Almost required that politics be part of the daily sports menu

Almost required that politics be part of the daily sports menu

“Stick to sports” is dead. Long live “stick to politics and do sports in your spare time.”

On an otherwise peaceful Monday, we discovered that Duke’s second-round loss to South Carolina is being blamed in part on North Carolina’s controversial law SB 2, which caused the East Regional first round to be moved from Greensboro, N.C. to Greenville, S.C., thereby giving South Carolina a home-court advantage (and Duke a disadvantage) it should not have otherwise had.

The argument is nonsense given that South Carolina clearly played the superior game, but it is made nonetheless because politics.

Then Denver Broncos executive John Elway, using his own letterhead, endorsed and urged senators to approve Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. I wonder how many “stick to sports” admonitions he received.

And then Spike Lee claimed that a fulminating conspiracy exists keeping Colin Kaepernick out of the NFL, presumably because he didn’t slavishly and unthinkingly honor the National Anthem by standing like a robot and thinking of anything that came to his head during its playing.

Frankly, next to these little week-starters, the continued sniveling over whether Oklahoma City has expressed enough love to Kevin Durant is an embarrassment to all readers everywhere.

In fact, it is an embarrassment anyway. We have been flogging this idiocy for eight months now, and we show no signs of leaving it alone. Frankly, if this is the alternative, give me politics every time.

But we digress. Now that we have the most polarizing President in history (with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, with whom Donald Trump will never be compared) to reflect the most polarized United States there has been since the Civil War, it is not only normal but almost required that politics be part of the daily sports menu.

Fewer and fewer sporting figures, from owners on down the organizational chart, are reluctant to air their politics in public. They believe, correctly if you’re one of those constitutional junkies who believes the amendments were put there for a reason, that as citizens they get to speak up when the mood strikes them, and that even silence can be a political statement.

In that way, they reflect us as a nation as they are supposed to, and we are not handling these days well at all. Everyone has an opinion, that opinion needs to be shouted and disseminated to strangers without the strangers’ input, and the technology makes that more likely to happen than not.

Of course the NCAA gets to decide how it does business as long as it is prepared for the public fallout. Of course John Elway gets to advocate for Supreme Court justices. Of course Spike Lee gets to claim the NFL is deliberately punishing Kaepernick for not being Republican owner-friendly – although Lee strangely decides Kaepernick should be punished on the back end by urging that he go to the New York Jets.

And that’s the new deal, kids. It’s not going away either. In fact, it will get more and more pronounced as time goes on because the United States is filled with aggrieved people with the power to pipe up and a disinclination to pipe down.

Is this good? Who the hell knows? It irritates people, which the main goal of communication in 21st century America, which probably isn’t sustainable in the long run. It also breaks down the hypocritical taboo of sports figures not involving themselves in politics when athletes and management people have run for office and contributed to candidates for decades, which clearly makes it sustainable.

In other words, the problem here isn’t Duke/South Carolina, or John Elway, or Spike Lee. The problem here is us and our new definition of political discourse, which is a vat of pure boomslang venom with a side of Serbia-v.-Croatia tribal politics. Taking a side doesn’t make you new friends, it makes you new enemies, and in a world in which it is easier than ever to be an enemy (on the internet, you don’t even have to be present or give your real name, that’s how easy it is), ideas like team-building and fan support become more difficult propositions.

But that’s who we are now, which means that’s what sports has to be now. We are not separate from how we converse with each other, which is why “stick to sports” is now more of a fraud than ever.

Except for Spike Lee trying to put Colin Kaepernick on the New York Jets. That, given the tenor of the time, may classify as a war crime.

49ers 'ecstatic' with first-day haul in the 2017 NFL Draft

49ers 'ecstatic' with first-day haul in the 2017 NFL Draft

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers began Thursday with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.

When his first day as 49ers general manager reached its conclusion, John Lynch had selected two of the three top players on his draft board and picked up additional third-round picks for this year and next year.

After Myles Garrett, the 49ers’ top-rated prospect, was the Cleveland Browns’ selection at No. 1 overall, the 49ers traded back one spot with the Chicago Bears. The 49ers still got their No. 2-rated prospect, Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.

The 49ers started making calls to teams with selections in the teens, according to coach Kyle Shanahan, to inquire about trading up for Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. The 49ers finally worked a deal with the Seattle Seahawks to move up three spots to No. 31.

All they gave up was a fourth-round pick acquired from the Bears earlier in the day.

“In terms of how we rated them, we got two of our top three players,” Lynch said. “We’re thrilled. We’re ecstatic. I think these guys have traits that encompass what we want to be about as a football organization.”

Lynch said he began speaking with Bears general manager Ryan Pace more than a week ago. Because the 49ers had picks scheduled next to the Bears in every round, Pace suggested to Lynch that the two teams should be willing to work with each other throughout the draft.

The 49ers had other offers for the No. 2 pick, Lynch said. A source told NBC Sports Bay Area just prior to the start of the draft that the 49ers had fielded three solid offers.

The team’s chief strategy officer Paraag Marathe worked out the details to finalize the trade with the Bears.

The 49ers did not know which player the Bears were targeting at No. 2, but Shanahan voiced his opinion while the trade was going down.

“This guy is a pretty bright,” Lynch said of Shanahan. “He said, ‘That’s not for a defensive lineman. That’s for a quarterback.’ And he was right.”

The Bears made the trade to select North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick. In order for the Bears to trade up one spot, they delivered the 49ers a third-round pick (No. 67), a fourth-round pick (No. 111) and a third-round pick next year.

Jacksonville executive Tom Coughlin, whose team held the No. 4 pick, watched and admired the 49ers' move from afar. 

"To get what you had in mind right off the bat and pick up those extra picks? Pretty nice deal," Coughlin told Jacksonville reporters. "I’ve never seen one of those. . . Oh, my gosh. Nothing like that has ever come my way.”

When asked if the 49ers would have selected Foster if the Bears selected Thomas, Lynch said, “Perhaps. It was very likely.”

Instead, the 49ers waited and waited and waited before finding a trade partner in an unlikely place. The 49ers made a deal with Seattle, giving up the 111th pick obtained from Chicago, to select Foster. The Saints had already told Foster he would be the pick one spot later.

“He’s my kind of player,” Lynch said of Foster. “He plays sideline to sideline, and he’ll hit anything that moves. I think that’s contagious for teammates.”

Foster is recovering from shoulder surgery and his stock was negatively affected by character concerns. He was sent home from the NFL scouting combine after an argument with a hospital worker during his medical check. He also had a positive drug test due to a diluted urine sample.

Lynch spent a lot of time with Foster during his visit to Santa Clara, as well as a meeting him at the combine. Both Lynch and Shanahan spoke regularly with Foster on the phone and on FaceTime in the past few weeks.

The 49ers also dispatched vice president of football affairs Keena Turner and team chaplain Earl Smith to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to meet with Foster for two days. The team will have a plan in place to help guide Foster as he transitions to professional football, Lynch said.

“I would tell you that his character is what drew us to him,” Lynch said. “When you start talking football with this young man, he lights up a room. He’s a good kid. I believe in the kid. I think he’ll be a great player for this organization for a long time.”

What we really learned from day one of the 2017 NFL Draft

What we really learned from day one of the 2017 NFL Draft

So after one day of the NFL Draft, we know the following:
 
1.        Roger Goodell could be booed on the surface of the sun, and if you don’t think so, let’s all agree to give that thesis a try.
 
2.        The Oakland Raiders have invested a lot in Gareon Conley’s word.
 
3.        John Lynch is either a swindler, or he was presented with a deal that only an idiot could refuse.
 
Let’s do Goodell first. He was booed lustily and often by the huge Philadelphia crowd, and though he would be booed anywhere (and he half-heartedly asked for more with a smile that looked more like a dog sticking his head out of a speeding car window), Philadelphia booing causes osteoporosis.
 
Next, we go to the Raiders, who used the 24th pick in the draft to take Conley, the secondary man from Ohio State who is being investigated for rape. Conley has maintained his innocence, putting out a statement denying all the accusations, and TMZ claims to have a video that calls into question the woman’s story. In other words, nobody can be sure of anything quite yet.
 
Except the Raiders seemed sure enough to take him, and general manager Reggie McKenzie said the team investigated him and the incident thoroughly. In short, given Mark Davis’ stated opposition to employing players involved in violence against women, McKenzie better be right, and close enough to right to assuage any misgivings Davis or the customer base might have.
 
As far as Conley the player, check back with us in at least two years.
 
Finally, there is Lynch, who squeezed (or was amazingly offered) three picks from Chicago Bears’ general manager Ryan Pace in exchange for one place in the draft. Pace, who was immediately described by Wikipedia as “the soon-to-be former general manager,” took North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, whom the 49ers had little interest in.
 
In other words, Lynch either pulled a fast one, or had a fast one handed to him. Either way, the 49ers got Solomon Thomas, the defensive lineman from Stanford they had long coveted, plus a third-round pick tomorrow, one next year and one in the fourth round that they helped spin into Reuben Foster, the Alabama linebacker who fell from much loftier draft positions apparently because of shoulder concerns.
 
In short, McKenzie got a much-needed secondary man who might end up being more trouble legally than he is worth athletically (though the level of doubt here is sufficient to jump to no conclusions quite yet), and Lynch won a reputation as the young Billy The Kid, smiling precociously while he robs you at gunpoint.
 
Time will tell whether he also gets to be called a great talent evaluator, but for the moment, don’t ask him to hold your wallet. That, kids, is the highest compliment a general manager can receive on the first night of his first NFL Draft.