There are few moments in sports that make me truly say “I can’t believe that just happened.”
Usually, it’s an unbelievable game-winner, an unthinkable single play or an all-too-familiar blown playoff lead. Usually, it’s a one-off occurrence or performance I’d be lucky to ever see again. Usually, it’s an appreciation of someone’s remarkable ability, not their remarkable failure.
That’s not what happened this weekend, though. When the Kansas City Chiefs traded Marcus Peters to the Los Angeles Rams, it was a new kind of unbelievable.
I guess it wasn’t new in the form of the Chiefs disappointing me — they’ve done that plenty. But, by trading an All-Pro cornerback on his rookie deal just because he has a personality, they’ve opened up a new avenue of disappointment.
Sports columnist Arman Alhosseini takes a look at Tom Brady's impressive football career and argues it isn't over yet, even after the Super Bowl loss.
Ignoring all potential social commentary, the trade was otherworldly bad from a football perspective. Peters was inarguably one of the league’s best, a ballhawk with an eye for turnovers that put his handprints all over every game he played in. He was the anchor of the Chiefs’ secondary, and in his wake, fans will be subjected to another year of the Steven Nelsons and Kenneth Ackers.
But this wasn’t about football. We know that.
This was about Peters. It’d be inappropriate for me to label Clark Hunt or the Chiefs “racist,” so I’m not going to do that. But would it be foolish to label them intolerant?
Intolerant of Peters’ unabashed personality as one who knew he was the baddest man on the field and he let you know, too. Intolerant of his upbringing, that had Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch running to his defense in a brawl against his own team. Intolerant, simply, of how he lived his life.
Marcus Peters isn't a bad guy. He's the personification of the opposite. On Thanksgiving, he handed out 250 turkeys in Kansas City to people in need — an event he'd been running in Oakland already. A month later, he gave out 300 coats to underprivileged kids downtown.
“Giving out free coats? Man, I support Marcus Peters,” 32-year-old Antoine Summers told the Kansas City Star's Terez Paylor the day of the coat drive. “When he threw the flag, everybody was talking about him, how bad of a person he is. But you know, it’s football man. He’s a competitive player. So I like Marcus Peters. He’s a stand-up guy, man.”
The new 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was recently offered a contract for $137.5 million over five years, which columnist Braden Shaw says will inflate the market for several free agent quarterbacks.
My favorite memory of Peters’ time in Kansas City may do a better job explaining this than I can. It was shortly after the Chiefs’ bout with the Steelers last season, after Le'Veon Bell carved its defense up for 60 minutes straight. Peters stepped out of his locker toward the media, and two words into the first reporter's question he says: "Y'all like my jersey?"
It was a cool jersey, admittedly. It was a stitched Jackie Robinson Dodgers jersey.
"Imma wear my A's jersey soon," Peters said next. "Rickie Henderson. What's up with y'all?"
From there, Peters gave a fine interview. He didn't keep his voice out of it, though, such as when he was asked about what led to Bell's stellar performance.
"He ran the ball good, you feel me?" Peters said. "That's why they need to pay his ass."
I tried running that last word in my game story that day, but it didn't fly. They say you’re only allowed to print profanity when it’s the pope or the president, but if you asked me, Peters and others like him should be added to that list. He didn’t consciously choose to add that word, that’s just who he is. Why does he deserve to be outcasted for that?
Why does he deserve to be outcasted for simply having a voice? I’ll poach the elephant in the room by saying this wasn’t entirely about his kneeling protest, but it certainly was a piece of the puzzle.
Peters was KC's first look at a particular brand of unfettered Blackness. We're used to the well-spoken (Priest), humble (E Berry), big smiling (LoCain) brothers. But Marcus was raw and abrasive and outspoken. He shook this city's Whiteness to it's core. And we couldn't deal.— Aaron Randle (@aaronronel) February 23, 2018
A tweet from the Star’s Aaron Randle puts this all in perspective: Kansas City sports have never had a black personality like Peters. He was the first prominent black voice to rise out of the city’s sport culture in years, and he was thrown to the curb. That’s embarrassing.
Ask yourself, if Peters hadn’t been so outspoken about social injustice, would he have been traded?
Of course not.
You don’t trade a budding young star with years of control left, especially when your window to compete for a Super Bowl is still open. You only do so if there’s a bigger problem. It’s clear there was one, but I don’t think it’s what the team wants you to believe.
I don’t believe the locker room had soured on Peters. Paylor reported rumors that some Chiefs were upset about the move, and if spending a season in the locker room taught me anything, it’s that that’s probably true.
Already hearing some rumblings about some current Chiefs being upset about this potential Marcus Peters trade. Compensation will be interesting— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) February 23, 2018
I also don’t believe Peters was entirely uncoachable. He spent this season talking and expressing himself, and what happened? He picked the ball off five times and made the Pro Bowl. It’s clear the problem lies with the coaching staff and their willingness to work with Peters, not Peters himself.
And I get that his market was cold. Sure, it’d be risky to trade for any star player two years from free agency, especially in a situation like Peters'. But if you couldn’t get more than a second and a fourth round pick for him … Why even trade him at all?
The Chiefs didn’t have to move him. If he returned next season, he’d likely put up similar numbers and give more value than whatever offensive line prospects are acquired with those picks. If he walks when he gets the chance, so be it. At least they would get two years of his play instead of zero.
If the rumors that Hunt wasn’t going to exercise Peters’ fifth-year option are true, that even adds to the case. I get trading a player for value if you think they won’t re-sign, but to plan on just letting him walk? Because of his personality? That’s weak.
It’s especially weak when a player backs up any off-the-field “concerns” as strongly as Peters did. It’s an easy argument to make that he’s been the best player on the Chiefs’ defense in his time in Kansas City, and you can’t deny that at times he’s been the lone bright spot in an otherwise bleak secondary. By all accounts, Peters was a superstar.
That’s the most painful part, I think. The Chiefs traded Peters to Los Angeles. On a rising young contender in the country’s second biggest media market, we’re going to see and hear Peters’ rise to stardom and voice for the next decade. We’ll never be able to forget about him.
I told my roommate shortly after the deal went down that this is going to go down as an all-timer. Herschel Walker to the Vikings, Steve Young to the 49ers, Marcus Peters to the Rams. Make no bones about it, when Peters is putting on the gold jacket in 10-15 years, people will look back and wonder what the Chiefs were thinking dealing a future Hall-of-Famer for pocket change.
But maybe Peters and Kansas City just weren’t meant to be. Maybe if he’d been the hands-off, “Republicans buy shoes too” Michael Jordan instead of Muhammad Ali, he’d still be here. Maybe if he’d kept his head down, he wouldn’t have caused any problems. Maybe if he had just shut up and dribbled, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
But at the end of the day, I’m glad he didn’t. I’m glad he’s gone, if it was the necessary result of him taking a stand against something bigger than himself.
We oftentimes forget that football is a backdrop for life, and stands for so much more than Xs and Os. When a player takes a stand like Peters, they should be heralded. Not run out of town.
So say goodbye, Kansas City. Say goodbye to the interceptions and forced fumbles, but really say goodbye to the man behind the plays. While the Chiefs will one day have another All-Pro cornerback, they’ll never have another player like Marcus Peters.