On Saturday afternoon, Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason made his first appearance in a game that was well in hand, with the Bulldogs winning, 45-7. Eason was the starting quarterback for Georgia all of last season and the beginning of this one before an injury on the second series of the season opener against Appalachian State. He was replaced by freshman Jake Fromm, who played well enough not only to win that game, but the next five. Georgia has won because of its propulsive defense and an unstoppable run game, but Fromm has been the guy under center while all that defense and running has been happening, so he has been credited by many casual fans for having a certain winning Joie de vivre that Eason, the freshman starter on a disappointing team last season, seemed to lack. (That Fromm is from Warner Robins, Ga., while Eason is from Lake Stevens, Wash., certainly helps his cause in our increasingly provincial planet as well.)
Georgia coach Kirby Smart, like just about everything else this season, has handled the quarterback situation smartly, never giving the job to Fromm outright and making sure Eason gets plenty of snaps late in blowouts to keep his quarterback fresh and game-ready. (And healthy, for that matter.) Fromm has been excellent, but he is still a true freshman, and he also doesn't have the thunderbolt of an arm that Eason has. Smart is being, well, smart. This has not stopped the forever-jumpy Georgia fan base from taking part in a whirlwind of a parallel shadow quarterback controversy, most of which has landed in favor the local boy. Fans like a team that is winning, the way Georgia is now, not to change a thing.
Anyway, on Eason's first play from scrimmage at Vanderbilt, he went back to pass deep in Georgia territory. His running back missed a blitz pickup on his blindside, and Eason got himself drilled, fumbling as any quarterback on the planet, including Fromm, would have after taking an unexpected hit like that. Vanderbilt recovered and scored a touchdown four plays later. The fumble was obviously not Eason's fault -- in fact, Smart blamed himself for the play call postgame -- but this did not stop a certain segment of Georgia fans to go after Eason anyway.
1 play=1 fumble. Take Jacob Eason out- Nathaniel Lemons (@nathaniellemons) October 7, 2017
Eason would fumble on his very first snap 🤦♂️- 🌪 Cullen Davis 🌪 (@Switchoutkid) October 7, 2017
One observer -- who happens to be a co-host of a podcast with me-- agreed that the sack wasn't Eason's fault, but it didn't matter because of the "optics" of the play. This seemed to be the general consensus. Sure, Eason couldn't have done anything to prevent the sack or the fumble, but the "optics" of his first play being a fumble, while Fromm is playing so well, were ultimately damning to him. It wasn't his fault, but if you are only barely paying attention or merely reacting emotionally, it looks like it's his fault, and thus, it is his fault. That's "optics." "Optics" was presented as this overarching trump card, the argument-ender. It looks that way. Thus, it is that way.
I am not sure that "optics" were always so powerful. But right now, they seem to be the end game.
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Roughly 23 hours later, Vice President Mike Pence attended an NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and his home state Indianapolis Colts. He posted a picture of him and his wife in their seats pregame.
As it turned out, the picture (and the whole trip) was a work, as choreographed and scripted as a WWE match. That picture, as was revealed just three tweets later, was actually taken much earlier; Pence wasn't wearing a Colts hat or a jersey during the actual game, and his wife was wearing a 50 jersey in the first picture (Jerrell Freeman, maybe?) and a Peyton Manning jersey in the second one. (Sports Illustrated sussed this out, noting that the picture was three years old.)
Pence wasn't there to watch a football game, and he never was. He was just there to make a very expensive spectacle of himself.
I left today's Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.- Vice President Pence (@VP) October 8, 2017
It is plainly obvious that Pence's stunt was premeditated. His press people told the assembled reporters traveling with him not to bother coming into Lucas Oil Stadium, that he wouldn't be there long, belying any notion that he was ever there to watch a football game. He specifically picked a game in which his blue-collar Colts -- Indianapolis' county went 58-35 for Hillary Clinton, by the way -- took on those kneeling jerks out in San Francisco. He had his plane ready to leave within minutes of his "so angry he's storming out" stunt. As noted by Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel, the Colts had no warning Pence was just dropping by and spent considerable time and money preparing themselves and fans for the disruption that happens when the vice president of the United States shows up for one of your games.
And all for the obvious stunt. I find myself feeling bad for Karen Pence. The vice president was wearing a suit, but she had her Peyton Manning jersey on for a game that her husband knew she was never going to be able to watch. Did she wear it all day? Was she bummed she missed Manning's ceremony? Also: Is it OK to suggest that perhaps that is not an official Colts jersey? It doesn't look like one.
C'mon, Veep, get your wife a real jersey. Though:
everyone in Indiana has a Formal Manning and a Casual or Lounge Manning- Skip Headless (@skippable) October 9, 2017
So we have a vice president who spent a substantial amount of taxpayer money, inconvenienced tens of thousands of sports fans and stretched the Secret Service capabilities, all for a few tweets he could use to rile up the same divisions that his boss does.
But all Pence cared about was the "optics." He had nothing to say, nothing new to add to the conversation, but he was able to stir it all up again, even though everybody knows this was all Kabuki theater, that this wasn't real, that this was a stunt. We're all having the same dumb conversation today that we did yesterday and the day before and the day before and the day before and good lord this is never going to end, is it?
It's because of these "optics." The "optics" of Pence standing for the anthem. The "optics" of him tweeting out highly orchestrated, easily sharable images of his "outrage." The "optics" of claiming this is, or ever was, something that has anything to do with "our soldiers." It's all pretend. The facts are clear. But the optics always win. Pence is taking some hits for his stunt. But he knows what works. He knows what we're really paying attention to.
We have been driven by the easiest, most basic, right-in-our-laps "conversations" for so long now that we can't help but sleepwalk into them even we know they're bad for us. Every story, every takeaway, is about those "optics." It is the only takeaway that matters anymore. We can continue to be led around by the nose by them, or we can ignore them all together. It is increasingly clear that they're all anyone in charge cares about. We're making it very easy for them to be correct, and successful, in doing so.
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