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‘The NFL is like a drug lord and football is like crack,’ says ‘Big Game’ author Mark Leibovich

America’s favorite sport has lots of problems, yes. But it’s not going away anytime soon, Leibovich predicts.

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Quarterback Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts Bobby Ellis / Getty Images

On the latest episode of Recode Decode, Kara Swisher spoke to New York Times Magazine national correspondent Mark Leibovich, who has just released a new book called “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times.”

Those dangers to the National Football League are numerous. They include declining TV ratings as more people prefer to watch clips online; increased awareness of the permanently traumatic brain injuries tackling can cause; and, of course, President Trump, whose objections to players protesting racial injustice during the national anthem dominated the headlines last season. But Leibovich says the game will still be big business for a long time to come.

“Seventy-seven of the top 100 rated TV shows in America last year were NFL games,” he said. “The NFL is like a drug lord and football is like crack. And it’s a country of crack addicts.”

“I’m not one of these people like Malcolm Gladwell that says we’re not going to recognize it in 25 years,” he added. “I think it will survive, but I think it will survive because of the greatness of the sport and a lot of the players in it, but in spite of the people who run it and own it.”

In the new book, he got a surprising amount of access to those owners, and obtained a secret tape recording of them talking about the protests of players like former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a vegan African-American with an afro from San Francisco — in other words, a perfect bingo for Donald Trump’s culture war, Leibovich said.

“It was very revealing to hear the level to which people just flipped out,” he said of the tape. “You had these billionaires who can just print money who obviously are just doing great, but they’re just so, ‘What’s Donald going to say next? How do we stop him? How do we put a Band-Aid on this problem?’ You got a window into just the squeamishness and also the small-mindedness and the short-term thinking that they respond to crises like this with.”

You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited transcript of Kara’s full conversation with Mark.


Kara Swisher: Today in the red chair is an old friend of mine, actually, from the Washington Post, Mark Leibovich. He is the chief national correspondent now for the New York Times Magazine and he’s author of a new book called “Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times.” I am so thrilled to have you here.

Mark Leibovich: I am so glad to be here, Kara.

And we have so much to talk about besides sportsball. You know, I do want to talk about the tech element and everything else of it, but I want to explain how you got to this. And what’s so interesting is that you had a piece in the New York Times just this weekend about sort of the conflagration between the NFL and the president, so it hits all your buttons, essentially.

Yes. It was my worlds colliding.

Colliding, exactly. Which you talked about, which I thought was fascinating. And I actually also quoted you in a column I did for the New York Times this week when you had an interview with President Trump about social media and, “We’re gonna take my social media away.”

Oh. Did he say ... He did say that, yes he did.

Yes. It’s at the bottom of the column if you go look at it. Yes.

I remember that. Yes, wow. I have to check that out now.

It was a great quote; it’s a really great quote.

Anyway, let’s talk about this book. So first, let’s talk about your background. You and I met at the Washington Post ...

Well, I think you were at the Journal then. I was just a newbie to technology; I just came from San Jose.

Did you work for the ...

I worked for the Merc for three years, and because my stories had, like, job titles and company names, like David Ignatius who was then the AMA for business, who you knew.

I worked for him.

I think you worked for him.

Yeah.

He seemed to think I was a business and tech reporter, which ... I was one of the Washington-based people. We did that, but it was clear that I was more of a general assignment reporter in San Jose and that’s sort of what I morphed into and then eventually moved over to politics and the style sector.

So your tech career did not last as long as mine?

It lasted four ... No. I cut out after four years.

What was your big story? What was your big, giant, Washington story?

In, let’s see, as far as in D.C. ...

In tech.

Well, they let me take a year to do a whole bunch of deep-dive profiles on Jeff Bezos and Larry Ellison and Steve Case who was still at AOL and Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer and John Chambers. I actually had some deep-dive-y profiles of them and I got to know them a little bit back in there, I guess it was 1999, 2000.

Sure, that was the good times.

It got me out to Silicon Valley a lot, which I’m always happy to do, and Seattle.

Then you moved on to politics.

I moved on to politics, I don’t know why but I felt like I was living ...

Well, that’s what you do at the Washington Post.

It’s what you do at the Washington Post.

That’s why I left.

If you’re in Orlando, you cover Disney World, right? It’s like if you’re at the circus, you want to perform with the animals. Style had this couple of political jobs open and that looked fun and I grew up not here, but when I was just getting into journalism at the Boston Phoenix, I used to steal the Style section because they got the Post in the late ’80s or early ’90s ... I would read them at lunch and I just wanted to work there.

That’s when I was an assistant there.

Those were the days. So wait, you were there ...

I did a lot of things at Washington Post. I delivered mail there, my friend.

Yeah, no, no those were good days. Anyway, so I never really left politics after that. Moved to the Times in 2006, moved to the Times Magazine in 2012. I wrote a book in 2013 called “This Town” which was about basically the empire of Washington during, when it seemed like the capitol and the “Hunger Games” was just getting too fat and happy.

Started off with a funeral.

Started out with Tim Russert’s funeral, yes. Actually, the next book might have to start at John McCain’s funeral. I’m actually going ...

Are you doing another “This Town?”

No. There are no plans for that. Right now I’m just trying to get through “Big Game.” But I think there is ...

But “This Town” is important. When you wrote it, a lot of people thought, “Oh my God, his career is over in politics.” Because you really burned some ... I burn bridges all the time and it doesn’t seem to bother my career, but in Washington, it certainly felt like it.

It was funny, I remember I was writing that and I was thinking as I was fact-checking and going back to some people and saying, “By the way, I’m writing this and ...” And just seeing the defensiveness and seeing just the siege mentality and the how-dare-you, I was thinking, “God, can I actually write this? Is this actually going to end my career? Because that’s what people are threatening and it’s entirely likely. I’m pissing off a lot of sacred cows and people who have been getting along for a long time.” As it happened, I mean, the opposite happened. People kind of secretly agreed and they said, “By the way, you didn’t hear this from me, but you should check out x and y next time.”

Right, you talked that all out.

Yeah, it was a very weird anthropology in a way that sort of confirmed the premise of the whole book.

Well, you were writing about, like I do, a lot of rich, white guys, essentially, in Washington.

A lot of rich, white guys.

In Washington.

Yeah, and a lot of characters and again, the analogies between the NFL and Washington and Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Bubble worlds, right? Bubble worlds just lousy with money, lousy with a lot of rich, white people.

Insecure.

Insecure, yes. Everyone has an empire, they think that they run the place. Everyone in Washington thinks that they run the place, right?

Right. But here you are writing these political pieces, like you just wrote about Paul Ryan, you wrote these big, long, political pieces, and that book was sort of the greatest hits of Mark. You continue to do that. Explain how you got into the NFL. The last big political one I think was Paul Ryan, right?

Yeah I did that a few weeks ago. Yeah, politics is my beat, it’s what I do. It’s my day job and for some reason I’m still covering it. I like covering it. I essentially, a few years ago, got ... I just sort of said, “I need a little break from this.” I love football, I’ve always loved football. Football seemed to be ...

Did you play football?

Pop Warner. And I played in the backyard. I played soccer and lacrosse in high school.

Yeah, but you weren’t a football player?

No, I was not a football player.

You just are a fan.

Yeah, I was a total fanboy, grew up in New England. I was a Patriots fan and everyone hates us, especially now, so whatever, sorry about that. I decided that football, the NFL — again, like Silicon Valley, like Washington — seemed like there had been a tipping point and there was sort of a mingling of intense prosperity with precariousness and it just seemed very nervous. People started throwing words like “existential” around. I decided that I would look into that swamp. There are swamps in this country and the NFL is a big one. Just like Washington was. I wanted to escape from politics because the last campaign was really starting to bum me out after not a long period of time.

Was it in the midst of the campaign?

I did a Tom Brady profile and a Roger Goodell profile in 2015 and ‘16 so I sort of stepped up ...

This was just because you were interested?

I was interested, I had some material. I sort of said, “This is a world I’d like to see more of.” I was doing the book and my day job concurrently, but I realized that you can’t escape politics in football between Trump’s making himself the center of this season and him wanting to be part of the story. And just the politics of the NFL and just rich people fighting with each other.

What was your goal with this book? You full-time started writing about the NFL itself, and what was the idea? Because there’s been lots of sports books. There’s a zillion.

Yeah, absolutely. No, I had no idea what to expect. I’m not a sports writer, I don’t know these people and I don’t have history with these people. I didn’t think I’d get ...

Which is critical. I think your profile benefits from your little relationships, right?

But as a practical matter, I didn’t think I was going to get let into the club. I didn’t think I was going to get any access. I got great access. I have no idea why, I mean, Roger Goodell talked to me two or three times; Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, three times; Brady, Jerry Jones. A lot of the big owners ...

Yeah, you and Jerry Jones had a good time.

We had a good time. I don’t remember much of it but ...

We’re going to talk about that.

My tape recorder remembers all of it. For some reason they let me in. I think some of them right now are realizing as the book comes out, not that they’ve been burned but they realize, “Oh, maybe this guy isn’t just sort of the friendly kind of outsider that we thought.”

Sports writer.

“Maybe he’s not the friendly ...” They’re all used to a certain level of deference. They’re used to being called “Mister so-and-so.”

They’re also not writing about the things they’re saying.

Clearly. There’s a big expectation that, “You’re going to take care of me on this, right?”

You weren’t going to take care of them.

I was noncommittal in the moment and when it came time to write a book, I wanted to tell the truth. Obviously I honored ground rules.

What was your goal when you went into the book? What was your conceptual idea of the NFL and how that changed?

Basically what the last one was, which is to write the book and hopefully by the end I’ll know what it was about.

Oh, come on.

It was ... I wanted to look at the empire. Originally I was thinking about writing a Tom Brady book because I love Tom Brady. I loved getting to know him and I thought he was really interesting. That hit a wall partly because he’s really busy and partly because I just didn’t think he could sustain a book. I mean, I don’t think ... maybe a couple of chapters.

I just think this is the great spectacle of American life, in many ways. If you look at the top 77 rated TV shows in America — 77 of the top 100 rated TV shows in America last year were NFL games. You see astounding numbers like that every year. I mean, the money they print, the level of popularity, what the franchises are going for. People love ... The NFL is like a drug lord and football is like crack. And it’s a country of crack addicts.

Having said that, there are fault lines ...

It’s also declining. Yeah.

It’s declining. And there is great awareness about the physical toll of it. There is any number of people that are not letting their kids play.

Kara Swisher.

Kara Swisher being one of them.

Very clearly.

Very clearly. And you have what you see here as sort of the con ...

My kids really want to play and they are kind of beefy football player types.

How old are they?

16 and 13. They play lacrosse.

You know what? Lacrosse is a great game. You got to be careful there too. I played lacrosse.

I agree.

Yeah.

I had to draw a line somewhere but football is definitely it.

Football ... I’m glad I have daughters, I didn’t have to make that decision. But you do see the contours of the same kind of coastal versus heartland debate. Trump’s one of the few public people who has critiqued football from the right. He has, sort of on the campaign trail, said, “This game has become soft. It is permissive of political correctness which is why they let Colin Kaepernick kneel and all these ingrates who should leave the country.”

“Take off the helmets!”

“Take off the helmets.” Seriously, it’s a real sort of football coach’s mentality perpetuated in his case as kind of like the fake tough guy. Someone who’s never played football and probably wouldn’t fare that well on the field. You do see a lot of the same culture war elements that you do in the coastal bubble of the media that missed the Trump phenomena versus the people that elected him versus the coastal bubble people like you and me who live on the coast in the media.

Yeah, it’s going to seep in.

I think it might.

It’s going to seep in like tofu did. They’re going to be eating tofu and their Chipotle ...

I don’t know, are they eating tofu in like the middle of Pennsylvania after Friday Night Lights?

They do. They eat a lot of things I didn’t think they were gonna eat. In any case, it’s going to seep in when their children lose their mind.

Probably. But, yeah, so anyway, that’s where I came from. I love the game. I wanted to see what it was like up close. The results are in “Big Game.”

One of the things you did in the book which I think was really interesting, what I thought was interesting and it made me think a lot as a reporter, is when you’re a reporter of an area, like tech for me or politics like that, you do make trade-offs all the time. Little information trade-offs, access trade-offs, things that you salt away for another day, things that you know that you couldn’t print right then and you don’t for good reason.

Absolutely.

In this case I thought, “Wow, he just could not ...” the whole time. And you actually did that several times, in that you reprinted conversations about access, about that kind of stuff, which I thought was super interesting.

It was a real luxury not to have to go back into this world. I mean, when I was writing “This Town,” I had in the back of my mind, “You know, I do have to deal with these people again.” Again, which is not to say I’m burning anyone. Ground rules are ground rules and if something’s off the record, I’m going to honor that, no matter where you’re working. Yeah, “This Town” was tricky because I did not have the luxury of being a foreign correspondent who could just swoop in ...

And then leave.

And then leave. This is more like that and it was fun because these guys are really puffed up.

Tell me the kind of takeaways that we should have from the book, and then in the next section we’ll talk a little bit about specifics about where football’s going.

Yeah, one takeaway ... and I mean, I don’t really want this to be a gloom and doom football book. My love of football does sort of endure, which is not to say that the cognitive dissonances are not very, very strong and very, very growing. I think the game will survive. I’m not one of these people like Malcolm Gladwell that says we’re not going to recognize it in 25 years. I think it will survive, but I think it will survive because of the greatness of the sport and a lot of the players in it but in spite of the people who run it and own it.

So talk a little bit about those people.

I think the NFL, you could argue, is maybe the second- or third-biggest entertainment entity in the country, right? Maybe Disney’s No. 1, maybe Apple, AT&T, you can just ... there’s a whole group that you’d sort of put right up at the top. The NFL’s got to be two or three.

Which people don’t think that.

People don’t think that, but you have 32 people, many of them just really motley and not people you’d want running your businesses, who are these magnates who ... Jim Irsay is the king of Indianapolis and Martha Ford, who is this 93-year-old matriarch of the Detroit Lions. These are not great, innovative, forward-looking thinkers. But if you’re putting together a board of Apple or Disney, you wouldn’t pick any of these guys if you were looking for a CEO of these companies. You wouldn’t pick Roger Goodell.

Yet, Roger Goodell has this job because his job is to keep — not however many thousands of shareholders happy or however many millions of fans happy or however many thousands of players happy — it’s to keep 32 owners happy. Thirty-two really rich, really needy owners happy, and he does that by basically calling them and taking care of them and making them a lot more money which, when you own a monopoly in a football-loving country, has proven to be pretty easy.

Pretty easy. And still making the kind of money that it always did? Or less?

No, the revenues are through the roof. The Carolina Panthers, their owner Jerry Richardson was disgraced for some serial sexual harassment. One of the more influential owners in the league said a couple of years ago, he flames out, he’s basically forced to sell the team which he bought in 1993 for something like $175 million. He sold it for $2.2 billion. That’s his disgrace, right?

Right.

Yeah, and Fox threw however many billions of dollars at these shitty Thursday night games they put on. Those indicators are the ones. They’re making so much money, and Goodell says they want to make $25 billion dollars a year in revenue every year by 2025 or something like that. They are making money, but those empires can crumble pretty quickly. And what’s interesting — and this is sort of the Silicon Valley parallel — is Roger Goodell’s favorite saying, and you hear this with a lot of the executives there, is, “Only the paranoid survive.”

Well, that’s Andy.

It’s the Andy Grove thing. Here’s the thing: Andy Grove meant it. My reading of that was “Be vigilant.”

That’s right.

“Be a bastard. Look around the corner, you just never know. You can’t relax.”

It wasn’t out of weakness.

It wasn’t out of weakness. In the NFL, you sense it’s out of weakness. You sense it’s out of fear, you sense it’s defensive. It’s just like, “Well, okay, what’s going to hit us next? We don’t know what we’re going to do but we’re going to have to react to it and we don’t know what we’ll do. We’ll muddle through.” That’s sort of how I hear the NFL’s adaptation of that phrase.

We’re here with Mark Leibovich. He’s the author of a new book called “The Big Game: The NFL in Dangerous Times.” What do you mean by that? I want to know what your subtitle means.

It means that the NFL is very nervous.

Like you were talking, paranoid.

They think that the whole ... Paranoid. They think that the golden goose could just be slipping away.

Tell us how that could be.

It could be any number of ways. It could be that all of a sudden you reach a critical mass of people that decide it’s just morally wrong to watch football and their numbers just ...

Because of the damages.

Because of the damages or because it’s boring or because ...

Bob Costas says that, right?

Bob Costas says that, any number of people, Tom Brady’s dad says he wouldn’t let his kids play football, or he’d have to think twice about it. Barack Obama said the same thing. Troy Aikman said the same thing. A number of football players have said that. That’s out there.

So, damages?

Damages, but also from my political, the left has been very, very suspicious of football for a long time. For its violence, for its over-the-top patriotism for the what many on the left perceive to be outdated notions of manhood and for the militaries or culture there.

We’re getting into robot football. But go ahead.

I would hope, but no.

Oh, we’re getting there.

Donald Trump has really turned a good portion of the right against the NFL.

Talk about that. He started it. He’s always wanted to own, I remember he owned something in New Jersey.

He owned the New Jersey Generals.

The Generals.

In I guess the USFL.

Which was a side team or whatever.

In the ’80s. It was sort of an up-and-coming rival league of the NFL.

Which never worked.

A lot of money was thrown into it, didn’t work. Trump was one of the reasons it didn’t work because he just paid these exorbitant salaries to these very high-profile college players like Doug Flutie and Herschel Walker and everyone else just sort of bankrupted themselves trying to keep up.

Then Trump — after three years or two years, however many years it was — wanted to just, he didn’t want to be the spring league. They played in the spring. He wanted to have their games in the fall because they could compete with the NFL. No one thought it was a good idea but Trump had outsize influence and they did it and the thing just spiraled.

Trump’s original plan there was to hope that the league was so successful that they would merge into the NFL and that would be his way in. Subsequent to that, he’s tried repeatedly to buy teams, and the owners, I think, whole different generations of owners haven’t given him the time of day.

Because?

They think he’s a clown. I think most of them, they might agree with him politically and seven owners gave him about a million dollars at his inauguration and are friends with him, in that same sort of billionaire camaraderie kind of mutual star factor ...

They don’t like each other. They don’t like each other.

I’m sure you see the same thing in technology with CEOs, but no, they need to see their books. They need to see these people, if they can pay for these very, very, very expensive teams. I don’t think ... I mean, Trump’s last foray into this was 2014 when he tried to buy the Buffalo Bills. He lost out to Terry Pegula who’s a fracking magnate in Pennsylvania. He got the Bills. No, Trump, they ...

He’s never gotten it.

Never gotten it and it’s four decades, and so it’s a club that would not have him as a member, and the White House is his consolation prize and he is heckling, so ...

Yeah, they still won’t let him in, right?

Well, no, but he’s in their heads. They can’t escape him.

Explain ... so what he’s done now. Talk about what happened. Most people know. The kneeling.

The kneeling thing. President Trump has an eye for wedge issues. It’s something that will rile up the base. The base loves football. The base hates the idea of ... a lot of players, most of them African-American, protesting [during] the National Anthem. It’s just a perfect Trumpian issue. It’s like, Colin Kaepernick, the vegan quarterback with the big afro, with the San Francisco uniform. I mean, if the gods of base tropes didn’t ... They’d have to invent him, right?

Base tropes. He could be transgender.

And so the vegan was-

That would add to the ...

Yeah.

... and go to people’s bathrooms.

I’m sure by the time Trump finishes talking he will be transgender, but so, he’s like a perfect sort of straw man for the Trumpian rhetoric. It’s permissive liberals and ... but it’s also, “Football used to be so violent! Remember those hits you used to see?” There’s a scene in the book in which there was this really rough game between the Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the playoffs a couple of years ago. There were personal fouls and concussions and the fans were throwing things on the field, and it was one of those perverse spectacles where you just tune in and you say, “Is the civilization going to be broadcast live on CBS from Cincinnati at 11:30?”

Yeah.

Phil Simms, the announcer, said this is a disgrace, and the players were suspended. Trump, the next day at a campaign event in Reno, I think, got up and said, “You know, I was watching that game last night, and you used to watch these beautiful violent hits, and now you have these penalty flags being thrown. There’s a rule for everything. Football has gone soft, and America’s gone soft.” So football, he was positing it as the perfect parable for America.

“Used to be great.”

Used to be great. Football used to be great.

Used to be violent. There were legs broken.

You know what? “You can wheel people out of here on a stretcher if they heckle me.” It’s the same principle. And football became a perfect culture war metaphor ...

Which he held onto.

... and then the anthem stuff, ongoing, which by the way was like a relatively small handful of players. Fairly contained issue. It didn’t get that much attention until Trump weighed in. Then all of a sudden it became story one, and it dominated a good part of last season.

And your book.

Part of my book, yeah. Just because Trump ...

Did it take over?

No, it didn’t take over. I wouldn’t let it take over. I didn’t want this ... I mean, there’s a lot of Trump in this book.

Yeah, so what impact did it have?

On the game?

Yeah.

It freaked everyone out. In this book, my colleague Ken Belson and I, we’ve got a secret tape recording of a private meeting between a bunch of owners and a bunch of players in New York last year at the height of the anthem crisis. The takeaway just from listening to that tape — which, obviously, we’re thrilled to have listened to. The league wasn’t thrilled that we listened to it, and the people involved weren’t thrilled, but ... I mean, it was very revealing to hear the level to which people just flipped out.

You had these billionaires who can just print money who obviously are just doing great, but they’re just so, “What’s Donald going to say next? How do we stop him? How do we put a Band-Aid on this problem?” You got a window into just the squeamishness and also the small-mindedness and the short-term thinking that they respond to crises like this with.

But essentially, that issue receded. Football fans want to go back to the game, and that happened in a few days. Then Mike Pence did his walkout thing from Indianapolis ...

No, has he even been to a football game?

He was for a month.

Momma went with him. Mother went. You don’t have to say.

Momma was there.

Mother.

Mother was there, yeah. No, so that happened, but eventually they moved onto something else, and the season progressed and Super Bowl ratings were top 10 in history. It was down from the year before, but it survived. They essentially handled that.

And then for some reason, Roger Goodell and the owners decided last May, “Hey, let’s make a new rule. If you want to protest, stay in the locker room.”

Right, so there was just ...

Trump got a hold of that, and no one liked the idea. They thought it was going to be a disaster from the start.

And then?

And six weeks later they said, “Maybe that was a bad idea. We’re still going to negotiate.” They didn’t have a clue what to do.

What’s going to happen with that? They’re going to still kneel, right? I think they would.

Some will, I think, but look, it’s a monopoly, and there probably is some kind of collusion, whether it’s the legal sense of the word or not, but Colin Kaepernick isn’t employed. Eric Reid, his teammate who started for five years for the 49ers, he’s not employed. He kneeled with him. It’s not a good career move. It’s just not, and if you have a very, very short career in the NFL and you need money and you come from a depressed socio-economic background, making a political statement in a way that probably could cost you millions of dollars probably isn’t going to be that high on your list.

Right, right, right. So what happens? It just flames out?

It could. It could. I think Trump ...

There are some team owners who encourage it though, correct?

Yeah. Well, I wouldn’t say encourage. Jerry Jones, some of the more conservative owners, they come out and they say, “If anyone doesn’t have their toe on the line and salute the flag during the National Anthem won’t be playing for the Dallas Cowboys,” so boom. If you’re a Dallas Cowboy, it’s probably a pretty risky career move to do that.

Some of the other owners, I think Jed York in San Francisco, I think Jeff Lurie in Philadelphia, maybe like a Steve Tisch who’s co-owner of the New York Giants who lives in LA. They’ve said to the effect of, “People can do what they want,” but we’ll see.

We’ll see. What are the other dangerous things? The physical. Possibly moving politics into it, which has happened before.

It’s happened before. No, but never like this. The ’60s were pretty well walled-off from the Super Bowl era. Vince Lombardi was someone that both Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon talked to about being their running mate. He was that universally revered. He was a Kennedy Democrat, but he wasn’t interested in either one. No, but in the late ’60s and the early ’70s, Up With People was playing the Super Bowl. This was just like a unifying force ...

Very different.

Very different. This was not the America that was Woodstock.

Is that part of it, is that it’s a different America? That football doesn’t unify ... Nothing unifies anybody. There used to a broadcast news there could be all kinds of …

Correct. There’s no Walter Cronkite to be the referee here. I think Roger Goodell when I asked him about ... I said, “Look.” I put the question to him. I said, “Ten years ago, the NFL was one of the most unifying intuitions in the country. Now, it’s probably the most polarizing, certainly, sports brand we have in America. What happened? And you’ve been commissioner 10 years, how much responsibility do you bear?” He said — defensively and self-servingly but also probably true — he said, “Look, I think that we’re just more divided on everything now than we were 10 years ago.”

I think he’s right. I think it is hard. We’re in a place, especially when we have a president who’s quick to jump right into these wedges and make them as big as possible, where people are very inclined to just argue over politics and put the us-versus-them dynamic into something that might have ...

What about tech in terms of football? A lot of people talk about tech solutions that you ...

That’s huge.

Like helmets that could tell if ... They don’t want to know, correct? Presumably.

It is interesting. There is a lot of ... apparently a lot of research going into helmets, a lot of research into detection and so forth. My sense is that could make an impact at the margins at its best. Football’s a violent game. You’re not going to stop ... There’s a new safe tackling initiative where they’re calling penalties or they’ve threatened to call penalties if you lead with your helmet, so there’s that. I do think that at this point they get it, and they’re trying to do things.

But I think the bigger, I think, technology-existential issue for the league is just cord-cutting. They’ve gotten 60 percent of their revenues from TV over most of their history, and the ratings are going down.

You’re not sure if Amazon and Google are going to pay for those?

Correct, right? But also, people are just turning off their TV.

Right, yeah.

You know this better than anyone.

Mm-hmm.

They don’t have a handle on that, and you sense there are some pretty smart people at the league who do spend their time ...

The big payments were by Fox and I think NBC, right?

Fox, NBC, CBS, ESPN and I guess ... let’s see. I don’t know who got the ... Well, Fox just paid a lot for the Thursday night games, and Twitter had something last year.

They did. It was small.

But I think they got rid of it.

Do you imagine the tech giants will get in this?

They’ve kept out.

There keep being rumors, yeah.

Yeah. Paul Allen ...

Amazon would be.

... is basically as close as you get, and he’s sort of an absentee owner. He never shows up at the league meetings and he doesn’t fit the classic profile. I don’t know.

These guys also don’t want to own the teams.

No, I don’t think they ...

Ballmer — they want to own basketball teams.

Basketball teams. Well, I guess Oracle has their name on the Warriors’ arena.

It’s coming off.

Is it coming off? Yeah.

Yeah, yeah.

Did Larry Ellison have any stake in it?

No.

I don’t think so, right?

I don’t think so.

Yeah, Ballmer ...

They don’t really care to pay for those. I’ve talked to so many of them, and they’re like, “We’re not paying for ...”

Right, which it’s not unsurprising. It’s also, you’re walking into a ...

Who was the one that did this for the 49ers? It wasn’t a tech company. It was [Levi’s] … but I’m saying they aren’t as interested. They’re certainly not.

They’re not, no. Ballmer, I remember ... I mean, you’d know better than me.

Yeah, we did a great interview.

He wanted to own …

He did, but he looks like it.

And Ted Leonsis from a different generation of tech person.

Yes, absolutely.

He comes from that background. He left AOL and said, “I want to own sports teams,” and now he does and they won the Stanley Cup.

No, they seem to want … one of them, Pierre Omidyar, I was like, “Why don’t you ever buy a sports team?” He said, “I like hotels.”

Exactly, right?

I was like, exactly! And he owns a number of hotels now.

Yeah, and you know what? When you own a hotel, you don’t have to go to a league meeting four times a year and deal with Mark Davis and Jim Irsay and all these people who are your partners, essentially, right?

Yeah, yeah. They go get their own basketball teams. That’s my impression, if they bought them, but besides the money coming into it, because there’s plenty of rich guys that want to buy a football team, presumably, until the end of time.

Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

But so the television, young people are not watching it this way in this fashion.

They’re not watching it this way. They’re watching it on their phone like everyone else is.

And the clips.

Yeah, correct. I don’t have any sense that the league has the kinds of executives ... I mean, Brian Rolapp was their head of media, basically. Very smart guy. I didn’t spend that much time with him, but I was very impressed with him. And there are some sort of sub-level ... sort of No. 2s of the various teams that I was really impressed with, a guy like Jonathan Kraft, No. 2 at the New England Patriots, and Kevin Demoff with the Rams and Rich McKay at the Falcons. These are not owners per se, but they’re in the line of succession basically and ...

And they do understand.

They do, I think, and I don’t know who else does.

And so where does it go in a digital age?

They’re trying to figure that out. I don’t know. My sense is they’re ...

These deals go on for what? Ten years?

They can, yeah.

Yeah, what are they right now? A lot of them are about ... They’re multi-year.

Well, the big broadcast thing I think ends in three or four years from now. I think that and the collective bargaining agreement come up within a year of each other or I think in 2020, something like that.

Yeah, what was interesting is when they were talking about the rights at one point, they’re like, “Oh, they’re going to get the tech people in here.” I was like, “No, you’re not.”

They would so ...

They would love it. They want to set off ...

You know, I don’t know if they would or not because the thing about Roger Goodell that I found is ... and you see, again, this is very ...

He shows up out there all the time.

He shows up out there. He’s a big Herb Allen guy.

No, he’s there. I’ve seen ...

Never misses one of those.

... Roger there more times than I care to think about.

No, no. He wants to be a master of the universe. I mean, he wants to be someone who understands this or learns. I don’t begrudge him any of that. I think he tries. I do think, though, that one of his failures as a leader is that he just hasn’t picked a successor. He hasn’t picked like any number of people who could be successors. He’s just kept some kind of weak, and the same, people around him.

It does feel that it hasn’t changed in a lot of ways than other things, than other sports.

Not at all.

It seems like basketball feels very digital, and so does ...

Oh, absolutely.

Do you know what I mean?

Absolutely.

It feels smart to people who know about how to get that. I don’t know why.

Yes, yes.

It just feels like that’s a sport of the future.

Part of it, yeah. Also the global aspect.

Mm-hmm, exactly.

Football is not going to take over China tomorrow. They’re big in the UK. There’s talk that they might go into London in the next 10 years or so. Mexico City possibly, but that’s where they hit the ceiling, right?

Right.

In the NBA, you have every ... It’s close to soccer at this point.

It is.

The people love Steph Curry.

And the players are very intelligent ...

And they’re very encouraged on social media. You just sense that from the top down, that is a league that gets it, and again, speaking as a fan, I’ve never loved the NBA more in the last 10 years than I do now.

No, yeah.

Part of it is my team is getting good again. I like the Celtics.

Yeah, but look at Lebron James versus Colin Kaepernick. He goes at the president; he doesn’t suffer.

He doesn’t suffer, and the league, he has his backing.

They love it. They love it.

It’s a different set of fans, a different sort of population.

It’s interesting.

I’m not kidding about robotic football. I’m totally not. There was a movie with Hugh Jackman, if you remember. Do you imagine that ever happening? That it’s not that it’s their minds or anything like that. I know it’s crazy but I don’t know.

It’s crazy; it could happen.

It’s not crazy.

It could happen.

Not crazy.

Their post-game interviews couldn’t be that much different, right?

No, exactly.

It’s not like we’re watching their personalities just unfurl before us, so maybe they could even program more interesting interviews.

They could have more interesting games.

They could.

If you program them.

Absolutely.

Think about it.

They don’t need a break.

They don’t.

Just go right back to the line of scrimmage.

That’s right.

Program them and play. You don’t have to wait through…

They could be as violent as you want, and then there’ll be calls for robot rights, of course, but ...

It’s never been safer for robots.

Yeah, right now.

The game has never been ...

But you’d never see that happening. What other technologies do you see? This is a technology audience.

I would never let ... Would you let your robot kid play football?

I would let my robot kid play football.

I would say ... I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll be into the robot thing if that ever happens, but ...

All right, but what other technologies? Stuff on their bodies.

Stuff on their bodies.

Cameras.

Cameras. Which is happening pretty fast.

Yes, of course. Yeah, I’ve seen all ...

... in a way that is very kind of ... not futuristic because it’s now ...

Fun. It’s fun.

... but it’s fun. It’s interesting. I don’t know. There’s a lot of stuff that you can hear and see.

Right.

There’s some privacy stuff going. I do think what’s interesting is ...

The cameras are cool. And if you put them in a VR setting, you could be Tom Brady.

You could, and they’re looking at that. There’s no question they’re looking at VR stuff. I mean, they are ... One of the advantages of football, it’s a perfect TV game. The shape of the field, just the pace of the action, the strategy. You can see it so well on TV. And if you go into a stadium — and only 7 percent of all NFL fans have ever actually been in a stadium — you can see why. You just don’t know what’s going ... You can’t change the channel during play, but it’s just hard to see. It’s a small ball. You don’t know who has it, and if you’re sitting on the 10 yard line and it’s all the way on the other end of the field, if you don’t have binoculars, you’re screwed.

You start with that advantage, and HD is a great football-watching experience compared to what it was before, which was pretty good anyway. I do think probably the biggest technological factor here is probably around health and safety, and again, like I said before, I think that’s at the margins. I just don’t think that you can invent the perfect ... I could be wrong, but I don’t think you can invent a helmet that can protect your head from high-impact crashes.

Right, so how big an impact? Is it going to have lawsuits, everything else?

Lawsuits, people just not ...

Not disclosing. Playing.

Yeah, but also insurance. Insurance is really hard. It’s really hard for your football leagues to get insurance these days, given the critical mass of research that is happening. Obviously, the population of people wanting to play it could skew much poorer, like it did with boxing. That’s the sort of analogy you hear a lot. I think football, there’s a danger is making it too much like a video game. This Madden tournament in Jacksonville, it’s like a perverse sort of intersection between these really barbaric worlds, right?

Mm-hmm.

In an actually horrible barbaric event. Again, I don’t think there’s a technological magic bullet at all. I think the league gets that technology can help. I think they seem to be putting money into it. I think they’re just trying to muddle through with a lot of money.

Right. Thinking of that, because it’s not an easily solved technical problem, and then also, football or any sports events are something that is live, and so it works out really ... It does have a certain ability to resist Internet elements because live works.

Yes. Correct. Right.

Where do you imagine it going then?

I imagine the game, first of all, gets shorter. The game, it’ll have to get shorter. One thing Goodell I think is good at is football always assumed that they didn’t have a time-of-game problem, but you have three hours and they’re on a clock. Unlike baseball, it can’t drag on for six hours and 17 innings or whatever. They’re very mindful of speeding the thing up, and they’re also mindful of trying to monetize, which is a big word for him.

It’s an old word.

It’s an old word but because he’s Roger Goodell and it’s an old private company, they think it’s a new word and he’s incentivized those kinds of things. It’s like the ’90s back there. No, it’s a slicing and dicing model and it’s like the mobile.

Right.

It’s the same sort of way that old media companies are trying to ...

Slice and dice, rights, clips.

Right, exactly.

Yeah, they get on you. The NFL gets on you if you use any clips.

Oh, absolutely, no, they are as aggressive a monopoly as monopolies can be. There’s not another football league, either.

In terms of personalities, is that something that’s way — it seems like it is. I mean, tennis sort of went away, the personality.

Yeah, there’s not, there has been in football for a number of years ... It’s been called, the NFL is the “No Fun League,” right? They try to take the fun and ... You know, I’m a Patriots fan and Bill Belichick is the most colorless, joyless, sort of looks like this monolith. I said in the book, I love the team, I love that they win, and I’d rather jump into raw sewage than go to work for Bill Belichick. Not that he’s asking a 53-year-old former football player in Pop Warner to play but if he were I would say, “No thank you, coach.” I do think that the ... yeah, you can’t, there’s not a Lebron James. Tom Brady is ...

You kidding? There’s 20 of them in basketball.

There’s 20 of them in basketball.

Sorry, I had to push basketball, but Adam is my friend.

No, no, but Adam Silver ...

He’s good. He’s not my friend, but ...

... is sort of, and this bothers Roger Goodell.

Well, we were thinking about who to bring to Code this year. We’ve had Adam there and he’s fantastic.

I would love to meet him one day. He is someone that people positively like.

We’ve had him, he’s fantastic. Oh, he’s smart. He’s smart. Accessible.

He’s smart. He has seen this ... yeah, and look, it might still be a ...

Never gets too excited about anything. You know what I mean? He never gets overwhelmed.

Right, but he’s also ... Maybe it’s a honeymoon. Roger Goodell was wildly popular for the first five, six years of his commissionership. There could be a honeymoon. But no, Adam Silver is wildly admired across not just sports, but the corporate world. The players seem to like him and the fans seem to like him. I think he’s probably booed but most, I think all, commissioners are generally booed.

Do they?

But I think he’s probably booed less.

So when you think about this book and getting back into politics, how does that feel?

You know, it’s tough. Although actually it’s good. It’s been ...

Have you gotten out the requisite time away from these people or not really? How are you looking at it?

Yeah. The whole Trump thing is a whole different animal. I feel like I’m coming back to a, not different country because I haven’t left and I’ve been writing stories. I had sort of thought, and someone asked me this the other day, “if Washington was a swamp that you wrote about five years ago and the NFL’s a swamp that you wrote about now, what’s the next swamp then?”

Yeah, what is the next swamp?

Well, so Silicon Valley or Hollywood, those are the first two you hear.

Come on over.

I would love to. The weather is so ... I love California. Maybe one day. Can I crash at your house?

Sure.

Especially when you’re here, we can do a house swap kind of thing.

Yeah, we can trade. It’s fun.

It’s funny, because Trump is sort of his own swamp. I don’t know if there are, I mean, I think there are great Trump books to write. I don’t know if I have the stomach to ever write a book about the Trump swamp. I think what’s going on here, I don’t know, maybe that’s something to work into. Basically I just need to get back to my day job and immerse myself in this for the next couple of weeks.

But you have the luxury of writing features.

I do, I do.

So you don’t have to like every day ...

I don’t, but I want to write as much as possible. I do want to flex those muscles again.

But you work for the Times Magazine, which is different.

I work for the Times Magazine. I have the good fortune of being, I work in the Washington bureau. My bosses are in New York.

Mm-hmm. So you can hide.

I can hide a little bit, sure. I go to work ...

Who are you are writing about next?

What am I writing about next? Well, I wrote about Paul Ryan two weeks ago. I wrote about football this week. Unclear, I actually have to talk to ...

Who do you think is interesting in politics? Where do you think this is ... If it’s a game, where are we in this game?

I’m trying to stay away from the flavor of the month of the Alexandria ...

Midterms, yeah.

Yeah, the Cortez ...

Oh, yeah, gotcha ...

Yeah, then it’s like ... and this guy in Florida going ... I think Elizabeth Warren is someone everyone talks about. Cory Booker is someone a lot of people talk about. I think Mitt Romney’ll be really interesting again, believe it or not. I can’t believe I’m saying that, but if he wins a Senate seat ... I don’t think he’s winning the Senate seat just to sort of do something for six years. I think that he has some pretty strong views about where the party is going and I don’t know if he is going to make himself an irritant.

Yeah, if he makes it.

I can’t believe I’m sitting here in 2018 saying, “Mitt Romney could be interesting again.” Unbelievable statement. I can’t believe I ever said that. I’ll probably deny it one day.

Well, we have it on tape.

We have it on tape. Yeah, I think both parties are at this major crossroads and blah blah blah.

Yeah, blah, blah, blah.

We’ll see. Blah, blah, blah.

How is that working at the New York Times, doing that?

It’s pretty wild. The fake news, the failing New York Times.

Failing, I’m sorry.

The failing New York Times.

Fake CNN.

Yeah, we’re doing great. It was a little perverse to go to work every day and sit amidst all these White House reporters, have Maggie Haberman over here and Peter Baker over here and Julie Davis over here and just like ... They’re in the middle of it, and because I’m an idiot, do not want to write my book at home because I just like to be in the middle of a newsroom. It just sort of works for me. I did it but it was really hard. I felt like ...

Yeah, watching it like that.

Watching, yeah! It’s like I’m ...

A four-alarm fire.

Yeah, it’s the circus. Yeah, I’m in the middle in the circus and I can’t perform.

Yeah, that’s true, although oh my god, you’re on the TV show which I watched. I watched before I started writing for the Times, “The Fourth Estate.”

Oh, oh. You know what? I love that. It’s good.

Are you in it? I can’t remember. Were you on, I think you wander in there.

I am. I’m in there. I had a couple cameos. My desk is right there.

Yeah, you wander in.

I said to Maggie, because she had been on the phone with the president and the president said ...

Who “wasn’t talking to her,” right?

Yeah, exactly. No, no, it was the day I think healthcare went down, or maybe the first time it went down.

Whatever.

Whatever. And I think Maggie said, “Mr. President are you going to go back at this after recess?” And he said, “No, no, no. I’ve had enough.” And then she said, “You’ve had enough.” So she hangs up and I yell, “There’s your kicker! Now that’s enough!” Or something, whatever it was that Trump said. I was being like all workshoppy, good colleague.

Helpful.

Yeah, I’m sure she really appreciated it. I’m sure if you go back to the story in question that’s exactly how it ended.

Oh, it was funny to watch. All I kept thinking, that was an interesting show only because it was like, it was a lot of guys, mostly white guys ...

A lot of guys.

Wandering around and they all were named Michael and they kept gaining weight. And Trump kept winning. Then Maggie would wander in and say something pithy and then wander out.

That’s all true.

I went like, “Which Mike is talking now?”

That’s true. There was an abundance of Mikes, wasn’t there?

There’s Mikes, and they’re all literally gaining weight throughout the entire part. And every time they gain weight, Trump wins another thing. It was very ...

I know, right, and he gained weight, too. It was a ...

It was a very interesting show.

It’s funny, every sports writer I met was named Ryan.

Do you feel like a sports writer?

No.

As a political writer? Sometimes people ...

Yeah, there’s a lot of overlap. There’s a ton of overlap. Someone dug up a clip from “Boys on the Bus” saying, “Yeah, we’re all sports writers.” I mean, look, you can do this. Politics is not that complicated. Sports is not that complicated.

Should we change the way we cover politics and sports? In a lot of ways, the way we do it is on such a reactive basis.

Yeah, I mean that’s ...

Nobody saw the damage stuff for decades.

Nobody saw that.

But they did.

And when it was brought up, Paul Tagliabue, the commissioner at the time, said, “That’s just pack journalism.” And one thing you do learn when you have covered politics and been in Washington for a while is we make huge mistakes, huge macro mistakes, like, “America is not ready for an African-American president.” “America will never ever elect Donald Trump. It’s not even going to happen.” Yeah, we make that mistake or mistakes on that level and of that magnitude on a regular basis. That’s the circular sort of group think that prevails in every bubble industry.

Now, with sports it’s different because you actually are dealing with numbers on a scoreboard. You’re dealing with a much more formulaic set of right and wrong and good and bad and success and failure. In that sense it’s a much more black-and-white world, so it’s easier to cover. And also, the real-life ramifications, unless you’re gambling on the games or unless you’re getting brain damaged at the games, it’s not really going to add up very much.

I think that one of the things that you do no matter what you’re covering, and that’s been true with me, is you’ve just got to try to step outside the bubble as often as possible. I don’t mind people, when I’m in the middle of a group of reporters, people not knowing what, like where I’m coming from or what I’m about. I know these people here and I think they still, I would hope that they still think that about me because I think that it’s really, really important to try to make yourself as much of an outsider as possible, no matter where you are, no matter how much of an insider you are. My goal in writing this NFL book was not to be invited to Commissioner Goodell’s Super Bowl Party next year.

Right, saying no.

Yeah, exactly. I got in the last couple of years. I got a lot of work done, but no, I’ve seen that and ...

You don’t think they’re going to invite you?

You know, I could probably get in. It’s really, I don’t know.

“Hi.” They’ll let you in, c’mon. Those people are just awful.

It’d be interesting to see. Well, what’s interesting about the initial feedback on the book, because there’s little shitstorms, like in New England and Dallas and Atlanta, places ...

Oh, within the local sports writers.

Yeah, because they focus on the things in the book that their owner said or that so-and-so said and it’s like, “Oh, this is a thing.” Then they ask him about it. It’s pretty interesting.

It’s gonna be good.

I hope so.

Yeah, of course. Come on.

Yeah, so far it’s fun.

You know, they’re gonna let you in. I’m sorry to tell you that.

I don’t want to go back in. I will buy ...

I know, but you know, I wrote some mean column about Facebook and they yelled at me on Thursday and by Saturday like, “Hey girl!”

They need you, Kara. No, they need you. You don’t ...

They like getting kicked in the teeth.

Look, they need you a lot more than you need them.

Well, I’ve got them trained. You don’t have your political people trained.

I don’t have them trained. Oh, the political people. I mean, that’s my world.

I’d love, I’m gonna come and cover politics.

You should totally, Kara.

Can you imagine?

I’ll tell you what. We should do like a job swap.

We should.

We will do a job swap.

We should, because I would like that.

We need you.

It would be so fascinating.

We need a Kara Swisher.

Yeah.

It was funny, I was talking to a columnist in Boston today who asked me, because I spend a fair amount of time up and around the Patriots and he said, “What do you think of the Patriots’ media cabal?” He thinks it’s too friendly and they let them get away with too much.

Yeah. Agreed.

And it’s true with every team. It’s not just them and it’s not just the sports writers. I also said, “Look. If I were the 25-year-old guy whose boss wanted me to make sure I knew what Devin McCourty’s ... whether it was a lower-leg injury or a calf injury or a knee injury, if that were my job for the day, you think I’m gonna stand in that coaching press conference and be a shit stirrer and have everyone give me the stink eye? No.” I mean, part of it’s like ...

Some of it’s just information.

Yeah, and I didn’t want to be like the guy who swoops in and bigfoots all the local sports writers. I have tremendous respect for the work that working reporters do. We’re all different kinds of working reporters.

Yeah, fair point.

It’s important, but I do think that any reporter, no matter what your job is or what your daily mission is, is to try to think as much like an outsider as possible.

Absolutely. I’m going to give you a last question. Player and owner, who did you like and who did you just not like? I can tell that ....

Oh, player and ... So both categories?

Both categories.

Love Tom Brady. Sorry, I’m a fanboy so I’m extremely biased.

Despite DeflateGate.

That was a sham and you can read all about it.

All right.

No, no, cool. Yeah, like the players are my favorite group of the whole crew.

So Tom Brady.

I like Tom Brady.

Why?

Just ’cause he’s brilliant. He’s not brilliant about talking about politics, but you watch him watching game film, and at one point ... There’s this Facebook documentary of him that this guy Gotham Chopra made that ran on Facebook Live in six parts last year. Tom was looking at game film and he gets on the phone and he says to his offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniel, “Go to reel 3, preseason game, Cincinnati 2012,” whatever it is. He’s just staring at it and he’s like, “You know, I could just watch this and hours could pass and I wouldn’t even know. It could be like two in the morning. I wouldn’t know any time had passed.” It reminded me a lot of the coders that you would sometimes see late at night

Mm-hmm. So he’s watching those.

And you do see the level of genius unfolding in a room that I could never appreciate, just like I couldn’t appreciate ...

Yeah, he’s a pretty good player, from what I’m told.

He’s a pretty good player. Jerry Jones is, he’s a rascal. I’m sort of biased towards people who are fun and who let you in and who don’t really give a fuck.

Mm-hmm. He doesn’t give a fuck.

He doesn’t. He’s a complicated character and he’s not necessarily a benign character but he was fun. Steve Tisch, co-owner of the Giants, fun guy. Also there was a story where he ... He was a producer of “Forrest Gump” and won an Oscar for that. He’s the only person in the world, on the planet, who has an Academy Award and a Super Bowl trophy. I was fact-checking at the end and I said, “Steve, is it true that you are the only person in the world who has an Academy Award and a Super Bowl trophy?” He goes, “No. It’s not true. I have an Academy Award and two Super Bowl trophies, asshole.” So I said, “I’m quoting you on that, and ‘asshole’ will be in there.”

Perfect. Perfect. And not like? Come on.

Daniel Snyder, of our hometown Washington Redskins.

And why?

He just sort of ... He price gouges. He runs off really good coaches. He makes a lot of people around here really struggle to root for the home team. I think Dan Snyder is someone that Democrats and Republicans, in a rare piece of agreement, can agree on. No, Dan Snyder is, maybe it’s perception but he has owned the team for almost 20 years. They haven’t won anything but he’s also, it just doesn’t seem like he’s made a lot of friends.

All right. Players you don’t like? You like ’em all?

I like players! I’m not saying that because I’m a fanboy. I just think that as a group of people, they work so hard.

What about coaches?

Sean McVay, coach of the LA Rams, seems great, a really cool, innovative guy. Belichick is fascinating. Again, I wouldn’t want to have a beer with him and he wouldn’t want to have a beer with me. He’s a great leader. He’s someone who’s had amazing amounts of success and he’s a free thinker. I remember Jim Brown, the Hall of Fame running back, he brought Belichick quietly to go visit a bunch of prisoners from this foundation that Brown has. He compared Belichick to Bill Russell, the great Boston Celtics center who was like this great social justice guy in the ’60s and ’70s.

He said, “Bill Belichick’s a free thinker.” Then, as it turned out, Bill Belichick’s free thinking extended to supporting Donald Trump in the 2016 election, which was a bit jarring for a lot of people. I wrote him a letter. I guess that’s true, too, so free thinking has a lot of contours. In football, he’s a very innovative, outside-of-the-box thinker and has, despite being steeped in the game for many many decades. So I would say him.

Let’s see, Mike Tomlin of Pittsburgh seems like a kind of a cool guy. Anyway, yeah. I think football ... Put it this way, all of them would be really smart to cut me really early on if I ever wound up on their team.

I don’t think you have a chance.

Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna get that far.

You’re going to have to do it vicariously.

Correct. I want a big signing bonus though and I have to keep it.

Mark, I want you to do a Newt Gingrich profile.

You do?

Yes, I do.

Boy, what is this, like 1994?

I just want you to. I want Mark Leibovich on my ... I’m just saying, just an idea.

On the news? Is that like, okay, assignment editor has weighed in. Newt. Okay.

Newt would be fantastic. Or Giuliani, either one or both of them.

Giuliani’s more for ...

And call it “The Goblins.” Anyway, you’re welcome. That’s a free story idea.

Thank you, Kara.

Anyway, Mark Leibovich, thank you so much. He’s a New York Times writer but is the author, more importantly, of a new book called “The Big Game, the NFL in Dangerous Times.” I do not even like football and I enjoyed it.

Awesome.

Mostly because it has amazing writing.

Thank you, Kara.

And I still do want you to write another political book. I really hope you write a sequel to “This Town.”

It might happen.

All right, you should.

You think the Valley can wait?

Oh, you want to come to the Valley?

Maybe just for a, I don’t know. We’ll talk. We’ll talk more about that.

We’ll talk later. If you like, please come. The more good writers exposing their awful hypocrisy the better.

Here’s the problem, when I was a tech writer and a business writer I never really could understand tech or business.

Now you do.

So no, I certainly don’t now. And David Ignatius sort of realized this. He was like, you know, it’s like when you have head injury, your brain makes new pathways. It’s like, oh okay, now I’m focusing on the culture of the companies and the people.

Well, they’ve moved into politics, they’ll be here next week, so you’ll see.

Exactly, right? It all, the worlds converge.

It has moved deeply into politics. Thank you so much, Mark.

Great being here.

Thank you for coming on the show and good luck with the book.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.