The Astros Are the Champs Edition

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Stefan Fatsis: The following podcast includes explicit language, not restricted to words, beginning with F. S, B and Q.

Josh Levin: Hi, this is Josh Levine, Slate’s national editor. This is Hang Up and Listen for the week of November 7th, 2022, on this week’s show. Hannah Keyser of Yahoo! Sports will join us to talk about the Houston Astros World Series Triumph while they discuss LSU’s win over Alabama its past. With that thinking, Georgia’s victory over Tennessee and the current state of things and the meat grinder of SEC football. And speaking of football, we’ll discuss Herschel Walker, his candidacy for the United States Senate and what’s motivating it. I’m in Washington, D.C. I’m the author of The Queen and host of the podcast One Year. Check out our new season on 1942, new episodes coming out every week. Also in D.C. is Stefan FATSIS. He’s the author of the books Wild An Outside Word Freak and a Few Seconds of Panic. Hello, Stefan. Hi.

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Stefan Fatsis: Josh has a weekend.

Josh Levin: It’s a good, good times.

Stefan Fatsis: Yeah.

Josh Levin: Good sports results for all of our teams.

Stefan Fatsis: Yeah.

Josh Levin: Yeah. Since you don’t really care as much about, you know, sports teams, then you’re just happy for us.

Stefan Fatsis: Slander. But I am happy for you. Did you watch the Major League Soccer final? That was the best sporting event of the weekend.

Josh Levin: I saw the last couple of goals. It was pretty exciting. I would not say it was the best sporting event of the weekend, but you know, it’s your journey.

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Stefan Fatsis: It is my journey. That was the most exciting game. That was fucking crazy.

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Joel Anderson: Do you want to say who won or because I don’t know.

Stefan Fatsis: The AFC over Philadelphia in about 9000 minutes. Gareth Bale scored a tying goal equaliser in the 128th minute. The L.A. goalkeeper Maxime Repos, the number two on Canada, will not be in the World Cup now because he broke his leg after trying to stop a breakaway. They got he got red carded for that. They played with ten men.

Josh Levin: If you break your leg, shouldn’t the red card be waved off?

Stefan Fatsis: The poor ref looked very sad when he had to pull out the red card and give it to him while he was like being strapped to a gurney.

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Joel Anderson: In.

Stefan Fatsis: Philly, 124th L.A. tied it in 128th total mayhem. The game was in L.A., you know, great atmosphere. And then Philadelphia missed its first three penalty kicks.

Josh Levin: LFC goalkeeper is a Philly guy, too.

Stefan Fatsis: And the last option for the, well, the backup L.A. FC goalkeeper who had to come on is the Philly guy. Great game.

Joel Anderson: Really exciting. Sounds like it.

Josh Levin: It’s just Stefan’s fault for not having enough. That’s still Anderson and Joel. I’d seen that your wife is really concerned about that. You’re kind of setting yourself up for disappointment this coming weekend.

Joel Anderson: Oh, well, yeah. I mean, it’s really stressful. I know you don’t know anything about this, but when your college football team is undefeated and in the running for the College Football Playoff. Every week gets more intense, a little bit more stressful. And TCU has to play at Texas in Austin this weekend.

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Josh Levin: Well, based on what I’ve heard for from you for the last you know, however long I’ve known you, the Texas football program is basically a minor speedbump for any serious college football team. So I’m not too worried for you.

Joel Anderson: Well, I mean, again, the thing is, I mean, the important thing to remember here is that Texas is like the wealthiest college athletic program in the country. All right. They have all the resources, all the five star recruits they have all the fans say this game is at home. You know, I mean, really, this should be a layup for them. We’re just a little old TCU. We’re not going to the SCC. So can I you know, can we just randomly do the.

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Stefan Fatsis: Segment on college football? Because I’m really curious to see what all is finally happy that TCU won another four away.

Josh Levin: And we’re about and we’re in more moments going to talk about Joel’s other triumph of the weekend.

Joel Anderson: You guys want to talk about what happened in that World Series? I think we should write Kevin.

Josh Levin: We’ll do it in moments.

Joel Anderson: Okay.

Josh Levin: All right. And in our Slate Plus segment, we’ll check in on Kyrie Irving’s apology tour, which has mostly been a non apology tour member. We’ll get into it in the plus segment, as noted. And to get that, you need to be a Slate Plus member. You’ll get bonus segments like this one, you’ll get ad free shows or get to support us. And to do that, just go to Slate.com slash thing up plus, and we’ll try to make it worth your while. Slate.com slash hang up plus.

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Stefan Fatsis: The Houston Astros won the World Series on Saturday night in six games over the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a terrific series that included a crazy comeback, a no hitter, a bunch of long clutch bombs, and in the end shut down pitching and timely bombing by the winners. Houston may have cheated its way to the 2017 championship, but it’s impossible to begrudge a good guy. 73 year old Dusty Baker his first title as a manager after more than 2000 regular season wins, or to deny the Astros recent dominance of the sport. Hannah Keyser is with us now. She’s a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Hey, Hannah, thanks for joining us.

Speaker 4: Hello. Thank you for having me.

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Stefan Fatsis: In your series Wrap Up Story, you wrote that the Astros are relentless, ruthless, committed to winning at all costs. It’s why they cheated and maybe why they didn’t have to. I think that’s a great observation, because it’s easy to look at Houston as B.S. and a C before cheating and after cheating. But in fact, the team’s approach has been pretty consistent since it tanked in the mid 20 tens before becoming great. How have they done it?

Speaker 4: Yeah, I mean, I’m not sure that their approach has been consistent so much as their ethos of how they approach things has become consistent. That was really sort of going into the World Series. Actually, even before that, I went to Houston in August with the attempt to answer the question of how are they always so good? There’s sort of two teams that represent that right now, which is the Dodgers and the Astros and the Astros have more success in the postseason. So they’re actually even more interesting in terms of sort of how are you staying so good when what you originally did to be good, like tanking the Astros did is now widespread.

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Speaker 4: And I think what I sort of came upon in the in the final game of this World Series, the final game of the season, talking to the current general manager, James Click was this idea of like there’s no complacency. So it’s not that they have a consistent approach is that they have an inconsistent approach that they are sort of always looking for the latest edge. I think not to sort of absolve them of the cheating by any means, but one of the thing that’s interesting is that what they were doing at the time was sort of increasingly cracked down on after they did it. So which is not to say that it was legal. It was it was very illegal. They knew they were doing something illegal. It was a very complicated system. So it was a premeditated crime.

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Speaker 4: But it is true that sort of this, as technology had developed within the game, the uses of technology and obviously the attempts to sort of find a competitive advantage with technology had had, it sort of also crept up. And that’s why I sort of said that that cheating is reflective of the same ethos, that they’re obviously still sort of looking for that competitive edge all the time that it’s and it’s also often still technology, which I think is interesting. It’s it’s legal technology now. It’s it’s finding the latest hitting machines or whatever. They’re they’re always sort of trying to do what’s coming next.

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Joel Anderson: So for for the people in the sport that follow the sport, as a Houstonian, I just sort of have this question. So does this championship vindicate those years? Or is it? Does it actually cast more suspicion on them? Because, you know, I can’t help but notice people following the World Series on social media and they say, oh, they’re still cheating. I mean, look at the picture, you know? You know, maybe you’ve got some substance on the ball or whatever else. Did this championship in any way, like prove that, oh, the Astros don’t need to cheat? Or is there still like a cloud of suspicion over the franchise at this point?

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Speaker 4: Right. It’s like I think that that goes, unfortunately, sort of hand-in-hand with the thing that I’m saying, which is we I think we want baseball to be this perfect level playing field where every day, you know, nine guys from each team go out and see who’s better at baseball that day. But of course, it’s not the case. Like the teams that are successful, the organizations that are successful in this day and age are ones that are not just playing baseball on a baseball playing field. They’re doing all these things sort of behind the scenes. We think of the Rays, I guess, as the the poster children for that.

Speaker 4: But but the Astros, too, and I’m sort of in a roundabout way saying that like I don’t think they were cheating. I don’t think Farber Valdez was using sticky stuff. I think that there’s like no way they would have just sort of let that happen at the World Series. When we exist in a game where pitchers are checked all the time. But I do think that, like they is hard to not wonder what they are doing to win. And hopefully what they’re doing to win is legal, or at least is sort of legal within the strange confines of the sport.

Speaker 4: That’s I mean, right now, the way that baseball works is, you know, you hire lots of smart people and they they look for every possible loophole and edge. And that’s an accepted part of the sport. I mean, the rules are going to change for next season. And the people who are changing the rules and the people who work in baseball all understand that as soon as those rules change, every organization is going to start trying to figure out where is the loophole in the rules as they are written, and then maybe those loopholes will get closed and you’ll look for new loopholes. And so I think it’s you know, the Astros are successful because they’re really good at finding those loopholes and sometimes they find loopholes that don’t exist.

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Josh Levin: So five players are on the roster from the previous World Series. A lot of important players, you know, Bregman, Altuve, Verlander, but as the team that has been rebuilt, as every baseball team is. And so the thing that is worth examining and that’s extraordinary is there as and this is the reason why you went there in August, it’s their sustained regular season success over the last five years, which is only matched by the Dodgers and is kind of and it there are various ways you can slice and dice the numbers that say they’re one of the most successful franchises over this period of time in the history of the sport in terms of consistent results, in terms of postseason results.

Josh Levin: And so, you know, when we look at what is this postseason, what does this series mean? It really doesn’t mean anything in terms of what we should think about the franchise. It changes kind of the narrative around them because we now look at them as a two time World Series winner. But just given the randomness of these outcomes, it it doesn’t say anything that losing to the Phillies in six games or seven games wouldn’t have said. But you know what? What does it change? I guess it changes how we think about Dusty Baker. It changes. Maybe Dusty Baker thinks about themselves like, what would you say is different now that this kind of this World Series is over? Like, what are what are the things that we should think about differently?

Speaker 4: I mean, what I think is really interesting is the Dodgers and Astros are what I wrote in August, as you know, were actually, I guess, a root in September. Know we’re a month out from the postseason, but we already know the best two teams in baseball. It’s been the best two teams in baseball for a long time. It’s the Dodgers and the Astros. And what’s really interesting is the Dodgers are perhaps best known for not having as much postseason success, sort of commensurate with the regular season success. And now the Astros have won two World Series. And there is so much randomness. I’m I’m kind of I have like a I’m a real like relativist about the postseason. I’m kind of like, well, that’s the sport, so you should be good at that.

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Speaker 4: And what I really think actually is interesting about this whole series is that on the National League side, we had people really hand-wringing around like, Well, if the Dodgers can lose and the Mets can lose, then and the Braves can lose, is this post-season, quote unquote, fair or whatever. But the Astros are both the best team in the regular season for a long time in the American League. And they found a way to be successful in the postseason.

Speaker 4: And I always think what’s interesting is like coming out of any World Series, what do the other 29 teams or what even 30 teams will learn about how to have success? And I’m sure we’ll get into the Astros have an insane amount of homegrown pitching talent. And I think even you can say the postseason is a completely random and it’s totally true. The Phillies could have. They’ve been six or seven games. But I actually do think that having like an insane amount of homegrown pitching talent is a pretty good winning formula. So unlike a pure baseball front, that seems like what this World Series changes is just sort of what it takes to be more successful in the postseason than just in the regular season.

Stefan Fatsis: Well, and also their ability to replace important people when they leave. Garrett Cole left in 2019. No problem. George Springer left in free agency after the 2020 season. His replacements were better in 2021. Carlos Correa leaves after the last season and they just plug in Jeremy Pena, who goes on to become the World Series most valuable player as a rookie. Their pitching was ridiculous. And you looked at the World Series, particularly the last three games, and you’re like, okay, yeah. There’s no doubt this was the much, much better team. Great starting pitching that no hitter or pressure relief pitching. The last two games were three, two, two and four, two, one. The Phillies batted 163 for the whole series and that includes the game where they hit five home runs and won seven to nothing. I mean, it’s hard to come out of this World Series and not feel like, wow, that is like that is a dominant team. In spite of all that, we know about short series and randomness in the playoffs.

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Speaker 4: I mean, I think they do. They’re almost a perfect team. They lack a bat. They they you know, Dusty Baker had what was ended up being perhaps a controversial quote that would have gotten more attention if they had lost. But he said something about, you know, my job would be easier if I had Bryce Harper at the end. And they were sort of down about they really missed having Michael Brantley healthy. But yeah, it’s really tough to be really good. Pitching is I mean, it’s really tough to beat, really good pitching and it’s particularly really tough to be really good pitching that comes in the form of having lots of pitchers when you’re really, really tired at the end of the month. Like the postseason is a war of attrition.

Speaker 4: I think we’ve seen it more exaggerated in previous years, like last year, I think felt particularly like, you know, who’s who’s going to have one of pitchers with arms and legs that can still function by the end of the postseason, that will win the World Series. But it’s always that way a little bit. I think what the the Phillies sort of ran into early is what it really looked like was like they’re not built to go the distance necessarily. They were built to be incredible in at any sort of given moment. But the Astros, because of their pitching, are really built to go the distance.

Joel Anderson: You just mentioned Dusty Baker. Kevin, can you play that clip? Yeah, I mean, well, you know, so I don’t think about.

Speaker 5: Being old and I don’t think about my age, but I do think about, you know, being the third black manager, Dave Roberts and my good friend Cito Gaston, who was responsible really for me as a kid when I first signed with the Braves, I was 18 years old and he took care of me in Little Rock, Arkansas. And, you know, while we’re playing there, you know, I talk to him all the time. And one of the one of the things that I really treasure is that we’re on the same league manager bubblegum card. And so, you know, see, those are my main.

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Joel Anderson: You only get that base in Houston. But I mean, so even the people that hate the Astros and there are a lot of them really seem to like, if not love Dusty Baker. So can you talk a little bit about what Dusty has meant for the franchise, both on the diamond and off? Like in terms of reputation management in the last few years here.

Speaker 4: I think you said it perfectly that it’s harder to hate them. That’s sort of why he was brought in and and it worked. Yeah, I mean, I think they needed legitimacy, which is interesting, right? Because I think earlier in his career, Dusty didn’t necessarily bring that air of legitimacy and that was maybe an unfair reaction that we all had to him. And so it’s as wonderful for him as it is for the Astros to see that at this point in his career, he’s sort of universally viewed as like someone who can who can bring that legitimacy to a club and who can be respected and taken at face value and sort of seen as someone who loves the game.

Speaker 4: It’s interesting. It’s like the Astros are are like, right because they have this McKenzie and business and tanking or around them. I think we don’t always appreciate that like the people involved also really love baseball and Dusty Baker so good at articulating his love for baseball and why people love baseball. And I think that was really helpful in the past couple of years.

Speaker 4: It’s also just interesting because in general, starting pitching was a little bit more prominent in this postseason than it has been in recent years, and that’s something Dusty loves to do. He’s got the right team for it, which is stick with his starters, and if it hadn’t worked, we’d be talking about how you shouldn’t be sticking with your starters. But it did work. And so we can we can commend him for the faith he shows in his players and the trust he puts in his players after the World Series.

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Speaker 4: After he’d been named World Series MVP, Jeremy Pena talked about Obviously, the organization put so much faith in him letting Carlos Correa walk in free agency, having him not going after other shortstops that were available at the free agent market. But he also talked about the faith that Dusty showed in him, sort of moving him up in the lineup. He’s been batting second for a long time. And and we saw how important it was, not just his success, but like his success in the way it set up Jordan Alvarez at certain times and the way it sort of protected Jordan Alvarez, the way Jordan Alvarez protected him. So I think that lineup choice was a really important one and one that Jeremy Pena is cited as like, It’s great that Dusty had this faith in me and his. His stamp of approval means so much to the players that I think that that helps them bring out the best in them.

Josh Levin: So in Moneyball, the book in the movie, one of the main plot points is the conflict between the old school manager now and the new school GM Billy Beane. And there’s nobody more old school than Dusty Baker. I mean, you kind of alluded to this before. It Hannah but back when Dusty was not universally beloved, he was, you know, I guess the the cruelest way you could put it is like some people said that he ruined Mark Pryor and Cory Wood’s careers with the Cubs, which is perhaps reductive and unfair, but like, he had that tag on him. And so you would think that an organization that was so analytically minded that there could potentially be conflict. So is my view correct that there actually wasn’t any conflict? And if that is the case, is it because there’s now kind of a broader view that, like managers are responsible for vibes and like, oh, no.

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Speaker 4: I think this is conflict. I think it’s conflict. I think my.

Josh Levin: Friend, this is incorrect.

Speaker 4: Correct premise is incorrect. We don’t I’m not going to I’m trying I’m going to try not to sort of speak, Ed, and I don’t I’m not as sauced up on the Astros as plenty of other people are. And if any of us knew what was going to happen, we would have reported it. Neither Dusty nor the Jim James Hook had a contract after October 31st. And that’s unusual. It’s unusual for for managers and games to be sort of lame duck. They usually they work on spring training or at some point in the season. It’s especially weird to go into a World Series where neither the the GM or the manager is employed beyond the end of the World Series. And there’s been a lot of speculation around why both why Jim Krane, the Astros owner, hasn’t committed to them further, but also sort of what the moving pieces are.

Speaker 4: So there’s sort of three players in this. There’s Jim Crane, the owner of those, James Clark, the general manager, and then there’s Dusty, the manager. And for a couple of years now, I think actually sort of ever since both James Clark and Dusty were brought in immediately following the scandal, there’s been this like, how are these three pieces going to fit together? I think because of that, because Dusty is so old school, James Clark comes from the raise, a very new school team, but also because they’re kind of hired really quickly. They were hired in a moment of need. They were hired in like January, which is not when you want to be hiring your GM. And so we don’t know what’s going to happen.

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Speaker 4: There’s a surprising amount of speculation that James Klick will not be brought back and given ample opportunity to address that. Jim Quinn has opted to not commit to him beyond this World Series. That would be very strange. That’s very strange that I mean, I there’s not like a I don’t have a good explanation for that because I don’t know that there is one. And if there is one, nobody knows it yet. And perhaps it’ll come out when that decision is made. But I imagine that part of that is how those three prongs fit together.

Speaker 4: There’s been a sense that Chandler Romo, the Houston Chronicle, wrote right after the World Series about how, like there’ve been instances which sort of Jim Crane sided with Dusty over Jim’s click. And that was a weird choice because usually the GM would get to make those choices, but also Dusty 73 and he just won a World Series. And I know he’s always said that if he wins one, he wants to win two, but I’m not sure that he wants to stick around. It’s a lot it’s a lot of moving pieces. So, yeah, you’ve hit on you’ve hit on the correct point of like, well, that’s strange. And yeah, it is.

Stefan Fatsis: I mean, to wrap things up here and I think there’s a couple other things I would want to say. One is that, you know, Dusty Baker was, as we say, not beloved, partly because he lost a couple of critical game sixes when he managed the Cubs and the Giants previously. The other is that players love Dusty Baker. I mean, he is one of the most revered figures and just most pleasant figures in the game. I mean, any profile you read and one of my favorites is that oral history that the Athletic did of players talking about Dusty in all of his quirks is just delightful. And you can see why the Astros didn’t really, I think sort of care all that much about the managerial side and the you know and and the analytics and hiring the manager and they wanted a human shield for the scandal.

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Stefan Fatsis: And the other part of this to not let the Astros off the hook entirely here and not let baseball off the hook either is that you know, it’s not like baseball turned its back on the Astros. Players who were part of that part of the cheating were signed by other teams, front office people were signed by other teams. And Jim Crane in the last week basically said outright that. Other people cheated too. He implied it, but that was the message then. It wasn’t fair necessarily that the Astros receive all this criticism, and I don’t think that’s a good look.

Speaker 4: No, it’s not. I mean, it’s not a it’s not a good look for baseball to keep talking about this. I mean, Rob Manfred had to answer for it last year when they were in the World Series. And I’m sure every time they’re in the World Series, people will ask Rob about whether or not that’s good or bad for baseball.

Stefan Fatsis: Hannah Keyser is a national baseball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Hannah, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Speaker 4: Of course.

Stefan Fatsis: Up next, we’ll talk with TCU alumnus and former football player Joel Anderson about the college football we got.

Joel Anderson: On Saturday evening in Tiger Stadium, LSU was trailing Alabama 31 to 24 in overtime and needed to score at least a touchdown, an extra point to keep the game going. Quarterback J.T. Daniels scampered around the right in and cut back inside to score 25 yard touchdown. On LSU’s first offensive play in the extra period and then needing only an extra point to send the game into a second overtime. LSU decided to end things on the next play. Here’s what happened.

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Speaker 6: For the win. But let’s go. Photo shoot Desert Nation Trailer. He was playing high school football. Here we go. Taylor with a touchdown in the clinching two point conversion and a field run for the ages. And tonight, Don, never forget in Baton Rouge.

Joel Anderson: And that was Chris Fowler on the call for ESPN. Just sound really exciting, right?

Josh Levin: I was excited.

Joel Anderson: You seem excited now.

Josh Levin: I shouted.

Joel Anderson: That does not sound like you shouting, but. So Daniels’s completion to Mason. Taylor lifted LSU to a 32 to 31 upset of its arch rival and knocked sixth ranked Alabama from national championship contention, its earliest elimination since 2010. It was suggested afterward that maybe there’s a changing of the guard, not just in the SCC, but in college football overall. Just look around. Georgia has firmly established itself as the dominant program. Alabama is trending down and LSU in Tennessee. Both teams who’ve prevailed over the tide this year seem to be back. So, Josh, for much of 2022, people laughed at LSU and first year head coach Brian Kelly because it seemed like such a poor fit. This Midwestern carpetbagger trying to woo these rabid Louisianans in their families. But maybe we shouldn’t be laughing at your favorite team anymore.

Josh Levin: It’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said and makes me suspicious about the rug about to be pulled out. I mean, Alex Kirshner and his piece for Slate over the weekend, I think framed the Kelly and LSU situation very well, and that the only thing that’s really relevant about about Brian Kelly is that he has a track record of winning football games and that you saw it with Nick Saban in last year. The guy is not from Louisiana, won a lot of football games. Everybody loved him until they didn’t when he left. So the only real job requirement is beating Alabama. And so you cannot check that off the list and establish himself as somebody who the fan base feels like is deserving of the job.

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Josh Levin: But Alex also wrote about a couple other things Stefan that show that LSU is not just the team that’s doing well this year, but they’re a team that kind of shows what college for both Future is and will be a team full of transfers. Instant rebuild that you especially when you pay a coach, you know a hundred million or so guaranteed like they did for Brian Kelly there’s not any going to be any leeway given for you know things like rebuilding with the transfer portal. There’s going to be an expectation that even a team that had been down like LSU will just be great every year. There’s just no we’ll never be any excuse or allowance ever for a team that considers itself a blue by to ever have a down season. That’s a lot of pressure.

Josh Levin: But then also you have this team that was objectively quite poor for stretches of the season. First game of the year. They got blown out against Florida State. They also got blown out by Tennessee. But we’re still in the 14 playoff era. They still have a chance if they win the SCC to make the playoff. But again, Stefan, in the 12 team playoff era, you will see teams like this who have bad stretches that they can you know find their form and get hot at the end and maybe win a championship. And that is a huge change from how college football’s always operated.

Stefan Fatsis: Yeah but we’re not there yet. I mean, was Joel too quick to dismiss Alabama’s chances of making the playoff? I mean, there’s still a few weeks to go here. Joel and Alabama will always be a sentimental committee type favorite. And if you wind up with two or three two loss teams and Alabama goes on to, you know, win out, isn’t it still possible that Nick Saban gets the benefit of the doubt? You really think it’s over?

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Joel Anderson: Well, I mean, they’re not even I mean, LSU’s a game up on them for the to even get to the SEC championship game and I believe Ole Miss is at this point, too.

Josh Levin: So Alabama’s only pathway obviously is to go undefeated the rest of the way. And if they do that, they’ll beat Ole Miss. And if they beat Ole Miss, then LSU only needs to win one game to win the SEC title because they have the tiebreaker, because they beat Ole Miss and Alabama. Their only pathway just makes it impossible for them to get to the title game.

Stefan Fatsis: Isn’t their pathway that LSU loses in the SEC title game.

Josh Levin: But, Stefan, I mean, I don’t it pains me to say this, but there are other teams outside the SCC, such as Michigan.

Stefan Fatsis: And.

Josh Levin: Ohio State.

Stefan Fatsis: TCU.

Josh Levin: Mm hmm. They’re a bunch of PAC 12 teams that only have one loss. You’ve got your Clemson with one loss. You’ve got Tennessee. That’s one loss. You’ve got undefeated Georgia. I mean, they would have to pass like so many different teams that I think even Nick Saban is not capable of.

Stefan Fatsis: I will say that voters it would not shock me for voters to elevate a two loss Alabama team over some of those one loss teams.

Josh Levin: We’ll talk about it offline. I will bet you whatever amount of money you want to bet. Okay. Whatever amount of odds, that’s fine. I’m not I’m not a betting man.

Stefan Fatsis: But you’re not a betting man. You get very aggressive there with that.

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Josh Levin: Betting, but you’re just wrong. Okay. I’m happy to take advantage of that.

Stefan Fatsis: Happy to be wrong.

Joel Anderson: The thing is, Josh is right. But look how defensive he gets in the face of challenging LSU’s divine right to play in the SEC Championship game.

Josh Levin: Divine right. That’s. That’s exactly right.

Josh Levin: You said that Georgia is kind of by acclimation the not only the best team this year, but the best program I always feel like and not to defend Stefan here, but rumors of Alabama’s demise are always exaggerated. And so why why are you so quick to crown Georgia as the best program?

Joel Anderson: And let me just back up for a second, because the thing that that opens the door for Georgia is Alabama’s decline. And so Alabama did make it to the national championship game last year.

Josh Levin: Had some decline.

Joel Anderson: You’re right, the Heisman Trophy winner. And they had the best offensive player in the country. Right. And Will Anderson, not my cousin, but whatever. But I think if you looked at them play over the last few years and particularly this year, you see the erosion of talent in spots at Alabama, like they’re not as dominant on the offensive or defensive lines. The defensive backs, which used to be Nick Saban specialty, like that’s how he came up through the coaching pipeline. The defensive backs don’t play nearly as well as they used to. They have never I mean, since they lost that great wide receiver class that had John Michie, Jamison Williams And then really if you go further back to Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, those guys, they don’t have a dude at Receive and I’d say Smith Yeah, the Heisman Trophy winner from a couple of years ago they’ve not. It’s taken them a couple of years and they still not really replace those guys.

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Joel Anderson: But I think the thing that is most interesting here to me is that people think Nick Saban is sort of like Tom Brady or LeBron and that they think he’s the same and that because he sort of looks the same and he’s been on the sideline and Alabama has been really good, not as dominant, but pretty good that it’s all the same. But Nick Saban is 71 years old. His best years are behind him at this point. Like, I think that’s pretty much inarguable. And the question is, does he have any great seasons left? And the thing that I would like to use here is 70 using sort of 70 years old is the dividing line here.

Joel Anderson: Bobby Bowden, after he turned 70. Never in the running for national championship, a game he went 12, you know, that year, won a title. The next year he went 11 to and then he never lost fewer than three games again after he turned 70. Joe Paterno after he turned 70, they went 11 and two in 1996 and won the Fiesta Bowl. He coached for 15 more years and had as many seven lost seasons as one lost seasons during that stretch and not really any great ones anymore. Even Eddie Robinson, as I’m talking about Nick Saban’s peers here, Eddie Robinson, he’s seven years old. The last year he won a conference title outright. Of the next eight seasons, only one could be considered pretty good by a former standard. And in half of those seasons, he lost at least six games. So Nick Saban has a claim as possibly the greatest coach in the history of college football.

Joel Anderson: But I don’t think we can overlook the fact that he’s getting older, the fact that he keeps losing staff like you eventually. You cannot keep replacing all the people you lose on staff like Brian De Ball is the head coach of the New York Giants. He used to be your offensive coordinator. Like you just can’t. That brain drain eventually kept up with. He catches up with you, as you might see with a guy like Bill Belichick. So I think that I’m more predicting what seems to me to be obvious that it just can never be as good for Alabama as it has.

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Stefan Fatsis: And yet, Saban did pretty well on the transfer portal this past offseason. Right. And you know that loss to LSU. I didn’t watch all of the game Josh but wow you know is that shock jock shocker.

Joel Anderson: Were you busy watching the Astros? That’s what that was going on. You know, so.

Josh Levin: He was watching a replay of the MLS Cup final.

Stefan Fatsis: I did not watch the replay. I was watching it live.

Josh Levin: But, you know, because it was so good, you just wanted to see it again.

Stefan Fatsis: Can I finish my thought? Would that be okay? They lost by one point when LSU, which had nothing to lose, decided to go for it. And win the game outright.

Josh Levin: Oh, they had everything to lose, Stefan.

Stefan Fatsis: Did they?

Josh Levin: Yes.

Stefan Fatsis: Explain how they already had the two losses.

Joel Anderson: Go ahead.

Josh Levin: Well, I thought it was an interesting analysis in that it’s generally considered like you’re going to get crazily criticized as a coach in that moment if you go for it and you don’t make it, whether it’s fourth down or a big two point conversion like that. But for Kelly, I think in his first season, I think it does establish a kind of like. We’re just going to go after Alabama and not be afraid and just like try to take it to them and that there would be a certain kind of like respect for that even if they didn’t make it.

Josh Levin: And last I guess we’ll never know. But I think there’s always incredibly high stakes in this game for both teams, but especially for LSU, just because they have such a complex about Alabama and Saban. And so, you know, they do have a theoretical chance now to make the the playoff. And so they did have that to lose and like they now are the favorite to get to the SCC championship game. So they did have that to lose. And so I think it’s a little unfair to say that this was like a free roll or something like that.

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Stefan Fatsis: I’m not saying it was a free roll. I’m saying it was an incredibly gutsy roll. They win the game right there and it’s there. They’re still in contention for the national championship. They’re still in contention to win the SCC. It’s a pretty great move. I mean, if they kick the extra point and it’s tied 5050 going forward.

Joel Anderson: Yeah. And I kind of think I kind of agree. So if he loses this game like I don’t think any as long as they were competitive and they were then I think people can look at the program and feel pretty good about the direction. But on the other hand, by winning it, then we’re having the conversations that we’re having today, which is everybody realizes, Oh wait, Brian Kelly is actually a really good coach and he’s won everywhere he’s been. And why wouldn’t he went at LSU now that he has access to all the athletes that he couldn’t get to Notre Dame? Right. So I think that the win was big for narrative less for like the actual results of the season because I still think even though LSU is going to play in the SCC championship game, I don’t think anybody thinks that they’re really going to make the playoffs, right?

Josh Levin: Yeah, they’re huge, huge underdogs, you know, and it’s probably it’s certainly not a sure thing that they’ll go undefeated the rest of the regular season like they have to play at Arkansas and at Texas A&M. And so yeah it’s it’s a it’s a long shot for sure. But I wanted to talk about A&M because I’m obsessed with what’s going on there with Jimbo Fisher having this $95 million contract brought in by a school that has seen college football supremacy as kind of its rightful. Path and has thrown everything possible to get there.

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Josh Levin: Since I joined the FCC, you know, new stadium, just an incredible amount of booster money to finance everything to get that contract, which LSU’s now athletic director gave to Jimbo Fisher, the biggest guaranteed contract ever in the history of the sport.

Josh Levin: And then these number one recruiting classes job that they’ve kind of had role in year after year and all of this new money that’s going to all of these players. And so to see them lose five in a row, like they have the latest to Florida this weekend, it is an absolute debacle.

Josh Levin: And I guess the to I’m curious what your view on it is. Number one, one possible view is that Key West is maybe the toughest division and like any sport it’s just like to to be to do what Alabama has done and just dominate every year. That’s what makes it Saban the best coach ever and the most accomplished coach ever. It’s just like all of these places are just throwing every possible resource and it’s just highly competitive. And so to imagine that you could throw money at it and just win all the time is just like not it’s not possible. It’s like hubris to think that you could do it. Or I guess the other argument is that like, yeah, if you do and that’s all this money and get the number one recruiting classes, you should honestly do better. Like even with the gravity of the SEC pulling everything down that they just like massively fuck this up.

Joel Anderson: And it’s really tough because A&M is always sort of occupied the space in college football where the belief is that they should be doing better than they are and it’s still really good, like they’re a pretty good school, but they’ve never actually been a consistent national championship contender. And so I don’t.

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Josh Levin: With the amount they’ve invested in it, you would have think like, Oh yeah, they’ve won four national championships or you know.

Joel Anderson: Right. And I think the thing is maybe it A&M part that there’s a lot of delusion there. One that Jimbo Fisher is the guy and to believe that Jimbo Fisher is the guy, you have to overlook the fact that, yes, he did build one of the best college football teams in college football history at Florida State in 2013 with Jameis Winston. Right. But then you have to ignore how the program fell apart, like right before he left and he leapt over to A&M. And so it’s like people should think about, man, what was going on there. Yeah, anybody can build a champion for one years at or strong can show you right but like to sustain a program.

Josh Levin: Yeah that’s a really good point, Stefan. Like what if Jimbo had stayed around for a couple of years and had the, like, bad years that Kojo had at LSU? Or if, like, Kojo had left you after they won a championship, like, it would have, we would have thought of those coaches differently.

Joel Anderson: And I think the the thing for people that aren’t Texans and who’ve never been to College Station, this is the thing about college football. That’s great because I wanted to mention that about Georgia, that like, you know, a little bit about the towns and the coaches around the program. College Station is a weird fucking place, man. You know what I mean? Like, just it’s really hard to get black inner city kids, Dallas, Houston and everywhere else to want to go there. And it’s I mean, you can but.

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Josh Levin: They have.

Joel Anderson: This sort of not not not in the proportion though that you would you would think in historically so they have once upon a time in the nineties.

Josh Levin: There’s no there’s no number in a recruiting class higher the number one you think they should have been number zero and the recruiting and the recruiting.

Joel Anderson: Rate. Well no I mean this is I mean this is a new thing though. I mean this is the first time that this has ever happened and under the auspices of the in L.A. But I don’t I don’t think that that’s going to be ultimately sustainable. Like, I think you could do it once. I don’t think that you can always do it. I mean, Ole Miss had great recruiting class. It would be freezing there. But I don’t think anybody would look askance if I said, you know what, It’s really hard to get black athletes to go to Ole Miss consistently. And I think that that’s sort of the same thing with College Station, that it’s like, yeah, you can do it. You could do a one off, but can you do it at the rate that Georgia, Alabama, some of those other programs can?

Joel Anderson: No, I don’t. I don’t think so. And I think we’re going to see that class is probably going to fall apart this year like a lot of guys are going to transfer out. Maybe they’re not going to be eligible, whatever. And then we’ll see what A&M really is, which is fundamentally a eight and four program. That’s that’s who they’ve always been. That’s who they’re always going to be. Maybe every you know, maybe the one year that people got excited about Carpenter in that pandemic year. And people drew a lot of conclusions from that. And I just think that, you know, in the long term, A&M is going to settle back to the mean. It’s not going to be as bad as it is this year, but it’s never going to be as great as I think it should be.

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Stefan Fatsis: Before we finish up with TCU, Joel, what do you do? Josh, About about Jimbo Fisher. This is a $95 million guaranteed contract through 2031. They got off on completely the wrong foot or the most amusing foot back in the wind. Tour with that Nick Saban Jimbo feud about who’s recruiting and who’s buying him. Then Lane Kiffin got dragged into it and he’s been trolling Fisher since during the season. And so what do you do as 95 million not the ceiling for how much of a college football school and its boosters are willing to to to write a check for to get rid of a coach. Is there a limit.

Josh Levin: If they bought him out for that amount of money, I think it would just be like maybe the grossest thing that’s happened and like a really gross sport. I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think what they’ll do and we’ve already kind of heard rumblings of this, Rachel, is they’ll just like replace every person on that staff and in that institution that you could possibly replace who isn’t.

Joel Anderson: Jimbo Fisher The stripped for parts. That’s right.

Josh Levin: Because the thing that’s so remarkable about it is that he’s known as this offensive guru, this quarterback guru, and they have the streak where they, like, can’t score more than 24 points. I mean, I guess they scored 28 in a loss a couple of weeks ago. But in a high scoring era in college football, in a school that has like every like great skill position player coming out of high school, they just can’t do anything on offense.

Josh Levin: And you have like Lane Kiffin, who’s a really he he had a reputation kind of earlier in his career as being a little bit of a huckster, a lot of a huckster and kind of being all sizzle and no steak. I mean, that guy is very good at coaching offensive football at Ole Miss. I mean, if they had him with those recruiting classes, I don’t think there’s any question that they would be like doing miles upon miles better.

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Josh Levin: And so they’ve just got to find like when LSU, you know, brought in you know, a offensive guru to like pair with Joe Burrow under at odor on like it can turn around I’m not saying it’s likely that that it well but I’m saying given the talent they have there it can turn around pretty quickly and I think still with Jimbo Fisher they’re.

Joel Anderson: It’s going to require Jimbo to give up control of that offense. And as you see with offensive coaches, yeah, and it may not happen, but, you know, hey, look, there’s another alternative to a $95 million buyout. And I don’t know if you guys were watching the Paul Finebaum Show a month ago before the losing streak had gotten quite as bad, the A&M fan told Finebaum, Hey, a hit man is a lot cheaper than a $95 million buyout. So that’s how well things are going in College Station. And that was a month ago.

Stefan Fatsis: All right. Quickly, Joel, are you happy?

Joel Anderson: You know, happiness isn’t a permanent state, You know what I mean? Like, it’s not a fixed date. You go in and out of it, that is life. Check back with me next month after.

Stefan Fatsis: No, don’t worry, Boston.

Joel Anderson: I know. I know you will. I’m sure you will. In the next segment, we’re going to talk to me about Herschel Walker and.

Josh Levin: Fivethirtyeight’s latest Senate forecast gives Republicans a 54% chance of winning control of that body. So basically a dead heat and one of the likeliest tipping point states is Georgia, where Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock is running against Republican Herschel Walker. You may have heard of that second guy used to play for the Georgia Bulldogs, went to the USFL, then the Cowboys got traded to the Vikings for a huge haul. A draft picks allegedly threatened his ex-wife with the gun, allegedly paid for a couple of abortions despite allegedly being pro-life with no exceptions. But anyway, control of one of the main levers of our democracy may come down to whether he wins or loses.

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Josh Levin: Then a piece published this weekend on Slate.com, our own Joel Anderson asked an important question Why? Why is Herschel doing this? Joel. To answer that question, you spoke to his old karate teacher, the guy who was the artistic director of the Fort Worth Ballet back when Walker made a cameo appearance with him in the eighties. What did you learn from those conversations and from all your other research into what is going on inside Herschel Walker has had?

Joel Anderson: Yes, sir. So, I mean, I guess, you know, Herschel Walker spent much of the last 25 years, which is, you know, dates to the end of his NFL career, if not the last 40, which is the end of his college career, sort of trying to capture the former glory of his playing days. And look, I mean, the important thing to remember, everybody that’s here that follow sports should know that hardly anyone who’s played college football did it as well or as legendarily as Herschel Walker. For a lot of people, their memories of him are fixed on this period from 1980 to 82 when he was the best player in college football and maybe the best college football player ever. Like ESPN just a couple of years ago, ranked in the second best college football player of all time behind Jim Brown. He was a five star recruit before people really even called them that. And he led Georgia to a national championship as a freshman. And then he really got famous over the next two seasons.

Joel Anderson: And so the theory of the piece is that he’s been chasing that high ever since, you know, this great, you know, warrior athlete who also has been smart or thoughtful or maybe just cynical enough to create a sort of off field persona that is a renaissance man. He’s a poet. He’s danced, he’s done M.A., karate run his own business, wanted to be the face of mental illness in this country. He’s always been sort of reaching and hoping that he can be back in the spotlight in the way that he was in the early 1980s or even during the course of his NFL career.

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Stefan Fatsis: How much of Herschel Walker’s of this mythology that Herschel Walker has erected around himself actually is grounded in truth? Feels like a lot of what Walker has written in his autobiography and things that he has said publicly just don’t hold up to any scrutiny whatsoever. And you know, whether that’s a comment on the politics of our times or not, and obviously it is in some ways it’s troubling that he’s been able to just sort of perpetuate this this false story about his life for so long, isn’t it?

Joel Anderson: Yeah. I mean, the truth of the matter for Herschel Walker is that the football part is gold, right? Like, you know, Right. Like all of that is true and it can be very.

Stefan Fatsis: Was not good for people who don’t remember him playing.

Joel Anderson: He was that dude. Although, you know, and I read an interesting piece by a guy, a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, who argues that Herschel Walker was not quite as good of the college football players we remember. And that a lot of that is mythology as well. I wasn’t old enough to watch Herschel Walker at that time, so I don’t remember. But I do remember him always being famous and a good football player from that time.

Joel Anderson: But the broader thing is that anything away from football then we sort of venture into I don’t know if he’s telling the truth about that from the idea that he told people that he was the valedictorian of his high school class and a member of the Beta Club in the school. Like if any place would want to verify that it would be the high school that he went to. And they’ve not been able to verify that he was the valedictorian.

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Joel Anderson: Right. That he graduated in the top 1% of his class at the University of Georgia. The University of Georgia is like that. Do don’t even have a college degree. The business that he ran like a chicken a chicken products business. And he says, oh, this is one of the biggest, largest companies in the country. And that’s not true whatsoever. So, you know, it’s once you start getting away from football, it’s kind of all the all the other myth making that he did for himself. In large part, it does seem to be largely myth, not necessarily true.

Joel Anderson: And just one quick thing. Growing up, you know, the thing they said about Herschel Walker is that he did not lift weights. I just remember this Like this was a big part of the mythology around that Mars walk every night that thousands of. Push ups and sit ups, and I was just like, That doesn’t even make sense. Like, that just sounds stupid. And I’ve always even thought that that was a lie. Like going back as a kid, I was like, that didn’t even I. It sounds like the kind of thing you say to make people think that you’re a special kind of a guy. And I don’t know. The numbers always change, He said. 2500 pushups, a thousand push ups like it always sort of differs every time people ask him. And so I just think this is just a large bit of who he is, is that he’s had to construct all this other stuff around it and people were willing to do it. People were willing to believe him up until now, when he’s in the middle of the spotlight.

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Josh Levin: So one of the most interesting things that you dug up was this profile of Herschel, run by Henry Lee Freeman for The New York Times Magazine in 1981, which is at the height of Herschel mania. And the thing that’s so interesting about it can drill down to it just with this one quote that you put in your piece and I’m quoting from from the article here it is also said he is not the quiet, reasonable, hardworking young man he presents himself to be, but a teenage black Svengali, coolly calculating plans for fame and fortune ever since high school.

Josh Levin: So. You could say like, Oh, well, they were kind of random from the beginning there. That’s kind of what what you’ve been saying about him now. But the word that’s in there that’s just like doesn’t need to be in there is black. Just like that doesn’t really have anything to do with you know, you could just say a teenage Svengali coolly calculating plans for fame and fortune ever since high school.

Josh Levin: And I feel like if we had read that at the time, I mean, maybe not at the time, but like reading that now, not knowing about anything else about Herschel Walker is political views or the libs or anything would be like that seems kind of like, you know, racist or like it. So it’s just interesting to look back at this and look about look at like, did they actually have impact at the time or was it like, this is a black guy at this like. Predominantly white, you know, Southern school, just like making lots of waves in ways that the people weren’t happy about.

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Stefan Fatsis: Well, and the first four words of of that quote are the ones that you should also focus on a little. It is also said.

Joel Anderson: Yeah.

Stefan Fatsis: Not exactly the most the most solid sourcing. Yeah.

Joel Anderson: I mean, it was a surprisingly skeptical piece, but normally you don’t see a profile of a college football star be quite that skeptical. Usually it’s more fawning, right? He ventures into hagiography. But I think the context for that is that the big it goes back to Herschel Walker when he was in high school and they had essentially was like racial tumult in his hometown. And the black people there wanted Herschel Walker to side with them and he kept distance from them. He said, I’m not I don’t know anything about this. I don’t want to be interested. And as a result, a lot of the black people from his hometown and a lot of black people in Georgia were skeptical of him from then on out. And so if you look at that story and you read the quotes, it’s a lot.

Joel Anderson: There’s a track athlete named Mel Labine, who I did try to talk to and did not take my call. But they talk about how Herschel Walker, you know, goes out with white women and, you know, which is just sort of like a weird thing. But, I mean, keep in mind, this is the 1980s. This is like it’s sort of a new interracial relationships where at least that went that way. Black man, white woman on a college campus was sort of a newer development. So I can kind of understand how it came up. But I think a lot of the skepticism in the ways that people thought about him, what you’re reading there is in when they say it is also said, I think that is a lot of the black people that have been around Herschel Walker for most of his life are skeptical of him and think that he’s putting on airs and think that he’s putting on a front. And if you look at, you know, polling today, if you look at you talk to people today, it’s much the same thing.

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Joel Anderson: The people that have elevated Herschel Walker throughout much of most of his life have been wealthy, connected white men from Georgia. And that is the story of his football career. That’s been the story of his post-football career. And that is the story of his Senate campaign. A lot of white, wealthy benefactors have been desirous of making him the face of that state come hell or high water. And here we are again.

Stefan Fatsis: Well, we need to get into the why. I mean, what is it about Herschel Walker that he’s this willing vehicle for white people’s exploitation, I think, isn’t it?

Joel Anderson: Yeah. I mean, I think people I mean, people can see the desire he has to maintain that sort of a platform to be that guy. And so at that rate, he’s just a vessel. You’re not going to get Herschel Walker pushing back. You’re not going to get Herschel Walker advocating for things that make people in power uncomfortable. And his primary goal and as he’s mentioned in his autobiography and and over and over again, is that he wanted to be famous, he wanted to be noticed. And this is a way to do that. But if you do that, then you don’t necessarily have any sort of ethical and moral grounding, right. That like, you know, politically, he’s not saying, you know, I really want to do this and now he’s saying it. But like, if you’re if your primary goal is to be famous, that doesn’t set you up to be a really good politician or a good public servant. And so I think that’s how they’ve been able to get to him. That’s because he’s willing.

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Joel Anderson: But also, I mean, men are there for more famous Georgians than Herschel Walker, like Jimmy Carter, Ray Charles, Who else? You know, you get to like. I mean, so if you’re running, you’re running. That got like it makes sense on its face. Like if you were cynical enough and you just want to win power and that guy is going to be somebody that you can work with and not push back and you have access to him and he’s willing to do it, then why not? Why not run? Herschel Walker It’s a really cynical play, but I mean, if we’re looking at polling, it looks like it might actually work.

Josh Levin: So the guy in the Senate who is arguably as unqualified or as seemingly like poorly equipped to handle that role is Tommy Tuberville, the former college football coach who also made his name in the SCC. And there’s an obvious like kind of surface level connection to be made there that being a prominent figure in football just gives you the kind of name recognition.

Josh Levin: But huge difference here is that in Alabama. If you’re a Republican running statewide, you’re going to win. And so he just had all that. Tommy Tuberville had to prove that he was the most obsequious to Donald Trump. Like, that was the kind of, you know, path that he had to go down, which seemed very easy for him to do. That wasn’t much of a stretch.

Josh Levin: But in Georgia, Walker not only had to win over the kinds of people who would make the decision about who the Republican is to run in that race, but he also has to legitimately win a statewide. Election against an incumbent. Raphael Warnock.

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Josh Levin: And so, you know, Joel, what have you seen or what do you think about Walker’s ability to appeal to people who just don’t agree with his politics at all And like trying you know, he’s had a whole lifetime of like develop developing a persona or trying to develop a persona that appeals to the most people possible while while now he has the set of views on abortion and on many other things that a huge percentage of people find to be just crazy.

Joel Anderson: Yeah, I mean, I think the important thing to remember about Herschel Walker is that he doesn’t have to have like a coherent political philosophy, and the Republicans know that and that Herschel Walker has been a famous person in Georgia for the last 40 plus years. He’s been in front of crowds. He’s signed autographs. You know, he’s been one of their most popular, famous native sons. And yes, I mean, he’s black. And the hope is that in a state that is not quite purple, more red than blue. But obviously Georgia has two Democratic senators right now. But in an off, off year election that Herschel Walker can pick off a few of those black voters that you know, hey, man, I know Herschel. I’ve lived here for years. I’ve seen him. He’s famous. He’s a famous football player.

Joel Anderson: And the other thing I mean, the one other thing is that, you know, so I did talk to a lot of people. Not everybody I talked to made it into the article, but a lot of people like Herschel Walker, man, he’s a you know, you can see where he’s a likable guy. He doesn’t say a lot. He sort of carries himself. And that humble that humble pose that people like out of black athletes, He’s not, you know, overly braggadocious, you know, not allowed. Guy just seems to be sort of quiet, well-meaning, well-intentioned, soft spoken, all that stuff. And so that does have some appeal as we’ve sort of been able to see here.

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Joel Anderson: Right. Not everybody can do what Herschel Walker is able to do right here in spite of being so clearly and obviously out of his depth. But like all the things that make Herschel Walker a legend in Georgia are keeping him afloat right now against a guy who I mean, you know, you’d think Raphael Warnock, a black Baptist preacher, man, you know what I mean? The preachers. Martin Luther King’s old church. You’d think that that guy would have a built in advantage. But that’s just not how, you know, this is working right now.

Stefan Fatsis: One last thing I would want to bring up, Joel, is that you mentioned in the piece you get into how Walker’s connection with Donald Trump is the foundation of all this. I mean, Trump is the one that that that that signed him with the New Jersey generals in the USFL. And at the time, as you point out, Walker basically lied to his coach at Georgia Vince Dooley and to the whole state about whether he had signed a contract and whether he would be returning to play another season at Georgia. And just real quickly, talk about how that relationship ends up getting to where we are now.

Joel Anderson: Yeah, right. So when when Herschel is leaving Georgia after his junior year, which is something that is I mean, did not happen, I mean, the NFL wouldn’t even take underclassmen at the time. So the USFL is a new league. It starts up and they make a splash by signing Herschel Walker and he signs with the New Jersey generals and they he’s playing for an old Oklahoma oil man who owns the team. The next year, Donald Trump comes in and buys the New Jersey generals and Herschel Walker plays for Donald Trump for the next two years.

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Joel Anderson: Herschel Walker was taken with Trump. In the book, he writes in the piece I played, in a lot of ways Mr. Trump became a mentor to me, and I modeled myself and my business practices after him was set. I mean, you know, so Herschel followed him onto Celebrity Apprentice. He started businesses When he when he started that chicken products business, he consulted with Donald Trump. He later served on Trump’s Council for Sports Fitness and nutrition.

Joel Anderson: You know, Herschel Walker was seen campaigning with Donald Trump at points during his presidential campaign. So, yeah, they’re really, really close. And he’s meant a lot to Herschel Walker. And you you’d think that this would seem incongruous that Herschel Walker promotes himself as a quiet, humble Christian, you know, devoted, devout young man from Georgia. And he’s, you know, attached himself to this loudmouth provocateur and Donald Trump. But for whatever reason, the relationship seems to work. And I wonder if Herschel Walker sees in Donald Trump what he wishes he was, that he was more audacious, a little more bold, someone who is desirous of the spotlight under any circumstances.

Joel Anderson: You know, for Donald Trump, there’s no such thing as a bad headline, basically. So Herschel Walker, probably. He sees a lot of that and wants it for himself. And, you know, you know, it’s not a surprise that Donald Trump is the person that pushed Herschel Walker into running for this four and running in this race. And presumably the Herschel wins. You know, who’s to say that Donald Trump has to convince them that their higher office is in store for him someday? So, yeah, man, it’s it’s it’s pretty bad. You would never think that the New Jersey generals, I mean, they weren’t a good football team, but you would never think they would have left this kind of legacy. Right.

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Josh Levin: Joel, your piece is headlined Herschel Walker Just Can’t Stop. It’s great. Everybody should check it out. Will link to it in our show notes. Joel Anderson. Thanks for coming on the show.

Joel Anderson: Hey, thanks for having me, guys. A pleasure.

Stefan Fatsis: And now it is time for After Balls, sponsored by Bennett’s prune juice. Endorsed by Kenny Sailors. Who says it was okay. We just mentioned that Herschel Walker as coach at Georgia was Vince Dooley and Duale, as it happens, died late last month at the age of 90. In 25 years at Georgia, from 1963 to 1988, Dooley had 201 wins, 20 bowl appearances, six SEC titles and one national championship. He’s a Hall of Famer, a titan of Georgia and college football.

Stefan Fatsis: But there was much more to Vince Dooley than just football. His New York Times obit noted that Dooley audited classes in history, art history, political science and horticulture, which was a particular interest of his particular interest, is putting it mildly. The great writer and southerner, Tommy Tomlinson, profiled Dooley for Garden and Gun magazine in 2017. It’s a great piece. We’ll link to it on our show page. Tomlinson details how Dooley and retirement first became curious and then obsessive about plants with the help of two Georgia horticulture professors.

Stefan Fatsis: Dooley eventually curated a garden at his Athens home with more than a thousand types of flowers and shrubs. He wrote a book called The Vince Dooley Garden, traveled the world, visiting gardens and speaking at gardening conferences. And to top it off, had varieties of both a Camellia and a hydrangea named for him. The hydrangea was a natural discovery.

Stefan Fatsis: Tomlinson writes that Dooley’s wife, Barbara, had bought three big leaf hydrangeas in 1968, and one of the professors decades later noticed that it might be a unique variety and named it the Dooley Hydrangea. The Vince Dooley Camellia, though, was named in the coach’s honor by the American Camellia Society in 2000 for its petals are scarlet red. Not too far off from the red in George’s uniforms. Joel. What’s your Vince Dooley Camellia?

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Joel Anderson: So last weekend, ESPN’s College GameDay swept into Jackson, Mississippi, to showcase Deion Sanders and the dominant football program He’s built the Jackson State University. It was only the second time that an HBCU historically black college, a university for those who are unfamiliar with acronym, had hosted game day over the course of the show’s 35 years. The first time happened in 2008, when Florida A&M welcomed ESPN’s flagship college football show for a showdown against Hampton. It’s almost always a good thing when gameday comes to town and turns its cameras and reporters on a school. You’ll get some profiles of the game’s most important players and a little background on the institution, both of which happened during the show.

Joel Anderson: And last Saturday’s visit was good for ratings. ESPN said the show had 1.8 million viewers with 2.3 million tuning in for the final hour. Airing the show from Jackson State helped the network register its best nine week start since 2009. It’d be hard not to credit Dionne for at least some of that bump. Hell, without Dionne, GameDay likely wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Joel Anderson: We talked about this last week during our segment on Deion GameDay and his 60 Minutes profile. He’s been by pretty much any standard a smashing success at Jackson State. It’s no question why his name keeps coming up as a candidate for open head coaching positions at Auburn, Arizona State and Georgia Tech, just to name a few. He’s been 23 and five in his time at Jackson State, including a 14 two record in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. With a few more victories. Sanders and Jackson State could clinch their second straight league title. The Tigers also rank in the top ten in the AFC US division, right behind powers like William and Mary in North Dakota State. And that’s to say nothing of the attention and resources he’s been able to draw to Jackson from Barstool Sports, Walmart, Magic Johnson. He’s even been able to bring in rappers like Snoop and Rick Ross and so on. Deon has made the most of this opportunity and Jackson State has been the biggest beneficiary.

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Joel Anderson: But as anyone who listened to our segment on Deon last week knows, I’m a little annoyed at the suggestion that Deon and Deon alone has revived interest in Jackson State and HBCU’s. I’m thinking of a Sports Illustrated article from June headlined How Deion Sanders is Fueling the Rise of HBCU Football. Another headline from September that reads, After a dominating win, it’s as clear as day. Deion Sanders has changed the HBCU landscape completely. 60 Minutes billed their segment from last month as how Deion Sanders is changing the future of college football at Jackson State. But as you surely know, they clearly weren’t talking about his impact on Georgia or USC. And, you know, there’s been a lot more chatter along those lines on social media the past couple of years and especially the past couple of weeks.

Joel Anderson: But look, here’s a little history. Jackson State joined the South Western Athletic Conference in 1958 and the six. The four years since the Tigers have won more than a quarter of the league championships. And while it’s true that Sanders won the school’s first SWAC title in 14 years last fall, Jackson State has winning records against all but three of the league’s current members. Which is to say, Jackson State has always fared well against its peers, sometimes much better.

Joel Anderson: As I mentioned last week, Jackson State has also produced four Pro Football Hall of Famers Liam Barney, Robert Brazile, Walter Payton and Jackie Slater. Only 13 college football teams have produced more Hall of Famers than Jackson State. And Jackson State has produced more than all of the other major Mississippi schools. That’s Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Southern Miss combined. They won sometimes big. They’ve had their share of talent. And guess what? Jackson State has always supported its boys. Jackson State University is historically one of the leaders in attendance for FCS schools, having been number one every year since 2017. It was number one three years before Sanders arrived on campus as number one today and presumably will be number one for years to come.

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Joel Anderson: ESPN GameDay did its part to tell at least some of that story. The crew came to town and put on a good show. They scoped out a historic diner that once fed civil rights activists and highlighted the 1974 team that featured three of those four Hall of Famers, Payton Slater and Brazil. But they’d finished 17 three and in third place in the SWAC. And of course, there was a lot of Deion. Deon, as is his wont, basked in the attention and adulation. We’ll play a clip here.

Speaker 7: How would you put in perspective what you faced when you came here to get this program to this point, the vision that it took when you first initially got here?

Joel Anderson: Well, is is no way to get to the top without facing adversity, some tremendous adversity. Oftentimes, adversity is inside the house as well as outside the house. But see, that might seem like an offhand remark there, but I want to put a pin in that for a second. SANDERS Maybe by accident, maybe not. Has repeatedly given the impression that HBCU’s don’t know how to handle their own business. That the reasons HBCUs have slipped in talent and prominence over the past few decades is because they squandered some sort of advantages they should have over, say, Tulane or South Florida.

Joel Anderson: And that’s great for Dillon because it sets them up to be a savior. He can sweep into the SWAC, call in some favors, draw lots of attention and win a bunch of games, and ask everyone else why they can’t do the same. He got Walmart CEO on the phone in Jackson State, got a new practice field. His friend Michael Strahan hooked the school up with suits from his clothing line. Another friend, Magic Johnson, helped to get a new dining hall built for the players walk in Alabama A&M and Texas Southern do the same, right? If Dion can do it, so can they. So goes the assumption there. But no.

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Joel Anderson: HBCU is a star for resources for lots of reasons, some of them because they serve a population that traditionally doesn’t have tens of millions of dollars to spend on capital projects, and largely because state governments don’t kick in their fair share. Higher education experts have said HBCUs have been underfunded for decades, up into billions of dollars in state funding that should have gone to those schools but was diverted by lawmakers for other purposes. As the Alabama A&M president told CBS News last year. Our institutions have not and still are not being treated the same. I would love it if Diana would remind people of this repeatedly when they ask him how other HBCUs can do the same thing he did at Jackson State. Look, Diane’s done some very positive things in a short amount of time, no question. Josh and I both thought he was going to cause a mess there. And boy, we were wrong. But let’s not pretend that it’s never been done before and that it couldn’t be done over and over again in a better and fairer world.

Joel Anderson: HBCU can often lean on to Walmart or drum up a little interest from Barstool. Deion and Jackson State are having a moment and it’s big for them and they should embrace it. But when he’s gone, likely as soon as this winter, Jackson State in the SWAC are still going to fill stadiums, still support those athletes as best they can and fight for resources they should not have to fight for. The real success will be if GameDay returns to Jackson or anywhere in the SWAC again someday for something other than a one man show.

Josh Levin: That was gradual. And is it as simple as wanting to hear Deion say something like. Yeah. The issues at Jackson State and at other schools are substantial. And like, here are the people that are responsible for that. You know, state lawmakers and that’s the one thing that we haven’t heard is some like kind of wading into the politics of the situation. And I wonder if that’s because he wants to be above politics or if it’s because he just doesn’t see it that way, that he sees it as like the school not taking care of its business.

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Joel Anderson: Yeah, I don’t think it would be politically savvy to take on the Mississippi state government. Right. Because they would only punish Jackson State more. But I also don’t think that’s where his politics are. I mean, cause I think I mean, we’re looking at a guy that’s in business with Barstool. Right. And I think that you have to be a certain kind of person and have a certain kind of politics to, you know, do business with Barstool and bring them on to your campus. So it may be that he has some understanding that HBCU is a sort of store for resources, but is not understanding or doesn’t care about the larger forces at play there. And I should add, that wouldn’t make Deon all that different from a whole bunch of other black people, even those that went to HBCU’s. Right. Like that puts him firmly in the mainstream, But it’s just too bad that somebody at that position has not thought a little bit more deeply or at least decided to articulate that that bind that HBCU is in.

Josh Levin: That is our show for today.

Josh Levin: Our producer is Kevin Bendis told us in the past year. And subscriber just reach out. Go to Slate.com slash hang up and you can email us at hang up at Slate.com and please subscribe and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts for Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis and Josh Levin members Aliabadi And thanks for listening.

Josh Levin: Now. It is time for our bonus segment for Slate Plus members and Sons. We talked about Kyrie Irving on last week’s show. Kyrie Irving has said various things. There’s a little press scrum midweek last week where asked if he held anti-Semitic beliefs, he said, I cannot be anti-Semitic if I know where I come from. Case closed. Everybody was happy with that answer.

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Josh Levin: Now, then, I think owing to his performance in that press conference and also based on reporting from Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne, Nets ownership and management’s complete ability to even speak to Kyrie Irving in the past week or so, the Nets suspended him for five games and said it was actually a minimum of five games. And then after that happened, Stefan Kyrie posted on Instagram to all Jewish families and communities that are hurt and affected from my post. I am deeply sorry to have caused you pain and I apologize. We’ve all been following this closely, Stefan. What is your take on the past week and Kyrie who’ve?

Stefan Fatsis: Well, his apology was sort of an apology. I mean, he did say I apologize, but he also continued to sort of dig a trench from his original tweet, which he didn’t get into Josh, which was that he he tweeted about a documentary or a film or something that has been assembled according to people that actually watched it in a format that you visually watch called Hebrews to Negroes. And Irving in that apology said that there was still a factual explanation outlining the specific beliefs in the documentary that I agreed and disagreed with. That’s what was missing.

Stefan Fatsis: So he doesn’t actually you know, he didn’t actually say that he disagreed with this film. He didn’t actually say that he, you know, was wrong to support this or endorse it or promote it. I mean, this movie ended up being on like some of Amazon’s, you know, top lists. He has impact. He never sort of addressed the fact that he used his platform with millions of followers on social media. And also, by the way, isn’t he a vice president of the NBA Players Association and still wouldn’t walk away from the source of the original controversy, which was this film?

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Joel Anderson: You know, I’ve never seen anybody in. And because of segregation, not very many white people get to know people like Kyrie Irving who have these sorts of these sort of politics like the or, you know, dabble in black kids, Hebrew Israelite ideology. And my belief is that he’s far gone. Like I, I was trying to think about, have I ever known anybody that has ever come back from the brink once they’ve sort of indulged this sort of wacky, you know, the wacky conspiracy theories and ideology of the black Hebrew Israelites. And I couldn’t come up with one because it’s a really seductive and it’s really powerful.

Joel Anderson: And there you know, Kyrie said it in that initial press conference that got him in trouble. I’ve got an army behind me. Well, he’s right. I mean, there are a lot of people that believe that, like, I’m not, you know, not a substantial enough number to cause any real dent or change in American culture or anything like that, but enough to make him feel like he’s got the support that he needs and that he doesn’t have to. You know, apologize for what he’s what he believes right now.

Joel Anderson: So that leaves us with the problem, right? Like. If he’s not going to back away from any of this stuff in the nets or like what you’re doing and what you’re saying is untenable, then I mean, it kind of seems like what we said last week is sort of on the table here that we might not see Kyrie Irving in the NBA again. Because at a certain point, I mean, what NBA team would be willing to take on a guy like that? Like, I mean, even if like, okay, let’s even set this stuff aside, dude won’t get Vaxxed. Dude shows up when he wants to show up, has all this other stuff, like with what about. With Kyrie Irving has done in the last four years. What make you think that any team would be willing to take a risk on this guy and bring him in? Like, it’s just not worth it.

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Stefan Fatsis: I really think that the Nets aren’t going to put him back in the lineup in a week after the five games are done.

Joel Anderson: I know. Do you? I mean, I don’t. I don’t. I don’t. I think that they’re really mad at him. I mean, just judging from the statements they’ve made and it doesn’t seem like they’ve been able to get through him and even talk to him, as you mentioned, like it doesn’t even seem like they’ve really had a face to face conversation. So, like, how could the Nets trust that that guy is somebody you that you want wearing your brand, affiliating your brand with? I mean, Nike Nike, which is I mean, pays him as much money as the NBA. Like it’s pulled away from him. Right. So, like, if Nike can look at him and say, I don’t think we want to be in business with that guy, why would the Nets be any different?

Josh Levin: So if you look at what he’s done over the last couple of weeks, you would say up until this Instagram post where he said the phrase, I apologize, you would think that everything was pointing in the direction of him not wanting to play basketball because like the word idiot is very reductive. He’s smart enough to understand what he’s doing to his career like that. I think we can agree with like I think he must have known it a while ago, like a few clicks back in the story that he wasn’t helping himself vis a vis his bosses and, you know, the commissioner of the NBA and lots of other people that will determine, you know, that the other team’s like places that will determine whether he has a playing career. And he just kept kind of digging in.

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Josh Levin: And the thing that’s a little bit confounding there is that when the nets after they couldn’t reach him, they were only speaking through his stepmother, who’s also his agent after he did that press conference where he refused to apologize or denounce the movie, and then only after they suspended him at that point was the first kind of moment where you could see like some kind of level of interest in self-preservation, where even if we’re saying he went through the motions and it wasn’t enough, he did say, I apologize, which seems to indicate the only reason that he would do that is if he wanted to play basketball again.

Josh Levin: And so I think Steph and the thing that will determine, oh, I forgot to mention one other really important thing as far as the franchise is concerned, not important at all in terms of like the impact of what he said, but in terms of his future employment, it is very important is that in the game that he played while this was going on against the Bulls, he didn’t try. He was like very visibly like he didn’t shoot. He is like averaging 30 points a game and then like all of this goes down and he’s just like clearly just like not giving any kind of effort in that game. And so if you’re the the team and you look at all this, then what are you supposed to think? It’s just like a guy who’s clearly not interested in playing.

Josh Levin: But then this apology happens. And so, Stefan, I think the thing that’ll be determinative at this point is like. Does he kind of lean in to self-preservation at this point? And does he do it in such a way that the team either believes is meaningful or thinks appears meaningful enough that they can countenance having him in their uniform again?

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Stefan Fatsis: Josh, based on what we’ve seen historically with Kyrie Irving, I don’t think there’s a lot of evidence that he is going to to continue the apology tour here.

Josh Levin: It’s surprising in some ways that he apologized at all.

Joel Anderson: That’s why I was really surprised by that. I did not see that coming at all.

Josh Levin: That’s why I mean, he’s very he’s in many ways extremely predictable. But this, like, apology has like thrown me a little bit.

Stefan Fatsis: So I do wonder if he’s true to his character, though. Josh, isn’t he just going to get up there the next time when somebody questions him or continues to question him about this and do what he did in that press conference, which was basically to say, how dare you question me? I am a man on my journey and you need to respect that journey. I mean, what evidence do we have that he’s going to change at all from that?

Josh Levin: I think probably and I think it’s very important that this apology was just in text on Instagram, like, I have a hard time imagining him saying this to anyone’s face. But yeah, I think we’ll have to see. And I think we can stop at this point because it’s all kind of speculation.

Stefan Fatsis: Well, what’s not speculation about Joel is the way that everyone reacted to it. I mean, the NBA did not cover itself in glory here. It took them over a week to respond. The players association took a long time to respond. Other players didn’t exactly come out and be critical.

Joel Anderson: I think they were waiting on the Nets to see if they could get through to him and obviously that didn’t and hasn’t gone very well.

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Josh Levin: And I mean, Kevin Durant, you know, we’ve talked about it a nauseum about how he hedged himself to Kyrie. But, you know, his response to all this was, can we just please talk about something else? Like, he is clearly not going to. Not that we should necessarily expect him to do something that the owner and the commissioner don’t do. But he’s clearly not going to be the person to publicly break with Kyrie and or demand that he do anything. He’s just kind of going to wait to be traded or just wait for. He just wants to play basketball.

Stefan Fatsis: I mean, LeBron has come the closest to disavowing Kyrie so far.

Josh Levin: We will be following the story.