Jeff Pearlman

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Death of the black widow

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So a few minutes ago, as my dog peed for the final time this evening, I noticed a unique spider in a web outside the house. I flashed my phone on it, and the wife said, “Is that a black widow?”

We did an image search. Yup—black widow.

Shit.

Even though we’ve lived in California for five years, there’s still a lot of nature stuff that confuses me/freaks me out. The occasional snake sighting, for example. Or the regular sounds of coyotes howling as we fall asleep. In New York we’d have skunks and raccoons, but neither species was poisonous or particularly scary.

Black widow spiders? Fucking scary.

So I decided the black widow needed to die. Which brings me no joy, since I usually avoid killing bugs altogether. But these things are poisonous. And dangerous to kids. I returned inside, grabbed one of my sneakers.

“Don’t use that!” Catherine said. “What if the venom gets on the bottom and you spread it.”

I’m not sure that’s possible—but OK. I picked up a cardboard box. “You’re not trapping it, are you?” the wife said.

“What?”

“Trapping it …”

“No.”

I walked outside. Approached the black widow. Took the box and slowly … slowly … slowly …

SLAM!

The black widow is dead.

And I feel guilty.

 

Today I lost my shit on a pickup basketball court

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It’s 4:30 pm.

About six hours ago, I lost my shit on a pickup basketball court.

In my defense, it was hot. And not normal California hot, but humid, with sweat pouring out of 95 percent of my pores. Also in my defense, I’m old (47) and crusty, and within the past year I’ve really noticed a fading in my not-so-impressive-to-begin-with skills. Or, put differently, I’m now a defensive rebounder who plays mediocre defense and gets very few rebounds. So, yeah. That contributed to the orneriness.

Mainly, though I lost my shit because I was placed (by luck of the draw) on the same team as a point guard who dribbles with his head down and rarely passes. Which would be OK were he aware of said deficiencies. But he’s not. He thinks he’s Steve Nash. In fact, when I told him that he needed to dish the ball, he told me he was relying on his “peripheries.”

Yes, his peripheries.

I lost it.

Our team actually won its first game, but the guy was brutal. I’d post up low—no entry pass. Our best player would set up on the wing—no distribution. Wanna-be Nash just dribbled, dribbled, dribbled, dribbled. Into the corner. Into double teams. Against quicker, smarter opponents. He dribbled and dribbled and dribbled and, finally, I lost it.

“Pass the fucking ball!” I screamed.

“You’re not getting open!” he screamed back.

“You wouldn’t know!” I said. “Because you don’t look up. You just keep fucking dribbling. It’s fucking ridiculous!”

That’s when he explained that his “peripheries” were always on.

I didn’t even have a response.

It’s the blessing curse of my pickup games. The blessing: Exercise, some cool guys, sun and air and all.

Curse: Peripheries.

Trying the impossible

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It’s impossible—that I don’t vomit.

I gave up red meat in 2005.

I was 32 at the time, and the wife and I were spending our summer living in the wilderness, where she ran a camp for disadvantaged kids. Many of my days were spent solo, and there wasn’t much around—save Burger King.

I loved Burger King. God, did I loooooove Burger King. In particular, I loved the Whopper, for my money the greatest meat-sauce-vegetable triple threat of all time. I probably averaged, oh, a Whopper per month—not a healthy eating experience, but a blissful one.

One day, however, while the wife was heading the camp, I took a walk to the ol’ BK for a Whopper. And as I approached, I saw something: Smoke. Black smoke, oozing from the chimney. And for some reason, it reminded me of the Holocaust. Then I started thinking about a cow holocaust. Then I started thinking that red meat was unhealthy, and the only red meat I ever ate was Whoppers and those $1.50 New York City street-cart hotdogs.

So, right then and there, I stopped. And in the 14 years that have passed, I only once tried a Whopper. It was probably around 2011, and I just thought, “Eh, for old-time’s sake.” I pulled over, rode through the drive-thru, plunked down my $3, grabbed the sandwich, unwrapped it, chow-chow-chow-chow-chow.

Blech.

It was nasty. The meat fall apart inside my mouth. Like, into little balls. The bun was soggy. My stomach started taking weird punches at my kidneys. It was bad, and I was 100-percent done with Burger King.

Today, however, I returned—wife and son by my side. Much has been made of the meat-free Impossible Burger, so I thought, “Hell, why not?” We entered, paid, sat, ate.

And, at first, it was wonderful. All the glorious bliss of the Whopper returned to my tongue and my soul. The sauce is just otherworldly. The patty tasted exactly like meat. I was home, and so, so, so ready to bring Burger King back into …

Blech.

It’s been three hours, and I’m still burping that shit up.

It’s over. Again.

Andrew Luck was Done Wrong

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Beverly Oden is a Stanford University graduate and former member of the United States Olympic volleyball team. Follow her on Twitter here. Here, she offers her take on the media reporting Andrew Luck’s retirement—before Andrew Luck could.

Thirty five minutes.

That’s how close Andrew Luck was to a completely different ending.

Thirty five measly minutes.

Had he been granted those minutes, he might have continued chatting and laughing with his teammates on the sidelines as the Colts finished up their otherwise uneventful pre-season game against the Bears. Sure, they lost by 10. But Luck would have walked off the field content, able to fully experience being on the field, amongst his teammates, as part of his football team for one final time.

Perhaps when the last few seconds ran off the clock, he would have taken a moment to let it all in. He might have taken a long last look around the stadium, at his teammates, at the staff and the ownership. At everything that had been his life for the last seven seasons.

Maybe he would have shaken hands with the opponents, taken a deep breath and shed a quiet tear knowing what was to come. The guys would gather around him in the locker room, aware of the bombshell news he was about to unleash on the sports world. Maybe he’d say a few emotional words and thank everyone. They’d congratulate him on his career, embrace him, wish him well and promise to stay in touch.

He would have walked out to his car, gone home to his family and prepared for the press conference he scheduled for the next day at 3 pm. He’d be dressed in a suit, with his family in the room and his carefully prepared remarks. It would have been painful, but he’d exit on his own terms and in his own words.

Luck could have been given that last gift as he gut-wrenchingly ended his pro football career. One last taste of normalcy.

But that’s not what happened.

Because 35 minutes before the clock ran out, ESPN’s Adam Schefter decided he needed to break a story. He decided that being first was more important than being a decent human being — even though no other news outlets seemed to even be sniffing this news yet. Luck’s close friends who he’d talked to just the night before didn’t even know. The story likely would have been safe for 35 minutes. And Schefter could have still been the hero and claimed the scoop. And if someone broke it first in an attempt to establish a career, Schefter would have been just fine. He’s made his name. He’d still be employed and on television daily. He didn’t need it.

I get it. Schefter had a job to do and he did it. I worked in journalism for years. I understand the business and the pressure to be first. But this was just cruel.

At the time he broke the story, Schefter said he was at an Italian restaurant celebrating his mother-in-law’s 75th birthday. In those 35 minutes, maybe he could have been mentally and emotionally present with his family for this milestone that will never happen again. Maybe he could have put his arm around his wife while his mother-in-law blew out the candles. Maybe he could have enjoyed his personal moment while allowing Luck to have his.

But it wasn’t to be.

Thirty-five minutes before the end of the game, while Luck shot the breeze and chuckled with teammates, Schefter tweeted. As the news of Luck’s retirement  traveled through the stadium, the fans began to react. They angrily shed their Luck jerseys. They buried their heads in their hands. And yes, some of them booed as he walked off the field for the very last time.

Luck deserved better.

I’m admittedly biased. As a fellow Stanford athlete and long-time football fan, I’ve watched Luck play from the beginning of his collegiate career and all the way through the pros. I don’t know him personally, but I have enormous respect for his talent, his grit, his integrity and the way he has represented our school, his team and himself. Warriors know warriors. By all accounts Luck is just that, respected by teammates and opponents alike.

It breaks my heart that this warrior of an athlete who has given his body and seven years of his life to this sport, this team and these regrettably ungrateful fans, had to walk off the field for the final time to a chorus of boos. That will forever be his last memory of a remarkable football career. And that’s a shame.

At his impromptu press conference, dressed in a “ratty t-shirt” for which he apologized to his mother, he admitted that “it hurt.” Of course it did. Athletes as strong-minded and cerebral as Andrew Luck don’t walk off into the sunset at age 29 if there is any other option. For him to make this decision, and to have clarity about it, shows that none of us knows how unbearable it must have been for him. He talked about being in a dark place. He talked about the difficulty of his four year injury/rehab cycle. He talked about becoming briefly resentful of his back up QB. Every elite athlete, active or long-retired, listening to him speak could viscerally feel his pain. None of this was easy.

The man loved the game of football. He had so much more that he wanted to accomplish and a legacy to solidify. He gave his heart and soul to that organization and what did he get in return? Boos from a bunch of talentless, armchair quarterbacks who neither have the adequate intestinal fortitude to hold Luck’s water nor have the slightest inkling of what it takes to play at that level for all those years in that much pain. It was clearly a heartbreaking decision to walk away.

Shame on you, Colts “fans.”

Shame on you, American sports media.

But most of all, shame on you Adam Schefter. I suspect that in the past seven years, Andrew Luck has been nothing but gracious to you, giving you all the time you needed for interviews and stories as they arose.

You couldn’t even give him 35 minutes.

Shame. On. You.

On the booing of Andrew Luck

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For the eight of you who missed this, earlier tonight it was announced that Andrew Luck, the veteran Colts quarterback, is retiring from the NFL at age 29.

When they learned the news, a good number of Indianapolis fans booed him.

Yes, booed him.

Shame.

Luck arrived in the league as the first overall selection in the 2012 draft, and the ensuing years have been alternating themes of brilliance and pain. That Luck has thrown for 23,671 yards and 171 touchdowns is remarkable when one realizes he missed the entire 2017 season and appeared in only seven games in 2015. The guy just couldn’t catch a break, and the organization hardly helped, routinely placing him behind some of the NFL’s worst lines. He was a pinata, waiting to be demolished.

And yet, no complaints, no gripes, no whines. The guy has been classy, honest, upfront, giving, supportive. He seems to be the rare player who crosses the myriad locker room lines—race, age, class, politics, position. Or, put differently, teammates loved Luck.

When I first saw the boos stream down upon Andrew Luck, I thought about conversations I’ve had with different retired NFL players through the years. Most, if not all, come to the inevitable realization that they are mere pieces of meat. There is no Jets Family or Raiders Family or Chiefs Family or Colts Family. Fan loyalty only lasts as long as you’re performing. The league doesn’t care if you ultimately suffer from collision-induced brain damage and will fight to the death to avoid paying a cent of your medical expenses. The booing of Andrew Luck is shocking in its rawness, but it’s not particularly shocking. Colts fans viewed Luck as you would a possession; a shiny toy purchased at Macy’s. As the guy who tossed 39 touchdown passes last season, he was the King of Indy.

As the guy who walked off the field, a ghost of the promise that once was, he was useless.

Andrew Luck was expired meat.

What’s going on there?

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So most Saturday mornings I play basketball at a nearby outdoor court. I’ve been doing this for about three years, and it’s something I genuinely look forward to. The runs feature an eclectic buffet of players—a bunch of local high school kids, a couple of men in their 60s, some dudes in their 30s who, clearly, were once prep standouts, a few stoners, a guy who sweats like a faucet, another guy whose elbows are sharper than knives. We all know each other by first names and, sometimes, profession. Eric works in a sunglass factory. Kermit is a federal agent. Mark is retired. X just graduated high school.

Anyhow, it’s the best, and earlier today I was about to start my second game when the guy I was guarding approached, smiled, patted by stomach and said, “What’s going on there?”

Argh.

I have a gut. A small gut. But a gut nonetheless. It’s been there for, oh, 15 years—and it just won’t go away. The wife says it’s because of how I stand. Shit posture. But I disagree. It’s a gut. I hate it.

But … nobody wants to hear they have a gut. I grinned, said, “Hey, I’m 47.” And it’s true—I’m 47. Weight sticks at this age. It blows, but it’s true.

Still, I don’t want you to tell me about it.

Especially on the court.

Disloyalty

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Back during my childhood in Putnam County, N.Y., my family was part of a small Jewish congregation named Chavura Beth Chai. It was founded by a handful of families (the Pearlmans included) who wanted to practice spirituality in a comfortable setting with familiar faces and a relatively laid-back approach. For much of my youth our services and Hebrew school were held on the campus of Lincoln Hall, a reform school for boys. We switched rabbis every three or four years, often hiring recently graduated students to lead the congregation. There were probably, oh, 20 kids, and we grew up spending our Sunday mornings together.

I’ve never been a particularly religious person, but the Chavurah was (and still remains) home.

I hadn’t given much thought to my Jewish youth of late, but then—earlier today in Washington—Donald Trump lit into American Jews (who don’t back the GOP), noting, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

Now, I know many were pissed by this. And many others were bewildered by the stupidity of the sentiment. For me, though, I can’t help but think the 45th president (a man who has certainly been exposed to Jews throughout his life) simply doesn’t get us. See, I was raised in the manner many reform and conservative Jews of the 1970s and 1980s were raised—yes, to love Israel, but mainly to love others. To fight for the oppressed. To empathize with the suffering. To realize that being Jewish means having a distant history of enslavement and a modern history of being prejudged, mocked, scorned, belittled. Jews played major roles in the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s because we, too, have fought for our rights and respect. We get it. We feel it.

Also, we are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Holocaust. The stories have been told to us, and we have promised never to forget what it was for Jews to be treated as animals; to be thrown into cages; to die in a struggle to exist.

Were there a recurring theme of my Chavurah experience, it was—love. Love your family. Love your neighbors. Love your enemy. Treat others as you wish to be treated. Feel the pain of another, and seek to lessen it. Hug, Kiss. Smile. Inspire.

Donald Trump assumes we—as a people—are mindless, single-issue lemmings, easily swayed by his bullshit love affair with the grotesque Benjamin Netanyahu. He thinks we’ll line up behind him because he relocated an embassy and ignored the needs of Palestinians.

What he doesn’t get—and will never get—is that we are a religion of the people. We do not exist for Israel.

We exist to love.

The president of the United States ridiculed me in front of thousands of people? Ha Ha! Love the guy!

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The man pictured above is named Frank Dawson.

He is a retired Naval officer who worked many decades as a U.S. marshal.

Last night, at the #MAGA rally in Manchester, N.H., the president of the United States fat shamed Dawson, 64, in front of thousands of people, confusing him for a protester and saying into the microphone, “That guy’s got a serious weight problem. Go home. Start exercising. Get him out of here please. Got a bigger problem than I do. Got a bigger problem than all of us. Now he goes home and his mom says, ‘What the hell have you just done?'”

It was disturbing stuff, both because who is anyone to fat shame anyone, and who is our obese president (in particular) to fat shame anyone?

Anyhow, I was horrified, you were horrified—but Frank Dawson, according to this Fox News clip, was anything but horrified.

This, from the Boston Globe

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Trump later called Dawson, not to apologize but to apparently thank him for ripping away signs from protesters.

Apparently his pride was ripped away, too.

PS: Here’s Dawson at the rally …

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Michigan’s Man of the Year

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In case you missed this one, tonight in a speech in New Hampshire Donald Trump told the attendees that he was once named Michigan’s Man of the Year.

An award that does not exist.

It’s not the first time he’s made such a claim. Back in 2016, according to various outlets, he boasted of being named Michigan’s Man of the Year, and even discussed the accompanying acceptance speech. This, from CNN’s Daniel Dale, is part of what the then-candidate said when recapping his Thank You address to the people of Michigan …

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This.

Never.

Happened.

The 45th president does so many illogical, dishonest things that it’s hard to keep track. He’s said he helped with the recovery after 9.11. Lie. He’s said a Boy Scouts leader called to praise a batshit insane speech to a jamboree. Lie. He cites growth numbers that aren’t real, takes credit for achievements he didn’t achieve. But what gets me with this one—the Michigan award—is he’s just (poof!) making something up that isn’t even slightly real. Like, does he actually think he won Michigan’s Man of the Year and delivered an acceptance speech? Is this merely an extended version of the pretend Time Magazine covers he had hanging in his golf clubs? Is there a difference between a lie and a fact to him?

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One of the things that bothers me most is the double standard we apply to this creature. We teach our children not to bully—then have them attend #MAGA rallies where the president mocks overweight people, disabled people, liberal people. We praise sharing and compassion—then elect the greediest crumb on the globe. We focus on truth—then digest his lies.

Imagine were one of the #MAGA loyalists to apply for a job and place MICHIGAN’S MAN OF THE YEAR beneath the Accomplishments section of a resume. Like, oh, this …

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He would be laughed out of the room. He’d be deemed insane. The people doing the hiring would be telling the story for years. “Remember that crazy dude who said he was Michigan’s Man of the Year. Now that was fucked up …”

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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