A veteran black officer teaches police how not to kill people

Sgt. Curtis Davenport The shooting instructor 27 years in uniform

“I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else. The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took.”“I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else. The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took.”

At the end of an unmarked driveway in a wooded area of southeast Atlanta, past the SWAT team barracks and armored vehicles, next to the firing range where bullets pierce paper heads and hearts, Sgt. Curtis Davenport teaches police how not to kill people.

As commander of the firearms training unit, Davenport’s basic responsibility is to make sure Atlanta’s 2,000 officers can hit those paper targets. But over the past five years, as police killings of unarmed African-Americans caused a national uproar, Davenport’s job evolved to include “de-escalation” training — encouraging police to avoid pulling the trigger at all.

One Wednesday this summer, 22 police officers filed into Davenport’s classroom inside a small, one-story building. He stood at a lectern wearing khaki pants and an olive drab polo shirt. The pop-pop-pop-pop-pop of gunfire was audible from the range 40 yards away. On the walls hung promotional photographs of Glock firearms, including one that showed a close-up of a pistol clenched in a white fist, ATLANTA POLICE printed along the barrel, the muzzle an ominous black tunnel. “Confidence,” the caption read. “It’s What You Carry.”

Surrounded by all this deadly force, Davenport began his mission of peace.

He had invited me to attend his two-hour class, shoot on the range and participate in a video simulation of dangerous police encounters, all to help counter today’s anti-police narrative. The backdrop was the city of Atlanta, cradle of the civil rights movement and the modern black mecca, where 54 percent of the population and 58 percent of the police are black. Atlanta is one of the few major American cities where the police force comes close to reflecting the diversity of the population — which has not deterred Black Lives Matter protests and activism within its city limits.

Davenport is 50 but looks 35. He still has the muscular physique of the college fullback who reached the last round of cuts at Atlanta Falcons training camp. He can talk with the spin of a politician — Davenport was the Atlanta Police Department spokesman for three years — or break fool like your country cousin. He can quote Scripture or Ice Cube. Relying on the laws of God and man, he walks the tightrope between black and blue with serenity and confidence.

“I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else,” Davenport said. “The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took. I swore to uphold laws. I swore to protect your rights. I swore to protect you when you can’t protect yourself. So while that is a part of my responsibility, being a police officer does not make Curtis Davenport who he is.”

Yet, after 27 years in uniform, he sees the world through a blue lens and can’t help but feel the pressure.

“Police officers to a certain extent have been dehumanized,” he said. “We’re not people with feelings. It’s like they want us to be robots.”

“It’s hard to change public perception, it’s hard to change what people think and feel about you, it’s hard to change their interpretation of what you do. But what we can do is we can change ourselves.”“It’s hard to change public perception, it’s hard to change what people think and feel about you, it’s hard to change their interpretation of what you do. But what we can do is we can change ourselves.”

Change, get fired or quit

Inside Davenport’s classroom, 16 of the 22 officers were black, including two women. Everyone carried a gun except Davenport. He clicked his PowerPoint to life and began:

“The public demanded that police be reformed down to their training, and this is one of the results,” he said, citing former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “So they came up with this course, and if I were to sum it all up in a phrase, it wants the police officers in America to get out of the warrior mentality. And they want you instead to adopt what’s called a guardian mentality.

“That may be kind of hard for some people, especially those who’ve been doing this a long time or those who don’t think that’s what they want to do.”

For the resistant cops, Davenport offered three options: You can change. You can keep acting the same and get fired, possibly indicted. Or you can quit.

“It’s hard to change public perception, it’s hard to change what people think and feel about you, it’s hard to change their interpretation of what you do. But what we can do is we can change ourselves.”

Next came the details. Davenport drilled down into exactly when and how the Constitution and the state of Georgia permit police to use force. He told the officers to look for alternatives — just because they can legally use force doesn’t mean they should. The ultimate goal is “voluntary compliance.”

“De-escalation is all about utilizing other options,” Davenport said. “It’s not about taking away use of deadly force. What it’s about is, do I have to use deadly force? Do I have another option present?”

He covered tactical details such as how distance determines appropriate force. He reviewed what every officer already knew: The law allows you to shoot unarmed suspects. Always shoot at center mass — not at a leg or shoulder. Shoot as many times as necessary to end the threat. But if you shoot one unnecessary bullet, it can cost you your job or your freedom.

Over and over, he advised officers to control their egos. Everybody who wears a badge has a big ego, he said. “That is our biggest hindrance.

“If you work an extra job and somebody gotta leave, you tell them to leave like, ‘You, out, get on out of here.’ They walking to the door, ‘Ah, you sorry m—–f—–, I’ll whoop your a– on the street.’ Guess what? He walking out. I don’t have to have ego. People looking at it, ‘Aw, you see that police, man, he a chump. He took all that stuff.’ End of the day, I got voluntary compliance. Make sense? That’s de-escalation in a nutshell.”

There was a caveat, though, that explains why many police who kill unarmed civilians are not prosecuted.

“De-escalation is only to be used when you’re dealing with nonviolent suspects,” Davenport told his class. “If you’re dealing with a violent suspect, do what you do.”

Kevin D. Lilies for The Undefeated

Kevin D. Lilies for The Undefeated

Sgt. Davenport works with officers in the classroom of the Atlanta Police Department Pistol Range on how to de-escalate situations and what indicators might lead to drawing one’s weapon. Officers work on their accuracy on the shooting range to ensure they do no more damage than is necessary to subdue an attacker.

Life after football

Davenport was born and raised in the city, with summers spent on his grandparents’ rural Georgia farms. After graduating from Lithonia High School east of Atlanta, he earned a computer science degree at Clark Atlanta University while playing football as a 5-foot-10, 260-pound battering ram of a fullback. In four college seasons, he had four carries for 4 yards and four touchdowns. The running back he blocked for got drafted. Despite stone hands and slow feet, Davenport almost made the Falcons from their 1989 training camp. He still feels like he has one more bone-crunching block in him.

After football, Davenport needed a job and the police department was hiring. His physicality served him well when he began patrolling Atlanta’s roughest neighborhoods in 1991 and became an undercover narcotics investigator in 2005. Arrests led to lots of fights — “You’re taking somebody someplace they don’t want to go.” He has a scar on his thigh from being bitten by a 300-pound woman who wanted no part of his handcuffs. He trained in taekwondo, kung fu and ground fighting. He learned how to head off physical battles just with the bulge of his arms and chest beneath his tailored uniform. He’s 230 pounds now, still works out ferociously, would like to be 215 but his wife bakes a mean batch of cookies.

Davenport was raised in the church and was saved in 2002. Giving his life to the Lord made him more patient and tolerant, and also unwilling to take shortcuts that some officers considered permissible.

He keeps a Bible in his office at the firing range. It’s as much a part of his job as the dozens of bullets all over his desk — inside ammunition boxes, encased in curved rifle magazines, loose in a plastic cup. After the class, explaining his belief that policing is based on biblical principles, he read from Romans 13:1:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

Then verses 3 and 4:

For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

The bullets on his desk looked more lethal now. Davenport closed his Bible.

“I ain’t asking you to agree with it,” he said. “I’m just telling you what it says.

“When I put my actions up for judgment, I didn’t put it up for your judgment,” Davenport said. “Sometimes, by pleasing him, I don’t please them.

“Sometimes,” he added, “ ‘them’ is other police officers.”

I thought about the off-the-books lawmaking “contempt of cop” punishable by a night in jail, and remembered Freddie Gray running from police, getting cuffed and then being carried out of the police van with a broken neck.

Last June, the police chief asked Davenport for his expert opinion of a video that showed an officer punching a man in the face while trying to arrest him. Davenport referred back to his secular Bible — the Standard Operating Procedures of the Atlanta Police Department.

“Force must be reasonable, and it must be necessary,” he said. “Was what he did reasonable and necessary? The answer is no.”

The officer was suspended for 20 days without pay. That upset the rank and file, as the arrested man had a reputation for fighting back against police. Davenport said that a few years ago the officer would have received little to no punishment.

I asked whether that’s a positive development.

“Whether good or bad,” Davenport replied, “it lets you know that policing has changed. He did the old actions, and he got the new punishment.”

Is there a downside?

“We have a lot of police reform, but no community reform,” he said. Criminals “are still doing the same stuff, but I can’t do the same stuff to combat it.”

Davenport recognizes that mass incarceration has devastated the black community. He believes African-Americans are treated unfairly in the justice system. But he sees another part of the equation too.

“Let’s be honest. Was anybody protesting when Ray Ray shot Peanut?” he said. “Just two people who live in the ’hood. I think that’s a far bigger issue, black-on-black crime, than blue-on-black violence.”

It was time to shoot on the range, a manicured green quadrant with a steep hill of red dirt at one end. Davenport outfitted me with a holster and police-issue 9 mm pistol. He instructed me how to hold the weapon, sight down the barrel and ignore the “unnatural event” of setting off a tiny bomb in my hand. Pulling the trigger took as little effort as turning on my phone. A hole appeared in the paper person’s head, and I was filled with sadness at the thought of black boys carrying death in their pockets.

Black and Blue: A veteran black officer teaches police how not to kill people

Ferguson and Sunday dinner

The biggest complaint Davenport has with police work is the pay. In Atlanta, a sergeant’s salary tops out at $72,000 before overtime. Davenport brings in another 10 or 20 grand a year with extra jobs, primarily as security at the Tabernacle concert hall, so he can “enjoy some of the comforts of life.”

It was very comfortable riding in the black leather passenger seat of his new Ford F-150 King Ranch pickup. We pulled up to his five-bedroom brick home at the end of a cul-de-sac in the suburb of Decatur. Inside the garage was his beloved 2007 Harley-Davidson Street Glide, parked near a black leather jacket emblazoned with the name of his old motorcycle club, the Buffalo Soldiers. Davenport and his wife, Valerie, who works in the UPS finance department, bought the house out of foreclosure in 1996.

Curtis and Valerie, an amateur bodybuilder, cooked Sunday dinner together in their cozy kitchen. Their pit bull puppy, Bella, rescued from a shelter, scampered underfoot. Curtis dropped steaks and salmon on the grill. Valerie sautéed cabbage and prepared mac and cheese and cornbread. A box of takeout fried chicken sat open on the island counter. Crab legs boiled, sending enough “Slap Ya Mama” seasoning through the air to draw a cough. Nothing special, this spread. Just a regular Sunday.

Their sons arrived: 23-year-old Clayton, who attended Alabama A&M on a football scholarship and now works as a plumber, and 21-year-old Cameron, who went to work for CSX Railroad out of high school. Next came Davenport’s father, Jimmy, and his stepmother, Karen. Jimmy and Karen got married when Davenport was 16; he calls her Mom. Last to arrive was their daughter Sydney, 20, a sophomore at Albany State University.

A lawnmower buzzed outside, pushed by a former Atlanta police officer who went to prison in the aftermath of a scandal over falsified search warrants. Davenport could mow his own lawn, but the former officer needs the work.

Sitting in a paid-off house, bellies full, paychecks steady, driveway full of cars, the Davenport family’s biggest immediate concern was whether the Falcons could make it back to the Super Bowl. Curtis and Jimmy have season tickets. Nobody felt conflicted about police work or passionate about Black Lives Matter.

Valerie described her husband as a loyal, responsible, dedicated man who follows the rules. Clayton recalled his dad often bringing his poor teammates from youth football over for weekends. “We always were bringing in strays,” Valerie said. “He wants to do his part. He wants to help. Helping is part of his job. He really enjoys what he does now, because it’s a responsibility for him to make sure those police do what they’re supposed to when they have that gun in their hand.”

When the brownies and ice cream came out, I asked whether the family had argued over any of the recent high-profile police killings.

“Michael Brown,” Davenport said, referring to the unarmed 18-year-old killed by officer Darren Wilson in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. “They was all for that poor Michael Brown. The dirty police, they did him wrong. Y’all was ready to picket and tear up Atlanta for Michael Brown.”

Davenport told his family all along that Wilson would not be charged with a crime. There was no apparent distinction between “would not” and “should not” in Davenport’s mind. According to the Justice Department report released by former Attorney General Eric Holder, Brown punched Wilson in the face when confronted, grabbed his gun, was shot in the hand, ran away, then charged back at the officer. The law allowed Wilson to shoot Brown.

When the killing first hit the news, Davenport’s father, Jimmy, was angry. A retired post office supervisor, he was born in 1947 in Wedowee, Alabama, where segregation was the law, white people called him “boy” and there were no black cops. But once the facts of the case came out, Jimmy Davenport agreed with his son.

Jimmy’s wife, Karen, wouldn’t go that far.

“Curtis was talking about the law and what the policeman did. I was talking about the broader perspective of policing,” said Karen, a retired school principal and college administrator.

“If Michael Brown had been white, let’s just play it out,” she continued. “If he had been white and stole something from the store, the police would probably be like, boys will be boys, he didn’t mean to do it. It wouldn’t have escalated.”

Her sergeant son interrupted. “Wait a minute now,” Davenport said. “Did it escalate because of the police officer’s actions? Or did it escalate because of Michael Brown’s actions?”

“It escalated because of both actions,” his mother said. “I think it escalated also because he was a black guy, they said he stole something from the store, and then he became confrontational, and then it escalated.”

“Who became confrontational?” Davenport asked.

“Michael Brown.’’

“So he was the aggressor.”

“My point is, Curtis, if it was a different situation with a different complexion young man, I really wonder if it would have escalated to that extent.”

“If ands and buts were candy and nuts, oh, what a party we’d have,” Davenport said.

Everybody laughed. Love filled the room, not the vitriol that tore through America after Brown’s death sparked riots and turned Black Lives Matter from a hashtag into a movement. But the philosophical chasm remained. Karen Davenport saw Brown’s death in the context of policing as a tool of mass incarceration, in a society rife with racial bias. Sgt. Davenport focused on what he teaches in his course — when the law says an officer can pull the trigger.

De-escalation is only for nonviolent suspects. Otherwise, do what you do.

A scandal in the department

Atlanta buys its heroin in the Bluff, where addicts and dealers lurk in abandoned houses as children play nearby. Davenport worked these west Atlanta streets as an undercover narcotics investigator, making drug buys and serving warrants. Jumping out of an unmarked van, ready to deliver some justice, that was fun. If a suspect wanted to put up a fight, the crew stepped aside and Davenport took him down.

“It’s a different kind of trust we had, where you trust your partner with your life,” Davenport said. “Is there any greater trust than that? If you’re not in that circle, it’s hard to compare it.”

He would masquerade as a junkie, walking shirtless into a drug house or wearing a suit and tie like a downtown businessman. Once he was buying crack in a second-floor apartment when two men burst in, fired their guns in the air, and robbed the drug dealers. Davenport thought about pulling his hidden weapon but decided against blowing his cover. That was the closest he ever came to firing his weapon at someone.

In 2006, he was promoted to sergeant and left the squad. Six months later, Davenport’s former narcotics team, led by Officer Gregg Junnier, crept onto a porch in the Bluff, wearing plainclothes. They smashed through the door and burst inside. The homeowner, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, thought she was being burglarized and fired her revolver at the intruders. The officers fired back and killed her.

At first, authorities said police had bought drugs from Johnston’s house that same day. But Johnston’s neighbors knew she was innocent. Soon it was exposed that Junnier lied on the search warrant, lied on other warrants and was breaking other laws too. Junnier and two other officers went to prison.

It hurts Davenport to admit that Junnier, a man he would have taken a bullet for, was a crooked cop. He believes he should have seen it. He wonders how many warrants he served that Junnier falsified. Davenport was never accused of any wrongdoing connected to Junnier’s crimes. But Junnier’s crimes get Davenport accused of wrongdoing just for wearing his uniform.

Yet even after the Johnston scandal, which resulted in an overhaul of the Atlanta Police Department narcotics unit, Davenport doesn’t see systemic problems with policing.

“I would say 98 percent of police officers throughout the country do a fantastic job day in and day out,” he said. “But that never gets publicized, right? You don’t have the family members from somebody you helped on Good Morning America telling about that. But the 2 percent are the guys who make bad decisions and do bad things that gets 98 percent of the publicity.”

There’s a difference, though, between outliers on the police force and in other professions. Those 2 percent of bad cops can ruin lives, even take them.

Davenport accepts that higher level of responsibility and says police departments need to do a better job of identifying problem officers.

“You don’t go from being a good, honest cop to being someone who plants drugs or evidence, or might be a little bit quick to kill. There are other signs. They might take shortcuts prior to that. When we see that we have to report it, and we got to either get them retrained or get rid of them.”

“It’s a different kind of trust we had, where you trust your partner with your life. Is there any greater trust than that? If you’re not in that circle, it’s hard to compare it.”“It’s a different kind of trust we had, where you trust your partner with your life. Is there any greater trust than that? If you’re not in that circle, it’s hard to compare it.”

Engaging the threat

After shooting at the range, Davenport took me to the police academy, where pictures of 39 slain officers hung on a wall. Inside a darkened room was the Milo Range Theater 300, a $120,000 system featuring a circle of five huge video screens that create an immersive training experience.

Since 2015, Atlanta police have killed nine people, including seven African-Americans, two of whom were unarmed, according to The Washington Post’s national database of police killings. That’s about the same number of killings as the comparably sized cities of Kansas City, Missouri, and Long Beach, California.

A half-dozen officers watched as I strapped up with a video-game-type pistol. Davenport said to look for the threat and engage it. I asked what “engage” means.

“You can talk,” he said, “or handle it with your sidearm.”

A scene unfolded: A traffic stop of a pickup truck. I approached on the driver’s side and saw an old man behind the wheel. I asked him to put his hands on the wheel — he did not comply. I demanded that he put his hands out of the car window — nothing. The camera backed away. I was about five paces behind the truck. The man got out. I drew my weapon and yelled at him to lay down on the ground. He kept walking toward the tailgate. I yelled I would shoot if he did not lay down. My heart pounded. I felt frustrated and discombobulated by his refusal to obey. Was he sick? Stupid? The old man grabbed something from the truck bed and spun toward me. I blasted him. He fell down and dropped the gun in his hand. The screen went dark.

Davenport said I could have shot him sooner. But what if he didn’t intend to pull out a weapon?

“What do I care more about?” he said. “Going to jail, or going home alive?”

Another scene: A call about a “disturbance” at a park. Such sketchy information is often all police have to start with. Two young men were talking near a parked car. I questioned them, but they didn’t respond. I put my hand on my gun. They put their hands up and I saw one had a gun in his waistband. A woman suddenly got out of the vehicle and approached me with something in her hand. I almost shot her. She was filming with her phone. I yelled at everybody. She lay down in the road. I felt much more scared with three people than with one. I threatened to shoot the gunman if he didn’t lie down. He bolted toward the woods. I let him go. The screen went dark.

Davenport observed that it’s not against the law in Georgia to carry a gun in your waistband. Nobody had broken any laws in that scenario.

Then Davenport tried one.

Another traffic stop. A young woman got out of her car and put a gun to her head. Davenport went into de-escalation mode. He asked her to calm down. “Let’s talk, let’s just talk, you can put the gun down,” Davenport said. She didn’t listen. Davenport kept talking, his gun in hand but pointed at a 45-degree angle toward the ground.

Was this a nonviolent subject? Could he shoot? Should he?

The woman swung the gun toward Davenport and fired. Davenport let off eight shots. The screen went dark.

The technician played back a recording of the encounter. The woman shot first. Davenport’s first shot missed.

“This might have been my bad day,” he said.

A glimpse inside a high-tech police simulation at the Atlanta PD

The lesson of Jonah

Davenport, an ordained minister for 12 years, is an assistant pastor at Greater Travelers Rest House of Hope Atlanta, performing weddings and baptisms and leading Bible studies. I sat with him one Sunday in a front pew of the majestic 7,000-seat sanctuary, close enough to the concert-grade sound system to feel the stomp-stomp of the bass drum.

Black faces filled the ground-level pews and the two balconies. Stained-glass black faces gazed from the windows behind the choir. Cameras broadcast live on the internet. Aged mothers in white hats and dresses were honored. The band played “I’m Nothing Without You,” “Jesus Is My Help,” “The Lord Is Blessing Me Right Now.” Davenport worshipped calmly, tapping his gator-clad toe to the music, with no waving hands or extra amens.

Then Dr. E. Dewey Smith Jr. got to preaching about Jonah.

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah rebelled and boarded a ship for Tarshish. Smith described how God sent a storm to afflict Jonah’s ship. His honey-coated voice was calm, but we knew what was coming. Smith described how the terrified sailors started praying to their pagan gods and throwing things overboard.

The ship captain went below and saw Jonah sleeping. “What is this? Sleeping? Get up!” Smith barked, paraphrasing the Scripture. “Pray to your God! Maybe your God will see we are in trouble and rescue us.”

“Jonah!” Smith shouted. “STAY WOKE!”

The congregation bubbled. Davenport remained silent. Pastor Smith is his friend, but Davenport knew what was coming.

“Stay woke and see it’s OK for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to get shot in Minnesota,” the pastor said. “It’s OK for police to shoot somebody live on camera with a baby in the back seat, who has gun ownership and a license to carry and see him get five bullets into him and the officer is acquitted and gets paid to leave with no repercussions! It’s OK for a 2-year-old baby to get shot in Minnesota, an 80-year-old woman to get shot in Minnesota, a 12-year-old — all unarmed — to get shot in Minnesota and nothing happens. But as soon as a woman is shot, whose skin is much, much lighter than yours and mine, then all of a sudden the police chief has to resign! All these other folk got shot and nothing ever happened! I gotta tell you, you better STAY WOKE!”

The congregation exploded in agreement, a bullet aimed at the heart of a servant who believes in the nobility of policing. Davenport’s face betrayed no emotion as he balanced between the black and the blue.

Are we entering the end times for the NFL? Professional basketball offers the NFL a blueprint for success: embrace the black culture of the majority of your players

The National Football League, the American sport that comes closest to resembling a religion, has its end times in sight: the year 2021. “The likelihood,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said in August, “of either a strike, or a lockout is in ’21 a virtual certainty.”

Doomsdays. Humanity has always been obsessed with them.

Every religious text has mention of the end times. In just the past 30 years, we’ve survived Halley’s comet, Y2K, the end of the Mayan calendar and the rapture that was supposed to happen in September. But nothing lasts forever. The NFL has survived lockouts and strikes before and has seemed like Teflon for the past decade with sky-high broadcast ratings, massive revenues and an annual American holiday called Super Bowl Sunday. But the league has serious competition for American pastime status from the National Basketball Association.

This may seem far-fetched now, while the NFL’s television ratings lead the NBA’s by a wide margin (although numbers were down last season, and some wonder whether television ratings, in a streaming world, matter as much as they used to). And the NBA doesn’t have anything close to dominating a whole day in America like the Super Bowl. But the NBA, which is as popular as ever in this social media era, continues to embrace an important fact about American culture: Black culture and black people determine cool. Cool resists linear structures. If the NFL wants to maintain its dominance, it needs to embrace black culture or get left behind. Just like baseball.


Let’s be clear: The 2017 NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers was the league’s most watched Finals since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls played the Utah Jazz in 1998. But the average 20.4 million viewers who tuned into each game is equal to the average viewership for a single Sunday Night Football game in 2016. And the NFL is still an unmitigated cash cow, with a net worth of more than $13 billion, dwarfing the NBA’s $6 billion figure. The average NFL franchise is worth $2.5 billion. Worth of the average NBA franchise: $1.36 billion, a 3.5-fold increase over the past five years. Over at Major League Baseball, the average team is worth $1.54 billion, but 50 percent of viewers are 55 or older, up from 41 percent in 2010. And in its defense, the MLB can still captivate the country when it has historic World Series matchups like last year’s battle between Cinderellas in the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. And they almost doubled back with a monster championship series between the Yankees and Dodgers if the former hadn’t lost to the Houston Astros. ESPN data shows the average age of baseball viewers at 53. The average age is 47 for the NFL, and it’s rising. The average age is 37 for the NBA, and it seems to be staying there. Baseball’s television ratings continue to trend downward.

Howard Bryant, ESPN senior writer and author of Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, summarizes the NFL’s stance in relation to the NBA and MLB: “Post-ABA merger,” he says, “basketball has done by far the best job of adapting to the people who play the sport, baseball the worst. The NFL has been in between, leaning towards a bad job.”

Why might the NFL be on its way to becoming MLB? Because the NFL is looking at a 2021 season that may not even be played. Because the NFL’s ostensibly mainstream stars — Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Eli Manning — who have dominated the past decade, are getting old. And many kids are being steered away from playing the game in its tackle form. “Participation has dropped,” Mark Murphy said in January. He’s president and CEO of the Green Bay Packers and a board member at USA Football. “There’s concern among parents about when is the right age to start playing tackle, if at all.” In a recent (nonrandom) study of NFL players, 110 out of 111 brains examined showed signs of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

But the NFL could spiral mostly because, perhaps more than at any other time in pro football history, the league is at a crossroads when it comes to race. League news right now leads with racial conflict. Players are protesting. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and owners are somewhere between demanding and begging them not to. And in the middle, fans fight over whose boycott of the NFL is actually having an impact on the ratings, if any at all.

“The NBA has caught up or passed the NFL on the cool factor. Whether that translates on the revenue side, that’s hard to know.” — Andrew Brandt, director, Moorad Center for Sports Law at Villanova

Free agent Colin Kaepernick, to bring attention to systemic racism and police brutality, opted on Aug. 14, 2016, not to stand for the national anthem. This has placed the NFL at the center of a discussion about race and sports. Kaepernick’s protest has spread around the world, from European soccer games to Midwestern high school football games. By most accounts, the NFL has botched the handling of the protests. A year later, Kaepernick isn’t in the league despite evidence of him being good enough to start on some teams, and he could surely be a backup.

The reason the anti-protest backlash has become so impactful for the black community is because there’s an understanding of what the fervor about protests is really about—silence. There are contradictions in just about every sentiment of outrage about the protests. Just look at the viral image of an NFL fan wearing a “I stand for the National Anthem” shirt while sitting on a flag. And at the fact that the NFL didn’t even start requiring players to stand for the Anthem until 2009—after the Department of Defense paid the league $5.4 million for “paid patriotism.” And at the fact the NFL actually violates flag codes in some of their representations of patriotism. Jerry Jones himself sat during the anthem at his first Cowboys game, in 1989. And Donald Trump’s finger-pointing at players (and owners) doesn’t erase the fact he insulted John McCain for being a prisoner of war and has lied about calling Gold Star military families who lost soldiers in battle this year. The anger over protests isn’t about patriotism, it’s about silencing black athletes. Steps the NFL may or may not make to quell protests will be seen as an endorsement of that silence.

On Oct. 15, Kaepernick filed a formal grievance against the NFL alleging collusion by team owners. “I think he should be on a roster right now, the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers said in August. “I think because of his protests, he’s not.” Jay-Z rocks a custom Kaepernick jersey on Saturday Night Live, and his actual jersey leads the 49ers’ sales, even though he hasn’t taken a snap for them this season. Kaepernick’s likeness rules the streets. All the while, Kaep rarely speaks, instead continuing his push to donate a million dollars of his own money to various charities across the country, volunteering to donate backpacks to students and suits to parolees. Without so much as a news conference, Kaepernick is part of a daily news cycle, thanks to a massive social media following that watches his every move.

What Kaepernick is learning is something NBA players have known for years: Their social media channels are the best ways to get their points across. So when NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo reinforcing the rule that players had to stand for the anthem, NBA players (J.R. Smith notwithstanding) mostly took it in stride. That’s because they understand their social impact reaches further than the average NFL player’s. (Odell Beckham Jr., with 9 million Instagram followers, has the most by far of any NFL player.)

LeBron James, who has 39 million Twitter followers and 33 million Instagram followers, expressed that much in a news conference after he called Donald Trump a “bum” on Twitter: “My voice … is more important than my knee. What I say should hit home for a lot of people [to] know where I stand. I don’t believe I have to get on my knee to further what I’m talking about.”

The NBA, its individual players, and fan community have used social media to become a 12-month sport.

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors goes to the basket against the Houston Rockets on October 17, 2017 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

And that’s where the NBA dominates the NFL: at social media, where everything is happening. On Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, NBA teams have an average of more than 7 million followers, while NFL franchises average 4.6 million. Even during the NFL’s last season, there were more hashtags on Twitter dedicated to the NBA. In 2016, Forbes ranked the top athletes on social media: Four of the top 10 players were from the NBA, and the rest were international soccer stars. NFL players didn’t crack the top 10. The NBA social media connection allows players to enter lives and households in new and intimate ways.

Another major reason for the NBA’s ability to lap the NFL in social media is the NFL’s draconian rules about sharing videos online. Last October, the league sent out a memo barring teams from posting clips or GIFs of games. Teams that did so would be fined up to $100,000. While teams such as the Atlanta Falcons use clips from Madden video games to “show” highlights every Sunday, the NFL’s hard line limits many teams’ ability to deeply connect with fans where they are — which is, so much of the time, on their phones.

“The NBA is the more progressive league when it comes to digital,” said Jaryd Wilson, digital content manager for the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks have become an online darling thanks to creative Twitter posts and engagement with fans online. “In-game highlights are our highest digital performers and our most engaging types of content.”

The NFL’s limits on social media, and teams’ subsequent mockery of the decision, exposes a blind spot about American culture. African-Americans dominate what’s trendy on social media, and if “Black Twitter” determines that something is viral, it often becomes an American cultural phenomenon. Think of phrases such as “lit” and “on fleek” or crazes like the mannequin challenge — these began in blackness. On any given week, a new black-centered sensation, such as the NSFW #ForTheD challenge that dominated social media last month, takes over the country.

The NFL had that viral moment with Cam Newton doing his signature dabbing celebration in 2015, but he was as chastised for it as he was celebrated. Letters were written to newspapers about his “pelvic thrusts,” and Newton’s “arrogance” became the center of the story. And after a humbling Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos, Newton seemed put in his place. Instead of embracing him, the NFL demonstrated that it didn’t understand what moves the needle in American culture. It cut down one of its viral superstars — something the NBA just doesn’t do.

“The NBA has been significantly ahead of other leagues in diversity since the ’80s, and excitement has grown since.”

“Diversity is very important to us,” said the Hawks’ Wilson. “We know our demographic, and our audience, and it is about keeping up with those trends. We always think about how can we tap into diverse communities while trying to push ourselves forward.” It affects the Hawks’ bottom line significantly. The organization has taken things a step further by offering a full-on embrace of Atlanta music: acts such as T.I., Gucci Mane and Big Boi perform at halftimes throughout the season, which has resulted in increased ticket sales and price inflation every time a concert is announced. The Hawks’ Philips Arena is even now home to rapper Killer Mike’s Swag barbershop.

The NBA understands that rock is no longer the dominant genre of music. Last year’s Finals marketing soundtrack featured songs from Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. while the NFL featured the return of Hank Williams Jr. — who was dropped from ESPN’s Monday Night Football six years ago for likening President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. And while the NBA features a list of rap stars and rhythm and blues singers during All-Star Weekend festivities, this year the Super Bowl will feature Justin Timberlake, whose last, 2004 Super Bowl performance featured him pulling off a piece of Janet Jackson’s clothing, exposing her breast. Whether or not the move was planned, it went awry, and Jackson caught the backlash as Timberlake’s career flourished. These kinds of things resonate, and the NFL’s de facto pardoning of Timberlake is another reminder to the black consumer that the league doesn’t cherish their concerns the way the NBA so often does.

“The NBA has caught up or passed the NFL on the cool factor,” said Andrew Brandt, director of the Moorad Center for the Study of Sports Law at the Villanova University and host of The Business Of Sports podcast. “Whether that translates on the revenue side, that’s hard to know.”

Yet, even as black America is ravaged by socioeconomic disparities, a 2015 Nielsen study explains that we’ve reached a tipping point with regard to black economic influence. “Today’s American mainstream is rapidly changing, and that change can be attributed in part to the growth and activities of African-Americans in the marketplace. Social media and the internet have become go-to communications platforms for African-American stories and content.” The study goes on to state that black consumer power is growing at unprecedented levels, reaching $1.2 trillion in 2015, a 275 percent increase from 1990. So the appeal to the black consumer is about more than just what’s “cool.” It’s about a consumer base that is increasingly vital.


The NBA season kicked off last Tuesday with a display of the chokehold professional basketball has on compelling storylines. LeBron James faced off against his former teammate and passive-aggressive foe Kyrie Irving. The Warriors lost a buzzer-beater to the newly constructed Houston Rockets that now boast Chris Paul — all while a Klay Thompson doppelgänger was the social media joke of the night. But the NBA’s offseason was almost as entertaining, full of memed stories and social media buzz, from the petty feud between Irving and James to Thompson’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-like adventures in China, Hoodie ’Melo and Kevin Durant’s bizarre Twitter dramas. The NBA, its individual players and fan community have used social media to become a 12-month sport.

Meanwhile, the NFL is years-deep into a seemingly never-ending barrage of Spygate, Bountygate and Deflategate. There was the Ray Rice domestic abuse case. Accusations about covering up CTE analysis. All of this, though, seemed only to slightly dent the NFL’s impenetrable shield: People seemed to have accepted the judge and jury status of Goodell, the misogyny and abusive history of too many players who continue to play despite domestic abuse cases, and folks kind of knew that playing football was damaging to athletes in the long term. But Kaepernick’s protest and its fallout illuminated a sharp and deep conflict within the NFL—and among its fans—that many weren’t expecting.

“Go back to Ken Griffey Jr. wearing his hat backwards in batting practice and they all lost their minds.” — Howard Bryant

An Oct. 11 study by The New York Times makes clear that the NFL is now one of the “most divisive” brands in America. The league doesn’t have to choose between its black players and white audience, but it does have to find a middle ground between black players and fans, and its white fans, a dilemma unique to the National Football League. The NFL is the only major male American sport that has mostly black players and a mostly white audience. The NFL is 67 percent black, but its audience is measured at 77 percent white. And although the league is two-thirds black, its top stars are white. In 2015, seven of the NFL’s nine top endorsement earners were white. Since then, black athletes such as Cam Newton and Odell Beckham Jr. have stormed the top ranks, but endorsements largely focus on quarterbacks. The New York Giants are the only team in the NFL that has never started a black quarterback. Of the 32 teams in the NFL, there were six black starting quarterbacks as of Week 7.

But by the time of the 2021 labor negotiations, the aforementioned Brady/Brees/Rodgers/Manning quadrumvirate will be out of the league. Andrew Luck, Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota are the quarterbacks most poised to be the league’s next torchbearers, and with them are Russell Wilson, Jameis Winston and Dak Prescott. So what happens when the faces of the league are as black as the rest of the players? How the NFL reacts will determine the future of the sport. Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association have both been at the same racial crossroads. One league offers the NFL a blueprint for success, and the other a cautionary tale.


The NBA has had multiple eras in which it has had to realign based on demographics and its top stars. In 1979, three years after the NBA merged with the ABA, the league had a nearly identical demographic makeup as the NFL. Seventy-five percent of the NBA’s players were black, up from 60 percent a decade before, and only two of the league’s top 20 scorers were white. At the same time, 75 percent of the audience was white. Attendance was down, as were ratings, to the tune of a 26 percent decrease against the previous season. A 1979 Sports Illustrated article titled There’s An Ill Wind Blowing For The NBA laid out the question plainly: Is the NBA too black?

The article examined the feeling among fans and some owners that black athletes were “undisciplined,” “overpaid” and played “playground basketball” — all dog whistles. An unnamed executive was quoted: “The question is, are they [the black players] promotable? People see them dissipating their money, playing without discipline. How can you sell a black sport to a white public?”

There was a time when it seemed impossible for major league baseball to fall out of favor as the leading American sport.

The NBA answered that question two ways. One, David Stern became commissioner in 1984. “Stern said, ‘I’m just going to put the best people on the floor,’ and he said the same thing for the front office,” said Richard Lapchick, founder/director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics In Sports (TIDES). “The NBA has been significantly ahead of other leagues in diversity since the ’80s, and excitement has grown since.”

The league also lucked up by being able to lean into its racial divide with a ready-made rivalry between the bombastic and very black Los Angeles Lakers, led by Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics. Stern, to his credit, embraced the clash, marketing the rivalry and letting the racial subtext become one of the main storylines. The league rode that popularity through the ’80s and ’90s with respectable black stars like Michael Jordan who didn’t upset the American status quo. Jordan was, in many ways, the perfect black athlete for corporate America. He stayed out of politics, seemed nonthreatening, and was a money machine.

Then came the NBA’s next racial crossroads: Allen Iverson. AI, the anti-Jordan, had cornrows, tattoos, jewelry — and he just did it his way. Iverson tested the limits of Stern’s acceptance of black culture. Iverson was from the ’hood, had been embroiled in a nasty fight before going to college, and didn’t bother cleaning up his language. While the NBA struggled with Iverson’s imaging, Reebok embraced his persona, tying their AI shoe to urban culture. They called it The Answer, and it was a monumental success.

A generation of athletes looked up to Iverson. And as those players mimicked his style, the NBA cracked down. In 2005, Stern instituted a dress code for the NBA, making players drop the baggy clothes and dress business casual. LeBron James, just entering his third year, was amenable to the change: “No it’s not a big deal, not to me.” The usually reserved Tim Duncan had stronger thoughts: “I think it’s a load of crap.” Of course now NBA players are the most style-forward athletes in the world. Every night is a runway show.

In 2014, when a tape of the Clippers’ then-owner Donald Sterling uttering racial slurs leaked online, new commissioner Silver was quick and decisive, issuing a lifetime ban. It was the only viable option. The fans were ready for Sterling (who had a long history of animus toward African-Americans) to go, and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry had planned on walking out during a game if Sterling kept his status. There could be no wiggle room. In fairness, the NBA had to work out many of its racial battles before the era of social media. So while the league’s virtual expulsion of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in the mid-’90s was just as despicable as what’s happening to Kaepernick, the league didn’t have to fight those issues in real time on social media, like the NFL does now.

“There’s a cottage industry in predicting and hoping for some sort of downfall in the NFL due to concussions, or domestic violence or whatever the latest crisis people seem to make of it,” said Brandt. “I kind of smile when I hear that, because we’ve been talking about that for a long time and NFL continues to grow financially.”

But it’s important to remember that there was a time when it seemed impossible for major league baseball to fall out of favor as the leading American sport. There are numerous reasons for baseball’s dwindling cultural impact: steroid scandals, strikes and shrinking attention spans. However, it’s undeniable that baseball’s lack of connection with America as a whole is directly tied to its refusal to embrace black culture.

“You go back to Ken Griffey Jr. wearing his hat backwards in batting practice and they all lost their minds,” said ESPN’s Bryant. “It was the greatest threat to the integrity of the game because the best player in the game, who all the young people loved and wanted to emulate, was doing something cool, and they shot it down. That was baseball’s last opportunity to catch people and be hip to Madison Avenue, because drugs ruined the game for the next 25 years.”

Baseball’s tacit insistence upon “tradition” and unspoken rules are all too often coded language for a refusal to accept cultural norms that aren’t firmly white American. Bat flips and celebrations are seen as being anti-baseball when they’re really bits of culture inserted by nonwhite athletes. In 2015, Chris Rock landed a scalding indictment of baseball’s popularity during a video for HBO’s Real Sports.

Calling himself an “endangered species, a black baseball fan,” Rock insists that baseball’s focus on its history, a history that excluded African-Americans for the first half of the 20th century, is a turnoff for black fans who aren’t into a time when only white players were allowed to play. And Rock suggests that baseball will fall further away from mainstream popularity as long as it continues to ignore the black fan and players. “Maybe if baseball can get a little hipper, a little cooler and just a little more black, the future can change,” he said in the monologue. “But until then, blacks and baseball just ain’t a good match anymore. Blacks don’t seem to care, but baseball should be terrified.”

The NFL may be gaining an understanding of its need to let black players express themselves to their fans. The league has loosened up the penalties for touchdown celebrations, which has so often been a vibrant space for black player expression and trash talk on the field. Now, players can celebrate while using the football as a prop, celebrate as a team and celebrate on the ground, which were previously 15-yard penalties. And the ESPN Twitter account promoted a Week 5 Packers vs. Cowboys game with a video of battle rappers DNA and K-Shine rhyming about their favorite teams at a barbershop. It’s a start, and a sign that the NFL is inching toward some of the cool points that the NBA snatched. But with Kaepernick still unemployed, the league, stuck in its ways, continues to scramble without a sophisticated strategy or uniform approach in place.

Doomsdays. Humanity has always been obsessed with them. But the NFL is at a crossroads at a time when black culture is simultaneously as powerful, relevant and under attack as at any point in American history. What side of that history is the NFL going to stand — or kneel — on? The almighty National Football League has decisions to make, and so do its players and fans.

Migos’ Offset honors late grandmother with $500,000 cancer fundraiser The rap star has teamed up with the American Cancer Society to raise money to provide access in underserved communities

ATLANTA — The Main Event entertainment complex was prepped and ready for attendees who began trickling in shortly before the beginning of the day’s event.

Large projector screens above the building’s 24 bowling lanes flashed photos of award-winning rap group Migos, quotes from the event’s leader and group member Offset, and a welcome message to guests from the American Cancer Society (ACS). Just moments earlier, Offset and ACS announced their campaign to raise $500,000 for cancer prevention, awareness and access to care in underserved communities.

Hours later, the colorful bowling lanes were occupied by artists, athletes and excited fans who were united by a cause greater than themselves. Of the attendees in the building, nearly all were affected or knew someone affected by the disease that claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans last year.

Fans huddled around a lane to the far left and watched as Atlanta Falcons wide receivers Julio Jones and Justin Hardy engaged in a friendly game of bowling. A little further down in lane 10, Atlanta Hawks teammates John Collins, Tyler Dorsey and Quinn Cook were occupied with their own friendly battle. Earlier in the day, producer Metro Boomin’ briefly dropped by to show his support. Offset completed a line of interviews with the media before joining his fans to shake hands, give hugs, pose for pictures and bowl with his supporters.

“It’s a blessing to have people support you doing positive things in 2017,” said Offset, 25. “With the help of the American Cancer Society, my fans, people who have lost someone to this or relates to this, I feel like it’s way over 500 million people who should be able to help. This is a cause that helps the world. It ain’t about you all the time.”

Offset’s motivation to start this campaign came from his grandmother, Sallie Ann Smith, who died of bladder cancer five years ago. Smith, whom Offset affectionately called Grandma Ann, had a close relationship with her grandson. Offset spent extensive amounts of time with his grandmother during the summers and relied on her maternal guidance to help him through life.

“She watched me when my mama couldn’t be there,” Offset said. “She was my daddy. She was the go-to person. If I was in trouble with my mama, I’d go to my grandma, and she always got my back if I’m wrong or right.”

Most importantly, Smith was a champion of Offset’s dreams to become a rap star long before the successful launch of his career. When he was feeling discouraged, Smith reminded her grandson that he was capable of achieving anything and encouraged him to chase his dreams and focus on his career to the best of his ability. Smith died before seeing her grandson’s career come to fruition, but Offset believes the start of this campaign to honor his late grandmother is something else she’d be proud of.

“I did it. I got it,” Offset said. “She wasn’t there to join me when I got it, so it was always like a hole in my stomach. I wanted to do something. I know she’s happy with this … she always talked about how this disease was killing people, how it affected a lot of people. I know she’s happy that I’m doing something to help the cause, and it’s from the heart.”

Offset was ready to turn his words into actions. With the help of his mother, Latabia Woodward, who has been an ACS volunteer for 11 years, and Sharon Byers, ACS’s chief development and marketing officer, the group examined its options in search of the best approach for the fundraiser. Prevention and awareness topped the list. Although the ACS has initiatives in place to help underserved communities gain access to medical help, residents of these communities who cannot afford proper treatment are still disproportionately affected by cancer.

Taking all of this into consideration, Offset, Woodward and the ACS worked together to develop a solid campaign that would be most beneficial to those in need. Within four weeks, Byers said, the campaign was put together and ready for launch.

“As soon as we talked, we knew the relationship was going to work out great,” Byers said. “We worked with the family, we worked with Offset on understanding the options within the American Cancer Society, whether it be research or prevention. He wondered how he could impact people.”

‘Check yourself and make sure everything is good’

Offset poses for photo with fans to launch the $500K fundraising campaign for the American Cancer Society on September 19, 2017 at Main Event in Atlanta, Georgia.

Moses Robinson/Getty Images for American Cancer Society

Attendee Eva Rodriguez, 20, knows all too well the effects that cancer can have on not only the patient but on the family as well. In 2008, Rodriguez’s mother was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare but treatable type of cancer that affects bone marrow and blood-forming cells. When Rodriguez was a sixth-grader, her knowledge about her mother’s cancer was limited, but she was there to witness her mother’s battle against the disease. After Rodriguez’s mother went through three years of treatment and chemotherapy, Rodriguez’s parents moved to Texas to seek further help as she and her siblings remained in Georgia with relatives. In Texas, a bone marrow transplant was completed, but it failed.

“The doctors said there were only 15 people in the world that matched her,” Rodriguez said. “[My parents] came back after the three months of living there and for four years, they were just trying to find a donor. [Doctors] were saying we didn’t have much time left.”

Rodriguez feared the worst, but she and her family never gave up hope. Last October, the family received a break when they learned that another donor was available. Although the match wasn’t perfect, it was a risk they were willing to take. Two months later, her mother received a second transplant. In January, after eight long years, Rodriguez’s mother was pronounced cancer-free. Although new complications have formed since the transplant, Rodriguez and her family are still grateful for the help of ACS during her mother’s battle.

“It’s hard, but this is why we do what we do for the American Cancer Society,” Rodriguez said. This is why [fundraising] is so important. The treatments and clinical trials that my mom has come across and the bone marrow transplant, all the research wouldn’t have happened without the American Cancer Society. Most of this stuff has helped my mom through her journey, and that’s why I’m so heavily involved. That’s why I appreciate the people who donate because they don’t understand the lives they’re impacting every day.”

Besides the fundraiser, Offset is encouraging others to keep their health in check.

According to the ACS’s “Cancer Facts & Figures for African-Americans,” nearly 190,000 new cancer cases were expected to be diagnosed among blacks last year. African-Americans have the highest death and shortest survival rates of any other group in the United States for most cancers. Additionally, black people are also more susceptible to other diseases at a higher rate. In 2012, the death rate for all cancers was 24 percent higher in black men and 14 percent higher in black women than their white counterparts.

“I know sometimes you might be scared … but you gotta get over that,” Offset said. “It’s the best for you. I can’t make anyone do it, but I feel like it’s the best thing to do to check yourself and make sure everything is good.”

‘Do it for the culture’

After nearly four hours of bowling fun and donation collections, attendees grabbed last-minute pictures with the athletes and artists as the event came to a close. Although this was only the beginning of the fundraiser, the best part is that the $500,000 goal of the campaign will continue, even after it has been reached.

“We’re gonna keep going,” Byers said. “We’ve got lives to save, and [Offset] knows that. He’s very passionate about it and really wants to raise as much as he can, so we’re excited and we could not be more honored to have him. We can call Offset one of our researchers out there trying to get prevention out.”

Offset hopes the use of his platform will help show his fans, particularly the younger generation, that they can also make a difference.

“My platform helps because I’m a big face to the young people,” Offset said. “It’s not a lot of young people that’s trying to help the American Cancer Society right now, that I know of, in rap music [who are influencers]. A lot of kids can relate to me because I haven’t had a perfect life. … With $500,000, you can make a difference in lives and you can have a real impact. It’s a realistic number.

“Do it for the culture. I want the young folks to do it. Instead of those new Jordans, try to help somebody to stay alive.”

Life before Death Row: The brief football career of Suge Knight The scariest man in rap was a star lineman at UNLV — and a scab Los Angeles Ram

Marion “Suge” Knight’s original terrordome was the defensive line. It’s where he starred for four years at Lynwood High School, 20 minutes from Compton, California’s much-loved Tam’s Burgers. Knight faces murder (among other) charges stemming from a January 2015 incident at Tam’s in which he is accused of barreling a Ford F-150 into two men.

Knight’s friend, Terry Carter, 55, was killed. Cle “Bone” Sloan, 51, was injured. All of this followed an argument near a filming location for the 2015 N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton. For the better part of three years, Knight has been held at Los Angeles County Jail, where he awaits a January 2018 trial. He is claiming self-defense. “He left the scene,” attorney James Blatt said in February 2015, “because he was in fear for his safety, and life.” Knight has shuffled through more than four attorneys since.

Wealthy white kids at Hollywood high schools were often the target of Knight’s shakedowns when he was at Lynwood. During the early ’80s, however, Knight was far more focused on sports than thugging: He earned letters in track and football all four years.


Harvey Hyde became the head football coach of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1981. At the time, the UNLV Rebels (recently on the wrong side of the most lopsided college football upset of all time) were new to Division I. The school, established in 1958, had gained national prominence via basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian’s “Runnin’ Rebels” program. It was up to Hyde to make UNLV a two-sport school.

Hyde still calls Marion Knight “Sugar Bear,” Knight’s childhood and neighborhood nickname. They met on a recruiting trip that Hyde made to Los Angeles County’s El Camino Junior College, where Knight excelled in the defensive line’s trenches. The Compton native was 6-foot-2 with big hair and an imposing frame.

“How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

Hyde, a player’s coach, brought Knight to Las Vegas. As a junior, he started at nose guard and defensive tackle and immediately became one of the Rebels’ best defensive players. Knight was voted UNLV’s Rookie of the Year, named defensive captain and won first-team all conference honors. In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

“[Knight] played his butt off,” said Hyde, whose coaching portfolio includes NFL stars Randall Cunningham, Ickey Woods and 2017 Hall of Famer Terrell Davis. “[Knight] was a ‘yes sir, no sir’ guy … the type of player any college football coach would love to have on his team.” Hyde was let go in 1986 after a string of damaging events for the football program, including burglary, the beating by a player of an off-duty policeman, the embezzling of video and stereo equipment, sexual assault and domestic violence, among other issues. Knight, a part-time bouncer at Vegas’ then-hot Cotton Club, wasn’t a blip on Hyde’s disciplinary radar. “He never, ever gave me a problem in any way.”

To many members of the UNLV team, and his close friend Tarkanian, Hyde was the scapegoat for a program he helped save. The lack of institutional control, they believed, wasn’t Hyde’s fault. Hyde has never spoken ill or shifted blame to anyone.

Knight may have been yes-sir-no-sir, but he was side-hustling: Books. Jon Wolfson, who in the early 2000s was a publicist for Death Row Records and is now the manager of Hall and Oates, recalls a conversation he had with Knight about his UNLV days. “He’d say something like, ‘Then I’d play the dumb athlete role and say, ‘Oh, Coach, I lost my books.’ ” The staff never second-guessed Knight, said Wolfson. “They’d give him brand-new books, and he’d sell them to make some extra cash.” Knight enjoyed two impressive seasons at UNLV in 1985 and 1986, lettering in both.

Yet, per Randall Sullivan’s 2003 LAbyrinth: A Detective Investigates the Murders of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G., the Implication of Death Row Records’ Suge Knight, and the Origins of the Los Angeles Police Scandal, Knight’s demeanor became more ominous and reclusive during his senior campaign. Visitors from his hometown of Compton were frequently sighted, as Sullivan reported. Knight, too, moved in an apartment by himself, and was seen in several late-model sedans. And his reputation on campus evolved far beyond that of the friendly jokester he was the year before. He seemed a man involved in far more sophisticated situations.

Yet when Wayne Nunnely took over as coach in 1986, Knight’s athletic demeanor apparently remained consistent. “He wasn’t a problem guy at all,” Nunnely told the Las Vegas Sun in 1996. This was three days after Tupac Shakur was shot five times near the Las Vegas Strip by a drive-by assailant who remains unknown. Shakur and Knight were at the intersection of Koval Lane and Flamingo Road. Shakur, of course, died. Knight, by then better known as “Suge,” was then gangsta rap’s unquestioned, unrivaled and undisputed emperor. “You didn’t really see,” said Nunnely, “that street roughness in him.”

The gridiron roughness is something Knight didn’t hesitate to talk about. “I think the most important thing, when you play football,” Knight told comedian Jay Mohr in 2001, shortly after being released from prison for serving half of a nine-year sentence for assault charges stemming from the fight with Orlando Anderson in Vegas’ MGM Grand the night Shakur was shot, “you get the quarterback, you stick your hand in his helmet and peel the skin back off.”

He jokingly suggested, even after selling tens of millions of records and doing nearly a five-year bid, that he could still play in the league. “I think I could strap up and intimidate most of those [guys]. I think we could make a few deals and I’ll be like, ‘OK, look. Lemme get ’bout three, four sacks. I’ll let you get a few blocks. We’ll enjoy it.’ ”

According to teammates, Knight dropped out of UNLV before graduation. By 1987, he was back in Los Angeles. One of the biggest songs on the streets was Eazy-E’s gangsta rap bellwether “Boyz n Da Hood,” which dropped in March of that year. But before turning to hip-hop to plant the seeds of a future empire, Knight had one last gridiron itch to scratch: the National Football League.


The first overall pick in the 1987 NFL draft was Vinny Testaverde, who played until he was 44. The second overall pick was defensive stalwart Cornelius Bennett. There was also current University of Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, Christian “The Nigerian Nightmare” Okoye, 2002 NFL MVP Rich Gannon and Rod Woodson, the only Hall of Famer from this class. Former University of Oklahoma megastar linebacker Brian Bosworth and future Hall of Famer wide receiver Cris Carter were chosen in the supplemental draft. Marion Knight was not one of the 335 players selected. But the NFL eventually did come calling. The league was desperate.

As documented in the new 30 for 30 film “Year of the Scab,” NFL players went on strike shortly after the start of the 1987 season. Today, football players influenced by exiled Super Bowl quarterback Colin Kaepernick fight for their freedom of expression. Thirty years ago, players bucked back at ownership for freedom of agency. In 1982, players went on strike demanding 55 percent of revenue. The 57-day standoff cost the league seven games and $275 million in revenues. And another $50 million returned to networks. While united in both strikes, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) gained little ground in either.

“Free” agency in the 1980s wasn’t the spectacle it is today, with hundreds of players changing teams annually. “This was before free agency,” said veteran Los Angeles Times sports reporter Chris Dufresne. “[NFL players] really were indentured servants. They couldn’t go anywhere!” Players were, for lack of a better phrase, property — bound to teams for life. With rare exceptions, they did move to new teams, although many times those were star players with leverage, a la O.J. Simpson’s 1978 trade to the San Francisco 49ers.

Teams could sign free agents, but the cost was steep. The “Rozelle Rule” stated the NFL commissioner could reward the player’s original team with draft picks, often first-round selections, or players. NFL salaries did rise in the ’80s, primarily because of the brief existence of the United States Football League (an entity that featured team owner Donald Trump) and its willingness to lure NFL players with large contracts. But by 1985, the USFL was defunct. Even that era couldn’t hold a candle to the second strike. “The 1987 Rams season,” said Dufresne, “was the craziest I’ve ever had in journalism.”

In a city full of sins, Knight was apparently UNLV’s biggest blessing.

Training camp started with star running back Eric Dickerson warring for a new contract. On Aug. 21, 1987, running back and former Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, after drug issues that plagued him while with the Cleveland Browns and at USC, was arrested after being found in a field. “[He had a] trash can lid, pretending to be the Trojan Warrior,” Dufresne recalled. “That’s how the summer started.” White led the NFL in rushing that same strike season, with 1,374 yards.

The strike started after Week 3. Players said they wouldn’t show up for Week 4, owners called what they thought was bluff, and then had to scramble to fill rosters with replacement players: former college players, undrafted players, construction workers, bartenders, even ex-cons. Replacement players, otherwise known as “scabs,” were ridiculed.

Somewhat like Faizon Love and Orlando Jones in 2000’s The Replacements, Knight was one of those replacement players. Dufresne, 30 years later, doesn’t recall the future head of a gangsta rap empire. “I have no recollection of Suge being there. I must have seen him,” he said. “[But] why would I remember him? How would anyone know who he was at the time? He was one of the guys that the Rams players were throwing eggs at.”

The strike lasted only a few weeks, but it got ugly. It sounds ridiculous to say Knight was bullied, but such was life in the NFL during the 1987 lockout for “scabs.” Knight, a man who would evolve into an intimidating pop culture tour de force, had eggs thrown at him. First-year Rams offensive tackle Robert Cox smashed the window of a van carrying replacement players after union players began rocking the van.

These incidents were common throughout the league. Frustrations were at a boiling point. Once stars such as Dallas Cowboys’ Tony Dorsett, San Francisco’s Joe Montana, the Oakland Raiders’ Howie Long and Seattle’s Steve Largent crossed the line, the NFLPA recognized the ship was sinking. “They had a weak union compared to the baseball union,” Dufresne said. “But the things they were fighting for were real.”

The strike lasted 24 days. Knight officially played two games as a Los Angeles Ram, against the Pittsburgh Steelers and against the Atlanta Falcons. Although Knight’s official stats are all but lost to history, this YouTube video compiled his official NFL stat line: eight plays, zero sacks, zero tackles and one penalty. John Robinson, Rams head coach from 1983-91, said the team had too many bodies that year between union and replacement players. He, too, has no recollection of coaching Knight.

“Suge,” said Dufresne, “was just an anonymous nobody in the surroundings.” The anonymity wouldn’t last long.


In October 1987, as the regular NFL players reported back to work, Knight’s rap sheet ballooned and his boogeyman persona began to take shape. In Los Angeles, Knight was charged with domestic violence after grabbing future ex-wife Sharitha Golden (whom he’d later implicate in Shakur’s murder) by the hair and chopping her ponytail off in the driveway of her mother’s home. That Halloween, he was arrested in Vegas for shooting a man in the wrist and in the leg, and for stealing his Nissan Maxima. With felony charges looming, Knight skated away from any serious penalty in part because of a contrite courtroom appearance and his history in the city as a famed football player. The felonies were reduced to misdemeanors: a $1,000 fine and three years probation. “I shot him with his own gun,” Knight told The Washington Post in 2007.

Three years later, in Vegas once again, he pleaded guilty to felony assault with a deadly weapon after pistol-whipping a man with a loaded gun and breaking his jaw. Knight again evaded serious penalty.

Knight by then was immersing himself in the music industry, serving as a bodyguard for superstars such as Bobby Brown. He eventually maneuvered his way into the circles of rappers like The D.O.C., Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E. Knight partnered with Dr. Dre to create Death Row Records in 1991. Dr. Dre’s 1992 The Chronic (Death Row/Priority) and Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle (Death Row/Interscope) the following year became instant pop gospels and solidified Knight and Death Row as not only major players but also undeniable and controversial cultural focal points.

It’s been years since Coach Hyde has seen his former player. He’s not sure if he will again, but, “You can’t get me to say anything negative about Suge Knight,” he said. “Whatever somebody is accused of, he’s still a football player of mine. He’s still part of the family when I was at UNLV.” Hyde pauses momentarily, then continues, “I’m not endorsing all the certain things they accuse him of, because I really don’t know. I have no idea! He doesn’t judge me and I don’t judge him. We just have our old feelings of each other. I just think that’s what it’s all about. You don’t forget people.”

“When I watch the news, it’s like I’m watching someone else,” Jon Wolfson said. “That’s not the guy I know.”

As for Dufresne, he’s not on either side of the aisle. He’s more shocked that Marion Knight, a guy he only mentioned in passing through roster lists, morphed into Suge Knight, the Death Row Records impresario who was once worth more than $100 million. Suge, he recalled, wasn’t the only notorious figure to come about during his time covering the Rams. Darryl Henley, a former cornerback for the Rams (1989-94), was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1995. He is currently serving a 41-year prison term for conspiring to murder the federal judge who presided over his trial, as well as the former Rams cheerleader who testified against him. And the Rams’ 1996 first round pick, running back Lawrence Phillips, received a 31-year sentence for domestic violence, spousal abuse, false imprisonment and vehicle theft and was later charged with first-degree murder of his cellmate. Phillips committed suicide in 2016.

Dufresne recalled the bitterness of rap in the ’90s, the “East/West thing” as he dubbed it. And he remembered the personal sadness that followed Shakur’s murder. Yet, it wasn’t until this phone call where he put one and one together. Marion is Suge. Suge was Marion. Suge Knight was a replacement player during the most untamed year of my career.

“Marion Knight, out of UNLV, who did what a lot of guys did and had a dream to play [in the NFL] and maybe didn’t understand what the players were fighting for, he was just another guy,” he said. He stops, as if he’s shocked. “Little did we know.”

Hugh Freeze called other escort services and other news of the week The Week That Was August 14-18

Monday 08.14.17

Three days after the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, President Donald Trump attacked a pharmaceutical CEO for standing against the Charlottesville attack. In 1995 news, an Oklahoma man was arrested for allegedly planning to blow up a building in Oklahoma City. A Georgia pastor denies that he offered on Instagram to perform anilingus on hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj. Former NFL tight end Jermichael Finley said national anthem protests by current players Marshawn Lynch and Michael Bennett are “more of marketing” and thinks they’re protesting for “a selfish reason.” In unrelated news, the Baltimore Ravens signed another quarterback not named Colin Kaepernick. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, conceivably talking about the U.S. government or the New York baseball franchise, said he would “watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees.” In celebration of quarterback Jay Cutler’s arrival in Miami, the San Diego State football team had to cancel practice because of a chickenpox outbreak in the team’s locker room.

Tuesday 08.15.17

The Alameda County (California) Sheriff’s Department retweeted the news conference of white supremacist Richard Spencer; the department said it was an accident. Trump retweeted a conspiracy theorist, a photo of a train running over a CNN logo and a man who called him a “fascist”; the president later un-retweeted the latter two tweets. Captain America, who is literally a Nazi, tweeted, “This is insane” in response to Trump’s news conference on Charlottesville. Train service in Chicago was stopped after a severed head and leg were found on the tracks; “F— no. I’m gonna Facebook Live this,” one frustrated passenger said in response to the delay. Taco Bell, a company not satisfied with ruining only tacos, is offering a breakfast taco that uses a fried egg as the shell. A history professor blamed tennis star Serena Williams for Trump’s presidency and the re-rise of white supremacy. Former NFL coach and Man Who Fights At Bars Rob Ryan does not agree with national anthem protests because Americans should “be proud of our country.” An Englishman who stole over $22,000 from a store was sentenced to three years in prison after police uncovered his résumé at the premises. In more international news, a kangaroo punched an Australian boy in the face.

Wednesday 08.16.17

A Wisconsin man shot himself in the heart with a nail gun and did not die: “Once I felt the nail in me, I was like, ‘Well I can’t pull that one out,’ ” the man told The Washington Post. The personal attorney for Trump, who is Jewish and the son of a Holocaust survivor, played the “I have a black friend” game while deflecting his client’s non-condemnation of neo-Nazis. Trump’s other attorney forwarded an email that praised Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy’s secession plan, and accused the Black Lives Matter movement of being “totally infiltrated by terrorist groups.” The family of Lee, without a hint of

irony, said the Confederate general “would never ever stand for that sort of violence” exhibited in Charlottesville. Former Ole Miss football coach Hugh Freeze, it turns out, called more than one escort service during his time at the school. Floyd Mayweather now has the opportunity to punch Conor McGregor in the face even quicker. The Chick-fil-A restaurant in the new Atlanta Falcons stadium will not be open on Sundays; the defending NFC champs have only one non-Sunday home game this season.

Thursday 08.17.17

Trump, the creator of “Lyin’” Ted Cruz, “Little” Marco Rubio and “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, is slowly running out of insulting adjectives, calling the junior senator from Arizona “Flake” Jeff Flake. A New York man who carried a tiki torch in Charlottesville last weekend and once attended a Sharia law protest, told USA Today that “I’m not what they’re making me out to be.” Three birds, two with a feather-shedding disease, are involved in a polyamorous relationship. Face-painted Juggalos are ready to scrap with alt-right protesters. Trump condemned the attack in Barcelona within hours of it happening, and hours later he lost another business advisory council. As if it even matters, a Rutgers football reporter, who covers a team that lost 78-0 to Michigan last season, submitted a Freedom Of Information Act request for the Wolverines’ final roster. A neo-Nazi is mad because the internet made fun of him for crying about being issued an arrest warrant. Two days after LeBron James referred to Trump as the “so-called president,” Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, being blunt as usual, added, “We don’t f— with him.”

Friday 08.18.17

New Orleans Pelicans forward DeMarcus Cousins, known not to be a mincer of words, said, “Take all them m—–f—–s down” in response to questions about Confederate statues. Pelicans teammate Rajon Rondo, who is on his fifth team in four years and once reportedly told his coach to “f— off,” won an award for “best teammate.” Far-right radio host Alex Jones was called a “racist f—” by a helmet-wearing cyclist and had coffee thrown on him on the streets of Seattle; the video, of course, could have been staged. Trump lost yet another council. San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard smiled … twice. White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was either fired or resigned two weeks ago.

LeBron James wants to beat up Kyrie Irving and other news of the week The Week That Was July 24 – 28

Monday 07.24.17

President Donald Trump, when asked about his thoughts on health care reform, told a female reporter to be “quiet.” President Ron Burgundy Trump later read from a teleprompter that the Affordable Care Act has wreaked havoc over “the last 17 years.” The internet was still upset that Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps wasn’t eaten by a shark. Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who once said slain 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed because he dressed like a “gangsta,” said 36-year-old Jared Kushner “looks like a high school senior.” In Georgia news, a small airplane modeled to look like a Nazi Germany aircraft, complete with a swastika on the tail, landed on a state highway; the plane’s pilot said the Nazi design was “just for fun.” 2 Fast 2 Furious director John Singleton, not known for bad decisions, said there’s nothing wrong with singer R. Kelly keeping a sex cult because the occupants are “adult women.” Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price cursed out an old man last month because the 62-year-old, Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley, said, “Yuck.” If Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James were to come face-to-face with teammate Kyrie Irving, he’d reportedly be tempted to “beat his ass.”

Tuesday 07.25.17

James booed the report. The environment is in such trouble that even holy water has been shut off by the Vatican. A New York City barber who posted on social media that “N—-s taking shots can’t stop me” was fatally shot in the head. Former House Speaker John Boehner, who once held a meaningless vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act just so freshman lawmakers could vote on it, said Republicans will never replace the health care law. Tech CEOs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are currently beefing over whether or not robots will eventually kill humans. Energy Secretary Rick Perry was tricked into talking about “pig manure as a power source” with a Russian (of course) man posing as Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman. Twin sisters from Australia, who’ve spent over $200,000 on plastic surgery to look more alike, want to get pregnant by their shared boyfriend at the same time. Chicago officials are trying to control their rat problem by making the rodents infertile. Former Dallas Cowboys receiver Lucky Whitehead was cut from the team a day before police realized they had the “wrong guy.” Former Denver Broncos coach Gary Kubiak, who once almost died on the job, is returning to the Broncos. Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick got a job before Colin Kaepernick. A Michigan man suing Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green for allegedly hitting him in the face last summer said, “I still feel his hand on my jaw.” A retired NFL player is suing Attorney General Jeff Sessions over weed.

Wednesday 07.26.17

The Defense Department, responsible for national security and the military, was caught off guard by a Trump tweet invoking national security and the military. Meanwhile, the U.S. armed forces spend at least 10 times as much on erectile dysfunction pills as they do on gender-transition-related medical treatment. A Michigan man was sentenced to two years of probation for wrapping a cat in duct tape; a person at the man’s home said the tape was used to stop the cat from itching. A self-described journalist and comedian created a list of places where Ohio residents and Cavs fans could burn the jersey of Irving. Arthur Lambright, the former boyfriend of the mother of LeBron James and best known as “Da Real Lambo,” has sided with Irving in the two teammates’ dispute. Green Bay Packers tight end Martellus Bennett, realizing he’s the “only black person in this scary movie,” was worried about ghosts while sleeping in front of his locker room. Future emergency room admittees are now playing “soap hockey.” Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, putting his $71.25 million contract to good use, paid a dive team to retrieve a $100,000 earring he lost while Jet Skiing. NCAA investigators were shocked to learn that black men get their hair cut more than once a month.

Thursday 07.27.17

Sessions, the president’s proverbial punching bag the past week, said Trump’s criticism is “kind of hurtful.” A New Jersey man was arrested after being accused of not paying nearly $88,000 in tolls. The Washington Nationals hit the most home runs in one inning in MLB history, but all attention was paid to a pigeon that made its way on the field. LaVar Ball is telling women to stay in their lanes again. A market research study found that 26 percent of NFL fans who watched less football last season did so because of national anthem protests; that percentage, though, represented roughly 287 people. Kid Rock finally stopped lying about running for U.S. Senate. Instead of signing Kaepernick, who’s been to the Super Bowl, the Baltimore Ravens signed arena league quarterback David Olson. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith received $2 million just for showing up to work. White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, who earlier in the day accused chief of staff Reince Priebus of feloniously “leaking” the Mooch’s financial disclosure form, called Priebus a “a f—ing paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac” and alleged that chief strategist Steve Bannon engages in autofellatio. Houston Rockets guard and 2017 MVP runner-up James Harden reportedly had his jersey retired at a Houston strip club.

Friday 07.28.17

Republican lawmakers failed (again) to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act. A New York City couple jumped to their deaths because “both have medical issues, we just can’t afford the health care.” The hosts of Fox & Friends, critical of “Obamacare,” unwittingly discovered the core definition of health insurance, stating that “the healthy people are paying for the sick people.” Some guy has already announced his plans to run for president in 2020. Trump, an avid Liam Neeson fan, told undocumented immigrants, “We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you, and we will deport you.” The NFL, purportedly serious about brain research, meddled its way out of paying $16 million to the National Institutes of Health. The Tennessee Titans released guard Sebastian Tretola five days after he was shot.

The show, the after-party, the hotel — live from The 2017 ESPYS Peyton Manning, LL Cool J, Ice Cube made all the memories

It’s one thing to watch an awards show on TV. It’s different to be there in person. And it’s totally different to actually have to work it. You see everything. You hear everything. And, most importantly, you feel everything. For example, it was impossible not to shed tears when Jarrius Robertson was handed the Jimmy V Perseverance Award. Goose bumps arrived when former first lady Michelle Obama graced the stage to honor Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. But for those who require a more intimate view of what The ESPYS were like, I’m glad you’re here. Follow along.

The Red Carpet Hustle

This was my first red carpet experience. I didn’t know what to expect going in, but as the great songwriting philosopher Jay-Z once said, Fresh out the frying pan/ Into the fryer. Once it’s on, it’s on. Publicists coming up to you asking if you want to speak to their clients. Jumping on the carpet and chasing people down to speak to them. It looks glamorous on TV, but it’s a haze in real life. From Malcolm Jenkins, Draya Michele, Josh Norman, Dak Prescott, Derrick Johnson and more. Sweating in a suit and standing for three hours isn’t glamorous. But if you get a chance to do it, I recommend it.

Peyton Manning’s opening monologue

Manning didn’t say, “Omaha!” which remains a severe disappointment, but his opening monologue? Yeah, he did that. There wasn’t much doubt as to whether the two-time Super Bowl-winning signal-caller would do well at hosting. He’s one of the more personable athletes in sports, with a list of comedic moments to his name already — his Saturday Night Live appearances are some of the funniest spots in the show’s history. But believe me when I tell you this: His Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook joke had everyone in the building laughing while also saying, “Yikes.” K.D.’s and Westbrook’s reaction was all that needed to be said. Then he followed it up with a quip about the Atlanta Falcons blowing the biggest lead in Super Bowl history. For what it’s worth, Jamie Foxx is still the greatest of all time ESPYS host. Justin Timberlake and Drake were pretty good as well. But The Sheriff was on one last night.

LL Cool J’s catalog is certified

I’ll be the first to admit I was hesitant about attending a party that featured LL Cool J as headliner. He’s a hip-hop icon and should be the next rapper inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But it’s 2017, LL’s a TV star, and music doesn’t necessarily feel like his main objective anymore (which is totally understandable), combined with the fact that Naughty By Nature had performed at ESPN The Magazine’s Body Party the night before with extremely limited success (for the record, Naughty was cool, but the trio really only has a handful of songs that cross over).

Needless to say, any concerns I had about LL walking into the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles were quickly alleviated. His catalog is deep. He came out to “Mama Said Knock You Out.” Then there was “I’m Bad.” “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” too. By far, though, the highlight of LL’s set was the Total-assisted “Who Do You Love.” The entire venue instantly went back to 1996. Everyone danced with each other and sang the hook in unison, Who do you love?/ Are you for sure?

The ESPYS Post Party Presented by Coors Light.

Kohjiro Kinno / ESPN Images

The energy kicked up when LL brought out Ice Cube and WC to perform “Bow Down” and “Gangsta Nation.” Also, if you ever needed proof that Cube is a living legend, check and see how a room full of people react to his (and N.W.A.’s) “Straight Outta Compton.” There’s something about yelling, Straight Outta Compton, crazy m—-f—– named Ice Cube/ From a gang called N—-s With Attitude. All in all, LL won last night. The only complaint I had was he didn’t do “Paradise” with Amerie. Or “I Need Love.”

There’s always an after-party to the after-party

About 2 1/2 hours into the official after-party is when people begin planning their next move. It’s Los Angeles. There’s always another move. There was a Vanity Fair move. And an Uninterrupted one that was apparently full before it even began because everyone was texting everyone else to see who they knew who could get them in. The trick is, if you’re going out, you can’t overdo it at the open bar. Which, let me be perfectly clear, is much easier said than done. You’re always convincing yourself one more drink can’t hurt when it doesn’t hurt your bank account. And nights like that normally end with 3:30 a.m. trips to Subway. I should know.

The hotel

Just don’t be that guy, slightly inebriated at near 4 in the morning, standing on the elevator wondering why the JW Marriott has a dysfunctional elevator because it won’t take you to your floor. You’re pressing “7” to take you to your floor, but it’s not going anywhere. You’re standing with a delicious Subway sandwich in your hand, and all you want to do is eat and fall asleep, but you can’t because the elevator is broken. You seriously waste a good five minutes mad because the establishment won’t let you be great — or maybe it was doing you a favor, because did you really need Subway at near 4 in the morning? Of course you didn’t, you savage. Then you realize you have to scan your card, and you feel like an idiot. I should know.

Retired NFL safety Chris Crocker wants athletes to get their fair share in sports memorabilia business His new tech company FanFlow aims to help players protect their brands

When retired NFL safety Chris Crocker was at the peak of his career, like many other athletes he signed countless autographs. Many of the autographs were done face to face with fans, while others were signed for dealers who negotiated with fans.

From that experience, Crocker set out to focus on the next chapter of his life: starting a technology company that would connect fans directly with athletes and teams to purchase signed merchandise while allowing players to maintain control of their brands.

In 2014, Crocker hung up his cleats after more than a decade on the field, and now he’s in the beta phase of his new technology company FanFlow, a website and app that will help fans purchase memorabilia online without a dealer acting as a middleman.

“Essentially as an athlete, you’re indirectly an employee of that shop or that memorabilia dealer,” Crocker said. “There’s a huge disconnect between yourself, him or her, and your fan base. I just didn’t like any of it. I just didn’t like the fact that I own my name, and you leverage my name for your monetary gain as a memorabilia dealer. I just thought that was just so wrong. All my colleagues dealt with this, but it was the only way. There was no other way.”

According to Crocker’s business plan, fans will choose the item and the player and customize their message. FanFlow will take it from there. The business is still in its initial phase.

“Choose the athlete you want that has an article you want, and then have that athlete personally inscribe it,” Crocker explained. “Along the way, we video verify it, and we give that to you. That’s really a connect, and the thing that we do with the video, which is an integral part of what we do. We’re able to expand on that video, and that customizes as well. It’s a form of engagement, it’s an experience. It’s really awesome.”

Each athlete’s signature has a specific price point, and they will be paid accordingly. FanFlow will take a percentage of each transaction.

“We not only offer a premium form of authentication; our platform makes it significantly cheaper to acquire memorabilia for consumers because there are no markups in the product, and alternately more profitable for athletes because of the same fact,” Crocker said.

According to Crocker, memorabilia dealers charge higher rates for the same product because they have to pay the athlete to sign and then sell the item to make a profit. “This easily doubles the price,” he said.

FanFlow’s beta phase was launched in 2015 and has only one team on board: FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League. No other teams are under contract in any major sport yet.

“This is for intentional reasons, as we don’t necessarily want to divulge our go-to market strategy,” Crocker said. “Our platform doesn’t depend on having working relationships with sports franchises. We have the option of working with big-box retailers as well. Everyone sells the same merchandise, and FanFlow gives the competitive advantage because of that very same fact.”

Crocker has invested a significant amount of his own money. He says he has attracted outside funding, which he is not yet disclosing. “We are in a seed round of fundraising, and the company valuation has yet TBD,” Crocker added.

Crocker was a third-round pick in the 2003 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. After two years with that club, he spent time with the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings. He spoke with The Undefeated about the transition from football, getting his business off the ground and investing in yourself.


How did you become interested in a tech company?

I conceptualized this while I was playing. Before we actually dove into this, it was all about the research and trying to figure out who does it, and who’s in this space, who’s doing what we’re doing, what are some of the similarities. Then trying to sort the company, who could help us build it, because at that time I could never put together a team.

How did you decide on sports memorabilia?

I felt like if I could just create a platform where you could empower the athlete so that he could control it, it really is the right thing to do. It’s about time that the athlete can leverage his own brand, and if someone else is going to sell your likeness, it should come directly from you.

That’s why I wanted to … really create something that, in my opinion, really transcends the relationship between athletes and their fans. Because when you think of memorabilia, it references a point and a time, whether that’s in your life or what you were doing at that particular time.

What’s been the hardest part of the tech journey?

It’s probably just getting people to listen sometimes. I think with any entrepreneur that’s probably the common struggle, that when you think of something, when you want to invent something, you just need people to listen. You need that feedback, because some people are going to say, ‘Hey, it’s a great idea.’ Then some people are going to tell you, ‘No, that’s a terrible idea.’ You’re able to evolve and to really create something great because of not only the good advice but the bad advice.

I would say that’s probably the struggle, just that it’s hard sometimes to get people to listen to you and believe as much as you do in the product you’re trying to build. I think it was hard for people to listen to me because, I’m a former athlete, right? I’ve never been in business for myself, I’ve never done anything like this. They’re looking at me as just, what are you doing? Obviously, I could build this product from the point of view of an athlete, but they’re like, ‘You’ve never been in business for yourself, so how are you going to really create something out of thin air that doesn’t exist and get people to adapt?’

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

The biggest struggle any entrepreneur faces is that you can only infuse so much of your own money into your product.

The best advice I’ve gotten on that front is people would talk about the power of being broke. I wouldn’t necessarily say I was broke, OK, that wasn’t the analogy, but sometimes you’re forced. What that can do is that can force you to make bad decisions. You can go either way, because there’s some entrepreneurs who let that affect them, and they build a product that’s not necessarily applicable to what they’re trying to do because they’re cash-strapped.

Someone once told me, don’t let that affect your decision-making process. You have to be very resilient that when you get to a point in your business where you need more capital, you still have to make sound decisions. I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind as, OK, I need the money but, Chris, make a sound decision. Don’t let that affect your next step. I would say that’s probably the best advice that I received.

During your playing years, were you seriously thinking about your post-NFL career?

I was thinking about tech. I was thinking about everything everybody else was thinking about. Investing in mutual funds, stocks, IPOs, franchises. I was thinking about everything everyone else was thinking about, but my wife [Karrie], we had a conversation one day and I was really hell-bent on doing this, and my wife was kind of on the fence.

It just hit me one day, and I just said to her — it just literally came out of my mouth — ‘Hey, we invest in other people’s businesses, other companies.’ I really felt, I was convicted, I really felt like why don’t we invest in yourself? Let’s take a risk on us. We can do this.

Instead of investing in the mutual funds and all the other stuff that is normal, I said, ‘Let’s just put the money into us and let’s take a risk. Why not? There’s a 50-50 chance it goes up, there’s a 50-50 chance it goes down.’ I put my money on myself. I’d bet on me any day.

What advice would you give to other NFL players or athletes about their post-NFL careers?

I would say, I think the opportunities are there now where they weren’t as much when I was playing. I think the NFL, the NFLPA [National Football League Players Association], they’re doing a much better job of allowing guys to sort of dive into other businesses, whether it’s internships, whether there’s a program for the opportunity programs that they put on.

I would say do as many of those as you can because you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to end up loving, but if you never try them once you’re done, those doors close. Every athlete told me that prior to me retiring: ‘Hey, you have these opportunities in front of you. People are more willing to listen to you now than they will be when you retire.’ I’ve experienced that firsthand.

I would just say, networking is really immersing yourself in other communities. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Do other things. Those opportunities could really turn into something else post-career.

You have two daughters (ages 2 and 5). What are you teaching them this early in life?

You really write your own story, and that you get out of it what you put in it. I also say that I do believe in luck, but you have to work really hard to get it. I continuously tell my daughters that there’s no reason why you can’t do that. You have all the opportunities right in front of you.

Entrepreneurship is real; you’re going to succeed and you’re going to fail by your own means. You are literally your own worst enemy as an entrepreneur. That’s the lesson that I teach my daughters. You’re going to get out of it what you put in it. If you don’t work hard, then the only person to blame is yourself.

Was your transition from football difficult?

I think for me, it wasn’t difficult at all. I think it was a little bit of a shock, in my opinion. I still have relationships and I stay close to the game. I’ve been afforded the opportunity where I can still go back to Cincinnati and walk into that building, and there’s no problem.

I’ve seen that I have a lot of colleagues or former teammates who can’t even go back into a building anymore. They treat them like a commodity, and I thought that was very, very sad and very tough to deal with for every athlete. That’s the thing that I think guys struggle with the most. I didn’t deal with it as much, but I did feel the fact that people didn’t respond as much. People weren’t as correspondent. Me being in my post-career, I just felt like athletes experience that, and I experienced it firsthand.

I was fortunate, and I said I’ll attach myself to something, such as officiating, at the time. I was fully immersed in that, but I had to step aside from that because this demanded every ounce of my attention, and you can’t do anything great if you’re not hands-on.

It was like I went from playing to directing to officiating and also from there into this venture. Both of those things, whether it’s officiating or this, it really was sort of, like, it allowed me to be flexible. I think that’s something that really attracted me about entrepreneurship is that, you know you work hard, you get to enjoy that. You’re on your own schedule. You’re your own boss. The ceiling is as high as you want. There’s an endless lot of opportunities.

It’s been good since I retired. It’s been very good. My wife has been great. Our daughters are young, and so we’re all about them. My life is really good. I think I was getting to the point, though, where I was going to be bored. If I wasn’t doing this, I can’t imagine the athlete that doesn’t do anything. He’s just bored.

What would you tell other entrepreneurs?

Chronicle every step so that you have the opportunity to look back. Because, shoot, where we were a year ago, we’re a completely different company. I think sometimes you have an idea as an entrepreneur, but it has to evolve. It may not end up looking like the end product, but you’ll get there some way, somehow. You’ll figure it out.

We were a completely different company from inception to now. Our product is all about the end user, and the end user for us is the athlete. Nothing works without the athlete, and so we had to build a product that we knew the athlete would use. The demand is already there, but you have to make it simplistic, you have to make it easy to process. When it comes to fulfilling these orders, the autograph signing, you have to make all those things simplistic for the athlete where it becomes a part of their schedule.

Michael Vick’s next chapter includes forgiving himself and guiding young athletes The retired QB has started sports academies and is pushing his brand V7

A normal day in the life of former NFL quarterback Michael Vick is spent with family, maybe indulging in some golf and during this time of year taking in some NBA playoff games.

“I wake up and I try to handle all my business by 2 o’clock. I’m golfing from 3 to 5, maybe practicing some short game, trying to get better as a golfer,” Vick said. “Then come home and spend time with my kids if I don’t go to pick them up around 3:30, and that night I’m trying to find the best TV show I can find. Right now it’s the playoffs, though.”

He was rooting for the Indiana Pacers, who were swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of this postseason.

Vick announced his retirement in February after spending 13 seasons in the NFL, which included times filled with controversy, a prison sentence, a second chance and acts of remorse that involved advocating for animals.

April 30 marked the beginning of the postretirement Vick era. He’s turned his sights to the next chapter: guiding young athletes. Teaming up with the National Playmakers Academy (NPA), he launched the V7 Elite Playmakers Showcase Series, a premier sports camp in the South and East geared toward young athletes ranging from fifth- to 12th-graders.

The showcase provides an interactive camp setting where the kids will receive a combination of instruction from elite college and professional coaches and athletes, have their performances evaluated by college coaches by livestreaming, access to exclusive V7 gear (Vick’s official clothing line) and competition among elite talent. V7 Elite Playmakers Showcase Series kicked off its multicity tour Sunday at Tennessee State University in Nashville.

Vick’s next chapter represents his road to healing, including forgiving himself after serving 18 months in federal prison following a guilty plea to dogfighting conspiracy on Aug. 27, 2007.

On April 25, 2007, police raided his Virginia property and found several neglected pit bulls and evidence of dogfighting. By Aug. 24, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended Vick indefinitely without pay, but later said he’d have to show genuine remorse to get a chance at resuming his NFL career.

Vick, who was the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons, made four Pro Bowl appearances over his professional football career. He still holds the record for the most career rushing yards by a quarterback (6,109) and the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season (1,039). The former Virginia Tech standout’s on-the-field career accomplishments include the NFL Comeback Player of the Year (2010) and the collegiate Archie Griffin Award in 1999.

Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick after his release from prison in July 2009, and in August of that year he signed a two-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles and was fully reinstated in week 6 of the 2009-10 NFL season.

In his dark days, those prison days, Vick said, he did a lot of writing.

“I wrote a lot of people, whether it was prominent people, ambassadors, vice presidents. I was writing everybody,” he said. “I got over like 50,000, 60,000 pieces of mail that came through the prison systems for me. That just goes to show that people did care, and it was people of all different races, all different backgrounds, all different colors, all different denominations, and that’s what kept me uplifted.”

Vick was a target for animal rights activists, and protests followed him in the latter stages of his career. After Vick signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2015, head coach Mike Tomlin told Trib Total Media that Vick had made efforts to atone for his past. “Rest assured that he has done a lot since some of the things that he has gone through. His track record to this point speaks for itself,” Tomlin said.

According to MNN.com, “since his release from federal prison in 2009, Vick has worked with the Humane Society to help stop dogfighting, and he helped get the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act passed in Congress. Recently, he made a trip to the Pennsylvania statehouse to support a bill that would give police more authority to rescue pets left in hot cars.”

Vick opened up to The Undefeated about retirement, his showcase series, prison and his journey to forgiveness.


How is retirement for you?

I feel good in retirement. As of right now, I feel like I’ve got enough going on to keep me occupied, and I think postcareer, for a lot of players, you worry about what’s to come or you don’t plan for what’s to come, and I didn’t have a plan. I just kind of followed all my resources and just allowed them to help me dictate what was best for my immediate future following retirement and I’ve got combines, showcases coming up for kids.

Ten different showcases in 10 different states, different cities. I’ve got a clothing line that’s about to emerge and some other things that sparked my interest that I think would be beneficial for my brand long term.

How did you decide on starting your showcase and your clothing line?

Well, I’ve done a lot of camps over the years. And camps, they follow the same format. And I think with a showcase, it gives collegiate coaches the opportunity to come out and view the kids and the kids can get some form of recognition in terms of being recruited by a major, Division I university or a DIII school.

I think every kid can place at some level of college football and I’ve been around those kids, following them. A lot of them now are entering the NFL from working with them in 2010, 2011, and that’s the exciting part about it. I’ve found so many kids who I can influence and who I can help.

In regards to the clothing line, I had my brand with Nike years ago, V7, and V7 did very well. We had five different shoes, we had a clothing line consisting of hats, T-shirts, headbands, and it was just a brand within itself that was taking, and I figure now it’s about the next generation.

A lot of kids follow me. A lot of them admired my style of play and look up to me as a role model, so I figure I’d come with the V7 the next generation and just keep the brand going.

How is your showcase camp different from other traditional football camps?

We’re continuing to help educate the kid moving forward. Some kids are going to be sophomores, some are going to be juniors, some are going to be rising seniors. For the younger guys, the underclassmen, they’ll get an opportunity to come back every year, annually, and as the season goes on, anything that they learn from these combines they can take it and apply in the season while they’re playing.

They can’t get it all, but just a weekend worth of consistent coaching and letting the kids know like this is the proper form, this is the proper technique, this is the attitude that you’ve got to display, competition-based, what your vision has to be as far as your competitiveness. Those are things they can take a long way, and it’s up to them to practice these skills on their own postcombine.

How many children do you expect at each showcase?

It’s going to vary. We’re thinking in places like, cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Texas, we’re looking at 500, 600 kids maybe. I don’t want to overwhelm it. I want to be able to be accessible to all the kids that’s at all the combines, so if registration gets too crazy, we’re going to shut it down. But looking at capping off, always trying to cap off at around 400 kids, which will be a good look.

We want to encourage more the middle-school kids, sixth through eighth grade, to come out and be in attendance. They’re the ones that’s going to be able to learn from the older guys, from the guys that are sophomores, juniors, seniors. Even at a young age you can vicariously learn, and we want to always make that a priority.

You’re beginning the camp at an HBCU, Tennessee State University. How did you decide on the various locations?

We would love to go to black schools, but you’ve got to cater to what’s available and the amount of kids that you can have, and it depends on how many fields that they have. That’ll always dictate where the location will be, but we want to be accessible to a whole diversity of people.

Football players come in all sizes, all colors, all shapes, whether small or big, and we encourage everybody to come out. And it’s going to be a great learning experience, first and foremost, and an opportunity to compete at a high level, which is most important.

It’s all about just turning that page, the next generation of athletes to come, on and off the field and, most importantly, being student-athletes. That’s what’s most important, and that’s probably what I preach more than anything. I believe the classroom is more valuable than sports and I took that seriously, and I think that was the reason why my way was paved for me as time went on.

Looking at your overall journey, what is the difference of what you learned when you first got into the league versus what you know exiting?

Well, I think when you first come into the National Football League, it’s a show-and-prove attitude that you have to have. On the field, you want to show your franchise or the franchise who picked you that you were worthy of the pick, whether it’s the first pick or the 250th pick. It’s all about dedicating yourself and it’s all about honing your skills to be the best that you can be, for the overall franchise and for the city. Because, depending on your position, you have a city on your back.

Throughout the whole process, you don’t really understand what it’s like to be in the NFL as far as the glamour, the limelight, all the splendor that may come along with it that you enjoy and that’s what we dream of, but I think inside of that sometimes we lose sight of the real dream, and that’s trying to win a championship and being the best citizen that you can be outside of football.

We lose sight of that, and at a young age I didn’t accept that. I didn’t want to take that responsibility on. I just wanted to play football and just be a good, honest, genuine person. After I had my situation, which I call it, I went in, I came out a better person. I got with a group of people who really cared about me and cared about my well-being and wanted me to succeed off the field first and on the field secondary.

I thought that was important, and what I learned as I went through those years was that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. And if I could do it all over again, if I was the person I am today, I wouldn’t have never went through some of the things I went through. But it made me a complete person, and I’m still growing as the days go on.

I think just the journey within itself helped me to mature to a grown man who is dedicated to family, dedicated still to football, and dedicated to my off-the-field endeavors, whichever they may be.

What stages did you go through to overcome your adversity?

Well, I think just stage 1 was accepting it, knowing that, listen, I screwed up, I made a mistake, and somehow, some way this has to be corrected, but as of right now, I don’t know how I can do it, but I know it’s some challenges ahead that I’m not going to like, but I have to deal with.

Step 2 was living in it and understanding that, listen, I’m in a place where I don’t want to be, it was all self-inflicted and I accept it, and it hurts right now and I’m struggling, but I put my faith in God and not in man.

Step 3 was just the whole belief in the people around me and the whole faith thing that I had. And believing in God centered me around people when I came home that gave me a different vision, a different structure, a different outline on what my life could look like in seven years.

I looked at it and I accepted, and I said, ‘Listen, I’ve pushed through the toughest parts of my life, and maybe there will be parts of my life that will be tougher. I know what I leaned on. I’m accepting the truth and faith,’ and being proactive, making my life a reality in terms of what I wanted, and I did that. And that’s where I’m at to this day, and I stand by it.

What has been the hardest part of your journey?

The hardest part of my journey, I think, is being in prison for 18 months. That’s something that you never envision. I know it’s times where people can visualize moments and put yourself in positions and say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do that. I never want to be in that position.’

I was one of those guys who always straddled the fence and thought about what could possibly be the worst thing that could happen, and prison, I think, was it. And I never expected to be in that situation or wanted to be, and when I found myself in that situation I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this has happened to me,’ but not for a week, not for a month, or a weekend. It was for 18 months.

Were people’s thoughts and opinions of you important?

Yeah, I always cared what people thought about me ever since I stepped into preschool. I was one of the guys who I always wanted to make my teacher proud. I never wanted to disrespect. If it was a teacher and I looked at her and I thought she was nice and kind and I thought she was beautiful and sweet, then I would go out of my way to make sure that she was proud of me.

At what point did you forgive yourself?

I forgave myself once I finished my prison sentence. I think when it was all said and done and it was over with, I forgave myself. I did my time, and then I was ready to walk into a different walk of life.

Who inspires you?

It’s so many people that inspire me. I would have to say so many coaches. Andy Reid inspired me. Mike Tomlin inspired me. Arthur Blank inspired me. My kids inspired me. My wife, family. Man, the list goes on and on.

A lot of people out there who give me so much inspiration. LeBron James inspires me. Kobe Bryant inspires me. Isaiah Thomas, he inspires me after what he went through last week. I get inspiration from so many places that it’s unbelievable. Even Sergio Garcia winning the Masters two weeks ago from all the adversity he went through.

I find inspiration in people and the moments that they have that’s gratifying. I relate to those situations on all levels because I feel like I’ve been there at some point, and that’s where my appreciation for life comes from.

Do you read a lot?

I did a lot of reading when I was in prison. I still read a lot now. I don’t have a lot of time. I read so many books when I was in prison. I think I’ve read enough for 40 years. I swear. That’s all I did. If I wasn’t playing chess — I learned to play dominoes towards the end — so if I wasn’t playing chess, I was reading. I was always thinking. I always had my mind involved in something.

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

Man. I think the best piece of advice I’ve ever received was just the character of a man and what it exists of. I think some people take that for granted, and I think if kids learned that from a young age this world would be a better place. Character goes a long way, and it’s all dictated on how you present yourself over a certain time span, and that’s what I believe in.

I just thought the character of a man dictates the type of person that you are, how people perceive you, was the best piece of advice that I could get because it fits the mold of me. It may be different for other people.

What do you tell other young men who ask for your advice?

Dream. That’s it. You dream, and that may actually turn into something, but I think you have to have imaginary thoughts of what you want your life to look like, because I know from the age of 10 I knew exactly what I wanted my life to look like. Some things went as planned, some things didn’t, but my life turned out the way I wanted it to be and it looked like what I envisioned when I was young, so dream.

If there’s anything regarding your sports path that you could’ve changed, what would that be?

If it’s anything that I truly would change to this day, because I think I did it all, like when I was younger I was lazy. As I got older, I worked harder. I would say just self-preservation. I would have preserved my body a little bit better. I just had ankle surgery, and it stemmed from a lot of downs, a couple of injuries that I had back in the day. Preserving myself is what I would have did just a tad bit better, but the competitive side of me didn’t allow me to do that when I was young.

What do you tell your babies, your children now about perseverance, growth and maturity?

My son is 14, my oldest daughter is 12 and my youngest daughter is 9. I tell them to dream, and the ultimate character to them is going to be dictated on what they learn every day in this household. How they see their mom and their dad conduct themselves on a daily basis. Being vicarious learners and having goals.

Like two weeks ago, I asked them what they wanted to be, all of them. Give me two things that you want to be or you want to do when you turn of age, 18, 21, finish college, and they all had some good answers and I was satisfied with what they wanted. And I think if they can narrow that focus and just take it serious, I think the sky’s the limit for them all because they’re all smart kids and they’ve all got goals and aspirations — but it starts when you’re young, and I try to instill that in them.

What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?

In five years, I see myself coaching. I’m setting the platform up now to get me geared into coaching and understand what it’s about. I already know I can do it on the highest level because I played on the highest level. It’s just all about information that won’t be redundant, but I’ll have to just be able to do it all over again.

It’ll give me the opportunity to chase a championship. I want to celebrate one more time in my life. I did it when I was young, had success in college. I didn’t win a national championship, but I know what it feels like to have those good moments and those good years, and I just want to feel that feeling again. If it takes coaching to chase that and be able to fulfill that need in my life, then why not give it a shot?

The Atlanta Falcons’ Julio Jones talks about teamwork, Atlanta and his mother’s advice The wide receiver teams up with Migos to show ‘hard work pays off’

Julio Jones does not limit himself to goals in his professional life. The Atlanta Falcons wide receiver is following in the footsteps of his mother, Queen Marvin, whose indelible spirit helped her get through life’s challenges — she worked years at the fryer in a drive-thru — with a never-quit attitude.

This past season, he became one of only six receivers to garner 300 or more yards in an NFL game and played in (and lost) his first Super Bowl. The six-year pro has been a Pro Bowler four times (2012, 2014, 2015, 2016), been top three in overall receiving yards the past three seasons, led the NFL in receiving yards per game the past two seasons, and was AP First Team All-Pro in 2015 and 2016. Now he is teaming up with Champs Sports, Under Armour and Migos to promote the ideals his mother passed on to him as he was growing up. Jones and Migos hope to inspire people who experience “The Moment” that sets them on their path. Jones took time to discuss the supportive culture of Atlanta and the most important thing his mom taught him.

What social media platform do you use the most?

All of my social media is connected, so if I post on one, it’ll go to all of them. I don’t have one I use more than another. It’s a way to stay connected with the fans.

What was the last concert you attended?

I went to a Gucci Mane concert the last time he performed [in Atlanta].

I just love athleticism and hard work, like Russell Westbrook or LeBron James.

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

The best piece of advice is from my mom: that if you start something, never quit. No matter where you’re at. If you start a race and you’re dead last, you don’t quit — you finish.

Who is your favorite athlete?

There’s so many people right now that I love watching. I just love athleticism and hard work, like Russell Westbrook or LeBron James. I really love watching teams. I don’t like to pick one player to watch. I’m a team-first type of guy, so I love watching the Memphis Grizzlies. I love the way they play as a team. The Spurs, the Warriors. When the times get tough and you have those down times, it’s all about, is that team going to stick together?

What does it mean for you to see Atlanta icons not only come out to the games but also throw their support behind the pro teams?

It’s great. One thing it’s about is unity. We’re just trying to support one another in whatever it is. If I do have a game, the guys [Future, Migos, Ludacris, T.I., Young Jeezy, Big Boi, etc.] come out to support. And vice versa. We’ve got to do more of that, just being together and creating that unity. If people come to Atlanta, they know they’re going to have a good time. We’ve got a great community and fans that [are] going to back us 100 percent.

I’m a team-first type of guy, so I love watching the Memphis Grizzlies. I love the way they play as a team.

Who was your childhood hero?

My mom. Her effort. The way she works. The way she went about her day each and every day. It didn’t matter what was going on, she always approached it with a positive attitude.

What are your goals for 2017?

I really don’t set goals for myself, because that’s almost like a limitation. I always just go out and work as hard as I can, and whatever happens, happens.

How did this campaign come about?

The authenticity that Under Armour has, what they stand for — they’re all about grind and hard work. We were talking to Under Armour, [and] they reached out to Champs. All of us being from Atlanta, we all kind of know each other, and it would be good to show everyone the culture. Show kids and everybody hard work pays off.