The USA Dos, Mexico Cero Edition

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S1: The following podcast includes explicit language, including, well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

S2: Hi, I’m Josh Levin Slate’s national editor, and this is hang up and listen for the week of November 15th, 2021. On this week’s show. Soccer writer Grant Wahl will join us to talk about the U.S. men’s national team’s dominant win over Mexico will also discuss how ESPN’s Adam Schefter helped launder a story about alleged domestic abuse against the Vikings running back at Dalvin Cook.• and we’ll look into the war of words between the NBA’s Morris twins and Jokic brothers and what makes a good sibling Twitter basketball be very specific. I am in Washington, D.C. I’m the author of The Queen and the host of the podcast One Year. Season two in 1995 is out this week. Episode one Thursday, November 18th. Joining me from Palo Alto as the slow burn season six on the L.A. riots got a lot of podcasts to listen to you. Not just this one. Hang up, listeners, because we’ve got first two episodes of Slow Burn six out now, episode three of this week. What’s up, Joel?

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S3: What’s up, man? Nineteen ninety five big year for me, that was my final year of high school, first semester of my final year high school. You’re going to cover that in what I’m trying to kind

S2: of combat where you are 10 years old in 1995. Heck, about the

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S3: mathematics doesn’t work. I did some important things. In 1995, I went for over 1000 yards. Average seven yards carry, you know, stuff like that.

S2: Yeah, that was the that was the the year when you had your four touchdown game. So yeah, I

S3: touched down, had a couple of games with four touchdowns. I mean, not to brag which one, which one are you? What’s funny is we don’t have any words to say that we don’t have to get into that. I mean, Central Catholic, whatever, but go ahead.

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S2: The point you’re trying to make is one year in 1995. This week on Thursday with us from D.C., Stefan Fatsis. Other word freak. A few seconds of panic, wild and inside o Stefan.

S1: No podcast for me, except this one clearly slacker among us now.

S2: Oh man. Your contributions to the shower are worth three podcasts, at least. Joel You’re going to step waivers. I hope you’ll be back with us for free. Adam Schefter.•.

S3: If you all are kind enough to have me back, I’ll come back.

S1: On Friday in Cincinnati, the United States men’s national soccer team dust settled Mexico once again. It was the most impressive and important to nil win since the round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup finals in South Korea, when Christian Pulisic headed in a perfect cross from Tim Waya in the 75th minute. I leapt off the couch and screamed, no cheering in the press box, but cheering in my living room. 11 minutes later, Weston McKennie finished off L-3 from close range. Grant Wahl was at the game. He wrote about it on his new Substack Football with Grant Wahl, to which you should subscribe immediately. He’s with us now from Irishtown Jamaica, where the Americans play their next qualifier for the 2022 World Cup on Tuesday. Welcome back to the show, Grant.

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S4: Thanks for having me.

S1: This was in my expert and totally unbiased opinion, a total ass kicking and more than the scoreline. This is what sticks with me. The US played aggressive, fast paced, incredibly skillful and sometimes beautiful football against their biggest rival. This promise of a generation of exceptional players for the first time felt very, very real.

S4: You’re totally right, and it’s interesting because this is the third time the U.S. has beaten Mexico in the last five months. But in those first two wins, you could say that actually Mexico controlled those games in the U.S. just happened to score on counters and set pieces. This game this past week was different because the U.S. controlled the game. They dominated it and they deserved to beat a Mexico team that just wasn’t threatening in any way, shape or form. And you know, when you have your arch rival just being dominated like that very pro-U.S. crowd, which is also different in Cincinnati, there’s more excitement, I feel like around this U.S. men’s national team since any time, maybe since the 2014 World Cup, you know, because just the way they’re playing, it’s not just that they’re getting set pieces and things like that for goals, they’re playing good soccer. And that was definitely the case against Mexico. And now they just need to keep it up in this next game on the road at Jamaica, which is kind of a trap game, potentially.

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S2: I wanted to talk about Tim Way for a moment because he’s been the man of the match, arguably in the last two matches in qualifying, and he’s a guy who was sort of on a list of players like, Oh, we’ve got Pulisic and Reyna. And like, he was maybe like sixth or eighth on that list just due to injury and and not really putting things together for the national team. And the fact that he didn’t he wasn’t going to start in that second, the last game until Paul Arriola got hurt and warm ups, you know, are all his injury as a potentially decisive moment in this qualifying cycle, given that it gave way to an opportunity to get into the starting line up. And I don’t want to crap on Paul Arriola, Sam national team fans do, but I do think it’s a telling example. Like he’s a guy who works really hard, gets himself into good positions as sort of like a classic U.S. men’s national team player and a lot of ways. But like just doesn’t have didn’t ever have the final ball or the skill to really do something big in these big moments. And Tim way it does. And so just that that feels to me like a kind of microcosm of what’s going on with this team, though. Like where for Arriola substitution?

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S4: Yeah. Tim Waya is really looking good lately, and he’s still a young player who has come off a really severe hamstring injury, but, you know, did win a French league title with Lille last season and really seems to be coming into his own now with the U.S. national team. He’s getting opportunities. He’s taking advantage of them being dangerous. Really, the whole game and, you know, sometimes we even forget this guy has an amazing story. His father, George Weah, one of the great players of all time and won a Ballon d’Or and now is the president of the country of Liberia. And by the way, Tim Way as mom is Jamaican, so he’s got a connection to this Jamaica game too. So really an interesting player and person. And it’s starting to come together now for him, and it is a microcosm of this team under Greg Berhalter. They haven’t had that many games together over the last couple of years due to COVID. For one thing, and is as talented as you might be, you might be playing for elite clubs in Europe as several of these U.S. players are. You need to play together to develop chemistry, you need to go into road environments and CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. And what we’re seeing now is that they’re getting more games together and game by game, not every game, because it’s not totally linear, but more often than not, they’re looking better together every game. And that, I think, should give U.S. fans hope, not just for qualifying for the World Cup, but for what might happen if the World Cup itself.

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S1: And I think that is the essential factor here, that these are a collection of extremely young players. I mean, average age of what, 22 23 Grant. Yeah. Who have played together sparingly, largely because they haven’t played at a high level much before, because they’re 18 and 19 and 20 years old. And I think another player that we should talk about who excelled against Mexico is Yunus Moosa. This is a player who chose to play for the United States. Raised in England was discovered by a coach who learned about his American connection and just plays sort of world class football at a very young age. And seeing him integrate in the midfield with other Americans playing at elite clubs in Europe. Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams is exciting.

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S4: It really is. And we even have a moniker now for the U.S. midfield. May Yunus Moosa, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and right now, that’s your three man central midfield. Maybe not just for this year, but for the next 10 years. Because news is just 18, Adams is just 22. McKenzie’s 23. And they work really well together. And Musa was fantastic against Mexico. He has this ability not just to pass the ball well, but to on the dribble, just take players on and get the ball into space in a way that nobody else on this U.S. team does. And that’s a huge weapon in the modern game. And the fact that he’s just 18 and actually hasn’t played that much for Valencia in Spain this season really has you excited about what he could become and what he is right now is very impressive as well. I actually interviewed Musa for my site last Thursday night right before the game, and he was talking about how he studied Yaya Touré, who was one of the best players. Maybe in an underrated way of the past decade when he was at his best and Yaya Turay was a guy who could, you know, do a lot in the midfield. Big guy like Musa is but very nimble, great dribbling the ball, tremendous skill and just just tremendously impressive.

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S2: So before the game, Mexican goalkeeper Mimmo Ochoa said Mexico is the mirror in which the United States wants to see itself. When Christian Pulisic scores his headed goal lifts his shirt up. Poor job by ESPN not to show what was on the shirt during the broadcast, but it said Man in the mirror and a kind of handwritten scrawl. A couple of different ways we can go with this conversation number one. I feel like that was a little bit over praised. It doesn’t make that much sense if you really drill down deep into it as as trash talk, it’s just very hard to. It’s very convoluted, hard to understand. But it does show that this is a team that has a lot of confidence, a lot of camaraderie. I think it was like Tim, who was part of like telling the kit man to like, write this on politics. But it also was like, Tim, why I didn’t write it on his own shirt. They, like Pulisic, is like the talisman of this team. He’s back and like for all that you guys are talking about. This was a dominant game. The US didn’t score until Christian Pulisic came off the bench and like the best player on the team, came in and changed the game. So I don’t know if that changes should change our conversation about, like the pecking order between U.S. and Mexico. They’re like, maybe this game is different if like one guy isn’t on the field four for the U.S., but Pulisic definitely may have made a difference.

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S4: He did make a difference. There’s a lot to process with what you put out there, but I would say the whole man, the mere thing. You’re right, it didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense, and maybe it makes more sense in Spanish, which is the language in which Ochoa first said it. I don’t think it was some huge take down disrespecting the United States, but the U.S. players sure thought so. And I think Greg Burkhalter, the coach, clearly talked about that with his team. He talked about it in the press conference the day before the game. And so this is a very classic. They’re not respecting as kind of situation, and players are often often looking for stuff like that, too. So Buckner you

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S2: related to the drive and eat that. Nor do you really need to contrive anything in this rivalry in this game in this moment, but it does add a little space. It’s not not a bad thing, but

S1: I also read that this was just the players like having fun with each other, and that’s a good thing. You know, learning how to tattoo, to sort of step up to this rivalry and deal with it on the field is becoming it’s becoming clear that the Americans are learning how to do that. I mean, the way they reacted when Chakka Rodriguez of Mexico basically gouged the the the right eye of Brenden Aaronson during a scrum on the field was also pretty telling. I mean, this was a classic case of CONCACAF, you know, bad refereeing, no VAR, no way to address this and handled incredibly poorly because it was clearly a red card. He tried to rip his eyeball out, but the players said, Fuck this and they stood up to them.

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S4: Yeah, I mean, like, I don’t think we should underestimate how together this U.S. men’s team is because it hasn’t always been that way. I would say even under both Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, there were rifts between the inside those U.S. teams under Klinsmann. There was a rift between the German-American players and the rest of the team. Under arena, there was a rift between the Europe based U.S. players and the MLS based U.S. players. And that’s definitely not the case at this point. You know, I even talked to Walker Zimmerman, who played, you know, had a terrific game against Mexico. He actually has taken it upon himself to start a fantasy football league with U.S. based guys in Europe based guys. He’s the commissioner, and every week he actually makes like a sportswriter and writes up these recaps on all these fantasy match ups and sends them to the guys in Europe and the guys in the U.S. And that’s a way of staying together and staying connected when they’re not together during the FIFA window. And it sounds like a small, dumb thing, but it’s actually kind of an important thing in terms of team chemistry. As of right now, the team chemistry is really good.

S2: First of all, he did not try to rip his eyeball out. That’s a little bit of an exaggeration.

S1: This spirit would not have been upset.

S2: I appreciate the spirit of that comment. So one thing that’s so fascinating about this moment, we’re recording this on Monday before the game in Jamaica on Tuesday is that there’s just this feel, this like swell of great feeling among the team and among fans. And if you look at the standings, there’s a huge separation between the top four and the bottom four, and there are three direct qualifying positions for the 2022 World Cup. And then the fourth team goes on an intercontinental playoff. But the top four are very close. You’ve got U.S. and Mexico at 14 points, Canada 13, having played the most difficult schedule of any team so far. Then you have Panama, which beat the U.S. at 11 points. And so there’s a scenario Grant. If the U.S. loses and make, they’ve lost road qualifiers. You know, in this in the cycle so far in Jamaica, this moment doesn’t appear to be a pushover. If the U.S. loses and Panama wins, then where then where are we? I mean, this is. Not like it seems at this point like it would take just an absolute catastrophe for the U.S. not to at least be in fourth position at the end of the cycle, but being in one of the top three positions is not like a dead solid lock in this moment.

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S4: I mean, I would say finishing in fourth would be a catastrophe for the U.S.. You don’t want to put your way. I agree. I agree. An international playoff. But, you know, I still feel like, you know, this Tuesday, for example, Canada is hosting Mexico. So yeah, we’ll see who comes out with the points in that one. Candace an amazing story. And if they beat Mexico, that would just be really impressive. And I think they’re going to be favored to some extent playing up in the very cold climate of Edmonton this time of year. But you look at the year that that

S2: happens, Mexico’s going to have a new coach like I would think.

S4: I would think maybe at the post-game press conference. But you know, you look at this U.S. team and they actually do have something to prove here in Jamaica because they really laid an egg in Panama last month and lost their one loss of this qualifying campaign. And you don’t want that to happen here in Jamaica. So for the reasons you talked about in terms of placement in the tournament, but also just to hurt the momentum because the vibes are so good around this U.S. team right now. But if they lose to Jamaica, then you’re going to get whipsawed back into fans being really upset, worried that, you know, the U.S. might not qualify again. And you know, you don’t want that to be the message coming out of this window. I would say that in the previous two windows of this tournament last month and the month before, the U.S. won the final game of that window. And so that carried over a really positive momentum for a month. And that would be, you know, two and a half months in this case because the next games aren’t until late January, but it’s pretty important to get something out of this game in Jamaica.

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S1: And more important than that, I think even Grant is that beating Mexico the way they did and encouraging fans the way it did and instilling some confidence in the way Greg Berhalter coached, I think should lead to. The next logical step is that the United States shouldn’t go into these road games thinking one point, let’s get out of there and get home. The United States should be thinking of themselves as a dominant team that should win every one of these qualifying games. And to coach the game any differently, I think, would be a bad message at this point. Do you have any sense of what approach the team wants to take against Jamaica?

S4: They’re definitely here to get three points, so they’re clear about that. And and that’s good. You know, you shouldn’t be coming in saying, Oh, I’m hoping we get a point against Jamaica. You know, like, that’s not the way this team is approaching things. So that said, Jamaica has got some good players. Mikael Antonio’s a Premier League player for a very good West Ham United team, and he’s joined this Jamaica team. Scored four of them in the last game. Got some other good players too. And they’re still they’re still in it. You know, like, it’s really important for Jamaica if they can get three points out of this game against the U.S.. But one difference between this Jamaica game and the Panama loss last month is there’s only two games in this window, so Berhalter can put his very best team on the field as opposed to Panama when he made seven changes because there are just so many games, and that makes a big difference that he’s not going to have to rest U.S. players for this game.

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S1: Well, he won’t have Weston McKennie because of yellow cards. He won’t have Miles Robinson because of yellow cards. Christian Pulisic should play more than the 20 minutes he played against Mexico, so we’ll see what he does with the lineup. Grant Wahl His Substack is football with Grant Wahl. Subscribe now! We’ll put a link on our home page. Grant Thank you again for coming on the show.

S5: Thanks for having me.

S1: Up next, Adam Schefter.• and the murky journalistic ethics of ESPN.

S2: On Tuesday night, November 9th, ESPN’s lead, NFL insider Adam Schefter tweeted the following. Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is the victim of domestic abuse and extortion. There’s pending litigation, according to his agent, Zach Hiller. Then another tweet an incident occurred over one year ago when a female U.S. military sergeant used a stolen garage door opener to enter Cook.• home and attack a guest of Cook.• and Cook.•, per Hiller. Military Sergeant Maese Cook.• directly in his eyes, immediately upon illegally entering, Hiller said. So those were Adam Schefter his two tweets, but he did not say, is that the military sergeant, Grayson Trimble, had filed a lawsuit against Dalvin Cook alleging that he gave her a concussion and held her hostage. That lawsuit included a copy of a photo of Trimble with a bruised face, as well as a copy of a text from Cook.• to Tremble, in which he wrote, If you want to go to the police, I’ll respect that. I’ll take my punishment for what I did. Stefan That seems like information a reporter would want to present to his 8.7 million Twitter followers, but Schefter.•. Well, he didn’t. He later apologized for not reaching out to all sides for information and comment. But how did this even happen? And what are the consequences of this happening for Cook.• accuser? For Adam Schefter.• for ESPN?

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S1: The most cynical and the most common take about this is that Adam Schefter.• isn’t a journalist and that ESPN, because of its bajillion business conflicts, doesn’t practice journalism, which is preposterous. It defames the many actual and excellent reporters who work at ESPN. And it excuses both Schefter.• and ESPN. This happened because ESPN chose to allow it to happen as it has allowed Schefter because of his bajillion Twitter followers to effectively work alone with no editor in a functioning media company on stories that require sensitivity and care. Schefter.• would report to an editor who would vet his work before he vomits it out on Twitter. But because of the perceived need to be first on stories and I’m air quoting both of those, ESPN effectively lets Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski and other breaking news reporters to run their own wire services. And that means that they make no distinctions, often between Rodgers placed on COVID. Lest, sources say, and a domestic violence lawsuit to reporters like Schefter.•, it’s all indistinguishable charm sources telling him something something, something. It’s all information. Horse trading pretty much the consequences for Adam Schefter, you asked, or nonexistent as it’s happened before, when Schefter gets played or plays along the way he did here or just violates common journalistic practices, which we’ll get into. He made a non-apology apology, moved on to the next micro story. Packers think RB Aaron Jones suffered a sprained MCL, but he will undergo further testing per source, he tweeted on Sunday night. But for Cook.• accuser, they are enormous. Millions and millions of ESPN consumers saw only Schefter.• tweets about the case, which directly stated that Cook.• is the victim of domestic abuse and extortion. Schefter.• buried the attribution to Cook.• agent two clauses later, after an EM dash that fed an entire news cycle of stories establishing the facts of the case Cook.• as victim, which is exactly what the agent wanted. As Mark Twain said, Ally can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on. It’s one thing to get played about the size of a contract and another when it involves potentially criminal behavior.

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S3: I mean, there’s a lot to feed on what you just said, Stefan, but you talked a little bit about like this access breaking news, transaction based journalism journalism that a lot of outlets have doubled down on, you know, from Schefter to whoAs Shams. You know, that is like what is highly prioritized in journalism these days. And you know, maybe this isn’t quite as true for woes, but the big, sweeping stories that reveal real problems in the league. If you notice the ones about the Washington football team or the Phoenix Suns, they’re not written by those reporters. And that’s just seasoning for ESPN and a lot of other major sports outlets. They’d rather focus on the work that is less controversial, the one that less puts them at odds with their broadcast partners, the ones that reveal institutional rot. And, you know, fundamental dysfunction within, you know, the halls of these front offices. They’d rather focus on that sort of reporting as opposed to the kind of work that Baxter Holmes did, right? That stuff is a feather in ESPN’s cap. But the people that they push up front, the people that ultimately get to be stars at those media outlets are the guys that pass along that sort of, you know, Aaron Rodgers is going to be out this week sort of work. And the problem is that when Schefter.• was. When something came up that resembles

S2: what a white gentleman

S3: value would need to apply just kind of

S2: Stefan Schefter you got

S3: college, does, you know, come on over skis and you got into distinguishes them, you know, from

S2: a competition in a way that like

S3: the answer to that is because, like said, journalism doesn’t like places, the Baxter

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S2: Holmes story in Robert Sarver

S3: journalism is something that they

S2: value better and redounds to ESPN’s most important to them The Washington Post and The New Yorker. You can

S3: see that this is the sort of thing that

S2: any number of other

S3: has championed for the past. Investing continue to happen because there’s not really any reason for them to do stuff. I think that sort of reporting right there. This is what they want the story.

S2: You know, if ESPN had broken the Nasser story instead of the Indianapolis Star having done it, they would have gotten them a lot of both positive attention from like the people think of journalism awards. But a lot of people are interested in that story and would have wanted to read it. But there’s just so much competition in that space and it requires so many resources and the payoff is less immediate. And these things take months and months and months. And it’s, as you said, Joel. Those stories are likely to just get you into trouble with the people that are paying your bills, whether it’s the NFL or the NBA, that you need to have a good business relationship with. Whereas, you know, Adrian Wojnarowski being the first person or a report who signs wear on free agent decision day, it’s like that keeps people tuned in to espnW. It’s not controversial in any way. It’s like good for the brand. It’s good for people. They care about fantasy sports that, like Adam, Schefter.• has all of these followers and is the one telling you which running back is in or out. And Rick Maese of The Washington Post did a profile of Schefter.• in 2014 that makes it clear how this work gets done, and it’s like not particularly pretty when you look, when you look at the mechanics of it, it is essentially are not just essentially it is literally favre trading like with Schefter cessez. I don’t like to call, you know, so-and-so executive and just being like, Hey, what’s going on? Anything new? You can’t be a taker. You’ve got to be a giver. And what Robert Klemko documented on Twitter is that Dalvin Cook agent has fed Adam Schefter every piece of like small bore information that’s ever come out during Dalvin Cook.• career about his holdout, about blah and blah. And like this is apparently this was time to pay the piper. Like, I’ve given you all this, all this information and like sometimes you can feel a conspiratorial about this stuff about like, Oh, I bet he got it from like, this is just it. There’s no arguing like how this happened. Like, Schefter was fed all of these stories over the years, and then he has this relationship with the agent and the agent wants to get out in front of this lawsuit. Feeds Adam Schefter.•. Oh, I’ve got the scoop for you and Adam Schefter.• like, OK, and just like puts it out there, he gets to be first and everybody wins. Except in this case, you know

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S1: the public, for starters.

S2: I mean, right, everybody, everybody wins except like, you know, truth and accuracy and the alleged victim of this domestic abuse who deserved, you know, a reporter who at the least would reach out to everyone for comment and would like look at what was actually alleged before tweeting. It was obvious that something weird was going on, like it was obvious that the that this was somebody trying to get out in front in front of a story like it wasn’t very well disguised or, you know.

S1: No, you did not need to be a forensic pathologist to understand what was going on here. I mean, there was a commenter under Mike Florio.

S3: My concern reading and transcription

S1: Dalvin Schefter.• tweet was a reason to be scared. What’s going on here? If that still

S3: was a lawsuit from the moment Dalvin came across on Twitter that it was going to happen any minute

S1: and the agent its intended, the fun of

S3: it went out. But I’m wrong. But that’s not your point about this of reporting. Obviously, it can be

S1: with this kind of reporting. Yeah, right? This is perfectly fine. I was a beat reporter for many years. I mean, not covering sports but covering, I mean, covering sports business, but not covering sports sports. The difference is that you get before you do anything, even if it’s dump something on a news wire, you have someone vetted, you have people that pay attention to what you do. And what’s changed is that over the last twenty five years, with the internet first and social media next. Journalism has been transformed. And this is I’m not saying anything new or deep here. It’s been transformed from a predominantly daily medium to a second to second medium and institutions, the media companies like ESPN. Rather than recognizing that the second to second stuff is journalism to have ceded control to reporters who maybe don’t have the kind of editorial judgment to make calls on what is news news and what is nugget news and don’t really seem to care about other sorts of journalistic, you know, basic journalistic practices. Yeah, he was a reporter. No. No, but I’ll also point out that Schefter.• was, you know, covered the Broncos in the 1990s, wrote Mike Shanahan’s post Super Bowl book about business management. You know, he very quickly wasn’t. He was an access journalist, even in the old days, right? He was very close to Shanahan, and he left and ended up at ESPN, where he continued to build on his source collection. And you know, it was a frenzy, right?

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S3: Because this issue came up through the Denver newspaper saying that so like, there’s this

S2: fascinating

S3: story he did not know that which

S2: I agree with you, Joel that this is the stuff that ESPN values the most. And at the same time, he has never. This might be an exaggeration. I would be curious if I’m wrong about this. He has never produced anything ever that has changed. Our understanding of the world of the NFL. Probably never produced anything that we wouldn’t have known. Somehow, an hour later, if yeah, if, if, if, if he just wasn’t on the beat, if he had, like, gone into something else professionally. And you could make that argument for for a lot of these like news breaker type people. I mean, like Jeff Passan, who you know, I think we all like and respect does that as part of like his portfolio of work. And he is also like breaking. He does adversarial journalism as well. So it’s not like to be in this position. You have to do the kind of work that Adam Schefter.• does, but yet there’s not like what he does is more than enough free speech, and I think they probably are happy that he doesn’t try to do their work, especially given the journalistic bona fides we’ve seen in the last work that he and last week that he kind of stays in his lane. But at the same time, the value, it’s like, you know, being a stock trader or something. If you actually get something up five seconds earlier or like no information five seconds earlier, then that can be worth a lot of money. And I think there is kind of an analogy to be made there, like there’s not actually any value to me or to you or really that I would argue anyone else is a consumer of this stuff. But just the perception for the brands that there’s this person who is always the first is worth like millions upon millions of dollars for ESPN.

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S5: Yeah. Mm hmm.

S3: Isn’t that strange, too, because what sports fans consume news in quite that way? That news, you know, a breaking news item about what happened, you know, Sojourner in new title. I mean, I work for

S1: The Associated Press. You did two Joel the have you

S3: ever in your life as a fan base for right? Then all of a sudden, you know, the delivering

S1: information to the public before anyone rocking out and again, because there was nothing wrong with that.

S3: You know, the problem, you know, published somewhere and there is not true.

S2: There’s not so much value to it either, really.

S3: To me, it got me any better. I guess I’m really interested in how the prioritization of being in the

S1: fact that I was the first person to report that was such

S3: a big fixation and it’s even happened. Didn’t matter because I was going to come out long

S1: before I got it first. Do you feel good?

S3: Yeah. Great scoop. Yeah. Right? Yeah. And it frustrated me. Yeah, but it frustrated it, frustrated the hell out of me, even as I was a part of the ecosystem and one thing that I would want to bring up, and maybe it’s not as important of an issue, all things being considered, but I noticed it early in my career and it really crystallized for me when I was at ESPN and I was talking about this with a couple of my colleagues. That kind of journalism is necessarily going to produce discriminatory effects and who gets opportunities in journalism. I’m never going to get close to Jeff Pash or Jon Gruden. Roger Goodell or whoever the hell right or Nick Saban or whatever, like, that’s a game that a lot of journalists from marginalized communities and a lot of female reporters, whatever they’re going to get locked out of because that’s just the game and you’ve got to work around it. And so I’ve always wondered there was a part of me that’s like, I wonder if this kind of journalism is prioritized because it actually manages to keep a certain kind of person out. Like, if I can’t bring that kind of journalism to you, I can’t. Five minutes before they, you know, the Texans release a story about Deshaun Watson is going to miss the rest of the season. And you can do that and you can kind of keep the journalism ecosystem the way that it currently is, right? And I will note too, you know, you used to be ready to build a relationship to get around that dynamic. People would call your jocks and if they say child dumb,

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S1: denigrate that kind of Adam Schefter to Bruce Allen. And then with the way the Washington fought to get around the system of to and obviously before publication was calling him Mr. Editor, asking

S3: him, I’m the wicked cynical about how those sorts of guys then got elevated. I’m not saying that there’s not

S1: any value invested in a company. What they

S3: did with Robert Grant value they placed on that same trade culture, his

S1: gambling companies,

S3: I’ve kind of re-evaluated

S1: that he’s going to leave like, I have to go work, get this information from

S3: company or somebody else.

S1: You know, this is there are other examples here of not just Schefter.•, but ESPN sort of blurring every line that we ever used to have about reporting and journalism and fairness and objectivity and the distance we put between the media institution and the people that we cover.

S2: You know, I think if he went to a gambling company, that would actually be a really good fit and would kind of resolve some of the issues here, like you would provide the same sort of service that he does like for people that are interested, whether for betting or fantasy reasons and having information. First, he would be able to do the kind of ads that he does for ESPN, like with the NFL’s financial partners and, you know, wouldn’t necessarily raise an eyebrow if he was doing it in that context. And, you know, maybe ESPN could have somebody who was on breaking news about domestic abuse cases that actually cares about getting it right. I think that would be a great solution for all parties, and I think that ESPN, I think, surely get some value out of that relationship and out of Adam Schefter is like really big Twitter following. But somebody else could do that job. Like, there are a lot of people who are willing to not sleep and never go on a vacation and whose only qualification for for this gig is just like really working till I get in really good with with sources like, I think that’s maybe a less. Rare than than maybe some of these companies want us to think it is. I mean, I feel like everybody. I feel like everybody would be fine if that if that is what happens.

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S1: What it requires is simply a reporter who has the good sense and the humility on a story like this to say, Hey, this is out of my league. I need help. I need someone that’s an expert in domestic violence. I need someone that can comb through a court docket and see if there’s a case already pending as opposed to just, Oh man, this dude told me this. I need to get it up on Twitter now. Do you think those thoughts even entered his head? It was just when I got this information, I’m dumping it out there.

S2: I was looking back through our kind of email and Stefan you had sent around a story about Schefter.• last like April 2020, where he is like on ESPN, just like kind of excoriating the NFL for the cynical, I go through business as usual during that.

S3: Or he’s almost like the peak of our this guy so that I know her. Like, I’m really surprised

S2: by Adam Schefter.• is

S3: doing. This is going to create a narrative. I think it’s very difficult for people who is accused of is actually going to file the lawsuit thoughtful and critical.

S2: It’s not like he’s never done. I mean, he rarely does it. So it’s not. You think he’s just

S1: never done it. So it’s like Joel. This is how he was trained as a reporter.

S2: And I think in this case. If he knew what was going to happen, the level of criticism, I don’t think he would have done it. I don’t think he thinks right now, I don’t think sitting right now like, Oh, I think it was worth it, despite all the criticism because I like have like a chip that I can use with Dalvin Cook.• Vedha now. I think it was temporary, maybe temporary stupidity, like it was just a really bad decision where he didn’t think it through. And I don’t think he’s the he is in the top one million of most ethical journalists. But I really, I think you have to be a little bit more cynical than I am to think that he did this on purpose.

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S1: But I do think that years of doing what he does, having as many people follow him and lean on his every word and a lack of supervision creates an environment where he doesn’t think, Oh, I should probably call my editor on this one Cronkite.

S2: Up next, the Morris Twins vs. the Jokic brothers.

S5: No, Jokic was there

S2: negative five on four and Jokic Oh no, oh no. What you just heard is, first of all, extremely funny, so let’s get that out of the way. But in case you didn’t see it, last Monday night, the reigning NBA MVP, Nikola Jokic, grabbed a rebound with his Denver Nuggets up 17 over the Miami Heat with less than three minutes to go. He then dribbled up the court where he got a forearm to the ribs from Miami’s Markieff Morris and then, with Maurice’s back turned Jokic, ran up behind. Morris gave him a right forearm shiver, knocking him to the ground.

S3: Oh no.

S2: Markieff was fined $50000. Jokic got suspended for a game. He came back and put up a triple double again, stocks in his first game post suspension on Friday night. But what happened on the court is way less interesting than what happened online. First, Markieff identical twin brother Marcus Morris, senior of the Clippers, tweeted, Waited till bro turned his back. Sam age noted Nikola Jokic. His brothers then created their own Twitter account and tweeted At Marcus, You should leave this the way it is instead of publicly threatening our brother. Your brother made a dirty play first. If you want to make a step further, be sure we will be waiting for you. Signed Jokic Brothers Joel There’s a lot to say here about fake and real fighting about Twitter as a venue for threatening to fight people and about defending your twin and or your Serbian brother. I consider you an expert and at least two of those categories. So I want to hear your analysis of Morris Brothers vs. Jokic brothers.

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S1: Your long lost Serbian brother.

S2: Mm-Hmm.

S3: Do you want to say which of those two categories you believe me to be an expert in? Because I don’t have yeah, I don’t have a Serbian brother or twin that I know of, but. Well, I guess to start off, you have to directly address the video and just bottom line. I like with Jokic there there. You know what I mean? Like, I really like it. Markieff Morris pulled some dirty shit and you have to protect yourself out there and set boundaries. And to your point, which I assume you were trying to make, was that I threatened people via Twitter to fight, which I don’t. But what I would say is that I firmly believe in setting boundaries for myself and the sort of behavior that I will accept. OK. That’s not a threat. That’s just, you know what? I have to protect myself and sets the boundaries. And so that’s I’m thinking of what Markieff Morris did there. And it reminds me of when Patrick Beverley recklessly went after a loose ball near the sideline and crashed into Russell Russell Westbrook, causing an injury that he’s had to deal with the rest of his career. And we don’t know what we’ve lost or been denied of is NBA fans, because Russell has had to manage that knee injury and it was just off of a Joel.

S1: The NHL is calling you to help decide on the fighting in the

S3: game right now. You don’t think it’s a big deal, but it becomes a big deal because these are joints and, you know, humans, bodies and they’re very vulnerable and fragile like anything can happen. So Markieff and Marcus

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S1: can I just want to go on the record saying I would never break a fight with the Jokic brothers for

S3: throwing a rock and hiding, as those are some big differences right there to stand on. There’s a lot of Serbian beware up and don’t like, and there’s some talk of like once you heard that I probably get a combination of here, but

S2: large Serbian zenit tattooist, that’s kind of an area

S3: that probably you want to steer clear like that’s great. Good for Joe.

S2: But you know, inside the NBA,

S3: Shaq

S2: and Charles Barkley said exactly what I mean. But also, Joel said, which is,

S3: I believe Gratuit is fine. But I believe

S2: there’s something dirty to me,

S3: somebody and you

S2: turn your back and walk away. Then this is what’s going to going to happen to you. It’s like, I guess there’s like a slight distinction between like, this is great. We should celebrate it and like, you reap what you sow. It’s like, this is what was going to happen. So even if you don’t necessarily endorse it and Joel does endorse it. But even if you don’t, even if you didn’t necessarily endorse it, just like the kind of feigned shock and alarm of like, Oh, I can’t believe, like how how could this, how could this possibly happen? But this seems like it’s in the kind of like narrow lane Joel where, like pretty much everyone, even like more kind of like establishment NBA media along with like kind of people who enjoy the stuff can agree. Like there’s no like, oh, mouse of the palace. Like, What’s what’s wrong with with our support? Like, everybody seems to think that, you know, basically what happened is OK with that, even if they’re not

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S1: even palliation, not the not the original act.

S2: Right. Yeah, right, right. Right.

S1: Go ahead, Joel. No, no, I was just going to say that that and also let’s put into some historical context you on that inside the MBA segment, if you watch to the end, they did what inside the MBA does is that they ran some clips of Shaq and Charles Barkley in their heydays, throwing some actual punches in retaliation for cheap shots against them. We forget how much more physical the NBA was in the 80s and the 90s. There was fighting on the court all the fucking time.

S3: Yeah, the the precipitating event. No, go ahead, Stefan Cook.•. Mm-Hmm. Yeah. No, absolutely. I mean, back in the day, that was just a part of the game like you. In fact, the game has changed so much that we don’t even have enforcers in the NBA anymore. Like, remember, they used to be guys out there that were out there for the sole purpose of being goons. Like I read the the the the story of the Kermit Washington punch on Rudy Tomjanovich, the punch. It was written by John Feinstein. And and it was just about how, like Kermit Washington, he was tough, dude. Great rebounder when he was in college at American University. And then he got to the NBA and they were like, Well, you can rebound really well, but also you’re going to have to fight like that was like sort of his role on the team. And I’m like, OK, like, that’s that part of the game has changed a lot. You don’t. So when people see what happened the other night in that game, they’re not used to it. But we grew up in a time where like fighting was just part of the lay of the land, like, in fact, like you had to have somebody on your team that could fight when things got to it because somebody had to say the difference between somebody fighting in the

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S2: hotel fighting has

S3: to do it himself. He has to sit on average for a big fight. It ain’t like sales violence and also way less rich white on his behalf. It’s just more like that is just the kind of basketball, Joel said. It’s random, and to be honest and accountable, it seems because it inappropriate introduces some random reaction to the game by when you have somebody who’s not quite as skilled as on the floor and like, that’s what makes people afraid. Of like basketball and I wish it

S2: was that it was actually extremely violent and

S3: was a game and still, you know,

S2: catastrophic. And in terms of too much

S3: of the element of consequences is preferable to like I really grew up in his

S2: career. But the like this is the kind of more normal scenario where a guy gets fouled, the guy gets mad, guy pushes other guy and then everybody kind of like runs in and like pushes. It separates everyone. But I think we tend to talk about, you know, especially in conversations like this where there’s some like kind of harkening back to that to the glory days of like, oh, like it would be, you know, we missed this. The thing that happens now that makes things better is social media like, is it is it all of this so much, so much more entertaining? Joel with like Marcus Morris coming in the Jokic brothers flying in on Twitter. Off the top rope. Like, isn’t this an improvement? The fact that we get this this Twitter beef to go along with the encore beef. Exactly. Mm hmm. This is this turned like a five second, this turned like a five second story into like a story that we actually can still be talking about a week later because it’s just been extended with the various Greek

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S1: letters a week later. Josh The Jokic brothers have bought tickets for the Heat Nuggets game in Miami on November 29th, according to reports.

S3: It is true because in some ways, like the fight lives on forever, whereas back in the day, like there was a fight and we don’t know how they settled it, I’m sure that there was some way, you know, maybe there was some, you know, you know, outside of the arena fights. Yeah. They can’t they can’t live, they can’t let the Jokic brothers in that arena, that fight, like that’s just not that should not be allowed as much as I stand up for the Fútbol Jokic sit that they cannot allow them into the stands that add into the arena that night. And also, can I just say something which is actually very Candace

S2: Buckner who we had on the show I

S3: wanted to be in for Cook.• four years of my life has been a revelation about this, and we don’t associate the stereotype family members soft. You’re defending like, remember when like invited vital

S2: signs, their whisky

S3: or whatever. You know, there was always

S2: she mentioned something we know about that.

S3: Can you handle the hosting of the league?

S2: I like that. He didn’t make that a little like there’s been some misinformation out there. But posting this

S3: like, you know what I mean, like, totally bizarre, you know,

S2: like scorpions, everybody hurts video of Baker Mayfield not throwing to his son.

S3: But she also said, I’m really excited about this new

S2: my favorite example in recent years, which is Rajon Rondo, his brother in the NBA bubble. He was like in the NBA bubble because he was like giving dudes haircuts and stuff, heckling Russell Westbrook back when Westbrook and Rondo were not on the same team, heckling him and getting ejected from the family section of an NBA playoff game in the bubble. I think I’m sure I mentioned this as it happened, but the fact that there is just a human being named William Randolph just always makes me laugh. Yeah, but Joel, do you have any kind of guidelines for family members of athletes? Let’s say I’m, you know, I’m the brother of an NBA player. How should should I comport myself on Twitter? Courtside in in the Instagram comments? Are you like in favor of family members stirring up shit? Does it add something to the game?

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S3: Bill Rondeau.

S2: He was he is no longer about he was for a couple of years.

S3: No, see, now that is the part of me that is also a little old school and that I believe that family members should be seen and not heard, you know, and because I just I believe you should fight your own fight now, although I do agree kind of with the Jokic brothers, like when they first made that warning to the Morris brothers, like, hey, like, you know, watch your step. But that’s different than like the sort of the white family members, though like Eli Apple,

S1: they defend themselves. There was a lot of people in 2006 or back here to say mother after some fans dumped beer on her

S3: and his mother got really one of defending, offending and all that sort of stuff. And that’s kind of lame saying she busted some labor. It’s gonna feel like Donald Trump. And that’s what I’ve heard here from my mom or my family members. And that’s like, maybe if things are really bad and I need, you know, I need some good publicity, publicity or whatever. Fine. But like, please don’t insert yourself into my fights because then it. And that’s just a little weird. That’s the that’s the 80s and 90s kid of me. That’s some good shit actually like that, like that’s yeah, the thing that’s good, that’s again, I’ll defend yourself. Establish some boundaries your family to to manage. And if they go into the yeah, you always are playing

S2: for coach Gary Patterson

S3: 2000 family going to get 20. And I remember when

S2: he was just Houston talking summer, and he was saying some really interesting

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S3: things about people would treat his family or whatever. Mr. Mrs. Anderson said. This it seems like there should be some sort of way I could

S2: get what they want, but they’d be sharing that

S3: totally on board.

S2: Instagram a family of spring practice.

S3: I think they should start shit. Don’t think they should be on the internet, you know, whining about stuff. I’m a little I’m sort of on the line about the object. The original OBJ video I kind of understand it, but I just kind of feel like they should be seen and not heard.

S2: Does she not understand the concept of a bell cow running back?

S5: Yeah. Yeah. Right.

S3: Oh. Not well. If they could get on there, they if they could figure out how to do it, they would. My mother once confronted

S2: one November 29th as he finally gets forgiveness from the yoke of brothers may or may not

S3: in the she thought I was going to die.

S2: I would think that the inevitable outcome of this would be celebrity boxing. Except I feel like because the Marx Brothers are actually in the NBA to rely on, they have an incentive to get

S3: charismatic, get involved.

S2: But I guess, what are you hoping to see next?

S3: Would probably go.

S2: The other account has been discredited, which is disappointing. But what do you think will happen and what will probably happen in phase two?

S3: Complain about it to me later. But my mom, she would be as famous as Eli, Apple’s mom. If I was famous like that?

S5: Get out while we’re on top. Hmm.

S1: I think it ends up with some sort of peacemaking, and this ends up being like a buddy scenario made for some, some medium.

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S2: The Morris brothers are like strange enough as humans that I could imagine them actually like going to Serbia in the off season.

S3: As much as I could.

S2: I could imagine. Yeah, the buddy scenario.

S3: I hope for peace because I feel like it could turn race, really. But just for fans, everything like I just I feel like we’ve had fun like, let’s stop down Jokic supposed to stay home. Yeah, let’s let’s keep it fun while we can before it becomes a culture war of some sort of way.

S2: Now it is time for after balls, and we just talked about brothers who play in the NBA. Brothers of players who are in the NBA and Stefan. I was interested in a more comprehensive accounting of professional basketball brothers. And so of course, I turned to all about basketball, that U.S.

S1: America’s

S2: leading news source for a list of brothers who have played an NBA. And there’s some that we know Paul and Marc Gasol, Brook and Robin Lopez. There are some who I had never heard of before George and Henry Piercey Sam and Tom Stith, George and John Trapp. Are you familiar with any of these people?

S1: The Trap Brothers, The Von Trapp Brothers,

S2: The Sound of Swish. Yes, they’re they’re stars. And so I did a dive into just one of this pair of brothers, Willie and Mike Sojourner. The younger brother is Mike Betts. Wikipedia page is not super comprehensive, so he might have some envy there of his older brother, but he played in the NBA for the Hawks for three seasons. But Willie, the older brother. Really fascinating dude swam in high school in Pennsylvania and then became a basketball player because of his size as an older high schooler went to Weber State University.

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S1: What are we talking about here?

S2: This is and this is in the 70s, said a bunch of records. A Weber state was selected by the Bulls in 1971 draft and also by the Virginia squires of the ABA in the first round and ended up playing in the ABA with the Squires and the Nets. And one of the notable facts about him is that he was really good friends with Julius Erving and allegedly gave Irving the nickname Dr. Day. He left American professional basketball in the mid 70s and went to play in Italy in a place called Readdy in central Italy. And it’s like one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the Italian Pro League went back to Italy in 2005 to become the coach of really this team that he had starred for. And after just a month, was killed in a car accident in Italy. And after his death, they named their arena, the palace Sojourner after him and his honor. And yeah, how about we honor him today? Let’s honor him. Stefan Yeah. What is your Willy Sojourner?

S1: When the NFL began to surpass college football in the 1960s? It adopted a distinctive point of emphasis violence. The pro games violence were showcased during the rise of NFL films under Ed Sable and his son, Steve. And it was marketed through defensive players like Dick Butkus and Ray NICHD, and a little before both of them Sam Sam Huff Huff died last week at age 87 middle linebacker for the Giants and then Washington. Huff played at a time when players were coached to use their head as a battering ram few fewer, more physical than Huff. We try to hurt everybody, he once said. We hit each other as hard as we can. This is a man’s game. That quote a man’s game was the title of a Time magazine story about pro football in the fall of 1959 that featured two painted portraits of Huff on the cover. One a close up and the other in uniform astride the Manhattan skyline. Pro football is a game in which every carefully selected battle tried man seems larger than life, the story reads. Not only in skill and speed, but in sheer brute strength. A year later, on Sunday, October 30th, 1960, Huff was the subject of the first full access documentary about life in the NFL on an episode of a show called The 20th Century, hosted by Walter Cronkite. It’s a remarkable 25 minutes of television, NFL films were still two years from existence. The league let Cbs’ Mike up Huff and giants coaches inside training camp in a new ski Vermont and during a preseason game against the Bears in Toronto, reluctantly, according to the show’s producer. For what must have been the first time Americans heard up close, football’s brutal sounds, the shouting, the grunting and most of all, the contact and the collisions and the sport’s arcane lingo. At one point, you hear Huff called Bridget Bado double blitz. They also got a candid assessment of the game from one of its main henchmen. Cronkite explained that Sunday’s idol was no longer the player paid to score, but the one paid about half as much, he noted, to stop him from scoring, that required some going up of the big guys of linemen. Roosevelt Grier, Cronkite, says genial and sweet natured he is, but he is still two hundred and eighty five pounds of gristle and surprising speed. Dick Mogil Lucy exhibits the dangerous playfulness of an army tank on a three day pass. Viewers saw players doing sprints and calisthenics and coaches diagramming plays on blackboards. They saw crazy footage of players sprinting into one another during drills. Cronkite even mentions constant injuries and short careers, which seems amazing for the time, but also fit the NFL’s emerging narrative of glorified brutality. There’s even an obviously stage the lighter side of training camp sequence in which Huff is studying his playbook when he hears some teammates singing. He joins them. Moghalu Sky is teaching everyone a song in Polish. That sort of scene will become a staple of NFL mythology, too. Then there’s the preseason game with the Bears man against man, men against men, Cronkite says. CBS cameras are right on the sidelines after a bears interception. Cronkite says. You’re going back in on Sam Huff shoulder pads and we get the money quote of the show. It was even in some of the obits last week Huff threatening a bears tight end named Harlan Hill. After the game, the cameras zeroed in on Huff in the locker room, you can even see a shirtless player in the background, which for the time seems pretty risque for the closing shot of the show. The camera follows Huff now in a suit, walking out of the locker room and out of the stadium under some remarkably honest talk. Huff was diagnosed with dementia in 2013, but certainly was afflicted earlier as anyone who listened to him forgetful, he ramble on Washington broadcasts can attest. During those games, he sometimes would complain about new rules designed to protect players from head to head contact and concussions. But as Huff said on the CBS show, if he wasn’t playing football, he would have been working in a coal mine in West Virginia. Like his father and other family members, it’s a very dangerous occupation, he tells CBS. And I’d rather take my chances on a football field.

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S2: That was great. Stefan Betts. So how was this all kind of received at the time by the viewing public?

S1: Well, millions of people watched it because millions of people watched Walter Cronkite and watched network television then. But in the newspapers, it didn’t get as much publicity as I would have expected, given the revelatory nature of the show. But maybe that wasn’t how TV was covered, either. The New York Times doesn’t seem to have reviewed it. It was mentioned in a lot of other papers. The Philadelphia Daily News called it a must for football fans. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said it lacked only the smell of the locker room. CBS reshared it in 1961 and again when Huff retired in 1967, and the Hall of Fame showed it regularly starting in 1964. What was interesting is that I mentioned that the NFL was reluctant to give CBS Access the producer of the episode, a guy named Burton Benjamin wrote in the Times after Huff was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982 that he was originally told that it was out of the question and that Pete Rozelle, the commissioner, would never allow it. Eventually, the Giants and the league agreed, and I guess that they realized after watching it and then seeing that people wanted to continue watching it, that promoting bravery and masculinity and violence was good for the league. And it helped both mythologized the players and gave the NFL the image as impossibly violent and therefore extraordinary that helped it become the business it has.

S2: That is our show for today. Our producer is Kevin Bendis to listen to past shows and subscribe or just reach out. Go to Slate.com Slash Hang Up. You can email us and hang up at Slate.com. Please subscribe and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Per Joel Anderson and Stefan Fatsis. I’m Josh Levin remembers. I’m a BD and thanks for listening.

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S1: And now it is time for our bonus segment for Slate Plus members. Hey, Slate Plus members, Grant Wahl is back. Hey, Grant, hey, we’re done talking about the US. Let us talk about your international travels. A few weeks ago on this show, I did an after ball about Sherif Tiraspol, the the team in Transnistria, the fake state inside inside Moldova that made it to the Champions League group stage. And we all talked about it and read Slava Mohamud’s Twitter thread, which I quoted but Grant had the much better idea than just talking about Sherif Tiraspol to actually go there. You wrote a 6000 word story. It is terrific. I recommend that everybody read it. What made you think like, Oh, I should get on a plane and get over there?

S4: You know, it was just such a fascinating story. And even Slava Twitter thread was the first thing I saw back in August that gave you a sense of how this was an amazing sports story, but also had stuff going on way beyond that in soccer throws up these kinds of stories from time to time just because it’s everywhere in the world. And this one you had a wonderful underdog story. It’s like a sports story. Where Sherif wins in Champions League at Real Madrid also beats Shakhtar and ends up now in contention to advance in the Champions League group stage to the round of 16, and they’re still alive. So that was really interesting. You had this group of players from countries all over the world. Guys, I met when I was in Tiraspol and just, you know, really neat guys. I mean, it’s not like they’re anywhere close to the kind of players that should be able to compete with Real Madrid. And yet here they are, and they don’t speak the same language, and it

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S1: was like different countries represented on

S4: that. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. They’re from South America, from Africa, from random countries in Europe, even a guy from Trinidad and Tobago. So the sports story itself is amazing. But then you add in what you are talking about where and I definitely get into this in my story that Tiraspol is located in an unrecognized country breakaway country from Moldova called Transnistria. And you have to go through customs to get into a fake country, which is kind of wild. It got their own currency, the Transnistria and ruble that is worthless anywhere else in the world. And it’s basically like 1970s Soviet Union vibe everywhere. There’s still a hammer and sickle on the Transnistria and flag statues of Lenin everywhere and and the people there actually buy into this stuff still, which is kind of wild. And then the club itself, sheriff is owned run by a group of arms traffickers. The people who run Transnistria are arms traffickers. They have been for a long time. This has been very well-documented. And Sheriff is basically a money laundering outfit. And so that aspect of the story I get into in detail and what I wrote to

S2: the fact that the owner is kind of an incredibly shady is actually the only normal thing about about this Champions League club. I mean, the owner is maybe shady and a less respectable way than maybe some of the shady Premier League owners. But the fact that it’s just like, you know, mentioned in your story and everywhere, it’s like, yeah, the owners, an arms dealer. I mean, that is just a pretty incredible thing. And you kind of go on this quest to try to track down track down this guy who was last interviewed with like Vanity Fair in two thousand and five or something like that. It’s like very international man of mystery sort of vibes here.

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S4: Most definitely. I mean, I was on a quest to try and meet Victor Gershon, who is the most powerful person in Transnistria, more so than any political figure because he’s the guy who’s in charge of sheriff. Sheriff, if you go to Tiraspol has its name on everything. All the grocery stores, all the gas stations. There was a casino and sheriff. I mean, it’s everywhere. They own so much stuff, and most of the money connected to that comes from the arms trafficking because it’s a porous border, shall we say, between Transnistria and Ukraine and over the decades, basically since the ‘90s, contraband has. Gone both ways through that border, and then Odessa, which is on the Black Sea in Ukraine, is only 60 miles away, so that port opens up all sorts of transit of illegal arms, smuggled cigarettes, anything you could imagine out into Africa, the rest of Europe, other parts of the world into crisis zones. And Tiraspol, by the way, is the western most arms depot for the old Soviet Union. So when the Soviet Union split up, all of these arms were stuck in Tiraspol. And that’s why the Russians still have a military presence there. But also a lot of those arms were phased out by the Russians, and so they ended up going. They still worked to crisis zones around the world.

S2: So the State Department advises people not to go to Transnistria. What is the football with Grant Wahl warning system to those who who might be Transnistria curious after your experience, but you advise. I forget what the State Department warning is. Is that like for for alarm bells? I don’t Levin come up with your own.

S4: Yeah. The State Department one is level four. So in that’s due to COVID.

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S1: Really, I think right.

S4: But but also due to Transnistria in particular, it says this is an unresolved crisis zone. I would say in my experience over the years, just be careful. I wouldn’t even say to somebody who’s an American, Don’t go to Transnistria. Just be careful. Be smart. Have common sense. Because the main reason is if you do get into trouble in Tiraspol, the State Department, the U.S. government has a hard time getting to you there. You know, they have a relationship with Moldova, but that’s not the same thing as Transnistria. So there’s no embassy in Tiraspol or Transnistria for the U.S.. But I would also say that over the years there’s been a lot of CIA with the US State Department and their travel warning, sometimes putting countries that are kind of ridiculous, I think, in their making them sound like hot zones and things like that. And so, you know, just be smart. I mean, I think that’s the thing I would say to everyone. If you want to go see, you know, sheriff host Real Madrid later this month in Champions League, that’s a pretty fun game to go to and a pretty cool experience to have.

S1: You didn’t. You didn’t find Viktor Gershon. Spoiler alert, but you did talk to government officials in Moldova, former Moldovan soccer league executives and players. And I really you come away with this sort of ambivalent feeling about whether it’s OK to root for Sherif Tiraspol on the one hand owned by an arms smuggler. On the other hand, what a sweet bunch of athletes that you’ve met and seemingly kind of fell in love with you really like these guys?

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S4: It was. The contrast was unlike anything I’d ever experience between how much I liked the players and in sort of disliked the ownership of the team. But, you know, the players were actually pretty easy for me to connect with and which was odd because the press officer of the club didn’t return any of my messages. But I, you know, through agents, was able to arrange an interview with Carsten Julien, the guy from Trinidad who had David Alaba’s Real Madrid game worn shirt that he’d traded for in his living room, which was kind of cool. And then exactly. And then the breakout star Sebastian ‘till a guy from Luxembourg has scored two amazing goals the game winner at Real Madrid and a terrific free kick at Inter. And he’s run more than any single player in the Champions League group stage, despite being a full time smoker until just 15 months ago. Really interesting guy, and he was the one who helped me arrange an interview with the team captain, a Peruvian defender named Gustavo Du, though. And you know, Gustavo and his family met me at a restaurant in Tiraspol and just an amazing individual. And he called. He said, Welcome to you. As I tell my friends from Peru, the end of the world, you know, he knows that he’s in a random place. And actually, I think that helped me get interviews with the players was they were like, this guy traveled through all of these barriers to get to Tiraspol and they wanted to share their story. And so I do come away wanting those guys to succeed, even if I don’t necessarily want the people who run sheriff to be rewarded.

S2: I would be worried to go there if I was a player, given that the club and the owner owns the entire country. And it just I’m serious. Like if something like were to go wrong, it’s like, who can you complain to or like, who do you have any kind of recourse? I mean, it seems like this is like these players kind of took a bet that they were going to go here, and it so far has worked out way better than they possibly could have imagined. And, you know, in in soccer, I mean, this guy till it’s like he wasn’t even a professional player recently. And so you have to kind of take risks with your career. And it’s it’s totally paid off, but you could see it a different scenario. Or like maybe in the future, maybe it doesn’t work out as well for some other set of guys. But I guess my my last question was, you know, the example that we have in recent history has Leicester City winning the Premier League with a collection of players who. It turned out like N’Golo Kante was on that team. It’s like we didn’t know how good these guys were, but like they had a bunch of like, really great players and they were probably better than the sum of their parts as well. But like, is it that these guys were just like undervalued and Wahl looking like a couple of years, and it turns out they had a bunch of international stars? Or is it just like a bunch of random dudes who actually aren’t that amazing have just pulled off some pretty crazy results, and it’s just like a lightning in a bottle scenario?

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S4: Yeah, I don’t know if there’s an N’Golo Kante on this team. I think Sebastian Till is shown to be a guy who might be that type of player and do what he’s like. He’s old, he’s like twenty twenty seven right now. He wishes that he had turned fully professional a few years ago, not just last year. And then Doolan, too. It was just a tremendous leader, huge kind of force inside the team. He’s only been with the team a few months and they named him captain for a reason. But, you know, he had just been at Boavista in Portugal. We talked about Reggie Cannon, the US player who’s on that team, but he wasn’t even playing for Boavista. And so it’s not like he was lighting it up with a sort of team toward the bottom of the Portuguese league. And here he is now having these great games in Champions League and beating Real Madrid. So there’s something happening inside this team that is allowing them to be doing what they’re doing. But it’s not like Sherif just spent a ridiculous amount of money and built this team like they didn’t. You know, these guys are sort of journeyman players that they’ve put together, and so you have to give credit to the Georgian guy. He’s sort of the director of football at Sheriff for putting together this team. But what they’ve done is is already absolutely incredible. And it’s not just what they’ve done in the Champions League group stage. They had to play eight games in Champions League qualifying just to get to the group stage, and they eliminated some really good teams like the champions of Croatia and in Serbia. And so like there’s only six games and Champions League group stage, there’s eight. They had to play just to get there. So they played a lot of games and they’ve, you know, they’re not just sort of a one off team that had one good game.

S1: The story is titled The Craziest Sports Story of 2021 is FC Sherrif. It’s on football with Grant Wahl. You should subscribe Grant. Thank you as always for joining us.

S4: Thanks so much for having me, guys.

S2: And thank you, Slate Plus members. We’ll be back with more next week.