All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday and officially the first day of summer.

So what better way to celebrate the longest day of the year than by spending a few minutes reading the Outkick mailbag at work?

Before you get rolling on the mailbag, please go and subscribe to my new weekly podcast, Wins and Losses with Clay Travis. 

It’s a long form conversation with one guest a week. So far there are four episodes up: Jason Whitlock, Rivals and 24/7 Sports founder Shannon Terry, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, and Washington State football coach Mike Leach. 

I think you’ll love them all and there’s honestly nothing else like them in the world of sports media right now.

So go listen and let me know what you think.

Here we go with the mailbag:

Ben writes:

“What do you think about Harvard rescinding Kyle Kushuv’s — conservative Parkland school shooting survivor — admission over writing racial slurs in a group chat when he was 16?”

I think it’s crazy, but unfortunately it has become commonplace to judge kids on their teenage years.

Look, here’s my position on things like this, if we erase juvenile arrest records because as a society we believe teenagers shouldn’t be held accountable for the crimes they commit before they are 18 years old, why in the world would we judge any kids based on comments they make before they are 18 on social media?

I just think that as a society we haven’t given enough contemplation to the standards and precedents we are setting because so much of social media and technology has snuck up on us in a hurry. Instead of making the rules up as we go along — and using them to attack people who are different than us — how about adopting the same standard for teenage comments on social media or elsewhere as we would for crimes?

Put it this way, if you have young kids, would you rather than commit a crime and get arrested for it as a teenager or say something dumb and offensive on social media? This should be a no-brainer, right, the crime is far worse, correct? We should all pick the dumb comment on social media.

Yet right now we erase the crime and treat the social media post as lasting forever.

It’s just nonsensical to me, I think we’re getting this totally wrong. Actions should matter far more than words.

Harvard admitted Kushuv, I think they should still enroll him. Isn’t the entire purpose of high school and college to train you to become a better person? So why would we treat a high school kid as a finished product when he’s 16 years old? I think we’re setting awful precedents as a society here.

Furthermore, I have three young boys and I’m already terrified of them getting on social media one day because I’m a public figure and I know they’ll be under more scrutiny as my kids than they would be if they didn’t have a dad who is a public figure. And that just doesn’t seem fair to me at all. Especially not when there are adults who may dislike me and will seek them out on social media as a way to attack me.

I just think that’s patently unfair to the kids.

To their credit the political news media seems to have agreed to mostly give the sons and daughters of presidents and politicians space to grow up and not cover every single thing they do as teenagers as a huge news story.

For once, why can’t we follow their lead for everyone’s kids?

Let teenagers grow up and let’s start judging people’s actions — to the extent that’s necessary at all — once they turn 18 years old and become adults in the eyes of the law.

Rob writes:

“What do you make of the talk of reparation payments to families of former slaves that has gotten recent coverage from the media?  I find it absurd, but how do level headed politicians on both sides of the aisle vote against it without being labeled racists?”

I don’t think reparations will ever pass because most people realize that money isn’t free; taxpayers of all races will be making these reparation payments. That’s why only about 20% of the American public believes reparations should exist. It’s virtually impossible to get 80% of people to agree with anything today so this is a significant majority that opposes them.

So what’s really happening here?

Reparations are popular in some corners of social media and Democrats know they have a free ride here to politically posture and try to ensure black people support them 100% in the next presidential election. The Senate Republicans are not passing any bill allowing reparations and the president would never sign it.

So this is all about political posturing. Democrats have now reached the point where they have to convince black people America is awful in an effort to motivate them to show up and vote. It’s sad, honestly, because Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama never ran these kinds of campaigns from 1992 to 2012.

But Hillary Clinton, maybe because she wasn’t black and maybe because she also wasn’t a great campaigner, really leaned into the idea that black people were victims in America in an effort to drive up black turnout — which failed, ironically — and now the Democratic 2020 race has turned into a competition to see who is the most victimized.

If reparations had occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, I think there could have been some possibility of them happening, but it’s far too complicated today.

Let me raise some interesting questions that illustrate this complexity.

First, how do you establish who are descendants of slaves and who aren’t? A huge percentage of black people in America today never had ancestors who are slaves. (That’s because many immigrants have come directly from Africa long after slavery ended. In fact, in an incredible irony, many of these African immigrants are actually the descendants of the people who sold the slaves in Africa to America in the first place. So you could have a situation where these African immigrants both profited from the initial sale of slavery and received reparations for slavery occurring, which is even wilder). Furthermore, many black people are of mixed races now. So how do you make payments to someone who, for instance, has a white parent and a black parent?

Plus, we’ve got people like Rachel Dolezal and Shaun King who are white people pretending to be black. So how do you determine who classifies as black?

Second, hundreds of thousands of white people, including some of my ancestors who fought on the side of the North — like many Americans I had ancestors on both sides of the Civil War — died to end slavery. Why should white people today, most of whom aren’t descended from slave owners and many of whom are descended from people who fought to end slavery, pay reparations when our ancestors gave their lives to end it?

Third, what about the huge population of white people who weren’t even in the country during the slavery era or the Civil War? They had nothing to do with slavery at all, why should their tax dollars go to pay reparations?

Fourth, what do you do about Hispanic and Asian people? They pay taxes as well. Should Hispanic and Asian people pay reparations for something they had absolutely nothing to do with? That seems totally insane.

Fifth, what about black people paying taxes? Since reparations would be funded by tax dollars, aren’t the wealthiest black taxpayers going to be paying more into the tax code to fund these payments than they receive back in reparations?

Sixth, America only had legal slavery for eighty years — from 1783 to 1863. (I understand some are arguing that the reparations should exist for post-slavery mistreatment as well, but the legacy of reparations was predicated on the forty acres and a mule suggestion for freed slaves. So I think it has to be pegged only to slavery). Given that America only permitted slavery for eighty years shouldn’t people advocating for American reparations also be demanding them from Great Britain since England permitted slavery in America for much longer than America did? (The American colonies were ruled by Great Britain, which permitted slavery here). And shouldn’t reparations also be paid out by the African countries that sold their people into slavery?

Seventh, isn’t affirmative action essentially a national reparations policy? Think about it, for the past fifty years in this country we have allowed black people to receive benefits in college admissions, employment, and sundry other areas of society they wouldn’t otherwise receive. Those benefits have been based entirely on the color of their skin. The rationale for this policy is that affirmative action provides a national opportunity to redress past racial transgressions in this country, to address fundamental issues of unfairness. Since slavery lasted eighty years, wouldn’t eighty years of affirmative action in a post-civil rights era provide some semblance of equitable redress — even if many would consider it to be insufficient — of national recourse for past racial misdeeds? I feel like the reparations argument is entirely overlooking all affirmative action policies.

I also think the argument for reparations relies upon a fundamental untruth — that America is still a horribly racist and unfair country. I just don’t believe this is true at all based on my own life experience.

I’m a white guy who was born in the South in 1979. I went to integrated public schools in Nashville from kindergarten to 12th grade, where I was taught by tons of black and white teachers. I never felt like any of these teachers, black or white, treated me any different than any other kids they had based on my race. And I never saw them treat any other child different based on their race.

I graduated from an incredibly diverse public high school named after Martin Luther King, where my entire 7th-12th grade we had a black woman serving as the principal in charge of the school. I never felt like either of the black women in charge of my school treated students or teachers differently based on our race.

In fact, maybe some would disagree but I don’t believe any of the kids I went to school with — black, white, Asian or Hispanic — were ever treated any differently by teachers or principals based on their race. And that’s been the case from kindergarten all the way through law school. Toss in my MFA degree and I spent 22 years in school.

Now maybe you can say my experience in public schools and then at a private college and law school is an aberration, but I tend to think the America I have grown up in, far from being systemically racist, has been as egalitarian of a society as has ever existed anywhere in the history of the world.

Now I haven’t been in a classroom since 2007 — when I taught creative writing at Vanderbilt University — but I find it hard to believe that in the last decade the country’s educational system has suddenly become infinitely more racist and biased than it was when I was a student.

I think what has changed is the country has become obsessed with finding victims.

When I was a kid growing up, we were taught to be tough and do everything we could to avoid being a victim. Now, increasingly, it’s the case that kids today seem to aspire to be victims.

And that’s an America I just fundamentally reject.

To me, reparations represent the full crystallization of a political universe based entirely on victimhood; even if that victimization occurred over 150 years ago and even if it has virtually no impact on anyone forty years or under today in America.

Again, I can’t speak for what life was like for anyone before me, but I feel like my own life hasn’t been cloistered in a cocoon of rich white privilege. I didn’t grow up in a rich neighborhood and I went to public schools in a major Southern city with diverse classrooms for 13 years. And many of those schools, frankly, weren’t that good of schools so it wasn’t like I was attending the “rich” kid schools.

If we could all go back in time and walk into my fifth grade classroom, I suspect lots of people would say, “Holy crap, this place is a dump.”

That’s not meant as a shot at the teachers or the schools, it’s just they were lower middle class schools.

Ultimately, I’m not a guy who accepts excuses. You either succeed or fail, past the age of 18, almost entirely based on your own work ethic and effort in this country.

In the end, I believe, the only hand you can rely on is the one at the end of your sleeve.

And I think that’s the country we need to get back to, regardless of who is president, an America built on ballsy risk-taking individuals, not perpetually offended victims.

Twitter question time! (I’m posting a Tweet asking for Friday mailbag questions from this point forward on every Friday, but you can continue to email your questions to claytravis@gmail.com as well. Most of the time, by the way, I won’t respond because if I did all I would do is respond to emails all day, but I do try and read them all to pick out good questions.) 

So here are some Twitter questions, in particular the ones that received the most likes:

Matt asks:

“If you could switch out any 3 SEC football teams for any 3 other teams in the country (& such teams would then be added to the SEC as permanent members), which 3 teams would be gone, and which 3 would be added?”

The first question you’d have to address here is, what’s the goal, is it maximizing revenue or maximizing competition?

If it’s maximizing revenue then you’d replace Mississippi State, Auburn, and Vanderbilt because all three schools are the second biggest brands in their state and it makes no financial sense to have two teams in the same state if your goal is to maximize revenue. (This is because most of the value of the SEC Network is predicated on adding new cable markets. If a state features an SEC school then each subscriber is worth about 5x as much in the market. That’s why Texas A&M was so lucrative for the SEC. But having two teams in the same state doesn’t double that state’s revenue. So doubling up on teams in the same state makes no financial sense).

Who would you replace these three schools with? You’d want teams from three new states and I presume you’d still want geographical cohesion so you wouldn’t go above the Mason-Dixon line to add teams. That means you’d add Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Virginia or Virginia Tech.

If you were just replacing three teams based on increasing the overall quality of the conference from top to bottom and you didn’t care about making more money through the SEC Network, then you’d bump out the three smallest revenue schools in the conference: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt. (Over time lower revenue is associated with lower athletic performance). You’d replace those three schools with Oklahoma, Texas, and either Florida State or Clemson. I know Clemson is riding really high right now, but I personally think Florida State would be the better long range selection based on FSU’s superior history to Clemson’s. (Football success would be the most important athletic criteria by far because football drives everything in the SEC).

Inevitably now everyone at the schools I said you’d kick out will be mad at me, but this is 100% what would happen if teams were getting kicked out and you had to make these decisions. (By the way, it isn’t happening, so stop with the emails, I’m just answering the question).

Travis asks:

“Why is Darren Rovell the way he is?”

I like Rovell personally, but I understand he’s a polarizing guy on Twitter.

Rovell understands something that most don’t, it doesn’t matter whether you love or hate someone, it matters whether you care about someone. He does many things because he knows people on social media will care.

That’s ultimately the business we’re in, provoking a reaction either good or bad, among an audience.

Now over time you’d hope that you create more people who like you than dislike you, but I can honestly say I don’t spend much time worrying what other people think and I also know that like and dislikes can be very fickle.

I do think, however, that increasingly we’re moving towards an affinity based media ecosystem. Where what you like matters more than what you dislike. Think of it this way, when everything is free, things that you dislike might be popular. That is, on free radio and TV people will watch or listen things they dislike.

But how often do you pay for what you dislike? Almost never, right?

Most of what you actually pay for you like.

In an affinity culture, where people are increasingly being asked to pay for products, the popularity of things that people don’t like will diminish.

So I don’t think there will be as much of a role for people who are genuinely disliked in media of the future.

That is, just trolling all day long won’t allow you to be employed.

And while it may drive some of you crazy, Rovell has a lot of fans. I was with him in Vegas and lots of people were coming up asking for pictures and saying hi.

Be very leery of assuming anything on social media is real life.

As I’ve said many times before, I get called every vile name in the book on Twitter pretty much every day. Do you know how many times someone has ever come up and said something bad to my face?

Never.

So I think a ton of the people who claim to hate Rovell on social media would ask for a picture if they saw him in person.

Chesty writes:

“I realize he is a good player, but why is ESPN constantly forcing Zion coverage down our throats? I would have worded this question differently but I tried to stay polite.”

I’m sure ESPN’s data reflects people care about Zion more than anyone else. So they slant their coverage that way.

I remember back in the day when Brett Favre was deciding whether to stay retired or come back for another year, people complained all the time about the attention Favre got. Everyone I heard from said they didn’t care.

At the time I was working at FanHouse and had access to all the data on what people read.

And every single Brett Favre article about whether he was going to retire or not was off the charts popular.

I mean, nothing else even touched it.

So what do you rely on when you decide on topics, the anecdotal complaints about overcoverage or the actual numbers you see that reflect people love the coverage? I’d go with the data every time.

Now, and this is always tricky, but what you have to be careful of is oversaturating the marketplace based on that data. For instance, I think a few years ago ESPN execs would acknowledge they overplayed their hand when it came to Tim Tebow’s popularity.

The market for Tebow was huge, but they oversaturated that market, which led to a decline in Tebow’s popularity.

Where I think you can fairly criticize ESPN is their coverage overwhelmingly slants towards the NBA. That is, the amount of coverage ESPN gives the NBA is far in excess to the league’s popularity. Now partly that’s also because the NBA creates lots of one day stories based on petty drama which plays well for a 24 hour news cycle — do Chris Paul and James Harden get along, can the Lakers afford a third max player, should Zion sit out, should Zion go pro, where will Zion go, LeBron (insert daily story here)? — but ESPN’s coverage is primarily about their investment in the league. ESPN has to prop up the NBA to justify what they paid for it.

As a result you get much less NHL on ESPN, for instance, than the marketplace would demand and way more NBA.

But can you really blame a network that exists to make money for doing what it has to do to make the most money possible?

The key is you have to be smart enough to understand what’s going on here; ESPN’s not remotely fair and impartial in its sports coverage, it’s doing whatever makes it the most money.

Buck writes:

“How do you drink your margaritas? This is important information.”

With salt on the rocks.

Wes writes:

“Who do you think wins the Democratic primary and who do you think has the best chance of beating Trump?”

Joe Biden has by far the best chance to beat Trump and he should still be considered the prohibitive favorite even though the news media will try and tear him down over the next six months in an effort to create nomination drama. The last thing the media wants is for Biden to snatch up the nomination without much of a challenge from the field because then their ratings will be bad.

Again, follow the money!

The media will create the story that makes the media the most money.

Having said that, I now believe there are four real candidates to win the Democratic nomination. Those candidates are: Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttgieg. (I think Kamala Harris is done and she’s the only other candidate even on the fringe of competing. I’d have her in fifth place).

It’s possible someone else can grab momentum, but I think we’re down to those four.

And I really believe it’s going to come down to Biden vs. Warren before all is said and done.

I think Trump beats Warren, but I think he loses to Biden.

Hope y’all have fantastic weekends.

Thanks for reading Outkick.

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