An Interview with David Aldridge

An Interview with David Aldridge

An Interview with David Aldridge

“I’m expected to write about sports. I occasionally write about race, but that points up another misconception – that black columnists only write about race – no. They do write about race because…in the context of sports there aren’t too many white columnists who spend time writing about race.”

“I write as a human being that has a particular point of view…same way with any columnist…Sure, being black influences me, but also growing up in Washington, DC with a mother and a father in the house – all of those things influence me.”

“I just wish Jason (KC Star/AOL) and Scoop (espn.com) could get in a room together and talk about what is bothering them…It would be awfully presumptuous of me to say this person represents the black experience and this person doesn’t – nobody has that much wisdom and I certainly don’t. The fact that it’s two African-American male columnists makes it sexy. And it may be the first time two prominent black columnists have disagreed publicly.”

David Aldridge: Interviewed on March 13, 2007

Position: Columnist, Philadelphia Inquirer; reporter/analyst, TNT

Born: 1965, Washington, D.C.

Education: American University, 1987, journalism

Career: Washington Post 1987-1996, ESPN 1996-2004, Philadelphia Inquirer 2004 – , TNT 2004 –

Personal: married, one child, (expecting)

Favorite restaurant (home): Prima Piatti, NW DC “wonderful family run Italian restaurant – they treat me really nice and I love taking my wife”

Favorite restaurant (road): Tao, New York “a food experience unlike any I’ve ever had”; Tuscany, Salt Lake City, “owned by Mark Eaton, at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, a lovely Italian restaurant, great ambience”

Favorite hotel: Four Seasons, Miami “pretty sweet”

David Aldridge excerpted from the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 4, 2007:

In the wake of what are, charitably, unclear media reports about what exactly happened in the streets of Las Vegas during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, there are parallel criticisms being leveled. Some are accurate, some are specious.

After a Las Vegas television station posted a story on its Web site headlined “Violence Erupts During All-Star Weekend,” the tale was picked up nationally. The initial story claimed 362 people were booked into the Clark County Detention Center between noon Thursday, Feb. 15, and the early hours after the Sunday, Feb. 18, game.

Bloggers then augmented the original story, writing about “gangbangers” running rampant through the streets, gunfire, hordes of drunk or high people menacing visitors, rude guests who refused to tip or pay wait staff and a general air of fear for one’s safety.

…AOL Sports’ Jason Whitlock wrote that walking along the Vegas Strip “must be what it feels like to walk the yard at a maximum security prison. You couldn’t relax. You avoided eye contact. The heavy police presence only reminded you of the danger.”

… In response: I was there, from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday night. It was crowded. It was far from ideal.

It was not Saigon at the end of the Vietnam conflict. They were not plucking people off the roof of the Bellagio.

…It also seems that people are – how does one put this? – talking out of their behinds when it comes to equating cause and effect of crime. The argument you hear is that the NBA “attracted” a criminal element to Vegas – crooks love the hoop! – which has the great benefit of being absolutely impossible to disprove/

Last week, I got an e-mail from a concerned mother who wrote about “thug basketball” and the “vermin” that surround NBA players. I didn’t mean to dismiss her concerns, but I never hear about “thug football.”

…And, let’s get real: “gangbangers” is code for young black men. Many writers have twisted themselves into pretzels saying they weren’t talking about race when they described their fears, but it is hard to recall reading such angst about drunk and menacing white people at Mardi Gras or in Fort Lauderdale during spring break.

…Were all black people on their best behavior in Vegas? No. Not close. Not our finest hour. Martin Luther King didn’t protest and march and die so that we could get our freak on at Tryst. To paraphrase Chris Rock, there were lots of black people in Vegas – and lots of black idiots.

…That’s been the case at every All-Star Weekend I can remember. I have never felt unsafe being at one. I didn’t feel unsafe in Vegas.

…I wish more young black men weren’t so seduced by the worst of hip-hop culture: the misogyny, the glamorization of selling drugs and drinking, the indifference to formal education. I wish VH1 could find better depictions of black life than crackhead singers and illiterate sex-crazed fools. But I don’t know – and neither do any of the writers and bloggers – if a group of young black man approaching in cornrows and baggy jeans are thieves or pre-med students at Penn.

To assume either possibility is to be prejudiced. Period.

Q. What prompted your Las Vegas column?

A. I think it was a couple of things. If you were to get on the blogs and look at some of the things written in columns around the country and on basketball websites it would have been hard not to conclude that Las Vegas was not Saigon in 1975. You would have gotten the sense that people were running crazed and brandishing weapons and stabbing and shooting people – that it was complete anarchy in the streets. There was kind of an echo chamber and people were saying it was terrible and more terrible than that.

It just wasn’t that way, not in my experience. I felt compelled to get out my version of what happened. I wasn’t trying to denigrate anybody else’s version – if that’s what they saw that’s what they saw. There was beginning to be a narrative about the Las Vegas All-Star Game that was at odds with the facts. And this wasn’t according to only me, but to a number of people I talked to – I wanted to make sure I wasn’t crazy and had been living under a rock. Did I see it wrong? Most people I talked to said, “No, it didn’t happen that way.”

Q. What was propelling the crime narrative?

A. The vast majority of people who did have a bad experience don’t necessarily have any type of agenda. They just saw something that troubled them or gave them discomfort.

The problem is when you start talking about crime or things going on in a city at a given time you have to be really careful. You can’t just say there was a lot of crime during the All-Star Game ergo the All-Star Game attracted criminals. You can’t make that leap. There were also conventions in town and a fashion show and it was Chinese New Year. The only thing connecting everything is that there were a lot of rich people in town – and that’s what attracts criminals. I’m no expert on crime, by the way. There was a lot of crime during All-Star weekend and a lot of black people at All-Star weekend – now they’re starting to make a connection I don’t agree with. Not necessarily writers, but the echo chamber.

Q. Is sport a good milieu to write about race?

A. Anything is a good milieu to write about race. One reason I like covering sports so much – and I have this endless debate with people who aren’t in sports about why sports are important – of course they’re not as important as the Iraq War – is that people see other people through distorted prisms in a lot of ways. We tend not to spend a lot of time with people of different races or different ethnic backgrounds or of a different sexual orientation.

I think sport is one of the few venues where you get to see different people, so it’s important that those meetings are chronicled in an accurate way. In sport you can see the best and worst of people, but you also see people work toward a common goal and sacrifice for one another – that’s what our country is about. Isn’t that why we’re here – to make things better for the next generation that follows. Chronicling that as accurately as I can is extremely important.

Q. Are you expected to write about race because you’re black?

A. No. I’m expected to write about sports. I occasionally write about race, but that points up another misconception – that black columnists only write about race – no. They do write about race because nobody else is – occasionally others do, like Harvey Araton (NY Times) or Charlie Pierce (Boston Globe), but in the context of sports there aren’t too many white columnists who spend time writing about race.

So no, I’ve never been told by my editor to write about race. I tend to be the one who comes up with those ideas. When the APSE (Associated Press Sports Editors) study came out last year (quantifying a miniscule percentage of non-whites and women in sports journalism) nobody wrote about it. C’mon, nobody wrote about it – I thought that was amazing. I know because I asked my boss (APSE president Jim Jenks) and he said two people called him about it. I felt like somebody should be writing about this.

I have no set agenda about what I’m going to write on a given day. I’m like anybody else – it’s how the Muse strikes me – Sixers, Eagles, Phillies, college basketball and once in awhile I write about race. Not one out of every two. I write about it when it comes up if that’s the thing that interests me – you write about what you feel passionately about that day.

Q. Do you write as a black sportswriter or as a sportswriter who happens to be black?

A. As a person. I write as a human being that has a particular point of view. The fact that I’m black obviously tends to influence my worldview based on my life experience – same way with any columnist. You’re influenced by wherever you grew up and the schools you attended and the friends you had – I’m no different. I don’t think Bob Ryan writes as an Irish-American – he writes as Bob Ryan. Sure, being black influences me, but also growing up in Washington, DC with a mother and a father in the house – all of those things influence me.

Q. Isn’t it true that white writers are not defined by their whiteness in the same way that black writers are defined by their blackness?

A. Maybe what was going on in Vegas is that for that weekend whites were a racial minority. It creates a different feeling in you – ask a black person who is the only black at a cocktail party or a college class or a 200-person meeting – you notice it. White people don’t spend time thinking about being white because they don’t have to.

Q. Do you have a black constituency you write to?

A. I don’t think in terms of black people will like this or white people will be angry or vice versa. I don’t break up readership into racial or ethnic categories – it’s for whoever wants to read it. I’ve gotten strong hate mail from African-Americans who think I’ve sold out or haven’t gone far enough – you get it from all directions. I have no problem with that – as long as it’s based somewhat in reason – people can disagree. I disagree with what (Jason) Whitlock wrote for AOL, and I like Jason.

As long as ethnic slurs are not involved I can listen to all viewpoints. When people raise good points I try very hard to send them back a note saying it’s a good point. Some issues are an ongoing discussion. I don’t close down after an article – I like to think I can evolve. You have to be a moron to have the same beliefs throughout your entire life.

Q. What do you make of the Whitlock-Scoop Jackson hostilities?

A. I don’t. I just wish Jason (KC Star/AOL) and Scoop (espn.com) could get in a room together and talk about what is bothering them. It’s bothering Jason more than Scoop. Both of them are friends of mine, and both bring a different perspective to journalism. It would be awfully presumptuous of me to say this person represents the black experience and this person doesn’t – nobody has that much wisdom and I certainly don’t. The fact that it’s two African-American male columnists makes it sexy. And it may be the first time two prominent black columnists have disagreed publicly. But if you tell me two white columnists never had an argument in public you need to spend three minutes in New York.

Q. What in your background shaped you as a writer?

A. I always try to tell people this is how I grew up – as a middle class kid from a middle class family. I didn’t grow up scrounging for my next meal or without a father or mother in the house. On the other hand, I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth – I understand what working means. Both parents worked – my father worked two jobs for twenty years – as a letter carrier and a grocery store bagger. I had one brother and one sister.

I respect people who work for a living. I grew up in northeast Washington, D.C. – not rich or poor but in the middle.

Q. How did you get into sportswriting?

A. I may be the luckiest person ever in journalism. My first job was at the Washington Post – I have no right to complain. The high school sports editor, Mike Trilling, was an AU grad and tried to get AU kids into the Post program covering high schools. He was nice enough to ask me if I wanted to while I was in college – my last year at AU I worked at the Post part-time. From that I was fortunate enough to apply for and get an internship – I got one after graduating in ‘87. At the end of doing that I was incredibly fortunate that they had a g.a. job open and they asked me to apply. I’d like to think that part of the reason was that I was ready to take the job. I was extremely lucky and I was ready.

Q. Why do multiple outlets claim credit for breaking the same story?

A. I can speak to this from both sides having worked at ESPN. Nobody as ESPN is saying you have to claim credit for this story – that’s not how it works. The problem is you can’t see everything and read everything on every blog and newspaper website – so you do your job as quickly as you can and put it out as quickly as you can. I’ve been accused of stealing stories and it’s nonsense. You do the reporting in the time period you have and put it out as quickly as you can. I’ve been on both sides of this. Nobody is doing it to take credit for somebody else’s work – it’s such a competitive business now there’s no way of knowing who is first.

The Iverson story was a good example. We broke the story – as best as I can tell I broke it. Some of the blogs gave ESPN credit – even though I don’t think they were trying to take credit for it. Their reporters got it minutes after I did – they work very hard but you can’t check every website. Just to correct one of the blogs I sent it an e-mail. I wanted to correct it, for posterity. I told them, “Look boys, when you work in Philadelphia you’ve got to have the Iverson story first.” Deadspin or Big Lead – I’m not sure which – ran with it and said I was accusing ESPN of stealing the story. I didn’t. I just don’t’ think they had looked at the Inquirer website.

This stuff happens now. Any number of people come to the same information within 20 minutes. Who’s first? You don’t know.

Q. Does it matter being first?

A. What matters is being right. It’s great to be first but if you’re wrong it doesn’t do a lot of good. I want to be first every time but if I have to be second and right I’ll take that.

Q. What do you read?

A. A lot of things – sports and non-sports. I try hard to not be limited in my worldview. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, everything. In a day probably half a dozen papers online. Selena Roberts (NY Times) is great – she’s amazing with words. Bob Ford (Philadelphia Inquirer) is sensational – he gets to it better than anybody in terms of issues. Mike Wilbon (Washington Post) is a terrific columnist – you find yourself gnashing your teeth in frustration at things he says – which is the point of a column. I like J. Adande (LA Times) – he’s a good distinct young voice with passion. TJ Simers (LA Times) is fearless – I give him that. Gary Shelton (St. Petersburg Times) has been good for a long time. Bill Rhoden (NY Times) always makes me think.

Q. Tell us about your dinner at Tao?

A. Mike Freeman (CBS SportsLine) got married. He’s a friend of Jay Glazer of Fox. Jay is friends with the head chef at Tao. We went in and looked at the menus and he came out of the kitchen and said “ Put your menus away – leave it to me.” And he started bringing us the most wonderful food you could imagine. Dish after dish. This went on all night. If you’ve seen the movie “Big Night” you can picture it. I’ve never had food that fantastic. I’ve been back three times.

(SMG thanks David Aldridge for his cooperation)

SPORTS

David Aldridge | Bad rap for NBA in Vegas; The event was linked unfairly to crimes.

By David Aldridge

Inquirer Columnist

1009 words

4 March 2007

The Philadelphia Inquirer

CITY-D

E01

English

(c) Copyright 2007, The Philadelphia Inquirer. All Rights Reserved.

In the wake of what are, charitably, unclear media reports about what exactly happened in the streets of Las Vegas during the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, there are parallel criticisms being leveled. Some are accurate, some are specious.

After a Las Vegas television station posted a story on its Web site headlined “Violence Erupts During All-Star Weekend,” the tale was picked up nationally. The initial story claimed 362 people were booked into the Clark County Detention Center between noon Thursday, Feb. 15, and the early hours after the Sunday, Feb. 18, game.

Bloggers then augmented the original story, writing about “gangbangers” running rampant through the streets, gunfire, hordes of drunk or high people menacing visitors, rude guests who refused to tip or pay wait staff and a general air of fear for one’s safety.

“Everyone I know who was there felt like it was out of hand,” wrote Henry Abbott, author of the excellent basketball blog TrueHoop.

“There was no police anywhere to arrest anybody, and everybody knew it,” wrote the Akron Beacon-Journal’s Brian Windhorst.

AOL Sports’ Jason Whitlock wrote that walking along the Vegas Strip “must be what it feels like to walk the yard at a maximum security prison. You couldn’t relax. You avoided eye contact. The heavy police presence only reminded you of the danger.”

In short: Vegas was a dangerous place to be while the NBA doled out its bread and circuses.

In response: I was there, from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday night. It was crowded. It was far from ideal.

It was not Saigon at the end of the Vietnam conflict. They were not plucking people off the roof of the Bellagio.

Let’s start with the arrests. The New York Times said there were 403 arrests during the four-day weekend (different from the 362 in the original story). But of those arrests, the Times wrote, 239 were for vice-related activities.

That would seem to indicate that 59 percent of the arrests during All-Star Weekend involved men (we’re assuming) trying to pick up hookers.

Not trying to be naïve, but doesn’t that sort of thing happen a lot in Vegas?

It also seems that people are – how does one put this? – talking out of their behinds when it comes to equating cause and effect of crime. The argument you hear is that the NBA “attracted” a criminal element to Vegas – crooks love the hoop! – which has the great benefit of being absolutely impossible to disprove.

I don’t doubt that there were criminals in Vegas. But did the NBA “attract” them there – or lots of rich people? There were 300,000 people in town during that four-day period, including those in town for the game, Chinese New Year and other conventions.

Last week, I got an e-mail from a concerned mother who wrote about “thug basketball” and the “vermin” that surround NBA players. I didn’t mean to dismiss her concerns, but I never hear about “thug football.”

In February alone, seven NFL players were either arrested, pled guilty or pled no contest to various charges, according to the Web site profootballtalk.com – which has documented NFL player trangressions for more than a year.

The one athlete implicated in Las Vegas was Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, who allegedly brought thousands of dollars to a strip club, threw the bills at the dancers (the colloquialism is “making it rain”), then tried to take them back. In the resulting scrum, which carried outside, someone shot three people, and the owner of the club says that someone was with Jones.

Jones has been arrested three times since 2005.

Yet the NBA has the “criminal element” problem.

And, let’s get real: “gangbangers” is code for young black men. Many writers have twisted themselves into pretzels saying they weren’t talking about race when they described their fears, but it is hard to recall reading such angst about drunk and menacing white people at Mardi Gras or in Fort Lauderdale during spring break.

Whitlock, himself African American, pulled no punches, blaming what he called the “Black KKK” for ruining the event.

Were all black people on their best behavior in Vegas? No. Not close. Not our finest hour. Martin Luther King didn’t protest and march and die so that we could get our freak on at Tryst. To paraphrase Chris Rock, there were lots of black people in Vegas – and lots of black idiots.

But there wasn’t blood in the streets. The city was not on fire. I stood in long cab lines; stood in line to get into clubs; stood in line at 3 a.m. to eat in the only open restaurant at a casino, with a line full of black folks in front of me and behind me. Walked several times from place to place, during the day and at night. Black people everywhere.

Yes, people were drinking and smoking. Yes, people were loud and occasionally profane in the lobbies. Yes, the traffic was horrendous, and yes, the airport was a nightmare.

That’s been the case at every All-Star Weekend I can remember. I have never felt unsafe being at one. I didn’t feel unsafe in Vegas.

I wish more young black men weren’t so seduced by the worst of hip-hop culture: the misogyny, the glamorization of selling drugs and drinking, the indifference to formal education. I wish VH1 could find better depictions of black life than crackhead singers and illiterate sex-crazed fools. But I don’t know – and neither do any of the writers and bloggers – if a group of young black man approaching in cornrows and baggy jeans are thieves or pre-med students at Penn.

To assume either possibility is to be prejudiced. Period.

Contact staff writer David Aldridge at 215-854-5516 or daldridge@phillynews.com.

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