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HAIL! GFOP

I write with fingers excited to do something small yet constructive in the world. Today, two portraits go live for bidding. One is a magical work of art. A portrait of me, executed by Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei. The other, a well-intentioned portrait of the championship-winning Frei by a slightly less-talented artist. Me.  

It all started with a Tweet of a Seattle Sounders Coffee Mug back when America was in the early uncertain days of lockdown. Washington State was the first area to be impacted. When New York’s stay-at-home order was put in place on March 20, I spent the day looking at cable news, aghast as the pandemic gripped the Seattle area without mercy.

I have always adored the city of Seattle and Seattleites. Their singularity, sense of self, passion for life in general and football in particular. So the next day, I Tweeted a message of love and support, adding a selfie of an early morning toast made with my slightly chipped Sounders thermos.  

Amongst the first to respond was Frei. A goalkeeper I have long revered.  Both for his title-winning performances on the field and wide-ranging artistic interests off it. Spending time with Stefan at Men In Blazers live shows in Seattle has always been a joy. We both bonded as two Americans who were originally born in Europe, sharing a true love of this nation and all that is good about it.  

Stefan and I exchanged quick tweets about his paintings, and then a Seattle soccer fan @CKfitSeattle chimed in and suggested “Omg. A @Stefan24Frei life size painting of @rogbennett. That would go for a lot at auction for some freak.” To which I joked, “Double the money if we throw in a Roger Bennett painting of Stefan Frei?”

I should admit something up front here: I am not much of an artist. But if there has been any silver lining about the last month’s struggle, it has been a time when I have tried hard to put words into action. In podcast after podcast, I urged listeners to build structure to the blurred procession of days we were experiencing and find meaning by trying new things, taking risks and creating. 

Like executing a Stefan Frei portrait. Granted, I am more a words gent than a pictures one. I do not currently own an easel. Or paints. But once Stefan and I kept chatting, and the long-term need in the Washington-area became ever greater, I jumped at the chance to make an impact with him and create twin portraits.

I could not be more honored to auction these beauties off with 100% of the proceeds going to the RAVE FOUNDATION’s COVID-19 community relief fund to help the city go from strength to strength. The auction begins today at 10 a.m. PT at Sounders.GiveSmart.com and runs through 9:00 p.m. PT on Saturday, May 2. We will have links on our social.

Bid early, Big generously and Bid often. And know that there are few things I look forward to more in life than the day I can travel to Washington, raise a beer with whomever wins these unique one-of-a-kind mugshots, and toast the wonder of Seattle and all that is great about its people. Courage.   


2. Men In Blazers shredding out the gnarly grinds: 

i. It is Wednesday Budweiser Happy Hour day. Our guest today, the one and only, two-time World Cup Champion, GFOP, from the NWSL’s Utah Royals and your USWNT, Kelley O’Hara. Join us at 5 p.m. ET on our Insta Live. This will be an event not to be missed. 

ii. We also record a Podcast today with the very first Golden Blazer winner. A trailblazer for football and broadcasting in this country. A man who can destroy me in a beard battle. The one and only Bob Ley. The Pod drops later this afternoon.  


3. To the Football: The clock is ticking down till the Premier League “Five Family” Zoom call starts on Friday. The one that will reveal if English football has the beginnings of a strategy to return in June. There is no doubt the will to return burns brightly. For morale reasons and commercial ones. Yet it continues to be undermined by those nagging things called details as the battle between the emotional and the rational, the economic and the moral, continues to unspool like a Granit Xhaka howler we are all forced to watch in agonizing slow motion.

Premier League clubs have to develop a plan to prevent supporters gathering outside stadiums if the season resumes behind closed doors and fear football will be blamed if breaches of physical distancing guidelines result in a rise in coronavirus cases. Optics. Optics. Optics!

This in addition to the litany of complexities German football is untangling: The massive issue of testing in a country with a buckling health service; June 30’s contract armageddon; and whether playing in neutral venues would be an artificial construct and destroy sporting integrity.

On top of that is a gnawing fear that ghost games will appear soulless and destroy the long-term value of the sporting product. Brace yourself for “drive-in screenings,” digital viewing parties and cardboard cut-outs of fans. 

This will all be debated Friday by the Premier League dons against a wider context that the head of FIFA’s own medical committee, Michel d’Hooghe, yesterday declared that football should not return until the start of September at the earliest. “There is a risk and it is not a risk that has small consequences,” d’Hooghe told the BBC. “My proposal is if it is possible, avoid playing competitive football in the coming weeks. Try to be prepared for the start of good competition next season.”

b. UEFA continues to float the idea of holding the final stages of the Champions League behind closed doors at neutral venues after the French government confirmed there would be no professional football allowed in the country until at least 1 September. In my experience, “Neutral venue” is typically a UEFA codeword for “Baku.” I don’t care where they hold it. I don’t care who gets an Apartment for Cats to make it happen.  I just want to hear that magical word “The Champ-eeee-yonnnnns” again. 

c. International Football is also locked in the midst of Beautiful Mind-worthy calculations to determine how it can return and jam its games into a footballing calendar in total disarray. September’s round of Nations League ties are certain to be canned. FIFA are desperately struggling to solve the backlog with two ideas: an extended “rugby-style” break jamming three to six games at the end of 2020, or creating more space in 2021. Important to note: These are more than just games. International matches generate income for funding the grassroots of football and the women’s game in many nations. 


4. More Football in the Face
 
i. Think Juan Mata is cute now?! Wait until you see what he looked like as a kid. That child def gonna grow up and become a famed restaurateur.  
 
ii. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, tells Premier League “stop Saudi takeover of Newcastle United or be complicit.” Heartbreaking. 
 
iii. Spanish football flip flops again. More slaloming than a Leo Messi run on goal. They will be allowed to return to training in May after all. The article also contains more on the economics of the French League’s cancellation.

iv. Washington’s newest offensive lineman was once a 300-pound high school soccer star. “If only our best soccer players were 300-pound linemen.” Thanks to GFOP Kevino for submitting. 


5. Non-Football, please come and Save Us

i. Out of darkness cometh light. Out of polio cometh Candy Land. A reminder: small silver linings emerge from times of dread.

ii. Alaska Girl Scouts Got a PPP Loan Because of Lost Cookie Sales. Via GFOP Jelisa Castrodale.

iii. A short history of home fitness, from 600 BC to today. Add whatever it is called that you are doing to the discus and the Peloton.
 
iv. We put the Sims on Coronavirus lockdown. It didn't end well.
 
v. Beautiful. Human. Life. When Life Felt Normal: Your Pre-Pandemic Moments
 
vi. You can thank us later: 15 Free Historical Coloring Books and Pages to Download
 
If you have football or non-footballing articles of interest, send us HERE.
 
 
6. A charity we love: America SCORES

A quick shout for an online event held by an organization near and dear to Men in Blazers: America SCORES, which brings football and poetry to underserved schools and communities across this great nation. Thursday at 7 p.m. ET - in celebration of National Poetry Month - the organization’s D.C. branch hosts “Our Words. Our City,” a showcase with special performances by world class DMV-based poets, students and an appearance by Paige Nielsen of the Washington Spirit. Information and registration (which is free) is available HERE


That is it from us for today. Remember. Join me 5 p.m. ET on Insta Live for a drink with Kelley O’Hara to lift your spirits at the end of today. Until then:

“Here's to the cowboys, riders in the whirlwind
Tonight the western stars are shining bright again
And the western stars are shining bright again”
-- Bruce Springsteen, Western Stars

I’m Couraging.
Rog: @rogbennett 

On behalf of
MiB: @meninblazers
Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
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