By TJ Carpenter
Whether through refusal to follow the rules or refusal to play until nothing is left of their knee cartilage or memory, NFL players make a choice on when they no longer want to put football first. Mike DeVito has chosen to prioritize his family and his faith over the Chiefs and football. Hussein Abdullah, who had already left football once for his faith, is leaving again, this time to preserve his mind, citing concussion concerns as the reason for his retirement.
Sometimes it’s a little more frustrating. Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel, a pair of Browns players aren’t going to be playing football because they prioritize pot and partying over football. And before you moralize this by pointing a finger at the NFL’s hypocrisy and perhaps stupidity in upholding a ban on pot that comes with a severe penalty for repeat offenders of the rule, remember this: The rule is the rule, you may not agree with or like the rule, but it's the rule. We can talk about changing it, and it probably should be changed. But as long as you know it can harm and perhaps even end your career, you are making a choice as an athlete to prioritize football or pot.
Rules are often times arbitrary. You may not always like your choices, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to make a choice. Josh Gordon made a choice. He chose pot. Johnny Manziel is making a choice, to party instead of play in the league. And fans are upset with them for these choices, because teams could benefit from their talents.
But fans are on some level upset with Abdullah and DeVito as well, they may respect their priorities and choices more than they respect Manziel’s and Gordon’s, but nevertheless fans know now they have to replace those players with someone else.
The NFL always likes calling the shots, dictating terms. The NFL hated it when Myron Rolle decided to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship instead of getting drafted to be a backup, perhaps starter, in the league. And now some Chiefs fans are frustrated with DeVito and Abdullah for leaving the Chiefs high and dry, compounding some of the problems the franchise is facing, like the loss of a 3rd round draft pick this year.
We are a reflection of our choices, and our choices are a reflection of our priorities. While we may view the opportunity of playing in the NFL as one we’d never pass up, for athletes who are that talented, it just isn’t the same. Much like you, they have families, they have hobbies, they have jobs, they have vices. Not everyone prioritizes those things in the same way. If you’re at the office at one in the morning, you’ll probably get that promotion, but you may also miss out on the fun at the club, or your daughter’s soccer game.
These players are telling us who they are, every day. Some of them are jerks, talented jerks, but jerks none the less. Some of them are family men and women. Some of them are pot heads, or poets, or good ol’ boys. Some of them are pathologically competitive and have a relentless desire to be the best at what they do and be defined by what they do.
All J.J. Watt does is workout and watch film and he stays away from any vice and most recreation in general. It makes sense he’s the best Defensive End in the NFL. It also makes sense Johnny Manziel doesn’t have an NFL team right now. But we shouldn’t be mad at Watt because he seems fake (when has he had time to develop a personality?) and we shouldn’t be mad at Manziel that he’s wasting his chance to play in the NFL (He clearly would rather party and have fun.) because those are the choices they are making.
The NFL has a problem with concussions, it has bad rules on pot, it has harsh jealousy of everything else that isn’t football and shows that double standard often. But, it also offers those that play, glory and fame and fortune. It’s okay when a player decides they’d rather pursue other things. The rules, written and unwritten, exist. While we may not like them - they may be arbitrary - but we have to follow them. We don’t however, have to villainize and moralize every time someone chooses to make a different choice than we would make. Players are telling us who they are. It’s time we start listening.
THE ROYALS MACHINE
“I am not a machine.”
Wade Davis pitched another scoreless inning against the San Francisco Giants In Scottsdale, Arizona, barely breaking a sweat. It was a hot day, so that’s saying something.
Wade Davis doesn’t like being referred to as a machine, even though that only spurs on the jokes on twitter and facebook (that’s exactly what a machine WOULD say; the machine is beginning to feel human emotions; skynet is online). “I don’t like that machine thing at all. I’m just a laid back guy. I have emotions,” Wade Davis said to me.
Davis and I talked a lot about his past. A one-time failed starter, Davis is now the best relief pitcher in baseball. Davis is coming off the best two-year stretch statistically in baseball history. Literally no one has better numbers in a two-year span than Davis had in 2014 and 2015. But many may not know it because Davis has been the setup man to Greg Holland for most of the last two seasons. Looking back on his time as a starter Davis has a good theory on why things didn’t work out as a starter and why he’s so good now.
“I didn’t work hard enough,” Davis said. “I didn’t have the maturity and consistency at the time to succeed. Now I’m older and more mature. I know what it takes and I know how hard it is.”
Davis’ admission is a common refrain with a lot of players around the Royals clubhouse. New addition to the team, Reymond Fuentes had a cup of coffee in the majors with San Diego where in 36 plate appearances he struck out in half of them. He was 22 at the time. Fuentes is now 25 and is jolting the ball all over the park in Spring Training, which isn’t a new development.
“I wasn’t ready,” Fuentes said. “I learned that there are guys at the major league level who throw their first strike when they want to, not when it happens. I am more mature now, I didn’t know what it took to play and hit at that level. Now I know how to go about my business and put in the work.”
It’s refreshing to hear players openly talk about failure. Baseball is after all a game of failure. If you succeed 30 percent of the time at the plate you’re considered all-star level. Perhaps one of the overlooked things about the organization is the strength the Royals built up clawing their way out of the psychological hole three decades of failure created around them.
As Andy McCullough wrote in 2014, the Royals first run to the World Series was almost derailed by Clash of Clans. Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer had to be set straight by First base coach Rusty Kuntz. When they started to focus more on baseball and less on video games, the season went from another reason for optimism to the best posteason run to the World Series in Major League history.
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were supposed to be white knights in shining armor here to save the city and bring it out of squalor. Eventually they did, but not before they had their own struggles. Moustakas was on the verge of being out of the league he was such a bad hitter in 2014. He hit .212 that season, which was actually helped by a surge in production in the second half that helped the Royals make the postseason for the first time since 1985. In 2015 he redefined himself as a hitter, due in large part to an acknowledgement that he had to give up on the long ball and beat the shift. He did it.
Davis is probably the best example of the Royals machine, but every player in one way or another came to terms with failure, their own failure. They came to terms with their own personalities and shortcomings. There is a strong sense of identity in this team because they are comfortable with themselves and what they are. They embrace their roles. Every player is a gear in the engine, a cog in the infernal machine destroying every team in its path.
Wade Davis isn’t a machine. He isn’t perfect. Just like every player in that clubhouse isn’t perfect. But together, the Royals Machine churns on.
Tod Palmer of the Kansas City star retweeted the Missouri Women’s Basketball official account the other night. “Another great crowd of 4,086 tonight at #Mizzou Arena. This is the 4th crowd of 4,000-plus this season! Thank you, #Mizzou fans!” Palmer retweeted it with the following comment: “Only 648 fewer than the men.”
This is the state of Men’s Basketball at Missouri. A sport that is expected to generate revenue for the University is currently getting as low as 4,700 fans. No one is paying attention. It’s a terrible product. It’s completely and utterly void of entertainment value, unless you simply enjoy pain. You are a Mizzou Masochist and Kim Anderson is your whip-wielding, leather-clad dominatrix.
But then the conversation on twitter shifted, because of what Tod and myself more colorfully compared it to: Women’s Basketball. I called the women's game “simply not an entertaining product. People don’t watch it, in person or on television. No on cares about women’s basketball. I’ve got the Ohio State vs Maryland Women’s game on in the studio and no one is in the stands. It’s just not watchable.”
These are of course generalizations. Fairly accurate, but generalizations. SOME people do watch women’s basketball, in person and on television. But that group is not a large one for the most part. The vast majority of women’s basketball programs don’t generate money - as is true with most college sports, independent of the gender of its participants. This isn’t an indictment of the people who produce the product, just the product itself. But Men’s Basketball and Football are different. They do generate revenue. A lot of it. It’s embarrassing when they don’t bring in big revenue at the major conference level.
I got some heat from Brenda VanLengen who is a color commentator and former women’s basketball player, “After your comments tonight @TJCarpenterWHB about the OSU/Md WBB not being a "good product," my hope is someday you have athletic daughters.”
I said I’d love that and be at every game they played in. I just wouldn’t expect anyone else to. So started a back and forth between us. You may be asking yourself right now, isn’t all this sexist? Am I sexist? No. Let’s take a look at the reasons why the vast majority of people, including me, and likely you, don’t watch women’s basketball.
(Coincidentally, something that IS sexist is the significant wage gap between pro men and pro women basketball players. In 2014 the nba had about 14.7 billion in total revenue. NBA players get about half of all revenue. WNBA league revenue is at least $35 million. WNBA players get roughly 33% of the league’s total revenue.)
Let’s make something abundantly clear, women’s sports can be appealing to a wide audience in the the United States; the US Women’s National Soccer team is evidence of that. If we take gender out of it, Women’s basketball as a sport is more popular the men’s wrestling and a myriad of other sports that no one cares about and simply put aren’t good enough products to attain broad appeal. But, we must view these things each individually. Because clearly there is more at play than simply gender. A person’s gender does not and should not hold someone back.
Here are the numbers on Women’s Basketball at the college level at the top 25 programs. Average revenue: $1,475,197. Average expenses: $3,280,275. Average net revenue: -$2,329,623. According to Kristi Dosh, in the SEC in 2013: For every $1 donated to women's basketball, $6.02 was donated to men's basketball. For every $1 donated to women's basketball, $67.03 was donated to football. According to Forbes, only four women’s teams reported revenue over $4 million to the department of education last year, and none had a profit over $500,000. In fact, just 43 of the 341 division I women’s basketball programs managed to finish in the black. For context, consider that 86 men’s teams generated at least $4 million in revenue, and 75 of them were above $500,000 in operating income.
At the college level boosters don’t donate to women’s basketball. In fact a lot of schools don’t have women’s basketball specific fundraising efforts. The interesting thing about comparing Missouri’s attendance numbers for men and women is that a ticket to the men’s game costs 30 dollars for upper level seats and 50 or more the better they get. Women’s tickets are five dollars for adults three for children. Often times admittance is simply free. At KU, a ticket in section H for the men’s game vs Kentucky was 130 dollars at face value and going for upwards of 800 dollars on StubHub. KU women’s tickets sell for 12 dollars to sit in the same section, but often times admittance is five dollars or according to a source close to the program, “they’re so desperate for fans, they’ll let people in for free.”
The phrase “entertainment product” can be highly subjective, but this is how we can measure it in some way, how many people watch, how high a demand is there to watch, how much revenue is generated by something, is it popular? Women’s basketball at the college level simply doesn’t have a product people want. A statement borne out by the data.
What’s the issue? Why isn’t it entertaining to most people? As we stated earlier, it has to be more complicated than gender bias. It is. Participation rates for girls in high school are up, but still dwarfed by the participation rates of boys. A lot of that is cultural. But as the women’s game evolves the caliber of athletes and training will as well. Women’s college basketball needs 30 teams as good as the current UConn Women’s team and 10 that are significantly better. The caliber of athlete needs improve and the level of competition needs to improve. Brittney Griner needs to be the average player in the WNBA, not a physical outlier.
When it comes to growing the sport at the college and pro level, women are at an enormous disadvantage. They were really late to the party, for a lot of complicated reasons, but much like MLS and other sports, the must continue to fight the fight and grow their sports, because the women who play these sports 40 years from now will be the beneficiaries of these pursuits and these struggles now. One star won’t explode the sport as we learned from Cheryl Miller.
These are noble pursuits, just not profitable or entertaining ones, but certainly educational.
In closing, I mentioned the disadvantage women are at in athletics in terms of funding and interest. Most women programs do not support themselves as is true with most non-football or men’s basketball programs regardless of gender. The problem here is that most programs create wonderful opportunities for its participants to get an education, and they’re actually there for an education. Football and basketball players aren’t. In 2016, Oregon is bringing in nearly 200 million dollars in revenue, mostly through football and major donations for football. And this is why we put so much emphasis on how much Universities earn and who earns it and whether student athletes deserved to be paid. The model for college athletics has changed. It is a business model, not an educational one. It’s a business model that enslaves athletic directors to pursue money and indentures athletes into servitude to create a product people do want. It’s hard to reconcile that with the charity it creates for things like women’s basketball which do have important cultural implications, despite not being that entertaining. But not nearly charitable enough. In 2013 the University of Texas paid 55.2 million dollars to coaches and staff, 25.1 million dollars was spent on facilities and 10 million dollars was spent on scholarships. That is not noble. Coaches and “staff” are not educators. That’s not a disparity in how the money generated by college football and basketball.
If you want to blame someone for holding women back in sports, blame the people who decide where that money goes, because it certainly isn’t going toward education women, it isn’t going toward quality education to the people who need it most. It goes to the people who are viewed as most important. Coincidentally the people who are making that decision picked themselves as the most important part of this revenue generation.
So we’ve created this chain. Women’s Basketball isn’t entertaining, but it’s an important worthwhile endeavor is supported by the football and men’s basketball program whose players generate hundreds of millions of dollars for their university and the university chooses to take the overwhelming majority of that money to pay the massive salaries of the coaches and athletic directors who are all too happy to take the credit for all of this.
The next time you want to do your university some good, don’t donate, instead, urge the head football coach and the athletic director to take a salary of one dollar for the next year and donate the rest to the women’s basketball program. It will go a lot further than the $200 dollar check you were about to write.
By TJ Carpenter
In sports talk radio we are all wrong from time to time. Earlier this season I said Peyton Manning would never play another down of NFL football. He is about to play in the Super Bowl. So… I was wrong on that one.
Earlier this year I made wagers with Kevin Kietzman and one of my producers Charlie Karlen that Kansas wouldn’t win a game in football. They were both so totally wrong for thinking KU football would win a game.
CBS officiating expert Mike Carey is wrong almost every time he speaks on television. It’s actually impressive how consistently wrong he is. It’s becoming a kind of performance art to some extent. He’s Elmer Fudd with a microphone.
I had an epiphany on wrongness. It’s awesome and hilarious and you have to own it.
People will crush you on social media for being wrong. One of my favorite things during CBS broadcasts has become listening to Mike Carey in wonderment as he says the exact opposite and wrong thing as a replay challenge unfolds and ultimately makes the right call and makes Mike Carey look like a doofus. Let’s be clear. I LOVE THIS. It is one of the funniest things in sports on television right now. And yet, people are complaining about Mike Carey. Just people will complain about me when I’m wrong or about any other host on 810 when they’re wrong.
Enjoy it. I do.
No one’s predictions are going to be 100% accurate all the time. We have to embrace that and enjoy the wrongness. Because when it’s big and public and embarrassing, it’s also enormously entertaining.
That’s why we are going to do a “Bracket of Wrongness” on the show. So far, we have the following in no particular order. We need to seed this tournament and need suggestions. So feel free to email me, email@example.com or just send your suggestions to my twitter account @TJCarpenterWHB. It can be anything. Left Shark is on the list. Left Shark didn’t make a prediction, but his failure was epic and amazing… Left Shark was SO wrong! Let’s all enjoy and revel in the failure of one another!
MIKE CAREY EVERYTHING
JIM FULSON CAM NEWTON WILL BE A BUST ARTICLE
TJ CARPENTER PEYTON MANNING IS FINISHED
CHARLIE KARLEN KU WILL WIN A GAME IN 2015
MICK SHAFFER THE DEMISE OF THE SEC
STEVE HARVEY MISS UNIVERSE WINNER
BEARDS MCFLY “IS GREEN BAY A DOME TEAM?”
ANDY REID CLOCK MANAGEMENT AT THE END OF THE PATRIOTS GAME
DAN WOLKEN SAID THE ALABAMA DOMINANCE WAS OVER
DEE FORD RUNNING AWAY FROM FRANK GORE
NATE SILVER SAID DONALD TRUMP WOULDN’T LAST
I’ve heard it said the Royals CAN’T go all in on Alex Gordon. Can’t is a word that implies limitations. The Royals aren’t limited by anything regarding Alex Gordon. The Royals are making more money than at any point in their franchise’s history. YOU the fans are giving them more money - buying more tickets, spending more money at the ballpark, buying more merchandise, watching more games on television - than ever before.
So what’s stopping them? Because it isn’t money: at least not with Alex Gordon.
I’ll tell you what it is: fear.
The Royals are afraid of failure. The Royals are afraid of paying a player and then that player not producing to the level of expectation his contract creates amongst the fanbase…. and then fans will LEAVE, and they won’t spend money on tickets or jerseys AND THEY WON’T LIKE US ANYMORE!
Give me a break. The Royals are haunted by 30 years of darkness, still! Dayton Moore may still understand that the market changes, prices increase in baseball, players hold all the negotiating power in free agency and the Royals should be competitive in free agency at the level Alex Gordon is currently floating out there. The billionaire owner may be telling him, “trust me, I know how to handle this, I ran Wal-Mart… this is when we cash in.”
Jerry Crasnick had previously floated the numbers $75-80 million over five years out there. TAKE IT! If it’s 80-85. TAKE IT. 85-90? You’re getting into a gray area, do some haggling, but you can make it work. 90-100… This is where it gets to be out of your realm…. He’s not worth that. You could pay it, but he isn’t worth it. If Alex Gordon signs a contract worth anything less than $90 million dollars over five years, that’s on Kansas City, and the Royals did themselves a great disservice.
You may say, “17 mil is too much a year!” But remember, $17 mil in 2015 isn’t $17 mil in 2020. It could look a lot more like 10-12 depending on how much the baseball landscape and American economic landscape changes in general. The years are non-negotiable. The Royals have to understand this is the price of doing business.
What is more, Alex Gordon is WORTH more to Kansas City than he is to any other market. He sells jerseys here, he has Gordo-Nation, he is a focal point. The market isn’t saturated with personalities. His play on the field is even worth more due to the fact he’s been here so long, he understands the park and his teammates. There is confidence and success in regularity. Consistency is a cornerstone in any successful franchise in all sports. He’s better in Kansas City and for Kansas City than he will be in any other market. Do you think Alex Gordon will get the reception, love and patience in L.A. he gets in Kansas City? Do you think he can play the way he has played his career in Kansas City in a foreign, unfamiliar place? Doubtful.
The Royals have been getting priced out of these negotiations and conversations the same way a country club “prices out” the riff-raff. The rich don’t want to mingle with the “dirty poors” so they go to restaurants and clubs that are too expensive for them. It works. It feels like baseball saw the Royals gain some status and collectively said, “we need to make sure the Royals can’t afford to be this competitive regularly,” and so they use the primary tool at their disposal: money. The Royals aren’t used to spending this kind of money in free agency. They’ve never signed a contract worth more than $56 million.
People bring up a modern example of why signing a blockbuster contract is a bad idea; the Minnesota Twins and Joe Mauer. 1. Joe Mauer is a catcher, who are notorious for breaking down early in their career. 2. Minnesota wasn’t coming off a World Series win. 3. They were actually pouring money into a new stadium at the time in addition to signing the contract. The Royals are potentially re-signing a left fielder in peak physical condition, coming off a World Series win and have a great ballpark with no plans to build a new one.
We’ve been tricked into thinking the Royals are being cautious financially because it’s the wise thing to do, that there must be some flaw with Alex Gordon, rather than a flaw with their philosophy. Dayton Moore deserves a lot of the benefit of the doubt. Since trading Jonathan Sanchez for Jeremy Guthrie in 2012, he’s yet to make a bad decision. But that doesn’t mean the next decision will be right, it just means the likelihood of it being right is higher than the likelihood of it being wrong. Also, he could just be hampered by a cheap owner. If the Royals won’t significantly increase their payroll after winning the World Series, they never will. If the Royals won’t sign a reasonable major contract for Alex Gordon, who’s more valuable to Kansas City than he is to any other city, they’ll never sign a major contract.
At least, not as long as they have David Glass as an owner. Here’s to hoping Dayton Moore continues to be great at shopping on a budget, and giving all the money the team makes back to the guy who says he “pours every penny back into the team,” David Glass.
By TJ Carpenter
What the Kansas City Royals did this year was nothing short of amazing. They were relentless and unkillable. You would look down the list of stats to represent the Royals run through the postseason and World Series and just laugh. It was borderline unbelievable; we witnessed a team that embodied all the things we believed baseball was supposed to be growing up. It was amazing watching them play as a team. No one player stood out as a hero, rather every player played their own essential role in comeback after comeback, win after win. Now that season is over and attention has immediately turned to the other side of the parking lot, which hasn’t looked great by comparison the last couple of seasons. The Royals exercised their demons, but now can the Chiefs do the same? They may have already started.
Do you realize the Chiefs haven’t lost since the Royals won the world series? They also haven’t committed a turnover. Alex Smith is the first quarterback to lead an offense to five straight games without a turnover since Alex Smith in 2011. The 49ers went 4-1 in those games. The Chiefs have been dominating teams over the last five games, not because the play of any one player has been dominant. Alex Smith’s numbers have actually been pedestrian as they have always been. Smith was 19-30 for 255 yards and two touchdowns. That’s solid, not dominant. Spencer Ware has been very good with 234 yards and four touchdowns over his last two games. That’s solid, not dominant.
ESPN Stats and Info puts together its Football Power Index or FPI every week. It is essentially a predictor for each unit on the field. The Chiefs rank 5th this week in the NFL, with good not great ratings on offense and defense. The real kicker is in fact, the kicker. The Chiefs are crushing the rest of the league in the special teams category with a 1.1 rating. The number may not mean anything to you, but by comparison the next closest team in the category is Baltimore with a 0.8 rating. No other team is higher than a 0.5 and over half the league is actually in the negative.
This is of course two-fold: Cairo Santos leads the league in made field goals at 26. Dustin Colquitt is second in the league on kicks inside the 20. The Chiefs average starting field position is 2nd in the league only to New England and the Chiefs are only one of 4 teams whose average starting field position is at the 30 or better; Carolina, Cincinnati and New England being the other three. The Chiefs are also third in the league in defensive starting field position, behind only New England and Cincinnati. The Chiefs are also second in the league in interceptions per drive.
What does all this mean? Much like understanding what made the Royals “unkillable” we must suspend conventional notions of what causes success in the league to understand how and why the Chiefs seem to be “unkillable” right now as well. The Royals embraced the notion that contact was more important than power on offense, it’s why the rallies kept happening in the postseason over and over. Create as many opportunities for play as possible and you will win out in the end and most teams will beat themselves with mistakes. The pressure as we all saw, was overwhelming. The Chiefs have embraced this same notion. Create as many opportunities to score ANY points as you can, limit the number of opportunities of your opponents. Important to this notion of opportunities is limiting negative plays. An elite quarterback like Tom Brady can convert a 3rd and 18 because he’s elite. The key for the Chiefs is never having to deal with 3rd and 18. Don’t let your limitations beat you. Alex Smith picking up 4 yards on 2nd down to make 3rd down more manageable is crucial. Also crucial is the offensive line not committing penalties.
No one player has stood out with dominating performances on either side of the ball. But, each individual player has played an essential role in the success of the Chiefs the last five games. Like the rest of us,it would appear the Chiefs were paying close attention to the Royals Championship run. The same principles applied by the Royals seem to be helping the Chiefs win right now as well. There is a lot of season left, and of course there will be setbacks and the league will adjust to what the Chiefs are doing. But I wouldn’t be surprised if this year the Chiefs exercised their own demons, just as the Royals did. More importantly, they’ll do it in almost the exact same way.