S1: The following podcast contains explicit language.
S2: Hello I’m Josh Levine and Slate’s national editor and author of The Queen. This is Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen for the week of September 3rd 2019. On this week’s show we’ll talk about the biggest news from the first week of the U.S. Open. Among them The Rise of American tennis underdogs Taylor Townsend and Christie on errant shots of Football Outsiders who also join us to discuss rising expectations for the Cleveland Browns dwindling contracts for running backs and other storylines at the start of the NFL season.
S3: Finally Sheeba Rosin will be here to explain how her fan group at Portland’s Timbers Army has responded to Major League Soccer is ban on political messaging. Joining me in Slate’s Washington D.C. studio is the author of the book’s Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic your friend and mine Stefan Fatsis I got a friend over the weekend who went to the U.S. Open and we will talk about that in our first segment.
S4: I was offering you a smooth transition into the tennis. I went there for journalism. I went to my couch and watched a lot of the U.S. Open.
S5: That seems like good preparation for our segment on the U.S. Open All right Stefan. The U.S. Open. The big story from the opening week was for me at least a couple of unseeded Americans both of whom actually lost in the fourth round on Monday ending their underdog runs but neither 23 year old Taylor Townsend or 27 year old Christiane had ever made it that far to Grand Slam. Both had been at times on the cusp of quitting the sport. Now they’ve each earned two hundred eighty thousand dollars and due to the ranking points they’ve won they’re both going to be in the top hundred of the women’s rankings. It was joyous Stefan to watch both of them win on Sunday as I did. Maybe we can start with Townsend. I wrote a piece about her which I mentioned that she’d been done pretty dirty by the U.S. Tennis Association. She was the number one junior in 2012. She was 16 and she won junior Grand Slams. The USDA refused to pay her way to go to the open that year. They wanted her to focus on her fitness which was another way of saying they thought she was overweight. She’s since had some success on the tour. She made it to the third round of the French Open five years ago. But she’s also had some extremely low moments in 2016. She played a 69 year old woman in the first round of a tournament in Alabama. She told a writer from the undefeated that she considered that event to be a slap in the face. And she plays a totally unique style in this day and age. Charging the net. So it was fun to see her play just because it’s fun to see her play but also just given that backstory. It was you know emotional for her and it was emotional I think for folks who knew about her story to watch her succeed at this level.
S6: You know I remember the USDA refusing to fund her because of her weight. And I think we may have even had a conversation about it at the time on the show. The thing I’m curious about Josh is this if she talked about how much that influenced her struggles in the game the fact that the governing body for the sport that funds promising young tennis players told her that they wouldn’t pay for her anymore. I mean did that really impact her. Or was there some sort of alchemy of problems that led to her not succeeding at all.
S5: It’s a great question. I think the acrimony that that generated and the fact that she subsequently broke from the USDA because of it and for good reason I think for it because of that sort of you know being publicly called out for your weight as a 16 year old I mean why would you trust folks in that position to be your advocates until guide your career. I think the fact that she had to go out on her own had to have an effect on her career. But there’s also the reality of the fact that top junior players often don’t make it at the highest levels of the game. You know I think of Stefon Kozlov who was at one point town it is like the great American hope and who had huge success in juniors and is now similarly languishing like way way far back in the rankings and hasn’t sniffed at main driver Grand Slam. And then you know her coach that she went to Donald Young Senior father of American player Donald Jang said in a New York Times article a couple of years ago like you know she was broken and I had to you know help build her back up she was broken emotionally. But he also said we had to work on her fitness.
S3: So there was it wasn’t necessarily that the U.S. team was wrong but saying you’re not allowed to play in a Grand Slam because you’re you know too big the fact that they couldn’t work on her fitness as she was you know playing in juniors is just so wrongheaded and must have been so dispiriting humiliating her years to be public. Yeah but it’s it’s not like she didn’t need to work on her fitness like every tennis player needs to work on their fitness. And it’s a common issue for younger players. I think the fact that she went with Donald Young Senior who she had worked with as a young child the fact that she kind of locked in on playing this style that is a throwback of rushing the net to the she came to them that was one hundred and five times in beating some on a wall. Yeah. So I think that independents gave her kind of self-reliance and self-confidence that she had to call on and these matches because what she said You know I watched her third round match against her start another Romanian player and in the first couple service games she was just getting passed left and right. And she said it’s inherent in the style of play that you’re just going to get past a lot that you’re going to look bad sometimes and you just have to keep doing it or you know you have to adjust on the fly. But she has this experience overcoming adversity both in big ways and in small ways that I think served her well in this tournament. And then you know in her fourth round where she lost to Bianca and rescue a 19 year old Canadian. Yeah I mean Townsend looked like she had no chance at all in the first set. And then came back to win the second and I’ll confess like in the third round match I thought she you know based on the way the match started it looked like she had no chance. And so that just makes her kind of easier to root for. The fact that even within matches she has the ability to turn around and it really is seems like a microcosm for her career.
S7: Before we move on to and Rescue who looks like a potential finalist on one half of the draw on Serena Williams has a pretty clear path on the other half of the draw.
S8: I want to ask you about that 69 year old that Taylor Townsend had to play. I texted you while you were at the U.S. Open and said somebody is gonna call this woman and you of course being the good journalist that you are. Josh texted back. I tried to call her. What happened.
S5: So her name’s Gayle Falkenberg she had a professional tennis career. She started late but she like won a match in Australian Open qualifying in the 80s when she was I think in her late 30s actually. And she has taken pride in the fact that she has continued to play pro matches as she has become a senior citizen. And you know for her it was this great accomplishment to qualify into a twenty five thousand dollar prize pool you know minor league event in Pelham Alabama. And then you know it kind of became a punch line where there’s video I embedded it in my piece. She won 12 points in the match Falkenberg did but she just like looks like she doesn’t belong there. I mean she was a plan she was playing this woman who was now in the fourth round of the U.S. Open I mean it looked absurd. And so I think you know Falkenberg is perhaps sick of being cast as a foil in this way and used this moment for her. There was like this great accomplishment is like Taylor Townsend’s low point and a slap in the face. So when I called her she when she found out why it’s calling she hung up on me. So I don’t hold a grudge I kind of understand why she wouldn’t want to talk about it but I think it was it was worth a shot.
S7: You said you told me that you thought and rescue was likely to you know had the look like the person that could make it to the finals here. She’s like what 21 22 and 0 in her last matches. She hasn’t lost since. She
S5: hasn’t lost a match that she’s finished since Acapulco. Again Sophia cannon which was in March and since then she won one of the big tournaments just below Grand Slam level in Indian Wells. That’s like kind of considered the fifth major. It’s a huge tournament. Then she won another really big tournament in Canada where she’s from. And other than that she’s just been injured all year but she’s never lost to a top 10 player in her career. She had this meteoric rise where she went from being kind of in the low hundreds to being this year so far the best player in the world or injured. So it’ll be interesting to see you know I would I have a hard time seeing how she would lose before the final but you know anything anything can happen but and in that tournament Canada she beat Serena Williams and the final beat Serena had back spasms and had to withdraw. So that’s an undressed Q.. Serena final that will be quite the scene and rescue is just she’s 19. She fears no one. She has an extremely aggressive game. She looks like she kind of has the bearing of a star. This could be kind of recency bias just because she’s winning but she’s going to be I think a book thing in the sport she’s got attitude on the court which is great.
S9: She looks like she has no fucks to give and she’s 19 she doesn’t seem to be intimidated by any situation or any player at this point.
S5: All right let’s talk about Christie on Korean American player grew up very close to the National Tennis Center where the U.S. Open is played played in the U.S. Open when she was in high school but had not been back and to the main draw until this year hurt tenant pro tennis career had had a lot of the same low points that Townsend had but not really any of that. The high points and this was the high point for her. And then during the tournament Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times who we’ve had on the show many times wrote a piece about her backstory about how she turned down the prize money from that first U.S. Open because her parents didn’t want her to lose her amateur status went to Stanford was the captain of the team. Her parents or her father agreed to fund her career for three years and then won that three years was over. He was excited about oh she’s going to quit tennis and join the corporate world. But she refused to quit and this is what happened because of that refusal. But this was the story that kind of resonated way beyond the tennis world like a lot of my friends were talking about it. There is a sort of like charm to her parents saying she should quit like it was. It didn’t seem mean spirited them saying that she should quit and join the corporate world. But it also was just really bizarre and not what you usually hear from tennis parents.
S9: It didn’t seem mean spirited but it did seem not particularly supportive. If your kid is excelling at something at a national level you’d think most parents would not say all right. I’m just waiting for this to end. You’ve got three years and then word add of here.
S3: Well they think they’re being supportive. I mean and by all rights like her pro tennis career was not a success.
S5: Sure she was not winning matches on the main tour level. She was not even you know high enough ranking to get into Grand Slam tournaments much less succeed in them. And you know it’s the same with Townsend A lot of these stories that end up in success. You have these low moments and you have to push through them and don’t forget you know about your dreams and keep striving or whatever the cliches are. But a lot of cases you don’t succeed and then you then you just quit.
S9: The majority of them that we just don’t hear about well and the other factor that we haven’t mentioned is that it’s really expensive to be a professional tennis player and not succeed and not win tournaments and not make money.
S5: Yeah I mean her parents had the means to support her. And tennis is different. You know golf and tennis are similar in a lot of ways in terms of being individual sports where the money you earn is based on your success that these individual tournaments but the way that tennis is set up if you’re outside like the top hundred. You just can’t make money in the sport because the fields aren’t big enough the prize money and the Minor League tournaments isn’t big enough. You have to travel right all the time.
S6: And it also can’t afford to pay a therapist that you can’t write or a coach or a trainer.
S5: It becomes this vicious cycle where you don’t earn enough money to pay the people who could help you earn more money.
S8: I just want to read four paragraphs from this story. First is her father dawn on quote. She said Dad you didn’t give me a dime for college tuition so why don’t you support me for three years. I want to play tennis. That was my dream and you cut it short said on who’s an accountant. I was the person who said go to college. We shook hands. That was the deal Christiane recalled her father’s Glee late in 2017 the last year of their deal. I swear he had a count calendar count down and she said he’s like we’re almost there end of 2017. Get ready to look for jobs. Do you have a resumé ready when ons results picked up in 2017 and she was able to sustain a career on her own. Her parents were not thrilled. She’s got the education. Why is she hanging around here. Asked her mother.
S5: They Ben wrote another sweet story about her her so went on made the U.S. Open when she was a teenager. She lost to Donato Safina who was for a time no one in the world than Safina congratulated on on Instagram for making it back into the tournament and making it to the fourth round and on was kind of surprised that Safina even remembered who she was. But there is this paragraph in that piece that I thought was telling us quote where she says the only difference this is dangerous Safina who had to quit the game because of injuries. She says the only difference between those players and challengers which is the minor leagues and the ones who make it on tour is we believe much more in ourselves. That’s the thing I told her to believe more in this and herself. They all have the game but I don’t know why they think they’re not good enough and I would give maybe one Pinocchio couple Pinocchio’s to that like there’s some truth to it. Like when you watch players who are not at the top level they hit shots that are as good as the best players and they just aren’t as consistent. And whether that’s physical or mental or mental and physical whatever that you know however you would combine those percentages. But like the thing with Christie on Stefan though is that it’s not really for lack of opportunity. She’s been trying to make it on tour for a very long time and I think this breakthrough for her is maybe a little different than for Townsend. Like I don’t want to tell her to quit and joined McKinsey or something. She should keep playing for his long as she to keep playing and she has a little bit of a nest egg now but she’s not. I don’t think she has the game to be like a long term star and that’s kind of makes this moment even better and more special for her. And you saw her in the fourth round just get destroyed steroid by at least Marion’s Yeah. And I think you know she’s wrapped up like a mummy. She’s got her knee wrapped her elbow wrapped. You know it’s been a grind for her and the tournament. And so who knows if that’s going to have any kind of long term effect. But you know the fact that I don’t think she’s going to become like a stalwart in grand slams doesn’t minimize the accomplishment anyway.
S7: No it also doesn’t mean that she may not. She may wake up today and say you know this was the achievement the pinnacle of my my dream this seems like a pretty practical person who excelled at Stanford who does have career options going forward. You know in Ben’s piece in The Times she said when I’m done I’m done. But I don’t want to have any regrets. I want to make sure that I’m maximizing my potential that I’m going to that I’m going out there and having fun. And she certainly did that.
S3: And I again I will say like the fact that she got these ranking points in this prize money it will give her more opportunity here to play in more tournaments and I mean automatic qualification into the next set of majors right.
S5: Yeah I think she’ll definitely get into the Aussie Open. I mean the rankings fluctuate so it’ll just depend on her performance and other players performance going forward. But I think she would probably at least get into the Australian Open and then we’ll see from there. All right. So coming up in the second week of this major we already talked about Serena Williams is chance that she’s the only woman left in the field to even make a major final it seemed like since she’s come back Serena has gotten favorable draws in the Grand Slams and rescue will not be a favorable match up for anyone. But you know it’s looking not so bad for her for Serena to at least make the final then on the men’s side. Novak Djokovic had to retire with his shoulder injury against Sandra Branca and this opens up the possibility of the first ever match between Federer and Nadal at the U.S. Open and that would be in the final and would be. I don’t want to exaggerate but we can say with certainty that it would be one of the biggest matches in their careers and would fill the biggest hole like they’ve never played in the biggest stadium Arthur Ashe Stadium in tennis Sunday afternoon.
S4: That would be huge for sports Joffrey gone through the entire segment and we haven’t mentioned Coco golf. You were at the great Coco golf. Now me our soccer match. Well it wasn’t really great but there was not. It wasn’t a great match. It was great because of what happened at the end of the match is great theater. Yeah it was touching. It was heartfelt. It’s genuine. Yeah all of it was good sport stuff.
S10: Yeah. Good sport stuff. Shall we play a clip from the post match event.
S11: Yes Coco. This crowd absolutely loves you. Tell us what they only told you at the net.
S12: Told me that I did amazing and good luck and she asked if I could do an awkward interview with her and I said no because I know I was going to cry the whole time but she encouraged me to do it.
S13: So Osaka was being very gracious there after absolutely obliterating her 15 year old opponent who is incredibly talented as we’ve seen at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open but was just not up to Osaka level in that match Osaka was actually not up to Belinda benches at Joe’s level in the next round. But on that night Osaka destroyed golf and was very gracious and I think the natural comparison there is between you know third round 2018 U.S. Open in the 2018 U.S. Open final in which Osaka was put in this horrible position that she did absolutely nothing to bring on herself because of that confrontation between Serena Williams and Carlos Ramos and how she was crying on the court and all of the zaniness that that ensued. I think we can go too far in saying that there is in all our moments but it’s impossible not to compare the two where I think about them they only overlap.
S9: That was that someone was crying. I mean this was I thought just a a slightly older player recognizing that a 15 year old who has had sort of unexpected success very very early even for women’s tennis was suffering from the expectations that she would do better and the feeling that she probably let people down or she believe that she let people down by by not playing as well and just by losing.
S5: Well I think there is a comparison to be made in so far as that tennis is a sport especially in these major events where players are judged on decorum they’re expected to be gracious in victory and in defeat there are these staged post match on court interviews where they’re speaking to the crowd and also to you know people watching at home and so there is this. It’s different than other sports where you’re graded based on rhetoric and based on manners. And I think that probably goes double for women who are always judged on those things in our society even outside of a sporting context. And so I think Osaka is somebody who based on her personal experience is acutely aware of what those expectations are.
S6: Yeah. And I think that she did reflect what she went through I’m not saying that Osaka didn’t learn something from what happened last year and was trying very consciously to avoid putting another player in a position where she felt badly but also lifting up a younger player who really did Osaka recognized deserved recognition the crowd loved Coco golf all week and what Osaka first and foremost was doing was giving the crowd I think the opportunity to salute her and golf to understand that even though you lost this one time everybody loves you and you should like get a chance to be in that last year the Cleveland Browns went 7 8 and won which if we do a quick and dirty mathematical adjustment to account for the history of Cleveland Browns is the equivalent of 16 now from 2015 to 2017 the Browns went a remarkable four and forty four.
S3: But now with second year quarterback Baker Mayfield the newly acquired Odell Beckham Junior and a solid young defense everyone seems to think that the Browns will at the very least make the playoffs and at the very most contend for a Super Bowl. But what do the numbers say. Joining us now to discuss is Aaron shots. Aaron writes for ESPN plus he’s also the founder of Football Outsiders and the editor of the Football Outsiders almanac 2019 which you can get in print and also PBF in time for the season. Welcome back to the show Aaron. Hey thanks for having me back on guys. Sure. As I teased in the intro. Football Outsiders lists projected win totals for every team in the NFL. So where do you have Cleveland. And keep in mind that I’ve already preordered my Browns championship rank.
S14: Yeah. Unfortunately we don’t have the Browns as high as conventional wisdom does the numbers anyway. Come out with them in our projections in our simulations with an average of eight point zero wins. So that puts them outside of a wildcard spot for now.
S5: So a great season by Browns stature better than last year.
S10: Not great based on expectations. So kind of dig into that for us why does Football Outsiders expect them to not make the playoffs.
S15: Yeah I mean their offense is still projected NICE AND HIGH. I mean Baker Mayfield had a great year for a rookie quarterback and you’ve got to expect improvement in his second year plus you added Odell Beckham. Obviously that’s a pretty nice addition there is questions about the offensive line and I think that that tampers down the offensive expectations a little bit but where we have their projection lower than conventional wisdom is the defense. There is a lot of attention paid to the defensive talent that they added this offseason that they added Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson on their defensive line and then greedy Williams as a cornerback who they got in the second round of the draft. But most people thought he was a first round talent. The problem is that first of all rookie quarterbacks tend to even the top rookie cornerbacks do tend to struggle a little bit and people are not paying attention to the talent that they lost I mean Djibril Peppers was a talent at safety even if he wasn’t one of the best safeties in the league and Jamie Collins was a talent at linebacker even if they didn’t quite know what to do with him all the time. And the other problem is turnovers which is something that a stat people talk about a lot. Turnovers tend to regress towards the mean really heavily. And Cleveland was third in the league on defense in turnovers per drive. And so that is probably going down this year in the NFL.
S6: A lot of success is dependent on who you play during the season. Who are they playing and how does that factor into the potential to live up to the narrative.
S15: Yeah. Because here’s the funny thing is our projection is actually even lower than eight point 0 would sound like like their projection in our DVLA ratings is like 21st or 22nd but they have one of the easiest schedules in the league so that boosts them a little bit. And I will say subjectively I personally think that our projections are a little too down on them. There is a little too much you know there’s an element in our projections that is based on past performance going back even two and three years. And I do think they’ve changed enough of the pieces and in Cleveland that we may be overstating that a little bit. So I definitely think they’re gonna be wild card contenders but I don’t think that they’re super bowl contenders.
S5: But the schedule really will help them to make the wildcard as a kind of big picture question when do you decide that your projections don’t jibe with what you believe and then what does that mean about the projections in terms of how you might adjust them going forward.
S15: Well we’re always looking for ways to make things more accurate going forward. But the trick with any kind of projection system is that you want the best projections for 32 teams over a number of years. You don’t want to optimize your projection system just for one team that you don’t like the result that comes out. Sure. That’s why when we write Football Outsiders almanac we put a bunch of words next to the numbers because there are places where we disagree with our projections and we want to say so. That being said the fact is we tend to be optimistic. I mean we not Football Outsiders we just meaning sports fans in general we tend to be more optimistic about more teams than we’re pessimistic about because when you’re going into a season you always sort of imagine a best case scenario for every team and certainly you know you don’t imagine lots of injuries but every team you have to expect an average number of injuries four and so not every team is going to reach its Haitians that are based on a best case scenario. If you ask fans how well they think their team is going to do you’ll end up with an average. That’s a lot higher than Nate Nate. But some of those teams are going to have bad things happen to them that are unexpected and will end up underperforming.
S6: So when you do a projection system all that possible underperformance is built into the projection line in the case of the Browns fans are probably more likely to have for the last 20 years projected downward. But this is the first time that fans are projecting upward.
S14: Yeah it’s it’s a little different to talk about the Browns as serious playoff contenders. It does doesn’t it feel different. I mean we’re not used to this and we’re not used to people are really down on the Steelers likewise and we happened to be up on the Steelers this year we have them as our projected division favorites. So it’s like down as up and up is down.
S5: You mentioned the Browns defense being a question mark or a reason and your projection to kind of look more at the at the downside possibilities. But from a macro sense one of the things that you guys have written about for years is how offensive performance is more durable and predictable than defensive performance. And so I’m curious about how that affects your confidence in the Browns prediction but also just more broadly you know that that also influenced your projection of the bears and just how we should think about defense here right.
S14: I mean it sort of gives for teams where our defensive projection differs more from conventional wisdom. You know there’s more of a reason to believe that perhaps we’re wrong. But then again there’s also more of a reason perhaps that we’re extremely right that their defense will like collapse because our average projection is an average of all possibilities but that includes the good possibilities and the bad possibilities. I mean I will say they added so much talent to their defensive line but there’s like no depth there. So if they get hit by injuries that’s the big question mark that we don’t know about before the season. But if they get injury by injuries Cleveland is in particular trouble as opposed to say a team like Philadelphia that has a ton of depth. So Chicago is an interesting one because that is probably the team where we have the biggest difference between us and conventional wisdom and we are projecting Chicago still to be like the fourth or fifth best defense in the league in our projections. But here’s the thing. The offensive projections in our VOA ratings right which are how efficient a team is compared to average in offense. The projections run from like minus 20 percent to like plus 20 percent in defense they run from like minus 8 percent to like plus 8 percent and that’s a much smaller range that represents the sort of the much wider range of possibilities. So the average of all possibilities on defense is much closer to average than the average of possibilities on offense like we know that as long as Drew Brees doesn’t have some massive decline or get hurt that New Orleans will be a really good offense right. We know that Kansas City unless something really crazy happens will be a really good offense. We don’t know that with defenses. And so for Chicago even to be like the fourth or fifth best projected defense last year they were 26 percent better than average which was one of the 10 best defenses we’ve ever measured in 33 years of stats their mean projection for next year for this coming year is five point three percent better than average. And again that’s like the fourth or fifth best projection of any defense. But you can see where that’s so much weaker than how actually good they were last year because there’s so much more of a question mark about how good defense will be.
S16: The other thing I’ll say about Chicago I talked about Cleveland with turnovers Chicago lapped the field last year in takeaways nineteen point one percent of all drives ended with a takeaway that is absolutely going to regress to the mean this year making their defense not anywhere near as spectacular as it was a year ago.
S6: I want to pivot back to offense is because one of the probably biggest outliers certainly this year maybe ever I don’t know you tell me is the Arizona Cardinals they’ve overhauled everything. Cliff Kingsbury is the head coach with the Air Raid offense. They’ve got Kyler Murray who’s college numbers were absolutely ridiculous. They’re going to run a crazy spread formation that is not unlike the typical NFL offense. How difficult was it to project them and do we have any sense of how much they can improve because they were a terrible football team last year.
S14: Yeah I mean I think your your mean projection for them has to be a significant improvement and that still makes them one of the worst offenses in the league even if they improved significantly because they were one of the 10 worst offenses we’ve ever tracked last year and we have them twenty sixth in our projections for this year which is just a huge huge improvement even though it still makes them near the bottom of the league.
S9: But do we even know what they’re going to do. I mean how do you even measure what Kliff Kingsbury is going to do.
S17: Yeah it’s really hard to tell because I mean for one thing. Kyla Murray the history of top prospects coming out of college has been that very rarely did a player play only one year of college football before entering the NFL like start for only one year. There’s only like three or four guys in the last twenty five years that did that as top prospects like top first or second round picks. Brock Goss Weiler Mitchell Biscay Mark Sanchez Cam Newton if you don’t count as year of junior college experience two of the top three prospect quarterbacks this year Kyla Murray and Dwayne Haskins had only one year of college starting experience so that makes predicting what they’re going to do in the NFL really variable because we just don’t have any experience with top prospects that have that little college experience plus the fact is that the scheme that Kingsbury is bringing to Arizona is so different from what they did last year that you’re like you don’t know how much do you base things on what happened last year. It’s this is the first time that a team is going to run primarily for wide receivers since the run and shoot days which is like 25 years ago.
S18: This will be good data for you on how this works will help make the projections stronger.
S1: Unfortunately it will be only one data point. We have like eight or nine data points that would be a little better.
S4: Well if Kingsbury succeeds more data points maybe NFL to come.
S1: Kelly just more data points maybe soon you’ll have the guy who cleans Sean McVeigh’s office getting a head coaching job.
S5: I also wanted to discuss the holdouts that continue by a couple of the top running backs in the NFL as you kill Elliott for the Cowboys and Melvin Gordon for the Chargers football outsiders have been at the forefront and kind of accurately describing the value of running backs in the modern NFL running backs that used to be these stars in the league and have now been kind of diminished in terms of their perceived importance and in the league. Do you feel like this has been one of the biggest shifts in terms of how teams understand the way football is played and do you feel kind of any sympathy for running backs like Elliott and Gordon who are kind of bearing the brunt of that.
S17: Yeah I do think that this is probably the biggest affect that analytics has had on the NFL over the last 15 years is in the valuation of running backs. And I do feel you know a little bit for those guys. They’re obviously very hardworking athletes. I don’t want to diminish what they do and they get punished really badly and they hurt. And the thing is that as you go lower down through levels of football the running back becomes more important there’s more differentiation between good and bad running backs. So these guys for most of their lives have been really important players. And then suddenly you get to the NFL and the whole like quote unquote running backs don’t matter concept is not a football concept it’s an NFL concept specifically.
S6: It’s not a new concept though there have been head coaches through the generations that have believed that running backs are effectively interchangeable.
S17: Well I don’t think ever quite to the point of what analytics suggests. I mean sometimes you’ll have coaches who will pick running backs up as undrafted free agents and lower round picks but that doesn’t mean that they feel like running backs are replaceable. It’s just that’s what they could get at the time. I mean a good example of that is New England right which New England was successful for years with primarily lower round and undrafted running backs like Ben Jarvis green ELAs. But when he’s wanted one and had a first round pick to use on one Bill Belichick has twice used a first round pick on a running back. Both Laurence Maroney and then Sony Michel last year. So he’s you know as much as we like to think of Bill Belichick as being on the forefront of analytical thinking. He’s not when it comes to this idea. It’s just that for a while he didn’t have a first round running back.
S5: So you know one of the things I remember from way back in the day with Football Outsiders is the idea of the curse of 370. This idea that running backs that had 370 more or more carries during the regular season would suffer a major injury or a loss of effectiveness the following year unless they’re named Eric Dickerson I’m reading from the dictionary definition of the curse of 370. But I saw in the current edition of your almanac that the curse of 370 is dead because nobody carries the ball that much anymore.
S1: That’s right it’s sort of pointless at this point. First of all it was always a little bit of you know people said to us you know that’s not very analytical. Well you know it was sort of a obnoxious way to state a general point it’s a sheer rustic don’t overuse your running backs. But yeah nobody over uses their running backs anymore.
S14: So it’s kind of a moot point. Most teams look even teams that have one guy for the most part they use a bit of a timeshare. The Chargers even with Melvin Gordon as the guy last year still used a good amount of Austin Engler there’s only a couple of teams that don’t really use their backups. Carolina is one with Christian McCaffrey and Dallas has been another with Ezekiel Elliott although we’ll have to see what happens when Elliott comes back.
S1: Assuming Elliott comes back because Tony Pollard has looked so good at the pre-season that you wonder would they give Elliot a little bit more rest and use Pollard a little bit more than what the amount of rest that they’ve given Elliot in the past and the amount that they’ve used backups in the past.
S6: Holy moly. The most attempts in the NFL last year three hundred and four.
S16: Yeah. Things have changed a lot since Larry Johnson whatever ran four hundred and ten times or whatever he did for the chiefs like 12 years ago and we didn’t mention Lavie Bell who’s obviously at the forefront of running backs feeling like they’re not valued appropriately.
S19: Aaron shots the book is The Football Outsiders almanac 2019. The Essential Guide to the 2019 NFL and college football seasons. Aaron thanks so much.
S5: Hey thanks for having me on all right I wanted to let you know that in our bonus segment firstly plus members Aaron shots of football outsiders.
S10: We’ll be back and we will talk to him about the Houston Texans. What are they doing. Stay tuned. We’ll talk about Andrew Luck’s retirement. We’ll talk about who they think at football outsiders is going to be the best and the worst in the NFL.
S9: And if you want to hear that and you’re not a member you can sign up for Slate Plus it’s just thirty five dollars for the first year and you can do that signing up at Slate dot com slash hangout plus on Saturday night in Portland Oregon the hometown timbers of Major League Soccer beat Real Salt Lake wonder to nothing on a goal by Diego Valera in the 16th minute in the stands though the real action didn’t happen until the thirty third minute when members of the Timbers Army supporters group began waving flags bearing the symbol of the iron front a paramilitary organization created to oppose nascent fascism in Nazi Germany that was banned by Adolf Hitler in 1933 the iron front symbol three hours pointed down into the left has been at the center of a dispute between fan groups and Major League Soccer which explicitly banned its display at games under a new code of conduct that attempts predictably clumsily to define what political means in the context of a sporting event. Joining us now to discuss the dispute is Sheba Rossum. She is the president of the 1 0 7 Independent Supporters Trust a nonprofit that operates the Timbers Army and the Rose City Rivers a fan group for Portland’s women’s team. The thorns. Hey Sheba. Hey there. Let’s start with a little background about Timbers Army and the political messaging in the stands in Portland. Is this a new thing prompted by Trump and Charlottesville and white nationalist protests there.
S20: Or has there been a tradition of mixing soccer and politics in Portland Timbers Army has long been anti-racist antifascist and active about it in the stands and in the streets. If you go back to before MLS when we were in our USL days we’d had antifascist banners signs and symbols in the stands and our clubhouse name to fund Ludden is named after St. Paul’s clubhouse which is another explicitly political antifascist club in Germany.
S9: And with Major League Soccer I mean this is a confluence of I think happenings the league to its credit has cultivated a diverse and progressive fan base young multicultural multiethnic LGBTQ friendly. What it didn’t seem to anticipate here was that the cohort would seek to use games as a forum for that political expression especially now in the age of Trump.
S20: And it is true that you’ve seen more explicit messaging from us in the last couple of years just as we’ve noticed as everyone does that there are a lot of people in marginalized groups who are feeling a lot less safe out in the streets. We wanted to make sure that we were sending a message that everybody’s welcome. So if you look at our front banners over the last few years they’ve been a lot more explicitly calling out racism calling out homophobia making sure that immigrants know that they are welcome. So the messaging probably has been a little more pointed from us in the stands but we’re not the only ones to do that.
S21: Can you walk us through what the conversations have been between you guys and the club and Major League Soccer as this has played out in the last I don’t even know how long it’s played out over as a 10 months or a year.
S20: Well so far for the Timbers Army we’ve known that this has been an issue for about a year but the league has not really had any conversations with us yet.
S22: We have regular meetings with the front office as the board is a one to 17 different sports trust and they we were flying the V the the French flag in 2017 with no problem mid 2018. We were asked not to display it and we said are you asking or are you telling me so we’re asking is it OK noted. And we continue to display it but they let us know in the off season that there was a new fan code of conduct coming and that it was their anticipation that the iron front flag probably wouldn’t be allowed to fly under the new code of conduct.
S20: So we kept trying to talk the front office through this in the offseason when we met with the supporters council in Dallas in January which is representatives from supporters groups of all kinds of folks all over the country and in Canada and not just in the last teams we talked about the fan code of conduct there because we we all seen drafts of it. We also had public Kumiko and from Fair who was a guy who works with works works with clubs on issues of racism and fascism in Europe. And so he was consulting with us as well anyway. So we knew in January that this was likely to be an issue. And then when we all got back to our respective clubs before the season started they all rolled out the fan code of contact with us and they had the same talking points. So several supporters in other cities heard the same message we did which was specifically that iron front wasn’t okay to fly but there was no thing in writing so club folks told supporters just verbally behind closed doors. Yeah you’re not gonna be able to fly down in front like we pressed our front office because we had nothing in writing anywhere. And finally in May they gave us something in writing which we disagreed with and we we said so we posted about our concerns back in March. We posted what the front office gave us to post. We posted it on our website for them and then then in July the iron front flag flew in both our section and in the Seattle supporters section in Seattle stadium and all our security went after it within the first couple of minutes in our section but it was allowed to fly for the entire half second half in the Seattle section and then Seattle got a warning an official warning from their front office and they pushed back and then we talked together and then we we had that we had the action that happened on the twenty third and that was a couple of weeks ago in Portland.
S6: Fan groups from both teams agreed not to cheer at all for the first 33 minutes of the game. No flags no singing no nothing. And this is your big rivalry game and then on the thirty third minute you rolled out the arm front flags and other cheers as did the Seattle supporters. And this was a very clear message. This was a nationally televised game and then it sort of steamrolled afterward when one of the timbers owners reportedly was talking to fans after the game and blame them for not sharing and for effectively losing the game like it and support us.
S20: Yeah so it had actually been building up to the twenty third for the few weeks prior. You would you started to see iron front imagery around the league and you saw under the hashtag a united front. People posting pictures of t shirts to sticks banners those kinds of things but then it all came to a head on the twenty third and then. And yes the the owner was not pleased. I’ll give a direct quote because I wasn’t I didn’t hear it but but it was reported that he said some pretty not nice things after the game yes I think he said you fucked us tonight we’re going to say that you’re you’re an elementary school principal you shouldn’t say thank you but yes you can. You can read about it online too I’m sure. So it is a huge deal that we talked with Seattle about this protest because if you look at rivalries in MLS some of them are fairly recent. Some are not as heated. This one goes back it predates MLS and you will always see this is probably one. This is our typically our biggest game in a year is against Seattle and there is a supporter’s cup on the line. The Cascadia Cup which is something that supporters literally bought with five and ten buck throws to buy this trophy that we pass from one supporter group to the next. And whoever has the most points among us Seattle and Vancouver gets that cup and we’ve had that like I said since before any of us were in MLS. We usually have huge TV displays for these games. There was no TV display whatsoever from our side which is which I’m sure was very disappointing to folks who look forward to those things but we really wanted to make sure that that the message was received. And for Seattle and Portland to come together on something like this lets you know how big it is because we there’s no love lost between the supporters and the teams. It’s a very heated rivalry and to be silent together to fly the Irish French flag together we really wanted to make sure the league knew that there are some things that are bigger than sports.
S21: My sense is that the league does not want to have to deal at all. This is like not something that they know how to deal with. This is not something they want to have to figure out. The timbres front officer said that the iron front symbol is widely associated with its frequent use by anti TFR often in the context of violence at protests or counter protests. The Seattle Sounders front office in a letter equated the iron front with the far right groups. The proud boys and patriot prayer and so you have these you know this league and these teams in the position of making these decisions about what constitutes politics what constitutes things that are over the line in terms of politics that they’re certainly not interested I think and defining and also not equipped to handle. So is it your sense that they doesn’t want all of this to go away and want it. Just wanted to stop. Is that their goal.
S20: I mean I I’m just having to guess because the league has been pretty silent on this. I mean if you go to MLS soccer dot.com and look for iron front I don’t think you’ll find the phrase anywhere. And we tried to warn the league through our front office about what we saw coming because when you look at the fan code of conduct it lists some things that are pretty much no brainers right. You know nothing racist nothing homophobic and all these all these pejorative negative things and then nothing political which is a squishy word that’s hard to define in exactly what we were afraid was gonna happen happened. I mean you had Ali Bedoya. After a goal run over to a field Mike and yell that we need to do something in gun violence. And I was in Philadelphia right.
S22: And he got those players a week ago the week even though he wasn’t on the ballot. So basically he was a write in candidate by the press and by fans. So then the very next week somebody in Atlanta had a banner that said end gun violence. And that banner was removed as political. I mean this is exactly the kind of thing we were worried about as people making decisions on the fly trying to determine what’s political and what’s not political. And we’re also very concerned about the message that it sends to say of all things. The one thing that you’re going to mention that you’re going to deal with is iron front to say we’re going to pick this anti fascist symbol as as a hard line to say we’re not going to deal with this when when Don Garber gets asked about something in a mega hat and he says Well I don’t know how I’m going to deal with that and you’re not early. I see when you send those kinds of messages.
S9: That’s that’s a dog whistle to folks that should not be getting any more comfortable in the stands and the league is no doubt worried that fan groups will incite violence that white nationalists will target fans who are holding iron front banner flags and they want no part of this. And I understand that they don’t want any part of this.
S21: And Portland has also banned the use of of confrontation. You know that’s been kind of staged in the streets. All these rallies that people are looking for for trouble in Portland specifically.
S9: Right. So the league sees that they’re not dumb. The front office of Major League Soccer. They’re trying to create the safe anodyne family friendly corporate environment in the stands. But then you’ve got these politically engaged progressive fans who aren’t having any of it and are being supported by players some one of the timbers were on iron front logo T-shirt in the locker room after the game against Seattle and the Seattle and Portland teams got together before the game and the captains were holding a little pennants that said anti fascism anti racism.
S22: Yeah and and for a league to be concerned about inciting violence we ought to be honest with you you know this.
S23: We didn’t have issues until the ban happened in the said that after the ban happened in Seattle that’s when armed white nationalists showed up at Seattle’s bar before the game to try to get in.
S20: So it’s not as though it’s not as though banning the symbol is somehow going to make things safer.
S22: And I will say that the league the league can’t have it both ways.
S20: We always joke about being in the b roll of advertisements for tournaments were not even in because they’d be loved. They love the crowd shots right. They love the raucous rowdy boisterous enthusiastic support.
S22: But that that comes with that comes with some things that maybe they don’t know how to control and they don’t they don’t know how to handle.
S20: And they need to be able to accept that part of who we are is an inclusive bunch of folks who are going to be standing up for marginalized folks in the stands and on the streets.
S21: And there is this larger debate in the country right now going on about you know that the very kind of simplistic glass is like is it OK to punch Nazis or you know Donald Trump tweeting in July consideration is being given to declaring and TFA got less radical left whack jobs who go around hitting people over their heads with baseball bats. A major organization of terror would make it easier for police to do their job. I wonder if part of this Shiba has to do with as NFL owners were afraid of a Trump tweet or inciting him as if Don Garber an MLS is afraid of Trump getting onto this and being like oh MLS is that sports league that supports and TFA everyone should you know boycott them.
S22: I cannot say what was in the league’s minds when they set this up. But I do think they can walk this back if they if they decide to. It wouldn’t be hard to say you know what upon further reflection we took a stab at this at this code of conduct but we need more help because this isn’t the first league that’s ever dealt with these issues.
S23: There are folks around the world who dealt with issues of racism xenophobia fascism all those kinds of things and having codes of conduct FIFA has their four pillars of human rights that you could use to guide the work. There are people who are human rights experts who can help. You can invite marginalized groups to the table to figure out how to write this code of conduct so you could say let’s take a brief pause here. We’re not going to enforce these things while we sort it out we’ll just deal with behaviors as we always have. Right. So he’s misbehaving in the stands. We can deal with it. That would be my suggestion. But I don’t I don’t know that they know how to do that because they’re not seeing a whole lot publicly about it as a leak.
S9: So you’ve now had two games in a row where members of Timbers Army have flown the iron front flags on there been protest they’ve been obvious and public and ownership has taken notice. But as of right now they haven’t done anything to crack down on this. Are you concerned that they will.
S22: Well we certainly hope that they don’t because we don’t think that their position is the right one. So if they could find a way to pull back and let it go for now then we might find a way forward but if they do crackdown we will know how to act. And I will say this Sometimes we get asked well what are you going to do. What are you gonna do if they crack down. I guess I would just answer like this if you’re familiar with how supportive culture works we have these displays called TFA right. Giant painted banners nobody talks about TFA. The first rule of TFA is no one talks about TFA why because what makes it amazing and impressive and so successful is that nobody knows about what it’s going to say what it’s going to look like until it actually happens. And I guess I would just say that’s the sort of thing you can expect for direct action in the stands.
S24: Sheba Rosin is president of a supporter’s group that runs the Timbers Army fan club for the Portland Timbers of Major League Soccer. Sheba thanks a lot for joining us.
S23: Thanks so much for having me.
S21: Now it is time for after balls. Stefan you wanted to celebrate the best moment of the first big full weekend of college football action. I did. And are you going to tell us what the it was.
S4: It wasn’t like a game or anything. Obviously it was a mascot. It’s the mascot was Jackson State’s mascot who got a penalty flag thrown on him for running into the end zone to celebrate with the players after a touchdown against a buffoon Kirkman. And if you watch the video he gets right in there. I mean he’s in the end zone the players are still fighting for the ball so the play is not over yet. It’s quite amusing. It is amusing. I highly recommend the clip.
S10: It’s in the end zone but it looks like when the players are kind of in a scrum for a fumble and the mascots and they’re just like pulling people off. Yeah yeah. So a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct Jackson State mascot for coming under the field the mascot is a wavy Dave. It seem very sportsmanlike to me actually what he was doing and wavy Dave is named after David wavy Dave Chambers who graduated from Jackson State in nineteen eighty eight was the mascot embodied mascot a Jackson State died in 2006 because of kidney disease but the wavy Dave legend has lived on best known for his animated end zone antics of riding a unicycle and plowing headfirst into the goalposts.
S9: He exuded a style and sportsmanship that endeared him to generations of Tiger fans nothing more sportsmanlike than plowing headfirst on the Gold purse on a unicycle.
S10: STEFAN What is your wavy Dave.
S9: Since I after bald last week about Carli Lloyd kicking a football through uprights from 55 yards away and about the history of women kickers there have been developments. According to Lloyd’s camp at least three NFL teams reached out to her and one had been willing to let her play in its final preseason game. Lloyd told Fox Sports that she was talking with her trainer and husband about the reality of playing in the NFL. They both feel that I could do it and should consider it. So I’m seriously considering it as it’s a challenge. I would probably enjoy it let me just say that I’m 1000 percent behind Lloyd trying to kick in the NFL she is one of the physically and mentally toughest most composed confident unflappable no bullshit no fucks left to give athletes that I have ever watched. I can say from experience that with several months of preparation Lloyd easily could learn enough technique to make extra points and midrange field goals in a game like setting wearing equipment. This is saying less than anything of course but she’d be a shit ton better at kicking a football than I was at getting a football. The story would be irresistible. Fox made an excellent TV show about a woman pitching in the Major Leagues Lloyd in a training camp would be hard knocks crack. It would be soft pub for an NFL that’s trying to combat the image of football as a death warrant and it would get more women interested in the game. It would also be a positive message of equality and empowerment. One of the greatest female soccer players infiltrating the most male athletic domain and not looking at least in terms of the act of kicking entirely out of place. But if Lloyd and the media are going to treat the prospect of her making a 53 person roster a genuine possibility then a reality check one notably absent from the coverage last week is in order. There’s a reason you didn’t see anyone who understands place kicking pronounced Carli Lloyd an actual NFL prospect because she isn’t and she wouldn’t be first kicking a soccer ball and kicking a football are vastly different acts. Forget the five steps that Lloyd took on the fifty five yard kick. Even with a year of full time training Lloyd would have trouble racing a lifetime of deeply ingrained soccer behavior. My friend Andy blocker tweeted about this Lochner switched from soccer to place kicking at our alma mater Penn. He kicked thousands of balls and made the team as a walk on. It took until my last season four years into the process of learning how to kick to finally feel like I had a clue he wrote. Now to the physical. Lloyd told the Washington Post that kicking a ball far has got nothing to do with leg strength. Everyone thinks all you need a big strong leg to kick a ball. No it’s all technique. That’s just not accurate. One Lloyd is in her late 30s which matters in terms of strength muscle mass and speed to she’s 5 8 and weighs 140 pounds. NFL kickers average around six feet tall and weigh 2 0 5. Assuming Lloyd has even equal technical ability to an established kicker which he probably won’t. She’ll be at a huge disadvantage compared to a two hundred and five pound dude with longer legs and more muscle mass who will just kick the ball harder faster and farther a common bro argument in the last week has been that Lloyd would be a special teams liability because she might have to make a tackle that’s not relevant at all most kickers don’t end up making tackles but it’s not irrelevant that if something went wrong a 140 lb person literally could be killed on an NFL field. That is an absolute truth and it would be an issue for a team considering whether to let her go on the field. Finally pure ability. It’s amusing to say that Cody Paki socks or that all kickers must suck because Blair Walsh is getting another chance but they are better than almost anyone on the planet kicking a football. Probably 80 or 90 kickers attended NFL camps this summer. NFL teams have spreadsheets with the cell phone numbers of probably 100 more kickers. Every one of them can kick a ball 70 yards or even more from a snap and hold their almost 700 kickers in college. Every one of them and hundreds more in high school can kick a ball 55 yards with two steps. Testosterone is a formidable opponent as Lochner said there are hundreds of guys physically superior to Lloyd with experience who couldn’t get to the NFL. You didn’t see a single NFL kicker say that they thought Carli Lloyd could kick in the league Adam unitary called her fifty five yarder a heck of a kick and then he noted the extra steps. The absence of Rush the slow time to the ball and the low elevation. Stephen how Suga of the bills offered to help Lloyd train. He was tactful but he was pretty clear. It’s possible he said that a woman could kick well in this league eventually. How Shaka pronounced Lloyd’s interest a really cool story. I admire Carli Lloyd’s belief in herself kickers need to believe in themselves but it’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance and between arrogance and disrespect to those who have devoted their lives to something and do it better than anyone else. Lloyd’s trainer James Galanos first said Lloyd would need a couple of weeks of training to get comfortable and acclimatised. Then he said she’d take the offseason to train so that she can be a success. Lloyd did a Q and A with Steve Sabi of the New York Post who asked what kind of training do you think you would need to do. Lloyd answered I need to get the minimal steps down try kicking with the helmet and pads and fine tune the correct technique if only it were that simple. I wonder whether the NFL actually would sign off on a legit Carli Lloyd tryout. There’s no real parallel with me. The league wouldn’t let me kick in a preseason game because it said it was worried about the credibility of its enterprise. Lloyd is an international superstar. She is a professional athlete. Her participating in a camp or a game would be a net benefit. But the NFL is nothing if not risk averse and the risk of Lloyd getting injured on an attempted kick is some no greater than zero. Finally the logistics Lloyd plans to play soccer in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The games run from July 24th to August 9th. Based on this year’s NFL schedule Lloyd would miss rookie orientation rookie camp half of training camp and likely the first pre-season game seems like it would be hard to compete for a job after that.
S18: All right so that’s Carli Lloyd. What about women kicking in the NFL more broadly. Like one of the things you said is she hasn’t been doing this for very long.
S21: What if somebody did it for their whole life.
S6: I think it’s possible totally like if you take a soccer player at age 10 or 11 or 12 or 13 and begin to begin to train exclusively as a kicker of the way most kickers train now it’s not converts the way it was 40 years ago. Kickers are going to camps and doing this to the exclusion of playing other positions in football and to the exclusion of playing soccer. I still think it will be hard. I mean I do still think that physiology and testosterone make this challenging but you know there are soccer goalies who can kick a ball 70 yards. There is nothing to stop someone from getting to the point where they are you know they can kick in Division 1 football and have a shot to go out for the NFL.
S18: Yeah I mean that’s the reality here is that there are just so few NFL jobs that somebody could be one of the best kickers in the world right now.
S6: I think it’s way more possible that you’re gonna see more women who are able to kick at the college level because there’s so many more jobs available. Josh what’s your wavy Dave.
S5: Back in 2013 David Epstein in his book The Sports Gene wrote about why major league hitters could not hit Jennie Finch the softball pitcher the Fast Pitch thrower she struck out everybody that faced her and made them look foolish to such a degree that when it became Alex Rodriguez’s turn to stand down he refused to swing saying you’re not going to make a fool out of me. That’s the extent to which he made a fool of everyone. Dave Epstein did a really good job in his book explaining why this happened why the world’s best fast pitch softball pitcher was able to strike out the world’s best men major league hitters. And the explanation and I’m going to read from an excerpt of the book now is that even skills that appear to be purely instinctive such as jumping to rebound basketball after Miss shot are grounded and learned perceptual expertise and a database of knowledge about how subtle shifts the body alter the trajectory of the ball. Without that mental database which can be built only through rigorous practice every athlete is a chess master facing a random board or Albert who holds facing Jennie Finch he is stripped of the information that allows him to predict the future. Since Pujols had no mental database of Finch his body movements her pitch tendencies or even the span of a softball he could not predict what was coming and he was left reacting at the last moment.
S18: Some synchronicity between our after balls here. Yes. But the idea is Albert Pujols a rod. Whoever is used to facing a pitcher throwing overhand thousands upon thousands of times and that whether it’s Albert who hauls and Dave mentions Roger Federer or two. They don’t actually have superhuman reflexes. They are not faster at reacting than even non athletes. What they have is a very specific training and mental map and database of you know seeing a tennis ball come to them in a particular way or seeing a baseball come to them in a particular way. And if you change it even slightly then they’re just totally out to lunch out to sea. They don’t they don’t know what to do. Soccer ball football. And so I thought of this when I was at the U.S. Open actually watching Roger Federer and I didn’t realize this I had not sat in the low down seats before I’d only sat high up at Ashe Stadium but a a friend in the media clued me in that you could request the lower level seat. So I sat really low down on the side of the court so you can really see and appreciate the athleticism like the baseline view. So this is on the sideline so it’s close to the baseline but you’re looking at the players from the side. So when Federer was on the side closest to me I’m looking at him you know not from behind but from the side. I can see the kind of power and the grace with which he moves back and forth anticipates shots and you can really appreciate the speed of the game and they’re they’re genius really.
S5: It’s incredibly impressive to watch and so I watch Federer beat David Goffin that way I watched Serena Williams from those seats when her fourth round match as well. So the reason that I am connecting this to the Jennie Finch Albert Pujols thing is that I think it’s the same thing for sports fans as is for athletes because I have been trained as a viewer of tennis to watch matches from the television view which shows both players on screen at once. It shows them from slightly above and behind the baseline so you learn to appreciate and enjoy and understand the game from this vantage point you can kind of anticipate as a viewer where the ball is going to go you can see if the players are anticipating where the ball is going to go. You can just kind of track the game and follow it this way. Watching from the side up close. I had no idea what was going on. Like it was certainly easy to understand that Federer was blowing out guy fan but it was really hard on a point to point basis for me to know who was in the lead. You’re watching Federer hit it. You don’t know where a fan is standing and you don’t really perceive what’s going on in the point and you can really only understand it maybe in retrospect but I never thought about it that way about how his fans. You get the standard television view imprinted on your brain and you would think that sitting up close at a tennis match like this the game would become more legible to you. But I that was maybe the match I’ve seen all tournament that I understand the least I appreciate Federer more and in a sense. But I really could not tell you like what happened to that match after after sitting courtside.
S9: I think that’s the case with almost every sport. And it goes back to the David Epstein Jennie Finch Albert Pujols conversation in as much as the players and coaches and people who spend their lives watching from a different vantage point than television can understand the match. And you know in my experience like being in a baseball dugout even even though baseball is the slowest most obvious and most boring sport to watch up close it’s it is more disorienting. It is a different sort of perception and understanding of what’s going on second to second that only experts really have. Football is the biggest one obviously. You have no fucking clue what’s going on when you’re standing on the sidelines. Other than that you’re terrified that someone’s gonna run into you but the players who are there actually can and the coaches actually can perceive. But there’s also a reason why football teams have coaches in the boxes up high to sort of discern more granular like what’s gone on.
S5: Well that all makes sense and I think where I usually set whether it’s in a press box or in the stands or in an arena is high up and you can kind of see and understand whether it’s a soccer game or a basketball game or a tennis match what’s happening as somebody who really hasn’t played the game at a high level or really any level and in some cases you can kind of see it develop more like an X’s and O’s sense. But yeah it’s like totally weird to have the vantage that the players actually have and realize that yes it’s just it doesn’t make any sense.
S2: That is our show for today. Our producer is Melissa Kaplan to listen to fashion and subscribe or just reach out to Slate dot com slash hang up. You can e-mail us and hang up at Slate dot com if you’re still here. Perhaps maybe even it’s likely that you want even more of the hang up and listen podcast and our bonus segment this week. Aaron shots who we talked with earlier in the show. He’ll be back and I’ll talk with us about the Houston Texans and their bizarre series of myths.
S25: The two moves don’t work in conjunction one is a move for the future I guess I mean trading Clowney away and the other isn’t move. That’s very much for the present. Like getting tons. The reason why they don’t work together is that they screwed the clowning thing off awful like already in the past.
S2: Year that conversation joined Slate Plus it’s just thirty five dollars for the first year can sign up at Slate dot com flashing a plus for Stefan Fatsis and Josh Levine remembers Elmo Beatty and thanks for listening.
S21: Now it is time for our bonus segment first lade plus members we’ve got Aaron shots of Football Outsiders. Back with us. What’s up Aaron.
S16: I’m excited to be on Slate Plus because this means that now I could do hit parade trivia.
S5: That’s great. I’m glad that we’ve provided that service for you and you are providing a service for the Slate Plus members in explaining. What the hell the Houston Texans are doing. They traded away a bunch of draft picks to get Laramie tonsil. The left tackle from the Miami Dolphins. It’s pretty clear what the dolphins are doing they’re tanking. I mean then the Texans traded their star defensive end number one overall pick about five years ago to debut on Clowney to the Seahawks. What the hell man.
S16: What’s gone on for a third round pick and two backup linebackers a third one.
S3: Barkeep yes Mingo the former Northern neighbor every year.
S16: If we do get to say the mark barkeep yes Mingo and any chance to say the name barkeep yes Mingo is a good thing. But the fact is that let Clowney leave in free agency depending on what they were planning on signing and free agency. They likely would have received a third round compensatory pick for him. So they’re basically they’re getting the third round pick one year earlier and a couple of picks higher from what they would have had anyway.
S3: They’re saving Clowney salary and redistributing it a ton. All right.
S16: Well if Clowney had not played they would have saved his salary anyway. Fair point. It’s interesting because if you’re playing for the short term right I’ve seen it suggested that they felt like with Andrew Luck now retiring and the Colts on the downside or theoretically on the downside the division was theirs for the taking. I don’t think that that theory works. First of all they won the division last year. So I think they already thought the division was theirs for the taking because they already won it last year. The other is the two moves don’t work in conjunction. One is a move for the future I guess. I mean trading Clowney away and the other is a mute move that’s very much for the present by getting Tunstall. The reason why they don’t work together is that they screwed the clowning thing up all like already in the past like their negotiations with Clowney were so poor throughout the whole process that they basically turned him off to the point where they had no choice but to trade him and because he was on the franchise tag and you can’t trade him until he signs his franchise tag he could basically declare what team he wanted to be traded to. So they had like no leverage whatsoever. They should have done. You know they should have signed him to a long term contract months ago or traded him months ago before it ever got to this point. The other thing is you see what happens when your head coach is your de facto GM. And so nobody’s planning for the future here. Like Tunstall helps them out with their biggest weakness at left tackle but they really gave up so much draft capital for him whereas you know if they had just a lot of people have talked about if they had just traded up in the draft this year they would have gotten Andre Dillard who everybody felt was the last good left tackle prospect.
S6: He’d be there left tackle now and they wouldn’t have had to do this the other obviously huge news of the last two weeks has been the decision by Andrew Luck to retire. And the Colts doing some weird quarterback machinations in the last couple of days as well. What are they doing.
S8: You’d look at the Colts and think they were pretty good and they were like playoff contenders and there was even talk of them challenging the Patriots and going to the Super Bowl with luck. But now Jacoby percent is their quarterback. They had reset under contract for like eight million bucks for this year but chose to extend him over the weekend.
S16: Yeah I guess that they feel first of all. I mean they really feel strongly that he’s their guy for the next two years and they don’t know whether they feel like this gives him a confidence boost that might help him on the field. Plus they want to make sure they keep him around for another year he’s their guy for at least the next two years. They believe in him. I mean other people wanted to trade for him as a backup in the offseason and they refused to trade him. I don’t know how much they knew about whether luck was considering retirement or not.
S3: What do we know about her. Good percentage.
S16: Well he wasn’t very good as a rookie except on deep passes. He was actually very good on deep passes but he was inaccurate on shorter passes. The question is how much of that was related to the really bad offensive line that they had two years ago and the lack of of a really quality offensive scheme. So now he’s playing with a much better offensive line and he’s got Frank Reich as his head coach. So you feel better about the scheme also when he played two years ago he had just been traded to the Colts right before the season started this year. He has an entire pre-season has essentially their number one quarterback where he’s been taking all the number one quarterback reps. So I mean our projections are 4 percent to be better than he was two years ago to be a little bit below average as a passer. So our projection for the Colts overall dropped from an average of eight point nine wins in our projections to an average of seven point two wins and our projections which is from eighth to twenty third and would put them last in the AFC South. But the AFC South is a very tight division. So it really is an anybody can win type of division. The Colts just we think have the least chance to win of the four was there.
S8: Was there a holy shit moment in late football outsiders scramble the jets air raid sirens when Lucke announced his retirement.
S16: I think I sat at my television with my mouth open for 40 minutes doing nothing but watching Twitter and watching whatever pre-season game was on and then watching Lux news conference and then I was like Oh God. Now I have to go change all the projections which I think I did the following morning but I was too stunned by the news to actually get on my pewter right away.
S5: So that brings up a bigger question for me. So you mentioned eight point nine is eighth in the league and seven point two is twenty third in the league. We all know from having watched the NFL for a very long time that teams will win or lose you know two games in a season because like some dude makes or misses a field goal because of just like random crap that happens.
S18: Do you ever just think like there is no way to possibly account for for anything that can that can happen. So why do we even do this in the first place.
S14: If I thought that I wouldn’t have a job but I mean well this is part of what I get. You don’t think that. I mean we like to think we like to think that we have the most accurate projections. Last year there was a guy who did an analysis of projections from a number of sources and found that we had the closest projections to the actual final win totals but our projections are notoriously conservative. I mean when we do our season simulation right now we come out with every team between Miami at 5.1 and New Orleans at ten point three. So no team has an average projection of 11 and 5 and only one team has an average projection of 5 and 11.
S18: And in reality there are gonna be teams a lot of teams that are outside of the five wins on the bottom and 10 at the top right.
S9: Which then. Then the question is is what’s the what’s the plus minus typically have you found over the years from your projections to reality.
S14: I mean it’s a couple of wins for every on average four for each team. I think last year it was like a total of something like sixty nine wins for four. The difference between us and the actual win loss totals although I don’t know if I’m remembering correctly. But you know even Vegas is less even Vegas is less conservative than that I believe they have Miami at like four and a half and they have the top teams at eleven or eleven and a half. And you know I’m always looking and doing analysis to try to figure out if we need to change our simulation system to make things more conservative or less conservative. But it’s very conservative. The other thing is injuries we don’t know which teams are going to be racked with injuries whether it’s lots of injuries on defense or god forbid your starting quarterback goes down that will have a huge impact on how many wins and losses teams have and that randomness is sort of priced into the simulation in the Football Outsiders era as I think we all describe it.
S21: What is the projection that you’re proudest of and least proud of.
S16: Oh Callie that is a hard to remember it’s one of the ones I’m most proud of his last year when we predicted Jacksonville’s decline. We didn’t even predict that they would decline anywhere near as much as they actually did. But we you know we were very strong about the idea that that offense is more consistent the defense defense is harder to predict. The team was hot high in turnovers per drive the year before was likely to regress towards the mean. Their defense was still likely to be one of the better ones in the league. But if that wasn’t going to be anywhere near as good as it was the year before the overall team would decline it’s exactly the same thing we’re saying about Chicago this year and what you don’t have to name a specific team that you weren’t proud of.
S18: But were there moments that made you adjust the projection system and say oh we’re screwing up in this particular way and a more kind of global sense.
S14: Sure. I mean player wise the one that people remember is we put Kevin Jones from the Detroit Lions on the cover of our first book as our projected rushing champion and he completely dive bombed so you know the randomness was there when we started doing this 14 years ago. Always a superstar on the cover island. Yeah. Well the point was to try to predict right. But that didn’t really work out well.
S7: You’re trying to predict how many books you’re going to sell to Kevin Jones.
S1: Not a big not a big did not turn into a big NFL star and then two years later two years later we had Randy Moss as one of our cover guys with the line.
S14: He’s a cog not a superstar because we completely underestimated the amount which playing in Oakland could just suck his soul out of his body to where you had to throw the stats out when you figured out what he would do when he left town.
S18: And so you have the Saints at the top of your list this year. Kind of compared to seasons previous. How much confidence do you have that Josh will be happy January.
S5: Well the Chargers out there the Rams are up there like are the the teams that you think are good as good or better than the teams that you guys have thought are good in years past.
S14: And where are the Chiefs. Miami is Miami is our worst projected team since I think the 2012 St. Louis Rams who were not good who were actually better than expected. They actually ended up going seven and nine. They were some seven a nice shit for Jeff Fisher. We had them projected with really horrible but no never bet against Jeff Fisher going eight Nader seven and nine. That was your mistake at the top of the league. We have the teams a little bit more packed together than recent years like the New Orleans has a lower projection than the Patriots have had for the last couple of years for example at the most at the top of the league were mostly the same teams that other people are New Orleans New England the Rams. The thing is that are sort of the surprises from us is how high we have Pittsburgh and that we have the Chargers ahead of Kansas City although as more things happen and more things happen in the pre-season the Chargers move down and down until they’re like tied close to tied with Kansas City. It’s just it’s hard to see that Kansas City offense being as good as it was last year again it was so good last year so extreme.
S18: I love how the story with you Aaron is always just like anything that was good is not going to be as good anymore. You’re just a perpetual bummer.
S14: I know rain wracked your eyes by mine mind it’s such a downer isn’t it. Don’t put that on the cover of the network here. Well here’s the thing and this is why we love sports. Is that something else crazy good or crazy bad will happen that we can’t expect. There will always be one of these teams. You know our top projection in offense is New Orleans around 20 percent better than average but some team will end up 30 percent better than average. We just don’t know yet which team it’s going to be.
S7: And that’s where the exciting part is it is in the not knowing it’s where it’s the team where the cog becomes a superstar.
S18: Absolutely. Aaron shots. Thanks again for being with us. Because the football outsiders almanac 2019 addition and Slate Plus members thank you for being Slate Plus members. We’re back with more for you next week.