Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Shane Ray, marijuana, Royals, Chiefs and LL Cool J

Shane Ray took part in an agility drill during Missouri's Pro Day in Columbia.
Shane Ray took part in an agility drill during Missouri's Pro Day in Columbia. AP

So you probably heard that Shane Ray was pulled over and cited early Monday morning on suspicion of possessing fewer than 35 grams of marijuana. Ray is the former Mizzou star who broke the school’s single-season sack record last fall. He was projected by many to be a top 10 pick in the NFL draft, which starts Thursday.

Because America, and NFL, and marijuana, this has already led to a lot of overreaction, and right up front let me say I think that marijuana should be legal, regulated, and taxed, like alcohol. I think that’s very clearly where we’re headed, anyway, and that it’s particularly silly for sports leagues (especially the NFL) to test or punish for marijuana use.

But, really?

People actually think this should drop Ray from a top 10 pick to the third or fourth round?

Are we sure this isn’t some parallel universe, a bizarre reenactment of Footloose?

Ray’s decision-making is indefensible. About that, we can all agree. It was careless, thoughtless, even reckless — not because he was driving impaired, because he wasn’t, but because the draft was in three days.

But if Ray was dumb for having weed in his car so close to the draft, NFL teams are much dumber if they let Ray drop to the third or fourth round. Albert Breer says Ray failed a drug test “early in his career” at Mizzou, which is noteworthy.

But are we still in a place where people — let alone NFL decision makers hired and fired on their ability to win games — are so puritanical they would let a top talent like this drop because of a small amount of weed?

Especially a league that is apparently set to draft Jameis Winston first overall? This can’t be reality.

Warren Sapp dropped in the draft because of questions about marijuana use, and he is now in the Hall of Fame. Justin Houston dropped because of a reported failed drug test, and he just broke Derrick Thomas’ single-season sack record for the Chiefs.

Ray did a dumb thing. But passing on him for what is literally a misdemeanor — and would be perfectly legal in other states with NFL teams — would be much dumber. This is bad news for Ray if it costs him a lot of money, but it’s good news for an NFL team willing to maintain perspective.

This week’s eating recommendation is the Asian Pig Wings at Gram & Dun, and the reading recommendation is David Fleming’s terrific profile of Stephen Curry and a basketball hoop.

As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

I will respond by bashing a Gatorade jug, and badmouthing you, your family, and everyone in you know personally or through LinkedIn.

In the last two years, among the weeks that I’ve been on vacation:

George Brett is hired as Royals hitting coach.

Royals are swept, embarrassingly, by the crappy Astros in a home series low lighted by Yordano Ventura walking off the mound holding his aching elbow

Royals complete a remarkable heel turn from lovable upstarts to despised punks, leading Vince McMahon to inquire about Kelvin Herrera and Yordano Ventura serving as storyline consultants while on suspension.

My next week off is May 25-31, if you’re wanting to plan.

So I guess this is the first I’ve actually written something other than stupid Twitter about the Straught Outta Kauffman Royals, and for the most part, I think a lot of people are getting hung up on irrelevant details, or stubbornly determined to make righteous judgments on any or all parts of the 13-win, nine-ejection (10, if you count Don Wakamatsu being booted twice in one game), five-suspension Royals based on tribal loyalties.

This is true: much of the arguing or fighting in Royals games this year has come with the opposing team instigating.

This is also true: of everything that’s happened, with the possible exception of Kelvin Herrera throwing behind Brett Lawrie (one pitch after coming high-and-tight) and then pointing at his own head, the worst behavior has been Chris Sale knocking on the door of the Royals clubhouse looking for a fight.

And this is also true: the Royals have made themselves look like punks, repeatedly, with immature and unprofessional responses.

There seems to be this feeling among the fan base that Jeff Samardzija plunking Lorenzo Cain on opening day, or Lawrie’s dirty slide into Alcides Escobar’s leg, or Smardzija and Sale losing their minds on Thursday should be a free pass for the Royals to do whatever they want.

We’re painting with broad strokes here. Mike Moustakas handled his (unintentional, on an 0-2 changeup) HBP from Sale the other night like a pro. He also did everything he could to keep Ventura out of the eventual scrum that night. Eric Hosmer, Edinson Volquez and Jeremy Guthrie, among others, have said all the right things publicly.

But the common denominator in these skirmishes is the Royals. Samardzija went punk on opening day, hitting Cain with a pitch, and if the Royals responded immediately it probably would’ve kept some of these things from bottling up and eventually exploding. If the Royals plunk Lawrie or one of his teammates the day after The Slide, same thing. Or, even, if Ventura hits Lawrie in his first at bat instead of after a home run with a five-run deficit. Herrera doesn’t need to point at his head, Ventura doesn’t need to say what he did to Eaton, and it’s been easy to forget but Duffy through high and behind a guy in the first White Sox series.

I certainly don’t think everything that’s happened to the Royals is their fault, and I feel strongly that their general emotion and exuberance should be viewed with joy, and not disdain.

But if the same kid ends up in fights every recess, “he started it,” is a lame excuse.

I’m not trying to pick on Russ here, and I hope he doesn’t take it like that, but this is what I’m talking about. No, you are not delusional to think the other side has provoked the Royals. The White Sox series, especially, but this is part of why reputations matter. The Royals earned the baggage they brought to Chicago, so of course that’s how things are going to be viewed.

This is a strange thing to watch, because ever since his debut, one of the things the Royals have talked about with Ventura is his composure. The coaches will often bring up his first game, when he walked the first guy he saw in the big leagues on four pitches, but then calmly started a double play on a come backer from the second guy he faced. He was put in a bad spot in the Wild Card game, but who could forget his performance in game six of the World Series?

So I don’t know if he feels like being the official No. 1 starter on the American League champs demands more of an edge, or maybe he feels emboldened by the contract. But something is definitely different now.

Volquez is saying all the right things about helping Ventura, and is the most obvious candidate to sort of guide him. Sal Perez could be another. Danny Duffy has walked a similar path, in productively harnessing emotions.

They can all help, but Ventura is a grown man. He’ll be 24 in just over a month. He has pitched in the World Series, and now parts of three seasons. It’s up to him. He’s proven he can do it.

I don’t know, I’m probably the wrong person to say, because I’m not sure there is one. The most important thing, to me, is saying what you think.

Sometimes, it means you think Ned Yost acted like a fool by using a completely made-up story about Atlanta to chastise Royals fans for not showing up to the ballpark and you end up being called a hater.

Sometimes, it means you think Dayton Moore doesn’t deserve to be fired last June and you end up being called a homer.

And, well, sometimes, it means you think Mike Moustakas is a terrible choice to hit second and you end up looking like a moron.

One thing that sometimes gets mixed up, or maybe I just don’t see it the same as others. Writing for the newspaper in Kansas City doesn’t mean I need to always take the local side and, truthfully, I don’t at all mind being called a Jayhawk shill by the occasional Mizzou fan and top five worst alums by the occasional KU fan. There are plenty of outlets to go for inherent bias, or preset perspectives.

Hopefully the Star is a place for something else, for the closest version of the truth we can find, no matter if that means rejecting the old narrative of Clark Hunt as a cheapskate or criticizing him for moving a home game to London.

Speaking of which…

I don’t think it looks worse, in part because I thought it looked pretty bad at the time.

I understand that side of it, though, that the Chiefs are playing just three games at Arrowhead Stadium before Thanksgiving, which is rotten on a lot of levels. There is a dirty little secret that Arrowhead Stadium isn’t quite the home field advantage it’s often made out to be, but still, playing at home is better than playing on the road. Also, games early in the season always draw better than late, mostly because of the weather.

As for the Super Bowl, I just don’t know where that was ever a legitimate thing here. Kansas City missed its chance to host the game when it (completely justifiably and smartly, in my opinion) didn’t vote for the rolling roof. Whether playing a game overseas is a requirement for hosting a Super Bowl has become like a shell game of talking points for the league and teams, but either way, at the very least the timing of doing London this year doesn’t appear to help the Chiefs’ cause in part because there are much bigger obstacles for Kansas City hosting a game.

That’s not crazy, at all.

The best thing the Chiefs have done this offseason is give themselves options. They have extra picks, which means they could trade up. But they also addressed their most glaring needs in a way that if the guy they covet isn’t available at 18, they could trade down.

If they hadn’t signed Jeremy Maclin, they’d probably feel forced to go with a receiver. If they hadn’t traded for Ben Grubbs, they’d probably feel forced to draft a lineman. If they hadn’t re-signed Ron Parker (or, to a lesser extent, signed the oft-injured Tyvon Branch) they might feel forced to address the secondary.

As it stands, it’s far from a perfect roster, but it’s also far from the kind of obvious needs that would push them to address a specific position in the first round.

If we’re ranking the needs, I’d go offensive line, secondary, receiver, inside linebacker. They could also use some depth at tight end, the defensive line, and maybe a running back, but however it shakes out the Chiefs have put themselves in a really good position going into the draft.

I see what you did there.

It’s actually not all that jumbo, at least not in relative terms. Ten of the SEC’s 14 head football coaches now make at least $4 million. He is behind Nick Saban, Kevin Sumlin, Les Miles and Hugh Freeze. He’s within $20,000 of Steve Spurrier, Mark Richt, Bret Bielema and Dan Mullen.

And, really, isn’t that about where he should be? There’s a good case to be made that if you consider context — the importance of making the football side of the move to the SEC work, most notably — Pinkel has earned more.

The story of the mutual loyalty there between Pinkel, Mizzou and Mike Alden (the contract was signed on Alden’s last official day as AD) is remarkable and completely rare in today’s college sports landscape. Both sides — coach and school — have had opportunities to walk away from the relationship, and both have grown beautifully together.

No.

Is that enough? Hell no. I’m all for freedom and rights for college athletes — and if the opportunity to play basketball was part of the recruiting sales pitch then Pinkel would obviously need to honor that — but this is nuts.

He’s good enough to do it, for sure, and Kim Anderson could obviously use the help on the basketball team. But Lock signed a football scholarship, and playing quarterback — especially at Mizzou — is a lot different than, say, Justin Gage playing both sports.

I do feel a little hypocritical here, and more power to him if can pull it off, but to me playing quarterback means the rules are a little different.

Because Charlie Weis needed another sucker for his resume?

Well, the injury to Michael Cummings is awful luck. I feel bad for both the quarterback and the team. That sucks.

But, yeah, as far as things under Beaty’s control it’s hard to see what he should be doing better. He’s reaching out to students, to fans, built a recruiting class around Texas talent, and is in the beginning stages of implementing his own system, which will be faster and more in tune with what wins college games than either of his two predecessors.

Beyond that, I think he has a lot of the qualities needed at that job. He has a lot of energy, a lot of confidence, but also a lot of humility. Combine that with an ability to connect with both his assistant coaches and players, and it’s a package that KU football has really been lacking.

There is also a reality here. The program has gone far enough backward that Beaty could be a good head coach and still be fired in four or five years. Failure at KU no longer means a failure by the coach in the way that it did with Gill and Weis. That’s the tough thing about what Beaty has in front of him.

He could do all of the right things and still be 1-9 in the league.

It’s kind of sad, really. I know I come at this without much interest in boxing, but if this was really going to be promoted as The Fight of the Century or whatever it really should’ve happened three or four years ago, at least.

As it stands, it just feels like a couple of guys who are still great at what they do but not as good as they used to be, standing in for their former selves and pretending it’s still 2010. This is not Mike Tyson on his way up, or in any way, really, a fight about the future. This is a fight about the past.

MMA has become what boxing should be, and it’s done it by operating the way boxing should. Good fights on free TV, and leagues or operating bodies that dictate match ups fans want to see.

It’s incredible, and something I’ve been writing about for five years, but I can’t say I ever felt certain it would grow into this much of a whiff. Including this season, the Royals have five more years on a deal that right now is probably paying them $20 million or so less than market value. With the way that rights for live sports are going, that might be conservative. It will almost certainly grow even worse each year. The Diamondbacks signed a new TV deal this spring that guarantees them more than $1.5 billion, or about $80 million per season.

This is an oversimplification, but if the Royals had a representative TV contract they would have the money to sign Eric Hosmer to a long-term contract extension.

I hear from fans about the Royals demanding to renegotiate, and this is America, so everything’s negotiable, but at this point that’s a really good way to get into another bad contract.

Fox would enter a negotiation with all of the power, because not doing anything would mean five years of a very valuable product for dimes on the dollar. You usually start these negotiations two or three years before the end of the deal, meaning the Royals probably have to wear it for at least two more years.

By then, their hope is that the landscape has changed in a way that would bring more potential bidders in. Maybe Google becomes an even bigger player. Maybe Comcast wants to get into this market.

There is also a nightmare scenario that the Royals are aware of, that the skyrocketing value of sports programming is like real estate in 2008, and that the way people consume TV and specifically sports TV eight years from now will change in a way that means the best time for a team to sign a new deal will be sometime between now and the end of their rotten contract in 2019.

Of course, it’s also true that it’s hard to feel sorry for the Royals on this, since they’re the ones who jumped into this contract in the first place.

Well, a couple things.

Anything other than Friends in Low Places — an iconic, terrific song that’s been absolutely ruined for me because it truly might be the worst possible selection for a baseball team, ESPECIALLY a baseball team with a rotten recent history — will be an improvement.

Also, with the Black Eyed Freaking Peas beat out Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher,” it is as obvious a sign as is humanly possible that this contest is not for me.

But, since you asked, and I realize this isn’t on either your bracket or the Royals’ official bracket, I say you just fully embrace the heel turn and play Mama Said Knock You Out. It’s perfect, on a lot of levels.

Tell ‘em, J.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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