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‘Hard Knocks’ Wants Us to Know That NFL Players Have Off-Field Personalities

But the series doesn’t always commit to showing us the whole picture

Jameis Winston Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

I’m a sportswriter, so I’m not fully clear on the process of nominating something for an Emmy. How can I do that? How can I make sure this two-minute Hard Knocks segment capturing all the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ most important players simultaneously experiencing their own personal Zen to the tune of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” gets every award it can possibly win?

Each star acts exactly as I assumed he would: QB Jameis Winston uses the song as a way to sing altered, motivational lyrics to fullback Austin Johnson; WR DeSean Jackson crafts his own dance moves; DT Gerald McCoy follows up on his trend of sexy philosophizing by dancing while offering his musings on the jam’s emotional power—“you can’t be in a bad mood with this song on.” The segment runs along with the song in real time, culminating with Winston yelling “THIS IS HOW WE DO IT” before cutting to intense practice clips.

Give this an Emmy—or maybe make Montell Jordan an NFL coach?

• The first few episodes of this season marveled at the hard work, leadership, and discipline of undrafted free agent Riley Bullough to the point where you wondered how a player of his caliber and character went undrafted in the first place.

And now, reality. In Tuesday night’s episode, virtually every coach on staff agreed that Bullough was “limited movement-wise.” The night culminated in a preseason game in which the Cleveland Browns’ third-stringers repeatedly dunked on Bullough en route to a game-winning touchdown.

It’s always bad to get dunked on; it is a death knell to get dunked on by the Browns.

In past seasons, this part of the offseason is when NFL teams had to cut down their rosters from 90 to 75 en route to the final 53-man roster. But this year, the NFL listened to teams and changed that rule, allowing teams to keep 90 players around until the very end of the preseason. That changes the journey of this TV show. None of the show’s main characters have been released yet. But next week the Buccaneers will cut 37 players.

This change allows NFL teams the chance to do a better job evaluating players, and also enhances the emotional journey of this show. We learned who Bullough was, and why we should care about him. Then we learned why he’s not even close to making the team’s final roster. The logic of NFL roster cuts reveals itself.

• One thing the producers of Hard Knocks very firmly believes is that a player’s entire off-field existence can be sufficiently summarized by showing a few seconds in which they are not playing football. In Tuesday night’s episode, we saw wide receiver Donteea Dye briefly look at last week’s solar eclipse through glasses before asking if this happens every year—it doesn’t. Then he asked if it’s the thing that happens every few years—he quickly realizes he was thinking of periodical cicadas, which are very different from solar eclipses. The show considers this enough of a distillation of everything we need to know about Donteea Dye’s character and personal life that the narrator later refers to him as “Mr. Eclipse.” Honestly, he didn’t even seem to like the eclipse that much.

This hyperspeed humanization is heightened if the player does a joint interview with their significant other. These clips often focus on a specific quirk in the couple’s relationship. On Tuesday night alone, we saw rookie wide receiver Chris Godwin working out with his girlfriend, a fitness guru who was the daughter of his high school coach, and we saw linebacker Cameron Lynch, who was cut by the Rams, the subject of last season’s edition of Hard Knocks, hanging out with the girlfriend he met around the same time he was cut. We also met Breion Allen, the longtime girlfriend of the Buccaneers’ star and the focus of the show, Jameis Winston, as well as Winston’s dog, Tootsie. (She’s a good dog.)

Winston compared the dog’s eyes to his girlfriend’s eyes, which is a thing that would get me kicked out of my home. Allen also revealed that she was scared of dogs, but Winston surprised her by bringing home a dog one day without consulting her, which would also get me kicked out of my home.

It goes unmentioned in the show that Winston was accused of rape when he was a freshman at Florida State. Winston was never charged with a crime due to what the prosecutor deemed a lack of evidence in the case, although there is plenty of evidence that local officials botched the investigation into the soon-to-be superstar.

It might seem irrelevant to bring up a five-year-old incident from Winston’s personal life, and many people would prefer that the allegations go unmentioned. But I’m not the one who brought up Winston’s personal life. The show does, repeatedly. It wants us to know that Winston exists alongside this woman he thinks has dog-like eyes, but it doesn’t want us to think about the thing I always think of when I think about Winston.

• After all, Winston is the face of the Buccaneers, and a talented superstar with a huge smile and a likable personality. And Hard Knocks presumably has to please the NFL if the show will continue to air. Here is a solid minute of the most effervescent praise I have ever heard of an NFL player:

• Once again, this HBO-aired show ends with discussion of another HBO show.

For more GOT-NFL crossover discussion affiliated with HBO, click here!

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.