Former NFL linebacker Aaron Maybin’s new book, ‘Art Activism,’ is an ode to Baltimore and its challenges Former first-round pick includes his own paintings, photography and poetry

The words and images are searing. They speak to the destructive nature of poverty, miseducation and murder. But they also speak to the power of perseverance and the indomitable spirit that has always allowed African-Americans to find a way out of no way.

Those are but a few of the themes captured in the new book Art Activism, the product of the restless mind and talented hands of former NFL linebacker and Baltimore native Aaron Maybin. The work is both an ode to Maybin’s hometown and a lament of the city’s many challenges. He uses his paintings, photography, poetry and prose to convey both the pride and pain of Baltimore.

In a powerful open letter to his city, Maybin compares Baltimore to that girl from around the way: maybe a little ratchet with a little too much attitude, but with that mix of smarts, moxie and sexy that never allows her man to stray too far. “Sometimes you love her, sometimes you hate her, sometimes you want to light her on fire; but you always stay loyal to her,” Maybin writes.

More than a few people wanted to set Baltimore on fire in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. During the uprising, Maybin grabbed his camera and went into the streets to document what he saw. Inspired, he also painted and wrote. It was only later that he decided to pull his photos, artwork and writing together into a book. The result is a collection that he hopes will add to the national conversation about what racial injustice looks like in the 21st century and how we should address it.

“I don’t profess to have all the answers. I don’t profess to know where to go,” Maybin said in an interview. “But I believe I raise a lot of questions.”

He also offers some suggestions, even if few would call them novel. He wants black churches to do more to lift up the city. He wants lawmakers to put more money into a public school system that does not have enough money to address the problems of its students. He would like to see more economic development in poor communities, and he wants employers to pay a living wage to workers.

He would like to see more drug treatment centers, and “more than anything else, we need to STOP KILLING EACH OTHER!!! How can we expect the outside world to value our lives when we don’t value them ourselves?” he writes. He also would like to see an end to the poverty, the blight, the drug addiction and the hopelessness that he sees as the root of Baltimore’s more than 300 murders a year.

Maybin, 29, was an All-American linebacker at Penn State and a 2009 first-round draft choice who made an estimated $15 million during a four-year NFL career that fell far short of lofty expectations.

But he was an artist and writer long before he played football. Maybin started studying art when he was still in elementary school, and he painted his first public mural when he was 11. Coming up, he also played the saxophone, acted in plays and sang in the choir. He was 6 years old when he read a poem he wrote for his mother’s funeral.

“Poetry for me was always a form of therapy,” Maybin said.

As Maybin started growing into a frame that eventually expanded to 6-foot-4 and nearly 240 pounds, he started playing football. By the time his family moved to a Baltimore suburb for his high school years, his goal was to play in the pros. But he also knew he would return to his art.

Some critics of his underwhelming professional football career have said that Maybin’s outside interests robbed him of the single-minded focus that transforms great athletes into great players. “Maybe there’s something to that,” he said. “[But] the game has always been a game to me. My family, my health, my mental stability have always been more important to me.” Not only that, but Maybin said he feels “more fulfilled in the aftermath of my career than I did as an actual athlete.”

Still, he has no regrets about his detour into football. “Without the platform that football created and the money I made, I would never be able to have the same impact that I am having now,” said Maybin, who heads a foundation that works to enhance art education to Baltimore schools. “Once people say ‘former first-round pick,’ then people start to listen.”

Maybin sees his new book, which is available on Amazon and at select Baltimore-area bookstores, as a weapon against injustice. “I try to use my platform as a basis for social critique,” he said. “I hope this book can start a dialogue, not just in my bubble, but with people across the aisle from me.”

Baltimore Raven Ronnie Stanley on being half-Tongan, crushing on Rihanna — and Krispy Kreme The starting left tackle also loves to win arguments with his quarterback, Joe Flacco

The day after the Baltimore Ravens’ crucial Monday Night Football win over the Houston Texans, Ronnie Stanley is still celebrating. For Baltimore’s starting left tackle, the victory and following off day calls for a snack.

“I got some Krispy Kreme,” says Stanley via mobile, and fresh out of line. “I played well, so I thought I deserved some doughnuts.” What did he order? “A little assorted half-dozen. Probably won’t eat them all, but just a few to pick from. Chocolate and original glazed.”

The 6-foot-6, 320-pounder needed some fuel after grinding through the matchup against the Texans, in which he suffered an apparent knee injury that he feared could be a torn ACL. Yet Stanley checked out fine with trainers on the sideline before returning to the field to do his job: protect quarterback Joe Flacco. His prowess is the reason the Ravens selected Stanley with the sixth overall pick in 2016. At Notre Dame, he was a consensus 2015 All-American. When the 23-year-old isn’t guarding Flacco’s blind side, he’s trying to prove a point to his quarterback, embracing his half-Tongan/half-African-American heritage or crushing on @badgalriri — Rihanna. Maybe one day she’ll notice him on the field.

What’s the most painful injury you’ve sustained in your life?

You know those souped-up golf carts that are meant for outdoors and hunting? I was in an accident on one of those and ended up breaking my arm and my right ankle. I could’ve died. That was the most painful experience I’ve had in my life. That was freshman year in high school.

What’s one thing you always do before a big game?

One thing I’m always doing is making sure I’ve done everything I can. I’ve warmed up. I’ve gotten as much direction as I can. I kind of overprepare.

What’s the most unique thing about your quarterback, Joe Flacco, that not many people know?

He’s a hilarious, superoutspoken guy with a ton of opinions … nothing really weird, but if there’s something that could be a gray area, or you’re going back and forth, he’ll always have an opinion. That’s the same with me, so we’ll always be trying to be the right person in the conversation. We both love trying to prove the other wrong.

What’s your most vivid memory from the day you got drafted?

Walking out on the stage, seeing all those people and holding up that jersey for the first time in front of the crowd. Just it all settling in. Everything you’d dreamed of since you were a kid, and it finally happening in one moment.

What was your first major purchase after being drafted?

I didn’t even purchase it, I’m leasing it, but I guess you could say my car. It’s a BMW. It was originally white, but I got it wrapped in this dark matte gray.

If not for the NFL, what career path would you be on right now?

Probably something entrepreneurial, having to do with a technology startup, along the lines of innovation.

In November, did you bet with any of your Ravens teammates that Notre Dame would beat Miami?

I didn’t bet anyone at first, but I was having a good feeling about it the day of the game. Our D-tackle Brandon Williams, an hour and a half before the game, was trying to set something up with me. We ended up betting, and I ended up losing.

“I always get some type of tweet, or some message, from not just Tongan fans but Polynesian fans in general.”

If you could meet any athlete, dead or alive, who would it be?

I’d want it to be someone I could gain some wisdom from, not just someone who was good at their sport. … I’d probably say Muhammad Ali, back in his day. I met him when I was a kid, actually. He was in Las Vegas because his grandson, who’s a lot younger than I am, played at my high school. I never got to talk to Muhammad like that because he was a lot older, so to be able to talk him when he was younger, and be able to have a full conversation … he had a lot of insight.

If you could take one celebrity on a date, who would it be and why?

Oh, gosh … I’d go with Rihanna. … She does her own thing … and is supersuccessful.

What’s your favorite platform for social media, and why?

Twitter, for sure, because the content is hilarious. You can’t find funny s— like that on any other social media.

How did you come up with the Instagram handle @megatronnie?

When I made my IG, I was sitting there thinking, ‘OK, I want something to go with my name.’ So I said, ‘What ends with ‘-ron’?’ so that I could finish it off with Ronnie. I was just making up all these names in my head, and I came up with ‘Megatronnie.’

Who’s the most famous person following you on IG/snap/Twitter?

Jerome Boateng is pretty famous, I guess. He follows me. We’re actually pretty good friends.

What’s one thing about yourself that others might consider embarrassing?

Just the way I act in general … the things I say.

What’s one place in the world you’ve never been that you’re dying to visit?

Dubai.

When in your life did you realize you’re half-Tongan, and what does your Tongan heritage mean to you?

I knew I was half-Tongan when I was pretty young. My parents did a really good job of introducing me, my little brother and my little sister to the culture. We went to a lot of family reunions with our Tongan side of the family. To be around them a lot as kids definitely normalized the heritage for us.

Do you get a lot of love from Tongan NFL fans?

For sure. I always get some type of tweet, or some message, from not just Tongan fans but Polynesian fans in general. It’s such a small group of people compared to other races in America. To see someone of that ethnicity playing football … they all support us because there’s only a handful of us.

You have a huge tattoo inspired by your Tongan heritage — what made you get it?

I always thought tribal tattoos were amazing. Just the detail, the pattern, the art, the symmetry. What I got was actually done by Haloti Ngata’s little brother. … In the middle, I have a big dove that’s on my grandma’s tombstone. I also have my mom’s name written in Tongan within the design. The rest of it is all traditional Tongan freehand. … It took like 13 hours, and I did it in one session.

Where does your courage come from?

My parents always telling me to stand up for myself and to do what I know is right. They were always reaffirming, ‘You’re no less than anyone else … so don’t let people walk over you.’ That definitely made me a lot more courageous being out in the world by myself.

What will you always be the champion of?

The people.

‘My Cause My Cleats’: The top 24 Week 13 customs — and why players wore them Reppin’ everything from the American Cancer Society to the Trayvon Martin Foundation to Kaepernick

Week 13 in the National Football League, at least since last season, is all about creativity, customization and cause. Through the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, which the league started in 2016, players can bend uniform guidelines and wear cleats designed to represent a cause of their choice.

Typically, players are only allowed to wear custom-painted kicks during pregame warm-ups. Then switch to uniform footwear while the game clock is rolling. But in Week 13, flashy cleats in vibrant colors, featuring unique illustrations and messages, are the norm. Athletes all across the NFL, from every position group, commission the hottest designers in the sneaker game to create the perfect pair of cleats for their cause. This year, around 1,000 players reportedly took part in the initiative, and after games ended, select cleats were sold at auction, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting causes such as the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, Colin Kaepernick’s #KnowYourRightsCamp, Habitat for Humanity, autism, POW and MIA families, anti-bullying, social justice and criminal justice reform, the Trayvon Martin Foundation and more.

“This weekend, you’ll really see the impact art has had on the NFL,” Los Angeles artist Troy Cole, aka Kickasso, tweeted before Sunday’s games. Last season, he designed every pair of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s anticipated pregame cleats. “Art is a powerful way to tell a story #MyCauseMyCleats.”

Here are The Undefeated’s top 24 “My Cause My Cleats” customs, along with the players who wore them, the causes they supported and the artistic geniuses who brought charitable creativity to life.


Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: #BringBackOurGirls campaign

Joe Barksdale, Offensive Tackle, Los Angeles Chargers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Fender Music Foundation

Designer: DeJesus Custom Footwear Inc.

Michael Bennett, Defensive End, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: National League of POW/MIA Families

A.J. Bouye, Cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars

Cause: American Cancer Society

Designer: Kickasso

Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

Instagram Photo

Cause: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

Designer: Corey Pane

Kurt Coleman, Safety, Carolina Panthers

Cause: Levine Children’s Hospital

Designer: Ryan Bare, SR Customs

Mike Daniels, defensive end, Green Bay Packers

Cause: Anti-bullying

Designer: SolesBySir

Stefon Diggs, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

Cause: American Heart Association

Designer: Mache Customs

DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Brotherhood Crusade

Designer: SolesBySir

Malcolm Jenkins, Safety, Philadelphia Eagles

Cause: Social Justice and Criminal Justice Reform, Players Coalition

Designer: Sixth-grade class at Jubilee School, Illustrative Cre8ions

Eddie Lacy, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: International Relief Teams, Hurricane Katrina

Designer: Bizon Customs

Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins

Instagram Photo

Cause: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, New Orleans Saints

Cause: Social injustices and honoring close friend Dayton Williams, who was shot and killed in 2010 in Euclid, Ohio.

Rishard Matthews, Wide Receiver, Tennessee Titans

Instagram Photo

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: SolesBySir

Gerald McCoy, Defensive Tackle, Tampa Bay buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: “The Life of a Single Mom”

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Eric Reid, Safety, San Francisco 49ers

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: Tragik MCMXCIII

A’shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions

Cause: Leukemia patients

Jaylon Smith, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: Autism

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles

Instagram Photo

Cause: Torrey Smith Family Fund, Show Your Soft Side, Players Coalition, NO More Campaign

Designer: Kreative Custom Kicks, Dez Customz

Shane Vereen, Running Back, New York Giants

Cause: Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles

Designer: Kickasso

Anthony Walker, Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts

Cause: Trayvon Martin Foundation

Designer: Desmond J. Jones, Art is Dope

Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Houston Texans

Cause: Habitat for Humanity

Designer: 5-year-old twins Kayla and Jakwan; Evan Melnyk, Nike

Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: Why Not You Foundation

Designer: Kate Neckel and Dash Tsai

 

Daryl Worley, Cornerback, Carolina Panthers

Instagram Photo

Cause: CeaseFirePA

Designer: SR Customs

Rishard Matthews brings Colin Kaepernick back to football Miami artist Marcus Rivero on how Matthews’ custom ‘My Cause My Cleats’ were created

On Sunday at Nissan Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee, Colin Kaepernick will once again grace the field of an NFL stadium and take a knee in protest of social injustice in the United States. Now, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback won’t be there physically for the divisional matchup between the AFC South’s Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans. He’s not listed on either team’s roster, having gone unsigned by every squad in the NFL since March 3. But Kaepernick will be present. An image of him kneeling, with his fluffed Afro taking the shape of a Black Power fist, is painted on the custom-designed cleats that Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews will don against Houston.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

It’s Week 13 in the NFL, marking the return of the league’s “My Cause My Cleats” campaign, which began in 2016. The leaguewide initiative allows players to bypass uniform guidelines and wear customized cleats in support of a charitable cause of their choice. For his cleats, Matthews, a close friend and former college teammate of Kaepernick’s at the University of Nevada, honors his friend’s youth awareness campaign, the Know Your Rights camp.

“I dont have a foundation, so I have chosen to support my brother @kaepernick7 foundation @yourrightscamp for #MyCauseMyCleats,” Matthews wrote on Instagram, where he debuted the cleats on Wednesday. “He has paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to bring true everyday issues to light. Please follow the page & go to the website to learn more. We Should ALL Know Our Rights & Be Able to Express Them Freely.”

Instagram Photo

The cleats were designed by Miami artist Marcus Rivero, aka SolesBySir, who’s been customizing shoes for football players for the past five years, with an NFL clientele that includes Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco, Tom Brady, J.J. Watt, DeSean Jackson, Terrell Suggs, Jalen Ramsey and more. Before Matthews takes the field against the Texans, The Undefeated caught up with Rivero, who detailed the design process of the shoes, from the wide receiver’s mind to the artist’s final brushstroke.


How did the idea for Matthews’ Kaepernick cleats come about?

Rishard and I have been working together all season. Our first pair was very calm because it was Rishard’s first time doing customs. As the weeks progressed, a lot of current events were coming up and he wanted to take stances. With My Cause My Cleats coming about, he basically told me … ‘I want to stand with Kaep.’ There’s been a bond there since the beginning. I was like, ‘OK …’ We went back and forth, and believe it or not, this was a hard design to do.

What made it hard to execute?

We didn’t know whether we wanted to color the cleats. Whether we wanted to do all-black, all-white, gold. Rishard thought about it, slept on it. And last minute, he said, ‘You know what? Let’s just keep it simple, black and white.’ So my job as an artist is just basically to take what people give you — so, with Rishard, black and white — and make it a loud message, which is difficult. If you’re working with neon green, neon yellow, you can play to your advantage. But when you’re working with black and white, which is the standard color for all cleats issued, it’s hard.

I told Rishard he needs 100 yards and at least a touchdown. Because that’s what the shoes deserve.

What was Rishard truly looking for?

The first thing I said was, ‘Rishard, I want to go one and one. Let’s make each cleat not look like the other.’ He loved the idea. He sent me over the logos of the Know Your Rights Camp, so I put it on both outsides of the shoe. On the inside of his right shoe, it says ‘Know Your’ and on the opposite shoe, it says, ‘Rights Camp.’ So if you put your heels together, and open them up like a V, somebody in front of you can read the opposite of what you’re reading.

I still wanted to add something. He goes, ‘Let’s put Kaep’s name, and some sort of logo.’ We kept bouncing ideas back and forth. One was a fist, like Tommie Smith and John Carlos. I just did a cleat for DeSean Jackson with a brotherhood-type theme, and we used a fist. So I really didn’t want to do it again. I wanted to stand on our own on this. Literally, Rishard and I are FaceTiming. And sure enough we’re Googling images, and then the idea hit us, like, ‘Oh, let’s do Kaepernick on a knee and use his Afro as a fist.’

Instagram Photo

Was it hard to draw the image of Kaepernick kneeling with his Afro as a fist?

It wasn’t so much. I have a Microsoft Surface Pro that I use to make designs. Then I turn them into a stencil, which helps me out. Unfortunately, I can’t hand-draw every letter. We have to do a lot stencilling so that I can lay down the stencil, spray and then peel it off, just timingwise. With the Surface Pro that I’ve been using, it’s generally been like a walk in the park for me. The Kaepernick logo has a lot of detail, but at the same time it doesn’t. It’s very simple. It’s a cool logo.

The idea hit us, like, ‘Oh, let’s do Kaepernick on a knee and use his Afro as a fist.’

How long did it take you to complete the cleats — and what was Rishard’s reaction when he saw the finished product?

I spent about six or seven hours on them because those cleats were both navy blue and that Tennessee light blue to begin with. Sure enough, I did it, and he falls in love with them. Then he says, ‘I’m gonna send him to Kaep.’ He sends them to Kaep, and Kaep loved them. He sent him the fire emoji, which is the same response I got from Rishard when I sent him the photos.

Is this the first time you’ve customized a pair of cleats in honor of Kaepernick, or his stance?

Yes and no. Rishard has been focusing on the equality theme on his cleats this season, and that was due in part to his friendship with Kaepernick, dating back to Nevada. Rishard is an interesting mix in the bunch because his brother died in the line of duty, and he comes from a military family. So he’s kind of a hybrid — because a lot of people believe Kaepernick disrespected the military. Rishard stands on both sides, but he believes there’s a huge injustice in the world, and he just wants everyone to be equal. … But as far as putting the name ‘Kaepernick’ or putting him kneeling on something, this is the first time I’ve ever done it. I’ve done other political shoes that athletes have wanted. The thing is, as an artist, my job is not to show my political stance, my job is to make sure my clients are happy. If they want to put Kaepernick on their shoes, that’s what I’m here to do. Everybody has a right to do what they want.

How important do you think the My Cause My Cleats initiative is in the NFL?

I’m biased as heck, but I’ll be the first one to tell you I think it’s amazing. I started doing this five years ago … and back then it was frowned upon. Back then, tons of my guys were getting fined. There were so many silly rules, and now it’s changed. … Last year, My Cause My Cleats went great, but not a lot of guys knew about it, so not a lot of guys did it. When the league opened it up again, it showed they were happy with it. It brought a lot of positivity. It raised a crap ton of money because 99 percent of these shoes — for example, Rishard’s will be one pair of them — they’ll go up on the auction block. All of the money that the shoes generate goes to the fund of whatever they stood for. It’s a win-win. Cool shoes. Athletes get them. Fans get their hands on them afterward. And all this money goes to a whole bunch of great causes. It’s making the league fun again.

Kaep loved them. He sent Rishard the fire emoji, which is the same response I got from Rishard when I sent him the photos.

How many pairs of My Cause My Cleats did you design for Week 13?

Last year I did about 105 pairs. This year, we’re at about 250 to 280 pairs, and that’s just me. I found out from the NFL on Wednesday that supposedly between 800 to 850 guys signed up for this My Cause My Cleats this year, so I literally almost did 40 percent of the cleats. It’s frickin’ bananas to me. And by the time the season’s over, I’ll have done at least 800 to 1,000 pairs, leaguewide.

Instagram Photo

Just how important are Rishard’s cleats right now?

It’s been a crazy year when it’s come to the protests, and I’ve heard both sides of the story. I work with a lot of players who have knelt or not gone out for the national anthem, and I work with a lot of players who come out and stand for it. It’s a touchy subject … but Rishard was able to touch on it in a way so this gets the attention it deserves — but at the same time not negatively bring attention to it. We need to find a happy medium. Both sides of the line need to come together, figure it out and get it moving in the right direction.

I think these shoes brought more attention to Rishard Matthews. I told him, the only problem he has now is with all the attention these shoes got, if he doesn’t have a 100-yard game and a touchdown, then they’re not doing what they should be doing. So all the pressure is back on Rishard right now. I told him he needs 100 yards and at least a touchdown. Because that’s what the shoes deserve.

Are Jared Goff and Case Keenum that good, or was coach Jeff Fisher a QB killer? There wasn’t a term for when a coach’s poor game plans undermined the skills of his quarterback. Until now …

The term “coach killer” is football jargon used to label a player, normally a quarterback, whose on-field performance is so bad that it routinely undermines his coach’s game plan and eventually leads to the firing of the coaching staff. But there isn’t a term for when the opposite happens, when a coaching staff’s game plans are so insufficient that they undermine the skills of their quarterback. Until now …

Fisher

noun: fish·er \ ˈfi-shər \

  1. A coach who makes his quarterback worse.

Origin: It is a derivative of Jeff Fisher, the former NFL coach.

After 22 seasons as an NFL head coach, five leading the Los Angeles Rams, Jeff Fisher and his staff were fired last season. Like many failed staffs, Fisher’s crew probably convinced themselves that they would have succeeded if they had only found a decent quarterback. By bubble-wrapping their egos in that theory, most coaches enjoy peace of mind for many years. But poor Fisher wasn’t even afforded a year of self-delusion because Jared Goff and Case Keenum became very good NFL quarterbacks almost immediately after being freed from his tutelage.

This season, Goff is 8-3 as the Rams’ starter under the guidance of 31-year-old rookie head coach Sean McVay. Goff was 0-7 a season ago. Keenum ended up in Minnesota with the Vikings, where he assumed the starting role after Sam Bradford, another former Fisher quarterback, got hurt. Keenum has gone 7-2 for his new team. He went 4-5 with Fisher in 2016. But their records aren’t the only evidence of improvement. With a Total QBR of 18.3 last season, rookie Goff was being called the worst quarterback of all time. So far this season, his QBR is 55.2. That places him right at the league average, which is promising for a player in his second season, his first as a Week 1 starter. At the beginning of last season, Goff was deemed unfit to even be a backup by Fisher and crew. He was third on the depth chart.

All quarterbacks should improve from their first season to their second. The average QBR increase from year one to year two is +5.6. But Goff’s QBR increase of 36.9 is enormous. If he sustains his current QBR, it will be the largest increase from first to second season since the stat has been kept. However, it might not be the biggest year-to-year QBR increase regardless of level of experience. That distinction could go to Keenum, Fisher’s other 2016 quarterback. If Keenum can sustain his 77.2 QBR (second-best in the league), he will have increased his QBR by nearly 40. The Vikings are Keenum’s third team in his five-year career. The first two seasons he spent in Houston, where his QBR was 48.6 and 39.3. Then he went to Fisher’s Rams for a couple of seasons, where he had the two lowest QBRs of his career (34.8 and 37.5).

To be fair to Fisher, he is a defensive-minded coach, so maybe the quarterback failures are not a result of his poor game plans. But hiring a complementary staff is one of the chief responsibilities of a head coach. And Fisher went through three offensive coordinators in his time with the Rams, so it doesn’t seem that he knows how to find the right guy. Goff and Keenum are surrounded by more talent than they had under Fisher, so that could account for some of the quarterbacks’ improvement. That explanation, though, isn’t strong enough to restore Fisher’s reputation. Only winning could do that, and no franchise is going to give the 59-year-old anti-quarterback whisperer a chance now. Which is probably for the best.

The stats show this season’s Rams offense under McVay is more productive. Watching the video of games shows why. This season the Rams are taking big shots down the field on early downs, when the defense is most susceptible. They are using receiver motion, tight splits and receiver stacks to keep defenders from pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage and to create mismatches and angles for the receivers to get open. And every week, they run a few unique route combinations that almost guarantee that a receiver will be open down the field.

In last week’s game against the New Orleans Saints, on one play the Rams overloaded the Saints’ zone coverage with four eligible pass catchers running routes to one side. Goff completed a pass to tight end Tyler Higbee for a gain of 38 yards.

McVay has taken the responsibility of scheming success for Goff. Fisher’s 2016 offense put the responsibility on Goff and the skill players to create success. The formations were traditional and stagnant, and the schemes were simple and predictable. On first down, they would run the ball or throw short, isolated passes. Fisher’s goal was probably to keep it simple for his rookie quarterback, but the game plan was obvious to the defenses. So opponents had a good idea of what the Rams were going to do, which meant that Goff had to be deadly accurate on every play or the receivers had to be spectacular. Fisher’s attempt to coddle Goff backfired.

Although Fisher is out of the league, it doesn’t mean that his way of thinking left with him. Goff and Keenum were fortunate to find situations that suit them. Not all young quarterbacks are that lucky. They get labeled as a bad quarterback before ever getting the opportunity to play for a creative and resourceful coach. Instead, they get stuck with a coach who is searching for a superstar quarterback to ride to glory rather than getting the best out of the players he has.

Josh Norman partners with Boys & Girls Clubs this holiday season Washington cornerback is also helping recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

After Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman learned of the devastation left by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, he didn’t hesitate to do his part. He initially donated $100,000 to send food to the island.

Now, Norman is partnering with Boys & Girls Clubs of America for a holiday season campaign to benefit Puerto Rico, and he’s also donating toys and food to families in need. He donated $50,000 to activate the partnership and plans to raise an additional $200,000.

“The crazy part about it is everybody was out helping Miami, and helping Houston, but who was out to help Puerto Rico? When you saw the devastation that was caused, it was the worst kind. … Some places still don’t have power now. We’re talking about it’s been months, months, months.”

Norman and his brothers visited the island and appreciated the kindness he received from the community.

“They are part of the United States. It’s really sad, but we were able to form up forces and link arms,” Norman said. “I’m not saying that people didn’t do that. I’m not saying it, but it wasn’t enough. For me, I’ve been over there, I’ve experienced the people. It was just something that I just couldn’t look away from.

“God spoke and I moved, and that was one of those things I moved on. What we do on this earth, yeah, it’ll last. It’ll last on earth, but what we do for others, that echoes an eternity. It really does. What you do for others, it will last a lifetime, so that’s why I see it, for me, helping out.

“I put my money towards that. But then I started looking for a foundation. … And the Boys & Girls Club came up where it’s something that it can affect the kids.”

For more than 150 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of America has helped young children and teens by providing a safe space and programs during nonschool hours. Today, 4,300 clubs serve 4 million young people annually.

Although Norman is not a product of the Boys & Girls Clubs organization, he visited a few times as a child. As an adult, he knew he wanted to team up for the cause.

“It’s truly amazing to be doing something to help others,” Norman said.

For Thanksgiving and Christmas, Norman will be donating food to families and having Santa Claus deliver gifts and food. He has to play on Thanksgiving Day, but he wants to make sure he is involved in the giving process. So he has combined the two holidays into a big day for the entire season of giving.

“Last year we did gifts along with the turkeys for up to 24 families. This year we just kind of combined everything and everybody. Have them under one house and give away toys and gifts and just have a big party.”

The message to NFL players: Dance for us, but don’t kneel Demonizing black protest while allowing black celebration has a deep historical context

This NFL season, the usual game-day messaging of beer and sneaker ads and uplifting videos about community or military service has been augmented by a special kind of cultural telegraph.

Sent from white NFL owners and fans to black NFL players, it goes like this:

You can Milly Rock, Juju on that Beat or fake play pingpong in the end zone. (STOP) But we can’t abide you kneeling on the sidelines. (STOP) Dance to your heart’s content, but you best not raise a fist in protest. (STOP)

It’s a historically layered message about what’s allowable, laudable or even tolerable for black men to do with their bodies. It’s an adjudication centered in the white gaze, projected onto black limbs, televised to millions of eyes. Politicians, business leaders and NFL leadership have reached peak freak-out about players tackling racism and police brutality during the national anthem. But even as a divided populace watches football on a hair trigger, the league has newly relaxed its rules about touchdown celebrations.

Every pressurized system needs a release. Cue Mr. Bojangles.

Or can talented players simply be allowed to celebrate athletic achievement and the joy of expression, like any free people, without the echoes of white supremacy? I’m asking for the culture.


White fear of the black male body is part of the subtext of the rage over the NFL protests (and actually any form of black protest). That fear, stemming from perceptions of black lawlessness and criminality, can also be understood as a projection of white rage.

The angst and anger over the protests during the national anthem, which began last year with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, recently ticked up dramatically. President Donald Trump cursed NFL players who protested and called for them to be fired. Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said, “We can’t have inmates running the prison” during a meeting of NFL owners and league executives. TV viewership was down 7.5 percent through the season’s first six weeks compared with the same period last year, and every week brings tension, threats of boycotts and boos directed at players and teams who do anything other than stand and salute.

But end zone dances and celebrations have ticked up dramatically too. Highlights of the most creative are ranked weekly on websites and social media. “We know that you love the spontaneous displays of emotion that come after a spectacular touchdown. And players have told us they want more freedom to be able to express themselves and celebrate their athletic achievements,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in an open letter to fans earlier this year.

That position is new.

Last year, Newsweek reported that players had been fined 18 times for excessive celebrations through 14 weeks, more than 2.5 times the fines issued for all of 2015 and part of a leaguewide crackdown. This included Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, whose professional-grade twerking in the Washington end zone, along with other pelvis-intensive dances, cost him nearly $60,000. Oakland Raiders punter Marquette King danced with an official’s penalty flag after the opposing team was called for roughing the kicker, costing him more than $12,000. And when then-New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz danced a salsa and teammate Odell Beckham Jr. pretended to take pictures, that choreography cost them more than $12,000 each.

In an explanatory video last year, Dean Blandino, then senior vice president of officiating for the NFL, said there were long-standing rules against excessive demonstrations (which earned it the “No Fun League” nickname) but penalties were up because “it’s been a point of emphasis.” Hugs and salutes were fine, he said, as were limited dancing and going to the ground in prayer (presumably unless it involved praying for police to stop shooting black people).

In the offseason, however, the league changed course to allow group choreography, props and rolling on the ground. This year has witnessed the Peter Piper dance and an homage to Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot on Monday Night Football. There’s been faux bench-pressing and fake home run hitting.

“We’re allowed to celebrate now,” Brown enthused in a preseason tweet. Along with other players, Brown (who last year finished in the top five on Dancing with the Stars) previewed possible dance moves on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon at the beginning of the season. He helped tout the new dance rules in a Pepsi commercial.

Both freedom of expression in black protest, which has been demonized, and freedom of expression in black dance — which, this year at least, is more OK — have complex and often contradictory messaging. But it all relates to questions of power and control of the black-body politic.

“We’re allowed to celebrate now.” — Antonio Brown

Former NFL Pro Bowler Keyshawn Johnson has experienced those attempts at control firsthand. In 1996, Johnson was a New York Jets rookie wide receiver when he scored his first NFL touchdown. He ripped off his helmet, spiked the football and started dancing. Teammates joined in celebration and tackled him to the ground. Former quarterback Joe Theismann, then an ESPN analyst, called him a jerk.

Though Johnson never went in for celebration dances after that — he threw balls in the stands until the fines got prohibitive, then just handed the ball to kids in the front row — it wasn’t because of Theismann’s criticism.

“I looked at it as this is a white dude that don’t like a black man doing something totally different than what the narrative is supposed to be, which is you’re supposed to play football and be quiet and be happy,” he said.

A segment of fans will always think celebrations are wrong, Johnson said. “They just think that showboating is basically like clowning.” It takes their mind to “if you celebrate, you’re disrespectful, because they want to control what you do. Part of controlling what you do is, ‘We prefer him to do this versus that.’ ”

When white players perform celebration rituals, they are understood differently, said Johnson. The quarterback position “is dominated by mainly white dudes with the pumping of the fist and the screaming out loud and guys shouting to the air when they throw a touchdown,” Johnson said. Fans and analysts say, “Oh, look at Tom Brady … he’s exuberant. He’s passionate about that throw to [Rob] Gronkowski. You’re like, ‘Wait a minute, he’s celebrating.

The nature of the guys who often take the ball into the end zone contributes to the creativity of the dances, Johnson points out. Wide receivers have to be fast, and speed is its own form of beauty. Receivers are “isolated. They’re the furthest position on offense, detached from their teammates,” said Johnson. They touch the ball less often than running backs and quarterbacks, so when they do get their hands on it, they want to make it count. Plus, “we happen to be, you know, sports car guys. We ain’t no big old truck dude. We ain’t no lineman. You look in the car lot, they’re going to have Bentleys, Ferraris, they’re going to have all that.”

Johnson likes dances being choreographed and creative but with limits on sexual suggestiveness, or implied violence such as throat-slashing. He believes that dances are allowed while protests are contested because of money. “When it starts to affect the bottom line, they’re like, ‘Oh, no, man. We’ve got to put a stop to this.’ ” He believes in criminal justice reform. “But I also understand Jerry Jones [Dallas Cowboys owner, who threatened to bench players last month who he said “disrespect the flag”] because I, too, am a business owner, so I understand when you start messing with my money. … ”


Dwandalyn Reece, curator of music and performing arts at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, sees the players’ dance moves — the boasting, mimicry and pantomime, the circle formation, the use of props — as definitive hallmarks of the African-American dance aesthetic.

Dancing and singing were one of the few areas where the dominant white culture allowed the enslaved freedom of expression. Then, of course, blacks got stereotyped as always dancing and singing, said Reece. This contributes to the multiple gazes operating on the field when it comes to football dances.

In one political moment, it’s showboating, overly stylized, expressing individualism at the expense of sportsmanship. (And, as a popular Key and Peele skit suggests, no touchdown dance is complete without at least three pelvic thrusts.)

In another political moment, dance is safe and entertaining — something white folks have historically enjoyed watching happy blacks do. In turn, that sight line evokes minstrel show dancing and “cooning” for white audiences.

The dances “can be spectacle, depending on the arena that it’s in, but the roots of it are quite meaningful and quite rooted in a cultural tradition,” said Robert Battle, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Battle, who says he doesn’t do the latest dances, “the Dougie, or whatever,” sees football players expressing grace, athleticism and even their inner child as they move their bodies to punctuate their joy. But black dance has always been a contested cultural signifier. NFL dances are about rejecting old strictures and reclaiming personal expression. It’s the idea “that you dance in spite of how you’re being perceived because you know the inherent joy in that.” Or, Just because it’s a stereotype, I’m not going to stop eating fried chicken at the company picnic.

The dances are meant to push buttons, Battle said. It’s meant for “the naysayers or the ones that would be threatened. It’s meant to say, well, you should be threatened because I’m that damned good!”

Black social dancing has always been an extension of dances that came to the Americas with the enslaved, said Kyle Abraham, artistic director of the Abraham.In.Motion dance company and a MacArthur Fellow. “The ways the pelvis is used in the dancing, the way it’s much more grounded, can evoke fear to some but can deliver power to others.”

As for black dance being loaded with shade, Abraham references the cake walk. It was an elaborate, high-stepping prance that began before the Civil War and mocked the high society pretensions of whites and slaveholders, subversively, on the low, to their faces, as they clapped along.

“It’s meant to say, well, you should be threatened, because I’m that damned good!”

“There is always a possibility that there is a game being played within a game and that we are actually in control,” said Abraham. “Look at me, I’m entertaining you. Are you entertained? Am I what you want me to be, while at the same time I’m making you notice.”

The handcuffs are off and players are going to want to step up their moves, especially in an age where they can go viral. “Maybe part of this illusion in this modern-day cake walk is that you actually think you have ownership over who I am and how I will be presented … but in actuality, I have full ownership of who I am and how I choose to speak and move and dance. And when I will make those extra 10 yards!” Abraham said.

Damion Thomas, curator of sports for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, remembers watching the Houston Oilers’ Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, an NFL dancing pioneer who became legendary for his flapping-leg touchdown celebration in the late 1970s and 1980s. Thomas calls Hall of Fame cornerback Deion “Primetime” Sanders, who in the 1990s helped usher in the modern celebrity football player era, his all-time favorite player and dancer and points out that his signature, flashy stiff-arm and high steps mimic movements from Detroit ballroom dancing.

He notes that white players, such as the Jets’ Mark Gastineau and his sack dance, historically have been part of the creative NFL culture. Today, white players have been involved in some fan favorites, including a game of duck, duck goose. Travis Kelce, tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs, is a serial end zone dancer and originator of Week 9’s potato sack race, one of the season’s best group celebrations.

Although both dancing and protest have gotten attention this year, Thomas contends they occupy separate spaces. Players let you know when they are protesting, he said, and they reserve political acts for certain moments in a prescribed space while keeping the end zone as a “part of the field they are not engaging with social issues.” The exception: “When Odell Beckham Jr. scored a touchdown, went on all fours and raised his leg like he was a dog — and then later said that was in relationship to Donald Trump.”

Reece, the music and performing arts curator, sees multiple narratives “being enacted as we struggle with trying to get beyond the lens of the way that people look at us, and interpret us and define us.”

These will continue to play out as fans struggle, as football players struggle, as the nation struggles with this political moment and the long, complicated history of the black body politic.

Martellus Bennett’s ability to empower and inspire kids caught the eye of Microsoft The tight end is part of the company’s Create Change movement

When tight end Martellus Bennett was a young child, he knew he wanted to create visuals and tell stories.

“As a punishment as a kid, my mom used to make me write stories about what happened. And I used to crush those,” he said. “I started writing like crazy. I always feel like creativity is one of my easiest things to do, ’cause there’s some things that you do in life that just feel right.”

The act of creating is natural for the 6-foot-6 athlete who was raised in Houston, where football is king. As Bennett’s desires grew to create more with his creativity and imagination, he knew he wanted to do more. So in 2016 he followed his passion and created The Imagination Agency, “a place where dreams come to life” and where he wears the title of chief executive officer. He tells stories through children’s books, apps and films. It’s an agency that cultivates and inspires youths to pursue creative career paths.

Under the umbrella of The Imagination Agency, Bennett penned children’s book Hey A.J., It’s Saturday, which was released on Father’s Day 2016 and has an app.

Bennett describes the word imagination as “endless possibilities.”

“I think imagination is the key to the world’s issues,” he said. “I think imagination is a great solution. Therefore, this is why I work very hard to promote creativity in kids, because kids have great imagination and creativity, and to help create great solutions for all of the problems that we have in the world in the future.”

To help him carry out his passion, he has partnered with Microsoft to participate in its Create Change movement. Microsoft’s Create Change program features a video series discussing how handpicked players are using Microsoft technology in their philanthropic endeavors. The company, known for having high standards with its philanthropic endeavors, is pursuing thought creators who are inspired to drive positive change and empower other individuals in their communities. And Bennett fits the bill. They also collaborated with four other NFL players to support the philanthropic work they do off the field: Von Miller, Russell Wilson, Richard Sherman and Greg Olsen.

The charitable foundations created or supported by each player focus on areas that align with some of Microsoft’s core missions and values, including education, accessibility, creativity and health. By partnering with these foundations in providing both resources and awareness, they hope to increase their impact on the lives of those in need.

Each video shows a player discussing the inspiration for his cause. They each tell testimonies on how using Microsoft Surface products help them impact more lives in a variety of ways. In support of the work these charitable causes are doing, Microsoft will be making a donation to each of the five nonprofit organizations involved.

Bennett is also working on launching the Uncle Smarty Foundation, where his goal is to help kids use their imagination to dream bigger. He just rebranded The Imagination Agency, developing a new logo, and he is in the process of relaunching the website.

“A lot of people didn’t even know about it,” he said. “I feel like I had a chance to really rebrand some things before I start putting out my next couple projects.”

Bennett says the Create Change program is “super important” for him and his business.

He’s inspired by his 3-year-old daughter, Austyn Jett Rose Bennett.

“I feel like the stuff I’m doing is because of her,” he said. “I feel like she is going to be a black woman in our community growing up and there are a lot of kids like her.”

Bennett also works with Black Girls Code so he can empower other girls and women. “The more people she sees like her, the more comfortable she may be in those fields that she decides to go in. But right now I let her develop around art. It’s encouraging her to be herself, nothing stuffy.”

When Bennett wakes up, he reads some type of philosophy. Then he starts doodling before and after his workout, and “football stuff.” He later starts creating for his agency and uses the remaining parts of his day toward being a husband and father, which to him is the most important job in the world.

“I would rather suck at everything in life and be great at those two things. So I try to make sure that I stay that way, ’cause I’m super ambitious as a person but I want to make sure that I stay ambitious as a father and as a husband as well.”

Bennett is now back with the New England Patriots, who claimed him off waivers Thursday after he was waived by the Green Bay Packers. Bennett was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft and went on to play for the New York Giants, Chicago Bears and New England, winning Super Bowl LI with the Patriots last season.

Daily Dose: 11/3/17 Tyrese is struggling, and it’s all very public

We made it to Friday, y’all. Hooray. It also happens to be National Sandwich Day, which means it’s the perfect time for me to remind you all that a hot dog is not a sandwich. Because without the bread, it’s still a hot dog.

The NFL is a complete mess right now. It appears that the Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot will be playing this week, after yet another stay was granted to him in court. If you’ve lost track of how many times they’ve gone back and forth, I don’t blame you. In addition, the national anthem situation has gone completely nuclear, with owners now being deposed and told to turn over documents and phones to see if they were colluding to keep Colin Kaepernick out of the league.

Appropriation is something people of color take seriously. Blackface isn’t cool, and wearing traditional garb as Halloween costumes is typically considered insensitive at best. The holiday just passed and there are per usual, any number of violations, one in particular stood out. One guy dressed up as a member of Omega Psi Phi, and the black Greek-letter community was NOT having it. As someone who is not in a fraternity, I don’t really know what to feel about it, but Twitter definitely got these jokes off.

Tyrese is really going through it right now. The singer and actor has been embroiled in a messy family situation, in which his wife accused him of abusing their child. After a lot of legal fees, he is apparently hard up for cash and not afraid to admit that publicly. In between all that, he’s accusing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson of somehow thwarting his career, for various choices the former wrestler made around The Fast and the Furious franchise. Tyrese also has a new album out and the whole thing feels like it’s going to end poorly.

The Washington Wizards are my favorite basketball team. But in my life, they haven’t exactly been a franchise of any real impact in the NBA. That said, now, they’ve got a nice little squad between John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and my man Markieff Morris. In this short season, they’ve already found themselves in a scrap with the Golden State Warriors, and as a team, are still trying to figure out who they are. What comes with that is a bunch of wild proclamations, such as Beal saying Thursday that the Zardos are the best team in the East. This is not true.

Free Food

Coffee Break: There’s nothing cool about getting arrested for a DUI. It’s dangerous and typically can result in a lot of things going wrong in your life from a legal standpoint. But for one lady, she was riding a horse when she got hers, which is hilarious.

Snack Time: If you’re a fan of The Lion King and black folks, you will definitely be very excited about the full lineup of people for the upcoming live action film. One word: Beyoncé.

Dessert: Banger for the weekend! Stalley and Migos linked up.

Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs — with the famous side part — is back from injury, and shares his barber The Maryland native talks Erykah Badu, stylish cleats and why it’s always gotta be orange juice with the pulp

Like the frigid wind that travels through Minnesota’s winters, Stefon Diggs dashes off the line of scrimmage, often right into the end zone. Through the first four weeks of the NFL season, Diggs, 23, had the most receiving yards (391) in the league and was second in touchdowns (four). Before his Week 5 groin strain, Diggs’ stats were piling up, and the Gaithersburg, Maryland-bred wide receiver was aggressively putting together the type of season that has analysts mentioning his name among the NFL’s elite. And now he’s back. And, along with Giants receiver Sterling Shepard, the debonair Diggs is an NFL style ambassador: They’re the faces of the league’s lifestyle paraphernalia brand. “It’s just to inspire people to rep their team when they’re wearing casual clothes, and feel comfortable in their skin,” said Diggs. “Some guys may just wear their stuff when they’re going to the stadium, but when you’re casually going out, we want you to have that same confidence when putting on your Vikings shirt or Vikings jacket.” The wide receiver took a few minutes to talk Hill Harper, his favorite cereal, his cleats — and his crushes.

What do you do before a big game?

If it’s a home game … probably watch film one more time, pick my outfit out, what I want to wear to the stadium. I’ll eat a bowl of cereal. I love cereal. I always eat a bowl of cereal before I go.

What’s your favorite?

I like Cap’n Crunch, but specifically I like Cap’n Crunch’s Oops! All Berries. Then I’ll listen to Erykah Badu on my way to the stadium.

Any specific album, or song?

“On & On.” That’s like my childhood crush — well, my grown-up crush, because I still love Badu.

When did you realize you were famous?

I still don’t feel that way. I feel pretty regular. I talk to any and everybody, I don’t care who it is. I’m pretty easygoing.

People will accept you for who you are, and if they don’t, don’t pay them attention at all.

What’s the last book you read?

I’m currently reading it again. It’s a Hill Harper book, Letters to a Young Brother. I like that book a lot. I just bought The Autobiography of Gucci Mane. I don’t know when I’m gonna start it.

Where does your courage come from?

My mom, mostly. She had a house full of boys and she raised us the best way she could, considering that my dad had passed. She wasn’t scared of nothing. She’ll step up to any one of us at any given time. My mom isn’t nothing but 5-5, maybe less than that, and you got boys walking around the house 6 feet plus. She’ll punch you at any given time [Laughs].

Where do you get your hair cut?

Details Barber Lounge in St. Paul; his name is Anthony. I’ve been going to him since I got to Minnesota, and you know how people are with their barbers. It took me a little while, but once I found one that I liked, I stuck with him. We pretty cool now.

Favorite throwback television show?

I used to watch The Jamie Foxx Show.

Last show you binge-watched?

Ozark.

How do you find out about new music?

One of my closest friends, Brian, from back home. He puts me on to all the new artists. It’s hard for me to keep up. I have a list of things I have to worry about other than music.

Do you still listen to go-go?

Not as much as I did in my younger days. It’s kind of weird because my first time going to an 18-and-over go-go, I was 14.

Have you ever been starstruck?

Nah, not really. I don’t really look at it that way. I feel like everybody is people. If I met Halle Berry, I probably wouldn’t even be that nervous. LisaRaye was my first crush. I can’t say the first movie that I saw her in … that’s when she first started being my crush. I’ma say the movie anyways, [The] Players Club. I wasn’t supposed to be watching that movie. My momma gon’ kill me.

The last concert you went to?

It was the Jay-Z and Beyoncé On the Run Tour. That was when I was in college. I haven’t been to a concert since.

What’s the last stamp on your passport?

London. Business, but we had a lot of time to do what we wanted. I went sightseeing. I saw a lot of things. I like London, a lot, everything about it. I would live there.

What is in your refrigerator at this moment?

Jell-O, yogurt, chicken breast, orange juice with the pulp. I always gotta have my orange juice with the pulp. I don’t drink regular milk [laughs]; I drink Lactaid.

Do you have any habits that you wish you could shake?

Sometimes, I just gotta organize things around me so I can think. I wish I wouldn’t care, but it’s hard not to when it’s in front of your face.

What would you tell your 15-year-old self?

Stay focused. I would really tell myself to stay focused. That was my first time going to private school. I did not like it — I’ll tell you that right now. I did not like it at all, but at the end of the day it made me the man I am today. It got me here.

A lot of people are talking about your cleats this season. What made you decide to team up with Mache.

We did a little bit of stuff last year, but this year I decided I wanted to do more. I was shooting him ideas before the season really started. When that first game came around, we had some things in play. It kind of took off on its own. All credit to him. We built a friendship. Before, I was just trying to find a cleat guy.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My dad told me to always be my own man. Don’t be a follower, don’t be a flunky, be your own man, be you. People will accept you for who you are, and if they don’t, don’t pay them attention at all.