Damar Hamlin’s Story Is About More Than An NFL PR Campaign
2:16 PM EST on January 10, 2023
Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about white chocolate, online dating, Coach Prime, Paris, and more.
I’m a Bills fan, and I’ve been taking in the Damar Hamlin situation. It’s been emotional to say the least. I’m listening to Buffalo sports radio, and the hosts are choking up, in tears, understandably so. So was I. At one point, I realized, these guys were just living in their emotions, not couching it in something else or making excuses for it. This is progress, right? I’m your age, and I’ve always been a crier. I once had a boss tell me not to run from crying and just embrace the emotion. That helped. I think guys are trending this way, and I think it’s a good thing. I mean, if the cesspool of sports talk radio can evolve, there’s hope. Right?
There is. I’m so used to how the NFL operates—and so used to them either ignoring anything unpleasant or shoehorning it into whatever feel-good narrative template that Roger Goodell can send out to his employees in a PDF—that I have a hard time distinguishing when a feel-good story really is that, when it’s been manufactured from whole cloth, and when it’s a bit more complicated than that. The Damar Hamlin story is very much in that third category. He could have died on that field. He could have been comatose forever, with the NFL ramming its playoff schedule down everyone’s throat regardless of that fact. Instead, he woke up. He FaceTimed with his teammates and fired off a few tweets that were miraculous in their banality. His teammate, Nyheim Hines, returned not one, but two kickoffs for touchdowns in an age where kickoff returns no longer exist. And his quarterback, Josh Allen, spent the postgame presser talking, with 100-percent earnestness, about how Hines’s opening touchdown return made him believe in God.
It’s hard to watch this story go from terrifying to life-affirming without suspecting that some brand wizard behind a gaudy curtain was in charge of making it so. It’s especially hard for me, given that I have to put my Journalist Hat on for this kind of story, and given that I, like Hamlin, also collapsed and nearly died once upon a time. Surviving that trauma left me with an innate, seething hatred of cynicism, of ironic LOLs, and of an online culture that treats pessimism as morally correct and optimism as the exclusive domain of corny suckers and wealthy shitheads. So how am I supposed to feel, personally and professionally, when the NFL is out there harvesting a PR windfall after Hamlin had the good fortune to survive his cardiac arrest?
Well, here’s how I feel: I don’t like it when the league paints special designs on the field for Hamlin (the same way they did for BLM) and issues "Love For Damar" shirts to every employee who might be near a television camera. I don’t like that the Bills and the league guaranteeing Hamlin’s contract and granting him his pension a year before he’s technically eligible is being lauded as some grand form of altruism when NFL players, on the whole, and underpaid and under-resourced. And I won’t like the car wash of praise that awaits a cadre of people involved in this story who either had nothing to do with Hamlin’s rescue, or were indifferent to the potential impact of him never waking up.
But I also, thanks to my own accident, possess a keen awareness of what real love looks like and what it compels people to do. That is, I know when people aren’t faking it. Josh Allen wasn’t faking it. His coaches, teammates, and trainers weren’t faking it. Even the majority of people on TV weren’t faking it, and TV people are barely human. Hamlin's recovery has been, at its core, a feel-good story, and the good feelings have come from a real place. I saw Allen cry on that podium, and I saw so much genuine concern and affection out there in the wake of Hamlin’s ordeal that I felt good, on a deeply human level, about all of it. Also the Pats got eliminated from the playoffs, which only made it cooler.
It’s true that Damar Hamlin almost died while playing football (and because of it). It's true that he may never play again or fully physically recover. It’s true that Hines returning two kicks for TDs does nothing to change any of that. But it’s also true that Hamlin's recovery and the game that followed it MATTERED, on an elemental level, to the people who were most affected by last week's tragedy. Who am I to say that Josh Allen, or anyone else for that matter, shouldn't be moved by what he saw on the field on Sunday? His feelings, his fellow players' feelings, and the feelings Hamlin felt while watching the game from his hospital bed—those are all worth celebrating, not with a T-shirt or a commemorative hashtag, but internally: in your soul, where your joy can’t be sold out to the highest bidder.
I just finished reading Heat 2 and had the idea of the movie version (already in progress) in my head the whole time. I have many thoughts/questions about how Mann will adapt it, but my main question is about casting. Pacino reportedly said he'd like to see Timothee Chalamet in his role, which I cannot wrap my mind around. So: who would you cast for the main roles?
I’ve seen Chalamet in enough movies to know that he’s legit, so even though he doesn’t look like the edgiest, most coked-addled homicide detective in all of Los Angeles, I’m sure he’d nail the role anyway. I used to do the whole guy thing where you’re like All of these actors today are scrawny little brats! Whatever happened to REAL movie stars like Anthony Quinn?! I am now old and wise enough to know that those brats tend to grow into credible men, just like all boys do. That said, if I were the casting agent for Heat 2, I’d cast Tom Hardy as McCauley, John David Washington as Hanna, and Adam Driver as Wardell. This is because I cast those men in pretty much every story that comes into contact with my mind. Even Pride & Prejudice.
Do you think white chocolate deserves to be classified as chocolate? I was given some white chocolate over the holidays, and it reminded me how disgusting it is. It’s bland and sweet and waxy. White chocolate is the Ed Sheeran of chocolates. I love both milk and dark chocolate, and I'm not picky. But white chocolate is something else entirely. Should white chocolate be demoted from the category altogether?
No, but only for lack of a better term. What else can I call white chocolate if I can’t call it that? Fondant? Hard frosting? Sugar planks? Jason Williams ganache? I’ve hit a linguistic wall, and I’m too lazy to think up an alternative term for white chocolate to make it more palatable to the foodie population. So I’m fine to keep everything the way it is. A shocking take from a father of three, but there you have it. White chocolate contains cocoa butter, and you use it in candy the same way you’d use real chocolate. That’s good enough for me.
More importantly, white chocolate is good when it knows its place. Like if you offered me a ladle of hot white fudge on top of my ice cream, I’d have you arrested for sex crimes. But white chocolate works perfectly well in Cookies N Crème bars, in Panera’s chocolate duet cookie, and of course in peppermint bark. My wife hates white chocolate and usually makes homemade bark without it. But between you and me, I notice the difference. I don’t know what the white chocolate adds to that stupid bark, but it sure as shit adds something. White chocolate alone is boring, but have it play bass in some other combination dessert and it performs its duties capably.
I've suffered through 2.5 hours of Matt Millen tripping over his own dick (in a Panthers/Saints game, no less), and I'm ready to gouge out my ear drums. I know your take on color guys in general, but is there a worse one in the NFL? I say no. Fuck that guy.
Someone asked that a few weeks ago and my choices were Mark Schlereth and Jonathan Vilma, the latter of whom somehow gets worse with every broadcast. Jonathan Vilma was such a cool player that I have a difficult time hearing him dismantle all of that coolness by going, “George Kittle is a true football player.” Just a brutal three hours I have to endure in his company. Millen is equally insufferable, but I’ve hated him for 30 years AND he nearly died that one time, so I’m nearly immune to his bullshit. Much more annoying when someone new actually tries to EMULATE him.
While we’re here, I have made peace with the color-guy industry. Most of them still suck, but gone are days where I’m like THEY SHOULD LET THESE GUYS SWEAR! All of them have a ginger master to serve, which means that the bulk of their commentary will come in the form of euphemistic code language. Here now is an incomplete glossary of that code language.
“To me, that’s a borderline call.” That call was bullshit and fuck the ref.
“He’s been struggling these last few games.” He sucks.
“I know there’s been a lot of speculation about his future here.” Everyone with a brain wants this asshole gone.
“Not sure about the playcall there.” A fucking jet sweep with your fullback? Are you shitting me?
“You talk to his teammates and they just love the energy he brings to the locker room.” I have nothing all that insightful to say about this guy because he’s a scrub.
“Now the analytics say go for it here.” I hate analytics.
Once you accept the code for what it is, it gets 20 percent less grating on the ears. Please note that I am deaf, so that fact probably helps me in this regard.
Watching a bowl game on FOX and being subjected to commercials for horrible FOX shows that'll be canceled in three months. One of these has Scott Caan in it, and he looks so old now! He's finally starting to actually look like his father. I guess 40 is when he lost all his baby fat. He looks so different!
I noticed him, too! Hard to believe that you can go through puberty at the age of 46, but Scott Caan managed it somehow. Maybe when James Caan died, he transferred all of his grizzled manliness into his little nepo baby. Or, again, maybe I’ve forgotten that actors who look very young and wimpy eventually age into older men. Could go either way. Also, I bet that Fox show that Lil Caan is on is a waste of everyone’s time, even his.
How do we, as super cool Defector subscribers, learn how to market ourselves to online dating sites? I have no idea how to seem cool anymore. Help!
You’re asking a guy who got married before online dating even really existed. My only experience with Tinder etc. is all housed exclusively within my imagination, where I’m forced to seek out a new mate online because I got divorced or because my current wife died of tuberculosis. So I’m not terribly optimistic that I’d be of assistance here.
But I’ll give it a whirl anyway. If it were me out there, I’d keep it extremely straightforward. I wouldn’t bother trying to look cool, because my age and face already makes that impossible. I’d find a nice (and accurate) photo of my current self, offer a few words on what I like (biking, walking, writing, traveling, football) and what I hope to find in another person (I’d hope being with them made me more relaxed and confident, just as my wife does), and then I’d GTFO after that. No lengthy spiels. No annoying self-deprecation. No laundry list of partner requirements that make dating me sound like a job interview. Make life easier for whoever’s on the other side of the equation and they’ll probably appreciate it.
That’s all I got, and it’s probably all wrong. You’re probably better off lying your ass off and then passing off photos of Jane Seymour in her prime as you right now.
Would you rather be a tissue, a napkin, or a paper towel?
A paper towel! Who wants to be a wispy snot repository, or an even wispier form of paper destined for the soiled asscrack of a long-haul trucker? No thank you. I’m Brawnier than that. Make me a paper towel and put me to work: quicker-picker-upping cranberry juice spills, wiping encrusted gunk away from corners, and leaving countertops sparking clean and smooth, like I’m a paper zamboni. Shit, now I’m MAD I’m not a paper towel. I’m just a lowly novelist. I’m no more useful than a discarded shoelace! Horrible.
What do you think the chances are Deion Sanders eventually becomes the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys?
Minimal. Deion’s brand of pious grift is one that’s perfectly suited to college football. In college football, you can get away with being more of a salesman than a strategist. You can survive your recruits growing cynical about your methods because they’ll be gone in four years or less. Not only can you get away with making yourself the star of the team, the setup of college football practically demands it. You can WIN in college football doing all of the tent revival shit that Deion is doing right now. Bobby Bowden did it. Urban Meyer did it. Dabo is currently doing it. But, as you’ve already seen many times, you can’t do likewise in the NFL.
I’m not terribly convinced that NFL teams have learned their lesson about college coaches. But the only college coach on the league’s radar right now is Jim Harbaugh, who’s already proven to be a capable professional coach. None of the others, not even Nick Saban, have a similar NFL track record. So there’s not a ton of incentive for owners to shell out $60 million for some officious prick who’ll flame out in two years max when they can spend half that for the latest Sean McVay clone.
As for the Cowboys, Jerry Jones would be especially averse to hiring Deion because A) he never hires black head coaches, and B) he likes having a head coach that he can shove around. When you’re in Dallas, the Double J is the head con man. Not you. You’re just there to man the getaway car. So Deion’ll win a few small time bowl games at Colorado, and then he’ll go to the SEC and stay there for a billion years. That’s God’s plan for him.
I've long thought it would be funny to start a collection of wrongly matched superstar names on team jerseys. For example, a custom #23 JORDAN Lakers jersey, #12 BRADY Jets jersey, #2 JETER Mets jersey, etc. Seems like it would be appreciated by the right type of person and, more importantly, really antagonize a different type of person. Million dollar idea or dumb as shit?
Dumb as shit. I get the idea, but the novelty would wear off after roughly six seconds and you’d be out a quick $150. Never do shit strictly for the LULZ. In this decade alone, we’ve had an infinite number of awful things happen because some asshole made a troll move that no one else found funny, and then they told themselves OH WOW NOW IT’S EVEN FUNNIER when everyone else told that person they were being annoying. What I’m saying is that owning a Jeter Mets jersey is how Capitol riots end up happening. My logic is unimpeachable.
What's your water or drink bottle situation? Do you have one or two dedicated bottles? Or do you have like 15 and use five? My wife and I have like 15 and only use five, and most of the ones we don't use should probably be gotten rid of because they're only good in a pinch. We probably need to get rid of a bunch of our shit anyway.
My stance on sports bottles has been long established. I don’t take a water bottle with me anywhere I go, because I don’t live in Western Sahara. There is potable water available everywhere, or I can simply wait out the 25 minutes I need to get groceries and come back home to get further hydration. I won’t die of thirst. I’ll be just fine.
I am the only person in my immediate family who believes this. My wife and kids all need to take sports bottles with them wherever they go, even if it’s a minor errand. My wife always asks me if I need one myself, and then I tell her no, and then she gives me the death stare when I take a sip from her bottle in the car. This is what will end up causing me to join Victoria up above in the online dating pool. We don’t need this much goddamn water. I piss too many times a day already.
Let's say you have a lot of money, but aren't an MLB owner. How much would you have to pay an MLB owner to have a single at-bat for their team?
These are some notoriously frugal assholes you’re talking about, but I strongly doubt that even the Ricketts would willingly step into the batter’s box. There are easier way for these fuckers to make an easy buck: ones that don’t involve risking 90 mph heater to the dome. Even cockier owners know their limits. Like if Mark Cuban owned an MLB team (fingers crossed!), he might take batting practice to show everyone that he’s just a regular fan. But a legit at-bat? Mark and his billion dollar penis would never dare to chance it.
If you could pick any website and change its name, what you do with this power?
This one! I’d name it VIKINGS CENTRAL, and every headline would be "Justin Jefferson Is Such A Sweetie."
If that’s not an option, I’d pick YouTube and rename it Your Mom. “Yeah! I saw it on Your Mom!” “Well, did you look it up on Your Mom?” “Stop fucking reading the comments on Your Mom.” That’s gold! People would laugh so hard that they’d put me in charge of Twitter!
Thanks for the rec on the Pompidou Center. Even after we discussed for a while we could not figure out how that painting looks curved on a flat surface! Art! What were your other Paris faves?
Peter just gave me an opening to talk about The Magarys In Paris and I’m gonna take it. For your sake though, I’m not gonna tell you about all of the obvious shit like the D’Orsay, or the Eiffel Tower, or the L’Orangerie, or the crepe stands. You already know that all of that is great, even with the crowd factor involved. Instead, I’m gonna talk about the smaller pleasures that made our trip indelible:
The Metro. It’s always jarring to go to a city outside of the USA and encounter a public transportation option that actually works. We landed in Paris and I was like, “We’re cabbing it downtown. No way I’m dragging our shit onto Metro.” A week later, not only did we Metro it back to the airport, but we also saved the paper tickets as a souvenir. I became a Metro wizard while I was in France. It goes everywhere, and its stations are adorned with ads for exclusively French movies featuring some tastefully stubbled actor in a film called LE CONTEMPLACION or whatever. I loved it. I spit on the DC Metro now. Literally. I will walk onto a red line train, work up a big loogie, hock it onto the floor, and cry out ZIS TREN EES AN OUTRAGE! to all who will listen.
Hearing French police car sirens in the distance and imagining that I’m Jason Bourne and that Interpol is coming after me.
Alleys. Europe has many faults, but where it tops the US definitively is in the quality of its alleys. American alleys are dirty, smelly, and a haven for random knifings. Meanwhile, you peek down a Paris alleyway and hear soft accordion music as a jolly man named Pierre hangs his pantaloons across a clothesline two stories above. You can also find a small market that sells ice cold Orangina.
Airbnb’ing it. You’ve heard this from Airbnb way too many times, but it’s undeniably true that renting an apartment makes you feel way more like you’re part of any place you visit than staying in a hotel does. In a hotel, you’re cloistered away from the locals. You never cook a meal. You never buy groceries. You have no space that feels homey. But if you rent a place (and accidentally wake up your neighbor at 7:00 a.m. on Christmas morning because you were accidentally trying to get into his apartment and not the one you rented), you can get into the rhythm of a city more easily. You know it from the ground. We had a Metro stop just outside our place, and a little grocery store across the street that I ducked into every afternoon. We had a washer but no dryer, instead drying our clothes on a plastic drying rack that was hiding in the closet. By the end of the week, we knew the ins and outs of our little apartment building and how to explore Paris from it. And it cost way less than a Hyatt would have. EVERYBODY WINS … except for that neighbor. He was pissed.
Going to a PSG game. Especially when it’s Mbappe’s first game back after the World Cup and he drills the winning penalty kick in the 96th minute:
I can never go to a DC United game ever again. Not after that.
Why aren’t SUV rear seats built to slide back far more than all of them do? Imagine being able to slide that seat a foot back and ride in immense leg-extended comfort. The only thing I can think of is the seatbelt shoulder anchor needing to move. But that doesn’t seem an insurmountable task to engineer. The rails on the floor could be recessed to not cannibalize cargo space when the seats aren’t slid back.
Minivans, baby. Minivans do things with their seats that SUVS—and your wife—just won’t.
Email of the week!
If someone gave you a high performance car—not a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but a really nice Audi or Mercedes or whatever—how fast would you feel comfortable driving it on the Beltway if they closed it down and let you do a loop? Forget the curvy bit near the Mormon Temple, but on the straightaways. Would you get up to 120 MPH? Maybe hit 100 just to say you did, and then back it off to 85 or so? Floor it and get up to 125-135 before you have to jam the brakes ahead of a curve? On the one hand, you have a family. On the other hand, you have a closed-down Beltway where you've spent years creeping around between 5 and 55 MPH with assholes surrounding you. I think I'd floor it once or twice then just cruise around 95-100 MPH as much as I could. And then try to steal the car afterward, since it's nicer than my Mazda.
No other cars? No five-oh? I floor it. I test drove a $160,000 Audi last year and only let it out for seconds at a time due to both manners and a healthy fear of law enforcement. But cancel out both of those factors? Fuck you I’m doing 150. My kids will be fine.