Over the weekend, Kansas City Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger said Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt dropped the ball in how he responded to the president’s stance on protests during the national anthem. Tony Gutierrez AP
Over the weekend, Kansas City Star sports columnist Sam Mellinger said Chiefs chairman and CEO Clark Hunt dropped the ball in how he responded to the president’s stance on protests during the national anthem. Tony Gutierrez AP

Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Since you asked, here’s what Clark Hunt should’ve said about protests during anthem

By Sam Mellinger

smellinger@kcstar.com

September 26, 2017 11:41 AM

Clark Hunt had a chance to lead this weekend, and he essentially punted, and I wrote about that and don’t want to rehash that here. Hunt is the leader of the Chiefs, and one of the rising leaders in the NFL, a true force for the league’s future, and he has to continue to earn that. You can’t be the captain some of the time.

But several have asked what I think Clark should’ve said, so here it is, and please keep in mind this is what I believe he should’ve said, from what I understand to be his beliefs. Not necessarily what I would say in the ridiculous circumstance that I was running an NFL team. Here goes:

“Every day of my life is a privilege to run the Chiefs and to be associated with the strong, caring, and generous people who work in the NFL, most notably our players. The President’s callous and crude remarks show a disregard for their humanity and intelligence, and an ignorance of what this league stands for. He has an open invitation to visit our organization to see for himself.

“Some of our players are speaking out against his remarks, and I applaud each of them for standing up for themselves and their brothers. Some of our players are kneeling or otherwise protesting racial inequality and police brutality in our country. I respect their right to express their beliefs, the same way they respect my right to express mine.

“I stand for the anthem. I put my hand over my heart and sing the words because I believe it’s an important way to show respect for our flag and the great country it stands for.

“I want my players to stand, but more than that, I want them to know why I want them to stand. I also recognize that this is not enough. Because the same way I want them to know my views, I want to know theirs. They know that my standing doesn’t mean I support racial inequality the same way I know their kneeling doesn’t mean they don’t love this country or respect our veterans.

“One of the best things about sports is it provides a common ground for people who otherwise may struggle to find one. Football is the common ground I share with the players who kneel, and I want to use that common ground to advance the discussion beyond sound bites and toward something closer to understanding and progress.

“We won’t solve all the issues, but we can try, and hopefully make things a little better. We all want the same thing. We’re very fortunate to have this platform, and I hope we can use it to help create a more sensible dialogue. I hope the President joins us.”

More NFL players sit, take a knee following Trump criticism

During President Donald Trump's speech at a rally in Huntsville, Ala. on Sept. 22, 2017, he said any player that sits during the national anthem is a "son of a bitch." The president also rescinded NBA champ Stephen Curry's invitation to the White House. Trump's comments ultimately led to more protests by NFL players, coaches and owners during the national anthem on Sept. 24, 2017.

Alexa Ard / McClatchy

This week’s eating recommendation is the stroganoff at Anna’s Oven, and the reading recommendation is Chris Jones on the White Sox’s experiment in turning a 27-year-old into the perfect manager. The star of the story is Justin Jirschele, the son of Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele.

Please give me a follow on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading.

How do we put the fun back in sports? #MM

— FakeFakeNedYost (@FakeFakeNedYost) September 25, 2017

Here’s what I believe: sports are fun! They’ve always been fun, and they always will be fun.

They’re not fun all of the time. They’re not exactly what we’d each want, especially not all of the time, and that’s true even beyond who wins and who loses.

This may be presumptuous, but I read your question as a reference to all the protests, and screaming, one side talking about police brutality and the other about respecting soldiers and all you want is to see Tyreek Hill on a go pattern or Justin Houston rushing around the edge.

If that’s what you’re referencing, I’m with you.

I think we all want sports to be fun, and I think we’d all agree sports are more fun when we’re talking about, um, the sports.

I think you’d agree I almost always write and talk about the actual sports, or the personalities around them. That’s why I got into this. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do, and I know I’m lucky to be able to make a living at it, but there are times that politics or the bigger real world are simply unavoidable.

I think you’d agree that the President of the United States calling many NFL players sons of bitches would qualify.

My basic message throughout all of this is simple. I just want people to listen to the other side. This is a very personal and very important topic to a lot of us, and that’s a good thing. The disagreements, for the most part, come from good places.

Maybe that’s naive of me to think, but it’s how I see it. Because, sure, there are some on the side of protesters who believe all who stand don’t care about or recognize the need to improve racial inequality. And there are some on the side of those who stand who believe the protesters are whiny or directly disrespectful to the military and country.

But I hope the reasonable among us on each side can take a second to listen to the other. I hope the reasonable among us can take a grander perspective that the thoughtful folks on the other side have worthy views, just like we have worthy views on our side — whichever side that is.

I always say this: sports are the least important thing in the world until the moment they become the most important thing in the world.

Sports are common ground for people with wildly different politics and worldviews. At times, that means it’s messy. But when it’s messy, it’s also an opportunity, because here we all are in the same space with similar interests so we can’t all be bad, right?

My eternal hope is that we can see that in each other, and give the other side a chance.

None of this answers your question, of course, or directly responds to your concern, so here goes:

One of many great things about sports is that we can largely make them what we want. If you want to keep them as a distraction, as a way to spend your free time and forget about your bills and problems, that’s perfectly reasonable and still entirely possible.

Because once the games start, they’re still the games, and they’re still fun.

Justin Houston prays during anthem: How we captured the moment & others in Chiefs' win

Kansas City Star staff photographer David Eulitt didn't know how the Kansas City Chiefs would react during Sunday's National Anthem before the Los Angeles Chargers. What he saw through the lens surprised him: several players took one knee but linebacker Justin Houston went on both knees to pray.

David Eulitt The Kansas City Star

When do the Chiefs take their first L? Obviously they won't go undefeated, but the way they've been playing gives an adjusted outlook.

— Mitchell Wittman (@mitchellwittman) September 25, 2017

Well, I thought they’d start off 0-1, so I’m not sure I’m the one to answer, but that’s never stopped me before so off we go.

Objectively, the hardest games left on the schedule are against the Raiders, Broncos, and Steelers. This can change in a blink, of course, and the Raiders were handled by Washington this week, but still. Those are probably the answers.

So if we were taking odds, the betting favorites for the Chiefs’ first loss would be the Steelers at home on Oct. 15 or at the Raiders the following Thursday.

That really is a brutal turnaround, and if the Chiefs were somehow able to win both of those games and remain undefeated, the only legitimate concern would be whether they’d peaked too soon.

Here is something that’s also true: the hardest games left on the schedule for the Raiders, Broncos, and Steelers are against the Chiefs.

Each of those teams will also play the Patriots, but each of them will play the Patriots at home. The Raiders even get to do it off a bye week.

I’ve also thought this since before the season, and still believe it even now: the Chiefs are going to lose at least one game this year that makes a lot of you second-guess your confidence.

There will be some 2017 version of home losses last year to the Bucs and Titans. It’s going to happen. They’re going to be sloppy, or maybe the penalties get to them, or maybe they just run into some rotten luck. But 100 percent it will happen. Could be the Bills game, could be at Houston, could be the Dolphins on Christmas Eve. But it’s going to happen.

Actually, could be this weekend against Washington, too.

But my bet would be the game in Oakland.

Why doesn't Andy give Kareem 25 touches a game?

— Dave (@KCDave85) September 25, 2017

I don’t think you mean this literally, but here is the complete list of running backs averaging 25 touches per game:

Todd Gurley.

Dalvin Cook is one touch short of an even 25 average, so if you want to include him, cool. That’s two teams out of 32.

Kareem Hunt — and here is the part where I shamelessly plug a story on his background that I really enjoyed doing — has 47 carries and nine catches (on nine targets).

That’s an average of exactly 18 touches per game which, really, is about where I think he should be, particularly when you consider he’d probably have more if he didn’t also have so many big plays. He was going to get more carries on the last drive against the Chargers, but broke it 69 yards. He would’ve had more touches against the Patriots, but caught a 78-yard touchdown. He would’ve had more touches against the Eagles, but he busted another long touchdown.

These are good problems.

Running backs don’t last long. That’s a brutal job, and Hunt had injuries throughout college. The Chiefs are 3-0, so you can’t say they’d be better off if Hunt was being used like a mule.

I’m expecting Hunt to miss a game or more this season with an injury. That is more than 50 percent likely. The important stuff isn’t what he does now, but what he does in December and January and if the Chiefs are good enough February.

This is very much a long drive. I don’t see the purpose in burning him out early.

Should Chiefs' SB parade take same route as the Royals', or mix things up? What can SB parade planners learn from 2015?

— William Hanna (@WilmHanna) September 25, 2017

You guys, this is a thing.

We are just three games into a season, and grade school kids are old enough to remember the 2013 Chiefs starting 9-0 but I believe this is the best Chiefs team in two decades and maybe more.

There. I said it.

I believe they have playmakers all over the roster, I believe they have a wicked mix of youth and experience, and I believe the consistency with most of these coaches having coached most of these players is a subtle advantage.

Winning the Super Bowl would require (at least) three more playoff wins than the Chiefs have had since basically anyone started using email and you probably don’t need or want to hear this but you have to go back 24 seasons to find three Chiefs playoff wins.

Twenty-four!

But I do think this season is headed that way. Not to the Super Bowl, necessarily. But toward a postseason where the Chiefs become a trendy pick, with a real chance, and perhaps even home field advantage throughout.

What could go wrong?

What is your chief concern for this team moving forward, besides the threat of injuries/health?

— Ryan Miller (@KcRoyal5280) September 25, 2017

Penalties, probably.

This is absolutely A Thing. The Chiefs lead the league with 33 penalties and 301 yards of penalties, which is far too many and too much, particularly when a lot of it is just dumb stuff.

Travis Kelce broke his streak of three consecutive games with a personal foul penalty, which I guess is progress, but Marcus Peters filled the void with his own.

It obviously hasn’t cost the Chiefs, and I do believe there’s an argument to be made that the Chiefs’ best requires a level of emotion that probably makes some penalties a fine trade, but they need to cut down as much of the silliness as possible.

Before the season, I thought Chiefs opponents should spend all four quarters attacking Terrance Mitchell and Phil Gaines, and I’d still rather throw at those guys than Marcus Peters, even if my best receiver was going against Peters. But I now longer see this as a fatal flaw.

Mitchell has showed up well so far, and had even before two interceptions against the Chargers. He competes, never loses confidence, and wins his share. For a No. 2 or 3 cornerback, that’s enough.

The other stuff is all relatively minor. I worry about the run defense, particularly if Derrick Johnson slows as the season goes. I worry about being able to run between the tackles, even as Hunt’s talent and the shovel pass have diminished the fear.

I still want to see them against some adversity. I want to see how they play with some turnovers, or what happens to Mitchell and Gaines and the other defensive backs if the guys up front can’t produce pressure without blitzing.

I worry about how the Chiefs would hold up against Rob Gronkowski without Eric Berry, and I say that with the belief that the tight end narrative is overblown. If you look at tight ends’ numbers against the Chiefs without Berry, they actually haven’t done much. But I view Gronkowski as a different animal. The Chiefs put Berry one-on-one with him a lot.

But, you guys. These are all high-level worries.

I’m old enough to remember when the worry was how the Chiefs could look like a professional offense with Tyler Palko as the starting quarterback.

Can we talk Chiefs D? Sutton rushing less , trusting interior guys + JH. Noticeably less aggressive; good so far but wonder what it says

— Tucker Hagedorn (@Tuckhag) September 25, 2017

Yes!

I want to watch the Chargers game again a few times, but I’m noticing the same things. Being able to create pressure on the quarterback without blitzing is the NFL’s greatest cheat code. If you can do that, you can do anything, and so far the Chiefs have been able to do that.

I know they only sacked Phil Rivers once, but they got him out of the pocket multiple times, and especially at this point in his career he becomes fairly useless outside the pocket. The Patriots’ game turned when the Chiefs got to Tom Brady. Same with the Eagles game and Carson Wentz.

Doing this has allowed Sutton to better protect his defensive backs, who know they don’t have to cover as long. It helps everyone.

When you say “noticeably less aggressive,” I don’t know if you’re talking about fewer blitzes, but for the reasons above that’s not much of a concern to me.

What is a concern, if a small one, is that Marcus Peters seems to be playing well off the line of scrimmage much more often than I can remember. Maybe “concern” is the wrong word. “Curiosity” is probably a better word. I don’t understand the strategy behind that.

To me, Peters has always been at his best in press coverage. I get that there are times you want him away from the line of scrimmage, if for no other reason than to mix up coverage, but there was a 3rd-and-long conversation by the Chargers made easy by soft coverage. I can remember one against the Eagles, too, and that’s just off the top of my head.

It’s working, so I think we’re all smart enough to discuss these things as more curiosities than anything else, but it is something worth watching as we go forward.

But, I also understand that it’s natural for fans to worry, to think more about the negative than the positive.

Speaking of, I wonder what else you guys are asking about this week...

Alex Smith is completing 77 percent of his passes (first in the league), for a career-high 9.2 yards per attempt (fourth). His passer rating is 132.7 (first). He has thrown exactly zero interceptions. He is throwing deep more often, even if just once against the Chargers, and the most points surrendered by each of the Chiefs’ opponents has been against the Chiefs.

No, I do not believe he’s a fluke, unless by “fluke” you mean “will Alex throw for 368 yards and four touchdowns regularly like he did against the Patriots.”

I expect this to be his best statistical season. You can make a snarky joke about that being a low standard, and your joke has a decent chance of being funny, but if he ends up with 4,000 yards or so with 30 or more touchdowns this is going to be a pretty damn good offense.

Maybe you think those numbers are high, but last year he threw for 3,502 in 15 games with Tyreek Hill taking around 40 percent of the offensive snaps. Simply subbing him in for Jeremy Maclin might be enough to get over 4,000. He’s at seven touchdowns through three games, which is a pace for 37.

Modern day NFL quarterbacks are the exception to the rule that says we all tend to underestimate the aging curve of athletes. They are protected by rules, and if they continue to progress mentally into their 30s can have career numbers at ages when running backs are retired and baseball players are struggling.

I continue to notice that running is a smaller part of his game than it used to be, and that could catch up with him. There are still times he breaks the pocket too early, and he rarely attempts to complete a pass after doing so, which makes him easier to defend.

But there are no perfect athletes, except LeBron James and Mike Trout.

I was late last week, so I ask again. Chances sproles heads to canton?

— John Bostwick (@JohnB_911) September 25, 2017

John did ask the question last week, so I know this isn’t why he’s doing it, but, ugh. What a terrible thing that happened to him. I just don’t know that I can think of many players taking two separate and major injuries like that on one play. Ugh.

I’m with my friend Randy Covitz in believing Sproles is the best football player to ever come out of Kansas City. I hope he comes back, but if this is it for him — he said this would be his last season, and he’ll be 35 by the start of next year’s training camp — he has a decent Hall of Fame case.

He’s eighth all-time with 19,155 all purpose yards* and all but two ahead of him are Hall of Famers. Steve Smith, who is seventh, will have a strong case when he’s eligible. Brian Mitchell, who is second, is likely ahead of Sproles in line for the Hall among return men.

* Just 25 behind Steve Smith, and 35 behind Marshall Faulk, who is sixth.

Sproles is objectively one of the greatest returners in league history. His 11,142 return yards rank seventh, just ahead of Devin Hester and Desmond Howard. His seven punt return touchdowns are tied for seventh all-time. He made three Pro Bowls.

Terez actually has a vote, so he’s better positioned to answer this than I am, but for me Sproles probably falls just short of induction.

Returners are a specialized group, sort of like closers in baseball, and to achieve the sport’s highest honor your credentials probably have to be over the top.

Sproles has had a terrific career. But he hasn’t been Mariano Rivera.

What will the contract Lorenzo Cain signs in the offseason look like?

— Goose (@LG_RoyalsBlue) September 25, 2017

This is hard for me. Well, it’s hard for anyone. We’re all guessing, the market is fundamentally unpredictable, and the effects of the newish CBA on free agent contracts is still being worked out.

But Cain is finishing up a good year — .300/.362/.443 with 25 steals (caught just twice) and perhaps most importantly just played his 150th game. His defense is now merely excellent, down from legendary a few years ago, and according to FanGraphs’ version of WAR he’s the seventh best centerfielder in baseball this season (4.0 WAR). Over the last three years, only Mike Trout and Mookie Betts have been better.

He will also turn 32 next April, has a history of soft tissue injuries, and his value is very much tied to his ability to stay and thrive in centerfield. He will be a terrific right fielder whenever that day comes, but he’s more valuable to a team the longer he can stay in center.

Last winter, Dexter Fowler signed for five years and $82 million. He was one year younger than Cain is now, with (slightly) better offensive numbers and a (significantly) worse defensive reputation.

The centerfielder market could change if the Pirates are open to trading Andrew McCutchen, but if not, Cain should be the top free agent at the position.

The value of the contract always depends on which and how many teams are bidding, but beyond that with Cain, it will depend on how long teams think he can play centerfield. If Fowler has to move off the position, he’s still a better hitter than Cain. Teams could factor in a year or two with Cain at a corner outfield spot when calculating his value.

Anyway, all that said, and understanding this is a pure guess ... four years, $60 million.

He’s a year older than Fowler, so I’m giving him a year shorter contract, with a slightly lower annual salary because of age, offense, and his future in center.

When will the Royals make the playoffs again?

— Brad Schuessler (@BradSchu7) September 25, 2017

This depends largely on what direction they go this offseason.

If they do what I expect, which is to continue putting off a rebuild while trying to compete immediately, it will likely either be in the next two years or sometime after 2021.

For the purposes here, I’m assuming that Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Cain all sign somewhere else. There’s a chance the Royals can keep one, but I wouldn’t expect it. Even so, they’ll have some nice pieces at least through next year: Danny Duffy, Sal Perez, Whit Merrifield.

Cheslor Cuthbert will get a chance. I really like Jorge Bonifacio. Raul Mondesi tore up the Pacific League this year, and only turned 22 in July. I know you just rolled your eyes at me, but he could absolutely be the star the Royals have projected.

That’s the beginning of some maybes. Alex Gordon is hitting lately, maybe that means something. Maybe Ian Kennedy can provide some quality innings, not just quantity. Maybe Jorge Soler can hit homers. Maybe Brandon Moss can do the same.

They’ll need more pitching, and they’ll need a lot of things to break their way, but there’s enough here that the Royals can convince themselves they have a shot in 2017.

Again, it’s not a shot I’d bet on, but it’s something.

The problem they’re going to run into — we talk about this every week, I know — is that they already have $100 million guaranteed to nine players.

Unless David Glass OKs a higher payroll — and if he didn’t last winter, I don’t know why he would now — there are too many holes to fill with free agents.

I don’t know anything. Nobody does. But I have this bad feeling that we’re going to have a mini-drought here either way, but that the future would be brighter if the Royals yanked off the band-aid and committed to a full rebuild.

Any particular reason Gordo has started to heat up lately?

— BDenney (@dumbassrambling) September 25, 2017

Rustin did a really nice job covering this the other day, and I hope you read it, but the very short version is he’s focused on approach more than mechanics lately and is hitting the ball the other way.

As far as explanations for very small sample sizes, it makes some sense. Gordon has been noticeably uncomfortable for much of the season, which would explain the focus on mechanics — too much thinking, not enough hitting. He was very clearly swinging at a lot of pitchers’ pitches, and some scouts have by now long thought he should reinvent himself as a hitter — less of a pull power guy, more of a spray-and-on-base guy.

This is the time of year baseball players can fool you with a hot stretch. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up watching Kyle Davies go 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA across five starts in a lost September and wonder out loud if he can be a good starting pitcher.

So you have to be careful.

But as far as encouraging late stretches, I’d at least rate Gordon’s as encouraging. The Royals owe him $44 million over the next two years, so he’s not going anywhere, and if he can even get to league average* then that’s as much of a boost for the Royals’ offense as a major free agent signing.

* I know a lot of you like to use revisionist history on Gordon’s production, but for the five years before his free agent contract he was more productive than J.D. Martinez, Michael Brantley, Khris Davis, and Melky Cabrera, among many others according to adjusted OPS.

None of us have anything more than a guess about whether that’s possible. But I do believe this: Gordon is too young, too fit, too focused, and too caring to be this bad.

Disclaimer: I thought the same thing after last season.

How do the Royals this weekend balance a proper farewell vs. not giving off impression that none of the free agents will be back?

— Eric Wieberg (@ewieberg) September 25, 2017

I wrote some about this here, and I do hope you read it. Those playoff runs felt magical, and I try not to use that word much.

I believe strongly that we can have two very different feelings, simultaneously. The Royals’ run was the most collective fun Kansas City has had, at least in the last two decades. Those years changed the way an entire region views baseball, and particularly with two young kids, I’m grateful for that.

I also think the last two years have been objectively disappointing. They should’ve gotten more out of this. They’ve had too many good players to not make at least one postseason. There will always be a lingering sense that a little more could’ve been done.

That’s small stuff, really. This group got the big stuff right, and not just right, but emphatically, epically, and forever right.

But this is all about fan perception, fan feelings. You’re asking what the Royals can do and, honestly, I wouldn’t do anything if I were them. At least not publicly. To varying degrees the Royals will consider and try to resign all of those guys. I don’t think you say goodbye if you don’t want it to be goodbye.

If they sign somewhere else, you can give them a nice welcome the first time they play in Kansas City as an opponent. It should dwarf what Jarrod Dyson received, which was significant.

Part of the advantage of being a fan and not a club official, though, is that you don’t have to follow those rules. You can feel however you want to feel, and do whatever you want to do.

My guess is that all of those guys will receive abnormal applause this week, particularly on Sunday, the last day of the season and perhaps their Royals careers.

#MM do you agree w/ how athletes are protesting Trump's/Cultural behavior or is there a better way for them to facilitate change?

— Ryan Goodwin (@rgoodwin5) September 25, 2017

One of my biggest frustrations with this discussion is that it’s getting hijacked on each side by people refusing to listen to the other.

On the kneelers’ side, this often comes through along the lines of, “If you disagree with my protest you are refusing to believe there is racial inequality.” On the standers’ side, this often comes through along the lines of, “You hate this country and are disrespecting the sacrifices of all who’ve served it.”

To the former, I wish they’d accept and own the fact that many people are going to be turned off by the method of protest. Forget them. You were never going to reach them anyway, and focusing on them distracts from both the clarity and impact of your stated mission.

To the latter, I wish they’d accept and own the fact that you don’t get to choose what someone else’s protest means. Thomas Jefferson once said “it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg,” and there are many athletes with beloved family members in the military who are protesting and many in the military who at least accept that the protests are not directed at the military.

So when I’m trying to answer your question, I keep coming back to this thought: it’s an interesting question, but the wrong one.

Because what’s the right method? Someone will always think it’s the wrong one, but more than that, the easiest way to dismiss a protest is to focus on the method and not the message. Some of this is an unwillingness to face hard truths, some of it is a refusal to accept pure intentions.

I thought the Cowboys had a cool idea: kneel for unity and equality before the anthem, then stand and respect the flag during the anthem. But they were still booed by some.

There is no perfect way to protest. Some of the response from my column off Clark Hunt’s non-statement assumed I’m cheering the kneelers, and that’s fine, there will always be misunderstanding — intentional and otherwise — but the truth is more complicated.

I stand for the anthem. I put my hand over my heart. I love this country, despite its many imperfections. When I hear sincere outrage about kneeling, I’m sympathetic to some of it. When I see athletes kneeling, it makes me at least a little uncomfortable, but here’s the truth that so many seem to be missing:

That’s the damn point.

Protests aren’t comfortable. They can’t be. So while I stand for the anthem in the press box, I also understand that much of why the protests are uncomfortable is because they are highlighting uncomfortable truths about where the country is.

Acknowledging that imperfections exist doesn’t mean you’re against America, or even less patriotic. There are a million issues that these protests are bringing up, and one that I hope sticks is how we’ve allowed the definition of patriotism to evolve into something it was never meant to be.

We stand for less than 2 minutes while someone — if the event is big enough, it’s someone trying to sell some albums — sings the song and maybe we watch a plane fly over us and we call it good. If it’s a baseball game, there’s often a veteran cheered between innings. At Kauffman Stadium, I believe it’s usually planned for the 4th.

But if that’s the extent of patriotism, we’re missing the important stuff.

One thing that drives me absolutely bonkers is, “If you don’t like this country, get out.” Anyone trying to improve this country loves this country, and besides, there are some countries in this world where enthusiasm for displays of national pride is actually required. I don’t think any of us want to live in those places.

So, is the national anthem the right time? I don’t know. But tell me what would be the right time.

These are difficult, uncomfortable, and potentially world-changing discussions. I just hope we have them.

I don’t know of any reasonable protesters who don’t respect the military. I don’t know of any reasonable anti-protesters who don’t believe in racial equality.

That seems like a good place to start the conversation.

Last year, I asked Marcus some of these questions. I told him and the Chiefs that we’d love to write about this. I sense that Marcus has a distrust in or distaste for reporters, so I told the Chiefs we’d be happy for him to write it on his own.

Marcus probably doesn’t remember this, and almost certainly won’t take us up on this. And that’s fine. I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I’d be just as happy if he expressed himself through the Chiefs’ in-house media or the Players Tribune or anywhere else. I believe Marcus has a compelling story to tell. I believe he is thoughtful, passionate and genuine.

But until he opens up about some of this stuff, we’re all guessing. I know he holds what’s been described to me as a carnival for kids and others in Oakland, as well as some camps. I know he spends time with kids in Kansas City and Oakland — often football players but not always — but I wish I knew more about his message.

Marcus keeps much of that private, and I respect that. Better to do it that way than be the guy who only talks to kids if cameras are around.

I understand where you’re coming from on this. I do believe he has the power to change some minds, and to encourage others.

But I also think it’s naive to believe he’ll stop being criticized if he talks more.

I wish he’d talk, and I’m sure some of that is the perspective of a self-interested sports columnist. But I don’t think any of us should be able to tell anyone else how to do their business, how to help their communities, or how to broadcast the work.

In what excruciating way do you expect the Chiefs’ season to end?

— Cooper (@jjcoops11) September 25, 2017

There’s my Kansas City!

The possibility of heartbreak, and anger, and self-loathing always exists. That’s part of sports, and for some reason we all chose to care about sports.

I know this is all jokey, and it is, but if I can be semi-serious for a second the playoff pressure is the main reason I’m concerned about the penalties. Because if guys are losing their senses now, in September, what’s going to happen in January?

Not anything to freak out about now, clearly. But it is part of why Reid’s “I’ve taken care of it” schtick isn’t good enough.

This week I’m particularly grateful for my mom. She’s why I started ending these weekly get-togethers this way, and every week I’ve tried to think of something other than her, but today I can’t. Her birthday was yesterday. I’m heartbroken I can’t call her, and I don’t expect that to ever fully go away, but, actually, I don’t want that to ever fully go away. I miss her because she was such a great mom. I know I’m lucky that way. Not everyone gets to have that. I’ll always be grateful for everything she taught me, in words and in action and example.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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