As the Buccaneers sauntered back to their locker rooms after getting embarrassed by a team that just fired its coach, traded its best player, and started the game with its third-choice quarterback, Mike Evans had a little moment with two officials. Side judge Jeff Lamberth and line judge Tripp Sutter called after Evans, then approached him with a pen and a couple of little papers. Evans spent a second writing, well, something on the paper, before shuffling on. Panthers beat reporter Sheena Quick captured the interaction in two videos and seemed to think Evans was signing an autograph for Lamberth and Sutter.
The collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association explicitly forbids asking players for autographs or memorabilia, for obvious reasons, which prompted the league to conduct a formal investigation. On Tuesday, the league announced that it had wrapped their investigation and cleared Lamberth and Sutter of any illicit autograph-seeking, though it did not do so in a particularly satisfying manner. “After speaking with the individuals involved, we have confirmed that the postgame interaction between Jeff Lamberth, Tripp Sutter, and Mike Evans did not involve a request by the game officials for an autograph,” the statement said, omitting any answer to obvious next question: What was Evans writing? The league refused to say anything when Mike Florio (whom we will come back to) asked them.
Evans was asked about the interaction on Tuesday, and after clarifying that “we’re all human beings” and that Lamberth is “a nice guy,” Evans said he and the two officials were talking about golf. This tracks with what NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported a few minutes after Florio was no-commented by the league, which was that Evans and Lamberth both went to school at Texas A&M, and that Evans wanted to give him his number “to pass it along to a golf pro to give Evans lessons.” Sure, fine, though it’s funny that everyone is being so cagey about this and that it took 48 hours after the video came out to get this out there.
However, one man has not yet relented on his crusade for the truth. Before the NFL’s own reporter published an explanation, Mike Florio was aghast that the league didn’t offer any specifics of the three men’s conversation. “It’s downright Orwellian,” he wrote. “2 + 2 is 5. Even in post-truth America, it’s stunning.” Once an explanation was proffered, Florio raised an eyebrow at the fact that the golf excuse came from within the league’s “owned-and-operated media conglomerate” and wondered: Are we sure the clip shows Evans with enough time to write a full 10-digit phone number on that piece of paper? It sure doesn’t look like it. The stakes are admittedly quite low here, and as righteously as Florio is Just Asking Questions, I think we should not lose focus of the big picture. Which is that the Bucs got the shit kicked out of them by a truly godawful team and scored three points and Tom Brady looks like shit.