Jeff Pearlman

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My life as a fly in Donald Trump’s sorta hair

Fly, left-center, has his moment.

Fly, left-center, has his moment.

Because we always enjoy bringing in different guest to, today I’m pleased to welcome Fly, who landed atop Donald Trump’s sorta hair during a rally on Wednesday in Anaheim. Here is his account of what happened.

What the fuck?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself for more than a day now. What? The Fuck?

At the start of this week, I was a young fly with lots of potential. At least that’s what my mother told me before she tried sucking a dried splotch of curdled Sunny D off a windshield wiper. “Son,” she said. “You have lots of poten—vvvvppppppppp.”

I digress. I was a happy fly. A good fly. I’d fly here. Then fly there. Then fly here again. Then fly there again. Bright light turned me on, as did the discharge from a cow’s anal cavity. I love eating, and eating, and eating. Oh, and flying. I love flying. And eating. Admittedly, I’m imperfect. I’ve probably spread a little disease. And I don’t keep in touch with my 765,322,443,222 brothers and sisters. But only because they refuse to Snapchat. Still, I’m a good fly. Really, I am.

Then, on Wednesday night, I made a most heinous mistake. I saw the glow from an arena, and flew closer. There were people. Lots and lots and lots of people. Which usually isn’t so wonderful for a fly, but then—sniff, sniff—what in the world was that delicious scent? I detected a trace of pineapple, a hint of mint, a tad of Potassium Bromate and a whole shitload of gum tragacanth. So, being a fly (IQ: -5) I flew closer. Suddenly, I saw the world’s most beautiful nest. It was neon, and bobbing, and screamed to me, “Come, little fly. Come land here and lather yourself in the blissful cavern of kings!” So, of course, I listened.

It was all a lie.

This was no beautiful nest. This was a stringy glob of manufactured spaghetti rot; a hellish merging of cat intestine, snail excrement, Cinnamon Life (which, admittedly, I enjoy) and the innards of my great-great-great-great-great Grandpa Mel, who died three minutes ago. This was a land where no man, woman or fly shall ever enter; a land where those who have walked through the valley of death long for the valley of death.

Yes, I escaped, but only when a man in a skull tattoo that read DON’T FEED THE ANIMAL slapped the body attached to the head attached to my personal Alcatraz so hard that I was dislodged.

The memory, however, will stick forever.

As will the nasty residue.

The Sports Parent

A couple of years ago, when I was but a boy of, oh, 41, I had a podcast. It was a short-lived Q&A series, based off of the Quaz Q&A. It was called the Quazcast, and a Canadian media outlet paid me for its existence.

It was, well, awful.

The sound quality sucked. It lasted too long. There was zero promotional element. I found it pretty unsatisfying, and came to dread the weekly sessions. So, after less than a year, it died, and I was quite relieved.

That was then …

Earlier this week, I returned to the podcast world—this time accompanied by Catherine Pearlman, my lovely wife and a woman known on Twitter as @thefamilycoach. We’ve started a show, The Sports Parent, that deals with sports, parenting and, more than anything, a crossing over of the two subjects. Shit Little League coaches. Dads insisting their sons play year-round baseball. Cursing athletes and misbehaving tykes and on and on. We record in our closet (literally, we record in our closet), and every episode will feature a guest from the sports entertainment world.

I say this all because, well, I’m begging: The Sports Parent is available on iTunes, and we’d be honored if you give it a shot.

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Johnny Premier


This is the 259th Quaz Q&A and, I must admit, the most difficult I’ve had to endure.

First, to make something clear: My friend Johnny Premier deserves great credit for being here. Roughly nine or 10 days ago I put out a Twitter APB, requesting a Donald Trump supporter who would consider being Quazed. I was greeted by the unmistakable sound of crickets—until Johnny stepped forward and said he would voraciously defend the man he wants to be our nation’s 45th president.

Now, anyone who reads this site, or follows me on Twitter, knows I would prefer an Oval Office starring Emmanuel Lewis, Dennis Rodman Bob Tewksbury, Lady Gaga or Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini to an occupancy of Trump. I don’t like him, I don’t trust him and I believe (deep in my heart) he’s a genuine say-whatever-it-takes-to-become-president fraud. But—and this is an important but—millions of Americans think otherwise. And if we only speak with folks who parrot our views, well, what’s the point? We learn nothing, we gain nothing, we understand little. So, again, I want to commend today’s guest. Because while I don’t share his beliefs, I do share his interest in grasping the philosophies of others.

Johnny is a huge supporter of Donald Trump. He lives in Las Vegas, where he works for StubHub as a ticket return center coordinator. He has spent a good chunk of time announcing pro wrestling and MMA events, and can be contacted (and booked for gigs) on Twitter. Although we disagree on presidential politics, I have nothing but respect for the man.

Johnny Premier, I hope you’re wrong about our next president. But I’m thrilled you’re here to make his case …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Johnny, I’m gonna kick off with something that’s been itching at me from the start of Donald Trump’s recent political rise. OK, so on March 20, 2003, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks ripped into George W. Bush during a London show, saying she was “ashamed” of the president. And this was a HUGE thing for the right. The Dixie Chicks were berated, shamed, damned. There were CD smashings, death threats, etc. And the general take from the right was an unambiguous, “This crossed a line.” OK, so now Barack Obama is president, and it’s 2011. And Donald Trump is a leader in the birther movement. He is, literally, saying the sitting president of the United States is not an American. Over and over and over again. I found this disturbing then, and even more disturbing now. I mean, this is YOUR candidate for the presidency. Why do you guys not find this disturbing?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I remember that Dixie Chicks controversy well. You’re totally leaving out the context of when the comments were made. We were nine days from invading Iraq, and a declaration of war. To me, that’s a time when, after the debates are done, you as an American should support the troops wholeheartedly. And it’s kinda rich how these liberal ladies who made so much money from our free-market economy were “ashamed” of President Bush.

I supported the Chicks’ right to speak their mind, but their timing was poor. I also supported their sponsors’ decision to disavow that relationship. Here’s the deal, though, with supporting Donald Trump—every once in a while, he says or does something where you say to yourself, “Aw, c’mon, man, let’s not go there.” And for me, the “birther movement” is one of those times. There’s so much about the Obama administration and his specific policies worth criticizing.

But that’s what’s so refreshing about Trump—he doesn’t test out his opinions in front of focus groups or pollsters before rolling them out. There’s an authenticity there!

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You find it refreshing that your preferred presidential candidate repeatedly accused the sitting president of the United States of lying about his place of birth? You’re telling me if Obama or Hillary did something similar you would just chalk it up to, “Hey ho, no biggie”? Really?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Well, there’s never been a Republican president with a Muslim name, so I don’t see how that question is relevant.

Also, whether they agree with him or not politically, I think the American people find Trump refreshing. It’s amazing to think about, but Jeb Bush was at one point the favorite to be the GOP nominee. I don’t think enough is made of that fact. The guy who finished fifth or sixth in the early primaries was once the favorite. Talk about your establishment candidate, with the family name, the big money donors, and the support of the party.

It made no difference. His campaign stalled because there was no refreshing honesty or transparency there. And that is a critical reason why Trump is the nominee, and “low energy” Jeb has no career, no future.

JEFF PEARLMAN: What’s your political background? First presidential election where you voted? Favorite politicians? Etc?

JOHNNY PREMIER: My parents are independent, and raised me to think that way. In doing so, I’ve found that I have always had a deep mistrust of big government. Part of that has been growing up in Connecticut, and our history of crooks (Weicker, Rowland, Dodd—I could go on). The other part is just seeing how ineffective the government is at solving most problems, compounded by how much politicians— mostly Democrats—love spending taxpayer money. The money gives them the power, and the ability to brag at cocktail parties about how they solved problems. It’s all a farce.

The first election I voted was in 1992, for the first President Bush. Ross Perot’s impact siphoned votes from the Republicans and handed that election to the Clintons. It was hard to take, because I knew how dangerous a Clinton presidency would be.

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You mentioned on Twitter that I don’t get Trump’s appeal. And, in a way, you’re right. So explain it …

JOHNNY PREMIER: Look, man, the last two Republican nominees were John McCain and Mitt Romney. Career politicians, mediocre public speakers, establishment guys. Trump has branded himself to be an absolute rock star, through the power of television. You see it at a Trump rally, the excitement that they’re seeing a celebrity. People respond to him because they know he’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks. How many Republicans through the years elicited this response?

That’s why the news channels, and the public, can’t stop talking about Donald Trump. I like him because he happens to be right on a number of issues that are important to me.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump seems to enjoy calling everyone who disagrees with him a liar, or a crook, or whatever insult pops into his head. Yet in 1986, while testifying in a trial about the NFL-USFL, he lied under oath about Pete Rozelle offering him an NFL franchise. In Scotland, as was reported repeatedly on HBO Real Sports, he is loathed for a crooked golf course transaction. Recently there was a tape of him pretending to be his own PR guy back in the day—he lied and said it wasn’t him, after admitting it was him. He also said, on 9.11, he saw Muslims celebrating the World Trade Center attack—an observational that proved to be 100-percent fictional. One. Hundred. Percent. Fuck, the list of total bullshit is v-e-r-y long, v-e-r-y detailed. But I know many folks who simply feel like his supporters don’t give a shit. They always blame the media, or the haters. And, to me, it feels like a cult-like response. What am I missing?

JOHNNY PREMIER: OK, Jeff, so I see what’s going on here. You’re writing a book on the USFL—I’m guessing you were a fan of the league, and in doing that research you’re finding out things about Trump that bother you. Here’s the thing—revisionist history says that the quality of play was good. I remember it to be a poor, second-rate league whose only hope was to merge with the NFL. Trump knew that, and it’s why he tried to merge the Generals. Easy to play armchair quarterback with the benefit of hindsight.

I understand if you’re not going to put this quote on your book jacket, but look, Trump moved on. So should you.

I saw the Scotland golf course hit-piece by noted liberal Bryant Gumbel [JEFF’S NOTE: The reporter was actually Bernard Golberg, who is arch-conservative. Just saying]. It is a beautiful piece of land. They tried to make the old guy who didn’t want to sell into this martyr. I mean, come on.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump recently announced his tax plan, which—according to the Tax Policy Center (a nonpartisan outfit)—gives the wealthiest .1% of Americans an average tax cut of $1.3 million and raises the national debt by $34.1 trillion by 2036. Have you looked into Trump’s fiscal policies, besides, “I’m gonna make this country great!”? And what do you think of them?

JOHNNY PREMIER: This question is just loaded with sarcasm. You, clearly, think Trump’s supporters are just these silly people who can’t think for themselves. Of course I’ve looked into it. I love the fact that Americans who are single and make under $25,000 or married and combine to make less than $50,000, will not pay federal taxes. They shouldn’t. I love the simplification of the tax code with four brackets—0 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent. I love the reduction in taxes for business—small and large—which I believe will incentivize companies that have moved overseas to come back. And the elimination of the “death tax” is huge as well.

The beauty is, we’re going to pay for this with a specific plan that will reduce the size and scope of government.

JEFF PEARLMAN: How do you explain the super strong dislike for Hillary Clinton from the right? For the record, I’m not a big fan. But the apparent hate perplexes me a bit.

JOHNNY PREMIER: She’s just a dangerous person, Jeff. When she was secretary of state, four Americans died as a result of the Benghazi, Libya attacks—including the US ambassador. There were real security breaches that leaked from her office. She conducted State Department business from her personal email account in direct violation of State Department protocols and procedures, and federal law. Do we really want someone so irresponsible with classified information to be our next president?

There’s a history here that shows she is a long-time advocate for big government. Based on Hillary’s stated positions from the 1990s to today, and incorporating her senate voting record, the non-partisan Political Compass has her on a scale from -10 Libertarian to +10 Authoritarian as a +7 liberal. The Americans for Democratic Action love her. What else do you need to know?

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JEFF PEARLMAN: People like myself hear the Obama bashing from the right and we scratch our heads. I mean, if you look at the economic figures, the auto industry, the job numbers, Osama’s death, etc—were these the results of a Republican presidency, the right would be crowing … and I’m guessing you know it. So why so much hatred for a guy who, by most measures, has been transcendent?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I take issue with the entire premise of this question. Transcendent?!? There’s not enough time to focus on each issue, but with increasing boldness, Obama has argued for more government action and spending, and unilateral actions on his part to circumvent the GOP majority in congress.

I noticed you left out Obamacare, which has been an unmitigated disaster. Millions of Americans who were promised they could keep their existing insurance plans found their insurance canceled, and millions more who managed to enroll learned they couldn’t keep their doctor, as Obama had promised. Obamacare was a huge grab of government power, and a dismal failure.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Non-partisan estimates place the number of once-uninsured Americans who are now insured between 14 million and 16.5 million. Clearly Obamacare has had its flaws—no doubt. But I don’t see how it’s a disaster.

JOHNNY PREMIER: The Obamacare website cost $2.1 billion to build, and was supposed to encourage competition. It has not. Of the 11 million who signed up you reference, more than 3 million have dropped out by the end of the year.

Obama promised that it would not disrupt existing doctor-patient and health-care insurance arrangements. Completely false. The American medical scene is extremely complex, admittedly, but to resolve them in once comprehensive government program is the wrong solution. And the prohibition against crossing state lines to buy insurance was wrongheaded and must be repealed.

The congressional budget office estimates it will add $1.7 trillion to our nation’s debt over the next decade [JEFF’S NOTE: With all due respect to our guest, this is a very misleading figure]. And for what? Hillary has proposed new, sweeping additions to Obamacare that would paid for by … you guessed it, a new tax! This is part of what makes her and the tax-and-spend liberals so scary. Once a federal program gets started, the size and scope will expand as far as you let them.

JEFF PEARLMAN: There’s no way Donald Trump builds the wall, and has Mexico pay for it. There’s also no way Donald Trump rounds up 11 million illegals. So, if those two things—both lead elements of his campaign—don’t happen, does that mar his presidency? Do you think the right will hold him to it?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Really, there’s “no way” the wall gets built, and there’s “no way” Mexico pays for it? Again, your question is based on a fallacy!

Estimates I’ve seen are that the wall would cost $5-10 billion. The Mexican economy is so dependent on the United States, specifically here the $24 billion annually it receives in remittance from Mexican nationals working in the U.S. We can prevent those wire transfers to poor families in Mexico. Patriot Act Section 326 is a great “stick” to make this wall happen.

The important point here is that immigration to the U.S. is a privilege, not a right. Having a free flow of undocumented people is not in America’s best interest. And I applaud Trump for taking on a politically tricky issue!

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump suggested Megyn Kelly was bleeding from her vagina. He insulted Carly Fiorina by saying, “Look at her face! Look at her face!” He said John McCain—a POW in Vietnam for four years—is not a hero because he was captured. He said Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination. He mocked a handicapped reporter, Serge Kovaleski, by mimicking his disability. He has called Mexican immigrants rapists. He said Seventh Day Adventists were weird. Back in the 1980s in New York he said a bunch of African-American kids deserved the death penalty for raping a woman—and then it turned out they were innocent. It’s a nonstop insult cycle, and, again, I don’t understand why anyone would support a guy like this. Hate Hillary? Fine? Third candidate? OK. But this is REALLY the man you want representing America?

JOHNNY PREMIER: It’s interesting—you started this list with Megyn Kelly. Fox News wanted to be relevant for the 2016 election, so of course they extended an olive branch to Trump for the Kelly interview that was so promoted so hard by the network.

The one soundbite that the liberal media harped on was Kelly pointing out that Trump called her a “bimbo”—OK, fine—but the balance of the interview was great and I believe strengthened Trump in the minds of “establishment” Republican viewers.

As for the rest … eh. It doesn’t bother me, on balance, when you consider the great things a Trump presidency can do for our nation.

JEFF PEARLMAN: One of the HUGE criticisms from the right (HUGE) is Obama negotiating with Iran. I mean, it’s a Top 5 slam. Recently Donald Trump said he’d negotiate with Kim Jong Un. Again, had Obama or Hillary said this—the right would be SLAUGHTERING them. Are you OK with it? And why is this any different than talking with Iran?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Again Jeff, love ya but jeez, you love asking me questions out of context! I saw this interview—his main point here was that we should pressure China (who we have plenty of economic leverage on, but are not using thanks to Obama) into making North Korea change his ways. And that is a main difference between Trump and Hillary.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Trump has said—then said he didn’t say, even though it was on tape—that he would “take out” the families of suspected terrorists and that the military would follow his orders even if they are illegal. This probably doesn’t trouble you. Why?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I know the comments you were referring to, in December on Fox News. I do not support the killing of innocent women and children. However, I think you’re taking them out of context. Trump’s point was that the war against terrorists and ISIS in particular was too politically correct. There’s too much concern with the “rights” of these people. ISIS must be stopped, and if it takes torture of a member who we capture to get valuable intel, I’m all for it.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Trump has said the minimum wage is too high, but also that he would maybe raise the minimum wage. Do you think he has an actual position on the minimum wage?

JOHNNY PREMIER: In fact, he stated his position on this issue very clearly. He believes the states should decide this issue, and it will foster healthy competition between states, and with other countries. Slightly more than 50 percent of the states have a higher floor than the current $7.25 an hour. And that makes sense. Cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York are obviously a hell of a lot more expensive to live in than rural areas.

And let me make this point very clear, Jeff. It is critical to the success of Trump’s candidacy that he support deferring to the states on many issues, not just minimum wage, and he has begun to do that. The majority of Americans believe there is too much power concentrated in Washington, D.C. This is one issue we can hammer Hillary on!

JEFF PEARLMAN: In your gut, Hillary-Trump—who wins this election, and what’s the margin?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I remember a year ago, the odds that a leading offshore sportsbook gave Trump to win was 20-1. It is now 2-1. At the risk of this Quaz ending up on @OldTakesExposed I’d suggest you bet on Trump. The Democrats were not inspired by Hillary in 2008 when she resoundingly lost to Obama in the primaries, and they’re certainly not inspired now after the Benghazi and e-mail mess, the big PAC money, and everything else. Bernie Sanders is still mathematically alive on May 23, 2016!

Meanwhile, Trump is a superstar. The Republican Party is getting in line, and that will happen more and more as the election draws near. Plus, you’ve gotta remember, Jeff … politics is in large part a “work.” I think WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump learned a lot through his association with the company, dating back to hosting two WrestleMania’s at Trump Plaza in the 1980s. Underestimate him at your peril.

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• Five all-time favorite political figures: I’m going to resist being a wise-ass and writing “Ronald Reagan” five times. An absolute legend. The way he handled the 1981 air traffic controller strike inspired me at a young age. Put it this way—if Jimmy Carter had still been in office, that union would have owned him. 1. Ronald Reagan. 2. Jesse Ventura. Absolutely shocked the world—it’s awesome that a guy with muluti-colored hair who spent 20 years as a pro wrestler and commentator could become Governor of Minnesota. Brilliant guy who sometimes gets in his own way with the conspiracy theory stuff. Definitely appeals to the more Libertarian side of my brain; 3. Trump; 4. Rush Limbaugh. Might have lost a step, but people forget how much impact he had in the early 90s in stopping the left-wing agenda of Bill Clinton and his cronies. I went to liberal Clark University for undergrad, and he helped get me through those years; 5. Gonna leave this open for a politician who will come to lead the Republican Party into the future. Someone like Trump without the baggage?

• How did you become a Jets fan?: Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko, the New York Sack Exchange! They were awesome, man—so much so that I’ll forgive Gastineau for giving America his reality show family. And of course the image of Joe Namath walking off the field after Super Bowl III. Iconic. I was hooked.

In the years since there’s been the Dan Marino fake spike, Browning Nagle, loud boos at the NFL draft, Belichick “I resign as Head Coach of the New York Jets” … you and I both know the pain. The Jets have taken a lot of money from me and given back precious few satisfying moments. Life as a fan, I suppose. On a personal level, I’m finding it hard to root against the Rex Ryan Bills. I really like Rex—he worked hard to change the culture.

• If Hillary Clinton wins, how do you think Trump supporters will respond/react?: Well, I can tell you what won’t happen. You won’t be reading whiny things from us like, “if Trump loses we move to Canada” like you hear from the liberal elite. The Barbra Streisand/George Clooney types. Trump supporters are proud Americans, and we respect the democratic process. Huge difference!

• Who should be the next appointee to the Supreme Court?: Joan Larsen from Michigan, used to clerk for Justice Scalia. Solid!

• Five reasons one should make Las Vegas his/her home?: Man, it is awesome here! I used to be a loyal Bill Simmons reader—before he became a professional podcaster—and found his transition from Boston Sports Guy to LA to be interesting. He’d always remark how you get “sucked in” by the weather here and how hard it is to go back. And I didn’t buy it … until I got sucked in. Jeff, it rains here, like, once a month! Every day is sunny! Spending the first 39 years of my life in the northeast, you do not take that for granted. And the cost of living is ridiculously cheap. I spend half the money for a place that’s twice as nice as my New York City apartment.

People always talk about the casinos, Vegas has every type of entertainment possible, the best restaurants, high culture, low culture … everything except a pro sports team, which will be rectified soon by an NHL team or the Raiders (and, possibly, both)!

• What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?: Was paid $20 to eat a bug when I was a kid. Blew it at the arcade.

• In exactly 17 words, make a case for Rich Kotite: Is this a serious question? Worst. Jets. Coach. Ever. Clueless Rich Kotite does not deserve seventeen words.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Can’t say that I’ve had a moment like that great scene in “Almost Famous.” As Slammin’ Sammy Sosa would say, airplanes been berry berry good to me. So far …

• What’s your take of Bernie Sanders?: It’s wonderful to see how Bernie continues to win states—he trounced Hillary in Oregon. He continues to destroy her on the issue of accepting huge PAC donations from the biggest corporations. And the $250,000 speeches … look, I support free enterprise, people should make as much as their talent merits. But those on the socialist side of the Democrats hate it. Also, there’s something overtly corrupt about Hillary, and Bernie’s supporters sense it. I don’t think there will be a unified party coming out of the Democratic Convention.

• When was the “again” Donald Trump is referring to, as far as America’s greatness?: Let’s not over-analyze an awesome slogan! Look, people use nostalgia to market themselves, as a way to harken to better days … whether they actually were really better or not (I do not want to go back to life before cell phones and Internet).

Trump is awesome at marketing and branding, and it fits beautifully. Think about it … how many national campaign slogans can you remember through the years? Come on Jeff, you know you want the hat.

Why I would never vote for Donald J. Trump

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Were Donald Trump a liberal Democrat, he wouldn’t have my vote.

Were he a moderate independent, he wouldn’t have my vote.

Were he pro-choice, anti-gun, pro-universal health coverage, pro-investing millions upon millions into climate change research, he wouldn’t have my vote.

To be clear, Donald Trump would never, ever, ever, ever have my vote.

Why? Really, for one reason. In 2011, the then-reality TV host was a leader of the movement that insisted our sitting president was not, in fact, born in the United States. He said so repeatedly, joining such non-men as Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich in the “Obama doesn’t love his country” conga line of shame. Trump went so far as to announce that he had sent a team of investigators to Hawaii (Obama’s home state) and that, “they cannot believe what they’re finding.” Whoa! Holy shit! So what, in fact, were “they” finding? Well … um … eh … um … we don’t know. Because suddenly, a man blessed with the power of nuclear bluster, had nothing to offer. In other words, “What they’re finding” was never released. When asked, weeks later by CNN, whether he believed Obama was born in the U.S., Trump meekly said, “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

And that was that. Only, for me, that wasn’t that. When I look back at Trump’s “they cannot believe what they’re finding” lie, I can’t help but recall the conservative uproar when, in 2003, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks told a crowd, “just so you know, we’re ashamed the president is from Texas.” What followed was a banishment from country radio, myriad CD demolitions, death threats, physical threats, plummeting ticket sales. Why? Because the musical trio dared rip a sitting president during a time of war.

Now, 13 years later, here those same conservatives sit, lining up behind a man who not only insisted the sitting president was not American, but lied about investigators landing the goods. Whether citizens like a commander in chief or loathe a commander in chief, he/she is—factually—our leader, as well as a symbol of our nation. Criticism is fair, of course, and I’m not even saying conservatives were wrong to be upset over the Dixie Chicks’ words.

But standards are standards, and if we’re going to be mad over some meaningless musicians lambasting a president, shouldn’t we be 1,000,000 times more mad for a presidential contender doing so—and making the whole thing up?

Barack Obama and HIV Soldiers

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So earlier this afternoon, in a mistake I make approximately once per week, I got into a Donald Trump-themed debate with a former U.S. Marine named Marshall. He loves the celebrity TV show host and failed steak salesman, but believes Barack Obama has it in for U.S. soldiers.

Marshall responded to something I posted about Trump, and we proceeded to go back and forth. I ultimately asked him why, exactly, he thought Barack Obama hated the military, and this was his answer …

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I noted that his “social experiment” was allowing gays to serve openly. To which we had this exchange (read from bottom up) …

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 12.27.09 AMAnd, with his last words there, I thought to myself, “I can’t win. And maybe, just maybe, Hillary Clinton can’t win either.” Because while numbheads like Marshall don’t make up the entirety of Donald Trump’s supporters, they do add up to a huge figure. These are people who won’t be swayed. Not by reason or logic; not by strong arguments; not by one Trump flaw after another. He is their candidate, and he will make America great again—motherfucker. And if you dare question a guy like Marshall (for example, you note that his thinking (gays shouldn’t serve because they might have AIDS, and if they do, and they’re shot in combat, and you swim in their blood you might contract the virus) is beyond inane, well, fuck you. You’re a typical liberal asshole who reads the Times and drinks herbal tea.

And, really, what’s my counter? I use big words, he says I’m some arrogant asshole. I cite the Times, I’m an elitist. I defend Obama, I’m a sack of shit. I mention that George W. Bush was awful to the military, hey, that was Clinton’s fault. It’s the ultimate political trap.

It sucks.

My son’s elementary school playlist

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In my son’s fourth grade class, there comes a point one or two days per week where the kids are allowed to listen to music while silently reading. I’m not saying this is necessarily the best idea, but the boys and girls have access to Chrome Books, and they independently select their tunes. One of Emmett’s pals listens to the Frozen soundtrack. Another enjoys Taylor Swift.

“I’ve actually made my own playlist!” the son told me today.

I asked him what was on it, and he methodically listed the songs …

Letter to the New York Post—Public Enemy

Fight the Power—Public Enemy

Jump Around—House of Pain

Excursions—Tribe Called Quest

Scenario—A Tribe Called Quest

Thugz Mansion—Tupac

Montego Slay—People Under the Stairs

Rollin’—MC White Owl

Sooooo … here’s the rundown. “Rollin'” is about drugs. “Montego Slay” has some sexual content. “Letter to the New York Post,” “Jump Around” and “Thugz Mansion” include cursing. And yet, as Emmett named song after song after song, I found myself overwhelmed by pride. Why? Because the kid has tremendous musical taste. We’ve been listening to hip-hop for years, and he truly gets it. He loves Grandmaster Flash, has no use for Drake; thinks Run DMC is awesome, but the goofiness of Kid ‘n Play does little for him.

Back when he was tiny, I’d play hip-hop, but only clean versions. Or I’d turn off the volume with every shit, fuck or bitch. Over time, however, that grew sorta fatiguing. Also, I used the music to discuss issues. I told him why Public Enemy was angry with the Post; I explained who Little Latasha is in “Thugz Mansion”; he knows of Busta Rhymes’ brilliance from “Scenario” and gets the social commentary that is “Fight the Power.”

As for the lyrics, I used to wrestle with them. But then, instead of dropping the volume, I started talking about word selection. I told him that performers use bad words for emphasis—but that doesn’t mean he should. We’ve discussed the weight of a message. Not only the meaning of curses, but the power. Despite his indoctrination to rap, I’ve never heard the kid curse. Like, not one time.

Meanwhile, no Disney songs have been played in these parts since the Bush administration.

Praise Jesus.

Prince and the Musical Oomph Scale

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Back when Prince died a few weeks ago, I found myself thinking of his musical legacy. For many, this would mean his songs, his style, his fashion. For me, however, it’s often a numerical thing. As a child of sports standings, I’ve long been a fan of rankings. If he’s a 73, she’s an 86, and he’s a 23, and she’s a 14. You know what I mean, right?

Anyhow, in my head I have this thing—Musical Oomph. It measures your musical and cultural impact, along with your talent and skills, into one (admittedly inexact) number. For example, The Beatles and Michael Jackson are a 10. Nelson is a 1, Tyga a 0. Tupac would probably be an 8, New Edition a 5, the Backstreet Boys a 3.

And Prince? Well … take a look (admittedly, I couldn’t include everyone):


10: The Beatles

10: Michael Jackson

10: Elvis Presley

9: Prince

9: Bob Dylan

9: Bruce Springsteen

9: Led Zeppelin

9: The Rolling Stones

9: Stevie Wonder

9: Aretha Franklin

9: U2

8: Pearl Jam

8: Ray Charles

8: Run DMC

8: Elton John

8: AC/DC

8: Marvin Gaye

8: The Temptations

8: Tupac Shakur

8: Madonna

8: David Bowie

8: Al Green

8: Jay-Z

8: Bob Marley

8: Public Enemy

8: Nirvana

An 8 for Public Enemy

An 8 for Public Enemy

8: Simon and Garfunkel

8: Guns n Roses

8: The Four Tops

8: Creedence Clearwater Revival

8: Billy Joel

8: Pink Floyd

8: Van Halen

8: Willie Nelson

8: Harry Belafonte

7: Whitney Houston

7: Barbra Streisand

7: Bee Gees

7: Metallica

7: The Beach Boys

7: Smokey Robinson

7: Eagles

7: The Doors

7: Roy Orbison

7: Rod Stewart

7: Elvis Costello

7: Curtis Mayfield

7: Tom Petty

7: The Kinks

7: Lauryn Hill

7: Joni Mitchell

A 7 for Lauryn Hill

A 7 for Lauryn Hill

7: Snoop Dogg

7: Heart

7: R.E.M.

7: Eminem

7: Green Day

7: Celine Dion

7. Rush

7: Janet Jackson

7: Diana Ross and the Supremes

7: Crosby Stills and Nash

7: Santana

7: Black Sabbath

7. Taylor Swift

7: Jackie Wilson

7: James Taylor

7: Afrika Bambaataa

7: Fleetwood Mac

7: Hall & Oates

7: The Police

7: Earth, Wind & Fire

7: Aerosmith

7: Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five

7: Lou Reed

7: The Ramones

7: Eric B. & Rakim

A 7 for Grandmaster Flash

A 7 for Grandmaster Flash

7: Tina Turner

7: Sam Cooke

7: LL Cool J

6: Chicago

6: Notoious B.I.G.

6: Adele

6: A Tribe Called Quest

6: Lynard Skynyrd

6: The Sugarhill Gang

6: Bon Jovi

6: Gladys Knight and the Pips

6: Mariah Carey

6: Commodores

6: John Cougar

6: Beyoncé

6: Neil Diamond


6: Kenny Rogers

6: The Sex Pistols

6: The Carpenters

6: Parliament and Funkadelic

6: The Drifters

6: The Yardbirds

6: Journey

6: Booker T. and the MGs

6: Blondie

6: Nas

6: Beastie Boys

6: Kelly Clarkson

6: NWA

6: Barry Manilow

6: Puff Daddy

6: Cream

6: The Go Gos

6: Rage Against The Machine

6: Red Hot Chili Peppers

6: KC and the Sunshine Band

6: The Doobie Brothers

6: Chaka Kahn

A 6 for Abba

A 6 for Abba

6: Lenny Kravitz

6: Jefferson Airplane

6: Joe Cocker

6: Abba

6: Otis Redding

5: Nine Inch Nails

5: Patti LaBelle

5: Depeche Mode

5: Wings

5: R. Kelly

5: Kanye West

5: Donna Summer

5: Motley Crue

5: OutKast

5. Lady Gaga

5: Gram Parsons

5: Meat Loaf

5: Carrie Underwood

5: Phil Collins

5: Radiohead

5: The Stooges

5: Bruno Mars

5: George Benson

5: Boogie Down Productions

5: Dire Straits

5: Buffalo Springfield

5. New Edition

5: Kool & the Gang

5: Coldplay

5: Cindy Lauper

5: We-Tang Clan

5: Red Hot Chili Peppers

5: Boyz II Men

A 5 for Coldplay

A 5 for Coldplay

5: Linda Ronstadt

5: Rihanna

5: Huey Lewis and the News

5: Maxwell

5: Kenny Loggins

5: Def Leppard

5: Big Daddy Kane

5: REO Speedwagon

5: De La Soul

5: Duran Duran

4: George Michael

5: The Eurythmics

4: Katy Perry

4: Rick James

4: Lou Rawls

4: Foreigner

4: Dionne Warwick

4: Bryan Adams

A 4 for Bryan Adams

A 4 for Bryan Adams

4: Busta Rhymes

4: Gloria Estefan

4: Eurythmics

4: Britney Spears

4: Humble Pie

4: Billy Idol

4: Digable Planets

4: Pink

4: Erykah Badu

4: Missy Elliott

4: Tim McGraw

4: Arrested Development

4. Mary J. Blige

4: Christina Aguilera

4: Slick Rick

4: TLC

4: Aaron Neville

4: Morrissey

4: Scarface

4: The Pointer Sisters

4: Pat Benatar

3: Rick Springfield

3: Train

3: Kendrick Lamar

3: James Ingram

3: Black Sheep

3: Goo Goo Dolls

3: Bette Midler

3: Bell Biv DeVoe

A 3 for DeBarge

A 3 for DeBarge

3: DeBarge

3: Wiz Khalifa

3: Christopher Cross

3: Naughty by Nature

3: Ellie Goulding

3: Stray Cats

3: Justin Bieber

3: Kid Rock

3: Air Supply

3: Ed Sheeran

3: Menudo

3: Jodeci

3: Michael Bolton

3: 50 Cent

3: Captain & Tennille

3: T.I.

3: Toni Braxton

3: New Kids on the Block

2: Sheena Easton

2: Peabo Bryson

2: Maroon 5

2: Soul Asylum

2: Nicki Minaj

2: Jody Watley

2. Backstreet Boys

2: One Direction

2: Keith Sweat

2: DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince

2. The Verve

2: Dead Milkmen

2: Ashford and Simpson

Faith Hill with the 2

Faith Hill with the 2

2: Tears for Fears

2: ‘N Sync

2: Drake

2: Blind Melon

2: DMX

2: Brian McKnight

2: Faith Hill

2: Live

2: Aaliyah

2: Dru Hill

2: Meghan Trainor

2: P.M. Dawn

2: a-ha

2. Ziggy Marley

2: Shania Twain

2: Faith Evans

2: Ted Nugent

2: Survivor

2: Paul Young

2: Tony! Toni! Tone!

2: Eric Carmen

2: MC Hammer

2: Matchbox Twenty

2: The Weeknd

2: Billy Ocean

2: Wilson Phillips

2: Smash Mouth

2: Vanilla Ice

2: UB40

2: Sinead O’Connor

2: SWV

2: The Osmonds

2: Paula Abdul

2: Wreckx-n-Effect

2: K-Ci & JoJo

2: Roxette

The Osmonds land a 2

The Osmonds with the 2

1: Tesla

1: Brandy

1: Demi Lovato

1: Joe

1: Hozier

1: Digital Underground

1: Poison

1: The Fat Boys

1: Savage Garden

1: 4 Non Blondes

1: Marc Anthony

1: Skid Row

1: Macy Gray

1: Lonestar

Damn Yankees with the 1

Damn Yankees with the 1

1: Damn Yankees

1: Tag Team

1: Taylor Dayne

1: Nelson

1: Nickelback

1: Blink 182

1: Kiki Dee

1: Creed

1: 3 Doors Down

1: Musical Youth


1: Teena Marie

1: Sugar Ray

1: Extreme

1: Kid ‘N Play

1: Snow

1: Debbie Gibson

1: Spin Doctors

1: Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam

1: Ariana Grande

1: Five Seconds of Summer

1: Ricky Martin

0: H-Town

0: Tiffany

0: Wee Papa Girl Rappers

0: O-Town

0: 98 Degrees

0: Aaron Carter

0: Eddie Murphy

0: Charlie Puth

0: Tyga

Tyga holds up the rear

Tyga holds up the rear

My NBA Draft dreams …

Alain Nana-Sinkam. Played basketball at Delaware. But lacked my draft status.

Alain Nana-Sinkam. Played basketball at Delaware. But lacked my draft status.

So the Philadelphia 76ers won the NBA lottery tonight, meaning they’ll somehow select a defensive-minded 7-footer with asthma and a club foot. Which, truly, matters not. Because when I think of the Draft, I’m not pondering 2016 or 2006 or even 1996. I don’t care who the Sixers select No. 1, who the Lakers grab No. 2, who the Celtics add No. 3.

Nope, I’m all about 1993.

Yup, 1993. That was the year when a 6-foot-2 junior forward from the University of Delaware declared himself eligible for the NBA Draft. The kid averaged about eight points, 12 rebounds and four blocks per game. His athleticism was pretty poor, his speed mediocre. He didn’t see the floor well, didn’t pass well, didn’t dunk.

His name: Jeff Pearlman

I digress. Two years earlier, while working as an assistant sports editor at the student newspaper, The Review, I had a conversation with Alain Nana-Sinkham, the sports editor and a former reserve forward for the Blue Hens. Alain was toying with the idea of applying for the NBA Draft as a stunt; to see what would happen were he to write the league a letter giving up his eligibility. I absolute LOVED it—and loved it even more when Alain graduated without ever having taken the needed steps.

Hence, in 1993 I sent the NBA a note—My name is Jeff Pearlman. I’m a junior forward at Delaware, and I’m planning on entering your upcoming draft. Blah, blah. And here’s the beauty of it: There was no lying. I was, indeed, a junior forward at Delaware—starting forward for Edna’s Edibles, intramural runner-ups. Our mighty front line of Dan Monaghan-Paul Duer-Pearlman was one of the league’s elites. So, yeah, I was ready for a new level of competition. Bring it.

Anyhow, the letter was sent off into the world with few realistic hopes of anything transpiring. But then, a few weeks later, I arrived back at the Christiana Towers pad to this sentence from Paul Hannsen, my roommate: “Pearl, you got something from the NBA.” WHAT? I opened the envelope and there, on league letterhead, was a notice that, as of the stated date, I was forgoing any remaining eligibility. Which, after much prayer and deliberation, I was quite OK with.

A couple of days later, I was back home at my parents’ house in Mahopac, N.Y. The phone rang. It was someone from the NBA with a pretty direct question: “Who are you?”

“Well, I feel like taking my talent to the NBA …”

The draft came. A Delaware player was selected. Sadly, his name was Spencer Dunkley. There would be no contract for me; no free-agent camp invite; no Air Pearl Jams; no Gatorade commercials.

Three years later, however, it all paid off.

The saga of my draft exploits ran as a freelance story in Sports Illustrated. It was my first piece in the magazine.

I was hired four months later.

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Na’il Diggs

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I know many professional athletes, and a solid 78.7 percent are unable to break from the death grip of cliche.

You ask a question, they reply in the mindless language of men and women taught to speak while saying nothing of consequence. They’re happy to be here. They just wanna help. They’re blessed by the lord above. Blah, blah, blah.

Na’il Diggs, the former standout NFL linebacker and my fellow Southern California resident, is anything but your common jock. First, he’s insightful. Second, he’s honest. Third, he goes deep. Like, really deep. About life and death, highs and lows, tackling quarterbacks and tackling depression. I first spoke with Na’il about a year ago, while reporting my upcoming Brett Favre biography, and he was terrific. Then, a few months back, he kindly attended my journalism class at Chapman University. Another terrific experience.

Na’il lives in San Diego, where he coaches youth football, co-hosts the Chargers’ NBC Football Night telecast and blogs (beautifully) here. One can follow Na’il on Twitter and not go wrong. He’s a true gem. This week Na’il explains the rockiness of life after the NFL, when one gazes into the mirror and thinks, “What now?” He also tells you what it feels like to absorb the worst blow, why NFL players are slabs of meat and how my teeth are destined to rot.

Na’il Diggs was No. 59 on the Green Bay Packers.

He’s No. 1 (well, No. 258) with the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Na’il, much has been written and discussed through the recent years of the impact head injuries are having on retired NFL players. It’s certainly a huge issue, but here’s what I want to request: Can you explain the social difficulties athletes face when they retire? The adjustment to the “real world”? No more Superman cape, no more screaming fans. Because it strikes me as potentially brutal—and somewhat overlooked.

NA’IL DIGGS: It’s interesting you use the Superman analogy. Do you know Superman’s greatest strength? Its not his laser beaming eyes or his superhuman strength. It’s his alter ego, Clark Kent. His disguise is his greatest asset because he can be perceived as someone who is “normal” in the world.  Unlike Clark Kent, pro athletes do not have the luxury of being someone else after we remove our proverbial capes. We don’t have a normal job that we can walk right into and be someone other than who we were perceived as. As a professional athlete, transitioning from his or her professional career is sometimes the most difficult opponent we’ve ever had to face.

In my 12 NFL seasons as linebacker, I’ve had to tackle running backs like Brandon Jacobs, Jerome Bettis and Adrian Peterson. But I had the time to prepare and practice for those challenges. None of them prepared me for the challenge of transitioning from my NFL career.

In addition to the peaks and valleys of reinventing oneself, like a lot of former NFL players, I suffer from memory and speech impairments from playing linebacker in the NFL for 12 seasons. After being retired for nearly five years, transitioning is still an ongoing process and struggle for me. Sometimes I feel like my mind is so scrambled that even if I were doing something I loved, I’m not sure I could enjoy it. Take my NFL career for instance. Toward the end, I did not enjoying playing the game any more. The fan interaction, the attention and playing against my peers was great all the way through to my last game against the Oakland Raiders on January 2, 2012, but keeping my body and mind together became too cumbersome and an overwhelming struggle. Recently, I remember watching the movie “Concussion” and feeling so sad by the events that happened to my NFL brothers. I felt a sense of despair because even as graphic as the movie was, I’m sure its impossible to relay what really occurred in those men’s life. The mental conditions that former and current players are experiencing are very real.

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J.P.: What does it feel like to be absolutely laid out? Like, to take a blow like 99.9 percent of people reading this will never take? And do you recall the worst hit of your career? What/when was it?

N.D.: There’s a laundry list of hits that I can vividly recall, but I definitely have one at the top of that list. The year was 2009, I was playing for the Carolina Panthers and we were playing the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome. I was on punt team and we were punting the ball to the Falcons. The ball was snapped, the Falcons came with an all-out rush and blocked the punt from a few gaps away. When I heard the double thud of the punter’s foot hit the ball and then the ball hitting the defender’s hand, I immediately looked up to locate the ball. As I did, I saw a Falcons defender catching the ball 10 years in front of me so I then had to become the tackler. As I went in for the tackle, I wrapped my arms around the ball carrier and began to drag him down, but right then I felt this excruciating pain on the left side of my ribs. I winced as I brought the ball carrier down. I could not breathe, I could not move and it felt like I was hit by an f-ing car. The crowd noise dissipated and I rolled off the player onto my back and laid still on the ground, grabbing my left side. After the trainers came to help me off the field to the onsite X-ray lab. I learned I had three fractured ribs and fluid was building up in my lungs. We lost that game. After watching the game film I saw that I was speared with my own teammate’s helmet. He was intending to help with the tackle but ducked his head and hit me instead. We call that “friendly fire” and it hurt like hell.

J.P.: I know a lot of  professional athletes who, at some point, come to the realization that, to the organizations, they’re mere pieces of meat. But I wonder: A. Is this actually true, from your experiences? B. If so, when does one realize such? C. How does the knowledge impact one’s loyalty to a franchise and/or owner?

N.D.: First, to answer Part A, in my experience, the feeling of cattle herding lessened after the NFL Scouting Combine. But the reality that I was expendable grew exponentially. We are commodities. Although some organizations treated me better than others—I was still just cattle. If you examine what we do, strip away the fancy uniforms, the cool shoes and the spectacle of television, football starts to resemble gladiators in Ancient Rome.

Second, Part B: I realized I was just a number at the NFL Combine. The NFL Combine is a close No. 2 behind training camp in my personal battle for my least-favorite times in the NFL. I completely and totally despise the Combine! I have never felt so demeaned in my life. It felt as though I was an 18th-century slave. No chains and whips, but very demeaning nonetheless. I remember being given a number and carted through a series of meetings, tests, interviews and physicals. Not the turn-your-head-and-cough physical, but a poking-tugging-prodding-of-every-single-joint physical. The medical staffs of all 32 teams get to examine you … and don’t let them find something! You’ll be there all day and night doing multiple tests until they’re done. The stringent procedures mimics a meat company’s process (minus the steel rod being shot into our skulls) in many ways. On top of all that shit, we have to navigate back to our hotel rooms through a lobby full of media and financial advisors salivating for a chance to help “advise” us with our money we haven’t earned yet.

Finally, Part C of your question: The impact becomes very apparent at a certain age. There’s a point in a player’s career when the lights turn on and you see behind the glitz and glamour of all the accolades and fame that have distracted you before. Your attention begins to focus. The static disappears and you realize what this game and these wealthy franchises are made of. It becomes obvious that it’s made of the blood, sweat and tears of the men who wore the same jerseys and lockers before us. That’s the point when I learned that I need to get what I can and get the hell out as healthy as possible. Playing for Carolina was the shot across the bow for me. The game just felt different after I left Green Bay. That’s when I started awakening from the dream.

J.P.: You have one of the most astonishing—and heartbreaking—backstories of any person I’ve ever known. You were born and raised in Glendale, Arizona, but moved to South Central LA when at age 14, your mother died. You were rescued, if that’s the right word, by an older sister, Roslyn, who took you in. Na’il—I know I’m butchering this story. Can you please tell what happened to you as a boy?

N.D.: I was raised in a white, middle-class city called Glendale, Arizona, which is a suburb of Phoenix. It currently houses the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium. When I was living in Glendale, there was nothing but desert where that stadium sits now. When I was 14-years old my mother suddenly passed away from a brain aneurysm and was instantly brain dead. I was in Los Angeles visiting my sister, Roslyn, for the summer. I would go there to give my mom a little reprieve for a month or two during the summer, plus it was too damn hot in Phoenix. I vividly remember hearing my sister get the early morning phone call. I was sleeping on a pullout sofa right by the kitchen in the living room. I had an eerie feeling in my gut. I remember having this overwhelming feeling of fear and helplessness as I heard my sister begin to weep and cry, “Nooo.” There aren’t too many things in this world that could make my sister react that way.

Soon after the funeral, I permanently moved with my sister and her two daughters, along with her husband and his two kids, to South Central Los Angeles. Life completely flipped upside down. I went from white suburbs to South Central LA; from all white friends to all black friends; from being the lone child to one of four. With the school year quickly approaching, my sister enrolled me in the nearest school, Dorsey High School. At this time, I was disinterested in sports and was in a bit of a fog—I was depressed. She encouraged me to play football again because she realized I needed some sort of an emotional outlet. Plus, college was expensive and she wasn’t going to be able to all of a sudden save to afford four years of college in three years. That didn’t leave her with much time with me, so she badgered me about my grades and persisted to chaperone me as much as she could to make sure I wasn’t derailed from the goal. She made sure I would come home after my high school job at Mel’s Fish Market instead of going to hang out with friends. I still hung out a little, though. I didn’t much care at the time but Dorsey was—and still is—one the best high schools in Los Angeles for producing NFL players. I commend her because somehow in a few months’ time, she put a 14-year-old boy, who just lost his mother, in the right positions to sprout his wings and fly. And so that’s exactly what I did.

After an eventful journey through high school and somehow evading the allure of the neighborhood (being shot, gangs and drugs), I earned a full scholarship to pretty much any college in America. I chose The Ohio State University and never looked back. For a more on this story, you can read a post on my blog that I titled, “The Rose Grew From Concrete.”

Pursing Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez.

Pursing Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez.

J.P.: What was your mother like? Who was she?

N.D.: My mother was strict but loving. What I remember most is that she always had me playing a sport. Whether it was track and field, football or baseball, I never had much time to goof around. But I always seemed to find a little trouble to get into from time to time. She was divorced from my father when I was too young to remember and raised me the best she knew how. She was considered “older” when she gave birth to me at the age of 37. I was the last of four, the youngest by 14 years, so I was the only one in the house growing up. I had plenty of time to get into a little mischief because she worked nights as a live-in nurse for elderly persons. Although, I was the last to be in the house, I didn’t get as much attention as a single child normally would. She worked her tail off to keep the lights on, food on the table and a roof over our heads. I didn’t get all the new style clothes and shoes my friends had, but that was the way it was. That’s all I knew. Sometimes we would have to go to the county line to get some block cheese, powdered milk and bread because she didn’t have enough to get groceries. We moved a lot and I changed schools quite a bit as well. Because she worked nights, I would come home from school and I was responsible for doing my homework, completing chores and making myself dinner. I wouldn’t always complete those tasks and when I didn’t, I got an early wake up call. She would make me get up, when she got home from work, to complete my chores that I neglected, such as washing the dishes or taking out the trash. Once, I remember damn near falling asleep at the sink washing dishes in the dark hours of the morning. Whether she knew it or not, she taught me the daunting value of responsibility. In a way she still lives through me. To this day, I am on top of my chores and I can’t stand a messy room or house. Yes!! My kitchen sink is clean and free of dishes every night before I go to bed. From her few-and-carefully-selected friends to her tutelage of discipline, what she instilled in me still has everlasting impact in my life.

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J.P.: A couple of weeks ago Ryan Grant Skyped with my Chapman University class, and he talked about life at Notre Dame, and how at the same time he was playing big-time college football at a storied university, he didn’t have enough money to eat. He considers the whole thing a messed-up system; yes, athletes get scholarships and perks, but they can’t have jobs, can’t sell autographs, give away their likeness and name usage for life. His conclusion: Athletes absolutely need to be paid. What about you? How do you feel about it? Is the NCAA duping athletes? Or can the argument be made that, hey, you’re getting scholarships and amazing opportunities?

N.D.: When I hear the arguments from the college’s administration and faculty members, who make up the NCAA committee, it’s apparent that they feel as though the educational value of the full-ride scholarship they are giving the student-athlete is significant compensation. Which is true—these universities are shelling out a substantial amount of ‘virtual’ money for their scholarship student-athletes to attend their respective universities. Just ask the parents of a non-scholarship student and they’ll confirm that college tuition takes years of saving and enormous amounts of student loans to afford; this country’s climbing student loan debt serves as proof.

But these schools are profiting far more than that scholarship is worth monetarily—through TV deals, bowl game sponsorships, ticket sales, concessions and jersey sales. It’s easy to lose focus on the business of college sports because we enjoy watching these innocent young athletes compete. It’s such a staple in the American way of life that we forget why these collegiate sports even exist. These schools carry these sports programs to make money. There’s no mistake about it—for most universities, the major sports like football, basketball and baseball generate the revenue necessary to build new campus facilities, pay coaches salaries and bonuses and pay for the multi-million dollar stadium expansion projects these schools continually fund to attract more and better athletes that will bring in more and more revenues. This business model sounds a lot like one of a pro sports franchise.

There is a more prevalent problem that underlies not allowing full-ride athletes compensation. By not paying these scholarship athletes to work, you are greatly increasing their susceptibility to having financial mismanagement issues in the future. They haven’t worked so they don’t have as much exposure to earn a check, save and allocate for bills, etc. The best chance for these student-athletes to learn is from their parents, who, unfortunately, often were also not taught these basic principles. Whether it’s a lacrosse player who is going to work at a tech company or an NFL player being drafted. These post-college athletes will be equally faced with the same daunting, sometimes financially fatal, task of learning the importance of basic financial management. The difference in magnitude is the lacrosse player will be making what 99 percent of the world earns. Meanwhile, the NFLer is possibly making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Asking a 22-year-old to manage that drastic change in the quality of life can be overwhelming. I know it was for me. The tools and experience they failed to learn are a result of ignorance by the institutions coupled with a failed capitalistic business model we call college education.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your NFL career? Lowest?

N.D.: My greatest moment was getting drafted into the NFL. It was a longtime dream come true. I was so naive and terrified but excited at the same time. More than getting drafted, the lessons I learned during that draft process and during my career were profound. I learned about fife, what trust really means, how to persevere through failure and how to handle success. Preparing weekly to play at that level took a tremendous amount of willpower and belief in myself. Learning what the mind and body are capable of was an exquisite realization to someone who thought himself to be indestructible. It’s one thing to be told that you can play in the pros, but it’s an entirely different animal doing it. I am extremely proud of my accomplishments and what I was able to achieve.

My lowest point is experiencing the post-career symptoms I feel on a daily basis. Every day I am hunted by the paradox of wishing I was not so reckless and careless with my body, but then again that is what made me valuable in such a physically brutalizing, gladiator sport. I suffer from memory and speech impairments from playing linebacker in the NFL for 12 seasons. It is not apparent in my everyday interactions with people but I definitely feel things are a little off at times. After being retired for nearly five years, transitioning is still an ongoing process and struggle for me. Sometimes I feel like my mind is so scrambled that even if I were doing something I loved, I’m not sure I could enjoy it. Take my NFL career for instance. Toward the end, I did not enjoying playing the game anymore. The fan interaction, the attention and playing against my peers was great all the way through to my last game against the Oakland Raiders on January 2, 2012, but keeping my body and mind together became too cumbersome and an overwhelming struggle. Recently, I remember watching the movie “Concussion” and feeling so sad by the events that happened to my NFL brothers. I felt a sense of despair because even as graphic as the movie was, I’m sure it’s impossible to relay what really occurred in the lives of those men . The mental conditions that former and current players are experiencing are very real.

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J.P.: As you know, I’m working on a Brett Favre biography. And one thing that stands out is, especially late in his career, Favre was definitely treated differently than other players. Separate changing area, separate parking area, better food, etc. And we, in the media, jump all over this stuff. My question to you: Does it matter in the locker room? Does that sort of thing cause dissension, or do few care?

N.D.: When I was with Brett at the Packers, I never really cared that he had his own accommodations. I didn’t care about why he wouldn’t shower with everyone else. It never really bother me. I suppose it depends on who you ask, though. I recognize that it did bother some of the other teammates but what could you say—that was Brett Favre. I justified his private parking and security detail to just being “big time.” I feel like Michael Jordan and other sports icons had special privileges, too. It makes sense that when he went to other teams, where he had no legacy or history, they regarded his behavior as a show of arrogance and isolation.

J.P.: Along those lines, after the whole Vikings-Saints Bountygate game, much was made of the evilness of paying players, trying to injure opponents, etc. But it seems like the general reaction—like, below the surface—was a big “meh.” Like, “Meh, this sort of thing happens ALL around the NFL.” Na’il, from your experiences—true? False? And did you ever take money or a prize for hurting someone?

N.D.: Yes, it’s true. There were bounties in the NFL. But it depended on which team I was playing for. Some defensive coordinators did it and some did not. Most of the time it was up to the veteran players to get it organized. It didn’t always involve money either. Sometimes it was just a medal or a championship boxing title belt or boxing glove for the hardest hit in the game. The winners on defense ranged from sack leaders, quarterback hits, caused fumbles, interceptions, etc. The offense had rewards as well for knockdown blocks or “pancakes.” I never heard of or took part in any sort if bounty that had to do with taking a guy out of the game or purposefully injuring an opponent. I’m not too sure if guys I played with would go so far as to take a guy out, but I’m sure there are stories out there of that happening.

J.P.: I live in a place where parents are nutso over sports. Many want their kids to become pro athletes, so they sign them up for multiple leagues, hire private coaches, force them to choose one when they’re, oh, 8 or 9. Do you think there’s some validity to this? Like, is it wise? And do you think those years in pro sports is worth the struggle?

N.D.: I personally have a problem with parents that who through their kids. I imagine that it is hard on the kid to endure when he can’t be who or what he/she wants to be. It’s sad because the parents identify with a version of themselves in their children and get so psychologically fixated with nostalgia that they really think they are their kids in a sick, funny kind of way. The parents try so hard to make up for some lack in their lives.

I’ve come to the conclusion that playing pro sports is a matter of timing, luck and God-given ability. Most of the time, the best player doesn’t make it for a lack of one of those three things. I played with guys who had far greater talent than I had, and for whatever reason, they didn’t reach it to college, much less the pros. When I was young, I wasn’t trying to go play in the NFL, I was just trying to go out and kick ass, have fun and be great at football.

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• Rank in order (favorite to least): Duce Staley, Nathan’s French fries, gorgonzola turkey sliders, Barry Manilow, the iPad, hamsters, Dexys Midnight Runners, Wrigley Field, Stairway to Heaven, REO Speedwagon, denim, Chris Farley: Duce Staley, Nathan’s French Fries, iPad, Turkey Sliders, Wrigley Field, Chris Farley, Stairway to Heaven, Barry Manilow, Denim, Hamsters, REO Speedwagon, Dexys Midnight Runners

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, I have my pilot’s license and have never felt a real threat of death. I am super comfortable with flying and being in the air. Well, maybe the time I flew in the backseat of an F-18 Hornet. I never knew a plane could do that. I blacked out six times!

• In 18 words, make a case for Tim Tebow’s Hall of Fame candidacy: Uhhh … ummmm … people like him?? [shoulders shrug with fake smiley face]

• Is twirling a sport?: Sure. As long as it’s with flaming objects in the dark or with nunchucks.

Celine Dion calls and offers you $3 million to be her Las Vegas personal trainer for the next two years. She demands loyalty, decency and that every single workout includes you repeating the mantra, “Celine means love … Celine means love.” You in?: Hell Yeah!! I’ll have her ripped up.

• Should marijuana be legalized?: Yes, I think it could really help people with severe pain and certain mood disorders.

• Five reasons one should make San Diego his/her next vacation destination?: 1. It is truly America’s Finest City; 2. San Diego Zoo; 3 Legoland; 4. The consistently beautiful weather; 5. Gaslamp District

• The greatest meal you ever had was where?: Although I don’t eat beef anymore—a medium-well filet mignon with a side of lobster mashed potatoes from Mastro’s Steakhose in Scottsdale, Arizona is by far the absolute best meal I have ever had. If I was headed to the electric chair tomorrow, that would be my last meal.

• I love soda. Love, love, love soda. Am I damned to rotting teeth and hell?: Definitely the former.

• We can get you your own ESPN show right now, but you have to sit across a table screaming at people for an hour. You in?: No. That just isn’t my personality and frankly drives me crazy! Listening to shows like that raises my blood pressure and gives me road rage.

Showtime Book
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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life