Should You Buy What J.J. Watt’s Selling?

NFL

During a break in the action of this past season’s Texans vs. Bengals Monday Night Football showdown, the ESPN broadcast team opted to take a moment during the telecast to praise Houston DE J.J. Watt.

The admiration wasn’t for Watt’s on-the-field performance, however. Instead, the announcing duo of Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden wanted to commend the perennial Pro-Bowl pass-rusher for what he was doing off the field, namely his well-publicized charitable work with children battling serious illnesses and wounded combat veterans.

Tirico finished the segment by praising Watt’s noble intentions, saying that he “visits hospitals and soldiers, and he does it without cameras. He’s not seeking attention.”

Immediately after Tirico finished speaking, an expansive collage of pictures of Watt with sick children and wounded soldiers appeared on the screen.

That one conflicting message and image is an excellent example of why there are now looming questions beginning to fester about just how genuine and sincere Watt truly is. 

The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year is a perfect case study concerning the difference between a celebrated athlete’s carefully crafted projected public image and the true intentions of both him and his team of handlers and beneficiaries.

There is a time in every star athlete’s career, especially in today’s culture where every player has multiple social media accounts and platforms to reach fans (i.e. potential consumers of sports apparel, soft drinks, fast food, etc.), when he becomes just as much of a brand as he does a player.

Watt has clearly reached that point in the process.

A significant signal of an athlete transforming into a brand that can be bought and sold is the introduction of an all-encompassing logo. Most of the big time global money-makers like LeBron, Jordan, Tiger, Lionel Messi, Usain Bolt and Tom Brady all have them.

J.J. introduced his official logo back in May.

A logo’s a simple symbol with a complex message. It’s something a player’s fans can identify with as well as a dog whistle to Corporate America that an athlete is ready to take his marketing strategy seriously and ascend into a new echelon of potential earnings.

If this offseason is any indication, it’s clear that Watt and his handlers have a sincere desire to be included in that special tier of marketable media darling athletes.

His “rehabilitation schedule” from an offseason surgery to fix a nagging groin injury that was conveniently used as an excuse for why his play suffered down the stretch of the 2015 season has been packed to say the least. It’s an event-filled agenda that’s included co-hosting the Country Music Awards, presenting an award at the ESPY’s, filming a commercial for H-E-B Meal Simple with new Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler and making an appearance on the Jimmy Fallon Show to play something called Egg Russian Roulette.

What Watt’s biggest offseason priority has truly been, though, is undoubtedly clear: The marketing of his first sneaker, produced by his official sponsor Reebok, called the JJ I Trainer.

For the low, low price of $99.98 plus shipping, you can own a pair of a shoes that, according to Watt himself is “the best training shoe to train in every single day.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=78&v=TqMoHbY0GpU

#HuntGreatness is the tag line and hashtag that Reebok’s marketing team has asked Watt to propagate, and he’s certainly obliged.

Though he’s been sidelined at the Texans preseason camp due to his rigorous schedule of offseason media and marketing appearances recent back surgery, Watt has been out and about, adorned in a shirt with the phrase Hunt Greatness, which you can buy at Reebok’s official shop for the low, low price of $25 plus shipping.

It’s now at this point in the transformation process from athlete into brand, when casual observers can begin to ask themselves, what’s this J.J. Watt fella really all about?

To begin to form an answer to that question, let’s start by looking at the backlash and criticism Watt has faced recently.

Let’s start with the true pioneer of sports talk radio, WFAN’s Mike Francesa.

https://vid.me/e/csmb?stats=1

“I’m so sick of hearing about Watt, it’s ridiculous. His team never wins anything.”

I remember going on lunch break and listening to this rant live. At the time, I was thinking Mike just pretty much perfectly summed up the ill-guided reverence that the fan base, the franchise and the city have specially reserved for the almighty J.J. Watt™.

“The idea is what, to get Watt a highlight they can show all week on Sportscenter?”

He does what he wants without consequences. He has become the power. Everything serves him, his ego and his brand. When looking at that specific situation: first down, in a playoff game, Alfred’s been running strong, short-yardage goal line, and you call a direct snap to a defensive lineman?

That right there goes to show where this whole Watt craze in Houston has gone.

Phony‘s been another word that’s been thrown around this offseason in regards to the social media updater/weight room lifer.

Stugotz of ESPN’s Dan Le Batard Show fired that verbal bullet when Watt posted a snapchat video of himself at the gym during Kobe Bryant’s last game, saying “Kobe Bryant got to where he is by working his butt off. By showing up early, staying late, Workouts like tonight are inspired by Mamba. I want to get like Mamba not watch him.”

“Get over yourself, man. Seriously. Why do you have to make their night – Kobe’s night and Steph (Curry’s) night – about J.J. Watt? And, I don’t believe you for one second that you were there lifting weights and working out rather than watching the basketball. I don’t believe him for one second. That’s what bothers me about him. He’s a phony and he’s a fraud. So, you can take a picture of yourself working out and post it on Instagram, and then tell everyone that you’re not watching Kobe and Steph? You can do that, but my bet is that he posted that while watching Kobe and Steph.”

Some folks choose to train in the quiet of their own self. Some folks choose to constantly broadcast how hard they’re working “to be great” and turn it into a marketing hashtag. 

To each their own I guess.

Watt’s one of the figures who fits into the latter category because, well, social media’s available to him, and he and his team of PR handlers utilizes the medium to the fullest.

If that includes selling exorbitantly priced shoes to the greater Houston area, or shilling for whatever company needs him to make a commercial — It’s his prerogative, right?

Ultimately, only J.J. Watt knows the truth and only he knows why the guy in a Hunt Greatness t-shirt with noble intentions who doesn’t want attention has a cameraman following him around at training camp to capture those special moments.

The “aw shucks guys, I’m just a simple boy from Wisconsin, what am I gonna do with all this money” routine probably doesn’t fly anymore. But no worries,  J.J.’s got this system all figured out.

Exploit, accumulate and become the brand.

Some Thoughts About Tyrann Mathieu’s Contract Extension

NFL, Uncategorized

 

Ever the skeptic of newfound media darlings, I didn’t buy into Tyrann Mathieu’s Honey Badger hype during his big breakout season at LSU in 2011. I respected the tenacity and his play style, sure, but from what I watched that year, it seemed like a lot of “right place, right time, ball bouncing into his lap” moments. The whole showboat pass incomplete motion look-at-me routine after every deflection or tackle wore thin quick as well.

His less than impactful showing in an embarrassing blowout loss to Alabama in the national championship game gave that perception some vindication. So that summer, I wrote an article for Bleacher Report where I said exactly what I felt at the time, Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks was the SEC’s best corner, not Mathieu.

Tyrann didn’t seem to appreciate that opinion.

The next day, Mathieu went on one of his more infamous Twitter rants/tirades/meltdowns, which the man who “never bites his tongue” of course completely deleted afterwards.

It was captured by SBNation here.

These were the thoughts on the mind of Mathieu that day.

I AM THE BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL! bottom line as humble as i can say it! Stop comparing me, i am a diffrent breed!

IMMA SHOCK THE WORLD AGAIN THIS YEAR! WRITE IT DOWN, I SAID IT TODAY JULY 13, 2012!

& IM second to no one i play football it doesn’t matter what position i line up at i truly Ball HARD! ask them other players can they do it


how about all you sports writers label me overrated till you label me the greatest!is that a deal? Cool!


i never bite my tongue,….. its called freedom of speech


y’all better get y’all mind right, i will truly be legend before you write your next article on me!


but then again these writers ain’t down for you!!


YEAH IM SHORT (5’9) 186! gave up 4 catches in the NATIONAL championship GAME! anything else to lag on Haters?????? i’ll wait

It was big talk from the undersized DB. I mean, god forbid somebody wrote an honest opinion article that wasn’t just another ball washing piece about how he was reinventing defense or whatever it was most in the media were regurgitating at the time.

I’ll hand it to him, though, he sure shut me up. He went out in 2012 and had a truly legendary seaso…oh wait, that’s not right at all. Instead, he decided to get high on synthetic marijuana, get arrested, and get booted from the team. Then all of his fanboys in the media instantly turned on him and completely shunned him.

That’s the point where Mathieu could have joined the ranks of so many other college football stars who burned out just as fast as they shined and faded into obscurity before ever even making it to the big time.

But he didn’t.

He worked his ass off to right his wrongs, mature and make the most of what in its infancy looked to be the makings of a potentially promising football career.

I remember sitting with a friend of mine at Bleacher Report’s 2013 NFL draft party, watching night two of the draft unfold. I was surprised, even given his previous transgressions that Round 2 came and went without Tyrann’s name being called. My friend and I bantered for a bit about how neat it would be if Arizona picked him and had Patrick Peterson be his mentor.

Then pick 69 came, and the Cardinals made it happen.

Since that night, Mathieu has shown his gratitude for the franchise’s faith in him by doing what he does best: laying it all out on the field with reckless abandon and dedicating every inch of his being towards being the best player he can be.

Instead of hiding from them, he’s embraced the humbling events of his past, let them mold him and fuel his fury,  and chosen to go down the path of redemption. He’s sacrificed his body — he’s torn up ligaments in both of his knees in the past three years— and given his all to a team that was willing to shepard him in a desperate time of need.

Now, the Cardinals have decided to compensate him handsomely for his efforts by signing him to a five-year, $62.5-million deal.

When talking about teams signing homegrown stars to big long-term deals, there’s always that question of how much is it a reward for past accomplishments, and how much is it a true investment and expectation for the future?

In Mathieu’s case, it’s clear that the franchise sees the 24-year-old corner/safety hybrid as a key cornerstone of the franchise and an important defensive leader of the future.

Admittedly, I still think he’s a bit of a braggart, and a bit overly sensitive towards criticism sometimes. But looking at it from the perspective I do now, instead of the one I did when I wrote that Banks>Mathieu article, I get it.

He wears that chip on his shoulder and he wears it proudly. As much as he’s wanted to shake that image, Mathieu’s still the Honey Badger at heart. His world is one where fear doesn’t exist, and that’s what makes him such a dynamic must-watch playmaker.

You want to write a book about athletes who overcome adversity and find a way to make something of themselves, this is the guy. The cliff notes version is wild enough: father’s in jail for murder, raised by relatives, slighted by recruiting services and big-name programs for being too small, yet still breaks out and becomes a national star in college football’s premier powerhouse conference, then gets involved with drugs, gets kicked off the team, gets a shot to redeem himself and finally becomes a highly paid star in the NFL.

Looking back at that season at LSU, I guess I was wrong about that whole “right place, right time” thing. When you put in the work to put yourself in an advantageous spot, you deserve to receive the reward for your efforts and that’s exactly what Tyrann’s done.

Nike’s The Opening: Exhibition or Exploitation?

College Football Recruiting, Uncategorized

One could easily argue that a country’s most valuable resource and most important commodity is its youth. For the youth represents hope for a better tomorrow. It’s the possessor of the light passed down from the generations before it.

What the youth also represents, especially in a capitalist society, is the future of the culture of consumption, and a future potential source of profits.

The battle for control of America’s youth is a cutthroat fight, one that’s being waged by some of the world’s most powerful corporations, which recognize the importance of shaping young minds through campaigns centered around fostering ideology, and most importantly, building brand allegiance, disguising the element of commercial exposure as the freedom of choice.

One of the most important battlefields in that everlasting war is the apparel industry.

Within that contentious realm is the biggest slinger of heavy propaganda artillery, Nike, a company which, well, let’s say has always had somewhat of a suspect relationship with the world’s youth.

There’s no new ground to break in talking about the company’s abhorrent sweatshop labor practices, nor are there many revelations to uncover about its marketing tactics, which are mainly based around hawking exorbitantly priced sneakers to the young demographic who have had it blasted into their brains that it’s necessary to “Be Like Mike.”

Let’s tackle this “Opening” thing instead. 

This week, 166 of the best high school football players in the country will make the trek to the Pacific Northwest to bow at the altar of the Swoosh and take part in Nike’s The Opening ritual, which takes place at the company’s main campus headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. It’s the culmination of a spring schedule that’s included numerous national regional combines and camps.

The highly touted prospects will be put through rigorous physical tests and assorted measurements of athletic prowess: dashes, leaps, shuttles, jumps and other drills. They’ll perform all these tasks while wearing the latest “hot, new, fresh” gear — born of the global supply chain — ranging from shirts, to shoes, to cleats, which Nike is readying to soon unleash and market to the masses.

The buzzword Nike will use to describe this event will be simple and to the point: Showcase.

It’s an opportunity to prove oneself against the best of the best on the grandest of stages, while clad in bright colored attire adorn with the symbols of the host.

Players will be expected to volunteer their perspective about the event in social media diary form on their own personal twitter accounts, without any compensation from Nike of course — maybe even tweet out a picture of the new gear to their followers if the mood strikes them.

The overarching backdrop of college football recruiting is a fitting one. You didn’t have to watch the 30 For 30 about Sonny Vaccaro to know that this is what that is: Recruiting.

“Get the young kids,” is how Sonny eloquently put it.

You can’t help but wonder what type of clever hashtag campaigns a marketing genius like Vaccaro would have thought of if he was in his prime today. Vaccaro may have grown old, but the kids have stayed the same age. Their enthusiasm remains as well.

The desire to escape into a better life, a life where one is rewarded for their skills and properly compensated for all their efforts on the field will always exist.

Today’s world is today’s world.

Today’s world is one in which blue-chip recruits tag apparel companies in their tweets.

https://twitter.com/TheTateMartell/status/736966964644446208

Today’s world is one in which the military industrial complex uses celebrated high school athletes as pawns in its propaganda machine.

swoo

Today’s world is one in which recruits compete in 7-on-7 tournaments as members of  teams named after a cleat, for free, because in today’s world, the participants aren’t just the consumers; they are the marketing tools as well.

So here we are, about to witness another group’s transition from innocent raw talent into something else — a unification ceremony of ideals that may just be a bit beyond their current level of comprehension. Maybe it’s even beyond the grasp of the viewers as well.

The idea of being a willing participant in the marketing spectacle is certainly up for debate.

What separates man from mannequin?

Should exposure be treated as a currency?

What’s the value of the exchange?

Where’s the line between exhibition and exploitation?

An easy answer to those complicated questions in this new age of social media evolving as the dominant new platform is that the lines are becoming even more blurred than usual.

There are no more definitive answers when it comes to the question of morality concerning relationships between major global brands and athletes, especially those on the younger end of the spectrum. More thoughts about the medium of the message and its participants and questions about the process are undoubtedly necessary.

So ask we must.

Mutual benefit between both parties is supposed to be the ultimate goal, isn’t it?

The audience, not the participant, is left to judge if that’s truly the case.

Only one thing’s for sure now: We’re all exposed.

Let’s watch and see what happens.

2016 NFL Draft: Final Mock Draft, Predictions and Prospect Rankings

2016 NFL Draft, NFL, NFL Draft, Predictions

Here we are.

The first day of the 2016 NFL Draft weekend is finally upon us.

It’s time to rejoice because tonight kicks off one of the most glorious and exciting weekends on the sports calendar.

Over the next three days, 253 gifted young athletes will realize their dreams of being drafted by an NFL franchise. They’ll be embraced and celebrated by fan bases who hope they can become key building blocks to a future championship.

It makes perfect sense that the NFL’s annual draft takes place in the Spring — a season of rebirth, renewal and regeneration.

This weekend marks the dawning of a new era for all 32 franchises.

The future begins now.

We’ve known for weeks that the first two picks are guaranteed to be the top two quarterbacks in the class: Cal’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. However, it’s anybody’s guess who the Chargers will pick at No. 3 (if in fact they don’t trade down) and how the rest of the first round will unfold from there.

All along, we here at Gridiron Perspective have touted Oregon DE DeForest Buckner as the top prospect in this class. We feel he’s deserving to be the first positional player taken and the best prospect to reignite a sluggish Chargers defensive front-seven. Therefore we built the mock around the premise that Buckner will be the third pick and went from there.

Here’s a look at the final 2-round mock draft for the 2016 NFL Draft, which includes projections and predictions for the first 63 picks of this year’s proceedings, along with complete Top 10 prospect power rankings for each individual position.

2016 NFL Draft: Updated 2-Round Mock Draft and Prospect Rankings

2016 NFL Draft, College Football, NFL, NFL Draft

Temperament, personality, desire, internal drive, work ethic, will power, character and heart — they’re the key intangibles which separate the good athletes from the great ones.

Unfortunately, those intangibles are so difficult for evaluators to measure and quantify.

Data for workout numbers such as 40-yard-dashes, bench presses and jumps of all sorts is widely available; so are game statistics for any category you could think of.

Still, these days when every  workout result, rumor, new trendy analytic of the day and hot story of the hour is broadcast out into the digital sphere for all to see, there’s still a mysterious behind-closed-doors feeling that remains surrounding the NFL Draft.

32 brain trusts are all searching for those special prospects that they can mold their organizations around for the future. None of them want to tip their hand before the proceedings start.

At all levels, coaches always trot out that line, “this game separates boys from the men.”

Well, one situation where that mantra certainly rings true is the NFL draft.

Saturdays and Sundays may only be separated by a single thin line on the calendar, but in the football world, it’s a clear dividing line. Excelling in the collegiate ranks against Kevin from chemistry class is one thing. But the NFL is a whole different rodeo. Handling the leap to the next level requires a special type of mental fortitude that only a few collegiate players possess.

It’s up to those 32 brain trusts to figure out who has it and who doesn’t.

The information accumulation phase of the process is pretty much complete. Now begins the all-important final decision-making period. This is the “separating men from boys” period for GMs, scouts, personnel evaluators and assorted front-office executives.

It’s time to hand out the grades, stack the board and prepare for a draft weekend that’s, as always, marked by both intrigue and mystery.

DeForest Buckner, the No. 1 overall prospect in this year’s class , appears destined to become the first overall pick in the 2016 festivities. Still, it’s far from a guarantee.

Tennessee could consider one of the other “Fab Five” prospects: Ohio State DE Joey Bosa, Ole Miss OT Laremy Tunsil, UCLA LB Myles Jack or Florida State CB Jalen Ramsey. The Titans could also entertain the idea of trading down if an offer is overwhelming enough.

We’ve got another month left to debate, dispute and draw conclusions.

For now, though, here’s my forecast and projections for every pick in the first two rounds of the 2016 NFL draft, as well as complete prospect rankings for every major position.

2016 NFL Draft: Updated Wide Receiver Rankings Following Combine Workouts

2016 NFL Draft

Following the conclusion of each day of the 2016 NFL Combine, prospect rankings for every position group that performed that day will be updated and published. These version of player rankings will include only players at the position that were invited to Indianapolis.

Here’s a look at the updated prospect rankings, including the top five overall prospects, for the wide receivers following their workouts at the 2016 NFL Combine.

2016 NFL Draft: Updated Quarterback Rankings Following Combine Workouts

2016 NFL Draft, NFL Draft

Following the conclusion of each day of the 2016 NFL Combine, prospect rankings for every position group that performed that day will be updated and published. These version of player rankings will include only players at the position that were invited to Indianapolis.

Here’s a look at the updated prospect rankings, including the top five overall prospects, for the quarterbacks following their workouts at the 2016 NFL Combine.

Physical measurements and results from every test that the top five players participated in are included.

Remember to Follow Gridiron Perspective on Twitter @GridironP

2016 NFL Draft: Updated Offensive Linemen Rankings After Combine Workouts

2016 NFL Draft

Following the conclusion of each day of the 2016 NFL Combine, prospect rankings for every position group that performed that day will be updated and published. These version of player rankings will include only players at the position that were invited to Indianapolis.

Here’s a look at the updated prospect rankings, including the top five overall prospects, for the offensive linemen following their workouts at the 2016 NFL Combine. Physical measurements and results from every test that the top five players participated in are included.

Remember to Follow Gridiron Perspective on Twitter @GridironP

2016 NFL Draft: Updated Running Back Rankings After Combine Workouts

2016 NFL Draft, Uncategorized

Following the conclusion of each day of the 2016 NFL Combine, prospect rankings for every position group that performed that day will be updated and published. These version of player rankings will include only players at the position that were invited to Indianapolis.

Here’s a look at the updated prospect rankings, including the top five overall prospects, for the running backs following their workouts at the 2016 NFL Combine. Physical measurements and results from every test that the top five players participated in are included.

Remember to Follow Gridiron Perspective on Twitter @GridironP

College Football 2016: Preseason Power-5 All-Conference Teams

College Football, Uncategorized

 

The upcoming NFL Combine will serve as a showcase for the top prospects in the 2016 NFL draft. Sadly, it will also serve as a reminder for college football fans about just how much star power departed for the pros this offseason.

Although many of the top performers from the 2015 season have left campus, fortunately, there’s still plenty of quality talent remaining at the collegiate level.

Returning standouts such as Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, Florida State RB Dalvin Cook, Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett and LSU RB Leonard Fournette have already ascended to star status and become household names. Plus, there are plenty of other young, up-and-coming potential breakout stars who are waiting to make a name for themselves as well this fall.

Here’s a look at the top impact players from each of the Power-5 conferences who are most deserving of preseason “All-Conference” accolades for the 2016 season.