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

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

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

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

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


Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: #BringBackOurGirls campaign

Joe Barksdale, Offensive Tackle, Los Angeles Chargers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Fender Music Foundation

Designer: DeJesus Custom Footwear Inc.

Michael Bennett, Defensive End, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: National League of POW/MIA Families

A.J. Bouye, Cornerback, Jacksonville Jaguars

Cause: American Cancer Society

Designer: Kickasso

Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers

Instagram Photo

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

Designer: Corey Pane

Kurt Coleman, Safety, Carolina Panthers

Cause: Levine Children’s Hospital

Designer: Ryan Bare, SR Customs

Mike Daniels, defensive end, Green Bay Packers

Cause: Anti-bullying

Designer: SolesBySir

Stefon Diggs, Wide Receiver, Minnesota Vikings

Cause: American Heart Association

Designer: Mache Customs

DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: Brotherhood Crusade

Designer: SolesBySir

Malcolm Jenkins, Safety, Philadelphia Eagles

Cause: Social Justice and Criminal Justice Reform, Players Coalition

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

Eddie Lacy, Running Back, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: International Relief Teams, Hurricane Katrina

Designer: Bizon Customs

Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver, Miami Dolphins

Instagram Photo

Cause: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Marshon Lattimore, Cornerback, New Orleans Saints

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

Rishard Matthews, Wide Receiver, Tennessee Titans

Instagram Photo

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: SolesBySir

Gerald McCoy, Defensive Tackle, Tampa Bay buccaneers

Instagram Photo

Cause: “The Life of a Single Mom”

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Eric Reid, Safety, San Francisco 49ers

Cause: Colin Kaepernick, Know Your Rights Camp

Designer: Tragik MCMXCIII

A’shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions

Cause: Leukemia patients

Jaylon Smith, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys

Cause: Autism

Designer: The Hulfish Project

Torrey Smith, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles

Instagram Photo

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

Designer: Kreative Custom Kicks, Dez Customz

Shane Vereen, Running Back, New York Giants

Cause: Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles

Designer: Kickasso

Anthony Walker, Linebacker, Indianapolis Colts

Cause: Trayvon Martin Foundation

Designer: Desmond J. Jones, Art is Dope

Deshaun Watson, Quarterback, Houston Texans

Cause: Habitat for Humanity

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

Russell Wilson, Quarterback, Seattle Seahawks

Cause: Why Not You Foundation

Designer: Kate Neckel and Dash Tsai

 

Daryl Worley, Cornerback, Carolina Panthers

Instagram Photo

Cause: CeaseFirePA

Designer: SR Customs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

That position is new.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LeBron and his Cavs. #HoodieMelo. Beyoncé. How we successfully reclaimed the hoodie. It’s a hoodie nation, and the spirit of Trayvon lives on

Trayvon Martin wanted a snack. So he threw on a gray hoodie and headed out for some Skittles and a sweet tea. Thirty minutes later, Martin was dead, shot down by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman. The story of race, violence and death immediately dominated headlines. But soon the story became that hoodie. The narrative shifted from the racism that led Zimmerman to follow Martin in the first place to a piece of apparel as justification for killing a black person.

Hoodies, quite frankly, are cool as hell. And there are so many iconic black figures who wore hoodies and made them look badass. Tupac Shakur as Bishop in 1992’s Juice, staring daggers at Omar Epps’ Q in the climactic elevator scene. Raekwon in the Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 video for “C.R.E.A.M.” Even now, Odell Beckham Jr. flaunts his hoodie looks on Instagram, and there’s always Beyoncé’s viral hoodie GIF.

But the hoodie also functions beautifully as Grocery Store Run chic. A comfortable hoodie with sweatpants and sneakers is my uniform for late-night milk runs, or dropping the kids off at school. It’s about not letting anyone see me sweat — ironic, considering the warmth of the hoodie. But the hoodie is a way to still look polished and casual while on the run so I don’t shame my momma by going outside in a wrinkled T-shirt. Black men have to keep our respective cools in public no matter what, and the hoodie gives the impression that I’ve got it together even if I don’t. It’s a look that Kanye West has perfected: the calculated image of having just thrown something on while still looking like a billion bucks, all thanks to the hoodie.


“I am urging the parents of black and Latino youngsters particularly to not let their children go out wearing hoodies … I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was.” — Geraldo Rivera

On March 23, 2012, just three weeks after Martin was killed, Rivera went on the air and said Martin’s choice to wear a hoodie, and the politics of that choice, was his death sentence. The idea being, of course, that hoodies were associated with criminals. That people of color wearing hoodies were putting themselves in positions to be stereotyped because hoodies were associated with criminal activity because of their function of obscuring the faces of stick-up kids and graffiti artists. And being stereotyped as dangerous meant being followed by volunteer neighborhood watch guys and being killed for looking suspicious.

Of course, the notion of hoodies contributing to Martin’s death is nonsensical. Martin Luther King Jr. was wearing a shirt and tie when he was assassinated. Michael Brown was wearing a T-shirt when he was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. Seven-year-old Aiyana Jones. Emmitt Till. Alton Sterling. Medgar Evers. James Chaney. Laura Nelson. An unending list of black people killed for being black. No hoodies in sight. Hoodies never had anything to do with Trayvon Martin’s death. It was and has always been about the color of the skin the hoodie covered.

The hoodie, for white tech billionaires, represents a cocky nonchalance, indicating they’re not willing to change for anyone.

Want proof? Just look at how the hoodie is perceived by many white tech bros in Silicon Valley. Mark Zuckerberg proudly boasts that his closet is full of gray tees and hoodies. And when he ruffled old-school Wall Street investors for wearing his iconic hoodie to pitch sessions for the Facebook initial public offering in May 2012, just three months after Martin was killed, it was a sign that Zuckerberg was sticking to the edgy persona that made him and Facebook popular in the first place.

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed

30-for-30 Podcast: Hoodies Up
The story of a protest photo taken in 2012 by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the Miami Heat. Reported and hosted by Jody Avirgan.

The Washington Post, at the time, had a strong defense of Zuckerberg’s attire: “Just like its close cousins the gray T-shirt and the sneaker, the hoodie gives Zuckerberg a way to sartorially wink that he doesn’t like to answer to anybody and that he’s not losing his ‘hacker’ street cred.” The hoodie, for white tech billionaires, represents a cocky nonchalance, indicating they’re not willing to change for anyone. A far cry from the terror the hoodies can instill when worn by teenage black kids.

Rivera would later offer a halfhearted apology for his original hoodie comments, but the damage was done. Twitter was just 5 years old when Martin was killed, and black voices on Twitter weren’t yet as sophisticated with regard to shaping narratives. So when Rivera made his remarks, he was able to lead a discussion about exactly what hoodies had to do with how much danger black people were putting themselves in. The hoodie became a symbol of danger for black people who didn’t need any more reasons to put themselves in any danger around racists.

That’s when LeBron James and the Miami Heat stepped in. On March 23, 2012, the four-time NBA MVP gathered his team together for an Instagram photo. The entire roster donned hoodies, heads down, obscuring their faces. The caption read #WeAreTrayvonMartin #Hoodies #Stereotyped #WeWantJustice. The statement was monumental. James, by donning the hoodie, showed that he was unafraid to speak up.

Black America has been working to reclaim the hoodie as simply a piece of clothing representative of our culture while also making sure the teenager’s story isn’t lost. On this season of Insecure, Yvonne Orji’s Molly wore a hoodie emblazoned simply with the word “TRAYVON.” During the NBA offseason, Carmelo Anthony was tearing up pickup games in gyms across the country. In the clips, Anthony is making just about every shot, and terrorizing defenders. And he’s wearing a hoodie.

The viral clips gave birth to the moniker #HoodieMelo, the mythology being that his hoodie gives him superpowers — and that he’d be better off wearing it during games. Anthony’s hoodie isn’t an overt political statement, it’s just what he wants to wear on the court. And his lighthearted take shows just how far we’ve come in reclaiming the hoodie.

And of course, the hoodie isn’t just relegated to gyms or to work as a symbol of nonchalance. It’s high fashion. The Wall Street Journal has pieces about the Rise of the High-End Hoodie. GQ offers tutorials on how to dress down suits by wearing hoodies while counting down the 31 best hoodies of a given year. At New York’s Fashion Week, hoodies are on display via Kanye West’s Yeezy Season, Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma, DKNY and more.

Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed

Russell Westbrook wore a Reclaim Vintage “World Tour” yellow hoodie against the Warriors in January. He wore the $98 piece with a white hat, tattered jeans and sneakers. And now Nike has fitted athletes with hoodies to wear while they’re on the bench during games. At any given moment during the course of an NBA game, any number of players can have their hoodies on their heads as they watch from the bench or celebrate with their teammates. To show how far we’ve come with hoodies, the style move was initially pretty innocuous. However, Stephen A. Smith did sound an alarm.

“I don’t know why the hell Nike made these damn uniforms that have hoods attached to it by the way,” he said on the Oct. 24 episode of his radio show. “You got a lot of those white folks in the audience that’s gonna think this is Trayvon Martin being revisited. And I’m not joking about it. The bench is no place for someone to be wearing hoodies.” J.R. Smith wasn’t having any of it.

Nike has fitted athletes with hoodies to wear while they’re on the bench during games.

The problem with Stephen A. Smith’s logic here is that he’s echoing the language of Rivera and the masterful narrative shift that made the Trayvon Martin story about hoodies when it’s really about race in America. And who’s to say it’s a bad thing to remind white America of the black boys and girls in this country killed because of the color of their skin?

It’s hard to fault any black person for wanting to take the hood down at night when he feels endangered. Because in an era where we see people who look like us gunned down almost daily, it makes sense to take every precaution. But the hoodie as justification for death is pure misinformation. Blackness is the issue, always has been. But the hoodie has moved beyond simply being about Trayvon Martin because Trayvon Martin was — and, in spirit, is — far more than the hoodie he wore that night.

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.

Daily Dose: 10/11/17 Eminem takes a major swipe at President Trump

I went to the White House on Tuesday, and thankfully, nothing went awry. In all seriousness, the Pittsburgh Penguins were there meeting President Donald Trump, and it was pretty procedural. Here’s my story. Oh, and this.

Harvey Weinstein’s gross predatory behavior has officially rocked Hollywood. The sordid tales of the big-time movie mogul’s pattern of sexual harassment, assault and intimidation have turned up an entire slew of accusations. In addition, it’s forced a light on what is effectively a standard practice in the movie business, an obvious problem with toxic masculinity overall. Now, actor Terry Crews has gone public with a story about a time he was sexually assaulted at a party. He didn’t report it either.

The Boy Scouts of America will now be allowing girls. Of course, to the basic mind, this sounds complicated. We have Girl Scouts, so what exactly is the purpose of this? Well, the two things are not the same as far as programs go, meaning there are things you can do in one and not the other, and the Scouts decided it was time to be more inclusive. The new setup will also feature a program for older girls. This is a progressive move, but I’m not sure how much it changes the face of the organization in practice.

Eminem came back in a huge way last night. The BET Hip-Hop Awards aired last night, and there was one headline that overshadowed everything. In the “Cyphers” portion of the show — which, by the way, is this event’s main contribution to the culture overall, forget the awards — Slim Shady dropped a beatless tome in which he basically went all the way after Trump and his supporters. Keith Olbermann was so impressed that he apparently likes the whole genre of rap now. It was pretty vicious, though.

Now that the NFL has made clear how it feels about kneeling, others are emboldened. What started as a form of protest against police brutality by Colin Kaepernick has now been flipped and completely upended by the league. Presumably, at levels other than professional football, we will continue to see these demonstrations, where the stakes aren’t quite as high. At Division III Albright College, however, a player took a knee during the national anthem and was cut from the team. What a mess.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Odell Beckham Jr.’s emotional and injury histories are well-documented in the NFL, and when he had such a tough go of things on Sunday, it looked like he would be done for the season. That, of course, is really tough to deal with. But that’s what friends are for. Friends like Drake.

Snack Time: Remember that police officer in Utah who tried to force a nurse to blood test an unconscious man, then assaulted and arrested her? He’s been fired.

Dessert: Yooo, is Broadway Joe woke? Might have to go ahead and invite him to the old folks’ home cookout.

Daily Dose: 10/9/17 OBJ reminds us that it’s OK for men to cry

Happy Monday, folks. Let’s get right to it, because my team was on a bye this week, so that always makes Sundays a bit odd.

There was an interesting moment in Sunday’s New York Giants game. At one point, star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had to leave the game. As it turns out, he has to have surgery and will likely be done for the season. For obvious reasons, this was an upsetting situation. OBJ was crying on the sidelines, but some people don’t seem to understand that emotion is part of sports. His college teammate and close friend Brad Wing tried to console him, much to the chagrin of mouth breathers across America. It was touching.

Cocaine is a hell of a drug. Those were the famous words of Rick James, but they are now affecting the Miami Dolphins. Overnight, a pretty wild video of a man snorting white powder while professing his love to a person was released to the public. The man was an offensive line coach in the NFL, the person he loves is a model in Nevada. She says she showed the video to the world because she didn’t appreciate the pushback against protests in the league this year. Chris Foerster has since resigned. What a story.

Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, though some of you call it a different name. For those of you who are not familiar, Christopher Columbus was no hero. His “discovery” of America was really a genocidal colonialist mission that got the wheels turning on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, if you’re keeping score at home. But various cities do make sure to honor those who were here before others arrived. Elsewhere, people are targeting Columbus statues for vandalism, which we’re fine with.

LeBron James is quite the salesman. He’s pitched us everything from sneakers to phones to soda to now … driverless cars? The Cleveland Cavaliers star is now putting his weight behind a new ad campaign that will help ease public fears about getting into cars with nobody behind the wheel. I can follow Bron Bron down a lot of roads, but I’m still old enough to be borderline deathly afraid of these machines. Your boy is not going to be the guinea pig on this, but we’ll let James cook.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Clearly, Dove doesn’t have enough black folks working with its marketing team. Somehow, this company has managed to get one too many racist ads off the ground and now are apologizing for it. To be clear, scrubbing the blackness off your skin is a marketing tactic as old as anything else.

Snack Time: I want to love Klay Thompson, but every time I look up he’s doing something so corny that I just gotta take a step back. His latest for his sneaker company is a sight to behold.

Dessert: Soccer is such a beautiful game. I’m glad that Egypt made the World Cup, but not as happy as this guy.

The NFL without Odell There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market

It was written all over Odell Beckham Jr.’s face. He didn’t have to say a word. His fractured ankle — suffered in Sunday’s 27-22 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, which dropped a decrepit New York Giants squad to 0-5 on the season — will require surgery. Beckham tallied 97 yards on five catches and one touchdown before going down. In what could be his final 2017 image, the league’s most dynamic talent sat demoralized on the back of a cart in tears.

The NFL has many faces. Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling. The owners’ resistance to Kaepernick’s impact. Von Miller’s eccentricity. Ezekiel Elliott’s future. Cam Newton’s drama. The New England Patriots’ dominance. Marshawn Lynch’s silence. But Beckham is the face of fun (“fun” being subjective in this case) in a billion-dollar league with very serious — mental health, domestic violence, First Amendment, chronic traumatic encephalopathy — issues.

The loss of Beckham is a hit stick to the league’s cultural capital. He’s set to cash in more than $10 million in endorsements. Nike can’t be too happy: In May, the company and Beckham came to terms on the richest shoe deal in NFL history — nearly $5 million a year for five years. Beckham’s wardrobe, the football equivalent of Russell Westbrook’s, makes nearly as many headlines as the wind sprints, acrobatic one-hand catches and intricate end zone routines that could moonlight as music videos.

Beckham is the most followed NFL player on Instagram, with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively.

In a quarterback-driven league where fan loyalty largely resides with the entire team, Beckham is an individual, non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him) whose brand is just as much about name on the back of his jersey (fourth overall in 2016 sales) as the team logo on his helmet. Beckham’s social media influence is huge — he’s the most followed NFL player on Instagram with more than 9 million followers. For context, Miller, J.J. Watt, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Newton have 1.2 million, 2.8 million, 2.8 million, 3.1 million and 3.9 million followers, respectively. With 55 percent of all 18- to 29-year-olds in America on Instagram, Beckham’s appeal to the younger crowd separates himself from his peers.

Join the conversation

On his off days, Beckham is a regular fixture at NBA games. He has the respect of LeBron James. Kaepernick, too. He’s won the adoration of Drake (and likely a spare set of keys to his mansion). He even, allegedly, friend-zoned Rihanna. He texts Michael Jordan. He takes selfies with Beyoncé and rubs shoulders with an even more famous Beckham — David. And Beckham’s cleats are always in. He shifts the culture by driving it, which is why his injury affects NFL culture far beyond the Giants’ red zone offense.

The Giants’ season had effectively been in rice for weeks. But the loss of Beckham means the loss of one of football’s most popular ambassadors at a time when America’s most popular sport is in the crosshairs of societal debates that the president weighs in on almost daily. While Beckham’s attitude has long been perceived by some as a character’s most notorious flaw, his impact on the sport is felt leaguewide. “I would be remiss not to acknowledge how engaging and professional Odell [Beckham Jr.] was during the entire week of the Pro Bowl,” NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent said in February. “By far and away, he represented the New York Football Giants and the NFL with great poise, congeniality and professionalism.”


Max blasts Giants for OBJ injury

Beckham’s fractured ankle, the same one he injured in a preseason game versus the Cleveland Browns, is likely the bookend to his turbulent 2017. The year, of course, began with Beckham, Victor Cruz and several other Giants partying on a yacht in Miami with Trey Songz.

The January boat party followed a playoff-clinching win over the Washington Redskins, and Beckham was largely blamed for the team’s lackluster postseason exit a week later against the Green Bay Packers — for what it’s worth, and as far as the mood on Twitter, the Giants haven’t won a game since. Then, in July, Beckham, who reached 3,500 yards faster than any receiver in league history, declared he wanted to be not only the league’s highest-paid receiver but the highest paid player, “period.” And just last month during a game versus the Philadelphia Eagles, Beckham critics feverishly salivated at the opportunity to throw him under the bus after a touchdown celebration in which he mimicked a dog urinating in the end zone. Beckham revealed later that the celebration was a response to President Donald Trump’s “son of a b—-” statement. After his second touchdown in that game, to far less fanfare and debate, Beckham raised his fist. Except for Kaepernick and maybe Lynch, there is no more polarizing NFL personality than Beckham. The conversation around him never stops. The goalposts just shift in a league that served up the following just on Sunday:

In a long-planned move, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of the Indianapolis Colts-San Francisco 49ers game as several members of the Niners kneeled during the national anthem. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lashed out after his team’s 35-31 loss to the Packers by saying that any member of the team to “disrespect” the flag would not play. Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster was seen snorting a white substance in a video posted on Facebook by a woman Foerster was confessing his love to. The Tennessee Titans denied Kaepernick a tryout after a hamstring injury to its starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota, opting instead for unsigned journeyman Brandon Weeden. Houston Texans superstar defensive lineman Watt suffered a tibial plateau fracture in his left leg. Meanwhile, after a week of self-inflicted controversy, Carolina Panthers star quarterback Newton pieced together a second consecutive MVP-like performance with 355 yards and three touchdowns versus the Detroit Lions.

In quarterback-driven league and where fan loyalty is to teams, Beckham is the rare individual non-quarterback star (like Randy Moss before him).

And then: “I knew it was bad,” Giants tight end Evan Engram said about Beckham’s injury after the game. “Bad” is an understatement. Beckham’s ankle headlines a decimated Giants receiving corps that had the makings of quite possibly the best in football. Both Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard were ruled out of the second half of Sunday’s game with ankle injuries. Per Adam Schefter, Dwayne Harris’ fractured foot will end his season. Sunday’s setback also destroys Beckham’s quest for a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and 1,000-yard season and the pipe dream of exorcising the demons of playoffs past. It complicates an already foggy contract situation too. Down their best offensive player, the Giants lose their most marketable face, with two prime-time games still left on the schedule, in a season on pace to go down as one of the worst comedy of errors in team history.

For the NFL, it’s a season in which the biggest headlines come from the sidelines, and the Oval Office. The season isn’t even halfway over and its traffic jam of moral dilemmas, including the saga of Kaepernick’s quest to return, dominate discussion. Which is why the NFL without Beckham is a blow it could ill afford. There’s no Plan B for replacing one of the most recognizable stars in the world in the league’s biggest media market. There’s no way to re-create that cocktail of production, swag and divisiveness that comes from the former LSU standout. The NFL is in a position it’s become all too familiar with in recent years — although Beckham’s injury is, of course, beyond its control — behind the eight ball.

As Beckham was carted off the field Sunday, towel over his head to mask the pain, he again didn’t have to say a word. One of his famous friends already had, fittingly on a song called “Do Not Disturb”: They tell me I need recovery/ Maybe gettin’ back to my regular life will humble me/ I’ll be back in 2018 to give you the summary.

DeMarcus Cousins said Trump needs to ‘get his s–t together’ and other news of the week The Week that was Sept. 25- 29

Monday 09.25.17

A Pittsburgh fire chief said he regrets adding Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin to his “list of no good N—–s” on his Facebook page and wants to apologize because “This had nothing to do with my Fire Department” and “My fire department should have never been dragged into this.” Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, very on brand in a leather vest and cowboy hat, pulled a (tiny) gun out during a political rally. Donald Trump Jr. posted a map that supposedly showed an overwhelming number of Americans who supported NFL players standing over kneeling with the caption “where else have I seen this???”; the map was county-level results from the 2016 presidential election. A Texas pastor said NFL players “ought to be thanking God” that they live in a country where they don’t have to worry about “being shot in the head for taking a knee.” New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins, who has the most technical fouls in the league since 2010, said Trump “needs to get his s— together.” Former New England Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light, a teammate of convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez for two seasons, said after some New England players knelt during the national anthem on Sunday, “It’s the first time I’ve ever been ashamed to be a Patriot.” Retired college football coach Lou Holtz, who is white, said he doesn’t understand why black athletes demonstrate during the national anthem because “I’ve been unfairly ticketed. I was given a ticket when I didn’t exceed the speed limit, because I was coaching at one school, and the patrol officer graduated from the other.”

Tuesday 09.26.17

Four assistant basketball coaches from Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State and the University of Southern California — which, combined, make more than $300 million in total revenue across all sports and do not pay players — were arrested on federal corruption charges for taking thousands of dollars in bribes to direct college players to certain sports agents and financial advisers. New York Giants owner John Mara, who continually employed a kicker who abused his wife and didn’t sign Colin Kaepernick because of possible fan protest, said he is

very unhappy” that Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. simulated a dog urinating on the field on Sunday. To make room for more terrible sports and Insecure takes, Twitter will increase its famed 140-character limit to 280. Another person left the Trump administration, and another former member of the administration has hired a lawyer. Professional wrestling legend and Wilt Chamberlain rival Ric Flair estimates that he had sex with 10,000 women: “I wish I hadn’t said that because of my grandkids,” Flair said in an upcoming ESPN documentary.

Wednesday 09.27.17

Longtime adult actor Ron Jeremy doubts Flair had relations with that many women: “It’s very difficult to get numbers like that.” Los Angeles Chargers unofficial mascot Boltman said he risked being beaten “like Rodney King” by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after he refused to remove his mask at last weekend’s home game. A bar in Missouri, a state for which the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for people of color, displayed recently purchased NFL jerseys of Marshawn Lynch and Kaepernick as doormats with the two jerseys spelling out “Lynch Kaepernick.” Another airline was caught violently dragging a customer off one of its airplanes. A Madison, Wisconsin, gyro shop worker was charged with “first-degree reckless endangerment … possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and carrying a concealed weapon” after he shot a man at his place of work when the man tried to run off with $1,300 worth of cocaine without paying for it; “Dude shot me in the back,” the “victim” told police. Taken actor Liam Neeson, two weeks after announcing his retirement from action movies because “Guys, I’m 60-f—ing-five,” said he’s not retiring from the genre and that “I’m going to be doing action movies until they bury me in the ground.” Trump, who was an owner in the USFL, which folded after just three seasons, said the NFL is “going to hell” unless it prohibits players from kneeling during the national anthem. Former action “star” Steven Seagal, currently a resident of Moscow, said demonstrations during the national anthem were both “outrageous” and “disgusting.”

Thursday 09.28.17

Hours after posing an anti-DUI video on Instagram with the hashtag #dontdrinkanddrive, a Los Angeles police officer, under suspicion of driving under the influence, caused a three-car crash that killed three people. Trump, blowing a dog whistle so loud a deaf man could hear it, said NFL owners, some of whom are his “friends,” don’t punish players who kneel during the national anthem because “they are afraid of their players.” During the all-male Presidents Cup tournament, the PGA Tour, still trying to rid its long-held sexist label, held a cook-off among WAGs (wives and girlfriends) of the competitors. Reality TV star Rob Kardashian, per a lawsuit, accused former girlfriend Blac Chyna of smashing his gingerbread house during a December 2016 incident. Just hours after Georgia Tech football coach Paul Johnson joked that he was glad “that we were with Russell [Athletic]” when the Adidas and college basketball corruption case news broke, Russell Athletic announced it will “transition away from the team uniform business”; Georgia Tech will switch to Adidas in 2018. A Canadian woman who tattooed purple dye into her eyeball may lose her sight in the eye; “I took my eyesight for granted,” the woman said. Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, just piling on at this point, called Trump an “idiot” and a “d—head.” In “it’s about respect for the military” news, the message “go home n—–” was written on the whiteboard of a black cadet at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School.

Friday 09.29.17

Proving what we already knew, Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving said teammate Gordon Hayward and coach Brad Stevens “have an unspoken language already.” Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dwyane Wade said it was not his idea to ride on the back of a banana boat with Gabrielle Union, LeBron James and Chris Paul: “I remember saying, ‘Guys, I didn’t wanna get on there,’ but, you know, peer pressure.” Trump, who aced geography in college, said Puerto Rico is “an island. Surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water.” Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who recently received a presidential pardon after being convicted for essentially racial profiling Latinos, traveled to California to continue his investigation of former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Former NFL player Chad Johnson, who once legally changed his last name to “Ochocinco” because he thought it was Spanish for “85,” compared the NFL’s “whitewashing” of protests during the national anthem to “a goddamn Ice Bucket Challenge.” Third-graders in the Washington, D.C., area said they don’t like Trump because “ever since he was president a lot of bad things have been happening,” “Trump doesn’t like black people and Hillary Clinton does,” and because “he’s orange.” Another person resigned from the Trump administration.

Marshawn Lynch was fined for flipping the bird and other news of the week The Week That Was Sept. 11-15

Monday 09.11.17

Musician Kid Rock, who is both the “KING OF DETROIT LOVE” and the creator of “Sweet Home Alabama,” said he is not racist because “I LOVE BLACK PEOPLE.” Right-wing radio host The White House, whose high-profile occupant believes the human body has “finite amount of energy,” went into lockdown after a yoga mat was thrown over the north fence. Cable morning show Fox & Friends, once compared to a children’s show by The New York Times, compared Sept. 11 memorials to those of the Confederacy. New Orleans Saints running back Adrian Peterson, who averaged just 2.5 yards per carry during the preseason and 1.9 per carry last season, said he wanted to run the ball up the Minnesota Vikings’ “Donkey” after rushing for 18 yards on six carries. An employee of the Chelan County (Washington) Emergency Management Department posted a meme of a stick figure being run over by a vehicle with the headline “ALL LIVES SPLATTER.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) was caught “liking” graphic pornography on his official Twitter account; the senator’s communications team said the “offensive tweet” was “posted” to Cruz’s account despite that not being how likes work on the social media platform.

Tuesday 09.12.17

Musician and habitual line-stepper R. Kelly attempted to promote new music by tweeting a message that said, “All it takes is one ‘yes’ to change your life” followed by a graphic of repeating “Noes” with a “Yes” nestled in the middle. A student loan refinancing company reportedly maintained a work environment where the (former) CEO slept with multiple employees who were not his wife; an executive drunkenly crashed his car after sexting a subordinate; and where colleagues had sex in parking lots and public restrooms, where multiple toilet seats had to be replaced. A separate company, once again proving you never eat at the company potluck, had one employee stop breathing and others fall severely ill after they ate a shrimp casserole. Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant, definitely not mad online, released a new NBA Finals-themed shoe that includes every critique directed at him over the past year imprinted on the insoles. Former NFL wide receiver Steve Smith,

who had 2,641 yards and 12 touchdowns in his six-year career, was nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame because voters confused him with five-time Pro Bowler Steve Smith Sr. Black conservative radio host Larry Elder, who once tweeted, “The welfare state has done more to destroy the black family than did slavery and Jim Crow,” tweeted, without a hint of irony, that “ ‘Uncle Tom’ is a more destructive pejorative than ‘n—–.’ The latter is an insult. The former stops blacks from independent thinking.”

Wednesday 09.13.17

The White House misspelled African-American Republican Sen. Tim Scott’s name as “Tom.” The Minnesota Vikings, a team that built a new stadium that kills a lot of birds, hired an 18-year-old author and public speaker to serve as its “Gen Z Advisor.” The New York media is upset that professional dancers and part-time athletes Odell Beckham Jr. and Russell Westbrook had a dance-off during a live Wyclef Jean performance. A day after Kid Rock told protesters in his hometown they “can protest deez nuts,” the Detroit Lions declined to comment on a season-ticket holder posting a photo of two African-American fans on his Facebook page with the caption “Ignorant n—–s.” A Shelby County (Tennessee) strip club, where in 2016 a man was shot in a restroom and left a paraplegic, turned out to be illegally owned by the county, a new lawsuit revealed; the establishment, formally named Babes of Babylon, was ordered shut down in 2011 after “drugs, assaults, and prostitution got so bad at the club.” Retired boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., outside of the strip club he owns in Las Vegas, told an inanimate Hispanic puppet that he has seven girlfriends because “having one is too close to having none.” Hawaii walk-on quarterback Hunter Hughes had to twerk to the sounds of a trombone at a WWE event to earn a full athletic scholarship.

Thursday 09.14.17

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who employed Michael Vick when the quarterback was released from prison after a dogfighting conviction, Riley Cooper after the receiver was caught on camera saying, “I will fight every n—– here,” and Wendell Smallwood after the running back was arrested for witness tampering related to a murder case, said he wouldn’t sign Colin Kaepernick because “I don’t think anybody who is protesting the national anthem … is very respectful.” Peterson, still not letting it go, said he “didn’t sign up for nine snaps” when he signed with the Saints this season despite the team already having a starting running back and a quarterback who threw for more than 5,200 yards last year. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch, best known for repeatedly stating, “I’m here so I won’t get fined,” was fined $12,000 for “raising the middle finger on both hands” during last week’s game against the Tennessee Titans. Trump once called his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, disloyal and an “idiot” and told him to resign after a special counsel was appointed to lead the Russian investigation earlier this year. Wrestling legend Hulk Hogan, who recently was awarded $31 million for a sex tape he willingly participated in, called those without water and power in Florida because of Hurricane Irma “crybabies.”

Friday 09.15.17

Two weeks after being traded to the Indianapolis Colts, quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has had only 13 days to learn the playbook and plays a different style from starter Andrew Luck, is expected to start for the 0-1 team. A former St. Louis police officer who reportedly yelled that he was “going to kill this m—–f—–” before fatally shooting an unarmed black man was found not guilty of first-degree murder. In completely unequivocally unrelated news, Kaepernick was named the NFL Players Association’s Community MVP after the first week of the season. Former White House strategist Steve Bannon wears no fewer than three shirts at all times; “Never two. N-e-v-e-r t-w-o,” his spokesperson said. Police officers in a Chicago suburb sold $10 raffle tickets at a Labor Day festival for the chance to win an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle; the town banned assault weapons in 2013.

Chad Johnson is happy the NFL is getting back to being fun again ‘Ochocinco’ talks ‘Madden 18,’ celebration rules, cleats and why in the world Terrell Owens isn’t in the Hall of Fame

Long before Antonio Brown’s twerking and Odell Beckham Jr.’s love-hate relationship with a kicking net, there was Chad Johnson and the infectious pizzazz he delivered to the NFL. The retired wide receiver, who played 10 seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals and one for the New England Patriots, brought a creative style and swagger to the field that many who’ve come after him have attempted to replicate. But no player pushed the limits of excitement on the field quite like No. 85. “Have I ever had a reason for why I do what I do?” Johnson said in 2008, after legally changing his name to “Ochocinco.” “I’m having fun.”

Every NFL Sunday during his career, fans tuned in for the Chad Johnson show, and to be dazzled by his electric plays in hopes that he’d reach the end zone. Because when he did, Johnson always had something up his sleeve for the touchdown celebration — from river dancing, to putting the football with an end zone pylon, to breaking out a sombrero on the sidelines after a score.

Six years after playing his final down of football in the NFL, Ochocinco’s personality and flair remain relevant. He gave NFL commissioner Roger Goodell advice for the league’s new touchdown rule, continues to advocate for his former teammate Terrell Owens’ induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and is even featured on the “Longshot” story mode of the newly released Madden 18. Before the video game dropped on Aug. 25, The Undefeated caught up with Johnson, who discussed his go-to team to play with on Madden, his love of soccer, the NFL’s new rules on celebrations and cleats, and why Owens will always be the Batman to his Robin.

How’s it feel to be in Madden 18’s new Longshot story mode?

It’s dope. Like, really dope. The fact that I have the opportunity to still be a part of the game of Madden, such an entity of that magnitude, something I always grew up playing and watching. After being a part of it as a player for years, I’m out the game now, but still able to be a part of it. Dog, that’s f—ing phenomenal.

Do you remember the first Madden you ever played?

I forgot what year it was, but I believe it was on Sega. And John Madden was on the cover. It was a longgggg time ago.

Do you remember the first time you were featured on the game as a player? What was that like?

In 2001. I remember it as a rookie. It was really dope to be able to see yourself. I was never able to envision myself on the video game, but the first time you were able to play, via yourself, it was cool. But you know what’s crazy? I never used myself anyway; I always used the Dolphins, because I’m from Miami. So anytime I play a sports game, I always use the Florida teams.

Besides yourself, which NFL player was the best video gamer that you ever experienced?

You know what? They all say they’re good, but I’ve beaten them all. From the NBA players to the NFL players to a few soccer players that play FIFA. They can all play because they all are very competitive, but none of them actually have the time to sit down and hone the skill set that I actually have being that I’m retired.

What’s the craziest lie you’ve ever told?

I didn’t sleep with her.

“I mean, c’mon. That goes without saying. Terrell Owens should be in the Hall of Fame. I just have no time for the damn politics.”

Who’s your favorite superhero and why?

I don’t have a favorite superhero. I didn’t read comics … not even as a kid.

When you and Terrell Owens were in Cincinnati, people called you two Batman and Robin. Who was really Batman, and who was Robin?

He was Batman. It was out of respect. We’re talking about T.O., man! He was one of the best, if not the best to f—ing suit it up. So I had no problem taking a back seat to one of my favorite receivers growing up.

Should T.O. be in the Hall of Fame?

I mean, c’mon. That goes without saying. T.O. should be in the Hall of Fame. I just have no time for the damn politics.

Where do you get your swag from?

Probably my upbringing. Just being from Liberty City, Miami.

Who’s the best soccer player in the world right now?

Cristiano Ronaldo. Period. It goes without saying. He just is.

Not Lionel Messi?

Who?

You don’t like Messi?

Who?

What about Neymar?

Oooh, Neymar is nice.

Have you ever been starstruck?

No … but I am waiting to meet Johnny Depp and Daniel Day-Lewis, then I’ll be starstruck. Deada–. Those are the only two people that I really admire as actors, their range as actors. Being able to get lost in character and what they’re able to do on the big screen is phenomenal. I’ve met Denzel Washington. … I’ve met everybody. But those are the two that I have yet to meet.

What was your first major purchase after you got drafted in 2001?

Uhhh, p—y. … It was probably my first car: Lexus IS300.

What would be your go-to karaoke song?

‘Free Bird’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd … Oh, yeah. Oh, f— yeah.

What’s your spirit animal, and why?

The orca. You should know that. They’re the smartest mammal in the sea, s—, let alone Earth. They’re just brilliant at everything they do. The way they hunt. The way they communicate. They’re the largest dolphin in the sea, which a lot of people don’t know — they are dolphins. They’re just fabolous.

Who in the NFL right now could beat you in your prime in a footrace?

Probably some of those dudes who run 4.2s right now. John Ross … it’s a few of them. It’s a few that are what we called ‘crackhead fast’ growing up.

The league has relaxed its rules on touchdown celebrations. How do you feel about that?

It’s dope, and now that they’ve loosened up, I want them to pay attention to the ratings — the people who are watching — now that they’ve allowed football to be fun. They’ve allowed players to express themselves through celebrations. As long as it’s not disrespectful to their opponents, and nothing malicious.

Out of all the celebrations from your career, which one was your favorite?

Probably the proposal. That one was dope.

The league has also loosened up on its rules on custom cleats. How do you feel about that?

That’s dope as well. Some of the players that are endorsed by certain products, that’s gonna be huge. They can make a pretty penny, with companies being able to get their products out — seeing them through certain players and individuals. Players can make beaucoup bucks, and these companies can profit extremely well.

When you look back at your career, do you think you were ahead of your time in terms of the flashiness, swag and celebrations you brought to the field?

You know what, with some of the rules that the NFL is loosening up on, and some of the things that are happening, we’re in 2017 now, and I was doing this almost 20 years ago. I might have been ahead of my time.

Is Madden 18 the best of all time?

Probably so. Because each year, you already know they improve on something and add something different so it’s better than the last. And technology being as advanced as it is, it can only go up from here.

Besides the Dolphins, which team are you playing with on Madden 18?

Just the Dolphins. I never switch up.