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Conspiracy Corner: Why Did Lamar Jackson Actually Disappear to the Locker Room in Cleveland?

The reigning NFL MVP hurried off the field late in Monday’s game before returning to save the day. Was it a case of the cramps? Or did Jackson do something else before wiping away the Browns?

AP Images/Ringer illustration

NFL lore already had the Immaculate Reception; now it has the Holy Crap. Lamar Jackson defeated the Browns on Monday night, potentially in more ways than one.

Midway through the third quarter of Monday’s game between Baltimore and Cleveland, the reigning MVP went to the locker room … and stayed there … and stayed there. With backup quarterback Robert Griffin III on injured reserve, the Ravens turned to third-stringer Trace McSorley, who entered the night with only six career NFL passing attempts. On McSorley’s first drive, Baltimore went three-and-out; the Browns scored a touchdown on their ensuing possession to take a one-point lead. On the Ravens’ next drive, McSorley led the offense into field goal range before injuring his knee on a crucial third-down play. With McSorley down and Jackson seemingly unavailable, the Ravens told wide receiver Willie Snead—a high school quarterback with one career NFL passing attempt—to practice taking snaps and warm up his arm.

But instead of quarterback Willie Snead, we got quarterback Willis Reed. Jackson stormed onto the field and heroically won the game. On his first play back, Jackson scrambled out of trouble on a fourth-and-5 and threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to put the Ravens ahead.

The Browns scored a game-tying touchdown 47 seconds later. Then Jackson completed four quick passes to move the Ravens into field goal range, and Justin Tucker banged home a 55-yard game-winner with two seconds left on the clock. After his trip to the locker room, Jackson went 5-of-6 passing for 82 yards with a touchdown. The lone incompletion came on a spike.

On football merits alone, Ravens 47, Browns 42 was the most entertaining game of the 2020 season. Nine of 12 second-half possessions ended in scores, including four in the final two minutes. It was the highest-scoring game of the year, and the nine combined rushing touchdowns tied an NFL record set in 1922. The matchup had huge playoff implications for both AFC North teams. It also ended on a historically bad beat. Quite frankly, we don’t see many prime-time games like this.

But the story of the game quickly transitioned from the playoff picture to Lamar’s mysterious disappearance. Jackson never really seemed to be struggling with an injury, either before or after his trip to the locker room. The team’s official explanation is that he had cramps, but that doesn’t make a ton of sense. There is only one explanation that fits. NFL fans have long known that if a player goes to the locker room without a notable injury and then returns quickly, that player probably just needed to use the bathroom. (There are no bathrooms on NFL fields, although the University of Oregon has a foldable sideline porta potty.) ESPN did Jackson no favors by airing footage of the quarterback hurrying to the locker room. Let’s be honest: It did not look like a man with cramps. It looked like a man struggling to reach the bathroom, shooing away anyone who could get between him and a toilet.

Players have pooped mid-game before—but never in a situation as prominent as this. Did one of the league’s best players actually miss several series in crunch time of a critically important, nationally televised game to take a dump? How ridiculous that a poop could alter the course of the NFL season! How embarrassing to have millions of people across the world speculating about whether you are pooping!

This could have been the costliest poop since John Travolta’s in Pulp Fiction. Instead, Jackson’s time in the locker room was a lifesaver, as he returned looking refreshed and saved the day. It’s a sequence so ridiculous you wouldn’t believe it in a Hollywood sports movie. (Seriously—everybody keeps rejecting my screenplay about a quarterback needing to poop in the Super Bowl. There’s a dramatic montage; he remembers something that his childhood mentor said to him and it inspires him to finish up and win the big game; introducing The Pooper Bowl, coming to a streaming service near you—I think it’s good stuff.)

So we’ll try to answer the question that’s on everyone’s mind: Why did Lamar Jackson actually head to the locker room on Monday night?

What’s the official story?

The Ravens’ official team account tweeted that Jackson left the game with cramps, and everything Jackson said afterward was consistent with that statement. In his interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salters, Jackson said he “was cramping and needed to get some IVs in me.”

He later clarified that the cramps started in his throwing arm, causing him to miss a few passes, before traveling down to his legs. He also told reporters that he was given salt tablets in the locker room.

Most importantly, Jackson emphasized that he was not pooping. In his press conference, he said that he “didn’t pull a Paul Pierce”—a reference to the 2008 NBA Finals, when the Celtics legend was hustled off the court in a wheelchair only to return perfectly healthy a few minutes later. In 2019, Pierce admitted that he had needed to poop, only to recant—but the public’s mind has been made up.

After Monday’s game, Jackson replied to a popular meme about his own alleged poop on Twitter, writing, “Yall trippin I definitely wasn’t taking a [poop emoji].”

Still, he’s a bit too defiant for my taste. Isn’t this exactly what somebody who pooped would say?

What happens if an NFL player needs to use the bathroom during a game?

The answer depends. Is the player trying to kick the extra point, or does he want to go for two?

If a player has to pee, the solution is easy. Just go on the sideline, quickly and quietly. In 2011, former Chargers kicker Nick Novak was famously caught peeing on the field (with a lucky Chargers staffer holding up a towel so that fans wouldn’t see), but this is a relatively common occurrence that generally goes unnoticed. “Guys are peeing all over the sideline in every game, into cups, on the ground, in towels, behind the bench, in their pants, everywhere,” former Panthers center Ryan Kalil told ESPN in 2017. When a fan caught a Washington assistant coach peeing into a Gatorade cup in 2016, TMZ apparently thought the incident was scandalous enough to merit an article—I can imagine one of its editors’ eyes lighting up at the thought of using a headline like “NFL COACH DOES PUBLIC URINATION ... AND INDECENT EXPOSURE … DURING GAME!” But the response from the league was, yeah, whatever, this happens all the time. You might even see an NFL player peeing during live game action and not realize it—you have to watch this clip a few times to notice the sideline pee-er.

Pooping, though? That’s not something you can do discreetly on the sideline. The ability to poop without drawing attention is apparently such a valuable football skill that New England considers it part of the Patriot Way. According to a Patriots legend told by Wes Welker (and confirmed by other teammates), Bill Belichick once gave special teamer Larry Izzo a game ball for managing to poop on the sideline without anybody noticing.

For NFL players without the tutelage of the greatest coach of all time, however, there are two options. The first is pulling the trigger and pooping your pants. Former Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck has the most famous admission of pants-pooping, a truly horrifying tale about a 2001 game in which he played through a stomach virus and forced Matt Hasselbeck to take snaps inches from the scene of the crime. (Like many quarterbacks, Hasselbeck had a habit of licking his hands to get a better grip on the ball; a quick-thinking trainer wisely warned him to stop doing that.) But Tobeck is not alone. “I saw it on all three teams I was with,” former NFL linebacker Chad Brown told The Athletic in 2019. If you see a brown splotch on a player’s white pants, (Dave Chappelle as Tupac voice) it might be doo-doo! Former Florida running back Adam Lane admitted that eagle-eyed fans in 2015 were on to something—and seemed genuinely thrilled that it brought attention to his 109-yard rushing performance in a bowl game. “It was the best thing that could have happened,” Lane said.

The second option is for guys who don’t want to spend the rest of a game dragging around extra baggage in their pants. They have to go to the locker room. Longtime NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz posted a clip to Twitter a few weeks ago in which he cracked up after spotting an Arizona State player recording a sack, pointing toward the locker room, and instantly sprinting off the field to take care of business.

Long story short: The idea that Jackson would have needed to leave the field to poop definitely holds water—although if we’re being honest, any player as important to his team’s success as Jackson should learn how to poop their pants to avoid missing game time.

Does Jackson’s cramps story hold up?

In that it is common for NFL players to cramp during games, yes. But as a lot of former players pointed out, the details of Jackson’s case don’t exactly align with what you’d typically expect from cramps.

First of all, it was cold on Monday in Cleveland. While muscles can tighten up when exposed to the cold, the most common cause of NFL cramping is dehydration from sweating too much. That’s why it usually happens in early-season games in warm climates—not December games in Ohio.

Secondly, Lamar ran to the locker room. If you have cramps bad enough to necessitate a trip to the locker room, you probably wouldn’t run there.

After the game, Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said he couldn’t even tell Jackson was cramping. Amazing! Unless, of course, the reason nobody thought Jackson was cramping was because he actually just had to poop.

Some online sleuths noted that a bandage on Jackson’s left arm seemed to indicate he’d received an IV there, with former Chargers doctor David Chao noting that it was “a telltale IV sign.” But Jackson was clearly wearing that same bandage all game, including during pregame warmups.

Are there any holes in the poop story? (Besides, you know ...)

The biggest flaw with this theory is the sheer amount of time that Jackson missed. My first tweet about Jackson’s potential poop was at 10:53 p.m. ET; Jackson returned to the field at roughly 11:22 p.m. That’s a half-hour. What sort of hell-poop lasts a half-hour? Even Schwartz, an apparent NFL poop expert, seemed to believe that Jackson was away from the field too long for the explanation to be poop.

But the most important detail seems to be the way Jackson ran back to the locker room. NFL players agree … that looked like a poop run.

NFL players truly are great at breaking down film. (Also, “boo boo trot” is a phrase that will stick with me.)

Do NFL players think that Jackson pooped?

The answer here is overwhelming: yes. Even his own backup quarterback joked about it on Twitter.

Pretty much every comment I found from a current or former NFL player Monday came down on the side of poop:

Although it seems like some may have just been in it for the jokes:

So what’s the verdict?

Jackson has been consistent and detailed in his story about cramping up. Anyone who argues otherwise is essentially saying that the NFL’s reigning MVP is lying about an injury. But honestly? The majority of the details in this case seem to point toward a poop rather than a cramp.

One of the NFL’s best players stormed onto the field and won one of the highest-scoring games in league history to keep his team’s postseason hopes alive. This was a great game regardless of why Jackson went to the locker room. So when it comes to remembering this classic, it’s a matter of personal taste: What would make Jackson’s performance more legendary in your eyes? For him to have been sidelined by a medical issue, only to shake it off and lead the Ravens to victory? Or for him to have had one of the most poorly timed poops in football history, only to finish just in time to wipe the opposition off the field? One is a story we’ve heard a million times before; the other is an unprecedented legend.

I believe Jackson, who is understandably eager to dispel an embarrassing rumor. But I’ll still always remember this game as the Pooper Bowl.