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Rams’ Jalen Ramsey steps up for Nashville charter school

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Jalen Ramsey is riding to the Los Angeles Rams‘ practice facility and is about to cry.

The star cornerback is on a videoconference with Jayce Parker, a fourth-grade student.

“I don’t know what my future holds,” says Jayce, who is 10 years old. “But I know that because of Purpose Prep and people like you, my future is going to be bright. Thank you again, Mr. Ramsey.”

Ramsey smiles. A day earlier, he announced a $1 million pledge to Purpose Preparatory Academy — a charter school in his native Nashville, Tennessee, where Parker is among 400 students.

“Jayce, you are welcome and everybody is welcome,” Ramsey says earnestly. “I’m proud of you, I’m proud of everything you are doing. Just keep up all the good work.”

On the football field, Ramsey is known as a lockdown cornerback, an elite trash talker and a fierce competitor whose sole focus is winning. But when he speaks about children and education, Ramsey reveals a softer side. His competitive nature fades, his tone softens yet grows eager, and he’s overcome with humility.

“To me, this is way more important than any play that I can make for the Los Angeles Rams,” Ramsey said. “I play a kids’ game professionally and I love it. … But this is real life.”

At Purpose Prep — a publicly funded, kindergarten-through-fourth-grade charter school that is free to attend for any student within the school district and whose student body is 98% Black, with more than 75% of its students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches — Ramsey isn’t widely known as an NFL All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selection. Instead, he’s someone who is contributing time and money to make a generational change.

“I know he’s perceived as an athlete,” said Lagra Newman, who founded Purpose Prep in 2013. “But we’ve had a very different opportunity to get to know him as somebody who really cares about education, our community in Nashville and our children.”

‘I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact’

When the country shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Ramsey isolated at home. He spent the time reflecting about his faith and self-improvement.

“It helped me put a lot of things about life in perspective about what’s really important,” said Ramsey, who turned 26 on Oct. 24. “That’s family, love, showing love, the youth and a few other things.”

Then, a couple of months into the pandemic, came the social justice uprising that Ramsey says pushed him over the edge. He conversed with his inner circle, including his agent, financial adviser, mom, dad and brother — who he says is the most influential person in his life.

But Ramsey grew impatient with the conversations.

“I said, ‘I’m not doing any justice. I’m not taking any action myself.’ So how could I speak up about wanting change or trying to effect change when I’m able to do something in my community and I haven’t done it yet,” Ramsey said.

He decided to take a leap he had thought about and researched for more than four years.

“I’m just kind of sitting on it and sitting on it, waiting for the perfect time,” Ramsey said. “Then I kind of told myself, I said, ‘There will never be a quote-unquote perfect time.'”

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Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey talks with Purpose Preparatory Academy board members via a Zoom meeting.

Ramsey was first introduced to Purpose Prep at a 2016 school gala, where he grew more impressed as the evening wore on. His financial adviser arranged for Ramsey and other clients to attend as an opportunity to network and take part in the greater community.

He sat in the audience and watched several students including Jayce, then a kindergartner, don formal attire to speak in front of hundreds of adults about their experience at the school.

“They were dressed up, they had on like black suits and they were super, super impressive,” Ramsey said.

Newman, under whose guidance Purpose Prep was named a Tennessee Reward School for Academic Performance, equally impressed Ramsey as she spoke about the school’s goals and success.

“People ask me all the time, ‘What’s the secret sauce?'” Newman said. “I really think it comes down to high expectations. When children walk into your door, do you believe they can achieve at the highest levels? We do at Purpose Prep.”

A Vanderbilt graduate who taught in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington with Teach for America, Newman aspired to open a school in a low-income community and settled on north Nashville after witnessing the inequalities in the school district through her time spent tutoring in the area.

“North Nashville has an incredible cultural richness and just a very special history in this city,” Newman said. “Yet the schools are abysmal, abysmally low-performing and it’s an injustice. They’re Black and brown children that are just clustered in schools, going to school every day and are leaving without critical skills, and so I wanted to create a school in this community and I wanted to really prove what was possible. That’s what we’ve been able to do.”

“It has been an amazing experience,” Jayce’s mother, Onya Parker, said about her son’s nearly five years at Purpose Prep. “He’s so confident in his academics, even speaking in front of audiences. Just being a scholar at Purpose Prep has just prepared him in a way I know that he wouldn’t have received the same preparation at another school.”

Ramsey, who grew up in a Nashville suburb and attended a private high school, understands the impact of sound schooling.

“I always, always had that value instilled in me by my parents that education was key and education was the most important because that’s something nobody can take from you,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey, joined by his inner circle, initiated a couple of videoconference meetings with Newman and board members in August to discuss the school’s future but left few hints that he intended to make a significant financial contribution.

A few financial numbers were mentioned that would be considered a major boon to help the school during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced students into distance learning.

But Ramsey, who was still playing under his rookie contract at the time and had yet to sign a five-year extension worth up to $105 million that made him the highest-paid defensive back in NFL history, thought the figures weren’t substantial enough.

So he multiplied them — several times over — to $1 million.

“I didn’t want to just get in there halfway; I wanted to be all-in. I wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact,” Ramsey said. “That number amount was just something that was put in my heart.”

Newman was brought to tears when Ramsey called to inform her. “When he told me the amount, I couldn’t even fathom what that meant,” she said. “It’s transformational.”

His donation is the largest in school history by far, and Newman says it comes without conditions. Ramsey’s only request is that Purpose Prep continues on the path it set.

“To see how she’s been sustaining and doing extremely well for these kids for years and years, it gave me a lot of — a ton of hope that she will do the right thing when a lot is entrusted in her,” Ramsey said.

‘I was overwhelmed at the generosity’

When Onya Parker heard about Ramsey’s donation, it quickly dawned on her that Ramsey was in the audience when her son, Jayce, spoke at the gala more than four years earlier, and that Ramsey later posed with him for a photograph.

Back then, she didn’t know much about Ramsey, only that he was a professional athlete. And she certainly didn’t foresee Ramsey impacting her son’s education in the years to come.

“I was overwhelmed at the generosity,” said Onya, who grew emotional as she reflected on her son’s opportunity to receive a high-quality education. “[Ramsey] saw something in these children and wanted to contribute to making their futures brighter.”

Ramsey’s donation enabled Purpose Prep to turn entirely virtual to accommodate distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic. Every student, including Jayce — who loves math and aspires to be a sports agent — was provided a computer and internet hotspot to ensure they would not miss a day of class. With the added technology came the need for tech-savvy staff members who could help the kids and families navigate any technical issues at home, which the donation also covered.

“In the immediate, certainly Purpose Prep is able to get out of survival mode as we think about overcoming ourselves in this pandemic,” Newman said.

Because of Ramsey’s generosity, the school’s leaders can think about its long-term future.

“That’s just so many challenges that come with creating this school,” Newman said. “And I think to have somebody to invest to that extent, it opens up a few different things.”

Ramsey’s donation will help fund field trips to colleges, a staple on the school-year calendar before the pandemic and critical to the students’ ability to learn about higher education at a young age.

It will provide enrichment opportunities beyond the bare minimum of a high-quality education, said Newman, who dreams of the day when every musician in the school can play his or her own instrument and the band can practice in a space that’s not a conference room. She envisions Purpose Prep’s physical education classes taking place in a gymnasium instead of the cafeteria. She hopes additional technology can be incorporated into everyday learning.

“Only now have we been able to really think big and think like, ‘Wow, what could school for our children be when we actually have the resources to support the type of education that they actually truly deserve?'” she said.

In it for the long haul

When he’s not preparing for a football game, Ramsey joins Zoom conferences to participate in school board meetings. He keeps in touch via text messages and is “super personable,” Newman said, adding that he’s quickly becoming family.

“He’s somebody who is really in tune with what’s happening socially,” Newman said. “He sees this as his opportunity to also be a part of social change and making an impact and leading in that way.”

In board meetings, Ramsey is described as engaging, a good listener and participant.

“He’s not just there to just dump off a lump sum of money and say, ‘Bye,'” said Lara Henley, a school board member who helps oversee fundraising. “He’s very adamant about the fact that he’s in it for the long haul.”

Ramsey provides ideas and feedback, but also emphasizes his trust in Newman.

“I wouldn’t have done that [donation] for just anybody,” he said. “They were doing right by the kids and the teachers trying to bridge the gap.”

A father of two young daughters, Ramsey says he wants his girls to attend Purpose Prep, “100 percent,” and he wants other children, even those outside of Nashville, to experience the same high-quality education.

“We want to do this in Texas, in California,” Ramsey said, clarifying “this” means establishing more Purpose Prep-inspired schools. “We want to continue to do this with everybody in our kind of friend group and within our family group. We want to continue to do this.”

‘I’m excited to be in the presence of a hero’

On that August day when Ramsey rode to the Rams’ practice facility, he thought he was joining a school board meeting. He had no idea a kindergartner whom he met years earlier would appear on screen, then deliver a speech that would leave him practically speechless.

“Who knew that when I took a picture with you in kindergarten at the gala that our paths would cross again. Back then I was excited to be in the presence of an NFL player, but now I’m excited to be in the presence of a hero.” Jayce Parker, a 10-year-old student at Purpose Prep Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, to Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey

“Who knew that when I took a picture with you in kindergarten at the gala that our paths would cross again,” Jayce said to Ramsey. “Back then I was excited to be in the presence of an NFL player, but now I’m excited to be in the presence of a hero.”

The moment filled Ramsey with joy.

“This means more to me than the contract or some of the other blessings that have been coming in my life,” Ramsey said. “I genuinely believe in the youth. I think the youth is our future and them having a great upcoming will be what changes the world. Maybe I won’t see it in my generation, but maybe in my daughters’ lifetime they see it, or maybe their kids, long from now, will see it.”

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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