Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Dozier, Royals’ rebuild, and a lot about Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs

Clark Hunt echoes team statement on Tyreek Hill, reiterates he’s not with the team

In an NFL Draft weekend availability, team CEO and Chairman Clark Hunt told reporters he echoed the team's statement on the Tyreek Hill video, saying he was deeply disturbed by the audio. He also reiterated that Hill wasn't with the team.
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In an NFL Draft weekend availability, team CEO and Chairman Clark Hunt told reporters he echoed the team's statement on the Tyreek Hill video, saying he was deeply disturbed by the audio. He also reiterated that Hill wasn't with the team.

Tyreek Hill is still employed by the Chiefs and the natural question is: Why?

Or, more to the point: Why the hell is a man who was already on his second chance and now caught on audio threatening the same women he pleaded guilty to beating and seemed to have acknowledged he punches his 3-year-old son in the chest still on this team?

Many of the questions asked for this column center around this one important fact.

The Chiefs have asked Hill not to attend practices or team events. But he is still (technically) part of the team. That leaves the Chiefs open to fair criticism, particularly with their deeply personal and extreme experience with domestic violence.

I will attempt to answer in two ways.

First, I don’t know. We’ll get much more into this below, but it seems fairly obvious that Hill has played his last game for the Chiefs, and perhaps in the NFL. None of us should be definitively judged by our worst moment. We should all get second chances.

Third chances are different.

The delay is inviting criticism, and there isn’t a lot the Chiefs can say in response. It’s true that they have distanced themselves from him — they can’t call it a suspension, but that’s what this is — but without an explanation they will, and should, receive criticism.

The second way to answer: This is an endlessly complicated and sad situation. Normal protocol from teams is to let the league move first. That’s what happened five months ago with Kareem Hunt, too.

Roger Goodell put him on the commissioner’s exempt list and the Chiefs cut him immediately.

The league has not acted with Hill, yet, so at least in that way, the Chiefs are stuck. Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe has re-opened the criminal investigation involving Hill and fiancee Crystal Espinal and by all accounts is following accepted policy of secrecy in cases affecting children.

That’s what we should all expect, so this isn’t a criticism. Just part of what we’re dealing with.

The league has to act. The DA has decisions to make. Other attorneys are involved. The union is watching. There are so many moving parts here and, just practically speaking, no deadline exists. Typically, in life, stuff doesn’t happen without a deadline.

Other than PR, there is no tangible difference between cutting him now and cutting him in two months. NFL players are only paid in-season.

So, if the gist of the first answer is what are they waiting for? then the gist of the second answer is what’s the rush?

I want to be clear that I don’t know this is what’s happening, but if the delay is being used in part to determine the appropriate punishment and a workable plan of support (with or without a future in football), there is no problem here.

Look, if the Chiefs do anything other than what’s right they will have earned every bit of criticism that comes their way. And I’ll jump in with righteous fury.

But at the moment, they’ve effectively suspended him while they wait on the league to act, with no tangible benefit to doing something now compared to next week or next month. I don’t see the issue there.

Not yet, anyway.

This week’s eating recommendation is the Oasis roll at Prime* and the reading recommendation is Jia Tolentino on what it takes to put your phone away.

* Once, we got takeout from Prime and after we got home we discovered they forgot a roll. I called, they apologized, and the owner brought the missing roll in about 15 minutes. Customer for life over here.

Please give me a follow on Twitter and Facebook and as always thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

 

For the Chiefs:

They use the embarrassment and shame of the moment to improve the processes by which they vet players, but more importantly the confidence they have in predicting the future.

They open their minds and hearts to domestic violence, and do some honest soul-searching to better understand the issue and close the gap between what they say they’re about and what they’re largely seen as about.

This can be a positive, long-term, if the Chiefs are willing to put in the work and humility. There will be some calls for them to avoid any and all players with risky profiles. I find that to be dishonest and unrealistic.

Dishonest because the way to understanding and preventing domestic violence is not to shun perpetrators or otherwise push the issue off our television screens. The productive path is through understanding and support, and I don’t mean merely having someone from the organization tour Hope House or whatever.

There is real and actual positivity that the Chiefs can bring to Kansas City and this issue, but it’s going to take real and actual work. Hopefully the team is up for it.

For Hill:

The only thing that matters is whether he gets the help he needs and works to make the change required. Nothing else is even a little important by comparison. Football will be fine with or without him.

Hill completed counseling and everything else mandated by the courts and NFL. Obviously, it didn’t take, which is remarkable considering everything at stake — he was quite literally days away from generational wealth, and had to know that more trouble like this could potentially mean punishment from the league, legal system, and losing custody of his son and the twins who are on the way.

Again, we should all root for second chances to work out. Third chances are often different.

One more time: That’s the only thing that matters.

The league will almost certainly act. A suspension from six games to a lifetime ban seems possible, but — and I’m just guessing here — a year feels like a potential result.

At that point, pending any legal action, the league could provide a third chance to Hill under the presentation that he’d been heavily punished (whatever happens with the legal system, a year in his prime gone, and his chance at signing a record deal for a receiver dissolved), and the understanding that any further transgression would mean a lifetime ban.

I don’t know if that’s the way the league will go. Punishments usually seem much more tied to protocol and public perception than what’s right.

But, honestly, I’m having a hard time caring about whether he plays again.

There are much more important things going on here.

Look. I’m not an expert on this and won’t pretend to be. There are people who live in this world, of advocating for both understanding and prevention of domestic violence.

So, this is just me talking here.

But the first thing is I’d see if there was a way to keep Hill and Espinal away from each other.

I don’t know the mechanics of this. They have a son, and twins on the way. Other complications exist. But the relationship sure does appear toxic, and it’s hard to imagine an argument that them staying apart isn’t in the best interest of the kids and themselves.

Next, some counseling on parenting.

Because I believe Hill’s statement, even if it was put out through his lawyer before KCTV-5’s audio was released:

“My son’s health and happiness is my number one priority ... My focus remains on working hard to be the best person for my family and our community I can be, and the best player to help our team win.”

I believe that because when I hear the audio, to me, it sounds like a man who doesn’t think punching or using the belt on a 3-year-old is anything other than well-intentioned and tough parenting for a boy who needs it.

That will strike many of you as ridiculous and worse, and I get it. But that’s what it sounded like to me, even without knowing his background didn’t provide him a lot of positive examples. That’s not an excuse. He should be punished if crimes have been committed. But there is context.

So, if I’m right, we have two choices. We can be justifiably appalled and push him away from football. We can make him a pariah and remember him forever as a guy who blew a second chance. That might make us feel a little better, like we’ve righted a wrong.

But to me, that’s justice theater. It doesn’t address the actual problem. Doesn’t help Hill become a better man, and doesn’t take the opportunity of this high-profile case to teach others what’s really happening and needed here especially around women.

So, if it’s up to me, we take the other choice. We remain justifiably appalled and push him away from football. Whatever punishment is coming is deserved. But we also advocate for him to see counselors to teach him how to more effectively parent and generally behave.

We make sure he doesn’t play football — maybe forever, but certainly not until he goes through a long process vetted and approved by folks who live in this world. We make as much of that process as possible public. Not necessarily the personal details with Hill, but the purpose and priorities of the counseling.

There are many, many, many (millions, possibly) Americans who might not ever go beyond the natural first reaction here. They might not ever have another opportunity to understand why shunning perpetrators is actually counterproductive.

They might feel better about taking Hill out of football but not think about the fact that he can’t be taken out of society forever, and that many — too many — more need similar punishments and help and might not even know it.

I know I’m speaking in generalities here, but I hope this makes sense. Punishment should come for any and all crimes. But if that’s as far as it goes we haven’t really helped the problem.

In fact, I’d argue we’ve missed an opportunity. Not just with Hill, but with anyone else following the case.

Thank you for asking this. I was hoping someone would. My inbox is full of similar sentiments and it’s easy to see why.

Tyreek Hill is incredible at football. He’s one of the NFL’s best five or so receivers, and more than that uniquely talented. He is the game’s fastest player, and blessed with terrific ball tracking skills and hands, particularly with contested passes.

More than even all of that, if you did a Madden create-a-player for the perfect pairing for Patrick Mahomes, you would basically end up with Tyreek Hill.

So, sure. Yes. The idea of losing that and eventually watching him play somewhere else is aggravating.

Again, I get it. I’m with you. But here is the answer:

Hell no there should not be.

If the goal is to diminish embarrassment from NFL teams being tied to ugliness, or to encourage teams to more strongly consider how players will act away from the practice facility, or to be an example on how to handle domestic violence, then your suggestion is counterproductive at best.

Teams should not be granted protection against adding players with heightened risk. If anything, there’s a case that they should be further punished. Lose a draft pick, take a fine, something like that.

It could be logically argued that the Chiefs have already benefited greatly from Hill. They got one of the league’s best receivers for a fifth-round pick and relatively minimal salary because at the time of the draft he was on probation for pleading guilty to punching and choking his then-pregnant girlfriend.

They’ve already benefited, then, and it could be argued that other teams that passed on him were punished for “doing the right thing.” Further, it could be argued that the Chiefs got lucky in a sense because this case and the released audio came before they signed him to a contract that would’ve been worth many tens of millions of dollars.

I want to be clear about something. I’m not necessarily advocating for that system. In a perfect world that system would demand teams do everything possible to vet and support risky players, but I think in reality it would also incentivize teams to squash or even cover up crimes.

There is a tendency to look at these things through the prism of football, which is understandable, but we should always be thinking about victims. And a system that punishes teams for risky players getting in trouble would be awful for them.

So I’m not arguing for that. Just presenting a counter-argument to the natural reaction here in Kansas City that the Chiefs should be somehow protected.

They should not be. They drafted Hill while he was on probation for choking his then-pregnant girlfriend. When they did it, they had the arrogance and delusion to say “trust us.” The club’s leadership — and Andy Reid is still here — promised that they would never do something to put the community into a bind.

Three years later, the same player is involved in a child abuse investigation and heard on tape threatening the same women who is again pregnant.

If this happened with any other team in the league, none of you would be advocating that the team receive draft pick compensation for cutting him.

This makes more sense.

A thread under Josh’s tweet here suggests likewise draft picks as compensation. So, for instance, the Browns would give up a third-round pick for signing Kareem Hunt. Tyreek Hill was a fifth-round pick, so a signing team would give up a fifth-round pick.

There are problems with this. Troubled players selected in higher rounds would be punished disproportionately when compared to players selected in lower rounds. The focus of second-chance teams would be even heavier on production over risk than it already is.

There are probably more unintended consequences I’m not thinking about.

But this is a start, at least, and gets to this general theme: if the NFL is serious about taking some of this ugliness out of the league there are ideas that could be implemented.

There’s one more, too. Jamie Kimble was 31 years old when she was shot and killed in 2012 by an ex-boyfriend named Luis Roberson Rodriguez, who worked in operations at Arrowhead.

That case doesn’t get as much attention, for several reasons, most obviously that Rodriguez did not play. But if we’re going to talk about the scope of the Chiefs and domestic violence this is part of the story.

Chiefs defensive lineman Roy Miller was arrested for battery in 2017, and suspended for six games the following season. The Chiefs have had other players involved in ugliness.

What I’m about to say may sound crass, but it’s true: some of this is inevitable. Any randomly selected group of 53 young men is going to carry some risk, and if you add increased risk factors like the violence required and rewarded for professional football and the pressures associated with money, then you will always have some degree of ugliness.

Let’s be clear: that’s not an excuse, and they should all be punished to the extent of the law. But let’s just understand what we’re talking about here.

The separators for the Chiefs are, essentially, the three cases you mention. Let’s go through them.

Jovan Belcher shooting the mother of their child nine times and then driving to the practice facility to kill himself in front of coaches is beyond gruesome. It is the worst and most extreme possible outcome of domestic violence. Two people dead, one innocent, and a child orphaned.

I’m not sure it’s fair to blame the Chiefs here. By all accounts there was nothing to suggest Belcher was dangerous. He was quiet and generally liked by teammates. His body was exhumed and evidence of advanced stages of CTE were found in his brain. Again, that’s not an excuse. It’s a monstrous act. I’m just not sure what the Chiefs could have done differently there.

Kareem Hunt was seen kicking a woman in the hallway of a hotel. Charges were never filed, but the incident was part of a broader and more troubling pattern. He punched a man at a resort in Ohio, and was involved in a fight at Mosaic the night of the Chiefs’ playoff loss to the Titans.

The Chiefs have more culpability here. Hunt was only here for two years but left clues along the way that this would end badly. The Chiefs never had enough from any single incident to justify punishment, but taken as a whole there was enough here that the Chiefs should’ve been concerned and could have done a better job understanding the situation before the security video from the hotel leaked.

Now we get to Tyreek Hill. I was angry when the Chiefs drafted him, largely because they seemed to think that talking about “due diligence” and asking the public to “trust us” was enough. They never seemed to understand how easily this could go wrong, or how little control they had over the outcome.

Hill was, by all accounts, terrific in the building for three years. He was a good teammate, generally humble and grateful publicly and completed all training and counseling required by the courts and league.

But the circumstances of how and when the Chiefs brought him in demand they wear the blame when it goes wrong.

If you think that’s unfair, think about this: If Hill had signed that record-setting contract this summer, there is a 100% chance that the Chiefs would present and accept it as partially their own success.

They would have talked about the due diligence, and how the locker room provided a structure, and how proud they were that Hill had taken the work seriously and become a better man.

That absolutely would have happened, so they should wear it when it goes wrong.

I’ve rambled. You asked a question. Two, actually.

First, I don’t know why this has happened. You can explain each major incident as a one-off if you’re inclined.

But it’s more than that. With Hunt and Hill, the Chiefs trusted the wrong guy. They did not see or ignored signs that should have told them trouble was coming. They have, undoubtedly, been convinced by talent.

Can we expect it to stop? Probably not. I’m just being real. On some level, professional football players will always be “risky.” They are young, self-selected for comfort with violence and then trained on how to amplify that violence.

But if you take nothing else from this particular time suck or from anything I’ve written about this awful situation, please hear this: The Chiefs have long been part of the problem and if they have the guts and the will they can try to be part of the solution.

Domestic violence is a terribly misunderstood epidemic, and the Chiefs stand to be among those spreading education. They can raise their hand and accept their share of the blame, then tell an attentive public where they and so many others have gone wrong, and what they plan to do to help.

They have this opportunity. It would be an absolute shame if they lacked the courage to take it.

First, the editorial board is not “The Star.” I get the confusion, and at least some of that is on us, but the editorial does not speak for news reporters or editors or The Star as a whole.

Second, hell yes they have a point.

Everyone on the editorial board is smarter than me, which isn’t much of a compliment, but the point here is that they don’t need me sticking up for them.

I don’t agree with everything in the piece. The dots between Frank Clark and Tyreek Hill have enough distance and difference in circumstance that I wouldn’t connect them with any degree of certainty, for instance.

But others have, and I understand.

The larger point, though, is that many — too many — fans excuse or rationalize or ignore abuse based on the talent and production of the abuser. Blame is shifted to the victim, which is a problem on many levels.

Way too often acceptable behavior is judged by the uniform color and talent. In some ways that’s inevitable. Better players, just like more valuable workers in any field, will be granted opportunities that others won’t.

But I think the point of the editorial is that the subset of fans — and it’s a minority, as noted in the piece — who blindly blame anyone but the abuser is part of the wider context that creates such a wild power gap.

If you’re not in that group, cool, great, the editorial doesn’t apply.

But if it does apply to you, hopefully the audio tape pushes you to be more open minded in the future.

Well, Dozier. And it’s not close.

A month ago he was a 27-year-old former top prospect with a career .667 OPS. He is now the Royals’ best hitter and second in the American League with a 1.133 OPS.

His 162-game pace: .324/.430/.676 with 40 home runs and a total of 74 extra-base hits. He has 15 walks and 18 strikeouts after coming into the season with 26 and 117.

Small sample size warnings should be flashing in bright neon lights but there are peripheral indications that this is not a fluke: According to Statcast, for instance, only 14 players have a higher average exit velocity. He’s just ahead of Cody Bellinger.

Using other measurements of hard contact — often referenced by hitters and coaches as the only thing a hitter can control — Dozier is generally in baseball’s top 30.

So what gives? Come with me, on a nerdy journey.

Just looking at the numbers, the first thing to jump out is better plate discipline.

According to FanGraphs he’s swinging at just 37 percent of pitches. Only 11 hitters have been more selective. This is an enormous shift — last year he swung over half the time, which would have ranked 32nd out of 140 hitters if he had enough plate appearances.

Using Baseball Reference, we can see that 75 percent of Dozier’s plate appearances have ended with him in an even or favorable count. Last year, it was 65 percent, but here’s an added bonus — he’s hitting .320 even when behind in the count, compared to .142 last year. That’s an indication of a better plan, as well as confidence.

Hitting is as complicated or simple as you want to make it. I don’t know what’s in Dozier’s head. Maybe he’s sitting certain pitches (he’s CRUSHING sliders and sinkers) or certain parts of the zone (he’s Mike Trout on inside pitches). I don’t know. I will try to find out.

Plenty has gone wrong in these first four weeks. The bullpen, most obviously, but Jorge Soler isn’t getting on base, Adalberto Mondesi’s plate discipline has waned, Ryan O’Hearn’s power has dropped off, and Jakob Junis has struggled.

Plenty has gone right, too. Alex Gordon is playing remarkably well, Brad Keller has generally backed it up*, Whit Merrifield still exists, and Jorge Lopez has pitched better than his numbers.

* I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt from last night. He was yanking everything. Maybe that’s rust. He’s walking far too many, but he’s shown an ability to adjust.

But Dozier’s emergence is potentially the most significant development, at least judged against reasonable expectations. He’s hit the ball hard before, but not like this, and not paired with the patience to hunt his pitch and the aggression to smash it when it comes.

A list? A list of the 10 most important Royals players the rest of the season!

This list is perhaps more tilted toward big leaguers than the broader state of the franchise dictates. With more room or a different perspective this list would include Josh Staumont, Kyle Zimmer, Bubba Starling*, Khalil Lee, Kyle Isbel, Seuly Matias, MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto**, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and others.

* He’s slashing .333/.382/.449 in 20 games at Class AAA Omaha.

** He’s slashing .160/.261/.198 in 24 games at Class A Wilmington, which is a rotten place to hit, but still.

This list is also focused mostly on the future, so Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy don’t make the list. Ryan O’Hearn was another close call.

10. Richard Lovelady. He has a funky delivery and a lot of potential, and not just as a lefty specialist. The Royals obviously need help in the bullpen and a successful big league transition by Lovelady (he’ll turn 24 in July) would be an encouraging step.

9. Kelvin Gutierrez. Holy small sample size but he’s hitting .364 and reached base five times in three games. He centered the Kelvin Herrera trade with the Nationals last year, and the Royals saw him as a potential two-way stud as a defensive third baseman and power hitter. Long way to go, but so far so good.

8. Whit Merrifield. That he’s this low is a compliment, because he doesn’t have anything to prove. This is who he is: a very good player whose value is amplified with versatility not just in where he can play but how he can help win games — base running, hitting, power, good defender.

7. Jakob Junis. Club officials have indicated the biggest room for potential improvement from the last rebuild to this one is with the rotation. There’s a bit of a caveat in here, because it’s a tacit admission that matching the success of the HDH bullpen will be a challenge, but Junis is a potentially important piece to team’s next rotation. Like a lot of young pitchers he struggles with consistency. Everything in this paragraph also applies to Jorge Lopez.

6. Nicky Lopez. He’s long been one of the organization’s more coveted prospects and is now slashing .342/.416/.494 in Omaha. He’s playing a lot of shortstop but has always profiled as a second baseman in the big leagues. Many Royals fans will like this part: when he comes up he figures to push Chris Owings toward the bench.

5. Brady Singer. Last year’s top pick and generally regarded as the organization’s best prospect. He’s off to a good start, too: 2.93 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings. This is the flip of Pratto’s slow start: Class A Wilmington is a great place for pitchers, but still.

4. Hunter Dozier. Nobody has gained more in the last month, and it’s not even close. We talked about him at length earlier, but if he’s a dependable and productive big leaguer over the next five years or so it changes a lot for the Royals.

3. Jorge Soler. He’s hitting balls at Kauffman Stadium to places only opponents have touched. He’s also leading the league in strikeouts — he’s struck out at least once in all but four of 29 games — and an adventure in right field. Still, he remains one of the big-league team’s three highest-ceiling players.

2. Brad Keller. We’ve written plenty about Keller, and his emergence from Rule 5 to future cornerstone is a tremendous organizational success. He’s a strong candidate for a long-term contract extension.

1. Adalberto Mondesi. You knew where this was headed, right? I believe this: he is the big league team’s best athlete since Bo Jackson and has the potential to be the team’s best player since Carlos Beltran. Plate discipline is the biggest obstacle, but even if he doesn’t improve he has a real chance to be the best shortstop the Royals have ever had.

I believe in Duffy. But I’m starting to believe in him more as a reliever than a starter.

He’s 30 years old and hasn’t pitched 180 innings in a season, but retains superior stuff and commitment. Seems to me he’d profile as a high strikeout and potential late inning shutdown reliever.

That’s a hell of a thing.

He’ll get another shot on Wednesday, and if he can be a reliable six-inning starter he can help move this thing forward. I just wonder how long the Royals should keep trying the same thing, particularly as they could use someone to solidify the backend.

Also, I don’t think you want Kennedy starting. He’s in the bullpen for a reason, including health.

My favorite pick of the draft was Virginia safety Juan Thornhill in the second round.

Chiefs secondary coach Dave Merritt had him as the draft’s top safety, and he figures to be a strong complement to Tyrann Mathieu’s skill set.

Thornhill has some versatility — let’s be honest, you better have some — to play corner but his strength is as more of a classic centerfield type safety. I’ve made this comparison before, and I’ll do it here again as long as you guys promise to understand I’m not saying Thornhill is as good as this guy.

Deal?

Promise?

OK.

The skills and strengths Thornhill has are similar to the skills and strengths that made the Chiefs so aggressive in pursuing Earl Thomas through trade last year and free agency this year.

Thornhill is a terrific athlete, even by NFL standards, and has shown excellent instincts and playmaking ability.

The rest of it:

Mecole Hardman. I don’t believe the Chiefs when they say this would’ve been the pick even without Tyreek Hill’s troubles, and what’s more, I don’t think the Chiefs expect me to believe that. It’s true that there was a run on corners a little higher than the Chiefs would’ve been comfortable trading up, but so much of Hardman’s strengths are Hill’s.

He’s one of the fastest players in the draft, and while he’s said to be a bit raw in terms of route-running and sight adjustments, he’s also a smart kid who’s at least shown flashes of making contested catches. That’s a good place to start.

Khalen Saunders. Terrifically interesting prospect: 324 pounds, played running back in high school, does back flips, and at least occasionally lined up as an edge rusher at Western Illinois. Obviously the level of competition is a concern, but Saunders eased that by showing out — do the kids still say that? — at the Senior Bowl.

One of Brett Veach’s highest priorities since taking over has been improving the defensive line. The Chiefs should have a really nice rotation going forward, with a lot of young guys.

Rashad Fenton profiles as a developmental corner, in the mold of Tremon Smith and Charvarius Ward. You never know with these guys. There’s a bit of a lottery pick feel to them. But I do like the idea of playing a numbers game with the position.

Darwin Thompson is small at 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds, but in the relatively little tape I’ve watched his balance and ability to run through initial contact jump off the screen. The biggest question might be his vision, which is really a make-or-break skill for a back, but he’s strong in the pass game and has a real opportunity to make an impact.

Nick Allegretti is an interior lineman with a masters degree and coin collection. Veach singled him out as a guy in line for playing time this fall, which doesn’t always happen with late sixth-round picks.

Judging a draft is so subjective. The thought process behind each pick makes sense to me, even if it would’ve been nice to get a corner earlier. The draft should also be taken in the context of the Frank Clark trade.

Overall, I give it a simultaneous thumbs up and shoulder shrug.

I can answer this in the micro or the macro.

Let’s do micro first. Assuming I have the time I’ll take my mind away from the blank screen in front of me. I’d love to tell you I go for a run or volunteer my time to help those in need but, let’s be honest, more often I go to the fridge and eat cheese.

But sometimes I’ll play with my kids! Or if they’re at school my dog! Or, maybe, read something that has nothing to do with what I’m writing about. But, really, cheese is delicious.

Now the macro. I believe writers’ block is bull(crap). Maybe at some point in my career I will talk with a writers’ block advocate, and he or she will convince me that this is a disease to be treated, but for now I think it’s a soft copout.

Because we all have jobs, right? My wife’s an interior designer. I’ve never heard her complain about designer’s block. My neighbor is a kindergarten teacher. I’ve never heard her call in with teacher’s block. Another neighbor is a doctor. You think she can just call in and claim doctor’s block?

You just write. That’s how you get through writer’s block. You’re not Shakespeare, and what you’re writing isn’t going to change the world (especially if you have writer’s block), so just start writing.

There’s a lot to unpack, and this is one of those things I could probably write 5,000 words on. I’m genuinely conflicted here, and obviously my view on some of this has changed with two young boys.

Like, here’s a thing that’s true. Our 5 year old started to get into football last fall. Most of it was because of Patrick Mahomes (he has a Chiefs helmet, and he’ll sometimes ask if his hair sticks out the back like Mahomes) but he also talked a lot about “the really fast guy who does silly dances.”

In a perfect world, every professional athlete would be the kind of man you’d want your daughter to marry. They’d all be Alex Smith, in other words, or Mahomes or Eric Berry or Dustin Colquitt or Alex Gordon or Matt Besler.

But it doesn’t work like that, and teams are businesses, and those businesses are rewarded much more for winning than fielding a roster of potential preschool teachers.

Again, I want to emphasize that my view on this stuff is changing more than ever as our kids grow up, but here’s where I am at the moment:

What about the kids? is a copout, because it’s not up to teams to raise our children. It’s up to us parents.

Sports and the teams that play them have always been a microcosm of society. Used right, that can be particularly valuable to those of us who don’t pay as much attention as we probably should to rest of the world around us.

What I mean is we should all reject the fake-from-the-beginning-of-time narrative that athletic success is an indication of character. Some of the best people in the world are athletes, just like some of the worst people in the world are athletes. The same could be said about most professions, including sports writers.

With that in mind, sports can be a tool. Our 5-year-old is much likelier to notice if Gravedigger is missing from this summer’s Monster Jam at Arrowhead than if Tyreek Hill isn’t playing in the fall.

But if he asks about Hill, it’s an opportunity. A chance to tell him that the fast guy did something bad and so he can’t play. Actions have consequences.

I don’t know if that’s the best way. Someone smarter than me can let me know. But it’s the best way I can think of, and much better than expecting these highly competitive businesses fueled by highly competitive young men who’ve self-selected themselves for violence to help us raise our kids.

Now, there are tentacles of this conversation we could examine forever, including the increasing speed of the world, availability of information, and the changing definition of masculinity and what’s expected of men.

I wasn’t kidding when I said I could write 5,000 words on this. They might not all be interesting, or coherent, but they would be written. Maybe this is a conversation we continue in the future.

This is a true story. For the longest time I stayed away from whiskey because I didn’t think I was man enough for it. The smell was strong, and anytime I’d take a sip the experience knocked me back a bit. So I stuck with my beer and occasional gin and tonic.

I don’t know why I changed, but I believe cutting it with ginger ale was my gateway into the wonderful and rewarding world of whiskey. Honestly, I can’t tell you the last time I drank anything other than water, coffee, beer or whiskey.

One of those things is healthy!

This is a bit of a long way of saying no, of course not. You are not less of a man for not enjoying whiskey. Drink what makes you happy, and nobody should ever say a word about it unless you drink too much of it and throw up on their shoes or something.

But I will say one more thing about this. The idea of judging manliness based on beverage choice is patently ridiculous and I don’t know you, Brett. But if we were friends, and out at a bar, and I ordered whiskey and your drink came with an umbrella you can bet your literal last dollar I would make fun of you.

If we were really friends, I’d hope you’d do the same to me.

This week, I’m particularly grateful that Marriott is getting into some Airbnb type stuff. It’s hard to find a good hotel setup for families. I realize this is obnoxious first world stuff, but my life just got a little bit better.

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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.

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