For me, the thing that gets lost the most is the fear.
I'm not saying it isn't mentioned, because it is. Just as a throwaway, somewhere in the middle, as part of a list, a quick reason as to why, and then quickly moved off of. But not as a focus, and for me, fear is the key to the whole thing.
Many, many words have been written about Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin, and many more will before we are all said and done. They talk about locker room dynamics and racism and whether a grown man can be bullied. They ask if Incognito stepped over the line and whether Martin is "tough enough" to play in the NFL. They wonder how the Dolphins players let this go on as long as they did, how the Dolphins coaches and front office could possibly not be aware, and they talk about the supposed friendship between the two men.
They don't talk about the fear.
There's been a million reactions to this story and more are coming every day, but among the questions that start to show up are, "How come he didn't speak up before, how come he left instead of just handling it himself, how come he exchanged all the text messages with Incognito?"
I don't know the answer because I'm not him, but I can guess. Because I've been there. My whole life, I've been there. I'm still there.
The first memory I have of getting bullied was in grade school. I was a small kid and in order to sit down to eat lunch, I had to "pay" with my dessert. Whatever dessert my mom had packed for lunch, that was my "fee," no matter where I tried to sit.
I moved around a lot as a kid. Starting with the city I was born in, I had lived in five different cities by the time I hit 13, including two cities in Virginia (that's where my Washington fandom comes from) and winding up in Texas at age 12. Texas was the worst for this sort of thing. Having moved around a lot, I was always the new kid. Socially awkward to begin with (still am!), the constant moving didn't help develop those skills any. Add in big, frizzy hair and thick glasses and it's no wonder I had trouble fitting in. Or why I tried so hard to fit in, which of course only made it worse.
A sensitive, Jewish kid in a smallish Texas town didn't play well in the '80s, and my classmates let me know it. Constantly. While walking in hallways to class, I'd subtly get pushed into lockers. I remember one time after tennis practice, a group of us went to go get drinks at a convenience store. We all piled into one kid's car. We got out, I walked in first, when all of sudden they all turned, jumped back into the car and left me. This was obviously before the days of cell phones or anything. That was a long, two-mile walk back to school, where I found them playing hoops and laughing at me.
There would be cruel nicknames, insults, trashing my house with toilet paper and shoe polish, and later, when I was driving and had a used Honda Accord, they'd trash that. Many times I would wake up in the morning or walk out of school to find my car had shoe polish all over it, talking about how ugly I was, mocking my religion, questioning my sexuality or sometimes just plain simple "blank you, blank" type profanity. All over the windows.
This happened at least twice a month for about two years. It wasn't the two hours or so it took to clean and wash the car each time that was the worst. It was the look. The look on my classmates' faces when we walked out to the parking lot and they'd see it. Or worse, the look on my mom's face when we'd run out of the house because we heard a noise in the middle of the night, only to see a car quickly driving away and my car, our driveway and house trashed with notes. I mean, I knew I wasn't popular, but did my parents have to know? Soul-crushing. Humiliating. Heartbreaking.
Death by a thousand cuts. It's not any one incident (though a few stand out to me, even two decades later), but the totality of it all, the seemingly nonstop barrage that comes your way. You feel helpless. It's a group against one. Tell an authority figure and you're a tattletale. They'll just come at you harder and more cleverly disguised. You feel embarrassed. You get jumpy, looking and assuming things are there when they aren't.
You live in fear. That's the fear I'm talking about. The fear no one seems to mention. The fear of repercussion, of making it worse, of what's coming next. Constant, debilitating fear.
You become distrustful, questioning people's motives. Is this just a joke on me? She couldn't really like me, right? Why are they inviting me to this party? Do they want me there or is this some elaborate prank? It permeates your every waking thought and moment. Maybe if I'm super-nice, they'll stop. Or if I play along and pretend it doesn't bother me, they'll stop. You have to do something, because you can't do nothing. You're trapped. You can't quit school, or your job or your professional football team. Right?
His detractors call him soft and say that he "shouldn't have run." I gotta tell you: Doing what Jonathan Martin did took a lot more guts and bravery than just staying.
Because there's always the fear. Not just the fear of retribution, but of what people will think, of looking weak and making yourself a bigger target.
I have that fear. I have it to this day. In fact, I had planned on writing this column last week, when the story first broke. But when it came time to do it ... I was scared. Do I really want to admit to everyone that I was bullied? Doesn't it make me look pathetic? If you've followed my career at all, you know that promoting fantasy sports and the fantasy sports industry is important to me; painting it in a positive light and fighting all the stereotypes that the naysayers have labeled us with over the years. So the fantasy nerd got bullied? Well, that image ain't helping the cause, Berry.
To this day, because of experiences I had as a child and frankly, as an adult, I am more distrustful than I want to be. I worry good things will be taken away or shouldn't be counted on, I am more cautious with people and less quick to let them into my life, and I have a huge issue with anything I perceive as bullying or intentional cruelty, be it in real life or online. It's among the reasons I am quick to block on Twitter. Life's too short to deal with people who feel the need to send out any sort of negativity, especially to someone they've never met.
We are all products of our environment and upbringing. I am, completely. I live with those scars to this day and I honestly don't know what I would do if I ever saw one of those tormenters again. And I bet those people probably don't remember they were tormenters. Most bullies don't. I would bet I'm the only one of that group who even remembers when I was left behind at the store. People are often blissfully unaware that something that seems small to you can in fact be very large to someone else, which is why I also understand why Richie Incognito doesn't understand what the fuss is about.
I usually try to tie my story to fantasy advice, and when I started this, the plan was to use fear as the unifying theme. That we often have fear when setting our lineups as well. What if the bench guy goes off, what if the guy I drop gets picked up, etc., but honestly, I think we're well past that now.
The fear is what holds us back. I wish I hadn't been scared back then. I try like hell not to be now. And I hope everyone reading this fights his or her demons. And is careful not to create any for someone else.
Tiny ripples, you know?
Let's get to it.
Quarterbacks I love for Week 11
Russell Wilson, Seahawks: Russell Wilson is the prettiest girl in this bar and I'm gonna go hit on him. That's what I felt like when I was starting my quarterback rankings. Brees against San Fran? A gimpy Peyton against a Chiefs defense that has had two weeks to prep? Stafford on the road in Pittsburgh? Rivers traveling east to face a better-than-you-think Dolphins secondary? Cam and Brady facing each other's very good defenses? All stud quarterbacks, but all with something that gave you the slightest pause, as if to say, yeah, I'm starting him, but I don't feel 100 percent great about it. And then there's R-Dub, as only I call him. Six consecutive weeks of 14 or more fantasy points, the only QB since Week 5 to do that. At home against a Vikings team that gives up the second-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and, lookee here, he just got Percy Harvin and a lot of his offensive line back. Top five play this week.
Robert Griffin III, Washington: At least 280 yards passing in three of the past four weeks; it basically boils down to touchdowns. Against San Diego, they ran it in four times. Last week, he threw it in. Given that the Eagles are actually playing decent run defense -- just three rushing touchdowns allowed in the past five games -- I see Washington picking on the Eagles where they are really vulnerable; they're 31st against the pass and have allowed the most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. For what it's worth, RG III has thrown for at least two scores in his three previous games against Philly.
Nick Foles, Eagles: Insert quarterback facing Washington here. I'm sorry. I meant insert "red-hot quarterback who has thrown for 10 touchdowns the past two weeks and faces a defense that just made Christian Ponder look awesome" here.
If You're Desperate: Josh McCown has looked pretty good this year when he's gotten a shot, and this Sunday, he gets another one. Ravens allow more than 16 points a game to opposing quarterbacks, including three touchdowns to Jason Campbell in their last road game. ... Case Keenum made a lot of passes that should have been picked off in his last game, but he also did a lot of things right. This much is clear: They're gonna throw it, and with six scores in two games, he should be fine at home against the Raiders. ... Don't love the matchup for Jason Campbell, but I didn't like the Chiefs and Ravens matchups, either, and he threw five scores total against them. He's had two weeks to prepare for this one and should be solid once again.
Quarterbacks I hate for Week 11:
Matt Ryan, Falcons: A rare instance of two first names not being a crowd pleaser, but you keep forcing it into double coverage and that's what happens. Roddy White should be stuck on Revis Island (you'll never guess who's on the "Wide receivers I hate for Week 11" list!), Tony Gonzalez is banged up and the Buccaneers are one of only five teams this year not to allow a 300-yard passer. Averaging a miniscule 6.2 yards downfield per attempt, Ryan has traditionally struggled against the Bucs (averages just 219 yards and 1.2 touchdowns a game against them) and that's when Ryan was going good. Unlike, you know, now, where he has three straight games with just one touchdown pass. He may do okay based on volume, but not a top-12 play this week.
Andy Dalton, Bengals: I mean, the Hail Mary has got to work a second week in a row, right? Prior to that play, Dalton had passed for 216 yards, one score and three interceptions. It would have been his second single-digit fantasy game in a row and his fourth in the past seven. He's obviously capable of 20 point games as well; he's had three of those in the last five. But he's too inconsistent for me, has only two fewer turnovers than Eli Manning so far this season, the Browns are coming off a bye , held him to just 206 yards, no touchdowns and two turnovers in Week 4, and are the answer to the question, "What team has allowed the fewest yards per attempt this season?"
Carson Palmer, Cardinals: Just putting him here because I know a lot of people see the Jaguars and think, "Hey, easy start!" I prefer other fill-ins if you're trying to replace Aaron Rodgers or Tony Romo this week. Palmer hasn't been great, you don't need me to tell you that, but the Jags give up just 16 points a game to opposing quarterbacks at home this year (not counting the 49ers game, where the Jags were the "home" team, but it was in London). I'm not saying the Jaguars are good, they're not, but they are playing better recently, and I don't see Palmer (who has at least two turnovers in six of his past seven) going nuts here.
Running backs I Love for Week 11
Frank Gore, 49ers: The way you beat the Saints is by running. Which works out nicely because that is what the 49ers do well. Gore is one of two players to rush for at least 70 yards in every game since Week 3. Who is the other one, to complete the answer to today's "Arbitrary End Point Trivia?" I'll tell you at the end of this section on running backs. Meanwhile, the Saints allow 5 yards a carry, most in the NFL, and Gore has just one single-digit game this year, in Week 2 at Seattle. He's as safe a start as there is.
Knowshon Moreno, Broncos: Gimpy quarterback, blitzing defense that gives up the second-highest yards per carry average, and a running back who has scored at least 10 fantasy points in every game since Week 5? Yep, it's time to get to Knowshon on Sunday once again. Read it again, you'll get it. Or just start him. Easy top-10 day for him.
Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, Chargers: The Dolphins organization is so scared of displaying anything that can be construed as bullying, they no longer like to tackle. Both backs are top-20 plays against a defense that's allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing running backs. If they made Brian Leonard and Bobby Rainey fantasy relevant, they can do anything.
Andre Brown, Giants: With apologies to my colleague Cris Carter, all he does is score touchdowns! In eight of the 10 games that Andre Brown has a carry or reception, he has scored a touchdown. Do I think he stays healthy all year? No. But what are they going to do, let Eli throw it? Exactly. Solid top-20 play this week.
Andre Ellington, Cardinals: What are they going to do, let Palmer throw it? Or let Rashard Mendenhall fumble it away again, late in the game at another crucial moment? He's the best running back they have and it's not close. He may get only 15 touches, but against Jacksonville, that'll be enough for a top-20 day.
If you're desperate: After Chris Ivory got 34 carries against New England, he got six the following week against Cincy. Now off a great game against the Saints and a bye, he should be a great play against Buffalo, but that Cincy game gives me pause and relegates him here. I do like him and the matchup however. ... If you're truly, truly desperate, Donald Brown has outscored Trent Richardson in three of the past five weeks and Titans are top-10 in both fantasy points allowed and most receptions allowed to opposing running backs. ... The Patriots still have trouble defending the run and, despite last week, Mike Tolbert has the best chance of a rushing touchdown. He'll split the workload three ways but in a touchdown-only league, he's got a decent shot. .. If I were truly desperate, I could see taking a flier on Bernard Pierce. The Ravens have said whoever is most effective will get the ball and he has been better than Ray Rice. That's not saying much but it's a great matchup with Chicago. ... And Alfred Morris is the answer to today's "Arbitrary End Point Trivia" question.
Running backs I hate for Week 11
Ray Rice, Ravens: If you have to ask why he's here, you don't own him. Baltimore Sun beat writer Matt Vensel said on Twitter recently that Ray Rice "looked like a little kid in a snowsuit running in the open field." Great line, and sadly, fairly accurate. Should tell you everything you need to know. Not a top-20 play.
Trent Richardson, Colts: Donald Brown. I repeat. He has been outscored in three of the past five weeks by Donald Brown. And it ain't like Donald Brown is lighting it up, ya dig? Want another soul-crushing stat? In the past three games, Richardson and Brown have the exact same number of red zone carries. One each. I mean, dude! It's actually not a bad matchup, but what could possibly give you confidence in starting him? That doesn't come in a 40-ounce bottle?
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: Has yet to run for 75 yards in a game, he's 41st among 45 qualified running backs in yard per carry (3.0), and no team allows fewer fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Cardinals. Maybe you get lucky with a score (heh heh, he said "lucky with a score"), but I'd hate to count on it.
I know, this isn't an awe-inspiring list of running backs to hate, but this year, with how bad the position is, it's hard to hate most running backs, and I don't want to put someone on the list who doesn't belong just to fill it out.
Wide receivers I love for Week 11
Pierre Garcon, Washington: Truth time, I kept putting him in the love list because of his talent, the offense and the targets, and he'd have good games but nothing amazing. Went away for two weeks (still ranked him high), and he has been ridiculous. Only guy in the league with at least seven receptions in each game the past three weeks. He's now top six in receptions and receiving yards. Impressive, but even more so when you realize no team has allowed more receptions or receiving yards to opposing wide receivers than the Philadelphia Eagles. Say "oui" to Pierre. (Pause). OK, move along, nothing to see here, keep moving, don't slow down, nothing to see, gotta keep traffic moving, here we go.
Torrey Smith, Ravens: From the "not that surprising a stat" department comes this: Only A.J. Green has been targeted more than Smith on throws at least 15 yards downfield this season. If you are a glass-half-full type, he's due. In each of the past two seasons, Smith has had at least five touchdowns on such throws. But this year? Smith has yet to catch a touchdown thrown more than 15 yards downfield. I'm putting faith in him getting one Sunday. The Bears rank in the bottom five in receptions and receiving yards allowed on throws at least 15 yards downfield.
Kendall Wright, Titans: I may or may not have a slight obsession with Kendall Wright. But lucky for us, so does Ryan Fitzpatrick. When Fitzy is running the show, Wright leads the Titans in targets, receptions and receiving yards. He's the only player to have at least 54 receiving yards in every game since Week 2 and it's a nice matchup. Over the past five weeks, no team has allowed more fantasy points or touchdowns to opposing wide receivers than the Colts. Solid WR3 this week.
Percy Harvin, Seahawks: Bad hip, hasn't played all season, snap count, Seahawks like to run. Playing his former team whom he has hard feelings for, been champing at the bit, Vikings are poor against the pass. High-risk, high-reward territory here, you believe or you do not believe. I believe.
If you're desperate: You're already starting Antonio Brown, but Emmanuel Sanders gets a nice matchup as well as Detroit has allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing WRs. ... Rueben Randle has five scores in the past five games and Green Bay is tied for the fourth-most touchdowns allowed to opposing wideouts. ... Same game, I'm buying the Scott Tolzien-to-Jarrett Boykin connection more than I'm not. There's just something about guys who spent time on the practice squad together.
Wide receivers I hate for Week 11
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: There's always a chance he scores, but expectations are high going against Jacksonville and, believe it or not, the Jags are top six in fewest receptions and receiving yards per game to opposing wide receivers this season. Now obviously some of that is because teams get up big and don't need to throw in the second half against them, but regardless of how you get there, they're 13th in the NFL against the pass. Meanwhile, over the past three weeks, Fitz has disappeared: fewer than six targets a game, under 30 yards a game and just three receptions. If you have him, I can't imagine you have a better option, so you're starting him, but I would not be using him in a salary cap game or in our Gridiron Challenge game where you can start any player only once a season.
Roddy White, Falcons: You guessed correctly! But let's review: Revis Island, hasn't been good all year, quarterback is on the hate list. Pick a reason, any reason.
Denarius Moore, Raiders: Whether it's him or it's his quarterback, Moore has struggled recently. He's caught only 42 percent of his targets the past three weeks, the third fewest among players with at least 20 targets during that span. Hasn't caught a red zone target since Week 5, Terrelle Pryor isn't 100 percent, if he even plays, and it's a bad matchup. No team has allowed fewer receptions or yards to opposing wide receivers than the Texans this season.
Marques Colston, Saints: Well, that was a start. After a week of doing nothing for various reasons, Colston had a big game against Dallas. Of course, so did Mark Ingram. Let's not go nuts here. Dallas was terrible and playing with a lot of backups. Given the lack of red zone targets and Jimmy Graham's limited usage (think we see more of him this week), I have a hard time trusting Colston as a top-20 guy this week against a 49ers team that has given up just five touchdowns to opposing wideouts all season.
Tight ends I love for Week 11
Jordan Cameron, Browns: Now here's two first names that are a crowd pleaser. Ten receptions and a score the last time he faced the Bengals, Cincy has allowed three scores to opposing tight ends in the past five weeks, tied for fourth most over that time frame.
Coby Fleener, Colts: His 10 targets last week led the team, and I expect Tennessee to focus on stopping T.Y. Hilton. You know I think Indy will struggle to run the ball here, which means Fleener should continue to get some love. I feel like last week was a lost game for all the Colts, but this week, against a Titans team giving up the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends, Fleener should have a top-10 day. Plus, I'm playing against him in the War Room league in a must-win game for me (thanks for nothing last week, Tony Romo. Grumble grumble) so you just know he's going off.
If you're desperate: Seattle is, ahem, a little better than Washington on defense, but the Vikings have to throw it to someone, and I had John Carlson on the "love list" last week, so you know I am back again. I could see Carlson being a volume play. ... With Robert Woods out and Stevie Johnson questionable as of this writing, Scott Chandler might be the only healthy Bills pass-catcher. Had five for 79 and a score last time he faced the Jets and that's not a fluke. The Jets have struggled with tight ends all year long, giving up the fourth-most points to them. ... There was a Marcedes Lewis sighting last week! Back healthy, he looked good and, as matchups for tight ends go, it doesn't get friendlier than the Cardinals.
Tight ends I hate for Week 11
Heath Miller, Steelers: Under 40 yards in three of the past four games, I don't like having touchdown-dependent tight ends if I can help it.
Garrett Graham, Texans: I don't know what he did to Case Keenum, but Graham's targets have gone down every week since Keenum got the gig. Raiders haven't allowed much to opposing tight ends so far this season, and there's no reason to believe this week will be different.
I know. Also not a great list of tight ends but once you get outside the top 10, it's pretty bleak. Kind of just hate them all, but you gotta start somebody.
Defense / special teams I love in Week 11
Arizona Cardinals: Still available in 56 percent of leagues, they're coming off two strong games, and an offensive juggernaut, the Jaguars aren't, you know? Cards blitz 52 percent of the time on dropbacks, highest rate in the league, and Chad Henne has yet to throw a touchdown when under pressure this year. This is your No. 1 plug-and-play defense this week.
Cleveland Browns: Giving up just 4.5 yards per play (best in the NFL), they had 12 points the last time they faced the Bengals. I like them coming off a bye and facing Andy Dalton who, again, has only two fewer turnovers than Eli Manning!
Kansas City Chiefs: Not that you would ever truly love a team against the Broncos, but just wanted to put them in here to say, hey, if you've got them, I'm not scared of using them off a bye against Peyton's gimpy ankles. They won't be great but they won't be horrific either, so it's not worth dropping them or using up a roster spot to pick up another defense for this week.
New York Giants: Available in 95 percent of leagues, they look like, well, the Giants and not whatever that was in the beginning of the year. Averaging 15 points a game over the past three, New York is at home to the Scott Tolzien experience.
If you're desperate: EJ Manuel struggled in his last game and Rex Ryan has had two weeks to prepare for a Bills team that is really banged up in its receiving corps, so I could see the Jets being solid here. That is all.
Defense / special teams I hate in Week 11
Pittsburgh Steelers: Playing better recently (Patriots game notwithstanding) but they are still bottom five in sacks and turnovers. Going against a good Lions team with an unstoppable Calvin Johnson; only two teams have allowed fewer points to opposing defenses than the Lions. I have Pittsburgh outside my top 15.
San Francisco 49ers: Good defense, but on the road against the Saints, they're not a top-10 defense. Opposing defenses are averaging 1.3 points per game against the Saints in ESPN standard scoring. Yup, 1.3. Not a misprint.
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