Circling back to the ESPN/’Homeless’ Rams players piece on Sunday … a tear-filled bravo

Rams DEs William Hayes and Chris Long went undercover to raise awareness of a life most people ignore. (Courtesy of St. Louis Rams)

Rams DEs William Hayes and Chris Long went undercover to raise awareness of a life most people ignore. (Courtesy of St. Louis Rams)

Without a lot of real context to what was going on here — other than trusting an ESPN press release and a few photos — my blog post last week prior to the airing of Sunday’s “Life on the Streets” piece involving the St. Louis Rams’ Chris Long and William Hayes had many concerns about the intent and end-game for two NFL players pretending to be homeless and mixing it up with a community that may not take well to their “experiment.”
My opinion completely needs a re-write after having watched the nearly seven-minute story, as well as read the accompanying piece by ESPN.com’s Elizabeth Merrill (with the video included).
Yes, the “power of sports,” even as an advertised slogan for a series, can work. Here’s why:
The story was not about a game these two were playing.
“I wonder if we could handle that,” Hayes once told Long as they were on a bus and passed by a homeless encampment.
I’ve wondered that plenty of times myself. I doubt I could. My mind would break down quickly. My will to survive would be crushed. I could see myself not using the situation as motivation to move forward, but to accept this fate.
I’ve tried this, alone, just for an afternoon. It’s self-defeating. But its also a powerful awakening.
With more background, we learn that these two have been donating to a local St. Louis homeless shelter, and Long was almost embarrassed he had never visited it as much as Hayes did.
Long’s narrative was touching, crediting Hayes for shining the light on this and showing empathy. You need a teammate to bring you along. It’s a tough go alone.
Bravely, Long and Hayes had not only the desire to go try it, if only for 24 hours, but come away with an action that spoke louder than their words — finding some temporary housing for a man and a woman who just needed to try to get their dignity back.
Yes, they did have an escape plan if things went wrong. They weren’t stupid. They also had the prep with the social worker who ran the shelter. She was with them the whole way.
Despite preconceived concerns, this finished product can definitely be not just a starting point, but a call to action. That if it takes these two men in the sports world to step up and do something that puts a voice and face on something so tragic, something that most take so much for granted, we’ll back it 100 percent.
Web-DorothyDayPOster-5x6.667There’s a famous quote attributed to The Catholic Worker saint Dorothy Day (even if she may have never said it):
“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”
If Long and Hayes accepted it before in some way, or accepted the idea that their donations were a great place to start but really that’s all they could do, then they just raised the bar on awareness about a system that’s not just broken, but can be fixed if enough raise their hand.
If only we knew more before we went and wrote that first post. Maybe it’s like looking at a homeless person on the street and making a judgment without  having all the facts, or circumstances, or thoughts of some redemption. You have to ask politely if you can share the space, talk to those hurting, and find out what they need, not just what you think they need to “fix” it. Long and Hayes did that.
A huge thumbs up to not only putting their NFL paychecks to a worthy cause, but causing the rest of us to think harder about what we can do as well.
Do you think you live in an area without a homeless issue? It’s not just downtown.  The homeless count is rising. Shelters aren’t there. More transitional housing is going away.
Locally, there are groups trying to help. Check out Family Promise, for one. The South Bay Coalition to end Homelessness. The San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission.
Learn about how things work. Give your time. Be in the moment.
Should the former L.A. Rams relocate back to the City of Angels, and Long and Hayes comes along for the ride, we’d love to be there to help take a tour of Skid Row, meet the people and listen to their cries for help.

Also:
== A follow up by ESPN writer Nick Wagoner

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Play It Forward June 1-7: A Warrior mentality versus a Cavalier attitude

hi-res-1cd75389cad349a348cd10bea1cd25a0_crop_northTHIS WEEK’S BEST BET:

NBA FINALS: GOLDEN STATE vs. CLEVELAND
Details/TV: Game 1 at Golden State, Thursday at 6 p.m., Channel 7:
index
They’ve had more than a week to rest up for this – Steph Curry and Klay Thompson should have their heads screwed back on straight, and LeBron James has lined up all his endorsers for optimal exposure as he’s back to this stage for the fifth straight season. So the wait is over — let either the Warriors win their first title in 40 years, or the Cavs capture their first ever in their 45-year existence. The storylines are abundant, but most focus will be on how Curry, the regular season MVP who averaged 31.2 points and almost shot 50 percent from 3-point range in the Western Conference finals, goes shot-for-shot with James, third in the MVP voting and posting an average of almost a triple-double in the Cavs’ sweep of the Eastern Conference finals. Golden State may have a more-than serviceable spike strip for James in Draymond Green, who has been asked to do this before.
warriors-cavaliers-basketball In December, 2012, Green, a second-round draft pick out of Michigan State and on the Warriors’ bench for his rookie season, was assigned to guard James, then with Miami, during a regular-season game. James failed to score twice with Green on him. After a missed jumper and a turnover, the 6-foot-8 James backed Green down and drew a foul. Then he yelled at Green. “He said, ‘You too little,’ and I hate when people say that to me,” the 6-foot-7 Green told the San Jose Mercury. “So I said something back to him. I think that’s where I gained respect. And it’s mutual.” By the way, in that game, Green also made the game-winning shot, a layup with 0.9 seconds to play. After the contest, James, who scored 31 of the Heat’s 95 points in the two-point loss, sought out Green to congratulate him. “He played hard, it was great competition out there between me and him,” James said. “He knows how to play the game and (Golden State) is a good fit for him. It was good to see him out there.” Maybe now, not so much. During the regular season, James scored 42 points with 11 assists in a 110-99 win in Cleveland in late February. Curry had 18 points in that game, but only six after the first quarter and was 5-of-17 from the field. An injured James missed the prior meeting in early January at Golden State, a 112-94 Warriors’ win where Curry and Thompson combined for 47 points, and Green had 10 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
Game 2 at Golden State is Sunday at 5 p.m.

American-Pharoah-THE-ARKANSAS-DERBY-79th-Running-Grade-I-04-11-15-R11-OP-005ALSO:
147th BELMONT STAKES
Details/TV: At Elmont, N.Y., Saturday at approx. 3:30 p.m., Channel 4:
It’s the third time in four years that we’ve had a Triple Crown chance and the 14th time since Affirmed did it in 1978. Again, it’s just a chance. American Pharoah will see about turning back as many as nine competitors in this latest attempt in the “Test of the Champion” at a mile and a half. Seven key horses skipped the Preakness to rest up for this one, including the three trained by Belmont-based Todd Pletcher – Materiality, Carpe Diem and Madefromlucky. “I understand,” said American Pharoah trainer Bob Baffert said of the loaded field. “It just shows the respect they have … It’’s something you can’t control.  You have to earn it. I’ve seen a lot of great horses leave here and (lose) the Belmont — Smarty Jones, Big Brown, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Funny Cide, I’ll Have Another … you just don’t know.” Maybe American Pharoah’s best shot is praying for rain, like in the Preakness. The problem here could be that American Pharoah has never raced at Belmont before, which gives Pletcher’s Madefromlucky an advantage to some bettors here. The one thing we do now know is how American Pharoah came to be named, even with a common misspelling of “Pharoah.” Marsha Baumgartner, a 64-year-old registered nurse from Barnett, Mo., is apparently the one responsible. In a recent New York Times story, we learned that Baumgartner entered a contest held on the website of American Pharoah’s owners, Zayat Stables, to name a dark bay colt sired by Pioneerof the Nile and Yankee Gentleman. Baumgartner had the winning entry and it was submitted on Jan. 15, 2014 to the Jockey Club. She did not win any kind of prize for it. Except maybe the satisfaction for having some insider knowledge on how things happen in the racing industry.

THE REST OF THE WEEK:

UCLA must defeat Maryland one more time Monday at 8 p.m. (ESPNU) at Jackie Robinson Stadium, or else the No. 1-seeded Bruins’ baseball season is over. A win pushes them into the 16-team Super Regionals starting Saturday, likely against Virginia, which eliminated USC  … The Dodgers have four games to finish in three days at Colorado before a four-game series over Thursday-Sunday at home against St. Louis (with the Sunday game at 5 p.m. on ESPN) … The Angels win an all-expenses paid trip to New York to face the AL East-leading Yankees to end the week after playing host to Tampa Bay to start it … The Chicago-Tampa Bay NHL Stanley Cup Final best-of-seven starts Wednesday (5 p.m., Channel 4) in Florida ….  More at this link.

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Sunday Q&A: Jason Whitlock, on how there’s nothing watered down in the process of launching The Undefeated

 If people judge us on the work we put out, we’ll be fine. If people judge us on what people who don’t know me think about me personally, uh, that’ll be a problem. National sports columnist Jason Whitlock will serve as editor-in-chief of ESPN's new website, TheUndefeated.com.  The site will focus on sports, race and culture and is set to launch later this year.(Andy Holzman/Los Angeles Daily News)

“If people judge us on the work we put out, we’ll be fine. If people judge us on what people who don’t know me think about me personally, uh, that’ll be a problem,” says Jason Whitlock about his ESPN website TheUndefeated.com.(Andy Holzman/Los Angeles Daily News)

Jason Whitlock’s career has taken him from the “the hood” in Indianapolis, living with his  mom and brother, to the Indiana Sports Writers and Sportscasters Association’s Hall of Fame.
From an offensive lineman on the Warren Central High team, to getting a football scholarship at Ball State. And a journalism degree.
From a long run at the Kansas City Star, then to ESPN.com, AOL Sports, moving to L.A. to join Fox Sports, then back to ESPN. And now, he’s going all in with The Undefeated, a website set to launch officially this summer with ESPN’s backing, a name inspired by a Maya Angelou line of poetry.
ESPN president John Skipper had been to the LA Live offices just the day before to check on the progress, and Whitlock called the visit “excellent” with the launch on target for later this summer.
Following up on Sunday’s media column posted here and after all he’s said and said and said more about the launch of The Undefeated at this point in his career, we were curious that when we caught up with him at his ESPN office space, the 48-year-old was clearing some plastic water bottles off his desk.
That had to be our first question in this edited down Q-and-A exchange:

vendingmachine-in-hell1Q: What’s going on with all this excessive drinking water program? Is that important for your existence going forward?

A: It’s very important. I’m on a diet. It’s funny, I’ve been a columnist my entire life. I never went into the office for maybe 20 years. So I started coming into this office in September. I’ve basically had an eight-month war with the vending machines. And the machines have won. Plus all these restaurants all over here. They’ve slaughtered me. I probably put on 40 pounds. You’re catching me at Day 43 of perfect eating and exercising and a big f#$&-you to the vending machines. I try to drink 12-to-15 servings of water every day, whether I’m on a diet or not. Water is all I drink. Continue reading

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Weekly media notes version 05.29.15 — An ‘Undefeated’ mentality will push Whitlock’s site to become more than just a ‘Black Grantland’

With his playbook sitting on his desktop at his L.A. office,  Jason Whitlock will serve as editor-in-chief of ESPN's new website, TheUndefeated.com.  The site will focus on sports, race and culture and is set to launch this summer. (Andy Holzman/Los Angeles Daily News)

With his playbook sitting on his desktop at his L.A. office, Jason Whitlock will serve as editor-in-chief of ESPN’s new website, TheUndefeated.com. The site will focus on sports, race and culture and is set to launch this summer. (Andy Holzman/Los Angeles Daily News)

What’s coming up for Sunday’s weekly column:

Ken Fang over at AwfulAnnouncing.com decided it was time do draw up a list.
Since Bill Simmons has pretty much been wiped clean of the World Wide Leader in Sports — he was replaced this week by Chris Connelly as the interim Editor-in-Chief of Grantland.com, although the website continues to archive his stuff — it must be asked: Who stands next in line to be considered to the face of ESPN?
Because, “over the last five years, one could successfully argue that Bill Simmons was the star of ESPN,” Fang writes, without needing to note that Simmons made it to the No. 36 spot in the LA News Group’s recent 50 Most Powerful in L.A. Sports. “Now as ESPN goes deeper into the 21st Century, who will be that one person who can be most synonymous with the four letter network?”
For as much as the public looks at the network, this might be something of a flawed premise, since ESPN management does its best to make sure that no one person is bigger than the company. Not Berman, Olbermann, Patrick, Vitale …
The face of ESPN, for all intents and purposes, is someone in the leadership role like a George Bodenheimer, or, currently, John Skipper.
Never the less, and alphabetically, Fang floated the names: Skip Bayless, Michelle Beadle, Jay Bilas, John Buccigross, Colin Cowherd (who is a genius according to Dan Levy), Rece Davis, Chris Fowler, Dan Shulman, Stephen A. Smith, Scott Van Pelt and …
One more ….
Jason Whitlock.
“Another controversial choice,” Fang writes of that last one, “we put him here as he gets ready to launch ‘The Undefeated,’ which ESPN hopes to provide as much gravitas as Grantland. While we’ve heard of some bumps in the road for the launch, perhaps things can turn around and Whitlock can become a true leader of the site. We’ll see. And can he become a face of ESPN? As Kevin Garnett said, anything’s possible.”
Anything except this, we’re guessing. We just don’t get the sense that’s what Whitlock is going after here following our sit-down with The Undefeated’s editor in chief from his ESPN L.A. offices this week. The official launch of the site comes soon, but some things need to be put into place. It’s a process, one that Whitlock admits he’s coming at from a different angle of leadership.
He talked about that recently with Jeffrey Fox, author of “How to Become a Great Boss.”
We also caught up with Mike Wise, the former Washington Post columnist who just got back from South Africa to pursue a story idea that The Undefeated sent him on — look for his piece on Josia Thugwane, the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games marathon winner who was first black athlete to earn an Olympic gold for that country.
As @MikeWiseguy tweeted this week:

 

What’s worth inserting here for more thorough consumption:

Chris-Connelly== As for Connelly, whose work we have admired going back to his “My Wish” series for SportsCenter nearly 10 years ago and even further back when he came on as the host of an “Up Close” spinoff called “Unscripted” in 2001 over at the ESPN Orange County studios, the man often known more for music and pop culture reporting would seem to be a natural fit to replace Simmons.
“Bill Simmons had the vision to create Grantland, and his leadership, ideas, and inspiration made it singularly great,” said Connelly. “I’m looking forward to helping the writers, editors, and producers on this amazingly talented staff create more of the outstanding work for which they’ve rightly become known.”
Marie Donoghue, ESPN’s exec VP of global strategy and original content, says Connelly will “build on the smart, fun, adventurous, creative, unexpected and vital spirit of Grantland.”
ESPN points out as well that Grantland had its most traffic ever in the month of April going back to its 2011 launch.
Connelly has been working on ABC’s “20/20″ and other news programs covering pop culture and other features. He was at MTV for more than 12 years prior to coming to ESPN in 2001 and wrote for Rolling Stone and Premiere.

== ESPN’s beardless Bob Ley is shredding FIFA this morning, as caught by SBNation and TheBigLead.

== There’s a movie out, financed by FIFA, about FIFA? Continue reading

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ESPN’s glimpse of ‘Life on the Streets’ gives Rams’ Long, Hayes a reference point

On one hand, ESPN does show some initiative in putting together a “SportsCenter” feature that allows St. Louis Rams players Chris Long and William Hayes to pretend to be homeless for a 24-hour period for a piece called “Life on the Streets” that will air during the Sunday episodes.
Wearing second-hand clothes and makeup, the two took just $4 apiece and went out with no plan on where to sleep or eat. They are hooked up with small cameras and mikes, and are followed by an ESPN crew, as they mingle with the homeless community of St. Louis.
“It’s amazing though when that cop went to talk to me, just how unsettled that felt, compared to like if a cop normally talks to me walking down the street,” says Long, the 30-year-old son of Fox NFL studio analyst Howie Long.
On the other hand …
A “life” on the street is really more than just a 24-hour news cycle. This is more a very small window of examination. It will be a reference point for Long and Hayes.
It’s almost too easy knowing you can jump out of this experiment and go back to the comforts of an NFL lifestyle once you’re off the clock here.
What’s going to be the takeaway from this? That it’s not real fun to be “out there”? This is a new game of “Survival” to play amongst your friends?
ESPN says it’s “an effort to get a closer look at the hardships homeless people in America endure every day.” That’s pretty altruistic.
Still, the effort to learn more is far better than not caring at all. Just be realistic in what you can gain from a limited experience.
Dealing with folks who are mentally unstable is the most dangerous part of this whole experience, and it could put anyone at risk if the man or woman they are encountering feel they are being exploited here.
Perhaps when the Rams do eventually move back to L.A., Long and Hayes can take another eye-opening trip to Skid Row, meet with civic leaders and urban planners, perhaps even buy up some downtown property and turn it into homeless housing.
This is a story to be continued …

Also:
== More background on the project from ESPN’s media relations department. More on this story will be posted Sunday on ESPN.com

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