The stunning story of a former NFL player's descent into darkness
What reporters didn't really know
"Erik Kramer flew home to California last July, after finishing a month-long stay at the Eisenhower Center rehabilitation facility in Ann Arbor, and almost immediately began planning his death." That's the opening to a stunning tale by Dave Birkett in The Detroit Free-Press about Kramer, a thoughtful and, little known to most, very tormented former star NFL quarterback who led the Lions in the early 1990s before signing a three-year, $8.1 million free agent deal with the Chicago Bears in 1994. (Free-Press)
Despite apparently battling depression back then, and having an injury-marred up-and-down Bears stay, he broke the team records for most touchdowns and yards passing in a season (they still stand). Fast-forward to last year: Kramer, 51, "known for his meticulous preparation and diligent work habits as a player" prepared a suicide to-do list, including redoing his will, tidying up some business ventures, writing farewell letters to those closest to him, including his son and ex-wife, did chores around the house and, then, bought a gun. He went to a store and decided on a SIG Sauer 9mm, filled out the paperwork and waited 10 days before he was cleared for purchase.
Amid the tragically repetitive tales of former football players dealing with delayed concussion-related traumas, Kramer's is about torment that pre-dated his playing days. His marriage went down the tubes. Then a son died of a heroin overdose in October 2011. His mother passed away from uterine cancer in July 2012. His father, Karl, was terminally ill with esophageal cancer. His relationship with the other son wasn't great. He painfully broke up with his girlfriend. So he printed and placed the suicide notes in personalized envelopes on his desk, picked up the remaining son for lunch and then dropped him at his ex-wife's home. He went out to dinner alone and, finally, checked into the Good Nite Inn (yup, that's the name) in Calabasas, California, where he tried to kill himself.
"That Kramer is alive today to tell his story — one of hope built from despair, and one that he wants to serve as a life preserver for others dealing with depression — is nothing short of a miracle. The bullet traveled through his chin, left a hole in his tongue, went up through his sinus cavities and out the top of his head." He's spent most of the last nine months in a hospital, undergone surgery to replace a chunk of his skull and, would you believe, is now golfing, driving and dating. "The suicidal thoughts that have come and gone since his playing days — and intensified early last year — have subsided completely."
"Nobody knew the details before. An unreal story," says Dan Bernstein, a prominent Chicago sports talk radio host on WSCR who covered the Bears during Kramer's tenure there. "We knew that he had been having some serious post-career problems and attempted suicide, but this story's harrowing detail was eye-opening, particularly for how long he had been dealing with depression. It made me think about all that he endured physically and mentally while he was in Chicago, and it's great to know that he's doing so much better." It's a classic example of how even the best beat reporters may sometimes know far less than they can possibly imagine.
Shafting your loyal lieutenant
"Sumner Redstone has asked a Los Angeles court to affirm his action in ousting two of his long-time business associates from the board and trust that oversees his corporate empire. The 92-year-old media baron’s petition Monday rejects (the) contention that he was manipulated into booting Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and Viacom board member George Abrams from his holding company, National Amusements, at the whim of his daughter, Shari." (Variety) Redstone and Dauman were chums for 30 years until, as a CNBC reporter put it, "it all started to fall apart" Friday. As if this wasn't enough, the corporate "soap opera" then included Dauman and Abrams filing their own lawsuit about the move. (NPR)
An unfortunate tweet
"Notice anything about this @HuffingtonPost editors meeting?" HuffPost Executive Editor Liz Heron tweeted on Friday, with a picture of the site's editors at a table. (@lheron) The problem? "Obviously, Heron meant their editors are mainly women. Unfortunately, they are also overwhelmingly, blindingly white." (Gawker)
Imagine: one ticket, four ex-wives
It seems improbable, namely a Republican ticket of Garrulous White Male Geezers. But National Review makes a case for Trump, 69, picking Newt Gingrich, 72. "Gingrich has, in effect, launched his own campaign to secure the nomination. 'I think Newt is lobbying to be the vice president, and I think their people are paying a lot of attention to him,' says Ed Rollins, a Republican operative and former Gingrich staffer now working for a super PAC supporting Trump’s candidacy. 'It’d be a ticket with six former wives, kind of like a Henry VIII thing,' Rollins says. 'They certainly understand women.'" (National Review) Well, it's actually four exes, but who's counting? And, by the way, why does one assume they understand women?
Want a viral hit? Don't be too professional
How do you make a mega-viral hit? Here are some characteristically unequivocal thoughts from Howard Tullman, a serial entrepreneur and CEO of 1871, a nonprofit startup hub in Chicago. He writes, "of course, the best players of all right now are the complete newbies who don’t know any better and don’t know what they’re not supposed to be able to do and — as a result — they’re just doing it and killing it as well...one thing that jumps out of the jumble is that polished and professional material is almost worthless, that edits interrupt the vibe, immediacy and flow of the best stuff, and that the rawer and more direct the footage, the fresher and more authentic it appears." (Built In Chicago)
FiveThirtyEight on the importance of campaign data
"But Republicans are worried, and for good reason: Trump’s assumption that the sole value of data is to win more votes is too narrow. His decision to limit the role of data probably won’t be the deciding factor in the 2016 election, but data organization and access are an investment in the future of the party. A presidential campaign presents a rare opportunity to cultivate the next generation of talent and collect a ton of new data on voters, and Trump’s refusal to do so means that Republicans may need to wait until 2020 or beyond to even the playing field with Democrats. (FiveThirtyEight)
Reporting in a social media age
Via Washington Post reporter David Fahrentold: "Did @realdonaldtrump give $1M of his own $$ to vets? i'm trying to confirm. Vets groups, if you got even $1, DM me."(@Fahrenthold) We may need a new Pulitzer category: Best crowdsourced enterprise.
Pulling a gilded rabbit out of a hat
Tech entrepreneur Michael Ferro, who gained control of Tribune Publishing after securing just 16 percent of its stock but booting the CEO who lured him, is fending off a hostile takeover. His company spurned an $864 million offer from Gannett and announced a new billionaire shareholder who invested $70 million. (Poynter)
Patrick Soon-Shiong, the surprise investor, is a South African-born surgeon-drug developer who could be the richest guy in Los Angeles and certainly one of the wealthiest who's not very well known. He bought Magic Johnson's slice of the Lakers and is clearly looking for a higher profile. Last week, the Los Angeles Business Journal ranked him the city's richest individual, citing his net worth at $15.4 billion. Elon Musk, chief executive of SpaceX and Tesla Motors Inc., came in second, at $13.3 billion. (The Los Angeles Times)
Forbes, though, says his net worth is a mere $11.8 billion. Oh, well. Soon-Shiong says he wants to use his "machine vision technology" to revive papers; for example, focus a camera on a sports photo and you could hear the athlete talking. (Bloomberg) At minimum, Ferro has enlarged the moat around his struggling company in issuing new shares to his new best friend and hiking his own prospects of sticking around.
Sounds of sporting silence
Washington Post sports mainstay Thomas Boswell, who in a pre-data-driven age was a gold standard when it came to baseball (without discounting his other efforts), has not written about a seemingly obvious local topic: renewed controversy over the Washington Redskins' name. Why? He explained in an online discussion with readers yesterday: "Seriously, I think this debate is a perfect example of misplaced seriousness and also the abuse of seriousness. That’s why I’ve never written a column on it. I’ve always said to myself, 'There’s just something ‘off’ here — something ‘off’ about the whole screaming match.' And if I ever figure out what it is, then I’ll write about THAT. (Obviously, I have been unable to figure out what ‘it’ is.)" (The Washington Post)
Trending topic in the U.S. Senate
Is Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, really serious about continuing to investigate alleged ideological manipulation of Facebook's "Trending Topics" feature? "As much as we may care about Facebook’s alleged manipulation of news feeds, we should be concerned about this federal intrusion into an independent organization’s editorial process even more," writes Thomas C. Rubin, a lecturer at Harvard Law school, fellow at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society and former chief intellectual property strategy counsel at Microsoft. (Slate)
Rolling their eyes
Kudos to ESPN NBA analysts Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy, who essentially scoffed last night at the NBA decision not to suspend Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green for a seemingly intentional kick to the privates of an opposing player during a playoff game the other night. (Sports Illustrated) "I thought it was a dirty play," said Jackson during the Toronto-Cleveland playoff game on ESPN. Van Gundy, a former coach, said, "I truly thought the decision would come down to whether he got a two-game suspension or one-game suspension. I am utterly shocked at the rationale, that they said players normally flail like this. I think it's going to haunt them. There's no doubt in their mind that if the victimized player was a superstar like Golden State's Stephen Curry, there would have been an immediate suspension.
Clinton Wars Redux
It's back to the future in the presidential campaign. The morning cable shows were partly consumed by Trump-Clinton mudslinging in part involving Trump bringing up Bill's long-ago extramarital wanderings and the long-settled suicide of a then-Clinton White House aide, Vince Foster. "Morning Joe" even replayed parts of Fox mainstay Sean Hannity's radio interviews yesterday with three women who figured in sexual assault claims against Bill Clinton during his presidency: Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey.
"ATTACKS BETWEEN CLINTON & TRUMP GETTING UGLY," heralded CNN. "Even if we (the media) don't want to go down" this path, claimed a righteous Chris Cuomo, the two campaigns do. Joe Scarborough, a Florida congressmen during the Clinton impeachment era who has been sympathetic to Trump, noted how Bill Clinton's approval ratings soared after all the scandals and the Senate impeachment trial. "Americans didn't want to hear about this anymore. They had decided that Bill Clinton didn't treat women well and wanted to move on to next topic. It's hard to believe this will have more resonance than in 1999." The length of the discussion perhaps belied his thesis, at least as far as the media moving on.
Meanwhile, Washington Post “Fact Checker” Glenn Kessler details the total flip-flops by Trump on whether those sex scandals were important. (The Washington Post)
Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin
Ciel Hunter is now head of content at VICE Media. Previously, he was executive creative director for VICE Media. (Email) | Miranda Purves is now a features editor at Businessweek. Previously, she was editor in chief of Flare magazine. (Email) | Keith Summa will be senior vice president of content and programming at Fusion. Previously, he was senior vice president for content innovation there. George Lansbury is now senior vice president of production and programming at Fusion. Previously, he was vice president of programming, production and operations there. (Email) | CBS News Digital is looking for a senior broadcast graphics designer. Get your resumes in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: firstname.lastname@example.org.