Ballers: Episode 9 Recap

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Tyler Horn, Contributor - The Players' Tribune

This show is starting to find its groove. It’s that way with almost any show. It takes a couple episodes, or even a season, to really find its voice.

Last night’s episode was by far my favorite. Of course, one of the main reasons is that Reggie was finally called out for his selfish, at times asinine, behavior. From the beginning, Reggie has painted himself as someone who pretends to have Vernon’s best interests at heart, but in reality he’s looking out for himself and riding high on Vernon’s fame. It’s hard to say you have your friend’s back when every decision you make is a detriment to his career. While Reggie’s stubbornness may seem exaggerated at times, it’s not too far from the reality. Pro athletes, especially young ones, often find themselves surrounded by childhood friends. Some are good influences, but many are not. It’s hard to tell the difference, and harder to get up the courage to be honest with them. This week, Vernon was struggling with this problem.

Ricky Jerret continues to amuse me. John David Washington does such a great job making a hard-to-like person so endearing. Despite watching Ricky fail miserably in his attempt to win Annabella back, he still lights up the screen with his charisma. The way he describes the painting she gave him is a perfect example. He’s oozing with charm and levity, but he’s missing the bigger picture. To win back Annabella, he’d need to get real and speak directly and honestly about what he did wrong, but he’s probably unwilling to do that just yet. Still, somehow he’s likable even in immaturity. Ricky’s just a big personality that does a great job of capturing the screen.

I also enjoyed watching Charles Greane in his comeback attempt. I got a kick out of the GM yelling O-line jargon as Charles tried to block some balding old man who knocked him on his ass. Ballers maybe should have spent just a little extra money on casting that scene.

The major story line of this episode, however, focused on Spencer’s redemption with Dan Balsamo, a former Buffalo Bill whose career was ended by hit Spencer delivered. Spencer has had nightmares reliving that hit and feeling the guilt of ending someone’s career.

This story arc touches on a real emotion that NFL athletes have. If I don’t embarrass the guy across from me, I don’t eat. That’s the bottom line. The NFL notoriously stands for “Not For Long” — if you aren’t performing, your career will be short. Not to even begin with injuries. A part of performing well is outperforming the man across from you. For every great pass a QB throws, there’s a DB who blew the coverage. For every sack by a DE, there’s an OL who missed his block. Such is the ebb and flow of the NFL. There’s always someone watching — and another player waiting in the wings to take your spot.

If I don’t embarrass the guy across from me, I don’t eat. That’s the bottom line.

While Spencer does tell Dan he meant to hurt him on that hit years before, it’s misleading to think NFL players are just out there to injure each other. It’s more complicated than that. Spencer was a big time player who made a living by putting O-linemen out of work, not only in games, but also in practice. Right now, it’s the preseason — the most stressful time of the year for any player who’s not a surefire starter. Yes, the games matter more, but for a high percentage of athletes, this is where they can make the team. Again, a part of making the team is embarrassing the guy across from you in practice. That’s the goal. You may be on the same “team,” but until Week 1, it’s dog-eat-dog.

The first step to making an NFL roster is proving that you are better than the guy across from you — in my case, the D-lineman I was blocking. It is the nature of sports to be competitive, but in the NFL, where there is so much parity in the talent pool, if you don’t do something to stand out, then you are putting yourself in a tough position to make the team. It is a desire to literally humiliate your opponent that drives the best players in the NFL. Money is great, but you know that there will be no money if you are not performing.

The last topic I want to cover in last night’s episode is Dan’s forgiveness of Spencer. He mentioned that he had been on six teams in eight years and that by that point Spencer’s career-ending hit was a mercy kill. It’s interesting to think about the breaking point each NFL journeyman may have. For me, it was going more than half the season waiting for a phone call. I knew my time was probably up, and that my commitment to the NFL was damaging the commitment I had made to my wife. I can say that at some point for everyone, that commitment is the breaking point. There comes a time when you have to decide what’s best for you versus what’s best for your family.

I like where Ballers is going and it is hitting on some major issues — on and off the NFL playing field. Next week’s finale will likely add more drama, and it will be fun to see where this show goes next.

Tyler Horn is a former NFL player turned financial advisor. Click here for the Episode 1 and Episode 2 and Episode 3 and Episode 4 and Episode 5 and Episode 6 and Episode 7 and Episode 8 recaps.

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