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NFL makes big changes to Rooney Rule, but they can still do more

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020
Giddy up! It's Wednesday and I'm back in your kitchen whipping up some sports once again this morning, so rub away those sleepies and get yourself into gear.
A personal quarantine update: Yesterday I ate peanuts out of a can with a spoon so I didn't get my fingers all salty and gross while I was busy playing video games. Genius or pathetically sad? Only you can decide. (I should mention that was the entirety of my lunch.)
By the way, today's a mailbag day, and I believe it marks the first time that the topic of Taylor Swift has entered the chat. I'm stunned it took this long, but I'm happy today's a special day. Thanks to everyone who submitted questions and feedback yesterday, I appreciate you all -- even my own uncle, who emailed me just to express his disappointment in my enjoyment of Miller High Life. (It's a good, cheap mass produced beer and I stand by that.)
The sports are sizzling. Ready to eat?
📰 What you need to know
1. Changing the NFL's Rooney Rule 🏈
If you're a fan of the NFL and its ever-spinning coaching carousel, you're likely familiar with the Rooney Rule - the league policy that instated in 2003 that requires all teams to interview at least one minority candidate for head coaching positions.
The league has been discussing some additions and amendments to the rule lately, including awarding draft pick compensation to teams that hired minority coaches . Yesterday, some changes were announced and, although the discussions around hiring incentives have been tabled for now, the new additions are pretty significant.
Here's a rundown what's being added:
  • Teams will now be required to interview at least two external minority candidates for head coach vacancies (increased from one)
  • Teams will now also be required to interview at least one minority candidate for coordinator vacancies
  • Teams will need to interview at least one external candidate for senior-level front office and executive positions like general manager and team president
  • Teams will no longer be allowed to block assistant coaches from interviewing for coordinator positions with other teams
  • NFL EVP of football operations Troy Vincent: "What the chairman (Art Rooney II) and the commissioner did today and what the ownership voted on today has been a fight for decades to get mobility that has disproportionately affected people of color. Just the ability to get an interview, you don't get hired unless you have an interview. The mobility resolution today was significant [and] historic, because it has been a fight for decades. That's the foundation. Frankly, we would call that the linchpin of these inequalities. With these initiatives, the enhancement of the Rooney Rule which is a tool, it just allows us to have a broader scope of how we look at things."
Our NFL insider Jonathan Jones says that yesterday's changes are a positive step forward for the league and the Rooney Rule, but he also believes the league needs to impose greater punishments for teams that skirt or make a mockery of the rule.
Jones says the incentive proposal was doomed to fail (he doesn't think it will ever get passed) and the league would be smarter to shift its focus because punishment is a greater deterrent than reward.
  • Jones: "What we have seen over the decades, and even still with the passage and strengthening of the Rooney Rule, are teams working the edges of the rule. They check the box and hire who they wish. Minority coaching hopefuls and executives have been telling reporters on and off the record for years about the sham interviews they did or did not take part in...What I believe is missing from Tuesday's developments are greater -- or at least imposed -- punishments. Team owners have learned that they can touch the stove and not get burnt. If some team owners were/are interested in rewarding draft picks for doing the right thing, should they not also be intrigued by stripping draft picks for not doing the right thing?"
Since the Rooney Rule was introduced in 2003, only one team has been punished for working around the rule: the Detroit Lions. They were fined $200,000 for failing to interview any minority candidates that very first year. (Detroit hired Steve Mariucci without interviewing any other candidates.)
By the way, the timing of these changes feels pretty significant, doesn't it? There was some controversy earlier in the offseason when the Browns hired Kevin Stefanski and the Giants hired Joe Judge while Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who many believed to be ready for a head coaching gig, didn't get offered a job.
2. 'Flu Game' pizza maker shoots down MJ's food poisoning claim 🍕
Over the years, there have been plenty of theories around Michael Jordan's infamous "Flu Game" in which he emptied the tank and dropped 38 points on the Utah Jazz in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals despite suffering from flu-like symptoms. Jordan was clearly fighting illness during the game but some have questioned what caused the issues.
While it was branded as the flu game and many assumed Jordan had just gotten sick, others believed Jordan was hungover. Some speculated it was food poisoning. But during this weekend's final installment of "The Last Dance," Jordan himself tried to clear things up: He says he got sick after eating an entire pizza the night before Game 5, and believes the pizza was tampered with because five men allegedly showed up to his hotel room to deliver the pie.

It was never explicitly addressed which Salt Lake City pizza joint was responsible, though Jordan said it was the only place open in Utah at that hour. Now, in the wake of MJ going on the record with the food poisoning claim, a Utah pizza maker has stepped forward to claim responsibility for the pizza, but he says Jordan's story is total BS.
  • Craig Fite, an assistant manager of a Pizza Hut in Park City, Utah, claims to be the person who made and delivered the pizza to Jordan
  • Fite appeared on a Salt Lake City radio show this week and denied tampering with the pizza in any way. He also denied that five people went to Jordan's room to deliver the pizza
  • Fite: "The crap story the guy said, that there was five people, there was two of us -- and I didn't even have that many people working at the time at the store -- but there was two of us... I followed all the rules. At the time I was trying to impress the store manager there. I remember saying this: 'I will make the pizza, because I don't want any of you doing anything to it.' And then I told the driver, you're going to take me there."
Also, for those interested, Fite said Jordan ordered a thin crust pepperoni pizza, which... in my opinion... is a very respectable choice. A true classic.
Which side are you believing here? I could easily see Jordan spicing up the story for dramatic effect in order to increase his own legend. One of my bigger questions is how the pizza place knew the pie was for Jordan. Like, did Jordan and/or his camp call a Utah pizza joint the night before Game 5 and be like, "yeah, this pie is for Michael Jordan. Please don't even think of messing with it, he's got a big game tomorrow?" Come on. And if you were going to mess with it, sending five dudes to deliver it isn't exactly the best way to throw people off the scent.
Then again, I could also see this Pizza Hut guy just jumping at the chance to get some exposure with the "Flu Game" trending. Also, even if he was the guy who was responsible for the pizza that went to Jordan, what is he going to say... "yeah, I put my career on the line in order to literally poison the biggest sports icon of this generation?" Seems pretty bad for business.
In any case, it doesn't really matter now, does it? However it happened, Jordan was still clearly sick that night when he put on a performance for the ages to help the Bulls secure a huge win. That's really all that matters. With that being said, the most important detail that people seem to be ignoring here is that Jordan allegedly SPIT ON THE PIZZA when it was delivered to his hotel room so that no of his pals would eat it. That is some absolutely heinous and psychopathic behavior that we should not let slide. If your friend does this, they're not really your friend.
3. Did LeBron James cause Alex Bregman to drop his agent? ⚾️
It was reported yesterday that Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman had made the decision to drop his agent, Brodie Scoffield. Normally, it's not that big of a deal when an athlete drops an agent/agency in favor of another. It happens.
However, this situation might be juuuuust a little juicier if you take a second to connect some dots -- and those dots seem to suggest that LeBron James may have played a role in Bregman's decision.
  • Scoffield used to run Tidal Sports Group, which was acquired by Klutch Sports Group in April
  • Klutch Sports Group is run by Rich Paul, who is LeBron's agent and good friend
  • LeBron's media company, Uninterrupted Sports, announced last week that it's putting together a docu-series about the Astros' sign-stealing scandal
Now, I suppose this could all be one big coincidence -- Bregman hasn't given a reason for the switch -- but that would be pretty convenient given the timing and circumstances, wouldn't it?
I mean, it stands to reason that Bregman wouldn't want to be connected to Klutch and LeBron when Uninterrupted is in the process of putting together a major project digging into a cheating scandal that features Bregman as one of the key pieces. If you're Bregman's agent, that's something that you probably do your best to prevent, or otherwise you kind of have to expect you're not going to be his agent much longer!
We often hear about LeBron's ability to get coaches fired, but now we have to give him credit for putting agents out of work too? Pretty incredible. It's just too bad Bregman couldn't see this bad break coming. It's almost like he could have used someone looking out for him from the sidelines.
4. Belmont Stakes to serve as first leg of Triple Crown 🏇
We already knew we were going to get an incredibly weird Triple Crown schedule in 2020 thanks to COVID-19, but we're now starting to understand what that schedule will look like -- and, yep, it's super weird!
  • It was announced yesterday that the Belmont Stakes will be held on June 20th and serve as the first leg of the Triple Crown
  • The Belmont usually serves as the final of the three Triple Crown races. This is the first time in history that it will open Triple Crown season
  • The New York Racing Association says the race will be held without fans in attendance
  • The race distance will be 1 1/8 miles rather than the traditional 1 1/2 miles for training purposes
  • NYRA: "The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution that will provide world-class entertainment for sports fans during these challenging times. While this will certainly be a unique running of this historic race, we are grateful to be able to hold the Belmont Stakes in 2020. Thanks to our partners at NBC Sports, fans across the country can look forward to a day of exceptional thoroughbred racing at a time when entertainment and sports are so important to providing a sense of normalcy."
Typically, all three legs of the Triple Crown are held within about a month's time. The Kentucky Derby kicks things off in early May, Preakness is run a few weeks later and then the Belmont Stakes brings it to a close in early June.
However, this year's Triple Crown season will span about five months. The Belmont Stakes will be held in late June and then we'll have to wait until September 5 for the Kentucky Derby, then the Preakness will close it out on October 3.
It's pretty much unprecedented times for just about everyone and everything these days, so it shouldn't be all that shocking that the Triple Crown is being thrown out of whack. But this is a MAJOR deviation from what the horse racing schedule typically looks like, so it will likely present a big challenge for trainers as they get their horses ready for the biggest events on the schedule.
If ever there were an appropriate time for the phrase "hold your horses," this is probably that time.
📝 Odds & ends
Mailbag! 📪
I can't sufficiently judge you on your diet without knowing what you put on your hot dogs. So what, are your ideal toppings on a hot dog? And are you resorting to less than ideal options during quarantine? -Eudora
Great question. I'm open to experimenting and alternating my hot dog toppings, but most often I'll run with ketchup, mustard and relish. (I don't have relish at home right now so lately I've been rocking just ketchup and mustard.) One thing I'll never really understand is how many people seem to look down on putting ketchup on a hot dog. If I had to only pick one topping, I'm going ketchup every time. Hot dogs and ketchup are almost as natural as french fries and ketchup.
Also, for what it's worth... Portillo's hot dogs with the pickle on top? Elite as elite gets.
I see the Ravens have the easiest schedule this year. Based on that alone, do you think they have a good chance to win it all? If not what would hold them back? -Mark
Well, I certainly wouldn't base my answer on the strength of schedule argument alone but, yes, I absolutely believe the Ravens have a good chance of winning the Super Bowl next year. They've got the league MVP at quarterback and a wealth of weapons around him. Hollywood Brown is a stud who should continue to get better and they were able to add some big talent in the draft -- namely JK Dobbins and Devin Duvernay (hook 'em).
If I'm picking one thing to hold them back, it might be inexperience -- especially in the postseason. They're led by a lot of young players who don't have much playoff success on the resume, and getting punked by the Titans at home last year was a bit of a yikes. If Baltimore has to face the Chiefs on the road to the Super Bowl, the experience factor won't be in their favor.
What's your choice on chicken wings? Flavored or just spicy? Blue cheese or ranch? Dry or saucy? -Chris
I'm an equal opportunity employer when it comes to chicken wings -- I'll take 'em any way I can get them. Fried, flavored, spicy, saucy, dry... you name it and I'll eat it. Sometimes it depends on the mood. But I can tell you this: If you challenge me with some sort of "painfully hot" wing, I'm going to accept that challenge every time. Call it morbid curiosity, but I'm willing to subject myself to miserably hot wings just to make sure you're backing up your talk. Also, I just love a good food challenge sometimes.
As for blue cheese or ranch, I don't typically love drowning my wings in either but I prefer ranch there just for the carrots and celery. Also, I prefer flats.
Pete, what professional athlete do you feel like you personally know without actually knowing them? -Dave
Right now? Michael Jordan, considering I've spent more time with him than anyone else during this quarantine. In general? I would probably say Brad Marchand. I'm a Bruins guy and I've spent years paying close attention to Marchand, and we seem to be the same person. We're both short and annoying. We both love talking s--t. We're both either passionately loved or passionately despised. We're both somehow simultaneously the most funny and the least funny person at the place we work. And we both have a noted history of taking off our shirts in Boston bars. He may as well be my brother.
What is your best tailgating memory? -Shane
I'm a huge tailgate guy. Nothing gets me going quicker than some grilled meats, a cold beer and a game of cornhole. That being said, my favorite tailgating memory is an incredibly bizarre one.
A few years ago, a couple of buddies and I went to a Taylor Swift concert -- yes, just three dudes going to see Taylor Swift... you wanna fight about it? -- and we decided to tailgate 1) because tailgating is always a good idea, and 2) I was genuinely curious what the hell a Taylor Swift tailgate would look like.
As it turns out, it mainly looks like a lot of teenage girls and their parents/chaperones, which at first seemed like NOT an ideal crowd for three grown men hanging out in a parking lot. However, our tailgate eventually proved to be a safe haven for scores of dads and boyfriends who were looking to escape to greener pastures. We were their heroes that day. You ever hang out with a bunch of guys who just successfully snuck away from their loved ones to slug beers and play drinking games? Funnest and most happy guys in the world.
And then I got to follow that up by seeing HAIM and Taylor Swift on the "1989" tour. One hell of a day.
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