Sconset summer resident Field Yates breaks down the NFL and his life at ESPN.
In the eyes of many sports fans, Field Yates is living the dream. At the ripe age of twenty-six, he became one of the youngest on-air talents at ESPN. Today, Yates is not only a trusted source of breaking NFL news, but he’s also widely regarded as a fantasy sports savant, making predictions on his daily ESPN podcast. Come football season, Yates spends his Sundays watching games in ESPN’s fabled “War Room” with the likes of NFL legends Randy Moss and Boomer Esiason and renowned ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman. N Magazine caught up with Field Yates to hear his thoughts on the future of the NFL, the inner workings of ESPN and whether the Patriots are headed to another Super Bowl.
YATES: I spent four summers with the Patriots coaching and scouting. It was like my football Rosetta Stone. Before I could scout players competently, I had to understand the traits that you were looking for in a player. It’s one thing to be able to say that Tom Brady is an outstanding quarterback and another thing to be able to explain the specific traits he has at this high level that make him an outstanding quarterback. That was my introduction in speaking the language of football and it catapulted me to the next stages of my career.
N MAGAZINE: As one of the few people who have been behind closed doors with Bill Belichick and his coaching staff, what’s the secret to the Patriots’ perennial success?
YATES: The Patriots have a willingness to sacrifice. And I think if you’re consistently willing to sacrifice, there’s a chance to build something special. It starts at the top with Bill Belichick and trickles down to his coaches, his scouting staff and his players. That’s the fulcrum to their success.
N MAGAZINE: Do you think the Patriots will take home another ring this season?
YATES: I think they have so many of the right ingredients to make a deep playoff push into January and even early February. They are outstanding defensively. And one thing about the Patriots is that they’ve always had a unique ability to improve as the season has gone on, which gives me confidence that they will continue to make adjustments in both personnel and schematically in offense to continue to maximize that offensive performance. It would not surprise me if we see them playing in the Super Bowl. I have incredible and immense respect for their daily determination to consistently compete for championships.
YATES: I certainly don’t believe that there’s any impending demise of the sport of football. I don’t forecast that. I don’t know that it will ever come. I’m not saying it can’t, but I’m not expecting that in any way. The amount of knowledge we have on the impact playing football can have on your health, specifically what football can do to you neurologically, is not exclusive to football. There’s a lot of research now that displays the various risks associated with a lot of sports. I am certainly mindful of the impact playing football has had on those who have played the game. I am hopeful that the research of countless people will allow us to continue to find ways to make the game safer. The NFL has always put the health of its players as its top priority. I believe that although it will probably never be perfect, the NFL is going to do its best to mitigate risks in any way that it can.
N MAGAZINE: If you could instate a new rule to make the game safer or more exciting, what would it be?
YATES: There have been a number of instances recently where teams have been down late in the game and have had to attempt an onside kick to try and mount a miracle comeback. Evidence shows us that onside kicks are borderline impossible to execute. While I don’t have a perfect solution, I’ve heard a lot of suggestions [on how we can make those games more competitive,] one of which is having one opportunity for the team that’s down to convert a fifteen-yard play that would result in them retaining the football. That is an example of something that I think has some merit.
N MAGAZINE: How has working for ESPN changed how you watch sports? Can you sit back and just enjoy the game?
YATES: Yes and no—because I still enjoy the games so so much, but it’s just different. Rarely is there a game where I just sit down and not spend time thinking about the consequences of what’s taking place on the field. In a lot of cases, I am on the clock at ESPN during these games. But let’s say I’m off the clock, watching a game on Thanksgiving, and something of note takes place—all of a sudden people might want me to account for that, whether that’s reporting on it, analyzing it or adding some level of context. There are a lot of things that people might want out of you, even when you’re not expecting it.
YATES: Although my title includes a lot of different responsibilities—reporting, analyzing, writing and being active on social media—a lot of my attention during the season turns toward fantasy football. I do a podcast on fantasy football five days a week. To use Friday as an example, I’ll do a SportsCenter fantasy sports segment prior to the podcast in the morning, and then when the podcast is over, I take off the fantasy football hat momentarily and put the “real football” hat back on, and head over to NFL Live, which is our ninety-minute daily show on ESPN. The evening is a blend of monitoring news and furthering news. With thirty-two teams, you have thirty-two injury reports and thirty-two head coach press conferences that span across all time zones. It can be kind of a twenty-four-hour news cycle, not always necessarily at a hundred miles per hour, but you’re always monitoring for the next bit of activity.
N MAGAZINE: How has it been adapting to being a public figure?
YATES: You sign up for everything—not just the good stuff. And that’s one thing I’ve learned about having a platform. You’re putting yourself out there, which can result in plenty of people showing admiration and respect, which you are grateful for. But you have to be prepared that people aren’t always going to feel that same way about you. In fantasy football, my job is to make calls, in theory, for thousands of people each week. So there may be many, many people who could feel let down by my decision to have players ranked in a certain way. There will always be flack, and it’s ninety-five percent innocuous, but there are some people who are a bit more mean-spirited. At the end of the day, although it’s my job, fantasy football should be something that you enjoy, something that you look forward to.
*This interview has been edited and condensed due to space limitations.