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NFL Draftees Talk Donald Sterling, Gays, and Brain Damage

Sean John invited me to attend its NFL draft party. While I was there, I asked NFL draftees like Calvin Pryor, C. J. Mosley, and Taylor Lewan what they think about gays, concussions, and Donald Sterling.

Since I grew up in Utah, the only sports team I can truly rep is the Jazz, which means I haven’t felt any sports-related emotions since Jerry Sloan quit. When it comes to football, I’m more interested in the politics of the sport than the sport itself. I wonder thing like: How long has the NFL known about the degenerative brain disorders caused by multiple concussions, and how seriously are they taking the problem now? How does it feel to be an indentured servant to the NCAA? And what’s the deal with all the homophobia and the name “Washington Redskins”?

This week, I had the chance to find out. Puff Daddy’s clothing line, Sean John, invited me to attend its NFL draft party, promising free drinks and a chance to sit down with the athletes for a few one-on-one questions. Not knowing what to expect, I rolled over to the Bad Boy headquarters, armed with nothing more than a voice recorder and list of questions

In typical New York fashion, the event had all the hallmarks of a cross-branded trade show. Random sponsors like Cadillac, Samsonite, and Kobe Bryant’s sports drink, Body Armor, were handing out free shit; Old Spice was giving out free haircuts. I was particularly interested in the vodka booth. The future draftees were all in the midst of change. Their agents (who undoubtedly had prepped the players in the procedures of professionalism) hovered over their clients like mother hens in pinstripe suits, guiding them from booth to booth as their eyes scanned the room for potential problems. All the players had to worry about was not fucking up before the draft.

The press assembled for the event were more than willing to help the players stay in bounds, with softball questions like “What’s the first thing you’re going to buy?" "What do you consider to be your personal style?" "What’s on your iPod?" "Did you work out with the New York Jets?” I vaguely wondered if the agents had prepped the press on professionalism as well.

Asking someone if something exciting makes them excited is like asking someone in a downpour if it’s raining. The answer is obvious. Luckily, no one at Sean John really knew what VICE was, and I got the feeling they thought it was a personal blog. They treated me like an amateur, and since I looked like someone who didn’t know any better, I assumed I might as well fit the mold. What did I know about professionalism? I just asked the questions the agents were worried about. With this in mind, I grabbed a drink, turned on my voice recorder, and went to work.  

Photos by Tyler Nevitt

CALVIN PRYOR
Safety, Louisville

VICE: You play safety, which is a pretty bone-crushing position. Part of your job is to just throw yourself at other players with reckless abandon, right?
Yeah, what happened to your arm?

I dislocated it playing street ball.
Damn, man, good luck with that.

I’ll need it. In that same vein, do you worry about the health risks associated with playing?
I feel when you’re playing football, you have to be a fearless competitor 'cause if you think about getting injured, sometimes you’re going to go half speed and then it’s going to happen. So if it’s meant to happen, it’s meant to happen, fcause everything happens for a reason. So just play to the best of your ability and go all out.

How does your family feel about it?
They worry about me getting hurt, 'cause they’re so protective of me. They don’t want to see anything happen to me. But at the same time, football is a very tough and physical game, so…

Do you think the NFL’s policy towards concussions is where it should be or do they need advances?
I’m more of a fan of how football used to be, the bone-crushing type. They’ve really pushed the issue about not having helmet-to-helmet contact, so I think they’re doing a great job and will continue to do a great job.

Would you have any reservations about letting your own kid play football?
If I have a son, there’s no doubt he’s gonna play football.

How do you think the NBA handled the Donald Sterling thing?
I feel they did a great job because there’s no room for that now in the NBA. The playoffs are going on, and if you’re an owner of a team, you have to care for each individual that’s playing for you. When you talk about racism—I feel it just doesn’t need to exist. It should be left in the past.

So how do you feel about the Washington Redskins?
It’s kind of a cool name, I guess.

Do you think they should change it?
Um… that would be nice.

Photos by Tyler Nevitt

DONOVAN MCNABB
Former NFL Quarterback

VICE: You’ve come out here to hang out with some of the future NFL players, the rare few who are making it to the next level. Erstwhile in the NCAA, you have players who are busting themselves up who will never see a dollar for it. What do you think about the concept of NCAA football players being considered employees of the schools?
Well, I mean, they make money for the schools. They provide everything they need around the school facilities. Everything is paid for through bowl games, NCAA tournaments in basketball, women’s lacrosse, soccer… I think the kids should reap some of the benefits and receive a stipend of some sort. I love what [former quarterback Kain] Colter and the Northwestern football team have been able to do. I think it’s going to continue to spread and the NCAA is in trouble. I think at some point they’re going to move on to where it isn’t the NCAA; it’s about these divisions coming together and taking care of their sides of things. And we’ll see where it goes from there.

How do you think the NBA handled the Donald Sterling controversy?
I thought Adam Silver did a good job. I think he set precedence, not only for the NBA but for all professional sports. You have to be stern in your consequences, and you have to stick with it. Now the whole thing about it is, who’s going to follow? There are a lot of owners out there in the league—a good-ol'-boy system—where people defend and support one another. Can they all come together to 75 percent and boot him out of there?

How do you feel about the name Washington Redskins in the same context?
I can’t really speak on that aspect of it because I’m not Native American, but from a minority standpoint, you don’t want anything reflecting in a negative way. This is something that’s been talked about for years, and Roger Goodell and Daniel Snyder are going to have to come together and find a solution.

Photos by Tyler Nevitt

C. J. MOSLEY
Linebacker, Alabama

VICE: Do you think the NCAA should allow football teams to unionize?
That’s a hard question. From what I’ve been through, growing up—it’s all been about playing football, especially at a young age. When you get to the NFL, you worry about that thing. But when you’re in college or high school, you’re playing football because you love to play it.

What do you think about the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA for video games?
I’m a little hurt by it. Growing up, that’s all I’d play. I love playing college games, seeing yourself and playing with yourself and your old teammates. I don’t really know why they did it. I guess everyone has their reasons.   

What about Title IX? Do you think it still has a place?
What’s Title IX?

Agent: [interrupts] Pass on that one.

Photo courtesy of Sean John

TAYLOR LEWAN
Offensive Tackle, Michigan

VICE: You’re a big guy, offensive tackle, so you’re hitting guys about your same size. I can’t imagine the impact—it’d probably murder me. Do you worry about the health risks associated with your position?
I think if you worry about those things now, it’ll effect your game in the future. My biggest thing is, stay as healthy as possible and stay around people who will help me be successful. If I get hurt, I’ll do the things I have to do to get back, but I’m not really worried about it.

What about your family and the people that love you? Do they worry about it?
[Laughs] I know my mom’s a nervous wreck. But my brother loves it, my best friends love it, and I love doing what I do, so it’s not an issue to me if injuries do come up. But I know it does worry my mom quite a bit.

Now that you’re going to be drafted, you stand to make quite a bit of money off of doing this, but most of your teammates from college won’t, and they took the same health risks as you. Do you feel like the NCAA owes those players something more, considering what they put on the line?
I really don’t know. For me to give you a solid answer, I’d have to dive in deep and read about the subject. If the NCAA is doing something a certain way, there’s probably a reason why. At the same time, there are players that need certain things, maybe a couple other benefits, not exactly extra benefits, but other benefits. There are two sides.

Considering all the research that’s gone on with concussions and tragedies like Junior Seau, would you have any reservations about your son playing football in the future?

[His agent interjects and says he doesn’t have to answer.]

No, I’ll answer. I don’t have a son right now. I’m sure I’d want my son to be as safe as possible, but at the same time I would never be worried about my son playing a sport because it’s part of life. I grew up like my dad and granddad, outside, getting hurt and stuff. You know what it’s like. You can never stop someone from being injured. Everyone has their own opinion. My thing is, injuries do happen, and you might as well enjoy yourself and be as healthy as you can. Do those things.

Photo courtesy of Sean John

JUSTIN PUGH
First Year Offensive Tackle, New York Giants

VICE: You just finished your first year, and now you’re here hanging out with kids about to get drafted. From your perspective, what’s the one thing they probably aren’t ready for?
The first thing I found out about was taxes. You get that first contract and then the government takes their piece, which I didn’t know about going into it. And then you’re back at the bottom of the totem pole. A lot of these guys, they’re the best player at their college, but when you get to the NFL, everyone was the best player in college. You have to go out there and earn it. So the biggest thing I learned was to be seen, not heard. Earn your respect on the field for how you play the game.

The average career in the NFL is something like three years, right? A lot of people say it’s important to be able to fall back on your education, but I have a master’s degree and I am dead broke. So what’s your backup plan for when you finish your career?
I graduated early with a degree in finance. My mom’s a teacher. Her whole thing was, “You’re going to get your degree before you can declare in the draft.” Finance is something I’m interested in getting into. The NFL has programs where you can do internships in the offseason, so I did one with Morgan Stanley this year. I also want to continue my education, and they have a program that pays for you to go back to school, so I can go back and get my master’s degree in finance once I get comfortable with the system we’re running and solidify my spot. So that’s something I’ll probably get into when I’m done.

Since you have your degree in finance, do you manage your own money?
No, my uncle is into finance as well, so he manages my money. But I know what he’s talking about and what he’s doing, so I’m learning from him as he’s doing it. He’s been doing it for years and a lot of times you gain that experience in the workplace, so learning from him and doing the internship helps me a lot.

As a player, what do you fear most—knee injuries or head injuries?
I got a concussion this past year, and it was scary. It’s something where you’re messing with your brain. Your knee can be repaired, but your brain? It’s definitely something that’s scary.

The whole concept of having a gay teammate—you remember how those guys from the 49ers were sitting there saying they didn’t dig the gays and stuff? How do you think the majority of NFL players feel about the subject?
This is a business, you know what I mean? So if you can go out there and produce on the field, guys don’t care what you’re doing outside of the field. A lot of the guys on my team have their wives and their kids, so you don’t see them all the time anyways. A guy’s own personal life is his own personal life. If it’s affecting his work or play, then it could be a problem, but that’s regardless of what your orientation is. As long as he works hard and is a good teammate, I have no problem with it.

When Arizona was talking about passing a law that allowed private businesses to turn away gay people, the NFL said they’d start looking into relocating the Super Bowl out of protest. That’s a big deal. So what role do you think sports plays in politics?
I think it plays a pretty big role. Football is one of the most profitable sports organizations, so I think they definitely have a say. In America, it’s crazy. People are so attached to their teams that they’d miss political events to go to a game. Some of my boys would miss graduation if the Eagles were in the Super Bowl, or if I was there. I think it plays a major role. Players have a lot of influence on young kids, molding the minds of America, so it’s a good thing if you use it the right way and a bad thing if you’re negative.

So how does the locker room feel about the name Washington Redskins?
They don’t care at all. The whole Indian thing, they’re trying to get rid of it. But at the end of the day, I’m going to go out there and play those guys. I don’t care what they have on their chest. I know some people see that as offensive. I have no problem with it, but I also don’t have that background. I could understand why some people were against it, but at the same time, I’m going out there to play football, and I don’t care about the name on their jerseys.  

Photos by Tyler Nevitt

JUSTIN GILBERT
Cornerback, Oklahoma State

VICE: Shabazz Napier talked about how he often went to bed hungry, even though he was leading UConn to a March Madness victory, and recently two football players were reprimanded for eating crab legs or something. Do you think that student athletes should be better compensated?
You mean pay for play?

Yes.
Yeah! There were a lot of times when I was in college, man, when I’d have to rely on my family for money and stuff, and we’re out there grinding, playing football and going to school at the same time… I think it’s something where they should get a little bit more for what they do…

What about being featured in a video game and seeing nothing for it?
I didn’t really play too many video games, especially NCAA, so I don’t really know too much about that. I know that a lot of my statistics were wrong on that, which was part of the reason I didn’t play too much.

How would you fix the way the NCAA approaches student athletes?
Put a little bit more money in their accounts and help them out. Make sure they’re not starving. They should probably have unlimited meal plans, freshman year through senior year. 

Photos by Tyler Nevitt

MARCUS MARTIN
Center, USC

VICE: You’re about to successfully make the leap from the streets of Krenshaw to becoming a millionaire. Is it going to be overwhelming to suddenly have that much money at your fingertips?
Nah, man, one thing people misinterpret is that everybody from the streets is just going to spend a lot of money, blow it on clothes and jewelry, but I’m well educated. I was fortunate enough to go to USC and learned about investments and finances. It was my minor, so I learned how to manage my money and stuff.

I know if I made even 10,000 bucks, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I’d be terrified.
I know what you mean.

Are you going to manage your money yourself or will you have someone else deal with that?
I have a financial adviser. The NFL suggests you get an adviser and then run him through them, so they can verify the background and make sure he’s not a sleezeball in a suit.

To the best of your knowledge, have you ever played with a gay player?
Not that I know of.

How divided are football players on the subject?
I don’t have an opinion about that, man. I’m not against somebody because of their sexuality. If you’re a good football player, man, you’re a good football player. Just show your talents on the field.

Do you consider sexual prejudice to be similar to racial prejudice?
I can’t compare the two, but I don’t think we should judge people based off their sexuality if they want to play sports.

What are you most worried about—blowing out your knee or getting a bunch of concussions?
Um… neither man. I’m just worried about getting acclimated to the league and allow myself to be one of the best players to ever play my position.

Photo courtesy of Sean John

SAMMY WATKINS
Wide Receiver, Clemson

Do you actually worry about the health risks associated with football?
Not really. I think if you get hurt, you’re doing the right things for money you can live the rest of your life off, roughly $15 to 20 million. You just got to have a plan and a support staff that can educate you on that type of stuff.

How does your family feel about it?
My family is good; they’re just like me. I mean, I could go buy a Bugatti right now, but that’s not what I need. My focus is getting better at life and the game.

Do you think it’s the NFL’s responsibility to take health risks into consideration, or is it yours as a player?
First of all, you have to teach yourself. You know if you’re hurt or injured. That falls down on you. But I think there are a couple things you can do in the National Football League. But football is a violent sport, and you can’t really stop contact and injuries.

VICE: How do you feel the NBA is handling the Donald Sterling thing?
I didn’t pay too much attention, but I think the whole thing’s been blown out of proportion. All this stuff is done for money. I don’t really know what took place. I don’t really know what happened, so I can’t say too much.

What about the name Washington Redskins?
It’s just a team to me. I wasn’t born back in those days, and I don’t know the history. But I think if you know the history, what took place… they could change it or not. It shouldn’t matter. It’s still gonna be a football team.

Photos by Tyler Nevitt

ODELL BECKHAM JR.
Wide Receiver, LSU

[At this point, the Sean John PR lady told me I only time to ask only one question. Seeing as, “How’s football?” didn’t seem to make much sense, I just pulled a question from my Kathleen Hanna interview.]

Check it out, obviously I know a lot about hair, right?
Right.

Well, I was looking at your haircut and I was thinking, that’s pretty punk-rock. I’m pretty punk-rock myself, so I pick up on those things.
Right.

So my one question to you is, who’s your favorite lead singer of Black Flag?
[Pause] I don’t even know who Black Flag is, man.

PR LADY: Wait a minute, what kind of question is that?!

The only question that matters.

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