daring Olympians? It was just a really impressive package, three dozen athlete interviews. You talk to them about their fears. I’d encourage everybody to read, watch it and listen to it. This sport kills people. It injures everyone.
S3: From our 17 and a half inch blades on our feet to the fact that we’re going up to 35 miles an hour,
S6: we’ve been categorized as the most dangerous sport. And I just think it’s because there’s so many bodies and there’s so many sharp edges.
S1: We’re wearing spandex and we’re going
S2: 90 miles an
S1: hour. I thought about it in two cases when watching the coverage on Sunday night here in the US. Number one Nina O’Brien, the American giant slalom skier, crashed just before the finish appeared to mangle her left leg pretty badly. U.S. Ski and Snowboard said afterwards she was worried about delaying the race and also wanted to know how fast she was skiing. I mean, this is clearly like a crazy person. I mean, these are all crazy people, but like, we’re all crazy in our own way, right? I don’t mean the judge. And the other time that I thought of a John was watching the big error free skiing, the competition that Eileen Gu was in. And it’s like kind of banal, actually. But this is like an enormous goddamn ramp
S2: and they’re going down it backwards. They’re all going down it backwards.
S4: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, that’s what that’s what sparked the idea for this project in the first place. Joe Ward is one of our great graphic artists been around the New York Times for a long time for years has thought he would love to do a project like this because he had heard an athlete 10 or 12 years ago say, I’m scared. I think it was a diver who said, Yeah, I’m scared when I’m out there, and it just had never really occurred to him, or probably to most of us that what these people do, especially at the Winter Olympics with some of these crazy sports are, we know they’re crazy, dangerous, and maybe that’s part of the allure. But we kind of assume, I think that a lot of these people just must be wired differently or they must be fearless in some way. And so we decided to explore that and we chased down about three dozen Olympians and set them down for very intimate conversation on camera and asked them pretty blunt questions. Are you afraid every single one of them says, yes, I’m afraid. And it ran the gamut of what scares them or what scares them. Ran the gamut for everything from disappointing my family of squandering an opportunity of not being able to write my own ending to my career. But the number one thing is the most visceral thing, which is I’m scared to get hurt, and not one of them said I’m scared of of being hurt of the pain of of being hurt. It was more the fear of missing out if I get hurt. For example, if I crash on the on the ski run before I get to the finish line, that means I’m going to miss my opportunity to cross the finish line. It means I’m going to miss maybe my next few races. It potentially means I’m going to miss two years of my career rehabbing from this knee injury or whatever it is. They’re worried about how it alters and and takes their career out of their own control. It was fascinating, I thought, to sit down and talk with them and really dive deep on what scares them and really learn that they are all scared. And in some cases, it’s the sort of deep notion like I’m talking about of of what it means to be hurt or, you know, these kind of, you know, deep fears that I have. But in some ways, it’s just like this notion that they get these crazy goose bumps that we had. Athletes tell us that they throw up, sometimes in the start house of ski races that Eileen Gu, for example, says, I sometimes have to touch my neck and my chest to see if my heart is actually beating because it feels like it’s about to come out and I feel it through my jacket. All those nervous things that we would have if we were to say, speak before a large audience or something. They have these two, and so they are not wired differently. They somehow manage it. As Shaun White told us, he goes, I feel fear. I just have to figure out a way to manage it. And that’s what this this whole project really explored was all these different ways that fear plays a role in your life.
S3: You know, John. To me, this sounds like the twisties. Does that sound? I like twisties for winter sports. Is that is that about right?
S4: Well, that’s one of the fears of one of the fears. And again, this a lot of these fears have to do with when there are things that are out of my control. So for example, if I’ve spent four years of my life preparing to say to jump off one of these giant ramps and big air, and then I get there, and when it’s my turn to go, suddenly the wind starts blowing or the sky is really gray. And now I, when I go upside down, I can’t tell where the horizon is because the sky is gray and the and the snow is kind of gray and I lose myself in the air. That’s a huge issue for people in a half pipe, for example, in slopestyle or big air or aerialists. Some of them do talk about the twisties. You know, that came up last summer with with Simone Biles, where she just kind of lost her place in the air. That’s something that happens to gymnast and some of these other athletes in the winter sports where they they say that that’s the worst thing that. You can imagine you get up in the air, you start spinning around and suddenly you’re like, I don’t know where the ground is, where in the sky is that really happens in winter sports because of the color of the sky?
S1: John, thanks again. We’re going to put links to your stories on our show page. Good luck with the rest of the games.
S4: Thanks very much. I appreciate it and I apologize for rambling on. You guys caught me late at night and I think I just had a lot to get out. So sorry. None of it made sense, but that’s
S2: just a classic journalistic tactic. John We knew you were worn down.
S3: Yeah. You haven’t had. You haven’t had a lot of human contact either. So well, we’re glad to the fill in the gap between the meantime.
S4: So I just needed somebody to talk to you, man,
S1: and thank you. Thank you to the Slate Plus members. We’re always here to talk to you. We’ll be back with more next week.