The in-depth ESPN The Magazine piece this week from Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru on 49ers linebacker Chris Borland’s decision to retire from football at age 24 had plenty of fascinating insights into the world of the NFL and head trauma, but it’s now emerged that one of the most interesting anecdotes in that piece happens to concern a ESPN colleague. In the piece, Borland talks about a former player who spoke at the 2014 NFL rookie symposium and told rookies “Get yourself a fall guy.” Borland declined to name the player, but as Sportsnaut’s Jesse Read writes, it’s none other than current ESPN analyst Cris Carter. The proof? Footage of Carter and fellow then-analyst Warren Sapp (who was fired by NFL Network this February following an arrest on suspicion of soliciting a prostitute and assault, and charged in a domestic violence case in Las Vegas in June) speaking to the rookies is posted on NFL.com (it may have been pulled, as that link no longer seems to work), and it contains Carter’s suggestions 17 minutes in. Here’s the key part of the video, via David Fucillo of Niners Nation:
Update, July 2021: This video has been taken down.
And here’s a transcription of Carter’s comments, from Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk:
The presentation went basically how Borland described it in the ESPN feature: Carter told rookies that they should have one friend who will be willing to take the blame if they ever get into trouble. Warren Sapp, onstage along with Carter, agreed.
“If you all got a crew, you got to have a fall guy in the crew,” Carter said. “If you all have a crew, one of those fools got to know, he’s the one going to jail. We’ll get him out.”
Sapp then repeated, “We’ll get him out.”
Those comments didn’t sit well with Borland, and they likely won’t sit well with most people hearing them now. But the NFL apparently didn’t have a problem with what Carter said: His presentation was posted on the league’s own website, and Carter was invited back to speak at this year’s Rookie Symposium.
Borland’s reaction to those comments is worth passing along, too. From Fainaru-Wada and Fainaru’s piece:
Borland was appalled. “I was just sitting there thinking, ‘Should I walk out? What am I supposed to do?’ ” he recalls. He says he didn’t leave the room because he didn’t want to cause a scene, but the incident stayed with him.
There are a whole lot of fascinating angles to this. Did ESPN know of Carter’s role here when the piece was published, and elect to keep him out of it? The piece says Borland “declined to name” the former player in question, but it probably could have been figured out with some digging. It’s also remarkable that no one came across these comments before; they were strong enough to offend Borland, and unquestionably have offended plenty of others, and they were available in a public video on NFL.com for over a year (albeit buried 17 minutes into it; maybe no one was that eager to watch Carter and Sapp talk to rookies). It’s amazing too that the NFL decided to post this on their website; did they really think these comments would go over well with the public given the league’s disciplinary problems? Moreover, did Carter (who, don’t forget, earlier this month said Geno Smith earned a punch to the face because of his lack of leadership) really think it was wise to encourage rookies to blame legal problems on others, especially in a forum with that many people? This has some pretty questionable judgement from everyone involved, and it may create some more issues for Carter.
UPDATE: Here’s the NFL’s statement on Carter…
This was an unfortunate and inappropriate comment made by Cris Carter during the 2014 NFC rookie symposium. The comment was not representative of the message of the symposium or any other league program. The league’s player engagement staff immediately expressed concern about the comment to Cris. The comment was not repeated in the 2014 AFC session or this year’s symposium.
And one from ESPN…
“We completely disagree with Cris’s remarks and we have made that extremely clear to him. Those views were entirely his own and do not reflect our company’s point of view in any way.”
And from Carter himself…
Seeing that video has made me realize how wrong I was. I was brought there to educate young people and instead I gave them very…
— Cris Carter (@criscarter80) August 24, 2015
bad advice. Every person should take responsibility for his own actions. I’m sorry and I truly regret what I said that day.”
— Cris Carter (@criscarter80) August 24, 2015
Yea, everyone realizes he screwed up pretty royally here.