Chat with Chris Jones
Welcome to SportsNation! On Wednesday, ESPN The Magazine columnist Chris Jones stops by to chat about the NFL and discuss whether the league should ban the kickoff.
Jones, @MySecondEmpire, is the back-page columnist for ESPN The Magazine. He is also a Writer at Large for Esquire.
Send your questions now and join Jones Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET!
Wouldn't there be less opposition to removing the kickoff now that the kicking spot has been moved and so many sail past the end zone?
Chris Jones (1:14 PM)
Hey everybody-welcome to the live chat. This didn't take me ten minutes to type. Technical issues. WE LIVE IN THE FUTURE. This should be fun.Alex-this is my thinking. In the arguments I've heard in favor of kickoffs, people are talking about the former version. The new version, for me, at least, is pretty boring. Nearly half of the time, it's a touchback. Half the time, we're essentially starting the game with a symbolic kicking of the ball. I think eliminating the kickoff in favor of punts not only makes the game safer, but makes it better.
Seth (Dayton, Tennessee)
If they remove the kickoff how would teams that are behind get the ball back?
Chris Jones (1:18 PM)
Well, the Schiano plan calls for the kicking team to have the option of taking a 4th-and-15 from their own 30. Apparently that sort of play has the same odds of conversion as an onside kick. I like that idea because you're putting the game in the hands of its best players: the quarterback and the rest of the offense. You're not relying on some fluke bounce of an onside kick to determine the outcome of the game.Schiano is open to other ideas, but that was the best he could come up with to replace the onside kick. I think it's a cool idea. I love the strategy that would require. You'd draw up all sorts of 4th-and-15 plays, just in case.
Luke Schnoebelen (Kansas City)
Chris,If you remove the Kickoff, what happens to the special set of special teams talent that only block/return kicks? Also, does this diminish the value of a kicker?
Chris Jones (1:22 PM)
Hey Luke. I think like any rule change, this would have an impact on rosters and players, but not a ridiculous impact. Your kicker is still critical for field goals. Your return men are still critical (Devin Hester, by the way, has returned more than twice as many punts for touchdowns as kickoffs). There might not be an opening on special teams for a blocking specialist.However, your punter suddenly becomes a really important part of the game. And so, too, your long snapper. I think you'd see teams carrying two long snappers, so you don't have the situation we had in Oakland a couple weeks back.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Did you think that the Last Play of the Seahawks-Packers Game was Pass Interference against Golden Tate?
Chris Jones (1:25 PM)
I think it was pretty much everything against Golden Tate except for a reception.I saw just before I came on here that the NFL and the officials are close to settling. WHAT A COINCIDENCE.If I can put my tinfoil hat on for a second, there hasn't been a lot of talk about concussions or injuries (except in reference to blown calls by the replacement refs). It's like that enormous issue was suddenly pushed aside by this officiating debacle. Honestly, I have a hard time believing Goodell is stupid enough to think this would work out just fine. It's been totally insane.
With removing the onside kick and going to the 4th and 15 from the 30, you eliminate the surprise and help the DEF even more do you not?
Chris Jones (1:26 PM)
I would say in the vast majority of situations, the defense knows you're going for the onside kick. It's pretty rare (like Sean Payton's dice roll) when it's anything other than the last play of the game.
Is this a real chat?
Chris Jones (1:26 PM)
Are you that kid who went to the dentist?
Rob Ford (Toronto)
The idea of banning kickoffs is an interesting one. In your article I believe it stated that a 4th and 15 has the same odds as an on side kick. While this might be true, won't it definitely favor some teams more heavily than others, where I imagine an onside kick is more of a 50/50 toss up? Any other interesting ideas besides the 4th and 15?
Chris Jones (1:28 PM)
Mr. Mayor, honored to have you here. Onside kick is nothing like 50-50, and neither is the 4th and 15. I haven't heard any replacement proposals, but I think an important part of this discussion is that sort of brainstorming. Maybe there's a fan with a genius idea that changes the game for the better.
You know what convinced me, CJ? Sitting in the stands in Buffalo, maybe 10 yards away from where Kevin Everett fell, and seeing him try to get up. I thought I was watching a man die right in front of me.
Chris Jones (1:29 PM)
I think it was Carson Palmer who said that he feared someone would die out there. Football is important and beloved, but I think we'd all agree that it's not worth anyone dying over. The players have outgrown the game. That's just simple math.
So, should we also eliminate tackling? It might be TOO dangerous
Chris Jones (1:30 PM)
This is the intellectual equivalent of the people who say "ban knives" during gun-control debates.
Chad (West Virginia)
What's the biggest blockade in trying to get the kickoff eliminated?
Chris Jones (1:31 PM)
Honestly? I think it's emotional value. I think it's hard for people to imagine football games starting any other way. I mean, "kicking things off" has become a metaphor for other parts of life. This is not a small deal.
How do you feel about the potential global shortage of bacon? This seems like possibly the worst thing that's ever happened to humans, right?
Chris Jones (1:32 PM)
I know I'm supposed to worry about things like climate change and my children's future more, but I don't want to live in a world without bacon. Take my air first.
Michael Clayton (Connecticut)
If ESPN were to do a commercial with you in it, how would it go?
Chris Jones (1:34 PM)
It would look like John Clayton's, except that I'd be listening to the Weakerthans and it would be totally real.
Joel (Philly )
Do you think 100 years from now kids in college will be studying, as a business case, "the decline of football?" -- in the last 10 years it's been thoroughly ascendant, but, then--that's what always happens (c.f., boxing, horse racing). Or do you think they figure it out. (Not for credit, in 100 years we're all dead). Also, please discuss soccer.
Chris Jones (1:38 PM)
I think we're at a very interesting spot with football. I really believe the next five years will decide its fate. All the coming lawsuits, rule changes, greed, violence, all that stuff... It's going to be really interesting to watch.If you took a boxing fan from, say, 1968 and brought him to look at the game today, he would never believe it's fallen as far as it has. I wouldn't rule anything out.I love soccer. Covering the 2010 World Cup in South Africa for this very fine establishment was one of the best experiences of my life. The Luis Suarez hand ball and the missed penalty... I felt that in my chest.
How about instead of removing it, they just put it back to the way it were before.
Chris Jones (1:39 PM)
The kickoff? Impossible to go back. Now that the NFL has announced that the rule change has reduced concussions by 40 percent, putting it back the way it was would be a willful ignorance of player safety. They'd be choosing the game over the safety of the players, and that's when you'd really see a lawsuit stick. It's the way kickoffs are today, or it's an entirely new version, I believe.
John (Los Angeles)
Chris you're the best. Do you feel your approach to writing changing at all as you get older? Do you have favorite piece you've written?
Chris Jones (1:42 PM)
NO, YOU'RE THE BEST. Thanks John.Serious answer: I think the older I've gotten, the more important reporting has become to me. Writing has always been pretty hard for me, but I've learned over the years that the more reporting I do, the easier writing is. I used to think the writing was all anybody saw, so it was all that matter, but the reporting is really at the heart of every good story or column. Just straight opinion doesn't do it for me. I like facts.I'm pretty pleased with my ESPN the Mag column lately. I liked the one I did on the Paterno statue. And the day I got to carry around the Stanley Cup was one of the best days of my life.
Pemberton (West Virginia)
If the fifteen year-old version of yourself looked into a crystal ball and saw that you were hosting a live-chat on ESPN in 2012, and people were asking you about the extinction of bacon and stuff, how would you have reacted?
Chris Jones (1:44 PM)
I feel like there's a movie pitch somewhere in here. I'm still amazed by things every day. I don't mean that to sound sappy. I'm legitimately stupefied by stuff all the time. I have no idea how any of this work. I just know that bacon is delicious.
Nathan (Edmonton (Canada))
Are people saying that the rule banning wedges didn't work? Wouldn't removing the kickoff lead to a rule removing punts?
Chris Jones (1:45 PM)
I don't see why. Punts are statistically much safer than kicks. The problem with kickoffs is the distance between the two teams. They have such long running starts at each other, the collisions are brutal. That's not the case with punts.
James Earl (Jones)
What's the worst piece of advice you can give a fledgling writer?
Chris Jones (1:46 PM)
Don't read anything. Don't care. Don't aspire. Don't bother getting off your couch. Just write off the top of your head. And make sure you treat editors like crap.
Heck NO (Better never happen)
If they remove the kickoff from football I will stop watching the NFL. It is already moving more towards a powder puff league every year.
Chris Jones (1:49 PM)
I think you should think honestly about what the kickoff brings to the game, and what an alternative, like Schiano's proposal, would bring to it. I also think you should play NFL football for exactly 45 seconds and then tell me how powder puff it is, exactly.
Lance (Vancouver, BC)
We've read your posts on no cheering from press box. I'm wondering if you've watched the replay of the GB/SEA incident and noticed the photg fist-pumping and smiling. Wouldn't you just love to be his editor?
Chris Jones (1:51 PM)
Hard to take good pictures when you're pumping your fist, I'm guessing.
C. Tyler (WV)
Three month ago, the NFL says, "Chris, we don't care that you're a writer and not a referee. Point blank: We want you to ref, particularly this Monday Night Football game between the Seahawks and Packers in September. We'll pay you $10,000 per game, all expenses paid. You in?" What's your answer?
Chris Jones (1:54 PM)
Of course not. I can't imagine anything worse than feeling hugely unqualified in a massive spotlight. One of the things I've learned is that there is a beautiful feeling that comes with competence. I mean that. There is nothing better than knowing that you can do something and that you will do it well. Fear is a great motivator, but I believe confidence is a better one.Wow. Kind of got all Tony Robbins there. Sorry about that.
Greg (Westfield, MA)
A couple of journalism q's: What advice can you give a young, up-and-coming writer? Also, have you ever written a story that you thought was really great yet, it never saw the light of day?
Chris Jones (1:56 PM)
Read, practice, get better, care with all your heart.One story of mine that got killed that I was sad about was a profile of Curtis Martin. He got injured very early in the season and the story got spiked. But I really, really liked him. He was a fascinating dude. He lived in a custom penthouse on top of a retirement home in Long Island, because that meant his neighbors were all asleep by nine. He had a beautiful art collection. A really smart, careful guy. He also had a urinal, which I thought was totally awesome.
Tag on to "powder puff" question and in the spirit of radio callers everywhere who farcically say "you never played the game": which sport has the biggest delta between High School and professional? I feel like a baseball player could hide out there a few innings. B-ball and football:immediately, ruthlessly exposed.
Chris Jones (2:00 PM)
That's a great question. It has to be football, right? I'm trying to picture a high school kid trying to take down even someone like Ray Rice. You'd get absolutely trucked. Hockey would probably be second. The physical games. When Marty McSorley had that massive suspension, I watched him practice with an OHL team. He was older by then, and he never the greatest skater, but watching him stake on that rink... He was a totally different machine. Basketball, depends on the kid. Baseball, you could a little. Everybody strikes out.But watching up close, the sport that for me is hugely different? Golf. The difference between what those guys can do and what we can do? It's galactic.
What advice can you give a middle age-ish aspiring writer, who has barely published anything, and is currently buried under job and life duties, but believes he has something great inside? In other words, how to break through, when you're not even in the game? Asking for a friend.
Chris Jones (2:02 PM)
Tell your friend that writing is a business based on evidence. You can talk a good game all you want, and you can believe that you have something great inside of yourself (and you must have that belief, I think), but until you sit your butt down and put something on paper, it's all make-believe.
Instead of eliminating kickoffs, just let the kicker punt the ball instead of hitting it off the tee. Then move the kickoff up 10 yards or so to even out the difference in yardage. Still have a return play, but less distance and less forceful collisions.
Chris Jones (2:03 PM)
Exactly. My current Mag column is about this (so was this chat, until I got sidetracked by bacon). Replace kickoffs with punts, replace the onside kick with something like Greg Schiano's proposal of a 4th-and-15 from your own 30. You make the game safer and better. I think it would be much more interesting to watch.
Stan (Fort Knox)
I want a urinal in my house too!
Chris Jones (2:04 PM)
Dude, I renovate houses and looked into it for our last house. They use a lot of water. (The low-water ones tend to get a little whiffy.) But the dream is alive.
Chris I see you take the time to answer journalism questions, pass out advice, teach at colleges and even at one point have a blog about the craft. Why is giving back so important to you?
Chris Jones (2:06 PM)
I was a kid once. When I was a young reporter, I covered a fight in New York. I really wanted to work for a magazine, and after the fight, a bunch of writers were at a bar. Richard Hoffer from SI was there. I cornered him. Like, literally, I had him in a corner, and I peppered him with questions about the writing and the business. It might have been close to an hour. He probably doesn't remember that night, but I do. Not to sound sentimental, but I hope there's a kid out there who thinks of me the way I still think of Richard Hoffer.
Why can't there be an onside punt kick? These guys are clever, they can figure out a way to hit the ball. The colllisions would still be there, but I idea of an extra offensive play reeks of the "you make it, you take it" mentality in street basketball games.
Chris Jones (2:07 PM)
I would say that if you can't stop a team on 4th and 15, then they deserve to keep the ball. Put the fate of the game in your best players. You can't stop them, that's too bad.
C. Tyler (WV)
Which do you feel more of as a writer: envy or unworthiness?
Chris Jones (2:08 PM)
Ha, this reminds me of a headline I saw once: PATSY OR THIEF? I was like, that's not much of a choice. If I had to pick between your two, I'd pick envy. I still get jealous all the time. But I love my life. Writing has been very good to me. Dream job.
Nick (corona) [via mobile]
How does one become a writer for espn? Serious question.
Chris Jones (2:12 PM)
All right, last question. Hopefully reading this online chat has told you exactly what not to do. No, seriously: This business is not all that complicated. If you're good at your job, if you're talented, and if you then put that good work in front of someone who can hire you, then you're off and running. But it all starts with doing good work. Good work wins. I really believe that.Thanks everybody for your questions. Sorry for the slow start. Apparently em dashes befuddle the tiny gnomes who make this all possible, which is a problem for me, because if there's anything I love nearly as much as bacon, it's em dashes. But this was fun for me. I hope you enjoyed it, too. We'll do it again sometime. Thanks again.