Colin Kaepernick spent six years in the N.F.L. displaying his abilities and the three years since his ouster arguing with the league over whether his abilities should still merit him a job.
That dispute was as alive as ever on Saturday evening, when he addressed about 100 reporters and friends at a high school stadium outside Atlanta. He had just held a hastily rearranged tryout in front of a handful of team scouts and tens of thousands of others watching online, a vastly different audience than the N.F.L. had originally planned for.
“We have nothing to hide,” he said in a 90-second speech. “We’re waiting for the 32 owners, the 32 teams, Roger Goodell, all of them to stop running, running from the truth, stop running from the people.” Kaepernick did not take questions from reporters.
The most salient truth appears to include this fact: After all the drama and hype of the past week, Kaepernick and the N.F.L. still do not trust each other. A 32-year old quarterback who has repeatedly said he wants to play football still wants to do so on his own terms in a league that doesn’t take well to such players.
And so Saturday’s fiasco ended with both sides digging their heels in on principles and very few football questions being resolved. The league and Kaepernick bickered over when the tryout would be held, who would videotape it, who could watch it and even the liability waivers he would have to sign.
Then, at the 11th hour, with two dozen scouts waiting for the quarterback at the Falcons facility an hour north of Atlanta, Kaepernick announced he would hold his own workout an hour’s drive in the opposite direction.
The details of the take-it-or-leave-it tryout the league arranged for Kaepernick last week are just the latest example of how toxic their relationship has become. His skills, which have been debated endlessly for three years, were still “impressive,” according to one of the scouts who watched his workout Saturday.
Yet after Kaepernick’s on-the-record statement to gathered press, several highly placed N.F.L. sources who requested anonymity raised questions about whether Saturday’s late changes were more about perpetuating the quarterback’s brand as the man who continues to pay the price for protesting on behalf of black people.
That cynicism regarding the quarterback’s intentions was echoed by two previously ardent Kaepernick supporters.
“He don’t want to play, he wants to be a martyr,” Stephen A. Smith, the ESPN television personality who supported Kaepernick’s desire to return to the N.F.L. since he became a free agent in 2017, said in a video he posted to Twitter. “But guess what, it ain’t working this time.”
Jay-Z, the music impresario who nudged Commissioner Roger Goodell to extend the league’s thorny olive branch, is now disappointed that Kaepernick skipped the N.F.L. workout, according to a person who has spoken directly with Jay-Z.
At least two teams had serious interest in pursuing Kaepernick if he performed well at the N.F.L. tryout on Saturday, according to a person close to the league officials. After Kaepernick challenged the terms of the workout, interest from those teams evaporated, that person said. A total of eight teams were represented at the outdoor workout.
Still, the comparisons between Kaepernick and the current group of quarterbacks continues. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and Carolina Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen were both under scrutiny after poor performances on Sunday, leading to speculation of how their teams might have performed with Kaepernick at the helm.
It is not hard to see why the N.F.L. might still want to wash its hands of Kaepernick and why Kaepernick might not leave his football future to the league’s opaque designs. The quarterback filed a grievance accusing the N.F.L. and its 32 teams of colluding to keep him out, and in February paid Kaepernick several million dollars to settle the case.
So the tug-of-war between the N.F.L. and Kaepernick continues, to the dismay of anyone hoping for a resolution. There seems to be no precedent for this kind of showdown, according to Upton Bell, who has watched the N.F.L. for three-quarters of a century, dating to when his father, Bert Bell, owned the Philadelphia Eagles and was the league’s commissioner.
Bell has seen the league grapple with gambling scandals, doping epidemics, contract disputes, on-field violence, labor strife, and more. But he has never seen a standoff like this.
“I have been watching the N.F.L. for 74 years,” Bell wrote. “This might be one of the most bizarre things I’ve seen. It’s slapstick comedy.”
But, he added, it would only be funny “if it wasn’t in its own way a serious issue.”
The Yoga Master Who Might Be Chelsea’s Secret Weapon
LONDON — Vinay Menon’s path to the Premier League started with a request from a former client in Dubai. Would Menon, a wellness consultant, travel to England to share his breathing and relaxation techniques with the man’s daughter and her husband, a wealthy Russian living in London.
Of course, Menon replied, even though he had never been to Britain. He met with the Russian and his wife at their home in West London, where the couple asked about Menon’s work, his background and the years he had spent studying and teaching yoga in his native India. Then they asked him if he would like to join them at a soccer game.
“I told them I didn’t have a ticket,” Menon said.
That would not be a problem, he was assured. Menon and his prospective employers made the short walk to Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium, where they were quickly ushered to the suite level. It was only then, after they emerged into the owner’s box and their faces appeared on the arena’s giant video screen, that things clicked into place for Menon: His host was not merely a wealthy Russian soccer fan. He was Roman Abramovich.
“I literally had no idea who he was,” Menon said. “I just knew him as Dasha’s husband.”
Menon struggles to contain his laughter as he retells the story. Now in his 11th season at Stamford Bridge, Menon, 45, occasionally surprises himself when he stops to think about how a chance meeting has led to a decade in professional soccer — a sport he knew next to nothing about when he made that first trip to London — and to his becoming a fixture in the locker room of one of the world’s richest teams and a valued confidant of some of the world’s best players.
“Roman Abramovich changed my life,” Menon said. For some players, he has changed theirs, too.
Many roads have led to the Premier League, of course. Players from 114 nations have turned out for its teams, and its ownership groups include not only Russian oligarchs like Abramovich but Chinese property companies and Middle Eastern royal families. But Vinay Menon’s path from an island village in the southern Indian state of Kerala — where his ambition once extended no further than becoming a police officer — to the inner sanctum of Chelsea F.C., where stars from Didier Drogba to Eden Hazard have embraced his teachings, is among the least likely of all.
While the Premier League is a global business, in many ways it can be deeply parochial. Players and coaches are bound by routines and schedules that can sometimes make the smallest changes seem seismic. To mitigate the shock, and aware that some might perceive him as “an alien from Mars,” Menon kept things simple, he said, when he was first introduced to the Chelsea team: He described his work in simple language. He made a point of not forcing relationships, of watching from the sideline and explaining only to the players and coaches who asked what the yoga methods he espoused could do for them. (His sessions remain optional for Chelsea players.)
“In this world of European football they would have been thinking, Who is this guy?” Menon said. “Initially, they think I am doing voodoo or something.”
Menon determined early on that he would let his work do the talking, convinced that once the players experienced his one-on-one sessions, the benefits would be obvious. So when he wasn’t traveling with Abramovich, Menon took to visiting Chelsea’s Cobham training ground on the days the team practiced. It was there, while sitting in the largely empty staff canteen one day, that Drogba, then the team’s star forward and a leader in the dressing room, popped in for lunch. Drogba and Menon struck up a conversation. Menon explained what he did, and that he had worked with influential figures at a retreat in the foothills of the Himalayas, where wealthy clients arrived by helicopter, and at a luxury hotel in Dubai.
Drogba said he would give it a try. “That one trial,” Menon said, “took me to the world of football.”
His work with Drogba led to a session with another player open to his ideas. Then another. Then a few more.
“To be fair, when I saw him the first time, I said to myself: ‘Who is this guy? Why is he there?’” Hazard said.
For seven seasons until he left for Real Madrid last summer, Hazard had been a Chelsea mainstay whose attacking talent helped bring a half-dozen trophies to Stamford Bridge. Throughout that time, he worked regularly with Menon.
Menon won over Hazard by telling him he could help him relax. “Football is all about stress, you got pressure,” Hazard said. “So I said, ‘Let me try.’”
A typical session with Menon isn’t strictly yoga. A more accurate description, he said, would be something called Adhyatma Vidya, or the science of the self. It is the very last part of yoga, which at its most powerful can lead to a trancelike state.
It is part of a program Menon has developed called ARFA, an acronym that he said stands for awareness, recovery, focus and achievement — a strategy that he believes can help elite athletes in any sport. During his sessions, a subject spends 45 minutes being directed by Menon.
“I just help them to follow their own path,” he said. “I’m like a mediator.” Menon talks but mostly listens, guiding his athletes to try to rid themselves of negative thoughts or worries that may be inhibiting their performance. He has been described as a “guru,” but dislikes the term, which he rejects as lazy and rooted in cliché.
“These are very successful people,” Menon said. “The stress level is so high. If they’re not performing, or out of the team, at the end of the day they are human, their levels of expectance can be emotional.”
Hazard, whose individual performance will often determine whether his team wins or loses, became one of the players who would seek out Menon. Sipping a cappuccino on a drizzly afternoon during a recent trip to Belgium, he tried to describe the effects.
“You do session one hour and you feel like …,” he said, pausing to find the right words before puffing his cheeks and letting out a burst of air: “WHOOOOSH.”
“It’s just to evacuate the pressure,” he continued. “And for one hour, you relax.” Hazard repeated the last word — “relax” — almost as if he were back with Menon in a darkened room, listening to the soothing words of the man from Kerala who became a secret weapon in the Chelsea arsenal, the man who is definitely not a guru.
In the hypercompetitive world of elite soccer, every little advantage counts, Hazard said.
“In football, if you can change results, if you change the game, change something just to improve, you do it,” he said. “And this kind of thing can improve a small part, maybe not even 1 percent, but you do it.”
Landry disputes rumors Beckham wants to leave | News, Sports, Jobs
BEREA — If Odell Beckham is making plans to bolt the Browns, the flashy wide receiver hasn’t told his best friend.
Jarvis Landry thinks he would know, and he doesn’t believe Beckham is going anywhere.
Landry said Thursday that Beckham has given him no reason to feel he wants to be traded after just one season with Cleveland, which acquired the three-time Pro Bowler in a blockbuster deal with the New York Giants in March.
“I think he wants to be here. I know he wants to be here,” stressed Landry, who had previously been quiet about Beckham’s future. “It’s not even about trying to go somewhere else.”
Over the past two weeks, several reports have surfaced that Beckham, who has been slowed by a sports hernia injury since training camp, is unhappy in Cleveland and wants to leave the Browns (6-7). Beckham’s frustration has grown during the season because of his lack of production, and one report said he has gone as far as telling opposing players and coaches during games to “come get me.”
Landry doesn’t buy it. He and Beckham grew close while they were teammates at LSU, where they dreamed about possibly playing together in the NFL. And now that their vision is a reality, Landry doesn’t think his good friend would want to abandon an ideal situation so quickly.
“He’s a guy that comes to work every day,” Landry said. “He’s a guy that’s playing through injuries and all the things that you want out of a player. And inside of this organization, he has a voice. He has responsibility to himself, to all of us to go out there and compete each and every Sunday. And he does that.
“He doesn’t want to leave, and he’s not trying to leave.”
Beckham has given vague answers about his plans, which has only increased speculation that he’s plotting an exit strategy. Following Sunday’s win over Cincinnati, Beckham chose not to discuss “any offseason stuff that’s going on.” However, he did say he has grown accustomed to conjecture about his moves off the field.
“I’m used to it,” he said after catching just two passes for 39 yards, his career-high seventh straight game without reaching 100 yards. “I’ve been dealing with it for three or four years. It’s just the same thing that is going on. Not anything that I can’t handle.”
But Landry, the Browns’ nominee for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, believes Beckham is bothered by the endless chatter about his disposition or possible destination.
“I’m sure he sees it and it does take a toll in a sense to know that he’s putting his heart and soul into this season for this team and everybody else is trying to make a story off of things that is not really going on,” Landry said.
Landry was asked that if the stories are untrue, why do they persist.
“I don’t know. That’s a question for you guys,” he told reporters. “I don’t write. I haven’t heard him say anything directly. So I don’t know how it could come out to be all that it is now.”
In the past few days, Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, quarterback Baker Mayfield and now Landry have said they’ve not heard one negative word from Beckham.
He made a brief appearance in the locker room while it was open to media, but he was not available for an interview. The 27-year-old, who has 59 catches for 844 yards and a career-low two touchdowns this season, briefly chatted with some defensive teammates, showing them one of his new customized Nike cleats.
Beckham came to Cleveland with goals of doing bigger things, but a high-powered offense has rarely revved on all cylinders or been the scoring machine it was predicted to be.
Landry can appreciate Beckham’s frustration, but the Browns can only blame themselves for not living up to mammoth preseason expectations.
Cleveland’s postseason chances are slim heading into Sunday’s game at Arizona.
“This is a team sport and it’s not about one person, whether it’s one person coming in or one person leaving,” said Landry, who is just 5 yards short of 1,000. “When I came in here, I spoke about the same things. I had the same dreams, aspirations and a lot of things happened in the season, and a lot of times when you’re turning the ball over, have penalties, it’s not usually a successful season.
“We made our bed to this point and we know we have to win out. We know the situation. We’ve still got an opportunity this week to put us in position that if the cards fall the right way, we can still have our shot at the playoffs.”
Not everything about Beckham’s situation is clear. With OBJ, nothing is ever too certain.
However, Landry feels strongly that he would be the first one Beckham would confide in.
“Of course,” Landry said with a laugh. “If he don’t, I’m gonna beat his ass.”
NOTES: C JC Tretter did not practice for the second straight day because of a knee injury. His status for the Cardinals remains uncertain. … Beckham (groin), Landry (hip) RT Chris Hubbard (knee) and DE Olivier Vernon (knee) were all limited. Kendall Lamm will make his second start in a row if Hubbard can’t play.
In Offer to Investors, FIFA Angles for Bigger Role in Club Soccer
Make us an offer we can’t refuse.
That is FIFA’s message in a document sent to investors, commercial partners and media companies interested in teaming with soccer’s world governing body on a new World Cup for clubs that starts in China in 2021.
The document, reviewed by The New York Times, offers potential partners the chance to propose their own vision for soccer, but it also offer clues that suggest FIFA’s ambition is not merely to stage an expanded club championship every four years, but to become the global leader in club soccer. That kind of power shift would be significant, carrying with it huge implications for current competitions like the Champions League, but also for the influence of the continental governing bodies that have long managed the club game.
FIFA’s tender offer says its objective is to find partners to create “the world’s greatest club football experience,” and it has told interested parties that they may suggest visions for future club tournaments that differ from the quadrennial club championship approved by FIFA’s executive board earlier this year and awarded to China in October.
Offers “may include suggestions for alternative tournament parameters, including as to frequency, format, qualification process and team participation,” FIFA said. Curiously, though, potential investors have been given only 11 business days to come up with a proposal to perhaps remake the model soccer has operated under for, in some cases, more than a century.
European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, which organizes and profits from soccer’s richest club competition, the Champions League, reluctantly agreed to FIFA’s plans for an expanded Club World Cup after months of acrimony between its president, Aleksander Ceferin, and FIFA’s, Gianni Infantino.
Any more substantial changes to the structure of club soccer are likely to be bitterly opposed by UEFA, which makes the bulk of its revenue — as much as $1 billion a year — from the Champions League.
Just last week, Ceferin reacted furiously after The Times reported that Infantino had met with Florentino Pérez, the president of Real Madrid, and discussed the details of a plan in which Europe’s richest clubs would break off from UEFA to form their own independent competition. Such a move would see powerhouse clubs like Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus and others abandon their domestic competitions.
Pérez, who as Real Madrid’s president became a founding member of a new global association for international clubs when it was created last month at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, has floated similar breakaways in the past. But with Infantino’s backing — which remains uncertain — his dream of a league in which powerful clubs write the rules and control the revenues could come closer to reality than ever before.
Pérez and Infantino declined to describe details of their discussions about the future of club soccer, but Ceferin rejected as “insane” any plan in which big clubs would leave their leagues and national associations.
“It would be hard to think of a more selfish and egotistical scheme,” he said.
Until Infantino’s arrival in 2016, FIFA had largely stayed in its lane when it came to club soccer, content with organizing and monetizing the World Cup, the multibillion-dollar tournament featuring national teams which is responsible for more than 90 percent of FIFA’s revenue. Since becoming FIFA president, however, he has pushed harder and faster than any of his predecessors for world soccer’s governing body to get a slice of the riches available in the club game.
Last year, he was forced to abandon a plan to close a $25 billion agreement with a group led by the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank for two new events, including an expanded World Cup for clubs, after opposition from members of FIFA’s board, led by Ceferin, and representative bodies for leagues and clubs.
That setback led FIFA to change its approach. It first sought approval for the quadrennial club world championship, and scrapped an idea for a national team league, before saying it would go to market with the event. But for the past months, it has held talks with CVC Capital Partners, the former majority owner of the Formula One racing series. CVC, one of the world’s largest private-equity firms, also has significant investments in sports like rugby and motorcycle racing.
The Financial Times reported last week that the company has spoken with both FIFA and Real Madrid, and is interested in being a partner with FIFA for competitions and events beyond a single four-year tournament. A spokesman for CVC declined to comment.
Other companies have also expressed interest in the project, including Infront Sports & Media, a sports marketing company owned by the Dalian Wanda Group, one of FIFA’s main sponsors. Officials there, and at least two other businesses interested in the tournament, expressed surprise that FIFA had not held preliminary discussions with them ahead of issuing its request for offers, but also at the short window to create a plan in time for the Dec. 19 deadline.
FIFA did not respond to an email for comment on the tender offer, or on its plans for a bigger role in club soccer.
Infantino has been open about his vision for club soccer to grow outside of its European stronghold. Earlier this month, he pushed the idea of investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a new Pan-African league, as a means to increase quality on the continent and slow the global talent drain to Europe. The FIFA president has also had talks with national associations in Asia about the possibility of creating regional or subregional leagues there, and conversations with President Trump about the quality of soccer in the top United States league, Major League Soccer.
“One of the FIFA president’s duties is to listen to stakeholders’ perspectives about relevant topics for football,” FIFA said in a statement last week in response to questions about Infantino’s discussions with Pérez and others about changes to the club game. “FIFA believes that an open and constructive dialogue between different members of the football community is essential to find the right balance and the best solutions for the future of the game.”
FIFA’s 2021 club world championship will feature 25 teams, with a playoff match reducing the field to 24 teams placed into eight groups of three teams. In the current format for the tournament, group winners would move into a knockout round that culminates in a final. Europe (eight) and South America (six) will provide the bulk of the teams for the event under a plan outlined by FIFA, which said the event would take place over 15 match days.
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